To dose is to give, a gift. Not to be confused with to douse, to souse. I felt somewhat pickled yesterday morning waking up absurdly early to get to my 2nd Pfizer dose down at the Convention Center, no time for coffee. This diabolical virus travails! (And it’s not often I use the exclamation point.) But I felt peaceful, if not happy, and light in the early morning sun. I was reminded of commuting days, leaving home the morning still night. Ah, but the morning! The fresh starts! The spring smells fueled by a full spring sun. The Convention Center was again abuzz, as if for a game or a concert. The loop was well oiled, and I soon found myself sitting in the waiting area for 2nd dosers, 15 still, quiet minutes, like sitting in church, waiting. I prayed for peace, happiness, and lightness, for myself and for others who came to mind, those I love, and those I don’t, feeling none too much any of it – had I been in a cot instead of a chair I’d have fallen back to sleep. Holy Thursday on the Catholic calendar. The Last Supper. Today, Good Friday. All bearing crosses, awake and asleep, crossing, looping in lines for the wearying doses, soused by the pandemic, in procession, waiting.
Around noon yesterday, a bumper to bumper half block line of cars continuously moved like connected parts of a tram and entered the dark barrow shaft entrance to the Oregon Convention Center underground parking mine, while a similar line of cars exited back into the partly sunny Portland spring day. Once in the garage, visitors politely and patiently vied for parking spots, which quickly opened and closed thanks to an efficient and extensive mass vaccination loop leading from the garage and through the building, organized by volunteers and clinicians from various organizations, including what appeared to be a deployment of an Oregon National Guard platoon. With the exception of the mandatory wait after being vaccinated, to watch for reactions, visitors had no still time to browse the book brought along or take out the knitting needles. Indeed, few were even looking at their cell phones, intent and occupied as they were with following personalized directions and moving along – short stays at this or that staffed table to answer a few questions, show ID, sit for the quick shot of vaccine, and schedule the second appointment (if this was the first) while waiting for the reaction release time written on tape and displayed on one’s shirt to expire.
The goers to this convention seemed mostly older folks, most of whom no doubt did not consider themselves particularly old, just of a particular age, which would be considered an inadequate definition of a person. Yet here we were, grouped together by age and moving along like a line of kindergarteners on a field trip. Except for the Guard, everybody looked somehow out of uniform. Question: How can you tell a group of people is older? Answer: There are no tattoos. One fellow I noticed was wearing the rubber shower shoes we used to call go-aheads, shorts, and a flowered t-shirt, not regular gear in a Northwest winter month. A newcomer from California, maybe.
Not without some trepidation had I prepared myself for the field trip before leaving home: what to wear? what route to take? what book to bring? Did I have my ID and medical card? How would I prove my appointment confirmation? This last, it turned out, I had over prepared for, and unwittingly as a result momentarily fell from the loop. Once into the building and into line, I noticed just about everyone was carrying a piece of paper, a print out, it turned out, of their email appointment confirmation. I no longer have a printer, but the email came with a QR (Quick Response) code that can be saved to and read by a cell phone or other scanner. And I had already pre-confirmed via online registration site the appointment, so I thought with that and my QR code saved to my phone, I was good to go. There were two lines moving quickly, everyone six feet apart and masked, instructed to be ready with confirmation proof. We were not yet within the Exhibit Room itself, but still in the lobby with its majestically high ceilings and large windows and aisleways full of natural light. When I reached the volunteer at the end of my line, I showed her my QR code on my cell phone, assuming she would scan it. But she said, “No, I need to see the date.” I had before leaving home cropped the code so it was fully visible, cutting off the rest of the email, including the date. As I now scrambled to find the original, she brushed my effort aside, pulled me from line, and directed me to a woman at a computer located at the end of a kind of train siding line, where no one was in line, so I quickly made my way to the computer and showed my QR code. Instead of scanning it, though, she asked my last name, looked at her computer, said, “Hi, Joe, go on in.” I merged back into line, my confidence in the efficiency of the loop restored, even if my QR code never did get scanned. I was reminded of the time when my girlfriend and I went to see the Jimi Hendrix Experience at the LA Forum. We waited in line while the gatekeepers took tickets and ushered people toward their tunnels, and too late realized that they were also checking purses. When my girlfriend opened hers, the little pint of as yet unopened Southern Comfort placed comfortably and clearly visible within, the gatekeeper said, “Go on in.” Jimi would have been 78 today, and could have fit comfortably into the vaccination line with the rest of us.
