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Here is my Steady Girlfriend, Joy Riner Taylor, in the haloed darkness of a service-for-six karaoke room. Some days back she asked me what I wanted for my birthday, and what kind of cake I wanted. I asked for a Scrabble Night Party at her stepmom Genny’s house, and a lemon cake with lemon frosting. My dear Joy gave me EXACTLY what I asked for, Saturday night. The delicious sweet/tart cake had added lemon juice in the cake, and thinly sliced lemon circles on top of the frosting. Best cake I’ve had in forever. And I won the Scrabble game by one point, only because Genny’s Scrabblemaster daughter Marleah was keeping score, and fudged the numbers. (I think.)

Then there was today . . .

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Today Joy, my daughter Kate, the Karaoke Fanboy himself, Russ Kazmierczak, his lovely and nice girlfriend Randi, and I appropriated a karaoke room at the Geisha a Go Go out Scottsdale way. I put my meager vocal talents to work on “Homeward Bound,” “Blowin’ In the Wind,” “Piano Man,” “Forever and Ever Amen,” and “The Dance,” which I dedicated to the memory of my friend Karen Wilkinson. Joy joined me in another Garth Brooks song, “Friends In Low Places.” Russ KILLED on songs like Rod Stewart’s “Forever Young” and Jim Croce’s “Time In a Bottle.” Kate did the Blink 182 song “All the Small Things,” and Randi sang “Can’t Fight the Moonlight” as softly as, well, Moonlight.

The laden table above reminds me of another song, Bob Dylan’s “Restless Farewell,” a good way to close:

O all the money that ever I did spend
Be it gotten most right- or wrongfully,
I let it slip gladly to my friends
To tie up the time most forcefully.

But the bottles are gone
We’ve killed each one
And the table is full and overflowed,
And the corner sign
Says it’s closing time,
So I’ll bid Farewell and be down the road.

–But before I go, THANK YOU to those who shared my Birthday, and those who wished me well; and especial thanks to Joy, whom I love.

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Today is my 61st birthday.

The title of this post is also the title of a picture Billy Crystal made about the 1961 major-league baseball season and Roger Maris’s 61 home runs, which broke the record set by Babe Ruth by exactly one. Maris hit it on the last day of a 162-game season, whereas Babe Ruth managed his 60 in 154 games. Similarly, here I am, still alive and well after 61 years, but with some shame and much loss.

Yesterday I got an early birthday present from my daughter, this framed 2003 photograph of me and my best friend, Bill:

bill n gary 2003

Life changes us. About six years after this picture was taken, Bill took ill with his final illness. Two years later my marriage ended. And this year I lost both a Sweetheart and the community we lived in when I moved back to Phoenix. But on the positive side, the double chin I sport in the above photograph has been greatly reduced. I also have real Joy in my life–my steady and sparkle-eyed girlfriend, Joy Riner Taylor.

And: two days ago my ex-wife offered me a glass of wine, which I gratefully accepted. And: more than five dozen people have Happy Birthdayed me on Facebook, and the day isn’t even half over. And: my former sweetheart texted me with the hope that my wishes come true.

And: five minutes ago I spoke to Tom Sing, best man at my wedding and one of my oldest friends. He and I have overlapping philosophies, and like minds, and hearing from him made my day.

This afternoon there will be a karaoke event on the occasion of my birthday, and it will no doubt provide fodder for my next blog post. Till then, Friends, may you enjoy your own Great Human Adventure.

Yesterday was Jack Kirby’s 98th birthday. Though he left us in 1994, his impact on the comic-book genre continues, and so last night a birthday celebration was held in his honor. It was conceived and executed by Russ “Karaoke Fanboy” Kazmierczak, with help from Cynthia Black, proprietress of C-MOD, our venue, with big help from Russ’s brother Kyle, who handled the sound and video. The guest of honor was Steve “The Rude Dude” Rude, the fantastically talented, multi-award-winning co-creator of the awesome and popular (Awesome and Popular do not always go together, folks) series NEXUS. Mr. Rude brought with him a wonderful assortment of Jack Kirby ORIGINAL COMIC PAGES, most inked by others but one in its untouched, all-pencil glory.

