I’m a loner

ALWAYS HAVE BEEN

That’s the way, uh-huh, uh-huh, I like it.

Apart from 20-something delusional fantasies of the Platonic meeting and melting of souls, I’ve always known I am not the marrying kind. I never as a girl envisioned anything like a dream wedding or the possibility of children. High school Saturday nights passed without thought to the date I didn’t have. Prom? What is that, even? Not this gal. Once upon a time when I was on a date with Some Guy, we walked by the Academy of Music, where the evening’s program was Dvorak’s New World Symphony. He was not one to spontaneously go to the orchestra with me, not even with $2 nosebleed seats. I briefly contemplated palming his chest and shoving him into the street with “This is where we part ways.” In my mental script, as I pass into the theater, he almost gets hit by a car.

I don’t want anyone

interfering with me and my one lifetime. I do what I want and go where I want whenever I want. I’ll buy a house, sell a house, move to another city, another country, and change jobs, quit jobs, without consulting anyone or compromising. I’m not going to wait for someone to be ready to join me before I do something. And never will I tell a friend, “OK, I’ll check with Jim and get back to you.”

I, however,

reject the designation single. Single implies half of double and I ain’t half anything, beeyatches; I live a whole life of my own. Despite my continuing career as a chronic depressive, I find, in my upright lucid moments, that curiosity and appreciation are all it takes to be more happy than less happy, no matter who is or isn’t by your side. That’s my recipe for an interesting life, and the secret ingredients are music, cats, and friends.

FORGET THE TUNNEL OF LOVE

I live in the tunnel of affectionate friendship.

The Tunnel of Affectionate Friendship, Penn Station, NY

The best things ever to happen to me were menopause, retirement, and social security, which all freed me from so many dreary or conflicting aspects of life, like tampons, libido, alarm clocks, and jobs. Men? Forgettaboudit. That’s over. Not that I haven’t loved any, or might not still, but anyone of any persuasion quickly finds I am near impossible to live with. Ask my best friends. I would caution any guy—I’m a bad pony; don’t bet on me. I don’t like having people around me for too long. I don’t want to engage with someone just because they’re in my field of vision. I want to eat, sleep, go out, and ­travel in my own time, not in coordination with someone else’s. I want to play the same Scriabin étude on a loop for five hours. I prefer a quiet room to chatter. You do things with people you wouldn’t do on your own, like watch a rerun of Veep because why not what else are we doing? In silence, creativity calls.

Loving, supportive, loyal,

half-cracked friends is the way to go for me. Bonus points for gay guys. But you’re leaving out love, lovey, you might say, the riches of partnership—but even in love, I crave solitude. I can’t be alert and responsive 24/7. I need room to breathe and freedom to crash. I need to know no one’s coming through that front door. I realize most people seek companionship; I know I’m an exception, and I told a friend my lack of interest in the pursuit of love makes me feel an outsider to the human race which seems obsessed with it. He shot back over our Thai lunch, “You are an outsider.” Nothing special about it, it just goes against the grain of ordinary society. Some people are at a loss for being alone, but I enjoy my own company, bless my soul. I may die alone, like the hooked-up always forecast—but so will you after your partner croaks. I know I can live a satisfying life on my own; anything else is a crap shoot.

LISTEN TO BACH

and all will be right with the world. – Mayor Jones

Music is my saving grace. If Whoever’s in Charge had asked, I’d have begged, make me not the writer, photographer, and graphic artist I am, but a musician.  We all know music beats the living daylights out of other modes of expression. It is pure communication through sound waves.

There is nothing I love more

than music—but I don’t speak the language, I only hear it.

John Coltrane’s Illustration of the Mathematics of Music

It might as well be calculus. It’s just sound to me, either pleasing or disturbing or undistinguished, or boring, and the structural framework upon which it is built eludes me. It’s a club I’m shut out of. I am unspeakably jealous of all musicians. It actually hurts. Sure I could learn more than I now know, in the way I was proud of myself for going from an F to an E in Algebra and then back down to an F, but some things don’t come naturally and I wouldn’t have the confidence of real understanding.

Or…OR—get this:

Maybe I’m lucky that way, that it’s an abstraction that goes in both ears and evaporates, because though I forced myself to learn to read music so I could mangle Bach on the piano, I found that when I later listened to pieces I’d studied, I didn’t like knowing what the notes were, or seeing the skeleton of the sheet music it began as. That was too of this world, and music is not.

Music barely exists,

in a practical sense. There’s no such concrete thing as Beethoven’s 9th. It’s not in the notes on the page; they have to be played and heard and you can hear only so many at one time. It’s not contained in the score; its wholeness is something we take on faith. There’s no cloud of sound waves hanging in the air that contains Beethoven’s 9th. When the second movement begins, the first one is gone. You can’t keep music and you can’t chase it. Tempus edax rerum. Time, the destroyer of all things, destroys music as it’s happening. With every note the previous note dies. It’s continually deconstructing itself into silence. You can only hear it in waves which advance and retreat. It comes to us like the wind and, like the wind, blows away.

My response to music is purely emotional.

I’m not knowledgeable enough to be a critic, and when I read online quibbling about fine points and nuances, I don’t know what they’re talking about. Rubato comes up a lot. I focus on the pleasure hearing something gives, it’s visceral and sensory, not intellectual, à la “I know what I like.” A piece can make me hyperventilate (Grosse Fugue), weep (Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Symphony), swoon (Brahms’ 3rd), dance (Wir eilen mit swachen), smile (Fugue à la Gigue), wrinkle my brow (Rochberg), space out (Glass), pound the floor for mercy (Parsifal), transport me to another realm (Bachianas Brasilieras No. 9), gasp (Resphighi’s Ancient Airs—I added that because I have it on and just now gasped for breath), shiver me timbers (any Bach Mass), or sometimes gag (most contemporary schlock).

Music even saved my life. Deep in depression and grief months after the murder of a friend, I went to the Academy of Music to hear Schumann’s Rhenish Symphony. By the light-hearted 4th movement I was reconciled to the reality that J was dead but I was not.

Someone asked me

what are my greatest pleasures in life, and without thinking I said long-distance train travel, a live symphony orchestra, and my cats. Apart from perhaps the thrillingly ominous creaking of the train as you climb Soldier Summit in the Wasatch Mountains on a snowy moonlit night, or having the earth drop out from beneath you riding the edge of Pineview Dam in Ogden, there’s nothing more

© James A. Castañeda

exciting than near-on 100 virtuoso musicians playing as one, the electricity of the hall crackling in the air. I’m addicted, and the treatment center is but a train ride away, because I live in the city of the glorious Philadelphia Orchestra. They’re our #1 asset, ask me. I grew up with them. They were my first orchestra and Ormandy my first Music Director, in the era of Concertmaster Norman Carol and flautist Murray Panitz, cellist William Stokking, and violist Renard Edwards, the first African American member of the orchestra, back in 1971. Forty-eight years later, he hasn’t retired.

Maybe it’s brand loyalty,

or simply the first live music I ever heard, but “music’s most sensuous sound,” the fabled “Philadelphia sound”— is the sound I crave, whatever other orchestras have to offer, for “its warmth, [its] rich enveloping sound.” “The signature lava flow of [the] magnificent Philadelphia strings is…memorably ravishing.” I hear Muti disrupted this tradition, and I didn’t pay much attention to the intervening conductors between him and Nézet-Séquin, but I can’t remember ever not being ravished by today’s Philadelphia Orchestra.

RAVISH ME!

