Conversations with God – III

I was browsing the merchandise in a strange little shop—the kind of place you find in small towns on California’s central coast, in the hills where the local industry is limited to oil pumps discretely camouflaged in cul de sac little valleys, vineyards and tourists attracted to their companion tasting rooms. The little store occupied most of the space of the first floor of a small wooden building that, in the early 20th century was a modest home. The walls, floor and ceiling held the rich, warm color of varnished wood, darker on the walls on which were hung small oil paintings—landscapes that looked like places you are likely to see around this kind of town, hills redolent with fragrant, tall sweet grass, picturesque oaks carved out of blue skies in twisted shapes, crows and ravens. The merchandise was most curious by dint of its modest array—there was very little. A wooden counter at the back wall held a few dark books, there were a few things on book shelves on the walls and wooden fixtures, which with three easy chairs and small tables, a couple bar stools before the counter and a lamp or three, furnished the room.

Two thin young men, dressed in similarly casual gabardine slacks and collegiate shirts, worked quietly—one behind the counter and the other coming in and out periodically with merchandise, sometimes quietly exchanging a few words. The man behind the counter acknowledged me as I entered, glancing briefly at my face, with a small but sincere smile and then politely leaving me to my private investigations. I felt he was being kind, implying a promise to allow me the privacy of an incognito visit. The hills around the towns north of Santa Barbara are laden with celebrity personalities.

Shortly, I found two things of interest to me: one a large folio, the leaves of which were made of stiff cardboard on which had been printed, mainly with a dark mauve and green ink, with black lines, motives reminiscent of 1930 Vienna and each page was inset, in a random pattern with slots holding five inch music disks, printed in the same design. The other item was a finely made, old rosewood humidor—the kind you would find on a desk or a table in the sitting room of a 19th century parlor. Inside this box, I found some fresh cigars, a couple dozen maduras, wrapped in soft and exquisitely aromatic tobacco. They had no ring but lifting one to my nose, I recognized the Cuban pedigree. I considered buying one with guilt and desire, imagining a suitable rationalization and as I stood by the counter, holding the cigar in my hand, in this internal confliction, a man, dressed in a suit came in the door behind me and greeted the counter clerk, who returned his greeting with the familiarity of regular acquaintance. The suit he wore was obviously expensive, made of light and supple, black Italian wool—no tie, and the collar of the white shirt beneath the stylish lapels was open at the throat. He looked at me and smiled before returning his attention to the young man, who still showed no interest in my activities.

As I continued to sniff and mentally weigh the pros and cons, I was getting no closer to a decision, when the man in the suit, who now sat on one of the barstools, turned to me and said, “would you like to smoke it?” I felt a little ashamed about it but I nodded, “yes”.

“Romeo,” he said. I looked at it and whispered, “and Juliet.” He laughed, gently. “Go ahead, light it up.” Hesitating, I looked into the dark eyes of the counter clerk, who seemed like he was watching a familiar scene in a movie. “Would you like to use a cutter?” the clerk asked.

“How much is it?”

The gentleman on the barstool, who I then noticed looked like Morgan Freeman, leaned toward me to pick up the rosewood box, which he held out for the counter clerk to take from his hands. “Do you mind,” he said to me, “I’ll pay for it.”

“That’s very kind of you but…” I started to protest this generosity from a stranger but there was something so familiar and friendly about his face and voice, I felt more ashamed about refusing him.

“No, really, that’s ok,” he said, “don’t mention it. You can have the box. Enjoy!”

“Shall I wrap it?” The clerk asked him, not me.

“Sure,” he said to the clerk and swiveling on the stool back to me, he said, “Is there anything more? Really. Anything?”


“Anything,” he said, with the confident, sweet smile and flashing eyes that reminded me so much of Morgan, and Gene Wilder, too, a little.

“My name is…”

“I know who you are,” he cut me off. “No introductions are necessary. Just tell me what you want.”

“Oh. Right. Of course. Thank you. For the cigar—cigars.” I felt stupid saying that. “God, I felt stupid saying that,” I said, “but still, thank you.”

“As my Scandinavian friends say, “not to worry, it was too little. But really, you can always have anything—that I can give you.”

“Anything? OK. How about a new president?”

