Tuesday, November 19, 2019

ON MONACO NATIONAL DAY







"There is nothing covered up now that will not be exposed. Nothing is secret that will not be revealed. Every secret you've kept will become known. What you have whispered in hidden places will be shouted from the housetops."

-- Jesus of Nazareth


Monday, November 11, 2019

VONNEGUT WAS BORN ON THIS DATE





Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., is why I became a writer, and he became a writer because of Mark Twain, and they both believed, as Humanists, that the universe is a crock, and that humanity, as Vonnegut put it, is here just to fart around.  

My favorite fiction book in high school was The Sirens of Titan, about which I scribbled into a journal on Thanksgiving Day, 27 November 1972, “Wow, that Vonnegut book is so weird.  It is one of the best books I’ve ever read… unbelievably fantastic… I’d sure love to have a discussion with Vonnegut someday.”  

One could say that The Sirens of Titan somewhat awakened me to reading, thinking, learning.

Just five days after penning that journal entry, on December 2nd, 1972, I awoke from a dream with the phrase one is doubles, one is doubles, one is doubles reverberating within my skull, and in my mind (according to my journal) I connected one is doubles to Vonnegut and The Sirens of Titan.

Kurt Vonnegut was supposed to appear at the American School in London and talk to my creative writing class, an event I greatly anticipated and was crestfallen when he failed to appear.  

I wanted to ask him the meaning of one is doubles.  

(The principal’s staff whispered that he had been distracted by his mistress that dark drizzly day, or hung-over and, well, seeing double.)

Through our journeys in life, our paths (Vonnegut’s, mine) crossed twice, fleetingly, about ten years apart.  

The first, in New York City, took place in 1988 after I’d lunched at a French brasserie with David Gernert, an editorial bigwig at Doubleday. 

As Gernert and I stood outside Jean Lafitte on West 58th Street wrapping up our discussion, I looked left toward Avenue of the Americas and observed a familiar-looking figure weaving on the pavement toward us.

Is that…? I thought to myself.  “Is that Kurt Vonnegut?” I vocalized to Gernert, motioning with my eyes.

He turned and studied the zombie-like figure, and replied, “Yeah.”

As Vonnegut neared, I discerned that his eyes were low and glazed with booze, his footing unsure, and I whispered to Gernert, “I think he’s drunk.”

Although Gernert was a seasoned editor who worked with some of the best-known authors of the time, he was as awed as me by Vonnegut’s proximity to us.  

I should have said something to Kurt, and with hindsight I know exactly what:  May I buy you a drink?  We could have gone into Jean Lafitte and, at its bar, gotten to the bottom of one is doubles.

The second time our paths crossed was at Crown Super Store in McLean, Virginia where Vonnegut appeared October 25th, 1997 to sign copies of his final book, Timequake.  

Upon entering I discovered that a queue to reach him snaked around three aisles and I realized there was no point joining because the time allocated for this event would soon expire and Vonnegut’s temperament would not allow him to stay a second longer than commitment required, so I stood and watched from a distance.  

He was animated that day, smiling affably for the occasional snapshot taken by a fan.

A few years after Vonnegut died (in 2007), I was on a journey from The Exorcist steps in Georgetown (Washington DC) to Salem, Massachusetts, chasing the devil with my artist friend Thomas Van Stein, when we impulsively decided to overnight in New York City and look up Vonnegut’s haunts.  

We began by visiting Kurt’s last home at 228 East 48th Street, a brownstone in a neighborhood called Turtle Bay where he lived for a couple decades and died, a few days after tripping on his dog’s leash and tumbling down the front steps.


Vonnegut would walk Flour every day to nearby Dag Hammarskjold Plaza and set upon a favorite bench on which he would smoke cigarettes and read newspapers and stare inward hoping not to be recognized. 

After visiting the park we searched for Vonnegut’s favorite restaurant with a few clues provided by an old British newspaper interview:  Italian, Second Avenue, walking distance from his brownstone, a Ralph Steadman drawing on the wall.
            
Pescatore seemed right but it was Spanish, not Italian. Their maître d’ pointed me to Lasagna, corner of 50th and Second.  

Standing in the doorway, I could not see a Steadman drawing so I turned to leave and got interrupted by a swarthy man who tapped my shoulder and said, “This is the place—he came here every day, lunch and dinner.”

It was uncanny that he knew my mission.  

“But where’s the Steadman drawing?” I asked.

