Sunday, September 08, 2013

Swell Rejection Letters

Much of the day here is to reply with our "kindly rejection slip," which pretty much covers things. We often get notes from weary writers about how kindly they are. I know well it's become too infrequent that queriers even hear back from agencies at all. It's a joy, however, when one gets a letter truly worth the time of a thoughtful reply. Here're a couple.)

Thank you, Doctor [longtime prominent psychiatrist],

It’s been too long since an intellectually worthwhile query has found its way into my e-mail. I’m only dimly familiar with the work of [well known cognitive science pioneer] JG owing to the publicity some time back, but I’m familiar with the questions raised through rather breathless pop science articles on the subject which I read from time to time – not that the quality of it reflects upon his work, but on the poor sensibilities of the writers.

I have several scientists, original thinkers that is, for whom I’ve got only rejection for some years now. My biggest disappointment is the steady rejection of the work of a man accomplished in both rocket science and microbiology, who compiled a fascinating original anthology on this subject in an array from crackpots to Nobel Laureate. The reasons for rejection went from “nobody buys anthologies” to “Jill Bolte Taylor’s book didn’t sell” to dead silence, even from Charles Tart, whom one might think would appreciate a work on the biological aspects of consciousness.

Philosophically, it seems to me that there continues a secret battle going on what’s the origin of “us.” Does consciousness form matter or does matter form consciousness? It’s “secret” because most pay no attention to the implications of the question until rocked by some sensational event; and despite the venerable age of the question and its results throughout history, most behave as though this was the first they’d heard of it – despite their daily involvements in it, leaned to one side or the other by habit. I’m not so sure that some innate human terror has prevented widespread discussions on the matter so much as myopic laziness. Maybe on the whole, mankind hasn’t yet achieved the attention span required to perceive it.

It seems to me also that the question of good versus evil is perhaps subconsciously prejudiced by centuries of popular religious distortion, summed up in the eventual formation of a God here and Satan there, never the twain shall meet; the birth of modern schizophrenia for that, among more horrendous results, such as Japan’s Unit 731 and murderous psychotic behaviors dotting the landscape of human events, often posed as righteous action against “evil.” (You’ll note that where I must choose sides, I’m a “consciousness first” proponent, as it’s plain that one’s thoughts alter both bodily and human conditions.)

We find everywhere in nature reactions to pleasure and pain, but not the literal-minded or codified absolutes of Good versus Evil, unique to man. I don’t believe that this is what makes man conscious whereas the creatures of “nature’s God” are not; rather, man is capable of greater imagination – nor is imagination unique among nature’s species, beyond our occasional foolishnesses committed in high zeal.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe JG was one of the first to bring the subject up without sounding like a nincompoop. The forgettable names don’t come to mind, and there are too many.

I don’t think that mingling the lawsuit story and the subject proper is a good idea. I have another author who detailed Eric von Daniken’s story that way, and no one was interested in that, either -- except von Daniken himself, a friend of thirty years. Mind you I was as haughty about von Daniken as are most, nevertheless, he’s the largest selling nonfiction writer in history. The author, now dead of a ripe old age, was a prominent professor of linguistics, if there ever was such a thing, he might quip.

Is the excerpt provided below from G’s new work? I’d say the prose needs trimmed considerably. It needn’t be “dumbed down” in any way, but must be more mindful of an audience who don’t recognize the terms and expressions as readily as you involved in it would. Paean and overly expository may be trimmed, but I’m generally impatient to get to the most pertinent.

One of my favorite books was LIFE ON MAN, by microbiologist Theodore Rosebury, 1969. Rosebury was mindful of his audience this way and so wrote a thesis and a layman-accessible book simultaneously. As science goes generally, I thought Carl Sagan was an imbecile, whereas Rosebury’s approach ought to have served as a model. I’ve been entertaining people with a great deal of Rosebury’s book since I read it once at age 17. I did look it over again around age 45 to make sure I was still quoting things right. As the Greek said, entertainment and instruction do go hand in hand.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ To a longtime scholar of religious symbolisms

“For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will mislead many.”

Thank you, A, I did expect we would have a bit of a dialogue.

I do not follow Krishna or Christ or Buddha or Lao-Tse or any of history’s Great Speakers, although it seems to me the man called Christ is the figure most possible to emulate, where emulating is necessary, the way a child naturally emulates his parents. This is barring attempts to martyr oneself to get to heaven. The story doesn't seem to have been understood so well, considering the numbers who've charged into misery and death thinking emulating that would get them "up there." Humanity doesn't appear to have done much of a job altogether, does it?

We are not spring chickens. I’d like you to know that a recent client is seventy five years old. Her memoir has, so far, sold half a million copies. Rather than pronouncing fine words and terms, she has simply told the story of life as she experiences it; I believe this is more valuable, and a more direct kind of service to mankind’s struggle for “higher” consciousness than that of a thousand [New Age sideshow barkers].

Forgive me, but there are thousands of those. I hear from them all the time. They do entice with fanciful words and “modernized” concepts which do capture the imaginations of the literal-minded; but they in no way bring anyone to what’s lately called “The Source.” People do take on airs about such things, I see time after time, but that leads them even further away from this inconceivable Source, as they supplant their personal experience, considering it largely unworthy, with someone else’s words and popularizations. It is a sociological phenomenon, but not authentic, intimate inner experience as a rule.

One’s source, or even Source, to the degree such a thing may be consciously comprehended, is intimately entwined and inexorably combined with one’s daily experience, “down to the penny.” It is never not there. Relative to the excitement and overly optimistic speculations about combining the “truth” of science and the often faulty interpretations of ancient tomes, one’s humble daily experience may feel dull indeed.

Christ asked no one to accept symbolisms or academic esoterica over daily experience. He suggested to mankind that each individual is responsible for his daily experience; for each created it and could change it at will, by accepting his own entirely unique source as understood emotionally, intellectually and psychically or spiritually, as the term originally purported. "Love thy God" did not mean love some version handed to him, but his God as he understood it among his own parts. Where “the Kingdom of Heaven is among ye,” God consciousness and its most practical advantages are always right under one’s nose. That’s the challenge.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Cautionary Advice to Overanxious Genius Writers

Genuine letter to authentic client. Reproduced here for you artists who've come to recognize, if only through impatience with almost everything you read, that you're heads above the stampeding herds and wonder if there's something wrong with you for it.

You know, Medhavi,

Knowing your caliber, I would be a little disappointed if you hadn't thoughts of suicide, or dying one way or another, from time to time. Not at all would it indicate emotional or mental unbalance.

The most balanced of minds, with the highest inner potential, would be crazy not to notice what a wasteland the upper reaches of humanity have been making of themselves. Often those who could do the most good toward righting the situation block their own intentions out of anxiety and jealousy and fear and self-pity and even greed. Why, sir, would one of the finest capabilities want to live in such a world?

BECAUSE, that's why. And so here you are.

Now here is my cautionary note. A few days ago Our chief, Aunt Pody, told me the story of a client she once had, named --------- --------. She'd sold a few novels. She became despondent about the rejection of her latest novel so committed suicide.

The novel was called THE TITANIC. A few years after her death, THE TITANIC was one of the biggest box office hits in Hollywood history.

So, as your literary agent, I strongly advise against committing suicide, getting hit by a car, caught in a rebellion, inadvertently assassinated by fanatics, struck by lightning, contracting leprosy or AIDS or a panoply of terminal diseases, reaching into your cupboard in the middle of a dark night, feeling around for the sugar and unintentionally putting rat poison in your tea, slipping in the bathtub and hitting the back of your head very hard on a metal spigot, dropping an electric radio into your bathtub while you are bathing, gaining too much weight and getting stuck in your bathtub for days, being found dead in an unholy soup of bathwater and human effluvia only because neighbors had complained about the odor, accidentally pouring rat poison into your bathtub instead of bubble bath, falling asleep in your bathtub and drowning, or any number of ways to meet death in a bathtub.

