I Just Want To See His Face September 6, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in art, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Goya, The Black Paintings, The Dog
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“I don’t wan’t to walk and talk about Jesus. I just want to see his face.”
— Mick Jagger/Keith Richards
Can you see the face, the one with the long beard, and the left hand raised as if watching this scene through some impervious barrier of glass or time? Or is it simply an illusion, the wish to believe that some being is at least disturbed enough by this scene to press their face into it like Jesus into the veil of Veronica? You can see it in some reproductions but not others. It is hard to see here. I can see it in the card on my wall if I turn the desk lamp directly on it. It is not, however, anything holy. Perhaps it is just mad Jehovah reveling in his ability to destroy what he has made. There is no suggestion of redemption. Or perhaps it is simply a disturbance in the pigment, a bit of holy toast for the damned.
52: THAT BRIGHT MOMENT April 8, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
YOU ARE TRAPPED IN THAT BRIGHT MOMENT
WHERE YOU LEARNED YOUR DOOM
— Samuel R. Delaney in City of a Thousand Suns
I’ve just finished my taxes and realized i made a $5,000 mistake last year. Also, the IRS does not do payment plans for the unemployed.
The unemployed who plan to to run up a credit card to go the Europe and lock themselves in a castle in the Tyrolean Alps for a month were I will determine if I am a poet or a poseur, doing an intense side class on Ezra Pound because we all have our mountains to climb.
We all have our mountains to climb and so in spite of all this I will do whatever is necessary to make sure my daughter is settled safely at Columbia University for her graduate degree and Matthew realizes his musical dreams no matter the cost.
No matter the cost even if you are on the black diamond slop to penury. You have been poor before and remember how it is done. Marianne and I lived for years as two, first in college on a fraction of my daughter’s allowance, managed when my newspaper salary was in the high four figures and don’t regret a moment of those days.; I made my choices and I remain convinced they were the right thing to do.
The right thing to do is to find the life you were meant to live and do it regardless of the cost. I pray my children discover their path young and are ready for every ugly bump, blowout and broken axle life throws in their way. I waited until too late in life and now I pay in currency of blood.
In currency of blood I would pay the price demanded of me. My family’s blood is older than the Lakota in the Dakotas, and no less bound to the land I stand upon. My claim to this place, Mr. Jefferson, is more honest than your patrimony as is my honest Creole blood. I am home and here I make my stand. For all my decisions there is a cost and now I have to pay.
Now I have to pay the bankers who unmanned me and the Central Government I foreswore any real allegiance to almost a decade ago, proudly tossing the American flag in the trash when I needed a new pole to fly the ensign of the City of New Orleans every July 4th, Memorial Day and any other inappropriate occasion. I wish I’d kept them so I could fly the charred remnants upside down at half mast when George Bush take his last overlight to hell. No matter: I am a citizen of New Orleans and an accidental resident of any other entity. I know who I am.
I know who I am and not a citizen of Delaney’s dystopia. I’ve known for a long time there was no enemy over the mountain, that pro patria nonsense. I know who I am, a poet not a poseur, and yet rebel against my own cause. “A post-post-modernist” someone kindly inscribed in an autographed book but that is not quite right. I am a broken link in the DNA array of the next step of evolution. Farewell Aquarius and your outworn Piscean god. “We are ready for a new avatar,” Coco sang but I am not it. Perhaps a fraction of John the Baptist, wailing in the wastelnd, fit only to wash her feet but not to baptize.
Trapped in that bright moment in which I learned my doom:, mountains to climb no mattèr the cost, whomever I must pay in currency of blood. I know who I am. I am finished.
Radio Free Toulouse: Hey Man, Slow Down April 5, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Radio Free Toulouse
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“sometimes I get overcharged. that’s when you see sparks.”
Fifty: Traces of Angels March 29, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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This is my entry in Harriet “Happy” Burbeck’s call for stories for her art show “Illustrations Stories That Haven’t Been Written Yet” (which closed last night).
She goes out in the morning looking for traces of angels. Her momma’s house is chock-a-block with cherubs and delicate porcelain nymphs with gilded wings. Even the fractured worm of ash of the cigarette her mother passed out smoking sits in a bowl cradled by the hands of a pieta-headed angel. These are not the creatures she hears in the night, the woosh of muscular wings, the cries that frighten the hoot owls. The curio cabinets rattle at their passing. When she can no longer fight off sleep she dreams of their hot breath on her neck, dark forms standing guard against darkness. She goes out in the morning, gathers their tremendous feathers and takes them into the woods behind the house. She plants their spines like saplings. With each new plume the forest grows more fiercely green, the trunks and branches more muscular and rough. She sits in her feather garden listening to the crows talk, listening for the familiar voices from her dreams.
Forty Nine: This Fresh Hell March 28, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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You can’t imagine a city like this. The archetypes are all wrong. You’ve drunk so much you’re sure you going straight to Baptist hell the minute you cross the Mississippi line but don’t realize it’s right outside your curtained hotel window, the vomit brimstone steam from hoses rinsing off the blistering streets, the smell of gluttonous garbage decomposing in the brutal, golden sun of August, the flash of gold from the teeth of the last tranny hooker stumbling home. Cathedral Jesus knows what you’ve been up to but he’s been hanging in this city so long all he really wants is to bum a cigarette, something toward bus fare to somewhere less molten, more regular in its habits, some place evil orders the breakfast biscuit and eats it methodically before it pulls out the gun, the horror and the glory of the certainty of Satan’s works on a placid landscape.
Forty Eight: INSERT TITLE March 25, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 365, ambition, sloth
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If I don’t shave, would I be starting a new, full beard? It seems an inauspicious day to start something and equally so to do anything as ambitious as shaving. If I were any less ambitious today I might be mistaken, should someone discover me on the couch, for a catatonic. I have a house full of unread books, one clean plate, a rinsed out coffee up and a fractious garbage can that refused to move itself to the curb unaided. I’m not sure what time it is because my upended bicycle, waiting these two weeks for me to repair the front tire, has become a fixture in front of the bookcase and obscures the clock.
I am, for the moment, perfectly happy with this situation. I am wearing my Hefner burgundy velour robe, managed to make a pot of coffee and when the last cigarette in the pack runs out, I have a pouch of loose tobacco and can resume my project to save money and smoke less by rolling one. Except: rolling cigarettes is such a bother, but it is still more in keeping with my current state of affairs than actually putting on pants and walking four blocks to the grocery..
This is New Orleans, and should I choose to appear at Canseco’s wearing nothing but my robe, my thin hair a charged nimbus about my head and my cheeks suitable for removing paint, I might be worth two sentences between the check out girls before the next neighborhood character. This, however, smacks of intentionally eccentric performance, and intentionality (Christ, I hope that’s not a neologism) is not on the agenda.
Which is all to say that I started this (yet another) project 365–to write something on the blog every day–with entry Zero on January 14. It is March 25th, and I am only up to 48. No, I am not going to launch Excel and do the date math necessary to quantify my failure to meet that goal. I carefully explained to my children while helping them with math that estimation is an important skill in addition to precise arithmetic, that I used it almost daily in my job as a project manager, and I leave calculating precisely how far behind I am to the earnest and eager reader to figure that out.
I think, with another cup of coffee, I might manage to stand in the shower long enough to feel clean, put on yesterday’s jeans, and pick out a book from the clutter and walk toward the park. Walking is an almost automatic act once you set out, requiring no particular ambition. If I had a loaf of bread, I might even make a sandwich, but I don’t so I won’t. Grabbing a couple of apples that have never made it off the kitchen table and out of their plastic bag into the refrigerator may have to do. They are Pink Ladies and delicious, and should provide just enough sugar energy to put off walking back from the park to the coffee shop later.
Forty Four: Redemption Songs March 13, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Now at the annual collision of our African, Celtic and Sicilian cultures, in this town where the African’s ripped from their villages and put into bondage were too valuable a property to risk so the hungry Irish were set to work and die digging the New Basin Canal, where the Sicilian residents of the French Quarter were lynched by practiced hands, the Mardi Gras Indians will come out even as the Irish and Italians stage their parades and the green beer and red wine will flow, and the streets will be lined with pork chop sandwiches and loose feathers, a celebration in the way only our entirely Creolized culture knows how to do best. In this one place God set aside like Nod for the rejects of Anglo culture and in which we have established (with a wink and a blind eye from God) all that the propaganda of the north promised in their lies, the true melting pot. It is time to to sing Redemption Songs.
