The Review of Arts, Literature,      
      Philosophy and the Humanities       

The Best of www.ralphmag.org
Volume Thirty-Three
Late Summer, 2008

Taxi
Khaled Al Khamissi
Jonathan Wright
Translator

(Aflame Books)
The last taxiopology book I read was My Flag Is Down: The Diary of a New York Taxi Driver by James Maresca. It dates from 1949, from that halcyon time when the hackies were from Flushing and weren't isolated in a bullet-proof box, talking at you through loudspeakers. Evidently they haven't discovered guns yet in Cairo, because Khamissi gets quite chummy with the drivers who take him wherever he wants to go.

There are 58 stories of trips here or there through the awful traffic of the city. He sits up front with the taxistas, hears their gripes, their woes, their thoughts on politicians, the president, the judges, the War, Arab nationalism, women. Women, it seems --- as Maresca also noted --- will sometimes offer themselves as fare; others will drop their burkas, change their clothes, right there in the back of the cab.

At one point a hackie falls asleep on Khamissi's shoulder because his wife wouldn't let him come home until he had raised £1200 for his hack license. Khamissi became a taxi-driver for a moment there.

The author tells us that there are 80,000 taxis roving the street of Cairo but the figure seems a little exaggerated until you live there for a week with the noise, smog, and minute-by-minute wrecks.

This is less a peek at taxi-life in a huge Third World city and more a gaze into the thoughts and values of the common folk in one of the power-house economies of Muslim Africa. One taxi driver, listening to religious tapes, tells Khamissi that all women are wanton, especially those who dress in slacks and sheer tops. "Girls! They're a plague on us, God protect us." There are countries, he says, "where the number of women is very much greater than the number of men."

    I don't need to tell you the decadent state these countries are in ... The most important thing is the level of the water in the Sea of Galilee. They say that when the Hour comes that lake will have completely dried up ...

There is a line of taxis waiting to fill up with "petrol;" the drivers get together, as drivers always will, telling jokes: wedding jokes, Mubarak jokes (in a 100 years, the president will be grandson Luay Haitham Gamal Mubarak), Viagra jokes: "With a girl you're seeing for the first time, no need."

    With your wife, six pills, 10 beers and three whiskys, two joints of hashish, one of grass and God help you.

We learn how drivers survive in Cairo. They turn to smuggling; they put on fake seat-belts so they won't get busted by the transit police; they work thirty-six hours straight to pay their fees. Most of their cars are falling apart. The author tells us of one noisy journey: "The car drove on, each part of it moving in a different direction, the various components playing the worst symphony in the history of mankind."

We learn what these taxi-drivers think of Saddam Hussein, the Israelis, the African Nations Cup, America, and the great Egyptian singer Umm Kalsoum, consort to Abdel Nasser: "The driver was listening to the song 'I Still Remember,'" Khamissi tells us, "and this was another reason for me to hold my tongue and enjoy the song, for taxi drivers rarely play beautiful songs."

My favorite taxi story of all times concerns the New York City entrepreneur Lewis Schweitzer. One day he got picked up on Broadway by a cabbie named Lewis Schweitzer. The millionaire decided that a man with such a handle should never go poor, so he bought him his own taxi. The only restriction: when Schweitzer needed a ride, the hack would drop everything to pick him up.

--- Phil Sinclair


[READING]
Eating the Girl
In the Wreck
"Hell, I could really do with a bite to eat! I wonder if that thought ever occurs to those, you know ... what did you say they were called? The ones who live near the Ganges?"

"The Shaivas. I used to know a guy called Kukacka, a real cuckoo, from Letnany, who wanted to taste human meat for so long that he actually ended up doing so."

"You don't say. Is he a doctor?"

"No he's not, but a friend of his was. And one time they were stupidly egging each other on to cook human flesh. So the doctor brought a piece of a girl who had been run over by a car and they chopped it up back at Kukacka's place. Then they stood there looking at it, apparently it was beautifully red, clean, lovely meat, but they suddenly lost the nerve to just roast it as it was. Kukacka remembered a recipe his mother used for beef stew. They chopped up onion, garlic, carrot, made a vinegar marinade, added some bay leaves, thyme, allspice, salt and pepper, chopped the meat up into cubes and left it to marinade for two days ..."

"How do you know all this so exactly? You weren't there as well, for Christ's sake, were you?"

"No I wasn't ... They left it to marinade and then drank for two days so they'd have the courage to go through with it, because they were less and less keen with every passing minute. So in the end they got the meat out, fried it in oil, and then they gradually added the rest of the marinade, stewing it until they had a sort of ragout, a sort of human goulash. They put it on the table and sat down, passed the plates out, hesitating for a moment, but apparently it gave off a wonderful smell, so they knocked back one more shot and ate it."

"Did they like it?"

"They loved it, it seems. But then they sobered up and it started to get to them. From that day on they couldn't stand each other. Every time they met their aversion to one another grew. So they swore never to tell anyone and didn't see each other for a year. But during that year Kukacka lost his marbles, left his job at the research institute, broke up with his girlfriend, became a recluse, and in the end got a job as a tram driver. I ran into him a few years after this took place. I was on the No. 22 and suddenly I see that it's being driven by a noticeably skinnier Kukacka, so I did the route with him four times and we talked. And up at Pohorelec, at the last stop, he let the cat out of the bag. He said he couldn't get it out of his mind. That he never goes out anywhere. That he only eats porridge. That he can't walk past a butcher's without feeling sick. That I'm the first person in all those years he's confided in."

"I understand where he's coming from," Father said, "I used to get pangs of conscience just from eating the lab rabbits at the institute, it's just prejudice what we consider okay to eat and what we don't ... But how come you remember that recipe so precisely?"

"Because up there in Pohorelec Kukacka got in a weird rut and kept describing it to me over and over. First they removed the onion from the marinade, put it in the oil in the pan and when it had sweated down, they added the meat. They put the marinade in a pan next to it to cook and only once it had reduced down to about half the volume they started to add the marinade to the meat. At the end they were supposed to add cream but it seemed silly to have a girl with cream sauce, so they didn't put it in ... I was pretty frightened of him at the time because it was clear that he really did have a few screws loose. So that's one reason ..."

"Alright, and the other?"

"Well, the recipe got so stuck in my mind I couldn't help trying it with braising steak, and it really is delicious."

"That's another lovely story, that is," Father shook his head, "and what's up with this Cockatoo of yours now?"

"Kukacka? I've no idea, I guess he's living somewhere. He was always more of a quiet type and the episode with the girl in the goulash was the most significant event of his life."

