Sunday, December 28, 2008

Here Are Some Things That Have Happened and are Happening


I have moved to Jersey City, New Jersey. I am now closer to New York than I was when I lived in New York. It sounds Buddhist, but it isn't.


Today, as I was unpacking, I was labeling some unlabeled CDs and DVDs and had the strangest experience. For a few years now, I have been unable to watch myself performing on video in front of an audience. I didn't even want to hear any of my live CDs! The only thing of mine I could tolerate listening to were my studio podcasts.

There was a time when I couldn't wait to get a video copy of a performance. Once I had it, I would watch it over and over again and be filled with a great sense of pride at my accomplishment. I was overcome with joy hearing the laughter of the audience.

Then, perhaps, I became sick of myself. I just wanted to do the shows and disappear. I felt sorry for the audiences that they had to look at me while they laughed. Oh, how I hated myself. Even before this, I very rarely laughed at anything I did. It all went through the prism of an intellectual vocation. Yes, I see it--that should connect to that and that should connect to that and that will equal funny.

Last month, I was looking for a particular unlabeled DVD and accidentally inserted one of my theatrical performance videos, the original Good Luck With It. (I might not have been watching them, but I certainly saved copies!)

At first I winced--ooh, I don't want to look at that, I thought. But then, for some reason, I decided to skip ahead and see two bits that I only performed once: "The Retrial Of Scott Peterson" (a defense attorney's convoluted argument that Scott Peterson did not murder his pregnant wife, but that the unborn son burst out of his mother's stomach like the alien in Alien) and "The Philosophy of the Matrix" (a pretentious English professor in the year 5792).

Anyway, I found myself laughing at loud. Later, I called a friend and told him that I thought I was making some sort of spiritual progress because I was able to watch myself for ten minutes and enjoy it.

So today, as I was labeling DVDs, I came across a one-off show I did called For Existence, Press One. I didn't really remember the show at all. I just wanted to pop in the DVD, find out what it was, and then label it. But once I pressed play, I saw myself wearing goggles and a breathing mask with a tube coming out of the mouth. My face was totally hidden behind the apparatus. I was gesturing wildly with my hands as a prerecorded high-pitched voice explained the situation: I was a vegan who could only survive by eating helium.

I laughed my ass off! I remember hating that bit at the time I wrote it, but man--I was in hysterics! It was like I wasn't really a comedian and I was watching somebody else on the screen and really enjoying it. With every bit, I would tell myself--"Okay, after this bit, eject it, label it, and finish the rest"--but I couldn't. I was in hysterics for the whole ninety minutes.

That was a very interesting thing. To enjoy watching myself as if I was somebody else. I'm not sure if it was a good or bad thing. It felt good because it's always nice to laugh. But it also felt strange because I was worried that I was going to get fat and sit on a couch and watch me succeed while I failed.

I am still afraid of failure.


For some reason, I get free cable in this studio apartment. The only thing I like on television is Turner Classic Movies. Every time I'm in a hotel, I turn on Turner Classic Movies and let it play for the duration of my stay, keeping the sound down low until something comes on that I want to see.

I sleep with the television on. Old movies make me feel warm and comfortable. They're better than a woman sometimes, because the women in old movies are better than women in new movies. And women in new movies are the women that women in today's reality largely model themselves after. Myrna Loy? Veronica Lake? No--they're catching fish with Sarah Jessica Parker's nose, women today.

So this is a studio apartment, but I have this big barricade of dressers which form a makeshift wall between my bed and the living room area. On top of the dresser is the television. In the living room, I watch television. When I go to bed, I keep the television on with its back to me, so I can fall asleep to the sound of old movies.

Anyway, the day after Christmas, early in the morning, Turner Classic Movies began a marathon of the delightful Andy Hardy movies starring the lovable Mickey Rooney. I woke up about 6:30 a.m. and heard the following interchange between Judge Hardy (Andy Hardy's father) and a wealthy and snobbish male defendant.

JUDGE HARDY: I fine you one hundred dollars.
DEFENDANT: (with a huff) That's nothing. I got that right here in my pocket!
JUDGE HARDY: And thirty days in the county jail. You got that in your pocket, too?

I laughed and fell back asleep.


I have been looking into Catholicism. Actually, I have always been intrigued with both Catholicism and Hasidic Judaism. But the Hasids once rejected me when they found out that I didn't know whether or not I was a Jew and it really hurt my feelings. I know, I know, they're supposed to reject you a few times just to make sure you really want it. But I just don't have the discipline. I love gefilte fish, though. I didn't like it when the rabbi prayed and made the weird noises. But when he was just riffing, talking about the Nefish (sp?), man that blew my mind like the Hinduistic thought process.

