Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Big Night

It's exceedingly hard to run a business.

I really don't care what kind of business it is, either. They vary widely, of course, but they'll all kick your ass. Digging ditches or personal shopper, makes no never-mind. If you've ever made out a Schedule C you know exactly what I'm talking about.

It's hard to tell a story properly, too. Most entertainments are only modestly entertaining, -- if that -- and ephemeral. It's a rare thing that endures for a good long time in the world of movies and music and art. The producers generally just throw everything at the wall to see what sticks. Most of what they throw at the wall actually should be hitting a fan, if you'll pardon the mixed metaphor.

People are making their own fun with entertainment at this point. The reason people yell at the screen now instead of sitting in rapt attention are manifold, but the number one reason is the stuff on the screen isn't very good; and like a buffet of tidbits, the audience is trying to fashion a plate of fun for themselves. The cook can't seem to do it, so you do it yourself.

I watched a movie I've owned for a long time: Big Night. It's on VHS, so I know I've had it a while. It's a story about two Italian immigrant brothers trying to make a go of it in a restaurant in New Jersey in the 1950s. They are failing, and try to pull their business up from oblivion by hosting a celebrity for one "big night." It's both good entertainment and a good look at business. I don't talk while it's playing. It's doing all the work for me.

Like the best kinds of distillations of the human condition, Big Night uses the plot device of splitting one person's personality between two people, and having them rub up against one another. It's a useful dichotomy for the examination of the business ethic. One brother, Segundo, is running a restaurant and concerned with the mercenary aspects of running a business; his older brother Primo is the brilliant cook, concerned with being an artist with his food. Neither is a complete person without the other. The back and forth between them, as they search for the balance between being true to themselves and earning a living is as fascinating a portrayal of what it means to be creative and make it pay as I've ever seen.

The movie works on many other levels, and I wonder if the authors of the play -- as this movie is surely just a play with a camera pointed at it-- would even acknowledge my appraisal of the one person split into two plot device. I think artists always have this rolling around in their minds without admitting it. They wish to deny their self promotion, as it seems to smack of commerce. But watch the credits roll by sometime. Even a little movie is a serious business. Let the artists indulge themselves with their imaginary aversion to filthy lucre. Like good manners, I don't care why they say the right thing.

If you want to know what it is to be a brother, and an Italian, and an artist, and a businessman, and an immigrant, watch this movie. If you want to see why I never recovered from meeting my wife the very first time, look for the woman in the red dress at the final meal. Don't get me wrong; that's not her. My wife is prettier. Whether I am Primo or Segundo has yet to be determined.

Sometimes, when the Schedule C looks up at me from the desk, I wonder if I might try being Pascal, the brothers' venal but engaging and successful competitor from down the street: "I am a businessman. I am whatever I have to be at any given time. Tell me what, exactly, are you?"

Watch it.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Fog In New Beige

Why do your footsteps sound that way in the fog?

In the broad daylight, they get swallowed up like Jonah. They just mix in with the clatter of the cars and Clark's old wagon and the kid with the roller skates and the ding ding of the faraway trolley. At night in the fog, they ricochet around and I hear them like gunshots. They are mine, and another's too.

He's followed me around in the fog these three years. I can't scrape him off in the Bethel or the tavern or the little place with the greasy balls of opium from Marracech. I'd beat my head on these granite flags if I thought it would do any good. He's there but drowned out all day, every day. But it's the fog that puts him on your shoulder, and we dance together down the street like ball-room winders.

A man will go over the side from time to time, and no mistakin'. I've been fished out twice myself. You stand there shivering and your mates have a jolly moment and you work the rest of the day soaked to your tallow as a reminder of where you might be sleeping. But there is no sleep there, if the fog is any measure.

The man's hand was in mine. Rough as his language. His whole wrist. It was like I could feel the blood pumping through his veins. I could feel the tug of the wake, trying to yank him under the foam by his boots. But I had him, sure. His big, stupid, moonpie face, with thirty winters written on it, looked up at me, glowing white in the fog. And then I sneezed, and I found I had two hands on the rail, and he was gone.

A man that goes over at night has no right to hope to be saved. One hand for me, and one for the boat doesn't cover it at night on the Shoals. It's two hands for the boat at night. I threw everything on deck over the side and yelled to raise the dead and we had that boat turned hard about in a minute flat. Long gone in a fog. And we heard him calling. But in a fog, where does a noise come from? I still hear him now, and see the look on his brother's face, measuring me there on the deck when the voice faded.

And like always there are two footfalls for every one now in the fog. I wander down the hill, the granite slabs of the sidewalk rising up and appearing under my feet like continents on a map. This road is busy in the early day, but we're all alone here in the fog now. I'd watch for a car to come and hit me, but I could lie down here and wait all night. Why bother to look? You can just drift across the lanes.

I always loved the sound of the chestnut plank under my foot. You can feel the pier shift a little with the slop of the slack tide. It's like the world breathing in and out.

I walk to the end, and reach out for his hand one more time.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Early In The Morning

Man, I'm sick. I'm sick and I've got to stand in that concrete dungeon and make things and have the floor suck the life right out of me through the soles of my feet. Someone's sitting on my chest, and they've never heard of the salad bar, either. I need something.

I can't take any medicine or I'll cut my hand off and die, and that's worse than being sick, after all. Nothing works anyway until the crocuses come.

I need Louis Jordan. I need someone serious as a heart attack about being silly.