--- From Of Kids & Parents by Emil Hakl
© 2008 Twisted Spoon Press

A review Of Kids & Parents
will be found further on
in this Folio


Night Haunts
A Journey through
The London Night

Sukhdev Sandhu
(Artangel/Verso)
It was all very wicked, the London night. It was seen as "lawless, foreign territory teeming with rogues and banditos." This before the coming of the nineteenth century and gas lamps, bobbies, and eventually electricity and trains and subways and street-life.

Now, according to Sandhu, it can be just as spooky as it was back then for those who work it and live it. People on the edge, the insomniacs, the trash and sewage workers, the mini-cab drivers, the graffiti artists and bargers and the Nuns of Tyburn who maintain a constant prayer through the night for the souls of Londoners.

In June 1944, a German V-1 bomb hit the convent. "The sister who was in the middle of her Night Adoration shift ignored the falling masonry, as well as the unusual sights of the nuns without glasses or false teeth crawling out from the wrecked cells, and carried on regardless."

Sukhdev Sandhu is a critic and author of two previous books, and he is a crackerjack writer. I started this one on page 60 (I like opening new books in the middle ... as test, to see if the author is as good in media res as at beginnings and endings) and I instantly found a tribute to not only the London sewer system, but to the "flushers" who work through the night to keep down the logjams.

Logjams in sewers? Of logs? No, fat. "Fat is the bane of flushers' lives ... the effluence of affluence. I wade through some of it at Victoria Embankment."

    It is at once crunchy and spongy, like putrid bran. Brown and white and grey: a pigeon-shit potage sprinkled with an extra top layer of mop heads and tampons."

Flushers tell stories of "accidentally sucking in the sewer flies who feed on the fat or of metal grating giving way so that they fell into eight-feet deep fat-quicksands, the mouthfuls of the stuff they swallow leave their guts raw and hollering for months on end. But it's the bouquet that makes their flesh crawl."

I stop right here, to spare me, to spare you ... the horror, the horror... the sewer horror. For Sandhu can churn our bowels with the sights and smells and sounds encountered in London, in the loos, in the Thames, or even in a nocturnal sleep clinic: "sometimes the patients flailing and shaking and screaming so hard. You think: their vocal chords can't take it. It's like the devil is in the child."

Night Haunts is a brief volume, scarcely eleven stories long. Yet the writer is so good that fine ideas, phrases, and truths drift through the pages to assail the reader, like the detritus of the city. For example: urban foxes ... yes, those swift little creatures now number in hundreds of thousands, creeping through London, because of the sprawl of its 8,000,000 inhabitants. They are "sharp-toothed soft treaders who are drawn to its cemeteries, industrial estates, overgrown gardens."

There are even "gourmand foxes," who fall victim to the fox-pest control patrol:

    Their fur, when they've finally gunned down, will be sleeker, redder, more textured than that of their prole brethren rooting about the dustbins of East End council estates.

Or how about London's graffiti artists who never go out to spray without a camera, because "a painting is never really complete until it has been shot and entered into the artist's noctographic studio." They are "part of the chatter, the spectrum interference that city authorities feel obliged to silence. They tattoo the skin of the city, disfiguring it or, according to the perspective of the viewer, beautifying it.

"Graffers are so used to being labelled vandals that they learn to embrace the tag. They revel in the fact that those outside their circle think of their painting as vomit, artistic flytipping."

If you or a friend or a love are planning to go to London, forget Moon, Lonely Planet, Michelin, Baedeker (do they still do Verlag Karl Baedeker?) Get Night Haunts. And instead of settling into your insomnia in Piccadilly or Clapton, put on your boots and follow in the footsteps of this amiable writer.

--- C. A. Amantea


[CRYPTIC LETTERS
OF THE MONTH]
From: virtualvideoshow.com
To: postmaster@ralphmag.org
Subject: Banner Exchange Request

Dear Webmaster,

I am Carine the webmaster of www.virtualvideoshow.com which is a very good adult website and generates a high volume of qualified traffic.

Been into online marketing, I am taking care of link building campaigns for my website and am very impressed with it and would like to exchange banner with your website.

If you are interested in a mutual link exchange please insert in your page this code:

IMG height=60 alt="virtual Video Show"

Or insert the banner joint at this mail.

After we joint me and I insert your banner or your code, follow me this information.

Please get back to me for any other concerns. I look forward to your reply.

"Your favorite porn pay per view movies collection."

--- Carine
Webmaster

§     §     §

Hi, Carine:

Blessed if we can figure out how we got on your list, much less rated an offer to exchange links. And we are even more buffaloed over the invitation "to insert the banner joint at this mail." What can this mean? Ought we know?

We are a book review magazine mostly dominated by geezers, most of whom are past the age of performing, much less contemplating, the acts apparently to be found at Virtual Video. "Banner-insertion?" As the late Harold Ross would interject, "Who he?"

Still, we are honored that you have thoughts of sharing, say, Debbie Does Dallas with The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Although we must, with regret, as we have over the past twenty years, decline. And fall.

--- Carlos A. Amantea
Exchange Editor


To: lolitalark@yahoo.com

RE: dada

do you guys know what Dada is as i don't

So could you tell me

Also what you see below did Dada make this or did I

DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA DADA

--- Al & Sue Gersbach
asgersbach@bigpond.com

The review that may have
inspired this letter can be found at
www.ralphmag.org/AR/dada.html


Japanese
Women Poets

An Anthology
Hiroaki Sato
(M. E. Sharpe)
Japanese Women Poets includes over 100 poets and covers more than 1,200 years, beginning with the Kojiki (the Record of Ancient Matters) and ending with several dozen from what the editor refers to as the "Modern Age." Included are poems in traditional forms --- senryu, renga, kanshi and haiku (formerly known as "hokku.")

Of the hundreds of examples of the latter, I especially liked three from the 17th century:

    First geese fly past me leaving only their voices

    If there were two we might fight over the moon tonight

and

    My own figure looks pitiful in the withered field

Sato explains that in Japan those who write haiku are thought to have a touch of madness. He refers to it as "poetic dementia."

The poems from the 6th and 7th centuries suffer somewhat from translation and age ... the forms being elegiac, devoted to royalty, complete with envoi and song. Still, there is a fetching example by Princess Yamato,

    Being of this world, unable to be near a deity,
    I live apart, aggrieved over you in the morning,
    I live away, longing for you, my lord.
    If you were jewels, I'd carry you tied round my wrist,
    If you were a robe, I'd never take you off.
    I long for you, my lord; last night
         I saw you in my dreams.

Some of the late poems can be disturbing, especially those composed by women who lived through WWII. Ishigaki Rin wrote one poem on the battle of Saipan where wives and children of the defeated soldiers flung themselves off "Banzai Cliff."

And, in 1952, she wrote of the bombing of Hiroshima:

    When Earth owns hundreds of atomic bombs
    and walks on the borderline between life and death ----
    why are you so peaceful,
    so beautiful?...

