RIP, Pat Conroy
Sometimes, all of the elements seem to converge in a single person. His persona was as big as his books: it's hard to believe that we've seen the last of either. He was radiant, too, regaling anyone within range of his light, yet noticing the smallest details along the edges of things.
Our deepest condolences to his beloved Cassandra, his children and his many friends, including our sister Toren who was kind enough to introduce us years ago.
In heaven, where at least one wagging glad pup runs up to meet him, words are at half mast in his honor.
The Kids Are All Right
This gem - another pilfered from the good people at Awkward Family Photos - was accompanied by this explanation: The sender said that his 8 year-old cousin requested the following for her birthday: a bow and arrow and a Justin Bieber poster.
Some may be a bit disturbed by this little renegade's choice of prepubescent leisure. We're looking at it as a healthy response to pressure she isn't even aware is being exerted on her. We don't just mean the pressure on her pocketbook, but also on her body, mind and very soul to grow up much too quickly...
All-powerful marketing rushes children into sexuality not unlike the way science learned how to speed up how fast a chicken goes from egg to table: not necessarily with chemicals and keeping them in the dark, but the end game is similar.
The only thing awkward about this photo is the reaction that others may have to it.
As for us? We see a member of our tribe: She has our vote for today's team captain.
To be quite clear, however, none of this, where we are concerned, is about young Master Bieber. Except now that we see his name coupled with that particular title, we've an urge to say it three times quickly for effect.
We love her determination, her scruffy hair and, hell yes, even her proximity to at least 14 separate things that could give her tetanus. Just in case concerned parents think our barrenness has rendered us completely devoid of all sense.
We can hardly wait to see what she wants when she's nine.
Awkward Family Photo Tribute
One doesn't need to be psychic to know a few things here, but we do presume much when we say...
At least one of them currently supports Sen. Sanders.
Their bookshelves at home probably looked much different from this one.
They hosted a foreign exchange student.
Rehab counselor talent here and we don't mean the kind who has to go off the deep end with drugs/drink to become one. (Extra credit for them for this, btw)
Someone contemplated the seminary.
They still all talk to each other.
They don't buy lottery tickets.
Most of them are OK with cats, but one's allergic and still likes them.
The mom had to bite her tongue at PTA meetings, but, by God, they went anyway.
They're either Episcopalian or Jewish but largely don't find any differences between them.
And not one of them would be insulted by what we've written here.
Thank you, Awkward Family Photos, for another flashback to a lovely people we might've known.
And there are nine buds waiting to bloom on the same stalk. We've waited a year to see this. Although the temps have already been nearly 90 here, this looks like early spring... where it counts.
Join us, won't you?
Attention. The following post contains profanity so if you do not care for that sort of thing, you have been warned. On the other hand, yes, it absolutely had to to say what we needed to say.
PostScript at the beginning:
To our real friends - no, to MY real friends - this may be our favorite thing we've -make that I - have ever written, flaws and all. Whew.
(((((You know who you are)))))
Part I: Humoring the humorist....
Yo. Homies. (Thus spake an old white broad digging her tongue way in the side of her face for the following.)
Part II: When it's worth looking
Jorge Luis Borges wrote a brief prose piece called "Ragnarok". We found it long ago in one of his anthologies along with some of his metered poetry. ('Dream Tigers" in original Spanish with English translation) It's a page and a half, tops.
It's stayed with us all of this time, recollected, like a dream, in shards and chunks, which is perfect because it's about a dream. We can recite even less of it, but that's fine. If it commanded our consciousness thus, it's hard to imagine the force of it as it was being written.
Ha! How presumptuous of us to even imagine. But that's how we roll. And, dammit, it's a sin that we haven't learned Spanish by now because we bet it's more electric that way.
We'd post it but aren't for two good reasons...
(1) Maybe it violates copyright. Mebbe.
(2) And the best reason...
Not everyone will care enough to go look for it. By doing so, you're following a hunch that it's - off road. And you'd be right.
Speaking of being right, we also think the act of seeking might winnow. Out. As in filter or, better, short-circuit a pointy-headed sort: the ones who take umbrage with nearly all levels of discourse that don't run parallel with their own certainties.
