Thursday, November 30, 2006

My Life, Summed Up

A drive-by commenter left this appended to one of my old posts:

Anonymous said...

Hello - don't blog myself, not sure I know anyone who does (I'm an Internet guy) - but stumbled across your thoughts while tracking down the Sippican River. Liked Sei Shonagon, liked Procol Harum on YouTube, liked the general ambience & line of thought. What more can one say? Hope you're enjoying life, and good luck with the fine furniture.

"Hope you're enjoying life, and good luck with the fine furniture."


Ladies and gentlemen -- my business card, raison d'etre, rallying cry, slogan, business plan, home self-help study course.

And eventually, my headstone.

Update: ( How exciting. I've never updated anything before.)
My fellow Massachusetti and self described "reader but not commenter" Jill sent me this:

Now I can die in piece. Or if I get sleepy at the tablesaw, in pieces.

It Was Reet Petite

Jackie Wilson says:

When you are a performer, you need to give people a compelling reason to pay attention to you. There is no other advice in the world of entertainment. That's it.

Jackie Wilson was not in need of this advice.

One of the great failings of Rock and Roll music is that it is more or less based on a great fraud in performance: it tries to make that which is easy appear hard. When you see guitar players grimacing over simple little barre chords, and singers acting as if they are being subjected to pein forte et dure because they're mumbling, off-key, that they are dissatisfied with their current state of affairs, it's all nonsense. Rock music is really simple to write, sing, and play; and for the most part, the actual execution of the notes on electrified instruments is kind of a delicate and decidely unenergetic affair. The windmilling arms and bashing is nonsense. It's the misdirection play, imported from football. They're thrashing around like that because nothing much is going on, and they're very afraid you'll catch on to that eventually.

Jackie Wilson personifies the obverse. That which is NOT decidedly easy is made to seem effortless. It's hard to sing like Jackie Wilson. It enters the realm of metaphysical impossibility to sing and dance like that. And it brushes up against the margins of human alchemy to do it all with that kind of projected insouciance. He's smiling the whole time he's running a marathon, while carrying a big heavy bucket of art the whole way.

Get yourself some music that looks easy, but is very difficult indeed. Eschew the music that is made to look hard, but is essentially of the caliber of a chicken pecking a toy piano. Jackie Wilson is as good a place to start as any.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I Got My Mojo Too

Bad luck and trouble.

I used to hear about bad luck and trouble a lot when I supervised many people. After the total of persons who are supposed to call you when they can't come to work that day reaches about a dozen, pretty much every day you get at least one telling you about bad luck and trouble.

I'm a soft touch in action, and have a very hard heart in my very hard heart. That is to say, I'm likely to give a bum five bucks, and think he doesn't deserve it the whole time. It ain't about deservin'.

Bad luck means something different to me than other people, I gather. Bad luck to them appears to mean that the eminently predictable results of their endless foolish behavior is impinging -finally- on their 24/7 self-gratification. To me, bad luck is being hit by a meteorite.

I was hit by a meteorite once, sorta. I was driving to a job I had. I drove a van. I was driving on a large highway early in the winter night, doing the speed limit with my seat belt buckled. My vehicle was in good repair. I was paying attention. I was sober.

On the other side of the road, a battered pick-up truck was approaching. It was not in good repair. The driver, who was not sober, was likely not driving in a safe manner. And his left rear wheel left his axle. Not the tire. The whole wheel.

Now, I know he was drunk because he fled the scene on foot, and the policeman and I found a whisky bottle on the front seat of the truck. But what maneuver he was trying that elicited the loss of a wheel from the axle beggars imagination.

Anyway, that wheel kept rolling along at 65 MPH, right across the grass median strip, and straight down the lane I was in. It was dark, and the tire was black, of course. Do you think you'd see that coming? Since I was going 65 MPH in the opposite direction, I imagine it was coming at me at around 120 MPH. A meteorite.

I'm a funny person. I have a tendency to freak out over small annoyances, and yet am calm generally when all others are panicked. A character defect of some sort. And seeing that object at the last second before I hit it, or it hit me, didn't faze me. I didn't swerve -- just as well, as it was too late and my truck would surely have overturned. I didn't do much of anything, as there was nothing to be done. I held on to the wheel, and whoop-de-do.

I remember distinctly what seemed like a long time spent in the air, the nose of the truck finally arcing to face the windshield down at the pavement, the wry feeling of watching the pavement pass by on the glass like movie credits. Then the front hit the ground again, and I was suspended in the seatbelt like a parachutist, the huge yellow and purple welt already rising across my shoulder from the strap stopping me from being launched through the windshield to be mashed between the truck and the pavement. I held the wheel straight, and thought: if the airbag goes off, I'm dead.

I bounced down the road like a hobby horse for a good long while, the heel/toe gyrations slowly abating, until all four wheels were under me again, and I drove to the breakdown lane and sat for a minute to collect myself.

A policeman came, and asked me why I was just sitting there. I told him to look at the front of my truck. The truck looked fine from three sides, but on the front, there was a sort of trench burrowed out of the undercarriage from bumper to bumper where the wheel had hit and I'd rolled over it.

We walked across the highway to where the three wheeled pickup truck was, and saw the whisky bottle on the front seat. The policeman declined to pursue the driver who had run away on foot.

The policeman inspected my driver's license and registration for any flaws, and finding none, insisted that I make arrangements to remove my truck before I could leave. I called AAA, and my wife.

They arrived about the same time. I loaded my equipment into her car, watched the wrecker hook up my truck, and I went to work.

I have no doubt, the driver of the other truck called his boss the next day -late- and told him all about his bad luck.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Crowd Called Out For More

Top Of The Pops, in black and white no less.

This song predates my interest in it. It's from 1967. But it was still immensely popular in 1975, when we were dancing in the gym to it. The girls wore dusters and had turd curl hairdos and smoked cigarettes. The guys wore farmer pants and had Vinnie Barbarino hair and bummed cigarettes off the girls. And they'd play "A Whiter Shade of Pale," without fail, and mercifully allow us to dance with the girls close and slow for a moment.

I'm not a nostalgia freak. I talk about old things a lot, but that's not the same thing. I'm not generally wistful for things of my youth. I've always been an oceangoing shark. You must always swim forward or you perish. My salad days are tomorrow. Always.

I am occasionally asked in an exasperated tone right here on my blog: " How old are you?" when I wax poetic about Miles Davis in the fifties or Louis Prima in the forties or lumber yards in the thirties or some other anachronistic thing that caught my eye. The whole world is my high school yearbook, the way I see it.

But I'm only human. I was rooting around on YouTube, and I listened to this little trifle, and I found myself transported back a little in time, and I didn't mind. It won't last. Nothing ever does. And I don't want to purchase it, or carry it around and jam it in my head through waxy earbuds. I don't want to go to a Procol Harum reunion concert. I certainly don't want to write a thousand word essay on how meaningful and important it is. It's a trifle. That's the point.

If it came on the radio, I wouldn't change the channel. My highest praise, that.

Monday, November 27, 2006

What It Was, Was Football

When we went out to vote on November 7th, my wife and I had to drive by our son's elementary school. We were mildly amused to spy him, out for recess, playing football in the schoolyard with his classmates.

