Archive for December, 2013

Is melancholy necessarily endemic to an impending dotage, and therefore inevitable?

Last night I slept very well and awoke feeling much my old self, a feeling that lasted into my midmorning only to be gradually overtaken by melancholy by lunchtime. I know, of course, that when I report to the lovely Dr. Furst, this bit about today’s ascending melancholy, she’ll want to know ‘why’ and ‘over what’ and ‘what do you think about that?’ So I might as well take a stab at these now rather than later, say after seeing her next Wednesday:  Just now as I was driving back to Building 233 where my office is located, returning after buying a large cup of Cafe Americano (and a scone of course) at the central cafeteria, my route taking me past much of the history of LLNL, I was taken over by a sense of “utter heartbreak and loss” to quote Malcolm Lowry. And I wondered if that were the fate awaiting all of us aged, especially those of us who feel they’ve outlived their usefulness or that there’s nothing left, and that as George Carlin quipped as how in the bottom of his breakfast bowl was inscribed—instead of a happy face, or ‘Have a nice day,’ or ‘You’re beautiful’— ‘All gone, dummy!’ This sense of loss is palpable.  So is this just par for the game? Is it that a sense of loss is endemic to old age and that that necessarily and inevitably  leads to melancholy, as surely as the seasons cycle each year from Spring into Winter? So, am I blue because it’s Winter now, and my body has become so keenly aware of my arthritis and tendonitis, and their attendant aches and pains, and my mind, of how a sought after, but less than familiar, name or word or even a complete thought will, more often than not, elude me. These serve as a constant reminder that soon simply walking the dog will be out of reach, not to mention caring for Maria’s garden—a sanctuary of sorts for her resident skunks, possums, raccoons and flocks of birds. Although my mind and my fondness for words seem as sharp as ever, accessing and embracing the new, e.g., writing, has become increasingly difficult to pull off. Bugger!

No Comments

A Quotation from Malcolm Lowry’s Under The Volcano

The below is a fiercely bipolar piece of magnificent prose, something that needs to and deserves to live forever online.


She had reached the limit of the clearing, where the path divided in two.  She hesitated.  Pointing to the left, as it were straight on, another aged arrow on a tree repeated : a la Cascada.  But a similar arrow on another tree pointed away from the stream down a path to her right: a Parian.  She chose the main path, and the jungle returned, its damp earthy leguminous smell rising about her with the night.

The noise of the approaching falls was like the awakening voices of five thousand bobolinks in an Ohio savannah.  Toward it the torrent raced furiously, fed from above, where, down the left bank, transformed abruptly into a great wall of vegetation, water was spouting into the stream through thickets festooned with convolvuli on a higher level than the topmost trees of the jungle.  And it was as though one’s spirit too were being swept on by the swift current with the uprooted trees and smashed bushes in debacle towards that final drop.

She came to the little cantina El Petate.  It stood, at a short distance from the clamourous falls, its lighted windows friendly against the twilight, and was at  present occupied, she saw, by only the barman and two Mexicans, shepherds or quince farmers, deep in conversation, and leaning against the bar.–Their mouths opened and shut soundlessly, their brown hands traced patterns in the air, courteously.

The El Petate, which from where she stood resembled a sort of complicated postage stamp, surcharged on its outside walls with its inevitable advertisements for Moctezuma, Criollo, Cafeaspirina, mentholatum–no se rasque las picaduras de los insectos!–

In the smashing din she waited outside…  Startled, she took a step backwards.  She had stumbled over a wooden structure close to the Petate that seemed to spring at her.  It was a wooden cage, she saw by the light from the windows, in which crouched a large bird.

