December 1999 - January 2000
Volume 5 Number 9
Table of Contents
If you had to choose, which would you rather be, a honeybee or a wasp?
In the interest of "keepin' it real," this past year, this past three years, this decade has been all about some serious shit for me, for Austin, the arts in this market, for most of you who are reading this right now.
Janu was a Roman god who could look forward and backward at the same time. Well, I'm no Roman god, but as 1999 comes to a close, I too must look forward and backward.
An Arctic Sea by Sean Denmark
In the night, Jack lost his face.
This sort of thing does not happen. Men don't lose their faces. Bushes do not burn. Your companion isn't really the devil. We are all bound by rules, we all rest in the cradle of the speed of light. There is a certain allowance for interpretation, yes, but only within these bounds. Elsewhere what import does it have?
In the night, Jack lost his face. He was stripping for a shower. He would have foregone this, had he not been so beyond tired. He knew he wouldn't shower in the morning, and he had things to do come morrow, and his brother would be unbearable if he went unbathed. So clothes across the tiles, one foot in the tub, and he felt the moorings loosen. Here he should have lifted his hands perhaps, to catch, but it seemed futile, he was too slow, it didn't occur to him just then. His face slipped down and bounded off his knee into the tub; it swam the dingy bottom. Avoiding a drain death, it floated, yes, he made these grasps, but how do you grasp a face? It skirted his fingers, in its recession through the foggy night air it looked even maybe unfamiliar. Did it open a mouth to speak? Jack opened too. Vomit everywhere, face gone.
He dreamt that night he hunted a bear across the Arctic Sea.
The next morning, he woke late. Sometimes you don't need to refer to your clock, you just know you've overslept. He hadn't even set the alarm; what had he been thinking. He found clothes and opened the door to his bathroom, and then he closed it. He opened it again. The vomit and mess were still there. He closed it. He found his keys and wallet, then returned and opened it again.
Across from him was the mirror. In it was some bathroom, a door, part of a hall, a T-shirt, the crotch and hips of jeans, two arms, and a mound of flesh and hair on top. And no face. He had lost his face. How would he find it? He couldn't even remember what it looked like. Did he have a picture of it to refer to? His brother was going to be so mad at him; he could deal with this later. With things to do and fearing his brothers wrath, he headed out of his apartment into the day.
* * *
"I'm sorry, Joel."
"I slept late."
"I had a bad night."
"Who are you?"
"It's me, Joel. It's Jack."
"Jack Willis. Your brother."
He hadnt even gotten breakfast, but headed straight back to apologize. Joel kept asking these questions, and he was hungry. "Can I get some food, Joel?"
"No, I'm sorry, I can't know you."
"I'm your brother. We grew up together. In Pensacola. We have the same father, the same mother. Nat and Lucy. You have a mole on your dick."
Joel looked thoughtful. "You're dressed like him. You're wearing his watch. You smell like him. You sound like him."
Plink of knives and forks.
He looked closely. "You don't have a face. Jack had a face."
Jack was hungry. "I lost it, OK?" He sat down.
Joel stood up. "You idiot. You lost your face. What are you going to do? How could you do a thing like that?"
"I'm not going to tell you."
"What? Jack Nathan Willis!" Joel twisted his shirt collar and yanked him forward. "I won't tell you with you yelling at me."
"Fine." Joel's jowl slackened, and he released.
"So what are you going to do?"
"I don't know."
"Is that really you, Jack?"
Munching of sausage. Atomizing of bacon grease.
"Let me feel." Joel rubbed his thumb against Jack's cheek. There was a soft sound.
"What is it?"
"Bonemuscleskin. No more."
Jack said something.
"What? I can't hear you."
Jack looked at Joel, trying to remember what he had looked like. There was something familiar, he thought. Joel was meaty; hadn't he been thin? Joel had thick hair; hadn't he been receding? Joel had dimples; hadn't he had dimples? Joel had lips; hadn't he had lips?
"Excuse me, sir. We are going to have to ask you to leave." It was a cop. His badge dim in the breakfast light. His face masked.
"Sir, it's OK. He's just my brother."
"Can you offer some proof?"
"It's wearing my brother's clothes. Watch too. Same smell, same voice."
"Can you guarantee this man is your brother?"
Hum of florescence.
A light bulb illuminated Joel's head. "Check his ID." Jack offered his wallet. There was a picture of his parents and his dead dog Helen. They had something in common with him maybe. Some trait beneath the twitching muscles. The cop withdrew the drivers license. "You see" Joel bent over to see. "That's."
"Excuse me," the cop turned to the manager, "you got a tape measurer?"
* * *
"Perry, open up!" Jack pounded on the door. The cop had failed to apprehend him, Joel hadn't gotten him either; he was down and out and needed some cheering up and was visiting his girlfriend. The door flung open. "Yes!"
She was petite, with arms like a hurricane and nostrils like sleeping bats. She wore a blood red jogging suit and leather sandals; her hair was straight until her ears and coiled thereafter. She had smoother skin than a thousand ice cubes. One eye was off-center, but no one could ever say which. Her irises were no color at all. She stared at him, her jaw about to launch off her head. "Come in."
"Perry, I'm so glad you recognized me."
"You are the most beautiful man I have ever seen."
"I knew you'd recognize me, even if Joel couldn't."
She pulled him into the den and sat him on the couch. Momentos of her days as a safari leader loomed about. Jerry Springer and company were on and cranking. "And it doesn't hurt at all that you pierced your ankle?"
"I had this terrible dream."
"Not a bit. I just threw out my high heels and walk straight-legged. The hole is half an inch in diameter. I clean it every day with alcohol."
"You're even more beautiful than my boyfriend."
"Wait a second, did you say high heels?"
"Perry, I am your boyfriend."
"He won't tell me what sex he is, Jerry."
"Shut up; I can't resist you anymore, you mystery man."
"What gender I want to be, Jessica. Can't you get anything right?"
"I need to get out of here, Perry."
"Girl, let me tell you, there are fourteen different genders to choose from, and you need to ditch this binary-thinking, pierced freak and get a being that's secure in its self-definition." The crowd cheers.
