Dec 14, 2008

Synchronicity and Coincidence

Despite my inner desire to relegate synchronicity to the land of UFO sightings, alien abductions, the Yeti and Bigfoot, and other unproven, perhaps un-provable, mental distortions I must admit it often seems a power or force beyond my comprehension is at times responsible for some disturbing concurrences without apparent casual connection. I accept without question the numerous minor ‘coincidences’ that occur daily, but two events, somewhat more significant, come to mind, one just two days ago, and the other over a year ago.

A week ago I went to a local estate sale where I purchased several dozen books, one of which was the first paperback edition of The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. The book was eventually placed on a table beside the Beckett’s and Joyce’s and various biographies I was in the process of reading. While not a book to read it was something I intended to look at whenever I needed to clear the mind. I had noticed immediately the cover illustration was a cubist picture of Dora Maar by Picasso, though I didn’t recognize the actual painting. The following morning I was working the Daily Crossword in our regional paper. 15 across: Caspian’s neighbor – Aral Sea, 16 across: Somewhat dilatory – Slowish, 17 across: Captured back – Retaken, 18 across: “Dora Maar” painter – Picasso. I put down the pen. Dora Maar. I hadn’t looked at a Picasso book for months or thought about him, and certainly not Dora Maar, yet here she was, entering my life from two different directions in the space of twenty-four hours. Why, I have no idea. Simply a coincidence I suppose, to be considered for a moment or two and then shrugged off.

About a year ago I was upstairs reading, or perhaps writing, when my wife came in and turned on the television. I’m not fond of television and continued doing whatever it was I was doing, though my subconscious was evidently ‘listening’ to those other voices in the room. At the mention of Lucille Ball and “The Long, Long Trailer” my mind moved automatically to a higher state of awareness. In the mid fifties our family watched the “I Love Lucy” show religiously, but I don’t recall ever seeing any of her films. I don’t recall what they were saying about the Lucille Ball or the movie or why, perhaps it was going to air later that evening and what I heard was an advertisement. I returned to my book and promptly forgot about it. That night in bed I arbitrarily picked up a book from several I piled on the nightstand and opened it to my bookmark. It must have been a history, or perhaps a travel guide to the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, though for some reason I’m thinking it was about a town in Idaho, I really can’t remember. I began to read and when I turned the page the proverbial shiver ran down my spine, or at least my brain tingled. Here the author of the book was saying not to miss visiting the steep incline that had been used to film and important scene in ‘The Long, Long Trailer”. (I remember he mentioned the road used in the film had since been bypassed by a new highway which makes me question the Sierra Nevada location – if anyone knows for certain where those trailer scenes were filmed I’d like to know). Just a very strange coincidence I suppose but the next morning as I was turning the pages of the paper to get to the Crossword puzzle a short article on an inside page more than grabbed my attention. It was an article on the film “The Long, Long Trailer’!

Dec 1, 2008

Nishan Toor

Two days after Thanksgiving I went to the kitchen to make tea and found Whinkla sitting at the counter. He’d quietly made a pot of tea and was busy with his Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake.

“Whinkla,” I said, a little surprised, “I didn’t hear you come in.”

“Then be thankful I’m not a burglar after your first editions,” he laughed.

“Thanks for making tea,” I said, “but what brings you here so early in the morning?”

“I was sorting through a box of papers yesterday and found these,” Whinkla said, placing a rubber-banded roll of papers on my kitchen table, “and thought you might be interested.”

“What are they?” I asked.

Whinkla smiled, “They’re sketches and drawings created by Nishan Toor.”

“Never heard of him,” I said.

“No, not many have I suppose,” said Whinkla, “unless you happened to have lived in Southern California.”

“Where did you get them?” I asked, as Whinkla slipped off the rubber bands and began to unroll the sheets.

“That’s a story Larry, but to keep it short and simple I bought them at an estate sale in the mid sixties.”

“Tell me more,” I said.

“Well, discovering these drawings, and something else I haven’t told you about yet, got me thinking about my days in the southland. Handling these pages resurrected many pleasant memories. As I lay in bed last night I relived one of those days. It must have been 1966 and my parents and my grandmother, my dad’s mother, were making their regular weekend circuit of garage and estate sales in the Pasadena area. For some reason I’d decided not to hike up to Mount Wilson and instead tag along with them. Well, sometime during the morning we found ourselves at an estate sale in Altadena. In retrospect I see now it must have been the home of Nishan Toor, who I assume had recently died. I can’t remember much of what was for sale but my grandmother, knowing my interest in art, noticed a table covered with a variety of drawings. As I’ve mentioned before my grandmother was the consummate garage sale shopper and before I knew it she had talked whoever was in charge to sell her, that is me, a bundle of the drawings, some photographs, and the other object I mentioned for only a few dollars. I married a few months later and packed a lot of personal things away, including the Nishan Toor sketches. I hadn’t forgotten them but I didn’t think about them very often either, that was until a few days ago.”
I watched as Whinkla unrolled the collection of drawings, architectural plans and photos. Most were on tracing paper and quite small.

“So why have you brought them here Whinkla?” I asked.

“I knew you’d be interested and like to look them over,” Whinkla said, “and you’ve got a computer. I thought you might do a little cyber research on Nishan Toor for me and let me know what you find. I’d hate to see these things eaten by mice, or damaged even more in some way. If there was a society, or someone truly interested they might make a nice gift, might even be worth a dollar or two. He was primarily a sculptor, I think, and some of his work, like a statue to commemorate World War I soldiers was, or is, located in Paris, France. There’s a picture or two showing him with the statue, and the other item I have is a plaster bas relief maquette of a panel I think must have been for the pedestal supporting the statue.”

“Let’s go to the computer,” I said, “and take a look.”

Nov 20, 2008

Loaves and Fishes

The days slumber away beneath a mat of leaves and I drowse away the morning beneath an eiderdown. Whispers of winter creep through the bare branches of the curly willow outside my bedroom window. I can see beads of water glistening on the twig-tip in the pale light. The sun is little more than an asterisk in the distant sky.

