All posts by Richard

Huck Finn on Acid

I found an artifact from the eighties when I was visiting my mother in Oregon—a tab of LSD tacked to a cork board. It was more memorabilia than mind altering substance at this point, after weathering the decades next to a Far Side cartoon, and I’d ingested the twin to it when I was barely in my twenties. Or, perhaps I was younger—I don’t recall.

There was a period of time in my life, from the age of sixteen to twenty-three, when I dabbled in psychedelic excursions; sometimes with friends but just as often alone, trying to recover all of my memories of my first acid trip.

The first time I took acid was in the Spring of 1972 in Berkeley, California. I was seven years old.

There’s an strange quality to my story in that I can easily tell it to others in the oral tradition of telling a tale but I balk at setting it down in words on paper or digitally on a screen. I’ve tried many times—in my teens, my twenties, my thirties, my forties, and now, in my fifties—but I hit a wall, an actual writer’s block, that prevents me from continuing past the fact that I took acid at the age of seven.

And, I know it’s not shame or fear of what others might think if I put it out publicly. Even now, I’m writing around the subject, avoiding it with explanations of why I might be avoiding it and filling the page with needless words. But, maybe they aren’t needless. Maybe I need to get to the source of this block because I have no reasonable answer to the question I’ve been asked by a dozen or so people I’ve told this part of my story to: “Why haven’t you written about it?”

So, this first page of 336 words is a placeholder for that story. I intend on revisiting it every day until the tale is told in writing. That’s the plan.

***

This is a work in progress, a part of my history I’ve had difficulty writing about, and I’m counting on my friends and my readers to hold me accountable for finishing it.

Alec Guinness on getting a laugh…

Theatrical audiences are fickle beasts and each audience is prone to its own sort of reactions and mood swings with regard to play performances; no two audiences are alike. So, it’s best to think of audience reactions as gestalt expressions of the moment and to not take them personally. Especially when you speak a line in a Saturday night performance that gets a huge laugh from the audience—and the same line spoken to a Sunday afternoon audience the next day lands like a sour note sung to a cricket symphony.

Sir Alec Guiness, writing in My Name Escapes Me: The Diary of a Retiring Actor, gives the following example of the fickle beast’s inconstancy, and sometime mystifying immunity to laughter, as a cautionary tale for the fragile actor ego:

“In 1937 [Sir Tyrone] Guthrie directed Twelfth Night at the Old Vic with Larry Olivier as Toby Belch, his then wife, Jill Esmond, as Olivia, and the adorable Jessica Tandy as Viola. Marius Goring was Feste and I was Aguecheek; for some odd quirky reason of my own I played him as if he were Stan Laurel. It was a very undisciplined affair, not good at all, but I was thrilled to be acting my first important part. Also, I learned a thing or two while doing it. Like every Aguecheek that has ever been I got a laugh on the line, ‘I was adored once too.’ One midweek matinee, with a sparse audience, no laugh came although I undoubtedly sought it. Larry hissed in my ear, “Fool! You should know a matinee audience would never laugh at that.’”

Occasionally, a schizophrenic quality in the audience will present itself in the traitorous bark of laughter from a single audience member. In cases like this, while I reject the belief some actors have that sometimes they “are performing for the wrong audience,” I fully believe that when a single audience member laughs when no one else is laughing that person is definately sitting in the wrong audience.

*** *** ******

Richard La Rosa is an American writer that once played Sir Toby Belch in William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

A conversation with Danielle de Picciotto and Alexander Hacke

The following is a work-in-progress from an hour-long conversation I had with Danielle de Picciotto and Alexander Hacke at Sam Bond’s Garage in Eugene, Oregon, on 29 August 2015.

Alex and Danielle are performing soon but they’ve arrived early to speak with me. We’re sitting at a table in the backyard and I awkwardly explain that I want to write an article that will speak to an audience of people that could use a bit of validation to tap into their own creativity and go with their artistic instincts. It’s something that Alex and Danielle are very qualified to speak about, since they’ve been deliberately living as nomadic artists for a half a decade. My first question is to ask them how long they’ve been on the road.

Danielle Well, we gave up our house five years ago.

We’ve been touring for almost fifteen years doing projects we’ve always initiated ourselves. But, we’ve been without a home for almost five years.

Alex We’ve been nomads for five years, y’know, not natives.

I’ve been there. I had a counterculture upbringing and was also a nomad for almost five years.

Danielle It’s a long time—five years.

Yeah, it is. Especially for a kid. And this book you’ve written focuses on the first eighteen months?

Danielle Yeah . . .

Are you starting to feel the burn-out yet? Constantly moving from place to place without a home base.

