My Dad's Story

This one is hard to write about. It’s hard to write about Dads, right? We can’t really see them clear, can we? With one eye it’s Dad — the man who made us. With the other eye all the weaknesses and fears and infirmities. And as we get older we find — oh I am thirty years old now and when my Dad said that or did that he was just twenty-eight. Dad is younger than I am. With one eye. Not with the other. So if two eyes are seeing different things, it’s hard to get a look at somebody, don’t you think?

Or do you think, that’s the only way to get a look at somebody?

Well, I don’t know you, so I don’t really know what you think — I suppose Ic an only guess, or maybe say something to you that will somehow echo in your head enough that it may get mixed in with what you think. Is that knowing what you think? Close enough, friend, close enough!


Anyway, the story that I am telling you here tonight is my Dad’s story and it’s a story that he pitched me when I was first getting my feet under my legs as a t.v. writer and producer for “The Big Bang Theory.” My Dad’s story is called Mercurians, Venusians, and Martians. Dad was in no way a writer — he found it very difficult to express himself in any register other than the literal and factual, or corrosive irony. Those were the two registers. And sometimes he allowed himself to be entranced by the music of the pre-war acoustic blues, of which he was a premier pioneering collector and which he referred to as “mesmerizing”. So the idea that my Dad would pitch me a story for a television show was, if not mesmerizing, enough to grab my attention. Because I had never before this moment gotten any sign of approval from my Dad. Possibly because approval does not fit in either of the registers that he spoke in, the literal recounting of facts, or irony.

Anyway here was the story, in my Dad’s words. “The Mercurians are stuck on their planet. So they create a race of aliens to get them off the planet. They explore all different ways of getting off the planet so the Mercurians don’t have to try themselves. They are little tiny guys. These are the Venusians. And the Venusians or actually one genius amongst the Venusians, the Venusian Sigmund Freud and Einstein rolled into one he figures out what’s happening. He realizes that his whole race are nothing but tools for these other guys to figure out how to escape their planet. So they want to know what it is like to have power. So of course they –“

“They is the Venusians?”

“Right. They the Venusians create these ponds of algae that are like worlds.. And creating these simulations are what let them feel like what it would be like if they were gods. Not just gods! Able to CREATE gods! And the gods are guess who?”

“Who, Dad?”

“The Martians! The gods created by the Venusians in their ponds of algae are the Martians. And these Martians want to know what it is to have adventures! And the kind of adventures that the Martians want to experience is a great escape! A prison break!” My father is excited by the story he is pitching. Eighty-four years old, worked for sixty years as a storefront attorney, an abogado, on Loisaida in New York, and he’s excited now to be pitching a story. To his son, no less. “What is the prison, Eric?”

“I don’t know.”

“The prison is the planet Mercury!” My father smiled at me shyly. I had always wanted the old man’s approval but now, painfully, the situation had gone too far, and instead of benignly bestowing his beneficence from on high, he was sweatily asking me to approve this crazy story. Where to begin? Should I tell him that the Big Bang Theory was a sit com — it was about the adventures of humorously flawed characters in our universe? That it had no room in it for algae pools or gods, or Venusians, Martians and Mercurians?

He looked at me, his face eighty-four and eight at the same time. Old and young.

“Dad, if the Mercurians created the Venusians, and the Venusians created the Martians, how could the Martians create the Mercurians.”

He looked at me with a gigantic face-splitting smile, like the atom in the desert at Los Alamos; the twentieth century’s bouncing baby — the human-born sun. My Dad’s smile as he answered his son’s question was for the first time ever I saw — radiant.

“I wish I knew!”


