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    • The Vale of Cashmere

    • by Sean Elder

      green forest

      This story first appeared in Voice from the Planet, FREE from March 30 – April 3, 2017 at Amazon Kindle US, and Kindle UK among others.

       

      Truth was, she used to be able to organize her thoughts, until Floyd retired. Now he was always hanging around talking to her, asking what she was doing. Every time he went out, which wasn’t often enough for her taste, he would ask her if she needed anything and then look angry if she did. Sometimes he’d look angry if she didn’t. Now she looked for errands for him, just to get a moment’s peace. When she sent him off for milk this morning she could have lived without it. But she couldn’t have stood listening to him complain about the bus ride to Atlantic City before it happened, not non-stop for the next two hours.

      “You’re creating your future,” she told him. “Whatever you’re thinking and feeling, that becomes your reality.”

      “Don’t give me that shit,” he’d said, putting on his coat and hat. He had been wearing that same damned hat with the stingy brim so long it had come back in style.

      “It’s the law of attraction,” she’d continued. “You can deny it all you want but that don’t mean it’s not true. “Everything coming into your life you are attracting into your life. You’re like a magnet.”

      “Well, this magnet’s going to attract some milk,” he’d said before going out the door.

      He had made fun of her ever since she first heard Oprah talking about The Secret but deep down she thought that maybe he believed her. Or would, if he would just give it a try. He would come home so angry about something that happened out there – the security guy asleep in the chair, or someone who wouldn’t give his seat up on the subway – and she would tell him, “Every bad thing that comes into your life, you make happen.”

      Sometimes that really made Floyd angry. “Is that right? Every bad thing? I made happen every bad thing that came into my life, Marcy?” He would tower over her, breathing heavily, staring at the top of her lacquered hair until she was silent.

      She looked closely at the big digits on the clock by the bed. It was almost 8:30 and she still had not done her makeup. From the drawer in the nightstand on her side of the bed she looked for her own pill organizer and then realized she had already taken it out. She put it under the light, right beside that picture of her two boys, smiling in the lap of a black Santa, and looked at Wednesday. There were still pills in the morning box but the evening box was empty. Maybe she took the evening pills by mistake. Not that it mattered ‘cause they were basically the same. Or maybe she hadn’t filled the PM part.

      Looking at the rainbow colored compartments (Wednesday was green, Thursday red) she thought of Wilson, who had the hardest time with his R’s when he was little – “Weeding Wainbow,” he would say about his favorite show, and his brother would laugh at him. She felt overcome for a moment and then heard her husband’s keys in the door.

      She took the morning pills, four altogether, as Floyd shouted at her from the kitchen.

      “Do you know how much they wanted for a half-gallon of milk?” She imagined his face as he said the price and the way he would look at her afterwards. He might be looking that way right now, even though she wasn’t there.

      “Cost of everything is going up,” she yelled back. Then she stood and headed for the bathroom. “I got to get a move on.”

      “Ain’t you even going to drink your milk?” She heard him swear as she closed the bathroom door.

      The bus driver turned out to be some white guy who’d been sleeping in the back while people waited outside. The whole bus was talking about it, even after they got out of the Holland Tunnel and were getting on the turnpike, people tisking and hmm-hmming until Floyd wanted to yell, “Who told you to stand out there in the first place? It’s not even cold.” But he kept quiet and sat by a window, alone thank you very much, though Tommy insisted on sitting right in front of him, while Marcy huddled on the other side with a bunch of ladies. They outnumbered the men five to one anyway; he let Tommy represent, going back and forth across the aisle like some congressman making a deal. Each time he went over to the ladies he would say something so low that Floyd couldn’t hear and they would all laugh and holler.

      “I think it’s about time for some music,” Tommy said after one of his sorties. He had a gym bag with him that also said Mets on it, and from it he pulled a boom box that he tried to balance on the seatback in front of him. He pushed play and Johnnie Taylor started in on “Who’s Making Love” and the ladies all laughed, even though the sound was kind of wobbly. From the front of the bus the driver said something, they could see him looking at them in the rear view mirror, but no one tried to hear him. In fact Tommy stood up, with the boom box on his shoulder, and started to shake it in the aisle, which made the driver get on the mike.

      “Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to sit down.” He had some kind of accent, Russian or something, but no one really paid him any mind.

      The hits kept coming; it must have been some kind of collection since Floyd never heard a deejay. Tommy jammed the boom box between the headrest and the window so it wouldn’t fall down and turned around to look at Floyd, but not before looking at the driver, who had his eyes on the road again.

      “How ‘bout a little taste?” Tommy said, taking a half-pint in a brown bag from the pocket of his jacket.

      “Too early for me,” Floyd said, looking out the window. To him it always looked like New Jersey was halfway through being torn down.

      Across the aisle Marcy was in the middle of a conversation with the other ladies but she didn’t feel quite right. It started as soon as she left the building; she had picked out a brooch to go with her blue blouse, a little gold tree with red apples on it, but she had left it sitting in front of the mirror. Now she felt naked, all that blue stretching out below her chin like an empty ocean almost and she felt like she was being pulled back from drowning each time one of them stopped talking. That meant somebody was supposed to say something, you were supposed to jump in like it was a game of double-Dutch.

      “What I value most is the privacy,” Marcy said, but no one answered. She had a feeling she had said that before. The topic was assisted living and how to know when you needed it.

      “Until you wake up privately dead,” said the lady in the Kente cloth. Marcy didn’t remember meeting her before, a friend of Helen’s was how she was introduced, but she didn’t like her now. She had these gray and white streaks in her hair, extensions by the look of it, but it reminded Marcy of mud. Besides she was probably the youngest woman of the bunch, what was she talking about dying for?

      “My boy checks in on us every night,” said Marcy and immediately wondered why she had. It wasn’t true. Most times she had to call Eric and he never sounded too happy to hear from her. He did come to visit though, once a month at least. They saw less of him after his divorce, though you’d think it would be the other way around.

      “Where are we?” she said suddenly, looking out the window. Everything looked the same.

      “You keep asking that,” the lady in the Kente cloth said, or maybe she said. Marcy wasn’t looking at her and the music Tommy was playing made her feel lost.

      “Sending this one out for all you ladies,” said Tommy, like he was some deejay, and they all laughed but Marcy didn’t think it was funny. It was that song about sitting on a park bench that always made her sad. “I see her face everywhere I go/on the street and even at the picture show/have you seen her?”

      There was a hospital up there high on a hill and for a second she felt that the bus was going to take off and fly straight up to its doors. She closed her eyes and felt herself rise.

      They parked in the lot of the Showboat casino. Though they could have gone anywhere they wanted, the thirty odd passengers that disembarked made for the Showboat as if summoned, shuffling and limping toward the entrance in a broken conga line.

      “No one says we got to go to this casino,” Floyd said to the crowd of ladies leading the way.

      “The Showboat has a Mardi Gras theme,” said the lady in the Kente cloth. She turned around to give Floyd the fisheye, pulling down her glasses as she did. “Besides, we got coupons for the Showboat.”

      He fell in line sullenly beside Tommy who offered him another drink. Floyd took a swallow this time without pulling down the brown paper to see what it was. It tasted like mouthwash.

      “Jesus, what the hell you drinking?”

      “Little peppermint schnapps.” Tommy tried to slap Floyd on the back but the big man danced away, handing the bottle back as he moved.

      “What she mean by a ‘Mardi Gras theme,’ anyway?” Floyd said.

      Tommy shrugged. “As long as they got free drinks and blackjack I don’t much care.”

      Seagulls screamed overhead. Floyd saw his reflection scowling in the window of a parked Humvee. He went to New Orleans during Mardi Gras when he was in the Navy, how many years ago? He got lost and someone stole his wallet. A man dressed as a woman tried to put beads around his neck, he remembered. You could have your Mardi Gras.

      Marcy was among the first of the women to enter the casino and the air conditioning hit her like a cold wave. “Good thing I remembered my shawl!” she said but no one answered. The music and the sound of the slot machines, dinging and ringing with sirens going off every five minutes as if some crime was being committed, swallowed her voice.

      Marcy had thought to bring rolls of quarters and silver dollars. While the other ladies were getting change she was already pouring her silver into a red plastic cup provided to her by a girl in the shortest skirt she had ever seen.

      “You must be freezing!” Marcy said but the girl didn’t seem to hear her. Maybe she just got tired of people trying to talk to her.

      The slots area had thousands of machines and at noon it was already half filled, mostly old timers like her and Floyd. He and Tommy had set off in the other direction like there was a sign saying ‘Men, That Way.’ The carpets were in a pattern of red and orange and gold that reminded her of a kaleidoscope and the ceiling was made up to look like stained glass, though she knew real stained glass when she saw it and this wasn’t it. She felt like if she didn’t sit down she might just fall into the colors. She sat down at a quarter machine and began feeding it. She didn’t know where the other ladies had gone and looking over her shoulder left her none the wiser.

