Heeding the call of The Sun and The Word
31 Sketches, under 250 words each – October 2018
The darkness is already draining from the sky outside as he stops at the window on the way to the bathroom. Dark blue directly above, gently fading to a lighter blue over the rooftops across the back yard. Someone not visible below the trees, someone quite possibly with a high blood/alcohol content, is singing (not too badly): thank you for the love you brought my way you gave to me your all and all and now I feel ten feet tall; and then a passing ambulance siren drowns him out. An airplane rumbles overhead. In a window across the street a woman sways her body, perhaps listening to a radio, as she pours coffee into a cup. She’s dressed in some kind of service uniform, probably preparing to head out to work. The birds’ chatter makes it official, a new day. He glances over at the digital numbers on the clock: 6:52. Later in the day, looking up a weather report on his computer, he’ll notice that same number listed – it was the exact moment of sunrise.
The Dark gets up earlier these days. In just over a month they’ll pull that amazing accomplishment that some humans choose to do – moving that enormous ball of fire in the sky an hour’s worth backwards through time – thus turning late afternoon into night. Well, actually it’s really just a parlour trick using clocks. It’s as reliant on fooling the eye as that illusion they conjure up over cocktails and electronics: the one about the planet Mercury going retrograde. You have to hop off Einstein’s train and bring out the smoke and mirrors to pull off this chicanery.
While the whole time-clock ping-pong doesn’t make any sense to him, he sure does like the reverse end of the ruse – when they do the presto-chango in the opposite direction early the following year, providing the daily stage with an hour more of light. When that extra light comes around it is much like the season attached to it, suggesting to him that he was going to get a fresh chance at some Undefined Something.
They have been extremely rare, these occasions when he experiences his father – as in being inside his father’s body – physically, and thoroughly – but they have been very powerful. It’s not any variation of remembering, and it is not perceived as imagination.
Just now, lying on the bed. The sun’s fading but still present autumnal warmth – it stopped on his leg, where his hand had come to rest. There was no noticeable moment of transformation, just a sudden deep sense of being inside his father’s face, below which, his father’s body. In those seemingly frozen moments, attempting to hold onto and examine the sensations, he’s proposed to himself the idea of some deeper unexplored aspects of transferred DNA in his brain chemistry. But as before, when this happens, any examinations surface briefly and then swim away, scattering like fish into depths, disappearing.
His attempt today is an analysis proposing the possibility of some psychological link, transmitted upward through his hand on the muscle of his thigh, to some sort of broad archetype of masculinity he carries. He’s written aspects of this experience down in the past, but afterwards it all just seems like dream material – not helpful to him; and to others he’s shared it with, quite boring. Maybe Mister Jung could help.
Now the rays coming through the window are blocked by a cloud, the warmth fades, and his father leaves.
When they built these subway stations, seemingly dug miles into the center of the earth, had they thoroughly considered escalator failure? He certainly could have waited for one of the three elevators, but the large crowd, waiting and madly nudging, didn’t seem worth it at the time.
Half way up and he wasn’t so sure about his decision to walk, as he trudged on, step by step, the destination still fathoms above. Walking up on dead escalators makes feet feel heavy somehow, and yet people were zipping up past him, some taking two steps at a time. He recalled when he was able to fly up stairs like that.
He made it to the top, through the turnstiles, and after another short flight of stairs he emerged onto the street, a bit out of breath. It was a beautiful bright day, the streets bustling with people going in all directions. Looking up, he thought how lucky he was, no chores today; just like the source of that glow, he had nothing to do but roll around town all day.
The tree had had its branches trimmed many times over the years, yet it’s trunk continuing to bend more towards the street, towards the open sky and sun over the shorter building on the other side. Eventually, the entire tree was leaning at a seemingly dangerous sixty degree angle. Arborists from the Botanical Gardens met with a block committee and it was admitted that the tree should get cut down.
