Feb. 2nd, 2020




Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly. ---- Harry Lime

Obsequiously Lamenting



Fab time with BB cruising the Bed-Stuy last night. Those tacky storefronts on Bedford Ave, retrofitted over the façades of what once were residence hotels and social clubs 150 or so years ago, reminded me somehow of that Siracusa basilica that incorporates plinths and columns from an ancient temple to a Greek god (now nameless) into its walls. Syncretism! That’s the ticket. It was a fucking trip and a half.

We ended up literally five blocks from the House of Usher, and of course I was half tempted to go visit except that I’d dragooned Max and Liza there not ten months ago, so instead BB and I wandered through Prospect Park where I looked for Dinah and Stella (didn’t see ‘em) and fell in love with the way the lengthening rays of the sun seemed to illuminate the Long Meadow in a kind of Palladian glow.

It was the last day of Passover and the Hassidim were out frolicking. I mean that quite literally: We watched them do a bizarre Maypole dance in Grand Army Plaza. The streets of Williamsburg and Crown Heights were teeming with them. Who knew that there was such diversity in the Hassid mix, that the Williamsburg Hassid wear white tights with their frock coats and those strange circular hats that look like beaver fur cheese wheels turned on their sides, while the Crown Height Hassid make do with modified Homburgs and suits that were the height of designer fashion back in the Great Depression?

“They’re different sects,” BB told me.

“And yet they worship the same Yahweh,” I said.

“Try telling that to the Big Reb,” BB said. “You’re almost as much fun to do road trips with as Claudia. The sex is better with Claudia though.”

BB and I don’t do sex. We’re strictly in the sibling zone.

He’d overscheduled himself, which is something that people with reserves of vitality and sensual appreciation as enormous as BB’s tend to do. He starts most mornings with four miles on his treadmill. Then he spends the day fielding phone calls, closing deals, and running around to meetings, while at night his social calendar overfloweth. If he leaves one thing untasted, he’s afraid he’s gonna miss out on some sine qua non that only in the afterworld will he realize was life’s sole indispensable state condition. So he leaves nothing untasted.

Me, I’m just the opposite. Give me the smallest crumb of a good time, and I’ll dine out on it for days. And sleeping is my favorite hobby.

BB had only gotten four hours of sleep the night before so by the time we got around to dinner, he was practically under the table. So I caught the 9:04 pm Metro North back to Poke town, read Brideshead Revisited for an hour and a half on the train, and spied surreptitiously on the businessman across the aisle who was looking at porn on his iPad. The businessman liked Asian girls with big fake tits. Not my type at all.

###


Everything’s happening.

Nothing’s happening.

Spring in the Hudson Valley is beautiful even in a shithole like Poughkeepsie. Daffodils sprout up in front of crackhouses. Forsythia set the vacant lots afire.

I got the application for the DC job in. We’ll see what happens from here. Diminished expectations are the secret to all happiness.

I’ve been watching a miniseries called The White Queen, based on a series of somewhat vapid historical novels by Philippa Gregory, which of course, I’ve read because hey! The War of the Roses, you know. Plus John of Gaunt! Was he a stud muffin or what?

Anyway, Anne Neville, the Earl of Warwick’s daughter, is a character in The White Queen, and watching one of her scenes, all of a sudden, completely unbidden, Anne Neville’s speech from Shakespeare’s Richard III came into my mind:

Set down, set down your honorable load
If honor may be shrouded in a hearse
Whilst I awhile
something-or-other lament
The untimely fall of virtuous Lancaster


And then I remembered: Ages ago, I’d memorized this soliloquy for some play I was auditioning for. It had sat there taking up space in my brain, a neuronal squatter for – what? 35 years? It bugged the shit out of me that I couldn’t remember the adverb that went with “lament” – I’d had a hard time memorizing it even back then, I seemed to recall. Finally I had to look it up: Obsequiously. Right. Right. A word whose definition has utterly changed since Shakespeare’s times so that today it carries connotations of hypocrisy and facetiousness, whereas back then it was a word for respect, which you apparently used with a straight face.

Language is such a Petri dish.

