“People whom fate and their sin-mistakes have placed in a certain position, however false that position may be, form a view of life in general which makes their position seem good and admissible. . . . This surprises us when the persons concerned are thieves bragging about their dexterity, prostitutes vaunting their depravity, or murders boasting of their cruelty. But it surprises us only because the circle, the atmosphere, in which these people live, is limited, and chiefly because we are outside it. Can we not observe the same phenomenon when the rich boast of their wealth-robbery, when commanders of armies pride themselves on their victories-murder, and when those in high places vaunt their power-violence? That we do not see the perversion in the views of life held by these people, is only because the circle formed by them is larger and we ourselves belong to it.” (Resurrection, Leo Tolstoy, trans. Louise Maude)

New Readers:

Please start reading with my first post "A Cup of Coffee". Originally posted on March 19, the archival date changed when I made corrections on May 13, which is the date under which you can find it now.

I'll learn to manage this all more smoothly someday, but at present I have at most only an hour online each day (that thanks to the San Francisco Public Library system, without which I would be lost).

Sunday, July 21, 2013

For the Birds

I always thought birds were pretty and musical and just plain nice to have around, and I thought that the idea behind Hitchcock's "The Birds" was to make the audience fearful of something inherently innocent and far from threatening. The movie seemed to me to be a virtuoso piece, proof that even the commonplace and mundane could be charged with anxiety and fear by the Master of Suspense.

Of course when I lived in Manhattan in the 1980s, I adopted the locals' distaste for pigeons, which were known by some wag's epithet: "rats with wings". But in my heart I felt nothing like the disgust that gave me shivers if I saw a rat run across the sidewalk ahead of me or dart under some bushes or down a drain in Central Park. The first person I ever heard inveigh seriously against birds was my ex WS, who went so far as to call them "evil" and claim that they deliberately attacked him everyday as he approached his office, "dive-bombing" him as he crossed Levi Plaza and entered the building where he worked. I thought that he was simply exercising his well-developed wit and humor, adopting a counter-intuitive attitude toward something and then setting forth arguments and evidence that always made his listeners laugh.

Recently, my opinion of the little dinosaur atavists has grown dark. Last week I passed a seagull which was pecking away at the split carcass of another bird. The sight creeped me out, especially coming, as it did, fast on the heels of another avian sighting: two pigeons picking at a splash of dried vomit on the sidewalk.  I quickly realized that these creatures would indeed have mangled poor
Suzanne Pleshette.

And because I have HIV (the only thing MRM gave me that he didn't try to take back), I have another concern regarding pigeons. The dried pigeon guano that cakes the sill outside my window can get airborne. It can get into one's lungs and give one toxoplasmosis.

My dear friend SN came down with toxo when I was visiting him in Palm Springs once back in the eighties. In his case, the source was not bird droppings but the feces of his neighbor's cat. He came close, very close, to dying. I can still see him lying in his bed at the Eisenhower Medical Center. I saw him only one more time, a few months later in Los Angeles. By then he could no longer speak.

At his memorial service I read a poem that I had stumbled across in an issue of “The New Yorker” which I had found lying on SN’s coffee table in Palm Springs at the time he caught toxo. The poem is by Marie Howe and is called "What the Living Do." The poem is addressed to her brother, who also died of AIDS.

What the Living Do
     by Marie Howe 

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell
       down there.
And the Drano won't work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven't called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It's winter again: the sky's a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat's on too high in here and I can't turn
      it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I've been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I'm gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I'm speechless:
I am living. I remember you.