Thursday, December 14, 2017

fictional sketches from the dying gaul restaurant & bar

Sunday, very very busy.  Three parties of two at the bar, all of them regulars.  Two ladies, also regulars, at the high tables, and then at 6:30, a five top, two four tops, and my brother and his wife coming.  That's when I'm sent some help, in form of a waiter who never works upstairs.  No help setting up.  S. cannot see very well out of one eye, has had various accidents, a good hearted fellow, struggles to find things like spoons and check presenters in the dark.  He seems unfamiliar with the procedure of stacking up the dirty plates in imperfect fashion for the busboy to bring them back down to the kitchen later.  He knows not the routine, barely how bread and butter happens up here at the wine bar.  The two servers downstairs are busy.  The walkie talkie telling us to pick up plates of food from the kitchen is ringing off the hook.  Server A wants server S to come back downstairs, but it is very busy up here too.  The busser comes up toward the end of the night, throws a huge pile of dirty dishes and silverware in the heavy plastic grey bus tub, and heads back to the kitchen.  On top of everything, there is a pending visit from a veteran server, the bar guy everyone knows and asks about, the guy who went off to Brazil to World Cup, travelled South America, came back, had a shitty time in DC, moved to Denver, and still they always ask about him.

Monday, big party from the local university, coming in right at opening, prepped with all kinds of back-up, cases of wine, one white, an Alsace pinot blanc, one red, a Cotes du Rhone.   Not many cocktails, but a quick response dance behind the bar.  By seven thirty, the door having been open for two hours, it feels like it might be hours later.  A group of fifty, pleasant, easy-going, local academics.  Tuesday, a party of eighteen back in the wine room, tightly packed, at 7.  My help arrives late, about 6.  I do not envy at all what he has to deal with.  I've scrambled to set-up, was there late, to get the wine lined up, plus on top of that, the wine tasting, a grenache gris from the Pays De L'Herault, a 2008, toward the end of it's wine life, and I think most of it will be headed to the kitchen for cooking.  And again, at the end of the night, a lot of glassware, a shared busboy, and another big job of restocking.

The last night, a private party of 16 back in the room, with Chablis and Bordeaux to stock, and on top of that, jazz night with the most popular performers, IFC, World Bank kind of a crowd.  Reservations include three at the bar, leaving four seats to play with.

At the beginning of that final night of the week, the party set-up for, the final countdown to the door opening.  Tying the tie, brushing the teeth, fixing my collar, and as I come out of the restroom, at 5:27, there are people in the bar, six for drinks.  My help, not in work clothes, goes back to the restroom or the office to change into work clothes, now at 5:30.  I look around.  I am tired.  The party is two or three so far, now four.  Okay, I guess it falls on me to actually wait on them, so I go over there, gentlemen, what can I get you.  There are some familiar faces from the academic party.  Okay, two pinot blanc, a belvedere and cranberry, a glass of red rhone.  There are two ladies seated now at the bar, wanting to talk to me, neighborhood, regulars, odd.  And then the party starts to show up at the bar.  My other helper tonight comes, finally, goes back to the office to dress up, comes back behind the bar to eat some bread in the corner and talk with the busboy, and then she is looking at her cell phone, sending a text.  The party of six, seated, is beginning to come up to the bar to ask for more drinks.

Finally, F, who is dressed now, engages.  Are there specials, could someone get the specials? I ask.  (The specials, specialties du chef are printed out on a piece of paper, soup du jour, two entrees, options of vegetable, counts of menu items that could well run-out, the dessert special.) Fire the appetizers, F announces to me, curtly.  I look at him.  He could do it as easily as I could.  Okay...  The six top is coming up to the bar to ask for drinks directly.  They come up amidst the people showing up now for the big party.  I have to ask a woman which party she is with.  What table, F seems unclear.  Table 54!  I exclaim, raising my voice in irritation.  F:  "You don't have to be rude about it."  Sorry...  Yes, I shouldn't have yelled at the poor guy.  But it has been a frustrating week.  5:30 is 5:30.  Two out of four nights left to wonder who will be helping me out, and when, on obviously busy nights, doing set-up by myself, the other two nights either late the night before setting up, lining up the wine for big parties, and things in general, lots to do, lots to fret about.

A five top reservation winds up being a disorganized party of two.  One a great friend of the chef, whose wine we are obliged to comp, even if she wants to be seated both at the bar and at a table.  "We Love You," she sings out, to the musicians.  I am, after all that, not in a chatty mood, the whole night.  Particularly after not finding much help to begin with, my support staff milling about, wanting to chat.

At the end of the night, helper number 2, A starts poking me...  She helped me out Monday night. But she is obviously siding with the kid tonight;  I'm the bad guy.  I am the bartender, after all.  I should not necessarily expect any help to be on time to help me out right at 5:30 when the door opens.  And then she gets psychological with me.  T, if you're not happy with your life, it is your own responsibility to change it.  Are you seeing a therapist still?  What you get out of life is what you put into it.  If you do not give love out, you will not receive any in return.  Life is a mirror of what you give out...  She continues to look at me out of the corner of her eye.  I don't really need this at the end of the night.  I find this all somehow insulting, particularly after the friendship and engagement I've given here at the old Gaul in the last fourteen years, opening the world of French wine to people young and old, which she has dismissed, quickly, in her little diatribe, as "giving out free drinks."  And what am I left to do, but sort of nod politely.  Okay, thank you, you make a good point...  There is no way to win any argument with her and her made-up Russian mind, anyway.  No point contradicting her, as she will simply counter with another observation, as she is hitting me now with them, one after another.  Her mind is made up.  I'm the bad guy, and this view she is spreading.  You would be happier if you ate more carbs and sugar, she tells me.  Ha ha.  She shares chocolate dessert with the busboy.  She means well, I suppose.

But there she is, eyeing me, as if she's not watching, but wanting to watch.  Creepy.  Manipulative.  Pointed.  As if a spy, interrogating, to get information.  Earlier, the other manager, generally a friend, has asked me if I want to participate in Secret Santa this year.  I demure, explain that I, like Keith Richards, don't like to schedule anything before 3PM.  Are you going to come to the staff holiday party?  I shrug, dunno.  But again, there is the attempt to ascertain if there is loyalty on my part, necessary to my continued employment, more or less, my good terms with the rest of the front of the house staff, as well as go to any particular event.  A is party to the intelligence gathering.

Actually, I find her sentiments more than slightly insulting.  There is something about it that takes no consideration into the artistic spirit, the whole sense of creativity and the spirit of entertainment as such.  She watches me out of the corner of her eye, surreptitiously, as if wanting something out of me, as if I were to finally confess something, as if I were to break down, and I do not like this look, this studying of me.  Before you accuse me, better look at your self... as the song says.  "Russians are slaves," I remember my old friend Pani Korbonska telling me in confidence.  Maybe I am sensitive, I don't know.  Maybe I am bitter, from life experience.  I don't know.  But I don't think I've done anything terribly wrong here at work, in fact, a fair amount of good, though that is always tainted by the bullshit that will always happen in barrooms where people are freed up by the drink to talk a bit of bullshit.

Kerouac was a bit extra happy when he brought the scroll in to Bob Giroux, and Giroux and his office could not have helped but look at him like he was a bit of a madman, rejecting him and his crazy-looking manuscript, and then, seeing all this in his own eyes, Kerouac picked up the scroll (one would imagine), looked at them (one would imagine), and declared, "you have offended the holy spirit," and walked out.

At some point the boss came by, and asked me if everything was okay.  I'd seen him talking to the kid earlier from a distance.   Who he listens to sometimes mystifies me, but he seems an even judge, so I do not worry too much.  He approaches me later, as the night calms down, as the dust settles.  "Yeah, the last few nights have been hard."  He expresses surprise, incredulous, as if no extra effort had been required, as if no big deal.  "Busy is good," he replies.  I don't expect much out of him.  He's good when you go on a hike with him, but otherwise, do your job as a professional, fine.   Yes, busy is good.  It's not necessary at all for him to be there when the door opens, and he works hard enough, but sometimes I wish he was there.  To see.  Because then I think he could be a better judge about who is being professional and who is being less so.

I am tired.  I find the movements of people not pleased with their seating on Jazz Night irritating, tiresome.  I've worked pretty hard for four straight nights.  Yes, the visit from old Jay back from Colorado, staying late to talk over a beer at the end of the first night of the workweek later than needed be, particularly after the frustration of help unaccustomed to the bar, did not help.  Nor did the cold.  When you're tired, talking with people at the bar, chitchat, particularly when the holidays are looming, is a bit hard.

I get back from it all, quite irritated and down.  Who knows, maybe A is right.  Maybe I really am unhappy, a kind of Scrooge...

Monday, December 4, 2017

I guess it's just completely natural that an author and the barman would be one and the same.  No one listens to either.  Intelligence obscured.  Too quiet to talk much.  Too much the careful facilitator of language's flow, the curated conversation that allows the guest to say more than the server.  Both allow the inner workings of the mind to remain secretive, behind the screen of a largely scripted exchange.

The great problem--particularly to the polite circles of a city's pecking order--is the natural super intelligence of the creature, the incredible capacity for skill in all things, really the very excesses of the abilities of the human being, and that this creature is stuck, just so, in the modern world that gives far more credit to the expediency of the machine than to all this native genius.  Sad.  Mired in politics on all levels.