There, that's better.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Rich Men Have Real Estate

Momma was quiet. Daddy was silent.

I'd come home from school, and momma would hug me like she did. I could feel her snuffle on the top of my head. It was like she needed the smell of me, too. I'd sit in the chair in the kitchen, and talk and talk about the day, and she'd murmur along with me. It wasn't words, really, just a little string of sounds to let me know she still heard her little yo-yo spinning, and I hadn't reached the end of my string yet.

I can't picture her face anymore in my mind's eye; I have to fish through the box of pictures to find one of her. I touch it when I look at it. I don't know why I run my hand over it but I do. I hear her murmuring all the days of my life.

Dad never spoke, or so it seemed. You could have hung a sign around his neck that read: "I don't know" and saved yourself a world of trouble. He said it all the time, when he said anything. I think it's funny that he always knew, but said that anyway. Daddy knew everything. Momma said knowing is in daddy's head, but it's in my mouth. He was alone all day in that field, and got used to it. Or it got used to him.

I'd watch him wash the day's dust from his hands and face and the back of his neck while momma placed the dishes just so on the table. He seemed to linger over it a minute in an odd way. Daddy always seemed to move slow, but I noticed no one could ever keep up with him. I never could. I never will. I asked him why he liked to wash his face like that. He said: "Oh, I don't know." When daddy put an "oh" along with his "I don't know" it meant something different. It meant he didn't know exactly, I think.

We sat for a long minute at the table. I remember how the sun would slant in that window, the same angle every day plus a little or minus a little, and you could tell the time and the season by it. The afternoon would settle the air but the curtain would always sway like a dancer with it.

We worked at the food. Dad seemed all wrist at the table. His clothes never made it as far as he did. The teacher had told me about the lever you could use to lift the whole earth, and they all laughed at me when I said I'd seen it coming out of my daddy's sleeve. They all have fathers that don't say "I don't know" and their wrist fits in their sleeve and only lifts the newspaper.

Five minutes had gone by, easy, by the clock, and I could tell daddy was still turning over my foolishness in his mind. Why does a man wash any certain way? A man washes as much as his momma makes him, and no more.

The oven cooled and ticked, the clock tocked, the glasses tinked, and the curtains swayed. Daddy said: " A rich man like me has a lot of real estate, and carries it around with him. I like to take it off and look at it from time to time."

Thursday, February 22, 2007

It's The Stuff, But How Much?

Is this the stuff? I've seen her do it a thousand times, but I can't remember.

It's the stuff, but how much? That's funny. "It's the stuff, but how much?" is words to live by; words to live by. Liquor. Gambling. Kindling. Children. Money that slips through your fingers. It's the stuff, but how much?

She's the stuff, and never enough. She's calm when I'm angry, and sober when I'm giddy. She looks the other way when I come home with one whiskey on my breath. The touch of her hand heals a hammer bruise like a poultice. I swear if I lost my hand she could put it back on with what's in the cabinet. I can't even make breakfast with it.

She's an awful color. As white as the day I married her, and that white came in a tin with a puff inside. Now it's inside looking out. There's sweat on her brow. Her eyelids flutter. I can't stand to see her like this.

Thank god the children slept all night. If I'm late for work one more time, I'll be fired for sure, and they don't care who's sick. You sick, me sick, her sick, them sick, we sick. Go home and be sick. Don't come back.

I'd give anything to ask her which spoon does she use? I know she uses the spoon, but which one?

John, get your brothers and sister awake and help them wash their faces, there's a good man. You got your momma's face and all her sense. Help your daddy now. Daddy's making breakfast today.

Today momma will sleep and we'll pray after we eat.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


I alway hated musicals when I was a kid. I didn't understand the concept of a song breaking out in the middle of what had been a sober sort of scene up until then. It was traditional for the Sound of Music to be played on television yearly --Easter, I think -- and I always rooted for the Nazis, hoping to stop the singing.

You have to cultivate a taste for many sophisticated things. Civilization is not foregone conclusion. There are a great many cultural references that go into anything but the most basic of entertainments, for instance.

They were always showing us the wrong sorts of entertainments, anyway, if they wanted to get us interested. It's fine to be suave and debonair, but you can just as easily have plenty of power displayed. And the yoking of power to finesse is the hallmark of a robust civilization, isn't it? Too much finesse, and you get the Von Trapps. Too much power, and you get people in arm bands watching The Ring cycle.

I understand opera now. Musical theater holds no terrors for me. I'm down to hating just dancing now. I wouldn't, if it was like this more often:

America in 1941. Hellzapoppin' indeed. Now, as if this film didn't have enough charms in it already, according to imdb, Shemp Howard is in it. Case closed.

America the way I like it. Light on its feet. Lots of fun. Strong as whiskey. Tough as nails.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Fais Do Do Redux Deluxe

It's Mardi Gras. Here's more from last year about the Crescent City:

Oh, you don't know me if you think I'm finished with New Orleans. Because New Orleans is the home of all sorts of the greatest american music, which means the greatest music anywhere.

It's spanish and french and sicilian and neapolitan and arab and indians and acadian and irish and scots and deepest darkest africa, baby.

I'm going to do this from memory:

Jelly Roll Morton - raggin on yer stride, or stridin' on your rag
Louis Armstrong- where's my laxatives and trumpet?
Louis Prima- the greatest show ever
Dixie Cups- Iko Iko, no t Ikea!
Clifton Chenier- less cowbell- more washboard!

