Money & Rain & Presidents. . .

—From the Fool—

I’d been going around asking friends how I could make big bucks. Though I don’t have any friends who’d ever made a lot of money. Except my brother, who’s rich but won’t reveal trade secrets. But on TV I saw a show that interviewed “Entrepreneurs” that made a lot of money.

To be an Entrepreneur, first, you get an idea. Then figure how to “monetize” it—meaning charge a lot—and find some guy to supply the bucks to do it. I had a big list of ideas from before, but new ones burble up if I get drunk. So I invested in a pretty good Scotch and came up with these:

—Space ships you can just drive around the neighborhood.

—A SWAT team you call to get whatever you just bought out of the plastic wrap.

—A machine that makes you invisible when you stand directly behind it.

—Voting booths that go ahead and vote if it’s too confusing.

—Cars that won’t go, for people who hate to drive.

—Electric signs on the rear of your car that express your feelings to the driver behind, but are bullet-proof.

—Some way to fry watermelon.

—A computer that makes it so your dog can talk, except you can turn him off.

Those weren’t nearly as good as the ones I thought of before, but no use crying over spilt inspiration. And maybe I should stay with Johnny Walker. At least I had something to start with. Course I didn’t know how to do any of this, but I figured I could hire guys to work it all out.

Then I read a library book that said you had to make a Business Plan. So I wrote some stuff down and asked Mr. Ahmad, a businessman that runs the diner, if it sounded good to him. But he was having stomach trouble.

At least I didn’t fail at being an Entrepreneur. I never really got started.

 —From EF—

This has been a pretty skanky week for me, and blessed water is being my healer. On Sunday we took ourselves to the ocean with our ritual picnic, and lo and behold the wind was calm and the temperature mild, and we actually got to take our camping chairs and our little “Polish table” down to our usual spot. Luscious. This will probably have been the last time we get to do this until spring.

(It’s our “Polish table” because decades ago we got it while in Poland, camping, as usual, and I have not one clue how we managed to fly it back home. Later, it was part of the furniture in Johanna’s bedroom in Lancaster, and she gave it a makeover with paint, texture, and color. For a little 3 x 4 thing, it carries a lot of memories.)

So Mama Ocean was gentle and kind, and today we’ve had sweet rain all day.

Meanwhile, in the office, every damn digital device we own has been pitching a fit. We nearly lost all our email files in the process of migrating stuff from one computer to another. The snakes of Silicon Valley keep developing snazzy new platforms and operating systems, and gradually things have evolved so that anything that isn’t geriatric won’t run our old programs.

Our email, since way back in the early 90’s has been Eudora, which was the crème de la crème back in the day. That was then, this is now, and Eudora stopped supporting itself in 2006. Now our Macs need to go to a higher system, because Firefox and Safari and Microsoft Word won’t run well, if at all, on such antique architecture (our Snow Leopard, 10.6.8, was released in 2009). But Eudora won’t run at all on anything higher.

So we’re saving our little MacBook, which runs 10.6.8, to do two things only—get our email and run tech on King Lear. The software that does our lights and sound and video won’t run on a higher system either.

I know a lot more now about the architecture of Eudora than I ever cared to learn, and it took me a whole damn sweaty day to get it over from the desktop computer to the laptop and clean up the unseemly knot of folders within folders within . . . where the sun don’t shine.

Conrad’s major writing machine, the lordly iMac 24 with the great big screen, is now happy with Lion, the next stage beyond its previous system—will their next operating system be Cheshire Cat?—after having had an Rh attack or something and refusing to save any work or allow any transfers. I don’t know, and you don’t want to know.

I’m effing ready to go back to a chisel and stone tablets.

 —From CB—

Born in 1941, the first President I was aware of was Harry Truman. If I’d heard of FDR I wasn’t aware of it. I was more concerned with domestic issues, such as whether I’d ever get a BB gun like my cousin had. Though I vaguely recall thinking there was some important guy named Goddamned Roosevelt.

Nor do I remember Truman’s election, only that my mom hated “Hairy Ass Truman.” I knew that somehow he’d managed to “lose China,” which seemed like a pretty big country to lose, and “get us into Korea,” I guess so we wouldn’t lose that too. Perhaps the Communists would have been scared off if he’d been taller and didn’t wear glasses.

But I do remember the 1952 Eisenhower-Stevenson battle. I didn’t know any Democrats. My impression was that they lived in big cities and took bribes and lynched Negroes in the South, though in the North they were “nigger-lovers.” And they got us into wars. Stevenson sounded like he’d read too many books, whereas Ike had a great smile. And Ike won World War 2, so when he promised, “If elected, I will go to Korea,” we knew the Commies would be so freaked (a term from a later time) that they’d surrender or even become Presbyterian.

