Friday, October 7, 2016

Stars: A Discourse on Atomic Transformation



Stars are fully conscious beings.
They know what they are,
they know what they do.
They have lives, beginning
and ending.  They have work
to do.  They have intellect
beyond our ken, emotions
vast and mighty.
Stars know what’s in their heart,
understand full well
how atomic nuclei fuse
to give them life,
control their power
and communicate
with other stars, and with the mighty hosts
of galaxies.
Stars participate
in the orchestra of cosmos,
stars love.  Stars love.  Stars love.
Stars sing, growl, howl, scream
adore, implore, quake, mistake,
correct, deflect, in counterpoint
composed by stars’ mighty fathers and mothers,
grandfathers and grandmothers, substance
of eternal generations going all the way back
to the beginning of this time, this time
which stretches long and rejoins itself
where stars truly begin.  And end.
Stars go crazy and explode, and shed
their substance in stellar
pregnancy and regeneration,
of doom and resurrection.
It is difficult for humans to conceive
the roaring inferno of love
out of which stars make their lives,
how the insides of stars determine
the outsides of stars, and how
at the very center of a star,
a single particle is always igniting,
igniting, igniting, that lightning
is to a star what a heartbeat
is to a man,
the most fundamental element
of existence, burning burning hot,
hot so hot beyond comprehending,
a melting love, a fusing love,
a uniting love, an orgasmic love
tied to everything in deep converse
merged with all in a universe
where voices cross the void
where void disappears into
inexplicable and infinitely tiny
spaces, like spaces inside our bodies
where atoms combine, where molecules
caress and form other lives.
Stars know what they are.
Stars are alive and individual,
quirky with personality,
often pulsing and drawing
gravity blood, gas and heat,
combining with other stars
combining and mating with other
stars and forming unions of
higher imaginations
in order to serve the Master  of Stars.
Even rogue stars, sad brown old stars,
invisible stars, fresh newborn stars
understand why they came to be
what they are
in the very first place.




Sunday, October 2, 2016

A Cat Heals An Autistic Man

     
This is Cookie
    

          One day we found out that an autistic man was going to move in next door.  I should remind you that we live in an RV.  We rent a site with power and plumbing, but sometimes we have to compromise on privacy.  Our south side, our lounge-and-relax area under the awning, is the side we would be sharing with the new neighbor.  
          I was concerned.  How autistic is he? I asked the manager.  "It'll be fine, he's very quiet," the manager responded.  The manager often tells people what he thinks they want to hear, so I discounted this bit of information.   Autism can be a vague diagnosis.  It contains so many degrees of malfunction that it has stretched beyond its original meaning of a soul completely lost to human interaction.  "A little autistic" could mean almost anything.
          When Henry moved in he took a look at me and The Fox and literally said"whew" as if he were relieved at what he saw.
          "Whew."  Where did he live before he came here?  His former neighbors, we later learned, were motorcycle people and meth freaks.  Whew, indeed.
          Henry divulged little about himself.  He said he liked cats.  That was fortunate, because our site is something like Cat Central at Vine Haven RV Campground.  We have two indoor cats and two outdoor cats, plus a wide variety of feral visitors and neighborhood pets.  There's something about this space that draws cats.  It might be the plum trees and their abundant population of wrens and robins.  We do our best to discourage bird hunting.
          There are people who claim their pets have super powers.  When I first heard this I was disdainful, but my thinking has changed.  Our cat Obsidian is a big brown tabby with green eyes.  I've seen him tame people in that Little Prince way, literally capture their unruly spirits and put them back in a more harmonious order.  That's Obsidian's super power, the power to restore tranquility.
          He's getting old, and so are we.  He doesn't jump the fence and climb around with the younger cats any more.  He has more important work to do.
          Our new neighbor Henry is middle-aged.  He is a fearful, cranky and withdrawn man, but we barely know he's here.  His social interactions are limited but acceptable.  He can be easily upset by minor disturbances.  He is so averse to noise that he can be pushed into a ferocious sulk by the mere revving of a motorcycle.

