“How often have I watched, and longed to imitate when I should be free to live as I chose, a rower who had slipped his oars and lay flat on his back in the bottom of the boat, letting it drift with the current, seeing nothing but the sky gliding slowly by above him, his face aglow with a foretaste of happiness and peace!”
― Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way
“Those who love life do not read. Nor do they go to the movies, actually. No matter what might be said, access to the artistic universe is more or less entirely the preserve of those who are a little fed up with the world.”
― Michel Houellebecq, H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life
Somehow, I don’t know how, I was introduced to the French writer Michel Houellebecq. He was described as controversial, racist, and pornographic – in addition to being one of the most renowned modern French novelists. So, of course, I had to read him.
I collected a few ebooks and decided to start with something short. I chose a novela (84 odd, odd pages) called Lanzarote. The first person narrator is a man without purpose or hope… it starts out:
MID-WAY THROUGH THE afternoon on 14 December 1999, I realised that my New Year was probably going to be a disaster – as usual. I turned right on to the Avenue Felix-Fauré and walked into the first travel agency I found. The assistant was busy with a customer. She was a brunette wearing some sort of ethnic top; she had had her left nostril pierced; her hair had been hennaed. Feigning a casual air, I began picking up brochures from the displays.
Pretty much by accident he ends up going for holiday to an island called Lanzarote. At first, I thought Houellebecq made the place up – but I realized (and did some research) to discover it is the northernmost of the Canary Islands – in the Atlantic off the coast of Africa. Lanzarote is pretty much a volcanic wasteland – with a couple of passable beaches. According to the novel, it never rains there.
Somehow, the narrator manages to meet another man, a cop from Belgium, who is even more alienated and hopeless than he is. He also runs into a couple of German women of indeterminate sexuality. And yes, there are some pornographic passages (not too many, luckily).
The narrator pretty much goes with the flow – trying to get through the days as easily as possible while the world goes to hell in a hand-basket all around him. He’s not a bad person, but not really a good one either… though I guess he does his best.
So, did I like it? Yes, I did… though I’m not sure why. Will I read more Houellebecq? Yes, I will. I found a list of recommended novels in order of quality (Titles of the English translations):
6.H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life (a short essay – easily found online)
3.The Map and the Territory
2.The Possibility of an Island
1.The Elementary Particles
Might as well start at the best…. I now have a copy of The Elementary Particles on my Kindle. I think I’ll go to bed and read a little. Tomorrow comes soon enough.
“Never marry at all, Dorian. Men marry because they are tired, women, because they are curious: both are disappointed.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
I was working on my home computer a bit – cleaning out old and useless files… when I came across a folder of images called “husband.” It has clips of a couple of magazine articles from the 50’s on how to get a husband. Some files had the name “Mccalls” in it – so some must be from that magazine. If you want to know, I looked it up to see what happened to the magazine – after a bit over a century and a quarter of popularity it was sold to Rosie O’Donnell and was renamed Rosie in 2001. Not surprisingly, it folded a year later.
I have no idea where these images came from or why they are on my computer. Some are a bit amusing, though. If you are looking for a husband, here’s a few tips from seventy five or so years ago.
If they help – you can thank me later.
“Miraculously, smoke curled out of his own mouth, his nose, his ears, his eyes, as if his soul had been extinguished within his lungs at the very moment the sweet pumpkin gave up its incensed ghost.”
― Ray Bradbury, The Halloween Tree
“and everything burned in blue, everything a star”
― Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets
Life is a spark – a flame traveling along a long fuse. The spark can’t see very far ahead. Until right before the very end it doesn’t have any idea of how much fuse is in front of it – only how long is the trail of ashes left behind.
The process of life is burning the hopes and dreams of the future – burning a raw fuse and leaving behind the ashes of memories. Hopes and dreams converted into memories. A one-way process… inevitable. This is the tragedy of the world. How much would we give if we could do the opposite? Convert memories into hopes and dreams. It’s impossible.
And what happens at the end? The fuse doesn’t know. Only that the spark will go out.
“We are all alone, born alone, die alone, and—in spite of True Romance magazines—we shall all someday look back on our lives and see that, in spite of our company, we were alone the whole way. I do not say lonely—at least, not all the time—but essentially, and finally, alone. This is what makes your self-respect so important, and I don’t see how you can respect yourself if you must look in the hearts and minds of others for your happiness.”
― Hunter S. Thompson, The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967
From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Wednesday, March 26, 1997. I used to look at posts from my old blog that were twenty years old. Now… I’m looking at posts I wrote a quarter-century ago.
May I check your oil, ma’am?
I’ve been issued a new lab coat at work. We have to wear flame resistant clothing in the plant, the chemists wear these blue coats instead of uniforms. When mine came it had my name on it. White stitching on a little blue label, “Bill.” The guy who brought it told me that I could cut the label off, but I thought I’d let it be. It’ll help keep the darn thing from getting “borrowed” during the night shift.