She clamped her bony hand over his mouth. "Don't ruin it." He rolled over and ran out the door.
* * *
Nothing to do but continue his day. He was walking now. An orange VW camper passed him at high speed, rocking laterally. He hadn't eaten anything all day, except five pieces of bacon he had stolen off of Joel's plate. On a door stoop sat a little girl focusing her being on pulling at one of her toenails. Left foot, middle toe. No better or worse to us than any of the other nine arrayed on jelly sandals, but his one had for some reason to go.
"Is something the matter?" Jack said. The little girl pulled intently.
"Can I help you? You really shouldn't do that. You'll hurt yourself. Hey kid. You're going to yank your toenail out if you keep doing that!" She couldn't hear him. He thought he must be becoming invisible to the world.
"Angie's going to hurt herself."
"Fine with me. Whats your problem? You look like a serial killer."
"I lost my face."
He looked pained. "Ouch; that's gotta hurt." He looked pained at the prospect.
"You know what you need?"
"A vision. You need a vision. You need a purpose. Doesn't matter if its a big one or a small one, a dark one or a light one. You need a reason for being. And I've got it for you. Refrigerator skirts.
"Aren't fridges ugly things? See how they weigh down your kitchen, they're threatening to submerge the whole thing. You've got to tame that sucker, imbue her with some modesty. Teach her some manners, before she runs away! And I don't think we need to go reinvent the stone. No, that's the beauty of it all, the absolute classical beauty. We don't change the mechanics, we change the surface. A refrigerator skirt. Dress her up so her own mother wouldn't recognize her. Emphasize some features, hide others. Tuck and snip. Soften those harsh lines; we want the fridge in harmony with the kitchen, humming a happy tune. Not just one, either, but all the fridges in this great land humming a new tune, the same tune the great stars in the sky all sing. We must harmonize our fridges! And together we will; why with my vision and your -- "
Jack loosed a tectonic fart. The man stopped. Overwhelmed by the stench, he backed away, grabbing an oblivious Angie by an arm still attached to a toe, like a human hoolah-hoop.
* * *
Every Saturday he swims, the highlight of the day. The pool was empty, except for one elderly woman, another pool-frequenter. She swam the breaststroke, her head gliding along like Cleopatra's barge. She glanced up as he approached, saw his chest. Glanced higher. Then higher. She forgot to swim, she was drowning. Jack jumped in. How do you save someone from drowning? She tried to flee him. He turned around. Suddenly she was pulling his hair, she was on top of him. She was strong, she was drowning him. He submerged, she released. They swam to opposite sides.
"Why did you do that?"
"Who are you?" They exited their respective ladders.
"My name is Jack. I swim here every Saturday right before the pool closes."
"How can I know who you are?"
"Believe me. Please." He tried to look imploringly.
She spoke. Was she concerned? He watched her elbow; it cut a singular path. Only droplets of water cut quick deviations. There was a sound besides the lapping of the water. He walked to the pools edge and lowered his head. Innumerable reflections were coming back, little pieces, travelling every possible path in their return. He stood and stepped back, bathed in light.
The old woman saw his back parts slide into the water. She watched his enormous span traverse the pool's length, her mouth pursed.
On Bees and Wasps by Paul Klemperer
If you had to choose, which would you rather be, a honeybee or a wasp? The honeybee is usually imagined as a busy bee, the bee that goes out and gathers the pollen. In other words, the worker drone bee. The hive of course is the collective residence, but it is also the idea of the community. Not just a residential community, but a productive one, making honey as a finished product out of the raw material of pollen.
We don't think of the swarm as the collective because it entails aspects of instability, crisis, aggression. As a metaphor for human society, especially urban society with its closely grouped buildings and dense population within relatively small areas, the hive fits nicely. However the swarm might be a better metaphor for many aspects of modern life: warfare (armies of defense or aggression), mob mentality, traffic patterns, shopping at peak times (supermarkets on Friday evening, shopping malls on weekends), sporting events...the list seems much larger than that for the hive.
The hive is of course the official metaphor for the mormons of Salt Lake. With it comes ancillary ideas of domesticity, productivity, the rational division of labor, and above all, knowing one's place in the social order. The mormons do not, as far as I can tell, extend the metaphor to include a queen bee. Who would this bee be? Jesus? John Smith? The current president of the U.S.? These would all be king bees in any case. Perhaps the queen bee could be the mormon female who lays the greatest number of eggs, that is, has the most offspring. There could be contests, pageants, to determine the reigning queen bee. I'm sure this is not a new thought; in fact the plan seems in some ways already to have been implemented.
In reaction to this Judeo-Christian idea of the beehive, we often like to position in our imaginations solitary insects, representing free-thinking individuals (the recent movie A Bug's Life delves into related issues). One tried and true approach is to attribute human social attributes to hive insects and human individual attributes to solitary insects. The most well-known example perhaps is the story of the grasshopper and the ant, the Aesopian fable which admonishes lazy and unworried children to do their chores or they will die horribly from hunger and cold when winter comes. A more contemporary version exists, in which the free-thinking grasshopper, realizing the ant has planned for the harsh scarcity of winter, eats the ant. The moral lesson in this revised tale is ambiguous to say the least.
We humans also like to compare hive species, which differ less drastically from each other, but still exhibit enough differences to reflect symbolically the heterogeneity of human culture. The wasp is an attractive metaphor in this regard. She doesn't collect pollen, but rather goes hunting for her own food. While this is true, she does share some of the domestic/social attributes of the honeybee. If she is a paper wasp, she constructs a nest, usually with other wasps; she brings food back to feed the young; and in general she is a member of a collective which organizes her life cycle. There are exceptions: mud dawbers build small cells in which they lay their eggs. Similar species also insert some stung prey as food for their offspring. These wasps operate more like itinerant single mothers than happy honeybee housewives bustling about in a middle class honeycomb.
In our imaginations, the wasp functions as an individual not so much by virtue of its living pattern, but by contrast with the smaller, more obviously productive honeybee. The bottom line may be that the wasp doesn't produce honey. Its social function is less obvious. Therefore it resonates in the human imagination as an individual who determines her own course of action.