    On the morning of August 6, 1945,
    all the 250,000 people who died in one second,
    were, like you
    and me at this moment,
    peaceful, beautiful, off guard.

--- A. W. Allworthy


Natural Shocks
Richard Stern
(TriQuaterly/
Northwestern University)
Wursup is the journalist you and I want to be. Everyone has read his critique of the United States, Down the American Drain. He writes for the New York Times Magazine, Atlantic, Harper's. He gets interviewed on David Frost (this is 1973). A friend says,

    The key to Wursup's reporting is the sympathy Keats called "negative capability..." Wursup has the inner calm which lets himself give way to an almost total sympathy with others.

Stern has negative capability down so good that we could feel cheated. Why did we have to wait so long to discover him and his writings? He has the ability to unite Goethe, Tolstoy, Dr. Johnson, Sandy Koufax and the Sage of Vienna on the same page: "Freud himself was said to have one of history's worst cases of death terror, Todangst. In fact, the most vital people were the greatest death-fearers and death-dodgers."

And Koufax?

"They were examples of what Wursup called his Koufax Theorem. The famous pitcher had said that his terrible arm pain derived from the same calcium deposit which gave him extra throwing power. So death torture gripped the libido of the world's most living livers; they exposed themselves to it again and again. The hope was to inoculate themselves." Aristotle wanted catharsis. Joyce, a moment of stasis. Me? I want someone to irritate, shock, bedevil, amuse, and confound me on the page. And all the while, I want a story. Dostoevsky, Henry Roth, Hubert Selby, Jr., Hemingway fill the bill. And now Stern.

Journalist Wursup's mother has been salted away (Alzheimer's). At the same time, he's called upon to deal with a double suicide: his father and his father's girlfriend, Mona. "There were glacial rifts in Wursup, times when he was as unfeeling as the chemicals which made him. A year would go by without his writing Poppa a card. And his mother --- whom he'd once loved so much he couldn't bear to think of her now, for other reasons. What a mystery it was. All these currents, hot and cold, running out of a person's arctic and tropic gulfs."

    "I became a mystery to myself." That was Augustine at nineteen, but by thirty he'd worked things out. It was simple if you were what Malraux called a "demon of the absolute." And Poppa? Had he ever solved himself? Someone said suicide was the most philosophical human act. Had Poppa figured something out at last?"

Poppa. I suspect he is one of the great major minor characters in American fiction. He worked forty-six years for People's Gas. Now that they had put mother away in a nursing home, he lives with Mona, "great-bottomed and beagle nosed, was bewigged like the Sun King."

Poppa the Poet. They give him a stereo for his retirement, despite the fact that he's tone deaf. "He traded the stereo for an electric typewriter. So he doesn't have to think, just type."

    He's written more poetry in two years than Homer. If they gave Nobels for literary tonnage, there'd be no contest.

§     §     §

Natural Shocks came out in 2004. Stern should've gotten the Pulitzer for it. If it weren't so late, I'd write and offer it to him. (I found out many years ago --- don't tell anyone --- that anyone can nominate anyone for the Pulitzer.)

With Stern, you'll learn about NATO officials who quote Philip Larkin, the thousands of toilet bowls that littered the blast site at Nagasaki, glittering in the sun, and the teenager, your teenager, who listens to rock: "He wasn't listening to the music but his inner racket."

And this on listening to Beethoven's Opus 135, the last quartet, the one in F-major. Wursup heard it one evening, alone on the coast of Maine: "Notes the dropsical, bilious deaf man had inked a century and a half ago on score paper were stroked on catgut by four men, agitated the air, made electric pulsings, scratches on oiled platters."

    And how many other losings and findings till the contents of that ear-blocked, in-turned head in Austria became the inside of another one on this land dribble of the American coast.

Every now and then we regret we do not have a more flexible scoring system in our General Index for books good, great, excellent, wonderful, sublimely stupendous, o wow light my fire.

If we did, we would give this one the biggest Olympic Flame.

--- A. W. Allworthy


Marita Therapy & The Fear of Snakes

There is a basic course in psychotherapy that they've devised in Japan, it's called Marita therapy and it's based on Zen. It's a four-week thing, four to five, six weeks. First week, full in bed. No books, no nothing. They're just left alone in a room, and maybe the doctor will come around and maybe he won't. And you're left alone there. "Doctor, what do I do?" "Cope with your problem." And you stay in bed and face it.

One of the examples was of a Buddhist nun who was seeing snakes, so he said, "Get in your room and stay there." And she says, "What if the snakes come?" He says, "OK, well you get a good look at all the snakes. Count the number of snakes, tell me how big they are, what colour they are, what they do, how they act, how they look at you, what's your relationship with the snakes. Just give me a total report." So she's left alone for a week in the room with the snakes. And he comes in at the end of the week, and says, "Well how are the snakes?" And she says, "You know, after I got a good look at them, they disappeared."

--- Thomas Merton speaking to students at Gethsemane,
Reported by biographer Lawrence Cunningham


The Accidental Explorer
Wayfinding in Alaska
Sherry Simpson
(Sasquatch)
Sherry Simpson tells us, repeatedly that those who make the bravest, scariest, most dangerous trips in, across, and through Alaska rarely write about them. Obviously --- and even though she is a fine and sensitive writer --- she does not include herself in that number.

For instance, she tells of one outdoorsman, Dick Griffith, who "skied from Unalakleet along the coast to Barrow nine hundred miles away."

    On a different journey, as he traveled near the Mackenzie Delta in Canada, a group of twenty-five Inupiat Eskimos, young and old, suddenly appeared on snowmachines. They towed a sled with a tiny house carrying two elderly women inside.

Ms. Simpson writes about backpacking in Alaska, but she also writes about marriage, foxes, bears, a sailing race around Admiralty Island, the search for the Northwest Passage, the Kutchin Athabascans, bathing in icy meltwater, almost drowning in Bad Ass Creek, and the story of a young man named Christopher McCandless who was discovered dead, in 1992, in an abandoned bus, on the Stampede Trail.

Jon Krakauer wrote about him in a sensational best-seller, Into the Wild. In some circles, McCandless was seen as a hero. "His life hummed with meaning and purpose," writes Krakauer. "But the meaning he wrested from existence lay beyond the comfortable path." Alaskans, Simpson tells us, have another take on it. They think "the entire meaning of his death was this: he made some dumb-ass decisions, and he died."

    He didn't honor the power of the land because he didn't have the humility to observe and ask questions and think.

Ms. Simpson herself does not appear to be a dumb-ass, but one tale related here, about her journey alone on the popular Circle-Fairbanks Trail, is classic. She gets lost. She may have to retrace her steps, and "few things are sadder and less interesting than someone who turns back before reaching the top, the pole, the end of the world, or the end of the trail."

