On The Selfish Theory of Love with Elmer Gantry

Burt Lancaster as Elmer Gantry




By David Arthur Walters

Love, though for this you riddle me with darts

And drag me at your chariot until I die, –

Oh, heavy prince! Oh, panderer of hearts! –

Yet hear me tell how in their throats they lie

Who shout you mighty: thick about my hair

Day in, day out, your ominous arrows purr,

Who still am free, unto no querulous care

A fool, and in no temple worshiper!

I, that have bared me to your quiver’s fire,

Lifted my face into its puny rain,

Do wreath you Impotent to Evoke Desire

As you are Powerless to Elicit Pain!

(Now will the god, for blasphemy so brave,

Punish me surely, with the shaft I crave!)

– Edna St. Vincent Millay –


We speak of the power and god of love. And what do we love most of all? We love life, and we might, given our underlying crisis or hypocrisy, destroy the world to have and hold it forever, here and/or in the hereafter, if you insist. Your beloved abandons you and you are angry and depressed, because, you say, you love him so much that you cannot live without him, even if he is your worst enemy besides the self who would keep him around; he confirms you in your existence and you depend on him although he might make you miserable. But, honestly, whom do you actually love the most? What is this power named love? Love is your very life. You love your life first of all; but of course you need another, part friend and foe, hopefully more the former than the latter, to be yourself; not someone identical to you, but someone you can be with; for if you were actually at-one with another, you would have no identity of your own, having died in fatal embrace – it is not the death of your existence, but rather virtual omnipotence in the bliss of irresponsible ignorance. Indeed, identity requires the very relationships we complain about because of our differences: our ‘original sin’, so to speak, of being born individuals. Have faith and hope and charity, for you can live without the lover who takes flight, or the lover from whom you fly. If you understand and accept whom you really love, and fly to love from love, for love’s sake, you will have as many lovers as you please, even when you happen to be home alone with the loving spirit. Love is not its name.

For example, read Lewis Sinclair’s exposition on love in Elmer Gantry

“(Elmer) had laid in a fruitful theological library. He had bought the fifty volumes of the Expositor’s Bible – source of ready-made sermons – second hand for $13.75…. In fact he had a sufficient library –‘God’s artillery in black and white,’ as Bishop Toomis wittily dubbed it – to inform himself of any detail in the practice of the Professional Good Man.”

Evening service at the Banjo Crossing Methodist Church:

“His text was from Galatians: ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…. Love! Love! Love! How beauteous the very word! Not carnal love but the divine presence. What is love? Listen! It is the rainbow that stands out, in all its glorious many-colored hues, illuminating and making glad again the dark clouds of life. It is the morning and the evening star, that in glad refulgence, there on the awed horizon, call Nature’s hearts to an uplifted rejoicing in God’s marvelous firmament! Round about the cradle of the babe, sleeping so quietly while o’er him hangs almost in agonized adoration his loving mother, shines the miracle of Love, and at the just sad end, comforting the hearts that bear its immortal permanence, round even the quiet tomb, shines Love…. What is the mother of art, the inspiration of the poet, the patriot, the philosopher, and the great man of affairs, be he businessman or statesman – yes, what inspires every effort save Love? …And what is music, lovely, lovely music, what is fair melody? Ah, music, ‘tis the voice of Love! …Ah, Love, Love, Love! Without it, we are less than beasts; with it, earth is heaven and we are as gods!”

Yet Love, as far as Elmer Gantry had learned, did not exist before God: “Yes, what is that Love – created by Christ Jesus and conveyed through all the generations by his church, particularly, it seems to me, by the great, broad, democratic liberal brother of the Methodist Church – that is what it means to us.”

As we well know, Elmer Gantry’s love was beastly love. He loved sex more than the idea of love, and alcoholic spirits inspired him more than the Holy Spirit. Cleo, the woman he would marry but would not love, said after his sermon, “Oh, Reverend Gantry, this is the greatest day our church has ever known!” “Did you like what I said of Love?” “Oh…Love…yes!” The Professional Good Man and Captain of Souls was duly impressed with himself. He had hypnotized Cleo. Sleepwalking, she did not know she was holding his hand as they left the church, and ‘Of her tranced holiness he felt a little awe.’

Jean Simmons as Sharon Falconer
Jean Simmons as Sharon Falconer


He truly loved his late mentor, Sharon Falconer, the pioneering woman evangelist who had taken him under her wing and had in effect made him what he was, a confidence man bound and determined to be a Professional Good Man and Captain of Souls. “Her presence nearly took away his need of other stimulants, of tobacco and alcohol and most of his cursing.” He “loved her fondly” not when she was an incalculable, intimidating, passionate priestess, a “looming disaster,” or a “chilly business woman,” but rather when she was in her “quite authentic” or original role, that of a little girl; that is, “except when she assumed it just as she was due to go out and hypnotize three thousand people,” as that would be disastrous for the salvation business. She was a charlatan of sorts, but sincere in her desire to believe in Love. And she loved Elmer enough to want his greatness, for the greatness of her protégé would prove her own:

“You will be big!” she had told him. “I’ll make you! And perhaps I’m a prophetess, a little bit, but I’m also a good liar. You see I’m not a Falconer. There ain’t any! My name is Katie Jonas. I was born in Utica. My dad worked in a brickyard. I picked out the name Sharon Falconer while I was a stenographer…. And yet I’m not a liar! I’m not! I am Sharon Falconer now! I’ve made her – by prayer and by having a right to be her. And you’re going to stop being poor Elmer Gantry of Paris, Kansas. You’re going to be the Reverend Dr. Gantry, the great captain of souls!”

Sharon Falconer knew Elmer Gantry was unfaithful with women; for example, she caught him wooing Lily, her pianist; nevertheless, she wanted love for herself, wherefore she was more than willing to forgive and forget when he crept to her beside to plead his innocence: “Oh, lie, lie, go on lying! Tell me a good strong lie that I’ll believe! And then kiss me!”

In truth, they were in love with themselves. And in truth, Sharon Falconer, the acclaimed evangelist, was not a Christian, certainly not a Protestant; she was the one and only Goddess, the Mother of the Cosmos incarnate. The stage below the altar in her private temple and boudoir was filled with what Elmer Gantry called “heathen idols” including a three-headed god, ape-headed gods, crocodile-headed gods and the like. Catholic iconography enshrined the room. She had him kneel beside her on a long and soft velvet cushion before the altar, and then proclaimed: “It is the hour! Blessed Virgin, Mother Hera, Mother Frigga, Mother Ishtar, Mother Isis, dread Mother Astarte of the weaving arms, it is thy priestess, it is she who after the blind centuries and the groping years shall make it known to the world that ye are one, and that in me are ye revealed, and that in this revelation shall come peace and wisdom universal, the secret of the spheres and the pit of understanding…” They prayed together, Elmer Gantry reciting the Song of Solomon in regards to the excellence of the feet, thighs, hands, breasts and hair of the ancient prince’s daughter. Her novice was naturally taken in and initiated by Sharon Falconer after she “sank into his arms, her lips parted.”

Sharon Falconer’s charity was limited to saving souls, over and over again, for they were predestined to backsliding, and to healing diseases, which became the key to her financial success: “It was not her eloquence but her healing of the sick which raised Sharon to such eminence that she promised to become the most renowned evangelist in American. People were tired of eloquence…. But they could be healed constantly.” Her income soared, but she had corresponding expenses including Elmer’s salary, which she had raised accordingly; and then there was her charity, the Old Ladies Home – Elmer never learned exactly where it was.

The “looming disaster” personified by Sharon Falconer was realized on a New Jersey pier which she converted into “The Waters of Jordan Tabernacle.” Here she would be able to keep all the income for herself as she would not have to share it with local churches. From this lucrative venture would be launched a ship bearing her power that would save the whole world. A cross lighting up the night with yellow and ruby light bulbs rotated above it. We who have read the book or have seen the movie starring Burt Lancaster know the terrifying story well. The tabernacle caught on fire. Most of the crowd got out on the shoreward end of the structure, but some of the choir in the back were blocked from that exit. There was a back door. Sharon urged them to be calm, saying she would lead them to safety if only they would trust in the Lord God of Hosts. But they ignored her. Elmer pleaded with her to go out the back door with him, but she persisted in her salvation role; he told her to go to hell, and headed to the back door, which opened inwardly and was blocked by people; he furiously managed to open it just enough to get himself out to leap into the water. The rest died –all told, one hundred and eleven people perished including Sharon Falconer. Elmer then managed to rescue thirty people who had already made it to safety, including a woman who had already touched bottom in the water.

Pray tell, then, whom did Elmer love but his ideal self? And whom did Sharon love but her ideal self?

Fortunately, Selfish Love has a built-in consolation, that love for one’s self implies love of one’s kind.




