But I looked at the dress on the floor and it was as if the fire had spread across the room. It was beautiful and it reminded me of something I must do. I will remember I thought. I will remember quite soon now.” ― Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea
I remember growing up on the farm (I didn’t live there all the time,of course, but I did do some growing up there) we would haul trash out to the slough, in the cow pasture (a mess of land that wasn’t good enough for wheat) and burn it. There were decades of fire rusted tin cans there, slowly being swallowed up by the prairie. It seemed like some sort of sacred ground to me, although it had a funny smell.
“For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.
Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.
A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.
A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.
When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.
A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.
So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.” ― Herman Hesse, Bäume. Betrachtungen und Gedichte
The minute you land in New Orleans, something wet and dark leaps on you and starts humping you like a swamp dog in heat, and the only way to get that aspect of New Orleans off you is to eat it off. That means beignets and crayfish bisque and jambalaya, it means shrimp remoulade, pecan pie, and red beans with rice, it means elegant pompano au papillote, funky file z’herbes, and raw oysters by the dozen, it means grillades for breakfast, a po’ boy with chowchow at bedtime, and tubs of gumbo in between. It is not unusual for a visitor to the city to gain fifteen pounds in a week
yet the alternative is a whole lot worse. If you don’t eat day and night, if you don’t constantly funnel the indigenous flavors into your bloodstream, then the mystery beast will go right on humping you, and you will feel its sordid presence rubbing against you long after you have left town. In fact, like any sex offender, it can leave permanent psychological scars.
— Tom Robbins
Sam drove two friends from work, Duane and Cheryl, out for Asian food at lunch. They argued on the way – about if the restaurant was primarily Vietnamese or Chinese. It had a wide variety of food on the menu, primarily Chinese, but the neighborhood was mostly Vietnamese. They decided on a way to settle the argument. After they parked they walked around the back, huddled next to the overflowing recycled grease container and pushed the kitchen door open. They stuck their heads in a little, keeping hidden but enough to hear the conversation between the cooks. All three were pretty sure they could tell the difference between Chinese and Vietnamese, even if they didn’t speak the languages.
What they heard was Spanish.
“What the hell,” Duane said, “they have Mexicans cooking.”
“I’ve heard that,” Cheryl said. “Most of the Asian places hire Mexican workers in their kitchens. I never believed it until now.”
They decided it didn’t really matter at all so they walked around to the front and were shown to a table.
They had fun looking through the higher numbered items, such as No. 134- Fish Ball with Sea Slug, but decided top pass on anything unusual. They waved the woman away with the Dim Sum cart. It was lunch specials today, No. 6 for Sam and Cheryl, No. 10 for Duane.
They enjoyed the wrapper on their chopsticks. On one side were actual instructions on holding and using and on the other side a great little piece of literature:
Welcome to Chinese Restaurant. Please try your Nice Chinese Food With Chopsticks The traditional and typical of Chinese glonoushistory. And cultual.
They liked the way that Nice Chinese Food With Chopsticks was capitalized. They liked the little misspelled sentence fragment at the end. They especially loved learning the new word, glonoushistory.
What did it mean? It is in no dictionary they had access to. Cheryl pulled out her phone and all the hits it returned were in regard to the chopsticks.
“So it must be a new word,” Cheryl said. “From the context it is obviously intended to mean the food, cooking, serving and eating habits of a culture. A word made by combining history with nourishment, with a glo thrown in the front for good measure. I can’t think of any other word that quite means the same thing.”
Duane said, “I can think of examples of use: ‘Jeez, I can’t believe you’re eating that greasy hamburger!’ ‘Get off my case, burgers are essential to my sense of glonoushistory.’”
“’Twirl your spaghetti on a fork! Don’t suck it up like a straw.’ ‘Are you criticizing my glonoushistory?’” added Sam.
Cheryl said, “I imagine small eastern liberal-arts colleges establishing departments of Glonoushistory. Professors of Glonoushistory, getting research grants and traveling to Central Asia to catalog the preparation of boiled Yak and fermented Camel Milk beverages. The chorus of complaining when the first graduating class majoring in Glonoushistory realizes they have completed a course of study actually targeting them straight to the fast-food industry.”
The three had a good laugh and then their food came. They broke off the chopsticks and dug in. Sam smoothed the cover out, folded it, and placed it in his pocket. He wanted to tape it into his journal that evening so he could remember the fun lunch with his two friends. He forgot to do that, of course. A month later, after several washings, he’d find the little wadded up remains in his pants pocket and not be able to figure out what it was.
Stuffed and worried about getting sleepy in the afternoon – there was a lot of work to be done – they piled into Sam’s car for the short drive back to the office. Cheryl sat up front, Duane in the back. There were some grocery bags bag there and Duane absentmindedly poked around in them. They were full of canned food, there was even a grocery receipt, but the cans were all silver steel – no labels.
