Abraham Lincoln: Advice from the Ghost Hotel

So, here I am, crashed out in the Ghost Hotel, the empty shell of some developer’s dream, and the walls are beginning to glow whiter…the straight edges of doorways and windows are starting to waver like sinuous dancers.  I should never let the Philosopher Red cook…or at least, eat what he cooks.  I go to the concrete chunk and wood scrap pile we call the kitchen and look at the recipe he used.

1 bunch of spinach, chopped

1 1/2 cup sour cream

1 cup mayonnaise

1 package vegetable soup mix

3 green onions, chopped

1 cup roasted chapulin (or other insects)

Squeeze spinach until dry.  Combine ingredients.  Refrigerate two hours.  Serve in hollowed bread.  Scoop using crackers of vegetables.

Now, Chapulin is a Spanish slang word for grasshopper, or a young thief or troublemaker.  A bag lying on the counter has a few of the large black ants which The Philosopher Red has discovered cause a slightly hallucinatory effect when dried and eaten.  He becomes a troublemaker when so intoxicated…I regress into my self – past the area where the Rude Red Dude rules.  A Chapulin, indeed.

A Lincoln penny on ground

I walk out onto our rubble of a patio, and find, of all things, an American penny.  The wind sounds like the hum of an audience waiting to be entertained.  “A much better image had he, before the weight of wisdom and responsibility brought him to un-sightly ends,” I pronounce in the best tragedian voice I can muster.  I would have flopped in Shakespeare’s Globe.  The wind seems like muffled applause.  These ants do the job.  Note to self: never eat anything The Philosopher Red –

“My father taught me to work, but not to love it,” came a deep-chested voice, world-weary and monotone.  “I never did like to work, and I don’t deny it. I’d rather read, tell stories, crack jokes, talk, laugh — anything but work.”

“A talking penny,” I mumbled.  This was beginning to take on a religious feel…projecting words on to idols, although the smallest American idol – but one any Televangelist would worship.

“Don’t criticize them; they are just what we would be under similar circumstances,” the voice replied.

“But they all look so good while doing so much disservice to their faithful,” I said, feeling a bit silly talking to a penny, but so alone in the Ghost Hotel it didn’t matter.  And look at Lincoln’s image…not the skeletal mug of his photos during the war years, but the grand features of a born entertainer, a teller of stories, maybe.

“When a young man in Illinois I was riding through a wood and met a woman, also on horseback, who stopped and said; ‘Well for land sake you are the homeliest man I ever saw.’ ‘Yes, madam, but I can’t help it,’ I replied.  ‘No, I suppose not,’ she observed, ‘but you could stay at home.'”  The Lincoln voice sounded playful.

“Might have been a good idea, in your case,” I said to the image on the penny.  “Too late to learn from history though, or advice from friends.”

“All I have learned, I learned from books,” the voice answered.  “My best friend is a person who will give me a book I have not read.”

“Well, you know,” I started, thinking I might as well play along with my distorted senses.  “America hasn’t not done so well since people like you…last president raised in the Age of Reason, left before telling us how to clean the mess up.”

“This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it.  Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their Constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember it or overthrow it…”

Now this fantastic voice seemed to be rising to the occasion…a little bit of good old stump oratory…some frontier wisdom.  I sat down.  The effects of eating these black ants might last a while.

“…America will never be destroyed from the outside.  If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

“I hope you wrote some of this down,” I said, flipping the penny aimlessly. “This common little copper disc reminds me of common people.  They serve a purpose for a while, but in the end   they’re expendable.”

“The Lord prefers common-looking people.  That is why he made so many of them,” the voice said, a light-hearted air starting to become apparent.  “And writing, the art of communicating thoughts to the mind through the eye, is the great invention of  this world…enabling us to converse with the dead, the absent, and the unborn, at all distances of time and space.”

English: John Wilkes Booth.

English: John Wilkes Booth. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Plain and not honest is too harsh a style,” a new voice echoed through the concrete walls of the Ghost Hotel.  I looked at a darkened corner where it seemed to have originated from, then back at the penny now lying head up in my palm.  I must have looked a bit baffled.

“That is the corner where presidential assassins seem to congregate,” the Lincoln voice said.  “That Booth – always quoting from Shakespeare…Richard the third.  A beast of a man when ignored.”

“No beast so fierce but knows some touch of pity.  But I know none, and therefore am no beast,” the assassin’s voice rang out.  A voice trained for the theater…projection.  Looking into the corner I see the spectral shapes of several people.  I look to the penny.

