E Pluribus Mores

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

In The Classics, Uncategorized on April 20, 2017 at 7:58 am

Nietzsche speaks of existence as a state of being caught between two opposing forces.  On the one side there is nothingness, and on the other is God.  Humans, generally, pass their days paralyzed by indecision over which of the two they will ultimately choose.

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Cold and Flu Season in the Knucklehole

In Uncategorized on November 21, 2015 at 10:57 am

snakeoilI don’t mean to intrude, but I see that you are experiencing a perfectly normal bodily function. You should attempt to cure it with Doesn’t Do Shit. Whenever I experience normal bodily functions, I take it and it doesn’t do shit. Works that way every time.

I bought some Doesn’t Do Shit at the profit margin isle of How You Know your Neighborhood is Gentrifying. It didn’t do shit. Now I swear by Does Fuck-All®.

Does it work?

I rarely have any normal bodily functions. So I figure it is doing fuck-all.

My aunt Munchhausen-By-Proxy used to mix Does Fuck-All® with creams, ointments, and lotions and administer it in an awkward, embarrassing manner.

I find that strangely erotic, in a way I hope I didn’t say out loud. Yes, my wise, made-up ancestor used to slather it with vegemite and administer it even more improbably. What a massive pile of horse excrement they must have collected long before they were made up—or had horses, for that matter. Now their neighborhoods have gentrified and they are all dead.

Fucking gentrification.

I couldn’t help but overhear you two discussing your normal bodily functions. I pay money to a cult-like institution whose confirmation bias in all likelihood killed off your made-up ancestors. In the rare event of normal bodily functions I utter meaningless babble that even if I understood is taken wildly out of context. It doesn’t do shit.

Have you tried Doesn’t Do Shit along with intonations of meaningless babble? I once had a bauble made from materials pillaged from impoverished nations that I used as a fetish while uttering meaningless babble.

I have heard that meaningless bauble babble does fuck-all, but not as well as Does Fuck-All®.

Although you are both clearly in league with the devil, I will continue this conversation on the off chance that you might be saved.

My aunt used to use a purportedly similar bauble in an awkward, embarrassing manner.

…the vanishingly small chance you might be saved. Doesn’t Do Shit and Does Fuck-All® are unregulated, and so warrant an appeal to fear. You risk common bodily functions if you take it.

Although I haven’t the faintest idea of the history, purpose, or components of the prevailing system of governance, I fear it.

You ought to fear it. But you ought to fear things that don’t do shit. Our Heavenly Manifestation of What Should Be Feared removes all fear of things that don’t do shit. I was visited by a Terrifying Apparition one time. I felt at peace.

Does Terrifying Apparition come in a travel size?

Yea, I need to bring some through the In No Way Makes You Safer.

It is certain that you will be tormented in the afterlife that doesn’t exist by the vengeful bat-winged marsupial my cult-like institution has taught me to fear. Peace be with you.

Later.

Later.

Have you ever heard such tripe? That’s how you know your neighborhood is gentrifying.

Yea, what a loser.

Well, I’m off to How You Know your Neighborhood is Gentrifying.

Can you pick me up some Doesn’t Do Shit?

Sure thing.

Big Sky Country

In Uncategorized on March 20, 2014 at 6:14 am

montanaThey say Montana is Big Sky country.  And they got that right.  Driving  the plains, it seemed at times we were Apollo’s chariot hauling the sun across the aether.  Vacation we called it.  The whole family was out visiting Karen’s grandfather, who was turning 90.   Beautiful, wild country.  Mountains so high, you can’t see the tops.  Karen’s grandfather had retired near Flathead Lake, south of Glacier National Park.  I recall it was the third day into our visit, and we decided to do some hiking.  And who could blame us?  It was Big Sky country, and we wanted to get a piece of it.  So we piled into two cars; there were eight of us.  Flathead Lake sits halfway up a peak, and on the map there wasn’t but one road leading up.  With the switchback roads and half-marked trails…well, we were soon pretty lost.  The lead car had pulled off of what passed for a road to examine a map (folks used maps back then to navigate), and we in the back car took some time to take in the sights.  Beautiful, wild country.

