My Linguistic Reign of Terror

photoshopped from left to right: Donald Trump, Jr., Eric Trump, Betsy Devos, Mitch McConnell,Paul Ryan, and Donald Trump

Most people my age have cleaned out the attic of their overblown aspirations, have gotten rid of the ridiculous notion that they’ll write the great American novel or sell an original screenplay that wins an Oscar (which, in my case, would include getting shitfaced at the Vanity Fair after party and going home with Myrna Loy).

Not me. I still dream of single-handedly overthrowing the US government, declaring myself a Sun God, and initiating a reign of terror to punish those who have offended my delicate sensibilities.

Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with detailed descriptions of the exquisite tortures I have concocted for the likes of Mitch McConnell (staring into a mirror), Paul Ryan (translating Atlas Shrugged into Finnish), or Donald Trump (taking away TV and Internet privileges until he has memorized word-for-word the 1855 edition of Song of Myself).

Once the heavy-duty guillotining was done and the nation had settled down to the thousand years of bliss I had promised, I would issue several proclamations concerning the use of language.

* * *

It would be unlawful to end a declarative sentence with an interrogative lilt. Like, no more, “I have never had a toe amputated?”

Incorrect pronoun cases would be allowed (e.g., me and Timmy went, between you and I); however, not making the distinction between less and fewer would be punishable by having to sing at one sitting “10,000 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.”[1]

Except for vacations to all-inclusive Jamaican resorts, there would be no more laying in the sun.

Tattooed proclamations could no longer be rendered in gothic script.

Adolescent boys would be required to dot i-s with hearts.

* * *

Oh, my God. Lord Acton is right about absolute power! Obviously, it’s past time for me to pack up this fantasy and put in on the side of the road to be transported to the dump of broken dreams.

Hey, I got plenty of more productive things to do with my time, like researching Medicare supplemental insurance policies/walk-in tubs.

Go ahead, brothers and sisters, say what you will. Dig on that First Amendment.

Do it!

[1] I was delighted yet dismayed to hear my grief counselor’s 9-year-old tell me that on a recent fieldtrip they sang “100 Bottles” (delighted) but beer had been replaced with milk (dismayed). Yet another example of political correctness run amok.

myrnaloyhair2Myrna Loy

Don’t Touch That Thesaurus, Sophomore!


Here’s what happens when you put a thesaurus in the hands of a sophomore writing an essay on Pride and Prejudice:

As soon as he matriculates into the Bennet’s domicile, Mr. Collins’s lack of social opulence opaquely dissembles in elocutions of grandiosness that triturate on the tender spots of Mr. Bennet and his female offspring’s sense and sensibilities.  Mr. Collins’s unenlightenment of social indicators immobilizes his ability to apple polish his way into the family’s entwinements. A disproportionate kow-towing to the strictures of formality manufacture him into an integer of caricature.  Whether he’s dogmatizing from the pulpit or twaddling at a shindig, Mr. Collins is sure to faux pas his way into jocosity. 

[ sigh sough]

A Shallow, Self-Serving Comparison Between Christianity and Buddhism

Being a good Buddhist is just as hard as being a good Christian. You have to love/feel compassion for Donald Trump (or Barack Obama if you’re a Republican) and dedicate your life to dismantling your ego.

By the same token, being a bad Buddhist is just as easy as being a bad Christian; except in Buddhism no crucifixion, no propitiation, in fact, no god can save you from yourself.

The good news is that there’s no smiting in Buddhism, no flagellation.

After death, good Protestants enjoy the luxury of carte blanche expiation – complete and utter forgiveness –a get-out-of-hell-free card redeemable at the very last breath.[1] No matter the depth of depravity, no matter the severity of the sins committed, whether it is talking about your spouse behind her back, cheating on her, or even murdering and dismembering her, one size of forgiveness fits all as long as you accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior.

Then you get to spend the rest of eternity in bliss.

