Month: November 2015

Neighbors According to Zimbardo Research

2015. Acrylic on canvas, 18 x 14″

Reading The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil by Philip Zimbardo. My wife says it’s unhealthy for me to find sources to corroborate a hypothesis I had since the first 20 year old paid airman knew he could pull a lever and simultaneously murder 35,000 civilians, and did it anyway. Perhaps she is right. The poor boy had no training in social psychology and 1984 hadn’t been written until several years after the devastation of Nagasaki. (Orwell was busy with his war work at the BBC). Anyway, his superior officer told him to do it. And that was good enough for him. Heck, he just wanted a Coke after the bombing, and alone time to write a letter to his sweetheart.

I am so intrigued by the ideas put forth in this book. I believe they will help me avoid many uncomfortable mob lynch-like situations in the future. Unfortunately, I am the only one on my street learning how to clear away from dangerous group think. And although these beasties, otherwise known as local neighbors, appear harmless now, almost friendly-looking actually, I know that at the sound of the right whistle, this colorful mob will fuse into a monstrous, incredibly indifferent, killing machine.

Oh well. Best to know some good escape routes.

For now, let this video do in three minutes what reading a fat tome would accomplish in 12 days:

I’d Rather Be High by David Bowie

 

Throop Painting! Hasn’t Stopped. Yet.

02.09.01dads_bananas

Written in 2001:

An Open Letter to Friend and Family…

I surrender. I must go on record. I begin my true career today. My spirit down-sized itself into a fickle, indecisive, pot-bellied embarrassment. Now I am stuck in internal revolution. When I am through and all the manias on the inside are hung on the outside, then I will have erased doubt, denial, melancholia, fear… What or whom do I have to fear? All the animals laugh at human melodrama. I swear everything human that is not connected to love is melodrama and useless.
Look here friends, family, all strangers alive today, and those living tomorrow… I am through playing the sad game. I want to live the life I was born to live. I cannot wait for security in order to practice happiness. I do not wish to pursue happiness. It’s here! At my writing table. The same table I set my meals on. The table from where I teach. The table in the kitchen of my home.
As downright stupid and confused that I was at twenty, at least I had the foresight to know I would be ready to write “professionally” by my thirty-fifth birthday. Thereafter, I would keep no job that would steer me away from my true desire. I’ve done horse and mule work to keep the artist in me alive. I purposely hacked at all financial opportunity because I could never imagine any other life for me besides that of the poor artist.
For the time being, (and I pray that I can summon the courage to make it forever) my indentured servitude is over. Now at thirty-four years of age desire is shooting out of every pore at a screaming boil. Freedom! Poverty! Yes! For the rest of my life I would like that my government mark me out as one of the impoverished. Frankly I believe that its mark of poverty is a king’s income for a sane man.
Because I am a father and a husband, I realize that I will never join that degraded class of poor which turns out the brilliance of Hamsuns, van Goghs, and Dostievskys. I want to do my part providing the necessaries for my family. Therefore I foresee many more degrading jobs popping up in the future. I write this letter hoping that someday I can be employed by you or someone you know. I am a fantastic cook. I can create all sorts of delicious goodies for the gourmet. I am also quite handy around the house. Home repair. I prefer electrical work to fine carpentry. In fact I am pretty good at anything which can be finally hidden behind a professional job. I can paint the inside and outside of homes. Not too well, but much cheaper than you’d pay someone else to do it just as poorly.
What I really want is to sell my paintings. While the writing is in progress I plan to paint for relaxation as well as keep the creative juices flowing. I use acrylics and gouache. I’m good enough. That is to say, I am a living artist, and whatever I do today should be of some interest to posterity. I will charge twenty-five dollars plus shipping and handling for each finished work. I will take commissions. Presently I am painting a goldfish in a busy underwater scene. When it is finished I will have spent approximately eight hours working on it. You can see what a measly hourly wage this will make. A little over three dollars an hour. Yet it’s such a sweeter life than sweeping a stranger’s floors to get my butter.
There are those who think my business will fail miserably. I am positive that it will! But not trying is wrong living, and who wants to be to be guilty of that!?
“The primary thing is this, that whatever money is given me constitutes a mortgage on the future, my future as a writer. Making water colors is so much play for me; it gives me a release. In other words, it keeps me happy, enthusiastic and alive, and to be happy, enthusiastic and alive is a prerequisite for the artist.”—Henry Miller
The point is I won’t go another year suffering for illusions which others may have of me. (A path I have foolishly followed for most of my adult life.) I am not a sole provider. I am a father, a friend, an honest, loving, incredibly cheerful, desperately creative and funny man. I want coffee in the morning, hot, delicious food for dinner, rent paid, and time. You can help me achieve my first three objectives by offering to purchase one of my books or paintings. Time is up to me. I could make the most of it with your financial, or at the very least, moral support.
One more quote before singing off… It should set the droning, one hundred page tone of bitterness for the remainder of this book. Erica Jong wrote the following about Miller, but it works too for all of us lazeabout, good-for-nothing, artsy-fartsy types:
“The New York that Henry left in March of 1930 was nowhere as fraught as the New York of today, but it still bore certain similarities. In New York it was a dishonor to be an unknown writer; in Paris one could write écrivain on one’s passport and hold one’s head high. In Paris it was assumed (it still is today) that an author had to have time, leisure, talk, solitude, stimulation. In New York it was, and still is, assumed that unless you fill up your time with appointments, you are a bum.”
So be it. But I must warn you that I did not set the stage for this play, although I share the guilt of every actor playing in it. Help if you can, or decide to breeze alone through this one safe life never to support a fallen man unless he’s prepared to give you back some proof of financial success. Invest in paper clips but never individual men. The return is slight compared to the trillions already in degradation circulation. My hand holds a blank sheet of worthless paper. Sometimes I write words on it. Sometimes I fill it with colors of joy and light. It’s not plastic or perishable. It won’t make much money. But it shouldn’t make me broke either. It’s time now to make an exchange to benefit humankind. Neither of us will get much out of it, but one of us will get some money to buy food.

