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tearing the rag off the bush again
THE OLD: Four Shards PDF E-mail



The new topic of conversation with the old folks I do windows for is health. They tell me about their cancer and their triple bypasses, and I tell them about my triple-A aneurysm surgery. They take in my neck brace and ask what happened, and I say, "Just some messed up vertebrae." This is a long way from how it was when I first started cleaning windows and now and then a young housewife made a pass at me.

Yesterday I did a farm house I've been doing for years. There's a senile woman in a wheelchair who spends her days staring out a big bay window, and a man with a litany of operations behind him and a belly full of hernia mesh like me. We compared the pros and cons of having mesh sewed into our bodies, and then I remarked that my stamina isn't what it used to be. A rancher all his life, he replied, "It'll get worse as you get older."

I smiled and casually asked his age. I expected something between 60 and 65, and then I was going to hit him with my age, 69, and impress the hell out of him. He said 83.

"Get out of here!" I said.Christ, he has a head of black hair, clear blue eyes, and a flat stomach.

"Yep," he said. "That's what all the doctors say, too."

I kept my age to myself.

He wrote a check, we shook hands, and I adjusted my neck brace and went out into the cold, realizing that for the past three years I've been asking him how his mother in the wheelchair is doing, when his mother is his wife.

Stay the Course

"Three birds in winter
flying in formation
melt into a
ménage a trois."

Those are lines from a Pulitzer-nominated book of poems by Gertrude the Turk, an until-recently much underrated and even less known Greek poetess who once compared Rumi to Kahlil Gibran on Radio Free Berlin.

Choosing Gertrude the Turk for a
nom de plume might explain her lack of popularity in her homeland, but how account for her years of neglect world-wide?By way of explanation, Gertrude cuts right to the chase--a conspiracy, she says, fueled by vicious rumors spread by the Board of Directors of The Gertrude Stein Adulation Society, a nefarious, non-profit organization based in Philadelphia whose CEO got waterboarded for funneling funds to a Lebanese orphanage suspected of housing budding young terrorists--three dunkings and he offered up Gertrude the Turk's name, which led to her internment at Guantanamo.

Gertrude's getting locked down at Guantanamo triggered a rash of academic interest in her work, but when an adjunct professor of comparative literature at Wayne State University got waterboarded for publishing a paper on her poetry, comparing her with e.e. cummings, interest waned.

For her part, Gertrude went on a hunger strike and began praying with the Muslims who constitute the majority of the detainees at Guantanamo, which brought about a visit from a delegation of Greek Orthodox priests who tried to talk some sense into her head. The delegation stormed out after only a few hours, flew back to Athens, and within a week Gertrude the Turk's Greek citizenship was revoked, which started a chain reaction of happy coincidences.

For starters, Random House offered Gertrude a hefty advance for her autobiography, which prompted Ophra to read six poems by "G the Turk" (as the press was now calling her) on Ophra's trend-setting TV show. Leonard Cohen declared her the reincarnation of Gertrude Stein (raising the ire of the Gertrude Stein Adulation Society), and Rufus Wainwright wrote a song about her.

President George W. Bush, sensing an opportunity to pick up on some much needed good-guy PR, expressed the sentiment at a press conference that everyone should have a country and right there on the spot issued a pardon for the crimes Gertrude was suspected of committing, and--cutting through the red tape--declared her an American citizen by presidential decree. There was a ticker tape parade down Madison Avenue, and now GT (the latest press morph) is poet-in-residence at Yale University where her lectures are heavily attended.

Word has it that GT is hard at work on her autobiography, the publication of which is awaited with bated breath by bibliophiles the world over, except in Greece, where the book has been banned before it's been written.

All of which goes to prove that there's still hope for our troubled world if we're willing to put our noses to the grindstone and stay the course.

The One True Reality

The artist strives to recreate his reality minute by minute, that's the consensus of a school of thinkers who make it their business to stay on top of things. This is news to the artists who are too busy doing it to think about it.

The thinkers are disturbed by what they perceive as this nonchalance on the part of artists and their anarchistic tendency to jack reality around. They spend a lot of time establishing schools for the artists to be trained in, in order to enhance their understanding of their proper place in the order of things. The thinkers see themselves as guardians of The One True Reality, and the artists who fall in line are rewarded with titles and recognition and generous creation grants; their art is then exhibited, their music played, and their books published. Artists who rebel against the thinkers are labeled irrelevant, and measures are taken to prevent their deviant creations from coming off the blocks.

I probably shouldn't be saying this out in the open, because once the guardians of The One True Reality get wind of it, they'll put their enormous Uniformity Machine in gear and set up a whole new network of screening schools, but I'll say it anyway: I think the driving force in true artists goes deeper than an urge to create new realities for themselves; I don't think they're realities at all, I think they're maneuvers and ploys, attempts to suck up and transform the misnomered One True Reality and its Uniformity Machine into a booming world of trumpets and drum rolls, undulations of undiminishing ecstasy and rapture, bright blended color, ceaseless motion that flows so harmoniously it appears to stand still.

I think true artists are the angels at the core of things, and they're out to get us.

Spokesman for his Times

I read the L.A. Times synopsis of Norman Mailer's literary career, and I thought no, it isn't true, he's not the spokesman for the times he lived in. He was a spokesman for a privileged class that is broader than you might think. The privileged take the sting out of the raw misery of the multitude by filtering it through the clever minds of people handy with a pen.

Jack Henry Abbott came closer to what's really going on in his
In the Belly of the Beast. Mailer stabbed someone, she lived. Abbott stabbed someone, he went back to prison where he'd spent most of his life from the age of nine.

When you cut down to the bone's marrow, anyone they give the Nobel Prize in Literature to is an apologist; the Nobel, the Pulitzer, the MacArthur Genius Grant.

It's a hard pill to swallow, and that's why they spit it out and wash away the taste with vintage wine.

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