Saturday, March 31, 2012

Long Distance?

I'm having one of those 'why can't I remember to breathe?' evenings.  Except that, tonight, I know perfectly well why breathing regularly seems such an ordeal...

There's been another flurry of emails between my sister Barbara in Florida, my brother Glenn in Texas, and little me, here in New Jersey, about our other brother George, in Oregon.   The flurry of emails recounts the essence of a flurry of phone calls, to case workers, lawyers, 'impartial court-appointed observers', George's temporary guardian, and George himself, from time to time.  Plus assorted other folks who add their observations from time to time, to no apparent benefit to anyone.

George appears to be angry that no one has come to visit him in 10 or 20 years.  His temporary guardian appears to be angry because she's had to front her own money to help George pay his living expenses.  Someone who we don't know who he is, is angry because Glenn and Barbara call George's temporary guardian, to find out what exactly is wrong with George, and whether he's well enough to go and stay with Barbara in Florida for a while.  Glenn is angry because he can't reach anyone who can give him a straight answer as to why everyone seems to have legal representation in this matter, except George.  Barbara is angry because the temporary guardian is angry, and the someone who we don't know who he is has been peremptory and rude to her.  I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the Governor of Oregon is angry about this too, somehow. 

The lawyers don't seem to care, one way or the other.

And I'm angry too.  I'm angry that George set himself on this course to self-destruction, by mistreating himself physically, in spite of the fact that, as a trained emergency-room nurse, he had every reason to understand and foresee what the results of his drinking and smoking would be.  I'm angry that George continues to be so irritatingly coy about even admitting that he has lung cancer -- a fact we all know from public records -- and then complains that no one has come to his aid.  I'm angry at the shambles George has made of his life -- multiple marriages, children he's either abandoned or denied fathering in the first place, estranged ex-wives and step-children, and a consistent squandering of his considerable intelligence and skills.  I'm angry that, when George had a court-mandated opportunity to enter into therapy, he managed to dodge this responsibility, thus helping to seal himself into this fatal spiral of self-neglect and self-pity.

And of course, I'm angry that all of this was clearly set in motion by actions for which George bears no responsibility, but for which he will, to all appearances, pay with his life.  I'm angry that his mother thought so little of the products of her own body that, when she'd gotten the divorce she wanted, and had custody of her only daughter, she began instructing that little girl that the boys she used to play with all the time weren't her brothers, but were just neighbor kids.  I'm angry that my father -- though nominally more responsible toward his children than their mother was -- managed, continually, to abandon his sons to the whimsical cruelties dreamed up by his second wife and her dire mother, and all without leaving the house.  I'm angry that George learned, first-hand, that he was worthless and expendable and unimportant.

And perhaps worst of all, I'm angry that all of this has erupted, dragging me back into the hopeless maelstrom that seems to be my life with at least some members of my immediate family.  I know I should be ashamed of myself for this -- that I should be more energized, like Barbara, who is offering her own home to a brother she doesn't really know all that well.  I should be more actively involved in all this, like Glenn -- calling one phone number after another, drafting and mailing registered letters to lawyers and social workers.  Instead, I dread the idea of planning a trip to the West Coast, to go out into who knows what wilderness, to a trailer park, to see this brother about whom I used to be so protective when we were children, but who has become some strange wreck of a man in the intervening 50+ years.  He has no teeth of his own anymore.  He's lost a significant amount of weight.  His skin is dried and weathered-looking (we had a visit three years ago, when I was in Portland for a glass conference), and he's missing a finger on his right hand, because...

During a bad patch in his third marriage, George made a plan.  He went to my father, and asked to borrow my father's hand gun.  To do some target practice, George said.  My father obliged.  But George wasn't telling my father the truth.  There was no target practice on the schedule.

Instead, George took the gun, and drove out to Allegheny County Airport, where he had an accounting job with a local air freight business.  The airport has a small bar on the grounds, frequented mostly by pilots and other workers from the vicinity.  George went into the bar, pulled out the gun, and announced that he was holding everyone in the place hostage, while he decided whether or not to commit suicide.  What George couldn't know was that, among the few patrons in the place, were two off-duty police officers, each of whom had his service revolver within easy reach.  At some point in this ordeal, while George was distracted by making a call from a wall phone, one of the officers pulled his gun, and shot my brother.  The bullet hit George's right elbow, traveled up along the ulna and exited through his right hand, smashing his right ring finger.

George was taken to a hospital, where he was kept under armed guard while the doctors tried to fix his wounds.  While he was recuperating, his wife managed to intercede with the judge who was handling the charges against my brother.   Because the only person injured in this folly was George himself, the judge was able to offer two options: stand trial and go to prison for the various laws George had broken, or take a battery of vocational aptitude tests, and if a suitable career path seemed to be indicated, pursue the requisite training to redirect his life.  Plus, undergo regular psychological counseling.  All at state expense.  In one of the more lucid decisions I've known George to make, he picked the vocational option.

Tests pointed to a possible aptitude for nursing.  George excelled in his classes.  He completely evaded the therapy.  A year after the shooting, because his wounded hand was closing in on itself, George's ring finger had to be amputated.  Meanwhile, my father -- who had loaned George the gun in the first place -- told his drinking buddies,more than once, that since his son was going to be a nurse, George would probably start wearing a skirt.

There are a lot of things I'm angry about.  I'm so angry, I think it has literally broken my heart.

So I forget to breathe.  And I hate to go to bed, because I know I'll dream.  And I have a pretty good idea of the things I'll dream about.  George may be wandering around in a trailer park in Oregon, on the strictly physical plane.  But for me, those thousands of miles don't matter.  He might as well be sitting here, in the chair opposite me, glaring at me because of some imaginary harm I've done him, and determined to punish himself and everyone within reach, for the life in which he finds himself inextricably, and fatally, entangled.    

©    2012        Walter Zimmerman      

Friday, March 30, 2012

I See Snow, People...

(And just so you know, I'm not dogging it here -- this must necessarily be a shorter entry, because John and I are in a motel room in Rochester, and unlike home, where I can stay up until 2 am if I need to, here that's not an option...)

It's about lotteries, and weather, tonight.

Well, at about this time, someone is probably wondering if they're crazy, and checking the ticket numbers a thousand times, and then sitting frozen, no knowing what to do next -- or at least, I know that would be me, if I were in my living room with a little slip of paper in my hands, that was worth hundreds of millions of dollars.  What a challenge, hmmm?  One I'll bet most of us wouldn't mind cutting to the front of the line, to volunteer to face. 

I did buy $7 worth of quick-pick tix, because some unreliable astrologer told me my lucky number is seven.  Then I found out that quick picks usually don't win.  So there you are.  John plays some steady numbers -- birthdays, phone numbers, that sort of thing.  Neither one of us tends to get even one number 'correct'.  It's almost magical, like having a lawn filled only with dandelions.

And I recall the first lottery I ever played.  I was working for Corning Glass, in State College PA, making glass television tubes, and Pennsylvania was instituting its first ever lottery.  I forget the monetary details, but I think tickets were 50 cents.  The jackpot might have been... $2 million?  Some sum for which most lottery players wouldn't even cross the street today.  But in 1973, this was still a ponderous amount of money.  So I bought a ticket.  (It didn't occur to me to buy more than one.  I'm far to Presbyterian for that.  If God wants me to win, one ticket will do.  Besides, He's already decided, so why push it?) 

And then, while I was doing my daily chore of dropping two funnel-shaped pieces of glass into a series of grinding machines, and then hooking them onto a grasping hook, as the ground edges were slowly lowered into a bath of sulphuric and hydrofluoric acids, to seal the roughened surfaces, I daydreamed.  I daydreamed about who I would help with all that money.  How much I would share with which particular friend or family member.  Feeling flashes of guilt when I realized that I'd left someone out.  And so I'd have to start all over again, calculating, while the glass funnels kept coming along on their overhead conveyor belt that looked like a ski lift for Lilliputians.  (I once calculated that, given the average weight of 10 lb. per funnel, and handling two funnels at once, and picking each funnel up at least six times, and having daily runs of 1000 funnels by the time the quitting buzzer rang, I was picking up, on average, three tons of glass a day.  This calculating having taken place before the lottery stole my attention)

As the day of the actual drawing approached, I rewrote my allocations more and more feverishly, in greater detail.  My awful third-grade teacher would have been amazed at how adept I had become at doing mental arithmetic.  I also refined the unquestionable moral value that my winning would have, certain that these plans of mine would...  But wait...

Only days before the lucky winning numbers were to be drawn, I had a horrible thought.  No matter how exquisite my plans were -- no matter how many starving orphans in Bangaladesh I was promising to save -- my chances of winning this lump of money were no better than that of the sleaziest, most revolting reprobate that ever slimed down the dirtiest alley in Philadelphia, to do something unspeakable, again.  This was a terrible slap in the face, metaphorically.  (Well, maybe there was the tiniest splash of that acid bath...)  All that calculation, and for what?  All those mathematical gyrations, for whose benefit?  I realized that I'd been trying to seduce Fate, or Luck, or God, or some primitive computer in Harrisburg.  My daydreams (which did, actually, include at least one pleasure trip, so I wasn't being totally foolish) instantly began to deflate, like a punctured hot air balloon.  When the actual drawing was held, I listlessly went to check the numbers on the company bulletin board (everyone had bought tickets; everyone wanted to call in wealthy the next day), and wasn't at all surprised that I hadn't won.  Not surprised at all.

