I had listened to the waltzes of Chopin. I had listened to the preludes and études. And in all the world seldom had I heard a show off who had so much to show off. Having so much fun, such a little man with such a wild esprit. I could not forget laughing and kicking up dust when we were flâneurs lounging in Szentendre. When you had visited me last night, I was not confounded nor was I surprised to see you again just as young. Nor, I old. You called me your “faithful friend” and made me worry not a moment again. You’ve died a thousand deaths since then long ago, not one death dying a coward, each time falling in my dreams. Last night I lay wide awake and you had simply urged me to carry on. So Satie, Brahms, and B. B. King I’ll play today. These records, LPs, like books, had been piled up on your couch in Tudor City. Thirty years ago, you had reminded me once in New York, both of us leaving a service for the late Joe Turner, that Duke Ellington of Louis Armstrong had said, “He was born poor. He died rich. And he never hurt anybody.” You reminded me of a million million great things, things I never knew, and never would otherwise have ever in my life known, exclaiming with your arms held wide open to the great city streets of our youth love for all this seething humanity.
“Doubt the stars are fire”—I had heard this before. My uncle is a murderer and my mother a … My best friends I sent to their death as though it were a high school prank. The lady I loved, oh, I mocked her a-plenty. It stank. And so did I. Running over my ruminations, thinking past my perturbations, I can’t be less amused with myself these days. For I, the brightest man in the entire Western canon, had like nothing faded from my own mind’s magnificent glory, a star myself smudged out in heaven. What’s worse, is that I saw it all, as clearly as frost upon a midnight windowpane, and seeing all that with a kind of clarity few men in a millennium are ever graced to possess, killed another for a common rat. My aim was false. My intentions true. And when I look back over all my well-versed ways, the only man I ever loved with untinctured purity is now a rather putrid skull. Sadly, I could not tap more evenly into that, and very nimbly took apart a kingdom with plays, outrageousness, and murder. I even made a plaster casting of my cock, and with a razor blade inserted near its balls, hung this golden, painted object upon my own mother’s wall. But these ramparts, and turrets, and moats and all sorts of fairy-land princely things that I have known all my brief life, could never replace in me the nearby, plainer possession of human feeling for my chronic, passionate strife. These walls, these walls, these walls. I built them all with words, with words, with words. I needed to have said: the things I know, they are all just yesterday’s news, who cares? My dad’s himself a haunted ghost. And when my doublet was unbrac’d before my sweetheart to be done with them. To, instead, have taken her in my strong arms (not his), when upon the sky I painted in the clouds a weasel, and stood beside her tendentious father’s gossip my own unboxed plenitude of rainbow colors and a true artist’s easel, and said: I am. Ich bin ich und ich liebe dich. But I, proud as Zarathustra, got caught up in my own FPS video game, and, like a snuffed out TV unplugged, was just dead as all rest for an ordinary ducat.
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(The truth was he loved everything in parentheses.) Different aspects of life (the multitudinous ways of being) and different walks of being were just the way he was, and the very way he liked to be. If there were manila folders and in each folder a little of something crumpled or crisp were tucked away inside it, and that folder were put together with others like or similar to it in one bin, and other folders and ones like it were put in another, and these bins were placed on a shelf, and on hundreds of half-remembered shelves there were different bins filled with different sets and different stacks of some folders whose edges were crisp and some whose edges were crumpled, well, that was just the way he was. He wasn’t like a banker living in Boston driven by goals and his beautiful wife to create a unified, whole, and wholly integrated on all levels sort of life, a life by which one could hold a mallet and whack a croquet ball down the green field of grass from one end of where the wickets were to another. It didn’t include a buffet tent, and an awning off the side of the house with a fold-up bar on wheels, and guests all of whom were both social and business contacts, and three (3) children to be spaced out eighteen months apiece for a total of his wife’s being pregnant over an entire birthing cycle of forty-five months by the time he reached thirty-eight years of age such that the actuarial of his death between his having reached seventy-five and seventy-eight years of age would arrive upon even the youngest of his progeny’s having become fully established and wholly and safely ensconced in life’s ineluctable reality. No, he liked to flirt with the caddy near the green, even though he didn’t play golf. He liked to schmooze with the big shots watching the Oscars on TV. He liked to have tea in San Francisco with his old roommate’s wife when the harbor seals were dancing somewhere in the waves. He liked to collect sunstones in the dirt of Oregon by himself. He liked to shave his head and shoot 22’s at the local NRA shooting range and smell the smell of gunpowder there stuck in the air. He liked to listen to Janet Baker singing Mahler alone with his grown daughter on his ancient, vacuum tube-amplified music system in a heartbroken shack along the coast of Maine. He liked to engineer a bear-proof, pulley-and-rope apparatus by which he hung his bird-feeder filled with sunflower seeds for the birds (and the few squirrels who had the desire and temerity to reach it) to feed. He liked to walk along the graveyard path with a bright young lady who was at home and listen to her speak of life. He liked to make and lose scads of money at race car events, betting with strangers in the bleachers, getting his teeth filled with brown dust and fuel fumes from the screaming cars going around the track. He liked to write poems that rhymed ABABCDCD…, and throw them into the lit fireplace. He liked to think about making flies for fly-fishing, and that’s all. Having what others would call a ‘big life’—a full, entirely visible life under the gaze of some all-perceiving, or all-perceived totality of completeness—well, that never held an iota of appeal or any desire to even the tiniest and very best parts of him. (He was, he had to admit to himself, sotto voce, filled with a deep, reverent loneliness, that even the distant ocean could hear.)