Danielle Well, there’s been a lot of ups and downs, in a way. The first two years we were very enthusiastic and very excited about it. Then we had two years of being very depressed about it and fighting with that sudden realization what it means not to have a home. I think now, at the moment, we’ve become capable of dealing with all those issues and just kind of being neutral to the whole theme but I [she glances at Alex] for one would like to settle down again, because I have the feeling that for my work it’s important to be able to be in one space for a longer amount of time—to be able to concentrate on the work instead of traveling. I really enjoy traveling but I have the feeling, if I don’t settle down again at some point, my work is gonna become superficial.

I imagine that settling down would also give you a gestation period to create a new works of artistic expression.

Danielle Exactly! Right.

Alex For me, in the beginning, I was a skeptic. I didn’t know whether I could handle the process or if I could handle living without a homestead, because I’ve been traveling all my life, I’ve been touring all my life since I was fifteen or something, but I always had a place to come back to and since 2010 I didn’t have that anymore. And in the beginning I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to handle it. And then there came this euphoria, like two years, y’know, I was in a state of euphoric epiphany like [shouts out “woo-hoo!”] I can do anything! I don’t need anything, I’m free. Y’know, that was really great for awhile. And, then . . . and then it just takes a toll on you physically if you don’t give your system a chance to switch off to recuperate if you don’t have that certain spot where you just go back to and recharge your batteries. You’re always in a state of having to be alert and polite and operating within the parameters you are given when you are traveling and you are relying on people to be hospitable and when you rely on having commissions that bring you to certain places.

It sounds like you’re also ready to settle down again.

Alex I’m about ready to, y’know. I would like to build my alters and my shrines and basically that interior decoratoring . . . I miss that a little bit.

Danielle We’re quite different, too, in the way that Alex is a rare thing, a real Berliner. He was born and raised in Berlin, so Berlin is kind of a scene like New York where a lot of people move to, especially when the wall was there, especially men (because of the army) so he had a home, a place where he was from. But he started touring early on.

What about you? Are you rooted to a specific place?

Danielle I never had a home because my father was in the army. I was born in Tacoma and three months later we moved so I don’t have any place that I can identify with from the start. The place I lived the longest was Berlin, which was kind of like my adopted home. So, for me, it’s kind of been a state that I’ve been in all my life— except when I was in Berlin—that I was traveling and I can adapt very fast. Alexander is used to traveling but he always had that home. So, it’s interesting to see how it affected us differently.

Alex, did you find that when you left Berlin at fifteen—each time you left and came back—that you came back to a changed city that wasn’t the home you remembered? Or, did you always feel you had come home?

Alex Well, the city I born in doesn’t exist anymore. I was born and raised in West Berlin and the city is not there. There’s a new city now which is the new capital of the new united Germany which is the city that came to be after 1990 which is a very different one from the city I spent my formative years.

Danielle It’s like living in a different country, actually—it’s incredible. It’s like living in a different country and you haven’t moved.

Alex We all had to . . . natives and everyone that moved there . . . we all had to adapt in the way that there is a completely new set of rules from that point on. At the end of the Cold War when the Wall came down and West Berlin didn’t have any hinterland, y’know, it didn’t have any suburbs. You could only go so far and you’d get to the Wall and that was the end of your plate. And, when the Wall fell, there was suddenly suburbs from little villages that were around with people that would come and frequent the city over the weekend and it was very different. And I didn’t adapt to it very well, personally, in 1990 when all that started. I kind of secluded myself even more.

Danielle [to me] Did you go to Berlin in the eighties?

No, my first trip to Europe was in 1991. Even though I traveled extensively that first year and worked in Switzerland for several years after, I never made it to Germany. I always had my usual haunts in Paris or Amsterdam and various cities and villages in Italy that kept me from going to new places. My perception of Berlin comes exclusively from German movies I’ve seen—specifically the films of Wim Wenders.

Alex Wim Wenders is a good example. That Berlin, that you see in Wings of Desire, that Berlin is definitely not there anymore.

Danielle That’s the Berlin I moved to—I saw the movie when it came out and the week after I moved to Berlin. I actually moved there from New York (in 1987). So, when I moved to Berlin it was kind of like, this is incredible, this is the kind of dream you have of an island where there’s only artists and musicians and everything is really really cheap. I got an appartment that cost $35 for 800 square meters and it was not dangerous and there was as much culture and art as there was in New York and I was just dumbstruck. I saw it a couple of years before the Wall came down and it was such an ideal situation for anybody that is interested in culture, it’s really hard adapting it to becoming basically a normal German city. I mean, it’s still a party city and a lot of things going on, but basically it’s adapted to modern times. And, once you’ve experienced something like that, it’s hard to get used to anything else because it was just so incredibly perfect.

