AUGUST 9, 2015
Words, Words, Words!
So anyway, the fellow said, "Language is a virus from outer space." Burroughs really was slapping at Chomsky's Psycho-Linguistics, but most people believe the fellow was just being oblique about personal visions while high on hallucinogens. Maybe he was as well. You can never entirely trust thost guys who kill their wives by accident and Burroughs knew this tragic fact better than anyone else. Who can say for sure what it all means? Words are sneaky and devious and language just might be a virus that will send all the anti-vaxxers scampering to their medieval oasis where no one speaks and they use leeches to cure stuff.
At Longfellow, Ms. Morales ( who has kept her maiden name at work after marrying Mr. Sanchez so as to avoid confusing the kids) struggles daily to impart the nuances and felicities of Emily Dickenson and Shakespeare to the upper Middle School classes who reel under the wildly sanitized State history with Algebra to boot.
"To be or not to be. Who would be quiet and face the proud man in costume who dissed him wifout taking up his arms, his Glock 9 piece with some homeboys in da hood behind him and putting an end to these troubles? Not me man! Yeah, to die. That sorta thing rubs me the wrong way, dude. To sleep and dream and what's dreams gonna do for you, man? You gonna hafta wake up someday . . .", Raymondo recites in class. He is rewriting Shakespeare for the 'Hood, and Ms. Morales encourages him, for at least this one is actually reading the text instead of running to Cliff Notes to pass the test.
What is language after all, but just another object for trade.
Every morning Mr. Cribbage gets up and after his breakfast of champions, featuring a muffin and coffee, he boards the O Express that will take him to Babylon across the Bay and to the offices of Ness, Haman, Gadol, and Pritikin, a marketing firm which has stood at the corner of Kearney and Market ever since 1952, when Arnold Ness first setup shop with an handful of graphic designers and created the campaign for Mrs. Wright's Automats that took the West Coast by storm. "Don't Be Wrong tonight! Be Wright at Wright's Automat!"
Now they had a new client in the form of Marvin of Marvin's Merkins on the Island and the meeting had not gone well. "What is the meaning of "Put a merkin in your firkin? Firkins are old style. It is obvious how you need our services. We want to capture the Millennial market now. How about 'Be seen twerkin' in your merkin! You'll be smirkin' all the way . . .".
Marvin didn't like it. He was insistent on catering to his old client base, many who now were octogenarian Conservatives.
"Are we talking granny porn here?" Mr. Dudgeon said, putting his fists on the table as he stood. "If so, we might have an LA angle that might provide some tie-ins . . .".
"Can we maybe use a Trump endorsement at this stage," Ms. Blight said at the end of the table.
"O god, the visuals . . . ", said Dudgeon. "Twenty-five years in marketing and this is the first idea that has caused my gorge to rise. . . ".
"I was thinking more along the lines of some language," Blight said. "You know. Trump-language. Really loud and brassy and self-important."
A few floors down, the meeting between the Konica reps and the Blathers takes place in Conference Room B. The Konica rep starts off by saying," How are you?"
"I'm good! I am so good I can't stand it! How are you!" Mr. Blather says enthusiastically.
"I'm fantastic! I am superlative and extraordinary!" says the Konica rep. "Now as for these upgrades we have in mind . . . ".
The subject of the sermon this Sunday at the Allgood Unitarian Ministry was the parable about the man from Samhara who paused to help someone on the road. Unfortunately the air conditioner cut out and the heat became oppressive in the Chapel. Reverend Freethought had to strip down to a tank top and shorts with her Unitarian surplice, which definitely focussed the attention of some of the men, but probably not in a way any of the sacred texts had intended. Seeing that she might be about to lose some of her flock, the Reverend took the congregation outside, saying that we must spread the Word. There was not much space out front on Santa Clara -- the Unitarians did not have a parking lot, so the Reverend kept on leading with about fifteen to twenty Unitarians following along behind as she continued to preach. They turned the corner on Park and passing the newspaper kiosks with their loud headlines about fracking with clean water in drought-ridden California went in to the cool white space of Tuckers where everyone got an ice cream cone or a ice cream bar.
Little Tubby Tinker let drop a wrapper from his bar and was admonished by the Reverend. And man was given Dominion over the Earth; so it is given also that he take care of it as well.
Down the street at 101 California, Eugene sat in front of three computer screens, working on code for a program to handle electronic health records. He was having troubles with the user-friendly interface which steadfastly refused to be friendly. He was arguing now with the original developer who had long since left the scene after abandoning this project to the world and the company which sold the software package. "Why did you do this thing?" Eugene said aloud. "Why did you do this module this way?" And in answer the code leapt up on the screen in windows with its own kind of response, speaking a language that was totally digital.
Later, Marvin exited the building and walked down towards the Mission to cleanse his ears. He took the subterranean Muni to 16th and came out amid a welter of drums and about 34 Spanish dialects chattering all at once while the buskers played violins, guitars, pie-pahs and just about anything that under ideal circumstances would produce something similar to music, which some understand as the universal language. At 16th, the result was cacophany, delightful, but individually incomprehensible while adding up to something that could only be summarized as 16th and Mission on a typical day. Thoth used to play there on the plaza, but standing half naked, wearing a loincloth and furred boots while performing flawless Brahms just failed communicate or to attract enough attention to himself, so he moved to New York City.
On that flight a couple of teenagers sitting next to one another flipped up the blocking armrest and threw a blanket over themselves to pass the six hours from SF to NYC kanoodling. Thoth saw them and gave a thumbs up, speaking a language that was totally digital. As were they.
Meanwhile, the Cribbages were having a fight in their house. "The problem with you is that you just don't listen!"
