Cycles

Cycles

I once sat next to Illinois House speaker Mike Madigan, at an Illinois Arts Council retreat in Galena. He was sitting on a park bench, clad in a madras shirt and Bermuda shorts. I had just finished a run. Madigan waved me over, and I joined him. It was regular guy stuff, and he asked me a lot of questions. And he laughed a lot.

Compare that to the media images of glaring, suited-up Speaker Mike Madigan, looking like the Godfather and running the state with absolute power. He has fallen—finally. But how to reconcile those two images, Shakespearian actor versus guy in Bermuda shorts with knobby knees?

Democrats, when they are in power, are as corrupt as are Republicans. It goes in cycles. But right now, we’re in a Republican cycle, and however its representatives present at home, Bermuda shorts, etc., they are almost gleefully willing to lend support to a coup. They would retain power as part of a coup rather than stand up and denounce right-wing extremism.

So, what can we do now?

Vote every one of those fiends out. Bad Dems will follow, but this is now.

There is no constitutional quota on the number of justices of the Supreme Court. Several times in U.S. history, there have been more judges than the current nine. Technically, there could be 20 judges. Democrats, were they willing to play hardball, could add at least two more judges and make the sitting judges look on with trepidation. Or: Impeach the liars, Amy Coney Island Barrett, Bret “Boofer” Canvenaugh.

Biden couldn’t play hardball when he was middle-aged. He is not tough enough, nor is he smart enough, to be the next Democratic president. He must not run. We must do everything in our power to support a hardball player. Jon Stewart would be an excellent choice as would Al Franken. If showbiz personalities bother you, consider that terrible actor Ronald Reagan and the hijinks he got us into. Co-chair of the January 6 committee, Benny Thompson, is fatherly and smart and brave. Tammy Duckworth is brave and smart, and a soldier. No far-left person, at this time, can win. Swallow your bitterness and get real. Or: Live in a totalitarian country. Promote women only candidates, but don’t kid yourself that women are the answer. Biden must go—voluntarily or pushed by a broom. Or show him on TV firing an AK-47.

Stop using bad phrasing. Defund the police is stupid. Refund, retrain the police. Caucasian: There is no such animal—unless you come from the Caucasus Mountains. Etc.

Be brave. Stop sharing food photos and step out your door and join the kids. The last few days have stirred a hornet’s nest of women speaking out—rightfully so. But the day before the Roe fracas, the Supreme Court enabled gunowners to conceal carry. We are not safe when citizens carry guns to church, the grocery store, to a neighbor dispute. The horrifying Uvalde incident got the masses to express outrage. But not so much the killing of those Black folks in New York the week before. The shooting death of children is no more tragic than the shooting death of a grandmother.

Read. Read the “1619 Report.” You will be shocked by its reality as opposed to the treacle of conservatives who denounce it having not read it, unwilling to consider the actual facts of the founding of this country. Read Toni Morrison and Ta-Nehisi Coates and Cormac McCarthy and Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin and Kurt Vonnegut and Isabel Wilkerson and Harriet Jacobs.

Here in Alton, nostalgia and tourism are all the rage. Which leaves no room for the truth of Woolworth’s and Kresge’s and the Grand Theatre, all of which discriminated against Blacks, and the KKK using Western Military Academy as its clubhouse, and a 1950 cross burning on Rock Springs golf course which drove a Black family out of town. Even most of the local claims about the Underground Railroad are historically inaccurate.

It is the last gasp of Whitey, and it’s a good thing. That gasp is fueling all the above. A writer colleague of mine in California, a liberal who skillfully took on his local establishment, suddenly realized he was white, and he began writing that he was a minority, and he turned dark, and he is lost.

We are all about to be lost, if we sit on our hands and cluck our tongues and click on the “I care” and the “tear” emojis. These are not actions. Pol Pot was a man of action. Donald Trump would endorse him if he were running for the Senate.

Take no action. Show no empathy. Stay silent. Watch the fire.

 

 

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Bloomsday

Bloomsday

Leo Bloom, a nondescript, middle-aged man, wanders his city of Dublin on June 16, 1904. He confronts friends, enemies, shopkeepers and bartenders, vendors and grifters. He journeys from eight a.m. to two a.m. the next morning. Hard on his mind is the fact that his wife Molly is having an affair, his male sex drive, and pending war. Every unconscious thought in his head is recorded in stream of internal soliloquy. James Joyce, through Bloom, is performing Irish jazz, his subconscious his instrument.