Meters- words optional
All those Marsalis fellows- a dog in every fight
Professor Longhair- no truth in advertising
Mac Rebbenack the Night Tripper-right place, right time
Alan Touissant- pianny please
Lee Dorsey- The Kid Chocolate, workin' in a coal mine
Fats Domino- still there
Little Richard Penniman recorded there with:
Bumps Blackwell - more fun than a bear on the street, with more hair
Rufus and Carla Thomas -gee whiz
Sidney Bechet!- that's how Van Morrison always says it; with an exclamation point
Lloyd Price -too black for American Bandstand. Just right for me.
King Floyd - groove me!
Mahalia Jackson- angels take notes
Marcia Ball - I played with her once. Her legs go right to the ground, as unlikely as that seems

We could always drive up the road to Mississippi and find my old friend Albert King, if we got bored.

You wanna know how great New Orleans music is, and was? I bet I forgot 500 people, and it don't matter.

(updated: lohwoman reminds us of: Preservation Hall Jazz Band with Sweet Emma. OK, so we've only forgotten 499 people now.)

Monday, February 19, 2007

New Orleans. Redux?

[Editor's Note:We got to talking about New Orleans over at my blogfriend Althouse yesterday, and we didn't solve anybody's problems there I'm afraid. Talking generally doesn't. But it can't hurt to remember what it was that we're jawing about saving. It's Mardi Gras there. Here's a rerun for our friends in New Orleans.]
{Author's Note: There is no editor.}

Riding on the City of New Orleans,
Illinois Central Monday morning rail
Fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders,
Three conductors and twenty-five sacks of mail.

All along the southbound odyssey
The train pulls out at Kankakee
Rolls along past houses, farms and fields.
Passin' trains that have no names,
Freight yards full of old black men
And the graveyards of the rusted automobiles.

Good morning America how are you?
Don't you know me I'm your native son,
I'm the train they call The City of New Orleans,
I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.

Dealin' card games with the old men in the club car.
Penny a point ain't no one keepin' score.
Pass the paper bag that holds the bottle
Feel the wheels rumblin' 'neath the floor.
And the sons of pullman porters
And the sons of engineers
Ride their father's magic carpets made of steel.
Mothers with their babes asleep,
Are rockin' to the gentle beat
And the rhythm of the rails is all they feel.
Nighttime on The City of New Orleans,
Changing cars in Memphis, Tennessee.
Half way home, we'll be there by morning
Through the Mississippi darkness Rolling down to the sea.

And all the towns and people seem To fade into a bad dream
And the steel rails still ain't heard the news.
The conductor sings his song again,
The passengers will please refrain
This train's got the disappearing railroad blues.

Good night, America, how are you?
Don't you know me I'm your native son,
I'm the train they call The City of New Orleans,
I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.

lyrics: The City of New Orleans by Steve Goodman ©1970, 1971 EMI U Catalogue, Inc and Turnpike Tom Music (ASCAP)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Sunday Is For Church And Soul Train

The Staples Singers satisfy the minimum RDA for both.

Maximum RDA, now that I think of it.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Fat Saturday

This Tuesday is Mardi Gras. I think that New Orleans is the most important place in the United States for music. Which is to say: In the whole wide world.

Yes, I know all about Vienna. La Scala ain't in Rhode Island, though there's plenty of Italians at hand. Heard of Liverpool. Detroit? New York? Los Angeles? Whatever...

It's "whatever", because it's not really whatever in any of those other places. They'e known for one, or maybe a few things. But the fusion, without the loss of any of its component parts, is what I'm talking about. And there has never been a place like New Orleans in the world for that. Louis Prima and Mahalia Jackson are both from there. Everything in between, too.

This fellow from Surrey England came to make his obeisance with the local New Orleans shaman, Mac Rebbenack, for instance. Louis Armstrong made that old traditional song famous, and identified it forever with the Crescent City. But the original St. James Infirmary was likely an ancient Irish/British folk song about a hospital in London.

You can discover yourself in New Orleans music. You're already in there.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Heart Is A Lonely ... Juggler

I integrated something new into my affairs recently.

I found a new kind of wood to use in my furniture. Of course, it's kinda silly to say it's a "new" kind of wood. I just have never used it before. Western Curly Maple.

Now acer macrophyllum isn't all that different from acer rubrum or sacharum --red or sugar maple-- that I use all the time. But it is different. It's called quilted maple by most, not tiger maple. Its wild grain is wild in a different way.

A long series of things has to happen before I use such an item. It has to exist, in useful quantities, where I can get it. There's a reason everybody doesn't still make blockfront dressers out of Cuban mahogany anymore.

Part of the dynamic of availability is the cost. The price dynamic tells me if there's any around. Western Maple is plentiful enough to be sold here in the east for less than some local wood.

Will it wear out my tools? Dust give me nose or lung cancer? Is it dimensionally stable? Can I get it in wide widths? Can I get contact dermatitis from handling it? Too heavy to lift? Does machining it close the grain too much, called mill glaze, to accept glue properly? Does it split when you fasten it? Does the grain tear out when you run it through a planer? Accept dyes and stains and finishes? Warp when you slice it and release pent up stresses in the wood? Hell, will it release pent-up stresses in me? Of course, before any of this started, the granddaddy of all considerations: Is it beautiful?

I'm only half way through determining if all that and more checks out. And I had to take a thousand dollar flyer just to give it a shot. I can only guess wrong about such things once or twice, and I'd be out of business. Oh yes; or sick or injured or dead.

