Monday, May 27, 2013

It's A Puzzle

Well,  so the pledge to post every day blazed out pretty quickly, didn't it?  Maybe I should amend it, to a pledge of posting at least once a quarter?  All in favor?  All opposed?  The ayes have it, by a margin of one (I cheated and help up both hands).  (I'll consider, later, whether to allow the 'extra' posts, between Jan. 1st and the appropriate April Fool's Day spluttering out, to be tallied as future entries, which will absolve me from writing anything at all for a few years, at least...)

It's not that I haven't thought of writing here -- I have, quite a lot -- but, at the risk of offending, I kind of wish no one would read any of this.  Or if anyone did, it would be someone in some remote village in the Caucasus Mountains, who couldn't understand a word of what I'm saying.

In a version of 'The Goose Girl', when the rightful princess is discovered by the old king, but then refuses to tell him her story, because she's pledged an oath of silence, the old king finds an unused, soot-blackened stove, large enough for the princess to crawl inside.   'Go in here,' he tells the frightened girl, 'where you can tell your story, without breaking your oath.  So she does, and he listens at the opening of the stovepipe, and all is then made right.  Except that Falada the Talking Horse is still dead, of course.  It seems that, even in fairy tales, you can't have everything.

And I guess this is how I'd wanted to approach my writing here -- as though it's being done in a confessional, or whispered to a yew tree, or unreeled in the dark.  But this seems impossible, so either I'm going to create another secret blog, or, when writing here, pull what I write from a different psychic space.  We'll see.

Anyway, what a long diversion from what I thought I'd write about today -- what an aside from what prompted me to get back to the keyboard, as it were  

Yesterday, driving home from New Brunswick, and coming around the corner on South Orange Avenue, by the entrance to Seton Hall, where it's impossible to see if someone's sneaking across the road against the light, I was going fast.  I love driving fast.  And, as there were no errant pedestrians in the way, it was all right.  And I didn't get caught at a red light.

Then, as I drove the three remaining blocks to the house, I realized how few current activities of mine give me this same sense of intense involvement, and an almost total-body feeling of enjoyment.  I thought I'd try to find at least three, because that seems to be an ideal number, when writing about things, and now that I think about it further, I think I do actually have three activities that meet these possibly questionable criteria.  They would be: Driving fast; Tying things in knots; Writing.

Now, the things that I really enjoy are not necessarily the things that I do the most, or that I do all the time.  Sometimes I drive at a completely leisurely pace, and I try always to be considerate of pedestrians, and to signal to other drivers when I'm about to change lanes.  So not all driving falls into the category of pleasure.  We can ask only so much of the world, it seems.

Likewise with the tying of knots.  It's an activity centered mostly around the creation of my artwork, which activity I have largely abandoned, because of the already-mentioned sever lack of space to put anything else, and because of an ineradicable sense of despair and failure and shame, at having invested irretrievable time and money and energy on something which I could plainly have known would generate so little in the way of tangible, reciprocal benefit.  I feel like a fool.  Which may be why I want to tie things in knots.  I'd love to be able, like Richard Serra, to work at the scale that would allow me to, for instance, have access to an unused super-long stretch limo, and tie it in a knot.  I may allow myself to make a couple more smaller knotted pieces -- I have one in the bathroom, that I look at several times a day, and it seems to be goading me to create for it some companions.  We'll see, as my father would say when he meant he'd be telling us no a little while later...

I'm not sure how to typify my writing these days.  While I've avoided this more public stage on which to present my thoughts and ideas, I have continued writing (usually whiny complaints), using whatever paper is at hand -- often one of those 5 1/2"x8" pads with my name across the top, in blue ink.  At first, I wondered when I would ever find the time to transcribe all these into virtual files; now, at least for the time being, I don't seem to care much where they end up.

One thing that I do all the time, and that seems more a necessity than the diversion it might appear to others, is the daily crossword puzzle in the New York Times.  It's a very rare day when that's not pretty much the first thing I do (aside from getting coffee, etc); often, if I'm shopping, and see the NY Post available, I'll buy it, and do the puzzles there too -- in spite of never having completed even one of the London Times versions.  I still try.

I think this is a non-life-threatening compulsion, linked with a grave fear -- the dwindling of my intellectual abilities, and my need to reinforce for myself, every day, that I'm at least smart enough to do the puzzle in the Times.  It may take me all day -- and the Saturday puzzles often do -- but I get them done.  I may wince at the pun-laden clues; I may rage inwardly at the puzzle's stupid or arcane theme (a recent one centered on... the names of the Swiss Alps?  Why not the names of the distinct parts of a Bessemer converter?), but I do the puzzle.

I even try to do the puzzle the 'right way'.  Which, finally, leads me to what prompted me to start writing today, in the first place.

It being Memorial Day, after all.

So, I've always used ballpoint pen when doing newpaper puzzles -- not out of vanity, but because I enjoy the feel of the ballpoint pen sliding across the paper -- either the coarser stuff of the daily arts section, or the smooth, clay-coated Sunday magazine section.  And I used to tear through the puzzle as quickly as I could -- but always according to some questionable rules in my head.  To wit:

We can never write down the answer to a clue unless and until we know that it is correct, by checking with one or more of the crossing answers.

We never -- or only very very rarely -- insert the 'big' answers.  They are to be kept for last.  Lately, I've allowed myself some leeway in this, but possibly only because I know I'm facing a death more immanent than ever.

We never seek outside help for the puzzle -- a rule I have been flagrantly disobeying recently, given the omni-presence of my laptop, and bolstered by the wisdom of my eighth grade teacher, Mr. Howard Mayfield, who told us that the mark of intelligent people wasn't how much they knew right off the top of their head, but how quickly they could learn what they needed to know.  Hence the hasty google searches for 'migratory Australian finch', or 'Star of 1947 movie about stomach surgery'.

And, it being Memorial Day, I'll mention another rule I added to my list of puzzle commandments, and muse a bit about that rule's source.

I was doing a puzzle while sitting in the glassed-in walkway between the sanctuary and the social hall of St. John's in the Village, a little New York City Episcopal church near the old St. Vincent's Hospital.  John and I were active there for a while, and I might have been waiting for a vestry meeting, or for John to be done with choir rehearsal.

At any rate, I was doing my puzzle, and one of the more active members of the parish, a lovely and intelligent woman named Pam made the observation that the across clues were always harder to fill in, than the clues running down.  This was a shock and a jolt to me.  Did this mean that, by racing through the puzzle any which-way, following the lead of one letter to the next, that I was taking the easy way out?  That I was somehow cheating?

I guess I could have asked Pam, but it didn't occur to me, or I couldn't because she had to go to a meeting, or run off on an errand with her daughter, Pam Jr., or her son Arlander, named for his father.  The whole family used to worship together at St. John's, their little cluster forming a kind of visible anchor for the rest of us, in the small sanctuary.  The fact that Arlander Sr. was African-American seemed to give their presence even greater importance.  It was a great shock when Arlander Sr. fell ill, and almost immediately died of cancer of some sort.  It felt rude to ask too many questions.  I felt like I would be poking at a wound over which no scar material had had time to form.

