This Absurdity

Marius van Dokkum

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?

Yeats, “The Tower”


Although I’m old enough to qualify for Medicare A, I don’t think of myself as “a senior citizen.”   Nevertheless, manufacturers of walk-in tubs, wheel-equipped walkers, and adult-diapers have increasingly targeted me as a potential consumer.

It’s time I faced it: I am a senior citizen, a paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick, a demographic corpse-a-coming whose limbo-winning-contest days are way, way over. Now, catching a wave is a major accomplishment; riding my skateboard sends my heart rate into machine-gun blast parameters. Although I’d like to think my sons don’t “curse the gout, serpigo, and the rheum, /For ending [me] no sooner,” [1] it’s obvious we’re in the last ten minutes of the feature film of my life.

However, the “senior dating sites” haven’t written me off as semi-incapacitated yet. They’ve discovered I’m a widower and think I’d probably prefer to avoid a desolate, lonely, sciatica-ridden senescence sitting in my drafty garret filling in crossword puzzle books, compulsively checking my dwindling net worth, trying in vain to decipher the misshapen letters/symbols/numbers of passwords in my late wife’s address book that look as if they may have been scrawled by Woody Guthrie in the last stages of Huntington’s.

Just yesterday, SeniorMatch came on to me, in hopes whupping up some post-menopausal passion between me and a soon-to-be-discovered other, seductively pumping me with compliments, assuring me I’m “experienced” and that I “know what I like.”

We’ll have fun fun fun until the offspring take the car keys away.

Well, they’ve already gotten something wrong: I’m not experienced. Until this year, I hadn’t had a date since 1976, and on that one, she, my late wife, did the asking under the pretense I would be dining with her and her roommate, a fellow bartender. Before then, I was a serial monogamist. I think I’ve only asked someone I didn’t know well out twice.

And until this year, I didn’t realize that certain times a day held certain implications for singles meeting for a drink, that 4 pm meant something different from 7.

I do, however, know what I like: the sound of my own voice.

 

 

And what I don’t like: most people.

However, if I were to sign up, this would be my profile picture:


[1] Measure for Measure, 3.1

A Short, Rambling Treatise on Lying

 

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Andrzej Mazur, “The Liar

I grew up down the street from a pathological liar. He was a year or two younger, friends with my brother. To give you an example, one time he told me that outside his house he had thrown his baseball glove through his bedroom’s second story window, and the glove landed in his toy chest, which I guess is possible, but then he said he tossed a baseball into the air and swatted it with a bat and the ball arced through the same window and landed in the glove in the toy box.

In those days the word “bullshit” was not in my vocabulary – I was eight or nine — and in fact, I didn’t call him out on his lies because I didn’t want to embarrass him. However, his lying made me want to avoid him because not calling him out made me feel as if I were complicit, a liar by proxy. At that age, I didn’t contemplate what compelled him to construct such outrageous tales. Now it seems obvious that he found something lacking in himself and needed to compensate.

However, don’t we all sometimes “stretch the truth” to make our experiences seem, well, more notable?

Richard Wilbur assures us that

To claim, at a dead party, to have spotted a grackle,

When in fact you haven’t of late, can do no harm.

Your reputation for saying things of interest

Will not be marred, if you hasten to other topics,

Nor will the delicate web of human trust

Be ruptured by that airy fabrication.

However, he implies that embroidering reality shouldn’t be necessary, given the wonders surrounding us:

In the strict sense, of course,

We invent nothing, merely bearing witness

To what each morning brings again to light:

Gold crosses, cornices, astonishment

Of panes, the turbine-vent which natural law

Spins on the grill-end of the diner’s roof,

Then grass and grackles or, at the end of town

In sheen-swept pastureland, the horse’s neck

Clothed with its usual thunder, and the stones

Beginning now to tug their shadows in

And track the air with glitter. All these things

Are there before us; there before we look

Or fail to look.

But we do fail to look. And our memories can be faulty: there may or may not been tiny swastikas tattooed between each finger of the man I worked with in 1974, but details enhance verisimilitude, and I can see those jailhouse tats as I’m retelling the story. I could pass a polygraph I’m so sure he had a tiny little swastika between each finger.

