— from the Fool —
My friend Barnett lost his parents to the flu. They were mean bastards, so he knew they were in Hell.
But he loved them, so he vowed to dig them out. He found a soft spot in the back yard and started to dig.
Long way down, and he hit layers of hard-packed clay. By day’s end he was dead tired. He went to sleep right in the hole.
An angel came that night and brought Revelation to my friend Barnett.
THERE IS A HELL, the angel said, BUT IT’S UNDER CONSTRUCTION.
This was the run-down:
God and Satan in fact are business partners. Not friends, but like Gilbert & Sullivan: one writes lyrics, the other music. Far distant from one another, but the audience comes out singing the tune.
Their target — to separate the purebred sheep from the scroungy goats — is the same. They advertise each other and share each other’s mailing lists. Both rely on the workings of capital investment. Both are job-creators.
But Hell was planned out when humans were little splotches of nomads, one step up from red-ass baboons, created to give tigers and head lice some extra protein. No one ever imagined Los Angeles.
And so, when humanity reached its apex as planetary parasite, Hell had to be redeveloped — a public/private partnership known as the World Wide Web.
Each day, every day, all day, every human on Earth could suck into their souls the sum total, billions of uploads, of Wrath, Greed, Sloth, Pride, Lust, Envy, and Gluttony. An instant-cereal mix called Hell in Every Heart — just add stink and let simmer.
TURN HUMANITY UP TO ELEVEN, the angel said, with a chuckle and snort, AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS.
According to my friend Barnett, anyway, but it might just have been his excuse to stop digging. Sounds fishy to me.
— from EF —
Joy. Gratitude. Sovereign remedies for a grumpy soul. Last night (Saturday the 10th) was a lavish helping of both. I decided we should throw a party, because it’s been a while, and that it should be a “Heart Party” to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the open-heart surgery that repaired CB’s mitral valve.
So we sent out the word, and all these beautiful people showed up, and we had a grand time. Joy. Ask for it, and you get it.
But sometimes it comes unexpectedly. I recall moments from this fall in France, after visiting our daughter Johanna at her home in Tuscany.
I was on my way from the hostel in Penthièvre to the Quiberon ferry that would take me to my beloved Belle Isle, and I just missed the bus. Instead of sitting on the bench for an hour feeling grumpy and bored, I started walking down the little tarmac road toward the next stop south. The peninsula is so narrow here that you could stand on the western sand and heave a softball into the eastern waves.
It was a hot sunny day, and I pooped out after half an hour. Not wanting to have the next bus pass me by, I sat down at the St-Pierre bench to wait. And then, as if by magic, a colorful and improbable parade appeared. Dozens and dozens of old classic cars, waxed and shiny, chrome gleaming in the sun, processed slowly toward Quiberon, with appropriately classic drivers waving out the windows or basking with their sunroofs down. I never thought of automobiles as sculptures before, but these were the essence of Gallic gaiety.
Later, waiting to board the ferry, I was killing time at a waterfront bistro with a small plate of oysters and a glass of white wine, reading Les Miserables on the iPod, when I became aware of a mighty rumble coming from the town square to my right. There had been a Fools’ Festival earlier, but I got there a little too late to catch the major fooling. Now it paraded past me, dozens and dozens of wildly colorful folks bumping down the cobblestones on a mad variety of bikes. First little mopeds, then serious motorcycles, and then the full-throated road hogs. Feathers, sequins, red noses, face paint, kazoos, striped pants, tutus, clown shoes, huge carnival headgear — the whole nine yards. They processed as slowly as they could without falling over, so everyone could get a good look, and they were clearly loving it — local folk cutting loose, and happy to be seen. I was so enchanted that I completely forgot the camera.
Three days later, on the way home, I got off the train in Rennes and heard singing, a soaring tenor. The train station is one huge reverb chamber, and the singer was filling it wall to wall. The station had put a battered upright at the edge of the guard rail of the mezzanine for anyone to use, and it was being used. Climbing the stairs was like ascending to heaven.
A young man with curly copper hair was singing and playing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” and a friend was reaching around the keyboard to add treble ornamentation. If you know this song, and if you remember how the late Jeff Buckley sounded as his voice climbed the melody to the top, you may have a hard time believing me when I say that this hit me harder. Not just because the voice was so good (and it was), but because of the love and delight that came from this anonymous angel. No dark brooding, just pure joy, pouring out audible light.
— from CB —
I love the richness. Food; sex; mildly altered states; conversations that take you deeper; walking through small fragments of the universe; the faces of old friends; silly cats; fire; the ocean; perfectly patterned words; the next phrases of Beethoven emerging from the last; Mahler’s excesses; Rembrandt’s eyes; Vermeer’s sunlight on walls; looking at this man and woman and realizing, Oh, my children; seeing my mate from a distance as a stranger, and then close up—
Still, the question emerges, What do I give in recompense? All these people — not to mention chickens and heart surgeons — who labor to keep me alive, do I offer nothing more than money or chicken feed?
The only thing I can do is tell stories. But what’s the point of that? Why fumble with flint and steel to strike sparks into tinder when there are matches, lighters, electric billboards, flame-throwers, napalm, drones to light up Pakistan? There’s vast industry turning out hundreds, thousands of stories a day on the page, the stage, the screen — a titanic yawp plugged into billions who yearn for the dope of entertainment. Two old actors in a living room, baring their souls?
Still, though you tell yourself you’re trying to change a life, save the world, stand witness to truth or get a laugh, you know it comes down to compulsion. You just have to. That’s it. In high school you got into the drama club when you saw it was a way to meet girls. Well, you met girls, and that was fine, but the compulsion stayed. Maybe the same compulsion as with the girls: to be felt. Then you pulled a partner into your madness.
That compulsion stayed. But another emerged. You began to see the story not as something to be expressed but as a labyrinth to be explored.
The begetting, the bearing, and the birth of a story is one journey you can’t Google. No satellite image or street view available. It’s darkest Africa. It’s the alien landscape you enter at 10 a.m. after you go to the gym and your mate drops you at the town square to get coffee and eat your muffin, and then you walk up to the library and write for a couple of hours. Or later, risking the night.
To explore. To learn what you already know but is not revealed till you open the door. Out of the floodgate it may come only by a trickle. You may have to squeeze it like toothpaste from a squeezed-out tube. You find the path. You follow it. You discover what Chuck did after the wall collapsed and he wanted to die.
What do you care about Chuck? What do you care about Sophia Weatherlee? These people never existed, but then neither did your children before they were born, and who now stand as woman and man, dear beyond words.
Maybe it just comes to that. I need to strew the world with children.
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