My first “podcast” on Substack. I kept it short on purpose. The sun is shining (very rare at this locale in January) and there is much to be thankful for. I must go for a walk to ruminate. I spent the week working on this painting to present to mi hija en su cumpleaños. I am trading out another outdated one. I hope she likes it.
So the audio clip is a call for the young to go into careers or stay-at-home scenarios of care providing. The highest paying job would be doctor of course, and the lowest one, anything that Ron did to make money. Teaching and nursing would be the most honorable careers, stay-at-home spouse, artist and cottage industry work the most edgy, but worth the effort to remain mostly unattached to criminal governments.
It’s a quick listen. Exactly 5 minutes.
To honor the first day of my daughter’s 34th year, I present a short story written the day after her fifth birthday. I love her more than a million stars. The universe gave me a good luck kiss one snowy day back in 1990. I’m still feeling the tingle.
The world of illusion. Last night Scott had a hole in his head. He sat in his big chair in the dark weeping for his sins. I woke up and turned on the light to ask if he had a tone ringing in his head. “What do you mean,” he laughed, “Do you have one?” “No,” I said, “Not right now, and believe me, I’m lucky for it! I’d have my teeth in the wall if I did. Lucky for me, but what about you? What’s wrong Scotty?”
The concept of the perpetual tone came from Larry last Thursday night. I guess that it actually hit him for a few seconds, and then he said, “Wow, I feel pretty fortunate you know. I have no right to ever be sad. Life must really suck for he who has the tone. Why don’t you write a story about that Ron? ‘The Man Who Had A Tone,’ or something like that?”
Yes. Only my man would rise above it and in the end, drown the sorrowful ring with a song of his own joy. I never appreciated the “grass of a greener shade” tales. For centuries they have been told, and for centuries no one has given a damn. It’s as if men prefer their grass to be a dried brown and yellow. Just to look across the way where the rain is steady, and the grass grows an Irish green, is a miserable affair. Who wants to be reminded that his life is not worth living? That yesterday was tears and tomorrow despair? Well, I am here to tell you, hopefully for the last time, that there is no sorrow except for the man who has the perpetual tone ringing between his ears.
I thought I was him last night. A little bell, hung low in the most remote tunnel of my heart, (the invisible, untouchable heart— not the biological machine), had a tear drop onto it, and a tone was born. From a lost world inside of me came the initial ring. It entered the aorta and reverberated throughout every capillary of my being until finally given a name by my ears. The song of sorrow.
Rachelle turned five today. Mary dropped her off at my step, then she turned and walked away without saying a word. Suddenly, something strange happened. One of my tears dropped in reverse. Not down my cheek, but down my throat. I swallowed it like a good father’s son and forgot all about it until my ears were ringing so loudly that I could not bear to hear my own voice. I read a whole story to Rachelle without understanding a word of it. I tried to talk with her, but the tone in my head carried me further and further away from the vibrations of her voice. It was so powerful, so persistent, that whenever I spoke, its sound carried over my words. If I remained silent, the tone continued in a low hum which kept me alert and conscious of it constantly.
I was thinking, The Tell-Tale Heart. Yes! The old man’s beating heart drove his killer wild. His fixation on the old man’s eye, that sickening stare! I felt dangerous. There I was, standing in the kitchen stirring onions in a pot, the hissing of the hot oil and onions, Rachelle’s voice, my voice, the ferret scratching at his cage, the gurgle in the fish tank... All of this noise, this racket, could not drown out that simple tone viciously dinning in my ears: The song of overwhelming sadness and sorrow.
It wasn’t so loud, but it was louder. Always some decibel higher than the loudest sound. I thought, “My God, I am that man with the tone ringing in his ears!”
Then Rachelle asked me, “Daddy, can we play lions? You can be the daddy and I’ll be the baby.”
“Okay sweety. First let me crush the tomatoes in our soup.”
Moments later we were lions on the floor chasing jackrabbits and eating gazelles. I realized the tone had disappeared after a big game hunter shot me in the leg. I hobbled around on three legs groaning and begging my lion cub to run away so the hunter couldn’t shoot her too. But she wouldn’t hear of abandoning her father. She bit through my back skin, pulled me behind a rock, and laid me down in a clump of African grass. The orange sun fell and the stars came out of hiding. The hunter went home so I sent my cub away to find some giraffe oil. When she returned, I had her pull the bullet out with her teeth and rub the oil over my wound. Soon we were out on the Serengeti once again, playfully chasing rabbits and eating gazelles.
I got up from play to toss more herbs into the soup. Then we walked to the diner for Rachelle’s birthday dinner. Omelets and raisin toast. The rain was pouring down. Rachelle wore my hat. I had to carry her because she was a puppy dog and terribly frightened of crossing the street.
We took off our wet things and hung them on hooks beside our booth. I was thinking again about Larry’s tone, the one that came and went—was it similar to mine? I thought about the men who go overboard, who strangely and suddenly lose the few marbles they have left. Is it because of the tone? Does it ever go away for them?
The waitress took our order. Rachelle wanted to play with the zebras. She took them out of her coat pocket and set them on the Serengeti. There were three, but she kept one at bay. He would be the baby when the time came for the other two zebras to make a baby.
Man zebra goes out into the desert. We don’t know why, but he goes, and leaves the mother alone in her present condition. Months later he returns and kisses the mother. A colt lies next to her in the grass. “Who’s this?” the man asks.
“He is your son. I have named him Fred. Fred is a good name for a boy.”
“Here come the omelettes honey. Set the zebras down on the jelly rack to graze.”