And come to think of it, that unreliable astrologer has said that I'll probably never win anything significant, ever -- or that, if I should win, I would either lose the ticket, or forget I had it, or give it away to someone else.  I'd really like it if, for once, he were unreliable in my favor.

And, about the snow.

Well, it's the Western New York/Southern Tier Lake Defect Effect.  John and I, and a friend, left South Orange at about 4pm, to come up to Rochester for a memorial service for David Craighead, one of John's organ teachers here at the Eastman School of Music.  The weather report had predicted snow in New Jersey by late in the afternoon; the sky was an impeccable blue when we backed out of the driveway.  The sky stayed clear, all the way up to our first stop, in Harford PA.  By the time we'd filled the gas tank, and had eaten our lurid meals (I especially liked my whiter-than-white mac'n'cheese, served on a melmac platter the color of lawn flamingos), it was getting dark, but still no dampness in the air.  Fine by me, as it was my turn to drive the final 150+ miles.

We were within 40 miles of Rochester, on Rte. 90, when the snow started -- the first snow through which I'd driven in over a year.  Coming straight at me, on a dark highway, where I couldn't really see the dividing lines.  But after six years of just such downpours -- and worse -- it just felt annoying, and kind of normal.  I just kept driving, looking for my exit, hoping no one in front of me went into some stupid skid.  All went amazingly well.

And we delivered our passenger to the Eastman School's theater lobby, where he met his overnight hosts.  Who apologized about the weather, and assured us that, only a day ago, they were enjoying temperatures in the 80's.  Then John volunteered to drive us out here to the motel.  We passed many landmarks, from our time here together, and from John's time here earlier, in the 1970's.  I felt no particular achiness or homesickness -- just a kind of detachment.  I was surprised that Mel's Diner has closed, but then, their t-shirts weren't very nice, so I guess I should have expected as much.

Now, we're ensconced in our 'luxury suite', which means there is a ridiculous whirlpool bathtub, with mirrored walls, in the bedroom, about five feet from the bed.  I feel like we're sleeping in an IKEA showroom.  It has stopped snowing.  I doubt that this little bit of precipitation will have damaged the lovely Bradford pear trees, blooming all over town here.  Their puffy white flowers will have to serve, as a kind of preferable arboreal snow, as the 'real stuff' melts outside, overnight.

But at least I got here in time to see it.  Oh, and I just remembered -- I have those unchecked lottery tickets in my pocket.  Maybe, tomorrow, I'll be rich enough that, if I want snow in Rochester, I can just buy it.  That is, if I haven't lost the ticket by then.  Some things never change.  Fickle weather.  Steady luck.

©     2012         Walter Zimmerman


Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Country Music Conundrum

As in 'My truck blew up, my woman left me for the cable guy, and the Bourbon bottle's dry...'  Because Bad Sad things are so much more interesting to talk about than... the wonderful day I've been having.

Get John to the train station on time?  Check -- even though we left five minutes later than usual.  There was virtually no traffic between here and Newark Penn Station.  Sigh of relief.

Back at home, shall we take care of some family-related business?  Check.  Even though this meant reading through five pages of court documents from some Oregon county with an unpronounceable name.  And discovering that, in spite of the fact that the first thing the documents establish is my brother's basic incompetency, in terms of caring for himself, and making decisions on his own behalf, these same documents go on to detail my brother's statements about his 'estranged family'.  And then, because of these statements -- made by a man the court has already decreed incompetent -- my sister, brother and I are being frozen out of all information about George's state of health, etc.  Talk about circular logic in play.  Didn't Dickens have something to say, about the law?  It seems to pertain here.  

But still -- I read, I thought, I responded to my sibs, and... done.  At least for the time being.

Get to the gym on time?  (Which basically means, arriving before schools let out, so I can be done and on my way home again before evening rush hour)  Check.  There was only one idiotic driver in front of me the whole way, and then only for a few hundred yards.  I got my favorite parking space, had enough quarters for the meter, and my favorite locker was available.  Did a decent workout, although I'm still mystified as to what my actual goals are -- and whether these mystery goals are realistic.  I've talked with one or two of the 'trainers' at the Y, and when I ask if there's anyone on staff who's conversant with issues facing active seniors, they look at me with the wide-eyed stare of the proverbial deer in the headlights.   The oldest one may be in his early 30's and can't possibly imagine what kinds of questions I'm going to be asking, much less have any answers.  Maybe I shouldn't have said 'conversant'?

But... I got to the gym, and for good or ill, did my routine.  Didn't even get too impatient with other patrons -- mostly because I was alone for much of the time.  And I did twenty full minutes on the stupid treadmill!  Amazing!

Impromptu art-related conversation, in the locker room of the Y?  Checkety-check-check!  What a wonder!  A guy I've met there has all these interesting art ideas, and we ended up talking about the challenges I'm facing with my Combat Paper projects.  How neat, to be talking about creative strategies in an environment that usually resonates with sports talk.  

A little post-workout shopping?  Check.  I often stop at Trader Joe's on the way back home, mostly because I'm such a creature of habit (I even use the same highway lanes, at the same point in my routine commutes.  Talk about entrenched...), and because, in the summer, my post-workout reward is pre-cut watermelon.  Yum.  This trip, though, was for sourdough bread (mission accomplished), and a few apples (likewise) and some fresh flowers (ditto).  I was in and out in minutes, and even had four clear lanes for my left turn back onto Milburn Avenue.  A-stounding!

A little post-shopping shopping?  Check.  Which meant a stop at the South Orange Starbucks, where I got yet another caffeine fix, and flirted a little bit with the very hot black barristo.  Very check. 

Home again, home again, jiggety-jog.  I had a nice cold turkey sandwich for dinner, while I was 'doing the laundry', which we all know means nothing more than putting clothes into magical machines that do all the work, and then switching things around in an hour or so.  So not like the primitive washing machine my mother had, in the basement of our house in Belleville IL.  I was fascinated by the process of her putting the wet clothes through the hand-operated wringer -- garments going in all plump with water, and then the rush and gush as the wringers did their job, and the clothes coming out the other end, squashed flat and strange-looking.  Then these wet garments went outside, to hang on a clothes line to dry.  All the modern conveniences.  And as she wrung out those garments, my mother was daydreaming, resentfully, of the boy who had almost asked her to her high school prom, and who went on to become famous for something or other, while she was in a basement in Illinois, wrestling with sopping wet underwear for six...

In any event -- my laundry under way, and for once, I'm actually folding the warm dry clothes and (drum roll, please) putting them away!  How bizarre! 

Oh, and I forgot -- I noticed that the pocket in my workout sweats was torn -- giving any curious onlookers an enticing glimpse of my undergarments -- so I actually... sewed it up!  To quote a line from Brittney Spears' somewhat premature autobiography, 'Oh.  My.  God.' 

Well, of course the dishes still need to be washed, and I didn't get to play with my new art toy -- expandable foam.  But there's still tomorrow, God willing.  And the pacemaker doesn't quit. 

See?  It's not quite the same as the usual grief and dismay, is it?  (Although, while I was sewing up my sweat pants, I did watch a British film, starring John Mills, about the ill-fated Antarctic expedition of Robert Falcon Scott.  When I was still recording books for a living, I read a Scott biography, and have always felt a deep empathy and impatience for his romantic and highly impractical approach to his venture.  Plus, there's a gruesome personal parallel that I'm both aching to write about, and afraid of committing to public scrutiny.  So, for sure, it'll be out here soon)

The white clothes are spinning.  The towels are drying.  And all's right with the world. 

Which makes me nervous.  Where's that Bourbon? 

©  2012        Walter Zimmerman

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Good New/Bad News...

Good news first, for a change.

Today, at roughly 7 pm Eastern Daylight Savings Time, John and I completed our second home refinancing.  This momentous event took place, appropriately enough, in the choir rehearsal room at Christ Church in New Brunswick, where John's life is centered nowadays.  And, helping us as legal counsel, was one of the Wardens of the Vestry, Paul Ambos, whose mere presence made the proceedings seem far less ominous and forbidding than I had expected.  I think there was a cross, up on the wall above the dry erase board, so I guess one might even say we had other company as well.  But I'll stick to the less metaphysical stuff.

Mercury being retrograde, the notary handling the closing was almost two hours late.  But John, Paul and I made fairly good use of what would otherwise have been thumb-twiddling time -- solving some illumination problems for next Wednesday's evening service; going over musical assignments for the choir; and me chatting away about almost anything, apparently afraid that if there were any silence at all, something bad might happen.  Sometimes I'm just a laugh riot. 

When the official did arrive (he'd called, shortly before 5 pm, to alert us to his position -- nearly stagnant, as it happened -- on the Garden State.  We weren't unduly optimistic about an early appearance), he set right to work, and was, I thought, quite affable, while doing an efficient job of guiding us through a small novel's worth of paperwork.  Sign here, date here.  Sign and date here and here.  Just like in the comedy sketches.  Except that this involved our home, and hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of value.  I was wearing a really nice shirt and tie, just in case that might help.