We parked across the street and watched for a few precious minutes. Since we were not a butterfly, or a jet contrail, or a candy wrapper, or a penny, he didn't notice us there, so we got to see him in that rarest of settings: "somewhere else," without his parents or guardians present.

The football activity was hilarious. It alternatingly resembled an algae bloom and an ayatollah's funeral-- first a kind of milling around in an amorphous blob, then a kind of wild melee over a leathery old totem. We watched them drift back and forth for a pleasant minute, with the odd missile launch of the forward pass rocketing rudderless out of the scrum and landing any old place but that most rarified of targets: a teammate.

It was wry to consider that playing tag is verboten at his school. I'm not joking.

The school is getting comical in this regard. They were terrified of the food the little ones were eating, so they tinkered endlessly with the school lunch menu to make it so healthy that no one purchased it anymore. Now everybody eats fluffernutters they bring themselves.

They built an elaborate and very expensive handicapped playground. That's a kind and thoughtful gesture. But it is merely a gesture, as there are no handicapped children to enjoy it. There just aren't that many children of any kind in a little town like ours.

And no tag. Someone could get hurt. Someone could be left out. Someone could sue is the real reason, and the powers that be always point that out right up front.

Tag isn't allowed, so one of the kids brings a football, and they play that. And football isn't banned, because no one thought of it yet. And the absurdity of allowing mobs of pre-teens to chase one another if one is holding a ball, but not if their hands are empty, seems to be lost on the school administration. At least for now. And I, for one, am glad of it.

I'm not as worried about my son being injured playing football as I am in contemplating the little straitjacket world he's being fitted for. Those children decided on the rules, supplied their equipment --a ball-- and played their game without any adult supervision; and I saw a lot less kvetching among them than at any organized sporting event they participate in. I'm leery of them being told that someone will always tell them exactly what to do, and simultaneously unerringly protect them from not only from harm, but hurt feelings. One aspect of that tandem of supervision is repugnant, and the other unlikely.

I'm living in a strange world where people for whom I have no regard draw finely calculated and ultimately meaningless distinctions about everything down to the scope of activities allowed for pedophiles to roam the earth, at the same time they ban children playing tag in the schoolyard. Such distinctions are meaningless because anyone who is prepared to commit a great offense is not concerned about the rules governing small ones.

I dread the day, which is on the horizon now, not over it, when I'm forced to tell my children that the only sensible course of action is to ignore the rules, as there are so many of them that they become gibberish. And what the hell, the rules only seem to apply to those who wish to live worthwhile lives anyway --who never needed them in the first place.

Friday, November 24, 2006

He Won

My oldest boy is eleven. He's fairly bright.

He's got a kind of internal gyroscope going: one that keeps him from behaving badly. He is occasionally frantic and silly, like all boys his age are wont to be, but I've literally never seen him be deliberately unkind to another person. Conversely, he's almost literally stunned when anyone is mean to him; it's as if someone from another planet is being presented to him, a planet with strange and unpleasant customs. He doesn't get his inner light from me, I'm as mean as Cuchulain with a pebble in his shoe. Must be his mother.

At any rate, he plays chess. He learned on my old 486 vintage computer, when he was barely out of diapers, by moving the pieces on the virtual chessboard with the mouse. The game would automatically place your piece back where you started if you tried anything non-standard, and he learned the moves, hit or miss, by paying attention to what was not allowed. Just like life.

I started playing with him when he was four. I was always black, and removed my queen from the board before we began. And then I'd slaughter him.

I gave him the old books I learned from all those years ago. J.R. Capablanca, the Cuban chess phenom guided him on his musty pages, as he had me. J.R.'s been as dead as a pharoah for half a century. I'd slaughter him less severely.

They decided to try a chess club at his school last year. He came home after the first session, and was kind of subdued. I sensed a problem.

Did you play chess?
How many games?
Fourteen, I think.
How many did you win?
All of them.
Did you play against all your friends?
At first. Then the teacher. He say's he's going to get a book and study up for next time.

We don't play often. I work a lot, and spare time is hard to come by for both of us. We returned home from the Thanksgiving trip, and he and I were rattling around the house while his mother and brother slept. There was a tremendous rain and windstorm going outside, and I figured the lights would wink out any minute. I was weary of the sight of anything electronic. Let's play.

He beat me. He made no errors. I baited him with many potential possibilities to take a piece and lose the game. He ignored them. I clawed and grabbed to the end, and took multiple queens from him. He kept giving them up, sometimes just for a pawn, and got another one. He was like an anaconda. He was ahead from the start, and leveraged it inexorably into a win. He did not exult. He had a look of shock, almost. A kind of gratification tempered with awe.

I don't remember the last time anyone beat me at chess. I stopped playing because not many people were interested in playing, and even fewer in playing and losing.

So now I am faced with a problem. If I play black without a queen forever, I may never win again.

He is a superior sort of person than I, my son. It is gratifying for a man to roll that idea around in his head. Not smarter, exactly. Intellect alone does not make a man valuable to his brethren. He has that rare combination of intellectual acuity chained to a thoughtful and pleasant personality. He is immune to evil.

I put him to bed. I thought for a long moment, alone in the dim light from the embers of the evening fire, and threw the black queen in the fireplace.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Have A Pleasant Thanksgiving

There are lots of news stories available --the majority of them, I think-- expounding on the horrors of Thanksgiving. "Send us your dysfunctional family Thanksgiving disaster stories" is the lede on every radio program I can find, that hasn't jumped the gun entirely and started with "Tell us your Christmas horror stories."

I'm not having it. Thanksgiving is lovely. Or it should be.

Thanksgiving doesn't beat around the bush; right in the name it tells you it's a day to be grateful. Complaining about it seems to me to be like going to the art museum and complaining that the paintings are obscuring your view of the walls.

Hmm. Perhaps that's a bad simile. I've been to many museums where the dropcloth daubs they hang on the walls aren't as interesting as the off-white paint, now that I consider it. So please insert "Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy" in the preceding paragraph where "art museum" appears. Thanks.

Anyway, it's not about you. For one day, at least, I don't want to hear about your crabby attitude towards your assembled family and your overcooked turkey. I don't want to hear about the lousy TV you've got to watch the football game on. I don't care if you don't like the floats that drift by Macy's like garish barrage balloons. Put a sock in it. It's not about you.

It's not about any of us. It's about remembering that everything we have is a gift, and we could lose it, and we should take time out from our lives for one day a year and acknowledge that.

Have you ever been in a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving? I hate the preening socialites and politicians that visit there on Thanksgiving to get face time on TV. I think much more kindly about the people that feed those poor souls on November 22nd and November 24th, when the cameras aren't interested.

There's a look on a person's face, when someone gives them something they need that they might not have otherwise. It's the look on the face of the man in line at the soup kitchen. It's gratitude.

I'm going to give it a try tomorrow, that look. It looks like Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Tea Table

"He's coming here to collect!"

Tom Chippendale knew his good lady wife was prone to fits of panic. But if he heard one more word about the butcher's bill being unpaid, he promised himself he'd head to the inn for a dram. The woman had no faith in him, is all. He always managed to bring home the bacon in the nick, didn't he? And the tea table (like this one) he had made for the Prince of Wales- that would cover the butcher's bill, and ten others. And the daft woman wants to give it to Annabelle, the butcher's wife, for a measly three months back debt!

