One Hand Clapping – January 2004
The purpose of this daily journal is to see if I can find a way to unclench my fist and turn it into an open palm — a palm of generosity, understanding, compassion — and to see if I can capture, in words, the thunderous sound of one hand clapping. To put it another way, it is my publicly insane response to a world gone mad. It is also a way of reminding myself, and anyone willing to listen, that the madness will someday end.
— William Michaelian
Note: Each month of One Hand Clapping has been assigned its own page. Links are provided here, and again at the bottom of each journal page. To go to the beginning of Volume 2, click here.
March 2003 April 2003 May 2003 June 2003 July 2003 August 2003 September 2003
October 2003 November 2003 December 2003 January 2004 February 2004 March 2004
April 2004 May 2004 June 2004 July 2004 August 2004 September 2004
October 2004 November 2004 December 2004 January 2005 February 2005 March 2005
January 1, 2004 — Did I make any resolutions a year ago? I don’t remember. If I did, it’s safe to say they weren’t kept. Am I making any resolutions this year? I feel I should. There is certainly ample room for improvement. But as of the moment, I have made exactly none. I even stayed in bed later this morning than I have for months: seven o’clock. I was awake much earlier, but, undeserving as I am, I permitted myself to linger in the relaxing warmth. When I did get up, I looked out our window and saw that it was snowing again. It has already snowed another inch and a half, and it is still piling up. So it looks as if we will begin the year by sitting at home — not that we were planning to go out. But you never know. We might have. The wife and I might have dressed up and gone out to one of Salem’s finer hotels for a brunch of champagne and strawberries, or some other out-of-season fruit shipped in from South America and laden with chemicals. Then we might have danced for a few hours, or traveled to a lodge in the hills and chatted about our nonexistent investments with other bored souls while warming ourselves at a big stone fireplace — except that Salem doesn’t have any finer hotels. Salem has motels, a few if which pretend to be hotels, by hosting area business meetings. But I’m not aware of any that have uniformed people waiting at the door, for instance, or that offer fine cuisine prepared by world-traveled chefs. There is one hospitality establishment nearby, however, that has an unaffiliated burger joint in its front yard, complete with drive-through services. So it’s possible that if one were to ask politely, a pimpled employee might be willing to dash over for a few packets of ketchup and some French fries. As for lodges, being trapped with strangers in front of a big stone fireplace is the last thing I want to think about. But since I am the one who brought it up, I feel obliged to defend myself by saying that I am not anti-social. If strangers want to get together and brag about nothing, that’s fine with me. I will be glad to listen — for about five minutes. Beyond that, ha-ha, ho-ho — well, it’s more than I can stand. Not that it matters, though, because I have never set foot in a lodge anyway. But I have been to Tharpe’s Log, which isn’t far from the 3,000-year-old General Sherman tree in the Sequoia National Forest. As you might suspect, Tharpe was a man who lived in a log. There was a time when people did things like that. There was a time when people exposed themselves to all sorts of danger, just for the sake of discovery. Some of them even have logs named after them, or cabins, or mountain peaks. And speaking of danger, it was just last night that my brother said that he had resolved to live the new year more dangerously. The first thing he was going to do was stay up later and start smoking cigarettes. I said, “Great. What kind of cigarettes did you buy when you were at the store today?” He said, “I didn’t buy any cigarettes. I forgot.” And so his dangerous new year will begin just as his safe old year ended. I, too, am all for living dangerously. But I can’t smoke cigarettes, because when they are about halfway done, my mustache catches on fire. I have smoked a few cigars in my day, but, anymore, they are so expensive that I feel foolish. I’d rather spend the money on used books. Besides, I think I already live dangerously enough as it is. I write, for heaven’s sake. The entire future rests upon a mound of words, and my ability to arrange them in a way that might be meaningful to others. So far, it appears to be a losing battle. But maybe that’s what Tharpe thought, too, before he had his log named after him. In fact, I’ll bet he looked out at the falling snow just as I am this morning, and wondered how he was going to survive. Maybe the new year will bring the answer. Maybe it won’t.
January 2, 2004 — It snowed five inches before the storm blew itself out yesterday. Now it’s melting again. But the giant seven-foot snowman our youngest and oldest sons built yesterday with two of their buddies is still standing at the northwest corner of the house, facing the street. Unfortunately, it lost its head during the night, and with it its pair of red plastic eyes, its carrot nose, its stick-shaped mouth, and its giant green scarf. While this might be due to natural causes, vandalism cannot be ruled out. There were a couple of younger boys out earlier yesterday throwing snowballs at it from the sidewalk. When one of them noticed me watching from the window, he told the other and they sulked away. So maybe they returned during the night to finish their dirty work. If they did, I don’t really blame them. School starts again on Monday, and I can tell the kids in the neighborhood are already beginning to feel the tension and resentment associated with having to get up early again and rot for several hours in a classroom. Then again, maybe I am the one who is tense and full of resentment. To this day, I get a queasy feeling when I have to visit our son’s school for parent-teacher conferences, or pick him up or drop him off when he can’t ride the bus for some reason. Schools make me nervous. Almost always, I felt imprisoned in them. It’s not that I don’t have many wonderful school-related memories. I do. It’s just that I hated having my time arranged for me and spoken for. I especially hated being trapped in classrooms with teachers who had no business being teachers. There was one teacher I had who was literally so dense and so dumb that he didn’t even notice me drawing on his fingernail with my pencil while he was leaning on my desk and expounding to the class. There was another who, when asked by one of his students whether or not he was married, arrogantly replied, “My wife is.” There was one who preached the Bible, and one who was unaware of tennis balls being thrown across the room while he misspelled words on the blackboard. And there were others, who commanded absolutely no respect, because they were either completely out of place in their line of work, or had no respect for the kids they were pretending to teach. This hardly made for a healthy, creative, intellectually stimulating atmosphere. But I will say this: I certainly learned to appreciate the handful of really good teachers that somehow managed to slip into the system without checking their brains at the door. Without them, school would have been a complete mockery, instead of the partial mockery it was. Now, despite all this, I think it is only right and fair that I should assume some of the blame. Maybe if I had been more of a person, I could have helped improve the atmosphere in some of the worst classes. There is no way I could have defended a dopey teacher, but I could have made fewer jokes and fewer sarcastic remarks. But I was bored. That’s what it comes down to. I was bored, and people laughed. And now that I think of it, maybe I did help improve the atmosphere. Maybe I was doing the only thing I could do under the circumstances. The more I think about it, the truer this sounds. Because in the good classes, I was a good student, and I never stepped out of line. Isn’t that interesting?