Within the creature is the cave painter, The Beatles, the evolved monkey dog with a seal's personality and the dolphin's, who if left at a typewriter would indeed write all the great novels if you gave him long enough, indeed as if by sheer random mathematical rule.  Stuck in the zoo of modern life, to be ogled and prodded.



Is mom's cell phone working?  I've left three messages...

She seems to have misplaced it.

She needs it to travel.  Try find your iPhone.

She doesn't know her apple password.

You can do it remotely.  Her laptop is probably signed in...

Uh, remind me, is it under applications?

Go to apple.com.  Look it up!




Mom:  You should have joined a monastery six months ago...



Sunday, December 3, 2017

Off to the kiddie birthday party.  The week starts.

There is a fair amount of anguish getting ready for a Saturday night, in the world of barmen.  Profound worries about getting set up.  The guy the night before did such a job of restocking that I bring up a milk crate full of wine bottles, a six of soda water, two sixes of beer, a round of citrus fruit, and then come to find out he did nothing to set up the wines of the week, there on the top of the page of wines by the glass offered.   This pisses you off.  And then the kid you're working with is a no show until ten minutes before the door opens.  Physical therapy, he explains.  You could have let me know.  The door opens, and boom, there are people, and the person with the phone is filling the tables with last minute reservations.  An old girlfriend is expected to come by with her people, and you've just come from a kiddie birthday party, a fifth at a Mexican restaurant, upstairs, with balloons and such, and for the barman being around Georgetown parents and their kids is a bit like being around dinosaurs, foreign, and inexplicable.  The parents handle it all with aplomb.  And I gotta go to work soon enough, after I help family lug home the load of presents...

Visiting a kid in her own space, listening to them, you might begin to wonder, in terms of the pieces of your own psychological puzzle.  Whereas you yourself have always prided yourself on being a nice guy, in your family's whole sometimes painful tradition of being gentle and kind, educators through and through, perhaps that very successful at the city and the professional world isn't all that sensitive, all that kind, all that generously open to the world of others.  A charmer, sure, able to turn it on at will, when need be, but otherwise, not that very demonstrative when it comes to sustained generosity of spirit.

Well, as we all know, nice guys finish last.  Right?

But then you begin to see that set-up, the dynamic.  Pretty much working on you your whole life.  The time he used your new leather gloves to wipe off the door sill of his new car at Christmastime, don't get any shit in here (that kind of stuff of wintertime up north, salt, road grit from the Mass Pike.)  A looking after his needs, but not yours, the strategic put-down...


Of course you love him, in the deepest way possible.  As a brother, of your parents flesh, with whom you've lived on, your whole life.  The pioneer, the leader, the one kind to you enough, generously letting you tag along.  The one able to get the neighbor girl to pull down her pants, the one who built the great tree houses, the dynamic one, the leader.  Brotherly love is as deep as you get, coming out of the Big Bang.  Jack and Bobby.  No words need be spoken.

The stern Irish cop, well-humored enough, will come out, reminding one of his own most idiotic tendencies...  He's right about you, in general, often enough, and you have your own deeper idiocy and states of poverty in affairs, and he could go at you much much worse, indeed, he is tolerant, turning the other cheek...  But for the kindness little brother must have as a compensation to his head-strong rudeness to keep fellow humanity at bay.  Big brother, the Mafia don, younger brother, the priest, gently taking care of aging mother.

Your own almost perverse kindness, the deferential humbling quality that colors personalities so fortunate to harbor such instincts....  Your own moral stance in life, God help you...


After he wrote, there in the sunlight on the back deck, laptop propped up so that he could write sitting on the old teak bench of his father's garden, he looked down at his bones, his fine wrists, light as air, covered with a gentle forest of golden hair.  Tumeric water with lime, a can of soda water.  The workweek had started.  When his guts had straightened out from rising and hydrating, he would take the rest of his vitamins, and prepare to go to work.   The anguish of starting the workweek, at least that was done and over.  And he'd gotten up at a reasonable hour, more or less, out into the December daylight, the vital dose of nature, Vitamin D...

Well, Jesus, that explains a lot.

Once you start writing, which yes, is brave, people are right about that, insights come, first in flickers, in dumb animal movement toward a light.  The first lines lead to insights, which lead to other  insights, sometimes each deeper than the last.

And so he pondered, yes, this was why he was attracted to meanness, thought it normal, this was why he acted as if kindness from other people was a rare and seldom thing.  This was why here at the flickerings of the prime of his life, supplemented by Chinese herbs and medications to keep the mood calm and positive, he was sprinkling a bit of cornstarch onto the pink rubbery artificial vagina of his Fleshlight to keep it "realistically flesh-like and supple," not tacking as old rubber gets.  A dose of liquid Immodium to protect the first travels of the day.  After the shower, returning to his thoughts.

Women do not have to be kind to you, not initially, but there are ways to read them.  His instincts had always been good, but it was as if he were handicapped in some strange but crucial way, thus the ironies of his life, love life being far too ambitious a term, alas.

It would explain, he thought, as he zombie-like gathered himself for work, the checklist, making a sandwich of gluten free bread and roast beef from the Safeway, socks, a shirt, the tendency to insulate himself, by various means, from other people in general, or why he sometimes took to the wine bottle alone at the end of a shift, to calm the beastie...  No wonder encounters with people in general made him nervous...

Yet, people told him, at work, that he had excellent people skills, that he should consider being an actor, and inside he would say, yes, I am an actor... many talents, but how to use them.  Quisote and Hemingway's old man of the sea were figures of noble defeat, there was precedence in literature for that.

Where do the broken-hearted go--off to live out country songs and Hank Williams and the heartbreak that every Irishman knows is his inheritance...

Maybe he needed a puppy dog, or a prostitute.  One of those lifelike sex-dolls made in Barcelona that cost thousands of dollars he'd come across through an article on Vice.com....

Friday, December 1, 2017

It was a bit like a traveling concession.  People were mobile back then.  A little spiritual talk, followed up by a little sustenance for the crowd.  A lot of talk about fish, fishermen, bread, vineyard, fruit of the tree, grain...  Jesus would give a talk, and then the loaves and the fishes, each in keeping with the other, each bringing the point of the other home.

The nearest approximation to him, a sort of barman.  There were no fixed places for such, beyond the innkeeper of the Good Samaritan story, those kind of places.  If a stable would do, any other place would do just fine too.  And that''s perhaps why he sounds like a bartender about to retire, take this wine, it's my blood, believe me;  take this bread, it is my body, believe me...  I'm done.  That's my last shift.

They weren't so scheduled back then to be tied down to shifts or to a particular establishment.  Jesus, Sunday through Wednesday, 4:30 to close.

Somewhere along the line the job sort of got downgraded.  Hey, could I get a martini, olives, please.  The scholarly scholar's son got stuck behind a bar, less the doling out of miraculous wisdom, more the grunt work of trade, an employee, the boss's bottom line in mind, that's how it works.  Even the strongest of unions will never bring that back, the job as it was in the original.  And again, people, for all their claims of great mobility, are really more settled down than ever, stuck where they are, commuting in from the suburbs, bound to make anyone bitter and unimaginative, to say nothing of being needy and maybe even thirsty.  Not like you're pulling up somewhere with your flock of sheep or your herd of swine.  Too practical and humorless a world for that.  Sheep and pigs come via the supermarket, as does whatever prophecy the world would allow these days, in form of The National Inquirer, or People, or laundry detergent.
Yeah...  I had a history of drinking.  In a solitary way, sometimes, or sometimes just too much.  Tending bar some of us find a lot to be on top of, and so, well, I'd get stressed out, and then I'd feel like I needed something to calm my nerves.

Oh, sure, I'm not one to discount certain modes of Irish creativity, but they should happen in company, not alone.  Well, of course, practicing an instrument enough, trying out a singing voice, that's something that has to be done in private, but...

In the frustrations and nervous things of life, three quarters of a bottle of Beaujolais, twelve percent in alcohol, it seemed to me to calm the beast.  But then, you know, it begins to take a toll on the mind, on your nutrition, on your mood.  I must emphasize the apparent difficulty of my job as it seemed to me, and how the wine began in a healthy way, a social half a drink with last of the customers, when the night was pretty well packed up.  The busboy would come up and jostle me in my space as he swept and grabbed all the things he wanted to take downstairs to be cleaned and sorted and put away in the kitchen, the laundry bin and the trash, and that I found nerve-racking, an invasion, and it was easier to just go around to the other side of the bar until all his sound and fury had absented itself.

Now I am not a good writer, not by any means.  A sketcher of half-baked formless half connected thoughts.  Again, simply a writer's notebook.  An unguarded attempt to get a few more words out of the richer than one thinks out of the hidden inner ecosystem of biological thinking, memory, dreams, impressions, loose thoughts emboldened by some basic need of self-entertainment, spending too much time alone.


But I will say that given the state of journalism needing to pander to the market forces of the algorithms of powers that be of social media traffic, I found it not an unpleasant to be, writing pieces that would never fit in to the slightest form of a promotable readership.    Writing is free, giving it away is free, and I do not care much beyond all that.  I paid for it in other ways, that lack of financial return, by tending bar, by having a sort of odd life, that sort of thing.

