Some preliminary thoughts and notes
Barth died days before his 70th birthday. Many of his friends and colleagues felt that he should have stuck to art instead of launching his writing projects some of which are posted here. He started writing and illustrating stories during the last decade of his life. One of his writing projects that especially appealed to him was what he identified as a modern version of the Noah’s Ark tale. Barth argued that there were loads of Noah stories just like the one in the Bible and therefore why not come up with a modern version of using Noah’s Ark as a vessel (tool) for collecting and rescuing all sorts of folks with different types of knowledge and perspectives on the human condition. Barth, the illustrator, invented, drew all sorts of animals that would represent different types of people and had them all ready to sail away together. Some of his Noah’s Ark sketches are presented below.
We suspect that Barth the writer tried to upstage his collaborator Hugo Kahn just as they began to work together on their mind/brain science book project. According to Barth his ‘stories’ were meant to compliment the themes developed in the book that we were working on together before his death (“Uncovering mind/brain science”).
As to Barth’s art, a separate post on this site displays a small sample of 50 years of Barth’s work as an artist.
Stories, vignettes and sketches for the Noah saga project
Demented Psychiatrist and his client
We know enough to make sense of nonsense. Based on our knowledge we are constantly organizing our universe and bringing order to how we see people and events as well as nonsense
Dr. T. sits slouched in his armchair, silent, staring at a vase just behind the shoulder of his patient C.R.
Minutes pass. C.R. clears his throat, “Well Doc, I think I am making some progress but I have to tell you, well, I was trying to understand what you were telling me last week, and you know, it was a really hard going but I think I got it. Tricky stuff. You wanted it to be hard for me to follow what you were saying because if it were easy it would not help me and you were right. I noticed the voices are not as loud as they used to be, more like a whisper and since last week most of the time I don’t do what they tell me to do. And one more thing, the voices, they don’t interrupt what I am thinking as much and they even tell me they like me.
Dr. T. interrupted “Yes, good, I know, but for now just Shhhhhhhh. Let’s go back to where we were, where we were then, not now, when I was telling you about lufoooto astorovo nickmara, nostonia.
C.R. bolted upright and moved to the front of his chair. “I don’t understand. I don’t get it. Just like last week and I asked you then, I remember asking you about what language, or maybe special code you are using to talk to me. Wait a minute, oh I know I am asking you a trick question or you are trying to test me with a really important answer.
Dr. T replied very slowly, “Fuk mar, fuk mar now and forever”
C.R. hesitated then asked “What is fuk mar, what is it? It sounds like fuck more but I know you didn’t mean that.
Dr. T looks disappointed, “No, I said fuk mar, fuk mar. “
“Wait a minute, I get it you are saying fuck you. But why are you saying that to me. Maybe, got it. You are saying fuk mar to tell the voices the voices to shut up, you are telling my voices to fuck off in a language they understand.”
Dr. T replied, “Yes fuk mar and forevel so that the dingle mok wins in doubles and if not go your own way. “
C.R. thought for a moment “I have to think about that some more. Yeah, I think I know what you mean, you mean, fuk mar.
Negative space is not empty space. Our minds fill a void with all sorts of meaningful knowledge and stories about what might be or not. We also tell the same stories over an over so that each empty space is filled in a similar way. ‘What’s new?’ Does that trivialize our experiences just because they and we are not unique?
Each of the short vignettes below centers around one or more empty chairs that come alive and perhaps speak to us. I need to add that the each of the bitties is almost a cliché since they have been described so many times and therefore there is nothing new in any of them. However even the very ordinary need not be all that ordinary.
Even though the chairs are not assigned to any of us we nevertheless choose to sit in the same chair each time we come here. The chairs are all the same, a dull yellow green heavy plastic material with curved armrests. They are deep and wide and one could easily fall asleep in them. None of us do.
The room is large bright and always smells of antiseptic and bleach. We would recognize the odor anywhere. A TV is on a wall mount and is turned to a daytime soap. Scattered around the huge bright room are low metal tables covered with old magazines and some half empty coffee cups and sandwich and pastry wrappers.
Most of the women who come here have been regulars for some time. It does not take long for us to recognize each other but generally we don’t know much about each other except that we are members of the same ‘club’. There are always dropouts and new members who replace the familiar women who no longer come here. When they, we, pace about it is with slow, careful and deliberate steps. We talk to each other in whispers.
Sometimes we do talk to one another about our lives but are careful to just touch on highlights. So…I, like the others, know bits and pieces about who the other women, their name, where they will go when they leave here, snippets about kids, husbands, their weekly scheduled clinic visits, and a vague picture of how many treatments have been completed and how many more to go. We rarely talk about progress or changes in their condition. We are experts at noticing changes in our appearance, the details of how things are going, changes in the color of our skin, whether we seem thinner, or more tired, or resigned. Each of us also pay close attention to changes in how we feel, and we also can’t help ourselves from feeling our body beneath our clothes and wondering whether it, our it, is getting bigger or smaller. It is hard keeping our fingers from exploring our body. None of us get together on the ‘outside’.
It has been some weeks since the tall slim woman with her young daughter by her side sat in the fourth chair near the door that leads into one of the labs. She is much younger than most of us. Last week, I put down my magazine and asked the woman sitting next to me whether she had seen her and the little girl during the last few weeks. She hadn’t. I continue to sit, making small talk, reading, watching the daytime soap waiting for the IV bag to empty, marking the end of this week’s chemo treatment. Maybe the woman with her daughter will be in the coming weeks. I think to myself that maybe one day someone will ask the woman in the chair next to them whether they had seen me recently. I don’t want to talk about that with any of the other women.
(an empty fourth chair)
Most Saturday mornings, his landlady and her 2 adolescent daughters, Roz and Eve, leave the house together. It is a time they set aside each week to be with each other shop, and laugh. Often, when their student boarder hears the door close, he leaves his room, wanders down stairs, and moves about their house. He waits, starts his journey only after the footsteps recede along the driveway and the car motor starts and the muffler grunts. He starts in the kitchen opening cupboards and then moves to the den and living room opening and closing drawers and closets. However he spends most of the time in the bedrooms. The path he takes is always the same and inevitably he leaves his favorite place, for last, Roz’s room. Once again he closes his eyes as he sniffs at the scent in the air Roz’s favorite perfume Giorgio, at least he thinks that is the one. He has thought about buying her a bottle of that perfume but wonders whether that might be misunderstood but perhaps not if he also bought Eve and their Mom a gift. He stops for a moment and this time doesn’t open up Roz’s draws but instead strokes her bra and hose hanging over the bedroom chair. He never told Roz how pretty she is but if he told her he had to tell Eve the same thing.