One of my first concerts

I recall, was a benefit for the Scheie Eye Institute with André Watts and featuring Beethoven’s Fifth; I think I’d just graduated from  Temple. (Yes, I do still have the program and those of virtually every concert I have attended since college. I collect memories.) I must have chosen that because it was the Fifth that introduced me, amidst my nonmusical family, to classical music. I’d asked myself, “What’s the big deal about Beethoven’s Fifth?” I listened to it, and found out. Soon after, I acquired the 17-volume Beethoven Bicentennial Collection and was all about LvB until I became the Bach freak I am today after hearing Glenn Gould play. As I like to say, “Buddha is my mentor; Bach is my religion.” Though I’ve no idea how often the players have shifted over the years—could be a whole different animal—I’ll hear Nézet-Séquin do something, Schubert’s Great Symphony, go home and listen to Ormandy’s 1969 recording, and they both feel familiar.

Frontier Airlines, a whole different animal

I found it sad,

though, towards the end, that the orchestra seemed to lose its heart for playing for Ormandy; sometimes the audience would stop clapping before he even got off the stage. Then when that spitfire Riccardo Muti showed up, things got exciting again. I loved his youngblood energy, but I left town not long after, and had no worthy successor orchestra to devote myself to. I got out of the habit of going to live shows, and was once brought to nostalgic tears in my living room listening to the Academic Festival Overture, but years later I hit the jackpot at Davies Hall, home of Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony. I loved them to death for 17 years (15 Grammy awards, 21 nominations) but couldn’t bring myself to call them “my” orchestra.

Ormandy gets mixed reviews

on the web. I don’t hear him lauded as one of the greats. I’m no doubt not discerning enough a judge. He gets a lot of flack but I don’t give a damn. It was his orchestra that taught me as a teenager to love Brahms, Beethoven, Dvorak, Tchaik and Rocky. They’re better than ever, and as I wrote of a performance in May 2017, “I don’t know where in the world you are but did you hear it, the ‘Philadelphia Sound‘ that just blew the roof off the Kimmel Center? Tchaikovsky would never have had doubts about his own 5th symphony if he had heard MY orchestra play it. Woôöòóœøōõow! They killed that 5th so dead, in my concert notes tonight I wrote ‘Why the Philadelphia Sound is the sound heard ’round the world.’ ” (conducted by Cristian Mâcelaru)

Here is a letter

I wrote Eugene Ormandy on October 30, 1981, shortly after fleeing the humidity, slush, and unrequited love of Philadelphia for Portland, Oregon, and here I am reading it to my pal Beau in my San Francisco apartment.

Dear Maestro Ormandy,

As a native Philadelphian (of 26 years’ habitation) who has recently transplanted to Portland, I am confident that while I miss my friends and city, a new life will develop in their stead—but what can fill the void formerly occupied by you and your wonderful orchestra? In the two months I have been making a home for myself, my constant companion has been your exquisite, incomparable recording of the Rachmaninoff 2nd Symphony. Is there a nobler, grander, more fearless piece of music, and could anyone embrace it with the warmth and fullness you alone achieve?

The 2nd is very meaningful to me. I first heard you conduct it at a 1977 Dell West concert, where I and my great love shared a single umbrella while the misty blue night descended and your strings soared over Fairmount Park like my own triumphant heart. I am a writer and I can only hope to one day compose a sentence that can fly straight into the heart like the motto of the E minor.

After I decided to leave Philadelphia (and my great love) in the summer of 1981, I went to see, one last time, Eugene Ormandy conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Dell. What was on the program but Rachmaninoff 2! As I do not know when, if ever, I will return, it was for all I know the last time I will have heard you together, and so I felt impelled to pay my respects and to thank you for the beauty and splendor you have given the world like a gift of magic. I happened to see you walking on Locust St. the opening day of the ’78-’79 season; I said good morning and you tipped your hat to me and asked, “How do you do?” I must confess I have been in love with you ever since!

In gratitude and admiration,
[the young] Alexandra Jones

I returned to Philadelphia

in 2016 to be with my family, and who was now on the podium but international sensation Yannick Nézet-Séguin. He and the Philly crew are a perfect fit. I have a soft spot, called my heart, for MTT, but Yannick might just be the pinnacle of my concert-going career. After all this powerhouse—“the greatest generator of energy on the international podium”—is conducting my personal orchestra. Though he directs Philly and no less than the Metropolitan Opera, Orchestre Métropolitain and five or ten other ensembles, he is the farthest thing from a diva. Of course I sit behind him, not in front of him; I have it on good authority Ormandy “was a tyrant.” But Yannick—I would call him pure of heart, a decent, humble man who lives his passion and his beliefs, and spreads his own joy around the globe. He knows how lucky he is to be living the life he is, doing what he loves.

His energy excites

and exhausts me, canceling each other out and allowing me to sit quietly in a chair for two hours without attracting attention. But mostly, it inspires me. He does more with the 86,400 seconds in his day than anyone I can think of. And as one with a limited number of spoons  at my disposal, I don’t know how he does it with travel thrown in; yet he took the time to make a 36-hour playlist of music for the homeless animals at the SPCA.

Who’s cuter?

Just as you put your Goodwill stuff in your trunk and drive it around for four months before dropping it off, I’d had a cache of rejected cat food and surplus items in the pantry for donation for quite some time, only I’d been waiting to deliver them for a day when a famous conductor happened to be there. It wasn’t a public event but a press junket, so I just barged my way in and introduced myself as the “designated audience representative culled from [his] worldwide posse of admirers” (or something like that). I was so nervous I might make some kind of fool of myself I took a Xanax before I left the house.

When I thanked him

for this adorable gesture he spoke in his gentle Québecois accent of the need of animals and humans to love and be loved (or something like that). I noted, because I could look straight into his eyes, that I wouldn’t have to tippy-toe to hug him. I always scope that out when I meet a man. Huggage is a mainstay in the tunnel of affectionate friendship, ya know.

Doggy Huggage
Dogs are Happiness

I once wrote

if ever I lived with a man he would have to be companionable as a cat, just in the room sharing air, rather than the space invaders I’d been used to. I have three furry tranquilizers—Zazu, Zzyzzy and Zahra (who are utterly oblivious to music unless it wakes them).

Zzyzzy gives me the stink eye

I named Zzyzzy after the last entry in the Philly phone book when I was a kid, Zzyzzy Zzyzzy’s Ztamp Ztudio. They called it that to make it easy to find as it turned out to be a front for a prostitution ring. I’ll never tell Zzyzzy that.

Zazu has a bright idea

 

MUSIC IS HEALING

Kimmel Center, Verizon Hall, Seat F106

is the address of my happy place. F106 is my metaphor for where I disappear into the music and all is right with the world. “I” can more or less cease to exist, and the world with its travails.

The other night Yannick and the gang served up the most thrilling orchestral/theatrical experience of my life, no exaggeration—Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet accompanied by the magical acrobatics and aerial ballet of Brian Swanson’s JUNK. My front orchestra happy seat mainly had a view of principal cellist Hai-Ye Ni, but it was such a striking presentation I went back on the last night so I could watch the dancers from the conductor’s circle. From above, the spacious Kimmel reminded me of Noah’s ark, and the lighted rectangles of sheet music glowing embers on the hearth of humanity.

Zahra says, “Amar es un combate”

My review: Most spectacular and auricutacular [my word] outrageous exotic erotic display in memory. I can’t convince anyone to go, but those who do will not regret it and will never forget it.


They blew my mind and the roof off the house. Again! Charles Darwin used to wander Cambridge campus to hear hymns coming from King’s College Chapel. “This gave me intense pleasure,” he wrote, “so that my backbone would sometimes shiver.” This was truly a spine-tingling performance, with waves of Prokofiev washing over us like warm ocean currents. I’ve suggested they film it and I hope that would come to pass, for medici.tv or Great Performances, for it deserves to go down in history as an extraordinary one-of-a-kind tour de force.

MUSIC PRESERVES MY SANITY

I’ve gotten my life back since I turned off MSNBC and turned on my stereo.