And I recall that groups of kids would go around on the playground and corner you and ask, “Are you for Eisenhower or Stevenson?” Of course you knew the right answer.

What truly sticks, in the heart or the craw, was Richard Nixon’s TV moment. Accused of an illegal “slush fund,” he was close to being dropped as VP from the ticket, but delivered a speech that, politically, was the equivalent of 12-year-old Bobby Fischer’s queen sacrifice, perhaps the greatest chess game ever. Promising an unprecedented “complete financial history,” he expounded on his wife’s “respectable Republican cloth coat” and their pet dog Checkers, a gift to his daughters that he vowed, no matter what the attacks, “we’re gonna keep it.” He finished with firm-jawed resolve to stand strong for America. Watching on our little 13-inch black-and-white TV, having just graduated from Cub Scout to Boy Scout, I was moved close to tears. By later reports, Eisenhower was disgusted by it, but when he saw the polls he greeted Nixon with, “You’re my boy!”

My mom too was impressed by this clean-cut young man running for VP: at last, she felt, we had an honest politician.

Since then, my views have changed a bit, but electoral psychology hardly at all.


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The Simple Life. . .

—From the Fool—

 I’d been failing lately with some regularity. I’d never been big on success, but I had this thing where I wanted to marry Luann. Or, I didn’t want to that much, but my sister thought it would be a good idea because Luann didn’t want to be a hooker any more. Plus, she was pretty attractive, in a low-budget commercial kinda way.

But I’d failed at being a NY Times bestselling author, having not got past my first sentence, and being a phone solicitor. What else is left, I wondered. It seemed too long a row to hoe to be a brain surgeon, and by the time I got through all the classes, they’d have probably figured that brains weren’t worth the effort.

Then I ran into Cleveland. Cleveland was a black guy from Detroit. Don’t ask me. But he seemed to be hip to the current scene. At least as much as my dumb white friends. He’s equal-opportunity dumb.

So Cleveland tells me, “Be a politician.” They get a salary, they get health care, they get a pension plan, and they get a lot of free meals.” I told him I didn’t really know anything about that stuff. I didn’t have a job creation plan, I didn’t know how to deal with North Korea or global warming or Medicare. I couldn’t think of anybody to appoint to the Supreme Court except Benny, and I had my doubts about him.

“No problem, bro,” he said. “Start simple. Run for dog-catcher. Work your way up to President.”

That sounded okay, even though I’m scared of dogs. But then I got my sample ballot in the mail, and, first, it looked like they’d already decided the candidates and it was too late to apply, and second, there wasn’t any dog-catcher on the ballot.

Cleveland suggested a write-in campaign. So I started with my sister, who said she’d write me in, and likewise Luann. I went to ask Benny, but he was a harder sell.

“Have you ever caught a dog?” he asked. I had to admit I hadn’t, but maybe that was an advantage, because I wasn’t trapped in old business-as-usual politics. I could bring new ideas, thinking outside the box. I wasn’t part of the system. I could shake things up. That sounded pretty good.

But what it finally came down to with Benny: Was I mad as hell? Did I hate dogs? Were they drug lords and rapists? Were they destroying America? I couldn’t really say. I thought, well, if somebody has a problem with a dog, I’ll go catch it. But that flip-floppy attitude didn’t hack it anymore. So in his opinion I didn’t really have the killer instinct that we all need so ravenously.

I’m trying to think what else people do for a living. There must be something that doesn’t involve murder.

—From EF—

We’ve had rain. Not just sprinkles but a genuine two-day soaker. I think we’d better eat collard greens very soon, even though we just polished off the last batch, because they look so vigorous that their big green elephant-ears may soon make it hard to get in the front door.

I got ten jars of tomato sauce safely canned, we probably have enough delicata squash to last through the winter, and I’m hoping to get the bare rambly skeletons of the deceased eggplant and cucumbers ripped up before it’s too late to plant the next garlic. And damn, I’d really like to get it right with the beets this year.

My second hip surgery is finally back on the healing track, and I’m doing my best to not overdo again. We don’t haul ass with Lear again until early November, three weeks to get both the hip and the stage work in shape. If I can do beets and garlic, I will, and if not, I won’t.

I’m doing my best to listen to the earth and listen to my body, and right now both are saying “Knock it off and go to bed.”

Right. Good night, everybody.

 —From CB—

I thought about describing my visit to the new SF Museum of Modern Art and my love-hate relationship with big blank canvases. I thought of doing one last fling about the election. I thought of posting a poem about the homeless and the stuff they leave on the sidewalk. And finally I thought of just writing a blurb on what I thought about.

