The Brains of a Spider (NSFW)
Spider will produce these discharges at intervals as irregular as he is, whenever his medication wears off. He does actually believe several of the things he says, but some are purest mahooha, and he is utterly disinterested in discussing which ones. Each installment is absolutely guaranteed to contain enough pixels to produce a recognizable picture of him doing something that will astonish you, if you are a fan of nano-puzzle-solving. He likes having his work studied that closely.
Readers are welcome to join the conversation! If you are moved to respond to Spider's musings, feel free to write in at firstname.lastname@example.org. Any responses that Spider replies to will be added to the comments on the blog page.
"I do not repudiate anything I said in TBOAS #1, last night....but later last night, I had a visit from my Jeanne, whose Soto Zen Buddhist teacher called her Dancing Wisdom; Perfect Peace. She advised me that starting a conversation with the world with quarrels and insults is exactly the wrong thing to do. As always she is right. The insults may be irresistible but they butter no parsnips. Maybe we’ll argue another time. When argument can be motivated conversation rather than mortal combat. My life experience has been that summer and politics are a hypergolic mixture, best handled by expert bachelors in Hazmat gear. I don’t like to overdress in summer.”
16. Tao I Search
Thanks to The Economist, I just learned that the Gaelic word for “prime minister” is “taoiseach.” For some reason, the word leapt off the page at me with an extra letter added:
Tao I search
How nice to know that one’s chief executive at least is called by a name suggesting he’s investigating the Tao.
Interestingly, the current taoiseach of Ireland, Leo Varadkar, was elected at 38, the youngest person ever to hold that office. And two years before his election, during the 2015 same-sex marriage referendum https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_Irish_constitutional_referendums , he came out as gay – the first Irish government Minister ever to do so. He is Ireland's first, and the world's fourth, openly gay head of government in modern times. He is also the first Irish government leader of Indian heritage. I would assume he needs a wheelbarrow to convey his testicles. And look at the smile on him!
He obviously knows he’s one of the coolest politicians around since 1997, when Mary Robinson resigned as Ireland’s President.
I attach a photo of Mary Robinson in the East Wing of the White House. But that’s a different, and even cooler, Mary Robinson: my sister, standing between my wife and daughter. I took the photo, and Terri titled it “Four Strong Women.”
15: Gahan Wilson Team Effort
My friend Steve Fahnestalk tells me the great writer, playwright, humorist, and cartoonist Gahan Wilson is battling dementia. His stepson Paul Wilson is trying to crowd-fund 100 large, to help him, and has a little over 33 so far. Thanks, Steve.
I met Gahan briefly at cons for years, but really got to know him at the 1992 I-Con, the same con where I also met and exchanged recognition signals with Roger Zelazny, Bob Sheckley, Nichelle Nichols, Sarah Douglas, and Laura Banks. We all made plans that on Monday, after the con, we’d drive into the city together and go harass our brother Dr. Asimov in hospital. At the Dead Dog party, the word came that Isaac was gone. All too soon Sheck and Roger were gone too. I often wish we’d brought the con to Isaac that weekend.
How famous is Gahan? Image-google the string “is nothing sacred?” The first two hits you’ll get are the color and b&w versions of Gahan’s immortal cartoon on the subject, both attached to this email. That’s fame, friend. If you don’t know his work, you have a treat in store.
Gahan is sacred, in my opinion. If you have any spare simoleons, please use this hotlink to unload a few:
Thank you very much. You hear people described as national treasures. Gahan Wilson is a solar system treasure.
14: Our daughter’s book
This will be an atypical blog entry for me. Perhaps a book review is a strange choice with which to restart these after the Christmas and New Year’s hiatus, but there you go. It may help to think of these as flowers from an Avant Garden.
As you’ve probably noticed, my principal purpose in writing these furshlugginer things is to make myself—and if at all possible, you—feel better. The internet is full of people who will delight in depressing you. Not my pidgin.
So I will not often offer you a blog entry about death and dying. Of a loved one.
But some of you may need to read one. Either because one you love is dying or has, or because you are. Or because you have enough imagination to know that both of those things will occur, someday. As Phil Dick said, “Everything in life is just for a while.”
How far back do I have to go to set this up for you?
Over forty years, I guess. I’ll try to make it march.
* * * *
When I met Jeanne she was pregnant with our daughter. Had already named her: all I had to do was show up, grin like mad, and pass out cigars of Nova Scotia homegrown. She named the kid Luanna, after a woman she’d met hitchhiking around America, who’d impressed her because she wore a Bowie knife openly. And since we had expected to birth our child on the Annapolis Valley’s great North Mountain, and were hippies, the name on her birth certificate read Luanna Mountainborne Robinson.
(She ended up being born miles from the Mountain, in a hospital. Stuff happens. But she had been borne on that mountain for sure—for almost ten months.)
The next decades with Jeanne and Terri are worth a book of their own. A trilogy.
By 11, Lu had developed a strong suspicion that her name was weird. Nobody else was named that. Or knew how to spell it. You could not buy a charm bracelet that spelled out Luanna, and give it to a boy. You could not get a sign to tape to your bedroom door saying, “This is Luanna’s room—stay out!” unless Dad printed it out for you, which seemed to defeat the point.
Just then, some dingleberry—me—found her name in a book of baby names, and naively told her what it means, thinking she’d be as thrilled as I was. It means Graceful Woman Warrior. Jeanne was overjoyed.
Last straw. The warrior demanded to rename herself. Surely a warrior has that right.
Perhaps you see the problem. If your daughter wants to change her name, and you are called Spider….dude, you haven’t got a leg to stand on, let alone eight of them. Jeanne and I managed to retain right of first refusal, and successfully rejected Tiffany and a few others, but we accepted Terri….and even agreed to let her spell it with a final i rather than the y God had clearly intended. But in return we insisted on a signed oath that she would never, ever, dot the i with a heart, or a sun, or a smiley face, or a cat, or any other calligraphic object, just a freakin’ dot….so everybody gave a little and got a little. Compromise is wonderful.
* * * *
Now, unfortunately, you’re going to miss thirty-odd years of Good Parts. You don’t have to believe me, but it’s true: somehow, Terri never went through the usual stage we were braced for, when we would suddenly become alien lifeforms to her, and everything about us would be revealed to be vile, and communication would cease for a few years. Trying to picture what she might come up with to try and shock loonies like us terrified us. Never happened. Which shocked us.
For forty straight years, we had it great. Think of that. No disasters. No arrests. Every year we became noticeably prouder of our kid, and she seemed to keep being proud of us. Particularly when she attended a marijuana convention in New York City, opened one of the billions of giveaway copies of HIGH TIMES, and found on page 5 a big color photo of both her parents being Celebrity Judges at the 2001 Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam. That weekend she was a celebrity too, and loved it. She also didn’t mind when we took her to Washington with us to meet First Lady Laura Bush. She took the accompanying photo of us and our hostess in the East Wing, and made me take the other accompanying photo of Jeanne, my beloved sister Mary, and Terri Luanna, all paying tribute to a different First Lady. Terri also titled it for me: “Four Strong Women.”
But she was just as good at pleasantly surprising us. She joined the staff of a magazine, and in no time had become two things: its print production coordinator, and—like most of the people who ever worked there, a serious admirer and student of her boss, Martha Stewart. Ms Stewart, she told us, made a point of having lunch with every employee at least once every few months—and though she never took notes, always remembered what they’d talked about the last time, and asked for updates. The day we spent in that building, observing Ms Stewart from a distance, convinced us: her employees genuinely loved her, and she them. That can’t be faked.
I’m rambling. Another day, I’ll tell you about the time Terri co-founded a women’s shelter in Brooklyn called The Red Tent, and the time she dated a stunning Cubano Chippendale’s dancer, and how she got her own degree, and….
No. Just one more paragraph: one night, with uncanny instinct, she picked a young man out of the New York City herd, and enchanted him. Heron da Silva was recently arrived from Niteroi, Brazil, just across the bridge from Rio. He had arrived in New York without a dollar, a job offer, a word of English, or the phone number of anyone in America who spoke Portuguese—with nothing, really, except dreams of becoming an electrical engineer and marrying an American girl. Today he speaks impeccable English (his third language: he learned Spanish first), and he designs entire large-scale electrical systems for….let’s just say a corporation whose name you’d recognize. I could not be prouder of my son-in-law if I had invented him, and I know my imagination is not that good. Just for a start, he is the best father I’ve ever met, after my own.
Heron and my daughter and their daughter were godsends to both me and Jeanne, almost a decade ago, when Jeanne was diagnosed with a cancer so rare, we never met an oncologist who had ever treated a single case of it.
