Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The dinosaurs are dragging

their feet. Their breath is labored. There is desperation in their eyes as they sniff at their eggs, spoiling and not hatching. The sky is an odd color.

When the last living of their kind crashes chin first to the ground, smaller critters come out of hiding, as would Munchkins, to marvel at the remains glistening in the newly returned sunlight. Hairy men pull out the dreadful teeth and string them into necklaces that will cement their tribal positions.

To have been around for that! To have witnessed the extinction.

We should not feel too deprived, as we are today witnessing the extinction of three huge dinosaurs: the gasoline engine, the American two-party system, and the Roman Catholic Church.

The earlier situation that did in the T Rex and relatives had mysterious causes. Comet? Global climate change? Virus? The three that we are witnessing are clearly caused by unresponsive recalcitrance and greed for money or power.

The gasoline engine is something we have loved too much, like fried dough or the cigarette. GM and similar companies cannot stop themselves from selling it to us, and we have shown an inability to stop buying it. We are all guilty addicts for this sloppy invention. Mercifully, fossil fuel (remember those earlier dinosaurs? They growl to life again every time you turn the key in the ignition) will be depleted or too costly. There won't be any virtue in our switch to clean fuel. As a culture, we are like the obese who can't start a diet until they are in a coma.

The two-party system would almost be acceptable were it not for the fact that its leadership and message are interchangeably bad. The parties attract neither the heroic nor the inspired. Natural born American leaders like Oprah Winfrey or Garrison Keillor can't be bothered. This should be over by 2008. The vehicle and birth mother of an heroic and inspired president will not be the Green party or the Libertarians or any existing third party. It will be the gay community, flexing its powerful bicep nationally, and producing a startlingly wonderful leader who will, of course, be assassinated early in his presidency.

Finally, there is the pathetic matter of Roman Catholicism. Talk about squandering a franchise. For centuries, these guys had us believing that they owned the gates to heaven and hell. They picked the pockets of those in line at either entrance. We now have a pope who lingers, like that final dinosaur. Years from now, looters will plunder his grave, not recognizing the carved letters of his name as they pick the rubies out of his rotting vestments. John Paul wanted to be holy. He settled for stubborn. The horses (and the sheep) have left the barn.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Gender is what we

need more of in English. Yup. The French have their Le/La to infuse even the most sexless of objects (stones, doors, rugs) with the whimsicality of femininity or the weightiness of masculinity. La whim, le weight. Teachers who bestow French upon English speaking students say, "Aren't you glad we don't have to worry about that in English?" It's really just another Anglo attempt to denigrate all things Frenchular.

Some guys (think the John Goodman character on the old Rosanne show)like to use the La with some nouns when skewering what they think is a pansy-fied subject. La moisturizer. La scented candle. ("La President?" comes the retort from other parts of the room.) This tells us that even among the testosterone replete whose T shirts ride up over their bellies is the desire for a more poetic approach to all things neuter.

Some others will protest that adding gender to objects would be a politically incorrect misstep. So what? Colorful is superior to correct, any day.

Let's make "the" masculine, and invent a feminine article. My first find would be "tha", but this won't work because its pronunciation is too close to its masculine counterpart. How about "ta"? It looks like "la" so it already has some familiarity, and it can be pronounced as either "tuh" or "tah", just like "the" is spoken in various ways.

Ok, so we've got the and ta. Now boys and girls, let's use them in a sentence. "The guy in the red truck went on a date with ta hairdresser". Hmm. Problems already? Ta hairdresser may be a guy. Duh, he's still proudly Ta Hairdresser, especially at the moment he steps down from that red truck and shakes his shiny shag as he enters Ta Starlight Cafe on The Hairy Arm of The Truck Guy. See what fun we can have here?

I propose a modification of the French assignments. In English, let's let the speaker decide the gender of whatever noun he or she calls forth. Why should ta cake knife always be feminine and the switchblade always be masculine?

