|Jan/Feb 2010 Nonfiction|
The Devil Sends his Greetings (Oh What a Beautiful Morning)
It was homecoming day in the hall of heroes, and Bernie Madoff was scheduled to speak. Man alive, that boy could spin a yarn.
I'd be lying to you if I told you that the arrangements were going smooth. We had problems with the caterers and the "artiste" responsible for the grand ice sculptor was kind of a dick.
Still, we were relatively speaking, "on schedule" and the crowd was well-fed and increasingly well-lubricated. Open bar. Naturally.
Tickets had sold well and nobody seemed to mind the delay.
In the end, it all just came together perfectly. After about forty-five minutes Mr. Madoff hit the stage and the heroes were stoked.
Just in case though, they'd hired Don Rickles and Richard Pryor for the entertainment. Which came in handy. Given the delay.
Well I'm here to tell you, the boys did their job. Filled up the time. And they just killed.
They killed, Jerry. Killed.
We're talking tears running down the cheeks of the heroes.
That bit where they waterboarded Rich Little was a riot.
It was hysterical.
So like I said, the heroes were ready when the maestro hit the stage.
And he hit every note. Mr. Madoff. It was a home run, gentlemen. Grand Slam.
Couldn't have asked for a better speech.
The evening was rounded off with spontaneous testimonials and a lot of heart-felt hand shakes.
No one in the hall of heroes was left un-lionized. Everyone left feeling slightly uplifted.
Recognition is everything, boys.
Outside the hall the nay-sayers and nattering nabobs of negativity held their "protests" and barbecues. It was poignant.
As the sun came up, the whole city smelled like bacon.
On mornings like that, in the hall of heroes, you could almost taste the squaring of the circle.
I've Got a Feeling
After the apocalypse everything was fine.
Sales were up. The troops were supported—and many media outlets reported the upsurge in church attendance.
The televised trials of Hollywood starlets was instrumental. I'm the first one to admit that this biz is not scientific. But reveal a beautiful woman to be beyond the pale of what can be tolerated—in these days of outrage—and you're going to win in the ratings game.
And don't get me wrong. I'm not a shill. Not biased. But Donny Osmond has got to be the last word in his role as celebrity executioner. It was sheer brilliance. I'm going to go out on a limb here, boys. It was Art.
To watch as he was a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll—and yet, be so efficient and dexterous, in his wielding of the knife.
No one could ever say that women didn't die under his watch.
No sir. It was great TV.
You could hear the market share growing. Drop by drop.
And volunteerism is up. Just no end of good news. There's hardly a church south of the mason-dixon line that doesn't send a mission team—teens and their parents—up north to man the soup kitchens and food banks of the great lost. In the cities of the damned.
We're establishing beach heads, boys. In places you wouldn't never expect.
In the land of the faggot and the greasy.
Our God is great.
Come Christmas, we ought to have some real results. Something really spectacular to report. Until then, you all are just going to have to be satisfied with the Regional Fall Extravaganza. We're sold out in St. Louis. I don't want to give nothing away but....rumor has it U2 is going to perform.
The smell of the apocalypse is...
But this just in: Lady Gaga will be publicly executed on Good Morning America using ancient Peruvian techniques of human sacrifice!
I don't know about you, man. But I've got a feeling. I've got a feeling this is going to be a great day!
This just might be the best day of my life. Yessir. The only thing that can keep me from realizing my dreams is me. I guess I'm going to keep on believing in me. And how.
The way the flames from the old city illuminate the night sky makes me feel bold.
Kind of horny.
They never do get it in the end.
We depend on their goodness.
Any virtue unchecked, becomes a vice.
The living are pretty predictable.
And we are everywhere.
(Insert evil mad scientist laugh.)
All Saints Day (Beautiful Dreamer, Wake Unto Me)
Me and Jesus were wearing water wings. We were shooting some rapids on the Snake River in Idaho. It wasn't that big of a deal. I mean. We were both wearing water wings.
And he says. This is what he says to me. "Does it hurt when your legs break against the rocks?"
And I say. This is what I say back to him. "Yeah."
And he says, "Yeah, me too."
We float downstream awhile.
And he says, "Why are we doing this again?"
And I say, "I can't remember."
And he says. This is what he says to me.
"I can't either."
I saw this lady and she sure knew how to travel light. She came in black and white. High contrast.
She disturbed the air around her. Magic crow wings buffeted the wind. There was sorrow. And longing. In the air.
I cried out to her.
O lady! O lady!
She spoke in the high-life tones of consumptives. She spoke in the ancient language of frauds and perpetrators of hoaxes.
She spoke the language of hunger.
A real skillet-licker, sir.
Leaving behind some farm back east. Crossing the Great American Desert. In a Conestoga. Or Ford with a V-8. Or even a big pink Cadillac.
She was gone, Daddy. Real gone.
Right before I lost touch.
She said, "Sometimes I feel just like a motherless child."
"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby many have entertained angels unawares."
Happy New Year, Ms. Wolf. May your Old Woman bless you and yours.
May you see and not see the light you walk in and thereby find warmth.
May you walk in strange lands and always find your way home.
May you know that for many invisible birds you, yourself, are home, building their nests in your broken limbs.
And may you find rest in that knowledge—because all the Old Ones—they all know that all those birds just need a place to rest.
And you are available.
Available even when the killing frost comes across old Albion. Old America. Across every last republic of dreams, Busby Berekely Production and promised land.
They all know you are still available.
To be blessed.
(A tip of the hat from my place in the shadows of the wings of the most high to your place of authority. Don't be surprised when they love you. You have perhaps paid your dues. In making them feel loved.)
