It Ain’t Over. . .

—From EF—

I jumped the tracks hooking up with Conrad Bishop, and I didn’t know what I was doing. He wasn’t like others I’d fallen for, and I knew he had a dark surreal streak that I might never understand. Our first theatre work together was a violent nearly wordless murder scene from Woyzeck, and I knew it was powerfully disturbing even before the class responded. Yes, he read lush poetry to me, but there was an edgy undercurrent in what he drew and in the pencil-written letters scribbled during our first time apart when he went home from Northwestern. I said yes in a heartbeat when he proposed making love: “I’d like us to be together. Would you like that?” We plighted our troth in the back seat of an old Chrysler on the cold November streets of Evanston, and both knew immediately that this was permanent. In the words of the song, “The road goes on forever and the party never ends.”

His career became my career, and I didn’t have to give anything up. I wanted to be in theatre, and he was theatre for me. We worked as a team to achieve his goal, a Stanford Ph.D. and a college faculty career. The first job in South Carolina was a hinky byway, but the second one in Milwaukee, the Fine Arts School of UWM, was solid. So it was amazing how easily we became outlaws. The after-hours theatre group we helped spawn, Theatre X, became significant for its theatrical rule-breaking and we found ourselves out on the street. We didn’t look for another job.

Our off-the-map theatre company had a good thirty-five years. After the first five, things had shifted and we splintered off on our own to make the work that was ours to make, work that could only grow in our own hands. We’d sweated and gritted our teeth for the Ph.D., left it on the shelf when Theatre X got us pregnant out of academic wedlock, wept when we decided to leave, and knew we’d find our own way to keep going.

It was weird to be nomadic outsiders expecting to support ourselves and two little kids with what we could write, book, and perform as a duo. Fame and wealth never happened, but that wasn’t what we were chasing. You don’t get that in community centers, little theatres, prisons, high schools, and social service agencies; what we did get was performing face-to-face for real humans, without benefit of stage makeup or nifty lighting, and seeing in real time how it mattered to them. We made a life in theatre and made a living in theatre.

Suddenly the kids were on their own, I was sixty and it was time to break the rules again. We moved across the country, losing all the grant support and funding we’d worked so hard to achieve in Pennsylvania, but we had the nearby ocean and a miracle gave us a house we could buy. I’d been dreaming of California since we left in 1963: now we had our home. What we did not have was the touring network we’d built in the eastern half of the country and we learned the hard way that we couldn’t build one again from scratch. We stayed in Sebastopol and sent our storytelling on the road via radio, recording and producing Hitchhiking Off the Map in our home studio for three and a half years. Then we took a deep breath, started touring again, and made the best work of our lives. It hit the peak with Shakespeare’s sprawling masterpiece embodied by two humans and two bins of puppets—King Lear in a hundred tumultuous minutes.

Now we’ve drawn a new map and found a new way to be. Authors. Words on paper. Books. Eight of them between covers, two more in the immediate pipeline. We’ve seen our 80th birthdays come and go and have more or less absorbed the pain of leaving live performing. But it ain’t over till it’s over. Even if Covid took us off the road, the party hasn’t ended yet.        

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The Toilet Seat. . .

—From CB—

Normally, when encountering a Facebook post starting with “Men!” I skim past. I don’t really want to deny anyone’s actualities; nor do I want to defend any indefensible demographic; nor do I want to feel personally superior to others of my own gender. That’s all a lose/lose deal.

But I was drawn into the long-standing fray about the toilet seats of the world: up or down? Not that I really have any skin in the game. We have two cats, and if I were to leave the lid up, I’d find them having a slurp. I don’t need that.

But this issue isn’t something addressed in my Stanford doctoral studies. Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, Nietsche, Marx—none of these had the temerity to address the issue. Of course, those who were users of the old-fashioned privy with a hole in a board, or a convenient olive tree, would have had no occasion to wrestle with this issue. But in that case, is their philosophy truly relevant to our present needs?

One might approach it Platonically: does the Idea of “toilet” come with the seat down or up? Legalistically: does an “originalist” reading of the Constitution prescribe that it’s innately Up or Down? Sociologically: does this chronic controversy disadvantage heterosexual coupling and give an advantage to the gays?