On either side of the road were towering fir trees, the kind you just don’t see in the Midwest.  That summer there had been fires, or maybe we were just into a cloud, but I remember it was hazy.  The road quickly disappeared to the front and back of us.  But everywhere around us you could hear the sounds of the forest.  We had sat there for some time–as I said, we were pretty lost–when I noticed a squirrel, carrying an object.  And I called out to the others, “Guys.  Look!  It’s a squirrel carrying its baby.”  And indeed, a miniature version of itself was cradled in its arms.  It was then one of the other passengers said, “The baby looks like it has blood on it.”  I found it incredible, the baby had clearly been in some danger, been attacked, and the mother squirrel was carrying it to safety.  “No, seriously, that thing is bleeding.”  “HOLY SHIT, the baby has no head!  IT’S EATING THE BABY’S HEAD!  IT’S EATING THE BABY’S HEAD!!!  Make it STOP!!  It’s a cannibalistic, baby-eating squirrel!  That eats heads. For the love of GOD, make it stop!  AAAHHHHHH!  AAAHHHHHH!  AAAHHHHH! No, Dude, I think that’s a chipmunk it’s carrying.  It’s eating a chipmunk.  That’s sick.  That is sick!”

Later Mark chased a baby grizzly bear trying to get its picture.  Great hike.

For Understanding

In Uncategorized on November 11, 2013 at 10:52 pm

 

For Understanding

When I was much younger

I would look at a woman

And undress her with my eyes,

Trying like a puzzle

To solve the mystery of her body.

Now, instead of clothes I remove years,

Stripping away her wisdom and her cares,

To a new mother, then a new woman,

Trying like a puzzle

To solve the mystery of her body.

In the end I find myself thinking not of her

But of my own daughter,

Small, asleep, safe,

And I wonder

At what poor tools are eyes

For understanding.


														

Great Uncle Artie in Paris

In Uncategorized on November 11, 2013 at 9:44 am

Excerpts from a letter Artie Burg to his sister, Gladys Burg, May 1945.  From the unpublished memoirs of Gladys Burg, February 1982:

Just returned from three glorious days in Paris—it’s wonderful, magnificent!  My friend and I had finally gotten leave, had hitchhiked, having all kinds of adventures on the way, and arrived on a Sunday.  Coming from the perils, tension, as well as drabness of an army at war, we were startled to see the lovely, broad avenues crowded with people, including young women smartly dressed, fine looking houses, green parks, and magnificent monuments.  We wandered around looking for all the famous places we had read so much about.  I was particularly anxious to see the Sorbonne, but we found the doors locked.  Just then the caretaker spotted us.  He produced the keys and let us in.

We saw fabulous paintings as we wandered up and down lovely, winding staircases.  There was a wonderful resonance that sent our voices bouncing high up to the carved ceiling.  All the while the caretaker’s cat, a strange, Rousseauistic looking beast, kept mewing, and its mews echoed round and round the Chapel.  That night we walked along the beautiful Seine, the stars reflected in its still waters.

Next day as we stopped to rest just outside of Notre Dame, a man approached us and asked whether we spoke Polish.  No.  German?  Ein bissel. His accent sounded familiar.  Could it be?  “Sholem Aleichem!” he cried and embraced me.

Sitting in a café drinking beer he told me how the Jews here had fared under the Nazi occupation.  Out of 230,000 Jews in Paris, 40,000 were left.  His own two brothers had been executed.  He gave me his yellow badge.  He told us he was in the FFI and that he and his comrades had participated in sabotage against the Nazis, and that on the glorious day of liberation he and his fellow FFI men had gone out and shot the lying, spying collaborators in the neighborhood.

He took us to his home for supper.  It was in an attic in a poor, working class neighborhood.  We met his beautiful, blonde, non-Jewish wife and his two twin four-year-old daughters.  There was very little food, but it tasted delicious.  Then he got out the phonograph that he had hidden from the Nazis and played some old Jewish songs I had sung as a child.  I just can’t describe the feeling it gave me.

We knew that what we had eaten was their week’s food ration so we returned the next day loaded down with our own food in return.  As we walked out we heard the loud strains of the “Internationale”.  It was a tremendous demonstration for those who had died in Paris battling the Nazis.  They had come to bury their own; there were thousands of them.  We were the only U.S. soldiers around, and the marchers and the crowd were watching us.  When the flags passed and the coffins, I stood stiffly at attention, then saluted them.  What a scene!  I felt shivers go up and down my spine.

Vive L’American!” they shouted back.  It was almost a riot.  As G. said when we left, “They can shoot me now, I shall be happy.  Boy!  I have lived!”

