Thursday, December 30, 2010

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 fire to breathe
into life without burning us all to cinders.
Imagined into existence,
we are here 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,
ever.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

In The Dark About Astronomers

           This is an excerpt from my book, THE ROAD HAS EYES, available at Kindle and Smashwords.


            Amateur astronomers are a little bit nuts.  I hope they will forgive the generalization, because they’re also very nice people who will bite their fingers off to show you something in the sky so fuzzy and dim that you might be able to say "I see it!"…..or if you don ‘t see it, they’ll spend half an hour tweaking their telescope to make sure that you see it….and then you still don’t see it….but to escape from their clutches you will say "Oh yes, my god, there it IS!".
            Mt. Pinos, in the Los Padres National Forest, rises to 8900 feet.  It has a smooth road ending in a flat parking lot at the very summit.  It is a magnet for astronomers.
            It’s a place where glaciers slide through mountain creases.  Ponderosa pine trees twist their way down the centuries of their enigmatic lives. 
            At favorable times of the year Mt. Pinos’ summit fills with astronomers and their gear.  This has been happening for at least fifty years.
            Among this tribe of quasi-lunatics are people who know where to find Galaxy M51 with a ten second tweak of a powerful telescope.  It might take me ten minutes, if I’m very lucky.  The conversation at star parties is an utterly foreign language, but it’s not really difficult once you know the alphabet.  “M” is for Messier, Charles Messier who, in 1788, compiled a catalogue of one hundred and ten prominent astronomical objects.  His purpose in doing so was to warn astronomers who were hunting comets that these objects were NOT comets.  The telescopes of that era were not like modern precision instruments.  Everything that wasn’t a star looked like a fuzzy blob….maybe a comet, maybe a nebula, a star cluster, a galaxy.  Astronomers like Sir Edmund Halley used Messier’s list to check off these false leads.  Were it not for Messier’s list, Halley’s Comet could be anybody’s comet.  Sir Edmund might have wasted months or even years searching for his periodic comet.  Sir William Herschel, who discovered the planet Uranus, might be gazing upon the Crab Nebula which is M1 on Messier’s list of not-comets.  He needn’t waste several nights seeing if the object moved in a cometary orbit.  He could move on to the next fuzzy object.
            Messier was doing an invaluable service to his community of scientists.  In his time, discovering a comet could win a knighthood and a lifetime pension from the King.  The only way to discover a comet, then and now, is to scan the sky systematically, starting at Point A and sweeping a telescope slowly and smoothly across the heavens.  If something dim, fuzzy and boasting some bit of a tail is sighted, the coordinates are duly noted and then the object is observed on subsequent nights.  If the object has moved, and keeps moving in a certain type of orbit, it is indeed a comet.
            Messier’s list is so adept that it has survived more than two centuries as the major catalog of things to look for in the sky.  When astronomers talk about “M” this and “M” that, they are referring to the Messier Catalog.  Nowadays if you discover a comet, you are mentioned in astronomy magazines and the comet will bear your name
            There’s no knighthood.  No stipend.  No royalties.
            The Messier Catalog keeps most astronomers busy with their maps and scopes for a lifetime.  The hard-core astronomers move on to the next scientific list of celestial objects.  This is the NGC, or New General Catalogue. It contains a mere eight thousand celestial tourist sites.  Keeping one’s ears perked in the dark of a star party, one might be invited to step over to a fourteen foot ladder leaning against a mechanism resembling a thirty inch battleship gun.
            “Want to see NGC 2678?”  Wow, yeah!  Then you might hear a phrase repeated hundreds of times a night at any self-respecting star party:  “I don’t see anything.”
            Then there’s a low mumbling, a pause.  “OH!  THERE IT IS!  WOW!”
            After the NGC the catalogues get huge, with the ICC, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDS), and the numbers go into the millions and the gazillions.
            Of course you can buy one of these gazillions of stars as your very own from the International Star Registry.  This is a business, not an official scientific organization.  I could open my own International Blades of Grass Registry, but blades of grass lack the romantic allure of stars.  A clever entrepreneur hit upon a perfect marketing scheme.  Advertising is his only real expense.  The inventory of products is endless. There’s no regulation, no copyright infringement and the warehouse is the universe.  I must admit to a grudging admiration for the man who came up with the idea of selling Certificates of Ownership for stars.  It’s a shameless scam, but it’s legal.
            Amateur astronomers are highly refined technophiles who are completely immersed in an alternate lifestyle.  Most of this lifestyle happens in the small hours of the night at remote dark locations.  It takes a special sort of madness to seek out such discomfort for the sake of a clear look at the sky.
