no, wait . . . a little to the . . . wait . . .
that's . . . no, wait . . . a little to the . . . no, wait . . .
higher . . . a little . . . wait . . .(more) lower . . . up a little . . . no, wait . . .
lower . . . lower . . . a little to the . . . no, wait . . . a little . . . wait . . .
Six Ways of Looking at Me Learning to Play the Fiddle:
A meteor crashes to earth, destroying everything except for the
room in which I am playing the fiddle. A second meteor arrives to
finish the jo(more)b.
On Judgement Day, the dead rise to walk among the living. Some
of them hear me playing the fiddle, and quickly head back to their
Babies cry on planes
I learn to play the fiddle
Yoko Ono sings
Greenpeace volunteers take it upon themselves to destroy every
last tree on earth, in hopes that no one will ever build another
fiddle that might end up in my hands.
At the Last Supper, I sit in the corner, practicing the fiddle. Jesus
points to me, then turns to Judas and says, “I’ll give you double
what the Romans are paying you to betray me, if you betray him
Congress agrees to raise the debt ceiling. They’ll do anything, they
tell reporters, as long as I stop playing that damned fiddle.
For her birthday, my daughter wanted a wedding cake.
Not one of those art project cakes, though, sculpted in thick fondant and airbrushed into an exact replica of a limousine parked in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. She wanted something more old school. Six tiers, white frosting, yello(more)w flowers, confetti drizzled around the base, and a plastic bride and groom on top.
“We can’t afford that,” I told her. Meaning an eight-year-old can’t have a wedding cake.
“We can make it ourselves,” she replied. Meaning she knew I could afford it just fine.
“You need all those different sized cake pans,” I said. Meaning there was no way I was going to hassle with any of that.
“It can be just a one-level cake,” she said. Meaning that from here on, she was going to play hardball.
“Where are we going to get all that frosting?” I asked. Meaning, Where were we going to get all that frosting?
“I have a recipe,” she said. Meaning she’d found the ‘Dora the Explorer Cooks With Kids’ book I’d been saving to give her for Christmas.
“What about the little couple for the top of the cake?” I asked. Meaning that although that would be the easy part, I wasn’t about to go to the store.
“We’ll get it at the store,” she said. Meaning you’d better stop stalling, dad.
“It’s eight o’clock. The stores are closed,” I said. Meaning that includes every store on the planet, young lady.
“We can use one of those pictures of you and mom,” she said. Meaning that she’d been going through our wedding album.
“But we’re divorced,” I said. Meaning I shouldn’t have hidden the album next to that Dora the Explorer book. (less)
That question of the glass being half empty or half full . . .
I remember when I’d grown up a little, and thought I was being clever by asking, “What’s in the glass?” Then I got a little older and even more clever, and answered, “What’s th(more)e glass made of?”
Now, older still, I realize it’s not as important to be clever as it is to be right. So I check my birth certificate, look at the stacks of journals that have piled up, count the jobs I’ve had, the lovers, the friends and relatives who’ve passed on, and can come to only one conclusion:
The glass is half empty.
It’s a simple matter of science, of making peace with the facts of life. If anything, given the average lifespan, a half-empty glass would be nice. I figure I’m looking at one that’s already three-quarters down.
I suppose I could be clever again and say the important thing is how we use the glass. But some people have trouble with that too. They pray for everlasting life, dream of incarnation, take herbs and run marathons to inch themselves a few extra years toward immortality.
So I'll go my own way and embrace half-empty. It’ll remind me to love the glass as it is. (less)
We were beautiful,
the four of us,
that soccer field,
high on mushrooms,
(more) an inspired pack
of fools, newly born,
soaring above the
Wrigley Building, the
Art Institute, the
Chicago was ours,
adrift on a current of air.
The Cubs were winning,
the bathtubs were filled
with gin, the Mayor was
singing the blues.
And the river, as always,
was running backward. (less)
He stood in the Starbucks line, saw the candy canes at the registers, the snowflakes on the paper cups, and thought about Shirley Temple. A lustrous alchemy of talents, she was -- singing and dancing her way across movie screens seventy feet wide, no less a genius than Marconi(more) or Martha Graham, with her halo of curls and that lollipop voice.
As far as he was concerned, Shirley Temple was the patron saint of Christmas. The perpetual orphan lifting everyone's spirits the minute she walks into the room. Her parents are killed in a circus accident, a plane crash, a card game gone wrong, and a minute later she's hoofing it up a staircase with the butler, singing about eating her spinach.
Good fortune, resilience, redemption -- that's what the holidays were all about.