"The Prince don't pay!" she'd screeched, not understanding that a man in the prince's position cannot be DUNNED, for the love of the Savior! The Chippendales would get their money bye and bye, he replied.

"Bye and bye!" she shrieked like a jackdaw. "We'll need a joint of beef a damn sight sooner than bye and bye!"

"Oh, what would a butcher's wife do with the table anyway?" he mused aloud. "Made for royalty from the finest Santo Domingo mahogany, for the future king of England's... well, ahem, the woman he... the fine lady... his... his... "

"His konkabine!" she erupted again. "Well, if you owes her 'usband tuppence, Annabelle puts on airs like the queen of Araby, she does! She'll know right what to do with it!" she added with a snort.

But he was adamant. He waved his hand with a flourish and banished his wife from the drawing room.

He paused to compose himself and listened to the mantel clock tick solemnly for a few moments. He heard footfalls outside, and then a sharp rap at the door. He opened it. There stood the butcher, looking like he had a toothache, and behind him, blotting out the sun, was the constable, looking like he hadn't heard a good joke in ten years.

"Good... good after... after... noon," he stammered, feeling a bit lightheaded, and a little on his heels. "We were? I mean... my wife and I were just... what I meant to say is..." The butcher's expression began to look like it had been carved from stone by a lost tribe, to frighten tomb-raiders. The constable assumed the expression of a man with a pebble in his shoe.

But then Tom's world swam back into focus, a smile blossomed again on his face, and he stretched out his hand and offered- "Come in, come in. Would you like some TEA?"

Monday, November 20, 2006

The North East Kingdom

In case you haven't figured it out yet, I make furniture here and Massachusetts and sell it on the internet, all over the country. There's some in Canada, and some in Great Britain, but the people that own it lugged it there from America. I don't sell internationally. Your money is too complicated, and except for all that Nigerian e-mail loot I'm going to get, I stick to what I know: American.

I offer a print catalog. People from all over this wonderful land of ours sign up to receive one. I never tire of seeing all the disparate places that turn up each day. America is a big wonderful place, filled with nice people. It captures my imagination to hear from them.

Every state in the union is represented on my list but one. I can only draw inferences, as I have no facts to go on, but apparently no one in North Dakota needs furniture. Or they don't have any money. Or they don't like furniture makers from Massachusetts with logorrhea. Or they don't have the internet or running water. Or no one lives there anymore, and the two Senators and one Congressman didn't want to tell anybody or they'd lose their gig. An impenetrable mystery.

At any rate, lots of people from everywhere else want a catalog. But there was another place that was very sparsely represented on my little list, and it's not as far away --theoretical almost-- as North Dakota. That place is Vermont.

Well, Karen from Vermont --"The North East Kingdom" -- showed up in the comments this weekend, and left me a little missive from a fellow traveler in the world of Quickbooks, hard work, and flinty irascibility:
I come by now and then, sit on the steps of your porch and admire your words and pictures. It occured to me that i could purchase your furniture and just signed up for a catologue- i'm psyched to view the finished product and try to pretend i could have the insight to see the grain in the rough (i can't see it, but i can feel it). We burn wood for heat up here (NEK = Northeast Kingdom = VT) We cut down cherry last year and i thanked God for it's warmth as i just about cried every time i added a piece to the fire.

Well, thanks Karen. She says she reads Ambivablog, so we know she's alright. And she lives in Vermont, so we know she's interesting. For all the rest of you out there in the rest of the landscape, let me assure you: Vermont is a beautiful and interesting place.
I used to visit Vermont fairly often. I strapped boards to my feet and slid down their ice masquerading as snow a lot when I was younger and had no bairns to feed. There is skiing all over the northeast, of course, but for some reason, Vermont seemed to me the ne plus ultra for hurtling down the mountain. I made a gag map for a skiing companion once. It said SKI MAP on the front, and I had used a magic marker to totally black out Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine on it. Those places have their own charms of course, but they don't have Ludlow. People in Vermont hate people from Massachusetts that come to ski. I always liked that about them.

It's produced the most interesting people, whose common attribute seems only to be that they don't have any common attributes --they're just not like anybody else, anywhere else. Vermont can produce Bernie Sanders and Calvin Coolidge. Go figure.

I wrote a little story about Vermont to go with a table I make. Rudyard Kipling lived in Vermont when he wrote The Jungle Book.

I want you to read that sentence again, and mull it over:

Rudyard Kipling lived in Vermont when he wrote The Jungle Book.

Go figure. Anyway, that's the sort of place Vermont has always been, and will always be, in all likelihood. The place that makes you say: go figure.

The Kipling Table

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Persuade It

Bring me the persuader.

My beloved Uncle. He's the liveliest of men. Strong as an ox. A tender heart. Fearless. A quiet temperament. Funny. Forte is a word that does not translate properly. Forte.

I was younger then. We were fixing to lift a freshly framed wall. It couldn't be done, really. 2x6 sticks, thirty odd feet of it. Sheathing on. There were not enough of us. Three of us. But he said it could be done, and though he must have looked at our rangy frames and compared them in his mind's eye to his own bearish self, he did the arithmetic in his head without mentioning it. Whatever they lack, I will make up myself.

Sometimes you need someone to simply say it will be done. Not that it's possible; that it's inevitable. A will to counter the forces arrayed against you. People will follow such a man. In a desultory and tentative fashion at first, but without hesitation later. The noisy leader gets the enthusiasm right out of the gate, and it fades by the first pole. Go to a marketing convention. It's Triumph of the Will in the hall, and morphs back into Little Bo Peep by the time they hit the lobby. You can only show. Telling doesn't last.

You tilt it up. Only half of the weight is in play. Half is plenty. You cannot fail. The wall will fall on you if you do. Your mind is often sharp under such conditions. You feel like your ancestors in a cave or a tree. Your senses are heightened. You are aware of the slightest breeze. You hear a tiny sound, and your mind has only two slots now: OK, and Danger. You never know this feeling in regular life unless you are in a fight. And who fights? Only men that lift walls.

But not my Uncle. He is too formidable to look at, and too pleasant to talk to, to get in a fight. And he laughs easily. He is chuckling as we try to lift the wall. It can't be done. Let's do it.

A 2x4 is called dimension lumber. It is 1-1/2 inches thick, by 3-1/2 inches. It is called a "two by four" as a reminder of its size before you dry it, and it shrinks. All problems are like a 2x4. You refer to them as they appear in theory --big; but they are slightly smaller by the time you get your hands on them.

We can get the wall up enough to slip the 1-1/2" blocks under it, surely. We do. Let's turn them on edge this time. 3-1/2" is little more than double. We can do that, surely. Now 2x6's. Milk crates. Sawhorses. Stepladders.

Once the wall is at a forty five degree pitch, the weight diminishes on the lifted end. Surely this is so, my Uncle knows, and we say. We are educated, and he knows things. We talk, and he does.
Push up, now. Hard.

There is a moment when you are nowhere. It is not accomplished, but you cannot go back. You gather yourself, and arrange your bones and your sinews and your flesh, and you flip the switch in your mind to: NOW.

And the hard work was already done. Your Uncle knew that because he'd done it so many times before. The hard part was getting through the part he coaxed you along saying: It's easy.

