Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Sunday, December 24, 2023



As I have said before, most of my dreams now are recurring, and lucid.  The dominant themes are incompetence and futility.  On a deep level I must see these as markers for my life.

This dream was different.  My wife and I were young marrieds.  She was Chinese.  We had just come home from our local movie theatre, on foot, and were ascending the stairs to our third-floor apartment.  It so happened that our neighbor, her good friend, was descending.  She didn't say anything to me when we met on the stairs, but she embraced my wife, and the ensuing rather intense conversation between them made it clear to me after a bit that Cheryl knew, as I did not, that my wife would leave me that very evening.

Once behind closed doors, my reaction was to cling to her as to a life ring in a desperate sea.  I backed her up to our bed, then pushed her carefully down onto it on her back, then rolled us both 90 degrees.

Her main complaint, it turned out, was that I had ice in my veins.  She brought up an incident that took place about two years earlier.  We were driving home from the Berkshires, late at night.  I did not see a big piece of metal in the road.  I hit it, and the left front wheel of our car came off entirely!  I managed nevertheless to direct the car onto the right-hand shoulder.

While we were waiting for help to arrive, I hummed a little tune.  I did not know it then, but my implacability in the moment, and from time to time thereafter, she saw as a deep vice.  In reality, humming the tune was a bit of an inauthentic act reflecting two things -- my satisfaction that I had not panicked, which perhaps had saved us from disaster, and a concern that she not freak out, for her own sake but also to make things go more smoothly when the cops arrived.

Still clinging, I did not try to defend myself from the baseless charge. I knew it wouldn't do any good. But my copious tears spoke for themselves.  It was as if my myriad sources of grief had all come together in a single pool.

The dream though.  It leapt forward from that point another 20 years!  In all of that time, I did not even take any baby steps towards finding another ostensible life partner.  Rather, and strangely, I turned to God!  Because my God was abstract, and a figment, I could be sure that He would not let me down.  I had designed Him as The One Who Would Not Let Me Down.

I kept my newfound religiosity even from my closest friends.  I bought a rosary that was expensive as these things go.  It had been blessed by Thomas Merton.  I hid it in a little drawer at my bedside, together with a book that the holy monk had written.  I became like one of those bereft little old ladies who find solace in attendance each day at the 6AM Mass.

On social media she looked content, cheerful even, and her two daughters looked bright and happy.  Her husband looked like he was carrying a burden, the burden that comes with having a wayward child and knowing that she would never, ever be "all right."

Mutatis Mutandis

According to one multiverse theory, there are an infinite number of universes, each walled off from the others, and each having arisen via cosmic hyperinflation after a discrete Big Bang.

If this is correct, then there is another universe that is identical to this one in every respect, except that Don Rickles, upon reaching 50, turned his back on his comedy, his money and his celebrity, and spent the remainder of his years in quiet contemplation in the Trappist monastery in Spencer, Massachusetts, making blueberry preserves, deep in color and flavor.


Monday, December 4, 2023


Eye Chart

Can you read the top line for me please?

R    S    P    W

Recent, Self-Inflicted, Psychic Wounds.  Self-inflicted, because I chose myself to secrete myself in three rabbit holes that are immensely damaging to the spirit.  In chronological order, the "Phenomenon," the Ukraine War and the Middle East War. I feel some sort of moral obligation to drill down, even though I know it won't change anything.  If three very bright men -- Barack Obama, Steven Pinker, and Francis Fukuyama -- all opined that mankind's trajectory is toward the Light, and it has turned out that they were wrong, isn't it important to point this out, at least to oneself?

Wednesday, November 29, 2023


Did You Hear that Taylor Swift is Moving into Her Boyfriend's Mansion?

There is so much happening right now in the world of the "woo," but of course no one cares.

A respected young British reporter has published an article in one of the UK tabloids asserting that the CIA has retrieved nine craft that were not made by human hands, including two that remain entirely intact.  They are assumed now to be sitting at Wright-Patterson AFB, or at some facility of Lockheed-Martin in the desert.

A philosopher at Benedictine College, Jim Madden, has just published a very important book that is intended to give us a framework for thinking about thinking about such things.  His opening quotation is from Wittgenstein's Tractatus, but he draws mostly on Plato's allegory of the Cave, and Aristotle's inclination to subsume what is commonly thought to be "supernatural" into the natural.  The book was published by the newly-founded "Ontocalypse Press."  Not a mellifluous name, and a scary forewarning buried in it to boot.

A self-styled "adventurer," a brave and very articulate young man named Timothy Alberino, has documented with great care an excursion that he and a friend made very recently into the remote jungles of Peru, to help the inhabitants of a village that has come under attack by strange, airborne beings.  Two of them, about seven feet tall and encapsulated in armored suits, attempted to abduct a 15-year-old girl and to peel her face off, for reasons that are entirely in the realm of speculation.  She was saved by a well-timed scream and the proximity of some neighbors and relatives, who chased off the "pelacaras."  Were they "aliens"?  Well, they squirted a chemical up her nose to knock her out, and also spread a cream on her face to numb it, from out of something like a toothpaste tube.  One was said to speak Spanish with a gringo accent.  On the other hand, they were associated with craft that could hover, silent and low, over the houses of the inhabitants, in classic UFO fashion.  

This is a new and different sort of nightmare.  But do all of our nightmares spring from a single source, manipulated by a puppeteer who tires of casting mere shadows on the walls of our Cave?

Of course, no one cares.

Monday, November 20, 2023


Mose Allison Yanks the Emergency Cord

Stop this world.

Let me off.

There's too many pigs in the same trough.

There's too many buzzards sittin' on the fence.

Stop this world it's not makin' sense.

Stop this world.

Hear me out.

I know too well what it's all about.

I know too well that it had to be.

Stop this world you know it's ruinin' me.

Friday, November 3, 2023


Margaret Mead Among the Munchkins

From a scientific point of view, is there a universal coefficient of comfort and joy?  If, that is, an old-school anthropologist like Dr. Mead were to have dropped into Munchkinland via parachute, right after the first Wicked Witch had met her end, would she have recorded the events accurately, or rather would a filter of academic "objectivity" have erased their true significance?

It probably doesn't matter.  That sort of anthropology is long dead, replaced by a new discipline with a new name, a discipline that Margaret would not even recognize as akin to her own.  The new discipline purports to focus on "lived experience," but the lived experience is an experience projected onto its subjects through a confused and broken ideological kaleidoscope, one crafted decades ago, with not a little malice, by the heirs of Marx and Foucault.

The first so-called science would have interpreted these events as mere ritual.  The second would now employ cultural rituals of its own to shoehorn the events into categories that the Munchkins would abhor.  In both cases, the fundamental joy is lost.  

This makes me want to rouse the rabble.  "Rise Up, oh Munchkins, to Your Full Height!  You Have Nothing to Lose but Your Chains!"

Wednesday, November 1, 2023


A Modern Man; a Man Surely to be Emulated

No one lives forever.  Full of energy yet and apparently in robust health as I write this, Jacques Vallee is in his 85th year.  When his time for passing does come, Vallee's obit most likely will tag him first as a well-known "ufologist," for he has studied the Phenomenon since the 1960's and written and lectured widely about it for much of that time.  Most who are deeply into it would characterize him as the Phenomenon's leading intellectual figure, a man who above all others has brought his most formidable mind to the subject with a deep intellectual integrity and seriousness of purpose.  (The historian Richard Dolan (like Ohio State in the Coaches' Poll) will garner a few votes, and not undeserved.)  In fact, when Steven Spielberg was in the process of conceptualizing "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," he decided to add to his ensemble a Jacques Vallee clone of sorts, played in the film by none other than Francois Truffaut, who bore a passing resemblance to Vallee, albeit without his towering height.