He lived about a mile away and only walked on this street on rare occasions. The street was tree-lined and while he had made note on occasion of how much that one leaned, he never gave it much thought. Today as he walked the block he was struck by the empty space, only a large stump left behind, with shavings from the recent sawing, some small branches, and leaves scattered about. He stopped and carefully counted the rings; this tree had made one hundred and thirty six trips around the sun. He did the math, 1882, and tried to imagine what was around here back then. When he got home he looked up the date. It was the birth year of Virginia Woolf, Igor Stravinsky, James Joyce, Bela Lugosi, A. A. Milne, and many others; including a unnamed tree that outlived them all.
Since most people came in after work her day shift was usually pretty uninterrupted.
You get five free tans when you buy ten, she said to the man who was looking over the price sheet.
It was her first job out of high school. She had gotten interested in cinema in her sophomore year, when her geography teacher incorporated foreign film clips to explore discussing other parts of the world. She had been working her way through an old issue of Film Comment from 2012 which she’d had picked up from a street vendor, when he came in.
I’ll come back in a few weeks, he said after a while; my beach suntan will hold a bit longer. Sure is getting darker quickly though, he added, as he glanced over towards the window.
The sale ends at the end of October, she said, and for a few long moments they both stood there looking out the window in silence at the cloudy black and white day. Like a Bela Tarr film, she finally broke the silence, lifting the magazine and showing him the interview she was reading with the Hungarian film director.
He found reading something of substance as a variation on the art of meditation, a focus point, a mantra of sorts that funneled his runaway thoughts and allowed his involvement with the world to slide by.
He was reading a book while on the bus, deeply engrossed in the story of two astronomers charting the transit of Venus – a rare event occuring when the planet passes between the earth and the Sun.
Yesterday he had looked it up and was in Awe at the NASA photo of the little black dot against the burning globe. He also discovered that there had been two Transits of Venus during his lifetime but he hadn’t been paying attention, and that he wouldn’t be getting another chance unless he managed to live and remember to look up in another ninety-nine years.
As his stop approached, he replaced his bookmark, and closed the book. As if to give him a somewhat more humble variation of the event, a tiny beetle was making its way across one of the large letter O’s on the cover.
When the hell will they drop that crazy celibacy nonsense?! – he groans loudly, rattling the newspaper in frustration. He’s had a few drinks. The party had thinned to a dozen or so people.
So the Bishop just gets away with it – shifts around a priest who admitted to sexually abusing 35 boys – and the old bastard gets to quietly retire. Amazing how prevalent this stuff was.
A friend walks over and glances over his shoulder to look at the newspaper story, and asks, slyly smiling and seeing in his friend’s eyes the right number of drinks to get a direct answer – so, have you ever had sex with a priest?
Well since you asked – smiling – I had sex with two priests when I was in my twenties. I have these experiences cataloged in my memory by the weather on each day. I answered an ad in a newspaper. On the phone we agreed it was a match and almost as a PS he added that I’d be coming to a church rectory to see him. A downpouring rainy day. He undressed from a cassock! He was rushed, callous; an insensitive creep. The other was actually an ex-priest – maybe that’s the difference, he adds with a grin. We met in a cruising park, and he was the person who really taught me the pleasures of man sex. Slow, gentle, exploring, caring; amazingly beautiful physical contact. And yes, I remember it being gorgeous outside, the sun warm and brilliant outside the window.
Give some writers real life events and they’ll convert them into cute children’s stories, subverting the edgy details into moralizing fluff for taming little brats, while inflating the parental wisdoms.
Well, here’s how it went. I was still king then, before I left that nonsense and moved to this mountain retreat and became a writer. The country was obsessed, as most are, with their traditions and national pride. Oh how they all love the empty fanfare of monarchy. The preparations were going on for the annual Sun Day celebrations. An absurd amount of coin was allocated for the processional gown. Gossip they will, and the peasantry was on about how it was to be spun of gold. The day came and my procession emerged from the castle and made its way through the city. I kept a straight face as I came out dressed in nothing! Everybody was laughing, everybody was happy, everyone was cheering: Here comes the Sun King! But they couldn’t admit what they were seeing, a man’s naked flesh! After all – nakedness was sex, and sex was an animal, and animal was death – so they all pretended to see the gold garment. When I got back to the castle, aghast at the gullibility of the masses, I took the funds that were to be foolishly spent on gold fabric, snuck out at night, bought myself this home and created for myself this new identity.