The 6:00 P.M. Peace

woodswalk

“Dr. Olson, How Can I Spot Your Trail Marker In This?” 2015. Acrylic on canvas, 12 x 16″

A.m. early morning woods walk with a friend. Unfortunately for him, he has hair, and the ticks leaped for it. He picked two off his scalp before noon. I secretly hoped to find one in a similar spot, but ticks are more sophisticated these days. They expect better quality for their risk investment. Not only are there fewer places to hide on my head than the day before, but ticks can sense a cynic. Always scratching his head. “Why? Why do it that way? Or any way for that matter?” Too much poking around on an already very thin area of follicle flora, and chance for engorgement is slim. Ticks know this. I am passed by for better coverage.

The woods were quiet. The world outside was getting busy. I think philosophers, as a job requirement, must spend a lot of thought-time seeking a path to contentment. All paths expect a destination, but few want to track one journey and end it there, living by its demands day in and day out unto death. Human life is never a market strategy, yet is often planned this way—as if the supreme judge is some stuffy bank president marking your application for the small business loan. On the last uphill climb of our walk my friend talked about a friend of his who, after being poor most of his life, has reached a point of economic security. Yet now he is persuading himself to go into another business for only he knows what reasons. Just then the idea of the 6:00 p.m. peace popped in my mind. If you are at a point in life where enough money can be made, and no matter if you lose or win a little bit, a box of shredded wheat and rent is achievable, then count every success (both short and long-term) at the 6:00 p.m. marker (2nd and 3rd shift humanity can move the time to fit the individual situation). For instance, one wakes every day doing what is absolutely necessary to get to the after-dinner hour with total serenity. Food is digesting. Children are loved. Tomorrow is a long time. No worries to carry over to the morning. The appointment to have your teeth removed on Monday can always be canceled before 6:00 p.m. if you cannot stop thinking of your teeth ripped out. The meeting at the institution needs assets you don’t have because your daughter had a parasite in her stomach early this morning… Then it is time to cancel any employment that demanded you give up your peace at 6:00 p.m. Union organizing didn’t realize it a hundred years ago, but all it desired was the path toward the six o’clock in the evening wellness. Today, if poor people stopped trying to be poor people with smartphones, KFC counter work could very happily reward them with the 6:00 p.m. peace.

Success is subjective. To me failure is always an easy mark. Call anyone up a minute after 6:00 p.m. Oh, he answered? Ah-ha, you’re both failures! But that’s okay. See what you can do with tomorrow. It is such a very long time away.

 

Four Paintings This Week November Is Odd

The Second Station of the Rake 2015. Acrylic on birch panel, 24 x 48″

Like de Kooning, I Set Out To Make Something Very Ugly With Lots of Paint. Unlike de Kooning, It Took Me Only a Few Hours 2015. Acrylic on birch board, 24 x 24

Blueeyes

Good Morning Blue Eyes I’m Almost Out of Paint 2015. Acrylic on paper, 15 x 22″

Bob

Dear Insurance Industrial Complex, Please Don’t Switch Off the Light On My Stepfather 2015. Acrylic on canvas, 12 x 16″

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mysteries of Norway and a Post About the Post

norway

2015. Acrylic on canvas board, 20 x 16″

Here is a lesson to be learned about the U.S. and Russian postal services, their inept governments, and the real power of people unencumbered most days by those lessor people (politicians) who rise to power because they were crafty lawyers at mid-life… Not so much a cautionary tale as a mirthful reminder to humanity that those in high seats of profit-driven organizational power are clown enemies of contentment and champions of the cause of mass-somnambulance.

A month ago I sent two priceless paintings, via USPS, to friends in Russia for them to hang in a Moscow pancake house. I paid $108.00 for this service, one seventh of what round-trip airfare and four nights in the Moscow Hilton would cost me (according to Expedia.com) if I decided to hand-deliver the parcel myself, receiving the added benefit of smelling the fresh autumn breezes of a foreign land. The paintings were expected within 6-10 business days, but as of this morning have still not arrived.

To juxtapose.