The writing and biology project are due on Monday and once again he finds himself helplessly behind. He hasn’t changed his shirt or socks in several days and knows he can’t put off a visit to the washing machine. His parents don’t know that he is barely above water in most of his classes and maybe that is why his girlfriend broke up with him some months ago or maybe because he knows he seems a bit lost and ……well. For the moment none of this matters while he is here in Roz’s room. He feels blue, sad, but then thinks that just is who he is and that one day he will snap out of it and be happy.
Finally he leaves the bedroom and moves back to the kitchen and stands right behind one of the four wooden chairs framing the white enamel table. The picture is vivid and even comes with a sound track, mother, daughters sitting together at breakfast, sharing stories, giggling, relaxed. They have often invited him to join them at breakfast, to sit in the empty fourth chair. He always thanks them “Maybe next time” but he knows that won’t be possible.
Mr. Lowen had left his morning newspaper on the table next to the dark gray whicker rocking chair. Each morning, after breakfast, he shuffles towards ‘his’ chair. It stands alone next to an old floor lamp in the corner furthest away from double doors that lead into the Albany Assisted Living’s huge dining room. Tonight, after dinner, just after 6, residents slowly file out, in gaggles, chatting, some pushing walkers or holding canes to steady their gait, all heading for the lounge, the game room, or outside into the garden. Some leave to go back to their rooms. Just like last evening, and every evening, Mr. Lowen heads for the whicker rocker, with a book under his arm. This week it is a book he read when he was young, a book he never go to finish because it bored him. This time he thought that now that he is older he could take another crack at Mann’s Magic Mountain. He figured that maybe a book about a TB sanitarium in the Swiss Alps was not that different from his current home. Just like last night he wont hear the book slip from his hands and fall to the floor and one of the staff will lean over and whisper “Mr. Lowen you fell asleep reading. Do you want some help getting up to your room?” He is helped out of his chair and he looks at the clock and it is just after 9 pm. “I’m ok and can get to my room just fine and he slowly walks down the hall to the elevator. It helps to look down at his feet and then ahead him on the faded carpet and he stops occasionally to catch his breath. His chair will be waiting for him tomorrow.
There are lookers and there are shoppers. We were lookers, always, looking around, and the slim tall woman with the Gucci bag, and matching pumps was ready to buy, now, not later or tomorrow, or never. Willie and I are never ready to buy the big stuff. The tall tailored woman stopped in front of a vintage Eames chair. Even I recognized what it was and that the red chair covering was original. She stroked the sweeping broad armrests that flowed across and then down, just barely hiding the flow of the steel legs. I guess Wlli and I were staring more at her along with the chair. It seemed that they were a couple at least soon to be one. She then ran her hand over the back of the chair and then without even looking at the price tag, announced to a passing salesman, “Yes, I’ll take it.”
Facing an audience that is not there yet
It was a large room, dimly lit, filled with, by my last count, over 500 empty chairs that were all lined up, at parade rest. In the aisles between the chairs, stood floor mikes, staggered, every 15 yards, at attention, ready for questions, comments, criticism? At the front of the hall stood a small podium with three large blank projection screens behind it. In about forty minutes the chairs will be filled, faces staring forward and then, ‘how should I begin? ‘
I could picture the empty seats filled and in them sat my judges the ones who could point their thumbs up or down. I could imagine their faces twisted, grimacing, and the more I talked, and with each slide I could see them squirming in their seats and then at first one or two got up and quietly went out through the auditorium door and then more left their seats and soon most of the seats were empty and I couldn’t stop but continued to stumble along and now it is only an hour before I have to give my talk.
Sometimes the rules aren’t clear. He hurried but was a few minutes late when he opened the door to the ninth floor conference room. He recognized only two of the participants at the meeting that had already started. There were only 3 chairs empty around the huge wooden oval table when he arrived and he headed towards one of them. He tip toed, shoulders, head down, and saw the agenda sheet on the seat, picked it up and pulled the chair out from the table, then stopped. Two heads bobbed from side to side, a silent but emphatic ‘no’. The woman from marketing, the one he recognized as one of the meeting organizers, signaled me, thumbs down. The deputy director sitting next to the empty chair whispered, “that is where the director sits, that is his chair and no one can sit in that chair. He often comes in late and that is his chair. Do you understand and I thought you knew that. All of us know that so…..” and so he inched backwards, almost stumbling, backing into a the armrest of the head of advertising, and finally managed to come around the table to another chair that stood alone with no one sitting nearby.
Notes and drafts of Barth’s Noah’s Ark stories
Günther Barth invented a modern, or maybe not so modern version of Noah’s Ark. In Barth’s hands the ark was filled with misfits and characters that mimicked all sort of folks living and dead. Some illustrations and descriptions of his cast of characters are outlined below. Barth’s menagerie walked around his imaginary barge and beyond, making up stories, played roles, wore ridiculous costumes that would make you slap your head and ask, “What the hell is wrong with the Barth guy”. Nothing would stop Barth from spinning all sorts of tales associated with his cast of miserable characters? Oh well
Günther Barth’s ‘stories’ are trite Hallmark tearjerkers laced with cutsie illustrations (see a sample of the material below) that would be best suited to a kindergarten class. Wow!!! Nuts. Maybe all these stories and pictures are the product of mind rot. Who knows?
Henry’s brown bear
(or what to do before the Ark is built and how do you entertain the kids waiting to embark on their journey across the mud puddle)
Henry always loved to play. He also loved all kinds of animals and wished that his parents would get him a puppy. He is now 6 and still no luck, no puppy. So, we are stuck together inventing imaginary animal playmates, friends, and collaborators.
Henry’s favorite friend was an overstuffed big brown bear. Every night when he went to sleep he would take his bear with him and would tuck him under the covers.