But I need to get on some sort of spiritual path, I believe, to regain and maintain my love for life and such things as humor and music and visions. We didn't really have any religion growing up in my family. But my father was a lapsed Catholic; born into it, if you will. I always liked the art and the idea of ritual and iconography and guilt and the schoolgirls. So with all the Catholic presence in New York, I figured I'd try to learn that one.

I talked with this priest and he suggested I start by reading the Gospel of St. Mark. He asked if I had a New Testament and I said no. I thought he would offer to give me one, but he didn't. I was a little disappointed. I remember in Missouri they used to give them away like they were going out of style (which of course, they were. But I didn't know it then)

So I went to a Catholic church and asked the guy at the front desk if they had any New Testaments and he said they had run out.

So I looked up the Gospel of St. Mark online and read it from a Greek translation. Well, I had a little problem. Now those of you who know me know that normally I hate historical revisionism. But I just couldn't help it. The more I read of the Gospels, the less I thought Jesus was the Son of God and the more I thought he was just a hell-raising rock-n-roller.

I also wondered, as apparently many others have, if Jesus might not have been illegitimate.

I told the priest of my doubts, but he didn't seem upset. He listened with patience. I told him that I had been reading the Bible online and that it was hurting my eyes--hoping that he would take pity on me and give me a free New Testament. Still no luck.

I also told the priest of something strange I had noticed in The Gospel of St. Mark. There's a bit where Jesus is walking with the disciples and he comes across a fig tree and he's hungry. But he looks at the tree and there's no figs on it. Then he says something to his disciples like, "this tree won't bear any more fruit ever!" (paraphrasing, of course). Later on, they walk by the same tree again, and it's all withered and dying. I told the priest that I thought that made Jesus look sort of hungry and pissed off. Like if he can't have a fig, then fuck the tree. The priest suggested it might be a metaphor for good fruit that comes from a good tree or something like that, but I thought he was reaching a bit there. I think Jesus just got pissed off cause he was hungry and took it out on the tree.

But I wasn't (and still aren't) ready to throw in the towel just yet. After St. Mark, I went back and started reading St. Matthew. But I tell you, I was really getting sick of reading it online.

So as I was moving recently from Woodhaven, I noticed that my now ex-roommate had a Bible--a really cool King James paperback. He also had an I Ching and a Bhagavad-Gita. I was going to lift all three, but I decided to just take the Bible.

I had attempted to read the Bible all the way through two years ago and had given up at Leviticus. But this time, I was going to do it. I packed the pilfered Bible and off I went to New Jersey.


While I was moving, I remembered that my now ex-roommate had given me an American flag at one point. About seven months ago, he knocked on my door and gave me this really large cloth flag and said I could hang it up if I wanted.

I have one window in this apartment I live in now and it has no curtains. I sometimes walk around naked and I noticed there are children in the condominiums across the street. I thought it would be a good idea to cover the window with something lest the children should see me and get the wrong idea that I wanted to be seen by children--which I do not.

So right after or right before packing the stolen Bible, I took the large folded American flag and packed that as well.

I left Woodhaven that night with a very heavy suitcase. I had to change trains three times, lugging this absurdly heavy bag with me.

Once I got to my new place, I unfurled the American flag and hung it over the window--but it was so massive, it bunched up at the floor. So I hung it sideways with the star portion covering the window and the stripes extending perfectly to the end of my bedroom wall. It was a beautiful fit! I loved it! It gave everything such warmth. I was home. . .after all this time. . .I was home.

I had to go back to Woodhaven the next night and get the rest of my stuff. I had hoped to fit the rest in the same suitcase and had also hoped the suitcase would have been much lighter this time around. As it turned out, it was so heavy, I could only drag it. I even had to pack additional bags. Damn and blast! I wanted to be out of Woodhaven for good!

My now ex-roommate was around, so I asked him if he'd be interested in taking a trip to lovely New Jersey in his 1987 Toyota. He said he would for twenty dollars. I told him twenty sounded fine if he would let me use his food to make myself a peanut butter sandwich so I could defray the moving costs by not having to pay for dinner that night. It was a deal.

As I was packing up the last of my stuff, he came into the room.

"You haven't seen my flag, have you?"

"I thought you said I could have that flag."

"I said you could hang it up in here, not take it with you. That's my dad's flag." He's fifty-seven, my ex-roommate and his father had served in WWII. There's no way I could have lied about taking the flag.

"I thought you gave that flag to me because you knew I was a libertarian."

"They gave that to me when he died. It's the only thing I have from him. That and a hat."

I sighed, "It's hanging up out in Jersey. I can give it back to you when we get out there. I just thought you gave it to me because you didn't like George Bush."

"No, they gave that to me because my dad fought in Normandy."

