Will's Coffee House

John Dryden, Dramatist, Critic, Poet Laureate, and my ancestor, frequented a coffee house called Will's almost daily, where he would hold forth on sundry subjects with great wit and aplomb. Same deal here, only without the wit or aplomb.

Location: Large Midwestern City, Midwestern State, United States

I am a stranger in a sane land...

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Berkeley Nights

As for what I did with my nights in Berkeley--don't get too excited--I mean, the highpoints were a brilliantly improvised paella and a performance of King Lear, so, you know, we're not talking about a blue-lit descent into Sadean excess. Sorry.

But after a long--LONG--day of grading papers from poor, clueless college-bound illiterates, there's something to be said about being able to spend time with--oh, right, I forgot to mention this part.

Hmmm. Where to begin. Once upon a time, back in the dark days of my marriage, a former student of mine of ridiculous attractiveness of both mind and body--one of those annoying people that God tapped twice with his magic wand--fell head over heels in love with me, and it was kinda sorta rather completely mutual, and there was wild flirtation between us and then before I had a chance to really break the 7th commandment she transferred to Berkeley, where she now resides. (Much to the ache of my heart and the relief of my conscience.)

So, now that I'm free, I saw her. She produced the paella. She sat beside me and wept at King Lear (for which she apologized, poor thing--I tried to explain, as a former actor and a Shakespearean one to boot, that I was wildly in favor of audiences weeping at performances, particularly of something as heart-wrenching as Lear's reconciliation with--and the loss of--Cordelia. I mean, shouldn't we weep at such things?)

But before you get too eyebrow-wagglingly vicarious, stop. Alas for the lost opportunity to spin a tale of wild, unbridled eroticism, she's living with someone. Happily. Committedly. And besides, having been burned badly by someone's infidelity recently, it would have been...oh, just monstrously hypocritical of me to engage in that ugly activity. So, no, no juicy details to relate. She was a perfect lady. Well, not perfect--I mean, I made a wisecrack and she punched me, so, you know, not quite Elizabeth Bennett, here. Still--

There's something about--even sans real romance--spending time with someone who, in another life, you know you'd be very *good* with. That's not this life, but just knowing that those feelings, that possibility is within you--that's a good thing. And it was nice to remember what it's like, in the middle of a gruelling day, to have someone to look forward to coming home to at the end of it. Also a good thing, that.

And fun. She's fun. And when I'm with her, God help me, I'm fun. Which I don't want to overdescribe or analyze, because fun cease to be fun when you do that. I'll just say that I very very rarely have/am it, and I did/was. A vacation from my own state of bone-deep priggishness. It was very--and OK, I say this with just a hint of salaciousness--sweet.

So. That. Dinner of paella chez her upstairs neighbor (another knock-out, what the hell is it about Berkeley women?) the first night, dinner at a trattoria (Berkeley service is indeed the worst in the world--I have flow charts and spread-sheets to prove this) and Lear afterwards (the guy who played Lear was good, the guy who played Edmund--MY GODDAMNED PART--sucked like a Hoover inside a wind tunnel, and the stage combat was choreographed by the Three Stooges) the next night--and a lazy afternoon and a ride to the airport the third. Too short a time. But, better than being rough and sweaty, it was good, that trip.

C'est tout.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Tired. Again.

Back from three days at Berkeley, the daylight hours of which were spent grading endless reams of college entrance placement essays...and spent shaking my head to clear the hum of cliches, bathos, and ignorance from my head--and these were the kids who got into the UC system, mind you--when our civilization falls, and it will, historians will cite as one of the subtle but key causes of its collapse the shift from the ideal of "Everyone should have the chance to attend college" to the expectation that "Everyone should attend college." Because no, no, we shouldn't. We really, really shouldn't, not all of us.

But more of this another time. Tired. Bleary-eyed and brain-blanked. And then there's the subject of what I did with my nights in Berkeley. (Hint: it made up for the days, and then some...)