January 3, 2004 — Now that most of the snow has melted again, I see that the pine tree behind the neighbor’s garage across the street has changed its shape. About ten or twelve feet from the top, there is a broken branch snagged upon other branches, unable to fall. And branches that were formerly growing upward are now parallel with the ground or pointing slightly downward. In our own backyard, we have five or six broken branches. Most are from the big pine tree in the corner; a couple are from the fir tree by the fence. Since the area is protected, there is still some snow on the ground. After the weather settles down, I will venture out with a pair of pruning shears and a saw. But I’m in no hurry. The birds seem to be enjoying the additional shelter at ground level, as well as the food my wife has been giving them during the cold weather. I hate to disturb this happy scene. The fallen branches have done no damage, and they can do none where they are. So maybe I’ll wait until spring to clean up the mess. Right now, in one of the maple trees just outside my window, there is a bloated bird with striped feathers and a long beak perched on one of the lower branches. It might be some sort of woodpecker, I’m not sure. It certainly isn’t an owl, or buzzard, or black-capped chickadee — though in a pinch it could be a finch. Uh, yeah. Anyway. Where was I? Ah, yes. I was about to say that I have been enjoying the jar of pickles my sister-in-law made shortly after she and my brother arrived for their visit last month. I have been eating a pickle or two every evening before supper, and this has become a minor daily celebration — one I intend to continue by making pickles of my own. I have been aware of this recipe for some time. Only laziness has prevented me from following through. All that’s needed is some cauliflower, green cabbage, carrot, celery, a jalapeńo pepper, and garlic. When I make it, I think I’ll also add a little pimento for color. And the pickling mixture couldn’t be simpler: water, salt, and about a tablespoon of distilled white vinegar. I have found that at the end of a long day, eating a good strong pickle causes an inspiring mini-riot upon the tongue, which, I suspect, kills any germs that have accumulated since lunch and the most recent cup of coffee. This is turns stimulates the mind, or what is left of it. After eating a pickle, I feel rejuvenated both mentally and physically. Unfortunately, the feeling wears off after about fifteen minutes, making it necessary to eat crackers and cheese, which in turn creates a craving for mulberry vodka or some other strong liquor, which naturally makes me think of writers like William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams, who were known to take a drink or two during their work day. I have no idea whether or not they liked pickles. I would surely like to know. I would also like to know why there have been so many writers named William, or who have William as part of their names. William Saroyan. William Shakespeare. William Carlos Williams. William Somerset Maugham. William Michaelian. It would be nice if there were some profound force at work here. Yet I can’t ignore the fact that William is a common name, and that there have probably been just as many Williams who have been bricklayers, grave diggers, and tractor drivers. Incidentally, I have been reminded by a friend several times recently that before William the Conqueror was called William the Conqueror, he was known as William the Bastard. Why my friend keeps bringing this up, I have no idea.
January 4, 2004 — When it comes to story beginnings, I love Dostoevsky. From White Nights, translated by David Magarshack: It was a lovely night, one of those nights, dear reader, which can only happen when you are young. The sky was so bright and starry that when you looked at it the first question that came into your mind was whether it was really possible that all sorts of bad-tempered and unstable people could live under such a glorious sky. From Notes from the Underground, also translated by Magarshack: I am a sick man. . . . I am a spiteful man. No, I am not a pleasant man at all. I believe there is something wrong with my liver. From The Gambler, translated by Jessie Coulson: I am back at last after my absence of two weeks. From A Gentle Creature, (Magarshack): . . . Well, while she is still here everything is all right: I go up and have a look at her every minute. But they will take her away tomorrow and — how can I stay here alone? She is now in the sitting-room, on a table. Two card tables put together side by side. They will bring the coffin tomorrow. And finally this, from one of my all-time favorite short stories, “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man” (Magarshack): I am a ridiculous man. They call me a madman now. That would be a distinct rise in my social position were it not that they still regard me as being as ridiculous as ever. I find each of these beginnings — and there are many others I could, and probably should, have mentioned — impossible to resist. And isn’t that what beginnings are supposed to do? Not only that, but who could write such a beginning and then go on to write a boring story? In my reading experience, boring stories are boring right from the get-go. They begin nowhere and end in an abyss of unrelieved pointlessness. Each feels as if it were written by a person long ago hypnotized by the sound of his own voice, or paralyzed with admiration before a mirror. I’m not even sure what makes writers like that get up in the morning. Of course, many of them mean well. And a great many have had their heads filled with nonsense and their egos massaged in award-winning writing programs offered by prestigious universities. But who gives the awards? To this day, I still don’t understand why anyone would want to go to school to learn to write. A writer’s job is to turn things upside down, not to go along with the crowd. A writer must turn himself upside down if he is to discover his own truth, voice, and style. How can he do that if he is sitting in a classroom and working toward an MFA? Why not subject himself to a rigorous course in Life, and do his reading and studying on his own time and on his own terms? I truly can’t imagine a genuine writer being willing to sit still long enough to have his card punched by lifeless, intellectual drones. But there are quite a few who have achieved financial success by playing this game. And they are part of a sick intellectual monopoly that thrives in the wasteland that is current literature.
January 5, 2004 — It looks like more fun is on the way. The next snow storm is “poised” off the coast. For the last few hours, millions of tiny snowflecks — they aren’t big enough to be called flakes — have been falling. They are dry, and swirl about like glittery sand. Already, everything is white again. The temperature is in the mid-twenties. Unless we are bailed out by a surge of warm southern air — preferably scented with magnolia blossoms — when the main part of the storm pushes onshore, the snow will begin to pile up. And now I see that the flecks are big enough to be called flakes. This could prove to be interesting, especially since I need to make a couple of stops downtown this morning, and one again later in the afternoon. At least our van is heavy and has front-wheel drive. And, luckily, the pavement was dry when this started. So ice shouldn’t be a problem — yet. Still, you never know what some nut will do. The impulse to stomp on the brakes or to suddenly change lanes can be overwhelming for some drivers. Oh, well. I’d better get going. It’s snowing even harder now. Sleigh ride, here I come.
January 6, 2004 — Today is Christmas in the Armenian Church. It is also my father’s sister’s birthday, and the day upon which my grandfather died in 1990 at the age of ninety-three. A few months later, in September, my grandmother died, very near, if not on, her ninetieth birthday. Until then, I had always thought that she had been born on September 24, 1900. But later on, someone in the family — I think it might have been one of her sisters — said that she was born on the eighth or ninth day of the month, which is roughly the day she died. I don’t remember the exact date. But I do remember making the drive from Salem to Fresno, and along the way spending a rotten night in a diseased motel room in Redding, about three feet from the freeway. Before going to bed, I wandered into a nearby restaurant for a bite to eat. It was the International House of Pancakes, so I had pancakes for supper, a couple of fried eggs, hashed browns, and a bottle of beer. I felt human for nearly an hour after that. Then the headache I had acquired during the trip reasserted itself, making it impossible to ignore the heat, pollution, and noise of the valley night. Finally, I managed to sleep a couple of hours. I hit the road early the next morning. At the funeral, I was able to visit with several relatives I hadn’t seen in quite a while, and to marvel once again at the strange similarities we all seem to share. This happened again when my father died in 1995. Listening to his aunt, who is my grandmother’s sister, I was absolutely amazed by the sound of her voice, her way of talking, and her mannerisms. For a moment, I didn’t know who she was. She seemed to be my grandmother, my father, and several other relatives all rolled into one. And I am fairly convinced that she didn’t know who she was either, and that she was playing a sort of comic-tragic role that had been given her at birth. In short, she was completely ridiculous in an earnest, priceless way that is hard to explain. I have never talked to anyone outside the family about this. I would like to think it is this way in all families. At the same time, I feel bad about what is happening to the family in general, and about how family members continue to drift apart. Indeed, some never get to know each other, and live their lives full of misconceptions and resentment because of stories they were told by embittered and embattled adults. That is an awful way to live.
