A West Wing Thanksgiving

With the election over and Thanksgiving upon us, now may be a good time to reflect on the immigrant experience and religious freedom:

And yes, Virginia! There really is such as thing as tofurky:

thankgiving-tofurky

Or as Popeye the Sailor would say:

popeye-i-yam-what-i-yam

Other Videos

President Obama Pardons Turkey
Turkey Runs For Peace

Sidebar: Sri Chinmoy on India and America

For the last part of this century, the West has been aspiring most sincerely for the highest Truth. For the past three decades Indian spirituality has been coming here in waves. India has aroused America from her spiritual sleep. Americans were sleeping and Indian teachers have come and helped them.

Here in America, we are in the land of freedom, the freedom that nourishes dynamic thoughts and dynamic movements. There in India, we are in a land of freedom, the freedom of a fertile, tolerant spirituality that nourishes all religions. Here we wish to reach God by running speedily, while there we wish to reach God by climbing swiftly.

India’s history is aglow with stories of kings and potentates who enjoyed power and opulence without being in the least attached to them. Rajarshi Janaka was not an isolated example. Prince Siddhartha, afterwards the Buddha, Emperor Asoka and Chhatrapati Shivaji are other such outstanding figures in India’s history.

Of all the nations in the world today, America is the one which, in the modern context, stands forth uniquely as the one most fit for the ideal of Janaka, Siddhartha, Asoka and Shivaji. By the flow of her wealth, America has restored shattered Europe, not once but twice. Impoverished India has been helped towards her goal of achieving minimum conditions of life for her vast millions through large-scale and repeated American aid.

It is not only for political and economic purposes that the divine logic of events has brought India and America close together. What is visible in these external aspects of life will be seen in an incalculable measure on deeper levels in days to come. America is perhaps not conscious that in taking a major part in the economic rehabilitation of India she has been building up the base of a divine new world.

Life to the American consciousness is nothing short of completing one task after another with the hope of realising the all-liberating Freedom.

Life to the Indian consciousness is nothing short of completing one endeavour after another with the hope of realising the all-nourishing Peace.

Why does a particular soul take birth in a particular country? There are two basic reasons: either the soul has been commanded by the Supreme or the soul has a specific preference for that country. Why will a soul care for a particular country? It is because the soul has its own inner propensities. It feels that it has some intuitive capacity or other quality which can be easily brought into manifestation if it takes incarnation in a particular country. If a particular soul has dynamism, it will try to take incarnation in America, not India. Again, if it cries for inner harmony and peace, then it will try to take incarnation in India.

Both India and America, East and West, have something to give to the world. India is offering the message of peace and the West is offering the message of science. If the West had not given the East the message of science, India would have remained primitive. And if India had not brought an iota of light to the West, then the West would have remained unillumined. Whatever India and America have, each has to give to the other gladly. They are like two brothers in a family. If one brother is a doctor, he will give medicine. If another is an electrician, he will do electrical work. How can the doctor do the work of the electrician, or vice versa? In exactly the same way, whatever India has to offer to the world, the West must gladly accept; and whatever the West has to give, India has to accept. Then only, East and West can become complete.

Without India, America is incomplete; and without America, India is incomplete. But when they are together, when they are for each other, at that time they please the Absolute Supreme in His own Way. India is God the Vision, America is God the Mission. The union of Vision and Mission can alone bring about God the Satisfaction.

Nothing gives me greater joy than to hear that American brothers and sisters and Indian brothers and sisters have worked together for the fulfilment of one cause, one hope and one heart, in which all-loving, all-illumining and all-fulfilling oneness reigns supreme.

May India’s aspiration-sky and America’s rocket-speed together sing the supreme fulfilment-song of God-prosperity here on earth.

— Sri Chinmoy, from India, My India, Mother India’s Summit-Prides, Agni Press, 1997

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Walking on Eggshells, and Music Appreciation

What can John Cleese and The Avengers teach us about human psychology? UPDATED!

