Sunday, December 20, 2009

Diary Of A Rag And Bone Man

The Continuing Saga of a Homeless Man and his Dog

by Jack Rafter

"He's not right in the head," Gordon said. About Obama.

We were sitting in the library to escape the cold. I had on dark glasses, doing my blind act so I could get Vincent in. Gordon shook his head as he stared at the newspaper spread in front of him--all about the war in Afghanistan, the President sending in 30,000 troops.

Gordon lives in a boxcar. Spends most of his time in the library. Used to be a stock analyst. Now, he can't help it, his mind craves a bone to chew and wants to furnish theories on everything.

"So you're saying he's crazy," I said.

"Crazy in a special way," Gordon said, tapping his pencil on his forehead. "Very special."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, he looks and sounds normal. He has this beautiful shiny wife and these darling little girls. The whole family shines, I don't know how else to put it. They sparkle. If you could make dolls out of them and mass market them, I guarantee you'd be a billionaire inside a month. It'd be the biggest thing since Ken and Barbie. Maybe bigger. It's Ken and Barbie with kids. And they have lots of nice clothes."

"What's that got to do with his being crazy?" I said.

Gordon held his pencil up and poked the air. "I said crazy in a special way. Specialized craziness. There's nothing you can do about it. You can't fix that. You can't give him anything for it. The people closest to him probably can't see it. Although I'm startin' to wonder if his wife has noticed anything unusual. Maybe she has, but, like most devoted wives, she just covers it good, maybe even hides it from herself.

"But the rest of the world, especially all the ones that voted for him, are startin' to wonder what the hell's goin' on. There's this huge gap between what he says and what he does, and there's almost no place where the two items line up, where they converge. So, everyone's goin' around lookin' dumbfounded, like a bunch of tourists left stranded by their tour guide. They're all scratchin' their heads, sayin' things like, 'What's the matter with this guy? Is he crazy? Doesn't he know he's totally wrecking his credibility?'

"And the answer is yes, he's crazy. And no, he doesn't know he's wrecking his credibility. Or if he does, he doesn't know why. And that's because there's actually two people there. There's BARACK OBAMA!! --The savior of mankind, the incarnation of Jesus Christ. That's the one who gives the speeches. And then, there's this other guy, the one we see the rest of the time, whose name might as well be Joe Blow, Rufus Smith or Dick Cheney. Say, you wouldn't have a spare dollar on you, would you?"

"Are you kidding?" I said.
"I just thought if we pooled our money we might make out better for lunch."
"Maybe so," I said.

During the lull, Vincent got up, stretched, and lay down again. I could feel him panting against my leg. Gordon tapped his pencil some more, biting his lower lip. You could hear the springs and wheels clinking in his mind. "It's the speeches, you see. That's where I first noticed it."

"The speeches?"

"Yeah. There's this drama, this explosion that happens. He's a Shakespearean actor. He goes from being Rufus Smith to BARACK OBAMA!! In his speech, he becomes Captain Ahab. Says he's gonna hunt down the great white whale. No, I don't mean something racist. I just mean he's Ahab! He's goin' after this great shiny thing, maybe the greatest thing you ever heard of. Willing to go to the ends of the earth to get it. And we're right with him, boy. We're the crew of the Pequod, and we want him to succeed, we want him to get this thing, too, whatever it is. Why? Because of his speech--his words are so lofty, they soar, they fly clear up to the mastheads, there's religious fervor in his voice, his eyes shine and gleam--they roll back when he cuts loose. He says great things and he believes them. And that's how he gets you and me to believe them. See what I mean? He lifts us up with his words. He charms us, makes us fall in love with him. It's the same thing actors do--exactly the same damn thing. Laurence Olivier wouldn't let people watch him rehearse. You know why?"

I shook my head.

"'Cause he didn't want anyone to see him fumble. Because then all they'd see was this little guy, this mere mortal named Larry. No, first, he had to get it right, you see, had to get to where he believed it himself. Then, when the curtain went up and the lights hit him in the face, he could take off. He could fly in the air. And he became. . .Laurence Olivier. Sir Laurence! And it's the same thing with Obama."

"So you're saying he's like Olivier. . .or Ahab?"

"I'm saying he's whatever in the hell he wants to be when he's makin' a damn speech, 'cause he actually believes it. He says he's goin' after that elusive whale, then that's what he's gonna do. Shoot, in that moment, he probably thinks he can steer the bloody boat all by himself. And throw the harpoon right into the whale's gizzard. Problem is, once the speech is over, once the applause dies down, the lights fade out, and the cheering hysterical mob goes home, he just becomes plain old Rufus again. This little guy in a suit. And you can bet there ain't gonna be no whale huntin' goin' on after that. Man, I'm thirsty. You thirsty? Wish I had a little somethin' to drink."

