Saturday, December 31, 2011

Book of Revelations

I had a few revelations today.

Revelation Number One:  I’ve had a belly full of amateur thinkers.  In the old days, amateur thinkers knew their place.  Their self-indulgent hours were confined to personal journals or invested in the occasional sequestered poem.  Perhaps they enrolled in an adult education class or joined a neighborhood book group. Their quest for recognition, if not covert, was confined to within a few blocks from home or at a stretch, the distance to the nearest public library.  

But those days are gone.  What the interstate did for the Sunday driver, the Internet has done for the amateur thinker.  Long straight access ramps, well marked merges, gradually banking curves, meridians the width of football fields, shoulders as brood as country club fairways.  Now anyone can navigate the world of ideas, from that eighty-five year Dowager's humped grandma to the pimple-faced rouge in detention.   They’ve got blogs, chat-rooms, web sites, and all sorts of moron friendly networks designed for effortlessly extolling their amateur thoughts on professional appearing tarmac.  I friggin’ hate it. 

Revelation Number Two:  John Lennon got what was coming to him.   I mean, that doesn’t excuse Mark David Chapman’s atrocious behavior, but John Lennon and the "fab-four" got rich selling the Lie of Love.  Like any two–bit grifter, Lennon took his chances running an amazing scam; dressing in elaborate costumes, smiling at the camera and playing a denomination-less Jesus, hair and beard to match his crucifixion message that “All you need is love.”  Professional thinkers know that mantra is Liverpool rubbish just like they know that the Good-cop TV show hero doesn't really exist, but mess with reality and fantasy long enough and you can get yourself in deep shit.  Look at what happened at Jonestown or down in Waco, Texas where they were loving it up and waiting for the Second Coming. 

No, love is a dangerous thing.  It’s like dynamite.  Toy-like  fireworks can take off your finger or blind an eye; notch it up and love gone bad can tear your world apart.

Revelation Number Three:  Amateur thinkers should never try to tackle the subject of love.  Why? Because an amateur thinker is to love what an amateur drinker is to booze; they just don’t understand it.  They are all about the buzz without regard to pleasure’s searing flame.   The professional drinker learns to see through that illusion or dies trying.   And amateur thinkers?  Well, eventually they discard their CD’s, delete their blogs and give up thinking altogether or else (miracle of miracles) they begin to form real ideas; thoughts that go beyond pop culture’s propagandized marketing and arise from true introspection and study.

Revelation Number Four:  Thinking, whether done professionally or by the amateur, is highly overrated.  It is the art of observation we should embrace, as in my favorite childhood poem, "The Wise Old Owl."  

The wise old owl sat on the oak
The more he saw, the less he spoke
The less he spoke, the more he heard
Why aren't we like that wise old bird 

NOTE TO THE READER:  For the record, John Lennon happens to be one of my favorite composers and I fantasize that generations to come may elevate his memory to the status of a 20th century messiah.  After all is not the word of God love? 

I also believe that in the arts the idea of "amateur vs professional" is the biggest bunch of BS to ever come down the pike. Art in specific and thought in general ARE LIFE. That a painting that once sold for $35.00 can rise in value to 35 million seems so incredible to me, particularly when one considers that half the world population lives on less then two dollars a day. 

We are not unique in our humanness; our suffering and pleasures are universal and vary only by degree. Words can be made to say anything. It is amazing that these symbols can evoke images in the imagination so beautiful or so deeply threatening that their craftsmen have in turn been rewarded with millions as well as punished by death. 

I think it is hard for man to separate the artist from the art or the thought from the thinker, but it
 is an essential element of the act of appreciation. The universe of ideas exists as an infinite pool in which our consciousness floats. We surround and segment ideas with our corporeal form. Art gives ideas body, but we no more create ideas then we create life itself. Perhaps that is why art critics seem so heartless; it is not the artist they have spiked to the cross, but the idea and its execution.


Bless the illiterate and their immunity to the witch craft of letters. There is no word of God.  He speaks through objects of dimension in an immediate and ever original way. Nothing is repeated.  His communication is constantly evolving and confined to an infinite moment.

Love is the window through which we can enter that moment and speak the language of God.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

"The novel is not the author's confession; it is an investigation of human life in the trap the world has become. "    Milan Kundera 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Skoptsy

In Robert Services' "A History of Twentieth Century Russia" I came across a reference to a Christian cult who were "strange in the extreme" called the Khlysty who " practiced castration of their adherents."

Some additional research revealed Mr. Service had his cults co-mingled, as it was actually the Skoptsy he was referring to who "were first discovered by the Russian civil authorities in 1771 in the Oryol region. A peasant, Andrei Ivanov, was convicted of having persuaded thirteen other peasants to castrate themselves. His assistant was another peasant, known as Kondratii Selivanov. A legal investigation followed. Ivanov was sent to Siberia."

