Danse Macabre

A sense of an ending

Painting by Bernt Notke

“I’m sorry I got drunk last night.”

“What about Beth Hart?”

“Oh, I feel too bad to go. I won’t able to enjoy the show.”

“OK.”

“Did I say or do anything last night?”

“Don’t you remember?”

“No, I blacked out.”

“Well, you broke up with me last night.”

“I don’t remember anything. I swear on my children’s lives.”

“We had sex right there. Too bad you don’t remember; it was pretty good. You passed out and I couldn’t get you to bed, so I got you onto the couch and covered you up, then went to bed. I had a pretty rough night. I lay there for five hours wide awake and finally fell asleep around five for a couple of hours. I remember when you finally came to bed, you crawled on top of me and apologized and fell asleep on my chest.”

“What did I say?”

“Well, if you don’t remember, I’m not going to tell you. Thing’s people say when they are drunk are not really reliable, but their actions can have real-world consequences.”

“It scared me. I have never blacked out like that before.”

“It was that last drink that did it. I suggested to you that maybe you didn’t really need another drink.”

“I don’t remember anything after Tom and Anthony left.”

“That’s when you had that last drink. I’m going to take a walk.”

She just looked up at me with that wide-eyed expression she gets on her face sometimes.

I went to the closet and retrieved my hat and coat and put them on.

“I’ll see you in a bit,” I said as I walked out through the front door.

I took the elevator down 26 floors to the first floor and strode through the lobby to the double doors that let out onto the street. Once out on the street I zipped my coat up the rest of the way and pulled on my gloves. It was cold and windy right there at Fourth and York. I hung a right and walked about 20 blocks down Fourth Street. I had a lot on my mind.

What she didn’t remember was that when Tim and Gregory left, she fixed herself another drink and came over to the leather sofa and sat down beside me and said: “I think we have come to an ending, and I think that is very sad.”

“Ending, what ending? What are you talking about? Us?”

“Hmmm Hmmm.”

“What do you mean, ending? Do you want to break up?”

She nodded her head yes.

“Why?”

“It’s just not what I expected.”

“What did you expect?”

“That we would be lovers.”

“We were lovers at first. I can remember many nights coming through that front door we would pull each other’s clothes off and have sex right there on that rug.”

“Well, it’s been a while.”

“It’s pretty normal for the sex to ease up a little bit after a couple has been together for a while.”

“Yeah. But it’s not supposed to stop altogether. Have you had this problem with other women?”

“Some but not all. It is sort of a pattern with me. Look, we’ve talked about this before. You said you just wanted some intimacy. Remember after I massaged your foot the other night you came back down the hall and said, see, that is what I mean by intimacy?”

“Yeah, but I don’t want to have to tell you!”

“Look, we have invested a lot of time and energy into this relationship. Don’t you think we can work things out?”

“No. I don’t love you anymore. Remember when I said, I loved the boy but not the man?”

“No. You never said that to me.”

“Well, I must have said it to myself.”

“Fuck it! If that is how you feel about it. Maybe this is a convenient off-ramp. I am not that crazy about being with you either. You sit over in your “cat corner all day and totally ignore me. You don’t say a word to me all day, pay no attention to me and you expect intimacy? You want to be desired? Try being a little desirable! Do you think my needs are being met? No! I’d like to have a conversation every once in a while. So, you can go to hell! By the way, if you keep opening your robe and expressing your breasts that way you are liable to get a little intimacy right here and now.”

That’s when she let her robe fall all the way open and I stood up and let my pajama bottoms down. She crawled over to where I was standing and placed my throbbing member into her moist warm mouth and began sucking and going up and down on it. I stood over her as she administered an expertly executed blow job and that’s when she passed out on the floor and I put her up on the couch.

That’s what I was thinking about on that cold Saturday morning as I walked the city streets in search of some answers. Since she didn’t remember any of it, I decided to keep my mouth shut and let things play out a little bit. I think I know how she really feels in her heart and what she thinks in her subconscious brain and I might just need to take advantage of that off-ramp. But when and how? That is the question.

August Strindberg

Sunday. 2/6/2022. 2:58 pm Riot Café. Reading August Strindberg – Miss Julie and Other Plays. Notes to follow.

Riot Café. Photo by the author

The Red Room, A satirical novel written by Strindberg in 1879. It is not a far cry to go from Red Room to Redrum to Murder. Just saying.