And when we'd finished, and John had gone off to make even more copies of the copies of the copies of the original documents, so nearly everyone in the Western world could hope to have at least a tiny scrap of paper from our transaction, the notary and Paul and I chatted.  I asked Mr. Dunbar if he had relatives in Maine, and he said no, that his family originally came from Russia, and that Dunbar, far from being Scots, was an anglicized version of their Russian patronymic.  I thought, with his great blue eyes, and shock of white hair, that he resembled a theater director from Maine with whom I used to work -- and the world being the sort of place it is, it wouldn't have surprised me if the two men had been related.  But today, not the case.
A propos of not much, Mr. Dunbar is left-handed, as am I, and President Obama.  And Bill Clinton, it just occurred to me.  A propos of time and space, Mr. Dunbar was facing two more closings, to begin at 11pm, and at some considerable distance from our choir room.  So, when John came back with sheaves of paper, Mr. Dunbar took his bundle and said good night.  Paul went off for physical therapy.  John and I went out to eat.  Ah.  And all through the dinner, I kept having this luscious sense of deep relief and satisfaction -- we had done a grown-up thing, we had completed a beneficial financial transaction, it was all finished.  The sensation kept welling up, like some delicious perfume.  Ah.

(While we're on good news, I found my grommet setter.  It was on the table where I'd left it months ago, but buried under the archaeological accumulation that seems to be a hallmark of my presence anywhere.  Burial didn't seem to impair its operation at all -- I put two grommets into two pieces of my Combat Paper, and they look great.  Now... the next creative step, whatever that may be)   

(And the grommet setter isn't green -- it's blue)


It's about my brother George.  According to a report my sister Barbara received, from a legal assistant in Oregon, George has lung cancer, an impaired liver, and shows some early signs of age- and alcohol-induced dementia.  He has turned his immediate affairs over to a woman with whom he used to work -- a respiratory therapist who, according to this record, is willing to care for my brother on a daily basis, and to honor his requests that his immediate family be excluded from any of these proceedings.

This is one of the brothers I had to chain in bed at night.

George has said that his siblings are 'estranged' from him.  The same form telling us about his choice of legal guardianship also indicates that George isn't competent to make his own decisions.  My sister wants to go to Oregon and bring George back to Boynton Beach with her, so she can take care of him in her own home.  My brother Glenn, living in El Paso TX, is bracing himself for the flight up to Oregon, where he will hitch George's trailer to whatever vehicle George uses for local transportation, and haul the entire household south, to Louisiana.  Where, Glenn says, Barbara can take over, and motor George to her Atlantic coast home, for whatever remains of his life.  I sit, at my kitchen table, making no phone calls to anyone, asking no lawyers any probing questions, harvesting no public records, scheduling no flights to the West coast...

I feel oddly inert.  According to the report (and I do hate to repeat myself, but...) George's immediate needs are being met.  According to the report, the young woman who goes to George's trailer every day, and makes sure he eats and bathes, and walks around a bit, is the only person in the world that George trusts.  According to Barbara, in her most recent talk with our brother, he refused (in what I think of as an oddly coy manner, for someone so seriously ill) to tell her just what his exact medical condition is.  He said he'd tell her in a couple of days.  Like that's going to make a difference?  And then Barbara gets a copy of a public record outlining George's diagnosis, and accessible to anyone who can read at the fifth grade level.

I feel oddly disoriented.  It just occurred to me -- in a way, this is eerily similar to my experience yesterday, with Route 10.  I knew where it is, I knew how to get there, but when I arrived, even having gotten there wasn't quite what I'd expected.  Without warning, I discovered that I actually had to go somewhere else, to get back to where I just was.  And if I hadn't spent so much time living in New Jersey, and didn't know about the infamous 'jug handle' concept, who knows what part of Canada I might be driving through right now.  Looking for Route 10.

And so, it seems to me, with my brother.  He will tell others that he doesn't trust his siblings, but when his siblings talk with him on the phone, he says he'll consider visiting Barbara in Florida.  In spite of the fact that his guardian says he's not healthy enough to travel.  In spite of the fact that, when he talks with me, or my sister, or Glenn, George says that the woman, who comes to visit him every day, never comes to see him, and that he doesn't know what's illnesses he might have.  Unless maybe it's his knee that's out of whack.  I kept thinking, listening to his seemingly lucid explanation of how he was going to take himself to the local clinic, to have his drastic weight loss assessed, that this was a man in charge of his faculties.  Then he said he'd been held in a locked facility for three weeks, and had just walked away the day before, without interference from anyone.  Except that his phone records, and the observations of neighbors, placed George firmly in his little trailer all the while.

Where do I turn?  How do I know when I've arrived?  What is there for me to do?  If a man desires to spend the end of his life in a trailer, across a continent from his only living relatives, who he says he doesn't trust, what does one of the untrusted do?  At least on Route 10, there was a spot, just north of the intersection, with a small, badly-positioned sign, indicating that soon, by turning in the opposite direction, it would be possible for me to reach my goal.  Here, my brother appears stubbornly determined to end his life in the care of relative strangers, and I strain to see something like a small, badly-positioned sign, to tell me what might be the best thing for him, and for me, to do.           

©     2012           Walter Zimmerman

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Anger Management

Funny -- most days, the title comes last, after I've discovered what it is that I've written about.  Today, though, I knew what this entry needed to address, long before I touched the keyboard.

And it's been a day -- one of those when I wonder why I go to the pharmacy once a month, pick up all manner of medication, bring it home, and take it as prescribed.  (Or, another way to look at it might be -- God help me, if I didn't go to the pharmacy, etc. etc.)  Because I spent most of the day crying.

Not for any particular reason, other than the usual sense that my life is pointless, that my dreams have all evaporated long ago, and that I'm just waiting around for some physical system to fail.  That, and the fact that, no matter where I look, I can't find my grommet setter.  It's green, and I know where I last saw it.

And I want the grommet setter, because I want to use eyelets on my Combat Paper piece(s), the making of which fills me with a kind of combined terror and horror -- terror, that I won't be able to come up with anything worth looking at, in the time remaining before the show is installed; horror, that what I make will be so gruesome that it will wound the very men and women I hope to support in this endeavor.

But, in any case, I needed a grommet setter, and the only place I could think of to find one was at one of the Arts'nCrafts stores that, like Home Depot, have put the smaller, 'real' art supply stores out of business.  I figured, since I wanted to go to the gym today anyway, I might as well combine that trip with a jaunt out to travel-friendly Route 10, where you have to know ahead of time that you can't actually turn onto Route 10 unless you turn before Route 10, which you don't know until you arrive at Route 10, where you can't turn...  I think most of New Jersey has grown up because people gave up trying to get where they'd originally intended, and built houses by the place where they couldn't turn onto... Route 10...

But I get somewhat ahead of myself.  While I was grunting and straining in the Strive Room (Strive being the new Nautilus equipment, which is painted an eye-jarring yellow, with purple padded seating -- perhaps there's some science to this, to get the heart going?  To encourage one to leave the room as soon as possible?  Or because there was a terrific deal on blinding yellow enamel?), and while I was musing on other things, to take my mind off the grunting and straining, I thought about anger, and how it's often tied into depression (I'd already decided that, it being spring, I could just explain away my tear-stained face as 'allergies' and leave it at that.  No one cares anyway...), and then I had a couple of memories.  Ah, memories.

One from deep childhood consists only of this -- I wanted to bite someone.  No one in particular, that I can recall (this was long before the orphanage.  And there, biting would have been much too intimate), but I was quite specific about how I wanted to bite.  With my back teeth.  Hard.  Because I knew I could, even as a child, exert quite a lot of pressure with those molars of mine.  I wanted to bite.

Later than that, but still before the stay in the orphanage, I got into a furious fight with my friend Wanda, who lived next door.  Her family had the blond cocker spaniel chained up behind the house, and her brothers baited the dog, to make it meaner than necessary.  And one day, the dog got loose, and bit my brother Glenn, while the rest of us squeezed in between the flimsy screen door and the closed kitchen door,  hoping that Glenn would suffice. 

But the fight with Wanda didn't concern the dog.  In fact, I don't remember what it was about.  I do recall, though, that I grabbed Wanda by her right hand, and spun her in a circle around me, and then let her go, sending her sprawling onto the grass.  Then I stormed off to my house, where I noticed that my father and mother were watching the whole thing, and seemed somewhat amused.  And in the time it took me to walk perhaps fifty feet, I had actually pushed this outburst of anger into my own past, so that, by the time I got to the kitchen door, I was firmly convinced that the fight had happened the day before.  I think my parents were pleased that I had done this at all, as it was so boy-like, and not my usual behavior.  Maybe I wouldn't turn out to be a homo after all. They were worried about that.

Years later, while I was a junior in high school, I was at home in the kitchen, and my father was coming toward the house, from the alley where we left our car.   Suddenly, he doubled over in obvious pain.  I wanted to go out to him, to see what was wrong, but my horrid grandmother, who was in the kitchen too, stopped me from opening the door.  After a few seconds, he straightened up, and continued on his way up to the back porch.  "See," she said, with the most pride I'd ever heard her express about my father, "he's got so much anger.  But he just keeps it inside."  Unaware that he had been observed, or that he was the topic of this snippet of conversation, my father came in, got himself a beer, and went down to the basement.  To the 'work bench'.

A year later, hear the end of my senior year, I was cleaning the house, as usual, on a warm Saturday.  I was on the second floor, scrubbing the floors, and preparing to work my way down the inside front stairs, and my step-mother and horrid grandmother were getting ready to do the grocery shopping.  I reminded them that I needed to go to the library, to do some work on a book report.  They grudgingly gave their assent, so I put the bucket and scrub brush aside, and went into the bathroom, to get ready to take a bath.  I didn't want to go to the library sweaty and grimy from scrubbing.

