December 30, 2006

Cheers


My New Year's Eve gig fell through yesterday - a development in which I quietly 
and secretly rejoiced, mostly because it keeps me off the road, and out of the 
punch. So although I'm in favor of any reason to party, especially for no reason in 
particular, I'll probably be marking the New Year by sleeping through the midnight 
passage this year - and thus celebrating, with a slice of unconsciousness, the 
continuum in which time actually exists.

My earliest memories of New Years revolve around the party hats and frilly 
noisemakers that would appear around the house on New Year’s day, remnants of 
magical adult goings-on, from which we kids were cruelly but provocatively 
excluded. And the equally mysterious but somehow evocative strains of "Auld Lang 
Syne". Soon enough, as my friend Rick pointed out, we were "in on the magic", 
and I was celebrating with my own tribes and lovers from snowy fire-lit soirees in 
Michigan, to snowy neon-lit blow-outs in Times Square, and now in Florida's 
tropical Parrothead splendor.

Of all the holidays, New Years uniquely does not memorialize something 
associated with a particular human being or historical event. And unlike the 
solstices, equinoxes, and the like, does not refer to an actual natural occurrence. 
The passage from December 31 to January 1 is, at the end of the day, a 
somewhat arbitrary one. But maybe that's exactly what accounts for its near-
universal appeal. With no exclusionary or divisive military victory, local hero, or 
religious event to tout, it simply says... “Here we are. We made it to another year, 
another day, another tick of the clock. Drink up, and kiss me, you fool!”

So I raise my cup to, and with, you all, filled with as much kindness as we can 
muster and receive, to celebrate nothing more sacred than the extraordinary fact 
that here we all are together, on this planet, for the first and last time, in this 
moment, today, maybe tomorrow, and for Auld Lang Syne.




December 29, 2006

Bank right at 31st Street


My brother called from his cell phone. "A plane just landed on Country Club Boulevard. I don't think it's going anywhere for a while." Turns out engine trouble brought the little Cessna to the ground, after clipping a couple of street signs on the way down. The pilot, who had skillfully maneuvered the plane onto the edge of an empty lot, walked away without a scratch. I spotted a couple of reporters from one of the local newspapers (the main rival of my former rag) standing on the sidewalk discussing... something. I sidled up for a little eavesdropping, hoping to cull a few details. But they recognized me and, casting sideways glances resolutely, mockingly, refused to talk about anything but the coffee at Brewed Awakenings. I went away uninformed, and craving a cappucino.

December 26, 2006

December 23, 2006

On Christmas eve in the morning



December 24, 2001. It was my first Christmas with the local newspaper; I drew the Christmas eve beat. My only assignment was to scout around for a Christmas shot. With the city lit up and festooned the way it was, I knew that wouldn’t be impossible. The biggest challenge would probably be choosing which house, draped with twinkling icicles and studded with store-bought cheer, to shoot.

It was a challenge I wouldn’t have to face. As I was driving by St. Andrew late that morning, I spotted a family visiting the nativity scene. I pulled into the lot and started to walk across the lawn… and to my disappointment, the family was starting to leave. There is a proscription in journalism against setting up a shot, so all I could do is watch helplessly as the moment dissolved. The toddler, however, seemed to be lingering at the crèche…fascinated, no doubt, by his sacred counterpart, asleep in the hay. I introduced myself to the parents, but they didn’t speak English. I gestured that I would like to take a photo of the nativity scene (and hoping the child wouldn’t move) They smiled their assent. That’s when the child turned around.



December 21, 2006

December 19, 2006

Agatha



It must have been close to Christmas, but on which side, I don't quite 
remember. I suspect it was sometime in the January doldrums when all was 
frozen and gray. My friend Walter decided it was a good day for a dog. To get 
one, that is. "I know I'm me, because my little dog knows me," Walter once 
quoted Gertrude Stein. With his boyfriend Joseph away in the hospital, the house 
had an unaccustomed empty feeling. And it had been without a dog for too long. 
The shelter was in Ann Arbor. We piled festively into the car for the outing.

It didn't take long to find her, a black and white ragamuffin puppy, so excited to 

see us that her tail seemed to wag her whole body. "This one?" I said, my inner 
ten year old going can we get her? Huh? Can we? Can we? On the way home in 
the car Walter chuckled, "I don't know whose eyes were more pleading - hers or 
yours." Walter named her Agatha, in honor of Miss Christie, the doyenne of our 
mid-winter reads. 

