Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Your Man For Fun In Rapidan: An Index



Every entry from Your Man For Fun In Rapidan, 12/28/09-6/25/14: An index of links:

Alchemy. Angels, guild of. Animal Collective, as source of tension in therapist's office. Animals, speaking. Aristotle, extracts from History of Animals. Anthology of American Folk Music, discovery of. Apes, as aviatorsAssociative disorder, a case study. Automobiles, usedBananas, the airbrushing of. Barber, Samuel, Adagio for StringsBarbers, in Livingston, Montana. Beard, inhabited by fairies. Belief, a personal inventoryBergen, Jergen King. Birds, bleak; mysterious locutions of; prehistoric; speaking Farsi; history of talking. Bobagorus, from The Dialogues ofBond, James; only a girl. Bones, waltzing. Books, black; fifty favoriteBoon, D. Bridges, burningBubbles, as meteorological event. Burger King, and human trafficking. Butterflies, the shooting of. Cannibalism, on trial. Carnap, Big Leonard. Carp, hour of the.  Catcher in the Rye, an allusion toCattle, drowning. Cheese, craving. Chickens, hit. Children, three in Texas. Conductors of the Moving World, a mathematical breakdown. Contentment, the slow dazzle of. Country and Western, fifty greatest songs. Dead people, the singing of. Death, before birth. Desire, claimingDevotion, unhappy. DiGrippa, Silvio; Agents of Contagion. Dog, blind; private remarks to. Dogs, on payphones. Dream Motel, official lodging for convention of thwarted dreamers. Dreams, broken. Dying, the; what they do. Elephant, man who married a. Eminem, overheard. End Times, surrender of the Almighty; possible reconsideration. Exploration, an incident from the history of. Eyeglasses, confusion regarding. Ferry, Bryan. Fire, breathing ofbuildings consumed by. Fireflies, falling in love with swallows. Fletcher, Galen. Forever in Bluejeans, gravestone inscription. Fortune cookies, empty. Free, there ain't no. Garden, abandoned. Gettin' Jiggy Wit It, a soundtrack to one summer. Goats, talking. God, as cinematographer; birth of. Golf, miniatureGrasshoppers, in dollhouse. Gratitude, an expression of. Great Maybe Whatever, a plea to. Hamburgers, the business of. Harpo, Slim. Harps, a sanctuary of. Heart, at rest and in motion; pea-picking. Heaven, garbage disposal in; the suburbs of. Help, a cry for. Henley, Don. High jumping, the eroticism of. Highlights magazine. History of Human Futility, museum. History, smothered byHorns, French. Horses, blind; flying. House of Coates, self-promotion surrounding the release of. Hypnagogia, a brief personal history. Imagination, stretching of. Insomnia, a possible cause. Islands, in the North SeaJar, voice in aJazz, groupiesJigsaw puzzle, unfinishedJonah, the rational challenges of.  Keegen Bash, the; a reminiscence. Kitchens, an exercise in forensics. Ladder, as clumsy metaphorLandfill, at the bottom of the day. Lawn statuary. Librarian, disappointed in love. Life, dearLightning, heat. Lions, a choir of. Loneliness, and disgustLoveliness, the difficulty of. Magi, in Soho. Magic Eight Ball, desire for the 'Yes' answer. Make believe, an inquisition regarding. Malls, as factors in depressive episodes. Manistique, anecdotal material regarding. Meat, as community; pining. Memories, pleasant. Mermaid, in a bathtub. Mermaids, obese. Messengers, epiphanicMichigan, Lathrop; in photography. Milkman, dysfunctional. Mind, state of. Minnesota, nice. Monastery, bells. Monk, burningMonks, singing. Morrison, Lester B. Motion sickness, terminal. Mountains, the loneliness of. Munch, Beauteous. Murray's Suave Outlet, pioneering blog. Museum, of soundNabokov, Vladimir. National Poetry Month. Never (never, never). News, localNightmares, an inventory ofas supreme entertainmentsNoise, joyful. Osteoporosis, moral. Otherness. Paradise, a bestiary. Paranoia, religious. Pessoa, Fernando. Pandora, her unfortunate marriage. Philosophy, the consolations of. Photography, an education. Photomart. Pianos, and colonialismPoetry, about birds. Presley, Elvis; in his underwear. Professionals, so-calledPuppetry, sound advice regarding. Puppets, and homicideRabbits, blind, discussing photography. Radio Shack, a love story. Regrets, International Repository of. Relay, of words. Ribs, broken by reading. Rio de Ratones Poetry Society, imports dying castrato. River, woman who was turned into a; Sad Museum, the unspeakable nature of. Saint Nicholas of Myra, pageant of. Salamanders, on the moon. Satan, and the Sacred Bone. Schlegel, Ustave; and the giantess. Schopenhauer, argues with Spinoza about dogs. Science, mysteries of. Scrub pads, in bulk. September Song, part one; part twoShadows, and monsters. Sheep, shivering. Sherman, William Tecumseh; "March to the Sea." Show business, obscurity. Sky, as the limit. Slave, orphans. Snack crackers, bewildering slogans of. Sno-Caps, an appreciative memory. Soup, the god of. Springsteen, Bruce. Squirrels, phantom. Stuttering, and general ostracism. Sushi, truck stop. Table tennis, the Mongoose vs. The Cobra. Talk radio, and the dissolution of a marriage. Tchaikovsky, a remembrance of. Teenagers, moonstruck. Terkel, Studs. Thinking, wishful. Tim Horton's. Time, as snaggle-toothed bastard; rewinding ofTony Orlando, and Dawn. Trees, as unmanageable. Uncle, crying of. Unilever, manufacturer of the Q-TipUpstate, New YorkUrination, public. Wedding party, contemplated by an unmarried woman. Wendell, prized dog. Whiskers, brief history of. Whither, also Wither. Williamson, Sonny Boy. Winter Olympics, Vancouver, 2010. Wishes, simple. Words, uselessness ofWordsworth, William. World, of wonders. Zellar, Dean Wilson

Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Strings of Bertie















From the moment she was finished, shoved in a box, and buried under a shower of styrofoam peanuts, Bertie Rathbun understood that through some accident of God she had been given a soul. As she had been dangled in the air at the inspection station, and as her strings were jerked each in turn, jiggling Bertie’s head, hands, arms, legs, and feet against her will, she had caught a glimpse of herself reflected in the eyeglasses of the woman who would initial the packing slip signaling her completion.

Bertie was alarmed not only by what she had seen reflected in the woman’s glasses, but also by the fact that she could see anything at all.

Something had happened, and though she was not quite sure what had happened, Bertie thought that whatever it was had occurred earlier in the afternoon when one of the detailers in finishing –a small, stooped, and melancholy Japanese man who was nearing retirement– had bent over her, puffed his warm breath three times directly into her face, and then buffed her painted features with a soft rag.

The little man had then held Bertie Rathbun before him in his outstretched arms, and with an expression of great sadness on his face addressed her in a quiet voice. What the man said to Bertie, before he carried her into the next room and hung her on a metal rack alongside dozens of other puppets, was this: “Such a pity, little one.”

And in that man’s warm breath, and in his strange, inscrutable statement –somewhere in that series of moments– Bertie’s soul had entered her body.

Perhaps, even, it was not Bertie Rathbun’s soul at all, but the soul of the old man, or a seed from his soul that he planted in her empty chest or head. Bertie didn’t know a thing about souls; she didn’t even know anything about knowing, but it would later occur to her that somehow she’d been given that old man’s broad ignorance and disappointments, his longings and desires and badly faded dreams, dreams that would appear to Bertie as dim and fleeting images on an almost translucent screen.

No sooner was Bertie Rathbun folded up in the darkness of her box and she began to feel the first fierce stirrings of resentment at her fate. She hated the very idea that she was a puppet; even worse was the realization that she was being sent out into the world as the most hopeless and hackneyed of all-purpose metaphors.

Bertie also recalled with horror that glimpse of her own reflection: she had absolutely no idea what sort of puppet she was supposed to be. Was she a mouse? A little boy bear? A kitten? Perhaps, even, a wingless bat?