My experience of being a nomad as a child and later as an adult is complicated. I cherish my unconventional and wild experiences but it’s created a longing . . . I suppose an eternal search for a place to place that feels like home. So, I’ve been searching for decades, trying out different cities and towns to see if they were a fit. I lived in Eugene in my teens and the first few years of my twenties. Then I moved to California. I tried on New York for a few years. Now I’m rooted in California again. But, in the past I always left places because something in my life wasn’t working and I figured the best way to shake things up was to change my environment by moving to a different town or city. Why did you both leave Berlin?

Danielle One of the reasons we left Berlin was that we really couldn’t deal with the gentrification anymore.

People like us are still basically underground artists and we don’t do things because of money, although we’ve been doing our art for thirty years now, and Berlin—which is a party city that wants to attract tourists—is concentrating more and more on mainstream stuff. We don’t do that so that’s one of the reasons we left.

Gentrification seems to be the direction most big cities are moving in.

Danielle Yes, we’ve noticed that almost all of the big metropolitan cities are like that—New York is crazy in that way and so is Los Angeles—and I think we’ve noticed that we feel more comfortable in smaller places because they’re still more individual. So we like Eugene a lot; we like Houston a lot; we like Joshua Tree a lot. We feel more comfortable in smaller places because it’s not so much about big corporate companies and we think that we might be able to identify more. And, in the beginning we didn’t think that way. We thought, okay, New York, LA, London, Paris, and then we went there and everywhere we went people were saying “this is terrible, we’re leaving!” And we were like, omigod, everybody’s leaving, and we saw there was this huge movement of everyone leaving because they hated it so much.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed that there’s this huge flow of people going from New York to LA right now. The people in LA are freaking because the New Yorkers are coming.

And many Californians are moving North to Oregon and Washington.

Danielle Exactly!

Alex Or to Colorado—to Denver.

Danielle Denver’s a nice place, too. So, we’ve tried out all sorts of different places. Not for very long, though, because we wanted to just get a whiff of different places to see where we wanted to stay a little longer, and we noticed we like the smaller places better, even though we’ve grown up in big cities. We’re city slickers.

So now that you’re hip to the dissatisfaction people have with gentrification I imagine other artists are telling you that they’re also having a similar experience of not wanting to do their art just for the money.

Danielle Yes, it’s all about money and that’s the problem. I mean, if you look at Berlin it’s all being gentrified in a way…

…in a way that is pushing artists out?

Danielle Exactly! It’s being renovated and the rents go up and only certain people can afford paying the rents and buying things and everybody that can’t and doesn’t even want to . . . I mean, I think some of those prices are obscene and I wouldn’t want to pay them. Even if I could, a one-bedroom apartment in New York for $4,000 [she shakes her head].

Alex And that’s a global thing—the eradication of the middle-class. Either you’re filthy rich and you live the life or you are underground and you’re young and you’re wild and you don’t care and you live in a squat somewhere and then you can find great spaces and people that will help you like a Detroit kind of feel. But, that works when you’re young, y’know.

Danielle I actually think it’s being erased. I think it’s gonna end up like Hong Kong in the end effect. Those big cities…they’re gonna try and erase everything.

I’ve noticed a certain homogeneity in gentrification that seems to value exclusivity. If that’s the case, as independent or avante garde artists, do you feel you’re welcomed into that millieu or are you treated merely as a curiousity?

Danielle No, we’re people that question things with our art. Gentrification doesn’t love that.

You’re shit disturbers.

Danielle [laughing] Exactly!

Alexander In the true meaning of the word, we’re not avante garde, y’know, because the avante garde are the ones that are sent first before the actual guard, before the actual army comes in, so we’re not forerunners of something that comes afterwards, basically we’re questioning, we’re more like dissidents, y’know—we’re running away from the army that is behind us.

Well, I see that, for sure. It seems to me that you are coming forward to spread this sort of message to get people to look at gentrification and consider other options. So, in that way I see you both as being avante guard.

Danielle I think we are in that way. I think we’ve always been five years ahead. I started getting really restless in ’95, ’cause I was like: Something is changing when industry moved into Berlin. Suddenly, things are changing and this is not gonna go in a good direction. And then, ten years later—that’s when you could really feel that they were becoming so powerful that they just didn’t care about the artists.

Which seems at odds with the global perception of Berlin

Danielle Right? Berlin lives off it’s reputation of being an artist’s city. And now they’re living off it and the artists aren’t earning anything from it, so it’s sort of become this mass media thing. So, I do think we’re avante garde in that way that we’re saying, “Y’know, we already said it five years ago and now everybody is starting to complain that it’s happening everywhere.” I don’t even know what you can do about it in big cities, because it’s the money and it’s the power of those corporate companies, it’s so big that I think the only thing one can do is for us to go to that smaller place where the eye of those corporate companies hasn’t focused yet and try and build a really strong force of people who are not gonna give in to . . . Starbucks, for instance.

