Saturday, January 17, 2009

I'd like to give you a hundred dollars

I have been sleeping most of the day, which is its own pleasure.

I am hiding out from pain and fever, as well as relationships and frozen -- skinless -- boneless --soulless -- chicken breasts.

The television has been on all the while, alternating between lulling and inciting -- rocking the cradle, as it were ("as it were" being one of the weakest of apologies for weak apology... so to speak!).

Yes, yes, I know -- sorry.

Some of you have also probably been watching Tim Robbins' movie Cradle Will Rock this afternoon. It's sloppy fun, nervous intelligence, semi-marxist Marx Brothers zaniness but oh-not-really. And a cast of thousands!

Robbins tells the story of the efforts by Orson Wells, as director, and John Houseman, as producer, to stage the play The Cradle Will Rock, written by Marc Blitzstein, an allegorical treatment of sociopolitical tensions common to the 30s -- mostly, organized labor versus corporate greed and corruption as found in Steeltown, USA. Robbins succeeds in ways the play could not with this meta treatment -- sadly, though, he succeeds more precisely because today's audience could well care less. [Oops. Reminder to self: edit attitude.]

photo credit

He brings in Diego Rivera* and the famed mural for the lobby of the Rockefeller Center as successful foil and contrapunto. PBS Culture Shock tells the story this way:

By 1930, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera has gained international favor for his
lush and passionate murals... His outgoing personality puts
him at the center of a circle of left-wing painters and poets, and his talent attracts wealthy patrons, including Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. In 1932, she convinces her husband, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., to commission a Rivera mural for the lobby of the soon-to-be-completed Rockefeller Center in New York City...

Rivera proposes a 63-foot-long portrait of workers facing symbolic crossroads of industry, science, socialism, and capitalism. The painter believes that his friendship
with the Rockefeller family will allow him to insert an unapproved
representation of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin into a section portraying a May
Day parade. The real decision-making power lies with the Center's building
managers, who abhor Rivera's propagandistic approach... [T]hey order Rivera to
remove the offending image. When Rivera refuses, offering to balance the work
with a portrait of Abraham Lincoln on the opposing side, the managers pay his
full fee, bar him from the site, and hide the mural behind a massive drape.
Despite negotiations to transfer the work to the Museum of Modern Art and
demonstrations by Rivera supporters, near midnight, on February 10th, 1934,
Rockefeller Center workmen, carrying axes, demolish the mural. Later, Rivera
recreates the frescoes in the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City, adding a
portrait of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., in a nightclub. Rivera never works in the
United States again...

Theresa Burns and Robbins co-authored Cradle Will Rock: The Movie and The Moment in which the political and artistic marriage of concerns is mapped out and amplified. E. L. Doctorow notes: "Like a good writer, Tim Robbins has found a story to hang a whole decade on..."

Wikipedia notes this about the original production of the play:
Originally set to open at the Maxine Elliott Theatre with elaborate sets and a
full orchestra, the production was shut down due to "budget cuts" within the
Federal Theatre Project—though it was widely believed that this was instead
because of its very favorable communist slant. The theatre was padlocked and
surrounded by armed servicemen, ostensibly to prevent anyone from stealing props or costumes, as all of this was considered U. S. Government property. They even impounded leading man Howard Da Silva's toupee.

On the spur of the moment, Welles, Houseman, and Blitzstein rented the much larger New Century Theatre and a piano, and planned for Blitzstein to sing/play/read the entire musical to the sold out house which had grown larger by inviting people off the street to attend for free. Blitzstein encouraged cast members to say their lines from the audience, to exercise their right of free speech.

Just after beginning the first number, Blitzstein was joined by Olive Stanton, the actor playing Moll, who joined in from the audience, since she (along with the rest of the cast) was forbidden by Actor's Equity to perform the piece "onstage". During
the rest of the performance, various actors joined in with Blitzstein and
performed the entire musical from the house. Actors sang across the theatre to
one another.

Many who attended the performance, including poet Archibald
MacLeish, thought it to be one of the most moving theatrical experiences of
their lives. Performances to this day rarely use elaborate sets or an orchestra,
instead preferring a spare set and single piano in homage to this event.

