Adam and Eve

The Sounds of Summer

The Sounds of Summer

The luxury of spending childhood summers in a place that was primitively developed probably contributed to a deeper understanding and appreciation for nature than most of my peers might have had.Virtually all of the white and black noises of nature have played as songs in my ears including the isolated symphonic sounds of wind in the pine trees, rain falling on roofs, ponds, leaves and lawns, waves lapping, washing or crashing on bulkheads, jetties and beach shores, birds of every size or hue, crickets, bees, cicadas, thunder, hurricanes, lightening and gales.

I have witnessed the silent flights of bats and lightening bugs, the stealthy hunting creep of the fox, the breath taking sight of a billion visible stars on a cloud-free moonless night, and the chaos of a million silver smelts stranding themselves on a springtime beach as they flee large predators. I have felt the cycles of nature in the repeating life of seaside tides, and rowed a boat on a pond with nothing but a full moon to light the way; a moon that could sometimes even seem too bright, as it reflected itself off the surface of the water.

Over a long period of time I have also helplessly witnessed this area of Eastern Long Island become progressively more developed to the point of becoming unrecognizable to me for what it once was, resulting in losing of much of its natural charming beauty.

Crop land is being sold piecemeal for housing developments as farmers make less and less profit working it, yet still have to pay property taxes. Farm children no longer want to work land whose offering prices will make them instant millionaires instead of marginally subsistent sweaty peasants. Most recently the dairy farms have finally capitulated as they walked only two steps behind the numerous duck farms which are now long gone themselves.

The first artificially man-made sounds I remember hearing were those of a midnight train whistle or the relentless distant Doppler drone of the mariner’s foghorn at the Shinnecock Inlet. They were always there, as a soft background intrusion, yet never seemed to be an imposition on auditory sensation.

These sounds have now been replaced by the constant din of mowers, wood chippers; cigarette boat’s thundering engines, wave runners, music blaring from outdoor speakers, continuous construction noise, and the headache producing whining beeps that are programmed into motorized vehicles every time they go into reverse.

Yet even this is only a microcosm of the more general staggering pace of modern development. For example, a friend from my Residency training, Edward, had a grandmother who died in the late 1970s at the age of 90, who could recall the Fordham section of the Bronx being primarily dairy farms.

It has also been a mere century between the first primitive airplane flight at Kitty Hawk, and the ability to put a man on the moon or to land a robot on the surface of Mars.

The Homo sapien is a marvelous species of mammal made unique in all of nature by its ability to stand upright and the evolutionary gift of the opposable thumb. Standing erect freed up the hands with its prehensile thumbs, which then allowed for fine motor coordination and the subsequent evolution of eye-hand coordination. The development of eye-hand coordination then allowed the cerebral cortex to increase in size, to become more intricate and thus became a positive evolutionary feedback loop. The opposable thumb itself is unique to the species, which because it allowed for the fine motor manipulation necessary to make tools and weapons, is the sole reason that man can control and manipulate his environment.

It was only a short step then until the first axe, hoe and spearhead was invented, and for the species to be launched on an inevitable pathway to dominating the planet. Throw in the incidental ability to control fire, the invention of the wheel, iron and dynamite and then you have a truly terrifying creature on your hands.

John Beuttner-Janush, a former college professor at Duke, repeatedly pointed out in his lectures, that as a species we are what we are not because of what we have in our crania but rather because of what we sit on. He used to chide us by saying that if primitive man had never gotten off his ass, he never would have had a brain. That aphorism still holds true for a number of people I know today.

Yet man only differs from the great apes of Africa by a total of four percent in his entire genetic code and like many mammals or apes has his own genetic predisposition to the territorial imperative. Virtually all mammals fight to defend or sometimes to expand their domains and unless programmed to live as solitary hunters, will alwyas find refuge in groups with a common heritage and purpose. It is nothing more than an extension of the survival instinct.