I tried to teach Sunday school at St. John's, which was something of a challenge when Pam's two children, and the daughter of another parishioner, made up the complete class.  The study materials provided by the church were hopelessly naive and ridiculous: "Have one of the students put a tea towel on his head, and pretend to be Moses leading the Israelites across the parted Red Sea.  Let the other children represent the sea, and the pursuing Egyptians.'  Apart from the glib assumption that we had a cast of thousands with which to work, the bare suggestion that a savvy 10-year old New York pre-teen would wear a tea towel for any reason made my blood run cold.  I did make a large cardboard cut-out, shaped like the Sinai Peninsula, when we were going to talk about the Exodus story, and I included a paper cut-out of Manhattan, to the same scale, so we'd all have a point of reference.  (I'd always thought it stupid that it took forty years to get from point A to point B, especially being the chosen people and all)  I think we were all a little surprised at how minute Manhattan looked -- I'd had to put in into a small envelope, so I wouldn't lose it, it was so small.  I'm not sure they learned anything from me at all, except how easily an adult could be embarrassed and frustrated.  I think the kids must have known how afraid I was of them, and how much I wanted their approval.  I might as well have been a class behind them in school.

So it was a great shock when, a few years later, after John and I had moved to Rochester for graduate school, I learned that Pam Jr. had been killed in a skiing accident.  I couldn't believe it, and had to call the parish for confirmation, and while the priest unreeled, in a somewhat dispassionate and clinical voice, the tale of Pam's crashing into a tree, and being in conscious agony during the helicopter ride to the hospital, asking why this had happened to her, and then dying of her injuries.  I cried during the whole conversation, and then sent Pam Sr. a card with a note inside.  Why did I feel so torn, at the death of a little girl I was so sure had no regard for me at all?

Later, after John and I had earned our degrees, and had survived more than enough Monroe County winters, we returned to the NY area, and thought we would pick up where we left off at St. John's.  Which, of course, proved to be more or less impossible, even though there were still quite a few people still there, including Pam and her son, now rapidly bursting into a handsome manhood.  One of the more positive events that unfolded after our return -- though certainly in no way set in motion by it -- was a staged reading of Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night'.  John, who was just beginning his musical adventures with the harp, provided accompaniment for 'Come Away, Death', to a tune that, in a way I don't understand, I composed while riding the subway one day during the rehearsal period.  I was also cast as Malvolio, with Pam Sr. as Maria the saucy maid -- she even included an ad-lib 'sticking out her tongue' at me, on one of my exits, and I thought it was hilarious.  And Arlander as the love-sick Duke -- If music be the food of love, play on, he said, lounging on his 'throne' in curly-haired, long-legged, coffee-hued virility.  I think we only did the play once.  I still have the ridiculous yellow socks I bought from a vendor on Canal St., and pulled ruefully from my pocket in the final scene.

Arlander graduated from high school, and went away to college, I don't know where.  I saw him by chance on Hudson St., perhaps the day he was leaving town, and by way of a spontaneous gift, I handed him $20, and shook his hand.  From his look and reaction, I'm not sure any of it made sense to him.  I might have been thinking, myself, of the $5 my father gave me, somewhat reluctantly, in a parking lot near my apartment in State College PA, as a gift for having earned my Bachelor's Degree in 1975; strange how some things cycle through one life and then another.

And then catastrophic news came to us, impossible to credit -- Arlander had been arrested, and charged with murder.  I still reel a little, inside, just thinking of it.  Somehow, I was at church as the story was oozing out through the congregation, and Pam was there too, about to walk home to her apartment nearer the river.  I took her hand -- probably more for my comfort than for hers -- and she unpacked what little she'd been told -- a set of bad friends, the availability of drugs, a sale gone wrong, too much rage released all at once, some young lives wrecked in one way or another.  By the time we'd gotten to her door, Pam had pried her hand loose, thanked me, and assured me that she would keep everyone posted as news arose.

There was a hearing, not much later, where one of the priests of St. John's was appealing to be appointed Arlander's custodian until trial.  I was one of a group of parishioners present, to offer what support might be possible, but I don't think our sitting there in that row of dark wooden benches made any difference.  The judge listened, clearly unmoved by the lawyer's clumsy justification, and after remarking that the church didn't seem to have done too good a job, if these charges were being brought against the young man sitting before her, she denied the appeal.  Arlander may have noticed some of us, back in the courtroom; he hugged his mother, and was then escorted away.

While he was in jail, awaiting trial, some members of the parish went out to visit him.  When I asked about this process -- how much time to allow, what to expect with regard to security, and so forth, the priest gave me a dishearteningly extensive account of what was entailed.  Sad to say, and partly because of my keen discomfort with the idea of anything approaching imprisonment, I couldn't muster the courage to go, either alone, or with a group of others.

Then Arlander was tried, found guilty, and sent to prison.  Like so many women with menfolk behind bars, Pam regularly and faithfully visited him.

Later she sold her apartment, close to the Hudson River.  And not too long ago, she too succumbed to cancer.

I don't know where Arlander is now.  I suppose I could check.  I think I'm afraid to find out. 

But I think of his mother every day, as I crease the Arts Section open, flatten it out, and start the puzzle.  Medium-point black ballpoint pen going through the clues.  All the across clues first, one after the other.  Feeling as if I'm cheating, if I double-check an answer I think I know, but peeping at the clues for the vertical words.  Taking that extra bit of time, exerting that extra bit of discipline, like  a good student practicing his scales for a teacher he so wants to please.

I think Pam would smile -- or even give a good laugh -- if she knew.         

Though not a veteran, still, in memoriam...

©   2013                     Walter Zimmerman

Monday, April 1, 2013

It's Just One Non-Sequitur After Another...

As I was saying...

At the gym today, as I was dressing, I pulled on my brand-new a-shirt (aka: wife-beater, which, had I known this years ago, I may never have worn one in the first place), and found, at the bottom hem, a white sticker.  1"x1/2", glue-backed, and on the front, a red arrow.  Like you'd see on a traffic sign, telling you to turn... this way. 

That's it.  Just a red arrow, on a white sticker, on a new undershirt. 

Not an inspection number, to let me know that #14 had checked to see that my shirt was A-ok.  Just a red arrow.  I think it might have been pointing to the top of the shirt, but I'm not sure.  As though I wouldn't know how to put the garment on? 

And this, on a shirt manufactured by one of the first underwear manufacturers to spend a bazillion dollars, hiring Michael Jordan and a thousand extras, to make TV commercials about how scratchy those darned tags are, scraping around at the back of your neck, on your t-shirts and wife-beaters, after all of us have been wearing these shirts for generations with no ill effects...   All of which effort, of course, was simply to cover the fact that someone at Hanes was going to get a fat vice-presidency because someone else came up with the idea of not using tags at all, and just printing the size info onto the cloth itself, saving a bazillion dollars in materials and labor, which they could spend on Michael Jordan, etc. etc.  I'm waiting for the day when some clever merchant convinces me to hand over my money in exchange for... absolutely nothing.  Plus tax.

Which brings me back to that mysterious red arrow.  If we're promoting people because they've overheard a conversation in the men's room, and thereby catapulted themselves into the career ionosphere, why am I now finding... little mysterious white pieces of paper, printed with meaningless red arrows, for no discernible purpose, in my new clothing?  Should I collect these arrows, and cash them in for fabulous prizes, or to get new windows for the kindergarten in town?  Maybe it would be better if I didn't notice these things, but... too late.