Also, as it turned out, I had overdressed as well as over prepared. I began with my loose fitting Red Sox t-shirt, thinking I would take my outer shirt off and easily roll up the sleeve of the t-shirt to take the shot. Over the t-shirt, I wore a flannel long sleeved shirt untucked, and over that, a vest with many pockets for holding things like book, pen, and cell phone. And over the vest, a bright yellow, thin rain jacket. In both vest and jacket pockets I had stored an extra face mask. At one station, I was given a packet of information with a page to fill out: name, address, phone number, etc. And mother’s maiden name? Good grief! And the same questions, this time answered yes or no with check mark, I’d already been asked by a nice enough fellow at the station where I picked up the form, and from where I was directed to a grouping of round tables with golf pencils available for the filling out of the form. At the next station, an Army NG Sergeant asked to see my papers and ID. He did some work on his computer, scanned my medical card, wrote 70 in bright red ink at the top of my worksheet, and pointed me to yet another volunteer who directed me into a vaccination line. It was at this point I recalled the infamous follow the yellow line at my downtown LA draft induction physical, circa late 60’s. What a loop that one was, but I was now on deck, next up, and was directed to a desk number where sat a clinician with vaccine at the ready. She invited me to sit, and that’s when I realized I had worn too many tops. Trying to take the rain jacket, vest, and flannel shirt off all in one swift move, my arms got all tangled up in sleeves and tails and I fell into the seat feeling like a kindergartner who has just failed hanging up coat after recess. More questions, mostly the same ones, the shot (routine – the loose fitting t-shirt at least proved to be a good idea), bright day glow green bandaid, the piece of tape showing my wait time stuck to my Red Sox shirt, and I was on my way to the waiting area to sit out the reaction wait time and schedule my next appointment, all the while wrestling on the go trying to put my arms through the sleeves of my mess of shirts.
The wait time proved invaluable as the cell phone scheduling of the second appointment looped and looped, looking like it was going to take as long as it took the schedule the first appointment – over an hour, while getting the vaccination, from parking to shot, had taken only about 15 minutes. But a volunteer happened by, I asked her for help, and she looked at my phone and said, “Oh, just type something into that space, anything, hi.” And I did. I typed “hi,” hit “schedule” again, and the loop stopped looping and kicked out my appointment: 3 weeks out, at 7:45 AM. Good grief!
Field trip over, headed back home, reflecting on the experience. Before getting a vaccine appointment, folks generally are experiencing frustration and anxiety over the computerized process, the apparent vying for a limited number of appointments, feeling uninformed as protocols and procedures seem to change weekly, thinking it shouldn’t be this way, stuck in a time loop. The Convention Center experience, to the contrary, was personable, friendly, efficient. And I was sent home with a card confirming what I had just accomplished. I have it stuck with a magnet to the icebox.
“Houston, we have a problem.” The now cliche hyperbolic understatement comes from the Apollo 13 mission to land on Earth’s moon in 1970. Part of the flight journal, dialog between astronauts Jack Swigert and Jim Lovell and Mission Control Houston can be read on Wiki:
055:55:19 Swigert: Okay, Houston…
055:55:19 Lovell: …Houston…
055:55:20 Swigert: …we’ve had a problem here.
055:55:28 Lousma: This is Houston. Say again, please.
055:55:35 Lovell: Ah, Houston, we’ve had a problem. We’ve had a Main B Bus Undervolt.
But they persevered, came up with a plan, called an audible, held on tight, and made it home to a grateful country. Last week, a seemingly ungrateful US senator from Texas, unaware, apparently, of other cliches of crisis, such as, “The Captain goes down with the ship,” and “Women and children first,” lit out for a Cancun resort hotel while his constituents back home faced freezing weather, loss of heat for their homes from frozen gas lines, and loss of electrical power for their homes from damaged equipment left exposed to extreme weather conditions, all while remaining lined up according to protocols made necessary by a limited supply of pandemic vaccine. The New York Times editorial board provided the lessons, though we might doubt if any lessons learned will be put to the test. What seems to persevere the most is political rhetoric aimed at scuttling the facts, the issues, what actually broke and why, in short, the truth. But while Texas was suffering from a statewide major “undervolt,” the third Mars rover, “Perseverance,” landed safely on Mars, close to 300 million miles away.
