Saturday, January 28, 2012

Hugh Bruce

We laid Hugh Bruce to rest today in my parish.

He was a veteran of the Vietnam War, a combat medic. He came out of the war a determined peace activist, active in Veterans for Peace and close friends with Grannies for Peace.

Somewhere along the line, he came out. All of his life, he was a faithful Catholic, and found himself thrown out of his parish. He spent the last 25 years of his life in the Episcopal Church and in our parish.
His lover of many years, Carl, predeceased him.

A little story to illustrate what sort of a man Hugh was:
He and Carl stopped into a restaurant in Hampton Roads, Virginia. They kissed and held hands, and no one in the restaurant seemed to mind except one rather large and rotund man at the table next to them who kept muttering "faggots" under his breath.
Hugh got up and confronted the man, telling him that he was a Vietnam Vet and could take care of himself, and did he want to settle this outside. The large man said yes. The maitre d ran over and demanded that both men stop right there. The maitre d asked Hugh if he wished to leave or the other guy. Hugh told the maitr d that the other guy could leave, he and Carl were staying. The other man left in a huff.
As Hugh and Carl were dining, people kept sending them drinks an desserts. Carl asked the waiter what was going on.
"Don't you know who that was?" the waiter said.
"I never saw that guy in my life," replied Hugh.
"That was Jerry Falwell,"the waiter answered.

A true story reported in the local paper the next day.

So our fighting Hugh is together again with Carl, and will be waiting for us all with a big mug of beer, and he'll say, "What took ya so long?"

--condensed from Justin Allen's eulogy.

Here is Hugh himself

For Hugh, the woman for whom Chicago blues musicians used to shake off their Sunday hangovers and go to Mt. Carmel Baptist Church just to hear her sing:

Friday, January 27, 2012

Today's Newt Relief

Yet another Republican debate last night.

Time for a little relief from all that ugly.

The Ultimate Hippy Stud, Joe Dallesandro in all of his glory about 1968.

And lovely British actress Freema Agyeman dispels all the ugly still, and very nicely.

Since the news cycle is likely to be dominated by Newt Gingrich's leering Jack-o-Lantern face for quite some time, I'm providing a little relief for the eyes on this blog.

The others aren't so hot either. You could cut yourself on Mitt's features. And Santorum's good little Catholic boy and star of the catechism class look with the sweater vest is just irritating. Ron Paul looks like the old guy down the street who always chases the kids and the squirrels off his lawn.

Robert Reich reminds us this morning that Dems should not be so sanguine about the prospect of a Newt candidacy, that even a 10% chance of President Gingrich is too much risk.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

David Kato

David Kato, the founder of Uganda's gay rights movement was murdered a year ago today.

The official police reports say it was a robbery (first they said it was over an attempted seduction).

How stupid do they think we are?

The man got death threats daily. A local newspaper in a front page editorial called for his death. He stood alone against a government effort to criminalize and kill gays and lesbians inspired and funded by American evangelicals.

May he rest in peace, and may the small seed planted with him and watered with his blood grow into a mighty tree.

"Indigo, Crimson, and Black are the Colors of the Flag that I'll Hoist Up in the Air When I'm Takin' My Dignity Back!!"

Leave it to the Irish to come up with a great "I'm Mad As Hell" song.

Bankers, cops, priests, politicians, plutocrats, all the self-righteous assholes who stole the world out from under us and call us lazy and decadent ...

Fuck 'em all.

This might be worth posting again on Election Day.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Crossing the Billyburg Bridge at Nightfall

Approaching the Williamsburg Bridge from Brooklyn. It is only about 5PM and it's already nightfall. It's still too early for the bridge lights to come on.

Downtown Manhattan from the Brooklyn side of the bridge

The new #1 World Trade Center, already the tallest building in town, glows with construction lights. It still has about a dozen floors to go before topping out in April.

The pedestrian path on the bridge; the subway tracks are to the right.

The East River looking toward downtown with a star.

The Brooklyn tower in the dark

Downtown with Lower East Side traffic

The spires of Midtown; the Empire State Building is on the left, the Conde Nast Building is the mast in the center, the new Bank of America Building is on the right.

My Heroes

Sometimes you have to kick the ogre in the shins to get his attention.

And Erika Baker is still my hero.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Quisling Closet Sister of the Day

David Shepherd commenting on Thinking Anglicans.

