A Whirlwind of a Friday Afternoon at the Haikulodeon

Here’s this week’s heap of haikus:
The whites of her eyes
were red with weeping, the blues
were never bluer.

If you’re fighting and
not fainting nor feinting,
you might be a painting.

Dreams can not be killed
Amorphous fantasies
can only be dissolved.

Do you spend your days
mopping up calamities?
or creating them?

The glow of the moon,
Illuminates the stillness,
Of country meadows.

Spiritual lust,
will infect a fevered soul
during communion.

Bright sun reflected
on the freshly fallen snow
clumped around the trees.

(This morning on West 108th St.)

With a loving arm
and a kind word, a mom saves
an uncertain youth

(Photo courtesy Kristina Rebelo)

 tanka haiku:

Where there is no path,
I will make one. Where no-one
knows, I will explain.

  One step begins the journey.
Our journey will reach the moon.

Snow defiantly
sits on a shaky tree limb.
Wind plots against it.

Serious people
should go out of their way to
validate whimsy.

tanka haiku:

Where have the words gone?
Too many are speechless or
worse, they’ve been muted.

  I’m not talking politics,
I mean, deep down in our souls.

 The falling snow was
barely perceptible, yet
his knit scarf got soaked.

Sometimes we forget;
before we ski down mountains,
we first must climb them.


A journey at dusk,
may be swallowed by darkness,
yet done before dawn.

through dense morning fog,
the field beyond seems painted
with watercolors.

To the smallest ones
give large measures of respect;
they walk the same path.

Harmonizing with
his mates kept the mood bright and
his life in accord.

A slice of apple,
a wedge of sharp cheddar cheese,
And a well-worn book.


Despite commitments
and their vows of devotion,
Love had other plans.

Though his tea was brisk,
his manner was quite brusque, so
She served him some bisque.

Scouts on camping trips,
Lovers caught in passion’s throes,
Neither needs matches.

Swirling embers rise,
riding a smoky breeze, then
die, and drift to earth

Underneath his bed,
a shirt that she once wore … and
still does, in his dreams.

He lives in torment,
misery inside each breath,
heaven denied him.

All the king’s horses,
And all the king’s men, liked their
egg over easy.

Sometimes I’m awake,
When I should be fast asleep,
dreaming I’m awake.

Rain evaporates,
Autumn leaves will decompose,
Snow melts. Spring will come.


Bonus material …  Acts Two and Three of An Evening with Connie Betters.

If you missed the First Act – The Two Books, you can find it here.