'What are you doing up there?' my horrid grandmother wanted to know.  I explained that I wanted to take a bath.  'Well, if you need to take a bath before you go to the library, you don't need to go.'  And with that, the two women slammed their way out the back door, and across the yard (past the place where my father's anger had momentarily gotten the better of him), to the car.  I stood in the upstairs window, watching them leave, and I was nearly blind with frustration and rage.  I sat down on the steps, and without realizing what I was doing, I began to pound on the wall opposite me.  Pounding and pounding, unable to stop, even though the paint was cracking, and the plaster was crumbling, and soon I was looking at two gaping, gritty wounds in the wall.  Dusty lath with crumbled bits of plaster sticking to them.  The stairs littered with destruction.

I wasn't allowed to go to the library, wasn't allowed to do my homework, because I wanted to take a bath.  I cleaned up the mess of plaster and paint.  When my stepmother and horrid grandmother got home, they told me to bring the groceries in, and before I could say anything, they saw the damage in the hallway.  I made up some lame story about how I'd lost my balance while I was scrubbing, and had made those holes as I tried to keep from falling.  Which, in a way, was a kind of truth, if you think about it. 

What was most unusual was that I was never punished.  The wall was fixed.  The holes were never mentioned again.

Now, it's 1985, and I live in a fourth-floor walk-up apartment in Hoboken NJ.  I've just been given a promotion at my job with Morgan Stanley, in their uptown offices at Rockefeller Center.  My boss -- who was preeningly proud to be known around the firm as 'The Dragon Lady' -- had offered me a position as evening shift supervisor.  One considerations, in deciding to take the offer, was that I would be able to afford therapy.  Which I knew I would need, because I would be working even more closely with 'The Dragon Lady'.

The therapist I found had offices on 34th St., and I would see her in the afternoon, before going uptown to work.  One day, I was late.  I hated being late.  I was very angry about being late.  And I told her how angry I was.  I said I wanted to throw myself in front of a subway train, and then drag myself up 33rd St., to the Empire State Building, where I would haul my all-but-dead body up to the top floor, and then throw myself off.  Because, I told her, I couldn't be dead enough.

She said this seemed to be a lot of anger, and how did I feel about that?  I forget where things went from there.

Which brings me to... today.

Let's see.  I threw a pair of glasses across the basement, because they kept sliding off my face as I was trying to work.  (At least I didn't bite them)  I screamed and cursed because, instead of having the requisite three hands necessary for what I was trying to do, I only had the standard issue of two.  On the way to the gym, I became fixated on a driver ahead of me in Milburn -- someone who was obviously thinking about anything but the 3,000+ lb vehicle she was nonchalantly allowing to take her wanderingly down the street.  The McCain/Palin and anti-abortion bumper stickers didn't make me like her any better.  But I kept my cool.  More or less. 

When my workout was done, and I managed to get my car onto Route 10 (the tiny 'U-Turn' sign was posted beyond the actual U-Turn, and required cutting across three lanes of traffic to reach this retroactive opportunity to get to my actual goal...), I found the store I was seeking, and went inside.  Aside from the overwhelming scent of cinnamon and carnations, it was everything I would have expected.: five thousand aisles of gidgets and gadgets, with no floor map, or 'You Are Here', or any indication of just what they might mean by 'Hobbies'.  Or 'Paper'.  

I did locate an actual employee, who led me to one aisle, where I could buy something I didn't need, but when I pointed out that no, a leather punch is not the same thing as a grommet setter, she led me to a totally different part of the store, where we found plenty of grommets, but in terms of the actual grommet setters themselves...  She shrugged her shoulders and walked away.

(The same thing had happened, at Home Depot, a few weeks earlier, when I'd been looking for nuts and bolts.  Like you do, in a hardware store.  I found the nuts all right -- nice packets of 100, so I picked up two.  When I went to get the corresponding bolts, what an amazing surprise.  Not only was there not a single bolt to fit these nuts, there wasn't even an empty place where the correct bolts might have been.  I found an employee, who came over, looked at everything that I'd just examined, and then turned to me and said, 'There aren't any.'  And walked away)

Why am I so constituted, I wonder, that things like this are so irritating to me?  Is it the waste of my time and energy, all of which is met with bovine indifference?  Is it the irrationality of a store stocking, say, grommets, without bothering to stock, say, the implement which would actually make these grommets... useful?  (Nuts and bolts, same thing)  I'd made the investment; I'd done my part; I'd shown up; I'd braved the wilderness; I'd explained my goals; I was there to spend money; I was met with the wide, uncomprehending eyes of drugged cattle. 

And this is why the scene of my father, doubled over in the back yard, makes such sense.  As I was standing in the checkout line of the Arts'n'Crafts emporium (alright, I did buy some grommets, because I'm going to tear the basement apart brick by brick, until I find the stupid thing.  It's green, remember?),  and as I was just aching to spew some vitriolic nastiness at the checkout boy, hoping that he would burst into tears at my ferocity, I just knew I couldn't.  And I had one of those terrible sinking sensations, when I'm almost unsure where I am -- feeling so angry and so helpless and so angry at being helpless, and there's no place for it to go...

Except inward.  Yelling at that poor cashier jockey would do zero, except to make me look like a total jerk in the eyes of the general public, who had no trouble finding their bunch of dried grass, or box of colored makers.  But I desperately want someone to suffer for this.  And the next closest person is... me.

Apparently Aristotle said something pithy about anger -- how difficult it is to know when to express it, and how difficult it is to express it properly, when the time is right.  How nice for him.  He's dead.  My alternative is to contemplate suicide. 

Not that I'd actually do anything so labor-intensive and productive of mess.  I just want someone to suffer, and I want to be really sure that the suffering is sufficiently keen and deep -- and who else would know that, but me?  The main problem with suicide, though, is that it's a one-shot deal.  If, as in the case of my tardy arrival at therapy that time decades ago, I could pile one self-inflicted demise atop another, and then go to work the next day, why I would have killed myself countless times already.  Oh yes.  Lotta rage. 

And really, it's not just about the grommet setter, is it?  It's about the job treachery, and the heart betrayal, and the maternal indifference.  It's about the brother drifting into dementia, and the friend's son, burned beyond healing and strapped daily to a stretching bed, to keep his seared body from closing in on itself, the way a burnt body will.  The impenetrable mysteries of how to create an art career, the appalling accumulation of apparently useless creative potential, the steady, irreversible dwindling of time and energy. 

How does one manage?  How does one channel?  How does one focus, and deal appropriately?  I feel as though I've just barely scrambled up a palm tree, and the tsunami is pulling at my ankles.  My grip is loosening.  In moments, I'll be slipping in.  And it'll be 'way, 'way over my head. 


©     2012         Walter Zimmerman

Monday, March 26, 2012

Every Day and Every Day...

Exhausted, in so many ways. 

Mondays are often difficult for me, because of the time constraints of getting myself down to New Brunswick, to meet John for dinner before choir rehearsal.  Any normal person would handle this minor 'inconvenience', if you can even call it that, with a laugh.  But I seem to operate best when I've got huge swaths of what a former boyfriend liked to call 'unstructured time'.  This being the case, and my commute to New Brunswick beginning at around 3:45 in the afternoon, I start to obsess about what I'll need to do, at about 10:30 in the morning.  Counting backwards.  Shower and dress, at least an hour before leaving for the bus stop.  Leaving me, now, how many hours and minutes in which to do... essentially nothing, I guess.

Well, I had spread grass seed and fertilizer on the front lawn on Friday, for Saturday's forecast rain, which was so wimpy that the pavement under the cars was dry on Sunday morning.  And I didn't want to let the stuff just sit there, so one of the things I decided to tackle today, in the few minutes I had to get anything done, was to dig out the garden hose and give the front yard a nice soaking.  Even with the wind picking up sharply, it was still a wonderful day to be outdoors, wandering around under the beneficence of the pink flowering cherry tree adorning our front yard. 

But the hose was a tangled mess -- the crew that installed our sump pumps and French drain system last year hooked up their own hose, and ours somehow got tossed to the side.  I dug it out of the leaves, and spent far too long trying to untangle it.  Uncooperative things, garden hoses.  And this one seemed determined to kink at every opportunity.  I found the nozzle, in a different pile of leaves, and got it attached to the hose with some ease.  The water was running fine at the tap, so I turned it on full blast and dragged the hose ensemble down the driveway.  Switched on the nozzle, only to find a woeful dribble of water.  I banged the thing around a bit, and then remembered how it actually worked.  Which isn't by being banged around, incidentally.  So I turned it on the correct way, and got... a bit more than a dribble of water.  (The clock is ticking.  It will soon be time to shower...)  But I supposed it would have to do.

It took about an hour to give the yard an insufficient splash of water, patiently walking back and forth, feeling like an old man with a prostate problem, peeing pathetically out where everyone can mock him.  At least the air was nice and brisk.  And the hose only managed to knot itself into intractable kinks two or three times during the process.  I tried to talk myself into spreading the magic blue hydrangea formula, and wetting that too, but by the time I'd marked the extent of the front yard with my little nozzle drippings, I was in no mood for further garden adventures.

Then I wanted some toast, but we were out of butter.  So I went to the store.  Which, as it turns out, was uneventful, but ate up another half hour of my dwindling day.

I had my toast, and a cup of coffee, and then decided to make the bed and vacuum the bedroom carpet.  Tick, tick, tick.  The vacuum cleaner is related, I think, to the garden hose, if only remotely.  I can tell they're cousins because they're both remarkably uncooperative, for such simple inanimate objects.  And the vacuum has to be plugged in in another room, because I can never find the outlets in the bedroom, even though I've live in the house for ten years.  And the pad under the rug doesn't come all the way to the end, so there's an odd shelf that is hell to clean properly.  But determination, plus the threat of holding the vacuum underwater in the bathtub, seemed to triumph in this case.  Now suddenly I understand why Joan Didion got migraines when trying to get her curtains to hang right.