            First, there’s the drive.  Cities and astronomy don’t mix.  It takes a minimum of fifty miles distance from urban lighting to allow some of the sky’s details to emerge.  Considering the amount of sprawl now prevalent on the North American continent, escaping light pollution is a major undertaking.  There are other obstacles, such as dust, mist, atmospheric particles and weather that obstruct the pursuit of astronomy.  By default, there are certain special places where astronomers tend to gather.  Mt. Pinos has been one of these places for decades.  Sadly, it’s losing out to the expanding light-domes of Bakersfield and Santa Barbara.  Many California astronomers now head towards the High Sierras or the Mojave Desert. 
            Astronomers love gear; lots of gear.  The gear is weighty, complicated, clumsy and difficult to operate.  The parking lot at Mt. Pinos on a moonless Saturday night looks as if a class of MIT graduates are preparing to repel an alien invasion.  Telescope tubes point skyward in all directions.  Red LEDs are the only illumination.  Red light does not compromise night vision.  If someone turns on a white light, there will emerge from the parking lot an ominous snarl, sinister enough to turn big Hell’s Angels into cringing mice.  Little red lights zig zag across the asphalt.  Blinking and beeping, night-vision computer screens show sky maps and tracking data.  If I were less militant, I would pity the innocent lost tourists who drive into the Mt. Pinos parking lot with headlights ablaze.  The hapless tourists are destroying dozens of precision exposures, possibly months of a photographer's hard work.  I’ve seen a mob of blinded astronomers chasing a family of lost campers out of the lot, waving their red flashlights in rage, screaming “Lights out! Lights out! Lights out!”
            There are different categories of astronomers.  There are hard-core “gearhead” astronomers, many of whom are involved with astro-photography.  Astronomers are as competitive as any athletes.  The photographers compete to get better, cleaner, deeper photos.  They vie to capture the most distant and obscure galaxies.  The gear has gotten so good that amateur work can rival the most advanced images taken by any observatory.
            Astronomers of the “I can find anything in the sky” group are a lot of fun at star parties.  These are the people who are locating the most obscure nebulae and galaxies and rattling off their names.  “There, my fellows, is the Stephens Quintet, sometimes known as ‘Hickson’s Compact Group 92’a cluster of five galaxies with signs of gravitational interaction”  Twelve feet away at the next telescope a diminutive sixty five year old woman named Carolyn commands a queue at her giant scope.
            “If you avert your eyes slightly to use the more sensitive rod receptors,” she instructs, “ you might get a glimpse of the famous Horsehead Nebula, or B33, which is contrasted by the presence of IC 434 in the same field of view”.  The competition spreads across the site.  Numbers fly, arcane tidbits of astrophysical knowledge are imparted.
            The consumer part of astronomy has shown stunning evolution.  In ten years the development of what are called “Go To” telescopes has achieved perfect refinement.  It is possible to walk into a store, buy a telescope for under fifteen  hundred dollars, set it up that night and align it by pushing a few buttons.  No knowledge of astronomy is required.  The Go To scope will whirr, its arms will move as if driven by a ghost, and it will locate any of forty thousand targets in the night sky without human assistance.  It’s spooky.  “Real” astronomers regard it as an invention of the devil.
            I enjoy lightweight simple astronomy.  I take nothing but my eyes or a set of binoculars, and sit up all night in a trance, partaking of the insane beauty of the night sky at a place where it has not been spoiled by civilization.  I revert to the awe of my ancestors at the nameless and timeless mystery of night, stars, comets, planets, the immense panoply of our human heritage, up THERE, no admission fee, UP THERE!
            It breaks my heart to think of the numbers of people who will live their lives without seeing the Milky Way or a really dark night sky in all its majesty.
            My quest to see unpolluted skies stimulated my interest in Recreational Vehicles.  That interest drastically changed my lifestyle.  For the last seven years I have lived full time with my wife and animals in a 38 foot motor coach.  It turned out to be a good idea.  Living in an RV combines the comforts of civilization with the mobility to chase the ultimate in night sky beauty. 
            Our first RV was an ancient rust-bucket that we called Yertle.  We were RV rookies.  We made dangerous mistakes but we also had great adventures. 
            My wife enjoys astronomy but she has a different motive for sustaining the RV life.  She learned in her early forties that her biological mother was an Apache from the Chiricahua Band.  This information was a shock.  It ignited in Fox a desire to explore her ethnic roots in the Southwest.  It was natural for both of us to be drawn to the great landscapes around Moab, Utah. 
            Our first trip was a foolish tent camping journey in the middle of July.  Our second trip was in November, by way of Yertle's ancient but soulful wheels.