“Strindberg’s naturalism is not a slice of life, but rather the intense, immediate drama associated with what he called, ‘the battle of the brains.’ This is fought, not with theatrical swords or daggers, but with the equally lethal mental cut and thrust of two implacably hostile minds, bound to each other by desire and hatred. It is a battle in which one of them ultimately destroys the other’s will and commits ‘soul murder.’” One is immediately put in mind of Edward Albee’s, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Indeed, Translator Michael Robinson makes the very same observation writing about, The Dance of Death, a play written by August Strindberg in 1900, as a depiction of a marital inferno. He cites the numerous critics who regard it as the forerunner to Eugene O’Neill’s, Long Day’s Journe into Night and Edward Albee’s, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?

Why read Strindberg today? Because he is as relevant today as he was in 1887.

Strindberg was one of the most extreme theatrical innovators of the late 19th century and ultimately the most influential. The five plays presented here mark his transition from naturalism to modernism.

In The Father, Strindberg shifts away from social and political questions towards more psychological writing. Strindberg was more concerned with the discussion going on in Scandinavia at the time about the “woman question,” sexual morality, marriage, and the shifting psychological states of his characters (Robinson).

The Father is a three-act play with eight characters. The two principal characters are the Captain and his wife, Laura. It is a naturalistic tragedy about the struggle between parents over the future of their child.

The Captain is a scientist and freethinker whose marriage has gone south. He is engaged in a power struggle with his wife, Laura, over their daughter who wants to keep the girl home under her own influence whereas he wants to send the girl away to school. In an attempt to dominate her husband and get her way, Laura decides to drive her husband insane by first insinuating that he is not the girl’s father. The mother (Laura), uses her cunning to subdue and finally destroy the father (The Captain).

Strindberg is a great purveyor of naturalism, but in The Father, he is reaching for “greater naturalism” which is intense, immediate, and associated with a battle of the brains. (Battle of the sexes, battle of wills). The two main characters can be seen as representing the male and female principles.             

Strindberg believed that life is a series of struggles between weaker and stronger wills.

What initially brought me to revisit Strindberg were the films of Ingmar Bergman. Always a big fan of Bergman I began to realize what an influence Strindberg had on the filmmaker. I began to do a little research and it turns out in his lifetime Bergman directed eleven Strindberg plays for the stage, eight for radio and two for television. He was responsible for altogether twenty-eight Strindberg productions. He often returned to the same plays, producing A Dream Play and The Ghost Sonata four times, The Pelican three times and Miss Julie, Playing with Fire and Stormy Weather twice.

My favorite Bergman movie is The Seventh Seal. It has many similarities to the play, The Saga of the Folkungs. They are both set in the 14th century, the plague is present and religion is a major component.

Sources:

  1. Michael Robinson, Translator, Introduction and Notes to Miss Julie and Plays by August Strindberg.
  2. Strindberg and Bergman, Egil Tornquist, November 2012

Twelve Links in the Chain of Interdependent Co-Arising

Buddhism by the Numbers

Photo credit: Benn Bell

Twelve Links in the Chain of Interdependent Co-Arising

  1. Ignorance
  2. Volitional action
  3. Consciousness
  4. Mind/Body
  5. Six sense organs (Eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, mind)
  6. Contact
  7. Feeling
  8. Craving
  9. Grasping/attachment
  10. Coming to be, being, becoming
  11. Birth
  12. Old age (decay) and death

Each link contains the other links. All teachings of Buddhism are based on interdependent co-arising. If a teaching is not in accord with interdependent co-arising it is not the teaching of the Buddha. Buddha taught that everything is both cause and effect. Interdependent co-arising goes beyond our concepts of time and space. The one contains all.

The presence of light means the absence of dark. The presence of day means the absence of night. The presence of ignorance means the absence of understanding. The Buddha said, “When ignorance comes to an end, understanding arises.”

Based on the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh

My Life as a Man

A Well-Known Seducer of College Girls

Image courtesy of Goodreads

My Life as a Man, a novel written by Philip Roth, comes from Roth’s middle period, after Goodbye Columbus and Portnoy’s Complaint, but before American Pastoral, I Married a Communist, and The Human Stain.  Roth has written some 30 odd books, not all of them odd but some pretty strange, and he is possibly America’s best writer, if not one of the most prolific. Beats me why he never won the Nobel, for he was surely deserving. 

I’ve read most of his later works and all of his earlier works and I am slowly catching up on his middle period. I don’t profess to be an expert on Roth, but I certainly like his writing I and return to him over and over again.

This book, My Life as a Man, is a story within a story, or two stories within a story, then Peter Tarnopol’s (narrator) true story. It concerns his marriage to Maureen Tarnopol who tricked him into marrying him and has become his arch-enemy. Maureen, in their divorce proceedings, described him as, “…a well-known seducer of college girls.”

