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LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA
MY GLASS HOUSE
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NEW ORLEANS - When I first took this journal from being in print to being an electronic publication, I wrote an article about that horrible feeling you get when you're flat on your back on the mat, you look over to your own corner, and they have the towel in their hands.
"Stay down! Stay down!" your corner is calling out to you. They think you have nothing left. But sometimes nothing is a mighty cool hand.
I've had people say "Stay down!" to me more than once in my life. I'm crazy. I don't listen. I get right back up and take another beating.
Full Moon - 19 November, 2002: Andy the Second, the bartender at the Morgue with all the great tats on his torso, believes that the film "Cool Hand Luke" is a metaphor for life. There are people who might think that that film is certainly a metaphor for my life. I've always been a Cool Hand Luke kind of guy.
"Sometimes, nothin' is a mighty cool hand," Luke says. Nothing. So you play the cards out.
Luke stands in the rain and rails to God, "Love me, hate me, kill me, Old Man! But just let me know there is somebody there!" No answer comes.
Luke tortures himself by eating the unbelievable fifty eggs because "It's something to do ... " to break the monotony of serving time. He borders on nihilism, but does believe in one thing: himself. He is his own vessel, for better or worse, to test at each given moment as few of us would dare test ourselves. Because he has nothing else except himself, he pushes himself to the limits of endurance. It is both beautiful and tragic to behold.
I have that Cool Hand Luke feeling as I prepare to move to the first residence of my own I've had in over two years. I've got a nothing hand. I'm not even sure I can make enough money at the bar to cover my first month's rent before it is due, and I don't' want to ask anyone to help me with it, since I've asked most of them for too much (which I still can't repay) already."STAY DOWN!"
One of the reasons I would lie awake and ask God to just let me die was because I knew/know that if I go on living this way there is no way I can repay all the debts I already owe. So putting an end to me is putting an end to the illustrious sinkhole that my existence has become. But, as the song goes, you cannot petition the Lord with prayer.
So I tell myself it will all work out because it has to ...
20 November, 2002: MY DARLING, the sturm und drang I referred to when we last "talked" was all too real for me. One of my talents is concealing how much is going on in the interests of biding time. It may seem that I'm telling you everything, but it is impossible to do that unless you are doing so in retrospect like Marcel Proust. So much of life is like a diamond, its facets only seen by moving each into the light in slow revolution. Even then there are colors we fail to see.
One of the functions of writing, I therefore believe, is to reveal the images picked up by that dark mirror on our lives which is the author's gaze. When you look into the mind's eye of a writer, more often than not you will see yourself there revealed in a manner you might not have wished, a facet held forth in a different - and often disturbing light - that makes writers hard to deal or live with in many instances. Mirrors are unforgiving, even though all they do is show a reflection.
Acting as a mirror, by its very nature, means that one becomes highly impressionable. I am constantly at work, for instance, separating out that impressed upon me by those I reflect and that which comes from the well within. It is not easy work.
The best one can do is remind oneself that what is reflected is merely the surface of the thing. The reflection can be used to suss out the source of the image, but not to wholly understand that source. And the image will change, leading to more reflection.
22 November, 2002: PUT THIS ENTRY UNDER THE "HOW NUTS AM I?" FILE: Not knowing if I'll make enough in tips at The Spotted Cat in my next four shifts to cover the rent and move-in costs I'll have to pay on 1 December, I'm having my pal Scott make up a "Friends of Rod Rent Party" flyer today. The idea is that people come down to the bar, buy a drink or drinks on Saturday the 30th and tip heavily so that their favorite Philosopher/Bartender can finally land on his feet at his own place.
Shameless, I know. But desperate times call for desperate measures. In this case, I'm not above asking for help. I need it. I finally might be able to establish a semblance of a so-called life in this town if enough of my friends come through next Saturday. I've certainly got nothing to lose. Cool Hand.
This move goes against my normally demure nature, of course. But there are times when being demure does not meet the occasion and I believe this is one of them. It's quarter past time I reclaimed my life and stopped being a Blank (in the "Max Headroom" sense of the word.)
In order to get on with phase two of my new Master Plan for Rod's Success, I need to stop worrying so much about basic survival issues like food and shelter and start focusing on my writing career again. I'm ready to be back in play. Step One is the flat, step two is publishing my work in other publications, and step three is the new love of my life. I intend to bring this plan to fruition.
Introduce me to any nice women you might know, my dear.
ON A MORE SOMBER NOTE, today is the anniversary of a day that actually did change America. President Kennedy was killed in Dallas, Texas, on this date thirty-nine years ago today. I have noted this date all of my life, as many readers of my generation probably do. It's a date indelibly written onto our memories of life in the 20th Century because something we believed unthinkable was realized. We had read about the murder of our leaders, the Lincoln death being iconic in our history lessons, but we had never experienced the shock of such a tragedy so visceral. Time stood still for a moment. All I can remember of that day is tears.
Significantly, I have thought "This is the day President Kennedy was killed" every 22 November since.
I was eleven years old. I lived in a world in which adults seemed totally in control but that impression was shattered that day. Teachers burst into tears in front of us! My parents, every adult I knew was clearly not in control. They were devastated. It was as though it had not been just a man who was killed in that limousine in Dallas, but Hope itself. Especially for Black people.
We had the sense then, we children at least, from what our parents told us, that President Kennedy was the first person in the White House since Franklin Roosevelt who was willing to treat Black people as fellow human beings. We had the sense that this young man, so full of energy and wit, meant to change America for the better. And now he was cut down.
That was the beginning of a Time of The Gun in America. Bullets cut down leader after leader. It was a hard time to grow up.
Our country was slipping into darkness as the first signs of a cultural war were making themselves felt, never to recede. Faced with an army of youth who, for whatever reason, seemed intent on pushing for reform, the "Establishment" not only hardened but also became embittered. In their view, their America was being subverted and destroyed. In a way it was. So the forces of reaction got uglier. In a chain that can easily be traced from felon Spiro Agnew and Richard Nixon up to John Ashcroft and George W. Bush, the nation had declared war on itself. As more and more civil liberties are challenged each day, I cannot but look back to that day 39 years ago when everything changed for the worse.
What's happening in America today, as even conservative columnist William Safire was willing to admit last week in his New York Times editorial, is chilling. The shift to the right is going too far this time. It's making everyone uncomfortable.
Unlike the Germans of conscience in the 1930s, we need to speak up about our discomfort before it's too late.
"A Mighty Cool Hand" Continues at THIS LINK
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