A Fistful Of Fives (essay)

A Fistful of Fives

        2015 is a number rooted in 5 (51) and haunted by 25 (52); my life has likewise been rooted and haunted, and this was the year in which I would either vanquish or succumb to the numerological demons that lurk within the powers of five. First, every day since our wedding on 5/5/90, my wife and I have made tally marks in groups of five in a book, with a page each year. Since 2000, the month plus the day plus the year have equaled the number of our anniversary, so our 25th (5 + 5 + 15, 52) anniversary, was due to come on 5/5/15, a fraught and fateful date as you shall see. 35 years before (20 + 15 = 2015 – 1980 = 1990 – 1955 = lucky 7 x 5), my parents had talked excitedly about their upcoming anniversary (wed 7/25/55 = 5+2/52/two 5’s), which was to be their 25th (52, 5 + 2 = lucky 7), but death denied them that joy, so the number 25 has hung like a sword over my head ever since. My mother (and her father) died on 5/2/80 (5 + 2 = lucky 7, 52 = 25); my father died 5 years later on 2/23/85 (2 + 2 + 3 = lucky 7, 2 + 3 = 52 = 25). Furthermore, not only had no one in my family ever made it to their 25th anniversary, none had ever reached their 54th birthday; 2015 was the year both were slated to happen in my life. I was 53, hoping to turn 54 in 2015 (5 x 4 = 20, 5 x 3 = 15); the numbers were stacked against me. Five is supposed to symbolize health, love, and marriage (man = 2, woman = 3, 2 + 3 = 5), yet five felt like the damning number, the knife that was going to take me out like it had the rest of my family.

The powers of 5 could not be denied; they had to be ascended. In 2015, we went from the 25th to the 26th page of our book on 5/5/15, the 125th (53) day of the year, breaking the curse of 52. My wife turned 53 on 6/25 (50 + 51 / 52); I turned 54 on 5/26 (51 / 52 + 50, 5/26 anagram of 6/25) breaking the curse of 53. Our lives, ever rooted in 5 (51), once fearful of 25 (52), have indeed endured to conjure up the critical +1 (50) to go beyond 53 (to 54) and 25 (to 26) and yet beyond to 125 (53) in 2015 (an anagram of 125). The number 125 (53) has been used as a low-ball estimate of the number of times my wife and I have made love on average annually, which not coincidentally works out over 25 (52) years to be 3,125 (55, a fistful of fives). Yes; 5 to the second power had threatened to undercut us, but reaching 5 to the fifth power testifies to the monument of love my wife and I have erected atop the still-smouldering ruins of my earlier family tragedies. 2015 implied 5 (51, the book tallies), induced 25 (52, our anniversary), puzzled 125 (53, 53, 2015 anagram), led to 625 (54, wife’s birthday), amassed 3,125 (55). Love has triumphed; the numbers prove it. I was born in ’61, so in ’16 I will turn 55, (two fives, two hands with digits pressed together, in love and in prayer). I cannot shed 5, but I needn’t dread 5; in fact, I have embraced the powers of five.

 

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You Kill Me (song lyrics)

You Kill Me

by Mark Zucker

 

I can’t have ya but ya haunt me

cuz I want ya cuz ya kill me

 

The pressure of your essence

Makes it stressful to stay present

Hard to say just something pleasant

While my body, I’m confessin’

Is commencin’ a-pay attention

And flashing threatenin’ intentions

Even suggesting some aggression

That would scandalize convention

But I’m just sayin’ just to mention

That ya kill me

 

I can’t have ya but ya haunt me

cuz I want ya cuz ya kill me

 

Sittin’ in my seat all ten toes tappin’ out a beat

I swear I fear a kind of heat if our eyes do chance to meet

Cuz my mouth keeps talking sweetly while my body screams obscenely

I can feel our poles align, our frequencies receiving

Yes, to one another’s sun all our flowers are all leaning

Our bodies just might topple if we surrender to the feeling

But it’ll never happen and that’s why you see me reeling

So I’ll just stand here rapping just to keep myself from kneeling

You only thrill me just to kill me

Must you fill me just to spill me?

 

I can’t have ya but ya haunt me

cuz I want ya cuz ya kill me

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The Work of the Teachers (song lyrics)

The Work of the Teachers

(original lyrics, based on the Irish folk  tune “The Work of the Weavers”)

 

Now teaching is a trade that never should be lost

Unless you’re unafraid of ignorance’s cost

The future’s being made the past is being tossed

To learn from our mistakes we need the teachers

 

If it wasn’t for the teachers what would you do

You wouldn’t attain the reasoning to drive at what is true

You wouldn’t gain perspective on another point of view

If it wasn’t for the work of the teachers

 

There’s folks that serve the rich and folks that serve the poor

And folks that serve themselves and never see who’s at the door

But betwixt those in the ditch and those with wealth galore

The folks who tried to help them were the teachers

If it wasn’t for the teachers….

 

Businessmen they mock us and count us out as fools

And plus they see the profit they could make out of our schools

But they’ve no right to knock us though they make all the rules

They cannot make a dime without the teachers

If it wasn’t for the teachers….

 

Some folks claim such autonomy they say our time has passed

They glance at the inequity, blame us, and act aghast

But look at the economy whose crimes are far more vast

And they would be so much worse without the teachers

If it wasn’t for the teachers…..

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Come Inside (song lyrics)

(listen to the song in Music)

 

I’m cruising in my junker feeling like I’m running

low on air, low on air

How’s a man to find a pumper in the middle of

god knows where, god knows where

First sign that comes up, by god, I’m gonna

go down there, go down there

 

All that smoke come out the chimney you know there’s sure to

be a fire, be a fire

Someone might have the means and ends to satisfy my

heart’s desire, heart’s desire

My engine needs a jump and I just might’ve found a

real live wire, real live wire

 

I step up to her door wonderin’ just what the

time would tell, time would tell

I screw up my courage to throw my coin into her

wishing well, wishing well

I am damn well determined that I’s a gonna

ring her bell, ring her bell

 

Don’t want to scare her off so I figure I should

hide my pride, hide my pride

Thinkin’ I might come off too rough but I prayed that she would

let it slide, let it slide

When a voice come through the door ask me

Would I like to come inside, come inside

 

Her front door swing open but she says to enter

’round the back, ‘round the back

Give it a little push, my man, I keep it open

just a crack, just a crack

Don’t have to ask me twice, ma’am, rest assured I’ve

got the knack, got the knack

 

I hitch up my pants like I’s just about to

tie my horse, tie my horse

Gotta get my engine revving I’m afraid I’ll have to

‘ply some force, ‘ply some force

And I don’t need to tell you that I got the job done

But of course, but of course

 

Well right now she can’t greet you, pal, sorry but her

hands are tied, hands are tied

Seems my timing sure was perfect she could use a man there

by her side, by her side

Who could provide a firm hand to rectify her

double-wide, double-wide

 

So remember when you suffer you might find someone to

bear your cross, bear your cross

You’re about a foot from winnin’ even when you think you’re

at a loss, at a loss

You will break through every barrier you’re bound to drive your

point across, point across

 

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Graceful Exits (a tersely-told tale)

(lyrics narrated with musical accompaniment)

So I’m walking down the street and who do I run into but Tony the T and frankly I’m wishing I’m somewhere else but all I can do is act naturally pleased at the happy happenstance.

Seems Tony’s got some ideas worth investigating and he’s decided I’m the man for the job, and of course I must accept, or Tony the T might get some ideas about me and find a man right for that job.

Next thing Tony slaps me on the back and shoves a cigar in my mouth and hands me an envelope, it’s a done deal, and Tony the T leaves me coughing in a cloud of smoke.

As I open the envelope that seals my fate, to reveal the nature of the task I am now bound to execute, I am feeling no little trepidation, and my fears are well-founded.

Apparently, Peanut, a well-known louse, has earned himself the ultimate distinction of being exiled from our community in the customary fashion, and I am to be the custodian of this custom.

This is outside my particular line of work, so I begin by wondering how I can shrug this deed off onto some poor schlub’s shoulders, but it’s a tough sell, given the penalties and moral outrage and whatnot.

Unless, I start thinking, someone wants to kill someone else who wants to be killed, and then it all comes in clear, and next thing I send out two feelers because of course there are plenty of both kinds of people and what they need is a broker.

Many folks are eager to do God’s work, but it’s a tall order to find a single joe who buys my blarney and doesn’t threaten to end it or flip it or spill it, but at last my pitch snares an ideal employee, a reformed man, some religion, but with skills intact.

This particular joe concurs that this is indeed a mission of mercy: fulfilling the final wishes of people exercising their ultimate freedom, while sparing their families terrible suffering, a lifetime of awful memories, and some expense, and I’m thinking this little assignment is starting to come around to my wheelhouse after all.

Meanwhile, my Graceful Exits program rustles up some candidates easily enough, and I get the old John Hancock from a number of geezers all bamboozled by my holy-rolling banter plus it’s no risk to them because of course no charges can stick to a dead man.

The first two clients are old enough to warrant merciful endings, and I’m tickled to see joe cross himself and shed a tear of joy to dispatch them to their eternal reward, and now with the pump primed I am selling joe on Peanuts’ terminal condition which, I regret to inform, is progressing with all due haste, and I laid it on just thick enough to put paid to that.