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Yet More Night Thoughts

You know, I've suffered from a number of the more unpleasant emotional states related to romance: bitter break-ups, heartbreaks that stretch on for months--even years (I'm somewhat self-indulgent in this respect--as in many others), terminal loneliness, the grim stasis of the dying stages of a long-term affair, unrequited and unrequitable love (both sides of that issue--neither is much fun), and so forth. Right now I'm suffering from several, none of your damn business which. But in the dark of the night, I am struck by a thought that, while it does not warmly comfort, takes the sting down a notch or two:

Inasmuch as I'm in no sense ready to be with someone right now--Thank God. Because if I were, I'd have to genuinely, fully, really, honestly Date. And dating sucks. (I believe I'm quoting Rochefoucauld on this point.) Spending time with someone to see if you want to spend time with someone? What? What?! Isn't that like eating food to see if it makes you sick? True, you never know unless you try, but...failure is just so...morbidly unpleasant. Oh, I know, I know--there's no alternative, and all we can do, if we don't want to be alone, is grow a pair and go out. And that'll happen. But...urgh. She gets in the car, you get in the car (you have opened the door for her, because you are polite), and then...awkward moment of silence, prompted by the realization that you don't know this person, and here she is in your personal space, and what the hell, man?! Then you start the car up and drive. And talk. If you can. If not...more silence--and the evening will be full of them. Waitress takes your drinks order, leaves, and you have to look at each other. Awkward moment. Movie ends, lights come on, each of you looks to see if the other is one of those people who sits through the credits. Awkward moment. End of the evening, and...oh, man, AWKWARD MOMENT. Must we? Surely, there must be a better way? No? Really? Damn--no wonder people stay in otherwise dead relationships--at least the silence in comfortably welcome...

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Great Beginnings

A totally subjective list of what are, to my mind, the greatest openings to novels in English (narrows things down a bit, but I don't want to have to explain the significance of the tense used in Camus's The Stranger, or why Tolstoy's "All happy familes are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way" is clever, but completely untrue.) Call it a prose variation on the now-defunct Poetry Friday:

5. Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely— having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.

4. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

3. You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt Polly--Tom's Aunt Polly, she is--and Mary, and the Widow Douglas is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I said before.

2. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

And, of course:

1. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England; there were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a fair face, on the throne of France. In both countries it was clearer than crystal to the lords of the State preserves of loaves and fishes, that things in general were settled for ever.

It was the year of Our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five. Spiritual revelations were conceded to England at that favoured period, as at this. Mrs. Southcott had recently attained her five-and-twentieth blessed birthday, of whom a prophetic private in the Life Guards had heralded the sublime appearance by announcing that arrangements were made for the swallowing up of London and Westminster. Even the Cock-lane ghost had been laid only a round dozen of years, after rapping out its messages, as the spirits of this very year last past (supernaturally deficient in originality) rapped out theirs. Mere messages in the earthly order of events had lately come to the English Crown and People, from a congress of British subjects in America: which, strange to relate, have proved more important to the human race than any communications yet received through any of the chickens of the Cock-lane brood. France, less favoured on the whole as to matters spiritual than her sister of the shield and trident, rolled with exceeding smoothness down hill, making paper money and spending it. Under the guidance of her Christian pastors, she entertained herself, besides, with such humane achievements as sentencing a youth to have his hands cut off, his tongue torn out with pincers, and his body burned alive, because he had not kneeled down in the rain to do honour to a dirty procession of monks which passed within his view, at a distance of some fifty or sixty yards. It is likely enough that, rooted in the woods of France and Norway, there were growing trees, when that sufferer was put to death, already marked by the Woodman, Fate, to come down and be sawn into boards, to make a certain movable framework with a sack and a knife in it, terrible in history. It is likely enough that in the rough outhouses of some tillers of the heavy lands adjacent to Paris, there were sheltered from the weather that very day, rude carts, bespattered with rustic mire, snuffed about by pigs, and roosted in by poultry, which the Farmer, Death, had already set apart to be his tumbrils of the Revolution. But that Woodman and that Farmer, though they work unceasingly, work silently, and no one heard them as they went about with muffled tread: the rather, forasmuch as to entertain any suspicion that they were awake, was to be atheistical and traitorous.

