When Things Got Too Weird For Ripley (Believe It Or Not)

hiroshima & nagasaki survivor

When Things Got Too Weird For Ripley (Believe It Or Not)

Notwithstanding the fact that he still received more letters every year than anyone on earth, including Santa Claus (Believe It Or Not), his sinking fits of despair started to occur with frightening regularity, after the war. On his way to the far East, for the first time since Pearl Harbor Day, he stood on the naked, turkey-breast hull of the sunken battleship Arizona, looking down at his own well-shod feet as though the rolled steel were transparent. He could see the innocently disarrayed skeletons of the young men entombed inside (Believe It Or Not). His full, delicate lips, firmly closed, covering his distinctive, protruding teeth. He was speechless for the first time, in fifty-odd years.

Oddly, he couldn’t take his mind off his Tibetan skull-bowl, back home. He felt the hinged roof of the bowl under his cold fingers, he tasted warm, sacramental blood and wine, mixed in equal parts, sharp and bitter against the roof of his mouth like the blade of a rusty, iron sword. For the microphones, he read aloud the notes he had with him, but his voice wasn’t Ripley’s anymore, it was the gentle, quavery voice of an old, old man.

Since his first success, he had been a hard-working, hard-playing man, with the immodest tastes of an oriental emperor. He earned a million dollars a year, and knew how to spend it. On better days, he’d have six smart, well-dressed women under his roof, for energetic conversation, for private fun and games. Out on his secluded spit of land in the middle of Oyster Bay, they’d barbecue whole pigs, split sides of beef, and the flavor of the smoked flesh he tore into was marvelous, marvelous.

Later that day, continuing his flight from Hawaii to Japan, he lost track of where he was for a few moments, and through his puffy, heavy lids, the woman bending over him with the pitcher of pink lemonade looked exactly like the love of his life, dead ten years that month of cancer. Dear, sweet, Ola, he almost said, but caught himself. Though his temples sweated copiously, he refused to soil his handkerchief, letting his shirt become wet, stiff with his salt.

His live radio broadcast, next morning, from Hiroshima’s approximate ground zero, wasn’t easy, not with him sitting at a card table, fumbling with watches frozen at the moment of detonation, staring at a vaporized child’s wool-and-silk-ribbon slippers, retrieved intact from the dunes of sticky ash (Believe It Or Not); the only artifact to survive the blast for many thousands of square yards. He haggled over price and bought it for his newest museum, opening the next month in Las Vegas.

As long as he could remember, he’d been happily locked in an embrace with the whole odd, eclectic world, savoring each one-of-a-kind moment his physical bulk passed through. Here at Hiroshima, for the first time, that innocent enthusiasm which had brought him so very far from Riverside, California seemed to encircle his tired neck like one of the great unwieldy money-stones of New Zealand, giving little joy.

Upon reaching his final destination, Shanghai, he saw his dearest, most beloved city in a panic: everyone knew the Reds were marching down from the hills. It was only a matter of time before the soul of China became engorged and insensible with Mao’s revolution. Voracious appetite of old absent, he forced down a quart of sticky rice with Seven Delicacies for show, for form, so as not to upset his agent.

A week later, back in New York, for the second time he faltered while on the air, then passed out, slithering to the floor in his fine wool suit like a large scrubbed potato, hands scrabbling against the studio floor, grasping the taped microphone cords with a syncopated rhythm, his young female assistant staring at him like a ritual mask, her mouth a lipsticked slash of fear, babbling nonsense until they thought to turn the mike off: the perils of live broadcasting.

That very night, Rip called his next-door neighbors from the hospital; I’m getting out of here tomorrow morning, he said. I’m taking us on a long vacation, God knows we all deserve it. He hung up the black phone and leaned back, dead before his head touched the pillow. Years later, his dearest friends all said it was a blessing he didn’t live to see how the world changed. The world changed and made his collection of physical oddities seem, by comparison (Believe It Or Not) warm, safe, what we dream of when we dream of heaven, not one of us doubting for a minute, anymore, that fact is stranger than fiction.

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The Rosenbergs & Me, a reflection

ethel and julius rosenberg
The Rosenbergs & Me

Ethel arrived for court that day in a wool elf hat, beaming.  Her chin had grown double; her skin was flawless and glowing.  She wore a bit of lipstick.  Julius didn’t smile or frown — he looked like a man who had just woken up from a long, dreamless sleep.  Ethel draped her gloved hand over her belly as if to shield herself from unseen bullets.

