As we walked past a swampy area Billy pointed out the Nordic House library: "A place full of books I'll never be able to read" he muttered. "Your place is on Garðastræti, right? Let's walk through Hólavallagarður, it's right on the way."
"The cemetery- just down from your apartment. It's quiet and a lot more private than walking in front of a block of houses. Don't cross here- go up a little ways."
The cemetery was nice- old enough to have a pleasant coat of moss in places, yet well-kept with a system of elegant brickwork paths. The damp smell of the place was of new vegetation, not decay. The sun had broken through, occasionally flooding a grave site in a bath of golden light. We were alone. He led me to a spot off the path, to a walled plot which had a ledge where we could sit.
"I still don't get it, Billy. You could go back home, do some basic campaigning for your father, he gets elected and you get an NSA job and you're set for life- traveling the world- you could probably get a post back here in Iceland if it meant that much to you."
"If it was that simple I might think about it, but it isn't. I am the proverbial black sheep, the prodigal son, living with the mark of Cain."
"Billy, that's just ridiculous. Look. I've known you like a brother. I know the Senator a little, sure- he's a gasbag politician, better than some, but he is an effective legislator and quite possibly the next President of the United States."
"Like a brother, Sean. Like a brother. Think about it. We're dead ringers, our mothers were similar in appearance, she was living in the area he was at the time, then we were born within a couple of months of each other. It would never do, now would it, for a rising young politico to have children from different mothers. Think about how you made it into college, then you lost your mother, how my mother died a few months later- OD'ed on alcohol and barbiturates they said, tsk, tsk, too bad, so sorry, poor Billy, a year later it's 'Billy meet your new mother'— a younger, sexier, richer mother with real connections. Sean, you are my half-brother. He knows I know, I'm the only thing between him and the White House. Your mother was his lover. She had you. He bought her silence, then found a way to keep her quiet forever. And now he's got you in his pocket- the good son Abel, sent to punish the bad son Cain."
"Give me a little time to process this. Are you saying that he killed our mothers, just to advance his political ambitions?"
"Oh no! No one can prove a thing—your mother's car crash, a terrible accident. Did you ever read the police report? The real one? Or how about my mother's death? I've done some research on that too, it isn't that hard to kill a drunk, bless her heart but she was a drunk. Just add a prescription for sleeping pills from the family doctor, see that she takes a double dose and it is easy enough to cover up the whole affair."
"You have any proof of all this?'
"I have enough. Look. I'm not out to destroy my father. He can do what he wants, but I can't live that way. I'm just stubborn enough to believe that I can have a real life. I just won't have him around. I'd kill him, if he didn't kill me first."
Hey, you! Come out here on the floor Let's rock some more Come out here on the floor Honey, let's rock some more, yeah!
Now when you get out here Don't you have no fear Put your hands on your hip And let your backbone slip And work out!
Now it's plain to see You put a hurtin' on me But it's a natural fact I like it like that So work out!
Yeah, baby work out (work baby, work out)! Honey, work out! Ah, baby work out! Shout and turn the joint out! Work out! Work out! Work all night long! Yeah, yeah! (round and around and around and around)
Baby, round and round we go Don't you know, don't you know? Round and round we go Where we stop, nobody knows The band is swinging on the stand We're moving in, we're moving out Then we'll step back now and end this dance with a shout So work out!
Growing up watching the films of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy on TV, it was easy to take them for granted. When my boys were young, they weren't on TV,nearly so often but fortunately there were occasional theatrical showings, some of which even included live musical performances for their early "silent" shorts, films I had never seen on TV. Seeing a new 35mm print struck from the original negative was a revelation- some of them looked as if they had been shot by Ansel Adams, the tonality was that good.
The last one we went to featured a guest appearance by Stan's daughter, Lois (in the home movie clip above, the last footage of Laurel and Hardy together.) She was introduced by John Gallos, a local TV personality who had long been a champion of L&H. Lois was elderly, but full of life and obviously appreciative that Stan and Ollie could still pack a theater. She told several stories about what it was like growing up with Stan as a parent—heartfelt and sincere. After the speeches were over, they played several films.
And we all, young and old alike, roared with laughter.
Billy motioned toward the rear exit, where he had evidently come in. We went down the hill, toward the airport. After we had made it down far enough so as not to be in the open, Billy began to speak.
"Sorry to give you the run around, but your barging in here without a clue as to what's going on could have had disastrous consequences for the both of us. You really don't have a clue as to what's going on, do you?"
"I guess not. So clue me in. Was that really your daughter back there?"
"I'll get back to her in a minute. What is it that you think you know about my activities here?"
We were now walking amid mossy lava formations; the moon is made of green cheese, so it would seem.