January 7, 2004 — I am beginning to feel like Doctor Zhivago. Everything is white from the last snow, and there are ten-inch icicles hanging from the eaves and trees. The maples are encased in ice. The dogwood by our front door looks like a frozen willow. And the neighbor’s pine, already out of shape, is now missing its top. Schools were closed yesterday, and they remained closed today. Sleet fell for several hours yesterday afternoon. That gave way to a light rain, which froze as soon as it landed. So things are far from fluffy and innocent-looking out there. Car windows are coated with bumpy ice about three-eighths of an inch thick. Lawns look like partially melted, then refrozen, cakes. Meanwhile, a friend and his son were scheduled to return from England yesterday. Who knows where they are. Around 300 flights were cancelled yesterday at the Portland airport. They could be anywhere — at the airport, at an airport on the East Coast, or sleeping it off in a hotel room. Or the all-powerful Homeland Security might have saved them the trouble and kept them in England. Dear Passenger: In order to protect our country against evil, you are required to step up to the counter and have your picture and thumbprint taken. Those failing to salute the likeness of Emperor Bush during this procedure will be shot. Thank you for choosing Oil Well Airlines, and have a nice day. This reminds me: I have been feeling so safe lately that I have entered a new era of confidence — in the government, in the economy, in health care costs, and in education. And since we have just embarked upon an election year, I can’t help wondering when they will conveniently find Osama Bin Laden cowering in a spider hole and trapped like a rat. Maybe Bush and the boys will even arrange for another “9/11” type of event, thus making it necessary for the U.S. to go and take over a few more countries. Otherwise, without the right kind of distractions, the president-select might actually have to explain his actions to voters. It’s simple, folks. You’re broke because we took all your money and gave it to a handful of obscenely wealthy monsters. But don’t worry, you are still relatively safe from Mad Cow Disease — as long as you die from snowmobile pollution before symptoms occur.
January 8, 2004 — The tops have broken on most of our pine trees. There are two robins perched in the ice-covered maple tree just outside my window. The temperature is now slightly above freezing. Three geese just flew by. One robin flew away. The other is puffed up to twice its size. I can’t tell if it’s just sitting, or if its feet are stuck to the branch. Yesterday afternoon, several robins and starlings took baths in a few small puddles that had formed in the street. In between splashes they were taking good long drinks. The other robin is gone now. The sky is a light, uniform gray. There is no school again today. But for the most part, the roads are now safe — at least the ones not blocked by downed trees or power lines. Many people in the south part of town have been without electricity for about a day. Of course, all they have to do to preserve the contents of their refrigerators and freezers is put them outside. Why, that’s nothing. When I was a kid, I used to walk five miles to school in the snow, and it was uphill both ways. Ah, shut up. I’ve had about enough of you, old-timer. If you had chopped as much wood as you said you did, no one alive today would even remember what a tree looked like. Why must you always exaggerate? Why can’t you be sane and sensible, like me? You left out boring. All right, that’s the last straw. Gee. Am I really boring? Well, sometimes you are. Not always. Sometimes you’re just dull. Well, that’s better, then. Hey, wait a minute. What do you mean, dull? I mean — yawn — what was the question again? I said — oh, never mind. Go back to sleep. At your age, you’re entitled to your delusions. Snore. Yeah, that’s right. And I’m entitled to mine. And if I choose to believe that I am a highly fascinating and intriguing character — Snore. Well, the least you could do is let me finish. As I was saying, it all started during my childhood. I was born in a small town and grew up on a farm. My father was, and my mother — well this is not to say that my grandparents weren’t every bit as — anyway, to make a long story short, I was born in a small town, and I grew up on a farm. This was back in the Fifties. You probably don’t remember that. McCarthy was, and Nixon was just getting started, and then there was Krushchev, who resembled a potato. I’m leaving out a lot of important details, of course, such as Kennedy stocking up on Cuban cigars before shutting off relations with Cuba and the time I learned to tie my shoes. I was much older by then. It happened on a Thursday. Am I going too fast for you? It was a Thursday, and my mother was in the kitchen making supper. I don’t remember what we were having that day. I was preoccupied with my shoes. Well, actually, it was just my right shoe I was preoccupied with. It was the one that was untied. Are you getting all this down? I should probably mention that there was a Thompson vineyard across the road, and an Emperor vineyard adjacent to that. Behind the Emperors, there was a small patch of Ribiers. Ribiers are a wonderful grape. You don’t see them around anymore. Anyway. I have no idea what’s there now. Probably some kind of peaches or nectarines, although it might be plums. Really, it’s a shame you don’t remember any of this. But I’m happy to explain it to you. You know, as funny as it sounds, I used to admire you when I was a kid. Of course, you were awake then. And you didn’t yammer about your childhood sufferings nearly as much. But even then, I was fully aware that your wife did most of the work, and that all you did was visit with the neighbors. At least I think that was you. It might have been someone else, someone who looked like you, though I’m not sure where that leaves your wife. Hey, wake up. I’m just getting to the good part. . . .
January 9, 2004 — On the eve of our twenty-eighth wedding anniversary, I am more amazed than ever that my wife accepts me as I am. She should have killed me long ago. On the other hand, it could be that not killing me is her way of getting even, since I am such an expert at inflicting suffering upon myself. I don’t really seek it out, it just seems to be a natural consequence of my activities. The harder I try to do something practical, the further off I seem to veer. What I don’t know is whether this is the result of faulty wiring or selfishness. I am inclined to think it is both, but that is probably just wishful thinking. Or, if it is both, then selfishness plays a dominant role. And yet most of the time, I don’t feel selfish. I feel unsuccessful, even though I have succeeded in many ways and in many realms. But even those successes couldn’t have been managed without the unconditional support of my loving bride. So really, it’s all very confusing. All these years, I have been a good and faithful husband, and, judging by how our four children are getting along in the world and with each other, I would have to say I have been a decent father. But again, none of this would have been possible if I hadn’t been married to a good and faithful wife, and a devoted, unselfish mother. That’s why it is safe to say that my wife is not only the difference between my possible sanity and complete lack thereof, but the main reason I am able to get up in the morning. Not only that, she is willing to read every word I write. And when she reads these words later today, after working hard for my benefit and the benefit of our family, she will probably shrug and say I exaggerated the part about her. But I predict she will be willing to let the other parts stand, especially the part about getting even. And I won’t blame her. As I have told her many times, she has made only one mistake in her life, and that was twenty-eight years ago. It is sad that she has suffered so much for that one mistake. At the same time, I feel I have made one truly sound decision in my life, and that was also twenty-eight years ago. But that’s love for you. Meanwhile, our fate seems to be to tumble down this slippery slope together until we reach a patch of level ground. When we do, I hope I recognize it.
