Waking from a Nightmare

The fucker shot me, by surprise, right there on Seaman Avenue.  We had a deal, I’d already given in, he was walking me at gunpoint to the subway, I was carrying the bag of evidence, ready to hand it over to the boss so he could cover up his crimes.  We were walking toward the subway on Dyckman Street, it was a nice day, we were making small talk.  

The guy stepped in front of me at the corner of Academy.   I stopped, waited for him to speak.  He said “you stupid fuck,” then shot me in the liver.  I fell to the street, feeling betrayed, thinking what a dick move that was.  Then I was awake, shaking my head.  It was all just irony after I woke up, no wound, no sweat, no shuddering, not even an after-shudder.   I’d learned, as an adult, to shrug a bad dream off.  

“Well, that’s what you’re supposed to do, Elie.  I don’t know where you learned it, but that’s one thing I never learned to do,” said the skeleton of my father.  “It wasn’t nightmares, per se, it was my daily, demon-ridden reality.  I never mastered the dispassion you need to recover from trauma, I was always flexing my muscles, weaponizing myself against any possible attack.  

“As your sister pointed out, if I lost a quarter it was the same, to me, as if you or your sister had been killed.   Sounds insane, and I suppose it is, but that missing 35 cents change from buying my newspapers would drive me crazy, I’d stalk from room to room cursing, turning the house upside down in an inconsolable frenzy.  Can I appreciate how insane that is, now?  Of course.  Could I have done anything about it when I was alive?  I never learned how.”

The only hope we have here, it seems to me, is waking from our personal nightmares.   I have little hope of convincing a world determined to annihilate itself, and everyone I care about, not to do it.   I can choose my personal reactions, somewhat.  That’s all the control we get in human affairs.  

“You know, Elie, it occurs to me now, as five hundred and thousand to one storms become more and more common, as the denial of human-made climate disruption grows shriller and more insane with each sweeping devastation — they do love to double down, these ignorant zealot fucks– that in seeing an enemy as an alien Other there is no chance of ever finding compromise, let alone wisdom.  

“We never talked about this, but in 1942, 1943, when the Nazis swept toward their ill-fated invasion of Russia, the Soviet Union, they crossed the area where my mother’s family was, in Belarus, and simply stomped all of them into the swamp where no trace was ever found.  As you know, after more than a decade of putting every available clue together, looking for a trace.  To the south, in the Ukraine, they finished off grandma and pop’s families, and you discovered exactly how horribly the end came to all of them.  

“A year or so of starvation, freezing, lice, disease, barbed wire separating them from the Christians, random murder, and then a march out to the ravine for the survivors.  Amid the banging of drums and the shouts of the drunken peasants some cries and whimpers could be heard all the way back in town.  Those were the sounds of grandma and pops’s surviving siblings and their families, as Ukrainians lined them up in rows, made them kneel, shot them in the back of the neck.  We never spoke of any of this, of course, and I and everyone else was dead before you learned all the details, finally, but there’s a point here.”  

Got you covered, dad.  The Jews of that area, not far from Khmelnitsky, a town named for famous Ukrainian nationalist and pogromnik Bogdan Khmelnitsky, had been persecuted for centuries.  In Vishnevitz, every so often, Ukrainians would ride into town, beat up and kill Jews, rape the women and girls, smash the Jewish houses and stores.   Then, when grandma was a teenager, Bolsheviks marched into the area, fresh from overthrowing the Czar, spreading the intoxicating story of world workers united, controlling their destiny, free from the polarizing hatreds of the past.   Grandma was swept up in it, along with many other hopeful, idealistic young Jews in that area, for reasons too obvious to explain.   This was around 1919.

Fast-forward to the 1930s.  The world economy had collapsed, there was a world wide depression, mass desperation.   The Communist government in the Soviet Union was consolidating its power on the surrounding areas, areas long disputed between Russia and Poland.  Including the Ukraine, at one time Russia’s “breadbasket”.  Stalin was in charge now, not exactly a political or moral philosopher.  Heavy handed, murderous, ends justify the means, psychopathic-type with a big mustache.   He decided to starve the Ukrainians into submission, killed millions with his forced starvation regime.   Made them starve next to mountains of their own wheat, guarded by machine guns, ready to be exported to hungry Russians.  

No surprise, a few years later, when the Nazis marched in, that Ukrainians would rally with the world’s most fervent anti-Communists, the Nazis.   Many Ukrainians were more than happy to lynch Communists and put bullets into Jews, aiders and abetters of the equally hated universalist Reds, and they felt supremely justified.   Not only was it no problem for them to take this bloody revenge, the ones who did so participated with zeal.  