Every inch you raised it made it easier, until you just had to guard against pushing it over into the yard. Imagine that. Back off, tiger. The wall's up.

You had cut the metal strapping -- it holds the framing lumber delivery-- into strips. You nail the strip to the subfloor, and to the bottom of the "plate," the horizontal run of framing lumber. That is the fulcrum that holds the wall in place, while you lift with all your might against it. One of them snapped.

The wall bulged out there. It was a twenty foot drop to uneven ground on the outside of the wall. The thinkers got busy.

We could get a ladder.
We could get a come-along (winch) and pull from the inside if we set a hook in the bottom plate.
We could...

Hand me the persuader.

You know he would call the sledge that. He sat in the window opening, legs inside, the rest hanging in the ether, held the frame in his left hand, and swung that sledge out and up and over his head like mighty Thor, and brought it down on that spot as sweet as you please. I had needed two hands to pick it up. Nail it.

You guys hungry? You're always hungry.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Out Walking

We were out for the Veteran's Day commemoration last weekend. The toddler likes to roam, of course, and I spent the greater part of an hour with his hot little hand in mine, wandering around.

Marion is a pleasant place to do that wandering around. It is a village, and there is a little rabbit warren of streets where you can promenade, with no shortage of things at look at, whatever the season. But for such a compact place, it's kind of desolate. There are mostly no people about. We have walked around the village for a pleasant half hour many times, and more often than not never encountered another person on the street.

People often remark that they find suburbia stultifying, and dream of a village setting for their affairs. Walk places. Bicycling without risking being mashed flat by a semi. A bit of bustle, without crowding. Sidewalks and gnarly overhanging trees and rhododendrons in bloom and chipmunks darting in and out of voids in the dry laid stone walls.

Well, you're all full of merde. I live in such a place, and I really do enjoy it, and I'm all alone. Everybody's driving around or watching television while we're out walking. It's fine to have nebulous ideas about the kind of life you'd prefer, and the wilderness you'd like to inhabit, or perhaps the sleepy pace of life you could see yourself slip right into, but there's reasons we don't all live like that. We're not all on vacation or retired, are we? Or odd, like me.

People vote with their feet -- if you let them. If you want to move to a sleepy little town, you should. I did. But there is no Dunkin' Donuts. There are no restaurants of note. There is no movie theater. There is no...

Never mind what it doesn't have. I can just walk through it, and point the camera at anything. I often do.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Another Man's Shoes

We are instructed to walk in another man's shoes before we judge him. I have enough trouble walking in my own shoes, and so leave the judging to others.

In a way, saying that you cannot understand any man, unless you more or less are him, is silly. No one understands anybody. Fine. Now what?

There is a shared thread to our lives, no matter how disparate the people and cultures on this green earth are. We can know other men -- a little.

If there was ever a person a man should be able to ken, it would be his Father. Why do I not know mine? I am the most like him, if appearance is any guide. I don't know him at all. Maybe that just means I don't know myself. I don't know that, either.

He is very old and frail. His job is to make it through the day, now. I bring him to his doctor from time to time. I am always in a rush to return to work. He likes to get a donut and coffee when it is done, and we linger for a long moment before I return him to his home. We speak of everything and nothing.

I asked him about my Grandfather, about whom I know an extra portion of nothing -- although my youngest son carries his name. My Father answered in an off-hand way:

His middle name was Joseph. He was in the army for World War One, but in what capacity he did not know. He used to go to Hot Springs, Georgia, to play minor league ball. My father thinks that is where he got his love of baseball, as my grandfather would never miss an opportunity to listen to the baseball game on the radio with him. Like many of his brethren, he was both kind and tough. My Father would go to the American Legion meetings with him as a child, and they would clean the hall when it was over to make a few pennies. They were very poor, and my father had six sisters and a brother. There were two stepbrothers, too.

He worked for the City of Boston, in a parking garage for all the city vehicles. My father remembered the exact address, although it has been 69 years since he was there. He said he would visit him there, and my Father could remember the fine soot, tainted with lead from the gasoline, settled in little drifts and riming the windows like some black frost from the underworld.

When my father was about sixteen years old, he heard his mother shriek, and ran to help her. His father was there, dead in his chair in his bedroom, clutching his chest where the heart attack had done its work. It was 1937. In 1938, Boston began giving insurance pensions to the families of city workers who died. After 1938.

My father sold newspapers on the corner, and gave the money to his mother. He said he sort of looked for his Father in every man he ever met after that. He never appeared.

My Father needed to put his hand in mine yesterday, and I helped him to walk to our destination. He's barely a shadow now, though his mind is not dimmed. He said I was a comfort to him, though in my heart of hearts I know I have always been a poor son.

I don't know him.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I Can Hear His Fingers Squeak


My older brother is a lot older than I. His march to manhood always appeared only on my horizon. He was gone from grammar school before I began it. Graduated from college before I started High School. My admiration and affection for him approached that one reserves for an Uncle, or a Father. There is always a kind of awe mixed up in the regard one has for your older relatives.

My brother is a real musician. I've always banged out pop music for grins and giggles - and money- but I never took it seriously. My brother was a musical scholar, while I was in the back of class, passing notes. And bad puns like that one.

When I was very young, he took up the Spanish guitar. He'd listen to records like that Segovia, and Christopher Parkening; and he'd have sheet music for lute laying around the house. It might as well have been Homer in the original Greek to me. Until he played it.

There is something about being in the same room, intimate, with musical instruments being played. It's completely different from listening to recorded versions, no matter how good the apparatus becomes to deliver the recordings.

There's a sense of danger. You wonder the whole time: Can he do it? No matter how many times he managed it, you knew he was always taking a chance of failure, the mildly embarrassing tableau of running out of gas partway through. My brother rarely did. Look at Segovia in the video. He's very old, and his physical tools are obviously diminished. The chance he takes grows profound. He will be compared to himself when he was young and strong. Perhaps it is as important to say: Here is how an old man plays. This is what is in his heart, and his hands might falter but his spirit is not dimmed. What I think trumps what I can do.

We'd visit my aging grandmother and numerous aunts in the 1960s. They lived in rapidly aging triple deckers in sketchy neighborhoods in Boston. I felt as though I was traveling back through time a bit. And eventually my father would say: "Let's have a song." My brother would take out his spanish guitar, and a bit of Scarlatti or Vivaldi would wash over us as we sat in a little semicircle around him. There was a man -barely- that could bring a smile to a hard face. There was a vehicle that suspended a person's cares for a quiet moment, and transferred them to another's fingers. And those cares were worked out for a few minutes; and you knew that any world was not a malign place, that had music in it. And a musician.

Asturias. My brother sent it to me. It reminded him of Segovia. Segovia reminds me of him.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

To Work Alone

I work alone.

Not always, of course, but generally. This was not always the case.

I've worked in about every kind of work setting. Mill building. Clean room. School. Office. Concrete block building. Ditch. Shed. Barroom. Boat. Hospital. Home. Above ground. Below. Hot. Cold. Dry. Damp. Boring. Terrifying.

The vagary that makes any setting go is the other people. And now there aren't any.