On and on, little things, one eye always on the clock.  A little Facebooking, a little checking the dismal news.  What time is it now?  Time for the afternoon meds, and then I might as well start the toilette.
These days, it's only when I'm getting ready for bed, or when I'm showering, that I"m confronted with my "Li'l Intruder", as I refer to the pacemaker, when I'm in a cheery mood.  Otherwise, it's just 'the lump'.  I'm still kind of grossed out by it, washing myself where there's something inanimate, hooked into my flesh, and nudging about under my skin.  In the flattering light of the bathroom mirror, though, the tell-tale contours of the contraption look like a dried ravioli that went down the wrong pipe in a big way.  I waver between being fascinated, and repulsed.  Which, in a way, isn't that much different from the way I've always been, with regard to mirrors and my own face.

When that fate-filled day came, all those many years ago, and my mother decided not to take me as her one favorite child, I tried like anything to figure out what I'd done to fall out of her favor.  After all, I was the first.  I'd been the blond boy her parents couldn't adore enough.  Why did we ever leave Alabama?  I knew I was smart enough -- my report cards were always the very best (except for that 'M' I got in arithmetic, in an early grading period in fourth grade.  I remember trying to convince my mother that 'M' just meant that I was average, that that wasn't so bad.  She was looking at the report card as though her obituary were written on it) 

I also knew I'd been obedient in all the things that were required of me.  So, the only thing I could think of, that helped me make sense of her rejection, was that I was ugly.  And ever since, to myself, but for her, I have been ugly.   It must have seemed, at the time, a small price to pay, in order to protect my mother and her indifference from the anger that would be unleashed, if I were to face the truth -- that she simply hadn't cared, and nothing I did or said or appeared to be, would have made any difference in her ultimate choice.  If I could make her rejection my fault, maybe there was hope she would some to her senses, and come back for me.  We all know how that plays out. 

I finished my shower, and as I dressed, managed to spill foot powder all over the newly vacuumed rug.  I lost my reading glasses.  There was a hole in my sock.  It was time to leave.

On the bus, I realized that there were two things at work behind everything I'd been struggling with today.  One is the post I wrote yesterday, about the terrible things I did, to fool my parents into sending my brothers back to the orphanage.  That was a particularly difficult post to write, and it all continues to resonate.  I've been eager to hear what people might say about it, but loathe to mention it, lest it seem as though I was being self-congratulatory about behavior that was so reprehensible.  I do love a double bind. 

The other concern has to do with my commitment to the guys at Combat Paper, and their upcoming exhibit, opening in about three weeks.  I've promised to have three pieces of work for the show, because I was so sure that, as a 'professional artist', I'd surely be able to do at least this much in the time allotted.  Forgetting, of course, my love of those expanses of unstructured time I've already mentioned.  A good deadline can act as a kind of energizing spice to the mix -- can get me jumping, as it were, but in this case, the time limit only seems to make me more ill-at-ease than I am already.

In addition to having no real clue as to how I'll use this emotionally-laden material, I don't feel that I have the time, really, to stumble upon one of those fortunate accidents which seem to be the only truly consistent element of my art-making.  I get ideas all the time, but I generally feel, upon closer consideration, that they're third-rate at best.  But the disasters that turn up, while I'm trying to make my trite little kitten statues, are clearly of some value.  Or at least I think they are.  The thing is, these accidents require me to actually... touch something.  And that, I haven't been doing.

I did take a needle and thread, and some Combat Paper with me, for today's train ride, and I began sewing two pieces of paper together, which looks terrible.  I'm thinking of trying with the sewing machine tomorrow.  I even tried convincing myself that the 'wrong' side of what I was sewing might be redeemable -- but I'm pretty sure I'm fooling myself.

The other stumbling block, in this particular exhibition challenge, is my growing indifference about making art at all, anymore.  It just seems like such a waste of time, and I insist on embroidering a kind of desperate hope onto the edges of everything I do, and when no one notices this decorative addition, by inviting me to be one of their gallery of artists, I feel crushed again.  And ugly.  We all know how this works out.  So, with this paper made of military uniforms, of course I could easily make a set of truly gruesome sculptures, involving the paper in some prominent way.  But why?

Well, I'll muddle through somehow I guess.  The moon is new, which is some slender good news, for beginning new projects.  Maybe I'll hit it lucky just one more time.  But my heart really isn't in it.

What I really want to do, I think, is simply to throw away everything in the world that I own, and then disappear.

Tomorrow, though, is Tuesday.         

©   2012    Walter Zimmerman

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Just A Phone Call Away...

Because of the strange situation in which my brother George finds himself -- lost in his own mind, living in a trailer in Oregon, forgetting where he's left his driver's license, among other things -- my brother Glenn and I have been on the phone more than usual, for us.  (Usual being once every two years or so.  Warm and cuddly as a family, we are not) 

And because of this increased frequency of conversation, and because the three of us share different portions of the same shattered childhood, Glenn and I will go back over various events, various dislocations, or various cruelties, to put things into at least a coherent chronological order.  During one of these recent talks, Glenn said something truly amazing, to the extent that I felt my life shift a bit on its seemingly immovable foundation. 

Glenn told me that, while talking with George about the events we somehow survived, they both agreed that, instead of having been punished, by being sent back to the orphanage after only a year of living with my father and step-mother, they had actually been delivered from a terrible life.  And that, from their adult perspective, it was I who had gotten the worst of the bargain. 

Let me explain why this is such a profoundly important thing for me to hear.  The story has four parts.

In 1955, just before my parents divorced, my mother was in a hospital in St. Louis MO, across the river from our home in Belleville IL.  (She had phlebitis, I think.  And wanted a rest from raising five children)  My father had loaded all of us kids in the Buick, and was driving us across the Eames St. Bridge, on the way to visit, when Glenn, sitting in the back seat of the car, managed to twist the car door handle open.  Because the rear doors on that Buick opened to the front, the air pulled the door out all the way, and Glenn was flung out onto the roadbed.  My father felt the sudden breeze, looked back, and then backed up, to get Glenn before he was run over.  We never did find his shoes.  Then my father made the maddest possible dash for the hospital, to see how badly hurt Glenn might be.

He had a compound fractured skull.  His head needed to be bandaged up.  And he spent several days in the hospital.  The same hospital as my mother.  And I hated him for it.

The next year, my brothers and I were put in an orphanage.  I forgot about Glenn's fractured skull, at least on a conscious level.  I had other things to think about.

In 1958, my father had divorced and remarried, to a woman ten years his junior.  My brothers and I, after having spent varying amounts of time in that orphanage, were living in my father's new home.  Nine months after giving birth to her first child, my stepmother was pregnant again.  Her orphaned cousin was living with the family.  And my father had lost his job months before.

The house had become a place of madness.  My brothers were being chained in bed at night, to keep them from prowling around, looking for something to eat.  I was given charge of the keys.  Often, my brothers were chained together in the basement, sitting on a picnic bench, for hours at a time.  I was given charge of the keys.  Whatever illusion of a dream-like family life my father and step-mother had created for themselves was definitely not going to materialize with this particular cast of characters.  For reasons known only to themselves, my parents began to lay down strange, variable and ultimately impossible standards of behavior for me brothers and me.   And then, one day, we were threatened --  if we didn't behave, we were being sent back to the orphanage.

I could not go back.  I could not go back.  I could not go back.

One day in school, either George or Glenn soiled his underpants, and tried to hide the fact, by taking the dirty garment off, and flushing it down the boy's room toilet.  It lodged in the plumbing within minutes, and flooded the hallways of the one-story building.  My parents were informed, and were not please.  My brothers were losing weight, and had to be fed a special, foul-smelling dark-brown goop.  We lived mostly on powdered milk and government surplus peanut butter and cheese, in spite of the fact that my step-mother's mother ran a restaurant not five miles from where my brothers were chained in bed at night, because they were hungry.  And we were told, if we couldn't behave, we were being sent back to the orphanage.

I could not go back.

I hatched a shameful plan. 

I started with my step-mother's jewelry.  One Saturday, while I was cleaning the house, and was in my parent's bedroom, I sneaked into her jewelry box, and took out a rhinestone necklace.  I put it into my pocket, and continued cleaning.  Later, I broke the necklace apart.  Most of it, I hid in a metal band-aid box, which I buried in the loose soil at the edge of our yard, near a thin growth of trees.  And one piece, I had to hide, where it was sure to be found.

George couldn't be blamed, because he was my favorite brother.  Lee was too young to do such a thing.  It had to be Glenn.  I put the final piece of broken necklace into a pocket of Glenn's pants, and waited.

Sure enough, soon enough, my step-mother went looking in her jewelry box, and noticed something missing.  She screamed, as she always did.  There was turmoil -- demands to know where the necklace was, demands that it be produced immediately, and then, because my brothers and I didn't know anything about a missing necklace, my father began searching through our drawers, our clothes...

And Glenn got a beating.  Screaming and crying all the while that he hadn't done it.

Next, it was a bracelet.  Then a ring.  Some of the things I broke, and repeated the stashing of the evidence.  Other things I simply added to my secret stash.  From time to time, I would go out to the hidden band-aid box and dig it up.  I had my plastic German shepherd with me -- a sort of idealized model dog -- and I would settle it into the dirt, and then array it with the broken bits of rhinestone and other treasures I'd stolen.  After a while, I would take all the precariously-balanced brilliance off the plastic dog, and put it all back in the box.