There’s a charming documentary

on medici.tv, Christiaan van Schmerbeek’s “Yannick Nézet-Séguin, a Portrait.” My favorite part is Yannick collapsing onto a chair and eating a banana. So, he’s not Superman, huh? I’m proud he’s ours. I dread the Met will seduce him away. I’m jealous, in fact. I want him all to ourselves. When I heard of his appointment I thought, should one person get to occupy two of the most plum positions in classical music? There are only so many to go around, right? I was only defending my selfishness. Who on planet earth would have said no? All part of his meteoric rise (career “rises” are always “meteoric”—a neat trick because meteors don’t rise, they fall).

New York is getting the white tie and tails treatment. Hm. I guess Philly’s more like home court. Ormandy held sway for 44 years; I hope YNS will stay put, well, until I die. Because I’m an addict, and I need my fix.

IF YOU LOVE THEM SO MUCH WHY DON’T YOU MARRY THEM?

Not the marrying kind;

nevertheless, I confess, the Philadelphia Orchestra is the love of my life.

It happens that Yannick is starting the ’19-’20 season with the New World Symphony. I’ll be going by myself.

♦ ♣ ♥ ♠

Music will heal our hearts, will bring us together. – Lang Lang

EPILOGUE:

It happens that (I’m not making this up): July 23rd the Philadelphia Orchestra will be performing, at the Mann Center (formerly Robin Hood Dell), Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Symphony. I won’t be going alone. I’m bringing (drum roll)–my great love from 1977! That brings my life full circle. He’s married, to someone else, which worked out great, ’cause well, you know…

 

 

 

 

 

Maestro Eugene Ormandy
Director, the Philadelphia Orchestra
1936-1980

When I think of composing, my thoughts turn to you,
the greatest orchestra in the world.

 – Sergei Rachmaninoff

It’s a sad, sad situation

BEHIND THIS STATUE

of Benjamin Franklin

at his printing press, out of frame, is a homeless man unable to piss. On the street he had excused himself to take care of business but, perhaps self-conscious at my proximity, could not complete the mission, he confided.

We were on our way

to The Hub, a social service agency beneath Suburban Station in Philadelphia, whence we’d been referred by the EMT personnel who’d picked him up off the street some ten minutes earlier. I’d spotted him passed out in front of the JFK Behavioral Center I had just visited, and was about to take a picture, as I am a street photographer (aka social documentarian); then I noticed a walker lying on top of him and thought he must have fallen over.

I crossed over and snapped my fingers in his face. “Excuse me sir,” snap, “excuse me, excuse me, sir,” snap, “do you need assistance?” snap snap “Do you need to go to a hospital?”

He had just come from a hospital.

He’d been admitted to Hahnemann the night before with various cuts and bruises, and they must have needed the bed. They awoke him at 5:00 a.m. and told him he had to leave. He still had his hospital ID tags on his wrist.

He was in a daze.

He had been walking around since dawn, five hours, and figured he must have fallen asleep on his feet. Down he went and clunked his head. It took him a minute, confused and blinking, to realize someone was talking to him. I snapped my fingers repeatedly to rouse him as he attempted to sit up. No, don’t try to get up, I told him, I’m calling 9-1-1. A paramedic from Hahnemann happened to pass by, gave him the once-over and said he’d be OK until the EMT arrived.

“Thanks for caring,”

he added as he walked off.

I had come downtown because the night before I was on the web investigating support groups and it so happened the next monthly meeting for one I was interested in was the next day at 10:00 a.m. I am a rabid night person and didn’t get to sleep until 5:30 a.m. that morning, but I still set my alarm for 8:00 a.m., thinking what if it changes my life? It would have been super easy and so very like me to blow it off, but maybe I’d meet someone who would tell me something I need to hear. Before I left that morning, I called all four phone numbers on the website, including the national office, and only one, someone’s personal voice mail, was in service, but she did mention the name of the group in her message. She may have already left for the meeting herself.

I explained I was trying to determine if the support group was still active, though it seemed unlikely, and more unlikely that she’d return the call in time to catch the train for the meeting that was even more unlikely would happen. I was up and dressed so I decided to take a chance and head over there, because the facility was near the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and I figured I’d go see the Chuck Close photo exhibit if nothing else.

So on 2 ½ hours’ sleep

I took the 8:49 and walked over there from Suburban Station. I was not surprised to find the door chained and padlocked, but there were several phone numbers posted on the glass door so I called the first one.

I said I was looking for a support group meeting supposedly happening there at 10:00 a.m.; they told me they hadn’t met there in seven months. OK fine, I’d expected that, but PAFA doesn’t open until 11:00, so I went off in search of breakfast. Nothing doing north on Broad, so I doubled back and spotted, right in front of the same padlocked door, Karl (I’ll call him) lying on the street.

When the EMTs arrived,

they helped him wobble to his feet and I explained he’d been ejected from Hahnemann, collapsed, and knocked his head on the concrete. I handed him a SEPTA token he had lost. They gave him a cursory examination, determined there was no obvious critical injury, and suggested we head over to The Hub where he could get coffee, shower and change his clothes.

“You’re not going to drive him there? He’s on a walker.”

“No, we’re not allowed to do that.”

Apparently 9-1-1

is not a taxi service for homeless people.

“I was just unconscious on the street! What more would it take for them to help me?”

They took off and I said I’d escort him to The Hub. It wasn’t far but between his slow gait, dazed condition, and his failure to pee, it took about 20 minutes to traverse the couple of blocks. He apologized for moving so slowly and thanked me profusely for stopping to help.

“God sent you to me,” he said.

ALL I KNOW ABOUT GOD

is that my pal Pete’s and my nickname for him is “God who does not exist.” I’d once spontaneously exclaimed to him, “Thank God!” and hurriedly tacked on “…who does not exist.”

Karl told me his many injuries were the result of having been kidnapped and beaten for the past month. Though he was generally lucid and even personable, this of course sounded nuts, and I left it at that.

When finally we got to The Hub, there were two flights of stairs to navigate. I held his walker and he grasped the rail with both hands. Life was moving in slo-mo. At the landing I told him to wait there while I checked the place out. At the bottom of the stairs was the second padlocked door of the day. Closed on Sundays. What kind of social service agency is closed on Sunday? Doesn’t society need to be serviced every day? I apologized for making him come down the first staircase without checking it out beforehand.

I was at a bit of a loss.

I called 9-1-1 back and explained that EMTs had directed us to The Hub but it was closed and did they have any suggestions. I said the fellow had had a head injury and I wanted to get him somewhere safe.

“No, it’s not a medical emergency—it’s a human emergency.”

There was a pause on both ends of the line. She did offer two phone numbers to try; the first was out of service, the second continuously busy. Wow, now what? He said he had a lot of friends in West Philly and would likely head over there.

“Well can you make it?

Should I put you on the trolley?”

He wouldn’t admit he was homeless, but 9-1-1 must see cases like his all the time, though I hate to reduce him to a “case.” Is that what you call a broken person? I had come downtown myself feeling like a broken person. I could be a lot more broken. I stood on the sidewalk perplexed and helpless.

He suggested coffee at the McDonald’s, where I bought him some oatmeal and he revived a bit. He was rather gabby and repeatedly expressed his gratitude that I’d come to his assistance. I pointed out the restroom where he didn’t have to pee behind a statue. I felt responsible for him and while he was gone researched men’s shelters on my phone, called a place named Sunday Breakfast and spoke to the chaplain, a patient, caring sort who gave detailed instructions for how to gain entrance on Pearl Street. He could have lunch there.

We chatted a bit about our lives. He’d been married to a decent woman and lost that to drinking. He assured me this was a temporary phase and once he was healed and back on his feet things would change. He took his time over coffee and I felt the pricklings of impatience. I said I wanted to walk him to the shelter and make sure he was looked after.

“Let’s get some ice cream!”

“No.”

Let’s go to a movie!”

“Not gonna happen.”

“Let’s just have coffee and chat.” I said look, there’s coffee at the shelter, but he was resistant.

