Tuesday, December 29, 2009

...and Sofia said: "Don't die."

My granddaughter Sofia was with us during the Christmas week. On the last night before she left, she sat on my lap and snuggled in my arms, telling her Mommy and Daddy that she didn't want to return to their home in Washington, DC. She wanted to stay in California for "a hundred more days; maybe forever." Mommy and Daddy just looked at her, and went upstairs to pack. They were all leaving early the next day.

Once alone together, Sofia asked me to tell her the story of "Up," the animation film we had seen sitting up in bed together the day before. Sofia wants stories to be told to her (and seen by her) over and over again. So I started to retell the story, about Ellie and Karl and their love story that surmounted Ellie's death. (As usual, she knew the story better than I did. When I left out a part, or misspoke in any other manner, she corrected me.) When I got to the part about Ellie's death, she asked me, for the umpteenth time in the proceeding twenty-four hours, why Ellie died. I started to tell her about old age, and illness, and pneumonia and the limitations of medicine, when she looked deeply in my eyes and said: "Don't die, Grandpa. Ever." I said, "Everyone dies eventually." To which she reiterated more firmly: "Don''t die." I said, "I will try not to die." She said strongly and with conversation finality, "Don't die." And she snuggled deeply into my arms.

Of such moments eternity, happiness and human immortality is created. To be loved is never to die.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

She used to tend to her garden; now she tends to me.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Never apologize for questions; there can be no answers without them.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Things we Have

To an actor who had just written me and seemed a little low in spirits during this holiday season (a lack of money, work and representation), I thought the following might pick them up.'

"Once, when I was feeling depressed and low, my father said to me: 'I cried, because I had no shoes, till I met a man who had no feet.'" I said to him: "Don't strive for the things we don't have; but enjoy the things we have."

I told him I saw a beautiful sunset today, and a child laughing...what a great day!

Merry, Merry Christmas...and Happy New Year.


(MEMO to Cliff: Now that you've talked the talk, you must remember to continue to walk the walk.)

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Promise of Christmas with Sofia

A week ago I was talking on the phone with my daughter Mishi when suddenly my granddaughter Sofia's wail was heard in the background. Mishi told me she's have to get off the phone.

Two minutes later Mishi called me back to report. Sofia was still crying but being comforted in her Mommy's arms. Mishi explained that Sofia had been playing soccer with her Popi in the living room. She had stood on the ball, and had fallen on her bum. It had hurt. But she was OK.

Mishi said she'd call back later. Sofia's wailing was still vibrating.

Four minutes later a call arrived. The voice was not Mommy's, but Sofia's. Her crying was now reduced to a whimper, but a little girl's sad whisper.

"I just wanted you to know, Grandpa, I'm OK. I was playing soccer with Popi and I stood on the ball and fell. But I'm OK now."
"That must have hurt," I said.
"It did." Then, in hurt finality, abject defeat: "I'm just no good at soccer,"

My heart wrenched. "No," I said. "You just made a mistake. 'Accidents ha-appen; they happen aaaall the tiiime'" I sang.
"Even the very best soccer players make mistakes. And besides, the main thing about soccer playing is not just about being good, but having fun."
A long pause occurred at the other end of the phone. "I miss you, Grandpa" she said.

My heart, which had become shattered and fragmented with seventy years of my life's vicissitudes, became whole again; all the stars in the galaxy aligned, the ever-expanding universe paused in its outward efforts, resting to absorb the moment. Matter and anti matter became one. Peace reigned throughout all existence.

"I miss you, too," I said.

"And soon we will be together," I said. "In one week you, and Mommy and Popi will be in California and we will all celebrate Christmas together. And you and I will go places in the car, just you and I. To the pier, and a pie shop, and toy stores."

"I love you, Grandpa."
"I love you, too." Words never seemed more inadequate; or less necessary.
"Here's Mommy." And she handed the phone to Mishi, her Mommy, my other lovely girl child.

Christmas; can the universe wait?

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Computer

It is 7:30 AM and my mind is alert, swimming with today's magic: conundrums unsolved, mysteries unraveled, puzzles growing and not diminishing.