***

Danielle de Picciotto is a musician with Crime and the City Solution with a recently released solo album called Tacoma. She is also the author of We Are Gypsies Now: A Graphic Diary.

Alexander Hacke is a musician best known as a member of the post-punk industrial band Einstürzende Neubauten.

They continue to tour the world and perform together . . . gypsies now and for the unforeseeable future . . .

Flowers for Jean-Dominique

I want to write. But…

Hold that thought.

I’m standing before the grave of Jean-Dominique Bauby at the Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris with a journal in one hand and a pot of chrysanthemums in the other—paying my respects to this remarkable writer.

I open my journal and read some words I’ve transcribed into it from a book called The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, an English translation of a French book called Le Scaphandre et le Papillon written by the man in the ground at my feet.

These sentences were “written” by a writer unable to use his hands to type words, communicate through gestures, or to speak words to be transcribed by another writer.

No need to wonder very long where I am, or to recall that the life I once knew was snuffed out Friday, the eighth of December, last year.

Up until then, I had never even heard of the brainstem. I’ve since learned that it is an essential component of our internal computer, the inseparable link between the brain and the spinal cord. I was brutally introduced to this vital piece of anatomy when a cerebrovascular accident took my brain stem out of action.

The accident that rendered Jean-Dominique Bauby mute and immobile?

In the past, it was known as a massive stroke, and you simply died. But improved resuscitation techniques have now prolonged and refined the agony. You survive, but you survive with what is so aptly known as “locked-in syndrome.” Paralyzed from head to toe, the patient, his mind intact, is imprisoned inside his own body, unable to speak or move.

But, how was Jean-Dominique able to communicate the words you’ve just read if he was unable to speak or move?

In my case, blinking my left eyelid is my only means of communication.

Wait—What?

Of course, the party chiefly concerned is the last to hear the good news. I myself had twenty days of deep coma and several weeks of grogginess and somnolence before I truly appreciated the extent of the damage. I did not fully awake until the end of January. When I finally surfaced I was in room 119 of the Naval Hospital at Berck-sur-Mer, on the French Channel coast–the same Room 119, infused now with the first light of day, from which I write.

Enough rambling. My main task now is to compose the first of these bedridden travel notes so that I shall be ready when my publisher’s emissary arrives to take my dictation, letter by letter.

He writes these words by dictating his memoir, one letter at a time, to his clever and efficient conversational co-conspirator, Claude Mendibil, who lists the letters in accordance with their frequency in the French language.

In my head I churn over every sentence ten times, delete a word, add an adjective, and learn my text by heart, paragraph by paragraph.

By a fortunate stroke of luck and intuition Jean-Do’s physical therapist noticed that he could blink his left eyelid—his paralyzed right eyelid had been sewed shut to prevent his eyeball from drying up—and she had devised a communication system called partner-assisted scanning, which utilized his singular muscular ability to dictate a beautiful memoir.

Le système est assez rudimentaire. On m’égrène l’alphabet version ESA jusqu à ce que d’un clin d’œil j arrête mon interlocuteur sur la lettre qu’il doit prendre en note.

It is a simple enough system. You read off the alphabet (ESA version, not ABC) until, with a blink of my eye, I stop you at the letter to be noted. The maneuver is repeated for the letters that follow, so that fairly soon you have a whole word, and then fragments of more or less intelligible sentences. That, at least, is the theory. In reality, all does not go well for some visitors. Because of nervousness, impatience, or obtuseness, performances vary in the handling of the code (which is what we call this method of transcribing my thoughts). Crossword fans and Scrabble players have a head start. Girls manage better than boys. By dint of practice, some of them know the code by heart and no longer even turn to our special notebook—the one containing the order of the letters and in which all my words are set down like the Delphic oracle’s.

And what are those travel notes of which Bauby babbles about? They’re excursions of the imagination, of course—the only recourse for a traveler physically bound and rooted in place like an oak tree. His thoughts branch out, stretching beyond the boundaries of place, allowing his mind (which he likens to a diving bell) to take flight like a butterfly.

You can wander off in space and time, set out for Tierra del Fuego or for King Midas’s court. You can visit the woman you love, slide down beside her and stroke her still-sleeping face. You can build castles in Spain, steal the Golden Fleece, discover Atlantis, realize your childhood dreams and ambitions.

Ten months and two hundred thousand blinks later Jean-Do completes his magnificient memoir and expires from pneumonia on 7 March 1999—two days after his book is published.

Bauby’s story is often my inspiration to write. My motivation.

Je veux écrire. Mais…

I set the pot of chrysanthemums on his grave, move to a nearby bench, open my journal, and write like there are no excuses.