I'm feeling too ill today for another flame war.

Mark Bennet comes in a close second as runner up for the rhinestone tiara.

Erika Baker is my new hero.


I present the anti-gay Christianists with the artistic tribute they deserve. Here is a scene by that great and insightful master of modern avant-garde cinema, Mel Brooks;

Folks, I think this beats Monty Python.

Happy Chinese New Year!

Beware the mysterious West.

I agree with my friend Wilfried, who sometimes comments here. "East is east and West is west, and never the twain shall meet."

How a lion dance is supposed to be done:

Dragon dancing at night with fireworks in Thailand:

Since 2012 will be the Year of the Dragon, here is a major work of art, The Nine Dragon Scroll by Chen Rong from 1244.

Here's a detail

And here's the whole scroll.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Easy On The Eyes

Bill Maher said that politics is showbiz for ugly people.

Now that Newt Gingrich has won the SC primary, it looks like we will be waking up to his leering Jack-O-Lantern face every morning on the news for awhile. So, maybe I'll start posting pretty people here just for relief from time to time.

Requests are welcome.

I'll start with Uma Thurman in Kill Bill for you female fanciers, and James Franco on the cover of Vogue, Paris for all you man lovers.

Pretty People for Monday morning: Billy Crudup and Jessica Leccia

His Eye Is On The Sparrow

Friday, January 20, 2012

"White is Right" or so we're told

About 2 years ago, I wrote about the mythology of the western expansion of the USA, and the central role that mythology plays in art and in racist thinking. As I look at what will almost certainly be a very nasty election year, I remain unconvinced by the conventional wisdom of the punditariat that the driving force behind all the passionate feeling is the bad economy. I think the extremism that we are seeing this year goes much deeper than current economic statistics. The USA is undergoing major demographic and cultural changes that make a lot of people feel very threatened; especially those people used to being always in charge, and who long took their power and privilege for granted, i.e. White People. Our conflicts are not economic, but tribal. Tribal passions are the most powerful of public passions and trump economic self-interest all the time (how else would you explain the conflicts in the Balkans?). The Achilles Heel of all economic thinking is the assumption that people act rationally in their own self interest. Anyone who's spent 5 minutes in an introductory psych course knows that this is not the case. In the end, old Aristotle was right all along. We are not economic beings, but political beings.

First, I should come clean. I am a guilt ridden Southern liberal. I am painfully unlearning an awful lot that was taken for granted in the world I grew up in. I envy my students who were born and raised in a much more cosmopolitan world than the one I grew up in. They move through a world of cultural differences with an easy confidence and a lack of self-consciousness that I can only envy. And yet, as Molly Ivins once wrote somewhere, noticing and seeing the tangled self-deceptions white folk create around race is the beginning of wisdom for Southerners.

By the middle of this century, white folk will no longer be the majority in this country. No one will be the majority in this country. That demographic prospect terrifies some people and reinforces the very old and very powerful myth of the White Man's Last Stand. General Custer stands defiant to the end against the hordes of swarthy heathens who will overwhelm his tiny band of gallant men. This vision of brave doom haunted the white mind at least as far back as Nat Turner's rebellion; the conqueror's nightmare of becoming conquered in turn. Today that nightmare takes the form of Mexican hordes pouring across the southern border, and loud in-your-face black folk in the living room and in the White House. "I want my America back!" she tearfully cried.

It's no accident that the Tea Party is overwhelmingly white and elderly. Yes, there are black right wingers. That they get so much media attention only demonstrates how rare and exceptional they are. Indeed, supremacism in one form or another appeals to all kinds of people. Despite Herman Cain and Alan Keyes, African Americans remain one of the most reliable of Democratic constituencies and continue to play leading roles in progressive politics.

The Tea Party and the fury of today's right wing politics are the reactions of people who believe that they are the only ones who matter, that they are the only ones who count. They see their legitimate God-given position of supremacy in danger of being usurped (I think this explains part of the emotionalism behind the opposition to gay marriage and gay rights; gays, like Jews before them, are seen as parvenus as well as perverts). This sense of aggrieved privilege drives the revival of apocalyptic fundamentalism. There is a huge element of vindictiveness in visions of The End Times. God will destroy a corrupt and rotten world, but He will save and vindicate His Chosen. The Book of Revelations shades easily into The Turner Diaries. In this, Christian fundamentalism is not much different from Islamic fundamentalism whose prophets like Sayyid Qutb or the Deobandi School preached a similar hostility to modern cosmopolitanism, a similar contempt for other cultures, and an apocalyptic vindication of The Chosen.