When you get out of your bathtub, as your literary agent I recommend against slipping on your wet bathroom floor and falling headfirst through a window, breaking the glass and allowing sharp slivers of glass to penetrate your neck or any other part of your body, drying off with a towel that has been accidentally sprinkled with rat poison, shaving with an electric razor that has frayed wires while you are still wet, dropping it accidentally in the toilet and unthinkingly reaching in to retrieve it while it is still plugged in, accidentally brushing your teeth with rat poison, unmindfully locking yourself in the bathroom because of a faulty door handle, being found dead because the window had long been painted shut and no neighbors could hear your calls but did complain about the odor a month later, and by now it's hardly 7:30 a.m. and the means of an unintended demise are myriad even before you put your clothes on. But you are bright enough to understand this, so I feel that enumerating a few examples will suffice to spark your imagination in the many ways that a simple slipup could prevent you from harvesting the fruits of your hard-got work.

I have read this statement aloud to my colleague, Literary Agent and Author's Representative, AAR, and she has concurred. Do not die for any reason while we are gainfully employed in the active pursuit of procuring a publisher and making you famous. She has also advised, especially, do not die of impatience! It has happened before. Remember THE TITANIC.

PS he got a contract.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

The Disappearance of Dreaming Daisy Mae

My daddy wrecked a Chevy that was top-of-the-line,

A four-speed positraction four-oh-nine,

Now there’s nothing left to wreck, I was born too late,

All I can afford is a pair of skates, I’m goin’

Rollerbladin’! ‘cuz I gotta do somethin'

Rollerbladin’! It's better than nothin'

Rollerbladin’! I might hurt myself!

Rollerbladin’! Or maybe somebody else!

Watch out! Don’t knock anybody down!

(copyright 1995 Tom Dark)

"HAVE A GREAT DAY! (smiley face)

"To Mr. Tom Dark,

"I’m very interested in your music. I was wondering if you had any information on other songs or things you may have created from a comical mind, such things like T-shirts, hats, etc.

"If you’re planning on a tour or a personal appearance any time soon, I would much like to know so I could see & hear you at the same time.

"Keeping with your great musical ideas, please send in some more songs to the radio show and I’ll be listening intently.

"Your Fan

"(S. L. B.)

"That’s a.k.a 'Daisy Mae.'"

This kid-perfumed letter came one day in a hand-decorated envelope, postmarked July 8, 1995. Daisy Mae lived in Rialto, California, one of the little flatland burgs between San Bernardino and the southern California coast. I sent her a cassette of my novelty songs for it. She then wanted to learn all about "the comical mind" from me. She hoped I wouldn't mind her questions about how to make people laugh.

I judged Daisy Mae to be about twelve. Her handwriting was big and round and careful; her lettering had a timid light touch and lots of self-conscious little happy-faces. You can't get more charming than that without stick-ons of big-eyed kitties and fluffy bunnies.

I saw something else in her handwriting, too. Here was a highly intuitive little soul. I bet she dreamed lots of vivid dreams. I wanted to find out. I answered her letter saying yes, I'll tell you all about how to be funny, but for your payment, you must tell me dreams. See if you can dream about where I live and what it looks like around here, I replied.

A week or so later came her letter. She said she had traveled to the mountains in a dream, all green and tall pines. She saw me standing in a yard wearing a green sweatshirt and khaki shorts with big pockets. I was playing a white electric guitar. The little pooper had accurately dreamed my farm on a hill among the sugar pines, the color and shape of my electric guitar, the horses nearby and... she didn't understand why the nearby mountain was colored blue.

In those days I'd stroll around the front yard absent-mindedly exercising my chops. I still wear that green sweatshirt, though I’ve replaced the khaki shorts often. The little house was in the shadow of Blue Mountain, where the High Sierras begin.

A good skeptic might protest that she had looked up my address on a map and seen Blue Mountain. Of course she'd know by my address I lived in Northern California. But the other correct details were a bit much for lucky guesses. She would dream a good many more “lucky guesses” in the five years to come.

Daisy Mae had also written me a dream she said kept happening over and over. It bothered her. She was at the ocean shore. Across the sky was written this date: May 5, 2000. Then a huge wave would leap out of the sea and take her away. It was recurring even now.

I wrote her back: have you ever heard of the famous French seer Nostradamus? May 5, 2000, was one of the dates that people interpreted from Nostradamus' cryptic quatrains that the world would end, I replied. Maybe it was a worry-dream about the end of the world, as this worry had increased so broadly since atomic weapons were invented and used. But Daisy didn't know who Nostradamus was, nor what "quatrain" meant. She didn’t think about things like the end of the world.

My other thought was that her own world would end by May 5, 2000, five years from now. For instance, my friend and music partner Gary killed himself, unbeknownst to me, not long after I dreamed the ocean swelled up and took him away. Others had told me similar dreams over the years, seeing friends or relatives taken away by ocean tide or wave, which also seemed to have precursed their deaths.

What to do about sweet little Daisy Mae? Surely her mother would not be delighted by some big hairy stranger writing to her daughter that she was going to die in a few years. So I didn't do that. I did vow to remain this little sweetheart's pen pal for a long while. Maybe, if the dream did herald a serious problem for her in eventualities, I could offer some kind of help.

Daisy Mae’s letters became a dove-like presence in my mailbox from thereon. She continued sending letters decorated with hand-drawn critters and greeting-card-like slogans, telling me about her friends and foibles and dreams that were correct in physical detail. I became a kind of dream-dad.

One day Daisy asked if she could talk to me on the phone, so I decided to give her my number. I'd gathered along the way that her family was poor (thus the hand-drawn envelopes) and knowing me was quite a big deal for her, being a celebrity so far as she was concerned. Aww… let's give her a boost of confidence. She can talk to her big radio comedy star and have something to be proud of among her friends. When she called, I hung up and called her back to save her the phone bill.

It turned out that Daisy Mae was twenty five years old. She told me she’d taken her phone out to the garage so her husband couldn’t eavesdrop. In a few minutes, her husband stalked in to discover her hiding there.

She'd been married to this complete religious nut since teenhood. She hadn't known any better. Her fanatical religious marriage had left her so naïve that, from this distance, her letters and expressions had seemed like a little girl's.

After a few minutes on the phone, her husband stalked in to discover her hiding there in the garage. He started preaching loudly. JESUS this and JESUS that and doesn't JESUS want her to get off the phone and come into the house right now? For does not Samuel chap 11, verse 2-6 say blah blah blah? And Matthew this and Mark that?

Poor Daisy was mortified. Yet she bravely stayed on the phone and talked over the lunatic accusing her of doing the Devil's work (chap, verse) by talking to an evil Hollywood star (the show was broadcast from Hollywood). She would not back down. For once in her life, it was clear, she was talking to somebody important. Bless her heart, she finally managed to chase her loony husband out of the garage and we ended our call in peace.

That night I dreamed I visited a virtual Christian concentration camp and helped a woman escape. This dream echoed a series from years before, where I was the priest who helped several Jewish women escape a Nazi concentration camp.

In time, Daisy's Brave Phone Call proved to trigger things for her. She left her husband, moved in with her mother and got her first job, a counterperson in retail sales. She was a newly independent woman with the emotional naiveté of a twelve year old. But she'd catch up, I thought.