(It's not nothing.)
Stalking Advent (I Saw The Light)
I was skulking around St. Paul—and when the opportunity presented itself I was ready. Picking up all the scales that had fallen from his eyes. I had tweezers and plastic sandwich bags. The scales looked like Fritos packed for a school lunch.
I'm no fool. I know this guy on the West Side. Thirty cents a scale. No questions asked.
He turned to me all of a sudden-like—this is St. Paul we're talking about now—and said,
"The dark! The dark!"
"Yeah," I said, "I know all about it."
I could see the grim-grinning guy in the window frame, sitting in a wooden chair. He was clinging on for dear life. He was living in the wind. Grin-and-bearing it.
"No," he said, "the other dark."
And I looked. I looked at the other dark. I mean, all of a sudden-like. And the ice that had settled on spider webs began to melt. And there was a kind of dripping that was both light and liquid. Shadow and midnight vapor.
And then he said, "I saw the light. I saw the light. No more darkness. No more night."
I said, "You've got to be kidding me..."
He said, "Now I'm so happy. No sorrow in sight. Praise the Lord. I saw the light."
I said, "Don't do me like that."
He said, "The dark! The dark!"
In the twinkling of an eye.
I saw the light.
And it didn't take away the dark and it didn't even seem all that different from the dark. And it was as if the stones themselves were shouting.
And then King Jesus was there. And he said, "we're paying thirty-one cents a scale. Get it while it's hot, boys."
And then me and King Jesus and St. Paul just really cut loose, laughing like we meant it. Funniest thing since Creation and the Fall. Tears running down our cheeks.
I saw my father in line in front of me, carrying on his back an impossible wooden structure. It wobbled and weaved and was imperfectly built. Disaster was attendant upon every moment.
I saw it. And I just gave it a shove. And in my hilarity, it all came down. Like the wall of Jericho.
Like the Berlin Wall.
Like the walls of Babylon. Chanted down. At last.
Earthquakes were opening prison doors. The lame were walking and the blind could see.
It was marvelous.
And then King Jesus—he was looking at me—in the midst of the exaltation and roiling of asphalt—(King David was dancing ungirded before the LORD)—and he said.
This is what he said.
"The dark! The dark!"
And I said.
I know all about it.
And I sat with my father in the dirt. In the wreckage.
Me and Hank Williams.
We just mourned.
And tasted once more. The peculiar healing. Inherent in. Mourning.
I saw the enemy prowling like a wild beast. He was hungry. For awhile he wore the stylized face of Elvis Presley. Barack Obama. All my heroes. And then he wore my own face. And then he ran off into the night.
Stars fall like figs from the sky and the heavens are rolled up like scrolls in these latter days. When the lonesome freight train whistle blows. All up and down Grand Avenue. Like the sound of the horn from a used car in a Bruce Springsteen song.
Mostly though I saw the puppets lying there in their cabinet. All prone. Waiting to become animated. Waiting to give form to what prowls the night.
I saw the enemy.
And he didn't have a face of his own.
That was the thing to take home with you. He didn't have a face of his own.
Someone broke off the antenna but that was OK because we stuck a pair of scissors in the hole and that seemed to pull in the signal just fine.
We were picking up pirate stations relaying messages from the front. The enemy had been jamming radio free New York for years.
On late nights in November we could pick up forbidden broadcasts of the Grand Ole Opry from 1956. One December we picked up a Mercury Theater Broadcast from the late thirties.
It didn't really matter. We were just happy to have connections with the past. It was good for morale.
It's lonely out here, boys. In this time of non-stop transmissions. This ahistorical time.
To have something concrete. From the past. Something completed. A complete broadcast of Amos and Andy, for instance. With every which way that that broadcast is wrong. Every minstrel show. So exposed. Every cruelity and injustice apparent. And yet so efficient in carrying the hunger and the longing of an actual hometown—actual home team—actual defiled and existing nation.
A republic of dreams. Feet of clay. The actual artistry in the abomination. And to know that you love living ancestors who can't ever turn the corner. Still mired in the old mud. And to know that you yourself can never get clean. And yet walk each day as if the sidewalk is bound to hold your weight. And to have it all in your ear.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, that's the sound of a nation that still knows how to win dirty.
Which is, afterall, the only way people like you and me every really win. Dirty. Isn't it?
It's license. That's what it is.
It's license to dream us up a new republic even if our hands are still dirty.
Even if we can't never get clean. Or on some of these days enter the halls of the beautiful people. Or ever once feel at home or feel safe that it won't be somehow spoiled or taken away. What with such grubby hands.
And the radio calls out a signal and we can just make out the voice: "Mother of God," the voice says, "is this the end of Rico?"
And just like a sugar hiccup, I smell the promised land again.
And believe. In my lying metropolis. Again. Like a real wise guy. Man on the make.
Citizen-pilgrim of the republic of dreams.
Mr. Bournsmith was on his way.
All the kids knew about it. All the earnest young men. And the widows and the single mothers down in Lefrak City.
Let me tell you. It was an event. Anticipated. Like that new car smell.
A win for our side.
Mr. Bournsmith, I said.
I said this when he came to town.
Mr. Bournsmith. Where you been all this time?
He looked at me. Steady-like.
I never left ye, lad. He said. I never left ye.
I didn't know that to be true. If only because of the leap of my heart. Whenever I saw him again. Absence announces itself.
But... I began.
He just laughed.
It was Mr. Bournsmith all over again.
He was right though.
Sometimes we are Mr. Bournsmith. I mean.
To other people.
And don't even know it.