I think this sense of threatened supremacy also drives the embrace of market fundamentalism. The right long ago discarded the founder of modern capitalism, Adam Smith. The Cold War attempt to fit this Scottish pragmatist into the role of an ideological prophet along the lines of Marx and Lenin failed utterly. Smith couldn't care less about making an all encompassing philosophy of life. He was looking for the best way to relieve shortages. Unlike the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, Smith believed that a certain measure of taxation and government regulation were necessary to maintain a decent society that anyone would want to live in. Smith even went so far as to assert that labor does indeed have a right to collectively bargain for better wages and working conditions. So Adam Smith is now discarded by those who turned his economic philosophy into an ideology. They are now turning to that most radical of anti-egalitarian thinkers, Ayn Rand. Rand took the old "Survival of the Fittest" philosophy of Herbert Spencer and gave it Lenin's ruthless all-encompassing zeal. Now, the Hidden Hand of the Market does the work of God the Father separating out the wheat from the tares, the sheep from the goats. Those who already have, who begin the race already several paces ahead of everyone else must somehow be especially favored (as opposed to just lucky to be born with a trust fund). The Market now replaces War as God's shakeout of the nobility from the commons. And since White folk (especially white straight men) historically have had all the power and still control most of the assets, then they must truly be superior by the grace of God and of nature, so the reasoning goes. Poverty and misfortune must be the fault of the sufferer, a punishment for weakness and lack of foresight and responsibility, the modern version of the old superstition that misfortune was the wrath of the gods for transgressions. Now White folk have license to treat each other the way they've treated the brown and black folk. The poor must be punished for being poor. The only legitimate solutions to social and economic problems are punitive solutions. In that light, it makes sense to keep the Bible next to Atlas Shrugged on the bookshelf.

Now, we have measures like the recent one in Arizona to repeal Mexican American studies from school curricula, to ban the books for the course, and to punish students who protest with janitorial duty and jail (there's more about it here). There is no other way to explain such actions other than the idea that America The White Christian Republic is in peril.

Exactly who gets included in those sweeping three words that begin the Constitution "We the people ..." is the central conflict of American history. The history of the USA is about the very awkward relationship between a radically egalitarian document like the American Constitution and an always conflicted anti-egalitarian society split along all kinds of lines of race, gender, and class. The Original Intent of the document is a republic for white male property owners. The actual words and ideas on the pages of the Constitution speak of universal enfranchisement, especially in the Preamble (that most important part that states the whole purpose of the Constitution and declares the source of its authority and legitimacy, not from God but by the consent of the people).

My father most of his life was deeply and emotionally loyal to America the White Christian Republic. If he was alive, he would definitely place himself in the camp of Original Intent; white property owners writing a social contract for their own kind.
I am deeply and emotionally attached to The United States, the Cosmopolitan Secular Democracy whose Constitution means what it says, and says now to all people.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

What I'm Working on Now

My "Cave of Making," except bears are a lot tidier

So what am I working on now? I'm doing a second version of a series of paintings that I did more than 10 years ago about the artist and writer David Wojnarowicz. I'm 3 paintings into what will probably be a more extensive series than the first one. This time, I'm more interested in showing him as an artist, writer, adventurer, and political activist than a martyr.

I took all of these pictures, so I apologize for the quality. I hope to have Steven Bates make good archival quality photos of these by the Spring.

Painting David, an imaginary scene in which David Wojnarowicz sits while I try to paint his portrait. This painting will probably start the series.


The Green Pterodactyl, an imaginary scene of David Wojnarowicz painting one of his large murals in the now destroyed abandoned dock warehouses on the West Side.


What Is This Little Guy's Job In the World? This is based on text Wojnarowicz wrote for a photographic piece:

What is this little guy's job in the world. If this little guy dies does the world know? Does the world feel this? Does something get displaced? If this little guy dies does the world get a little lighter? Does the planet rotate a little faster? If this little guy dies, without his body to shift the currents of air, does the air flow perceptibly faster? What shifts if this little guy dies? Do people speak language a little bit differently? If this little guy dies does some little kid somewhere wake up with a bad dream? Does an almost imperceptible link in the chain snap? Will civilization stumble?
His original photographic piece showed his hand holding a small frog. I portrayed him holding a small mouse and asking us directly his question. I'm not exactly flinging out the flag for Free Enterprise here, and neither did David in his piece.