This is Obsidian

          He has been adopted by our two outdoor cats, wise old Obsidian and his sidekick, the comical black and white Cookie.  These cats have given structure to Henry's otherwise bleak world.  By loving Henry they have tricked him into loving.            I looked out the window one day to see the elusive and feral Cookie sitting calmly on Henry's lap.  I had never seen her behave this way.  It was strangely impressive.  Henry is a cat savant, he has some magical affinity that he didn't know he possessed until he moved close to Obsidian and Cookie.   
          I assume that you, my readers, understand how easily a friendly animal, a pet (if you will) can become a tyrant who turns your life upside down.  Henry is such an innocent that he immediately began flirting with disaster.  We had to set him straight without setting him off.  If he let Obsidian into his home even once, he would become nothing but a door man, opening and closing all day, all night, at the tabby cat's demand.  I caught him just on the verge of doing this very thing and rushed to halt the action.
          "Don't let him in, Henry!  Close your door, quick!"  He was frightened and cut Obsidian off  just as he was about to slip between his feet.
          I explained what had almost happened.  I spoke towards Henry's averted eyes and raised defensive shoulders.  I spoke to him as I would speak to any intelligent adult.  In Henry's heart, the need to trust someone was rising like a powerful burst of magma from a volcano deep beneath the sea.  His need to share the cats' companionship was forcing him to emerge from his shell and talk to us.  The cats pushed Henry past his fears.  I doubt he's had this much social interaction in a long time.
          In the next few weeks we learned more about Henry.  It wasn't easy but we supported his struggle to communicate. Then something unexpected happened.  Henry and Obsidian fell in love.  I'm not being flippant.  I'm not suggesting an improper liaison.  It's just that simple.  When Henry left to visit his mother, Obisidian sat on his front step, waiting for his return.  He would emit an occasional sob.  There's no mistaking Obsidian's sob.  He has an amazing gamut of vocalizations, including a perfectly robin-like cheep that must have been useful during his hunting years.
          I can't put it any other way.  They were in love with a pure emotional connection.  Henry's autism perhaps short-circuited his intellectual activity and left his feelings to flourish without interference from the busy mind.  I don't really know.  I watched this fountain of feeling take shape between Henry and the cats.  I could feel its authenticity in my guts.
          Henry leaves the campground for treatment four days a week.  When he first went away, Obsidian was inconsolable.  He went into a paroxysm of grief.  He stared into space for long periods.  He moped and cried.  But Obsidian gradually learned that Henry ALWAYS comes home.  Thus our cat friend's tranquility was restored.  He knows Henry will be back and that's enough to comfort him.  It took him a few weeks to get this; I watched him unwind and relax.  I watched his attention return to his world: the falling leaves and the showoff Cookie with her bounding up and down fences and trees.  Obsidian resumed his lordship of his domain.  The lost baby possum was under his protection.  The upstart kitten Stinker was not welcome and he meant business, even if he had to hire Cookie to teach Stinker a lesson.
          Now Henry has left for two weeks.  He has gone to Connecticut to visit his sister.  Three thousand miles! cried Henry in terror before he was picked up by his ride.  The enormity of this journey, its scale and distance, were almost paralyzing.  I shared with Henry my own fears about travel: the feeling that I'll never get home, I'll be trapped in some alien environment without the solace of my place and my people and animals and the routines that keep me from flying apart.  Henry and I aren't so different.  This bit of one on one engagement gave Henry something to take with him on this unprecedented trip.  He had shared an emotional link with another human being.  And he had given his heart to a big brown cat with green eyes.
          How different is Henry's world today?  That's not for me to say, but I suspect that it's just different enough...enough to make a difference.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Letter From The Afterlife Of A Terrorist Bomber




I thought I would be in Paradise
but I am in unspeakable hell.
The fire, the fire!
I thought it would only burn for a second,
but it keeps burning!
I thought I would lose consciousness
and wake up in heaven,
but I am stuck now for an eternity
in agony!
The screams of the innocent dying
are like poisoned darts,
lancing the exposed nerves of my inmost soul.
The tears of the bereaved in their  thousands
rain upon me like acid.
And the worst hell of all is my regret,
my infinite regret,
that I was so stupid, so gullible, so callous,
so easily swayed by insipid argument,
so readily moved to escape my depressing life
by casting it upon others.
I was so sure my mother would be proud
of her son, The Martyr, The Shaheed.
But she screams and tears the hair from her head
until she is half bald and looks like a plucked chicken.
The mothers of all the children I murdered were nothing
to me, they were not human, until now.
The fire, the fire!  The jet fuel
sears me for ten thousand years!
The screams and the grief that blame me, rightly,
crush me under a million tons of leaden metal and concrete!
Allah, Allah, I was not merciful, I was not compassionate,
and now when I call to you I see the grit of your robe
as you turn away from me.
I thought I would awake in Paradise.
What a dreadful mistake I have made!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Two Americas

            I hate this sense of polarization in the United States, this propaganda-driven idea that it’s US Versus THEM.  I thought I might take a look at the groups, the US and the THEM and see if I can’t analyze the difference.
            First of all, let me state that I am firmly one of the US.  I wouldn’t let a THEM in my house nor allow my sister to marry  one of THEM.
            There are many lifestyles in this country and I think the US/THEM divide flows along lifestyle differences.
            There are two kinds of people in this country.  Hostess Twinkie People and Progresso Soup People.
            I heard a snippet of a Sarah Palin speech yesterday and she is a Hostess Twinkie person.  Her speech began with the question, “Dontcha wanna get back to the good ol’ America that we grew up with?”
            This is the archetypal Hostess Twinkie question. It’s the soft white piece of cake on the outside.  It has no meaning, no nutritive value and is uttered to appeal to the most childish type of person.  Then Ms Palin said, “Doncha want to return to the America that respected values, like honest hard work?  Values like believing in God and the family?” This is the payoff, the creamy center, made from shortening, corn syrup, fructose, sodium glycol and unspecified binding agents.  It does not require teeth to be eaten.  It does not require a mind to give pleasure to childish people.  It just needs to be sweet and gooey.
            The Progresso Soup people are looking for an honest lunch in a can.  The packaging of Progresso Soup conveys a return to old-country quality and nutrition.  If it was called “Progress Soup” it would sound cold and industrialized.  The addition of the “O” transforms it to grandma’s home made blend of split peas, onions, celery, noodles and chunks of chicken.  It became so successful that it forced Campbells to make better soups.  You know, the soups that NFL players’ moms force them to eat.
            I’m not saying that a Progresso Person won’t eat a Twinky or that a Twinky person won’t eat Progresso Soup.
            The point I’m making is that there are a lot of people in this country with empty minds.  They have no curiosity, and are too lazy to figure things out for themselves.  They are content to be fed the intellectual equivalent of cake and candy.  Due to their lazy childishness, these people are easy to manipulate.  That’s what scares me.  Twinkie people are being lied to.  They are being told that Progresso Soup people are not real Americans, that they’re trying to undermine the constitution and destroy the values imbued in this country by the Founding Fathers.
            They believe these lies because they want to, because it’s easier to believe a comforting lie than to search out a truth that might not go koochy koochy koo.
            Twinkie People are slowly being turned into mobs who will chase Progresso Soup people down the street, force them to hide in attics, and, sooner or later, put them on trains going nowhere.
            We will look a little odd when they make us wear Progresso Soup labels on our jackets.  However, we will be squirting little doses of Ecstasy into the creamy centers of their Twinkies, so I expect the results to be worth the struggle.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Two Meditative Poems