Glenn continued to get beaten.  One beating was particularly spectacular, as my father, in his rage, had grabbed a piece of two-by-four from the basement, and thrashed my brother mercilessly.  Only years later did I learn that, even being in the same house with such abuse is, in fact, abuse.

I blamed Glenn for other things.  I broke a model squirrel I'd built, and with the sharp edge of one of the pieces, I scraped 'I hate Buzz' (my nickname, which no one knows), deep into the top of the cheap maple veneer dresser.  I tried to disguise the writing.  Glenn got beaten.  I somehow managed to scratch my own back, perhaps with my own fingernails, and then breathlessly showed the mark to my step-mother, saying that Glenn had somehow gotten loose from his chains, had sneaked into the kitchen to find a butcher knife, and had tried to kill me, by stabbing me in the back.

Glenn got beaten.

While all this was unfolding -- while I was blackmailing my brothers, to avoid being sent back to the orphanage -- my parents were meeting with social workers.  The grade school principal came to make a house call.  My brothers were going to Pittsburgh once a week, to see with a psychiatrist.  And those impossible rules continued to be laid down and recalled (we ate with a kitchen timer on the table, to make sure we didn't take to long over our sandwiches), to be replaced by some equally impossible demand.  Some beatings weren't my fault.  More than enough of them were.

And then, one day, after almost a year of this madness, my brothers were packed up, and sent back to the orphanage.  But I didn't go.

Can you rejoice over such a thing?  I felt -- and continue to feel -- a filthy horror, at having done such things, even though it seemed to me that returning to the orphanage meant I would die.

Then one day, not long after my brothers had left, my father called to me from his basement work bench.  He needed to talk to me.  I came partway down the steps, to hear what he had to say.  "We knew it was you, who did all those things," he said.  And right then, the most bizarre things happened to me.  The world literally turned upside-down.  I was still standing on my feet, but it was as though there was a camera in my head, and it was being rotated, 180 degrees, in a clock-wise direction, until my father, sitting at the workbench where he never did any work, was at the top of my field of vision, and the ceiling was at my feet.  I don't remember how long he was talking, or what else he said.  I just remember that unearthly sense of complete internal dislocation.

In 1966, I had been in the Air Force for two years already.   At high school graduation, I had been told either to find a job and move out, or enlist in the military, because I couldn't live in my father's house any more.  Finding a job, as the Vietnam War was cranking up, with and the military Draft was still in effect, wouldn't have been much more difficult if I'd actually borne a tattoo reading 'Cannon Fodder' on my forehead.  So my father had signed the Air Force enlistment papers, and I was gone.  Now back on a brief leave, I was in the car with my father, driving the five miles from his new house, to the house where all the terrible beatings and chainings had taken place.  The cinderblock walls in the basement needed some paint.  We rode in near silence, as usual.

It was while we were painting that my father casually mentioned a couple of things I'd never been told before.  I had been taken out of the orphanage first, he said, because the institution insisted that my father find another place for me to live.  The management was apparently concerned, he said, because I was so unhappy there.  My father had lied to them, he said, telling them I would go to Florida, to live with my paternal grandparents.  But in any case, my father remarked as he painted, the orphanage would never have taken me back -- that, he said, had always been out of the question.           

This is what I live with.  This is at the core of who I have become.  I am the man, who was the boy, who sacrificed his own brothers, to avoid a fate, that he couldn't have known would never have come to pass.  It is impossible to express the extent or density of my shame.  It is impossible to describe the strength, the sheer durability of my guilt.  Even though, recently, Glenn gave me copies of official court documents, showing incontrovertibly that my parents decided they didn't want my brothers long before I broke that first tawdry piece of costume jewelry, I can't sidestep the fact that, within the framework of what I knew, I had made this series of loathsome choices.

So.  Glenn (the beaten one) and George agree -- they got off easy.  Compared to what my life was like with my father and step-mother and my vengeful step-grandmother, their lives, in the various institutions to which they were shunted until they, too, were old enough to join the military, were pieces of cake.  This is what they know, now, to be true.  But this late-breaking consolation is only the thinnest of salves, for a self-inflicted wound so old and so deep.

I recently did a Tarot reading for myself, and one of the cards, which has a generally positive meaning, also indicated that a particular challenge for me might be... forgiving myself.  I read that, and the hair on the back of my neck stood up. 

How?  Oh please, how?

©    2012         Walter Zimmerman

Saturday, March 24, 2012

As One Thing Leads to Another...

A very quiet day, spent mostly waiting for the rain.  Which seems to be taking its sweet time getting here.  And me with a lawn full of grass seed and fertilizer...

I've been quite unproductive today, really.  All I managed to do was to finish my submission for a writing challenge that John pointed out to me recently.  The parameters: the judges have provided an opening sentence, which must be used verbatim in all entries.  And no entry can exceed 600 words in length.  The opening words (eating up 17 of the scant 600 allowed): She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door.

I tend to love things like this, for some reason.  Maybe it's the puzzle aspect of it.  And the competition too.  But mostly, an exercise like this makes me think of site-specific sculpture -- something that is made for a particular place, and no other. 

I've done a number of such works -- either for exhibits which allowed me the latitude to install wherever I needed to, or for shows in galleries with odd, non-negotiable architectural challenges.  In Rochester, years ago, I was in a themed show 'Gravity', and chose to make a work that wrapped itself around a narrow, dry-wall encased steel support beam in the middle of the room.  I made a vertical construction out of the top of an old restaurant coat rack, filled it with five plastic 'cushions', and then totally encased everything in another zippered plastic shroud.  There was a small black fixture that attached up near the ceiling, around the corner from this large, dead-looking contraption, and connected to it with an ugly-looking length of black wiring.  I was careful to make this thing look as integrated as possible into the space, and was delighted to learn, late in the run of the exhibit, that a viewing couple had been overheard arguing about whether they were 'supposed' to look at this thing or not.  He felt sure that it was sculpture, while she was equally certain that it was just part of the air conditioning system with the cover off.  Ah, success.

I also built a site-specific work, for my part of a group show at the Firehouse Gallery, in Burlington VT, some time ago.  (Well, at least it was in this century...) The curators were kind enough to send me floor plans of the space, and indicated where they thought my work might fit best.  I chose a short wall, opposite the entry door, and constructed three 13' tall copper towers, with slanted shelves bearing paired glass 'pods', joined together by heavy tubing, and held in place on the towers only tentatively.  I backed this floor-to-ceiling installation with a big piece of drop-cloth plastic, was stained with paint and shellac from building everything in the first place.  Finally, I used three galvanized welder's shields -- small, hinged three-sided screens I bought at a salvage yard years ago.  These sat on the floor, one in front of each tower, as though protecting either the viewer or whatever it was they were looking at, or both.  Again, my goal was to so inhabit the space, that people coming in might think that a wall had been temporarily removed, and the inner workings of the building had been revealed, to be covered over again as soon as possible.  My favorite reported response to this work, though, was from a group of six-year-olds, who were in the building for a regular after-school art program.  On seeing what I'd displayed, one boy loudly expressed his admiration for the big collection of 'dinosaur brains'.  Out of the mouths of babes, indeed.

(A wry aside about this exhibit: while gathering prospective artists for this show, the curators meant to look up work by Walter Lieberman, noted for painting on glass, and Jeff Zimmerman, whose blown glass work is decidedly cleaner and more 'scientific' than my own.  But in a glass-centric Spoonerism, they ended up contacting... me!  When I heard about this conflation of identities, I was so amazed that I insisted that the curators -- both charming, intelligent women, by the way -- repeat this at least three times, in front of witnesses.  Another amazing coincidence in this opportunity, was that, next to my installed work, was a set of wall-mounted cast glass and steel pieces by Pamina Traylor, who was the other half of our graduating 1994 MFA class in glassblowing, from RIT.  Small world alert!)

But, back to the story, and that lead-in sentence.  At first, I got a distinct mental picture, of a woman in Elizabethan dress, walking through the door, and hearing the muffled exhalation of a roomful of courtiers bowing all at once at her approach.  A sea of lush, black-clad backs before her, with here and there, in the back, the curious upturned face of one of the lesser nobles, daring to get a first glimpse of the new Majesty.  After an hour of ceremony and petition, the Queen signals that she is ready to leave.  As she reaches the door, she murmurs to the two guards posted there, "Kill them.  All."  And in the anteroom, leaning on the table, and gripping that book, she listens to the cries of horror and pleading, until there is only the sound of a few footfalls, and one or two gasps.  A guard knocks, then enters, spattered with gore.  "It is finished, Majesty."
"Very good," she says, seemingly startled at the amount of blood, and then looking down at the book again.  "Now, here is what you will do next."
 The next day but one, that great hall was hung, floor to ceiling, with the unwashed garments of those who had died there.  All royal business is done in their presence.  On the anniversary of the slaughter, the windows were blackened, and the Queen sat in the room alone, fasting. 

Blah blah blah.  Then some stuff about how she falls in love, but something stupid happens.  Unrequited/power struggle/the usual.  Blah blah blah.  (Or as much blahing as 600 words will allow)

Then, she's dying, and without issue.   A distant cousin has been sent for, as next in succession.  She is certain she won't live to see him arrive.  Propped up in her bed, she calls for the book, and pen and ink.  Unsteadily, she opens the volume, and feels a lurch at seeing her beloved father's handwriting again. Turning to his last entry, she pauses, then dips her pen into the well.  She crosses out one word, with a single pen stroke, and writes in another.  She surveys her work.  'Trust no one' now reads 'Trust some one.'  She leans back against the pillows.  They make the muffled exhalation of a roomful of courtiers, bowing...