            We crossed California, cliimbing and descending the Sierras.  As we headed south and east we entered the numbing salt flats of The Great Basin..  Then, almost as if a switch had been thrown, we saw the landscape change at a town called Delta, Utah.  It turned green and placid, and as we drove onward, gigantic clouds a hundred miles long and fifty miles wide covered the land, a huge flat layer of wet atmosphere riding along on a wind that swept southward.  This particular cloud was ribbed, as if were a fillet of sole, laid out on the dinner plate of the evening sky.              An hour of this and we started seeing a few buttes off in the distance and a mountain range to the east.  The scent of The Southwest began to fill our hearts.  Our journey was maturing, we were getting to our destination.  Soon we would be back among the colossi of South-eastern Utah, in Indian Country, heading towards the Four Corners.
            Our eagerness overcame our judgment, and I continued to drive through the afternoon and into evening.  It was getting dark but I felt exhilarated.  I was feeling Yertle under my hands, her steering wheel fixed and solid, her engine joyously pounding, her suspension shaking up our insides
            It got dark.  Having been this way before, I knew that Highway Fifty jogs up to the north, along Interstate Fifteen, for about ten miles, and then debouches at a truck stop town called Scipio, for its final gasp before it expires in Salina, Utah.
            Scipio was a town before it was a truck stop.  Now the glare of huge Exxon and Chevron tower-signs light up the modest farm community.  We had stayed at the Day’s Inn on our previous journey.  Now we conveniently thumbed our nose at motels, as we had our home surrounding us, on our back, turtle-wise.
            The road narrows and trucks whistle along from the oncoming lane, headlights blazing.  God, here I was again, violating one of RV living's primary rules, DON”T DRIVE AT NIGHT.  Don't drive when fatigue sits behind excitement like a lurking thief.  Don't drive a big bulky vehicle when a rabbit looks like a rhinoceros.  Don't drive after many hours behind a strength-sapping wheel when judgment becomes so impaired that eighty miles per hour feels like twenty and the RV is jumping around like a grasshopper on meth.
            There was nothing out there, no campgrounds or tourist stops.  I just kept my eyes peeled for a location, anything, a pull-out, a Flying J, a place to stop and sleep. 
            It was pitch -absolutely-black out there, and I saw a sign in my headlights.  It said “Something something Campground”.  The word Campground nailed my attention, and less than half a mile further down the road, a brown State Park sign caught my eye. I pulled onto the road, stopped, looked around, conferred with Fox.  “Let’s check it out,” we decided, so I hit the gas and started driving down this road into darkness, into nowhere, remote in Utah, a few miles from the tiny town of Salina.
            I became anxious.  I didn’t know where we were, what lay ahead, whether the road was passable.  I was gambling that we’d find someplace to spend the night.    
            We drove for several miles, but it felt like fifteen or twenty and nothing appeared.  I had a fantasy of breaking down way in this hinterland, and needing to bicycle out for help in the morning.  Yes, I could do it, but a twenty mile ride to wave at passing cars for help wasn’t on my agenda for the next morning.  As I searched for anything resembling a flat spot onto which we could pull, I saw a break in a fence, and a nice broad level patch.  I took it. 
            Maneuvering over a few humps, potholes and rocks, I found a landing spot, secured ourselves and turned off the engine, killed the lights.
            Silence.  Stars overhead, violently bright, bright like pinholes before a raging torch, bright like pulsating nerves, like phosphorescent closed-eye fatigue that throws geometric mandalas onto my retinal surface.  In other words, I was so exhausted and stimulated that I was hallucinating.  Whenever I closed my eyes, I would see a psychedelic whirling of patterns, woom woom woom! and I knew I could not go another inch.  Still, every time we stop for the night, there are things that must be done.  The furnace lit, the vents opened, little stuff, and when I opened the door to go outside, I was as if struck in the head.
            The Sky!  The Sky!  Ohmygawd the Sky!  This was like nothing I had seen before, so dark and so clear that I could barely recognize the constellations.  They were so full of stars that the familiar patterns became obscured.  Oh, yes, there’s Cassiopeia!  I recognize the familiar ‘W’ of the Queen’s Chair.  All this other stuff, all these stars in between, amazing.  The Sagittarius arm of the Milky Way, my favorite piece of sky, was setting in the West.  This is a section dense with stars, dotted with nebulae, clusters, visible in binoculars, palpable to the naked eye.  I gaped at the more subtle bits overhead, the misting fleece around Perseus and His neighbors, and Orion, there in the South, standing upright with the nebula in his sword, here visible to the naked eye. There were the Pleiades and the Hyades,.  The sky was impossibly rich.
            The darkness and silence were stunning.  I had no clue where we were.  Fox joined me and we stood, leaning against Yertle’s warm hood.  The only noises were the little ticking sounds that the vehicle made as she cooled off.  That, and the hooting of owls.  I walked around the camper and immediately put my foot into a cow pie.
            “Just leave it out here, booboo,” Fox indicated my shoe.  “We’re too tired, let’s go to sleep.”  It was all of nine thirty.  So we went to bed.  I read a book until my nerves stopped twanging like guitar strings, and then I drifted into a sleep in which I dreamed of alien skies above an other-worldly landscape.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Poo Bags and Fire Logs: The Genius of American Marketing