What does she do? At that embarrassing moment (a familiar one, one that leaves us asking ourselves over and over, "Why in god's name did I ever start this? What the hell is wrong with me? Am I some kind of fool?") What does she do: she starts to cry.

    This is something wilderness if good for: crying as loudly as you want, letting tears and snot run down your face as you shake and sob.

§     §     §

In the heart of Alaska is what some people call Mount McKinley, "named by a prospector in 1896 for an obscure Ohio senator who championed the gold standard." Simpson doesn't use that name. She uses the name the Athalbascans put on it: Deenaalee, or "The High One." Denali stands at over 6,194 meters.

The first few times I read the name, I read "Denial Mountain." Perhaps that is a worthy miss. People, Ms. Simpson reveals, think that "wayfinding" --- what you and I call backpacking --- is a chance for an epiphany. Others think they will find peace in the wilderness. Or themselves.

But, she writes, you may well find something else. Fear.

"Fear binds me to this landscape," she says,

    fear at what I might find or lose, fear of what might find or lose me out here where everything seems familiar and foreign, all at once.

"Alaska is big enough," she concludes, "to cradle every true fear and hope we can bear."

--- Mary Turner Rule


The Kayak Disaster
At one time, societies sent out adventurers to extend the world, make it larger. Now we rely on a new kind of adventurer to provide us with hand-me-down experiences, a secondhand life, a virtual high. For me, it is the old chronicles that are pleasurable because they concern ordinary people who found themselves in an unusual place at an interesting time. There was so much to want, so much to find: a poke of gold, an accurate map, a bit of useful knowledge, a valley to trap, a congregation of believers, a homestead. Some didn't survive, of course. Some died in unheralded, unknown ways. But it's worth remembering that most Alaskans today usually die in distressingly ordinary fashion: traffic accidents, heart attacks, old age. Death waits all around us. So does boredom.

I am especially fond of Lt. Joseph Castner, an army man ordered to search out routes across the territory. Though far from the north's greatest adventurer, in some ways he is among the most valiant for his stubbornness, his earnestness, his sheer ordinariness. For ten months in 1898 - 1899 he trudged from Prince William Sound five hundred miles northward in an attempt to reach Circle City on the Yukon River. He crossed perilous bogs, and rivers heavy with silt, and brush so thick the sky was more idea than reality. It's not clear why his superiors thought this route was important, because others had already mapped and traveled some version of it. In any case, Castner failed spectacularly, though with a certain stoic dignity. Along the way he and his men ate their mules to keep from starving. They begged supplies from generous Athabascans who themselves struggled daily to live off the country. They tied canvas around their feet to replace their ragged boots. Mosquitoes drained them. Rivers nearly drowned them. The country dragged at them. Every hour's walking was an hour farther from home.

But Castner didn't give up until he and his two companions were so hungry that they forced themselves to eat a wolf (tastes like mutton, he reported) and retraced their steps to scavenge the rotting carcass of their dead mule General Jackson. "As my men often said, it would be impossible to make others understand what we suffered those days," he wrote. Having barely survived this march, the trio gave up on their destination and rafted to the safety of a miner's settlement. When winter arrived, making travel easier, Castner mushed a thousand miles across Alaska and the Yukon so he could report on his failed journey to his superiors. After narrating his ordeal, he concluded by describing Alaska as a "land whose many natural obstacles to travel made this one of the best years of my life."

One of the best years of my life. He meant it. Read the dry narrative of his military report, his faithful assessment of travel and troubles, and you'll see that this statement is the most heartfelt thing he says. What did he know that I didn't? What did Muir see that I couldn't?

All my life I have stood wondering at the edge of impenetrable forests, or flinging rocks across uncrossable rivers, or gazing at the mirage of distant mountains. Why them? Why not you or me? Sometimes during our trip I could glimpse how quickly trouble would come, not in giant steps, but in small, cumulative lurches toward some invisible threshold. One afternoon, trying to round a point where a nasty chop, roiling currents, and ornery gusts shoved the kayak around, we worried whether we should turn back and camp or blast through a narrow rocky passage toward more sheltered waters. It was the uncertainty that frightened me. Our voices tightened, pinching into anxious registers as we warned each other: Turn the bow more to the waves. Not that way! Paddle hard. Paddle harder! As the kayak lumbered through confused seas, I pictured the one treacherous wave that would slop over the side, swamping the boat and pitching us overboard. Then, the struggle to swim ashore through the killing cold, and should we survive that, the futile attempt to find dry matches that had drifted ashore, the trembling efforts to light a fire in the rain with wet wood, the slow surrender to hypothermia on a dark shore, the newspaper headlines about those poor, foolish women.

--- Sherry Simpson
The Accidental Explorer


[POEM]
Sole Custody

Today he'll ride his bike to Safeway
in his death's head earring and mismatched socks,
where the checkers all know his name. He'll buy
Cheeto's and Kool Aid before coming home to bathe
in the rusty light from the TV, until I get off work
and collapse on the fake velvet sofa, a double order
of fast food bleeding grease through a bag in my fist.
He hasn't eaten anything green in a week
and I see the dirt under his fingernail when he points
to the surfboard he drew on his sneaker.

What would we do if I got fired, I wonder,
listening to the wind outside and the evening's lead story
announcing more layoffs in the South Bay. There's enough
in the bank for his school clothes, and the rent's
almost paid again. I should be happier.
He's been watching the talk shows. Have
you ever done it with someone you didn't love,
he asks, his old guitar resting against the wall
like an abandoned girlfriend, and the pleats
of the hound's-tooth fleamarket slacks
gathered around his small waist
like the leaves of a sunflower calyx.
Eat slowly, I say, as he smiles at me
around a mouthful of fries, points the clicker
at my chest and says I'm getting fat.

We're bound together like sailors, swaying across
a dark ocean, resigned to each other's odd humors
and unable to see the stars overhead,
as we stagger around in the engine room
of a ship with a foreign name.

--- From Overtime
Joseph Millar
© 2001, Eastern Washington University Press


Eccentric Billionaire
John D. MacArthur --- Empire Builder,
Reluctant Philanthropist, Relentless Adversary

Nancy Kriplen
(Amacom)
John D. MacArthur made a zillion dollars in the time-honored American fashion: filling mailboxes with the usual hype, advertising loudly (and, sometimes, misleadingly), and, since he was selling insurance, dumping the claims for injuries and death in the trash while depositing the premiums immediately. He also bought up the competition mercilessly, driving many of them into his arms by virulent price-cutting, and, most typically, screwing his workers to the wall.

Like Goodwill, he hired the handicapped long before it was popular, but for a simple and practical reason: "employers often received government salary reimbursement." Later --- like many political conservatives --- he took advantage of a federal program, CETA, which paid the salaries of those who were considered too marginal to employ. In MacArthur's Bankers Life and Casualty building, "basement ceilings were unusually low, only four and a half to five feet tall. Bankers was still able to make this usable space, however, by hiring dwarfs as custodians."