“John Wilkes Booth…but I suppose you knew that,” the Lincoln voice said.  “And…Giteau, Czolgosz, Oswald – claims to fame, presidential assassins.”

“Sin, death, and hell have set their marks on him, and all their ministers attend him,” Booth’s voice boomed.

There were more than four spectral bodies in the corner.  A female voice began muttering, as if talking to herself:

“Am I sorry I tried?  Yes, and no.  Yes, because it accomplished little except to throw away the rest of my life.  And, no, I’m not sorry I tried, because at the time it seemed a correct expression of my anger…my thoughts of -”

I looked to the penny for an explanation.

Sandra Good, and her cohort Squeaky Fromme,” the Lincoln voice said.  “I hear they tried to assassinate a President Ford, and the joke around here is that he was stumbling down stairs and slipping on wet streets so often he was more of a danger to himself than these attempted assassins were…the management allows their failed company to mix with the successful, for reasons – ”

“Dispute not with her: she is a lunatic,” chimed the Booth voice.  Does he know anything except lines from Shakespeare?

I could hear a squeaky voice arguing with the surer voice of Sandra Good.  “Chapman, shut up…” they said in unison.

“This has to be harder on you than hallucinating on black ants,” I said to Lincoln’s profile on the penny.

“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on,” it replied.

“Good advice,” I said, looking in at The Philosopher Red rifling through my shirt pockets…probably looking for more ant money, “Very good advice.”

 

The Face of a Young Woman of the World

Maryam ShahbazI sent my friend Maryam an e-mail…wanted to make sure she didn’t mind me using her picture in this piece.  A female activist in her country was recently assassinated for audaciously using words to call attention to the suffering in her land.  There’s money and power in misery, and those who try to pull the plug on the money machine will pay…with their lives, if necessary.  I didn’t want to put my friend in any such danger.  She is a poet, and she has a voice, and she is a woman, and…she’s from the dangerous and demonized nation of Pakistan.

She didn’t answer for a few days, and I was concerned.  Finally, this came:

“Major electricity and internet problem ! Our government is striving to provide us with many options of ‘going out’.  Now, everyone is losing their hope for a brighter day.  Those who have means to go away are leaving for countries other than Pakistan.  It surely is getting catastrophic.  It sure does give unforgiving heartache to see your country being bled to death.”

I hear smug, self-righteous voices reciting records of slaughter as if their favorite sporting team had put one in the “win” column.  I sense satisfaction when news of more dead bodies to be piled – more coffins to built and filled – surgical strikes – collateral damage, is reported – oh well…they probably deserved it any way.  This disaster needs a face, and here’s one…the face of the “enemy”…and, the words of the “enemy” –

“My hope is that one day I will be able to travel the world, to meet people and relate the story of a land beautiful and green which has been polluted by the hands of us mortals.  I believe in the coming years, the people more than the government will be responsible for the change towards nations like us, especially when they get to see the human side of things politicized.”

Maryam Shahbaz and FriendsMaryam is a writer, a poet, from a city known for its poets.  She recently earned a degree in commerce, but her leg was broken, and she had to put further studies on hold for a while.  She and her friends like to dress in ways that might dismay her elders, like so many young women do all over the world.  She thinks her words and opinions have value, like so many young women do all over the world.  She likes shoes, a passion she and my wife share,like so many young women all over the world…just one more pair of shoes.

Maryam is publishing her first book, a collection of poetry currently in the final editing process.  She hopes to come to the United States and give readings of some of her works concerning the destruction of her country and the difficulties that come with being a young woman who thinks for herself, and thinks the world can be a better place for us all to live in.

I take pride in the fact that Maryam asked me to write a dedication for her poetry collection.

My wife is proud that Maryam asked her if she would allow a few of her photographs to grace the pages of her poetry collection.

Maryam is so gracious, thanking us again and again for our contributions, and I sit here thinking that I should be thankful that she wants me to contribute what little I can to her effort to improve the lives of the people of her country, and the lives of young women the world over.

I am humbled.

I do not believe in surgical strikes.

I am not stupid.

I watch the news now and again, too often, it seems, and I hear the wail of the world being slowly turned into a charnel pit.

I am not deaf…or sightless…or voiceless…and somtimes I feel so very alone.

Thanks for allowing me to be a part of your world, Maryam…I hope that during your lifetime you can write the world to a deeper understanding of just who the “enemy” is, and that those enemies of the world will not only read your words, but take them to heart.

Your burden is something most of us can’t even imagine.

Good luck to you, my friend.