I've been responsible for hundreds of employees at one time, and just a few at others. Hundreds of employees is much easier. When you only have two, and one is named "Rob," and you find out that "rob" is a verb, not a noun, you've got a fifty percent failure rate. I had a guy sleeping at his workstation working for me once. He was just one in a hundred. No big deal.

But to work alone is to be you own annoyance. You're the laziest, stupidest person present. There is always a person to encourage sloth -- you; but there is never anyone to shame you into holding up your end. You've got both ends. And the end in the middle.

Sometimes, the light is good. The tools are sharp. The wood is flat. The mosquitoes are on vacation. Your shoes fit. There are no splinters. Whatever you look for is on the shelf. The dimensions add up. Vivaldi comes on the radio. The money comes. The floor is swept. Nothing is late. The phone does not ring unwonted. The blade does not wander.

And when all that happens...

How the hell would I know? I'd settle for two of those things at the same time. I'm all alone.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Whatcha Gonna Do Today, Napoleon?

Opinions are like ...

Never mind. I don't feel like being vulgar.

I know all the words, of course. Construction workers know all the words. But I've known just as many construction workers who were genteel in their speech, to a fault, as white collar workers. I used to observe office workers at my former life at a big construction company. Many seemed to adopt the use of streams of expletives as the preferred communication style, because they imagined that's what people in the field talked like. Most people, that worked in the field instead of the office, didn't. Go @#$% 'in figure.

As I said, I know all the words. But I'm tired of them. I long for gentility of speech and comportment. And I may severely limit that amount of people that work for me forevermore, as I will not tolerate loud music or vulgarity while I'm working, ever again. It's lonely being normal. I must cast a wider net than your average fisherman.

I don't know what to write about every day. I skip around this bizarro universe I inhabit and write it down. So far, that's the plan. But what do you, dear reader, want to hear from me? That's a complicated question.

You lie, you know. Everybody does. I can't ask you what you want, and tally the answers. You might be polite, or busy that day, or bad people I don't really want reading my stuff might answer in your place, and queer the pitch. And readers are always a potential thing. I have to decide before they show up.

I've got to figure out what the hell I know about, and offer it up to the big gaping maw of ones and zeroes that is the internet. And I can only listen to my audience tangentially to guide me on my way.

The commenter "Editor Theorist" drops by from time to time, and drops little strings of concatenated le mot juste, just like many of my internet friends. He's half a world away, of course, and is from another walk of life. And after I described my trip to the lumberyard the other day, he wrote this in the comments:

I can't think of anything remotely analogous in my own life to this process you describe. People's lives really are different.

Well, there it is ladies and gents.

I read a lot of things on the internet. An insane amount of things. And every once in a while, It occurs to me that there's nothing left on the internet that's worth my time. I'm especially tired of persons various and sundry telling me what I should think. I'm profoundly tired of cut and paste manifestos.

I want people to tell me and show me things I don't know about, but that are both interesting and true. I've had enough of blogs telling me things that wouldn't be interesting if they were true.

I'm not Norm. I'm not Cincinattus. I'm not Jeff Beck. I'm not Archie Bunker. I'm not Bertrand Russell. We don't have time to go over everybody I'm not, because I'm not like anybody.

I'm going to write that down.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Most Satisfactory Veterans Day

We attended a Veteran's Day ceremony in Marion yesterday. We have a small park hard by the water downtown for just such an occasion: Veteran's Park. You gotta park, at the park, no matter how you get there:

Blustery but not cold. The toddlers ran windsprints in the empty flower beds, while the veterans enjoyed the folding chairs and the attention. Lovely.

Milo plays the Colonel Bogey March. The trombone has all the good parts for a change, as they whistle during the parts where they're not playing too.

My little son stood for a long time on the little stone plinth, and ran his fingers over the raised bronze letters of the names of the men commemorated on the WWII memorial. I can't think of a more fitting and appropriate memorial to their efforts.

Thanks to all my family, friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens that served their country in the most profound way.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

There's An End Table In There Somewhere

Ah, the lumber yard.

I went to the lumber yard this week. But like calling the garbage man a "sanitation engineer," calling it a lumber yard is not the preferred nomenclature at this point. They're my "hardwood supplier."

All highfalutin' terms for simple things seem as thin as dishwater to me. I don't know why people abandon good solid terms for their businesses and walks of life and adopt gibberish instead. There's nothing wrong with "hardwood supplier." But it's got no anima, like "lumber yard" did.

I remember Ma Bell. The telephone company used to be named after Alexander Graham Bell. They busted it all up when we all decided we'd like more than one phone per family, and they didn't all have to be a big black corded rotary that rang like a four alarm fire. Why in god's name didn't one chunk of the business keep that name? The chunk that offered service where I live called itself "Verizon." I imagine they did a lot of research into figuring out if that sounded up-to-the-minute cutting edge to a prospective customer. Then they hired Darth Vader to mispronounce Verizon as Vorizon, and added to the "I'm not particularly any sort of word" vibe.

Trust me; if my name was Chippendale, that's what I'd be calling my furniture -- not Furnizon.

Ahem. Anyway, I hate going to the lumberyard. Nothing personal; I hate going anywhere. It interrupts what I'm doing making furniture. If I could just have everything delivered to me, I would.

But I'm not buying widgets. It matters a great deal what I buy, so in general, I gotta go look at it. That's a foreign concept in a lot of walks of life now. If I was buying a computer, I'd do it at two AM on the internet. It was made in a factory. If it looked any different than any other one, there'd be something wrong with it.

There's something wrong with most everything I buy at the lumber yard. That's the point.

Those magnificent tiger stripes in the maple? The spalts and birdseyes? All those marvelous whorling medullary rays in the white oak that make each piece of furniture worth looking at? They're defects. The wood would look like pale pink or tan plastic with railroad-track-straightaway grain, evenly spaced, the entire length of the boards if it didn't have any defects. And if it looked like that, I'd buy it also -- to paint it.

So here I am. A madman, looking for beautiful defects in a pile of sticks. The boards are as rough as language at a longshoreman's tavern, and sometimes as crooked as a politician; they're as dirty as Madonna and as heavy as a child's head when you carry them in from the car after a long trip. It's a rough estimate you're making, when you look at a pile of wood that the average person might mistake as suitable for a woodstove, and know it's worth the $10 per square foot they're asking for it. Because there's an end table in there somewhere.

Michelangelo Buonnarotti Simoni made the famous observation that his statues were inside the blocks of marble before he started. All he did, he said, was chip away until they were revealed.

What a jerk, or a genius, you might think. But he wasn't saying it's easy, to rub it in to the rest of us, or how marvelous he was to think in that manner. Great men often talk about their affairs as if they are no big deal to them. I don't think that's what he meant.

I think I know what he means, if only imperfectly. There is a kind of thrill in finding the raw material suitable for an excellent outcome. You can picture the roughness stripped away in your mind's eye after a while. You see potential. The potential is in yourself, and you have spotted an appropriate medium for the expression of that potential. You've dragged a boat a long way overland and discovered a body of water.

As I said, I was at the lumberyard. Downes and Reader in Stoughton, Mass, if you must know. You poke through the flatstacked boards like a raccoon --or a lover. I found an odd pile of things that didn't belong anywhere else. Sounds like the place for me.

