Giving voice to all her thoughts

By David Grima | Jan 18, 2013

From time to time in these columns I use what might be considered a moral voice. I complain about things that have been done and about things left undone, for example.

Don’t let it worry you too much. I do not do this because I am perfect, (hard to believe, huh?) but because I believe these things should be said for their own sake.

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A woman wearing pink pajama pants who is using the computer next to me in the city library is trying desperately to order free cigarettes online, and has been liberally complaining and fussing out loud about how difficult it is.

For five minutes I have listened to every complaint she has made, as well as all her sniffing, and when I finally asked her to keep her thoughts to herself she replied angrily (and foolishly) that “It’s no wonder people in this country want to shoot everyone.”

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I heard a tale last week about a man who lives in Rockland who speaks 17 languages. I wonder if one of them is Welsh?

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I heard another story from a friend who attempted to earn good money working as a cocktail waitress back in the 1960s. She said she did everything she thought was right, but still her tips were only a fraction of the amount that other waitresses were earning.

So one day she sat down with a more experienced waitress after work, and asked her to explain what she was doing wrong. At first the other waitress was reluctant to talk about the matter, but when my friend insisted she finally told her the two main tricks of the trade.

“Honey, you have to smile and you have to be available to the men,” she said. “That’s how you get good tips.”

That was pretty much the end of her career as a cocktail waitress.

* * * * *

This afternoon the concrete grain towers where I live are surrounded by a swirl of fog and filth. You can’t see anything, and there’s nothing you’d want to see.

After all that cold weather we had earlier in the month the temperatures have risen into the mid-40s, and the result is a complete mess all across the county. The parking lot by the ocean at the foot of Linden Street is a swamp of mud.

I am reminded that we are only about six or seven weeks away from the anniversary of the heat wave we had last March, when my little wooden house sank into the mud in my yard that had never properly frozen, and I was forced to come and live up here in the grain towers.

We have always had the occasional spell of weather that is out of the ordinary. It is also true that the weather does go in fairly measurable cycles, and it is provable that our winters are no longer as severe as they were a few decades ago. Wouldn’t it be interesting if we really are seeing a general rearrangement in the patterns of weather that surround us?

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A classic book to read in these gray times is any one of Henning Mankell’s novels about the police detective Kurt Wallander. They are set in Sweden, where the gray creeping damp nipping weather is often of a kind with our own of late.

Nothing could be bleaker than the way he ends the last of the Wallander novels, “The Troubled Man.” The policeman has been experiencing occasional terrifying bouts of temporary memory loss, when it all finally overcomes him while he is sitting in his kitchen with his daughter.

His baby granddaughter runs toward him across the room, and suddenly he has no idea who she is. He knows she has been in his house before, but that’s all. Mankell describes it as a sudden draining of color from the world, when everything goes to black and white.

The author gives his character, the policeman, no more than 10 years to live in a world with precious little memory left before he will meet his end.

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It is the highest purpose of books to help us understand that our personal experience of the world is not unique, to tell us how others feel as they live their individual lives, and to let us know that we do not know joy or suffer sorrow all on our own.

When the Communists captured whole societies in Eastern Europe, the first poison they introduced was the drive to destroy the idea that individual human lives matter. They told people that their own suffering is meaningless at a personal level, and all that matters is the collective life of the state.

The best books I have read are a great shout against that outrageous lie.

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Here’s a book I just finished, “Glittering Lights” by Camille Paglia, a series of articles about individual pieces of art from the time of ancient Egypt to 2005.

Her most provocative proposal is that painting, in the sense of paint put on canvas with brushes, is more or less dead as a cultural force, certainly in the way it was once a force until the time of Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol.

It was Warhol, (1928-1987,) and others in the Pop Art movement like Roy Lichstenstein, (1923-1997,) who helped kill off painting as a force that was at the front edge of a living culture, she says.

Most interesting is her argument that the greatest living artist is George Lucas, the visionary filmmaker responsible for the “Star Wars” movies.

Paglia cites the final act of “Revenge of the Sith” — the terrible swordfight between two men who represent good and evil but who are like unto brothers; and the simultaneous re-creation of the defeated Anakin as Darth Vader; and the birth and hiding like Moses in the basket of Anakin’s twins who would later grow up to destroy him — as an example of the modern blending of technology, vision, storytelling, and emotional skill that characterizes the best of contemporary art.

Well! What do you think about that?

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The woman in the pink pajama pants sitting next to me in the library has still not shot me. But she continues to mutter and complain out loud, up to and including blasphemy. And all because she has earphones on and seems to have no idea she is giving voice to all her thoughts, lost in a world where she hopes to get free cigarettes.

David Grima is a former editor with Courier Publications. He can be reached at, or by sitting next to him in the library and baring your soul.

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