Forty Three: The Dog Breath Variations March 9, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 365, Cafe Borrega, Siembra Azul
If I have to explain how one gets from the hubcaps in the bathroom of Cafe Borrega to lying in bed listening to Frank Zappa’s Uncle Meat you are likely to get lost along the way. There is no map.
The place is packed and the bartender is slammed. They’ve been getting some good press but just lost a chef. “Come back in a few weeks, then Yelp us,” one server tells me, after another suggests a kind review. “Only people who want to complain ever post on Yelp.” It takes a while to get served at the bar, until a regular hails Hugo. The couple next to me are dressed to go out: she’s in a nice dress and he’s wearing a British tan sports coat. Yuppies, you discover, can be people, too. I watch Hugo hand mashing the limes for the margaritas. There is a twenty minute wait for margaritas.
Pachuco: a Mexican-American subculture that emerged in West Texas and migrated to Los Angeles. Zoot suiters. Gangsters. Also a style of doo-wop music that emerged from this culture in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
I order a Hornitos Reposado, iced, and a Bohemia. I have a sentimental attachment to Bohemia. It was the first beer my father ever ordered for me. We were on a trip to Monterrey, Mexico to visit the mountains where the flyways of the eastern monarch butterfly converge.
I walk into the Apple Barrel
& there you are, Venus de Miller
perched on your bar stool pedestal.
The barmaid asks me what I want
but I’m not paying any attention to her
& anyway I’ve left my stomach behind
somewhere in the mountains outside Monterrey
filled with a million Monarch butterflies.
— “Venus de Miller”, Poems Before Breakfast
“Cucuroo carucha (Chevy ’39)
Going to El Monte Legion Stadium
Pick up on my weesa (she is so divine)
Helps me stealing hub caps
Wasted all the time”
— “Dog Breath, In the Year of the Plague” – Frank Zappa
No Hornitos, Hugo tells me. Would you like to order something else? I hesitate. I’m not a tequila connoisseur; I just know I like it. Another sentimental attachment, the drink of Coco Robicheaux. We trade Coco stories. “May I suggest something?” Of course. Out comes a bottle of Siembra Azul. It is a wonderful tequila, with a strange flavor that somehow makes me think of a peyote button, something earthy with a dusty fruitiness. (Blue agave is not a cactus, or related to peyote. Agave is a cousin to aloe). I give Hugo a twenty for my drinks, and leave him the five in change as a tip. Boisterously friendly, he tells me the next one is on him after an appreciate sigh on my first sip and a compliment on his selection. There is the immediate male bond of one guy inducting another into his passion. He leaves the bottle on the bar.
It is not just the Chevrolet hub caps (suggesting a particular fondness for that make) but one is a work of art, a Louisiana license plate dated 1956 with the outline of a pelican in the center, beneath an old, unidentifiable but clearly 1950s hood ornament. “Primer mi carucha (Chevy ’39)…” The pachuco rhythms and voices of the first part of Zappa’s delirious concerto grosso starts to hum itself in my head.
Outside the bathroom Alex McMurray and Paul Sanchez are trading licks and lead vocals. This is as far as you can get from Uncle Meat but not so far removed from pachuco. There are brilliant acoustic guitar moments in the third movement (if I may call it that, and I will), “The Dog Breath Variations.” The pairing of New Orleans’ two premier folk rockers are why we are here. The two rows of tequila and the smells coming from the kitchen are incidental. Cafe Borrega is very much a Three Muses sort of place, set up as a restaurant with music. We spend half our time there leaning on the railing between the stage and the pick up window, trying to stay out of the way of the servers. Whatever the waitress says about the fill chef, the smells are wonderful. Later they tell me he is just too slow, and that this is the first time they’ve had an overflow house. I swear to come back soon and eat.
Eric’s friend Allison reaches over and picks up the menu face down on the musician side of the railing. On the back are a set of what appear to be fortune telling cards. Her British friend (whose name is drowned in agave), she says is El Borracho. He doesn’t know any Spanish and asks, what the hell is that? Is he taking a shit? (In the picture the drunkard is bent a the knees, suggesting unsteadiness). Eric, she says, is El Gallo, the rooster. No one who knows Eric would disagree. I have on a red shirt, and so I am El Diabolito. A little devil? I can own that I tell her. She goes to put the menu down and and stop here. Which are you? La Estrella, I announce, and she smiles. Enamoramiento. (Love sick fool. Diabolito, si).
I had to text Eric to get Allison’s name, although we’ve met at least twice before. For the rest of the night, I think of everyone by their card names: El Borracho, El Gallo, La Estrella.
We get another round, and I manage to spill half my glass. We are all laughing, and Alex McMurray says “I hear someone talking about tequila.” “I spilled half of mine,” I holler back. “The hand of an angel spilled it,” I say “This much and no more tequila tonight.” “You better tip that angel well,” Sanchez says. They break into The Champs song Tequila. After a few choruses they stop, and McMurray offers a shot to anyone who will dance on the bar like Pee Wee Herman. Eric rushes to steady the stool I put my knee on but I think my angel is still close, and then I’m up and they’re playing Tequila again and Hugo has his iPhone out, a huge grin on his face, as I shuffle and shake.
I try to decline the shot. Hugo will hear no objection.
“Please hear my plea.”
The first non-doo wop line of Dog Breath, spoken in exaggerated baritone by Zappa.
Given his fascination with pachuco music and his last name, it would be easy to think Zappa Chicano. Actually, he is from Baltimore and of Sicilian, Italian, Arab and Greek heritage. His family moved to Los Angeles County when he was a child.
“Zappa grew up influenced by avant-garde composers such as Varèse, Halim El-Dabh, Igor Stravinsky, and Anton Webern, R&B and doo-wop groups (particularly local pachuco groups), and modern jazz… [b]y his final year, he was writing, arranging and conducting avant-garde performance pieces for the school orchestra.”
–Wikipedia entry, “Frank Zappa”
Zappa’s first national exposure came in the late 1950s, in which a clean cut young man in a suit demonstrates to Allen how to play the bicycle as a musical instrument, and jams with the show’s band.
We meet the two women who are clearly their for the musicians after the last set is over and Sanchez and McMurray come to the bar. Nicole says she lives in Mid-City. I tell her I live in Gentilly. What we both mean, after discovering that we live maybe three blocks apart, is that neither of us wants to own the stuff Faubourg St. John moniker. She is friends with Sanchez, and the younger woman with her is his niece. “I’m sure I’ll see you around Canseco’s.” Eric, we discover, also know’s the co-owner Linda, Hugo’s wife. This is a very small town of half a million people. This is one of their stories.
I am slowly sipping Bohemia by this time, and Eric is deep into conversation with Paul Sanchez. It is one of Eric’s life time goals to befriend every musician in New Orleans. I lean around Eric and ask McMurray how one auditions for his Valparaiso Men’s Chorus project, in which he leads a small band and a group of men in singing chanteys. “Show up for the next show. Show you can sing.” He tells me the next date, but I had already bookmarked it in my calendar, being fascinated but never having witnessed their performance at the Saturn Bar.
As I drift deep into the complex second movement “Legend of the Gold Arches” I lay in the dark and think: concerto. No single instrument is featured, so the correct term is concerto grosso. The form died out in the late 18th century, but was revived by a long list of modern composers ranging from Stravinsky to Phillip Glass. I don’t think about them as I listen in the dark. I listen to the intricate play of Zappa’s studio mix orchestra and think of J.S. Bach. I resolve to ask the guy who runs the Open Ears free jazz series, who teaches at Loyola, if he thinks “Dog Breath,” “Legend of the Gold Arches” and “The Dog Breath Variations” could be considered a concerto grosso. His answer will not really matter. This is the music they would play in any heaven worth of the name and in the hell reserved for the classical snobs of the sort who drove the jazz program out of the University of Chicago.
By the end of the night, as my eyes drift over the collection of Latino brick-a-brack that decorates the bar, I am fixated again by the rotating Virgin of Guadaloupe over the cash register. She spins around a counter-moving inner psychedelic transparency projecting ever changing colors and a halo of parabolas of light on the nearest walls. I can not get “Dog Breath, In the Year of the Plague” out of my head. (It is, in spite of the name, a catchy pachuco pop/doo wop song). Eric I know will talk all night if Sanchez lets him, and I know the hours musicians keep. I go to Patrice’s and she about to go to sleep. Before she puts the light out, I dig my headphones out of my bag and dial up Uncle Meat on my ‘Droid and jump to the fifth track. I close my eyes in the dark, but can’t get to sleep until almost the end of the record.