When Lothar (the Henry’s name for the big brown bear) was comfy Henry got under the covers next to him. He put his arms around him, gave him a hug, kissed him on his nose and then they both went to sleep.
Henry had an ear for silly story rhythms the ones that sounded like three pigs, or hot and cold porridge and so it made sense to note that Lothar was not a small bear. He wasn’t even a middle size bear. No no, and again no, Lothar was big, almost as big as Henry. He had a nice brown coat, a black nose, button black eyes, and curly ears. And he always smiled, especially at Henry, at least that is what Henry told me and Lothar did not confirm that.
Henry knew what was up and what was down and around and heavy or light and so he told me when things started to get interesting and perhaps scary. One night a strange thing happened. Henry had just kissed the bear when Lothar put his paw on Henry’s shoulder.
Of course I was surprised. Why wouldn’t I be? When Henry told that the bear put his arm on his shoulder I could only add “What the hell is that all about?” Wooowee.
I should point out that Henry is also a squealer. Needless to say, Henry shouted for his mother that I said ‘hell’ and added “Papa herb needs a time out”. I made believe that I was annoyed at him but moments later he was asleep.
As usual in the morning Henry jumped out of bed and ran downstairs to have breakfast with his little sister Ruby, and his daddy Eric and mommy Jennifer.
He told them that Lothar had touched his shoulder after he had kissed him goodnight. They all laughed, even Ruby guffawed and guffawed as she spit out her cereal.
Let me stay out of the way for a while and return to the next night when Henry hugged his bearie again and noticed that his coat had changed. Lothar was really hairy, hairier than Henry had remembered he was and also…now catch this… the bear seemed really warm and also softer than ever before. Henry didn’t miss the change in Lothar but as usual hugged the bear, kissed Lothar on the head and again the bear touched his shoulder just like the night before.
Back to breakfast next morning, while Eric was eating his mud on a stick and his mommy was munching on broom handle, and Ruby was sipping her beer, Henry told them all that the bear’s coat felt like a real bear, and that Lothar felt warm, just like all the doggies that Henry loved to pet in the playground.
The family laughed, they were always laughing it up when I was around, and Ruby chugged some more of her beer. When she got up and out of her high chair she was a bit rickety on her feet and Henry thought that was even funnier than being with Lothar.
Here we go again to bedtime and that very next night Henry touched Lothar’s nose and it felt wet just like a dog’s nose, and just like what Henry imagined a bear’s nose might feel like. The bear was smiling from ear to ear when he saw how surprised Henry was. This time the bear reached over and hugged Henry and kissed him on the forehead and then Henry hugged Lothar and kissed him on the head. Henry thought to himself. Amazing stuff these new bears are made of but this is different and confusing, about as convoluted and muddy as trying to keep track on who is telling this story anyway. Whoever the author is does not change the fact that this bear is coming alive. Lothar is not just a stuffed animal but a real bear.
Another non-surprise. Sometimes Henry would wet his bed and this was the case this next morning. Henry’s bed had a little wet spot. What who, how, where did that come from mumbled Henry to himself and later told me how puzzled he was but also Henry knew how to duck and cover, how to invent and retool, so…. Henry had and idea. When he came downstairs for breakfast he told Ruby that Lothar the bear had made pee pee in his bed….just a little bit, not much. Daddy, and mommy, and Ruby, rolled around on the floor holding their belly and could not stop chuckling and gurgling. Mommy Jennifer said to Henry, and I heard it, “come on… you made in your bed and that is ok, that can happen. You don’t have to blame it on Lothar”. They all laughed together and Henry giggled a make believe laugh, but he knew….. he was pretty sure…. that Lothar was no longer a toy bear but the real thing, alive and full of vinegar.
Now I do have to tell you and you just might believe me that Henry told me that when he went to bed that night … when the lights were out in his room he turned to Lothar and asked,
“Bearie, did you make in my bed last night? ” Lothar said, “Oh yes it was me, it was an accident, no big deal, sorry… and it won’t happen again, and then he smiled such a huge smile, and hugged Henry and Henry hugged Lothar. Before they could get to sleep Lothar asked Henry for a really big favor. “Henry I really love you, and I know you love me but I need to be with my bear buddies. I have lived with you for a long time but now I need to ask you to help me leave you and these silly suburbs. Hardest of all I need you to be happy that I can leave and be with my bear buddies. I need to be in the bear world. Well you know that I think you are wonderful and I have been happy here but…..I need to be free …I have to get going, away…into the woods and around the stream and up the hill ….I need the wind on my tail and a honey pot on the horizon and a cute …well I better not go there on that one but I think you understand my drift much better than grownups. So… I know it is a lot to ask but would you do that, would you let go of dragging me around the house. Would you just be happy that I can be off to my world? Would you do it for me? Please. I promise I will come back and visit you tell you what is happening, about the hoping and jumping gigs and the bear dare dances and you will know that I am happy and running around in the forest gathering honey and ginger snaps. Henry felt very sad but then he hugged Lothar and told him that he would do what he needed to be happy and they went to sleep with their arms around each other.
The next morning, when Henry woke up he carried Lothar down with him to breakfast. Lothar was really heavy, much heavier than he had ever been before. He sat him down in the corner of the kitchen and Henry and his family had their breakfast. While they were munching and crunching Henry announced that he wanted to set Lothar free, that bearie needed to be with his fellow bearies so they could romp and stomp and play pin the tail on the ostrich. As usual they all broke out into the usual laughing and coughing and spinning around.
Daddy Eric groaned, not unusual for him, and frowned, which usually went along with the groaning and said, “how are you going to set him free?”
“I am going to put Lothar at the edge of the woods at the back of our house. When I come home from school I bet he will be gone.” Once again the thought made Henry sad.
After breakfast, Henry carried Lothar across the dewy lawn and put him down just inside a stand of trees. Henry bent over to give Lothar a hug and then whispered in his ear. “You promised. You promised you will come back and visit me after you are with your bear friends.
Bearie hugged Henry back and whispered in his ear, of course I will come back and we will never forget each other because we are the best aren’t we.
Henry repeats, “We are the best”.
When Henry came home from school later that afternoon bearie was gone. Henry looked all around the place we he had left him. No sign of Lothar, only a few bear paw prints and a note to Henry.
