Friday, December 12, 2014



Illustrations by Papa Duke

Bronco John was homeless, a man of the street.
He'd raced rats for years, and always got beat.

Then one day he'd had it with all of the rules,
He dismissed from his life the material tools,
To get by on handouts, like french fries and tea,
He'd yell out to no one, "At last, I am free!"

Bronco bought his clothes from a second-hand store,
Leather shoes for a five bucks, a wool coat for more.

And when he grew lonely, way deep in his mind,
He imagined a girlfriend no one could find.

Her name was Puff, the invisible friend,
Poor Bronco, some said, had gone round the bend.

In late spring and all summer Bronco slept in the park,
A hollow tree on wet nights, kept dry by the bark.

Cold autumn nights were, for Bronco, the worst.
And then came upon him, December the first.

The first snow was brutal, almost did him in,
When he tried to keep warm in a large garbage bin.
It was so cold outside there was no one around,
No people with coins, no one to hound.

So food was a problem, as well as the frost,
One mean old scrooge said to Bronco, "Get lost!"
When he tried to walk into a cozy cafe,
To keep both his hunger and frostbite at bay.

For Bronco not only never paid for his tea,
But he'd take a chair for Puff, who no one could see.

And if someone ungraciously sat down upon her,
He'd jump up, arms flailing, and yell "Bloody Murder!"

Money was tight, goodwill at a low,
So the news that came next was, for Bronco, a blow.

The local soup kitchen had run out of cash,
And so, for the homeless, no Christmas Day bash.

No turkey, no stuffing, no pudding or cake.
There was no give this year, just a whole bunch of take.

For the first time in years, poor Bronco was scared.
He was freezing and starving, and nobody cared.

Then arrived Christmas Eve, as cold as they come,
With nowhere to go, Bronco felt like a bum.

Peering through a shop window, all his favorite things,
Sweet biscuits and chocolate -- God, how the wind stings!

Yuletide decorations and pretty colored lights,
Dates, nuts and mincemeat, such marvelous sights.

Bronco pushed through the door, and out of the storm,
Shopkeepers be damned, he just had to keep warm.
He looked back to the window and out at the snow,
It would only be seconds till they told him to go.

A Christmas staff party was well under way,
With eggnog and rum punch to brighten their day.
Bronco crouched in a corner, biding his time,
Then a stop clerk passed by -- and tossed him a dime!

The shop clerks were merry, and plastered by drink,
One fat lady even gave Bronco a wink.

The staff disappeared one by one out the door,
Leaving poor Bronco alone in the store.

Counters stacked high, with goodies and treats,
Being locked in this shop sure beat walking the streets.

Bronco munched some milk chocolate, what heaven, he mused,
It was time to make up for a season abused.

He plugged in a heater, basked in its glow,
All fuzzy and warm, he was ready to go,
Off to the record stand, for something to play,
Bing Crosby's White Christmas, there was little to say,
As tears ran down Bronco's rough unshaven cheeks,
He went back two thousand and eighty-seven weeks,
To a Christmas he'd had when he was a boy,
With a loving mom and dad, and a Santa Claus toy.

He remembered their fir tree, its ornaments of glass,
Carolers singing and a cheery midnight mass.

Bronco stood up, looked around the large store,
Eyed the fake trees standing near the back door.

"This one will do," Bronco reached for a tree,
The tallest and fullest he ever did see.

He decked it with candy canes and garland of gold,
With red bulbs and colored lights, and then, feeling bold,

Closed his eyes, made a wish, and
reached for the top,
Crowned the tree with an angel,
it took only a hop.

"Just like I remember," Bronco said to no one,
The tree was aglow, not a branch left un-done.

He went searching for presents, cigars and fine candy,
Some perfume for Puff and a bottle of brandy.

For his feet, leather slippers, and two stockings to hang.

And he paused while outside the old church bells rang.

"Puff, it's midnight!" he cried.  "Merry Christmas we two."

Said Puff, "Thank you Bronco, Merry Christmas to you!"

Thursday, December 11, 2014



Edvard Munch’s torment and enemies (real and imagined) pushed him to succeed, and to quell his angst and depression through art therapy.

A Chinese proverb: 

Your worst enemy is your best friend.

Or, as Nietzsche put it:  

You need formidable enemies to keep you sharp.  