There is a kind of reverie that comes while you are pushing a lot of wood through machinery. It can be hypnotizing and lulling. You are wearing muffs on your ears, and sometimes a mask over your lower face, and a glasses. Darth Vader got nothing on you. For a cheap laugh, I used to go and see my toddler with it all on. The mock fear and giggling was worth it. At any rate, you have to be careful when you're doing repetitive things over and over with danger very close at hand. You can't get bored and cut your hand off.

There is a kind of inspirational thinking that can happen when you are like this. The front of your mind is preoccupied with the task at hand. In a way, putting the repetitive but dangerous activity in the front of the mind puts other parts of the mind to sleep. Many people distract this "rest of their mind" with music while working. But there is a kind of thinking you can do there, like peripheral vision. Or just plain visions. It is the stuff of shamans and Nietzsche and Jung and the monk's cell. You can see around the corner a little. Many foolish people simply pay the most attention to the bad rock music they're listening to, and little attention to anything else, least of all what they're supposed to be doing, and maim themselves or ruin their work. I think the narcotic effect of smoking, along with the mundane, repetitive kabuki process of having a cigarette, explains its appeal in much the same way. It is contemplative. You're thinking about smoking in the front of your mind. In the back, well, I don't know; I don't smoke.

When you juggle, if you look at any of the balls, all the others drop to the floor. You can't pay attention to what you are doing the same way you do with everything else. You look off into the ether, and your eye takes it all in, and mind tells your limbs to faithfully execute the dull, disparate throws you learned by wrote before you could think about integrating them into juggling.

I'll try juggling new balls from time to time. But I never look right at anything any more.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

What's Opera, Doc?

The joke in Seinfeld that everything you know about opera you learned from Looney Toons is both funny and accurate for a lot of us. But what's wrong with having your interest in something profound being piqued by something frivolous or mundane? A map doesn't come full size, because it sure would be hard to fold. And I've noticed that all of Rhode Island isn't really flat and light blue. We accept approximations all the time to give us the general idea.

I like me some opera. I like it as much straight up as when Elmer Fudd does it. And You Tube is good for opera.

YouTube strikes me as a sort of abandoned library. There's all sorts of great stuff in among the debris, but I fear the whole thing will get torn down for condos soon. I pick around in the dusty piles while it lasts.

I found Caruso.

Someone's restored it fairly well. You can hear the compression that comes with being recorded on machinery that greatly restricts the tonal range. But even though it doesn't have all the oomph that you would have heard in the original, you can discern it in there, like a beautiful woman draped in satin.

Opera was for everybody then. Caruso was Sinatra and Elvis and the Beatles first. I think of my own grandfather, Caruso's fellow Neapolitan, hearing these familiar notes in his Cambridge Massachusetts walk-up flat. Life is in those notes. It must have seemed like seeing Jackie Robinson rounding second base to an African-American for my grandparents to hear Caruso sing in the United States. Like a hero; a champion; a god. San Francisco shook itself to the ground with its earthquake, then burned. The paper only wondered: Is Caruso OK?

It is considered trite, a little, that aria from La Boheme; but that's just a measure of its universality and accessibility. Why, Bugs Bunny might even sing that one.

The sentiment is lovely. Que Gelida Manina -How cold your little hand is.

Rodolfo meets Mimi for the first time, and falls in love.

How cold your little hand is!
Will you let me warm it for you?
Why bother looking?
It's dark, and we won't find it.
It's our good luck though,
this night's filled with moonlight,
up here the moonlight could rest on our shoulders.
Please wait, my dear young lady,
and I will quickly tell you who stands before you, and
what I do, how I make my living.
May I?

Who am I? What am I? I am a poet.
What keeps me busy? Writing!
And what do I live on? Nothing!
In poverty I'm cheerful,
I am a prince who squanders
arias and couplets of longing.
And as for hopes and dreams of love
and castles-in-the-air, Miss-
I am a millionaire!
My fortress could be broken in,
robbed clean of the fine jewels I store-
if the thieves were eyes like yours.
And now that I have seen you,
all of my lovely dreaming,
all of the sweetest dreams I've dreamt,
quickly have slipped away.
This theft does not upset me,
because such treasures mean nothing
now that I'm rich with sweet hope!
And now that you have met me,
I ask you please,
Tell me, lady, who you are, I ask you please!

YouTube tempted me with another version: Giuseppe DiStefano.

It's newer,as Giuseppe is my father's, not my greatgrandfather's, contemporary. But the recording is at least as old as I am. I think it might be the best version of it I ever heard.

And I've heard Caruso.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Romance. Novel.

[Editor's Note: Yeah, that's them. I don't know why he calls her "Something Awful." She looks alright to me.]
{Author's Note: I love you something awful. There is no editor}

The world is full of orphans: firstly, those
Who are so in the strict sense of the phrase;
But many a lonely tree the loftier grows
Than others crowded in the Forest's maze. --
The next are such as are not doomed to lose
Their tender parents in their budding days,
But, merely, their parental tenderness,
Which leaves them orphans of the heart no less.
I searched the whole world for you, imperfectly. I got tired, and stood still, and you found me. I'll stand still now, until it's all over.

I don't know you yet. I don't want to know you. I want to meet you every day, over and over again. Divine Providence made me talk all the time, while you keep still, so you can stay mysterious for as long as you like. I'll never shut up, I promise.