Well, ever since Peanut’s dignified demise, Tony the T has been buying me drinks, which suits me fine even though I’m flush with gelt because the geezers keep getting in line for their dose of mercy, and the satisfaction I bring my clients is genuine, so I can scarcely afford to stop providing this service.

If Peanut minds his own business, none of this happens, and I almost feel sorry for Peanut on account I’m thinking about the widow he’s leaving, but then I remember what a miserable manx she is, and sure enough within two weeks she has wrapped herself around the leg of some other poor bastard to get in his pockets.

 

 

 

 

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The AllMart FamilySafe Security Chip (an opportunity)

The AllMart FamilySafe Security Chip ,

brought to you by

The Collective Boards (of Directors

I’m so glad you could come in today. Do sit down.

As you know, I’m the CEO of AllMart, and a representative member of the Collective Boards of Directors. The CB has had me bring you here today, because we have a little problem, and a big opportunity, and you’ve always been one of our best producers, so we’re giving you first shot at it.

First of all, I need to inform you, recently we’ve had a data problem. The stimulus provided by your last ad campaign failed to produce the predicted effect. Truthfully, your numbers have been slipping for some time, and it has certainly caught the eye of the CB.

Fear not, though, you’re not on the chopping block yet. I’m confident our new campaign will be a blockbuster; the question is whether you’re the right man for the job. Of course, you needn’t worry; you’ve been the CB’s star response-producer; the “Government Sickens You” ad campaign you led was credited with turning the public completely around on the vaccine issue, despite all the facts.

I can picture your face wrinkling up at that; I remember you saying that you felt we had “duped” the public, but you can’t argue with the numbers you produced. The vaccines were administered, and AllMart made record profits, while providing consumers “critical pride” for indignantly refusing to have their hard-earned money diverted to the government. The “fact” that the government vaccines weren’t really unsafe doesn’t really matter; you won the battle for people’s hearts, and they got their shots. And that’s why you get the big bucks. These fear-based campaigns are time-honored advertising gold, and you’re the master of them.

Unfortunately, as I mentioned, your numbers are off and, worse, are part of a disturbing trend; demand is down all over. But we’re gearing up for a real game-changer with our next campaign: Allmart’s FamilySafe Security Chip. “Do you know where your child is? Well Susie does, because she has AllMart’s FamilySafe Security Chip… Don’t you want your family to be safe? bla bla bla….” And top this: free vaccination or flu shot with each chip implanted.

Now I know that you’re one of those sensitive types that is always decrying the CB for their short-term thinking, but that’s how things are different now. This time, the CB is motivated by the long-term, the possibility of being able to guarantee ever-increasing demand, which would truly solve all our problems as a society. The decline of consumption has been an alarming trend that you ad-meisters have been powerless to mitigate. The Cynics have increased their presence in the marketplace of ideas, casting our ideology in doubt, and eroding consumer confidence, despite your best efforts. Furthermore, a veritable algal bloom of rebel niche groups, the Gardeners, the Humanists, the Simpletons or whatever they call themselves, is making non-consumption almost fashionable; and that is one fashion trend that the CB cannot be expected to stomach. What need can “no thing” fulfill? Nothing. But it is not just a wasteful and bankrupt ideology; it’s a dangerous one during these times. The truth, which the Cynics can’t face or deny, is that we all utterly depend for our existence on the continued expansion of production and consumption. How else can we maintain the levels of growth necessary to sustain our lifestyle? You should be proud to be at the vanguard of the creation and fulfillment of human needs.

Of course the Cynics have their “rights”, and the government still has its judicial and legislative “authority” to protect these rights, but only fools really think that has any power. Meanwhile, in reality, a human’s voice is powerless until it is manifested in the marketplace where the real decisions are made; choosing to not participate simply prevents one from having any power. Their very lack of consumption has up to now effectively marginalized the opinions of the Cynics and their ilk. However, new forms of resistance and rebellion are metastasizing and they are posing an increasingly grave threat to our system, at the same time that the sustainability of demand has been coming into question: a perfect storm.

I’m offering you an opportunity to help us ramp up demand as part of a noble effort to make our way of life sustainable, and to protect us from the alternative: the collapse of civilization as we know it. Our “An Armed America is a Safe America” campaign made us a fortune and triggered all those initiatives forcing all Americans to buy a gun from us with government subsidies in the name of national security, but, unfortunately, we effectively armed the rebels. While the Cynics slowly undermine the public’s faith in markets, the forces of anarchy being stirred could destroy the infrastructure supporting our basic needs, and then Armageddon will be upon us.

No, the Cynics are not the real problem; it is the rebel groups, who have begun to increasingly use violence, with the unethical, immoral and criminal goal of disrupting the global economy. These threats, given the vulnerability of our computerized systems, put the basic needs of every person on the planet at risk, while wreaking calamitous effects on the security of the capital upon which our economy depends. Have you heard about the riots? The acts of sabotage? The assassinations? Of course, the CB has suppressed the most shocking reports; but just the few reports leaked produced dips in demand and a spike in hate crimes against corporations. This is a crisis, not only of demand, but of belief in our way of life. Even the CB has undergone some changes; more than ever, we need leaders who are willing to proclaim and enforce the fact that people’s true power lay in their choices in the marketplace. We’ve used any means necessary to enforce this in foreign nations; we need no less resolve here on the home front. The will of the marketplace should be our command, and then all human voices will be heard in proper proportion and through proper means: the marketplace. This is what we mean by freedom and democracy.

We want you to be the lead man on this security chip campaign. The CB wants you to pull out all the stops. We’re going to make these chips urgent, necessary, and then cool, and soon it will be the norm, just like contact lenses, guns, or insurance. And then we’re in. You see, this chip represents a true revolution, a crossing of the boundary of the flesh, with advertising now able to penetrate the very skin and bloodstream of the consumer. Because, of course, this is not merely a security chip.

Allow me to explain. Formerly, we were limited to bombardment by radio waves, aromas, pheromones, colors, and motion, to develop affiliation, but all strictly employing external stimuli. With this chip, we’ve broken on through to the other side: the inside. Oh no, this chip is not just about security. Of course, security is the selling point, but it scarcely helps the CB. The chips are cheap, and once uploaded they’ll probably displace thousands of security workers that we have been dispatching at huge profits for years to private vigilante groups, ever since your “Can’t Trust the Police” campaign caught fire with the public. And we’ll certainly have to ramp up our Paranoia Induction Program to facilitate the roll out, which is bound to cost us millions: media doesn’t come cheap. No; sure, we’re piggy-backing this security chip on the vaccine and flu shots for the PR boon it’ll provide, but moreover, we’re doing it because we have the opportunity to break the barrier of skin, and now we have the technology to tap into people’s minds and metabolic systems. You see, this isn’t merely a transmitting chip; it is equipped to channel chemicals to the root of our demand problem. We’ve found how to trigger the human brain to release the very chemicals that spur feelings of anxiety, meaninglessness, insecurity, and depression; exactly the chemical recipe for consumption desire. As effective as billboards, commercials, product placement, education, information, and propaganda are, they may have reached their limit as far as their ability to increase consumption; the drop in demand attests to that. With this chip, customizable to various purposes, we can mass-dose the population with chemicals to spur consumption and production as necessary to sustain this system which serves us so richly. That’s why this campaign is to be a watershed; from here on out, we’ll have our sales team truly under the consumers’ skin, working from the inside.

I can see your face twist with protest at the exploitative potential of remotely controlling and engineering human desire, but it would seem to be a necessity if human life is to be sustained. We have always “cultivated” humanity as we’ve differentiated our species from other animals, and the desire for things has become the hallmark of our species. If you can no longer make products that people find attractive, we must make humans who are attracted to them. Are we not the toolmakers? And what do we derive from things? Isn’t this Thing-ism the Cynics decry simply an application and democratization of our human desire for communication, beauty, truth, and the other evolved ideals of humanity? It has been said that God leads not by force but by attraction; then let humans be attracted to things and find meaning in them. We aim to help them, because we believe this attraction is fundamental to our nature as human beings, and we intend to cultivate it.

The CB is simply owning that process and, in an attempt to truly represent the consumers that put the CB in power, make the conscious choice to engineer humans that will be able to sustain our economy and avert our society’s collapse into chaos. If humans are to work in factories, why shouldn’t they have a chip to release endorphins and let them enjoy it? If people feel guilty about insufficiently helping the needy, why shouldn’t they be chemically relieved of that guilt, allowing them to be happy, productive citizens?

I can well imagine you wringing your hands over this, but you oughtn’t. What system of “democracy”, what kind of “voting” could be more inclusive than the marketplace? People keep voting for whatever the CB puts its money behind. Moreover, how hard has it been for the CB to spin the public into believing government is the problem? Your “Fear Big Brother” campaign prevented their passing the National ID Law. Meanwhile, AllMart just issued a membership card to its 300 millionth member, each of who treasures their feeling of belonging and takes pride in getting the 10% member discount; and they give us their data gladly. Your “Information Liberation” campaign helped pass the law allowing the CB to automatically share all data about a consumer with all other corporations every time a purchase is made. No one made a peep; not that anyone would have listened, anyway. And our friends in the legislature were sure to put a rider on that bill that allowed the CB to track the activities of non-consumers, that we might more effectively engage them with the marketplace, where their true power lay. Government can only do the will of the people as we’ve educated the people.