Indeed, there are advocates of the principle of Immediate Need: if you need it up, flip it up; if it’s up and you need it down, flip it down. But does this not introduce a pernicious relativism into our culture of concrete principle?

And what about the idea of Freedom? As more women are elected to Congress and suffer the shock of a midnight squat into ceramic chill, will this induce legislation that’s the first step on a slippery slope into dictatorship?

I have no answers, but for households where this a significant point of contention, I would suggest getting a cat or a dog. It thereby assures gender equality: everyone will be obliged to raise or lower the lid.

###

Letting Go. . .

—From EF—

I don’t have any new resolutions for 2022. My imagination is not teeming with new frontiers to conquer, I’m OK with just trying to get more crap off my desk. I don’t have a new show to write and rehearse and perform, because we’re not doing that any more. One of my favorite singer-songwriters, John McCutcheon, was booked for his Left Coast tour and we had a ticket for January 8. He very sensibly canceled his tour and hopes to stop by in June. He’s just shy of 70 and has had a few health issues, as have we all, and I’m glad he’s doing his best to stay alive. We are in our 80’s and are also interested in staying alive, so we’re staying home too. But why?

For me, a starter would be the sunrises. Now that my biorhythms have a standing date with dawn, I get to see them, and sometimes I have to clap my hand over my mouth to avoid yipping loud enough to wake CB. And then I pad downstairs barefoot, loving the animal sense of my skin moving silently over the tiles.

Another perk is having a skilled and attentive lover. We had our own fireworks by the bedroom hearth for New Year’s Eve, and we won’t wait a year for the next.

Likewise, I am a skilled and attentive cook. The downside is that it’s necessary to limit quantity, because otherwise both of us would blow up like blimps.

I have very generous cats. Thirty seconds after lying down on the little couch for a nap, I have one cat on my legs and another on my stomach. I have learned how to stop worrying about the time and just bliss out with the warm purring softness.

We live where we live, in Sebastopol, and after having been out of California for 33 years I make the most of every new day that finds me here. It allows us to have a yard made of wild things: all moss and ferns to the right, creeping jenny and wild violets to the left.

The ocean is only a half-hour’s drive, and our Sundays are a combination of a battery charge for the coming week and a swamp clean-out from the last one. I try to limit my on-line time, but FB is my link to many distant friends. The news? I think I just have to be up front and call it an addiction, but at least we make a lot of very funny crude jokes about it. And the ease and frequency with which we make each other laugh is a plus.

We’re losing friends, and eventually the remaining friends will lose us. But hey, what a journey. On my last visit to Europe, I spent the final days in a tiny town in southern France. It was the last stop on the train, and there was something wonderful about getting to the station, picking up my bag, looking down the corridor and realizing I was the only passenger. That whole train was mine, and I felt like royalty.  

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A Messiah. . .

—From CB—

Here’s my biweekly post on DamnedFool.com. I normally refrain from posting short stories on the Web, as that counts as publication and precludes magazines from publishing it. It’s one of my favorites, but who’s going to publish something like this? Enjoy if you will.

A Messiah
by Bishop & Fuller

So the story is, this little Mideastern town, people going on day by day, they work, they pay taxes, there’s a tiff over who carts the garbage. They make love, have babies, eat dinner.

But all around there’s suffering and dying and pain and rape and lying and mucking up the smells of the sacred earth. And people thought, we need some help here. What we need . . . we need a leader. No, more like a teacher, a priest—high priest, no, he’s an asshole, but we need a prophet, a savior, we need . . . the Messiah!

So, according to the official biography of Jesus Christ, as authorized by the franchise, it goes like this.

Back east, there’s a number of experts on the talk shows and book tours, they’re talking about this magical child, born under a magical star. And the Administration, watching television to know what’s going on, they hear of the promised Messiah, who might make some long-promised change. The Messiah? Well fuck that. We better do a little preemptive dentistry on that.

So the Special Forces, they string out a perimeter of 20 kilometers around this little village where they pinpoint the clandestine development program. Orders are neutralize all male progeny under the age of two, males being the threat of action. And there’s a lotta grousing around the barracks, the soldiers, cause, first, we’re not those Roman sonsabitches, we’re Jews, this would be killing our own people. And this is quick-strike, you go in, do it, get out, how you got time to check every little screaming kid for a prick? And then too . . . a lot of these soldiers are daddies, and what if that kid looks like ours?