An Evening with Connie Betters – Act Two – A LESSON OF LIFE
by Michael Tracy Smith  c 1991
At Rise: The stage is bare except for a chair and three pre-set music stands with placards on them. The “Saturn” movement from Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” is heard. The music reaches its climax and then we hear:
Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Connie Betters.
(CONNIE enters from upstage left. He is 91 years old and walks with a cane. He is wearing a seersucker suit with what appears to be a white handkerchief peeking out of the lapel pocket of the jacket. He slowly crosses downstage.)
I don’t recognize half of you people. Some of you were here the last time. I remember (picking someone out) … you, for instance, am I right? … And some of you weren’t here, but if you think I’m going to try to sort you all out, you’ve got another think coming. Now, I know a few of you are here just out of curiosity … that’s o.k. …Hell, when you’re 91, curiosity is definitely a factor in folks coming to see you … I am delighted to be given another chance to speak with you. Last year, my little talk was very well received, evidently … in spite of what I felt were a whole woodshed of annoying screw-ups. That’s always very gratifying … being well-received, that is, not the screw-ups. But last year I felt like I was only able to share a few brief thoughts with those of you smart enough to show up. Of course, I’m sure most of those who were here went straight home and everything I said flew out of their heads anyway … like air through a steam whistle. People are like that. Most of them are so busy trying to remember what they have to do next, or what they’re going to wear tomorrow, or what they’re going to eat later, that right now, they couldn’t hear God, if he was standing next to them, yelling the ten commandments into their ear. Anyway, I had a heck of a time convincing the people that run things around here, that you can’t cook a three minute egg in a minute and a half and not expect a runny yolk. But no need to bother you with all that. It’s past history … just another cross for me to bear. This year, things are different.  “Come back … Do whatever you want,” they said to me … Don’t worry, I didn’t fall for that little ploy. I stood right up to them, looked them straight in the eye, and I said, “O.k, fine.” … For those of you not smart enough to show up last year, my name is Connie Betters. I was five months old when the Twentieth Century began in 1901, and I’ve seen the world go through some extraordinary changes. Oh, now that’s one of those ridiculous statements that all old people have to say at least twice a day … I’ve seen the world go through some extraordinary changes. There. I’ve gotten my obligation out of the way for another twenty-four hours. Y’see, it’s expected of us, and in most states, probably required by law … because everyone wants to believe that us old people have what’s called “Perspective”. It’s reassuring. The sad part is, that that and fifty cents will just about get you a cup of coffee in most places. Besides, I doubt there’s more than one old folk in a hundred that’s learned an iota from any of those changes. Makes me want to kick them right in the keester. Because what do they think Life’s for anyway? Their own amusement? I’m here to tell you, Life is about learning. The acquiring and passing on of wisdom. From person to person and generation to generation. Y’see the lessons you learn are the ones that you teach. And the greatest gift is the one that enables someone else to more fully appreciate Life. Ohh, now, I’m beginning to sound like some sappy, idealistic old pedagogue, aren’t I? Well, God forbid, but I was one y’know. Thirty-seven years a teacher … in the public school system. But, I’ll try not to lecture you too much. For eighty-two years I have been keeping two sets of diaries. One, for the Way it Should Be, and the other for … Well, I told you all about that last time, and I didn’t come all the way here, just to repeat myself, so if you missed it, too bad … Cripes, I have been standing for one Hell of a long time … I guess I’d better sit down … Either that or you can all watch my varicose veins explode. (He sits.) I want you to know I have prepared a very thorough lesson plan for tonight. I spent every evening for the last three months jotting down things I wanted to include in my talk with you.   Every morning, I would write it out on a big yellow legal pad, and then, my neighbor, Mrs. Garafaldo, would type up as much as she could before her pottery class. In fact, it was only last night that I finally had the whole, entire lesson just the way I wanted it. With every “i” dotted and every “t” crossed. I would like to share that lesson with you tonight … But … uhh, well, I … I left my notes in the bathroom at home … I don’t know what to say … I always stick them here in my right breast pocket … except today. I have to tell you that I am not usually given to episodes of absent-mindedness … So this comes as somewhat as a surprise. I will try to remember as much of the lesson as I can, but I’m not promising anything. I’m ninety-one! I guess I could start with a little old business … Clear up a few nagging questions from last year … First off, a couple of fussy nit-pickers have pointed out that I didn’t mention that there are occasions when the Way It Turned Out can actually end up being a whole lot, and this is their word, “nicer” than what you anticipated in the Way It Should Be … All right, fine … However, the likelihood of this happening more than half a dozen times in any normal person’s lifetime, is about sixteen billion to one. In other words,  as my late grandson, Lawrence, I mentioned him last time … Mr. Smart-Alec, got himself flattened by an Eyewitness News Van … you remember…yeah, well, like he used to say, “You are more likely to see Mother Teresa wearing a spandex wimple, while copulating with Merv Griffin and Snoop Dog on the South lawn of the White House at three o’clock in the afternoon … For you little nit-pickers, that was hyperbole, not an actual scientific survey.  Secondly, there are some goody-goodys out there who will claim that their very own Way it Turned Out is almost always BETTER than their Way it Should Be … These people are simpletons. Happy-go-lucky idiots, who have absolutely no grasp on the day to day reality of Life on earth. Either that or they have the imagination the size of a fennel seed.  