Three literary artifices dominate the book: Modernism, in which writers across the globe are experimenting with stream of consciousness; mythic storytelling, in the guise of Homer’s “Ulysses;” and attention to the common man as a tragic figure, as in the works of playwrights Eugene O’Neil, Arthur Miller, and novelist John Updike.

One hundred sixteen years ago, the book dubbed the greatest literary work of the twentieth century was published. James Joyce told his wife Nora that the work would confound critics for a century. “Ulysses” still confounds critics and is scarcely read by readers much less the general public who think that smart means “smart phone.”

James Augustine Joyce was born in Dublin, Ireland to a hard drinking father and an enabling mother. It was apparent early on that the son was a genius. His father published his boy’s first poem when the boy was ten. Joyce possessed a serious eye for detail, so much so that it was said, after the publication of “Ulysses,” that if Dublin were bombed in a war (World War I is the looming backdrop for all of this), it could be rebuilt based on Joyce’s detailed descriptions of the city.

Joyce was educated in a time when that word meant something, unlike our time when “well educated” means “well trained,” and graduate degrees come as prizes in cereal boxes. He spoke 17 languages, snatches of many of those appearing in “Ulysses,” one of many off-putting stylistic gifts, to the reading public of the time, to us. He was the beneficiary of a patron who for years paid his family’s living expenses. His subject was Dublin and the surrounding countryside. Said James Joyce, “In the particular is contained the universal.”

“Ulysses” was published serially in Europe. The first thousand copies of the novel were burned—guess where!— in the United States, for obscenity. Conservative censors and ministers and priests and capitalist patriarchs, who knew what was right for all of us, sensed the danger in the book and sought to exterminate it.

I first read “Ulysses” when I was in my teens. Curiosity almost killed the cat. I had no study guide, so I passed over the parts written in other languages. I hadn’t yet read Homer’s “Ulysses,” so I missed the myth part. Still, the power, the raw power of the words, of the men speaking the words, of the artist who wrote the words, electrified me. I started reading the chapters aloud, slowly making sense of the narrative.

Today, Bloomsday will be celebrated across the world, mostly by actors who will read the entire book in 18-hour marathons. And audiences will picnic and drink and laugh and reflect. There will be scholarly events—scholars come hard on after writers write, after all—but “Ulysses” belongs to us, working men and women, hard live-ers and drinkers and lapsed religionists and sinners and devout Catholics and cuckolds and quirky folk.

Asterisk: James Joyce’s secretary, young Samuel Beckett, read the tea leaves and realized that the wordy Modernist movement had sailed. He built a new literary ship, and the scholars (of course!) dubbed it Absurdism. There isn’t a person alive who, consciously or unconsciously, isn’t waiting for Godot. I was a fly on the wall at an event in Chicago where Edward Albee was talking to a group of people. “I called Art Miller,” Albee said, “and I said Art, let’s fly to the Soviet Union and meet some dissident poets. And Art said, “‘Let’s stop in Paris and meet up with Sam.’” Gods talking about gods.

I nearly peed myself.

Happy Bloomsday.

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Dr. Gene

Dr. Gene

Moliere’s wonderful play, The Doctor in Spite of Himself, is a comedy about a conman who poses as a doctor in a small village. He is called in to examine an ailing, comely lass, the family watching as the bawdy “doc” fondles the beauty, and hilarity ensues. A parent asks if the girl will live. The “doctor” replies (paraphrasing), “Some would say yes, and some would say no. As for me, I say yes and no.”

I mention this because today on my walk, I stopped and watched a gorgeous prairie king snake, light grey and ringed with brown splotches, maybe three feet long, sunning itself. A granddad and grandson came along, and I pointed to the king snake, and the boy was thrilled, and we all introduced ourselves. And I told them about the different snakes which live around here.

The grandfather said, “So, you’re a biologist? Dr. Baldwin, is it?”

I assured them I was just Genehouse, a modest and unassuming nobody. And we all went on our ways.