Now, the next thing, which only follows because it's next in line...

Yesterday being Easter and all, I was having a serious discussion about anger and forgiveness.  'Oh, I can forgive,' said the other half of the conversation, 'but I'm still angry about it...'

And it was as though a light went on, in an old, old basement, thick with ancient dust.  Because I have had, for decade upon decade, a struggle with forgiveness -- or, rather, with my (mis)conception of what forgiveness might be.  Or, more importantly, what forgiveness might legitimately feel like.

I had assumed, without it occurring to me to ask, that forgiveness (along with its apparently conjoined twin, forgetting) meant that, after the forgiving had been done, or accomplished, or conjured up, there was a kind of inner emotional blandness afterwards -- the way a blackboard might feel, if a long, complex mathematical equation it had been bearing had just been erased.  There -- it's forgiven, and as a result, I feel nothing anymore.

But...  I just couldn't seem to do this -- couldn't seem, I guess, to write a blank check to... whoever might have done The Thing.  I felt that, by forgiving, I was in fact saying -- 'Oh, that's okay -- my heart's better off, having been ripped out of my chest and trampled on for a week...'  It seemed degrading.

This forgiveness (and forgetting, don't forget) also seemed to imply -- to use the erasure metaphor yet again -- that my own history, that a significant -- if unpleasant -- portion of my essential identity, was being eliminated.  If I've forgiven my father, for instance, for just dumping me on the doorstep of an orphanage, I must never think of this event ever again, and should certainly never talk about it, to anyone, under any circumstances.  In spite of the fact that this means I walk around with enormous holes in my past -- or, actually, with the pretense of enormous holes, because of course, whether forgiven or not, these events did actually take place, and did actually lead to grave damage, the effects of which I still feel today.

And, this forgiveness/forgetting was further thwarted, in my mind, by the significant fact that -- to use the orphanage instance -- my father never indicated that he was the least bit sorry.  He never even seemed to remember that any of this had happened.  How, I couldn't seem to figure out, can I forgive someone who isn't the least bit sorry?

Oh, I know -- the adepts at such things tell me that, by holding onto anger and hurt, I'm really the only one who's damaged -- that the very fact that my father didn't seem to care much, one way or another, how I felt about what he'd done, meant that I had better focus on my own well-being.  All of which sounds perfectly reasonable, except that, for some reason (is it my Cancer moon, perhaps?  Being left-handed, in most things?), this indifference on the part of the perpetrator is like a hook that gets caught in my flesh, making it painful to move on.  I just don't know how to do this... forgiving.

And then, there's the one other thing, like another jet that's been circling the airport, waiting for a runway to free up...

It's probably my fault, I suppose.  I really never asked.  Or, well, strictly speaking, I did ask, but by then, it was far too late.  'What', I finally asked my therapist, after having seen him regularly for some ten years, 'what am I supposed to get from all of this?'

Well, of course he was a nice, intelligent, compassionate man -- all my many therapists were nice, intelligent, compassionate people, with the exception of two, about whom I will for the nonce say nothing at all.  But not one of them (including the two in the not-so-hot bracket) ever discussed with me... just what it was we might be aiming for.  What was all this talking and talking and talking supposed to do, after all?

Well, I knew (without being particularly aware of it, of course) what I thought we should not only aim for, but achieve -- complete psychic healing.  Which meant that, through some inexplicable mechanism (and why should I know how it worked?  They were the therapists, not me), all the griefs of my childhood would be expunged.  It would be as though each and every individual horror had been permanently erased from my little hard drive.  I really thought this was what we were going to do, one way or another.  And I was more than willing to do my part, if this was what the payoff was to be.

And then, of course, I realized that, not only was this an unachievable goal, but that no one had ever said this was even remotely on the schedule.  I felt -- and still feel -- so stupid.     

Of course, I quit going to therapy shortly thereafter.  I don't know that I miss it particularly -- especially now that I fully grasp how unending and impotent is seems, for me, to be now. 

I think I need a miracle -- although, with my track record for being perceptive, I've probably been marinating in a miracle for the past 20 years, without knowing it.  Or maybe I need to be even stupider than I already think I've been, deluding myself into some comforting hope that I might be able to use as a screen between myself and... myself.

I could go on.  But it would just be...

©    2013             Walter Zimmerman 

Friday, March 29, 2013


Well, I've certainly fallen down on my pledge to myself, to post something here every day for a year.  I'll try to figure out just how bad I should feel, maybe in November. 

Today, a quiet day at home, mostly spent in the den, amid all my paper-making supplies, in a heap that would horrify normal visitors.  I lay on the couch, with one of the cats asleep next to me, and a bag of ice perched on my sore right shoulder, while I took men's pink shirts apart with a knife, and watched 1940's B-grade movies about 'The Doctor Detective'.  Idle hands being the devil's workshop, after all...

The movies -- totally unremarkable, fairly typical of the period, were interesting to me because the plots were so transparent, the exposition unspooled as artlessly and unselfconsciously as possible, and life seemed incredibly unsophisticated or suspicious, in spite of the prevalence of bad guys in ugly hotel rooms that all looked the same.  Were the lives of my parents and their contemporaries really mirrored in these films?  Did these movies really reflect the expectations of adults in post-WWII America?  If so, I think, if I had been born thirty years earlier, I might have been the biggest, most successful crook in human history.

I also found the women's clothes -- especially the hats -- mesmerizing.  Even in cheap movies like these, every female seen out of doors was wearing a fairly complicated chapeau.  There seemed to be a vaguely architectural/science fiction flavor to them.  I can only imagine what colors they might have been, black and white being so clever at disguising orange as green, etc etc etc.

Then I had two jobs to do: clean out the fridge, and make sure there was something to eat for dinner.  The fridge part was relatively quick and easy -- I just grabbed everything that had been lurking on one shelf or another for longer than absolutely necessary, and threw it out.  Why we insist on keeping cooked broccoli, when we so rarely eat same, may always remain a mystery to me.

Shopping.  I've promised to bring scalloped potatoes to the potluck Easter lunch John and I are attending, so I needed all the ingredients, plus the odd this and that, like... more broccoli.  In no time, my little blue plastic hand basket was filled to the brim, and I was semi-regretful of not having chosen a cart instead.  Especially with my sore arm.

I also found myself thinking, again, about being dead.  Actually, I'd started thinking about being dead right at the intersection of South Center St. and South Orange Avenue, on my way to the market.  I don't know what prompts these little bouts of... not exactly gloom, but maybe more like a longing for disconnection, I guess.  When I had finally picked up the final (non-essential) item for this particular trip, I stood in line for checkout, and had a pretty intense dizzy spell -- one of the first I've had outside the house.  And of course, while the wooziness swept over me, and then ebbed away, I thought about dying -- was this going to be it?  Was I going to die in public, in the checkout line in the South Orange supermarket, where Dionne Warwick is known to have shopped?  What might I be thinking about, lying on the linoleum and looking up at all the baskets they've hung from the ceiling?  What might I say, to disconcerted customers and panic-stricken cashiers?

