Monday, May 22, 2006

Media as the Lorelei

The doer of good

The original story "the doer of good" by oscar wilde (
was excellent but only told half the story. I decided to write the other half to make up for it.

It was night time and He was alone. And He saw afar-off the walls of a round city and went towards the city. And when He came near He heard within the city the tread of the feet of joy, and the laugh of the mouth of seeming-gladness and the loud noise of many lutes. And He knocked at the gate and certain of the gate-keepers opened to him. And He beheld a house that was of marble and had fair pillars of marble before it. The pillars were hung with garlands, and within and without there were torches of cedar. And He entered the house.
And when He had passed through the hall of Chalcedony and the hall of jasper, and reached the long hall of feasting, He saw lying on the couch of sea purple one whose hair was crowned with red roses and whose lips were red with wine.
And He went behind him and touched him on the shoulder and said to him, “Why do you live like this?” And the dolor in his eyes dimmed the beauty of the palace.
And the young man turned around and seemed to recognized Him, and made answer and said, “But I was a leper once, and you healed me. How else should I live?”
He spake not a word but sought out a chalice of deep red wine. And He dipped His finger in it and did make with it on the ivory table some short marks, and, lo, the wine did turn to blood and root itself firmly in the table, so that no man could remove the writing.
And the young man did rise with composure to read what He had written. And he did blanche and tremble forth with at what they signified.
And He passed out of the house and went again into the street.
And after a little while He saw one whose face and raiment were painted and whose feet were shod with pearls. And behind her came, slowly as a hunter, a young man who wore a cloak of two colors. Now the face of the woman was as the fair face of an idol, and the eyes of the young man were bright with lust. And He followed them swiftly and touched the hand of the young man and said to him, “Why do you look at this woman and in such wise?” And the young man turned around and seemed to recognize Him and said, “But I was blind once, and you gave me sight. At what else should I look?”
And He touched the cloak of two colors and, lo, it came undone at the seams and fell in two ribbons at his feet. “Verily unto you I say, dawn of sun over night I have given you without seeking your gainsay, but this my next gift is for you to keep an you chose. Be no more known by your cloak of duplicity and be whole.”
And he leaned and whispered in the ear of the young man such words of wisdom as did make his eyes start and fall in thought.
And the young man remained in pensive stance as He ran forward and touched the painted raiment of the woman and said to her, “Is there no other way in which to walk save the way of sin?”
And the woman turned and seemed to recognize Him, and laughed and said, “But you forgave me my sins, and the way is a pleasant way.”
And He knelt at her feet and grasped a pebble in His hand and showed it to her and wiped it clean and threw it into the mud anew. Then He took her hand and touched the pearls and spoke, “The pearls I meant for you were not of this ilk, indeed this would not bear up in the company of even the least of them but would have been placed in the street to keep proper company.” And He bent her head and bestowed on her forehead the blessing-kiss
And he passed out of the city.
And when He passed out of the city He saw seated by the roadside a young man who was weeping.
And He went towards him and touched the long locks of his hair and said to him, “Why are you weeping?”
And the young man looked up and recognized Him and made answer, “But I was dead once and you raised me from the dead, what else should I do but weep?”And He responded “Why what else but dance, laugh, sing, shout, for you and I alone among men have seen past the dark shroud and know the bright beauty of the unknown! Speak of what you have seen to no man, for it is useless. But live the life you glimpsed past the great divide and draw the denizens of this world into the next, for we must strive to live in both worlds.”
And the young man made answer, “But I weep because I am mortal and will forget, The sins of my past will regrow their old luster as this new world becomes a distant memory than present fact to me.”
And He threw his arms around him in comradely fashion and spake unto him, “But I will visit you often as I do now. I have many babes here in this valley that need my teaching. You will not always recognize me, but I am there al the same. What say you? Thrice have I met with disappointment and vanquished it by planting the seed whose flower blooms eternally. But they have need of the water of your testimony. Will you weep and despair, or will you hope?”
And the young man threw of his cloak of mourning and sped towards the town with the light of day on his countenance.

