Monday, June 24, 2019

"Deer And Elephants"


One thing about Roald Dahl’s riveting memoir Going Solo (discussed earlier), which is something I’ve thought, and have actually written about in this venue.

And if I haven’t, I am doing it now.

(Note:  Sometimes, I forget I wrote something and I write it again.  Sometimes, I think I wrote something when I actually didn’t.  It is interesting to be me.)

When I turn from Page 79 – where he describes being ferried across an African river crawling with crocodiles – I discover that Dahl too has “turned the page”, moving from ravenous crocodiles to Zen-infused elephants.

Let me momentary digress to say this about writers.

The adept ones are more than able practitioners of particular genres.  The standouts are quality writers who, for one reason or another, fell into participating in those genres.  Donna Leon is a delightful writer who happens to write mysteries.  Roald Dahl is a splendid writer, world famous for kids’ books.  Others write mysteries and kids’ books, but you do not remember the writing.  You may not even remember the books.

When a writer of Dahl’s abilities takes to penning a memoir, you can expect more than “I went there, and did that.”  Two things jump out on Page 80 alone!

First, the way he describes the “big tuskers” he drives past:

“Their skin hung loose over their bodies like suits they had inherited from larger ancestors, with the trousers ridiculously baggy.”

You can imagine an excited illustrator, eagerly licking their chops.

“I can draw that funny!”

Dahl signals “I’ve got ‘Kids’ books’ in me” in his serious memoir.  More importantly (at least for this post) is Dahl’s description of the pachyderm’s peaceful placidity.

“ A great sense of peace and tranquility seemed to surround these massive, slow-moving, gentle beasts… They seemed to be leading a life of absolute contentment.”

My mind jumps immediately to the deer that visit the yard of our Indiana log cabin, legging languidly across the street to lunch on the leaves from our trees’ low-hanging branches.

(As I silently watch from our adjacent screened-in porch, noting the same “peace and tranquility” and “absolute contentment.”)

(And the rest is about me.)

Here’s what people do to become grounded and “present” and stress-free and calm.   Or at least one thing we do.

We meditate.

Meditation, at its best – which it always is; the fluctuation’s in the practitioner – soothingly settles the mind, banning the nagging agitation caused by worries about the future.  Meditation helps you remain comfortably in the “Now.”  At its best, if you think anything, you think,

“This breath is quite pleasant.  And that is all that concerns me.”

Seeking to upgrade my meditation technique, I pursue “calmness” relentlessly.  Which is the wrong way to pursue calmness.  You have to pursue calmness calmly.  Of course, if I could do that, I would not need to meditate.

You know who are blissfully free of this circular conundrum?

Animals.

(I know.  There are monkeys that fret and house pets that whimper.  But overall, animals do not know what we know.  That’s why so few of them acquire life insurance.)

Animals “meditate” naturally.  Yes, “Flight of Flight” remains an essential “Go-to” in their survivalist tool bags.  But those moments are isolated.  Munching the foliage in our yard, the deer are not thinking,

“Should I be worried right now, or just munching?  There are cars that can run me over, crossing the street.  Roving bobcats could tear me to pieces.  Who knows?  These leaves could be terrible for me.  Oh, yeah, and it’s ‘Deer Hunting Season’!’  And I’m supposed to say calm?”

(The preceding was a depiction of me, if I were a deer.)

On my desk is a printout of a photograph of a young deer, looking still – Of course, it’s a photograph! – groundedly “present and radiantly relaxed.  I look at that picture when I feel suddenly jumpy, and it successfully brings me “back home.”

Now, for variety, Dahl has taught me,

I can add pictures of elephants.

Friday, June 21, 2019

"Comparative Content"


Something I am now reading has sent me reeling in my blogatorial boots.

Here’s the thing.

The stories you write about are the stories that happened to you.  (Unless you write fiction.  Which are stories that happened to no one.)

In the context in question – by which I mean this one – there is something I notice, and I decide it’s worth writing about.  That’s my procedural “M.O.”, what I do five days a week.  (With breaks for unscheduled health issues, and High Holidays.)