Ilonka the Raconteur

This is a photograph of my maternal grandmother, Helen, when she was a sixteen year old girl named Helen Stefurak in the year 1938. Grandma Helen just celebrated a birthday a few days ago on October 17th—she’s ninety-six years old now and still sharp and full of memories.

I called my grandmother today to chat, as we do from time to time, and had to disconnect after a few minutes because she was cleaning her hearing aids and our conversation was cycling between frustrating and surreal. But she said she would call me back shortly after she put in the hearing aids and she did and we spoke for almost an hour.

We talked about her youth in Bridgeport, Connecticut and she told me a familiar tale about the time she was an accounting clerk at the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation in Stratford, Connecticut. Helen started working at the factory when she was twenty in 1942 and was employed until the end of 1944, during the time when Sikorsky was in constant production manufacturing helicopters for the war effort.

Helen and her co-worker, Olive Robillard, would have to work half days every Saturday and occasionally after they got off work the boss himself, Igor Sikorsky, would give the girls a lift in his Cadillac and drop them off at the corner of Broad and John Streets in downtown Bridgeport, right in front of D.M. Read—New England’s largest department store known for its classy, upscale merchandise.

Cmdr. Frank Erickson hoists Igor Sikorsky during the development of the hoist capable helicopter in the early 1940s in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

The girls sat in the back seat of the car while Sikorsky drove, usually accompanied by another man from his company in the front passenger seat. Grandma Helen says the men were always perfect gentlemen during the brief eight-mile drive and there wasn’t much conversation beyond a bit of small talk about the weather.

After they arrived at D.M. Read, the men would go into the department store to shop and my grandmother would walk the last two miles to her house at 288 Bostwick Avenue.

D.M. Read in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

2.

My grandmother spoke to me about community in the neighborhood where she lived, an area settled predominately by Hungarian immigrants and others from neighboring European countries such as Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, which were once part of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Helen says that it was a wonderful time for her, even though it was a terrible time for many others in Europe suffering under tyranny and fascism.

The Stefuraks weren’t wealthy but they weren’t poor, either, and Helen’s parents earned enough money so there was always coal for the stove, food in the pantry, ice for the ice box, and no one missed a meal. Peddlers rode up and down the streets of the neighborhood in horse-drawn carts selling vegetables door-to-door and Tuesday was Bank Day at the cinema and my grandmother could watch a double feature for a dime.

Helen loved going to the pictures and never missed a movie when it came out.

Poli‘s Majestic Theater in Bridgeport was built in the Beaux Arts style—with vaulted ceilings, gilded hand-carved moldings, seating for over 3,600 and a giant Hall theater organopened in 1922 as a vaudeville house and Mae West played there in 1927.

I never met my great-grandparents John Paul and Ethel Stefurak. John Paul died sixteen years before I was born and Ethel tried to hold off Death long enough to see her first born great-grandson but died three days after my birthday.

My maternal great-grandmother, Ethel Stefurak.

John Stefurak was a mechanic and he specialized in repairing cars in the early days of the automobile. Some years later my great-grandfather would get a license to be an electrician and supplement his income repairing radios. When the era of silent films gave way to talkies my great-grandfather was the go-to guy to install the new film projectors in the Bridgeport movie houses.

John Paul & Ethel Stefurak in the car my great-grandfather built in the 1920’s.

John’s father, Paul Josef Stefurak, didn’t live to see the wonders of the 20th century. He was a blacksmith who specialized in making metal horseshoes and fabricating some of the parts for carriages during the horse and buggy era.

He was also a farrier—a specialist in equine hoof care—highly skilled in the art of the trimming and balancing of horse hooves and fitting their hooves with horseshoes.

A Country Blacksmith (1859-61) engraved by C.W. Sharpe.

3.

And now, a brief digression to explain the title of this bit of biography: Ilonka the Raconteur.

The raconteur part is easy enough to decipher; my grandmother is a great narrator of her life and I’ve grown up hearing her anecdotes. However, the name Ilonka needs some explaining.

Ilonka is the name my great-grandmother Ethel called my grandmother when she was a child. The name is a Hungarian diminutive of Helen, the English form of the Greek ‘Ελενη (Helene) which comes from ‘ελενη (helene) which means torch.

I like to think that Ethel as a young woman in the 1920s was a bit of a flapper and an avid reader of classical pulp novelists like Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Aristophanes, Cicero, Homer, and Virgil—and she came up with the name Helen for her daughter in 1922 while reading Book II of The Aeneid.

A quartet of stylish flappers in the early 1920s.

In the Greek myth of Helen of Troy, the 1920s flapper version of the tale, Helen was a gal from Sparta with a legion of suitors. The daughter of Zeus and Leda, she was a legendary looker and all the Spartan cats thought she was the bee’s knees.

