Saturday, November 18, 2017

November 18: National Prayer Week, Modern Authors, Radical

These fictitious people in the zoo had a big board supposedly showing stock market quotations and commodity prices along one wall of their habitat, and a news ticker, and a telephone that was supposedly connected to a brokerage on Earth.  The creatures on Zircon-212 told their captives that they had invested a million dollars for them back on Earth, and that it was up to the captives to manage it so that they would be fabulously wealthy when they were returned to Earth.

The telephone and the big board and the ticker were all fakes, of course.  They were simply stimulants to make the Earthlings perform vividly for the crowds at the zoo--to make them jump up and down and cheer, or gloat, or sulk, or tear their hair, to be scared shitless or to feel as contented as babies in their mothers' arms.   

The Earthlings did very well on paper.  That was part of the rigging, of course.  And religion got mixed up in it, too.  The news ticker reminded them that the President of the United States had declared National Prayer Week, and that everybody should pray.  The Earthlings had had a bad week on the market before that.  They had lost a small fortune in olive oil futures.  So they gave praying a whirl.

It worked.  Olive oil went up.

Religion is an experiment in this passage.  The aliens on Zircon-212 are seeing how humans respond to one of the most basic human stimuli--materialism.  The humans believe they are fabulously wealthy, and they jump up and down and cheer.  They think that they have lost all of their money, and they turn to God and prayer.

It's a fairly cynical view of the human condition, but Vonnegut was a survivor of the Dresden bombing.  He probably suffered from post traumatic stress disorder for most of his life.  That certainly would explain Billy Pilgrim's time traveling episodes in Slaughterhouse.  I guess what I'm trying to say is that Vonnegut saw the very worst of humanity in his life, and that translates into his views of human motivation and love and spirituality.  Slaughterhouse can be described as a lot of things, but I don't think that I would ever call it a hopeful book.

Of course, I have a very different attitude toward spirituality than Vonnegut's.  I prefer hope over cynicism, as my one Constant Reader knows.  Sure, I can lapse into periods of darkness, even despair.  But, on the whole, I prefer light and joy.

That makes me a little different from a lot of poets and writers.  There is a tendency among modern authors to eschew possibility in favor of impossibility.  A brand of Vonnegut cynicism runs through much contemporary literature.  Now, I'm not saying that's a bad thing.  Great writing is great writing, no matter what.  Most times, however, I choose to embrace what's good in humankind, and that includes the Christian ethic of helping the poor, feeding the hungry, and clothing the naked.

I don't think that's an old-fashioned way of viewing the world.  In fact, I think it's pretty radical, flying in the face of capitalism and materialism.  Joseph McCarthy would have probably had me imprisoned as a communist during the 1950s.  J. Edgar Hoover would probably have had a case file on me.  But I think McCarthy would also have thought Jesus Christ was a communist.

So, Saint Marty is a radical for love.  That's not a bad thing to be.

November 18: Fallow of Winter, Judith Minty, 27 from "Fall"

You know, with everything going wrong with my father, I've been thinking a lot about aging and declining.

There's a pine tree in my backyard.  It was uprooted and blown over by a windstorm this past May.  Its roots have become branches, and its branches have become roots.  It was certainly past its prime.  I haven't had the tree removed because I can't afford it.  However, I've become fond of its horizontal existence.

Saint Marty is ready for the fallow of winter.

27 of "Fall" from Yellow Dog Journal

by:  Judith Minty

These trees are past their prime.
Over sixty feet tall, lower branches
stripped of needles, roots
heaved up, bent like arthritic hands.

I fill the front of my shirt
with pine cones.  Later, when I rocK
on the porch, nodding my head,
I will smell the floor of the woods.

Friday, November 17, 2017

November 17: Veterans' Hospital, My Father, Diminished Capacity

A sign in there said that adults only were allowed in the back.  There were peep shows in the back that showed movies of young women and men with no clothes on.  It cost a quarter to look into a machine for one minute.  There were still photographs of naked young people for sale back there, too.  You could take those home.  The stills were a lot more Tralfamadorian than the movies, since you could look at them whenever you wanted to, and they wouldn't change.  Twenty years in the future, those girls would still be young, would still be smiling or smoldering or simply looking stupid, with their legs wide open.  Some of them were eating lollipops or bananas.  They would still be eating those.  And the peckers of the young men would still be semierect, and their muscles would be bulging like cannonballs.

But Billy Pilgrim wasn't beguiled by the back of the store.  He was thrilled by the Kilgore Trout novels in the front.  The titles were all new to him, or he thought they were.  Now he opened one.  It seemed all right for him to do that.  Everybody else in the store was pawing things.  The name of the book was The Big Board.  He got a few paragraphs into it, and then he realized that he had read it before--years ago, in the veterans' hospital.  It was about an Earthling man and woman who were kidnapped by extra-terrestrials.  They were put on display in a zoo on a planet called Zircon-212.

Well, I could talk about all of the sexual abuse charges being leveled at politicians and movie stars right now.  This little passage from Slaughterhouse really touches upon the objectification of women and men in pornography.  However, there are two words that really leapt out at me as I transcribed those two paragraphs--"veterans' hospital."

My father, who is a veteran, is not doing well.  He is 90-years-old, and, over the last month or so, it has become abundantly clear to my sisters and myself that he simply can't live at home anymore.  He keeps falling, has wrenched his knee and cracked three or four ribs.  On top of that, his memory is failing, and he can't control his bowels.

I don't say these things to be mean or insensitive to his struggles.  He's always been a very proud man, and I know that his diminished capacity is very frustrating to him.  He wants to remain independent, but he can't.  Tonight, I spoke to my sister about nursing home placement.  Since he is a veteran, we are hoping that we might be able to find a room for him at our local veterans' hospital.

However, I know how my father will react to this possibility.  He's made it abundantly clear that he doesn't want to be anywhere but home.  My grandmother, my dad's mother, died at the veterans' hospital, and my father has felt guilty for over twenty years about placing her in that facility.  Basically, he associates that place with dying.  The equation in his mind goes something like this:

Veterans' Hospital = Death

I understand my father's fears.  However, living in his home is simply not safe for him anymore.  He's bruised from head-to-foot because of his falls.  He can't clean himself, and he can't go to the bathroom by himself.  He needs 24-hour care before he seriously injures himself.

If it sounds like I'm trying to convince myself of this fact, I am.  Seeing my father seriously diminished is not easy, but admitting that he can't and won't ever get better is tough.  When he goes into the veterans' hospital, he will not be coming out alive.

Tonight, Saint Marty is thankful for the care the nurse provided for his father this evening.

November 17: For My Father, Judith Minty, 3 from "Fall"

Saint Marty has a poem tonight for his father . . .

3 of "Fall" from Yellow Dog Journal

by:  Judith Minty

My father's slippers, found
in a trunk, now mine to wear.
Too large, creases in the leather
barely touch the flesh.
I slide my toes to the end, along the old ridges.

His feet clump over linoleum floor,
table to dishpan, woodbox to stove.
Only the scrap of rug by the door
muffles his presence.