But I will also tell you, that when anyone takes it upon himself to harness the practicality of market forces, of being shrewd enough to write something that in anyway pleases the beasts of marketplace self-interest, whatever will be gained is irretrievable lost in basic underlying truth and sensitivity to the human condition.  The corporate sensibility, the one that doles out all the rewards there to be had in the great pie, will never be true to the human soul.  Bottom line.   The old camel through the eye of the needle rich man rule of The Gospels, always vigilant upon the truths of our deepest intentions.

Humans, of course, we are selfish.  I suppose we must be.  That's just logic, right?  Can't end up with nowhere to lay your head like Old Jesus, can you now, it would be neglectful and irresponsible to your own family, first of all, you don't want to end up like that.

And thus one hopes that art is the final untouchable realm, that will never respond to the number of clicks you get on the web traffic counter scale...  Art is the spiritual thing.

Attempts to make a living in the hospitality business were problematic, and perhaps that meant I needed to refine my thinking...


Do you have to go through the whole process of being scapegoated in order to appreciate all this?  Does the Christian tradition go just a step farther in offering a vision of a scapegoat who gets a second chance, at least a sketch of what that might be like?
The machine does not, can never, have chakras.  It can never have bodily physical form, at least that it can know about.  The machine will never have the balancing sense of psychic awareness, of nervous sensitivity, of the energy through the spine and nervous system, a sense of touch and feeling.  It will never have the balancing seven judges of the energy centers located along the spine from tailbone upward through the center of the brain's own consciousness.  There can never be the sense of growth, of maturing adjustment to changes within and without.

Watching a cat clean herself.  She is sitting up straight, her spine twisted to one side, her head down, licking her belly, one forefoot on the ground, one on her belly, balanced.  She pauses, seemingly to think, to consider.  She returns to the same spot.  And then soon she turns her head elsewhere, higher up, closer to her chest, bobbing her head.  How does the cat know what to do, I think as I do some yoga, testing each pose by berating through each of the chakra energy centers, as if the leg muscles and the spine were posing questions to each chakra, how far to stretch, how to hold the body, going further with each breath into the pose's stretch.  Into plow pose.  Aligning warrior poses.  Let the body relax into the chakra's scale of seven or eight.  The body knows what to do, when the questions are posed through each center from the base of the spine to the top of the head.  The body knows how to balance itself, how to support itself.

Who taught the yogi how to do yoga?  Who taught the caught how to wash herself and stretch?  The balance is within, found in relaxing into balance as much as anything.



On one side of the question, there are the difficulties those of us who sense mental illnesses within must go through, like the strangeness of the employment that we can deal with, as they are careers (if they are such) of compensation, of a provision of allowance for the difficulties of the mentally ill.

On the other side, the other end of the scale, there is the sentiment of Jesus, lamenting how long he must put up with this perverse and faithless generation.  And maybe he too, these days, would be taken as a person with mental illness, as he may well have been in his day, given the stories, like the one where he speaks in the synagogue and then taken to be thrown off a cliff, in the end getting off safe by "walking through their midst" unharmed.


I must now examine my own habits, and so it is a good thing to do yoga, to get out into the sun with yoga mat, consulting the chakras, stretching the spine out, putting the muscles through the light paces of the basic vocabulary of poses.

Returning to work, after a week up with mom, I am good about avoiding drinking alone when I get in.  Off to bed.  Get up at a reasonable hour, get the body out into the sunlight.  Up at mom's, in the quiet, I notice how the liberation of wine leads to those agonized thoughts somewhere in the night, all the mistakes you made, being an idiot, back in college.  The escapist pleasure of wine inevitably leads to the depression and thoughts of regret.  I plead to somehow exorcise these old demons, of the worst memories when you could have, should have, would have.  One slight tick of difference, one less degree of neurotic reaction, one less degree of being in one's own head, and you would have had that greatest pleasure of all, sexual love with a beautiful woman you cared about, found quick, sharp, pretty, hilarious, feisty, a good buddy down to that base level the intuition senses.  The mistakes you made, against the chakra good sense, shameful...


How do you admit to yourself that you've been wrong, that you have lived in such a way as to stress yourself out...  In my case, a juvenile aping foolish things and the egotistical glamour of drinking.


The first day off, having gotten up easily and early, I get out and do the yoga again, mat laid out upon the flat field stones of the garden.  Laundry, organizing, folding the clothes strewn about chairs and on top of dressers.  A rearranging of the living room, putting like things with like things.  Lunch.  More work, and then down to Glen's Market with my little list, doing my best.  There is a fire pit patio arrangement sort of thing, surrounded by benches, and so I go and sit down with my grocery bag and a tumbler of water.  Peering into my phone, google news, I see there has been an earthquake locally.  Did anyone else feel it?  And this starts some nice conversation with pretty young women.  They happen to be school teachers.  One went to college in Maine.  They are friendly, in a way that almost surprises me.  It's a nice chat.  I tell them the truth, as I know it, a nice back and forth.  They are having a couple of beers, talking, facing each other, with a little friendly dog.  I go get a glass of wine.

It'd be nice to stay out on a Thursday night, when people are in friendly undistracted moods and modes, but I'm cold from being out a bit too long, and I walk back home as a light rain starts to fall, and I gotta cook dinner anyway.  Burger with onions, broccoli.  And I'm not going to start drinking by myself all alone.  Feeling the chill, a documentary about John Coltrane comes on WHUT Howard University public television, which fits the bill perfectly.  And then from a nap, I go off to bed.


Saturday, November 18, 2017

I could not understand where the shyness came from.  I liked that I had a place to go where I was comfortable, but going out for me was fraught with peril.  Going out after the last night of the work week to the Beaujolais Nouveau party at BDC was a mistake (not that it did not have pleasant moments.)  Where does one belong in this world.

But I began to find that the shyness came from the words.  It came from a self-protective instinct, one that had to do with the words.  It had been a long habit of mine.  The words were not, as Hemingway once put it, vaguely, something about attempting to show something left of what once had been complete;  did he make reference of a broken piece of pottery, or a human limb, I forget.  The urge, the need, to protect something fragile and personal.

It's as if within them there are seeds.  Something to protect for a long time.  Who knows why.  Maybe because the words are serious to you, embedded into a central place within.

And without knowing it, most of the things you do, like the job you choose, the hours  you must keep, speak of being a professional, protecting the life of those words, their sanctity, their importance.  Other people might ask, why are you holding on to such things?  Forget about them.  but they were a crucial part of a garden, the dirt, the roots, the stalk, who knew...

It was all necessary to understand, if you wanted to grapple with those events, the memories of which gnaw at you in unprotected solitary moments such as waking, or alone.

The work you did could never be a professional involvement, a professional engagement, of the sort that writing professionals must embrace journalism, factual details, research and the like.  That would be an offense to the holy spirit.

People then might wonder, why would be such a job, when you could obviously doing something like that, more professionally in keeping, in their understanding, of gift and education and the like...  I'd heard that a few times.

But stubbornly, I put up with that, and just kept on, more or less content within, as long as I got a day off, a bit of protected time to allow the words and I to meet again in that mysterious open plain, a sort of agreed upon secret meeting place, a place of liberation.


I guess the thing you realize is the necessary secrecy, that sense that the words themselves cannot be violated.  Perhaps this makes it difficult for a writer to have a conversation;  the thing that most people identify with as their main topic of conversation is their job, their profession, and this is precisely what a writer must very much avoid, considering it, or rather finding it, a violation of the personal.

So there is a difference, one that goes way back, most likely to formative years, the difference between those who master the surfaces, the styles, the lingo, the gab, the show, and those who keep integral parts of you, involved deep within, not for public consumption.  Do you focus on the shell, or that within?  There seems little choice.   It's a matter of time.

And one can of course hope that the world will come round at some point, be a part of that partnership which is readership.  Like the tossing of a ball from one person to another, a reader sharing what he has read it its essence.


There is the, perhaps there will always be, the authorial balancing act.  What can the writer reveal about the deep, while remaining private.   The only real material he will ever know must come from his own self, his own experiences, his own tastes, his own style, his own encounters.  And the space he can create is done largely through creating a chamber of reflection.  The reader, by this analogy, senses the echoes, the connections, the integrity that makes the chamber a whole, but the main part its he unseen depths.  A lot goes into those depths, down the small daily acts of doing the dishes, or, as Agee does in A Death in the Family, shaving before a mirror.  This is the test of whether a piece works.

Shakespeare could somehow transfer, translate, and do all sorts of math.  But ultimately he is Hamlet, a person with a very rich and personal life with words, with less of a gift to make the clean decisions that those who live on surfaces, ignorant of the interior, do, with their power grabs, with their taking of queens and kingships, with their defense of perceived honor.   Hamlet, who remembers Yorick from childhood...

This is the pleasure of reading, to discover the essential.

And also the test of literature, for both the writer and the reader.