The promise of Ambien CR has been fulfilled: I have had 7 and a half hours of uninterrupted sleep; and awakened without hangover. But now, in the twilight of awakening, mental life bursts from its deep sleep. Thoughts move up from deep forgotten dreams to emerge into a soft velvet world of vivid ideas, new and forming, sentences and concepts battling any possibility of renewed sleep.

Yet I stay in bed another hour, negotiating with these ideas, asking them to remain memorable while I sleep another hour. But the mind, fearing it will forget, overwhelms it. One must arise, and record.

I am in San Francisco, three fourths through my acting workshops: They were Saturday and Sunday, now Monday night and Tuesday night. Tuesday morning; I should be more tired, but instead the swizzle stick of teaching has stirred up my thoughts, like alcohol stirred up from the bottom of the glass, molecules equally distributed up from below, swirling, ready to offer me the buzz if only I will place the glass to my lips and swallow.

I get up.

I look to the left, my wife is still asleep. She is the caregiver of my aging, the pixie who pricks and deflates all over-weening possibility of preening. I laugh, sweetly yet ruefully at the thought.

I carefully throw off the covers, stand, make my way to the light switch, turn on the the soft hotel light over the computer, open it, press the on button, and wait for the machine's circuits to awaken and join mine, in remembering and recording the new thoughts of awakening.

I ear a ping, and my fingers begin.

Love not; live not.

Never to have loved is never to have lived.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Vertical versus Horizontal

Loving many women or men for a night is pleasurable; loving one deeply is incomparable.

Optical Self-Illusion

If the merry-go-round we live on is large enough, we can fool ourselves into thinking we are moving forward.

Monday, December 07, 2009

From Jon:

"Ignorance is curable; stupidity is not."

Thursday, December 03, 2009


I was raised in my youth by a series of little known surrogate uncles and aunts. They all died years ago, on some varied anonymous dates, long gone from the specific life of a young boy I once was.

We all (the six surrogates and my Mother, Father, Brother and Sister) lived in a three story house in Union City, NJ. It was set as the fifth house from the corner of a six-hose tenement row. Each house shared walls with other houses. The address was 322-6th Street. The phone umber was UNion 3-6618.

That house was comfortable, and my cave, from the age of three to eighteen when I went off to college. (I visited there about a decade ago with my brother and sister. The same grooved hardwood door is still present, with the same stairway-stepped three six-by-nine windows gracing it. It made me cry, with poignant nostalgia.)

You entered the house the front door and into a small six by eight foyer. On the left wall of which was a radiator, and next to it, a door less curtain that led the ten-by-twelve living room. The foyer led down the hallway to the left; and as you moved down the hallway you encountered a door on the left side of which led to Mom and Dad's bedroom (with a crib and later a small bed for my sister). Further down the hallway, to the back, one entered the kitchen, the main room of the house, twenty feet-wide, the building's full width. If you continued on it extended ten feet more to a door to a back shack, where the furnace was located, and further back, a door which opened out into the small backyard.

On the right side of the foyer, six feet down from the door, was a full flight of stairs, fifteen steps, that led up to the second floor. On the second floor there were three bedrooms. There was also a bathroom. My brother and I shared the middle bedroom on the left side of the bathroom. Bill Holstrom lived in the room on the right side of the bathroom. Next to my brother's and my room, was the largest room of the house, other than the downstairs kitchen. It had two big windows and faced the front of the house. I had it's own stove, refrigerator and kitchen table. Millie and "Daddy" (his nickname even in the bar where he bartendered) lived there; without benefit of wedlock, I might add ("Daddy" was still married to someone else who lived nearby...although I never knew that in my youth.)

Joining these rooms was a second floor hallway, running parallel to the hallway below, which also ran down the length of the building. I led to another stairway; with only twelve steps, leading to a third floor, where there were another three rooms, and another hallway.

Leo Klunk lived in the first room off the stairs, facing the back; Lennie Coditti lived in the middle room; and Del (I have forgotten his last name). He lived in the smallest room of the entire house, facing the front street. The room contained only a narrow bed and a dresser, with no room for a bed stand or a side lamp. Del lived by sunlight, or overhead light, or nothing. However, he only slept in the room four nights a week; and paid the cheapest rent. On Fridays, he would drive down to Rumson, New Jersey, on the Atlantic shore, to spend the weekend with his family, which included wife and children; and return to our house on Monday night late after work.