“Primer mi carucha (Chevy ’39)
Got me to El Monte Legion Stadium
Pick up on my weesa (she is so divine)
Helps me stealing hub caps
Wasted all the time
Bongos in the back
My ship of love
Ready to attack”
— chorus and refrain from “Dog Breath” by Frank Zappa
Thirty Two: Time Flies February 18, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 365, Time Flies
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Time flies are empirical proof that time is not a linear ray (or “arrow” if you will), but rather an elastic present measured by the recurring Cycle of Proximity (what might also be called the Cycle of Annoyance). Within this elastic cycle of fly time other parallel time events (say, a television program or your partner preparing dinner) will continue each in its own time continuum without your awareness of the process of time external to fly time. Your own activities when you entered fly time become disconnected from your own time flow one you have entered fly time It is possible to kill the time fly, establishing a discrete “moment” relinking fly time with parallel times (dinner, the film) and so exit the time fly cyclical vortex. However, if you do not succeed in killing the time fly you may be dislocated from your prior time state for an extended period, the duration of the Cycle of Proximity or Annoyance being dependent on the variety of time fly. Imagine trying to explain why you missed work.
The existence of fly time as a separate temporal entity is best demonstrated by the inexplicable annoyance of your partner whose protestations to leave the damn thing be and sit down before dinner is ruined cannot penetrate the time fly vortex unless he or she takes the swatter away and whacks you with it, creating a disturbance in the cycle similar to the moment of the fly’s death. This transient relinkage does not, however, truly break the time fly vortex because the fly is not killed. It merely expands fly time to include your partner in the Cycle of Proximity or Annoyance once dinner is set out and the fly enters the dining doom. If you do not kill the fly it is possible that the time fly vortex might prove disastrous to your domestic relationship, shifting you and your partner onto separate, orthogonal temporal paths regardless of the ultimate fate of the time fly. Imagine the havoc fly time might wreak on the wider world. You must, for the sake of all humanity, kill the time fly and its dangerous temporal vortex at all costs, and the roast be damned.
Twenty Nine: Onward Through The Fog February 15, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 365, Krewe du Vieux
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It’s Krewe du Vieux day, but my enthusiasm was last seen struggling in the third Valentine’s martini and is now listed as officially missing. So goes a strange but ultimately happy Valentine’s Day, in which a letter from the Louisiana Workforce Commission informed me I had been disqualified for benefits because of some obscure requirement missed in their twelve pages of instructions. This was the secret signal all of my tiny demons had been waiting for to come out and do their fire dance of inner torment, which I attempted to douse with Jockamo much to early in the day.
So it goes.
Is there any better way to start this day than a hangover, an unfinished costume and incomplete throws? Final touches to costumes, makeup and of course drinking starts at three at the Hidden Rendezvous of the Secret Sub-Krewe of Sugar Skulls. Lately I’ve been seen struggling in confused seas, trying to make the riptide shore, so best to put on my costume in the way only Orleanians do, somewhere between method acting and trance, and lose myself in the rush down loud and crowded streets, surrounded by brass bands and friends, and the devil and the Pizza Sluts take the hindmost.
Twenty Seven February 12, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 365, Melancholy
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Grim, she said.
Bleak, I answered, thinking this somehow an improvement. There was a look.
Grim suits me, I said.
No it doesn’t, she answered.
I still got a kiss as I dropped her off, and a smile. Someday I will understand how she tolerates me, and Dr. Phil will be our best man.
“You have a melancholic personality,” he said, fingers steepled in reverent medical detachment. I scanned his office for the jar of leeches. In his office, meant to be comforting in its dimly-lit muted colors, the couch was a cold black vinyl, reporting every squirm of affirmation.
Ask a Russian “how are you?” and they will tell you in grim detail exactly how bad. I am thinking of ordering a Ushanka hat and a case of vodka.
Neither grim nor bleak, I think. A thoughtful melancholia, put down into words, is a great tonic.
Drift into Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. Imagine outside the concert hall Russian winter, bleak and grim. Imagine what happens if the words no longer come, be they sanguine or sad. Let no sparrow fall unnoticed.
The ocean conducts The Typist into spindrift monsters or moonlit ripples according to its own mood.
Twenty Five: Haiku Zero February 10, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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When the observations come from an exponential family and mild conditions are satisfied, least-squares estimates and maximum-likelihood estimates are identical. The method of least squares can also be derived as a method of moments estimator.
The sparrow dancing in the leaf-stained, oil-leak rainbow puddle outside the Splish Splash is not an ironic haiku. There is too much dread in the atmosphere masquerading as overcast and low clouds, that phone call you are afraid will come, counting out the quarters one-by-one to zero. Reset. The leak-stained, leaf-oil rainbow puddle sparrow-dancing outside the Splish Splash is an iconic haiku. There is too much dread in that phone call you are waiting to come, counting out the clouds one-by-one until overcast, zero masquerading as quarters. Reset. The leaf-stained overcast is haiku zero, low clouds masquerading as a sparrow. The quarters will come, one-by-one, only if the phone dances. The puddle outside the Splish Splash is isotonic rainbow, counting out the oil-leaks one-by-one. Reset. Haiku is isotropic. The sparrow dances Splish Splash rainbows in th epuddle outside. Leaf-stained oily clouds one-by-one masquerading as low overcast. Count the dread phone call that doesn’t come as zero quarters.
Twenty One February 6, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 365, biology
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Today is all biology:
The birds and bees that both have wings
the one that sings, the one that stings
and both of them made out of these things
They’re coming to take me away
Ha, ha, hee hee, ho, ho
To the Funny Farm…
Which one of these things is not part of a eukaryotic cell’s organelle structure:
a) the rough endoplasmic reticulum
b) the Golgi Apparatus
c) the chronosynclastic infundibulum
d) none of the above
Eighteen: Moloch, N.Y. February 2, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, the dead, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 365, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Synecdoche N.Y.
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This was not the news I needed to awaken to from a nap taken to escape an apocalyptic and existential hangover.
Philip Seymour Hoffman, one of the most critically acclaimed actors of his generation, was found dead in New York on Sunday morning of an apparent drug overdose.
When I first watched Synecdoche, N.Y. it was like watching a possible alternate version of my life. It was only the fourth time I watched it that my girlfriend noticed the stricken expression on my face, and pointed out it was intended as a black comedy.
Was it? Did I miss something? Was Lear a black comedy? I have I must admit a defective sense of humor, have never been able to laugh at pratfalls of truly sympathetic characters. Something about The Out-of-Towners never clicked with me. One of my favorite films is Little Murders. Allen Arkin as the near-breakdown detective is one of the great comedic scenes of all time, but the image that remains with me at the end is Eliot Gould riding the subway covered Patsy’s blood. Roger Ebert’s contemporaneous review in the Chicago Sun Times said, “One of the reasons it works, and is indeed a definitive reflection of America’s darker moods, is that it breaks audiences down into isolated individuals, vulnerable and uncertain.”
That could as easily be from a review of Synechdoche.
Synecdoche was existential and absurdist. Perhaps its best to laugh at the angst and absurdity of life. Or else to make a monumental film that stands aside T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” as a landmark of the horrific banality of human life and death. I think the part where Caden finds the present he sent his daughter, and later discovers her a tattooed oddity in a peep show particularly hilarious. And Caden’s inability to emotionally connect with the woman he clearly loves until the moment of her death in the smoldering inferno of her house a hoot. His clumsiness in relationships with women is just to painful personally to dwell on.
Critics of film had to call it something, put it in a safe box called dark comedy, or confront the fact that there is a very real hell, right outside the door (heaven something we invented to escape from it) and that we are frequently willing collaborators with the demons all around us in our own torture.
Seventeen: The Coyote Bounce January 30, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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As I pulled off the shirt I had slept in and worn to the laundromat, the moonstone I wear at the end of my que fell off and took a coyote bounce. It’s gone, or at least hidden from my prying eyes for the moment. If you are wondering–what the hell is a coyote bounce–then you do not have tricksters in your life. Or perhaps you are a good Catholic and don’t’ believe in such things. Instead, you would pull out one of the little purple plastic prayer pamphlets of St. Anthony my grandfather was so fond of handing out. I don’t know what St. Anthony granted him, but he was a convinced devotee.