But the times, we have come to live in, the focus on the shallow, on the surface, so focussed, no wonder the powerful gate keeper, rather than focussed on the inner world, have behind their facade, a wealth of inappropriate behavior, particularly centered around that which is most private and unsharable.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Words have a life in you, down to a ghostly cellular level.   Words become a part of the organic being's life.  Words shape, reform, guide inner growth.  We are the patient etherized upon a table, words the spooky doctor.

What you write, what you say, therefore, is rooted in the words you have in you, and more words will come as such, based on your being.  It's the words that come out of you that lift you, or defile you.  The old Christian understanding of what comes out of a man has a depth and an accuracy;  tending to the vineyard of our words and thoughts is a useful practice.  Words can be health, and they can be illness.  This is perhaps why it as an old adage that saying nothing is the best recourse sometimes.

A relationship with another person yields the fruit of who we are as a being, through words.

The character, the college kid in the book I wrote, to bridge the gap between male and female, as a last effort, unanswered, rhetorical, is told he's crazy when he brings the princess flowers for the second time, and his line is, "Crazy to bring flowers to a bring flowers to a beautiful girl."  Nothing more need be said. He said those words, and with them in his possession, he can go on and live his life.

Did the words have any specific motive?  Any particular coveted aim?   Did the words bring terms insistent upon as if in some deal, some bargain?  No.  The words did not.  The words were simply words, observations.  The human being the vessel of them.  

But one was a kid back then.  Later on, you learn a bit more about protecting the words.  You can try to remain in a youthful mode, but the adult learns better to keep the human being in appropriate places doing good things.  This can be solitary work, not the free-flowing swashbuckling kid approach.

Lincoln came to have a seriousness toward his words.  Perhaps he had to, from the professional angle he came to it, at it.  But his seriousness was in keeping his words appropriate to the human soul, and certainly he was well-read in such matters, Old Testament, Shakespeare, etc.  His youth as a reader let him intuitively shape himself from within, so that words had physical weight, cellular material, particular ways of flowing that could not be countered or circumvented.  His words carry the nobility that words.  Of course, he could joke, and engage in humorous frivolity, clevernesses, but the weight of words remain.  And if one were able to write, say, two of his noble addresses and deliver them as such, that would be quite a sufficient and manly literary life.  He was a poet.  Words always meant something to him, had an inner personality in accordance with which one must bring himself into agreement with as being altogether righteous and proper.

One could argue that this is why he lives on, strangely, ghost-like, over the American scene, his cracked negative sagacious smile saying that he had accomplished, as far as words, all that he would have wanted.  (One could say that JFK leaves a similar impression, as a man "true to his word," a phrase carried lightly these days of smug leadership.)

Lincoln's words, like those at Gettysburg, seem to have a deep agreement with the core.  Shakespeare's at a tick removed, at the acting level, but the actors sometimes are able to speak from the core.


For the writer of a more apparently bohemian life, perhaps it's easier to miss the seriousness of words, of the seriousness that words have for all writers and writer souls.  The reality of all human beings is a physiological connection with words and physical material.

Poets have done well to capture the relationship, the connection.  "Was it excess of love," Yeats asks on behalf of the Irish Patriots of the Easter Uprising, "enchantment to a stone in the living stream"  (to paraphrase.)

Hypocrites come along.  They might achieve a lot of damage, but one has the sense that ultimately their words will roast them eventually, one way or another.   One cannot maintain an improper relationship, a divorce between being and words, forever;  it can simply not happen at a molecular level.  The biological being cannot withstand falseness for very long.  Great cracks will appear in such a system, seen as rampage and tirade.  Nixon said as much, bowing out, about that which will destroy you (anger.)



I suppose it possible that a writer would know this, but in a way, not know it, or kind of forget about it, this deep relationship.  After the literary flourishes of his youth, what now?  What is the proper way to proceed, given the seriousness of that which he unveiled?  Into obscurity?

How to go with the light, rather than against it?

But words of yours, in a good way, can never be taken from you.  They are a part of you, part of your being, your personality, your temperament, your physical being.  There is an innate respect for them from within, just as the words are from within.


None of us have ever really figured out what writing is, what its benefit is, what its purpose is.  I suppose only those who do it, though they too must live under a limited understanding, consciously.  They have allowed something to happen in the microcosm of their own world.


Your own words will connect you to the major issues of the day.  Your words will come out to show the great contrast between what you did and the things that the real monsters of sexual harassment, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, etc.   Your words will be a protection, and then a redemption.  They will speak to the deepest issues of the day, of power, of judgment, racism and the like.

And that's all that really matters, the words, your honor.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

It was easier to write about yourself and your experiences in the third person, the man thought, as he drank his first cup of green tea, made before bed the night before.  It was also easier, and better on the stomach, to drink soda water than regular.  He took his pills and vitamins over the course of sitting out on the back porch with a visit from the grey cat for some sunlight on a call fall day, then as he made a tea of muddled lime with turmeric, cracked the eggs on a plate gently, the stove on low, easing them in, yokes whole (botched last time), with the burger patty reheating in the toaster oven with their caramelized onion and fresh broccoli.   He'd made a Safeway run the night before, before it started raining, getting an Uber cab home, then still with difficulty sleeping after running around on a busy Sunday evening at full pace.

There were the medications for mental well-being, manly well-being, stomach well-being, respiratory well-being, for calmness and for immune support.  A shingles shot would be a good idea, and there was also the barnacle on the side of the top of his scalp to get looked at at some point, and there would be the shower before work, on top of breakfast.  The bike was left at work, and so, sunny day, why not walk.

But it was easier to write about yourself in the third person, anonymously, and that fit in with the Zen thing about personal non-importance and the simplest of ego structures.  It was not the individual who was important, but the record of the human experience.
I find myself in a strangely good mood these days.  It happens at work, I notice.  Waiting on the people who come brings me joy.  Wine brings them joy, and I enjoy pouring it for them.  It's a great job.  One that flies under the radar.  It turned out to be a decent job for a writer, such as the way things are for writers now.  The moods surprise me, and I look back at where I've come from, that period in any writer's life that are full of great doubts and worries.

I was a happy kid.  I could find happiness easily, when I wanted it.  I was social, good with people.  Then along came some events, college, a time of life, a time of upheaval.  Maybe I over did it, playing cool, like James Dean.  Yeah, but I was working on something that needed to be done.  And slowly but surely I was seeing to it.  Takes a long time.

But when you are on the side of the good, you are on the right side, and things will work out in the favor of that which you are trying to achieve, it that be of good things too.

It is a simple statement, that life can be, well, difficult, on those of us who are naturally self-content, who are thereby prone to go it their own way.  Other people will always tell you that collaboration is the thing, and this is true to some extent, but first, you have to create, and this happens alone.

I didn't even think I'd have a thing to write today.  End of the week, the last shift of the week the night of live jazz.  Could have been much worse.

The bar was a simple life.  There was always plenty to do, plenty people to talk to, projects, cleaning, no end to it, but your own energy.  And I put my energy, the energy of the day, into it, carefully timed and invested.    Anyone should be so lucky, as to find work with hands and body, mind and communication.  Talk, responding to the continuity of stories, of cultural references in a special little inconspicuous place.  A repository of things put in, remembered.

It was the sort of a job Hemingway would have liked.  But it was no bother that there was not much material that directly came from it.  Those things would remain, in place, left unexploited, a simple background for life as it is.  No need to go game hunting.  No need for anything really.  A simple zen life.


The argument against you came from the Puritans, more or less.  Your small mistakes, they shook their heads at, no, he's not one for us.  You were one of the old faith.  The bad student in front of the authorities.  The thing was to avoid the foolishness as best you could now, as you went on with life, much older now.

My therapist, she reminded me, she nursed me back, back to following through with the values I found important.


In an odd way, you become what write.  And you write what you become.  You keep on tending bar, you keep on writing.  I wrote about that as it applied to Ernest Hemingway as a college senior.  A brief essay that came out of a lot of thought, of a failed thesis, of a failed relationship.  I applied to Professor DeMott's class about contemporary cultural criticism, though it didn't really answer the query he posed of us.

And as I recover my good mood enough to have a health like that of a college student again, I see the work, the thing that I was up to.  Yes, some of it had to do with a girl.  I wanted to be a man in that way, and I really saw no other way to do than to be the kind of writer and person I wanted to be.  And by the time I finally was, I guess she did not matter anymore, but as an archetype, a kind of person that you generally respect and wish to by respected by.    She, herself, outwitted me, was too clever, did not so much want to cater to my baseness, the faults that I liked and kept as a part of myself.


It was all quite amusing.  Hemingway writes that somewhere, in one of those brief italicized tale between the stories of In Our Time.   Germans coming over a wall, picking them off.  "It was all quite amusing."  I wondered where that came from, that assuredness, it was all quite amusing.  How would know that about life at that age, I wondered, as any writer must.  Where does one get the self-possession to think that one knows anything.  How do you get that?  It's something we aim for, I suppose, and allow it to take its time.  Years.  The passing of different conditions...

And then you see, as he did, the importance of all the little scraps of paper, of the little thoughts to capture and record.  Put one down, then another comes, and then another, a self within all allowing it to gel.

But it was not, could not, could never be, easy.  There were excesses.  There were lots of many nice opportunities that had passed into the irretrievable, nice things, like girlfriends, like happy normal jobs and the lives that went with them.  People had aged.  People had died.  Financial security had been permanently faded away.

