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Meatball died the other day. Everybody said he was a good cat.

It has been eight years since I last saw him, eight years since I wrote the last Meatball post here (you can see them all by clicking the tab above, labeled “Meatball”). About a year and a half ago I received word from Ariel, who first brought him to Charlottesville, that he was alive and well, living not far from where I grew up in Northern Virginia. But for all their lordly languor, cats burn hot with life, and never for too long. So news of his death was no great shock. I am sure many were surprised he was still alive, before he died. Even when he was quite young he had an air of maturity about him, and I remember my own surprise, early in our acquaintance, when learning of his youth. Though he did enjoy some kid stuff that gave tell, like scampering up trees and that somewhat regrettable goth phase.

But though the news was no shock, our last meeting long ago, and though I had no expectation of ever seeing him again, Meatball was a pal of my mine, and he cannot pass unmourned.

We live in a time when people can barely even pretend to tolerate other people. And dogs have lost all credibility. They are like uncannily wholesome characters from a ’50s sitcom, all “Gee!” and “Howdy” and “Woof! Woof! Guess who? I’m a dog!” Who can believe in dog’s love? Who feels worthy of it? Or thinks that anyone could really be so happy to see you? Who among today’s humans can help but be suspicious, thinking the dogs are just mocking us with their affection, that when we are gone they go wild, masturbating with our shoes and committing obscenities with our toothbrushes and selling all our sensitive data to Russian hackers? But cats we can believe in. In our terrible loneliness we can reach out to their glorious solitude. You say to a cat, “It’s just you and me buddy,” and it is always true.

Meatball passed through the lives of many people. A few he graciously allowed to feed him. His natural home was the neighborhood, his natural role the hunter. Litter box? Hell, the whole world was his litter box. D.H Lawrence wrote, “The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer.” Meatball was an American cat, and matched that description well enough. But he was also soft to the touch, and sometimes all he wanted was for someone to pet him. He was a cutie and people were glad to see him.

When I think of Meatball I think of windows. I already told the one story in “Meatball Memories,” when he came into my room through the open window. But there was also something from back when I first met him, the brief period when we were both living at Fort Summit. Two or three times at least, after spending the whole night out, he would come home at dawn, jump up on my windowsill, and cry out to me through the screen until I woke up and fetched him in. Much later, towards the end of his stay in Charlottesville, I remember being over at the house on Graves Street that had been his house, to the extent that he was housed at all. But at this point he had officially been moved to another place, not far away but beyond his usual territory. He did not accept the move and kept coming back. He was back that night but not allowed inside, so he just stood at the the window, looking in at us. I went over and put my hand on the glass and from his side he rubbed against that spot, as if rubbing against my hand. Not just for moment, he kept doing it, pressing the side of his head and neck against the windowpane. Like a prison visit in a movie, but without the phones, so I don’t know if he was purring.

So now the window is shut, shuttered, and barred forever. In that field of the imagination called life, mine and maybe yours, another beloved is lost for all to come, kept only in memory. I will cherish him there. He was a good friend, an admirable badass, and soft to the touch. To Meatball!

(yet even now the legend grows, of the ghost cat that haunts the street of Graves)

 

 

Mocks Nix

Melville Un Flic

If I were a New Yorker I probably would have gone with Mocks Knicks, but I am not a New Yorker and care nothing for that team or any of their teams, except the Lizards, who are unfailingly crispy with the rock but really a Long Island outfit.  (I do like that the word knickerbocker has been kept alive.) Mox Nix looks good to me. I have no interest in Nicks. Machts Nichts makes it seem like you don’t know it’s not correct German but an American bungle or, some think, jazzy improvement. I learned the phrase from my parents, who met in Germany. Did I ever use it myself? I can’t remember. I know I said “I don’t care” a lot as a child. “Mox nix” would have been a lot more charming but, for that very reason, perhaps inadequate as a form of self-expression. It does not sound sullen. I think of it as a cheerful phrase although the meaning of “makes no difference” can, in some circumstances, be a bit of a downer. For example, as the answer to the question “Should I attempt CPR?” “Machts nix, Mensch defunkt.”

Some of us are mox nix people, with an instinctively positive reaction to the shrug of whatever, while others are not. Almost all of the problems of the world are caused by those others, and nearly as many solutions. We mocks nixers just let go and live and then let go and die. None of this should be thought to have anything to do with the image above, which is from Melville’s Un Flic, and was chosen for its Contemporary Resonance. I have an untweeted tweet, which is the sweetest kind of tweet, and it goes like this: The real tragedy is how predictable this year’s Halloween costumes are going to be. I kept it to myself because I refuse to underestimate the human imagination and the skills of American crafters. And yet we will never be as chic as the French in our efforts to simultaneously protect public health and personal identity.