But how nice it is to once again have the use of an oven, for cooking. We had done without ours for six months or more due to the exaggerated cost of repair (why does everything seem to operate at the whim of a printed circuit board, a chip? The only chip I care to think about is what Americans call a 'french fry'). But we gave blood a few more times and saved enough money to buy the replacement panel and now I am happily back to baking. A loaf or two of crusty bread every second or third day, and other 'goodies' as the spirit and my taste buds move me. Yesterday: Pear, mango, apricot, ginger muffins, and if I do say so myself they are/were quite tasty. I'd baked a few loaves in a cast iron dutch oven out in a fire pit but the outcome was always a bit of surprise, and there was little room to experiment with recipes.

As to the fishes part. I fired a clay fish yesterday in the Raku kiln and while the results were acceptable, the need for more experimentation or experience is obvious. But, as my beloved Mr. Robert Allen Zimmerman has sung so succinctly: "There are no mistakes in life some people say, that is true I suppose, you might see it that way". We live, and learn; that's the process.

Beautiful November rain and grey skies - time for another page of Finnegans Wake beside the fire.

Nov 8, 2008

November Morning Tea

I ran into Whinkla this morning at the post office. He was picking up several packages of books he had purchased and I was mailing two I had managed to sell. “Larry,” he called, as I was getting out of the Honda, “what a coincidence. I was thinking of dropping by but wasn’t sure you’d be home.”

“I’m home more than I’m not these days Whinkla, so your chances were pretty good.”

“Yes, but you never know, and I am traveling shanks’ mare these days.”

“Well let me get these in the mail and I’ll treat you to coffee, or tea.”


I posted the books and walked with Whinkla to the only café in town. There, over two cups of Earl Gray, he unwrapped his latest acquisitions for my perusal.

“Ah,” he beamed, opening one of the boxes, “it’s the Chaim Soutine, and Campbell’s A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake. The candles will burn late tonight.”

“Chaim Soutine?” I said.

“Yep,” Whinkla said, “I just finished a biography of Modigliani and the references to Soutine pricked my curiosity. “

“What doesn’t?”

“Yes, how unfortunately true. Seems there’s always more and more books I want to read. So many imponderables I’ve yet to challenge. And unfortunately, so few years ahead.”

“Seems you do all right Whinkla.”

“I suppose. Larry. . . .I have to ask, do you have any comments on Blimp?”

“Not yet, but a lot of strange stray thoughts have been swirling around in the gray matter. One thing that puzzled me from the start is why you call it Blimp when just about everyone who reads it will know damn well it was a dirigible, not a blimp?”

“You’re right, and a damn big dirigible, or zeppelin it was. Well, at the time I was piloting the Heidelberg, which by the way makes the infamous Hindenburg zeppelin. of Lakehurst, New Jersey fame, look like a maquette, my children were very young and had a hard time saying dirigible, but Blimp was well within their capabilities. So I told them I flew a blimp. Remember, I did fly blimps as well, out of Tillamook, Oregon, at the end of the war. Have you ever flown in a blimp, or dirigible Larry?”

“Never had the chance.

You wouldn’t believe how enthralling it is. No sounds save the wind. A state of dreaming; a suspension of time. Sometimes, on those mystically quiet days I actually thought I might descend into an unknown country, a land not unlike OZ. If you ever get the opportunity, rare these days, don’t hesitate.”

“Your book doesn’t begin that way.”

“No, no, blimps, well blimps and zeppelins, or dirigibles, do have their problems, and high, unpredictable winds are one of them. I was never afraid of the wind, even when it reached hurricane force. Yes, it might blow me off course, if I had one, but there’s little to bump into once you’re off the ground. But I was afraid of debris sucked up from the surface; afraid an errant stalk of corn or roof shingle from a farm in Kansas might rip open one or more of the gasbags. Fortunately it never happened, though we did have minor leaks occasionally, but for other reasons.”

“Well Whinkla I haven’t had a chance to read more than the first few pages. I did take it along on a trip to the coast last week thinking I might have an opportunity, but the weather was beautiful and we spent most of the day hiking the shoreline, or deep in the old growth forest. At night, after a glass or two of Merlot, well. . .”

“I understand Larry and please don’t feel you have to read it, yours is an extra copy. I just thought it might provide a little amusement during the coming winter days.”

“You mean like today?”

“Tis a trifle dreary outside, but we’ll adjust, like we always do.”

“I don’t know Whinkla, every year it gets a little harder. I’m getting old, and there are a great many things I’d rather do these days than shovel snow; and those interminable inversions where the fog never lifts for weeks at a time. If I could afford it I’d spend half the year in northern New Mexico or Arizona, and you know which half.”

Whinkla nodded and smiled but said nothing. He carefully rewrapped the books and stood up. “I’ve books to tend to Larry, but I hope we see each other again before too long. There’s a warm fire, and I’ve laid in a new selection of wines for the winter should you venture out that far. And let me know if you manage a few more pages of Blimp.”

I bused the empty cups to a plastic tub and when I turned around Whinkla had disappeared

Oct 19, 2008

Whinkla and the Blimp, page two

My wife and I spent most of today working in the garden: a two plus acre landscape requiring more attention and energy than either of us have at our disposal, especially when we are both the other side of sixty. And after several months of body-abusing ten hour days the mind craves other, less physical things. We, or at least I, quit early, it wasn't even seven o'clock. Kicking off my boots and dirt encrusted pants at the back door I tip-toed inside. A bottle of Merlot from, of all places, Idaho, caught my eye, that, and the open manuscript from Whinkla on the table beside the only comfortable chair in the house.