Ephemerid, Homo, Sempervirens

The Homo sapiens was wondering what life would be like if he lived much longer. So he asked the Sequoia sempervirens. And the sequoia said, well if you want to understand talk to the ephemerid, the mayfly, who is born in the morning and dies in the evening. So the three of them had a talk. And they discovered that for all of them memory is a pulsing fire through which the past casts shadows, and hope and desire are the clouds and sunshine that illuminate and obscure the direction the present is going. So we are all the same, no matter how much time we have, asked the Homo sapiens, compared to Eternity — there is no difference between a life span of a day, a century or two thousand years? But the Ephemerid made no answer, it’s body was stiff, its reticulate wings brittle, brown, translucent, and motionless. “Every century” said the immense tree “I look back through my memory and scour away everything that I can. And those few things that are impossible to scour away remain. And I warm myself with them and try to use them to form my picture of eternity.”

“And will you remember me” the Homo sapiens found himself wondering as he looked through the window of his assisted care facility at the sequoia.

“Will I?” wondered the tree.

One hundred years passed. Two hundred, three hundred, four five six seven. The lightning struck and sempervirens found himself consumed. And as the xylem and phloem vaporized and went up to the stratosphere in smoke he found he did indeed remember the Homo sapiens.

…but he loved the Ephemerid!


The Online Test

Mac had never put two thoughts in a row in his entire life until one night he had insomnia and took an online test. The online test wanted to know why he took the online test. Based upon the answer it either classified you as a person who was looking for answers, or a person who knew all the answers already. Mac thought he failed the online test.

But later that night his friend Bomba told him, no you can’t fail an online test. An online test is designed to tell you what kind of person you are. Some people think that they are people who just happen not to know the answer to certain questions. And other people know, said Bomba, that to be a person is to have a question he doesn’t know the answer to. But I don’t know which I am! said Mac.

Well I’ll tell you said Bomba. You are actually a question who thinks he is a person. But what question am I? asked Mac. You are the question “What question am I?” said Bomba. “I know that’s not true” said Mac, “Because if that were true once I answered that question I would be gone. And I’m still here!” “Are you?” asked Bomba. “Or you have you become a puzzle?”

“What puzzle?” asked Mac. “The puzzle: what sort of puzzle would puzzle itself?” “That’s not a puzzle, that’s a riddle.”

“Suit yourself.” said the online test, and got the results.

You are an online test.


Codes and Puzzles

When I was a kid I was fascinated by cryptography. I had a book that taught me the scytale, the Playfair and the Vignere table. I knew the difference between a code (word substitution) and a cipher (messing with letters) and between a substitution cipher (“cat” becomes “dbu”) and a transposition cipher (“cat” becomes “atc”). I made up my own ciphers and codes, wrote messages in them, decoded and recoded them, ciphering and deciphering.

The puzzle I present to myself this evening is: why would a kid who was entirely alone, who nobody cared what he said or thought, be interested in codes and ciphers? I have come up with three solutions to this puzzle.

The first solution is that this interest in code masked the opposite desire. I hid my thoughts because I wanted my thoughts to be seen. This solution takes the form of a code: everything in the coded message (a lonely boy studying how to hide his thoughts) masks the opposite meaning. Decoded it means: boy seeking connection wants to know how to get other people to know what is within his heart.

The second solution is that this interest in code was an attempt on my part to substitute for the normal speech situation — one person says something and another person understands it — another speech situation in which the same person codes and decodes. This solution, clearly, takes the form of a substitution cipher. The pieces of the original activity, like an alphabet, remain in their places — a boy writing symbols in a book. But each piece has been replaced by something to hide its meaning. The coded message — a boy writing something in a way a hostile eye can never understand — reveals, by means of substitution the true message — a boy creates something that looks like communication but is actually a self-enclosed activity, to protect him from loss.

The third solution is the easiest — I was writing codes to have a secret to share with an imaginary friend. And this, easily enough corresponds to a transposition cipher — where the components of a normal coded communication — the friendly sender, the friendly receiver, the hostile spy who is unable to understand or perhaps even detect the message from sender to receiver are shuffled to become a sender who is friend and enemy, and an empty space for both receiver and spy.