      “Y’all gonna have to find me,” she said and as if summoned a different lady in a short skirt appeared.

      “How you doing today?” she said. She had a tray filled with drinks and a notepad tucked into her belt. “Can I get you something to drink?”

      “Well I suppose you can!” Marcy turned in her chair to show her appreciation. “My name’s Marcy by the way, I come here from Brooklyn with a bunch of folks from my church group.”

      “Now isn’t that nice? My name’s Kim Sue. What can I get you?”

      Marcy smiled and opened her mouth. But she could not think of the names of any drinks, not just the fancy ones but any drink. She felt a trickle of sweat run down her back underneath her blouse.

      “It’s funny,” she said, embarrassed. “My mind’s just a blank today.”

      “Sure, no problem!” Kim Sue smiled back at her like one of those Chinese dolls, her name right there on her badge. “We have beer and wine and soda and mixed drinks.” She kept smiling at Marcy and continued. “I could make you a nice white wine spritzer, if you like.”

      “Oh, that sounds nice,” said Marcy, and it did sound nice, like a sprinkler in the summer time, the kind the boys used to play in. Kim Sue left and Marcy returned to the machine. Cherries and plums rolled past, never stopping at the same time.

      Eric used to chase Wilson through the sprinklers in the park and sometimes when Marcy wasn’t looking he would hold his little brother down and try to pull off his shorts in front of all the other children. She would get so mad at him, always teasing like that, knowing it would make Wilson cry and come looking for her, but she had a job then, looking after a little white boy named Oskar whose parents lived in Park Slope and worked all the time. Oskar’a parents didn’t mind too much when she brought her boys with her when she took him to the park. “As long as you remember,” the father said, “that Oskar is your first priority.”

      Well of course he is, mister doctor man! Why would my own flesh and blood come before your little prince? Good gracious, the things that man would say. If the wife heard him she would weigh in and try to soften the blow. “What my husband means is that we don’t want you to get too distracted. Three children is a handful.”

      Now that was the kind of thing only a white person would say. Where she came from three children was just getting started, even if she was done after Wilson, something her own mother could never understand.

      “Oh, don’t worry, ma’am,” Marcy would say. “I won’t ever let Oskar out of my sight.”

      All these people thinking someone was going to steal their child then, like the whole country had gone crazy. Soon they’d be putting their pictures on milk cartons and billboards and on TV during the news – “Have you seen Brandon?” Usually white kids. If a black kid went missing generally people know who took him.

      “Here you go, ma’am.”

      Kim Sue was back with her drink. It was in a big plastic cup with a straw that went in curlicues, like a roller coaster, like this was for a child. She started fishing in her coin cup.

      “Drinks are complimentary, ma’am.”

      Like I didn’t know that. She pulled out a Susan B. Anthony and put it on her tray. “That’s for you,” she said.

      “Very nice of you, ma’am. And if you need anything else you just let me know.”

      She turned to leave and Marcy was afraid to see her go. “Kim Sue, it’s like your momma gave you two names.”

      “Kim is my family name. Family name comes first in Korean.”

      “Is that right?” said Marcy. “Well I think family should come first, don’t you?”

      “Yes, ma’am.”

      Marcy thought that was something else she should write in her book but realized that she hadn’t brought it with her, and then forgot what she had said. “But they probably don’t spell it like that in Korea, do they? The Sue, I mean.”

      “No, ma’am, we have a different alphabet.”

      “Now isn’t that something?”

      She was balancing a tray full of drinks while she talked to Marcy so she let her go, disappearing into the big Tiffany lamp around them. A band was playing Dixieland and Marcy strained her eyes to see them. The music seemed to be coming from everywhere at once, “When the Saints Come Marching In.”

      “Let me tell you another,” she said, sipping on her drink. The lady at the machine next to her looked at Marcy and then moved away, taking her quarters with her. She watched as the drink spun up the straw when she sucked. Here we go loop de loop.

      Sometimes Eric would help her push the stroller as they went around the park, and Wilson would run so far ahead she would shout after him. “Don’t go where I can’t see you!” she’d holler, and Oskar, too big to be pushed around in a stroller, would try and stand up and yell after her. “Go where I can’t see you!”

      Wilson would hide like that at home as well; hide so good she couldn’t find him sometimes. They were living in Prospect-Lefferts, more house than they needed but you could afford those big limestone buildings then even on a Con Ed salary and Wilson would go into different rooms and be so quiet that she would get hysterical, be practically beside herself by the time her husband got home. Then they would hear him laughing. “Got you!” he would say and emerge from the cupboard or from behind the sideboard and Floyd would get so mad. That one time he came out of her closet wearing her bra and Floyd just about went crazy; took off his belt and chased him.

      She put in a coin and pulled the lever: a watermelon; a bell; the number seven in gold.

      “What numbers are you playing today?”

      She turned her head but nobody was there. Who had spoken? Just turning her head made the colors around her move and when she looked at the floor she saw the pattern there was moving too. It was like a flying carpet, the Vale of Cashmere –

      The Vale of Cashmere! That was the name of that strange corner of the park where she took the boys now and then. They were getting older; other boys took the place of Oskar, and Eric got too big to want to be with them. But Wilson kept her company as she made the rounds, bought them ice cream and wiped their sticky hands. People used to call it The Swamp and there was a muddy pond okay and some hanging trees.

      “How come you don’t play with boys your own age?” one of the kids had asked him once.

      “I just like to help my momma,” he’d said.

      He was the one who found out the real name of The Swamp, checked an old book out of the library and showed her on the map. There was a poem that went with it and Wilson stood up by the pond and put one finger in the air as he read: “Who has not heard of the Vale of Cashmere/With its roses the brightest the earth ever gave?”

      Another babysitter saw them by the pond once and came over to warn them. “You shouldn’t be down in there,” she said, afraid to come too close with her stroller in front of her. “They say men get together down there.”

      And after that Marcy noticed them, lurking about, standing in the trees. Once when she came down with Wilson and a stroller two men ran out, going in different directions.

      She didn’t think about it again for years, until Wilson was grown and still living at home, and he came back one night that first time with his face all bloody, drunk or high on something and smiled at her, blood on his teeth.

      “Hey, Momma, I been to the Vale of Cashmere!”

      That’s when Floyd said no more.

      “What numbers are you playing today?”

      She turned and the colors whooshed like a scarf being wrapped around her head. She saw her this time, a little woman, no bigger than a dragonfly like the ones the boys chased in the park, Wilson would put them in a jar with holes punched in the top, while Eric tried to cover it up with his hand so they would smother.

      “I’m looking for three sevens,” Marcy said to the dragonfly woman. “Are there some other numbers to play?”

      “That is the question, isn’t it?” said the faerie. “Are there other numbers to play?”

      And then she flew away, just like a little hummingbird, and Marcy got up to follow her, passing into the pattern of colors and leaving her cup of coins behind.

      Floyd went through all his money the first hour. Not all his money but all the money he’d meant to spend, the money he put in his shirt pocket, seemed to fly off the table. Dealer beat him every time: if Floyd had 18, the dealer had 19; if Floyd sat on a 19, the dealer hit him with two bricks.

      “I guess this lady feels like she has to show us what a blackjack looks like,” said Tommy, when the dealer drew her third in ten minutes. She apologized to them both, even though they didn’t tip her, and Tommy’s luck was better than hers: He doubled down twice and made a hundred bucks in the blink of an eye. All Floyd could do, once he had spent the money he had earmarked for this outing, was sit there and simmer in his resentment while Tommy’s chip pile grew.

      That was when Helen, the lady in the purple pantsuit, came and asked if he knew where Marcy was.

      “I thought she was with you,” said Floyd. It came out like an accusation.

      “Well, we agreed to meet for lunch at three,” she said, “but then nobody could find Marcy. We figured maybe you two went off together.”

      And that’s how well you know us, Floyd thought. “Maybe she just went off to another casino by herself,” he said. Even though he was losing, and wasn’t even playing at the time, he didn’t want to have to leave his spot and go look for his wife. “There’s no law says we got to stay here.”

      “Blackjack,” said the dealer, flipping another ace.

      But after a minute he did get up to look, as he knew he would, leaving Tommy, who still had a hot hand and no doubt wondered what all the fuss was about.

      “Did you try the ladies room?” he asked Helen.

      “That was one of the first places we looked. They have sofas in there, you know.” She paused. “Do you think we should call security?”

      The suggestion made his blood pressure rise. “No, I don’t think we should call security. Christ sake, grown woman goes off for a few minutes and you want to call the cavalry?”