But in his heart he knew that Shirley Temple was evil. Because when the holidays ended, the country would always slide back into its grim routine. Doubt and betrayal, violence and germs, poverty and insignificance, the whole noxious whirl of unstoppable decline. For decades, people had taken comfort in Shirley’s promise of how things might someday be. When instead, they should've been taking note of the way things really were, and doing something about it.
She belonged on a wanted poster, that girl. But people didn’t see it. All they saw was a cute kid, tap dancing.
He ordered the seasonal brew, knowing it would taste like every other Starbucks coffee, bitter and burned and way too hot. Maybe this was Shirley’s fault too. Or maybe he just didn't have a palate for the subtleties of the bean. (less)
Chubby was gone again. He’d run away three times already that month. Usually he ended up downtown, at The Shank. He wasn’t allowed in, but the bouncer was cool and let him hang out with him outside the bar.
All this running away was getting to be a(more) drag, though. I’m sure he liked the freedom of being off on his own. Mostly, though, I think it was because he hated me. I know for a fact that he hated his name. True, I would never think of calling a person Chubby. But a dachshund? He was such a portly little guy, I just couldn’t resist.
I drove to The Shank, but the only dog outside was a pit bull, tethered to the door by a chain heavy enough to restrain a lion. Or a ship.
“He won’t bite,” the bouncer said to me.
No, I thought. But he might swallow me whole. In fact it was entirely possible that Chubby was already in the pit bull’s belly -- sucked down like an oyster in one ruthless gulp. But the bouncer said he hadn’t seen him in days.
“I love that little guy,” he told me.
“He hates his name,” I said.
“Tell me about it,” said the bouncer. “My parents named me Ellerd. Fuckers. But I changed it.”
He didn’t say what he’d changed it to, and I didn’t ask. If he’d brought up the vagina tattooed on his forehead -- well, that might’ve gotten a conversation going.
Everyone got their cars repaired at Scottie’s. The first naked women I’d seen were at his garage. The walls were covered with calendars showing cuties in see-through robes and topless bikinis. I couldn’t keep my eyes off them. Still, even though I was only seven, I understood they were(more) about things that existed only in dreams -- like mountain ranges made of whipped cream, with spoons falling from the sky like manna.
When Scottie lost a son in Vietnam, he draped flags all over the garage -- deeply sad, yet proud his son had given his life to defeat Communism.
But when his second son was killed there, he was broken. He’d take days to do repairs that used to take an hour, sometimes closing for weeks at a time to hide out in his apartment behind the garage.
One night we heard there was a fire at Scottie’s. Half the neighborhood turned out. There he was, standing in front of a flaming garbage can, yelling at the top of his voice.
“I was wicked. We’re all wicked.”
He held an American flag over the barrel and dropped it in. “I put my country before God,” he said as it burned. “And I’ve been punished.”
He tossed some car-repair manuals into the fire.
“I put my work before God, and I was punished!”
Then he waved a girlie calendar over the flames.
“I put my desires before God, and I was punished!” he said. “I pray that He forgives me. I pray that He forgives us all!”
I held my father's hand tightly, watching the calendar catch fire. It showed a picture of a woman in a doctor's office, covered by nothing but her health insurance.
I was drawn to the canvas in my twenties, digesting Matisse reproductions in books, Durer drawings, the vast output of Goya and Klee. My own style is reminiscent of the early German expressionists, Schmidt-Rotloff and Heckel and Otto Dix. I paint in slabs of color, violets and greens as(more) dense as the Amazon basin, the paint going on thicker than mudslide.
Singing came naturally, I wrote and performed songs at coffeehouses in the 1970’s. Someone described my work as combining the best of The Eagles and Willie Nelson. I can sing all of “Carmen,” and most of “Tosca.” There’s an intense freedom you feel when you give yourself up to song.
I observe things, study them, absorb their secrets so I can adapt them to my vision. Woodworking, Middle-Eastern salads, the tiles around the bathtub. My mark is all over the house.
And of course, dance. I’m Balanchine when I move. Lightweight, lyrical and assured, telling stories with my arms and torso, a pivot on pointed toe.
Lost in the chaos
of the birds and bees
is this beautiful truth:
You get two first kisses.
(more) The first one is likely
to be awkward, rushed,
too wet, too dry, at the
wrong time, in the wrong
place, for the wrong reasons,
or with the wrong person.
But it will buy you some time.
The second first kiss
is your your first
good kiss, the one that
makes you feel dizzy
and weak and on fire,
grown up and powerful,
electrified and loved,
unreal, and alive.
This is the kiss for which
there is no substitution,
the one from which
there is no turning back. (less)