Greek Myths, And A New Word

The influence of the Greek myths has declined during the past few decades, it seems.  Latin and Greek were once thought to be languages worthy of being taught in our schools, as essential components of a well-rounded education; I witnessed the dying phase of this idea.  When I was in high school Latin was still being taught, but only geeky intellectuals from wealthy families took the optional course.  Now young people aren’t being offered Latin or Greek, as education has assumed a utilitarian role as merely a preparation for the job market.

I didn’t take Latin in high school.  Nobody ever explained to me the possible benefits of learning  a dead language, the tongue of an ancient race which had an enormous influence on our culture.  Yeah, I’m a curmudgeon!

My first exposure to the corpus of Greek mythology was a Classics Illustrated comic book version of The Odyssey.  I still have vivid mental images from that pulpy effort to bring the old stories to young people; the cover is a classic attention-getter:

This past winter I enjoyed reading stories and tales from a Library of America edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short pieces.  Hawthorne was one of 19th-century America’s best prose stylists; as I dipped into the collection, reading such fine stories as “The Birthmark” and “The Intelligence Office”, I happened across the writer’s children’s story collection based upon Greek myths: “A Wonder Book For Boys and Girls”.

The familiar old myths are charmingly retold in the collection, although because the stories were intended for kids Hawthorne thoroughly bowdlerized and sometimes even sanforized the hoary old myths.  The sex and violence were lightly skimmed over or expurgated completely.  Hawthorne’s renditions whetted my appetite.  I recalled that I had somewhere a copy of Robert Calasso’s interpretation of the Greek myths, a 1993 volume entitled “The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony”.  Some years ago I had started the book but didn’t get very far.  It’s a dense and challenging book.

This time I became engrossed.  Calasso is a born storyteller, treminding me of another Italian author, Italo Calvino.

“The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony” has no introduction.   The reader is plunged into a sea of interrelated stories.  Here’s the first one.  Notice how Calasso gives just enough descriptive detail to make the scene come alive:

“On a beach in Sidon a bull was aping a lover’s coo.  It was Zeus. He shuddered, the way he did when a gadfly got him.  But this time it was a sweet shuddering.  Eros was lifting a girl onto his back: Europa.  Then the white beast dived into the sea, his majestic body rising just far enough above the water to keep the girl from getting wet.  There were plenty of witnesses.  Triton answered the amorous bellowing with a burst on his conch.  Trembling, Europa hung onto one of the bull’s long horns.  Boreas spotted them too as they plowed through the waves.  Sly and jealous, he whistled when he saw the young breasts his breath had uncovered.  High above, Athena blushed at the sight of her father bestraddled by a girl.  An Achaean sailor saw them and gasped.  Could it be Tethys, eager to see the sky?  Or just some Nereid with clothes on her back for a change?  Or was it that trickster Poseidon carrying off another wench?

Europa, meantime, could see no end to this crazy sea crossing.  But she guessed what would happen to her when they hit land again.  And she shouted to wind and water: “Tell my father Europa has been carried off by a bull — my kidnapper, my sailor, my future bedmate, I imagine.  Please, give this necklace to my mother.”  She was going to call to Boreas too, ask him to lift her up on his wings, the way he’d done with his own bride, Oreithyia, from Athens.  But she bit her tongue: why swap one abductor for another?

But how did it all begin?  A group of girls were playing by the river, picking flowers.  Again and again such scenes were to prove irresistible to the gods.  Persephone was carried off “while playing with the girls with deep cleavages.”  She too had been gathering flowers: roses, crocuses, violets, irises, hyacinths, narcissi.  But mainly narcissi, “that wondrous, radiant flower, awesome to the sight of gods and mortals alike.”  Thalia was playing ball in a field of flowers on the mountainside when she was clutched by an eagle’s claws: Zeus again.  Creusa felt Apollo’s hands lock around her wrists as she bent to pick saffron on the slopes of the Athens Acropolis.  Europa and her friends were likewise gathering narcissi, violets, rose, thyme.”

Oh, I’m tired of typing.  Come back tomorrow and I’ll type out an example of Calasso’s attraction to perverse and obscene episodes from the Greek myths.  How’s that for a teaser?