            A woman is walking her toy poodle down Rodeo Drive.  The dog is elaborately coiffed.  Puffs of hair at the legs and atop the head are shaved so precisely that the creature seems to have been groomed in a machine shop by a computer-guided laser cutter.  The dog and the woman bear striking resemblance.  Both have long pointed noses and hair that is glossed with mechanical precision.  The woman is in her fifties, and her face is so full of botox that it looks as if someone has grabbed the skin at the back of her neck and pulled, hard, then pinned the seam shut and buffed it over to make it disappear in the red-brown hair that curls down across her collar.  A purse strap rests in the joint of her left elbow, dangling a small designer bag.  Her right hand holds the leash that keeps the dog at a careful ten foot distance as it sniffs at planters and street signs.  The dog pauses at the foot of a truncated redwood barrel planted with azaleas.  It adorns the sidewalk in front of a store that sells expensive shoes.   The barrel exudes a woody fragrance that competes bravely with the fumes of passing cars.
            The poodle circles several times before it squats, sniffing and searching for the perfect spot.  Then its spindly back legs spread apart, the shaved parts of its thighs looking like chicken legs in a butcher shop cooler.
            The woman looks into the shop window, regards her reflection layered over the displays of shoes.   She refuses to look at the dog while it does its business.  When the tension on the leash indicates that the dog is done, the woman reels the leash to bring the animal to her side. 
            "Stay," she says, and slips the leash handle over an ironwork scroll that decorates a nearby bench.  The little dog sits in contentment.  The woman opens her purse and removes a  long blue plastic baggie.  She kneels holding her knees together, thrusts her hand inside the baggie and, using it as a glove, scoops up two warm turds.  The expression on her face is only slightly modified.  She no longer has the use of a goodly number of her facial muscles, gone to botox paralysis.  Her nostrils tighten and a slight wrinkle of revulsion pokes through the artificial smoothness of her forehead.
            She can feel the steamy new heat of the dog shit.  She makes an effort not to close her fingers over the poodle's production of poo.  Still, she can't help but apply pressure to the fresh arrivals on the sidewalk.  They squish a little as she neatly pulls them into the bag and quickly loops the bag shut and tosses it into the trash bin provided by the town of Beverly Hills.
            I can't prevent myself from feeling a little frisson of pleasure.  Oh how close are the woman's fingers to that poo!  How much, a thousandth of an inch?  A tenth of a milimeter?  Her entire soul recoils in horror.  She has maids from El Salvador for jobs like this.  It would be too ridiculous, of course, to drag along a maid to pick up little Alicia's poo.  The rich woman will hold her nose and do her citizen's duty.
            It's the bags that interest me.  They are products of marketing ingenuity that meet the criteria for brilliance in the capitalist system.  They are cheap to produce, they sell in huge quantities at a price that is many multiples of the original cost.
            Imagine going online and ordering a box of thirty dog poop bags for five dollars.  It's not very wise shopping.  The website dogwaste.com sells institutional quantities: a thousand bags for thirty five dollars, or ten thousand for two seventy five.  The website "shithappens.com" sells designer poop bags that are fully biodegradable.  These clever boutique poo bags claim to have "built-in scoop action" and retail in packages of sixteen for around twenty dollars.  Ouch!  Expensive!  But they look so chic.  They have handles and are decorated with images of dog breeds and have humorous printed messages such as "shit happens" and "size matters".  Oh boy.
            At "Flushdoggy.com" you get a hundred bags for twenty bucks.  They're sturdy enough to do the dirty, but they dissolve in water.  Flushable dog poo in a bag, that's what they're selling.  The easy, "green", thoughtful way to dispose of your portion of the 29,000 tons of poop that are daily produced by dogs.
            I live in an RV campground.  This is a business whose survival depends upon an infinite supply of cheap poo bags   They are dispensed at convenient locations throughout the campground and everyone who walks past a dispenser grabs two or three for later use.  We have two dogs and three cats.  We fill the bags with used kitty litter and poodle doody.  I'm glad I don't have to buy the damn things. Campground management doesn't provide the best in amenities.  The TV reception is a joke, and using the internet wi fi is like trying to play basketball on a trampoline.  But at least they've got complimentary poo bags.
            I wish my dad had been in something as profitable as poo bags.  I'd be rich.  I could expect to inherit some money when my dad's time comes.  Unfortunately he owned a Dunkin' Donuts franchise.  He worked hard for every penny.  He struggled to provide for his family.  He lugged sixty pound sacks of flour, stayed up all night running big mixers and standing over a deep fryer whose grease was popping at four hundred degrees.
            Think high margin, dad.  Think cheap to produce, high volume sales, a thousand percent markup.  Something like fire logs.  Nothing but sawdust and paraffin, probably cost a dime to make, sell for five bucks a log.
            Or pharmaceuticals.  How big is the profit margin in pharmaceuticals?  How much does it cost to produce one of those ten dollar antiobiotic pills that my wife needs during one of her bouts of pneumonia?
            This is the nature of capitalism.  Buy low, sell high.  You'd think there should be some kind of line, some restraint on greed.  But the degree and nature of this restraint invokes an old argument, a political debate that's been going on for generations. 
            When you're broke, and you get pneumonia, and you need five hundred dollars to save your life, there is no argument.  There is only desperation and anger.
            On the other hand, I don't begrudge the wealth accumulated by the makers of dog poo bags.  When we got our dogs, we agreed to abide by the regnant paradigm, the social contract that requires people to police their own animals.
            What kind of world would this be, if people just left their dog shit where it fell?
             




