Well, I Guess That’s What the Egyptians Thought
Since I have passed threescore years and ten that is marked as the Old Testament’s standard limit for a length of a life, I am aware that there are many things that I am doing for the last time. Will I ever again see the streets of Buenos Aires? What about the glaciers and waterfalls of Iceland? Can I ever realize my dream of taking the Trans-Siberian Railroad all the way from Moscow to Vladivostok? Or, nearer at hand, what about the hills of San Francisco or the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon? Or even Descanso Gardens and Huntington Gardens?
Let’s take a look at what Psalm 90:10 actually says:
The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
When that day finally comes when I cross over, will I be angrily denied my access to the seventy-two large breasted virgins promised by Islam because I have not died fighting the infidel? Will St. Peter slam the pearly gates in my face because I once cussed out an aggressive panhandler? Will I be reborn in Brazil as a microcephalous infant due to my new mother’s having contracted the Zika virus? Will there, perhaps, be nothing? Or will there be a something I cannot imagine?
Because of the limitations inherent in our condition, I will continue to soldier on. So far I have been doing pretty well, considering. I’ll try to put off the “labour and sorrow” as long as I can, knowing full well that nobody lives forever.
Perhaps I write this because I am bummed out by all the famous people younger than me who recently died, like David Bowie and Glenn Frey and Natalie Cole and even the guy who played Leatherface.
I continue to walk the earth, but with a lighter step.
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)
There is no doubt that H. P. Lovecraft owes a debt of gratitude to Edgar Allan Poe. He made an interesting attempt to pay a tribute to his forebear with this sonnet, which was published in Weird Tales in May 1938:
Eternal brood the shadows on this ground,
Dreaming of centuries that have gone before;
Great elms rise solemnly by slab and mound,
Arch’d high above a hidden world of yore.
Round all the scene a light of memory plays,
And dead leaves whisper of departed days,
Longing for sights and sounds that are no more.
Lonely and sad, a spectre glides along
Aisles where of old his living footsteps fell;
No common glance discerns him, tho’ his song
Peals down thro’ time with a mysterious spell:
Only the few who sorcery’s secret know
Espy amidst these tombs the shade of Poe.
If you look closely, the first letters in each line spell out the poet’s name.
That’s How Many Days There Are From Now to Election Day
The nastiness began early last year as a whole host of candidates declared themselves for the 2016 Presidential Election. We, who pride ourselves as a nation that produces first class entertainment, have fallen down on the job. On the contrary, our elections have caused consternation among our allies and emboldened the growing number of peoples who hate us. Is this really the most powerful nation on earth? Or is this some Three Stooges pie fight?
My mailbox is filling up daily for requests for me to donate money to the Democratic Party so that they could:
- Buy advertising space on television, which I do not watch
- Pay for more frequent robocalls, which I hang up on within seconds
All of a sudden, I am receiving numerous calls from “surveys.” I stay on the line with them only long enough to say, “We do no participate in surveys.” Apparently, I am not the only one, because a recent New Yorker article indicates that the response rate is down to eight percent or less, down from a majority a couple decades ago.
We have grown to hate our politics, our politicians, and in fact ouwhole political process. And, instead of slinking off into a dark corner somewhere, the whole political process continues to gather steam and explore new ways of getting into our faces.
To make matters worse, I shouldn’t be surprised if the 2020 Presidential Election cranks up before the current race is resolved.
Get ready for an ugly year!
Yasha Kemal (1923-2015)
My Turkish friend David urged me to read Yasha Kemal’s Memed, My Hawk (1955). As part of my Januarius program of reading authors I’d never read before, I decided to look into it. It was nothing short of amazing. The following is from my review of the book for Goodreads.Com:
Yashar Kemal is probably the best known author from that most admirable of Middle-Eastern peoples: The Kurds. His Memed, My Hawk is a folk tale of injustice by a cruel landlord turning a young farmer’s son to brigandage. At the same time he is a brigand, he is scrupulously justice, especially when dealing with the poor and the innocent.
“Slim Memed,” as he is called, is a hero created by an author who doesn’t believe in heroes. In his introduction to the New York Review Books edition, Kemal writes:
I have never believed in heroes. Even in those novels in which I focus on revolt I have tried to highlight the fact that those we call heroes are in effect instruments wielded by the people. The people create and protect these instruments and stand or fall together with them.
Still and all, Kemal was to write three more books featuring Slim Memed. For the first one, he was shortlisted for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1973. That award was won by the Australian Patrick White. I think it should have gone to Kemal.
Kemal’s villain is the landlord Abdi Agha, one of the most craven and beastly characters in all of literature. It is not until the end that Memed shoots three bullets into his chest, killing him; but he had been spiritually dead for years after Memed killed his nephew and wounded him.
Christopher Smart (1722-1771)
Christopher Smart is one of the minor joys of 18th century English poetry. Unfortunately, he had a little mental difficulty which led to him being locked away in an asylum, mostly for his religious mania: He was known for kneeling down in the middle of a busy thoroughfare and launching into prayers. His friend Dr. Johnson had some affection for the man and his work:
I did not think he ought to be shut up. His infirmities were not noxious to society. He insisted on people praying with him; and I’d as lief pray with Kit Smart as any one else. Another charge was, that he did not love clean linen; and I have no passion for it.
Included here is a selection from his long poem “Jubilate Agno,” which he wrote while an inmate of St. Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics. Consider it a gift to those of you who are cat lovers.