Apparently the Skoptsy felt that the forbidden fruit that Adam and Eve enjoyed in the garden had been transformed into testicles and breasts and that these sexual manifestations distracted one from a direct communication with God. Followers (whose numbers reached an all time high of about 5200) often opted to perform self administered surgery without anesthesia to rid themselves of these encumbrances. Men sometimes removed the penis as well and urinated through a bull horn while a devote female Skoptsy might perform a double mastectomy and trim away her labia.

Poignant dissertations have undoubtably been penned on the many human motivations for mutilating the sexual organs.   With just a dab of compartmentalization, one can imagine how the less enlightened among us might see these parts of the body as a source of suffering as they so often seem to get us into trouble.  Which brings to mind a loosely connected question:   "Do hand-guns kill people or do people kill people?  Some might contend that if the world were rid of hand-guns and genitals, crimes of passion would be nearly non-existent.  

Although the Skoptsy flourished during the late 18th century, non-anesthesized male circumcision continues throughout the world today.  Inspired by the Hebrew shepard Moses, the clipped foreskin symbolizes a heightened sensitivity to God.  Shortly after birth, many Gentile babies are similarly altered as Western medicine tends to view the foreskin as unhygienic.  Considered from that perspective, would not a few sealing stitches to the lint catching navel be in order?           

Myth's End

Wood smoke rises from the stone chimney and the churning fan on the furnace lends reassurance that all is well in the world.  

I just finished watching a documentary by Ken Burns entitled "The West" which was rather depressing as it seemed to have more to do with loss than discovery.  It is not easy to admire the carriers of The Cross as they always seemed to be carrying guns, disease and a thirst for unrestrained exploitation as well.  The story of "European Spies a T-Pee" is an accepted bummer and leaves anyone of said descent feeling either deeply guilty or darn disappointed they weren't around to share in the virgin bounty.  

Is there any myth left to The West?  Perhaps I should take to the American highway in the coming months and see.  I crossed the USA by land only once and that was way back in 1974.  As things have changed so much since then, I imagine it might be well worth revisiting dusty old Omaha, Cheyenne, Denver and Flagstaff.  

I suppose I could make the trip in a Chevy van, sleeping in the back on a twin mattress, anxious for the day when I will meet a pretty girl in some teardrop of a town; a girl with a smile she has saved all her life just for me.  We will fall in love as the sun turns the horizon orange and sparks swirl skyward from our road-side camp-fire.  The next morning she will have given birth to three or four rug-rats and I will have awaken to a life of changing oil filters and brakes in the local Meineke franchise.  I will wear a greasy form fitting tee-shirt and a disillusioned sneer as I air wrench off rusted bolts from car chassises. She will hum Taylor Swift melodies outside our cotton-wood shaded bungalow as she clothespins diapers and faded summer dresses to the line, her figure still clock-stopping but now unappreciated by my dog-tired eyes as each evening I bang through the screen door and beeline to the fridge for the first of my nightly twelve pack of Coors.  She eventually will leave me for the owner of the KIA dealership and I will end up in Santa Barbara, CA working for the phone company.

Hmmmm... maybe discovering The West is not such a great idea.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Which Side Are You On?

In the Student Union bathroom at my college there was a smear of graffiti created from the inversion of one of the day's popular anti-drug slogans: "Reality exists for those who can't handle drugs."  It was a joke that reflected some pretty serious team spirit and spoke to the divide between kids who did drugs and those who didn't.

If the tree trunk of experimental drug use sprouted upward into two main branches, one might have been called heroin and the other LSD. Heavy use created the junkie and the acid burn-out, two very different brothers born of the same family.  In time, the limbs of these two branches created a canopy of cross addiction typified by the tragic demise of many of the team's highest functioning players like Jim Morrison, Jimmy Hendrix and more recently Jerry Garcia (the J squad).

Those who recovered from heavy drug use (if one really ever fully recovers) often describe the journey as one fraught with ill logic and flawed thinking. For example, Eric Clapton (acid-user, junkie, alcoholic, prescription drug abuser and of course nicotine addict) described his initial attraction to drugs as a way to hot-wire or short circuit the spiritual journey that he hoped would result in the truly timeless works of artists he strove to emulate.  In retrospect, it had just the opposite effect on his talents as an artist and nearly destroyed his family life, career and health.

Experience tends to teach that drugs at their best do not reward the user with anything sustainable but extract a huge cost for the glimpses of self knowledge and awareness they may offer. A great artist becomes great through work not drugs. The same is true for the spiritually enlightened or mature. Though there are shaman who incorporate hallucinogens in their rituals, they are integrated as a part of a much larger method and not as a replacement for the hard work associated with religious self knowledge and spiritual growth.

Drugs, like medicine, are toxins. Misused or mis-proportioned they are often lethal. One makes a poor argument to say they were desirous of spiritual enlightenment when they bought an unknown substance from an unknown supplier and trusted that it is was of the formula, quality and quantity that would help them achieve a nearly impossible to defined end result. There are very few if any short cuts to the secrets of "soul" but there are many, many dead ends.