Vallee's perspective on the source and meaning of the Phenomenon has evolved.  He cut his teeth as an assistant to astronomer J. Allen Hynek at Northwestern University, which awarded him a Ph.D. in computer science when that science was in its infancy.  His early work, like Hynek's, was all but exclusively focused on the "extraterrestrial hypothesis," or ETH.  But by the time he published "Passage to Magonia," a classic in the field that has only grown more compelling with age, in 1969, he had come to believe that there must be a common origin for all of the high strangeness sub-phenomena that have been with us, in various manifestations, for a very long time, from the fairies and elves of Celtic lore, to the great airships that passed over the central United States in 1897, to the "Miracle of the Sun" at Fatima, and perhaps reaching all the way back to Ezekiel's Wheel in the Old Testament.

What is that common origin?  When presented with this question, Vallee has always seemed maddeningly elusive.  He speaks of a "control mechanism."  But who is doing the controlling, and to what end?  In the field, there are those that think that ET will come to save us from ourselves, from our environmental degradation and our endless and ever more destructive wars.  But there are others who believe that they themselves have documented, largely via hypnosis, which Vallee disparages as a scientific method, that the purpose is nefarious, to wit, to interbreed with humankind with a view towards colonizing the planet and ultimately displacing us.  And not much more comforting than this hypothesis is the school of thought that posits indifference, because it's said to be the same indifference that we feel towards the worms and the voles when we hire a contractor to replace our backyard septic system; that indifference doesn't end well for the lesser creatures.  About this spectrum of motives, Vallee after more than 50 years of intense study seems still to be agnostic.

In contrast to some peers in ufology, Vallee carries a gravitas and credibility that have been enhanced by his remarkable achievements in other more prosaic areas of life.  If not a Father of the Internet, he was definitely in attendance at the manger way back then, and he has managed to remain at the cutting edge of IT throughout its modern trajectory, at least to the extent that he has been able to create and nurture a number of companies in the field that have blossomed, making him, apparently, a very wealthy man.  Indeed, Jacques has been a practicing venture capitalist for decades, riding out the same storms in the market as you or I, but with a lot more of his, and his partners', money in the game in good times and bad.

Further, Vallee is in many respects an old-school European, and specifically French, man of culture.  Great food and wine, fine classical performances, nights spent in opulent medieval castles, obscure museums.  And most impressive of all -- Jacques became so enraptured in late middle age by the stained-glass masterpieces of the great Gothic cathedrals that he managed to be tutored by, and installed part time as an apprentice at, the workshops that repair and maintain the ancient glass at Chartres.  He was allowed to bang hammers at the iron work that holds the precious panes in place.  This was a different sort of vie en rose for him, as he wryly notes. These points of reference to great Western culture are his touchstones as he travels the world, mostly in search of investors, but also in search of the keys to the Great Mystery.  

Jacques will, in fact, when a new lead warrants it, eschew both the prescribed European comforts and his fiduciary duties to his investors for a spell in order to scrub the scene of a newly-uncovered event for clues, believing as he does that there is no substitute for such on-the-ground research and, most especially, for direct interviews with those who have had the encounters.  

On one such occasion not so very long ago, he traveled to the rural border area that spans Argentina and Paraguay to investigate the story of a gaucho, Juan Perez, who had become a virtual hermit after having had a dramatic close encounter in his youth.  Ridicule and shunning had ruined the man's life.   But local writer/director Alan Stivelman was making a film about Juan.  He and Jacques staged a virtual intervention as the film was being made.  They brought Juan back across the Argentinian border to his ancestral Guarani village in Paraguay, where the local shaman held a night-long vigil that ended with Juan being made whole again in some fashion, and reintegrated into his community.  The moving and universal story of Juan Perez is told with both economy and due reverence in the film, which was released in the US in 2019 as "Witness of Another World."

Uniquely in the world of ufology, Vallee has made us witnesses to his own world via the publication, in a number of volumes, of a journal or diary that he has kept since 1957.  All are called "Forbidden Science," but the whole of Vallee's life is laid out for us, with great candor, and the self-portrait of the man is more gripping in my view than the "science," which seems stymied at every turn.  The fifth and last-to-date volume of these memoirs, published just this year, covers the decade from the death of his mother to the culminating illness of his beloved wife Janine.  It's an odd amalgam, because the notes follow Jacques wherever his peregrinations may take him, and the journeys are motivated by business and personal concerns as much as by the Phenomenon.  So a given two-week period might find him in Paris and Tokyo and Brunei, intent on reconnecting with his brother over dinner or scrounging up foreign capital for one of his funds, with only a brief respite in the geography that he now calls his home base, in Northern California.

Has a completely honest autobiography ever been written?  One gets the impression that Vallee comes close, choosing to steer away from subjects about which he can't speak honestly rather than stooping at any point to disingenuousness.  He is an unapologetic capitalist, scorning the French bureaucracy that handcuffs innovation, but also a severe political critic, from the left, of American foreign policy in the wake of 9/11.  In the UFO field, when he disagrees with respect to something fundamental with a long-time friend, himself a big name among the cognoscenti, he does so in a straightforward way, but somehow without doing damage to the relationship.  On the other hand, when a deep fissure develops in his family between him and his wife on the one hand and his son and his daughter-in-law on the other, one that threatens the Vallees' relationship with their grandson Maxime, we follow the fissure but we are never told its source.

Not only does this latest Vallee journal flit among UFO conferences and investigations, venture fund-raising, and trips to the opera with Janine; stylistically, it adjusts to its various subjects in a most admirable way.  Many of the entries are pure, dry reportage of conversations with other luminaries of one sort or another, but Vallee returns over and over again to lovely impressionistic passages -- glimpses of his physical surroundings.  These may be the streets of Paris, where he maintains an oft-visited abode, seen and portrayed in their many, seasonal moods, or in like fashion the streets of Tokyo.  But in this volume, and for this decade, the center of gravity was the refuge of the Vallees on Tamales Bay, near Point Reyes National Seashore, some 60 miles northwest of San Francisco.  Whether the spectacular vistas from this homestead were open, or rather shrouded in fog, they brought a particular sort of bliss, and simple pleasures to be savored, to Jacques and his wife.  And so, towards the end of the book, when they make arrangements to sell the property, as part of a comprehensive plan to dispose of everything not essential, as Janine copes with an aggressive and incurable brain cancer, it is easy and natural to share the pain of the narrator.

Indeed, if Vallee's candor in the book extends to his true feelings about his wife, then we mere mortals in love walk away from this book with more than a little envy, and more than a little guilt.  The entire book is a love letter to Janine and even, and perhaps especially, when he is globe trotting without her, he often turns to address her directly, with unabashed and still ardent love.  There is something French, something charming, in this.  We should perhaps not ask, for the sake of politesse, whether over the decades he may have, from time to time, strayed.

Things tend to come full circle in UFO world.  Waves of interest come and go.  Events tantalize, but we never seem to advance much towards the goal of finding out what really is going on.

In a new Netflix documentary series sponsored by one of Steven Spielberg's production companies ("Encounters"), one episode focuses on a mass sighting by school children in 1994 at the Ariel School in Ruwa, Zimbabwe.  A young African man who was a witness then and stands by his story even now without shame or apology echoes both the lofty perspective of Jacques Vallee and the questions posed by Gauguin in a certain painting that hangs in a certain museum in Boston --  "Most people think the question is 'Are we alone?'  I think the question is 'Who are we?'"  