At that moment, Oscar, another refugee from the trainyard, passed our table clutching a National Geographic. He leaned close on the pass and mumbled, "Better look like you're readin' Braille, Jack. Yonder comes the librarian."

* * *

Well, we went out and scrounged something to eat. When we got back, Gordon was still going on about Obama's alleged craziness. He shoved a book over to me: The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst. That's Gordon, for you, always reading weird things.

I glanced at the book. It seems that back in 1968, the Sunday Times of London sponsored a single-handed round-the-world yacht race. First prize--L5,000. Naturally, the best sailors in the world entered it. And then there was this unknown, this outsider, a failed businessman from Bridgwater, Somerset, named Donald Crowhurst.

"He was heavily in debt," said Gordon, "and he was after the prize money. Somehow, he thought he could win this thing."

"So what happened?" I said, "And what's this got to do with your theory about Obama?"

"All right," said Gordon, "Just bear with me. Okay, here's this guy, Crowhurst--well, first off, he's married, got a pretty wife, nice children, guy's a real charmer. He's smart, been to school, he reads, he knows all the sailor's jargon. He doesn't have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out, but he manages to get a financial backer to pay for the boat. Everybody takes him for a pro, but he's not really much more than a weekend sailor. What he is--he's delusional. He's acting out the part of an adventurer. He probably pictures himself sailing home to cheering crowds, knighted by the Queen, like Chichester. He's charmed everybody, including himself. But the story mushrooms. Even before he sets sail, it's a big story. People all over England are rooting for him. He's the underdog and they all want him to succeed."

"Then, he takes off. And right away, he runs into problems. His boat's not as good as he thought it was. He's not making good time. He knows if he drops out of the race he'll have to pay off his backer--the full price of the boat. That would mean selling his house, everything he owns. He'll be ruined. So he makes one of those fateful decisions. He decides to abandon the race. But he doesn't tell anyone. Instead, he more or less stays in one place, sailing around in circles off the coast of Brazil. At the same time, he begins altering his logs, reporting false positions to make it look like he's still in the running. In fact, he makes his reports sound so good that, for awhile, toward the end, he's being cheered worldwide as the likely winner of the race."

And that causes a whole new set of problems. Now Crowhurst realizes that if he actually comes in first, his logbooks are sure to be scrutinized by experienced sailors. And he'll be exposed to the world as a fraud. . . .

In June, '69, Crowhurst's boat was found adrift and abandoned in the Sargasso Sea.

Found in the boat were two sets of logs. One contained the poetic ravings of someone who had become completely unhinged.

Gordon picked up the book, opened it to the first page and handed it back. At the top of the page was this inscription:


"Paranoid grandiosity tends to be well organized, relatively stable and persistent. The complexity of delusional conviction varies from rather simple beliefs in one's alleged talent, attractiveness or inspiration to highly complex, systematized beliefs that one is a great prophet, author, poet, inventor or scientist. The latter extreme belongs to classical paranoia."
Prof. Norman Cameron, Yale
(Ency. Brit.)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

copeland morris A DREAM

Wrap-around sunglasses
Ear to ear you wore
In mourning after
The sermon.
The strangeness of a willow
Embraced me once more.

You worried about my dreams;
Addressed me as "sir"
As curtly as you could
In the sedan where I seemed to live.

A man who rolled down the windows,
What must you do for him? Not even God
Can change the past.

Paul Valéry wrote his poems
When he was pulling on socks and shoes:

"God made everything out of nothing,
But the nothingness shows through."

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Diary Of A Rag And Bone Man

The Continuing Saga of a Homeless Man and his Dog

by Jack Rafter

Woke up to snow this morning. Damn near froze my ass off last night in my little tent by the train yard. Nights like that make you feel grateful for a dog. Good ol Vincent snuggled up close, kept at least part of me from freezing to death. Problem is the sleeping bag. She's all gone to rot and the feathers are falling out. Gonna have to scrounge another somewhere. We boiled some water over the cookstove, had some oats and coffee. Then broke camp and hightailed it downtown. Straight for the library.

I carry a blind man's fold-up stick in my shoulder bag--got it for a dollar at the Mexican flea-market. So if we go in somewhere, I just get out the stick and put on a pair of dark glasses. Vincent always pulls a little ahead of me on the leash, so with the sunglasses and the stick in play, people think he's a guide dog. That's how I smuggle him in on cold mornings. Some may wonder why he doesn't have the leather harness gizmo with the handle on it, or how come a guide dog looks like it hangs out in junkyards, but they never say anything. Nobody messes with blind people nowadays. They're all scared of lawsuits, and they don't want to look like assholes.