 Something


Something
imagined us into existence.
That something was
very scientific,
very loving, very wild,
very mathematical,
very chaotic,
very purposeful,
very explosively given to
extravagance and elegance,
profusion and color,
yet so gentle that It knew
exactly how much to breathe
into the fire of life
without burning us all to cinders.
Imagined into existence,
we are here, duty bound
to imagine ourselves back to
that Something,
whose nature must take imagination
as the earth takes wind
for the circulation of its ideas.
I will imagine myself back into
the bosom of that Something
that made me
as a wind-wisp,
as a pink cloud from the most glory-stained
sunset, imaginable.  






The Gatekeeper


I have been knocking at this gate
my whole life,
knocking, knocking, so long
that my knuckles have worn
a hole through the wood,
and sometimes, if I stand
just right, I can see bits of light
coming from the other side.
I am afraid to put my eye
to the hole I have made by my knocking.
It is like looking
directly into the sun.
So I step back and keep knocking
making the entrance a little larger
with each knock,
with each prayer for understanding,
with each thirst
for what lies beyond the gate,
beyond this world.
I must wait respectfully
for the gatekeeper
to answer my summons,
though the temptation to batter
through the hole I have made is strong.
I would risk blindness,
risk incineration
in the world beyond the gate,
if I did not already hear
the footsteps of the gatekeeper.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Car Disasters of 2016 or Bad Fortune Cookies




                  



