Crime Scene

New Orleans

A neighbor recounts having survived a home invasion. The perps broke an arm and a leg, and they gave him a severe concussion. This was no movie. Their masks weren’t of celebrity politicians. He realized they were wearing masks only after he understood each downcast face to replicate the other.

To write the story of the murder of a neighbor, she will interview a man who, complicit if not guilty, is on his way over. She must abdicate the knowledge that makes her our author. She must play it cool, beginning right now by not jumping every time headlights sweep the window.

See gore at its most vicious. The setting, a city block. The perp, an incel. The victims, call girls, miss their mothers’ milk. “Extreme violence,” argues the director, “bespeaks the brokenness of a community.” Public outcry for moderation gives the picture its retro coloration.

Variations On Knowing

Orchid & Guitar

I’m in a writing group called The Drunken Goats. But I don’t drink, and I haven’t seen any of my peers get too drunk. No, that’s not true. I did watch one of us get pretty fucked up at our holiday party a few years ago. He grew very affectionate with everyone, and he passed out early, with his head in someone’s lap. Before he went, though, he’d become obsessed with this sentence, the source of which no one has discovered:

The general known for sending his troops into the fray knowing full well that he would lose more of his own but with fewer overall casualties was a controversial warlord.

He must have said it a hundred times, varying the diction and syntax with each articulation, his final utterances incomprehensible because he was slurring:

Understand, you, that she will lose women of her own but not those women she doesn’t know to send into a fray anyway, before someone brands her Controversial Warlord.

And now that I’m thinking about it, it wasn’t a he-goat (Paulo, who is a loudmouthed drunk), but a she (Maggie, who is not). And she, for her love of fine art and prosodies marked by repetition and theme & variation, and for her performance that night, called to my mind Gertrude Stein (1874-1946). Put another way: The goat who drank the most was like a High Modernist.

Gilda’s Club

1.

Wandering amid the women in his life, a once-lonely man with a wry sense of humor found love simply by persisting in telling the same dumb jokes over and over again—and listening for laughter. Lifting her veil, he now tried to speak, but found himself speechless in the eyes the wisest comedienne he’d ever witnessed.

2.

American comic Gilda Radner (1946-1989) wore many faces. One she called Roseanne Roseannadanna. She played other characters with names like Brungilda, Emily Litella, Candy Slice, and Judy Miller.

Donning a huge head of tight curls, she, Roseanne Roseannadanna, was a fake and movingly puerile consumer-affairs reporter on the mock news broadcast on the late-night variety show Saturday Night—first airing in the early 1970s.

Brash and tactless, she, Roseanne Roseannadanna, was quick to savage colleagues and viewers alike—anyone who got in the way of what she was saying—before digressing into something bodily, something scatological, like her own flatulence or the status of one of her nose hairs.

She, Roseanne Roseannadanna, dropped names so that in one moment she was reading a letter from a viewer, usually one Mister Feder of Fort Lee, New Jersey, asking about quitting smoking or how breast feeding a baby works in practice, and in the next she was going on about her supposed run-in with Princess Grace of Monaco.

Maniacal, sarcastic, insistent, she, Roseanne Roseannadanna, marked my earliest exposure to this kind of playacting. As a form of insistence, she, Roseanne Roseannadanna, chronically referred to herself by her full name. Save for the emphatic I, she favored fewer pronouns for herself when speaking about herself, of whom she spoke admiringly.

Though she, Ms. Radner, was a master of sketch comedy, none of the teenagers in my life have ever heard of her. This makes sense. It would be like my reciting from Lucille Ball when I was their age or a teenager forty years hence laughing at the antics of I don’t know who or what in our present moment.

Once Ms. Radner was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she famously said, “Having cancer gave me membership In an elite club I’d rather not belong to.”

Upon her death, her husband, also a famous comic, helped to found Gilda’s Club, an international organization created to support people living with cancer.

Having sworn off marriage after the death of his wife Gilda Radner, the widower did eventually remarry. Sometime after that—or was it sometime before?—he sought therapy. For what specifically, I don’t know. Loneliness? Anger? Depression? Impulsivity?  He said to his shrink something like, Hey Doc, I have the urge to give away all my money. Well, replied the therapist, how much money do you have? Me? he said, I owe $300.

One day I was walking down Division Street in Nashville when I happened upon a red brick building—home to one the chapters of Gilda’s Club. So read the bronze plaque on the facade on such a bright and muggy day. The parking lot was empty. The windows were dark. Cupping my hands about my face to peer through the glass, I got the sense of a clock ticking. Dust motes. Empty chairs. Dusky silence. A card table stood strewn with magazines. A turntable sat beside a stack of records. Beyond bookshelves, a view to a kitchen and, everywhere, jutting shadows. Suddenly overwhelmed by a sense not so much of time passing as of time having passed—of not so much death as the insignificance of a single life in the context of the sheer number of individuals who have entreated youth to linger—I backed away from the window and, looking around to see if my nosiness had raised eyebrows, I buried my hands in my pockets and, with a down-turned gaze, continued my walk as if nothing had happened.

What Is Despicable?

Is this a replay of the ‘if it’s mine it can’t be worth much’ gambit? That gambit I so often deploy against myself, out of a suspicion that my experience of things is compromised by some original and inexplicable flaw[?] —Harry Mathews

Tennessean

One sacred pedestrian says to another, “I know you don’t like me, I hear it in your voice, see it in your nuanced body. I am intolerable.” How embarrassing, when someone we despise appeals to our face against the sentence handed down them.

By George (Good Day)

Washington

My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute my success in life to the moral,intellectual and physical education I received from her. ―George Washington

From a pair of Georges come two wonderful quotes, one from the novelist George Eliot, author of Middlemarch, and the other from the comedian George Carlin. “Affection is the broadest basis of a good life,” says one. Says the other, “The day after tomorrow is the third day of the rest of your life.” Can you guess who said which? I guess it’s pretty obvious. Maybe it isn’t important. They make a nice couple. No matter who said what, they make more meaning together than they do in isolation.

The poet George Oppen was a profound witness to the 20th century. As with my grandfather (George) on my mother’s side, at the end of his rich life, Alzheimer’s overwhelmed him. I learned then that when someone asks, ‘Where’s my wife?’ and he has no wife, you say ‘She’s not here right now’ as a way of going along with the forgetting person’s reality. You accept that nothing you do will bring back their ability to remember. You manage anxiety.

Back then, and finding them again now, I wrote the phrases ‘profound witness’ and ‘disease of forgetting’ in the margin beside the poet’s lines,

And it is those who find themselves in love with the world
who suffer an anguish of mortality...
A Child’s Drawing of His Grandfather
George Carlin (1937-2008)