It read….”We will never forget each other.” No signature just an imprint of Lothar’s nose.
So where are we between the forest and the mushroom patch and chocolate milk and bears that can talk. Where oh where do we dare go into the forest and beyond.
Boys and girls, you are right. Lothar does return to see Henry but not right away. And correct again, Lothar does meet up with loads of his bear friends (mostly black bears since brown bears ran out of fashion and the stuffed toy shops). And there are other animal friends that are part of Lothar’s forest world. Turtles, snakes, raccoons, squirrels that …..oh no….better not go there on that one.
The first few times Lothar comes to visit Henry he comes by himself. Wise move. Can you imagine a bunch of black bear banging on Henry’s front door? It is surprising and maybe scary enough to take in the fact that Lothar has gotten much bigger around the middle and from top to bottom and his smile is even broader than before the kind of smile that says “I know stuff that you don’t know and I bet you would want to know it too, what is referred to in the old country as a ‘shit-eating smile’. Henry has also not stood still in time or space. Obviously he also is older than he was by a couple of years but not nearly the age that he will be, in a few years down the road and across from the pasture. Henry is also wiser almost to the point of being a wise guy, which means he knows when rules have to apply and when they can be broken and the pleasure of nibbling around at the edges of other peoples play stations.
In the meantime Papa Herb continues to call Henry up and make growl into the phone and announce, “This is Lothar. How are you Henry?” ..And the two of them talk about pine and maple trees and the 500-meter ice speed skating contest that Lothar won just yesterday.
Oh, by the way, Henry has some of the foundations for being a control addict, mentor, enforcer, do it my way kind of little guy. For example he was not crazy about Lothar’s mouth and body odor. But come on. After all Lothar is a bear and loves eating things like herring and that can kill your breath and having a lot of fur is a great place to build up body fragrance. But then again Henry leaped right in and taught Lothar how to brush his teeth (to get rid of his heavy case of herring hogs breath) and how to bathe meaning not just jumping into the shower and then back out but also using lots of soap (earlier Lothar often smelled like ….well needn’t flesh that out except to say the odor was memorable).
Lothar humored Henry and made believe that he appreciated Henry’s ‘help’ and he sort of did in a left handed sort of way.
But the astounding part of all of this learning and turning was what Lothar and his bear friends were about to do for Henry. They collectively knew all about mathematics, imagination, drawing while upside down, hearing and composing music in your head, the ability to be patient, not to get too upset of things didn’t work out right away and the love of thinking, learning, and using imagination. Saying all of this leaves me breathless and leaves Henry and the edge of change that, well, is revolutionary, astounding, which is also what can happen to any of us if we could just know how to turn on our minds. It is when our minds are turned on a low flame or off that we are left perplexed bothered, and bewildered by a world that should really excite us to the core. And Henry was really in for quite a ride.
Lothar and company knew just what it would take to help Henry build a powerful and rich imagination with the knowledge power that would smart fuel his noggin up to the brain just below where the cerebral overflow valve was situated and then they arranged for the placement in Henry’s head of an overflow knowledge bucket that would keep smarts fresh until there was room enough in the central brain base.
I think I am exhausted thinking and learning that is about to happen.
So for visit one, Lothar returned from the forest solo always with his usual style of mischief in the guise of cuddle dancing. On his first visit back Lothar knocked on the glass door that separated the kitchen from the screened in porch. Henry was sitting on a high stool humming to himself while eating Oreo cookies and drinking chocolate milk and did not hear the knock. Lothar crouched down opened the door and came around the counter right in front of Henry. Lothar hoped on a high chair an when Henry saw him all propped up and prancie he beamed with delight. Before Henry could hug the bear Lothar grabbed some pots and pans banged them together in harmony with Henry’s humming sounds. What a musical interlude that turned out to be but it ended abruptly when the chair that Lothar was sitting on shattered leaving Lothar sprawled spread eagle on the floor and Henry giggling while pointing to the split in Henry’s blue jeans. Lothar was not put off or on and his curiosity was in high gear as he pranced around the kitchen getting into everything and putting nothing back where it was. Henry was gasping with glee but also befuddled when Lothar pointed his big wet nose and then his tongue down a bottle of maple syrup a slurping and a sloshing and when nothing was left to suck up joy he left his mark of sticky stuff all over the kitchen. Lothar announced, got run, great seeing you, see you around the block or after school or when the next load of maple syrup arrives.
There are a few more very brief loner visits and then one day Lothar brings along three of his buddies, three black bears from the forest of far away beyond the plans for housing developments. The three bears had names but not Goldilocks but instead were called by Lothar Bruno, Boris, and Nicky (Nicholas). Who were these bears and how did Lothar meet them and what does Henry make of not one but four talking bears and what is this all about and maybe you should tune in tomorrow.
So let us be clear about several things. The bear is real. Henry is real. You are not and won’t be for at least a few days. I’m cold and the bear isn’t. Nothing makes sense especially what you have to say.
Barth recruits his cast or characters and off they go in all sorts of guises
Let us get one thing straight. Barth had recruited, yes recruited, went after, signed on the dotted line all sorts of imaginary people and animals and then wrote tails about them, or is it heads or tails.
Some additional thought about what I guess would be Barth’s Barge, a take-off of the Noah’s Ark saga
Not sure where the idea of a modern version of the Noah’s Ark story slipped into Günther Barth’s head, bounced around and came out with a huge cast of animal characters with all sorts of characteristics many of which were interesting but often unpleasant. Barth illustrated all of these absurd humans in animal drag and would often scribble notes about each of them underneath his renderings. He also came up with all sorts of stories, adventures about Noah, his outcasts, and their trails and tribulations. One thing was clear and that is Noah’s Ark was not going anywhere soon, was high and dry waiting for what I don’t know, and I suspect neither did Barth.
You could argue that the Barth’s Barge saga was a product of Barth’s imagination and perhaps the totality of the characters summed up Barth himself. Barth’s ‘Noah’ had a sense of humor, a sense of theatre of the absurd, was certainly smart, worldly (for example he could speak and understand about a dozen languages but none of them very well).
