The Kookaburra

Six o’clock.

I’m just up out of bed, and as I gain consciousness, the old kookaburra song comes to mind. It’s something my third grade class used to sing in rounds, led by Miss Otzby the cafeteria coach, way back in 1975. It was the first school year that I felt more or less human after a bad experience up until then. A teacher can make or break you, and Mrs Baggerman was the dawn after a very dark night. She was a Texas sexagenarian, very strict and not popular with the rowdy boys in class, but she liked me because I was quiet. I remember staying in from recess by choice to do SRA readings. My comprehension grew exponentially as I became rather introverted but not unhappy that way. Of course, one of the high points of that year was the Bicentennial, and we took a field trip to see the Freedom Train when it came through. It was just a mobile museum of Americana. I had a little crush on a Native girl a year older than I, named Robin. And I also remember how nice to me Stephanie was. And Karen, whose family was Jewish, so she stayed home for our Christmas party. And the popularity of Freddie, a Black kid, and Fritz. Everyone was so diverse yet we got along fine together. It makes you wonder why adults do not.

The Pen Is Mightier

The pen is mightier than the sword in a country that makes college tuition free.

Free tuition is the fastest way to equalize the population and end our political conflicts.

Beef up not our arsenal but our intellect, and don’t pray to a god for this to happen.

Only human effort can pull it off, while prayer is a fifty fifty proposition as reliable as chance.

Ignorance is not bliss, as life today demonstrates. The nation needs a fast track to wisdom and no time to waste.

Or rather, we should take it slow and thorough, and read entire classics instead of excerpts: bring the whole works to a grinding halt and put ourselves in the classroom.

People shall not live by bread alone, nor by chili cheese fries at the drive through. What makes the world go round is not money.

The perfect world is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity, and no satire about it: this is dead serious stuff.

If we can realize dystopia, how much harder is it to go the other way? 

Crushing Grapes

Seven thirty AM.

On my walk for groceries this morning, I paused at the intersection of Fremont and N Park to watch an airline jet fly over my head. And the words came, “Where would you rather be / Anywhere but here.” Then I continued to Maxwell Road, where I had the whole place to myself— except for one man walking his beagle towards me. He said nothing, and frowned and seemed rather surly. Only the dog acknowledged my presence, straining on his leash to get at me. This experience was not like the afternoon yesterday at the little market, when it was packed and bubbly with people gabbing almost merrily. Perhaps it was “beer thirty” for some people, and the market and the deli comprised something like a pub, a place to get loose a little and enjoy life. Even though I’m sober, I’m still with them in spirit. The Dionysian tradition is about more than the wine, or rather the wine becomes symbolic of a mental state. Is it overstatement to say that intoxication gave birth to our notions of heaven…? The cult of Dionysus preceded Plato, who came before Christianity. “How did heaven begin?” Historically, it probably grew on the vine.

Headhunters

Six o’clock AM.

Doing some reading in Russell’s history of philosophy serves to iconoclasm. It reminds us that philosophers such as Plato had predecessors, and every thinker gets a shot at a theory of the world and reality. But ultimately, the reality is always bigger than any human intellectual giant alone can grasp. What do we need icons for, anyway? I just wheeled my garbage and recycling to the curbside for today’s trash pickup. I suppose the garbage man has an opinion of the truth like everyone else. “Footprints in the sands of time…” This is what philosophers really are. Not one of them stands as a solitary luminary, a phenomenon out of nowhere, and yet we refer to them so casually. Every book on my shelf is a dead person’s head embalmed for posterity. Do we really need them for a point of reference? Whitman didn’t think so— but he was yet another icon. Where does it stop, and you come to grips with things as they are all by yourself?

Faust in His Study

Eleven o’clock at night.

Every season, for me, has its share of memories layered in transparencies, like peering into a deep well of feelings. When I got myself a new book of King Lear, it was a commemorative impulse to mark something that happened 35 years ago. Basically, an old flame and emotional scar. The plot thickened earlier today when I felt an impression from ten years in the past, jogged by the drizzly spring weather plus the circumstance of my utility company wanting to trim my oak tree away from the power line, last done in 2012. Spring is always a romantic time of year for me, and as I get older, a time of nostalgia… Sometimes I wonder what difference it makes whether I drink or not, yet I know drunkenness is to live in a pickled dream.

A few years ago, stoicism was a fad, and everybody was jazzed about Marcus Aurelius. What is trendy today? I don’t think we’ve figured that out yet, but if someone says Jung, I’ll counter it with Freud; and if you say Alan Watts, I’ll just shake my head. A week ago I poked around my bookshelf for Andersen’s Fairy Tales and by luck I turned up the Confessions of Augustine in two little red volumes. It’s not really my cup of tea, yet I sat with one of them, scanning the contents. What interested me most was a historical figure named Faustus, versed in “natural science” of the day, probably an astrologer. It seems that the Faust legend is based on a real, historical person that Augustine actually met in the fourth or fifth century AD. Our imaginations have done the rest…

Avalon

Quarter of nine.