           

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Conscious Abuse: A Relationship Handbook




Dear Friend,  allow me to take this opportunity to introduce you to the contents of my new book, "Conscious Abuse: A Relationship Handbook". With these revolutionary concepts, you can transform the failed marriages and botched affairs of your past into thrilling new experiences of passion! In the first chapter, "Permission to Hurl Invective", you will learn how to snipe, bitch, cut, denigrate, frustrate and humiliate your partner without a twinge of shame. In the second chapter, "Rage is the Hidden Face of Love",  you will learn how to plumb the depths of your anger toward any and all inadequate parents.  Soon you will  change that resentment into a refreshed and invigorated libido.  Chapters three through eight outline my techniques for exchanging psyches with your partner. You will learn how to empty your mind of unconscious aggression and turn hostile "leakage" into constructive abuse. Wouldn't it be wonderful to transform passive-aggressive behaviour into genuine solicitous concern? Imagine the thrill when you change the withholding of sex from a nasty weapon into a powerful aphrodisiac! In the last chapter, "The Ultimate Sexual Experience", you will learn how to make that final leap, in the privacy of your hospital rooms, to deeply satisfying, long, intimate sex.  I hope you read my book.  It is available at all gigantic bookstores in the Self-help, Spirituality, Psychology, Sexuality, Medical and Auto Mechanics sections.

Sincerely, Nixon Scratches, Curator of the Omygod You're Killing Me Institute.


Poem For Being Jewish

The sarcasm adds the finishing touch to what I find an ineffably Jewish poem.  Others may not think so. Zugnicht!



So you fight.
So you are wounded and sometimes broken.
You will either suffer and die,
or you will recover.
More often than not, you will survive,
even though you think you’ve been broken forever.
So big deal.

Cosmology Update!