Eventually she bought a computer and hooked into the internet. She still wrote me through postal service, letters all decorated. She still wrote me dreams. I too dreamed of her -- but none of mine matched her literal reality. In mine, she now lived happily on a farm in the Pennsylvania Dutch days, for instance. In another, she'd married a nice, simple fella named Charlie and moved to the northern California woods. I guessed they were good-wish-dreams, maybe toward her finding a new mate, to whatever else they may have alluded. I hadn't forgotten May 5, 2000 and the swelling ocean taking her away.

Not long before I left my end-of-dream-road adventure in Northern California, Daisy wrote me a dream where she was making love to, and deeply in love with, a man of certain height, hair color, and so on. Her description resembled me, although she had never seen a photograph of me. It included being "in need of dental hygiene” – which I had been. How she loved this dream-man. I worried, could that be me? Had I let her crush on this somewhat imaginary celebrity go too far? Also, Daisy had no idea, awake at least, that I was then deciding whether to live the rest of my life in that place, as in my “dream map,” or move on. But no. No diddling with my fans, particularly this one.

A year later I moved to Tucson and sent her my new address. In the interim, after getting into the swing of things in chatrooms, Daisy told me, she found the love of her life. After one single evening of typed chat with him, Daisy Mae decided that she would be "Mrs. Dirk Jones" from then on. She tore off to Los Angeles from Rialto in her beat up used car to meet Mister Dirk Jones. He was jobless. He was in need of dental hygiene. But not to worry: Dirk was an ex-Navy seal, he’d told her. His resourcefulness would pull them through. Daisy started printing “Mrs. Dirk Jones” on her letters, plus the flowers and happy bunnies and homilies.

She mailed me a snapshot of this Dirk fellow. I'd say he matched her description from a dream very well.

Daisy Mae hadn't remembered this dream, or any related to the emerging event now in her reality. She was so far head over heels about being Mrs. Dirk Jones that she didn't blink an eye when he had told her he had to stop in at the local police stations wherever they went. This was because "he was legally required to register his hands as lethal weapons."

Oh, dear.

The new bride Missus Dirk Jones believed him. I warned her to be careful: Dirk might not be what he said he was. Nobody’s required to “register his hands as lethal weapons” anywhere. They are required to register as sex offenders, if they’ve been convicted. She took this kindly from me, but it made no difference to her. It was probably true that Dirk had to register at the local police station wherever they went, at least, but his given reason was surely a cock-and-bull story. I didn't hear from her for about a year.

About a year later I got another hand-decorated letter from Daisy. She apologized for not having written in so long. She had been hit by a car while crossing a street, her leg broken, and she and Dirk had been living in homeless shelters all this time. Mister "lethal hands" had apparently been none too good at finding a job. They had bummed around from place to place, Dirk dutifully "registering his hands" wherever they'd go. Yet Daisy sounded as unflaggingly cheerful, even delighted, as ever. Something great was going to happen. She knew. She'd had a dream.

In this dream, Daisy Mae and Dirk strode together over a pile of dead and rotting bodies into a field of daisies. It was now springtime forever. That’s where she and Dirk were going. Daisy bid me adieu with a line of "xoxoxox's" and I never heard from her again.

May 5, 2000 came and went, no word. Weeks went by, and months, years by now, and I searched for Daisy by her real name, chatroom moniker, relatives, known addresses. Nothing.

No obituaries, no crime reports. The girl who'd written me at least weekly for five years had disappeared. Daisy Mae does show up in dreams now and then, but not from anywhere I know of here on earth.

I eventually looked up Dirk Jones among the internet lists of registered sex offenders. His real name was unusual enough to be unique. I found two. One of them was listed as a sex offender living in Southern California, not far from where Daisy Mae once lived.

Just yesterday I came across that last postal mail I got from her; it was dated April 12, 2000. On the envelope she'd written "May 5 is just around the corner!"

I've omitted many details from this story -- not to conceal anything, but I have run it through my mind so often over the years I'm afraid you may be as tired of hearing it as I am, dear reader.

Friday, May 03, 2013

A Suicide in Ballston Spa, New York

(Special thanks to Frances Seibert, my senior high English teacher at Ballston Spa High School. If she says this is good, it is. Note: Ballston is no longer the hole it had come to. It's really cute now. From my book.)

From "Dead, Full of Shit and Dreaming"

My best pal Paul committed suicide in his nineteenth year on the planet. Owing to my dreams of him, I took an abiding interest in the nature of what secrets may produce them.

Paul and I spent our teen years in Ballston Spa, in upstate New York. My father had moved us there to work as a plant manager for General Electric. Paul's father moved his family from Utica, New York, to work at a military test installation.

We had come from industrious, high-hopes Ohio. I had been an A student since elementary school and was teaching myself to play guitar. I secretly held high hopes for that.

Here’s a conversation my brother Dud repeated to me after he first took a walk down to the Sugar Shack, a teen hangout in the center of the village.

"Hi! I just moved here from Ohio!"

“Ohio, huh?"


"Well why don't you just move right the fuck back to Ohio?"

The unfriendly teenager who rebuffed my brother’s greeting on that street corner was eventually elected mayor.

Ballston had been a village of around 5,000 people for generations into the previous century. A Reverend Eliphalet Ball, who had led his congregation here in 1771, traded a gallon of rum to the white settlers, two brothers named MacDonald, to use his name for the settlement instead of theirs. This aboriginal war-trail in what white men called “the American jungle” became Ball-town, then Ballston and Ballston Spa. My family's arrival tipped the population to 5,004.

Ballston was a heartbreaking deep green in spring and summer. In fall and winter it called out heartbreakingly lonely sounds from between the spaces of the winds and rains and snows and stillness.

Most of Ballston proper was situated in a wide ancient sinkhole alongside America's longest earthquake fault line. It rumbled imperceptibly from New York City to Montreal, each metropolis 150 miles in opposite directions. Our Victorian White Elephant sat alongside the fault line, above the sinkhole, overlooking the flowing Gordon creek and the village below. Six or seven hundred yards north, the Gordon intersected with the Kayaderosseras creek. The merged pair flowed on to Saratoga Lake, half a dozen miles away by canoe. Sometimes in winter small earthquakes would crinkle the lake’s ice.

The top sediment of the ancient sinkhole was littered with early artifacts of the American Dream. Ballston was the setting for a scene in THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS, America's first hit novel – America’s first popular hit in any media. James Fennimore Cooper wrote those scenes while he stayed there.

I became a constant walker. A thousand steps or so from our Victorian White Elephant took me to the birthplace of Arnold Doubleday, the army General who popularized baseball, reorganizing its rules. Doubleday is said also to have fired the first shot for the North in the War Between the States.

Another thousand steps west from Doubleday’s, alongside the Gordon creek was a colonnaded house where once dined and slept America’s first President, General George Washington. A few hundred steps back down the Gordon creek, a spring burbled up from a hole in the ground which eventually made the young settlement internationally famous – and a playground for another half dozen U.S. Presidents as well.

Ambling back to Doubleday’s house, across the street, stood America's first soda pop bottling plant. It had used the naturally carbonated water from that spring. Cherry was the first flavor. Besides the cherry phosphate, they said the vanilla phosphate was also invented at Porter's restaurant on the next street up. I drank them there as a teen, hobnobbing with schoolmates, proctored by a flat-footed chain-smoking old waitress, a weary housemother indeed.

Two thousand or so steps north from Doubleday’s birthplace, up the main street, Milton Avenue, past some boarded-up storefronts, a few still surviving stores, a barbershop, a bar or two and a church or two, slept a magnificent 19th Century Mansard-style factory building. Locals still called the place "the chocolate factory." It had once been home to the world-famous Bischoff's Chocolates. After Bischoff’s vacated came a far more important birth: the building was converted to a paper manufacturer which invented and distributed the now long ubiquitous square-bottomed paper grocery bag.