"What do I know? Nothing. What do I think? If I know you at all, you're probably running some kind of scam, not necessarily illegal, but underground enough to be questionable. Something with the Russians, something with the locals, getting your money from an ATM, living under the radar. Geez, do you realize how many people have been looking for you?"
"You mean The Senator and his minions, of which you are one, is it not so?"
"Bill, I'm just a data miner, like you in a sense, but I get a W-2 at the end of the year. How long do you think you can run like this? All the rouge sites are being busted, Wikileaks is virtually defunct, you are obsolete- you've become the Kid Charlemagne of cyberspace."
"You don't get it, do you Sean? The world is in conflict. Money is the lubricant. Rebels, rogue states, tin-horn tyrants, their power all comes from the barrel of a gun. They can't buy this stuff at Costco. Deals need to be done under the table by someone, someone who knows how to keep it all invisible."
"You know that if it this got out it would ruin your father."
"That's my insurance policy. He can't touch me, or my daughter. He's a bad man. Worse than you can imagine. He never lets anything, or anyone, get in his way. That's why he can't find out about Maria. That's why you should leave, Sean. The Russians heard you at the embassy last night and they didn't like it. You'd better be on the jet home tomorrow, or they'll take you home in a box. They're the dark soldiers of the new order, never underestimate their power."
Billy was agitated, beads of sweat were forming on his upper lip and forehead. I thought I'd better calm him down, or I wouldn't get anywhere with him.
"You hungry Billy? If I'm going to go back tomorrow, I've got a kitchen full of food and wine that would be a shame to let go to waste. I won't bug you about going back."
"Out in Old Maine", 1915, class play, unknown school
The high school class play offers a chance for young people to practice being "grown up" in front of peers and parents. The play chosen is usually a farce, is based on courtship and deception, and ends with TRUE LOVE triumphant.
Not many loves turn out that way, and the ones where love does triumph, it does so in small increments which accumulate over a lifetime, not at the end of act III.
When I recently ran across this relic from a simpler time it made me smile. I remember playing with one of these as a child; it wasn't mine but I remember thinking that it was pretty cool—even if it didn't have anything in it that could shoot projectiles. I had some vague idea of what "playing doctor" really meant. I had to see for myself what was the deal with naked girls.
Even in the most innocent use of these play sets, there was a potential for sadism. For reasons unknown it felt good to give someone a shot, to hurt them and, just as importantly, to have power over your "patient." When the set ran out of candy pills, however, playtime was over. Some of us would get into real pills when we were much older, with a few of us even "graduating" to hypodermics.
Eventually, and without the help of of a "little country doctor" kit, I finally did manage to learn what was the deal with naked girls.
I showered, dressed and left the pool. There was still some time before I was to meet Billy, so I returned to my apartment and checked my email. Nothing from Molly; I didn't know if that was a good or bad thing. Mrs. Robinson was still concerned about the Russians. If Billy was involved with them, he had covered his ass well- covering his ass was his real major in college. I emailed Mrs. R again about Billy, she replied immediately, emphasizing that we needed Billy back, in one piece, preferably delivered to the embassy in enough time to get him back in the US for a family photo-op next Sunday. I said I'd do what I could, but that I thought that Billy was dead-set against the idea.
Around 4 p.m. I headed out to Perlan, the big spaceship-like structure perched upon a hill that overlooked the city. I was feeling energized from my "swim" and was looking forward to the hike. After my reception at the nightclub the night before, I thought it wise to alter my appearance at least a little; my half-tinted driving glasses and the dorky cap I picked up on the way (in the Salvation Army store near my apartment) was hardly a disguise but wouldn't attract much attention. Perlan was a big tourist destination and I hoped to blend in. I skirted the town center, walking around the south end of the big pond and then along the highway. It was cool, but not raw. The wind had died down a bit and the cloud cover had returned. As I climbed the long path to the summit, I could see many vehicles in the lot ahead. There were also numerous children, 5 or 6 year olds, all of them being herded into a queue, then entering the building hand in hand in pairs.
The inside was spectacular, the space between the tanks rose to a height of several stories above the atrium. A stage with risers had been set up and the children were filling it—evidently I was in for a show. Light trees made the already brilliant scene even more dazzling, and a trio of television cameras were taking it all in. I retreated to a "corner" behind the tech crew's station and scanned the crowd for Billy. There were people of all ages: some were obviously tourists, numerous grandparents of course, mothers, fathers, toddlers and even some teenagers. I didn't see Billy. When the children were all assembled the MC began to introduce the program. I couldn't understand a word; it was all in Icelandic. The choir director set the pitch and then nodded to the pianist. The children began to sing.
And it was glorious. The children were singing folk songs and hymns. Unfamiliar to me, they had haunting harmonies and seemed quite melancholy at times. Their clear, high voices were multiplied by the echoes from the curved tanks, ethereal and seraphic. I stopped thinking about Billy and allowed myself to become lost in the music. I hadn't feel this kind of joy for a long, long time.