My periodontist told me a story recently of a veritable postal miracle that would never happen in countries housing life-hating thermonuclear weapons in underground silos and big sissy ships offshore. He wanted to contact his mother’s family in Poland, that his family in America informed him long ago was wiped out during the second world war. They all lived in a village on the Polish and Russian border, the two countries separated by a river and a bridge. When the Nazis marched through the town, they burned, raped and killed any visible inhabitants charging them with Russian sympathizing. Later, when the Russians pushed the Nazis back over the bridge, they too burned, raped, and killed all visible villagers because they were most certainly Nazi sympathizers. The mother of my periodontist emigrated to the U.S. in 1937, married, and continued her mitochondrial eve genetic development west of Hoboken, N.J.

My periodontist told me the story of how he discovered the prewar Polish address of his long dead aunt from old letters in the attic. He used this address to send a letter of introduction to relatives that, according to living second generation Polish emigres here in the United States, was non-existent. The old houses were gone, and all the family dead. He sent the letter anyway. And waited.

He got a response. It turns out that the Polish postal service does not work like ours. When it receives a letter, the letter gets delivered, or the entire human world goes to pot.

The mail man of the village could not locate the address but vaguely remembered the last name mentioned from when he was a boy living in a town 12 kilometers east of his route. On his day off he rode out to the town’s post office and handed off the letter. That postmaster never heard of the name, but after work, walked it over to the town elder statesman/historian. Ah-ha! Yes, she knew the name, but it had been lost and nearly forgotten. All of the men were wiped out in World War II, but some daughters survived, and remarried. He knew where to send it and did so. My periodontist was able to connect. He traveled to Poland in September to share stories with what turned out to be quite an extensive family network, all connected by their mothers to the name that was lost during the great second war.

There. An example of the human connection inspired by an effective bureaucracy thinking outside of the box.

My painting is also a human connection. It has no border crossing, no slaughtering armies, no bridges. Once in a while, in order for one painter to connect with another, he must bow to the state authority, to insure that his parcel get through to the right party. He pays the toll and expects that it isn’t too difficult for these two wealthy nations, extorting trillions of dollars from its peoples, to at least pretend to have the combined knowledge to implement successful parcel delivery.

It does not. My poor painter vote of no confidence is secure.

Vicarious Painting Is The New Black

white house

“I’d Miss You Too Much if I Did What I Wanted” 2015. Acrylic on birch, 24 x 24″

Last week I got the call from my painting master in Moscow to take to the public road with my painter’s box and great coat. I went over to the window and looked out at November. Too brisk for fast drying acrylics and open air sissies when the open air is rainy cold and mucus-forming. I followed him to the river, keeping an hour or two behind his step, to finally join him vicariously while he braved the cold north wind to paint the Russian White House. Perfect!

12240228_1486641901640208_6333297773246898862_o02xeKxVxOYQ

This is painting!

Have to get back to basics.

If I Knew Now What I Knew As A Young Man, I’d Be a Young Man

young man

2015. Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14″

Some young man writing without a smartphone moments before the digital revolution…

“Training of a Zen Buddhist Funk” from Cookbook For The Poor:

Ah, good morning! I like it when the snow falls. I like me when the snow falls. Penniless, but still possessing an adequate pair of boots; I walk with a leather backpack which carries all of my material treasures. I walk them through town, to the bakery, to my friend Scott’s tomb, or to work. These are the places I travel to nowadays.
I also like reaching into my pack while listening to men converse about money. Respect for money. I am trying my damnedest to respect human beings, but this is so difficult.
This is what I am thinking about. A row of pine trees on a still December afternoon. The snow falls ever so lightly. The silence it creates is deafening. Presently I am here at the bakery listening to the pine trees grow in a woods that I visited as a little boy, and I am loving the emptiness of it!
Men don’t need to talk—not to each other anyway. A good silence is poetry. The right word spoken is magical. Human eyeballs are enough stuff for miracles to happen. A look—just a look, or a good, long penetrating stare, then back to work. Nothing needs to be said about it. I say speak good English, but seldom speak. Fall in love with silence, the sound of pine trees growing, or something of the sort.
The snow is now blowing and falling fast. The temperature is steadily dropping. Serious men look hilarious with winter caps on their heads. In my mind’s eye, they are turned into children instantly. I know that deep down in the bottom of their hearts they would rather be sledding. The insurance racket can wait, or whatever racket they are in. Steep, fluffy hills, and hot cocoa waiting… Stuff a premium where the snow don’t fall.
Even though I could piss on the job, a cook’s life can be a free one. More snow fell. Just enough to give this morning a new look of white. As I was about to leave, I asked my girlfriend for a small bunch of cloves; whole cloves would be nice. She wrapped them up in plastic and tucked them safely in my thick green army coat. While crossing West Park, I fell into a deep satisfying muse. Kicking my dirty work boots through the snow, heading for the kitchen with the scent of cloves about me, and an intention to buy cheesecloth… Who felt freer than I?
If I am going to take the advice of the ancient masters, then I will have to keep strong under every circumstance. Stay to the path as the hurricane flies. Why are people who appear to be so close to me, so far out of reach? It is as if I have been rudely tossed into the rapids of a gushing river and I am grasping at the thin air for something to grab hold of, a log or a tree’s branch that will save me from drowning. There are people in my life whom I love so dearly, but I cannot come to them. I love them, but it is impossible for me to swim.