Del was a dynamiter, who work for ten or more years blasting away at a big hill near Newark that impeded the building of the New Jersey Turnpike.

His next door roommate, Lenny worked the phones and hustled (legally) charitable subscriptions to attend yearly union parties and balls; Leo did errands for bookies, delivering bet sheets and picking up money; Millie visited her family, read books, occassionally baby sat my sister and me; and waited for Daddy to be off work at the bar. and to this day I don't know what Bill Holstrom did for a living...although I do remember he has a picture of bathing-suited girl on his bed stand that wiggled as you walked past her.

Leo, Lenny, Del, Millie and "Daddy" and Bill were roomers in our house. They paid weekly rent, came and went as they wished, but never ate with us (they were roomers, not boarders). They occasionally visited us in the kitchen or living room, but that was the extent of our social contact.

Each lived with us over at least ten years. Their presence around me and upstairs always made me feel safe. And as I said, they were my surrogate Aunts and Uncles, friendly, non-interfering (my Mother would never have allowed that) grown-ups, and as such, each in his own way, role models; lessons in community and sharing. With one bathroom in the whole house, and it containing a single sink and one toilet and one tub for eleven people, you learned to be patient, to share, and recognize and navigate who was neat, who smelled the best, and who smelled the worst.

It was an extended family in the truest sense of the word; kind to me: Millie and "Daddy", Bill, Lenny, Leo, Del...all dead now but forever alive in my memory, my character and my personality.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Fascist in Me

A friend of mine called me a Fascist the other night (at a dinner at my house, nonetheless!) because I said something he didn't agree with. After he left, I spoke to my wife: I felt that somehow I had offended my friend (causing his Fascist labelling of me) because of my argumentative nature, which I've tried to temper with age, but age still too-often turns me into vinegar instead of better wine, especially that evening.

Two days later, my friend and his wife were parking their car, he got out first and crossed to me. He said he was sorry what he said that evening; that I was not a Fascist. I saw his tighten his hands in a gesture of frustration, as he said: "You are just the damnedest person to intellectually categorize." I paused. "Thank you," I said. "That is the nicest compliment I've gotten in a long time."

We discussed whether I was politically Right, Left, or a Libertarian. "You are all over the map," he said. "No," I said, "I come from a single, unchanging perspective: I can't stand bullshit. From whatever the source. Today, most of the bullshit is coming from the Left. A few years ago, most of the bullshit was coming from the Right. Bullshit originates in power; or maybe it just stinks more noticeably.

"I can't stand half-truths, shallow truths, hypocrisy, political correctness; or adversary opinions put forth as objective analysis, all positions that are not well considered, desirous of balance and fairness...and open to modification by new facts and better, truer statements. I hate self-righteousness, whether in politics or religion."

He nodded and we went into our respective homes.

I continued to think about our conversation. I still felt badly about offending my friend with the force of my opinions.

I thought: Knowledge is not truth, but the search for truth. Discussion--or even an argument--is a tactic of discovery, not a tool to bludgeon.

So, to all my friends, an apology: When I tell you my opinion, I offer it as a hypothesis; not a law; a possibility, not a certainty. My utterance is merely an opening--or continuing--gambit to stimulate you to present me new facts that may modify, strengthen my hypothesis.

I argue to learn; and humbly--in spite of my loud and forcible ways--offer my knowledge to you as a stimulus to our learning. My excessive energy in debate is only my passionate love of ideas and the hunt for truth, as well as my Quixotic search to understand that truth.

Forgive me, friends: I know we are soul mates on a journey through an infinite, dark and unknown universe. I know we must learn to love and help each other learn--and survive, even in our disagreement. Death's beckoning is our shared, binding and blinding destiny. And I am mirrored in you, and you in me. We are each other. And death's loud laugh--ignorance--is our mutual foe.

I promise to be quieter next time; and less passionate. And I will try not to react so forcefully and loudly when I step in your--and my--bullshit.