For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having consider’d God and himself he will consider his neighbour.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day’s work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord’s watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction, if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness, when God tells him he’s a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incomplete without him and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt.
For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For the dexterity of his defence is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
For he is of the Lord’s poor and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually—Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.
For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.
For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music.
For he is docile and can learn certain things.
For he can set up with gravity which is patience upon approbation.
For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
For he can jump over a stick which is patience upon proof positive.
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master’s bosom.
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
For the former is afraid of detection.
For the latter refuses the charge.
For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
For he killed the Ichneumon-rat very pernicious by land.
For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God’s light about him both wax and fire.
For the Electrical fire is the spiritual substance, which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, tho he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep.
It’s All a Matter of Timing
I first discovered this during the Iraq war starting around 8-10 years ago. The forerunner of ISIS, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaida in Iraq, never had to go all out against their American enemies: One attack every few days would keep the news cycle forever buzzing. By the time the story was ready to go to an inner page, there would be a new improvised explosive device (IED) that caused American casualties, and the fearmongering would start up again at full volume.
The bombing in Jakarta was, I really believe, such an incident. Of the seven deaths, five were up the suicide bombers themselves, so the butcher’s bill was negligible. Or it could be as little as the guy in France who attacked a police station with a meat cleaver, only to be met by a hail of bullets from the flics.
Key to this strategy is (1) maintaining a high level of fear (and ISIS knows that Americans are a bunch of scaredy cats) and (2) repeat every couple of days, preferably in a new part of the world. Next time, maybe Iceland or Paraguay or Bermuda. Make people think the ISIS baddies are everywhere and all-powerful. That serves as a potent recruiting aid to bring in new fighters and their molls, especially since there are so many millions of young suburbanites around the world who have little or no moral compass.
I think the best way to combat this strategy is to steer clear of the news: Don’t let it control your life. And feel free to sneer.
Janus: God of New Beginnings
Just as there are drinking games, there can also be reading games. Such is my annual Januarius tradition, which I’ve been doing for more than fifteen years now. I merely wedded the name of Janus, the two-faced god of new beginnings, withthe month of January: During that month, I only read books by authors whom I have never before read.
So far this month, I have completed:
- Helgi Olafsson’s Bobby Fischer Comes Home: The Final Years in Iceland, a Saga of Friendship and Lost Illusions
- Zachary Karabell’s Peace Be Upon You: A Story of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Coexistence
- Leonid Tsypkin’s Summer in Baden-Baden
- Stan Jones’s Shaman Pass
- Pierre Boulle’s The Face of a Hero
… and the month is not yet half over. I am looking forward to reading works by Sjón (the Icelandic novelist), Yashar Kemal, and Thomas Flanagan—among others.
So far, Leonid Tsypkin is my favorite of the five, with the author’s insight into the life of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and his wife Anna Grigori’evna, though all were pretty good.
Are Two NFL Teams Coming to Los Angeles Next Year?
Los Angeles has not had an NFL team residents since 1994, when both the Rams and the Raiders picked up their footballs and took them elsewhere. Now it looks like the Rams are coming back in 2016—along with the Chargers. Am I happy about this? Not exactly. I don’t watch American football (though I like to see an occasional World Cup soccer game).
Both teams would play in a new stadium to be built in Inglewood, on the site of the old Hollywood Park Race Track. Until then, they’ll have to play in the old Coliseum (built for the 1932 Olympics), or maybe in some rinky-dink high school stadium.
Oh, well, whatever!
The Lake Isle of Innisfree
As I lurch into another tax season (hopefully my last), images of peace have a stronger hold on me, and virtually nothing is as peaceful as the scene described in William Butler Yeats’s poem “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”:
I WILL arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
Perhaps the Most Inventive Funnyman in Television
Because it was a drizzly day (courtesy of El Niño), Martine and I spent the afternoon at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills. While Martine was bringing up episodes of “Superman” with George Reeves, Captain Kangaroo, and “My Little Margie,” I was watching a number of episodes of “The Ernie Kovacs Show.”
What Georges Méliès was to the cinema, Ernie Kovacs was to the medium of television: He was brilliantly inventive and something of a magician. All the other comedians on early TV came up from vaudevillian comedy skits, Kovacs started with the new medium itself. He was not only the starring actor: He was also the director and, if the show had one, the main writer.
Music was a recurring unifying theme to the strange collection of cutaways which might include:
- A cute young woman taking a bubble bath, with strange things happening in the tub
- The Nairobi Trio, three apes playing music and annoying one another
- The furniture in an office acting as instruments, from the filing cabinet to the typewriter to the telephone switchboard to the water cooler
- Artistic variations on a cowboy gun duel
One recurring piece of music used was “Mack the Knife” sung in German, but he has also used the 1812 Overture (during which we cut to Kovacs breaking a stalk of celery at key junctures), and “The Tennessee Waltz” sung in Polish—or was it Slovenian?—while he unsuccessfully lowers a chained escape artist into the river who never manages to re-emerge.
For the three hours that I watched the shows, I was in seventh heaven. Kovacs is a fellow Hungarian (though he, like me, was born in the U.S.), and he occasionally inserts some phrases in Magyar.
On the way home, I drove by the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard and Beverly Glen where Kovacs died in an auto accident on my seventeenth birthday in 1962.
The one quote that he is remembered for is typical Ernie: “Television: A medium. So called because it’s neither rare nor well done.” Well, when Ernie Kovacs was on the job, it was well done.