Holy writ

Wycliffe had been through this before. Not the Asian invasion, as such, but the world distilling–and-expanding part. He’d been in the medieval university and the castle.

Homer and Virgil knew the necessity of flight. The refuge of deep night. Neighbors who kept to themselves.

I added a big sign to the front of Pinky’s Big Bundle Launderama: “Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness.” I figured it wouldn’t hurt.

It didn’t, as long as I kept the ashtrays clean.

Isadora used sheets two feet by four for her handwritten drafts. They resembled Geological Survey Maps.

Kastoria and its environs had little topographical variation to record. Instead, Isadora’s multicolor markings traced buried energies – resentments, jealousy, passion, toxic industry, betrayal – countered by the sun and wind. Brutal winter, brutal summer. Melted cheese around the edges. And bits of lettuce or cabbage.

Our gardens overflowed. Virgil taught me the secrets of home canning. Row after row of jars. I viewed the full shelves as my own banners of devotion. We had produce to give away. Wycliffe put a big freezer in the warehouse. We filled it for winter.

Isadora could have scored the seasons as a musical seismograph.

Wycliffe slipped off on what he called a sales trip. On his return, pulled out a thin slip. “Little knowest thee thine own insignificance in this great world.”

Hawthorne? he asked. As quoted from a restroom wall.

Turned to Bosch with a sketch and notation of his own: SUBWAY SYMMETRY requires a straightaway.

Suggested we begin manufacturing SHARE A DREAM ANSWERING MACHINES.

“He’s ready to begin considering my movie,” Isadora said. “The one I’ve been writing.”

Narpa had been hoping to construct a stupa in our gardens, a holy mushroom that could be seen a dozen miles in all directions. Now he saw:

Enlarging Squares.

Divine Bodies.

Rotten Meat.


Isadora remembered seeing DuChamp spend hours looking at urinals.

Something that now reminded her of Kastoria.


WINDOWS / SCREENS / MIRRORS (reflections).

Bosch smiled. “Should I insert an ‘urban images’ sequence?”

“What about the problem of having two sets of characters, unrelated by time or place?” Homer inquired.

“So shouldn’t this be set by an art critic, rather than an ethnographer?” Virgil asked, turning to me.

“It’s a documentary,” Isabella insisted.

I could see our compressing worlds were about to collide.

It would be an intense winter.


To open the complete (free) novella, With a passing freight train of 119 cars and twin cabooses, click here.

Saturday hippie: Narcs and other infiltrators

As I listen to the conversation around the Hippie Trails saga, I find myself thinking about infiltrators. The FBI and drug agents, for one thing. Local police, for another. Maybe even the CIA.

When the files were opened, the shock. Or, as one tells it, the unmasking of the one in their circle who kept urging violence while she slept with all of the men – the married ones, especially.

What did you see? Where was your trust misplaced? Were we just paranoid?


Hippies came – and still come – in all varieties. Saturday Hippie is a weekly feature that highlights a counterculture awareness and spirit, including a vision of a harmonious global commonwealth on the horizon. The work and the lessons didn’t end in the ’60s and ’70s. Here’s to the Revolution, near and far.

The rich weigh in

The weekend retreat that introduced me to de-cluttering guru Helen Volk also presented Christopher Mogil and Anne Stephian, who were approaching these questions from the other side. Their perspective spoke to people who have financial abundance and even surplus – individuals of substance who want to use their wealth to make a difference in the world. Especially those who inherited vast sums at ages 18, 21, or 25. Christopher and Anne’s organization, the Impact Project, published the quarterly journal More Than Money, addressing these questions from the other side of the coin.

Who would have thought having too much could be as troubling as not having enough?

How do you respond to a friend who approaches you for a loan?

How do you manage your trust manager, rather than the other way around, or find dependable financial advisors?

What are the best ways of assuring that your giving produces a meaningful difference?

How just are inheritance taxes?

Maybe Scott Fitzgerald was right, “The rich are different from you and me.” Simultaneously, Ernest Hemingway’s sharp retort, “Yeah, they’ve got more money,” kept coming to mind. I was even beginning to feel a bit uncomfortable thinking about all the responsibilities of being rich, as well as all the pitfalls.

While The Great Gatsby, The Last Tycoon, even Tender Is the Night initially entice us with impressions of great wealth that’s festive, flashy, and seductive, there’s a dark side to a life devoted to shrewd calculations, lavish parties, and social privilege. We don’t need Fitzgerald to remind us how any number of family inheritances have been emptied by alcohol or drug abuse, repeated divorces, or gambling. Billionaire Leona Helmsley’s obituary included references to her ostentatious spending and the fact she’d become known as “the Queen of Mean.”

In other words, having more than enough is no guarantee you’ll find satisfaction.

*   *   *

When it comes to satisfaction, looking closely at money means recognizing what money can and cannot do. When it’s used to temporarily ease buried emotional pain, it fosters addiction; escapism does nothing to cure the cause of such pain itself, which instead requires direct encounters with spiritual wisdom, even when this doesn’t appear as religion. The name of the disease is “affluenza.” The name of the cure is grace.

Philanthropist Paul Mellon touched on this when he quipped, “What this country needs is a good five-cent reverie.” Forget the cigar, it was only a prop, anyway – the excuse to lean back for a moment, stretch, and inhale.