An American Disgrace

Posted June 24, 2019 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

America is a nation of frauds. We say we love children, and then torture them in concentration camps. We say we are a Christian nation and then turn our backs on 2-year-old children traumatized by being ripped away from their parents.

We say we are compassionate, and then condemn tiny children to cages, cold cement floors, junk food, no soap or toothbrushes, no diapers when young children pee and shit in their pants.

More than a thousand children, not just a handful.

In concentration camps along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Children and their parents running for their lives from murder and violence in Central America. They arrive here and we rip the children out of parents’ hands and confine them in large cages with the overhead lights turned on 24 hours.

The children are traumatized. The parents are distraught. Seven children have died while in American custody. Hundreds more, thousands more, are emotionally scarred for life.

And we do nothing to stop it. The most powerful nation in the world, the richest and most self-congratulatory country in the world does nothing but claim it has insufficient resources to cope with this moral obscenity.

We have plenty of money for an over-stuffed military. We have plenty of money for the richest 2 percent of the country. We have plenty of money for allies we like, who share our vision of the world.

But we don’t have money to give children beds to sleep on in these concentration camps, warm blankets to crawl under at night, soap to wash their hands, doctors to treat their sicknesses.

We are a moral disgrace. And we’ve been this way ever since we stole the land from the Indians who lived here, ever since we captured black families in Africa and shipped them here as slaves, ever since we created ghettoes where we isolated our racial and ethnic undesirables.

And yet, we keep patting ourselves on the back in god-awful acts of self-gratification and narcissistic delusion.

We are ‘God’s gift to the world,’ we announce in shameless blasphemy.

If we don’t, as a nation, rush to rescue of those children in our concentration camps, then we will have lost the last shred of decency that clings perilously to the underbelly of our American myth.


Myth and the Role of Gin and Tonic

Posted June 21, 2019 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

I wrote recently about making and drinking a gin and tonic. It was very good gin and very good tonic. I felt better after drinking the drink than I did before.

It was a successful achievement simply concocted — without ice cubes or a wedge of lime. Ice cubes dilute drinks. Wedges of lime distort their taste.

Keep things simple, is my motto . . . except when it comes to life. Life is never simple. It can’t be. Its very nature is too complex to be simple. Even solitude has its entanglements. Even isolation has its demands.

Life only becomes simple when it abandons us. But even then, the consequences simply move to the next available context.

I suspect that the alleged nothingness of life is a delusion. The cosmic impulse is toward life, not away from it. Everything is life. There is nothing but life. What we call Death is just a transition, from one life form to another, from one state of being to another. Vacuums are merely life holding its breath, shifting its attention, bidding its . . . Time.

Unless, of course, we are all — and the “life” we live — just a computer projection. The result of a cosmic computer game, a Big Bang puppet show. There are people who believe we are such projections. That we only exist as transparent figures on a holodeck.

In this way of thinking, death is just the ending of a computer program. We only exist insofar as we move across a transparent screen. Our death is no more real than our life. We only exist as pixels.

But in the end, there is always gin and tonic.

Below is a poem from today’s Writer’s Almanac, as chosen by writer Garrison Keillor. The poem brings together the reality of myth and the illusion of real life. It shows what a little gin and a little tonic can do to a holodeck drama.


Return of Odysseus
by George Bilgere

When Odysseus finally does get home
he is understandably upset about the suitors,
who have been mooching off his wife for twenty years,
drinking his wine, eating his mutton, etc.
In a similar situation today he would seek legal counsel.
But those were different times. With the help
of his son Telemachus he slaughters roughly
one hundred and ten suitors
and quite a number of young ladies,
although in view of their behavior
I use the term loosely. Rivers of blood
course across the palace floor.

I too have come home in a bad mood.
Yesterday, for instance, after the department meeting,
when I ended up losing my choice parking spot
Behind the library to the new provost.
I slammed the door. I threw down my book bag
in this particular way I have perfected over the years
that lets my wife understand
the contempt I have for my enemies,
which is prodigious.

And then with great skill
she built a gin and tonic
that would have pleased the very gods,
and with epic patience she listened
as I told her of my wrath, and of what I intended to do
to so-and-so, and also to what’s-his-name.
And then there was another gin and tonic
and presently my wrath abated and was forgotten,
and peace came to reign once more
in the great halls and courtyards of my house.

Return of Odysseus by George Bilgere from Imperial. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014

A Birthday Rain

Posted June 18, 2019 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

It’s a gentle, late-spring rain this morning. I brought out my bicycle to do my usual 2-½ to 3 mile ride, feeding the birds and stopping by to refill the cat bowl under the porch a block and a half away. And then to continue down the Farmington Canal Line to where Starr Street meets Shelton Avenue, and then to return home again.