"Well I told you that mother was coming for the weekend!"
"Weekend! And it turns into weeks!"
"Well how can someone expect only two days for such a long trip from Hyannis Port? You should have understood what it means for a woman of her age to travel!"
Over at Marlene and Andre's the couple moves about the small cottage while the others are out in the good weather, picking up fallen shoes, vacuuming, making the bed, doing the dishes that never end, fixing the broken things, all soundlessly, without comment. At one point they meet in the room with the coffeetable under which Quentin will sleep when the weather turns bad again and their fingertips touch in a mock Vulcan salute to the craziness of this life. They look into each other's eyes, speaking a language totally digital.
From where does language come? From what place originates COBOL, FORTRAN or C++? Down at Seaworld a technician named Samantha puts a microphone into the water and begins to "talk" to dolphins, who although they may have no special concerns about quarks, mesons, supernova and other things outside of their sensory apparatus, nevertheless have much to say about the relationships between beings and things. And some kind of Spirit that is akin to what we know as god. Out beyond the Golden Gate the whales are migrating and singing age-old songs, or simply chanting the repetitious harmonies that make up the universe with a higher mathematics that transcends functions and religion, a kind of recursion that is far too complex for humans to directly apprehend, which we are still trying to understand.
In the Old Same Place as night falls, the chatter turns to politics and sports, the male bonding via the understood and the commonly accepted values which say simply, "I am okay and you are okay and we agree not to kill each other. Let's have a beer."
In the Island-life offices, the Editor moves down the aisles, shutting down computers that stream in the news from all over the world in a dense chatter of information. When we were children, as yet without tongues to speak, was not the world far simpler and what drove into us this need to chatter at one another and yet still miss the mark so badly so often? I need wawa. I need poopoo. I need ma-ma. I need . . . . Is not the language imperative more a measure of need than design?
At a poetry reading in the City a man with a tall staff had marched in, wearing rags and an attitude and he had shouted, "Words! Words! Words! All they is, is words!" The poet at the mike had handled it fairly well. "This is an open mike, but you have to put your name on the list if you want to say something." It is true. If you want to say something and also be attended to, you have to first put your name on a list.
And so a typical summer weekend day passed on the Island from overcast skies to bright sunshine and then, by degrees slipping the way Time tends to do each day, to a dimming of the light. Fog glided over the far hills of Babylon and somehow magically appeared on the top of Grizzly Peak Boulevard above Oaktown. A gentle breeze shook the crabapple tree and the box elder, sending spinners and lumpy fruit to earth in occasional hail. Lights flicked on at the Old Same Place Bar where folks went from the Q Cafe to continue their gossip and talk about politics and the wretched decisions and indecisions made by Silly Hall. Inside, a chatter and a clatter from within while outside the cars shushed by quietly.
The moon, which had been Blue the previous night behind a nimbus of high fog, waned gibbous. Out by the Community College Senor Don Guadeloupe Erizo gazed up and pondered the mysteries of the Universe beside the hedge where he kept home with Dame Herrison, who poked her head out of the burrow to say, "Les crêpes sont prêtes". The Don, who like all small animals understands every natural language, nodded. The Don also refrained from speaking to humans, for fear of misunderstanding, as humans could be extremely dense sometimes. Just look at what happened to Mr. Ed. And of course, natively speaking Spanish, he spoke a language like all males that was entirely different from that chosen by the female. The two genders communicate typically like travelers in a foreign country, speaking with hand and foot as some would say.
The Editor had no pretensions; was an editor, simply a vehicle for processing the throughput generated by others. Not unlike the Prophet who was commanded to "recite", processing the intense streams of information coming from some Other Place. He was nothing in the None, Gimel, Hay, Shin. Language did not belong to him -- he was just a caretaker.
He went out upon the deck and observed the stars, stars he had observed with his sister a few days ago while taking a trip up north to attend someone's wedding. Orion waltzed in his usual way with his belt and his scabbard over the pines. The dragon pursued Andromeda and the Scorpion held his stinger aloft. After the reception and all the ceremony, his sister had stood there on that deck, slim and elegant and beautiful and he had indicated with his finger the Milky Way above the pine trees and she had seen. And they, brother and sister, stood there with some momentary connection after so many years of drifting apart and then back together and apart again and back together like a child's toy consisting of two balls swinging around a common axis yet never kissing together, in a way that was for the moment totally digital. For a brief moment he held her and all the past flowed beneath them as if they were star travellers on a journey, and she said, "We have only the Now."
For just that moment of Now they bonded, no longer two spheres orbiting at a distance, all the family stuff held underfoot as foundations, all the recriminations and insults and disappointments placed into the past. Just brother and sister speaking the unspoken language of the heart.
Having returned to the Island, which is -- according to scientific reports destined to start sinking soon -- the Editor stood on the deck of the Offices and observed the same constellation of Orion tumbling over the Veteran's Memorial Hall he had observed with his sister, whom he had come with difficulty over the course of time, and she certainly was difficult, to love.
He stood on that deck beneath the box elder and the bird of paradise palm and realized that it does not matter from what place language originates. What matters is from where the coal of Love ignites. And that it does succeed. Sometimes.
Then came the ululation of the train from far across the water as it trundled from beneath the gantries of the Port of Oaktown with their burning lights, letting its cry keen across the waves of the estuary, the riprap embankments, the grasses of the Buena Vista flats and the open spaces of the former Beltline, through the cracked brick of the former Cannery with its leaf-scattered loading dock and its weedy railbed and interstices of its chainlink fence until the locomotive click-clacked in front of the shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront, trundling out of shadows on the edge of town past the Ohlone shellmounds to parts unknown.
That's the way it is on the Island. Have a great week.
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