Friday, November 30, 2012

Sounds pretty good (and pretty old)

This link, if it works, will take you to a generous selection of the 78 rpm records of my youth. (I never pretended to be young.) These include such delicious favorites as Puss in Boots, Travels of Babar and Robin Hood. That is, if they will play for you. It's dodgy: at first they were in some sort of mp4 format that I couldn't extract sound from, so I ended up converting them to mp3s. But at this point, they might actually play without all that screwin' around.

When I first heard this again, my reaction was: SHUT THE FRONT DOOR!! I never thought I'd hear the Ballad of Puss in Boots again.

"When I was just a teeny-weeny kitty,
Everyone told me that I looked so pretty.
They said, beautiful eyes
They said, lovely fur
But all I could answer was meow
Or purr. . ."

Dog, dog, dog. . . goose

Why are doctors such a bunch of assholes?

This is the last day of November, which really should be the "cruellest month":  T. S. Eliot was obviously out of his poetic little mind to say it was April. This day is sort of special, and sort of not, because it has now been 22 years since I had a drink. I have to confess I was afraid to write about this before because I thought that, by some far-flung chance, a publisher might see this and conclude I was a drunken sot and completely unreliable. You can't write about your triumphs because they will do you in ever time.

But on to the topic of the day: otorhinolaryngology, or something like that. My problem goes back many months and still isn't resolved. In June of this year we had a very enjoyable week of holidays in San Francisco, but on the last day I started to feel not-so-good, achy and weak, as if I was about to get the flu.

On the plane home I didn't feel so hot either, but as we started to land, oh God. Both my ears began to shriek with pain, as if someone was driving screwdrivers into my head from both sides. It takes about 35 minutes to land a plane, from that first subtle feeling that you're dropping in altitude to the reassuring thud of wheels on the ground. So the agony went on and on and even increased. "Try swallowing," my husband said, as if it hadn't even occurred to me.  Try to patch a gaping war wound with a bandaid.

The really distressing thing is that I never did have that "pop" that indicates the pressure has been relieved. The pain went on for at least an hour after we landed. There is something truly excruciating about an earache, like a whistling icy wind blowing across a bad tooth. L'angoisse, as the French call it.

Feeling rotten and weak and sure I had the flu, I dragged myself into my doctor's office and left about a minute and a half later. She took out one of those ear thingies, looked in both ears and said, "They look fine." I mentioned flu and she said, "Oh, no, it's not flu (with a patronizing smile). It's just a summer cold."

Months went by. I was completely over my "summer cold", but alarming symptoms remained: every time I yawned or swallowed, there was a noise in my left ear, not the "crackle" described by medical web sites but cannon fire on the side of my head. I could not imagine going back to the doc and having her tell me "well, don't yawn or swallow then" (like the old joke: "Doctor, doctor, I have a terrible pain when I do this." "Well, don't DO that!"). Worse than that was a new symptom: whenever I talked, which I can hardly give up altogether, I heard a buzzy, distorted sound on the left side of my head, like an old speaker with a loose wire or a radio not tuned in quite right. This wasn't from the outside, obviously. It was the sound of my own voice feeding back inside my head. It was also very loud.

Months went by. It wasn't going away in spite of my doctor's instructions to hold my nose and blow. It was worse, in fact. I went to a walk-in clinic and saw another doctor who took out the ear thingie, looked in my ears and said, "They look fine." Then she sat there impassively until I left.

More months, more annoying racket in my head. I was SURE something was wrong in there, this COULD NOT be normal! I went back to that second doctor and she told me to hold my nose and blow, then  finally, with considerable arm-twisting from me, referred me to an ENT specialist in New Westminster, about an hour and a half drive from here.

After still more months of discomfort and cannon-fire, my appointment finally came up. I did not have a good feeling about it. I was pretty sure I would be dismissed again. When I entered the office, I was in a time warp. All the medical equipment seemed to go back to the 1950s, antiquated, as if it should be in the Smithsonian. I had to fill out one of those forms, and one question was about medication, so I wrote down what I was taking. It never occurred to me not to.