I have always believed that the rosy hopes and dreams offered up in the Way it Should Be are effectively counter-balanced by the bitter realities of the Way it Turned Out … And yet, I realize that not everyone can conform to my way of thinking. And, while I do have to acknowledge the existence of a small fringe group of people out there who have developed an opposite approach to my way of living, I reserve the right to consider them completely asinine.  These individuals, my sister-in-law, Hortense, being one of them, are profoundly negative in their outlook.  These individuals, like Hortense, always go around thinking the worst of everything. I’m sure you people like that. You may even BE people like that. In Hortense’s misguided and extremely depressing universe, the dreading of Life is raised to an art form. My diary of The Way it Should Be is replaced by one of her own making, called the Way it Better NOT Be, and my Way it Turned Out is transformed by her into The Way Everything Went Wrong, with her own unique addendum, entitled, “Who’s to Blame?”  Hortense will worry all morning about someone noticing the gravy spot on her blouse and then step outside and get splashed by a taxicab roaring through a mud puddle. Or she’ll think she’s misplaced twenty dollars before going out and losing all her credit cards.  Now, just between you and me, I’ll never understand how these people can exist. To me, Hortnese has always been something of an amazement … sucking hopes and dreams out of the carpet of Life like a runaway vacuum cleaner.  Kind of a human black hole.  Oh, and one more thing … Sometimes, the way it Turned Out is exactly the way things were envisioned in the Way it Should Be … No better, no worse. I didn’t mention that before. I also didn’t mention that the swallows always return to Capistrano.  Facts like that are simply too dull to impose on other people. Now … What I am going to attempt to talk about is an illusion.  The one we create to give the impression that we are in control of our lives … I know what you are thinking … such an illusion is going to be difficult for me to create tonight … given my notes are sitting on top of my toilet…well, cut me a little slack, for Chrissake … You’re all old enough to know that you can’t really control your life, because the rest of humanity keeps getting in the way.  And for those of you who are sitting back, thinking that you did some damned enlightenment thing in the mid-Seventies and you already know exactly what I’m going to say … stop being such a snotty bunch of know-it-alls. The whole problem with those Guru things was they tried to convince you that the secrets of living COST something, and that the only people that knew anything were not going to be stupid enough to give it away for free.  The truth is, most of the secrets of Life can be learned from chatting with your neighbor over the backyard fence, and all it will cost you is some time and the loan of your lawnmower.  Oh, Jimminies. Do you hear me? I’m beginning to sound like some shriveled up Will Rogers … Hmmph.  I never liked him.  The trouble with comedians who do satire is, that nobody ever really listens to what they’re saying. They make us laugh by poking fun at some serious flaw in society, and we just sit there like dummies; we don’t go out and do anything about fixing the flaw.  Seems kind of an empty way to make a living. That’s why most of them end up bitter, disillusioned old men.  They realize that nobody’s really paying attention, and it makes them feel like they’ve wasted their lives… Ummm… I’m sorry. I seem to have gotten a little off course here. Henrietta, God rest her soul, used to say I should have taught Geometry, since I’m so good at speaking on tangents.  I guess I like talking.  Nobody listens to me over at the Home. Everybody on my floor is either completely deaf or a drooling idiot. And those white-jacketed morons couldn’t give a damn. They’re totally wrapped up in their own enormous trivialities.  And Jenny and Shelton, that’s my daughter and her husband, live too far away now to visit more than every couple of weeks or so. Let me see … tonight’s lesson … (clears his throat) Throughout history Man has made up stories to explain why he was not in control of his own life.  Kind of mythological apologies. This allowed for guiltless lives of blissful simplicity.  However, as civilization progressed, these simple minded folk tales had to grow more complex and imaginative.  Finally, as Science disproved most of Man’s myths and superstitions, a new and desperate theory emerged.  It said that Man really WAS in control of his Life, after all.  This was a foolish and wildly radical idea, but because his ego had been enormously inflated by the successes of the Industrial Revolution, Modern Man desperately wanted to believe it.  In spite of all the evidence to the contrary … But I am getting ahead of myself … Let’s go back to the Ancient Greeks.  The Greeks believed that one’s Life was governed by the three fates. The first fate was Clotho, which by the way, you’ll notice is the root word for cloth.  That’s because Clotho was the spinner of the thread of human life. The second fate, who determined the length of the thread of life was Lachesis. Lachesis of course, being where we get the word, ummm … Latex … And thirdly, there was Atropos, as in Atrophy, who was responsible for cutting the thread of life. Kind of a depressing allegory, but somehow appropriate for their times… Nowadays, we don’t need all that poetic abrogating of responsibility. Modern Man, that bundle of ego, actually FEELS in control of his own destiny … this applies to Modern Woman too, so ladies, you don’t get to sit there and act smug.  Anyway…the fanciful notion of the fates has pretty much gone the way of … Well, without my notes I’ve forgotten what it’s gone the way of … but it’s not terribly important. Gone’s gone.  Let’s skip back to where we were imposing this radical theory on our modern sensibilities, and yet, all the while instinctively knowing it to be a crock. Just between you and me, I find this dichotomy fascinating. What we want to believe, hard up against what we know to be the truth.  