I suddenly became aware of someone standing behind me. I knew it was Billy even before he whispered in my ear:
"I wanted you to see this."
He put his finger to his lips in a shushing motion, then pointed to the stage. One of the younger girls, with straight blond hair, wearing a Lopapeysa above a short pleated skirt over matching tights, had stepped forward from the group and began to sing solo, as the choir wordlessly crooned behind her. The crowd became still, and even the littlest children in the audience stopped fidgeting. The choir then joined in again, this time in full voice, behind the little soloist as the piece reached its crescendo. The director's gestures became more animated and after raising her arms to their maximum height she lowered them, palms down, and this time the little girl was singing all alone. She finished with a repeated refrain that broke my heart. After a few of beats of silence the crowd erupted in wild applause.
I found this forlorn little amplifier in a garage at an estate sale a few weeks ago. Mis-matched knobs, low output and a nasty 120Hz hum when I fired it up. Not good. Opened it up, replaced a tube and a cap can (the silver cylinder on the left in the picture below) and it started to sound pretty good:
The wiring looked like new- not bad for a piece of gear nearly as old as I am:
Cleaned it up, fitted it with matching knobs and a suitable speaker and there it was:
A beauty and a cutie, suitable for bass guitar (at moderate volume) and the whole project was completed from spare parts, not bad for five bucks and an afternoon of tinkering!
Living on your own, without a family or significant other, can be liberating—but it has a price. Having a shared set of experiences makes them seem more real. The interior monolog is a phantasy existence. It is a place where memory's constructs are free from any checks or balances; distortions are inevitable.
Looking back on the memories of my years spent "wandering in the wilderness", I am struck at how ephemeral they seem, more so than those of my childhood or teen years. As my current friends drift away or die, it may be that someday I will once again inhabit a "ghost world" of solitude.
The Spaniard had been talking American politics, specifically the presidential race.
"Fascists..." he repeated, with an emphasis on the sibilance of the s sounds. "... It is an irresistible attraction of political power. American politics is heading toward a fascist state."
The professor spoke up: "I am afraid you're right my friend. The president has embraced it, and his main challenger, Senator Clarkson, is only the flip side of the same coin. Either one will use as much force as possible to maintain their hold on power."
I thought better of revealing that I was working for Clarkson, not in a direct political sense perhaps, but in the support of him nonetheless. It was really just another job, as far as I was concerned, excepting my connection with Billy, of course.
Addressing the retired Captain, I asked: "What about the Icelandic president? What are his aspirations?"
"Well, it is not the same here. The president is a figurehead, a suit and tie to greet foreign dignitaries. He likes to pose with the big-shots, he really wants to be the King of Iceland, like the King of Norway or the Queen of Denmark. Royal prerogative. He did veto legislation for the Icesave settlements, though. King of Iceland, huh, he is the new Dog-Days King."
Another woman, in her mid thirties, entered the hot-pot and began talking in Icelandic to the older woman. The sun began to break through the overcast, quieting the conversation for a moment. I shut my eyes and let the sun filter through my eyelids- a warm glow spread over my field of vision, indeed, my whole body felt as if it were melting in the hot water.
"Well, I am quite thoroughly cooked. It was a pleasure talking to all of you, and meeting you again Professor. What is the name of that author again?"
"Laxness. Halldór Laxness. He wasn't a fascist, although he did support Stalin for a good while. Read his books, any of them, you can get them in the airport. He'll set you straight."
"What, besides water, is the gist of his philosophy?"
The Professor smiled.
"Oh, there is so much I wouldn't know where to begin. Hmmm. This will do:
The correct understanding of life, let me tell you, is love despite everything. Love despite everything, that is the aim and object of life. Love, you see, is the only thing that pays in the long run, even though it might seem a dead loss in the short run.
The latest Sigur Rós album, while not exactly a departure, opens with a familiar blend of intense art-rock laid over a simplified classical music background with Jónsi's urgent falsetto riding on top, almost as if it is an out-take from last year's Inni. But then the album starts to devolve into gentler, more open orchestration and comes into its own. I won't go into a track-by-track analysis— this is a work which should be listened to in its entirety, preferably with the lights out (psychoactive augmentation optional, but not necessary.) In the world of pop music Sigur Rós has carved out its own genre. One downside of this is that they have become a bit of a "cult" band and, as is the the usual situation in a case such as this, you are either in or you are out.
Count me in.
Another aspect of the groups' success is the adaptation of their music to film and television scores. The group has offered film and video directors carte blanche in the use of individual tracks of Valtari as a score in a "Mystery Films" competition.. The latest entries are here and are well worth a look. (Some NSFW)