Bird Life on the Island

In Uncategorized on July 3, 2013 at 9:24 am

Now, I have a great many interests, but I have never been much for birding.  Like anything, I am sure it becomes more interesting when you know the players on the field, or at least what they sound like in a thicket.   While no doubt there pelican audubonare as many birds on the mainland, and perhaps it is just me having the time to notice more on vacation, but on the island they seem to be everywhere.  Whether at the beach, where the trees echo with an endless game of “Mar-co…Po-lo,” or in the evening when the porch seems transformed into the deck of the star ship Enterprise: “be-weep-be-weep, be-weep-be-weep, doodle-ooh-deeee-do-lu.”  Then there are the enormous crows who sit atop barns and shout, “GET OFF MY LAWN!”  Or the majestic birds of prey:

Me:  “Look, Karen, an eagle!”

Karen:  “That’s a buzzard.”

Me: “No, on the point, to the left of that white rock.”

Karen:  “I’m looking at it.  It’s a buzzard.”

Me (handing Karen the binoculars):  “It’s a bald eagle.”

Karen:  “It’s bald alright.”

Me (taking back the binoculars): “It’s the noble symbol of our country…eating the intestines of that possum.”

But more notable, though considerably less majestic, is the notorious island, ‘It’s Fucking Morning’ bird.  It starts in about quarter to six.  Now I’m on vacation, so come quarter to six I can reasonably look forward to seven more hours of sleep.  But three feet from my window perches a small, non-descript, song bird:

“Mor-ning.”

“It’s moor-ning.”

“IT’S FUCK-ING MOOOOOOOOOOOOOORN-ING!”

Now I’ve heard of an ‘unkindness’ of ravens, or a ‘murder’ of crows.  After 20-30 calls, I figure we are about to have a ‘throttling’ of Fucking Morning birds.  That’s when things get personal.

“FUCK-ING HIP-PIES.”

“GO BACK TO MAAAAAD-I-SON.”

(after a pause)

“WE VOT-ED FOR WAAAAAAL-KER.”

Karen rolls over and murmurs, “Just ignore it.”  But I already have my head out the window, and I’m shouting:

“YOUR AGENDA IS AUST-ER-ITY.”

“WORST JOBS RECORD IN THE NAAAAAAA-TION…”

“And how’s that working out for you, TURD-BIRD?  Take two billion dollars out of the state economy and refuse federal help and what does it get you?  Too busy looking under women’s skirts to propose something that might actually help the state economy?  I notice every third property on the island is for sale.  How is that investment nest egg coming?  You ignorant son-of-a-nut-hatch!”

(after a pause)

“HE’S GONNA GET RE-EL-EEEEEECT-ED.”

I slam down the window.  Then notice that Mya is giving me her best ‘Now-that-you-are-up-we-could-go-for-a-walk’ look, with an innocence that leads me to suspect money has exchanged hands between dog and bird.  But by now the sun is coming up over the far side of the island lighting the tops of the trees, and the cove has become unnecessarily beautiful.  So I grab what appears to be my least crusty tee-shirt and head downstairs.

“Come on, Mya.  Let’s make some coffee.”

Codename Gumshoe

In Uncategorized on May 31, 2013 at 11:36 am

It began as a typical day.  Volume was up; but with the uptick in housing prices, you would expect a marginal increase in consumer confidence.  I had just finished with a routine job:

“I have some movement on the Assad account.  A $60 million sale to….  Oh, it’s just Sergei Shoigu in Moscow.  Looks like another batch of S-300’s.”

“Did he use paypal?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Run it.”

But if there is anything I have learned at this job, you can’t get comfortable.  It was just then Jones called me over.  He was white as a sheet:  “Sir, you better have a look at this.”  It took a couple seconds to take in what was on the screen.  That’s when I saw it:  “It’s the Bassler-Mortensen account.”  “I’ve never heard of it”, replied Jones.  I paused for a second, “Me, neither.  Any previous activity on the account?” Jones had already pulled the file, “About four months ago, a heart pendant.”  “One of those anatomically correct hearts in the little glass dome?”  “Yes, sir.”  “Those are pretty cool.”

The sale was for a laptop, but not just any laptop; it was a model G75VX gaming computer with 3d Gen Core 7 processor, 17.3” display, 1 TB hard drive, and backlit keyboard…with the extended warranty.  The order had been placed using a Dell Optiplex GX620.  The Optiplex had been popular in school libraries and penitentiary rec rooms about six years ago.  There could still be some in circulation.  There could be.  It could all be a coincidence. But I didn’t make Assistant Deputy Director of Fraud, Abuse, and Credit Card Scams by believing in coincidences.