But, it was King Menelaus, the High Pillow of Sparta, that would claim Helen as his wife. Well, that didn’t sit well with Paris, a big timer Prince of Troy who zeroed in on Helen’s puss with his peepers and became so smitten with the kitten he thought he’d dust out and make a clean sneak and a mad dash home with the dame.

So, when Menelaus discovered that his frau had lammed off with Paris he called upon all the other suitors to fulfill their oath to defend the chosen husband against whoever should quarrel with him, and thus began the Trojan War.

An image from a 1927 silent flick called The Private Life of Helen of Troy, a film based on a 1925 novel by John Erskine and directed by Alexander Korda that featured María Corda as Helen and Ricardo Cortez as Paris.

#

The above snippet of memoir is just the first three parts (3×336 words) of a work in progress. To be continued…

Casting off deliberate disguises and disturbing the universe with T.S. Eliot

I enter the Literary Salon and shake the debris of popular kitsch off my overcoat, turning a deaf ear away from the hue and cry of current American politics as I begin hanging on the Gallery wall paintings of half deserted streets shrouded in yellow fog, bowls of uneaten peaches, sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown, and scenes from the cactus land.

Seated in the guest chair is my friend, Thomas Stearns Eliot, one of The Grand Masters of Poetry—born on this day a hundred and thirty years ago in St. Louis, Missouri, on 26 September 1888. Thomas (known to the world as T.S.) is in the Salon to regale us with two glorious heirs of his invention.

Now, every published poet has a first born child of the muse that is presented to the world but not every fruit of the brow is heralded as the second coming.

T. S. Eliot, back at Harvard after a year spent studying philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris, was a month shy of his twenty-third birthday when he finished composing The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock in August of 1911.

A few years later, as Eliot was just beginning his life-long expatriate act in England, the poem came to the attention of Ezra Pound — who was acting as foreign editor of Harriet Monroe’s Poetry: A Magazine of Verse — and Pound urged Monroe to publish it—gushing that young Eliot “has actually trained himself and modernized himself on his own.”

The year 1915 was filled with the sensational and it began with a story of a hospital cook named Typhoid Mary in New York City. The Great War in Europe was spreading rapidly like a cancer from the center and fears of death and disease were a constant preoccupation. News that more than 29,000 people had perished by a massive earthquake in Avezzano, Italy married the unnatural with natural disaster.

One form of defiance was embodied by a straitjacketed Harry Houdini, spurning the advances of his would-be lover, Death—and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock was published in the June 1915 issue of Harriet Monroe’s magazine

For those with a finely tuned poetic ear in that second decade of the 20th century it was a revelation.

The Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1915)

Some of us living in the century after Prufrock was written may find it amusing that a comparison of the evening sky to a patient etherised upon a table was considered shocking and offensive at the time. To me the poem has a timeless feel that people of any age can understand—a stream of conscious lament of a man characteristic of the Modernists of the time that seems just as relevant now as it did in the last century.

Ten years later, Eliot would give us another masterpiece of poetry.

The Hollow Men by sive.

Stay as long as you wish in the Salon (after the cups, the marmalade, and the tea), away from the kitsch and oblivious to the hue and cry…and go deeper into these two songs of humanity.

In this last of meeting places we can cast off deliberate disguises, disturb the universe, and talk of Michelangelo.

***

A different version of this piece first appeared in the online magazine Rebelle Society on 7 October 2012

Trumpocalypse Now

Genre: Reality TV.

Premieres: January 20th, 2017 on ATN (American Television Network).

Premise: An arrogant and narcissistic bully with thinning hair resembling a corn husk and skin the color of orange marmalade capitalizes on his wealth and privilege to buy the American election and becomes President of the United States.

Review: Donald Trump is the epitome of an ugly American—the sort of brash and aggressive vulgarian that leers at the ladies and laughs at his own sexist jokes. A vain, wealthy, privileged, and self-serving man, this Great White Dope of American nationalism seems to be willfully ignorant about the most basic issues a presidential candidate needs to know in order to meaningfully engage in politics. As such, he’s an easy target for too-clever liberals and he’s relentlessly mocked by television talk show hosts like Colbert, Noah, Maher, and Oliver.

And yet, the mockery is appropriate because Trump embodies Martin Luther King’s warning that “nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” He’s a clear and present danger to the world because of his delusion that he possesses the knowledge and intelligence to lead his country.

Meanwhile, we’ve gleefully anointed our new King of Crass, smearing him with a myriad of derogatory names and crowning this Crotch-Fondling Adolf Twitler as the very model of a modern Groepenführer in livid colors of orange supremacy, highlighting his propensity for playing the part of a petty peacock proudly proclaiming his pussy grabbing prowess.