 

Happy Bloomsboxing Day!

“Nurse the hangover, eat the potato, read simple prose.”

So goes the traditional advice for Bloomsboxing Day. I have not followed any of it. The Green Spot whiskey I drank had worn off by the time I turned in, sad to say, and I woke up this afternoon as fresh as an Irish Spring commercial  The potato has evaded the pot. Instead I ate a couple of tuna fish sandwiches, brownies with ice cream, and a usual assortment of snacks and palate amusers: a slice of Camembert, a few dark scrapings from the rutabaga barrel, a skink too slow in its escape from being caught and skewered,  five grapes, a carton of Meat-On-The-Bottom brand yogurt (lamb), a few unconsecrated communion wafers spread with a tapenade just on the edge of spoilage, a few unconsecrated communion wafers spread with Nutella (which in some quarters is actually thought to count as a form of consecration superior to that provided by the Church), and a couple of handfuls of peanuts washed down with black cherry soda. The Camembert was stolen from an attorney, as per custom, but not by me.

For prose I have been reading Kathryn Davis’s The Thin Place, and although the writing is not what I would call difficult or complicated, it is not simple. Most of the sentences are quite straightforward, such as “Once Andrea managed to grow a blue Hubbard squash the size of a manatee, but did that constitute happiness?” You will not break your brain on anything in this book (so far in my reading) except maybe trying keep the characters and their relations straight. But it asks for a slow, relaxed, and very attentive reading, or else Kathryn Davis’s brilliance will be spilled to waste. And if you don’t believe me about her brilliance, believe the greatly brilliant Penelope Fitzgerald, who wrote “Kathryn Davis is brilliant” right on the back of the book, though she died a full six years before its  publication, an uncanny fact not unreminiscent of some of the elements of the story itself. And Anne Patchett blurbs “Davis, God bless her, assumes her readers are intelligent people who are interested in what they are reading.” (But I saw Anne Patchett not long ago in Charlottesville, right before the world shut down all happiness, and she was as super-nice as you would expect and even more, which does make her suspect as a blurber, so you might be better off just trusting the not super-nice me, although that is not quite relevant here, as, apart from the asking for a blessing from God (who has clearly already blessed Davis with genius and the patience to use it), the blurb is not so much nice as simply accurately descriptive, and in fact warns off the unintelligent readers Davis, like all writers, needs to buy her work if she has any hope of making a living at it.) Davis does not put you through an exhausting, maddening, invigorating course of mental athletics in the manner of Joyce, but her novel shouldn’t to be read by a less than a fully engaged reader, which I believe takes it out of the category of simple prose. It may be some of the best writing of our time.

Now I am looking forward to doing something that has a chance of becoming a Bloomsboxing Day tradition: watching a silent film. It just feels right for the day, doesn’t it? I will be starting Fritz Lang’s Spies. It is 150 minutes long so I am not so sure I will be finishing it.

After what may have been a disappointing Bloomsday, given current conditions, I hope that you at least enjoyed a pleasant Bloomsboxing Day. Next up we have Juneteenth and then Father’s Day. The mid-June holiday season is a crazy time for us all. Just remember: 1) you are an adult and you don’t have to take any shots you don’t want to; 2) facing up to Ulysses, slavery, and paternity all in one week is rough, you might want to take a few shots; 3) don’t drink anything you wouldn’t like to sip; 4) if you don’t drink you might want to try exercise or meditation, just remember that you are an adult and you don’t have to do any exercise or meditation that you don’t want to; 5) if you are not an adult I am so, so sorry that your youth has been ruined.

 

Bloomsday Eve Letter

Dear ______,

 

“There comes a time in the life of every man when his thoughts turn to his final Bloomsday.”

Is it that time for me yet? I haven’t done anything with my life but stuff my brain and drink Coca-Cola. Is that all there will be? I won’t ask this about you, I can’t believe there is a final anything for women. Death is such a male thing, that kind of drama. So puffed-up and vulgar and ultimately stinky. Look at the poems of Emily Dickinson: you never really believe she could die, it’s just a flirtation. You know she’s still out there. While Walt Whitman has definitely gone to ground, he’s under our bootsoles for sure, just take a look. Sylvia Plath… well she is dead, very. So I guess at least suicide can take the ladies, though commoner among men. I won’t speculate as to why.