I thought about using the blind act as a panhandling gimmick, but you want to be careful with a thing like that. I figure if it gets you and your dog in out of the rain or cold, that's one thing. But if you use it to enrich yourself, it could turn on you. You don't want to mess with your Kharma. So we walked in.

Well, everybody was there. All the folks from the train yard--there was Billy and Frank and Lena, Oskar and Clarice. All sitting at different tables or hunkered down in comfy chairs. Trying to appear nonchalant in their filthy clothes with unkempt hair and scruffy beards. They all had books in their hands or a magazine, and looked almost studious, like the bedraggled pupils of a hobo cooking class. I nodded to them, subtly, as I walked by. Had to keep looking straight ahead, of course, like I couldn't see them. They knew who I was, so they nodded or winked on the sly. There were others besides them I didn't recognize. I tell you, cold days like this, the library starts looking more and more like a day-shelter for the homeless. The librarians spend half their time being a cop, making sure nobody's asleep. If they are, then out they go. You have to sit there with a book and try to look like you're reading or studying, when all you're really there for is to get warm and think about how you'll score your next meal.

Maybe that's why the city keeps cutting the library hours. God forbid the place should become a haven for outcasts trying to get out of the cold. I read somewhere that Mayor LaGuardia kept the libraries of New York City open clear through the Depression era. The last one, I mean. He knew the homeless were bunching up in those places, but he wasn't gonna shut em out because he had a heart. He also knew it was the one thing people could still do for free--read books. Well, there you go--one more example of the demon socialism.

I spied a friend seated at a table in the history section, so I took a seat across from him. Vincent plopped down on my foot and leaned against my leg. Big smile on his face. I knew he was happy to be out of the cold. So was I.

My friend Gordon was sitting there bent over a newspaper, looking at it real close. Squinting his eyes. That's how you know it's Gordon. You can spot him a mile away. He spends a lot of time in the library even on warm days cause he actually likes to read. He'll spend upwards of eight hours at a stretch reading. Today it was the newspaper. But it could be anything. Novels, poetry, plays, history, music, art, travel journals, you name it. Definitely a sick man. He needs glasses, but he won't buy them cause he doesn't have the money.

He's a strange dude. Used to be a stock-broker. Had him a wife and kids, cell phone, SUV, the whole nine yards. Then the crash came. He lost a lot of money--his own, and other peoples' too. He almost jumped out the window of his twenty-second floor office, but something changed his mind.

He went through his savings. Lost his home. His wife divorced him. He was a little crazy for awhile. Maybe still is. Hard to tell. He's on some meds, I believe, but he forgets to take them. He moves around a lot. He started out staying in a friend's garage. After the friend kicked him out, he showed up with a tent and lived in the freight train camp. That's where I met him. From there, he went to a salvage yard where he took up residence in the back of a wrecked Volvo station wagon. He was there almost a month. Then it was a condemned house for two months, a dilapidated barn for a week, followed by a tool shed behind a machine shop.

The tool shed was interesting. He figured out how to pick the lock. He only stayed there at night after the machinists went home, and he was always careful to put the lock back on the door in the morning. He said he really liked the tool shed cause it had a portable electric heater nobody was using and a grimy old radio that still worked. Also, the machinists kept regular hours and they were predictable. So he stayed there six months and nobody had a clue someone was living there.

Then one night a workman showed up needing some tool or other from the shed. He heard music playing softly--Gordon had the radio tuned to a classical station to lull him to sleep--Debussy's Prelude To The Afternoon Of A Fawn. The machinist turned him over to the cops. He spent three months in jail for breaking and entering, trespass, and vagrancy.

He now lives in a boxcar at the freight yards.

When I sat down, he said, "Hi, Jack," without looking up from his paper. I said hello, Gordon. Then, he held up a hand and said, "I'll be with you in a minute." I looked at the paper. He appeared to be reading about the president's latest machinations--sending more troops to Afghanistan. Added to the ones already there it would make a total of a hundred-thousand troops. Gordon made little groaning sounds and shook his head. He squinted his eyes.

"You oughta get yourself some glasses," I said after awhile.
"I know," he muttered. Then held up his hand again, so I shut up. He kept reading, squinting, groaning. Finally, he shook his head and mumbled something.
"What's that?" I said.
"I said there's something wrong with him."
"Wrong with who?"
"With the O-man. Obama."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean there's something not right about him."
"You mean he's crazy?"
"No, not crazy. Not exactly."
"Well, what do you mean, then?" I said.

Gordon picked up a pencil and stared at it for a moment, his eyes almost crossed. "I mean he's not right in the head."

copeland morris ENTWINED SONNET

Her shaded eyes, her necklace black velvet, onyx. Anguish she spoke; and he carried on, obsessed As only a young man could. An odd harm...