Tracey’s Yoga – Oprah Interviews Krishna

Krishna and Radha
Krishna and Radha






The evidence of birth is made more public than that of death; we see many more babies than we do corpses during our lifetimes. Medieval people made no bones about the public display of bones, for instance celebrating All Saints Day in ossuaries, but we moderns manage to keep the most obvious fact of death more or less private, hidden away in hospitals, morgues, funeral homes and cemeteries. Although I was not familiar with my neighbor Stacey Flagler, when I discovered her beautiful body decaying on her bed on Thanksgiving Day, lying there as if it were an offering to the gods of this world, I was profoundly affected.

I worked as an hospital orderly in my late teens, and I saw and handled several dead bodies during the course of my duties – I noticed that deaths came in bunches, shifting from one wing to another. Making money seemed to be the purpose of human life, so when I counted the pittance I received as pay, which was less than a dollar an hour, I told myself that I had better hurry up and become a millionaire before it was too late. But I was really in no hurry, and I soon forgot the corpses I had seen, for I believed in my heart that my own life would go on forever one way or another, that I had all the time in the world to do anything I wanted to. Now that I am well over the hill, so to speak, and feel myself slowing down and going to pot; now that my contemporaries, friends, and family members are dying off; now that my bank account is short by nearly a million dollars; – I confess that I have serious doubts about my perpetuity.

Indeed, I am moved to admit that my body will undoubtedly perish. As for my soul, I do not know what that might be other than the “I” that I refer to as mine, the elusive unity or apperception and phantom pilot of the ghost within my machine, a selfish mental field that will most likely perish along with its platform. The thought that my self is merely software, the notion that I am an epiphenomenal ghost that did not exist in the first place, is comforting when not appalling. If I were never born, then how could I ever die? Still the machine does not want to run down, wherefore I cling to this self-conscious life in between nothing and nothing.

Stacey Flagler let go of hers. She had a terrifying craving she could not satisfy, an inability to relax due to an insufferable energy impelling her frantically forward at all costs. Witness this small portion of her handwritten confession to Abraham, the psychic entity that she adopted from Esther Hicks and then channeled for her own consumption:

“I feel like I have never translated my desires into a recognizable life that others could identify with. And why do I want that? So I can relax. Then I would feel like I had succeeded. Success would make me relax, because that would be my joy, and I want to be an example of joy, to teach joy. If only I could relax and let joy and passion and well-being in. But if I relax and find relief, then I don’t believe anything will have meaning! I might as well not have a body. I want to have a specific meaning in this minute, and what I want that specific meaning to be something I asked for and created. I want to know that I am powerful and can create security while I’m here, security for me, Tracey, the human being. As I look back I have always been looking for security even though it doesn’t seem like it, the security of easy joy and of more and more joy. It has all been about finding and keeping joy, choosing love, and love choosing me. Nothing is wrong with me – I’ve actually been attempting for seven or eight years to create my own reality and to accomplish that on a certain scale would be the ultimate security. At the same time, I’ve always wondered if something was wrong with me, if I should abandon my search for joy, to give up my commitment to stability in a physical sense. I think that creating my own reality puts me at a disadvantage. I believe I am unsure of it because just being happy, focused on love, having fun, and feeling contented will not inspire me to be that productive. I work harder discontented. So what does security feel like? It feels like I have to change external things to be secure, so to be secure I have to be insecure, to move from insecurity to security. To be secure I have to focus on my personal preferences, focus on things that matter to me. What do I want security to feel like? What matters to me? Non-resistance, keeping my body and mind clear of resistance, being in a state of joyful grace. Having physical things to focus on here can bring me joy. But then I will transform into something non-physical, and so why do any of this at all? Why does any of this matter? I am to fulfill my reason for being by just being here and being on the leading edge and having my personal preferences, but how do I get in on it? What is it that I wish to experience in the meantime, until I am fulfilled? I want the relaxation and joy that allows me to focus. Why? What is the point of anything? Do I really believe the point of life is to focus on and obtain my personal preferences? Yes, I do, but I just don’t know what they are anymore, or if I can even handle what I’ve asked for, or why they continue to included alcohol and drugs when that is clearly self-destructive! I just want to connect, but then you say that I need to be so connected that they are irrelevant to my connection, and then I can feel the greatest joy. You say I can find that connection on my own. But I think I need a partner to relax. I feel I must have a reason to love, someone else to love besides myself, and then my problems would be solved. But I know from what you say, Abraham, that what I am really longing for is the connection to Source, to my inner being. But if I am looking for my source, which I had in the first place, then why did I come here to look for it? Why have these circumstances with all of the fear and worry and insecurity that goes along with them? What is the point, then? It just doesn’t make sense! “I want to love someone who loves me back in the same way and it is mutual and they see that potential too and they hold onto that potential.”

She had turned to the popular postmodern culture for advice, to the splendiferous effusions of Oprah Winfrey; to the contradictory conversations of Neale Donald Walsch with his super-egotistical god; to the pronouncements of Abraham channeled by Esther Hicks; to the big Secret that must be kept in order to be believed in instead of laughed at – small secrets are leaked from time to time to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. She was told that the purpose of life is to have joy, that death is just a myth, that everyone can create their own planets in a universe that loves them. Since she did not feel the joy and love, since the reality she wanted to create was not obtained at will, and since life had no specific meaning for her, she chose the myth, perchance to be incarnated on another planet if not reincarnated on this one.

The risks attending such a fatal leap are mortal indeed, and I was duly mortified by Stacey’s premature departure. She took too big of a chance, I thought; that is, I thought so until she contacted me from the so-called “Beyond” the other day, from that place referred to at funerals as the Better Place – more on that later. I thought she might not have taken her last life if she had fallen into the right hands. Not that I blamed Oprah, the new high priestess of the New Age, or the postmodern gurus she or her guest celebrities endorse, nor did I blame their crowd of sympathetic sycophants, for elevating Stacey’s expectations and then letting her down when she reached out to them and discovered they were too busy creating their own realities to attend to her desperate needs.

We like to believe that our social icons are really special, but we should realize that, in order to attract the average person and be orthodox and politically correct enough to be popular, one has to specialize in mediocrity to a certain extent. Attractive models are not famous for their brains but for the looks or power or money we would like to have. That is not to say that every model is superficial, or that the spiritual world is really deeper than the supposedly shallow material world. Stacey was confused by the supposed relationship of the spiritual and material; she thought she needed stuff or the million dollars to buy it in order to make matter and spirit one and the same; then she would supposedly be completely relaxed, well loved and joyful, but she preferred the spiritual over the material, and to that extent she was not on the wrong track, she just needed a better model to keep her train on the right track to joyful love and eternal bliss.

To that end, I mused after Stacey’s early end, Bhakti Yoga would have been a much better vehicle for her than the claptrap jalopies haphazardly slapped together from Sixties’ New Age leftovers. She was right: There was nothing wrong with her, at least not for wanting the security and joy of loving and being loved. Untold millions of people are spiritually dissatisfied: there is nothing abnormal about that. Stacey might have been able to tolerate and even love the world with her self in it this world if only Krishna had appeared on the Oprah show, as in the unauthorized depiction below, and Oprah had plugged the Bhagavad-Gita. The wheel has been turning for eons; it is a terrible waste of time trying to reinvent it.

Stacey would have loved Krishna, I opined, so much so that she might have blissfully devoted her every action to the Supreme Personality without consideration of worldly reward. Chanting Hare Krishna, singing praises, dancing and cooking delicious food would be fun. Krishna is playful, by the way, so she would have had some of the fun she yearned for. And she would not have to worry about piling up a bunch of stuff to be happy. On the other hand, loving obedience to authority might not be her cup of tea, although some of that would be useful on a part-time basis. She loved and hated the same men, was conflicted over her objective relationships: she wanted but at the same time rejected love objects. She had to continually tell herself how much she appreciated the little things of life, and I doubted if the big things she thought would gain her respect from others would be good enough for her. In fact, no particular thing or person seemed to be good enough for her. She wanted to be connected to the source of everything, to be at-one with the infinite, yet it is extremely difficult to love an abstraction. Wherefore I imagined a synthesis of Bhakti Yoga, or love yoga, and Raja Yoga, or mystical yoga, would have suited her best; she might do both at the same time. Karma Yoga, or productive work yoga, was out of the question, for she really did not want to work for things, and Jnana Yoga, or philosophical yoga, would probably have flown over her head, for she wanted to get to the point.


OPRAH: Glad to have you on the show, Krishna.

KRISHNA: The pleasure is all mine, Oprah.

OPRAH: I have been reading about your pastimes. I see you made the National Inquirer again, just last week.

KRISHNA: Don’t believe every scandal you read. I like to have good, clean fun.

OPRAH: Clean fun? What do you mean?

KRISHNA: I always take plenty of soap with me.

OPRAH WINFREY: I understand that you like diary maids.

KRISHNA: I love them with my flute.

OPRAH: And you slay demons.

KRISHNA: That’s what they say.

OPRAH: How many lovers do you have?

KRISHNA: Billions if you count my many forms.

OPRAH: Wow! And you love them all back? How can you serve and be faithful to them all?

KRISNA: I can be everywhere at the same time.

OPRAH: It’s like television broadcasting?