No one could tell, of course, and I just did my usual joking during the ringing up process, asking if it makes any difference if I put produce before packaged goods, or the other way 'round.  Lugging the groceries back to the van -- more food than many villages in Africa probably see in an average month, I'll bet -- I had to change which arm I used, because the injured shoulder was finally complaining.  I decided to put the bags of groceries on the passenger seat, buckled them in snuggly, and set about extricating myself from the parking dungeon.

And while I was maneuvering around concrete pillars and other parked cars, I drifted back to what seemed to be the topic du jour, at least for this little errand: death.  Or more specifically, being dead.  It may truly be that what I fear and/or dread most about this stupid inevitable transition (if we're being optimistic.  I think), is not knowing how that actual transition will feel.  Will there be pain?  I'm not especially heroic about pain. 

I'm also squeamish about my appearance in public, and knowing what I do about death and its impact on the human body, I dread what seems to be an involuntary, inelegant mess, upon deceasing.  When we lived in Rochester, I happened to meet, through a folk-singing group, a Presbyterian minister who, apparently, was frequently called upon to witness the death of a member of his congregation, and he would from time to time make a mordant comment, indicating the frequency with which the deceased was discovered 'straining at stool'.  I would say that all of my suicide fantasies take messiness into account, as a high-priority item on the agenda.

But, while I waited for the light at South Orange Avenue and Scotland Road to turn green, so I could proceed on my one-mile westward drive to our house, I looked at my hands on the steering wheel and thought again about Proust's observation: 'Dying is easy -- people do it every day.  Thinking about death -- especially one's own death -- is impossible.'  Can I actually imagine my not being physically present on the planet?           

There's a meditation I found, in a book called 'The Secret' (which title I find hilarious, given how bulky the volume is, with conspicuous gold lettering on the cover and down the spine), in which I'm asked to imagine that I don't have a head.  I think that, when I first read it, I thought this, too, was hilarious, and then impossible.  But when I tried to put this into practice -- mostly on my commute down to Philadelphia when I was still somewhat meaningfully employed -- I found it to be curiously refreshing and diverting.  I tried to pretend that whatever I was seeing or thinking was actually taking place right about where my sternum is.  And as a matter of fact, I came to like this weird exercise, which must be impossible to do correctly, which of course means it's also impossible to do wrong.

But the reason I bring this up -- this purported imagining that I'm dead (which is probably, more truthfully, imagining that I'm imagining that I'm dead) led me to think about the possible benefits of being dead.  Which I thought I'd kind of list here:

Benefits of Being Dead.   (A Short List; A Complete Compilation Possibly Being Impossible)

Never having to do anything ever again.
Never losing anything ever again.
Not having to buy anything ever again.
Not having to worry about how I look.
Not having to worry about forgetting someone else's name, or anything else, for that matter.
Not having to worry about being late.
Not having to worry about being a failure.
Not having to worry about getting sick.
Not having to think about the odds of getting shot on any particular day.
Never having to drive anywhere for anything ever again.
In fact, never having to travel anywhere ever, ever again.
Never having to worry about getting older and more infirm.
Never having to think about what's for dinner.
Never having to think about deodorant or exercising, ever again.
Not having to worry about being polite.
Not worrying anymore about money.
Not thinking about the weather, or what to wear.
Not having to worry about being gay or not.
Not having to think about unfulfilled potential anymore.
No burping or farting.
Not having to spend time with people I don't like.
Not having to worry about misspelling things, or repeating myself.
Not having to be either particularly smart, or particularly stupid or clumsy.
Not having to worry about forgetting the house's security code, or anything else, for that matter.
Not having to worry about sin.
Not having to worry about death by tsunami, or meteor collision, or nuclear war, or plague.
Not having to think about death anymore.
Not worrying about halitosis.
Not worrying about never having sex again, or that the reason I'll never have sex again is that no one is particularly interested in me... that way.  Or, at least no one in whom I'm at least slightly interested... that way.

I think I'll leave this list on this prurient note, as John has arrived home, and I think I need to make motions similar to those one makes if one is going to make dinner.  About which, when I'm dead, I will never have to worry ever again. 

There seems to be a movie by Federico Fellini on TV now, and it seems to be about Napoleon.  Sometimes I prefer just to listen to movies from another room.  It's kind of like overhearing a conversation at Starbux. 

Happy Easter, or whatever.

©    2013               Walter Zimmerman

Monday, March 25, 2013

Angry House...

How things emerge.

John thought he'd left his wallet, and his driver's license, in his suit jacket at church yesterday, and asked me to drive him to the train station this morning, and could I pick him up tonight?  All I needed was half a cup of coffee, I decided, and I was good to go. 

As we were getting ready to leave the house, John found his wallet in his overcoat pocket.  So he could safely drive to New Brunswick and back after all.  But, on second thought, would I mind taking him in to Newark Penn Station anyway, and getting him again at around 10 pm?  The weather report looked grim, and driving on the Garden State at night is less than picnic-like, even in the best of conditions.  Of course I could be there.  And so, off we drove.

There was virtually no traffic -- it being spring break or something.  I love driving into downtown Newark on days when school is out, or it's especially cold -- the trip seems so simple and direct, like slicing butter.  Even the four dread center-city blocks, between Washington St. and the McCarter Highway, can seem manageable, lumbering buses and all.  I enjoy the low-grade challenge of keeping an eye on all the moving parts of the puzzle, so both to avoid contact and maintain maximum vehicular quickness.  Sort of like a computer game, I guess, but in Sens-U-Round. 

Two little near-misses jolted me.  The door of a double-parked van suddenly opened as we were passing, and I may have missed it by mere inches.  The drop-off stand at the station was unusually crowded; when John got out, I had to back up a bit to get back into the exit lane, and I realized, at the last second, that someone was crossing the street behind me.  Although this pedestrian evidenced no immediate concern about physical safety, I had one of those moments of dizziness that follow such reprieves.  Which, as it passed, seemed to give me a different perspective on the emotional state in which I have found myself recently -- that of bated breath, a sense of dread, of impending doom or punishment, of the imminent fraying of what looks like so well-knit a life. 

Why would such a frame of mind impose itself?  I mean, I think I'm pretty much just as pleasure-seeking and pain-avoiding as the next human being -- where would the adoption of such an unpleasant internal posture come from?  As is usual for me, I looked into my own personal history, to see what I might be able to ferret out.

In an odd way, perhaps as Theseus might have used the thread Ariadne gave him, to find his way out of the labyrinth -- but heading in the opposite direction -- I followed that inner discomfort back to the span of time I lived with my father and his second family.  About seven years of unending tension, of free-floating anxiety and the sense, as they say, of waiting for the other shoe to drop.  (Which expression, though perfectly clear in its meaning, otherwise makes no sense.  Why does it make me see myself hiding under a bed, while a lumbering, evil man makes the mattress creak over me, as he struggles to unlace his other boot...?)  And today, in a twist that seems unusual to me, I continued to follow that thread of tension, back into the lives of the three major actors in our sour family drama.
What I think I realized was that, instead of a primary fear at work, this tension thread became a triple cord of deep, perhaps unquenchable anger.