So I did.


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Working at It. . .

—From the Fool—

Benny told me to be a writer so I’d get rich and then I could marry Luann. But he didn’t like the first line I wrote, and I’d already spent a lot of time on that. I guess it was a good thing, though, that I didn’t be a writer. I saw where a writer blew his head off, and he’d already written a whole slew of lines. Waste of effort.

So I asked Charlene, who has a big Rottweiler that she’s been trying to housebreak for the last five years, so she’s coped with a lot. She works for a telemarketing outfit, so that might be the thing. They always need people, she said, cause you get fired if you go nuts and throw your coffee cup at the wall. “They’ll hire any fool,” she said, so I seemed qualified.

I tried it for a day. I was supposed to sell adjustable beds, which I didn’t know what that was, but they said you don’t need to know because there’s a script. Selling is selling, they said, which I couldn’t say no it isn’t. So I plunged forth.

At the start of the script, I say, “How are you today?” That hooks them, the manager said: nobody can’t not answer.

You get paid by how many you hook, he said. And then if you score the most in the day, you can pop a balloon. They had this board on the wall, with darts and balloons, and in theballoons there might be a fifty-dollar bill, so the winner could pop a balloon. And if you score the worst, he said, you’re fired.

I never really got past the “How are you today?” Ten people hung up before I read it, three people screamed something not entirely accurate, and the fourteenth was an old lady who said, “Not so good,” and went on to tell me all her symptoms and what her doctor had said and what her daughter had advised her to take which was some kind of organic or orgasmic stuff you boiled and spread on your head but she was already going bald so she’d got prescriptions from five different doctors and was taking them all. At that point the manager told me two minutes to a call and cut her off, but not before “It blows my fuckin’ mind,” she said.

That was kind of interesting, in fact, but I didn’t sell any adjustable beds. The manager said I didn’t really have the knack. “It’s a grind,” Charlene said, but I guess she doesn’t mind, after the Rottweiler.

 —From EF—

I was a juvenile liar. Constantly. Unnecessarily. Pathological liar? I dunno, but it was automatic and it felt awful. I have joked that I wouldn’t tell you the right time of day, and maybe that’s an exaggeration, but that’s how it felt.

There came a time when that flipped 180 degrees, and now I truly feel like barfing as I realize how public figures do this 24/7. They say reformed drunks and smokers are critics beyond the norm, but I’d really add the category of reformed liar. And I’m so sorry for these fools.

I look at this fizzing display of mendacity that pollutes what passes for news, and I look at the way that it’s tacitly enabled, and I think, “How can they DO that?” They make it look like it’s fun, like that’s what everybody who’s cool and in the know does, and I think, “What was wrong with me?”

Because it wasn’t fun, it was hell. I was expected to be perfect, and when I brought home an elementary school report card with a “B” on it, I did my baby best to forge it into an “A”.

Once in junior high I set off on the train ride into Chicago for my biweekly piano lesson, and my mom insisted that I take a piece of leftover round steak with me in a plastic bag. I didn’t want it, I didn’t eat it, but I didn’t throw it away. It sat there behind my piano for more than a week in my plastic music case, getting more fragrant by the day, and I valiantly denied any knowledge of what was stinking.

I probably hit my pinnacle of absurdity in college when I intercepted my grade reports and did a pretty damn good job of forgery, much better than my grade-school job. I even forged my way into Northwestern University, setting myself up as a fake employer with a PO box, getting a paper transcript to alter.

But later, when my life-partner discovered an even more bizarre web of deception, learning that when I went off to my teaching job I was actually coming home and hiding in the apartment building’s laundry room until it was “quitting time,” it all came crashing down. And when he said, “What do we do now?” I had to face it. He said “we.”

The pain was immense, but like cautery on a wound, it was cleansing. I stumbled to my feet and started over, learning what I should have learned in childhood.

Who’s gonna say, “What’s stinking behind the piano?” How will we have the courage to call bullshit on these routine lies? We will need what I needed, the presence of steadfast connection, the necessity to participate in unconditional love, the clear understanding that we are all responsible for each other.

It will hurt, but it will heal, and it’s our only choice.

 —From CB—

The value of Facebook is twofold. First, it’s a chance to connect, at least to some degree, with people from many past lives, people I value but for whom I wouldn’t find occasion to send an email or make a phone call. No immediacy in the relationship, and yet there’s a boinng in the heart when I see something from them.

The other value is that it gives us something to bitch about when we’re tired bitching about all the other stuff.