And finally there's this bit of Surrealism which is actually a very unfinished picture.

I'm painting a panel of The Risen Christ appearing to Mary Magdalene when she mistakes Him for the gardener. This is part of an 8 panel series being painted by 8 different artists of a proposed "Stations of the Resurrection" for my church. Everyone will eventually have hair, legs, and faces.

Enough Said

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Very Old Paintings

While back in Dallas, I did something I've meant to do for a long time. I went through my really old paintings and culled them. I threw away a lot of old junk and photographed a lot of the junk and the youthful prodigies. This is work mostly made between 1972 and 1982 when I was in high school, and when I went to art school in my teens and early 20s. Seeing all this stuff together for the first time in a long time made me realize that I actually learned quite a lot in art school.


I made my first oil paintings when I was 10 on cheap canvas panels using an oil paint set that my mother bought for me. I was taking off the paint-by-numbers training wheels. This is not my first painting, but it's close. It's a painting of the Maroon Bells outside of Aspen, Colorado based on a photo. Well, we all have to start somewhere.


This is a painting in acrylic paint. I painted it in Silverton, Colorado. I used an old board that I found imitating the local painters for the tourist trade at the time. The painting is based on an old black and white photo of Wilson Peak near Telluride.


I'm trying my hand at Biblical and historical subject matter here. This is Christ and the Woman of Samaria at the Well. Bad Sunday school art.


When I was 16, I painted God. Still the Old Man in the Sky, but what did I know at 16?


When I was 17, I painted Huck Finn. We must have been reading that book in school. This was one of my very first paintings on stretched canvas. I used a colored ground for the first time, a coating of an awful Pthalo Blue, why I don't remember.


When I was 18, I painted Indians. My brother still likes these paintings. They got me into art school.


A painting I made in art school, at the Kansas City Art Institute on my own initiative. It's a picture of a fellow student and friend, Dan Ellis, from life. He was a very patient sitter. This painting has its problems, and is very damaged, but I'm still fond of it.


Another independent painting from art school in Kansas City days, Sandra Smith sews a button on her overcoat while sitting on the floor of her apartment. I'm sorta kinda playing around with something like modern form here.


I made a long series of paintings of vertical fragments of the evening sky that year, trying to mix Friedrich and Rothko (what would be the point?). This is one of my better ones.


I made this small painting from life at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. In that historic center of American modernism, I made the fateful decision to be a figurative painter, and to stop beating around the faux-moderne, juste-milieu bush. I got into a lot of trouble. The president of the college, Roy Slade, was furious. He came into my studio and turned all of my paintings upside down and said that they looked like Norman Rockwell (not a compliment in those days). My prof, George Ortman, backed my decision. Nonetheless, I left after a year.

I moved to St. Louis where I studied art history, earning a Master's degree from Washington University in 1986. I started painting again in 1985, and began exhibiting professionally that same year. In 1991, I moved to New York to finally earn that MFA at the New York Academy of Art (1993).

Monday, January 16, 2012

Bill Ferren

Bill Ferren, an old friend to me and to many others at my parish of St. Luke in the Fields here in New York, died this morning at 8AM. He was a longtime pastor, first with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, and then with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. In his last years, he was part of our Episcopal congregation of St. Luke in the Fields. He was a native of Missouri. We gratefully remember his time with us and thank God for his service.
Though we die, and those who remember us shall die, and our place shall know us no more, we rest in hope knowing that though the world forgets, God shall always remember us and will summon us each by name. May Bill rest with the saints in light.

From John Donne's Meditations:

IF I were but mere dust and ashes I might speak unto the Lord, for the Lord’s hand made me of this dust, and the Lord’s hand shall re-collect these ashes; the Lord’s hand was the wheel upon which this vessel of clay was framed, and the Lord’s hand is the urn in which these ashes shall be preserved. I am the dust and the ashes of the temple of the Holy Ghost, and what marble is so precious? But I am more than dust and ashes: I am my best part, I am my soul.