I knew what it was, in the rough, without asking, without labels. Curly Red Birch. Flame Birch, some call it. The last time I bought Curly Red Birch, George Bush was president. The other George Bush. I built my then theoretical first son's dresser out of it. He's eleven now. He and his little brother could reduce a piece of IKEA furniture to kindling (does IKEA furniture burn? I'm not sure) in a lazy half hour. He's never been able to put even the smallest dent in his dresser.

Flame Birch. It's the king of all woods. Hard as a banker's heart. Irridescent. Rare as compassion in a hockey fight. It'll kill at least one tool I have when I run it through them. It cost more a Kennedy's bar bill.

But I had to buy it. There was furniture in those baulks of wood. I could see it. All I had to do was figure out a way to let it out.

Friday, November 10, 2006

You Got Me Feelin' Alright

Consider Mr Pickett in 1968.

This was always my favorite Wilson Pickett song. It's been awhile, but I think this is one of those songs I can play on all the power trio instruments, and sing. It's just a laundry list, as we used to call such lyrics; you can make up any lyrics you can't remember, really. It's not a complicated piece of business.

Look at what's going on there. It's pandaemonium, and it's very, very, real.

Now, that sort of frenzy is copied at all sorts of performances nowadays, and it's a total and utter fraud. Mildewed old rock stars are like Fortune 500 companies, and they travel around like combination software salesmen/haemophiliac princes. There's a checklist of enthusiasms they and the audience run through that is as stilted and effete as any opera crowd ever was. I can hear Mick Jagger going through the list in his head now: OK, Bic lighters (did we get a cut of those?), leave stage for 1.5 minutes, return to applause, focus group says play Angie as encore to push Zune sales, point to spot in audience where person might be, leave stage, drink Evian, wait 2.5 minutes, do Satisfaction as tie-in for Zune rollout, smile towards left boom camera for Radio Shack spot or we don't get the royalty on the frisbee/remote control knock-off giveaway. When Keith stubs out the cigarette, that means the plane is ready and we can screw.

Let me clue you in on something. In the Wilson Pickett video, when the woman in the To Sir With Love jumper and the legs the cameraman gets interested in --a lot-- whispers in Wilson's ear while he's trying to sing, she's not running down his stock portfolio or giving him directions to the nearest wi-fi zone so he can check his e-mail to see if his Bentley is out of the shop or asking him if he'll sign an autograph she can sell on e*bay tomorrow.

Every town he goes in, indeed.

I've rarely succumbed to that sort of reckless abandon as an audience member after I started performing. I don't know how to act in an audience, really, as once you face the other way in an entertainment venue, you always feel a little funny facing the way the audience faces again. But the musicians on the stage are the ones who should be in control, really; it's the audience that should get wild. I see Donald Dunn playing the bass there, maybe the most ubiquitous bass player after Motown's James Jamerson, and he keeps banging out that cascading hypnotic riff over and over, and lets Wilson surf on the top of his wave. They all let the madness crash up against them like flotsam at a shipwreck, but they know they must keep going. You have to keep stoking the furnace, you can't stop to warm your hands.

They're in control. Of the uncontrollable. That wild scene was very real, and it's gone now-- because the context of being straitlaced all day long, all week, then letting your hair down on Friday has been diluted quite a bit. We're all rock stars all the time now.

I was born too late for Wilson Pickett in his prime. But that wild scene captured on the video lasted for decades. I watched it recede during the 1980s, as the population aged and the clubs emptied out. Such things are bound to either pass or become a staid predictable industry.

I'm a little sad for those still younger than I, that never rode that musical bike without a helmet even once.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Sippican Lowers The Boom

There's a great joke in one of P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster stories.
Wooster, amazed at some obscure thing Jeeves knows, asks: "Is there anything you don't know?
Jeeves considers for a moment, and replies mordantly: "I really don't know, sir."

None of us know what we don't know, do we? But I'd like to offer this: none of us knows what we do know all that well, either.

I visit various salons on the internet -- the culture and information kind, my internet hair is fine. People are always shrieking in there at one another about some real or imagined slight they feel about their political persuasion. And someone comes across with some sort of nuclear weapons grade comment that shows what a low down dirty thieving warmongering totalitarian babykilling something or other somebody or other is.

And the rejoinder? Link, please!

Ah! It doesn't exist unless it's on the internet. Cut and paste that sucker right in there, and you've proven it.

I've got news for you. No it doesn't. The internet is a sewer, and you guys are trying to salmon fish in it. There is no "fact," never mind opinion, that I can't find on the internet in five minutes flat, with annotated footnotes. The fact could be aliens made crop circles to Donald Rumsfeld shot Kennedy, doesn't matter, it's out there. I once saw the text droppings of two different very agitated persons arguing whether Ahmadinejad was a highly placed operative in Khomeini's hostage gathering Iran back in the day. I'm not interested in such things, really, but the person who was defending (!) the obviously loopy Iranian midget millenarian seemed to be saying: cut and paste a picture of Ahmadinejad doing something bad right now, or he's Gandhi and Nasser's love child.

I had a picture of Ahmindinejad, in a book on my desk, his arms linked with Khomeini's other henchmen,on a platform in Iran, getting ready to make Jimmy Carter watch Ted Koppel every night until Ronald Reagan was elected. But it wasn't on the internet, so it didn't exist. I certainly wasn't going to put it there. I'm busy, and I don't care. But it illustrated to me that there are plenty of things that are not on the internet that are very, very, real. And in greater measure, plenty of things all over the internet that just ain't so. Smoke over Beirut, anyone?

I don't know why I know what I know. None of us does. I do have a tendency to know things other people do not, because I'm a little odd. On top of being odd, I'm an auto-didact, so I've gleaned odd stuff, while going about it in an odd way. That's like odd cubed. I'm not a catalog, I'm a Secret Santa, as it were.

"Lower the Boom." I saw that used the other day, and there was some discussion about its etymology. In my humble opinion, the etymology offered is wrong.

Everybody comes at etymology from their own point of view, if you let them, just like cut and paste oratory on the internet. Sometimes you can trace etymology right to the source, but that's rarer than you might think. Someday etymologists will search for the reasons "ever" began to be spelled "evar."

I always refer to my hoary old copy Wentworth and Flexner's Dictionary of American Slang. The internet is great for neologisms born on the internet, but that's about it. Here's what the internet says about "lower the boom"

lower the boom
: 1. To deliver a knockout punch. Prize fight use. ->
: 2. To chatise or punish; to attack with criticism; to treat sternly; to demand obedience. ...
: 3. To prevent another from succeeding; to act in such a manner as to harm another's chances od success.
: From _Dictionary of American Slang_ (1960) by H. Wentworth & S.B. Flexner.
: ----------
: lower the the boom on ... This expression refers to the boom of a sailboat -- a long spar that extends from the mast to hold the foot of the sail. In a changing wind, the boom can swing wildly, leaving one at risk of being struck. [Slang; first half of 1900s]
: From _The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms_ (1997) by Christine Ammer.
: ----------
: As a sailor, the story ran, he had knocked men overboard with a single punch, when he "lowered the boom" on them. (Dempsey & Stearns, _Round by Round_, 1940)

LOWER THE BOOM - "to reprimand harshly, to stop someone from doing something. A boom is a long spar or pole used to extend the bottom of certain sails; or, it can be a spar that extends upward at an angle from the foot of a mast from which there are suspended objects to be lifted. Derrick, the famous hangman during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, devised the prototype for the ship's boom - a hoist that still bears the inventor's name. Ashore, lowering the boom on someone means to call that person harshly to account. This can be done severely enough to leave one's ears ringing." From "When a Loose Cannon Flogs a Dead Horse There's the Devil to Pay: Seafaring Words in Everyday Speech" by Olivia A. Isil (International Marine/Ragged Mountain Press, McGraw-Hill, 1996)

I don't think they know what they're talking about.