In any case, I was overwhelmed with the responses to my birthday last Saturday, and almost as much to a recent political rant. I guess that birthdays and politics find their way up to the brim of the algorithm more readily, but it was one of those days when a vital thirst was assuaged.

The thirst for visibility. A female friend recently noted the cloak of invisibility that starts to cover older women like the slow growth of cataracts. Quite true, but I think it’s true of men as well, at least if you’re outside the pecking order—not really on the bottom, because you’re not actually pecking, you’re more over to the side. That thirst is most extreme caricatured in the form of a man who puts his name on tall buildings and runs for President, but it’s present in us all, I think.

In the arts, we’re especially aware of it because name recognition means the difference between getting the booking, the job, the grant, the review, the publication—or not. And if you’ve passed a certain age, have a vast resume but nobody’s heard of you, well, it’s assumed you must either be over the hill or else that you haven’t even started the climb. Credits are counterproductive: you haven’t made it.

Indeed, we haven’t made it. We just keep making it. There’s honor in that, and life, and staying power. But oddly, all those are like drinking grapefruit juice when you really want a beer—it satisfies one thirst but misses another. And so with visibility, yes, the small moments are enormously valued.

So, seventy-five. My daughter, on the phone from Italy, asked how it felt. Actually, that hasn’t changed much since 4th grade: I’m nine, when am I going to be ten? Clearly, seventy-five isn’t what I would have thought of as seventy-five. I’m liking it. No question but that I’m acutely conscious of the years, of people younger than me dying (many & dear), of the preciousness of every year, of the faintness of the chance of getting some of our novels published before I croak—etc. etc. etc. But it makes everything ten times as sweet, and that very much includes those “Happy Birthdays.”


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The Writing Life. . .

—From the Fool—

So last week Luann said she’d marry me if I made some money and got ambition, or the other way around. I said all I ever wanted was to be the best Fool I could possibly be, but she said, “Well, why not just as well be the best rich guy you could possibly be,” and I didn’t have an answer for that.

So I asked my friend Benny for advice. He had a lot of different jobs cause he got fired a lot and also got divorced, so he knows how that goes too. At first he thought I was asking him about getting divorced, but I said no, I had to get married first. So we got that worked out.

“Be a writer,” he said. “I saw one on TV. They make millions, and all you gotta do is sit there and write down stuff you think about.” That sounded pretty good, but I wondered, if that was so great, why Benny didn’t do it. “Timing,” he said. Turned out that the way it works, you become a famous writer and then you get a drinking problem, whereas he was drunk to start with.

But I thought it was worth a try, so I wrote a story and brought it to Benny to see what he thought. The way it started out was It was a dark and scary night…

“Hold it right there,” he said. “You gotta say dark and stormy, not dark and scary. You gotta make’em feel it’s scary, not just tell’em it’s scary. If there’s a storm, then it’s scary.”

This was harder than I thought. So I asked him the important thing, which was, “So when do they pay you?”

“Okay, first you gotta write a hundred thousand words, and be sure there’s some sex in there, and then get somebody to read it, and then if they print it and somebody buys the book, then maybe you make some money.” But he didn’t think anybody’d pay me for my story, which said I went to bed and dreamed about ducks, which I thought was weird. I don’t have a writer’s calling, I guess.

Next week I’ll ask my friend Charlene.

 —From EF—

Conrad and I are working on the latest redraft of a novel called Galahads Fool, and with this book objectivity is a continual challenge. The central character is a creator/performer, white ponytail, living in Sebastopol (we raid our own life-closets with great regularity.) He’s working on a new production.

It’s the first anniversary of the loss of his life-partner and co-creator, and going solo isn’t easy. Lainie isn’t there to keep him on track or to call him on bullshit, and he’s got a problem with Galahad, his hero. He doesn’t like him, but he can’t just tell him to get lost. Lainie would kick his butt and tell him to get to work, get over himself, and not give up.

Believe me, it’s pretty weird to write in partnership when your story spins a future without your partner, but it’s a damn good story and it wants to be written.

It’s real. One of us will go before the other. And now we have a magnificent guide. We have a friend (I’m using the present tense intentionally) who saw our puppet Macbeth in New York in 1979, on the first trip she and her partner took to the US.

Right away that summer we visited them and were stunned with the amazing work they had created year after year. Then he died, and she fought like a tigress to hold on to their space and keep the work going. And a man who had seen and long loved her and her work declared himself, and for twenty-five years they kept the flame lit, followed the path.

At my visit in 2014, she had already faced the cancer assault, was fit and energetic, and it looked like the surgery and chemo had worked. Then, a year ago, the doctors said it was back, and she went out on the tide of New Year’s Day.