“They’re just going to lock me up.

Don’t you know that’s what those places are for?”

Feeling not at all streetwise I said, “I think it’s a social service agency and a shelter where you can gather your wits in a safe environment. You may have a concussion. You need to be somewhere you can be monitored.”

“I just want to finish my coffee,” of which 3/4s remained. I wanted to help but this was becoming a career and I was exasperated with his lack of cooperation.

“I’m not going to adopt you!”

I said firmly.

“Well I didn’t ask you to burp me, I just want to finish my coffee!”

He started to slump a bit and I was wanting to leave. “Do not put your head on the table. You can’t fall asleep in a restaurant, they’ll call the police,” I said with a bit of edge in my voice. “Now you have a choice. Either you let me escort you to the shelter right now, or you’re on your own.” He didn’t budge and picked the coffee up again.

“OK, if you need somewhere to go,” I said, writing the address of the shelter on a newspaper and placing it in front of him, “go here.” I picked up my stuff and turned to go.

“Give me your phone number!”

I ignored him, and walked out the door.

What a relief!

It’s not every problem you can just walk away from. I’d done all I could for him: woke him up off the street, called 9-1-1, walked him to The Hub, bought him breakfast and found a shelter for him, but he was resisting me. Basta! I’m not good with impatience; I start to get mean and defensive.

And that was that.

It was time for him to go back to being his own problem. He couldn’t possibly follow me; it would take him five minutes just to get up. Suddenly “outside” became “the air of freedom.”

I called Pete up later

and told him it’s possible that I myself am proof that God exists, because someone had said to me, “God sent you to me.” We still agreed he does not.

But I find myself remembering the episode with wonder. It had started the night before with looking for the website. Without that, nothing. I’d forced myself out of bed and taken the train to Center City. I didn’t go to the meeting I’d sought, I didn’t go to the Chuck Close exhibit—in effect I’d gotten up and gone downtown and walked to the very spot I would find him collapsed a scant few minutes later.

Had God sent me?

I think it was just something that happened.

The woman never did call me back.

♦ ♣ ♥ ♠

Source: fritz50312

You again?

IT’S BEEN YEARS!

You trot out the new

and not necessarily improved Ax Files (Redux) back in September of 2016, using your “September 1st is the most hopeful day of the year” initiative, pound out five columns, all in September, then nothing.

I WAS SUSPENDED

from my own disbelief

of current events. I was a lady-in-waiting, for two things: the presidential election, and the death of my mother. They both happened in November of 2016, and both threw me for a loop.

I had arrived in Philadelphia

in July of 2016 on the heels of personal turmoil, if not crisis. For the second time in three years, I was on the verge of losing my apartment. That did happen in San Francisco in 2013, due to lack of sufficient work, and again, nearly, in Portland, Oregon, after losing my job and not finding another. It so happened that at that time, my mother had gone into long-term care, leaving vacant her apartment in the duplex she shared with her brother, my uncle, which I now share with him.

So back to my native Philly

I went, after a 35-year absence and residencies in Portland (1981-1996—interrupted by a six-month pit-stop with my sociopathic and now dead boyfriend in Whidbey Island, Washington—in  Berkeley (1996-2003), San Francisco (2003-2013), and Portland (again—2013-2016).

I’M OKAY

with being back to my eastern roots in Philly. I never thought of myself as a left coaster, always an easterner. This intro to NYPD Blue encapsulates the urban edge I missed out there—density, chaos, unsightly infrastructure, crumbling facades, rawness, generic unpleasantness. That barreling of the subway train into blackness feels right. BART was not nearly gritty enough, Portland almost too lovely.

Source: TVTunesQuiz

Though I’d thought

San Francisco was my city, where I was meant to be, it was that city only while I had the means to be there. When I ran out of them I became a black hole waiting to be filled by someone else’s money.

SO I’M BACK

While weary of writing I took up photography. Photos are immediate; it takes a finger-snap for a first look, whereas printed pages require work performed upon them. They all look more or less like ants in formation. The words could say anything. They need to be scanned, absorbed, digested—read. Though I am or have been a writer and have a degree in English, as I age I quickly tire of reading, rarely finishing a book, article, or even paragraph. But now I find that I miss telling myself things in words, or just marking time as the years pass. Now it’s my compulsion for taking pictures I’m growing weary of—thousands sitting in wait to be edited, if ever.

It’s not a disorder.

It doesn’t disrupt my life; it is my life. It’s what I do. Take photos. Write about stuff. Document what I observe.

HERE.

Here are some pictures I took “while I was gone.”

20th Century in the 21st

“Grumman Greenhouse”, Jordan Griska, at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

This one looked like a wartime goodbye with battle remnants heaped on the street. That is a Grumman Tracker II, a 45-foot-long Cold War-era naval plane with a 73’ wingspan, a submarine bomber. Sculptor Jordan Griska obtained the decommissioned plane and folded the metal of the nose and body so that it appears to be crumpling into the platform. And he turned it into a greenhouse!

Reflecting on Reflections

Senior thinking her thoughts, Barnes Foundation Reflecting Pool

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bible Study Hour

Bible student, N. Independence Hall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fashion Finest

South street staff photo opp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OK CRASH BANG

that’s it for now. Where to scope out my stuff:

Street photography:
http://goofcitygraphix.tumblr.com/

Other goofy stuff:
http://mayorjones.tumblr.com/

Instagram:
http://instagram.com/mayorjones#/

Goof City.com is regrettably under reconstruction

About my (dumping ground) flickr stream:
http://www.fluidr.com/photos/alexandrajones

My flickr stream is my free-for-all photo farm. This is not the cream of my crop–it’s the whole 40 acres and a mule, including fine dining, light snacks, totally non-nutritive filler junk food and outright garbage. Stuff that perhaps should never have been harvested and left for compost, but here it is, for your consideration. May you find something to your taste. Food for thought, at least.

I began my column The Ax Files in 2005 with the broad announcement: I am here to write whatever I want, whenever I want, for whatever it’s worth.

Same with photography. “I photograph anything that can be exposed to light,” as Imogen Cunningham put it. More specifically, I photograph anything that catches my eye–because it’s lovely, sad, tragic, boring, there.

Some of my obsessions are pigeons (the underdog of the bird world), abandoned shoes (all the lonely shoes; where do they all come from?), bulldogs (because some of my best friends are), X for Alexandra, 55 for the year of my birth, and the soulless people known as mannequins. They are dead yet alive.

I practice street photography as social documentation of both political and human conditions. I take photos only in public spaces and situations. If you see yourself here and do not wish to be included, please send me a flickr mail.

If you take a photo of something, you are saying, “This is worth looking at. This is how I saw it.” I hope you enjoy seeing what I saw. Cheers!

I BID YOU ADIEU

’til we meet again.

♦ ♣ ♥ ♠

I have scarcely left you
When you go in me, crystalline,
Or trembling,
Or uneasy, wounded by me
Or overwhelmed with love, as
when your eyes
Close upon the gift of life
That without cease I give you.

My love,
We have found each other
Thirsty and we have
Drunk up all the water and the
Blood,
We found each other
Hungry
And we bit each other
As fire bites,
Leaving wounds in us.

But wait for me,
Keep for me your sweetness.
I will give you too
A rose.

 

 

 

 

– Pablo Neruda

The Hook

AH YES, ONCE AGAIN I AM OFF IT.

Is there any feeling more satisfying

or relieving than being off some hook you didn’t want to be on, usually involving something you don’t want to deal with? There are hooks you hang your coat on, hooks you latch your screen door with, hooks you catch a fish with, and there are the grappling hooks that snare you for life.

A hook. As seen in Punta Sam, Quintana Roo, Mexico.

I’ve just been let off twice.

