Thursday, September 30, 2010

maybe baby

It's late and the handful of passengers look wilted when the crazy man gets on. He glares at them all and begins singing bits of an old Buddy Holly song, "Maybe Baby." They look at him quickly, then at each other, the brief glance of recognition you give strangers when the crazy one enters. We are not like him, the glance says, and then they look away again, elaborately reading newspapers or staring out the window. He goes on singing--angrily, almost barking the lyrics.

They all know the song, though Buddy died fifty years ago, a young man in a small plane, traveling from song to song and his life ahead of him.

The crazy man sings and in their heads they all hear Buddy's voice, their minds jumping the cheerful lyrics. Well you are the one that makes me glad, sings one memory, and you will love me someday, sings another.

They im
agine that the crazy man is sane, that he inspires them and they all sing with him. They imagine his joy in the sudden companionship, they imagine that they all get up and dance in the train. They imagine that Buddy dances with them, that they will spend all night together in the train, Buddy and the crazy man and all of them in a train that never stops for anyone else, and Buddy sings to them, all his old songs plus a new one they can't quite hear, that he is inventing just for them.

Their faces don't show their fantasy. The train pulls into the next station and the crazy man glares one last glare and leaves. His song stays on, thinning and slowing till it sounds like an old old blues song, a sad hurting lonely song. It's funny honey, you don't care...

And they don't, so the song unsings itself and floats away, to the crazy man, or maybe back to Buddy in the sky. It doesn't matter. They are only strangers on a late-night subway, relieved that the crazy man is gone and the song is gone, that they can ignore each other again. No one dances on subways, and Buddy died on a plane a long time ago. They have already forgotten the dance that never happened, a thought that flitted through tired minds and died with the music, on a night long ago, when a crazy man walked in singing.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Dojna on the Green Line

I was sitting on the T this morning, staring out the window, when i saw Dojna's reflection from the other side of the train, a few seats ahead.
Only it couldn't be Dojna, because dojna lives in the Netherlands and has never been to America. If she'd decided suddenly to come here, it wouldn't be this week, when the new students had just arrived there and everything at the castle program was hectic. and even then, if she'd somehow decided to abandon the castle and come to boston, she'd have told me and her other friends here, and facebook would be buzzing with the news.

yet everything in the reflection was Dojna--the glasses, the large sweater, the small, wry half smile.

so i forced myself to look directly at her. she wasn't dojna; she didn't even look like doijna. I was annoyed: how dare she pretend to be doina in my window? I looked away from her and back at the window, where she became dojna again, and sat watching until the woman got off at boylston street, which is where the college is, and where, if she had been doijna, she most certainly would have gotten off to see all the kids who love her.
my annoyance dissipated, giving way to gratitude. this stranger, after all, had generously lent me her reflection.

and i did so love seeing dojna again.....

Thursday, September 16, 2010

republican governor candidates

well, the current crop of teabaggers running for senate may be politically horrifying, but at least they're good for a laugh....

my current favorites are the wannabe senators delaware and ny, and i do hope that if they get in, they work together on some sort of morals crusade...

christine o'donnell's current claim to fame is that she has been lecturing about the evils of all nonmarital sex, and has been adamant on including among the forbidden acts, masturbation [still a form of lust, she notes. in the clips they showed last night of one of her early discussions, a colleague of hers observes disapprovingly that the act 'is very selfish']

carl paledina is known for a mini-scandel in which he sent rashes of porn to everyone he knew, including apparently a lovely selection of human-animal ... interactions.

so i've been trying to work on a slogan for them.....

"Why go it alone? adopt a pet today!'

sick,i suppose--but not as sick as the prospect of either of those 2 winning the election.....