Today, for example, I was pondering an event that took place a few decades ago, when it suddenly occurred to me that it had happened to me again.  Not recently – little happens to me recently – a few decades ago, minus a couple of years.

This is not me, telling the same story twice.  It’s me, telling two different stories that are exactly the same once.

To me, that seems interesting all by itself.

Before even telling the stories.

Which are, in chronological order, the following:

I am nineteen years old.  It is June, a month before the beginning of camp.  I have been hired by the camp’s owner for secretarial purposes, working in his office, typing and answering the phone.  (At a dollar an hour.)

Sometimes, I am in there alone, “there” being a Ground Floor office of a small  building in a proximate suburb of Toronto, typing away, sometimes incompetently, by which I do not mean typographical errors.  I made a lot of those too, but that is not what I’m talking about.

My most egregious clerical “boo-boo” was typing an entire page of camper “Mailing Lists” with the carbon paper – ask an old person what that is – inserted erroneously, leaving the proceeding “Duplicate Copy” not on a second page, but on the back of the first page, and typed backwards.

Anyway…

There I am, alone and typing – or in that case, retyping – and, being alone and having that particular habit, I am, similar to a Disney “dwarf”, not whistling, but instead lustily singing while I work.  Overly loudly, perhaps.  But so what?  I was alone.

What I did not know was that my private performance had wafted up through the above air vent, floated mellifluously through the connecting duct, descending finally into “Stubby’s Diner”, located on the Ground Floor of the building, but in front.  

As a result, when entering “Stubby’s” for a lunchtime hamburger, I was met with thunderous applause, and shouts of, “Sing us a song!”

So there’s that.

Three years later, I am living in London, age twenty-two, toiling as an interim toy-wrapper at the famed Harrods Department Store.

As the “Employees’ Washroom” included a shower, I began showering during my “Lunch Hour”, as my low-rent apartment included neither bathtub nor shower, and I was unwilling to revisit the “Oasis Public Baths”, bathing – albeit in an enclosed “closet” – amongst miners and chimney sweeps.

Having forgotten the lesson learned earlier at “Stubby’s”, I sang loudly, as I scrubbed off clinging toy-wrapping detritus.

Once again, my “private performance” flew up to the above air vent and through the connecting air duct, my rousing “Impossible Dream” permeating the nearby “purchasing areas” of Harrods.

(Fortunately, I was unimplicated in this invasion on toy store decorum, as it would have certainly meant my immediate “sacking.”)

So there’s that too.

Twice had my singing reached beyond the secret stage of my personal concert.  Which felt like a fine idea for an upcoming blog post.

It so happens, however, that I am currently reading Roald Dahl’s memoir Going Solo.  Forget the comparative quality of the writing, which is unchallengingly “He wins.”  I allude only to “contrasting content.”

I am but partway through the book, and Dahl, working in Africa, has already confronted an eight-foot poisonous cobra, and a lion, carrying a terrified woman off in his mouth.

And I realize,

"My stories are missing something."

Dahl gives us lions and cobras.  I do “air-duct entertainment.”

Mouth-dropping stories abound in Going Solo.  Check out Page 79.  Ferried across a river along with his car on an East-African “road trip”,

“At the Wami river the natives put my car on a raft and six strong men on the opposite bank started to pull me across the hundred yards or so of water with a rope, chanting as they pulled.  The river was running swiftly and in midstream the slim raft upon which my car and I were balanced began to get carried down-river by the current.  The six strong men chanted louder and pulled harder and I sat helpless in the car watching the crocodiles swimming around the raft, and the crocodiles stared up at me with their cruel dark eyes.” 

There is that.  And then there’s me, trying to hold your attention with lightweight “air duct embarrassments.”

I am a captive of happenstance.  What I write comes from personal experience.

Sorry about no crocodiles.

Of course if one comes to the house, you will definitely hear about it.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

"The Limitations Of Pizza"


Don’t get me wrong. 