Yes, I suppose in our system one dollar, one vote is more accurate than one person, one vote. What I’m saying is: How could it be otherwise? The truth is this: People vote for the CB every time they buy something, every time they ignore the protests of aggrieved workers, every time they fail to inquire into the ramifications of their actions on one another and the Earth itself, which is every day of the year! They vote with their money, and then they flaunt what they’ve bought and hail it as self-expression. We’ve studied humans; we found what makes them happy; we’ve created a system that provides what they want; and now we’re simply ensuring that our system is sustainable. Shouldn’t people be happy?

The Cynics have got it all wrong. People believe in things, and that things do make life worth living. The consumer is a human faced with a new challenge or a new way to find meaning in this world. Would you deprive them of that? We are dedicated to serving their needs as they define them in the marketplace, which is where they go to define themselves. The government can’t do it. Citizenship’s got no sizzle. Humans, like machines, only do what they’re programmed to do; we are the programmers.

Look, at this point, there are only two possibilities, short of everyone legislating that we become hunters and gatherers again. First, we prop up demand as necessary to keep the production/consumption cycle flowing. Second, we let the Cynics and the Luddites drag down our economy with their petulant complaints, and wait till the rising tide of armed, unemployed, angry, dispossessed people annihilate a thousand years of progress in an anarchic wave of violence. And then everyone will be a hunter-gatherer again…. Sensibly speaking, there is truly only one possibility.

At any rate, this talk is getting tiresome. I’m here to sign you up for your next campaign and I needed to give you the big picture, but now I’m done entertaining all these pointless philosophical arguments, all of which have been effectively settled on the battleground of the marketplace. We still think you’re the best. We’ve simply exhausted the efficacy of using external stimuli to produce the results we desire; your data proves this. Now we’re ready to crack the barrier and start working on the inside. The CB has the technology and the plan. They need a campaign. You’re our first choice to run it. But you can easily talk your way out of it. And then you’re free to join the other Cynics picking through garbage for their sustenance. We noticed that you’ve been frequenting Cynic sites; it’s time for you to make a choice and face the consequences. We’re confident you’ll freely make the right choice.

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Lord a-Mighty, I Mean to Teach (lyrics)

(lyrics by Mark Zucker, to the old traditional tune “11 Cents Butter”)

Call me a commie, a zealot, or fool

I got me a job in a public school

I heard about the pay and I heard about the stress

But I was on a mission, man, I gotta confess

See, I was raised by peculiar folk

That taught me that work is not just a joke

We all change the world in ways large and small

You’re gonna be counted, better stand up tall

 

Man, oh man, I don’t mean to preach

But Lord a–mighty, I mean to teach

 

Got me a carrot, got me some sticks

Learned me the content, learned me some tricks

Rolled up my sleeves and rubbed my hands

Opened the door and then it hit the fan

They tumbled in with a howling roar

Bounced off the ceiling and walls and floor

I lifted my hands as if to pray

They ran out the door and left for the day

 

Man, oh man, I don’t mean to preach

But Lord a–mighty, I mean to teach

 

It took me a month till I found a way

To get ’em to sit and sometimes even stay

I was pouring out knowledge with all my heart

But its hard to compete with the common fart

I found out their skills were … a little.. behind

So I drilled and I probed, tried to tickle their mind

I worked and I learned and I started to care

Too bad there was only one of me there

 

Man, oh man, I don’t mean to preach

But Lord a–mighty, I mean to teach

 

Now I’m a veteran so I‘m the one

Who’s supposed to know how this job is done

After all these years all I’ve got to say

I love my job every single day

Takes a little blood and a lot of sweat

To swim the flood while you float your debt

I build a world of love as I teach my class

And the haters outside can take it up…. with the authorities

 

Man, oh man, I don’t mean to preach

But Lord a–mighty, I mean to teach

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The Work of the Teachers (lyrics)

(words by Mark Zucker, to the tune “The Work of the Weavers”)

Now teaching is a trade

That never should be lost

Unless you’re unafraid of ignorance’s cost

The future’s being made

The past is being tossed

To learn from our mistakes we need the teachers

If it wasn’t for the teachers

What would you do

You wouldn’t attain the reasoning to drive at what is true

You wouldn’t gain perspective on another point of view

If it wasn’t for the work of the teachers

There’s folks that serve the rich

And there’s folks that serve the poor

And folks that serve themselves and never see who’s at the door

But betwixt those in the ditch

And the ones with wealth galore

The folks who tried to help them were the teachers

If it wasn’t for the teachers

What would you do

You wouldn’t attain the reasoning to drive at what is true

You wouldn’t gain perspective on another point of view

If it wasn’t for the work of the teachers

Businessmen they mock us

And count us out as fools

And plus they see the profit they could make out of our schools

But they’ve no right to knock us

Though they make all the rules

They cannot make a dime without the teachers

If it wasn’t for the teachers

What would you do

You wouldn’t attain the reasoning to drive at what is true

You wouldn’t gain perspective on another point of view

If it wasn’t for the work of the teachers

Some folks claim such autonomy

They say our time has passed

They glance at the inequity, blame us, and act aghast

But look at the economy

Whose crimes are far more vast

And they would be so much worse without the teachers

If it wasn’t for the teachers

What would you do

You wouldn’t attain the reasoning to drive at what is true

You wouldn’t gain perspective on another point of view

If it wasn’t for the work of the teachers

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Again (song lyrics)

I can’t believe it’s happening again

Lost another part of me again

Something inside’s loosening again

Set adrift upon the sea again

Again

Again

Again

Again

I can’t stop this from happening again

Here I am upon my knees again

This doesn’t only happen to them

This will keep on happening again

Again

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That’s the Way (song lyrics)

You thought it looked cool

So you bought it like a fool

Left to fight a futile duel

‘Bout which o’ you’s the tool

Cuz it started freaky fun,

But that sure was quickly done

And all too soon you’s on the run

Livin’ underneath a gun

I’m telling you, that’s the way that drugs work

It looked hard at first,

But then it certainly turned to worse

I knew it surely was a curse

A ticking bomb burst in your purse

Married to a pain reliever

Nothing but a plain deceiver

But she knows I’ll never leave her

She controls her trained retriever

I’m telling you, that’s the way that drugs work

You said sleep was for the dead

Living too deep off your head

Now you’re creeping into bed

Not to wake the one you wed

Force-closing all your eyes

Till it’s safe at last to rise

And time to re-chemical-ize

Just to animate your lies

I tell you that’s the way that drugs work

You know you just get tired

Of the skin on your hide

And all this itchin’ inside

Makes you wish you’d just died

Cuz there’s a horn in your rough

You know you’re trying to slough it off

With something deeper than just a cough

Got just the thing to scuff it off

I’m telling you, that’s the way that drugs work

Nothing doing but to do it

I’s just riveted by my ruin

Got just the perfect fitted bit

To drill the barbed-wire screw in

Oh forget it, doesn’t matter

Take a gun and make it splatter

Toss one off mad as a hatter

Just to feel the shit shatter

I’m telling you, that’s the way that drugs work

Hard to tell what was pretended,

Took so little to get offended

An excuse to get distended

By something off-hand unintended

Acting bruised like a brat

With some thing to lash out at

But in lieu of a bat

Do a little bit o’ dat

I’m telling you, that’s the way that drugs work

Man, you’re so sly

The way you slip a little lie

Just to set an alibi

For some sooner or later time

I told the truth a little bit

Shouldn’t I get a little credit

I’m getting better gotta admit it

Someday I just might get it

So won’t you cut me a little slack

Why won’t you take my loving back

I can’t understand

Why you treat me like that

I tell you, that’s the way that drugs work

And then again you shuffle in

With a shrug and a grin

And your shirt below the bend

Where you hurt yourself again

Don’t care who you’re affectin’

Much less who you’re infectin’

As long as you’re connectin’

Don’t need no correctin’

Don’t fear no inspection

Of the lies you’re protectin’

Cuz ” Nobody’s suspectin’

I pulled it off to perfection”

I’m telling you, that’s the way that drugs work

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Speech from Eric Zucker’s Memorial (speech)

Mark Zucker’s speech from the memorial:

As everyone knows, Eric Zucker was larger than life. He was a great man, a phenomenal friend, a beautiful brother, a devoted son, a loving husband, and a doting father. But what I want to say, lest we forget, is that Eric was a clown and a scalawag; he made a spectacle of himself; he had absolutely no sense of boundaries. He wore his heart on his sleeve, on both sleeves, it poured out of him, and it got all over everyone. And we’ll never get it off, thank goodness.

He was a rascal. When I was learning to speak, he’d point at a fork and say “cat”, my first koan, and I learned something: you couldn’t always believe every word Eric said; but you always felt the essential truths and love that underlay his tall tales. Except that time I gave a report in school on the dinosaurs that still exist right over that hill; when challenged, I swore up and down I’d gotten it from an absolute authority, my brother. Or those two years he swore repeatedly that he stayed up every night until I was asleep, before climbing out the window to be a secret agent with the Mod Squad. He got me every time.