December 22, 2010


            Scientists at the Space Science Institute have issued a revolutionary update of the Big Bang Theory.  The explosion of the universe from an infinitely dense singularity and its subsequent expansion have now been drastically re-examined, following measurements of the velocity and distribution of so called Dark Matter. It has been experimentally proven that this matter, and other forms of matter such as Baryons, Gluons, Muons, and Schmuons are actually being recycled, and that the known universe is a Big Bag, being filled by Bag Ladies from the Eleventh Dimension.  These beings live in time and size scales incomprehensible to normal human thought.  It is speculated they they use promordial galaxies and quasars as cast-off brassieres, bunny slippers and hair nets. These Bag Lady Beings have been referred to in Hindu Cosmology, somewhat romantically, as Devas, and in Christian theology as Archangels.  But the Yiddish terms, Schlepper, or Shmatta, might in fact be more accurate

Monday, December 13, 2010

Moonrings

Moonrings

Three Images Of A World In Time

I was just looking through some of my photo archives and I came upon some folders that I had neglected. So...here are a few photos.  The image of  the library was taken on the island of Bimini, in the Bahamas.  The economy of that island depends entirely on tourists.  The huge square underwater blocks are thought by some to be evidence of an Atlantean civilization.  Still, Bimini doesn't have much in the way of an infrastructure.
Fog At Inverness Ridge

Library at Bimini

Venus Trails

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Part Three: The Cats Of The Animal Companion Book Circle

Peaches as a kitten


Andrew

            Part Three
Peaches And Andrew

            Peaches and Andrew are brother and sister.  They are also high officials in the secret feline cabal known as the Orange Cat Contingent.  Few people are aware of this powerful entity, founded many thousands of years ago by the venerable orange tabby known as Tutankhitty.  Peaches and Andrew came to us by way of a feral cat rescue service.  Andrew is the only member of the Book Circle who can't read.  He's slow.  Literally.  I don't mean that he is stupid.  His orange coat is so huge and thick that it's impossible for Andrew to do much of anything.  He's a prisoner of his coat
            Andrew moves in increments.  One seldom sees him in transit from one place to another.  He simply arrives.  Fox and I can be in bed, alone, reading.  We turn the pages of our books.  Andrew is suddenly between us, settled and calm, purring.  How did he get there without a hint of disturbance, without moving a single molecule of air?
            Andrew may be a prisoner of his coat but he is also an alchemist.  He has taken his imprisonment and turned it into a form of enlightenment.  It's obvious that he loves being with us, with his family, and that his love is deep and it brings him great joy.
            When I read aloud for the Book Circle, he sees everything as a movie.  That's cool, because Andrew's rare comments help me evaluate the potential for film adaptations of my books.
            Peaches is a short haired orange tabby, virtually the opposite of Andrew.  She never shuts up.  "I want a treat, I want a treat," she says.  "Scratch my tummy or I'll keep making this noise.  Yeooowwwwwww, yeooooowwww.  What's up today?  Are you gonna read aloud or do I have to do homework?  When are you going to write a mystery?  Or a police procedural?  Your stuff is boring.  Too much mystical crap.  I want a good explosion or two.  How about a firefight between a tribe of cannibals and a unit of Navy Seals?  Yeoooowwwww!  Where's my treat?"
            At this point I must give Peaches exactly three Whiskas Chicken-flavored Dentabite Treats or she will not stop making that noise.  The other animals receive a single Dentabite.  These treats are fattening and expensive.  To keep the peace I lure Peaches to a location where she can't be seen by the other members of the Book Circle.  She gets her three treats and she's quiet.  Three treats buys her silence for a while.  We can continue our discussion of my poems, novels, satires and essays.
            You have now been introduced to all the members of the Animal Companion Book Circle, a group formed to discuss my literary works.  We have Bear, Gabriel, Obsidian, Peaches, Andrew and General Stonewall Jackson Cichlid.  We meet in the front room of our RV.  The General's aquarium is on a table a few feet from my computer.  The other members gather where they may.  Peaches likes the dashboard, where she can get elevation over the rest of us.  Andrew crawls inside a cube-shaped cat-house with a circular door.  He puts his head on the lip of the door and watches the proceedings.  Bear must, I repeat MUST, sit between my back and the back of the chair.  This forces me to lean forward and sit with half my butt off the chair but it's out of my control.  If I don't let Bear  into his little squeeze-space, he'll sit on the floor at my side and make a sound, something between a whine and a command.  "Whup," he says.  "Whup."  It's a quiet but insistent sound.  Frankly, it's obnoxious.  I move forward and Bear jumps into the space between the chair and my back. 
            You might discern that our friends are spoiled and manipulative. I've seen far worse.
            Gabriel sits on the couch with Obsidian.  They metamorphose into a composite creature, a brown ball of fur with four alert eyes.
            Thus gathered, we begin our experience of the extraordinary work of the world's most obscure talented writer, Art Rosch.
            I am Art Rosch and this is my reading audience.  I don't mean to exclude my wife, Fox.  She's read all of my work, many times.  She keeps the RV clean, she makes sure the bills are paid on time, she feeds the dogs and cats and cleans the cat box.  Fox is always nearby and ready with a pithy comment or a wry observation. 
            Every creature aboard this thirty eight foot RV is committed to the support of my writing.  I may remain the world's most obscure talented writer, but I am not without a core group of devoted followers.  I'd like to expand my fan base.  Sooner or later, readers will recognize a good thing and they'll subscribe to my blog.  An agent will realize that I'm a hidden treasure.  He'll make a three book deal with a big publisher.  My life will change.  I'll miss the peace and quiet of my RV and my little circle of friends.  I'll appear on the Daily Show and be appalled at how fat I look.  I will be mistaken for Philip Roth, who will be mistaken for me.
            There is no such thing as real life.  It's all a fantasy in which the characters exercise bad judgment, get into trouble, and mostly blame everyone else for their misery.
            My definition of a hero is someone who takes sole responsibility for his or her predicament and fights to change it for the better.
            My effort to change my predicament for the better is right here.  It's my Animal Companion Book Circle. 
            It's always good to know who are your true friends.


