A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Monday, June 05, 2006


One of the things I love about living downtown is having so many free events within easy walking distance of my house. Tonight, for example, I wandered over to the library with Maggie Tucker to watch a screening of Manito. Our friend Anna Brandenburg, the reference librarian, hosts the cinema series, and provides popcorn, candy, cookies, and beverages, along with a bit of commentary.

Manito is a rather grim tale about a Washington Heights Latino family whose hope for the future is snuffed out when little brother Manuel, the first to graduate from high school, shoots a man and ends up in jail. Bye-bye full scholarship to Syracuse Unviersity. His brother, Junior, an ex-con, tries to help him, but ends up killing their father. So now all the men are either dead or in jail, and the women and children are left to shift for themselves.

It's not really a tragedy, because there's no hero with a tragic flaw--pride or what have you. Everyone is just a victim of the crappy environment of Washington Heights. Consequently, there's no catharsis. I found the movie pretty depressing. Not to mention full of the kind of violence I can't bear to watch.

It's interesting that the women seem more capable of handling their crappy lives than the men. When Manito and his friend Marisol are terrorized by thugs on the subway, it's Marisol who pulls out the mace and allows them to escape--and she makes sure they get back Manito's money first. Marisol has the common sense to advise him to remain in her apartment--Manito doesn't listen and ends up in jail. Junior's wife is a responsible wife and mother despite Junior's lies and infidelities.

Manito works as a kind of fictionalized documentary. It's neo-realist cinema: shot entirely on location with a hand-held camera, actors picked from the streets, almost no dubbed soundtrack. The acting is fine, extraordinary at times. The texture of Latino life in Washington Heights is rendered perfectly, as in no big-budget film anyone can name. The movie is invariably compared to Scorsese's Mean Streets.

The best part of the movie night at the library was going out for a bite afterward with Anna and Maggie...sitting in Panera, all warm and cozy, eating, drinking, and trading stories, gifted with a big bag of leftover cookies and brownies by the late-shift clerk, savoring how our lives did not in the least suck.

Astral Travel

Directly behind my house is a lovely park, separated from my property only by a tall cast iron fence and a screen of bushes and trees. The benches in the far corner of the park are a popular spot for the neighborhood gentlemen of leisure. The benches seem to afford a great deal of privacy, but in reality are only ten feet from my kitchen and office windows.

Late this afternoon, as I was doing a bit of yard work, I was treated to a particularly fascinating disquisition. Apparently someone was sitting on the bench, reading, but that seemingly harmless act was seen as provocation by another citizen. I can't resist paraphrasing some of the latter's words:

"Astral travel, man! Astral travel is where it's at. You're here, and the next minute you're someplace else. That's astral travel. Figure out how to do that, and you could be a millionaire. Even more than a millionaire.

"You're sitting there reading that book, but you don't know nothing. Just because it's in the book, you believe it. But that book is just words. Don't mean it's true.

"I'm an educated man. I got a AA degree in small business. I was going to get a degree in Psychology, because I'm interested in the mind. How the mind works, that's what you got to know. Not what it says in a book. I can look at anybody and say what they thinking. Because I know how they mind works.

"You think you know what's going to happen, but you don't. Nobody can say what's going to happen in the future. I'm an alcoholic, and I'm going to get up tomorrow and have a drink. That's certain. But you can't predict I'm going to take a drink. What if I get killed? Then I won't be here to take a drink! See what I mean?

"Astral travel. That's the future. With astral travel, you can be in the future. You can see what's happening. Astral travel, man. That's where it's at. Not in any book."