Were these stories and characters fit for children? Maybe. Were all these illustrations and stories the product of someone who had lost, aging gone amok? I don’t think so but not sure. Certainly the stories and illustrations were rather primitive and therefore were consistent with some of his exhibited art that he produced around this same time. Once again we are left with a mystery, unanswered questions.
Barth would walk around in various costumes including a monks robe, very short shorts, torn T shirts, 3 piece suits and when crossing paths with one of his many animals in the Ark menagerie would respond to their greeting ‘How are you?’ with the same enthusiastic booming answer. In English he would announce ‘Excellent as usual.’ or French or Hebrew, or German, or Greek, or Russian
….Prima wie immer; Je suis excellent comme d’habitude; אני מעולה ; Sono eccellente come al solito; Soy excelente como de costumbre; Είμαι εξαιρετικό ως συνήθως; Я отлично, как обычно.
Well you get the idea that he certainly was a show off.
Oopla monkey trains listening skills
Listening is a skill that can be learned and not listening comes easily. Sometimes we get a chanced to learn from one another. Isn’t that amazing?
The oopla monkey was a playful but odd-looking beast. He never seemed to fit in or find room amongst the other animals who dined around the around the squint bucket. An oopla monkey isn’t exactly ugly except when he moves and jumps around. This particular oopla is not very popular with the ‘ladies’ and so no wonder they aren’t around much to witness his chest thumping and gobbly gook excuses for song. Actually when this oopla appeared then the females would disappear. Noah had asked the cutie female monkeys about what gives with this particular oopla and, almost in unison they said “When we are having loads of fun that idiot monkey would be a fuzz tailed pain in the butt and then he was so demanding and always wanted more and more mothering and then he kept telling us what to do and so who needs that. So there. And one more thing, mothering was ok up to that point when that jerk turned off our prairie life freedom signal freedom lights and turned on his feed and hug me button. Hard to know how to transform the oopla monkey into a mature adult. Certainty all us cutsie females couldn’t figure out how to do that but maybe one of the other animals in our neighborhood knew the trick to do that.
Noah first discovered the oopla monkey while scanning the beach and the woods at the edge of the mull berry harbor. He had heard about the funny looking oopla monkey, the kind that have been observed and documented to move in fits and starts mixing squiggle moves, twirls, somersaults, running, hop scotch steps and squeals. Some biologists that Noah talked to felt the way they behaved meandered, interacted in social situations, had evolved as a defensive maneuver to deter attack from predators. A carnivore would look at the oopla monkey bounding about and would be puzzled or just crack up and that was just enough time for them to escape. Certainly what also helped their survival is that while moving about and around oopla made all kinds of sounds which would first bubble up as round soft melodies but then run flat, sharp and out of tune and were loud enough to shatter eardrums.
Now it turned to pass in the night or maybe in the early morning that if the oopla was perfectly still or when half asleep, then the oopla looked pretty cute. It had a huge bushy tail, fluffy paws, bright eyes, and enormous hairy ears and that was associated with extraordinary ability to hear. The acute auditory abilities were not based on unusual sensitive thresholds for hearing, no, not at all. The oopla listened, I mean really listened, intently, completely and with a sincere sense of ‘hey this is important and let me make sense of what is going on” kind of hearing. They knew how to pay keen attention and could wring the neck dry of hidden meaning of what was out there to be heard. Incidentally they also had a nose that was especially acute especially for anything that might spell dinner. And so that special skill of listening was what was responsible for Noah choosing the oopla to train the Kefruzza of the Ark to be better at listening, paying attention, taking to heart what was said to them. After all the survival of the Kefruzza on the Ark depended on them to cooperate with one another, use each others skills and knowledge and that meant being able to listen …and yea also learn.
From the outset, when Noah gathered his Kefruzza, and as the group grew and as the gathering began to mingle and talk to one another, grumbling, moans and groans, back biting pushing and shoving took over that space that should have been meant for connecting, gel making, and bond binding handshakes. As new bambinos joined the band, they were often the easy targets for the oldsters who would taunt them and throw rotten fruit and apple cores at them which could not have been a welcome signal to the newcomers. Something was not working. The Kefruzza and the bambinos could not even manage to sing songs in sing alongs. Perhaps must discouraging to Noah, and others amongst the Kefruzza was that no one listened to anyone not even when they were singing which was never in unison so no wonder the group sounded like crap. Noah was surrounded by arrogant soloists.
Jumping forward in time and then back to now…..the problem of building a sense of community persisted well after the launching of the Ark. Some say that it is a shocker that the Ark even got built. And so the predictability of bobbing up and down the crests and troughs of blue green wavelets was in sharp contrast to the randomness of the discourse, the Brownian movement of fits and starts with bumping and pushing making planning and collaboration slip through the floor boards and hatchways of the Ark.
Fast forward again and no surprises that few were happy about what was happening. Sure, there were loads of quizzie stomachs, coughing and spitting overboard but even so you figured some pleasures would light up an occasional smile. Even the simple joy of chomping into a juicy hot knockwurst loaded with spicy mustard, with crisp French fries on the side and a cold beer within easy reach, even that magic moment evaporated into thin air.
In the evening, long after dinner, after tables were cleared you would think that the quiet full gut movement would be soothing and in that silence one could listen to talks watch plays, but again madness, the sound of clanking and banging of metal plates continued an annoying echo come alive, and above the din tin tin, readers tried to read, magicians made magic, tumblers tumbled and lectures on this and that fell mute, muted, music performed what they thought would please, but instead everyone shuffled about the galley schmoozing, interrupting each other leaning back and about over desert and brandy the Kefruzza meandered about with more unintelligible sounds bouncing about, side talk, belching, click of dice as crap games formed and disappeared, and on a typical evening lots of muttering, and insults with caramel cream or chocolate icing dripping down their chins and the sentences rolled on all over the place an unhappy scene, a pointless pencil spinning about and after that absurd long sentence, no wonder I am out of breath.
Why wouldn’t the Kefruzza want to hear about the development of the flying buttress as a device for building the sky-high church? Or what about the mathematics of periodic movement or how to find oil on the sea floor. No, if it wasn’t their own petty story they said to themselves “fuck it…when is it my turn at the mike”.