Like all puppets that have been cursed with consciousness from time immemorial, Bertie Rathbun dreamed of autonomy, of free will, of a life unfettered by her cursed strings and her dependence on the hands and whims and attention spans of complete strangers. Bertie wanted to play the bongo drums and dance of her own volition and, regardless of what sort of creature she was supposed to be, she wanted to live in a hole in a river bank, ride about in boats, and sleep in a luxurious four-poster bed.

All of these thoughts went through Bertie Rathbun’s head during the many days she spent smothered in the darkness of her box and being jostled about and then, eventually, dangled and jerked around in a store full of other bright and noisy toys.

A fat and smiling woman finally purchased Bertie Rathbun one day and took her home and hung her from a fireplace mantle alongside a glowering nun and a stern gladiator, both of which were clearly as devoid of feeling and soul as the leering nutcracker displayed on the ledge above them.

The next morning a little boy came down the stairs and squealed with delight when he saw the puppets hanging above the fireplace. Bertie watched as the boy first took down the gladiator and swung him around the room gracelessly, tangling his strings and then letting him drop in a heap to the floor. She saw the boy crouch to remove the giant sword from the gladiator’s fist, and Bertie felt a spasm of hope and excitement jigging in her chest.

With her eyes Bertie Rathbun tried to implore the boy to cut her strings and set her free. And then she watched with horror as the little boy took the gladiator’s sword and, rather than cutting Bertie’s strings, plunged it directly into, and through, the neck of the nun.

The nun did not make a sound or shed a single tear, but slowly at first, and then in a bright torrent, blood began to stream from the wound in her neck and started to drip, drip, drip down to the fireplace hearth, entirely unnoticed by the little boy, who had moved on to play with the other toys that were splayed beneath the Christmas tree.

And at that moment Bertie Rathbun watched as the translucent screen on which the old man’s dim dreams were displayed in her head went entirely blank, and she felt her soul leave her body.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Any Old Business? Ere Mine Errs Wer E'en O'er...



Good lord, it seems another month is now stretching before me like the long mirage scene in Lawrence of Arabia, a scene I recently spent some time fantasizing about recreating in the windy sand dunes of the Florida Panhandle, with my dog playing the Omar Sharif role. It turned out, however, that try as I might I could not get my trusty dog to move slowly enough. I could not get him to trudge. He is a Chilean Dasher, a very rare specimen, a representative of one of only two dog breeds ever to appear on the endangered species list, and such beasts are simply not built for plodding.

I can trudge and plod enough for both of us, though. That's something I try to remind him of on a daily basis, perhaps as a way of trying to get him to slow down.

Another National Poetry Month, as you may or may not know (or care), has recently come and gone, and though I tried to spend some time each evening properly observing the holiday in my own fashion, I should confess that the last poem I read before the month's expiration left a very bad taste in my mouth. I will not name the poet (he is, so far as I can tell, nothing if not insignificant), but I cannot get these lines from one of his poems --which pretty much exemplify everything I hate about so much poetry-- out of my head: "the sun dies once more in the west/the blush and bruise of vanquished light/ creeps slowly across the/troubled American is/children are anesthetized by television before sleep/in the gloaming along the river/the great heron kneels."

That sort of thing isn't deserving of a month, let alone a moment of silence, let alone a moment of silent contemplation. Yet here I am, sharing it with you, for which I beg your pardon. I was going to try to tell you the story of a boy who was turned into a fox by his father for cheating at bridge, but it's a long story I haven't quite worked out in my head. Suffice it to say that in the end the boy --who hated bridge yet was forced to play it each night with his parents-- discovers that he rather enjoys being a fox, and eventually --quite soon, in fact-- recognizes that his father has done him an unintended kindness, which inspires the only actual feeling of affection he will ever feel for his father, the great project of whose life was building a pyramid out of garbage deep in the woods. The garbage, as I imagined it in contemplating the writing of the story, was gathered each day by the mother, who would leave the family's modest cabin each morning at the first light of dawn, outfitted in an orange jumpsuit and toting an armful of burlap bags, and return, exhausted, after darkness had fallen --having traveled great distances and filled as many bags as she could carry with garbage-- just in time to eat an uninspired dinner and play bridge with her husband and son.