The story, the only one you really have, I've said it before, is that of how you become a writer.



I was not good enough to go out.  The hours were wrong, and I could not afford to make going out a full meal.  It was better for me to work in such a place, then just go home.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Waking from a dream I am hungry.  I crack open a can of soda water, sip, and lay back, remembering.  In the dream I am almost a different man, but with the same people, my father, in my life.  I have a young girl friend (of legal age), a student.  Am I a student also?  She likes me, which is novel to me.  When I return from a trip of a scientific professional artistic sort, involving underwater photography, optimal use of tight restaurant space, she has missed me.  It's all tentative, but seems to be working.  She is pretty, of a Lauren Bacall sort.  She likes me.

And I wake, and must get ready for work, and the hollow feeling comes back to me.  I must eat something, my stomach tells me.  Back to the sense of shame, of imprisonment.  The writing is the only thing to save me, to convince me I'm still following through with my values.  I suppose I avoid bitterness and something in the neighborhood of anger, inward or outward, fear, confusion, by having to work a hospitality job.  The body has to get up, feed itself, not counting on the staff meal, take medicinal herbs, shower, shave, get ready for work, and at work, no time to dwell on anything.

Where I went to school, the attitude was too WASP to care that much, to look out for a wayward intellectual.  Stiff upper lip.  If you can't keep up with us, darling...  There were teachers who cared, deeply, but not all of them.  To balance this out of really getting it, of really caring, they institute a shift toward ultra liberalism, another form of WASP fairness and the lack of personal treatment, of actually caring for another human being, another human soul in the process of trying to figure out life.

And so I said, to hell with them.

Shakespeare, I was about to say, would not have known WASPs, not their actual Twentieth Century embodiment, but that might not be all fair to say.  For, they say, he was one of the old faith, a Catholic, trying to get by, tenuously, in a dangerous spot, in a very dangerous atmosphere, of spies, and powers in the wrong court.  His Polonius is convincing, and perhaps Leartes, who ultimately kills Hamlet through trickery in their duel, represents WASP forms of "justice."  Yes, back then they didn't just ruin young people's lives through their callousness, they put people's heads on pikes.

And I had come from an Irish tradition, a Polish tradition, non-practicing Catholics, teachers who cared about their maturing charges, who would have reached out to a student going through a hard time.  I had come from a philosophy of the higher purposes of education, which went beyond the WASP bring out the battle fit, the preselected to salvation in a crowd of people.  A blind eye to a stoning, 'couldn't keep up.'

I presented a direct conflict to them, which was not exactly wise.  It cost me a lot of things, including that girl of dreams...  my own place in the sun of education.

And, I suppose, that's why became a writer, even without knowing how to do it, as the only way to save that which they would have thrown away.

The words there, of JFK, one of my sensibilities, held up for me.  And so did those of the at the time avant garde writers.  Hemingway.  They were my torches out of the whole mess, out of the creepy collusion.

Many years later, many scandals began to come out.  Entertainment, the news...

Sunday, November 12, 2017

You never wanted to write after a shift, when you got home.  There might have been a few ideas while you cleaned up, ate something, did the checkout report, counted the cash, lugged up the last few bottles of wine, but by the time you were clean of it, perhaps still there, the ideas of expression and of the impressions you had during the night's service, the thoughts drained out of you into the realization that you were all alone in the restaurant, that there would be no more socializing for the evening, that you now needed to just get home and take care of yourself, then you had no desire to write.  You thought of the next day, what you would eat when you finally woke up.  There was nothing to write, and you just wanted to absorb like a sponge, to let the adrenaline calm even as it contented to rise.

There weren't any characters, no stories.  Nothing to report, really, just life, just the churning shift of the night, the enjoyment of there not being any live jazz to contend with.

Bored you would be.  There were little projects to do, dishes, cleaned, some made dirty again, so breakfast would be easier.  Give yourself a bit of a haircut, far less a trouble to do it yourself then face the whole complication of going down to the Haircuttery, and down there you wouldn't end up stylish anyway, and still with the same head and hair, and at home you could just do it quickly enough and simply with a buzzer beard trimmer without the feigned effort of talk and the awkwardnesses.  There was also a monkish pleasure in keeping things simple and simpler.

And then somewhere along the line you realized you were not able to fall asleep, not ready to think about it.

But it was a perfect job.  It was an excellent job.  There was a deep love in you for it.  It was work, and it seemed to match the natural human skill set.  It was the best town to be a barman, a great variety of conversation, a gathering of interesting people from all over.


Then you would fall quickly into the workweek.  Alone, after work on a Saturday night, you turned on the television.  Mainly out of boredom, too lazy to read.  And then you could not fall asleep.  Then finally, you did, and then slept and slept.

Outtake interview by Burns of Shelby Foote, the writer talking about Lincoln's literary skill.  He was writing in American, like Twain would after him.

Time to go to work.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Good, the man said, cracking two eggs, one at a time on a saucer, easing them into the pan, yolks complete.  Goodly good.  The burger he'd put on a plate, into the toaster oven, set at broil, low.  Turning from the eggs he remembered now, explaining the quiet, that he'd unplugged the toaster the night before.  He had told the woman proprietor at the local market that the new sausage purveyor was not nearly as good as the old one, politely, as she stacked beer cases near the front, having been rearranging the store since one that afternoon.  His stomach hurt vaguely, sipping the second run green tea he had chilled in a  wine bottle from yesterday, and as he sat at the coffee table looking into the macbook pro he sprinkled powdered ginger into soda water in the mug along with a squeeze of lemon and took in a zantac.  He'd picked up the night shift from the kid.  At least it wasn't as cold as the previous day.


There was a busboy once.  Don Eden.  Built low and broad, from El Salvador.  "The ego is the problem," Don Eden would say, and they both would chuckle.


And this truly is what a writer will come to discover.  And it might well make him a bit queasy.  But it is something he has known within for as long as he can remember, and it is a matter of awakening to it.  Where the knowledge came from, from Big Bang, or something at the cellular, molecular, or atomic level, who knows.  Perhaps the knowledge could be facilitated by good parenting, of a teacherly sort.

But every time the man went out, this is what he saw in the city.  Ego.  And when at night he'd mustered the energy and the courage to go out with his shopping bags for groceries, wine, soda water, green tea and other supplies, some of them medicinal in nature, such as immodium and toothpaste, and looked in the through the windows at bars and restaurants, and encountered people gathered in their little groups, he could not but help seeing it.  And while he wished to have people, pretty girls, yoga people, to talk to, friendly encounters over similar interests, while he wished dearly to be, say, at a bar where he was familiar, he knew it was really not for him to participate in such things, strangely, maybe sadly enough.  But he did derive simple happy animal pleasure going to the local wine shop for an inexpensive Beaujolais.  Brave Sir Bobby, he would say to his friend behind the counter.  All wine people, he regarded as a sort of faux Arthurian type.

Then he would hopefully be able to walk back with his bags full and remember the somber thoughts, the observations that had come to him, but as he ate, these proved to be no longer of the moment, fleeting, elusive, though he knew he had stored them somewhere in his brain and sensed he would later be able to remember them if they were worthwhile.  The main thing was to have the observations.  This was the key thing, having them, and knowing them to be tested, true, and real.

He had to work, he had to show up, for Saturday night at the Dying Gaul.  The shift would be shared with an agreeable person, a young woman, quite pleasant, from Mongolia, who was gracious, efficient, and had a deeper understanding of hospitality that puzzled him almost.  And soon he would be pressed to get ready.  But as ever as he woke, it seemed he was already thinking of the people who might come in.  They might come in early, alone, not in the frame of mind of being able to entertain themselves.  Or they might come in late, after he'd been busting his butt all night with dinner service and drinks for those waiting for tables, thinking that now was the party, just as the man had dragged himself through to the closing of the kitchen and the last desserts and coffee.  There were the people who would come, almost specifically, to see him, and the rest of the staff regarded these people as monsters which he had created and was eternally responsible for, in his effort to build up a steady clientele over the however many years he'd been there.  The thought of them unsettled them, for they were the kind of people who'd been taken over by the mainstream sense of human usefulness, polite, well-mannered, certainly, but feeders of ego.

Friday, November 10, 2017

I get up late.  Early morning the mind was awake, the body not able to move, then slipping back into a heavy sleep, dream, waking up groggy.

What I wrote yesterday seems a bit strange to the eye today.  Foreign.  The brain is in a different place today, its juices a different blend.  The chemistry is firing in a different way.

There is the embarrassment of putting a piece of writing out on social media, and I am considering hitting the delete button.  But the laundry is done.  Vacuuming.  I start the day with green tea, a turkey and butter sandwich on gluten free bread, take my pills and vitamins, call mom, who is happily en route with a colleague friend Jane P. to The Press Box for dinner.  I call at an opportune moment, giving them directions, over the bridge, left lane, left turn single, first street after the bridge.  She is happy, and I am glad to hear a happy laugh in her voice.

The piece was meant poetically, not to be taken literally.  By the late of day it looks foreign, not to be taken as literally as people will be inclined to take it.