The irony of another space exploration achievement while the country’s infrastructure, education, medical, work, and political systems continue to spiral out of control, reminds us of the response from the classic news journalist Eric Sevareid, who, for one, was unimpressed with the promise of the first photographs promised of the dark side of the moon, many moons ago. From his short article, “The Dark Side of the Moon”:
“There is, after all, another side — a dark side — to the human spirit, too. Men have hardly begun to explore these regions; and it is going to be a very great pity if we advance upon the bright side of the moon with the dark side of ourselves, if the cargo in the first rockets to reach there consists of fear and chauvinism and suspicion. Surely we ought to have our credentials in order, our hands very clean and perhaps a prayer for forgiveness on our lips as we prepare to open the ancient vault of the shining moon.”
And we continue to advance, to persevere, to and fro, back and forth, a few steps forward, another few backward.
One story, unfinished, a fragment. The writing cools from a weak plot and flat characterization. The story fills the page we are on, but we may not be on the same page as others reading the same story (based on the assumption there can only be one story), and no one can page backward or forward. That other pages even exist is therefore without proof. Our story has grown since the first word, and continues to expand. The distance from the beginning to the end is therefore immeasurable. We will never have the whole story, but that’s another story.
Where no one knows your real name where indeed you have no name but any number of names but no number but you wear your identification it shows is shown in the red dust around your eyes and there’s a glimmer suggests you’re still alive and at the corners of your lips the moisture of bird feathers and your hands are calloused black and blue and your clothes are stained with oil and grease and chalk and shavings of wood, metal, and paint. This pub plays no music, which you wouldn’t be able to hear clearly anyway. No darts. No pool table. No television sets. No chess board, no backgammon, not even caroms. No playing cards. There’s coffee twenty-four hours a day for those just getting going, first cup free, the swing shift, the night shifts, at the factory, in the warehouse. The oil fields behind the houses. The docks on the bay. Molly brings you your pint, with a little cup of salted peanuts in the shell on the house. Will Molly please text home for you, a bit late, might stay for a second pint tonight, being’s it’s Saturday night, and you’re walking, or was when you got here.
Two Stories by Osvaldo Lamborghini, translated by Jessica Sequeria, just out from Sublunary Editions (Seattle), measures a mere 80 pages (4 and ½” by 7” by ¼”) and contains the pieces “The Morning” and “Just Write Anything!” and also an introduction (by Cesar Aira, translated by Adrian Nathan West), an acknowledgements page, a 4 page translator’s note, and 62 endnotes (in a font size so small this reader’s used eyes required over-the-counter reading glasses of +3.50 strength), almost as long as either story – indeed, a third story – as well as a Parental Advisory warning label (suitable for bookmark use), modified to read:
P A R E N T A L
A D V I S O R Y
One is tempted to form a review as response in a supposed style of the stories:
In the beginning was the word. And the ice dam(n) broke, the word escaped, and all hell broke loose, as in a Blow-up. A devil’s drool (“Las Babas del Diablo,” Cortazar). It was all done on a typewriter. That tin bell kept us awake. Its tintinnabulations. And he had to send his only son, or daughter, as the case may arise, to supply some endnotes, but he didn’t explain to what end. And the notes musical, in a sense, pleasant. One confessed to eating the plums. Bless me Father, for I have eaten the plums. They were purple. And the season Lent. We had given up meaning for the season, without reason. And the church filled with words, every pew stuffed end to end. And every word related. In each word all the genetic material of the language, of all the languages, of the uttered universe. Prokaryotic flagellum. To allow word movement. The words stood, knelt, sat, stood, and filed out, one by one, pew after pew, line after line. Some disappeared. Through the blank pages of the cosmos, along the gaucho trails along the green rivers in the gorged valleys below the ghastly ghostly mountains, seeping through the pampas and the full drainage basins, out to sea. The sea, the sea! Wordomics. This is my body, a comics: “To ourselves … new paganism … omphalos” (Joyce, Ulysses).