I watch our little one sleep. He has the dreams I want. He dreams of nothing but fun. He dreams of nothing but you.

(Update: I'm silly. I didn't attribute the poem. I realize now that they don't always teach in wealthy people's colleges what they used to teach in poor people's elementary schools. Anybody recognize that?)

(In the comments: Patsy gets it right off. It's old Georgie Gordon)

Monday, February 12, 2007

So What

I wouldn't put my finger in that change return slot if there was fifty bucks in it. The greasy handset, battered by a numberless army of salesmen and lovers, hangs like a murderer on a gibbet over the thing. Let the bums get it. She said she'd come. I'm not calling her any more.

I loved the feeling of the neon glowing on the side of my face in there. Don't tell me it's just light. I feel it like the sun. It's the only sun I'll ever acknowledge. The one in the morning rises alone. Mine rises when the manager flips the switch. It never sets on me, that sun.

Man, that scirocco of sweat and booze and cigs and breath like a welder's tank. I feel like I'm born again, from a mummy's womb. Straight on in, just like the music.

The stage is exactly three inches and a galaxy away from the dance floor. Dance? Please. Stumble around with a woman that ain't your wife floor, I think. I like the old dude that looks like Batman's butler or a fruity sort of baron or something that conducts or sways or whatever it is he's doing. He's possessed with it, same as me. He's usually possessed of plenty of cake, a desire to buy a man a drink, and an aversion to arithmetic, too. The waitresses adore that.

The curtain is dirty from wiping your hands on it. Me included. It's dirty like life is. Up high, it's dirty with cobwebs and dust and corruption because you can't reach up there. Down low it's dirty with the grubby hands of all of us trying to wipe off the sweat and grease of what you're doing.

I listen for the cornshucks of the brushes on the snare. He hits it, but I don't care about that. In between -- the faint circular sketching he does without thinking -- that's what I'm after. He's lathering the dry face of the song so I can shave it with the sharp edge of the brass. The bass rumbles like thunder in the distance.

I can taste metal and blood and booze in my mouth. Tastes like life.

"I'm Like A Woodie Guthrie Jukebox"

Nobody much understands Bob Dylan.

He's just a singer that can't sing to some, a writer that doesn't know how to edit to others. He plays the guitar like he just bought it, and plays the harmonica like he just rented it. You're missing the point.

Bob Dylan is a scholar. He's a scholar of the American song. That makes him a scholar of the the American condition. And like real scholars, he's lost himself among the things he studied until he's gone into them. He's a self-invented person. Bobby Zimmerman don't live here no more.

I can't think of anybody's opinion about Woody Guthrie I'd rather hear. Woody was the scholar of the American condition before Bob Zimmerman, and Bob Dylan in due time, was born. God bless 'em both:

Woody Guthrie was a pacifist. Ain't we all? World War Two came, and he wrote: "This machine kills fascists" on his guitar, and joined the merchant marine.

Sometimes pacifists got a gun. Sometimes, singers can't sing much.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sittin' On Top Of The World

Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys.

He still doesn't know what to do with the cold dead gaping lens looking at him. He was odd anyway, but you see his eyes flit around, fixing on the director, then the camera, and then he looks at the near distance and scans the place where the audience should be. Old habits die hard.

It takes a certain kind of weirdo to look at a dead black glass eye and act like anything in particular in front of it. The audience is theoretical at that point. It's why the entertainment business is peopled with so many sociopaths now. It used to just attract freaks. But they were freaks that had some idea of what a fellow human being was. They were sitting right there in front of you. They were just facing the wrong way. Now the audience starts out theoretical. It gets worse from there.

I love the credits at the open. I picture people huddled in a converted church or apothecary or warehouse looking at the reels in the dark of a roadhouse night. The crackle wasn't all static on their radio. Both the crackle and the static are gone now.

People were ubiquitous, and entertainment was rare and prized. We're flipped now.

I didn't know the Bob Wills version of that song. It's great fun. I did know Bob Wills, because he was important, in an obscure sort of way, and he encapsulated a portion of the spinning globe at a certain time in a certain place. I could point out to you that there's not one person in Rock music today who knows how to play the guitar as well as that fellow there.

I knew Howlin' Wolf's version of that song. To say it was different is to say you should wear sunglasses when you visit the sun. You Tube doesn't have it, if it exists. This'll have to do, to give you the general idea:

Get the picture? I did. That man is talking to me. Most people wouldn't know who either one was, nor care to. The remainder would mostly like one, or the other. America as I picture it isn't worth a fig without both of them in it.

Howlin' Wolf's dead and buried. Bob Wills lies a-mouldering in the grave. One spoke to the other, and vice versa, and they both talk to me from beyond the grave. Because they learned to look into the cold dead lens, and picture me in it.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Bossa Nova Duck's Feet

You are not a sophisticated person unless you know about Antonio Carlos Jobim. It's a great big world, with lots in it to distract you, but you've got to try to keep up.

It sounds effortless, just a man with a gut string guitar and a soft voice. It's that most marvelous of artistic things: something that sounds fine when done by the amateur, but capable of almost limitless improvisation or interpretation by the most talented of people. There is a kind of gossamer steel superstructure in it. You can hang all sorts of things on it, and it can take the weight. But it hardly seems more than a bubble in a glass.

