Sunday, December 15, 2013

It's A Thin Line

"All love has hate in it. Because you are tied to anyone you love, and it takes away your freedom, and you resent it, you can't help it. And while you are resenting the loss of your own freedom, you are trying to force the other to give up to you every last little bit of (their) own. Love can't help but make hate. As long as we're living on this earth, love will always have hate in it. Maybe that's the reason we're on this earth, to learn to love without hating."

- James Jones,  From Here to Eternity

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Purpose of Being

We ran together in the filtered light of the tree canopy
To the river.

I took off my leash
And chased dragonflies
Across the mats of river grass


Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Reality Song

Prewitt was the best bugler in regiment. He played Taps once in Arlington. But he quit the Bugle Corps to pull straight duty on principle. He had his pride. The year was 1941. One night long after he was in G Company, when Andy felt more like playing the guitar than Taps, he let Prewitt play. It went like this, in James Jones' From Here to Eternity:

Montgomery Clift as Robert E. Lee Prewitt

Prew took his quartz mouthpiece from his pocket and inserted it. He stood before the big tin megaphone, fiddling nervously, testing his lips. He blew two soft tentative tones, wiped the mouthpiece out angrily and rubbed his lips nervously.
“My lip’s off,” he said nervously. “I aint touched a horn in months. I wont be able to play them for nothing. Lip’s soft as hell.”
He stood there in the moonlight, shifting nervously from one foot to the other, fiddling with the bugle, shaking it angrily, testing it against his lips.
“Christ,” he said. “I cant play them like they ought to be played. Taps is special.”
“Oh go ahead, for God sake,” Andy said. “You know you can play them.”
“All right,” he said angrily. “All right. I dint say I wasnt gonna play them, did I? You never get nervous, do you?”
“Never,” Andy said.
“Then you aint got no goddam sensitivity,” Prew said angrily. “Nor sympathy, nor understanding.”
“Not for you,” Andy said.
“Well for Christ’s sake, shut up then,” he said nervously.

He looked at his watch and as the second hand touched the top he stepped up and raised the bugle to the megaphone, and the nervousness dropped from him like a discarded blouse, and he was suddenly alone, gone away from the rest of them.

The first note was absolutely certain. There was no question or stumbling in this bugle. It swept across the quadrangle positively, held just a fraction longer than most buglers hold it. Held long like the length of time, stretching away from weary day to weary day, Held long like thirty years. The second note was short, almost too short, abrupt. Cut short and too soon gone, like the minutes with a whore. Short like a ten minute break is short. And then the last note of the first phrase rose triumphantly from the slightly broken rhythm, triumphantly high on an untouchable level of pride above the humiliations, the degradations.

He played it all that way, with a paused then hurried rhythm that no metronome could follow. There was no placid regimented tempo to this Taps. The notes rose high in the air and hung above the quadrangle. They vibrated there, caressingly, filled with an infinite sadness, an endless patience, a pointless pride, the requiem and epitaph of the common soldier, a woman once had told him. They hovered like halos over the heads of the sleeping men in the darkened barracks, turning all grossness to the beauty that is the beauty of sympathy and understanding. Here we are, they said, you made us, now see us, don’t close your eyes and shudder at it; this beauty, and this sorrow of things as they are. This is the true song, the song of the ruck, not of battle heroes; the song of the Stockade prisoners itchily stinking sweating under coats of grey rock dust; the song of the mucky KPs, of the men without women who collect the bloody menstrual rags of the officers’ wives, who come to scour the Officers’ Club – after the parties are over. This is the song of the scum, the Aqua-Velva drinkers, the shameless ones who greedily drain the half filled glasses, some of them lipsticksmeared, that the party-ers can afford to leave unfinished.

This is the song of the men who have no place, played by a man who has never had a place, and can therefore play it. Listen to it. You know this song, remember? This is the song you close your ears to every night, so you can sleep. This is the song you drink five martinis every evening not to hear. This is the song of the Great Loneliness, that creeps in like the desert wind and dehydrates the soul. This is the song you’ll listen to on the day you die. When you lay there in the bed and sweat it out, and know that all the doctors and the nurses and weeping friends dont mean a thing and cant help you any, cant save you one small bitter taste of it, because you are the one that’s dying and not them; when you wait for it to come and know that sleep will not evade it and martinis will not put it off and conversation will not circumvent it and hobbies will not help you escape from it; the you will hear this song and, remembering, recognize it. This song is Reality. Remember? Surely you remember?

