Monday, May 21, 2018


Serenity Now, the halfway house down the road from Olive View hospital in the Westwood district of LA housed twenty men, including Pop, who had just been released from the psych ward after a second attempt on his own life. The drop off the ladder would have snapped his neck but the cross beam was weaker than the force of his weight on the rope, so the game continued.
He had graduated from the bin a hero, having accidentally drawn a seeming catatonic out of her stalled awareness by sketching her portrait. Passing the time with pencils, charcoal and oil sticks, Pop zeroed in on this patient, a young woman, twenty if a day, the perfect model under the circumstances, who sat motionless for hours in her corner of the rec room, staring at the floor a foot beyond the hem of her hospital gown.
Her colorless skin and the darkened ridges around her eyes made soft pencils the obvious choice; there was no hue to play with, only the cut-outs of her features against the off white of her skin.
When completed, Pop facetiously turned the pad around to show her the finished result, a courtesy he thought she was owed even though she was apparently oblivious to her surroundings. To his astonishment she looked up, her eyes powered on, the first light anyone had seen beyond the glassy shine of the fluorescent lights. She smiled at Pop and took a second, longer look at the sketch. It was lifelike enough, an academic sturdiness expected of a textbook illustrator but hardly a Louvre bound masterpiece. He had stacked her hands, upturned in her lap at the bottom to anchor the composition even though she kept her arms pulled inside the short sleeves of her gown. The hands gave the figure an air of selflessness rather than of complete victimhood. He had given her a butterfly beret to part her hair on the right as her gaze was always to the left and he wanted to break the formless jumble of her matted black hair. He was doing what he could to get the young lady to appear as more than a goth girl too bereft of life as to even try to end it.
She looked up at Pop and smiled again, this time the line of her lips stretched wide and thin. For a moment he thought she looked ravenous and might bare blood stained fangs. But her face regressed to a mid point between lust and sleep mode, what might pass for normal in a psychiatric hospital, and she crawled over to get a closer look as her fellow inmates and startled staff looked on, stunned to silence and frozen in mid step.
Pop was as perplexed as anyone but held it in; he felt like a cameo walk-on in her epic drama of resurrection, his performance scrutinized by a full house of mesmerized patrons. Not sure what to do and not wanting to break this new spell, he showed her his pencils and calmly spoke to her about the technical uses of various crosshatches and smears that graphite can provide while she caressed his arm and beamed as if the grand justice of love had been revealed personally by Zeus Himself, her illness reduced in His glory to ashes. She extended her right index finger and traced the contour of the butterfly Pop had nested in her hair.

When he told me this story years from when it happened, he remarked at the hoary metaphor of emergence and the butterfly she was so enamored of. Because he wasn't addicted to the conspiracy candy of your messenger, I passed on offering up the possibility that he had inadvertently awakened an MKUltra sleeper agent; the urban legends of that program included the symbol of the butterfly as a trigger mechanism. Such notions were far from certain, and it was his miracle, so I left that alone, agreeing that the fates are hack writers and traffic in clichés so lame they can hide the truth in plain sight.

No way Pop would know how to demonstrate the emotional restoration his redemptive powers possessed as he was by then the most irascible of materialists, née atheists, one could hope to shun. By comparison he made the Dawkins/Hitchens set look like possessed nuns collectively bleeding the holy discharge of the virgin mother. Still, he subconsciously parlayed this miracle of the female half length to restate his mission, which, as always, was to get out, get employed and find a wife who this time would get the successful, sober spouse and show biz go-getter, not the crash and burn dipsomaniac with an ever renewable well spring of unresolved resentments- That plan being the classic demonstration of true madness: repeating the same process ad infinitum, hoping for a different result.

Origin of the Species
By the time I was born my father was missing an ear. There were several versions of how he lost it, some from the source himself, others from official documents culled from Marine Corps files; the responding MPs report has yet to turn up but one could assume that scenario would most closely approximate the truth. Every version did include alcohol and a jeep destroyed on impact. The location, even the country, is in dispute but Pop was definitely in uniform somewhere in the far east. Thats enough for me. Given his genetic imprint, I'm comfortable with any variation save an act of God. He had no truck with the dispensation offered to the religious and you cant be an atheist and believe in fate. It was his fault, whether someone ran a stop or he had blacked out behind the wheel. Hed insist that somewhere leading up to it, he could have made any number of alternate decisions had he just been alert.