I had taken the day off from work, partly because there wasn’t much work and they asked for volunteers, and partly because it would give me extra time to prepare for the event. I’d already done all but the finishing touches of the artwork Russ asked for, which looks like this:

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But now that I had more time on my hands, I thought Hey,, why not do a birthday card for Jack, done entirely on his birthday, I could acrosticize him while I was at it, too.

It took a couple of hours that felt like about 15 minutes–I’m sure I’d been cooking it up subconsciously since Russ asked me to participate in the event. The photo source of my portraiture is the Jack Kirby Museum, found here: http://kirbymuseum.org/

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When I gave my not-great, not-bad presentation at the microphone, I invited the audience to sign the card, speculating that I might offer it to the Kirby Museum in time for Jack’s 100th Birthday. Many of the audience took me up, in heart-warming beyond-all-expectations fashion. Here is the inside of the card:

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Steve Rude did Jack Kirby proud in his presentation at the end. He talked about visits to the Kirby residence, the famous making of the Captain America Album Issue in three days, thanks to Jack’s lightning drawing speed, and necessary because “Jimmy Steranko was late on his deadline.” Earlier, before the official start of the event, I’d asked Mr. Rude if Kirby had met more deadlines than any other comics artist. He thought it over for a full minute, reviewing, I’m sure, extensive comics history in his head, and then replied, “Yes, I think so.”

The Rude Dude also talked about how Jack’s drawing approach was different from any other, and demonstrated as he talked. Most of us, he explained, go by the rule book of figure drawing: Draw the head with center guidelines, add a torso, add the limbs. (Meanwhile he was drawing Captain America, running toward the “camera,” shield on left arm, fisted right arm in foreshortening.) “For the drawing Jack made, he started with the belt buckle.” The audience, several of them comics artists themselves, gasped. Who does that?

But Steve Rude saved the best for last, speaking of how Jack’s best friend (name escaping Mr. Rude) was walking back to his car through the hospital parking lot after Jack was declared dead. The friend heard Jack’s warm laughter (in his head? out loud? Unknown.) and the friend said, “Jack, is that you?”

“Yes, it’s me.”

“Jack–where ARE you?! and where are you going?”

“I don’t know,” the voice of Jack Kirby replied to his best friend, “But I’m excited to find out.”

I sure hope Jack was there last night.

On Friday, August 28, I’ll be participating in a tribute to Jack Kirby conducted by Russ Kazmierczak, Jr. and featuring Steve Rude (!!!) So I’ve been doing some Kirby immersion, preparing for the event. One of Kirby’s creations was The Demon, who’d transform from the human with the incantation, “Leave, leave the form of man/Rise the Demon, Etrigan!” I always thought of him as a tortured soul. And in my novel attempt Auld Lang Synapse, I had an untortured soul who nonetheless was foredoomed from prebirth to be vastly different from his fellow human beings. His name was Noel the Fork.

Today, then, I did an odd mashup. I took the Excel grid upon which I constructed the sonnet encapsulation of Auld Lang Synapse, in acrostic form and strict as to characters/spaces per line, and did a line drawing of a creature that partakes both of Etrigan and Noel.

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in the dream, the sad-eyed cyclops welcomed the dreamer/tourist.
the room was spacious, but the dreamer found it abutted a long corridor

that bent at slight angles at every door,
and the only way out of the ground floor
was through the dreamer’s room.

as if in apology, the cyclops handed the dreamer
a huge fistful of coins of his realm,
and the dreamer struggled

to look into the gentleman’s eye
with neither pity nor fascination.

the cyclops left and the dreamer was alone,
but he knew he had better wake up soon

or the dream would ossify
into the real.

Three Novembers ago I participated in National Novel Writing Month. I succeeded in that my word count exceeded 50,000 and my story had a beginning, a middle, and an end or two; but it was a horrible, disorganized mess with “unpublishable” written all over it. Still, I’m glad I went through all that.