There's really no reason now that I'll ever have to tell that story. It's likely no reason ever existed, but I nonetheless have time on my hands and feel compelled to think of something.

Tonight, earlier, I was thinking of some kind of great river metaphor --lame, I know, but I'll generally spend at least a little time mulling whatever comes to me, if anything comes to me at all, and I'm sometimes grateful when something does. Sometimes not so grateful, of course, particularly when I'm feeling all mulled out, which is often.

Anyway, I was thinking of this river, which in my imagination is too big and moves too swiftly, and this size and ferocity combined with the sense I almost always have that the ground is moving beneath my feet, makes it impossible to accurately ascertain what exactly the river is and contains, other than everything. Even so, I like to at least try to discern the constituent parts of things I'm looking at, even imaginary things, and I was --and am-- bothered by my inability to see all the things that are moving --or not moving, either temporarily (because they are stuck), or permanently (also because they are stuck, but in a different way)-- beneath the surface of the river, which I became more and more convinced was everything. Perhaps this business was prompted by the enigmatic phrase uttered to me by a hermit who lived at the edge of a swamp on the Florida Panhandle. In answer to my request for directions to the Apalachicola River he had replied, without a moment of hesitation, "Hell, son, it's all the river."

I should say, regarding part of the above (the phrase "beneath the surface"), that I mean supposing there is a surface and we can agree what it is. Does the notion of a bottom necessitate a surface? Is the surface a starting point, or a sort of platform, the place from which one's fall commences, or commenced?

By this point I'm just going to assume that you have no idea what I'm talking about. Which is fine, but consider this: What is Ike Quebec, whose music is on the stereo as I type, doing right this moment, a moment that has sustained itself and been replaying over and over (if only hypothetically, but, make no mistake, I am hearing a dead man breathing) for fifty years now? What is he doing if not going down a river?

The wonders of recorded sound and all art, all preservation that, in one way or another, moves: You can just keep sending these boats down the river --the same river, yet, in both Heraclitian and literal terms, a different river-- again and again and again. And fifty years from now some poor fool, similarly addled as myself, will still be able to put Ike Quebec's boat in the water and listen to it go. The same fool could also launch any one of the boats from the foxed fleets of, say, Henry James or Henry Adams, William Trevor or William James, and every one of them would still float and still take the fool somewhere else.

And now I'm thinking of all the ghost boats on my shelves, continually going down the river, or waiting to go back down the river. The ghosts don't even have to paddle anymore; long, long ago (or maybe not that long ago) they built their boats out of words and sound, put them in the water, and the river carries them still.

The thing is, I guess, is that I always wanted to build boats that would still be going down that river when I'm gone, even if they spend the rest of forever traveling exclusively under the cover of darkness. Even if they're just docked on some lonely stretch of backwater, a lone lamp burning in the cabin into the wee hours, waiting for one more launch, one more trip back into the dreaming world that is the river.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Like Listening To A House Full Of Music Breathe

I once had a job driving harps to market.

For a thousand miles across the Great Plains the wind blew through the open slats of the truck and the harps jostled in their trusses and keened mercilessly. By the time I pulled into the market stalls in Chicago some of them were still humming, but it was nothing like their highway music.

If I live for another hundred years I won't forget that sound.

There was no demand for harps anymore, and every one of those poor sons of bitches was destined for slaughter or salvage. You might think you've heard some piteous sounds in your life, but you haven't heard anything until you've heard a harp being slaughtered. It seemed like the dying just went on forever. It was like listening to a house full of music burn.

That was a desperate time in my life. I needed the money, but after three trips I couldn't take it anymore. When I'd unloaded my last bunch of harps in Chicago I started talking. I wrote letters to the editors of local papers. I made phone calls. With the help of my daughter I started a Facebook page to call attention to the plight of the doomed harps. A young couple in Aberdeen started a shelter, but in six months they only managed to find homes for three of the harps, two of which showed up almost immediately on eBay and went unsold. One of those was eventually found busted up in a truckstop dumpster near Rapid City.

When the shelter couple lost their lease I agreed to foot the bill for a couple storage units at a place just outside of town, and with the help of a few friends I hauled all the remaining harps out there and packed them in so tight they could barely breathe. There was no light or heat in those units, and it was the dead of winter. The thought of it kept me up nights.