Mary.  My stepmother's mother.  The woman I feel completely justified in calling 'my horrid grandmother'.  A truly powerful and baleful presence, this woman seemed at first like a nasty moon in a disturbingly intimate orbit around the family my father and stepmother were trying to make, mostly with the shards of his first marriage.   Which shards would be my brothers and me.  And then, as if the orbit wasn't convenient enough, she moved in, and her gravitational field wielded an even more constant and sour impact.  What was she angry about?  I can only guess.

She'd lived through the Depression, and its events were embedded deeply.  She seemed unaware of the lingering impact of what had happened nearly a quarter of a century earlier; she hoarded and resented and begrudged.  Never particularly self-revealing, she did, annually, remind my brothers and me of how grateful we should be, to be getting any gifts at all at Christmas, because all she got as a child was an orange.  I could never tell whether this was a coded request for a whole bushel of oranges for a change, or never to see an orange again as long as she lived.  And she wasn't the sort of person one could turn to, for clarification.

She may have been attractive in her young womanhood -- there weren't many photos, but the ones I saw showed a face with a kind of distant kinship with Loretta Young's.  Who knows what immoderate dreams spring up, fed by one's own fleeting loveliness -- dreams that, seemingly forgotten, still linger, giving off whiffs of toxicity that go almost unnoticed, but not unfelt?   She had also seen her only daughter, her eldest child, make two regrettable marriages -- one early fling that, according to family legend, had been annulled, and the second marriage, to a smoking, drinking, cursing divorced Protestant man with four young boys from his own failed first marriage. 

Mary never had a kind word for my father, that I can recall, and took special delight in finding something pointedly unpleasant to say to my brothers and me, as often as possible.  I still remember, with a kind of stunned disbelief, her taking me aside one afternoon, in the kitchen of the house on Grover St., and beginning, in a confidential tone, one of her little instances of 'just telling the truth'.  'You know,' she said, looking at me closely, 'of all the boys, you're the ugliest one.'  Living with her was like living in a closely-planted mine-field -- it wasn't a question of whether one would sustain damage on any particular day, but rather just how extensive the inevitable damage might be.

Walter, my father.  The third and youngest, the only son of a prosperous man and his nervous wife who seemed ill-prepared for life.  My father, too, had lived through the Depression, though it seemed he was sheltered somewhat by his father's prosperity -- which apparently was stripped away, as was that of so many people -- and diligence -- because my grandfather allegedly rebuilt his financial stability, in the worst of times.  The only lingering impact from my dad's childhood, about which I knew anything at all, was his aversion to rutabagas (brought on by what was apparently a surfeit of these root vegetables during the Victory Garden phase of WWII), and a kind of wistful sadness seemingly centered around a 'nervous breakdown' his mother had, during the 30's, which had meant that my dad's upbringing fell to his older sisters.  He seemed molded, by this modified maternal abandonment, to fit most comfortably with decisive, domineering women, whether he actually liked it or not.

But the anger?  Oh, it was there, though so deeply buried and so tightly controlled that it usually only rose to the surface, in full force, on rare and dreadful occasions.  I never did understand what was at the core of what I'm tempted to call the enmity between my father and his own dad -- because my grandparents lived in New Jersey, so far from our homes in Illinois or Pennsylvania, visits between the two men seldom took place.  And the one or two I recall having seen (to the extent of sitting out in the hallway, listening to muffled voices behind closed doors), were tense and unpleasant.  My grandfather seeming angry and stern, my father seeming angry and cringing.

So, my dad took his anger out, it seems, on authority figures, and on his own life, I think.  He was hot-tempered at work, and I mordantly joke that we moved so often in my childhood because, first, my father was in the military, and then, that he had a bad temper.  He had trouble keeping jobs.  And I think his steadfast embrace of a kind of life-failure was a dangerous angry gesture toward the father who couldn't give him whatever it was he needed.  Though there certainly weren't many opportunities, in his singularly luckless employment history, for my father to have taken a leap to someplace more financially rewarding and personally enriching, whenever they arose, he would turn them down.

And my father took his anger out on us, my brothers and me.  Mostly my brothers.  And mostly, I'm pretty sure, at the prompting of my horrid grandmother, and of Joan, my stepmother.  Beatings, mostly, and then the period of time when my brothers were chained in bed at night, and I was given custody of the padlock key.  We were also locked in the basement from time to time, my brothers sitting on a red-wood picnic bench, with their wrists circled in dog-lead chain, the other end of the chains wrapped around the joist supports in the basement ceiling, and me sitting on a red-wood picnic bench across the floor, on guard duty.  With assigned times for lunch (no unlocking for that), and for bathroom use.  Though I rarely talk about this sliver of my past, when I do, the question arises -- 'Well, why didn't you just unlock them, and let them go?'  The sad truth of the kind of vicious system in which we boys found ourselves is that, if I had undone the padlocks, so we could run around the basement and play darts with the canned goods, one of my brothers would inevitably have reported this lapse on my part, to gain favor, and to bring down even more terrible punishment on my head.  We were like a little aquarium of doomed sharklets, waiting to devour each other.

Joan.  My stepmother.  The oldest of three children, the only girl, and the darling of her parents Mary and Sam.  Sam, my step-grandfather, was a non-practicing Jew from Philadelphia who'd spent part of WWII in the Merchant Marine, and loved to watch war-era sea stories on TV.  Mary, of horrid grandmotherhood, was from McKeesport, of Croatian Catholic stock.  Aside from her legacy of psychic scars, she left as her estate a tall, two-doored metal cabinet in the basement, stuffed with brown paper bags.  Joan was lovely, with a kind of svelte, Elizabeth Taylor air, in spite of her one bad eye -- the result of a playtime accident as a child, when her brother Jimmy threw a dart at her, and it stuck.  Photographed from the right angle, this didn't show at all.  She had nice, manageable hair and long, well-tended fingernails, at least in the one studio-type portrait I remember, taken of her just before she met my father when they both worked for Nationwide Insurance, in Pittsburgh.

Joan had a wonderful car -- a huge maroon Mercury convertible.  I think it had white sidewall tires, which were among the most ne plus ultra of automotive luxuries at the time.  I don't remember actually riding in this, but I knew she had it, and it was kind of like an enormous gem, sparkling carelessly in the parking lot of the restaurant/truck stop her parents ran, in Mckeesport PA, within walking distance of one of the many local steel mills.  She and my father decided, after I'd already been removed/released/rescued from the orphanage, to sell her grand car, to get the money necessary for the downpayment on a house big enough for my brothers to come home from the orphanage too.  The arrangement with the orphanage being that my brothers and I were to be removed from there if and when my father remarried.  I was removed under false pretenses, but that's a different story.

Oh, I forgot to mention, my stepmother was 21 when she married my father -- ten years younger than her new husband, and ten years older than her eldest soon-to-be stepson.

The car sale went through -- who wouldn't want a maroon Mercury convertible with white sidewall tires, that had been owned by a semi-glamorous young woman-about-town?  There was tension about the mortgage on the new house -- a three-bedroom, one bath home far out in the country, up in the hills above the river valleys where the mills worked 24 hours a day, keeping the sky orange at night.  But the loan was finally approved, and almost as soon as the furniture was put into place, and my parents made the trip to Mars PA (you can't make these things up), to get my brothers and settle them into their little bunk beds, and everything would be like a Louisa May Alcott story, everything began to fall apart.