D'ou venons-nous?  Que sommes-nous?  Ou allons-nous?

Sunday, October 22, 2023


Every Single Thing I Know and Remember

Is assumed to reside in some form or other in my brain, physically, just as the following few examples also reside in a server somewhere, physically, by virtue of the fact that I have typed them using this application, even if we may characterize them as residing in the amorphous "cloud:"

  • The surprising clarity and purity of the water inside the "tar bubbles" that I used to pierce with my friend Johnny Mackey in the gutter, on Cottage Park Road in Winthrop.
  • The call of a mourning dove.
  • How long to cook spaghetti.
  • What a flying instructor means when he says "more back pressure!"
  • The difference between the "hard sign" and the "soft sign" in Cyrillic.
  • The tidal range in Ipswich, Massachusetts.
  • The theme song of "Bonanza."
  • The taste of sea water.
  • The prescribed viscosity for the engine oil of a Subaru BRZ.
  • The difference between a double paradiddle and a paradiddlediddle.
  • How long it takes by train to go from Dublin to Galway City.
  • Whether a straight flush beats a full house.
  • What part of the eyeball is pierced when an eye doctor pierces the eyeball with a needle to resolve a hemorrhage.
  • Which side of a horse is the mounting and dismounting side.
We say with confidence that these factoids reside in my brain, physically, because how could it not be so?  Where else could they be?

But this implies, of course, that within a week or so of my demise, when my brain turns to mush, all of this information will be gone, from me at least if not from the cloud.  Before this happens, it is said that the pineal gland will release a strong dose of the powerful mind-altering substance DMT, to ease my transition to ... what exactly?  Nothing?  What could be the evolutionary purpose of such a psychic blitzkrieg when one takes into account that I most assuredly won't be producing any offspring after it kicks in?

Or is this whole model just incorrect in some fundamental way?  

The world waits for an answer.

Friday, October 20, 2023


A Shared Heartsickness

That is all that someone like I can contribute.  Even entering a house of worship for a vigil feels wrong, when it seems clear that God has chosen, once again, to turn His back on His People.

Sunday, October 8, 2023


The Recurring Furball Dream

My sister gave me a dream interpretation guide, which I keep in my library.  It has no explanation for the recurring furball dream.

Have you ever dreamt that there was a large furball attached to the surface of your tongue?  Because it inhibits your speech in an embarrassing way, you are desperate to remove it.  But the only way to do that is to reach into your mouth with thumb and forefinger and tear it off your tongue.  This leaves you with a large, wet furball in the palm of your right hand.

You are in a formal public space, perhaps in the lobby of a hotel where a Fidelity-sponsored tax conference is in progress.  You seek out the coffee station supporting the conference, hoping that there you will be able to discreetly toss the furball into a trash receptacle and wipe your palm with a paper cocktail napkin.  But just then an important client strides towards you and aggressively reaches for your hand.  You withdraw it rather than offering it, and turn your back on the man.  This offers no respite, however, because the coffee station is dense with people, and you happen to walk into a circle of businesswomen, most of them known to you, and all of them carrying a certain appeal for you.  You would date any one of them if you could.

A couple of them whom you consider particular friends then reach out to hug you.  This you can't do because you would be placing the wet furball against a woman's back, on the surface of her most stylish navy jacket.

All of these women now look mildly distressed.  They are concerned that there is something very wrong with you, because there is.

Tuesday, October 3, 2023


Watch Out, Kids, But Above All Watch!

Last week I stumbled on a very fine, a very deep movie.  Nominated for an Oscar in 2016, "Embrace of the Serpent" is loosely based on the actual life of an Amazonian shaman who, on two occasions forty years apart, led single Western scientists up the great river in search of a powerfully healing and exceedingly rare medicinal plant.  The movie is able somehow to place a modern Western viewer into a mindspace where the native culture of the shaman is natural and real, the culture of the scientist hostile and destructive, without being anti-colonialist in a conventional way, without romanticizing the indigenous peoples that it portrays.  On the little screen, thanks to our anonymous bureaucrats, it carries the usual insipid warning against being viewed by children, because it portrays "alcohol use" and "smoking."  Nothing is said on the other hand about cannibalism.

Rather late in the film, the shaman and the second scientist paddle their dug-out canoe to the shore at a forbidding settlement which, it turns out, has become a colony of native worshippers of "The Messiah," who is another Westerner gone half mad.  When the shaman cures his young bride of a usually-fatal skin disease, the Messiah decides that the two newcomers are two of the three Magi, come from the East to celebrate his presence in the world.

We then discover along with the intruders that when the Messiah gets angry, he does not kill any of his misbehaving flock, but rather condemns them to a suicide ritual that leaves them equally dead but lets him evade responsibility.  This so infuriates the shaman that he tricks the Messiah and all of his remaining disciples into drinking a potion that may be a poison, or may be a very strong hallucinogen like ayahuasca.  The Messiah goes completely mad.  He screams at his flock "This is my body!  Eat me! ... Eat me! ... Eat me!"  And indeed they proceed to eat him alive, off camera of course.  This brave perversion of the Eucharist is perhaps the most chilling scene I have watched (or rather heard) on film since, in a tale rolled out in the 1930's, Dr. Moreau, played by Charles Laughton, is carved to pieces by the monstrous hybrids he himself has created by means of vivisection, on the island that gives us the movie's name.

The shaman and the scientist escape the mad colony.  They have not become friends, rather men from disparate cultures thrown together by fate, bound together by magic.  The shaman's magic empowers him to conjure the real, live spirits of the jaguar and the serpent.  The scientist's magic is enclosed in a wooden box that has come along for the ride -- an old gramophone and a single recording, a recording of Haydn's ode to God's powers of creation.  The scientist avers to the shaman, bitterly, that he does not believe in God's powers of creation.  Just like the scientists of today, he is impervious to magic and to myth.  But the shaman knows better.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023


Asteroid City

Wes Anderson may have set out not to make an unwatchable film -- his latest is quite watchable -- but to make an all but unreviewable one, because his style so overwhelms its substance.  It is set in a tiny western desert town loosely based on Roswell, New Mexico, in the 1950's (not the 40's, when Roswell's alien crash is said to have happened).  The town has drawn brainiac children and their parents from far and wide for an annual science festival and competition when it has its own encounter with an intrusive non-human intelligence.

The film is shot in unnatural but soothing pastel colors.  The effect is like walking down the aisles at a Toys R Us before that chain went out of business.  It's a world seemingly made out of plastic, but it's not an animated one; the people are real. 

And what an assemblage of people!  Perhaps not since "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" in 1963 have so many prominent names been persuaded to share the screen.  In alphabetical order -- Adrien Brody, Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Willem Dafoe, Hope Davis, Matt Dillon, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Hanks, Scarlett Johansson, Edward Norton, Margot Robbie, Tilda Swinton.  Wes's powers of persuasion must be enormous; Scarlett is said to have agreed to take the role for a salary of about $16,000/month.

If the film is about anything, it seems to be not about then but about the post-pandemic now.  The father of one of the boys and the mother of one of the girls, who is a movie star within the film, played by Scarlett, fall in love in a manner of speaking, and so do their children, but in both cases it's a certain pronounced and acknowledged emptiness that binds the couples together.  