I went out to buy lunch, I’m too busy, so I was going to bring it back to eat at my desk. I went out to the little sandwich shop for a “Californian” – avocado, lettuce, cheese, in a pita. It was a nice day, but cool, so I kept my lab coat on. The girl took my order and then said, “The name, it’s Bill isn’t it?” I had a moment of confusion over how she knew my name, suddenly I realized that she read it off my coat. I was yanked back twenty three years, I was a teenager again, working at a gas station, with my first name on my uniform. I looked at the girl behind the counter, she was looking at me with that look, the look you give someone that’s making minimum wage, and will always be making minimum wage.
People used to look at me like that all the time when I was pumping gas. I was in college at the time, only working over the summer or on holidays, but they didn’t know that. I’d usually have school books with me, I’d study between cars, trying to get a jump on the next year. There was a blackboard inside the station, It was usually covered with equations, formulae, but nobody noticed that (or recognized what it was). Occasionally a customer would give me a little lecture, “Son, you need to be thinkin’ about what you’re going to do with your life.” I’d nod my head, ring up their gas (I could gas six cars, remember all six amounts- dollars and gallons, their license tag numbers, and what person went with what car, I’d worked out a mnemonic system, I could gas and charge everyone without asking any questions, only a few people noticed that). Of course I had plans, I was getting an education, this gas station job and its three bucks an hour was a part of it, but only a part.
Of course, after all these efforts, after all my sound and fury, here I am, middle aged, still wearing my name over my breast.
I think I’ll cut that label off.
And now, a piece of flash fiction for today:
The prophets of the new world order sowed the wind and they will soon reap the whirlwind of an angry public worn out by elite incompetence, arrogance, and ignorance.
There are a few tried-and-true orders that are universally delicious, and some that typically don’t hit the mark.
Humans are good at a lot of things, but putting time in perspective is not one of them. It’s not our fault—the spans of time in human history, and even more so in natural history, are so vast compared to the span of our life and recent history that it’s almost impossible to get a handle on it. If the Earth formed at midnight and the present moment is the next midnight, 24 hours later, modern humans have been around since 11:59:59pm—1 second. And if human history itself spans 24 hours from one midnight to the next, 14 minutes represents the time since Christ.
Gilbert V. Levin, Who Said He Found Signs of Life on Mars, Dies at 97 – The New York Times (nytimes.com)
I always thought the cotton that came in an aspirin bottle was necessary and important – for decades I carefully replaced it whenever I took out a pill.
“Even bad coffee is better than no coffee at all.”
― David Lynch
As I’ve said before, I did not set out to be a coffee snob. But it is what it is. There is the Aeropress… and a grinder (fresh ground beans do really make a difference).
I actually have two grinders – an electric one at home and a hand grinder at work. Also, two Aeropress (what’s the plural of Aeropress?). I have the original one at home and the portable Aeropress Go at work.
And I have my routine(s). I’m afraid on most days, my morning cup of coffee is the best part of the day. At work, I particularly enjoy opening up the plastic container I use and sniffing the aroma of the beans. In a month, when I have more time, when I’m at home all day, I plan on making a little stand with three bean containers and each morning sniff each one and decide what beans to grind.
I did forget how good it was.
We had a big inspection at work – weekend work preparing – shelves of paperwork – hours of preparation. The whole thing threw me off my game and I wasn’t able to hand-grind and brew my usual morning cup.
But we had it catered from the cafeteria – including two big steel cylinders of fresh coffee each morning. So I pushed the little black plastic handle and poured out a mug.
It was awful.
Awful! Bitter as hell but otherwise flavorless. Nasty, Nasty stuff.
The next day, I moved my alarm earlier to an obscene time (I am not a morning person) so I could get to work early enough to grind my own beans, heat my own water, and brew my own cup.
It was the best part of the day.
“What is there in our nature that is for ever urging us on towards pain and misery?”
― Mary Shelley, The Last Man
From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Tuesday, May 20, 1997
Morning from hell
Last night, driving home, I needed to stop for gas. As I was pulling up to the Texaco a good song (Nightswimming) came on the radio, so I kept driving. I knew I had enough fuel (barely) to get home, I’d buy a tank before work the next day. This was an omen of am impending morning from hell.
Candy and I left for work at the same time; she had the kids to take to school. I walked out to the piece of crap Mazda and turned the key. Nothing. Now this weekend the battery in the van had gone out (as my faithful readers know) and I had left my jumper cables in the van in case the problem was more than the battery. So out of my car I dashed, across the two inches of leftover stormwater covering my yard, around the house in time to see the van’s taillights make the curve from the alley into the street.