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

st francis and the koran

a freind just emailed me a wonderful quote attributed to saint francis of assisi during a crusade in the middle ages: He had met the Sultan during the Crusades, and returned to Assisi, where he admonished his followers:

If you find even a page of the Qur'an upon the road, pick it up carefully and place it safely in your home for it is a page of a sacred book.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

koran burning

the ny times this morning had a thoughtful article about the media reaction to the florida wannabe bookburner pastor. did the coverage of his [thankfully abandoned] plan to burn the koran today in commemoration of the 9/11 victims give him a prominence that his marginalized position didn't earn? he has a congregation of about 50; he clearly doesn't represent his own town; and no one outside of that town had ever heard of him before. in the larger scope of current US politics, he shouldn't matter. there are always fringe lunatics around; why give this one special attention? why take an insignificant preacher who is the moral equivalent of osama bin ladin without the influence that makes bin ladin a danger, and vault him into worldwide fame?

it's a worthwhile question, and a perennial one with the press. do the media cover a story, or invent one? certainly that ungodly preacher got his 15 minutes of fame, and then some.

but i'm not sure it's such a bad thing that he got so much press. as the same article noted, timing is everything. there have been other hate-mongering koran burners in the years since 9/11, and they have been duly noted somewhere in the middle of the paper or of the newscast, in a paragraph or two. there's a reason for jones' flare of publicity, coming as it does in the middle of the misnamed "ground zero mosque" controversy, and the other, less publicized, protests against mosques throughout the country.

something very ugly and very scarey is crawling out of the woodwork, and we need to know it and fight it. the economy is terrible, people are out of work, we're all scared. the mega-consrvatives are playing on that fear all over the place. despite all evidence to the contrary, they are skillfully trying to frighten us into electing not only conservatives, but fanatic conservatives, with a series of lies about our president [the black guy with the foreign sounding name], about the causes of the bad economy, about the dangers of health care and of taxing the rich. they want a scapegoat--or scapegoats. and there are all these darkskinned people in our midst with their strange god and their mysterious clothing, and they all want to kill us. their places of worship are terrorist cells; their sacred writings are the devil's handbook. we have to get them before they get us.

it's a familiar scenario. think germany; think 1930s. what happened then could never have happened. only it did.

the useful thing about pastor jones is the naked hatred of his proposed action. sympathy for victims of 9/11 makes it easy to skew the danger of what some of the survivors are doing. who can argue with a mother's grief, a husband's anguish? they are perhaps misguided, we say, but they have a point. let the imam be sensitive, and voluntarily abandon the site.

i don't argue with the genuine grief of the 9/11 survivors who object to the mosque. i do object to their logic, or to covering up their logic with compassion. we can have both, compassion and impassioned disagreement. 'islamophobia' is a good word; this is fear, irrational fear, and it can't be allowed to determine anything we as a country do. these survivors don't speak for all survivors of the attack; many have organized against their opposition. some of those, we must constantly remind ourselves, are themselves muslims.

pastor jones has no lost loved ones to justify his bigotry. there is no misguided anguish here, only a man with the soul of a nazi. let us use him, in his unambiguous foulness, as the model for what may well happen if we let it.

Friday, September 10, 2010

the old obama?

for the past couple of days, obama sounds like he did when we voted for him.  since he got in, he has seemed more interested in making nice with republicans who clearly didn't care what he did.  the man is bloody brilliant--it took him a year and a half to figure out what any bright ten year old could have told him? finally, finally! he is addressing that!  but why spend the first half of his term making useless compromises that doomed him to inefficiency?  his own politics are way too "moderate" for my tastes, but they are something, and it's that something that caused many of us to vote for him.  does it take a huge downturn  in the popularity of his party to de-wimp him?  does it take a looney pastor threatening to burn the koran to make him see the terrifying upsurge of bigotry against muslims?

people who want conservatives in office will vote republican; people who want liberals want real liberals to vote for.   hell, at this point in our history, even leftists want real liberals to vote for. it was true with clinton, and it's even truer now.  and the haters--the birthers, the bigots on all levels--will keep making up inane stories about him, because that's what they do. he's a secret muslim, and therefore a terrorist, since islam isn't a real religion; only christianity is a real religion. he's also a socialist--thus possibly the one radical islamacist socialist in the world.   he is raising the taxes of small business owners, and pretty much everyone else.  facts are irrelevant.