Larry

Alien Encounter

cedar apple rust

Alien Encounter

I stepped outside after a rain
To check out my back yard.
The grass and trees looked greener
But alas, my view was marred.

My cedar tree had born some fruit
The like I had not seen.
Orange globules hung from branches
And their tentacles looked mean.

I touched one thing, but soon recoiled.
The ‘legs’ all felt like worms.
They had a wormy look and feel
But lacked the proper squirms.

Their overnight appearance
Coupled with their alien look
Unnerved me. So I headed for
The nearest science book.

Well, actually I hit the Net.
I’m not a patient soul.
And even with the World Wide Web
I wasn’t on a roll.

No category would appear
For “Icky Alien Fruit”
And ditto for “an orange thing.”
The web gave me the boot.

When finally I’d concluded
That my search was just a bust
I found on Google Images
The Cedar Apple Rust.

Actually, I felt somewhat vindicated after I read the following link.  I thought of aliens but this more pragmatic lady thought her kids were messing with playdough.

This poem, photo, and link were contributed by longtime commenter and friend Joan Ryan, of Brentwood, Missouri.  Thanks, Joan!

Larry

Just Poopin’

I’m living here in Myrlene’s house, and she ekes out a modest living babysitting little kids.  I get along well with small children, and one of my favorites is a three-year-old mulatto boy who is here almost every day.  He has one of those made-up names which I can’t ever remember, but kids that age, like cats, don’t really need names.  They know when your attention is directed towards them.

Another resident of this house is a mongrel dog named Uboo — he was named after a statement in the closing credits of the Frasier sitcom: “Down, Uboo, down”.  Uboo is a stupid dog and therefore doesn’t learn from stern reprimands.  This morning I went downstairs and ate a bowl of cold cereal; while I was doing that Uboo pooped and peed on my bed.  The door to my room doesn’t latch and Uboo has decided that my bed is an ideal place to void her stinky wastes.

While my bedding was agitating in the washing machine down in the basement (I used bleach) I rode my bicycle to a lumberyard down on Market Street.  I bought a hook-and-eye, came home, and installed it.  Now my bed will be safe from further defilements.

When I got back  Myrlene was playing a falling-block game on her Facebook page.  The three-year-old boy was facing a shelf full of videotapes and DVDs and playing with a red rubber ball.  He had a peculiar inward-directed look on his face.  I squatted by him and said “What are you doin’?”

Myrlene looked over at me and said in a deadpan tone of voice “He’s poopin’.  See how his butt is pooched out?  He’s not done yet, though.  I’ll change his diaper in a few minutes.”

I left the boy as he was finishing his excretory business and went up to my room, where I played the concertina and read a bit.

Later I left on my bike to do some errands.  When I got back all hell had broken loose.  The dog Uboo had seized the little boy’s dirty diaper and was devouring it behind the couch.  Myrlene was trying to get the dog out and retrieve the diaper.  I said “You need a broom!” and went to the kitchen to fetch one.  While Myrlene was dealing with the situation I went back to my room for a while — Uboo isn’t my dog and I felt that I had done my part.

A while later I came downstairs and found Myrlene carrying an armful of bedding.  She said “That damned dog!  He puked up the shit from the diaper right on my bed!  I was trying to get Uboo out on the porch and got tripped up by her leash.  I fell and hit my head!  And Uboo  was baring her teeth and snapping at me!  I think I could have been bitten!”

I think that it has finally penetrated Uboo’s dim and murky mind that she has really fucked up.  She seems contrite, and she hasn’t barked wildly at innocent passers-by.  She has been sucking up to Myrlene; perhaps she realizes how precarious her position here is.

Myrlene has said to me “That dog just makes life more difficult — if someone would take her I’d gladly give her up.”

My response was “I know someone who will take her!  There are some really nice folks at the dog pound…”

Myrlene is sentimental and doesn’t have a strong will.  She simultaneously loves and hates the dog.  Uboo is only six months old and theoretically she is still trainable.  Myrlene doesn’t have the inner resources to train the dog and I don’t feel like it’s my responsibility.  I’d take the animal out back and shoot it if it was up to me.

Larry

Jail Tale

or, more verbosely, “How I Ended Up Spending A Week in the Marion County Jail”:

A couple of weeks ago I was standing out on the sidewalk talking with Kent, the contractor who rents the first floor of my building.  A blue sedan pulled up to the curb; I stooped to peer in the car’s window to see who it was.  A friend of mine named Rosamund was in the driver’s seat; she said “Larry, I need to talk with you!”.