January 10, 2004 — My horoscope this morning tells me I should “get off my high horse.” I will ignore this advice, however, because if I do get off my high horse, I might not be able to climb back up again. Besides, I like the view from up here. Never mind that my high horse bears a striking resemblance to the stick horse I used to ride at Lincoln School, where I attended kindergarten. Though I didn’t know him in those days, I felt like Don Quixote when I scuffed across the playground. The dry bermuda grass unfolded like the Spanish countryside, and the far edge of the school grounds appeared to be miles and miles away. “Behold, Sancho,” I said, “the sun is setting on yonder sidewalk.” And Sancho looked at me and said, “Sun? All I see, Master, is a big yellow school bus.” I gripped my friend by the elbow and twisted it with a sick grin. “Poor Sancho,” I said. “You are as blind as a bat. But very well. Let us suppose for a moment that it is a school bus, as you say. There is still no doubt that it is enchanted.” To which Sancho replied, “Verily, Master, I think you should get off your stick horse before something dreadfully evil befalls us both.” Just then, the school bell rang. “Ah-ha!” I cried. “It’s a message from another realm!” And then, miraculously, it was 2004. Was that the message? And am I now in that other realm? I must be, because late last night my brother and I made our way to the Portland airport over newly thawed roads to meet our nephew, who currently resides in Amherst, Massachusetts. And in less than twenty minutes, we will make the trip again to pick up our brother, who is arriving from Edmonton, Alberta, on another flight. If only I could greet him from atop my old stick horse, instead of the lame one I use now. Because I know he is going to look at it and say, “Crimony, why don’t you trade that thing in?” But I will be ready for him. I will tell him to get off his high horse.
January 11, 2004 — Of course he said nothing of the kind and neither did I. Homeland Security doesn’t permit that sort of thing. We waited obediently, and when my brother appeared in the narrow escape chute adjacent to the passenger screening area we greeted him soberly and with due vigilance. First, we had to be sure he really was our brother, and not a terrorist agent here to compromise our freedom. Nor did he trust us — how could he? When I asked if he had brought any luggage other than his carry-on, he twitched nervously, dislodging several small bags of peanuts from the folds of his sport coat. I heaved a sigh of relief. He was our brother, all right. Just then, a voice came over the loudspeaker, urging us all to watch our hats and coats and to trust no one but the president. For the next couple of minutes, everyone in the airport eyed each other with suspicion. It was a profound experience, almost like being in church. Then something happened that I will never forget. A little girl walked by, laughing.
January 12, 2004 — It looks like the first things I will have published this year will be Armenian translations of several of my short stories. These will be accompanied by my odd drawings, as space permits, and will appear in Armenia in a new publication that features translations from around the world. The first issue is scheduled to be out early in February. So that is something to look forward to. With luck, it will partially erase the bad taste in my mouth from last year’s novel-publishing fiasco, which has left me temporarily high and dry. Quite a few people are reading
A Listening Thing on my website, but it is still important to get the book into print. This is complicated by the fact that I already have another novel, The Smiling Eyes of Children, finished, and further by the fact that it is every bit as good as the first novel, if not better. It’s all quite strange, really. It’s disconcerting to have these novels lying around, for they not only represent a possible income, they are vital works of art that point the way for humanity. Granted, this is only my humble opinion. But as it is my sweat that is invested in them, I think I have the right to state it. And this seems only fair, since their publication gives readers the right to state their opinions, or at least to think them. This includes reaching the conclusion that I am an arrogant nut. I just hope they realize that is not all I am. On some days, I am a haunted recluse. On others, I am a silly idiot. Occasionally, I am even a contented dope.
January 13, 2004 — Yesterday I read a little about Bob Kaufman, a San Francisco Beat poet who died in 1986. Apparently, Mr. Kaufman had a knack for drawing attention to himself, and was often arrested for being a public nuisance — thirty-some-odd times in 1959 alone. The account didn’t elaborate on his behavior, but I’m sure with a little Internet research all would be revealed. For every subject and subcategory that exists, and even for some that don’t, there is someone out there who is fanatically dedicated to discovering the most trivial details. But something tells me I won’t pursue it. For me, it is enough to know that Kaufman read his poetry out loud in traffic, and that his goal in life was to be completely forgotten. Obviously, he didn’t mean it. And even if he did, it won’t happen anytime soon, because he and the Beats were and are too much of a topic. Eventually, more energy will have been expended in learning and writing about the Beats than the Beats expended themselves — or so it will seem. Because it can easily be argued that it takes more energy to write a single poem than it does to sit around talking about the poem and the person who wrote it. This is especially true when you take into consideration the great amount of living that goes into the making of a poem. Not that something can’t be learned by sitting around and talking about poems and poets. But it does depend on what a person expects to learn. If he expects to learn how to write a poem this way, I think he is in for a rough ride. Or if he expects that knowing about a poet’s behavior will somehow make him more of a poet himself, he is definitely missing the point. Bob Kaufman did what he did because he was Bob Kaufman. From a poet’s standpoint, the best thing to do is to accept the fact and move on. Now, I was about to say that it is possible to gain insight into a poet’s work by knowing more about his life and times. But in many cases, that probably isn’t true. A poem’s secrets are best revealed through attentive reading and attentive living. And really, isn’t that the point? On one side of the equation there is the poet, who writes what he writes out of his own life and for his own reasons; on the other side, there is the reader who reads out of his own life and for his own reasons. One can exist without the other, but only with difficulty. A poet certainly must write for himself, but in the end, if his poems are unread they amount to therapy — though by no means does this make him less of a poet. And a human being can certainly exist without reading, as difficult and uncomfortable as this is to imagine. But in imagining it, the possibility of a completely different kind of poetry also arises. For it all depends on what you call poetry. It is my feeling that our daily lives are made up of unwritten poems, and that we are all poets because it is our instinct to seek truth and beauty. To varying degrees, of course, the poems and truth and beauty are beaten out of us, or taught out of us, or frightened out of us. In some cases, they are stifled altogether. For instance, it is hard to imagine the president or vice-president seeking or recognizing truth and beauty. And that is what’s so sad — that people can be so twisted that they can look at a mountain or a flower, and then discard them as useless if they offer nothing to gain. They may know all the words — my, that’s a beautiful flower — but the words will be meaningless until they understand the consequences of their evil behavior. And to do that they have to want to understand — which is why the rest of us poets shouldn’t hold our breath.