I called my uncle I live downstairs from to see if he was ready to visit my mom at her senior facility. He, her younger brother by seven years, goes every afternoon to spend an hour or two with her, “because she’s alone, and I don’t want her to feel forgotten.” I go with him or my sister several times a week, but sometimes, as has been the case all my life, I just can’t get myself out of the house. I was set to go today, but she’s just been taken in to physical therapy, and he’s going to skip it.

Aaaaaaaaah.

Getting out of bed, my roommate Molly once told me, is the hardest thing I do all day. That’s good, right? Because then nothing harder will happen to you all day. And truly if that’s the hardest thing you endure, your life is blessed for sure. First of all you have a bed that is under the roof over your head.

AH YES, HOW OFTEN

have I let myself, or gotten myself, off the hook? Every chance I get. There are hooks everywhere you look and some you can’t yet see. Once I set my alarm for 5:30 and again 6:00 to keep an early appointment.  The cats woke me around five anyway, awaiting the tick-tick-tick-tick-ticking of kibble bits cascading into their feed bowl. So I could have stayed up and taken a shower.

It's empty, human!
It’s empty, human!

But I went back to bed to await the 5:30 alarm, hit snooze, hit snooze, hit snooze again until the 6:00 alarm. Then I scuffled to find my appointment slip, and calloo callay o frabjous day, the appointment was for the next day! Back to bed, back to bed, back to bed!

I try never to leave anything to the morning. Before sleepytime I iron my clothes, gather my effects, place needed items strategically by the door, but there were some papers I still had to print out for the appointment. But lo! Behold! Now I didn’t need them till the next day, a whole 24 hours leading up to the next last minute. Life is good! As long as I don’t have to live it.

St. Francis Hotel display window, San Francisco. How cozy. Now if they would just get that bus outta there.
Do not disturb! St. Francis Hotel display window, San Francisco. How cozy. Now if they would just get that bus outta there.

The former friend

who announced I was the most neurotic person she ever knew (you mean besides yourself, beeyatch?) was right on target when she called me a “horizontal personality.” I am never truly comfortable unless and until I’m lying down. Preferably in front of a movie or something that demands no response from me. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, will I strut and fret my hour upon the stage, then go back to bed.

BED!

Is there any solace greater, any arms more embracing, than your own bed and bed covers? “I love bed,” I would sigh to my amused friend Larry, as if the bed and not any lover in it were my paramour. Bed is the ultimate outpost of avoidance. Therein is nothing you can’t not face.

I love bed.
I love bed.

Sometimes I wonder,

does laziness disguise itself as depression? But that is ungenerous. Depression is not a pretend hypochondriac ailment. It kills people. I liquidated a portfolio of valuable real estate properties in Portland, Berkeley, and San Francisco just so I wouldn’t have to get out of bed.

At age 61 I had to set up a Go Fund Me campaign to move back east to be near my mother. I had just lost my job in Portland and, consequently, my apartment was next in line. How did I ever summon the energy to gather my crap and transport it 3000 miles–well, it just had to be done–but boy did I crash once I got here! And though I love the smile of surprise on my mom’s face when she sees I’ve arrived, I was happy when my uncle let me off the hook and once again I did not not have to raise myself from my default prone position to confront the outside world. Thank God who does not exist!

THE OTHER HOOK

I got off of today

was pretty damn silly. I will be attending a live-stream performance by Opera Philadelphia (“Land of the Free. Home of the Bravo.”) of Puccini’s Turandot at Independence Mall this weekend. It was scheduled for tomorrow and I wondered if my little folding lawn chairs ever made it here from Portland. Just thinking of hunting for them was tiring, so when I got an email that the event is postponed until Sunday on account of rain–yay!

It’s odd

I keep myself so house-bound when my biggest kick is traveling the world. But as Lauren Sharon Schwartz put it in Not Now Voyager: A Memoir, “The stillness and stasis of bed are the perfect opposite of travel: inertia is what I’ve come to consider the default mode, existentially and electronically speaking. Bed, its utter inactivity, offers a glimpse of eternity, without the drawback of being dead.”

♦ ♣ ♥ ♠

My head aches, my eyes burn, my arms and legs have given up, and my face in the mirror has a grayish cast. The bed, across the room, calls in its unmistakable lover’s croon, Come to me, come, only I can make you truly happy, oh, how happy I’ll make you, don’t resist, remember how you moan with pleasure the instant we touch….
– Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Fatigue Artist

 

A Knotty Dilemma

ONCE UPON A TIME

at Burning Man

a nearby burner helped me erect my shade structure. As we worked at undoing the knots in the guy wires, I told him the story of the mother who had her own foolproof method of judging her son’s three prospective brides. She gave them each a knotted skein of yarn and asked their help in untangling it. The first yanked here and there impatiently and finally threw the yarn on the floor in disgust. The second concentrated for a few moments and abruptly concluded she couldn’t do it, and the third loosened and followed one thread all the way through until the mass fell easily apart and she smiled as she handed it back to the mother. “That, my son,” she said, is the wife for you.”

I love that story!

I think of it when a knotty dilemma comes up. Is there some way to break through to the heart of this matter and have the problem fall apart like a relieved sigh?

My mother might find a thin gold chain at the back of a drawer, wadded into an impossibly tight knot, and give it to me to untangle. It would have a shiny, sweaty smell, and excite me: Gold chains linked you to the great fairy tales and myths, to Arabia, and India; to the great weight of the world, but lighter than a feather. – Anne Lamott

In packing to travel to the next phase of my life, I encountered the very skein of yarn that might have challenged the three bridal contenders. Now and then I decide I’m going to get good enough at knitting to wear something I made without embarrassment, or become an expert crocheter like my mother. But I have a hard time holding my own attention at things I need to improve at. I tend to spend more time on and apply more energy to things I’m already good at. Part of it is my tendency to “crash,” i.e., drop whatever I’m doing and blink at the darkness while remembering how to breathe.

img_3944img_3925

For instance,

I bought myself a ukelele for my 60th birthday; it was a “60 after 60” thing I thought I’d pick up on as part of later-in-life new horizons. But when I discovered how hard it was (for me) to change chords, I, knowing myself, sold it to pay my electric bill. I knew I wasn’t interested enough to put in the time required to get good at it. Same with pottery. My instructor told me, “You’ll make 1000 bowls before you’re satisfied with one.” No, deary, I won’t.

Children and lunatics cut the Gordian knot which the poet spends his life patiently trying to untie. – Jean Cocteau

img_3952img_3948

If a sailor expert at every extant knot

had made a career of tangling this yarn it could not have been more convoluted. If all three of my cats had pounced on this, wrestled each other and united their 12 paws of claws to confound me, it might have been easier to unravel. Some interloper, rogue element, banshee or succubus entered my lair and fucked with me.

Even though I knew

it was pointless, that I could have cut the mess apart, that I could have recrocheted the piece in less time, that I didn’t even want to continue the piece, that there were any number of better uses of time, I had to unravel this yarn, I just had to. It took me several evenings of dogged Netflix-binging obsession to work it out, and I did, but there was no great satisfaction in it. I just had to prove to myself that I am that patient, thorough, determined, marriageable, heart-of-gold gal that won’t give up. (That was a joke on myself. The very last thing I am is marriageable.)

img_3953 img_3955

Not that that has ever mattered to me. After growing up with front row seats to my parents’ marriage, I never once imagined my own wedding day. ~shudder~ But I do believe many problems can be deconstructed by looking at the individual elements, how they interrelate, and finding a path to resolution. They may be less convoluted than you think.

Now if I could just untangle my brain the same way…

 

♥ ♣ ♠ ♦

Keith Haring, as seen at The Political Line, De Young Museum 1/15, San Francisco c. Keith Haring Estate
Keith Haring, as seen at The Political Line, De Young Museum, San Francisco, January 2015, © Keith Haring Estate
When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.
– Franklin D. Roosevelt

A Screaming Came Across the Sky

IT WAS THE SOUND OF SUNDERING MYSELF FROM FACEBOOK

And then, the silence.

