The Fish Market at Pike Place in Seattle (2009)
Sometimes I think a new anti-social Me is coming into existence. Not really so much anti-social as unfriendly to strangers. Martine and I had visited a historical site in Long Beach called the Rancho Los Cerritos National Historical Site. On the return trip to West L.A., we stopped at Captain Kidd’s Fish Market and Restaurant in Redondo Beach where we indulged our love of fresh seafood.
As we checked out the raw fish on ice, a stranger wearing khaki shorts, a T-shirt, sneakers, and those unambitious socks that never quite make it up to one’s ankles, started talking to me about the salmon in the case.
I looked at him. “Are you talking to me?” I asked.
“Yes,” he answered.
With what must have been a puzzled look on my face, I asked, “What on earth for?”
And that shut him up.
This is the type of situation when I normally switch to Hungarian. I couldn’t well do that here because I had to order two fish dinners in English within the next couple of minutes.
What a snarky character I am turning out to be!
Scenes from My Library Circa 2002
I’m showing you this 17-year-old picture of my library because now it’s much worse. The center of the room has large piles of books and boxes full of more books. Was I trying to build my own Library of Alexandria? Apparently. I used to love going to bookstores and buying lots of books, supplemented by the books I bought from Amazon, eBay, and the Advanced Book Exchange (ABE). I used to spend upwards of several hundred dollars a month picking up titles which I thought that, some day, I would sit down and read.
It’s not that I don’t read that much. According to my records, I still devour some 150 books a year. Look me up on Goodreads.Com, and you will find my reviews of all the books I read. It’s just that, now that I’m retired and on a fixed income, and now that bookstores have almost ceased to exist, I read more library books. And I also read many of the books I have downloaded on Kindle, which cost a whole lot less than new paperbacks.
So for the last year or so, I have been donating hundreds of books to libraries—most specifically the Mar Vista Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library—and in some case selling or trading books to the few booksellers still in the business. Each week, I donate an average of two boxes of books to the library. I will continue until my total book collection shrinks by some two to three thousand books.
That still leaves me with plenty of books. Being an insatiable bookworm, I will never lack for something to read.
The MTA Santa Monica Blvd, #704 Express
Since I am now on a fixed income, I avoid expensive parking lot charges. For some of the places I hang out, I take the bus: It only costs 35¢ a ride rather than, say, the $25.00 or more it would cost to park downtown or $10.00 it would cost at the Fairfax Farmers Market. Today, I had to endure the abusive chatter of a Tourette’s Syndrome bum who was serially abusing all the passengers on the bus. Fortunately, he disembarked in Beverly Hills, where—no doubt—he started abusing the tourists who congregate there.
The Many Aspects of Tourette’s Syndrome, On the Surface and Below
I have found that Los Angeles has a fair number of angry African-American homeless persons who are angry and verbally abusive. Several months ago, on the same bus line, a bum started shouting at me. Angrily, in Hungarian, I told him I hoped he would be f*cked in the ass by a horse. Not hearing me right, he thought I was using the N-word at him, which is something I would never do. That ended with the police being called by the driver and the bum being evicted from the bus.
This time, I saw this bum approaching from a hundred feet away, enraged at the world and various unspecified rednecks. I knew he was going to be trouble. Fortunately, this particular bozo did not pick on me in particular; so I was able to maintain a neutral pose.
When I read the papers about the growing number of homeless in Los Angeles, I rarely see anything about mental illness and drug abuse. And yet those are the dominant characteristics of most homeless. It is not shelters they want (that would impinge on their freedom, such as it is), but either mental healthcare or drug treatment—that is, if they would submit to treatment at all.
The Columnar Basalt Formation at Devil’s Postpile National Monument
The last of the three major destinations of our recent Eastern Sierra road trip was the Devil’s Postpile National Monument near Mammoth Lakes. There are a number of locations around the world where thick lava formations, in cooling, form cliff faces of hexagonal columns. Probably the most famous are the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland and the Isle of Staffa in the Scottish Hebrides.