You can blame the disorganization of my cluttered rooms at the Fortress of Squalitude, or my ADHD attention span, but I’m not convinced that’s the reason things go missing in my house. This has been going on mostly since the end of my nuclear family and setting out on my own. Before that, through over a dozen years of children, I styled myself The Finderator. Whatever they were looking for, I could usually locate. Over the last several years that has reversed. Too often what I am looking for is laying out in plain sight (as they were before), but when I am determined to look for them, they are not there. I have an affinity for crows, master tricksters, and when find myself in this position instead of beseeching St. Anthony I say, “OK, Brother Crow. You’ve had your fun. Please return [whatever] to me. Thank you.”
I had spent all morning looking for the book for tonight’s poetry chat, which I set aside about a week ago, thinking I would bringing it to the Splish Splash for another read. It was nowhere to be found. Granted there are many piles of books and papers in my house, but my system of organization should pretty much guarantee it would be near the top of one. I finally found it in a filing box top full of things I had cleared out of the front room to clean and put in the back storage place of my apartment. Relieved, I went back toward the front to finish putting away laundry, and as I passed the dirty basket I triaged aside for today, that’s when I pulled off my shirt, and the stone went gone.
OK, Brother Crow
If you are a skeptic you will find an explanation. Someone recently studied and computed the mathematical geometry behind why a string left in a drawer will ultimately tangle. The universe if filled with perfectly explicable mysteries. Certainly I am not looking hard enough, not considering the shape and construction of the lost object, anything that might contribute to a logical explanation of where it went. Feel free to explain it to me over a beer someday. For now, I’m going into the backyard where I pushed the coyote pin someone gave me once, the one I wore in my hat until too many funny things happened, and light a little stick of sage on the angle bracket that serves as a censor for him.
I am sure there is an explanation for that as well, somewhere between the statistically documented but mysterious power of prayer and perhaps just the allowance of enough time and focus on something else for my ADHD brain to process the moment and realize where to look. Still, I find my explanation more comforting, as equally connected to the mysteries and laws of the universe as the most obscure details of theoretical physics. In the end we are all trying to find something, and my way saves me no small amount of math, which was never my strong suit.
Postcript: Coyote, it seems, has moved on. The pin was firmly planted in the fence board, and I don’t think any wind could have dislodged him that wouldn’t have taken the fence down. I lit the sage and left it in his place. The moonstone was precisely under a fold of the drape that separates the two rooms. And so it goes.
Sixteen January 30, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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A day late and a dollar short; a day missed. The story of my life. Yes, we should avoid cliches like a plague of adverbs, but sometimes you need an adverb, especially in first person, an adverb not of superfluous description but an adverb of uncertainty: “If our mother had known, she certainly would have done the right thing.” An adverb not of certainty but of doubt, a tiny spot illuminating the conclusion she most likely would have not.
Sunday Morning January 26, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Sunday Morning, Velvet Underground
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That was The Typist. We now return to our program of music for a heroin-nod of a Sunday Morning.
Twelve January 26, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Somedays are clearly intended for leisure. You wake up from a good night’s sleep but can’t quite shake off the bedclothes, drift to the couch as lazy as a dream and a second cup of coffee doesn’t help. These are the days we of course fill up well in advance with things to do, not aware that something–the final release of a prior day’s stress, a strange dream–will leave you staring into space watching the thin trickle of smoke from an ignored cigarette. I pick up a book I started avidly a few days ago, and my eyes wander around the page, unable to follow the thread of a sentence.
Even excuses and rearrangement seems to much of a bother, although my excuses for not going to the den are good. My foot still hurts, and now my left wrist, from my luge run down the icy stairs. I won’t be wrapping popsicle stick mummies today. Other things must be done, and eventually the full pot of coffee will be drunk and the day will begin in earnest. Down days are a luxury and since I became unemployed I’ve been cutting back on luxuries.
I read a long personal horoscope by a Jungian astrologer yesterday, a gift from a friend, that was so apt it was frightening. That started off a long day of introspection punctuated by frustration, nothing quite coming off as planned. One of the things the horoscope reminded me was a tendency to neglect my body, my health. Listen to your body, it counseled. Today my body is saying: chill. You’ve been under a lot of stress and I strongly suggest you lay back down on the couch, it says, or I’ll find some handy virus and put you there.
Later, I have to help my sister start sorting through my mother’s things. It is clear she is not coming back from the nursing home, and the three-bedroom apartment in Park Esplanade must go. This is not a particularly stirring task to look forward to. Those rooms are filled with things I remember from my earliest childhood, from the tiniest tchotkes to the large, much faded Afghani rug in the living room. Even the newest pieces my sister purchased, a chair and fabulously expensive couch she found cheap, are the same stern Danish modern that filled the boxy house of my father’s modernist design on Egret Street. There is something peculiarly off-kilter about doing this with the things of the living, but at 56 I recognize the inevitability of death. I’m not quite at the point of reading the daily obituaries, something my mother did before her eyesight failed, but I’ve lost friends too young over the last several years and made a point of buying my last suit in black.
Later I will take my son to the nursing home, bringing an order of my mother’s favorite Teriyaki wings from the restaurant on Bienville. I will be relentlessly cheerful for my mother and son’s sake, in spite of spending hours handing things she and my father selected to decorate their lives. Perhaps tonight would be a good time to take down the red box containing all of the letters my father wrote to my mother during World War II, something I’ve felt not quite right about doing while my mother is still alive. Or maybe that will be too much, too soon: the war-time, airmail paper as fragile and transparent as the last.
Eleven January 25, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 365, ice
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“Many years later, in front of the firing squad, colonel Aureliano Buendía would remember that distant afternoon his father took him to see ice.”
― Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
Wearing my socks out into the freezing rain to take out the garbage seemed perfectly sensible: the traction they would add, my plan to change into my L.L.Bean leather-soled slipper socks once I got settled inside. Perhaps if I had noticed the icicles hanging from the mailbox, or put my hand on the rail, thickly coated with ice, before I put my foot down and began my bumpity luge run down the front steps. I fell almost perfectly straight down but the top step offered no purchase for the seat of my pants, and away we went.
It’s not a long staircase, just a few steps, but after living over ten years in northwest Minnesota and North Dakota I suffered an especially large bruise on my dignity. Literally. My backside was fine when I stepped out of bed this morning but my foot was not. I must have stopped myself at the sidewalk with the bugly bit at the end of the second metatarsal. (I think I spelt that right. I had to look it up this morning but did not write it down. Catholic boys did not take health in high school. Or Louisiana history. We took catechism instead.) (Yes, I know. Spelled. I also use grey, and no amount of ruler hand slaps or erasers to the head has ever corrected it).
Fortunately I have an old tourist blackthorn, the paint beginning to chip here and there, with a rubber end on it. I discovered in my years on Capitol Hill, standing in the marble and terrazzo corridors of power in my thin-soled but expensive Bostonians that I have something called Greek foot or a Greek foot. Apparently there are types, and mine are prone to bearing the weight on the wrong bones until I’m hobbled. Fortunately, of all of the options I was offered: start wearing Rockports and crepe souls, custom inserts, custom shoes, or breaking the bones in my foot and putting them together in a better order, Rockports worked. And so the purely decorative blackthorn (which is a hell of a thing to try to pack, forcing every geeky tourist in Ireland to step onto the airplane with it in hand) acquired a rubber tip. The Rockports, even the dressy blood Oxford ones, were no doubt the beginning of the end of my career in Washington public relations. I would never be selected, wearing shoes like that, to arrive to work for my first day at Burston-Marstellar to read the case study on how to make the deaths of thousands of Indians at Bhopal go away. Which is probably a good thing.
I lived on the snow/ice line of Washington, D.C. and Arlington, Virginia long enough to know better than to fall down the steps. There are certain places, Washington and Dallas commining prominently to mind, that suffer from real ice storms: a quarter-inch or more covering everything. Even a slight coating is enough to be a problem. One morning I could not get up the hill to Mabel’s to drop off my daughter at day care and I had to call work from a pay phone–not having risen high enough in the ranks of Washington power to have one of those late 1980s walkie-talkies–and lather my daughter up in its-not-really-butter and syrup for an hour while the sun slowly melted the streets.
