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  • Robert Birnbaum

Scratch Pad March 2019



Self Portrait Fenway Park, June 2016 Copyright 2019 Robert Birnbaum


Some days the personal narrative and accompanying cogitation skews asymmetrical and unruly. Making a report (if asked—as in "What did you do today?") a stuttering attempt at lucidity. This is, of course, in between the quotidian of walking my canine ,making and sucking down caffeinated liquids ( trying not to lose sight of the importance of hydrating, making my toilet and other attempts at personal hygiene and clothing myself with clean weather appropriate garb with an eye to color. Not exactly a private language (an epistemological impossibility), more like a collection of footnotes. Or a scratch pad. Which this page attempts illustrates...



Song of the day


Lookin' For A Love VALENTINOS (1962)

One of the great songs recorded on Sam Cooke's record label (subsequently stolen by Allen Klein)



from Tom Bissell's piece on Jim Harrison 'The Last Lion"


From forthcomng Jim Harrison poetry anthology


From “Broom”

To remember that you’re alive visit the cemetery of your father at noon after you’ve made love and are still wrapped in a mammalian odor that you are forced to cherish. Under each stone is someone’s inevitable surprise, the unexpected death of their biology that struggled hard as it must.




Jim Harrison with Rosie the Dalai Labrador copyright 2003, 2019 Robert Birnbaum


From Life on the Border Jim Harrison


Frankly, I have no mind for rational solutions to these immense problems. Nothing I ever hear from Washington DC has any relationship with the reality I know down here. I’m seeing, delirium, hunger, acute suffering, which are not solved, assuaged or aired by the stentorian fart breath of the House and Senate.


I’m also wondering if it behooves a writer to try to be right. Yeats warned about cutting off a horses legs to get it into a box. Simon Ortiz, the grand Acomo Pueblo poet, said that there are no truths, only stories…


A historian might very well consider the validity of the Gadsen Purchase, wherein we bought my locale for fifty-two cents an acre from a group of Mexicans that had no right to sell it. The United Nations would question our right to take all of the Colorado River’s water, leaving the estuarine area in Mexico as dry as the bones their people leave up here in the desert. A true disciple of Jesus would say that we have to do something about these desperate people, though this is the smallest voice of all. Most politicians have the same moral imperative as a cancer cell: continue what you’ re up to at all costs. Mean while the xenophobes better known as the xenoids, merely jump up an down on the border screeching, surely a full testament to our primate roots. Everyone not already here must be kept out, and anyone here illegally, if not immediately expunged, should be made as uncomfortable as possible.


So Ana Claudia crossed with her brother and child into Indian country, walking up a dry wash for forty miles, but when she reached the highway she simply dropped dead near the place where recently a nineteen year old girl also died from thirst with a baby at her breast. The baby was covered with sun blisters, but lived. So did Ana Claudia’s. The particular cruelty of a dry wash is that everywhere there is evidence of water that once passed this way, with the banks verdant with flora. We don’t know how long it took Ana Claudia to walk her only forty miles in America, but we know what her last hours were like. Her body progressed from losing one quart of water to seven quarts: lethargy, increasing pulse, nausea, dizziness, blue shading of vision, delirium , swelling of the tongue, deafness ,dimness of vision shriveling of the skin, and then death, the fallen body wrenched into a question mark. How could we not wish that politicians on both sides of the border who let her die this way would die in the same manner? But then such people have never missed a single lunch. Ana Claudia Villa Herrera. What a lovely name.


My Shit's Fucked Up by Warren Zevon


A ditty Zevon wrote upon learning of his liver cancer diagnosis



Joseph Epstein copyright 2003, 2019 Robert Birnbaum

Having had the pleasure of chatting with northside Chicagoan Joseph Epstein have found his three essays on birthdays 60, 70 and 80 bracing, useful and of course amusing...


Kid Turns 70 by JOSEPH EPSTEIN


Seventy. Odd thing to happen to a five-year-old boy who, only the other day, sang "Any Bonds Today," whose mother's friends said he would be a heartbreaker for sure (he wasn't), who was popular but otherwise undistinguished in high school, who went on to the University of Chicago but long ago forgot the dates of the rule of the Thirty Tyrants in Athens and the eight reasons for the Renaissance, who has married twice and written several books, who somewhere along the way became the grandfather of three, life is but a dream, sha-boom sha-boom, 70, me, go on, whaddya, kiddin' me?



A funny age to turn, 70, and despite misgivings I have gone ahead and done it, yet with more complex thoughts than any previous birthday has brought. Birthdays have never

been particularly grand events for me; my own neither please nor alarm me. I note them chiefly with gratitude forhaving got through another year. I have never been in any way part of the cult of youth, delighted to be taken for younger than I am, or proud that I can do lots of physical things that men my age are no longer supposed to be able to do: 26 chin-ups with gila monsters biting both my ankles. I have always thought I looked--and, as mothers used to instruct, always tried to act--my age. But now, with 70 having arrived, I notice that for the first time I am beginning to fudge, to hedge, to fib slightly, about my age. In conversation, in public appearances, I described myself as "in my late 60s," hoping, I suppose, to be taken for 67. To admit to 70 is to put oneself into a different category: to seem uncomfortably close to, not to put too fine a point on it, Old Age....




Charles Pierce


I don't know why Charles Pierce has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize or some other high fallutin' accolade Day in and day out he provides a fresh and amusing point of view spiced with some real historical facts...




The Democrats Will Nominate Their 2020 Candidate in Symbolic Fashion by Charles Pierce


...So, yes, Milwaukee has strong ties to socialism. That's why it has a police department, a fire department, and garbage trucks. It's why the city has parks; one of them, just off downtown, is named for Frank Zeidler. That's what socialism meant in Milwaukee. "Sewer socialism," they once called it. It will be important over the next two years to remember that garbage trucks and fire engines were once part of the Socialist Menace. That should be the lesson of the convention that will open on the shining banks of the Milwaukee River two summers hence....





Sadly the film iteration of this masterpiece was lacking. Also, David Shields formed a book, Other People, on this citation.


American Pastoral Philip Roth


You fight your superficiality, your shallowness, so as to try to came at people without unreal expectations, without an overload of bias or hope or arrogance, as untanklike as you can be, sans cannon and machine guns and steel plating half a foot thick: you come at them unmenacingly on your own ten toes instead of tearing up the turf with your caterpillar treads, take them on with an open mind, as equals, man to man, as we used to say and yet you never fail to get them wrong. You might as well have the brain of a tank. You get them wrong before you meet them: you get them wrong while you're with them and then you get home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion empty of al l perception, an astonishing farce of misperception. And yet what are we to do about this terribly significant business of other people, which gets bled of the significance we think it has and takes on a significance that is ludicrous, so ill equipped are we all to envision one another's interior workings and invisible aims? Is everyone to go off and lock the door and sit secluded like the lonely writers do, in a soundproof cell, summoning people out of words and then proposing that these word people are closer to the real thing than the real people that we mangle with our ignorance every day? The fact remains that getting people right is not what living id all about anyway. It's getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That's how we know we are alive: we're wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that—well, lucky you.



Beny, my canine my constant companion (copyright 20019 Robert Birnbaum)