But to hear Hans tell it . . .
He’d been up here a bunch of times over the summer so there was no excuse for his getting up from his blanket and hitting his head. Those solar panels had been installed on his rooftop over a year ago. He rubbed the sore spot on his scalp and did a quick check of his senses – all seemed okay. Considering the possibilities up here all alone, he was relieved. He could have gotten knocked out and ended up in King Arthur’s Court, where he’d have to pretend to be a magician and fool the populace with an solar eclipse. Or he could have almost died and gotten put into cryopreservation, awakened a couple hundred years later, and have to run around pretending to be a robot. And which direction would he rather go, if he had the choice. He thought of the many times he groaned at hearing someone expound the wonders of the good old days. Almost as painful were the bookshelves of stunted imaginations spinning dystopian futures. Just then that sweet smell of roof tar caught his nose and he decided he’d stay and catch another hour of this day.
Almost like some old radio program announcer, the news anchor’s voice is authoritative, darkly dramatic: Was that new moon that was covered by clouds a couple weeks ago the last we’ll see of a clear sky?
It was heading on fifteen days straight of constant, totally overcast skies. The media was reporting that it was record-breaking for New York City. In the last week, every chance they had, they mentioned Seasonal Affective Disorder – some microphone wielding reporter out in some grey location, delighted in alluding to its acronym, suggesting the dread that could, maybe should, be spreading. Or some attempt at being lighthearted, with anecdotes about other cloudy cities; Buffalo, Seattle.
He clicks off the television. Enough of this forecast melodrama that these broadcasters relish so much whenever the weather suggests the real and threatening, often filicidal, nature of Mother Nature. The audience loves action on their screens; perhaps some superhero who will blow the gloomy clouds away.
Still warm and humid for October he decides to go up the stairs to the rooftop. Just as he exits the door, emerging from the shifting darkness, is the man on the moon, full, smiling as brightly as ever with that glow from far away.
It was the year of bumming around in that old Plymouth Satellite. We were in New Orleans and got an invitation from family living near Fort Myers, Florida. We jumped on Route 10 heading East. After seeing a billboard extolling local muscadine wine we detoured south a bit to a beautiful family owned winery in the tiny city of Vernon. On the way back towards Route 10 we gave a ride to a young man going in our direction. He told us he was born in Vernon and with a smirk jumped in to quickly unravel some of the city’s history. It seems that it was infamous in the late 1950s because of a high percentage of residents with claims on lost limbs – so much so that many speculated they were intentionally dismembering themselves for the money. The anecdote sure seemed far fetched, but it was obvious he took great enjoyment in dropping the story on strangers.
As we pulled into a Sunoco gas station he added with delight – they used to call it “Nub City”. Stepping out of the car he stopped to point to the license plate on the car at the pump in front of us – just above the words Sunshine State, the numbers were 50I73H. You have to stand on your head to understand some things around here, he smiled.
Continuing eastward, in less than an hour we gained an hour by crossing a timezone. An extra hour of Helios.
The astronomer was scheduled to do a presentation to a class of children next week. The subject they had been prepared for was: what does the sun sound like? They had been told that our Sun is 93,000,000 miles away, that it is surrounded by the vacuum of space, and that sound won’t travel through space – but with the right instrument, scientists can “hear” pulsations from the Sun.
Last week the astronomer and his team got the first response from the Michelson Doppler Imager, which had been mounted on a Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, which was circling a million miles from earth. They were going to record the acoustic pressure waves that bounce from one side of the Sun to the other.
As the sounds came in the team stood in awe. Instead of the distorted oscillations they expected what came in sounded like hoofbeats, horses stampeding, followed by the crunching sound of chariot wheels on a dirt road.
What on earth am I going to tell those kids?
Okay class. First we draw a circle. Then we draw lines coming from the edge outward. Different lengths is good, all the way around. These are called rays. Before we play the recording you were promised we need to tell you a bit about Greek Mythology.