And yet I find I am not satisfied with any of the solutions to my puzzle. They all miss the mark. What was happening I’m sure was something beyond the reach of code-craft; some sort of practice for understanding what it would mean to be understood, by way of practicing what it would mean to not be.

Good practice for tonight as I pose a puzzle to myself and fail again and again to solve it, generating only more puzzles. Why do I pose puzzles to myself? And why do I ask myself why?


Baked Hawaii

Suppose there are two people, let’s call them A and B. Both and A and B have impossible-to-fulfill expectations of another human being. For example A wants to be shown love by being given what he wants without asking for it. The only way in which he can feel fulfilled and safe is if another human being magically anticipates his needs and fulfills them. This is obviously a fantasy of going back to a childlike state, an infantile state, in which the mother provides warmth, nourishment, and safety although the child has not the cognitive or linguistic wherewithall to say “I want warm. I want nourishment. I want safety.” But this leads to an impossible-to-fulfill need because once the adult does have the cognitive and linguistic competence to ask for what he wants he will. Or the other person will figure it out! And that means that at some point A will say “I want my needs to be fulfilled without my expressing them” and this puts A’s partner in an impossible position, because once having said that, what is B supposed to do? If he fulfills A’s need to have his needs fulfilled without asking, he is in fact violating the conditions of A’s desire, because he is giving him exactly what he asked for. But there are as many ways to be unhappy as there are people, and there are other ways to have impossible-to-fulfill needs. For example you can have B whose need is to find someone who will accept him for those parts of him that are most unacceptable. Because as long as he makes himself acceptable he worries that he will die because some residual remains, which he thinks is “the real him” and this part is unacceptable, and as long as this unacceptable part remains unaccepted, he feels unsafe. You get this way I think if your mother did not breastfeed you. As it happens this is, if you do the math, also an intrinsically unfulfillable desire, because the moment you say that I have parts of me that are so unacceptable that nobody will ever accept them, a decent loving, or at least codependent person will say “No problem. I get that. I accept you.” and those parts will then be accepted, when what B wants all along is that those parts of him (or her) that are precisely unacceptable be accepted.

So what happens when A and B get together, A being the one who wants to receive without asking, B being the one who wants to give what is unasked for?

Well a Baked Alaska is when something ice-cream that is inherently cold becomes a delicious dessert because it is baked together with something inherently hot.

When A and B get together what happens is almost precisely the opposite. That’s why I called it a Baked Hawaii.


Grummus the Weird Donkey

This is a story from a long time ago. I think last week? Hard to remember. They took away my phone.

Grummus was a donkey they gave LSD to and other neuroleptics. He jumped over the chainlink fence of the petting zoo and cut up his belly. He hid in Mrs. Fleishman’s house.

Mrs. Fleishman had been a school teacher and she lost her job because people said bad stuff about her. She had very little money and very little food. Ok you want details. Yes she ate cat food. She watched tv but then they had no more tv. She took care of Grummus’s wounds.

Grummus could not talk like a human talks but Mrs. Fleishman understood what he thought. They figured out how to escape from the city by making the security cameras think there was an emergency and then when that emergency was recognized as a fake, they snuck out.

Grummus was able to visualize colors that we cannot see.


Schopenhauer and Nietzsche

Schopenhauer thought life was a dream and Nietzsche thought life was an interpretation. This reminds me of an interesting story. In the future every young man or woman upon initiation was given the services of a dream interpreter called a Joseph. He or she would dream in the temple and then go to the Joseph to have the dream interpreted (called this I think because of an old book? Not sure.) and that dream would guide his life. He had the dream and told the Joseph and the Joseph said “the only interpretation I know is red moon in the morning means sailor take warning. So maybe your dream means sailor take warning.” “That’s wrong” said the young man — “That’s an interpretation of reality. What I’m looking for is the interpretation of a dream.” “Oh really?” asked the Joseph. And the young man woke up.

Sailor take warning!