It was sort of interesting how the old boy kept coming up in our discussions over time. He was like the reverse of a Hans Castop, an average man around whom the world’s most important novel was written and built. But our boy was an average man around whom nothing would be built and all would eventually fall into irrevocable ruin. He was the archetypal Untermensch who, lacking any ability to imagine the man or the hero he wishes to be, unable to realize himself that way, can only ‘become’ himself through the ready-made scaffolding and rules that are designed for the ascension of all such petty and petty-minded bureaucrats and technocrats lacking human imagination. He was unable, for example, as my friend once said to me about himself, “to just play the hand I was dealt until I can bluff myself into a better one.” To do that is the dream itself, with all its constituent (and congruent) elements and exigencies ready at the mark. But these others who wander about society, they are quite dangerous in their mediocrity and essential nameless identities. And in government, school systems, all sorts of public and quasi-public institutions, they stand a-plenty as knee-jerk enforcers that can deliver harmful impact upon their true betters, unless such persons (maybe like us) drew lines in the sand and refused to comply with their silliness, or simply walked away from the malarky altogether. It’s that shifty, Cassius-like very lack of human identity, personhood, or any heartfelt ideals that make such men and women potentially powerful and potentially fearsome.
It’s a sad thing to look at animals as just things that do things because of what’s done to them. Naturally, a feeder filled with seed will attract birds; and a feeder, once full of seeds, now empty, will tend to lose the birds it had previously attracted. This mechanical outlook of animal behavior doesn’t take into account how happy they are flitting and flying back forth. It doesn’t regard the swoop of their flight as happy. It ignores the sheer numbers of these feathered friends of ours, their turn-taking around the feeder’s mesh, their playground-like antics around the feeding perches, and even their occasional bullying. The other view is that such creatures, essentially without mind, have been anthropomorphized—that such creatures of mere want and instinct are being seen through human eyes and given, by us, human attributes, attributes that are only, or especially human. But this seems all very backwards. Ancient peoples long sought to be part of the animal world, for the different traits different animals possessed, to honor and even themselves acquire sundry animal characteristics they looked up to. This is not to oppose the quintessence of dust that also makes us human—speech and memory-making past our own mortal existences being the peculiar trait and characteristic of our own species. Though to think that a cat who climbs over a bedside table, and, placing its paws with its claws pulled in, purrs there on the chest of the reclining human being it lies upon merely to eke out the next meal, this is not only shallow and obtuse and reductively crass, but quite willingly and even forcefully overlooks the simplest and most obvious thing of all: the cat likes you! Why is this so hard? And this comes about, too, because the person likes the cat. It is, rather, the kindness—not the hellish realm of feared punishment, nor the heavenly aspect of hoped-for reward—that makes this what it is: a harmonious and desirable relationship between animals and human beings. This was the surprise lesson the Fox taught The Little Prince, and how what becomes friendship between them becomes the responsibility, really, later on, of both of them.
He could be kind. And that he was. He could be generous. And that he was. At times cruel. And that he had been. He could do all sorts of things. Sail a boat with one hand, and roll a cigarette with another. Change the oil in my car, and fix the pump in the basement. He was very good with my children, with wide open eyes of child-like wonder himself. But he himself was like that blissful martyr seeking some other deeper purpose. And in this he drew no boundaries, either for himself or anyone he knew. I think that had he felt called to sacrifice his own kin at the altar of G-d, in the end, so strong in him was this, I think he might have submitted. As though his own life and all in it became a careless trifle, and that human life itself were but a daily test for the sign of the divine. For the personal, he claimed, was second to the peerless contemplations of things that would by necessity continue to perplex us for millennia, and that he himself lived by some holy duty, long after any marriage was spent, or some lifetime gone. Yet for me, I could not abide; and drew my line in the sand. For I could not say that for me his way was enough, even if I had loved him, which I did. Not to give up so much of what mattered to me. I would not give up my life, or the effect of daily consequences upon the lives of the living—certainly not at the cost of my ending up feeling lesser about myself, even if for ages afterwards, I longed to be in his arms again.
In the most gorgeous places I have been, there are pictures of near nothingness. Everything that is normally seen—the rocks, the boats, the seaweed, the early morning fishing crew a-sea—is wiped out, wiped away. None of these is either dead or really gone of course. The mist just pulls herself, if I can get away with saying that, across the declaring light of day. And the mind, too, will have then another mist pulled across itself. These moments of retreat are not everlasting, anymore than a nod between one fellow passing another fellow along a sidewalk can be. And rather than the usual connotations of blurred understanding and mixed up comprehension that might seem to go along with this ‘mistiness’ or ‘fogginess’, there is an immaculate clarity, a surrounding calmness everywhere, greater than the eye can see. If there is indeed somewhere the sea and sky be visibly welded together without a joint, this earthly peacefulness extends itself far beyond that.
But as for confusion and fearsome uncertainty, that is why Alfred Hitchcock hired Salvador Dalí to design the dream sequences of his films. Terror and the menace of violence has a pellucid, and exacting quality to it commonly known to every human nightmare, which is precisely why a champion maker of those surrealistic visions of heinous genius was employed, rather than filming a set filled with puffs of smoke or steam, or going for the once fashionable hazy, dreamy, soft look of lenses with a gob of grease or gel spread by an index finger around the perimeter of the glass. Creating the ubiquity of peace, restfulness, and safety is altogether another thing. Had Hamlet perhaps perched himself along the Danish shoreline and looked outwards towards the sea’s offing, rather than bearing his princely gaze inland looking so inwardly, he might have seen something akin to the luminous gray horizon surrounding us all and him, rather than a smoky weasel up in the spare clouds or some other rodent or grass-land creature he had caught scrambling there, and had to catch, in his trap of antic fancy.