And so it came about that one dark and dreary night the oopla monkey came through the hatchway into the galley, jumped onto a coffee table and landed right next to the last of the lintze tort and just sat their listening, really listening staring at the din dong hoot and holler show. At first the Kefruzza were stunned seeing the oopla just sitting there starring out at them, silent but then they started to laugh in fits and starts, then giggle. Some even grabbed their gut teary eyed with laughter, gurgled glee up and around while pointing at the oopla monkey who seemed oblivious as it continued to look about, stare here and there and listen and look about. Suddenly the oopla monkey jumped off the table, spit a pumpkin seed across the room right at a dartboard,……bulls eye. The laughter stopped, …..silence.
What happened next was amazing. That silly beast repeated every side conversation, mutterings, songs sung, snippets of conversation that had filled the room during the last minutes. Not only was he able to repeat the gist of everything but he then played it all back again backwards, inverted, and transformed wringing more and more meaning out of all of their babble boos.
Lots of buzzing and word spills bounced about the galley like “wow…amazing,…incredible,….how did you do that….gee whiz….and can you teach me that trick …..” and then, to the Kefruzzas surprise, they sang chants to the drone of Gregorian chime buckets, ‘of yeah show me, the way to go home, show me how, show me how, tell me, teach me’ and then some more amazings, gees and gooshes, and it could make you slap the top of your head in out sync with rubbing your stomach.
Step back, way back, against the rail of the puke deck. Watch the waves go up and down, up and down, up and down, and if you do that long enough your gut will pay you back for this dumb journey to where, we are, more water, froth, salt air, sticky clouds scratching along the tippy top wavelets and back to periodicity and the lesson of oopla monkey.
Oopla started with his squeaky voice talking about listening in very general terms while waving a little brown book (his how to listen manual) back and forth and repeated over and over, watch the book go back and forth, back and forth, concentrate, focus, look at the book bobbing back and forth, up and down. And then he put the book down.
“OK mates, let’s get a volunteer up here “….and no one raised their hand so he pointed to the bottom feeder and announced your it, you’re the cheese in the middle, but then their followed cries of “not that dim bulb” and “she is stupid and has body odor” but there she in all of her fishy elegance, wide eyed, blowing bubbles and listening to the following instructions.
“Close your eyes. Now move your left hand fin directly in front of your head and hold it there. Try and keep it in place and notice the feeling of fatigue build and in your mind try and predict when you are about half way there before you have to drop your fin along the side of your head because you have run out of muscle steam.” This game was played several times and the bottom feeder got rapidly better at predicting and ‘reading’ what was happening. Then oopla monkey placed various patches of color in front of the bottom feeder and asked her to describe what she saw but always demanding more and more of her picture of the essence of the color she saw in her mind’s eye which is really a ridiculous expression unless you have an eye the middle of your head inside your skull. Later oopla monkey asked the bottom feeder to eat a tiny piece of the remaining lintze tort and to say what it tasted like. Oopla kept asking for more and more information and pushing the bottom feeder to savior think deeper and deeper. “Ok now try another bite, and with each morsel the bottom feeder grinned and started smacking her lips and at one point became really sad. “Hey why the sad face shouted someone at the back of the galley gallery. The bottom feeder sighed, “Oh because I just remembered a long time ago goodbye, one that really stung, one that took place a when I was young and frisky in Medina and I could remember we were both sitting, holding hands for the last time munching tiny apples and pears made of marzipan and then she left and I remember her scent that slowly disappeared and the taste of sugary ground almonds and then really tasting our lintze tort dessert well….oh oh , oh, damn.
As the evening went on the little bubbles of dialogue appeared for moments at a time from the bottom feeders mouth, short letter phrases like “ooooh, ahhh, and woweeeee’ and everyone started to look at the sounds that hung out there in mid air as she took a look or smell, at one more object.
That was evening one. And there after the oopla monkey took small groups of the Kefruzza and showed how to really pay attention to sights, smells, simple stuff at first, how to roll pictures about in your mind and most of all how to push out all those distractions that made it so hard to taste the lintze tort or hear the words or see the surprise in someone’s eyes, or the quick glance away. They even came up with a manual of their experiences, a kind of an ABC primer in on listening. And so the Kefruzza learned to listen to each other’s stories and what each knew and saw and it took so much practice in the evening that they would not even bother to clean away the dinner dishes which would pile up on the tables and would be there the next morning sticky and smelly.
Here are just a small sample of the invented cadre of Barth’s Barge characters
(illustrations and some hand written descriptors of each animal/character)
Slow moving knickburner greeting stranger
Hot tempered standard cow
stunned silky giraffe
middle level executive birds
Tweedy hairless buffalo
Full breasted humac bird
Purple squeaker (rare bird, whispers rather than sings)
Barth chooses the Prince from Minsk as his representative
Once again Noah chooses to rely on just the wrong cast of characters. So what else is new?
Noah knew he needed help recruiting the Ark’s passengers. First off he didn’t know Medina that well, nor was he a particularly good horseman and he understood that he could not ‘read’ people well. And so he turned to the Prince from Minsk to find the kinds of noble and talented souls that would make good shipmates.
How could Noah have imagined that the hot air Prince could deliver as a recruiter? It turns out that the blunder was a blessing in disguise in that he learned, really learned, understood for the first time that he was lousy at interpreting what the words folks said really meant about them and what they might do.
So we start off with the usual phony baloney ….There once was a prince from Minsk. One hell of a guy and wow we did he know who was what and what was who and what folks could do and not do, especially if they wore skirts.
And so Noah asked the Prince “Really need you. Princy baby, I need a hand” and so Noah told the Prince about the voices in his head that warned of the flood and that Noah was to build and Ark also about the passengers that would join in escaping the flood, and so he needed a really fine recruiter to get the right kinds of folks to come along for the ride away from the flood, beyond the sea and sing along quietly since all this flood and death stuff was a secret.