Well, well. See what we did there? Wrote something that was a close approximation of that very behavior. (Tricky, damned tricky, this business of self-inventory.)
We're not sure how or why, but their numbers seem to be rising: that not-so- merry band of those who are comfortable maintaining belief systems that will not only fit on a bumper sticker but that also masterfully convey, simultaneously, a low opinion of anyone with an opposing view.
Think of it. How much more trouble to fit ideology on a fender AND factor in the self-esteem of those daring to disagree?
It approaches brilliance.
And yet, if we may humbly submit the following..
As if End Times will arrive and the rest of us who haven't honked at your exhortations to honk back or LIKE GRRRRRR or whatever spastic form of agreement you had in your thimble-sized cranium when you got up today wanting everyone to be as miserable as your ass is about a multitude of things that are entirely too SACRED, PERSONAL AND COMPLEX TO GO AROUND FUCKING YELLING AND CLUTTERING UP OTHER PEOPLE'S FREAKING PAGES then we'll be cast into the pit of flaming dysentery.
(Muffled sounds of disruption, muted roars and hissed whispers. Running water and brow gently wiped with cool cloth.)
Excuse us. Where were we? Ah, yes.
Regarding folks who do not crave nuance, who rejoice, perhaps, at the thought of being Right. All. The.Time.
That's just nutty, kooky and exhausting, isn't it? And they're not always ones with whom we disagree.
It gets interesting about then. We've noted their shocked expressions, as they find us compromised or, worse, spineless if we don't heed their rallying cry.
Belief-ville, Unincorporated. Sticky territory and almost any fervently held tenets end up being kin to the infant made of tar in the terrible old fable: How can we grab it without becoming mired in things we swore to exclude to begin with?
Like we said. Stick. Eee. Facebook pages become claustrophobic sparring places where petards and hoisting happens in tight quarters. Maybe the smart ones are at the concession stands and bumper stickers are just a sign of the times.
We reckon we'll see fewer of those thumbs up thingies on this post, but maybe it'll mean that who's left standing doesn't have to be on the same page to be on this same page
This was both a line drawn in the sand and the hot air that obliterated it. Join us, won't you?
How many metaphors could Peter Piper pick!?
So much for our pretend zen, rising above the fray policy we'd adopted thus far in the 2016 campaign. What the hell. A petite hissy fit will do us good...
Another Mom maxim wasn't planned but fits the bill at the moment. She once said, "When children turn out badly, I don't blame the parents, but when children turn out well, the parents are the first I congratulate."
That may not have much to do with the proverbial price of tea in China, but damn this business of throwing racist rocks at Donald Trump for things his father may have done. Do not mistake our intent:
Rather, look around the guy. There are truckloads of (virtual) rocks you can throw because of HIS words and deeds.
No sense resorting to trickle down sins of the fathers stuff. Cheap shots need not be taken when sporting ones are plentiful.
(Yikes. How many metaphors could Peter Piper pick!?)
We recall Sen.Robert Byrd of West Virginia who possibly evolved more than any other elected official in US history. From Klan member to genuinely contrite Democrat who, in the true spirit of public service, owned little more than a pair of brown shoes at the end of his career/life.
Sometimes when people change, they become far more than the sum of their parts. And in those changes we see what room there is for radical change in ourselves. "They" say it's never too late. We're unsure about that, but - to quote the guy who created the character for whom I was named, Ernest Hemingway and Lady Brett Ashley respectively, "Wouldn't it be pretty to think so?"
It was the week after September 11, 2001.
I was on one of the first American flights to leave from anywhere in the US after the attacks. And my flight was to Boston on the sister fight of American #11, hijacked by the terrorists. The crew was wearing black armbands, signifying both solidarity and mourning for their fellow employees, but it meant so much more than bits of fabric could transmit.
I wondered what in the hell I was doing on my way to do a comedy gig. It seemed too soon to laugh and way too soon to tell jokes. But I did and because Boston is a tough ass city and its inhabitants know that survival happens in most unexpected ways and places.
As I finished my show and was stepping from the stage to their kind applause, a man came up to me and put something in my hand. I looked down to see what it was...