Of the two stories, “The Morning” and “Just Write Anything!,” the latter is perhaps the more accessible, comprehendible if not understandable, than the former, but the first, “The Morning,” one might find more enjoyable. The two stories might have been written for two different audiences (although Aira’s introduction suggests Lamborghini didn’t write to any particular audience), but neither seems within the purview of the common reader. But what is within the purview of the common reader? Slogans? Well, slogans are comprehendible, but rarely understood. They become like magic words, spells. In the US today, MAGA might serve as an example; an argument of proposal in no need of backing, it is not an argument at all, but an order, a command. Authoritarian. Enter, sex, and why we need a parental advisory. Sex, like politics, manipulative, special interest, you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours. For the working class, sex is one thing, for the middle class, something else. The middle class wants relief from guilt, a guilt the working class does not feel. The middle class wants to enjoy, to experience pleasure, guilty it has benefits others don’t, but not enough that it can’t also enjoy envy of those who have more. Thus the middle class craves perfumes and brands, must have fantasy and escape, ritual that includes punishments and rewards. The working class has not time nor appetite for values which can’t readily be seen, measured, felt. As for Peronism and whether or not readers need a background in Argentine history to appreciate Lamborghini, Peronism might not be substantially different from any other ism around the world seeking to exploit one class by numbing another class for the enrichment of a third class, except that Peron started out wanting to make all of the people happy all of the time. But of course there are always those who don’t want to be happy, or don’t care to be made happy. Politics is sex without love.
In other words, for the working class, the word innuendo means exactly what it sounds like, while for the middle class, it can only suggest what cannot in what is sometimes called polite society (on the endangered species list) be directly talked about, and must be submersed in ambiguity, doubt, and mistrust. Enter Peron, that is to say, to wit, an imputation that what is valued most in each class can somehow be conjoined, but the ballroom can’t hold everyone.
Click here, on the belly button, where you were tied to your mother, treading water in the salt marsh. You were still nullifidian then. All gills and fins. Your mother’s voice coming muffled through the cloudy water. And then your cry, and then your sucking, and then your sleep, and then the tin bell, and the rhythm rolling. The next time you awake, you are swaddled in the bottom of a dory, your father at the oars, your mother tending a fishing line, all against a muddy current in coastal waters.
Lamborghini’s writing is probably not egalitarian, not as evidenced by these two stories or the three poems appearing in Firmament No. 1 (Sublunary Editions, Winter 2021), not that it needs to be, yet it contains all the characteristics readers generally value. Humor surrounded by horror. The sweets and sours and bitters and salts of life. It is a writing of associative addition, one image conjuring up or giving way to another, the narrative like a bus ride, the bus stopping at the end of every sentence to let someone off and to take on another rider. Though these riders are not necessarily characters – they may be ideas, or props. Repetition is therefore valued, and memory encouraged. So that at the end of “The Morning,” if asked what it is about, we can say it is about a character savaged. But the common reader wants her back scratched, not whipped.
The form (forms) of these two short stories appears very different in each, the one on the open sea, the other back and forth where the rivers spread in the tidal marsh. Jessica Sequeira’s “endnotes” are indispensable, and actually a pleasure. For one thing, it’s comforting as a reader to know you’re in the same boat as other readers, translators, critics. That is to say, the difficulty is not yours alone, not yours at all. You are now able to read. And while the endnotes clarify, elucidate, inform, they also project, surmise, guess.
Sublunary Editions is an independent press out of Seattle. You can find a copy of Two Stories by Osvaldo Lamborghini here.
One thing might be certain as we embark onboard ship 2021, there should be weather. Notice the qualification, for there are times when the weather seems to disappear. These are the days we sit out, barefoot, open, a grassy hill overlooking the houses and farther in the city, where the cars are the size of ants and behave accordingly, one on the tail of another. Whether or not we enjoy the weather seems to be a matter of taste. An old friend called on Thanksgiving to say hello. The weather here Thanksgiving week was cold but calm and mostly dry, highs in the low 40’s, lows in the high 20’s. In the afternoon, we put a couple of cafe umbrellas over the deck. The plan was to set out dips and chips and cut fresh vegetables, drink a beer or two, and grill some goose (aka chicken), and eat on the deck, three in our party, masked and distanced, at separate tables. Jacketed and hatted with blankets to drape over one’s legs. A small outdoor heater provided a psychologically friendly red hot burner, but its heat dissipated quickly and wasn’t of much practical use. Still, there it was, in the center of things, and we took turns moving up to it to warm our hands and seats over the fire, as it were. Meantime, down on the southern coast, winds over 100 miles per hour blasted away at Cape Blanco. I briefly described out situation, our predicament, over the phone to above said old friend, and asked for a description of his plans for Thanksgiving. He said it was too cold in their location to eat outside. What’s the temperature, I asked. 65, he replied. Degrees, or age? I wondered. Now, here, we are in the throes of a wet January winter, the temperature mild, highs in the 40’s, the rain coming as it does off the Pacific, moving inland over the valleys, pushing colder air to the east of us. But the point of this little post isn’t to sound like a weather report. Still, the weather is with us, and we ignore it at our peril. Better to go out into it, walk unsteadily the tipsy decks of ship 2021, the better to say, if we survive the storms, we lived them, and did not cower, though we did mask up, even if we might sound like our favorite Shakespearean Dad:
“Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Smite flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!