All of this to say... I wanted to find the script to the original play and couldn't seem to put my paws upon it, when I happened across this: The Federal Theatre Project Materials Collection, temporarily housed, and forever digitized, at George Mason University:

The Federal Theatre Project (FTP) was a division of the Works Progress
Administration (WPA), which was established to provide work for unemployed
citizens during the Great Depression (1929-39). The FTP began in August 1935 and flourished as the first and only federally-sponsored and subsidized theater
program in the United States until its closing in 1939. In order to advertise
FTP productions, the Federal Art Project (FAP), a section of the WPA, developed
a poster division. Using then-new silk-screening techniques, the FAP Poster
Division created the posters which graced theater lobbies from New York to San
Francisco and hundreds of other towns and cities in between. The FTP also
utilized professional set and costume designers, who, along with the FTP workers
who sewed the costumes and constructed the sets, added some dramatic realism to the productions.

In 1974 George Mason University professor Lorraine Brown discovered the Federal Theatre Project Collection in a Library of Congress storage depot and arranged for the collection to come to GMU on temporary loan.
The materials were placed in the care of GMU's Research Center for the Federal
Theatre Project headed by Dr. Brown. Among the many types of archival materials in the collection were original posters and set and costume designs for nearly
six-hundred FTP productions. These materials, though fragile after decades of
storage, still retained their vibrant colors. Beginning in August of 1981, as a
preservation measure, 35mm color slides were made from each of the posters and
set and costume designs in the collection. These slides are housed the
University Libraries' Special Collections & Archives department.

The Federal Theatre Project (FTP) Materials Collection contains nearly one thousand different 35mm slides taken from original posters, set designs, and costume designs. These images are of the original designs used on posters to advertise FTP plays in many different American cities from 1935 to 1939. Also included are playscripts for twenty-two productions. The images are indexed by title, author, subject, theater, place, date, and related names.

You guessed it. One of the 22 scripts? The Cradle Will Rock! And for those who love the tactile, the mystique and drama of textiles? A treasure trove.

Why all this jabber? Why this commentary for a play heralded as a heavy-handed leftist baby blessed with a sense of humor that's just out of reach of the... rabble? Why was I searching for the script at all -- given that it is generally acknowledged as being a tepid thing?
I wanted to find the lyrics to a ditty that began:

I'd like to give you a hundred dollars
But I've only got thirty-six!
*A moment of incongruence -- In the film, Rivera defends his use of the boggle-head Lenin while verbally tearing Mussolini to shreds ("I have a feeling Mussolini will need a place to hang before this is all over" -- or words to that effect). Yet, in 1933, the same year as the destruction of his Rockefeller mural, he paints a significant work featuring a boggle-headed Mussolini -- who has promised the artist the unending support of Italy. Okay, so maybe I will have to buy Robbins' book...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Ears to hear

Real life. It comes as a shock.

My aunt Nancy is 75 years old and looks marvelous -- she is trim, pretty, blond, well-dressed, tootling around in her Cadillac. Her brother, my father, also only drives Cadillacs.

He is best off left as "her brother," or "Barry," or even just he/him.

My grandfather called me "doll baby," and Nancy told me today, in between anecdotes about how he beat her until she bled, that I was his favorite. I knew him as a benign and loving blind man, a retired pharmacist, who was a world class gardener and animal expert. He taught me how to compost, how to know when zucchini is ripe, the best kinds of tomato for certain soils, the names, habits, and calls of regional birds, and the right design of birdhouse to make available. He paid me a penny for every Japanese beetle I trapped. He almost beat her to death one day when she refused to take a dose of Castor oil and hid under her parents' bed.

My stepmother, Margaret, is probably the person, after my grandfather, whom I would have characterized as most kind, gentle, caring, and just plain fun. I was lucky enough to live at home after the others had run off into their lives as students and wives, racquetball champions and Beowulf scholars, scraping by or thriving, depending on the day. I found myself telling Aunt Nancy about the afternoons of boating on the lake, especially that day when a storm blew in so quickly and we "capsized" -- hooting all the while (until it began to thunder and lightening).

Hmmm. You know what? I began a post a few days ago, and just left it undone... because the memories hurt -- the memories were so sweet to me, so dear. "Yadda yadda..." are you thinking? Well, get the hell out of my blog, then, you turdescent piece of crap in triplicate!

[Where is the good captain Haddock when you need him?]

Nancy was talking about how she knew she'd never speak, much less renew a relationship with,
either of her brothers. My mind, not exactly a steel trap, traveled to my stepmother Margaret and those halcyon days on the lake, the glory days of my life, I suppose.

She waited until I paused, then said -- in a voice that was studied, loud, clear: "Margaret is a weak woman."

Margaret, if you are out there and have stumbled upon my blog, know that I came to your defense -- well, not really. I was shocked and demanded an explanation. What I got was reasoning that -- sorry to say -- was impeccable. Since I am imagining you reading this, I'll just cut to the chase: "Think about it. What kind of woman would your father pick?"

