Saturday, December 16, 2017

December 16: Mustard Gas and Roses, Christmas To-Dos, Bailey's Cheesecake

When I was somewhat younger, working on my famous Dresden book, I asked an old war buddy named Bernard V. O'Hare if I could come to see him.  He was a district attorney in Pennsylvania.  I was a writer on Cape Cod.  We had been privates in the war, infantry scouts.  We had never expected to make any money after the war, but we were doing quite well.

I had the Bell Telephone Company find him for me.  They are wonderful that way.  I have this disease late at night sometimes, involving alcohol and the telephone.  I get drunk, and I drive my wife away with a breath like mustard gas and roses.  And then, speaking gravely and elegantly into the telephone, I ask the telephone operators to connect me with this friend or that one, from whom I have not heard in years.

I got O'Hare on the line in this way.  He is short and I am tall.  We were Mutt and Jeff in the war.  We were captured together in the war.  I told him who I was on the telephone.  He had no trouble believing it.  He was up.  He was reading.  Everybody else in his house was asleep.

"Listen--" I said, "I'm writing this book about Dresden.  I'd like some help remembering stuff.  I wonder if I could come down and see you, and we could drink and talk and remember."

He was unenthusiastic.  He said he couldn't remember much.  He told me, though, to come ahead.

"I think the climax of the book will be the execution of poor old Edgar Derby," I said.  "The irony is so great.  A whole city gets burned down, and thousands and thousands of people are killed.  And then this one American foot soldier is arrested in the ruins for taking a teapot.  And he's given a regular trial, and then he's shot by a firing squad."

"Um," said O'Hare.

"Don't you think that's really where the climax should come?"

"I don't know anything about it," he said.  "That's your trade, not mine."

Welcome to my Saturday morning.  I didn't sleep well last night, much like Vonnegut.  I didn't get drunk and call old friends.  I think the Internet has sort of made that little habit a bit outdated.  Now, I suppose, Vonnegut would get drunk and find old friends on Facebook.

Me?  I was up and down all night, going to the bathroom, lying down thinking about the papers I still need to grade, Christmas shopping I need to do, the radio program I'm going to be on next Friday evening.  I thought about how to record MP3 files on my computer, because the radio show people want me to send them files with the poems and essays I will be reading.  And I thought about music I need to learn, a poem and Christmas letter I need to write, and Christmas cards I need to mail.

Yes, we all put a lot of undue stress on ourselves this time of year.  I don't know if I'm going to make any Christmas cookies this year.  I'm going to be pretty busy preparing for Christmas dinner at my house.  Turkey and mashed potatoes and all the fixings.  Already ordering a Bailey's cheesecake from a baker friend.  Know what I need to buy and cook.  It's just another thing on my list of Christmas to-dos.

I think I will feel less stressed when all of my grading is done.  That's sort of hanging over me like blizzard clouds over the Rockies.  Once I get past that, I should be in pretty good shape.  Except for the MP3 computer thing.  I don't know how I'm going to do that.   That is really bothering me, as well.

Of course, everybody is in the same boat around this time of the year.  So much to do, and the days keep marching on toward December 25.  Soon, I will have reached the it's-too-late-to-get-that-done phase of Christmas.  That's where you throw up your hands and sort of give up.  Not quite there yet.

So, join Saint Marty in my sleepless nights and work-filled days.

After all, isn't that what Christmas is all about?

December 16: Alone Time, Alice Fulton, "Where Are the Stars Pristine"

Yes, it's creeping closer and closer to the holy night and day of church and presents and family and food.  I am trying not to get caught up in the normal Christmas crush, trying to enjoy some quiet moments.  It's not really working for me at the moment.

I will eventually find that space in my mind.  Not today.

Saint Marty is thankful today for a few minutes of quiet, alone time.  In the bathroom.

Where Are the Stars Pristine

by:  Alice Fulton

Everyone's spending Christmas Eve adrift
in the corporal skirmish, mixing
up the darks with the lights, fending
with elbows and dirty
looks. Wet wool and down
crowd the air. Where are the stars, pristine
as great ideas? Behind clouds
the heavens saturate
with luminous dust, shuttles wearing halos
of earthdirt, light pollution
from jets fired to keep things
on course. Boys rickrack a ball off
floor and ceiling past the table
tree bubbling with giveaway
ornaments from Burger King and lights
that manage an occasional
lackadaisical flash. Showstoppers: everyone

looks every time and keeps looking
to make sure it happened.
The double frontloaders are going
like abstract TVs. And the program is important:
all about the boggling sullied
lives we'd like to hide.
But this is no place
to do so, where known
and unknown perverts come
to pirate underpants and the innocent
clutch their Cheer and Shout.
The rules are posted: only the toughest
habiliments, the superego
of raiment can take such agitation.
And only the poor are invited to endure
the sneezy powders and clean resentment.

Imagine a museum installation—
200 hypnotic washers stuffed with somersaulting
cloth. Critics could rise to the challenge,
their statements settling like coats
of gold and silver
chain mail over each machine:
"These Speed Queen pieces thrust ahead of art-
for-art's sake to confront us
with a realism of socio-political
magnitude. The vortex-like movement
of pattern, color, and texture infuses
these works with an abundance of unconscious
bliss. The soft forms
circulate with vigor
across the screens. The viewer
is not privy
to the cause of dirt
though one is witness to the dirt's
ablutions. The point is
we are not impeccable."

