All aboard. People I very much appreciate:

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

First Of April --Sneeze Alert

When did April Fools Day begin? Some say it precedes the Roman Empire, but I am a strict historian and declare the year still under discussion. The month, however, I have, through exhaustive research, pinned down to April. Earliest record connecting 1st April and foolishness is in Chaucer's, The Canterbury Tales, not the volume that appeared in 1392 , but the earlier "scratch and sniff" edition (to which some are allergic). It's in the pumphouse somewhere, along with other enigmatic curiosities of the Geo.archive. Achoo:

"You've been in the pumphouse. I smell it."
"Norma, it's the only place I can keep my archive protected and orderly."
"Orderly? You never clean out there."
"Any disturbance to my filing system would throw history into chaos."
"But that box has an inch of dust on it!"
"Precisely an inch? That would be May of '96. Can you photograph a few slides?"
"Only a few, before I start sneezing. This one first?"
"Ewww, he's holding a dead cat."
"Shhh, this is where the essay begins!"
"I'll photo the others now...achoo!"

Now, to begin this scholarly essay in an academically acceptable manner, I shall say soberly, Ewww, He's holding a dead cat. The delivery boy has apparently introduced, into this 19th century home, an enigma. Father is puzzled. Mother and daughter share a giddy secret --they have perpetrated an April Fool joke, a crude one requiring much preparation, sadism and some expense. The scene does not pleasantly reward further speculation. Let's proceed to the next.
The party has got out of hand. Mr. Bottomley gets quarrelsome. Someone has swooned on the swooning couch. A footstool has overturned! Doubtless a constable will be summoned and there will be ructions, I tell you, ructions! Bottomley will be branded an ass. But Miss Longshanks' heroic brother will prosper, live long and someday sing basso in Peter, Paul and Mary. Let us proceed:
It is evident that a favorite female parlor pastime was painting the faces of men who had fallen asleep.
It is a recreation that, considering my own meditation habits, I am glad has passed from vogue. Some follies were not so gentle:
Consider the angry father ready to throttle the hired boy who climbs a sawbuck to give the daughter a kiss --recreating perhaps a folly from the old man's own youth. Ah, fathers, affectionately called Dad or Poppa, Pa or any variation consistent with the word left off the next view:
"Snores just like..." We can, as can every family that bought a copy of this card, readily furnish a name to complete the caption, much to everyone's delight except Pa, who falls asleep in church, and feels pleasantly foolish in the fun. April Fool is a celebration, not of our immunity from folly, but our survival under its influence.

Sometime during his long and productive life, Herbert Spencer wrote, "The ultimate effect of shielding men from folly is to fill the world with fools."  It would seem that process is always underway. It is a source of measureless comfort to us men everywhere, everywhen. 

On the behalf of my gender and our species, I wish all humanity a happy April Fools' Day!

3/31? Close enough.



Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Virtual Reality

"They hand in hand with wandering steps and slow, / Through Eden took their solitary way." Dante Alighieri (canto 3:62-63)
                                             [Illustration, Gustave Dore for Paradise Lost]
Among the most mysterious enigmas of modern life is the concept of virtual reality. It is a term invented by quantum physicists to describe the cloud of electrical charges that surround anything extant in the present moment --swarming its history and futurity. Our conscious minds are miraculous tools capable of selecting, among possibly infinite quanta, realities that best include us. We navigate our solitary ways through time. What we select, consciously or unconsciously but act upon deliberately, composes our real histories. Arguably, much of human existence is occupied with learning how to have a past, how to make it work to our best advantage and the good of our kind.