And it happened that he met one dressed in simple garments sitting at the gates of a large house. And he heard the sound of joy coming from the house and he saw dancing mirth in the eyes of the young man. And as he walked by the young man called out to him and beseeched him to stay and take council with him.
And he stayed and they took council together. And the one with red lips spake unto and said, “It has not been many nights since I took up my vigil here. The Lord of this house is expected to return at any time and I do not wish to be taken by surprise a second time.” And he said unto him, “But surly this merrymaking will not be to your masters’ taste, if he returns and finds the household in the throes of celebration and not in preparation?”
“Verily, I say, he has already come and done so. Much to my shame he appeared but a fortnight ago and found me in the midst of all those luxuries whose innocence is their danger. I recognized Him but knew Him not. And He asked of me wherefore I lived in the manner I did. I made answer and spake that it was because He had healed my of my malady that I now partook of all that was pleasurable in the world. He spake not a word to me but drew on the table these words in His very blood: Now that you know the truth, your sins be upon your own head. Friend, I trembled at the sight of my doom, and hastened to make amends. I have been sitting here ever since, hoping I might catch Him as He passed by. But find Him I could not, and the food and wine I had prepared as my atonement feast were going to waste. And it happened that a beggar, being exceedingly exposed to the elements, passes by in such extremities of cold that I hastened him to my table and had him fed. And then I reasoned it would be for naught to turn away any who seemed so distressed when I had plenty, and that tainted eternally by the memory of the sins I committed with it. And so the beggars and the destitute and the paupers have been eating and drinking my food and wine, and they have been dancing my dances, to the accompaniment of my musicians, for I have had enough of such things for now”
And the weeper asked him fervently if he too could enter in and see such a thing.
And the one with vine leaves in his hair answered him that he could.
The doors were held open for him and he entered into the courtyard of fountains and his eyes fell on a beggar dressed in tattered robes. And the beggar raised his head and, lo, it was He and his eyes sparkled with merriment.
And the weeper left the house of rejoicing and made his way into town.
And it came to pass that he was assailed in the streets by ruffians and a stranger rescued him from his plight. And the stranger wore a green coat all of one color.
And the stranger would accept nothing for his deed and laughed that he had all he needed, speaking “I have seen the dawning of the day to the soul as surly as I have seen the dawning of the sun. And what could you possibly offer that can compare?” And the weeper looked behind the stranger and saw Him smiling as he walked past.
And he left the stranger in the street and ran to follow Him.
And the weeper continued though the town and saw coming toward him a woman of surpassing beauty, her face shone liken to that of a pagan idol and the beauty of her was terrible to see. And the weeper looked on her and was distressed, for her eyes were milky stone and no life was in them. He looked and trembled for here was one who had seen and heard and understood and yet chose a path of a different nature to walk. Truly, the weeper though unto himself, here is reason for weeping indeed. And he walked past her with a sadness in his heart.

An excerpt on eating out


He walks into his diner. His because it owns him... It is where he has deposited all of his memories. Hidden in the warped windows and bent cutlery, stashed away in the regulars who listen to him when it’s his turn to share.. He confides in them, tells them of meeting Julie, of wooing Julie, marrying Julie. Now he comes to finish the story. Its 8.00 o’clock in the morning and business is slow, the silence emphasized, not softened, by the soft tinklings and gurglings coming from the kitchen behind him. He’ll have time to think and plan. He sits down, third booth on the left. His favorite spot, his trusted friend, a loyal companion, with him through good times and bad. He orders a cup of coffee, an omelet, no onions, no peppers, but plenty of seasoning. He pulls out the newspaper folded in his coat pocket. Routine stuff, really, he’s been doing it for ages, but today it feels alien, wrong, as if he has stolen another man’s ration of hours. The morning sunlight, too bright and too cheerful. The coffee tasted too much like coffee, not enough like comfort.
“Today is a first”, he thinks. “A miserable first in a long list of miserables” The next first would be walking out of here, out of this diner, this bomb shelter, and walk past the little hardware store, to survey the damage done by the bomb that was Julie. Walk past it, not to it, not kiss Julie goodbye as she went to work. That would be miserable. He sits and talks to his memories, a broken man in a lonely booth.
“Come back, come back to me” he whispers. But he’s not so sure he wants her back now.
The coffee has gone cold, he puts it down. The diner is deserted. His mind is deserted. He wishes he had kept more things to remember. Written things down. Now he tries to remember who he is and what he does and why he does it and Julie has taken it all with her. The memories are burned out, the section of his mind cleared by a burning brand. All he can find is scorched space and a name emblazed over and over again, in endless repetition. What had she done to him? She had loved him and then stopped. That was all. That was everything and he can’t get past it. He gives up on the coffee and reaches for the omelet. No use, it’s too much like all the mornings they used to spend together. He gives up and reaches for his wallet. Which he left in the car. His head needs examining. A tired man rises from his booth.
“Burt, I’m going to get my wallet from the car.” He raises his voice but not enough to be sure he has been heard. “Sorry, I can’t seem to keep track of things lately.” Burt nods his head and smiles. He hears the actions if not the words. Burt understands because his Julie left him years ago. He sees Burt’s offered comfort and flinches because it is a blow to his pride. He can’t stand Burt’s attempt at brotherhood. “Be right back” he mumbles and leaves. Another miserable in a long line of miserables. It would be an eternity of dull agony locked in a day. And then another and another. Long years stretched barren before him.