I am my father's son, consequently I dont believe anything: I either know something or I list the most plausible to the least- I dont get that from my mollycoddled youth. Thats his gift, along with the blue eyes.
He was honorably discharged, likely because he did see action and was clipped by a bullet. Whose bullet well never know, but if he was impulsive he was certainly no coward and the Corps, weighing the balance of service, let the DUI slide and cashiered him with honor.
He was mustered out in San Diego, the town where he began his military career as an attention-scrambled fourteen year old knot of unregulated hormones, ecstatic for the discipline and uniformity of military school once emancipated from the backwoods idyll of his moonshine soaked Oregon upbringing. Concepts like family dysfunction were foreign to country folk. Whether you were the sire of inbred simpletons or erudite inebriates you simply made the best of the hand dealt. In those days and in that world there was nothing like consensus reality to be imposed by the state, so the certainty of Pops military fantasy was embraced with an enthusiasm that today medical authorities would classify as sociopathic. If he had any recall of his mindset, its certain hed report even his dreams followed guidelines implied by the academy handbook.
Sad then, I suppose, that he had his glorious career cut short by rolling a jeep while on leave; I might have made it out of somebodys womb regardless, but I got here through his decisions, reasoned or not, and play the hand I have with about as much foresight, probity and measured response as my father

When rich people get radical the poor get dead. Whatever salons the popinjay Irish industrialist Henry Joy McCracken attended where the praises of the French and American revolutions were sung in the late 1790s, the result was that only the smallest remnant of my clan were able to escape the feverishly ill-conceived plot known as The Wolfe-Tone Rebellion; McCraken helped design this farrago with the insane ambition to engage the greatest military force since Imperial Rome. Two of my kind survived; two cousins styled OKane, and maybe twelve years old at the most, whose families had migrated down from Derry and the stalk of Bloskey OCaine, slayer of Murtaugh O Laughlin. The surviving duo, one child almost certainly named John and the other as certain to be named William, slipped out of Antrim as it burned, hidden under corpses of Presbyterians and other disloyal subjects who had been put to the pitchfork by the militias and tossed on carts like codfish to be buried in ditches outside the walls. The Monaghan guard, desperate to show Whitehall they were on the right side of history, had flipped sides and allowed the old divisions to fuel their savagery. Hangings, gutting, pitch capping and rape attended the collapse and desertion of the rebellion.

How this slender thread found its way to Cork in the south is all conjecture. What is not in dispute is they claimed an alias, Closkey, after the legend, and their sons and daughters followed as MacCloskey and theirs, McCloskey.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

How to read James Joyce’s Ulysses:

Print out a chapter by chapter schematic in quasi-exel form that list themes and motifs for all 18 chapters. There are several on the net.
Get one of the concordances that have been published over the years. Barry Gifford’s Notes on Ulysses is a pretty good one to start with.
Most important: Get Jim Morton’s abridged* audio version to hear the vocal tones of the character’s and their accents. This will clear up a lot of confusion over the way the book is laid out with the idiosyncratic punctuation. (Donal Donnelly has a complete version on audio but his reading is dreadfully dull compared to Morton’s. Patch and fill the abridged version if you must)
For the actual book, I like the 1961 (1934 reset) paperback version as it is the most user friendly**.
Study the themes and motifs page and keep it handy as you listen to each chapter one at a time. After listening to a chapter, read that chapter. After finishing the chapter, study the note book(s) like Gifford’s.
Budget a month to get through it. You may not read it all again, but once all the way through, you can go back to favorite chapters over time and know where you are. It’s all worth it.

*According to Amazon, an unabridged version by Morton is now available.

**User friendly in that you will need to take the book with you and read during pauses in your day. If you commute on mass transit, that’s when you read; not listen or study.