The doctor, an old impassive Iranian guy who looked like he never smiled, never once made eye contact with me and seemed both bored and annoyed. I told him about my symptoms. He looked inside my ears with that little ear thingie and said "they look fine". His assistant stuck a little rubber probe into each ear. The right side was OK; the left side was just excruciating. I tried to tell him about it and there was no response.

The hearing test was normal, which was both a relief (I don't want to be one of those "EH?" people) and distressing: I knew that if I could still hear, he would soon dismiss me.  As a matter of fact, I had better hearing than almost anyone else in my age group. I was not really surprised: when I'm under stress my hearing becomes so hypersensitive, I can hear a watch ticking across the room, loud enough to keep me awake at night.

Fine,  I have better-than-normal hearing. That means I can hear the cannons and buzzes much more clearly!

The doctor's bored look had hardened: his impassive face had turned to stone. With one last gasp, I tried to tell the doc about my annoying, even infuriating symptoms. He said I should hold my nose and blow, then sat there not looking at me. I kind of went, "Ummmm. . ." In an irritable tone, he said, "Everything is fine. You can go."

I had some thoughts after this big letdown. One, I am not a woman of childbearing years. Older women usually get short shrift because subconsciously, they are not perceived as being "productive" in their natural, God-given function of spewing out babies. Two, I made a terrible mistake in filling out the form: I was honest about the medications I am on.

I am not saying this is conscious - or maybe it is - but when he saw the word "lithium", I think he just crossed me off the list of people to be taken seriously. Lithium equals manic-depressive equals fruitcake/hypochondriac/delusional old bag.

Do you think I exaggerate? My first impulse is to be honest in almost every case. Of course there are a few exceptions, but mainly to spare people's feelings.

But have you ever noticed that with most people, a lie goes down much better than the truth? For one thing, a lie can be tailored any way you want. You can unmake and remake reality, bend it and soften it and take the sting out of it, or - best of all - make it so that it flatters the person you're lying to, even if he's a total asshole.  So , yes, yes, yes, we believe you because it's easier on us, the lie is much more palatable.  There are many advantages to this policy, and much more of it goes on than we consciously realize.

There are sub-categories, of course, including the lie of withholding information. This is the one I definitely should learn to practice, particularly with doctors, who are some of the most heartless human beings I have ever encountered. Don't tell me it's because *I* am being difficult. I bend over backwards to accomodate these bastards and they let me down almost every time.

Result: after 5 1/2 months, I still have the cannon-fire and the loose speaker-wire buzzing inside my head, and it's quite possible I will have this for the rest of my life. If you go from doctor to doctor, well, guess what that makes you? One of "those": meaning those crazy old ladies who are so lonely that they will feign illness to get any sort of attention.

I have no idea what to do now.

I deleted the last paragraph of this post because it was just too angry and bitter, though in my mind it contained some truths that badly need to be told. Trouble is, they're pretty unpalatable the way they are and need to be dressed up.  And I'm not too good at that. My attempts to be honest have gained me exactly nothing except a one-way ticket to that prominently-marked door in every medical office. The one with the four-letter word.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A dark and shameful secret


Readers (or should I say reader): I have kept this from you for lo these many, well, fifteen minutes or so. Let me tell you what happened.  My computer blew up about 5 days ago. Just exploded, melted or whatever a computer-s mind does when it has had enough. . . and for a few wretched days I floated, but not in the air. In sewage of some kind. My pessimist husband assured me everything in my beloved pc was lost forever, all my manuscripts, all my photos, every self-pitying poem and  Oscar Levant YouTube video. I truly and honestly wanted to die, more than usual I mean. I fled to Vancouver to solace myself with a bad movie, and while there I ran into my techie son who works in a big tower downtown. I told him my streaming tale of grief and he looked at me quizzically and said, oh, just give me the hard drive, I ll get all the info off it. CAN YOU DO THAT I asked him, and he said WE DO IT ALL THE TIME.

The bus home seemed to ride a giant cushion of balmy Hawaiian air. And I did get my stuff back.  But it is all subtly. . . different. It is a different reality. There are many losses, things I have not even discovered yet.  I can no longer manipulate photos at light speed the way I used to, because that wonderful Windows photo display thingammie seems to have disappeared. I can do it, very awkwardly, by shuffling my pictures around to another program, but damn it all and shit, it will never be the same, I will never be able to manage the blur of pictures shuffled as rapidly as a deck of cards in the hands of W. C. Fields. An era is over.