All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated. God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and His hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to another.

Because I live, so shall you live also
--John 14:19-20

Sunday, January 15, 2012


Instead of the usual "I Have A Dream" speech, here is an excerpt from a sermon he delivered to striking sanitation workers in Memphis, March 18, 1968. It speaks directly to us and to our situation now with the urgency of fire.

You are here tonight to demand that Memphis do something about the conditions that our brothers face, as they work day in and day out for the well-being of the total community. You are here to demand that Memphis will see the poor.

You know, Jesus reminded us in a magnificent parable one day that a man went to Hell because he didn't see the poor. And his name was Dives. There was a man by the name of Lazarus who came daily to his gate in need of the basic necessities of life. Dives didn't do anything about it. He ended up going to Hell.

But there is nothing in that parable that says that Dives went to Hell because he was rich. Jesus never made a universal indictment against all wealth. It is true that one day a rich young ruler came before him talking about eternal life. And he advised him to sell all. But in that instance Jesus was prescribing individual surgery, and not setting forth a universal diagnosis.

If you will go on and read that parable in all of its dimensions, and all of its symbolism, you will remember that a conversation took place between Heaven and Hell. And on the other end of that long distance call between heaven and Hell was Abraham in Heaven talking to Dives in Hell. It wasn't a millionaire in Hell talking with a multimillionaire in heaven. Dives didn't go to Hell because he was rich. His wealth was an opportunity to bridge the gulf that separated him from his brother Lazarus.

Dives went to Hell because he passed by Lazarus every day, but he never really saw him. Dives went to Hell because he allowed Lazarus to become invisible. Dives went to Hell because he allowed the means by which he lived to outdistance the ends for which he lived. Dives went to Hell because he maximized the minimum, and minimized the maximum. Dives finally went to Hell because he wanted to be a conscientious objector in the war against poverty.

And I come by here to say that America too is going to Hell, if we don't use her wealth. If America does not use her vast resources of wealth to end poverty, to make it possible for all of God's children to have the basic necessities of life, she too will go to Hell. I will hear America through her historians years and years to come saying, "We built gigantic buildings to kiss the sky. We build gargantuan bridges to span the seas. Through our spaceships we were able to carve highways through the stratosphere. Through our airplanes we were able to dwarf distance and place time in chains. Through our submarines we were able to penetrate oceanic depths."

But it seems that I can hear the God of the universe saying, "even though you've done all of that, I was hungry and you fed me not. I was naked and ye clothed me not. The children of my sons and daughters were in need of economic security, and you didn't provide for them. So you cannot enter the kingdom of greatness." This may well be the indictment on America that says in Memphis to the mayor, to the power structure, "If you do it unto the least of these my brethren, you do it unto me."…

Now you're doing something else here. You are highlighting the economic issues. You are going beyond purely civil rights to questions of human rights. That is distinct…

Now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality. For we know now, that it isn't enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn't have enough money to buy a hamburger? What does it profit a man to be able to eat at the swankest integrated restaurant when he doesn't even earn enough money to take his wife out to dine? What does it profit one to have access to the hotels of our cities, and the hotels of our highways, when we don't earn enough money to take our family on a vacation? What does it profit one to be able to attend an integrated school, when he doesn't earn enough money to buy his children school clothes?

So we assemble here tonight. You have assembled for more than thirty days now to say, "We are tired. We are tired of being at the bottom. We are tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression. We are tired of our children having to attend overcrowded, inferior, quality-less schools. We are tired of having to live in dilapidated, substandard housing conditions where we don't have wall to wall carpet, but so often we end up with wall to wall rats and roaches.

"We are tired of smothering in an air-tight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society. We are tired of walking up the streets in search for jobs that do not exist. We are tired of working our hands off and laboring every day and not even making a wage adequate with daily basic necessities of life. We are tired of our men being emasculated, so that our wives and our daughters have to go out and work in the white ladies' kitchens, cleaning up, unable to be with our children, to give them the time and the attention that they need. We are tired."

So in Memphis we have begun. We are saying, "Now is the time." Get the word across to everybody in power in this town that now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to make an adequate income a reality for all of God's children, now is the time to make the real promises of democracy. Now is the time to make an adequate income a reality for all of God's children, now is the time for city hall to take a position for that which is just and honest. Now is the time for justice to roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream. Now is the time.