Peter Tarnopol is a promising young writer who is also a college professor who teaches creative writing. He occasionally gets involved with his young students who become grist for his mill. He teaches literature and creative writing at The University of Wisconsin and Hofstra College on Long Island. He was a patient of Dr. Otto Spielvogel, a Manhattan psychoanalyst, from 1962-1967. Spielvogel considered Peter Tarnopol to be among the nation’s top young narcissists in the arts.

As usual, Roth draws from his own life and previous fiction and writes about what he knows best.

It is a rollicking satire teetering on the edge of tragedy as Roth brilliantly tells the tale of his marriage and his many peccadillos.

Roth writes in an attempt to make art out of his calamitous life and to spin gold out of straw. Is it him or his characters, or is it Memorex? You be the judge. For him, (Tarnopol), “…writing is a vain attempt to get myself to feel like something other than a foreigner being held against his will in a hostile and alien country.”

For Philip Roth, life is a Kafkaesque nightmare whereupon the dreamer ruminates on the possibility of being transformed into a gigantic cockroach. Upon awakening, he heeds the advice of Gustave Flaubert who suggests leading a regular and orderly life and being violent and original in his writing. This is a lesson Philip Roth seems to have taken to heart.

The History of the World, Part 1

According to Al

Al Mitchell, man of a thousand faces

Al: Cynthia is on her way.

Me: Cynthia is going to be late.

Al: Well, she had to…

Me: See a film at the Jewish Film Festival…Yeah, I know, I heard you say that three times already.

Al: (Laughing) Well. you know that’s what happens when you get old.

Me: Al, I’m five years older than you.

Al: (again, laughing) Well, sometimes it catches up to some of us faster than it does for everyone else!

Al Mitchell, man of impeccable taste

Another conversation with Al, including Maureen

Maureen: When I broke my foot, I had to wear a boot. I called it, the Black Boot of Death. God, I hated that thing!

Al: I know people who when they had to wear a boot on their foot, would get another one to wear on the other foot, just to balance it out.

Me: (Only half listening): Wait a minute! Who do you know that wore a second boot?

Al: (stammering) Well, I don’t remember their names….

Me: (Listening closer now): Come on Al, give me a name. Name one person you know that wore a second boot.

Al (Stammering and laughing) Hamada, hamada, hamada….Well, I might have just made that up.

Al Mitchell, never a dull moment

Me: You are damned right you made it up! Caught you, didn’t I? Because your story was preposterous!

Al and Me: (Laughing and clinking together our plastic glasses of red wine.)

Coming up For Air

Book Review

So, I’ve read my first book of 2022: George Orwell’s, Coming up for Air, and boy, was it a ride! One has to look beyond Orwell’s most famous books, 1984 and Animal Farm, and get into the weeds with some of his lesser-known works to find the real Orwell.  This book has been described as an account of a man trying to recapture the lost innocence of his childhood. My main takeaway is that the more things change the more they stay the same. But it is more complicated than that of course. It is more like: you can never go home again.

George Bowling is being smothered in a middle-class existence, mired in a loveless marriage on the eve of WWII.  He takes a week off and travels to his hometown in Lower Binfield, only to discover that it is no longer there. It has been completely engulfed by urban sprawl.

I love the first line of the novel, “The idea really came to me the day I got I got my new false teeth.” The idea to travel back to his childhood home of Lower Binfield, that is.

George Bowling was the product of shop keepers who struggled to keep their business alive as he describes in this passage: “It’s a fact that very few shopkeepers in those days actually ended in the workhouse. With any luck, you died with a few pounds still your own. It was a race between death and bankruptcy, and, thank God, death got Father first, and mother too.”

He details the banal middle-class existence as only Orwell can, interweaving some heavy commentary on the horrors of war and the disgusting nature of human beings they can sometime exhibit as this example of a discussion of the Boer War between two of George Bowling’s relatives readily shows: “…surely he couldn’t think it right for these here Boers to throw babies in the air and catch them on their bayonets, even if they were only, nigger babies?” “Uncle Ezekiel just laughed in his face. Father had it all wrong! It wasn’t the Boers who threw the babies in the air, it was the British soldiers!”

In this book, Orwell refers to several wars, The Boer War, WWI, and the pending WWII. More on war: “It was unspeakably meaningless, that time in 1918. Here I was sitting beside the stove in an army hut …when a few hundred miles away in France the guns were roaring and droves of wretched children, wetting their bags with fright, were being driven into the machine gun barrage like you’d shoot small coke into a furnace. …It was a lunatic’s dream….if the war didn’t kill you, it was bound to start you thinking.”