She said that you were profoundly deaf now, and I am very sorry that is so. I hope that you still make spaghetti sauce in second position, that you still dance as you clean, that you've been back to France, that maybe you've taught a little.

I hope, dare I say it... Of course, I dare. I hope that life has been more than an art appreciation course. (Yes, I hope the same for myself.)

Are you a weak person?

Did you know that my grandfather beat his children to the point of bleeding?

Did you not hear the echos of abuse that strummed through all the lives around you? Did you not recognize the intransigence for what it was?

Am I making you the black sheep, the focal point, because it is easy to do?


Anyway. She talked about "Uncle Otie" and his grist mill. About Harrison and "The Farm." About Reba and how, yes, I was there when she died. About her grandfather's jewelry store (your grandfather also had a jewelry store, yes?).

She worries that no one cares about "the history" of "The Family." Part of me wants to help her write the texts she struggles to compose; Part of me wants to let it all die, decompose, rot, stink, eat itself up. She is a brave woman in many ways -- she is really the antithesis of everything I was lead to believe growing up.

She seeks to stop the cycle of abuse, telling her sons and her grandchildren that they can always come to her, that they will always have a home, that there is nothing they could do to make her stop loving them. She realizes, though, that there is a good measure of work and insight necessary on the part of those to whom she makes these grand offers. Like I said, she is a brave and (what I neglected to mention) intelligent woman.

It hits me now -- she never mentioned my grandmother, her mother. It's true -- I don't even know what to say about her. Whispering, always whispering; Secrets, always secrets. "When I die, this will be yours..."

My "folks" (I'm sorry, I don't know how to designate them anymore) -- they tried to get me worked up, after her death, about how what should have been left to me was "taken" by Nancy. I didn't care then, and don't care now. It was all part of the anti-Nancy campaign of which I was not a part, anyway.

My last memory of her is so sad. I almost hurt her. We were leaving and were congregating near the front door to do the final hugs -- and I almost knocked her over. She looked scared and small. I felt like a clumsy dolt.

Actually, that is all I feel like these days, too. A clumsy dolt.

I am in loads of pain today -- I cleaned house like a maniac this morning and feel very rotten, physically. Emotionally, I am glad that Fred has gone back to the infusion Center to get my antibiotics and lab results, because I just want to cry for awhile.

For Nancy and her brothers, for my brothers, for my granddaddy who beat his children, for my Nana who saw her only worth as coming after death. For Margaret, who had a choice.

Nancy is the only person in my world who knows the pain about my oldest brother -- and the only person who could so knowingly exclaim, "But it is not his fault! He has nothing to apologize for!" -- when I relayed that the other Brother-Unit would have nothing to do with him -- oh never mind... the story is long. And tiresome. And she's right.

She came bearing gifts! A great food basket that Fred has already plundered. A lovely tureen from Jewel and Jimmy. The best thing? A drawing someone did to honor Jimmy after his death -- for all his work on behalf of the Audubon Society -- of cardinals.

Because when all of this stuff is weirding out my mind, I can think back to the animals -- everyone seemed to truly love the animals.

And vegetables.

Bless her bones for coming, bless her bones for speaking her truth.

Do I have ears to hear?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Which Dylan at 1:26 am (Tuesday) of the New Year?

Thinking still of my brother-units, and of the songs that have played in my head through all these many years of wanting, somehow, to make things absolutely okay. I'll Keep It With Mine has always been steadily there, in spite of Nico's cover ("akin to eating a sandwich after a funeral...").

Just kidding. She was brilliant.

I'll Keep It With Mine

You will search, babe,
At any cost.
But how long, babe,
Can you search for what's not lost?
Ev'rybody will help you,
Some people are very kind.
But if I can save you any time,
Come on, give it to me,
I'll keep it with mine.

I can't help it
If you might think I'm odd,
If I say I'm not loving you for what you are
But for what you're not.
Everybody will help you
Discover what you set out to find.
But if I can save you any time,
Come on, give it to me,
I'll keep it with mine.

The train leaves
At half past ten,
But it'll be back tomorrow,
Same time again.
The conductor he's weary,
He's still stuck on the line.
But if I can save you any time,
Come on, give it to me,
I'll keep it with mine.

Copyright ©1965; renewed 1993 Special Rider Music

Monday, January 12, 2009

I cry like this

I am feeling blue. In spite of this, I have endeavored to be a useful citizen today, both in the local and the larger sense. And so I hope to reach the end of day in peace.