Whinkla and the Blimp, Page Two

The sky darkened and the cabin lights grew brighter by comparison. Captain Worley pulled down the eyelid of his left eye with the middle finger of his left hand and the eyelid of his right eye with the middle finger of his right hand. He pressed both fingers toward the center of his skull and began to dream in colour. A dream, that featured eleven golden-haired virgins climbing the Eiffel Tower in Paris, a clutch of crow-black coiffured, feather-thighed beauties in Brussels, and an unseen raven-haired painting by Yvet Tinguy; a new scatological play by Jaffe; an orchestral balustrade against reason by Shields. And somewhere, somewhere it seemed, there was a lonely canvas by Chiricas flapping unnoticed in an Atlas Mountain wind. But beneath it all there was the endless droning monologue by the divine Duli in Dulian Engleesh to contend with. Worley was beginning to tire. Then, without warning, the Nigerian crew chief who had been minding the mainsail on the quarter deck as stoic and mindful as a Masai warrior, screamed something unintelligible in French, or English, and vanished like a breath of hoary nimbus in July.
"Two gone. Two gone by god." Rooney said, pressing two sea-damp fingertips to his mouldy eyelids emulating the captain, "and to think, twenty-five years of pain and suffering for this." He raised his arthritic right hand half-way toward the fog-dark heaven, "twenty-five years! twenty-five years!" Then, walking calmly to the railing broken by the first mate's sudden departure, he took the tail of the first fish that struggled into the unraveling net draped over the warped boiler-plate and folded it into a crane. Smiling, he blew his gin-tinted breath into the fishbirds' rump and tossed his inflated creation to a pulse of wind. He watched silently as the bulbous bird fluttered feebly above the tattered mizzenmast and plum-pink tourist bunting, and then, as the bird winged swiftly toward the glowering sky, farting brown gas, he prayed with glazed, bornagainchristian eyes for vengeance and forgiveness.
"Rooney, you'd best do what arctic air spilling over the free support system does," Worley said, scratching his testicles and grinning like the Cheshire cat, "I've got this beast under command again." And as he grinned and picked his raw red nose the ship settled quietly on its broad, stainless steel breast and moved resolutely toward the fire-charred horizon. He poured three fingers of rum into his salty glass and let his rheumy eyes squirm like mealworms through the starch-less minds of the passengers. He descended to D Deck and saw the two, would-like-to-be virgins from the Greek village of Plomari massaging each other's nylon thighs. He watched the watered-down apricot nectar salesman from Laureville, Ohio vomiting into the light-weight acrylic toilet; the baker of whole-wheat/whole-grain breads-in-the-shape-of-best-forgotten nightmares, recently from Albany, New York plucking his hirsute eyebrows; the hissing and rattling reptile saleswoman from Port-of-Spain, Trinidad toying with a viper of considerable size and intent, and finally, bigger, brighter, and louder than everyone else. He saw too clearly the Resident of the Unrelated States of Pan America from Truth or Consequences, New Mexico holding two palsied pink hands in front of his crotch to hide the spreading pee-stain. The Resident was leaning limply against the artificially corroded zinc bar in the Overlook Saloon. He looked bored. His Zodiac shirt was unbuttoned to the navel exposing his hairless, bleached-bone chest for the benefit of three giggling Yugoslavian gypsies less than half his age. But his weak eyes were fixed on a dimpled pewter sheriff's badge from the city of Calico, California, USA the baker from Albany had thumb-tacked to his starched white chef's hat. Phosphorescent sputum dribbled from the Resident's mouth like a third term re-election speech. Then, as the Cyclops dipped unexpectedly into a trough of two dimensional water, Worley saw a uniformed, uninformed receptionist appear. She appeared disoriented, but managed to wipe the Resident's mouth on the sleeve of her baggy Calico-cotton blouse and lead him away to the gymnasium where a five dollar-a-plate dinner was about to be served in his dishonor. The Resident stumbled, mumbled into the room, then applauded his entrance. He smiled benignly, as protocol required, and casually fingered the chipped Taiwan-china cup, empty on the oaken lectern. He fingered his fractured string of Bolivian rosary beads; nodded drunkenly to an inanimate placard listing his broken promises and said, smoothing his spittle-stained tartan tie and inhaling until he was almost six feet tall: "I truly believe, that even if all the Peripateticismists of Romania were seething with wine fury and beating a litany to Aristotle on their furry antelope drums. . .and, even, even if their scaly tongues were scraping a Black Sea breeze from a Red Sea, or licking the shriveled gray gonads of the envoy from Turkey, the poems of Ovid, Sappho and Cattalus would still be rare in this cast iron, cast-aside country - and, and, and, if you would honor me with your vote of trust and confidence I promise, I promise. . .more than a chicken in every pot, or a confidence man, or woman, in every town, or a canoe or kayak in Tipperary, I promise a nirvana and satori a year to all eligible voters over the age of seventy-nine. I promise a vodka martini, shaken not stirred, in…"
The crowd interrupted, misreading the message on the TelePrompTer, and drowned the sagging words of the Resident with syncopated applause as they vapidly sucked their complimentary lemon and cranberry champagne.
"Fraud will always pay to preserve integrity," the Resident continued, as his embarrassed receptionist and interpreter tugged his frayed sleeve and whispered, "it's time for your bath sir, …warm water, bubbles…your yellow luffa ducky…" The Resident of the Unrelated States of Pan America allowed his head to stumble against the finger-stained lecturn.
Worley sighed and reluctantly opened his eyes. Outside the jack-frosted cabin window he saw a broad turquoise ribbon spiraling upward from beyond the distant horizon like an unraveling DNA molecule. It held encephalitic children in its twisted wind, and he knew this was their final journey and at last they would dream they were normal, and alive. The darkening sky shimmered; whether from agony or ecstasy, Worley could not tell, his glass was as empty as a newly fired ceramic cup. Instinctively he tightened his grip on the splintery wooden wheel and whispered into the ship's intercom for another triple Barbados rum and coke - no lime, then began to hum the Greek paean to Pan he had penned on their last visit to Corinth. The music had been borrowed from an early 90's song by the Scorpions, or some obscure reptilian group. The source of the melody might be in question, but the lyrics were his, of that he was almost certain. His deep hypnotic, mantra-like humming was absorbed by the open intercom and broadcast at an even higher level to the lower forty-eight decks. Forty of the forty-four flatulent ferrets in the hold paused momentarily in their rapturous gormandizing to listen, as did the crowd of chuckling drunken passengers staggering from the gymnasium. Even the Resident of the Unrelated States of Pan America, delirious in his pastel bath, put down his duck-shaped luffa and told Penelope to stop reading Ovid and listen to the spirit of the ship. The captain's triple rum and coke arrived and the first verse of the Paen to Pan came to an abrupt end.
Rooney mumbled something about a Castilian Spring, rubbed his rump, and returned to someone else's dream. Above the main deck, awash with fetishes and aborted nightmares, a fluttering multicolored, macaronic sail sagged from the mainmast. It spilled into the room of dozing shadows. They stirred fitfully in their filched peace. The ocean tried to roar but managed only a dim shimmer and dry-bone crack like a kaleidoscope of misdirected hope, low above the bow. There could be no darkness here, not now, only the damp, oily sheen of lamprey eels, slugs and nocturnal masturbation. But night still persisted in the deep shadows of the dusty life boats.
The blimp's bloodshot nose rose gradually above the thorax of the sea and sniffed Worley's medulla oblongata, but the stern ropes, held fast to Rooney's eight sleeping fingers, pulled down the sails and stopped enough stale air to dock the wind-beast safely against a ridge of warm North African sand. Only a few vipers were disturbed.
On deck seventeen, the Resident had finished his bath and now snored loudly between two linen dreams. But four, sand-coated lizard-men with Pan-like endowments were massaging his wife's naked body with their marble thighs. Her skin was being sanded away. Small particles of lust danced in Minoan sunlight. A blanket of blue-bottle flies hummed patiently overhead sensing sensuality and the rewards of animal sex.