And my new computer, though it lacks the queer and complex  mental illness of the old one, canèt spell or canèt punctuate or somethingÉ As you can see. Most of the^^^^^^^ççÇÈèÇ;^^éé騨ÇÇÇ symbols are catawampus.

But thatès not what-a I-am-a tryin-g-t-a do here (though the Italian accent my new pc has is quite interesting). Ièm making a dire confession. After maligning clowns for some weeks or months (one of those topics I get stuck on like an old-fashioned broken record), I suddenly came to the realization that I was maligning a heretofore shadowy aspect of my own past.

*****I***** was a clown. Thatès right-a! A fuckin-è clown!


A guitar-playinè, bulbous-nose-wearinè, child-entertainè, stripey-shirt-nè-stuff-like-that-clad, real live authentic regular clown.

It was a different time, I was different, obviously I was, way thinner for one thing. God I was thinner, and so young. . . hard to believe I was ever so young, living in Alberta and doing a lot of community theatre which is the only thing that kept me semi-sane.


So you now see that I am a hypocrite. Or else I hate what I was. But I donèt, I donèt (sorry for the Chaucerian accent, I canèt seem to get rid of it cuz thereès obviously still some bugs in the system.) On the whole I think I was a non-threatening clown who at least didnèt dress like a KKK member or try to scare anyone. I didnèt go in for heavy makeup and the nose was only to break up the tedium of my very unfunny face.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Whatever became of the wildwood flower?

In one of his most compelling songs, Gates of Eden, Bob Dylan wrote: "At dawn my lover comes to me/and/tells me of her dreams/with no attempt to shovel the glimpse/into the ditch of what each one means."

Not at dawn, but at morning coffee hour, I get up and find my mate sitting in his Lazy Boy reading the paper, listening to the radio and drinking coffee. I add one more activity to his multiple roster: listening to my dreams.

Not every morning, but just when I have had an unusually vivid one, one that stays with me for a while. This one is already dissolving like frost into the winter air.


I was about 20 years old. I wasn't "I", but this slender, pale wildwood flower of a girl, as if I were barefoot except I couldn't tell if I was barefoot or not. I was wearing a dress like Pippa Middleton's at Kate and Wills's wedding, very close-fitting white satin. My hair was streaming down my back, long and brown and straight and completely unstyled. (I have never looked even remotely like that in my life.) Anyway, I was in a church and was about to be married. I didn't recognize the church at all, or any of the people, though my mother was supposed to be there and I even had dealings with her but didn't know it, didn't recognize her. I had the feeling she might have been one of the people who tried to fuss with my hair.

At one point I even asked someone if the sides shouldn't be pulled up at the back in a ribbon or a rose, and someone else said, "You mean up? Please don't put it up, it looks so pretty that way," but I worried it would look a little too informal or even make me look uneducated and "backwoods". I only recognized one guest, my former English professor from 1991 who kept bustling around very urgently in a suit and tie, as if he was supposed to be doing something. The minister (a youngish guy with a lot of tousled brown hair, whom I had never seen before) kept getting up and blabbing to the congregation about things that I don't remember now.

At one point a woman ripped open buttons on the neckline of my dress (which went all the way up to my chin), leaving the front sprung wide open, and I thought of the man's collar in that Bugs Bunny cartoon, the tenor, when he couldn't stop singing. Then she said, "Ahhh, that looks better," though I worried it didn't look good at all and would look unkempt and out of control, but I couldn't check it because there were no mirrors in the place at all. All the way through this dream I kept hearing the music on this video, which I recently heard on an old Star Trek, a favorite episode called Shore Leave in which the crew of the Enterprise was on a planet where all your thoughts immediately materialized and became real.

