Friday, February 28, 2014

Nail Clippers

What can I say? This was an icy month. I slid all the way from the Beatles to the end of February, almost into March.

March! That's a serious gear. You got your Ides. Your Daylight Savings Time. Your red-winged blackbirds. Your Purim. Your spring.

But February did its job, built the bridge from January to March in just 28, spanning a considerable gap when you compare New Year's and the vernal equinox.

I started the day trimming my fingernails with very tiny nail clippers that seemed to lack the bite for my right thumbnail, so I put it back in the medicine chest and spent the next ten minutes searching for a bigger one, knowing there were probably ten hiding in various catch-alls around the house, not finding any, and settling again for the little weak-jawed one, which at least didn't have one of those annoying little chains that get in the way. It required an assist from a pair of blunt scissors ("Look, pal, I won't lie. You got some horny nails. I mean, I've seen toenails that were more cuttable.") but it did the job.  And I'm not saying February is like a pair of weak-jawed clippers that gets the job done, I'm just saying the metaphor is available.

Anything else to report? Red Sox lost their first Grapefruit League game to the Twins.  February delivered baseball. More snow due on Monday. That's on March's watch.

Discussed with my therapist, Jack, the gulf between my nocturnal and morning self. Concluded they need to coordinate. Morning guy glances at the ambitious to-do list penned by energetic night guy when all seemed possible, fed by some untapped well of dopamine I can only access after eleven o'clock. Sometimes he even identifies what task to do first, second, and so on. Morning guy, however, feels like reading the Boston Globe, fairly exhaustively, including the obituaries and how Jeremy Lin did for the Houston Rockets last night. Or chooses a finite but meaningful task like wiping off a drip spot in the refrigerator that's been there since the first Bush administration. Or trimming his nails, which becomes a 45-minute saga. Night guy holds no sway in this noisy, bright domain. Perhaps John Kerry can broker some kind of partnership, like the one between the clippers and the scissors.

Nail clippers, I told Jack, sounds like something I'd write a blog post about. Amd so I have.

Goodnight, February, that 28-ed.
Goodnight, nail clippers that collaborated.
Goodnight, pen that wrote this entry.
Goodnight, Night guy, standing sentry.
Goodnight, March, in half an hour.
Goodnight, snow and hoped-for flower.
Goodnight baseball, goodnight blog,
Goodnight Sid Caesar, Harold Ramis, 
and the old Groundhog,
who went back to sleep.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Oracles

Feb. 7, 2014

As we mark fifty years today since the Beatles arrived in America, I'm struck by an observation I read: If we had been celebrating the music of fifty years earlier back in 1964, we would have been reminiscing about the songs of 1914. Not likely! 
Not all half-centuries are created equal.

The name Beatles and the old black-and-white footage of the scene at JFK (then just renamed from Idlewild) and even watching them on "Ed Solomon," as my grandmother called him, are scrapbook memories, but for some reason the songs and the esprit or whatever it was about those four time-travelers from Liverpool, are still relevant, still exciting, still necessary.

I'm not sure if that speaks to the steep acceleration of change between 1914 and 1964 (two world wars, the Depression, the atom bomb, the cold war, space, radio, TV, cars, jazz, art, civil rights, Samuel Beckett, Alan Ginsberg, Gertrude Stein, etc., etc.) compared to the less dizzying (but still impressive) seismic events of the last half-century (lunar landing, Vietnam, computers, 9/11, Iraq, climate change, Obama, and the Beatles).

It's possible that 1914–1964 did most of the heavy lifting to get us to the Beatles, and it's also possible that the Beatles don't seem to have ever been out of date because of who they became, together and individually, so we retrofit their relevance back to "Love Me Do." And it's very possible that they had the secret (of life, happiness, time, love, art) and we believed it. 

I remember hearing about Beatlemania on the news. I was fifteen, living in El Paso, Texas with my mother, sister, and grandmother. The news report on CBS showed these four European bandmates in Sweden, hurrying past a huge throng of screaming fans. I think it was December. I remember snow. 

It was mildly interesting, this phenomenon. But it was in Europe, which was a faraway land of Laughing Cow cheeses and peasant dances and cuckoo clocks. Still, there was a feeling that Beatlemania was something to know, or else why would Walter Cronkite be reporting about it.