Mr. Rooney" Worley said, as formally as his intoxicated state would allow, "I think we'd better check the hold. The muses may have been disturbed by that last sea surge, the nasturtiums stunted. This last upheaval may have disturbed the very cosmos. We simply must check the hold."
Rooney poured more than seven ounces of Jamaican rum into Worley's plastic cup, and refreshed his own Gin and Gin before nodding agreement.
"Ahh, right you are cap'n Worley," he said, limping toward the gangplank like Long John Silver, "I'd best check the hold."

Oct 12, 2008

Whinkla and the Blimp

I arrived home from a brief journey to the Canadian Rockies to find a large manila envelope propped against my front door. It was from Whinkla.

Hours later, after unloading the Odyssey and lowering the level in a bottle of Cakebread Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon to what would be minus four Celsius on a Canadian thermometer I ripped open the envelope with one prong of my Ah-So corkscrew. Inside was a handwritten manuscript of several hundred pages; a holograph with several dozen sketches and doodles not unlike Dali's "Secret Life". Clipped to the first page was a discount coupon to membership in a local skeet club and a short note:

"Larry, you know I trust your judgement and taste so I'm hoping you might find time to read the enclosed little story. It's the first part of what I envision as my somewhat fictionalized biography. Out of sequence of course, but one night, about six months ago, I had this vivid dream in which I was once again piloting a dirigible. Remember how we touched on this aspect of my life back in September of 06? Well, I've been thinking of those 'old days' more and more of late. Anyhow, here it is, the opening chapter. If you can't find the courage to read past the first page or so, let me know and we'll have a bonfire, another bonfire. Let's get together before Guido Fawkes Day, hey? We may not be dancing 'round a bonfire in Albion, or dangling our feet in the Guy Fawkes River in Australia but a few truck loads of pitchy pine will make quite a blaze despite the lack of gunpowder, and maybe, just maybe, we'll waken Robert Catesby. "

I dropped a small crystal of rose quartz in my goblet, whispered "Al Biruni", poured the last of the cabernet and turned to the first page of the manuscript.


"We're nearing Gulf Stream One," Rooney announced, scraping the arthritic index finger of his right hand across a burgundy-stained nautical chart of the Uterine Sea. "I see twenty-four coaling derricks and a Peabody clamshell sparing with the Devil’s spume.”
"Hold tight to your limes and hawser lines!" Captain Worley yelled, as he watched a whale-sized hump of bruise-blue water swallow the stern of the Cyclops, "and an eye to the lifeboats. Alert the crew!"
A bitter northeast wind hunched its shoulders against the curve of sky and blew till it rattled the rigging and ripped the words from Worley’s mouth.”
“Damn! This is what it must have been like on the Bedford back in 1783!” Rooney screamed, “I smell Sperm oil. Let’s have a whaling song Captain Worley. Do you know one?”
“No time Rooney,” Worley cried, “the gyroscope and compass are off the gimbals, and we’re probably flying upside down!”
The Cyclops lurched drunkenly to the crest of the stormy swell and paused, outlined for an eternity on its trembling Helium toes. It was at the apex, at the aphelion of all the gravity-challenging amusement park, theme park, and carnival rides dared and defied in youth. The one pivotal moment when the very act of living is given meaning, or tragically trivialized. Sensing disaster, Johan, the first mate, a primate of enviable size and agility, snatched one of the priceless snake and ebony-wood archaeological artifacts rolling about the tilting deck and vaulted clear of the ships railing. But the weight of the oversized phallic symbol he had grabbed provided just enough negative inertia to drag his hairy simian legs down, down, down, down against the green-pitted brass rail, and the ancient, time-corroded metal exploded with fifty-seven years of relief into a shower of forgotten symbols. The first mate, followed by Captain Worley's prized mahogany tea crate and a case of Tarragona wine from Catalonia, catapulted into a cream-flecked mustache of iridescent sea-foam. The spectral dusk turned Prussian blue as Jonah, flailing his left arm like the one-bladed propeller of a doomed Spitfire, disappeared, mouth agape, through the swinging doors of the Sargasso Saloon. Worley sighed and pressed a monogrammed carmine silk handkerchief to his oily brow. "The lousy bastard," he cursed, turning to Rooney, "did you see him make that obscene gesture with his right hand? and I swear I heard a vulgar comment about the queen?"
"I thought it simply a chimp salute, and a word of new-age good cheer," Rooney said.
“Nonsense,” said Captain Worley, grasping the spinning wheel a little tighter while trying, with only moderate success, to sip his triple rum and coke, “I’ll have him in leg irons if he shows his low browed, simian face aboard the Cyclops again.” "But I'll tell you what Rooney, I'm more concerned about my red and black lacquered Shanghai tea chest. Jesus Christ, my first-edition Henry Miller’s and Lawrence Clark Powells were inside. And wasn't the bastard wearing my Sunday Macintosh?