KRISHNA: Sort of.

OPRAH: I feel blessed and graced with so many eyes on me, so many people adoring me. How do you feel?

KRISHNA: Transcendental.

OPRAH: Is that a feeling?

KRISHNA: It is your bliss if you are my devotee.

OPRAH: Bliss? Do people love you for the joy of it?

KRISHNA: Many of them do, especially my bhakti people.

OPRAH: And what is bhakti?

KRISHNA: Loving devotional service.

OPRAH: Why bhakti?

KRISHNA: Bhakti softens the heart and removes jealousy, hatred, lust, anger, egoism, pride and arrogance. It infuses joy, divine ecstasy, bliss, peace and knowledge. All cares, worries and anxieties, fears, mental torments and tribulations entirely vanish. The devotee is freed from the grinding wheel, the cycle of births and deaths. He attains the immortal abode of everlasting peace, bliss and knowledge. The ultimate goal of bhakti yoga is to obtain a feeling of pure bliss.

OPRAH: Oh, yeah. Joy is the key word, right? People devoted to you feel splendiferous, feel blessed and graced all the time, true ? I mean they feel really good about themselves, experience a lot of joy.

KRISHNA: Well, yes, all of that and more, but that kind of joy is just the beginning. Bliss is the ultimate state, and is far better than what you call joy.

OPRAH: But isn’t bliss joy?

KRISHNA: By bliss I mean something similar to what some of your Stoic gurus called apathy.

OPRAH: Oh, no, that doesn’t sound good. It sounds depressing.

KRISHNA: Bliss is actually an indifferent feeling. It transcends good and evil feelings. My devotee is ultimately free from joy and depression and the dread of harm. She expects nothing. She is pure, just, impartial, devoid of fear, and could care less about profiting from the results of her action. She is most dear to me and to others, for she is not afraid of them nor are they afraid of her. She who does not rejoice, find fault, complain, or covet stuff, who is not interested in good and evil results, is most worthy of my love.

OPRAH: OK. I guess. Is there equality?

KRISNA: My beloved servant is equal-minded to friend or foe, the same in honor and dishonor, in cold and heat, in pain and pleasure. She is satisfied with whatever happens: she not anxious about what might or might not happen in future. Praise and blame are the same as far as she is concerned. She pretty much keeps her mouth shut because she is content and therefore does not have to talk much. She is blissful everywhere, and may be what you call homeless, for she does not need to live in the same place all the time. I am her home. Her heart, full of devotion to me, is secured by me.

OPRAH: But she must get mad sometimes.

KRISHNA: Of course. But again, my devotee who is free from enmity, well-disposed towards all creatures, merciful, wholly exempt from pride and selfishness, the same in pain and pleasure, patient of wrongs, contented, constantly devout, self-governed, firm in resolves, and whose mind and heart are fixed on me alone, is dearest to me.

OPRAH: Okay, but is she immortal?

KRISHNA: This religion as I explain it is the sacred ambrosia, the very religion of immortality. Those who come to me full of faith, intent on me above all others, and united to me by devotion, are my most beloved.

OPRAH: But what about people who don’t want to bow down to a personal god, don’t believe in things they can see, and think stuff is vulgar. What about those who can’t stand the thought of a definite god and want to love the unbounded and infinite being, the unseen?

KRISHNA: There are many ways to skin a cat.

OPRAH: Please. I love cats.

KRISHNA: I spoke figuratively so that your audience might better understand me. There are several ways to the same goal. Those who worship me as a person, with constant zeal, with the highest faith and minds placed on me as a person, are held in high esteem by me. But those who, with minds equal toward everything, with senses and organs restrained, and rejoicing in the good of all creatures, meditate on the inexhaustible, immovable, highest, incorruptible, difficult to contemplate, invisible, omnipresent, unthinkable, the witness, indemonstrable, shall also come unto me. Yet mind you that for those whose hearts are fixed on the unmanifested, the labor is greater because the path which is not manifest is with difficulty attained by corporeal beings. But for those who worship me, renouncing in me all their actions, regarding me as the supreme goal and meditating on me alone, if their thoughts are turned to me, O Oprah, I presently become the savior from this ocean of incarnations and death. Place, then, your heart on me, penetrate me with thy understanding, and you will undoubtedly dwell hereafter in me. But if you should be unable at once steadfastly to fix your heart and mind on me, strive then, O Oprah, to find me by constant practice in devotion. If after constant practice, you are still unable, follow me by actions performed for me; for by doing works for me you will attain perfection. But if you are unequal even to this, then, being self-restrained, place all thy works, failures and successes alike, on me, abandoning in me the fruit of every action.

OPRAH: That is a mouthful. Can you sum it up for us?

KRISHNA: Sure. There is something for everyone or nothing if they prefer. There are four ways to supreme unity. The ways of knowledge, practice, meditation; and renunciation. Knowledge is better than constant practice, meditation is superior to knowledge, loving renunciation of the fruit of action to meditation; final emancipation immediately results from such renunciation.

OPRAH: You mean to have stuff is bad? Can you have sex? What about drugs?

KRISHNA: You can have nothing but the clothes on your back, a bowl of rice and a flower, and you may also have scrumptious vegetarian feasts for me, but take no drugs, and you can study and dance and chant all day, and have sex at night, but only for procreation of more devotees, and you can do lots of other devotional acts as well. On the other hand, you can meditate a lot, be driven around your ashram every day by a different beautiful woman or handsome man in a different Rolls Royce, and you can have a little laughing gas during your dental appointments, if you like. Just say no to drug use in general, including alcohol and tobacco and marijuana, without a special prescription from me, and don’t allow your disciples to traffic in drugs even if they don’t use them. Worshipping me is the greatest natural high of all.

OPRAH: So I can keep my $2.5 billion?

KRISHNA: As long as you devote yourself to my service, you will be immortal and blissful regardless of your wealth – remember, the Lord Himself is Opulent, and he loves the poor. Whatever is rendered to me is returned with compound interest, or, if you want less, then you will get less, and if you have faith in nothing because nothing is perfect and permanent, then nothing shall be yours for the asking, but it’s best to ask for nothing at all because nothing is infinite and nothing really works. Remember, it doesn’t matter what you have or do in my favor, for all things are mine and should be devoted to me anyway. When you are mine, when you love me, the universe loves you back and is yours no matter what you have on hand at the time of devotion.

OPRAH: I think I like the loving yoga you mentioned best. How do you do that?

KRISHNA: Here, I brought you some anklets. Please put them on. And here’s a bracelet with some bangles.

OPRAH: Oh, thank you! They’re beautiful. Listen to the little bells tinkle when I shake a leg! And the bangles, here, how they jangle so wonderfully. Very exotic!

KRISHNA: Yes, please stand up and shake a leg with me. Take this tambourine and jiggle it in the air. Good. Now take my hand. Let’s do some hip hop dancing and chanting. Repeat after me, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare. Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Got it?

OPRAH: I wish Ellen were here. Okay, here we go…Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna…. I feel blessed and graced. I think I love you Krishna.

KRISHNA: The feeling is mutual. Here’s a pouch full of my books, and you will find some flowers on top. You can carry it over your shoulder. My favorite book is the Bhagavad Gita.

OPRAH: Then I shall recommend it to everyone! Oh, this is fun! Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna….. We’ll be right back after this commercial….

Tracey’s South Beach Neighborhood







Tracey Flagler, may she rest in peace, was my neighbor. I barely knew her when she was with us. After I found her remains in her apartment, I thought she might be any one of us despite our differences. The soul is bared when the body is decomposed, a soul essentially simple, without height, breadth or depth, at once boundless, numberless, and one.

Reality when beheld from the right angle is an inexhaustible diamond mine no matter where an author might dig. Now that Tracey is gone for good, she is quintessentially as good a subject as her great idol, Oprah Winfrey, who was in Africa when she needed her, and who no doubt would have come to her rescue if only she had known of her desperate plight.

A ragged servant and a rich queen in this great log-cabin to white-house, or squalid ghetto apartment to $50 million mansion great nation of ours, are at most and at least born equal; and to that equality all are fated to return. Notwithstanding a final judgment on their accidental particulars as individuals, they are hypothetically not only categorically the same as an existential category of one, but are in the final analysis are substantially the same as well.

Although only individuals may apparently exist; although there may be no substantial continuity between individual things; although there may be no universals binding particulars; although the forms we perceive may be illusory, accidental configurations of matter; – still, in order to maintain our dignity, a wondrous exception must be made for our divine soul. Undoubtedly that soul is not merely nothing but a name for the Vanity of vanities: no, it is not an empty excuse for nothing but ignorance; it is rather the supreme personal being, the universal I-god who presides over the cosmic stuff. Withal, no man in his right mind is a nominalist in his own right.