The tree covered mountains on either side of the road flickered the sun and shadows across the hood of the car, and they kept losing the radio broadcast as they wound through the deep valleys. The kids were cranky in the back seat. Their mother was just as glad not to hear the rotation of the same songs because of course there was only one good station which played the good songs. We’ll be glad to be back in the city, the back seat passengers proclaimed. It had been a long trip and mom wasn’t in the mood so she fired back: listening to the radio is like shopping from one of those fliers the grocery store chain leaves in our lobby. It’s the stuff they want to sell you, surplus to unload; quality irrelevant, it’s the stuff with the highest profit margin. Their turn: Well If we had a CD player in the car. She caught herself, before returning another verbal salvo, in a memory of her childhood, in the back seat of a car trying to listen to her favorite songs over the chatter of her cigarette chain-smoking parents. The lyrics from the radio at that moment brought her back from her reverie: No hesitation at the traffic lights / beneath the black in my windscreen. Who’s singing this she asked – and the voices from the back seat came back in unison: Let’s Eat Grandma.
Well OK then; almost home, she replied.
The sky filled with a yellow orange spectrum and the colors hit the side of the Wonder Wheel. Seagulls wandered along the shore, picking up food that tides had washed in. After the sun was fully up they wandered towards the boardwalk, walking across the tracks made by the sand cleaning machines.
What’s this? He bent down to pick something from the sand. It has a little hole – like you’d wear it as an amulet. Occult looking symbols on the big letters which look like zTz. If it wasn’t cheap plastic I’d think it something quite serious to someone. Let me see, she said, and photographed it with her cell phone. A minute later, with the help of an image search engine she had an answer.
It’s “Zotz!” – a 1962 fantasy/comedy directed by William Castle, about a man obtaining magical powers from a god of an ancient civilization. With it he could cause time to go into slow motion by saying “Zotz!”. The coin was a promotional novelty given to kids at theaters. Wow.
They walked north along the boardwalk and then through the Russian neighborhood of Brighton Beach towards the subway. This neighborhood always amazes me, he said. The people I see on the streets who are my age look like my parents – I mean their styles, clothes – they look like people from another era. Perhaps, she smiled, some kid came out of a theater around here in the early 1960’s and said “Zotz!”
He was on a trip through Texas, visiting a friend in Marathon, then heading towards Dallas Airport. He stopped in the small city of Odessa to see the 70% replica of Stonehenge his friend recommended. Afterwards, a short distance away, he stopped at an IHop for lunch. Large as the restaurant was it was packed, and he ended up sharing a booth with a woman. Small talk led to conversations about the oil derricks bobbing all over the place and he learned that the city got its name from the local shortgrass prairie’s resemblance to Ukraine’s steppe landscape. His mention of the rabbit roadkills he’d seen led to talk of human death. They imagine ideal endings, she said, in a bed with loved ones by their side. But every day people leave loved ones and never see them again. The ones who disappear have some startling experience with no chance to say goodbye, and the ones left often replay imagining what that other person experienced as they left their body.
You seem to have really given this some thought, he said.
Yeah, guess so, sorry – this is my lunch hour – I work over at the Final Sunset Funeral Home. I get to see it all, regularly. Got a bit dark there. Listen, on a lighter note, to get your mind off roadkill’d bunnies, go check out our famous 8 foot Jack Rabbit sculpture. Less than 15 minutes away. Take a selfie – it’ll make the rest of your trip brighter.
Both their parents didn’t go to church anymore, but still sent them off for services every Sunday. Most of the time they wouldn’t go and pocketed the coins they were given to throw in the basket, with which they’d go over to the used comic book store. Conveniently, Cheap Charlie, as the kids called him, always had his shop open on Sunday. They’d get a few issues each and head over to the park to read, swapping as they finished them.
It was mid October and starting to get cold so today they found a warm hallway to hang out in. They had two issues of Superman, a favorite of both, one Aquaman, one featuring Polar Boy, and one Sun Boy.
They sat discussing the short histories that were provided on the inside covers of the two they hadn’t read about before. So Polar Boy, poor kid, doesn’t cut the grade for the Legion of Super-Heroes and has to start the Legion of Substitute Heroes?! Bad name for an outfit, they agreed. Anomalous Super-heroes would’ve been better.