“Day     is done  .  .  .
Gone   the sun  .  .  .
Rest in peace
Sol jer brave
God is nigh  .  .  .”

With thanks to our troops on this, the 68th anniversary of the end of World War II, my father's war.

(or watch the movie, I guess)

600 some pages later, Pearl Harbor, Ford Island, Wheeler Field, Hickam Field and Barber's Point had been attacked. Prewitt, having gone over the hill, saw his chance to return to his unit without doing more time in the Stockade.

He left under cover of darkness. Eventually he crossed the golf course, and was spotted by the MPs. Taps had already been played that night. But as he laid face up in the bottom of a sandtrap, his chest all tore up from the Thompson gun, I wonder, if somehow, he still heard it.

OK that's not quite the end. Guess you'll have to read it after all.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Get Your Own Reality

Before my overdue fees became equal to the price of the book itself, I wanted to share a passage from Saul Bellow's "The Adventures of Augie March":

Read Saul Bellow

"It wasn't right to think everyone else had more power of being. Why, look now, it was clear as anything that it wasn't so but merely imagination, exaggerating how you're regarded, misunderstanding how you're liked for what you're not, disliked for what you're not, both from error and laziness. The way must be not to care, but in that case you must know how really to care and understand what's pleasing or displeasing in yourself. But do you think every newcomer is concerned and is watching? No. And do you care that anyone should care in return? Not by a long shot. Because nobody anyhow can show what he is without a sense of exposure and shame, and can't care while preoccupied with this but must appear better and stronger than anyone else, mad! And meantime feels no real strength in himself, cheats and gets cheated, relies on cheating but believes abnormally in the strength of the strong. All this time nothing genuine is allowed to appear and nobody knows what's real. And what's disfigured, degenerate, dark mankind - humanity.

See Rutger Hauer (as the Replicant, Roy) in Blade Runner

But then with everyone going around so capable and purposeful in his strong handsome case, can you let yourself limp in feeble and poor, some silly creature, laughing and harmless? No, you have to plot in your heart to come out differently. External life being so mighty, the instruments so huge and terrible, the performances so great, the thoughts so great and threatening, you produce someone who can exist before it. You invent a man who can stand before the terrible appearances. This way he can't get justice and he can't give justice, but he can live. And this is what mere humanity always does. It's made up of inventors or artists, millions and millions of them, each in his own way trying to recruit other people to play a supporting role and sustain him in his make-believe. The great chiefs and leaders recruit the greatest number, and that's what their power is. There's one image that gets out in front to lead the rest and can impose its claim to being genuine with more force than others, or one voice enlarged to thunder is heard above the others. Then a huge invention, which is the invention maybe of the world itself, and of nature, becomes the actual world - with cities, factories, public buildings, railroads, armies, dams, prisons, and movies - becomes the actuality. That's the struggle of humanity, to recruit others to your version of what's real. Then even the flowers and the moss and the stones become the moss and the flowers of a version."

Spin Your Top. Frequently.

Maybe this helps explain what has been happening to me. Or not.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Cutting Edges

In one of my favorite old movie quotes, the neighbors get together for the typically awkward block party/cookout, and the established neighbor says to the new neighbor "There are two things I admire about you: your wife, and your lawnmower." (Awkward silence). For this is suburbia.

But if I pay attention on my daily rounds I can find lots of activity in Nature's Half Acre. On my return trip from Purcellville, following a temperature-cutting thunderstorm, I stopped to clean my lenses and snap a photo of Mr. Box Turtle, deciding whether it was safe to cross the trail:

And later in the ride, the Prothonotary Warbler crossed my path:

As I jogged the trails with Dog, I had the chance sighting of an Indigo Bunting:

But like every weekend, the chores had to be done. As I dutifully fired up the lawnmower to mow down Nature's Half Acre, I noticed a lot of activity down in the grass. Fortunately, I'm always replaying the scene in Honey I Shrunk The Kids in my mind, so I stopped the mower, and inspected:

This young peep would be saved. This time. Moved into the shade, where the wild strawberries are plenty. Later on I discovered another down by the trail. I couldn't just stop the mower! So I decided it would be fair to leave that section uncut. Let that peep scramble about in the uncut grass.