      “Does she have a cell phone?”

      “Our son gave her one but she couldn’t figure out how to use it.” This was literally half true: Eric had given them each one last Christmas, and neither of them could figure out how to use it. By the time Floyd got the hang of it he realized that the only person he would call was his wife, which was kind of stupid since he saw her all the time anyway.

      They looked all the places that they had already looked and the lady in the Kente cloth joined them, acting more concerned that Floyd felt. “We need a system,” she said, as they circled the room for the second time. The place was more crowded than ever and Floyd could hardly hear what she was saying. “How about I go stake out the buffet and you stay here?” she suggested to Helen.

      “How ‘bout I go stake out the buffet?” Helen said. “I haven’t had lunch yet.”

      Floyd said they could both go feed themselves and take their time doing it; Marcy would turn up. He stood like a sentinel beneath the bells and sirens of the Mardi Gras slots, scowling most of the time. He hated slot machines; there was no sport in it, as he often told his wife. Blackjack at least you were playing the odds. Slots to him was just dumb luck, like a rabbit betting it wouldn’t get run over when it ran across the road. Twice he thought he saw his wife, and each time he took pleasure in anticipating just how much grief he was going to give her. But each time he was wrong.

      By four o’clock they were back together, Tommy too, and they began to set out in search parties. They were a small group: most of the travelers didn’t want to leave their stations, since the bus was scheduled to leave at six and this whole business had already cut into their time as it was. The lady in the Kente cloth, who finally introduced herself as Niobe, took charge. She contacted the hotel security, who seemed to have some experience with old folks wandering off, and as the witching hour neared, and the day-trippers started heading back toward the bus, she went out and argued with the bus driver, who was pretty adamant about leaving on time.

      “You can’t just go off and leave an old lady alone,” she scolded him. The engine was already running, gently shaking the bus, while the AC gusted out the door in heavy welcoming breaths.

      “I won’t be leaving her alone,” the driver said. “I will be leaving you to find her.”

      He agreed to wait as they made one last search. A handful of them fanned out, going to neighboring casinos and restaurants, off the boardwalk and into the side streets. Floyd couldn’t help but think that Marcy was messing with him the whole time, and when he saw the impatient faces of the other folks on the bus – they’d lost their money and had their fill, they just wanted to go home – he couldn’t help but side with them.

      Most of the people he saw as he wandered were wearing shorts and T-shirts. Used to be people would get dressed up to go someplace. And when did everybody get so fat? Walking down the boardwalk, bag of French fries in your hand, what did you expect? The new motto for the city was “Always Turned On,” which he found kind of creepy. There was nothing that he saw that turned him on.

      Doors were open, air conditioning blasting out, cooling nothing. Floyd took to popping into places and doing a quick look around, not even asking half the time if they’d seen anyone who looked like his wife. One, they couldn’t hear you with all that noise and two, half of them couldn’t speak English.

      “You seen an old black lady?” he shouted at one girl scooping ice cream. Her nails were so long he figured they might end up in somebody’s cone. “Blue shirt, about this high?” She stared at him like he was the one with the language problem.

      He kept walking. Going in and out of the summer sun was making him dizzy, to say nothing of thirsty. He wished for the first time that Tommy was with him. That man would always stop for a drink. He saw people in those rolling chairs, being pushed by young people, girls sometimes. And you wonder why you so fat?

      Down at one end of the boardwalk he found what looked like a real bar. The crowd had trickled off as the sun sank lower in the sky. Go on, get out of here. A lot of good you been. Floyd ducked inside and felt the rivers of sweat roll out from under his hat and chill on his face and neck. His glasses steamed as he took a seat at the bar and ordered a gin and tonic. He perched on the stool and looked up at the game on TV. The waitress brought him his drink and man did that taste good. No skimping on the gin, either. He forgot to ask her about Marcy. His wallet was bothering him, he felt like he was balancing on it. When she asked him if he wanted to start a tab he simply nodded.

      “You got a phone?” She pointed to an old-fashioned booth in the back, kind Superman used to change in. The place was filling up, young couples waiting for dinner. Went back to the hotel to put your dress shorts on? Once inside the paneled wood booth he forgot who he was going to call. Eric, right. He searched the scraps of paper in his wallet for the number he never had cause to memorize and let it ring, go to voicemail, and then dialed again.

      “Hello?”

      “This ain’t no telemarketer.”

      “Hey, Pop.” He did not sound happy to hear from him and Floyd had already put enough change in the machine so he cut straight to the point.

      “We in Atlantic City and your mother’s gone missing.” He backtracked from there, explaining the whole afternoon in greater detail than Eric needed, but never did his son sound any more excited than Floyd felt. He asked the obvious questions – had they called the police? Who else was looking?

      “Did she have her cell phone?” he asked, pointedly.

      “That’s why I was calling,” Floyd said. “I figured maybe she’d called you.”

      Eric was silent, and Floyd knew that he knew he was lying. He imagined him at home, still in his work clothes, the sound on the TV muted, his eyes on the game. From his perch in the booth Floyd could see the TV over the bar. Jeter was trying to steal.

      “I’m sure she’ll turn up, Pop. I mean, where’s she gonna go?”

      “I know that.”

      “You got your cell phone with you? So I can call you if she does?”

      Floyd muttered something and got off the phone. That boy would go to his grave asking about those damn phones. He should just wrap them up and give them back to him for Christmas. Turn ‘em into salt-and-pepper shakers.

      When he got back to his seat at the bar Jeter got picked off and he ordered another drink. Now they could send the search party out for him. The tumblers were tall and when he turned in his seat he found he had company. Big old white dude with long hair and a pointed beard. He was sipping a Budweiser longneck and looking at the screen. His arms were covered in tattoos; dragons, snakes and skulls disappeared into his shirtsleeves.

      “Fuckin’ Yankees,” he said and turned to look at Floyd. “Nice hat.”

      Floyd turned to face his own reflection in the mirror behind the bar. “You wouldn’t believe how long I had this hat,” he said.

      “There isn’t much I wouldn’t believe,” the man said.

      They got to talking. Turned out he worked in a tattoo parlor on the boardwalk, which explained all the ink. Half way through his second drink and Floyd was feeling generous in his opinions.

      “Back in the day,” he said, “man had a tattoo it meant he’d been someplace. In the service, in the joint, you know.”

      “I hear you,” the man said. “These days it just means you been to the mall.” He drained his beer and held up the empty. “Buy you a drink?”

      “Let me buy you a drink,” said Floyd, and pulled out the fat wallet that had been giving him such a pain and laid it on the counter. Soon he had the pictures out and was showing him snaps of Eric, bragging on his job even if he wasn’t exactly sure what he did. Then one of the whole family, when everyone was young.

      “Where’s your other boy?” the stranger asked.

      Floyd made a face like he was sucking on a lime. “Wilson got killed in a hold-up ten years ago,” he said.

      “Oh, man, I am sorry. They catch the guy who did it?”

      “No, it was in Prospect Park one night. Lot of crime in there.”

      “That’s why I could never live in the city,” the man said, which struck Tommy as funny. Most people would be scared of him, even in Brooklyn.

      “So what happens when folks get old?” said Floyd, changing the subject. “Maybe they don’t want all those tattoos any more.”

      “Shit, you don’t have to wait ‘til your old to regret something stupid you did.” The man laughed and Floyd got a glimmer of a gold tooth in his head. “People come in all the time wanting to have tattoos taken off, usually the name of some girl that don’t love them anymore.”

      “Can you do it?”

      “Sure,” the man said. “Hurts like hell and costs twice as much. But we can do it. Easier just to change it, though.”

      “How do you mean?”

      “Well, there was this one girl who loved a guy named Chris and had it tattooed on her ass. Until she found Jesus and then we just added a ‘T’.”

      He didn’t smile at first and it took Floyd a minute to figure it was a joke. He smiled first. “Hey, I got one,” he said. The stranger’s eyes gleamed in anticipation. “There was this guy who loved this old girl so much he had her name tattooed on his Johnson.”

      “Now that’s gotta hurt!”

      “Hell, yeah.” Floyd wiped his mouth. “Then they broke up, you know, and soon he started missing her real bad. So he went all over looking for her, from Wisconsin all the way down to Jamaica. Then he’s in the bathroom one day and he looks over and he sees this other guy’s dick.” He stopped for a minute. The stranger kept staring at him. “Now I can’t remember that girl’s name.”

      “Is it important?”

      “Yeah, it’s the whole punch line.”

      “Uh, oh. Better have another drink.”

      He felt flushed and excused himself to go to the bathroom. There he stared straight ahead at the wall and read all the graffiti as if looking for a message. And by the time he got back to the bar he was not surprised to see the stranger was gone and with him his wallet though all Floyd could feel was a keen sense of disappointment: He remembered the end of the joke now. He had remembered that old girl’s name.