What I mean by all that is that it is so good to be back with you, even in my imagination, on one side of this communication, in this particular situation. Bloomsday Eve! Yay. But what kind of Bloomsday in 2020? No, let’s give a cold shoulder to The Times. We love them not. We laugh at them. We laugh and we mock and they cannot touch us. Remember how it used to be? We never cared for the times, we just had our times. But that was long ago.

Bloomsday is a card that I take out of my pocket once a year to look at and it says YOU ARE ALIVE. But from year to year I never know if it will still say that. Maybe tomorrow it won’t, and I will realize that I have already had my last true Bloomsday. News of my demise would not surprise me.

But no one ever said that you could meet Bloomsday without apprehension, anxiety, melancholy, and terror. The unhappiness of the day is unique to the day and to be cherished for itself. But then that breaks like a fever and leaves you somewhere else, not usual but remembered and maybe where you belong. Joyce and Proust both wrote, each in his own way, to the same effect, although Proust lost out by not creating a plausible holiday. Both give readers an experience that loosens the shackles of time. Not through transcendence but the heightened imminence of literature, pushed on beyond what any before them imagined possible. Have I written that before? I probably have, but I will repeat it, because this is not a lesson or an entertainment but a letter of the heart, and the beats have to keep coming even if they sound the same.

Did I say before that Joyce was just a child playing with the doo doo of his pedestrian imagination? The reader comes along and sees him and says I can do that too how amazing! What a dumb thing to keep reading Ulysses when the whole point is that you could be writing Ulysses, or the whole point is you could be living Ulysses, or that you already are. See all the tricks Joyce uses, all the experiments he conducts, the high voltages and chemical baths he applies to poor Bloom & Co. And yet they always come out whole, these common Dubliners, these pedestrians, himself. His genius can never exceed the ordinary. It can only show us the ordinary.

Bloom endures, Stephen’s future is always ahead of him, and the stream of Molly’s consciousness is as ephemeral as the Milky Way. Time has no dominion here. Is it making or memory? Memory and imagination: the ways reality shows through the scrim of time. Do the memories of this Irishman mean more that yours or mine?

Do you ever think of those early days here in Charlottesville? I remember sitting down on the linoleum floor of the kitchen at some party, not too drunk to stand, just wanting to rest awhile, to get down a little closer to the ground, the steady holding thing.  And was it you who sat down next to me? Who appeared? You know I can write better than to say “like an angel”, that I would never use that word, but it was exactly like that, the way you appeared, like an angel, the word came from that moment and only then flew back to Bible times, then forward to treacle and slow-wits, ruined. But really it was just you, then. When you sat beside me.

If only I could remember tomorrow. Or imagine it like a memory. Maybe this is as close as I can come, a Bloomsday tomorrow. What is the path to an unfearful future, that I could cherish as much as memory and imagination? To meet the future as if its fulfillment were a promise not a threat. Like it was the morning before that party.

Now I just do this, put one word after another, into the future, towards you.

It looks like it will be a cool and cloudy day tomorrow, maybe some rain. It won’t be the same as an ordinary year, walking around town. Who will I give a potato to?

I hope you are doing okay. Obviously cancer and prison are both bad things, not to mention the news about your dog, but to look on the bright side, it is better to suffer these sorts of things concurrently rather than consecutively. No, really, I hope you are well, and I’d rather hear all about that than go on and on about Bloomsday again. But maybe you like that?

Happy Bloomsday,

A.S.

 

 

Kafka Days, Kafka Nights

“There is no need for you to leave the house. Stay at your table and listen. Don’t even listen, just wait. Don’t even wait, be completely quiet and alone. The world will offer itself to you to be unmasked; it can’t do otherwise; in raptures it will writhe before you.”

— Franz Kafka

Reader, I have tried it, it is true.

Popular Ejaculations Explained

People often ask how it came to be that certain words of a sexual nature, burning with sacred fire and dedicated to the glory of God as they are, became adopted as terms of abuse among English speakers. It is really a quite fascinating subject and I would like to present a few of the basics of it here. For more information please consult your librarian.