In England, there was scarcely an amount of order and protection to justify much national boasting. Daring burglaries by armed men, and highway robberies, took place in the capital itself every night; families were publicly cautioned not to go out of town without removing their furniture to upholsterers’ warehouses for security; the highwayman in the dark was a City tradesman in the light, and, being recognised and challenged by his fellow-tradesman whom he stopped in his character of “the Captain,” gallantly shot him through the head and rode away; the mall was waylaid by seven robbers, and the guard shot three dead, and then got shot dead himself by the other four, “in consequence of the failure of his ammunition” after which the mall was robbed in peace; that magnificent potentate, the Lord Mayor of London, was made to stand and deliver on Turnham Green, by one highwayman, who despoiled the illustrious creature in sight of all his retinue; prisoners in London gaols fought battles with their turnkeys, and the majesty of the law fired blunderbusses in among them, loaded with rounds of shot and ball; thieves snipped off diamond crosses from the necks of noble lords at Court drawing-rooms; musketeers went into St. Giles’s, to search for contraband goods, and the mob fired on the musketeers, and the musketeers fired on the mob, and nobody thought any of these occurrences much out of the common way. In the midst of them, the hangman, ever busy and ever worse than useless, was in constant requisition; now, stringing up long rows of miscellaneous criminals; now, hanging a housebreaker on Saturday who had been taken on Tuesday; now, burning people in the hand at Newgate by the dozen, and now burning pamphlets at the door of Westminster Hall; to-day, taking the life of an atrocious murderer, and to-morrow of a wretched pilferer who had robbed a farmer’s boy of sixpence.

All these things, and a thousand like them, came to pass in and close upon the dear old year one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five. Environed by them, while the Woodman and the Farmer worked unheeded, those two of the large jaws, and those other two of the plain and the fair faces, trod with stir enough, and carried their divine rights with a high hand. Thus did the year one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five conduct their Greatnesses, and myriads of small creatures—the creatures of this chronicle among the rest—along the roads that lay before them.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006



Friday, May 12, 2006

Comfortably Numb

Well, it's official--I've gone without sex so long that I no longer miss it. Just never think about it anymore. ("What never?" "Well, hardly ever." And when I do, it's a "shrug-and-meh" moment.) I can't decide whether or not this is a good thing--since I've no prospect of intimacy in the forseeable future, or so completely and utterly sad that I should curl into a ball and retreat into a total dormancy of despair. Decisions, decisions.

I suppose pragmatism demands that I go with the former--after all, I still have grading to do. And perhaps my continuing streak of mild depression has something to do with it. I mean, combine depression with anti-depression meds with an extended period of involuntarily erotic solitude (make whatever jokes you like about that expression, I'll wait 'til you're done...pause...there), and you'll get somebody for whom the monkish life-style doesn't seem to be too unfeasible. (Although if The Name of the Rose was accurate, those guys weren't exactly going without all that much.)

But it's strange to suddenly realize that something you used to ache over is something that you've largely forgotten. Oh, I'm still prone to lengthy fits of sentimental mourning--but sex? Not so much. Odd. Disturbing? Maybe--if I ever do wind up in someone else's arms, this may be a problem I'll have to work through (poor thing, whoever she is, I'll have to be quite explicit about how it's not her, it's me--but that line never works, does it?) But for now, eh, it's probably just as well. Sex for me has always been--sappy and immature as this sounds, and I know it does, so just back off--deeply emotional. And since I'm still...tentative, emotionally speaking, better to not have that particular monkey on my back, prodding me forward to do heartless things for the sake of an amoral libido. So, time passes and we'll see what happens (almost said, "we'll see what comes," damn, that's just too easy, isn't it?)--and in the meanwhile, well, bedtime means sleep, and I've always been a fan of sleep...

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


How creepy is it that the articulated views of an avowed Shiite fundamentalist (I'm referring to the recent letter from the President of Iran to our own Chief Executive, readable in its entirety here: http://www.lemonde.fr/web/article/0,1-0@2-727571,36-769886,0.html) come off as much more intelligent, nuanced, and civilized than anything that's come out of Bush's mouth since...well, ever? (BTW, I don't agree with everything--or even much--Ahmadi-Najad has to say in the letter--for instance, I happen to be strongly pro-Israel, and I'm more than mildly irritated at his one-sided characterization of the establishment of the Israeli state--but I wouldn't mind getting into an argument with the guy about why I think/feel that way, and I sense that it would be an argument, rather than two guys yelling at each other and not listening to anything other than the sound of his own voice.)