Then, just as spring was finally breaking out in earnest, I got an email from a woman in the western part of the state. She said she had a big family spread and was willing to set aside a parcel of land for a harp sanctuary.

In early May I rented a truck --the same sort of truck I used to drive back and forth to Chicago-- and loaded the harps. On the trip out there I got to hear their old highway music one more time, but I swear it sounded different headed west. Lighter, I think.

The woman had recruited a lively group of volunteers to help us move the harps out into the range. After we got them all situated --there were 61 total-- we walked silently back across all that open space; behind us we could already hear the harps beginning to breathe again.

By the time we got back to the woman's ranch house, dusk was settling. It was a warm night, but a gentle breeze was blowing and the harps had begun to really sing.

We all just stood there in the driveway and listened until there was nothing but the darkness and the music of those harps moving on the wind. Pretty much everyone agreed it was the most beautiful goddamn thing they'd ever heard.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Woman, The River, The Sand

One day a long time ago a sad and beautiful woman was turned into a river. This transformation was intended to be a punishment for perceived insolence to the gods, who felt that the sad and beautiful woman was not sufficiently appreciative of her many gifts.

The woman, however, quickly discovered that she rather enjoyed being a river. It was never boring and all day and all night she was singing and moving and going places. All she had to do was shake her hair and all sorts of interesting things happened. Sometimes --often, actually-- she saw faces and heard voices, and some of these were familiar to her from her days as a sad and beautiful woman. As a river she had the marvelous gift of being in many places at the same time. She traveled again and again, ceaselessly, past the little town where she had grown up and lived her entire life. Nothing there seemed to have changed since she had been turned into a river.

She heard the happy laughter of children, the voices of fishermen, and the women who gathered in the shallows to thrash their laundry on the rocks. Everyone seemed happy. It was possible, she realized, that the people she had once known loved her more as a river than they had as a woman. She herself had never been very happy in that place and had always felt that she was a burden to her old mother, whose own life had been a constant trial since the gods had turned her husband into a serpent for cursing the wind.

Every day the woman who had been turned into a river felt more and more delighted by her existence as moving water. She had never been so free as a human, and often had occasion to wish that she had affronted the gods much earlier than she had. It was liberating to have no bones, and no appetite for anything but grace, transition, and transformation. She did, though, love the rain, and looked forward to the quiet and endlessly fascinating changes that winter brought. Any displeasing trespass she was capable of disgorging with relative ease, but many pleasing things also, of course, found their way into the river, and these things she collected, treasured, puzzled over, and dispensed as gifts and surprises to favored visitors.

At some point, however, the gods recognized that their punishment had been received as a reward, and their response was swift and merciless. Jove ordered the river's desiccation, and the once moving water became an arid trench, and the woman was turned to sand.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Long And Fruitful Life, For Which Operating Instructions Were Unfortunately Never Located

Too much lurching makes a crooked man, and this is for damn sure a world full of crooked men. Is there such a thing as moral osteoporosis? I'd say there should be, because I don't see a whole of people standing upright.

Me? I can hardly stand, period, so understand that I'm not pointing fingers.

Good lord, here's a horn chart from Nigeria (c. 1972) that's straight off a Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass record from my salad days.

Okay, listen, I do have a message: somebody has to discover the worlds this world refuses to discover.

Once upon a time I intended to be one such person, but I've run out of gas and I've been having a hard time breathing and getting out of bed in the afternoon. I am 100 years old today. That is, I'm sure you'll agree, a long time to live, and almost certainly too old to still be buying Hold Steady records. The fact of the matter is that I may not live through this night, and that possibility, repeated over too many nights, will take an old man's thoughts on dim and bittersweet journeys.

How many kindred spirits, I wonder tonight, does a fortunate man encounter in his lifetime? I'm thinking of truly kindred spirits, the sorts of people in whose company one can be both fully himself and fully alive, and at the same time have the unswerving sense that he's being seen and understood with absolute clarity.

I don't have an answer to this question, unfortunately. I'm sure there are those who, owing to the place or circumstances of their upbringing, or just plain misfortune, never bump into a true kindred spirit in their entire lives.

