Tag Archives: Death of a Salesman

#304: Willy and Biff Loman Cross Paths with Talking Heads

Once in a Lifetime

(with gratitude to David Byrne and Arthur Miller)

What have they asked of themselves?
The tiniest slice of the pie belongs to
that beautiful house, which mostly,
they recognize because it’s a thing
they can see and a 25 year mortgage
they can feel, every month for 25 years.
Am I wrong? They have difficulty with this–
unwilling as they both are, the father more so than
the son, to face down their demons.
Where does that highway go to?
Out to the country on a farm?
Out on another futile sales trip?
Over a bridge on the water, carry the water,
under the water? Remove the water.
That large automobile, that
illusive, slippery part of the past,
that red chevy, or this new one–
it’s a kind of weapon.
How did I get here? How do I work this?
Two sides of the same coin, an insoluble
mystery for the father, the life’s work
of his son, striving for something like
full consciousness and awareness,
a sense of self not totally foreign and
packaged for them by exteriors
and other peoples’ hot-air expectations.
Am I right? Tell me, am I right?
They spend a big chunk of their energies
trying to convince themselves and the world
about the validity of their dreams,
same as it ever was, same as it ever was.
But ultimately, it’s about 25%:
My God, what have I done?
A quarter of the time:
My God, what have I done?
They know exactly what they’ve done.
One of them must die for it,
only once in a lifetime.
The other will live, saying
I know who I am.

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#124: Bricks and Windows, Windows and Bricks

“The way they boxed us in here. Bricks and windows, windows and bricks.” –Willy Loman, Death of A Salesman, Arthur Miller

the old neighborhood

the old neighborhood

 

In my old neighborhood they tore down
an abandoned psych hospital for new town homes.
There was no big loss, the end of an era
polluted by horrific scenes of suicidal escapees,
children being committed against their will,
an inmate shot for dangerously wielding a pencil.
Close it down.  Good riddance.  And welcome
to my new neighbors, a hundred of them, perhaps,
an entire city block turned into living space
for middle class families, retired people,
and single professionals, some who would
become good friends, a fitting reward
for tolerating the tear down, the noise of
machinery and trucks, hammering, drilling,
digging, pounding, whistles and beeps.
They put trees in the parking strips,
sadly removed one huge tree, but mostly
windows and bricks and wood and a tall
roof line replacing the ugly concrete
and the aforementioned psych ward.

Now, in my new neighborhood, four
houses across the street on double
or triple lots will be destroyed to make
way for 32 single-family homes.
So, here we go again.  But this time,
I’m conflicted.  They’re all rentals,
the landowner clearly making a killing
and turning affordable housing into
properties where none of her previous
tenants could ever dream of living.
Conversely, when the project’s finished,
my neighbors might be more like me,
which might be a good deal for my family,
but not necessarily good for people displaced
and trees and animals displaced to make way
for another new suburban development
where people used to plant gardens
and children could run for miles
in their own back yards.

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Of Likes and Comments

Some people like and don’t comment and some people comment and don’t like. Some people don’t like to like, think it’s somehow a lame effort or no effort and therefore stupid.  I don’t like that.  I like things all of the time.  I like it when people like.  I like it when people comment, unless they make a comment I don’t like.  And then I don’t like but sometimes I comment because it’s hard to keep my proverbial mouth shut.

I don’t like it when I’m writing and someone’s looking over my shoulder.  It’s odd, sometimes, what people don’t like.  I recently read someone venting about generic birthday wishes, as if it would be better to say nothing than to say, simply, happy birthday; probably these are the  same people who think it’s lazy to like without comment. It seems to me that a birthday wish is a birthday wish, a like is a like, and sometimes the simplest thing is often the simplest and therefore the best.  Granted, it takes more effort to type the words “happy birthday” than it takes to point and click on the like button.  I’m not saying that they’re equal gestures.  I’d rather have someone say happy birthday to me, like my friend Curtis does every time he sees me, than to simply like a post of mine.  But I got 80 plus likes once on a post I made of a stupid picture of me, and that made me feel good; it made me feel liked, more liked, perhaps, than would a single birthday wish.  In Death of a Salesman, Willy and Biff Loman’s lines  have so much more meaning now than they did in the 1940’s, that Charlie and Bernard are both liked–but they’re not well-liked, and somehow that’s a problem.  After I posted that photo, I felt well-liked.  If only Willy Loman had Facebook.

I wonder how I would have felt had no one liked my photo.  I’d feel, perhaps, like Willy and Biff think Charlie and Bernard feel, but of course, they’re wrong about how Charlie and Bernard feel, and maybe I’d be wrong–Willy’s biggest problem is that he puts too much stock in whether or not people like him and that sends him into a psychological tailspin: he believes he is well-liked–and he might be–but he’s a terrible salesman and no one’s buying his shit. So he fails.  Charlie is shrewd and wise and Bernard is a hard working nerd, neither of them liked too terribly much, both of them successful.

What I realize, and like, about this blog post so far, is that (I’m guessing) four years ago this would make absolutely no sense to a great many human beings.  I like how it still might not make a lot of sense to a great many human beings.  I like, and don’t like simultaneously, how Facebook has changed our language, how a friend is no longer a friend, exactly, how both friend and like have become actions, how to comment is now about the same as it ever was, which I like, by the way.  And I like how I managed to talk about a play.  And I like how, in doing so, I might have landed on an idea.  Remember how Henry David Thoreau, in that one book, talked about how most letters were not worth the penny post it cost to mail them?  That was awesome.  I know Thoreau would absolutely hate Facebook–but he might appreciate how little it costs to send someone a message, less than a penny.  And Arthur Miller, and his tragic hero Willy Loman, might appreciate how the word like has become so absolutely pedestrian so as to mean almost exactly nothing.  I can’t believe I just wrote 632 words on this topic.

Thank you, Jim Thornburg.

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