Yeah, and Sun Boy was also rejected when he only demonstrated his ability to generate light. Later he he shows the Legion his heat-generation ability, gets accepted, and gets his Legion flight ring. What? was he auditioning only his winter side the first time? Do these guys have to model their costumes also? Laughter echoes in the hallway.
Walking home later they concurred – Superman and the trickster Mister Mxyzptlk had saved the day.
The orange tabby cat had two homes, one on the second floor and one on the third, up two separate fire escapes. Depending on the weather and the hosts’ availability, there were always food and water dishes available, often indoors through left-open windows. The tenants knew of the arrangement – had even yelled an agreement across that space that his name was Sunshine (to which he seemed to respond) – but they had never met before yesterday. The shared yard between the two buildings, mostly just overgrown with weeds, was the cat’s domain – occasionally challenged by other felines passing through and most often by a quite feral-looking cloudy grey tomcat.
Last night a battle raged somewhere in the yard. From one of the apartments up high a potful of water sailed down on the combatants. Followed by a particularly howling meow. Followed by silence.
The next morning both windows were open and the two tenants were looking down at the still orange body in the yard with some blood near it’s neck, and then back up at each other.
Later they put Sunshine’s body, cushioned with fabric, into a boot box. Since they didn’t own the yard property they waited until after sunset to return clandestinely.
Under apartment window lights and the moon overhead they dug a deep hole and buried him, over two agreements: that Sunshine had a good independent life in this jungle between two sanctuaries, and that they’d get together for coffee sometime soon.
They almost bumped heads, both lost in concentration looking at the painting, under powerful spells of Awe. The flowers cut, drying out – mere hints of green, yet the blooms ablaze with golden petal flames.
Wow – look at the date; the coincidence continues, she said – one hundred years ago, it’s signed,1887! They both held up the books they were holding and smiling, simultaneously saying: Golden Dawn!
Just a week ago they had been at a used bookstore and after she made her selection – All Hallows’ Eve by Charles WIlliams, based on an October sensibility, he decided somewhat vaguely theme-related on something he’d always meant to read: Dracula by Bram Stoker.
The year 1887 came up last evening, when she was looking up Charles Williams online and they discovered that he and Bram Stoker, along with Aleister Crowley, had belonged to the occult organization The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn – which was formed that year.
At the museum cafe later she continued her research on her cell phone. No more mystical connections, she winked, but and interesting perspective in that Van Gogh was painting his dazzling sunflowers the same time that Boris Karloff, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Chico Marx were entering the world. Reminds me of a story I read about a tree being cut down, revealing the passage of time and the interconnected lives matching its rings.
He wondered what was happening now, in 1987, that someone would discuss in a hundred years.
It was one seamless surface – like how the sky is when it stretches radiant blue on a perfectly clear day – yet today, in that solid grey that is overhead, there is an absence of the same sense of endless distance. This seems to hang instead, as if suspended by unseen cords, only lacking Gravity’s will to pull it all the way down.
It was yet another overcast day in October, but this one with a chill making it no longer deniable that Winter was not far off, packing its gear, preparing to move in with it’s icy implements of torture.
He stepped out of his building as if into an old film, the burgundy of the brick building across the street providing the only exception to a monochromatic world; the rest seemed dipped from a palette consisting of fifteen shades of grey, including the cat making its way along a fire escape across the street.
Understandable he thought, walking down the street towards the subway, that amidst the glare of all the city lights here at night, that other distant suns are hard to see, but here it is mid-afternoon – how could the light and heat of that enormous ball of fire be so dampened in plain sight?
While she had on occasion gone full parrot, she had two standard colors for her hair – dark red during the colder seasons, orange in the warmer ones. At the convenience store where she worked the nicknames changed accordingly. Sunkist in summer, and now in October – Macintosh. Occasionally some regular would express how they liked one better than the other and she’d get to joke about how you shouldn’t compare apples with oranges.