In Buddhism, on the other hand, what you get after death is reincarnation, which in the First World means the messy trauma of childbirth followed by the scrapping of knees, getting bullied/turned down for dates, the prelude to ultimately getting your increasingly not-so-tender heart-broken. So you drop out of college, say, find a job working 40+ hours a week in low-level management. You get married, commit adultery or get cheated on yourself, file for divorce, and suffer the subsequent finger wagging of offspring criticizing you for your blatant hypocrisy.

All the while, you’re undergoing the disheartening recession of your hairline or the accumulation of cellulite on the back of your dented thighs.

If you’re really unlucky and live too long of a life, you end up getting warehoused in some Kafkaesque facility with sadistic healthcare workers until it’s time to die alone in a sterile cubicle stinking of chemicals.

Then you get reincarnated and suffer all of it over again.

Of course, I don’t believe in reincarnation except in the sense that the matter that once constituted your body’s going to get recycled. Otherwise, my reckoning is that when you’re dead, you’re oblivious, i.e., no longer sentient, which, given the above four paragraphs, is fine and dandy by me.

One big advantage a believing Christian has over the Buddhist is the comforting idea of an astral parent who, despite his mysterious ways, supposedly loves you unconditionally (until you’re judged at the End Times and are perhaps cast into sulfurous perdition everlasting). Christians can communicate with God, ask for his guidance. During my wife’s three-years of terminal cancer, I thought more than once how nice it would be to be blessed with faith, but as far as I can tell, you either have it or not, and I don’t, nor did she, a woman whose stoicism might make Marcus Aurelius turn green with envy.

Buddhism does offer, however, a set of mental exercises designed to help you, not only to cope, but also enjoy the time you have by being cognizant of the wonder of it all. Buddhism reminds us that we’re riding on a swirling pebble revolving around a fleck of fire hurtling through a vacuum, but also teaches us how to calmly appreciate the painted bunting bathing in that birdbath on the edge of the marsh, an experience ultimately more meaningful than playing Grand Theft Auto or binge watching Season 2 of The Walking Dead.

Of course, Christians can co-opt these Buddhist exercises and meditate, and that would, it seems to me, to constitute the best of both worlds for those who possess the power to believe.

Although I’m a slackass Buddhist, meditation has helped me to cope calmly with the bad and appreciate the good. When I was young, I was jittery, as if Mexican jumping beans instead of blood pulsed through my veins. I was angry at the world in general and at that asshole talking too loud in line in particular. Now, I’m calmer, essentially anger free, and can stand or sit still. Sometimes I’m even able to free my consciousness from the spinning hamster wheel of daily concerns that tend to consume way too much of my fleeting existence.

If you haven’t tried meditating, you ought to.

[1] I’m not sure if US Catholics still believe in Purgatory, but there you do have to suffer for your misdeeds, “confined to fast in fires” until “the foul crimes done” in your life “are burnt and purged away.”

Closet Drama/Musical: Let’s Not Turn the Weekend into a Beckett Play

Translated from the French by Kingbeat Fuller Foster.

A couple in their twenties lounge in a not-all-that cramped studio apartment.  She sits on a ratty couch staring into her device, earbud wires dangling from her ears.  Reclining in a decrepit recliner, he reads the print edition of the New York Times.  A coffee table still life installation: skull, vaping device, utility bills, vintage post cards (Bertolt Brecht, Buster Keaton), an incense burner sprouting three sticks burning simultaneously.

Behind, a Batik hanging, concrete block bookshelves.

She [staring down at her device, then removing the earbuds]: Hey, Sam [we can’t see him because he holds the paper open with two hands thrust wide, the paper shielding.  The headline is in Pearl Harbor font:  TRUMP AND MELANIA  DEAD; MURDER/SUICIDE]Hey, Sam.  Do you still love me?

Sam: No.

She: But I love you.

Sam:  So you say.

She:  We’re five lines into the play,  and the so-called playwright hasn’t even bothered to give me a name yet.  Have you picked up on that?  Of course not.

Sam:  It’s because I haven’t said your name yet.