Finally, there is the stinger. At first glance the metaphor seems simple enough. All the bees and wasps in our metaphorical spectrum have stingers, and the emotive attributes we attach apply across the board. The most common is anger. We think of "angry bees" and "angry wasps" (we won't even open the subject of "angry hornets" which as a subject is a hornet's nest). But is a bee's anger equivalent to a wasp's? Are you more afraid of an angry honeybee or an angry wasp? We will not digress into the subject of killer bees, as they occupy a singular position in our cultural imagination. Just imagine being chased by a bee. Now by a wasp. Under which duress did you run faster? Perhaps I am alone, but I was racking up a few more kilometers per hour under the wasp attack.
In my own mind that wasp chasing me, with its narrow dark wings, long sleek missile-like body, is a more malevolent aggressor than the slightly rotund, fuzzy honeybee, legs still pantalooned with pollen even as it curls its abdomen to aim the stinger. In the rearview mirror of my mind, the wasp is a tobacco-spitting, leather-booted state trooper, while the honeybee is one step up from a security guard in ill-fitting polyester. Both have guns, both can shoot you, but somehow you think (maybe irrationally) you can talk to the security guard, reason with him.
For those of you who consider the police to be your friend and protector, perhaps a different comparison is in order. The honeybee represents order, rationality. You disturbed the hive and/or the orderly collection and processing of pollen into honey. Order must be restored; you will have to be stung. You may not like it but at least you understand it. If you still have doubts, an ordained religious representative can be made available to you to spout soothing dogma to distract you from asking too many questions. Thank you and have a nice day.
The wasp in this scenario would be the criminal element. A single wasp is a lone culprit, jacked up on PCP perhaps, invading the sanctity of your home to steal your stereo. The wasp nest would of course be organized crime, mafia, yakuza or a drug ring that has set up a distribution center over the door to your potting shed. Well, that's a tidy metaphor for those of us who identify with safe middle-class aspirations. But there are some among us, and you know who you are, who actually find the criminal stinger dangerously attractive, far more exciting than the simple stinger in uniform. You ask yourself, Am I a bee or a wasp? You could have a nice life, making and eating honey, waving your attenae at the nice officer, doing your little bee dance for your co-workers. But no, some part of your imagination just won't go along with the program. In some small part of your antisocial mind you sprout long dark tapered wings, you pull on a shiny black and yellow latex body suit, you stroke your evil nine millimeter stinger, and you take off. Oh, you are bad, very bad.
Frank by Christopher Hess
The brittle clank of the doorbell barely broke the noise emanating through the heavy oak door, and Frank stood beating the cold out of his thick wool coat with steady thumping of his gloved hands as Madeline walked slowly in place, marching life back into her feet. The yellow light falling on them from the single uncovered bulb overhead made them frown slightly. Strange, Frank thought, this is a nice building, one of the nicer ones in this part of town -- why wouldn't they have a cover for that bulb? The unmistakable sound of heel-steps reached his ears just as Frank raised his hand to knock again. He returned his hand to the business of pummelling his other arm and the door opened.
"Hiiiiiiiiii! Come come come come come." Selene sidestepped and ushered them in at the same time, and with deft movements of her hands and a stashing under the arm she had both their coats off and was propelling them into the gathering in the living room. Selene was a tall, thin woman with an aqualine nose and active eyes. Her smile was constant and tight, but not forcedly so. She was a born hostess. As she directed Frank and Madeline on the whereabouts of food cocktails beer bathroom and seats she managed to extract a quick assessment of their two children, their jobs, the weather, their holiday plans and everything else that had happened to them in their lives since this time last year at her annual Christmas season cocktail party.
Her immediate familiarity always put Frank on his guard, but Madeline soon slipped into like form and was chatting at the same fevered pitch. This was a relief to Frank, who slipped off to the bar with the understanding that he would soon return Manhattan in hand to bail Madeline out when Selene's conversational stamina proved too much for her -- usually about five minutes.
"Frank goddam it's good to see you made it through another year."
"Wish I could say the same, Murray," he replied, turning from the bar with a thin grin across his lips. "How you doing?"
"Oh, you know," Murray said, shrugging his narrow shoulders and looking sheepish. Murray and Selene were two of a kind -- the most completely vertically inclined couple Frank had ever known. Twin towers, the uprights, the beanpoles, he called them. Frank knew Murray from college, they had been in adjacent dorm rooms their second year and had stayed friends since, though outside this yearly gathering they rarely saw each other. "Can't complain. Until now, that is."
Murray was familiar with Frank's curmudgeonliness. He wasn't always this way. Often he could be jovial and carefree as the next guy, but when he was he relished it and all the conflict and confrontation that went with it. It could be entertaining and harmless and it could be meanspirited, it just depended on the conversation and the amount of bourbon Frank poured into himself over the course of the evening.
"Come on, Frank, it won't be that bad. There are some interesting people here I want you to meet. That couple over there, they just got back from Zambezi, a trip down the Zambia River. They've been everywhere. They're a bit flighty, but they're really nice people." Murray indicated a couple dressed each in the billowy white cotton of medieval peasants and modern day hippies, both encased in some thick wool sweaters and a pair of canvas shoes. Already Frank didn't like them.
"I really need to be focusing my strength on me right now. I have a lot going on in my life, it's really crazy, I don't have a minute to breathe, let alone meditate. I feel so off center I may die."
Frank snatched pieces of conversation as he followed Murray in. The living room was about half-full with people, a nice turnout already.
Slow nods of sympathy were the answers to the complaints. "I know what you mean, sister. I mean, I told you all about Paul right? I really thought we had something special there, like we were really going someplace. He wasn't like every other asshole in this city, he had something really unique, really sensitive without being mushy, you know? I connected with him like I've never connected with anyone-ANYONE. We shared so much, I mean, I gave him my SOUL. And the fucker just spat on it, he didn't even care. For a first date it went so well, and he never even called back. Bastard."