Today a man came in excitedly, holding a lottery ticket in his hand. It was obvious he had checked somewhere and had won, but the anticipation of having the machine confirm it and get the payout had him shuffling like a small child needing to pee. The heraldry chime the gizmo makes when a winning ticket is inserted echoed in the small store. Congratulations, she said – twenty five dollars!
With his winnings in hand, heading out he turned with a smile on his face and said – you look like an crisp autumn apple with that hair.
We were on our way home to New York City from Montreal. It was the last leg of our trip, burning gasoline for a year on the roads of North America, and in Vermont we stopped at a coffee shop in the small city of Winooski.
You might want to check out the Earth Clock – when we asked the server about things to see locally – it’s a stone circle, y’know like Stonehenge, and it’s a compass and a clock. A month ago they had a big celebration there for the Autumn Solstice, but it’s a great place to watch a sunset – catch it if you hurry. Next town over, Burlington, across that bridge.
And hey, if you don’t know it, you’re in the infamous place that wanted to build a dome to cover the entire city in the late 1970s. It does get frigid here, and there was an oil crisis. Buckminster Fuller was interested.
As we drove towards the spot along Lake Champlain I thought out loud – well it’s a more interesting craziness than those folks in Vernon, Florida.
Parking our car we walked towards the stone formation; our timing just right. We stood in the peaceful quiet on the flat center stone with dates carved into it as we watched the sun preparing to descend, then dip down beyond the mountains on the other side, flooding the rippling blue waters of the lake with magnificent reds and golds.
She was playing at a neighborhood club so she invited him to come and listen. The band did some original material mixed with blues covers. He sat at the bar near the stage, nursing a beer, enjoying the show.
When the band ended their set she came down, still holding her guitar, and sat at the stool next to him. Thanks so much for coming down – I know we said coffee, but this gig came up and I thought it might be fun way to move along the meeting. Her guitar case was leaning against the stage, and she started putting it inside.
It was great, you have a truly tight band. Loved the cover of Stray Cat Blues, great song. That’s a really beautiful guitar.
It’s a favorite Stones song – slyly dedicated it to you. This guitar, coincidentally, is just like one Keith Richards had – Gibson, Les Paul Sunburst.
The bartender came over with a drink for her, knowing what she liked. Great set, he said. Hope you guys come back soon – these 80s cover bands we get just don’t do it for me. And your fan here, nodding his head sideways with a grin, haven’t seen him before – a lover of the blues or your blue eyes? Allz I’m saying is you look good together.
Well thanks, but really we’re just neighbors who’ve been meaning to get together – actually to talk about a mutual friend who passed away recently – and this is sort of our first date.
Their mother had moved to Kyoto, Japan, following her dream. Cellphones and the internet helped. While she was building her new life as a translator, the four kids were also growing into their adult lives in Chicago. They had their own apartments, jobs, relationships – yet stayed close, getting together for dinners, and this past summer even taking an adventurous trip together.
Today in an email cc’d to all, she wrote: Two days ago I took the train to Kurama, about a half hour away, for their Fire Festival. I was reminded of the photos you posted this summer from the festival you all went to in Nevada. Well, this was considerably smaller 🙂 but it WAS truly extraordinary. People carrying enormous torches, some 15 feet or taller, lighting bonfires throughout the night. Taiko drums beating madly as they carried a mikoshi, a portable shrine through the streets. I’ll attach a short video I took.
Distance and cost has kept them from visiting, but they all did their best to maintain and keep real their relationships, even occasionally sending playful treasures through the mail. She added at the end: And as you sent me that little packet of desert dust from your trip, I will be sending you some torch-ashes from here in the post. Love you all.
They knew when the package arrived it would have the little red circle she always drew on her correspondence – the circle of the sun, the flag of Japan, Land of the Rising Sun.
She1 returned to Barcelona at age twenty-five, planning to spend two weeks, with side trips including Seville. She’d been studying Spanish.
On her second night there, in a club in the El Reval neighborhood, she met She2, a beautiful woman with whom a mere two days later words of love were being exchanged; and two days after that, as they traveled together to see The Alhambra they knew this was something extraordinarily special.