But some of us are complicit in the making and packaging of this low-brow tragicomic political figure of banality and terror—from the media that redundantly remixes and regurgitates the fetid exhalations that issue from his mouth to every person that shares those pieces (disguised as resistance) via the social media landscape. And, if the media is Dr. Frankenstein in this horror show then we are Frankenstein’s hunchbacked servant, co-creating a monsterous slab of rancid meatloaf masquerading as man of the people.

Welcome to the Trumpocalypse.

***

Cover image used with the permission of the artist, Peter Crompton.

Trumpocalypse Now was originally published in 336 Journal on 20 January 2017 and this version was revised and reposted on 3 May 2018.

***

Would you like to read more 336-word scenes from the Trumpocalypse?

Of course you don’t but it’s like a freak show and you can’t look away.

But, if you do, 336 Journal recommends reading Trump’s comments at the United Nations and reading what our Martian neighbors think of his planned mission to Mars.

On the privilege of eating other sentient beings…

I’m a vegetarian—not because I love animals but because I hate plants.

I’m not actually a vegetarian.

I’m paraphrasing a joke by A. Whitney Brown that’s funny to me…until I think about the fact that I’m quite fond of animals and plants: Living animals and plants—as well as those that are classified as food to me that I eat to service my culinary needs.

Yeah, I’m the sort of monster that is conflicted about my eating choices but continues to consume food out of habit and tradition. I eat meat because it’s available and I eat vegetables when it’s convenient.

Oh, I’ve flirted with vegetarianism over the years but I’ve never committed. I once believed it was a weakness of the will but I realize now it’s always been my refusal to be an accomplice to killing breakfast.

What would become of me without eggs cooked in a pan with real butter? Or cream cheese and lox for my bagels? And yes, oh yes—the absolute necessity of half and half for my coffee.

There’s some denial (it’s the coffee that needs the half and half, not me) that leads to feeling justified in having exceptions and compelling reasons for them.

Which brings me finally to bacon—the crack cocaine of thinly sliced animal flesh.

Recently, I sniffed the air and caught a whiff of bacon in the air and my first thought after the immediate Pavlovian salivation response was to wonder if somewhere nearby a vegan was fuming because they smelled animal flesh cooking.

My vegan friend, Laurel, replies to that thought.

“We don’t fume because bacon is eaten,” she tells me, “We fume because animal agriculture is taking us all down. We don’t realize that we have fucked ourselves out of the privilege of eating other sentient beings.

“With that said,” she muses. “Some fume. Some just have a moment of reflection and a reminder of what we give up in the name of saving a shred of anything beautiful here.”

2.

Jeanie’s biological dad was a butcher by trade and she was raised with the belief that she hadn’t eaten a meal if meat wasn’t a part of it. Jeanie and her husband, Joel, live in a small Midwestern town with limited dining options. Then, a terrible thing happened a few years ago that convinced her to consider a plant-based lifestyle.

In August 2015, Jeanie’s father-in-law had a fatal stroke.

“Joel’s dad was a fantastic guy, a larger than life personality, and loved by all. We watched him die and it tore me up. Plus, I work for a dialysis company and see really sick people every day.”

Watching Joel’s father die “really made me think about myself and my own health.” Jeanie felt like she owed her family more. “The thought of my kids watching me like that got me. If a stroke or cancer can be prevented I needed to do whatever I could to be healthy.”

So, she made the decision to be healthier, lose weight, and exercise more. Looking into healthy recipes, Jeanie learned about meatless Mondays, which led to the discovery of Forks over Knives—a 2011 documentary film that advocates a low-fat, whole-food, plant-based diet as a way to avoid or reverse several chronic diseases.

“The transition was easy for me,” Jeanie says. “I was repulsed by the thought of an animal dying for me. I don’t believe there’s a humane way to kill an animal—they feel pain and they feel fear.”

Jeanie has been vegan for nearly two years now and chose the lifestyle because of the environmental impact, health benefits, and because she cannot abide cruelty of any kind.

When the subject of the aroma of roasting flesh in the air comes up she says, “I hate to admit this, but yes, the smell of meat bothers me; frankly it smells like shit, literally it smells like feces to me. If you’re a non-smoker and the smell of smoke bothers you, it’s similar.”

3.

“I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.” ~Dr. Hannibal Lecter

The fictional character of Hannibal Lecter, portrayed by Anthony Hopkins in the film The Silence of the Lambs, is an iconic American cultural figure.

Lecter, a serial killer with highbrow cannibalistic proclivities, is described as a monster and a pure psychopath. He’s a man who prepares gourmet meals from the flesh of his victims; so it may seem strange that I’ve included him in this essay.

But, it’s not strange at all when you’re a hardcore vegan like my friend, Sean, who says he doesn’t have the energy to speak deeply with people that say they like animals about how he feels about the subject of eating animals “when they continue to perpetuate their murder for zero reason other than their personal pleasure.”