“And to this day you shudder at the mention of Ukrainians, picture them like wild, demented monkeys, nimbly scrambling over the dead bodies of the Jews in that ravine, as their Nazi overseers grimly nodded,” said the skeleton of my father.  

Yes, but it’s pretty much an involuntary shudder, a mental picture that comes reflexively.  A second later I recall that there were always also loving, sensitive, decent Ukrainians on the scene, even as their vicious, enraged neighbors were burning Jewish kids.  

“Well, isn’t that special?” said the skeleton.  “I don’t mean to mock you, Elie, but, really, what the fuck?”

 

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Death by American Healthcare (part 2 of 22,000,000)

I won’t even mention Obama, except to say “fuck that charismatic sell-out punk and the whores he rode in on.”   I buy my health insurance through the New York State exchange under the immensely complicated compromise scheme crafted under his watch.  I suffer from a serious kidney disease.   I am unable to get an appointment with a recommended nephrologist who accepts my insurance plan, one of fifty or more sub-plans offered by the corporation that provides my health insurance.  

The insurance company has now listed three doctors, each one highly recommended, as  participating in my specific plan.   You call and eventually find out, oops, devil is in the details, they don’t actually participate.  The insurance company blames the providers for not keeping them updated.   I blame corporate medicine for fucking people to death with a tireless mechanical dick.  In fairness to them, there is no regulation of their practices, so why blame them for taking advantage?

Nothing I can write here will ease my frustration or rage one bit.  I might as well bang my face against the wall until I black out.  That is probably a better bet than anything else I can do at the moment.  

I just note for the, hahaha, record, that the theory of Obamacare is that doctors are fungible, interchangeable, any doctor is as good as any other doctor.   Relationships between doctors and patients, and trust, are irrelevant.  Better to pick a name out of a hat and see a doctor than to have no doctor at all, goes the theory.  Sometimes that goes badly, as when a doctor does not believe in sharing diagnostic information with a patient with too many questions.  “I am expert,” says the doctor, “you deal with side effects from chemo,” and that should be answer enough.  You want another doctor?  Dip your hand back into the hat, motherfucker, maybe you’ll do better this time.  

Or maybe you will run full force into a wall, over and over again, until you lose consciousness.  That is probably a better bet for you today.  Have a nice day, your business is very important to us, please continue to hold.

 

Why the fuck am I keeping this on-line journal?

Good question, even as I have to jet out of here in a moment.  I write here, as often as I can, mainly for the feeling of being in control of things we humans have little or no control over.  It makes me feel good to write.   I write here to make sense of things as they happen, to the extent I can.  I find it helpful and hope that what I write is sometimes also helpful to someone reading it.    

I also like to keep the old writing pencil sharp, because I love the craft of writing.  It is very satisfying to see words lined up to bring something into focus.  I also hope, one day soon, to sell these little darlings like the adorable hookers they’re supposed to be, in the Free Market.  After all, any craft unsold is just a fucking hobby (he added, with gratuitous bitterness).

Today I made an appointment for screening of my skin for more possible cancer, long overdue in part because I’ve had to find three new sets of doctors in the last three years thanks to my man Obama’s beautiful compromise with the perfect, which disabled my ability to see the dermatologist I’d been seeing for years, a doctor I liked.  The earliest appointment for a new patient I could get today is for August 31, at 2:30 pm.  I took it.  I’m also on the waiting list for any earlier appointment that might pop up.  If I’d done this three months ago, instead of being discouraged when nobody I called accepted my new Silver level insurance, I’d have an appointment for next week.  Of course, I’m free to call as many other dermatologists as are on my insurance company’s list, in the meantime. This is America, after all.  In the meantime, I fucking write.

I’m being pressured to begin immunosuppressive therapy for my kidney disease.   This therapy includes three months of steroid treatment, in alternating months (chemotherapy type agents are administered every other month) each month beginning with three days of IV infusion of steroids.   I am trying to educate myself about the disease before committing to this pharmaceutical blunderbuss approach.   I read this just now, from the Mayo Clinic:

Membranous nephropathy (MEM-bruh-nus nuh-FROP-uh-thee) occurs when the small blood vessels in the kidney (glomeruli), which filter wastes from the blood, become inflamed and thickened. As a result, proteins leak from the damaged blood vessels into the urine (proteinuria). For many, loss of these proteins eventually causes signs and symptoms known as nephrotic syndrome.