It was a small eagle she had startled, and which was now shivering in the damp and dark of its prison.  The cage was set between the cantina and a low thick tree, really two trees embracing one another:  an amate and a sabino.  The breeze blew spray in her face.  The falls sounded.  The intertwined roots of the two tree lovers flowed over the ground towards the stream, ecstatically seeking it, though they didn’t really need it; the roots might as well have stayed where they were, for all around them nature was out-doing itself in extravagant fructification.  In the taller trees beyond there was a cracking, a rebellious tearing, and a rattling, as of cordage; boughs like booms swung darkly and stiffly about her, broad leaves unfurled.  There was a sense of black conspiracy, like ships in harbour before a storm, among these trees, suddenly through which, far up in the mountains, lightening flew, and the light in the cantina flickered off, then on again, then off.  No thunder followed.  The storm was a distance away once more.  Yvonne waited in nervous apprehension:  the lights came on.  There the bird was still, a long-winged dark furious shape, a little world of fierce despairs and dreams, and memories of floating high above Popocatepetl, mile on mile, to drop through the wilderness and alight, watching, in the timberline ghosts of ravaged mountain trees.  With hurried quivering hands Yvonne began to unfasten the cage.  The bird fluttered out of it and alighted at her feet, hesitated, took flight to the roof of El Petate, then abruptly flew off through the dusk, not to the nearest tree, as might have been supposed, but up…she was right, it knew it was free…up soaring, with a sudden cleaving of pinions into the deep dark blue pure sky above, in which at that moment appeared one star.  No compunction touched Yvonne.  She felt only an inexplicable secret triumph and relief:  no one would ever know she had done this; and then, stealing over her, the sense of utter heartbreak and loss.

                                                           Malcolm Lowry

                                   Under the Volcano, 1941-1947

No Comments

Proper Saloon Pilot Etiquette

Those few of my readers who do not regularly surf the internet looking for something to eat will not have noticed the rise in popularity of the saloon pilot. Although of Scottish origin, the saloon pilot is now an Hawaiian soda cracker, but one with a difference: the saloon pilot is round rather than square or rectangular and about 4 inches in diameter with a thickness of approximately inch. It is basically what amounts to a survival ration taken to an elegant extreme, i.e., you’re not so apt to break your teeth on them nowadays, i.e., not like they were 100 years ago. You can google on “saloon pilot” and find out all about them and their role as hardtack in the era when scurvy plagued traders plied the seas in dingy, dank schooners.

When first presented with a saloon pilot, one might be tempted to heat it up in the microwave and then butter it, but that is so lame and hardly worth commenting on except to say that this is more or less something a bachelor would regard as a major staple in his/her diet, or if not that, something, like the hamburger helper a desperate homemaker will resort to once the household budget has been exhausted but household members still need to eat. I’ve been told, but have never seen it myself, that some people eat their saloon pilots topped with peanut butter and grape jelly. Now while this treatment sort of has the right idea, it is nonetheless an obscenity and a corruption of the proper way to eat a saloon pilot.

No, the correct way to eat a saloon pilot is as follows: top your saloon pilot with a generous layer of gorgonzola cheese, and then over that add an equally generous layer of minced red onion. Then, once you’ve subjected the layer of minced onion to a liberal sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper, you’re in business. This combination is probably an acquired taste owing to the disagreeable stench of the gorgonzola which resembles (I’m told) the foul odor of a teenage boy’s gym socks badly in need of laundering, and may take some getting used to. I know that my Aunt Gladys and I who truly savored this ‘concoction’ would inevitably be banished by the rest of the family who did NOT to the kitchen whenever we sought to enjoy it as a late evening snack in front of the TV. My recollection is that we always ate our saloon pilot treats while standing, there being no dinette set handy in our kitchen, nor stools arranged in front of a dining counter, but this never deterred us.

There’s a trick to eating gorgonzola—as you open your mouth to take a bite of your decorated saloon pilot, don’t breathe.  And while you stand there enjoying, or waiting to enjoy, a mouthful of what for many of us is pure bliss, just ignore the fetid stink in the kitchen Your rewards for doing so will all be in the eating. And always be sure to store your left over gorgonzola in an air tight container in the fridge; this, not so much for the sake of the cheese, but more to prevent someone from throwing it out as they rummage about in there for something to eat.


If you chance to live near a real Chinese market, you can usually find them there, but I have no idea why that should be.

But if you don’t, you can order a box of saloon pilots at this website







No Comments