    It was an amazing sight, said employees, to see them marching through the building at night, gunnysacks of trash slung over their shoulders.

America being America, we think of people like MacArthur as being quaint, interesting, or funny. We praise them for their operating systems, quote their cynical remarks, even marvel at their selfishness. Eccentric Billionaire is supposed to be a tell-all of John D. MacArthur, but it ends up more a monument to a little man with bad taste and a penchant for suing the pants off anyone who stood in his way.

MacArthur loved sneaking around any government rules designed to protect customers, and --- even at the time of his death --- was involved in bitterly contested cases with the Federal Trade Commission (misrepresentation of "waterless land" for sale in Colorado), and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (hanky-panky over a development in Florida called "Holley by the Sea.") In keeping with our national tradition of honoring rich scalawags, he received several awards from federal and state governments. One of his last public appearances was at the White House, guest of President Gerald Ford, to meet Queen Elizabeth II. Her thoughts of him have not been recorded.

Evidently, what has won the hearts of America to this scoundrel was the fact that he operated his various businesses out of the coffee-shop in the Colonnades Beach Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida. Despite MacArthur's supposed pepper, this is a lackadaisical account of the man and his fortune and his suits --- legal and plaid (he liked tartans). The author worked long enough at Time Magazine to discover how to boil things down, making them into your standard oatmeal. But the most fascinating story is not how MacArthur bullied his way to the top, but how the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation --- now worth some $5,000,000,000 --- came into being, and came to do what it does.

It was incorporated in 1963 not to better the world, but to play to his mania: the avoidance of taxes. The irony is that the Foundation came to fund some operations that are not exactly what would be on John's Love-List (one of their first grants went to Amnesty International). This turn-around is not detailed sufficiently in Eccentric Billionaire. The early board of the foundation included the crank radio commentator Paul Harvey. How in heaven's name it came to be the funder of professional screwballs and fruit-bats is not explored.

In addition, the author refers to John's salty tongue, but gives only a few examples of his tartness. We certainly could have used some more salt and pepper in the text.

--- Leonard Good


Life Class
Pat Barker
(Doubleday)
Today's New York Times has an article about American universities setting up multiple campuses overseas. In Doha, Qatar's capital, one can study medicine from Weill Medical College (Cornell University), international affairs (Georgetown), computer science and business (Carnegie Mellon), fine arts (Virginia Commonwealth), engineering (Texas A&M), and soon, journalism (Northwestern University).

The reason we bring this up is because we were thinking that if the University of Iowa got smart they would export their Graduate Writer's Program to England, linking up with Pat Barker's old alma mater, the London School of Economics. Ms. Barker could then return to school and study some of the basic elements of style. She might, for example, take time out to study appropriate vocabulary ... the simple choice of words. This means that in her next novel --- she's churned out ten now --- we would be free of such brain-twisters as "His trouser buttons strained to accommodate his postprandial belly;" "Those muculent eyes of his;" "The blood was thickening in his neck;" "Grayish-green eyes, the color of infected phlegm."

A walk through the woods can turn into an encounter with no little mucous: "Leaves brushed the back of his neck, he felt the wetness of cuckoo spit on his skin." Then there are the runnels, and those noisy napes: "...he noticed how the hairs at the nape of her neck, fairer than the rest, crept into the center, half covering the tender runnel of white flesh. When they first met, the nape of Elinor's neck had kept him awake at night."

When Ms. Barker embarks on matters of The Big Itch, whole sentences can torment us, turn clinging: "He [Paul Tarrant] freed his cock from the cling and torment of his underpants..." There can be subtle shades of purple, worthy of the earlier, wetter days of Penthouse: "...she kissed him there, licking and mouthing the purple, glistening knob."

    He lay half beside her, half on top, nuzzling her neck, shoulders, breasts, smelling the bitter almond smell of her nipples, brushing his face from side to side on her belly. A hot, briny tang was perceptible under the sweetness ... A goods train rumbled past.

For those of us addicted to Chandler, bitter almond is sure to mean arsenic rather than a hot briny tang; but maybe that's the point. Teresa Halliday --- or possibly all the Barker womenfolk for that matter --- are to be considered as strictly poison, if they are not evolving into great, expansive lawns:

    He caught her smell --- peppery, intimate --- as she bent over him. The dark circle of a nipple pressed against the white lawn of her blouse. He detected, or imagined he could detect, that bitter almond smell..."

Finally, there's the matter of le baiser langoureux. The artist Kit Neville may be fleshy, soft, and ungainly, but he has a muscular tongue that he uses with the force of an Oxbridge oarsman heading up the Thames: "Nothing now except his strong muscular tongue thrusting against hers..."

For some reason --- except for the steamier passages --- this klunky style reminds me of Theodore Dreiser. Dreiser, like Barker, had a fairly important message, one of people tangled in society's viciousness. The American Tragedy and Sister Carrie are gripping stories, but to make it to the end one has to slog through a prose style that went out with John Bunyan (or, in Barker's case, Oui Magazine).

The Booker people apparently thought enough of Barker to give her a prize for The Ghost Road, an earlier WWI novel. Maybe they liked the way she married history --- psychological history, European history, real life characters (Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Dr. W. H. R. Rivers) --- with fiction. Unlike some of us, they didn't seem bothered by the fiction's friction, and all them lawns, strewn with nipples and knobs ... purple (glistening) knobs.

I hasten to add that Barker is no slouch in the plot department. Once you get past all the pokeweed, her story sucks you right in. By, say, page 250, I was entranced. When the artists --- Elinor Brooke, Paul Tarrant and Kit Neville --- finally make it to Ypres (it's fall 1914: they are working in medical tents two miles from the front) the plot takes over, the story carries us right along.

But even here, we can feel the heavy hand of the author, working overtime to make a point. The very first casualty the very first in the Red Cross station there in Flanders is a bad weenie case. "Shrapnel had come through from the back and severed the penis at the base. As they watched, urine welled up from the hole in his groin, hot acid spreading over raw flesh." Some of us might vote here for a neck wound, a smashed arm, perhaps a simple prolapse.

Barker has made WWI her own. She got the Booker for the first volume of the trilogy Regeneration. I'm a WWI trench-warfare nut, so got to slog through all three volumes of that baby. It was, as Yogi Berra had it, déjà vu all over again. A great war story of what they had the temerity to call "the Great War," with a worthy message: if you are going to send young men out to maul each other in the trenches, and if they fall apart, and if you send them home to a psychiatric hospital --- what is the responsibility of the chief shrink? Is it to patch up their psyches just enough so they can be shipped out again to keep on murdering the enemy (and their souls)? Or should it be enough just to acknowledge the general madness of war, the specific lunacy of trench warfare, then go on from there? Again, Barker's writing quirks kept popping up throughout Regeneration. What a pity that her howlers could pull us away from such an important, powerful and moving story.