In my opinion, most people would be less miserable if they could CREATE the illusion that they are in control of their lives … even if, deep down, they recognize they’re not … and by that, I’m not talking about God, you understand … I don’t want to be controversial. That’s all I need at my age, some lunatic with a picket sign trying to beat the bejeebers out of me … or into me.  What I’m talking about is those simple explanations of Life that aid in our understanding of things.    For example, it seems one of the facts of life nowadays, is that everything has to be stripped down to its fundamental components.  This is due to most people’s greatly diminished attention span, a condition fostered by repeated exposure to television.  Ah, you television babies … I know who you are. You can’t understand the complexities of life.  When I was growing up, it was different.  Y’see, we had lives then.  Oh, now don’t sit there and Ooo and Ahh me about that.  Thanks to the images spewed out by television, most people have come to demand from life only the shallowest of existences … and its your own damn fault. You let the mass media homogenize the importance out of life, and reduce everything down to level of either plot device or promotional opportunity.  So, for you, I have reduced the theory of the fates and the thread of life down to its three basic elements; making, measuring and cutting.  Ergo, (That’s Latin), I suppose, if nothing else, you can make believe the universe is a gigantic tailor shop.  What that means for most of you is that your lives won’t be ready till next Tuesday.   That’s the bad news. The good news is that alterations are free. Y’know, come to think of it, any analogy that implies that you’re born, you do things for a while and then you die … is very hard to argue with. Perhaps it demands closer examination.  All of us, in our hearts and minds, attempt to make our lives what we wish them to be.  This is what I have called, The Way it Should Be.  It is made up of the judgments that we have formed about things, combined with the actions we intend to take in order to create what we want.  Then, you add Time, action, consequences and of course, totally random acts of the universe, and you are left with the Way it Turned Out.  The fact that random acts of the universe is included in the Way it Turned out is very important.  Y’see, our interest in life is sustained through the element of surprise … Boo!  Now when it comes to understanding and dealing with our judgments, I find that most people get them confused with prejudices.  Admittedly, in some cases, they are similar.  But they are not inter-changeable.  When the big war come in 1917, I quit school, lied about my age and enlisted in the infantry.  I spent nine months soaked through to the skin, crouching in a smelly trench, fending off the Kaiser’s army with a bayonet, a handful of bullets and a helluva lot of prayers.  After the Armistice, I returned to find myself qualified for nothing more than unskilled labor.  Somehow, I drifted into Vaudeville, finding work as a magician’s stooge for three dollars a week.  My parents practically disowned me, but I was stagestruck and also well aware of all the pretty girls that used to hang around the Vaudeville theaters.  Nowadays they’d say I was rebelling against my strict and proper upbringing.  Then, I just knew what I liked.   I learned quickly, practiced hard and eventually stole enough material to form my own act.  Crescendo the Magnificent.   Thank you.   Don’t laugh, my salary went up to thirty dollars a week.  I played the small-time circuit for three to four years.  Did okay.  Never a headliner, but I worked steady and I got to see a lot of this great country through the window of a train.   Now, at this point, I could use some assistance.
How about you, sir?  (He picks someone from the audience.) I too old for banter so just come over here.  How do you do?  Hold out your arm.  (The volunteer holds his arm out straight. When he does, Connie hangs his cane on it,)  Good.   Now let me show you something.  (He takes out a JFK half dollar.)  An ordinary fifty cent piece … (Connie shakily begins to do a finger roll with the coin, )  My dexterity was always my  (he drops the coin.) downfall.  (To volunteer:) Would you mind?  I don’t bend over for anything less than a dollar … (adlib:) That sounds like something Mae West would say,   (volunteer hands him back the coin.)  Thank you. How about a hand for my assistant?   This is one of those Kennedy half dollars.  Let me see your hands, how many of you saved these when they first came out?  You thought they were going to be valuable, right?  Live and learn.   I remember the 1960 election.  My wife, Henrietta were living in Connecticut.  As election day drew near, I began to notice more and more “Kennedy quarters” in my pocket change at night. These were quarters with nail polish painted on them so that Washington looked as if he was wearing a red skull cap like the ones Cardinals wear.   It seems some people hated Catholics and feared that if we elected one to the Presidency, he would take his orders directly from the pope, which would, they felt, send America right into the dumper.  Now that was prejudice.  You knew I’d eventually get back to the subject at hand, didn’t you?  Prejudice.  Formed out ofthe fears of the uneducated.  The only uses for prejudice are hurtful in nature.  Judgmental feelings on the other hand, are different.  They enable us to make decisions which aid in our survival.   Once, when I was a young man, I was riding on a trolley on the outskirts of Chicago, on my way to visit a pretty girl.  It was a hot Summer day, and I had my head hanging out the window.  When we stopped at an intersection, my eyes chanced to meet those of a middle-aged laborer, who was part of a crew digging up the street.  We only shared a glance for two or three seconds at the most, yet it was long enough for me to form a complete picture of who this man was … My mind filled in all the details.  His childhood, his ambitions, his pain, his anger, The story of his life was clear to me.  I felt I knew him.  Which is what led me to duck just as he swung his shovel at me.  He didn’t think we were having a moment of mutual insight. He thought I was staring at him.  