In mild cases, membranous nephropathy may get better on its own, without any treatment. As protein leakage increases, so does the risk of long-term kidney damage. In many, the disease ultimately leads to kidney failure. There’s no absolute cure for membranous nephropathy, but successful treatment can lead to remission of proteinuria and a good long-term outlook.

You have to admire the candor of “in many, the disease ultimately leads to kidney failure.”   Regardless, I have my life to live, and a nice box of chocolates to buy for a 95 year-old birthday girl, who I have to dash off to see after a shave and a shower.    

I feel so much better having taken this little break to practice my word arrangement.  Thank you, Diary Dear.

The Excitable Optimism of Sekhnet

From time to time Sekhnet, who meets countless people during the course of her work gathering news for a national network, reports a fascinating conversation she had that relates to my life and plans.  She brings me a business card, or contact info written on a scrap of paper and urges me to call them.   Often things come to grief, since I am not always quick to make these potential contacts.   That most have so far been in vain is no excuse for my glass-half-empty pessimism.    

She heard a bright and funny man give a fantastic talk on becoming pitch perfect at sales meetings, during interviews of any and all kinds.  He pointed out that people have one chance to make a good first impression and clinch the deal, and that there are a hundred ways to blow it.  Read his book, aptly titled “Pitch Perfect” and you can weed out many of these ways, have a crisp phrase ready, delivered in the same winning style you see before you today, saying exactly enough to make your point crisply, and not one phrase more.  

Being pitch perfect is the difference between getting a major donation, or any kind of big yes, and getting that gassy baby smile and limp handshake at the end of a meeting too long by crucial moments.  The man’s talk and style were both excellent, she enjoyed it and found it valuable.  She bought his book, which I read cover to cover.  It was excellent.  

I took the next step and contacted his office to make an appointment for the four hour personalized master class.   It was, not surprisingly, $4,000.  I explained that I represented a small, money-strapped non-profit and was cheerfully told the tiny non-profit rate was $3,600.   My silence was met by an offer to do the half course, more than 60% as good as the full one, for only $2,000, certainly our budget could manage that.  

Well, I thought, the $2,00o, a quarter of our operating fund, could go for that or for two new animation set-ups.  I thanked her, even as a bit of bile was coming up in the back of my throat.

Sometimes helpful people, hearing my idea for the child-run interactive animation workshop, have suggested I pitch the idea on Shark Tank to get funding.   Shark Tank is a show where business owners try to strike deals to get funding from a group of wealthy sharks who evaluate the ideas looking for monster profits.

Experience has taught me the difference between what I was trying to sell and something an angel investor in the Shark Tank would salivate over. In Shark Tank the family that invented the fantastically lucrative Squatty Potty was looking for millions to take their product, a short plastic foot stool that made passing stools as easy and pleasant as operating a soft serve machine, to the next level, international super sales.   The investors were looking for a credible sign that every million they put in would have a good chance of turning into ten million for them.  It is straightforward.    

If the idea is to transform a boring public school classroom into a fun ninety minute imagination-fueled, problem-solving, peer-teaching playground where kids have the final say on every aspect of the product they are producing, a short bit of stop-motion animation, a process that leaves them collaborative, energized and engaged in learning and teaching, no angel investor worth his dorsal fin will so much as stop circling to sniff that particular patch of water for blood.  

“Sounds like a great idea, you got funding?  What’s your marketing budget?”   These are the first two questions anyone bright and practical asks when I finish my brief answer to “so, what have you been up to since last year?”  

“You have to find fellow idealists,” Sekhnet has always told me.  

I was referred to a non-profit called idealist.org, signed up.  Was invited to a mixer at a bar.   Went and met the people who worked for idealist.org.  They explained all the benefits of being a member.  I joined.  I haven’t had an email from them, or anyone else on the site, in years.  

I had an email from two guys who founded a nice outfit to introduce non-conformists with big society-improving ideas, a mutual help organization for idealistic types.  They would match people up according to their skills, interests and needs.  The first rule, when you met, was to listen to the other person’s idea and needs first and think about how you could help.  In the end, their emails stopped coming too.  It was a great idea, but I guess they didn’t have funding or an adequate marketing budget or business plan.