Tracey was virtually alone in this crowded world. Her heirs if any were unknown, and the personal effects that survived her were seemingly too inconsiderable to make an estate of any interest to the state. In any event, the stuff in her apartment was up for grabs, thanks to our landlord – he left her door open for the Salvation Army truck. My fellow neighbors carted off a few of her things, but they missed what I discovered in the proverbial Field of Diamonds, that is, one’s own backyard. The hidden treasure was worth more than the million dollars Tracey had asked the Source for in Oprah’s name, money she needed to relax and have fun, to be free to be joyful every minute, free to be the proud proof of the success everyone wants, instead of scraping out a meager living as a hassled waitress for tourists and the occasional rich and famous people whom she wanted to join at table instead of wait on.

Although she wanted more than what she had, Tracey very much enjoyed her South Beach apartment. She left notes behind expressing her appreciation:

“I am glad to have a city and a place to live in and my health and my kitties – I’m glad to have that in my life. Success is based on enjoying and appreciating physical stuff. I begin by appreciating the stuff I already have. I appreciate South Beach and the beautiful ocean, the colors and the architecture of South Beach. I appreciate the beautiful things in my apartment: my TV, my overstuffed chair, my kitties, all of the cool colors, my plastic glasses, my Etch ‘O Sketch, my dry-eraser board. Yes, it is small compared to the mega-stuff I have asked for, and I feel stupid, but it is so BIG compared to what I once had. I am angry that I allowed myself to dream so big, yet I can harbor so much more in JOY than I used to be able to. Is there any reason that I can’t continue? Why cannot I continue to keep up my success?”

The apartment Tracey appreciated so much is in a small complex on one of the last half-dozen blocks of the blighted old South Beach ghetto that has otherwise been gentrified. It is barely a stone’s throw from the so-called chic scene on the southern extremity of the City of Miami Beach, the living end dubbed ‘South Beach’ by the promoters, where Tracey worked as a waitress, and is a mere block from Washington Avenue, the vulgar, drug-ridden nightclub strip favored by tattooed hip-hoppers and mentally ill vagrants. The rental property has an assessed value of one-million dollars and comprises three small two-story buildings, with four identical studio apartments to each building, squeezed into a perpendicular row from street to alley. Living quarters therein are dirt cheap: $750 to $800 per month; the equivalent of the first and last month’s rent must be deposited in advance as security.

A severely damaged sculpture, a tall monolithic wooden structure onto which an illusory resemblance of the face of Mona Lisa was slashed with a saw, stands out front in a small plaza. The sculptor sprayed it with graffiti and smashed the face of his creation before he moved out. The landlord, who complains that he has little money for maintenance because his rental profit has is taxed out of existence if he reports it, has not bothered to remove it. The plaza out front as well as the narrow yard and sidewalks all around the buildings are usually cluttered with trash thrown carelessly on the ground by tenants, and socks, rags and underpants tossed out of the windows of the apartment building next door, and dead palm leaves, sticky palm nuts, motor scooters, and a great deal of stinking dog excrement.

As we say in Miami, “It’s the stupid culture, stupid.”

A five-foot high, white metal picket fence runs along three sides of the property. The fence is for naught since the tenants could care less about keeping the gates locked because they want to let their drug customers get it, or are just afraid to lock them: a resident was stabbed into a comatose state recently by a homeless man who was angered at him for locking them, thus denying him a convenient easement from the alley to the street. Club-goers drop by occasionally and use the premises as a toilet, as do the huge dogs that live on the premises and on the block; the place has been likened to a kennel. One resident dog lover had to move out of his apartment and off the beach because it is illegal to keep pitbulls on Miami Beach. The dog, a pitbull-Doberman mongrel, was over-friendly yet presented a terrifying aspect as it played, tearing around corners of our buildings lickety-split to charge at any two-legged prospective playmate in sight. The owner, a waiter at a popular restaurant nearby, was a nice enough fellow, but his culture mandated shouting commands interspersed with key curse words at the dog at all hours of night, not cleaning up after the dog, and yelling Ebonics into his cell phone while pacing outside our windows when he got angry, using frightful gangster-rap talk.

When nature calls, animals respond. The sound of two ladies simultaneously talking on their cell phones woke me up late one night last week. With miniskirts pulled up and panties around ankles; they were urinating underneath Tracey’s stairwell, just below her neighbor’s window downstairs. I put the finely rounded brown asses of the two squatting ladies in the spotlight with my flashlight; they squealed, pulled up their panties in a hurry and scurried away. Late last evening, a couple came onto the property and took shelter from the rain under Tracey’s stairwell. Their groaning sounds awoke me, and I thought someone was hurting. I went to the window; the couple was obviously having consensual sex, so I retired to let them have their way. Of course some of the hundreds of vagrants who live in South Beach alleys sometimes sleep on our outside stairwells. And one homeless man regularly uses the outside electrical outlet to charge his cell phone late at night – if only he would not talk on it so loudly, nobody would care.

The large abutting building walling off the north side of our ground is an unlicensed hotel residence occupied by non-English speaking Hispanics, the majority of them illegal aliens. The shrinking economy is sending some of them back to impoverished Mexico as I write. They are a relatively peaceful lot. One of the, however, was dumping his garbage onto our six-foot wide lawn along the building, but we found his phone number on a takeout slip for tacos in the garbage – a phone call threatening to call the police and immigration resolved the problem immediately. Two large-bodied workers who place their shoes and socks on the window sill can be seen sleeping in one small bed from time to time. Another tenant therein plays raucous Mexican music for an hour each evening. In case anyone is interested in such details, the inhabitants without curtains may be viewed taking showers. Welcome to the Third World in South Beach.

Lawrence, my first next door neighbor, mentioned Tracey shortly after I moved into my second-floor studio in the building in front of hers – I could look directly into her place from my back window in the bathroom. He said she was a sweet girl, and that if he were straight he would definitely go for her, but he doubted he would get very far because, he said, she preferred black men, an assumption made from a handsome brown gentleman regularly seen at her door – why do we whites have to work so hard for our tans? Lawrence, a New Yorker through and through, apparently had no such color preferences. He said he had overheard Teddy, our Puerto Rican neighbor downstairs, making racist remarks on his cell phone; he said was deeply offended by such low-class talk, although he was otherwise impressed by Freddy’s linguistic facility, particularly his elocution and smooth tone of voice, as well as his ass.

I did not think Teddy’s voice was so smooth. He did not want to disturb his own family, so he was wont to come outside and yell into his cell phone below our windows. And then he liked to party with friends and a jug of wine on our stairwell. I spoke to him quietly about the annoyance, but he said he was the de facto resident manager; he said he did not care what I thought, that I should just move. I became the jerk who straightened him out the next night with a scene that included cops in the cast. He apologized through the landlord, and became quite the gentleman thereafter. He is now the head of a family of five including the dog, all cooped up in one room with a large entertainment center that thumps into the night until I call him or bang on his ceiling. He does try to be considerate, but our floors, which do not comply with the city’s soundproofing code, and the walls are paper thin and he loves drumming. And now he takes his cell phone to the street for long calls. He could be a very successful family man, a man with a house and loving family and a backyard for the dog, if only he would reach for the stars. But he reached for Section 8 housing, and turned it down after waiting 3 years – he did not want to raise his kids in a violent ghetto. So here he remains, with a brand new baby. I want him to be successful, but my own circumstances are certainly not a pulpit from which normal success can be preached without hypocrisy – I am presently a successful failure.

Lawrence and I became immediate friends, but he moved back to New York two weeks after I arrived, one reason being that he was angered by Teddy’s racket-making, another being that, although he was gay, he could not stand the “mean young gays” who live on South Beach.

I know my other neighbors even less well than I knew Tracey, whom I barely knew. I am a gregarious person, but my neighbors live on their own little planets and want to keep it that way. Indeed, when I greeted a neighbor who lives in the front building, and said that I did not know my neighbors, she said she did not want to know hers, and abruptly turned her back on me and walked away. I only know her from her orgasms when her boyfriend visits – she is a screamer.

I stopped greeting the two men who live in one of the back studios, as they are exceedingly sullen and gave me the impression that I am a gringo they would rather kill than say hello to. There is, however, one courteous fellow downstairs: Carmichael, a bodybuilder, nightclub doorman, and youth worker, but I rarely see him because he works day and night. And there is my sole neighbor upstairs, whom I rarely see because he works nights as well; thankfully, he is the quietest man on earth, and he put a welcome mat and plants on our shared stairwell instead of the customary bags of garbage.

Now then, since the ubiquitous “I” is our main subject, I am eager to say something about my appreciation of some things. What do I appreciate about my physical environment? I appreciate the beach most of all. If it were not for the beach itself, South Beach would be nearly worthless, at least in my opinion as a frustrated beach bum. Well, yes, I appreciate the Art Deco architecture when the sun falls upon the pastels in a certain way, although I consider the ornamental style superficial and cheap on the whole. As for function, many of the buildings were barracks, and might better have been torn down long before being put on the historic preservation list. My apartment complex is unusual, not Art Deco ornamented. I appreciate my studio, but I liked it better when it was almost bare inside. I do not require much stuff to be an enormously successful failure. I am leery of owning luxuries, preferring to view them when they are in someone else’s possession, or when displayed in museums and picture books. For me beauty really is in the mind of the beholder. I am complex within but a minimalist without. I have furnished my studio with a few things from the alley, and with a TV and microwave from the much smaller, hotel room I had lived in before the hotel was purchased by the usual greedy developers eager to get their hands on some of the surplus capital buyers have ripped off from labor or borrowed from banks. The vulgar residents of that unlicensed hotel, which served several drug dealers and prostitutes well enough, were precipitously evicted to make way for the gentry; holdouts had their doors kicked in by off-duty Miami Beach cops. The hotel sits empty two years later. I got a TV and microwave off the landlord.