God forbid there be any affect.  When the actress offers to rehearse a scene of full-frontal nudity for her opposite number, who is just getting to know her, the idea barely registers on his face.  He mumbles something that turns out to be "yes."  The movie then mocks itself by showing Scarlett in the altogether for just an instant, and in a mirror image, a frame within a frame within a frame.

Indeed, one critic has said that "Asteroid City" is about frames precisely -- our inability to escape the multiple frames in which we live.  I think that it might better be said that it is about filters, technological, psychological and cultural, that insulate us from true feeling in our new world, where only fools dream of authenticity.  We inhabit now a place of supreme irony, but also of supreme isolation and numbness.  And this we find to be good fodder for meta, meta comedy.  We stumble about Plato's Cave and see our surroundings through a glass but darkly; we smile nevertheless in smug sophistication.

Saturday, September 23, 2023


In the Hour of the Wolf Last Night

I awoke from a dream that was relatively benign.  In the dream, I was at PwC, chatting informally with some colleagues, in the office of the managing partner.  (He himself kept his back to me whenever he spoke.)  When I looked out the window, I could peer down onto the playing field at Fenway Park.  A game was in progress, but it wasn't baseball, rather some new and stylized form of warfare.  (I know that there is no such prospect of Fenway in all of Boston; the concept must have bubbled up from a visit I made years ago to Baltimore, where there is a PwC conference room with a spectacular view into Camden Yards.)

If my dream seemed benign, my waking state thereafter was not.  Everything in my life, from my physical and mental condition, to my dubious personal habits, to my relationships, to the horror of the upcoming presidential election, to the geopolitical stage -- especially the evil spell that has come over Russia and its people, to the Crack in the Cosmic Egg, seemed immersed in a viscous fluid of noir.  

Who or what could relieve me of this?  I thought about reciting Christ's mantra from the cross -- "Into thy hands I commend my spirit."  The thought would not be authentic, but then again, don't the tenets of cognitive behavioral therapy say that it doesn't matter whether you believe it or not; what matters is that you repeat it!?

In the end, I did not recite it, but sleep once again overcame me, as it always does.  I dreamt a second PwC dream, one more thematically mainstream.  I was in a rush to get to the airport for an important flight.  In my haste I realized that everyone watching me descend on the escalator down into the subway could see that my pants were on backwards.

Friday, September 22, 2023


My Little Skiff

In the course of just ten September days:  At her mooring, lashed but unfazed by the outer bands of a major hurricane.  Working furiously to disgorge herself of three inches of rain, fallen in a single day in a separate storm that was all but unremarked on shore.  And finally headed home for the winter, making the only ripples on a sea of perfect tranquility, at the peak of a nine-foot tide, the buoys and the blades of marsh grass barely keeping their heads under a stark, iconic afternoon Ipswich light.

The changing faces are a tonic, an I Ching for me and the mariner masses.

Thursday, September 21, 2023


"Awesome" In Its Original Meaning

Beauty can be so intense and powerful that instead of inspiring delight, it inspires a particular kind of fear, especially in the faint of heart.  I count myself among the faint of heart.  The heart grows fainter with each passing year.

The summit of Mt. Washington on a clear fall day.  Tahoe from a tight-turning sailplane.  The debris field of the Titanic from a diving bell.  Bikini Atoll at the moment of thermonuclear ignition.  

Standing at the base of the black obelisk depicted in "2001:  A Space Odyssey."  And what amounts to the same thing -- being, finally, "In the Presence of the Lord."  One cowers and turns his back like Igor under the lash.  Others, the bodhisattvas, proceed in serenity, leaving us behind.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023


I Am Ungrateful By Temperament

Rather most times bitter and resentful.  And yet, when I lie in bed with the windows open, listening to a gentle rain as it falls on the north and the west sides of the house, listening stereophonically as it were, I am grateful to be embedded in it.

It was Wittgenstein who said that the religious feeling is a feeling of perfect safety.

Monday, September 11, 2023


A Point Worth Pondering

"Plato's cave is not an allegory."

                -- Prof. Diane Pasulka

Saturday, September 2, 2023


Infinity, Impugned

I have a friend who is hostile to the concept of infinity.  He challenges everyone to find an instance of it in reality.

I fall back on infinity as a mathematical concept.  (In math all things that are within the rules are possible.)  Take a long piece of string.  Sever it in the center.  Throw away one half.  Sever the remaining half in the center.  Ad infinitum.  As long as your tiny scissors, your visual acuity and your underlying tremor cooperate in the exercise, it will never end.

I feel that when I do things now, things from which I derive pleasure, like visiting a lake, or organizing an interview with an admired judge, I am trying to sever the remaining piece of the string, with the further conceit that the very process of severing it will forestall getting to the end.  But we know that in reality the curtain will come down in the middle of the play, my little game erased along with everything else, simultaneously.  Which is why I am in a hunger for some sign of transcendence.  Transcendence is elusive.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023


A New Cosmology; A Deeper Abyss

Ten years ago things were very different.  I had not yet reached senior status.  COVID had not wreaked its havoc on us and changed the world, permanently.  Most importantly for purposes of this entry, the New York Times had not published its seminal article, in December of 2017, implying if not stating that we share this globe with other, non-human forms of intelligence.

Ten years ago, I held views about life after death that were fairly conventional in my cohort of hyper-educated "pimples on the posterior of American financial empire."  One of two viewpoints had to be correct.  

Under the first view, we are nothing but animated creatures of the material world.  Any talk of "soul" or "spirit" must be limited to the entirely metaphorical.  When we die, the lifeless form lying in the morgue on a cold, blood-impervious table is all that we ever were, just minus the spark of Dr. Frankenstein, which itself arose via natural means whose mechanisms would soon be revealed by science.  This is the view held even now by the most sober of physicists, people like Sean Carroll and Neil de Grasse Tyson and Laurence Krauss.  Science has proven it to be the case.

Under the second view, when we die we go on to a happier valley.  We are drawn down a long tunnel towards a glorious light.  Our loved ones who have predeceased us meet and greet us there and help us on our journey to the light.  This is of course the view of people like Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, who can be regarded as the founder of serious "death studies," and Raymond Moody, author of "Life After Life."

If, ten years ago, I were forced to pick between the two views, I probably would have chosen the second, largely out of a philosophical predisposition, but also out of a vague sense that there is simply too much stuff going on for which materialism cannot account.

But since 2017 I find myself forced, really, onto a Third Way, as I try to make sense of the evidence to which I have been exposed via thousands of pages of reading, hundreds of hours of interviews and podcasts, all aimed in one way or another at what might be called "the penetration of the veil," not just in our own time but across all cultures from time immemorial.  Leonard Cohen said that "there is a crack in everything; that's how the Light gets in."  My best friend Sam, on his deathbed, when I asked him to explain the mysterious first verse of John -- "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" -- answered himself with a single, lower-case word -- the "vibration."

And so it is that much deeper thinkers than I, including C.J. Jung, Jacques Vallee, Richard Dolan, John Keel, Garry Nolan, Bernardo Kastrup, Darren King (the man who styles himself "ExoAcademian"), and even Aldous Huxley, all hover around the idea that we come from, and return to, a Common Ocean of Consciousness that has no beginning and no end.  The view has much in common with Tibetan Buddhism, particularly in its insinuations that there are things -- apparitions to the Buddhists but flashes of intelligence as real as you or me to me -- that act out of malevolence, and that our ultimate fate is to lose our identity altogether in the cosmic pool.