I used to visit Alton two or three times a year, when I lived in Chicago. I’d stay with friends and spend my days in the woods, hunting for Indian artifacts. On one such day, it was hot and muggy, and I left my secret hunting ground early. I put some arrowheads I had found on the passenger seat and drove to the small riverside village of Elsah, just to look around. The nineteenth century houses are national historic landmarks. Tom Sawyer might emerge from Aunt Polly’s cottage and whitewash her fence.

I passed by historic Principia College, recalling that there had been an amazing discovery on the campus as, a few months ago, a workman working a bulldozer for a water line uncovered a skull and tusks of a wooly mammoth. The rest of the bones had been excavated, a full skeleton, and were in a laboratory being cleaned and assembled.

On impulse, I drove up to the security gate, and a friendly security guy asked if he could help me. I cheerfully said yes, I’d like to see the wooly mammoth. You and everybody else, the man told me. The campus was closed for summer, and the college (I knew this) was a private school, and I would not be allowed to visit.

C’est la vie. I put the car in reverse.

Then the guy spotted the arrowheads on my car seat. Did you find those? Yes. Around here? A few miles from here. Can I see some ID?

I handed the guard my driver’s license. He asked, “Do you have a university affiliation?” I answered yes; I was in a master’s degree program at DePaul University.

The guard fetched a walkie talkie and paged Dr. So-and-So. “Yes ma’am,” he said, “I have a Dr. Baldwin here at the entrance. He’s an archaeologist.”

As my friend Charlie Baird would exclaim, “Kiss Miss Mitchell.” I had instantly become Dr. Ewing “Gene” Baldwin from DePaul University. I had a split second to correct the man, or confirm I was indeed Dr. Gene. I did not correct him, I was now acting in a play, something I knew a little about.

“He’d like to see the wooly mammoth,” the guard said on his walkie talkie.

Five minutes later, a golf cart drove up with Dr. So-and-So at the wheel, and she greeted me and escorted me to the laboratory, where I was able to see the disassembled mammoth. We talked about prehistoric critters and the evidence that Native Americans had lived on this very spot, perhaps twelve thousand years ago. I gave the good doctor two arrowheads. It was jolly. Until I started getting nervous, me, the doctor in spite of himself.

And then Dr. So-and-So said, “Dr. Baldwin, would you care to come back to Principia this fall and do some archaeology lectures?”

Reader, what was I to do? I said yes, I’d be delighted to lecture, here is my card (which read nothing about DePaul University). We shook hands, and Dr. So-and-So drove me back to the gate, and she said she’d be in touch. Was I qualified to deliver college lectures on archaeology? Some would say yes, and some would say no. As for me, I say yes and no.

Besides, I knew Dr. So-and-So would google me as soon as I drove off. The jig—the gig—would be up. Acting over, no curtain call, no fall lectures to comely coeds, but it was my best performance, and I drove away a happy man, having seen a 20,000-year-old wooly mammoth.

As the French would say (I forgot to tell you, I’m now Dr. Gene, professor of romance languages at the Sorbonne), C’est la vie.

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The Pale, A Biography

The Pale, A Biography

One in three Republicans believe that white people (The Pales) are deliberately being replaced by people of color (The Everybody Elses), via immigration and those godless rainbow-colored liberals. In fact, in the United States, The Pales’ birth rates began slowing a decade ago. In Texas, the Everybody Elses will soon be the majority. Immigration, a conservative code word for colored people and “replacement theory,” is a smokescreen for The Pale supremacy.

Since the Pales are so tender and sensitive (I say this as a card-carrying member of The Pale; I’ve got the skin cancer to prove it), I am trying to be gentle. The Pales believe they popped up in Europe—period. Pop! When in fact, their earliest ancestors (300,000 years ago) were Africans.

What is your origin? I am Scottish, Irish, and Welsh . . . and African. You are _______ . . . and African. How do we know this? Mitochondrial DNA, which allows (minus names of family groups, Baldwin et al) scientists (The Smarts, a subgroup of The Everybody Elses) to trace the entire of humanity to Africa.

We are but one species, The Pales and the Everybody Elses are functions of melanin—think tanning. The Pales-Once-Black African tribe migrated to Europe and, no longer needing melanin to ward off the equatorial sun, their color faded. The Reds-once Black-once Asian ultimately migrated to the last unpopulated place on the planet, the Americas.