Eric was a rapscallion and a raconteur. I’d hear other people retelling “stories” from our childhood. Stories. Doozies. Complete fabrications! Myths! Yes, Eric mythologized the world, and thereby gave meaning to the world. He stretched the truth in the service of higher truths. Virtually everything I believe, value, and treasure, and the lion’s share of all the literature and music and art I love was filtered through Eric’s myth-making. And those most crucial of myths that our parents raised us on, of compassion, truth, beauty, justice, and love, were made real in his life through his committed actions, and he made them accessible to us all with his humor. He showed me how to live and laugh as a committed Marxist; Karl and Groucho, of course.

Eric was larger than life, and he had a peculiar genius for people. Every time I used to visit him, he’d be having a huge party. I didn’t get it at the time. I just wanted some intimate time with my brother, but later I realized, those people were 60 of Eric’s most intimate friends, and he felt it essential to introduce me to each of them with a heroic flourish that was frankly embarrassing. Eric’s inner circle basically encompassed the entire universe, and each lucky member was rendered a virtual superhuman glowing with the myths he spun.

Eric made himself scandalously at home in other people’s personal space. Eric had no shame. The way he danced with other people’s wives made me blush. He had no sense of boundaries. He played the fool, but in the classic sense; to unmask the foolishness of the conventional life, and to urge us to live more fully, to share love more freely, to work at our convictions more earnestly, and to make us laugh and let down our guard, to feel the love and joy of human connection, so we could then commit anew, refreshed to do the serious work of life.

Eric was a wanton idealist. Listen carefully, children: First, you can change the world and you must. Second, you can make love and you must. Third, you can appreciate and create beauty, and you must. Standing on the shoulders of our forebears, Eric transmitted these essential truths to me, and he was the living, breathing embodiment of them.

Eric was my touchstone. We always shared a bedroom, and I often used to climb into his bed at night and tell him about my bad dreams when I was a kid. Once, years later, far away, I dreamt that a chicken I was cooking attacked me, so I wrenched it off my neck and stabbed it with a fork, right through the chicken, right through the palm of my hand. When I woke up, all alone in a cabin in a New Hampshire forest, I walked a mile to a phone to tell Eric. He’d understand. Well, now there’s no one to tell. There’s no one to get our jokes. Eric, you knew what no one knew, about us, Max and Betty, our family, where we come from, how our dog Molly sat on our feet around the dinner table while we heard the stories that made us what we are. Now it’s only me, but like you screamed to me through the phone years ago we are ‘blood brothers in a stormy night with a vow to defend’, and I vow, big brother, best brother ever, I’ll keep our stories alive, because they make life worth living, and I’ll keep doing the good work in life, inspired by the way I watched you make the world a better place. Our parents raised us right, and they would have been so proud…

Eric, you never did have any sense of boundaries, and you still don’t. You were and you are larger than life. Even death cannot stop your ripple from spreading. May it become a wave to transform the world.

Mark Zucker

4/12/08

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Just Stop (monologue)

(grieving father enters room to see two sons reading the newspaper)

What are you doing?.. What on earth do you think you’re doing?. Talking, smiling, reading the funny papers as if nothing has changed……How dare you? Have you forgotten? What’s the matter with you? Have you no humanity? No feelings? Are you just all dead inside? Don’t you remember what has happened to this family? You don’t care…… You’re just waiting for the next party as if nothing has happened, sitting there, reading inanities and giggling like the senseless, silly clowns you are…….Your mother is dead! Doesn’t that mean anything to you? Oh, life is just supposed to go on, like nothing has happened, because for you, nothing has…she was only your mother!.. She only birthed you and nursed you and lived and breathed her every moment to make your life possible and you’ve got nothing to do but sit there and plan your next party! Life must go on, life must go on, yes, yes, for the unfeeling, for those only interested in themselves and their tiny little lives and their idiotic bourgeois concerns!…. Have you called anyone today? Have you made any plans? Well, you’d better, and quick, before you’re forced by what’s left of your conscience to consider what has happened here!…. She was alive and laughing with us, always laughing, making light of the infinite slights you unfeeling bastards heaped upon her day after day, “They’ll grow, they’ll see”,  but you see nothing, you’re blinded by your own vanity, your giddy, silly little lives, your fancy little friends, the thousands of damning deceits that enclose you and leave you immune, inured, desensitized, dead to the reality of what’s going on…..She’s not the dead…..you are the dead ones! You are the ones who have left me alone, abandoned me, destitute and helpless, and now you have the nerve to sit there and patronize me with your eyes, your unfeeling, dead eyes that will not see what has happened…..Well, I won’t stand for it. I’m made of something better than that. I know what has happened, I know life can not and will not go on without her, not for me anyway, because I know that she was a person of value, of depth and wisdom that you cannot imagine. I can’t expect you to understand the beauty and meaning she brought into this house, the smiles and laughter that will never return, smiles of compassion and understanding, not the cold, callous cackling of you petty, ungrateful warts….. Oh, I know, you’re already planning to walk out of this house and leave all this behind! What a relief it will be to be free from caring, free from feelings, free from all connection to the past, striding forward with a shrug, ever onward into the future, without a thought for those who bore you.. And I’m boring you now…. There’s a joke for you;….. the only thing you children can understand….. Children!…. You are not her children…. Her children would understand what has happened here and show respect, instead of driving nails into the heart of her memory with your careless, thoughtless, flippant behavior!…. As if life could go on!…. Or should!… It should not!…. It has not!…. It will not!… Not for me anyway…..And while you are under my roof, I  beg of you, to scrape together an iota of feelings for the woman you owe your lives to, and just stop.

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Sir, Nothing to Report, Sir (poem)

I was determined

To strive for fulfillment

Of my mission

with unredoubtable

sincerity and

fortitude

 

My efforts

could only be regarded

as utterly diligent

yet they proved

to be truly

ultimately

futile

 

Despite

my resolve

I was unable

finally

to grasp the gold ring

so to speak

that we desired

 

It cannot be said

that our endeavor

was ill-intentioned

or simply

utterly misguided

engaged in

as it was

with probity and

purity

of purpose

 

Nonetheless

however

in fact

events have transpired

which have rendered

all the intelligence gathered

insignificant

 

The various peoples of my acquaintance

were

I feel

essential to the pursuit

of our mission

and I feel none the less so

even given the final

fruitless

outcome

of this project

 

Indeed

in pursuit of

precious intelligence

I may have seemed

to some reckless

but I can assure you

and all I have encountered will attest

that I did not let the

ultimate goal of our undertaking force me

to treat others with

inhumanity

 

In truth

I am left

perhaps most distraught

not by the futility of our mission

but that the very nature of our mission

prevents me from continuing our acquaintance

thus I shall never have the opportunity

to find the language

to express the truth

and rejoice together to realize

the commonality

of our mission

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Brothers (story)

Mornings were the hardest time. He lay in bed far too long and that made it worse. Usually he forced himself to bound out of bed upon first awakening to avoid the dreadful malingering; otherwise, his dreams would hover over him interminably.

This morning, unfortunately, he could find nothing to get up for. Actually, he had gotten up to go to the bathroom, but had failed to take advantage of the opportunity to arise permanently, a tactical error for which he knew he would pay dearly. The effort had made the sweat run down his face. It had to be 100 degrees in his little sixth floor walk-up, and the fan he kept on incessantly did little more than swirl the sweltering air around. He couldn’t keep himself from pacing in the heat except when he slept or pretended to, so he forced himself to lie as still as possible, trying futilely to become oblivious to his wretched, drenched condition.

He was uselessly torturing himself and he knew it, but still he could find no reason to get up. He had a sheet strewn across his midsection, as was his habit. It certainly wasn’t for modesty’s sake, but rather simply to have something to hold on to and separate his sticky legs. As he spread it over himself with a wave of his hands, his cat dashed under the billowing sheet to crouch beneath it. The cat would often lie there for minutes at a time, and sometimes the lump under the sheet would move slowly. This time the cat just lay there, motionless, a few feet from his spread legs.

There was nothing to greet him this morning but the heat. He had come to expect that. But without work, and with him leaving town soon, absolutely nothing was compelling him to rise today. To pass the time, he tried to pull together the vague fragments of images lingering in his head from the night’s dreams. He was disappointed not to be able to trace a clearer picture in his mind and it stirred a quiet longing in him. He rolled his head to the side without moving his body in the slightest and shut his eyes.

He had been at a party at his parents’ house. It was very crowded, like it had been after their funeral, but people seemed to be in fine spirits. He consciously tried to avoid everyone he saw, all these people he’d known forever, people he’d played with as a child. He realized that he was supposed to know these people, but he was unable to draw their personal histories to mind. He knew he had shared things with these people, but now he just wanted to avoid them. He had some pressing things that he wanted to talk out with his brother, who he sensed was somewhere in the crowd. So, he excused himself repeatedly and walked sideways through the people lining those old familiar hallways and walls and floors. People seemed to be thrusting out toward him from every corner and he resented their insistent presence while feeling guilty for not acknowledging them. It would take a lot of effort to confront any one of these people and not one of them had what he needed to find. He had to find his brother. He had something to say to him.