This Third Way escapes the internal contradictions that I see everywhere in more conventional views.  It is, unlike the scientific materialism of Carroll and Tyson and unlike the mainstream religious traditions, compatible with the facts:

  • God cannot have made the little tribe of Jews His "chosen people."
  • God the Father is petty and petulant; so is the Islamic God.
  • Jesus cannot have been sent down "to save us all from Satan's power when we were gone astray," notwithstanding Kierkegaard's clever attempt to turn the implausibility of Christianity into its highest virtue.
  • And yet Fatima really happened; 70,000 people were present at the great Spinning of the Sun.
  • Cattle mutilations are real; ask a veterinarian in Colorado.  Anecdotally, human mutilations may also be equally real.
  • Craft "as big as a Walmart" have hovered over our ICBM installations and disabled them.
  • Creatures from beyond the veil can choose whichever form they wish to use to impress something upon us -- awe, reverence, fear, confusion.  In 1897 they were friendly pilots of airships traveling across the central US, but they have also been elves, fairies, leprechauns, djinn, skinwalkers and dogmen, mantises and reptiles, angels and devils.
Even though they believe that they will simply be annihilated when they die, the aforementioned scientific materialists draw a real ontological comfort from the fact that they think they know, or soon will know, what is really happening.  And those in the Raymond Moody school of thought of course draw comfort from the notion that death will take them to the happy valley, there to be reunited with their loved ones.

Where I am now, as time gets very short, unfortunately offers little or no ontological comfort. I am not subscribing to a theory for the sake of stitching a stuffed animal that I can cling to in my sleep.  Rather, in the Ocean of Consciousness, I am as helpless and anonymous as an individual plankton in the deepest of our earthly seas.

In truth, it may be more healthy, psychologically, to follow the path of the folksinger Iris DeMent, who in her exquisitely down-home voice repeatedly admonishes us to "Let the Mystery Be."

Monday, July 31, 2023


Fear, Futility and Fatigue

These are my modern muses.  

They dance a circular step-dance, with their hands above their heads, around an invisible focal point deep in the Irish forest, a focal point that is known only to the Fairies of ancient myth.  Myth bleeds into reality now, and reality into myth.

Thursday, July 27, 2023


26 July 2023

This day -- yesterday -- will be remembered as the day it no longer became possible to deny the presence among us of other intelligences.

Now, after this new understanding is absorbed, it will fall to every man and woman to adjust his/her worldview to accommodate the new knowledge and to think through its implications for everything up to and including what happens to us when we die.  If this question is of no interest to you, if you choose rather to be a monkey with his hands over his eyes, I don't know what to say.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023


Epitaph for a Dilettante

Things that I have learned to do, to varying degrees of proficiency:

  • Speak and read Russian.
  • Pilot a sailboat of 6000 lbs displacement; tack a 110-ft schooner.
  • "Have the airplane," under the supervision of an instructor, in a Schweitzer 2-33 training glider, a Grob performance glider, a Yak-52 Soviet military trainer, and a North American SNJ US Navy trainer.
  • Practice the Chinese art of meditation and martial art known as tai chi.
  • Play rudimental percussion and Latin percussion, as well as the Irish bodhran drum.
  • Play a couple of simple tunes on the vibraphone.
  • Understand the writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Soren Kierkegaard.
  • Penetrate the Internal Revenue Code and the entire body of Massachusetts tax law, as well as the US constitutional principles implicated by it.
  • Drive a sports car on a race track.

Things that I have not learned to do, to any degree of proficiency:
  • Swim.
  • Play golf.
  • Play baseball, football, basketball or soccer.
  • Dance.
  • Paint.
  • Sew.
  • Ride a horse.
  • Clean a fish.
  • Shoot a gun.
  • Do magic tricks.
  • Juggle.

Thursday, July 6, 2023


(Or So It Is Written in the Krazy Kozmologie of Marshall Vian Summers)

"The Wise are hidden."

Wednesday, July 5, 2023



In his early youth Ingmar Bergman was a puppeteer who played with light and with darkness.  The footlights threatened fire.

When Bergman was nearing his end, he was able to look back on a trail of broken and bitter relations, of wounds not healed, of suppurations only masked by colorful and carefully-crafted bandages.

In his work, which was entwined more than most with the fabric of his life, it remained a constant -- he was a master puppeteer who played with light and with darkness.


Meaningless Pulses in 3/4 Time, cont'd

Orlando Cepeda was checking his swing

When a tiny red music box

Owned by his daughter

Just stopped in "mid-air"

With an unscheduled brrrrinnnng!

Friday, June 30, 2023


Closing Remarks

Aldous Huxley closes his 1952 masterwork The Devils of Loudun with an epilogue that has the feeling of a sermon.  It is a fairly short sermon as sermons go, but a dense one.  His theme is transcendence.  

What does "transcendence" mean?  He does not define it for us.  If we had to define it for him, it might be something like "escaping from the prison of everyday self."

But not all transcendence is in a lofty direction.  There is something called "downward transcendence," as when one falls prey to the passions of the mob -- "herd-intoxication."  And there is "horizontal transcendence," when one becomes lost in some very human cul de sac.  The cul de sac might be scientific materialism; it might be a war (even a just one!); it might be a marriage.  

And even if we are on the path of lofty, upward transcendence, the path is full of perils.  Many perish and fall by the wayside.

No, the odds are stacked against those of us who want to escape the prison of everyday self --

... great goods and ... enormous evils are the fruits of man's capacity for total and continuous self-identification with an idea, a feeling, a cause.  How can we have the good without the evil, a high civilization without saturation bombing, or the extermination of religious and political heretics?  The answer is that we cannot have it so long as our self-transcendence remains merely horizontal.  When we identify ourselves with an idea or a cause we are in fact worshiping something homemade, something partial and parochial, something that, however noble, is yet all too human.  "Patriotism," as a great patriot concluded on the eve of her execution by her country's enemies, "is not enough."  Neither is socialism, nor communism, nor capitalism; neither is art, nor science, nor public order, nor any given religion or church.  All of these are indispensable, but none of them is enough.  Civilization demands from the individual devoted self-identification with the highest of human causes.  But if this self-identification with what is human is not accompanied by a constant and consistent effort to achieve upward self-transcendence into the universal life of the Spirit, the goods achieved will always be mingled with counterbalancing evils.  "We make," wrote Pascal, "an idol of truth itself; for truth without charity is not God, but His image and idol, which we must neither love or worship."  And it is not merely wrong to worship an idol; it is also exceedingly inexpedient.  The worship of truth apart from charity -- self-identification with science unaccompanied by self-identification with the Ground of all being -- results in the kind of situation which now confronts us.  Every idol, however exalted, turns out, in the long run, to be a Moloch, hungry for human sacrifice. 

Thursday, June 15, 2023


A Conjured Memory

From the Hour of the Wolf.  From long ago.  From grammar school.  The nuns and  their rather fractured French.

A single phrase repeated, repeatedly.  Repeated because it closed out a prayer, or several different prayers including, I think, the one that Jesus Himself taught us.

Ainsi soi-t-il.

"So be it," or "amen."  

And not long thereafter, the French of other nuns, of the "Singing Nuns," invaded our car radios on the Top Forty shows of Woo Woo Ginsburg (who, it must be assumed, had fallen from the faith at that time) and others.  It got sandwiched in, somehow, between the blasphemies of Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly, and it was, of all things, a song about The Pure Silence of Divine Contemplation, as practiced in the cloistered halls of St. Dominic, founder of the Dominicans.

Il ne parle que du Bon Dieu.

"He speaks only of the Good ['Lord' in our parlance]."