The End of the Point (Elizabeth Graver)

The writing in this book is frequently so beautiful that I got that shimmery translucent feeling you only get when some Great Mystery of the Universe is being revealed. Graver's descriptions of nature's wildness and beauty, her dips into the inner recesses of her characters' psychologies are very, very fine. The book is one of those rare novels where the writing actually gets better in the last pages.

Unfortunately -- and it is unfortunate -- the book is structured so badly as to be practically unreadable. I'd reached the point of hurling the book (metaphorically) into a wall around page 100 when the narrative POV shifts suddenly from omnipotent 3rd person into a jejune 1st person. Okay, okay -- I get what Graver is trying to do here. The 1st person is a pivotal character in the latter part of the novel, and her girlish confidences do shed a different kind of light on her character. But the shift is just too jolting. It throws the reader straight out of the novel. I put the novel down here and would never have picked it up again except one day the electricity went out in my house for five hours, and it was the only thing I had to read.

The other structural problem with the book is that Bea, the character who dominates the first 100 pages of the book, essentially disappears after that first section. This made me wonder whether Graver had originally written this novel as a series of short stories and her publisher sat her down and said, Girlfriend, if you turn it into a novel, it might actually sell. In fact, Graver's writing does rather remind me of my much beloved Alice Munro's: It's more figurative than Munro's, but Graver has the same talent for distilling the essence of a personality into a few lines of prose, which is no mean feat. I will definitely hunt down Graver's other novels, but I wish she'd paid more attention to the connective tissue here.

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Wahington D.C.?

So-o-o, I've been asked to apply for a VISTA leader position in Washington, D.C. with a program charged with "closing the opportunity gap for middle school youth in at-risk communities." Six centers in the D.C. Metro area; affiliate Centers in Baltimore, Richmond, and Pittsburgh. I'd be overseeing eight first-year VISTAs -- they'd be doing all the heavy lifting; I'd be Mama Bear.

Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God, as my spiritual mentor, the late, great Mr. Vonnegut once wrote.

As it happens, I've always viewed the ages between 12 and 15 as the make-or-break stage in people's lives. (cf: my innumerable references to why Pol Pot was mainly interested in recruiting 14-year-olds into his Khmer Rouge forces.)

The one great drawback, of course, is that I know absolutely no one in the Washington D.C. area. And I have a modest social life here in the greater metropolitan NYC area that I enjoy. And it is hard to make New Friends.

But I'm definitely intrigued. And flattered.

Also, when I woke up this morning, I'd received a text from RTT (my middle school youth emeritus): Love you and miss you. It had been sent at two in the morning. Not sure what inspired it, but it was a very nice thing to wake up to.

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Of Taxes, Forsythia and Maya



I really wanted to watch the eclipse, but it rained – and then it snowed! – so I couldn’t.

Also, I didn’t manage to snag a seder invitation. And I ended up having to pay federal taxes – something that hasn’t happened in years. When I owned my own business, of course, there were hundreds of loopholes, and in Ithaca, I was simply too poor. I suppose I should celebrate my tax liability as a sign that I’ve been more-or-less successful in clawing my way back into some kind of middle class respectability.

###


Since my birthday, I’ve been in an odd, skitterish mood. I always have problems with sequential thought – my preferred method of reading fiction or narrative history, for example, is backwards: I’ll start with the first three chapters to get some kind of familiarity with the characters and the setting, and then I’ll turn to the last chapter. As if the archeology of the narrative (for lack of a better term) is more compelling to me than the story itself.

Since my birthday, though, my mind’s been a little steel ball racketing around in the big cosmic pinball machine. I’ll see a young person on the street and immediately see the old person they will become in 40 years. Well, I mean – I won’t see it, I’m not hallucinating or anything. But it’s a penumbra, so palpable I can hardly stand to look at the young person. It all seems so easy to you now, I’ll think. It’s not.

Increasingly, I have this sense that I’ve played this game so many times before. And every time I fall into the old traps. The maya. Because really, how are the artifices that comprise human culture any different than the instinctual struttings and posturings of prairie chickens (soon to be extinct according to NPR)? I suppose one might say that there’s an element of choice for humans that’s not present for animals driven by endocrine behavioral triggers.

When I was a kid, I knew with great certainty what the right choices were. I was powerless to make them, of course: When you’re a kid, other people make choices for you.