But they were pros. They were patriotic.

Now the story that is told— No. Right now, we should talk about the slaughter. We celebrate the birth, but we forget the slaughter. It’s like three hundred people die in a plane crash, and one survives, he says “What a miracle! God did it just for me!”

So we celebrate the Christmas season without smelling the blood. If you’re thinking about two hundred dead babies, you don’t feel much like shopping. But if we hold onto the gift and forget what it came wrapped in, what happens? We celebrate the divine gift this one day, and on each and every one of the three hundred sixty-four other days, we memorialize the slaughter.

The old proverb, it’s true: you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs. So one solder, named Jim, he and his buddies take the left side the road, first house, family just standing there in their room, not even hiding. He grabs the baby, mother holds on, so he sticks his point on the baby and just . . . pokes. Goes right in like butter, pulls out, big glug of blood, and mama yells and he splits her head one chop. He needs to feel something solid. Jim goes outside, there’s a pile of little kids, ten or twelve in a pile, they’re dead but a soldier is whacking on the pile, just crazy, hacking away, then runs across the road and hacks his sword on a fig tree till the blade snaps and he keels over to vomit. Jim thinks what a nut, and he turns around, his two best buddies, they got a little girl, eight or nine, buck naked, and they’re trying, you know, to put it in, but they can’t manage. And Jim thinking why are they doing that, they’re nice guys, they’re just upset, and her mother is trying to stop it, but her arm is dragging by a tendon, and finally his buddies give up on trying to have a relationship with the little girl and stand up and stomp her head in. And the mother howls a great howl, and his buddies start howling. Jim thought they’re making fun of her, that’s not nice, that’s not who we think we are, but they couldn’t stop. They howled, they howled, and the dogs picked up the howling, and then the hills. Those hills are still howling today.

That’s all Jim remembered. They all got drunk that night. Round over the whole perimeter, there was maybe a hundred fifty, two hundred little suspected Messiahs, besides the collateral damage.

So the way it’s told is this: One little boy, engendered by the Lord God of Hosts to redeem us out of our sins, got away, skipped town, then came back and grew up to be . . . the Savior. Who, even if you are not of the Christian faith, was generally agreed to be a very nice person. Though not always polite.

But now suppose— Now we don’t want to offend anyone’s proclivities here, but just suppose . . .

Suppose the little baby Messiah, him or her, we don’t know about that, was in the village that day, about the fourth house down, and the soldier grabbed it and flung it into the air, and the Son or Daughter of God was skewered on a sword, like a puppy dog. It died dead. And the one that got away, he was just a kid. Just a kid.

Now just give it the benefit of the doubt. We’re just speculating. It’s just a story, like a speech by the President, it doesn’t have to be true. It’s poetry.

Suppose, about the age of twelve, the little boy that escaped—his mommy and daddy told him the story. What a miracle! It showed God’s love and they thanked God for bringing’em safe out of the plane crash.

And he asked, “What about the other babies?” And they said “Shut up with that!”

So the story goes, they took him to the big city. They’re looking at the big tall buildings, all the sights, and then suddenly, “Where’s the kid?” And they find him in the Temple, with the priests and the rabbis, asking all these questions. Why? Why why why why why? Why!!!? And they’re talking about sin and obedience and the scriptures and the opinions of Rabbi Horscht and Rabbi Borscht, and he asks, “Why?” And everybody’s saying, “Who is this kid?”

And his mom grabs him. “Don’t you ever do that again!”

They go back to their rented room. Mom makes supper. Nobody speaks. He’s alone.

He knew then that the Messiah was dead, and he alone escaped alive to know it. He felt so guilty. And he knew if there was ever going to be a Messiah, he’d have to do it. Fake it till you make it.

Over the years, he did better than fake it. He started out in his dad’s workshop, learning to plane the wood, carve joints, pound nails straight. And he studied up, applied himself, lost weight. Bought a pair of sandals good for walking.

Then he wrote some beautiful songs that went into people’s hearts, and you couldn’t help but dance. Even a big fat slob cavorting and prancing, it feels so good. Although, he didn’t hold onto his copyrights, so his label kinda simplified the lyrics, changed the arrangements, so you hear his stuff mostly in elevators or selling somebody a bill of goods.