The two of them had been in rehearsal for a new piece when the pain came out of nowhere and she had her surgery. But as soon as it was possible, they finished the staging and visuals, and there would have been a premiere.

There still will be. It was designed as a solo piece, and he has taken it up. It is a testament to their art and their love that it will have a life, and an audience. May we do likewise, when the time comes.

—From CB—

I’ve written before about the obsessiveness of making stories, telling stories, exploring the junkheaps in the attic. Right now we’re drafting query letters to agents for our fifth novel while in the last stages of a total rewrite of our second. We’re trying to get some people to buy our first. We’re starting to make the first notes on our sixth and starting a new short story and talking about writing a solo show for Elizabeth. And we’re in the 34th month of publishing this weekly blog. That seems to qualify as obsession.

Writing is a labyrinth, and in every labyrinth there’s a minotaur, some presence that tells you Do Not Pass Go. For me—I’ve written this before as well—it’s the terror of libraries. Of course I love them, I’ve spent endless hours in them from the time I knew there were books besides those on my Grandma’s single shelf — Readers Digest Condensed Books, Bible, a McGuffys Reader, and a geography textbook from the 1890s. Dr. Doolittle was my entry to the quality literature of the world.

And when I walk into the door of a library or a bookstore, my muscles clench and I feel my heart sink. The wealth overwhelms me. No one could ever read all the books published this year, let alone the last three millennia. My incapacity to encompass that human experience, to find my way into its heart, to find the one book that’s vital for me to read this moment—it’s the faceless, implacable sea.

Then the second wave. Why should I waste my efforts trying to dribble into it? Are there not enough plays, stories, novels, and memoirs in the world? If I never wrote another word, would a palace somewhere in Iowa crumble to rubble? Have I something to say that isn’t being said over and over and over, that will move mountains, that will rise above mumbling into song? Whatever I write, whatever gets into print at the whim of Thunderbum Press, won’t save me. I’m still gonna fuckin’ die.

But I go every morning after gym, after eating my muffin and coffee, sit in the public library, and write for two hours. Then later too, between other stuff, and sit with my partner to hash it over and over. And a number of hours a week sending queries to agents and publishers, tossing popcorn to the behemoth to see if it pecks a kernel. I, along with thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of others, try to tell the story that will fill the heart.


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Life and Stuff. . .

From the Fool

This week I decided I had to be somebody else. I can’t be a Fool any more. Or, okay, I can be if I can make some money out of it. I’ve never had a problem with money—it just fell into my hands when I needed it, like the wormy apples my dad used to pick. But now I’ve got inspiration, and that costs money. Her name is Genevieve. Or that’s her professional name—her real name is Luann.

I wouldn’t say it was love. More like just making a deal. She’s a friend of my sister and did her a favor, so my sister told me it was time for me to settle down and get a purpose in life. So why don’t I marry Luann?

My sister’s more of a success now. The brothel she’s at now throws guys out if they’re drunk, and that’s a big step up. And she just finished paying off her student loans. In fact Luann recommended her to that place, since they want to go more upscale there and she’s got a B.A. in Comp Lit. My sister casually mentions she’s reading Baudelaire, and the client thinks that’s pretty hot stuff.

Point being she wanted to hook me up with Luann because Luann wants to get out of customer service jobs. She said Luann can cook, so I said okay. Which gave Luann pause. “You agreed pretty fast,” she said, and asked why I’d marry a hooker. “My sister told me to,” I said. I wondered why she’d marry a Fool.

But she said I’d have to get a job with a future. I don’t know how you figure if it’s got a future since people can’t tell if there is one. But I’ll give it a try. I’ll talk to Benny next week. He’s got a lot of advice that he doesn’t use, so he likes to give it away.

 From EF

I really like cemeteries. Every year a group of our friends gather in a little local cemetery to have a Victorian picnic gathering, snacking in long gowns under the majestic oaks and then reading/hearing Victorian poetry. This is not the usual image of “cemetery,” flat and disciplined, it’s the local rolling meadows and trees with a genial gathering of many forms of stone remembrances, some flat, some towering, some playful.

This last week I spent five hours in the amazing Paris cemetery, Pere Lachaise. Not my first visit—I saluted Jim Morrison long ago—but this is the first time I was able to devote the best part of a day.

At the top of my list were the lovelies of the louche, and I had to choose carefully because my mobility was limited. Colette. Piaf. Abelard and Heloise. Oscar Wilde. Moliere. And then the souls who perished in the obscenities we regularly generate—Nazi death camps, the slaughter of 147 members of the Paris Commune (actually perpetrated right against the cemetery wall).