Time reveals truth. The importance of the mentor, teacher, guardian, parent in the process of mental and physical development is indispensable.  Learn from the shared experience of your elders and use that to navigate to new horizons.  Sailors use charts to by-pass the submerged obstacles that stole the lives of their predecessors. Before one sets off on the path of drug use, it might be wise to read the biographies of the explores that went before. Much can be learned from their trials and tribulations and much pain and suffering avoided.

Monday, October 24, 2011

December 8, 2010

Thirty years ago tonight I left my rented room in Binghamton, New York’s First Ward, crossed the Chenango River and walked to Bobby Dee's, a locally renowned bikers' bar famous for its life-size replica of a wild stallion rearing up on hind hooves from an illuminated pedestal atop the building's roof. 

I remember ordering a Molson Red and taking a seat at one of the empty tables on the edge of the darkened dance floor. There were a few people hunched over drinks at the far end of the bar.  A too bright ceiling lamp cast a lasso of light around them.  It reminded me of the famous Edward Hooper painting, the cafe scene turned poster art featuring Marilyn, Elvis and James Dean as silent patrons.

Dulled by the refer I'd smoked earlier in the evening, I was caught off guard by the slamming steel door as a couple barged in off the street.  She swung free of her man’s leather-clad arm and dropped like a rock into the seat beside me.  "You look just like him!  I mean it, you really do!"  Before I could respond, her fingers were in my hair and I tasted Marlboros and Juicy Fruit as she pressed her cold lips hard against mine. 

She jumped up then, sort of tripped back against her boyfriend and gurgled,  "Don't you love his glasses, he looks just like him!"  

“Yeah sure” he said, giving her a hard shove toward the bar and looking at me with blood in his eyes.   "But you’re not John Lennon are you amigo.  Somebody just blew his fuckin’ brains out.”

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Releasing the West Wall

The farmers who constructed the original stone walls on my property had a wonderful sense of space and contour. Their work seems so perfectly tied to the hills that it is hard to accept that these rock fences could simply have been a utilitarian solution to controlling livestock or protecting crops.

The lay of the land here is so varied and its shape so naturally pleasing that it is little wonder that this farmstead was the first to be settled in the township of Gibson.  The added good fortune of the Old Newburgh Turnpike passing through its frontier quilt work of oat and corn patches, rocky cow pastures and woodlots made it a sensible place for the first white owner to construct an inn. 

Captain Joseph Potter, granted this property by the State of Connecticut for his service in the Revolutionary War, came west around 1810. Timber stands had yet to feel the pain of an axe and the chilling cry of mountain lions still terrorized the seasoned woodsman.   Potter’s door-less log cabin, which he covered with a bear skin during his first Susquehanna County winter, no longer remains, but the inn that he and his sons later built serves today as my next door neighbor’s summer home.  It has been many years since the stone hitching post in the front yard has tethered a team, but it seems to contain a magical energy that draws children to it, enticing them to encircle it with out stretched arms as if hugging a giant fluffy dog.

My project this past week has been to release the west wall of the upper hayfield.   Its original duty as sentry between cultivation and wilderness has been ruefully undermined by years of neglect and ever more modern farming practices.  In the old days when hay or oats were cut with a scythe, every stalk was harvested.   Shoots too close to the wall that may have escaped the swing blade later became fodder for the indiscriminant appetite of sheep who functioned as the 19th century "weed-eaters".  

For the past fifty years our fields have been used only for hay.  In the sixties, the harvest was still a labor intensive, time consuming process employing four cylinder gas powered tractors and sickle bar mowers.  The sickle bar, like a long flat arm extending out from the right side of the tractor, had a series of small triangular blades riveted to a sliding bar.  As the “power take-off “ from the tractor spun in tiny circles, a conversion gear pushed the bar back and forth over and over again, slicing through the dry stalks of hay an inch or two above the ground.  Mowing hay was slow business.  The sickle bar would become clogged if the grass was moist or thick and rocks reeked havoc on the razor edges of the "teeth."  The up side of the sickle bar mower was that it could get close to the walls, and with good driving, clean up the corners where trees love to take root.  

As the mowers improved and the tractors increased their horse power, farming began to speed up.  The hay bind, a three in one cutting implement that sheared, crushed and wind-rowed the hay, made close cutting and corners a thing of the past.  The machinery had become too big and too quick to risk damage by getting in close.  Sheep had all but been replaced by dairy operations, so the trees began to jump the walls, dropping their seeds in the clumps of elderberries, blueberries, and raspberries that sprouted along the fence rows.  Soon service berry, hawthorns, popular and birch were spreading shadows over the field and the farmers were making ever wider turns to avoid the slap of a branch or a broken limb in the mowers path. 