She soon became the lady of the house. There were always three or four cats 

around, most of whom preferred the outdoors. Once in a while one would take a 
fancy to domestic life on the inside. It was allowed, but it would have to submit 
to Agatha, who suffered cats reservedly. These were tough cats who could send 
the weimaramer, six times their size, running for cover. But not Agatha. She 
had them buffaloed. And was ever vigilant in maintaining her preeminence in the 
complex spheres of influence that only four-legged creatures seem to chart and 
understand. The subtlest ‘grrrr’ was enough to ward off feline interlopers, most 
of which weighed more than she. With people she was ever friendly, but 
ladylike, wont to lavish unrestrained affection only on us few charter members of 
her inner circle. Agatha was Walter’s last dog. She lived long and died in peace. 

It was on the very day after we brought her home from the shelter that Agatha 

found out what winter in Michigan was all about. I took her for a frolic, just the 
two of us, on the pond at the golf course across the street. I on skates, she on 
scrabbly paws, doing her comical best to negotiate the slippery and unfamiliar 
cold surface. We weren’t there long when the ice suddenly gave way, and down 
went Agatha, shocked but unreproachful, into the icy water, her little paws 
clawing frantically on the continually breaking and receding rim of ice. The pond 
wasn’t deep. I waded in, skates and all, and scooped her out of the abyss. Now 
twice rescued, we bonded for life. Although I was away for years at a time, 
whenever I went back to “the farm” for a visit, Agatha was beside herself with 
excitement to see me. We both knew what nobody else did: she was really my 
Agatha.





December 16, 2006

December 14, 2006

On the trace

The more I freelance and meander the fringe, the more at home I feel. My fall back position, joining another newspaper, seems no longer possible. I scarcely want to notice the current of public events, let alone photograph or write about it.

I started a small oil painting of a dragonfly on a twig. It's been years since I've set brush to canvas. The creature is an eastern pondhawk dragonfly, an alpha predator that I photographed while hiking a trail. Its chromium green exoskeleton looks biomechanical, the details of which I won't try to render. I see it more as a luminous sketch, in transient repose. A gleaned gleam.

December 11, 2006

Getting physical

Yesterday I returned to my exercise routine after a brief hiatus when my energy went a.w.o.l. More mindful, now, of the inner workout. I always know when I'm on target: my routine slows down and becomes effortless. Getting more out of less. Perhaps I can pare it down indefinitely, until just the activities of everyday life suffice for effective mind-body self-maintenance. I suspect that's the way we're supposed to have turned out. Granted, I’m not chasing antelope through the bush with a blowgun for my daily bread. But the fallout of some ancient catastrophe still seeds the thorns that impede us all.

So for now, since I'm helplessly fond of food and futon, it’s push-ups, crunches, and detestable squats to offset my personal Koyaanitsqatsi. The truth is, I enjoy sensing my location and specific gravity (and the fitness that thwarts it) in the physical realm. And trying to stay, if not 25, at least human-shaped for as long as I can.

December 8, 2006

And to all a good night


Today I put out the six little pieces that still remain of my mother’s old crèche. 
Baby Jesus and the three wise men are the only survivors of the original set that 
date back to my childhood fifty years ago.

My mother died three years ago today, after a difficult struggle with cancer. She 
had "the faith of a mountain!" as she used to boast, and that sustained us both 
in the gathering storm. Eventually Hospice stepped in, and they were a help, 
paying home visits while I scaled back my job to part time.

But then one day something went wrong in her brain and she took a sharp turn 
into picasso land. By then morpheus, and his pharmaceutical namesake, had 
made inroads as well. But her intellectual energy was still formidable, so 
episodes could be quite vivid. One minute she'd be lucid, winning at cards, joking 
with uncanny presence of mind about her illness, the next there was a descent 
into a house of mirrors, with sordid apparitions and heartbreaking remorse. 
Then a world-weary humor would return, and tender sunset-hued talks.

Eventually there was an opening at Hospice House, a splendid quiet place in a 
woodsy setting north of the city. She wasn't quite won over by its prevailing 
ambience and insistence that death is a "lavender-scented kiss". She was a 
nurse herself, and unsentimental. We had discussed it candidly long ago; she 
wanted to die in hospital. So she got her wish, and was soon at peace with the 
place's lavish serenity. The medical care there was first rate and specialized. 
They did more for her the first day, than the visiting nurses could have done in 
all the months at home. But at 88, she was letting go. She was there for nine 
days, a hospice novena.