At this juncture, happily, virtual reality is not so serious as all that. It is a recreational enhancement of mass communications --but still instructive to us in our awkward and oily phase of evolution. One thing solidly certain about it is it requires 3-dimensional observables. This is accomplished by exploiting observers' binocular vision by technology that induces crosseyedness in sober people. I own an early version of such a device:

The philosophical instrument in the foreground is a Holmes Stereoscope. It transmits the impression of image depth by consistent adherence to epipolar geometry throughout the photographic process: two offset cameras; two wedge-shaped lenses in the stereoscope. Oliver Wendell Holmes never patented his excellent viewer (c.1840), based on work by Sir Chas. Wheatstone (one of the most elegant thinkers ever) and Brewster --I forget his first name, but he is responsible for the lenticular glass wedgie. 

The card in my scope is one used in illustration for a poem I posted earlier on Invalid's Workshop, entitled Let Us Be As Choo-choos Now. Lookie:

Let Us Be As Choo-choos Now

The line winds among
Meadows, mountains,
As rhythm moves us
Through day and night,
Between shadows and
Fountains  of  light,
Between trees and boulders.
Let us be as choo-choos
Now, shoveling steam
Over  our  shoulders.
You can see the offset images and use imagination on the right-hand image, which always seems to be the clearer in stereoviews, to imagine the plume from the locomotive rising from the little valley and dispersing in a gentle breeze up the hill toward us. I believe there is a science under construction that enables us to deduce what was going on in old photos and intend to apply my considerable collection toward this misapprehension. Yes, after six years of blogging, I am ready to reopen the long-undisturbed vaults of the Geo.archive --which dates back hundreds of years. Run!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Much Improved

After all the medical adjustments of last month, I am pleased to announce I am much improved. Norma took a picture:
It is not, unfortunately, a "before" picture but an "after" one. However, the results are encouraging. I am much healthier than I was ten years ago. I remember having to go to the hospital for heart catheterization, which is a diagnostic procedure involving big needles and my femoral artery. A pleasant little Portuguese lady entered the room ahead of that to shave off  my pubic hair --until hospital security burst in and ran her off. To this day, nobody knows who she was. I am Portuguese too and am perhaps less troubled by such things.

Nor am I troubled by Norma's enigmatic encouragement over the past decade: "I plan to fix you up a bit more before I sell you." I consider this on a level of affection consistent with my grandmother's gentle voice from childhood, "Eu te amo. Não fique piolhos (I love you. Don't get lice)."
I may have a crazy cross-eyed Houdini head now but am much improved. Or perhaps this is the "before" picture. Let's see, Corbis/Bettmann, 1918...Yes, it is. And clearly, there are many incentives for improvement. There is much yet to be done in this electronic age. Someone must invent personal drones to airlift us out of unfortunate locations, sensors to open our front and back gates to let low-flying aircraft through our yards and, of course, edible batteries to keep pollution from our landfills. So many reasons to stay healthy, and I intend to do just that.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Audiffred, Magicians and T-shirts, Oh My!

Some mornings, one wakes up in parts of the brain that have got piled with unaddressed mysteries, a mental lumber room in which lower artifacts are ruining underneath and upper strata are accessable only by funicular.  Choice of actions narrows to dusting, organizing, sorting, cataloguing or simply kicking stuff until a path is cleared to liberty. I always choose the latter. The three items assembled into this post were dragged out so I could get the door shut. 
There are ripples in space-time that permit enigmas to go unchallenged in conspicuous places. One of them is on the waterfront in San Francisco. At the corner of Mission and Embarcadero, among modern highrise buildings --I first noticed it while staying at the Rincon Center 20 years ago-- is a remarkable example.

File:Audiffred Building (San Francisco) by Sanfranman59

Hippolite d’ Audiffred was living in Mexico spang in the middle of the 1800s . By 1865, what with  Emperor Maximillian and one thing and another, Hippolite felt a bit jumpy being French in Mexico. He bought a donkey, loaded it, and walked from Vera Cruz to San Francisco for exercise and  health.

Hippolite prospered and, in the 1880s, exploited this spacetime ripple to materialize a Second-Empire Parisian style building on the waterfront lot, complete with Mansard roof and high railed deck. It is still there, across the street from the Ferry Plaza. Also, still, there is the phantom figure on the roof, discernible in the detail below.  I do not know when it first appeared, but reckon it's been there quite a while. 