It is 9:00 a.m. I have been to Vee’s for the keys, and in the short time it took for me to walk from the bakery to work, a thousand nonsense thoughts have already passed through my brain. Do you see why I have to accept myself? For no friend of mine, man or woman, would be allowed by me to waste such precious time. What happens? I think that one part of my brain takes over, and it has its fun, but then the other part is always at ready, impatiently waiting to attack. It’s ridiculous! The “high” thoughts versus the “low” thoughts in a duel. Neither will ever win. There is no point to their fighting. Still they fight, to the end I guess, or rather, to the “neverend.”
Why would I want to be alone with myself? I think that I am the most disagreeable person in the world. I sing the same stupid love song over and over, and then I have the nerve, right in the middle of “Oh my love…,” to think of a foolish Zen monk selling his precious pan and bowl. While on the bridge looking out over the gray water below, my thoughts pass over to my favorite football team. Will they win today? I hope so.
I am a schizophrenic. Or I am a miracle, depending on which way you look at it. I can hear the departed masters speak as they watch over me from the clouds. “We see you Ron. We think that you are wonderful. No man bound for greatness has ever been so tolerant of mediocrity. You are mediocre mister, and you can thank the good Lord for that!”
Last night I told Joe the dishwasher about how much I despise mediocrity. He never even heard of the word. I told him what I thought it meant. He asked me if I liked being conceited. Me?
Never! This is why… This is my life right now. This is my hour, the hour of man. It is man’s individual potential that is awesome—not his automobiles. This is the hour of man, but where does his energy flow? I’ll tell you where. To TV divorce courts, to new apartments or houses, to coffee and cigarettes, to spoiling and neglecting children, to sneakers and shoes, to picking up garbage, to cleaning up counters, to pricing out curtains, to endless bickering, to enormous paychecks thought to be measly, to alarm clock snooze buttons… This is the hour of man, but all I see before me is mediocrity. Humanity at large has become dumb and I am rolling in the middle of it, holding my belly and laughing like a fool. Joe, I am not conceited. I am
mediocre.

“The main problem with the cook will then be to make the best possible use of the food material given to him for the maintenance of health among the members of the brotherhood.”
—From Training of the Zen Buddhist Monk

I would rather not think about the mess I got myself into. Or is it a mess? On the road of life it seems that I have come to a dead end. Must I accept this and come to a complete stop? Should I cover myself with a warm blanket and make preparations for the winter to come? Or do I attack at the roots of trees, quack grass, box elders, and plow myself a new road? What a contrast! My job and the monk’s silent course.
Strange, but in this seat I feel blessed. Why? Maybe because I can greet two opposing faces of life in the same manner. “Hello, how do you do?” But then there lies the constant fear that I am warming up to the one and ignoring the other. I know that I will continue to waste food as long as I believe my arms and legs to be as perishable as six-day old cod. And I must accept the fact that my brain is scattered. An onion is more stimulating than a movie entitled “Kick-boxer III,” but why? My problem is that I cannot give an honest answer. Women and children are being raped in mall parking lots. It’s Christmas time thank God! One must make a clean break from this world in order to come back to it. In this respect I am full of the Bodhisattva. However, I have also been known to stuff a flounder or two. Deep fry or set free? Or do both? Comprende?

Now for the soup… Oh yes, where was I? Price Chopper—supermarket extraordinaire. I grab the cheesecloth in aisle five and proceed to work right on schedule. I know that the prep list is light so I will have time to create the most wholesome soup ever. The cloves in my pocket will be the secret ingredient, the perfect spice, a little fairy dust to enhance my creation.
Through the kitchen door with a turn of the key. Thank God the alarm did not sound off. The police can sleep. Now begins my thirteen hour day. Click! On with the oven. Click, click! On with breaker numbers five and seven. Fill a pot of water for the potatoes. Soup on the brain… Stuffing too. I believe that utter silence will be the catch for the day. Poetry will be our special. I wonder if people think that I am crazy. I wonder if my own family believes I am nuts. Especially when I talk about cars and their grave danger. I realize now that no one worries about himself and that frightens me silly. While washing navy pea beans I think about cars and the sinister technology that goes into their making. “Screw the macrocosm!” are the words that I hear calling from Detroit and beyond. I am worried about my home and family. I believe that I do everything I can to prevent our children from acquiring lead feet and trigger fingers. I worry about the fragile guts of my own child strewn across some foreign road.
I send the wife and kids out on a rainy day. I wave good-bye. There they go, to parts unknown, or to well known points some thirty miles away. (Only thirty minutes away in modern automobile time/distance measurement.) And in this manner they will soon get all of their work done properly. I say work, but it can just as well mean gossip or playtime; for the great risk may be taken to visit an aunt or pick up raisins at the store. The right store of course. The only expense is life, if that be the case, which is highly improbable. Or is it?
Car wrecks are modern day massacres. There is no other way to look at it. And we are the executors, the murderers. The sweet ease of the automobile is a quick ride to nowhere, dead or alive. Eventually they come home all hugs and smiles, and I’m not so quick to say, “Are you out of your mind?! What God has given you the eternal pass to zoom across the landscape like a storm?” Instead, I fall back into a pose of acceptance, denial, or ignorance, it doesn’t matter. How easy it then becomes to forget the history of walking. By golly, have we ever known one? We are the super fools born unto the super highway. We are so fortunate to have been granted the car as an extra appendage. Artificial yes, but it moves like the Dickens. Dangerous as hell, but we have important business to take care of, right?
Our culture is no culture. You see, Emerson believed the human life to be too long. And for God’s sake, he walked! “Nathaniel, we must get to Cambridge fast. Let’s make a day of it. We’re both wearing good shoes; each of us has a strong pair of legs… We’ll stop by the roadside and pick apples from the trees. What do you say? Life is unnecessarily too long.”
I have been on long walks in the past. For the most part they were walks for the sheer adventure of walking. A perambulation. I admit that driving may get you there in a tenth of the time, but walking will take you to heaven and back. It is a religious experience. One reason why America is void of any healthy culture, I believe, is because we are ignoring the fact that we have legs. We walk to and from the car, but seldom do we walk without it. How good it feels to arrive somewhere on your feet and not in the lap of a two ton metal monster. One feels warm, intelligent, vibrant, hollow, wonderfully empty when he finishes a walk. He has unknowingly self-administered a kind of spiritual enema. Lovely.
It is my opinion that walking is a miracle which nobody wants to believe in. All of the miracles are dead or dying. It doesn’t matter if one feels good or bad. The objective is to get there on time, or quicker.