Sean has discussed the ethical reasons for not eating animals with his carnivorous friends so often he’s given up trying to convince them that they’re basically accomplices to murder when they eat animals slaughtered for food.

Sean admits that it’s painful for him to do so because there are many people he likes in spite of them being accomplices to murder.

“It widens the gap I have between my meat eating friends,” he says about talking with them about it, “to the point where it makes me question how I could continue those friendships.”

Sean has made a conscious decision to be part of society and live among meat eaters when doing so breaks his heart every day.

And, if it seems extreme that Sean seriously contemplates ending friendships with people based on what some consider to be a dietary habit you have to realize that in Sean’s estimation meat eaters are basically serial killers.

“They’re on the same ethical playing field as Jeffrey Dahmer,” he says.

Imagine gazing at the majority of the human population, your own species, and regarding them as a cannibalistic mob of Jeffrey Dahmers and wine swilling Hannibal Lecters—leering back at you.

To be continued…

***

Richard La Rosa is an American writer. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The Rupert Pupkin Quartet Rides Again

I’m remembering a time at Lenny’s Nosh Bar when Madjym hosted a Sunday night jazz show with his band, The Rupert Pupkin Quartet (Minus One, Plus Some). The name of the band was a mischievous homage to Robert DeNiro’s character in Martin Scorsese’s film The King of Comedy.

And fortunately, my memory is assisted by Erich Boekelheide’s recording of the scene with a video camera—making it possible for me to accurately write about the people there and break it down as a back-up of my time traveler’s recollection.

Watching this video brings it all back.

There’s Louie Ledbetter on stand-up bass, Eric Moore on harmonica, and Brooks Brown on saxophone—guys I’ve known since high school. Madjym Wyant, of course, is the emcee and lead singer, as usual. Man, that cat could scat like a pro.

The last three guys in the group are Jerry Glisan on guitar, Glen Bonney on trombone, and Dennis Caffey on drums. I don’t remember Jerry and Glen very well but I remember chats with Dennis. His sister, Charlotte, was the guitarist in The Go-Gos and We Got The Beat and Can’t Stop The World were in the jukebox.

I get a tribal kinship rush whenever the lens of the camera sweeps across the room and I see all these people from my youth—some of whom I still see occasionally, others I’ve not seen for decades, and some I will never see again because they are gone forever.

Oh, what a joy it is to see Jamie Hosler again, rocking that massive Afro he once had. Jean Costello, looking pensive as usual in a close up. Paul Golden laughing. Scott Taylor and Sulwyn Sparks hunched over in a booth. Lawrence Cain. Joe Brooks. Hershel Bloom.

And seeing myself briefly—as a broadly smiling blur clapping after Hershel’s performance of his spoken word song, Loose Change—damn…just like it was yesterday.

And, Lenny Nathan himself—looking a bit spaced out as he checks out the crowd…

***

Postscript:

This is a 336 word one-page piece and will connect to a series of pieces about Lenny’s Nosh Bar—some of which I’ve already written and others I’m still tinkering with. I may expand on this one, but probably not. It seems complete to me, especially after watching the video. ~RLR

Annual New Year Report: Read This Before You Download yOS 2.018

According to consensus reality, yOS 2.017—the current year running in the chronometer of your biological operating system—will be updated to yOS 2.018 at precisely midnight this Sunday, installed at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, and promises to replace the old year with a new year.

However, previous yearly updates have proven the premise that promises can be broken—so be prepared for possible glitches, crashes, energy drains, overheating, application instability, and problems connecting.

Users should also be aware that downloading and installing yOS 2.018 may not result in a better or more efficient operating system, especially for those that have experienced major technical difficulties with yOS 2.017.

In fact, it’s possible the yOS 2.018 update will be incompatible with the chronological operating systems of many people, such as those that frequently tell others to live in the present moment. These people may be resistant to the new update as they are running presentism software and function in a world wherein neither the future nor the past exist.

Likewise, persons running eternalism software, which allows them to experience time simultaneously and operate in a reality wherein all points in time are equally real, will likely have issues with the update.

These potential issues have prompted some people to suggest that, if time is a construct humans invented to prevent everything from happening all at once, the words Happy New Year should come with a trigger warning—like the words: Merry Christmas and Make America Great Again.

Those critics claim that calling out Happy New Year to someone is a vocal form of chrono-harassment and adds insult to injury to all self-proclaimed slaves of time that have been subjected to cultural conditioning to perceive time in a linear fashion.

In conclusion…

This update is not a restart, a reset, or a reboot.

The “new” year will not contain any anthropomorphic features—despite reports of a decrepit man passing a figurative torch to a cherubic baby.

May you experience the continuance of a year.