It’s been a nearly year since James Mark Emmerling chose to take his own life. (As aka pointed out he died on January 7, 2016... thanks for the correction. In my elderly mind, the anniversary of his passing became confused with the date of the last PM exchange I had with JME... mea culpa,) Though we never met in life, I came to regard James as a good friend and I still cannot find words to express how I feel about his death. I cannot imagine how Margaret and his family must feel today. All I can do is extend my sincere condolences on this anniversary of their loss. I’ve written nothing but comments and contemporary event posts since his passing.
Now it’s time to leave grief behind and get on with life so this is the re-post of the tale that James and I began in October 2014:
Verse, Fame and beauty are intense indeed,
But Death intenser – Death is life's high mead.
John Keats, Sonnet: Why did I laugh to-night?
This comes out of a dream I had a few days before James Emmerling passed away. I had no way of knowing it but this turned out to be the last episode of our exploration of Heaven and Hell in Golgonooza and the Interzone with William Burroughs. Here’s where we left off:
Ms. A was beside herself when they landed, “What’s wrong with him?”
JMac shrugged and said, “Nothing that I can tell. As far as I know he’s asleep.”
“What happened,” she demanded.
“He came up on a pile of burned bodies and it looked like he passed out,” JMac answered, “His head hit the pavement pretty hard but he’s got a strong pulse and steady breathing. It’s like he’s sleeping.”
Burroughs winked and said, “Likely playin’ possum he is, tonic immobility, a not uncommon response to overwhelming traumatic stimulus, not fainting but closer to REM sleep.” - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apparent_death#Tonic_immobility
Still holding Emmerling in his arms JMac shrugged and asked, “So what do I do with him?”
Burroughs turned to Murakami and asked, “Harukisan?”
“Do you have the strength to carry him back across the bay,” he asked. “I guess so,” replied JMac. “Then take him to my home. Let him sleep and Yoko will care for him, until we return.”
JMac took a deep breath as he shifted Emmerling’s body in his arms and then with a whir of his wings they lifted off for the flight southwest across Tokyo Bay. The spiraling stars reflecting on the dark surface of the water made the navigation of where a simple matter of locating the dark shoreline. The navigation of when was another matter altogether.
JMac flew to the place where he knew that the Rainbow Bridge should be on the western shore of the bay, but none of the 21st Century landmarks were visible. Guessing that time might be a function of altitude, he ascended several thousand feet toward what he remembered as the black hole and sure enough the brilliant lights of Tokyo and the Rainbow Bridge reflected from the dark surface of the bay. Physically exhausted, he descended in a spiral glide path to conserve energy and when he saw light spilling from the entrance to Murakami’s home, he dug deep to find the juice to land on his feet. Staggering into the shipping container he folded his wings and carapace, went down on one knee to place Emmerling onto a futon and thought he saw/heard Yoko, Lolita and Debbie Harry before he passed out on the floor.
JMac woke up on his back in a cold rain. Emmerling and his roommate Sarge were standing in the rain watching the second floor windows of their apartment explode while flame licked the night and firemen sprayed water over the inferno before it got out of hand. An elderly gentleman with a pipe stood behind them. "No good, Jim,” he said, “You don't belong here. Get out. Get on with it, would you, for Christ's sake."
To his surprise it was Emmerling who came upon him from behind and offered him a hand up. “What’s going on,” JMac asked. “Just a bit of dreamtime,” replied James, “A reflection of a reflection in the funhouse hall of mirrors that is time.”
Getting to his feet JMac said, “I’m guessing we’re not in Tokyo anymore Toto.”
Emmerling laughed, “Connecticut, May 16, 2014, on what would have been my father’s 92nd birthday and the beginning of my journey to Ohio.”
“Looking at him looking at you,” said JMac. “Only his spirit in memory, but isn’t he grand,” said Emmerling. JMac smiled and replied, “He certainly cuts quite the figure.”
In the distance a woman appeared at the front door of a suburban house at the end of a cul-de-sac and called out, “George, Jim, dinner is ready.”
The elder Emmerling turned away from the firemen, puffed on his pipe and said, “Be right there, Eleanor,” then he extended his open hand to JMac, asking, “Who’s your friend, Jim? I assume he’ll be joining us for dinner, baked ham with roasted new potatoes tonight.”
James performed the proper introductions, “Dad this is JMac from Our Salon. We’ve been doing some writing about Blake and Burroughs.”