With the beans carefully washed, I let them begin their slow cook. Into a pot they go… A big pot! Place it on the burner and set the flame at medium. There… Now for a bouquet garni. For this I use the cheesecloth that I bought at the food asylum up on the hill. Place bay leaves, thyme, fennel seeds, and cloves onto a piece of cloth. Wrap the cloth into a ball and tie up any loose ends. Toss into the pot. Meanwhile, begin the tedious process of peeling about twenty or thirty garlic cloves. Toss into the pot. Cover and set simmering for about an hour. Salivate and then get back to work.

“Everyone calls her hole girl because she has a hole in one arm.”
“I’m trying to get her skirt up her legs.”
“Thank you sister for the beautiful skirt you gave me.”
“Look at my beautiful skirt!”

This is how my daughter spoke to her doll last night. Children are enlightened. They are of a higher spiritual class. Many grown-ups put on a great show, but without any spirit. However the children of this land unknowingly follow in the footsteps of the Buddha. They are packed full of spirit. They are alive with joy! Unlike their parents, they are not enslaved by the masters confusion, sorrow, and despair.
So I am grown up, and my brain is a cesspool. What can I do about it? I took my B-complex; I tried to relax and breathe deeply. Yet still, last night I was so wound up that I thought a blood vessel would pop in my brain. “The master knows how to divert his anger into a work of art.” This is all that a troubled mind can hope for. Are we going to be creative with our world? Or shall we be content with the destruction caused by tension, violence, boredom, hatred, anger…? The child climbs a tree, or sits down in a cardboard box and says, “Home in Africa.” The toasted layman like myself gets tense and cultivates a very dangerous ennui and disgust.
“If you need to go pee, that is all right,” says Rachelle to her deformed little dolly. While watching her these days I have begun to realize more fully the need, her need, for me to be a father. This is my life’s mission. To keep her in this natural, youthful world of color and fantasy. What can be so hard about that? Find the irrepressible urge to become aware. Feed her spirit with an open heart and a clear mind. Presently she is alive and living in a reality I’d much rather believe in. It is not her choice either. It is in her nature. It is corrupt natures that trample her spirit, or fight with the desire to.
I am alive, no less alive than she is. Maybe I am from a different planet, that is all. She is from earth, and I am from the planet X-4. We are first time explorers united in an unknown galaxy. The past is dead. The future has crumbled. Neither of us has surpassed the other in knowledge, wisdom, love, freedom…
Sauté onions and carrots in extra virgin olive oil. Toss in with beans. Chop up a few peeled potatoes and throw into the pot.
Simmer uncovered until beans are just right. Say hello to Brian, and fix lunch while you chat.
This season I feel my spirit electrified. It is aroused, uplifted, lighter than air, you know… jolly. I have this desire to write something spectacular, a masterpiece that will express my understanding of the stark presence of the day, but I am plagued with the thirty insecurities. I cannot “publicize,” or as my friend Larry would say, “prostitute” myself. And I don’t know why. For the way that I feel now, I am sure that my poetry will always remain personal. “I can see my breath,” or “The morning is sunny and cold, therefore I feel an emptiness such as never before.” How about this one..? “You can speak, but it will only make you appear more beautiful.”
Yes I am insecure, mentally. But physically I am dashing. No longer do I concern myself with such nonsense as worrying about which clothes to wear, or the purchase of a good shampoo. I am something though, have a look for yourself. Lopsided, pigeon-toed, balding, sometimes smelly, and struggling with the constant threat of halitosis.
Mentally I am strong compared with most men who are so apt to resign themselves to forces which are under their control, ex., money, house, spouse, job, boss, steak sandwich… But to God and myself I am a wreck, a confirmed neurotic. How is it then that I manage to stay afloat?
Laughter! Yes, the ability to laugh at such moments when those about me are biting their fingernails and weeping into their pillows. Laughter is the yacht which appears just in the nick of time to save me from drowning. This morning I was all cramped out, kicking and screaming, choking on seaweed. Now evening has come and I find myself seated comfortably in the smoking room of some luxurious sea cruiser. I am being served tea by a beautiful girl who is here for my pleasure, to aid in my recovery. Not bad. It’s real, believe me. The laughter is undeniably real.
I know in my heart that Jesus was not the serious bore that the history books make him out to be. If the holy spirit is to live in me, it must be known that on a moonlit night long ago, Jesus wrestled with Judas in the sand. They told jokes, played tricks, pissed the Romans off to no extent with their jeering, mocking, and straight forward shenanigans. Slapstick is an ancient art. I will have it no other way. If Jesus was so serious, then he must have been really funny. Hilarious even! For how could such miracles have been accomplished otherwise?
“I have the cables and the wire Ron. Joe’s bringing in the motor.”