My most useful possession is the used computer my generous friend Darwin gave me after I wrote his ‘Manifesto on Cubosurrealism’. I also have plenty of books to appreciate, titles such as The Deconstruction of Literature, Fathers and Sons, The Way We Never Were, Ten Philosophical Mistakes, Suicide, The Egotists, The Pursuit of Loneliness, The Success and Failure of Picasso, The Myth of Male Power, Becoming Mona Lisa, The Lonely Crowd, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Great Cons and Con Artists, Magister Ludi, and The Skin of Chagrin.

Tracey was all alone when she suffered her breakdown, too depressed even to reach out to her high priestess, Oprah, perhaps the only person in the world who might have saved her with a talk. Chatting on her cell phone failed to relieve her loneliness, so Tracey had turned it off for good.

The Pursuit of Loneliness, copyrighted in 1970, claimed that American culture, with its economy based on greedy individualism, was at the breaking point. The problem with the striving for money is that its value is inflated, from a tool facilitating exchange to a digital symbol of power; thus the lust for easy money distracts people from actually producing and distributing the basic goods and services and the better environment that everyone needs. As for the liberated American woman, she is still manipulated to live for the convenience of men, who still cultivate violence at home and abroad.

The Lonely Crowd, copyrighted in 1961, suggests that our “other-directed” contemporary individualism may be more flexible, but in fact is as conducive to conformity as the “inner-directed” or tradition-bound individualism we associate with the legendary “rugged individual,” whose common morality was implanted in early life by authority figures. Now that relative affluence has been obtained for the majority of Americans, the problem is less and less with squeezing out a living from the natural environment, and more and more with profiting from other people, with whom everyone is increasingly in touch by mass media, which of course serves the rigid organizations needed to harness the new flexibility. Rapidly changing fashions, instead of enduring morality, is the contemporary rule for other-directed people, who are, on the whole, and especially if they are rootless Americans, more friendly and shallow, wasteful and insecure than the inner-directed traditionalist of old. A survey of people on the street or review of any popular magazine rack or an audit of casual conversations belies the notion that contemporary persons are unique individuals in any way – if anything, they have been over-socialized. So we are virtually zombies, possessed consumers. We have more and more things to choose from, but the choices are not ours; we want something else besides all that, but we really don’t know what that is, or quite how to get it, and we lose faith in the whole shebang not to mention our idols and gods.

One of Tracey’s letters, penned shortly before her departure, illustrates the postmodern milieu:

“I want to be proud. What is pride? What is being proud? What do I want my definition of pride to be? Pride is in visible, external success, the proof of greatness. Since I want pride, I lack pride and must really hate myself. I want greatness but am not great. If most of the people in the world died today or went to prison unfulfilled, I believe they might still be great, but they were unable to recognize their greatness. Is that the meaning of failure? For me it is because I know these processes, I know the secrets of the universe and I still screw up. I don’t care about those people who don’t know they are great – I care about me. What is it all for? We could die in a week and what is it all for? What do I want it to be for? I wanted to be able to be happy in every moment, to choose stuff in every moment and have that lead to greatness. Why, why, why? For the fun of it, that’s why. I wanted to feel that way, to have joy, and I saw famous people feeling that way, having fun. Everybody wants money and fame so I figured that if I could have that it would lead to joy. So I wanted to be great. If there is no proof of greatness then what is the point of being here? Why bother? Because they tell me all this stupid crap, like I can create anything I want and am a genius creator, et cetera et cetera. And then I look at my stupid life and the fact that I can’t even exist without some weird, intense pattern of thought taking over, and I sometimes think we are all so full of crap, so full of crap that life is really futile.”

I have retrieved a few of Tracey’s things and have suitably positioned them around my place to get to know her better. In addition to her secret stash, I have her big brown teddy bear named Penelope, a Voodoo charm, the dry-eraser board, a cute little bowl, a large mug decorated all around with the image of a one-million-dollar bill, fifteen boxes of tea, and books entitled The Millionaire Mind, Pathfinder, Self Matters, What Color is Your Parachute, and Basic Spanish Grammar, along with representative samples of her subscriptions to O – The Oprah Magazine and Oxygen.

The Salvation Army will pick up the rest of Tracey’s stuff next Friday. The stuffed chair is a prize but the neighbors do not want it, as it is very large for small studios and rooms, and one would need two men and a truck to get to move it.

Tracey’s somewhat dated books are in mint condition, as if they have never been cracked. Opening The Millionaire Mind at random, we find this tidbit from a multimillionaire’s mouth, for digestion by success-seekers:

“We feel power and control…. It’s a sense of power. You become king within reason. I have a small corporation…. Those that don’t agree with me can resign…very democratic.”

The Pathfinder’s subtitle is, ‘How to Choose or Change Your Career for a Lifetime of Satisfaction and Success.’ We learn that “part of the reason so few people have truly satisfying lives is that they simply do not have tools adequate to the task of designing such a life.” The author provides us with the tools, after noting that “most of us would not be willing to live such a life for very long, even if we could design it.”

Self Matters addressed the subject of ‘Creating Your Life from the Inside Out.’ The author assigns us our first task on page 63: “Beginning right now, with only the second chapter of this book, I am asking you to take a huge ‘time out’ from this scramble you call life, and to focus on the one doing the scrambling: you. I am asking you, demanding of you that you focus fully and unapologetically on you.”

What Color is Your Parachute would have us know that there is a job out there for you: ‘Write This on Your Forehead, There Are Always Vacancies Out There,’ reads the rubric on page 19 of the 2006 edition.

As for Basic Spanish Grammar, facility in Spanish is often essential for getting a low-paying job in Miami. ‘Bilingual (Spanish) required’ reads the Help Wanted advertisement.

Practice makes perfect. If Tracey did not read these books, still in pristine condition, those of us who have read them and are still stuck in a rut might not blame her: we known what to do but don’t do it, for that is the very nature of the rut.

Honore de Balzac would certainly appreciate Tracey’s million-dollar coffee mug in the wee hours. I’m drinking my coffee from it as I write, and with this wish, that Tracey Flagler returns from The Beyond to sue me for stealing her secret. I shall raise the defense that her last testament left her estate to finders-keepers. And then I shall gladly cut her a settlement check for the cool million dollars she wanted so badly that she did not notice it beneath her feet, just as I did not look down at the roll of hundred-dollar bills my right foot stepped on the other day while strolling along Washington Avenue – I cursed at the felt impediment and kept on walking; a homeless man ran across the street to pick it up the money: “Oh, my God!” he exclaimed. God, indeed!

I was taught not to look down, but to keep my head always held high, and to look upwards, at empty space, when I prayed – perhaps that is why I have faith in Nothing instead of in things. I appreciate the fact that that poor man who looked downwards got the bankroll – I did look downwards at the Equinox gym one day during my free trial and found a $100 bill on the gym’s floor.

Oh, yes, appreciation: I appreciate even more the fact that my studio has six windows. I appreciate the marvelous webs spun between the palms and the buildings by the crab spiders. I appreciate the two little trees the landlord planted outside my window. They were knocked down by hurricanes several times, but they took root during the last two, untroubled seasons. Butterflies, duly camouflaged with yellow wings, flit about the yellow flowering leaves on a background of dark green leaves, and a noisy blue jay has taken up residence in one tree – when I answer with a song from my flute, he takes off for awhile. I used to look out of my window above the bathtub when showering, to appreciate the sight of Tracey’s favored fluffy kitties sitting in her window – stray cats also sunned themselves on her doorstep, dreaming of another bite to eat from her generous hand.

Yes, I appreciate South Beach, my apartment, and the things in it. I imagine Tracey Flagler felt some joy in her circumstances, just as I have joyful moments in mine. But who is Tracey Flagler, and who am I? That remains to be seen.

To be continued

Photo Credit: Sketch by Darwin Leon

General Peace and Happy Hats


Return of Reason by Darwin Leon




“Madame Huong, my name is Walter Davidson, and this is my good friend, Helene Hartmann.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Madame Huong said, her face beaming. “Thank you for coming to our peace exhibit. Would you like some Russian tea?”

“That would be nice,” Helene accepted.

“Mary, bring some tea for our guests,” Madame Huong directed a member of her staff. “Are you here for the peace meeting?”

“Well, no, we are appreciating your art,” declared Helene.

“We must appreciate peace.”

“It’s very sad, really.”

“And beautiful,” Helene added.

“Art happens when your tears connect with my tears.”

