July 29, 2009

Birdie alights / Sarasota 09

Birdie was in town for a few days. We met up in Sarasota and spent the day together yesterday. After a chat at her mother's house in a lovely old neighborhood of the city, we headed out, found a parking spot downtown, and set off on foot. Well, I was on foot, Birdie was on skates. I threatened to take her shoes away if she didn't slow down. "This is my natural pace," she said. My natural pace is to consider moving.

Sarasota is an arty town. We drifted around downtown for a while, peering in galleries and boutiques. We came upon this Calderesque chair, a moulded plastic rocker, rather deco in style. We each had our observations about its design and comfort...

We stopped for lunch at the legendary and sprawling Columbia cafe at St. Armand's Circle off Lido Beach. Birdie suggested I try the legendary and sprawling Original 1905 Salad, which can be ordered by itself as an entree, or as a combo with either a Cuban sandwich or a cup of soup. I got the sandwich combo, Birdie wanted hers with black bean soup. "There isn't as much garlic in it as there used to be," Birdie said of the salad. "It used to burn your mouth." I thought it was fairly well garlicked, myself, and altogether yummy - big, clubbish, ham and pasta-strewn. The sandwich was a toasted ham, turkey, and cheese, on flaky/crisp Cuban bread.

I regaled Birdie with my God-as-movie producer theory, deduced from my observation of two essential features of the human condition: we're creatures motivated by carnal imperatives, placed in a moral context. The tension between the two produces conflict, drama, narrative. I quoted rabbinical wisdom:

Student: "Rabbi, why did God make us?"
Rabbi: "Because God loves stories."

Birdie put it more simply: "All the world's a stage...?" Wish I had thought of that. This reminded Birdie of the time she was doing make up for college theater and got herself up as an arab with a beard. I seem to have lost the part of the story explaining why she was subsequently out and about in the beard. But she was intrigued by the responses she received as a male. "Women wouldn't make eye contact," she said. "They looked down and away." Women had always made eye contact with her before. And it took her quite some time to figure out why she couldn't get the male bartender's attention, despite having smiled, repeatedly, and tilted her head in the usual fetching gambit. Then she realized: it was the beard.

We went for a long walk along Lido beach, while the garlic from the Original 1905 Salad, now long gone, seemed to be gathering strength. First we trod the nature trail, as far as the reticence of the gradually encroaching sand spurs allowed, then back along the shore. The blackskimmers, an arty bird (and therefore attracted to Sarasota), were hunkering down in the sand for a view of the sunset.

But Birdie and I would have to share a sunset on the beach another time. The drive back to the Cape loomed, and whatever salads, shore birds, bartenders, eye contact, and narratives awaited me there.

July 23, 2009

July 21, 2009


Zero gravity, hurtling through the breathless flight.
A Debussian ripple skitters to the apogee,
returning a tidal rush. The sea of tranquility
was really deep that night.

Two stars and a contrail adorn the dawn,
an ideogram of a kiss.
I can see, from here, how far a paradigm can shift.
We chose to go to the moon.

July 12, 2009

July 2, 2009

Vanishing act

I had the power to make myself disappear when I was a boy. Strange how so 
many of these phenomena appear during adolescence... on the cusp of 
acquiring unimagined carnal powers, while losing others, just as extraordinary, in 
the exchange.
I haven’t thought about this for years, though it really did happen. "There are 
more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your 
philosophy." I had read about how to do it in some comic book... the go-to 
source, as every adolescent knows but has forgotten, for occult knowledge. It 
had to do with completely emptying the mind. I think what appealed to me 
about acquiring this staple of super powers was that it didn’t require muscles or 
a laboratory. I practiced emptying my mind. Soon I got so good at it, achieved a 
level of disassociation so profound, that it actually made my hair stand on end... 
and I watched myself, albeit briefly, disappear. I watched it happen in the mirror 
on my bedroom door.
It was scary. And fear was its foe. It never lasted. Only years later did I learn 
that I had achieved, during these meditations, what Zen masters call the doubt 
sensation, a rare achievement, although considered by adepts to be sophomoric 
in the long road to enlightenment, in which reflexive consciousness shifts onto a 
track in which one's existence is called into question. Its evocation of physical 
invisibility, however, appeared to be mine alone. I was unable to find any 
reference to the phenomenon in any of the books on exotic cultic practices that I 
pored over in those days.
The heroic, or criminal, imagination of a thirteen-year-old doesn’t go very far for 
its inspiration. Notions of, once invisible, disabling all the nuclear missiles in the 
Soviet Block, of emptying the city pound of its canine prisoners, or the cash 
register at the corner gas station of its cash, quickly vanished, along with my 
fugitive flesh, in the half-dozen sessions in which I watched myself flicker out of 
the visible world. Once invisible, a kind of ecstatic paralysis supervened. I 
suppose over time, and with the right tutelage, I could have stood up, passed 
through the door, descended the stairs, and entered a privileged world whose 
secrets and devices were now laid tenderly bare. But I was not a monk on a 
mountaintop. I was an adolescent in an American suburb. The sheer freakyness 
of the experience, the impulse to laugh or scream, invariably brought it to an 
end. And I was always too frightened to try again, at least for a while.
I agreed to demonstrate this to my two best friends, Larry and Joe. But try as I 
might, I couldn’t quite get there with somebody watching. The self-consciousness 
of puberty was beginning to undermine my boyhood guilelessness. I think on 
some level, I wanted to fly under the radar with this, and feared the hoopla it 
would cause. I sat, legs folded in a modified lotus position, in my upstairs 
bedroom, Larry standing and Joe sitting on the bed skeptically in front of me. 
Turning inward, my mind began to zone in on the nothingness that turned the 
world inside out. I began to feel the old sensation. My heart began to slow even 
as an unnamable dread washed over me. I felt the hair on the back of my neck 
stir. Reality began to shimmer. But as I gazed into the faintly growing surprise in 
their faces, a quickening, I felt the weight and density of reality quickly return. 
Another try went nowhere. "Sorry, I guess I need to be alone," I said as I got 
shakily to my feet. Joe said he thought he saw something. Larry chided him. Joe 
and I exchanged furtive glances. Larry tried to kid me about it, but there was a 
hint of trepidation, a slight balk, in his voice. The subject was soon dropped.
I never did it again. I think I tried once. But the skepticism of my friends, the 
enormity of the possibility that I had done what I thought I had, an instinctive 
fear of jumping head first and irrevocably into a shining abyss or insanity, and 
an adolescent’s dawning sense of community and his desire to find a place in it, 
conspired to consign the experience to its place in my closet among the tattered 
comics and dusty toys, they themselves having disappeared, long ago, in the 
usual way.