She stands alone at the bus station in a crowd of people. “I am an island in the middle of infinite seas” She thinks. Don’t look; don’t look at me she silently intones to the people milling around her. Walk through me, look past me, I am not here.” Her bloodshot eyes are staring hard at the large broken tile she happens to be standing on. If only, If only I could shrink down into that crack. If only I could make my home in there forever, and say goodbye to this world of cold metal and colder hearts. I could live of off crumbs dropped by birds and unknowing travelers. She smiles to herself, and the red of her lipstick makes her mouth look like her hand had slipped in applying it and sliced her mouth open, exposing the bleeding gums. It veered of to the side. All her makeup seemed to have been applied with a shaky hand. It made her look as if she wasn’t quite there, a ripple in the air, a mirage from another world and if you didn’t stare straight at her all the time she would disappear. Her eyes are live coals burning, burning and she is struggling to free herself from the source of the blaze. A bus rolls in between the yellow markers, she glances up, tightening her grip on the imitation Dooney and Burkes traveling bag she holds prisoner between her shoulder and chest. It is battered and the edges show the plastic through the thin sophistication. “Like my life” She sighs, and exhales hope. The bus opens its doors with a sudden increase in noise.
It startles her and she begins to move, her balloon of warm illusions popped. “This far I get and never farther” Again she finds she cannot make herself take that great step into the unknown. Back to her half life she must go, back to the night and all that it chooses to shelter, the half formed, misshapen people. Insides rotten away. Back to the streets tinted red and the ladies tainted blue. Back, back, back, back, a rhyme begins in her head, rolling the words around and around in her head, until they form a heavy pendulum in her brain, crashing and hurting and mocking as it swings along its cumbersome way. She grabs hold of the pole standing behind the bench, just to keep from falling as she stumbles away from freedom. She knows there is a line as impassable as it is invisible stretched across the pavement between that door and her poor soul. “Why would this time have been any different? Why can I only get this far? Oh someone help me, please, you must reach out to me and save me, pull me out across that line…” Shrugging her shoulders she puts these thoughts forcibly from her. It is not easy. Hope, despair clinging to her still, she starts to walk away, taking short, clipped steps. Her eyes cloud over as her steps become stronger. The burning is driven deeper into the hidden alleyways of her soul. Banked, but smoldering, waiting. Soon her hips begin to swing and her arms relax their iron grip. She is in focus now. In control, saucy and confident. The rhyme in her head has slowed to an almost imperceptible whisper “ coward, coward, coward, coward” She can hear it always, wispy strands floating through mind and soul, reminding her of all those times she could have ended it. She promises it things, extravagant things, if only it would be quiet. Her hand moves from her side, to her bag where she feels the hard outline of a small medicinal bottle through the cloth. See, she intones, see what I keep there always? I will use it one day, the great day, the day I fly away”

A striking woman dressed in short skirt and high heels walks away from the bus stop, cool confidence, she is in control. The same women, suddenly fragile, turns and in all desperation runs to the bus as it rolls away. Stumbling, hurrying the child is revealed. The passengers see her but do not realize the importance of this action. Their eyes slide past her and consigned her to oblivion. The bus driver sees her and stops. She walks in as if propelled by a mighty wind, all stiff and wood like, out of breath and almost out of courage. The doors close behind her with a bang and she grips her bag with both hands, tight.

“Do you know what love is?” Said she, as he walked into the diner. She was sitting in his usual spot by the window, coffee and omelets replaced with tea and buttered bread.

“Err... What?” He said, flustered. He’d never seen this woman before. Must have come in on the bus. He’d watched it pull away as he’d backed his pickup in.