Today, a hayfield that took three to four weeks to harvest now takes three days.  The stacked square bail, pulled onto the wagon with a longshoreman's hook and muscled onto a many coursed pile, is now a specialty item limited to horse barns and gentleman farmers.  Bailage, the large cylindrical spools of grass, vacuum sealed in white plastic, have become the norm for dairy operations.   The hay requires no drying, so it can be cut and bailed in two days.  Loaders lift the thousand pound “marshmallows" onto special wagons for transport.  Feeding operations are automated; the human hand no longer needs to touch the hay and a farmer is seldom required to set foot on the field.  Instead, in an air cushion seat, the dairyman hovers some three or four feet above the ground in an enclosed tractor cab, shaded and protected from the elements.  The walls, once the farm's boundary markers and proud defenders are now all but forgotten beneath a tangle of vegetation.  
And those are the lucky walls.  Many that have fallen into disrepair are sold to stone pickers, who stack the shale onto pallets and haul it away to be sold to landscapers around the country.   If these were the stones of the great pyramids, the world would be outraged.  But these are just old farmers’ walls in hills of Pennsylvania.  Their value is now graded by the ton on the wholesale distributor’s scale. There original function is obsolete.  Their aesthetic and historic significance lost in the culture’s rush toward the future.

So I spent the week releasing the hayfield’s west wall.  Soon I will begin the process of patching the wall's breaks.  It is a slow process from a forgotten era, performed alone but for the landscape and it's history as companions. It is good work.  It makes the muscles strong and heart happy.   

Sunday, October 16, 2011

147 Main

I’m working as a field interviewer for a social science research company.  I am in the sea-side village of Rockland, Maine on a project for the National Science Foundation.  It’s a Thursday afternoon in April and I’m searching for 147 Main.  
The  south end of town is a quaint mix of commercial and residential buildings.  I pass a mini-mart with a couple gas pumps, then a string of clapboard houses from the last century.  The trees lining the street are just beginning to green and the budding maples sprinkle the street with fluffy red blossoms. 

This is my second pass in my rented Chevy Cobra. I'm heading north now and the numbers are rising.  The white salt-box on the right is 137, but an iron address plaque on the building beside it reads 41. Then comes an ancient two-story perched within inches of the intersection of Main and Fulton.  The number 1 is painted on the weathered brick.  I tap the brakes, cut the wheel hard to the right and pull up in front of a tall thin door.  A young man in overalls is standing in the entrance.  I ask if it is 147 Main.  He shakes his head and waves me off in the direction of the next block.

A UPS truck is parked across the street, so I pull a U-ie and park on the north side of Fulton.  The sky is pale blue and a patch of white daffodils bloom in a slip of lawn beside the curb.  I leave my clipboard on the dash and the car window open.  I step lightly across Main Street and hail the brown uniformed driver as he enters the rear of the truck.  When I ask for 147 he suggests I try the shabby duplex on the corner where my car is parked. I've already noticed 149 hand lettered on the wooden door frame above the letter A, but I skip back across the street and bang on the door anyway. Someone struggles with the knob from within and when the door finally swings open I introduce myself, drawing attention to the ID badge that hangs from my neck. I ask if I have found 147 Main.  
"One fah-dee seven? The man's eyes are heavy lidded and unfocused. “Naah...this is  one fah-dee nine."  

He stifles a belch and pushes out the door past me and onto the side walk. He squints as if he hasn’t seen sunlight in days.  He takes in the view of the street as if it is utterly new to him.

“Ah-craws dah street” comes a raspy woman's voice from inside the flat, “thah new place!” He swings a slow pained gaze back to the side door when her hollow face appears behind the screen.  “Thah new place I tell yah, that’s whad he’s lookin’ farh!”

He winces and drags a hand across his burnished cheeks. Then he looks away. "Ahhhhhhh nahhhh thats one-fahr-dee-eight, what's wrong wid yah?  That's the even side!"  

“That’s it I tell yah” she yells again, thin fingers and cigarette pointing toward the opposite side of the street.  A growl rises from his throat and they begin to argue. “One farh-dee seven he wants… its one farh-dee seven.”

“And whats that then” she calls back, jabbing the air in the direction of the building like it was an eye she wanted to poke out.

I thank him for his help, wait for a car to pass and then dash for the curb at the far side of the street.  The house the woman has pointed to has a captain's wheel and some fish netting hanging on the outside wall.  The door is propped open with a sack of potatoes.  There are boxes of fresh tomatoes piled in the portico, a crate of lettuce.  There is a pass through window to a brightly-lit kitchen and a stainless steel table stacked with more restaurant supplies.  Music is playing, a swing tune, something my Mom use to sing around the house years ago; “I didn’t want to do it… I didn’t want to do it…You made me love you…“

“Here to eat or ar’ yah selling something?”  she says, swirling past me and through a swinging door with a tray of empty plates in hand.  Seconds later she reemerges from the kitchen and with a big smile asks “What kind a glasses are those?” nodding at my Clics. 

She has her eye on the “split at the bridge” magnetic reading glasses that hang around my neck.  When not in use, the hinged lenses dangle from either end of a single piece wrap-around frame and at first glance appear broken.  I pull the glasses out from under the collar of my polo shirt and let the lenses snap back together. I hand them to her in one piece so she can have a better look.