As I lay in a thick red mummy bag, the bed clothes not set, as I drift in an out of the comfort of sleep, I think of the lack of physical erotic companionship.  Perhaps the consequences of events written about in Hero For Our Time.  I've always had a healthy taste for the opposite sex, but maybe I just come off as too strange, or I drink too much then, or to them I seem to have no discernible game, or I'm just a stubborn bloody Capricorn, too obviously crazy, who knows...


I look in the mirror and see that the haircut I gave myself the previous night with Ken Burns The Civil War playing in the background with a Wahl battery powered shaver lacks a bit to be desired, but rather than lamenting too long how bizarre the fresh look is, the I take it upon myself to clean it up a bit, which means shortening things with another round, looking in the shaving mirror with the reflection of the back and sides of my head in the bathroom mirror and going over, like a mower, the uneven spots.  And then finally more or less pleased with the results, into the shower, get the clippings off, shave the neck underneath the beard, come out clean.

With writing you have to be serious.  As with anything professional.  You cannot hem and haw, you cannot go halfway.  You have to write.  With focus.  Like cutting your own hair.  Like the chef owner of a restaurant.  For me, this means putting away the distractions of social life.  For me this means working in a restaurant.  You have to be dedicated.  And this is the lesson of maturity.  You have to create yourself.  That's the only way.  You have to let the God part in you reach down to the Adam part of you.

It is simple enough to be human.  You need sleep.  You get hungry, you need to eat.  You work to make a living.  You do the laundry, check the mail, wash the dishes, and try not to get distracted...

So, you wake up one day, and you ask yourself, hmm, what was all that about...  And then you get back to writing.  And you just write, like I'm writing now.

For me this means, proverbially, pulling the old books out, much as Quixote does at the beginning of his own story.  Take them out, remember them, the good stuff, the stuff you respond to, the stuff that strikes you as real.


Only time will tell, if the effort was worth it, or even if it amounts to anything.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

One day, when I am old, or dead and gone already, a young fresh wise Ken Burns-type will come along, and collect the facts and remembrances of our times, of the writers who led up to our times, who armed us with wisdom, background, sensitivity and knowledge--as always, the work of writers, since ancient times--to face the current battle to save the still-alive human mind while it is still alive and independent.

There will be the technologists on one side, armed with big data and numbers, treating us as some kind of collective organism, one easily led if one is clever enough, but always to their own technological preferences, their means, their tastes, their clever way of life.    Driven by style, success, a happy social life and material benefit, their blindness will only grow deeper, and the scandals, if they have not come already, will continue, betraying the colors of their moral character in their own 'creative' state.  They will claim to be the most creative of all, open to all, fantastic, saving the world as they speak, connected.

But they have forgotten something.

Then on the other side there will be us.  There will be those of us who remember the daisy, the experience of it, and the chickadee and the sparrow.

Instead of connecting us, as they claim, through their preferred mode of increasingly inhuman impersonal connection, of hits of dopamine, artificial, for which they will profit handsomely on by charging fees, dues for belonging to the master computerized computer-friendly master race, they will secretly be profiting by destroying the means and the ability for us to meet as strangers, to meet in common places in actual not virtual reality.

They will do all they can to destroy the old meeting places, the old quaint meeting houses and public rooms of rubbed shoulders and shared tales over a benign beverage and decent sustenance, to set up their own.  They will be set precisely against such people as me, old middle aged barman who've been at it for twenty five years in a neighborhood, against such who might still claim some right to write about real life encounters in all their strangeness and wonder.   (I will be dismissed as servile, not cool enough, not enough a self promoter.)

They will create a master race who goes where the machine, the big data tells us to go, the hot new place for something better, improved.  They will create the dopamine-seeking monster in all of us , that creature who must go, happily, to the new places, the new scenes, in so doing discarding the old ones, the old templates of decent things.  And that new humanity will not be able to provide any real dialog, despite professing themselves to be the great facilitator of such dialog.  They will create experiences of a virtual reality, as a fetish, experiences of the computer screen, ones which no longer allow, even wish or hope for real human dialog, as is only in their perfectly defined self-interest to do so.

To go to the new scenes will be a desire unquestioned by the masses, and unquestionable.  And anyone who does not follow along immediately, as millenials already seem to do, will be ostracized, trivialized, treated as an old fogey, irrelevant, uncool, uncouth, not following the latest in style.  The haircut will be their symbol of belonging.  Their style will be a uniform, and their actions will always include the new technology, worn on the sleeve, proud, proud of ignoring the fellow passer by, the human being sitting next to you, wearing no particular function but that of being human.
I get up around three on day off number one.  I don't care, meaning, that's life, you need your rest.  The life of the aging barman.  Those who will like him as a writer will like him, and those who don't will not.  (That is one of the lessons one learns in college;  people will judge you.)  There is no particular space, no particular place or recognition he seeks.  If he did, he would not see himself as worth calling a writer anymore.  There was a politics to it, quite essentially.  A loyalty to the arts themselves.

Perhaps the object of the game was to do the utter opposite of what Facebook or Google, Twitter and Instagram and the like were doing.  The most important and essential piece of writing was to remind everyone of the great obscurity of the human being, of the human soul, of the human just as he or she was, without dressing themselves up.  The more you did not pretend to be important or worth any attention at all any more than the next person, the better you were doing.  You were reminding yourself, and hopefully others, about being human, about the projects of the soul and spirit.

We might not have really understood that about Hemingway, as we criticized him on personal grounds, the bully, the blow-hard.


One day, when I am old or dead and gone, a young fresh wise Ken Burns type will come along, and collect the facts and remembrances of our times, of the writers who led up to, who armed us with wisdom and knowledge--as always since ancient times--to face the current battle for the still alive human mind.  There will be the technologists on one side, armed with big data and numbers, treating us as some kind of collective organism, one easily led if one is clever enough, but always to their preferences, their means, their tastes, their clever way of life.    Driven by style, success, a happy social life and material benefit, their blindness will only grow deeper, and the scandals, if they have not come already, will continue, betraying the colors of their moral character in their own 'creative' state.  They will claim being the most creative of all, open to all.  But they have forgotten something. Then on the other side there will be us.  There will be those of us who remember the daisy, the experience of it, and the chickadee and the sparrow.

Instead of connecting us through an increasingly inhuman impersonal connection, false hits of dopamine, for which they will profit handsomely on by charging fees, dues for belonging to the master computerized computer-friendly master race, they will secretly be profiting by destroying the means and the ability for us to meet as strangers, to meet in common places in actual not virtual reality.  They will do all they can to destroy the old meeting places, the old quaint meeting houses and public rooms of rubbed shoulders and shared tales over a benign beverage and decent sustenance, to set up their own.  They will be set precisely against such people as me, old middle aged barman who've been at it for twenty five years in a neighborhood, against such who might still claim some right to write about real life encounters in all their strangeness and wonder.   (I will be dismissed as servile, not cool enough, not enough a self promoter.)

They will create a master race who goes where the machine, the big data tells us to go, the hot new place for something better, improved.  They will create the dopamine seeking monster in us who must go to the new places, the new scenes, discarding the old ones, the old templates of decent things.  And that new humanity will not be able to have any dialog, despite professing themselves to be the great facilitator of such dialog.  They will create experiences which no longer allow real dialog, as is only in their perfectly defined self-interest to do so.  To go to the new scenes will be unquestionable.  And anyone who does not follow along will be ostracized, trivialized, treated as an old fogey, irrelevant, uncool, uncouth, not following the latest in style.  The haircut will be their symbol of belonging.

To stand behind a counter, a bar, and offer the basic good things of life, as recognized by Jefferson and the Renaissance, will be a forgotten, regarded as a tradition now worth keeping, if it does not fall into that created diorama of the desirable, the fashion, the hipster connected cool.  (I once had to ask what a hipster was.  I guess I know, better, now.)

The Ken Burns type out there in the future will, with the benefit of historical hindsight, treat this old corps of writers in a way that will be similar to the treatment of the soldiers, the generals, the political leadership as done in The Civil War, or perhaps in his piece on Baseball, or Jazz.  The creative types, for all their jazzman struggles and health concerns, will be seen finally as patriots of a sort, perhaps in the way that Yeats wrote of the Easter Rebellion.  His writers and artists will be a sort of natural history museum, naturalists, people who remembered how the human mind and the human psyche worked, what they might have looked like, before the great brain washing, the new communal new Communism, destroyer of the human soul.  They will be seen as brilliant vivid alive types, passionate hotheads, men barely in control of their emotions, caught up with some archaic and old fashioned concern, if there still will be such words.

Strangely, the works of Ken Burns converge upon a center.  The jazzman, the Lou Gehrig, the John Muir, the Robert E. Lee, the Lincoln, the Vietnam soldier blend at a cellular level, all up to the same thing, in different ways.  These are people who led actual lives, with actual ups and downs.


Day off after four straight busy nights.  A decent mood is essential to this day's creativity.   Sometimes I've been too tired and low to make much of the day off beyond the couch.

I can understand why Hemingway was shy, why writers are shy.  The good mood can be fragile.  Insularity has an importance, for the writer in a world which operates separately from his ways.  He is a quiet Zen monk of routine in a world he does not figure into, an economic stray, doing something for absolutely no discernible reason nor logic.  Who has left it to him to be his own preservation society, his own museum of odds and ends most grown ups would take to be childish as toy soldiers and such, mementoes of old neighbors and departed dad and grandparents, of old letters and pictures over the years.