Dealing with difficult people is like walking on eggshells. This fact is known to teachers, therapists, ministers, and gurus. Some people are balanced so precariously that, like Humpty Dumpty, they’re bound to take a great fall. What can one then do?

Alice (Kate Beckinsale) wonders whether Humpty Dumpty (Desmond Barrit) should really be sitting so high up.

Alice (Kate Beckinsale) wonders whether Humpty Dumpty (Desmond Barrit) should really be sitting so high up.

Sadly, sometimes not very much. Owing to their rigid rules and canalized thinking, some individuals stand little chance of getting off the conveyor belt which they themselves have set in motion. They are, at least for a time, ill-fated.

Such is the case with Marcus Rugman (played by John Cleese), an eccentric “egg man” who lives in perpetual fear that his collection of clown faces painted on eggs will come to harm:

(Any problems with the video, try dropbox link.)

This combination of obsessiveness and fragility reminds me of the main character in Rain Man. A consultant on the movie, Dr. Darold Treffert, writes:

A variety of persons, especially Dustin Hoffman, felt that the portrayal of an autistic person, with all the typical associated rituals, obsessiveness, resistance to change and relatively affectionless behaviours might make a more interesting character for Raymond Babbitt, one the public had never really been exposed to on screen.

“Rain Man, the Movie / Rain Man, Real Life”

Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man

Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man

Dr. Treffert goes on to explain that the Raymond Babbitt character is actually a composite of autism and savant syndrome. In the earlier Avengers clip (from Season 6, Episode 11), Marcus Rugman exhibits some of the same traits in comic form.

the-avengers-linda-thorson-john-cleeseHe’s clearly a savant on the subject of clown faces painted on eggs, but his rigid rules for entry into his world, coupled with his utter lack of warmth, mark him as a character destined to take a fatal pratfall. Then, as John Steed and Tara King remark: “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men…”

Of this episode, French critic Gérard Dulapin trenchantly observes:

The diversion of childhood imagery to conspiracy Mortifier has already been explored during Nothing goes more in the nursery. If the fancy burlesque predominates, an episode like Maille to go with the taties had already introduced the absurd in season 4, appearing like a predecessor, certainly mezzo voce, of this one.

— Gérard Dulapin, via Google Translate

Among (possibly) interesting egg facts: There was a real-life egg man, Stan Bult, who did memorialize clown make-up on eggshells. And while the goose egg is understandably unpopular among men and women of sport, it is prized in clown egg circles for its crusty insouciance. According to a site celebrating International Clown Week:

The collection continued to be lent out after Mr. Bult’s death but sadly most of the eggs were destroyed in an accident at one such exhibit around 1965.

Clown Bluey became chairman of Clowns International in 1984 and resurrected Mr. Bult’s practice of recording clown members’ faces on eggs. This time a professional artist was used and the faces were painted on china-pot eggs instead of chicken eggs. Over the years, many of the lost older eggs have been reproduced, and new eggs are added frequently.

In the U.S. collection, the faces are hand-painted on goose eggs (more durable than chicken eggs), and decorated with various materials (such as clay, wire, felt, tiny flowers, glitter, etc.) to obtain as accurate a representation of the clown face and costume as possible.

Though failing to mention Stan Bult (thus inviting a clown fatwa), Salman Rushdie has his own take on egg men in Haroun and the Sea of Stories, which — like all great children’s stories — is laced with jokes for adults:

Haroun noticed that among the crowd were many men and women who, like the man on the balcony, had smooth, shiny and hairless heads. These people all wore the white coats of laboratory technicians and were, clearly, the Eggheads of P2C2E House, the geniuses who operated the Machines Too Complicated To Describe (or M2C2Ds) which made possible the Processes Too Complicated To Explain.

‘Are you—?’ he began, and they interrupted him, for being Eggheads, they were extremely quick on the uptake.

‘We are the Eggheads,’ they nodded, and then, with looks on their faces that said we can’t believe you don’t know this, they pointed at the shiny fellow on the grand balcony and said, ‘He is the Walrus.’

‘He’s the Walrus?’ Haroun burst out, astounded. ‘But he’s nothing like a walrus! Why do you call him that?’