Crack nature’s moulds, an germens spill at once,
That make ingrateful man!”
The chess pieces, old, dry, and frizzled, can only sleep, but as alive as cold-blooded bees in winter they dream of moves, puzzles, contretemps, and suck honey from the hive of time. They cluster quietly, clot in knots, in symbiotic formations, each exchange of pieces in turn reconstituting a meal in which each guest eats at the table of the other. Condemned to the board, the bored King snores while the Queen stirs the hive to action, cleans house, chasing the pawns this way and that, has knights jumping over the furniture, splits and clefts the sliding Bishops, insanely, apparently, willing to surrender their position to move closer to their dreary King asleep like a fossilized cat on the love seat in the living room.
Is the comma in danger of extinction? Here at the The Coming of the Toads commas have fallen out of favor as we have begun to eschew the common comma, not all commas, and the comma in writing (where else is it used?) still remains an effective tool for the common reader, but sometimes the right word in the right place creates its own pause and nothing more is needed by way of punctuation, for the common reader or the anti-reader. Of course commas are used for more than to create pause. The comma used to separate items in a series, red white and blue, for example, often punctuated as red, white, and blue, keeps the colors from running together. The comma evolved from the colon and suggested something cut out but today the comma is used to add on, to amplify, to continue, to ramble on, sometimes unmercifully, the end nowhere near, the sentence a structure of lean-tos, each clause flipping about like a butterfly which may look to the common reader indecisive. Then there is the comma butterfly, also called angelwing, and what writer would want to eliminate angel wings from their writing, not us. Whoops, that’s anglewing, not angel wing, a mistake no comma can rescue. Still, the happy discovery that commas may suggest angel wings gives us a lift.
You took away the source, but it was some graffiti, as I recall, but now in the grog of morning’s woke fog, I forget what it said, but one of the words was missing an apostrophe, crowds, I think, should have been crowd’s. The crowd is awaiting its apostrophe. So something is missing, the elemental that connects. That’s the meaning of apostrophe – an elision, but more, to turn, to turn away (from), even as things merge, as in a crowd. The apostrophe, like a stray bird, lands in the nest of merged things, its meld. The crowd is awaiting its possession, what it wants, its melt and weld. Also, the apostrophe that is an address to a missing person, one who has been turned away, or is turning away from another, as the crowd disperses. Waiting’s apostrophe. Waiting for the bird that has flown to return. As the crowd scatters, like birds, each one turning away from their neighbor, coming apart, each now a new apostrophe looking for a new gathering, a new mustering, a levy of birds, where they can drop into place to satisfy the whole. And today’s crowd of words is punctuated by the police, steel pot helmeted commas out to enforce the gravity of grammar, but they seem unable to put a stop to the run-on sentences.
To sand a page of flat board, one abrades first metallico then brushes dolce, as the piece turns to canvas. That is a music lesson learned in the woodshop. On the guitar, metallico is played near the bridge, where the strings are tight and unbending and sound like the steel wheels of a train or fingernails on edge across a chalkboard – both sounds rarely heard these days as trains recede farther into the industrial inner city or disappear through the countryside, and chalkboards fill landfills. In the middle of nowhere one learns to listen. Dolce on guitar is sounded where the strings loosen, up the neck from the soundhole. Sweet is dolce, but the hard, long ē of sweet sounds more metallico, so soft is dolce, not sour, but balmy. Metallico, that steel rail sound, harsh and disagreeable, straightens the spine and tingles the neck hairs. For some listeners, dolce raises goosebumps; for others, metallico does the trick. Dolce is the sound of the short, soft vowel, metallico the sound of the long, hard vowel. Thus the meaning of a musical note changes with its vowel length. A bent line over the vowel illustrates the soft sound (ă, ĕ, ĭ, ŏ, and ŭ), a straight line the hard (ā, ē, ī, ō, ū). Often, the meaning of a poem rests within its sounds, not seen in its definitions. One must listen to a poem like one listens to a piece of music. The reading question is often not what a poem means but how it feels when read or heard, what its sounds suggest. Some poems sand wood; others cut stone.