George chuckled as they shook hands, “Both profane and profound each of them in their own ways. Come along. We’ll have some wine, or beer if you prefer, and a bite to eat,” then as he turned to lead the way toward the house on the cul-de-sac at the edge of the woods at the end of the world, George whispered to James in a put upon mournful tone, “Have you noticed, she is getting worse?”
“You do your best, Dad,” Emmerling replied, “We all do our best.”
They fell in step behind his father’s purposeful stride and James whispered to JMac, “He’s bummed because they made him retire, feeling much less than when he ran things at the high school. He pours the endless glass of wine morning, noon and night to anchor himself back when he was the hero of his own story. Mom joins in the libation but doesn’t play along with his mythic valor.”
JMac chuckled and said, “I once spent the better part of a year peeling that onion only to discover that I was a legend in my own mind. It’s a humbling realization. Some people can’t handle it.”
They entered the two story Colonial house and wiped their shoes on the mat in the foyer. In the living room an antique clock from Germany ticked on the mantel over the fireplace but the hands read a few minutes past 1:30 so it wasn’t keeping very good time. George put his pipe on the mantel, opened the fire screen behind the andirons and grabbed an ornate poker to stir the embers of a dying fire. Then as he knelt and carefully placed two split logs on the grate, he began to narrate the details of how to properly stoke a good fire. He used the bellows to bring the glowing embers up to sufficient temperature to ignite the logs and as they burst into flames, he stood up and replaced the poker and bellows on the rack with a flourish reminiscent of the final motions of a matador’s performance.
The warm fragrance of baked ham and warm bread filled ground floor of the four bedroom house and JMac realized that he was famished. Eleanor, James’ mother, set a large silver platter on the dining room table and said, “Leave that smelly pipe on the mantel and come carve the ham.”
That was fine as far as JMac was concerned and as they left the living room, he was taken aback when he looked up to glimpse his image in the antique mirror over the mantel. He was no longer the Lobster Man from Mars but the terminally ill white haired Santa Claus bearded man who had slipped off the stern of a sailboat to meet death on his own terms in the depths of the Pacific Ocean. He grinned and chuckled for he’d long ago given up on trying to make any sense of the time twisted shape shifting that went on in Golgonooza.
Eleanor’s baked ham was a masterpiece, glazed with course ground German mustard and brown sugar, scored with a pattern of one inch squares and decorated with cubes of pineapple and Maraschino cherries skewered with colored wooden toothpicks. Roasted new potatoes, baby carrots and Brussels sprouts surrounded the massive joint of pork on the perimeter of the massive oval silver platter. George picked up a wonderful cold rolled steel blade and hardened steel as he lectured about the proper way to hone the edge of a good knife. He was interrupted by the sound of the doorbell. Ever the good son James jumped out of his chair and crossed the living room to answer the door.
It was Ms. Rena Oblong with a folder filled with lesson plans from Manchester High School and a bottle of good scotch. George paused in his knife sharpening and waved her into the dining room. “Ms. Oblong, you’ve arrived at the perfect moment. Come grab a chair and join us for dinner.”
While James took her coat, JMac was astonished at how Rena’s sultry eyes and sardonic smile overwhelmed her perfectly proportioned body clad in the classic white silk blouse, tight black satin pencil shirt, seamed silk stockings and black leather boots with three inch heels. She was everything that James had ever written and more.
With everyone settled at the table, Eleanor poured the wine and beer, while George served up tasty slices of ham with roasted potatoes, carrots and sprouts. Raising his glass he offered up a toast, “Give thanks to my wonderful wife who prepared this wonderful repast and to the company of family and good friends.”
Eleanor feigned protest, but continued to smile as everyone rained compliments on her while they all savored every bite of her most excellent meal. To his surprise, JMac’s elderly invalid’s appetite wasn’t nearly as voracious as his Lobsterman hunger. He sat down at the table feeling that he could eat the entire ham but found that he was more than sated after a single serving. Much to the amusement of George and Eleanor, Rena and James kept up a seamless repartee that invariably began with James teasing Rena and her effortless rejoinders leaving him hoisted on his own petard.
Dessert was a very delicious not too sweet German chocolate cake served with steaming Yuban coffee poured straight from a vintage chrome plated Sunbeam electric percolator. JMac found room for two pieces of cake and while James helped his mother with clearing the table and loading the dishwasher, JMac joined George and Rena for whiskey and a smoke on the back porch. “Isn’t she a pip,” said George as he lifted his glass, “Our Rena is so smart that Jimmy’s got his hands full. Did you know she shares her name with Eleanor’s mother, rest her soul?”