You could hear it. Peace descended upon the earth with a great silence like the inherent silence of the Apocalypse. (As Jack Kerouac described what would happen if men fell to their knees and begged forgiveness of their women—a line deleted from the original 1951 scroll of On the Road.)

A year ago I decided I’d had enough of Facebook. The bald shock that registered on a friend’s face when I told her I had deactivated my account lingered a bit. Is that a big deal? I asked. Only because I was pretty active on there, she clarified.real life

If I’m active on there it’s because I spend many hours online most days editing photos on PicMonkey and posting them to flickr. It’s my job I don’t get paid for. And when you’re online for long periods of time, you want to distract yourself from the task at hand every so often. Or always. Five minutes on Facebook is a nice online break from being online. Except when it turns into an hour every time I get a case of the fuck-its (A condition whereby you’re content to spend nine hours on YouTube watching a cat flush a toilet–Dana Carvey) and don’t want to be responsible for creating my own mind food. Now and then one needs a social media cleanse, a high colonic of the mind.

Everyone likes to be served.

Here! Instead of planning and cooking and eating a nutritious meal of your choosing, here’s an instant plate of junk food handed to you piled with ideas you don’t have to have yourself. Kind of like the free cell addiction I acquired instead of dealing with renting my Portland house out and moving to Berkeley.

It’s my understanding that all games of free cell–open-faced double solitaire–are winnable if you make the right moves. You’ve got to look at the big picture and map out strategies. Free cell is one of my McDonald’s substitutes. I don’t eat meat so I need to replace it with other junk food. All the crap out there, says comedian Jim Gaffigan, is someone’s McDonald’s, whether you read Us magazine, or track Jennifer Anniston’s love life, or weigh in on Beyoncé’s new haircut.

When I was planning my move from Portland to Berkeley in 1996, I racked up 148 games of free cell that I won by in some cases starting over and changing my moves. I would never go on to a new game till I’d solved the one at hand. There’s a satisfaction in seeing a course of action to a “successful” conclusion, of solving the puzzle and watching the auto-play pile the remaining cards into suits–let the game do the rest of the work!

And it’s relaxing.

It engages my mind and problem-solving faculties just enough to occupy me but not challenge me too much. But mostly free cell is a time waster. He who kills time, as Thoreau put it, slays eternity, and I am a serial killer. I could just as well be surfing the web for Kate Middleton’s or Kate Upton’s last outfit, flipping through Entertainment Weekly, or contemplating whether I should lose respect for Benedict Cumberbatch for appearing in Star Trek into Darkness. But mostly I play free cell as a distraction from something I have tired of doing, something, usually, of importance or at least time-dated urgency. You know like when the taxes are due and it’s suddenly crucial that you clean your oven.

As one who was arrested in the anal stage of psychosexual development, I do derive pleasure, feelings of justification, perhaps, at watching things fall into place and summarily wrap themselves up, as when you remove the one remaining obstacle to victory and you can sit back and declare, “My work here is done!”

At my age (I summited the hill quite a while ago) one is advised to keep one’s brain active. Mahjong is another mental and visual dexterity-enhancing time waster. But however relaxing and/or stimulating these pursuits are, they’re still junk food. I prefer I’d spend the time in nourishing pursuits, not repetitive ones.

Clearly I have nothing to prove to myself,

but time-wasting is a manifestation of my time-honored practice of avoidance–procrastination that feels like doing something that is so clearly nothing. À la Facebook. [Time does not honor avoidance. Time spits on avoidance. -Ed.]

Of course it’s not exactly nothing, you are communicating with people who mean enough to you to take them on as Facebook friends (which inherently is worth a nickel minus five cents), but it’s a trade-off. We abandon more personal interactions and more time offline for the convenience of mass announcements. And also, one feeble set of ears hearing what we have to say is not enough. The whole world needs to know what we’re thinking. It’s that important.

The programs Freedom and AntiSocial turn off the internet or social media for a specified amount of time, but they’re like a Flintstone band aid on a blood-gushing wound. I sought to heal that wound—the rift between myself and my life as I used to live it. It used to be I never turned my computer on unless I was going to write something—never to surf the web or consult the Oracle of the Book of Face or even check email—certainly not for entertainment or something to do. I joined Facebook when it was still not all that pervasive, but it started happening that you wouldn’t hear about stuff going on around town because people were posting it to Facebook as the default manner of announcement. Why didn’t I hear about that? I don’t know [I did my duty] I posted it to Facebook…

Political rallies or local events might pass you by because you weren’t on there. Kind of an “it’s-how-people-communicate-now” vibe and aren’t you with it? If everybody played by the same Facebook rules, it would be cool to know about that upcoming fundraiser, who has signed up to go, and the person among them that you either do or do not want to see. To know for sure that if they are there, you would either go or not go. 5000 is the Facebook friend limit, but a great many of those 5000 turned off your feed as soon as they added one more digit to their friend total.

Initially I joined Facebook

in order to write a column, “I’m Not Really on Facebook I’m Just Spying on Those Who Are” (not available at this time). A friend shut his account down as soon as he had a child. Good on him! It might feel like you’re taking a stand. I’m not wasting any more time on Facebook! But it’s no moral crusade; it’s just a choice. We don’t have to buy into the inevitability of social media even if it does surround us. We sign up for it. We willingly devote our time to it. We derive enjoyment or emotional support from it or use it as a crutch or outreach or publicity tool. It saves stamps and smartphone minutes. We control our use, and now and then I choose to control mine by ceasing it.

When I first shut down my account, I had been on Facebook complaining about Throwback Thursday. “I would like to take the nitwit,” I had posted, “who thought of Throwback Thursday and throw him back to last Thursday.”

Someone quickly responded, “Aren’t you just a ray of sunshine.”

“How does the Internet,”

I continued, “co-opt something as basic as a day of the week, and convince the world they all need to be doing and thinking the same thing on it?”

Another friend weighed in, “Much ado…”

In the scheme of things, it is nothing. If you enjoy it, go ahead and enjoy it. No harm, no foul. Not the crucial issue of our time. But it strikes me as some feel-good sheeple group-think thing. It’s Thursday! Everybody gather ’round, rifle through your lives and share it with the others! Come ’round! Wiggle your ears! More s’mores!

Source: karoshiga

Maybe we should wear a looney-toon hat

on Thursdays in case we go outside, so fellow throwers-back will know we are participating in the throw-back, just to reinforce that it IS Throwback Thursday, that whatever else we do that day, fear not, we will be sure to throw back. The first friend suggested I needed a break from the internet and I realized she was right.

Deactivating your Facebook account is not that satisfying—all one need do to reactivate it is log back in. Still my immediate response was physical, mental, and emotional relief. Something cracked wide open. I used that phrase to describe the line from the George Pal film “The Time Machine,” “He has all the time in the world.” It cracks everything wide open. Marcia Gay Harden said it to Ed Harris in “Pollock,” “You’ve done it, Pollock. You’ve cracked it wide open.”

I’m wary and weary of this age of homogenization,

this let’s-all-be-on-the-same-page mentality, experiencing and reacting to and discussing the same things at the same time. There are too damn many pages! Facebook. Facebook Live. Twitter. Instagram. Instagram Live. Reddit Snapchat Foursquare Google+ LinkedIn Tumblr Pinterest Periscope YouTube Vimeo Vine Skype Meetup Tinder (“Tinder is how people meet. It’s like real life, but better.”)

How does one even define real life anymore? Is there any interaction between people that hasn’t been coded? What happens anymore that doesn’t go through an app? Photography is not what it was, as seen through the framework of Instagram—the resulting picture is not so much a free-standing result of photographic choices but an “instagram,” an instance of application use. I’ll crop my photo square if I want to after I see it.