            I was driving sixty miles an hour on Southbound 101 when the car abruptly died.  It was my nightmare fantasy come true.  My heretofore trusty '98 Jeep just  stopped.  The radio went off, all the gauges slid to zero and I realized that I was coasting to a halt in a busy freeway lane.  I tried to restart the car.  I had no lights, no nothing.  I couldn't even put on the emergency blinkers. 
            I was terrified.  Vehicles were hurtling towards me at seventy miles per hour and they had no clue that I was dead in the right lane.  All it would take would be one dreamy driver to plow into me and I would be both cause and outcome of a multi-car  possibly fatal accident.  Should I get out and run for it?  Should I wait here?  I didn't know.  It seemed more honorable to stay with the car, to go down with the ship.
            A Highway Patrol car materialized behind me, its lights flashing.  I was pleased, for the first time in my life, to see Law Enforcement flashing its lights at me. The officer walked briskly to my front window.  He gestured to me to roll down the window. 
            Problem is, I can't roll down the window.  The Jeep's driver's side window doesn't work.  I had to pop open the door to hear the man's voice.  Embarassing?  And maybe illegal?
            "Put it in Neutral, sir.  I'm going to push you to the shoulder."
            Thank god thank god the gear shift works.  The CHP officer squares off behind me and bumps my fender with his big front pusher bar.  The car moves!  Oh! 
            There's another CHP car about two hundred yards upstream from us, slowing traffic by weaving across the freeway.  I get to the shoulder and the officer appears again.  He shouts at the closed widow.  He thinks I'm a moron. "Have you got Triple A, sir?"
            "I do.  I do. I do." I feel like I'm getting married.  "I do I do", I stutter, my nerves shattered, my forehead bathed in perspiration. 
            "Call 'em right now.  What's wrong with your vehicle, sir?"
            "I don't know, it's been running fine and then, suddenly, whammo! Dead.  D-
A-I-D...dead!"
            "If this vehicle is still here in two hours it will be impounded.  Do NOT exit the vehicle unless supervised by your tow driver.  Stay in your vehicle!  You're lucky I don't write you a ticket for reckless driving.  I'm feeling benevolent today. Today's my lecture day.  If this was tomorrow I'd write you up for twenty different violations."  I'm listening to this through the open crack of my driver's side door and the opened rear window, and all the other open windows except the one next to me that doesn't open any more.  I'm praying the policeman doesn't notice the passenger side front mirror, because it's taped on with duct tape and is not glass but a piece of reflective plastic whose images are distorted  beyond recognition.
            I call Triple A and wait for the tow truck.  I get texts every few minutes relaying the progress of my rescuer.  "Recovery Vehicle has departed current location at.etc. etc......ETA 45 min."  When the tow truck arrives it conveys me to Bowens Automotive Repair, a garage that I picked at random off the internet.  The mechanic does his tests and I absorb the diagnosis: My alternator is shot.  The car needs a new alternator.  Price tag: Five Hundred Dollars.
            I have no choice.  I call my partner to pick me up and drive me home in the other car.
            The Other Car.  The '96 White Chevy Blazer.  It was once a luxury car.  Leather seats.  Key fob operated remote lock/unlock.  We haven't driven it in four years because it doesn't start.  I would presume its got a dead battery but I swapped another battery into the car and it still didn't start.  So, maybe a blown starter motor?  Bad solenoid, frayed ground wire, failure to make contact somewhere within the fiendish complexities of its electrical jungle.
            The Jeep has always been our go-to car.  I haven't had the money to repair the Blazer. But now I must buy a new battery.  If there's something else wrong with the Blazer  I'm wasting my money but I follow this handy rule:  If the car doesn't start, and the battery doesn't charge, replace the battery.  Maybe the swapped battery was dead, too. 
            The moment of battery replacement is fraught with tension.  Will it, won't it...start?  I connect the new battery, turn the key in the ignition and....hallelujah!  It starts right away.  Oh, what a relief.
            I drive the Blazer to work the next day.  We've been using the Blazer as a storage bin.  Its rear is filled with linens, dishes, books, tools, all kinds of stuff  loaded up to the line of sight in the rear view mirror.  If we put any more stuff in there, I won't be able to see what's behind me.
            I drive to work.  I work.  I prepare to drive home.
            The driver's side tire is flat.
            Shit!  Where's the spare?  Is it underneath all that storage?
            No.  It's under the chassis, riding beneath the rear wheels.  The problem is that the tools for jacking and removing lug nuts is underneath the dishes, the linens, the books.
            And there's a trick to getting the spare to come free, a trick that I don't know. I've been using a sledge hammer to whack at the wing nut that constrains the spare.  I whack it and the nut turns but it's not un-threading.  It's not coming free.
            I begin to unload the stored goods in the cargo compartment.  Maybe there's a special tool, something to help me understand the spare tire conundrum.
            A motorist rolls up beside me in the parking lot.  He's driving a Blazer.
            "Are you stumped by the spare tire riddle?" he asks.
            "Totally stumped." I admit, raising my shoulders.  The back of my t-shirt and pants are black with asphalt and tar.  I don't know this, yet.  I can't see it.
            The Good Samaritan emerges, opens his rear hatch and pulls a variety of jack stuff from a compartment.
            "If you take this to a pro tire shop they won't know what to do either.  It's the great Blazer Spare Tire Riddle."  It turns out there's a hidden slot next to the license plate.  When my new friend inserts a blade-style tool into the magic slot it turns a cog and the spare tire DESCENDS on a cable until it hits the ground and I slip it off the wing nut.  There is no thread.  There is just this clever but now-obscure arrangement.
            Flat tire off; spare tire on.  Drive to the tire place.  Spend $120 to replace the spare.  Okay, the car runs.  As I drive, I see the one thing THAT I MOST DO NOT WANT TO SEE.   The dreaded SERVICE ENGINE SOON light comes on.
            I hate those lights!  Hate em!  They utterly destroy my peace of mind.  They are the manifestation of worry on the Material Plane.  As we all know, The Material Plane is dominated by concerns for automotive hygiene.  If you don't got transpo,  you don't got shit.
            I try driving the Jeep.  I'm too scared by the friggin' SERVICE ENGINE SOON light on the Blazer.
            The Jeep takes me to work the following day.  I detour through Novato and prepare to drive to Petaluma.  I'm going "the back way" because north-bound 101 is a parking lot.  It's always a parking lot from 3 to 7 P.M. five days a week.  What is this insane life we live?  Why do we spend four hours a day sitting in automobiles?
I'm heading for South Novato Boulevard when a giant cloud of steam erupts from under the hood.  GIANT CLOUD OF STEAM!  NOT GOOD.  NOT GOOD.