      ______________________

      voice from the planet

      ‘Vale of Cashmere’ was first published by Harvard Square Editions in Voice from the Planet, FREE from March 30 – April 3, 2017 at Amazon Kindle US, and Kindle UK among others. Sean Elder’s writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, New York Magazine, Salon, Slate, Vogue, Elle, Men’s Journal, Men’s Health, O: The Oprah Magazine, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Details and many other publications. The essay he contributed to the collection of men’s writings The Bastard On the Couch (Morrow, 2004) was reprinted on three continents; his essay on ecstasy, included in the collection of drug writings entitled White Rabbit (Chronicle Books, 1995) was called “seminal” by Granta; and a piece he wrote about being a stay-at-home dad for Oprah was included in her best of O collection, Live Your Best Life (Oxmoor, 2005). He has co-authored several books, including Websites That Work with designer Roger Black (Adobe Press, 1997) and Mission Al Jazeera with former Marine captain Josh Rushing (Palgrave, 2007). He also works as a book doctor and helped edit the forthcoming Making Rounds with Oscar by Dr. David Dosa (Hyperion, 2010). He lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife and daughter.

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    • All at Once: Excerpt of the Novel

    • I step onto a wide stone platform surrounded by water and lie on my stomach to peer down over the edge. At my approach, tiny fish scatter like drops of colored light; crabs pause, wary, then scuttle along the sides of the basin, stuffing their mouths as fast as they can with alternate pincers. After a while, a kind of brown finger wriggles out from the shadows. Another one emerges, then two more, and finally the bulbous body of an octopus comes into view. It skims along until the water is too shallow then starts to walk, using its tentacles as legs. When the water gets deeper it pushes off against the sandy bottom to glide, once more, just beneath the surface. It circles round and round my platform.

      aao cover

      My back begins to prickle, and I realize I’ll be burnt to a crisp if I don’t find shelter pretty soonthe ocean breeze masks the sun’s virulence.

      Standing up makes me momentarily dizzy. The tide has gone out, uncovering rocks studded with barnacles or slick with thick green hair. I head back toward the flat sand and continue walking, looking for a place to rest. I’ve just about resigned myself to the idea of a plastic chair, when I spot a barraca that’s not open for business. The beach in front of it is empty, the small structure shuttered; its thatched roof casts a nice, wide stripe of shade onto the sand. Gratefully, I set up camp, taking out the water and crackers I brought, spreading out my towel to sit on, and leaning against the barraca wall with the empty backpack in between for cushioning. A sigh of relief.

      The ocean is now more white than blue. At the horizon, a wavering smudge might be a cruise ship or an oil rig. The great mass of water is barely disturbed by shifting waves, fretful and sluggish like a dog settling down to sleep. There’s an occasional bloom of white spray when a wave breaks against rock; wisps of cloud trail across the sky. I yawn, lie down on the towel, and close my eyes.

      Now the landscape is reduced to the rustle of wind in the palm thatch, the faint piping of a distant bird, and the dull roar of the ocean. I stretch my arms and let them flop back down. Rolling my head slowly from side to side to loosen the tension in my neck, I notice that this movement causes the pitch of the ocean to vary ever so slightly. Intrigued, I try it a few more times, just to make sure.

      There’s a lesson in that, I reflect: reality changes according to your viewpoint. I roll my head once more from side to side then lie still again, listening to the tiny, ceaseless fluctuations within the monotone.

      An insect lands on my footwithout opening my eyes I flex my toe to chase it away, and realize that the gesture produced an infinitesimal shift in the ocean sound. Bizarre! I can understand the position of my head influencing what I hear, but the position of my toe? (more…)

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    The Moral Imperative

     
    (For Rabbi)

     
    Morality, contrary to EM (European Modernism) relativism, is our essential species-trait.
     
    It is, in fact, the very building block of human society.
     
    The First Moral Relation is between mother and infant.
     
    It is also the very first, vital, natural/social tie.

     
    *
     
    EM ideology arose in challenge to the sway of the Church of Rome; but was even more antagonistic to the idea of a moral order.
     
    The latter would fit ill with its venal, materialist, ambitions*.
     
    *
     
    EM , once on the ascendant, soon replaced extant moral law of medieval Europe , with written legal codes: written , that is, by its own votaries.
     
    In a way, E-Modernism expunged a moral universe and substituted a rational-legal framework for it, and deemed it ‘progress’.
     
    The latter is more negotiable, more flexible, and more susceptible to the ploys of vested interests.
     
    Commerce demands enforceable contracts- being between distrusting parties motivated only by the prospect of gain – whence the preference for hard and fast legal codes.
     
    *
     
    This is how Canon Law (basic to the Church of Rome, and inimical to profit-taking and interest-bearing) was largely buried by EM zealots, in support of the nouvelle ‘Protestant’ revolution that helped break the social tie and the idea of collective responsibility (good , tangible, ‘works’ being discarded by the esoteric modality of a privatised ‘faith’) , in favor of asocial, adversarial, individualism.
     
    And, once moral laws are abandoned, we enter the now all too familiar world of a Post-Moral Society where, essentially, ‘anything goes’.
     
    *
     
    And, once morality is rendered non-essential , even superfluous, we slide surely down the bannister of what I have termed Human Devolution
     
    Because, to be Post-Moral is to be Post-Human.
     
    And that is where the Lead Hegemon of EM is at today.
     
    Post Truth, Post Morality, and Post Human.
     
    Almost beyond redemption?
     
    You tell me.
     
    *For more background to all this, see my Farewell to Modernism, N.Y., 2017
     
    [© R.Kanth 2022]

     

    Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda (Novel) , A Day in the Life (Novel), and Expiations (Verse)

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    Parameters

     
    (For G.Vaughan)
     
    The simple homilies we elide, daily?

     
    Love one another!(The Bible)
    Only Connect! (Forster)
    Be true to one another! (Arnold)

     

    I could say it all more economically: Be Kind!
     
    Or, simply: Care !

     
    *
     

    Those are a cri de coeur of our anthropic existence.
     
    Inherently superior to the ‘liberte, egalite’ EM sloganeering which serve to decoy us into fruitless struggles into perpetuity.
     
    A loaf of democracy and a jug of equality will not quench that inner hunger/thirst .
     
    Nor will full employment, zero inflation, and endless growth of the GDP cover it.
     
    But they can remain high epistemic idylls, only, honored in the breach, unless grounded in realisable societal forms.
     
    They cannot simply be ‘engineered’, by design or declamation, contrary to extant EM notions.
     
    In my critique of EM (European Modernism) I have sketched the ontic (pre)conditions for such states of being –subject ever to human variability ( which can never be discounted).
     
    I have also noted that in those specified societal contexts such affirmations are quite spontaneously evoked.
     
    I won’t repeat them here.
     
    *
     
    It is helpful to review what is possible,
     
    Even in the midst of all this dystopian madness.
     
    Yes, Dystopian Madness.
     
    I will repeat the obvious: we live in a world gone mad.
     
    A madness structurally innate in the philosophical premises undergirding EM ideas.
     
    *
     


    Human society is an organic, moral, entity.
     
    This basic, simple, truth is elided by all of EM ideology/social science.
     
    Until we rediscover that, we will continue on this catastrophic path to expand Amoral Society (EM society) to its nether limits.
     
    If not undone, and soon, we will be , irreversibly, the zombies we are fast becoming, if we survive at all.

     
    *
     
    In the Beginning was the Affirming Deed.
     
    Time to recall/revive it?
     

    [© R.Kanth 2022]

     

    Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda (Novel) , A Day in the Life (Novel), and Expiations (Verse)
     

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    Utopia?

     
    (For Gayatri Spivak)

     
    Imagine, wrote(and sang) John Lennon.
    Beautiful, evocative, words.
    But , regrettably, illustrative of what I have termed EM (European Modernism) delusions.
    Ever refining utopias – in the mind.

    Flights of fancy have their place.
    Dreaming has a function.
    Undoubtedly.
    It helps many us survive the iniquities of the present.
    In hope.

    Hope has a place, too (as indicated above).
    Though as Ben Franklin said, they who live on hope die of starvation.
    And as Walter Benjamin said: hope is (oft) given as a sop to the hopeless.

     
    *

     
    Yet the real cannot be talked, or hoped, away.
    It needs be recognised, understood, in its ontic depth.
    So we know limits, boundaries, of what is possible.

    Quantum Physics suggests that sub-atomic reality is flush with possibilities.
    But , at our level of existence, we need to scale in probabilities, as a check to that ontic largesse.

    Question arises: is nothing impossible?