One has to shield oneself

against overexposure to unfiltered information. It’s practically radioactive. It weakens and sickens one over the long term. I have turned off Yahoo as my home page so I don’t boot up to that day’s filler crap.

  • DJ Tanner (aka Candace Cameron Bure) just chopped off all her hair, and she looks SO chic. OMG, girl! Could you be more fabulous?
  • Kelly Ripa’s 10 Most Probable Co-hosts, Ranked From Most to Least Liked (Most: Morris Chestnut [who he?]; Least: Fred Savage)
  • The Do’s [sic] and Don’ts [sic] of Wearing Eyeliner
  • Chris and Liam Hemsworth’s Dad is a TOTAL hunk but we are not surprised
  • Brock Turner Going Free Is the Best Thing to Happen to Rape
  • And oh yes, the President of the Philippines called Obama an SOB.

The greater part of the click bait we click on we would never investigate if we had to trouble ourselves to look it up. All that info is waiting for us there on the web. You’re not going to take the time to search for how to dip a t-shirt into Portland cement to create Halloween lawn ornaments, but you might click on it (I did–to see what it is people will SO be doing after learning this trick). My mind is cluttered with things I didn’t need to have seen. Clutter—as in a room of suffocating stuff you should just get rid of. Don’t rearrange it—ditch it!

Facebook is always there

for one’s use. Go on it, go off it, whatever. But I’ve been ensconced in such childish and churlish confrontations and misunderstandings with folks (many of whom I’ve never met), I’m tempted to throw the baby out with the bath water.

I’m conflicted about Facebook

because of carbon dating. I’m so old I date back to the days of carbon paper, mimeograph machines and white-out, party lines, telephone exchanges, and two-digit zip codes. Face-to-face relationships were the norm at one time. Getting a phone call and not knowing who it is. Someone showing up at your door. Meeting someone through a “personal ad” used to be an embarrassing anomaly.

In other words, I’m a fuddy-duddy. I prefer the way things used to be.

When a friend wanted me to meet a friend of his via Facebook, I forced the issue. I forced us all out of the house to meet at a coffee shop. Haven’t seen either of them since. I still use and like Facebook because I find lost friends, meet new ones, get turned on to a lot of creative output and new information, but I don’t like the changes in personal communication it has wrought worldwide. Other than emergency and volatile political situations, I don’t see an inherent value in the 21st century status quo of being constantly communicative, constantly up on the latest means of following people around online.

There is a need for Facebook, or it wouldn’t exist. But is it healthy? Is it enabling us to distance ourselves from each other?

Look at this: Are you sure you want to deactivate your account?

FB deactBecause your 179 friends will no longer be able to keep in touch with you.  What arrogance! It reminds me of a sing-songy Time magazine ad that claimed “Time lets you care” about current events. As you see folks are crying, screaming, and pleading with me not to go. But if Facebook is the default way to interact with people in the modern age, what a pathetic statement about today’s human relations.

What about Fear of Missing Out?

You are always missing something, and always will be. Even if it’s all you do you can’t keep up with the pace of social media—the danger is it does turn into all some people do. There are levels of engagement, and you’re in control of them—until you’re not. Then you might as well face it, you’re addicted to Facebook.

The Checking-in Phenomenon

What is that about? Why track your minute movements throughout the day and broadcast them to your friends at large? X is with Y at Z. You’re already with the friend you want to be with, enjoying a personal interaction. “Hey everyone else: I’m here without you. I’m sharing this with someone else, but you still have to know about it.” Is it an invitation for anyone reading it to join you? I doubt it. I saw one such posting of a crowd of friends at a concert I would like to have been included in. That has probably happened to everyone. “We didn’t think of you when we made these plans, but here’s a smiling selfie for you to enjoy.”

My subtle commentary on the matter was to post that I was at a gas station with a friend. Who could possibly care? One mundane post covers them all. Though some bored soul might ask, “Oh really, where are you going?”

One brilliant guy, a chemist and teacher and an amusing conversationalist, would post along the lines of “Stopping for a bite before the show,” as if we’re keeping a logbook of his movements. Hold on, I show a gap between 7:10 and 7:14. What were you doing? Walking to your car? Let me get that down. I was about to unfriend him for being boring despite his advanced education (how does one work that?) but he beat me to the punch. (Don’t you hate it when someone unfriends you before you’ve had a chance to unfriend them?) Do we think people are that interested in our minute-to-minute activities? Do we think we are that interesting? Do our egos need such constant bolstering? It’s great news for stalkers, though.

THE CONNECTED GENERATION

I guess I am one

who doesn’t need to know everything about everything everyone I know is doing at any given moment. But I am also one who values solitude above constant companionship. I treasure my own place, my own silence, my own bed, my own insistence on doing whatever pleases me at any time. Some folks must enjoy constant worldwide fraternizing, but as a homicide detective put it in “The Fall,” “Modern life is such an unholy mix of voyeurism and exhibitionism. People perpetually broadcasting their internal and external selves.”

As soon as I graduated college and was on my own, I decreed that I would never wait to do something until someone wanted to do it with me. That’s how I ended up by myself on the Trans-Siberian Express. I routinely attend concerts and events by myself; it usually doesn’t occur to me to invite anyone along. I go to movies by myself so I won’t have to talk about them later. I recognize that most people don’t want to be alone, they want companionship and family on a daily basis. I realize most people have a greater capacity for talking than I do for listening to them.

But some of these people don’t know how to be alone, or how to enjoy their own company. And Facebook is somewhere to meet up with others needing something to do.

People sound off,

lament, announce an event, or post random observations instead of calling a friend, because then only that friend would know about it. That’s not nearly enough attention being paid to us. Not to say I haven’t participated in these practices myself, because they’re the accepted language of Facebook and you fall into the rhythm.

There’s the passive-aggressive cry-for-attention post—some obscure, mysterious statement begging to be asked what it’s about.

Fuck, shit, crap.
Never gonna do that again.
Everything’s going to be fine.
Only three more days…

Prompting responses like: Are you OK? Hugs! I’m here if you need me. You are beautiful. Stay strong. Etc. Sometimes you feel like you’re constantly ministering to people. Are people not getting this support from the humans in their lives, or do they just want more? Is our need for validation so pervasive?

Did I miss keeping abreast of my friends’ daily lives while deactivated? Even if so, I’d rather live my own daily life. It’s like the voices in my head stopped talking. It took a while for the reverb bouncing around my skull to settle down. Anyway, we know who our true-blue friends are, and those who are mostly avatars–the madding crowd we invite into our homes. It’s hard to resist taking advantage of a platform to say anything you want. But you don’t know who’s turned your feed off, who’s not “on” that day, who’s not paying attention. In a way it’s still yelling into a void, though the world be at your feet.

Diamond Dave
The Dave Wave, Diamond Dave, Dolores Park, San Francisco

When my attention gets too scattered by stimulus on the web, I eliminate the option to choose from it. Say I click on 50 links in one day. 45 of them are trash. But I still went through the motions and have nothing to show for it. Look at your browsing history, if you want to be appalled. There’s groovy stuff out there, no doubt. But it’s in you, too, waiting to manifest.

I’m in an insulated bubble of privacy,

writing offline in Word at midnight, crickets sounding off at the window. No one knows where I am, what I’m thinking, what I’m doing, reading, eating. Freedom! Have we forgotten what that feels like? How much time do we spend showing off to people, some of  whom we don’t even care about, because we’re on a public forum?

The Misfit Cafe
Is where I take my tea
When I’m trying to impress others
Who don’t impress me

 – Mayor Jones, Postcard Pomes, 2001

I, of course, am the biggest show-off of all, a writer.