‘It’s on account of his thick, luxuriant walrus moustache,’ one of the Eggheads replied, and another added admiringly, ‘Look at it! Isn’t it the best? So hairy. So silky-smooth.’

‘But …’ Haroun began, and then stopped when Iff dug him hard in the ribs. ‘I suppose if you’re as hairless as these Eggheads,’ he told himself, ‘even that pathetic dead mouse on the Walrus’s upper lip looks like the greatest thing you’ve ever seen.’

As Haroun passed through the huge doors of P2C2E House, his heart sank. He stood in the vast, echoing entrance hall as white-coated Eggheads walked rapidly past him in every direction. Haroun fancied that they all eyed him with a mixture of anger, contempt, and pity. He had to ask three Eggheads the way to the Walrus’s office before he finally found it, after mazy wanderings around P2C2E House that reminded him of following Blabbermouth around the palace. At last, however, he was standing in front of a golden door on which were written the words: GRAND COMPTROLLER OF PROCESSES TOO COMPLICATED TO EXPLAIN. I. M. D. WALRUS, ESQUIRE*. KNOCK AND WAIT.

@CirrusStone tweet illustrating Walrus and Eggmen. https://twitter.com/CirrusStone/status/704173947797909505

Illustrator @CirrusStone tweets “I Am The Walrus” https://twitter.com/CirrusStone/status/704173947797909505

In Rushdie’s satire of good (or bad) government, the Walrus is the chief bureaucrat, and the Eggheads are the techno-geeks who actually run the place. As in The Avengers, Rushdie’s Eggheads are savants with not-terribly-winning personalities, kind of like Microsoft tech support peeps. (“You want to reinstall Windows? Okay, I’ll need a blood sample, your firstborn child, and you should take a half pound gefilte fish and swing it around your head while screaming like a chicken.** Then just enter these 42 lines of code at the command prompt.”) But I digress…

The second part of The Avengers clip sports a more cheery message: Two people who think they have nothing in common can manage to hit on a subject that lights up both their faces: Music Appreciation!

the-avengers-linda-thorson-music-appreciation

Actors Linda Thorson and William Kendall both agree that Bach, Hindemith and Brubeck are fab.

A more bittersweet exploration of the same theme is found in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, where Sandra Locke and Alan Arkin send each other muted signals:

(Any problems with the video, try dropbox link.)

And taking the premise beyond the edge of absurdity, there’s this classic sendup of “Mr. B Natural” by the Mystery Science Theatre gang:

There’s always a possibility that two people might manage to communicate across barriers which seemingly divide them, as when Linda Thorson first pokes her head in the door of the establishment where John Cleese keeps his clown egg collection. In David and Lisa, a 1962 film about mental illness, David (Keir Dullea) is afraid of being touched, and Lisa (Janet Margolin) speaks only in rhymes; yet their shared experience forms a fragile duet:

(Any problems with the video, try dropbox link.)

Conclusion

There isn’t any. This is one of those posts where I’m content to let things remind me of other things. Any wisdom to be found is in the journey itself, not the summing up.

Yet, like Marcus Rugman, we tend to spend a score or more years amassing a brittle collection of behaviours which comprise our lives, only to find that death breaks the shell we have so painstakingly constructed. Would it not be better to be more fluid and flexible in our approach to life, so that at the appointed moment we can dissolve gently into the wind? I am tempted to paraphrase the Christ, if I have the temerity to do so: This world is a bridge. Pass over it, but lay no eggs there.

Oh, and try not to prance about carrying a sousaphone…

Particulars

The Avengers episode in question bears the prolix title “Look – (Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One) But There Were These Two Fellers…” Airing in 1968, it was written by Dennis Spooner, who also wrote for Doctor Who. If the succession of comic wardrobe changes at the end seems familiar (and somehow Whovian), it’s because Tom Baker went on to do a similar quick-change in his premier episode as the Doctor (though Spooner didn’t write that one).