My brothers misbehaved, and were rebellious.  I only recently learned that they mistakenly believed that Joan had seduced my father away from our mother, and that it was her fault we'd been in the orphanage in the first place.  My father lost his job as a restocker of vending-machines and refiller of coffee makers in office buildings scattered through downtown Pittsburgh.  My stepmother became pregnant with the first of their two daughters.  The life of material security and warm promise suddenly curdled, and there was no home recipe for turning it sweet again.

So, I think, Joan's anger was fresher and more vigorous, and closer to hand.  Her resentments hadn't festered for years, under the thumb of a strict, domineering father, or because of wide-spread economic woes no one could fully understand.  No, hers was quite easy to trace to its recent origins -- how easy to see her beautiful Mercury in the driveway, instead of the beat-up old Plymouth, hand painted a dull 'dusty rose' color, so it looked like an enormous sofa one the road.  How simple to grasp that she'd find it unpleasant to learn that one of her new stepsons had soiled his underwear at school, and by attempting to flush the garment down the toilet, had caused flooding all over the one-level building.  How immediately sensible that she would feel rubbed raw because, in the space of less than a year, she'd gone from the long, glistening nails, lovingly polished whenever necessary, to short, unpainted nails more suitable for waiting on tables at her resentful mother's truckstop restaurant.  Every serving of stuffed cabbages she carried having been handed to her with a silent reproach.  'I told you so.  I told you not to marry him.  All those children'

And, in what is I guess the way of someone who's experienced being indulged, and not having to put up with what she doesn't want, my stepmother somewhat belatedly decided that... she didn't want to have someone else's children in her house.  She just didn't want them.  She couldn't bear to see them.  Whatever they did, at any level more complicated than breathing, was an irritation, that sent her into screaming, incoherent tirades.  I managed to duck some of this vitriol by grabbing whichever baby was closest; even thus shielded, I still had to listen to these vicious tongue lashings.

Now, as it happened, my stepmother and, I suspect, her mother, managed to get their wish, and my three brothers were re-institutionalized.  I was kept around because I was helpful.  But the three streams of anger that had intertwined to eject my brothers from that unhappy little house, seemed to find no appeasement in this achievement.  It's as though, once release and allowed to run free, this torrent of grudge and vitriol couldn't be recaptured, or put to peaceful purposes.  In the ensuing five years, until I was old enough to be enlisted in the military, life at home was mostly typified by holding ones breath between outbreaks of one kind of anger or another.

And I was angry too, certainly.  But mine was an impotent anger, directed mostly in toward myself.  It certainly wasn't safe to express my own anger out in the open, as it wouldn't flow quite so nicely with the torrent already in place.  Mine was an opposing, resentful, sneering anger.  I couldn't believe how mean our lives were, how inferior everything seemed, how stupid they all were, but as far as I knew, expressing these opinions openly would lead to one thing: Back to the Orphanage.  And in our house, this threat was not idle.  It happened over and over again -- from the first expulsion of my three brothers, through repeated subsequent attempts to bring one or another back, only to have one of the other fail to meet the stringent rules and regulations.  So my fearful, adolescent anger found its only outlet in a facial expression of weary self-resignation (This again?  I can't believe we're having canned peas... again...  That sort of thing).  That, and a ceaseless inner cataloging of my own shortcomings; better I should excoriate myself first, and get it over with, than be surprised by a new snipe attack by Mary or Joan.  My father rarely saying anything, as he was usually taking a nap.

So, seven years, total, of a life more or less like this.  High tension, high drama, abuse, dire want, humiliation, feeling unsafe, unloved, unnecessary.  One can learn a lot in seven years.  If the years are early enough, they can form the foundation of a whole life-expectancy, as it were.  This is how the world operates.  This is the duration of your lull of peace.  This is the probable intensity of the next outbreak of havoc.  Seven years, I think, is less time than some people serve in prison for involuntary manslaughter, and for that. there's an actual dead human being involved.

I just read, in this morning's paper, in an article about the handling of charitable donations to those who've suffered some grievous event, like the shootings a Columbine High School, this quote, from Frank DeAngelis, former principal at that school in Colorado:  "What I've learned as time goes by, is that there are going to be needs that no one ever anticipates.  It's never over.  I think people believe that you're going to wake up some morning and everything is back to normal."  'Normal', unfortunately, is not the same thing as usual, or average, or ordinary. 

For me, a life of dread was normal.  A hyper-awareness was an automatic response to the likelihood of something dangerous taking place, and seemed necessary for my own safety.  And the dance of violence, fueled by all that anger, meant there was never a lull of any length, before the shrill music goaded us back onto our feet, for yet another grim quadrille.   Sad to say, this is still pretty much what I expect to burst out and take over again, every single day.

©   2013                       Walter Zimmerman                     

Sunday, March 24, 2013

For No Good Reason...

Why things take these turns, I guess I'll never know.

I'm now officially two days behind in my 'daily' postings here, with no other excuse than a sudden, in explicable upwelling of deep sadness, dismay and self-loathing.  (This, in spite of the daily regimen of... let me see, nine pills a day, of five different medications specifically aimed at reducing my depression.  And not counting the occasional acetaminophen for that shoulder injury I've been so wild about...)  As, as seems always to be the case when these eruptions happen, no amount of logic or rationalization, no counting of blessings or comparisons of my enviable life as compared with those of so many other humans on the planet, will make a bit of difference -- any more than the application of even the most closely-reasoned logic will fend off a thunderstorm.

As for causes -- well, the search for these might seem to be just as futile as my attempts at effecting some kind of intellectually-powered mood reversal, but actually, I think that at this juncture, I can actually point to one or two possible motivators leading, possibly, to this funk.

Play rehearsals.  We're learning the choreography for one of about a billion musical numbers -- it being a musical, after all -- and I'm lagging behind everyone else, in picking up the timing of the chairs slamming against the floor, or when I'm supposed to tap my heels, or how many times I'm supposed to turn my head to the right...  And there's the flipping from the script to the score, and back again, hoping to find the proper place to note the twists and hops -- and then, when I've got the general trend of things noted, I can't see what I've written, because I won't be wearing my glasses in the show, and besides, I can't dance with my script in my hands.  Not that I can dance with the script out of my hands, but that's a different tale altogether.  I was so eager to be cast in this show.  What I guess I didn't count on was, having been cast, that I would actually have to... perform in it. 

My physical appearance these days.  I had thought I would be used to the nude upper lip by now, but I still shudder when I see myself in a mirror.  This is not fun.  This is not good.  This is not enjoyable in the least.  And in spite of what I've already noted, I keep trying to displace this gut reaction with the liberal application of half-hearted encouragements, none of which I believe in the slightest.  Even my recent adoption of a tanning regimen (well, in the script, someone asks my character why he's so brown -- and the idea of applying all-over makeup makes me cringe...) hasn't done that much to make me look, to myself at least, any less ghastly.  John says I have body dysmorphia, which may or may not be the case, but I've always experienced myself as visually disappointing, even as I am capable of spending inordinate amounts of time trying to make myself look just so...  And this focus on my appearance seems to operate more or less constantly, even when it seems as though I'm actually involved in something else -- it's like living in a sniper zone, and although I have somehow to go about my daily business, I'm always on the brink of cringing at the outbreak of gunfire.  Or, in my case, the flash of a reflective surface.  What do I do about this?  I might as well try to change my eye color.