He continued shrugging off the relentless series of faces being shoved at him like postcards from alien lands. Finally, from out of this tangle of unsatisfying images rose his brother’s face like a moon over a swamp. His face beamed forth and he was bathed in its warm yellow glow. His brother was busily entertaining a rapt group of female friends in his usual charming fashion. His brother stood above a pack of happy faces, as their upstretched eyes and champagne glasses twinkled.

He was proud of his brother and didn’t want to disturb his warm fun, but he finally managed to gently grasp his attention for a moment. As his brother drew near, he quietly said, ” I just wanted to say that you are….” But before he could finish, his brother’s attention was forcibly grabbed by the question of some gleeful party guest. The brothers turned to each and their eyes met with a sparkle of understanding and love. His brother had to be the gracious party host right now, but they would talk later.

He wandered away, as waves of party noise chirped and lapped all around him. None of the shouts and guffaws could enter his attention, as his heart and mind were wrapped in the warm yellow robe of light that his brother’s gaze had shed on him. He felt like Moses as he stepped briskly through the parting crowd, serenely oblivious to the vaguely familiar faces that lit up in surges as he passed. He felt choked up as came into his parents’ former living room, on those old floors and between those old walls and under that roof. He couldn’t talk to his parents anymore, but he would definitely talk to his brother later.

He was awakened from his reverie with a start. The cat, which had been a motionless lump under the sheets, suddenly attacked his knee, comically playing out some obscure instinctual behavior. He was first shocked and then dismayed to awaken, as ever, but he soon found himself smiling despite himself to recognize the cat’s familiar game. He repositioned his body to lie more directly in the path of the wan wind made by the fan. He was soaking wet.

The oppressive heat and his aggressive recollection of his dreams weighed upon him. He leapt up in irritation and immediately began pacing the tiny room. He would have to wait to find out about those job applications he’d sent out, but he was leaving town regardless and his bags were already packed. His brother was 3,000 miles away, phone rates were highest now and he didn’t want to speak to any other living soul. He shuddered to feel the waves of recollection roll over him, each with an image and an emotion subtly unique, almost unbearably clear and strong, and yet so unsatisfying. Soon all those faces would be so far from him and quite out of reach, except in dreams; already he felt the distance growing between himself and them.

Force of habit urged him to check the ice box, where he found a half-cooked breast of chicken. He mechanically grabbed it and tossed it into his perpetually greased pan on the stove and cranked the gas up to high. There was nothing to do but stare into the rapidly heating pan as the layer of grease liquefied and began to spit. He thought of Sunday brunches with his brother, back when their parents were alive. He thought of recipes he wanted to cook for someone someday. He thought of his last girlfriend. He saw the light, smooth, goose-pimply flesh of the chicken spattering noisily and it looked small in the largely empty black pan. Juice began running, boiling and crackling on the edges of the pale meat, mingling with blood. He pushed it down flat on the black pan and it gave back a louder, angry spattering sound. He squinted at the pan’s sizzling surface and wondered if it would ruin the pan to cook something on only a part of it. It was black to begin with so he couldn’t tell if it was burning. His mother had said that a good old pan needs no greasing because it’s been rendered permanently. He winced to think of her, swallowed hard and felt his own sweaty, sticky flesh where his armpits rubbed. He would have to find something else to think about or do after this chicken was done.

He took the fork and pushed down on the pale yellow breast. It spat back with ear-splitting sharpness. The way it spread out on the pan when he pressed made it sort of feel as if he were frying a frog. He watched intently, preparing to flip the breast, as he squeezed out a little juice, which boiled and spat and mingled with blood around a tip of exposed bone.

With startling quickness, the chicken leapt out of the pan and flew ferociously at his neck. Instinctively, he grabbed his attacker with both hands, one of which still held the fork as he wrenched the beast off his neck where it had savagely flung itself. Then he held the chicken breast in one hand with an iron grip, while it struggled mightily to free itself, and without a moment’s hesitation he thrust the fork directly through the heart at the center of the breast. His weapon plunged through, encountering no resistance from bones, and pierced clean through the chicken breast and into his own hand. He let out a momentary howl and then, shocked by the sound of his own voice, grimly clamped his mouth shut and bore the pain in silence as the wound gushed blood. He had succeeded in stabbing and stopping the beast; now he just wanted to clean up the mess and get on with his day.

Sweat mingled with his blood and made his injured palm sting ever more sharply, which cause him to momentarily consider going to the hospital. However, after cleaning and bandaging his wound, he found it quite easy to chalk up the injury as insignificant. It was just a little cut that wasn’t worth telling anybody about. No one but his brother would understand or care, so he might just as well get on with his life. “To hell with it”, he said out loud, enjoying the sound of his voice, “I’ll just go out to breakfast this morning.” He couldn’t waste any more time pacing the floor in this heat. As he locked his door and began skipping down the stairs, bouncing his bandaged hand along the banister, he couldn’t keep a smile from creeping across his face. He’d definitely tell his brother about this one and they’d share a laugh over it.

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4:31 AM (monologue)

   4:31…too early…no, too late…. so tired, can’t sleep…. nothing but hard……..think of something else…nothing but time to burn in my mind…..I’m walking down the street….flowers…..go to a market….there she is…. a woman …….glances at me…….tingling smiles…..no, no, don’t bother……just a surefire way to fill time….there must be something else to do with this time……some other feeling, less often felt, to feel…..there must be……..did they understand…..can’t go back……my sad companion……….start tomorrow right….no regrets…..oatmeal….again ……fruit…….. always good ……start that project…..or fit that one between those two others……that’s better……..then when the break comes I’ll have really earned it………and then I’ll be almost halfway done……… scheduling away another day………another day well-spent…… to earn that sigh of relief……that relieves nothing but pent-up annoyance …….nothing like true purging…….that can’t be hoped for……….. they didn’t understand …………… or care……..they had their own tragedies…………walking down a street …………there she is……………noticing me………………no, please, just stop, don’t you ever get tired of this stupid game…………there must be some other feelings to feel………felt less often………..my brother……….there was love………..something like understanding………at least for a while……….between tragedies………..did they understand…………what’s to understand………….nothing………..together……….it only seems worth celebrating when it’s unavailable………wife and son……….we celebrate……….because we can………..but what do we celebrate……….that our tragedy has not yet come………my parents and I never had understanding …………..and now they’re gone and we never will…………..and my son will walk away from my grave feeling depths that never occur to him now…………it’s natural………slim consolation……..consolation……….souls together……there’s an oxymoron………best we can do is put our bodies together………best wife in the world…………standing there………..looking at me………..no, don’t even………..there must be some other feelings to feel………….what can I make……….will anyone ever see what I create……….do I care………work is real…………..but that’s just the good I produce when on a treadmill………what do I produce freely……of course, all my choices are free………but what can I purely, truly create………things to hear, see and read, to go unheard, unseen and unread, or worse….I respect those who like what I make as little as those who dislike it……..silly people with blown-up ideas about themselves and creations……..and creation………who can get overly wound up in this absurdity ………me, that’s who…….piling little creations about myself………born in a hole, spend a life burying myself in it……..who can stand this……….what’s so difficult to understand ………..humans are so infatuated with themselves……… and with understanding …………inventing meaning to suit their needs, and then marveling at their ‘discovery’………just let me hold my wife….some feelings are so good they require no meaning………..of course they acquire meaning……….humans can’t help themselves……..if she were awake now, I’d……..no, just stop, bear the damn unbearable time and feel something else for a moment if you possibly can……….I can see their faces……..did they really look like that…….they did understand………it was me who didn’t understand……….but I was just a child……….but not too young to hurt others………..or myself…………those kids at work………right in the middle………still have a chance………….but they’re too young to know……….they laugh at me……I cry for them………my son……….oh god, my son, the tortures he’ll have to bear…….the idiotic impulses he’ll succumb to……….the regret he’ll feel……wondering if I understood……….falling in love………oh god I hope he does…….but if life is so unbearable with love, could it be any worse without it…….he’ll just dwell on that set of things, like I do on these………or not……maybe he’ll sleep through the night…………maybe he’ll fall in love……….with a beautiful girl………who’ll look at him and smile……..oh god, please smile on my poor son…….and wink……….and hold him……….and say those things………oh please, stop, can’t you think about anything else………..give it a rest…………oh, dear god in heaven, 4:32………..

