Sunday, December 14, 2008

The End Of Time

As I near the end of my own time, Updike's Toward The End Of Time provides a kind of reference point for me. I've outlived Harry Angstrom. Ben Turnbull, 66-year-old ex-financier, failing in body and mind, is my benchmark now.

Ben lives in an alternate future that features Al Gore as a former President, nuclear war with China, the collapse of the federal government and security services from FedEx. The latter makes sense. They have the trucks and people, and they know the neighborhoods. I've often thought FedEx or UPS should deliver our bombs for us. Problem is, I suppose, that, as international corporations, they might take contracts from other countries, too, maybe even contracts to turn around in mid-flight and drop our bombs on us.

One of the permissions Updike gives us is to treat fiction as fiction. After all, centaurs and witches are no more or less believable than FedEx providing security in the absence of police or rich, old Ben Turnbull, consorting with teenage whores as he works through a dying marriage and approaches his inevitable confrontation with impotence and incontinence, unless death intervenes first.

Updike lives in and writes about a privileged world, and he keeps some of that world's secrets, even while revealing others. One of its closest held secrets is that there are skilled surgeons, doctors with a touch so precise they can remove a diseased prostate without damaging the nerves that effect continence and erections.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Connections

The third graders put on a short version of The Nutcracker tonight. In one of the dances, the kids wore tea cups on their heads, reminding me of the last time I saw Ross K.

Ross is a friend of my wife's parents, and, at dinner a couple of years ago, right before Ross went into a nursing home for Alzheimer's patients, he ate his dessert with his coffee cup sitting on his head.

In Japan, Zen is practiced mainly by old people who have finished their work in the world and can afford to be more spontaneous than the rest of us. In Japan, Ross might have become a Zen Master. Here, he ended up in a room with a poster of a bookcase covering his door so he wouldn't walk out.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Real Cities

All my life, I've tried to live and work in what I call "real" cities, or close enough to one to use it.

I've tried to avoid cities that don't have all the things I think a real city should have.

First off, the city has to be located on an ocean, the Gulf of Mexico or a Great Lake. No smaller lake and no river will do. Then, it has to have the major sports: football, baseball and basketball. Since I grew up a long time ago in the South, I give cities a pass on hockey and soccer. But they have to have an opera, a symphony, a good art museum and some theater. I think those eight things are essential.

I went to college and worked in a couple of land-locked Texas cities, and I spent some time working in Washington, D.C., but I was never really happy in those places. I missed the big water.

If I made a list of real countries, I wonder if America would be on it. What would a list of eight things a real country has to have look like?

Growing up in America, I never doubted we were a real country. I still remember coming home, after spending several years in Europe. I flew into New Jersey, and I was amazed at the amount of street lighting and the number of pay phones in America, compared to Europe. Thinking about the enormous wealth the consumption of that much electricity required, I felt proud to be an American, happy to be back home.