And so the Prince from Minsk traveled on horseback throughout his kingdom, which wasn’t his, but he acted as if it was. He cut quite a figure, with his jet-black mustache, dyed iced tea blue eyes, flaming red hair and no acne. He knew he had it all…and so looking into the looking glass he saw, tall and slim, and dashing and it followed that he was it, and anyway you can’t send a short fat Prince out with flyers and a line. Now Noah also knew the Prince was wealthy and owned an enormous castle, the kind that really stimulates envy and I guess resentment, and a royal line of good genes and contracts and arrangements that couldn’t be busted even by the smartest lawyers, even the ones from the eastern part of his kingdom. The Prince really felt most at home (and revered) in the town of Donnerwert, which is on the windward side of Medina. In fact, even though he was bought and raised in Minsk, throughout Medina he was refereed to as the prince from Donnerwert, the clever Prince, the striking, charming and bedeviling renowned stinker of Medina. The young girls referred to him as the hunk from Donnerwert, and he certainly new how to strut his stuff.
The interesting, actually unsettling, part of the story is what happens to the prince before he can report back to Noah following his recruiting journey, and his disappearance, and his presumed demise is that the right word, or maybe, ungluing, how about transformation to another state and place. Anyway his story ends somewhere unknown and we aren’t even sure if we should add abrupt, stupid, or sad, but certainly we do know it was before his opera was complete and so we are left with a few snippets of music and song to remember him by. Anyway, Noah never heard from the Prince again except through second hand contemporary folklore and some Lieder.
So what is it about this prince guy? First of all he appears most often in film riding from village to village on, a white horse with pink markings and a purple nose. Unbelievable, and those colors did not come off in the rain. Typical scene would be seeing him ride through the apple and peach orchards and gooseberry bogs past the Murkdom mountains, through the valley with the erf norf bushes. The scenes in this part of the country/kingdom were right out of the background murals from junior high school plays, the ones with really nicely sculpted white clouds, and really round hump back green hills because just like in a really cheap film.
On his inspection and sightseeing travels he would often stop at little tiny cottages, the ones with straw roofs, and picturesque windows with cute little damsels sitting there staring out surrounded by red trimmed curtains (the official curtain of that part of Medina). The girls would of course have a wistful expression on their face as they stared of somewhere unfocused dreaming about this and that and some more of whatever. The typical young really good looking cutie would sit in a half light leaning out of a window, with Hollywood late afternoon sun leaving her in half shadow her slick red lipstick, and dark cleavage and highlighted come on to my house eyes. Generally she was blond (sometimes dyed blond) and, forgot, there were often whistling songbirds, dancing around and you could really smell the sweet fragrance of perfume or clover.
The films scenes also included a series of short clips of the prince zipping from frame to frame, then out of the corner of his eye you would see a short skirt, and lovely legs swishing back and forth, and schazam, his horse Toni would come to a skidding stop. In some takes the pigs lift their heads from their slop pens and gaze out at the handsome Prince and sigh. In the next part of the film the Prince would leap of his horse and slowly dance over to the damsel in the window or under the tree or where ever the damsels were hanging out. He would smile, curl his mustache, roll his eyes and finally touch her hand lift it to his cheek kiss it while looking right into her dazzled eyes and then touch her knee smile some more, and with a deep soft Donnerwert accent say, “hi sweetie. You are so beautiful that I am stunned and I bet you can also sing. …and then if he did not get much back he would continue….’Oh how nice to meet your acquaintance or Would you like to go for a ride…and why don’t you just hop right up here, onto the back of my horse, and we can ride out of this scene into some other one, and by the way I also have to tell you that you might consider the possibility or an exciting sea voyage, ah the sea.’ And the Prince would then break into a sea chantey and how romantic that could be and by then he would have reached that part of the script that included his hand cupping her cute little ass and sometimes that meant that the damsel would turn and slap his hand away, Dixieland.
The Prince was not put off by “get the hell away gestures and talk’. That was a turn on, a challenge for him. Often damsels that let him know that they knew who he was, and knew about the castle in Donnerwert. Some of the cuties often risked acknowledging that they were aware of his other ‘gifts’, the kind that made young women feel really special but all of that ‘talk’ was really in code and sometimes hard to understand by others including the like of Noah. But the Prince sure knew what was coming off and on. For example the gal might smile, she might mention how she admired his powerful horse, and how the silver jeweled stirrups and bite could hardly hold back the power of his body, and then of course there was the beauty of the artificial stones that lined his saddle. Many of the little chickadees would actually volunteer that they had hoped that he would ride by one day, even if it was a chance, maybe when he was on his way to a convenience store, or to some superdupper mall that were sprinkled throughout Medina. I guess they could picture themselves in the next clips riding away, holding on to the Prince for dear life, feeling the muscles of the horse and the Prince’s back and oh my it was all so delicious or so it seemed especially when it all got played out at sunset. But then the Prince could also stop the script and get back to the business end of his trip and so there also had to be talk about floods, raging seas, boat rides into the night but then it would twist back ‘oh how damn exciting and romantic’.
Occassionally the damsel in some versions of the film showed that they knew how to be coy like, “oh my, you’re the prince and I’m just a simple country gal. I’m just Betty Boop and they call me BB and you’re at least as cute as they said you were.”
And the Prince might answer, like, “Now BB you really are gorgeous, and wow, what a smile. Where did you get that smile? I bet someone special painted that smile on your face and it will never come off and he would reach behind her back and try again and this time she would take his hand and move it down over her cute little ass and she would bend back beaming just like one of those women in a Russian agriculture poster, the one with the big buxom bodice, barely covering her nipples, with the fields of grain piled up in the background. And she started to grab his belt and started to unbuckle it, he jumped back and said “Hey BB, what kind of a Prince do you think I am. I’m the one to get us going so just slow down. At this point what would happen is BB would start to cry and tell him that she only wanted to be with him, and that she want him never to forget her, and anyway she thought she was a lot sexier than Nell who lived in the village of two films ago.”
Hearing all this the Prince got all tangled up and his horse got all excited and confused and kicked him in the groin and that left him speechless and that also left BB hot bothered and alone. Nothing helped, not even her bare breasts right in his face, which was not simple because he was doubled up in pain. BB cried and cried but mostly because the Prince would remember Nell and not her. Anyway he told BB he thought she was terrific and maybe next time and that he loved all of his subjects, and after all, sometimes things don’t work out.
How did we get here anyway? Most of the time legends just don’t work out and recruitment for unknown risks is a tough sell even for the Prince from Minsk.