 

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Telling Truths (essay)

I’d just like to take this opportunity to encourage you to share yourself with the world. If you have a poem, write it down. If you have a song, sing it out. Take a chance, there’s nothing to be ashamed or afraid of. What are you going to do? Something human. So what are you afraid of? That you won’t measure up? That you’re not ready? You’re always ready. You’ve got thoughts, you’ve got poems, you’ve got songs, write them down! Find a stage if you can and sing them out! They don’t have to be big songs or great songs, just yours. And what could anybody ask? And who’s judging you? Lighten up, enjoy yourself, share yourself. If anybody looks askance it’s only because their limited sense of the spectrum of humanity doesn’t yet include you, so it’s up to you to broaden their sensibilities, and take a stance for that part of the human spectrum that you alone occupy. No one can stand for it but you. Tell the truth, tell your truth, you’ll be surprised, it’s a little different than anybody else’s, it’ll stand out and be distinctly and inimitably ‘you’, you can’t help it, though you’re in the position to least appreciate that fact. Got an idea? Got a feeling? Let it out! Don’t be ashamed. How could anyone judge you or scoff at you? Who could be so ugly and small? If someone is that petty, that’s on them. You’re the brave one just for trying. So what are you afraid of? What are you ashamed of? Do you have dreams? Do you have visions? Write them down! Tell somebody! Do you have feelings for somebody? Tell them! What are you waiting for? Don’t wait. Don’t wait. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Be yourself! I mean, you already are, everybody can see that, so you might as well be fully yourself. Share yourself! You’re gonna come, you’re gonna go, and who’s gonna say those thoughts in your head? No one else but you. So come on! Think you’re too young or not ready? Well, what if you die tonight? What if she dies tonight, and you never told her how charming you find her? That would be a sin! Don’t hold out on her! Don’t hold out on us! Cuz I’ll tell you, there was a time that I held out on the world, that’s right, I held it all in. I wasn’t going to show the world the paltry, meager, little smudge of a person I felt I was at age 15. I certainly wasn’t going to show my parents, oh no, I gritted my teeth and I told myself, “I’m going to walk out that door a boy and I’m not going to walk back in till I’m a man. Then they’ll be proud of me. Then I’ll be something worth showing. I’ll show them that I’m more than just this”. And I walked out. “You can’t see it till I’m finished” and “I’ll know my song well before I start singing” and all that. I was ashamed to be so young and so small and I loved and admired my parents so much that I wasn’t going to let them see me like that, oh no, so I held out on them. I thought I had something to be ashamed of, because I was so young and small, but I didn’t know what shame was. Now I do. Cuz they died. And I held out on them. I didn’t let them know me. I held out on them. And they died. I held out on them. That’s a sin. That’s shame. That’s shame. And now I’m back. And I walked in that door and I’m a man. There’s no one left but everyone else, but they’re gonna hear what this little man has to say. And I’m here to tell you, that the truths you don’t tell will shame you and pain you till your dying day. So if you have a thought or a feeling or a song or a vision or a poem, I’m begging you, don’t be ashamed or afraid, write it down, tell the truth, tell your truth, tell it to her, tell it to them, get on a stage and tell it to everyone, now, before you die and it dies with you, or you’ll wind up like me, and then you’ll really know what shame is.

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Eternal Recurrence and the Illusion of Will (essay)

Sometime in the past, just before the Big Bang, the entire sum of the matter in the universe was concentrated at an incredibly dense and massive point in space. While thoroughly dense by any measure one can imagine, this seed of creation, however, cannot be reckoned to have been absolutely consistent; that is, there had to have been irregularities in its textural composition. That simple fact has been manifested in the patterned yet differentiated spread of matter across the universe, for if the particulization of that indifferentiable mass of matter had occurred in a thoroughly consistent manner, we would find the stars today to be spread evenly across the heavens. The force which flung those somewhat differentiated and individuated bits of gravitationally contained singularity must have been exerted with an element of unevenness, an element that must have been a function of the slight irregularities in that  ball of matter at the dawn of creation. Matter would seem to have inherently, coded into its substructure, some mysterious properties that cause it to contain certain wrinkles, even when compacted into the densest form possible. Those wrinkles have since swirled and blossomed out to form the spirallic galaxies, their uneven spacing in the cosmos, and other phenomena which would not have resulted from a uniform mass uniformly exploding. Obeying the stark laws of matter, these galaxies have come ever so gradually and inevitably into their present configurations through a protracted, continuous and on-going process, the historic stages of which have been estimated with an amazing degree of accuracy due to the basic  predictability of the forces of nature. Similarly, the status of most objects in space can be predicted into the future with reasonable assurance of accuracy.

Humans seem to be driven along  by some natural force as well,  one which we call our will, and which seems to be the result of our DNA sequences playing themselves out and developing our selves through interactions with our changing environment. This perfectly parallels the path of a comet through space or the product of specific chemical reactions under particular circumstances, in that our predictions will approach 100% accuracy as we improve the tools and equations we use to measure the forces involved. The social sciences simply have not yet developed tools appropriate for measuring the complex forces that drive humans. Geneticists, like those with the Human Genome Project, are making inroads daily into the connections between genes, personality and behavior, while other social scientists explore the interactions of genes and the environment and their impact on a person’s personality and behavior. However, we needn’t wait for the social sciences to prove what is already abundantly clear, despite our bitter protestations; that is, human behavior is frighteningly predictable.

Realize this, if you dare: if you could do anything all over again, you’d do it exactly the same. If you could do any single thing again a million times over, you’d do it exactly the same every time, because every time you’d feel exactly the same and your environment would be exactly the same. Don’t tell me you’d pause or act differently or that a fly landed on you and distracted you or anything else, because you cannot take those things out of the scene. They were there. You felt that way. After a certain amount of trepidation,  and I mean a certain amount, you made a willful decision, conscious or otherwise, resulting in your behavior. Upon examination of the subject and the environment, your behavior made perfect sense, as all behavior makes perfect sense once we truly see where it comes from. Everything does happen for a reason and always has, with environmental changes producing evolutionary changes and vice-versa and culminating seemingly with the transformation of this formerly barren planet into a world of outrageous fecundity, brimming with myriad life forms, not to mention PAC’s, of mind-boggling complexity. Indeed, today has followed yesterday as you have followed your ancestry, taking the tools of the past and reforging them in the fires of the future.

Realizing that there is a certain degree of determinism in one’s behavior is not in itself cause for undue alarm. Due to our own tremendous lack of self knowledge, we can  still feel genuinely unaware of how we will react to a given situation. Furthermore, our lack of environmental awareness will likely permit us the thrill of having truly surprising things develop in our natural surroundings. These will spur actions in us that are bound to surprise us further still, with the depth of our astonishment being an apt measure of our lack of self-knowledge. Those who know us best are actually never surprised by what we do, even when we are. Fortunately, few of us know anyone that well. As much as we want to be known, it is more important to us that we are unknowable. Ignorance and vanity grant us an exalted view of ourselves as “works in progress”, a designation which actually fails to differentiate any of us from a grain of debris swirling and melting in a methane cloud around Venus. None of this should detract from our appreciation of the surprising joy and beauty we might have the privilege to experience; predictability can scarcely dampen our enthusiasm for all those little discoveries and rituals in life that we’ve worked so hard for and cared so much about, both thoughtfully and thoughtlessly.

Of course your parents had to raise you the way they did; look at where they came from. Tracing that thread back, we see that they had to emigrate when they did; that’s where they were at and that was where the world was at. The soldier that saved you by hiding you in the box car had to do what he did. If you knew what he was going through, it would all make sense. If we had sufficient information, we could see why every interaction, every collision, every kiss, every curl on your head came from somewhere that made sense genetically, socially, personally and cosmically. If we could speed up time in reverse and watch our present fold back up into the past, we’d eventually revisit the Big Bang itself, and we’d see all matter returning to that immensely massive point in space and we might even glimpse a time before that wrinkled singularity billowed out into the twisted space we call the universe, but there would be no light with which to see it.

Some scientists believe that such a  Big Crunch may well occur to our universe after  the force of gravity exceeds the force of the expanding universe. In fact, many feel that an endless cycle of Big Bangs and Crunches are in the midst of occurring, and we are but a note played once by that endlessly wheezing accordion of time. It gives one a rather large feeling to consider that this wrinkle could reconvene in everchanging ways, producing unique universe after unique universe with each cycle, like an exploding godhead sending sprays of galaxies spinning outwards sequentially in ever-varying arrays, a resplendent fountain of matter sucking up and blowing out blueprints or seeds of evolution or entropy or extinction….

A rather different feeling is produced by the alternative. Let us consider the nature of that massive point that keeps reconvening at the end of each Crunch and before each Bang. One would imagine that the wrinkle embedded in that point in space would have resulted directly from the uneven distribution of matter in the universe during the previous Big Bang/Big Crunch cycle. As mentioned earlier, this wrinkle would then manifest itself again in the uneven distribution of matter in the next cycle. One must assume that certain physical laws constrain matter as it approaches that incredibly massive point. Perhaps, like the hydrogen atom, there is only one way that such a point can exist, only one kind of wrinkle that such a point could have, and only one way such a Big Bang would result. In such a scenario, each cycle would proceed along the laws of nature from the same beginning, and therefore produce the same distribution of matter in the universe. As galaxies formed, familiar things would begin to happen; the formation of stars and solar systems, the evolution of life on Earth, the ascendence of humans, the Holocaust , the American Dream, and finally, you. Remember, everything happens for a reason that can be found in physics, biology, genetics and social dynamics; that is, history. Now, if history has proceeded apace along such laws repeatedly and from exactly the same beginning, then it is clear that everything that is happening has happened before over and over again. Every moment, despite the seemingly impossible complexity of motion and thought involved, is happening because it is the only moment that can happen given the sum of the forces involved. These very forces have evolved through a series of moments that can be traced back to the wrinkled moment before the Big Bang and back through all previous sequences of Big Bang/ Big Crunch ad infinitum.