“I was recommended to you by Martin Berdinger,” I explained. “He said to mention general peace and happy hats, so I thought I would drop by your opening.”

“Martin! He is a good lawyer – he helped me with my estate planning.”

“Excuse me,” Helene said, “I’m going to walk around a little more, and enjoy your art.”

“We are having a peace meeting here, at eight. We can stop the violence, and we must stop it so we can live in peace and harmony.”

“We did not know about the meeting, and have made other plans,” I said, noting to myself that anti-war peace was obviously out of vogue, a least in hedonistic South Beach – the exhibit hall was deserted.

“We must plan for peace,” Madame Huong persisted. “We must unite in peace and harmony.”

“May I call on you tomorrow?” Helene asked. “I believe we may agree on one or two of your works.”

“Of course – I will busy at the peace demonstration on Lincoln Road until four, so come after five.”

“Good. I’m going to look around, Walter, do take your time.” Helene sauntered off.

“Madame, how much is the art here worth? My guess is five million.”

“Your guess is good. Five million is the insured value,” she responded. “But we are not here for money. We are here for peace.”

“But of course,” I agreed and nodded at the suited fellow at a computer behind a counter adorned with VISA and MASTERCARD ‘Accepted Here’ signs. “But sometimes we must make war to defend ourselves. Even Mahatma Gandhi agreed with that.

“Why war? War produces nothing. We must not fight each other. We must fight for unity. We must fight for peace. We must fight violence. We must fight our vices and weaknesses.”

There it is again, I thought, the ubiquitous word, “fight.” There always has to be a fight instead of a persuasion or conversion. The hundreds of millions of war dead prove that there are all sorts of unities to fight for, and that not even a world war to end all wars can end wars. The other side of unity is division, and without division there is no such thing as unity except in Nothing.

“Who is going to protect peaceful people like you, Madame, from rapists, murderers and thieves? Evil is multiplying in your world today. The police and soldiers protect you. Someone wants to break into your gallery, steal your art, and rape and kill you if you are there. Maybe someone just hates the peace movement, or enjoys hurting people. But the police protect you. The police and soldiers must guard the peaceful ones as the circle widens, until everyone drinks of the loving cup. They might have to kill people to defend you, to support your peace movement.”

“Soldiers and police come to see me and they go in peace. Man has a good heart. All people really want peace. If given a choice between war and peace, people will choose peace.”

“But Madame, history proves that people choose war because they love violence.”

“We must fight our weakness. We must fight against war.”

“But how can you fight war without war?”

“Just say no to war. Just stop the violence. Just stop it, that’s all. We can just stop the violence. Think peace. Everybody must think peace. There will be peace.”

“Your art is amazing, Madame. Still, the war pieces are very depressing, and drown the peace pieces in an ocean of blood.. But maybe it’s good to remember the violence, just like the Jews remember the holocaust, so people will want the opposite, and not deny the horror and bring it about again, thinking such things can never happen.”

“The holocaust was a long time ago,” Madame Huong retorted dismissively – I detected a jealous twinge in her tone. The Jews keep talking about the holocaust. They must get over it. We must come together under one tent and forget the Jews and separations. We must think about the future. We must think peace.”

“The Vietnam War has also been over a long time. I guess you are just sick and tired of hearing about the white man’s holocaust – he doesn’t care about Asians. Still, I wonder if it does any good to show violent images no matter what they are about. I think people get sexually and violently aroused by pornography and violent images.”

“It’s not the violence I hold up. I hold up the nobility. I hold up the noble faces of the victims looking up at the sky in pain and crying blood. I see myself in their faces.”

“You are noble,” I tried to flatter her.

“Not just me. Everybody is noble. We must all get together, come to meetings, and think peace and act for peace. We must end the separations and hatred. Here, take this,” she ordered, holding out a black Magic Marker. “Now write something on this painting. Don’t worry. Go ahead. Write something, whatever comes to mind.”

I was at a loss for words, but finally scrawled, “I am sick of war.”

“You must sign it.”

I spontaneously signed, ‘General Peace.’

“There, now, your name is General Peace.”

“Professor Berdinger said you had happy hats to market. What are they?”

“He means our peace helmets. General Peace of the World Peace Force needs peace helmets so his troops will be protected from bad vibrations. They can tune into peace and make themselves happy. We have developed a prototype. Mary,” she called to her assistant, “please take General Peace to the dressing room and show him our happy hat.”

“So you are General Peace.” Mary sang matter-of-factly as she led me to a back room. The buxom, long-haired young woman was wearing a pink T-shirt upon which an image of a large peace sign made of hemp was emblazoned; her designer tennis shoes and low-cut jeans were fashioned with a raggedy look; she wore no makeup and smelled of Ivory soap. I got the impression from her confident bearing and gait that she was a professional woman who dressed-down, like a hippie, to suit peace demonstrations. Her hips fascinated me inordinately, having a hypnotic effect as her rear swayed from side to side like a pear on a pendulum as I followed her down a long hall to the rear of the building. I was feeling slightly ecstatic, and wondered if the Russian tea had been spiked with something. She entered a combination on a keypad by the door at the end of the hall, and gestured into a room awash in pink light.

“Come in,” she beckoned. “Please sit down. Good.” She extracted a key hidden deep in the valley of her bosom and used it to unlock a shiny hatbox, apparently made of black plastic, sitting on the table. She took out a rainbow-hued, diamond-like helmet and handed it to me. It appeared to be made of a brilliant, translucent crystalline substance, veined with thin silver wires. I examined it closely: the crystals were tetrahedrons.

“The red is dead, the rainbow is rising, let there be peace and prosperity in the world,” Mary sang. “Here, let me put it on you,” she said, and leaned over me.  There was something very appealing about her. She was short of stature, and when she approached me to put the helmet on my head, I felt tempted to bury my face in her T-shirted bosom, put my arms around her, grab her bottom and give her a hug.

“I know what you’re thinking. Don’t worry, that’s how people feel about you after you wear the Peace Helmet There, now” she placed the helmet on my head. “That’s it. Enjoy. The red is dead, the rainbow is rising. Be happy.”

“O my god, oh, uh, ah….”

“What does it feel like, General Peace? Do you feel good?”

“Oh, yes, yes, it feels like, it feels like I’m going to, I mean….”

“Like an orgasm, like your whole body is going to cum?”

“Yes, yes, oh yes!”

“Yes, relieve yourself of yourself. Let yourself go. The rainbow is rising.”

“Oh, man, I feel so good,” I moaned. I was in a state of continuous relief, of perpetual peace, if you will, and everything was crystal clear. Mary had levitated: she was hovering slightly above me, basking in an aura of multi-colored light. I noticed that she had no navel but thought nothing of it. Indeed, as I let myself go, or came, so to speak, it was as if I was some other I, as if someone were thinking and feeling for me, playing my body like a musical instrument.

“General Peace,” Mary proceeded with a singsong, “People shall assemble throughout the world as one in many to invoke your peace. They shall call upon you to lead them on the way to supreme peace, and you shall come, and your mouth shall speak glad tidings, your hand shall write good news, and your feet shall bring peace upon Earth. The peoples shall cry with joy, for sorrow and sadness shall be nevermore, and joy and gladness shall be evermore. The nations shall recognize their wrongs and come unto you for peace. Their leaders shall close their mouths and open their ears, and you shall fill their minds and hearts with eternal peace. Tyrants shall hang on your every word, lay down their weapons and have them destroyed or converted to peaceful uses. Earth shall be perfected and shall serve up her abundance according to the generosity of every one towards every other.”

“Earth shall be perfected and shall serve up her abundance according to the generosity of every one towards every other.” I repeated spontaneously.

“Hunger and disease shall be no more, and the desire for joy, peace, love, and eternal life shall be satisfied in mutual service.”

“Hunger and disease shall be no more, and the desire for joy, peace, love, and eternal life shall be satisfied…” I reiterated.

“You are General Peace.”

“You are General Peace.”

“No, you are General Peace.”

“I am General Peace.”

“Yes. You shall marshal the forces of peace and lead the lords of liberation with words of power from the source of oneness. You shall focus consciousness on peace and love. You shall make the Unknown One known. You shall command the reconstruction company, and the world shall be home again to the homeless. Say this: I shall make the world home again to the homeless”

“I shall make the world home again to the homeless.”

“Say I feel the joy of service, and I am crystal clear.”

“I feel the joy of service, and I am crystal clear.”

“Joy is in service, not in selfishness.”

“Joy is in service, not in selfishness.”

“The red is dead, the rainbow is rising.”

“The rainbow is rising.”

“All right, General Peace,” Mary confirmed, alighted on the floor and took the helmet from my head – it was glowing with color, as if a prism had cast spectral rays upon it – and put it back in the gleaming black hatbox.

“What happened? Everything was so clear, but what was it that you were saying?” I started slipping out of crystal clarity into the usual confused consciousness.

“You were happy. You will remember everything soon enough, offer it to the world, and the words of power will have good effects.”

