Archive for August, 2009

Amazing Grace

August 28, 2009

Ti and Nathan 

  In the middle of one night a little more than twenty-nine years ago, I was minding my own business drinking a weak cup of coffee in the delivery room of a local hospital.  Wife was hyperventilating on a gurney across from me. 

  The space was quite different from that of the two other such facilities in which I’ve found myself and in fact it no longer exists.  The walls were unusually tall and there was a light catching clerestory window near the ceiling.  The approach of a thunderstorm was thus made quite apparent by unnerving pulses of light and shadow well in advance of any associated sound effects. 

  It must have been a fast moving cold front because it came on with disturbing speed and menace.  The pounding of the rain on the window made the panes bow and weep. The lighting became nearly continuous and the thunder grew to a deafening crescendo.  Loose vials and small instruments rattled on the stainless steel countertops.

  Boom boom BOOM.  A bolt apparently hit a nearby transformer which exploded and lit the sky up with an incredible flash of blue.  Lights went out.  Just as the generator kicked in and they flickered back on there was a wail.  Holy dogs.  I stood and pressed my back against the wall and wondered what in the world I’d gotten myself in for.

  “It’s a girl” Doc said.  New force of nature would have been closer to the truth.  She = MC2        

  With that for a start, I shouldn’t have been surprised when a little more than a year ago she emailed us from Melbourne that she was going to Tasmania with some boy. Tasmania!  Who goes to Tasmania?  Isn’t the place full of devils?  Who’s this dude?

  I soon calmed down and realized that she was taking him to see our good friends Dirk and Loretta.  Aha!  During the visit I called and Dirk said “No worries man, he’s a really fine bloke.  You’ll like him.”

  Other daughter visited and sent rave reviews and photos.  Wife and I hip checked each other in front of the computer screen to get a glimpse.  He looked pretty good.  Daughter smiled broadly.

  In the flesh even better.  Man. Firm handshake and confident countenance. Didn’t take long to find that they’d been cut from the same cloth.  Both drawn to land’s end.

  Me very lucky boy.

Ti Nathan Wedding walk on drive


Why try? It’s beautiful!

August 21, 2009

  The film in question, Berlin Alexanderplatz, is an influential work made for German TV in 1980.  Rainer Werner Fassbinder largely followed the novel written by Alfred Doblin in 1929.  It is the difficult story of an attempt to lead an honest life from the midst of robbers, whores, pimps, and killers.

  This short hommage by Laurie Anderson alludes to a Buddhist parable in which, near the end of his life, the sage gathered his disciples close to a pond into which he reached and withdrew a lotus flower.  As he held it up and moved silently among them,  his confused followers made obtuse attempts to relate it to the teachings. 

  Finally the master came to Mahakayapa who, zapped with understanding, smiled broadly and thus was given the white flower.  “What can be said I have said to you”, smiled the Buddha, “and what cannot be said, I have given to Mahakashyapa”.

  Why even try to explain the beauty of a flower?  Such effort impedes appreciation.  Sin.

What Fassbinder film is it?
The one-armed man walks into a flower shop
And says: What flower expresses
Days go by
And theyjust keepgoing by endlessly
Pulling you Into the future
Days go by
Endlessly pulling you
Into the future?
And the florist says: White Lily.

ooooh yaaaa

August 14, 2009


   A while back I said that my favorite movie was The Wizard of Oz.  It’s still a pretty great flic, but the way I now constellate things has been eclipsed by Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  The latter has recently been all over the movie channels due to the untimely death of director John Hughes.

  Ferris opens and closes the film succinctly summarizing his approach to life, as well as the best work of many philosophers that I particularly admire:  “Yep, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  Life moves by pretty fast.  If you don’t stop and look around you might miss it.”

  There is an early allusion to his predecessor Huck Finn.  Ben Stein, as teacher taking roll reads: “Bueller, Bueller, Bueller.”  No response.  Same thing happens in Twain’s book when Huck skips class.  Guess which one said of his ploy: “it’s childish and stupid, but then so is high school”.  Could be either.

  The storyline is also like that of Ulysses (Joyce’s that is) in that while a rich and deep tale, it only spans one day in a life.  There is even a counterpart to Molly Bloom’s famous soliloquy at its end: “…first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes”.

  After following Ferris across Chicago (instead of Dublin) for a day his girlfriend, Sloane Peterson, is amazed and totally taken by his preternatural wisdom, adroit maneuvering, and incredible joie de vivre.  This is a high school comedy though and so at the end, watching him with confidence enter a gauntlet impassable for all but he, she simply offers:  “He is going to marry me”.

  As sort of a coda after the narrative is complete Bueller looks at us and says “You still here?  It’s over.  Go home, go.”  He has committed  day of his life to show us how to take hold of our own.  He figures that those who’ve learned something are on with it and those who haven’t will never get it. 

Only that thing is free which exists by the necessities of its own nature, and is determined in its actions by itself alone.
Happiness is a virtue, not its reward.
Thus shall you think of this fleeting world:
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.
-Diamond Sutra as translated by the Dalai Lama
What, me worry?
– Alfred E. Newman

Thanks Bro!

August 7, 2009

  Few years ago I joined my wife at her artist-in-residency at the Buffalo National River near Jasper, Arkansas.  It is a spectacularly beautiful place.  And much wilder than I’d imagined.

Arkansas B

  Her lodging was an apartment above a remote stable used by the NPS to effect backcountry patrols.  One evening she heard a dog barking outside.  She loves dogs and having finished dinner went onto the balcony*  and threw out a few scraps for her visitor.  The moment she did so a bear rushed from the woods in contest.  It won.  Tough neighborhood.

  Our anniversary fell during our stay and so late that day we had a glass of wine and headed in town for dinner.  On the way I spotted a snake along the road and of course had to stop to investigate.  Didn’t take long to see that it was a rattler.  Timber Rattler.

  I quickly grabbed one of the ski poles we had in the back of the car and ran up to the snake before it could slither off the road into the bushes and away.  It wasn’t big on the idea, but couldn’t mount much of an offense because I kept it from coiling.

  After a short pas de deux, I had it draped over the pole and held it in the air to show off (umpteenth time – one day I’ll impress her…) for my bride.  “Get a little closer, stupid, so I can get a good picture” she said.

Arkansas snake

  While maneuvering about, I thought to myself that it seemed sort of sluggish, that I could probably safely grab it just behind its head and make it bare its fangs for the camera.  Dad taught us the procedure on a bull snake forty years ago and I’ve had lots of practice since, though never with a viper.  Indeed  pet bull snake Beulah was about the size of my new friend.

  Just as I began to choke up on the pole, a conversation I’d had with my MD brother came to mind.  While talking about Dad and snakes, he asked me to guess what the description of a typical snake bite victim might be.  I can’t remember if I guessed it or he told me, but the answer is “drunk white guy”.

  Had that memory not come up I’m sure I would have gone for it.  But not wanting to embarrass myself (also for the umpteenth time) I put it off to the side of the road and soon it disappeared.  We went on to have a fine evening.

  Upon return home I did a little research and found that Timber Rattlesnakes aren’t really all that venomous.  Given another chance I might give it a try.  I am 100% certain that my brother would agree that our father would not have hesitated.   He’d have been 82 today.

*From which was taken the photo above.

**Recent research (WSJ 5/12/09) indicates that those scary snakebite kits – complete with razor blade and suction device – might not be the way to go.  The trauma wrought by the incision does more harm than good and an application of suction by itself is ineffective.  Get bit by a snake just head to the ER ASAP.