Now, though, I have no idea.

Maybe that’s tied into the fact that there are just too many things being offered to us as choices that aren’t really choices – brand names slapped onto essentially identical philosophical options.

I’m rambling.

###


For my birthday I was feted in various pleasant ways. Taken to see a musical revue (Side by Side by Sondheim) and an opera simulcast (La Boheme).

On Sunday I met up with A___ in the tiny Hudson River town of Cold Spring.

Are your forsythia blooming? I’d texted him the day before. Because I haven’t seen any blooming here.

This was a matter of some concern. Even more than crocuses, forsythia are the true harbinger of spring for me. Last year – after an exceptionally mild winter, of course – the forsythia were out in February. This year, April – nothing.

“I’ve been thinking about your text,” A___ greeted me. “My forsythia don’t even have buds yet. I’m not sure they’re going to bloom.”

Even more than blood red moons, a year without forsythia seems like a true sign of the Apocalypse.

Except here in Cold Spring, forsythia were blooming everywhere. Once the river mist burned off, the day was sunny and bright, temperatures hovered near 80. We met a magic cat, enjoyed fascinating conversation, toured multiple antique shops where the flotsam of years past was presented to us sans history for our amused speculation, ate a delicious meal. The afternoon was as close to perfect as you could possibly imagine. In my mind, I kept batting around the phrase “out of time.” But when I got home, I thought, Why "out of time?" Why can’t you structure your life so that days like this are the rule not the exception?

###


Mark, my Syracuse chum, called me last night. I’d called him up on impulse when I was up visiting RTT several weeks ago. It turns out he lives within a block of RTT’s house so we met up for a beer.

Mark is a sound engineer and an old hippie. He owns his own recording studio and does sound setups for musical performances throughout New York State. A decade ago, he was grossing $250,000 a year with $100,000 in operational expenses. These days he’s lucky to make $85,000 a year. His operational expenses are still $100,000.

When I knew Mark the best, terms like “Asperger’s” were not yet in the common parlance. But sitting across from him in the quite delightful bar – an adjunct to the Mexican restaurant where I’d taken RTT out for dinner earlier that night. The food had been excellent, and the décor, heavy on tin Fatima hands and retablos, reminded me of merchandise I used to sell in my Little Store and hadn’t really seen since – I thought, Mark! Right. Aspergers. I mean, at the upper end of the scale where it tracks into what we (without laughing! Fancy that) might characterize as “the norm.” But most of what I might characterize as social currency is useless as far as Mark’s concerned. It doesn’t buy him anything.

We got into a rather heated argument about his marketing strategy. He doesn’t really have any. He likes to hand out business cards.

“And how is that working out for you?” I said. “Oh, right. Your business is losing money.”

Mark shrugged affably. “That’s how I do things.”

“Mark, you need a marketing strategy. This is a whole brave new world.”

“I don’t like marketing. People should gravitate toward things because those things are excellent, not because some frenzied huckster is artificially creating demand –“

“Well, of course, they should,” I said. “But they don’t.”

By the end of the evening, I’d managed to ruffle his affability – no mean feat. I figured, Right. Well, that will teach you to look up people you haven’t seen for 20 years.

So I was quite surprised to hear from him again. We had a delightful conversation and I’m going to hang out with him and his crew a couple of weeks from now when they do the sound for an all-night Indian music festival at the (gulp) Ethical Culture Institute, a block or so away from where I grew up on the Upper West Side.

It occurred to me about five minutes into the conversation that Mark – being Aspergers-y – didn’t really care that we’d had a heated disagreement during our last social encounter. Keeping social score like that didn’t really interest him in the slightest. It was something prairie chickens might do when the mating frenzy was upon them. Social cues, the whole ritualized ceremonies of deference, attention, disdain, were completely outside his frame of reference.

And I felt jealous for a couple of seconds. I wish I could live in Mark’s frame of reference. Less maya.

LJ Idol Week 5: Build a Better Mousetrap

In the summer of 2013, at the age of 61, I became a VISTA volunteer. VISTA is a national service program designed to fight poverty in the United States. I figure the bureaucrats came up with the catchy acronym first and then worked backwards to come up with the organization’s name: Volunteers in Service to America.