I drew this doodle of it while waiting for the bus to Emeryville:

I do not think it is the ghost of Audiffred because it proves, upon close inspection, to be a man in a chef's hat and pajamas gutting a haddock on the deck of a spacial-temporal ripple.  When I got home, I Googled gutting haddock on the deck of the ripple and got such a screenload of alternatve biography that I had to travel back to 1949 and modify the zodiac. This leads to our next enigma, turtle doves.

We are accustomed to seeing every variety of stout-bodied Columbidae appear out of top hats and sleeves, even thin air, during magic shows. The magician is a master of his... HIS? Why are there so few female stage magicians? I am almost old enough to think yet can't recall a single female magician, can you? Don't cheat now --I didn't-- and let's not pretend this has escaped our notice. I have been bombarded by every advertisement and bought the same tickets you have, but have not seen a female magician. Why? I asked the highest  authority.

Norma said, "It's a neglected part of rebellion against the Puritan ethic. Wizards were men retained by leaders for counsel and power but witches were burnt. Who wants to get burnt?" Can this be so? I think of dancers, who also dress in top hats and tails, like magicians, and remember what Ginger Rogers said: "I did everything Fred Astaire did -- except backwards and in high heels."

I must tell you, I fear I've got into deep waters here --not an entirely safe post-- but look forward to any discussion it might induce. Yet, and yet, now that it concludes, I am most curious about why we brush our hair and then, only afterwards, decide to put a different t-shirt on. Enigmas are endless --good thing too.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

That Barn Cat! And Other Enigmas

Sunday Sermon:
Received card above in yesterday's post from Dept. of Animal Care & Regulation --formerly known as the Branch Pound-- and was genuinely glad to see our animal control facility abandoning euthanizing gas in favor of finding employment for intransigent cats.  Like all men, I have always been in favor of expelling gas and it's good to see a dream come true. Gas is far more appropriate in vehicles than animal control, as the following conversation attests:

 "I have to go buy plywood. We need to be anywhere?"

"I'm not sure. How long will you be gone?"

"The whole time, I guess."

These are enigmas settled without special effort, encountered by chance in the course of everyday life, but they are important and instructive. They reflect no disturbance --what does that mean? To disbelieve the misconception that opposing sides of an issue are incapable of workable compromise, that's what. I do not approve of humans (or cats) settling for mutual exclusivism. I mean, people and cats both aspire to look their bests, but what if everybody looked better than everybody else including themselves, hah? What would we have then?
                                        ["Aerial Hollywood Sign" by Jelson25 - Licensed under
                                         Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons ]

You see how these things can get out of hand? Lot of plywood went into that sign. Message is, if your local animal shelter has a surfeit of unemployed Barn Cats, help them with their load. Mice will return to the field and remain there if you keep the cats working. I pity the cute little mice, surely, but do not want them coveting our pantry unopposed. That's in the Ten Commandments about coveting your neighbor's cheese, I think. Your regular pastor will return after ski-season in Hell, which froze over this winter. I will be substituting elsewhere next Sunday or until the police arrive, but until and forever shall be, go thou and do likewise.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Temporal Enigma And Poppy

This post may be considered a public service announcement. When I gardened public places, I got a T.B. skin test or chest xray every 2 years and continued the process into retirement. But recently, I learned a high school 10 miles away turned up 16 active cases among its student body. So I couldn't write a time-travel post without that cautionary element. Good idea to get checked next medical visit.

The nickelplate telephone chimed!
"Hello? Please state temporal and geographic coordinates."

"Geo., its Poppy. Am I interrupting?"

 "No, I've received neither email nor comment. Alas, Poppy, it appears nobody loves me, and you?"

"I'm in Paris, or sort of outside Paris. I don't know. I think it's maybe 1885 or 86."

