Smoking An Evening Pipe

morning bay lights

My dueling days had long been over. I bore nevertheless the marks of a scratch upon my cheeks, both left and right. These, after all, had lifted me from my class of common peasantry to one of seeming nobility. Even the shoes I wore had lifted me to higher status. They were made, I suppose, by some craftsman in the nether world unheard of and imported to my lakeside home in Switzerland where, for nearly forty years, I have looked upon the smiling lake. At all times, I did conceal that Moses himself had been a Prince and King. And there had been others as well. Some of the young men who visited me became my lovers, some not. I preferred those before whom I could imagine myself saying the words “aquiline” or “athletic.” If they were spotty or even chubby, I gave them some good counsel wrapped in a purple cloth, and bid them on their way. If I had been ever confronted by a Fool, he was a banker. He had claimed my fortunes were close to ruin, that I was approaching shipwreck, that my lassitude, as he dubbed it, had cost me “immensely.” I have worked harder, I told him, than those who built up the entire Wittgenstein fortune, more industriously than the already forgotten Millikens, and so forth, to lose it all in this landlocked Paradise of Sin, I replied. He declined my invitation to play him a game of checkers, and as he left with my dwindling accounts hanging from his two hands, I had him informed, indirectly, that should he choose to visit me at some future point in time, I would have him beheaded at the nearest distance visible before my front gate.

Parcheesi Picture Postcard

cactus mountains

She played a game of Parcheesi by a certain set of rules that were her rules but not all of them. And beside the swimming pool, he played with her for years. One day, after he had proposed his taking a little swim, she promptly then decided to fold the board game up. As he had come back dripping and looking for his towel, he was surprised to see their time for playing had been declared over. She wept and told him about the rules he hadn’t played by, and he was loath to say, “My dearest love, but these are not all the rules the game is, in fact, played by.” He could hear that in her mind she was making up her heart. He could see she was creating for herself a Parcheesi picture. He dried himself off completely and refused to disagree. Who was he to decide another’s rules? He was nobody to rule that. And, besides, it would have done no good; it would have neither advanced nor prolonged their poolside game. Still, he was quite disconsolate. Parcheesi, with its little, brightly colored wooden pawns whose tips felt just a little too small for his hands, and the same went for the dice, was certainly his favorite. The sound of luck tumbling in the knocking cardboard shakers was something he would always remember. Swimming laps now back and forth will help forgetfulness.

One, Two Buckled, My Shoe

two white metal chairs

He had had one hundred thoughts in one hundred and one days. That meant that there were one hundred thoughts less, or properly speaking ‘fewer’ to have. Those days and those thoughts were gone. With regard to such counting, whether forwards or backwards, brave and young Stephen Dedalus claimed that he was lucky to stumble upon a good thought once in a fortnight, or every two weeks. Likewise, in Fitzgerald’s Gatsby, there’s no six piece thin affair but a gigantic orchestral hullabaloo about every fortnight, too. Again, then, with regard to the former, that doesn’t seem to be a whole lot, in truth, especially in the age of adolescence, that newfangled notion that is time’s comfortable muskeg people get stuck in between childhood and being grown up today—ever since the average human lifespan became rather ridiculously long, attenuated to the slow decline of sloping downward into a near horizontal buzz along the manmade asymptote of near nothingness for decades of palliative discomfort and some peculiar kind of peering out somewhere. As to the latter, having a festive lawn party under a tent with a couple hundred uninvited guest who come in from nowhere, that seems to be obscene in its frequency, as was the intent of Fitzgerald to display and Mr. Gatsby to purposefully have, to drag in the diamond dregs so as to perchance collect his lost pearl Daisy, if not purloin her. As for the ticket-taker whose story begins this lacklustre note, he had taken to mind once as a child that numbers themselves worked like this: you start with 1; you double that and get 2; and after that (3) you’ve got many. And, while he also, with his little handheld penlight ushered others into the movie theater velvet quietly to their seats when they arrived a bit late for the show, and was very helpful to them, he kept, like a bushy-haired, gray-tailed autumnal squirrel losing more than half its acorns due to luck, fortuity, and nature’s misfortune, his remaining day’s comments mostly to himself.

Playing Tag, Or: Duking It Out On The Playground

good men mining

Many schools tried to improve standardized test scores by cutting recess time several years ago, but elementary school principals realized that play time had actually helped test performance . . .

http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Society/2015/0926/Ban-on-Tag-Are-school-children-getting-the-right-playtime

The best thing to be and the worst thing to be is It. When you’re It you get to run around and chase everybody else who isn’t. You want to make them what you are. The moment you are successful, you aren’t It anymore. Somebody else is. Then the moment that happens somebody else begins chasing you. And you are chased as if you never were It yourself. There is no history. This is pretty much true unless the same kid gets getting tagged over and over. Given the randomness of Tag, and the built-in privilege of being that paradoxically wanted and unwanted thing, I’d never seen it happen. Who’d be so lucky? Who’d be so damned? Who’d get all that privilege to be the scourge of the playground again and again? But only a sad and pathetic ethos could ever link the viability of Tag to achieving higher test scores. If there is a directly proportional relationship to time to play Tag during recess, keep it. If not, delete it from the curriculum.