There was a scene in Lower Binfield, when Geroge went back to visit, where an RAF bomber making a practice run accidentally drops a bomb on the village killing three people. Thinking it was the Germans and expecting a second bomb to drop Orwell describes the following surreal scene: “And then I saw an extraordinary sight. At the other end of the market-place the High Street rises a little. And down this little hill, a herd of pigs was galloping, a sort of huge flood of pig-faces. The next moment, of course, I saw what it was. It wasn’t pigs at all, it was only the schoolchildren in their gas masks.”

George Bowling’s visit to Lower Binfield taught him one thing: “It’s all going to happen. All the things you’ve got in the back of your mind, the things you’re terrified of, the things that you tell yourself are just a nightmare or only happen in foreign countries. The bombs, the food-queues, the rubber truncheons, the barbed wire, the coloured shirts, the slogans, the enormous faces, the machine-guns squirting out of bedroom windows. It’s all going to happen. I know it -at any rate – I knew it then. There’s no escape. Fight against it if you like, or look the other way and pretend not to notice, or grab your spanner and rush out to do a bit of face-smashing along with the others. But there’s no way out. It’s just something that’s got to happen.”

Lest you think it was all doom and gloom, not so. There was quite a lot of humor injected into the novel. Dark humor. This novel, is, after all, satire.

Gringo Land

Photo by the author

I was sitting at a sidewalk table at a café in front of a large window, sipping my whisky and soda. I could watch the passersby on their way home. It was late and everyone had left the café except for me. A tree sat a few feet from me in a large round pot casting a shadow over the empty table sitting next to it. There was enough light to read by. I liked to sit late at night in this café and read and drink my whiskey and soda in peace. It was quiet now that all the other customers had left. There only remained two waiters, one old like me and the other young. The younger one seemed impatient to go home. Probably had a wife to go home to. That was not the case for me nor I suspect for the other waiter.

I noticed out in the street a young man and a pretty girl walking briskly by. I was entranced by the beauty of the girl and I was envious of the young man who was with her.

I signaled the waiter for another drink.

The younger waiter sauntered over.

“What will you have?”

“Another whisky and soda.”

“Don’t you think you’ve had enough, senor?”

I just looked at him. He went away to fetch the drink.

The two waiters were huddled together at a table near the door. They were whispering. Probably talking about me I thought. Probably want me to go. Well, I’m not ready to go.

The waiter went to the bar and poured a shot of bourbon into a tumbler of ice and spritzed it with soda water. He carried the drink outside to where I was sitting. He placed the drink in front of me and said, “Why don’t you just fuck off, old man?”

He probably thought I couldn’t hear what he was saying as I am practically deaf. But I hear well enough in a quiet environment.

The waiter went back into the café and sat down with his workmate. They began whispering again. Probably think I’m drunk and need to leave, I thought. Oh, well, I’ll stay a little longer and have one more for the road. 

I like this place. It is clean, well-lighted, and quiet.

I motioned to the waiters for another drink.

“Another whiskey and soda, amigo.”

“No,” the young waiter said. “You’re done. Time to go.”

“Another!” I insisted.

“We are closing now.” He began to wipe the table clean with his towel.

I slowly stood up, looked at the bill he had unceremoniously laid on the table.  I pulled some cash from my pocket and paid the bill, leaving a modest tip.

I walked down the street away from the café slowly, a bit unsteady on my feet. I could feel the eyes of the two waiters burning a hole in my back. I wasn’t ready to go home yet. I didn’t want to face my dark room and the empty bed. One more drink, I thought. There must be someplace open tonight. Only thing was, they would unlikely be as clean and well-lighted or as nice as this last one was. I didn’t want any music. No, I really wasn’t in much of a mood to listen to any music. And I didn’t really want to stand in front of a bar. What was it I wanted? Not much. Just a clean, quiet, well-lighted place.

I came to a bar that was open. It had red and white walls on the outside with an American flag hanging on one side of the entrance and a Mexican flag hanging on the other. There was music pouring out the door from a sound system hidden somewhere within the recesses of the tiny bar. Not really my kind of place, but I was thirsty, so I stumbled there inside.

There was a gentleman sitting on a barstool in the middle of the bar. A couple was sitting at a table towards the back. I went in and sat a couple of stools down from the guy at the bar.

“What would you like to drink?” asked the barmaid.

“Do you have any bourbon?” I asked.

“Si, we have Jim Beam.”

“OK. I’ll have that.”