Janet Margolin later co-starred in a number of films, including Woody Allen’s Take The Money and Run (1969). Keir Dullea had a major role in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

*For further info on I. M. D. WALRUS, see the collected works of John Lennon.

**Recipe update: In response to reader feedback, please note that you can modify this recipe to use 2 pounds haddock and scream instead like a banshee. Be sure and split the haddock, though splitting haddock is rightly found under category “Ailments.”

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.


Sidebar: Sri Chinmoy Tells Two Egg Stories

The Ploughman Versus the Christ

There were two great artists from Florence — Donatello and Filippo Brunelleschi. Once, when Donatello was quite young, he made a crucifix of wood and thought he had achieved nothing short of perfect perfection. He invited his dear friend Brunelleschi to offer his wise comment. Needless to say, inwardly he was dying for the best possible appreciation, which he felt he so rightly deserved. Alas, his dream-world was shattered to pieces when Brunelleschi said to him, “I see a ploughman on the cross instead of the Saviour.”

Donatello was utterly mortified by this unexpected criticism from the older artist. He said, “You are a great judge! But let me see you do it yourself. You say I made a ploughman instead of Jesus Christ. Let me see your masterpiece of the crucifixion.”

That very day Brunelleschi began working on his crucifix. In due course, Brunelleschi completed his sculpture. One day, by chance, he met with his dear friend Donatello in a grocery. Brunelleschi said to his friend, “Tonight you will have supper with me. Please do me a favour. I have bought these items and I have still more items to buy. Will you be good enough to carry these items to my house? I shall be coming home shortly.”

Donatello gladly complied with his friend’s request, carrying a few eggs and some cheese in his apron. Upon entering Brunelleschi’s studio, he got the shock of his life. Perfection incarnate was Brunelleschi’s sculpture of the crucifixion. Utterly amazed, he lost his outer senses and dropped the apron containing the eggs and cheese. Everything was smashed and all was perfect chaos before the immortal sculpture.

On his return, when Brunelleschi saw the great calamity, he said to his friend, “What is the matter with you? What are we going to have now for dinner?”

Donatello said, “Sorry, I have already had my dinner. Your supremely great achievement has fed me to my heart’s content. I feel sorry for you that you have nothing to eat. Now, listen to my sincere heart. The difference between you and me is this: you know how to make the Christ and I know how to make a ploughman.”

— Sri Chinmoy, from Transfiguration and Other Stories, Agni Press, 2007

sri-chinmoy-tranfiguration-and-other-stories

Perseverance, Patience and Self-Giving are of Paramount Importance

Once two partridges, a husband and wife, were going out on a trip. Before they left, the wife laid some eggs near the ocean. Then the husband said to the sea, “We are going on a sea voyage. You have to take care of these eggs for us. On our return, if we don’t find the eggs, then we shall empty you.”

The sea agreed to take care of the eggs, and it kept the eggs safe. A few days later the two partridges came back, but they could not find the eggs. They began screaming at the sea. The sea wanted to give the eggs to them, but it could not find them anymore. The birds cursed the sea and started emptying it. The husband and wife each began taking out a drop of water at a time, throwing it onto the land.

“We are going to empty you,” they said to the sea.

Some little birds saw all this and they asked, “What are you doing?”

The partridges replied, “We are punishing the sea. The sea is very bad because it didn’t keep its promise to look after our eggs.”

The little birds thought it was a noble task and they joined the partridges. After a while, some big birds took up their cause. They were very sympathetic and self-giving, and they also started taking out water drop by drop. This went on for days and weeks.

One day, the Conveyor of Lord Vishnu, Garuda, came and asked, “What are you doing?”

The birds said, “Can’t you see? We are emptying the sea.”

Garuda said, “You fools, how long will this take you? You will never be able to do it. The sea is very vast, infinite.”

But the birds answered, “No, we have determination and perseverance.”

Garuda was very surprised and said, “Let me show them some compassion. Let me ask Lord Vishnu to help them. If Vishnu helps them, then certainly they will be able to find their eggs. If the eggs are still in good condition, Vishnu will be able to return them. But if they are destroyed, he can do nothing for them.”