“Now ern’t these a treat!  Thought they were busted down the middle!"  She clicks the magnetic and steel together a time or two and then tries to fit the single looped arm around the back of her head.  Her auburn hair is thick and wavy and it is a stuggle to pull the frame together above her freckled nose.  I reach out and help her extend the arms with the expandable temple pieces. “Click” the lenses snap together perfectly in place.  She blinks and grins and evaluates the lettering on the easel menu.  She then looks at me over the top of the glasses and says,  “Hey, these ar’ perfect… I’ll take a pair!”

“ twenty-five bucks... you'll love 'em... but I can't read a thing without those and I'm already lost!  I'm trying to find 147 Main Street.”

“This is what?" she says to herself handing me back the Clics, then turning toward the kitchen calls "Cherle…..what’s the number here?”

Cherle steps through the swinging door.  She is big and round and obviously happy.   She points at the split Clics now around my neck and laughs… “Who'd you insult?" and then turns her grin to the waitress.  "We are 148.  What does he need?”

“147” I repeat.

Cherle shakes her head and steps to the outside door…. “I don’t know, maybe the other side of the street.”

“I’ve been there,” I explain, “There’s no 147.”

“Can’t help you then… I just know we’re 148.”  Says Cherle reaching for a huge plate of steaming pasta from the pick up window.  “Do you like fish?”

“Of course he likes fish!” says the waitress and then grabbing a pair of Pepsi’s from the wall cooler adds “and he’s going to come back and eat with us after he finds this one-far-dee seven he’s looking for.”

“Good fish?”  I ask.

She steps close to me.  “The best in town!” as if sharing a well-kept secret.

“Then I’d better get going and find this 147. “

“I’d say so because we close at eight oclock sharp!”

“Good enough!” And I'm out the door, into the car and heading uptown to an entirely different street, 147 North Main. The correct address belongs to a stark white house set back on a large treeless lot with an authentic railroad crossing signal as lawn ornament.  

A dog starts barking ferociously as I make my way up the front walk.  I rap on the porch door and the beast goes ballistic. I see pointed ears and snarling teeth, hear clawed paws against the wood and glass of the inside entry. The windows are curtained, but by the size of the animals silhouette I figure it must be a German Shepard or a Doberman.  The ruckus it is creating is incredible, so just to frustrate this Nazi canine, I decide to knock at the back door as well.  

Enraged, the dog follows me window by window as I circle the building.  It tears at the drapes and smears the windows with long streaks of saliva.  It is completely berserk by the time I reach the rear of the house. With its cabled run and tooth dented feed dish, this is obviously the hound's personal turf. I pound on the steel door and listen to the adrenaline soaked body crash against it.  With all it's snarling, scratching, yelping and leaping, if a shotgun muzzle hasn't been shoved out of an upstairs window by now, its not going to be.  

I stand silently at the door for a few minutes.  There are three vehicles in the driveway, but in the land of plenty that doesn't mean anyone is home.  As I wait, the dog gradually grows quiet.  I smile to myself and then in my best wolf imitation, let out a long deep growl.  The animal inside explodes, tooth and nail slash against the door, the barking goes nuclear. Satisfied that we have both done our jobs, I turn and stroll back to the car.  

I knock off another three calls and then swing by the hotel. I answer some e-mails, map some cases and then head out for dinner.  I follow Highway 1 back through Rockland and then south to 148 Main.  I check the dashboard clock.  7:52.  I kill the motor and grab my volume of  "Mornings On Horseback” by David McCullough.

The spunky waitress with the auburn hair and freckled nose is unblocking the doorstop just as I walk up. 

"Still open?"  I ask.

"Still like fish?"  She smiles big and in one motion tugs the door and pulls me along with it into the closing restaurant.

"So what’s yer favorite dish?" she probes.

"Well, something white and light I guess, like haddock maybe.   I'm a land-lobber, from the mountains of Pennsylvania. I don't know much about sea food.  Is there something you'd suggest?"

"Well how much you want to spend?" and swinging a dish rag she draws my attention to the handwritten menu on the easel board.

There are at least a dozen entries. Long names.  Fishy names.  Names I know nothing about.  Scrawled to the far right are prices.  Not cheap.  I’m without a clue.

"Well I'm not exactly rich." I say.

She points out a meal toward the bottom of the big board.  $16.00.  About half the price of the other items listed so I say "sounds alright." I have no idea what I've just ordered but feel I'm in good hands.  Seconds later I'm being seated in a tall wooden backed booth with newspapers as table cloth.  There is a huge green salad waiting.  A platter of fruits; a basket of homemade breads; a candle burning; salad dressing in a screw lid ball jar.  

"What are you drinking?"


"Pepsi ok?"


A tall glass of ice and a sixteen ounce bottle appear on the table.  I dive into the freshest lettuce and tomatoes I've had since last summer.  I'm thinking "where do you get a tomato like this in April?"  I let my eyes take in the room.  It’s cluttered with books, commercial size cans of fruits and vegetables.  There are paintings, posters, a coiled sea rope, wine bottles. There is seating for perhaps forty people.  Two tables are occupied.  I fork up another mouthful of lettuce and break off a huge chunk of fresh sourdough bread from the table basket. I have definitely found a real "fish joint".  