I once imagined a band of kindred spirits, possessed of almost genetically-linked imaginations, instinctively inclined to easy collaboration and boundless curiosity, working together over many years to create an encyclopedia of that collective imagination, complete with elaborate and fictional biographies, histories, maps, bibliographies, discographies, filmographies, photos, and art.

I guess what I was after was a scene, a movement, something that would be assigned a name that would resonate into posterity.

It didn't happen, of course. I met the occasional kindred spirit, but they've been surprisingly rare. Most people just aren't crazy enough, and the world conspires against long term relationships of any sort. People are always pulling up stakes, acquiring new affiliations, growing up and old, and settling in and down. I've long despised the word "bohemian," but in my dotage I do find myself wishing the modern world turned out more people who genuinely fit the job description, as it were. Plenty can master the pose --and that's often all it takes to make one's name as some sort of artist or eccentric-- but the real deal strikes me as a very rare creature indeed.

I never entirely gave up on my encyclopedia --it has, in fact, sprawled off in many unexpected directions-- but I lost a good deal of steam as I aged, and in middle age turned much of my attention to a series of suicide scrapbooks. I now have a half dozen of these things, compiled at ten-year intervals. In many ways I like to believe I was ahead of my time in at least one respect; back in the 1960s I had an acquaintance who was one of these courtroom artists, and I hired her to produce aged portraits of me as I might look at fifty, sixty, and seventy. I can now report to you that many of these renderings, which she did annually over that thirty-year period, turned out of be uncannily accurate.

I've also written and updated countless versions of my own obituary, penned reviews of the dozens of books I never published (or wrote), as well as fond remembrances from a long list of old friends, acquaintances, and the scores of fictional companions who have proved to be my most steadfast collaborators. I've even, on at least a half dozen occasions, mustered the inspiration to compose poems in my own memory.

Paging through these scrapbooks now, on what could very well be the last night of my long and mostly happy life, I see photographs, random notes on scraps of paper, quotes, book and record receipts, old gym and library cards, as well as dozens of other forms of identification that prove I was once a reasonably active member of society; several sets of dog tags that once jangled from the collars of beloved dogs (and dozens upon dozens of photos of those dear creatures), postcards and other mementos from out-of-the-way places I've visited, and various other found scraps and curiosities.

There are a half dozen set lists (compiled at different junctures) of songs to remember me by, or at least songs that were once capable of stirring in me some old happiness or sense of the preciousness of life.

For each scrapbook there is, obviously, a suicide note (in some decades there are dozens), as well as letters to friends and family members, and some attempt to divvy up my possessions, or at least to insure that certain objects of significance to me were placed in loving and properly appreciative homes. With each passing year I have assembled an ever larger (and, frankly, obsessive) photographic inventory of my favorite things, including individual books and records.

In 1990, when I turned 80, I decided that I wished to have my cremains cooked down until they corresponded as closely as possible to my birth weight. I've made it clear that I don't wish to have my ashes merely flung about, but would prefer to have some inspired person incorporate them into some beautiful piece of art.

Traditionally the last dozen pages of each of my suicide scrapbooks have been blank, and black. That was always meant to be symbolic; so much life yet to be lived, and all that. I now wonder, though, if there might not have been a bit of optimistic thinking behind the gesture --it was possible, after all, that there was still more life to come, and more material for future suicide scrapbooks. I'm not sure, however, that optimistic thinking could properly be said to have ever played a role in the assembly of something so portentous as a suicide scrapbook.

The scrapbooks --along with the tottering mess of my encyclopedia-- are here beside my bed right now, and they will perhaps be of some mild interest to some stranger should this, in fact, prove to be my last night as a resident of this beautiful and merciless world, and this the last entry in the last of my suicide scrapbooks.

I will miss a great deal, I'm certain, but pretty much everyone and everything I would miss I've already been missing for far too long.

I have very little in the way of advice to surviving members of my traveling party, other than perhaps this: Carry a tune. Carry it with you until it's capable of making you and those dear to you dance.

I wish I had done this more often.

"Whoever brought me here is going to have to take me home."