Boum is an old Dutch word, related to beam. It has something to do with a tree limb. But if the expression lower the boom is related to the boom on the sail hitting you on the top of the head, why are the derivations so recent? People have been getting hit on the head with a boom for thousands of years. Why all of a sudden in the twentieth century is this expression for getting clobbered in fashion?

Because it was something else, and I know it. I think I know it, anyway. The part of a crane or other hoisting device that swings around to drop that famous hook is the boom, too. And I've stood in a ditch, and on a dock, and in a loading yard many times, and signaled to the boom operator to "Lower the boom" thousands of times. You use hand signals, as the operator of the boom is far away, and the surroundings are noisy anyway.

To signal "Lower the boom," you extend your right arm straight out, close your fingers, and extend your thumb straight down. Death to the gladiator. Lower the boom. Contemporaneous with the introduction of such signals to cargo hands on the docks -- and stevedores are the greatest treasure trove of American slang outside the military.

I say that's what it is. And if it isn't, it should be.

Now it's on the internet. Someone will cut and paste it somewhere, and I'll be right, whether I am or not.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Modern Marriage Template

A lot of people don't like Paul McCartney.

That sounds silly, a little, I know. I've been alive to see Elvis, and Sinatra, and everybody else who thinks they're a big deal in music in the last forty years. None of them ever approached the popularity of the Beatles.

No one ever will, either, as the moment for the great mass of people to pay attention to one thing, coupled to the ability to experience it, will never come again. They were the guys standing in the right place at the right time. Attention is atomized now, along with the ability to indulge our atomized tastes. When there was only three TV networks, the Beatles were on all three. I distinctly remember an AM Top Ten List in 1964 with eleven Beatles songs on it, as one slot was a tie. Beat that.

I'm too young for the Beatles, sorta. It was people my older brother's age that went loopy for them. Fifty something now. I was a kid, watching them on Ed Sullivan in my footie pajamas, after watching grainy video of bandaged, bloody men in fatigues, half a world away, being lifted onto choppers on the news. The yin and yang of the trivial and the life and death washes over a six year old. It gets in, but in a diffuse way. You gain impressions.

Well, here's an impression: Paul and Linda McCartney are the template for the modern marriage. You heard it here first.

Poor Paul is getting the second wife treatment now. Or his second wife is. Or they both are. At any rate, they're saying dreadful things in public about one another in an attempt to get the dough or the kids or the kid's dough or notoriety or something. But it wasn't always that way for Paul McCartney.

The hipsters hated Paul, if you asked them. It was John Lennon they adored. John Lennon was kind of a nasty guy. They liked that. They couldn't sing like Paul McCartney, but they could be as antisocial and rude and mindless and addled as John Lennon. Paul was just a music hall musician, lost in a modern time. He sought to entertain. Why settle for that?

But how they aped him. They looked for a handsome spouse -- not a golfer's wife, but a woman like Linda Eastman. They acted bohemian. They didn't do a bed- in. They indulged their ideas of back to nature living, in a sort of Vermont version of Marie Antoinette's peasant house, and played farmer. They grew Paul's beard and gave wildflower immortelles to their beloved, after they married them in a ceremony only official, not official looking. And the women part of the audience went looking for a sloe eyed scruffy rich bohemian guy to sing songs to them and give them handsome children. Their husbands volunteered to change the diapers and wash the dishes as often as they did. Which was never, they had nannies and housekeepers, but the intellectual exercise was performed to everybody's satisfaction.

They attempted to give the appearance of never soiling their hands by grubbing after money, all the while being quite well off. They had ferocious intermediaries looking after their finances while talking ragtime about socialism. They included their family members in all their affairs, because they could, and ascribed it to being familial, not nepotism. And they were immensely casual about the appearance of all their affairs.

Tell me the vast majority of married people didn't emulate the family scene shown there accompanying Paul McCartney's magnificent first effort as a solo artist. Pretty much everything after that was a joke.

They really did love one another, and their children, and seemed happy. That's the rarest of things in popular entertainers. And then she went and died on him, and left him to the machinations of the world, and it ate him up.

He's still a Beatle, you know. But he's not the husband of the woman he loved any more. I wouldn't trade places with him for anything. There was a time, I assure you, that a great many people would have.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

November 7th

I never vote For. It only encourages them.

But rest assured, I'm out there voting -- Against. You know who you are.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name

There is a perversion so foul afoot in this great land that I can barely bring myself to write about it.

What's that? What the hell are you people talking about? Oh, the headline. What's wrong with you? I'm referring, of course, to the unholy combination shown in that picture.

All thinking people agree. Socks and sandals are a crime against god and man and nature. We need legislation, and we need it now.

Let's back up a bit. Never mind socks and sandals; I'm tired of your feet. Male, female, you name it; stop showing me your feet. They're ugly.

Actually, there are people with good looking feet. They are few and far between, and it doesn't matter much, because good looking feet are fairly ugly anyway. And bad looking feet are hideous. Wear shoes.

And don't cheat, and have your feet peeking out of your shoes at me. I don't want to play hide and go seek with your ingrown toenails, thanks. Wear the whole shoe. Thanks again.

You've all indulged yourself with this idea that having a proper enclosure for your foot is unhealthy, or uncool, or your feet are too hot, or you're athletic/earthy, or feminine, or a sorta gladiator, or... look, come to think of it, I don't give a damn why you're showing me the hideous appendages. Just please stop. And don't think painting your toenails bright colors to attract my attention to them is going to help. It just makes it easier to find them and step on them in crowded subway cars.

But you won't stop. I know you. You're going to keep on wearing these ridiculous complicated rat's nests of velcro or leather straps to keep a the only part of your shoe I don't care about - the bottom- hanging on that jumbled assortment of pedicured hammertoes you're so proud of.

And so I'm going to compromise. I'm going to find the middle ground here, a kind of civil union we can all join in on, and live together in peace and harmony. If you're going to wear sandals, by all means do so, and suffer only my derision. But if you wear socks with them, you're going to be rounded up and sent to re-education camps where all the guards wear wing tip shoes with the little brass dingles on the toe, or steel toed ditch digger boots, and they'll trod on your gnarly toes over and over until the sock is the only thing holding them together. You will then be forced to walk home, and be mocked like a fat ballerina the whole way.

I'm starting a negative advertising campaign right here and now. I'm going to make Lyndon Johnson showing that nuclear explosion if Goldwater got elected look like a immortelle from an admirer. I'm going to direct you to Sandals And Socks.

After you scroll down a little, you're bound to join my crusade. Stop the madness!

Post Script:
I have it on good authority that the cat in the picture is wearing that collar to keep him from hanging himself in shame over his owner's sandals and socks.


Saturday, November 04, 2006

What If It's All This Bad, And We Don't Know It?