“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” The Pale President Lyndon Johnson

The word “race” first occurs journals written in England in the 16th century by sailors. English sailors, The Pails, had navigated their way to Africa and observed the inhabitants, part of the Everybody Elses, and they pronounced them “savages,” and they raped and pillaged them because that is what one does with savages. Savage became the defining word for any people or person of color who was not a Brit.

Interestingly, every culture of Africans developed origin stories strikingly similar: So-and- so begat so-and-so and they were miserable sinners until the Jesus the Buddha the Yahweh the Earth Mother came along and those lights in the sky were pictures which backed up the origin stories.

“I will never be out(n-word)ed again!” Governor George Wallace

Then those damn The Smarts (composed of The Everybody Elses and The Pales) explained the lights (stars), the origin of the lights, the origin of life on Earth, and there are less and less mysteries, and more and more miserable are The Pales with their adherence to myths of superiority (aka African superiority which is ironic), as they suspect they are losing their “culture,” also ironic.

Back in vogue is a novel, “The Turner Diaries,” from 1978 (a vomit of words which ends in a race war where The Pales, due to their superiority win). and suddenly The Pales like wife beater Eric Greitens, and baby who got his sucker taken away, Tucker Carlson, and Wisconsin cheese that went bad, Ron Johnson, though they either long ago stopped reading non-fiction (where one might find Science), or read it and are serial liars or dumbasses, proclaimed THE TRUTH.

But! They aren’t brave enough stand at the podium and shout “I’m as white as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore! The Everybody Elses are going to eat your liver with fava beans and a nice chianti!” Instead, they use code that doesn’t take a Navaho code talker to understand. “Replacement Theory.” “Immigration.” Aka “nigger.” Aka “Mexicans.” (And let’s not forget those world order Jews and those Asians stealing our scholarships.)

And there is even a superhero: White Jesus. That painted, iconic image of White Jesus, hanging next to the organ in thousands of churches and the little children see that and they are prepped for membership in The Pale. (I saw the image as a kid, and I knew Jesus was white. I did not know he was the most misunderstood philosopher of his time or that he would be parodied in modern times as a right-wing nut job.)

It’s not that all The Pales are bad. But even the not-bad ones cluck their tongues and sit at home and watch the TV, talk to the TV as in “Oh no, another mass shooting of The Everybody Elses, how terrible,” thus empowering demagogues to run amuck, even to kill. The Pale Preachers lack the courage to denounce hate from their podiums. The Pale generally don’t attend events where the Everybody Elses are celebrating. The Pales, generally, are clucking chickens.

The novelist Saul Bellow, when asked if he knew of any literature but Western literature, smugly remarked that he would be happy to read a novel by a Zulu writer. To which a writer responded, “You are the poet of the Zulus.” Saul Bellow, see (he didn’t see), like you like me, was African.

 

 

 

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Going to the Theater

In the classic 1942 Ernst Lubitsch comedy “To Be or Not to Be,” the great comedian and radio star Jack Benny and the beautiful actress Carole Lombard (she would die in a plane crash days before the film’s opening) play actors in a Polish theater troupe, who, with their fellow actors, outwit the Nazis.

It’s a wonderful fantasy; I watched it and watched it on TV as a kid, mostly because I was obsessed with all things theater long before I became an actor/playwright. Old time movies on black and white TV influenced me as much as books. The film was received poorly at first, a groundbreaking work making satire of evil Nazis, including a one night “Hamlet” in the Polish theater at which Hitler is the honored guest.

I thought of “To Be or Not to Be” as I read about Oksana Syomina, who, with her husband fled to the sanctuary of the Donetsk Academic Regional Drama Theater in Mariupol, Ukraine. Ms. Syomina and her spouse were in a group of hundreds of other refugees who fled their bombed-out homes to shelter in the theater. She was in the basement of the theater complex in her bathrobe when a massive explosion caused by a Russian bomb leveled the building.

Six hundred people were killed in an instant. Ms. Syomina had to step on dead bodies of children and parents in her bare feet just to escape and run to the sea. She told a reporter, “All the people are still under the rubble because the rubble is still there. This is one big, massive grave.”

