Watching the Little TV

I just found myself stuck standing there. Does that ever happen to you? I’ll find myself in the middle of a room, usually the kitchen, often in boxers, frozen, not really knowing what to do next. It’s not that there’s nothing to do. I suppose that’s part of the problem. There’s actually at least a thousand but exactly none them sound fun or engaging. I’m staring but not looking at anything in particular. I had a friend who called that “watching the little imaginary TV” but if that’s what I’m doing, there’s nothing interesting on. Maybe I’m channel surfing and every channel is golf. In my world, the only thing more boring than playing golf is watching it. Golf courses are where hands are shook and deals are made where a lot of people will end up working harder and a few people will end up getting richer. All the pitches begin with, “Hey man, Im’a let you in on something, it’s the next crypto-cash-cow but you can’t tell as soul, okay?” This line is delivered after the man who’s speaking looks once to his left, then to his right, then to his left again when he already knows that the only other person in earshot is that caddy who’s smart enough by now to know that none of these “inside tips” will ever do anything but separate the target from his little scrap of investment capital that he and his wife have been able to scrape together over the past two years working at their devastatingly dull middle-management jobs. The caddy doesn’t even bother to try to eavesdrop anymore but is instead, behind dead eyes, running lines for tomorrow’s commercial audition he’s certain is going to be his ticket out of this ball-washing nightmare. 

My phone alarm vibrates and snaps me out of my fantasy just before I start making out with the caddy by reminding me it’s time to “push-and-pray.” It’s something I do at ten minutes of every hour. Ten pushups and a prayer of surrender. The What or Whom I surrender to when I pray never changes, “Alpha and Omega” and all that, but my concept of It does.  The image of “the old man in the sky” gets a lot of bad press these days but when I hear people say that I usually flash to me in 1989 standing underneath the freshly-scoured ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It turns out that the depictions of biblical stories painted by the agonized and ecstatic genius Michelangelo (and paid by for by his oppressors by the way) wasn’t the muted olive drabs, brick reds, and harvest golds we’ve always associated with Renaissance painting but instead they were actually painted in technicolor like my own vibrant inner life and presumably Michelangelo’s. Turns out it’d just been covered up my centuries of “pope smoke,” talk about metaphor! The then-twenty-four-year-old me stood there, staring up at Michelangelo’s version of God which is essentially a hot muscle daddy in a pink dress! I can get behind that conception especially since he’s touching fingertips with a young and buff Adam (very phallic and a wee bit naughty on Michelangelo’s part if you ask me). I found the whole scene to be very relatable. That’s what I require above all things in my religious art, I think: relatability. When that concept doesn’t serve, I tend rather to think of God as a Her, a divine amalgamation of Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, and Whoopi Goldberg, sort of a celestial grandmother who stands at the ready to “wish a muthafucka would” when anyone or anything threatens me, there with a glass of sweet tea and a soft bosom when the bullies have been chased away. 

No matter what the anthropomorphization du jour is, I push-and-pray, ten minutes of the hour, from 7:50 in the morning until 8:50 at night.     

I heard a woman speak about a year ago at a sober writers’ meeting that meets on Zoom. It’s based in New York City and used to meet in this little basement room at a church on West 96th Street in Manhattan before the pandemic. New York City, one of my sacred “hometowns” has also become my gateway to Europe now that I’ve taken a job based in Paris and have to travel, make that get to travel, often to the City of Lights and points beyond including the Island of the Apocalypse; Patmos, Greece where St. John the Divine is reputed to have written his Revelations. There’s a small chapel now in the cave where they say he wrote it. Not unrelated, I think, there is a hallucinogenic mushroom indigenous to the Greek Isles that had been used for thousands of years as a spiritual tool to transport supplicants to the metaphysical world. This makes sense since the Book of Revelations reads like an apocalyptic Hollywood movie script or something that might have been written in a tattered Moleskin by a disenchanted hippie having a bad trip on Ken Kesey’s bus in 1964. I visited both the Little Room basement and the Cave of the Apocalypse on the same trip in 2022 and there are remarkable similarities. Perhaps writers like to hold up in damp, cool, dimly lit spaces, especially writers who have (or at least had) a penchant for the “fruit of the vine” and/or psychedelic mushrooms. 

But I digress. That’s what I do, I digress. And it’s sometimes very painful and perhaps part of what makes me run from the writing each day. One train may leave the station but presently the track diverges into two and magically two trains go off on each and then each of those splits again and before a couple of sentences pass I, as the presumed Yardmaster, stand in my switchyard tower in a panicked sweat as the one train becomes many and I fear that they may never make it safely back to this station or any other. It’s one of the things that causes in me what Tennessee Williams called “the terror of the white page in the typewriter.” 

So I pray. To the pink dress muscle sky-god daddy, to Heavenly Black Grandmother, to Buddha, to Jesus, to Wankan Tanka, Tyr, Thor, Odin and Freya; to Allah, the Universe, The Great and Powerful Is, Ganesh or Baba Ghanoush, I pray; just like the woman at the sober writers’ meeting suggested, I pray at ten minutes of every hour. I push and pray. She said nothing about pushups. Those were added months later when I complained to a friend of mine who is a fitness model that although I feel I’m in decent shape my chest and shoulders have never been as big as I wanted and that I felt if I had a chest and shoulders as big as his, then I would finally be a worthy and worthwhile person. He smiled and said, “Remember what Teddy Roosevelt said! ‘Comparison is the thief of joy!’” and then recommended that I do ten pushups per hour. That’s when the “push” got added to the “pray.” Then shortly thereafter four yoga postures got added when I quickly discovered that pushups aren’t nearly as easy as they were those twenty-five short years ago when, at age thirty-four, I went to Marine Corps boot camp with boys young enough to be my sons. I’m discovering that I’m now somewhat like an antique Hepplewhite dining chair, pretty to look at perhaps but with lots of creaks and groans. So “push-and-pray” has now become “push, pray, and namaste.” My surrender prayer goes something like this: “Look Dad, I fucked this all up nine ways from Sund’y trying to run things myself. If it goes to shit now, it’s all on you because there is no part of my life I don’t surrender to your care. I’ll row, you handle the rudder, please just help me to row strong, Amen.” 

Oscar Wilde said that he put only his talent into his writing but reserved his genius for his life and while, given the abundant evidence of these fifty-seven years, I seem to have a positive genius for living an extraordinarily colorful and unusual if oftentimes dangerous life, I clearly, except perhaps for today when I have scrawled these few words to you, lack the discipline to share my talent with anyone who might be interested by actually putting the proverbial quill to parchment. But this and other quandaries will just have to wait; I have to get back to standing in my kitchen, staring at the little TV. 

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