I’d always wanted to join the Peace Corps to combat poverty on the global scale when my kids were launched, but it struck me that 2013 was not a great time to be an American in the developing world. Plus it’s not like there’s any lack of poverty in the U.S. In fact, I was dealing with my own poverty issues.

I’d had a long, successful career in corporate marketing and business development, but in 2001 when I was laid off from a biz dev job with a mega-successful global entertainment agency, I hadn’t been able to do the horizontal hopscotch into an equivalent job with another company. At first, I was mystified: I’d never had trouble finding employment, but after six months or so, I finally realized that I was hitting my head on that mythical glass ceiling. In biz dev and marketing, charm is an essential weapon in your arsenal. My prospective employers had probably decided that a 50 year old woman lacked the requisite charm.

Since I couldn’t get anyone to employ me, I decided to employ myself. Started a business. For a few years, it was a moderately successful business. But then the recession hit. The business tanked, my life went into a tailspin. I managed not to become an alcoholic and to keep my son and myself from living in a large cardboard box under the bridge, but these two skills,however useful, didn’t look impressive on a resume. Hence… VISTA.

I found myself running a youth group for a highly dysfunctional nonprofit. The nonprofit actually kept the lights on by overcharging for services to the developmentally disabled population. I’m not sure how they got into disadvantaged youth racket, but when I came on board, we had no operating budget and no support from the parent organization. If I’d had anything to go back to, I probably would have walked away right then and there.

The youth group had been limping along on absolutely no money for two years. It was supposed to be providing the kids with summer employment and scholarship opportunities. It wasn’t. The kids were very bright and very engaging, but I’m not entirely sure why they kept coming. Possibly it had something to do with the snacks we fed them at our biweekly meetings. Many of these kids woke up routinely in households where the only food were the fumes in an empty Dorito bag and a bottle of flat Fanta Orange in a refrigerator that wasn’t working because no one had paid the electric bill in several months.

Anyway, my first order of business was to come up with a scheme to generate some kind of operating budget. I’ve always had a good head for business. I’m that rare do-gooder who actually sees capitalism – minus what Karl Marx would call “economic rent” – as a force for good. After all, it’s the only economic model that incentivizes hard work and creativity, right?

I came up with a wonderful plan if I do say so myself. My VISTA assignment is in Poughkeepsie where the chief tourist attraction is something called the Walkway Over the Hudson. The Walkway Over the Hudson is an old railway bridge, a mile and a half long, that’s been retrofitted for pedestrian travel. It attracts upward of half a million visitors a year. And there’s virtually no food being sold on the Walkway or anywhere close to it.

So my thought was that we’d put food carts on the bridge staffed by my kids. The food carts would sell fruit smoothies, a delicious and more-or-less nutritious snack option that would hit the spot on those hot summer days the Hudson Valley is so famous for. I spent some time thinking about transportation and design – the smoothie carts would be bicycle-drawn and laid out for ice and fruit. We’d forge business relationships with the farms that supplied the local farmers’ markets. I’d give as much ownership as I could to the kids - let them name the business, come up with the uniforms and marketing materials. We’d do an extensive training on health protocols, customer service, and point-of-sales software.

Unfortunately, all these things cost money. And we didn’t have any. So the next phase of my business plan was to launch a donation campaign on one of the crowd-funding platforms like Kickstarter to raise the 12 K or so we would need to launch our business. I explained to the kids that we’d have to make a video, and they got very excited. They started composing rap ditties for soundtrack, and three of them wrote a script.

Meanwhile, though, the parent organization was growing more and more dysfunctional. In January, they weren’t able to make payroll until three days after paychecks were due. And finally around February, I realized there was a very good chance that the organization wouldn’t be around by the summer. Plus there was the added quandary that the organization would be acting as the steward for any donations I managed to attract, and that there was no guarantee that the organization wouldn’t use those funds to float payroll or something.

Reluctantly, I told VISTA Central in Albany that it was probably prudent to pull the plug on this project. And in March, they did.

It was still a great business model, though. And I’ve been looking around for other local nonprofits that might be able to pick up its pieces.