Luckily, my judgments and quick reflexes, allowed me to make conclusions about who this man was and avoid decapitation.  It’s funny, but seventy years later, and I still haven’t forgotten a single detail of his face.  So.  We spin thethread of our lives out of the judgments we make and the actions we take.   Next, we come to the second part, which is the one most people obsess about.  The measuring or length of one’s life.  How much time have you got?  What does it matter?  I bet most of you think that time is real, don’t you?  You think it actually exists, when truth is, time is nothing more than a worldwide agreement to obey the rules of a concept.   You look dubious.   I guess I’ll have to explain the origin of time.  This won’t take long.   Now the origin of Time … not the magazine, the concept, goes like this … Oh. First off, let me add that this is the same story I told Henrietta when I was courting her.  She was selling candy in the lobby of a theater in Worcester.   I was booked on a split week, which meant I only played there for 3 days before moving on to my next booking.  Henrietta was a beautiful young girl, very prim and proper with an angel’s sweet face and the most elegant hands I had ever seen.  Although I fell for her right away, she was a little leery about having anything to do with me, because, well, I was in show business, and nice girls didn’t go out with actors, even if they were magicians.   My jump for the rest of the week was in Boston, so I commuted back and forth to see her, and although I was exhausted from all the extra traveling, it was worth it.   By the end of the week, I had broken down her resistence and we knew we were destined to spend our whole lives together.    And we did.  When she passed last September, we had been married 64 years.   So now I’m back to being a bachelor.  Which, I suppose, is why I’ve started hanging around theaters again … Anyway.  Henrietta had a dog named Pete.  When we were courting, Henrietta would always tell me that she couldn’t stay out too late because Pete would be miserable if she was gone too long.  I tried to explain to her that dogs have no concept of time.  That time was something invented by humans, which dogs could not comprehend.  But Henrietta insisted, so i told her this story.   In the milleniums before Time, ancient people’s lives were ruled primarily by two factors, called Night and Day.   They got up when it was light and went to sleep when it was dark. This went on for eons.  There were very few other constants in their lives.  Even most measurements were based on variable things,  like the length of a man’s thumb or the size of his foot.  Now as with all civilizations, there were always those rare few that simply could not cope.  Such a man was Herschel.  He was the cradle of civilization’s first loony-toon … and since psychiatrists would not be invented for a couple thousand years, Herschel’s simple obsession went on unabated for several decades.  Every day, from sunrise to sunset, Herschel would, for who knows what reason, take the same bundle of sticks, and he would spread them on the ground, and then, one by one, pick them up again.  He would do this, compulsively, over and over again, all day long.  Most of his neighbors thought he was possessed by an evil spirit, of course, so they gave him a pretty wide berth,  But one man, Sanaan, he knew.  he knew that Herschel … was the funniest damned thing he had ever seen. And so, he laughed … a lot.  And pretty soon the others were laughing too … and making jokes.  Primitive ones, of course.  “Why did Herschel cross the footpath?”  “To pick up a stick.”  … Primitive.  One day, a woman came to the village to persuade her husband to come home.  Even in those days, the lure of the big city was irresistable.  Her man was doing what men did for fun in those days … He was watching Herschel pick up sticks.  When the woman pleaded with her husband to come home, her husband, just to impress his friends, growled real loud and shouted, “Not now!”  Not to be outdone, the woman uttered a scathing retort; “When?!”  This, of course, left everyone speechless.  No-one knew how to answer her.  Things were quiet for a very long time.  Finally, her husband took a stab at it; “How about when Herschel picks up the sticks two more times?”  Everyone cheered this brilliant solution, since the truth was, other than the sun and the moon, Herschel was the most constant element in their universe.  You could always count on Herschel.  And so they did.  It was fun measuring tasks by Herschel’s stick pickups.  For instance, getting water from the well took a full Herschel.  Making bread took four Herschels and milking the cow took two sticks shy of a half Herschel.  And that is how the concept of Time began.  Even two years after we were married, Henrietta would still insist that I get her home early for Pete’s sake.  Anyway, our ability to appreciate Time allows us to delineate and understand the episodes of our lives sequentially.    The other aspect of measuring one’s life has to do with quality.  Not just the quality OF one’s life, but the quality IN one’s life.   Shortly before I retired from teaching, a career by the way. in which I am endebted to Henrietta for getting me started.  She encouraged me to quit Vaudeville, and go back to school and get my teaching certificate.  I will always be so grateful to her for pointing me in the right direction.   But, as I was saying, just before I retired, I noticed in my students, an appalling lack of respect for hard work.  Everyone wanted so desperately to cross the finish line, that they couldn’t be bothered with learning how to tie their running shoes.  Children today believe in life as seen on TV.   They don’t understand the need for hard work because that is the one expendable part of telling a story.  It takes too much time to show hard work.  It’s a lot easier to show an actor roll up his sleeves, do a brief montage, than cross-fade to the next scene and superimpose the word, “Later” on the screen, as the actor succeeds in whatever it was he was struggling to do.  Naturally, a whole generation grew up thinking that’s how real life works too.  They have instant expectations of success.  Everybody thinks the first picture that they scribble with their crayons is headed for the museum of Modern Art.   