These thoughts came to mind yesterday while in the shower. With disposable razor in hand, I was considering the fact that one's first day usage of a disposable razor is never as good as the second day. On day one, the razor can cut you. On day two and three, you get the smoothest and safest shave. After about a week, you've got to toss it or suffer the irritations of a dull blade. I thought that this must be what sex is like for a virgin. The first time's marked by some pain and indelicacy. Smooth sailing doesn't really happen until the follow-ups. Why can't someone invent a disposable razor that is pleasant even on the first usage? Did a woman or a man invent the disposable razor and decide just how sharp those little twin blades ought to be? Since its performance tracks a woman's sexual initiations, should it be Ta Disposable, or, since it's my face that suffers the consequences, should we keep it as The Shaver, and let those sleeping dogs lie dreaming of their first time? Ta choice is yours.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

What if I lost

it? My looks.

Isadora Alman once offered to introduce me to a friend of hers who had been a model for Tom of Finland. She cautioned me that he had, in recent years, finally lost his looks. My first reaction was to protest that I would be the judge of that. Afterall, when a man starts out at such a high plateau, even a drastic fall should still land him among the lesser gods (think the aged Don Ameche in Cocoon. Still eminently doable). My second reaction was to wonder if someone would someday say that about me. Some young research assistant or art student:

"I'm going uptown to West 68th on the Park to visit somebody I met a few months ago."
"Oh? Some hot guy?"
"No. Not really. But they say he used to be hot. He used to rule at El Mirage and The House of Regrets. Maybe you'd recognize him."
"Sorry. I don't do Old".
"Not true. I've seen you in more than one back room after your fifth cosmo. On your knees, clawing your way through their aluminum walkers, trying to get at their pleated twills."

When the young man arrives, will I answer the door in a kaftan? Or jeans, cut for a season on the verge of ressurection as retro? Will I eye him with the sleazy hunger of Maurice Chevalier, humming "Thank heaven for little girls" in straw hat and cane?

A few years ago, a frustrated Deanna Durbin released a recent photo of herself to confound the widespread rumor that she was a recluse in the south of France, having become a grotesque, weighing over 400 pounds. The part about France was true, but in the photo she was only rather plump and still pretty enough to advertize something (like Coronet toilet tissue?).

To pass through a crowd undesired by strangers. To sway in a packed subway without anyone tracing the sinews of your arm holding the bar near their face. To step among the machinery at the gym without being the fantasy of at least a few of the married men and women who mentally undress you as you pass by their treadmill. To go out some night and to come home scoreless and relegated and marked-down. What would that be like?

Many years ago, on Valentine's Day at Blue's in Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas, C and I won "Cute Couple". There was another couple in the room. Rumor was that they had been together for thirty years. Their comportment was impeccable. Their clothing classic and effortless. They left at a reasonable hour. Everyone wanted a chance to speak with them. I dissected the elements of their features, trying to imagine what they had looked like before they were old. This was foolish on my part. Their current composites were highly attractive. They were still hot. I wondered then if we would ever get there.

We seem to be correctly en route, and far away from that dreaded moment. But when it comes, will I know it? Will friends gently tell me so? Or, will I simply become invisible in public, unseen by strangers who will invest their desire elsewhere? That's finally how you realize you've lost it, right?

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

I do not like

work. I have no admiration for those described as "hardworking". I do not see work as valuable, in and of itself. Don't want it scribbled even in rain-pervious chalk upon my gravestone. The most I can say about work is just what Queen Elizabeth, when pressed by her people, finally said about Diana. "She was a remarkable woman". I, in front of the TV, hooted with appreciation of her adroit use of English. Diana, she had said, was a woman able-to-be-remarked-about. Nothing more. The queen didn't really give an inch to her subjects. That's about all I can say of work. It worth talking about. The fact that the world is full of folks subscribing to striving is remarkable.

Gotta get stuff done? Well don't forget the old acid test: if you knew you had one day left to live...Some would reach for the vacuum cleaner, others for unpaid bills. First I'd grab C. before he could go off to work. Then, armed with chocolate and coffee, we'd watch the sunrise over the distant hills of Manchester and watch the miniature skyline of Hartford (workplace-to-be-avoided)begin to catch fire. We'd look through our entire photo collection and I'd open the storage boxes that hold all our old T shirts. Touch each one of them just once more. I'd rummage through the box labeled "Ephemera" into which were tossed all the bits of paper that used to be on the fridge, labels from significant bottles of wine, our subway passes from Paris, a verdigrised shower drain salvaged from an old YMCA, a shriveled leather racquetball glove. In the evening, while C. would make his (some would call it remarkable) wonderful pasta and peppers, I'd paint a final picture without plan or direction. It's fascinating to me that I have no idea what this would look like. I suspect that it would contain that shade of periwinkle that is my own natural color. The color of a pack of those French cigarettes, Galois (sp?).