The nearest such formation to me is the Devil’s Postpile. The Monument can be reached primarily by taking a shuttle bus from the Mammoth Mountain ski area to Stop #6, from which there is an easy half-mile hike to the cliff face. The top of the columns looks like this:
What the Columns Look Like from Up Top
We didn’t actually take the hike to the top of the columns, but only because we didn’t want to push ourselves too hard at high altitude.
The hike to the basalt columns follows the San Joaquin River through a pine and juniper forest of surpassing loveliness. In fact we liked the surroundings so much that the columnar basalt formation was almost a letdown considering the lead up to it.
I would like to return in future and extend the hike to Rainbow Falls, which is also in the Monument.
Roman Fresco from Pompeii of the Three Graces
In many ways, our culture has descended from the Greeks and the Romans. And yet, I think that we are so far removed from them that we no longer react the way that ancient audiences did.
According to the Greeks, the Graces were the daughters of Zeus and Eurynome. They were Aglaea (“Splendor”), Euphrosyne (“Good Cheer”), and Thalia (“Festivity”), though there were many name variations.
What surprises me most of the above depiction from first century Pompeii is its matter-of-factness. Three young unclothed women, realistically painted, who do not inspire lust but merely exist on their own terms. If you look at Renaissance or later images of the Graces, you will notice they are more beautiful and appealing. I do not think the Roman artist failed in his depiction, but that he rendered them on a different plane altogether.
It is as if they are saying, “It does not matter to us whether or not you find us appealing. We are immortal goddesses, and you are mortal men.”
The Ancients Had Some Interesting Practices
According to a Dutch scholar named H. S. Versnel, the ancient Greeks had a practice involving the creation of “curse tablets.” In Memphis in the fourth century BC, the following curse was left etched into a tablet at the Temple of Oserapis:
O Lord Oserapis and you gods who sit enthroned together with Oserapis, to you I direct a prayer, I, Artemisia … against the father of my daughter, who robbed her of her death gifts (?) and of her coffin … Exactly in the way that he did injustice to me and my children, in that way Oserapis and the gods should bring it about that he be not buried by his children and that he himself not be able to bury his parents. As long as my accusation against him lies here, may he perish miserably, on land or sea….
Now these curse tablets were typically made of lead with the curse scratched onto their surface. Although I cannot wish death to the man I most ardently hate (whose visage is caricatured below) there are certain things I can say without bringing the Secret Service to my doorstep.
The Object of My Own Curse Tablet
May his bucket of chicken contain gristle that rots his fundament. May his fingers that would fly over his cellphone in a Twitter fury come out as utterly incomprehensible covfefe—at all times. May his followers discard their red MAGA hats out of shame, and may he be buried with a large streamer of toilet paper adhering to his shoes. May his real estate investments come to naught and his billions all turn out to have been illusory. May he be laughingly turned down by women he does not regard as beautiful and forget what his original urge was all about.
Panther in the Wild
If you look hard at my life, you will see that it is like a marginal gloss to the poems, essays, and stories of the Argentinian Jorge Luis Borges. Ever since I first came across his work around 1970, I have returned to it again and again as to an ineffable guide. Here is one of his poems, called “To a Cat.” I have visited the zoo in the Palermo district of Buenos Aires where Borges probably got the inspiration for this poem.
Jungle Waterfalls at Buenos Aires Zoo (2011)
To a Cat
Mirrors are not more silent
nor the creeping dawn more secretive;
in the moonlight, you are that panther
we catch sight of from afar.
By the inexplicable workings of a divine law,
we look for you in vain;
More remote, even, than the Ganges or the setting sun,
yours is the solitude, yours the secret.
Your haunch allows the lingering
caress of my hand. You have accepted,
since that long forgotten past,
the love of the distrustful hand.
You belong to another time. You are lord
of a place bounded like a dream.