“For the rocket?” I ask.
“Yea,” says Brian,“but we need an explosion. I’ll try to come up with something.”
“Right. Well, the soup is almost ready. Anyway, I turned it down. The ribs are timed, and I left the stuffed potatoes for you to do.
Adios amigo! Be back in an hour.”
The tree where I usually take my lunch is being winterized. All the leaves are dead. The snow has buried them. I’ll stay inside today. So I pick up my book, pour a cup of coffee with cream, and sit down to some delicious reading and an okay egg sandwich. The book is Hunger by Knut Hamsun. While reading through it I am remembering. There are a few matters here that must be dealt with.
My past and future are real. They are real ghosts. It is in the present moment where I find the flesh and blood me, and presently I am concerned with beauty. Particularly the beauty present in Hamsun’s book. It’s extraordinary! Mainly because it appears before my eyes as starvation, suffering, insanity, cowardice, confusion and death. These are the hues washed in his violent watercolor. Nothing at all rosy about this picture. Still, it is beautiful to me just the same.
“If a man only had a bite to eat! Bread—one of those marvelous loaves of rye bread that a man could chew on as he walked. I walked along, deciding on exactly the kind of rye bread that would be best now…”
I remember one day in particular, about two years ago last March. It was a freezing cold day. Like Hamsun’s hero, I was homeless too. The few possessions which I had left were kept in storage at a friend’s apartment. Unfortunately at the time, he was dealing with his own confusion to understand that I was in desperate need of a certain couple necessities of life. Food and shelter. What I did during those days depended upon the weather. My nights were never planned. To sleep became a luxury, and I swore that I would never abuse that luxury again, (if the time ever came when I would have the chance to abuse it). Sometimes if I was lucky, I would lay down in the basement of my old college dormitory. I would drop like a box of potatoes behind a bandstand in the corner of the room. A one man bandstand it must have been, for I couldn’t curl up enough to keep my feet from sticking out. I was in constant risk of arrest.
On this particular morning, however, I woke up on my knees under a pine tree by the lake. I could not feel my face—my hands and arms were frozen solid. To move them, I thought, would mean breaking my bones. The day was perfect. The sun was bright although the air was bitter cold. I waited for my blood to move and thaw me, and then I began another day of walking. I had just enough change in my pocket to buy a loaf of day old bread at the bakery. Of course it had to be rye bread, and of course I was starving. I remember buying the bread and protecting it under my arm like a football as I walked to the lake. I sat down on the dock and proceeded to feed myself as well as the many duck families who seemed to be in a worse state of affairs.
Scenes like this one are the stuff of poetry. They are the “ummphf!” which give meaning to life. A suffering man is the king of his race because his agony is true and honest. The picture he creates is timeless. He can fall into any century and feel quite at home because he has nothing to lose. Today, upon thinking of this one instance in my life’s epic, I am filled with a great peace, an impermeable joy. It is a picture that proves the immortality of man. It is a masterpiece. The sun, a man, and a loaf of bread. If I lose this picture, I lose my fortune.
“The rain had started again, and I could already feel water soaking through on my shoulder.” During this homeless period, I was fortunate enough to get a job here at the restaurant. Dishwasher. It was a minimum wage job, but I accepted it gladly. In fact, I thought that my ship had come in. I felt elated upon receiving my first paycheck, which was a trifle. I walked out into the rain to cash my check. The pouring rain. A decision had to be made.
I could use the money as an offering to Greg who would have gladly let me stay with him for a while. But then I thought about my shoes. It was hard for me not to think about them. They were destroyed, with holes in the bottoms, tops and sides. I had to wear plastic shopping bags over my socks to keep the water out. While walking in the pouring rain, I thought about the warmth of Greg’s house. It seemed so far away. These shoes were a disgrace, and my supply of plastic bags was running out. I was delirious. The cold water finally soaked through the bags on my way to the shoe store. My feet were snow white while I tried on my first pair of sneakers.
That night I made it back to the dormitory. It was still quite early so I was able to blend in with the college crowd, (the new shoes helped to ease my mind a bit.) I sank my bones back on the couch and put my feet up on the table. Suddenly, I felt a peace that was electrifying. My whole being was lit up with an uncommon joy. I sincerely believed that Ron Throop was the richest man on earth, and not only was he getting richer by the minute, but all of his wildest dreams were fulfilled, his loved ones were sheltered and secure for eternity, and he was in possession of a license from God which gave him the angelic right to live forever.
I never made it back to Greg’s. It would be another month or so before I had a bed to sleep in.