As Jonah fluttered desperately in the suffocating embrace of the wild water a wrinkled navy-blue Macintosh spread limply around him like the wilted petals of a winter-frosted water hyacinth, or an installation by Christo. The chimp, doing his best to remain upright, like the sexually aroused stamen of a Peruvian Lily, was finally sucked down into Poseidon’s hidden chamber to fertilize his garden of hybrid kelp. Germination in reverse.

Worley shrugged his shoulders, and like the Charioteer from Delphi stood crisp as hammered gold in the darkening cockpit. He gazed mindlessly toward the saw-toothed horizon, unaware the carnivorous sea still thrashed his vessel like a school of flesh-starved sharks. Thousands of goose bumps had lifted him above the counterpane of sleep; had carried him far above the confusion of his own dreams and nightmares. Worley was drunk on someone else's imagination.
The running lights flickered, flickered with green light, flickered, flickered. The lights were reflected in the polished lexan windows, and re-reflected in Worley’s rum-polished eyes. Worley felt nauseous. He sensed he had exceeded his threshold of tolerance for imbalance and steadied himself against the flickering, flickering instrument panel. He stood erect and tried to assume the posture of a ship's captain, bumping his polished head against a rough metal cross beam with a watermelon thud in the process. “Shit,” he said, rubbing his forehead with one hand and pouring the last sips of Santa Clara rum into his Lamprey mouth with the other. “Shit,” he said, and smiling like a Moray eel, slipped the empty glass into Rooney's jacket pocket. "Four pints to starboard Rooney," he sang, chuckling drunk on the fermented black-market Cuban sugar cane, "and batten down the south spinnaker and overcharge the Hatches in first class, cabin number five, and the Johnson’s in number eleven, and the Smiths cowering in Cabin Class number fifty-seven.” For a moment he was Robert Newton playing Long John Silver, thumb and index finger pressed against his chin, right eye closed, plotting an advantage and sailing the Hispanole to an imaginary Treasure Island “Them is me orders Rooney lad.” Worley ahah’d, “now step lively. We've a cargo of crocheted doilies to deliver, and more passengers than I care to imagine. And while you’re at it see the ship's wine cellar stays ship shape during this Napoleonic ordeal."

I riffled the remaining pages, chuckled, and wondered what beautiful and unexpected peregrinations and hallucinations Whinkla would take me on. In what arena would he reign?

Apr 2, 2008

WHINKLA -April 1, 2008

Wonder of Wonders, or is that World of Wonders? I was upstairs staring at the computer around nine last night when I heard what sounded like a knock on the front door. I haven't had a visitor after dark for more years than I have fingers and toes so I was immediately suspicious. Not frightened or threatened, just curious. When I slipped down stairs in the darkness I could see a head faintly illuminated by starlight framed in the door's small glass window. I opened the door immediately.

"Whinkla!" I yelled, "Whinkla! My God man, come in. Where in heaven's name have you been?"

Whinkla stepped inside and took off his boots. "It has been a while, hasn't it?"

"At least a year. No, closer to two. Where have you been? What have you been up to?"

"One question per customer Larry," Whinkla smiled, but yes, I do have a tale or two to relate."

We moved quickly to the kitchen where I busied myself making a pot of tea. Whinkla sat at the breakfast bar thumbing through a recent copy of Smithsonian magazine and humming softly.

"So tell me everything," I said, " from the beginning, that is from the last time we met."

"When was that Larry? I seem to be having a little difficulty remembering things of late, and so much has happened, or hasn't happened I loose my way. Was it the afternoon we spent investigating and inventing nicknames? That would have been the autumn of 2007."

"No," I said, "I think we saw each other last March, at the Insomniac. You were with a beautiful, raven-haired young lady."

"Ah yes, Vivien, now there's a story to chill your bones Larry. Turned out to be a modern version of Idylls of the King, at least the Merlin and Nimue part."

The kettle had boiled and I placed the cozied teapot between us on the counter. "So," I said. "tell me about her. Was she the 'Lady of the Lake'?"

Whinkla sighed, "Well she certainly cast a spell on me, one of my own I suppose, but I did manage to escape before becoming just a voice in a Hawthorne tree, or worse. . . . Tea should be ready."

Mar 26, 2008

The Republic of Dreams

I dream vividly, in great depth and astonishing detail, but haven't the self-discipline to remember most of what I experience in the republic of dreams. However, occassionally, a dream is so real that after I wake it's as if I was still in the other land. One such dream I managed to commit to paper, and I called it:


I was walking home from the high meadow, following a muddy goat track that ran below the Hawthorn hedge, or else I wasn't descending the goat track at all. Who could tell? It was late afternoon, the sun had turned the sky an unfamiliar sulfur-orange, or it was late morning and the cobalt blue sky was blazing under a quivering red sun with a towering gray-bottomed, anvil-shaped cloud or two, looking like sacked Templar castles, acting as semi-surrealistic side curtains. I was following the goat track, though there hadn't been a goat on the grassless trail for as long as I could remember, only an occasional rabbit. Regardless, I was following the goat track down from the high pasture, or else I wasn't. Who could tell?