“Of the United States?” He laughed. “You go right for it, don’t you.” Shaking his head, he looked down at his shiny black dressy loafers. I imagined him wiggling his toes. “Well, I guess that’s appropriate. But, why?”

“I don’t know, I’m tired of all the bullshit.”

“Aren’t we all. But isn’t it the nature of the job? Does it matter who does it?”

“It did. It used to.”

“I understand,” he said, sympathetically, “what you want and why.”

“But you can’t give that to me?”

“Sort of…but you’ll have to clarify or I can’t give you what you want.”

“I’m tired of apologies. Instead of taking care of things, all we get is apologies. Really.”

“I thought that’s the purpose of having a president, to apologize. That’s the job, isn’t it? The fuss about Clinton was because he was unapologetic about his blowjob. He apologized for failing to deliver universal healthcare and that was completely acceptable. Nixon was made president after he apologized in tears for taking a house in Beverly Hills in return for political favors. I understand his apology for Watergate is considered epic. Among world leaders, George Bush was outstandingly stupid but his whining voice was constantly apologizing and he got away with murder and larceny on a scale never seen before. Clearly, apologetic is the most significant quality that distinguishes popular politicians in general but especially those who “fill” the office of president. Apology is to Washington, D.C. as horseshit is to the Aegean stables.”

“Since you put it that way, how about a house in the country?”

“Now, that’s what I’m talking about.”

Conversations With God – II (Overheard At the UN last week)

God: (To a man on the street in front of the UN, holding an “occupy” placard) You live in a banana republic? Who would’a thunk it?

(Later that day, in an elevator inside the UN building.)

God: Nations? Nations? What are nations?

Red Ant King: Nations are organizations. Ours is the most powerfully united in the world. We’re mighty in arms and highly principled!

God: What the fuck?

Blue Ant King: WE are a real republic–those reds are commie bastard idolators.

God: Whoa! Aren’t you taking yourselves a little too seriously?

Red Ant King: He’s full of it. They are fascist motherfuckers, every one. Smite THEM and (sotto voce) let US take care of their oil shale.

Green Ant King: Fracking frackers!

God: You do your own smiting, leave me out of that bullshit. I’ve got enough to think about trying to make sense of the time signature in Beethoven’s Eroica. Unless done well, I am not into organized violence. What’d you think of that big bang? Now that was something to brag about!

Black Ant King: They’re both racist shitheads, Lord, look at what they do to your truly good people, those who worship your holy name in praise and song EVERY Sunday!

God: I do like the music. That boy, Thelonius, now he’s a gas! Miles blows like an angel! Have you noticed how slow this elevator is moving? Jesus! This could take forever! What do you call this place?

Black Ant King: This is the United Nations, Lord…mostly united white nations…

Red Ant King: Hey, we don’t segregate no more, we did that affirmative action thing or tried to an’ look what they did with that! They own the damn post office! It’s re-verse dis-crimin-ation. You’all can use the same shitters as everyone now, so just stay the fuck away from white women! Is that too much to ask?

Black Ant King: We shall overCOME, asshole and I DO mean, overCOME, get it? Or are your ears too far down inside your fat, red neck. Prick, hick, what’s the difference?

Blue Ant King: You see how they talk, Lord? No respect! Isn’t it about time for some swift justice? I know you’ll spare your friends–and you know we never hung a ni-black person ourselves, that is, directly. We never even shot one dumb drunk injun or gassed a single Jew, except the Rosenbergs, which was an unfortunate mistake and look, we even gave ’em Palestine after the war…of course, they can live anywhere they want now, well, there was a problem in La Jolla, of course, and Ford and Rockefeller and the RCA boys payin’ Hitler was admittedly counter-intuitive but it was complicated. The Hamptons? No one wants to live there anymore–the place is full of disgusting pop musicians. But they got ALL of Florida–on the Atlantic side, for a while, of course.

Red Ant King: Save it for the radio, neocorn. Don’t listen to him anyway, Lord. They break every one of your laws every way they can when they think you’re not looking! They PRINT that fraudulent fiat money! In your holy name…put your name on their worthless script! Look here at this! “In God we trust!” Now, what’s that supposed to mean? One nation under god my ass!