The need to cluster in groups such as clubs, fraternities, tribes, sects, religious orders and nations is as biologically programmed as is the necessity to go to war in order to control or eliminate a competitor or to gain additional resources for oneself.

The problem is that on every level, the pace of man’s physical, material, and technological development has hopelessly outstripped his emotional development, which probably equates on an evolutionary time scale to that of a pre-pubertal teenager. I take that back. It is often more equivalent to that of a five year old.

Modern civilization is plagued by noise pollution and air pollution, not to mention that the night sky is also visually obscured by artificial light pollution. A person living in the center of a major city or even in the vicinity of a large town may be at risk for progressive deafness; pollution induced asthmatic lung disease and can never even see the stars when looking up on an otherwise clear night sky. Concrete jungles with its sounds of metallic mechanized beasts have replaced woodlands, farms and the sounds of birds and bees. There are probably even some accidental prisoners of the inner city ghettos who have never even heard the beautifully resonating sound of the wind.

There is also the equally sad loss of the sound of silence and the peaceful empty spaces that come between the natural rhythmic noises indigenous to an unspoiled environment.

Running on a parallel track is man’s loss of any direct contact with nature coupled with a species-wide inability to relate to nature’s balances and recurrent cycles; not to mention a perpetual need to go to war or to hate every other culture that does not happen to be ones own. The civilization that grew out of the cultures of Europe, the Middle East and Asia are the cultures that have manipulated the environment to suit its own selfish needs, subsequently leaving behind much of the natural planet Earth devastated, deforested and unrecognizable for what it once was.

Included in this generalized rape of the landscape, animals that have populated these areas have suffered coincidentally by being displaced or eliminated and often to the point of virtual extinction. They are the innocent collateral victims in the great war of perpetual development and mechanized madness.

The human species is the only life form on earth that can artificially alter its environment. It has come quite a long way from its cave dwelling days when superstitious men cowered in fear of ferocious beasts or spent their lives hunting and gathering food in order to survive from day to day. Today, superstition is replaced by scientific fact and we have exterminated most if not all ferocious beasts, while we do our hunting and gathering in super markets and fast food chains.

However, not all cultures were impervious to the need to maintain respect and to live within the boundaries of nature. The American Indian lived in harmony with his universe and respected the world around him. He also re-cycled everything he used. It was easy. Everything he used was organic. Some Native American tribes do not even have words for “jealously” or “greed” in their languages.

Many of the primitive jungle tribes that have recently been discovered in this modern era are of a similar philosophic persuasion and remain free of debilitating unbalanced materialistic drives. Of course they are not free from the genetically programmed bent for tribal warfare, but they do have respect for animals, for natural resources, and for the most part take from nature only as much as needed, while leaving the rest of it alone. They are philosophically fatalistic, believe in the gods of natural forces, and they do not destroy the earth that gives them life. Contrast this with Western cultural philosophies rooted in codified structured religions or in mandates that seem to come with a perverted sense of divinely originated sanction.

When the Book Genesis was written, was it written as a story to explain, to justify, and to rationalize human behavior, or was it really written as an excuse, or possibly only a cover story for the pre-existent ten thousand years of the human specie’s poor behavior. Unfortunately, it just never really seems to apologize for the dark side of humanity. It only castigates and chastises.

Yet then again, if a rationalization ever did become required for collectively poor human behavior, the best retrospective excuse to possibly offer would be to blame it all on a higher authority.

Just call it, God; then lay the blame on him: Halleluiah.

The American Indian did not need the White man’s Bible to redefine his relationship with nature, which to that point in time had stood the test of independent parallel human evolution.

Although Western conquerors forcibly imposed this document on Native American culture, while in doing so simultaneously referring to the Indian as Godless, for some strange reason I have come to realize that the opposite is probably closer to the truth. I cannot bring myself to believe in making the Garden of Eden, which in reality is this very planet Earth, that God in also making Man; gave him a simultaneous carte blanche mandate to go out and subsequently destroy it. God gave man a dominion. He gave it to him to be its steward and its Good Shepherd; but not necessarily to eradicate every plant or animal that ever crossed his path.