Coming next, a discussion about the novel, CONFESSIONS OF AN HONEST MAN in which General Stonewall Jackson Cichclid blows a lot of hot air.


           

           
             

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Part Two: The Animal Companion Book Circle.






Part Two
The Animal Companion Book Circle
for the discussion of the works of Art Rosch
The Cats


            There are three cats in the Animal Companion Book Circle.  Our oldest cat is a big tabby named Obsidian.  Sometimes we call him The Ambassador because he likes to amble through the campground visiting and welcoming neighbors.  When he sees an RV with an open door or window and assures himself that no other animals are inside, Obsidian enters and makes himself at home.  People return from the showers or the laundry to discover a tomcat sitting on their furniture.  It's amazing that he's never been trapped in an RV and driven to Alaska or Maine.
            Obsidian is indifferent to hostile dogs, and willing to make territorial accommodations to neighborhood cats.  He doesn't want any trouble.  He just wants to hang out.  He wants to be part of things.
            His taste in literature runs to mysteries and historical novels.  He likes the sardonic style of Elmore Leonard.  This makes him a great asset in our Book Circle because some of my work falls into a sardonic mode.  Obsidian is capable of knowing when I'm mixing irony and comedy.
            Eight  years ago we bought our first RV, a 1979 Fleetwood Flair.  The front door's windows had parchment colored shades.  These are the type that roll up onto a spring-loaded dowel.  Pull the shade down and it stays in place.  To raise the shade, pull a bit outward to disengage the spring and hold the wooden pull-bar until it reaches the desired height.
            The RV was parked in our driveway.  Obsidian quickly took to exploring this gigantic new playhouse.  He was lying on the driver's side arm-rest, with the shade pulled all the way down.  The sun shone brightly over the roof of the house as it sank in the west.  The shade kept the RV's interior from becoming a furnace.  Obsidian was on his back and was flipping at the shade, watching it move.  He batted with his paws.
            I was sitting in the passenger's seat idly watching this play.  Fox was on the outside of the window, hosing off the tires.  The cat was using his hind feet to kick at the balsa wood bar at the bottom of the sash.
            Suddenly Obsidian kicked a little too hard.  The claws on each of his feet were fully engaged with the shade's canvas.  The spring unlocked and pulled the shade all the way up.  The cat was attached to the shade, upside down.  He rocketed towards the top, and hung there like a spitted game carcass.  He looked at me with an expression of such bewildered surprise that I burst out laughing.  Obsidian hung upside down from the shade for five or six seconds before getting his claws free and making a clumsy drop onto the driver's seat.  He bounced off my lap and flew out the passenger side window.  We didn't see him again for twelve hours.  He was thoroughly embarrassed.
            Fox and I laughed till our ribs ached.  We couldn't help it.
            We believe that animals experience complex emotions such as vanity and humiliation.  They care about their looks.  They may be less verbal, but the intensity of their feelings is not mediated by the constant chatter of the mind.  They aren't planning for the future, regretting the past, plotting to acquire things, angry about a careless comment.  They are alive to sun, wind, clouds, shadows and they can hear the whispers made by invisible spirits.

