Foto by tgw, New York City, 2009.
"The good die young--because they see it's no use living if you've got to be good," old drunken wreck of a human being, John Barrymore, said as he raised that last glass of rotgut to his parched lips. I can see a lot of truth in that. Laughing at the disgust into which one has fallen. Yes, Johnny Boy, that was a good one.
"Live as if you were to die tomorrow--learn as if you were to live forever." The Old Mahatma (Ghandiji) said that. Now that's the wise approach. That's very close to the Timothy Leary approach I take to life--living in the NOW, the only life any of us have. Right now I'm alive. However, truth is, I could be DEAD when you read this. Isn't that exciting? Ghandi and Leary both knew what I'm saying: that Death lives right along side of us--riding along on a parallel rail--just waiting for the first break in our rail when Death's rail bangs into ours and BANG, we're DEAD. [I can imagine little deadly asteroids (call them extinctions) being hurled about our innerspace universe.]
If I stop and consider my own death...I'm psychodramatic enough that I can declaim--think of John Barrymore doing one of his silent-picture death scenes--"I AM frightened if I start contemplating my own demise." I've got longevity riding along with me as my physician. Therefore, I've got good health riding along with me. I can still gallop along at a good pace. But that doesn't mean a god-damn thing, does it? I had one dear friend drop stone dead in his tracks last year. Just fell flat forward dead on his way to a gig. Was happy as a lark on a juniper-berry high right up until the minute Death stepped into his path and BAM, my pal ran headlong into the Dead End that was his death.
On the other hand--what if you're captured in mid-life by Death? And you become a servant of Death. Like, what if Death sneaks into your path while you're young and think you're going to live forever?
[Aside #1: Speaking of Jean Shepherd, I just heard a Jean Shepherd episode this early morning on NYC radio--the one where Jean contemplates the bull and the bullfighter meeting in center ring and saying to each other, what the hell are we doing?--as a result, they both sit down and refuse to go on with the show. During this discourse, Jean sidetracks to mention what he thinks is wrong with 17-year-old rockers. He says, 17-year-old rockers believe they are going to be 17-year-olds forever. Then when they get to be in their 40s, they still think they're 17-years-old. And I got to thinking about Ozzie Osbourne (who has a book out on his turning 60--yes, Ozzie Osbourne is an author now), Gene Simmons, and Mick Jagger, those creeps, now entering their 60s yet still thinking they're 17-years-old--or like the ancient and raggedy Beach Boys still doing concerts on beaches and singing their old stolen-from-Chuck-Berry hits over and over, except the older these 17-year-olds get the slower their beat gets, and the more boring and DEAD they are to continuance.]
Now, thinking about HOW I hope to die--that's different. That's a perfectly alright contemplation for a creature like myself who's not afraid to explore with language the inner depths of wishes and hopes, those legendary nonexistent crutches we use to stay upright--
our tendency as human monkeys is to fall back over onto all fours--our big hind hands--our feet--propelling us along--with our front feet--what we call our hands--knuckle-ing along to give us direction and balance.
You see, folks, man as a monkey creature is not natural standing upright. That's why we have backaches; spinal problems; migraine headaches; eye problems (monkeys don't wear glasses); so much trouble having sex--unless we learn that doggie style is the natural style--which is actually monkey style--and, trust me, folks (and it's the way wolves copulate, too), both men and women enjoy fornicating the old-fashioned way--none of that shit that happens during missionary--"My legs, honey, let me put my legs down." Reply: "Here, honey, get up on all fours and let me do this right--or if your legs still hurt you, how 'bout just rolling over on your side with your back to me." Boy O boy!
Damn, Wolf Man, you are screaming at me, everything you write about turns to sex. Guilty. And I must correct my thinking. I suppose I subconsciously measure my own closeness to death by whether or not I still get erections. Warnings are going off in my skull. I'd better sidestep this pathway. Sex is a tough way to measure life. Philip Wylie said Death is the price we pay for having sex. Sex and death may be coevals. When we can no longer create life! Aha! Glaring truth: all sex is is procreation. There's recreational sex though. And I'm promoting recreational sex, which even impotents and infertiles can have. I mean, come on, even if a man is jaded, he still enjoys watching a beautiful woman undress and walk lasciviously toward him. Hope is alive in the jaded man who truly believes that only in a woman's lascivious use of her voluptuousness is there resurrection.