All have some visible form of remembrance. It’s a little city of the departed, with alleys and houses and curving streets, as crowded as a favela and as rich with stories. One pays respects.

This time, my keenest visit was Piaf. When Conrad and I met in 1960, our regular hang-out was a seedy café that offered really good hot chocolate (when you could find a waitress) and a jukebox that included “Milord.” That scrappy intimate voice singing of love and survival, coming from a “shadow of the streets” was imprinted on our love’s beginning.

Yes, Piaf has a stone, but the real remembrance is in our hearts.

From CB

For me, travel isn’t about relaxing or having a good time, it’s about what happens that wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t bought the ticket. Usually an equal measure of joy and sheer grind—about the same proportions as if you’d stayed at home, but different.

I arrived in Paris on Thursday, checked into the hostel, went out for a heavy meal, slept. Friday, up early to go to the Louvre, walking along the Seine from Hotel de Ville. Much time in the Louvre spent looking for stuff, but got a new appreciation for Delacroix and an equally profound disgust for David. And a long indulgence in the curvatures of the Venus de Milo—the mob of tourists in front sends you around to the sides and back, where the action is. Then to the Delacroix house/museum—very peaceful after the scream of the Louvre and its vast expanse—that whole complex extending in one vast walrus-wallow for at least six long blocks. Fortunately only a small part of it is dedicated to art, else all the art of the world would be imprisoned there. Then back to the hostel via the grocery store, a bottle of wine (all mine) and a copious sardine salad.

Between the wine and the sardines I didn’t get much writing done, but Saturday I actually finished Chapter 15 of the 7th draft of Galahad’s Fool, and it feels readable at last. Elizabeth was coming in from Zurich, and the day before I’d found a small neighborhood pharmacy that could order rental of a wheelchair. We’d debated the need, with her slowly-mending hip, but seeing the distance to traverse in the Metro, even despite the stairs, it seemed a wise decision. They would only rent if by the week, but the weekly rate was only 25 euros, less than what I thought we’d have to pay per day.

Before picking up the chaise roulante and taking the Metro to the Gare de Lyon to meet her train, I took a quick jaunt to the Musee des Arts et Metiers, an exhibit of science & technology mainly from the 18th to 21st Centuries. Two artifacts struck me. One, a robot vacuum cleaner for factories, programmable to follow an exact itinerary, accurate within maybe a centimeter. A wondrous achievement—for whom? The workers it replaces will not, I fear, reap the benefits. Will they all be retrained to find work in the new technologies? Or their work hours cut from 40 to 15, with the same pay and benefits, as was envisioned in the wishful sci-fi of Fifties? Certainly, when pigs fly.

The other high point was, to me, very moving. Two scale models of workmen building the Statue of Liberty—the head, the neck and the crown. In one, they’re completing the full-size plaster cast, the scaffolding up to the crown, a single workman about the length of her nose. In the second, they’re burnishing elements of the metal casting—same lady, same size, but a different set of skills. To me, there was something about the sheer magnitude, the grubby work involved, the collaboration, the careful crafting of pieces that would have to cross the ocean and then fit flawlessly—that gave me thought.

So, I picked up Elizabeth, wheel-chaired her back 2.2 kilometers to the hostel, then up to the grocery, and she made a memorable supper in the almost nonexistent facilities of the kitchen there. I’d been sleeping two days in a men’s dorm, and now we transferred to a private room—downside being that it’s on the 4th floor, with only a bunk bed. But it’s actually quite cozy. There’s a lift, but you have to summon the desk clerk to operate it and it’s so small that while Elizabeth is lifted aloft, I have to carry the wheelchair up 4 flights of stairs.

Sunday was all museums. Out early to the Musee Picasso, a goodly sampling of stuff and good commentary. Most of his famous works are elsewhere, but I was mainly struck by the pieces that were theme-and-variations: a series of assemblages around the theme of “guitar” and two series of drawings based on classical paintings. The capacity for endless exploration, unstoppable—is that the essence of genius? I’ve been moved by some of his paintings to the depth I’ve been moved by Rembrandt, but the deepest impact, I think, is simply in the mad intensity of his creative urge.

And then to the Pompidou’s grand expanse of modern & contemporary art—preceded by a lunch of falafel, fries & beer. I wasn’t really that open to this one, except for a huge plaster “bride” by Nikki de Saint-Phalle and a small room of Rouault, whom I’m a sucker for. One surprise, though, was the fact that we traversed both museums free of charge: for people with disabilities and their attendants, admission was free. The websites stated that documentary proof was required, but the wheelchair proved adequate. As the ticket lady at the Picasso said, they knew that Americans didn’t have disability cards, since we have the freedom to die without government interference. (She didn’t state it quite like that.) A bonus for endurance.