As Frank turned over his shoulder he saw that the women speaking were both nice looking, tall and thin, typical. Not abnormal. He snorted. He didn't want to be here. Parties were OK and all, it was just difficult.
"Pfff. Yeah, like the word 'postmodern' even means anything anymore. I'm sure." This from a round man of about forty, dressed in a shiny blue shirt and black pants, both of which were a bit small for his bulk. Where the hell did Murray and Selene find these people?
In the kitchen he found relief. Wild Turkey. Thank God, Murray remembered. Frank was afraid he was gonna be stuck swilling Sapphire martinis or gimlets or some such holiday fare. Nope, Wild Turkey. He drained his first glass -- a short one-still facing the opened bottle on the counter.
"I can't even tell you how amazing the return on it was. I looked at the figures and it blew my fucking mind, man!" the man next to Frank was saying. When he noticed that Frank was lingering, he cut his conversation short, feigning politeness with a "Hey, how you doin?"
Frank smiled quick, filled his glass -- a tall one -- and turned toward the living room. The thing about people like these, about parties like these, he thought, was that none of it is real. All these people just put on these faces, turned on these personalities for the evening to create an illusion of happiness, of well-being within a world that wouldn't allow it. As if they had no problems, nothing to worry about beyond high-yield investments or the length of the third act of the play they were not really working on for the past three years. It was hard to identify with them. Frank resented them. At the moment, he hated them.
The clocked ticked slow and the drinks disappeared fast.
Across the room, the adventurous couple were still talking to a group of people, as they had been for the eternity since he arrived. The audience was full of gaping mouths and wide eyes. Seeing that his wife was among them, her arm shaking slowly in the grip of the male pillowcase (apparently she was just introduced), Frank turned away. Don't want to get pulled into that crap, he thought. A woman, about Frank's age, was sitting in a chair by the window opposite where his wife was. Frank turned one-eighty, marched back to the bar and filled his glass. Then he walked over to the window.
"Tired of wading through it, huh?" he asked.
"The great white explorers over there. Laying it on a bit thick, aren't they?"
"You mean my sister and her husband?" she asked, smiling at him as if his zipper was open.
"Hmph." Frank turned, pretending to look out the window, perfunctorily bobbing his head in time with the horrible pop music that Selene insisted on playing at parties.
"Who are you?" she asked.
"I'm Frank. You are..."
"Esther," she said. Frank didn't believe her, she was far too attractive for a name like that, but he didn't really care either, so he offered his hand. They shook. She smiled, and he looked away. He imagined himself at this party last year. And the year before. The progression of Franks was surprising in its transformation, and remarkably clear, his posture sliding to a slight stoop, his paunch enlarging as if in a cartoon of the reverse evolution of man to ape. Like flip-book animation the images blended together, becoming more gray and less amused, steadily, until he saw only himself in the window in front of him, a baggy image of the man he was at the beginning of the cartoon.
"I don't envy it or anything."
Frank started. "I'm sorry -- what?"
"They've been all over the world," she said, slowly, "but I don't envy them that. They have nothing here, that's why they go."
Frank was not too sure what she was talking about, but he nodded firm agreement, embarrassed by his lapse. When he offered to refill her drink, she accepted, and Frank made another run to the kitchen. As he filled the second glass (assuming she wanted Wild Turkey, straight), the nearer of the two men still talking business in the kitchen turned to him, noded toward the bottle and said "You should just take that with you. Save the trip," and laughed. A harmless laugh. High and quick, like he may have heard it on TV and was unconsciously imitating it.
Frank just looked at him. Then he laughed. A small laugh, but he did. The other man looked relieved. Frank wasn't a big man, but neither was he a small one. In Frank's assessment of himself, he always considered himself a person who looked "like he could do some damage." He liked that.
As he turned from the smiling idiot, another full one in him, he noticed the pattern in the tile floor going by in a slight blur. Fuzzy around the edges, as Madeline would say. He giggled a little, squared himself and headed back to the window. He was happier now. The whiskey helped, but his mind felt lighter. Nowhere was the presence of Christmases past, of a house full of kids, of his first wife. That was many years ago. Almost as many as this party had seen. They were there, of course, his wife and kids, but they were smiling. As Frank walked toward the woman wth bourbon outstretched, he found that he was too.
"Something funny in there?" she asked.
"No," Frank replied. "Not really."
"Thanks," Esther said as she tipped her glass to Frank and drank, scowling only slightly with the booze. "Sometimes they do piss me off," she went on. "I mean, so they have everything. So what."
As she continued, Frank noticed that the music had changed. It was Lester Young now. He knew it immediately. Murray always went in for the swingin stuff, the hard saxophones. But was that it? It was so low, barely audible, he could be mistaken. He listened closer, reaching for the memory as much as the music.
"Spain is probably more beautiful, but the arid climate of the Eastern border kills me at that time of year."
"Sssshhhh!" Frank heard himself hiss before he knew it. He stopped, looked at her for a moment, then mumbled an apology and strode off through the room, oblivious to the calls of his wife, Madeline, as he went for the bathroom door. He was sudenly a bit disoriented, not drunk, but wobbly. He could handle his liquor better than this, he knew.
As he streamed clear into the toilet, he remembered all the times previous he stood in this same posture. Usually this drunk, often moreso, at least since the accident. He didn't hide in liquor -- he was a productive member of the workforce even as many of his friends left it for their couches, golf courses, or Florida homes. With a short step back to steady himself he zipped his fly, then checked and made sure he did, then opened the door. Immediately Madeline had his arm.
"You simply must talk to them, they're the most interesting people," she was saying as he grumbled his way along behind her.
The strains of "Shoe Shine Boy" reached his ear as if from another room -- it didn't fit. This was a music of another time and place, from when it meant that you better sit back and take notice because the horn was blowing. He and Murray spent many a long and rapt hour in the basement of Charlie's, watching with slitted eyes and mouths agape as Von Freeman or Gene Ammons or some other fierce sax man tore the roof off the place, all those who weren't dancing inevitably off rhythm (for none could keep up) sitting in much the same posture for much the same reason. These nights were well-spent, the minutes were etched into his memory as stone friezes of the-way-things-ought-to-be-all-the-time. Before he was ever married. Before the transformation of his free spirit into a hard-bound sense of responsibility and obligation was complete. Before he ever lost anything. Now, though, all these vapid retards yapping away and absently tapping their toes were barely noticing there was music playing at all.