    I know very little physics, though I’ve read heaps.
    So I cannot say.
    I do know human anthropology.
    Better than any EM ideologue.

    I will sum that up.

    Our species has essential, instinctual, properties which EM ideology has buried, elided, and/or hid from sight, in its facile constructions.
    We are, familial, communal, co-operative , convivial , and affective beings.
    That is our inner species-being.

     
    *

     
    But human devolution, continuous since the eclipse of simple, early, tribal forms (which are like extended families bound by affections) deforms that essence, in manifold ways, via the vagaries of history/societal processes.

    EM sanctions and sacralises that deformation in the form of extant EM ideology and social theory.

    And , in so doing, has us live and function (mentally, and eventually, actually) in a bleak, banal, avaricious, competitive, adversarial, uncaring, world in stark alienation of our own essential needs and capabilities.

    The consequences of this error are grave: it becomes a self-fulfilling lie.

    It has turned a band of convivials into a company of strangers.
    It has morphed mammals into reptiles.
    It has us viewing society as but a means to achieve sordid, asocial, adversarial, acquisitive, individualist, ends, pitted against one another, in incessant, if dubious, struggle.


    It is what must be Undone.

     
    *

     
    But that is not to invent, au contraire, some fantasy utopia(s) ( where all traffic lights stay green? ) in its place (anthropic life is fragile and tenuous, and in variable natural environs, has multiple vicissitudes).

    Simple tribal forms are caring, cooperative, and convivial, within: but suspicious and dubious of other such forms without.

    This us and them distinction is basic, and cannot be wished , ‘imagined’ away.

    We share that with many fellow animals.

     
    *

     
    So, to be reasonably content , and at ease, we need to recognise, and cater to, our real needs.

    We are best suited to live in small , face to face (Gemeinschaft), communal forms.

    So, e.g., the EM ‘nation-state’, an artificial, imposed , entity, now the universal norm, is wholly inimical to its bent.

    Ties to family , kindred, and close community are ‘natural’: ‘citizenship’ is but an ‘assumed’ (enforced) identity.

    Our highest anthropic need may also simply be to huddle, not to ‘climb every mountain’, or to seek out Higgs-Boson particles, or to circumnavigate the universe.

    So, the effect(s) of the ill-conceived idylls of ‘Progress’ in EM societies is sheer, tragic, cumulation of wholly gratuitous angst, alienation, anomie, and loneliness.

    Liberte, egalite, and the entire slew of EM sloganeering, are mere chimera that have us expend precious living time/resources chasing after will-o’-the-wisps that can rarely be attained- as generation after generation can bear witness to – mumbling ‘yes we can’, all the way to perdition.

    They are but the labors of Sysiphus.
     
    *
     
    It is also EM that gave us 2 Global Conflagrations and is insouciantly heading now for another , perhaps final, cataclysm.

    Note that.

    Just that alone should give us pause, and have us reflect on the dubious gifts of (E)Modernism, instead of still trying to locate intelligent space within it.

    And soon, before we are all swept away.

    The ‘opportunity cost’ of EM ‘Progress’ may well turn out to be universal destruction.

     
    *

     
    So, don’t go about ‘imagining’ surreal worlds ( if the object is to really escape the toxic world -natural and social – we have created).

    Instead, recognise our real, anthropic, roots and (re)organise day-to-day living within their achievable, and sustainable, perimeters.

    That is no paradise, mind: it simply means we live in conformity with our given social natures.

    Before early tribal forms are destroyed ( usually owing to male adventurism) such societies reveal the closest we have come to a palpable modus of contentment.

    Little wonder they impressed a host European Modernists, including Marx (who saw in them a microcosm of his model of ‘communism’)


    They form , therefore, the living laboratory proof of what our ‘human nature'(mind the oxymoron) really is.

    Compare that to the perpetual ‘war of each against all’ we face in E-Modernist societies, esp. in their so-called , if self-styled, ‘advanced’ formations – and you can appreciate the Argument.

    Here’s hoping…

     

    [© R.Kanth 2022]

     

    Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda (Novel) , A Day in the Life (Novel), and Expiations (Verse)
     

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    A Transvaluation of Values?

     
    In a prior post , I called EM (EuroModernism) a Death Machine

    The Death Machine

    If so, what might be the salve?
     
    *
     
    Let’s address this in two simple steps,

    1.EM dehumanises us, by refusing to credit us our essential human nature (affective, co-operative, mutualist, familial), and instead assumes we are rationalist, competitive, self-seeking, and individualist.

    Salve: Rehumanise ourselves.

    We need to recognise our human essence , de-emphasize the latter attributions, and reorient life and living in conformity with that essence.

    Whence we have to affirm the primacy of affective relations , whilst displacing other relations onto a secondary plane.

    2. EM depersonalises life and living.

    Salve: Personalise all relations, infusing/affirming them with affective content.

    The sullen bleakness/ennui of everyday, adversarial, life in the public sphere then evaporates and it starts to become ‘meaningful’ again.

    It’s akin to a black & white film slowly taking on color.

    Just following these 2 simple protocols will help , slowly, to transform the Modernist Wasteland into a somewhat more bountiful domain.
     
    *
     
    What did I just describe above ?

    In effect, the social ontology of simple tribal society where all relations are affective: whence meaningful, non-alienating, and mutually affirming.

    The salve is a gradual process of disengagement with EM diktats that impose artificial boundaries/borders and infect all relations with the toxins of doubt , disquiet, distrust.
     
    *
     
    Anthropic life is simple, not complex.

    E-Modernism, in its manipulative thrusts, diverts our energies from where they serve our human needs to serving the interests of the system.

    We are, thereby, misled into squandering the many bounties of life in favor of building castles in the air, jousting windmills like Don Quixote, seeking the unattainable, dreaming of impossible utopias, chasing ephemeral chimeras of imagined Erewhons, and thereby living ever dispiritedly, and bogged down, in states of palpable discontent .

    It’s a dreadful treadmill: and, like All Modernist Paths, leads nowhere, except to certain disenchantment.

    Precious lives are all too often wasted: into fruitless escapades , and unrequiting retreats, that take us further and further away from the sources of our real contentments.

    Contra the protestations of the system, life is not about exalted attainments or ineffable achievements.

    These are false snares that lure us straight into the maelstrom of endless struggle, strife, and gratuitous , incessant, conflict : with others , and our own inner psyches.

    At needless, fruitless, war with each other, and ourselves.

    An expense of spirit, in a waste of guilt and disaffection – to slightly amend the Bard of Avon.
     

    *
     
    The staggering richness of life, brief as it is, drains away unnoticed, as we live trapped within robotised routines, walking the walk, running the course, jumping through hoops, ever diverted from all the manifold provenances of our essential well-being.

    To repeat: we are communal, familial, mutualist , beings forced to
    be privatised, individualised, and , also, set up adversarially against others , similarly located.

    Which makes war the normal, inevitable, even permanent, EM condition.

    But we are not warriors: but, in essence, lovers.

    Whence we suffer, mired in varied miseries, at home and abroad.

    In unremitting, ever dubious, struggle.

    Is it worth it?

    Think.
     
    *
     
    A transvaluation of values helps break the epistemic chains, as an initial, necessary, first step.

    Ontic (de)constructions will, ipso facto, follow.

    For we humans build real communities, naturally, and instinctively, like ants and bees, if left alone.

    No manifestos , nor loud declamations, are needed.

    We are organic beings, compelled by force and fraud of EM diktats to live empty, mechanical, mechanistic, lives.

    As Orwell well understood, we qua humans. are the normal, natural, antipode to any and all of the fabrications of the EN Machine.

    All it takes, as a first step, is, simply, true self-awareness
     
    *
     
    A Transvaluation of Values: that’s just the beginning – of a long, and winding , Unravelment.
     
    Ready?
     

    [© R.Kanth 2022]

     

    Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda (Novel) , A Day in the Life (Novel), and Expiations (Verse)
     

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    The Death Machine

     
    Orwell knew.
    As did Illich, and Gandhi.
    And a few other farsighted in the century prior.
    But the rest of us?
    The hoi polloi.
    Do we know?
     
    *
     
    That the system we live in.
    And celebrate.
    This veritable ‘best of all possible worlds’.
    Progress, Development, and all the rest of the
    self-validating cataract of cliches that sensurround
    our senses making us near insensible.
    Is a Death Machine.
     
    *
     
    Just 400 years of it.
    And everything around us is dying.
    Flora, fauna, all of it.
    Habitats dissolving, ecologies dissipating.
    The Planet itself, or that part which sustains life, in mortal stress.
     
    *
     
    And we?
    How about us?
    Exalted King Vampires astride the top of the food chain.
    Masters of the Universe.
    How are we doing?
     
