Thursday, June 25, 2009

Karma, The Great Boomerang

I've always been fascinated by the concept of karma: what goes around comes around. Here are a few favorite quotations, and if you have more, I'd appreciate hearing them in the Comments.

"You should tremble with fear when you disrespect man, woman, chick or child. The universe has all the time in the world to grind your bitter grain, to force upon you a hateful bread..."

"My karma runs over your dogma."

"If you want to see the boomerang of karma in action, be cold, be cruel, be unjust--you can live perfectly well without half of your head, can't you?"

"I love my dogs, and my dogs love me."
Mickey Rourke, actor

"The filthy-minded man shouts out in triumph that he sees filth in a pure stream--not realizing it is his own reflection."

"The highest stupidity is for one human being to try to withhold blessings from another. Who does he think will lose in the end, who will be scoring his cheeks with his own nails and screaming with loneliness?"

"Karma is sort of like cause-and-effect, but on a diet of blood and honey."

Saturday, June 20, 2009

There Are No Small Pleasures

During our student days, my friends and I were death-defying young women and proud of it. Rising nineteen and with energy to burn--and far too stupid to spot the Grim Reaper even when he was sitting on our handlebars--we'd soar and drop on bikes without brakes down and around Bascom Drive's unforgiving, cement tumble of curves to the Union. We'd fly between furiously cursing bus drivers and stone walls as the large capes we obnoxiously affected whipped in the wind. We may have been hotdogs, but we were hotdogs with capes.

I wonder what my friends would have thought if they'd known of the real pleasure I get, these days, just from rising early, making coffee and reading the newspaper?

Soon after dawn I'm up and looking out the window to see what the birds are up to. There's always a crow, on the highest branch of the tallest pine, looking over his world and seeing what's in it for him. I've never seen a crow, in this position, who didn't look as though he'd do just fine.
If there's a red sky behind him, it foretells an interesting but possibly stormy day.
For humans, this first hour should have a nursery peacefulness. There's plenty of time later to toil, sing, battle and laugh. Soft, warm clothes are nice. My favorite dawn shirt is a red plaid flannel, washed to the tender softness of red milkweed floss.

Next, coffee. I don't know if the java-jive loves me, but I love it. The French Roast brew should be bear-black in color, and a lion in action: strong enough to turn your eyes from back to front. You want that coffee to come roaring out of the mug shaking its mane. You want the jukebox of the sleeping brain to be slapped awake, light up in all its reds and yellows, and begin spinning its songs.

In regard to the newspaper, I know that world disasters are not my fault. Still, I'm neurotically compelled to read about them carefully, once a day. After that, it's all right to have some fun and study the behavior and remarks of embezzling or randy evangelists, close relatives of felons, and all political candidates. Scanning our dailies, I see that co-pastors of a Pentecostal church are on the outs. "He said he would punch my jawbone up my nose and pull the weave right out of my hair!" complains one. "That man's behavior would make Jesus puke!" storms the other.

Next, I learn that it's Barbie Doll's 50th Anniversary. According to the tabloid fashionistas, Barbie is innocently responsible for tens of millions of egg-yolk-yellow, fairy-gilt and hoochie-gold dye jobs "sitting strangely," as they put it, on 50-to-60-year-old grey American heads: mature women who'd adored her as little girls and whose personal ideal remains the stardust princess.

Next, the relatives of a serial murderer puzzle over his behavior. "He must have only become a monster recently," the stepfather says tolerantly. "He has always sent me very nice Father's Day cards. Hallmark."

Reluctantly, I fold up the newspaper and for the first time that day, look directly at the computer sitting on the oak table. The English language has at least a million sinewy words in it, most of them capable of root-binding and branch-whipping any fool who handles them carelessly. I walk to the table, but take one last look out the window at the strange sky: red, with high storm clouds, and a spellbindingly defiant sun.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Good Girl, Bad Boy

Three high school teachers were chatting in the Borders cafe over their blueberry scones and cappuccinos. Shelley said, "I really love my job...except when I hate it." Emma and Judy sighed, and nodded in agreement. "My biggest challenge this year was the same as always: keeping the good girls away from the bad boys. It seems that just as soon one of those 110% pure, nun's-pet kind of girls hits high school, she pauses just long enough to decide who is the most surly, foul-mouthed, dirty-minded, useless punk with the worst possible future, and then hurls herself at him with cries of rapture. I just don't get it."

"Romeo and Juliet," Emma said wisely, "Bonnie and Clyde...and GUARANTEED to drive her parents crazy."

Judy watched the cream belly its spirals through her dark coffee. After a moment she said softly, "I had a crush on a bad boy in high school."