"What's happened?"

"I got into a cab, then this man --a young man..."

"How young?"

"Maybe 25. I don't know, into the cab too and asked where I was going and I said, 'Just around, anywhere, to see the night here and take note of it.' Then he said, 'Good, my destination precisely. May I share? I'll pay both our fares.' "

"Your problem?"

"Geo. I don't know this guy."

"Did he say anything else about destination?"

"Said something about destiny."

"Same thing. Same etymology."

"He said, 'Laissez-nous améliorer sur le destin',then laughed and added, 'ou(?)...renchérissant sur notre sort.' Then he went all thoughtful."

"Scan his face immediately! I'll get my lens!"

"I'll have to be quick. He wants to smoke a cigarette and I told him I'd jump out, so he's going to climb onto  the roof of our cab."

"Not a moment to lose, Poppy! Ah, well done."
"You know him?"

"Not personally, Poppy. But his remark about 'improving upon destiny' and the idea of climbing to the roof of your cab rang some bells. Is the moon up?"

"The moon? Uh, yeah and its a fine night."

"Ok, he's going to lie down on the roof of the moving cab. By the picture, I perceive he's already composing the opening lines that will establish a movement that includes Pound, Eliot, Untermeyer, Ginsberg --too many to enumerate-- a poem, Solo de lune. Offer him this translation: 'On the roof of a coach at night I lie,/My cigarette pointing at the sky/ While my poor bones jostle and roll...O roads, hills, mists, vales./My soul, let's see what it entails.'"

"Yikes! Geo., am I sending Jules Laforgue onto the roof?"

"Very good, Poppy. You remember your literary history."

"But, but, can't I tell him to give up cigarettes or something?"

"Certainly, but what takes him from us is nothing he did to himself, a disease we can't completely eradicate even in the 22nd century. What he does for a living and his recreational studies as a flâneur brings him into constant public contact. Nothing you can do except make sure this poem gets written."

"I...I like him, Geo. --how long?"

"I can't tell you that exactly, but Monsieur Laforgue is on a tight schedule."

"Then so am I. You'll have my report if I have to climb up there myself."

"That's the Poppy I've come to rely on!" 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Enigma Revisited, The Graceful Ghost

Like most boys and girls, I am no stranger to mysteries. We encounter them and solve them with logical thought. For example, there comes a time when we conclude cats are not animals but a fur-bearing liquid, for which I have no photos but...

...there are other examples. According to my case-notes, I solved the mystery of The Back Porch Monster by capturing and carefully dismantling it when it hopped and flopped moplike from under the washing machine. I found it was largely made of lint. At its center, I found a very grateful little treefrog which (because I remember how much I enjoyed it when it was done to me), I took outdoors and released into the wild.

However, there are some mysteries by which I confess myself baffled --enigmas I cannot penetrate to any useful depth, no matter how experienced I get, how wizened, gnarled and riven with age... I believe I have just described a dead tree:
I've been bucking it for firewood in the forest. I, on the other hand, am part human. If you ask a tree what borborygmus is, it may tell you it is the Greek term for growling tummy or it may not. I will tell you borborygmus sounds precisely like what it means, or I may not. There are lots of people who are human and don't do anything about it but I am not one of them. The tree may answer correctly but I will hazard a guess.

But I digress. In order introduce the mystery of The Graceful Ghost, I must ask you to watch and listen to the following YouTube video of two young mediums channeling that particular entity.

This tune has the uncanny ability to get into my head, play itself and cause me to dance loosely and rhythmically from side to side while trying to walk forward. It is not strenuous or taxing, pleasurable actually. It is a friendly sort of possession, carried by the melody itself. I sway, and twirl slowly. My ligaments loosen and even a walk to wheel the garbage bin out becomes a relaxed, fluid experience. I sort of  like it, but if I find myself liquifying, overwhelmed in lint or falling down in the forest, I will definitely consult an exorcist.