We ate our dinner gaily chatting the whole time about zebras, lions, and puppy dogs who live outdoors. Perfect! No tone. No hum. No sadness. The now without the tone. Just the smell and taste of a good greasy omelet and the feel of hunger being satisfied. Rachelle put the zebras back into their pocket home, and I carried my puppy dog back to our dry apartment across the street.
Once inside, she sat down at the kitchen table and I set the birthday cake in front of her craving eyes. I grabbed one of Scott’s huge party candles and pushed it down into the center of the cake. Then out loud she wished that she was a lion and sent the candle’s flame to God knows where.
After cake she unwrapped her gift. A Chinese tea pot with cups and a poem that I wrote in her honor. We sipped hot tea and spoke Chinese for a few minutes. Then the telephone rang. It was Michelle calling from New York. She wanted to wish Rachelle a happy birthday. While they talked I had time to think about the tone that possessed me earlier. Why the tone? Damn that Mary! Why am I here again? Why the blue day and night? Why the separation, the loneliness, the despair? A faint ringing began in my ears and I grabbed the phone out of Rachelle’s hands...
“Michelle, am I nuts? I feel cornered. I’m up against the wall turning in circles. I feel life being sucked out of me. Damn that Mary and her gravitational pull! She may be losing touch, but I am going crazy. Wait, can you hear that? Why can’t you hear it? Oh, if you could only hear, you would understand. Listen, Rachelle is calling me. I have to go. We have a date at the movies. Goodbye...”
We ran to the theater in the rain, bought our tickets and found a seat in the last row.
Oh Rachelle at the movies! How they move her! So many times she has wept over the injury or death of animals in the cinema. Once I had to cover her mouth with a popcorn bag during one of her weeping fits. She was hyperventilating.
Her sorrow is of the abrupt, present kind. A horse lay in the hay dying. I look at Rachelle and she starts to wail. “Daddy, ah, ah, I can’t breathe!” Two years ago I had to rush her out of the theater because a cat fell into the running rapids of a river and had apparently drowned. Her sadness is overwhelming. It is not tonal, not gradual. It attacks her on the spot without warning. When it comes, it is abrupt and powerful, but it leaves even quicker. Waves of sorrow. But she does not invent them. They must come from the outside. There can be no tone within her.
Sure enough, during the present movie, a bear was shot point blank. As he lay writhing on the jungle floor, Rachelle cried out, “My God Daddy, the bear is going to die! Why did the men have to shoot him? Why Daddy, why!?” The entire theater of faces turn to look at us. Children everywhere, but only one feeling some awful pain. Actually, two. Tears are streaming down my cheeks as I stare in amazement at a creature far more beautiful than I. She is the beauty God desired for the human race. This is all-powerful. This is real. The movie, the movie house, the towns and cities, the outside world and everything inside of it is false. A distortion. Men are running in circles, around their own personalized hyperactivity, hearing unbearable tones, which they have made bearable, though no less painful, through some sort of controlled mentality which I cannot fathom. I can’t feel the pain, and at the same time, stand my life. I want Rachelle’s sorrow. I demand it of myself. I am tired of being false. God damn it my tears should flood these streets because a talking bear was shot point blank!
Sitting there weeping in the world theater with my only child, I realized that I could not live with the tone. I will not stand for any ringing in my ears. To receive the tone means to never really wake up from the bad dream. To walk sound asleep with my eyes wide open throughout the day and tuck myself under covers each night with the sorrowful song. Alive with sadness, dead of joy. No cries of joy or sorrow. Just tones. Miserable, rotten tones.
Larry’s wisdom was at a peak last Thursday night. Maybe everyone is plagued with the tone, some more often than others. I watch my child cry while we stare out over an Indian sunset. The illusion of the two of us standing in a field of green, innocent before the world as a million colors leap and dance about us, is an illusion no different than sitting in a greasy diner jumping zebras over napkin holders. There are no small illusions. Just one is enough, though, to carry with it all the burdens of mankind. What makes us human is our misunderstanding of everything. What makes us gods is our misunderstanding of everything! The difference, if there is one at all, cannot be found in words. But what about music? Yes music. Why not? The music of our mind and body. This is how we will conduct the tone.
By now you must understand, even if you misunderstand, that the tone and illusion are one in the same thing. We all have it. Each of us has our own, personal tone. Well, what can we do about it? Please, read on while I offer you the challenge of simplicity.
For the ancients, I give an ancient remedy to relieve oneself of modern illusions:
No thought, no reflection, no analysis,
No cultivation, no intention,
Let it settle itself...
—translation of some long dead Chinese poet
For the modern, I offer two choices, neither of which are actual remedies. Just hope for the best:
Shoot yourself, or conduct your tone in the most playful manner possible. Tune it in on your pretend flute while the children dance around you in the wet grass. Play lion cub, zebra father, monkey brother... Play yourself, and plant seeds in the earth. Pay absolutely no attention to your neighbor’s neurosis. Sleep when you are tired, eat when you are hungry. Cook your own food. Abstain from meat. Wash your vegetables, your dishes, steam your corn—for God’s sake, don’t boil it! Walk, don’t drive. Catch at least a glimpse of as many sunsets as possible. Awake at dawn and be your own weatherman. Teach by example, if you have to teach at all. Be humble but not stupid. Never demand a thing from anyone. And, if you happen to come into some extra money, find an outlet for it immediately.
I cannot promise that the tone will disappear altogether. It may be a fact that the song of our wrong selves will play on forever. The world of illusion is very real.
Finally a poem from always a glorious 8 year old to me:
I love you Daddy, love you very much
Love is more than a piece of cake
I love you more than all the stars
You will never die of me loving you
You are my very own dad
You kiss me good night when ever I want you to
No daddy is ever nicer than you,
You are precious
You gave me two kittens when I wanted them
I will love you forever and until I die
I will still love you when I am dead
Love always rules