It's funny to watch the man who's supposed to have the hammer, and the fellow with thin, breathy voice sing it together. It's Sinatra that's trying to glom onto the verve and panache in the thing. Jobim brings it all with him. He needs nothing from anyone but their attention. Sinatra's front of disenchanted urbanity is stretched to the limit here and there if you look for it. You can see him straining to hit things properly. Jobim is the duck's feet the whole time.

It's Valentine's Day this week. Wake up and smell the Bossa Nova.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Same River

I've walked up this street so many times now. I can't really remember how many times.

You can never put your foot in the same river twice.

Heh. High School. What do they know?

I can tick my finger through the slats on Atkin's fence, and feel the rhythm of it in my bones. I can remember which are out of alignment enough to break the pulse of it. I know it. I painted it once for summer money.

I know when to shrug past the light pole and dodge around the mailboxes and the amount I've got to raise my foot to clear the curb without looking. The neighbor's dogs don't bark at me. They know me like I know them. I'm not the same as when I left, but I smell the same, I guess.

I like the way the rocker at 27 goes back and forth in the breeze. I could always look out the window and see how much breeze there was before I went out. There's never a person in the chair, so it's more useful. Funny, that.

The lawn's gone to seed. Mom never could push that fiendish little mixer with the curling blades going swish swish and the finely shorn blades of grass cascading onto your shoes. It always made her peevish, to be so close to danger and to be expected to be disinterested in it. I could tell her a bit about that now.

Dad had to go and die on her. His back was too strong for his heart, she said. She says I got all his heart. She got the mower.

She's alone, but not lonely, she wrote to me, because she has him and me in her heart always. She says death and the grave is nothing. Nothing but your troubles ends at the edge of the hole in the ground, she'd said while we each threw in a handful of gravel, eight summers ago. Mom cries when she reads novels but not in a boneyard.

I always put my right foot on the first step.It's the spot already worn from dad's boot. I wear away at the spot in his place now. Someday I'll wear it clean through and I won't know what to do, because the hole will be dearer to me than a religion, but how do you keep a hole? Dad will be gone in another hole.

The door has that heavy oval glass in it. I used to run my finger around the bevel, to feel the clean edge and marvel at the perfection of the curve of it. Dad said I'd be a man when I could reach all the way around without tiptoes. I showed him I could. He let me mow the lawn.

The paints peeling on the jamb, except around the doorbell, where it's worn all away. There's a lesson in that, but I don't care what it is. I can see straight through the house from the stoop, the rooms opening one into another in a line. Mom's in the kitchen, at the end of the parade. Her hair hangs in her face like it always did when she was working. A wisp on either side of her eyes. She brushes it back with the side of her hand, and her head turns, and she sees me there in the glass.

She stares at me a good long while. She leans on her hand on the tabletop, like I've seen her do a thousand times a thousand times when the kitchen gets too hot.

Maybe I should have wrote. Maybe I shouldn't have worn the uniform. Maybe she don't know me right away. Maybe I'm different now.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Prince...Isn't...Very Good. Sorry.

Everybody comes from something. Entertainment enthusiasts make a fetish out of identifying influences. It's fun, but eventually it becomes a snake eating itself. In the world of pawed over minutiae, where the majority of people consider themselves not just consumers of entertainment, but collectors and aesthetes, not a whole lot is really obscure any more.

Gushing about Prince on the SuperBowl is about over now. I don't see the attraction.

If you're tapped to entertain at the SuperBowl, you've jumped the shark. Old, tired things are appropriate there. It's a kind of proof you're old and in the way. Prince got that way without ever being important.

He's all derivative. He doesn't come from something. He is nothing except cut and paste rock/funk pastiche. There's no there there. It's all somewhere else. Being an artist often makes you odd. Just being odd doesn't make you an artist. Pretending to be odd, trying to be mistaken for an artist, is just plain band-in-the-hotel-lounge lame. Prince is that lame.

I can watch the fellows Prince tamely copies, and it's not like I can't see where they got their stuff from. Hendrix would tell you all about Albert King, for instance. But great artists distill things into their own elixir. Prince is just a card table with one of everything he's shoplifted on it. Or maybe an erector set, with all the pieces laid out on the floor, never to be assembled. The erector set - the attention-- should be given to someone that knows what to do with it.

I looked at the tube last Sunday, and he was playing Proud Mary, for goshsakes. He's not even a good wedding band; that's too lame for any reception now.

I can't see Prince and not see the gears turning in his head. Who am I like now?

Prince watched James Brown, and never was a patch on him. He's not talented enough to copy him, and not artistic enough to make something in that vein of his own.

James Brown watched Joe Tex, and made James Brown out of it. That's different. Way different.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


I can't think of anything else.

We're going to be out on the Banks for another week, easy. I've got to get it out of my mind.

I can't. I keep rolling it around in there, like a prayer or nursery rhyme. I can't think of any damn thing else. It's a haunt.

How could I be so dumb? What made me do that? What was I thinking?

Chaves was talking to me. Man, that guy talks all the time. I wasn't thinking straight. He distracted me.

Nah, it's not Chaves fault I did it. It's Chaves mother's fault he's a yammerin' fool. It's my fault I listened.

The easy rhythm is gone. Left foot finds the deck, in a spot the ice didn't find yet. Plant it firm. Right hand pulls hard. Left hand guides. Spin it. Show the hoist the fist. Dump the scaly prize. Step back straight, now, and watch the roll. Ready again.

All I can think of is my hand. Who puts their hand on a frozen line without a glove on? Bring a woman on a boat for bad luck, stand in the bight of the bowline, play mumbletypeg with a blind man, but don't take your glove off.