Paul Krugman gets it.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Visiting the Cemetery

The Blanchard family plot at Restland cemetery in Dallas

My folk don’t visit cemeteries. The dead are out of sight and out of mind. So it must have surprised my brother when I asked to see the family plot on a short visit to Dallas this month. I was surprised that he so readily agreed. Neither of us had visited the family burial plot since my grandmother’s funeral in July of 1977.

My grandparents on my father’s side are buried in a large commercial cemetery right out of The Loved One; not the Evelyn Waugh novel, but the Tony Richardson movie. “Restland” is the name of the cemetery, and my family kept a plot there since 1928. I can remember when Restland cemetery was in the middle of the countryside on Greenville Avenue between Dallas and Richardson. Cattle used to graze in pastureland opposite the main gate. Today, suburban sprawl surrounds it with apartment complexes, office buildings, strip malls, and cul-de-sac neighborhoods. Far from suffering from the change, Restland is a booming business. The cemetery almost doubled its size since my grandmother’s funeral in 1977. And, it is aggressively seeking out new, potentially high paying customers. Restland now incorporates Jewish and Muslim cemeteries, a measure of how much Dallas has changed since my grandmother died.
My brother and I drove in his red pickup truck into the main gate. My brother claimed to have a vague idea of where it was, but after 5 minutes in a wilderness of gravesites, we headed back to the gatehouse for some information.

A well-dressed gentleman greeted me with a combination of courtesy and wariness. It took awhile to find the Blanchard gravesites. He had to pull out some old maps and dig up some old records on an out-of-date computer program, and it didn’t help that I had misspelled a couple of names. We found it. He gave me a copy of the map, and got in his car and guided us out to where the plot was. When we arrived, he said that this was an old part of the cemetery that hadn’t seen much activity in a long time. My brother worried that he’d give us big sales pitch, but no, he just said goodbye and drove off.

Four people are buried in the Blanchard plot, my grandfather Ray, my grandmother Nell, and my step-grandfather, Paul Ebstrup. I discovered that my great grandmother, Mintie Ann is buried in the plot. I’m guessing that my grandfather Ray bought the plot when she died in 1928.

My great grandmother; all I know about her is that she was in Galveston during the 1900 hurricane and lived to tell about it. There are pictures of her, but I don't have any.

Great grandmother was the first one buried here.

It is remarkable how much a mute little tombstone and a patch of ground conceal. They indicate nothing of the drama and the history of the lives that ended there.

Grandfather Ray about 1920

Grandfather Ray in 1907

Grandfather Ray on the right with a friend in Dallas about 1910

I never knew my grandfather, Ray Burleigh Blanchard. All I know about him is what my father told me, and the few relics and records that survive. He was born the second of 2 sons in Warsaw, MO. His older brother was named Frank. Their father died when they were young. They both had to find work to support the family. They ended up working together in a telegraph office in Hannibal, MO. For reasons unknown and forgotten, my grandfather ran away from his job and from home when he was about 17 or 18 and spent 3 years riding the rails all through the Midwest and South. He carried a wicker suitcase, which we still have, and kept a diary in Morse code that my cousin Gerry has. Gerry had the diary translated and it doesn’t say much. It’s mostly very terse records of what town he passed through, the weather, etc. Sometimes there is a revealing little detail of pawning a coat or about how little he had to eat, but not much else. There was enough information in the diary for Gerry to map out grandfather’s travels. His older brother Frank moved to Dallas to work for Western Union, and offered my grandfather a job with the company. My grandfather accepted and worked for Western Union for the rest of his life. My father said that Frank went on to be a major executive in the company and moved to New York to work in the company headquarters. My father told me that grandfather never rose higher in the company than a small district sales manager because he was involved in a failed attempt to unionize telegraph workers in the 1920s.
My grandfather served in the Army Signal Corps during WWI. He was stationed down in the Rio Grande Valley when the American government worried that the Germans might goad Mexico into attacking or raiding border towns. When that didn’t happen, he was stationed in San Diego. While there, a rich society woman became smitten with his good looks and married him. She very quickly discarded him after only 3 months. He returned to Dallas and to Western Union and spent the Great Depression in relatively secure, though modest employment.
My father was very close to my grandfather. Both men shared a taste for practical jokes. My grandfather’s jokes were harmless. When my father brought a stray dog home, my grandfather lectured my dad that he was responsible for feeding and cleaning up after the dog. When my father left the room, grandfather put a rubber dog poop on the floor and demanded that my father clean it up. When dad very squeamishly tried to pick it up with a wad of tissues, grandfather picked it up and put in his pocket and walked off. My father’s idea of practical joking was not quite so harmless. When he was a teenager, he stole garden furniture, hubcaps, bicycles, and vandalized trolleys stopping traffic sometimes. How he avoided reform school is a mystery to me.
My grandfather died very suddenly and unexpectedly in 1948. He went in the hospital for routine gall bladder surgery and died of a heart attack during the night. The hospital had not yet informed his family when they arrived to visit. My father discovered him in his hospital room with a sheet pulled over his head.