"EEEEKKKKK!" "You didn't! Get out!"

"I did. Oh, don't worry, I didn't have the guts to speak to him. But he enthralled me. Shane was dangerous and wild, and dressed all in black.He was a dark boy--black-haired and black-eyed. He wore some kind of savage musky cologne. He had big cleats on his motorcycle boots, so you could hear him before you saw him. He raced trains on his motorcycle, cutting through the crossings a hair before the train barreled through. The teachers were AFRAID to give him detention slips. He would swagger into class late, in a fog of cigarette smoke and beer fumes. He had a big jackknife, which the teachers pretended not to see. He'd flick open the big blade and casually clean flesh tissue out from under his fingernails. His father was a butcher, and Shane helped him in the cutting-room.

"As for me, I was a maiden nerd who wore goofy spectacles, read a lot, and my aching heart bled for him under my Honor Society pin. This was the beginning of the Madonna era, and many girls in my class aspired to copy her Early Strumpet look, with ripped stockings, tight skirts and desperate hoochie hair. This horrified my mother. She dressed me in pink sweatshirts with kitties on the front, and cut my hair in a sensible bob. I died from mortification.

"I secretly watched Shane, and he watched the blond prom queen who sat across the aisle from him. He got her attention in bold ways. He'd let loose with thunderous belches, and when people looked at him, he'd solemnly point to Her Highness. I guess he found a painful pleasure in the shades of horror and revulsion passing across her fair features. Or he'd blow his nose, honking tremendously into a dripping snot-rag, and then stare into its folds with cries of incredulous wonder and delight, as though discovering rubies and emeralds. She would literally turn pale with disgust. He must have figured that, if he couldn't get her, at least he could make her sick.

"Did he graduate?" asked Emma, always the teacher.

"Of course not. He got expelled. He did two bad things in the same week. First, he got caught making out with his slutty girlfriend behind the school incinerator. Then, he and his goon friends got drunk one night and vandalized the library. He was only allowed to come back once, to clean out his locker. And that's when we had our one and only high school conversation. Somehow I got up the nerve to talk to him. I stuttered out a few words, something about how Home Room would seem boring without him. He smiled at me, really looked at me with those dark eyes. Then he said something I've never forgotten. He said, "I'm sorry about the library. It made my mom feel bad."

"What happened to him after that? Did he go to prison? Did he get shot?"

"Shane inherited his dad's butcher shop," Judy said. "He still reeks of smoke and beer, but he's a good butcher. My husband and I go there to get our steaks for cookout, and our Thanksgiving turkeys. And to this day, Shane teases me about school days. He says, 'I suppose you're still readin' up a storm?' as though he were talking about some wildly impractical, exotic activity peculiar to me. And he asks where he can find one of those cool pink sweatshirts with the kitties on the front, for his daughter Theresa. He calls it a Chastity Sweatshirt, and says it would go huge on eBay. Theresa is a good girl. She'll be entering high school this fall.

"Shane has a beer gut now, and that curly hair isn't as black as it used to be. But..." Judy looked down into her coffee, sighed and smiled, and said in a very quiet voice, "he's still pretty cute."

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Doris And Rock And Me

An editor recently asked me for "your first literary memory." After a lot of pondering I realized it would have to be this incident.

It was a sweet-smelling, balmy summer evening in a little country town, many years ago. My sister and I, sixteen and seventeen (we were "Irish twins") were sitting in the tiny Prairie du Sac movie theater. We were watching the romantic comedy Lover Come Back, with Doris Day and Rock Hudson.

Because we were innocent to the point of mental disability, we saw nothing bizarre in the fortyish Doris's frantic attempts to preserve her virginity against the lecherous assaults of leering playboy Hudson. She fled his slobbering pursuit in her high heels, both flirting with him and flouncing away from him with such manic energy she almost bounced off the screen. She scolded sex-crazed Hudson for his base desires, shaking her finger at him and telling him off, a high-minded ash-blond angel in tight-fitting suits.

My sister and I were fascinated, rooting for Doris and filing away her strategies for taming bestial, drooling, skirt-chasing Hudson--who, as became obvious later, was a far better actor than anyone gave him credit for.

The movie was well-started when a huge bulbous man entered and began fumbling his way down the dark aisle, looking for seats. He was holding the hands of two small fair-haired children. Everyone in the theater recognized the father, who in terms of mass alone was the most gigantic man in Sauk County; and they knew his children, April and Wally. On the screen, at that very moment, Doris Day was vigorously shaking her blond French twist at Hudson and showering him with maidenly reproaches; and in the aisle, the brilliant regional writer August Derleth looked at the screen, listened for a minute, snorted, and then laid down the most tremendous, roof-lifting fart.