Now I should mention something about one of the extraordinary gifts of the Prince from Minsk. This guy was an expert at reading eyes, which is one of the reasons why Noah asked him to be his recruiter. The Prince had studied psychophysics and with that knowledge really understood everything about the visual system and so he could pick up every expression around the eyes of young virgins and would run that information through his head faster than the biggest computer imaginable. He could pick up changes in the size of her pupils, and could then track the trajectory of the first fluttering of her eye lids, and could read volumes from the way eye lids would start to half close. He could read wistful looks, the stirring of lust, the tinges of embarrassment, he could discern uncertainty and the first rumblings of ah ha experiences.
There are a couple of mini legends about damsels that held out rather than to be swept off their feet by a black mustache underneath pop out blue eyes inside a red frame. For example, the Prince was really taken by the lingerie that one of these damsels wore underneath her Byelorussia peasant costume. The Prince was devoured by lust, which he kept under wraps by singing jingles and jumping up and down. Well this one damsel said you can have me and I can have you but only if you can open a can of vegetables with your teeth. So the Prince told her that it would take some time but he could do it and got a locksmith from the village to dress up like the Prince. This guy had stainless steel teeth and the Prince knew his “customers”. So anyway, the damsel thought she saw the top of the can get ripped off in the Prince’s mouth and that did it because they’re tongues met and all she could think of is how lucky she was to screw the Prince.
Another gal asked him to compose a song before she would let him touch her. And so he did. It was stirring song that became a popular hit in the apple and peach orchards.
“If you only knew me, you would know my touch, the one that would make you shiver.
You would shake and your juices would flow and your eyes would gleam with dew.” the Prince went on to borrow some of the lyrics and music to “Five foot two, eyes of blue, and oh what those five feet can do, has anyone seen my gal.”
Have to jump a bit and later I can fill in more of the details about the Prince. Anyway, during the weeks that preceded the flood, which occurred in the summer of 26, the damsels of the valleys between Minsk and Donnerwert felt that something was amiss. Messages went back and forth between villages. Where is the Prince? Who has seen the Prince? No one had been fondled in weeks. The sad murmur of many voices filled the valleys, a chorus, of moans and groans, (forgot the name of the movie where that was the background but it did have a river and a barge in it). The young women would leave bakeries in the early morning with long faces, and no songs or whistles. The down mood filled so many homes that it was later named the Donnerwert syndrome.
Where was the Prince?
Several stories circulated about what happened to him and why he disappeared.
One story was that he came back to BB and she convinced him that he would find no one as gifted in the sack as she was and she convinced him to sell the castle and rent the kingdom to a company that could pay him a terrific royalty and they could head south out of Medina and the hell with Noah and floods which probably was bullshit anyway.
Another ending was also a happy one, for Ramona, from one of the remote villages far from Donnerwert. She was different from the others because she was a real sophisticate. While she moaned and groaned and wiggled, and bit his ear, she also managed to lift his royal papers from his satchel the ones that were Noah’s instructions, and the notes about the coming flood and the bits and pieces of God said this and that, and put them under her bed without missing a beat. The Prince rode off without his papers. She read them cover-to-cover and knew she had something really important here. Anyway he had to ‘pay her off’ and also agreed to prance off into a totally different area of the kingdom. Those papers, it turns out were political dynamite in Medina.
Another story was rather sad. Turns out that, on yet another occasion, when the Prince got kicked in the groin he ended up having to go to a Barber in Minsk to get checked out. It was the Barber of Minsk (not of Seville) that discovered that his groin was the least of his problems. He immediately realized that the Prince was not pale from pain but yellow as a sunflower. The Barber pulled out one of his hairs, held it up to the light and said. Yup, I knew it. You have liver cancer and I think you will be quite dead in a few months.
The bottom line is that the Prince was from the outset more interested in seduction than recruitment and while skilled at reading what folks had in the cupboard he was useless and Noah should have known that. And that is how Noah ended up having to be the one to gather the flock for the Ark.
Barth launches the Sweet Darlin loaded with maple syrup
Once again one could question the judgment of Barth (the master of ceremonies). His reliance on the choice of animal characters is really impaired but so are many of the projects that he launches that, simply put, are absurd.
It was easy to find an English speaker around docks of Bergen Norway and when we docked the tanker Sweet Darling we heard loads of it mostly cursing, shouting, and fist waving. Assholes, fuckups, Yankee shit heads were some of the words I could make out clearly. They sure were not happy to see us arrive that October evening back in 1987. They were waiting for us long before we docked.
I sneaked off the ship long when it was dark enough so that even the shadows were black on black. The rest of the crew was still trying to figure what to do next. I knew it wasn’t our fault but who the hell was going to explain that to the to the fisherman from the Norwegian coast or the herring and cod and bulluba boaters sprinkled across the North Atlantic past Iceland and Greenland and Nova Scotia and down the ocean side of Maine.
We were seen as the spoilers of the North Atlantic fish fields and it really wasn’t our fault that there were fish everywhere and not a drop to catch and eat. It was our hold that leaked and with it came the headlines and bylines of another Valdez to scar the ocean only we did not piss away oil or run aground with our Sweet Darlings hull ripped open. No we fucked the water ways with, of all things, a huge spill of dripping maple syrup that followed us from Portland Maine to Norway and with each day we sailed on the waters seemed to glow, shimmer, with fish and birds following us in huge and growing numbers so that by the time we reached past Iceland we were surrounded by a chorus of squeaking sea birds and fish jumping and diving every which way in our wake.
After I got past the docks I went to a fishbarreingestock and confided to a guy sitting next to me…”Yep, I am from the Sweet Darling….but I swear to you the spill was not our fault.” I remember telling him that I would travel back to Portland Maine and would find out who was responsible and I knew it was not any of the crew. At first he was sympathetic, but then as he drank more he got angrier and also quiet and our conversation ended with him spilling beer in my lap and telling me that the fucking Yankees and their arrogance had done it again, screwed up nature with industrial horseshit and then he moved to another table and by the time I left the bar a few minutes later I had gotten lots of angry stares.
Which brings us to the stampede bird. And you can put him on the Sweet Darlin tanker.along with Stanley and Lita Richter and their horse and while you are at it why not elect the Swanzie bird as the captain and harbor pilot. Make sure that all of the animal characters are related and at least then you can be assured of strife.