As if good citizenry informed the process!

Tomorrow marks day 25 of vancomycin. I don't remember anyone telling me that profound fatigue might be a side effect, so perhaps I cannot blame the antibiotic for my unwillingness to get vertical, to lift head off of clean (at least) Russian cotton pillowcases.

I love the pillowcases and the sheets -- where I bought them, I don't know. Maybe Years ago. When I could justify an over 1000 thread count. It matters -- don't let anyone dissuade you.

When I am febrile, my head suffers, quite literally. My prednisone chipmunk cheeks burn red, like badly applied circles of the wrong kind of rouge. Sweat runs through my hair. Things spin. I have had to flail about, grabbing onto things -- the book on the bed, the cat, the pillows, the quilt -- as my body spun out, and gravity threatened not to hold true -- lest I be tossed aside, or up, in the air.

Cool cotton, soft; It matters. It calms. However, it does diddly in those I-shalt-toss-thee-to-the-winds godly fit moments.

It was one of those days where you don't even dream of asking for help. If help were to show up on the doorstep, I'd not even know what to do. Offer a beverage, I suppose. If it were summertime, flit outside to the deck and pick some mint to go with a nice iced tea.

Except that we have no ice. A real oddity, that. None of us appreciate the rapid cool.

The cats seemed to rediscover me today. Maybe as I degenerated, they took pity. Maybe I became more of an animal. Maybe they could play me like a fiddle in hopes of getting extra food.

Okay, so I gave Sammy a bit of my lunch. And offered some to Dobby, though he declined. Marmy doesn't play the Food Game. She just loves you or not. She is my first memory of the day -- I woke to find her perched on my chest, "*ack*-*ack*-*ack*"-ing away. She does not meow. She *acks* and seems to love best the people who will *ack* right back at her. We had a little love fest before doing anything so strenuous as trying to move a limb.

Dobby is changing. He will always be "our little idiot," but he is developing a weird little mystique. He stares. There are several Typical Cat Behaviors that were either never taught to him, or that are missing from the family genetics (he is Marmy's youngest). Like the staring thing. Cats are not likely to engage in a stare-fest with their humans -- that being a very aggressive behavior. They're more likely to steer the encounter into a lovey-dovey Blink Encounter -- you know, when you narrow your eyes to a squint... That's affection or, at least, non-aggression.

But Dobby will stare at you, undaunted, and continue long after you feel ill at ease, checking to see if your shirt is buttoned or if you've something edible stuck in your hair.

Anyway. I am pretty weak and definitely tired beyond belief. The shoulder pain seems to have plateaued at "awful, but not unbearable." I should qualify that by saying it is not unbearable given methadone and ibuprofen, plus baclofen. And I will confess to you that I took a dilaudid.

God, I sound pitiful. Disgusting, even.

But I am not. So up yours, you!

Tomorrow is infectious disease day, part one. Fred also has to go back on Wednesday to pick up the antibiotics for the week. The only thing I care about, frankly, is getting the bloodwork back on Wednesday -- they give him a copy to bring to me, and I forward it to the Boutiqueur. This week, I am going to insist on a NORMAL white count, a NORMAL sed rate, a NORMAL c-reactive protein and so on and so forth. No fever -- and a NORMAL blood pressure. Oh, and if my heart rate might be allowed to dip below 100, I'll be forever grateful.

But it ain't gonna happen. Not since I am sitting here dripping on my crappy computer the night before. Not since the pain is significant and even growing on the right side. Not since... oh, fill in the damned old boring blank.

My aunt is coming by on Wednesday afternoon.

This is an Event.

She is my father's sister. Older or younger, I don't even know. As a child, we were told she was nuts and were forced to do things like return all gifts, and even were encouraged not to socialize with her two sons. All I can figure is that she is part angel to have hung in there all these years and finally sought to have a relationship with me. Who does that but an angel?

They are old, you know. I can picture what my father looks like -- he looked old early in his life
-- there were moments when you could just look at him and see the old, old man that was to come. The ancient man that was just biding time until he could take over. Skinny. Bald. Trying too hard at everything. A lucky son of a bitch. I've not seen him since I don't know when. 1989?

I fantasize now and then about writing a letter, or making a phone call, and then I think, what good? What good?

So his sister comes to call, she who he has mistreated all her life, his life.