She:  Bullshit.  All he had to do is write in the directions above, a couple in their twenties, Sam and Sam, lounge in a not-all-that cramped studio apartment.  Plus, it seems like he got the title wrong.  Ionesco, not Beckett.

Male Sam lowers the newspaper and smiles enigmatically.

Female Sam: I used to think it was so cool we had the same name.  “Sam-plus-Sam= love” I wrote once on a dusty windshield instead of “wash me.”

Male Sam: [almost inaudibly]: Did this happen in the 1950s?  Nobody talks like that. “I wrote once on a dusty windshield.” No one ever talked liked that.  Except in plays.  [He yawns, turns the page, re-hides his person behind the paper.] Now the headline reads: Melania and Trump Dead, Suicide/Murder.

Female Sam:  I want you to move out.

Male Sam: [snatching newspaper down, ramming his legs to make the recliner un-recline, his feet slapping on the floor]: What???  Why????

Female Sam: Because you don’t love me anymore.

Male Sam: But I don’t love anyone.  Not MeMaw, not PaPa, not Mom, not Dad, not my shitass siblings, not Brooklyn, my job, not me.  You know what they say.  If you’re incapable of loving yourself, you’re incapable of loving in general. I’m the living proof.  Cmon, don’t kick me out, Sam.

He gets up, heads to the kitchen area, methodically concocts a bloody mary. She has the buds back in, her eyes closed, sways to unheard melodies.

He returns, drink in hand.  She doesn’t realize he’s there.  He touches her arm.  She opens her eyes, smiles.  Takes the drink.

Female Sam [Her smile has turned into a sardonic sitcom smile]:  I want you to move out.  In four weeks.

Male Sam [singing to the tune of “Goodnight Irene”]:  My mother wished that I might be/A man of some renown/But I am just as refugee/As I go rambling round boys/As I go rambling round.

Female Sam:  If we had a tv, we could watch the suicide/assassination extravaganza.

Male Sam:  I got an idea.  Let’s listen to the same song at the same time.  We never listen to the same song at the same time.

Female Sam:  Like what? What song?

Male Sam:  “Nobody But Me.” The Human Beinz.

Female Sam: The Human Beings?

Male Sam:  Yes.

From his device the song is bluetoothed to a red cylindrical speaker.

No-no, no, no, no-no-no, no, no-no, no, no-no
Na-no, no, na-no, no-no, na-no, no-no, no, no-no, no
Nobody can do the (Shing-a-ling) like I do
Nobody can do the (Skate) like I do
Nobody can do (Boogaloo) like I do
Nobody can do (Philly) like I do
Well, don’t you know
I’m gonna skate right through
Ain’t nobody do it but me
Nobody but me (nobody but me)
Yeah, I’m gonna spin, I do
Ain’t nobody do it but me, babe
(Nobody but me)
Well, let me tell you nobody
Nobody but me
Let me tell you, nobody
(Nobody) nobody
(Nobody) nobody
(Nobody) nobody
(Nobody) nobody
(Nobody) nobody
(Nobody) nobody
—Instrumental Interlude—
No-no, no, no, no, no-no-no, no, no-no, no, no-no
Na-no, no, na-no, no-no, na-no, no-no, no, no-no, no
Nobody can do the (Shing-a-ling) like I do
Nobody can do the (Skate) like I do
Nobody can do (Boogaloo) like I do
Nobody can do (Philly) like I do
Ooooooh, yeah
Nobody, nobody
Nobody, nobody

Female Sam: I’d never heard that before. It’s kinda catchy.

Male Sam: Aint nobody do it but me, babe.

Female Sam: It’s very danceable.

Male Sam: Wanna dance?

Female Sam: Do you still love me?

Male Sam: If I say ‘yes’ can I stay?

Female Sam: Maybe.

Male Sam: Let’s not turn this weekend into a Beckett play. Let’s go for romcom, okay?

Female Sam: Okay, I’ll give you six weeks. Then I want you to move out.

Male Sam: Fine!