Do I want this job to carry me to the end of my life? Where does my energy flow? Is it being wasted? If I am a born writer, then why am I so limited in my ability? I believe this to be true: If Oswego is my fate, then I must make it my Mecca. If there is an epic poem to create, then I must find my muse alive on West Fourth Street. Here is where I am. If I cannot believe in myself, then what good will Paris, Boulder, or Mexico City have in store for me? Still, why do I feel so claustrophobic?
A taste of Henry Miller writing about India’s “helpless” millions: “Through their eyes I saw the desolation wreaked upon a great people. But I saw also that there are qualities which survive the greatest desolation. In their faces, as they related their experiences, I saw reflected the gentleness, the humility, the reverence, the devotion, the faith, the truthfulness and the integrity of those millions whose destiny baffles and disturbs us.”
In India I will find the key. In Harlem too, and Wales, Normandy, The Ivory Coast, Istanbul, Baghdad, Iwo Jima, Guadalupe, Syracuse—humanity thriving. There are men and women out there, somewhere, who make their living out of life. There are many more visible who punch life out, cut it up, and leave it in some stinking dump to rot away with rusty cans and used tampon applicators. Most men I know walk all over life; very seldom do they stop to pick it up. “What a nuisance! Not worth the time,” I hear them say.
If there was a general acceptance of life in this culture, fulfillment would seem to be an inborn trait. Accepting the lowest life forms should be an easy task for the higher ones. Understanding and practicing this truth would benefit whole populations. No such luck beyond my backyard, where wisdom, truth, and understanding rate low to bottom. We are void of any culture. We are plastic, artificial, and dirty. Our homes are stuffed with garbage. Our food is garbage too. The riches we accumulate will never be enough. If a wise man should follow the typical consumer home, he may discover a somnolent wife, lost children and a stupid dog. He will observe to his amazement how they instinctively switch on the dead colors, forms and images of the plastic box propped up like a Grecian urn in the middle of the room. It was created for their amusement; the colors come directly from the colorless brains of dead executives and corpse creators of Manhattan and Los Angeles. The families’ last supper is a can of cold worms seasoned with just a touch of BHT and hydrochloric acid. The children are fed cow vomit for dessert as their parents rush to hell and back while doing the dishes. The dog barks. Father swears. Mother goes into the shower to shave her armpits as the night comes falling…
O Ancient India, how far away you are! Sita, Rama, Ravana! Tom, Joyce, Harry, and Grit are the new heroes and heroines. But the jewels… Where are the god damned jewels?
And now back to the soup… For what it’s worth, I never take an hour on the bosses’ time. I like to think that I am honest, but really, I am neither more nor less crooked than a president or a priest. So I punch the clock in and out on time, if perhaps only to give the gesture, no matter how false it is, that I am honest. To each his own, I guess. Who’s keeping track anyway?
I walk over to the soup and stare into the pot. I have created a masterpiece. Half of it must be pureed in order to give it a mushy consistency which is the coup de grâce of all bean soups, as Brian would say. Then salt and pepper to taste and a handful of fresh chopped parsley. Voila! My work being done, I should be rewarded with praise and then sent home to start up the muse where I left off. But there is pain and suffering yet to come. The reward will be chaos, as any line cook knows and strangely appreciates. However, here it is different than most other places. We have been granted free reign of our domain. This is our kingdom. It is four o’clock on a winter’s day. Greg and Joe have entered the kitchen. Joe remembered his rocket motor. Blast off! The fools begin their wage dance.
I realize plainly that I put on a great show. No one can catch me in the act of acting. Even myself, which is so many different things, cannot be identified. There is no way around it. I am freer than I ever thought.
Imagine every living and non-living entity and non-entity that make up a day, all the flora and fauna on land and water, imagine the depths of the deepest ocean, the wave of human faces moving up and down an electrified street—imagine fire ants, banana peels, croquet balls, and toilet paper… This, my camerado, is yourself, as plain as the day and what goes into it.
No one is a lone character. The show must go on, yet every day, hour, minute, second, you may be called up to the changing room for a make over. It could be a drastic one; it could even mean dressing the part of a man who thinks he is so and so, made of this and that, but is not that man, nor another, or some other one.
Ron Throop, what are you? You want to have fun at this game, no? At least you have that going for you. You’re not sunk yet! Today your part to play falls under the category called “Romantic Cadaver.” You will be passionate, exciting, and poetic. You will croon for the ladies, dance, shout, laugh, and seduce them. All of this you will do with your eyes, your eyes! If a waitress happens to be surprised at your energy you are to exclaim, “I am mad about you, about life, about cooking, crapping, and taking out the garbage. I am the real man, the lover, the fool. What do you think?” But no woman will tell you what it is you need to hear because in her mind you are dead. You are a corpse handing her a plate of rice, a potato, a honey mustard chicken. To her your eyes are cold and dry. Eyes of the living dead. Today she must suffer through the standstill of your wake. She passes through the kitchen paying her respects. You jump about gesticulating like a freak, a real freak in love. However, your show is not her show. Your blood is boiling, but she’s sending out her condolences. Kill the dupe and wait for another girl to pass by—only next time a lá mode.