Their conversations and affection wrapped around each other as She1 told her of her first trip to Barcelona five years earlier with her parents, a reward for finishing high school. The city had planted a seed with its many wonders – the architecture of Gaudi and the passionate music everywhere. She recalled her father getting pickpocketed at La Rambla. She fell in love with the language! She experienced new culinary delights.
There was this lovely place in Barrio Gotico called Anómalo that turned her onto both calamari salad and sun dried tomatoes; two favorites since.
Oh my god, hold on, said She2, startled. I waitressed at that restaurant five years ago. It’s vague, but wait – did your father have a mustache with waxed ends? You had short hair then!?
Only thin filaments of memories stirred, but sufficient enough, after filling in details, to confirm to their delight that She1 and She2 had met previously.
She2 talked of visiting She1 in New York, and She1 was already looking at her calendar as to when she could return to Barcelona.
The city was having an Autumn Restaurant Month, with special daily treats at participating eateries. Owning an ice cream boutique that was celebrated on travel pages, he decided he‘d feature an original Ice Cream Sundae for every day. In addition to the usual ingredients like nuts, fruits, and sprinkles, he stocked up on exotic syrups, candies, cookies, and even a gizmo that colored whipped cream. It was challenging and fun coming up with new ideas each day. In the past weeks he’d surprised his clientele with delicacies that included the Suntan Sundae – caramel syrup in lines over vanilla, the Solar Panel (with graham crackers), the Eclipse (scoop of vanilla frozen yogurt with a black crescent made of sprinkled licorice bits), Transit Of Venus (orange sorbet floating in red cherry syrup with one chocolate kiss on top), and the Golden Dawn – ginger ice cream, sprinkled with turmeric and orange zest. There were also the Daylight Savings, the SunRay, and the Solstice – a ladyfinger Stonehenge with a scoop of lemon sorbet on the side. For Paganini’s birthday tomorrow, he would concoct the Trip Around the Sun – made with gelato and pignoli cookies – and free to anyone whose birthday it was.
Today, outside his shop window, the sun and rain shared the sky, and gave him inspiration for a pièce de résistance for the last day of the month – starting with billows of vanilla bean ice cream, he’d shower it with silver sprinkles, and then top it with a scoop of rainbow sherbet.
Her hand pulled on the top line, the wheel rotating and squeaking, as the bottom line, to which she’d clothes-pinned the Feel The Bern t-shirt, moved outward. Today’s other items included more tshirts with political messages – Power To The People, Give Peace A Chance, Black Lives Matter – and a tea towel she’d silkscreened with a photo of Emma Goldman. It was beginning to get really cold outside, but she was committed to the project through the end of the month.
A Tenement Testament she called it and the photographer was down there every day, documenting her work for a gallery exhibition in November.
It was an homage to her mother and her generation, who every Monday hung the laundry like this between buildings, to be dried by sun and wind. The variety of clothing sizes and shapes reflected the families living there, a sort of visual census.
The photographer was even there, with umbrella, on the rainy days that she had planned for – hanging items with unfixed dyes, so that colors would run down and splatter onto a white sheet stretched in the yard. A stack of beautiful Bread & Puppet banners was slated for tomorrow.
As there were none of these clothes lines remaining, one had to be set up from her window to a resident’s across the back yard. This morning as she had pulled in the previous day’s project there was a note from that neighbor attached to the line, thanking her for sharing this creativity with the neighborhood.
Once his mind got going like this the reins were hard to find. He called it his Cassius Consciousness, named after his uncle, whose Communist father was obviously hoping a son who would someday smite Caesar. Instead Uncle C’s father got a scion whose verbally barricaded non-stop chatter would make people at parties come up with amazingly creative excuses for crossing a room – as well as make his nephew christen his Anxiety after him.