The city designated the theater as a shelter weeks before. The scenic designer, using set paint, created two giant signs on the front and back sidewalks: “CHILDREN.” He or she was hoping the sign would alert Russian pilots. . . and it did—perversely.

Art is an umbrella under which are writing and painting and music and dance and theater and sculpture, all venues for expression which stimulate thought and kill no one. Beauty and ugliness, joy and sorrow, but emotive. You get to walk out of the art space and meet friends for drinks.

The reality of human endeavor is everywhere: slaughter. Between bouts of slaughter are fucking and singing and drinking and eating and cradling pets and babies and religious fervor and watching sunsets and hiking in wilderness and praising and denouncing God and then. . . More slaughter. With slaughter there is only when, no if.

The greatest explanation of humanity was written long ago: Voltaire’s “Candide.” I read it as a kid and then I saw the Broadway production of Leonard Bernstein’s masterpiece, original libretto by Lillian Hellman then the 1974 version (which I saw) with book by Hugh Wheeler. I could not stand after the show. My legs wobbled, my tears flowed, my laughter resonated through the theater. The greatest hymn ever written about hope: “Let Our Garden Grow.” The most grotesque song parody of humanity: “Auto Da Fe (What a Day).”

I have often told friends, five fiction books only of the Western canon are necessary: “Candide,” Richard Wright’s scathing “Black Boy,” Doris Lessing’s “The Four-Gated City, Cormac McCarthy’s horrifying “Blood Meridian,” and James Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son.” All of humanity lies in those confines.

By March 15, 1,200 people were sheltering in Mariupol’s theater. Women with children were put in the dressing rooms. All the floors, the balconies, the theater seats, and all the rooms were crammed with refugees. Then the bomb hit. A woman told of yelling for her mother, but tens of people were also crying, “Mom!” Six hundred people, not a soldier among them, lay dead.

Many of the survivors walked or ran to the sea. Some took shelter in the nearby philharmonic hall and then it got bombed. Over many days, Russian bulldozers razed the theater, now a mass grave.

Meanwhile, I have an idea. A group of actors lure Vladimir Putin to a theater for a performance of “Macbeth.” Putin thinks it’s a comedy, takes a bite of popcorn and a long swig of Coke—which has been laced with arsenic. He stops laughing.

Someone please tell me the date of the next slaughter so I can put it on my calendar.

Hate Russians? Might as well as hate Germans and Americans, et al as well. We are but one species, many cultures. James Baldwin wrote of culture that Blacks from all nations cannot truly have cultures until Europeans (who designated people of color as savages beginning in the sixteen hundreds) withdraw from every country and territory they looted.

Which will happen on the Twelfth of Never.

 

 

 

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Cancel

Four years ago, I was invited by a teacher at a local Godfrey elementary school to give talks about my Native American artifacts. The teacher visited my house—he had seen my website and knew I had presented artifacts in schools for twenty years—and picked up some artifacts I was donating, to decorate the science classroom.

A couple of weeks went by, no word about the date I was supposed to visit the school, so I called the teacher back. He said the event was cancelled. Why? A parent (or parents), he told me, had advised the principal I was controversial and not fit to influence children. The several thousand kids I worked with over the years will be surprised to hear this. (So far as I know, not one of them became a Marxist after being with me.)

Later, a woman I knew whose kid went to that school told me that some parent had read a Genehouse Chronicle and was offended. What did that have to do with artifacts? I attempted to meet with the principal, to no avail. Blacklisting almost always leads to obfuscation. So I told the teacher to give back the artifacts. He said, well you donated them. Not to a school which censors people, I said. He returned the stones.

I was reminded of my experience by a newspaper article published this morning, “The next front in culture war: public libraries.” A matronly woman named Bonnie Wallace in Llano County Texas is advocating parental control over public libraries. (Most of her acolytes don’t even have a library card.) She sent out an email, the title of which was “Pornographic Filth at the Llano Library.” A fellow conservative wrote back: “God has been so good to us … Please continue to pray for the librarians and that their eyes would be open to the truth.” Then the moron governor of Texas, Greg Abbott joined the cause, and the collective call became, end public libraries. Then county commissioners ended the library’s E-book program.