He was drawn, with not a little pressure on his forearm, into the large circle of people. The woman was holding forth on something or other, talking about acceptance of all facets of life or something. Frank was looking for a way out. The man in the white shirt was looking at him. Frank returned the look blankly, and Madeline stepped in between them. "This is Frank," she whispered so as not to interrupt the man's wife. He smiled, Frank didn't. He was too busy now listening to what the woman was saying. That she'd faced death or something like that. She had his attention.
"If Everette were to die I would be totally at peace with it, as would he," she was saying. "You see, we're both in tune with the fleeting nature of this earthly life; we realize that death is as much a part of it as birth, and to mourn or deny or resent death would be as ludicrous as denying being born or living from day to day."
Frank sort of chuckled involuntarily, genuinely amused, looking into his empty glass and turning to head for the kitchen. He was drunk, but he didn't care. And he didn't need to hear this shit.
"Some do, honey," intoned Everette, obviously very pleased with his wife's soliloquy, his words directed as through a funnel at the side of Frank's head.
"True, dear," Salome replied with a knowing, superior smirk. "Most people will never understand or feel the peace as we do, and it's a very sad -- "
"You're both so full of shit it's unbelievable!" exploded Frank suddenly. "I've never heard such crap ever!" He stood in the center of the circle that had gathered around Everette and Salome when they began the travelogue of their recent trip to Tibet and had remained, even growing slightly, throughout the subsequent tales of trekking through the Andes with only a 'tiny brown guide' and enough food for two days; their narrow espcape from Haiti and their brush with the 'fascist Tonton Macoutes' during some former uprising, their work with 'the poor' in Mexican border towns, and most recently their complete and irrevocable religious transformation in the temples of Nepal. Now, each of these people turned their heads to regard Frank with a look of mild distaste and more than a bit of surprise and interest. "I can't believe what I'm hearing, it's like a marathon of invention, a river of bullshit. It's endless! Do you really believe you would be fine if the other of you were suddenly gone for good? Like 'Oh, it's natural, it was her time, what a good life she led there's nothing to be sorry about.' I can't fucking believe how naive you are. How stupid!"
Everette stood, mouth agape, but Salome stepped up. "I understand that it may be hard for you to relate to what we're saying. But we have spoken with wise men, we have lived under direct tutelage the maharesh Ugodi and he says that man in his mortal state can only -- "
"Oh knock it off. Even if you have succeeded in fooling yourself, it's only temporary. You're from Long Island for fuck's sake, what the hell do you know about enlightenment? The only thing yogi told you was the things he figured you wanted to hear and thank you, pay on your way out. Tell me," he said, turning slowly to face Everette, twirling imaginary bourbon in his glass. "You come home and check your phone messages. Your wife has been found in an alley behind your favorite tandoori house, she was picking up dinner, she was dragged to the alley and raped and murdered. That's OK?"
The tension in the room built in the surprised murmur from the people surrounding Frank. Everette attempted an interruption, a slight frown spreading across his brow, but Frank cut him off. "Or an accident. On the way home tonight another car cuts you off, you swerve off the road and hit a lightpole. Tomorrow you wake up in the hospital; you'll make it, she's already dead. She fought all night but didn't make it. That's OK with you?"
There was silence. As Everette inflated himself for a harsh retaliation against this intrusion of bad taste, clenching hands into fists, Salome stepped in front of him and said in a calm and patronizing voice, "Yes, that's OK with him. Of course there would be grief, we are human after all. But in time grief would give way to understanding, understanding would give way to acceptance, and that in turn to enlightenment. I know this is true."
The slow rush of air leaving the chest of Everette made a smug grin spread across the plane of Salome's face, for she knew they were together on this, though it was stopped short when she added "Maybe you should lay off the bourbon a bit, huh?" "Go fuck yourself," said Frank in the most even tone he could muster. Then he pushed open a thin and somewhat evil smile of his own and held it until the two turned from him and back to a hesitant and no-longer captive audience, where they slowly re-established their discourse on their life-threatening and thrilling trek through the forbidden Himalayas.
Frank stumbled out of the room, waving off the half-hearted protests of his hosts and ignoring Madeline's calls to him. He headed straight for the big front door and went through it, outside into the cold night. The snow was still piling up, and as the closing door muffled the noise from inside he was left in the silence and still of the winter evening. He didn't have his coat or his keys, but he kept walking down the steps and onto the sidewalk, pushing the snow into even trenches with his shuffling progress, sending it swirling around his feet as he rounded the corner and headed for home.
Limbs by Sandra Beckmeier
A group of tribe members were sitting leg-locked around a small fire, with nothing between them but flames. There were unspoken things in the fire, myths, truths, treadmills and stories of mischief. It was time for rest. Stories were never a challenge, but tonight they were a bit challenged by the stories one boy would tell.
He challenged them by the smart stories, the ones which were supposed to lead them, and when they didn't it was pretty clear what was happening, for a time.
Even at nine years old he felt a sense of responsibility for what no one ever really knew, but at least he knew that people would listen and he knew they would listen intently. I mean, he was walking for clouds? They would followed him because he seemed friendly, near, silent, confused.
That day was the death and the birth of something I suppose. There was a lost sense of meaning, the ingrained beginning of true learning, and the setting a perfect place for wonder and perfection. It is in particular regions where you are kind of lost that you actually see things and hear things of truth. Truth is loud.
There was no calm, no food, no water, nothing but the failure of a boy pretending to be a hunter and the victory of a forest, a place not exactly wise to venture by your lonesome. Still, the one who led was the one who lost and everyone else followed beside just to see how one might fail.