Or, as a sign in The Horse You Came in On, the Baltimore saloon where Edgar Allan Poe drank his last drink, states:  

Dry your tears and soldier on.

No one needs to pay a therapist 175 bucks an hour for years of analysis.

They need only do their art.

If artless, scream at the moon. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


It is time to wind down.

Stooling myself at the Grand Café bar, a bottle of absinthe catches my eye.  Pere Kermann’s.

This is what Munch would have drunk.

I order a nip, as Munch called it.

Sadly, this bar does not possess absinthe paraphernalia.  No perforated spoon.  Furthermore, the bartender does not even know I need a sugar cube and small jug of water to drink this correctly.

I toast the Green Fairy, and Munch.

Suddenly, a rosy glow fills the café and I step outside to marvel the sunset.

I snap a photo, inspect it; something odd catches my eye.

I zoom in, snap another pic, and study the screen:  a highly defined, distinctive face.

The specter’s mouth is wide open and round, as if… screaming.

Back inside Grand Café, I grab a table, ready for the Munch Menu.

First course:  Grilled scallops, petit pois, fried rye bread, and mussel foam.

Second course:  Chateaubriand with herbed butter, and scalloped potatoes.

Third course:  Chocolate éclair filled with vanilla cream.

This was Munch’s meal of choice, for which he would try, mostly in vain, to barter his paintings.

After dinner, I raise my camera to snap a photo of the ceiling over Munch’s favorite table, near the window.

Upon my screen:  an unusual orb.


Maybe.  Who can truly say?

But this:  within it, many faces.

I retire early with a 6:45 a.m. alarm-call.

It comes at 2:33 a.m.:  karaoke from a bar down the street.

The croakers aren’t singing, they’re screaming.

Screaming at the moon.

It is their therapy; same as the patrons at my bar who visit weekly to sing their hearts out, try to keep it real.

Lesson:  If you cannot do art, there is always karaoke.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


Upon my return from the Swedish countryside, Tom the Driver awaits outside the Grand in Oslo.

I still have time to see the studio, in nearby Ekeley, where Edvard Munch lived and painted from 1916 until his death in 1944.  

He grew vegetables, and raised chickens, in this very peaceful setting.   

He left his paintings outdoors, exposing them to sun, rain, and snow.  

“It does them good to fend for themselves,” he said.

Monday, December 8, 2014




Tom the Driver points across the cobblestones from Engebret to the Museum of Modern Art, which houses a collection of what Norwegian artists have been doing since Munch.

Inside, it is not about painted canvas. 

It is about distortion and turmoil—and very disturbing.  

And scarier than what I saw at Gaustad.

I cannot stand it.

I reach for my new talisman and beat a hasty exit.

Munch’s legacy? 

Munch’s paintings were unnerving to people in the late 1800s.  He has perhaps encouraged newer generations to exhibit their insanity. 

Norwegian modern art may have made me physically sick to my stomach.

Or maybe I OD’d on Munch and needed release.

Because what happened next is truly extraordinary.  

A Purge.

It starts with a wave of nausea while sitting in our host’s car en route to the Viking Museum.  

Mind spinning, stomach churning.

A Fernet-Branca moment.

Sunday, December 7, 2014


Yes, it truly looks like this.  No color enhancement.


“Where are you going?” asks the cheerful check-out clerk at the Grand’s front desk.

“Maybe a park bench,” I say, “but thanks for asking.”

“Well have a nice day!”

(At least everyone speaks English.)

In fact, Tom the Driver is on hand to stow my bags and kill time before I’m due to meet my host.

I suddenly realize I have not yet seen Engebret, the oldest café in Oslo and headquarters for the Artists Association, to which Munch belonged—until Engebret 86’d him for drunkenness and accusing a server of stealing his scarf and gloves.

I alight at a cobblestoned square in the old-town.

Engebret has changed little since Munch was allowed inside.

Standing in the room where the artists met, it is not hard to imagine the drinking, the exchange of creative ideas, and the madness.
Munch knew he needed help.

By 1907, his enormous alcohol intake had ravaged his brain.

He suffered paranoid delusions.

In Munch’s tormented mind, policemen were watching his every move and friends were using private detectives to spy on him.  

Everyone he saw was suspect.

Munch’s limbs went to sleep before he did.