We'd open a bottle of Shiraz Mourvedre, and then I'd spend the rest of the night doing what I do best: haggling, bargaining and ultimately winning from the clock more time, more days, more wine.

That's the best thing about being a person who plays more than works: I don't have any sense that this will ever end. Workers, on the other hand, always have a sense of the goal and the accomplishment. Work is always terminal, but never over. I've never heard a worker say "That floor could not be cleaner. There is no speck of dirt on it." The most they will say as they hang up the mop is "You could eat off that floor". Well so what? I've put my mouth on some things a lot more suspect in this world of dirt than most of the floors we transgress and I'm no worse for it.

You will excuse me. I've got to get cleaned up and dressed because I am now extremely late for work.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

There is no one alive today

who is anything like Eve Arden. What happened to that type of actress? To that type of role? Has that type of person become extinct?

For those of you who do not remember her, Eve Arden played the reluctant friend/co-worker/participant in the life of the lead actress in a zillion movies. Everything she said was a stand-alone zinger expressing chagrined acceptance about the fact that life's tough, but, hey, someone's got to do the cooking, so hand me that apron and run for cover. If you played an ingenue who lands a job in a fashion house in Paris, she'd play the hard working ex-patriot who's been abroad for fifteen years, seen 'em come and go, has managed to survive and can tell you why. If she was in the chorus, and you were in tears because you had just broken up with the producer, she'd be rubbing her tired feet in the dressing room, but able to deliver a bromide and walk you home. Before you got to your door, she'd have completed ten perfect statements beginning with words like "That's the problem with men...", or, "Honey, haven't you figured out that all guys...", or, "Well if you ever find a man who...". If you concoct a plot-centric scheme involving lies and jewelry and an out-of-town ruse, she'd shake her head, tell you it will never work, but faithfully execute her part of the deception just because she's your pal. She never seemed to be accompanied by a boyfriend or a husband. Never admitted to wanting one, except once-per-movie when she'd allow you a brief glimpse into her lonely soul before slipping back into her hard shell.

Because she played the same character in each movie and because her lines were invariably of the same caliber and cadence, I am convinced that she had an agent who must have said "Miss Arden will appear in your picture under one condition: she will furnish her own lines."

I'm having trouble picturing her dead, although I assume she is indeed that. Her eyes not fixing you with a mock-glare, the corner of her mouth not turning down with a cynical aside, her big shoulders not nudging you with "buck-up" support. In her casket, she is probably informing her cemetery neighbors "Well there's not much of a view but I've always liked putting my feet up at the end of a hard day".

She made her films in a time when nudity and sex were not on the menu, but had she been called upon, I'm sure she would have delivered the goods. Imagine her taking off her bra in front of Jesse White as the Maytag repairman. "OK buddy, the store's open. Step right up and make your selection. The shelves are pretty much stocked with two of almost everything you're looking for, except my heart, and remember, if you break it, it's yours."

Where'd you go, Eve? Why no daughter, no passing of your torch?

Friday, September 10, 2004

I can't even begin to imagine the face of

God. For that matter, I can't even begin to imagine the dimensions and boundaries and fabric of the next life. If it lacks both time and space, I have no ingredients and hence no recipe for it.

This irritating situation came up last week while Hurricane Frances battered our windows and screamed about the seventeenth floor of our tower on the beach in Fort Lauderdale. Knowing that my corrugated metal storm shutters had sealed off my view, my neighbors invited me next door for dinner and to witness the storm through their newly installed high-impact-glass-category-five-proof windows. We watched the waves literally deliver the beach up onto Route A1A and began to talk about our lapsed practice of Roman Catholicism. We watched the blue flashes from arcing power stations to the north, somewhere near Oakland Park Blvd, while performing the ritual trashing of absurd 20th century church leadership. We saw the entire city north of our perch on East Sunrise Blvd slip into darkness as power failed, while we recalled our childhood exposure to Limbo.