“What the hell, Sam,” said Duane.
“Oh, I buy canned food, mostly vegetables. It’s cheap. And then I peel the labels off and leave the cans in the car for a couple days – to make sure I forget what’s in them, before I put ‘em in the cupboard.”
“Things are sweeter when they’re lost. I know–because once I wanted something and got it. It was the only thing I ever wanted badly, Dot, and when I got it it turned to dust in my hand.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned
As the Snowpocalyps died away I was excited because a package from Amazon was finally able to be delivered. It was something that I bought with my Birthday Gift Card – more expensive than I would have bought for myself. Something that had been sitting in my wish list for over a year. It was several days late, of course, but the shipping company emailed me a link where I could watch the delivery. A Google Map appeared on the screen with a pin on my house and a little truck icon moving around.
Watching the delivery truck move, knowing my precious package was there in the back, was addicting.
But it was nuts, the thing would come right up to my street and then flee. Sure, there was a warning at the bottom of the screen saying “Simply Because the Truck is Near, Doesn’t Mean Delivery is Imminent,” but really…. There is a large light industrial business area near where I live and I suppose it kept having to go back there for scheduled pickups.
I swear, at one point the little truck was only a hundred yards away – I know those local streets well because I ride my bike on them all the time – then I hit REFRESH and it bounded two miles away in a flash. This was more than I could take so I gave up and took a nap. As I was about to cross over into slumberland the dogs barked at the front door and Alexa started flashing white….
My package was here. All is right in this best of all possible worlds.
“Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are, That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm, How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides, Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend you From seasons such as these?”
—-William Shakespeare, King Lear
Well Endowed King
Mark Campbell stepped off the train, alone, into the cold Autumn drizzle and walked the two long blocks through the crystal grid of skyscrapers to the theater. It looked like a gigantic metal cube – like a Borg spaceship that touched down into a wide depression along the busy street. When the city built the new hall Mark read all the articles about it and its innovative architecture. He always sat on the left side of the train so he could watch the construction when he rode by on his commute. He thought that it was so, so cool – but that he would never be able to afford tickets. But he discovered that with every new play that was produced the first night would be a “pay what you can” performance.
At 9 AM on a certain date tickets would be available online for the newest show and the buyer would decide what he would pay. Mark had a quick finger on the internet link and right on time would log on and buy a ticket. He would usually pay five bucks. It was essentially a dress rehearsal but Mark enjoyed the shows, although he didn’t have any luck getting anyone to go along with him.
The theater was like a normal performance hall turned on its side. The lobby was at the bottom of the descending slope, with the performance space above. The top floors were used for offices and rehearsal space. Mark waited in line at the bar to spend ten dollars on a tiny plastic cup of cheap white wine -mostly to have something in his hand as he milled around in the crowd waiting for the show.
The rest of the crowd was divided into couples or small groups, chatting away. Mark was used to being single at these events – but was still more than a little self-conscious.
Tonight, the show was Shakespeare’s King Lear. Mark had seen the play once before – twenty years earlier. He had taken his son to an outdoor summer performance. Mark’s son was only ten and he worried the play would be too complex and dense for the child. But his son loved it – there was enough sword fighting and action that he was enthralled, even if he didn’t really understand what was going on. In the infamous eye-gouging scene, an actor actually threw two grapes on the stage and then stomped on them. His son perked up.
“Hey, what just happened?” he asked.
“Oh, nothing, Nothing.” A father has to lie a little now and then.
The child especially liked the army scenes where they had a large crowd (probably every stagehand and a lot of local volunteers) moving through the trees around the outdoor venue with lamps and rattling swords. It was pretty impressive – he was a tiny bit afraid… just the right amount. He used to really love going to the Shakespeare plays and Mark wished they could have done more. They were so busy.
And now his son had his own life and better things to do than hang out with his old father.
While he milled around hiding at the edge of the crowd, pretending to look at the posters, artwork, and announcements attached to the walls, he noticed something odd. Near the entrance to the stairway to the seating above there was a large, bold card on an easel:
PLEASE BE AWARE THAT THIS PERFORMANCE CONTAINS NUDITY
Nudity? In King Lear? What was that about? Mark didn’t give a damn about that, and the minute the bell dinged and everyone began moving toward their seats forgot the “warning” completely.
One cool thing about the venue is that the stage and the seating was suspended from the top of the building on cables and could be raised and lowered easily to convert the space into any conformation that the producers liked. He had seen quite a few – some were arranged like a standard theater with the seats in rows facing the stage, some were “in the round,” and some had a jumbled mixture of stage and seats with the play happening right among the audience.
Tonight that was the case. There was a single large stage, but the seats crowded in on three sides so that the action would be close to every observer. Mark couldn’t help but be excited at this innovative an intimate arrangement.
