In my capacity as Media Czar (a title management still refuses to bestow upon me, despite my persistent threats to grow a beard, don a chest full of medals and accept the eventual overrun of my empire by communists), I make it a daily task to have at least one “aha” moment as regards my work.
This seldom happens. Instead, I have “ha” moments wherein the powers of the universe laugh at my attempts at attaining any sort of insight beyond realizing, say, my sideburns are two different lengths. What I’ve been seeking is a “satori,” the Buddhist term alternately translated as “understanding” and a “quick kick in the eye.” I prefer the latter term since it often takes some measure of extreme experience for me to notice anything (like when my own Jeep ran me over in a freak parking accident and I finally learned the power of “curbing”).
I first encountered the term satori on the cover of Jack Kerouac’s “Satori in Paris,” the 1967 Grove Press paperback edition with the wannabe Warhol depiction of the Eiffel Tower in electric blue against a sea of tomato soup red. I was a 15-year-old high school dropout groping for meaning, or at least a good time in Sonoma County’s café counter-culture. Another of my dropout mates had lifted the book from a secondhand store for its title, which he construed as a paean to seminal Goth act Bauhaus who used it on a single. Of course, my pal had the homage in reverse. He did this frequently, such as when he made the goring observation that Kubrick had apparently made a prequel to the mid-80s sci-fi froth known as “2010.”
In some versions of this origin myth, I open Kerouac’s Parisian travelogue and suddenly begin evolving from leather-jacketed street urchin to printed pontificator and eventual Media Czar. What (actually?) happened was I had no sooner picked up my pal’s book than one of the local sophisticates strolled into our café. Her hair was asymmetrically bobbed and pharaonic eyeliner traced eyes that usually rolled when I happened to cross her jaundiced worldview. She spied the paperback in my hands, momentarily brightened and said, “Kerouac, eh? You’re cooler than I thought, D.”
The satori of this story: Hip chicks like literary types. Or, at least they did in the 80s and up to about 2006, when last I checked, then bamboozled the Contessa into saying “I do.” Now, I’ve become interested in directing my literary aspirations toward empire-building and perhaps a dash of posterity. My kids will surely come to loath my drive, the calculated ambition that consumes their father and his attempt to create a family franchise by yoking the bloodline inextricably to ink. “Go to your room and write your mother a sonnet!” will echo through the halls of Howell Manor while tiny hands arrange alphabet blocks in iambic pentameter. Yes, the children will hate me, but seeing as they’re presently unborn, they haven’t noticed yet. On second thought, I don’t think I can muster enough native fury to be the patriarch of prose. My own parents remain paragons of patience and have not once inquired after their nonexistent grandchildren. They long ago accepted that, in the grand sweep of time, legacy is a crap-shoot, history is a sham and one’s name on a tombstone lasts only a tick longer than the byline on this page.
So here’s my “ha” moment: Journalist Victor Noir entombed in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris – the contents of his sculpted bronze trousers are noticeably anatomically-correct and shine more brightly than the rest of him due to the romantic superstitions of legions of Parisian women. Ay, there’s the rub.