Anyway, that's what I first thought of, but it seemed so very Bette Davis/Errol Flynn that I couldn't seriously consider it as an entry.  So, I picked another scenario.  It has blood in it too.

If anything comes of it, I'll let you know.  I may even add it here, once the official deadline is past, and stuff.  Sometimes I think I'm the stupidest person alive.

©    2012             Walter Zimmerman        

Friday, March 23, 2012

Something Floral, Perhaps?

What a wonderful day!

It was mostly the weather, I guess.  And the fact that, wherever I went, shrubs and trees had burst into bloom.  I drove over to Summit, to go to the gym, and took my usual dream route, through the tonier parts of the neighborhood, and because it was so splendid today, I didn't even mind so much that I'll never come close to living in a home remotely like one of those.  (Besides, now that I know how much work it is to clean our own modest set of gutters...)

On my way back home again, retracing my route (funny how the same street can look so different, depending on which way you're going), I saw two little girls -- skinny 7-year-olds perhaps.  One with long dark hair, the other a blonde.  And they were both dressed in different shades of pink, and were running for all they were worth, down the wide sidewalks past grand houses, and shaded as they raced by the low trees, decked out for the occasion with still more pink.  It was heart-stopping, this simple joy in such a setting.  I wanted to bring the car to a halt and roll down the window and shout out, to tell them that their lives were perfect, right then, at that moment.  But they were fast runners, and it would have made no sense to them, so embedded were they in their joy and their running.  And besides, one doesn't do things like that anymore -- shout mysterious things to little girls.

I stopped at Trader Joe's on the way home, to pick up some fresh flowers for the kitchen table.  The ones I've been watching for the past week or so have turned into a veritable memento mori:  half the dark lilies luxuriating in their beauty, with some buds still promising to open, while the rest of what had been white flowers looking like they've been microwaved.  I have my suspicions about the Trader Joe's floral selection, but I can't resist the colors, and the price.  So what if they only last fifteen minutes?

I was looking for more lilies, and there wasn't such a large selection -- aside, that is, from a big tub of white Easter lilies, for which I'm not yet prepared, especially after yesterday's post.  I spotted a promising clump of blooms, and there, in the midst of all this floral spectacle, was what I think is called a 'stargazer' lily (?) -- a rich raspberry pink, with darker speckles on the white-edged petals, a center of startling lime-green, and an aroma so pungent as to be almost vulgar.  This particular specimen looked so lush, so pliant, so supple against the dark leaves, that I was reminded of some '40's starlet, in a publicity picture, where she seems unable to stand upright under the weight of her own beauty, and has to collapse onto a velvet-covered divan.  I looked at the other possibilities -- it seemed presumptuous to choose such a splendid bouquet.  For me?  But everything else was sub-par at best, and then I thought -- why not bring the starlet home?  At least I'll appreciate her undulating efforts to attract the elusive pollinators (which efforts, I'm afraid to say, are pretty much doomed to failure).  'Don't hate me because I'm beautiful', she says.

With the flowers safely in the kitchen, in a holding pattern in the sink, I went back outside, to see about taking care of the front yard's grass problem.  We have a handyman (or, does he have us?  The relationship is unclear, at least to me) who suggested that I buy some grass seed and some fertilizer, so he could apply everything before the rains that are due, starting tomorrow.  I followed his directions, bought the supplies, and haven't seen him since.  So, time being of the essence, I found the little spreaders I bought last year (in spite of the fact that we already had one in the garage), read the instructions so I would know which to lay down first, and went to work.

It took only a few minutes, to spread both the grass seed and the fertilizer treatment.  While I was working, my lovely neighbors Camille and her daughter Marguerite came to visit, bringing me a bright yellow pansy in a pot.  Then Camille stopped to admire the heavy blooming fronds of our flowering cherry tree, and I encouraged her to come and take some for her mantle piece.  Imagine, me offering flowers to someone, from my own home!  What luxury!

I put the little pansy in the side garden, where, if I remember it, I'll put in some primroses too -- I like their riotous, improbable colors, and the fact that they're at least technically perennials.  I put away the spreader, and checked on the rest of my supplements -- an aluminum treatment, to encourage the hydrangeas to produce blue flowers, and some rose food, for the rampant shrub roses I planted a few years ago, along the front sidewalk.  I always thought roses were finicky and difficult to grow.  My main concern with these guys is keeping them from taking over all available space.  They stretch their thorny little stems as far as possible, and make it difficult for pedestrians to get past.

But they're such wonderful roses -- when they're at their best, the color of each flower is that intense dark red, that you see when you've just had a little paper cut, and the blood has rushed up through your broken skin, but hasn't yet run.  Deep and rich, and so saturated that, against the dark green foliage, there's a sort of color struggle that makes it difficult to look at them for very long.  I've extended my line of roses up the walk a little way -- we had a linden tree that fell down, during a wind storm two years ago (it wasn't doing well -- it broke clean at ground level and was mostly hollow inside), and I thought I'd use the new space for more roses.  I couldn't find the same variety as the one I first planted, and this will be their first year -- we'll see what transpires.

I also found a volunteer buddleia, right at the edge of the sidewalk.  I'm not really fond of that plant, but this one was doing so well, and had such interesting blossoms -- a pale lilac color, with bright, saffron-yellow stamens -- that I thought I should keep it around.  Shades of the orphanage, don't you know?  I did transplant it, and I'm hoping that the move hasn't impaired its health too much.  They really are weeds, you know.  But the butterflies don't care. 

So.  The lawn is seeded and fed.  The rose food, I'll probably apply next week, as well as the hydrangea magic stuff.  Just half an hour ago, I went through the floral nightmare that had been sitting in front of me for a week, and rescued what could be saved.  I've combined these survivors with the two bunches of lilies that I bought, and now Rita (Hayworth, of course) is gazing at me with quite a come-hither look.  If I were the right kind of insect, I'd just submit.  Against such a supple, willing temptress, what's a poor winged hexapod to do?  Resistance, after all, being futile.

©  2012       Walter Zimmerman        

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Just So You Know...

So... when is Lent over?  My fingers are getting tired...

And now, for today's blogue, let me talk very briefly (ten minutes to midnight, and counting...) about my adventure at the library. 

Well, of course, it started last October, after the infamous ice storm that downed trees and power lines.  After I had cleared out the sycamore limbs in the driveway, and the electricity had been turned on, seven days after the event itself, we still didn't have reliable cable service.  Well, I don't care about the phone that much, and didn't really miss sitting in front of the TV, lip-synching to old episodes of Law and Order.  What drove me crazy was not having access to email and Facebook (or, as I've begun to think of it, Wastebook); luckily the South Orange Public Library was making their facility available to all residents.  They put out extra power strips, there were plenty of spaces to sit, and I wasn't tempted to get up and spend $15 on a cup of coffee every half hour. 

So, I became something of a fixture at the library for that three weeks.  And when cable service was finally fixed at our house, I stopped back to thank the library folks, and asked if there was something that I could do, to make my gratitude a bit more concrete.  When I mentioned that I'm an active artist,  one of the ladies at the front desk pointed to a brochure on their lecture series, meeting on Thursday afternoons, and she wondered if I'd be interested in giving a talk.  She suggested that, as I would be the first sculptor ever to speak at this series, my topic should  be 'Sculpture'.  That seemed a bit broad, for an hour.  'How about Modern Sculpture?' she suggested.  Done.  I picked a date in March (certain that I'd be dead before then), and went on my way.

Well, as we all know, I've managed to survive, and when this week actually began, it dawned on me that -- gasp -- I had a Power Point presentation to assemble, and only a couple of days to do it.  Plus, I was determined to take some of my work with me too.  It just seemed too ironic, given the topic of the talk, to restrict myself to two-dimensional pictures of three-dimensional work.  And given my predilection for making work that looks big, but weighs very little, the actual physical exertion would, I thought, be minimal.

The Power Point process, as you all probably know, was such a cinch, it was almost embarrassing.  I just zoomed through a Google search of artists whose names occurred to me, as personal favorites, or as artists whose work impacted some of my own choices as an artist.  Of course, I couldn't include everyone I like -- one hour, remember.  But I did manage to feature works by fifteen artists, plus four or five slides of my own work.  Not too bad, I thought.

The actual work was a bit more of a challenge.  I still need to do more work on the support for the hanging piece I wanted to show, so I had to use a substitute.  And that substitute has a balance problem, because I wasn't thinking when I built it.  I came up with what I thought was a brilliant solution -- I would quickly add a wire-mesh shelf, and put a counter-weight at the back of the support, so the figure could be suspended away from its vertical support, and the whole thing would still stay upright.  Some wire, some mesh, some shears, a few minutes in the driveway, what's not to love?
The counterweight, as it happens, is an old refrigerator vegetable crisper bin, with some random junk inside -- I found it in the Newark space, and tossed it in the van.  Meant to be.

I was so thrilled, when I got to the library parking lot, that there was a traffic cone in a space right outside the front door, marked 'Reserved for Speaker'.  Which would be me!  I haven't felt this important in a long time.  An actual reserved parking space?  In Philadelphia, as a full-time college professor, I had to resort to parking in the lot of an Asian food market, at least a mile from campus, and dragging my sorry butt, and all my stuff, up through the side streets, interrupting who knows how many drug deals on my way to teach a glass blowing class.  Today, in South Orange, I'm like royalty.