Testy Delirium, Featuring Robert Penn Warren and Great Granddaddy Moore

Robert Penn Warren

I’ve just finished Wallace Stegner’s The Spectator Bird, the National Book Award recipient for fiction in 1977. Its narrator, the sixty-nine year old Joe Allston, is so curmudgeony that he makes Ebenezer Scrooge and Miss Havisham seem like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers. Allston, whose one attribute is his penchant for erudite allusions, has taken Dylan Thomas’s advice about raging, raging, against the dying of the light. Obsessed with his arthritis and a deteriorating dental situation, he has become an insufferably angry old man.

Petty occurrences like newscasters’ eliding syllables bring his “blood pressure up to about 250/200,” and when he discovers that “the mailbox [is] empty, that the postman [is] late again,” he “announces a loud God damn.” His “internal grumblings [go] on, the way a high-compression engine running on low-octane gas will go on galloping and coughing and smoking after the ignition is shut off.”

Lacking both the supernatural solace of religion and the philosophical consolation of stoicism, he focuses only on himself, which makes him miserable. His long suffering wife Ruth tries to push him in a more positive direction but to no avail.


Years ago, I attempted to be a Buddhist because I realized that I squander most of my time among cluttered bric-a-brac in the attic of my mind, blind to the wonders of nature that Wordsworth extolls in his poetry, glories like “the sportive wood run wild,” or less majestic miracles, like the sway of sunlight and shadow on the bookcase to my right, what my friend Leopold Bloom of Ulysses would call “a phenomena.”

The fellow in the daguerreotype is one of my late wife Judy’s ancestors. In those days, posing for a photo was serious business. You had to be very still. Very few people sit still nowadays. I don’t know his name, but I can see a resemblance between him and Judy’s sister Becky around their eyes. Judy knew who he was, I think.

No one thinks about this man anymore, except for me, and now, for a second, you.

* * *

Close to forty years ago, a newlywed living in Rantowles, I ran across a poem by Robert Penn Warren, still alive at the time, a poem about old age in which he mused that when he would die so would all living memory of his grandfather.

I sat in the same room with Robert Penn Warren once in the early ‘70s when he met with about 20 or so students to answer our questions. David Tillinghast, the TA who taught me fiction writing, asked Mr. Warren the first question, if he thought a formal education would have “ruined” Ernest Hemingway.

“How in the hell should I know,” was Warren’s rude answer, barked loudly, in a tone bordering on exasperation.

* * *

Although I was only five or so, I remember when my great grandfather Luther Moore died. There was an article about him in an upstate paper because he had been some minor elected official and ridden a bicycle all over Bishopville in his 90s. I met him once at my other great grandfather’s house in North Charleston.

When he arrived, Grandfather Luther, croaked, “I’m blind and deaf so there’s no need for any of you to come and try to talk to me.”

After their opening salvos, I didn’t engage with either Robert Penn Warren, a fellow redhead, or Grandfather Luther, who may have had a thick head of white hair or been as bald as an emu egg – I don’t remember, and there’s no one alive to ask. Both old men were scary, angry about something, probably, like Joe Allston, about being old.

* * *

What shall I do with this absurdity—

O heart, O troubled heart—this caricature,

Decrepit age that has been tied to me

As to a dog’s tail?

If Yeats had been a Buddhist, he wouldn’t have written these lines. Sure, he would have been happier, but his poetry less profound.  I’ll take The Scarlet Letter or Moby Dick over Walden Pond any day.

Which is ultimately more important? Happiness or poetic profundity? Does it even matter?

Here’s how Yeats’s poem ends:

Now shall I make my soul,

Compelling it to study

In a learned school

Till the wreck of body,

Slow decay of blood,

Testy delirium

Or dull decrepitude,

Or what worse evil come—

The death of friends, or death

Of every brilliant eye

That made a catch in the breath—

Seem but the clouds of the sky

When the horizon fades,

Or a bird’s sleepy cry

Among the deepening shades.

Oh. Yes. Om. Amen.