My house was a thatch-roofed cottage built from river-rounded boulders of granite and gneiss. Not much else was known about it. Someone, myself I think, had snaked a small copper pipe from the hillside spring so that hot water was available at the turn of a wooden handle. The availablility of water was not without cost.

The sink was overflowing with greasy dishes from an unremembered meal and it seemed like a good idea at the time to wash them. Or was that a bad idea? Who could tell? I decided to wash them, having only the two options to chose between. But, as I filled the cracked enamel sink with water, almost steam, the cups and saucers, plates and bowls began to move about and break apart. They fragmented into salmon-coloured, salmon-shaped pieces, that swam around in the oily water like anxious panfish.

Gazing pensively out the six-paned window I could see that dawn was arriving, or perhaps it wasn't. Who could tell? Had I been washing dishes all afternoon? All evening? In the sink the salmon continued to disintegrate into smaller and smaller fry. I thought how happy they would have been had they been real salmon, or even simple sardines, and able to swim off down the dark drain on an adventure, or leap up the dripping water faucet and fin their way back through mist and time to the place of their birth. Only they continued to loose their identity, dissolving into a sandy mud that covered the bottom of my sink. I was upset that my cast iron skillet hadn’t been dirty so I could have put this beautiful abrasive to productive use. Imagine a school of salmon swimming back and forth, rubbing their granular, gold-scaled bellies against the bottom of my skillet. I pulled the plug and watched the salmon disappear down the drain. Or was that simply gritty clay? Who could tell?
I turned my attention instead to another school of salmon swimming up the early morning sky, struggling against the dark. It must have been morning as sky-salmon are not known to swim up the sky at night.

I studied the high wire fence enclosing the vegetable garden. Ah, I thought, that's why the goats and rabbits no longer use the goat trail. I remembered how, after I first installed the fence, the goats continued to wander down each evening, or was it morning, to sit on their haunches and sniff the ripening cabbage, carrots and lettuce for a while, but eventually they stopped coming, leaving behind only their sad, silent bleats. The rabbits too soon discovered the fence and whimpered once or twice before hopping away to their private silence. Since then all the vegetables inside the fence had grown to maturity, split, turned black and rotte, turning magically into earth. We didn't pick a thing that year, nor the years after. We ate out of cans, or fed on dried legumes, or did we. Who could remember?
The goats returned to their high, brushy hill, and the rabbits to their megalopolis of cozy tunnels beneath the Hawthorn hedge. Both seemed happy to nibble aimlessly at wild grasses and herbs as the morning star guided the moon into view. Or was that the evening star? I began to wonder, had there ever been goats? Rabbits? Who could tell?

Later in the day, after I’d scraped the shapeless salmon from the sink and poured them on the weeds in the vegetable garden I pulled on my rubber boots and followed the goat track as it wandered upward toward the top of the hill. The rabbits were asleep, silent in their dark, humid burrows, and of course, now I realized, there may never have been goats. Who could tell?
At the fence separating my fallow field of mustard from that of someone I had never met I crossed using the stile, though I could easilly have walked a few yards to the right and stepped through a gaping hole where the goats had once passed. Goats? Or I could have simply jumped over at any number of locations as the wire net was in need of repair and sagged to the ground almost everywhere. Or perhaps there was no fence. Who could tell?

The goat track eventually led me into a neglected cemetery overrun with rank weeds and impenetratable brambles, then disappeared amongst tumbled headstones marked with broken nine-pointed stars and vague hieroglyphics. Moving forward I stumbled against the walls of a church whose huge oak doors were closed by slabs of chestnut nailed to the stone walls with copper spikes. The artistically carved Saints, Madonnas and Griffins that had once proudly decorated the wooden portal seemed to have been nibbled away by creatures with rodent-like incisors. The belfry bell was silent, as it had always been, or had it always been? Had I ever heard the pealing of the bells? Who could tell?
When I pressed my left ear against the chiped oak panel I thought I could hear, hushed and far away, the bleating of goats, and with my right ear, the crying of rabbits; a great many rabbits, a great many goats.

Mar 11, 2008

A Fiction of Roussel

I’ve always held the belief that many treasures remain hidden: rare jewels, currency, works of art, antiquities, unknown manuscripts by famous authors and musicians, or any number of other ephemeral item deemed valuable by either their rarity or uniqueness. Many people have the habit of hiding items and then forgetting them, or where they were placed. Or else they die unexpectedly, leaving no record of their actions. I’m thinking of the box of currency slipped onto the top shelf of a bookcase in a darkened shed, the gold coins deposited, one by one, into a hollow metal fence post in the back yard, a battered leather suitcase filled with notebooks and fool scrap left with a friend for safekeeping, never to be reclaimed, the worthless painting bought at a thrift shop found to be hiding an early work by an old master, the antique chest of drawers with a yellowing envelope taped to the underside of the bottom draw, unnoticed all those years, filled with valuable stock certificates. I feel the world is filled with many more such marvelous items, waiting only for an accidental hand to discover them.

In 2006 I became obsessed with the writings of Raymond Roussel but was disappointed at the lack of information regarding his life. Then, when I read of the unexpected discovery of Roussel manuscripts in 1964 I had reason to hope there were more to be found. I knew Roussel had lived in several towns during his time in France, some of them for relatively brief periods of time. That he wrote profusely, and rewrote and revised endlessly is well known and I doubt he discarded very much of what he had written. But what had happened to the notes and manuscripts he mentions in his 1935 book, posthumously published: Comment j’ai écrit certains de mes livres?

If you change residences frequently much of what you accumulate must necessarily be left behind, at least temporarily. Furniture, books, clothing, art objects, and manuscripts are often placed with a neighbor, business associate, or in the hands of a good friend, to be picked-up at a later date, or forwarded to a new location. I think sadly of the manuscripts left behind by D. H. Lawrence at the Kiowa Ranch in New Mexico, now out of public circulation but hopefully not necessarily lost for all time. In some musty basement or cobwebbed attic, at the bottom of an old tea chest filled with period clothing and bric-a-brac, or a mouse-nested wooden box filled with nibbled paper, unknown manuscripts may yet lie patiently waiting discovery.