           

           
             

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Animal Companion Book Circle

                                               from l to r: Bear, Gabe, Kiani





In my efforts to remain the world's most obscure talented writer, I have enlisted the help of my household animal friends. I've told the story of Little Bear's rescue from the puppy mill. http://www.artrosch.com/2010/09/bathing-dog-who-bites-even-though-i.html

I've told of my encounter with General Stonewall Jackson Cichlid. http://www.artrosch.com/2010/11/interview-by-fish.html
I'd like to introduce the other members of the book circle and give a thumbnail description of each of my friends-slash-literary critics..

Little Bear is certainly the leading intellect of the group. He is willful, stubborn and sometimes hard to motivate. He learns dog tricks as if they're beneath his dignity (which they are) but in order to please us he sits, shakes hands and rolls over.

Bear is the most loyal of fans. He loves my writing and his critiques are incisive and sometimes painful. But that' as it should be. A writer needs to hear about failures from someone who is supportive. A book circle such as this one, dedicated to the work of a single author, is a special vehicle for the writer's work.

Bear's loyalty is demonstrated in his absolute devotion to his sex partner, a stuffed dog named Samantha. Here it is, almost a year since his nuts were cut off, and Bear still humps Samantha two or three times a week. He has no shame in these public displays. He does a little dance around Samantha. He jumps up and forward in a canine declaration of love and dominance. It's a complex movement.

His hind legs make a motion as if he is kicking dirt backwards into the faces of rivals. Bear raises the front of his body to a forty five degree angle. This is accompanied by a simultaneous hop forward of a few inches. It resembles the movement of a big mountain ram smacking the horns of another big mountain ram.This dance is done in a circle around Samantha before Bear begins the serious humping. Maybe he 's an Aries.

"Ufff ruff," he says. In other words, "dig me, I'm Da Man!" Samantha lays on her side. She's a toy, she's inanimate. It doesn't matter to Bear. When he was just a puppy he had his first girlfriend, a brown stuffed dog named Greta. Somewhere between Greta and Samantha, and before we had Bear's nuts chopped off, we mated Bear with a living toy poodle named Snickers. That's a story I plan to tell very soon. The union produced another member of my Book Circle. This is Gabriel Kuruk (pronounced koo-roook).

Gabe is a dog of mischief. He was the runt in a litter of two. His sister Kiani is about the size of Snickers. Gabe barely weighs three pounds. Bear is a hefty hunk of muscle tipping the scales at seven pounds. Undaunted by his smallness, Gabe is fearless and clever. As a critic of literature he's a joker and is apt to make snide comments about my Philip Roth-style stories of Jewish life in the suburban sixties. Still, it takes all kinds to make a dynamic Book Circle.

We know that Gabe prefers comic books. We also know that he's not stupid. He takes his time learning things like "shake hands" but once he's mastered a skill he takes it to breathtaking extremes. Gabe shakes hands with everyone and everything. At four in the morning Gabe is shaking hands with the back of my shoulder.  Or he's shaking hands with Fox's big toe.  He is so thrilled with his mastery that he can't  help
but proclaim to the world, again and again, "I'm shaking hands!  I'm shaking hands!" It would be easy to understimate Gabriel's wit and cleverness.  As I have said, he ain't stupid. He usually gets what he wants.  If Bear has a chewy that Gabe wants, the chewy is Gabe's before too long. His tactic is to bore bear into giving up the chewy.  "Gimme chewy, gimme chewy, gimme chewy," Gabe repeats.  Three are fifteen chewies scattered about the place, but the chewy Gabe wants is Bear's chewy. At length, Bear sighs and lets go of the chewy.  Gabe does a triumphant set of insane laps, up and down the length of the RV. His paws make a sound like distant machine gun fire.

Bear always knows which end of Samantha is the business end. Gabe doesn't care. He messes with Samantha just to piss on his father's head. So to speak. On our walks with the double leash it's Bear who usually pisses on Gabe's head. It only seems fair that Gabe will take any approach to Samantha: head first, hind end forward, I don't think he really knows the difference. It's not like he's practicing for anything. He lost his nuts the same day Bear did.

The practice of stuffed doll polyandry seems to have done little damage to the father-son bond. They may tease one another, but they remain close.


(More tomorrow about the Animal Companion Book Circle, sharing the works of
the world's most talented obscure writer, Art Rosch.)