Having lunch with the sister of an old friend the subject of the nonprofit came up.  She thought it was a great project and then told me about a woman she’d recently met, a dynamic older woman, who was on the inside of Mayor Di Blasio’s Department of Education.  She was a great lady, and good friends with this woman’s good friend.  She shepherded many great new programs through the Education Department’s doors, knew how to get them funded and contracted as pilot programs, that was her speciality.  She was, literally the perfect person for me to meet.  In fact, we’d meet for Dim Sum, with the mutual friend, and I could run the idea by her at an informal meeting, that would be best.  

That offer turned into the old can-do idealist’s phone number being texted to me, followed by a series of supportive follow-up texts asking if I’d contacted her yet.  Presumably I was supposed to set up the informal Dim Sum meeting where the no pressure chat could unfold.  I called her a couple of times, introduced myself in short, hopefully well-pitched voice mails, I texted her this and then  this.   We never met for Dim Sum, nor did I ever hear back from her.  

It reminded me of the introduction I’d had a year earlier to the director of a large arts non-profit, with a twenty million dollar annual budget.  I was told this woman, a good friend of a close friend of mine, would love my idea and her well-funded organization could definitely help.  If our mutual friend had been present at the meeting, things might have gone better, the well-funded nonprofit could definitely have helped.  As it turned out, I was chided for my defeatist attitude before the meeting, felt dread on the way to the meeting, and the results afterwards were the opposite of helpful.    

Sekhnet remains undaunted.  Her mechanic’s daughter, it turns out, by pure whimsical chance, works at a nonprofit that features creative programs for public school children in Queens.  This friendly young woman was very excited about the student-run animation workshop, gave Sekhnet her card.  Sekhnet has learned about such things, knows that I’m currently concentrating on a book about the life and times of a man nobody’s ever heard of, and told the young idealist that it might be a while, but that I would get in touch with her.  

The same goes for the twenty-one year old idealist she spoke to in the computer department at Costco the other day.   He works at Costco and is completing a business degree at Baruch.  He and his brother love stop-motion, are idealists, think a student-run animation workshop for young kids sounds amazing and want to help.  Plus, he’s getting the business education to help with funding and marketing.  Win-win-win.  He was cautioned that it may take a while to hear from me.  

Thanksgiving I hear Sekhnet piping at me from across the room, calling me by my Christian name, if I was a Christian.  I never know what the deal is when I hear her urgently piping “Eliot!”   She’s talking with a smiling, friendly woman who it turns out works for Simon and Schuster.   She works in HR, hiring and firing like a demon, but she has found her home in publishing, after years in electronic media, and loves being around book people. She reads like a fiend since she’s been working there.  Sekhnet informs her I’ve written a book, I get a big smile.  

“It’s a manuscript, a first draft, around 700 pages.  It’s like wrestling with an anaconda at the moment, but I’m really enjoying it,” I say to the big smile.  

“I love book people,” she tells me, with that beautiful smile.  

I describe the idea that gets me out of bed every day, excited to write: a three-dimensional portrait of a great idealist who was also a monster, and how he rose from dire poverty to live the American Dream, a historian passionately involved in the historical events of his lifetime.  A dreamer and a destroyer of dreams.

I tell her that one day, as I was writing about his painful childhood, the skeleton of my father sat up in his grave to bitterly dispute something I’d just written.  I’d dismissed it at the time, went with it, had the chat, figured I could cut it later.  Then found him popping up again and again and now much of the ms. is an ongoing dialogue with the opinionated skeleton, a talk I look forward to every day.  

The smile continued as she told me it sounded cool, and that this kind of soul-searching memoir is currently a very hot genre and that if I find the right agent things could go well with this idea.  She then told us of a website where you can do a detailed search, by genre , of agents, and that no publisher will accept anything unless submitted by an agent.  Sekhnet jotted down the name of the website where I could find the highly specialized agent I will need to find.

I then told her everything I knew and felt about Jim Dale’s deightful audiobook performance of the marvelous Harry Potter books.  I promised her that she would love it, based on everything she’d told us about the books she liked best, then smiled, curtsied to Sekhnet, and went to have another muffin.  

Anatomy of an If-pology

For those sickened, as I was, by the recent extended recitation of my personal hurt over perceived mistreatment by a long-time writer friend, as I slowly processed the complicated toxins, please be forewarned.   This is the final bit.   Unless you’re interested in a dissection of an if-pology, please click away to something more diverting.

Here is a cool one I recommend, by a talented and philosophical cartoonist.  This one is also neat. 

For the fully annotated if-pology, which I offer in the hope it might be useful if you ever find yourself discomfited by an oddly unsatisfying apology, please read on.