--- Lolita Lark


Buildings for
Tomorrow

Architecture that
Changed Our World

Paul Cattermole
(Overlook)
If you were scared to go into the city before, wait until you get a gander at Buildings of Tomorrow. Structures like butterflies, arcs with spines, pylons with little squiggly cement worms behind them, fat globules set at the side of the sea. There's a pagoda tower in Taipei reputed to be the tallest (1667 feet) if not the homeliest in the world. In London, Lloyd's put up a grain elevator on steroids.

There's an airport in Lyons that looks to be a literal representation of Dylan Thomas' poem, "In the White Giant's Thigh." You can find bookends in Mexico City, erector sets in Tokyo, grounded flying saucers in Singapore, gooey blobs in Rio de Janiero, London, Cornwall, and Austria.

The only one I could relate to in this morass of modernistic trickery was the lovely, ancient, majestic Falkirk Wheel in Scotland, a boatlift to transport pleasure craft from one canal to another. Reminds one of old locks and engines from a hundred years ago. It is so elegant that it quite takes one's breath away.

In 1960, I lived in Greenwich Village. The most characteristic sounds of the street were not the cars whizzing by, but the Italian families that once populated the area. Just outside our little gallery, we could hear a Mother shouting down for her kid who was playing step-ball across the way. When he got in a pickle, or hungry he would yell up, "Mooooom!" and she'd appear at the second-story window and ask him what the hell now. There was that humanity, the life of the streets, what Jane Jacobs called "the eyes of the city."

Our gallery and the two or three story flats in Greenwich Village have all disappeared. Now there are high-rises, bleak condos and the ultimate soul destroyer, dozens of parking garages. If there is any street life, it is hookers and hustlers, or people hurrying to get back to their cars. There is an implicit violence in any building over four stories.

Studies from long ago from MIT proved that any structure over forty feet would double the crime rate on the street, indeed within the building itself).

Our cities strangle the life from old neighborhoods and we wonder why they have turned so deadly. There is little or no habitat for humanity in the more than 200 color photographs in Buildings for Tomorrow. It surely could be no accident that the cover extols another "futuristic" building by Santiago Calatrava in Lyon. It is the TGY Station.

It looks exactly like a bullet. A thirty-story banded gray-black dragée, aimed directly at the heart of that once-lovely city.

It is significant that the internet tourist sites for the city of Lyon feature the Museum of Textiles, the right bank of the Saône River, the Museum of History, statues of the holy figures, the lions (in Lyon!), and the Cathedral of St. Jean. Not a sign, not a hint of the Bullet of Calatrava.

--- Enid Arthur, AIA


[Letters]
My Bloody Life
Reymundo Sanchez

To: poo@cts.com

Subject: when i read "my bloody life" by: Reymundo Sanchez

one day i went somewhere i never thought i would go which was a bookstore. I was going there to get a book to write for my report. My friend saw that book and i decided to get it. As soon as i got home i read probably like 100 pages. I read from like 7pm all the way to like 1:30am. I finished the book in two days. This book made me realize that anyone that looks like a gang member or a gangster can get killed by anyone anywhere anytime. This book is making a great impact in my life. And he is right,he said that the people that actually do need to read this book probably wont. But, i guess im lucky i did. I would jst like to thank the author if i ever got to meet him. I would like to tell him that he actually saved my life because if i wouldve never read that book i would be making some really bad decisions or probably dead. So i really appreciate him for writing about his life. Because that really made me understand about gangs and gang violence.

--- Raul Rodriguez
rodriguez9835@sbcglobal.net

§     §     §

To: lolitalark@yahoo.com

RE: any one who has a way i can reach reymundo sanchez

uh i was lookn thru web sites 2 find how 2 contact reymundo sanchez ... he dont kno me but i jus wanned 2 let em kno how much i apricited his book i read once a kin always a king ... at first wen my counciler forced me to read it i was incrdedibly pist off cuz i ve never read a chapter book asa mattr of fact i don read at all but wen i finally did red it i was like ohhh shyt diz gud nd i actually finished it all so if theres any way i can contact reymundo lemme kno ... i understand if hes all busy wit stuff so jus tell em i said thanx im yvette by tha way

--- Yvette Garcia
skittlez_norcal@yahoo.com

The review that inspired these letters
can be found at
www.ralphmag.org/AC/bloody-life.html


The Young Man
From Savoy

Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz
Blake Robinson, Translator
(Host)
Joseph Jacquet lives in a small French village, just above Lake Geneva, which "gave off a great light and another light came from the sky."

Joseph works on an old sailing boat. He talks to himself. "There are things that are false and things that are real," he says. "There are things you imagine, and there are things that exist; how can you tell where the first begin and the second end?"

Joseph is about to marry Georgette but down at the Petit Marin café he gets involved with the barmaid Mercédès. "Somewhere deep in the night a swan beat its wings. Then on the other side of the water across from them, there was a violet-colored flash: 'That's the trolleys. It's when they change the direction a trolley's taking. They've got a trick,'" Mercédès tells him.

When Mercédès invites him back, locking the door so he cannot escape, he strangles her.

A strange murder and two suicides in the simple world of simple French people between the wars. As Joseph leaves Mercédès's room, "he breathed in with all his strength the fresh pure air, because she was deceitfulness, because she was untruthfulness."

"Well," he was saying, "I did the right thing."

"It lay there, an ochre-colored staff in the pink water...The world made clean, he was thinking. All is beginning, or all is beginning again, it's the world made clean."

This was written in 1936. It reeks of existentialism a decade before existentialism was even invented. The randomness of life, the randomness of evil, and death. It is all very disquieting, very symbolic, very hard to put down, and very good.

--- Annette Leclaire


The House of Widows
Askold Melnyczuk
(Graywolf Press)
We had to leave The House of Widows when the author introduced us to Bean, an Iraqi street kid, age nine. He tried to pick up a cluster-bomb and it blew off his arms and legs. They call him "the Bean."

He survived and they send him to a hospital in Vienna. The doctors want to send him on to England to study. "Next to Stephen Hawking, he's Rocky Balboa," says one of them.

--- Wendy Rice


The Mirror in the Well
Micheline Aharonian Marcom
(Dalkey Archive)
He is a carpenter ... pale, not handsome, hands nicked by his work, a little round in the tum. She is what the Perfumed Garden would call "indefatigable." She is made crazy by her passion for him.

A good 50% of The Mirror in the Well seems to be her "spreading her thighs" --- her favorite phrase. It's a hell of a lot of work for very little payoff. At times, a smidgen of poetry peeks through,

    But in bed the gods descend again and he is a thousand years old and she is his night and the darkness makes them into eternal lovers and everything is right and good and joy moves from her form out into the night skies stars which she doesn't see in her city and back again as light moves.