Now new county board elections are being held, and Democrats are being thrown out, including Dr. Richard Day, who has a master’s degree in library science and manages a rare book collection. The new conservative board (all Republican, all women) has noted that it will consult with a local Christian school for guidance. Their closed meetings, which are against the law in Texas, feature praying. They are seriously waiting for the Lord to answer, which may take a while.

(Note to you silent Christians: when will you get the balls to counter conservatism in the name of White Jesus? This same silence is why racism is the rallying cry of Republicans.)

On the woman’s filth list are “Between the World and Me,” the brilliant tome by Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Caste,” the masterful book by Isabel Wilkerson, and “In the Night Kitchen,” by Maurice Sendak. (The first two authors are Black, but that’s just “coincidence.”) There are fifty-eight other titles. The fate of the list is being decided in closed sessions (of course) so that reporters can’t quote the Christian rebels who are protecting their kiddies from filth, Communism, sex, critical race theory, etc.

I don’t know about you, but I was a voracious reader as a kid. My tastes included “dirty” books such as “Candy,” a sex-drenched parody of “Candide” which Voltaire would have loved, “Catch 22,” “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” and Ayn Rand’s book of masturbation for teenage boys, “Fountainhead.” Hell, I was even turned on by actor Hayley Mills in “The Parent Trap,” where she had a scene in chaste underpants. These did not lead me to degradation or depravity or rape—unless playing with oneself is self-rape. (The greatest porno is in the Bible. I attended a wedding where the best man read a passage, the one about ‘your breasts are like honeydew melons,’ and the best man cracked up and laughed until he shook.)

I am not as important as a library; I just got a taste of the New World order. However, at any time I fully expect my scarlet letter. Or worse.

Margaret Atwood, no mere fictionist, is a prophet. Soon, her books will be banned, and she will be a silent prophet. Or worse.

 

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Slit

Slit

ferocious lightning across

the Mississippi River

the distant long tree rows look

like fogged-in mountain ridges

the Missouri River rushing

toward the Confluence

I walk in a slit of no rain

rain on either side

the air viscous

my breaths labored heaves

clothes pasted with sweat and salt

mosquitoes lounge in the woods

waiting for the blood drive

their whines like tiny sirens

the slit of gurgling creek flooded

the color of coffee with cream,

three does watch me unafraid

“tock-tock” of chipmunks

sounding danger

cicadas waterlogged

and playing out of tune

a fat young man walking by me:

“I’m hunting the bear,

I got a score to settle.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Bards

Bards

My friend Peggy Bevington has died. As with all my departed friends, I keep the name and address and phone number in a book, and soon the dead will outnumber the living.

Peggy lived in Chicago’s Hyde Park, devoting her life to teaching at the University of Chicago Lab School. She lived in a three-story brownstone on Blackstone Avenue with her husband David, a Shakespeare scholar at the U. of C. Their second floor was their bedroom, the third floor for graduate students who lived with them. (There is the wonderful and funny story of two grads, boyfriend, and girlfriend, who would come down the stairs for dinner carrying their own bottle of wine which they did not share with David and Peggy.)

The first floor was a feasting area. Food, of course, meat and casseroles and deserts, but books and more books piled on shelves, a grand piano (it seemed like half the faculty of the U. of C. could sit at that piano and crank out some show tunes or some Brahms, and their children the same), music stands and scores—David was a member of a string ensemble—a kitchen always pungent from David’s onion soup or Peggy’ roasts and hams and pies. The couple were positively Dickensian.

There was the New Year’s Eve party which began at five pm (Greenwich time, as they like to say) and my favorite, the Welcome Spring party at which friends and family and eminent scholars from the university and artists and authors such as Sara Paretsky (V.I. Warshawski) would sing Beatles songs from hand-printed lyrics books, and a ragtag band led by Richard Pettingill on guitar would accompany. Young and old, people would leaf through their lyrics books and call out favorites.

On a New Year’s Eve five years ago, Peggy took me by the arm to the second floor. On her bed was a cardboard box and next to it another, larger square box. I opened them and gazed on perhaps a hundred Indian artifacts and a lump of flint core as big as a bowling ball. A teacher had given Peggy the artifacts when she was a child in Licking Creek, Ohio. Would I tell her what the objects were?