A nun in the 1950's explained to her class that the unbaptized (mostly infants whose brevity on earth did not allow for the spilling of holy water across their brows, and folks trapped in the outback of Australia) who, through no fault of their own, had missed the golden opportunity to join the family of God, should expect to end up in Limbo rather than in Heaven. The words Limbo and Heaven were delicious and as attractive and unknowable as were the daily televised Mouseketeers whom I was sadly certain I would never meet and never join. Each day, in order to get to this nun's classroom, I took a bus labeled Blue Hills. I never rode that bus to the end, and I assumed that Blue Hills was the last stop before Limbo which neatly preceded Heaven.

Supposedly, in Limbo, one enjoys all the pleasures of Heaven except for the joy of seeing the face of God. He simply doesn't go there. The nun went on to assure us that the infants and Australians don't really miss his company because they are afterall, immersed in every other conceivable and inconceivable pleasure.

As soon as she said this, I began to long for Limbo and to resent my parents for having baptized me before I could think for myself and fend off the holy water. I began to imagine living in Heaven. I'm in my perfect home. My quarreling parents do not exist. My younger brother does not exist. I am eating great stuff, and the Mouseketeers are with me. We are singing when the doorbell announces a visit from God. Annette quickly cleans the kitchen table while I run to make the bed. We welcome God into the house and have a cordial visit. Things are just fine. Would you like some coffee? God, it's wonderful to see your face. Come again soon.

I imagine Limbo right down to the same doorbell, but without the visit from God. What could possibly be better? If I had been ten years older, I would have framed this in terms of "no need to hide the magazines or flush the drugs". That evening, at the dinner table, I glared at my parents and protested my permanent and relentless baptism. They looked at me as if I were not their spawn, but trapped as they were in an unhappy marriage with responsibilities that they wished would disappear, their eyes betrayed a longing for the Limbo I described to them.

The next day, as I boarded the bus to school, I decided that since Limbo was off limits, I would opt for Blue Hills rather than Heaven. This plan has led me through a wonderful life of serious sin in which I swear I've seen the face of God many times. He smiles at me before he slips out the back door in the early hours and returns to his obligations. He's OK with my choices. He's relying on me for his inconceivable and conceivable pleasures.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

I woke up too early

and I knew that I would not be able to reconvene the troops of sleep for the two hours before the alarm. I lay still, with eyes closed, invoking any deity who might be perched over the bed and knew the way back to sleep. Instead, these thoughts were among the two hour parade that passed through my head:

Is it really such a good thing that despite my restless thrashing, this mattress does not transmit any ripples of movement to C's side of the bed? Maybe humans have evolved to need to feel their partner's sleep movements. Maybe this high tech-induced deprivation is the cause of much urban irritability.

I'm in a hospital room seated in a visitor chair between two beds. The friend I am visiting has been wheeled away for tests. In the other bed is a woman who looks like Laura Dern. Her husband arrives. He looks like Patrick Swayze. They have murmured conversation and then ask me if I would be offended if they had sex. I say no and remain in my rather front row seat. He draws the cubicle curtain around her bed and includes my chair within the private space. He climbs up onto the bed and they begin to have somewhat conventional sex. They seem anxious. He looks over at me and says "Please, please join us". We're off to the races.

Which dining room chairs should we use in New York? If it's the turquoise vinyl mid-century modern set, the wooden parts need to be stained black. No. Wait. Make that bleached white. No. Maybe stained honey. like in the fifties. Well there are three of them. Let's do one in each color. Nevermind. There's only three of them, and the table really needs four. How about the Thonet chairs? There's four of them. They need to be taken apart, sanded and urethaned to death. How about the iron and oak theater seats from Provincetown? They need a lot of work, but I love the way they rock slightly when you sit in them, and I've got twelve of them. Mostly in storage. C hates those chairs. I'll have to buy cushions to appease him, but really they don't need it.

Are maggots just the larval form of a critter that then makes some kind of subterranean cocoon and emerges prettier, or is a maggot always a maggot from birth to death? How is it that maggots appear wherever there is carnage? Were they just passing by, and lucky to stumble upon some corpse, or are they always nearby, lurking and waiting for that sniff of decay?