§     §     §

Mixed with the constant in-and-out are her sulks, her threats of suicide, her not-too-pertinent dreams, and nags: he doesn't love her enough, should she be going home to her husband and kids, could he play it again please Sam?

In the hands of someone like Henry Miller or J. P. Donleavy or even D. H. Lawrence, this lust stuff can be a kick. But here the CD is, as they say in Spanish, "bien rayado."

It's the "Story of O" without the order (or orders). Thank god the carpenter finally throws a mattress atop the shavings on the floor or else we'd be rubbed raw. There is some half-hearted by-play with a cat-o'-nine-tails and what the pornistas call the "water-works," but mostly it's the old hum-drum beast-with-two-backs, or, at worst, Last Tango in Paris, not with Marlon but with Marcom.

And without the tango.

--- Lolita Lark


The Magical Campus
University of North Carolina
Writings --- 1917 - 1920

Thomas Wolfe
Matthew J. Bruccoli,
Aldo P. Magi,
Editors

(University of South Carolina)
We all went through our Thomas Wolfe stage, usually starting with Look Homeward, Angel. It took a while for us to get beyond it, and it usually came from growing up, or, worse, a surfeit of Wolfean prose ---- somewhere, say, around the middle of The Web and the Rock.

We wondered then, still do: where is Max Perkins now that we need him?

Still, I can't think of anything crueler than putting up Wolfe's earliest writings for public consumption, a Wolfe even more juvenile than in his late novels.

Here he is, at age seventeen, on the subject of France and the Great War:

    O France, you truly are sublime,
       The thought of you shall make men thrill
    Throughout all ages and time.
       Your story lives and ever will.

    When the Huns came down with bloody hand,
       And left fair Belgium desolate,
    Up bravely from their peaceful land
       Rushed strong defenders of thy state....

And here is a snippet from The Return of Buck Gavin: The Tragedy of a Mountain Outlaw as played by Wolfe at what the editors call "The Magical Campus," the University of North Carolina, 1919:

    He was plumb foolish over the view from the Smoky. Called it a leetle bit o' God's country. Used to go up there an' stare off 'cross the valleys till the sun got low an' everythin' was blurred an' hazy-like ... I reckon you done the right thing to plant him there. Good ol' Jim. It's 'bout all we could do. But the best warn't good 'nough fer him.

If you are a published writer, let this be a warning to you. Burn everything you ever wrote before you reached the age of reason. Because, for sure, in a half-century or so, one of those hungry English majors will dig it up, put it in book form to shame the memory of you, to disgrace all your later writings.

--- Pamela Wylie


Twentieth Century
United States Photographers

A Student's Guide
Kristin G. Congdon,
Karas Kelley Hallmark

(Greenwood Press)
Well, we can certainly see including Ralph Eugene Meatyard and his funny masks, and Lee Friedlander with his slightly off-center faces of supposedly normal people.

There could be no doubts about the classicists: Dorothea Lange and the other historical figures ... the earliest being Edward Steichen (b. 1879), Edward Weston (b. 1886) and the pioneer of American photography, Alfred E. Neumann --- I mean, Alfred Stieglitz (b. 1864) --- although his shot of Georgia O'Keeffe offered in the book is neither his most memorable nor his most admirable.

Margaret Bourke-White turns up with all her repeatable machines, as does Imogen Cunningham with photographs of photographers. The youngest of the seventy-five artists represented in this volume is Anna Gaskell (b. 1969) ... second being Meghan Boody with her rather silly made-up fin de siècle shots of Psycho and Smut.

Some of these folks we've never heard of, have you? There is Martha Rosler who drives around taking shots of freeways and airports yawn. Someone named Joel-Peter Witkin who shows some really weird folk in embrace or on show (he gets three pix; most of the other artists get one).* Jan Groover who is fond of shots of kitchen utensils and who "made a series of digital photographs using a color inkjet printer to create pastel prints."

    Each composition is cluttered with items too random not to have been deliberately thrown together: part of a skull, loose bones, a toy horse, a blue plastic wine glass, a cherub, varied fabric swatches and bits of painted and colored paper.
The authors have included Maplethorpe, Mann, and Arbus, and why not, even though they are such show-offs. Too, we have Richard Avedon who many professionals scorn but his take on beekeeper Ronald Fischer, naked head and all stingers, is alone well worth the whole opus (too bad it doesn't appear here).

We once learned that Avedon's legal team is always on the alert. In RALPH's predecessor magazine, The Fessenden Review, Douglas Cruickshank reviewed a book of his and devoted a full page to the snap of the beekeeper and quickly got a snotty letter from Avedon's attorney threatening us with mayhem or worse. We promised faithfully never to do him or it again.

Twentieth Century United States Photographers is designed for schools, but the editors would have been better advised to let the pictures speak for themselves. William Wegman, the funny dog man, appears here --- his Weimaraner named Man Ray in suit is one of the best of the twenty-seven color shots --- but where is the best human/animal photographer of them all, Weegee? Even the Huntington buys Weegees.

If a teacher of photography really wants to show the craft to students, he or she should have the students buy their own copy of Contemporary Photographers, edited by Colin Naylor. It was published by Saint James Press. The last edition I have came out in 1988. There is no buffonish commentary, just the facts, ma'am.

For some reason, the writing in U. S. Photographers is so proletarian it makes your teeth hurt, telling us about families or religions or teaching posts that we (and the students) really don't need and shouldn't have to care about. Richard Misrach's picture of the fog rolling over the Golden Gate is a bore; Gordon Parks' shot of a black man, dressed in houndstooth jacket, weeping behind a broken windowpane is a heart-stopper.

--- Lolita Lark

*When I sent a pre-publication copy of this article to a photographer-nut friend, he responded, "Your bloomers are showing when you admit you've never heard of Joel-Peter Witkin. He's extremely well known, certainly one of the better-known fine arts photographers of the second half of the 20th century."
I still say it's spinach, and I say to hell with it.
--- LL


[POEM]
Riding the D-Train
Enid Dame
Notice the rooftops,
the wormeaten Brooklyn buildings.
Houses crawl by,
each with its private legend.
In one, a mother
is punishing her child
slowly, with great enjoyment.
In one, a daughter
is writing a novel
she can't show to anyone.

Notice your fellow riders:
the Asian girl chewing a toothpick,
the boy drawing trees on his hand,
the man in a business suit
whose shoes don't match.

Everything is important:
that thin girl, for instance,
in flowered dress, golden high heels.
How did her eyes get scarred?
Why is that old man crying?
Why does that woman carry
a cat in her pocketbook?

Don't underestimate
any of it.

Anything you don't see
will come back to haunt you.