Rosamund is a black woman a few years older than I am.  She lives on Spruce Street, way down in the depths of the ‘hood.  I got to know her at the Pickadilly station across the street.  I’m grateful to her for the numerous warnings she has given me, some of which I ignored, to my regret.  Rosamund knows everyone in the ‘hood and she is a shrewd judge of character.

Our local newspaper doesn’t cover the West Side and gossip and general talk alleviates this news deficit.  The local grapevine has a thick and sinewy trunk and I suspect it has feeder roots in Bear Creek and Minnow Branch.

But I digress…

That day Rosamund said to me:

“Larry, that guy who bought your pickup truck has never paid taxes on it and he hasn’t changed the title.  He or someone else is drivin’ the truck around town and if the cops would run the plates your name will come up as the owner.  You might be liable if the truck was in an accident.  You ought to look into it before you get in trouble again!”

This was certainly worrisome.  I thanked Rosamund for the warning and pedaled my bike down to the police station.  I might as well have blithely entered a lion’s den.

After waiting several minutes, idly perusing cautionary pamphlets about drunk driving, a police officer came out and listened to my questions about liability and such.  He wasn’t much help and seemed distracted.  He abruptly interrupted me and said “Mr. Ayers, we have three outstanding warrants against you; please put your hands behind your back.”

I was flabbergasted.  I said “What did I do?”  The cop handcuffed me and took me downstairs.  As we walked he said that all three warrants concerned my dog Tucker.  This was unexpected!  I had already spent three days in jail and paid a fine just two weeks before and I had assumed that the matter was settled.

What was strange (and illegal) about this arrest is that I had never been informed about the fines I supposedly owed or the court dates I had missed.  The Hannibal Municipal Court is supposed to send a letter about such city violations — otherwise how would you know to pay a fine or go to court?

The surety bond had been set at $800.00, cash only, which meant that I couldn’t avail myself of the services of a bail bondsman.

During the uncomfortable trip to Palmyra, where the county jail is inexplicably located, I talked with the officer about my plight.  I said “What possible good for either myself or the city of Hannibal comes from arresting me and putting me in jail?  I had a job tomorrow working for a friend — I’ll have lost that opportunity, and the county will have to feed me.  Not to mention that I was never informed and given a chance to deal with the charges!!”

The cop looked uncomfortable.

He said “Well, I’m just doing my job — I admit that it’s a raw deal for you.”

“I’m just doing my job” — isn’t that what Nazi guards once said?

While I was being booked at the jail’s front desk I outlined my plight to the jail employee while he bagged up the contents of my pockets and issued me the orange jail clothing and sandals.

He said “Yeah, I don’t like this.  Frankly, it stinks!”

I was led to cell-block D, or D-block, as the residents call it.

[to be continued]

Domestic Dispute

Sometimes I feel as if I’m a magnet for drama.  Soap-opera-like situations seem to continually arise in my life, and I must confess that I’ve considered asking for a new script-writer.

Being an optimistic soul, though, I try to make use of these situations as food for thought and fodder for writing.

A bit of background: after the former incarnation of this blog fizzled out due to lack of funds, my power and water were shut off and for a time I had no phone and of course no ‘net access.  I entered a primitive phase of my life with a very local emphasis — survival mode.

Two houses up the street from my building I ended up meeting a woman named Debbie, the black matriarch of an intricately-structured clan consisting of her children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and her husband Lucky, the last of whom visits from time to time.  That family treated me well and I would spend time hanging out at Debbie’s house.  She let me fill jugs of water for my simple needs and occasionally I’d eat with the family.

This situation couldn’t go on forever, as technically living without electricity is illegal in Hannibal.  At one point a round orange sticker was affixed to my door which bluntly stated “Unfit For Occupancy”.

To make a long story short, I’m now renting a room from an old friend with whom I used to work some years ago at the Amoco BP station.  Myrlene lives with her two teen-aged daughters Bobbie and Ronnie.

I still receive mail at my desolate and dark building and a kitten still lives there, so I stop by the building at least once every day.  Yesterday morning I was at the building and it occurred to me that I ought to stop by Debbie’s house for a visit and maybe have a cup of coffee with her.