To further this inanity, Tag is also referred to as “free-range” game. Besides the inherent reference there to wandering chickens and their straw-nested eggs hatched and laid in some equivalent of rustic comfort (and perhaps herds of buffalo in Montana), it brings up the unspoken “other”: games that are not free-range. These are games that are carefully controlled, and which take place in small cubby-like spaces, or cubicles, the little blank available corners of civilization’s meager enough existence. After years during which one has learned to sit in row after row, room after room, and being tested over a variety of abilities to be able to endure sitting in rows and rows, room after room, year after year, one becomes, at last, well-conditioned to sit in a chair with blinders on both sides of it on a floor in a building (any building anywhere) and do some kind of business with a computer and computer programs on computer screens among strangers doing more or less the same thing and feel really nothing particular toward or against any of them, as they neither feel anything particularly particular toward or against you, and make a living—even if, you might otherwise, under altogether different circumstances, have felt a sort of murderous rage or even dislike toward some of your now colleagues; or, on the other hand, had an elective affinity such that you wanted to hold and embrace and love some of them.

The very fact that childhood games such as Tag were ever played, games which have inherently no point at all except the most potent and glorious one, to have fun outside together, was an unthought of blessing at school once upon a time. That physical contact, the obligatory hashing out of “Yes, you were” or “No, I wasn’t” touched or “hit”—kids running around helter-skelter will of course sometimes get pushed, and sometimes there might even be a trace of menace in it, but mostly not—that these have, like so many things been raised to the level of question and censure, presents a queer little paradigm for kids to be learning to lead a productive life and to become contributing members of society from the moment they are vying for their parents’ attention onwards. Having, however, rid all such chaos and disorder and random fervor from the playgrounds of yesteryear certainly presented the world we now live in an effectively solid strategy paved with asphalt intentions to be tread upon, I am rather certain, by our having installed in the stead of such idle games as Tag obedient troops of drones, drone-like human beings, and automatons among whom constant good conscience and measurably historical upward progress will ineluctably be achieved in a straight and steadfast line until old age or technical obsolescence hits them and they expire.

Leaves, Games & Other Treasure

fall leaves

As a kid, she had played a board game called Careers. It was a fun game to play. Arrows were spun, dice were tossed, paths were taken. Players became things. They became lawyers, or doctors, or engineers. They became businessmen. It was an old-fashioned game. And it was great fun to go down the different colored pathways and to turn up cards or hit spaces on the board that set you back. The whole thing was meaningless, and even the name of the game itself had no meaning at all. She grew up with a sense none of the things she had played when she was little had ever mattered at all. It was just fun. That’s all.

When she was older and leaving college all the kids leaving school were shouting at each other as they were leaving the bright grassy green campus for good, “Get a job!” That was funny. For who’d want to learn for four years and then just forget all that and go to get a job? She had heard her classmates joking that way and it was pretty funny for sure. Even the President of the United States of America, he said that people believed around the country today that if you worked hard you should get ahead. And he believed that this was a common creed across the land. What Alice had by this time discovered is that her particular world was ever slow and ever slowing. In this way when a leaf fell, she saw it. In this way when a bus pulled out, she had smelled the diesel fumes. In this way, when the equinox came in September, she felt the chilling cool inside her body’s bones. In this way, when she opened her mind she could hear own thinking. And this had happened more and more in life since her joyful days when she had had fun playing games on the floor that didn’t matter.

For so many others it had appeared to her, too, that from top to bottom, what she was experiencing as her own life might not be exactly happening to them. Instead, it was as if everything in their lives had been already mapped out, as if they had been appearing as performers in a theatrical performance of a scene of themselves. It was a game that everybody knew. A game where the dice were loaded. The war was over. The good guys lost. And that wasn’t a very fun game for anybody to play. Even for the rich winners it wasn’t very fun. That was no more fun than reaching blindly into a treasure chest and every time you put in your hand you pulled out pearls and gold. No, she knew that the whole point of a real treasure chest is that you don’t pull out pearls and gold every time you reach in your hand. That’s just the same thing every time. A known certainty that after a while isn’t very fun to do anymore. No, it was the doubt, and uncertainty, and the misgivings, too, which of course had to come along with uncomfortable doubt and uncertainty from time to time, that had made her life so far very fun and very playful.