I was reading “The Selected Correspondence of Dr. Almeldi” when a particular statement made me take an extra breath. Dr. Almeldi was a psychiatrist practicing in Bois de Boulogne, a suburb of Paris, in the late 1800’s, and a friend of the psychiatrist Perrin Durand. In a letter to Durand, dated June 12, 1917, he writes: “I have recently accepted a patient referred to me by my sister. He’s a gentleman from Nielly, a village near Vierizon, who tells me he suffers from melancholia, insomnia, and extreme anxiety, but I tell you Perrin, after his initial visit I suspect the problem is more complex. When I write you about this case I will refer to him as Mr. Russel for purposes of propriety and confidentiality. Mr. Russel is a compulsive writer and tells me he has boxes and boxes of notebooks and papers that he feels he must constantly revise, and this burden he laments is added to almost daily by additional writing. But let me proceed to what I see as the most interesting aspect of this case Perrin, it’s his imagination. He has created worlds of words within worlds of words of such detailed fantasy that even I am impressed. I sense Mr. Russel will prove very interesting, his artistic obsessions are beyond question. A study of his madness, no, let me say uniqueness, while formidable, should prove interesting. Perrin, I feel I may need your assistance in this case, and should you chose to assist me I would be most grateful.”

Need I elaborate? When I saw the name Russel, and the remarks regarding his imagination and creativity I was convinced Almeldi was referring to Raymond Roussel! Relatively little is known of Roussel’s life so if the casual references proved to be factual, and why wouldn’t they be? then an opportunity to add considerably to what we know of Roussel was presenting itself, and there might be a chance to discover unknown or unpublished manuscripts, perhaps even an early draft of La Vue or La Doublure.

It’s well known the Roussel family estate was in Neuilly, a suburb of Paris, but what if Roussel had also lived in Neilly? The similarity of names was pure Roussel. So after a routine search on the Internet to verify names and a few other incidentals I slipped a French dictionary into my baggage and made a reservation on an early morning flight to Paris, France.

From Charles de Gaulle airport I claimed my suitcase and went immediately to the train station where I purchased a second-class ticket to Bourges. A few hours later I checked into the Ibis Hotel. After breakfast the following morning I took the train a short distance to Vierzon and paid for three nights lodging at the Campanile Vierzon Hotel. My anticipation and excitement of what the next few days might bring was difficult to control. On check-in I asked the young desk clerk if she had ever heard mention of the name Roussel. She shook her head, “No.”

That evening, after a splendid meal in a nearby restaurant, I sat in my second story room looking out toward the Sologne forests and wondered how I was going to track down evidence that might prove Roussel had even lived near the town in the 1920’s. Roussel died in Palermo in 1933 at age 56. If he had lived in or near Neilly he would have been around forty-five, perhaps fifty years old, that would make it 1927, give or take a few years. That would mean anyone who might have knowledge of Roussel would be close to 90. Suddenly I realized that was the answer. In the morning I would make a list of all the retirement homes and nursing facilities in the area. Then I would visit area clinics and try to develop a list of older individuals being cared for at home. I drank a glass or two of local wine to celebrate my arrival, and my plan, and listened to the town put itself to bed, then I too lay down, encouraged, excited, and more than anxious.

A visit to the public library provided access to local telephone directories and newspapers and from them I quickly made a list of seven private ‘retirement’ homes, and one government facility. A list of aging residents living at home, or with relatives, was more difficult to compile, but after a visit to the only local clinic I had the names, and in most cases the addresses, of seventeen individuals or couples. Of course there were likely many more but it was a start. Gathering the information had taken three days so I extended my stay at the Hotel another three days and hoped it would be long enough. That night I sat down with a bottle of Bordeaux and studied the list. I decided to begin with individuals and leave those in institutions till last. First I looked at age and eliminated anyone less than 75 years old. Then I decided to begin with people who were 80 or older. That would have made them around ten years old in 1927, the year I felt Roussel most likely lived in Neilly. There were only six names on my list, and I had an address for all but one of them.

My first stop was a disappointment; the woman I expected to interview had died two weeks before, and her daughter, who was in the process of cleaning the house for sale, said she couldn’t recall her mother ever mentioning anyone named Roussel. The second name on my list sounded encouraging, or at least the address gave me hope. I had been told of an old couple that lived in a small cottage on an unnamed lane between the Rue Andre Ribaud and Chemin de Fougery. I couldn’t help noticing the similarity of Ribaud to Rimbaud, and Fougery to the English word Forgery. But perhaps my imagination was taking the upper hand, and my wish to find a connection to Roussel too optimistic.

It didn’t take long to locate the house once I found Rue Andre Ribaud. A farmer feeding goats knew immediately who I was looking for and gave me specific directions. He told me the house was one of the oldest in the neighborhood and had been built from cobbles collected from local streams. It was, he thought, in excess of two hundred and fifty years old yet had withstood winter storms better than more recent constructions. Seeing the cottage from a slight rise in the roadway I was immediately struck by its presence, or rather lack of presence in the landscape. It did look marvelously old, even from a distance, and seemed to have become a part of the land.

I didn’t see the man or woman at first as I was admiring the luxuriant, well-kept vegetable garden that stretched from the rear of the house down to a thin line of willows bordering a brook. I paused outside an opening in a hedge of roses and was admiring the profusion of flowers and shrubs flowing about the house when their movement surprised me. They were weeding a flowerbed just inside the hedge. The woman stood, smiled, wiped her hands on her apron and came toward me. The man continued to weed.

“What a magnificent garden,” I said, and told her of my own garden, a continent away. While we talked the old man joined us. He carried a basket filled with vegetables: lettuce, radish, carrots, scallions, and Broad beans. Without even knowing my name they invited me inside for tea.

I introduced myself and casually commented on the age and beauty of the cottage. “Thank you, yes it is quite old,” said the lady, ‘please sit down. I’m Mireille.”