Michelle is in quarantine with Covid for two weeks, I was told just today. Getting to market this morning was a bit tricky because of a work crew tearing up the sidewalk. The guys were quite unconcerned about a pedestrian like me going through; I felt invisible. The cars were beginning to back up all the way to the Maxwell overpass, awaiting directions from the men in lime green. When I got up today at eight o’clock, it was incredibly dark outside. Some days have a bizarre vibe to them. In general it feels like history can’t decide which way it wants to go. Even stranger to think that people are making history with every passing moment. Roger just fired up his old Ford and idled it for a minute. Before I left the house, an impulse made me pull out a book given to me by a friend in 1999. It is Journey to Avalon: The Final Discovery of King Arthur. At the time, I was surprised that anyone could take the legends historically, as if they were founded in fact. But a few years later, a counselor asked me if I understood the Bible as history. And the answer was no. Anne Sexton wrote that the need for belief is not the same as actually believing. I still wonder why I fished for that Avalon book this morning; what am I going to do with it? Now, Roger drives away in his gargling old truck. It’s breakfast time for my dog. 

Before the Ordeal

Wee hours of Friday.

Aesop, my cattle dog, has an appointment for an exam and a toenail trim this morning at ten o’clock. He is doing pretty well right now, since we tried his sedative yesterday. For my part, I’m trying to minimize my dread and superstitious fears of what could go wrong.

During the day yesterday I wrote quite a lot in my journal, ending up with some thoughts about the historical effects of intellectual movements. It seems that whatever the existentialists start, the flesh and bone religion of the common people finishes. I remembered a chapter from Les Miserables titled “After-Dinner Philosophy.” The Christianity of the poor and the working class was not good enough for the hedonistic nobles who rejected God and the afterlife. Apparently, society has been structured like this since at least the time of Victor Hugo. But what happens when a self styled “antichrist” like Nietzsche comes along and preaches the “superman?” Maybe George Bernard Shaw has an answer for me in one of his plays. Man and Superman is a work of literature I never got around to reading. I only know that Shaw was a Socialist born in Ireland and living in London, and self educated out of a museum. He lived over a hundred years ago and made his living mostly as a music critic.

But none of this argument is here or there to Aesop, who has to go through an ordeal today. 

Twenty Years

Six o’clock.

It’ll be good when we’ve distanced ourselves a little more from the Millennium and regained our sanity. The 00 decade was very uncomfortable for me, when people tortured each other over their religious ideas at all levels of society and across cultures. Was it all because of a prediction by Nostradamus that 1999 would see the advent of the Antichrist? I remember seeing editions of his books on display in bookshops and even in grocery stores up until the year my mother died, 2001. His prophecies were just the wormwood people needed for crazy stuff to start happening. But the fault was not that of Nostradamus, but of consumerist culture and whoever controls this and the media. I’m still not a fan of sociology, the study of society. There’s always more going on than meets the eye, and what we see is a puppet show. This is not the behavior of people in groups, but rather manipulation by our leaders, though it sounds fanatical to say it. Who was it that ordained the distribution of copies of Nostradamus everywhere for a span of ten years? Was it the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx?

Quarter after seven. The rain started as just a whisper and now it’s coming down in earnest. It’s a soothing sound like a lullaby. Because it’s still dark out, I’ll wait to go to the store. I want to have some visibility on the road, in both directions… The last book I bought of Nostradamus was at the Safeway store on River Road with my mother. I remember the flower bouquets they sold there, vaguely. Mom usually wore a little kerchief on her head when she went out, called a “doobie.” This store closed in September of 2007 for reasons of productivity. I especially recall Tiffany, a young checker with blonde curls who was always pleasant. But with the coming of dawn these memories fade like dreams. And the rain washes them down the gutters. 

Jesse Owens

Wee hours.

About four hours ago I found myself writing of WW2, or more specifically of Hitler and his intention of creating a super race of “Aryans,” a sort of elitism gone way wrong. I remembered his reactions to track athlete Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympic Games, this Black man who embarrassed Hitler’s Aryan runners, leaving them in the dust. He was beside himself with rage. And the sick elitist thing he started, the Allies finished, though people today don’t remember this crucial historical fact. A few years ago I used to get junk emails saying what a genius Hitler was! And I shook my head, thinking how ignorant people can be. The truth is that he was the second Antichrist, after Napoleon was the first (if we can believe Nostradamus and his editors). But mysticism aside, we must review our history and beware of this kind of thing happening again. And truly, it already did occur very recently. Long live the memory of Jesse Owens and the evil force he went up against, and crushed the Aryan competition. 

As the Romans Do

Quarter of six.

The store will open shortly. I need my morning tea for a pick me up. I feel tired and sore from what I did yesterday. Think I’ll just go ahead and go now…

Quarter of seven. Michelle and the guy from the dairy were tallying items ordered against those received when I walked in. I headed straight for the dog treats, then got the usual stuff for me. Even as I write, Aesop has fallen back to sleep. It’s been an oddball week for us both, but on the other hand there’s no normal anymore. If we practice tomorrow, it’ll be earlier in the day due to the expected heat. The times today are very hard for everybody. Ron said a couple of times that he anticipates a revival of Roman decadence and hedonism to compensate for the pandemic. I wouldn’t mind that, actually. The world doesn’t get enough of the joy of living. Seize the day before the day seizes us. Somewhere, unpublished, a few people are probably doing audacious things, like having dangerous liaisons, staking everything and going for broke. According to smart writers like James Joyce, pursuing passion is the right thing to do. Right now, the world is in a state of paralysis little different from his Dublin a century ago… I think that people nowadays have spiritualized themselves out of living a fulfilling life in the here and now. What will it take to shake us awake?

Eight o’clock. So I hope Ron is right about the Roman revival. I didn’t read Edward Gibbon, but I know his thrust. Decadent morals brought about the collapse of the Roman Empire, therefore any civilization needs a measure of rational restraint to ensure its longevity. However, Shakespeare suggested that order is restored after people take a good holiday…