To put this theory in a nutshell: Whatever has happened in what we call history has happened over and over again and will happen again repeatedly as long as the laws of nature stand. An endless string of people before and after you have marched this route before, worn your shoes, eaten your food, had your doubts, tried your best, all for the same reasons that you do, because it’s what they came to and they couldn’t help but be thus and feel thusly, that is, you. All of them feel their feet falling to their beat and echoing up and down the corridors of time. All of them, that is, you, know what it feels like to be trapped in an iron cage of flesh and whipped by a slave-driving brain deluded by this power it calls its “will”. People of privilege, perhaps, are more likely to maintain a belief in their “will”, hoping to take credit for their good fortune and thereby elevate themselves above others. Of course, however, it is a silly notion to think that you did better or tried harder in your circumstances than someone else would have in the same circumstances; if they were in the same circumstances as you they wouldn’t be them, they would be you. Then they would do exactly as you did, moving and thinking the same way, struggling with their sense of self just like you must. And now, in a sense, all the yous there ever were and all the yous that will ever be are nervously looking up and down the corridors of history and seeing their own faces peering at them from behind cracked doors. I suggest thinking of this repeating ritual not as merely a wrinkle in the singularity generating copies of our universal history incessantly, but as a song with infinite verses. While it’s true that every verse may be exactly the same, each singer in turn is granted only one chance to sing, and if we are bound to sing, well, then, sing!

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Happiness ( a memory)

Ping pong pang ping ping! Zringggg! Like a harp’s glissando to announce the arrival of angels! After each player’s turn, older son Dimitri would play a little melody and younger son Solomon would strum the $5 zither we’d bought in Mexico City. I cannot remember the game we played, but the magic we felt together as a family that night will remain with me forever, and I can summon forth that feeling by simply thinking of the sound that zither made. Zrringg!

We were in the midst of a trip to Mexico City, where we’d feasted on exotic cultural treasures, and now we needed to drive out of Mexico City for some hours to get to a little town called Valle de Bravo. We always get along relatively well, but people’s differing schedules, expectations, hungers, and moods at various times made it all slightly challenging, as travel often is. This particular day had been the hardest of the trip, as the traffic was tortuous, the heat hellacious, and our directions dubious. Our arrival in Valle de Bravo came later than everybody had hoped, so we all felt hot, tired, bothered, and very hungry. When we saw the sign for Hotel Rebozo, we all screamed with glee, but our ecstasy was short-lived, because the town seemed to have closed for the night, and our stomachs were groaning for attention. We found out that only one place was open, and when the hotel staff took our order for “three of whatever they have”, we weren’t optimistic. To stave off the mutinous cries of our stomachs, we showered while we waited, and then we prayed. Well, actually we didn’t, but we would’ve if we believed in such miracles, so you can imagine our surprise when our unsaid prayers were in fact answered with nothing less than a miracle.

Three covered plates were delivered, and the tension in the air was palpable. We lifted the lids off one of the plates, and there before our eyes were dozens of the hugest, most magnificent clams imaginable, nestled alluringly in a veritable mountain of pesto-laden pasta. As we opened each plate’s lid in slow motion, our mouths fell agape as the thoroughly unbelievable truth became apparent: Each plate brimmed as majestically as the first with an overwhelming bounty of the most enormous clams on this or any planet. We lifted clams to our mouths, one by one, and the room filled with oohs and aahs and the aroma of our feast, as each of us in turn surrendered to absolute pleasure, closing our eyes, pressing our lips, humming and cooing and beginning to rock slowly to and fro in our seats while gesturing vaguely into space.

When we regained consciousness somewhat, the four of us played a game, and absolutely nothing extraordinary happened, yet we were in possession of something truly extraordinary indeed: Nothing stood between us and happiness. We found ourselves as one, purged of all our exhaustion from the long, hot drive, utterly sated, safe and sound in our new home, with no pinch of hunger, no bite of bitterness, nor urge of ego interfering, no future and no fear, at last free to simply share time together, all fully present, all fully unobstructed, all fully joyous. And after each player’s move, Son #1 would play his little melody and Son #2 would strum the zither, and love and laughter ruled the universe.

Ping pong pang ping ping! Zringggg!

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Clockwork Conversation (phone monologue)

   Hello?……….Just like clockwork, I swear, I was just thinking about you………How have you been?………Same, same, you know, can’t complain……….It’s just so great to hear from you……….yeah, it’s just amazing how the time flies…………..yeah, and then the people you know the best become the people you see the least…….I know, I mean those were the forming relationships of my life………no, you just can’t replicate that time of life………..or that group, right…….Oh, we had some times, no doubt, ha ha, remember that party at that house up in the hills, with the pool, and…. yeah, please, don’t even…..and afterwards, everyone’s in the kitchen, and that guy, what was his name?……….oh yeah, he was going on about………..yeah, ha ha….we were in hysterics…..I swear I was laughing so hard my cheeks hurt the next day…..yeah, the road trips, the shows, the parties………yeah, that was an amazing bunch……we were really lucky to have found one another, I mean…..yeah, I know, like I have the time for all that now? I don’t think so……..but I don’t have energy for it either………..right, or the stomach. Still, it’s great that we keep in touch….yeah…

   Did I what?…….Yeah, I read the news…….oh come on….that’s all a bunch of baloney drummed up by the media………I can’t believe people’s appetite for that tripe, while the real issues………..I know…….tell me about it, the rich get richer and all that…..no, I’m not cynical, it’s just that……..exactly. Little wheel spin and spin, big wheel turn around and around……no, there will be a change, I’m just dubious about how positive it will be…I know, what with the population to resources equation………..Probably, but I’ll be dead by then……….a mass dying off? That’s our only hope?……..Sounds like you’re the cynical one…….

Any way, you still see any of those old folks?……..Oh yeah? What’s she up to?….Whoopteedoo, no surprise there….Hey, but what about that one that you were…………oh gawd, good riddance………….anybody else on the radar screen?……Well, good for you, you can’t wait a lifetime for someone to come along and save your life……….In the old days you had them falling all over you……No, I was a different breed; once I got hooked I just turned into her dog……..yeah, I was just lucky enough to finally find someone who likes my breed of dog……….I know, but probably just when you focus on yourself and learn to make yourself happy one’ll plop into your lap……..Are you kidding? Of course you are, everybody’s beautiful once you get close enough, it’s just a matter of having the right circumstances and chemistry that allow you to get that close…..I know, and I don’t envy you the looking, but there are advantages to being single……..exactly, that’s the key……..right, finding a way to enjoy where you’re at……..yeah, and then it’s gone……time is tight……

Hey, what about your pal with the hat collection?………I hate to say I told you so, but that guy had loser written all over him………I’m sorry, I just never trusted him, or his friend……….yeah, that worm………What?……Oh, man, that is a crying shame, I’m sorry…what a waste…..how did he do it?……….. that is so pathetic……..imagine……oh gawd………like his life was a bad movie……….

Well, actually, our life, in its own way, has started to seem like a bad movie, too, but not a sensational one, just a boring one. We love our children and are constantly amazed by them, we work hard to continue to develop our relationship with each other and with ourselves, we work all too hard at jobs we believe to be meaningful, we have all kinds of creative and social pursuits, we get reflective on birthdays and time keeps going faster and faster and all the outrageous thoughts and actions of our youth start looking like nothing but typical for that age just like everything we do now seems so utterly typical for our age, and I’m in love with my life so totally and deeply, yet it seems more and more like a very predictable movie that’s played over and over and over again….like this very conversation could be happening between any two people of our age, all very earnest, all so bloody predictable, I mean I thought we were the most brilliant and unique people on the planet, and now I feel like just another human machine and the card of my life is just feeding through mechanically, but every dot and dash feels so significant to me as it passes through me, and each of us…..so why do we do it?……………..Yeah, I guess it’s just to share some warmth……..I  mean, what’s to say? What’s to do? Nothing new under the sun.   (off phone, “Just a minute, I’ll be right there..”)

I’m sorry, I’m going to have to cut this short, wouldn’t you know, right when I get a chance to talk to a dear old friend at last, my little boy has a complete crisis that absolutely requires my attention………I know, it’s just like clockwork. But it’s been great talking………..yeah, thanks for calling, it means a lot to me……….. yeah, let’s keep in better touch. Bye. (hangs up)

(off phone) Just like clockwork.