            I pull into the parking lot of the last shopping center before I embark on twenty miles of rural winding roads.  I buy a jug of coolant and I fill the Jeep's reservoir with the gooey green stuff.  I wait twenty minutes and I attempt the drive home.  The Jeep runs, somewhat jerkily, and I spend the next forty minutes of back-road driving in a state of profound alarm. 
            I make it.  I'm home. 
            I know a little bit about cars.  That kind of volcanic eruption of steam can indicate a water pump has gone bad, or the thermostat has failed, or the radiator is toast.  Or all of the above.
            My neighbor, Mike, knows about cars.  "I'll change your thermostat," he says cheerfully.  Mike is attending AA meetings and has just got his thirty day chip.  That's not an issue for me.  It just adds to the air of tension: Mike struggling to stay away from drink.  His wife has quit smoking and is on Day 27.  My neighbors are deeper in poverty than we are.  No wonder Mike eagerly volunteers to change my thermostat.  Mike is all over the place helping people. 
            I purchase a thermostat.  Mike replaces the old one in about ninety minutes.  He doesn't want to charge me.  I give him fifty dollars.  The new thermostat works, the Jeep stays cool.
            I didn't want to mention this before but it just happens that the Blazer's registration is due in a week and I know, for a fact, that SERVICE ENGINE SOON means that it will not pass the smog check.
            Fuck.
            Nonetheless, I feel safer driving the Blazer and I take it to work the next day.
As I'm coming home on North Petaluma Boulevard I hear a sound like a very large and joltingly loud motorcycle cruising up on my driver's side.  Wow!  That's loud!  I look to my left and I see no motorcycle.  There's no traffic at all.  But the Blazer is crunching and flubbling.  It sounds like a propellor blade being demolished by a potato masher.  The Blazer is behaving as if it has the hiccups.  No question: another tire is flat.
            I get over on the shoulder to inspect the damage.  Holy Shit!  The tire is literally shredded, it's nothing but four inch strips of rubber hanging from a punctured black matrix of nameless stuff.
            Call Triple A.  Second time in three days.  An hour later the big yellow truck pulls up.   A toothless rail-thin old guy gets out, grinning happily, and tells me that my tires are sun-damaged.  They've been sitting for too long and the heat has soaked the oils out of the rubber. They're all about to blow at any second. I need to instruct the tow truck man how to get the tricky spare out from under the Blazer.  Once the tire is changed I drive straight to the tire place and get four more new tires.  That is, after I've cued the guys at American Tire Co. about the Great Blazer Spare Tire Riddle.
            There are days when nothing goes right.  When to touch a machine is to wreck it.  Or when one makes an error due to a lapse of attention that causes a ten foot fall off someone's deck into a bed of blackberry bushes.  I'm having one of those days.  I put on the coffee.  It's a stove-top espresso maker.  I wait for the boil, wait and wait.  I smell something burning.  Uh oh!  I take a pot holder and lift the coffee maker.  Oh man!  Oh man oh man! I forgot to put water in the bottom part of the Vigano stove top coffee maker.  Now the rubber gasket has melted and scorched the threads and the coffee maker is a casualty of Morning Mind Mush.  In spite of the damage, my partner is greatly reassured.  My error is comforting to her.  She thinks she's "losing it".  Now she knows she's not the only one who's "losing it".
            I must locate a smog shop, a Star Certified Service Center, one of those in cahoots with the smog-fighting money-sucking bureaucracy of the DMV.  I pay for the smog test.  The Blazer fails.  How much, I ask, will it cost to fix it so that it passes the rigorous standards of our state's air-quality guardians?
            The Blazer needs a tune-up, a forward oxygen sensor, a rearward oxygen sensor and a catalytic converter."That would be about nine hundred and fifty dollars," answers the mechanic, whose name, Kelvin, is stitched onto his dark blue jump suit.  Kelvin's wife/receptionist is named Tran.  They're Vietnamese.  
            How many times have I said "shit" or "fuck" in the last three days?
            "Kelvin," I ask, "is there some kind of discount for the poor and the elderly?"  I have been poor my whole life.  The 'elderly' part occurred while I wasn't watching, about three years ago, when my left hip began to feel as if a strong man was applying pressure to it with a vice grip.
            There is, in fact, a program for the poor and the elderly to pay $500 towards smog repair.  I get the papers downloaded and send in the application.  A week later the grant arrives.  Five hundred of that nine hundred fifty dollars will be paid for.  Hell yeah!
            The smog repair takes two days.  I wait eagerly for Kelvin's call.  At last the phone rings.  "You passed your smog test," says Kelvin.  I'm so happy!  I'm thrilled.
I had needed a victory, any victory, a small victory, whatever, I'll take it.
            "But there is a problem, I'm afraid," says Kelvin, and my heart takes up residence at the ends of my toes.  I can feel my pulse down there, bumpity bump, pulsing up through my toenails.
            "A...uh...problem?"  Fuck!  Shit!
            "I think your water pump is about gone."
            "You think, you THINK.  Is it gone or isn't it?"
            "I don't know.  There was a pool of coolant under your car when I came in this morning."
            How much does he want to repair the water pump?  Well, you see, one should also replace the thermostat when one replaces the water pump.
            HOW MUCH?
            Four hundred seventy eight dollars.
            Stop everything!  HOLD THE PRESSES!
            I'm not stupid.  I check online and a water pump plus a thermostat costs about sixty bucks.  My neighbor, my pal my buddy Mike will do any automotive task for fifty dollars, gladly.  The work boosts his self esteem and it keeps him out of his RV and away from his jonesing wife.
            The Material World is a challenging place.  Our current model, this 21st century science fiction hip-hop deodorant-peddling appearance-worshiping stage set is peculiarly complex, is like a cross-word puzzle without a solution.  No one wins in the Material World.  All endings are bad endings.  If I'm lucky I will die quickly and without indignity.  If I'm lucky.  Meanwhile, as I wait for the denouement of my life, I must endure and meet the challenges thrust into my face by the invisible spirits of Destiny.
            Is the cup half full, partially full, partially empty, or totally empty?  The Highway Patrol Cop did not write me up.  The guy in the Blazer showed up as if dropped from Heaven.  I got a five hundred dollar grant from the DMV. The battery in the Blazer started the car.  The Jeep still runs.
            The cup is the cup.  Whatever's in it is what I've got.  I may as well accept that fact.  It's all those things, partially full, partially empty.  Life is blessed and sublime and life can be unspeakably vile.
            While I'm at it, I should check my credit rating.  I might want to purchase a recent model used car.