As the audience settled in around him two young women, probably college age, took the seats immediately to the left of Mark. They were very attractive and dressed to the nines. Mark couldn’t help but feel a bit of excitement to have such gorgeous people sitting right next to him – although he knew he was invisible to them… at best. These premiere performances often had large groups of attractive young people attend – theater students from local schools and colleges. Watching them left Mark with a bittersweet nostalgia for days gone long, long past.
The two chatted with the ironic, bitter, and sardonic tone that women like that use at times like that. Mark wondered what those two thought of Shakespeare. He had no idea. Even though they were sitting right next to him they lived in a world completely alien to his. Soon enough, the lights darkened and the play began.
It started out with a very spare stage – a wooden wall, a door, a heavy chair, and a candelabra. Mark noticed before the performance a couple of stagehands on hands and knees, carefully wiping the stage down, as if they were worried about bits of slippery water.
The play started very formal and stiff. The actors stood arranged around the seated king in symmetric positions and delivered their lines. It was all very good, but not very exciting. Mark thought this wouldn’t last – King Lear is an avalanche of a play; it delivers its punches full-bore – heavy and hard. It doesn’t fuck around. He worried that they had decided to go all old-school, plain, simple, and it was starting to get a little boring. It might be a long night of interesting but not very passionate storytelling.
Then, suddenly, about a quarter way through, the formal stylized play ended. As Lear was thrown into the storm of madness the wooden walls that formed the back of the stage fell forward into a tumbledown confusion, huge doors swung down from above and a gigantic torrent of water waterfalled down (sort of Flashdance style – on steroids) onto the King.
And all Hell broke loose.
Giant strobes went off above in bolts of terrible lighting, electricity crackled, while deafening peals of thunder roared from unseen speakers. The King was now mad, insane, completely unhinged. He ran around the stage and under the falling deluge until he was drenched to the bone.
And then with a bizarre deranged scream he stood at the front of the stage, soaking wet, and stripped of his clothes. All of them.
Mark suddenly remembered. “Ah, that was why they had the nudity warning,” he thought to himself.
The other actors began chasing the howling naked Lear around the stage and then they left it to begin running up and down the aisles and then even between the rows of seats – the audience would have to sort of stand to give them room to move by.
Mark had to smile. The actor playing Lear was no young man – his hair was snow-white and his face wrinkled from many, many decades. But he was slim, muscular, and still very toned for his age. He was athletic and quick, moving through the audience with a grace and speed that made it believable that the other actors could not catch him and run him to ground.
The naked actor was impressive in one other way. The King was very well endowed. Mark thought, “If I looked like that at his age, I’d be running around naked all I could get away with too.” The King moved down the very row where Mark was sitting, tumbling through, followed by his pursuers.
Then Mark noticed the two women sitting next to him. They were horrified. Stiff as boards, speechless, both of their mouths frozen in an identical rictus of terror. They were completely offended by this naked old man speeding around in front of them. Swallowed by a toxic mixture of anger and fear – this was not what they thought that they were going to have to deal with.
Eventually the others captured Lear, throwing a heavy cloak over him and pulling him offstage. The intermission came right after (stagehands rushed out with mops to dry the stage).
The two women stood and yelled out indignant protests to nobody and everybody. They were so apoplectic, “I can’t believe,” “I’ve never,” and “This is terrible,” were the only snippets that Mark could make out even though he was right there. In an enraged huff they stormed out of the building.
Mark wondered if they had seen the warning card in the lobby. He was amazed that anyone that on the outside posed as being so worldly and sophisticated could be so upset at the sight of a bare old man. Maybe that was it, they weren’t used, weren’t prepared for geriatric nudity. Maybe it was the mature equipment. Maybe their boyfriends will be viewed with less enthusiasm going forward. Mark really wished he could see the two women’s text messages – packets of outrage – they would send to all their friends.
The rest was crackerjack. The formality gone, torn to the four winds, the play was a tsunami of powerful madness, a foil for the King’s insanity and despair. The fourth wall was broken, with actors fighting in the aisles and lightning screaming through the theater. Mark noticed that even the sound effects added to the disconcerting craziness – every time the King’s mind took a turn for the worst, a crackling buzz came from hidden speakers above the seats – a subtle effect that enforced the impression of insanity and doom.
And then, the tragedy. As the inevitable doom unfolds, the tragic events set in motion by Lear’s egocentric arrogance in the first scene come to their conclusion, the horror sets in.
Afterward, spent, Mark trudged back to the station to catch the next-to-last train back home. He had enjoyed the play immensely. But the most memorable roles were played by the two young women next to him, offended and horrified by the well-endowed King.
“Some people turn sad awfully young. No special reason, it seems, but they seem almost to be born that way. They bruise easier, tire faster, cry quicker, remember longer and, as I say, get sadder younger than anyone else in the world. I know, for I’m one of them.” ― Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine
I’m sorry, but I never really trust anything that I buy from Etsy.