My life in general -- or, more specifically, the lavishly disordered, multitudinously thing-laden, materials-populated life, over which I seem to have no control, other than the ability to make things worse.  Every once in a while, it seems as if a very bright light is turned on, and everything I've done, and made, and picked up from a dumpster or gutter, is shown in the harshest, most unflattering detail.  And even though I know better than to think globally, I am instantly overwhelmed by the enormity of trying even to impose a bit of order on this upwelling of stuff I feel incapable of using, but of which I'm too fond, to allow myself simply to throw it all away.  Denial sets in -- maybe I'll have a chance to use this old refrigerator coil before I die.  Maybe I'll be able to redeem that huge sheet of copper I cadged off a neighbor.  Maybe I'll be able to salvage some of the shellac that's been freezing and thawing in the garage for two winters.  What I have actually been able to accomplish -- clearing the garage end of the driveway of an accumulation of stuff that's been stacked there for two years at least -- seems pathetic, when compared with the sheer volume of work that would still lie ahead, if I were able to muster the strength to tackle what has taken, seemingly, no effort at all to create.  If I were more merciless, I would follow through on my feeble threats of pretending I'm already dead, and just calling in some junk dealers to simply empty the garage of everything, no matter what it is.  And then have them tackle what I laughingly call 'the guest room' -- available only to the disembodied, I'm afraid -- and the attic, and the basement...

(This reminds me of our move from Jersey City, eleven years ago.  I'd been packing and packing, as fast as my little fingers could manage, hampered of course by the ever-invisible free end of the transparent packing tape.  But still, by the time the movers we'd hired had arrived, and in spite of my assurances to them that, by the time they'd gotten the boxes and furniture into their truck, I would be finished with what was left, it was soon apparent even to me that I couldn't do it.  So I had to turn over the remaining packing to these strangers.  For whom nothing they touched had any particular meaning at all, of course.  How nice for them.

But it became clear that I was only in the way, as they worked, so I forced myself to take a long walk, around the block, and through the leafy entrance to Lincoln Park.  As I walked down the long hill toward the park itself, I realized that I felt as though I were having some sort of surgery -- that the skin and subcutaneous tissues of my gut had been cut and pulled back, and my innards were open to light and air, and to the poking and prodding of disinterested professional.  It was an uncanny sensation, and not something I'd be eager to experience again anytime soon.  Which feeling, of course, would most likely resurrect itself, if I really were to fling the garage door open, and let the trash men have their way...)

(I also wonder why I use parentheses here)

And, underneath all of this, I'm afraid, is my favorite, inescapable eventuality -- death.  Good old death.  It's almost as though I'm wearing the worst possible kind of magic glasses, that allow me -- or, more appropriately, that force me -- to see the question of death beside every face I see.  I'm worried, all the time now, that I'm going to get a call from New Brunswick, telling me that John's had a heart attack.  Even this morning, during the sermon at church (the choir I sing with had an anthem today, so I was in attendance, as is not usually the case), and without any particular malice toward the priest, I found myself marveling that we don't all just drop dead at once.   Or at least see, on a more or less regular basis, people falling dead all over the place.  I even worry about which of the cats will be the first to die.  The only things for whose mortality I don't seem especially concerned are the hostas.  And if I don't find the strength to divide them this spring, I'm afraid even they might be imperiled.  

The same old same old, I guess.  I had a relatively productive day, out at Combat Paper, and got a kind of revised schedule set, for producing this hand-made book I seem to be making, and David asked me how many copies I wanted to make -- 'What do you want to do with this book?' he asked.  And I was completely stumped.  In some ways, I feel more like a draught horse, harnessed to a goal that's largely someone else's.  I'm focused on hauling these bags of cotton cloth around, and hand-tearing the excess off the sheets of paper I've pulled, and trying to figure out how the text should be laid out; the notion of a finished product actually catches me by surprise.  And, honestly, almost annoys me.  Because, won't this just be one more thing (or three, or five more things) that I'll have to worry about -- where to put it; will it be safe where I put it; will I remember where I put it; will it make any difference, no matter where I put it?

This afternoon, on my way back home from Branchburg (at least I think that's where I was), I was trying to find a way to describe how I was feeling, and it came to me that it was as though I was trying to scream, but I was trapped in a bed of tar, that made it impossible for the sound to come out.  Just a kind of gummy, floating entrapment.  Right now, it's as though a boulder is lying on my stomach.  Not much fun being had by all.

But I'll bestir myself, and wash the dinner dishes, and maybe do one or two other things, and then take the last of the day's medicines, and go lie down.  Hoping that my sore shoulder won't keep my awake again.  And them, tomorrow, I'll get up, and face it all, again.

Oh rapture.

©         2013                 Walter Zimmerman     

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Then, and Now...

Well, the first thing on my conscience, this morning, is my... failure to publish a post here, yesterday.  My feeble excuse?  The internet was down, or broken, or lost, or something.  It's difficult to think about something so non-substance-related as being able to break, but, seemingly, it did. 

I could've written something anyway, I suppose -- but it's the publishing something every day that seems, to me, more important than when whatever is airing was actually written.  (Maybe I'm just saying that because the internet failure gives me a supporting alibi?)  But in all actuality, in terms of providing fodder for writing, yesterday wasn't particularly generous. 

(I'm writing this in the Starbux on Rte. 22, next door to the Vitamin Shoppe and the Boston Market.  And because my comfy seat is right by the big picture window, I'm suddenly hyper-selfconscious about how... much cat hair richly festoons the keyboard, and clings to the screen.  Which also bears the greasy marks of the keyboard cover I use, to keep said cat hair, and other non-essentials, from working their way down into the workings of this technological wonder, and rendering it useless, except perhaps as a brooch that's far too large for practical wear...)

But back to yesterday.   I think what was most memorable was my little tally, made as I walked to the van after my last in-town errand was completed, of how many people I'd talked with, in the course of this unremarkable Wednesday.  I think it came to a grand total of ten, which is actually pretty impressive, given that none of my activities required that I speak anyone at all, really.

And there was one conversation, at the gym, that seemed as though it was possibly going to develop into an art connection, until the artist in question shared, via the wonders of a smart phone, photos of some recent efforts at sculpture.  And waxed enthusiastic about these achievements, drawn from the 'Birth of Venus' -- an impeccable artistic reference, one would think.  All I thought, under my veneer of culturally-necessitated approval, bolstered with a question or two, to learn more about how these... things... had been made.  And mentally calculating the impact of the many cast reproductions of these... works, once the artist had the necessary all set up in the studio.  I had mentioned that I had a piece of work in the Museum of Arts and Design, right not -- no curiosity was forthcoming, and it wasn't until later, really, that it even occurred to me that this was a little curious.  I also wondered, later, why people think that, by dabbling about with a few ounces of clay, one can be said to be producing sculpture.   In one's spare time.  After one's 'real' job has wound up for the day.