Below is a writer friend’s apology, followed by my notes. You will find my take clarifying or proof that I am indeed the thin-skinned, vicious prig I was recently taken for.  

The writer had been hurt by something I posted here, felt personally and deliberately attacked and betrayed.   He assumed the worst of me after his outraged ex-wife forwarded the link to a poem I’d sent her.   You can be the judge of how entitled to his rage he was, the offending post is here too.  His tart email ended “I think you will agree we’re done here”.  

My relatively mild reply apparently surprised him, he thereafter wrote this apology, after reminding me again that I’d done something terrible to him that was kind of hard to forgive. Sadly, I find it irresistible as an example of a  textbook if-pology:

so let’s go back to april.(1)

i recall after our getting together you sending me some material and, as i remember, i read and responded to at least some  of it.(2)

it’s possible that i didn’t read it all, or perhaps i did and simply failed to respond.(3)

i simply don’t remember.(4)

but either way, it’s on me, and i am truly sorry because to you this was much more than a casual oversight. (5)

but, shit, man, all you had to do was call or drop me a folo-up note in may or june. (6)

i did not know you were hurt until i read that screed yesterday. (7)

i had some idea you might be pissed at me when you didn’t respond to my invite to the giants game in sept, (but, again, it appears now that i mis-sent that email).(8)

seems we currently have three choices:

1) we could cease and desist from all further communication as of this afternoon;

2) we could keep on emailing each other, which would likely create even more misunderstanding;

3) or the two of us could get together and see if we can work this out and maybe remain friends going forward.

 #2 doesn’t work for me. i’m okay with #1 if that’s what you like, but i’d be amenable to #3 if you are.   let me know your preference.(9)

NOTES

1) in April we’d had a lovely four hour chat over dinner, the final hour or so about the manuscript I’m working on, which was then 300 pages, about my tragic, aggravating father’s life.   I’d mentioned I’d just posted some sections on a brand new website I was working on and he expressed great interest in reading it. 

2) I never heard a word back about any of it.  Our email string on the subject contains no reference by my friend to any of the pages I’d sent or any comment about the brand new Book of Irv website which I was regularly updating with new photos and pieces. The email string includes two or three subsequent links to other pieces I’d sent him.

 “as i remember, i read and responded to at least some of it” implies I that I could well be mistaken in my belief that he never replied.

The only other email I had from him in the days after was the mysterious:

from the late, great New Yorker cartoonist William Hamilton, speaking of his novels and screenplays: “Although I have not exactly been published or produced, I have had some things professionally typed.”

3) This note, and notes 4-8, are from his P.O.V.

I acknowledge the possibility that you might be right and I might be mistaken.  I’ll allow it’s possible I might have never given you any response.

4) it goes without saying, in light of this remark, that whatever you wrote clearly didn’t make that much of an impression on me one way or the other.   Nor did your website contain anything that notable or memorable.

5) “Either way” whether you hyper-sensitively, nay hysterically, blocked out that I actually had replied, which I believe I probably did, or whether, as you say, I never replied, it’s on me.  

To you” is the key qualifier to this otherwise 100% sincere if-pology since, to you, being ignored, as you imagine you were, was hurtful.  

Granted, of course, that not everyone would have reacted this way, but since you did, I am truly, truly sorry.  

The oversight was casual in any event, you oversensitive fucking irrationally angry twat.

6) This “but” points out how easily you could have prevented this hurt and hostility on your part. Shit, man, if I didn’t reply to three or four requests for my feedback, you should have just sent me five, six or seven like anyone else would have done.  Clearly, jerk-off, I didn’t do it on purpose, if I even did it at all, which I reserve the right to argue I never even did.  

7)  This highly offensive post, as I already told you now three or four times, was a screed (a lengthy rant) an aggressive and unprovoked attack, a clear and unambiguous personal public betrayal.   Open to debate how vicious or unfair the screed was, perhaps, but you cannot deny that I was very hurt by it, hurt enough to write you off as the intentionally vicious fuck you clearly are.  

8) It may be fair to ask, if a simple folo-up would have solved any misunderstanding after you didn’t hear back from me, why I assumed you were mad at me for not replying to my email you, I regrettably admit, probably never received, why I didn’t just call or resend the invite instead of assuming you’d  silently rejected the invitation I mis-sent and never followed up on.  

But surely, someone as sensitive as you apparently are to a casual and unintentional slight, can see why I felt you were acting pissily when I never heard back from you to the email invite I sent but I guess you never got.  