January 14, 2004 — Yesterday’s fifty-three degrees was thirty degrees warmer than it was several days ago when we were having our snow and ice storms. Everything has melted, except for the base of our colossal snowman, which is still about two and a half feet high and nearly four feet wide. The trees in the neighborhood that weren’t broken have resumed their shape. Our backyard is still full of fallen limbs, underneath which is a bed of pine needles at least four inches thick — a miniature forest floor, if you will. At the moment, it’s raining. And in about an hour, we will be making yet another trip to the airport, because the time has come for my brother and his son to return to their regular daily lives, one in Alberta, the other in Massachusetts. It will be strange with them gone. I remember reading an Armenian saying once, which claimed that a close friend is better than a distant brother. This might be true if the distance is the result of estrangement, but not if it is merely a matter of miles. A close friend will be able to understand the estrangement of brothers. He will also feel no jealousy toward brothers who are not estranged. And of course many brothers are close friends. And many close friends feel like brothers — unless they happen to be sisters. But as far as I know, there is no Armenian saying about close friends and distant sisters. I am also well aware that many brothers don’t give a hoot one way or the other, and that many friends who say they are close are really only psychological or financial leeches — which is why their sisters keep their distance. For it is easier to be a distant sister than to put up with a brother who is a selfish, immoral jackass. Notice that I said easier, not better. For it is better to state the facts than it is to preach — though it is not better to assume you know the facts, which disqualifies everything I just said. Ah, well. Good luck, boys. May your journey be a pleasant one. Maybe when I see you next, I’ll have this sorted out.
January 15, 2004 — For the last three days, there has been an insect attached to the inner side of the screen on my window. It was able to make its way there because the screen is bent and doesn’t fit into the top part of the frame. The insect belongs to the order Hemiptera — one of the few orders I remember from my high school biology class. Lepidoptera, I believe, includes butterflies, and Orthoptera includes crickets and grasshoppers. Diptera is where we find the common housefly, and bees and ants fall into Hymenoptera. Anyway. There’s a bug on my screen. But now I’m beginning to wonder if it’s still alive. Okay, there. I just checked. When I opened the window and blew on it, it moved its antennae — or is it antennas? Hello, Bill. What’s wrong? Nothing to write about today? Oh, there’s plenty to write about. There always is. I just don’t feel like doing it. Well, leave me out, why don’t you? Maybe I will, if you tell me what you’ve been doing there for the last three days. None of your business. Why? Isn’t it my window? Yes, but you weren’t using it. Ah. Right you are. Say, you haven’t been watching me, have you? I most certainly have. And it’s been pretty dull, I might add. Yeah, well. I’ve been tired lately. What’s your excuse? I don’t need an excuse. I’m a bug. Right again. And with a rather strange attitude. You know, I could easily squash you and bring this whole conversation to an end. Yes, but you won’t. How can you be so sure? That’s easy. You won’t be able to wash the smell off your hands. Ewww. I guess you’re right. On the other hand, I haven’t killed anything lately, and now might be a good time to end the drought. Haven’t killed anything? What about all those bugs on your windshield yesterday? That couldn’t be avoided. Oh-ho — you sound like the president. You could’ve gone all day without saying that. Me? I didn’t say anything. I’m a bug, remember? Bugs can’t talk. Well, you’re talking. President, indeed. Yep. And that’s why I’m glad I’m a bug. Oh, yeah? To the president, we are all bugs. It’s just that some of us pay taxes. Not only that, but — hey, where are you going? You can’t leave now. If you do, no one will believe we had this conversation. I’m not going anywhere. I’m just doing my morning exercises. Jeez, what a weirdo.
January 16, 2004 — Last night we attended the first game of our son’s basketball season at the Boys and Girls Club here in Salem. His team lost, 49-45. But the teams were evenly matched, and they could have won if they had made just a few more of their free throws. The name of our son’s team is the Goodfellas. I didn’t catch the other team’s name. But we did hear that there is a team in the league called the Crazy Chickens, and another called the Artichokes. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the game was that none of the players had a bad attitude. There was no complaining about the referee’s calls, and the players didn’t mind when they were substituted. There was only one referee, a good-natured guy who was shorter than most of the players, and, for that matter, most of the people watching, children included. But he knew his rule book and called a fair game. And if a player needed to tie his shoe, or if his glasses slipped off, the referee immediately stopped the game. All told, it was a refreshing experience. Even the parents were well-behaved. Of course I immediately took a seat on the bench and began telling the coach what he should and shouldn’t do, and insisted that my son play the whole game and take every shot. Had he followed my advice, I’m sure the team would have won. When I told him that I was ready to play myself, he said I was too old. I punched him in the nose. “What do you mean, too old?” I said. “I’m in better shape than you.” And he said, dabbing at the blood streaming from his nose, “I mean, this league is for high school kids.” I said, “Oh.” Then I helped him up. When I turned to sit down, I noticed my wife had moved to the other side of the gym, and that she was wearing a fluffy blond wig and a pair of dark glasses. After the game, I went to where she was standing and put my arm around her. I received a slap in return. Then I felt a tap on my shoulder. Much to my surprise, it was my wife. “Are you ready to go?” she said. “Or will you be going home with her?” The other woman said, “Oh, no, you take him, honey, he’s not my type.” On the way home, I tried to explain, but the more I said, the worse matters became. My wife said I was a disgrace. Our son agreed. I had ruined a perfectly wonderful evening. My sincere claim that I had been caught up in the excitement of the game, and also in our son’s performance and happiness, and that I therefore wasn’t thinking clearly, fell on deaf ears. This morning, however, everyone acted as if nothing had happened. This makes me wonder if anything did happen, including our trip to the Boys and Girls Club. Something tells me I shouldn’t ask. To make matters worse, Mr. Hemiptera is still on my screen. He looks bigger today, and is maintaining an angry posture. Also, the room seems smaller. The walls used to be here, and now they are here.
January 17, 2004 — He’s gone. My little bug friend is gone. He didn’t even leave a note. Where is he? Did he crawl out into the open, and was he then noticed by a bird, and did the bird snatch him up in his beak and crush him, and swallow him? Or is he rummaging around in a pile of dry rhododendron leaves? He had an intelligent face. Maybe he is in a meeting with other bugs and they are trying to decide what to do with me. Maybe he is Franz Kafka. No, if Franz Kafka were still alive, he would be a beetle. To which order of insects do beetles belong? I used to know the answer to that question. But I don’t anymore, because my biology teacher hasn’t been around to ask it. My biology teacher married my algebra teacher. Maybe he asked her. And maybe she said she didn’t care, which might or might not have been true. People often say things they don’t mean, if they think it will give them an advantage. My algebra teacher hated me. Among other things, my algebra book was stolen from the locker room, and after attending her class several times without it, she decided I would have to pay for a new one. Then, miraculously, it turned up. Evidently, some kind person had put it in the shower or tried to flush it down the toilet. It was at least three times its normal size, and many of the pages were partially glued together. But I had my book. I took it to class and showed her, and she was mad that she wouldn’t be able to charge me for it. Then the real battle began. Each time she asked the class to turn to a certain page, I would calmly and patiently peel pages apart until I came to the one she had asked for. As I said, she hated me. Then she married the biology teacher, and he hated me. He didn’t hate me before. We got along fine. But once they were married, her hatred became his hatred. Due to surgery of a very serious nature, one of my best friends used to drive his car from one end of the campus to the other between classes. While he was recuperating, he didn’t have the strength or energy to do much walking. And because we were friends, I would occasionally ride along with him. Often, he parked on the street in front of the biology classroom. The biology teacher saw us, and decided to report me for being in a car when it wasn’t “authorized.” I received a note telling me to go to the office of the vice-principal. The vice-principal said, “Have you been riding in your friend’s car between classes?” I said yes, I had. Obviously embarrassed, he said, “Okay, don’t do it anymore.” So I didn’t — at least not when the biology teacher was looking. This was ridiculous. My friend was seriously ill. He died when he was eighteen. What right did a pair of small-minded, meddlesome teachers have to interfere? What moral right, I mean? For they certainly had the authority. And now they are probably retired, and don’t remember the incident at all. But I remember.