Rena offered JMac a cigarette and after they lit up she said, “And I’ll bet you had your hands full with Eleanor’s mother.”
“Oh yes,” said George, “She was quite the wit, sharp as a tack.”
“Grandma Rena,” asked James as he bummed a smoke from her doppelganger namesake, “She was a hell of a woman.”
George puffed on his pipe, shook out the burning match and lifted his glass of whiskey again, “That’s why I married your mother. Every man needs a bright woman to keep him sharp and focused.”
And so it went as they chatted and laughed and watched the soft rain come down on the spacious backyard on the cul-de-sac at the edge of the woods at the end of the world, until George looked at his watch and said, “Oh my, it’s five past ten, bedtime. Eleanor will be waiting up for me. You kids enjoy the evening.”
They went back into the kitchen where the dishwasher was humming along and returned to the living room where Eleanor waited at the foot of the stairwell. After their good nights, she and George climbed the stairs and disappeared into their room. James and Rena lounged on the couch and JMac noticed the clock on the mantel of the fireplace. It was still ticking away but the hands hadn’t budged from 1:35. Looking up to his aged reflection in the old mirror, JMac felt overwhelmed by a sense of irritation, disappointment and exhaustion. He recognized that combined sense of powerless dread and emotional bankruptcy as he looked around in the shadows for signs of the Black Dog, and then he heard himself say, “Well kiddos, I’m kind of feeling like a third wheel, so I guess I’m gonna take off and see if I kind find my way back to Tokyo.”
“You’re welcome to stay,” said James, “Spare beds and plenty of room.”
“Thanks, but I’m feeling itchy and I need to find some place to scratch.”
“Well it’s raining so you’ll be needing a coat and hat,” said Emmerling and with the same kind of flourish as his father he produced a tan Mackintosh and a black fedora from the closet next beneath the stairwell. They shook hands and as they said their good-byes, Ms. Rena gave JMac a warm hug and a peck on the cheek at the front door. “Stay on top of Emmerling,” he said, “He’s a good soul.”
With a final wave as they closed the door, JMac walked down the driveway to find the Black Dog sitting on its haunches in the rain at the perimeter of a pool of light that spilled from a street lamp. Though he was thoroughly prepared to kick the malign beast away from the threshold of the Emmerlings’ property, the black Labrador waged its tail, tilted his head and the light in his sad brown eyes shown love in askance, “Uncle gone?”
It was Georgie, the innocent pet of Emmerling’s sister and correspondent of many an interspecies philosophical discussion with James.
With that question echoing through his mind, tears came to his eyes as JMac knelt down to pet the poor fellow and respond in a hoarse whisper, “Yes Georgie, Uncle’s gone.”
He held the dog’s head in his arms and wept until the grand ’38 Cadillac pulled up next to them. Ginsberg knelt beside JMac and put one arm around his shoulders, while Burroughs stood next to them, offering a white linen handkerchief from his coat pocket and said, “Thought we might find you here. We lost him.”
“I know,” said JMac as he wiped his eyes and got to his feet, “Is there a bar open around here? I could use a drink.”
“Nothing around here but dives,” said Uncle Bill, “We need some light and I know just the place.”
“What about the dog,” asked Ginsberg. “Bring him along,” replied Burroughs, “This place is a beach shack, Jim Bob’s Fine Foods in San Juan del Sur. I understand they do decent BBQ so there should be plenty of bones for a sad old dog.”
“You be my Uncle?” asked Georgie. “Why not,” said JMac, “Looks like things are going full circle.”
The rain had stopped, so they lowered the top and Georgie got to hang his head over the door as they leisurely drove to the coast where the full moon shown high over the Pacific and Warren Zevon was about to take the tiny stage at Jim Bob’s Fine Foods.
Nineteen is a prime number, indivisible by any number other that one and itself. It is a number that can be shared and a good number to bring this tale to a proper end. When James Mark Emmerling and I started this back in 2014, neither of us knew where the story would take us. Nineteen is as good a number as any. I still miss him but it is time to move on. For anyone who may be interested, here is a linked index to previous installments of Heaven and Hell, Burroughs and Blake:
Except for attributed photos and text, all content is copyrighted © 2016 JKM/JME (an apparently ineffectual boilerplate joke?)