She stopped her private thoughts long enough to look at him, for the first time. He’s local, and confused, but a man and she needs to know. The answer is important. Key-to-the-future important, only she doesn’t know why.
“Well, do you? She said, wiping the crumbs of her meal from her lap. She blinked rapidly, and her head jerks to the side as she speaks.

He’d once come upon a nest of baby birds, they’d bobbed their heads the same way, displaying such vulnerability. He smiled gently, as he had done with the birds, and spoke “sure I do” He says. Somehow he feels the same need to protect this strange woman, unknown to him. Even if it meant lying to her. No... No lie. He does believe in love. He lives in too much pain to deny the existence of love.

Her hand strays from her lap to her eyes, brushing something hard and sparkling from them. She purses her lips and glances up.

Her face looks hazy, he thinks. He sees the makeup that has become undone. He’s sure she has heard him. “Look” He starts; his hand is on the back of the seat, fidgeting nervously with a long tear in the black plastic covering. He smiles as he remembers how it got there… Julie, slipping, two years ago and when he was still … He smiles at the memory.

She sees him hesitate and smile, and connects the two in the only way she knows how “Oh, no...” Her heart stops for the longest of seconds. Not another one, not another out to prey on her mind, feed on her body. Not another one to use her just to scratch an itch. Not now. Not again. Not ever! She feels the tears rise out of the emptiness gaping inside her. In her mind she is holding on to the edge of sanity, teetering on the brink. A whisper, the faintest breath of air would push her over the edge. Her hand falls to her bag and the outline of a small bottle. End it. End it now. There is nothing new, you fool. All is the same. All is pain, just escape, make it final, do it NOW!

He must have said the wrong thing. He used to be so much better at this. Julie had paralyzed him. Julie’s leaving had finished him. He sends out a yearning call to her, wherever she was. “Julie, Julie come back. You’ve taken too much of me with you” He tries to make it up. He could see she was about to cry . The darkness of the smeared mascara made her eyes look big and sad. With a start he realizes she is frightened. Funny. She’d seemed so confident when she’d spoken first. He notices how her bare shoulders were hunched together and her hands had begun to fly up and down her pale arms. Or maybe she was just cold? Suddenly he starts. An epiphany. . The clothing, the mask of makeup, the question. It makes sense to him now, as it should have as soon as he walked through the door. If she hadn’t startled him by being in Julie’s usual chair, he would have figured it out. He’d done it again, made a fool out of himself. She didn’t want his help…she wanted his business, didn’t she? Isn’t this what they are supposed to look at? HE didn’t know. Julie had always mocked his naiveté. He feels embarrassed, tongue-tied. But she’s staring at him now. What to do? What to do? He reaches for his coat pocket and removes his wallet.

She sees the wallet in his hand. Her eyes deaden, losing the sparkle the tears had lent them. Her face, deathlike, freezes. All except two small teardrops that slice like knives down her cheeks. Would she never escape? Never be seen as anything else? Her resolution was slipping away. Her plan, like her makeup was starting to run together. Dripping down her mind and running out her eyes. She remembers the first liar she knew, how he had promised and lied and quoted and cajoled and lied, lied, lied, lied… She could not hold back her tears. They course down her cheeks, faster and faster, years of pain all in a puddle on the table.

He frowns as he sees her cry, black streaks running down her cheeks. If only he knew why she was crying, was she really what she seemed? What if she wasn’t? A moment of doubt assailed him. The picture matched, but the voice, so hopeless and forlorn! And her hands, clutching her battered purse, as if in hope of salvation. She’s looking around; maybe she really does need help. Oh well. He might as well make a complete fool out of himself. Forcing his nervous hand to move steady, he places the wallet in his back pocket, and takes of his coat, shacking it out as he does. It was large and utilitarian, patched in one or two areas, his trusted work coat, old, loved and not very clean. Hesitantly, he offers it to the quivering girl.
“You look cold” Is all he gives her with it. He sees her struggle, hears the voice so desperate and small, so fading as if her own true self was speaking through the layers of hardened cynicism: “It would have been kinder if you had just offered to pay me”

It would have been, it truly would have. It would have given her the change to make it feel as if it were just another business transaction, supply on demand. She wouldn’t be tricked again; she wouldn’t believe again that kindness needs no other motive. “ It would have been fair” No illusions, what you see is what you get, don’t trick me, don’t treat me like I’m normal, I’m not, I’m a.. What am I? A drug? An addiction? Is there really a me, or just my body, just a product to use and discard? Suddenly she wants very much to be overweight, to be plain, and to be prudish, anything but what she is.
She is weeping freely now and her face is a mesh of prison bars, keeping him out behind the waterfall. She keeps the coat. Resolutions flown, reality accepted. There is no second chance. Just her body and the pain in her heart. And the bottle. The bottle will always be there, waiting.
Then she realizes that he hasn’t made a move since she spoke. How long had she been crying? She shivers because she is cold, cold as the wind in winter and chilled both inside and out. She shrugs the coat on. At least she can warm some of her.