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Happy Four-One-One to Yew-w-w-w



Big crowd on Main Street yesterday afternoon, and the police had cordoned off the street between North Hamilton and Academy.

“What’s up with the block party?” I asked someone.

“Oh, some white lady’s fixin’ to jump” he said.

“Ain’t no white lady. Some white dude,” someone corrected him. “Big old hairy legs and short shorts.”

Sure enough, I could see the lower half of the presumptive jumper’s body dangling out a second floor window (and if my iPhone 4 had a better camera, you could see it too, near the red line above.) It looked exactly like the mangled form of Icarus in Brueghel’s famous painting, the inspiration for my Favorite! Poem! EVAH! by W.H. Auden, which begins: About suffering they were never wrong, The old Masters…

“That’s ridiculous,” I said. “There’s no way that guy could possibly kill himself jumping from there.”

The guy I was talking to shrugged.

Some people closer to the building were attempting to rally the street crowd in a rousing chant of, “Jump! Jump! Jump!”

The jumper withdrew his legs back through the window and then stuck them back out again. The gesture seemed weirdly coquettish, like some kind of morbid striptease. The atmosphere was festive, kind of the way I imagine atmospheres were back in the 17th and 18th century during public executions.

“I mean, the most he could do is break his legs. Maybe,” I said, but I was no longer talking to anyone. Really, I thought. What an absolutely ridiculous way to attempt to commit suicide. Several police cars and an ambulance were gathered around. I suppose it made a pleasant break for the cops and EMTs who would otherwise be preoccupied by Poughkeepsie’s ever-soaring homicide rate. It was a beautiful spring day.

###


Earlier that day M___ K_____ had insisted on telling me at great length the True Story of how her brother had committed suicide in 1982 on his birthday, which also turns out to be my birthday. M___ K_____ definitely wins the dysfunctional family prize – I mean, my family is dysfunctional, but it’s more a House of Atreus type of dysfunctionality, like we’re all pieces in some ghastly, fatalistic Parcheesi game Lucifer is conducting with Jehovah. Mizz Kimmie’s family could have been dreamed up by Stephen King. They’re not just dysfunctional; they’re evil mothah-fuckahs.

“Okay!” I said. “Well, I understand why up to now April 11 may not have been one of your favorite days. But all that has changed because it’s my birthday, which means it’s a cause for universal celebration!”

“It’s just really weird that we're so tight and you turn out to have the same birthday,” M___ K_____ said. We were talking on the phone so I couldn’t see her facial expressions.

“It’s the best birthday anyone could possibly have because it’s four-one-one,” I continued.

“Huh?”

“Four-one-one,” I said. “Information. Get it?”

“Oh,” said M___ K_____. “Right.”

“It has universal significance,” I explained kindly. She was having a hard time connecting the dots. Overly preoccupied, no doubt, by the image of her brother in his death agonies, one hand still holding the heroin-filled syringe he’d been attempting to shoot into his arm while the other clutched an electric guitar. Didn't have her priorities straight.

###


As I slowly circle and glide down for a landing on the actual date of my nativity, I find myself brooding over Brideshead Revisited. It’s a novel I’m obsessed with. I am similarly obsessed with the 1981 BBC television production of the novel, which I think is one of the most successful translations of a book into another medium ever attempted.

I’m not sure what it is about Brideshead Revisited that fascinates me so. Roman Catholicism doesn’t interest me particularly, although I have been known to defend it aggressively in arguments when friends and acquaintances sneer at its rituals and the miraculous properties of its many saints.

“You don’t get it,” I’ll say. “It’s like the actualization of that Lewis Carroll quote: Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

I’m mildly obsessed with the British upper classes and of course, I adore all Big House representations in literature and in film.

But I suppose what rivets me about Brideshead Revisited is that its theme is redemption. Evelyn Waugh was a great stylist but a fairly nasty human being. A bully, in fact. So redemption in the Waugh lexicon is not a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card but a kind of double-edged sword – Charles Ryder’s deep depression, Sebastian’s alcoholism, Cordelia’s thwarted spinsterhood is the price these characters had to pay for achieving a state of grace, and you really have to squint hard to see it as grace.

###


So much more I feel like writing today, but alas! I must work.

Swainage and Its Discontents

The weekend was largely taken up by swainage.