Here is Chapter 29 of Auld Lang Synapse, unedited.

****

Chapter 29: The strange, continuing tale of Calvin and Iliana

Calvin reworked the faces and forms of his figure study to remove the resemblance to Iliana. Then he photographed the result and e-mailed a gallery, got funding for foundrification, employed the lost wax technique to turn it to bronze, and had it cast. It had never occurred to Cyril and Iliana that he would do this, and they hmmmmmed—but Cyril bought one of the castings through a dummy anyway. To Cyril’s (rare) astonishment, this infuriated Iliana, and she left Cyril Kowznofski for good, taking a substantial quantum of the smartest of the smart dust with her.

Exceeding her allotment of doorstep-drama scenarios by at least six, Iliana rang Calvin’s doorbell yet again.

This time he didn’t come to the door. He used the intercom instead: “You’re torturing me, Eely. Kindly get lost.”

“I’ve left Cyril for good.”

“So?”

“I want to be with you. I REALLY want to be with you. I miss you so much!”

“Are you going to suddenly become monogamous, Eel? You can’t. You won’t.”

“Maybe things will be different with the dust. I have some. I want to try it with you.”

Long silence. Calvin’s muscles were bunched, the bite-muscles most of all. Iliana waited on the darkening porch, weeping softly.

The lock clicked. “I’m in the studio. Please lock the door behind you.”

Iliana did, and turned lights on in the night-dark house as she went through it. She was surprised to see a dish in the sink and a rag on the floor of the kitchen—outside his studio Cal was fastidiously clean. She was gratified when a quick peek into the bedroom revealed no circumstantial evidence of recent effbuddy visitation. After a moment’s reflection, she decided to bring the dust and its support apparatus to the studio, rather than leave it in the bedroom where it would most likely be used.

In the studio, Cal was making either tall vases or bird-bodies. –No, it was birds: one leather-hard flamingo lay on its side on one of the tables.

“Hi.”

Furrowbrowed “Hey.” Cal squeezed a water-laden sponge on the rim of the form he was throwing on his wheel, and the inside and outside wall got a little water-skin from it. He pulled the form to another five inches of height, then switched the wheel off and toweled his hands and arms. She saw bleakness in his eyes as he regarded her.

“Iliana, I don’t know what it’s like to use the dust. I never have. I don’t know if I ever want to. Why should I?”

Iliana, simply: “For love, Calvin. For love of the woman who belongs to you.”

Quoting a song, Cal said, “What’s love/But a second hand emotion?” He was a Tina Turner fan, and he could not sing worth beans.

Iliana just looked at him through teardrops.

Eight minutes and thirty-six seconds passed.

“Tell you what—let’s go get something to eat, and talk about it.” So they got in Calvin’s green Green Jeeper and went to Red Devil Pizza. Iliana had red wine there, and Cal a root beer, and they shared a big antipasto salad and an extra-large mushroom/sun-dried tomato/artichoke-hearted pie with extra cheese. The while, Iliana told Cal about some of the more exotic discoveries Kowznofski had made with different formulations of dust, and described what made the batch of dust she’d brought so special.

“This stuff is like a blender with different speeds. You don’t strobe back and forth, you blend. If it’s at 50 percent you, Calvin, will be able to see through both of our eyes, and hear my thoughts and yours at the same time. At 100 percent we’re in each others’ bodies. But at 5 percent you just get a hint of me. This is especially good for people like you, who’ve never dusted before.”

“What’s being with Kowznofski like, Iliana,” Calvin asked, with a bit of self-loathing for having asked.

“I never did it with him. I’ve never done it with a lover, Cal. Not to say that Cyril didn’t want to. You and I will both be virgins to this.”

“Cmon, Iliana. Don’t tell me you never dusted with anyone.”

“Didn’t say I didn’t. I dusted with my chess teammates. For their sake, not mine. I did get a little out of the session with Katsuji, though. He is wily.”