It may also be fair to concede that you never failed to reply to anything I ever sent you, at the address where we exchanged numerous emails over the years.  

But that is not the point here anyway, you are the vicious asshole here, not me.

9) Me speaking now:   I wrote back proposing choice 4– I would call him whenever he liked and we could talk.  A phone call was not fully acceptable to him, presumably it would be hard for me to adequately grovel unless we met in person.  

And then, sub silentio, as the old Latins used to say, he added:

and for the record, I will never tell you what I think of that book you are optimistically working on, needy butt cheek.

After chewing things over, and in consideration of his clearly offended manhood, I opted for option 5, which was basically an elegant, silent restatement of his option 1.

Blog

I don’t know all the reasons a person sits down regularly and puts their thoughts, feelings, pictures, sounds out on to the internet.  Not everybody does this, though many millions do.  Here are a few of the small rewards that make me do it most days of the week.

By putting things up on the “internets” (one of President Dubya’s many great phrases) I exert myself, cheerfully, to make my writing fit for “publication”.  I have to polish it to a certain standard before I hit “publish”.  I don’t put it up for the perusal of friends and strangers until the writing is as clear and flowing as I can make it.  

I read it over many times as I write, combing out sloppy, confusing writing whenever I find myself ensnared in it.  When I read it again on-line, I often go back and make small changes to make every sentence as good as I can.  I am exacting about saying exactly what I mean to say.  My writing has improved since I’ve been putting it on-line regularly.

Before putting something on-line I have to decide if I stand behind every part of it.  I’m an opinionated bastard, no question.  I don’t like to argue these days, though I haven’t lost the ability — I’ll use my words if pushed against the wall– but I still need to express my point of view, what I’ve learned from six decades of ass-kickings.  So that aspect of not being a damn chicken-shit bastard and actually standing behind what I sell is another important part of this almost daily ritual.  

The previous sentence contains an inside reference.  I get to explain it here, since there’s nobody telling me to stick to the script, and I’m free to digress, another reason I love this particular forum.  I don’t like to leave the reader hanging any more than I like to be left hanging.  

If you think about it, nobody should be left hanging, though most of us quite often are, almost always when it comes to the services we purchase from the grasping artificial humans called corporations, those omnipresent psychopaths that rule the global and local economy.  Or by the actual workings of our idealistic and inspiring democracy, now that I think about it.

Chicken-shit bastard, then.  Years ago a friend in Tennessee sent me a tape of prank calls made by a hippie who lived in a fairly rural area near Knoxville in the 1970s or 1980s. The recordings circulated widely on cassette tapes and were very popular throughout that part of the country.  The creative caller is still remembered fondly by those of us who heard his witty provocations.  Sadly, he died young, of a terrible disease, I think.  Happily, he left us his calls to people like Ed at Ed’s Auto.

He put on a thick rural southern accent (since he knew Ed and had bought auto parts at his store) and told Ed a long, cock and bull story about how Ed needed to pay for massive repairs on his car under some far-fetched and insane theory.   “Bullshit,” said Ed.   “Maybe I’ll replace the damn rims, I’m not paying to rebuild your entire fucking car.”  Things escalated quickly between the skillful manipulator and his carefully chosen macho southern victims. Rages were whipped up effortlessly, followed by mutual threats of catastrophic ass-whuppings.   

In my favorite moment on the tape, and my father’s too — the old man had howled at the skill of this provocateur in whipping up the manful rage of his victims — the caller gently calms the irate store owner down after insanely provoking him.  It’s a beautiful, human moment.  

“Whell, shit…” he says soothingly “you don’t have to get all mad about it… shoot…”.  They both laugh.  There is almost a sigh as the store owner finally feels heard by this prick who was just mercilessly provoking him. He lets his guard down, it’s just two humans talking for a few seconds. The store owner’s relief that the insane unprovoked attack is over is palpable.   You clearly hear him relax on the recording.  

Then the caller starts back in, in a reasonable enough tone “well… it just seems to me like a damn chicken shit bastard ought to stand behind what he sells”.  Which sets the store owner’s rage instantly back on full boil, his voice goes up an octave, impolite invitations to exchange fisticuffs are hollered and the fight is immediately back on.

So, just to recap: I ain’t no damn chicken shit bastard, if you catch my damn drift.  I mean what I say and I say what I mean.  I’m not here to be a damn go-go dancer for you.