I’ve got nothing against pizza. 

Though that could be like saying “No offense” and then immediately offending someone.

Okay, you got me.

I’ve got something against pizza.

Not pizza per se.

No, yeah.  Pizza per se. 

I have got something against pizza per se.

Which is, specifically, this.

Good or bad, thick crust of thin, New York, Chicago, Patterson New Jersey – all pizza is exactly the same.

“But you just listed the ways pizzas are different.”

I did.  Still, I stand by that statement.

“Even though you said exactly the opposite?”

Yes. 

“Man!  It’s like ‘Trump World’, but with pizza.”

I adhere to my contradictory guns because, despite their surface distinctions, all pizza is exactly the same, and here’s how.  And why because of that “how”,

I have got something against pizza.

First off, I like pizza.

“You have an odd way of showing it.”

I’ll ignore that.

Why?”

Because I feel like it.

I have eaten hundreds of pizzas in my day, beginning with my neighborhood (but with a “u”) La Pizza and Charjo’s, back in Toronto.  I enjoyed pizza so much that when I had one delivered, I’d use my treasured “Chanukah Gelt” silver dollars that I swore I would “keep forever” to pay for it. 

That’s how much I like pizza!

(Note:  Before ordering in pizza, make sure you have enough money without using your treasured “Chanukah Gelt” silver dollars you swore you would “keep forever.”  I forgot to do that.  And I paid the price.)

Let us stipulate – as they say on courtroom dramas and possibly actual courtrooms as well – that it’s good pizza. 

So there it is: 

Good pizza, ready to eat.  Knife and fork?  Eat it with your hands?  It’s all the same.  You are excited about that pizza.

(And by the way, writing the previous paragraph, my mouth reflexively started to water.)

You take the first bite of that pizza?

You are in heaven. 

You take another bite.  And another.  And then another.  Rapidly finishing that first slice.  You look down at the remaining slices of the pizza… and you are happy.  Because that first slice was terrific.  And there are so many slices to go.

You dig into the second slice of your pizza.  It’s good.  But at some point during that second slice, if you’re like me – a person committed to undermining his own pleasure – you face an unavoidable reality: 

Eating pizza has become a bit of a slog.

Suddenly you are aware that what is ahead of you is a meal wherein every slice – nay, every bite of that pizza – tastes exactly the same as the first one.

Dooming you to a Groundhog Day pizza-eating experience.

Other dishes are different.

You have a veal cutlet.  It comes with potatoes of some sort, a vegetable.  You look down at your plate –

You have three options to choose from.

You taste the veal cutlet?  You try some potatoes?  You sample the vegetables?  It’s like – because it is – three distinctly alternate tastes.  Moosh them together, and the taste options increase.

It’s even more so with fruit salad, where the choices are multiplied.  You dig into fruit salad, and it’s like,

“Ooh!  A strawberry!  “Ooh!  A grape! 

Sometimes it’s  “Ooh!  A pine nut!”  Fruit salads surprise you!  Every bite – well not every bite; let not get crazy – but many bites are deliciously unlike the bite before.

“Ooh!  A kiwi!  “Ooh!  A … what is that?”

Your taste buds are dancing!

But with pizza… it’s just pizza.

Then more pizza.

Then more pizza.

Then more pizza.

Sure, you can go half “something” and half “something else” with your pizza.  But I don’t know anyplace… I mean, can you imagine asking,

“Can I have a different topping on each slice?”

They’re, like,

“We don’t do that!”

Leaving you stuck with “just pizza.”

Understand this.  I love pizza.  I love the dough.  I adore the crust.  (My family knows that, and gives me their crust.)  In some ways, pizza’s my “ideal food.”  But I can’t fool myself. 

Pizza is eight slices of exactly the same thing.

Of course, I won’t eat eight slices.  I will save some for later.  Although later, it’s the same thing… colder and dryer.

Pizza is great.  But it is, and can be nothing other than –

Just pizza.

Over and over.

Oh well.

There is always that first bite.