No problem, I have a battery charger in the garage; I’ll hook it up to the Mazda, charge the battery, get on my way, worry about what’s wrong later. But the extension cord was too short, it wouldn’t reach halfway across the front yard. My neighbor was leaving for work, she asked if she could help, but she had no jumper cables either. I thought for a minute and realized I have a longer cord up in the attic. I had left it there from the last time I was working on the cable TV. The end of the cord was hanging down in the attic access panel in the garage, I climbed up, grabbed it, and pulled. About two feet of cord came down along with a big wad of fiberglass insulation, but no more.
So I pulled out the aluminum ladder and leaned it up to the hatch. Our house is of the more or less modern construction using roof trusses. Instead of grand beams supporting the roof, leaving plenty of headroom; a truss of 2×4’s fastened by metal plates in fractal triangles fill the attic. Cheap, light, strong, and almost impossible to move through. I’m way too old and fat for the climbing, kneeling, crawling needed to get through the maze of beams. But I had no choice.
I tied a snakelight to a beam and fought my way through; realizing too late that I needed to turn a corner and the flashlight wouldn’t reach. So back I crawled to get the light, twisting it around my neck. I clambered through the dirty labyrinth around the corner clear back to the end of the house where I’d tied the cord to an old lamp I once used to work on the coax; it was caught on some wires. I untied it and began to work my way back to the garage.
I had to stop for a minute to get a grip. I was so frustrated – late for work, a dead car – claustrophobic, stuck in the dirty, hot, cramped attic trying to get a stupid extension cord that may or may not help me get my car started and get to work. I shook for a minute with emotion and paranoia. I felt completely alone; there was no one to help me. It was still only seven thirty in the morning and I had had all the crap I could stand.
But as always, I realized I had no other choice, and continued crawling through the beams back to the garage hatchway, flashlight around my neck, pulling the extension cord with me.
I set up the charger on the long cord and attached it to the terminals. The ammeter showed the battery was low, it quickly went to fully charged; and the car still wouldn’t start. Something wasn’t right. I removed the terminal clamps from the battery and noticed that the posts were black and corroded. Back to the garage for some sandpaper which I tore in little strips. I used these to clean the terminals and the clamps. Presto, the car starts right up. I called in to say I’d be twenty minutes late and drove to the gas station and on in to work.
All day I couldn’t shake that moment of fear and panic in the attic:
Car problems again, I had already lost half a day on Candy’s van, now another battery, those zinc plates soaking in sulfuric acid, the same thing again.
The terrible time pressures, I have to be in to work. I want to sit down, take some time off, I don’t want to go. I’m behind, the clock’s ticking, I can’t be late – primal, childhood images, late late late, sent to the office, walking through the quiet, empty hall, feeling – no being – out of place, looking in through that little window at the kids seated the teacher talking – the dreaded walk from the door to my seat.
Discomfort. Cramped, fighting back the welling claustrophobia, dark, dirty, hot, I have to balance on the edges of the ceiling beams or I’ll crash through the sheetrock, itchy – a world of fiberglass insulation. How did I get here? What the hell am I doing? What sort of terrible mistake is this?
Alone, lonely. Nobody to call. Candy has patients, she can’t leave work, isn’t even there yet. I have to figure this out myself. Once, I want somebody else to handle something. Take care of it. Fix it for me.
And the screwup guilt. Why did I oversleep? Why didn’t I get gas last night? Why didn’t I get jumper cables for the van and Mazda? Why did I leave this extension cord up here in the attic? Why haven’t I cleaned those terminals on a periodic basis?
So I’m a screwup; that’s why I’m being punished . But this is only a random bad day isn’t it? The fates or whatever; are they , out to punish me? To extract payment for every transgression? Or is this paranoia? That’s not important, nobody cares if you’re paranoid. What really matters is if they really are out for you or not, paranoid or no.
So lets belly up to the bar, mates. Get that cute barmaid to pour us up some mugs of icy foam. We’ll put our arms on each other’s shoulders and Maria’ll play a tune on the Farfisa while we stamp out the rhythm with our feet on the peanutshells and sing:
We losers, we happy losers – hear us saying;
time is passing us by,
there’s a party ’round here somewhere,
we can hear the band playing
but we’ve lost our invitations.
The stuck in the muds,
the if only ifs,
the full ‘o lamentations.
Don’t laugh now, ’cause I’ll wager
you are one too.
Don’t ya worry, there’s plenty of room,
Plenty of floor, plenty of lager
And now, a piece of flash fiction for today:
from Flash Fiction Online
Guzlowski’s personal blog – about his parents and their experiences
“What could I say? Maybe this: the man hunched over his motorcycle can focus only on the present instant of his flight; he is caught in a fragment of time cut off from both the past and the future; he is wrenched from the continuity of time; he is outside time; in other words, he is in a state of ecstasy; in that state he is unaware of his age, his wife, his children, his worries, and so he has no fear, because the source of fear is in the future, and a person freed of the future has nothing to fear.”
― Milan Kundera, Slowness