Thursday, August 12, 2010

Elephants and oysters

Every time I write a sentence I put my ignorance on display like a blind man hanging on to an elephant's tail telling the world the elephant is built like a snake. Heh-heh, there he goes, the little man with the big ideas. He thinks he's got the whole picture in his head. Arsehole. He watches two male hummingbirds attack each other near the plastic feeder in his backyard and right away he makes analogies to human behavior. He sees the mourning dove wait its turn at the birdbath, patient while the bluejay splashes around, and right away he thinks of the last day of his mother's life, when doves walked up and down the driveway in a light rain, apparently waiting for her spirit to be borne away. Yup, he's got that effin tail tight in his grip, determined to use it to mythologize the commonest of lives, his own.

You know the arc of it -- such a happy childhood, the little blond boy smiling for Grandma, riding a tricycle down by the water tower, pulling the ears of a tolerant beagle.
Quite a little man, according to the aunt in Astoria. There he is in boots! And now, going off to school, blindly traveling out into the world, the beginning of the big chase. Steady on, little one, steady on. Trying to come to terms with the first big lie: the world is your oyster. If you sit still and behave yourself the oyster will open for you.

Go and watch the grown-ups hunting down the remains of their childhood dreams, riding the elevator silently like lambs in a holding pen, working for a big dumb firm, shackled to a servitude as sure as any suffered by their forbears fresh off the boat cleaning toilets. They try to make do with its compensations: a fifty-inch flat-screen TV, a morning fishing the lake, driving above the speed limit, ordering a big wine at dinner, having their kids make it into Brown. The world is your oyster, poot. Eat it.

You pick up one book after another. Cornell Woolrich,
Rear Window. Saul Bellow, Seize the Day. Thomas Pynchon, Slow Learner. W. L. Heath, Violent Saturday. Jhumpa Lahiri, The Interpreter of Maladies. Irvine Welsh, Filth. You tell yourself, no, they're not all the same. But there's a little voice off to the side whispering in your ear, "Bullshit, they are all the same. They're each tugging on a piece of that hairy gray tail."

You listen to Dinu Lipatti's recording of Chopin's "Minute Waltz." Ever since your uncle died you can't get through it without crying. But it could've been "Camptown Races" or a simple transcription of a Sousa march. Who can tell how true love manifests itself? The little boy behind the curtain peeking at his aunt bathing the sick and twisted body before her. Such tenderness amid the smells of shit and piss. It's human nature to take a hammer to the Pietà, just as it's human nature to sculpt it anew. In her gentleness, she was coming to terms with another big lie: god helps those who help themselves.

In my world everyone is an analyst, a counselor, a shrink, an effin witch-doctor, hyper-verbal, trying to figure others out by looking at the language they use. Trying to piece together a convincing picture from a bag of used-up analogies and cliché-ridden dreams. Quist pooh-poohed the idea that you could change a person, or, even more absurdly, that a person could change himself. He used to call psychiatry "speaking in tongs." It was meant as a joke. "It's just another religion, poot. All they did was replace god with consciousness. Let them try to come to grips with the four last things: good and evil, death and judgement. Let them try."

We would sit out back and watch the birds. You have to sit still if you want them to come close. They are not symbols of anything. They fly and eat and bicker and sleep. In the heat they kick up dust and lie flat. Early in the morning they sing. O lord, if I'm going to live in ignorance, please don't let it be willful. I need my effin illusions.

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