And it had a joy and a bounce about it, not unlike that of George Harrison's "Hare Rama," or the Hawkins Singers in "Oh Happy Day," both to dominate the charts later.

Sunday, June 11, 2023


A Crumbling Carapace That We Choose to Nest Within a Friendlier One

My toys.  Both my boat and my truck are a shiny bright blue, very pleasing to the eye.  I use them to fool Mother Nature if only for a fleeting spell.

Imagine, if you will, that in the last decade of his life Stephen Hawking had both the means and the motive to purchase and pilot a vintage Mustang fighter plane, a P-51D to be precise, the kind that used to race once a year at Reno NV before the tragic accident about which you no doubt have heard.  

On clear days, the sun would have glinted on his wings and his undercarriage as he made the "by the book" steep turn from base leg to final, taking care to stay at least 10 mph over the placard "dirty" stall speed of the airplane, which was 93 mph.  

But even on days of low overcast, when little vortices of condensation would have chased his wingtips as he dropped out of the cloud cover and prepared for the same steep turn, he would have, via the airplane, projected power, grace and panache, specifically in defiance of his actual physical grotesquerie.  Casual witnesses on the flightline, not even knowing who he was, would have sometimes applauded when he shut Lucky Lainey down and the big prop came to a silent stop.

He would have had a special fibreboard screen made, such that only a couple of his minions actually would have seen how he had to be extracted from the plane through its retracted canopy. In a joke that he would have constructed against himself, they would have carried him off, curled up in a ball and secreted in a fleece-lined but otherwise classically simple burlap sack.  He would have giggled at the humiliation, at the yin and the yang of his lofty but equally accursed life.

In his case not mine, there was a feature film that depicted him as a handsome and vigorous young man, as indeed he was before he got sick.  It made a bit of a splash, but very few remember it, fewer and fewer with each passing year.  And yet, according to Christian cosmology, it is in this form that Stephen will rise from the dead, from his own eponymous "black hole," on the Last Day, the Day of Judgment, the dies irae.

Will that monumental intellect, which in its hubris and in best-seller print promised to reveal to us the Mind of God not via revelation in the biblical sense but via mere science, get lost in the multitude on that day of wrath, for want of nothing more than a horrible but more-familiar-to-us carapace?

Only time will tell.

Friday, June 9, 2023


A Generous Helping of Garlic-Mashed Potatoes

For a limited time only, and only 99 cents.

Saturday, June 3, 2023


Our Language Is Intrinsically and Intensely Metaphorical

And no one knows how we comprehend each new metaphor, even in this age of ubiquitous AI.

You were "the apple of my eye."

Jesus and his disciples were "fishers of men."  (This a powerful metaphor but one that collapses quickly; did the new converts to Christianity flop around on the deck at the feet of Our Lord in the boat that was bouncing in the Sea of Galilee?)

America "the melting pot," and Columbia "the Gem of the Ocean."

The "bivouacking" behavior of the South American army ant.  Here, the metaphor is so natural that one wants to ask "Why would the ants not bivouac?  They travel in armies after all!"

The "depths of your depravity."

Tuesday, May 16, 2023


I Closed My Eyes

The earbuds in.  

Just then I heard loud, sustained applause, without vocalization of any kind.  Neither "yays" nor "bravos," not even the movement of feet, or a cough suppressed only so long as the performance neared its climax.

Here's the thing.  The sound of the applause was completely indistinguishable from the sound of a heavy rain that comes on, at once, with a strong, fast-moving front, in the dog days and evenings of August.

Friday, May 12, 2023


Something Old; Some Things New

The "something old" is trench warfare, at scale, on the European continent.

Putin started his war in February of 2022 with less than 200,000 troops committed to the effort.  The Russians have lost about that many, killed and gravely wounded, since the "special military operation" began.  And yet they now have some 300,000 soldiers on the territory of Ukraine, many of them in defensive positions -- largely simple slit trenches without the electrified dugouts and other amenities that we have seen, for the officers at least, in WWI films like "1917" and "All Quiet on the Western Front."  It seems that the Russian officers are further back, in positions of relative safety.

But arrayed against the old-fashioned trench lines are two new things -- small quadcopter drones that are able to drop grenades or converted mortar shells into the slits with great precision, and sophisticated cameras on the drones that both reconnoiter for targets and record, in black and white, their deadly effect.

This should be as big a breakthrough in bringing the horrors of war into the American home as were the first photos of Antietam taken by Mathew Brady.  Most people, however, still want their news of what's going on in the world filtered through their preferred sources, sources that whether left or right eschew the worst of the violence.

Twitter and Telegram channels fill the gap.  One, called "The Dead District," focuses almost exclusively on short videos showing the physical destruction of Russians.  So now, for the first time, we are able to see, again and again, young men in the last minute of their lives.  We can see it even before they know that they are about to be slaughtered. 

From the perspective of the drones and against a backdrop of dark dirt, we see very little blood.  When a bomb hits, the victims often scurry quite like ants away from the blast for a few moments, running on adrenalin, then fall to the ground.  Sometimes they get up again and try to limp to a position of safety.  In such cases the Ukrainians show no mercy; they dispatch the wounded with a second or a third round if they are able.  Medics seem nowhere to be found.  Nor do the unscathed take it upon themselves somehow to carry their wounded comrades to safety.  This is probably wise, because they would just be sacrificing themselves as well.

Now, just in the last 24 hours, we have drone videos of two very graphic suicides that have taken place within the trenches.  In one, a wounded soldier tries at first to use his AK-47 as a crutch.  When that fails, he lies on his side and fires a round through his head from under his chin.  His body seems to give a little shiver, and then he is still.  If this were not enough, in the second, the wounded man takes off his helmet and holds a grenade to his head; there is nothing left of his head at the close of the clip.

Both men will be praised at home for their valor.  The Russians will say, en masse, «царство ему небенное» -- "May he be in the heavenly kingdom."  The boys fought for the Motherland, and the stupider the war, the greater their heroism.  That seems to be the logic that prevails within the great red fortress of Moscow.

Sunday, May 7, 2023


Rapid Rabbit Respiration

I gave up my adjunct teaching position at Pace College (now Pace University) after only three years, in 1990.  The truth is that I grew weary of and exasperated by my students, by the petty disputes that seemed to sustain them, by their refusal to grant me any authority over them by virtue of my modest position.  Perhaps, I said to myself,  I hadn't earned any such authority, but I was convinced that were Max Planck to wander in to try his hand at teaching Physics 101, he would have been dissed in much the same way.  It was cultural and it got worse from year to year.

The last class that I taught was called "The Use and Abuse of the Cliché in Modern American Literature."  I thought that it would be fun to trace the origins of now-tired expressions and also to explore how, tired as they are, they might be used to place a character, by inference, into a certain sub-culture or social class, and how they might be enlivened by being used unexpectedly in a literal sense, for example.  The man selling newspapers at the kiosk at 81st and Broadway who could not stop repeating his tale of a pedestrian that he saw killed by a box truck at that very intersection some years ago, the man left "flat as a pancake" for 20 minutes until the cops arrived and screened the corpse from view.  In a much different narrative, a Perelman story in The New Yorker that traced a bear hunt in the Black Forest, was Hector's hound literally "barking up the wrong tree?"

The straw that broke the camel's back, as it were, was a singular dispute with young Andreas DeVoto about an otherwise forgettable tale of his, no doubt closely mirroring an incident in his own life, when, to escape a knife fight, it became prudent to fly down the stairs into the Chambers St. Station and jump the turnstile, with his enemies in hot pursuit.  The doors of the Z train clipped one of his heels as they shut.  It was a near thing.  He came within "a hare's breath" of being stabbed or beaten, "to a pulp" of course.