I guess this bothered me.  Though mostly retroactively, it seems.  My built-in engine for self-effacement and ego-reducing is so automatic and powerful that I don't even hear it switch on.

And I suppose brief interaction this qualifies as a kind of event in an otherwise placid day.  The only other time I remarked on anything like a rise in emotional temperature was on my drive home, when I got stuck behind a little vehicle that seemed incapable of operating at speeds of over 5 miles per hour.  Instead of stewing and twitching, and trying to figure out if I could take a very little detour over a neighboring lawn, and back onto the road, so I could resume driving at the speed to which I've become accustomed.  But this time I uncomfortably imagined that I was one of the two figures in this little dinky car, and then I started trying to calculate just how long it would take, for this transformation to have taken place.  And wondering if I would be aware of this shift in social roles, either while the metamorphosis was taking place, or after I've become a crabby, cranky, bitter old man people cringe to see...

Ah, but all this was yesterday.

Today, I'm sprawling in as much comfort as is possible, given Starbux general atmosphere of fake collegiality, especially when perched on a narrow neck of land between streams of traffic yearning to... take a detour over the neighbor's lawn, as it were.  I've just had one of their fat-laden sausage-egg-and-cheese sandwiches, and the largest possible coffee sits within easy reach.  How mundane, one might think.  How unremarkable.  How cliche.

Oh, there's jazz too.

But... this morning, at 8:15 am, I was to have reported to the Essex County Courthouse, wedged between the uncomfortable merger of Market St. and South Orange Ave., in downtown Newark, for the first of two days of mandatory, unavoidable, legally requisite Jury Duty.  I'd planned, in my mind's eye, how I was going to dress, in order to present a mute but undeniable statement of my eminent unsuitability for any of the upcoming trials for which I might be called.  Something slightly stuffy, but a little weird.  Like a retired college art professor might wear, without even thinking about it.

Enter, late last night, as we were preparing for sleep, my heroic boyfriend, Dr. John Sheridan, who wondered if I wasn't supposed to do something, re: jury duty.  Something like... call the night before, to check in, or something?  I'd been so scarred by the notion that I had no choice in this use of two irreplaceable days of my too-fleeting life, that I hadn't read anything on the form before I struck it to the fridge, with our 'Exactly How Much Fun Can I Have Before I Go To Hell?' magnet.  So I went downstairs to fetch same, and he located an appropriate phone number, and dialed it up.  And we both had to listen twice, to make sure that the voice said that 'Jurors in Group 19, with numbers between 00080 and 003990, were excused from duty, until such duty could be reassigned'.  I was in Group 19.  My number was 003752.  Maybe we should call again, to make sure the date of the recording was right?

Hallelujah!  I know it's liturgically incorrect to use this exultation for at least another ten days, but I can barely express how thrilled I am.  They say that one of the best gifts one working adult can give another is to cancel a business meeting; multiply this joy by a factor of 16, plus not having to get to the courthouse and back again, plus negotiating what wonders might be on hand for lunch...

So, I've got laundry languishing in the washer at home, and I've just done a bit more shopping, for men's pink garments, at the local Goodwill Outlet, and now, when I've finished my truly unnecessary coffee, I'm driving up the road to stop into the Barnes and Noble, to see if they have on hand a mystery by Carl Hiaasen that I haven't read, and buy it.  If it doesn't seem too bitterly cold -- spring having legally sprung yesterday, I think -- I might even dare to make a stab at delving into the portal of Hell known as our garage, in search of boxes filled with a particular selection of artworks.

And, if not today, I could always do that tomorrow.  Because, well, I'll certainly have the time...

©    2013                   Walter Zimmerman

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Search and Rescue...

So call me crazy, or whiny, or ungrateful, but I've long suspected that for every silver lining, there's a cloud...

On Sunday, the curator of an upcoming craft-centered group exhibit came by the house, to look at my work and see what pieces, if any, he might want for the show.  I'd rummaged through the smaller works strewn around in the basement, and also brought out some smaller glass-centered wall pieces I thought he might like.  It's always a crap shoot, in a way.

Well, the glass things were a yes, as long as I can come up with five of them with dark backgrounds.  But the things that really fascinated this man were the pieces of glass I have, lying about the place, on almost every available flat surface, and/or underneath an available flat surface... He asked if I would be interested in bringing in a bunch of these -- especially the ones that are in metal restraints, or show other kinds of restriction.  He wants to have a big table in the gallery, with these random glass objects on it, either in some kind of orderly display, or just artfully dumped there. 

Well, oddly enough, this kind of works for me, even though I mostly try to put these glass objects into some kind of context -- conjuring up visions of uncompleted medical procedures, or experiments gone wrong.  But the idea of letting these objects speak for themselves, without any additional information, intrigues me.  Because, of course, I often do think these pieces of glass are fascinating in and of themselves.  And often my challenge, in these cases, is to dream up a situation in which the glass will be displayed as prominently as possible, while still fulfilling its role as an actor in a mute drama.

So.  Gathering the single glass pieces will be (relatively) easy.  Packing them for transport to the gallery will be the usual pain in the butt.  I don't think this will be a case where I can get away with wrapping these things in a quilt and then just tossing them into a clothes basket.

But the challenge, I'm discovering, is locating the boxed pieces.  I think I have about twenty of them, and although I've located seven, they all have the lighter backgrounds.  And after searching the basement, attic, the back porch, and the storage space in Newark, I am left to the only other option that, alas, makes any sense (drum roll please): the garage.  Also known as the South Orange Pit of Despair.

The last time these pieces were exhibited was in a show in Idaho, three years ago.  When all the work came back from the gallery, I stowed most of it... in the garage.  (Which, at the time, was at least somewhat less jam-packed with objects with great potential as art materials)  And of course, in the intervening three years, the amount of stuff crammed into that little space has not diminished, at all.  When we had the last basement flood (my mind goes blank, trying to place these things in terms of month or year), I dragged the uncontaminated stuff up the basement stairs, and... put it in the garage.  After the flood was over, I put much of the stuff back into the basement again, only to have to move it once more, back to the garage, when cleaners came in to super-sanitize the basement.  And of course, when we decided that, in order to avoid any more such basement/water adventures, we needed to have a French drain and sump pumps installed, whatever had once again migrated to the basement (did I mention that this is where I do most of my useless artwork?), had gone back to the garage.  Where it has stayed ever since, with the addition of any amount of extra stuff.

And now...  Well, at least the weather seems to have begun to change for the better, since I'm going to have to drag many cubic feet of what, to the untrained eye, will look like garbage, out onto the driveway, in hopes that the missing boxes of artwork are relatively close to the front of the mess behind the mess.

What makes all this extra-specially dreadful -- aside from the sheer physical labor involved, with no certainty of finding what I'm looking for -- is knowing that my next-door neighbor has his house up for sale, and if I didn't already feel like a blight on the neighborhood (and on my life with John too, as a matter of fact), how am I going to make this ugliness look respectable somehow?  I find it mortifying, to consider that my creative life is once again going to cost someone money.

The cloud behind the silver lining.

©    2013          Walter Zimmerman