“Well, hi, Larry!  How’s it working out at your new place?”

“Pretty well, Debbie.  How are things around here?”

“Well, Diondra [Debbie’s daughter] has been squabbling with her guy Jerome.  They’re in the other room.”

I could hear some impassioned talk coming from the next room, which is separated from the living room by a curtain which was only partly closed.  The sounds of scuffling became evident and I couldn’t resist peeking through the gap in the curtain.  Jerome was grabbing Diondra and shoving her violently against the wall.  He’s a big guy with a mouth full of gold teeth and he’s twice Diondra’s size.

Debbie exclaimed “What the fuck is goin’ on in there?  I ain’t puttin’ up with this bullshit in my house!  You’d better leave Diondra alone and get out of here, or I’m callin’ the police!”

I heard Diondra’s little boy Lance crying in Debbie’s bedroom across the hall.  I went to him to see what I could do to comfort him.

“Uncle Larry, look what he did to my mom’s cell phone!”

I put the phone back together and luckily it still worked.

Lance said “I just want to go home!”

I said “Why don’t you go to your grandma for a while — I think your mom will be leaving before too long.”

Meanwhile Debbie was confronting Jerome and she ended up calling the police.  Debbie is rather short and stout but she’s a very formidable woman.  I certainly would hesitate to cross her!

Jerome ran off down the alley.  I was amused by Debbie’s phone conversation with a police officer:

“You’d better pick up that motherfucker before you come here!  I’m pressin’ charges, for sure.  Nobody pulls that kinda shit in my house!”

Here I’d stopped by for a bit of coffee and conversation, and now the cops were coming!

While we waited Debbie said to me:

“If that fuckin’ Jerome had come into my living room I’da cut him!  I always have my knife within reach.”

Diondra came into the living room.  She’s about thirty years old and works as a CNA at a local nursing home.  I’m quite fond of her and her boy.  She sat down on the couch and sighed.

She said “Well, I guess I’m single again!”

Two cops showed up and took statements from everyone.  They had arrested Jerome back in the alley and it turned out that he had several outstanding warrants.  He’ll be in jail for quite some time.  Diondra said:

“He’s been on the run for the past year, and lately he’s been talkin’ about turnin’ himself in.  Now he doesn’t have to!”

Another of Debbie’s daughters showed up with her three little girls; the girls went out on the porch with Diondra’s boy Lance while we discussed the incident.

Debbie said “My fingertips are just like ice!  I’m all shook up!”

I said “You’re still in shock, I imagine.”

“Larry, I’m sorry this had to happen while you were here.  Come back and maybe we can have a calmer visit.”

I got up, bade adieu to Debbie and her daughters, and went out the front door.  The kids were all out there and Lance said to me:

“Uncle Larry, you gonna come back tomorrow?””

“Well, maybe not tomorrow, but I’ll be back before long!”

As I walked down the sidewalk towards my building the four kids cried out “Bye, Larry!”  I waved, pondering this new drama as I walked.

Larry

Hello world!

Hi, people!  After several trials and tribulations I’m starting a new blog here at wordpress.com.  I’m accustomed to hosting my own blog on my own server (I did this for about five years) but, frankly, I just can’t afford such luxuries these days.  So here I am, and do I have stories to tell.  Telling stories is second only to hearing other people’s stories — I’m lucky in that people tend to trust me and eventually they will spill their guts to me.

Right now I’m sitting in my old friend Myrlene’s living room.  I finally left my building in Hannibal’s ‘hood and began renting a room from Myrlene.  I used to work with Myrlene at the BP station.  She has two teen-aged daughters and she also babysits little kids, so things tend to be rather noisy and chaotic around here.  It’s been a good change for me after living by myself for the past few years.

Now I need to propagate the new URL of this freshly-minted blog to friends, relatives, and to the select group of sympathetic and like-minded folks who once read my old blog.

I have some good stories about my two stints in the Marion County jail and my encounters with various fringe characters in the Hannibal area.  Why fringe characters?  Why not write about well-adjusted mainstream citizens?  It’s just my peculiar bent — everyone has a story and I tend to gravitate to the stories which too often are never told.

Stay tuned!

Larry