“Jones, get the Deputy Director on the line.”  I lifted my hand to my ear and spoke into the Blue Tooth, “Charley, Nine-er, Nin-er, profile Happydaze, codename, Gumshoe.  It looks like we got a 10-100 in progress.  It’s the Bassler-Mortensen account.  No, I haven’t heard of them, either.  Yes, Ma’am.  I’ll take care of it.”

I leaned over to Jones, “Punch it, Chewie.”

Training, drills, an online business course at Phoenix University, nothing can prepare you for the real thing:  the flashing lights, the droning AHH-UUU-Gah of the alarm, the distant thud of copters.  I could see the men were tense.  Metcalf ran past me and through the open door of the Situation Room.  I could hear him moving from office to office down the hall, “It’s FrrrrrAAAAAUUUUUUUUUUUUD.”  “Rookies”, I said to myself.  Six months on the job, and they send them into the shit.  When this was over, me an HR are going to sit down and have a nice, long talk.

I addressed the staff.  “Look, men.  We have to keep it together.  We made it through the ’09 Berkawitz Ink Jet Printer Scam, we’ll make it through this one.  Jones, I want emails to the principles at seven minute intervals.  We need operators on every known contact. Set up an account freeze on all card numbers and secure the perimeter, 24 hour video surveillance.”  I shook two bee pollen capsules into my hand and swallowed them dry.  It was going to be a long night.

Four hours later not much had changed.  “Jones, status update,” I snapped irritably.  “No response on the 175 emails to Ms. Bassler.  We made preliminary contact on the land line, but he keeps hanging up on us.”  “Who do we have working the line?” I asked.   “Heather from Account Services, Inc.–one of our best.  Wait, I think we’ve got someone on line 4.  I’m patching it through to your office phone.”

I sat down at my desk, took some time to collect myself, a couple of deep breaths, then, “Mr. Mortensen, I’m glad we got a hold of you.  We have noticed some unusual activity on your account.”  You can’t count on customers being too bright, so I assumed my cheeriest voice and was careful to break it down for him using small words.  It took about twenty-five minutes, but it seemed like he finally understood the gravity of the situation.  At least, so I thought.  “So, I f**king bought something.  You have a problem with that?”, he responded.  “It’s just…there was…it was unusual activity”, I sputtered.  “Are you saying my wife can’t order a birthday present for our son Egon without you going all code red on us?”

In a flash it all became clear.  I covered the receiver and turned to the office members who had gathered expectantly around my desk, “The computer is for Egon”, I said with relief.  The Egon account.  Yea, we knew the Egon account: x-boxes, ipods, a flat screen T.V., stereo speakers, a box of 100 black bouncy balls—heck, he had his own ebay business last summer.  “Egon”, murmured Jones, “he’s a good kid.” “Yes, Mr. Mortensen, it all seems to have been a misunderstanding.  I’m sorry to have bothered you.  Yes, I understand…you will probably keep getting emails and calls for ten days or so, but you can disregard them.  We’ll take care of the freeze on the credit cards.  No need for that kind of language; I’m just doing my job, sir.”

And like that it was over.  The room was still tense, almost giddy.  I addressed the office, “We got lucky on that one.  But it’s not like credit card frauds are going snap selfies in the back seat of their car.  Get back to work!”  I turned to Jones, “That was some good work, son.”  I could look forward to a martini when I got home, sleep in my own bed.  Maybe I could score some Jersey Boys tickets on Broadway for the weekend.  Jones shook me out of my daydream, “Deputy Director, on line 3.”  I put my hand up to my ear.  “It turns out it was legit.  The computer was for Egon…yes, that Egon…evidently it was for his birthday.  Yes, Ma’am.  He is a good kid.”

Listening

In Uncategorized on June 15, 2012 at 9:52 am

Growing up, Mom was a nurse. We were talking this morning, and she said, “I was a nurse back when we did most of the job by listening. If a machine wasn’t working properly or there was a change in a patient’s condition, we heard it. Now there is a machine for everything, and nurses don’t listen, because they don’t have to.”