Black Ant King: Who are you to talk, hypocrite! You sent guns to Nicaragua, you guys put bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Gaddafy and that Syrian creep in business, you poison young black men with coke, smack and meth and you burned up all those poor souls at Waco! What the hell’s wrong with you?

God: Shut up! All of you!

Black Ant King: But…

God: Stuff it! I don’t give a damn, just shut the fuck up! (peal of thunder rolls.) You give me a headache with your bickering. You people can all marry each other now, so get on with it and have makeup sex afterwards. Just, stop it with all the complaints! Look, I understand you’ve got some issues to work through and I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do…

Black Ant King: Praise the Lord! Tell us, please tell us! Tell us what you want us to do!

All:  Yes, Lord, all we want is to be your faithful servant, etc.

God: All you want? Yeah, I bet.  Well, let’s see how that works out, maybe we are on the same page, that’ll be a first…so, here’s the deal, gentlemen (and I know you ladies are hanging around hiding behind the curtains, pretending it’s none of your doing)…so listen up, here’s the deal: To begin with, I ain’t doing a damn thing. Nothing. That’s right, you heard me, nothing. Not one skinny iota of any kind of involvement in your affairs, not in any way, shape or form, as you say. (God pauses–for a change, there is complete silence.) That’s right, you heard me. Awesome? Tell me are you finally awe struck? Well that’s good. I’ve discussed this with my, my, you know–my beatch…

Red Ant King: You mean there’s a Mrs. God?

Green Ant King: You’re such a sexist little prick…

God: It’s none of your business but haven’t you noticed your God is asexual.

Red Ant King: But–but this seems very important…who…who is your, your…

God: My Beatch? No, that’s not important to you because  you are on your own. God ain’t smiting. God ain’t helping. God ain’t blessing one fat little cherub or damning one scheming bastard criminal. God ain’t caring one fat rat’s ass what you boys and girls are up to or down for. The way I see it, you got a perfectly good planet, which I recall giving you in nifty order. Nice place–took three maybe four billion years to grow all that shit and now you’re fucking it up like it don’t mean squat to you, so bad, so fast, I doubt you’ll even be around next time I come by. Sad, ain’t it? I’d lay odds on it but what’s the point? You dudes won’t be around to pay off. Heh heh. Time’s a bitch, isn’t it?

Red Ant King: What? What do you mean?

Black Ant King: What about Britain?

Green Ant King: What about the rainforests…and Carnivál?

Blue Ant King: Fuck all! What about Paris? What about your chosen people? What about them?

God: What the hell, they got the bomb over there, didn’t they? I’d like to do something about Paris but I don’t see…no, sorry, all bets are off.

Black Ant King: This is not fair. Do you realize how much shit we have taken for how long, all the time, believing in the name of God–in YOUR name!

God: It’s not about names, boy.

Black Ant King: Boy? Boy!

God: Have you not learned anything by observing the Lutherans? God isn’t a brand. Notice, no t-shirt here? I’m not a fucking brand. Now, the old guy in the Vatican, that is branding…did you know the name, Vatican, is Etruscan?

Red Ant King: What’re we gonna tell people?

Black Ant King: Boy!!

Blue Ant King:  Same lies you always told them, idiot. What’s the difference?

God: That’s the spirit. Ride the horse ‘til it’s dead!

Blue Ant King: That’s not really what I meant.

God: Then what the fuck did you mean?

Black Ant King: It’s not fair! We’re not running things! It’s them! They’re fucking stuff up, not us! They’ve always been fucking stuff up! Them and the Chinese.

God: Lookee there in Nigeria, monsieur. Take a look at Colombia, Rio. Whose are those starving children there in Somalia. Isn’t that a black dude poaching those rhinos. About those men buying and selling their neighbors in Darfur… Don’t forget your Hindu cousins either–building 15 new reactors this year. You’re all equally repulsive or is repugnant the right word.

Blue Ant King: What good ‘s it going to do if you leave?

God:  Is there a competition?

Red Ant King: You can’t bail on us now! Without warning!

God: What would you consider to be a warning, asshole? How about Katrina? Or that tsunami that fucked up Fukushima? Hell’s bells, around the planet, you dumb bells are building fifty new nuclear power plants and half a dozen new dams, your scraping the last fish out of the sea and pumping half the cretaceous era into the atmosphere. Biological life is out of style here and I just don’t groove  with kilobytes. Can you cats not dig that?