The entree arrives in a large ceramic bowl.  It is a mound of filleted white fish, so tenderly cooked and lightly seasoned that I've no doubt it could sprout wings and fly.  It takes some serious bites before I discover a bed of faintly oiled linguine feathering the culinary nest.

Somewhere I heard it said that good fish never smells or tastes like fish.  So it is with my dinner.  

Three waitresses swoop and dive around me like barn swallows, but the ginger is the only one to sit down and visit.  

"So how'd you make out with that place you were looking for."

"147 Main?  Good." I say, reaching down to take the napkin from my lap.  "Turned out it was 147 North Main; a different street all together."

I explain how North Main Street branches off from Main Street a couple miles north at the Dunkin Donuts. She has lived in town all her life but looks completely puzzled by my description.  The familiar is often the most difficult to imagine.

"You know we've only been open four days."  she chimes in,  changing subjects completely. 

"This season?"  

"Nope.  Four days in this building.  We used to be down on the docks but the place is being sold.  They plan to turn it into a laundromat for the summer boats."

"Well that's a shame!"  I picture the soaring gulls and the wave lapped hulls of the harbor.

"Not really, that old building sucked.  It was rotten to the core.  Really bad shape.  Two coal stoves for heat.  When He would empty the ashes, it would fill the place with this sticky black dust.  A lot of guests really didn't like that.  He's a pack rat, you know, a hoarder; He loves lots of things all around.  That's His style.”  

She motions with her hand to the cluttered dinning room. "It makes some people think He’s dirty, but He's not.  With the food, everything is perfect.  Everything is very clean."

I'm listening to the "He" she keeps referring to and the mental gears are grinding. Snippets of memory, fragments of conversation are coming together. Then it hits me.  

"What's the name of this restaurant?"

"Caaaahnnntee's" she says in her homie Maine coast accent.

"Give me that again."  I request, trying to untwist her New England pronunciation.

"Cahnte's" she repeats a little more distinctly.

 "Conte's?"  I say.  "The Conte's that Anthony Bourdain just did a show on?"

"The very same!"

"Oh man!" I laugh  "The gal I work for recommended this place!  She saw Bourdain's piece the other night and said I should check you out!   I would have but the local field rep I was working with said it was really filthy and that I wouldn't like it."

"The coal dust and the clutter.  We were fifteen years there.  Don't miss it a bit!  This is place is much nicer!  Light and airy!"

"What a coincidence!" I muse. "Here I am stumbling around trying to find 147 Main and I end up in the famous fish house my field manager recommended!  She'll love this story!"

"Well tell your manager to come eat with us sometime!"

"I will indeed!" I assure her.

The older couple across the room is leaving, so my waitress rises, pats her apron and goes to clear their table.  A short time later she returns with a basket of freshly sliced grapefruit.  

"Want to take these home with you?"

My linguine stuffed smile and vigorously nodding head are signal enough for her to reach behind me and pull down a styrofoam take- out container from the lip of the tall bench back.  

"I'll get you some bread too."  

By the time I am ready for the bill, a half loaf of sourdough is zip-locked and stacked neatly atop my box of grapefruit wedges.

She offers dessert, but I decline.  The main course has been enough for two.  She winks at that and adds,  “Next time you’ll leave a little room.”

"You're going to send me home a fat man!"  I tease as I hand her the check and cash.

"Just more of you for your honey to love!" she sings back.

"Give my compliments to HIM, would you?  Tell HIM I'm happy to see that fame hasn't ruined the place."

"Well, famous or not, we did 21 tonight.  I call that Black Jack.  That's enough for me!"

"And I guess I was your lucky Ace!"

"That you were!  And we'll be happy to have you again Ace!"

"I'll be happy to come back; Contes,148 Main Street, Rockland, Maine."

"That's us!” 

"You know,"  I say while donning my best perplexed expression, "I'm still wondering what happened to 147 Main?"

"147 Main.  Good question!"  she answers, raising a single eyebrow.

I lean forward, squeeze her arm lightly and whisper, "Maybe we have the beginning of a new Stephen King thriller!"

"May-be!"  She laughs. "Or maybe we should just name one of the fish dishes "147 Main" and put it back on the map!"

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Fattist

A new word has been added to my vocabulary.  It is fattist.  

fattist is a person who discriminates or exhibits extreme prejudice against fat and/or fat people.

"-ist " words, like fascist, racist, bigamist, capitalist, usually define pretty nasty characteristics.  As a family, their unsavory attributes are right up there with the "-ine" nouns - - caffeine, codeine, morphine, amphetamine, and of course, nicotine.

I think the -ist  word more applicable to me is environmentalist, for the body is simply an encapsulated eco-zone and maintaining its health is all about balance and mod-er-a-tion.   