I said that it reminded me of the myth from Plato’s Phaedrus where the adviser to the Egyptian king introduces his new invention of “writing.” The passage:

Socrates: I heard, then, that at Naucratis, in Egypt, was one of the ancient gods of that country, the one whose sacred bird is called the ibis, and the name of the god himself was Theuth. He it was who [274d] invented numbers and arithmetic and geometry and astronomy, also draughts and dice, and, most important of all, letters. Now the king of all Egypt at that time was the god Thamus, who lived in the great city of the upper region, which the Greeks call the Egyptian Thebes, and they call the god himself Ammon. To him came Theuth to show his inventions, saying that they ought to be imparted to the other Egyptians. But Thamus asked what use there was in each, and as Theuth enumerated their uses, expressed praise or blame, according as he approved [274e] or disapproved. The story goes that Thamus said many things to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts, which it would take too long to repeat; but when they came to the letters, “This invention, O king,” said Theuth, “will make the Egyptians wiser and will improve their memories; for it is an elixir of memory and wisdom that I have discovered.” But Thamus replied, “Most ingenious Theuth, one man has the ability to beget arts, but the ability to judge of their usefulness or harmfulness to their users belongs to another;
[275a] and now you, who are the father of letters, have been led by your affection to ascribe to them a power the opposite of that which they really possess. For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem [275b] to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise, but only appear wise.

Moral: A wise man listens to his Mom.

It’s a Wonderful Life

In Uncategorized on August 25, 2011 at 4:19 pm

Ken and Rebertha (I think).   They were neighbors.   Not the have-over-for-barbeque kind of neighbors, but we would exchange pleasantries, occasionally stop and chat.  I helped push Rebertha’s car out of a snow bank a couple times.  On Halloween they would give whatever candy was left at the end of the night to my kids.  You know, neighbors.  They stood out a bit in the neighborhood.  For one thing they were African American.  There are some predominately black neighborhoods five or six blocks down, but on our block only Ken and Rebertha.  There was also always something going on at their house.  I know they have at least one daughter my son’s age, but there always seemed to be a half dozen kids doing stuff:  a lemonade sale, free car wash, water fights, kiddie pools, bikes, scooters, sidewalk games, snow forts.  The other day I passed by their home and there was a pile of boxes and discarded household goods on the right of way, and a for sale sign in front of the house.

Now I don’t know what happened.  I’m not even sure I have Rebertha’s name right.  I know their older son had been in trouble.  I saw the cop cars, and I followed what passes for gossip in the neighborhood.  I know they had a fire in their kitchen not so long ago.  It could be they moved to a more desirable neighborhood or left town for better jobs.  But what I thought when I passed by was that Ken worked at the Sub Zero refrigerator factory in town, and I wondered in the current state of the economy how many folks were buying luxury refrigerators.  Rebertha worked for the school district as a teacher’s aide.  I know the governor recently made some cuts in school funding.  “Belt tightening” he called it.

Not too far back K and I had some financial problems.  I work as a lecturer at a small college; K runs her own consulting business.  We were both working, but making less than we had been.  Kids, credit cards:  stuff happens.  There was a point when I realized we just weren’t going to make it.  I know lots of people have gone through this, but there is a moment when you are just standing there, staring off into the abyss.  I don’t much like to think of it, but I recall it was a lonely place.  And a long way down.  When I finally got up the nerve to call the parents and in-laws, in they rode, cut us some exceedingly large checks.  That and some creative refinancing with the local credit union, and problem solved.  They didn’t judge us or scold us.  Just the help.  It was like in the Christmas film.   I rediscovered over and over what it means to live with the love of my life.  And whatever we had done wrong with our finances, we had gotten it all right with our kids:  caring, independent, talented, funny as hell.  Then there were the friends of all stripes, folks at work looking out for me, neighbors.  Outside of Clarence, it felt pretty much like the final scene from It’s a Wonderful Life.

But what I thought about when I walked by Ken and Rebertha’s house was perhaps they, like us, had gotten into trouble.  But perhaps there hadn’t been anyone to ride into town.  No one looking out for them at work.  Not even a neighbor to ask what had happened.  Just a pile of boxes on the right of way.  I thought about what would have happened if K and I had actually lost our jobs?  What if our financial institutions had taken the opportunity to swindle us instead of help? What if our family and community hadn’t been there?   If we had turned on each other?  Every man for himself.  We could call it “belt tightening.”  I don’t much like to think of that world, but know it would be a lonely place.  And a long way down.

More Stories from New York

In Uncategorized on August 13, 2011 at 7:41 am

One of my Dad’s friends is Murry, or as they call him, Moish.  He is a large man with a full beard, pretty much constantly chuckling about something.  For years he drove a cab in New York.  You got the sense that he did this, not because he couldn’t find other work, but because he just wanted to see what would happen next.  Well one day Moish’s cab cut off another car.  The guy immediately rolled down his window.  Words were exchanged.  So the guy reaches under his seat and pulls out a baseball bat and starts shaking it out the window.  Being a veteran cab driver, Moish wasn’t going to take any of that.  So he reaches under his seat, pulls out a baseball and begins shaking it out the window.