Car Disasters of 2016 or Bad Fortune Cookies




                  



            I was driving sixty miles an hour on Southbound 101 when the car abruptly died.  It was my nightmare fantasy come true.  My heretofore trusty '98 Jeep just  stopped.  The radio went off, all the gauges slid to zero and I realized that I was coasting to a halt in a busy freeway lane.  I tried to restart the car.  I had no lights, no nothing.  I couldn't even put on the emergency blinkers. 
            I was terrified.  Vehicles were hurtling towards me at sixty and seventy miles per hour and they had no clue that I was dead in the right lane.  All it would take would be one dreamy driver to plow into me and I would be both cause and outcome of a multi-car  fatal accident.  Should I get out and run for it?  Should I wait here?  I didn't know.  It seemed more honorable to stay with the car, to go down with the ship.
            A Highway Patrol car materialized behind me, its lights flashing.  I was pleased, for the first time in my life, to see Law Enforcement flashing its lights at me. The officer walked briskly to my front window.  He gestured to me to roll down the window. 
            Problem is, I can't roll down the window.  The Jeep's driver's side window doesn't work.  I had to pop open the door to hear the man's voice.  Embarrassing?  And maybe illegal?
            "Put it in Neutral, sir.  I'm going to push you to the shoulder."
            Thank god thank god the gear shift works.  It works kind of funny, like there's only one gear.  The lever slides up and down without stopping.  Oh god I hope this Jeep is not stuck in gear.  The CHP officer squares off behind me and bumps my fender with his big front pusher bar.  The car moves!  Oh! 
            There's another CHP car about two hundred yards upstream from us, slowing traffic by weaving across the freeway.  I get to the shoulder and the officer appears again.  He shouts at the closed widow.  He thinks I'm a moron. "Have you got Triple A, sir?"
            "I do.  I do. I do." I feel like I'm getting married.  "I do I do", I stutter, my nerves shattered, my forehead bathed in perspiration. 
            "Call 'em right now.  What's wrong with your vehicle, sir?"
            "I don't know, it's been running fine and then, suddenly, whammo! Dead.  D-
A-I-D...dead!"
            "If this vehicle is still here in two hours it will be impounded.  Do NOT exit the vehicle unless supervised by your tow driver.  Stay in your vehicle!  You're lucky I don't write you a ticket for reckless driving.  I'm feeling benevolent today. Today's my lecture day.  If this was tomorrow I'd write you up for twenty different violations."  I'm listening to this through the open crack of my driver's side door and the opened rear window, and all the other open windows except the one next to me that doesn't open any more.  I'm praying the policeman doesn't notice the passenger side front mirror, because it's taped on with duct tape and is not glass but a piece of reflective plastic whose images are distorted  beyond recognition at any speed.
            I call Triple A and wait for the tow truck.  I get texts every few minutes relaying the progress of my rescuer.  "Recovery Vehicle has departed current location at.etc. etc......ETA 45 min."  When the tow truck arrives it conveys me to Bowens Automotive Repair, a garage that I picked at random off the internet.  The mechanic does his tests and I absorb the diagnosis: My alternator is shot.  The car needs a new alternator.  Price tag: Five Hundred Dollars.
            I have no choice.  I call my partner to pick me up and drive me home in the other car.
            The Other Car.  The '96 White Chevy Blazer.  It was once a luxury car.  Leather seats.  Key fob operated remote lock/unlock.  We haven't driven it in four years because it doesn't start.  I would presume its got a dead battery but I swapped another battery into the car and it still didn't start.  So, maybe a blown starter motor?  Bad solenoid, frayed ground wire, failure to make contact somewhere within the fiendish complexities of its electrical jungle.
            The Jeep has always been our go-to car.  I haven't had the money to repair the Blazer. But now I must buy a new battery.  If there's something else wrong with the Blazer  I'm wasting my money but I follow this handy rule:  If the car doesn't start, and the battery doesn't charge, replace the battery.  Maybe the swapped battery was dead, too. 
            The moment of battery replacement is fraught with tension.  Will it, won't it...start?  I connect the new battery, turn the key in the ignition and....hallelujah!  It starts right away.  Oh, what a relief.
            I drive the Blazer to work the next day.  We've been using the Blazer as a storage bin.  Its rear is filled with linens, dishes, books, tools, all kinds of stuff  loaded up to the line of sight in the rear view mirror.  If we put any more stuff in there, I won't be able to see what's behind me.
            I drive to work.  I work.  I prepare to drive home.
            The driver's side tire is flat.
            Shit!  Where's the spare?  Is it underneath all that storage?
            No.  It's under the chassis, riding beneath the rear wheels.  The problem is that the tools for jacking and removing lug nuts is underneath the dishes, the linens, the books.
            And there's a trick to getting the spare to come free, a trick that I don't know. I've been using a sledge hammer to whack at the wing nut that constrains the spare.  I whack it and the nut turns but it's not un-threading.  It's not coming free.
            I begin to unload the stored goods in the cargo compartment.  Maybe there's a special tool, something to help me understand the spare tire conundrum.
            A motorist rolls up beside me in the parking lot.  He's driving a Blazer.
            "Are you stumped by the spare tire riddle?" he asks.
            "Totally stumped." I admit, raising my shoulders.  The back of my t-shirt and pants are black with asphalt and tar.  I don't know this, yet.  I can't see it.
            The Good Samaritan emerges, opens his rear hatch and pulls a variety of jack stuff from a compartment.
            "If you take this to a pro tire shop they won't know what to do either.  It's the great Blazer Spare Tire Riddle."  It turns out there's a hidden slot next to the license plate.  When my new friend inserts a blade-style tool into the magic slot it turns a cog and the spare tire DESCENDS on a cable until it hits the ground and I slip it off the wing nut.  There is no thread.  There is just this clever but now-obscure arrangement.
            Flat tire off; spare tire on.  Drive to the tire place.  Spend $120 to replace the spare.  Okay, the car runs.  As I drive, I see the one thing THAT I MOST DO NOT WANT TO SEE.   The dreaded SERVICE ENGINE SOON light comes on.
            I hate those lights!  Hate em!  They utterly destroy my peace of mind.  They are the manifestation of worry on the Material Plane.  As we all know, The Material Plane is dominated by concerns for automotive hygiene.  If you don't got transpo,  you don't got shit.
            I try driving the Jeep.  I'm too scared by the friggin' SERVICE ENGINE SOON light on the Blazer.
            The Jeep takes me to work the following day.  I detour through Novato and prepare to drive to Petaluma.  I'm going "the back way" because north-bound 101 is a parking lot.  It's always a parking lot from 3 to 7 P.M. five days a week.  What is this insane life we live?  Why do we spend four hours a day sitting in automobiles?
I'm heading for South Novato Boulevard when a giant cloud of steam erupts from under the hood.  GIANT CLOUD OF STEAM!  NOT GOOD.  NOT GOOD.