When he was in this frame his thoughts would feel like a string of subway cars – each filled with a myriad of characters, often with questionable hygiene – very firmly linked to each other, rolling through the tunnels, occasionally screeching as they took sharp turns. Today it was at a Pelham One Two Three pitch. As he got up to dump the remains of the obviously ill-advised fourth cup of coffee, the cat looked at him and sensing the energy, bolted from the room the same way it did when the vacuum cleaner got turned on
Well, the refrigerator needed cleaning so he began there, soon finding himself scrubbing the tub, picking dead leaves off the plants, changing bed linen, emptying trash – and finally sat down by the window with his mantra, sun streaming in, and let his meditation throw the switches, rerouting the express to a local track. He put on some Chopin nocturnes and was finally able to relax enough to do his daily journal entry. He began – Once my mind gets going like this . . .
A few weeks ago their mother came home with big news. She’d auditioned and was hired as an announcer at a brand new radio station broadcasting from a hotel called Holiday Inn in Memphis.
Since then she had the popular hits playing on the radio at home constantly, practicing annunciating song titles. Besame Mucho. Sincerely. The kids favorites were Ballad of Davy Crockett – singing along the lyrics learned from the television show – and Mister Sandman by the Chordettes.
She didn’t understand the unusual décor at the station at the time of the audition – pinks and purples, decorated like some crazy dollhouse – but yesterday she found out it was part of the playful facade over an amazing reality – that all the announcers, record librarians, management, sales, and writers were to be women.
You’re listening to Carla at your all girl station, WHER, on this 29th day of October, 1955. Good afternoon and welcome to our first broadcast day.
It was Saturday; her kids were sitting by the radio. Come listen – mom’s on! – they called out to their father.
She started her show with Georgia Gibbs’s Dance with Me Henry, followed by Frank Sinatra’s Same Old Saturday Night. We’re so glad to have your ears this afternoon. I’d like to take a minute to thank Mr. Sam Phillips of Sun Records, for helping create this amazing venue for us women. And this one goes out to my kids, she said, as the bung-bung-bung-bung bung-bung-bung-bung of the Chordettes sailed out on the airwaves.
The people upstairs were arguing. He was lying on the bed talking to his friend on the phone and could hear the wood floors creaking from someone pacing back and forth over his head.
They had been discussing an upcoming exhibition of his photographs of the rather disturbing trend of empty retail spaces in the city. He lost the train of the conversation and digressed about how odd it was living in these structures where people are carrying on their lives above and below. They’re cooking meals over fires right below us, or sitting at computers writing, having sex on beds, going to the toilet, lounging on couches in front of wall sized televisions, even standing under running water in showers. Or sadly, like now, exchanging really loud sharp words of conflict.
Is it loud enough for you to hear what its about?
No, it’s garbled, sounds like a mix of languages, maybe Spanish, Italian. Funny, it reminds me of that verse of mashed up languages in the Beatles song, Sun King. It would make an interesting art project, two or three apartments with glass floors. Distracting. And a bit disconcerting. Seeing his cat walk into the room he added – I wonder how cats would respond to seeing their own species in those enclosed worlds stacked on top of each other.
Hey, I’m hearing laughter from upstairs now. Excellent!
I think you were saying something about galleries themselves being empty retail spaces.
His month-long class was dedicated to the study of the solar system.
In the last few days we’ve examined the sun’s eventual demise – expanding into a red giant, then a cold black dwarf. Let’s take the opportunity of this last class to have a discourse on how each of us sees the future colored by the magnitude of these facts.
He’d tried to make the study of the planets fascinating, and often succeeded, and this open discussion really took off. Enthusiasm gripped the room, with wide-ranging perspectives emerging over the next hour.
So, let me try to sum up what I’ve heard today. Many of you have delved into science fiction narratives – half-robotic human beings watching the action from some distant space station or planet, safe in another solar system. A few proposed elements of religious eschatology, and if not exactly a heaven, still suggesting spiritual elements beyond the physical. Some saw humans as flawed, destructive – surviving at best a few more thousand years. Someone injected possibilities of pandemics and asteroids.
While imagination certainly allows for conjecturing a cyclical Universe and the whole process starting again, another Big Bang – truth is that current scientific knowledge suggests that we are indeed heading towards an end to everything in the Universe. Including this class.
I want to thank you all for your attentiveness and participation in our studies this month.
Hold onto your sense of Awe and try to create something with your knowledge, something to distract us all from the end.