The decent mood is necessary for the concentration, for the calm, for the meditation, for the creative nature, for the cellular level of such work.  Too much time off will drive one crazy enough.  A bright outlook has to be summoned.  One has returned to the library.  The spiritual star crosses over the accumulated literature of one's shelves.

Light box, Vitamin D, classical music, the start of putting things back in order.  A good apartment is uplifting.

Down in the basement, I put a load of a sheet, work shirts and a pillow into the washing machine, a fairly new one, one of those high efficiency low water kinds.  I watch it fill, slowly, spraying down from the lip of the canister, light in flow.  It takes a while to fill, but I stand over and watch;  how does it do its thing?  I've looked at these new models and options more carefully, now that mom needs a new one.  In a quiet way, here on a cool drizzling Thursday evening, dark out, watching how something works helps the wheels spin, in an uplifting way almost.

I suppose I came a bit closer to a bad place than I would have wanted to.  It had been building a long time, a long time finding the fears and anxieties difficult to hold off.  Building to a bad couple of years with a lot of things in question, up in the air, it seemed, causes for concern on several fronts, even as I pursued therapy and a serotonin uptake inhibitor and other measures, sometimes going to work was difficult.  Going out of the house was difficult.  What were these deeper values I had, apparently, tried at least to follow?  What was work?  What should I do for a job, a real job, and even too tired and out of synch to do even the slightest thing about it, about looking for a new job, benefits.  At one point, in the last days and months of the Obama administration my brother began to strongly suggest I get a federal job, the kind completely unskilled people have to take, something like a travel scheduler, for clearly I had no other skills, and the restaurant pay wasn't, would never be, enough to made anything close to local rent.  I tried, I added another shift, I kept going, but it didn't really work.  The one attempt at security I tried was an unappealing and ultimately failing enterprise that basically left me back where I had started.

But slowly it dawned on me, I would have a hard time not being physically involved with work.  And that entity within, with such tastes and distastes, to aversions and proclivities, that was as much the writer as anything else.  For writing books and anything else is some kind of physical labor, and the books on a shelf are comforting, for they show that writing is physical, in a way far less evident on a computer screen.

After observing my mother growing elderly, I began to understand, somehow she needed these over piled shelves and piles of books.  I did too.

A book, a sentence, hides the labor it took to make it.  The cover does not belie the long hours, the late nights, the travels to and fro in heat, in rain, in cold, and all other conditions of weather and hour, day and night.  The cover does not tell how the writer fed himself, much of what he ate, what he cooked, the energies spent.  The cover does not tell of difficulty sleeping, nor of difficulty falling asleep, or difficulty waking.

And if you're lost, if you lose the bulk of the reasons why you are doing all that which is on the side, but which is rather full-time, if you lose the understanding of the greater purpose and the sense of what writing a book might be about, might have to offer, then none of it is happy or satisfying.

So you wait on people.  You wait on the appreciative, the distracted, the self-concerned, you listen to talk of what people find to be justifying of their own seriousness and self-importance and all of their projects.  And sometimes, this hurts, all that getting a whole lot of the self-justification and reward stories of other people, while what you yourself are trying to do grows more and more twilight and obscure, sound and fury, signifying nothing, a tale told by an idiot.  Who would bother to read it anyway?

Tiredly, closing up shop, the painful last mile of it, the last glassware to polish, the paperwork to do, the cleaning of working surfaces and countertops, the feeling of running on fumes...  That college boy bright and concerned is a thing dim and tarnished, dusty.

But one thing they will tell you, in therapy, is that it will benefit you if you try, at least try, to follow through with your own values.  Remember them, act on them.  Continue to carry them.

The catch is that this requires one being able to keep in a decent mood, to not be down too often.

And maybe, to make a break through, that one which you have striven for, you need to go through a long dark night of the soul, the obscurity of the darkened wood, the obscurity of obscurity itself.  You have a point to make, one which held a value in physical work, from landscaping, to reading, to writing itself.


Of course.  It stands to reason.  The people who are capable of tangible success of the financial sort, give them credit for what they do and their hard work, must be, almost by definition, entirely selfish, unconcerned with the planet, with the human condition.  They might offer useful innovations, sure, to their credit.  But, they have succeeded in looking out for themselves, not that they do not help the un-clever...  Good for them.

But that is them.  And this is us.


I wish the best for all writers making a living today, making their modest hay on current issues, on being visible in milieu of social media, satisfying the primary need of perpetuating the animal they ride upon.  Louder voices than my obscure one, theirs of import, mine trivial.



Writing at the end of the period of humanity's useful literary effort, simple observations are necessary on the craft and its meaning.  It takes a kind of courage to face the breakdown, the manly/womanly breakdown.  You understand it finally as something necessary, a kind of credential, with literary precedence. The breaking apart of conventional thought, the entryway into the thinking beyond.

In such a state, one finds himself drawn to the writers one had always been drawn to.  Lincoln.  Twain.  Sherwood Anderson.  Kerouac.  Books in hand.  Which of them did not have a breakdown of some sort, and then a break from, then writing about the process.  They reached a point upon which let them not care for what anyone thought of them, finding it made little difference what anyone might think.  It's a good habit, anyway, for the maintenance of one's own integrity.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

'Tis a dreary day in DC, the temperature having dropped twenty five degrees, pouring rain.  Monday night jazz at The Dying Gaul, always complicated, no offer of any help restocking, the old shared server up and down routine, the busser tailing off at the end of the nigh, singing to himself quietly in the corner, eating something.  Good help while it lasts, and we get through the night, the food run up from the distant kitchen, the band's needs seen and conqueredBut at the end of it, after the last customers, I get a nice lesson in Gypsy swing jazz guitar from my friend who's been playing music with us for eleven years.  We start with some Hank Williams, and he has his custom made Craig Bumgarner guitar, a beauty, solid sound, followed by a  chord tutorial.  The guitarist's fingers and hands move so quickly I've not been able to decipher exactly what they are doing, it all looking like ninth chords and minor sixths, up and down the neck at speed.

Earlier, I've made an Aviator cocktail, for friends, a Georgetown couple we go way back with here at the Gaul--she tells stories of personal Obama encounters, he's just back from a colonoscopy--and they end up engaging with our two guitar players who are talking a bit of shop at the bar.  I take a seat next to their low table, to be friendly, and then for me some red wine on ice with a little orange and lime and a splash of soda water.  I'm obliged, earlier, to taste the gin and maraschino cocktail, and of course that's enough to get me started.  But they are kind to me, and we are overdue for a chat.


When I get home, finally, after eating my veal cheeks with rice instead of oriechette, no cream, but still the vital dash of truffle oil, I'm stirred up.  I don't necessarily want to turn on the television, but I do, crack open a can of soda water, and the CNN news desk is bright blue, offering the late night brain the drug of blue light in a large dose, stay up, stay up.  But I gain will power, and turn the damn thing off, take a trazodone sleep aid and go off to bed, the lights out, the bedroom door chinked with a towel at the base to avoid the front stoop porch light's stray beams.  And it takes a while to fall asleep, laying there in the pitch dark, but I wait it out, and even with the anxiousness of running like mad to take good care of everyone, I refrain from getting up and having another glass of wine.  I've not had too much, but with any drug or stimulant, when you've had a little bit, it asks you to have some more, to maintain the effect.

Earlier in the day, the day before, a walk through the woods.  My best friend Dan has taken up painting with house paints, and after some Rothko like experiments, some canvases of stylized owls.  Coming up the paved road, two thirds of the way up with the stone eastern wall of Dumbarton Oaks and bamboo above, there below, near a maple leaf flat on the wet pavement, a small gray snake the size of a number two pencil.  I stop and take a picture of him or her, and it stays still, then lifts its head, turns slightly toward me and flickers its little forked tongue as only snakes can do.  Hello, my friend.  I've seen at least one of these little guys on the paths here through the woods, in my years of commutes, and I've very glad this one is alive.  I go on to work, happy for the encounter.  An Englishman who passes in the opposite direction on a silver bicycle coming down the hill bids me a good afternoon, and I return the greeting, sir, and look behind to make sure he's on the right side of the path, not to run over my discreet little snake friend.


Hemingway, I've often wondered what he meant in that passage toward the end of A Moveable Feast. His regrets for having ever gotten involved with the rich and their pilot fish, with those who patted him on the head to praise his writing efforts.  Nearing age 60, he writes he should never have listened to them, in strong enough terms, that he should have ran in the opposite direction.  Hmm.

There was a tall gentleman with cool but understated style who didn't look like typical DC in for dinner at the old wine bar Sunday night, and engaging him, I find he's in from Vancouver, flying out tomorrow.  He orders soup and dinner, a glass of Cotes de Bourg, and I engage him later on with a little sip of this and that.  At the end of the dessert, handing me his credit card, I see his name is Karsh.  And he's Canadian.  He has cool round glasses.  Sir, may I ask if you are related to the photographer.  Yes.  He was my great uncle.  Cool, I say.  My parents got me a book of his portraits.  His pictures of Hemingway, how he was the shyest man that he ever met...   The man tells me the story the photographer included in his notes on the encounter, a story of asking for a daiquiri, then the writer peeking his head out of the kitchen, Karsh, it's 8 in the morning!  I thank him for the story again, as he, tall, departs down the stairs.  You're welcome, he says.