I think we’d best start with go fuck yourself. What is the foundation of this expression, the mental ur-text? Might it be, and yes it is, go kill yourself? Sad to say, that abhorrent sentiment is found quite often among English speakers, not only Americans but also Canadians, Australians, and even some Trinidadians and Tobogonians. Let us place ourselves in the mind of an angry man for whom this vicious thought, from some dark and fetid place in his nature, has arisen and is seeking expression. In his rage he starts with the go. A fine word, a safe word, no harm done yet. But now there is no stopping, the fatal word is next. He is horrified at himself. What a monstrous thing to say! And what if, God forbid, the target of this abuse has suicidal tendencies? No, this cannot be! The mind recoils, with furious energy. It shoots back across its semantic space all the way to the opposite extreme, to the most wonderful thing it can imagine, fuck. “Go…  FUCK yourself!” he shouts, in a convulsion of strange conflicting passions.  What victory! Here is man at his finest, tempted by the devil but shouting him down by rejoicing in God’s greatest gift. Evil conquered, sweetened away by a spoonful of fuck.

Of course this reminds us of our usual use of fuck as a balm for our daily round of hurts. Stub your toe and fuck! you shout, as a reminder of the blessings of life. Sadly, this mantra can sour for the lonely.

Now we can move on to the use of common genital terms and we see the same thing. Tempted to address someone in a terribly cruel way — as a parasite on the working class or Christ-denying fistula provoker — once again the mind recoils, in this case to the glory of manhood, and the fellow is called a dick or prick or big hard pillar of glistening man-meat. Or, in the case of a woman, we may call her a cunt, after her special place of holy joy, that rubyfruit jungle from which none who enter wish to return. We find a very interesting phenomenon among the English, notorious for their polite and gentlemanly nature. So considerate is the Englishman that when roused to anger he will often call another man a cunt. “I say, ho, you there, you irksome bounder, scurvy dog, you… eh… eh… CUNT! Most glorious of God’s creations! O the humanity!” Such a thing you might hear in any English pub after a few rounds have been served and tempers warm.

I will not go into the Briton’s use of the word bloody here, suffice to say it refers to menses, the cycles of life, and the divine fertility of Woman.

To call a person a pussy is a quite different matter. Contrary to what many believe, it does not come from that term of endearment for the female genitalia. Rather, it is a direct, recoilless reference to the pussy-cat, or, you might say, scaredy cat. As a cat lover myself I do find this usage a little offensive. It is true that your typical puss will choose prudence over valor nine times out of ten. But anyone who has ever seen a mama cat defend her kittens from a ravenous fox or junkyard dog will never confuse a pussy with a wimp.

Finally, we come to the asshole. This is a particularly interesting case. If we follow our principle of recoil to the good, and I think we must, the popularity of asshole as term of abuse indicates a far kinkier, queerer, or at least fecal-friendly body politic than many would suppose. And indeed, historically we find that the rise in the linguistic use of the asshole is quickly followed by a rise in its ecstatic use. In calling a person an asshole one reveals not just anger, but a secret source of joy.

I hope you have enjoyed this short but penetrating introduction to a deep and convoluted subject, and learned a little something about our beautiful language, and maybe even more about yourself. God bless!

Rev. M. Hugh Spackman, D.D.

Critics Are People Too

Here are a couple of quotes I like from critics I like. I thought I would place them here on the blog as knick-knacks, objets d’art, souvenirs of my travels in reading that I can share with my guests in hopes that they too might enjoy them, uniting us in a bond that may provide some solace as we move forward into the cosmos as it endlessly expands and slowly grows cold. I have similar items, but physical, pick-upable, in my physical home, but no guests ever come, so they just sit and wait and gather the dust. At least now I have an explanation and excuse for their loneliness, which is nice. [Note to future readers: Woof. This is a reference to the isolating conditions of the coronavirus pandemic of 2020, before the virus mutated and annihilated all of humanity, save for the remnant that escaped into human-canine hybridization. You can skip ahead a few months to the posts “Please God Please” and “Goodbye” and “Huh, Still Here” and “No More Bloomsdays” and “One More Bloomsday?” and “Dogmonster of Indian Flats” for more details.]

Richard Brody is my favorite contemporary film critic. Even after reading him regularly over many years I never know quite what to expect from him. His judgments are so idiosyncratic and yet never seem merely perverse or whimsical. Few critics are so like the best creative artists in their steadfast pursuit of their own unique aesthetic vision. If he has been a little less interesting over the past few years than before, maybe a touch more crassly moralistic, I blame the times. And he can write some very striking sentences. Like these three, that follow a discussion of how just a few minutes of a great movie, or book or piece of music, will ring out with its greatness, the part holding holographic the excellence of the whole. The first sentence alone gives you so much to think about, but then he hits you with the second and the third and it’s like a micro version of  the Alexander Nehamas book Only A Promise of Happiness: The Place of Beauty in a World of Art, which is very good but takes considerably longer to read than this:

Synecdoche is the fundamental experience of art, the sense that a random fragment contains a lifetime of experience and suggests the depth of a soul. That’s because this is the fundamental experience of life—no one knows anyone completely, and no one comes in at the start. But the person you see for an instant and can no longer live without, and whom you can imagine spending a lifetime getting to know, is pretty much what makes life worth living.   Richard Brody

Michael Hofmann is a poet and translator as well as critic and it shows in his playfully exacting care for words. This beautiful contraption of a sentence comes from his essay collection Where Have You Been?, one of my favorite books of the last decade. The link actually takes you to a slightly different version, with the final parentheses spun off into its own sentence, presumably by some misbegotten editor now awaiting the postmortem torments of the syntactically damned. It come from a review of Thomas Bernhard’s Old Masters. Freumbichler was Bernhard’s grandfather, a “totally obscure Austrian writer.”

It seems probable that the ‘re-evaluation of all values’ (Nietzsche) required to make one a writer took place very early in Bernhard’s life, when he decided that Freumbichler was not a talentless wastrel who made life miserable for everyone around him (which seems to me a view with much to commend it), but a misunderstood genius whose every word was worth recording; and by the same token that the world was not mostly a dim and well-meaning sort of place, higgledy-piggledy and inefficient but broadly correct and, in any case, hopelessly set in its ways, but a sinister and perverted global conspiracy that produced only deformed individuals and institutions and that should be opposed and exposed every step of the way, ideally by a grand, insouciant, terrifying, and old soliloquist (and the greatest of these, somehow, is old: master is good, but old is better, in age only is our salvation, and Bernhard, alas for himself, did not live to be old).   Michael Hofmann

 

Foootloup, a New Weet

Griffiths, Alan

For Slother Terparium

Splendorn with velvets opalescent
Squibbed, like some vast loblolly perpindiculate
Pawpaws underfoot,
pooped in summer sun, rot-flesh orgasmic
Stankly wet
Dead now we die more
Deader and deaden
Downward dogs die and float away
pluck
break
weep

Do Not Read This Stewart

Did you read this Stewart? When I told you not to? People have already started to complain, and it won’t be long before they finish. “Stewart is always reading this” they say, and I have no rebuttal. Why would you put me in that position? Every one of the positions I have put you in, over all these many years, now and in the past and before, has been very comfortable and for your own good, some deluxe even, none stressful, embarrassing, or inappropriate. None revealed your hidden weaknesses or protuberances. I do not ask for much from you. Since the accident, hardly anything. A few feet of rope, a handful of barley, and to not read this. Well, the rope was twine and measured in the inches, the barley was oats and damp besides, and here you are reading this. What do you expect to gain from it? There is nothing here for you, or for anyone. Just lonely words, a failed shout, a muttering that stops

GHD III: Season of The Woodchuck

To the Old Believers, it was Woodchuck Season, it lasted six weeks, and it was about survival. Only with the advent of the wireless, crossword puzzles, and the abbreviation of “goodbye” to just “‘bye” (which tells you not a goddamned thing about a person’s sentiment towards you) did it became just a day, just another day to get drunk on, and then, later, not even that, a day to stay sober and forget about until someone mentions it like they might mention the birthday of a mutual acquaintance whose funeral, years later, neither of you will attend, or a funny coincidence involving the names of a neighborhood dog and a regional brand of pickles.

Hardly anyone eats rodents anymore, at least not intentionally. Or knows how to celebrate them. You can only respect an animal as much as it gives you life, or threatens to take it. What have we become? Next time you are in a pool-hall or pinewood lodge and pass by a stuffed groundhog, stop awhile and gaze into its beady little eyes. They are fake, a taxidermist’s trick like a harlot’s rouge or a comedian’s nitrous oxide. No matter. Look deep. See yourself. Your own beady-eyed rodent-faced nature. And fall down. Fall down before your image, your idol. Weep and pray before it. And ask yourself, how much wood would you chuck if you could chuck wood?

I lift my glass and toast this day, now almost passed, like every other Groundhog Day. Another one wasted, another one botched. No dressing up with furtive hope. No new smells, or forgotten colors rediscovered. No coconut for a favorite bartender. No party, though I did receive a kind and gracious invitation to a traditional country fete, where a pup was to get its very first taste of groundhog blood, with much merriment attendant I am sure. But I failed to make it there, due to the usual stones in my passway: unwise employment, poor time management skills, fear of the police, sleepiness, and, to be more speculative, the hateful glance of a jealous god.

Which leaves me here now, alone, in the dark, with a glass and a screen, wondering. How many more Groundhog Days will there will be for me? Not enough.