Halfway through my assessment, Peggy took a box and I another, and we went down into the party, and Peggy called for quiet, and everyone gathered around for what would be my hour-long lecture on the history of Indians. Only at a party with scholars would such a thing happen. After my explanation of each piece, Peggy said, “Gene this is my present to you.” People clapped. I cried. And those artifacts are in my house. One of them is a three-thousand- year-old granite pestle, hardly a rare find, but this pestle had words inked onto its bell from 1864. Which makes it invaluable. Two men walking in Licking Creek during the Civil War found the pestle and noted the find on the bell.

Peggy Bevington was brilliant, and a beloved mother and teacher. She and I became a sort of pipeline, some of her students at the Lab school becoming apprentice artists at Gallery 37, a massive summer arts program for teens in Chicago, some of those students coming to me and becoming playwrights, and some of them winning the Pegasus Theatres Young Playwrights Festival, me as their teacher becoming the winningest teacher in the history of the festival. Always, Peggy would be in the audience and cheer them on.

David Bevington was a rock star at the Stratford Festival in Ontario. He and Peggy invited me along one summer. The couple carried plastic Jewel bags laden with their possessions. They would sit on the ground on an island in the Stratford River, and an audience of groupies gathered and listened as David talked about the current Stratford productions, Peggy, who knew Shakespeare with the best of them correcting her husband when he uttered a wrong date or Bard fact. People would hand David copies of his books to autograph. They took me to their illegal swimming hole in a rock quarry which once a year was filled with plump elderly professors from the U. of C.

I must confess, I felt unworthy in the Bevington’s company, the hick from Alton, Illinois who was not raised to venerate art. They knew my feelings, and they poo-poohed my fears. David would read my play scripts and annotate them, never much editing, which they very much needed. Always, the notes were signed, “Love, David.”

David died last year, and Peggy remained in the brownstone. The obituary didn’t say how she died. They were the most in love couple I ever met, open and friendly and devoted to each other. I think Peggy died to meet up with David, but that’s just me.

The ghosts, the Bevington’s of Blackstone Street, I think, are like the ones in the film “Topper.” Friendly, assuring, watching over the new residents. An archeology dig at the house would reveal treasures of manuscripts and gewgaws.

I was their friend and their proud student. And love was in the air.

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Finch Ascending, to the Abode of God

Finch Ascending, to the Abode of God

I was driving toward my house, signaling to turn into the driveway. The car windows were down. As I waited for an oncoming car to pass, two birds engaged in air combat crashed into my car, one flying off, the other flying through the window, hitting me in the chest, bouncing off the rearview mirror, and landing in my lap.

I made the turn and parked. In my lap was a female house finch. I picked up the tiny bird with her speckled breast, and cradled her in my right hand, and I stroked her with my trembling left index finger, her eyes meeting my eyes, until her eyes slightly rolled and closed, until she saw what the dead see. I cried.

I carried her to a limestone slab in my front yard and lay her on the cool surface dotted with 300,000,000-year-old fossils. On the telephone wire stretched across the yard, a line of finches perched and . . . watched? Was it my imagination, my anthropomorphism gone amuck, or my poet’s brush? Was I the sole the soul mourner?

Even if we and the birds were equals, the outcome is the same, the interpretation a work of science or a muse by Samuel Beckett. Or consider the poet Wendell Berry: “I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief… For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

There is no poem by a bird but there is a song.

All well and good, even comforting. But I held the bird in my hand, and I stroked her, her soft dotted belly, the tiny curled claws, the wings surrendered and folded like linens in a closet, our eyes meeting like fallen leaves meet Earth, and I felt her heartbeat wane and end, a grace note in the imagining of life.

I comforted her. Or: I comforted myself.

The Theory of Mind: “Human brains are tuned to try to understand other human’s intentions, thoughts and feelings. Specific regions of the brain contain populations of ‘mirror’ neurons . . . Unsurprisingly, these are the same regions of the brain that are active when a person is anthropomorphizing.” Emory University science website

The Theory of Mind, evolution, parallel universes, all the conjectures, the dark corridors in dreams, leading to oblivion, and nothing that happened happened. Nothing that did not happen did not happen. The meaning of a finch is wonder and song and color; the meaning of a finch is fiction.