January 18, 2004 — Thank goodness the president has decided to rejuvenate the space program. The moon? A piece of cake. Mars? Why, it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump away. We’d be danged fools if we didn’t seize the opportunity — especially since things are going so well here at home. Affordable medical care? Solved. Hunger? Solved. Unemployment? Solved. Education? Solved. Pollution? Solved. War? Why, it’s odd you would even ask, because war is quite obviously a thing of the past. So, by all means, let us go plant another flag on the moon, and let us sow the seeds of democracy on Mars. And let us fly there under the veil of secrecy and serve plastic turkey to the troops. Oops. I’m getting ahead of myself. But not by much. And now, kiddies, we return you to “Cowboys in Space.” Cowboy George, you will remember, was in his red-white-and-blue Hummer hurtling toward Mars. “There’s oil there, and I’m gonna get it!” he cried. “Whee-ha!” But what Cowboy George didn’t know was that another cowboy, Cowboy Dick, was way ahead of him. And Cowboy Dick was no dope. Cowboy Dick had already lined up a big oil-pumping contract with the Mars Oil Institute, and had arranged for an underpaid army to protect his drilling operations and to keep the Martians in line by starving them and destroying their infrastructure. Cowboy Dick laughed at Cowboy George. He thought Cowboy George was funny, because Cowboy George knew not one iota about Mars or its history — or about anything else, for that matter. In fact, as long as Cowboy George had his Hummer and a full tank of gas, he was a happy camper. We interrupt this program to bring you a special bulletin. This journal entry has been deemed unpatriotic by the editorial board of Homeland Security. Anyone caught reading it under the covers with a flashlight will be shot. Cowboy George was approaching Mars. . . .
January 19, 2004 — If all goes as planned, my brother will be driving to California this week to visit friends and relatives. Two of our father’s aunts are in their nineties, one is eighty-five, and his dear little sister is seventy-one. His uncles have all departed. But they live on in our minds, and, to a certain extent, in our actions and outlook, as we contend with the odd exercise known as living. It is amazing how often these people are in my thoughts. And when they’re not, they are still present. They fought a good fight, a fight dignified by outrage, honesty, intelligence, and humor. And the aunts are still fighting, and still mocking those who take comfort in being sensible, and in believing that life is within their petty control. Such poor misguided fools make easy targets, because they are so often bent out of shape because of this or that minor inconvenience. They say things like “How dare they make me wait?” as they barge ahead of other people waiting in line. They can’t imagine being hungry; they only know their steak was improperly prepared, and that their exhausted waitress should be fired. They can’t imagine being on the receiving end of ignorant racist remarks, or being told that “their kind” isn’t welcome to live in certain neighborhoods, or that it is impossible to hold membership in certain organizations. But an awful lot of them vote, by gum — and look at the kind of people they vote for. And look at the commodity their arrogant ignorance has become, and how it is used and manipulated by those whose wealth and power is increased daily at the expense of this planet and everything that lives upon it.
January 20, 2004 — The president will be reading his “State of the Union” speech on TV tonight. This will no doubt be followed by a bunch of idiots trying to explain what he meant by what he said and what he didn’t say, and making statements about how effective they think the speech was — even though he didn’t write it, and, in fact, couldn’t possibly have written it, because in reality he has trouble stringing two or three intelligible sentences together. It’s even worse than Ronald Reagan pretending he knew something about the so-called “Star Wars” technology. Of course, millions of people were distracted by the bronzed hairdo and Hollywood smile. In Bush’s case, one must settle for the smirk of an unpunished rich child, or the furrowed brow of ignorance. Not much of a choice. Meanwhile, it is interesting to note that during the vice-president’s fund-raising trip to Portland a few days ago, protesters lucky enough to find the designated “free speech area” found themselves enclosed in a fenced area a safe distance — someone said in the newspaper that is was about half a mile — away from the hotel where the event was held. While police in riot gear kept watch over this evil element, Cowboy Dick extracted $400,000 from wealthy supporters. According to one report, $1,000 got you in, and $10,000 earned you the privilege of being photographed with Cowboy Dick. Can you imagine being one of those people? Can you imagine the arrogant mind-set and assumptions that go along with it? In this morning’s letters to the editor, one writer said he foolishly thought all of America was a free speech area, but that now he knows he was wrong. This is a sad, significant statement. But the ongoing erosion of rights will not be addressed in the president’s speech tonight. Instead, we will hear, or later read, that Cowboy George said, “We got Saddam,” as if some sort of schoolyard justice had been meted out. In my opinion, if this kind of talk is enough to satisfy the American people, then the American people shouldn’t be surprised when all America is designated as a “speech free area.”
January 21, 2004 — Mmmmmpphhhh. . . . Just kidding. They haven’t found me yet. Or, if they have, they’re waiting for just the right moment to chuckle or yawn. For this country is full of people who know the difference between right and wrong, and between truth and lies. Unfortunately, it is also full of people who swallow everything they are told, as long as it is told to them in an oversimplified way that stimulates their ego. We’ll smoke ’em outta their holes, for instance. Or, It’s better to fight ’em there than on our own soil — i.e., the soil that was stolen from the people who were here when this continent was colonized. Talk about worthless statements. How can you go and fight against people you know absolutely nothing about — not their history, or culture, or traditions, or way of life? How can anyone be so thoughtless and ignorant as to travel thousands of miles and then destroy people and their homes and cities as if they were ants? How overwhelmed by propaganda must we be to not be able to tell our children that cheating and lying and engaging in war are horrible things they should never do? How can anyone be satisfied thinking we are the good guys and they are the bad guys? After all, isn’t that what they think? The terrible truth is, there is so much ignorance in the world, and so many bad things that have been put into motion, that it will take nearly forever to play out. More trouble is put into motion every day. Every home that is bulldozed, every person that is killed, every child that goes hungry or must watch his parents die, increases the insanity and keeps it going. Children are throwing rocks at soldiers with guns — what will they grow up thinking? What will become of them? This country pumps millions of dollars every year into other countries where these things take place. It helps them take place, and ensures that these things will happen. At the same time, it allows its own people to be held hostage by drug companies, and by policies that send jobs out of the country, leaving more and more workers to fight over fewer and worse-paying jobs. And yet, under these blatantly transparent circumstances, we still go and take over another country, and are surprised to find out that people in other countries don’t like us. Aspiring democracies — if indeed there is such a thing — look at this country and see a president who was not elected, but selected, and who didn’t even win the popular vote. Instead of hope and leadership, they see maniacs out to take over the world. Put yourself in their place. Imagine your own children throwing rocks at soldiers and running through smoke-filled streets with blood streaming over their bodies. What would you think?