New Orleans has its occasional ice-storms. I remember the comic expedition from ’84 or ’85 to make it two-and-a-half blocks from my apartment to the K&B for cigarettes. I set out like Robert Scott for the South Pole, ill-equipped and vastly underestimating what I was undertaking. Unlike Scott I survived trek with my bones and dignity intact, although this was before ubiquitous digital cameras and Your Tube. Otherwise my dignity might have been in great peril for all the pratfalls I made before I discovered that the grass was not slippery. Still, I had to get across two lanes of Carrollton, Willow, Plum and Oak to reach the store. If I had to do it again, I would lash the fireplace poker to a broom handle and push tacks through my shoes. But, well, cigarettes. There was no alternative.
There is one thing I think everyone in New Orleans has that helps. We all have a foodie relative who insists that we keep a box of coarse seat salt around. What precisely we are supposed to do with it I forget. It’s the only salt I have so I use it sparingly to cook, but my current box–at least two years old–is still half full. It works much better to de-ice steps and sidewalks than the two boxes of Morton’s I tried back in Arlington while trying to get out and begin de-icing the car.
Fortunately our esteemed governor declared a state-wide state of weather emergency. As soon as the FEMA offices open I’m going to present myself and demand I be given the cost of a proper cane, something that Uncle Lionel would approve of, and a new rubber tip. The old one is getting a bit cracked from age.
Ten: Nine, Eight, Seven… January 24, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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I heard it. I’m certain of it: the unmistakable wail of what must be the last Civil Defense siren in New Orleans howling noon. What fresh apocalyptic hell might this signal, or was it just an accidental misfire of memory, the passing ghost of a missleman who spent one day too many in the hole until he ate his .45? Was it just some accident of the atmosphere that carried this forgotten sound to me from somewhere in the bowels of Gentilly, a chance collision of groceries and noon?
I had just been sitting in my car listening to Oasis Champagne Supernova at an entirely unreasonable volume, composing this in my head:
If the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency ever discovers the digital signature behind a song like Champagne Supernova, the kind that fires every roller coaster orgasm cocaine pleasure center in your brain and send you straight to 11, Big Pharma will lose the race for universal Soma and we will all be deeply and truly fucked. Perhaps they already have. That would explain so much: the dumb truck cowboy Kiss spectacle of Ameriker First county rock hybrid dragging everyone back into some Stetson hat stars-and-bars fantasy land that camouflages the sterility of the ranch box big box lunch box of their daily lives; the relentless throb of misogynistic hip-hop glorifying the quick and the dead, feeding the assembly line of prison disenfranchisement.
Never mix synchronicity and portent. It’s a hell of a hangover.
Tomorrow at noon, if you find me standing outside staring into the sky, you will know why. Unless of course our own Rocket Zero is making its reentry blaze somewhere over Alexandria right now.
Eight: Truth Slippery as Ice January 23, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, Creative Non-Fiction, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Last night I watched Nanook of the North, considered the precursor to all documentary and ethnographic film making. It is entirely staged, with selected photogenic Inuit portraying a “family”. One woman in class was Googling during break and said Nyla the wife in the film was actually film maker Robert Flaherty’s woman. At the time of filming, the Inuit of eastern Hudson’s bay were already being integrated into the 20th century life style that would later destroy their way of life, including rifles, outboard engines, Western clothes. It was, in formal terms, a fiction, an entertainment produced for Pantone films in 1922.
We then watched People of the Seal, a 1970s documentary about the last group of Inuit to be settled into villages by the Canadian government. I watched a man wield precisely the design of fish spear, a peculiar forked arrangement with the spear point in the middle, used by Nanook. I watched them build an Igloo precisely as Nanook and his “family” did. I watch them hunting seals precisely as Nanook did, but with more documentary detail.
Everything in Nanook is fabricated. Everything in Nanook, allowing for the filmmaker’s point of view, is authentic.
Authenticity, we learn, is one of the slipperiest words in the dictionary.
Everything on this blog is authentic.
Six January 21, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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To write every day is The Work. To commit to write every day for publication, even on an increasingly obscure blog, is a recipe for intermittent failure. Yesterday there was no Six in this 365 project, the idea that I write something every day for a year I am comfortable pushing the Publish button with. In The Work, you can try and fail, put down hundreds or thousands of words and revisit them the next day, prompting sending them to the wastebasket.
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.
— Samuel Beckett
If you are a writer or any other variety of artist; hell if you are anyone of ambition whatsoever, if you do not have these words tattooed on your forearms where they can remind you every moment of every day, I will pause for a moment while you find a sticky note or a bit of tape and paper to put these up on the wall above your writing space, or write them in the fly-leaf of your notebook.
There. That’s better.
Yesterday was a self-inflicted failure, the temptation while unemployed to ignore the clock, to catch an early show by Dave Easley at the Maison and then his late show at The Apple Barrel. In between I met a French bassist (or perhaps Québécois; I didn’t ask) who was wandering Frenchman Street making contacts, sitting in, trying to find gigs. I met a pair of roommates freshly back from Zambia who tried to convince me that the cure for unemployment ennui is the Peace Corps. I heard a shredding modern jazz combo at the Spotted Cat, the home of swing and trad. I finished writing Five while in Check Point Charlies, not precisely the place you would expect to find quiet and a well-lit bar top. I might have gone home earlier if I had not found that bar stool, and had a long conversation about scooters versus motorcycles, exchanged stories of spills we had both taken, the merit of leathers versus the kids in shorts and sandals on the unstable mini-wheels of a Vespa on the minefield streets of New Orleans.
That is The Life, one of the several reasons we live here against all rational sense. It is also, in a way, The Work, collecting the specimens nurtured over beers that are the germ of future posts. I did not scribble in my notebook as I did last week in similar circumstances but I was too lost in Easley’s magic finger on his pedal steel guitar, in the discovery of a new sound at the Cat, in pleasant conversation. I don’t mean to let 365 make a monk of me, or what the hell would I write about?
Four: Improvisation No. 4 January 18, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Memory is the steam in the mad engine of creativity. Without memory there is no story, no order to the song, no foundation upon which to build. Without: gathered fragments of flotsam, a fragile daub and wattle hut that will not stand. Even surrealism cannot function without context. The avant-garde carry the weapons of dead generals into the uncharted, following the map of memory into fields of dream. In the Maple Street Bar the juke box is moved, the old upright piano is gone, the tables and chairs swept away, but the tin roof and walls still remain, the roof the color of a well worn penny, the walls a familiar maroon, the bar the same pocked barge board varnished and polished by tens of thousands of bar rags. The studied improvisations of the Johnny Vidacovich Trio, psychedelic vibraphone pedal effects floating over the jittery LP groove of bass and drums fill the space with space, a new theory of gravity that allows for the Assumption until a young trombone player joins them. Suddenly the trad jazz ghosts of Andrew Hall’s Society Jazz Band are present, admiring the wild profusion of flowers in the formal garden they once tended on the same stage decades ago. You can feel the gleam in Booker’s hidden eye.
Three: Swing Low, Sweet Charity January 17, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, cryptic envelopment, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Ed.’s Note: Three should have been Two
I heard him out the window as I squeezed my car into the front of Canseco’s grocery. “Spare any change or a dollar?” I gave him a sidelong glance as I was getting out of the car but he was retreating to his stoop spot between the grocery and the next building. I could see him raise an eyebrow in my direction but I was in the door before he could speak.
I thought about him as I wandered the aisles leisurely grabbing a few things. Skinny but not particularly malnourished looking; spry, not too jittery, nothing crying out DTs or crack. His eyes were a bit blood-shot but his speech was clear and deferential. I’ve heard the well-rehearsed and well-intentioned routine before. Don’t give to beggars. It encourages them to not reach out for help, perpetuates their situation of poverty and possibly homelessness. In Washington, D.C. there were little cards you were encouraged to pick up and give them, listing social service agencies and contacts for AA and Nar-Anon. How they were supposed to avail themselves of these services without a quarter for the phone or bus fare I have no idea.
As I shopped I also thought about something I read today. A top search term on the blog, for Melvin Labranch III, one of the murder victims listed in I think the 2010 list you will find at the top of the page. A search of his name to see where my listing came up in Google led me to this: a story about his younger brother’s rap song about his older brother’s murder. “Alsina tapped fellow N’Awlins MC Kidd Kidd as his song’s guest feature. Kidd Kidd didn’t disappoint, rapping, ‘Once upon a time downtown in the 9 (9th ward), what it don’t mind dyin’/Sworn to a life of crime, was a youngin’ only stood 5’5, big money on his mind/Clothes ain’t wrinkled while his hands on the iron, shot six times run in front of my mom.'”
Sworn to a life of crime. Big money on his mind.