“It should be a bestseller. I remember feeling very good. I remember the rainbow, and you seemed to be floating towards the ceiling. I don’t believe I ever felt so good. I still feel good, joyful, and very peaceful.”

“The feeling will last for a few days. But please keep quiet about this until the marketing campaign begins.”

“That’s a real happy hat you’ve got there, lady.”

# #

Doctor Sagwell


Sigmund Freud


Paul Bowman, the greatest author the world will ever or never know, nearly fainted when the ‘Lady in Black’ came into Wilson’s Bar & Grill on West 79th Street and told him his old friend Robert Sagwell, an analyst whose mentor had been Anna Freud, had died of a brain tumor a few days before, and that he had already been cremated.

This was the second death the Lady in Black had announced to Paul this month, the first one being that of Robert’s friend, ‘Dave the Accountant.’ Paul then called ‘Robert the Analyst’ and told him of Dave’s demise as well as the time and place of the memorial. Robert thanked him for the information.

“So how have you been?” Paul asked. Robert had undergone bypass surgery a few months before. After considering the dietary approach to his condition, he had opted for the surgery, a decision made easier after a cooperative clerk at Blue Cross altered his plan records to cover the costs. He went into the hospital a few days later. Robert was a “mind over matter” man, and was proud he had insisted on going home two days after his chest had been ripped open.

“I’m not feeling so well at the moment,” Robert replied, coughing.

“A cold?”


“Me too.”

“Paul, we should get together soon.”

“I’ll give you a call.”

But now this, from the lady in black: “I’m sorry your friend Robert is dead.”

“Oh, no!”

“You didn’t know?”

“No,” Paul felt faint.

“I saw him at Dave’s memorial. He didn’t look good. He had a patch over his right eye. He had a brain tumor. He was buried on Saturday. My friend at the mortuary said only his family was at the funeral. He was cremated.”

That made sense, thought Paul, struggling to get a grip on himself, for Robert, although from a Jewish family, was fond of fundamental Buddhism and had often expressed his belief in the annihilation of the soul.

At first saddened by the tragic news, Paul then became angry he had not been told. But Robert’s silence as to his impending death made sense too, for he liked to be perceived as a strong authority, not the sort of man who would ring up his friends to tell them he was dying.

Robert was well-off, did not get along with his family, and had known very well that Paul was hurting financially. Robert recently asked him “a hypothetical question.” How could a large sum of money be transferred to a friend if he died? One might put it into a joint account with that friend, he suggested. The very next day they quarreled over a trivial matter, the pronunciation of the word ‘oxymoron.’ Paul was insistent, and his pronunciation was correct. Robert, a Yale graduate proud of his literacy, was deeply offended by the diminishment of his authority. That was the last Paul had seen him. How greedy of me to think this way!

“What a moron I was,” Paul chastised himself. “I should have let been nice, and just let him think ox’ymoron is correct!” He added, only to feel guilty for having the thought, “And then I would have had that money.”

Paul knew he would miss his old friend. He loved to visit Robert at his lofty and spacious rent-controlled apartment on Riverside Drive overlooking the park and the Hudson River. Robert was paying six-hundred a month for the grand old flat, much to the chagrin of the condominium convertors who valued it at nearly a million, if only they could put it on the market. He had refused to buy the unit. He believed a collapse of the real estate market was imminent, soon to be followed by the fall of the civilization he felt was rapidly declining with his advancing age. Besides, at sixty-something, he had no heirs he wanted to speak of, least of all in a will: he had been born into a wealthy family and was well-taken of, but he was unloved or loved coldly, hence his familial relations where chilly at best.

Despite his frigid familial relations, Dr. Robert Sagwell was a sociable bachelor who did not neglect his own life or the lives of the many friends whom he loved. He was a wealthy man who appreciated wealth well enough to pinch pennies. He went to considerable current expense to remodel his Riverside Drive apartment and to generously entertain his guests therein. Those expenditures were offset by the savings he realized after he vacated his rented office next to the school playground a few blocks away on West End to take up practicing his profession at home.

The shouts of children playing at the West End office had disturbed his sessions with patients, but the deciding factor was the fecal matter burglars had left behind in the toilet while he was in the Bahamas for a two-week vacation one hot summer. He was shocked by the anal development when he entered his office upon his return and was confronted by the odorous ordure, as he called it. Manhattan’s stifling, humid weather, unfavorably compared that year to the Amazon jungle’s climate, had done its work. Crime scene investigators ascertained from the colors of the unflushed evidence that at least two burglars had violated his rented domain. He said he would never forget the unbearable stench polluting his desecrated office as he packed his things for his exodus. His forfeited rent deposit took care of the subsequent fumigation of the demised premises, which is now a chiropractor’s office.

After Dr. Sagwell evacuated his West End quarters, one room of his expansive flat on Riverside Drive served as his professional office. Upon one wall there he mounted a self-portrait he had painted while dabbling in art therapeutics. A young woman was depicted sitting in a chair, behind which the good doctor towered, gazing down on her, with his hands on her shoulders. He said she was an old flame of his, yet she appeared by virtue of her features to be closely related to him, perhaps his double. The “experimental painting” would become an embarrassment after several patients said the woman in the painting looked like him, so he eventually removed it from the wall.

The good doctor had otherwise equipped the office with a firm but comfortable couch for the analysand to recline or sit on during forty-five minute sessions. He was fond of sitting on it himself during leisurely hours, rubbing shoulders and legs with a friend, casting off his official authoritarian role to chat freely and munch snacks as an equal to all.

Nearby the couch was a small desk and typewriter, an unabridged dictionary looking quite formidable on its own slender pedestal, and a peculiar chair upon which he perched during his psychoanalytic sessions. This “Ortho Analysis Chair” had no back. The analyst must wrap his legs around two of the three legs of the chair, which, of course, comes with postural instructions to the effect that, if the instructions are followed to a ‘T’, then mind and body will be in the harmony best suited for psycho-analysis and -therapy.

Now the reader might not be surprised to hear that Doctor Sagwell was into the Alexander Technique, yet the same reader might deem the doctor’s occasional interest in crystal therapy rather odd. Indeed, his Freudianism was unorthodox, extending beyond the Jungian heresy, transcending the frontiers of the unconscious in order to know to the Unknown. His practice was nevertheless in accord with the demand of his patients, all bourgeois neurotics. He referred the few seriously mentally ill people who came his way to competent specialists.

Although his fortune was already assured by the inheritance of a goodly fortune, with even more to come after the impending death of his mother, he did not mind if his clients added to it. Still, he charitably provided accelerated therapy pro bono to humble members of the homosexual community whom he occasionally met behind the boarded windows of the Black Saddle Club on Amsterdam Avenue. He said he believed homosexuality to be perverse but not immoral. He had developed a therapeutic technique designed to help anxious gay men “adjust.” Paul became suspicious of his friend’s true orientation one evening after the doctor’s hand had “accidentally” alighted on his thigh during a conversation.

Paul Bowman had known Doctor Sagwell for many years, commencing some time before the doctor was a doctor, when he was just “Bob,” in the Sixties. Bob smoked pot back then, became confused, went into analysis, and was so impressed by it that he decided to become an analyst himself. Paul looked up to Robert as an authority on mental matters, and allowed him to practice hypnotism on him.

Now, in the Nineties, we find Paul nearly homeless after committing the usual economic suicide, visiting Robert in his flat. They sat in the living room for awhile admiring the Sun setting over New Jersey – it was a marvelous spectacle – then they retired into Robert’s home office to sit on the couch, munch snacks and chat freely.

“Paul,” said Robert in a deep voice, “you are a very talented and flexible man. You can play whatever role you set your mind to, and you will be successful if you stick with one role for ten years.”

“I believe I shall become the greatest author the world will ever or never know.”

“Every frustrated author is one or the other. You may be far from the greatest, but if you keep writing for ten years at one stretch you will vastly improve your mental powers, be much happier, and die a millionaire if you want the money.”

“My freedom is in not wanting it.”

“That will help make you great, and in the end you will have it, like it or not.”

“Then I could better serve my readers.”

“There is one thing you must remember.”


“Remember that you ran away from home for good reason, and that you owe your father absolutely nothing. Only then will you stop throwing everything away on the verge of success.”

-To Be Continued-

Paul Is No Critic – “I despise critics!”

Valery Panov

Excerpt from No Hard Feelings by David Arthur Walters

Photo of Valery Panov




Paul Bowman, the greatest author the world will ever or never know, awoke at ten o’clock Saturday morning in Flatbush thinking he might be the greatest author the world will NEVER know.

Paul had been able to sleep late because Billy O’Malley, his roommate, was still in the hospital. The bathroom ceiling had collapsed on him while he was sitting on the toilet late Thursday evening. Alarmed by the extraordinary rumbling and groaning, Paul rushed into the bathroom, found him bleeding in the rubble, and called an ambulance.

