27 May 2007

New Feedback Corner

New feedback corner. Mitchell and I have established this designation for a coffee house (a relatively new phenomenon in the United States) at which one sits observing people and commenting on their presence. We never communicate our opinions, that would be rude, but we pretent that our opinions have substance, are serviceable, and marketable. The name derives from a small corner in a particularly friendly Starbucks. It is a table for two with views into a particularly trendy mall in an upscale neighborhood. “Those boots don’t work.” “Smile more.” “Life’s short, call home.” What saves us from condescension is our complete lack of seriousness and the sometimes volcanic laughter erupting from the corner. And besides, what we really desire is feedback!

So this is a new corner—J&S Coffee House, actually my favorite place to buy fresh beans. And since they have free wireless access, and one of the baristas (a new term for the workers at these coffee houses) sports a head of hair a truly lovely shade of pink. I’m perfectly at home. I even bought a pound of organic Guatemala French Roast Beans. I’m listening to web radio—Folk Alley out of Kent State, and they are playing “Railroad Bill,” and I’m feeling like I’m down on Macdougal Street in the Gaslight Café. I’m happy.

I just passed a car with a bumper sticker which asked, “Where did the hippies go?” They are here.

So the new iPods have huge capacity to hold music and videos, but because they have become so sophisticated, I can’t use them to put my music on because if I actually use the iPod while I run, I’ll break it. I thought to put my entire music collection on my iPod, but they advised me not to bother. I didn’t.

25 May 2007

No barking up this tree!

In Robert Richardson’s lovely biography of William James (which I have not yet finished but cannot quite put down), I read the following: James once complained of Schopenhauer’s pessimism, comparing it to “that of a dog who would rather see the world ten times worse than it is, than lose his chance of barking at it.” I love that comment, and it reminds me of Dylan’s observation in “Its Alright Ma(I’m Only Bleeding,” about “the one who sings with his tongue on fire [who] /Cares not to come up any higher/But rather get you down in the hole/That he's in.” I’ve known so many like this. I’ve been so much like this at times my miserable self.

I hear this most interestingly when I ask somewhat sincerely, “How are you?” Responses: “Tired!” “Busy” “Don’t ask!” “Do you really want to know?” “Well, OK.?” Or worse, they actually tell me how they are! “I’ve been to the doctor.” “I’ve got a dentist appointment.” “Work is impossible.” “Doesn’t the world suck?” It’s not that I won’t be a sympathetic ear. I will be. Actually, I’ve lately thought of myself as a good listener, having learned a great deal about my responsibilities to the Other from Emmanuel Levinas, I think. That’s not it at all. Rather, I am curious now how that opening (like a good opening in a chess game) sets the direction for the entire conversation. What I mean is this: I can respond to the comment by discussing the named condition, and continue on beating the topic to veritable (or virtual) death, thereby maintaining the conversation on the level of complaint and suffering; or I can offer some kind of supportive pep talk which will finally fail (see above comment on barking dogs); or I can merely agree that the companion’s condition is warranted and ‘yes, isn’t life hard!’; or I can join the grumble, Mr. Bumble, and compare miseries. And then we can both (or all) see the world ten times worse than it is rather than lose our chance at complaint, which has been transformed into an opportunity to ironically aggrandize ourselves by endlessly listing our hardships and woes. Ah, nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen!

Its sunny today, the grass is growing loudly and all of my appliances are in good working order. It is Shabbat, my children have full social calendars for the weekend, and even I have activities to which I look forward. I am in good health and financially troubled. I am reading two wonderful books, awaiting the publication of my own brilliant tome, and finishing this blog entry.

And there is a bottle of Summit Extra Pale Ale which welcomes my thirst and pleasure.

How are you today? No barking ,please!

17 May 2007

Chutzpah and Violence

Violence, Emmanuel Levinas tells us, is to act as if we were alone in acting. Paul Wolfowitz’s attempt to gain exoneration for his ethical lapse seems to me an example of such violence. Accused of an ethical violation by arranging for a pay and promotion package for Shaha Ali Riza, his companion and a bank employee when Wolfowitz became president of the World Bank in 2005, Wolfowitz then acknowledged an error in judgement (a euphemism for ‘whoops, I fucked up and I got caught!). Now I read that he demands exoneration for his misdeeds before he submits his resignation. He want to be cleared for what he has admitted doing! Jews have a word for this: chutzpah. Brazen, unembarrassed, shameless effrontery. He acknowledges mistakes and then demands that he be declared innocent of them. Sure I’m guilty, he says, but so what? And the Bush administration seems prepared to back this violence. But what else would one expect from an administration which pursues an illegal, immoral war which everyone would prefer ended but which Bush et al. insist must go on. What else expect from an administration in which the Vice President shoots his friend and then goes home for a drink, and from a President who plays golf while New Orleans floods.

I keep promising myself not to write about politics here; Thoreau said that reading the newspaper once is important, but after that, this reading is engagement in gossip. The Rabbis say that to participate in lashan hara is one of those sins which keep one in Gehinnom.

But perhaps it is not the news I am studying anymore, but the absurd.

09 May 2007

Sitting So Patiently

When I moved into my present domicile (that's not it behind me--that my cabin!), I purchased a power saw. With the saw came instructions on how to build saw horses—an important component for saw use. I envisioned building cabinets and desks and chiffonieres. The saw horses I built were crooked and basically unusable. Now, I hire out all construction. By the time my dear friend, Gary, built the cabin (Walden, we call it), I had long given up the saw, the power drill, and most screw drivers.

I also bought an awl and hatchet for cutting wood. I bought cords of wood (I never quite learned of what a face cord of wood consists). For several wintry months I trudged outside, split the wood and carried them into the house where I never learned to build an adequate fire. In a recent remodeling, I had a gas fire place installed. I can control it from the couch by remote control.

I also acquired a riding lawn mower. I sat atop it wearing my Che Guevera tee shirt. I spent hours riding lugubriously back and forth across my law, shearing off the heads of many dandelions, a few sprouting trees, and much natural grass. I call it natural grass because it blew in rather than was planted. It is an accidental lawn, for the most part. As I write this I await the newly hired lawn maintenance people to manicure my lawn. They do a wonderful job; even my daughter said, “Gee, the sidewalks are even clean. When you mowed the lawn you left all the clippings on them.”

The myth of the self-sufficient man died easily here. Good riddance, I say.