It was painful, but I had to give him back that flag. But when it came to the Bible, I remained tight-lipped. He noticed a stack of his books on the floor.

"Oh, I left some of my old books in here. That's my I Ching."

"Yeah," I said. Still, I had a guilty conscience. "Say, you don't have a Bible, do you?"

"I got a Bible somewhere."

"You don't have a spare one, do you?"

"No, I don't have a spare one."

Christ. What a wretched thief I am.

On the drive out to Jersey, I kept thinking of his Bible sitting exposed on my new coffee table. My timing would have to be perfect. As soon as I opened the door, I would take my coat off and fling it on the coffee table, right over the Bible. I had already lost a flag, I couldn't part with a Bible.

By the time we arrived, I changed tactics. I told him that I needed to take up my bags by myself because the hallway was narrow and only one person could walk through it at a time. He said he had to go to the bathroom and I said that he could use mine after I made sure that there was nothing in the hallway that would block his progress.

I got inside my apartment and picked up my (his) Bible and stuck it in a dresser drawer. Then I let him in to urinate.

We shared a cigarette and talked briefly about the new place. Then he got up to leave. As he opened the door, I looked at the flag. My god, he's forgetting his flag.

But I could not do it. "Don't forget your flag," I gulped.

"What flag?" he asked.

Jesus Christ. . .would he have forgotten?

"Your dad's flag."

"Oh, right."

I almost cried as I removed it from the wall and folded it up.


On Christmas Eve, I told my old Irish Catholic friend, Jimmy, that I was having a hard time believing that Christ was the Son of God. Jimmy said, "Well, if he isn't, it's all bullshit, isn't it?"

"You mean like Pascal's 'Wager'"?

"That," agreed Jimmy, "but also you should check out a book by C. S. Lewis called The Great Divorce. And read anything by Flannery O'Connor."

I had already rabidly devoured everything that Flannery O'Connor had ever written. But I still had much to read by Lewis. I had read The Screwtape Letters many years before and had had my mind blown by his portrayal of the Devil as a thought. But that was about it.

The Great Divorce was amazing. I read it all in one sitting. It did not convince me that Jesus was/is the Son of God, but it certainly did hammer home the necessity for faith and selfless love. It was a simultaneously terrifying and comforting depiction of the afterlife. Usually, I am not too much into visual descriptions in literature. That is why Tolkien always bored me. Page after page describing a forest--who needs that? Give me dialogue or give me death.

But C. S. Lewis is a genius at visual description. His conception of Hell is an ever-expanding town where the light is always just on the verge of becoming night even though its citizens delude themselves into thinking its always just on the verge of becoming morning.

In Heaven, the opposite is the case. It is always just on the verge of becoming morning, but to the unsaved souls who look at it from their unblessed state, it is always just about to become night.

So much beautifully constructed religious philosophy, line after line!

The crux of Lewis' Christianity is mind-bending. Check out this all-or-nothing prospect:

If one chooses Christ, everything that one has ever done in one's life, good AND bad, ALL becomes good retroactively. That is, the totality of a person's life is rendered perfectly good by the final choice to accept Christ. Consider the guy who dressed up as Santa Claus and killed nine people recently. Under this radical Christian doctrine, if that man had not killed himself and had been arrested and later turned to Christ, EVEN THE ACT OF MURDERING THOSE NINE PEOPLE WOULD HAVE BEEN GOOD BECAUSE IT LED HIM TO CHRIST!

But since he killed himself, the act of murdering nine people remains bad.

Contrarily, the same holds true if one rejects Christ. If one has performed noble and kind deeds their whole life, those deeds are rendered retroactively bad if in the final choice the doer rejects Christ. For the good deeds will have served no higher purpose beyond the self.

Consider Pity. C. S. Lewis divides pity into two forms: Pity of action and Pity of passion.

Pity of passion holds true love hostage. It attempts to pervert love by binding the lover to the pitied. Therefore true love is always a slave to the demands of those who wish to be perpetually pitied. It requires Love to be ensnared in misery. If those who wish to be pitied cannot feel love, they will have others always pity them. By instinct, I have always known this to be true. This is why my political outlook has developed in the fashion that it has. Abandon the shackles. Close the plantations. Let us live as Individual Divinities.

Pity of action demands of those who wish to be pitied not to wish to be pitied anymore, but to love as lovers love, truly and without demands.

How pleased I was at the first sentence in the preface to The Great Divorce. For Lewis reveals at once the inspiration for the title. It is an undoing of Blake's "Marriage of Heaven and Hell." It is a return to the either/or of our youth. The dissolution of the convoluted union of irreconcilable dichotomies.

Though I still hold fast to Blake's assertion that "Without contraries is no progression"!