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That’s You (song lyrics)

I lost myself when I found the one (that’s you, that was you)

Caught in orbit by a sinking sun (that’s you, that was you)

I stood transfixed by a ticking bomb (that’s you, that was you)

That blew me all the way to kingdom come (that’s you, that was …)

 

My friends all told me but I could not hear

Above the banshee wailing in my ear

Who soon would strip me of all I hold dear

Leave me clutching nothing but my fear (that’s you, that was you)

 

A certain someone’s at my door again (that’s you, that was you)

Seeking to penetrate that mortal vein (that’s you, that was you)

Still believing there’d be more to gain (that’s you, that was you)

After not a shred of hope remained (that’s you, that was you)

 

Your knocking synchronizes with my pulse

Spins my bearings out from true to false

Strike the band up for our funeral waltz

Die to the rhythm of that, ahem, something else

 

Opened an oyster searching for a pearl (that’s you, that was you)

I found the grain of sand inside the girl (that’s you, that was you)

I cried an ocean and I lost the earth (that’s you, that was you)

I died alone and I cursed the birth (that’s you, that was you)

 

You cut my heart out from its broken shell

You shut the light out when you tolled my bell

Till I had nothing but my soul to sell

Leave me ridinʼ down the road to hell (that’s you, that was you)

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I Got You (song lyrics)

Don’t need no key

Ain’t got a door

I’ve left the building

Forevermore

No need for nothing

To hold onto

Cuz I got you

 

Don’t need no shovel

Ain’t got a hole

Don’t need a temple

A-housing up my soul

No need for nothing

To hold onto

Cuz I got you

 

I ain’t got time to waste on foolish dreaming

I ain’t got time to waste on money scheming

I call you mine and I’m yours for the taking

So come on let’s get on with our love-making

 

Don’t need to worry

Ain’t got a care

Don’t need to hurry

I’m already there

No need for nothing

To hold onto

Cuz I got you

 

Don’t need a future

Ain’t got a past

She gave me a present

That will ever last

No need for nothing

To hold onto

Cuz I got you

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Ball and Chain (song lyrics)

(listen to song in Music)

 

Got me free just to make myself a slave

Pickin’ up steam down a track smack to my grave

Put my shoulder to my load, put my faith in the American Way

Just another sharecropper beat down by the B of A

It’s a ball and a chain…………….ain’t no American dream

It’s a ball and a chain

 

My minds in shackles and my heart is in a vise

I’m swinging that sledgehammer nailing down these ties

Shoveling coal in a hole that’s hungry as hell

I’ll be feeding its mean little mouth till it tolls my bell

It’s a ball and chain ……………ain’t no American dream

It’s a ball and a chain

 

I’m ’bout dead but the train ain’t about to stop

Bound to die in shame ’cause my life insurance got dropped

Y’all can pitch my putrid body on the funeral pyre

And say, “That slave gave fuel to the fire”

Itʼs a ball and chain ……………ain’t no American dream

It’s a bawlin’ shame…………..it’s a con and a game

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Lord A-Mighty, I Mean to Teach (song lyrics)

Call me a commie, a zealot, or fool

I got me a job in a public school

I heard about the pay and I heard about the stress

But I was on a mission, man, I gotta confess

See, I was raised by peculiar folk

That taught me that work is not just a joke

We all change the world in ways large and small

You’re gonna be counted, better stand up tall

 

Man, oh man, I don’t mean to preach

But Lord a-mighty, I mean to teach

 

Got me a carrot, got me some sticks

Learned me the content, learned me some tricks

Rolled up my sleeves and rubbed my hands

Opened the door and then it hit the fan

They tumbled in with a howling roar

Bounced off the ceiling and walls and floor

I lifted my hands as if to pray

They ran out the door and left for the day

 

Man, oh man, I don’t mean to preach

But Lord a-mighty, I mean to teach

 

It took me a month till I found a way

To get ’em to sit and sometimes even stay

I was pouring out knowledge with all my heart

But its hard to compete with the common fart

I found out their skills were … a little.. behind

So I drilled and I probed, tried to tickle their mind

I worked and I learned and I started to care

Too bad there was only one of me there

 

Man, oh man, I don’t mean to preach

But Lord a-mighty, I mean to teach

 

Now Iʼm a veteran so I’m the one

Whoʼs supposed to know how this job is done

After all these years all Iʼve got to say

I love my job every single day

Takes a little blood and a lot of sweat

To swim the flood while you float your debt

I build a world of love as I teach my class

And the haters outside can take it up…. with the authorities

 

Man, oh man, I don’t mean to preach

But Lord a-mighty, I mean to teach

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The Perfect Soup Demands The Finest Ingredients (essay)

Soup is to be consumed; no one dare doubt this elemental fact.  However, the simplicity of the word ‘soup’ belies the enormity of what is addressed as one considers this substance with which we fill our bowls. Consumption, too, seems inadequate to describe the miraculous process that culminates and guides all our soup-making efforts. Truly, our very definition of these words needs to blossom for us to appreciate and speak this truth with the dignity that these words ought to command; the soup is to be consumed. Our palates, while already quite discriminating, need to become more ambitious.

The perfect soup requires the finest ingredients; then they must be used appropriately. No back alley butcher boy would think to serve a soup bone as steak, yet that same bone is indispensable to the making of soup, a process which will wring every iota of value out of that bone and use it specifically for the purpose for which it was designed. It is a fact that on this green globe there is no thing with no purpose; not for long, anyway.  Let there be no substance in existence that has no use in our soup. Let there be no flavor which cannot be put to use in our soup. It need be so, for we have willed it thus. The vegetable matter itself has been bred that we may serve the superior soup. The most useful flavors have been scientifically drawn out, and the ones that have fallen out of favor have been systematically eliminated. One can have no greater faith than that this process will continue forevermore, in pursuit of an ever more perfect soup.

I speak not merely of the wayward shrub or plant, but of the entire spectrum, number, type, depth and breadth of the vegetable matter on earth, all of which has been designed to suit our dogged pursuit of perfection. How else has this garland of greenery draped across this baby blue planet come to its present form and place? By what grace have these forms been allowed to remain and by what force has their niche been carved and their form honed? Who indeed but the intrepid few who are willing to trust their tastes and apply them to the world and forge the vegetative future of our planet. And still, yet more decisions are to be made. Once the vegetable matter has been brought to the kitchen, the first and final laboratory, it must be trimmed free of the vile spots which blacken the vegetable and confound our attempt to utilize it for our indisputably noble purposes. Such trimmings manifest their usefulness when they are ploughed under as compost. Plants producing excessively diseased products may need to be pulled up by the roots by the gardener as directed by the discerning chef. Further breeding can be expected to reduce such wasteful inefficiency in due course, as we ever more exactly approach perfection.

Out here in the dining room, the hacking of the clobber on the board is accompanied by the smacking of lips and slapping of backs. The soup itself, and all its constituent ingredients, could be imagined to be nearly delirious with anticipation as it awaits submission to the most select of taste buds. Soup is to be consumed. And there, as it tumbles between their tongue and teeth, the flavor of the future is being determined. We can only pray for their approval, for we know that heads will roll if they are displeased.

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Eye to Eye (monologue)

(sidling up to me as I walk, the small-time hood unwinds….)

Hey, yo, c’mere, chill out, I’m not like these guys, I’m not trying to get over on you…

Check it out, walk with me, my man, I’m tellin’ ya, we’re not like these cats. We see eye to eye. But don’t fuck with me, mother fucker, cuz ain’t no mother fucker gonna get over on me. But man, I’m telling you, you’d better watch your ass, man, some of these mothers’ll cut you down for coin, I’m talking bullshit, man you gotta watch your ass out here…

But we ain’t like that. We see eye to eye. I mean, I shouldn’t even be hangin’ with these low-rent mother fuckin’ two-bit shits, man, they’d fuck up they own mother for a pull on that pipe. But on my mother’s grave, I ain’t that type, man, I ain’t trying to get over on you, I’m tellin’ you, me and you, we see eye to eye, it’s just like…………… shit, my sister is in the hospital, and….goddammit it, ain’t no mother fucker’s gonna get over on me!….

Wait a minute, yo, check this out, I ain’t like these cats. See, actually, I’m a what-you-call professional. No shit, my man, I’m telling you, we see eye to eye, I’m telling you, I’m a hair stylist. No shit. Yo, bro , check this out, I’m telling you, I was licensed and every goddamn thing, that was back in Philly, man I had it going on, man, all my friends and chicks and shit, people I didn’t even know would be begging me to cut their hair….

I’m telling you, I was the best goddamn barber in Philadelphia, that’s where I got my license and shit, I’m telling you, I was a hot property, goddamn it, you better believe my ass, mother fucker, I can work magic with a razor. I’m a professional, and I don’t belong here on no bullshit fucking street collecting flies with all these sorry-ass mother fuckers who be trying to get over on you and shit cuz they’re a bunch of fuckin’ losers whose life ain’t shit………

But goddamn mother fuck, I’m a goddamn professional, and they’re making me wait to take their goddamn test to get certified here, bunch of bullshit, I’m telling you, I’m better than any of these shitty ass barbers out here, mother fuck, I can work magic with a goddamn razor, and on my mother’s grave ain’t no mother fucker gonna get over on me, mother fucker, I got my mother fuckin’ blade right here, mother fucker, I’ll cut your ass up, mother fucker!…….

Where you goin’ man, listen to me, I don’t belong out here with these two-bit shits, I’m tellin’ you, man, you and me, we see eye to eye, we don’t deserve this bullshit, we’re clean, man, deep down, know what I’m saying, it’s just that…. my sister’s in the hospital, I came out here to help her out, man, but ain’t no mother fucker gonna get over on me, on my mother’s grave, you know what I’m saying, my man, I ain’t trying to get over on you, I ain’t like these cats, you know what I’m saying, you and me, we see eye to eye, we’re professionals, it’s just that… my sister’s in the hospital, and shit, on my mother’s grave, sometimes I think I’m just gonna bust………..

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