He appreciated these things and shared them with the world around him, and nothing else mattered much to him. Literally, nothing. He liked to sit still and listen to his father?s voice, a storyteller who often told other people what was told to him, and in that world, he knew one day a certain amount of respect would come before him and he wouldn't have to be confrontational, far-reaching or grown-up. He could be a boy. It made sense.
The tribe sat in exhaustion, tired that the boy wanted so much to be the guide and not wanting to give him honor that he didn't deserve, watching him laughing as his sister dropped to the ground picking up pieces of dry earth. He was for a time silent without an explanation or even a word. "The trees are lost!" he said from nowhere of nothing, "the wind doesn't speak in volumes to me because too many people had their words and their say!" What meant something to Tiko that day meant nothing to his sister who sat with silence.
As the forest seemed to crowd around him at that very moment a spirit appeared. He was relieved to be sound when he saw for himself, and said, "How great the righteousness you have demonstrated along with demonstrating principles of a lofty sort!" In the moment with the spirit, a right-minded hero, Tiko, stood. He immediately uttered a few small words as honorings, acknowledging a matter in his heart. His sister began to immitate him, curling her hands under her skirt, as another curled into a cocoon under a hand-woven blanket denying his own passion for spirits who spoke so kindly to Tiko, reminding him of his own high-mindedness. The spirit was of human form, with long whiskers, full arms and legs and bright yellow eyes glowing like a jewel in the darkness. The boy could only share at the sky in shock, praising, and said, "Yes, I am a man with much poetry with little in mind." He pissed on himself, cried and walked away.
"Yes," Tiko said. The soft slow smoke of cinder kept the fire low enough that it could rekindle itself.
for marsha (an excerpt from an untitled performance piece/in progress) by Sharon Bridgforth
i am very busy
in my Life.
holding never regainable moments lost to senseless acts of looking and hiding and looking
looking for hope between the beats of unavailable beauties/dancing wide hipped honey smiles/holding
too many drinks/one too many
one too many times reaching for unclaimable thoughts/full of self-selected
doses of unreality/passing time i
juggle bits of my mind mid-air/lose a little here
a little there
sleep walk through
Ancestral dreams/blood memories
piece of sanity/i hold
i can not give a linear thought
to the issue of
so i offer
a word-quilt woven pictures
a glimpsing ride/an exploration
of love/strength and laughter unearthed by tear-born prayer
an experimental lament of some of the ways that we survive
in order to keep our Spirits
an create balance
where there is none.
please pray for those we've lost...
I'm Not Putting Up a Tree by Stazja McFadyen
I have forgotten how to Christmas shop.
I tried. For the sake of my Visa and Mastercard
I really tried.
Got in my car, drove as far as the Arboretum.
In the parking lot I lost my Christmas cheer,
transformed by humbug necromancy
into a sewer mouthed blue Christmas meany.
Stupid drivers everywhere and why did that
"Hey lady, you ignored a stop sign!"
"Ever heard of using your turn signal?"
"Idiot! Yes, you. Sitting double parked in your
champagne beige utility vehicle
blocking oncoming traffic! Sit on THIS!"
My favorite Christmas store,
Higginbotham's, is gone.
They didn't call.
They didn't write.
They didn't invite me to their
going out of business sale.
I would have maxed my magic plastic cards!
Like my Christmas spirit, Higginbotham's is gone,
replaced by an extravagant tobacco shop.
With tobacco prices soaring
you would have to sell
some stock in Dell to afford a cigar.
And can you see Santa leaving a note
in my grandson's Christmas stocking,
"Have a Havana, ho ho ho" ?
I don't think so.
Sharper Image gave me a
Nieman-Marcus sized headache.
Banana Republic rendered me numb.
Their merchandise used to beg me
like the eyes of cocker spaniel puppies,
"Take me home and love me."
No more homespun summer cottons
or slinky ankle length dresses
that make you dream of exotic islands
you approach from the decks
of romantic South Pacific steamers
abounding with mysterious men in fedoras
who talk like Bogey or Peter Lorre
and you can't guess if they're smuggling
contraband or secretly saving
your country from sabotage.
No, Banana Republic has those clothes no more.
The buyer caught on to the fashion sense
of upwardly mobile spenders.
Even the waiting line at Amy's Ice Cream
pissed me off.
I left with my zero balance credit cards intact
and I'm not going back.
Oh, sure, I'll buy some gifts for the grandson
but I'm not putting up a tree.
What Christmas spirit I can muster
I'll spend serving County Line BBQ and punch
at the Santa Rita and Chalmers housing projects.
And just as I did the year before,
I've save a plate for Santa, hungry and teary-eyed
after he hands out presents to resident children.
The Austin Housing Authority lady
tells us this is the only Christmas
some of the kids in the projects have.
Snoring Old Men by Stazja McFadyen
When night was made of paper walls
I took to listening, wandering what
those old men talked about in their snoring
conversations that wafted along
the halls to wake me,
a child who wondered at everything.
I wondered if I was the only one
who knew about the magic step
where my spirit went at night, to fly.
It was always the third step I left from
to visit places in the sky.
I told my older brother about the step.
He knew exactly what I meant
and traded useful information
if ever I was chased through caves
by nightmare skeletons.
In all the nights we made escapes
from bodies and dreams gone bad,
in all those nights, not once did I encounter
snoring old men who knew
about flying through paper walls.
This Is Not A Love Poem by Stazja McFadyen
No one is writing love poems anymore
and if they were I'd rather say I'm sorry
than call this a love poem.
If he discovered my souvenirs
and recognized them as token reminders,
I'd make denials and fabricate excuses.
'd reproach the summer in heated private dialogue,
compel atonement for sweltering August nights
that sucked his sweat and stole his rest.
I'd apologize for unceremonious sidewalks
that did not cushion his passing soles
in full-dress rose petal carpeting.
But calling this a love poem, no.
I wouldn't say that because no one
is writing love poems anymore.
Up All Night by Harold McMillan
You know, i can't even spell it. Me-lin-ne-um? mill-any-yum? Mi-len-ne-um?
But I think I feel it. I think I feel the pressure to feel it, think about it, do something about it. And it -- the pressure -- is working.