Then he’s hung up to dry. Took’em thirty-three years but they caught him. They tacked him up like a poster on a bulletin board, riveted him onto a $24.95 bronze memorial crucifix hanging on the wall, with his own mother howling below. He wanted somebody to stomp his head in, cause it hurt so bad.

And he’s up there on the stinking hill, looking out over the city and the hills and the howling in the hills (I thirst!), and he knew he’d failed. All those babies that died, and the real Messiah that died with a sword up its little ass, (Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!) and he had blown it. He saw the villages, the town and cities, whole races of humankind upon whom the soldiers would charge down to wipe those babies off the face of the earth—in his name. (My God my God why hast Thou forsaken me?) In his name.

And he heard a voice: “Whatchu talking about?”

What?

Now this might have been the voice of the Lord God of Hosts. Yahweh. Jehovah. Our Heavenly Father. But it sounded like a woman. Of course some guys have high voices, and you call on the phone, “Hi, Mrs. Wolinski, could I talk to Sam?” “This is Sam.” So it could have been the Father. But it sounded female.

She said “Whatsa matter, boy? You think you so special? You think they wasted the real Messiah and now they got the I’ll-try-my-best-to-be-the-Messiah Messiah? You think the Divine Breath of the Universe that spews out fish eggs and dandelion seeds and Big Macs and SUVs and mosquitoes by the quadrazillions, has only got the human eggs and spermatozoa for one Messiah? We got tons of plutonium and uranium and trillium and billium and congolium and vitriolium to blow the lid off the whole fucking planet, but we don’t got the makings for more than one Messiah? Oh my no.”

She say, “You hear that howling over the hills? That’s your mama crying down there, but up here, from the vantage point that you have achieved in life, with a scenic view, you hear the hills of the Promised Land. That is the howls of labor. That is the women birthing messiahs, numberless.”

And he hears it. The mothers of the sons and the daughters. Howling out what it takes to give birth . . . to a god. He’s hanging there hearing the birth of gods. The head crowns from the cervix, and she waits, she waits, and then she starts to push, and a god sees light. And the god on the cross, he laughed, cause it took him so long to get it.

And for these women, who will not say that they birth the Savior? Who will deny them this claim? Who will not see that these women give birth, by the millions, to Saviors every day? That we send forth commandos daily to neutralize these Saviors before they ask Why? These tiny suckling Saviors who despite our best efforts still live.

And some escape, pound nails straight, and sing. And the labor lives in their mothers, and the coming of light.

###

 

Gullible. . .

—From EF—

The ocean is our standing Sunday date. We pack up a picnic basket at noon and go spend a couple of hours with the waves before coming back renewed. The picnic menu alternates week by week between sushi with slices of ahi and what we now call “chicken elbows,” those little things our market calls “drumettes.” I marinate them in tamari and sake with huge gobs of diced fresh ginger and garlic, then broil them to a brown crisp.

We take a pair of folding camp chairs and a teeny folding table and set ourselves up on the big bluff above the waterline and watch the gulls and little black cormorants and, when the season is right, the pelicans. From time to time, one of the gulls will boldly fly to the very edge of the bluff and stand there, patiently begging.

I encourage this, and bring a little container of scraps for this purpose. I think we have a repeat gull customer. At least, I convince myself that I recognize the color pattern in the feathers and the begging style. I like this. There is something deep in me that loves feeding things, whether I think they’re hungry or not. I mean, in the wild world, if a creature isn’t hungry at the present moment, it will be hungry very soon.

Today it was very chilly and windy, and we sat in the car with our picnic, just landward of our usual spot. Close to the end of our lunching, I heard two crisp taps at the car door on my side. I thought someone we knew had come to the same beach and was rapping to say hello, but when I looked out the window there was nobody there. Then I looked downward, and there was the gull, staring up at me. The gull had rapped on the door.

After I stopped laughing, I did the usual and tore off the gristly bits from the chicken elbows, which have been eagerly received by the gull when with us in person. Out the window they went, and down the gull they went. I can’t explain how good this made me feel.

I find it difficult to believe that this was our customary gull and that it had recognized me sitting in the car, but rapping on the door? How to explain that? I prefer to be warmed by the thought that it was “my” gull and I fed it. There are enough gross destructive fantasies in the world screaming to be believed. I’ll gladly take this sweet fantasy and hold it close.

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