There were all sorts of things, a knight, Don Juan, a tiger, Finnegan (asshole from Kirk's Academy days), but suddenly there appears Kirk's old girlfriend Ruth, dressed like an Athenian goddess and so heavily made up (like all Star Trek babes, probably for the grainy b & w TVs of the time) she could barely keep her eyes open. She looked like his date for the Academy grad party or something. Yes, this music came on and from the beginning I loved it, not for its sweetness but for the almost agonizing dissonance in the strings that underlay the innocent flute melody. Anyway, as I was preparing to get married, three girls I vaguely remembered from high school (actually, I only remembered one of them, Janet, who always beat the hell out of me in grades and getting awards) pulled up chairs at the front of the congregation and sat in a sort of triangle (not facing everyone) and began to discuss contract work and contractual obligations and how it was important to know exactly what you were signing.

At this point I stretched out between two chairs in my Pippa Middleton white satin wedding gown and took a nap, thinking I would look more refreshed for the ceremony. The three girls (only about 15) were giving a sort of seminar and no one thought it was unusual. Then I began to worry about the vows, which I had had nothing to do with. I was afraid the minister, who seemed somewhat fundamentalist, would say "love, honor and obey", and I didn't want the "obey" in there, I wanted "love, honor and cherish", but didn't know how to change this because I seemed to have absolutely no control over anything that was happening that day. In fact I seemed to be the least important person in the place, almost as if I were invisible or a walking ghost.

It was not until after I woke up and analyzed this dream that I realized the strangest detail of all: there was NO GROOM - no one, nothing! He was just a cipher, a non-entity. I did not even think about this, did not wonder about it, nor did anyone else. It did not matter at all who I married, in fact it was clear I was not marrying anyone. Hmmm, what else? In a side room, before the ceremony started, a few people I sort of knew from my old church were watching a video on a large flat-screen TV, a movie featuring dangerous mountain climbing. I watched it for a few minutes, then realized it was getting close to the time of the ceremony, so I said, "Will you pause it for me, please?", so I could watch the rest of the movie after I got married.

That flute music appears throughout the classic Trek series, whenever a particularly fetching young woman appears. It's almost a "fetching young woman" signal. The most poignant isn't the one about Ruth but the episode with Jill Ireland, long dead from breast cancer, who falls agonizingly in love with Spock on that planet with the spores that make you fatuously happy. At the end of it she doesn't just shed a tear, she really weeps, with red face and running nose, and Spock speaks to her as tenderly as a Vulcan can.

Watching these Treks again, they're better than the heartless parodies, though of course most of it is standard '60s action/adventure, and Sulu is particularly amusing in his ongoing romantic advances to Uhura (implying it's more acceptable for a gay Japanese man to romance a black woman). Kirk isn't as bad as you remember. Really, he's not. He only overemotes about 10% of the time. This is not the place for Shakespearean soliloquys (though one of these times I'm going to post his Hamlet from one of the daytime  shows of the '60s), so he pretty much sticks to the action/adventure hero mode. But as the series wears on he gains levels of humanity, transcending such hokey lines as "No blah, blah, blah!" 

The dynamic between Bones and Spock is brilliant, unique to television. DeForest Kelley has some real moments, especially in The City on the Edge of Forever, in which he runs around crazed but is still compelling and completely believable. I can see how and why this quirky little series somehow spawned a dynasty. But what does that haunting flute music have to do with getting married to an invisible groom? And if that pale wildwood flower really is me, whatever happened to her?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

His Satanic Majesty, Milky the Clown!

I don't know how I happened to so casually wander into Dante's Inferno, but here I am, somewhere in the ninth circle of hell, third row in the balcony. It took me a dashed long time to find any clips of Milky, since none of the Detroit kiddie shows I used to watch were taped. Or if they were, the tapes were soon erased to make way for Rita Bell's Prize Movie or George Pierrot's heartstopping travelogues.

Milky is like a fever dream from another dimension, someone who materialized out of pure evil. He wasn't a human being. What was he doing in that pointy-headed white Ku Klux Klan-like garb anyway? A proper clown, not one from the 20th century anyway, would never dress that way. You see this sort of costume in very bad productions of Pagliacci: by the last scene the homicidal clown stands there dripping with gore, ready to run on his dagger as the curtain comes down. 


Were these shows really any good? Who knows, they were just there, just "on", so we watched them. Probably Soupy Sales, with his good-natured hound-dog looks and wacky stunts, was the best of them. The rest of the hosts were, like the kid's show personalities on SCTV, just people from around the station who had been pressed into service.

