Ozzy the Arhat by Regan Burke

 

Do the dead always visit us in the morning? I wake up listening for the click-clacking tap-dancing, rat-a-tat across my hardened floors. Ozzy had well-padded soles, wide feet and solid toenails meant to root out rats and badgers from their earthen dens. No Scottie-level potted plants ever made it past the first day, neither inside nor on my third-floor balcony. His diggers instinctively, fanatically worked their way into the soil to get to something, anything that proved his worth, duty done. Satisfied with nothing more than a dirty nose and paws, he gave me a message: don’t worry, I’ll protect you from any danger, man or beast.

At the Takashi Murakami exhibit in Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, I wondered aloud to my 20-year-old grandson, CJ Kelly, why the artist painted so many colorful frogs at the feet of the arhats. CJ mindfully revealed those are the arhats’ toenails, not frogs. Ah, toenails. Murakami’s arhats are Buddhist spirits who hesitate between two worlds, the physical and the not, to comfort suffering earthly beings. His bulbous toenails are a tribute to the noble path of those enlightened ones whose feet are moving them through their death and decay. The parade of toenails is Murakami’s day-glo gratitude for arhats who stop along the way to ease our sorrows.

Murakami called his Chicago exhibit, The Octopus Eats His Own Leg, based on an ancient Japanese adage that an octopus eats its own decrepit limb to save itself from death rot. A new leg grows back, the octopus is healed and lives a long and healthy life.

In the exhibit, the 33-foot-long painting, 100 Arhats, has 1,000 intricately painted toenails. I misinterpreted the toe protectors, thought they were frogs. After all, how could toenails mean so much to anyone but me? I harbor an unspoken repulsion of human toenails. Summer sandals expose these keratin plates sitting atop ugly toes that hardly ever match each other—some curled under, some straight, some turned outward, some inward—all on the same foot.  Toenails are often fungus-rotted discolored thick globs that women hide with colorful paint instead of covering with cool shoes. God clearly missed the boat in his design of the human toe apparatus.

But Ozzy’s coal-black, perfectly formed, hardy toenails witchy-curled out of his all-business paws, ever-ready for the hunt, the prowl. At rest, his legs stretched out before him showing off his toenails as if he’d just had a pedicure.

His body turned in on him overnight. Like the octopus, his system ate up his dying kidneys and liver but left a beleaguered heart that had to be put to rest. I now have my own arhat who will walk me through the sound of silent, unseen toenails until the hard margins at the edges of grief fade into the path.

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Takashi Murakami in front of his epic work “The 500 Arhats.” (Courtesy MCA Chicago)

 

If You Can’t Stand the Heat, Don’t Come to My Place

When friends from out of town ask to visit, they know they’ll be sleeping on a pull-out couch. No one seems to mind. But in the summertime, when I inform them I have no air conditioning and no screens, few believe me. The original in-the-wall air conditioner in my 1959 condo conked out in 2006. Replacing it would require ripping up and rewiringth-1 the wall and I’ve never had the inclination to do so. Neither can I bring myself to replace the broken dishwasher or stove.

Hot spells can be oppressive, even claustrophobic. When heat envelops me, I sweat, swell up, get dizzy. At times I feel like I’m going to faint. The failure of my body to adjust disrupts my circadian rhythm and agitates my sleep cycle. To cool off, I sleep with my windows open for the nighttime breeze from Lake Michigan which means on weekends I hear 2:00 am passersby mixing it up from the bars down the street and cars and motorcycles gunning it on my corner. North Lake Shore Drive makes an “S” curve at Oak Street Beach right outside my building and the occasional emergency siren wakes me as it hones in on late night crashes.

Summer sleep can be exasperating. I rise with the sun at dawn because my blinds are open all the time to catch the changing light and moving clouds. Oh, there are some — I’ve run out of wall space, so I hang paintings and dangle sculptures from drapery rods in front of partially closed blinds.

When I was about 10 years old, I occasionally slept outside in the summer on a porch with no screens. Mosquitoes didn’t bother me there. But when I slept inside, the bloodsuckers buzzed my ears until they found a juicy spot to prick my skin. I figured this was because mosquitoes come inside through the screens and can’t get out. I vowed to get rid of all the screens as soon as I had control over my own surroundings. And so I did. th-3Some visitors are afraid of the mosquito-borne West Nile Virus so they spray gobs of poisonous DEET all over themselves. I’m as afraid of West Nile as I am of getting hit by a bus. Bugs fly in. Bugs fly out. Mosquitoes, moths, flies, bees, wasps — they come in, take a look around and go out.