Unfortunately, nowadays, it probably is … But that’s also a reflection of the sorry state of Art, where the cutting edge of the avant-garde has been given over to a pack of illiterates, who revel in their ignorance, wearing it like a badge of honor.   Of course, I realize that Art always challenges the status quo, and that pushing beyond contemporary standards is nothing new.  But today, for the first time in history, knowledge and understanding have been rejected as unnecessary to the artistic process.  Back in the early 20th century, Marcel Duchamp submitted a urinal to an exhibition as a way of shocking people.  He turned it upside down and called it “Fountain”.  It caused an outrage.  But within his action, lived the idea that Art is in everything; that it is all a matter of perception.  A lot of artists today seem to think they can make an intellectual leap; skipping over the learning process and moving right to the abstraction.  But that just isn’t so.  You can’t negate what you don’t know.  What gives relevance is the process.  Can you imagine Botticelli or Michelangelo coming back and going into some trendy avant-garde art gallery?  They’d puke ,,, and when they did, some idiot would start applauding and call it Performance Art.  Eh. I suppose you think I’m just an old man that doesn’t realize that times have changed.  Well, to that, I say, crap. There are some changes you have to resist.  You can’t always sit back and be resigned about the Way it Turned Out,  You have to fight for the Way it Should Be.  For me, Art should be a melding of one’s intellect and one’s technique.  Craft alone, without intellectual understanding and historical perspective is empty and sadly unfulfilling.  Self-expression can be a beautiful measure of the quality of one’s life.  It can even, at the best of times, come very close to creating that illusion of being in control of things.  Years ago, a composer sat at a piano and didn’t play a note.  On purpose.  That silent performance said more about the nature of music and the relationship of sound to silence than all of today’s rappers ever will.  It literally changed the way many of us listen.  Which is what real art does … It changes you.   It makes you hear or see or feel in a way that is new and different. It gives you new insights, and like life, it is often transitory.  Which, in a funny way, leads me to my final point, the cutting of the thread … Death.   This is the most disagreeable of the topics, and obviously, the one over which we have the least influence.  Therefore, I will be brief.  All you can do is take care of yourself.  That’s it.  You feed your body good foods, you give it plenty of water and exercise and you pray that that is enough.  Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. Oh and you should also know that some parts wear out faster than others.  And while it appears that Atropos is still out there wielding an arbitrary shears, just know that the big cut is inevitable for us all, no matter what.   Now … How does this tie in with creating the illusion that you can control your life?  (He takes a deck of cards out of his pocket,)  Sir, would you assist me again?  Thank you.  As you see, an ordinary deck of cards.   Tell me when to stop. (He riffles through the deck, stopping when the audience member tells him.  He lets the man pick the card from the deck,)   Now don’t show me the card … show it to everyone in the audience.  Now, put the card back in the deck.  Now, if I can ascertain correctly your card,  I will have created the illusion that life is under my control.  Wouldn’t you agree?  (To audience member:) Say Yes.  (Connie thinks for a moment, then with a big flourish ….)  The Five of Hearts!  (That is NOT the card.)  Jack of Diamonds? (Still NOT the card)  Oh well, i guess even illusions are subject to random acts of the universe.  Wait a minute.  (He reaches for the white hankerchief in his breast pocket. He pulls it out and written on it is the Eight of Clubs.  THAT IS the card!!)   Oh don’t applaud … It’s an illusion!  And one that may not be so difficult to create as you think.  Now, there are a couple more things I’d like to tell you, but I suppose I should save something for next year.  I want to thank you all for being so seemingly attentive.  Most of you … like a steam whistle.  (he puts his hand inside his jacket and pulls out some cards)  What’s this?  (Holding them up.)  My notes.  (He looks at them and then throws them away.)  In order to quote, gain control, unquote, of your life, remember the following;  the thoughts you have determine the life you’ll make, Always allow for random acts of the universe.  If you use and appreciate the time you’re given to the fullest, it won’t seem too short, although it always will be.  And if you take care of yourself, and treat your body as if it deserved to live, it will … until it doesn’t anymore.  Ultimately, Life is always moving you towards death.  If you just accept that as the direction you’re going… as we’re all going, and know that is the Way if Should Be, then you have gained about as much control of your life as is humanly possible, and therefore you can go out and do what you want while you get closer and closer to the final Way it Turned Out.   Oh and I almost forgot … know too that there are two ways of doing more than just hanging out like a vegetable in this world.  One is to be a figure-outer,  someone who is always looking at what’s going on around them and trying to figure things out and relate them back to their inner self … Of course, the other way is to be a figure-inner.  someone who examines deeply their innermost feelings and analyzes how they fit back and contribute to the universe.   Whichever way of being you prefer, know that both ways are happening inside all of us at every moment of our lives.    Isn’t that a wonderous thing?  Now, tell me, knowing that, can any one of you doubt that learning is what life is truly all about?   Whatever you go through in life, find the lesson in it.  so when the thread of your life is about to be cut, you can look back at what you’ve done and say, “Cripes, I’ll never make that mistake again!”  (music begins to fade in)  Well. it appears someone thinks that giving me exit music will get me off quicker.  (Shouts offstage) Don’t rush me, I’m old and slow!  (To audience) See you next year.

