How do I love thee, Jon Carroll? Let me pick up the count from last week:
Community. The importance of living wherein one dwells is emphasized, by notice and example. From Grand Bay Area theater to street performance art, hospice to the Pickle Family Circus, causes great and small are made equally worthy because they touch things within us that are at once deep and fleeting. No salesman will call; Mr. Carroll finds these veins, mines them for us, and invites us to join in bearing the burden with good humor.
Consanguinity. Jon has grown children who do personally and occupationally interesting things; as it happens, so do I. Bragging, even implicitly, is a real buzz-killer, so Jon sticks scrupulously to the mere retelling. What he identifies, though, is the really good stuff that hovers just outside context. Something happens, is said or done, that reveals another facet of the most stupefying of humankind’s several pleasurable relationships: being friends and social partners with somebody you helped make. Examples: As a parent you are both paladin and pupil, nurturer and dependent. Hard to relate, but he does surpassing well. Close encounters of the WMPG/Alice kind orbit the notion that, outside of keeping it safe and integrated, adults are minor luminaries in the complex parallel universe that is childhood and—more important—if we are to remain competent and functional, we should go back there as observers as frequently as we can manage.
Duality. “Mondegreens:” The phenomenon of misinterpreting the spoken word and lyrics to humorous effect. The overworked examples are Jimi Hendrix’s “’Scewze me while I kiss this guy” (for “the sky”) from “Purple Haze” and John Fogerty’s “There’s a bathroom on the right” (for “bad moon on the rise”) from “Bad Moon Rising.” A recurring feature, reader participation encouraged; regularity compromised only by baseless conflict, rank intolerance, or stupid presidents. Or all three.
Felinity. See, dogs I get, because I’ve owned them. I’ve never acquired a basic creature, let alone anthropomorphic, appreciation for Felis silvestris catus, though; I’m allergic. (We’re talkin’ eyes-swell-shut, lungs-fill-up, chest-injection-of-epinephrine allergic here.) Most folks who proselytize about pets fall somewhere on the cutesy-insufferable continuum, and reading their accounts is much worse than hearing about it, for obvious reasons—there being no such thing as “In your eyes, out wherever.” Jon’s tales of the Carrolls’ cohabitation with Archie; Bucket; their forebears (including the other Bucket); and now Pancho have recurring flavors of uneasy détente and sentient standoff. From experience, I know living with dogs is like the front row at the circus when the clowns are performing. According to Jon, life with cats is like subleasing from tolerant, randomly hyperactive assassins. So, I get the deeper appreciation without the shallower breathing. How cool is that?
Gratuity. Yet another public service from Mr. C.: a cogent expression of gratitude suitable for any occasion but especially Turkey Day. If you shun rote Grace but nonetheless feel the need but don’t consider yourself up to it, this is both elegant and adaptable. We’ve done it in our house.
Infirmity. Please understand: here in California it is rare to find someone who is not a “survivor” or a “victim” of something or other requiring wristbands or pastel teddy bears. Jon is a diabetic. Period. Manageable chronic disease with life-threatening implications. Ho-hum. Self-testing; medication; diet; exercise. No kvetching or self-pity involved. Don’t spread it around—imperfection and inconvenience may just be part of the human condition. Perhaps personal management is more effective than gross manipulation. Bonus: occasional tips, resources, and the firm but genteel noodge for those at risk (i.e., anyone who watches television advertising.) We’re all in it together and nobody gets out alive.
Polity. Gotta say it, right here: we appear to agree on practically everything—being birds of a Blue State feather and roughly equivalent in age, experience, and temperament. As a faithful reader lo, these 18 years, I’ve only uncovered what I regard as two blind (partially-sighted, really) spots:
- Giving Ralph Nader more stature as a “consumer advocate” than he’s earned. I’ll credit him a brief interlude of fresh-squeezed orange juice on airline flights, which is mortally tarnished by his acquiring but refusing to disclose personal wealth as a shill for contingency-fee attorneys and his egomaniacal flights of fancy that wounded two presidential elections.
- Not including commercial media in the “money corrupts politics absolutely” equation, along with politicians; contributors; lobbyists; and ignorant voters. Most of the re-election tab is run up on television advertising; the licenseholders rake it in for their corporate owners while solemnly editorializing against its evil and corrosive properties.
Reasonable minds differ; unreasonable ones condemn. Go ahead—disregard his engaging, velvety style and delivery; if you’ve the ability to separate fact from belief you’ll grudgingly acknowledge he’s almost always right. And, guess what? He doesn’t mind if you disagree, anyway, and neither should you—as long as you realize that “I disagree” and “I’m right” are not synonymous. Empires are built on one and lost on the other.
Serendipity. I struggled to find an “-ity” that embraces belief systems and gave up, once I remembered they all end in “-ology,” “-ocracy,” or the foster child “-ism.” This term is better, on reflection. J.C. professes to be agnostic, but only in the “I-pick-this-religion-above-all-others” sense; his antennae for the mystical betray him at every turn. He is a skeptic in the healthiest sense of the word because he understands that the veracity of the tale needn’t undermine the value of the moral. His questions are informed with faith, hope, and love. The disciple Paul says whatever else you got, if you ain’t got those you ain’t jack—“sounding brass and tinkling cymbal” is the Scriptural phrase of choice. Despite all the gonging to the contrary, he finds wonder a better foundation than fear for us Heads-of-Angels-Feet-of-Clay to stand on and get our bearings.
Finally, being a cradle Catholic and having fallen under the Jesuitical spell for seven postsecondary years, I have to admit that I may have been drawn preternaturally to Mr. C. His moniker is close to that of Bishop John Carroll, appointed prelate to the Diocese of Maryland—my Church’s first geographic outpost in our new Nation—the same year the Constitution took effect. (Jon, if you’re reading this you might want to dip into some of Ol’ Georgetown Jack’s musings on “Render therefore unto Caesar…” and the Church in the Modern World, circa 1789. The collar’s different but the ground should be familiar.) Whatever; there is the spelling difference and—like all satisfying relationships—it may have been the face powder what got me interested, but it’s the baking powder what keeps me home.
Do I really believe Jon Carroll is God? Off the point. It’s a call to assembly; join in. Worked for Eric Clapton, near 40 years ago, is what I’m sayin’.
Next Week: Talk, talk, talk…