The old brick giant snoozed alongside the Kayaderosseras Creek, which had once provided water power for various local industries. Maybe another thousand steps east alongside that creek sat the knitting mill, still rolling since before Doubleday legendarily fired that first shot. It manufactured cozy, comfy, world-famous Ballston Spa Knit Socks.

We could row a canoe a few miles down the bramble-lined Kayaderosseras to Saratoga Lake. We could dock by a restaurant where a disgruntled chef once responded with culinary sarcasm to a party of finicky customers. They’d complained that the fried potatoes had been sliced too thick. What came out of the kitchen that night was the potato chip, the greatest junk food the world has yet known.

Potato chips, soda pop, the paper grocery bag, baseball, chocolates, world-famous socks and George Washington. One can't get much more American than that. The “Match Capital of the World,” where I’d come from, had been put to shame, even if Winston Churchill refused to light his cigars with any but an Ohio Blue Tip match. And there was more.

This little bicycle-built-for-two era village had once been the very model of mythical Yankee Ingenuity. Owing to the popularity created by prominent vacationers, industries flourished there. Over 200 key patents to industrial processes were birthed in Ballston, from revolutionary knitting machinery to hard-edge tools to improvements on the telegraph machine to leather tanning; not to mention that seventy percent of the world’s manila paper was once manufactured there. The paper collar and cuffs, which one will see on the necks and sleeves of every gentleman in almost any nineteenth century photograph, were invented and manufactured in Ballston Spa.

How It All Got There

The ancient sink-hole into which all this Americana had fallen and died was formed by volcanic eruptions eons back; lava still simmers deep below the placid surface. Naturally carbonated spring water sputtered up through ancient seismic fissures. Some of it was channeled out an iron pipe, which jutted out the side of a bright green and white gazebo bearing a sign indicating this was Old Iron Spring.

Weary citizens suffering proudly from "Americanitis," a popular bragging-disease come of working so hard to get rich, came to Old Iron Spring and a few others, since dried up, for the “water cure.” They stayed at the Sans Souci Hotel, the largest in the world. So too did opulent travelers from around the world come for the water cure and a stay at this newest and most prestigious of vacation wonders of the world. The village effervesced with the sparkling chatter of European royalty and high society; all imbibed the liquid which local Indian legend said would drive people crazy.

Then, about a five-mile walk away, Saratoga Springs began to spring up. It had more springs, more race tracks, bigger buildings, richer patrons and fancier everything. Ballston Spa began to suffer proudly.

And Nowadays…

Time and tide had taken their tolls. One night riding in a car with my new friend Paul and his dad, I out-loud noticed the high number of cemeteries and septic tank services around this little village. "Yeah, everything's either dead or fulla shit!" Paul’s dad laughed in quick staccato, like a cartoon woodpecker.

It was an historical shambles of crumbling storefronts and half-buried ghosts. Sometimes the ghosts were visible. The village newspaper, the Ballston Journal, reported stories now and then. Here was a drawing of the seven foot black-caped preacher who’d appear at the foot of one couple’s bed; there was the man who could be seen patrolling an old property line, carrying the shotgun with which he’d murdered his family and himself decades ago. There was my English teacher, who told me that the ghosts in their old house had left things for her husband to trip over and break his ankle; they didn’t bother her, she said, because she didn’t believe in ghosts. There was my pal Pud’s invisible visitor, rattling the door violently, trying to get into the apartment. I saw the knob twist over and over again, the door rattling; Pud grabbed a kitchen knife to menace the shivering door; I threw it open and no one was there. The stairs were empty. He guessed it must have been his late Aunt.

Old Iron Spring was now a candy stand that did a little business in summertime; the froggy-tasting carbonated mineral water still spurted in fits and starts out the mossy old iron pipe poking out sheepishly from the side of the gazebo like a colostomy tube. "Old people drink it 'cuz it keeps 'em regular," Pud snorted. Few others drank it any more.

Just up the dead train trestle from the spring was the equally dead leather tannery, closed for decades. The acrid odor of long-gone rendered horses had lingered since its busiest days in World War Two. My friend Dennis' dad was one of the last employees there, in the fifties; he wore out his back hanging and drying horsehides. The floors were too thick with pigeon poop even for mischievous boys and girls to want to meet for shenanigans.

The beautiful Victorian chocolate factory and home of the square-bottomed paper bag was now also a big repository for pigeon poop. Abner Doubleday's house was run down and occupied by welfare people whose head of household was usually dirty, shirtless, babbling and drunk. What remained of the Sans Souci Hotel was a derelict wooden fragment called the Medberry Hotel. Bumbling fistfights between drunks in its rear parking lot were routine. I watched a few.

Ballston nowadays had one of the largest per-capita alcohol consumption rates on the planet, outpacing even Russia, so my mom had read. A sociologist friend had told her that the reason for this was a longtime feeling of hopelessness among the rank and file residents, who for generations had been surrounded by rich tourists and get-rich-quick horseracing and other gambling schemes.

Whatever the case, heavy drinking had been the custom throughout northern New York since before the Revolutionary War. Settlers believed liquor made them stronger. Men would get into fights at parties to show off how strong they were, drunk on as much as a half-gallon of home brewed corn liquor.

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union movement, which eventually led to the Constitutional amendment outlawing alcoholic beverages in 1919, first applied for a permit in Ballston Spa. The village fathers turned it down, calling it “too visionary.”

The custom had grown worse. It was more than macho contests and street vomit and parties in the woods for teens to whom getting drunk was new. Shabbily colorful alcoholics, their bitternesses, antics and abuses were ground into the pigment of Ballston Spa. In an earlier draft of this story I had a friend of mine list from casual memory about a dozen local drunks and their hapless children and embarrassing antics, but we do need to move along. Our mayor, who was also the school janitor, was also a drunk, found more than once sleeping it off in some doorway. On Friday nights we’d visit the town's late-night Spa Diner to watch Eddie the garbage man’s head lurch lower and lower like a toy bobbing bird into his plate of spaghetti. That was about as close to cute as it would get.

The King

One fall Sunday afternoon, just turned fourteen, mortality shocks still reverberating my “mortal coil,” I sat outside the Sugar Shack half-flirting with some future high-school-dropout girls on the corner where Dud had received his unwelcoming greeting. The Sugar Shack was a default teen hangout for the poorer kids. Those who couldn’t afford sodas would sit outside on the brick planters and watch the traffic go by.

A teen who showed up said something that sounded as though it may have been witty, unlike everyone else I’d heard. Needing a friend, I decided he’d do. I immediately nicknamed him “the King.” He didn’t like the new nickname, but he liked me, so it stuck.

Paul was born in Goose Bay, Labrador, Canada. At age fourteen he was nearly six feet tall. He’d been that tall since age eleven, he once told me. He had his French-and-Indian mother’s thick black hair, black eyes and high cheekbones and near fang-like incisors. He had his French Canadian father's big jaw and a varying dusky complexion that blushed frequently about things he alone imagined. He smiled and laughed just as easily and more often. His fourteen-year-old’s voice was already deep and resonant. He often used it hilariously, making cartoonish affectations and imitating the grizzled old men of his neighborhood.

We’d sneak out of our houses on school nights through our bedroom windows and down the drainpipes; we’d rove the empty village, smoking cigarettes and talking about everything in the world, sometimes until three in the morning. With that, vistas from the slate roof of the Victorian, hanging out the windows of our parents’ houses, sitting on some bridges and under others, we’d found temporary exit ways out of the known, drab little universe that had been laid out for us by some hollow local ghost.