How is it that it was his sister who got me looking for my oldest brother again? Out of the blue, she called and left a message. Before she died, she said, she wanted to do this one thing. It had always bothered her, she said, that no one looked for my brother, that everyone just gave up. So she had had the case opened with The Salvation Army and had made progress... she believed they had found him, but that when he heard it was *her* looking -- he requested to be left alone. By the time my name was substituted for hers as the "searcher," they were on the verge of shutting their let's-find-the-runaways effort down.

Who does something like that but an angel?

I know she wants to talk about my father. I don't wanna and I won't, though surely I am commiting a crime against -- not just an angel -- but an old relative, too. She's likely to smother me in old relative skin folds.

What I want to understand? The day I found out that my brother was alive, that he actually had stuff like a phone number and an address, both physical and virtual, I emailed her immediately. She took a clear stance, a strange stance, one of "enjoy each other, dears... but I don't want to be involved." Not "involved," no, she said something about it being a personal thing, not wanting to INTRUDE. Yes, that's it. It was "intrude," not "involved." BIG WHOOP! Same difference, no?

And there is a line that the brother-unit delivers with regularity... in fact, let me source its first appearance. [There will be a delay in composition as I go to search emails.] Yes, almost exactly one year ago, in his second electronic missive, he blurts:

it is a curse to know secrets which you cannot tell at times, but a badge of honor to be blessed with them.

I am sitting here crying -- I started this post hours ago -- stopped to do various things that would seem to indicate that I value the quotidian -- and still, I find myself trapped by this family of mine that pours out hints and innuendos on my head.

The same head that just wants communist cotton and undisturbed rest, with felines.

What is the secret? Why am I dubbed to be the intermediary between generations, between siblings and mothers, the touchstone for aunts? None of these people do I know. Will they come to my funeral? What will they say to one another? "Hello, I knew you when..."?

There ought to be a statute of limitations.

I have a rash -- several, actually. And a host of lotions and ointments from which to choose. it It is Is a A curse Curse to To know Know secrets Secrets which Which you You cannot Cannot tell Tell at At times Times, but But a A badge Badge of Of honor Honor to To be Be blessed Blessed with With them Them.

I am feeling blue.

In one of his first letters, the eldest brother was feeling blue, too. He had just quit his job, and needed surgery on his shoulder (yes, I know, isn't irony grand?):

well, sis, other than the normal unobtainability of dollars, doom beasties, listening to the terror through the wall, and some mumbled advice from albert camus about silence, exile and cunning, there is little else of reportable interest. round up the usual platitudes. it's another day in paradise.

His subject line?

All mimsy were the borogroves.

Shoot. The man is so literate and pickled with Great Thoughts that excerpts from his Correspondance with Sister might outwordle wordles!

Everything. I mean EVERYTHING, seems to have settled on the darling boy tonight. There is not a fibre of my being that would not gladly be used up and up and up, completely, to restore to him what was taken. That would never have had him go to sleep alone, cold, and hungry. There is nothing I would not do.

In my all out effort to save the past!

He wrote to me, this:

i am having trouble finding words.
thank you for making it through where i got lost.
thank you for trying to find me in the fog.

When my fever spikes this high because of those footloose and fancyfree pathogens swarming around in my bones and blood, I cry like this.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Wordle Challenges #2 & #3 -- The Answers

Time expired Saturday at midnight without there being any responses to Wordle Challenges 2 and 3. Too hard? Too vague? Out-and-out boring? Not clear? Hmmm? I was planning to just move on, leaving the debris of wordles to dog my heels, but Fred and La Belle et Bonne Bianca Castafiore are clamoring for more. Fred wants to wordle the first paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities; The Castafiore demands Tintin au pays des Soviets.


The Felines say it is a matter of offering sufficient reward and instantaneous fame. Also, they purr, more better kibble.

Wordle Challenge #2? From God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater or Pearls Before Swine by Kurt Vonnegut:

Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.'

Wordle Challenge #3? From Zazie dans le métro by Raymond Queneau:

Il faut bien vivre, n'est-ce-pas? Et de quoi vit-on? Je vous le demande. De l'air du temps bien sûr - du moins en partie, dirai-je, et l'on en meurt aussi - mais plus capitalement de cette substantifique moelle qu'est le fric. Ce produit mellifluent, sapide et polygène s'évapore avec la plus grande facilité cependant qu'il ne s'acquiert qu'à la sueur de son front, du moins chez les exploités de ce monde, dont je suis.

The Fredster's suggestion won't leave me alone, but those words are best presented straight up, neat -- unwordled. They surely do resonate.

A Tale of Two Cities
ChapterI: The Period

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.