Green Ant King: We have tried so hard, God.

Black Ant King: Don’t you even care about us?

Red Ant King: I was taught that God is love.

God: You know, I really do care and that’s why it’s time you figure it out!

Black Ant King: Is there nothing we can do to make you want to stay?

God: Don’t do that, you know I love the blues. Honestly, you wanna know what amuses me most about you suckers? It’s the thing that fucks you up everytime. You are the quintessentially perfect and singularly unique manifestation of arrogance in any imaginable universe. Temptation of fate is  DNA. It’s been the secret of your success. Nowhere in this infinite universe is there another example and it’s so risky that it’s unlikely that it could exist  anywhere for long in any form! It’s an absolutely irresistible invitation to evolution and this is a universe which knows no absolutes so that’s not small change. You’re beautifully, irresistibly arrogant. Arrogance is the very nature of beauty, isn’t it? It amazes me that you survived this long… Well, it appears your technology is about to end that. Too bad. You’ve been a rare source of amusement…I will miss that when you’re gone.

Red Ant King: What did you say?

Black Ant King: God said, “when you’re gone”, motherfucker. Listen up.

Red Ant King: What do you mean? I thought you kinda took Judgment Day off the table.

God: I’m sorry. Did I not make something perfectly clear again? You’re always accusing me of being ambiguous. I’m tired of hearing that.

Red Ant King: What did you mean by, “when you’re gone”. You said you are going to miss us when we’re gone. Gone when? Gone where?

God: I love that song. (sings) “After you’ve gone and left me crying, after you’ve gone and no denying, you’ll feel blue, you’ll feel sad, you’ll miss the best pal you ever had…”

Red Ant King: That’s NOT funny!

God: I’m sorry…Look, isn’t it time you got your shit TOGETHER? And, (to Black Ant King) I DO mean, TOGETHER, homey.

Black Ant King: What am I supposed to do with these morons running things?

God: Takes two to tango and you put up with it because some among you are playin’ the game, selling brothers and sisters out…

Black Ant King: The flesh is weak…

God: So they say. Hey, listen, fellas, you’re a great bunch of guys and I’d like to stay forever, you know, and I love the ladies hiding in the wings, and it’s been great catching up but I really have to go now. (What is it with this slow fucking elevator?) You know, fellas, there’s an infinite universe out there, exponentially expanding even as we speak, so…I wish you lots of luck and I really do mean it, too. I hope it works out for you…to be honest I don’t have much hope for you given your habit of irresponsibility and you’re always blaming someone or something or even me, heaven knows, everytime you fall on your ass or win the lottery but who knows, maybe you’ll wake up. I doubt it but if I’ve learned one thing from you over the years, it’s that you never can tell…

Red Ant King: (stunned) What about Judgment Day…?

God: Don’t you fucking listen? Clue him in, will you, please? Look, for the last time, the answer is, NO! Not on my watch! “Judge not lest ye shall be judged” (or something like that). Works for me. Always has. Everything you think is in my hands, well, it’s not. It’s questionable that it ever was. It’s all in YOUR hands. Period. End of story. Get over it. Bye, now. If you see Marsalis, tell him to keep it up. Tell him I’ve got my eye on him for a thing I’m putting together with Eddie Kantor, Gene Wilder and Ella. No hurry though, this guy, Winn, is still working on the book and it seems to be taking him a lifetime, literally. But, you know how I am. I’m never in a hurry. Can you imagine, God, stuck in an elevator in the UN building with a bunch of politicians? Great idea for a movie, right? Hah! Never say never! Adios, muchachos! See you around…if you believe, heh heh. Hasta la byebye.

Puff of white smoke and he’s gone.

Life Before Death

Birth is traumatic stress, a part of which contemporary psychologists have described as the original “break in belonging” and the origin of a thought that “something is wrong”.

If the role of parents in childhood is to treat unwitting survivors of birth, they should be obliged to inform themselves about treating those who suffer from “post traumatic stress disorder” especially since all of us live post the birth trauma.