For weeks now I've been thinking about this last little column of the Me-lin-ne-um. To tell the truth, I've been waiting for, like some message from the gods, a sign from above to give me some meaning to all of the hoopla about the changing of the calendar. Not that I don't already have some feelings about the end of this era. I do. The thing that has been most challenging to me is the sorting out of my personal demons here. Regardless of my private Idaho, there is significance to this New Year. Historically, socially, technologically. There are things, events, persons/peoples, ideas that are noteworthy that will forever more be tied to this period of history.
My deal is that I wanted to come up with my list. Just like so many other folks, I thought I would have this list that would emerge and present itself to me. My personal list of Mill-any-yull significance. Now, right here and now as I write this last "Up All Night" of the '90s, my list expands and shrinks,is entirely too personal, is moronically too general, is lame, is so close to my heart it brings tears, is so pedestrian it shows my dilettance.
For me the coming New Year, and passing of this one, is extremely heavy and sublime. Or, it's just another day/time in a confusing personal and public world that could pass without particular notice. This is my big story of the new Mi-len-ne-um. I am confused about the big picture. I am too so very wrapped up in my own little microcosm of personal challenges that I only perceive what is but a few inches from my graying dreadlocks, hard head, mushy brain. And this all seems to be happening at one and the same time. I still come up with more questions than answers. I have not stopped thinking and feeling and asking and searching. I have, however, lost some of my faith that it all will be made clear to me in due time. Due time just doesn't seem like something I'm gonna come upon before I get to 1500 words and the filling of this space. I do have some observations, though, to pass along. I actually do have some thoughts I want to put down. The question is what of that is the stuff of this column and what is best left to my journal.
In the interest of "keepin' it real," this past year, this past three years, this decade has been all about some serious shit for me, for Austin, the arts in this market, for most of you who are reading this right now. What can I say that is illuminating, other than my own personal story? Even if I blindly think it's more, whatever I have to say is really about me and my cloudy view of life here in the Silicon Hills of Central Texas. Deep inside I know that. My search though, is for signs of recognition from the outside world. Am I totally alone with some of this, or is this the same kind of stuff that has crossed your mind, too? Different, but the same in some way?
Ok. I admit it. I am a bit nervous about the passing of the '90s. It's not that I am particularly worried about Y2K computer glitches. We are a Mac shop, totally. I figure that most of the essential services that run by computer will be ok, if not without little snafus at least without major chaos. And if major chaos does happen for a while, maybe it will be instructive for the long haul. So, about that I ain't particularly worried. I am more concerned about things right here in Austin on the small scale. Being the self centered sort that I am, that concern has a lot to do with my situation here. Some of it is generalize-able to some extent, but I gotta accept the fact that I do see the world through my own gray tinted shades.
I've recently read through a lot of my old columns. There are several threads there that stand out, that kinda stick out actually. Not really to my surprise, I see clearly that I have been fretting about the new Austin for some time now. We've been publishing ADA for five years. I've been kicking and scratching my way through the latter half of this decade. I've had this schizoid internal dialogue going bemoaning the death of the old Austin, and at the same time telling folks it's time we old heads get over it, get with it and embrace the New Austin. It ain't your same old college town anymore. Yes, Maria, there is a SantaDellClaus.
My columns that urge (me and) my colleagues in the "non-European classical" arts to try to learn from the major arts organizations and welcome this new high tech wealth to our market are numerous. I re-read my own words telling folks how all of these new Austinites with new money will be the saving grace that will turn around the status quo we've come to accept and dread. At times I even sound like some kind of cheerleader for the new Austin, the new smart growth, the new downtown. In my fantasy world the techies with the big bucks were gonna come in here and re-define what it means to be wealthy in Austin: Austin hip, Austin cool, young, sophisticated and urbane here in River City. And as I try to remember how I actually felt when I was writing that stuff, I realize that I convinced myself. I didn't convince anyone else, but I did a pretty good number on myself. After all, the new money in Austin (always thinking that some of it is potentially art and culture money) is in the pockets of folks even younger than I am. Surely they would not simply follow the same old Austin patterns of arts patronage. They were going to reinvent it.
Well, my informal survey of local media headlines, and conversations with my colleagues in the non-profit arts world (the jazz presenters, for instance), illuminate much. The findings: it's the same old enchilada, but bigger. And it's all on the same old plate.
I don't want to get too personal here, so I'll just make up a hypothetical situation to illustrate the sentiment out there in some circles. Let's say that a donor chose to pump $50 million into the local arts scene. That's a significant amount, by any measure. And, compared to real life, in this hypothetical situation it's even a small amount. But let's just imagine that one (group) donor chose to spread around that much money in the Austin arts community. Truly a wonderful thing for the local scene, all around.
Let's say that the vast majority of that money went to four or five big arts groups, maybe all of them were mainstream/European classical groups. That would still be very cool.
Now, just imagine if just 10% of that $50 million were ear marked for a lot of non-classical arts groups. Would that be cool? Wouldn't that make some kind of huge impact on the local scene (even if it were split between 20 worthy groups)? But that ain't happening.
Maybe 5% then? No, that ain't happening either.
Ok. Wouldn't just 01% of $50 million go along way? Yeah, it would. But this is all hypothetical. It ain't real. It ain't happening.
Back to why I am a bit nervous about the new Austin in the new mell-any-yum. Well, I happen to be one of those folks who chose to work in the non-profit arts in Austin, been doing it for 15 years or more by now. I've come to realize that it's hard for me to hang in there. I ain't as young, wild-eyed and childless as I used to be. Prospects for the future are pretty scary for some of us. Don't go getting soft for me and my situation. On my own I've made some life/style changes that have changed my outlook and needs, with a few tears, but my eyes are wide open. We should do a lot better with what we have. And you can quote me on that.
Look past me, look past DiverseArts, look past Austin Downtown Arts. If you check out the City of Austin's Cultural Contracts funding system, look at the Texas Commission on the Arts funding of Austin-based artists and organizations (NEA, too), you'll see tens of groups who are actually doing better with government grant funding, while not being able to get a foot in the door into Austin's new high tech wealth (not to mention the old Austin money that has ignored us from word go).