An occasional sparrow or pigeon may fly in too, but they find their way out once Ozzy the dog wakes up and gets wind of them. City life with all the windows open, nature buzzing around, birds chirping, cars honking, buses burping, lake breezes, the sound of rain on the trees – all of it fills me with joie de vivre. I wouldn’t live any other way.

So, if you’re nostalgic for life before air conditioning, come to my place. You’ll be cooled and calmed by slow-whirring fans and iced lemonade.

 

Are We Getting Dragged Into Their Holy War?

Hal Lindsey’s end-times prophecies in The Late, Great Planet Earth, permeated the born-again, religious cult I joined in the early 1970’s in Toms River, New Jersey. There were about fifty of us—disparate spiritual seekers who accepted Jesus Christ as our personal the_late_great_planet_earth_coversavior, a requirement for inclusion in the exclusive Fellowship. One of the elders had broken away from a local Plymouth Brethren Church and opened the basement of his family’s large, wooded, colonial home for Bible study and Sunday services for us blue-jeaned recovering addicts and alcoholics. As a newly sobered-up ex-hippie, full of self-loathing, all I wanted was to be accepted in that Fellowship.

Based on his interpretations of the Book of Revelations, Lindsey’s book sensationalized end-of-the-world Biblical prophecies connecting them to current events as proof of the coming Rapture where Christians would be taken up to heaven and avoid Armageddon. Satan’s plans to form a one-world government and religion, as prophesied, were triggered by the establishment of the state of Israel and the World Council of Churches—both in 1948. Everywhere I looked in those days I saw Lindsey’s signs of the end times: increase in the divorce rate, recreational drugs, new technology, the gasoline shortage, religious ecumenism, and the birth of the European Union.

Church elders directed every aspect of our lives. Men were the head of the household, women submitted to them and didn’t work. We lived in separate homes but were discouraged from socializing outside the Fellowship, lest we be influenced by secular humanist ideas, like having credit cards, one of Satan’s tools to create a global economy. We didn’t put our money in The Bank of America because the bank was seeking to legalize interstate branch banking, thereby centralizing all the country’s money into a single entity, another Satanic plan.

When my son joined Little League in the first grade, I sat away from the other parents in the bleachers fearing the wrath of God if I talked to anyone outside of the Fellowship. Church members scorned me for volunteering for Jimmy Carter for President in 1976, even though he was born-again.

After four years, I extricated myself from the Fellowship, left my abusive husband in New Jersey and drove my nine-year-old son 800 miles west to Chicago for a new life. A group of Christians at LaSalle Street Church who had experienced similar religious cults nursed me back to spiritual and emotional health. The ideas of Hal Lindsey dissipated into the ether of bad dreams and gradually I no longer looked for signs of the end times.

Until now.

President Trump in his first speech to the Joint Congress announced he was not the President of the world, rather the President of us Americans.

These words, and words of White House strategist Steve Bannon announcing a nationalistic government free from links to other countries remind me of Hal Lindsey’s warning to resist Satan’s plans for a global economy and one-world government.

Are they fighting a holy war?

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http://1timothy4-13.com/files/prophecy/signs28.html

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What Is My Work, You Ask?

What Is My Work, You Ask?

 

1962. My work is to stop laughing like a nervous little girl and start smiling like an unflappable young lady in the coffee shop on the Asbury Park boardwalk. To turn away from the seagulls fighting over dead fish on the beach and write “pancakes” and “bacon” on my notepad. To pay attention to the old telling the story of the 1934 wreck of the cruise ship SS Morro Castle on the beach. To save money for tickets to Joan Baez and Bob Dylan at the Asbury Park Convention Hall.

1967. My work is to read Dr. Benjamin Spock’s Baby and Child Care and apply its 51hjigsfuol-_sx309_bo1204203200_commandments to week-old smiles, cries in the night, a nine-month old sprinter and a child who eats only chicken. My work is to stand my ground in the whirlwind advice from mothers, aunts and grandmothers. To learn to ride a baby on the back of my bicycle. To animate words as I point to clouds, trees and cars as if I’ve never seen these things before in my life.