Billy, eyes glazed but still conscious, did not know what had hit him; he still had his usual “I Love New York No Matter What Happens” attitude; he did his best under the circumstances to calm Paul down with a barely audible “No problem, Paul, I’m fine, just call 911. A mere concussion was not going to depress Billy O’Malley—when was 12, the doctors had told him he would not live to see 20, so he had been living it up every since, drinking like a fish on weekends after dropping a hit of LSD.

Sleeping in was hardly a luxury for Paul on this particular Saturday morning, for his sleep had been exceedingly anxious. It was not that he was worried about his roommate’s injuries. Billy was being well taken care of as Carla Williams, his true love for over twenty years, a working girl from the Harlem, had taken time off to watch over him at the hospital while her apprentice, Black Jasmine, covered her bookings. No, what had turned Paul’s rest into silent turmoil were John Wilson Senior’s repeated references to Paul’s dance reviews as “shit”, and to dancers as “a bunch of pansies prancing around in tights, peons nobody is really interested in.”

Senior’s initial offer to sponsor Paul if he liked his writing had thus turned into a nightmare. Paul had decided he must be his own man, so to hell with Senior, he told himself; no matter how filthy rich the Pittsburgh industrialist might be, a jerk is a jerk. Still, Paul had a sneaking suspicion that Senior might be right, so Paul had tossed and turned all night long, Senior’s parting remarks at the Peculier Pub rolling around and around in his groggy head. Senior had poked him in the ribs at the bar, and confided:

“Look here, buddy, I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, but I said to my son, after reading your shit, Junior, don’t talk to that guy again. He’s crazy, wasting his talent on dance like that. That’s what I told him, but look here—Senior demanded Paul’s undivided attention, staring bleary-eyed into Paul’s eyes, which were moistened by his hurt feelings—so you like to dance. But you’re a talented writer. I could see that when you mentioned the hamburgers and hotdogs in one of your articles, and when you got mad at something a critic said…”

“I’m no damned critic. I despise critics, they disgust me!” Paul interjected.

“Now you’re talking, kid! But you write like a critic.”

“I’m no critic!”

“Hey, relax, let me tell you something,” Senior commanded with his face six inches from Paul’s, “You can put shit together, and I could see some style coming through.” Paul leaned away from Senior, disgusted by the smell of garlic combined with the scent of Sambuca and beer, mentally noting how drunks repeatedly push points. “But that stuff you sent me was shit! I’m telling you here and now, forget dance! Write! Don’t mix dancing and writing!”

With that memory churning in his mind, Paul wrenched himself out of his Brooklyn bed of discontent, took a leak, staggered into the kitchen, and gazed into the icebox. There was nothing within but a stick of butter, and four and one-half liters of Diet Coke that Billy liked to mix with the three or four fifths of rum he drank on weekends.

Funny, Paul thought, nobody would know of Billy’s love of intoxicants during the week, for he arose unfailingly at six o’clock on Monday mornings, apparently without a hangover, and did not touch another drop until the next Thursday evening at McGowan’s Pub. And even after that abstinence, it took eight rum and Cokes to prime his pump for another fun weekend in the Big Apple. Sometimes another kind of coke kept him running in high gear, not to mention the usual acid in his batteries. He would meet his fate years later, when he retired to Las Vegas to drink himself to death.

Paul took the butter out of the icebox, made himself four slices of buttered toast, and downed some coffee. The coffee, along with Senior’s command to write something to please him into sponsoring him, motivated him to put pen to paper, but Paul was a slow learner: despite Senior’s good advice not to mix dancing and writing, he started writing about dance. Nevertheless, he did strive to put some meat and anger into his effort. He scrawled out a heading on his college-ruled notebook paper:

“I’m No Critic”

Thereunder, Paul Bowman, the greatest writer the world will ever or never know, wrote furiously:

“The stupidity of professional dance critics is nauseating. Take that ravenous bird-brain, Tubby Bias of ‘Dance World’, for example. She was the first one to belly up to the buffet table at the reception following the Oakland Ballet presentation of Kurt Jooss’ ‘The Green Table,’ an anti-war danse macabre about the universal death and destruction provoked by greedy gentlemen who cannot agree. The Nazis did not take too kindly to his anti-war choreography and his refusal to kick Jews out of his danse theatre company: he and his company escaped 18 hours before they were to be sent to a concentration camp.

“Tubby was gorging herself on baloney. I approached her, thinking I should get to know a few professional critics who would, because of my love of dance, I supposed, welcome me into their inner circle as their natural ally. To start a conversation, I thought I would ask her if she believed dance criticism served to improve the quality of choreography and dancing.

“She was chewing on her sandwich, and before I could ask my question, she stated with a full mouth, ‘Bad ballet makes me awfully hungry.’

“I was shocked at her bad taste expressed in front of a complete stranger as she cursed the hand feeding her after being treated by the same host to a free ballet, but I said nothing about that. Instead, I replied calmly that, in my opinion, ‘The Green Table’ was primarily modern dance theatre, although the logic and discipline of ballet was apparent in the choreography. As we know, I said, Jooss was a pioneer of the synthesis of ballet and modern dance. He radically reformed ballet’s dogmatic posturing and rid it the supernatural illusion that gravity does not exist, bringing dance down to Earth where man actually exists in his essential human predicament, his dance unto death.

“Jooss sought economy of expression,” I went on pedantically as Tubby Bias piled three cheeses on her paper plate, “to rid ballet of its archaic ornaments and to invigorate it with the dynamic principles of modern dance. “

Modern? Eeh gad!” Tubby Bias exclaimed incredulously, ‘That’s not modern dance!”

“What a lard-ass she is,” I thought. “Here I was trying to impress her with my knowledge of her subject so she would accept me, and she wants to pick bones with me. Good grief! Jooss is known in Germany as the father of modern dance! Modernity is not a complete divorce from the past, the ancient ballet, for crying out loud, but she won’t admit the modern. She’s not somebody I want to know. She’s been gorging herself on passe’s too long. She doesn’t want to dance! She wants to do technique! Maybe she’d better learn to chew with her mouth closed…”

Paul was winding up into a rant, but he paused from his writing to take a drink of coffee, and then thought he had better change the subject for the time being, come back later, polish up and conclude his criticism of Tubby Bias. That being decided, he put down his coffee mugged and scrawled:

“And take that frilly-mouthed Banana Kissoff of ‘The Monotonous Times.’ She had the gall to call the artistic devices used by Valery Panov in his interpretation of Chekov’s ‘Three Sisters’ corny. Yes, she said ‘corny.’ There is nothing more outrageous to her ill-humored critical ilk than a ballet performance exalting the audience instead of putting it to sleep. So they call that ‘a can of corn’ because everyone else likes it. No, ma’am, there is nothing cornier to a cynical New York critic than romance!

“Kissoff really thinks she knows something about dance. Perhaps she did a few pirouettes herself before falling flat on her derriere. Then she took up imitating the critical magpies because of her own technical shortcomings. Therefore, what could she love more than technique? Yet the hypocrisy is revealed in her flowery style. Corny indeed! To top it off, she is a card-carrying member of the Balanchine cult. Well, Balanchine was great but he is gone. We love his museum, but not the cult’s maudlin mausoleum presided over by technique, the skeleton of dance. We have Panov now, from the same school as Balanchine, and Panov is alive! Yet Ms. Kissoff wants a legend.

“And how about Hack Neanderthal of ‘The Monotonous Times?” Paul wrote on. “He called Panov’s macho manner of manhandling willing women, in his pas de deux during ‘War and Peace’, ‘vulgar’ and ‘hammy.’ Hack has obviously never felt the brutally desperate will human beings have to perpetuate the species in the face of death, an urge tempered of course by the conventional niceties of peaceful love. Then only thing Hack has the nerve to appreciate are the conventions, the hackneyed dance phrases like tombee pas de bourree glissade jete. And when Panov with violent passion renders the ballet vocabulary invisible, Hack is arrogant and supercilious. He does not like Panov, the passionate refusnik who would not comply with Soviet reasoning, who got out of Russia with his glorious wife Galina, whose partner on the Brooklyn stage she now trusts to swing her head within an inch of bashing it in on the stage. To compound his absurd hypocrisy, Hack Neanderthal says he likes narrative ballets with a story line, but when he sees an excellent romantic ballet he bad-mouths it, like his fellow-critic Banana Kissoff, because the audience loved it.

“Where the hell do these critics get off?”

Paul penned the question, winding himself up to launch a most bitter and venomous tirade against the critical race at large; but suddenly his conscience halted his writing hand.

This is no way to behave, he observed as he eyed his article. Maybe Senior was right about critics, he reconsidered, and maybe the greatest writer the world will ever know, namely me, wants to be a critic, and is now venting his jealous rage over the competition.

A good man does not harbor resentment against the competition, Paul mused, and he further observed that vulgar people who do resent competition have the good sense to keep it to themselves. Therefore he picked up the several pages of his rough draft, tore them into shreds, and tossed the morning’s production into the waste can. Having unburdened himself and cleared his conscience, he felt quite relieved. Then he remembered how the bathroom ceiling had collapsed on Billy while Billy was taking a dump, and decided to visit him in the hospital after all.