Oh, and keep your hands off my lawnmower.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Instant Irrelevancy

Not the "Slow Death Funnies" that we used to read back in the day, but the blog. It has been suffering, thanks in part to the iPad, which I find very unfriendly to my specific format of composing. And also, while I'd like to say something epic occurs in each day, there are days when I admit I must have missed it, even though I've been trying to pay attention. 

And then there's the commitment. I don't always get around to spending the hour or so to write it down (I know! There is no way these things should take that long, you say). I've got other things to do, and then it's tomorrow, and who wants to look back anyway? Which probably helps explain the lack of readers, now that I think about it.

So I'm playing Words with Daughter and getting spanked profusely as is the norm, with one eye cocked uncontrollably, gazing inconsolably at the idiot box (as my father used to call it). And suddenly, there it was.

 At the end of The Big Bang Theory, a piece of micro- and true flash-fiction (lasting all of about 2 seconds) rolled into one, disguised as a credit or an FBI warning. The Chuck Lorre Productions Vanity Card, #400. Thanks to the DVR (the subject of another vanity card) I rewound, froze it and took a picture of it. Sent it to my kids. And then I went and found it on the web, of course.

And so here it is, brought to you by Chuck Lorre Productions, happening right under our noses:


I've been told that if you change your mind, you change the world - or at least the way you experience it. Let's take a moment to examine that. The presumption is, if you thought the world was a hostile, ugly place filled with awful people doing awful things, that is what you'd see. Your mind would naturally seek out confirmation for its preconceived ideas (e.g., if you're intent on buying a red car, as you go about your day you'll see lots of red cars). If, however, you were able to sincerely change your mind and see that we are all God in drag, that we are the conscious aspects of a perfect universe which had to create us so we could bear witness and stand in awe before its loving magnificence, then that is the soul-shaking reality you'd be greeted with each and every moment of each and every day. In other words, it is entirely our choice as to what kind of world we live in. With a simple decision, we can suffer in the darkness or play in the light. We can be angry, frightened and enslaved, or loving, joyous and free.
I know. It's a toughie.

Thanks, Chuck. Who would have thought? I think I'll go back and read the other 400+ cards, celebrate your creativity, and pay a little more attention.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

108 Miles of Solitude

Some time ago I read Marquez' 100 Years of Solitude. A pretty good read if you can get past the 5 generations of characters all named Jose Arcadio Buendia or some combination thereof. Occasionally I can still find myself in the grandfather's workshop, the sun streaming in, watching him make and remake the gold, nested fish necklaces, that I imagined looked like this:

This story and many others came to mind as I mounted the Zestycle, interrupted only by the occasional rest stop, or exchanges between fellow riders as we conquered the 108-mile Tour de Cure. You need to be ready for some solitude, and the 8.5 hour excursion did not disappoint.

Departing from Reston at 6:20 AM, I was a little surprised to see a Copperhead (snake) resting comfortably in the gutter pan of a Herndon street. I would later see one other, and 2 monstrous blacksnakes that doubled as speed bumps. Observation of wildlife (and death) provided a further source of reflection.

The vultures continued to look me over with A1 on their minds, but I was able to avoid that fate. Others were not so lucky. Raccoons were down 2. Squirrels 3. Birds 2. And in one of the more touching moments, a Yellow Swallowtail (of which there were many) stopped to check on his fallen mate who was stuck to the road. I pedaled on.

At one point I topped out over 40 MPH, which I can report is a tad uncomfortable. I am lucky enough to have lived through being towed on a skateboard at 37 MPH and letting go to ride it out with disastrous results. So I am fully aware of potential downsides. At least this time, 35 years later, I had on a shirt and a helmet. I held on for dear life on wet pavement. And pedaled.

At Rectortown (established 1772!) I popped 2 Advils and watched in awe as a group of riders just blew by the midpoint rest stop, with the next one 30 miles away. This is not like a treadmill, where you get off whenever you're tired and there you are, where you started. There is no crying for Mommy. You've got 54+ miles to get back. So you observe. And pedal. And meditate. And pedal. And watch the odometer. 

So courtesy of Google Earth's street level view, I can provide a few snapshots of the southern leg, miles 28 to 81:

Here you are riding essentially alone. You may see a rider or two nearby. Pass and be passed. And pedal.

Rural, bucolic, (and seemingly endless) rolling hillside. Lots of country fences. 5 horses, 2 with riders. Pedal.