1976. My work is to bypass the door to the secluded basement with its graveyard of empty vodka bottles. To surrender to my new single-motherness. To trust my untrustworthy father and move from a sandy Jersey Shore cottage to a downtown Chicago highrise. My work is to know this is the best plan for a nine-year-old boy’s future happiness.

1982. My work is to dress up in business clothes, act smarter than I am, eavesdrop on everyone’s conversations in a boiler room full of political operatives, ask stupid questions and digest enough information to schedule Nancy Stevenson in places that help win votes for her husband’s campaign for governor.

1990. My work is to be a motherless child. To lament the loss of my uterus and ovaries, and, my boyfriend. To escape to Paris and London with my twelve-year old niece. To atone for all my past sins.To feign self-confidence while running the Illinois Democratic Party.

1993. My work is to take Prozac on the way to Washington to join the management class of the Clinton Administration. To imagine I have power and to hide humiliation when I’m exposed. My work is to honor the ruling class. To recognize they are human. To protect myself from evil-doers and self-promoters. My work is to mourn the loss of naiveté.

2006. My work is to shield myself and others from Cook County Government officials who believe if you are happy at your job you’re not working hard enough. To cherish those I lead for what they are today and not for what they will be tomorrow. To protect them from those who refuse to know their names.

2017. My work is to record how far my shadow falls behind me. To tell the truth about myself and trust God with where the words go and what they do when they get there. My work is to proclaim the US Constitution guarantees me the freedom to assemble publicly and express myself openly without retribution. My work is to say I love America and when the saints go marching in, oh! how I want to be in that number.

Inspired by “An Address to My Fellow Faculty,” by A. Papatya Bucak, from brevitymag.com

Another Mother for Peace

Another Mother for Peace
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Another Mother for Peace poster

In 1968, Jim Kelly and I moved to Lansing, Michigan with our toddler son. While Kelly studied for his Masters of Social Work at Michigan State, one-year-old Joe and I marched with the national anti-war organization “Another Mother for Peace” to protest cereal companies that advertised during violent cartoons on Saturday morning TV.

We returned to Belmar, New Jersey, at the end of the school year and moved into an old Victorian beach house where Kelly painted the exterior in lieu of rent. At the end of the summer, we moved in with Kelly’s parents while he sought employment. Built-in babysitters allowed us to frequent our favorite saloon, McCann’s Tavern. In autumn, 1969, I got word that the Vietnam Moratorium Committee was planning what would be the largest antiwar protest in United States history. il_570xn-259808473

I set about convincing our drinking group at McCann’s to drive the four hours to the March on Washington. Ramparts Magazine had taught me everything I needed to know about the War. This publication gave birth to my congenital anti-war condition with stories such as an expose about a Michigan State University group that worked in Vietnam as a front for the CIA.

In McCann’s we debated off and on about driving to the nation’s capital in the dead of night. Even though everyone just wanted to drink and have a few laughs, I kept it up. “Forty-five thousand American troops have died in the past two years. If we don’t end the war your military deferments will be rescinded and you’ll all get drafted into the Army.”

That did it.

Two carloads of us drove off at McCann’s last call. Since I had lived in Washington as a teenager for a few months with my father, I drove the lead car, pretending I knew the directions.

When we arrived, yellow school buses were parking bumper to bumper around the White House so President Nixon wouldn’t see the protesters. We headed to a Jersey Shore friend’s place near DuPont Circle to sober up and eat. Reeking of coffee and cigarettes, our speed-freak friend had been up all night working in a restaurant but he hitched on to our party and created an all-out breakfast banquet. They all fell asleep. I dropped a diet pill and took off for the Lincoln Memorial.th-7

Peter, Paul and Mary and Arlo Guthrie belted out tunes between speeches from anti-war Senators Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern. Peace hero Dr. Benjamin Spock, whose book on baby care taught me how to be an engaged mother, told us half million idealists that we were all noble. Pete Seeger led the crowd in the singing of John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance.” I have loved sing-alongs ever since.

Back at the crash pad I hustled my friends outside to join the protesters marching toward DuPont Circle. We all got tear-gassed, screamed for mercy, helped each other to our cars and tore out of town.

The war ended six years later.

No one got drafted.