* * * *
Who gets cancer of the common bile duct? I’ll tell you who: some Vietnamese people, and a very small number of American veterans of the Vietnam War who ate insufficiently cooked freshwater fish while in-country there/then….and my late wife, the best friend I’ve ever had. Biliary cancer’s one of the ones where, by the time you even suspect you might have it, it’s about fifty years too late.
Upon that diagnosis, Terri and Heron abandoned the lives they had barely begun to build in New York, and moved to the tiny Canadian island we lived on, to help me help Jeanne die. They rented a house a five-minute walk from ours, with a yard full of wild deer to awe the baby.
I could not have made it without them. Neither could Jeanne. It took her a couple of years, and they were not always ecstatically happy years—the first years in our 35-year-marriage that weren’t—but they were a LOT better years than they would have been without the da Silvas….in part because now they had a babe in arms: my granddaughter Marisa Alegria, who owns me in fee simple. Nine, now. Under three, then. She and Jeanne spent many silent hours staring into each others’ eyes (see photo), in telepathic communion that brought them both great serenity, and the first time Marisa ever danced, she had Jeanne’s unique dance style, which I am virtually certain cannot be encoded in DNA. At that time she had only seen Jeanne dance on one brief YouTube video.
Then, way too soon, Jeanne was gone.
At her memorial service, the former abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center, Tenshin Reb Anderson, formally ordained her a Buddhist priest. She had been a lay-ordained monk all our lives together, and Reb had given her the informal honorific Wired Buddha—but for her priestly Dharma name he chose Buchi Eihei—Dancing Wisdom, Perfect Peace. Spot on, Reb.
Heron and Terri had lives to return to, on Pause for two years. Heron had his degree by now—in record time—and the three of them soon moved to Ohio, so he could take a job there. About two years after Jeanne had to go, I decided they’d be settled enough now to put up with a short visit from Grampa, and flew out to Ohio to see their first home that wasn’t an apartment. It was terrific—nicer than any home I’ve ever lived in.
I arrived late at night, and after some exhausted conversation fell flat on my face in the guest room, looking forward to waking up.
When I did, I found my daughter weeping on my chest. She had just been told that she had metastatic breast cancer. Stage 4. There is no Stage 5.
One of the first coherent things I recall her saying was that all of sudden, in her late thirties, the name her mother had given her at birth, the Graceful Woman Warrior, was sounding awfully good to her.
* * * *
It’s only a few years now since Terri too had to grab a cab. That’s pretty much all I’m prepared to write about those years, at this point. I have all those memories, of her last days, and I would fight to keep them. But right now they are too radioactive for me to take out of the safe, let alone relive. That’s okay: ironically, memories of a loved one’s death have some of the longest half-lives.
Nevertheless I feel they contain some insights that surely will be of use to anyone in a similar situation today, either as a care-giver or a care-receiver. And fortunately, you don’t have to depend on me to tell you about them in detail. Terri will, with her usual blunt courage.
See, there were MANY things Terri wanted to do with this life, and she managed to find time to achieve an amazing number of them in forty years.
But one goal she had never had time to get around to, like becoming a fulltime social worker, was becoming a writer.
So she got herself a website, on which she blogged about what it’s like to fight for your life with no idea how, pretty sure you’re not going to win but not positive, trying to discharge any remaining responsibilities, struggling to figure out what does and doesn’t belong on the bucket list you don’t even have time to write down.
I read her blog, “Graceful Woman Warrior,” literally as it was posted at www.gracefulwomanwarrior.com; an email alarm always alerted me to each new post, and I responded every time. Each was medication for me. One of her purposes in writing it, I knew, was to help me survive her loss, and she did the job. In the process she was startled to learn how many total strangers needed her words and thoughts just as desperately as I did, found something in her blog that helped them cope—and sent back energy that helped her.
Her blog made it possible for me to get through it all. At the worst time of her life, she always had spare energy to give me. She visited me in Canada only weeks before her passing, because it was Thanksgiving and she felt I needed cheering up.
Terri Luanna, bless her, did not ask me to see that her remarkable blog was compiled and published. She knew how I admired it, and more than that, knew how I’d feel when I could no longer call her up to comment on an interesting insight or ask a question. With her usual astuteness she chose her Aunt Laurie O’Neil to ask, and Laurie, who has shouldered a lot of the task of helping raise her niece Marisa, characteristically responded magnificently. GRACEFUL WOMAN WARRIOR, the book she assembled, edited, and caused to be published, is one of the most physically beautiful artifacts I’ve ever seen, with a stunning cover, and exquisite font and layout. Terri would be so proud!
Editor/designer/aunt Laurie O’Neill, giving dear friends David and Jan Dee Crosby their personal copy of Terri’s book, hot off the presses. Photo by Andrew O'Neil.
Laurie also offered Marisa the opportunity to contribute an Epilogue, if she chose. It is the only part of the book I’ve dared let myself read so far, because I have wondered for years now what is going on in my grandchild’s head. I will tell you only that what she wrote laid me out. Literally. I cried so hard I lost consciousness. And woke feeling better than I had in many, many months. Thank you for that, Laurie and Marisa both. Thank you Heron, for being such a perfect husband to a woman who deserved you, and such a perfect father to a daughter who thinks you hung the moon and wired the sun.
And thank you, Terri Luanna, for being one of my two greatest teachers, and best friends. I’ve never forgotten the Yuppie couple we all met at a remote mountaintop Buddhist monastery that time, who flatly refused to believe me and Jeanne when we told them that the three of us were parents and child. They were certain we were lying. Why? Because we all related to each other as equals. That was one of my happiest, proudest days. Jeanne’s too.
* * * *
If you or someone you know might find use for a book on dying by someone so committed they actually did it, and kept learning and thinking and giving to others right to her last minute, visit www.gracefulwomanwarrior.com, or its Facebook page, and Laurie will tell you how to get a copy. Or just visit amazon.com, where it’s available in paperback and Kindle. I’m going to have Colin post a link to a separate page full of photos of the incredible book launch Laurie organized and pulled off. Call her the next time you need a country invaded.
My Jeanne was the first person ever to win a Hugo and Nebula for her first published work. And in almost forty years of writing, I’ve never produced anything as good as our daughter’s first book.
So far. I’m working on a book about them both right now.
* * * *
The excellent Canadian writer/broadcaster Christy Ann Conlin once did half an hour on CBC Radio about the fear of death. If a half hour on the subject exceeds your present needs, you might still like to hear Christy Ann interviewing Terri between the ninth and the nineteenth minute. But the whole show is interesting and I recommend it all:
Christy Ann Conlin - Fear Itself (CBC Radio)
* * * *
And now that you’ve heard my daughter, please take a few moments to let my sister Laurie tell you the story, in her own wonderfully eloquent words. I find this interview fascinating, enlightening, and deeply moving, and can tell I will listen to it many times:
* * * *
This song seems an appropriate ending, as it was premiered at Terri’s wake. The singers are Laurie’s youngest sister Dori Rubbicco, who wrote it, Laurie’s daughter Erin Rubico, and Terri’s childhood best friend, Tanya Nelson, and the pianist is Laurie’s oldest sister and Tanya’s mother, Kathleen Rubbicco:
We'll Find Our Way.mp3
13.“And Call Her Blessed—,” or, GORDON’S FLASH!
Grab yourself a cold or a hot one, your choice, and sit down for a few minutes. I’m about to tell you the best true story of the 20th century.
Seriously. When I’m done, tell me if you don’t agree.
Most unusually, this story could for once be filmed almost exactly as it actually happened, with minimal artistic rewriting, and if that movie is ever made, there is no question in my mind it will set the alltime record for most Oscars by a single film. Mr. Spielberg was born to make this picture, and I wish he’d get busy:
The year is 1945. World War II has just ended. In Oakland, our heroine—everybody’s heroine—22-year-old Austrian-born Beate Sirota, has just become a naturalized US citizen, with a two-year-old bachelor’s degree in modern languages that could set her up for life a dozen different ways now that the war is over. But what she wants right now, more than anything else in the world, is something a bit odd: a low-paying, no-status job as a glorified secretary to Douglas MacArthur, who is on his way to Tokyo to tell Japan what their new Constitution is going to say.
Fortunately for Beate, she has a unique qualification that makes her literally the most perfect person for that job: she is one of 65 then-known Americans—and the only woman—who can both speak and read/write Japanese fluently. (At 22, she already is fluent in English, German, French, and Russian as well.) She lived there from ages 5 to 15, while her father Leo Sirota, a world-famous Jewish concert pianist from the Ukraine, taught at the Imperial Academy of Japan. Most unusually for the time, she was allowed to play with Japanese children, and will later say she picked up a working knowledge of the language in about three months. Her famous father is both why she gets the job with MacArthur, and why she wants it so desperately: Beate has not heard a word from her father or mother in Japan since the war started, has no idea whether they are alive or dead. She means to find out.
So she hears about the MacArthur gig, and aces her interview: becomes the first civilian woman to enter postwar Japan. She is apparently already in Tokyo with Doug’s largish entourage—some two dozen men who are writing Japan’s new constitution for it, with a two-week deadline—she’s still figuring out exactly what her translation responsibilities are, when her immediate boss, a handsome young lieutenant named Joseph Gordon, says, “Beate dear, you’re a woman. Why don’t you do the bit about women’s rights?”
Pause with me for a moment and contemplate what it must be like inside her head, at that moment. I’m guessing something like the third atomic bomb going off.
She knows, almost certainly better than any other living American of any gender, exactly what the status of women is in Japan at that moment. Simply put, they have none. Beate’s mother gave parties all the time before the war, but no Japanese wife ever attended one. They then follow four steps behind their husbands at all times, are often married to men they don’t know, have no rights of any kind, can not inherit anything, can literally be bought and sold, and at “their” parties they serve the men food and then go eat alone in the kitchen.
“Wonderful,” Miss Sirota manages to say to Lt. Gordon, somehow remaining upright. “I’d love to.”
And just like that, enlightenment comes to Beate Sirota.
She leaves the room, requisitions a Jeep, drives it to every library in Tokyo still standing, discreetly collects all the information she can find on the subject of women’s rights in other nations and cultures, hauls it all back to her quarters, reads every word in Japanese....and then she starts to type like a madwoman.
When she stops, she has written Article 24 (and part of Article 9) of the Constitution of Japan. Very briefly and quite specifically, she has given every woman in Japan, overnight, full legal equality with any man in Japan.
Article 24, the bombshell, contains these words:
Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual co-operation with the equal rights of husband and wife as a basis. With regard to choice of spouse, property rights, inheritance, choice of domicile, divorce and other matters pertaining to marriage and the family, laws shall be enacted from the standpoint of individual dignity and the essential equality of the sexes.
Forget the reaction of the Japanese negotiators. Don’t even think about it yet. More than one of the Americans in the room just about shits his pants when the negotiations get as far as Article 24, and they hear it read aloud. The first one to get his breath back calls time-out, and they all go into a huddle with their translator. (Or is it “translatress”? Nobody is sure.)
A colonel points out to Beate that she has given women more rights than the US Constitution does! “That’s not hard,” she snaps. “Your point?” Another guy complains that stuff about divorce doesn’t belong in a Constitution. She informs him, from long experience of trying to sort out her parents’ papers with Japanese bureaucrats, that if rights are not already mentioned in a constitution they will never ever be written into the civil code. Enough guys say “But....but....” to produce a sound like a motorboat.
But....but while this chatter is holding up the works, Lt. Gordon takes the opportunity to casually wander round to the Japanese side of the table and engage in idle conversation. During which he happens to mention that Ms. Sirota is certainly very excited today: she worked so hard on Article 24, and now she has her heart set on its acceptance.
There is a pause while the Japanese guys all avoid exchanging silent eye traffic. Not easy to be in a small group and look nowhere. Try it sometime.
These guys—the Steering Committee, they’re called, as if they controlled the steering of this Titanic—have already heard 23 other articles, remember, and they haven’t liked any of them much, and there are an unknown number still to come. Each one is an argument they’re going to have to have soon, and worse, they already know they’re gonna lose most of them. That’s just what happens when you bring a conventional army to a nuke-fight. But this one, this Article 24.... Well, this one is worse, its pain different in one important respect:
To a man, they are nuts about Miss Sirota. You feel me? They each privately reckon she is the bee’s knees, the whelk’s kneecap, and the genuine dromedary’s drawers, all rolled up into one.
She is the only woman in the room: young, attractive, exotically gai-jin, intriguingly intelligent—yet she speaks impeccable Japanese and has perfect manners—and just look at that smile:
I don’t say they’re all thinking with their inkei, exactly; I’m just saying none of these guys wants to be the one who broke Miss Sirota’s heart. That smile is the only flower in a dark and barren room. “We accept Article 24,” someone chokes out, and nobody contradicts him, and the American half of the room falls dead silent. “Now, moving on to Article 25....”
When she visited Japan in later life, Beate was often recognized on the street and swarmed by weeping women, saying, “Thank you for everything.” They meant it literally.
That happened often, too, because she spent the whole rest of her life introducing Japanese and then other Asian art and artists (including Yoko Ono Lennon among many dozens of others) to the American public, and she was epically good at it. I mean, just go take a glance through her wikipedia page: she’d have been justly, hugely world-famous even if she’d had nothing to do with the Japanese Constitution, and for fifty years she was. Freeing half of an industrialized nation from slavery overnight singlehanded, armed with just a typewriter and a sunny smile, was merely the first of her remarkable accomplishments, and the only one she never spoke of publicly until she published a short memoir of it in 1995, by which time nobody much in America was listening to WWII stories.
(By the way, in that 1995 memoir, Mrs. Gordon mentioned that in her opinion, Article 24 was not the best clause in the new Japanese Constitution. That honour, she said, had to go to Article 9, in which Japan forever renounced war and embraced peace. She ranked Article 24 as number two, and urged the Japanese to preserve those two forever.)
I can guess what you’re thinking.
Why don’t I know this story already? Why doesn’t everybody know this story already? Why did she keep silent so long?
Because everything that happened in that room was Classified.
Highly, heavily Classified.
For fifty years. Beate could have been locked up if she’d spoken a word about it before 1995.
Unless she said it to her husband, of course. After all, he was in that same room with her, the whole time. She couldn’t have done it without him.
I saved a couple of bits for the end of the story, you see, since they make it a perfect movie:
First, her wikipedia page is slugged not Beate Sirota....but Beate Sirota Gordon.
Yep. Beate Sirota married her former boss Joseph Gordon in the year I was born, 1948; they were married for 66 years, and on December 30, 2013, she died at age 89, just four months after Joe died at 93. Theirs is said to have been one of the Great Marriages of our time, possibly of all time, and I don’t doubt it for a damn moment. Talk about a great team! He pitched her the “women’s rights bit,” right down the center of the plate, and she knocked it out of the park....
What if, that day in Tokyo, he’d said to her, “Beate dear, you’re a woman. Why don’t you keep the coffee coming? Can’t negotiate on tea!”
And finally, way back in 1946, right after she finished personally liberating the women of Japan, Beate Sirota found Leo and Augustine Sirota, her parents, both alive and well, in an internment camp in Karuizawa, Nagano.
She really did. She personally walked them out of there, and took them home to America with her. Mission Impossible accomplished, without a single special effect! Leo and Augustine settled in St. Louis, where he had plenty of time to broadcast the complete works of Chopin, to great critical acclaim, before he died in 1965 at age 79. Rubenstein called his technique “astounding.” I have a Leo Sirota CD on order from amazon, and when it arrives I’ll retroactively post a sample here of what the world might have missed, if not for Leo’s remarkable daughter Beate. It should play over the closing credits, as she is leading her parents to freedom.
I envision one final scene where, as she’s leading them out the gates, her mother asks her what she’s been doing that got her sent to Japan? And Beate starts to answer—and catches herself. You don’t burden your parents with information it is a federal felony to possess. “Translation, mostly,” she says dismissively. “I’d rather hear about what you two have been doing!”
Cue the music—
So you tell me: am I wrong? Is that the best true story of the 20th century, or what? Why has Mr. Spielberg not made this movie already? Can there possibly be any difficulty in locating and casting a Jewish actress with an irresistible smile who can play 22, can fake or lip-synch Japanese and three other languages, and is ready for her first Oscar?
On 9/24/18 John Varley wrote:
Where did you get all the detail of what went on in that room? Is that just you dramatizing it?
I think you are looking at the wrong director. Spielberg would over-dramatize it. It would be cool to have a woman write and direct. There still aren't a lot of big-time female directors (which is why we need inclusion riders), but there is Katherine Bigelow. She could do a great job of this.
On 9/24/18 Spider replied:
True that. I guess I was thinking of it as an opportunity for Spielberg to redeem himself a bit, do penance for the Indiana Jones movies and others, overdramatize a WOMAN for once. You’re right: screw him. Find out if Bigelow’s available.
But who do you see as our Beate and Joe?
I’m pretty sure most of what I wrote came from or built on Mrs. Gordon’s obit in The Economist, or from other equally reputable sources that obit and Google led me to. But I might have spiced it a sprinkle here or there.
I think it’s reasonable to assume, for instance, that if anyone told the Japanese “Miss Sirota’s heart is set on this,” as The Economist says happened, surely it was the guy she was gonna be married to for the next 66 years, the boss who had given her the job of writing Article 24. If it wasn’t Joe Gordon, then God’s a shitty writer, and we should fire Him and get Bigelow as you suggest.
This is the conclusion of Tchaikovsky’s Grand Piano Sonata in G Major, Op. 37, from the (highly recommended) CD RARE RUSSIAN MASTERPIECES, which Leo Sirota recorded at the same age I am now, 70, in 1955, ten years before his death in Ohio. Without his indomitable daughter, and the clout she was able to bring to bear as Douglas MacArthur’s translator at a time when he basically ran Japan, who knows if Dr. Sirota would have survived internment to record this. Of his technique, the noted pianist/composer Ferruccio Busoni wrote, “After hearing such masterful playing, I don’t wish to hear anyone else.”
Check him out. I mean, the cat was Oscar Peterson-good:
Tchaikovsky’s Grand Piano Sonata in G Major, Op. 37
If that impresses you as much as it does me, you will find literally dozens of hours of Leo Sirota’s piano work on YouTube....and one of them is illustrated with this photograph of Leo, Augustine and Beate Sirota in Japan, before the war:
12. ATTENTION IS ENERGY
....never mind who. Nobody else’s business. I couldn’t even make a rough guess how many of you this blog installment directly addresses, and how many of you just happened to pass by—but I am prepared to bet there are many more of you in the second group than there are in the first, even though the first is not at all small. That’s sort of the point.
I live alone in a small cottage in the woods. It has ten rooms. One of them is floor-to-ceiling Stuff To Put Away Somewhere If There’s Ever Somewhere. Like, another couple of stories, a basement, and maybe a new wing. I don’t go in there. Another room is filled to bursting with washer, dryer, water heater, tools, and trash waiting to be recycled.
Each of the eight remaining rooms has at least one stack of books—usually hardcovers—and each stack is piled as tall as books can be piled without falling over. Two of those rooms have two stacks, and one of them has three.
Every wall of every room is floor-to-ceiling bookshelves....but they’re all full, of the books I’ve paid for over the past 65 years. The stacks on all the floors are the ones that I have not paid for. Except in guilt.
Pretty much all of those stacked books (except the Lee Childs and the Thomas Perrys and a few others that await shelving) were sent to me by their authors or their authors’ editors or representatives. Some are famous authors. Some are just dear friends, or acquaintances to whom I happen to owe something or other important, or relative strangers it would be very smart for me to cultivate, usually either because they are famous strangers or important strangers or simply strangers I have respected and admired for a long time. Some are just from total strangers, beginners who found my address somewhere and sent me their firstborn, or young professionals who’ve just begun to sense how impossible it is to make a living at this trade and are hoping it will help them in some way to cultivate distinguished old farts like me. More than a few of their sendings are bound or unbound manuscripts, from novices who suffer from the delusion that a glowing cover letter from a published writer like me will do anything whatsoever to get their manuscript more respectful attention from professional editors.
(Not a chance. Editors know better. When I was starting out, I used to write such cover letters all the time. To the best of my knowledge, in forty years, not one has ever resulted in a sale, or even an expression of mild interest with suggestions for a year’s worth of rewrites.)
It has been years since any of those stacks of hopeful books got even one book shorter. They’re like vertical kudzu. Being the cook, consumer, busboy, dishwasher, housekeeper, launderer, shopper, bill-payer, recycler, landscaper, maid, full-time secretary/manager, sex worker and celebrity author—trying to be me and Jeanne by myself, in other words—I’m extremely lucky if I get twenty minutes before bedtime to consider trying to get any writing of my own done.
But to do that, I have to guiltily avert my eyes from the folder on my MacBook Pro’s Desktop containing, at the moment, over two dozen more manuscripts—some from former students, some from heroes of mine, some of them from beloved family members.
I can hear one of them, my departed daughter, saying gently to me, “That’s what we call a First World Problem, Dad.” She’s right. Poor me: suffering the torments of success, fame, and solvency. I imagine many of the writers in every one of those stacks imagine they would love to have my “problem.” May their wish be granted.
And yet in the pile of snailmail that’s in the kitchen now, waiting in vain for the secretary I don’t have to answer it, there is a personal letter from a very pleasant sounding woman who lives not far from here, who has published seven books since I met her a quarter century ago at a literary affair she was running, and who wants to send me her first fantasy novel for blurbing. Her stated reasons for asking are entirely flattering, and sound sincere. She even thoughtfully gives the book’s wordcount, so I can tell it isn’t a doorstop, and all she asks is a couple of sentences for the back cover. But even if I just say, “Well, you can send it along and I’ll add it to one of the stacks, with no promises,” I’ll almost certainly be lying. There isn’t any more flat surface available on which to stack paper, unless I burn something else at random to make room. It’s taken me literally a month and a half to come this close to sending her a reply. I’m tired of telling soothing lies, of stringing people along.
What’s wrong with temporarily raising a pleasant stranger’s morale, even falsely? Fair question. It costs something, that’s all. Besides just the time, which gets dear as you reach seventy.
These days, in the rare intervals of downtime that permit a bit of leisure reading, such as while seated in the smallest room of my home, I try (and inevitably fail) to keep up with the purely virtual (if not purely virtuous) stack of books I have recently paid good money to read, because I wanted to—such as Mr. Woodward’s latest splendid castration—which are all on my Kindle. It’s the only safe place to get any reading done. The only place where whether or not I give an opinion when I’m done is optional....and where, even if I am willing to go on record, I need only rate it on a scale of five stars. I don’t have to write advertising copy about it. The only “room” in my home with enough space to stack infinite books. And that never reminds me of any of them unless I ask it to—and when I do, finds it instantly.
Sorry, world. I regret it, but the Eyeballs Of A Spider are no longer available. Not for free, not even for rent. They’re needed for trying to read the tiny ingredients list of tonight’s dinner, and then Googling up how lethal the ones I can’t pronounce are, then tackling the instructions....and a million other things Jeanne always seemed able to do effortlessly, while choreographing a masterpiece or writing a poem. A Buddhist monk, the woman could get housework done while she was meditating, without triggering a motion detector. I’ve not-seen her do it. Don’t ask me how! Her teacher Tenshin Reb Anderson Zenki, former Abbott of the San Francisco Zen Center, gave her the name Wired Buddha. Sadly, the gift was not contagious.
I sincerely hope everyone in every one of those stacks of neglected hardcovers and galleys and bound manuscripts will be too famous and rich and busy to read my next book, if and when I get the furshlugginer thing done. It’ll serve me right. Will I feel like an idiot for having blown a chance to get a signed copy of your work before I had to stand in line!
But in my defense, I point out that writing books and selling books are two different arts and different skill sets, and ask how many people you know who are great at both?
11. PRINTER’S ERROR
Everyone knows Pelham Grenville Wodehouse wrote some of the funniest fiction ever. The immortal Jeeves and Wooster stories.....Mr. Mulliner......psuper-psmart Psmith.....Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge.....dotty old Lord Emsworth and the Blandings Castle mob......Uncle Fred.....
Ah, but do you know his poetry?
Herewith, one of my very favorite poems in the Anguish Linguage—there was a time I could have quoted you the whole thing from memory. Ah Plum, we miss you so! (I grew up on Long Island, and The Master lived about ten miles from me. I never got up the courage to knock on his door. I can’t tell you how much I regret that now.)
Printer's Error by P. G. Wodehouse
As o'er my latest book I pored,
Enjoying it immensely,
I suddenly exclaimed 'Good Lord!'
And gripped the volume tensely.
'Golly!' I cried. I writhed in pain.
'They've done it on me once again!'
And furrows creased my brow.
I'd written (which I thought quite good)
'Ruth, ripening into womanhood,
Was now a girl who knocked men flat
And frequently got whistled at',
And some vile, careless, casual gook
Had spoiled the best thing in the book
By printing 'not'
(Yes,'not', great Scott!)
When I had written 'now'.
On murder in the first degree
The Law, I knew, is rigid:
Its attitude, if A kills B,
To A is always frigid.
It counts it not a trivial slip
If on behalf of authorship
You liquidate compositors.
This kind of conduct it abhors
And seldom will allow.
Nevertheless, I deemed it best
And in the public interest
To buy a gun, to oil it well,
Inserting what is called a shell,
And go and pot
With sudden shot
This printer who had printed 'not'
When I had written 'now'.
I tracked the bounder to his den
Through private information:
I said, 'Good afternoon', and then
Explained the situation:
'I'm not a fussy man,' I said.
'I smile when you put "rid" for "red"
And "bad" for "bed" and "hoad" for "head"
And "bolge" instead of "bough".
When "wone" appears in lieu of "wine"
Or if you alter "Cohn" to "Schine",
I never make a row.
I know how easy errors are.
But this time you have gone too far
By printing "not" when you knew what
I really wrote was "now".
Prepare,' I said, 'to meet your God
Or, as you'd say, your Goo or Bod,
Or possibly your Gow.'
A few weeks later into court
I came to stand my trial.
The Judge was quite a decent sort.
He said, 'Well, cocky, I'll
Be passing sentence in a jiff,
And so, my poor unhappy stiff,
If you have anything to say,
Now is the moment. Fire away.
I said, 'And how!
Me lud, the facts I don't dispute.
I did, I own it freely, shoot
This printer through the collar stud.
What else could I have done, me lud?
He'd printed "not"...'
The judge said, 'What!
When you had written "now"?
God bless my soul! Gadzooks!' said he.
'The blighters did that once to me.
A dirty trick, I trow.
I hereby quash and override
The jury's verdict. Gosh!' he cried.
'Give me your hand. Yes, I insist,
You splendid fellow! Case dismissed.'
(Cheers, and a Voice 'Wow-wow!')
A statue stands against the sky,
Lifelike and rather pretty.
'Twas recently erected by
The P.E.N. committee.
And many a passer-by is stirred,
For on the plinth, if that's the word,
In golden letters you may read
'This is the man who did the deed.
His hand set to the plough,
He did not sheathe the sword, but got
A gun at great expense and shot
The human blot who'd printed "not"
When he had written "now".
He acted with no thought of self,
Not for advancement, not for pelf,
But just because it made him hot
To think the man had printed "not"
When he had written "now".'
© by owner. provided at no charge for educational purposes
10. Now THAT'S cold…..
Dear Mary, Jim, Marisa, and Laurie,
Guess what? It turns out you’re nuts if you wash your clothes in hot or even warm water. Who knew?
Jeanne, that’s who. She intuited it, over forty years ago.
Hot water ages clothes, makes them shrink, costs a lot (90% of the cost of a typical load is heating the water; only 10% goes into running the very powerful motor that spins and churns the enormously heavy wads of wet clothes), and bleeds the colors. Cold water doesn’t do ANY of those things. And nowadays, it does do very nearly everything hot water used to be good for.
Come to find out, the detergent manufacturers, fully aware of how expensive washing clothes can be, got together and spent the last 15 years trying to find ways to make detergent clean as effectively in cold water as in hot—the Department of Energy kind of insisted they do that—and they succeeded! So you don’t need the hot water as much as you think you do. Modern enzymes work fine in “cold” (actually room temperature) water. In fact, it is now said the only times you need hot water are if you’re washing the bedding and clothes of a sick person, or if you’re washing shitty diapers or drawers.
Knowing this, the washing machine manufacturers have, over the same 15-year-period, again at the firm suggestion of the DOE, quietly reduced the temperature of their warm-water setting by...er....degrees, until it is now 15 full degrees cooler than it was in your mom’s day. And nobody has noticed.
Oh, and the same experts who tell us this also add that while hot water is a teensy but measurable amount better than cold at making really smelly loads of laundry smell cleaned (a problem I’ve never noticed myself), you can get the same effect by adding either a quarter-cup of white vinegar or, if you just can’t stand to smell vinegar (like me), a few teaspoons of essential oil.
Here are the bottom lines, at least for me:
• If you wash 4 out of 5 of your laundry loads in cold water, that’s 864 pounds of emissions you didn’t put into the air, that year—same thing as planting and raising a third of an acre of trees.
• Washing in hot water for a year will cost you $265 per person in electricity. Cold water will cost a hair under $16 per person.
I did not know ANY of the above until I read today’s Good News Network email. Jeanne trained me to do all laundry but sickroom laundry in cold water just because she was a hippie. She instinctively got that hot water ain’t free, but we had no idea just how far away it was. It was only after she died and I became totally responsible for laundry that I started to notice how incredibly long my clothes last before they wear out, compared to how fast they used to fall apart before I got married and always used the hottest water setting. And only this morning did I get how much Jeanne’s hippie instincts saved us in electricity all those years, and me in the eight years since.
Over the 37 years I lived with Jeanne, her hippie instincts saved us $18,426 in electricity alone. In that time, two of us could have washed our clothes in hot water for $530 a year, total $19,610. Washing in cold instead cost us $32 a year, total $1,184. And our clothes lasted forever. Even today, about half my total wardrobe was acquired in the first years of my marriage, and still looks fine.
Oh yeah—and we also planted, in effect, almost 24.5 acres of trees in 37 years. And did not add 63,936 pounds of poison to the atmosphere for no good reason.
Some like it hot. They shouldn’t. TANSTAAFL. (There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.)
One last ‘oh yeah’: the same Good News Network email that led me to all the above information (ongoing thanks to Joan Gillis for turning me on to the GNN) also greatly improved the taste of my breakfast by informing me that Dolly Parton has just very quietly, with minimal publicity, given her 100 MILLIONTH BOOK to her Children’s Reading Program....making her my second favorite singer named Dolly. Buy her latest CD, will ya?
PS—folding the laundry, I was taught at the seminary—thank God!
09. Only I have balls on my head: ask my doctor
We’re pretty sure. I sate to hey this, but hay, Jorge, I think that, even though I have excellent drugs these days—almost Buddhist Medication—I think of it as hahahazen—neverthemore, I believe we ought to talk about the time I acquired a rash on my groin, and what happened when I tried to resist it, and it went to my head. Because it could happen to you—it won’t, ok?, but it could, and if it did, I wouldn’t laugh at you. In your presence.
I acquired this tiled mesticular annoyance, ok? Not as a result of poor sanitation, poor hygiene, dubious companions, or anything really funny, alright? Just a rash. Probably the constant heavy use, is my guess, and I’m stickin’ with it, pun untended. Son of an itch.... The Itch Bitch, to give it a nom de plums.
But my GP Dr. Susanne Schloegel is a very attractive young woman, with a healthy sense of humor, and I’m old enough and thus pathetic enough to have some funny scruples about those things (all scruples are funny; SCRUPLES’d be an excellent title for a theme book of funny short stories), and so I tried to self-meditate, and not-think my way through the problem the way I usually do.
Well, an itch on the greatfruits requires some powerful juju, bees! Trust me, ladies, if you don’t know this of your own experience.
Being an unreconstructed hippie, because I was never assembled right in the first place, I have half a dozen different hairbrushes, for different parts of my hirhead suit. Excuse me, my hirsute head. I selected one—but by what process I can no longer recall!!!—and addressed my past-date large white organic eggs with it, and....Problem Solved.
Until the next day, when, as I just said, I could no longer recall which brush I’d used.
I hated to repurpose and replace five, broken-in, hairbrushes. So I applied a head-improver called logic, and noticed I had at least one brush so horrifically sadistic, I could never have itched SO unbearably as to apply that sharp-toothed puppy to my softballs. (Hey, I coulda said cannonballs.) That one was clearly safe to bring in close contact with my personal skullbone.
Which left me with a selection of four other brushes with which to soothe my two sons of itches. Once again, I had life by....well, you know.
But I must have screwed up somehow. Perhaps I tried to brush my hair in my sleep, because Jeanne was in my dreams that night. I’m not sure. All I know is, a few days ago I happened to, most unusually, glance into my bathroom mirror—why would I do that often? It no longer matters what I look like: I have already won, and lost, my Jeanne—and there in the mirror, to my extreme harold, I beheld that the hair on the right side of my head was perceptibly fuller and thicker than the hair on the left side of my head.
A visit to the doctor could no longer be avoided. I decided, after a great deal of thought, that the doctor in question should perhaps best not be my shrink.... I was committed to a solution, but didn’t wish to be committed for one, if you see what I mean.
“Susanne, do I come to you with boring questions?”
“NEVER!” she said, shuddering at some memory, or another, or the other six. Possibly all eight.
She double-checked. “I am.”
“Of course you are. The question I’m abask to out you is in the running for Most Original Medical Question You’ve Ever Been Asked. I’m not saying it’s the winner, NASA Celery, but I’ll bet cash it’s at least a finalist.”
She paled. Susanne knows I don’t bluff. “Go ahead,” she bread savely, eyeing the Ativan jar.
“Is there such a thing as....’hemispherical hair loss’? I’m afraid I have contracted the first case on record of side-specific crotch-rot of the scalp.”
So now I have a nut-specific rash-ointment, called TesticulaRich, which as I expected looks exactly like shampoo—come on, would I use real poo?—and I’m going to be completely candid and tell you applying it is the most fun I’ve had in hours, now.
I admit I do still have the damn itch....but I am more convinced than ever that on me, it looks good: that I have finally found mine itch in the world.
08. Meet Nobutake Ito
Meet Nobutake Ito, who plays wonderfully louche manouche, and is probably the best, fastest two-fingered Gypsy guitarist alive in the world.
I heard of him first in a documentary about antiGypsy prejudice, that focused on a Django Reinhardt Festival near where the cat used to live in Belgium, at which Gypsies were not welcome within fifty miles. To show how racist the place was, the doc featured a Japanese manouche group who were welcome to perform though Gypsies couldn’t even listen: a very well rehearsed group with the delightful name The Swing Niglots. We were shown that the guitarist/leader/chief lunatic, Nobutake Ito-sama, always ceremonially tied back two fingers for performance, so he would have no unfair advantage over The Master! Awesome. Those Niglots smoked. Real deal. Django would have sold them reefer without hesitation. I will bet there are damn few North American musicians who can perfectly reproduce any sort of Japanese music on authentic instruments.
By this point I was already in love. A day’s work on the internet brought me a site that was almost in English, at which with huge difficulty, and cut and paste, and Google Translate, I was able to locate Nobutake’s email address. With the further help of Google Translate, I composed a very short, exquisitely simple email in Pidgin Japanese, begging for as many of his records or CDs as he would be willing to send me for fifty dollars American. A week later, his return email, even shorter than mine, said something very close to, “Money not desired.” While I was puzzling over that one, 3 CDs arrived in the mail, with a declared value of I forget how many yen. They were the two Swing Niglots CDs, NIGLOTS SWING and SWING NOIR, plus Nobutake’s previous solo album CERCA DE SEVILLA, on which he permitted himself to use all four fingers as long as he wasn’t playing a Django tune. Happy camper, I.
Jumpcut a few years. One day out of the blue I wondered how good old Nobutake Ito is doing, and sent him a second email, in almost comprehensible Japanese with the help of an exchange student whose English was rotten. I think I got the part right about, “I will pay you in yen, any amount you ask for more of your work.” Back came, “No money,” so I started watching my mailbox, and soon arrived ROSE TAROT, the debut album of the renamed Swing Niglots, now known as Note Noire, and also TU DJAIAL, a second Note Noire album which has a cognitively-dissonant-with-Django-music, but most impressive, featured vocalist named Kyoko Hikiba.
So there you are. I hold a commanding position in Nobutake Ito Fandom, with zero other members in Canada or America so far as I know. All I can do for you is play you a few sample tracks, with bonus track by Note Noire/Swing Niglots’ only local competitors in Tokyo, who call themselves, I swear, the Yellow Django Revival....and then there’ll be other weirdos with the best Japanese Django Reinhardt collections in North America.
On all attached samples I’ve degraded bitrate to fit them in an email, so as not to bloat this website. I wish I had room for .aiff. My respect for Nobutake Ito is quite high. I have no idea who the Django Reinhardt of Japan is, let alone what his or her music sounds like.
If anyone out there can figure out how one as ignorant of Japanese as I can successfully order the CDs of Note Noire and/or Nobutake Ito-sama, without imposing on the poor man as I have, please hip me, and I’ll pass the word here. The best email address to use for comments on this blog is <email@example.com>.
Cerca De Sevila is from Nobutake’s solo album of the same name.
Charleston is from Swing Noir by the Swing Niglots
Nagasaki and Tu Djaial are by Note Noire with Kyoko Hikiba
Djangology is by Yellow Django Revival, from their CD Live At Rocky Top
07. There Really Is No Off Switch
or: I Guess It Really is Worth Eighty A Quarter
On Turner Classic as I type, taken directly from the station’s own synopsis for this film:
Marion Davies, Bing Crosby, 1933.
Choreographed by Busby Berkeley!!! [OK, the exclamation points are mine. More on that later.]
A singer loves a teacher, but leaves her behind to seek fame in the movies. He succeeds, but she eventually follows him out west and becomes a star in her own right.
I have two immediate questions, that probably not many others would:
First, how good a dancer could she possibly be without her own behind, which we’re told she left to seek fame? I mean, is that ironic, or what? Gifts of the Magi, right? I picture her auditioning for A Chorus Line, trying to sing, “Tits, and ass....” though clearly only half-qualified. It adds an extra layer of poignancy, I know. But how easy do you think it would be to find a good, trained dancer with literally no ass at all? Pretty easy, actually, now I think about it.
And nowadays there’s always CGI.
Second, in just what sort of rite did she become a star? Religious? Or, uh....otherwise? Can you make one of those movies with no ass? (I really don’t want to know. Please don’t send me yours.)
* * * * * * *
Not many people are aware, by the way, that the male star’s full name is Bada Book, Bada Bing Crosby. That’s the only explanation I can think of for the ubiquitous iniquitous commercial that keeps chanting that otherwise completely meaningless slogan at me. Even after that cognitive breakthrough, I still don’t know what the chant is meant to convey. We’re discussing vacations; why do they keep raving about baritones?
Sorry, I’m mistaken: that’s “Bada book, bada BOOM.” Somebody wanna tell me who the hell Boom Crosby is? I know David’s an active man, but he hasn’t exploded, has he?
* * * * * * *
I don’t know about you, but I’ve found a single new word that perfectly fits my personal default mindset. Wouldn’t you know it begins with A? I tell you, there is a growing body of evidence that this world really was specifically and cleverly constructed just for me.
The word is “anoesis.” It means—are you ready?—”a state of mind consisting of pure sensation or emotion without cognitive content.” I hypothesize it derives from “one whose esis is located up his anus.” That’s where I live. With occasional visits back out here for supplies, rolling papers and so on. If I put food in my mouth, it reaches me eventually. Jeanne used to say I test high in Buddha nature, and I think that sounds a lot nicer than saying I’m permanently shitfaced, so I’m gonna go with it.
* * * * * * *
And another thing! I’ve been watching carefully, and neither “Busby” Berkeley nor any of his fellow dancers ever wears one. (“bus-by [noun] - a tall fur hat with a colored cloth flap hanging down on the right-hand side and often a plume on the top, worn by soldiers of certain regiments of hussars and artillerymen.”) (I said “moron that later,” didn’t I? Line 4, above.)
Why call yourself “Ten-Gallon,” if you wear a beret? Or wear a derby hat if you don’t bowl? And did they really used to have regiments of hussies back then? No wonder war has traditionally been so popular with young men.
* * * * * * *
Which dislodges a chunk of acid that’s been napping in my brain for decades, producing a sudden flashback I can’t resist to The Realist, the first underground newspaper, created and run by the great Paul Krassner, who invented Fake News (no shit), back in the 60s (no shit!). Specifically, issue #64, from February 1966. A splendid cartoon collection by Mort Gerberg called, “The Junkie Batallion.” (Wow. An acid flashback—in black and white. Far out....)
Some asshole had seriously proposed that instead of drafting good clean god-fearin’ Murkin boys to go get drilled in Vietnam, they should be draftin’ them got-damn junkies! Mr. Gerberg pictured the inevitable results beautifully.
You can Google the whole collection at http://www.ep.tc/realist/64/17.html; I shall firmly restrict myself to the two cartoons I have attached. Some things you just don’t forget, especially if you read them when you’re nine months short of your eighteenth birthday.
(Mort Gerberg is alive and well today at age 87. He lives in NYC with his wife Judith Gerberg, an internationally-known career counselor. Their daughter Lilla is a noted health expert. The cartoons he so ably drew 52 years ago were not drawn from his own life. Or mine.)
06. Why do you think they call it a "Ho'," Joe?
As a fatter of macked, my very first job, and damn near last, was at Howard Johnson’s.
They used to get around the minimum wage law (and you’ll love this: the minimum wage was a dollar and a quarter!) by giving you a free meal. Not one employee ever “took advantage of” that beneficence. We knew too much about Howard Johnson’s food. (There is also no example on record of a HoJo employee ever voluntarily drinking Ho-Jo Cola. Recurrent rumors, but no photos.)
You, with your unique background, probably know the problem with HoJo: the franchisees were kept on such tight leashes, the only way they could possibly hope to make their monthly nut and take home a dime of profit for the IRS was to cheat, somehow, as mercilessly as possible.
Par example, my maiden HoJo did not sell vanilla ice cream.
Most of its customers believed it did, but they were mistaken. HoJo makes, or made then, some shit called “Frostee,” which is absolutely flavorless ice cream—just like President Dump: it has no taste whatsoever. The idea is, or perhaps was, you put it in sundaes or shakes as filler along with a short shot of cheap fake-fruit-flavored syrup, and it can pass as ice cream, than which it is vastly cheaper. But it is very cold and wet, and it looks exactly like vanilla ice cream, and came in tubs identical to those ice cream came in....
Yep. Our manager had us put tubs of Frostee in the vanilla slot, and serve cones and sundaes made from them. (Don’t ask what he had us put in the chocolate slot.) Not one customer ever noticed the bait-and-switch, though once in a while one would get a very odd look after his first lick. Then he’d shrug and get out of the way. When the inspector from Howard Johnson made his monthly “surprise” visit to check on little things like fraud, the manager would distract him in the kitchen with a bottle, while we ran around outside putting the vanilla ice-cream back where it belonged, laughing like drains.
Once, a new kid was working the counter alone for a few minutes, and he hadn’t listened when he was told that you must always bleed off any leftover air pressure before disconnecting the old HoJo Cola canister in order to put on the new one. The explosion took out about six feet of counter and three of the kid’s fingers. The manager was out the swinging doors in about a second, pale with worry, way too busy to guard his tongue. He could see that his employee was down, but so what.
“WERE ANY CUSTOMERS HURT?” he screamed.
And relaxed, when he was assured none were. Close call, there.
I was ultimately fired for refusing to make a banana split.
I’m not claiming I was heroically defending that customer, falling on my scoop. My decision was, I promise you, purely selfish. (If those last two words ever belong together.) I simply was fastidiously unwilling to touch a HoJo banana split with my ungloved hands....even for enough money to take Kathy to the movies. (And hey, she had once given me a ticket to Shea Stadium to, of all things, hear a band! Good band, too. Quartet, from Liverwurst....)
The procedure was to go back into The Hidden Place—the kitchen, where the cook did his dirty work—where the bananas were intelligently kept. You did not want the customers seeing them. The swarm of fruit flies and less wholesome bugs hovering over the box would have been a clue to an observant man. Your job was to firmly shut your eyes, and nostrils, and anus, reach into the box, and remove one of the horrid black slimy things with your left hand, while your right hand did a quick-and-dirty job of scraping all the maggots from it, back into the box. (Waste not, want not.) Then you cut one end off, poured the contents into a tin dish, and covered it with enough Frostee-scoops, fruit paste and whipped imitation-cream to disguise it, and of course to contain the smell.
I was explaining all this to the customer, in the hope that he would let me off the hook, when I heard a cough behind me, and turned to find the manager holding out his pocket change—my severance pay.
That was one of the last times I ever worked for a living. Just never had the stomach for it.
05. Great quote I just found, re our Marisa
I just ran across this wise quote:
Don't limit a child to your own learning, for she was born in another time. --Rabindranath Tagore
One day our Marisa is gonna make me feel like such an ignorant dummy.....
Time was, hundreds of years would go by, and basically, nothing happened but soap opera: nobody learned anything new that was important. Three or four lifetimes might go by before anybody you could possibly hear wrote a new song good enough to learn, or dreamed up a new story good enough to repeat. Everybody was busy, every day, all day, just keeping the pilot light lit.
Today, every hour we learn something new, and I’m running out of room to store new information. I just read an hour ago that some guys have just seen, actually seen, are seeing right now, some stars that are only 250 million years older than the Big Bang....which happened just under 14 billion years ago! That means those stars are both unimaginably old, and unimaginably far away.......so far away, that we can’t see anywhere near that far.
So how can these guys possibly see these most ancient of stars, when they’re too far away to be seen?
Turns out that somewhere in between us and them, there is a very large galaxy (like our Milky Way, our street) which is acting like the lens of a microscope or a magnifying glass or a telescope. It magnifies the stars way behind it (from our point of view) so ridiculously much that it makes them visible to us.
When my grandmother Agnes graduated from school, assuming she did (how would I know?), they didn’t know there were such things as galaxies, with billions of stars: we just thought there were a few thousand stars, the ones you can see without help. Most humans were really comfortable with the numbers one, two, three, and many.
When my mother graduated from school, mankind believed there was only one galaxy, and this was it. The Milky Way was clearly all the stars there were. They had no reason to believe any other star had planets. No reason to believe they didn’t, either: we just didn’t have a clue, because we were doing real good just being able to see the very nearest stars, just up the street a way.
Today we have seen thousands of planets, many of them very like Earth, and just the right distance from their star to permit liquid water, which means they might have life as we care about it.
Until I was in school, we had no faintest clue how huge the universe was, and when we found out, it blew everybody’s mind! It still blows mine.
At this rate, by the time my sweet grandchild Marisa’s thinking about taking some time off work to have her first kids, human beings might be living on a planet circling some star too far away to see with a telescope. I just hope Marisa will also have enough spare time to tell her ignorant old Grampa, back on Earth, as much of the new information as he is capable of understanding, at his level of knowledge. At the same time, I kinda hope she’ll often be too damn busy.
Maybe by the time her kids are ready to stop learning and start living, nobody will die anymore. Ever. Maybe everybody will be in love with everybody else. Maybe in some forgotten museum there’ll be an exhibit attempting and failing to explain what, and how much, money used to mean to everybody, but it will draw very few visitors, and before too long will be.....de-acquisitioned. Isn’t that a lovely euphemism for trashed? It might one day be impossible to convey to anybody what scarcity was, why we insisted on constantly competing, why we thought we needed greed, why we kept insanely denying our commonality.
Sir Paul said it pretty well in “Tug Of War”:
In years to come
They may discover
What the air we breathe and the life we lead are all about
But it won't be soon enough
No, it won't be soon enough
Your no-longer-outlaw in-law,
04. The name is everything, sweet Amaranth!
Case in point:
The latest previously-unheard-of stuff that’s been touted to me as a food supplement worth paying a ton of money for a tiny quantity of, and it isn’t even organic (yet), is amaranth. The word on the cyberstreet is, it’ll put color on your genitals, strengthen your inane system, reverse that nasty shortness of pants, and cure....well, your hide if nothing else.
That name, amaranth, which sounds to me like a chick I really wanted to ball back in the Sixties, will for sure be the making of the stuff, commercially speaking, the same way “sweet potatoes” turned “yams” from something fed to hogs and Africans into solid gold. And thus may end up bringing about its extinction, naturally. Those Africans now eat junk food, and the pigs died of gluten deficiency—as, soon at this rate, might we.
Are you Amaranth Cartel investors really sure you want your restaurant to be discovered by the whole world? In no time at all, someone whose last name ends in a vowel will be selling you expensive protection....and you’ll need it. But it won’t work above street level, and soon some giant conglomerate will take you over and run amaranth into extinction by trying to grow too much, and to literally starve the growers.
If you really think that stuff is good for your health, maybe you should have just kept your mouth shut, and kept calling it by its original name. You do know its original name, right?
They used to call it tumbleweed.
If I’m lyin’, I’m fryin’. That’s what amaranth is. Yuppie tumbleweed. People really will eat any goddamn thing, if it reminds them of a chick they used to want to ball.
Oh, and while I’m on the subject of names:
I now own the finest automobile I have ever owned in my life. I’ve owned her for fourteen years, and put a grand total of about a hundred bucks a year (Canadian!) in maintenance into her in that time. There have until this month been no repairs, and she still works so perfectly in all respects that the dashboard clock still keeps perfect time. She drinks a thimble of gas a week, whether she needs it or not, has her oil replaced regularly every 4 or 5 years, but never needs it topped up, and contains the very best sound system I own. Sound crisp as breadsticks.
Toyota named it the Echo. What a lovely, aptly evocative name. Disappears, whoosh!, leaving behind only an echo and widespread aesthetic envy. I’ve never been moved to give mine a personal name, like Miss Agnes or Gay Deceiver, because I’m just so pleased with Echo.
Unfortunately, while doing so, they also ran the name of the exciting new model past some “focus” groups—as in, “Focus and the horse we rode in on: we ain’t smart enough for cars yet, just pickup trucks.” Tell us what you think of the car, they were instructed, because they seemed confused.
God help us all, and I swear this is true: the answer that came back most often was, “Love everything about her but that dumbass name. ‘Echo’.....that’s short for ‘echological, right? I ain’t gonna buy a car that don’t go fast, don’t cost too much, and don’t choke the losers I leave breathin’ my exhaust. Think I want my buds and neighbors thinkin’ I’m a got-dam tree-hugger? Give me a nice name that don’t turn me off, that don’t go meanin’ something on me—like Corolla!”
Even worse, a followup focus-in-our-asses group found that the focus group had belated focused on the odd spelling of eco, realized it must really be pronounced “etch-o,” took that to mean some sort of Mexican food....and in these strange times, that's not a meme you want scratched on your car, either. It would remind me of a mouse named Gonzalez famous for his speed, but I’m sophisticated enough to watch cartoons.
So after a single, very successful first year, they changed the name to Yaris, which only has meaning in certain neighborhoods on (actually, under) Neptune.
And sales took off. Sign right here to vacation with your whole family on Venus, you marching—
S’cuse me. I was about to call the focus pocus people a name, there. One which was coined by that prescient Cassandra Cyril M. Kornbluth back in the April 1951 GALAXY—all too accurately foreseeing today, with a classic story called, “The Marching Morons.”
Jon Stewart certainly glossed the current President with an accurately evocative name. Anybody but me still remember Fuckface von Clownstick? That could have been the name of the president in Cyril’s story.
If only more of us had remembered it.
03. Inane, eh?
You grew up in the Bronx, too. What is a Nay? Eh?
Okay, it might be spelled Neigh, the way it turns out “getting underway” is actually spelled “getting under weigh,” an obscure nautical term. (To do so, one weighs the anchor—get it?)
But what is one? I’m sixty-nine, I could die last week, I don’t want to wait anymore, and I don’t want to die not knowing.
(Or knowing, either. I just want to be clear about that. What I’m aiming for is, about ten minutes before I rattle me clack, a red man with horns, cloven hooves, a lawyer’s shingle, and a forked tail will appear before me and say, “Sorry, Spi—I’ve had the bastards shoveling like Heaven down there, but I’m afraid it’s no use: the whole place just froze over.” Once that’s no longer one of the possible destinations, just answer my question and I’m ready to go anytime.)
I’ve wondered for a very long time, now. In fact, it was one of my very first questions about language. Ever since I started learning, back in the Bronx, to understand what others around me were saying, I’ve heard people earnestly, usually emphatically, urging me and others to fuck a nay. Or neigh.
“Ya think Annette Funicello’s got nice boobies, Anthony?”
“Fuck a nay!”
I had no way to picture that, you see. Or to be at all clear on whether this was something one did because one really hated nays......or because one really loved fucking them. I didn’t even know if nays came in male and female, or what, and we won’t go there. I mean, would advocating the fucking of nays be a prudent thing, or an imprudent thing, to do in the hearing of nays—and if the latter, how were you to know if there were any in earshot? I knew I could be standing right next to a flaming nay and never even suspect it: perhaps naydom was something that didn’t show, like a political party, or being a Caucasian whose ancestors came from some different shithole. It was all very worrisome. I thought of asking somebody, but anyone I knew who looked like he might have fucked nays also looked like he might just kick the shit out of anyone who quizzed him about it.
I can only say that I have never knowingly failed to fuck a nay. Consequently I’ve never missed it. Nor they me, to the best of my knowledge.
I just don’t get the point of all this mystery.
And while I’m at it, what the fuck is “earshot” all about?
A Marine sniper with a Barrett or Valmet M-82 can shoot any desired part of a human ear accurately from 4,000 meters, or 4,400 yards. Jack Reacher could do it with his head in a bag. But the guy whose ear it was would never hear the shot, if he was facing to either side, with his head behind that ear. Remember that the round in question is a fifty-cal! Hard to converse with pink mist. I suppose it would be possible to communicate by firing a meter to the left or right of that ear in Morse code....but the message would be as private as smoke signals.
Even back when under five hundred meters was as far as anyone could shoot an arrow, that was hardly conversational distance. What made anyone ever think of ears and shooting in the same sentence, in the same furshlugginer word—let alone every time the subject of how far one can hear came up? Why wasn’t it, from time immemorial, known as “ear-throw”? Because it might confuse barely literate people into thinking it was pronounced “earth-row”?
As George Carlin said, these are the kind of questions that kept me out of the good schools....
Maybe that’s it....and maybe this happened so long ago that the “shot” they were thinking of was a sling shot. (What do you think, David? How about you, Goliath?) Incidentally, not many people these days are aware that one of the earliest serious weapons was a self-explanatory and much-feared variant of the child’s slingshot called the slingshit. (Certainly doesn’t sound serious, I know. But trust me: it is. I’ve been hit by one. I said I grew up in the Bronx.) Among its many virtues, it used one of the byproducts of another early weapon, the bullista. An attempt at a child’s version, the kittenapult, was abandoned at the implacable insistence of a Lysistrata, and some other women. Most other women, really.
Today, of course, no matter where on the planet we may seek to hide, the President of the United States will always have us all within earshit. Just this president, though.
One may hope, anyway.
Your unforgivably, but understandably, smug Canadian brother
(our turn in the barrel will come. But not this year.)
02. HAIR, HAIR! THERE, THERE....
Dear Mary and John,
At regular intervals these days, I find myself standing in the hair care aisle in the pharmacy, staring helplessly at all the shampoos, trying to guess which one I want.
(At least I’m smart enough to know I DON’T want the one that advertises it’s “…like a blast of hydration to your scalp.” That means it’s the same thing as pouring water on your head. Why not just use real water? It’s way cheaper.) (Unless you insist on ORGANIC water. But you wouldn’t believe how much of the world supply of that is monopolized by homeopathy people.)
I’m pretty sure I want some form of Pert Plus, because that one has conditioner mixed right in with it—making it, at least as far as I know, the only hair-goop you can buy that does not look EXACTLY like semen. I like saving an entire step in the hair-washing process…and especially if it means I don’t have to artificially inseminate my scalp. “Nice haircut, Spi.” “Thanks—just a little something my hairdresser knocked up for me.” No, thanks. Even the most passionate fan of reproduction doesn’t want to watch the fetus gestate ON HIS OR HER OWN HEAD for most of a year. Imagine the neckaches!
But there are MANY varieties of Pert Plus, each identified only by a cryptic word or two, none of which ever quite seems to apply to my particular hair. Jeanne used to buy a variety that always worked perfectly for me…but not only do I forget which one, I have a strong suspicion they stopped making that kind. Nothing there on the shelf looks right.
So I stand there in the aisle, slack-jawed, a baboon examining a shelf of library books, looking for the good one.
“VOLUMIZER,” says this one.
Do I WANT my hair to have volume? I GUESS so. It has area. I mean, I don’t want a PERM, but….who doesn’t look good with more hair? If your hair DOESN’T have volume, you’re two dimensional, Mr. A Square.
“FOR DRY HAIR,” says that one.
Is my hair dry? Uh…sure. You know, whenever it isn’t wet. Is YOUR hair dry when it’s wet, buddy?
“FOR CURLY HAIR,” offers another one.
To make my hair curlier, you mean? Or to make it less curly? And which would I prefer? My hair’s a LITTLE curly. How much is just right? HOW CAN I NOT HAVE KNOWN, FOR ALL THESE YEARS? Am I an ISLAND?
I’m not even gonna try and GUESS what the fuck THAT means. But no, I don’t think I care to go “deep down,” fella. You’re not gettin’ in the shower with ME.
Do I WANT moist hair? Then why do I own a hair DRYER?
Sooner or later, I make a decision as to which of these is…well, not most accurate, but at least least inaccurate, and I buy it and take it home, and sometimes it seems to make my hair look good and sometimes it seems to make it look like shit, just like all the others.
But today, Pert finally hit my sweet spot. It called to me from the shelf in the pharmacy. At last, someone understands my personal style needs, groks my unique esoteric follicular requirements, supplies all I ask of hair-goop. The label says it all:
for normal hair
I bought two bottles, just to help make sure the new format succeeds. And I used it tonight, and you know what? My hair is clean, by God.
What was so hard about that, fellas?
Now my only problem is, I wore my glasses into the shower (I like to look down on the unemployed). It was a serious mistake, because now I was able to read the ingredients—which, and I swear to Grid I’m not making this up, included the following two: polymethacrylamitopropyltrimonium (yes, that’s only one word! which nobody but Danny Kaye could possibly pronounce in one breath) and, my favorite, dihyrogenated Tallowamidoethyl hydroethyl minomium methosulfate. In my adolescence I had a favorite fantasy involving two Ethels in a Buick station wagon (they used to call them woodies, didn’t they?), but two ethyls on my HEAD, on meth, trying to steal my gestating fetus, is too much excitement for me, even today when excitement is thin on the ground (unless you’re an unarmed highschool student who forgot his or her vest).
But the moment I glance away from those two ingredient names, they vanish from my, from anybody’s, mind. So what’s the problem?