If the “unwittingness” of the newborn was not exploited by parents, siblings, teachers and every form of social organization, to relieve their own cases of PTSD, from cradle to grave, perhaps they would inform themselves.

Although, there are enclaves and even places within political boundaries and there have been periods of time where customs are more enlightened, but on the whole, the world is populated mostly by people with strategies for survival and stress relief, ranging from religious zealotry and other forms of narcissism to murder as an art form, and of course, there is China.

Most of us live our entire lives in “a world full of faces [in which] so few ever find their places,” which we endure, through occasional reminders and flashbacks of terror and even fewer glimpses of beings who we think we are.

And then we die. But before that happens, we live, after a fashion.

Now, if you are aware of this, you can observe it and in doing this, there is the possibility of being truly alive and truly who you are.





Scientology vs. Love

A striking comparison between Departures, another Japanese masterpiece, and Rabbit Hole, a didactic manifesto of Scientology, released by Lionsgate, is nonetheless fair since they both deal with the emotional as well as cultural and philosophic views of death, not as personified as a character, in the style of Bjergman’s Seventh Veil or as a principle of denouement, as in Hamlet, Romeo and Juliett or Julius Ceasar, but death, as we know it.

If academics can legitimately deconstruct a symphony into a set of representative, constituent repeated and transformed harmonic progressions, it is not unreasonable to examine and compare two films by looking at their representative, constituent elements. This practice will reflect badly on academic exercises if readers get the idea that the formulae extracted from such analyses can be employed in making films rather than understanding that they are only a way of refining their ability to perceive subtle distinctions. Distinctions about relationships of complex sounds in music are experiential, not conceptual, so this analogy between deconstruction of complex musical forms and even more complex visual and aural imagery is limited. The latter involves some clearly conceptual elements that are not present in music, except in anthems.

Deconstructing Departures and Rabbit Hole, beginning with their respective first frames, we encounter musical forms that define both films and the differences between their music parallels most differences between the two examples of narrative cinema. In both cases, the opening music tells us these stories will be emotionally stressful and in the end, all will be resolved, more or less. In Rabbit Hole, music tells us this with a short sequence of chords on plucked strings–in a chord progression that is traditional in popular music, something like I-IV-V7-I; tonic, subdominant (mild dissonance), dominant seventh (leading tone dissonance), resolving tonic. In Departures, to the contrary, although the music informs us that things will be alright in the end, we get that, just as in life, this may mean coming to terms with loss. So the music in Rabbit Hole telegraphs the emotional conclusion in the opening frames while, in Departures, the protagonist’s voice, as the narrator, introduces the narrative in a personal, idiomatic statement that, with music as an overture, forecasts a journey, the conclusion of which may be, like the music, open to variations, modulations and suspense: we can expect the unexpected.

Philosophically, Rabbit Hole deals with the subject of death in terms of resolving grief and the story illustrates a conceptual resolution according to the principles of Scientology (which makes a religion of science), while offering no resolution for the emotional sorrow of loss. We are offered only brief glimpses of the departed in strident sequences fraught with painful emotion. Departures, to the contrary, includes the experience and expression of grief for the departed through a broad array of relationships and offers a philosophical resolution that includes death within life without conceptual religious ideology, thereby weakening the effect of the distinction between the living and the dead that is exaggerated by our feelings of loss, which shows up as lost opportunity to share life (the past is beyond loss). Both films offer solace that the departed may exist in a different state but Departures presents emotional redemption through a social ritual, whereas, in Rabbit Hole, the protagonist is pointedly alone, with no recourse but to accept grief or deny her own existence.

The ritual in Departures allows an expression of love for the departed in a profound, sensitive acknowledgment, literally, through art, whereas, in Rabbit Hole, although there is the conceptual solace of scientific superstition, there is no celebration of the departed, and no employment of art in the resolution. Departures is therefore, a paen to art, an extraordinary idea and one that the music, by Joe Hisiashi supports. Music, as well as the imagery and script in Departures is more complex and demanding of actors, artists and craftspeople, it’s a generally more challenging production that succeeds, after all, it won an Academy Award in 2008, however, I sometimes wanted to hear someone like Yoyo Ma performing, perhaps, on variations of baroque or romantic pieces, and sometimes, something distinctly Japanese.