My school grades suffered, but our discussions went beyond what gray-shaded promises for the future they offered. What had we been reading? How do they say the mind works? What were the characters of the people around us?

Remembrance of Laffs Passed

Paul's dad had bought a tape recorder lugged off from war-battered Germany from a drunk at a bar in Goose Bay, Labrador, for five dollars. It had sat in their attic for years. Paul thought my new rock’n’roll band needed recording, so one day he brought it over.

Local would-be musicians and I played "Road Runner" and other easy teenage hit songs into the little grey metal microphone attached to it, onto an old recording tape that left rust stains on my fingers. We inadvertently erased recordings of Paul’s own chattering as a toddler.

I eventually started using it to record our conversations. I listened to them so often I’ve still got many memorized.

TD (me), intoning: "Today's discussion will be about MAN. Is MAN basically good, or is MAN basically evil? MAN is... MAN is... well..."

King: I think I got a little cupcake in your soda."


King: "It's nothing to worry about. Just a little cupcake floating around, is all..."

TD: "Aaaaak!"

King: "It's a typical day in a typical American town! Here's a couple of typical American teenagers here to talk about typical things! We’ll pick a topic to analyze!"

TD: "And criticize!"

King: "And harmonize!"

TD: “And Simonize!"

King: “So, I think I'll strike up a conversation with... Tom Darks, here! He’s a typical teenager! So, Tom! What's a typical thing we can talk about today?"

TD: "I..."

King: "Well I don’t agree with that at all. I'd like to bring up the statement, the phrase, the saying if you will, that 'some people eat to live, and some people live to eat! I do both!"

TD: "Me too."

King (swig of bottle): "Next subject!"

Throughout our high school years we talked playfully about heady things, like Freud or Darwin or Nietzsche or Jung or Plato, which either of us would be reading at a given time. The King had introduced me to Arthur Koestler's works. We'd both read DARKNESS AT NOON and THE ACT OF CREATION. What follows here is a bit of conversation referring to those two books and ourselves in the spring of our eleventh school year.

"Lately I'm thinking I'm on the Trivial Plane," I said. "I've been thinking about what it takes to get onto the Tragic Plane."

"Oh yeah? D'you think you could... pour gasoline on yourself and set fire to yourself like it was nothing? [Paul was referring to the recent news that a Buddhist Monk had done this in protest of the war] It takes a disciplined mind to go from the Trivial Plane to the Tragic Plane, man," King replied in his deep grownup's timbre.

"It takes an UNDISCIPLINED mind to get into that kind of trouble in the first place," I squeaked in my whiny new adolescent’s voice.

"Maybe," he replied. I was arguing that Koestler's "Tragic Plane" was a necessary experience, where "the Trivial Plane" with its comforting routines brought on ennui, when a smooth and pleasant life didn't feel like enough.

“I'm on a trivial plane right now," I said, "some days I walk around and feel like I'm just... great, y'know?" I was thinking of the previous Sunday, where I turned a corner on a walk and met the morning sunshine in a way that stays with me all these years later. Something about it had made me feel like the sun itself.

"You're a Gletkin," King replied, inflecting tongue in cheek in his bass voice.

"That's true," I guffawed, "but don't sound so... smart and so smug!"

The tape recorder played back the sound of Chocolate flavored Yoo-Hoo rebounding in the bottle after he swigged it, sitting in his chosen window in my big Victorian bedroom that sunny spring day. I’d sit on a tubular chrome stool that had belonged to my grandmother, drinking Sport Cola, smoking an Old Gold cigarette. Sometimes Paul sat on that stool.

"So who remained alive?"

"Who remained alive with what?" redoubled my best pal, breathing out the smoke of a minty green True menthol cigarette.

Mixed thoughts made me pause. In the novel DARKNESS AT NOON, Gletkin had thrived in Stalinism by joining the harsh new political correctness movement; Rubashov, an "old guard" revolutionary, was his victim. Gletkin was the new, raw species of political primate; Rubashov was an elegant old species of ape who had evolved as far as he could in the communist cosmogony. He was ready for discontinuation. After a long series of interrogations and unsympathetic philosophical discussions with Gletkin, Rubashov was ushered down the hallway toward his prison cell at noontime and then shot dead in the back of the head by a guard.

King wasn’t an “old guard” anything. He wished he was at age 16. I couldn't say what bothered me about his statement. Something. He was depicting himself as obsolete.

He continued. "Man, that's just like you. You're a Gletkin and I'm a Rubashov. Man, I want something to change my life, give me purpose..." There was the sound of Yoo-Hoo rebounding in bottle; then the tape and my memory fade away.

Sigmund Freud

I brought Freud's Basic Works into our conversations after having spent a summer reading those essays between long hours as a dishwasher at a twenty-four- hour bus stop diner and rock’n’roll band practice.

The idea of "free association" was intriguing. One day I made a riposte to Paul, explaining my newly discovered Freudian ideas. "You might talk about jumping spiders," I'd quipped, referring to a dream I'd had, "but it's just another way of saying you want to kill your father." The King got the joke.

"That's just another way of saying you hate your mother," he intoned, adult-like.

"THAT'S just another way of saying YOU hate your mother," I joked back. "That's right. I hate my mother."

"Ah, so you DO hate your mother," I charged with a German accent. Und vy doz you hates your mother?"

"Next subject," he chortled. Yoo-Hoo bottle glugging. As our conversations and visits to his house wore on, I noticed he’d always show an irritable temper to and about his mild and obsequious mother. I couldn't see why, but he hated her. She didn’t seem aware of that.

Not long after that recorded conversation, playing Freud again, I used "free association" with Paul and stumbled across an event in his life he refused to tell me about, and never did. Something happened between him and his father and his family when he was eleven years old. He'd taken the blame for a serious thing he hadn't done. Full of strained emotion, he wouldn't reveal what happened. Now as a teenager, his face still reddened. His eyes welled up.

A Long Journey's Dream

One night, alone in the house, the rest of my family on a camping vacation, I dreamed a spectacularly long dream. It began in a museum in Columbus, Ohio, which was more or less my ancestral American home. There were display cases containing family items, symbols of fears and hopes and what. It seemed my interest in Freud’s work arranged things this way. The items in the display cases seemed old and stuffy.

Leaving the museum, I traveled down unfamiliar country roads on foot: all of the friends I met along the way, whom I knew in that present reality, fell away after a little while.

After a long journey on foot, I came across a deserted, dilapidated old house standing alone in the green farm countryside. Curious, I entered. In the living room, bare of furniture, only walls and ceiling and wooden floor, I encountered a mild looking priestly man in blue wizard's robes. He must have been in his thirties. Only years later did I realize he looked like me.

He smiled at me silently. I began to apologize for disturbing his solitude, but he spoke just a name: "Paul Richard." He bent down to the floor on his hands and knees and turned into a fat old Cocker Spaniel. The dog began biting vigorously into a pile of sawdust on the floor. I left the house and walked onward.

I came to a fork in the road. There Paul appeared and greeted me; after a cheerful goodbye, he took one fork, I the other. He went down a road fraught with high-tension wires; I wound up standing over a bridge in Ballston Spa, watching the Kayaderosseras creek water flow past, wondering about my grandmother, my father’s mother. The dream ended.

Just a Fat Old Dog

That dream occurred around Easter that year. That summer, Paul, seemingly out of nowhere, began repeating a new notion he thought was funny. To all and no one, he'd refrain: "Well, I think I'll just roll over and die. Yep. Think I'll just roooollll over and die."

"When I die I'm gonna reincarnate as a fat old dog,” he announced one night. “Just an oooold, fat dog." He said his next life would be as a lazy old Cocker Spaniel.