I haven't mentioned that J.D. Salinger died. There was a reason. It was due to respect. He died cool. He was in his 90s. He had refused to stay Holden Caulfield's age and instead lived out his own age. This man has influenced me from day 1 of the first time I read him until I read of his dying this past weekend. Yes, I respected him not only through Catcher in the Rye (it wasn't the first of his books I read), but also through Nine Stories (Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenter) (the first book of his I read) and especially through Franny and Zooey (Franny appeared first in 1955 as a story in the New Yorker (back when the New Yorker was still a New York-American magazine) and Zooey 2 years later in 1957). The ladies [only Franny is the chick] appear as a book in 1961. I don't remember which one I fell for the most, Franny or Zooey [Mr. Ed: Oooooh, what a blunder. L Hat caught ole Wolfie in a brain-contamination mode ("Time eater of all things lovely")--of course Zooey Glass is a man--Franny is the woman Wolfie means--she's the female whacko (neurotic) in both stories--but on the other hand, our own Franny and Zoe is a girl--we can suppose the fabricated, possibly inebriated, Wolf Man was confused by the odor of our Zoe's perfume. The Wolf Man usually hides out for a few days in Davenport, Iowa, when he gets caught making such a blunder. He feels safe in Davenport, where perhaps he hopes no one's ever read Franny & Zooey and would overlook so serious a blunder--also he's safe there, too, since no one there has probably ever read the Growler either. On the other hand, one could spread the rumor the Wolf Man's gay, since Salinger described Zooey Glass as having a "beautiful face." P.S. We gave the Wolf Man a copy of Franny & Zooey, which he promptly threw back in our faces--"It was a natural mistake. I haven't read that book in 40 years. Give me a break. Besides, I mostly remember the 'Wise Child' sequences in the book and my own time on Dallas teevee as a whiz kid. Zooey and Buddy remind me of Oscar Levant, who was a Whiz Kid on the radio in the 1940s--heavy drinker and cigarette chain-smoker--neurotic as hell--eventually becoming a paranoid wreck." Nice try, Wolfie, but your Achilles Heel hath been discovered.]
And as a writer, I admired Salinger's getting tired of dealing with NYC publishers and bullshit editors and the press and the stupid questions about, "What prompted you to write Catcher in the Rye, Mr. Salinger?" and moving off into the New England wilds of New Hampshire--at that time making a good living off Catcher and an occasional New Yorker story. And for many years, nobody had any idea where he had gone. Young writers used to go off into the Vermont and New Hampshire woods looking for his hideaway.
I wasn't surprised to hear he had died--to be quite frank, I'd totally forgotten him over the past several years [Mr. Ed: We must give Wolfie credit for admitting his having forgotten Salinger, and, we assume, that also applies to the characters in the combined storybook, Franny & Zooey.]
And yet his words out of his books have long settled in my mind as the way we writers should write. Salinger wrote in the disguise of his characters--Salinger always a character in his own stories--Salinger certainly the spitting image of Holden Caulfield--the teenage Salinger coming to Manhattan for a hell of a weekend! And Franny and Zooey. Holy Christ, what a family the Glass family (well named, too). Salinger had to have known Frannys and Zooeys and the strange members of their family.
L Hat paid a nice tribute to Howard Zinn on his www.languagehat.com . I, of course, know who Howard Zinn was. As a matter of fact, up in Boston at one time he was working with
Ronnie Dugger, one of the founders of the Texas Observer, who at one time knew my brother when he was the editorial-page editor of a large Dallas newspaper. A coworker of mine a few years ago told me his wife was going up to Boston to work with Howard Zinn and Ronnie Dugger. When I said I knew who Ronnie Dugger was...and the fact that at one time he'd been "friends" with my brother, the guy challenged me and said he was going to call Ronnie right then and there and mention my brother's name and see if he actually did know him. The guy came back a few minutes later and said, "Ronnie said though he hadn't seen your brother in several years, he said he remembered him as a very good writer and a very fine man."