And he is standing there, Just looking at her. For the first time since he walked through the door he notices her bruises, the paleness behind the makeup, He sees the artificial structure of her clothes, giving her body a shape that was not naturally hers and therefore unpleasant. He pictures her briefly in jeans and a tee, compares her to Julie, and is surprised to find he made her quite attractive, in her suburban makeover. He smiles, has a plan.
“ Look, I don’t know who you are or what’s going on, but I do know that you need help. I’ve been there, well, not there really, but…” he stalled but she had tilted her head to the side, a tired and confused bird. A bird, now there was a good description. Small, fragile, elusive.
He took a deep breath. “Well, I just think that this town could use a fresh face, and it’s as good a place to start over as any…” He’s babbling, watching his plan become garbled as they pass from the realm of thought into the world of too many words. He stops and looks at her, watching for the effect of his words. Did she understand that he was trying to throw out a rope to her? “What are you good at? I mean as a marketable skill?”

She laughs, a harsh cold knife thrust, and waves a hand over the painstakingly crafted artwork that was her body.
”You’re looking at the only marketable skill I’ve got”. There. She’d said it. Killed it. This crazy hope she had let build up for to long. She hears the siren song of hope he is holding out, but it is too late. She is too tired to find new things to believe in.

It makes him pause for a second, this open despairing confession. It wasn’t her words, but her tone, her laugh, shutting out all she was hearing. Her own words were the gates slammed down on the phoenix rising from the ashes deep in her heart. He plunks down opposite her, forgetting that he had vowed never to sit in that seat again. He looks her straight in the eye and laughs right back. An eager laugh that was the morning to her night.
“Well, we all have to learn somewhere, right? Pete Selders is looking for a cashier, he owns a tiny little shop, sells mostly nuts and bolts, just him and his kids there now since Pam died. I could put in a good word for ya. No questions about past jobs, I promise!” He stares straight at her, his chin in his hand and dares her to swat that away, to resist the urge to grab on with all her might and save herself. He feels almost jubilant, confidant for the first time in months. He watches the battlefield with interest. He is helping someone else and is delighted to find that it is himself being healed.

She’s drowning. No, surging up through and over and out of this suffocating river. The struggle is hard, she keeps fighting the undertow. But the movement is upwards, and the fight is exhilarating. It is life! She breaks the surface and laughs, in surprise at this hope that burbles and gurgles in her, so strong, as if each temporary death has doubled its strength. She is reaching, reaching…
She can feel air again through her hair, the brassy kiss of freedom and turning to the east she sees the sun resplendent over the gloom that had been her life. She looks up and laughs again,
The whisper floating to the table from her lips has all the triumph of the trumpet blast over battle victorious
‘Sure, I’d appreciate it”
And her hands relax their grip on her bag and all it contains. Freedom.

They meet, occasionally. He goes in to buy some supplies and he makes sure she’s o.k. She goes into the diner once or twice a month to check up on him. She’s married now, has a few kids. Her husband doesn’t know what she had to do to survive before the cashiering job, and she’ll never tell him. In that way she’s not entirely free, but she’s satisfied. She threw away the medicinal bottle.
He has a job, he has friends, he has her. He gets invited to Sunday diners at her house every two months or so.
They never talk about that day he met her or the changes it brought about in their lives. They don’t need to. Just knowing the other knows is enough. They just sit in the window booth and talk and laugh. She sits in Julie’s place all the time now, and he doesn’t mind. Because he’s making new memories now, good ones. And, when she finally had a son, she named it after him.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

the start.

I realized that I've been out of touch with so many people for so long that I don't even know where to start in catching up. So I thought I would try to set up a site where friends and family can catch up and read the latest as it happens. Mostly then I won't be in the akward position of forgetting to tell important people about important events.