“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

However, the explanation for why as a species we seem to thrive on destruction may lie in the fact that God changed his mind after Adam and Eve disobeyed him and fell from grace. It may just be a simple case of the worst way to deal with blame: Seek revenge.

“Because you have done this, Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.”

I once had a friend who came out from New York City to spend a weekend in the Hamptons. At home in Manhattan, he had no trouble sleeping through the sounds of emergency sirens, traffic, honking horns, apartment neighbor’s din, and bustling noisy crowds.

However, he could not sleep at my house because the sound of wind, rain or crickets kept him awake at night, while the sound of birds chirping and crowing gave him insomnia at dawn.

 

And the people bowed and prayed  To the neon god they made  And the sign flashed out its warning  In the words that it was forming  And the sign said,

“The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls  And tenement halls”  And whispered in the sounds of silence

 

(Paul Simon)

Dining in

Dining In

My mother had no clue as to what she was in for by moving to New York. If she had I am sure she would have stayed in Dixie. One problem was that she already had one child by my father, Michael, who died of hyaline membrane disease shortly after birth and was buried in Texas. Therefore not only did she smoke but also proved the adage that she was already tainted, damaged, unchaste, spoiled, non-virginal goods. You could virtually hear my grandmother think:

  • Hah! She probably tricked him and told him it was really his-a baby.

Besides that, ordinary people in the 1940s did not divorce very frequently as divorce carried a serious social and financial stigma; especially for women. However, scandalously practiced more or less as an ad-lib activity by jaded Hollywood movie stars, celebrities didn’t give one iota about what the rest of the world thought about it. They also didn’t care what it cost.

Protestants, Catholics and Jews alike subscribed to the concept of eternal suffering in a bad marriage, a concept whose only benefit is that it can make your life seem that much longer than it really is. In a bad marriage minutes can literally seem like days, weeks or sometimes even years.

My father was a momma’s boy, the perpetual baby of the family who felt compelled to visit his mother several times a day to see how she was doing. This is ironic since nothing ever happened or really changed in her day-to-day existence of staring into space, mourning Grandpa and boiling kale. He was also the youngest, and since his brother Mike had already left, he was the only man left around. This counted a lot for my grandmother.

It seems that there was some sub-Rosa sibling jealousy over his professional career such that both of his sisters, at a minimum harbored ill feelings about never going to college themselves. Having never been impressed by their overall intelligence, I don’t have a clue why they ever thought they would have been college material in the first place.

There is a certain breed of mediocre intelligence middle class, yet still know-it-all Italians, that can best be described as the “dumb guinea.” This is a genre not even smart enough to have the criminal proclivities that make their Mafia cousins wealthy; and tends to epitomize the all too commonplace human breed that lives and dies by uninformed opinion. They also retain an uncanny ability to butcher the English language as they smugly pontificate on partial truths, completely erroneous facts or slaughtered syntax; typified for example by Aunt Rose telling me once to “go oar the row boat.”

One year during Christmas dinner at Aunt Rose’s house she held court over a table of seven other fully grown adults, while directing an hour-long conversation on whether it is better to leave a roasting beef untouched in the oven or to prick it with a fork to see if it is done, the upshot being which method stood a better chance of ruining the holiday joint. Opinion was sharply divided between the meat-prickers and the non-meat- prickers, after which a very heated debate ensued over whether the juices that escape as a result of the aforesaid jabbing really affected the overall outcome, for better or for worse. Every year it was the same tedious conversation:

  • Pricking the meat makes all the juices run out and spoils the tenderness.
  • No, no. You have to prick it to actually see if it’s tender.
  • No, no, no. You can tell if it’s tender by just pushing on the middle with a fork. You don’t have to prick.
  • What? That only tells you if it’s cooked enough. Tender is entirely different than cooked. You must always prick. Always.