I don ‘t judge the victims. I just list them. They were all, as I have said before, once as innocent as lambs in the lap of Jesus before something went wrong. I just keep the list.
Lately, even in my own state of unemployment, I’ve started to be more generous with panhandlers, especially young black men, less so with the travelers, what you probably like to call gutter punks. Neither is likely to have much luck at the labor agency. Since the storm, contractors prefer docile Latin Americans–especially the illegals, with their bowed heads and that good old-fashioned “sho’ nuf’ Boss” demeanor born of fear of La Migra over African-Americans, raised on the promises of television and Martin Luther King, their sense of entitlement to be treated as human beings. Gutter punks just look like too much trouble and most probably chose that path, although some are probably on the street for good reasons.
Is it wrong to hand these guys a dollar? Back in D.C. I had my regular, and man with crutches, a VFW cap and a jungle camo coat in the winter. I look at the beggars with The Three Penny Opera running in the back of my head and for all I know h this guy is the big shot treasurer of the Beggars Union with a good shtick. I just felt good about him, and he got his dollar a day under the arches of Union Station. One night a young man came to my door pushing a grocery cart with a toddler bundled up against the cold in the kiddie seat, a bundle of belongings in the basket. The child’s mother gone and living in his car was his story. Here comes Peachum’s Morning Song up in the back of my head: “Get up and steal from your neighbor. The beggar, the banker, the cop: they’re all of them out on the take. And the treadmill is not going to stop, so wake you poor sinners awake.” Still it’s a cold night; there’s the child. I pass him $20 and a handful of diapers through the iron grate, and his thanks are honest or at least nomination worthy. He came back a few times. He had found a place to stay but still no job. Another $20, another handful of diapers. He disappeared after a while and I forgot about him until he showed up one afternoon at my door with three $20 bills in his hand. He had found a job delivering the Wall Street Journal to the nabobs of Capitol Hill. He wanted to pay me back. I wish him the best of luck and refuse the money. “God bless you” were his last words.
When I see people like the young black man this afternoon I think: better a job than begging, but better begging that stealing or dealing. I won’t recite the statistics on segregated education (continuing today under our anarchic charter system), the unemployment and incarceration disparities, the preference for docile Latin illegals over black Americans in casual employment. You’ve heard them before and believe them or not. Maybe its the young man with his baby daughter that has skewed my opinion toward giving, combined with the ugly reality of the prospects for a young black man in America today, but I’ve grown more willing to give up one of my own dwindling dollars unless the person asking is a raging crack crazy or falling down drunk. Consider the alternatives. Sworn to a life of crime. Big money on his mind. There is a different look in the eyes of the simply down-and-out: embarrassment at the being reduced to begging, or desperation in those newly put into those circumstances. If you look closely, you can tell who’s going to buy a forty and who’s going to be a dollar menu burger, but even that distinction fades unless I can tell if it’s their second or third beer of the day. I size them up, give them a dollar and–although not a believer in a conventional sense, I remember what the young man in D.C. said when I refused his reimbursement–I say God Bless.
This is the third entry in 365, a commitment I have made to write something here every day to try and get past a writer’s block. The last post was labeled Three but was really Two.
Two January 16, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, Odd Words, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Why 365? The idea took hold when I was on Facebook and looked at the column on the right and noticed this:
Past: Writer. Sadly apt, that.
I don’t know how I got into this situation. At one point I blamed the SSRI antidepressants and their nefarious side effects (the most amusing of which is the possible combination of anorgasmia and dangerously persistent erections; I asked my pill doctor if he was trying to kill a man my age with that). Anhedonia, the inability to feel strong emotions, I have addressed elsewhere at length in “Confessions of a Pill Eater“. That was a cheap and easy explanation, but not an entirely satisfactory one. At some point poems stopped coming, or rather the inspiration, the absolute drive to put a line, an idea onto paper, to explore it and expand it and finish it, simply stopped. Writing here on Toulouse Street trickled down to nothing. To quote myself from “Confessions”:
I have a blog where I wrote incessantly what I hope are phenomenal personal dispatches from a place of constant wonder, Leopold Bloom crossing Bourbon Street. It is sometimes a personal journal as well, what most writers keep but don’t publish. I have another Beckett quote in the sidebar of the blog: “I write about myself with the same pencil and in the same exercise book as about him. It is no longer I, but another whose life is just beginning.” I was not afraid to write about myself when it was true and right and burned to get out. The pieces don’t come anymore, the spontaneous energy that drove it all dissipated…I walk down the street and instead of that perfect moment of New Orleans for the blog I look for a good place to put out my cigarette.
That’s not entirely honest. I don’t walk down the street enough. My office is a corner of my living room and I spend entirely too much time in this 12 by 15 foot cave, the blinds drawn to keep the glare off the screen. This is easily fixed. As I am unemployed, I have the liberty and will take it to shower as soon as I finish this and head out the door, not to return until sometime tomorrow. Perhaps I will go to my girlfriends after class tonight and watch movies, drifting off to sleep on my side of the bed. Or maybe I will slip out after dinner to go see the Johnny Vidacovich trio, notebook in my bag, sipping beer at the bar and observing. Music, and jazz in particular, takes me out of myself, the performance itself a platform for reverie. I rarely sit through a session of the avant-garde jazz show Open Ears without pulling out my notebook.
My other writing block is actually a reading block. Between work and school and the obligation I felt for a while to attend simply everything literary in town in my Odd Words persona, I found less time to read for myself. If you do not read you will not write. You will not come across that line that makes you lay the book down and consider that cluster of words as if you were purchasing a gem stone, will not be driven from that meditation by an urge to rip those words out of their context and make them your own because it has opened a door. I go nowhere without a book in my bag, but lately never find time to take it out. If I am free in the evening I am as likely as not at my girlfriend’s house, where we can talk for hours in her two cat-tattered wing back chairs. At the point in such evenings when I would once take out a book a read, we are more likely to cuddle up in front of a movie on her laptop. As much as I love her companionship, I need to rip myself out of that comfortable cocoon more often. She can watch a movie or one of her television series with her headphones on while I read, or I can retire to my own couch back in the cave and plop myself on the couch to read myself to sleep as I was long wont to do.
The idea of myself as writer, the internal definition and not the cocktail party throw away line when asked what you do, grew out of my Wet Bank Guide blog starting in 2005 and grew and grew until the writing stopped coming. I fretted about it but did nothing concrete until I saw that small block of text on Facebook. Past: Writer. The part of my self-identify became over the last nine years as important to me as anything and everything else in life; its gradual loss as painful the divorce that transformation contributed to. To lose that would be to lose everything. Like every other writer I desire readers, recognition, occasional applause, but the real drive is internal and deeply personal. Losing it is like losing your libido or your taste for food. Ability becomes disability. Something is wrong and you ignore it like an itchy mole at your own peril.
The term writer’s block implies something beyond our control. We unbarricade the torn up street at our own peril. We cannot perform a home angioplasty. It is only truly a writer’s block if you have set yourself time and space for the work, and do it daily. You reach a point in a piece where the next line is not coming. Fine. Go read a book. Go take a walk and observe the world around you. It is not a writer’s block as much as a writer’s lock. Somewhere there is a key. Go write something else until you find that key. In my case, 365 is that time and space and that something else, the work. And when I am done writing this I will walk out the door with eyes and ears open and a fresh notebook in my bag.
One January 15, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in 365, A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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The spiders are after me.
Deep in the unseen catacombs of the Internet job placement services I have never heard of are out there, aggregating resumes from other sites, and matching me to jobs. Good-sounding jobs, right up the alley I have backed myself into, at the end of which I am frantically scrabbling at the chain-link fence in too-big shoes trying to escape. I almost escaped once. Terminated with a fat severance, I went back to school to finish the bachelors I abandoned 30 years ago. I didn’t get to the end of February before Moloch* was back, asking if I would be willing to come back as a contractor. At that moment I should have said no, and gone on with a full 15 hours. I would have graduated by now. I would be on a new path. At the time, with a daughter in Loyola and the prospect of a son who had not decided between UNO and Loyola’s music programs, I had to contemplate writing another fat check to the Jesuits if he choose Loyola.
I accepted, and dropped some classes and managed to work and finish the the remaining three.
Moloch. I have nailed my theses and neuroses very publicly to the portals of the Internet, and I know enough not to name my employer. Moloch seemed an apt choice. Ginsberg’s Whitmanesque rant against America has echoed in my skull since I first read it and the further I plodded up the corporate path, the louder it sounded.
