Monday, November 21, 2005

Nuclear Winter

Schrödinger’s Cat With Too Much Time on Her Hands
Schrödinger’s catfish is having a moment of Natural Law, too!

It’s getting to be nuclear winter again. You know, the time of year to blow the dust off the old Christmas tree from the box under the stairs and to push the shopping cart thoughtfully past the monster turkey exhibits at the supermarket, your feet slowing, slowing, and finally stopping, right in front of the Butterball beauties, with the cold coming off the open bins like the methane off of a prototype nuclear reactor. Chills your hands, it does.

The things that watch you out of the frozen food section when you slow your reactions right down to Absolute Zero.

It’s Canadian Yoga, that’s what it is. It’s snow blowing off of Lake Ontario and turning St. Catherine’s into a can of aerosol snow you spray on your window in the shape of holly and Santa. It’s about how soon in the fall do you put on your winter tires. October 1st is not too early, thanks for asking. It’s about having an electrical cord hanging out of the front of your card like a dog’s tongue. When it gets to be 20 Below, you just plug that there car in. Some guys with old pickups attach a whole 20 metre long orange extension cord, snake it out through the grill, and to keep it from dragging behind them down the road like a snake’s tail, wind it around and hang it in a loop from the aerial. Some people put a little saguaro cactus on their aerial, a little olive-green guy wearing a yellow sombrero. Whoa. Not me. Poor little fella gets pretty cold, though, when the sun don’t come up no more and all his hot air has gone whoosh and even in the middle of the day the snow is as blue as moonlight.

Early Winter Snow in the Cariboo, 9 a.m. November
Who ever said snow was white?
Ah, yeah. Bing Crosby. Bing Crosby said that.

Thing about those block heater cords, though, is the rubber on them is only good for 25 Below. If it gets to 30 Below, and it does get to 30 Below, then the darn cord snaps off, then you gotta get into town, somehow, and there you are in the hardware store, only to discover that they’re out of plugs, cuz everyone else in town has been there first. I wrote Honda once, and said, hey, guys. Honda did not write back.

That’s the kind of country it is, though. In fact, out here in the west beyond the west, across the mountains and falling into the sea, in British Columbia, here in the western bulwark of this country spread across the top of the United States like a toupé, the American cocktail logo, Mr. Peanut, actually ran for the position of mayor of Vancouver in 1973; in 2001, our Premier Gordon Campbell, an ex-mayor of Vancouver, was booked for drunk driving in Hawaii. He claimed he mixed his martinis himself. Well, that’s OK, then. Hats off to ya.

Hudson’s Bay Mountain
The First Bulwark of the Coast Range
Evelyn, B.C., February 2004, 11 a.m.
This picture was taken from the farm where my mother was a girl. The wolves used to walk her to school. After school, they would wait and walk her back. Forget the cottonwood trees. That was, like, their field.

I wrote to the premier and said, way to go, Gord; my kids have become alienated from politics now. He sent me back a form letter, saying he was going to earn back their trust.

Mr. Peanut got 4% of the Vote for Mayor of Vancouver.
What is that in front of him, anyway? Peanut scat?
His campaign manager in the back appears to be contemplating his last martini. Love those spats!

Hey, wait a minute! A white toupée? What on earth were we thinking of? It used to be we had a Natural Law Party, too, back when the United States had a Natural Law Party, and Israel had a Natural Law Party and Britain had one, too. Here’s what the British Natural Law Party had to say about itself, back in 2001, just before it closed its doors:
The knowledge of Natural Law now available is complete enough to create a system of administration based on Natural Law and to structure a government that utilises the same infinite organising power of Nature that is already silently administering the entire universe without a problem.

Oh, well, that’s all right, then! You know: if everyone would just levitate, if bus drivers in Chicoutimi and gooeyduck divers in Sandspit could all just rise an inch above the floor, that would do it.

Darwin’s Campaign Poster for the Natural Law Party


Yeah! I used to pick apples with a guy named Luc. One Thanksgiving he showed up at the cabin with a pork roast, a head of garlic, and instructions how to cook that roast the way his mère did back home on the Gaspé. I’ll be back tonight, Luc said. When apple picking was over, Luc and his laughter and homesickness headed north to the Queen Charlotte Islands, where he spent the winter diving, in a hard diving suit with a brass helmet and a hydraulic hose, digging up gooeyduck clams for the Japanese market. That was back in 1981. Luc was making $300 a day.

A Gooeyduck Clam with an Erectile Dysfunction Problem. Well, yeah.

In British Columbia, there is only the edge of what we know. We let down gill nets and purse seines and bottom rollers, and bring up salmon and dancing shrimp. We bring up herring as silver as moonlight on broken waves, and pollock from bottoms of sand and darkness, and we feast. We lick our fingers. Herring roe, scooped up from kelp beds, kippers, smoked and salted, with the tang of kelp and peat, long chains of oysters hanging off of metal cages, sea cucumbers, gooey ducks blasted out of the mud with hydraulic hoses, are all packed in ice and flown to Japan, circling down past Mount Fuji, landing in Tokyo, trucked to restaurants across the city, laid on ice in fish markets, and spread out the same night for dinner in rooms small and large, with ceremony and sliding wood and paper screens and soft light, with tea and good talk. We bring them all up out of our dreams.

Ah, Now You Know.
Hon Mirugai.
Giant Clam put to sleep on a bed of sushi rice. Night night, guys.

Wait, there’s more.

The theories of modern physics have revealed the existence of the Unified Field of all the Laws of Nature, and, as these theories continue to evolve, they unveil more and more knowledge about the qualities of this field of pure intelligence.