See what I mean?

At least no one proposed the traditional method of testing ‘al dente’ pasta by taking the roast out of the oven and then throwing it across the room to see if it sticks to the wall.

After several cousins and I were born, then eventually later ritualized as family custom, all the families were subjected to three obligatory rotating holiday dinners at our house and the two Aunts. But in the pre-child era, it was far worse as my mother had to endure the then mandatory weekly family dinner with all six of her new in-laws, on every Sunday, after Church. She was not made to feel welcome, always sensing the veiled hostility about her origin, her religion, along with the potential grounds for my father’s excommunication from the Church. Even when she converted to Catholicism, the bias never shifted in her favor. Another serious problem, beside everything else, was the fact that my mother was absolutely beautiful while also possessing innate intelligence and common sense. Since these were things that none of them seemed to have in their itineraries, the monstrous head of the Great Green Giant: Jealousy, suddenly reared up.

Aunt Rose had a large hairy nevus on her face, an odalisque figure with a disproportionately large ass that was supported by wide stumpy hips and legs that failed to taper into ankles. My brother Larry and my cousin Jimmy used to check her out on every holiday to see if the hairs had been trimmed off the mole and behind her back secretly called her “elephant legs.” Those memories affected me so deeply that I once asked a fiancé, as a pre-marital stipulation to remove a similar but hairless facial blemish, so I would not have to think of my Aunt when I looked at her.

My mother said that my Grandmother, my Uncle Jimmy who was Kay’s husband, and my Aunt Rose were so unveiled in their hostility to her that she finally convinced my father to move out of the house. After he reluctantly agreed, we eventually settled about five miles away. By that time I was already in second grade

Those five miles were a godsend as not only did these two people never exude warmth toward my mother, but I also would occasionally get the strange feeling that they were never too fond of me either.

Once when I walked past Rose’s house, and decided to ring the doorbell, I could not believe that her usual effusively gushing annual welcome at Christmas was replaced by an icy cold “so what are you doing here?” The hypocrite did not even invite me in, so I never repeated my spontaneous attempt to bond with her. Apparently for her, good cheer was only reserved for the Holidays. This veiled hostility may have been also derived from the fact that my mother had partially redeemed herself by presenting me to my grandmother as the first living-at-home grandson; a blessed big deal in Italian households and something Rose could not provide as she only had daughters.

Uncle Mike already had a son, Albert, who was named after my grandfather, but no one ever saw them except for infrequently rare visits. My grandmother subsequently doted over me: her baby boy’s, baby boy.

It apparently was a regular occurrence at those weekly dinners that my Aunt Rose and Uncle Jimmy would converse in Italian and then snicker or guffaw to themselves in what turned out to be repeated derogatory insults aimed at my mother. Or on the rare occasion that Grandma did attempt communication in English, my mother would become frustrated at her own inability to understand her pigeon version, which left both parties to walk away in mutual vexation. For example Grandma said:

  • If-a no sharp, taka da scissa to da scissa grine.
  • What?
  • Taka da scissa to da scissa grine. You getta sharp.
  • Oh. You mean take the scissors to the scissors grinder to get it sharp. Why didn’t you say so?
  • What am I say you no wanna hear? Alla time I say so, you no wanna hear nothing I wanna say.

My mother told me issues had become so intolerable that she once came close to casually sneaking up behind Rose at dinner to actually strangle her to death in front of the entire family at the dining room table. She said that life in prison without parole or the electric chair had looked like a far better alternative than the weekly dinners she had to endure at In-Law Purgatory.

Over the years the tension between the two women was often unbearable and would occasionally erupt in bursts of catty chatter; like the time Rose went to have her “gall blotter” checked after which she beamingly announced that:

  • Why, the doctor told me that I didn’t even look my age.

My mother countered by asking her how much older he actually thought she was.