He went to Vishnu. “Vishnu, I have never seen fools like these. If you really care for fools, then will you do them a favour?” Garuda then told him the whole story.

Vishnu said, “No, they are not fools. They are showing the spirit of patience and perseverance. This is how human beings must try to empty the ignorance-sea, drop by drop. It is what the seekers must and should do. Ignorance-sea is very vast. If sincere seekers want to empty it to replace it with knowledge-light, then they have to do it the same way, drop by drop. So I am very pleased with those partridges. I am commanding the sea to return the eggs.”

Garuda said, “The sea wanted to give them the eggs but it misplaced them and feels that they are all destroyed.”

Vishnu said, “I am using my own occult power to show the sea where it has kept the eggs.”

He used his occult power and the sea immediately found the eggs and returned them to the partridges. Then Vishnu said to the birds, “Perseverance, patience and self-giving all are of paramount importance to fulfil one’s divine task.”

— Sri Chinmoy, from Great Indian Meals: Divinely Delicious and Supremely Nourishing, Part 2, Agni Press, 1979
sri-chinmoy-great-indian-meals-part-2

Special thanks to Priyadarshan Bontempi and SriChinmoyLibrary.com for providing a great storehouse of Sri Chinmoy’s works.

See also “An Adventure in Eggs,” by Ashrita Furman, plus televisual record.

And here is where the — ahem — EGGS TERMINATE!!!

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The Best of Leonard Cohen

I was so sad to learn that singer, songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen passed away on Thursday at the age of 82. He was best known for bittersweet lyrics that put together images in a way not quite like anyone else. Of those who rose to prominence writing folksongs in the late 60s/early 70s, only a handful could be considered excellent poets, and he was certainly one.

I’ve always thought “Suzanne” to be his most beautiful song, and I like the Judy Collins version of it best:

But his own rendition of the same song brings out more of his characteristic melancholy:

He was one of many folk artists I listened to religiously when I was about 16, and collectively they opened up a whole new world for me. No one taught me much of anything when I was growing up, so digesting the rich experiences contained in poetry set to music was a way for me to expand my world and empathize with people far distant in time and space. It was my education in feeling, and as I joke elsewhere, along with the work of visual artists like Picasso it helped prepare me for a lifetime of unemployment. I became quite old for my age listening to songs like “The Partisan”:

 

“Ah, the wind is blowing
Through the graves the wind is blowing…”

But I hope Leonard Cohen will find shelter from the cold, wearing his famous blue raincoat.

Michael Howard

Trump Your Pumpkin!

Announcing the winner and runner-up in the YouTube contest to carve a place in political history.

 

Orange is the colour of my Trumpkin’s head
In the mornin’ when we rise…

Donovan

The last of the costumes have been put back in mothballs; the last of the vomit has been cleaned up off your parents’ coffee table; but there’s still one Halloween ritual left to perform: the all-important Judging of the Trumpkin Videos!

One meme begets another, so just when Trump Your Cat was starting to seem stale as old kitty-litter, along comes Halloween, and with it Trump Your Pumpkin.

We’ve sifted through more YouTubes than you can shake a femur at, scooped out the seedy ones, and baked the two finalists into a blogger’s pie for your delectation.

The Runner-Up

Deserving mucho appreciation for all the work that went into it, “It’s The Great Trumpkin!” is a parody of the classic Charlie Brown Halloween special:

The children’s voices are remarkably convincing, and I love seeing Snoopy as an illegal immigrant skulking across the border in the dead of night.

The Winner

Called “Donald Trumpkin Is Making Halloween Great Again,” the winning video is a fast-paced survey of nearly ten entries in the field, ending with a Trump Halloween mask made by a shop in Cuernavaca, Mexico, plus an interview with the proprietor. Viva El Trumpkin!

What The Future Holds

If the Trump Your Pumpkin meme should ever ring hollow, I’m confident that others may be unearthed. Perhaps actor Charles Laughton holds the key! (At least, that’s my hunch…)

donald-trump-your-hump

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization. No pumpkins were harmed during the making of this post.