Andreas, drawing on two trips to the Prospect Park Zoo, insisted that the respiration of a rabbit is both so rapid and so shallow that the animal, at rest, appears to get by without breathing at all.  This is well known.  And it's an illusion that has come to turn the respiration of the rabbit into a stand-in for any ephemeral iota.  Something like that.

After that insistence that I could not wear down, I decided to fold my cards and my tent; I threw in the towel when it came to teaching.

Thursday, May 4, 2023


Relegated to Daguerreotypes

There will come a time when all of the colors of your life reduce to sepia.  When the bleu cheese on your tomato, on your tongue, begins to taste of chalk dust.  When you pause routinely at the foot of the stairs, plotting your strategy to ascend them.  When most all of your words go unheard in the wider world, because they are spoken by a Creature from the Past.  

So we are to be forgiven for asking to be forgiven, for falling back on supplications to "the Lord," whether He be the Lord Jesus or the Lord Krishna, or even supplications to a Lady, as perhaps of Fatima or Lourdes.

The trouble unique to this time is that while we sense an imminent, world-historical tearing of the veil that will release us from our earthly suffering, the world beyond, insofar as we can discern it, seems filled with devils, demons, djinn, mechanical elves, fraudsters and tricksters.  Perhaps there is a path to the Divine Godhead beyond them, but will we have the strength, weakened by our earthly struggles as we are, to break through the phalanx of the djinn?  Is this intermediate realm where the concepts of purgatory and of hell find their ancient source?

Thursday, April 27, 2023


In the English Common Law

"A cold and depraved indifference," brought to light with all due process and confirmed by a jury of one's peers, sufficed to punch one's ticket to the gallows.

In "No Country for Old Men," Javier Bardem portrays such a felon -- Anton Chigurh, never convicted of his crimes -- with such intensity and authenticity that it would not surprise if the actor's own wife thereafter refused to share a bed with him.  Early in the film, Chigurh carries around a heavy canister with a hose attached to it.  We don't know what it is.  We surmise that it is a prop that helps him to get into places that would otherwise be forbidden to him, like a fake FedEx uniform that might be worn by a petty thief.  But it is in fact a pneumatic captive penetrating bolt pistol, a device designed to kill cows, pigs and calves efficiently, but also humanely, by firing a metal rod into their skulls, a rod that then immediately retracts in preparation for the next hit.

It all comes down to intent I suppose.  Dr. Kevorkian might have such a device in his arsenal in a place like Canada that widely celebrates euthanasia.  He might sign a contract with a dying person, and the contract might authorize him at any time within a prescribed period to approach the person unawares and dispatch him with the device.  The patient would never know what hit him.

A single engineer at Lockheed Martin is credited with the anti-personnel variant of the HIMARS missile, the variant that contains 1000 tiny tungsten balls.  From 50 miles it can land within 20 feet of its GPS-identified target, and its kill range is 200 meters from the impact point.  

When the remains of the troops are brought back to Novosibirsk in simple pine coffins, they are so mangled and co-mingled that they might as well be a bolognese of beef, pork and veal served on Salem Street in Boston's North End.

"A cold and depraved indifference."

Tuesday, April 18, 2023


The Harvesting of the Boomers

It proceeds apace.  Big personalities.  Long and complex lives.  Huge networks of family, friends.  God chooses which candles next to snuff without regard.

Jack Nicholson, now 85, glowers down at us from a balcony in LA, looking for all the world like "Frozen Jack" at the end of "The Shining."

"Don't Fear the Reaper"?  Why not?

Friday, April 14, 2023


Revisiting "My Dinner with Andre" (1981)

My initial reaction, about an hour into my first viewing of the film since its release in 1981, was that it has aged very badly.  Yes, it garners praise even now for its audacious premise -- that people will be engrossed in a two-hour movie in which nothing happens but a couple of friends talking about high-sounding things in a fancy New York restaurant.  But the two gentlemen in question, who have sworn on a stack of Bibles that they were not really playing themselves back then, were playing themselves, or aspects of themselves, and both come across now, at least at first, as insufferably self-absorbed and worse, apparently blind to the sufferings of others on this earth who do not enjoy the privileges of a Harvard education and a life in the theatre.

Wallace Shawn, the "homunculus" of Woody Allen's "Annie Hall," laments early in the film that people at parties lose interest in him when he reveals that he teaches Latin for a living.  Andre Gregory examines his relationship with the doorman who guards his building.  Gregory greets him by his first name, whereas the doorman is compelled by cultural convention to call him "Mr. Gregory."  This, opines Andre, manifests a form of "slavery" and represents one more sign of our descent, in 1981, into fascism.  Wally, it's true, professes contentment with the modest life he leads with his girlfriend Debbie, counting the twin blessings of an electric blanket in winter and morning coffee that on most days does not have a roach swimming in it.  But he also says that he is "just trying to survive from one day to the next."

Of the two, Gregory does by far most of the talking.  As in real life, he has recently resurfaced after a long disappearance that was forced on him by a deep personal crisis, an inability to see any value in anything that he was doing, including his work as a director.  He recounts all of his New Age adventures, while Wally alternates between two expressions -- a bemused smile and a look of grave concern.  In the adventures, which include a mock burial alive, Andre almost always ends up crying uncontrollably.  So when he also recounts that after his mother died he found himself in a paroxysm of grief, it seems that everything in his life has been "flattened," the death of his mother no more important than the flowers he encountered in a Scottish forest that may have set him off on a crying jag.  

Further, one wants to ask Andre to paint for us a picture of the new and untainted world to which he aspires.  We doubt that it exists beyond a few hippie experiments; we doubt that we can all bring the Spirit of Woodstock home to our moms in suburbia.

A curious shift in my perspective on the film came over me however around the time when the elderly waiter (played by a European actor who died in 1983) clears the table for espresso.  Shawn, having grown increasingly upset with his friend, engages more aggressively on some of his views, and the conversation turns into a coherent contest between a scientific/materialist view of the world, held by Shawn, and a spiritual/transcendental view held by Gregory.  By the end of the film it seems that Gregory has shaken his friend out of his complacency, that Shawn can see that he is compelled to busy himself with quotidian tasks because, if he quiets his mind, he will be filled with existential dread.  Andre, whose highest goal is authenticity, has succeeded in having an authentic conversation in a most unlikely venue, and Shawn will not soon forget the experience.

Shawn and Gregory are both still alive.  (Gregory is 88.)  It would be a nice experiment to do a sequel to the film.  Inevitably, I think, it would do two things.  First, and notwithstanding what I said about the film redeeming itself, it would point us back towards the characters' blindness to their relative privilege and comfort.  By now, having experienced 9/11, Covid, a Trump presidency and a world-historical war in Europe, our friends would have to approach the world in which we live with more humility and gravitas.  Like the rest of us, they would be beaten down by events; their perspective might be more like that of the European civilians of a certain age who managed to survive World War II than that of elite American theatre artists in 1981.

More importantly, a sequel would have to underscore the extent to which our politics and our culture have crumbled in the two generations that have intervened.  It is clear from their real-life biographies that Wally and Andre will have migrated not to a position flying high above our travails, from which vantage point they can comment wisely and with empathy upon them.  Rather, they will be walled off in the progressive tribe.  In 1981, the "flyover" Americans with rare exceptions did not watch "My Dinner with Andre," but in principle most of them would have seen the two protagonists as amusing eccentrics in the mold of the same Woody Allen.  Now, half of the country would actively despise them for their views, and they would, of course, actively despise the despisers in return.