Ethel & Julius grew up poor in New York, and came of age during the Great Depression.  They grew up going to rallies for the WPA, listening to radio broadcasts by FDR.  I grew up watching the rich debauch themselves in South Florida, and came of age during the Disco Years, the anything-goes Seventies.  John Travolta, spinning like a dervish in his white polyester three-piece suit.

Ethel and Julius and I were all politically inflamed at an early age — I wrote to Nixon at age 11 to protest lax emission control standards, and got a personal letter back, signed by Rosemary Woods, Queen of the Accidental Erasure.  Julius was contacted by the KGB and asked to spy for the U.S.S.R.  He found it flattering — was he really that important? — an offer he couldn’t refuse.  There were no KGB agents contacting me, but if they had… how would I have answered?

Unfortunately, in addition to the political, I also got inflamed past all reason by my mother’s drinking — I used to fling her gallon jug bottles of wine into the canal in the backyard.  My reaction was a type of revolution:  I wanted to throw off the chains of her alcoholism and be free at last.  I wanted to throw off the chains of her drunken love just as much, if not more, than Julius wanted working men and women to throw off the chains of their capitalist oppressors.

I had an ongoing fantasy:  a mother who could be confided in, a mother who wouldn’t judge, become angry, or load me up with confessions of her own, far greater problems than mine would ever be.  Once, I dreamed Ethel was my mother and it was a relief; I knew she’d fight for me; have my best interests at heart.  She looked to be a normal mother, cooking meatloaf and mashed potatoes in her tiny apartment kitchen, smoothing her boys’ foreheads after bad dreams, murmuring soothing words in the darkness.

My father and his left-wing ardor neatly complemented the Rosenbergs.  He once ran for Santa Monica, California city council on the Communist Party ticket.  It was only a few years after Kent State, the simultaneous apex & abyss of the “age of Aquarius.”  My father and I never discussed the Rosenbergs; we were in agreement on most things.

Ethel, Julius and I all studied Marxist doctrine, and I toyed with the idea of joining the American Communist Party.  I read the Party’s official platform (from the 60s), and decided, after considering Ethel & Julius’ fate, that joining wasn’t such a great idea.  To think was private, to act, public.  Plus?  I wanted to be a lawyer someday.

The Rosenbergs had a larger purpose — to transform society from what they viewed as unfair to something more egalitarian.  This is what most political rebels have wanted.  But who defines fair?  Those in power?  The USSR  hardly turned out to be an entity worth dying for.  Are Julius & Ethel content in their graves?  Maybe I should have been sent to the electric chair.

All of us spin out of control in some fashion; Ethel & Julius got caught committing actual crimes.  The main evidence against them was the testimony of Ethel’s brother, a man who turned State’s Evidence to protect his OWN WIFE.  He didn’t actually believe Ethel & Julius would ever be executed.  The government only wanted the Rosenbergs to name names.  They, however, remained silent.

After their deaths, Julius & Ethel were laid out in religious garb.  They didn’t look dead, just asleep.  The embalmer did an excellent job.  Three hundred people came to look at them.  The dead Rosenbergs left behind two young sons — I left behind my mother, slowly dying.  She was a child who wouldn’t grow up.  I couldn’t be her mother — her own mother couldn’t even be her mother anymore.  She had worn everyone out!  Julius, Ethel, don’t ask for God’s forgiveness — I can’t bring myself to.  God should be asking us for ours.  Our enemies have already forgotten us.

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The Song of Women of Jaded Time, a poem

la voix humane simone signoret

The Song of Women of Jaded Time
(for François Villon)

Talk to me this instant, or don’t ever bother
talking to me again. You think your sorrow
is like a flower, you beautiful, pitiful Italian;
but you are not a paragon, not crying like this.

Underneath my foot you shall find perfection.
You are like an echo of my own will, you shall
learn to speak of my brutality all the time,
and love it. Under this river or in your hands

I shall drown — how beautiful is too much human pain.
May you sing your own black heart forever!
Listen to what I say, but don’t hear it with your ears.
Listen with your heart, you are like a blooming flower,

you wild, beautiful fool. Your injured foot is far more
beautiful than my own. Don’t repeat me, speak only
of my brutality all the time. Under the water I will drown,
or under your hands. How beautiful is too much fever,

or human pain? May you sing your black song forever!
Or, perhaps you are like the wise, able Heloise,
and my blessed foot will kick you hardest
when you are already down. Like her dim-witted

Abelard — for love, he ceased breathing. Love,
I think you resemble the king that commands
none but the harridan. First, jettison your silly bag
of river water. Long may you sing your black heart!