    *
     
    What is left of culture, society, civility , in the
    heartlands of where the Great Game originated ?
    Sociopaths and psychopaths rule the roost, with societal empathy
    derided, disdained, and debauched.
    War criminals govern us.
    Billionaires buy and sell our fragmenting Republics with brazen impunity.
    An Amoral Society (mark the oxymoron) is the latest contribution in the long-drawn saga of EuroModernism (European Modernism).
    We live in, and by, dread alone.
    And all around us Human Devolution spreads its dissolute wings.
     
    *
     
    The civilisation-mongers that claim(ed) to be paragpns of reason and liberty are racing, joyously, even tumultously,to raze the world (the same way it began?) with a Big Bang.
    Cannon and chicanery had them seize the world, once upon a time.
    The very same twin tools now stand put to end it.
    Bravo!
     
    *
     
    What price now the hoary liturgy of liberte?
    Freedom?
    What a concept!
    Yes, we are become ‘free’.
    From the prospects of even mere continuity.
    In a fact-free , conscience=free ,value-free, world.
    We are free: free-wheeling , free-dealing, Zombies run amok.
     
    *
     
    Unabashedly, Post-Truth, Post-Morals, and Post-Human.
    That is the Collective West today.
    The First World, no less.
    First in a world they have securely ensured will not last.
     
    *
     
    Yes, they are inveterate, intrepid, fighters for freedom.
    Yours and mine, that is: except we are trying to preserve it – from their very onslaughts.
    I refer to the real autonomies of life: far more concrete than the sloganised memes of ‘freedom’.
     
    *
     
    Of course, they can claim no monopoly of barbarism.
    They have (had) plenty of competition.
    But no Others , in human history, have brought us, insouciantly, to the very edge of Exterminism, all the while preaching a meretricious Litany of Rights.
     
    *
    What is it about EM (European Modernism) that has wrought this?
    Its ideology and praxis has deracinated the very roots of our humanity, silting the eternal founts of human affections – viz., family, kindred, and community that keep us sane – with the venal sludge of competitive cupidity, avarice, and accumulation, reducing us to atomised, anomie and angst ridden , solitary, adversarial, asocial individuals ever swirling to higher and higher spirals of mortal alienation from our inherent species-being of Conviviality, Cooperation, and Caring.
    In so doing, they morphed a band of convivials into a company of strangers.
    Forever lost , lonely, lorn, and disconsolate
    .
    Worse, in metaphor , they almost turned us mammals into reptiles.
    The perennial Qualities of Life have been buried, entombed, in the varied avalanches of this misanthropic Age of Quantity.
    Madness is the inevitable societal condition of humans when stripped of their baseline affective supports.
    We are, and have long gone, mad.
     
    *
     
    Orwell , Illich, and Gandhi.
    Time to read them again, as institutions crumble about us?
    And as the Dystopian EM Juggernaut slashes and burns its way onwards , hurtling us all toward a mutually assured extinction.

     
    [© R.Kanth 2022]

     

    Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda (Novel) , A Day in the Life (Novel), and Expiations (Verse)
     

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    History 101

     
    (For Dr Kalyan Banerjee)
     

    Let’s review European colonialism, as it evolved just a few centuries ago.

     
    Who can make sense of it?
    I can’t.
    And I have studied it all my life.
    It defies reason.
     
    *
     
    Portugal, Spain, Netherlands, France, England, the early ‘Pioneers’.
    And many lesser ones we won’t mention.
    Cutting loose across the Non-European world.

    Genocide
    Slavery.
    Expropriation.

    Ecocide.

    Standard fare: on a multi-continental scale.
     
    *
     
    btw an estimated 56 million perished, owing to their exploits, i.e. roughly 10% of the extant global population, as early as 1600 C.E.

    The Pre-Columbian native peoples are estimated to have suffered about a 90% mortality rate.

    This Extinction Event (and there is no other way to describe it) is even said to have triggered a perceptible global cooling.
     
    *
     
    Wasn’t merely mass murder.

    ‘TWas also the unique gifts – that go on giving? – they brought with them to the New World: measles, smallpox, influenza and the bubonic plague.
     
    *
     
    Regrettably, it still goes on, if under more euphemistic nomenclature..

    Today, in due decorum, we call it Development, Globalisation, International Trade, et. al..

    The First World, they call themselves.

    Why not?

    It fits.

    They got there first, they looted first, they colonised first.

    Now you know how/why the West ‘pulled ahead’.
     
    *
     
    So, when Trump trashes African nations, he needs to reflect.

    Africa may or may not have ever been ‘poor’ (poverty is relative, deprivation is not) : but the West got rich by seizing its resources, wholesale.

    The Berlin Conference of 1884 sealed its fate.

    90 percent Of Africa was, by 1914, under Western occupation, with only Liberia and Abyssinia outside of it.

    And they are still at it, in that unfortunate continent.
     
    *
     
    The looting of India, also, was classic, even epic in scale and scope.

    Its fabled wealth was what drove adventurers like Columbus to go expeditioning.

    Yet, until recently ,it was treated as no more than a beggar nation, by precisely those that beggared it.

    And yet, as late as 1750, China’s share of global GDP was 33 percent, India’s 24.5 percent, whilst the combined share of Britain and the US was 2 percent.

    Read that last bit over again: the UK & the US , together, amounted to but 2 %.

    In effect, their Seven League Boots were donned much later.

    So , what happened?

    The Brits happened, to India (and elsewhere) , as did many of its European clones.
     
    *
     
    Fast forward.

    Since WW2, just the US alone – never mind other European nations- is estimated responsible for over 20 million deaths in the Non-European world.

    Over 1 million Iraqis slain not so long ago, on specious charges

    1 million dead.

    When the late Secy of State Madeleine Albright was queried whether 250,000 Iraqis babies dead was worth the removal of Mr Hussein, she said, without batting an eyelid , it was.

    That one single statement sums up the hoary, emblematic, morality of the West like no other.

    And the major victim countries?: Vietnam, Iraq, Laos, Cambodia, Korea, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Panama, Sudan, et. al.

    And regime change operations, since WW2?

    Let me count the ways.

    China 1949 to early 1960s Albania 1949-53
    East Germany 1950s Iran 1953 * Guatemala 1954 *
    Costa Rica mid-1950s Syria 1956-7 Egypt 1957
    Indonesia 1957-8 British Guiana 1953-64 *
    Iraq 1963 * North Vietnam 1945-73 Cambodia 1955-70 *
    Laos 1958 *, 1959 *, 1960 * Ecuador 1960-63 *
    Congo 1960 * France 1965 Brazil 1962-64 *
    Dominican Republic 1963 * Cuba 1959 to present
    Bolivia 1964 *Indonesia 1965 * Ghana 1966 *
    Chile 1964-73 * Greece 1967 * Costa Rica 1970-71
    Bolivia 1971 * Australia 1973-75 *
    Angola 1975, 1980s Zaire 1975 Portugal 1974-76 * Jamaica 1976-80 *
    Seychelles 1979-81 Chad 1981-82 *Grenada 1983 *
    South Yemen 1982-84 Suriname 1982-84 Fiji 1987 *
    Libya 1980s Nicaragua 1981-90 * Panama 1989 *Bulgaria 1990 *
    Albania 1991 * Iraq 1991 Afghanistan 1980s *
    Somalia 1993 Yugoslavia 1999-2000 * Ecuador 2000 *
    Afghanistan 2001 * Venezuela 2002 * Iraq 2003 *
    Haiti 2004 * Somalia 2007 to present Honduras 2009
    Libya 2011 * Syria 2012 Ukraine 2014 *

    Did anyone blink?
     
    *
     
    Now, to make sense of the East-West shenanigans today,

    Tsarist Russia, a late-feudal empire in its own right, was a neo-colony of Western Europe until 1917, when the Socialist Revolution altered parameters.

    Tne West has been at war with it since then: here tepid, there cold, and now almost hot.

    Russophobia , a racist denigration of Slavs (related to the word ‘slave’) by Western nations, has an even older history.
     
    *
     
    China is/was the traditional ‘Other’: the Brits had imposed unequal treaties on them, since 1840, grabbing Hong Kong.

    But,after the lion had fed, came the scavengers: Germany, Italy, Denmark, The Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, and Austria-Hungary, all getting privileged (unequal) access in trade with China.

    The Socialist Revolution of 1949, putting an end to Western domination, made them yet another permanent target.

    Le’s call it Sinophobia?

    Target of propaganda, vilification, demonisation, fake news, etc. : in short, the usual dumping.
     
    *
     
    So, there is nothing novel about the systematic, incessant, denigration of both these nations, today.

    Give a dog a bad name before you…

    They are the permanent adversaries of the Old Hegemons.

    And the West will do all it can to take them down.