            I pull into the parking lot of the last shopping center before I embark on twenty miles of rural winding roads.  I buy a jug of coolant and I fill the Jeep's reservoir with the gooey green stuff.  I wait twenty minutes and I attempt the drive home.  The Jeep runs, somewhat jerkily, and I spend the next forty minutes of back-road driving in a state of profound alarm. 
            I make it.  I'm home. 
            I know a little bit about cars.  That kind of volcanic eruption of steam can indicate a water pump has gone bad, or the thermostat has failed, or the radiator is toast.  Or all of the above.
            My neighbor, Mike, knows about cars.  "I'll change your thermostat," he says cheerfully.  Mike is attending AA meetings and has just got his thirty day chip.  That's not an issue for me.  It just adds to the air of tension: Mike struggling to stay away from drink.  His wife has quit smoking and is on Day 27.  My neighbors are deeper in poverty than we are.  No wonder Mike eagerly volunteers to change my thermostat.  Mike is all over the place helping people. 
            I purchase a thermostat.  Mike replaces the old one in about ninety minutes.  He doesn't want to charge me.  I give him fifty dollars.  The new thermostat works, the Jeep stays cool.
            I didn't want to mention this before but it just happens that the Blazer's registration is due in a week and I know, for a fact, that SERVICE ENGINE SOON means that it will not pass the smog check.
            Fuck.
            Nonetheless, I feel safer driving the Blazer and I take it to work the next day.
As I'm coming home on North Petaluma Boulevard I hear a sound like a very large and joltingly loud motorcycle cruising up on my driver's side.  Wow!  That's loud!  I look to my left and I see no motorcycle.  There's no traffic at all.  But the Blazer is crunching and flubbling.  It sounds like a propellor blade being demolished by a potato masher.  The Blazer is behaving as if it has the hiccups.  No question: another tire is flat.
            I get over on the shoulder to inspect the damage.  Holy Shit!  The tire is literally shredded, it's nothing but four inch strips of rubber hanging from a punctured black matrix of nameless stuff.
            Call Triple A.  Second time in three days.  An hour later the big yellow truck pulls up.   A toothless rail-thin old guy gets out, grinning happily, and tells me that my tires are sun-damaged.  They've been sitting for too long and the heat has soaked the oils out of the rubber. They're all about to blow at any second. I need to instruct the tow truck man how to get the tricky spare out from under the Blazer.  Once the tire is changed I drive straight to the tire place and get four more new tires.  That is, after I've cued the guys at American Tire Co. about the Great Blazer Spare Tire Riddle.
            There are days when nothing goes right.  When to touch a machine is to wreck it.  Or when one makes an error due to a lapse of attention that causes a ten foot fall off someone's deck into a bed of blackberry bushes.  I'm having one of those days.  I put on the coffee.  It's a stove-top espresso maker.  I wait for the boil, wait and wait.  I smell something burning.  Uh oh!  I take a pot holder and lift the coffee maker.  Oh man!  Oh man oh man! I forgot to put water in the bottom part of the Vigano stove top coffee maker.  Now the rubber gasket has melted and scorched the threads and the coffee maker is a casualty of Morning Mind Mush.  In spite of the damage, my partner is greatly reassured.  My error is comforting to her.  She thinks she's "losing it".  Now she knows she's not the only one who's "losing it".
            I must locate a smog shop, a Star Certified Service Center, one of those in cahoots with the smog-fighting money-sucking bureaucracy of the DMV.  I pay for the smog test.  The Blazer fails.  How much, I ask, will it cost to fix it so that it passes the rigorous standards of our state's air-quality guardians?
            The Blazer needs a tune-up, a forward oxygen sensor, a rearward oxygen sensor and a catalytic converter."That would be about nine hundred and fifty dollars," answers the mechanic, whose name, Kelvin, is stitched onto his dark blue jump suit.  Kelvin's wife/receptionist is named Tran.  They're Vietnamese.  
            How many times have I said "shit" or "fuck" in the last three days?
            "Kelvin," I ask, "is there some kind of discount for the poor and the elderly?"  I have been poor my whole life.  The 'elderly' part occurred while I wasn't watching, about three years ago, when my left hip began to feel as if a strong man was applying pressure to it with a vice grip.
            There is, in fact, a program for the poor and the elderly to pay $500 towards smog repair.  I get the papers downloaded and send in the application.  A week later the grant arrives.  Five hundred of that nine hundred fifty dollars will be paid for.  Hell yeah!
            The smog repair takes two days.  I wait eagerly for Kelvin's call.  At last the phone rings.  "You passed your smog test," says Kelvin.  I'm so happy!  I'm thrilled.
I had needed a victory, any victory, a small victory, whatever, I'll take it.
            "But there is a problem, I'm afraid," says Kelvin, and my heart takes up residence at the ends of my toes.  I can feel my pulse down there, bumpity bump, pulsing up through my toenails.
            "A...uh...problem?"  Fuck!  Shit!
            "I think your water pump is about gone."
            "You think, you THINK.  Is it gone or isn't it?"
            "I don't know.  There was a pool of coolant under your car when I came in this morning."
            How much does he want to repair the water pump?  Well, you see, one should also replace the thermostat when one replaces the water pump.
            HOW MUCH?
            Four hundred seventy eight dollars.
            Stop everything!  HOLD THE PRESSES!
            I'm not stupid.  I check online and a water pump plus a thermostat costs about sixty bucks.  My neighbor, my pal my buddy Mike will do any automotive task for fifty dollars, gladly.  The work boosts his self esteem and it keeps him out of his RV and away from his jonesing wife.
            The Material World is a challenging place.  Our current model, this 21st century science fiction hip-hop deodorant-peddling appearance-worshiping stage set is peculiarly complex, is like a cross-word puzzle without a solution.  No one wins in the Material World.  All endings are bad endings.  If I'm lucky I will die quickly and without indignity.  If I'm lucky.  Meanwhile, as I wait for the denouement of my life, I must endure and meet the challenges thrust into my face by the invisible spirits of Destiny.
            Is the cup half full, partially full, partially empty, or totally empty?  The Highway Patrol Cop did not write me up.  The guy in the Blazer showed up as if dropped from Heaven.  I got a five hundred dollar grant from the DMV. The battery in the Blazer started the car.  The Jeep still runs.
            The cup is the cup.  Whatever's in it is what I've got.  I may as well accept that fact.  It's all those things, partially full, partially empty.  Life is blessed and sublime and life can be unspeakably vile.
            While I'm at it, I should check my credit rating.  I might want to purchase a recent model used car.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Cloak