“That’s it?”

“Not quite. I put in some volunteer time at the Hospice, but I was asleep and pain-blocked. I have a video. She got to dance ballroom and flirt. It was chaperoned, and a good thing.”

Calvin Enwright could not but smile. “Well, good for you on that one. No pets? No touch of the strange in those weird ‘petting zoos’?”

“No. I’m TELLING you, Calvin. I didn’t want to be really close with anyone but you.”

They finished what they wanted of the pizza and had the rest boxed up. On the drive back they briefly discussed what the dust did and what they would do with it.

Now they were in Cal’s studio, both facing small dust cannons (not much different than the equipment found in the optometrist’s office that administers the glaucoma “puff test”). They closed their eyes, Iliana flipped the switch, and their faces were puff-dusted.

They opened their eyes and looked at each other. Calvin shrugged. He felt no differ—

He got a hint of double vision, an odd overlap of tactility—

They stood and faced each other. Iliana said “Make something on your wheel” as Calvin mouthed her words—

Calvin told Iliana without words to find some music and dance for him on the platform. He (hint of they) got the wheelhead spinning, moistened it with a corpuscular sponge, and threw a five-pound plug of the Rod’s Bod clay body hard on the center of the wheelhead. Dreamily, Eely began undulating to a breathy Macy Grey song. Cal could feel the pole against her back and the silk of her scarf sliding over her collarbones as she swooped sideways. Looking down, they found that Cal had formed the bowl of a loving cup from the Rod’s Bod.

They shut off the wheel/climbed down from the platform/walked in lockstep to the loungey front room/sprawled onto a couch, one’s knee on one’s outer thigh.

Control of the transfer was mutual or other-directed; they couldn’t tell. Tactility was wild; a hand skimming on an other-bodied flesh sparked gentle lightning. As this happened they wandered through the memory trove of their one larger mind, sharing their first kiss and discovering that they really had been in perfect synchronization of want of it. This took them to desire and the removal of their clothing.

In the bedroom the minds parted for a time; the possession switched rhythmically and faster than a Ping-Pong match; when Iliana felt the wall of her own vagina through the tingling nerves of Calvin’s penis, they both gasped and quickly joined minds again. A guidance of motion that they had never achieved as individuals informed this new lovemaking, but that was mere enhancement to the mind-bliss. Orgiastic good-memory cascades and newfound-hope exploration drove them toward (theythey could tell) the inevitable peak—

The dust timed out. Suddenly they were exclusively in their own bodies and blind to shared thought.

Calvin gripped Iliana’s head and locked eyes with her. “We don’t need the fucking dust, Eely—look at me!!”

She did, and saw him, she saw him truly as she never had before, and felt him as well, and he her, and they weren’t blind any more, and they came just then, in astonishing slow silent motion. One of them wept on behalf of them both.

Side-facing, eyes closed, they wordlessly held each other until they fell asleep.

Miles away, Cyril Kowznofski, who had everything any of his post-Werewolf dust do beam a perceptual transmission of the dusts’ possessors to his sensory-recording studio, cursed himself for a weak-willed –voyeur but did not go so far as to commit the higher crime of invading Cal’s and Iliana’s privacy by viewing their doings. He did mark the datastream Special, and had a speed-dial-esque access code for it, should he weaken further.

****

dissatisfaction engenders achievement
achievement makes a person a different version of [her]self

a student may speak of “when i get my master’s”
meaning that there’s a master’s degree afloat in the future
that was always hers

but it was not
she needed  to become someone else to get it

“baby remember my name” sang the songbird irene cara
on her way to becoming someone else who bore the same name

and in the movie FAME in which she starred she was a victim
a sleazy wannabe movie director “auditioned” her
directing/commanding her to remove her top
and because her character burned so to become someone else
she did remove her top
and she cried with shame while doing so

and my humble opinion is her modesty so fueled her acting
that it was not acting
and i cried with and  for her

“and in time we will all be stars” is also in that revealing film

believe it friend

it makes it more true