He heard voices.

He hallucinated.

Munch’s own words:  

I had these tearing pains under my heart, terror in the morning, giddy when I stood up.  Quick, need a drink, I thought.  Port wine, half a bottle.  It helped.  Coffee, a little bread.  Another panic attack.  Go outside, to the first restaurant.  A glass… I’ve always been nervous—could often fall into a dream.  I called it astral travel.  But now it was different… paralysis down the whole of my left side and voices in the air—hallucinations.

Munch lived in Berlin at this time.

He meant to return to Norway to seek treatment.  

He got as far as Copenhagen; could not bring himself to carry on to Oslo, occupied—as it was—by his enemies.

Munch wound up in the "nerve clinic" of Dr. Daniel Jacobsen, known for treating artists. 

Diagnosis:  dementia paralytica, from alcohol poisoning.

Treatment:  rest, good food, fresh air, and herbal baths.

Most important:  no booze.

Upon checking in, Munch slept eight days straight, sedated with chloral. 

When he awoke…  he still heard voices, and believed persons outside his window were trying to do him harm.   

Baths, baths, and more baths followed.

And mild electrification.

It seems, he wrote to a friend, I have been rather short of electricity.

Not anymore.

Munch remained in Dr. Jacobsen’s clinic for two years.

Upon checking out, Munch bid farewell "to my fellow lunatics" in formal dress.

Dr. Jacobsen’s parting advice:  Avoid tobacco, alcohol, and poisonous women.

Saturday, December 6, 2014


Chris & Jordie


...with a mind of its own.


The body is said to adjust to jet lag one hour each day; the mind does its own thing.

I sleep an extra hour before facing up to Munch again.

On this day, I walk to the National Gallery for another dose of Munch’s despair and anxiety.

Some paintings suck you in, so that you are there, inside the picture, part of the mourning, part of the pain.

Such as The Sick Child, Munch’s sister Sophie, who you know will die.

And a little girl clasping her hands over ears in The Dead Mother she just lost.

The Grand is fully booked for the weekend and orders me out.

I soon discover that every hotel in Oslo is fully booked.

Could Munch be that big a draw?

(It was a marathon.)

I have a Norwegian friend I’d never before met, but we’d talked on the phone and e-mailed one another, and, very graciously, she expressed a desire to host me during my visit.

Acceptance of such hosting becomes essential, as my only other option is to camp out on park benches or board the evening ferry to Copenhagen and allow destiny to dictate thereafter.

Copenhagen would have been my choice, if only to avoid surrendering independence.  But sometimes you’ve got to give up something to gain something.

Before vacating my room, I stroll around Karl Johan gate and down to the harbor.  People in dark clothing on the streets look to me like a series of Munch paintings.

An Oslo thing—or my new reality?

It seems odd that the world’s most expensive city is without the high-end shops that strategically situate themselves among wealth:  no Gucci, no Prada, no Cartier, no Hermes, no Louis Vuitton. 

The shops are all native, perhaps to preserve purity.

Aside from the traditional lusefafte (heavy wool cardigans) and plastic trolls, there is nothing worth buying.

All I’m looking for, anyway, is a talisman.  Something to carry at all times to remind me of Munch—an antidote, perhaps, against anxiety, despair, and depression.

At a jewelry shop called David-Andersen (no Tiffany here), I come upon a sterling silver nail file.


As a kid, I chewed my nails relentlessly.

But I’m not convinced.

On our return path from the harbor, I pass a precious metal company called K.S. Rasmussen, whose display window contains silver ingots.

I carry on.

A block later I stop in my tracks, an epiphany.  “That’s it,” I say to myself, turning on my heel.

I ask to see Rasmussen’s 100 gram silver ingot.

It is soft with rounded corners, a pleasure to hold, to clasp my hand around.

My search for a talisman is over.

The teller, a middle-aged woman, tries to talk me out of it.  “We have to charge 25 percent premium on silver ingots,” she says.

“I’ll take it.”  I remove the ingot from its wrapper and place it in the palm of my left hand, feel its power soothe my soul before slipping it into my pocket.

From this moment, whenever I feel anxious about anything, I pluck the ingot from my pocket, as some might handle a meditation stone or rosary beads, and appreciate that I am here and I’m okay.

Friday, December 5, 2014