You are wise, and blessed, as are all ill-fated lovers.
For love, we cease living — we all resemble royalty
in this way. I command the bitch who is my deepest
self: first throw away everything you hold dear.

May you sing with your thick blackness in my life.
The queen of white is coming to lie — she chants
regally in a serene voice. I was born of Bertha
with her grand feet, she of Beatrice, Alice,

harem dancers all, colored in the main for beauty rather than wisdom.
And we come, too, from Joanna, the beautiful Swiss girl.
The English back then were belligerent, though mainly
in Rouen. Or do I see in your sad eyes, your oldest

unforgotten queen? May you sing of your black, tight
heart until the words choke you with regret, with forgiveness.
I was once a queen, of all I surveyed.
I sang with a stilted voice. My mother,

my grandmother, my great-grandmother
were all such foolish harem dancers,
too lovely to look at and let live.
And the beautiful maid who cleaned

my rooms… I was always bitchiest
to her just before the dawn. O, your
sharp eyes went through me like a sword.
May you sing your own praises until nightfall!

O Prince, do not ask to love me except for cruelty,
do not wonder where those other ladies are, this year —
what a sad refrain your unshaven face reminds me of.
I used to know someone, he was a lot like you.

May you sing lullabies to your faithless black heart!
O my lord, do not ask me to come to you out of
kindness — do not ask where I have lived until now.
What an ancient sorrow you have reopened!

May you sing this pain into the book of all eternity.

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liquid asylum

Sometimes writing comes to readers at exactly the right time. This is one of those times.

Within A Forest Dark

Woman by Roberto Ferrari, flickr Woman by Roberto Ferrari, flickrui

We think you should know, but you do, don’t you, dear ones, ones who have passed on, ones who now live in the street, ones who have killed and molder in prison, ones who live in underground spaces forgotten under cities until money and children and food go missing, until abandoned houses are destroyed, until libraries parks and public places reek of unseemliness, we will never leave you, the representatives of who you were before you were placed on operating tables, drilled clean through your skull, hammered through your eye socket, shocked with insulin and electricity, precious memories flying, shrieking, from your skin, old personalities, pleasures, predilections lingering saddened, forlorn, in corners of the operating room. See? The doctors and nurses and orderlies said. We don’t have to put them in cages. Look! We don’t have to put them in straight jackets. No longer the…

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Ode To A Mother.

Mothers. I love them, too.

Kofi Amed's Blog

Queen in our eyes! 
Goddess in our hearts 
Alleviated fears ;Shaped behaviors 
Built careers ; Educated a nation 
Sang hymnals :Through the moments slowly.

She learned to live and love 
Unperturbed by failure unruffled by haste 
To rise in the midnight glory 
‭Unbounded by time ,Undimmed by hope.

She sang dirges in ceremonies 
boxed by pain raze with tears
Called on a God in heaven ! 
Pushed by problems unleashed by dreams

To wipe our tears and fails 
Charred by life’s harsh realities
Unbroken by woes strengthened in invocations 
Into our stubborn adolescent years 
The hectic times, the sick bed comforts 

I reminisce her brief scolding 
Refusing to go to school for no reason 
And all her exquisite wares I broke 
Can’t phantom the pain I caused her

But she never gave up on…

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I Confess, I’m a Spy

Fantastic! Hilarious! True. Makes me wish I’d written it!

See, there's this thing called biology...

shoephoneHideous little fact, but if you torture somebody long enough, they’ll
eventually tell you whatever they think you want to hear. Eventually
they’ll start confessing to things they haven’t even done. Spy-factoid.

In the face of internet spy accusations, I used to launch a rather pathetic
wail, “but I’m a real person!” Forget all that, from now on I’m just going
to run with it, embrace the idea. So, I confess, I’m a spy, like Agent 99 on
Get Smart. Sometimes they even let me use the shoe phone.

In truth, on the internet being accused of being a spy, an agent provocateur,
a subversive, a troll, a government agent, is a pretty routine thing. People can’t
see you and until they know you, they tend to perceive you as a threat. (Once they
know you, they REALLY perceive you as a threat, but I digress.) To make the whole

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