The other revenge my mother visited on Grandma was to never let her touch me when I was a baby, then to gloat over Grandma’s disappointed looks while her empty flailing outstretched chubby, grabby, pincer like hands remained empty. My father’s eternal mistake was that he was always in denial that there were problems. He also heavily discounted my mother’s feelings, defended the in-laws, and made his own mother’s happiness his first priority in life.

This could have all been avoided if he had re-read Genesis; because he paid dearly for this mistake; for virtually the rest of his life.

Adam and Eve

Therefore a man  shall leave his father and his  mother,

And shall cleave unto his wife : and they shall be one flesh.

(The Bible)

 

 

Adam and Eve Portrait by Hans Memling: Universitee Libre de Bruxelles

 

Freedom of Choice

Freedom of Choice

The Catholic Church is very high on the concept of free will as rooted in the Adam and Eve debacle in the Garden of Eden. Man can choose between good and evil, right and wrong, or better and worse. God put us here to experience a lifetime  of mixed joy, happiness, pain and suffering as we run around every day of our lives making numerous moral and ethical decisions, simply because our first father and mother could not keep their hands off a miserable apple.

When I was a child I used to wonder why apples were so plentifully accessible if they were at the same time so forbidden. Perhaps instead God should have dangled a carrot in front of Eve before he subsequently beat her with a stick. Or was eating the apple a parabolic vignette about virginity and innocence, meaning when you have it you guard it with your life, until you give it up to some devil, and then it doesn’t matter anymore, as it becomes anticlimactic hollow pith. The only difference being that once you pick that apple, you can never again put it back on the tree. Innocence becomes automatically tested, and jaded as life progresses; to the point that its loss becomes fairly apparent.

Virginity, however, is something both genders can always lie about; or at least successfully fake to some extent. Men can just deny having had any prior sexual experiences; and if you really want to be a purist, a woman can have a hymen surgically reconstructed; as many times as she might want to have it done.

In catechetical instruction, I asked the priest if we actually choose to be born, and if so, do we also choose our parents. He could not answer that question. In fact he could not answer many questions; except to let me know without doubt that my dead dog could not be admitted to heaven. When I asked him to clarify that he told me I would have to take it as an article of faith. The great thing about religion is that any unexplainable concept simply becomes an “article” or “mystery” of faith. Because the Church requires so many great leaps of faith, for the true believer it should probably supply every Catholic household with a trampoline.

I doubt very much that I chose my parents or that they even chose me. I believe rather that DNA combinations are random events with random outcomes; but at the same time retain a repository of automatic front loaded programming. Dropping that blob of DNA into a maelstrom of legacies makes for even more in the way of unpredictable outcomes. This is similar to starting a steam locomotive engine in a cornfield; then letting it run amok without tracks. You still end up with a maze but not the neatly furrowed acreage you had on your drawing board.

How many people procreate while honestly believing they are going to have that perfect child? More likely, most people procreate without giving thought to anything at all.

Personal choice for me was highly unlikely for another reason. With the inherent difficulties of having only one mother, it would be extremely doubtful I would have been crazy enough to choose the collective persona of the Four Sisters of the Apocalypse to be my multi-mega-mother.

What I definitely know for certain is that I did not choose the date, the time nor the season to emerge from the womb. Yet it was against this backdrop of pseudo stability, genetically diverse legacies, and probably not by my freedom of choice that I came into this cold, cruel world. If I had to do it over again, I would have stayed put, remaining only a solitary sub-atomic twinkle in the eye of the great universe at large, instead of becoming binary seminal twinkles in the eyes of both my parents.

 Cooper Sisters 2

And it’s up against the wall

Redneck mothers.

Mothers who have raised a son so well.

He’s thirty-four

And drinkin’ in a honky-tonk.

Just kickin’ hippy’s asses and raisin’ hell

(Redneck Mothers: Jerry Jeff Walker)