Captain Jolly was anything but jolly - he was bizarre. He mostly showed old Popeye cartoons from the 1930s, gave bad puppet shows and narrated silent movies from the 1920s, Little Rascals they were called - actually gave a running commentary, most of it inane. "Oh look, look! Look, there's little Farina falling into a barrel of flour! And now he's white, see? He's white! Oh, ho-ho-ho-ho!"

Then there was Poopdeck Paul, a faux sea captain who referred to us all as "maties" and had a weekly limbo contest where you could win fabulous prizes. I'm not sure if that was the one where you got to reach inside a jar full of pennies. Maybe that was Milky's Party Time with "Stars of the Future", a forerunner of America's Got Talent. 

Jingles was pretty cool - a court jester, which was sort of original, though I have to say, the costume was a bit kinky, the kind that doesn't seem to have a zipper in it anywhere so it must be hard to go to the bathroom.

Why do I want to go back there? For I do, sometimes. I've made no secret of the fact that I had a bad childhood, with a few exceptions. I lived in my head most of the time and dealt very poorly with reality, an affliction I bear to this day. But I hang on to these grainy black-and-white ghost-images, my neighborhood in Chatham, the elm trees, the cicadas buzzing, what the air smelled like. I want to start over. And do things differently, this time?

Yes. Practically everything.

Visit Margaret's Amazon Author Page!

I hate clowns

I hate clowns, I hate clowns,  I truly hate clowns,
They always depress me and drag my soul down.
When somebody puts on such strange things to wear,
The human condition is truly laid bare.
I ask, what's the point of all this tom-foolery?
It triggers in me a deep incredulity.
Now here is a clown who caused me great dread.
In childhood this creep rented space in my head.
His name was Milky, which was awfully scary,
Just clowning and whoring for Twin Pines, the dairy.
Before John Wayne Gacy came ambling along,
There was this guy here. And he was just wrong.
He wore stars and stripes for some unknown reason,
Though flag mutilation's a high form of treason.
Back when I lived near old Detroit town,
I saw a strange act performed by a clown.
When he mounted his friend, to my child's mind, 
of course he
Was riding on Bozo, just playing at horsey.
When I saw this old photo of black-and-white clowns,
I climbed on a bridge and just threw myself down.
There's Milky and Bozo, the two that were lovers,
Jingles, and Whatsis - who cares, they're all mothers.
This clown guy I mentioned, and those of his ilk
Did a lot of hard-selling by sucking down milk.
In Milky the dairy thought they would invest - right?
Then found out that he was a flaming transvestite.

Twin Pines weren't aware that they'd started a fashion.
Soon clowns 'round the world drank their milk with a passion.
And poor Pagliaccio was filled with a rage,
So he drank milk, then  killed his poor wife right on-stage.

With hijinks like this, some dark force was released.
The ringmasters shot themselves: all were deceased.
Clowns threw nasty fits, banged their heads on the wall:
These Komedy Kapers weren't funny at all.
If this gets much weirder, I'm going to be sick.
I've never laughed once when a clown did his trick.
I can't speak for you, but I think this is rude -
I never knew clowns were this nasty and lewd.
Milky is dust now, and Bozo is dead.
Their romance still haunts me and lurks in my head.
I hate clowns, I hate them, I'll never be free,
They never will get one guffaw out of me.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The pills I took were a bad idea

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man, 
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock, 
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

T. S. Eliot

The wishbone

Today I had the thought,
Do not, do not, on pain of freaking death, look backward,
Look backward over your shoulder at anything that you
Have done or that has transpired,
Because you will have one of two reactions:
You will hate what you have done, who you were, all the
You have made, all the chances not taken,
Or else you will so love the times that were sweet
Heady gardens of the mind,
That you will ache for those times and die inside,
Knowing they will never return.


Today I had that knowledge, but did I absorb it?

I never knew when things were crowning anyway,
When moments were sublime,
For they slid out from under me even as I experienced them.
Far from trusting that these moments would come again,
Which they would not,
I tried to seize them, to keep them close, but they only