I am worried because this is beginning to look like the new paradigm here. New, because there have been phenomenal amounts of local cash pumped into the local arts scene in the last three years. Old, so very old, because it seems to be directed to the same groups who -- by their very size, nature -- gobble up tens of thousands of dollars with each breath. And if you confuse what I'm saying with "sour grapes," just go check the record. I think there is a real reason for concern. The new Austin just might be headed in a direction that looks a lot like the old Austin to some folks, but even more elitist.
The back-handed compliment from me that comes with all of this might surprise some folks. But I gotta tell ya, the City of Austin's Cultural Contracts system, the Arts Commission and their management of very meager TCA funds are, in some cases, providing the lifeblood for some of Austin's best public art presentations and organizations. That system is far from perfect, but in the new Austin much of what gets out there that truly represents the best of Austin arts is funded by the City of Austin. Join me in thanking them for helping to keep that spirit alive.
Now, if you wanna do more than just thank the City for how it uses out-of-towners' hotel taxes, help some of these folks keep doing what they do best. Go to their shows, write them checks, tell your employer to sponsor them. My list includes Tina Marsh and CO2, Epistrophy Arts, Carl Settles' Revolution of the Bluez Project, The Austin Jazz Workshop, the Austin Traditional Jazz Society, Rashah Amen's Cosmic Intuition Productions (he brought the Sun Ra Arkestra to town last month!), Austin Jazz Workshop, Dance Umbrella, La Pena, Boyd Vance and Pro Arts Collective, DanceFest, Andrea Ariel, Sally Jacques, Women and Their Work, CineMaker's Coop, Women In Jazz, Mexic Arte, Mexican American Cultural Center, Austin International Poetry Festival, Johnson-Long Dance, Salvage Vanguard, Rude Mechanics, KAZI and KOOP-FM, and of course, all of DiverseArts' projects.
Be safe, be healthy, and good luck for Y2K!
Verities by Ben Black
Janu was a Roman god who could look forward and backward at the same time. Well, I'm no Roman god, but as 1999 comes to a close, I too must look forward and backward. I was worried about the world coming to an end at the stroke of midnight on Jan. 1, 2000, but I saw that the National Football League has football games scheduled January 2nd and 3rd. Even I know that the money-making NFL would not schedule a football game if everybody on earth was going to be dead. Where's the quarterback? Dead. The Cheerleaders? Dead too. John Madden and Pat Summerall? You got it. Dead, and riding that big Greyhound bus to the real playoffs. If the NFL had cancelled the football games scheduled to be played in January, now that might be the end of the world as we know it.
I think there's hope we might make it through this.
Still, hearing so many bits and pieces of this end of the year, end of the decade, end of the century, end of the millennium, end of time stuff has probably induced this who what where when and why I thought it was important stuff.
I remember the middle of the century when life, for me, was great. God, country and apple pie. Good always triumphed over evil. America had just come out of a World War with its constitution still in tact. Spies were something other countries had, and TVs told and showed us all about how good we had it. I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis and the way they told us to stoop down under our desks in case nuclear war started. That way we would probably be OK. I saw it on TV so it had to be the truth. It's amazing how important that tube has been over the last fifty years in shaping public opinion. The Kennedy-Nixon Debates, the Kennedy and Oswald assassinations, Neil Armstrong landing on the moon; these are but a few televised events that had a profound effect on America. In our community a new TV was a big deal.
A thousand years ago humankind could not have envisioned having cell phones, beepers and computers in air-conditioned petroleum-burning vehicles. Nor could they have envisioned being stuck on the freeway in traffic every afternoon. Well, sitting here, in the future, in traffic, in my gas-guzzler, with other drivers who are also late, I am inclined to nominate Henry Ford as my candidate for the Man of the Century or the Millennium. If he envisioned making and selling cars, somewhere he should be deliriously happy now. I wonder if he envisioned these daily traffic jams.
Post World War II babies, like myself, have heard all our lives that Winston Churchill is a great man, and in many minds is the greatest man of the century. He was a symbol of strength, perseverance and more to millions of people during the Big War. On his merits alone, Churchill could be a candidate. Some people think Albert Einstein's was the greatest mind of the 20th century, and would be a worthy candidate. Just about everybody (sorry OJ) thinks the discovery and exploration of DNA is just phenomenal. Let's nominate these scientists that are unraveling the mysteries of life itself. I think we may need a special category for the marketing people that talked us into buying tennis shoes that cost way over $100 a pair. Maybe we need to keep our eyes on them.
There have been many statesmen, theorists, artists, inventors and inventions over the ages that have contributed to shaping our modern world. When I think of pertinent inventions, then, I think we should name a city, state or something for the people who perfected indoor plumbing. We take it for granted now, but plumbing -- yeah, that's a big one. Living here in Austin, let us dare not forget to mention the people who brought us that wonderful, life-saving invention called air-conditioners. Where would we be (April to November) without our ozone-depleting comforters called air-conditioners? Canada.
It's all becoming clearer now. 2nd place: Man of the Millennium is a tie between Benjamin Franklin, for his work with electricity, and RCA Victor, for developing the apparatus that would one day become the CD player that would and does allow us to hear my own choice for Man of the Millennium, First Prize winner, the one and only, Long Tall, Dexter Gordon! Tenor sax-oph-o-nist extraordinare. Why Dex? Well, I presently cannot think of anyone, past or present, who does what they do any better than Dex does what he does. He must be the greatest, except for Muhammed Ali. But I don't have a Muhammed Ali CD in the player, so, it's Dex or no one. Since I have quite a few Dexter Gordon recordings, and since he has my vote as Earthling of the Millennium, I plan to listen to at least one Dexter Gordon recording everyday until the year 2000, if I ever get out of this traffic.
Entering a new millennium is exciting, even despite all the hoopla. Just being here is quite a thrill. And, of course, being here beats the heck of the alternatives, as much as anyone has been able to tell. Thanks to Dex, I'll be ready for the new century. Happy New Year...peace.