it was so weird watching his speech about the supposed end of the iraqi war. his affect was the worst i've ever seen it. it was the first time i've noticed him reading from a teleprompter; he was lifeless, like a kid whose lit teacher is forcing him to read out loud from beowulf. i couldn't beleive the energy of his speech for the democratic candidates earlier this week, the intensity of his defense of islam.

is it too late?  the rise of the nutso far right makes it more important than ever to keep the country in Democratic hands.  we can't hope for even intelligent right wingers any more; they're getting driven out of their own party.

maybe his return to the old, vital, risk-taking obama will fire up the democrats running in november.  they need fire; they need to convince the disaffected liberals that they're worth bothering to vote for.

the Great Hero of 2008 is gone, but that was bound to happen.  honeymoons don't last.  maybe, just maybe, this echo of the candidate who made us hope can evoke some of that emotion again, even if only an older-but-wiser version.

is this too pollyana? maybe.  but i never thought he'd get in to begin with.  on that november night, while i was watching msnbc's election report, i had almost just shrugged and gone to bed: i didn't need the bad news right away. and then they said it.  obama had won.  i refused to get excited; it was clear that he hadn't--olberman and maddow were indulging in wishful thinking.  i had to go through every channel twice before i beleived it.  america had elected  a black president.  a liberal black president.

so maybe a little hope isn't a bad thing, even at this stage.  for now anyway, i'm holding on to it.  i hope our president does too.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


summer is one of those things that seems never to really happen, because it's different than it was when i was young. so summer was a part of my long-ago childhood.  i can catch that elusive feeling in memory, but briefly and a bit painfully.

it's not like i did a lot in summer, or any other season, as a kid.  sometimes my father would drag us to the beach, which i usually didn't like much. the water was briefly fun; so was drying off on the sheet.  i remember once falling under a wave and trying to get up and getting knocked down again, and knowing i would never ever get up again and my father didn't know i'd fallen so he wouldn't save me and i'd drown.

it seemed like long minutes or half an hour but when i finally got myself up pop was right beside me and didn't know i'd fallen, so it can't have been more than a few seconds.

pop told me and my brothers about sand crabs, so we dug for them, right where the white bubbles of the waves touched the shore.  you'd  shove your hand into the wet sand, and pull up a handful of sand, often with a sandcrab in it.  the crab would patiently wait you out, or sometimes sit on your hand, and they never tried to bite you or get away.  they were beautiful creatures, like marble tinted with rays of soft and near-invisible blue.  their long, thin legs tickled the palms of your hand.  and then you let them go into  the sand again, and it felt like a very important visit had happened.

at home, we played punchball in the street; i stunk, as i did in any sport, and never played long.  more fun was stoop-ball,  on sylvia's large stoop.

once i tried to climb into a fat lowbranched tree, so i could sit there and read. it was uncomfortable and i didn't like it, but i was reading little women and jo climbed into trees to read, and i wanted to be just like jo. i called myself a tomboy, which my parents disliked, and which in fact i wasn't.  i wasn't a girly girl though, and tomboy was the only alternative i knew.  i should have known, through alcott's books, that there was another word that did fit: i was a bookworm.   sometimes i sat out in the backyard to read. but reading wasn't an especially summer thing; there was no time of year i couldn't curl up on my bed or in a chair and get lost in a book. there still isn't.