It's nothing but pain. It won't scab over until we're back in New Beige and I have a glass under my nose. I don't care about pain. It's the shame of it I can't stand. My hand is like a bad wife. It stands off to the side and reminds me how dumb I am. It never shuts up. It hasn't got the mercy to get better or worse. It's just the same, over and over and over until I want to kill the world with the noise in my head.

"Gangi! Pay attention, you ass, you almost put me over!"

I went forward. I took a pail of ice, and a pail of salt. I dumped the salt on the ice. I pulled my glove off and plunged my raw, bleeding hand in there.

There, that's better.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Rusty Bucket

I like the water from the rusty bucket best. It tastes like something.

It tastes like the earth. I can feel it. I roll it around in my mouth and it's like the magnetism of the poles is in it. The world and everything in it is in the well.

I love that baby. I want to bathe him in the water from the rusty bucket. I want to baptize him myself from the font of the world. I want his bones to sing with the vibrations in the earth. Not clean, exactly; anointed.

That boy's father carries him like a package. He isn't anything to him yet. He loves him, sure, but in a potential sort of way. At least he carries him like there's something breakable in that package. His love is purer than mine - because it is all in his mind, and still he loves that baby. Me, I can still smell the musk of my own womb on his soft little head. And the taste of the rusty bucket.

I didn't know what to think when they strung the power lines across the horizon. Whatever is in those wires is not a person, but it trespasses just the same. But then I felt it. There was power in them, coursing through them. It was everybody and everything going everywhere all the time.

Sometimes I take my boy out in the cool of the evening, the clank of the final fork on the last plate still ringing in the house behind us, and we drink from the bucket with the rust in it, and I hold him up in the air so he can be washed in the power of those lines.

He was born to live in that power. I was born to drink from that bucket.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Marriage Is Holsum

There will be no statistics.

Look, I'm not in the mood to decry anything. And I have no intention of doing the heavy intellectual lifting required to make a footnoted case for anything. And I have no ulterior motive for writing. I'm not even sure I even have an ulterior. Is that like a coccyx?

So I'll just shoot my mouth off, if you don't mind. Being married is great.

I'm going to double down now. Being married with kids is even better than great. There, I said it and I'm glad.

I'm not sorta married, either. I'm atomic level married. I don't give a fig for anybody or anything else. I think the penalty for having two women is they should give you a third one. Happy now?

Though we didn't have any money to stand barefoot in an ice chapel built on a tropical beach on a private island having an Elvis impersonator reading the banns for us in a Buddhist/Vegan/L.RonHubbard/Survivalist/Wiccan/Gaian/Druid/ Crypto-Episcopalian mode after proposing on a jumbotron during a guerrilla marketing stunt while shooting a viral video, it was still pretty good. We just got up in front of everybody she knows, and everybody I know, and pledged to stick with one another until we're dead.

We didn't release doves for world peace at the climax of the ceremony that I can recall, either. The more I think about it, not only couldn't we afford any doves, I think we ate pigeons at the reception. Tastes like chicken. Chickens that eat cigarette filters out of the gutter, I mean.

I'm pretty sure we didn't have any children adopted as political statements present at the ceremony, either. Like I said, we were poor. We were in such straightened circumstances that we had to make our own children using only Al Green records and two mixed drinks. We couldn't even afford to leave the lights on.

I can heartily recommend marriage to anybody of a defective character. You know who you are. I can't guarantee it'll work out as well as it did for me and mine. You may not marry someone like my wife, but still be someone like me. That would be bad. You should not own sharp things in those circumstances.

Anyhow, we are the perfect combo, my wife and I. We're the only two people in the world.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Me And Figaro Are Still Married

My wife and I and a couple of friends attended The Marriage of Figaro at the local theatre --The Zeiterion-- last evening. It was really, really good. Why is that a surprise?

I dunno. Maybe it's less of a surprise after we took a flyer a year ago and saw La Boheme staged there. We had no idea what to expect then, so we practically had tears of joy rolling down our faces halfway through. We were sitting close enough for Mimi to cough on us. It cost $43.00 Think of that. A real opera company, with a real pit orchestra, best seats in the house; forty three bucks.

Forty three bucks will buy you a foam finger and a round of cokes at a preseason football game. I think I paid forty three bucks to park once in Boston, never mind hear Mozart. It's not really like I bought a winning lottery ticket. It's more like I found a winning lottery ticket lying on the ground.

Anyway, last night it was the Bulgarian State Opera bangin' away at Mozart. We sat in the fifth row on the aisle. It's as close as you can be and still read the supertitle projector over the stage. The singers were looking right at us when they sang. That's the sign you're sitting in the right spot.

I know enough about the music to hear when the orchestra misses. They're pretty good, so a miss is not a big hairy mistake. It's just you hear them here and there a little slow or too quick to come in; things like that. I didn't notice any singer falter over even one word, or miss a mark. It's a testament to the unlikelihood of finding really good performances in such an out-of-the-way place that I was looking for signs of amateurishness. It wasn't there.

It's a modest theatre, The Zeiterion. New Bedford, its home, is a hundred and fifty years past being anywhere of consequence. It's pretty much a dump. It's interesting here and there, but a really small vinyl sided warehouse for people for the most part. Whatever "vibe" it's got is leftover -- or bad. And the Zeiterion is conspicuous for its lonesomeness, mostly. There isn't an intertown rivalry between New Bedford and Fall River for who's got the best opera house.