There is also the pleasure of putting thoughts and feelings together, telling a story coherently, making a sometimes complicated point plainly.   There is the technical satisfaction of using words to do this, and the emotional satisfaction of reading back the clear expression of something that took a lot of effort to render in words.

There is the thought, sometimes, of the words reaching the ideal reader, sitting at a computer somewhere in the world, perhaps in the middle of the night.  In Kurt Vonnegut’s case it was his sister, who he always had in mind as he wrote to his eventual audience of millions of strangers.  

I have no actual person in mind as I type, except maybe myself, the writing needs to be clear and interesting to me, the reader, but my mother’s face when she handed me back something I wrote and told me it was “wonderful” would not be a bad one to think of from time to time.   The idea of having my thoughts and feelings reach and touch someone I’ve never met, in the form of carefully arranged words: pretty cool.  

There is the fantasy aspect, one that probably motivates many bloggers, instagrammers, spammers, lunch photo sharers, facebookers, selfie snappers, snapchatters.  The fantasy is that I am already a great writer, with a big reserve of interesting and important things to say, and that I’m giving away brilliant products of my disciplined imagination for free.  I sometimes imagine, after posting a given piece, that certain readers are going to be moved.   And that, in the end, I will sell my work widely and talk nonchalantly to people like Terry Gross and Leonard Lopate about it.

It’s a fantasy of fame, I suppose, shared by billions with computers and cellphone cameras.  That this fantasy is shared by, literally, millions and millions who are not great writers, who have little, or nothing interesting to say, does nothing to dim this vision for the rest of us brilliant fantasists.  For all anyone knows, many of us are right.  Who’s to say in this vast, virtual marketplace of unsold ideas?    

There is also the human need to talk and be heard when our feelings are stirred up.  If we talk to friends, or even email them, about some of these unpleasantly stirred feelings, we can place unintended and sometimes terrible burdens on them.  I recently was surprised to be put through a familiar trauma by a person of my long acquaintance who I, naively, in hindsight, considered a friend.   I wrote about it endlessly here, in several iterations, before I was able to come to some rather obvious conclusions about the best course of action.  It took me literally a few days, and a few thousand words here, to calm down.

Had I restricted my processing to these pages, which can be read, scanned or skipped, I’d have done a great kindness to the couple of harried friends I vented to.  I’d put each of them in a tough spot– agree with the reasonableness of my hurt feelings or risk my already free-flowing anger flowing to you.   It comes to this: we expect our friends to extend the benefit of the doubt to us.  It’s kind of a minimum expectation of a friend, that they won’t rush forward with a sturdy rope when an angry mob gathers howling for our blood. 

Sometimes a long-time friend, hurt for whatever reason, will accuse you of doing just that to them.  Then it is a contest– who has really done the other wrong?   The friendliest thing to do is put yourself in the other person’s situation and realize: shit, I’d have felt the same way if someone had done that to me.   This realization should be followed by an apology and a promise to do better in the future.  

Taking ownership of causing a friend’s hurt requires honesty, maturity and a humility not everyone always has.  Sometimes it’s easier to just go: well, you complain about me, but after I didn’t keep my promise YOU NEVER RETURNED THE MISSED CALL FROM ME THAT I KNOW YOU FUCKING GOT!  

The details of this kind of situation, I promise you, are always ugly. Better to process them where they can be taken in quietly or ignored, once they are set out as objectively  as the writer can.  So writing here has a therapeutic and practical value, sometimes, and spares friends the worst of my hurt when I am stung.

Then there is the zone I am in while composing one of these posts.  The focus is on one thing, one thought.  It is also something I enjoy as I work and that I do as well as I can.  In this zone of concentration I do what everyone in the world does after they head off to do their chosen work.  All of the daily annoyances and distractions, the many small things that conspire and are sometimes merciless in combination, disappear.  The need to focus on doing good work quiets the clamor of the many tiny demons.  

Whatever else I may be thinking or feeling, I need to focus my full attention on this pair of shoes that needs to be re-soled for the long-time customer who is coming in to pick them up at five.  My reputation and livelihood rest on making an excellent repair and getting the comfortable old shoes back to the customer when I promised her she’d have them.  She’ll be passing my shop after a shit day and her perfectly repaired shoes, delivered when I told her they would be ready, will be one good thing that will happen to her today.  

Of course, here there is no shop, no customer, nothing but the things I have noted above.  Which makes it more beautiful in a way, and more pure.  I am fixing this invisible shoe because I love the work.