Everyone would be happy
to know that! And so we're forced to
scoop and pour
a fine white empathy over
the hairy flannels, snaggy nylons,
the glass front that gives
forth this light
industry, the silly tree
and jingles about blue and white
Christmases, chestnuts, sleighbells,
just as snow settles
on every unsequestered thing:

from blistered gum -
ball machines, clumsy bumpers,
crepuscular theaters with sticky floors,
to ramshackle mansions
choked with smiling
china animals where light shakes itself out
from TVs and old women
frail as walking sticks
sweep their stoops at eight a.m.
Just as snow makes the less than impeccable
classical, stroking the merely
drab or passing, quickly or slowly,
so we can count only on its
leaving, teaching
to what seems solid.

Friday, December 15, 2017

December 15: Anti-Glacier Book, My Daughter, Teenage Boys

I like that very much:  "If the accident will."

I would hate to tell you what this lousy little book cost me in money and anxiety and time.  When I got home from the Second World War twenty-three years ago, I thought it would be easy for me to write about the destruction of Dresden, since all I would have to do would be to report what I had seen.  And I thought, too, that it would be a masterpiece or at least make me a lot of money, since the subject was so big.  

But not many words about Dresden came from my mind then--not enough of them to make a book, anyway.  And not many words come now, either, when I have become an old fart with his memories and Pall Malls, with his sons full grown.

I think of how useless the Dresden part of my memory has been, and yet how tempting Dresden has been to write about, and I am reminded of the famous limerick:

         "There was a you man from Stamboul,
          Who soliloquized thus to his tool:
          "You took all my wealth
           And you ruined my health,
          And now you won't pee, you old fool." 

And I'm reminded, too, of the song that goes:

         " My name is Yon Yonson,
          I work in Wisconsin,
          I work in a lumbermill there.
          The people I meet when I walk down the street,
          They say, "What's your name?"
          And I say, 
          My name is Yon Yonson,
          I work in Wisconsin . . ."

And so on into infinity.

Over the years, people I've met have often asked me what I'm working on, and I've usually replied that the main thing was a book about Dresden.

I said that to Harrison Starr, the movie-maker, one time, and he raised his eyebrows and inquired, "Is it an anti-war book?"

"Yes," I said.  "I guess."

"You know what I say to people when I hear they're writing anti-war books?"

"No.  What do you say, Harrison Starr?"

"I say, 'Why don't you write an anti-glacier book instead?"

What he meant, of course, was that there would always be wars, that they were as easy to stop as glaciers.  I believe that, too.

And even if wars didn't keep coming like glaciers, there would still be plain old death. 

There's a great deal of wisdom in this passage.  There have been wars as long as human beings have been walking upright on this planet.  Heck, even when we weren't walking upright, we probably still found reasons to fight with each other.  For some reason, humans hurt each other.  All the time.  It's as if it's genetic. 

At the moment, my daughter is hurting because of someone she cares about deeply, and it pisses me off.  A lot.  Of course, the people to whom we are closest are the ones who wound us the most deeply.  I have been telling my daughter that she is beautiful and special, and that she should be treated with love and respect instead of cruelty.  Last night, when she came to kiss me goodnight, I took her face in my hands and said, "You know that you deserve better than this?"

Teenage boys pretty much suck, in my book.  I was once a teenage boy, so I should know.  However, I don't think I ever went out of my way as a teenager to make someone feel terrible.  That takes a special brand of asshole.  Perhaps other girls don't mind putting up with that.  My daughter is a little smarter than that.

I write this post because I'm frustrated and a little angry.  It bothers me that a person who we've only treated with kindness and respect would treat my daughter this way.  I write this post because I can't really say these things to my daughter without making her cry.  And I write this post hoping the little bastard who is causing her this much pain reads it and somehow gets his head out of his ass.

Is that enough honesty for you?

Saint Marty is thankful that tonight he is going out to eat with his wife and daughter and his daughter's best friend.  Time to laugh instead of cry.

December 15: Burned Hams, Sandra M. Castillo, "Christmas, 1970"

You know, it's impossible to have a perfect Christmas.  The Christmases of our youths--so gleaming with love and joy--are really fantasies.  There were burned hams and turkeys.  Bills.  Broken hearts.  Unfulfilled wishes. 

I think that I put too much stress on myself to have perfection  I want my kids to receive everything on their Santa lists.  I want to bake dozens of beautiful sugar cookies.  Write a beautiful Christmas letter.  Peace and love and joy.

Most of the time, Christmas is just a mess, full of joys and disappointments.  There's less of the Christ child, more of the manure pile.

Saint Marty needs to listen to a little more Bing Crosby.

Christmas, 1970

by:  Sandra M. Castillo

We assemble the silver tree,
our translated lives,
its luminous branches,
numbered to fit into its body.
place its metallic roots
to decorate our first Christmas.
Mother finds herself
opening, closing the Red Cross box
she will carry into 1976
like an unwanted door prize,
a timepiece, a stubborn fact,
an emblem of exile measuring our days,
marked by the moment of our departure,
our lives no longer arranged.

there is a photograph,
a Polaroid Mother cannot remember was ever taken:
I am sitting under Tia Tere’s Christmas tree,
her first apartment in this, our new world:
my sisters by my side,
I wear a white dress, black boots,
an eight-year-old’s resignation;
Mae and Mitzy, age four,
wear red and white snowflake sweaters and identical smiles,
on this, our first Christmas,
away from ourselves.

The future unreal, unmade,
Mother will cry into the new year
with Lidia and Emerito,
our elderly downstairs neighbors,
who realize what we are too young to understand:
Even a map cannot show you
the way back to a place
that no longer exists.