But the rain was too insistent and so I cancelled the ride and brought my bike back into my apartment. Bicycle brakes do not work well in the rain. And the bird food would just get mushy spread out on the ground.

Instead, I walked the block and a half to fill the cat bowl under the porch, and then I changed the water in the water bowl in my backyard for the birds and the squirrels. Even though it’s raining, they still get thirsty. Flying through rain is no picnic, any more than walking through hail is our idea of fun. But still, a thirsty bird likes a handy bowl of water when thirst grows uncomfortable.

The weather people say it will rain on and off all day and into the night. Not a hard rain, just a gentle, thoroughly wet rain. A cloudy day. A gentle rain. A cozy apartment. Books to read, music to hear.

I am thinking of driving to Guilford this noon to have lunch at the Shoreline Diner. Today is my birthday. I turn 82. The Beatles’ Paul McCartney turns 77. Isabella Rossellini turns 67.

My friend Jim sent me a birthday book by one of my favorite writers: a hardcover, first edition of “Pig Earth,” by John Berger. I read the novel decades ago and have it in my collection. But this first edition is special, and I am delighted to have it.

Jim and I have been friends since 1966. He lives in a large house in Killingworth. We have lunch every three months. I call his house, “Yasnaya Polyana,” after Tolstoy’s large estate.

I don’t expect that Paul or Isabella will join me for lunch at the diner today.

The Variety of Fathers

Posted June 16, 2019 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

Today is Father’s Day in America. Mother’s Day was last month. There is no Children’s Day or Son’s Day or Daughter’s Day.

Only grown-ups get Days.

Fathers come in all sizes and colors and shapes and attitudes and degrees of importance.

I had two fathers: one provided sperm and then beat my mother; the other was a real father, who loved me and encouraged me and supported me and did everything a father should do for his child. He was my real father. The sperm provider was just a biological device.

Yesterday, I was walking across a parking lot, headed toward the local supermarket. A black woman was unloading her shopping cart and placing the bags of groceries into the trunk of her car.

I walked over to her and said, “May I reclaim this shopping cart from you?”

She laughed and said yes.

As I walked away, she said, “If you have children, I wish you a happy Father’s Day tomorrow.”

I turned toward her and said, “Thank you. That’s very nice of you.”

We parted with mutual smiles.

Here is a poem about Father’s Day. It is today’s selection on Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac.

The Uncut Field by Laura Foley

Walking the field to place a small rock
that she has painted on his grave,
my daughter asks me if he knows
that he is dead. The rock is painted
with a butterfly, red lines for wings, small dots
for yellow eyes, blue strings for legs.
Before I have a chance to muster
an answer, Nina calls out, Happy Father’s Day
to silent air. And we beat a path homeward
through dry, eye-scratching weeds.

The Empire That Once Was

Posted June 12, 2019 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

I have just made myself a gin and tonic. The tonic is Schweppes. The gin is Opihr.

I am told that Opihr gin is one of the finest in the world. My wine man told me that. So did the people who make Opihr gin. They live in England.

In the tiny booklet that came wrapped around the neck of the bottle, I read that Opihr is pronounced “o-peer.” The gin is an Oriental spiced gin, but is still part of the London dry gin tradition.

The booklet also tells me that Opihr is “a legendary region famed for its wealth and riches which prospered during the reign of King Solomon. The king regularly received cargoes of gold, silver and spices from Opihr,” according to the booklet, “and whilst its exact location remains a mystery, it is thought to have been in the Orient along the ancient Spice Route.”

That part sounds a little vague . . . a little fictional in the narrative department . . . a little dubious.

However, the gin, insists the booklet, is “crafted with a selection of exotic, hand-picked botanicals . . . including spicy cubeb berries from Indonesia, black pepper from India and coriander from Morocco.”

I feel as if I should be sitting on a veranda somewhere in India, watching a game of cricket and shouting, “Good show!” while the British embassy packs its souvenirs and makes plans to offer no apologies.

My brother and I ate at an Indian restaurant last night, called Darbar. I had Baingan Bharta, which is eggplant cooked with green peas, onion, and tomatoes and sprinkled with ginger spices. We began with one Samosa each — a pasty stuffed with spiced potatoes and peas — and added two orders of Naan bread — which is unleavened, handmade and baked in a clay over.

We ate and we talked and talked and talked, and it was all good.

I didn’t hit the gin until the next day.

After All This Time

Posted June 10, 2019 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

I started this online-writing 17 years ago. A French friend created my blog site for me on a French server. My blog back then was called “Daily Headwork.”