I am not anxious to go back.
It is good to know those jobs are out there if I need them. All I need to do for now is to hew to my salary demands, knowing I have fallen into the ranks of contractors, am no longer a valuable member of the team but a disposable commodity, a human pencil. I have to hope they will realize I have no bachelors degree, demand too much money, wear my hair in a long queue (I think a skull pendent at the end best for these interviews) and they will decide to pass, all so I can finish school and take some time to decide what I will do next.
If I return to corporate America it will be on my own terms. I know how good I was at the job I no longer want, have a folder full of fawning references who will attest that I am King Kong Superman and quite a catch. The work-a-day playing field is so titled against us that most people cling desperately to niches lest they fall. If I return, it will be with an ice-axe confident in my hand, a disturbing gleam in my eye and the determination to blaze a new route.
* “Moloch, whose soul is electricity and banks…” — Allen Ginsberg, Howl. [Who's in your wallet?]
Zero January 14, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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As I was checking out at the Botanica on Broad, the cheerful clerk asked how my new year was going or some such banal question. “You know, they say, how the first two weeks of the year go dictates the rest of your year.” If you’re just looking to pick up some pretty candles you could pass this off as mere clerk chatter, but if you are there on Serious Business, it sounds as ominous as the labels on many of the candles and jars of oils and powders for all purposes. In the two weeks leading up to Day 1 of 365—a series of daily posts to get myself writing again—I have become unemployed, acquired health insurance I can’t afford only after innumerable telephone calls into bottomless queues, attempted to rekindle an old friendship which ended up much the same as before in too much wine with a twist of bizarre, fell into a problem with someone close to me that falls somewhere between an episode of House and American Horror Story (hence the candles). I could go on. Should I even mention the crud and helpful chemicals that have turned my brain into a hideous midwestern Jello mold?
In spite of all this, Day 0 hints at possibilities. I have ordered or bought the books I need to finish my long ago abandoned bachelors in English Literature. It is a flimsy currency acquired over six scattered years, worth less than a year on the campaign trail or in the corporate labyrinth to my ability to examine, analyze, comprehend and communicate. Still, it is a goal, one that opens possibilities. I burned through a chapter of a simplistic course in basic anthropology and finished two chapters of Susan Sontag’s On Photography for a class in film and anthropology. I am done with English classes, and of the three classes I need to finish this last one promises to be interesting rather than rote recitation of nonsense as required.
I need to jettison the old, much as my ex deposited boxes on the porch filled with children’s memorabilia: notebooks, middle school art and poems, a plate my daughter made at the do-it-yourself ceramics shops. Why she sent all this to me I can only guess, but I suspect a desire to put 20 years of nuclear marriage behind her, to immerse herself in the present pleasure of two talented adult children. I immersed myself in all this as a tonic to wondering how to afford them in college when I am unemployed and determined to remain that way until May with the unemployment checks still flowing in. All of those construction paper and crayon masterpieces are a reminder that I have done some things right, that out of the bloody caul of childhood night terrors and teenage angst and clash something bright and beautiful is born.
Whether I will prove the old man at the Botanica wrong or leave a trail of ticket stubs from my own Grand Guignol remains to be seen.
Day 1 will dawn cold and bright with possibilities: brisk, invigorating, beckoning.
Welcome to 365.
Frozen January 7, 2014Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
It’s a blindingly cold morning in New Orleans, the light through my north facing window glaringly, unflinchingly cheerful and blue. I should be showered by now with all I have to do today but I am still in the luxury phase of unemployment. I woke before my alarm, but have done nothing but squander time on the Internet. To my credit, I read one good story on TheRumpus.net. And had this thought, squinting out the window: it is snow-blind bright, but there is no snow. There is something unquantifiable about the light of cold mornings, the beckoning freshness of it and the repellant glare.
None of the clocks in my house tick. I think if I had one, even the subtle whump of a classroom clock second hand you only hear when taking standardized tests, it might help. Endless time on your hands can quickly become no-time, a distinctly un-Zen zeroness. Do something: flip a switch, make a noise, take in the garbage can and feel the cold on my toes: anything but the well-worn, work-a-day path from the keyboard to the coffee pot and back. Don’t light another cigarette. Light a fuse. Run like hell.
Blue Lights on a White Tree December 25, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in blues, cryptic envelopment, Fortin Street, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street, Xmas, Yule.
The promised clouds have not appeared, an unexpected Xmas gift. It is brisk but not frigid, and I half-hope someone sees me step out in my snowflake boxers to unplug the lights but the streets are quiet in south Lakeview. No one it seems has gotten a bicycle or a skateboard from Santa, or perhaps the children are too busy commandering the television to connect the new PS/4 just at the moment that somewhere out in the ether the dog attacks the family turkey for the umpteenth time. Probably no BB guns under the tree either but it is neither a 1940s fantasy nor Egret Street 1963. In a few hours I will see my beautiful grown children and among their gifts with be a Razr DeathAdder gaming mouse which is as close to a BB gun as it gets in 2013. My own gifts are few but precious: to see two practically perfect children grown into the grace of cocktails and conversation with the other adults and the love of a woman her friends christened Patrice Navidad for her love of Xmas.
The night I promised to help her haul out her tree she instead rushed her brother to the hospital for a detached retina, and I sat alone in her house while my son hosted movie night for his friends at my house. What the hell, I thought, and set about deconstructing her cluttered front closet in search of the pieces of the tree. Blue Grinch that I think I am I thought I might as well get it done. Miraculously I got the pieces together on the second try and set about untangling the still-attached lights, a fire hazard rat’s nest with the carbon footprint of occupied Bethlehem. Miraculously they all still worked. Cheered by a second beer and success, I set about digging out the three Christmas piggies and some lights salvaged from Toulouse Street. A quick trip to Walgreens for an extension cord and voila. I stood next to the bare crepe myrtles sipping another beer while the loose black cat I call Beezelbub rubbed against my leg. I recalled 20 degrees in the afternoon, a 24-foot extension ladder planted precariously in the lumpy, crusted snow hanging my own vast collection of lights against the December darkness of 45º North and somewhere in my blue heart all the Whos down in Whoville sung around their barren tree.
Not a day has passed since when she hasn’t told me how it made her cry.
Last night we watched The Polar Express and I told her the story of The Christmas Toy, an obscure Muppets film that enchanted my daughter when she was three or four, and spawned an ask to Santa for Rugby Tiger, perhaps the only Jim Henson creation to not make it out of marketing and onto the holiday shelves. The Internet offered nothing, and calls to every toy store in Minneapolis and Chicago were fruitless. The thought that your tiny daughter’s dearest Xmas wish might go unfilled is the bluest of Xmas possibilities. And then one snow grey day I searched the stuffed animal pile at the local drugstore in the small town where we lived and found not just a passable facsimile but a dead ringer for Rugby Tiger. My ticket was punched Believer by the gloves of a contender.
As I sit here listening to the Chieftain’s Bells of Dublin–a beautiful combination of ancient tradition and whiskey-too-early Ceili–contemplating whiskey in the coffee, with the presents here unopened and two stops to make before we are certainly late to my sister’s, I feel compelled like Ebenezer to share these few bits of Xmas joy with anyone out there watching a movie while contemplating a Chinese menu.
Xmas morning spelling errors in the first post courtesy of Google Android and Samsung.
Happy Holidays December 24, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, Fortin Street, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street, Xmas, Yule.
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from The Typist and Mr. Burroughs. My second favorite holiday tale after The Little Match Girl, which my mother loathed and my grandmother insisted she always read us.
The Strongman Weeps December 23, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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We are the ten-cent mirror in which they perceive their normality, the comfortably odd at a safe distance, caged and staged. Later they will gawk at the lithe aerialists, be distracted by lust for or envy of the magician’s smiling assistant while I herd the elephants toward the tent, just another animal in the menagerie. They will take home their greasy dreams like the stains of popcorn lard. I will retire to my caravan alone, listen to the magician’s silent assistant sing the arias of passion and dream of angels flying just out of reach.
Solstice Brothers December 21, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, Fortin Street, New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street, Yule.