we had a little swingset in the backyard, and i would spend hours on the swing, daydreaming and thinking.  i loved those times, but only when i was alone. opposite me from the swings was our garage window, dirty, and with a dark, hard-to-see reflection of me.  i loved the girl in the window. she was mysterious and lovely, and i knew she was smarter and stronger and far less vulnerable than i was, and i felt like she looked after me.  when i was 10 my five year old brother would come out and start hassling me on the swings. i don't remember what he did or said, but i hated it. his presence made the world real again, it took away the power of the karen in the window.  i would yell at him and he wouldn't stop; i would tell my mother but she'd say, leave him alone, he's younger than you. one day sitting next to me on the other swing he started up.  i raised my hand, and i meant to say, 'stop or i'll hit you.' instead, the hand, of its own volition,  threw itself at him, hard, and knocked him off the swing.  my mother was furious and yelled, and probably punished me, but i didn't care. hitting him was a joyful, freeing experience, surprising me as much as it did him and mom.
that was how i told the story, for years--the arm took over and hit him.  i loved the story. then one year i was telling it to my shrink, laura, and i heard myself say, "and then i came out of the window and hit him!"  so i was right; she had been looking after me.  [there's more to the story of me and the girl in the window, but it's a different story than this one.]

the  summer thing that stays most in my soul, though, that defines the petite-madeleine quality of summer, was summer evenings sitting on our tiny porch.  there must have been other people with us at other times, but i remember only as me alone, or with one or both of my parents.  we talked, if at all, softly. the sun had gone down, and it was slowly, slowly, turning dark.  i put my hand out, and a firefly would land on it. it was a wonderful thing to hold a firefly. other bugs would flee if you went near them, but the fireflies were friendly. the only thing was, that when they sat on your hand, the light went out of the firefly, and it was just an ordinary insect with reddish wings.  but you knew it had the fire, that was how you'd seen it in the first place, and you knew the fire would return as soon as the firefly left.  it was sociable, but its fire belonged only to itself.  and the night slowly darkened and soon i couldn't see the purple hydrangea bush next to the stoop----those wonderful huge flowers that were made up of dozens of tiny flowers.  i liked blue ones better, but i got to watch them in the front yard across the street, where the   vasquezes lived--tony, charley, and beautiful baby linda, and their parents poppy and peppy, and their grandmother, yaya-sinya.  everyone was afraid of yaya-sinya.  but she couldn't stop anyone from looking at her blue hydrangeas.

somehow over time, summer got away from me. i still use the word summer, but i don't think it, or feel it: it's just the hot weather.  but in recent years i've evolved other seasonal rituals, even passions.  i still love to sit outside and read; failing that, to sit as close to the open window as possible to feel the breeze through my experience with the book.   i enjoy the beach now and then, but have never again found sandcrabs.  there is no more window with strong-karen watching over me, but i live alone, and strong-karen is now part of me, not distanced.  i think if i hit anyone now, i'd know it was me doing it--not my independent arm, and not the karen in the window.

i love summer trees--i love all-season trees. there are great big trees outside my window, and my windows are big here.  lying in bed or on the couch, i see nothing but the trees: they block out the  street and the very handy but unlovely supermarket across the way.   i love the smell of the ocean.  mostly, and fiercely, i love the weeds that grow out of the cement ground, pushing their way up toward the sun.  the best ones are on the tram tracks.  i wait for the train and i watch these tiny tough plants.  some are actually on the tracks themselves, so they must be run over a lot. they don't seem to mind it; they don't break, they just keep on growing. the prettiest though are on the sides. most are just leaves, leaves of many different shapes, curling into themselves or reaching upward, acting like they thought they were the most wonderful plants in the world, whatever the silly gardeners thought about them.  a lot are flowered: one looks like a doll's house sunflower, a perfect miniature.  some are like dandelions until you look closer. some, tiny daisies.  lots of yellows, then. but bushy pink ones too. relatives, perhaps, of my long-ago fireflies.

their presence is an incredible gift--small gardens with no work put into them, simply appearing, with no need to be admired.  and they are everywhere--everywhere dirty, abandoned, untended.  once, walking past a row of scruffy old apartment buildings with filthy windows, i saw the wall of one building nearly covered with ivy-type weeds, climbing up the side.  there was a potted plant inside one window. one of the ivies had climbed up just that far, and they looked for all the world like old friends passing each other unexpectedly and stopping to chat.