I wrote this poem in 1972.  I was a very young man.  Today I entered into a prestigious poetry competition.  The fee was nominal.  Most of the big literary competitions are pay n' pray these days.  I paid $99 last week to enter one of my novels in the Writer's Digest E-book Competition. So it goes.  Everyone's a writer these days.  I esteem this poem so highly that I chose it to represent my work in a major competition.  I think it deserves a read, and then a re-read.











The Cloak

Everything is in a look.
Yet still, everything
is in looking away.
Unable to breathe suns from each other,
we turn to contemplate
lonely space,
and wash our hearts
with what warmth remains.
And again, that look,
rending the cosmos,
pours from the vat of creation
in our eyes.
The unspeakable love
dashes its silences to death,
against the perimeters of our exiles.
Yet, and there is always a yet,
to be born, to be resurrected
in a touch.  The miracle is
that my skin was made to meet your skin,
that unknowable lightnings are our servants
to carry the burdens of love and loneliness.
Somehow my universe gathers energy
and spreads, with the vague arms of an amoeba
to some call on the horizon.
No matter that horizons always recede;
if you too were to will your stars and dust
towards the furthest reach,
perhaps we would meet on some plain
lit by the ecstasy of celestial collision.
And perhaps we must die
to know each other.

Look!  I would fling off my skin
like a cloak,
to show you the sun that burns within.
But as it is, only my face,
and those desperate radiations that pass
through this terrible cloak
may reach you.
Know me!  Know me!
Not by my escapes into smiles
but by my facelessness,
too full to shine,
too lonely to weep.
We are infinite
yet the mystery is always a deeper note
than we can hear.
Hearken to the remotest timbre,
it rises from our source
but hides its silence.
Listen to the mask of music,
behold the facade of stars,
yet be ready to fling them away
to peer into the depth beyond depth.
Love only wears faces to entice us
in our simplicity.
God dons the robe of the cosmos
that we may not plunge into her nakedness
before we ourselves are naked love.