Grandma Nell (right) in Dallas sometime in the 1930s

My great aunt Helen and her sister, Grandma Nell in Colorado in 1951

Grandma Nell with a very awkward adolescent me in 1975

I remember Grandma Nell vividly. That my feelings about her are mixed is an understatement. For all of her piety, she came across as a vaguely louche character. She was a bad alcoholic with a bad temper. She could be a very mean drunk. I remember that my mother was very reluctant to spend much time with her, anxious that my brother and I not be exposed to the loud drunken brawls she had with her sister Helen, or with her older son, my uncle Ray. She sometimes flirted with me and with my brother, especially when we were teens. That made us both very uncomfortable.
Though born and raised in the Methodist Church, my grandmother’s religious tastes inclined more toward the Biblically literal and apocalyptic than the Methodist Church allowed for at the time. She was a devoted fan of Pat Robertson and The 700 Club toward the end of her life. At the same time, my grandmother believed passionately in astrology and apparently was quite expert at it. After her death, we discovered that she made star charts for me, my brother, and for my cousins Gerry, Julia, and Beth when each of us was born. Yes, I know that belief in Astrology is inconsistent with Christian belief in Free Will, but all of this ran together in my grandmother’s mind. For her, the world swarmed with spirits both good and bad. The spiritual warfare in the cosmos was palpable reality for her. Like many fundamentalist Christians, hers was a very Manichean view of the world as a battleground between the forces of Light and Darkness with the outcome uncertain for each of us.
In all fairness to my grandmother, her life was hardly a bed of roses. She began her life in destitution. She was born in Clarendon, Texas in the Panhandle. Her mother came from a prosperous family in Waxahachie, Texas. Great grandmother fell in love with a man her family did not approve of, and the couple eloped. Sadly, the family was right. Great grandfather turned out to be a drunk who drank away all of her money, and then abandoned her and their children (5 I think) in Clarendon. Great grandfather later died of tuberculosis in a state hospital in Terrell, Texas. When my grandmother was born, her mother and siblings were sharecroppers working in the cotton fields. My grandmother spent her childhood picking cotton and hauling water from a public pump in the town. My father said that there were times when they were so hard up that they had to take shelter in the town jail. One of my grandmother’s brothers died of alcoholism. One of her sisters died of tuberculosis (my father remembered her; he said that she had her own plate and silverware and that they were thoroughly boiled after she ate).
The family eventually moved to Midlothian just south of Dallas.
She married my grandfather sometime in the 1920s. My grandmother had a mean streak. My father recalled (without any bitterness or irony) that she used to beat him and his older brother Ray with a riding crop filled with buckshot. That’s not as exceptional as it sounds. Texas always believed in the iron-rod-of-discipline school of child rearing, especially for boys. That was still true when I was young. I doubt things have changed much.
When grandfather died in 1948, she married again in 1949 to Paul Christian Ebstrup, an immigrant from Denmark. He died in 1974.
My grandmother was born poor, but she did not die poor. Where exactly her money came from I’m not sure and neither is my mother. It may have all come from my uncle Ray who for a time was very rich from banking and real estate.
My grandmother died in the summer of 1977 of a heart attack apparently in her sleep. My father discovered her in her apartment in bed. She had been dead for 2 weeks. My father discovered both of his parent’s deaths.
Grandmother had her problems, but if it wasn’t for her, none of the rest of us would be where we are today. Probably her biggest saving grace was that she valued education, unlike a lot of other people from that poor hardscrabble part of Texas. She never finished grade school, but both of her sons went to college. Her oldest son Ray went to Rice University on scholarship and graduated with honors. My father went to college (against his will), and barely finished with an engineering degree. Grandma Nell certainly encouraged me even when I disappointed my own mother and studied art.