Some weeks later, I was at my friend Richard Trejo's house. We were working on a science project, which involved lowering a negative and positive carbon battery rod into different water solutions to make a light bulb light up or not. It was a modest trick. Most of our energy was going into sanding the wooden mount. And at some point, we put it aside and Richard produced the record. He had it. "Meet the Beatles!" 

There they were on the cover: faces half in shadow, wearing solemn, inscrutable expressions like four moons or four oracles. They knew something I didn't know. Deeper than celebrity. Having been somewhere, and not just Europe. Richard took the LP out, set the Capitol rainbow rim whirling on the turntable, the needle obediently dropped in the groove, and the secret jumped into the room in a cluster of rollicking chords: "Oh, yeah, I'll...tell you something...I think you'll understand! And I'll say that something... I want to hold your HAND..."  

 It was a very simple secret if you took it that way. Or it could stand for—or lead to—or imply—something more complicated if you took it that way. Not that I was apt to hear sexual innuendo at the time. Mainly I could hear it was about energy, pumping and powerful, like the electricity that made the light bulb turn on.  Secret enough to not keep in: "I can't hide... I can't HIDE!!! 

Those four oracles were on to something.

And then a few weeks later we saw them in person. Beatlemania was in our country now. Ed Sullivan, the usually grim impresario, flung his arm wide and conjured "The BEA—" with the rest of it drowned out by a scream wall of excitement powerful enough to light up New York City. And they weren't solemn oracles then. They were enjoying themselves.  How could they not be?  

So—do we still need them, do we still heed them, like in '64? Maybe not like in '64. But like in '14. The new one.

Sunday, February 2, 2014


The date will show February 2, but it is still January as I write this. I am sitting with January, whose head is buried in his arms, his shoulders shaking, his last minutes ticking away. There, there. To everything, turn, turn, turn, there is a season, turn turn turn. He turns. He's laughing like a loon. Classic January. I've been tricked. This is not Janu anymore. This is Febru, the febrile, manic, younger sibling, the troublemaker, the kid you dreaded babysitting for...

Not so, says the calendar. February is a place. We just passed the sign, did you see it? FEBRUARY WELCOMES YOU! With an array of symbols around the perimeter: LIncoln and Washington, of course, their profiles in conversation; Conversation Hearts, and a cartoon groundhog in the lower left, contemplating its shadow, which is animated to appear and disappear as clouds reveal and conceal the sun.

This is a big transition, the first page turn of the calendar (not counting the paging through the year when we bought it). It means the year is 8.3% used up. The new-car smell is kinda gone. And our mensal expectations are...not lowered, but maturing. We went through it with January: the aerial view of day-squares marked with doctors' appointments, dinner dates, life measured out in spoonfuls. While we traversed those same days underneath the light-then-dark sky as we always do, meeting matter-of-fact weather events, cold snaps, snow, rain, getting a haircut, returning library books, dropping a check in the mail, et same old cetera.

So why should February be any different? Because it's got a different name. There's power in a name. F faces east. J looks west.  Back to back, JF are two brothers being measured for height. Of course, we know Febru is shorter by a few days, but tough and wiry as a ferret.

Not so, insists the calendar, February is a game board studded with special days, starting with Groundhog Day, which sits up on top of the month like a guru on a mountaintop. It's the true north of the year, the nod that starts the mechanism. The shadow business is just a symbol of wisdom dispensed, decisions made, a furry little oracle sending us on our way. It could have been some other bellwether—will the barber give McElroy a shave or a haircut? will the crow go for the worm or the grape? But there's something about the rodent sitting up on its haunches, perhaps on a hilltop, contemplating its shadow or the lack thereof, that fills the bill. Meaningful enough to be charming, and meaningless enough to suggest...oh, never mind. No wonder most TV meteorologists cherish it as a folk-weather gimme and no wonder Harold Ramis and Danny Rubin saw it as the perfect metaphor for a movie about drilling through inertia to change.

After Groundhog Day, who knows? The day itself has been shadowed for me by the news of Philip Seymour Hoffman's death. But we're not trapped in Bill Murray's alarm clock. Tomorrow will be February 3. They're selling Girl Scout cookies at Stop and Shop. And past experience tells me that some time before this month is over, I will hear the first cardinal adding its valentine-colored song to the winter air.