--- From Broken Land
Poems of Brooklyn

©2007 New York University Press

A review of the book
which included this poem
can be found at
www.ralphmag.org/EW/brooklyn.html


Of Kids & Parents
Emil Hakl
Marek Tomin. Translator

(Twisted Spoon Press)
Of all the unlikely venues for a story, this has got to be it: a tantalizing, suck-you-in, lay-you-out, haunt-your-soul moment-by-moment of a father and son walking the streets of the city, talking of the grandfather who made toys and mannequins; ladies they knew ... wanted to know ... never got to know; favorite airplanes --- not model airplanes, the real McCoy ... including the Corsair F4U, my WWII favorite, one that I hadn't heard of (certainly not thought of) for sixty-five years.

Walking the streets of Prague, long after the fall of Soviet Russia, memories of friends who became members of the SS, KGB, or (worst of all, for those living in that part of the world) the much-dreaded Ustashi. A day spent on the streets, going in and out of taverns, the 71-year-old Ivan, the 44-year-old Honzo, and their thoughts, fears, delights, delusions, loves ... and their strange Czech drinks: "Magic Eye," "V-2 Rocket," "Pond Scum," "Chumbawamba," "Bamboo Shoot with a Motor" which is, gag, "Red wine and cola, half-and-half, with a large shot of Fernet, an atrocious drink."

In the course of their stroll through the late August, we slowly come to know Ivan and Honza Benes [an inverted diacritical carat over the "s" --- my keyboard doesn't make it], the old man a scientist, grew up rich, spent it all, now living in a "bedsit, in Prague-Sporilov,"

    The rotten wardrobe, the mouldy bathroom, the cheap mass-produced furniture, the rows of dusty bottles amongst the piles of grime beneath the kitchen sink.

§     §     §

Of kids & Parents is a 21st-Century "My Dinner with Andre" with echoes from seventy years back: funny, sad, whimsical, the old man, a scientist, always demanding the who and the why and the what, always doubting until proven wrong. The son more genial, less explosive. Honzo likes Prague because of "all the messing around and rubbing of elbows, all those stories about how someone used to drink beer and playcards with the president."

"A total circus," sneers his father.

"But a merry one," says Honza

Enquiring about Honza's new lady-friend, Ivan pokes his nose in, "hope you're not being unfaithful to her!"

    Goddamn it, what business is that of yours ... the demon in my head roared, rattling my spinal cord and kicking the walls of my cranium: None of your fucking business...!

Then the quick switch. Old Ivan rambling on about a love affair from forty or fifty years ago, perhaps even before his son was born, "a woman of Ljubljana, she was a real woman that one, thin, but what a figure, just a glance at her was enough to give me an belly-slapping erection."

    I know father and son shouldn't be talking to each other like this, but who's left in the world for me to tell it to.

Then another quick switch, and we are in Klánovice, in 1956, the Russians have just moved in, Ivan's father takes ten-year-old Honzo out to "the road that goes from Újezd by the viaduct, along which tanks had been rolling from morning till night for about four days."

Grandfather says, "See that? Remember it!" He throws a stone at one of the tanks. But for the kid, it was the first time he'd seen real tanks. "What a rush! The motors roared, smoke hung above the woods, the tanks rumbled along one after another, and still there was no end to them!

    We stood there until the afternoon. Granddad shook his fist at them but I waved at them, secretly so he couldn't see me.

One threatening them, the other waving them on, the two-in-one, the Janus-face, one mad, another happy, two conjoined, grandfather-grandson, father-son...

Father and son, revealed here to be cronies, old cronies, who get together from time to time, get pissed of at each other, open up, shut down, confound us (and each other) with their memories, their tall tales, who can believe Honza's whopper about Johan/Lazarus Batista Kollendero, "who were born in London and they were formed in such a way that Johan was growing out of the chest of his normally developed brother, so throughout their lives they were looking at each other's faces. Lazarus was the one with the legs so Johan had to go from one party to another against his will."

    Apparently they always argued about it, and Johan would end up offended, staring at the ceiling all night, while Lazarus would fool around, tell jokes, and in between he'd reason with his brother in a quiet, friendly voice.

And there they are, like all of us, stuck with those who bore us, unable to escape those who bear us. Cioran once said that our lives are nothing but stories, and that storytelling is the grace that comes from having lived (or even imagined) our lives. Out of the streets of Prague Honza and Ivan have been conjoined in heart and in soul by a writer who can transform all into gold, using a template as rich and as good as it gets.

--- L. W. Milam
"Human Goulash,"
a reading from Of Kids & Parents,
can be found on page two of
this folio


[Paradox of the Month]
New York Times: What do you think about when you meditate?
Robert Thurman: Usually, some form of trying to excavate any kind of negative thing cycling in the mind and turn it toward the positive. For example, when I am annoyed with Dick Cheney, I meditate on how Dick Cheney was my mother in a previous life and nursed me at his breast.
New York Times: You mean you fantasize about being breast-fed by Dick Cheney?
Robert Thurman: It's a fantasy of releasing fear and developing affection. It's a way of coming back to feeling grateful toward him and seeing his positive side, finding the mother in Dick Cheney.
New York Times: What would Freud say about that?
Robert Thurman: Freud would freak out. He would say, "Well, you are seeking the oceanic feeling of the baby in the womb." Infantile regression that's what he thought the quest for enlightenment was.
--- From an Interview with Robert Thurman,
The New York Times Magazine
29 June 2008



[WHERE WE'RE AT]
This hard-copy version of RALPH comes out two or three or five times a year --- mostly in the late spring, summer, and early fall --- depending on contributions from our readers and the whereabouts of our peripatetic editors.
Like its on-line cousin, it is published by The Reginald A Fessenden Educational Fund, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.
You are invited to subscribe to keep us alive. All contributions are tax-deductible by determination of the IRS and the State of California.
Correspondence can be sent to
poo@cts.com

RALPH
Box 16719
San Diego CA 92176

Dear RALPH:

I have read your magazine and I am agog. I would like to subscribe so I can receive mailings of The Folio and help your efforts to better what's left of American letters. I understand that, upon request, you will also send me a free copy of A Cricket in the Telephone (At Sunset) --- poems from the late Fessenden Review. Please sign me up for:

   [  ] $1,000 - Lifetime Subscription (yours or ours)
   [  ] $500 - Five Years;
   [  ] $100 - Two Years;
   [  ] $50 - One Year;
   [  ] $25 - Unemployed, In Jail, Out of Sorts

NAME: ________________________________________________________

ADDRESS: ______________________________________________________

CITY/STATE/ZIP: _________________________________________________

Checks should be made out to "The Fessenden Fund"
We apologize for the fact that
we can only do checks, cash, or money-orders.
We cannot handle American Express, Visa, Mastercharge, Paypal
or any other modern-day funny money.