Which brings me to the peroration of this screed. (I love the word screed.) As a card-carrying liberal, of course I’ve always supported “handicapped access” in all its various forms, even when there’s no parking except two vacant handicapped-only spots. But I never felt it until I was wheeling the love of my life across Paris, spotting the curbs, trying to see if the chair would go smoothly up the next cut or if it’d hit the extra quarter-inch of concrete and bounce her out. I slowly learned the technique. She’s able to get up from the chair and stump up or down stairs with effort, but the difference between a lift and a dozen steps is vast. Until one has had the experience—either as disabled or as attendant—I think we see those “access” elements as something we do for “those less fortunate.” Perspective changes when it’s ourselves. More to say about this, leave it there for now.


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© Bishop & Fuller 2016



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Kings & Tuscan Days. . .

From the Fool—

My friend Jeremy reads a lot, and he likes history. You learn lots of lessons from history, he says, like it repeats itself unless you learn it, and then it might not. The bad parts won’t, I guess he means. I don’t know if there’s any good parts to it. In school we studied George Washington, but that was about as far as it went with being good.

But Jeremy probably knew about some king back then who was pretty good, because he’s saying we’d be better off with a king. “We’d save a lot of money,” he says. The deal is, kings cost a bunch, with all the diamonds and stuff, but still you’d save way more from the TV ads. Billions, probably.

And whoever the king was, you’d have time to get used to him. If he was evil, at least it wouldn’t be a big surprise, and you could figure how to deal with all the evil. Problem being, sure, that it’s kind of a pig in a poke, but a pig in a presidency isn’t much better.

I asked Jeremy, well, what about democracy? Didn’t we fight all the wars to preserve our way of life? “Kings would fight just as many wars,” he said. It sounded logical when he said it.

“The big thing,” he said, “is we’d all be nicer to each other. The way it is, with elections and stuff, we all wind up hating each other and screaming and saying nasty things on the Web. With a king, we could just hate the king.”

Maybe it’d cut down on greenhouse gases.

—From EF—

This week I have the utterly blissful pleasure of being with family, here in Tuscany, walking across a 14th century stone bathroom floor to take a 21st century leak, sitting down to many glorious meals in Jo and Fra’s kitchen, and hearing the rain-refreshed brook purring at the bottom of the yard. What satisfies me most, though, is sensing how the four of us are not only family, we are tribe, woven from the same weird cloth.

The kitchen conversation is ripe with laughter springing from a shared sense of humor, bent as all hell and delightfully wicked. Stories abound. Jo is a professional translator and Conrad is working at the revision of one of our novels, and I am trying to accomplish revisions to our travel itinerary, so when the dishes are cleared, the digital devices come to roost. It looks like the modern version of the Three Bears — Jo has a big laptop, Conrad has the iPad, and I’m making do with my ancient iPod. Tappity-tap, in soft-shoe time.

Silences are comfortable. Time proceeds at an amble. Conrad goes down to the bottom floor to ride the exercise bike and stick French in his ears, Johanna takes a break from working on a short story translation by reading a New Yorker article on Donald Trump, Francesco is surrounded by a pile of books and photocopies, preparing tomorrow’s history lesson for his middle-schoolers, and I have finally caught up on the trip’s finances. We had some sun today, and the laundry dried outside on a line under the peach tree. (Last night the last of the peaches went into the piquant salad.)

The air is clean and earthy. There are absolutely no cars unless we need to go to town. Two crows gave a concert worthy of the most out-there grunge band while I sat out under the fig tree and pigged out on the poetry of Audre Lorde. And the four members of this tribal family are very, very pleased to be together.

—From CB—

I try to avoid lots of politics on this blog, as most of what I might say has been said ad nauseam. And I’m not hot for subjecting readership to my own therapeutic rants. I’m moved, though, to make a general comment.

I tend to be more critical of those of my own political persuasion than of the other side, simply because I feel a stake in us being more rational, sensible and basically decent. When I see the Left engaging in the same degree of spin-meistership as the Right, it stings to the core. Most recently, I’ve been bugged by the term racist.

Using that word as an adjective is perfectly valid: a racist act or a racist comment is a distinct action with potential or actual effect. But racist as a noun offers a very slippery slope. We’ve spent our working lives as theatre-makers charting the complexity of the human animal, a character as a teeming menagerie of personae, often self-contradictory, and thwacking a melodramatic label on a character’s forehead is utterly repugnant to me—even if I loathe and despise that person.