Paul's running joke went on through the year. "I think it's hilarious," he'd say, always noticing that nobody seemed to get it. I didn't.

Freud had not been helpful in interpreting my dreams. Among the items in the glass cases of that dream-museum, I saw Freud’s ideas as well as the family items. I didn’t know what that meant (“Freud’s ideas belong in a museum”). Neither did it occur to me to make any connection between Paul's new-found identity as a future fat old Cocker Spaniel and the little drama a wizard had staged for me of him turning into a fat old Cocker Spaniel, biting the dust.

School’s Out Forever

Senior year arrived, graduation came and went; Paul and I saw less of each other. We worked different shifts at the always-open bus stop, the Spa City Diner in Saratoga Springs. He'd rented a cottage alongside Saratoga Lake with a new friend named Kevin. They'd engaged in smoking pot and taking different kinds of hallucinogenic pills and mushrooms. I wasn't interested in trying any of it, but I'd drop over, listen to the latest psychedelic and heavy metal albums and study their stoned and tripping faces for clues. I can't say I saw any.

That September I went off to a community college in nearby Glens Falls to use the scholarship I'd been handed at graduation. At about two one morning, November once again, came a knock at my apartment door. Kevin was standing on my porch with Paul in tow.

He’d driven Paul up to see me. Paul sat down on my bed and showed me a neat rectangle he’d cut perpendicularly across the tendons of his right wrist. He had slit the upper layers of the skin with a razor, but stopped before he hit vein or artery or tendon.

"Why, Paul?" I asked somberly.

"I dunno," he answered. "I just thought that it was time to... I thought that... this was going to be the end of it."

"You're not going to do it again, are you?"


"You sure?"

"No, I won't."

We talked awhile longer and I believed him. It was now after three. I thought the emergency was over and he'd learned a lesson. I told Kevin to drive Paul to the local hospital emergency room, get his wrist bandaged, and we could talk all of it over later. I went back to bed.

I hadn’t known that suicide was against the law. Paul was bandaged and put in jail, then shuttled off to an observation ward at Albany Medical Center, 60 miles south.

While Paul sat in the loony bin, Kevin and I met with his father at Kevin's apartment just down the street from Saratoga’s historical Congress Park. Joe was jovial, all jokes and staccato woodpecker laugh. We sat up into the night with a bottle of wine, talking about what the trouble was.

Joe speculated that his son had inherited something from him. He'd had a nervous stomach since his days in World War Two. He recounted a tale from his days as a soldier in the landing party at Anzio Beach, Italy. He seemed merely to want to tell stories about himself. After we finished the wine, he left.

Professional Help

Joe bought Paul a high-power motorcycle, perhaps as a kind of consolation. Paul let his friends try out his new BSA 650, quite a powerful engine. I got on and promptly drove the thing into a tree, bending the handlebars. He drove it that way until his death.

I had a long discussion with my philosophy professor about Paul. After listening patiently to my tale of my friend’s attempt at suicide, old Doctor Loper suggested that Paul study Spinoza. Better than that, I convinced him to attend the community college with me.

For weeks I rode on the back of his BSA 650 with the bent handlebars up the four-lane highway to Adirondack Community college. I’d hang on for dear life as the whole machine vibrated like crazy, Paul tearing along at about 85 miles an hour. We wore cheap sunglasses and no helmets. The wind pulled tears out of our eyes and the slightest bugs and motes in the air stung our faces. Paul was eager to get something out of this higher education, or maybe kill the both of us on that damnable thing.

But nothing suited him. Despite our deep high school discussions on Nietzsche and Koestler and Socrates and Tillich and Freud and Jung, and despite my prof’s personal advice about Spinoza as an antidote for Nietzsche, he found even Philosophy 101 troubling and boring. He quit the college and I lost touch with him again. While we were out of touch, one night Paul took his razor to Yaddo.

Yaddo was a legendary mansion on the outskirts of Saratoga, a beautifully landscaped estate with sober gray stone buildings and expansive gardens. The name "Yaddo" came from a child who had drowned in a pool there while the wealthy Trask family still occupied it. It was baby talk for "shadow." The legend said the toddler jumped into the pool trying to catch his yaddo and drowned. Broken-hearted, the local story went, the family left it.

It was said that the great Edgar Allan Poe had written his most famous poem, “The Raven,” at Yaddo. Indeed the place had a resident flock of ravens. One day as a flock of Ravens fled out from tree branches, I wondered if I too might be inspired to some great poem that way. But Poe had been dead for fifty years by the time the mansion was built.

By the night Paul lay down on one of its lawns to bleed himself to death, Yaddo had for seventy years been used as a hideaway for well-known writers and artists there on endowments. Young Truman Capote had written BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S there. One day I’d seen the popular writer, Phillip Roth, standing in the driveway at the top of the hill where the old gray mansion had squatted for decades. Paul thought it was a classy place to die.

This time he had scrawled out a suicide note declaring he wanted his body donated to science. “I don’t want any fuckin priest at my funeral,” he wrote, ant-size. "I loved you all," he scribbled.

"So, I laid down, happy and jokey, and said 'g'bye Kevin, g'bye Deb, g'bye Tom, and cut my wrists. But then I started bawling and couldn't stop so I got up and went over to Kevin's place."

Back to the loony bin he went. This time, the Queen of the Gypsies lay dying in the hospital; the parking lots were filled with quaint and rusty vehicles and even a few ceremonial wagons. Gypsies wandered the ward halls everywhere, dressed in ceremonial satins and sashes, waiting for the old Queen to die.

The King was now officially diagnosed as a "paranoid schizophrenic," as were the others in the dismal ward behind the locked door.

They let him out of the ward after a few weeks. Thanks to a state-assigned psychiatrist, he came out with a prescription for Thorazine. Thorazine is a heavy tranquilizer; one of its side effects listed in the "Physician's Bible" is suicidal depression.

If he hadn't been a paranoid schizophrenic before, he was now. He’d often repeat "is there something wrong with my eyes? People keep staring at me because of my eyes. I know there's something wrong with my eyes." I told him that if there was anything funny about his eyes, it was that he kept squinting on purpose. He was beginning to lose his connection between mind and body.

The semester wore on. I’d got a girlfriend and spent my time between her, my rock’n’roll band, job and school.

Fat Old Dog Bites Dust

That March, a Saturday a few months later, just after Paul’s birthday, his dad called for me. I was in the middle of band rehearsal. Had I seen him? Not since Thursday night, I said. Well, they hadn't seen him either and were beginning to worry. I said I'd call around.

By 4:30 p.m. our friend Kevin called to tell me that Joe had found Paul and called the police. Medics had hauled his corpse out of the family’s garage.

I went to visit Paul's parents the next day. They let me into his bedroom. I looked at the two blood stains on the light blue sheets of the lower bunk, where he sat as his correctly-sliced wrists bled out his life. The floor was clean.

Joe, fingering this last suicide note, let me read it, thinking Paul's best pal might understand it. It was a terse combination of communications in his ever-tinier scrawl. There were some symbols from movements of a chess game. There was the word "Rosebud," referring to the mysterious symbol of lost childhood innocence from the movie "Citizen Kane," which he so admired.

Finally came this unfinished thought: "Soul, where are you? I have eyes for you but you cannot see. I have arms for you but you do not move. Maybe if I"...

End Part One


Monday, April 22, 2013

Everything You Wouldn’t Bother to Ask about Reincarnation

Whew. That's enough about celebrities'n'stuff for awhile. Let's get back to the real stuff. The deep stuff. The stuff that draws in wackos and cult-types with long fingernails and pointy hoods. -- Tom

Q: Is reincarnation real?