Enough, Elie

“You know, if you read those last few posts of yours, you appear to be a man obsessed.  Jesus, Elie, some fuck doesn’t send you back a comment on your manuscript, I mean, boo fucking hoo, welcome to the monkey house,” said the skeleton with a yawn, or pantomiming a scream.

I’m aware of that, dad.  It’s not that the fuck didn’t send me back a comment.  It’s that he then did what you always did, what that insane former judge once did when he unleashed a torrent of rage on me when he suddenly felt vulnerable.

“Uh oh,” said the skeleton, with mock terror.  

I’ve got to keep this brief, at the risk of nauseating my two or three loyal readers.  The fuck didn’t send back a comment.  It kind of made sense.  He’s a distracted guy who cranks out short 1,000 word pieces for $250 a shot, keeps ’em light.  He’s a craftsman, an excellent writer, a great raconteur and, also, a long-time professional writer.  

I was hoping for his feedback, he’s a very smart guy and he expressed what seemed like genuine fascination with the Book of Irv project, but when I didn’t get any feedback, after a few tries, I moved along with the writing, as you know.  There was no point to keep asking him for something he clearly wasn’t ready, or willing, to give.  I kept writing.

“Nursing a grudge,” said the skeleton.  

Sure, if you like.  I suppose I concluded he wasn’t that much of a friend after the third time I asked for his notes and heard nothing back from him.  

“Not an unreasonable conjecture,” said the skeleton.

When I got an email from him recently asking if I was pissed at him for some reason because I’d ignored an email he sent, one it turned out I never got because he’d accidentally sent it to a phantom mailbox, and, although he never followed up when he didn’t hear back (as he’d chided me for not doing),  he felt a little hurt, the irony of it was too beautiful to ignore.  The irony was fucking gorgeous, dad.

My appreciation of that irony, which I did my best to capture in 1,000 words, was apparently forwarded to him by his ex, mortally offended on his behalf and feeling betrayed that I had, apparently, been vicious by referring to the fact that he didn’t need the $250, although I expected, if he’d been honest, he’d concede he’d have been annoyed to have it plucked from his hand by his editor friend, as the fellow had done to me, accepting a piece and later rejecting it.

“I’ll pretend I followed all that.  This guy’s ex-wife was offended on her former husband’s behalf and sent him the piece that also offended, nay, infuriated him?” said the skeleton.  

Bingo.  I suppose my callous observation that he doesn’t need the $250 was my treacherous betrayal.  I was supposed by this snide crack, I surmise, to have brutally laid bare what must never be spoken of.  It would be obvious to even a casual reader what “doesn’t need the $250” really means, and it certainly wasn’t just merely to illustrate his lack of empathy toward a friend who’d gotten slightly screwed.  Nobody, apparently, is supposed to know the shameful secret that this guy is sitting on a shitload of cash, stocks, bonds, etc. I guess, somewhere in the twenty, thirty million dollar range as of twenty years ago.

You know, he’s a salt of the earth working man, who has always worked hard for a living, sometimes in low-paid jobs to make ends meet, this fortune he long ago inherited is a closely held, and apparently humiliating, secret that has nothing to do with anything and it’s certainly not his long-time good friends’ fucking business nor his ex-wife’s business to run her fucking mouth about, whatever the original context may have been for her disclosure.

“Uh, OK,” said the skeleton, understandably beginning to lose interest in the whole thing.  

I kept writing about the details of the situation the last few days, after furious, terse emails from both of them decrying my vicious, unprovoked hatchet job.  It was my only  way to process  it.  Writing allowed the cortisol and adrenaline coursing through my system to dissipate.  I had to dissect exactly what the flood of fight or flight chemicals was caused by, and sorting my thoughts and editing them was the only way I could do that.   As I got a better understanding of the reason I felt as hurt as I did, the situation began to make more sense.  I was finally able to calm down and come to a reasonable resolution of the whole thing.  

“And the flood of stress hormones was caused by me?” said the skeleton.  

No, dad, you’re cool now.  It was caused by the guy’s immediate and enraged reaction when I finally asked him why he’d never commented on the pages I sent him.  He aggressively blamed me for being hurt without cause, told me anybody but an asshole would have just followed up again, and was enraged that I had been so unkind to him.  His tart email ended: That being said, i think you’ll agree that you and I are done here.  Then his ex jumped in, too incensed to use her words, and started clawing at my eyes.

“Sounds fair enough,” said the skeleton of my father, “they sound completely nuts.  Fuck ’em.”

Not with your dick, dad.