The TV has been “lifted” from the kitchen. So for entertainment we must rely on our own wits. We think of Sunday as our day of rest. While the good folks feed their fires on the holiday, we make many brave attempts to minimize our labor, just enough work load to create the illusion of work for our boss who is already half in the bag. We don’t pretend to have our noses to the grindstone. We are bad cooks and proud of it.
Presently Brian has his hands on an empty paper towel tube. He is trying to fit three plastic triangles cut from a cottage cheese bucket into one end of it. It’s worth the trouble to cover the line for him. He is much better than I at constructing rocket ships. I will cook and swear and exchange stories with Joe and Greg. The scientist should be left alone to his genius. Each of us will get the chance to sign our names to the finished product. Never worry. The egos here are practically obliterated.
There is something about our creating that excites me to a point of insanity. It is in this realm where my senses tend to rely on a poetic principle. I become uncommon. I voice a plea to my fellow man. Wake up! It is ridiculous of you to come here and eat. The cooks are building rocket ships and spilling your precious dollars on the floor. I think of your filthy sobriety and get the strong desire to throw up. I cannot be that bad, still, I know what I am capable of. Do you? You, the common man in America, senseless, avoiding the senses at all costs. Stone-cold sober, your workaday world confuses me to no end. Sober, even when drunk. You can shout, swear, make other kinds of meaningless warble, but with every effort to speak, you still are unable to prove to me that you are alive. You drink, you eat, you dance to the same old song. Your colors are all grays, some light, some dark. You possess no poetry to make you human. You speak and are stupid. You will die rather than smell, taste, or caress a woman. It is your plan to bark, drop down on all fours and hump her like a dog.
You, the common woman… You are even worse. Your senses are more alive, therefore you are almost numb. Your cheeks have some color revealing the fight left in you. A fight against the man’s comatose. You and your rosy cheeks. The battle is always lost. You must succumb. You lick yourself. You wait for him like a she-dog licking herself.
All day long I flirted with the idea of writing a poem to my woman, but I am empty. The only poems left are Zen poems and they are telling me that the poem is our life, do with it what we can. Zen poems from beginning to end. But they cannot be appreciated by speed or money. Hallmark will not print them. Men seeking love are not the right stuff for the front page news. And the TV won’t interview a man with a staff unless he is poking around for a dead body.
Maybe I am sick of cooking chicken marsalas. I think the vomit is the sauce and vice-versa. Brian spit in the Caesar Salad. A big wet gob of spit for the mayor’s wife. Alive Brian! Good for you, for us! The poem that I was going to write is a stillbirth. It is dead. I thought about it day and night for months, years, eternities, but it died inside. I could not nurture it. There are no feelings to caress. There is no light which I can give to her. What I may feel inside of me I am unable to give away. I am not able to write or even paint to express myself. I can smile, but there is no meaning to that anymore.
I remember three years back when I had the wild desire to walk from New York City to Red Creek, some two-hundred and fifty miles. I wanted to live the poem written by an Indian woman that I once read to myself in a dream. The woman, a native of the land, was clearing out the harvest in the early autumn’s evening. Her love had been away the whole of spring and summer. She wondered if he would ever return. That evening she was to bring in the last of the crop that was drying in the sun. There was a light breeze and the sun was golden as it sunk beneath the mountain. She picked her head up to listen to the swallow’s song, and heard familiar footsteps in the grass. Her face lit up with joy as she dropped the bundle from her arms, turned, and closed her eyes for him…
I wasn’t so lucky. In fact, I was deceiving myself day after day. I was lost and pathetic. I walked fifty miles before giving up in Poughkeepsie. The rain fell from the clouds like lead pellets. No one was waiting for me. “You must walk!” I kept repeating to myself. “Walk you stupid fool! Sweat it out. If your legs become a burden, then cut them off!”
I remember walking over the bridge that crossed the Hudson. Under one of the high beams there was a big red phone and a sign with words that gave some desperate advice to the suicidal. “Don’t jump!” or something like that. I remember how the phone appeared so deeply red in the rainstorm. “Call us. Please call. Together we can avoid the trouble of fishing your body from the river. Jesus, don’t jump. Hang yourself instead. Shoot a bullet through your brain. Swallow poison. Anything but this. We hate to bring that big yellow crane down along the river. It gives the city such a morbid look.”
Love. Whisper the word so that only you can hear. It is obscene. Let the others gulp down their stale food. Tonight they will fatten up and make like dogs. Brian will spit in your salad and in that way, get his tongue into your intestine.
Eat! But eat well. Spend lavishly. Steal, lie—just don’t murder. Be an idiot peasant, a cockroach, a bad cook. Be all! Just don’t be a common man.
One more thing before I go. Whether you are in the act of creating soups or rocket ships, remember this: One can never use too much fresh parsley. If you need to pack a motor, pack in a full supply. Otherwise, if the engine is loose, your rocket will sway off course. And there is a very good chance that the six-hundred and thirty match heads and Sterno lighter fluid which were put inside the whipped creme capsule, will ignite over your friends instead of in the outer limits of the stratosphere. Still, the creation is your success. Even a flop can be a success.