A: Maybe.

Q: People like to fantasize living a long time ago, or, like 'way in the future, right?

A: Uh-huh?

Q: What's the difference between a reincarnational fantasy and a reincarnational reality?

A: None to speak of, if a). You don't believe in reincarnation, or b). You don't know yourself very well.

Q: Are reincarnational experiences fun?

A: Big fun if you know who you are now. If you don't, stay away from hypnotists.

Q: Why?

A: They're no fun. Want to hear a case?

Q: I guess.

A: What enthusiasm.

Q: I'm being patient.

A: Fair enough. Here we go: one day I found two pieces of mail in the mailbox.

Q: Incredible.

A: Shh. One was a letter from my brother Victor in Paris. The other was a little box that contained a tape recording.

Q: Huh.

A: Brother Victor wrote that he had recently visited the palace of Versailles. That night, he dreamed he had once been Louis XIV, who'd built the place.

Q: Uh huh.

A: The tape recording was of a session between a hypnotist, a "past life regressionist," and a man who was looking for money to write a book, then head an institute, based on the fact that the hypnotist had determined he had been the French King Louis XIII in a past life.

Q: Huh.

A: You mean "hmm." Imagine my amazement at hearing from two whole French Kings in the mail on the very same day!

Q: Hmm.

A: Aren't you listening to me, man? I go out to the mailbox -- me, virtually a hillbilly in the middle of nowhere -- and here are letters from psychic fragments of two dead French Kings! Neither knows the other has reincarnated and both want to talk to me!

Q: Holy Cow.

A: Yes, Holy Cow. Well, here in the annals of the Eternal Soul, my brother Victor had finally mopped up the last dribbles of his eternal lesson about enslaving people. It went "enslaving people can make you feel really bad, so don't enslave people." He learned it by visiting Versailles, then being that famously overindulgent Louis XIV for awhile in a dream. Louis XIV used slave labor to build that staggeringly lush palace. Well, okay, they weren't literally slaves, but French peasants, what snobby modern Americans might call "hillbillies," who were conscripted to work for practically nothing.

Q: Like minimum wage is lately?

A: Yup. I replied to Victor that I remembered it too: I was once Louis Catorce's piss-boy, a humble servant named Poupon. I told him that when he peed in the morning while I held the bucket, he liked to confide in me. I was simple, you see, and it was refreshing to him that I'd forget whatever he'd say. Sometimes he would agonize about using slaves, even though it was for a beautiful lasting monument. Was he wrong to do this? Or that? Or the other? I'd always reply "I don't know, your highness," but in French. Then I would forget about it. The King appreciated my refreshing, frank honesty so much, I got to be piss-boy for all of my days and was not turned out to sleep in a damp haystack in my old age.

Q: Is that true?

A: I don't know, your highness. We were just having fun. Still: where there is no fun, there's probably no truth.

Q: That's too deep for Dick Cheney. So what about Louis XIII and the past life hypnotist?

A: The hypnotist had this really deep unctuous voice; it kept goading his rather unlikable, sleepy-sounding client into telling an unlikable, sleepy-sounding story about himself. "Nobody likes me," said the subject. "Wanna get in touch with that feeling?" intoned the unctuous hypnotist. "They're jealous of me because of my clothes," said the subject. "Wanna get in touch with that feeling?" he'd intone again. That's about all the unctuous hypnotist said throughout the session.

Q: That doesn't sound like goading to me.

A: Well, it is.

Q: How?

A: The hypnotist selected only the negative things his sleepy subject uttered to rhyme with "wanna get in touch with that feeling?" At each negative point, he'd prompt the poor ex-king to create an imaginary time and place in which he saw himself. He was leading Louie around in a state of suggestibility. Just like in that famous session with Aldous Huxley.

Q: I don't know about that.

A: Never mind then. With this kind of goading the subject prompted himself into being somebody nobody liked. “I see… a room. People are looking at me. I know they’re jealous…” Everybody around him, of course, was jealous of his kingly powers. Not to mention his snappy clothing. He was unhappy.

Q: Sounds like a King to me...

A: Sounds like a lot of people working in any given corporate office to me, which is what this particular King did in this life right here. They hate him from their cubicles because he is better than they are and dresses snappier too. The unctuous hypnotist helped him make this business retroactive. Look at these snappy imaginary clothes, I'm Louis XIII, King of France!

Q: Maybe he was.

A: You’re being damnably argumentative. There wasn’t a word in that unctuous and sleepy session that could have been construed as the historical Louie Thirteen. Maybe he was constructing a story by suggestion. Maybe if he really was ol’ Louie, that’s all he ever thought of himself, despite the colorful religious activity. But, what's the point of reincarnation if you're still the same jerk you were 300 years ago, now working in some office?

Q: And I suppose you're not?

A: Ahem. Unlike him, I quit my office job successfully. I'm living on money not spent on unctuous past-life hypnotists. Well, Louis XIII version 2.0 wanted my money now. He needed it to set up a whole new-age kingdom based on the fact he was once a putatively unlikable French king. Victor, on the other hand, had had an edifying dream triggered by a visit to a historical monument. He's now very likable, by all accounts. He hasn't taken unfair advantage of a gullible hillbilly in centuries. In fact, he lately makes his living teaching them American English. Hillbillies are popular in Paris now.

Q: I see.

A: No you don't. Sigh. What if I tell another story?

Q: What if we see what's on TV?

A: Get out of my book. I'll tell it to myself.

Next! How Not to Reincarnate! (It's a few pages back from here.)

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Here, This Other Thing for Roger

In case this doesn't show up on the "I remember" blogs Roger's Far-Flung Correspondents have been writing, I'll leave it up here for awhile. This is addressed to them, among whom I felt more -fetched than -flung. Kind of like Roy among the Mouseketeers. To illustrate: ;

Well kids, all of what you've written is the Roger I knew in-the-flesh for about five (five!) years, including Kevin Lee's implying a naturally priestly outlook, a high priest at the temple of The Movies.

Like a couple of amateurs on a park bench in the Endless City of Writing (never try to shed your amateur status), our e-mails gossiped about you more than you may have guessed; the outcome of that is somewhat apparent in certain of the e-mails you've produced. The truest outcomes are of course up to you.

I was angry at ol' Rodge twice. Part of our kinship rested in a knowing that, no matter how one may get to roaring, there's always a friendly whimsy to go home to at day's end. One anger was the sloppiness in not squashing a couple of human roaches constantly drooling Muslim-bashing on the commentaries. That section had begun to get very readable for awhile. Then these one or two poop-spreaders began making some threads look like an inner city junior hi-school boys' room smeared with militant puerility.

The other was the morning after I wrote Roger an attaboy for his final essay. I'd believed him. Michael Mirasol passed around a sad note and I replied with a tut-tut. It was what I'd been advising Roger privately for a couple three years by now. He was gonna back off on the workaholing and skate into his eighties, writing all anew, the time to try his hand at being his own Sebald (whom he admired and accused me of being), whatever, however, whoever.

So I wrote him an attaboy. I lay down to sleep; as my head hit the pillow, there was Gene Siskel with that wry smile of his, looking at someone standing behind me to my left, saying "Welcome home, Roger." Ooooh, shit, I thought. As you know, his beloved partner has been dead for years.

A few hours later Roger was dead. That rascal! Whattaya gonna do, though?

Roger's last seven years were like a star novating. The face made kinda cute by horrendous medical mistakes has now been shuffled off, but the corona of inner energy he propelled into our space and time is quite present, very busy, and worth very many attentions. Some will ride it for the rest of their lives.