January 22, 2004 — Eight-thirty a.m. I’m off to a ragged start this morning, thanks to a head cold that has my sinuses in a knot. But it’s better now, at least, than it was when I first got up over three hours ago. Then I could barely see. The cold officially began with a sore throat the day before yesterday. Yesterday, the sore throat was gone, but the sinus pressure was beginning to build. I expect today will be the worst, and that by evening I will be on the mend. Of course, I’m well aware that no one wants to hear about someone else’s cold. The only reason I’m bringing it up is that I catch them so rarely. But since no one wants to hear someone else brag about his general good health, either, I suppose I should drop the subject altogether. So. How are you? Yeah, I thought so. I don’t blame you for being fed up. You have every right to be. But look at it this way: at least you’re reading. I’m the one doing the work. Although, I guess it could be argued that this kind of reading is work. My answer to that is, why shouldn’t it be? If it’s fluff you want, I’m not your man. You’ll more likely find him in the magazine aisle at the grocery store, or on the shelf near the checkout stand. But you’d better hurry, because he won’t be there long — though someone else just like him will be. So, come to think of it, you might as well take your time after all. In fact, don’t even go. Why encourage that sort of thing? By and large, the people written about in those kinds of books belong to the Cardboard Character Association, as do a great many of their authors. I have even seen life-sized cardboard cutouts of the authors holding displays of their books. In our neighborhood grocery store, I stood face to face with a strategically unshaven John Grisham. “John,” I said, “damn it, how’re you doing?” A store employee happened to be nearby, uncorking a crate of lifesavers. He looked up and smiled. “You know John,” I said to him. “Wonderful author — and a great guy, to boot.” Not surprisingly, shy man that he is, John didn’t say a word. He just stood there, holding his books. I think he blushed, but through the stubble it was hard to tell. Here I should probably say a few words about who John Grisham is, or was. John Grisham is, or was, a lawyer who wrote a book, and who then went on to write a few more books almost exactly like the first one, although some have said the first one was the best. I myself have tried to read a few paragraphs in some of his books, but I found the writing devoid of life and impossibly bad. John Grisham is, or was, however, a huge financial success, and some of his books were made into movies. So, there you are. While it’s a bit dull, this information might be useful if you’re reading this a hundred years from now and need some trivia to relate at a party. Who was he again? Did they really have cardboard cutouts of authors back then? Yes. Not only that, it was necessary, because there were still some authors who were made of real flesh and blood. We’ve done away with all that, of course. Authors are now subjected to rigorous programming, and to a series of electronic tests before they are released onto the market. It’s all here in my micro-brochure. If you’d like, I can implant the chip in your sensory definition cage. Gee, thanks. Hey, don’t mention it. I’m here to help.
January 23, 2004 — With no urging or prior knowledge on our part, our youngest son called on a local farming operation yesterday to line up a job for the coming summer. The outfit specializes in growing irises, and is in need of many hands and strong backs after the blooming season. By calling early, the kid let his potential employers know he is genuinely interested in the job and not just fooling around. According to one of his buddies who worked there last year, the work days are long, from six a.m. to five in the afternoon. So even at minimum wage, the money will quickly stack up. This will likely lead to the purchase of an acoustic twelve-string guitar — a subject that has popped up frequently during the last few months. I’m all for it. He knows it will be trickier to play and keep in tune than a standard six-string, but he is obviously up to the challenge. Fact is, he has been making some pretty nice music lately. He also bought a thick book containing thousands of chords and is working his way through that. What I like, and what impresses me most about all of this, is that it has all come about naturally, of his own volition. And being self-taught, he has already made progress in the development of his own style. Even at this early stage, his playing is beginning to express his mind and heart. Where this leads is anyone’s guess. As a parent, and as one also engaged in abstract and semi-artistic pursuits, I am resolved to stay out of his way. A few months spent sweating on a farm will only help. It is something everyone should have the opportunity to do. In fact, there was a time when kids in this area were allowed to pick berries and beans during the summer. Now they are expected to either sit at home and rot, or to go around filling out applications at fast food places, which have room for only so many workers, some of which have college degrees. This makes for a lousy start on the road of life. Without some real initiative and some decent guidance from parents, kids can form all sorts of bad habits and false expectations. Of course, based on their observations, they can also form some painfully real expectations, which is one reason so many kids go bad. But there is no real reason to worry, I guess, since the president has stated he will “leave no child behind.” And I believe him. Just look at the opportunities awaiting our children in the armed forces. So hang on, kids. Whether you can read or not, whether you can think or not, there’s a fine job waiting for you once you drop out of school.
January 24, 2004 — A week or two ago, two hospitals closed in Portland. They were small, and not enough of their patients were able to pay their bills, so they went out of business. And at the hospital here in Salem, which is considerably larger than the ones that just closed, the number of people who couldn’t pay their bills increased drastically last year alone. To make up the difference, the patients who can pay are charged more, which in turn drives up insurance rates. As it is, to save money, nurses and nurses’ aides are already expected by their employer to care for more patients than they can safely and sanely handle. This results in a worn-out staff that often can’t complete the most basic items of care, right down to personal hygiene. It also results in a high level of turnover, because many of the workers, especially the aides, simply can’t take the underpaid grind. But for some strange reason there is money for war, and there is money for the Bush and Cheney campaign, and, if you listen to those boys, there is even money to go to Mars. This is an embarrassment and a disgrace. I think the hospital situation also offers another clue as to where the country is really headed. I could be wrong, of course, but it seems to me that people are being systematically reduced to poverty, and that more and more wealth is being concentrated in the hands of a few evil businessmen who want to control the earth’s resources, while keeping people around the world divided and at each other’s throats. More and more people are broke and can’t afford the barest of necessities. The U.S. government, meanwhile, claims consumer spending is up. Oddly enough, so is personal debt. People are paralyzed by a dangerous combination of ignorance, lethargy, inertia, hunger, and propaganda. They pay more, receive less, and ask fewer questions. And when they do ask, they are labeled as unpatriotic. Or, as in the case of the enormous anti-war protests that took place around the world prior to this country’s latest attack on Iraq, they are ignored altogether.
January 25, 2004 — Zoology has never been my favorite subject, but I was in the mood to start out with the letter Z this morning, and zoology was the first Z-word that came to mind. Yet I could have used zebra, or even Zanzibar — which reminds me: I once wrote a children’s story about a guy named Zanzibar McFadden, who was a pickle farmer. I wonder where that is? Probably in a folder in a box in a closet, where it belongs. Someday, though, it will come to light, and it might or might not mean something to the lucky person who discovers it. If that lucky person is me, it will probably be read and briefly marveled at, and then put away again. In fact, that’s probably what happened the last time it was found. There are many other writings similarly tucked away. Whether or not I ever look at them again remains to be seen. What’s done is done. They are written. Some are so old that I don’t see how they could possibly be as good as something I have written recently, but I could be wrong on this. They might be better, or the same. My writing might be like my life — on a rapid downward spiral. Or, as my life degrades, my writing might be improving. I ask myself foolish questions like this every day. And like the foregoing, many of the questions end with periods. The reason for this is that they don’t start out as questions, but as half-baked suppositions. Anyway, every day I sit here like a dope mulling things over, and when I’m not sitting here, when I’m taking a walk or peeling an onion or engaged in some other lively pursuit, I’m still mulling. Even when I try not to mull, I mull, with nary a lull, and that’s no bull. For instance: why do people so often pronounce the word zoology as if it were spelled zooology? And how many onions did my grandmother peel in her lifetime? How many football stadiums would they fill?