(Interruption from your 'sponsor' to say that, per an agreement with a collective of humans who stay sober a day at a time, references to said collective are best left unwritten, unspoken to protect the whole. I'm not being coy: 99% of you will be able to figure this out. And 98% of YOU will figure out that not commenting on it is just the high road. Thank you. Very much.)
The book was a list of addresses where, if I was so inclined, I might meet up with others who were hopefully on their way to knowing there is never a good reason for folks like us to pick up a drink or drug. Sorry if anyone reads that as pedantic. It's anything but. It's the Little Rascals high sign from Spanky for our code.
Anyway, that was the beginning of my friendship with Joe.
Tonight when the Academy Award for Best Picture went to Spotlight, great cheers went up from many quarters, I'm sure, but none louder than the one at our house.
Joe was one of the folks whose courage in coming forward about the scandal in the church made possible the exposure of guilty parties as well as the story breaking.
He did it a long time ago without thought of fame or recognition but because it sf the right thing to do and, by telling the truth, perhaps stopped these crimes from happening to other children.
Sometimes you wanna brag that you know someone like that.
This is that time for me.
And this isn't least on the list of reasons I'm glad I know Joe, but he's been about as good a friend as a person could possibly want.
Hey, Joe. This Bud's not for you.
Mom and I were out for lunch at a fairly nice restaurant, which makes the following exchange even more fun.
Mom: "What's the soup du jour, please?"
Waitress: "It's the soup of the day."
I think crackers came out of my nose.
Another true anecdote:
Another true anecdote: one that takes too long to set up, too many parenthetical asides and one that ends quite suddenly
Once upon a time, a certain celebrity gave birth and her issue, in the manner befitting a contemporary famous person, was featured on the front of a magazine. At the risk of seeming uncharitable, let's just say this particular celebrity's infant was homely. Seriously homely. As in looked like one of those Eastern European vampire babies that swoop up into your headlights on a rainy night homely.
(OK. Scratch the word "seeming" from the previous sentence: We'll own that our comment was plum mean. But if we were full bore mean, we'd give identifying info so that you could see what we're talking about.)
In addition, the magazine in question was an odd choice for a famous person's offspring to appear. The usual tabloid suspects were not even close. It was more like a hobby periodical, by far, than any glossy doctor's office chat rag.
Although the mother in question is famous, she isn't an entertainer in the strict definition of the word. She's formidable in her field of endeavor, one mostly filled with men and, although we don't care for her, we empathize with the sexism inherent in many attacks made on her. (Those in her profession were not once likely to be famous, but reality TV has given kleig lights to nearly anyone with a business card and a craving for ignominy.)
To further cement ourselves as a generator of unkind remarks - at least several years ago when this happened - make note, please - we are aware of this defect in ourselves. It was bad. That we'd be catty not only about a person we never met but , worse, even about the looks of this stranger's blameless child: a three-month old infant who was pasty enough that he seriously resembled a cross between Boo Radley and Anastasia's little brother.
We stopped short in our gleeful observations when our mother entered the room. Her admonitions to be kind to others very much covered the sin of gossip. This last we directed mostly at her oldest daughter. Our personal impressions of the nature of karma were cemented painfully in later years. Until we were famous, our tendency to gossip was a thing we minimized at every opportunity. We were, we were truly convinced, just helping people when they were not in the room. The great big barbed wire fencepost of fame shoved up our ass sideways might've served as a reminder that talking about strangers is evil, lightweight and, if nothing else, a poor tribute to a single parent who had tried to raise us much better.
By way of example, early in our bout with fame, with tabloid reporters hounding us, etc. we whined about it to our mother who was not unsympathetic. We sniveled, "But Mama, they go through our garbage!" Her response was immediate and in her usual soft, reassuring voice. She simply said, "Well, honey, make them think you have cats."
Because we earn our living stating unequivocal things often in equivocal ways, we greatly admired her finesse with that suggestion, which was both vivid and offensive in its intended result.
Look. Maybe someone this sweet and elegant had to be our mother for comedy - that thing best borne of juxtaposition, want and agony, to take hold. Yet she is no namby pamby commentator, either, someone devoid of visceral opinion.