She used to say that if there was no coffee in heaven, she wasn't going... only 
to quickly take it back so that the Lord knew she was kidding. The word "coffee" 
was the last thing she said to me before she lost her voice. I gave her some of 
mine through a straw. A look of satisfaction that could have sold a ton of Chock 
Full O Nuts accompanied her to the pillow. Next night I led some rosary at her 
bedside, just the two of us.  She was devoted to her rosary, and to the Blessed 
Mother. By then she could only speak with tears. Then she slipped off to another 
realm. I read 'A Visit From Saint Nicholas', our old favorite, to her ear. And to all 
a good night. She died two days later, on "Mother Mary's Day".


























"He's the one who's kneeling," she said of Melchior, "so he's the one who goes closest to Jesus."








December 6, 2006

Technicolor Titus



Struck by Anthony Hopkin's blue face on the DVD cover at Blockbuster, I rented 
Titus, Julie Taymor's film excursion into Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus. I'm glad 
that I'd set aside some time for it. It's a bizarre and absorbing experience.

Shakespeare has been updated before. Brannaugh's Hamlet, for instance. I think 

there's an Edwardian Midsummer Night's Dream. But Taymor's Titus 
transmogrifies across multiple periods and resonates with the story’s surrealistic 
pastiche. It won the 2005 Oscar for costumes.


The play is a Shakespeare potboiler, plenty violent, and the playwright doesn't 
wink at it. There are consequences. The violence is scarring, accumulative, and 
like a collapsed star draws everything into its annihilating gravity. As William H. 
Macy said, in a criticism of modern operatic film violence... “when you get beat up 
in real life, you stay beat up a long time.” You don't jump into your Ferrari after a 
hit of scotch and get back in the hunt.


But all next day, I was thinking in Elizabethan English. "Now I must henceforth hie 
me to yonder market and there to procure, um, some chips and salsa and a 
lottery ticket... and thence homeward hungry pilgrim to hearth and... House, and 
Dancing With The Stars..."






December 4, 2006

Fear of commitment


Today I got a sudden craving for Sigourney Weaver. I know it's odd. Last time it was for Val Kilmer. It's wonderful that they're so available. Not that I want to get to know them - I just want them to hang out for an hour or two, then leave. Is that so wrong?





December 3, 2006

Snowtime, folks



I missed the annual downtown tree lighting festival last night, I had an assignment elsewhere, but despite the hoakey artificial snow and ubiquitous t-shirts and shorts, a bit of yuletide magic always seems to materialize. The timeless brew of all things Christmas rarely fails to summon that old feeling.

My favorite is the snow pile in the parking lot that invariably turns into a hysterical melee of snow-sodden children. The rules of engagement evaporate within seconds of the ribbon-cut. Yes, the snow does fly in Florida... most likely in your face, if you get too close.



December 2, 2006

Buried buddy


After going through some routine hoops this morning, I pedaled down to the local beach. I began to notice people's beach gear, the still life of beach stuff. Bags, bottles, towels, umbrellas, sandals, and toys, all randomly scattered and grouped in the ubiquitous sandscape. Sometimes I'll go out with my camcorder, just for fun, to see what I can see. Like this...







December 1, 2006

Stone



I felt a little ache today, a wee rumbling from the gravel pit… I like to eat 
everything that is said to favor kidney stones: grapes, chocolate, tea... I've 
punched out three. Those of you who have not experienced the fellowship of the 
stone, but are destined to, are in for quite a surprise.


My second, the most memorable of the three, hit in the car, must have been five 
or six years ago. First it was a sudden spasm in my back, lower right, that could 
have been mistaken for a kink, but I knew it wasn’t. Moments later the demon 
seed was clawing its way down my renal ureter. The pain suddenly deepened, with 
an intensity that made me gasp with surprise. I suppressed my body’s impulse to 
writhe; my skin went clammy and I thought I might soon vomit. Then random 
waves of agony molested me, and threatened to wrest control of the steering 
wheel, while I watched myself negotiate, with absurd decorum, the afternoon 
traffic. I tossed my change into the toll basket and watched the rotating disk 
swallow the various coins down progressively narrowing holes.


Next thing I remember I was on the floor in the doctor’s office, clutching at the 
body scale like it was the trunk of an oak tree, while the nurse hit me in the butt 
with a shot of morphine. Then began its slow, staged journey down my urinary 
tract. I spat it out about a week later, as expected. I still have it, that miniscule 
thorny tumbleweed. I’m considering having it hermetically suspended in a 
plexiglass droplet to wear around my neck to ward off evil spirits.



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