And Hemingway, too, even as a sophisticated observer with the built-in bullshit detector, even he was an innocent, the kind of idiot who manages to bring some perspective by seeing with fresh and wondering eyes.  I make my scrambled eggs and eat them straight out of the old teflon pan, a simple family heirloom from the Sixties, and I think of him up in Michigan, camping, making hot cakes and coffee over a fire.  Even Hemingway, who'd sort of laid down the classic claim of having seen it all, gangsters, wars, courage, death, riding the rails with hobos, sex and marriage and drunken fishing guides preying on newly married couples and dining and oysters and wine and Paris, and old ladies and bullfighters and travels in Spain on the top of busses, in trains, places to go swimming, far far beyond the normal range of American experience, yes, even he too was an innocent, a newcomer, and one with that typically dumb naive idea that he wanted to write and that he could teach himself by reading, and then matching, the greats...

Only far late in his life would he reveal, behind the bluster, that he too was a kind of Dostoevsky idiot, caught up in immature adventures, clueless, attempting to learn, attempting to be himself, as is revealed in the incandescent early works, the Twain like offerings rich in physicality, of the story collection In Our Time.  Then, he would be in the role of knowing he was a writer, or thinking so, having to protect himself with his bluster, looking for new material, to keep up the same pace of insight, of capture.  The spiritual moments sprinkled throughout his writing career reveal that big kid, the person behind his persona, even as he tried to live simply and cleanly as he could.

And Hemingway, maybe he too yearned to have some profession, some professional life, but one on his own terms in tune with the natural chemistry of his being.  Something like being a fisherman, or the waiter back in Paris he was fond of who kept a garden and had to shave off his mustache under the new bistrot management, or the tag-along kid who hitchhiked to Key West to study how to be a writer, taken under the Hemingway wing.  That sensitivity one sees in a late letter from the Mayo Clinic, an ailing Hemingway writing a very ill boy, with the unmistakable tone, on weather, birds, mentioned by author Paul Hendrickson in Hemingway's Boat:


                                                                     St. Mary's Hospital
                                                                     Rochester, Minn.
                                                                     June 15, 1961

Dear Fritz,
I was terribly sorry to hear this morning from your father that you were laid up in Denver for a few days more and speed-off this note to tell you how much I hope you'll be feeling better.
It has been very hot and muggy here in Rochester buy the last two days it has turned cool and lovely with the nights wonderful for sleeping.  The country is beautiful around here and I've had a chance to see some wonderful country along the Mississippi where they used to drive the logs in the old lumbering days and the trails where the pioneers came north.  Saw some good bass jumping in the river.  I never knew anything about the upper Mississippi before and it is really a very beautiful country and there are plenty of pheasants and ducks in the fall.
But not as many as in Idaho and I hope we'll both be back there shortly and can joke about our hospital experiences together.
Best always to you, old Timer from your good friend who misses you very much.
                                                                       Mister) Papa

Best to all the family . am feeling fine and very cheerful about things in general and hope to see you all soon.
                                                                       Papa





He seems to have liked working people, the physical sort of work, fisherman, Gary Cooper the outdoorsman, identified with cowboys, bullfighters, waiters, maitre d's, professional soldiers, outdoor guides...  As if he were looking for the kind of a job that he could actually deal with himself, without getting bored, hemmed in, stuck in an office, a place in the world as a useful professional in a way that would have agreed with him.  Indeed, The Pilar was a refuge for him, the sea a safe place, upon which he was a naturalist as much as a hunter, fisherman.  (Hemingway died half a month later.)



I feel the same, ultimately, when I get to work.  The clock is ticking and I must prepare more or less blind for what might happen in a night, the reservation pad, the stocking.  Movement, physical, carrying, dragging the night's supplies and prep up two flights of stairs.   Bar work is part acting, naturally, movement, precision, entertaining...  I enjoy it, once I get there, wake up after the commute, shake the cobwebs off, get the adrenaline going.  Speed, the challenge of figuring out the things people speak of when they're ordering wine...  I like the physicality of it, working with hands, opening wine bottles, lining things up, then finally after all the talk is gone, quietly cleaning up in Zen fashion.  I always have.  Working a bar with hands, legs, arms, back, offering up the working man's wit, it always agreed with me, after my fall from academia.

I couldn't think of any other sort of employment, I really couldn't.   And I feel bad about that, to live here in Washington, D.C. where adults have figured out professional lives, professional existences, money, income, security, the law, the ins and outs, real estate, marriage...  The workman writer at the edges of polite society, struggles with security and aging, courageous.

So, Hemingway's line in the personal reflections of his early career, days in Paris, of the praise of the rich and their pilot fish, how do we interpret?  Is it that Hemingway and his like are stuck in the jobs relegated to those who've never grown up, the wealthy and powerful giving him lapdog praise while he struggles on, poor for all his life, as a way of applauding themselves?

And I wonder, is this in someway a background for the story of Civil War monuments, that by now we are divorced enough from, the physical work, horses, farming, mills, making trains run, building the original infrastructure by hand as much as machine, that we can not comprehend, enough so that  men who led armies doing terrible things in a war they might not have chosen of free will have become alien cutouts...

The writer stands on this edge of a disappearing frontier, the disappearing habitat of the satisfaction of physical labor.  Fitzgerald closes out The Great Gatsby on the note of what the original Dutch settlers would have found, the "fresh green breast" of the land unsullied by modern economics and New York banking.  Peter Matthiessen looks for The Snow Leopard, the Tibetan monastery, the life on ancient trails, guides, monks.  He writes Men's Lives, capturing the last breeds of water men.   Joseph Mitchell prowled a vanishing New York of oysters, rats, eateries, Iroquois steel workers comfortable at heights.   (Ted Hughes writes with direct experience of fox fur and hawk and owl.)  Twain anticipates the change.  Sherwood Anderson...

And these writers must also inhabit the world of modernity, of the financial world, of modern responsibility, taking us further into the strange realms of the computer screen, of high speed banking, of legal minutiae preying on all aspects of life, of the thoroughly computerized home and car and office.  The financial rewards given to the kind of people who figure out how to deepen the mire of our involvement into the virtual increase with the greatest generous speculation of a world we have yet to fully comprehend.  Orwell and Vonnegut write of the new world, of the anticipation with each and every human being implanted with the computer chip and marked according to big data and the mind of artificial intelligence, while the clever creators of such innovations reap impossible wealth beyond all fairness of relative labor.  The missing piece of Marx's puzzle...

So I work, physically, not as a writer who simply gets to write, nor one who will even ever make a buck out of it, the whole thing operating as a costly and dangerous loss, but as a writer who stands at that edge, of recognizable human features and actual physical work...


There are things about literature a college kid can read, but will not be able to comprehend until far later in life.  He might be able to recognize the importance of certain things, accept them on grounds of somewhat blind perhaps somewhat instinctive faith, but he will not be able to understand, not for many years later.  His innocence and naivety, perhaps, will drive him, lead him to a point.  That point itself might be hard to describe.  Some would call it the point at which the wool is pulled from his eyes, a kind of stripping away, perhaps.

Only finally later in life will it dawn upon him, the nature of the work he has attempted to be engaged in.

Could we fairly say that Ernest Hemingway had lots of worries.  But that despite them, he kept on the side of working, of the labor of people physically engaged, even as bygones, in the increasingly modern world.  Would he find our world recognizable?  We know he was a suicide, but perhaps that was the awareness of a man in touch with himself knowing that he was dying...



    The rich came led  by the pilot fish.  A year before they would never have come.  There was no certainty then.  The work was as good and the happiness was greater but no novel had been written, so they could not be sure.  They never wasted their time nor their charm on something that was not sure.  Why should they?  Picasso was sure and of course had been before they had ever heard of painting.  They were very sure of another painter.  Many others.  But this year they were sure and they had the word from the pilot fish who turned up too so we would not feel that they were oleanders and that I would not be difficult.  The pilot fish was our friend of course.
      In those days I trusted the pilot fish as I would trust the Corrected Hydrographic Office Sailing Directions for the Mediterranean, say, or the tables in Brown's Nautical Almanac.  Under the charm of these rich I was as trusting and as stupid as a bird dog who wants to go out with any man with a gun, or a trained pig in a circus who has finally found someone who loves and appreciates him for himself alone.  That every day should be a fiesta seemed to me a marvelous discovery.  I even read aloud the part of the novel that I had rewritten, which is about as low as a writer can get and much more dangerous for him as a writer than glacier skiing unroped before the full winter snowfall has set over the crevices.
       When they said, "It's great, Ernest.  Truly it's great.  You cannot know the thing it has," I wagged my tail in pleasure and plunged into the fiesta concept of life to see if I could not bring some fine attractive stick back, instead of thinking, "If these bastards like it what is wrong with it?"  That was what I would think if I had been functioning as a professional although, if I had been functioning as a professional, I would never have read it to them.


From the last pages of A Moveable Feast, Scribners.