I don't remember where I first saw this. It's been kicking around in my "saved for future execration file" for quite some time. It is, quite simply, the worst music video ever:

Borat's big right now. Being bad as a way of being good is a big industry. Bill Murray might have invented it thirty years ago. Remember him singing Star Wars in the ski lodge on Saturday Night Live? We all act like that now. Self-consciously unself-consciously bad is the new good.

This isn't like that. This person was undoubtedly serious. And so it would be mean to make fun of her.

I don't care. If you think you can make a spectacle of yourself like that, standing beside a randomly chosen backdrop of unmown, littered lawn and a standpipe next to the dirty lake, singing like a deaf soprano bagpipe and looking like a Big and Tall Manatee Clothing Store commercial, without bringing down calumny and derision on yourself, you've got another thing coming. I'm unlikely to be the first or the last person to tell you this, but here goes: I'm sorry, but You Stink.

But you don't simply stink. You represent so much more to me. You're all the people in the audience who think "I could do that." And so I'm not really angry at you and your porcine video, it's the thing you adore that I loathe. Talentless attention mongering celebrity.

It's not your fault. Like most people, you think being a pop star is the highest calling of humanity, and you're not interested in being just another citizen. You wanna be big time, at least in a small way. You give me the same melancholy feeling I get seeing the chimps in the zoo. Nature gave them opposable thumbs, just like humans, but all they can manage to do with theirs is fling poo. And flinging poo is the best metaphor for that video I can come up with.

The benighted formerly young lady is correct. God bless her. I hope she had a ball on the back of the Harley with mulletman. I'm sure she had to write a... ahem... big, fat check for the whole thing. She isn't any worse than 99% of popular entertainment.

What a difference there is in that last percentile.

Friday, November 03, 2006

It's All Ephemeral

This is gone already, of course. There was a frost last night, and these oak leaves are dry and brown, and will clack and scrape against one another in the winter winds until they're evicted in the spring by their green replacements. The sound they make -- when you step outside in the evening's darkness to the woodpile, and pause for a moment to feel the cold bracing air in your chest, the stars pinwheeling bright in the winter night sky -- is the sound of the unburied dead.
Can you get to a place like this? It's in my back yard. It goes forever, because we can't go where it goes. But you can stand on the edge of it, and reflect for a minute on the year that is slipping down the rabbit hole. You can slip on an actual rabbit hole, too, if you're not careful. The massive cinnamon ferns have shriveled to wizened stalks, the mosquitoes are murdered in their millions by the frost, and you can stand there for a quiet moment now and wonder what might be looking back at you. An osprey will cruise overhead almost every day, and emit that marvelous shriek that means wild to anybody that hears it.
It's all ephemeral. Work all day, not knowing what the weather is outside. There's a few minutes to walk to the edge of the grass, with your toddler's hand in yours, and look out into the nothing. He always throws twigs into the water. Each one makes him giggle. The perfect joke - it always brings a laugh. This too will pass. We go back and sit at the table, and the meal is that most ephemeral of things; soon lost in the memory hole of too many. But each one is sublime, if considered.

What do they add up to? I don't know. Why waste every bit of your time with arithmetic? Get it while it's hot.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

I Need "Old" Lessons

I'm not old, really.

I don't mind the idea of getting old -- I guess. I hate many of the early manifestations of it, of course. I don't like waking up feeling worse than when I went to sleep. There was some creaking in the hips after pulling my toddler son in a wagon all over creation on Hallowe'en. The calendar really does have a sense of urgency now; it never did when I was young and dumb.

So I'm ready to learn. I'm in the market for Old Lessons, but no one's selling. Everybody justs acts like overgrown teenagers until the day they die. And I'm not interested.

You see, I'd like to be dignified, at least a bit. Is that so hard to understand? Forget the calendar; just hanging around long enough to see bell bottom pants come and go and come again is enough for me to think: I'm getting off this crazy train.

I don't want a second wife. I don't need any Viagra.

I don't want to listen to Jay-Z records... I mean discs... grrrrr... downloads.

I don't want to dress like an effeminate Frenchman and wear a helmet to ride a bicycle. I don't want to wear sneakers to funerals.

I don't want to get married on a beach by a Vegan Wiccan mail order minister, while releasing doves. I don't want to go to Disneyland - and leave my children home. I don't want to get dressed up for Hallowe'en.

I don't want to watch television. I don't want to paint my face to attend sporting events and run on the field. I'd prefer to dress like Tom Landry. I think all the coaches should dress like Tom Landry, too.

I don't want to drink out of a great big sippie cup all the time, like a gigantic infant, just because you've all decided that you're dehydrated.

Note to the world: Coca-Cola, and all its brethren, is candy. It's sugar dissolved in fizzy water. Only latchkey children eat candy all day long. Note also that Diet Coke and all its brethren are diet candy. Diet candy is for diabetics. What kind of person eats diet candy all day long? I don't know, but they're not going to be giving me any adult lessons. I'll have a glass of water, thanks. In a glass. A glass glass.

I don't want to see Lindsey Lohan naked. I don't want to see Lindsey Lohan clothed. No bungie jumping. No fantasy camp. No Zima. I don't want a Dodge Viper. I refuse to walk around with things stuck in my ears to listen to rock music that I could recite from memory anyway. I don't want a tattoo. I don't want an earring. I don't want a Harley.

I don't want to give anybody a high five.

I like it when the clerk at the bank calls me "sir". But then again, I always did. I'm not "dood." I don't want anyone to ask me for my driver's license when I buy booze. There were 48 states when I was born, and one telephone company, kid. Give me my booze.

And no -- no diet beer. That's for little girls. I'm a man. And I'm going to be an old man someday...

If it kills me.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Swill Bucket Blues - Advertising

Advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket. George Orwell

I'm in the advertising business- a little. I try, or allow, or acquiesce, or something, to be looked at. I'm selling stuff. It has to be done.

How to do it? There are many approaches. It's not rocket science. Rocket science is easy. You can tell if your rocket works -- unless it's North Korean. It either blows up on the pad or goes up in space. You get your A+ or your F-, and you move on.

Advertising is weird. You never really know if what you're doing is working. I've purchased things from a retailer, and the whole time there's a bubble over my head containing the words: I HATE YOU AND YOUR BROTHER EVERY SINGLE TIME I HEAR YOU ON THE RADIO, WITH THE INTENSE HEAT OF A THOUSAND SUNS. I still bought the thing. I needed it and they had it.

So their advertising worked, sorta. Or it didn't. I don't know. "It is better to be feared than to be liked." the old saying goes. "It is better to be disliked than to be obscure," is the advertising version of it, I guess.

I have a defective personality, and want people to like me. I'm fairly certain that in the long run, it doesn't matter much what I say in an adverisement, so I figure I might as well be pleasant or entertaining. It's likely that if you just chanted your name for :30 during your Super Bowl commercial it would have the same effect as the most Madison Avenue approach imaginable.

There was no power on earth that would have compelled me to buy the crappy car you're about to see bombing around Paris. But somewhere, in the back of my mind, there's a warm spot for Isuzu, because they've allowed me to sit at the computer with my grade schooler and my toddler for a few moments together and enjoy ourselves, and marvel at the inventiveness possible in that same old Stick in a Swill Bucket: