Monday, April 22, 2019

Breakfast at thew Bookstore with Brad and Nick #156

Daily Dose

From Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser

THERE WAS

"There was really something exceedingly human -- if not pathetic -- in his being thus relieved by a clearly worded reproof."

From Chapter XXVII, When Waters Engulf Us We Reach for a Star

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Breakfast at the Bookstore with Brad and Nick #155

Daily Dose

From The Passion, by Jeanette Winterson

ONLY

"Only occasionally do I feel the touch of that other life, the one in the shadows where I do not choose to live."

From Chapter 4, The Rock

Saturday, April 20, 2019

A Caricature


Daily Dose


From The Street of Crocodiles, by Bruno Schulz, translated by Celina Wieniewska

THE STREET

"The Street of Crocodiles was a concession of our city to modernity and metropolitan corruption. Obviously, we were unable to afford anything better than a paper imitation, a montage of illustrations cut out from last year's moldering newspapers."

From The Street of Crocodiles

Friday, April 19, 2019

A Caricature


Daily Dose

From The Dark Interval: Letters on Loss, Grief, and Transformation, by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Ulrich Baer

EVEN THOUGH

"Even though he could never read a line of my writings, he believed in them with boisterous optimism, and I knew he thought me capable of exactly that which would be my innermost joy to achieve."

From To Adelheid Franziska von Der Marwitz, January 14, 1919

Thursday, April 18, 2019

A Caricature


Daily Dose

From Savage Dreams: A Journey Into the Hidden Wars of the American West, by Rebecca Solnit

ZENO'S PARADOX

"Zeno's paradox illustrates something else, that logic does not necessarily describe reality, and that it is not anticipation but journeying that does often bring us to a destination."

From Keeping Pace with the Tortoise

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Shakespeare Recast: The Taming of the Shrew, Act II, Scene 1


Daily Dose

From The Basque history of the World, by Mark Kurlansky

FRANCO

"Franco, for the most part, was a successful liar."

From Chapter 11, Speaking Christian

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Shakespeare Recast: Othello Act II, Scene 1


Daily Dose


From My Life in Middlemarch, Rebecca Mead

ELIOT AND LEWES

"My favorite image of Eliot and Lewes is provided by a neighbor who used to see them out walking Pug, and reported, Mrs. Cadwallader-like, 'they were both very unattractive people to look upon, and they used to wander about the neighborhood, the biggest pair of frights that ever was, followed by a shaggy little dog who could do tricks.' The censorious glimpse from behind the net curtain is a peculiarly English phenomenon, and I derive delicious pleasure from the two Georges' carelessness about the judgement delivered by smaller minds and smaller hearts than their own."

From Chapter 6, The Widow and the Wife

Monday, April 15, 2019

A Caricature


Daily Dose

From My Sister, the Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite

ONLY

"The only form of retribution she ever feared came from him."

From Bathroom

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Nipple Watch





“For books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them.”

-- John Milton, Areopagitica


One of the primary fallacies of American optimism is that once established, progress is immutable. Nope. Retrogression is as natural to human endeavors as sweat. Think lapsed gym memberships, failed diets, and recurrent Republican majorities.

I do one social media account for the bookstore where I work. Just the one. Tumblr. Took it on years ago and made it all about books, natch.  Got it up to more than 7000 followers which ain't bad for a twice daily visual blog featuring book covers, poetry, and quotation. Those aren't porn numbers of course, but then porn on Tumblr is done. 

According to news reports the ban on "adult content" was the result of threats by Apple to delete the Tumblr app on it's new phones, as Tumblr had become so closely associated with porn. December 17th, 2018 the porn sites all went away, mostly. 

Alas.

Personally, I was a fan, not of everything mind, but a fan. Tumblr became a platform for the democratization of sex online; it was free, anyone could post content, and while I never participated directly, I enjoyed the show. Not easy to remember now, but by the nineties gay porn had become as rigidly defined as Kabuki. All the men had the same muscles, haircuts, and routines. It all, or nearly all looked like the dance floor of Rage in West Hollywood. It was expensive and boring and numbingly conformist. Then the Internet happened and suddenly it was a Brave New World of dudes and daddies and personal web-cams. Later still, platforms for shared content -- like Tumblr --drained a good deal of the money out of the business and anybody who wanted to could be a "content provider." That part was exciting. Variety reigned. Open to all comers. Dance like only those that wanted to were watching.

Now it seems sex has been reclaimed by Capitalism. Alas.

Set that aside. 

New protocols went into place on Tumblr. Content was subject to review for "adult content". Potentially pornographic posts were flagged, presumably by some new algorithm, and subject to review by... someone?

After review by some anonymous human, Tumblr decided that earlier posts on the bookstore's Tumblr did not meet their new community standards. Dozens of existing posts were flagged. These were appealed. After review, posts featuring books by Lidia Yuknavitch, Herve Guibert, Tom Bianchi, Robert Mapplethorpe, Samuel R. Delany, and Edmund White do not meet their new community guidelines. Those posts have been made permanently private. “This decision cannot be appealed.”

Nipples seam to be a problem: male nipples, female nipples, nipples on sculptures older than the American Republic, all nipples are now obscene. Nudity of nearly any description is pornographic now. Shirtless men? Porn. Gay content seems a particular problem, and women's bodies in anything like a natural state? Porn. Recently, two book covers featuring skeletons and or chest x-rays were flagged. And those were far from the weirdest bans. Dinosaurs?! Appealed and restored. No lie. Dinosaurs. 

Presumably this all makes sense to a machine.

What I'm completely preoccupied by now is who the Hell are these anonymous people handling the content appeals? Is there really someone sitting at a computer screen deciding a pulp cover from the fifties is porn now? What's the guy's name who gets to decide that every photograph ever taken by Tom Bianchi or Robert Mapplethorpe is porn, or are their names on a list of banned artists?  Where are these new censors? Are they in a room somewhere in Silicon Valley or Mumbai, hunting nipples? Is this all they do all day? Do they have other functions? Do Tumblr employees have shifts just nipple reviewing, or do they do this on their lunch-breaks? Are there any women doing this work? Is it a sub-contract? Is the new community standard based on any community actually extant, or is this all just math and red flags? 

That's scary.

Tumblr is not alone in this. Twitter is having a belated identity crisis. Friends of mine have been sent to "Facebook jail" over similar content issues, mostly involving nudity and art. (Naked is bad, even in a drawing.) Hate speech, racism, white supremacy, Nazis, and pseudo-science have all, quite rightly, been in the news as newly problematic -- again -- for all the big platforms. The one thing everybody: movies, TV, social media, seems to agree on? Dick. Dick is bad.

And nipples maybe.

Daily Dose

From Literature Class: Berkley 1980, by Julio Cortazar, translated by Katherine Silver

BECAUSE

"Because there is something we are sensitive to it is profound intuitions, irrational things; we really are, even if our intellect often goes on the defensive and forbids them, denies us access to them."

From Fifth Class, Musicality and Humor in Literature

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Change in My Pocket


At fifty-five, my pockets are weighted like casino cups in the days of nickel-slots.  Did not see that coming.

When I was little, all the men I knew carried change in their pockets.  A man met another man, they'd shake hands, say hello, ask after family, and then stand there, hands in their pockets.  On the street or in the yard, church on Sunday or at an auction, they'd stand, while their wives talked.  They'd watch the kids play, or the dogs, admire a passing car.  They'd smoke, most of them.  Spit.  Might tell a joke.  To my child's notice they would all, sooner or later, shake the change in their pockets.  (Maybe it was a child's eye-level thing.) My father did this, all his life.  As a small child, I did not like that sound when my father made it.  Children are greedy.  I was anyway.  Those coins I could hear but not see, that was money I did not have, money exactly as I understood it at the time: quarters, dimes, nickels, pennies, -- maybe even a Kennedy half-dollar -- and I was not spending what I did not have.  It was maddening to my six year old self, hearing those coins rattle. The treasure should have been mine. There were Pixy Stix and Donald Duck comics somewhere in the world calling my name.

One did not ask men for money at that age, at that time.  Mothers, and grandmothers particularly you could ask. If they had it to give, women gave kids money.  Money came from change-purses that all had the same overlapping clasp, or from a twisted handkerchief that was conjured from some mysterious, powdery corner 'round about a lady's shoulder.  Grandmothers were easy.  Mothers, in public, could be embarrassed or worn down.  But fathers, my father?  Do not ask, in public.  In private, yes, but not before witnesses.

"What for?" or "Just what is it you think you need?" or "Anybody'd think we didn't feed you."

(Lord.  Make Mum ask him.)

The irony was that the men all seemed to me much richer than their wives.  What a weight of money men had in their pockets then! If Scrooge McDuck had had pants, and those pants had had pockets, the sound could not have been more tormenting.

Now it's my jeans, my pockets, my coin, my jangle.

When I was a young fairy, I did not carry change, or a wallet, as my jeans were intentionally tight. Don't ruin "the line," baby. Put the money in my shoe, or an inside pocket of a bomber-jacket -- never anywhere that would distract or detract from what were, all-too-briefly, the clean lines and tight curves of my late teens and early twenties. And come summer? Honey, my cut-offs were sliced so high the pockets had to go altogether. Yeah, boy. Couldn't tell me nothin'. I looked good.

Now I'm fatter at fifty-five than my father was at eighty, and older frankly than I once thought I'd ever live to be. My pockets are full of pennies and keys and general whatnot. How did that happen? I put my hands in my pockets now when it ain't even cold. When I'm " back home", I find myself again in the company of men with too little to say, myself included.  I rattle the change in my pockets.  Irritates me when I do this.  Some six year old version of myself wakes up within me and wants to spend that money on... something. Do they still make Abba Zaba? How much is a root beer barrel? I like that there's money in my billfold now, when there is.  I like the lump of that wallet against my ass when I pull up a chair. Even if it's more punch-cards than Platinum Visas, I like a little weight in that wallet. I've arrived.  But there's no comfort in the coins in my pocket, strangely, only the untapped potential for things I don't need and ought not to have. That hasn't changed, the things I shouldn't want, only grown worse now all my adult-teeth are all in and the money's my own.

In my house we put the loose change in a bowl until it overflows and then, when we remember, that money gets turned into groceries, real ones, not candy -- mostly.

My father put quarters in a water jug.  My mother did too.  The one time it was full, if I'm remembering right, they took a vacation.  Went to listen to country and western music somewhere I think.  It took a long time to fill that big jug.  My parents never got to travel as far or as often as they'd have liked.

Money means something different to people that were born to people without enough of it.  When I was growing up, we never seemed to do without. I learned later that my parents had done, that they did do, for us. (First time I ever met a man who'd never had to worry about money I remember my shock when he didn't put so much as a dollar in a red kettle as we passed as Santa on the street. How did one not do that?  Now I have my reasons, but then I did not understand. "There is always more misery in the lower classes than there is humanity in the higher." -- as Victor Hugo wrote that lesson out.)

Now my father's died, my mother's still finding coins among his things.  Dad had so many things, we've only discovered since he died: new socks he never wore, and coats enough to fill the donation corner at the food bank, broken watches and brass tie-clips he hadn't used in thirty years for the ties he never wore.  Ties by the dozen, come to that. And coins.  My mother found some more and mixed them with the rest before my brother picked them out.  Not quarters it seems but silver dollars.  Might be worth something. Dollar apiece anyway.

When someone dies, there are just so many other things they leave behind besides us.

Boxes and boxes.

I wonder what future generations will make of our boxes of old photographs?  What will they find at the back of closets, behind the shoes and under the hooks for old belts?  In a digital age, will there still be photo-albums somewhere?  Mine are already sticky with age; the "self-adhering" pages meant to save us the trouble of paste now self-adhered into inseparable blocks of yellow plastic.  My father's pictures, along with his mother's and his mother-in-law's, his aunts' and others', we found heaped in boxes and albums with wooden covers and black, paper pages.  There were bunches of tiny flip-books and little square "albums" in yellow cardboard covers that came from the drugstores that developed the film. I didn't know half the people in those pictures. My older brother knows who most of those people were because he's studied the matter.  Now he may be the only one who remembers.

We forget the woman third from the left.  We forget the name of the dog, and where they were when the pictures were taken, who gave us that birthday gift, what became of that hat.

I like particularly the pictures of my father, as a boy, with horses.  He seems happiest in those pictures.  His father blacksmithed, among other things to feed his family in the Depression.  There were always horses and ponies then, besides the coon-dogs and beagles and strays.  Who remembers them now?  My brother knows the names of the horses, anyway, some of the dogs, too. But then my brother's conversation with our father went on longer and ran deeper than mine. Antagonists when we were young, they became friends. My father and I? We learned to like each other well enough. Loved each other dearly, always, but we were never friends, not like that.

There's a moment in the development of a photograph, a moment described somewhere in Sebold's Austerlitz as "the moment when the shadows of reality, so to speak, emerge out of nothing on the exposed paper..."  I remember witnessing that moment in a friend's darkroom.  That was a thrilling thing to see; life rising through the black.  (Hate to think the day may come when no one will see that happen.)  In a humbler example, I remember shaking Polaroids until the pictures came out of the pea-soup green; a Christmas tree seen first by the lights, a face, a dog, my mother, me.  Thrilling and usually a little disappointing. We none of us were much at photography.

I saw the obverse of that magic in those picture boxes; Polaroids faded to a weird and uniform green, photographs gone gray with age, even tintypes scratched and faded to ghosts.  Sobering to think how brief the life of physical memories may be.

The evidence of our past is in us, but that's not the best way to get at it, is it? The older we get, or maybe the busier we are, the more we require clues: a song, biscuit dough under our fingernails, the way hay smells in old bales, jewelry in a box.

I'm sure there must be science somewhere to explain this. (Isn't smell supposed to the surest way to remember? Taste? Clever Monsieur Proust.)

I jingle the coins in my pocket and remember the men I knew as a child.

But then, I didn't know them very well.

The men I knew then didn't play cards. Not that I remember. (Not that I do now, but I have, badly.) My father didn't drink, but he certainly knew men who did. Didn't smoke either, but most of them seemed to then. They all worked. They raced dogs. They lent things and borrowed them; tools and machines and labor. They stood still more than we seem to now.

Thinking about that, the sound of that.

Might be a fair, or a parade, or the end of something, like music or church. Not friends so much together as just men. (Women did this too but that was different then, more to do with a sense of occasion and work, since women did everything that made nearly anything happen that did, from meals to God and politics, though weirdly men seemed to imagine themselves very much in charge. Community, event, family, women made all that.) One man would be stood there and then another and another until they were men, of no particular purpose, watching, talking or not, looking at nothing in particular but not much at each other. Weather. The day. The price of gasoline. Then not a damned thing. They'd rattle their keys, jingle the change in their pockets, take off a hat and wipe the sweat from their heads with a handkerchief. (They blew their noses without, by the way, a trick I never mastered.) Someone might clear his throat, but not as a prelude to speech, spit. (Funny how the habit of that seems to survive in males today who never inhaled coal-smoke or asbestos, or took a pinch of snuff in their lives. Why do they still spit so much?)

They would none of them appreciate having that scene described as a meditation But I think now it might as well have been. Prayer was for funerals, preachers, and foxholes. The men I knew then didn't practice. They'd bow their heads, but only when told to. No. The change in their pockets was as close as they came, most of them, to telling beads. To praise a day they would stand still and look at it.

They didn't carry guns, by the way, not then, unless to trade them, or hunt, or to march in a parade. No one in their right mind ever brought a pistol to a picnic or carried a riffle into the grocery store. That kind of masculine and political insecurity is new, obscene, and no more American than public nudity or Molotov cocktails.

But then I never knew what most of those men thought when they were stood there. Fundamentally those men were a mystery to me as a child and would probably be still if any of them still stood. Who knows what dark and dire things they might have believed in? May be why I prefer to remember their silence.

There's an obvious lesson in that silence too, one I still need to learn.

My silence is maybe not so good as theirs, not so full, or knowing, or angry, or empty. Not better than theirs, surely, but different in kind. Mine is more indoors than out, lamp-lit rather than gloaming. Mine tends to be over books and alone. I like it fine, mostly.

Now and again I do find myself standing, in company and out, with my hands in my pockets. Spring can be cold in Seattle. Change in my pocket I did not remember or anticipate, but there it is.

Wish I'd learned how to spit.






Daily Dose

From  Two Cities: On Exile, History, and the Imagination, by Adam Zagajewski, translated by Lillian Vallee

TRANSPORTED

"I spent a lot of time gazing into bookstore windows. I remember that once I stood before the window of a former Gebethner bookstore (I didn't know what the name was at the time), where books and records were on display. A couple from the provinces, an old man with the face of a squire and his wife, stopped next to me. The squire pointed to a record with Brahms' Fourth Symphony. That is very difficult music, he said to his wife.
I was transported into raptures: I was not alone in my wanderings."

From Cracow

Friday, April 12, 2019

A Caricature


Daily Dose

From Pieces of Soap: Essays, by Stanley Elkin

YOU ARE

"You're this middle-aged failure with this middle-aged spirit, this balding, potbelly heart. Its pants turn down over its belt. Things have gone haywire."

From My Middle Age

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Shakespeare Recast: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act IV, Scene 1


Daily Dose

From Her Body and Other Parties: Stories, by Carmen Maria Machado

A CAVALCADE

"I ordered a cavalcade of oysters. Most of them had been cut the way they were suppsed to be, and they slipped down as easily as water, like the ocean, like nothing at all, but one fought me: anchored to its shell, a stubborn hinge of flesh."

From Eight Bites

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Shakespeare Recast: Timon of Athens, Act IV, Scene 1


Daily Dose


From The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, edited by Robert Bridges

TO WHAT SERVES MORTAL BEAUTY?

To what serves mortal beauty ' —dangerous; does set danc- 
ing blood—the O-seal-that-so ' feature, flung prouder form 
Than Purcell tune lets tread to? ' See: it does this: keeps warm 
Men’s wits to the things that are; ' what good means—where a glance
Master more may than gaze, ' gaze out of countenance.
Those lovely lads once, wet-fresh ' windfalls of war’s storm, 
How then should Gregory, a father, ' have gleanèd else from swarm-
ed Rome? But God to a nation ' dealt that day’s dear chance. 
To man, that needs would worship ' block or barren stone, 
Our law says: Love what are ' love’s worthiest, were all known;
World’s loveliest—men’s selves. Self ' flashes off frame and face. 
What do then? how meet beauty? ' Merely meet it; own, 
Home at heart, heaven’s sweet gift; ' then leave, let that alone. 
Yea, wish that though, wish all, ' God’s better beauty, grace. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

A Caricature


Daily Dose


From Essays on Nature and Culture, by Hamilton Wright Mabie

THE HAND

"The hand that holds a tool is part of an organism which constantly affects it and upon which it as constantly reacts. As that hand is held to its task, the eye, the will, the nature of the man behind it are all involved in its work."

From The Prophecy of Nature

Monday, April 8, 2019

Shakespeare Recast: Hamlet, Act I, Scene 2


Daily Dose

From Tough, Tough Toys for Tough, Tough Boys, by Will Self

NO ONE

"It was Vanessa. She managed to lean right across Bill, tear the keys out of the ignition and throw them out the window of the car and clear over the parapet of the Westway, as the Volvo was ploughing along it at seventy. When they came to a halt, Vanessa threw herself out as well. No one likes to be made a fool of."

From Design Faults in the Volvo 760 Turbo: A Manual, 3. Starting and Driving

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Shakespeare Recast: Henry IV, Part II, Act III, Scene 2


Daily Dose

From Elective Affinities, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, translated by R. J. Hollingdale

PLEASANT

"It is so pleasant a sensation to occupy yourself with something you can only half do that you should never reproach the dilettante if he engages in an art he will never learn or blame the artist if he feels inclined to go beyond the boundaries of his art into a neighborouring field."

From Chapter 3

Saturday, April 6, 2019

A Caricature


Daily Dose


From Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris

NOTHING

"It had nothing to do with France itself, with wearing hats or writing tortured letters from a sidewalk cafe. I didn't care where Hemingway drank or Alice B. Toklas had he mustache trimmed. What I found appealing in life abroad was the inevitable sense of helplessness it would inspire."

From See You Again Yesterday

Friday, April 5, 2019

A Caricature


Daily Dose


From Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity, by Carlo Rovelli

EINSTEIN

"In 1953, a primary schoolchild writes to Albert Einstein: 'Our class is studying the universe. I am interested in space, I would like to thank you for all you have done so that we might understand it.'
I feel the same way."

From Chapter 3, Albert

Thursday, April 4, 2019

A Caricature


Daily Dose

From Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

IT WAS

"It was now the turn also for eyes and skin."

From Chapter 11

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

A Caricature


Daily Dose


From A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess

HE WAS

"He was also very boastful and started to make a very sneery litso at us all and a loud proud goloss. He made out that he was the real horrorshow prestoopnick in the whole zoo, going on that he'd done this and done the other and killed ten rozzes with one crack of his rooker and all that cal. But nobody was very impressed, O my brothers."

From Chapter 2

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

A Caricature


Daily Dose


From Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte

THE FELLOW

"The fellow is as handsome a rustic as need be seen."

From Chapter 31

Monday, April 1, 2019

A Caricature


Daily Dose

From On Mysticism, by Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Maria Kodama

METHODICAL

"Methodical composition distracts me from the present condition of humanity."

From The Library of Babel

Sunday, March 31, 2019

A Caricature


Daily Dose


From Amelia, by Henry Fielding

TEA-TABLE

"But as the tea-table conversation, though extremely delightful to those who are engaged in it, may probably appear somewhat dull to the reader, we will here put an end to the chapter."

From Book IX, Chapter 3

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Pieces.


When something breaks we gather the pieces.

We listened to different music usually, and he didn't dance. He said he didn't dance. With me he didn't but once, sort of, that I can remember.  We were both a little drunk after dinner. There was music. "Dance with me!" "No." I was not getting him off that couch. He just wanted to eat his pie in peace. So I danced around him and tugged on his hand. He let me, but that was it. He could be an immovable object when he wanted, a rock. I tugged. He scowled. The song ended. "There," he said, "we danced," and then he laughed, "done."

I opened the cupboard to take out a plate. When I did, an old fashioned glass juicer -- the kind with a bowl with a lip and peaked twist in the middle -- fell out and broke. Had that thing forever. Still used it. I picked up a big piece and held it in my hand.  Not a metaphor yet, just a shock. It was heavy, surprisingly so. I looked at the broken piece and I cried. That was a few days ago, just after my friend died. I cried a long time. And then I picked up all the bigger pieces and swept up the shards from the counter and floor and threw them away.

We'd make breakfast on my days off. He'd make his coffee and we'd kibitz while I cooked bacon and eggs. It was a pleasure to watch the way he read a newspaper; just as they were meant to be read, as people used to read the paper; front to back, section by section, even the funny papers. He loved the funny papers. He loved his LA Times, but he would read any newspaper, subscription or free, and from anywhere. And he knew what he was reading because he read them every day, every day, as long as I'd known him. I'd ask him questions about what he'd read and he would explain it to me. More often than not he knew more about the place I lived than I did. He knew whereof he spoke.


Live long enough, things break. People we love may leave us. Little tragedies and large. They happen again and again, and yet it's a shock every time. Never gets to be easier, never routine, just happens and we go on. We lose a grandparent and that is hard, but no one expects it to be otherwise. We lose a parent and that is harder still. We lose a lover, husband, a wife, a partner, a child. Some loses are too hard to think about until they are our own. Unimaginable. All we can do when they aren't ours, is our part.

We went to bookstores together in at least three states. We took road-trips to go to bookstores. As soon as we got to the bookstore, we would go our separate ways. Each of us had his own list. We would check in with each other when we passed in an aisle. He always had a stack, so did I. "Finding anything?" "Not really. You?' Then we would laugh. Sooner or later we would stop shopping long enough to eat.

We try to say and do the things required of us. We try to do the right thing, as best we can. We know what that is or we ask. Find a way. People do these things differently sometimes; not the way we were raised, or not the way we would do now. Doesn't matter. There is always a way. We do what we can. We extend our sympathies. It's a good verb, expansive. So we reach out to those who's loss may be greater than our own. We comfort who we can. We help as best we can. If we can get there, we go. Family by all definitions gathers in and mourns, they laugh and tell stories, those that do, drink, eat if that's right, prayer if that is the custom.

We ducked out of a memorial service once. The service was held at the bookstore where he sometimes volunteered. I had a cigarette in the alley, he came with. A writer I admired and who he knew slightly had died. He said, "Had to get away from 'posterity' for a minute."

The death of a friend is different in kind. It falls in a place less familiar, not familial, where custom can't help in the usual way. The death of a friend makes a space the size of the friendship we lose, and that isn't always so easy to define. And in the absence of definition, how do we ever see the other side? What do we put where our friend was? What can we do from where we are if where we are is not near?

Once, we got stuck in a construction delay on our way to the theater. A man in one of those huge pick-up trucks just ahead of us lost his mind. We watched him gesticulate wildly, honk, and silently curse. (It was winter, our windows were up.) He was a caveman. We giggled like schoolgirls. We forgot our own frustration in our delight with watching his. "Jomo" was born that night. We met him many times thereafter. We called the frustrated driver in his big truck, "Jomo," as in "Jomo want to go NOW!" and "Jomo need to turn here!" Stupid construction delay. "Jomo mad." "Jomo smash stupid cars." "Jomo need woman."

It takes awhile to even frame such a death as a loss for ourselves in addition to the irreparable loss that has happened to a friend's mother, or partner. What is our loss to theirs? One doesn't want to claim too much, intrude, to talk out of turn.

All we can do is tell our part.

This is mine.

My friend died. His name was Charles Barragan.

We met thirty-three years ago working in a video store in Colma, California. The store was called Captain Video and we did rentals. I believe Chuck did the books. I don't remember when we became friends, but then I can't remember now when we weren't. He was a serious, sardonic little man with a chest like operatic baritone and SO much glorious black mullet then. In those days he wore suspenders with jeans, muscle-shirts, and aviator sunglasses. It was the eighties. He was cool. I never was, but, I amused him. We stayed friends even after he left the video store. He was the one who told me to apply for the bookstore job I would have for a dozen years after.

We went to matinees at the discount movie houses. Saw a lot of animated movies together. Often we were the only adults unaccompanied by a child. We faced it out. When there was more than one animated movie out at a time, we sometimes did marathons, moving from one cartoon to the next. Once we saw three in one day. By the time we came out of our third, we noticed the concessions crew and the ticket-taker were eyeing us more suspiciously than usual. "Pretty sure we just got put on a list." "But we don't even like children." "True."

I met his Tede. He met my Allen. We were two interracial male couples in San Francisco in the eighties. We were all kinds of hot. We all became friends, though I don't think Tede ever entirely approved of us. We were Chuck's friends. Tede was a radical, a drag legend, an activist, a figure of historical significance, and a substantial personality. We were a bit bourgeois. We ate pork and used salted butter and voted a straight Democratic ticket. Chuck loved that about us I think.

Allen made fried pies. Basically these are pie crust with applesauce in the middle, sealed like a calzone and fried in butter. Served them with vanilla ice-cream. Allen made him try one. It was good. He ate half of it. "I can't believe you can make something too heavy for a Mexican to eat," he said.

I loved that Chuck was curious, omnivorous, sexy, sly, engaged. He did things. He met people. He was a traveler, an explorer. He was a huge consumer of news, of books, of information. He followed politics. He studied history, and the law, and spirituality. He knew people. He was engaged with the world. Tede taught him, gave him some of that, I assume, but it had to have been in him. He was, and would always be braver than me. He made me braver -- at least a little bit.

At a party once when Tede was still alive he and I stood and watched while Chuck flirted with an elderly lesbian couple; Birkenstocks, a knee-brace, dress-vests, severe looking women, Tede's friends. "See that?" Tede said, "Works on everybody."

It did.

Thanksgiving started as a pot-lock back then, though Allen did nearly all of the cooking from the beginning. Once, there were a dozen men, orphans from other family, friends. Thirty years? That's probably right. Year before last, our only other regular, Roger, died. This past year it was just Chuck and us. (When it came to turkey, he was a leg man, which was unlike him.) 

When Tede died, Allen and I were out of town. It was before cellphones and Chuck couldn't reach us when he needed us. Took a long time for him to quite forgive our absence. Understandable. Unimaginable. Chuck had a dream after in which Tede came to him and they were reunited. In the dream, I showed up with something like a washing machine in tow. In the dream I told him that this was a reality meter and that Tede was dead. When I said this, Tede disappeared. I wasn't always a good friend.

Once when Tede was in Nicaragua with the Sandinistas, the FBI came to the door of their apartment in San Francisco. The FBI. In Suits. In the Mission. They told Charles he needed to talk to them. "No," he said, "I don't." and he closed the door.

Chuck loved Allen's homemade rolls and made everything into a sandwich. Didn't like gravy. Would eat greens eventually, though grudgingly. Loved the macaroni and cheese. Sweet potato pie -- he was a convert on that as well.

He worked most of his life for non-profits, and for awhile, in the university system. He was good at his work. Human resources. He told me, "A non-profit is where your Christmas bonus is opera tickets someone gave your boss -- for Wagner."

Every year he stayed with us for a couple of weeks at Thanksgiving. Wherever we were, wherever me moved, he came. We went to movies and plays and bookstores. We went to expensive restaurants and to taquerias. He was never tight about food and wine and art. Allen would take him to the least likely action films and he would go. He ate popcorn like a wood-chipper. He bought tickets for early music Christmas concerts and I went and we enjoyed it. He would try anything, except dancing. He didn't dance. Not with me.

We had long conversations about self-sufficiency and survival and how hard he had worked to make his life his own, something he could be proud of, often without support or the approval of family. He didn't expect to find anything like what he'd had with Tede ever again. Wasn't sure he needed that kind of love, that loss, pain.

Then he fell in love again, hard.

He read book reviews and then bought and read the books. Who does that? He read books I never heard of, from authors I never heard of and he read them straight through. I finally read graphic novels because he did. He read novels and philosophy and politics. He was content to sit and read in our living room so long as there was a fire in the fireplace and a glass of wine. He was the perfect houseguest; fun but undemanding. He could feed himself. Go out for the evening on his own when I was tired after work. Allen adored him and he adored Allen. 

He was a good liberal democrat all his life. His childhood hero was Robert Kennedy. He was a feminist and did not like camp. Despite, or perhaps because of his liberality and the catholic nature of his tastes, he hated stereotypes and crude language. We would torture him by talking filth, Allen in particular. Charles would howl and leave the room. I would call him, "the Empress Carlotta " and mock his delicacy and chase him into the guest room, supposedly hot with passion for his exquisite purity. He would smack me away like an insect shouting, "Close the door after you! Out!"

He loved Star Trek. He was kind of a nerd about it. When I asked him why, he told me. Imagine a future where decency and cooperation are the standard for the whole universe. That meant something to him when he was a kid. He still believed in that future when he died. He was a good man.

"She's the most amazing person I've ever met," he told me. 

When he started to describe Maureen to me, he was at a loss for words, for once. He was smitten, though the stubborn ass would not admit this for some time, at least to me. I knew he was in love. He was. They were a couple for twenty two years.

When we finally met the woman, we knew she was a vegetarian. Hard, in our house. When they came to see us, I bought and stuffed huge Portobello mushrooms. "She doesn't like mushrooms," he told me after I'd started preparing them. "Didn't I say?" "No, you did not." Men. Damn.

They traveled together all over the world. They ate amazing meals in amazing places and they drank great wine at great vineyards. She made him a better person; more demonstrative, easier in himself, less angry. He loved her family and they loved him. His mother loved Maureen. 

They were so good together, Charles and Maureen, so good to each other. He was always Charles, she was often Mo. Not sure how many of us still called him "Chuck." She brought him out into the world. She's beautiful, and funny, and a grown woman. I don't know that he ever respected anyone more. I know he never loved anyone so much, or was so loved in return. He was taken care of. Best thing that ever happened to him, our Maureen.

We love her.

Last Thanksgiving, which we could not know would be our last Thanksgiving together, he didn't feel well. We all assumed this was over-indulgence. He was our health-conscious friend. He went to the gym. He didn't normally eat the way we eat at Thanksgiving. Who does? We went to Funko Headquarters. We went to a bookstore we had trouble finding. He was still abashed about trying to kill us all the year before by not opening the flue on the fireplace and then reading on the couch while the whole house filled with smoke. We had a good time.

He was a rock. He was the executor of our wills. When Allen and I could finally get married, he stood up for us. He was our witness.  

Let me be his.

Months after he got home to San Francisco and Maureen he was finally diagnosed with Systematic Light Chain Amyloidosis. We'd never heard of it either. He went into treatment. There was a plan. We were planning a trip down to SF to see him. And then he stopped breathing. Days later, he died. Maureen was there throughout. She was his rock. Twenty-five days from his diagnosis he went.

What is the space left when a friend dies? What was it to have such a friend?

He was my friend for thirty three-years.  He was my friend, our Chuck, Charles. He was our brother.

He was a good man. He was a good friend. 

He hated gush. Didn't much cuddle as a rule. He was good at sitting with us, reading next to me. He was my rock.

Oh, my friend.

Kisses, Carlotta. Don't be mad at me. 

I will always love you.

He was my friend.




Daily Dose

From The Collected Poems, by Stanley Kunitz

IS IT TOO LATE

"My dear, is it too late for peace, too late
For men to gather at the wells to drink
The sweet water; too late for fellowship
and laughter at the forge; too late for us
To say, 'Let us be good to one another'?"


From the poem,  Night Letter

Friday, March 29, 2019

A Caricature


Daily Dose


From Collected Poems, Prose, and Plays, by Robert Frost

ACCEPTANCE

When the spent sun throws up its rays on cloud
And goes down burning into the gulf below,
No voice in nature is heard to cry aloud
At what has happened. Birds, at least must know
It is the change to darkness in the sky.
Murmuring something quiet in her breast,
One bird begins to close a faded eye;
Or overtaken too far from his nest,
Hurrying low above the grove, some waif
Swoops just in time to his remembered tree.
At most he thinks or twitters softly, 'Safe!
Now let the night be dark for all of me.
Let the night bee too dark for me to see
Into the future. Let what will be, be.' 

Thursday, March 28, 2019

A Caricature


Daily Dose

From All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque

THE DAYS

"The days go by and the incredible hours follow one another as a matter of course."

From Chapter 6