(Musical seque … Lights cross-fade and the play continues without a break)
            The Balancing Act – Act Three

At rise: The stage is the same as in Act Two. Connie  re-enters.

I don’t see it, but, I have been assured that there IS a tightrope strung overhead from here to over there.
(He uses his cane to demonstrate, however, in the process, he discovers the tightrope is NOT there.) Well, that’s pretty much par for the course, isn’t it? This is unfortunate.  Y’see, a part of my talk tonight was going to involve that tightrope … Symbolically, of course … well, you didn’t think I was going to get up and walk on it did you? … What, have you lost your minds? … Or did you actually want to see me break every bone in my body?  Hmmph … Some Way It Turned Out that would be. I’m sorry, but in spite of your sickening blood lust, that tightrope was simply meant to be a visual aid. I’ll get to it in a minute … First off, let me say that either your memories are all improving, or by some inexplicable twist of fate, you’re all sitting in the same seats as last year. Oh, you didn’t think I noticed … Well, I’ve got a seating chart in my head. All teachers do.  I’m afraid my talk this year will have to be very brief. I have to get up early tomorrow. I have a train to catch. I’m going on a journey to Chicago to visit with my older brother, Lester. I haven’t mentioned him before, have I? Les and I haven’t spoken in over thirty-five years. He used to be a “Big Shot” in the junk mail business … Now there’s something I never understood; how anyone could find happiness by inundating people with coupons for ammonia cleanser and deviled ham spread. But that was Lester’s “calling”.  We never got along, even as kids. He is positively, the most stubborn individual you’ll ever meet. That’s his problem. Nothing can make him change his point of view. No amount of logic or persuasion … I guess it runs in the family. Anyway. we had a colossal blow-up years ago … Nearly killed each other.  It all started because every day, Henrietta kept finding dozens of advertising circulars in our mailbox, and she decided to get our name off their lists. In her own inimitable manner. So, unbeknownst to me, she started wrapping the circulars around bricks and marking them, “Return to sender”. Course, in those days, the Post Office was still a viable way to send mail back and forth. Hard to believe, isn’t it? … In those days, upon returning to sender, the mailmen would always tack on a healthy postage due amount because of the huge discrepancy in weight. How was Henrietta to know that most of that was having to come out of brother Lester’s own pocket? And also how could she know that Lester’s enterprise was operating perilously close to the edge of bankruptcy? Well, to cut to the chase, Lester found out what she was doing, and he blamed Henrietta when his business went under. Of course, the idiot made all his money back and more the following year, but that was in the future. At the time, he was livid. So, one thing led to another; he said something, and then I said something, and… what it boiled down to was that he and I haven’t been in contact since 1956. Then he goes and calls me at 6:30 in the morning yesterday and asks me to come visit him on his birthday. Well, I practically lost my breakfast. I still can’t figure out how he tracked me down … He’s going to be one hundred years old … Probably, just wants me to sit with him while he gets the big “Hello” from Willard Scott … Anyway, I said I’d go… I figure Lester can use a good talking to …  My topic for tonight is the future. Not much you can say about it except that it’s always just beyond right now.  After my experience with my notes last year, My son-in-law Shelton got me this thing. It’s an electronic digital diary.  Shelton says this thing can take the place of my two books.  All 83 volumes. I sincerely doubt that. But, he said that in a few months I’d be calling it my best pal. Well, I do have a nickname for it. I call it a U.I.: Useless Invention. One of the troubles with the world today, is the over-abundance of useless inventions. It takes 14 steps to whatdayacallit, “INPUT” stuff into this damned thing. Nowadays, instead of using our fingers to make letters, we just touch things. And not even keys on a keyboard anymore … surfaces …Now, over the years, a lot of people have come up and asked me questions about a lot of different things, and I thought maybe I could share some of the answers with you … if through some miracle I can get this U.I. to work, …all right, lemme see now, calender, telephone directory, cellular fax … ah … First question: (He makes a “whoosh” sound) … I’m sorry, that’s the answer. The question was: What is the sound of one hand clapping? … Next … If a tree falls in the woods with no-one around to hear it, does it make a sound? Well, now, this is the kind of non-sensical baloney asked by persons with severe mental deficiencies. Usually because their own overly engorged sense of themselves has caused the rest of their brain to shrivel away to dust. Their moronically immodest theory suggests that if the ego isn’t around to experience