Set-up went smoothly -- there was a young woman on hand, to help me with the computer technicalities of using my little zip drive with their system.  Phyllis, the lecture program coordinator, offered to make copies of a list I wanted to hand out, of the artists whose work I would be showing, and their dates.  So all I had to do was wrestle my artwork into the building, through three sets of double doors.  While I was putting the figure on the upright support, the counterweight bin fell off, and spilled all over the carpet.  No major damage -- just a little extra vacuum attention.  I put everything back, and turned my attention to worrying about what on earth I was going to say. 

But as it turned out, I needn't have worried, on that score at least.  I began, improbably enough, with a slide of the tomb of Pope Julius II, by Michelangelo, to set a kind of perspective on what sculpture had been for centuries, and to act as a point of reference for the modern work.  I was surprised how well that worked.  When we skipped ahead some 400 years, to look at a reclining figure, in white marble, by Henry Moore, the connection was obvious.  The leap to Brancusi was a bit more difficult, but talking about 'Bird in Space' provided enough anecdotal diversion to cover the difference in subject matter.  Luckily, I also included one of Brancusi's simple marble heads, which brought us back to a figurative frame of mind.

And so it went.  Here's the list of artists I showed: Michelangelo; Henry Moore; Brancusi; Giacometti; Duchamp (the urinal was a big hit); Calder; Louise Nevelson; Lee Bontecou; Tony and Kiki Smith; John Chamberlain; Duane Hanson; Eva Hesse; Louise Bourgeois; and Ron Mueck.  I was especially glad that I'd chosen so many women artists, because there was only one man in the audience, and it seemed appropriate to talk about different ways of working with a broader range of materials, rather than sticking with industrial steel, or marble.  Even though I thought I had too many slides for the time frame, we were able to spend a bit more time with the first image for each artist, and then move more quickly through the rest.  I finished, somewhat cheekily I guess, with some images of my own work, and I hope it wasn't too much of a stretch, to try to find similarities between what I do, and what these iconic artists have accomplished.  Oh well.

So.  Done.  There was time for some questions, and right away someone asked why I hadn't included George Segal.  Sigh.  Forty-five minutes.  And really, between you and me, I didn't short-change the figurative at all -- and even the more abstract works were clearly associated with the human form, in one way or another.  Even Tony Smith's work came across as oddly gestural and rooted in the body.  

Then, an attractively-dressed woman introduced herself as a member of the board of the Milburn Library, and wondered if I'd be interested in coming to speak there!  How funny!  So of course I gave her my contact information, and felt quite flattered.

And then, the wire shelf with the counterweight on it collapsed, spilling those same rusted oddments all over the floor again.  And because the wire had snapped, I had to make an adjustment in how the hanging figure was attached.  No one seemed to mind.  Sometimes I think I should always wear a red rubber nose and a big ruffled collar when I speak in public.  After everyone left (Phyllis also asked if I'd be interested in coming back again), I loaded everything back into the van again -- more circus imagery, come to think of it -- and drove home.  Where I promptly fell into a kind of stupor that lasted most of the rest of the day.  I think I fell asleep in front of the TV, this time while a truly dreadful movie, 'Die, Monster, Die', starring Boris Karloff and Nick Adams (!?!?!) was showing on TCM.  I'll surely have interesting dreams tonight.

So it's not all woe, all the time here.  Sometimes, things work out just fine.  Thought you'd like to know. 

©   2012     Walter Zimmerman


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Cruisin' for a Bruisin', or Heresy On Parade

Well, I knew this was  going to happen, sooner or later.  Of course, later would have been better.  Say, in about a hundred years or so.  But then...

While scrolling through the AOL news, I saw a teaser headline:  "Did Jesus Really Exist?"  Oh, crap.  How can I pass this one up?  I couldn't.

The author's first bit of business was to dispense with any claims to respectable intellectual rigor, on the part of those who question the physical existence of the man we Christians call Jesus.  He did this by pointing out that none of these doubting Thomases was employed in a religious university or seminary.  Which seemed odd to me, as it seems obvious that such institutions wouldn't hire heretics in the first place.

Then, he said there was no reason to doubt the existence of Jesus, just because there's no mention of such a person in the contemporary Roman histories.  There followed a list of conversations that may or may not have taken place between people who may or may not have actually known the historic human being.  It sounded a bit thin.

And then, I realized that none of this 'did he, didn't he' was as interesting as the rest of the story -- the walking on water, raising the dead, resurrection and ascension, etc.  Which the author seemed to imply had to be accepted as fact, if one accepts, as he seemed to feel was self-evident, that there was an historic Jesus.  There's a lot of ipso in that facto, in my opinion.

All of this set me off, as one who knows me might imagine.  I have so wanted, all my life, to be a good Christian, and to believe all the things that I was supposed to believe.  Mostly because I crave value, and rescue.  But, as I get older, rather than my faith solidifying, I discover that I'm actually quite angry and puzzled -- not, it must be said, about Whoever that Historic Figure may or may not have been, but about all the dogmatic accretions that have been selectively applied, as conditions of faith.  Maybe it's my Death Flu acting up again (I couldn't just have a headache, and throw up all the time?  Oh, no), and giving me a kind of religious logorrhea.  So...

Let me plunge right in, then.  (The sizzling you hear, is the lightning bolt crackling through my roof.  The smell is supposed to be something like that of roast pork.  The cats, left unfed, will nibble my fingertips and earlobes first)  It started with the nature program about squid.

Fabulous underwater photography captured the mating dance of male and female Humboldt squid.  They swim into a vortex, simultaneously release eggs and sperm, and the centrifugal force of the column of life-infested water insures a maximum likelihood of fertilization.  Millions of eggs.  Millions and millions of sperm.  A dizzying plethora of baby squid.  (Never mind that most of them won't live more than a few months.  Everyone's got to eat something)

And for some reason, while watching this reckless abundance of fertility, which happens every single year, I found myself thinking... just the One Son?  (Thunder in the background...)

The Hubble telescope shows us heart-breaking, awe-inspiring images of towering columns of stellar gases, spewing stars like the squid spreading their life essence.  The maple tree beside my driveway tosses countless elegant, winged chartreuse seeds everywhere, every year.  And we all know that there are just way too many feral cats in Philadelphia.  But... just the One Son?

I'm so sorry, but this bit of doctrine, in my opinion, makes God look kind of stinting.  If -- going out on the proverbial limb here -- there is deistic caring involved (which those whirling star nurseries call into question -- Who could possibly find little us?), I would think we might at least expect a kind of Refresher Course every once in a while.  (Sorry, but saints just don't count)  Maybe one Embodiment of the Divine every century?  One a generation would be even better.  We humans certainly need some shepherding on a more regular basis than once every... two thousand years and counting?  We're like the proverbial teenage girl, waiting for that boy to call, like he said he would.  For tens of centuries.

And another thing (since the lightning seems to be holding off, for the time being), while I have always found a deep sense of gratitude in the idea that God would choose to undergo a human existence, now that I'm all of 65, I have these terrible thoughts of which to unburden myself:

33?  Unmarried, and dead at 33?  No, no, no.  Here's the human experience.  You get married.  You work really hard.  Your kids are a disappointment -- one runs away with a clown from the Syrian circus, one takes to drink, and your own only son turns out to be gay.  Your wisdom teeth are impacted.  You get arthritis.  You get more arthritis.  Your business goes bust because your best friend has been robbing you blind, and then your wife runs off with him.  Your pension turns out to be bogus.  Your home is repossessed.  You have to go live in a homeless shelter.  And then, because someone mistakes you for someone else, you're arrested, publicly humiliated and crucified.  THAT's a human life.  33 is getting off easy.

(Still no lightning.  Maybe when I go outside to look at the fog rolling in...)

And finally, there's the one observation that has a certain poignancy, at least for me.  Don't misunderstand me -- this isn't delusion of grandeur talking -- but, wouldn't you like to be the Son or Daughter of God?  Wouldn't you like to think that God so loved you that He chose you to be His Favorite on Earth?  One day not long ago, it just struck me, with a stab of disappointment -- wouldn't I like to have been good enough, to be Chosen?  Not that I'm salivating for betrayal and pain (though those seem to crop up anyway, don't they?), but what would it be like, to have that inner knowing, that you were the One?  Or, thinking back to my complaint about God's alleged spiritual economics, One of the Many?  Who asks to be imperfect?  Who asks for whatever it is that makes up original sin?

Understand, again -- it's the dogma with which I struggle.  Divinity is so far beyond me as to be irrelevant. 

The one precious nugget in the Gospels, for me, is the Pentecostal transfer of responsibility, from a Sacred One Who is about to depart (for thousands and thousands of years), to the fallible human followers left behind.  This, to me, is grown-up religion.  Rather than turning to Someone Who will make it all better, we are left to solve, individually and communally, the misfortunes we inevitably encounter.  This is bracing.  This is dour.  This feels adult.  Taking what I can, of the teachings I've been given (and remember, the Bible was put together by committee, and we know two things about these operations: history is written by the winners, and the truth will out), I can try my best to embody, as the Communion prayer says, Christ in the world today.  Thank Heaven for that temper tantrum in the temple, or I'd be in big trouble.

Well, I was going to say something pert about wasting perfectly good miraculous energy to show up on a piece of toast, when the real miracle would be paying everyone's mortgage, but I think I'll let this stand as is. 

By the way, if you see me in church, you may want to sit a bit further away.  The lightning thing, don't you know.  It's only a matter of time...

©   2012          Walter Zimmerman