This next is such an example. When Mother realized the person about whom my sisters and I were speaking, we paused to see if she had anything to say. We're being careful now, for fear of exposing the person to an audience after tarring and feathering her in our own prejudice.
Without saying a single word, we could tell at once that this celebrity was on Mom's bad side. She then explained that the reason for her antipathy was directly tied to a public debacle in which our mystery mother had not only treated someone badly, but had done so in error and refused to apologize.
With this knowledge at hand, we gently proceeded to comment on the poor little infant of infamy, if you will. After all, a very famous baby on the front of the equivalent of a stamp collecting magazine was catty enough an observation. Perhaps seeking to mitigate the meanness of her oldest sister's comments, our youngest sister tried, if not to change the subject, at least soften the punches.
As it turns out,, the pregnancy itself was apparently a real surprise to baby sister and she exclaimed, "I didn't even know so-and-so was engaged or married, much less a new Mom!"
It was then that our own dear Mother, long parodied among her daughters for her soft appraisals of even folks who were unrepentant jerks, both shocked and delighted us with not only a very rare negative comment about a person, but one so artfully made that it took us all several seconds to realized that's exactly what she did.
She spoke precisely, "Having a child proves nothing more than so-and-so is proficient with a turkey baster."
I was a weird kid. I knew it then and don't deny it now. Often, the depth and range of a kid's weirdness may best be fathomed during adulthood and then, sometimes, in a splendidly satisfying moment of realization, that weirdness may even be cherished.
Since most of my weird was the internal variety, not immediately obvious to others, I was spared the torture meted out to the oddest, the way weird, among us. Those poor bastards. Most of them never hurt a fly, but they paid dearly for their peculiar habits, preferences and especially their sartorially unacceptable choices. Still, it was difficult not to be irritated with some of them for being so blatantly geeky. I'm ashamed, but see now that I subscribed to the "they were asking for it" theory of natural selection.
The ways of the weird can be complex and defiant in their singular nature. For me, hiding it became nearly an aerobic activity. For example, at the age of ten, I only had to see the expression on my best friend's face once after confessing that I had a crush on Chet Huntley. (Trust me. There are women twenty years older than I who will gasp at the bizarreness of that remark today.) I knew immediately to keep similar admissions to myself. And, of course, by similar, I mean that I thought that Eric Sevareid and Forrest Tucker were uber-sexy, too. See? I told you. WEIRD.
A more benign aspect of my weirdness was that I loved educational films. When the film projector was rolled into the classroom and the other kids groaned, I was rapt. The very things signaling nap time to my pals were part of the thrall for me: the droning narration, the steady clicking of the film as it travelled from reel to reel. Who knows? Maybe this was a peculiar way of circling the show biz wagons for later in life.
Anyway, I still get misty for the days when the History Channel broadcast - well, history programs. If you get up early enough, you can still watch the odd program on everything from Charlemagne to Albert Speer. But since the hijinks of likeable pawnbrokers beats hell out of educational films, can I really expect THC to cater to my admittedly arcane entertainment tastes?
If you've read this far, I'm guessing some of you, at least, share a kinship with this weird business. It may be a leap to suggest that the big blanket of loving documentaries covers us all, but that's exactly where I'm going with this.
I can't believe it took me until recently to even think of this, but I finally typed 'free online documentaries' into the Chrome browser and was astonished to see at least a dozen sites collectively containing hundreds and hundreds of this, probably my favorite visual entertainment. Nothing BUT documentaries! Be my guest. Enjoy! You're welcome!
Oh, there's just one thing.... This caveat may be unnecessary to those less naive than I, but here goes: To me, 'document' implies truth: hence 'documentary' would seem to be a film based on facts. Yet after only a cursory investigation of titles and descriptions, it became apparent that what passes for truth is up for grabs entirely.
Maybe we were spoiled on those earnest, dull classroom films but, by God, the speculative and conspiratorial nature of a bunch of today's offerings will probably appall some of you - the purists among the weird. I apologize. And, perhaps belatedly, I salute you.