My first piece appeared on June 1, 2002. And for the next eight years, I pretty much published something every day. Sometimes it would be a ‘think’ piece, an essay; sometimes a description of what I did that day, either in Paris or in the states. Sometimes I would review a book or a film. Sometimes it would just be an intellectual ramble.

This was way, way, way before blogs became popular. Most people back then didn’t know what a blog was. “Blog” stands for “web log.” But I was the only one I knew or even heard of who was writing one. Blogs simply were not part of the digital chatter.

People would stumble upon my blog from all over the world. They still do. But now the traffic is diminished because of the changing nature of what people are looking for on the web.

I published more than 2,800 essays, and filled 14 large, three-ring notebooks with hard copies. I also transferred all that work onto discs. They all sit there in my back room — my ‘sun room’ — neatly lined up on wooden book shelves, waiting to be thrown into the dumpster after I die.

The French server became a pain in the neck after awhile. It kept breaking down technically and making it hard for me to place my work on it. Plus, I had to keep paying an annual fee. So I quit the site on July 4, 2010, and moved to my current (free) American site that my American friend, Robert, built for me.

The French site was eventually taken over by a Japanese company, and all my digital work disappeared. The copies in my sun room are the only copies in existence.

My new site, as you know, is titled “Headwork Revisited.” My first piece of writing on the new site appeared on June 27, 2010. (Yes, for eight days, I had two blog sites.)

Instead of publishing every day, as I had before, I refocused my approach and published an essay or observation roughly once a week. I’ve published 600 pieces in the past nine years, which fill an additional nine three-ring notebooks.

Today’s piece is #600.

It’s time for another change. Readership has diminished to ridiculously low numbers. I have become a lonely old dog barking desolately at the moon.

Everyone else is yelling on Facebook and Twitter, while this old dog’s bark barely makes it above the tree line.

So I probably won’t write many essays anymore. What I will write are short takes, quick observations, a little note here, a little fact there.

Something just to keep my paw in.

I turn 82 next week. My paw has grayed.

But I may appear more often than I have in the past. Instead of once a week, perhaps I’ll show up three or four times a week, with a little tidbit that won’t require much effort or time from the reader . . . or the writer.

Somewhere between a tweet and a bark — a growl and a shrug.

It’s been a long journey, these 17 years. If I had known this blog-life would last this long, I would have bought more comfortable shoes.

Six O’clock

Posted June 4, 2019 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

I am so tired now that I feel punch-drunk. Like I’m part of a sleep experiment that went terribly wrong. Or like I’ve been sent to Guantanamo by mistake and thrown into a cell with a metal bed and no mattress and a light that never goes out.

I went to sleep last night around midnight, as I always do, and woke up this morning at 4 o’clock, as I almost always do.

I can’t remember when I had six good hours of sleep.

But when I turn out the light each night at midnight and nestle into my pillow, I often count the hours between that moment and six o’clock, and say to myself, “Six hours of sleep is not bad. That’s what I’ll do. I’ll sleep six hours and get up feeling refreshed.”

And then I go to sleep within a minute or two. And four hours later, I wake up.

Six o’clock is just a sweet nothing, a fool’s errand, a tale told by an idiot.

If a person has trouble falling asleep, there are all kinds of chemicals out there that promise to send you quickly into dreamland. But I don’t have trouble getting to sleep. I conk out immediately, and then drift like a beggar man through the nighttime alleyways and mountain passes and seaside dreamscapes of a spirit wanderer.

When four o’clock arrives, it’s like the scheduled wake-up call of going into the Army or of First Grade at Centerville School or of the day when you knew you would never own a dog again.

And I can’t go back to sleep, not of real sleep. Sometimes I’ll drift in an out of drowsiness, but never really plunge back into the bottom of the sleep barrel.

And then it’s five o’clock and then five-thirty, and I think, ‘The hell with it. It’s too late. No more sleep today.” And I get up and walk out on the front porch and pick up my New York Times and New Haven Register. I’ll put the earbuds in my ears and listen to NPR’s Morning Edition. I’ll prepare my breakfast cereal but won’t eat it for another hour and a half, when I return from my morning bike ride and feed the birds.

And the day will un-spool like a top that’s lost its momentum.

And the next day will be the same and the day after that and the day after that.

And my Guantanamo guards will ask if I’m ready to confess. And I will say that I don’t have the energy to commit the crime. And they will say that’s no excuse.

If only I could make it until six o’clock, I say to myself. Then everything would be good. My thoughts would be clearer. My energy would be stronger. My happiness would be more confident.

And my dreams would be less disappointing.

If only I could make it until six o’clock, I could live forever.