And walls! Estimated 84 miles worth, counting both sides. Some pre-civil war. Some with split rail over them. Did I mention endless? Pedal.

Rain frequently threatened, but never fully delivered. Rolling. Endless. Now I generally like downhill. But after 60 miles or so, when the legs are dying, you only grimace, knowing that uphill waits on the other side - 6,450 feet of it to be exact. As my friend Andy put it: "The juice wasn't worth the squeeze". Pedal!

Long stretches of residences that have names, like "Nearby", "Kilvarock", "The Athenry" and the like. Road names like Ebenezer Church, Frogtown and Snickersville Turnpike. Places that are not even on Google Earth. PEDAL!

And this is why. To reach at last, the end of human strength. Beaten into the dust from which one came. Only then is the metal ready for the Maker's hand. Only then can one dig deep, think of the generous donors, those affected by the cause, and those unable to make the ride. Only then, through losing yourself, have you arrived. The pedaling somehow becomes easier. The images are set in the mind like nested fish necklaces, waiting to resurface.

And suddenly, it's over. You wonder what you thought was so tough about it.

So make the most of your ride. Be mindful, appreciative, and connected. Because it's over before you know it.

With sincere thanks for the many supporters of this year's ride.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Glory Days

Reporting out that today was just a fantastic day in Virginia. The weather was sunny and the humidity low. Spring is just around the corner. The march of the grape hyacinths continues, the daffodils are in full bloom, and the forsythias are beginning to pop. This week the cherry blossoms are supposed to hit their peak in D.C. I really have to go see that some day.

I put down 30 bags of mulch in the flower beds, but sadly had to put down a volunteer redbud tree that I had been nurturing for some 10 years. It had been trying to eek out an existence under the nandina, but was really a stunted Quasimodo-like thing that never bloomed. I sat in the grass, soaking up the sun with Panda. She had a friend come over. they wrestled and drank water outside. She later slept under the shrubs while I finished up.

There was time for some hill training, and then back for a brisk walk with Panda the Jacaranda. In the field a boy was flying a most excellent dragon kite like the one above. Panda has taken to Robins and squirrels lately, but here was something truly amazing. And of course, my mind was hijacked into my single-digit days, when we used to fly the paper Jello Kites.

Yeah, it looks lame, right? Well this was before there was PS3, or 2 or even Atari or cellphones! or PCs! I think my Mom got them from boxtops or something but we had a seemingly endless supply of them. We would go into the stubbled cornfield next door, and that was entertainment. Or we would climb in a tree, as high as we could go, and just sit there. Swaying in the breeze, looking out over the cornfield. And those were great days too. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

More on Lions and Winter

When Mick Jagger first uttered "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" it struck a chord to say the least. He was in fact summarizing the rally cry of all humankind, from time immemorial. Well, for most of us anyway.

Because we choose to survive, and we must take actions to do so. Survival meant thinking, and using those opposable thumbs. But after the basic elements of food and shelter were taken care of, we continued to want more. To be more. To be Other, and to be better. And the lengths we will go to accomplish these lofty goals are as limitless as the imagination.   

Yet no matter how heroic or successful these efforts, a time will come when the cleats must be hung up. The challenge is to recognize this, and identify the precise point where the top of the hill has been reached. That point where the pedaling is no longer for survival. Where one carefully selects the proper length of bungee cord.

Cas Kowalewski became more. He knew when to live. And in the depth of his winter, he surely discovered that within him was an invincible summer*.

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth.
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings,
Sunward I've climbed and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along and flung 
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind swept heights with easy grace,
Where never lark, or even eagle, flew;
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
* adapted from a quote by Albert Camus

Sunday, January 20, 2013


In the dream I awake to be cruising above the earth at a speed something like that of a traffic report. I have a vague awareness that I am out west. The town is Anywhere. Altitude is steady. There is a curious glow akin to fog lights illuminating the ground below. It moves with me.

Suddenly my perspective has changed. I am standing on the street below.
The air is clean and fresh and I am squinting to observe a volcanic, molten meatball of a meteor suspended in the sky above.

In an instant there is a thunder clap and time has resumed its normal pace. The meteor throws itself over the horizon.

I am left to watch the contrails dissipate, being at once first and third person.
Human Torch, Flash and Meatball.

I awake with a start and grab my watch to see what time it is.

Whew. Same as always. Now.