    Even if it implies universal chaos.

    That’s what defines the current global situation .

    You see: a little history goes a long way?

     
    *
     
    A key point worthy of note.

    It was a socialist revolution that put both Russia and China en route to ridding themselves wholly of European domination, unlike say, Brazil and India. whose autonomy is still compromised by dependency.
     
    *
     
    Today, the tables are turning.

    European Hegemony is attenuating.

    Russia and China are getting strong and intractable.

    The Great Wheel of History is Turning.

    The Old and the New are now in , near-mortal, struggle.

     
    *
     

    It’s a critically dangerous time: hubris is not conducive to rational decision-making.

    So, we’re all at risk: the good the bad – and the plain hideous.
     
    *
     
    Still, after centuries, a multi-polar world is in the rear-view mirror – again.

    Can’t wait.

    How about you?
     
    N.B. Three important caveats: History is writ by Conquerors, so much of the above will not fit The Official Narrative; second, it’s the governors of European societies that face indictment, not their hapless , domestic, subjects; finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Colonisers could not have accomplished their imperial aims without the pro-active collaboration of native elites, their agents, who share the indictment. This last is far too often omitted in such tales, to their detriment. Human corruption is hardly a European monopoly.

     
    [© R.Kanth 2022]

     

    Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda (Novel) , A Day in the Life (Novel), and Expiations (Verse)
     

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    Halloween

     
    (for Joss)
     
    Of all the
    fests
    I’ve heard
    or seen
     
    Best of
    all
    is Halloween
     
    *
     
    So hey hey
    what do you
    say
    what’s for
    Halloween
    today
     
    Bombs for
    Taiwan
    missiles
    for Ukraine
     
    Coups in
    Sudan
    or another base
    in Bahrain

     
    *
     
    Always
    a trick
    treats are
    hard to find
     
    Yet its always
    a chiller
    send shivers down
    the spine
     
    *
     
    Halloween is here
    kids run out
    to play
     
    But what the
    morrow will bring
    no one dares
    to say

     

     
    [© R.Kanth 2022]

     

    Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda (Novel) , A Day in the Life (Novel), and Expiations (Verse)
     

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    Philosophy?

     
    (for Wolfram Elsner)

     

    ‘Twixt Eros and
    Thanatos
    somehow
    I get by
     
    Unmoved by
    iconic canons
    that but scribe
    the Mighty Lie
     
    Hobbes Smith
    0r Bentham
    why must
    we
    heed today
     
    Have done
    with their
    sordid innings
     
    It’s now
    our time
    of day

     
    *

     
    We need
    live
    by our rules
     
    History’s
    a
    fickle guide
     
    Rules made by
    rulers
    gently set aside

     
    *

     
    I have delved the
    classics
    though classic were
    they not
     
    Dry dusty
    apothegms
    plim with misanthropic
    thought
     
    Whatever you
    may be
    a navel-gazer
    choose you not
     
    You have
    no idea
    the destruction
    they have wrought

     
    *

     
    Life is meant
    for relishing
    all that senses
    can descry

     
    Being
    not Becoming
    nor coveting
    till we die

     
    Nor lisping trite
    platitudes
    that evoke
    no passion high
     
    A day’s fest
    of sunshine
    night woke ‘neath
    the stars
     
    Are worth
    surely any day
    all of Bacon’s
    memoirs

     
    *
     
    No need there
    be for
    turgid texts
     
    That make
    the lifeblood
    run dry
     
    Walk the solid
    earth
    beneath
     
    Hold strong
    the social
    tie

     
    And abjure
    ever the
    subterfuge
     
    That false
    philosophers
    supply

     
    [© R.Kanth 2022]

     

    Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda (Novel) , A Day in the Life (Novel), and Expiations (Verse)
     

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    Transcending Eurocentric Modalities

     
    (For Jeff Sachs )
     

    I will make this piece short and simple (so the Argument is not fully specified).

    The times call for such economies of style.

    We need now to have done with the genre of immanent critiques, where we rock to and fro, endlessly, w/out getting anyplace.

    Besides, old recipes, old formulas , old panaceas, have no place now.

    It is, as so many of us sense, a New Game.

    And it is time for Change.

    BIG Change.

    Indeed, it is time now , I think, for Transcendence (the very antipode of immanent critiques): rising above/beyond routine, ‘authorised’ , modes of discourse.

    Put differently, the Left, Right and Centre versions of EM theorising simply keep us locked in to the same otiose paradigm, from which there can be No Exit.

    *

    There has been a new Physics for almost a century now.

    A new Biology for but a few odd years: Epigenetics.

    But we still retain the old, antiquated, Social Theory.

    Modeled , if understandably, after the materialism of Classical Physics (Yes, so-called ‘social science’ was engendered in the fulsome spirit of Physics-Envy).

    Time to jettison that baggage.

    In its Entirety.

    It is not only archaic, it is wrong, categorically, judged by the canons of latter-day Physics.

    *

    Darwin’s idea of mutations finds relevance here.

    He saw mutations as random.

    And many are.

    But some may not be?

    Some are ‘purposive’, in the minimal sense of restoring balance.

    We are, likely, going through such a shift.

    We humans have radically skewed Nature’s rude and rough balances, over a very long time: but far more precipitously in recent times.

    Since WWII , over 60% of animal and plant life, even a higher percentage of large mammals, has vanished.

    We have exhausted more planetary resources in that same short span of time than in all of human history.

    Nature is, in a sense, now ‘intervening’ (or ‘reacting’).

    But one must not read too much into that word (I am no fan of ‘new age’ fantasies).

    I do not use it in any anthropic sense.

    Let me illustrate.

    Water ‘finds’ its own level albeit propelled by natural forces.

    One might see it as ‘seeking’ a certain ‘balance’, in its spread.

    However, it does not ‘choose”, but follows its inherent properties.

    So is Nature , following her own Logos, morphing her varied forces (and they bid fair to check our pretensions)?

    And, such forces could alter?

    In an evolutionary universe why would the laws of nature remain constant?

    But, be that as it may, we are different: we can, self-consciously, Choose.

    *

    Descartes said: I think therefore I am.

    The Buddha, a more accomplished philosopher, albeit millenia prior, provided the needful.

    He said: as/what you think, you are: and you become.

    So, all change , when not the chance accident of history, begins, first, in the mind.

    The Collective mind.

    And the Choice is clear: either we change, or Nature must suffer a disruption of Evolution.

    She may be unready to suspend her long-delved plans.

    So, either we Change , or we Go.

    Climate change (as but one mechanism) may see to the latter.

    Maybe, even regardless of what we do.

    There is some paradox to this.

    At one remove, she is not apart from us , but works through us.

    Yet, she is the macrocosm , of which we are but sub-entities; so hers is the larger mind.

    And her secrets are not always shared, readily, with us.

    *

    We may need now to Reorient Life.

    Here, but a few clues.

    They will suffice: a word to the wise , they say , is sufficient.

    We need to divest ourselves from this onerous fetish of incessant consumption and production.

    Radically alter our methods/instruments in both domains (no mass production, no mass consumption).

    Possessive, Asocial Individualism – the very (EM) scourge of our current history – needs be junked.

    The Profit-motive, retired: it has served its historical use, if any.

    The Adversarial Society, abandoned.

    Competition, Monopoly, and Economic activity tied to, and led by, Private gain, abrogated.

    The Nation-State , site and source of many conflicts, diminished in size, scope, and significance.

    From Gesellschaft forms of organization we need to return, again, to Gemeinschaft
    forms, which is how we began.

    Abjuring the spurious universalisms of globalization (ploys only for control and marketing) we have to relocate ourselves in face-to-face social relations, within a local culture – of ‘little’ traditions – of our own making, and within our own controls.

    But, as I will imply, none of the above require any mass effort to topple the system.

    Rather is it a matter of erosion of its principal , ideational, supports.

    *

    EuroModernist (EM) societies are engineered, artificial constructs, organized, historically, from above, by the various machinations/demands of commerce , capital, and empire.

    They are NOT human (anthropic) societies.

    They are rationalist, cold, uncaring, and mechanistic.

    We are , au contraire, caring, feeling, organic, beings.

    Classical Socialism failed because it did not raze that false foundation.

    The USSR – for all of its many successes, which must not be forgotten – still pursued the grail of GDP, no less avidly than its Capitalist counterparts.

    But a bigger bowl of Goulash simply doesn’t cut it.

    It does not answer to that primal cri de couer that animates our bosoms.

    We have to realign, rebond, with our community, kith, and kin (no matter how defined).

    Rediscover our quashed norms of Affective Society.

    Antic values: of Hearth and Home.

    And re-embrace the basic joy(s) of our kind: Convivialism.

    And know who we are, as a species.