Paul Ebstrup in 1951

My father and Paul Ebstrup about 1949; my father was very fond of Grandfather Paul.

Grandfather Paul on his way to Copenhagen in May, 1959

I remember my Granddaddy Paul very fondly, but not very well. So much time has gone by since he died in 1974. There is so little that I know about him that I can be certain of. I’ve heard lots of disparate stories about him, but nothing like a coherent narrative of his life. I remember him as the very embodiment of rectitude, decency, and kindness in the midst of my melodramatic decadent Texas family. All of those characters in that bad Tennessee Williams play that was my family behaved themselves around him. He was hardly commanding. He certainly was not some kind of grumpy Wilfred Brimley type (though he looked the part). I never remember hearing him raise his voice, even in anger. He was nothing less than perfectly kind to me, my brother, and especially to my cousins. My cousin Gerry adored him (Grandfather Paul protected Gerry and his sisters from the drunken rages of my Uncle Ray and Grandma Nell), and even my mother, who hated just about every one of her in-laws, loved Grandfather Paul. He commanded great respect just by quietly being himself.
He was an immigrant from Denmark who spoke with a Danish accent. He came over to the USA with his brother Eric. From what my father told me, they came over together because they were both misfits in their family. I’m not sure when they came over. Somewhere along the line, grandfather Paul was a concert pianist. He kept a baby grand in the apartment he shared with my grandmother in Dallas. He played it for us from time to time, usually big showy Romantic things by Rachmaninoff or Tchaikovsky. Somewhere along the line, he sold insurance, according to my father, and also tried to start a farm and almost starved to death in the attempt.
What I do know about him for sure is that he and his brother Eric started one of the very first ski lodges in Aspen, Colorado in about 1950 back when Aspen was a forgotten half-abandoned old mining town. They built The Blue Spruce ski lodge on the corner of East Durant and Monarch right across the street from Wagner Park. There’s not a scrap of it left now. Grandfather Paul and Grandma Nell managed it personally for many years, until about 1965. I could have been born and raised in Aspen (and joined the rest of the natives in the trailer parks outside town when the plutocrats moved in). Eric painted all of the pictures that hung in the rooms of the lodge. I now own 2 of them. Grandfather Paul decorated the front lawn of the lodge with an old street lamp he brought back from Copenhagen. My grandparents offered my father the job of managing the lodge, but he refused, wisely since customer service was not one of my father’s talents. Grandfather Paul loved Colorado, and loved the mountains. He learned to ski after the age of 50, and according to my father upset my grandmother by being something of a daredevil on the slopes.
My grandmother decided to sell the lodge in 1970, a move that broke my grandfather’s heart. He spent the happiest years of his life in Colorado and left only reluctantly.
He died in 1974 of a heart attack following gall bladder surgery.
According to the evidence he left behind after his death, Grandfather Paul was a very literate man. I inherited his copies of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Joyce’s Ulysses, and Nabokov’s Speak Memory. He also had numerous titles in Danish and German including a volume of Goethe. These were not display editions, but cheap to mid-price books that were read.
I deeply regret that he is not around now. I wish I could have known him better.

Me with my brother Brian visiting the Grandparents about 1963

We visit cemeteries to remember our dead, who never really leave us. We also go there to reflect upon the brevity of life. Those complex and dramatic lives are now each a silent tombstone and a quiet patch of grass. All of the 125,000 or so tombstones in that cemetery bear witness to lives that were unique, unprecedented, and that will never be repeated. In the end, we own nothing. We don’t own anything in any final or absolute sense. Everything we have, even our own bodies, is ultimately on loan, to be reclaimed by the earth from which it came. Our lives and all the projects and ambitions that fill them are but a flicker in the end. Wealth and power exist to be lost or stolen (as my uncle found out the hard way). They too return to the earth from which they came, and always sooner than we would like. We will all die, and those who remember us will die, and the world will roll on ruthlessly over our graves filling our places and forgetting us as it gets on with the business of living. And yet, there was never anyone like each of us before, and there will never be anyone like each of us again. May all those who remember us do so happily.

My brother Brian


My shadow