“We re-did the place a couple of years ago.  It’s in the back office.”

“What did Vonnegut drink?”

“Dewar’s on the rocks.”

“Do it.”  And I ordered his favorite meal too:  A Caesar salad followed by linguine, white clam sauce. 

From Vonnegut’s table, Van Stein and I surveyed the scene.   “We should ask to see the cartoon,” said Van Stein.

Five seconds later, before we had a chance to ask, the manager appeared with the Steadman drawing, a caricature of Vonnegut himself.  

“Usually he would come by on his own,” he told us.  “And he’d sit by the bar, back to the wall.  If anyone tried to approach he would raise both hands close to his face and wave them away.”


We ate solemnly, a kind of séance, seeking Vonnegut’s presence and counsel.  

After dinner, we returned to Kurt’s brownstone in the dark.  

But it was clear he wanted nothing to do with us, a pair of scruffy adventurers.  

Death had not changed his desire to be left alone.


Sunday, November 10, 2019

ARMISTICE DAY







"By late 1917 we tired rummies and crocks were aware of how crazy and sick the war was. After all the flying, the Vickers gun bursts; no flags waving, no gallant charges, no Red Cross nookie; maybe a hairy kiss on the cheeks by a French general.

"As we flew we knew below us five, six million filthy men were buried alive underground, living like crazy, red-eyed rats in their own shit and piss, decaying comrades' entrails. Years of burrowing, rotting away, dying with silly shocked gestures to gain, retain, fifty yards, a hundred yards. Then back into the crap and cootie hells, the stink of unburied dead from 1914 on, all those rotting horses too. In the air we missed a war that smelled of manure, putrefying generations of dead schoolboys and fathers. We fliers could only smell it sometimes as we came in at dusk, back from patrol, flying low over the trenches that stretched in the earth from the English Channel to the Swiss. When you went to mess with the line officers, they smelled of it, their eyes bulging with madness, maybe fear..."






A DAILY MIRACLE






Wednesday, November 6, 2019

HOW I SHED 20 POUNDS IN 70 DAYS



Before



We all know diets don't work.

It's about altering lifestyle, and sticking with it.

For me, it works like this:

No fasting, no diet pills; no Weight Watchers, no gimmicks. 

I’m up before dawn (no alarm clock necessary, just happens) and on the street by first light (or setting moonlight) for a brisk forty-five-minute walk. (Miss a day—I haven’t—make it up the next, no credit for extra walking the day before.) 

Walking continues, sporadically, through the day and into the evening, leaving the car home and running errands by foot—including evening refreshment, socializing—stairs welcome, avoid elevators.

Total walking: between sixty and ninety-minutes per day.

My first (and main) meal of the day is an egg scramble. 

For this, an organic free-range egg and organic vegetables. 

One egg only, loaded with vegetables sautéed in olive oil (never butter). 

One morning, it might be spinach, chard and kale sautéed with fresh garlic and other fresh herbs, a side of shiitake mushrooms; another, peppers and onions. A third favorite is what I call an antipasto scramble: peppers, artichoke heart, olives and feta cheese. 

No bread, no butter, maybe a dash of Tabasco.

Take as much delight preparing meals as eating them, slowly, mindfully, attention focused on aroma and flavor, small bites and much chewing.

Through the day, between one and two liters of non-flouride, alkaline-rich water; hot “tea” made with water, fresh lemon juice and a dash of cayenne pepper.

Afternoon snacks:  1) A pitted date stuffed with a Brazil nut (selenium); 2) raw broccoli and/or cauliflower dipped into hummus sprinkled with olive oil and paprika; 3) a handful of blueberries or blackberries, walnuts and almonds; 4) dark chocolate (just one truffle) from See’s.

For dinner, my favorite choice is what I call The Magic Salad served at my favorite vegan restaurant (within walking distance). They call it a chopped salad—greens, toasted almonds, citrus, cauliflower, dates, ginger turmeric dressing—but what makes this dish truly magical is that whenever I order it, next morning, without fail, I scale in one pound lighter than the morning before.

My “diet” (new lifestyle) is largely plant-based, utilizing the 80/20 ratio: when occasionally eating meat, it does not occupy more than 20 percent of the plate (and is accompanied by at least two vegetables).


To bed by 9:03, no TV news, no electronic devices in the room; a pitch dark, noiseless environment to ensure natural melatonin release for an eight-to-nine-hour sleep full of nocturnal adventures.



After