I can't abide fundamentalism--it replaces emapthy and objectivity, without which we're nothing more than animals with advanced motors skills--but this guy strikes me as intelligent, thoughtful, and convinced of, rather than blinded by his faith. In that sense--and this scares the hell out of me--he's a better leader than ours. Sigh. (Of course, one could cheerfully go off on tangents about the ridiculous human rights violations that exist in Islamic theocracies--word of advice: don't be a woman, or gay, or...well, anything other than decidedly conformist--and I'm no blinkered idealist to pretend that this is a "good guy"--but he's got a grasp on his material that our guy doesn't--and he's smart enough to know that the way to seize the moral high-ground is to point out the hypocrisy of a bully...Hmmm. Maybe it's better than these people don't get the bomb. Too shrewd, all too shrewd.)

Author's Addendum: I should add that what I find most terrifying about this letter is the fact that Ahmadi-Najad argues with such conviction that liberal democracy is an idea that history is slowly proving to have been a failure. I find it terrifying because it's so plausible. Democracy has always been the exception, rather than the rule--and as we see increasingly in this country, it doesn't work when a population doesn't much care that votes are rigged, provided that they like the guy who wins--and when they like the guy who wins because he's of the same religous faith--sincere or not--as they. That terrifies me. Europe is small, and getting smaller. Canada looks big on the map, but it's a tiny amount of people in a large amount of space. And as for us--well, religion is something we demand from our leaders--more than nearly any other quality of character. We're not a theocracy--but when domestic and international policy is based on appealing to the fundamentalist 'base' of our leaders, the distinction is a fine one. Democracy is messy, complex, requires empathy and compromise. Religion--fundamentalist religion--is so damn easy. And humanity is a lazy species when it comes to our willingness to think. I worry. I really do. Ahmadi-Najad is articulate, intelligent, and educated. He also believes in a world that will eventually drive out all non-believers. That those two visions can co-exist suggests either that he's nuts, and I don't think he is--or that he's looking back at history and looking ahead at its implications. And it worries me that he may be right.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


The problem with therapy is that it's either too short or too long--either it ends before you've hit the moment of breakthrough or it ends long afterwards. Today it was too short. When the 50-minute mark arrived, I was about five minutes away from the complete and total breakdown--the eruption of weeping out the pain and frustration I've been carrying around for the better part of a year. But then it ended, and I walked out, and my male ego reasserted itself, and now all that's left is a small choking sensation in my throat as I shove it all back down into the dark corner I keep such things in.

Because the problem with pain is that it's embarassing. Embarassing for those who feel it, and doubly so for those with whom it's 'shared.' Crying in front of another person--collapsing in front of another person--these things just make you feel worse. "A trouble shared is a trouble halved"--what a crock. A trouble shared is a trouble doubled--because you've just made another person party to suffering he/she can't do anything to alleviate, and who therefore feels embarassed and inadequate and awkward. So what the hell--why bother to express such pain? Why bother to make someone else's day worse and your own no better? All you can really do with pain is feel it until you stop feeling it. And no one can help with that.

Which is a problem.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Grading Continues

And as a result, no updates are forthcoming in the near-future. Though I've been irked recently by the initiatives in several states to ban the sale of sex toys, so I feel another rant in defense of perversion coming on...stay tuned...

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


Mexico is officially the smartest, coolest nation in the Western Hemisphere as of yesterday:


God bless them--it's God's work, it really, really is...

Monday, May 01, 2006

Very Depressing

A few months ago, I finally broke down and bought a cell phone. I wasn't proud of the fact, quite the contrary. I told myself that I was only going to use it for reasonably important communication, and that I was not going to change my life or habits as a result.

Last week, the SIM card, which had always been sketchy, gave up the ghost entirely. Dead. No phone. And in the period between that day and the day this weekend when I got it fixed...I felt...helpless. Untethered. Vulnerable. Whatever would I do without it? How would I keep in touch? That whole resolve about not changing my life or habits? Yeah, not so much, that. Instant addiction--technology makes smack look like decaf. I suck...