Sunday, March 30, 2014

It's Just There

So I'll be walking around places full of crap and suddenly there will be something that escapes the land of crap even though it completely embraces the land of crap.  Here's a good example.  Kroger's, in College Hill (the same place where I spotted the Black History Month Coloring Contest tableau [check out a couple blogposts below]).  The mecca of fruits and vegetables and potato chips and greeting cards and 5.99 DVDs and frozen fish-sticks and National Enquirers and Marlburo Lights and so on suddenly turns into the only art gallery in town.  Cushioned within the nest of everything is a homemade paean/poster for The Hunger Games Part 2:  Catching Fire.  It has a careful hand about it, a deluxe attention to detail, and I'm wondering who took the time to do this?  Did he/she get paid, or was it on his/her own time?  A lonely high school art student with a gorgeously overheated fantasy life, or a middle-aged guy with too much time on his hands because he lost his last job because of a DUI and now all he can get is a part-time gig bagging groceries but he's also kind of talented (etc.)?  It doesn't matter.  It's just there, and when I see it I'm happy, don't know why -- except maybe because it is a release from the world of design and packaging and the onslaught of what needs to be bought.  It has a delicacy that makes you understand what being a fan of something is.  I couldn't really ever bring myself to go see Catching Fire at the movies, but I'll probably see it on TV and burst into tears thinking of this dumb/brilliant poster.  I don't know.  That's just the way it is.   

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Last to Know


We stumbled into Orchid's, a restaurant on the ground floor of the Omni Netherlands Hotel a couple Fridays ago.  It's one of those places in downtown Cincinnati you should know about, but Bill and I are always the last to know somehow, which is the way I like it.  That way you're always amazed.  It's a 4-star restaurant with a plush art-deco interior, all smooth maroons and creams and marble and brass, and when you enter you feel both charmed and on the verge of disappearing.  It has ghostliness, a feeling that something has been lost and never replaced, but it's that very lack that makes the atmosphere plush, spilling over into your thoughts while you drink you drink and start to feel encapsulated by the presence of what used to be here and kind still is but not.  We sat at the bar and a middle-aged man played "Someone to Watch Over Me" on the guitar on a marble-ensconced stage, and it was heaven.  You want to sink into that moment, first sip, first slipping away.  It's dark, the lighting old-school elegant, frosted and  blurry so that every bottle and glass seems to glow.  You could just slide into that light, the alcohol vaporizing into your blood in that preliminary tingling, and then there you'd be again, perfectly still, satiny, like a pillow on the floor in one of the beautiful hotel-rooms above.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

What Kind of Party Is This?

"Dance of the Happy Shades" is one of those short stories that has a meaning and sentiment so effortlessly deep you almost have to reread it to grasp its gravity, and to remember it in all its glory.  In fact I remember reading it way back in the day, when I was trying to teach myself how to write, and I think it must have left a radioactive pellet in my brain.   Reading it again the other day felt like some kind of secret and gorgeous electro shock therapy.  I was bawling by the denouement.  That power comes from the tenacity of the voice, a chatty but sharp and almost grim evocation of a sad, sad party in which Miss Marsalles, an elderly piano teacher, shows off the students she is teaching with a sandwiches-and-punch recital in her home. 
The plot follows the day all the way through in the point of view of one of her students who isn't impressed, and whose mother seems almost disgusted by Miss Marselles' lack of cleanliness, and by the fact that she is old and unmarried and living with her sister who just had a stroke.  Miss Marselles' home, her sandwiches, her flat purple punch all contribute to a drab, melancholy atmosphere that gets somehow exonerated with the appearance of children from a "special school."  Miss Marselles visits them and teaches them at the school, and she includes them in her recital without making a big deal out of it.  But all the other mothers and children seem shocked by their sudden appearance.  And when one of them, Dolores Boyles, a "a girl as big as I am, a long-legged, rather thin and plaintive-looking girl with blonde, almost white hair," sits down and plays the piano with strange and undeniable grace, the room changes, as does the way we suddenly have access to Miss Marselles' soul.  All the peripherals disappear.  The piano teacher's life comes into focus in such a grand and succinct way we suddenly understand what it means to actually be alive without having to struggle with ego and meanness and self delusion.  We know what it means to live within a self-imposed realm of grace and kindness.  
It takes the appearance of a "freak" like Dolores Boyles to show us how to release Miss Marsalles from the category the narrator wants to consign her to.  Dolores Boyles is also released.  The representation of both in that moment has a magical matter-of-factness:  "Miss Marselles sits beside the piano and smiles at everybody in her usual way.  Her smile is not triumphant, or modest.  She does not look like a magician who is watching people's faces to see the effect of a rather original revelation -- nothing like that.  You would think, now that at the very end of her life she has found someone whom she can teach -- whom she must teach -- to play the piano, she would light up with the importance of this discovery.  But it seems that the girl's playing like this is something she always expected, and she finds it natural and satisfying; people who believe in miracles do not make much fuss when they actually encounter one."
That's all I ever want when I try to write:  that sense of complete understanding delivered without decoration or apology, just given to us like a letter from a saner and more poetic plane of existence.