* * *

In Heart of Darkness, Charlie Marlow confesses, “You know I hate, detest, and can’t bear a lie, not because I am straighter than the rest of us, but simply because it appalls me. There is a taint of death, a flavour of mortality in lies – which is exactly what I hate and detest in the world – what I want to forget. It makes me miserable and sick, like biting something rotten would do.”

Marlow does, however, end his narrative with a whooper-and-a-half when he tells Kurtz’s fiancée that his last words were her name.

Let’s have Brando playing Kurtz deliver his actual dying words.

As the Kurtz’s “Intended” collapses into tears, Marlow gets the hell out of that house with its grand piano and its ivory keys:

It seemed to me that the house would collapse before I could escape, that the heavens would fall upon my head. But nothing happened. The heavens do not fall for such a trifle. Would they have fallen, I wonder, if I had rendered Kurtz that justice which was his due? Hadn’t he said he wanted only justice? But I couldn’t. I could not tell her. It would have been too dark—too dark altogether….”

Of course, we forgive Marlow that lie. Not lying in that situation would be like Stephen Dedalus’ not praying for his mother when she asked on his deathbed.

In that case, to hell with integrity!

* * *

That leaves us with two more categories, the lie to try to get out of trouble (been there, done that) and the despicable lie, for example, impugning someone’s integrity for spite.

Our president is, of course, guilty of this type of lie mongering when he calls Comey “a liar” and “sleezeball,” words of projection I think. Trump’s a terrible role model for sure, what Marlow would call “a papier-mâché Mephistopheles,” hollow to the core.

Does this sound like someone we know:

He had no genius for organizing, for initiative, or for order even. [. . .] He had no learning, and no intelligence [. . .] He originated nothing, he could keep the routine going – that’s all [. . .] Perhaps there was nothing within him.

Like the boy with the magic baseball glove and ball, it seems obvious that Trump finds something lacking in himself and needs to compensate.

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EBENEZER SUNDER SINGH

In All His Tuneful Turning

IMG_1938

View from my classroom window

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
                                              Frost, “Nothing Gold Can Stay”

 

Is it merely my morbid imagination, or has this been a dreary spring weatherwise?

Today, for example, like yesterday and the day before, a leaden sky darkens the land, muting nature’s first green.  And, since nothing gold can stay, it also follows that neither can gray, that the leaden sky and dank, chilly air won’t stay around forever.  Obviously, weather is constantly moving from west to east as the earth spins, so we can look forward to bright days ahead, and dark days, sickness and health, until death slams the door and the picture making machine shuts off, which doesn’t faze me one iota.  As the poet sez, “I don’t remember any problems I had before I was born.”

I do remember, however, it was a bright sunny but below-freezing day when I repeated after the pastor those words “in sickness and in health” and that Judy’s, my bride’s, expression seemed beyond earnest as she stared me in the eye, looking beyond sincere, and her ardor sort of surprised me, and I felt sort of guilty, abstracted there at the altar, thinking not about the vows but about how she looked and wondering what my expression looked like. In other words, I was distracted, out of time.

judy-the-bride

The good news is that we got to enjoy thirty-nine-and-a-half earth revolutions before death did us part, and it’s almost been a year since then, eleventh-twelfths of a revolution, a quick year, eventful, often lonely but not always.

I’m sitting here at school between conferences with someone else’s advisees (their advisor’s on maternity leave), and it’s the last time I’ll ever do so (mine or all seniors, and I won’t be assigned any new ones). Even though I’m not at all adept at negotiating the byzantine grids of requirement, I am good at engaging parents in small talk, playing the Yeatsian role of sixty-year-old smiling public man (what he calls “a comfortable kind of old scarecrow”).  Nevertheless, I won’t miss having advisees next year, the way I might miss teaching “Among School Children.”  Will I even come to school on conference day or instead practice at being retired by riding my bike to the Lost Dog for a croissant?

I find myself less and less in a hurry nowadays, and when I eventually do retire, I hope to never be in a hurry ever again. Old age can have its compensations, educated offspring, paid mortgages, free time.

So c’mon, sun, break through; match my mood. I’m done with school for today. I get to hang out with Walker Percy for the rest of the early afternoon and then look forward to whatever.

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!

collins

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]: In the late middle of the 20th century it sounds like. Nobody talks like that.  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.  Please 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 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
(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

 

Fin.