My mother would go on a rant about “all the niggers in North Omaha.” Racist words, no question. At other times I heard her comment on Jews, “dagos,” Danes, Catholics (though she married one), “queers,” anyone on welfare, any foreigner who was getting “foreign aid,” etc. etc., as well as most of her own relatives. It was dinner-table talk, not action or overt behavior, not even relevant to her when voting, and in the most extreme contrast to the way she treated people. Sitting at that dinner table, some indeed would call her “a racist.” That would change nothing, though you might feel, as I confess I did, more virtuous than her.

Perhaps, in the political arena, it’s an effective tactic to use that term as a tribal designation, but I have my doubts. I could readily label Trump a “bullshit artist,” because that implies a special skill, a mode of operation. Using the term racist for him or his supporters implies, to me, a purity of intent, a dedication, a concrete affliction like HIV and tends to take the spotlight from the other foul warts and carbuncles of his soul. It’s too reminiscent of the days when having a 1/16th or 1/32nd strain of “Negro blood” defined you as black-clear-through, all-black-all-the-time.

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Late Fool. . .

—From the Fool—

The guy who reads this and tells me if it should be it’s or its is on vacation, so I’m late. I don’t mind being late unless somebody’s waiting and wanting me to get diarrhea. But maybe the world is not hung up waiting here.

He said how great his flight was. He’s been seeing waterfalls and mountains, but what really stuck was Frontier Airlines Flight 612, which he called Steampunk Torture Drone. He squeezes down the aisle, no problem if he’d remembered to smear himself with lubricant. He locks himself in.

Amazingly, his knees fit, even when the passenger ahead tips the seat back. The airline is thoughtful: the seats don’t tip back. They do have a fold-down tray big enough to post a post-it note or even to hold a steno pad if you like to write sideways.
They don’t do free food, wanting to keep you fit, but you can buy packets or cans of gargle and glop. You can buy their Breakfast on the Fly, $4.99 for a cup of coffee and packet of M&Ms. The housefly is extra.

The high point of my friend’s flight—which I call him that even when he says it’s (or its) its and not it’s and I don’t see why—was the announcements. Usually you tune out of the No smoking and check your flotation device and get ready to die. Frontier is more poetic, though later he thought it might have been a mistake, when the flight attendant announced, “Please remain seated when your seat belt is fastened.”
“It haunted me all day,” he said. “the poetic allusiveness of it.”

I’m not sure what poetic allusiveness is, but I think he obeyed the instructions.

—From CB—

Being on vacation, I am appropriately vacant.

—From EF—

Why didn’t I take my Fool drag with me on this journey? There have been so many times I could have used that red nose, bald pate, frowsy side-hair-sproings, and, above all, the vocal attitude.

I have been a traveling clown-show of clumsy pain, hobbling along with a walking stick and a not-yet-healed second new hip—a slow wide load, not anybody’s key to feeling empathetic when they have to get to their own place FAST. You never realize, until walking becomes difficult, how much walking there is, and I didn’t have my Fool’s Guardian Angel as we were getting on the train to get to our blessed week with Johanna in Italy. Our room in a nice cheap hotel in Amsterdam had been at the very end of their furthest wing. We met our friend Theo for breakfast in a cafe across the street, but then had a long walk to his building to wait for the handicap-taxi (much cheaper) to go to the train station. Once in the taxi, it became clear that they had other stops to make, and by the time we got to the train station we were an hour behind schedule.

So at the Amsterdam airport I was already in walking distress, and twisted by anxiety. We found a no-frills wheelchair at the airport and were jouncing down the endless corridor to EasyJet’s gate, with minutes to spare. An angelic young woman left her compatriots at the security inspection and helped get me and Conrad (dragging our two carry-on bags) down the miles and miles to the gate that was about to close. We wouldn’t have made it without our Angel.

People were walking at their own pace with wide loads all across the corridor, and we needed to claim space to pass. First I tried a sweet little “toot-toot”, but that didn’t seem to be up to the severity of the occasion. I shifted to a brash Fool-voice Onk-Onk, and that not only seemed to clear the path better, it cracked up our Angel. “I like that  one.”

What fun it would have been to continue as the Fool and just bull through all obstacles and not give a shit. Instead, we still had to traverse long distances from plane to bus, bus to train, train to train—in Milano we jumped on at Car Four and struggled down toe aisles to Car Seven—and I got more and more embarrassed. I’d held it together that far, but when we had to ask two stylish people to move their luggage from our seats, well . . . I wish I’d been able to roar profanities, but settled for collapsing into muffled sobs. Felt good, though.

Now we’re safe and happy, and I have nearly a week of loving, peaceful comfort. Then, onward.

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