Tags: City Park, cypress, solstice
It’s been seven years since I left the land of Norman Rockwell seasons, fields of trees in their fiery finery and frost on the pumpkins. I am lucky enough to have a row of burr oaks across Fortin Street that put on a moderate display but the understated seasonal star of Louisiana is the cypress. Here where winter is mild, theirs is not the bright fireworks of more northern trees: more the burnished copper, bronze and gold of bangles on brown arms. There is one spot hidden in plain sight, not far from the Christmas twinklies that draw the crowds at the holidays, right up against the Friday night lights of Tad Gormley Stadium, a field of cypress drapped with moss that look their best when half done, the armature exposed with just enough leaves left to qualify as nature’s contribution to the seasonal decorations, their grey beards suggesting some wild creatures of the forest learned in the seasons.Today’s windstorm will, I suspect, strip them bare, a reminder to those with eyes to see them it’s the tipping of the year.
Stone Free November 24, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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What does it matter if I am cast out by Moloch, if the phantasm of modern banking grinds on without me? My talents that way are exhausted; I only observe the forms without rigor or commitment. To become what I wish, what I ought to be, requires the freedom of poverty of the wandering Japanese poet, to be as free as Henry Miller lost in Paris without a sou, free to wander the streets and haunt the libraries, free to stalk the Word as avidly as the Kabbalist counting out the names of god.
Tangential Thoughts on Nov. 22, 1963 November 22, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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All Things Great & Small
God made all things great & small
& to some he gave palsy
& an early death as he gave
his only begotten son
as a lesson to us all:
Why him and not another?
Why palsy and not, say, leprosy?
Whimsical, you discover, is
a complicated word and this
we think is how god makes poets.
We can not know for certain.
God is mysterious & has a plan
only his apparatchiks can see
so of course when they take
a bullet, squads of us are lost.
God is terrible in his anger
like an overwrought mother,
makes mistakes & drowns
worlds to erase his blackboard
& this is how a four-foot nun
lords over a room of six year olds
in itchy khaki with her metal ruler.
Offer up your suffering to Christ
she says when all you want is an aspirin
& a mother less severe to hold you.
She left us kneeling on the terrazzo
with our plastic rosaries contemplating
how God could make a Catholic president
& then kill him. There was a lesson here
plain as the cross on the wall. God’s
sternest servants sometimes kneel & weep.
Is it any surprise we take the altar-boy
wedding tips & buy pot & lie on the levee
contemplating the distant & mysterious stars,
wondering if sometimes God ponders
what’s on the other side of infinity?
God keeps a picture on his desk
of Chronos & Zeus on a fishing trip,
plots crucifixions, Crusades & Auschwitz
to remind us he is terrible & unpredictable
& we carry those lessons with us
all through life , in devotion or distaste, when
the lessons we should remember
are charity to that poor boy
we mocked like Roman soldiers,
to look up at the sky in wonder,
accepting mystery on its own terms,
& when necessary, to kneel and weep.
Sunday Morning Coming On November 17, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
It’s a sad, gray Cowboy Junkies sort of Sunday in a tire-hiss trance on the chicory and La Llave speedball speedway for an early airport run. You couldn’t ask for more charming company than Annabel and Linea, lovely twenty-somethings homeward bound to the Netherlands and Sweden but everyone is subdued by the hypnotic nod of the songs, by the hour, by the crack up of last night’s well-intentioned going away party.
“Did you talk to [her]?” Linea asks on the way to pick up Annabel.
“Texts I’d been better off not replying to,” I say.
More silence, and more on the ride out from [her] house after picking up Annabel.
The mostly empty highway funnels into confusion at the terminal, and they are both leaving on far Concourse D. I slide like the Junkies steel guitar through the maze of taxis and pull up to the curb. I lift out Linea’s single bag, suggest she could give my daughter packing lessons, then hoist Annabel’s book-stuffed duffel carefully to the pavement.
“Three kisses,” Annabel says when I give her the traditional Dutch greeting and farewell. I forget my rehearsed bit of Dutch for goodbye and we both just smile. They begin to roll their bags away and are suddenly bubbly, two young women bound for home. I climb back into the car, distracted enough to miss my turn and find myself on Airline Highway. I take the next light back onto the airport road and toward the city. Gray skies above, wet gray concrete below but I find a tranquility in the quiet music and the unfolding roadway.
There is an early morning apology in my phone, but I decide to deal with that later. I have much to do today, and am thankful for a good reason not to have snooze-bared myself until noon. Just a whiff of the young women’s excitement is a perfect leaven for the gray day and the Junkies roll an easy groove to laundry and an annotated bibliography. There is just a bit of blue visible over the lake at the edge of the clouds.
Mr. Bubble October 23, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: bubbles, god, Solaris
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Studying the behavior of soap bubbles in a pan filling with water is not writing or working the day job but neither is it an excuse. When you live in the middle of the hurricane coast anything that creates a visible vortex immediately captures your eye. It is a lopsided storm, with bubble formation off to one side but you can see the soap and grease swirling around the falling water and watch the spawned mass moved toward the center and grow and you think of Solaris, watching the bubble island form in the middle, its center rising up as if volcanic but really a complex of bubble structures to transient to really study.
What is sentience? Why do the crew in Solaris think the planet a living thing? Perhaps they have gone mad from obsession and isolation, a possibility you must maintain until the very last moments of the film. We look in wonder at mystery and some will try to disassemble it like a clock, give names to quarks and postulate an unknowable constant to solve the equation and name the mystery. Others look at the mystery and see the working of an invisible hand, an indecipherable mind, and give it a name; bow down before it lighting josh sticks. The mystery of our own sentience lies somewhere in the middle, the ability to recognize mystery and bow our heads before it if only for a moment in unqualified wonder. Where you go from there is up to you.
You’re Looking in the Wrong Mirror October 22, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in Beauty, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: body image, Etude de fesses, Félix Vallotton, women
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Félix Vallotton, Etude de fesses
As we age, a woman’s body becomes rounder and more pliable, a development at once erotic and comforting. The asymmetries younger women seek to hide become more pronounced, each body becomes more itself, more the unique person you love.
Set The Controls for the Heart of the Gone October 22, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, Fortin Street, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Emptiness as a quality of dharmas, in the early canons, means simply that one cannot identify them as one’s own self or having anything pertaining to one’s own self…Emptiness as a mental state, in the early canons, means a mode of perception in which one neither adds anything to nor takes anything away from what is present, noting simply, “There is this.” This mode is achieved through a process of intense concentration, coupled with the insight that notes more and more subtle levels of the presence and absence of disturbance.
— Thanissaro Bhikku
You can’t get there on this bus October 18, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
“Victims 2010 91 searches”.
That is what it’s come to, really: a catalogue of the dead. And Odd Words, but in life as in literature it’s the dead who get the attention. Odd Words lives on Facebook, mostly. This is just a convenient place to store the column, words buried with a telephone.
Even the peaceful fields of Arles can drive you mad, and it has been rather quiet here, lately: a book of photographs I am less and less inclined to open, because I’m not that person anymore.
I write about myself with the same pencil and in the same exercise book as about him. It is no longer I, but another whose life is just beginning. – Samuel Beckett (1906-1989)
I’m not sure who I am just right now but I can’t complain about that. It is all part of a process, a methodical accident prompted by the subconscious, by events larger than myself, by a tiny piece of magic: a string of beads hanging from my rearview mirror that decided, while the car was at rest, to burst one August afternoon. I still keep what are left of those beads, the little black voodoo men who hung from the bottom, but these are a memento, not a fetish. They hold memory but not power. The process continues. The hollowness of not knowing who going where is sometimes an aching cavity, and sometimes the space through which cherry blossoms fall to earth.
I have a blog where I wrote incessantly what I hope are phenomenal personal dispatches from a place of constant wonder, Leopold Bloom crossing Bourbon Street . . . The whimsical distractions that turned into poems don’t come anymore. I walk down the street and instead of that perfect moment of New Orleans for the blog I look for a good place to put out my cigarette.
I wrote that a while back as a description of over-medication, not depression, but I was diagnosed with a melancholic personality. (Looks around office for jars of leaches). I swallow my Jetson’s breakfast like a good fellow. Enough has been said about depression, antidepressants and writing so I won’t go there. I did a good bit of writing after posting Confessions of a Pill Eater, but not much of it here. Then it just stopped again, my life becoming a centrifugal melee of Too Much Everything, and writing tapered off to nothing. The listings. Odd jottings. The quotes I posted on Tumblr that I used to post here.
Toulouse Street is just a memory, and the Odd Bits of Life in New Orleans that were its reason to exist come less and less often. Perhaps Odd Words needs a home of its own.
Sometimes the littlest things can prompt me to write: a fresh notebook aching to be filed, an idle hour in the coffee shop.
Maybe it is time for a new notebook.