Friday, April 05, 2013

My Last important chat with Rodge

(Me to Roger:) This year two brief dreams made me think I’d better spill the dream-beans, in case it might help. One, just plain “Roger may die on us this spring” – from needless exhaustion – the other, you may not show up at Ebertfest.

I dunno. But I know writing. Your energy has been flagging on your personal blog lately. Your reviews, if not as wonderful as ever, then moreso; but where you’re winging it, I see this. I don’t doubt you’ve been overextending yourself, stubbornly.

I don’t know if who’d all advise you to shut some things down for awhile, but I’m recommending it. If you get through this one, can deflect it, there’s yet a new [literary] ballgame you’ll incite just because you’re Roger Ebert, son of his good old dad.

And so, Dear Rodge, there you are. I don’t know what else. Maybe I’ll use some of this for the missing part of “Epilogue II” of my book, which I wrote at a coffeeshop in Champagne-Urbana. A copy of it may still be in Carol’s handbag. My handwriting is easy to read.

(Here it is: )

(Rodge to me:) From: Roger Ebert (rebert@com)This sender is in your contact list. Sent: Thu 1/05/12 4:30 PM

To: Tom Dark (

Well sir, I was fascinated by your letter and your accounts of your dreams, although as you know I don't take truck in no woo-woo. But you made some observations about my writing that would be just as valid in a waking state.

I, too, have felt an occasional flagging of energy in my blog. I think that's because the blog came out of nowhere, evolved into a memoir, and energized me with recapturing the past. This was happening during years when I was learning how to deal with the loss of speech, and the blog became a way for me to talk. I clung to it like a life preserver.

"Life Itself" was an enormous project for me. After it was published, I felt a sort of postpartum letdown. I think blogs have a certain rhythm. I expect that with an election year coming up, my energy will also ramp up.

I think my reviews read about the same. The majority of movies are pretty routine. I try to make every review entertaining in itself, on the grounds that the vast majority of my readers will never see the vast majority of the movies I review. In a sense, a review is like a column. Sometimes I will use a review as the occasion for a more general discussion. Take the new documentary "Paul Goodman Changed My Life." Here is a movie few people will ever see. Nor have most of them ever heard of Paul Goodman. My piece isn't a formal "film review," but more about who Paul Goodman was and how he changed my own life. To the degree it has an influence, it may cause a few people to read Goodman's "Growing Up Absurd."

When a movie comes along that inflames me, I'm plenty passionate and there's no lack of energy. These days I'm reviewing more movies that I would have passed on in previous years. The paper has now discontinued using all freelancers. If a movie doesn't get reviewed by me, it doesn't get reviewed. Last year I wrote 292 reviews, a personal record since 1967. There was a time when the annual average was around 160.

One big inspiration for me is the explosion of On Demand. For the first time in my career, I know that most of my readers will eventually have the opportunity to see most of what I review, through the many forms of On Demand. They may have to pay something, but at least no matter where they live they can see "Kinyarwanda," "The Mill and the Cross" or "Silent Light." For many years most it was true that most art films played only in the largest cities. Now I am writing reviews of potential interest to every reader. This is an inspiration.

Newspapers are laying off movie critics right and left. The Village Voice just fired Jim Hoberman, which is unthinkable. What they don't take into account is that their readers are watching more movies than ever before. Netflix by itself accounts for 30% of all internet traffic during the evening hours. That's a lot of moviegoing. And those viewers are casting their nets wide. They're watching films that wouldn't have played in their towns.

You dreamed that I would "collapse," perhaps onstage at Ebertfest. As you observe, your dreams do not literally predict events, but seem more in the nature of general symbolism. I have not collapsed onstage anywhere just yet, and in any event would probably describe it as "falling over." After going through four rehabilitations to learn to walk again, after as many surgeries, walking is no longer the routine process it once was. My balance is okay, my endurance is reduced, but I keep on with the physical therapy and only a week ago my therapist told me I had set new personal records on the treadmill for speed, distance, and walking without holding on to the bar.

When I do fall, it is a considerable blow to my self-confidence. I am not a child anymore. My most recent fall was a few months ago. I fell on my butt. Chaz and my care-giver Millie hauled me upright, I went to bed, seemed fine, and in the morning was in excruciating pain and had to be hauled out of bed. X-rays showed that I had sustained a "compression fracture" to two lower vertebrae. It's been slower going recently, but my treadmill records show I'm recovering.

In a more general sense "collapse" means death. Some readers have noted a preoccupation with that subject in my blog lately. I think it's a kind of mental process to prepare me for what Henry James on his deathbed called the Distinguished Thing. But there is no reason to believe I will die anytime soon. My blood numbers and blood pressure are better than even before in my life. I appear to be cancer free since 2006. I have no current health problems.

I supply you with this information because your words contained real concern. I go into such detail because at some point during this reply, I realized it could do double duty as a blog entry. Shameless, eh? I know a writer of whom it was said, "He's never had an unpublished thought." I must say that your dreams strike me as a sort of psychic invasion of privacy, but we have no control over our dreams and I can only hope I go on to inspire some more entertaining ones. We could go walking around London, for example, and I wouldn't fall over hardly at all.

(Me back to Rodge:)

Beautiful. Hell yes, blog it. Damned good seeing you write about it; it'll be valuable for a lot of readers aspiring to write, and the "I jez' write whut cums out" was getting a tad sleepy anyhow. How do you know it ain't de Lawd dictating what to say?

As to taking truck in woo-woo, I say booga booga. Dreams are thoughts set loose in associative 3D, or 4D, if that's the combination of the three plus time/space. You pare them down into words for people to understand. You learn it when you're little. I still learn it every time I'm searching for a word. I don't know why it never gets any easier, tho' it's never too terribly hard.

Yes, for instance, what are you s'posed to do when you dream your old pal Rob has had a crooked penis all his life? Well, one is not surprised when his young new wife blabs that he's going to have an operation so they can fuck, but... wasn't there anything else to dream about? Like, the winning lottery numbers or something?

There are High Certain Reasons for all of it, I'm sure, just to say so. As Johnson said in my favorite quote, applicable to nearly anything, "...[it may seem strange to some by way of ratiocination, but] testimony bears great weight, and casts the balance."

So what's wrong with working out an Ebert's Thanatopsis? As good as anything to write about, and maybe something there that will click "on." Yeah I already knew your memoirs wouldn't hit the Big Spot. I knew that before you finished. That IS what I do for a living and Holy Calling.

You know how in quantum physics they say that observing an item alters it. That's what I hope telling you these dreams did.

That's the thing and I hate being concerned about anything where it seems all I can do is wring my hands over something that isn't my business. We're kin because of writing. It doesn't matter what, it's that writing, whereas, not all writers are kin.

You know how bad it made me feel when you wrote you couldn't take those beloved walks. Come out here any time and we'll walk. I don't care if you say anything.

All Richard Savage ever did was walk around, then stop into a stationery store and borrow some foolscap and a goosequill and ink. Here is a relative from heaven, provided there's somebody to write to.


(Me: Next letter, noticing all these previous dreams about coming disaster in Chicago seem to reflect what the military is doing now, re the big g-7 conference)


Good gravy. I'll just die. It'll be easiest that way.

(Me: )

…you, old man, need to stay with us a good while longer. Your writing is that important. If Beethoven could compose increasingly greater stuff deaf, you can do it despite having been banged up.

Added now, April 2013: dreamed last spring that Rodge would choose to die after reaching age seventy, even though he could keep writing into his eighties, which I usually tried to pep-talk him into doing. So yeah old buddy, dreams do indeed "predict" things, insomuch as one finds himself listening in to somebody's decisions. I was hoping you wouldn't make that one.