January 26, 2004 — Well, I guess the president will be impeached now that everyone knows he lied about Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” in order to justify the war. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that the White House was torn apart because a president committed adultery. Or is adultery a more serious offense than mass maiming and murder? President Clinton lied. Life goes on. President Bush lied. For a great many, life doesn’t go on. One guy is a weasel and a slimeball, the other is arrogant and a murderer. And early last year a whole bunch of fine, upstanding “elected representatives” broke out their flags and went right along with him. So I guess that makes them arrogant murderers as well. I mean, what is a person to think? If actions speak louder than words, actions like these scream. You have to ask yourself how a basic dope on the street — someone like me, in other words — can see through the lies, and yet college-educated government officials, many with degrees in law, can’t. I’m joking, of course. We know those boys and girls make decisions based only on what they have to gain or lose. Their children aren’t fighting and dying in Iraq. Their families aren’t muddling along without health insurance. If something happens to their precious health, they have immediate access to the best of care. And so they stand up in front of the world and say things like “we must help bring democracy to Iraq.” Then they go home or to a restaurant and eat a fine meal. Then they go to bed and rest their weary democratic bodies so they’ll be able to face another hard day of representing not the poor saps who elected them, but themselves. Sorry, no money for schools. Sorry, no money for health care. Sorry, no money for education. Sorry, no money for you jobless, homeless, hopeless idiots who happen to have been born in the richest country in the world but aren’t propped up by family wealth or a corrupt political system that rewards liars. Weapons of mass destruction, indeed.
January 27, 2004 — A few days ago, one of Portland’s professional basketball players was fined $100,000 for missing a game. The fine was equal to one game’s pay. In the regular season, there are eighty-two games. So the burning question is, how is this young man going to survive? Will he have to sell his house and move in with family, or can he hang on until the end of the season and then get a summer job? I am sick with worry. Also, I need to buy a couple of shirts. But with a problem like this on my mind, I don’t know if I’ll be able to muster the energy for the trip to Goodwill.
January 28, 2004 — What does it mean, really, when athletes are paid millions of dollars a year and teachers and nurses are paid thousands, and many other people who do many other important things are paid even less? To me, it means society places more value on entertainment than it does on things that make an immediate and lasting difference. I have nothing against entertainment or sports. I don’t even mind having fun on occasion. But having to take out a loan to go to a basketball game, and to then be subjected to the antics of whining and complaining millionaires, doesn’t make sense to me. Whether they win or lose, the players still collect, and many of them play with exactly that attitude. If they feel like taking the night off, or if they are mad about something, they simply coast. They don’t play as if their livelihoods were on the line. And it’s no wonder: with a few simple investments, most of them could quit working immediately and not lift a finger the rest of their lives. As a fan, why would I want to contribute to that? But the lazy athlete scenario is just a handy example. What really needs to be examined and understood are the values we place on things and on each other. And it should also be noted that there are many lazy people in all walks of life. There are nurses who refuse to get off their duffs, and teachers who couldn’t care less about their students. The bums. They probably wish they were ballplayers.
January 29, 2004 — Forget the overpaid ballplayers, forget the greasy politicians, forget the celebrities on trial, forget the news, forget the latest technology, forget past wars, present wars, and future wars, forget poverty and hunger, forget your name and address, forget what you stand for and what you are against, forget what you had for breakfast, forget to shave, forget to put on your makeup, forget to bathe, forget to dress yourself before leaving home, forget where you parked or what bus you’re supposed to take, forget who said what, and when it was said, and in what tone of voice. In short, forget everything — and then, don’t forget to forget that you forgot. Because if you remember that you forgot, then you didn’t really forget, in which case, we’ll have to go over this all again.
January 30, 2004 — This is my philosophy: mumble, grumble, yak-yak-yak. For transcripts, please send five dollars to Fun Unlimited, State Mental Hospital, Salem, Oregon. Or, for five dollars, please send transcripts. Or, for five transcripts, please send a mental hospital. Or, for a mental hospital, please dollar trans sendscripts. We are who we are, but we’ve been very busy lately, so we think we are someone else. At least that’s what they tell us. Either way, it doesn’t matter, because they won’t let us out. This suits us perfectly, though, because we are afraid of normal people. Normal people are not only weird, but dangerous. Another thing they tell us is that we are not we, or even three. They tell us that we are only me, and that until I see, I won’t be free. When we tell them that we are already free, they shake their heads and leave the room. And we are always glad to see them go, because we prefer our own company. Still, we worry about what they are doing out there. We can smell the pollution, and we can hear the bombs dropping and the people crying. Poor, lonely people. We would help them if we could. If we knew how. If they would stop lying and cheating and killing each other long enough to listen.
January 31, 2004 — Like Cinderella at midnight, a large billboard on nearby River Road has suddenly disintegrated here at the end of the first month of the new year. Just a few days ago, the suit-clad image of one of our several dozen friendly neighborhood insurance agents smiled down benevolently upon the sheep in his bustling domain. Alongside him were the words, “Invest with someone you know.” For the entire month of January, I pondered this message. It was meaningless, but it radiated warmth and hope. Then the sign started to come apart. Half of the agent was up and smiling, half of him was ragged and torn. A giant, frosty beer bottle appeared. “Hey, buddy, you only go around once in life. Hic! Invest with someone you know.” I found this very troubling. What would have happened if I had invested early in the month, before I knew the guy was a drunk? And what about all the others who did? As it happens, my wife and I did see this very same insurance agent at the grocery store three or four weeks ago. I said, “That’s him.” She said, “Who?” I said, “The guy on the billboard.” She said, “Oh. Did we buy any chicken last week?” The guy looked at least ten years older than he did in his picture, but he was wearing the same suit. “I wonder why he’s wearing a suit on Saturday?” I mumbled into my collar as he walked by us with his cartload of sensible items. “It’s frightening.” The insurance agent steered his cart into the next aisle. “Maybe we should give him our money,” I said in a louder voice. “What money?” my wife said. “Good question,” I said. “Wait. I’ve got it. I could sign over the rights to my next book.” My wife looked at me. She smiled sadly.
March 2003 April 2003 May 2003 June 2003 July 2003 August 2003 September 2003
October 2003 November 2003 December 2003 January 2004 February 2004 March 2004
April 2004 May 2004 June 2004 July 2004 August 2004 September 2004
October 2004 November 2004 December 2004 January 2005 February 2005 March 2005
Also by William Michaelian
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Another Song I Know
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