Pure intelligence! That’s what shopping for Christmas is all about folks. That’s what this whole civilization is all about. Back in the old civilization, you used to read a book of poetry and feel edified. Now you don’t need to read a book of poetry at all. Now the world is a book of poetry. Now the books of poetry are reading the world.

Here’s how it works here in the frozen food aisle of the nuclear winter. You pick a turkey up, you set it down; you pick another turkey up; you put it in your cart; you haul it out at the checkout, and the girl, the Lisa, the Janice, the Joanne, the Susanna, slides it across, and she gives you a smile, maybe, a nervous smile, probably, and you haul that turkey out to the car, and damn it’s cold, and you take it home, the mighty provider, knowing that a smile can be, at times, a sign of the purest indifference.

Yessirree, X marks the spot: the American Method of Shopping for the Feast Day Turkey.

This is such a popular method of shopping, that after fifteen years of organization, a group of disabled turkey hunters from Douglas, Wyoming finally each bagged their gobbler, and as the man says, "Went home with a smile." Now, folks, that’s for your winter turkey. For the spring turkey, you gotta go to Texas. Yessir. This is why, I think, it was the Americans who invented Walmart. This is all a lot of work, guys. Guys!

A hundred years ago, the choice was not so easy. People were still trying to figure out whether the Upper Class was going to rebound from the incursions of the middle class and move back into the ground it had occupied, or whether the working classes were going to get the chance to do it. What was agreed was that everyone was going to get a piece of that Middle Class pie. My my. Back in the Nineteen Teens, when the futurist poets were sniping at each other across the fields of northern France, Ezra Pound, Poet and Impressario, had a conversation with his friend William Carlos Williams, Poet and Gynecologist, about whether the appropriate food for a poet was caviar or bread. Caviar, said Pound. Bread, said Williams.

God, it Started Back in the 1960s With Students Wrapping VWs with Toilet Paper,
and now look at it.

A butcher, a baker, and a greengrocer subjected to the "Tesco Takeover" in front of the Tesco AGM on June 24, 2005. Tesco controls over a third of the grocery market in Britain. Here’s what the Friends of the Earth have to say about them. I think the butcher is worried he’s going to drop his chicken. Chances are, all this food is for the after-demonstration pot luck. My vote goes to the baker, though. He’s holding his breads like the Queen with her Orb and Sceptre.

The Coronation is the occasion for much splendid pageantry.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, photographed by Cecil Beaton.
She holds the Orb and Sceptre.

What is it about the food industry, anyway? Here’s what happened when it hit the movie industry in 1981:

This is one of those films that sticks with you for a longtime afterwards, its nasty without being exploitative...There is relatively little bloodshed, other than in one or two scenes, and then its all part of the story.

The caviarists had it no easier! Pound’s passions led him to falling in love with Mussolini and dressing like an Italian automobile mechanic.

Somebody’s Been Eating Too Much Caviar.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the Queen. When my kids are particularly slouching in their chairs at the dinner table or, gosh, using their fingers instead of a knife, I say, "What would the Queen say about that?" I love Pound. I have no idea what his table manners were like. I love Williams, too. His Of Asphodel That Greeny Flower is one of my favourite poems in the world. Williams wanted to get to the heart of the mystery of life. What better way, he thought, than at the source of all life itself. Hence the gynecology. Clever.

Of asphodel, that greeny flower,
like a buttercup
upon its branching stem-

save that it's green and wooden-
I come, my sweet,
to sing to you.


Asphodel: the only flower that grows in hell.Source.

It goes without saying that this is what the dead give each other for Valentine’s Day, and Birthdays, and Wedding Anniversaries, and Christmas, and Easter, and ... but not retirement parties. Certainly not retirement parties. Although they’d really like a retirement party. Thing is, they liked to eat asphodels, too. This is why around the Mediterranean asphodel is often planted around graves.

Some things you eat just don’t go down that well, do they.

Eve: "Oh Yuck. These apples only last a day. Eiuuuuuh."
Adam: "We should have installed a controlled atmosphere storage.""
Hans Holbein. Adam and Eve. 1517. Oil on paper mounted on wood. Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel, Switzerland.

And, ain’t that the thing. After thirteen years in an asylum for the criminally insane, where he shared quarters with Napoleon and God, after he boasted that he could write better propaganda than Goebbels, after he begged his countrymen to let Europe fight it out on its own terms, after he married into society and after he wintered in Rapallo, Italy with the caviar set, after all that, Pound wrote Williams a one word note: bread.

Sometimes a conversation can last fifty years.

Of course, by that point Williams had been weakened by a couple strokes, which left him with a mind sharper than an icicle on one of the unheated roofs of the student residences at the University of Toronto (some of those things can hang all the way to the ground, like stalactites), but with a body hardly up to the task of writing poetry. No problem. Williams had proven himself tougher than the futurists, and had grabbed the wrist of his good hand, the one with a bit of finger control left, and plunked it down key by key on the paper, and got his poems down that way. Worse yet, his eyesight had gone all to hell, so he couldn’t find the beginning of a line once he had read off to the right margin. His solution? Indent. After a couple successively-larger indents, he started getting lost again, so back to the left margin it was.

Out of this he invented a new style of poetry. That is how we got Of Asphodel that Green Flower. A love poem, written after a life, not before it.

Such is life at the extremities of a nuclear winter.

The Garden of Eden After the Failure of the Missile Defense Shield.

Next Week: shopping for Pears.


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