something, it doesn’t actually happen … Well, you try turning off the seventh game of the World Series in the ninth inning with the bases loaded and two outs, and see if the game gets completed without you. And before the pretentious among you bring up the semantical argument of whether sound exists without the equipment to hear it being present, let me just add that when you’re in the shower, it doesn’t mean the phone isn’t ringing. Okay? Then, next … Why don’t animals talk? Simple. They’d keep us awake at night. I believe we have been spared from direct inter-species communication for our own sanity. Imagine the endless complaining there’d be about the forest being too cold, or the twigs hurting their paws, or how some crow just stole their food. And besides, do you really want to know what a bird says when its consummating a dalliance with another bird? You don’t. And if you think about it, Doctor Doolittle never had a barbecue grill … Are we really made in God’s image?  How would you ever know? … Why do we have to die? Because we don’t have re-set buttons … Is there life after death?  By that I take it you DON’T mean does life go on after you die, because I think we all know that it does and it will. I prefer to think you mean will your own consciousness continue after your body gives out. Now, this is a much more difficult and complex question. Normally I wouldn’t answer a question like that, but, this might be my last chance … Nobody lives forever, and … Well, if you died, I’d miss you. Besides, I was asked a direct question, and I’m only trying to be polite … so yes, there IS life after death. It’s kind of like sitting in a very comfortable chair, and waking up from a short nap to find spread out before you, an enormous blackboard, onto which has been written every moment of your life in your own handwriting.  And suddenly, a pair of erasers appears in your hands and so you get up and begin to erase the blackboard. And it seems to take forever. But gradually, even as you’re reading them, the words on the board begin to fade from your memory. Soon they’re gone and the blackboard has metamorphized into a door. You open it and walk through a room to another door and you open it and find that there’s a second room, which is narrower than the first and you keep on going through doors and entering narrower and narrower rooms. Until finally, you realize you’re on a tightrope … this is the part I was going to … well, never mind, … and you begin descending slowly from an incredible height …and you inch forward, down, down, closer and closer to a curved horizon.  And then, at some point, an irresistable urge overcomes you and you bravely leap off into the unknown, and through God’s miraculous intervention, you land smack dab in a new life… What do you think of that? I’ll tell you the truth. I just made that up. Oh, it’s possible that what follows death is merely a cooling off period between your past and your future, in which you shed the shackles of your memory … on the other hand, maybe this Is it, and all we become is fertilizer, but either way, so what? Why is it so important that we know the workings of the universe? Is it that there truly is no limit to man’s desire to learn? Or are we just nosy? Can our thirst for knowledge ever be sated? I mean, if learning is what life is about, can we ever know too much?  Well, I never thought I’d answer yes to that question, even conditionally, but when you look at the horrors we’ve created in the name of progress … We can no longer afford to invent the future out of the past’s pictures of what the future should be like. For example, remember the last New York World’s Fair? They said we’d be living in underwater cities by 1994. Y’think it’ll happen? I don’t.  My friends, we must begin creating the future out of our dealing with the problems of the present. One way to begin, is to recognize the need to constantly re-invent the Way It Should Be. I have come to realize that my idea of a strong, opinionated, Way It Should Be, can sometimes, lead to stubborn immobility and intractable judgments, which people like Lester and … myself try to hold onto forever. Which I see now is foolish. On top of that, we must also remove our obsession with results. We need to see the Way It Turned Out as just another opportunity to re-invent tomorrow’s Way It Should Be. And as I’ve said so many times before, all this is a balancing act. Between dreams and disappointments, knowledge and ignorance, life and death. Balance is the natural way of the universe. Imagine the feel of a tightrope under your feet. To remind you that being human is a constant game of maintaining your equilibrium.  When something’s out of balance, you simply adjust. Now, don’t forget to pass these lessons on to someone else. Remember, as you learn, you teach. That’s the balance everyone should be more aware of … Well, I’ve talked at you long enough. I’ve got to get to bed. I’m very tired, and I’ve got to be at the train station early tomorrow. I want to get a window seat.

 (CONNIE turns and slowly begins to exit as the lights fade)


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