“I’m Alain,” the man said, and yes, make yourself at home.” Mireille left to make tea and Alain and I sat down in front of a stone fireplace and exchanged pleasantries. He said he was ninety-one years old and his wife 86. Alain had lived in the Loire valley all his life and had moved into the cottage in 1936 when he was twenty years old. He met Mireille a year or two later and they were married in 1938. Except for a short honeymoon spent in Paris they had lived there ever since. Alain told me a distant cousin on his father’s side had inherited the house but preferred the comforts of a larger town and so the house remained empty for many years. “When I was discharged from the army I needed a place to stay and the cousin was grateful to have someone he could trust live in the cottage and take care of it.

Mireille returned with tea and a plate of bread and cheese which she placed on a three-legged stool between us. She brushed off her apron and sat down on a wooden chair beside her husband. Finally I nervously asked them if the name Roussel meant anything to them. Both shook their head and said they could not recall anyone with that name. My enthusiasm suddenly evaporated and my disappointment must have been visible as Mireille asked me if anything was wrong. I assured her I was fine and thanked her for the tea. I then asked Alain about the time he first moved into the house. His head dropped slightly and his eyes seemed to loose focus, gazing back fifty years or so. “That was a long time ago,” he said, and then paused, “but I remember how excited I was to have a place of my own, and at twenty. That was really something back then.”

“Or now,” I added.

“Yes, I’ve been lucky,” he said, “First the cottage for only a few Francs a year, then Mireille, and two sons.” He stopped and I picked up my teacup, afraid to speak. Then he continued. “Of course there was a lot of work to be done. No one had lived here for years, so there were piles of stuff to get rid of. The furniture was still good, but so much trash, you know, old clothing, piles of seed and nut shells left by squirrels or rats, even a few dead birds. Came down the chimney I suppose, like they do now when they’re looking for nest sites. Couldn’t find their way out and no one here to open the door. It was a mess, but an opportunity.”

“So you spent a few days cleaning and making the place comfortable?” I asked.

“Quite a few. I had to dig a new privy and clean out the well. And I spent several days chinking the walls with new concrete. The roof was in good condition other than a bird nest or two. At the end of a week it was clean as it had ever been, only cold.” He reached over and took Mireille’s hand.

“What kind of stuff besides dirty clothing did you have to get rid of?” I asked.

He thought for a moment. “Oh there were some rusted cooking pots, an old suitcase, a box or two of newspapers, broken glass, that sort of thing.”

“What about the chest?” Mireille said.

“Oh yes, the chest.” He said. “there was an old chest in the bedroom.”

“What was in the chest?? I asked, as casually as possible.

Alain chuckled. “Would you believe nothing but paper. Boxes and boxes of paper and notebooks, and all of it written on. I think there were some pens and dried out bottles of ink and a packet or two of letters. And some sheet music. Just junk.”

My heart began to quicken again and I tried to remain calm. “Really,” I said, did you read any of the papers, or the letters?”

“Well, no, you see I never learned to read very well, just enough to get by.”

“Then you’ve no idea what they were about?”

Mireille refilled our cups and asked me to help myself to the bread and cheese, all made locally she assured me and better than anything I’d find in the city. I buttered a crusty chunk of bread and cut off a slice of cheese. Mireille smiled when she saw my surprise at finding a piece of straw in the center of the cheese. “It’s a Saint Maure, one of our valley’s best”

After what I thought an appropriate time I again asked Alain if he knew what the papers might have been about.

“Oh I have some idea.” Alain said, “I asked my neighbor to look at the papers and he said the notebooks might be a diary of someone’s trip to Africa, and the papers seemed to be about a party at someone’s estate. He said they didn’t make much sense and were just fancy scribbling.

“So what did you do with all of it?”

“Why I used the papers to light the stove. In winter I crumpled up some of the sheets and stuffed them in around the windows to keep out the drafts.”

“So you saved nothing?”

“No, it was of better use to me as kindling.”

We sat in relative silence enjoying our afternoon meal. Then, as I sat on the edge of my chair trying very hard not to show my disappointment, a disappointment they would have no way of sharing, I let my gaze wander about the room. There were pictures of what I suppose were their children and grandchildren on the mantle, a few still-life paintings of flowers, and one of the Eiffel tower, and next to a doorway that led perhaps to their bedroom a small framed line or two of verse. I asked if they minded if I looked at the pictures and photographs and they were delighted in my interest. I expected the framed line of text to be a proverb like ‘A stitch in time saves nine’, or “God Bless Our House,” but was startled to read: ‘The brightness dims within the glass and everything darkens.’ I must have gasped as Mireille jumped to her feet, concerned I was choking. “No, no, I’m all right,” I said, “it’s just I didn’t expect to find anything like this on your wall.” I pointed to the framed line of text. “Do you remember where you got this?”

Alain pushed himself to his feet and joined me. “That,” he said, “I forgot, I guess I did save something from the chest. I had the postman look at some of the papers as well as the neighbor. He picked this out as something I might want on my tombstone and so I saved it. Like I said, we can’t read very well but I think it says: ‘When the brightness dims everything darkens.’”

“Yes,” I said, “it does say something like that.”

Back at the hotel I sat quietly in my room and wondered if it was possible the chest had been filled with manuscripts and notes by Raymond Roussel? or some other author? I’ll never know for sure of course, but what an unfortunate tragedy if they were. I still shudder when I envision the burning of the Library at Alexandria, or the wanton destruction by Spanish priests of almost all the Mayan codex’s, and this, the loss of so many unknown manuscripts, whether by Roussel, or someone else.

A few weeks later, back at my home in Oregon I received an email from a friend in Palermo, Italy. He has written to tell me his neighbor, while removing a large rats nest from a wall of his house, noticed it was lined with shreds of expensive looking paper. As a curiosity he showed it to my friend who is saving the nest because of one word that caught his attention, and one he knew would quicken my blood. He is certain one of the words he can see, without dismantling the nest, is Locus!