It's not gaudy like most theatres; it's really very spartan. But to people who've been watching B movies in a concrete block mall moviehouse closet with your feet stuck to the floor while surrounded by people yammering into a cellphone or yelling at the screen the whole time, it must seem like an Elysian Field.

The opera company is from Bulgaria. It's telling that it's not home grown. Every kid in New Bedford that takes music or dance lessons is learning to screech like Celine Dion and dance like Britney Spears. Mozart ain't happenin'. My own son plays a brass instrument in an orchestra in school. That sort of a program is considered as a kind of enormous luxury in public schools these days, and I'm immensely grateful for it. But you can tell it's kind of ashamed of itself, because the kids are given lame versions of rock music and pop movie scores to play, mostly. They're afraid, I think, to pursue excellence in music because there's no future in it.

As if there's a future in playing school brass versions of Frankenstein by Edgar Winter.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Le Nozze Di Sippican Ossia La Folle Giornata

I have a long-suffering wife.

We're going to the opera tonight. We never go anywhere.

That's not exactly correct. We rarely go anywhere. We don't do what other people do, much. It's not stubborn oppositionalism or sloth. No offense; do whatever makes you happy that doesn't panic the horses in the street. We're just not all that interested, and I'm a little strange.

They're getting preachy at my son's grammar school. They're meddling in things that are none of their affair. They have decided to outlaw almost any form of bridled or unbridled physical activity for the kids, as someone might sue. No tag. Then they harangue the kids endlessly about mostly imaginary obesity due to inactivity. We just let our kids run around.

They obsess endlessly about food. They made the lunches so "wholesome" at school that no one purchased them, and so they don't even offer them any more. Me, I would have complained about the rations they offered if I was in a concentration camp. They expected kids to eat it. Message to teacher: you are the only Vegan involved here.

The kids were faint with hunger, so the teacher let them bring a snack. He complained to the parents that the students were eating foods he didn't approve of. I answered him politely that he had overstepped his authority. He told me he wasn't talking about my kid, so not to worry about it. I explained that it was still a problem, as it is the parent who decides, and not only if he decides correctly according to the teacher. Deaf ears.

The children are lectured that they watch too much TV. TV is evil, they are told. We don't have a TV. We have a screen on which we watch entertainments, but it is not hooked up to cable or broadcast feeds. I guarantee you that we are the only house in town of this sort, including the teachers. Especially the teachers, now that I think of it. I'm sure their low opinion of television comes from watching it every spare moment of their lives. Our ambivalence about it springs from our amibivalence about it. It was wry to note that when we tried to discover if school would be delayed or cancelled due to snow this week, we were directed by the school system to turn on the television to find out. Website? Why would we put it there? The website is for preaching about the evils of... television.

We don't go to sporting events much, as they are very expensive, and the athletes are disinterested and thuggish now as a rule. I'd rather go to our son's little league games. We eat out rarely, as it is expensive generally, but mostly because the food is rarely better than we can make for ourselves. It's a colossal time waster, too. I hate traveling, as it is so rare to find a place half as comfortable as our home.

But my wife is trapped in here with three boys. She needs to get the hell out of here. She's not strange, like I am. So where would we go? What would we do? Why, we'd go to the opera.

And real singers will stride to the front of a real stage, and their clarion voices will carry over a real pit orchestra's version of Mozart's incomparable melodies, and pound them into our very hearts. My wife will glow like the moon in the summer evening's sky. We will sit in rapt attention -- a kind of awe, really -- as the story of a sublime and humorous attempt at marriage will twinkle in front of us like a sparkler on the Fourth of July.

It costs less than two weeks of cable. You guys all talk a good game. What the hell are you doing tonight?

Friday, February 02, 2007

Pleasant Snow

It snowed last night.

This is the time of year it snows in Southcoast Massachusetts. The ocean has cooled, and it's really winter now. Occasionally we really get bombed late in the season, while the rest of the winter we're barely touched. But all we got was fat, fluffy flakes sifting down in the early morning. Marvelous.

The little guy usually wakes up and stands in his footie pajamas at his door and announces himself in a tiny man's voice: Gud mowahningg! We went looking for him this morning --getting late-- and found him with his nose pressed against the pane in his room, silently considering the big jolly flakes as they passed by.

It takes the edge off everything. softens the harsh edges of the dormant landscape. Throws back the wan sunlight and gets light all the way into your house and your soul for a change. It reminds you of the turning of the earth and march of life. It could get you down, if it was all there was. But if you've got your mind right, in the summer you can remind yourself that you don't have to scrape the heat off your windshield, and in the winter you can remind yourself you're busy not scratching the bug bites you don't have. It's all good. Or a respite from bad. Or something.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Welcome To Blogger Beta!

Stop fixing things.

I'm sick of the jet set deciding that everything that doesn't get up and dance around needs to be modified.

I want to type words into a text editor and upload a picture and have people read it.

I'm not the sort of person that thinks that no one needs what I don't want. I don't want to outlaw everything I don't care for. But for god sakes, don't tell us that you're going to add four aisles to the grocery store to make it better, and then forget where you put the key for the front door.

The skinny eyeglass set can't seem to understand why 97% of the world uses a computer they wouldn't be caught dead with. Let me give you a hint: It works. It's not fancy. It works. You turn it on, and you work, because it works.

There's a reason why I never built a house first, then slipped the foundation under it. Just a thought.