For three days, the finch lay in state on the limestone slab. The ants and the flies were the first to the visitation and the feast. On the third night, she vanished. And rose to the Abode of God Which is Nothingness. On the limestone, a slight scuff mark of a decaying body leading to the edge, dragged by an anonymous undertaker.

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Monkey Business

Monkey Business

It has been reported that in the Tennessee legislature scores of pro-Trump lawmakers have been spotted entering the statehouse chambers dressed as humans but slowly morphing into stages of ape-like appearance. Some have shed their clothing altogether and are loping along on all fours, humping one another, and doing “Cheetah” imitations. Others have been seen grooming each other, defecating in the aisles, and leaping across desks and chairs with impunity. Meanwhile, Tennessee humans in towns all over the state, devolving to apes, are crashing cars, eating bananas, thumping their chests, and retreating to state parks and living in tribes.

Tennessee is going ape. Republican legislators who have not yet made the transition (which bathroom do transspecies use?) are changing the laws, most recently passing a bill which prohibits minors from getting Covid-19 shots unless they have their parents’, who are high on Jim Jones Kool-Aid, permission. The parents are also pushing laws to dress their teenage daughters in “Handmaid’s Tale” sheik. Not surprisingly, teenagers are rebelling—with a cause. Seems that teens think their monkey parents are batshit crazy.

Even conservative columnist Kathleen Parker has commented, “Parental rights are sacred, and, most of the time, I would say rightly so. But not necessarily when a life-saving vaccine is being withheld by parents who’ve surrendered to political rhetoric over verifiable information.”

In 1966, when I was an impressionable lad, innocent (outwardly, at least; inwardly, I was a cauldron of lust) and wholesome. I had been bitten by the show biz bug and—thank the gods—show biz would be my moral downfall. I would star in a series of plays and musicals at Monticello College, a women’s institution at which my cauldron of lust would find a home. God bless the Monti girls.

Meanwhile, I auditioned for Alton Little Theatre’s production of “Inherit the Wind,” a fictional retelling of the 1925 so-called Scopes Monkey Trial in—wait for it—Tennessee. Mr. Scopes, a substitute teacher, was asked to serve as a test case for Tennessee teachers who used a state-approved textbook on the theory of evolution. Scopes agreed, and Clarence Darrow, the celebrated Chicago lawyer and greatest orator of his time, took on fantastic blowhard William Jennings Bryan, representing Tennessee Evangelicals.

The trial became a three-ring circus, famous all over the world, with the Evangelical judge not allowing Darrow’s science experts to testify. Scopes lost—of course—was fined a few hundred dollars, and science teachers went on teaching evolution. Bryan died a few days later. Perhaps he just popped like a balloon.

At Little Theatre, I got the part of Bertram Cates, the Scopes character, a science teacher on trial for teaching evolution. Cates was represented by the Clarence Darrow character, played by my high school drama teacher, Cliff Davenport. And who did Davenport cast as my girlfriend? My sister. I told him no way, and he said OK, we’ll cast someone else for you part. Remember acting, Gene? She’s your girlfriend but not your girlfriend? And that’s how my sister and I ended up holding hands onstage, and my cauldron of lust was empty. (I was sick with flu for the run of the show; the stage manager had a vomit bucket ready for me. Coincidence?)

Remember “remember the Alamo?” The Alamo was fake news, fake as in Davy Crockett et al, decidedly not heroes, growing hair on their chests and already setting the stage for devolution, were posturing and then they got their asses kicked. Remember the polio vaccine? Not fake news. And now the Corona-19 vaccine. Ninety-five percent of the deaths from the virus are unvaccinated people. Thirty-eight percent of Tennesseans are vaccinated. And teens are getting sick.

Meanwhile, at the statehouse, humans devolved back to apes are controlling the legislature in the name of Donald Trump, that bloviating ape, who tried to forcefully mate with every cute female that crossed his path.

So, if you are “seeing monkeys,” don’t call your shrink. You are in fact seeing monkeys. Monkey pox is coming. You will know the devolving hybrid humans/monkeys by their highway signs: “Trump 2424.” They lack imagination, so they have coopted the Confederate flag.

With apologies to Willie Nelson, “Mothers, don’t let your babies grow up to be Trump boys.”

 

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