Fascist, on the other handis synonymous with fanatic and fanatics are not balanced souls, they are extremists.  Herman Goring, the third highest ranking official in Nazi Germany, was not only institutionalized for his morphine addiction but weighed well over 250 pounds by age forty.  He had  "the hind end  of an elephant," according to one U.S. diplomat and "his reputation for extravagance made him particularly unpopular as ordinary Germans began to suffer deprivation" during the war years.  

So let us dispel any comparisons between two words simply because they sound alike.   If a weighty individual masticates many times a day it does not suggest he or she masturbates with similar frequency.  Nefarious inferences linking fattist to fascist are similarly flawed and may be used purposefully to discredit the input of a moderately sized person who suggests ways in which healthy body weight  is achieved and maintained.   

Although my Mom was tall and healthy, as opposed to tall and fat or thin, I've no doubt I inherited my body image attitudes from my father.  He was an award winning athlete.  He played handball three times a week well into his seventies.  A knee injury finally forced him to return to the more benign exercise of swimming.   In high school he had held the 100 meter free-style record in New Jersey.  

Ironically, Dad died in Florida of Parkinson's Disease, a degenerative affliction which slowly robs the body of its muscular control while leaving the mind otherwise intact.  In that regard, death has no mercy and in the end makes no distinction between fat or thin.

I have three cats.  Two I like and one I don't.  The one I dislike is named Buddy, but I call it Butt-stran.  I don't physically abuse the beast, though I hiss at it from time to time.  It knows I don't like it.  Cats are very perceptive that way. 

Why the negativity toward Butt-stran?  Simple.  Because the cat is a glutton.  It lives to eat.  It dominates the food bowl.  It prevents my other two cats from snitching even a nibble until it is ready to lumber off for a nap or to take a human size dump, which it refuses to bury.  While the other cats are neat about their scat, Butt-stran could care less.  Is Butt-stran fat?  Well yeah, but not much heavier than my other cat Texas.  It is Butt-stran's attitude that rankles me.  Fat seems to have an attitude.

I've used the word "it" to refer to Butt-stran.  Fact is, Butt-stran is a her even though I think of it as a him.  Butt-stran is also the favorite of my friend Dave, a midwesterner of prodigious girth.  Dave lived with me three months of every year for thirteen years.  Like Butt-stran, he loved chow time and was always the first to be seated at the dining room table.  He sat directly across from me and had the habit of grunting with pleasure as he ate.  He always cleaned his plate to a shine. Not a morsel of food was ever left.  Had he been a little Italian boy, he might have made his mother very happy.

Dave wasn't getting fat at my table. He did his real eating out in his motor home in front of his wide screen TV.   There he feasted in what might be labeled an orgy of food and relaxation.  

As his belly became larger, the memory of his feet grew more distant.  He gave up lace shoes for Velcro tape sneakers with large colorful springs built into the heels, a sort of  Bauhaus form-function design.  Similar to Butt-stran, his toilet etiquette suffered. It is hard to aim the stream when it can't be seen.  

Of course, when you get really fat, you don't like to do much but eat because you're always hungry.  Its called homeostasis, the body's desire to maintain the environment it has obtained.  Thus, the similarity to the cellular cravings of an "-ine" addiction.  Can one blame themselves for their hunger when it is the little birds in the molecular nest that are chirping for more and more worms?  

There is a theory that obesity is genetic destiny.  The Samoan culture's island existence is presented as evidence of this Darwinian observation.  As famine periodically wracked the island, those who survived are thought to have been individuals with the largest fat-cell reserves; sure they got skinny from starvation, but they had just enough excess to see them through to a change in fortune. When these survivors reproduced, their DNA was passed on, helping to sustained their offspring through future periods of deprivation. Thus the family tree became thick of limb and stout of thigh.   

Dave was all about that theory.  He would complain that his weight was a result of genetics and that I was just one of those lucky thin guys.  Of course, as Dave sat in the RV munching pork rhinds and pistachios watching the game,  I was out on the farm doing hard physical labor which caused my body to sweat profusely and burn fat; calorie after calorie of fat, long after the actual exertion had ended.   

As we learn more about obsessive-compulsive disorders, addictions, and all those -oholic words, we see how recovery is thwarted by misconceptions and false belief systems.  Once I asked a girlfriend to spot me a twenty so I could meet some of my buddies at a bar.  She flatly refused. 

"I'm not going to lend you money to go drinking." she said.

"Ah babe, come-on, that's what guys do.  Men drink!" 

"And where did you learn that? she spouted back.

I guess I learned it from watching my Dad and his friends drink.  I believed it to be true. 

Over weight people have lots of similar misconceptions.   I've heard it said that it is easier to stop smoking or give up alcohol because unlike eating, once you stop you stop.  You can't cold turkey on food because you have to eat to stay alive.  Right?  Well, when you stop inhaling tobacco do you stop inhaling air?  Does passing on the vodka translate to no more orange juice for the rest of your life?  Its what you eat that defines your caloric intake not the eating itself.