But it occurred to me when I got home Sunday afternoon, and was lying in bed reading Elizabeth Graver's The End of the Point -- an oddly compelling novel -- petting Mister Rutger and nibbling Dove bars, that I hadn't really enjoyed it. The two swains are names on a dance card; I don't feel a strong connection to either one. Of course, I was brought up to want my dance card to be full. What woman isn't? But the truth is there's no shortage of names to write in dance card slots if that's what I want. The weekend felt like seeing the bottom of the swimming pool when I really wanted to be swimming in the ocean.

They're both very nice gentlemen, of course, although S1 can be petulant and self-involved to the point of actual rudeness at times, and S2 is virtually humorless. They both take me out to places I couldn't afford to go out to on my own. So essentially the relationships are transaction-driven rather than emotion-driven. A form of prostitution, in other words. Not that I think there's anything wrong with prostitution, but if that's the essence of the relationships -- and I suspect it is -- then really, I'm selling myself cheap. I should demand to be taken out to more expensive restaurants! Or make them give me cash upfront.

Anyway, I think I'm going to begin to deescalatate. Nothing dramatic. Just no more If-this-is-Friday-this-must-be-James types of assignations.

BB offered to be my writing partner last night. That really excited me. Four years after our traumatic breakup, Ben is no longer one of the regrets with which I line my pillow but I do miss hearing his voice as part of my internal dialogue. We were great writing partners.

BB is not a writer, but that's only because writing has never interested him enough to become totally obsessed with it. He is brilliant, witty, allusive, entertaining. Our gab fests are epic. There's an enormous amount of material to harvest there. And he knows how to craft beautiful, multi-layered sentences when he wants to. That's what's really necessary for writing: the primary source material and the ability to take those primary sources and weld them into something less ephemeral.

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LJ Idol Entry: Week 4

LJ Idol Entry, Week 4: Nobody can ride your back if your back's not bent

Some families produce doctors and lawyers. My family cranked out topless dancers.

“Topless dancers” is what they used to call them before stripper poles became cutting-edge technology, when public undress was still regulated by legal stipulations prohibiting the exposure of pubic hair.

In the early 1970s, we all loved pubic hair.

Annie did it first.

Although Annie's my mother's sister, she's only five years older than me. We're more like sisters than members of two different generations. Separated from her college professor husband, stalled on her PhD dissertation -- what relevance, after all, did medieval Italian literature have to a failing marriage? -- and not knowing how to type, topless dancing didn't just seem like the wisest career move open to Annie at the time, it seemed like the only career move open to Annie at the time. Who wants to be a bank teller?

###


We were a tribe of Amazons -- long-legged, big-breasted, with a slant to our features reminescent of a Modigliani portrait caught in a stray beam of sideways sunlight. We were eager, restless talkers. We could discuss Jane Austen and Elizabeth Taylor knowledgeably in the same breath. We were completely over-educated for our economic circumstances.

When we talked, we used our bodies -- we waved our hands, we bobbed our heads, we bounced our legs. Large, friendly, over-eager puppy-women -- that was us.

Puppylike is not the preferred behavioral mode for a sex object, so we were unlikely sex goddesses.

###


Naked on the stage, Annie felt remote and reflective as the moon. Her performance was a Kali-dance, a ritual unveiling in three parts.

Part 1: You warm up the crowd. You jog in place, you do low-impact aerobics. Guys at the front tables slosh beer companionably, elbow one another, hoot. At the end of part 1, you remove the shortie nightie.

At the end of Part 2, you're down to pasties and g-string.

For Part 3, you remove the bra.

Part 3 is hump and bump -- the least interesting to perform, but apparently the most mesmerizing to watch. The guys in the front row sit with their eyes bugging out of their skulls while you do stomach crunches face down on an over-sized pillow.

"It's good exercise," Annie commented mildly. It's all she ever said about that. She'd grown more distant and distracted since she'd started working the clubs, increasingly disinclined toward human interactions. It could have been the late nights.

A year or so later, Annie wrote a novel about the experience, which earned her a fair amount of money and has almost continuously been in option over the years by various fading movie stars looking for a vehicle to launch production careers. Annie's novel contained some of the most graphic descriptions of female genitalia ever captured in print up to that point and to this day, my family believes Carrie Fisher stole the phrase Surrender the Pink from it.