Here is a Calvin Simons interview with Howard Zinn on Ronnie Dugger's Alliance movement. It's from 1996, but it reads like it could have been said yesterday:
On April 22, 1996, Calvin Simons, co-founder of a chapter of the Alliance in Sonoma County, interviewed Howard Zinn, Professor Emeritus of History and Political Science at Boston University and author of A People's History of the United States. The topic was the Alliance movement in the United States; a populist movement recently launched by journalist Ronnie Dugger. The following is excerpted from Zinn's remarks.
I think this is a special moment in history for the Alliance because we are at one of those points where the similarity of the two major parties of the day on the important issues is more evident than it has been in a long time. The Democratic and Republican parties today are both very closely connected with corporate wealth; they both have the same fundamental foreign policy; they both support enormous military budgets and only differ in small ways on how much social spending there should be to take care of human needs in this country. The problem now for the Alliance is to concentrate on issues that form a common denominator to the environmental movement, the women's movement, the labor movement, the black movement, and I think it is possible to do that.
If I had to identify what that common denominator is, I would say it is the issue of how we distribute our national wealth rationally and justly. How do we take the $265 billion in the military budget and adapt it for human needs? How do we change the tax structure so that we take back the trillion dollars or so that went to the upper 1 percent of the population as a result of what they call "tax reform" in the last 15 years? How do we take that huge sum of money and use it for all of those things we claim we don't have money for?
What to do with this wealth is something that touches on the problems of Black people, Latino people, people who live in the cities, and people who are the victims of crime, poverty and drugs. It touches on women's issues, because so many women's issues depend on how we help women who are in need, who are taking care of children and who have no help. It touches on the environmental problem because there seems to be no money in the budget to take care of cleaning up the air, cleaning up the water, creating a mass transit system, and so on. I think the careful building of this Alliance and of a movement is a good tactic. When you have a great national movement-and this happened during the civil rights movement, it happened in the anti-war movement in the Vietnam years-it doesn't matter whether you have a Republican party in power or a Democratic party in power. If the movement is large enough, if the public opinion is strong enough, the heads of government are very sensitive to what they perceive as a threat to their power, and they will then respond. Nixon, the Republican, had to respond to what was an overwhelming anti-war movement. Kennedy came into office not planning to do anything about civil rights; he had to respond to the mass demonstrations in Birmingham.
The heart of the matter in our society is corporate control of the economy, and the reason it's difficult is that corporations are a power outside the political process. They are feudal entities; they are little dictatorships.
I think ultimately the way to begin to bring corporate power under control is by organizing in two different areas. One is in the area of the work place. The only time General Motors and Ford and U.S. Steel began to come under some kind of democratic pressure was when the workers organized there-direct action in the work place against the power of the corporations. The other place is the community. Consider the economic power of the boycott. Here in California, how did the United Farm workers begin to have some effect on the corporate control of agriculture? By organizing a national boycott. The corporations respond to economic fear. Of course, this is hard work. It's a problem of looking around in a community and seeing what small piece of the larger problem you can work on.
-------------------------------to read the rest: here ya go: sonic.net/~doretk/Issues/96-06%20JUNE/howardzinnalliance.html
I also have heard Howard Zinn speak many times--he was for years a regular on WBAI-FM, the Pacifica station here in New York City--and he has been many times on Amy Goodman's (and Juan Gonzales's) Democracy Now program. In fact, just last month I'd heard Howard on Amy's show talking about the film that was being premiered here in NYC--"The People Speak," I think it's called.
But, at the time of the Civil Rights Movement, I was heavy into Herbert Aptheker, the Marxist professor who was Angela Davis's professor--taught her to be a Marxist! But Howard Zinn was also a big fan of Herbert Aptheker and especially his work on racism in this country.
Howard Zinn was 87. He died after taking a late-night swim out in sunny California. As his associate said, "No one is shocked to hear a 87-year-old man has died...yet, I was shocked on hearing Howard, who was 87, had died...of a heart attack after swimming...."
I leave you with this contemplation of DEATH by J.D. Salinger:
Boy, when you're dead, they really fix you up. I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you're dead? Nobody. ~J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, 1945
When you're dead, you're dead--but your works live on beyond the horizon. The more works you leave behind, the harder it is for history to forget you. I raise a snifter of Hennessey 5-star Special Reserve to the remembrance of Howard Zinn, drummer Ed Thigpen, and my hero, J.D. Salinger. "So long, boys; it's sure been good to know you."
for The Daily Growler