Sometimes I make jokes about fat butts. I point out huge people and call them Wal-Mart shoppers.  I am working on filtering out such comments.  They make me sound like a fattist.       

Fat doesn't just kill in one sweet, massive coronary. It chips away at your life, trading health and dignity for momentary oral stimulation.   At the top of the "lost list " is sex.  Good sex is a very physical activity.  You need to be in shape to really enjoy it, just like you need to be somewhat in shape to work in the garden, participate in sports, go sking or biking or jogging or just  take a hike in the woods

"Fat farmer" didn't become the deprecating term it is today until the mechanization of the late 20th century created the ag-industry.  Up until then, work on the farm kept you lean and muscular.  Now, in many aspects, the farmer is little more than a glorified truck driver, relegated to countless hours in the tractor cab.  Much of farm-life's daily manual labor has been eliminated through mechanization. 

Why is America fat?  Simple.   We spend our lives seated.  After we sat down, our metabolism slowed, yet we did not decrease our caloric intake.  So our bodies swelled and began to demand ever more food.  

The physical world, "the wilderness," has always been our culture's nemesis.  Our infatuation with new technology surged as we became the Earth's richest nation's following the Second World War.  We love gadgets and have had the money to afford them.  This has resulted in a machine based society that has all but eliminated nature's inconvenient demands for physical exertion.

Yet cross the southern border into Mexico and Latin America and a life-style conspicuously bereft of back-hoes and skidsteers appears.  In cash poor countries, muscle has yet to be replaced by yellow-painted steel and diesel fuel.  You won't see crews of fat men leaning against large rubber tires sipping coffee from insulated cups. The thirty-three ton cement truck is still an electric powered mixing barrel that a thin, sinewy man loads and unloads by hand. 

I am not making an argument for the virtues of muscle bound Luddites.  My point is that fat simply does not co-exist with exercise and a healthful diet.  Fat is not an addiction, it is a lifestyle.  Real change comes by revising many different aspects of how one approaches their day.    A person requires exercise.  Instead of "cramming" a week's worth of calorie burning into a couple super-powerd sessions at a gym, why not integrate this activity into daily chores which in turn reduce our need to purchase energy generated by fossil fuels?  Why not hand wash dishes, push mow the lawn, broom clean the floors, walk to the store?   

But this is where the flawed thinking begins.  We haven't time to do these things, or we haven't the inclination, the room's are carpeted, there are no sidewalks, more joy is found in other leisure pursuits.  Why rise from the chair to change the channel when the remote allows you to stay seated.  Its the way life is and we can't go backward.

Malarkey!  If folks did an energy study of all the places they could burn calories during a day just as energy consultants analyze where heat is escaping from a home or electricity is being wasted, perhaps three quarters of the battle toward staying in shape could be achieved without ever going to a gym.  Sound impossible?  It shouldn't . 

Exercise is empowering.  It exorcises the demons and revitalizes the soul by releasing all those feel good endorphins while maybe even accomplishing some much needed labor.  If you are going to put in the hours on that elliptical machine or stair-master, why not hook it up to a small generator and battery storage unit.  Maybe you could power your refrigerator for an hour while toning those Miracle-tan thighs.  

I think many middle age people get fat not because their metabolism slows down, which it does, but because they hang around with other fat middle age people.  Youth is more active.  It spends more time on foot. Yet with the ever increasing sedentary life-style and dietary habits of American culture, obesity is trickling down to our younger members. When I was in public school in the 1960's, a fat kid was the exception and the brunt of a fair amount of ridicule.   Now fat is common place.  We are a cerebral culture.  We sit in front of computers, communicate by phone, ride escalators and elevators, drive the block or two instead of walking.  We pay to consume vast amounts of energy to do what out bodies are eloquently designed to do.  And the result is fat. 

In physics we were taught that "A body at rest tends to stay at rest while a body in motion tends to stay in motion."  

When my mother would find us kids "glued to the tube" on a sunny day she had an expression; "Come on, lets get the lead out."  And into the great out of doors we were ushered.  That's what we all need to do.  No fancy diets, no expensive surgery; just get the lead out.  Get outside and get cracking!  

When you drive around a suburban neighborhood on any summer day about the only people you see are those in service uniforms; garbage collection, lawn care, cable network, special delivery.  Where are the kids with bikes and dogs and baseball mitts?  The lawn mowers and the rakes and the wheel barrows?  They are either inside on a computer or off at some organized event like field hockey or soccer.  And somewhere there is a parent complaining about how all they do is drive their children from one thing to another.  God forbid anyone walk to anything or that kids do lawn work or that games be played on anything less than a hundred yard astroturf carpet.        

An education in the importance of good diet and regular exercise will not create bulimic or anorexic children.  It will not stigmatize or traumatize them.  These extreme conditions arise in the attempt to make short circuit repairs to the broken rules of moderate living.   They are associated with the malady of fat, not the result of a healthy lifestyle.

So how about  we all make a deal?  Fattists, no more Wal-Mart shopper remarks!   And seated America, come-on, lets get the lead out!