Saturday, February 1, 2014

It's a Jungle Out There

A favored metaphor of yours comes tapping at your shoulder to regain recognition whenever you are out of an evening, when there is no cloud cover between you and the skies.

At such times, you begin picking out the few stars you know, then inventing names for those you don't know.  The assigned names are not at all mythical, nor are they Greek or Latin cognates.  Rather they are the highly personal first names you might well have got from a phone book, or your high school year book, or some of the publications you've managed to hang onto from your undergraduate days at UCLA.

That star over there, pulsing its luminous beauty across the light years, is Annette, a name you assign well beyond the fun of calling a star Annette.  Instead, you don't know exactly what caused you to think of her; she's not been among the living since at least 1980, but that might be the exact reason you did think of her, the reason of nostalgia.

You were introduced to her by an author named Seymour,you once edited, and who the great LA Times book reviewer, Robert Kirsch, once compared to Tolstoy.  Each of those two worthies get occasional stars, thus your galaxy not only includes a star named Annette, there is also a Seymour and a Bob.

When you first met Annette, you were in attendance at a party at her home, where her major concern all evening was the success or failure of her ratatouille. True enough, she approached you a few times during the evening to see if you were getting enough to drink, even reminding you that the Proseco you favored was toward the rear of the drinks table, at which point you had to remind her how you were not the Proseco person, you were the Campari person.  And from time to time, you heard her asking others at the party how they regarded the ratatouille.  

Seymour was there, at the party, as well.  For some reason, call it body language, you began to suspect Seymour and Annette might have been an item.  Later, much later, Seymour admitted that at one time his friendship with her had included such a degree of closeness.

You went on to supervise Annette as she put together an admirable Los Angeles Guide Book, which your company published.  Later still, when she'd moved on to start her own publishing company, which was located in the same building as your own office, which was the Los Angeles office for the New York publisher for whom you worked, Annette would sneak away from her routine to take a nap in your office.  

You first met Bob when he was teaching in the then graduate journalism school at UCLA and you were the editor of the campus humor magazine.  Bob was a regular at the Friday poker game at your office.  Your friendship continued when you worked the Associated Press night office, located in the LA Times building, where Bob was a desk editor before moving over to book review editor.

You had no way of knowing it then, but Bob and Seymour were friends.

Stars for Annette, Seymour, and Bob are accounted for.  Not to forget another star called George, for another author you worked with.  George also joined the writers' baseball game, had a cat at the same time you had Sam, even offered a plot for Sam's final resting place when the time came, next to his own cat's place of repose.

IZ is what everyone called--and still calls--Irwin Zucker, the publicist, who had a connection for baseballs and fungo bats, and who organized the writers' baseball game.  And so, the star IZ.

Of course there is a special star for Digby; how could there not be after what you call the spare drawer aspect of your friendship.  The spare drawer, even to the one you have now in your kitchen, contains a number of disparate items, things that seem useful or whimsical or tools for survival, or of such essential sentimentality as to impart enormous value.

"A star for me?"  you can hear Barnaby saying, in that same irreverent tone he whispered at you from his death bed when he asked, "You are managing to get laid, aren't you?"  

On nights where there is the pellucid sense of clarity between stars and earth, you will often drive to a favored spot in the lower reaches of Summerland, at a spot called The Summerland Preserve, where there seem to be even more stars.  You invariably see one from there you think to call Sally, who in fact accompanied you on many of your nights out under the stars.  To the cocktail of amusement and concern, Sally, when she was younger, might catch the scent of a coyote, then dash off to challenge it, leaving you to wait for her to return.  This seemed only fair because she waited for you while you watched.

You did poorly in astronomy.  No fair blaming it on your interest in Kay, who sat next to you, during those morning classes.  Nostalgia being what it is, you on occasion name a star after her.

Science fiction novels, which you used to devour as though going at a sack of M & M's, and space movies portray the skies as cold, distant, unfriendly.

Obviously, you have a different sense of the matter; your skies are warm with the twinkle of George, IZ, Annette,Bob, and those even closer ones of Barnaby and Digby and Sally.  Their lights pulse with such warmth that you are nudged into times of mischief with them where adventure took on an even more personal meaning.

In these times, you are aware of the glorious phenomena of seeing light from stars that have long ceased to exist.  You are seeing traces of the complex system of light emissions, pulsing energy, and crystal-hard intensity, reaching across time and place.  At such times, you think you understand why such words and concepts as Heaven and Cosmos are linked with the skies and the vast landscapes of space.  

For the moment, you are here, witnessing this light, in your admiration naming stars you reckon to be of sufficient brightness for Geoff, as in Mr. Chaucer, and Jane, for Ms. Austen, and while you're at it, Ken, for the mystery writer you knew by his pen name of Ross Macdonald.  

You look at the vastness out there, smiling at the marker points you've named.  There are many faces and memories out there, stories, novels, trailing comets of poems, meteors of music, lighting up the darkness.  Sometimes when you watch, you mix the metaphor by thinking how it is a jungle out there.  

Meanwhile, you name these orbs after the persons and animals and poems and stories and music you have known.  You think and wonder how you can ask of your own words to trap some of the light into your own orbit so that you, too, can become light from a distant star.

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