She poured the drink and marked it on the bottle then set it down in front of me and went back to her perch she was sitting on. She was talking to the other guy, but he turned around and included me in the conversation.

“Hey! Where are you from?” he asked.

“From the States,” I answered.

“Well, I figured that. Where in the States?”

“Kentucky.”

He nodded his head. “I’m from Oregon. You been here before?”

“Yeah, I live here now.”

“A lot of ex-pats here, that’s for sure! I guess that’s why they call it “Gringo Land.”

He laughed. He had a bottle of beer sitting in front of him and a shot of tequila. He downed the tequila and chased it with a slug of beer.

The barmaid looked over in my direction and said, “Do you want to play a game?”

“What kind of a game?”

“It’s called 21. You roll the dice. There are three winners. One who calls the shot. One who pays, and one who drinks the shot. Do you want to play?”

“Sure, why not? Let’s play!”

So, we took turns rolling six or seven dice out onto the bar from a leather cup. Each time the barmaid counted the tops of the dice. I won the first roll so I called the shot.

“What shot do you want?” she asked, pointing to the bottles of tequila behind the bar.

“What are you drinking?”

She pointed to a bottle.

“OK. That’s what I want.”

She poured out a shot and set it on the bar in front of us. We rolled some more. First the guy from Oregon, then the barmaid. At the end of the game, the Oregon guy drank and paid for the shot I called. We all laughed and he left.

In the meantime, the other couple had left and there were only the two of us left in the bar. The barmaid and me. She walked over to where I was sitting.

She was dark and sloe-eyed with long black hair flowing over her shoulders. She was wearing a green plaid shirt with several of the top buttons undone, exposing her ample breasts.

“What’s your name, Gringo?” She smiled broadly.

“Phil,” I answered. “What’s yours?”

“Anna. At least that’s what I put on my Facebook page. You want another shot?”

“No thanks,” I said and then I left.  Now, I will go home. I will lie in my bed and try to fall asleep.  I will think of Anna and what it would be like to be with her. I am probably not the only one in town who has trouble sleeping at night, I thought to myself. Maybe I will dream of Anna. Maybe tomorrow I will find someplace to read. Maybe a quiet, clean, well-lighted place where I can sit and read in peace.

Driving to Berea

Road Trip

Miss Maureen and Miss Scarlett

Maureen and I recently went on road trip to Berea, Kentucky. We took Miss Scarlett, our newly acquired 1984 Porshe 994.

I said, “Maureen, why do you call your car, Miss Scarlett?”

“Because, I don’t give a damn, is why!”

Well, ask a foolish question…

Berea is a small Kentucky town known for it’s arts and crafts, it’s beautiful trail ways, and of course Berea College.

Berea College is tuition free, but the students have to work to earn their tuition. The hotel where we stayed is completely run and staffed by students. As a matter of fact, my own father attended Berea College when he was a young man and he too worked at the historic Boone Tavern and Hotel.

We visited the artisan village, walked around the college campus and one day I hiked the pinnacles while Maureen stayed behind and went shopping.

A very enjoyable stay only three hours from Louisville. We would definitely go back!

The Historic Boone Tavern
Hotel Lobby
A room in the Boon Tavern Hotel
The Cabin at the artisan village
Woodworking artisan at the Cabin
A shop in the artisan village
A loom in a shop in the artisan village
On the trail to the pinnacles
On the pinnacles
Living on the Edge
On a clear day you can see forever
Way over there

Maureen was drinking while I was hiking
Daniel Boone Trail from North Carolina to Kentucky 1775, Erected by the Kentucky Daughters of the Revolution 1915

All photos by the author.

The Seven Factors of Awakening

Buddhism by the Numbers

Japanese Gardens, Birmingham, Alabama. Photo by Benn Bell

The Seven Factors of Awakening

  1. Mindfulness
  2. Investigation of phenomena
  3. Diligence
  4. Joy
  5. Ease
  6. Concentration
  7. Letting go

“At least once every 15 minutes, we need to practice letting go. Bear in your heart no hatred, utter no unkind words, remain always compassionate, with no hostility or ill will. The Seven Factors of Awakening are the practices of love.” – Thich Nhat Hahn

If Wishes Were Horses

If Wishes were horses I’d get on and ride

If trouble was money, I’d be a millionaire

If frogs had wings, they wouldn’t bump their ass so much

If you can dream and not make dreams your master

If two are dead three can keep a secret

If not now, when?

If traveling was free, you’d never see me again

If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain

If I was your wife, I would poison your coffee.

If I was your husband, I would drink it.