LIFE AFTER FACEBOOK

If you’ve read this far, you wouldn’t have read this far if I hadn’t written this far, and I did so in the beatific space left by the expulsion of social media. But my cold turkey experiment of last year didn’t work. Facebook is a facilitator of friendship but it is not a substitute for friendship. The sad fact is, I don’t stay on Facebook because it’s the de rigeur way keep up with my friends. It’s because if I leave, they will not keep up with me.

♥ ♣ ♠ ♦

face deactTell me you remember you are still a human being…Have that conversation, that glance, that touch. Be a healing conversation, one filled with grace and presence.

Put your hand on my arm, look me in the eye, and connect with me for one second. Tell me something about your heart, and awaken my heart. Help me remember that I too am a full and complete human being, a human being who also craves a human touch. Omid Safi, “The Disease of Being Busy”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glory Glory Hallelujah!

GLO-RY GLO-RY HALLELUJAH!

Glo-ry Glo-ry Hallelujah, His truth is marching on.

I turned 61 this year, 2016, and I’m throwing myself a party and providing the band. The band is playing Glory, Glory Hallelujah. There’s a trumpet, a tuba, a piccolo, a bass, a drum, and a chorus. It’s one of the only songs it knows how to play. For variety they might hazard a verse or two of Yankee Doodle Dandy, Glory H robustly picking back up without missing a beat. They’ve added cymbals.

I call the band “My Brain.”

It plays songs in loops, having started on Thursday, April 9, when I posted on Facebook, “Why is La Marseilles coming through my window?” Odd enough, but it played continuously and repeatedly, enough for me to check outside for who is so in love with the French national anthem they play it all the livelong day. I went outside, but the music wasn’t any louder and I couldn’t pinpoint a direction it was coming from.

The band played on.

It was a curiosity, but not loud enough to disrupt my attention, though I could make out every note over the whir of the refrigerator. If I watched a movie I would forget about it. But later on in my bedroom, there it was again, His glorious truth marching on like an army of ants. I remembered that I’d fallen twice recently, tripping down some outdoor stairs and again on the street, landing both times on my head (I don’t fall often but when I do I fall on concrete). Most alarming though was that while on the phone with my pharmacy, I without notice lost control of my speech and couldn’t form a sentence. I thought, balance problems and garbled speech, Jesus Christ, am I having a stroke?

I had already been to my doctor about the falls and loss of balance and random myoclonic tics and the alarming tongue-tied phone call. He surmised a mild concussion. Well that makes sense, but when the auto-play patriot channel kicked in, I went back to him and requested a referral for a neurologist. Could be nothing, but my dad had Parkinson’s disease.

The referral was denied by the Oregon Health Plan; the 24/7 livestream soon ceased. But what was left was the realization that until I hit my 60s, my vision of my future never allowed for catastrophic events like illness, natural disaster, and the utterly unforeseen. I have myself traveling the world to the bittersweet end, which I will meet with wry acceptance. The panoply of things that could go wrong has expanded exponentially with every birthday. Sixty’s still young to be contemplating how much time is “left,” but I have to wonder how long long-range plans can be.

Luckily, I’ve got a solid base, finally.

Since my best friend Donna succumbed to breast cancer in 2012 life has been a series of losses. After her death and a year-long depressive episode, I lost my San Francisco apartment, along with San Francisco itself, and later, back in Portland, my job, my apartment and Portland as well. Around that time, my mom had moved into long-term care, and friends helped fund my trip back to my hometown of Philly. No matter how dark the world can be, friends keep the home fires burning.

I’ve always operated at my own pace, though the current generation seems to have hitched a ride on the speed of light. And as I approach early retirement in the next year, I don’t bother to reflect on what I did or didn’t achieve in my working years or my childbearing years. I blossom in the fullness of time. I’m traveling at about 10 mph on the information superhighway. The internet is an invaluable resource and the biggest succubus of life force ever. When worlds collide!

I’m glad I grew up

when there was only one reality. What I’m looking for you can’t find on the internet. It is to know that when the blue screen fades into sleep mode, I am at peace with myself in the silence.

Glory Hallelujah indeed.

♦ ♥ ♣ ♠

Desperate Measures
“Desperate measures,” says a mom in the long line at SFO, Christmas 2010

“The Internet is a great place to get on the net.”
Bob Dole

Goin’ to Cargo City

CARGO CITY, HERE I COME.

Goin’ to Cargo City, Cargo City here I come.

They got some pretty little kitties there and I’m-a gonna get me one.

There’s my pretty little Zzyzzy curled up in a plastic crate labeled Live Animals, nestled away in a corner of the United Airlines cargo building! A ball of fur wrapped in a riddle of fear inside a mystery of confusion inside the enigma of a cat carrier. O the humanity! O the felinity!

Don’t be glaring at me, you brought this on yourself.

O Zzyzzy!

He’s always been a scaredy cat. When I sold and vacated my San Francisco flat, he’d hid behind the dryer but I was able to sniff him out. With two shifts of husky moving men commandeering my Portland apartment in my latest post-haste departure from an overrated and overpriced American city, he picked the dishwasher. But I have no idea how he accessed it, the space was not visible to me, and he was nowhere to be found as I was leaving town for a cross-country move back to my hometown of Philadelphia. Break my freakin’ heart, Zzyzzy! Take me from hyperventilating about an exciting road trip to gut-churning anxiety about leaving my beloved pet behind in the city I couldn’t wait to get out of.

But I could do nothing else.

There was no obvious hiding place left in the empty apartment, he wouldn’t answer my frantic calls, no one else had seen him, I couldn’t find him on the grounds. Zzzzzzzzy-zzzzzzzzy! Zzzzzzzzy-zzzzzzzzy! Finally, it was time to go, and I just plain had to. So I piled Zazu and Zahra into the truck and hopped in with the craigslist total stranger who’d emailed me three days before that he’d love to drive cross-country with me. Famous first words. We were several days on the road before my apartment manager called to say they’d found my cat, who’d peed it up on the rug in my absence, but it changed the tenor of my trip from panic to relief and joy.

Oddly, approaching my driver’s house before we left, I ran across the “wishing tree” on upper Hawthorne, whereon folks hang their wishes on ribbons. The first one I encountered read “I wish for a kitty.” Wow, me too!

I wish for a kitty
Serendipity!
Here was my big chance to put it out to the universe. I wrote on one of the banners provided,

“Bring back my Zzyzzy to me.”

It worked!

The sickness of soul had weighed more than the 300-pound overage we had to get off the truck  before the mudflaps cleared the road. So before I even left we’d had to unload and sort through dozens of boxes of books, clothes, shoes, dishes, oddments, making split-second decisions about what to keep, donate, or trash–something I’d meant to do at home.

All’s well that ends well!

Cats do not take long to bounce back from misery, whether from five days in a confined space crossing 3000 miles overland, to flying the same distance and changing planes in San Francisco. After the initial period of adjustment, once the kibble and litter and safe spots are established, they go back to wanting their bellies rubbed. My own self, after I’d arrived in late July, I went from eagerness to get my new home together to exhausted relief that I am no longer at the mercy of the rental and job markets.

SO HERE WE ARE.

Lying around

with the air conditioner humming, the lemonade sweating, and the cats snoring.  I love new year’s eve, but September 1st has always been the real first day of the new year to me, the jump-start of everything after summer torpor. I’ve called it “the most hopeful day of the year” and am obsessively-compulsively obligated to quote myself for as many Septembers as I have left to do so. This year it marks the reincarnation of The Ax Files.

THE ORIGINAL AX FILES

appeared on

www.sfbulldog.com from 2005 to 2014. At this time, they are passing through a wormhole in the space-time continuum and will emerge on this site sooner or, well, later. The Bulldog, still under the purview of beloved curmudgeon h brown, is often wrong but never silent.

Why is life so unfair?

♦ ♣ ♥ ♦

A cat is a puzzle for which there is no solution.
Hazel Nicholson
A puzzle wrapped in a riddle inside a mystery inside an enigma inside a cat carrier.