And what of those views?  How can it be that two such proudly liberal, hyper-educated, sensitive and humane gentlemen in 1981 could have had no space in their capacious minds for the reality of voter suppression, for the coming climate catastrophe, for the necessity of having a black woman at the center of every television commercial, for the sports and bathroom rights of transsexuals?  Shall we indict them retroactively for this profound failure to see?  And now that they do see, has this evolution really moved our country forward on the path to that most important of values -- authenticity?

No, the sequel would be unwatchable.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023


Last Night

I was disabled by a mild spell as I lay in my bed and attempted to get up to relieve myself.  I could not lift my head and I could not figure out where my body was in relation to the floor.  This altered state of consciousness only lasted a few moments, but while it was happening I wasn't entirely sure that I was not entering the Great Transition.  It was not pleasant.

Monday, April 10, 2023


For Every Sin

... there is a "meet" punishment.  

For gross buffoonery, it is to have one's balloon pricked with a pin.  But in extreme cases, a light dagger does the pricking and the belly of the buffoon ... well, you get the picture.

Sunday, April 9, 2023


Richelieu's End

Identifying himself with a persona which was simultaneously princely, sacerdotal, political and literary, Cardinal Richelieu comported himself as though he were a demigod.  But the wretched man had to play his part in a body which disease had rendered so repulsive that there were times when people could hardly bear to sit in the same room with him.  He suffered from tubercular osteitis of his right arm and a fissure of the fundament, and was thus forced to live in the fetid atmosphere of his own suppuration.  Musk and civet disguised but could not abolish this carrion odor of decay.  Richelieu could never escape from the humiliating knowledge that he was an object, to all around him, of physical abhorrence....

Between the rotting body of the actual man and the glory of the persona, the gulf was unbridgeable....That dreadful stench, those worms battening on the living corpse, seemed poetically just and appropriate.  During the Cardinal's last hours, when the relics had failed to work and the doctors had given him up, an old peasant woman, who had a reputation as a healer, was called to the great man's bedside.  Muttering spells, she administered her panacea -- four ounces of horse dung macerated in a pint of white wine.  It was with the taste of excrement in his mouth that the arbiter of Europe's destinies gave up the ghost.

                                                    -- Aldous Huxley, The Devils of Loudun

Friday, April 7, 2023


A Madman's Mantra

In the final six months of his life, my father, stricken with an eccentric dementia that emphatically was not Alzheimer's according to Dr. Hughes, his attending, developed a distressing affectation.  Whoever came to see him -- it could be a long-lost co-worker from the River Rouge or it could be his first wife -- he would look the person dead in the eye, grasp a forearm and wrist with both hands and say "Mark these words!"  He would repeat the expression several times, three or four.  But then, with rare exceptions, he would abruptly look away, and his face would collapse into a mask that was without any affect.

The phrase was one that he used not uncommonly, usually in kitchen table debates.  It would be followed by the expression of an opinion or prognostication -- about sports, or winter storms, or the presidential race.

But here, in this odd context, and followed by nothing, the phrase seemed to be "meta;" that is, the only two words that could be "marked" were "these words," and that didn't make much sense.

Or else the ritual had no meaning, which struck me as worse.  It had me thinking, before there was Alexa, before there were sexbots, before ChatGPT, that we are all just wind-up dolls with no agency, and hence with neither merits nor demerits chalked up for us on the Big Blackboard of Life.  This made it harder for me when finally we put the old man in the ground.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023


A Dog's Dream

If dogs can dream, then so can I.  But if dogs dream, then my own dreams have no real meaning, at least none as Freud or Jung would have it.  They do not foretell the future, nor do they lay out metaphorical guideposts for my life.

What they do emphasize, again and again, is my own sense of futility.  There is an icy mountain in the middle of the Cornell campus.  I must reach its summit, but its summit is beyond my power to reach.  I must take a final exam to earn the credits to graduate from college, but I can't find the classroom where it will be held, nor have I remembered even to register for the course.  There is a Greyhound bus, semi-streamlined in the old-fashioned style, waiting at a corner in the Midwest to take me back to Winthrop, but I don't have a dime in my pocket, let alone the entire fare.

And so it came as a pleasant surprise at the Hour of the Wolf last night when I experienced a dream whose narrative represented, you might say, a divine intervention against futility on my behalf.

There was a fictional young woman.  Let us call her W for "the Wastrel."  I had been incurably enamored of her for a long time.  Early on, I made my feelings known in a most straightforward way, but they were resisted in an equally straightforward way.  I pressed harder; her resistance grew.  It became the irresistible force against the immovable object.  And yet we carried on as friends, but seeing each other only from time to time.

As it happened then, I was organizing a very big dinner at my home to celebrate something or other.  To my surprise, W came a couple of days in advance to help me prep for the thing.  

In the quiet morning before, we sat side by side at the corner of the very long table where my guests would soon be dining.  W had fetched a paper -- the densest and thickest edition of the Sunday New York Times that I had ever seen in fact.  We tore through it together, quite happily.  My brother was also at the table, and we tossed him the scraps as we were done with each section.

There, in an instant, I suddenly knew that her resistance to me was simply gone.  It evaporated, and my pressure was released, simultaneously; one did not follow from the other via cause and effect.  There was joy and peace, but something had to be done sacramentally to mark the moment, just as, at the end of Wim Wenders' "Wings of Desire," a glass of wine in a quiet corner of an otherwise raucous Berlin venue, one frequented by the young and the avant garde at the Fall of the Wall, became a chalice held by the archetypal Man and Woman.  And so at once I reached for her hand under the table and also I met her eyes.  "I was healed, and my heart was at ease."

Tuesday, March 28, 2023


These Things Happen After All

My grandmother's family-famous porcelain chafing dish stood on its side for many years in a bracket on a mahogany cabinet in my dining room.  That is a room that we rarely use; it sees very little foot traffic except on holidays and briefly when the cleaning lady comes every other week.

But my daughter was staying with us in one of her transitions, and her closest friend stopped by to visit, dragging along her nine-year-old son, who is always called "Austin C." after the drug dealer who begat him, now long gone.  Triggered by my withdrawal from his hands of a fake but nevertheless dangerous ornamental sword that was leaning in a corner of the family room, Austin C. went off on a bit of a rampage, at maximum speed, throughout the first floor.  In the dining room his elbow clipped Nana's dish and its bracket, with predictable consequences.

On the sentimentality front, the dish was not brought from Ireland by Nana when she came, as family legend had had it.  We found out that it was a gift to her from a neighbor who ran a small antique shop in Queens.  But its provenance was Irish, in specific from the high-volume fires of the Belleek Factory in the North.

My first reaction to the crash was anger, at both the boy and his careless mother.

My second reaction was resignation; it was not something that could be undone.

My third reaction was gratitude directed at the boy, for accelerating entropy.  Things are meant to be broken.  Everything will be broken in due course.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023


Lucid Dream

I was going over my WIPs -- client "work in progress" -- as I do every month to assist my secretary in prepping my bills.  I came across the following time entry -- "We were chased by a crowd down the street and into a sewer; seven hours."

Tuesday, March 14, 2023


"Seek, and Ye Shall Find"

At the Hour of the Wolf it occurred to me that this bromide from the King James Version (Matthew 7:7) can be employed as a curse, against the researchers at the Wuhan Lab, for example, or more generally in place of "curiosity killed the cat."