    Co-operative, caring, familial, and co-respective.

    That is our human birth-right, rudely violated by the plans of Modernist engineers(Left or Right).

    Humans spontaneously build communities much like ants and bees, instinctually.

    And the foundational blocks, always, are family, kith, and kindred.

    We. have no need to be ‘engineered’.

    Engineered societies carry a critical, even mortal danger: they reflect the altering whims of the engineers.

    Bears serious reflection.
    *

    This is a far cry from how EM ideology views us.

    The real scarce resource may not be time, nor money : but love.

    For we are lovers, in short: rather than law-givers, conquerors, colonisers, and adventurers.

    Or, calculating, canny, crafty , hucksters.

    Time it is to bid farewell to the aging nostrums of Hobbes and Smith.

    Doing was thrust upon us by the exploitative wiles of rulers and conquerors, and turned into a social value.

    Becoming is a EuroModernist mantra, the talisman of accumulationist drives.

    So much so that some religions/political traditions, took ‘labor’ itself as a commandment of morality and virtue (“Arbeit Macht Frei”) rather than a temporary nuisance to be swiftly performed and relinquished.

    No, Labor is not the choice avenue to Social Virtue nor divine grace(as in some variants of Protestant thinking).

    It is drudgery, and worse: when performed involuntarily, and by force.

    Arbeit Macht Frei?

    Tell that to the Bushmen(and women).

    *

    All that Utopian thinking that followed the EM revolutions was, objectively, a waste of social energy.

    And also caused a lot of irreparable harm.

    But it was , possibly, unavoidable: at any rate, it showed its manifold shortcomings, quite early on, so we recoil, now, in hindsight, from its many dehumanization(s).

    Society had been turned upside down by these forces , as these idealists hoped to ‘re-engineer’ it : toward a better state of being.

    Wishful thinking, at best: but who can blame them?

    They meant well: but had not a clue about the ineluctable realities of human anthropology.

    Lacking that, they borrowed their ideas, in that domain, of from either religion (Judeo-Christian ideology) , or political theory (e.g., so-called ‘social contract’ ideas).

    Which was to err grievously.

    The Enlightenment had NO valid anthropology of our species: yet went about concocting social theory to suit the needs of the ruling interests, to our everlasting detriment.

    For we don’t need Utopia( although there is no such idyllic state) as a species of Invention: we simply need to Rediscover its potential in how we live our lives.

    Nor can we simply , willy nilly, invent slogans, coin lofty declarations, and codify master plans for a New World: and expect human nature to conform to it.

    That was the fatal conceit.

    *

    We are programmed to live, tribally (parse that as kindred/community based) , in a joyful state (in Being, not Becoming, or Doing).

    We are Mammals, Heat-seeking rather than Light-seeking.

    Our greatest Human Need may simply be: to Huddle.

    That is our species-being, our social DNA.

    It can still be found , albeit now in remote parts of a world thoroughly ravished by EM ideology and praxis.

    But it is also deep within us, and easy to locate: IF we can shuffle off the coils of religious and political shibboleths that hold us in thrall.

    *

    Our eternal ‘home’ is the humblest of societal units: the human family, at once natural and social.

    Note that it meets not one single, vaunted, E-Modernist criterion.

    It is not free, individualist, equal, nor democratic.

    Wrap your head around that last sentence.

    Not once, but twice.

    Yet, it gives to us what we crave the most: a haven, refuge, and sanctuary.

    What extra-terrestrial ‘heaven’ , conjured up by the tendentious fantasies of religious bigotry, could hope, even remotely, to compare with that?

    Bears thinking.

    *

    You get the point (I hope).

    We are natural, instinctual beings: an idea anathema to EM postulates, which prefers to see us as automatons who can take on any shape and form as per requirements of the ruling ethos , ideology. and political agenda.

    Instincts are granted in the study of animals, but not permitted to intrude into the study of the ‘sovereign of creation’, i.e. , MAN (gender intended, in the original EM docket).

    That came straight from Judeo-Christian ideas, where we are cast in the image of the Creator, until Darwin interrupted that chain of argument.

    So we need to remind ourselves, again, lest we forget, in our hubris.

    For all our pretensions, We are Apes.

    Chimps and Bonobos, our closest cousins, have definable traits: so have we.

    *

    So, think.

    And disburden yourself of repressive, ideological, chains that diminish you , and erode your energies.

    For, as/what you think, you become.

    And discover the rich troves of the Affective Life -lavish, abundant – you have ignored, or suppressed, for being stuck on the Wheel , ever since you can recall.

    That is our real, imperishable, wealth.

    The Virus has just given some of us the time/opportunity for some reflection on such matters.

    Employ it well.

    And get off the treadmill – of endless, unrequiting, toil – soon as you can.

    After all, you are not , if you are reading this, a hamster.

    We have been hoodwinked, forced, duped, and systematically misled, into thinking of ourselves in dystopian, sub-human, and asocial terms.

    We have, in short, been forced to live a lie (including the founding orders of this travesty).

    Contrast , in your thinking, how you live ,and function, in EM society to who we/you are, on the inside.

    The rest will follow, as day follows night.

    Let me repeat that.

    Seek simply to Know Yourself : (all) necessary changes will, then, ensue.

    *

    We have been , alas, deceived by fine words.

    One of the many unstated functions of language (which may well be a primary one) is concealment of motives.

    Language is an indispensable aid to dissembling.

    W/out that guileful artefact, our feelings, as humans, are all too easy to comprehend , requiring no interpreters.

    Complexity of language is often associated with high density of oppression and exploitation.

    No wonder elites monopolise language (Latin, in Rome, Sanskrit in ancient Vedic society)

    And both religion and politics utilize language, to repressive effect.

    *

    Note that I am not outlining a nouvelle manifesto, in the classic EM mode of ‘we can be anything we wish to be’.

    No.

    Instead , I am suggesting that our contentment lies in effortless conformity to our anthropic species being.

    So it requires no force, no mass movements, no marches, no revolutions.

    Nor even consulting learned tomes of deep philosophy.

    Simply an internal, personal recognition of the obvious, based on reflection alone.

    And it will be, I believe, found to be obvious.

    I will not engage in any debate over the foregoing simply because: if I am wrong , I should not, and if I am right, I need not.

    Besides, life is far too short.

    Contra the EM modus in such matters, truth is arrived at NOT via contention, but by serious, even deep, cogitation.
     

    *(A desperately encapsulated Critique of Euro-Modernism (EM) and a barebones Outline of The Alternative)
     

    N.B. EM, or EuroModernism , the specific template of Modernism that Europe invented and imposed on the world, consisted of , in my rendition: a very selective faith in a self-defined, triumphalist , reductionist, Science; a tendentious, self- serving belief in ‘progress’ ; a rampant philosophy of materialism; and an abiding conviction that no cost was too high, societal, military, or ecological, to impose this world-view, by force, on Others. It imposed the Restless Society on us all, ever discontented, ever transformational, sacrificing Being to Becoming. Understood, with care, it covers both the Tweedledum and Tweedledee Idylls of EM vintage: Capitalism and Socialism.

     

    R E F E R E N C E S

    Kanth, R . Farewell to Modernism: On Human Devolution in the Twenty-First Century, NY: Peter Lang, 2017

    [© R.Kanth 2022]

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    In Essence?

     
    (for John McMurtry*)

    We are Undone
    each to each
    one to one

     
    *
     
    at crux
    the male ego

     
    will not give
    in
    will not let go
     
    the eternal
    casus belli
    cross the heart
    and hope to die
     
    fast it is
    and furious
    intractably
    injurious

     
    whether Russia
    or
    Ukraine
    the very same
    alien grain
     
    *
     
    all wars
    originate
    it is the
    common human
    fate

    from this will
    to retaliate
     
    so maybe
    women
    hold the key
    to redress
    masculinity
    the bane
    of human history

    to break the
    spell
    and set us
    free
     
    *
     
    whence do I
    repeated
    plead
    let women
    lead
    and men take
    heed

     
    let women
    act
    let women
    speak
    they shall
    find
    what men but
    seek

     
    women know
    no borders
    women brook
    no orders
    let alone
    disorders
     
    peace has
    been
    their legacy
    in all of
    human herstory

     
    *
     
    one cannot be
    too sure
    it is but
    intuition
    pure
    or mild
    epiphany

     
    could be
    our only
    hope you see
    to forestall
    catastrophe
     
    as we lurch
    from war to
    war
    in corybantic
    anarchy
     
    *
     
    Else are
    we All
    Undone
    each to each
    and one to one

     
    * Late Canadian philosopher, noble spirit, and my dear friend
     

    [© R.Kanth 2022]

     

    Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda (Novel) , A Day in the Life (Novel), and Expiations (Verse)
     

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