I See Crocuses and Dead People!!!!



First crocuses appeared three days ago. Crocuses have a short growing season; in another three days, they'll be gone. By then presumably the green arrows shooting up beside them will have metamorphosed into daffodils.

Harbingers of spring, yes?

Though, of course, the odd black-crusted snow pile can still be seen in vacant lots. Poughkeepsie has a lot of vacant lots. These snow piles are kind of like the remains of some mythical antediluvian creature named Winter. When sunlight hits them, they vaporize. Poof! Magic!

###


A lot's been happening.

Nothing's been happening.

Albany approved my feasibility study, so I went back to Pollyanna last week.

Nothing's changed there, but of course, there's no reason why it should. Pollyanna hasn't gone broke quite yet, but I'm guessing the lights will go off permanently around the first of September. I have this mental image of Reverend Cal in an ankle-length great coat and natty fedora cackling madly to himself as he makes his final tour of the light switches. A demonic mythological presence himself, that Reverend Cal. Much like Winter.

The Pollyanna family -- yes, this is how Reverend Cal encourages them to address each other in emails, Dear Pollyanna Family -- continue to respond to this uncertainty by oscillating between a kind of frantic inappropriate merriment and sullenness. It's exactly the kind of reaction you'd expect in a real family if Dad was an alcoholic or molesting the family dog. Sure, it's not good. But you don't wanna rock that boat too much.

Over the course of my lifetime, I've held some extraordinarily prestigious, high-paying jobs. But I've also done my time in the low-hourly-wage salt mines. The dysfunctionality of the American workplace never fails to amaze me. Is it like this everywhere in the world? Are research scientists -- a term I define broadly -- really the only people who enjoy what they do for money?


###


I see Lucius everywhere. It's disconcerting because, of course, he's dead. So I'm not really seeing him. Except I am.


I've had a number of friends and family members die over the years -- at the age of soon-to-be 62, that's unavoidable. Some of them I've felt after they died; most of them, I haven't.

I won't try to explain, justify or defend seeing ghosts, subconscious psychological projections or whatever the fuck you want to call them. In the ancient cathedral town of Ely -- a ghastly island floating in muck for most of its geological history until the East Anglia swamps were drained -- I once fell into a fugue state and watched a blind monk tap-tap-tap his way over some 14th century cobblestones.

When I got stuck in that Yosemite blizzard for three days, lost all sensation in the distal toes of both feet to frostbite (permanently, as it turned out), and had to be rescued by helicopter, there was a point when our little band of four was struggling up a mountain on our cross country skis in the blinding snow and I saw a downhill skier coming down in the opposite direction. He was wearing a bright yellow muffler and huge futuristic goggles so I couldn't see his face, but he waved at me. Neither Ann nor Joe nor Dan saw him, and I knew that he was dead.

Those were probably my two most extreme visions.

When my mother died in 2001, I felt absolutely nothing. On the other hand, after Tom died in 1995, I felt him hovering just out of reach for years afterwards, a beneficent presence who was very concerned about me, who was watching out for me. I felt it when his spectral attentions began to focus on other matters, as he slowly withdrew his attention. It felt like an abandonment.

So anyway -- Lucius. He uses the public computers at the Adriance Public Library. He shops for breadfruit at the weird Jamaican supermarket. He leers at me affectionately from the other end of a parking lot, standing near one of those ancient black-crusted mounds of dead snow. He's not mad at me at all. He gets the joke, the cosmic goof. He's riffing on it. He wants to create one of our old screamingly funny comic routines. He catches my eye from the corner where he's crossing the street, shrugs helplessly, shakes his head and beams. He mouths words that I can't hear but then, I don't have to because I've heard them before: Ya gotta be cruel, Patrizia. Cruel to be kind.

He draws out the word "cruel" in a fake English accent: cr-r-r-uel-l-l. He throws back his great leonine head, and he laughs and he laughs and he laughs. And then though I don't hear him laughing, and nobody hears him laughing, a guy driving a car comes to a screeching halt just in front of the pedestrian walkway even though the light is clearly in his favor and there's nobody on the street.