Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy Hogmanay, Ye Presbyters Ye (2008)

[Editor's Note: I added a few paragraphs and a new picture to last year's New Year's Eve well-wishes. How many new ideas about New Year's were you expecting, exactly?]
{Author's Note: There is no editor.}

It's the ancient stuff that gets us going. We paste our modern concerns over contemporary fetes and whoop it up, but it all goes back to the cave.

Hallowe'en. New Year's Day. Christmas. Easter. Mardi Gras. Sometimes it appears you're peering into a closed up shop through a grimy window, and way across the room, past the dust of centuries that lays on every surface, through the dim sepia light, you see another window grimier still. Through that one, who knows what you'd see? It's lost to pen and ink, but it's written in our marrow somehow.

Here are the goddamn words, by the way:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne ?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp !
And surely I’ll be mine !
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.


We twa hae run about the braes,
and pou’d the gowans fine ;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin’ auld lang syne.


We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,
frae morning sun till dine ;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin’ auld lang syne.


And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere !
And gies a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll tak a right gude-willie-waught,
for auld lang syne.


It's Burns. Robert Burns. But he didn't make any bones about it. He told everybody he was just writing it down, that it was old, old, old. Auld, really. The title doesn't translate readily into modern English. The closest idiomatic doppelganger I like is "For old-time's sake." In Japan, maybe you could drink old-time sake and sing along.

You can go to Wikipedia and get a translation, if drunken roaring latin/gael mishmash isn't your thing or your Manx talkin' friends don't come over:

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne ?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup !
And surely I’ll buy mine !
And we'll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.


We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine ;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.


We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.


And there’s a hand my trusty friend !
And give us a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.

Everyone forgets the words, and belts it out any old way in a drunken, misty, stentorian bellow. That'll do. But the thing they forget, the thing that really matters, are the question marks.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne ?


Saturday, December 29, 2007

Saturday Morning... Er, Afternoon Funnies

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Kvetching Continues

Well, I promised you subtext today, and by golly you're going to get it.

I'm still getting a kick out of this:

"That charming 1920s three-bedroom craftsman wasn't built to accommodate all these new devices, much less modernized subsystems like updated electrical, solar power, or flexible plastic plumbing. Which is one reason Americans have come to prefer new homes to pre-owned ones."

Go ahead. Ask a sane person: "Would you like a charming 1920s three bedroom craftsman?" Yeah, people hate charming, I've noticed. It's right up there with free money and slender women with large bra sizes and tall, muscular men among things people hate. Free beer's a non-starter too, I hear.

Now let's look at the three things he says old houses can't accomodate:
-Updated electrical.
Huh? To update the electrical in most older homes, it's the service that gets changed from a 50 or maybe even 100 amp service panel to maybe 200 amps, if you have airconditioning needs or something. All of that happens between the pole and the service panel. 99% of that is outside. The other 1% is a new service panel in your utility room or basement or garage. It wouldn't matter if your house is 500 years old or 500 minutes old. And is it convenience outlets that are in short supply? Well, if the bill for an electrician to install that -- which is the first thing you learn to do when you're an apprentice besides buying coffee for everybody -- is too daunting, you need to buy a fainting couch and some candles. And if you mean "electronic" instead of electrical, a Cat 5 wire is about as complicated as telephone jack.
-Solar Power
Double huh? Where were you planning on installing those solar panels, HouseLust Dude? In the living room in lieu of a Persian carpet? It goes on the roof, and is basically never installed as original equipment on any house. Strike two.
-Flexible Plastic Plumbing
We're way past "Huh? and into WTF? territory here. An old house can't accomodate flexible plastic plumbing? Flexible plastic plumbing was invented for the EXPRESS PURPOSE of installation into existing housing. If you have to replace old copper plumbing (which is superior in most regards, by the way) you can snake plastic plumbing through the walls without disturbing existing walls or ceilings. And to hook up new plastic plumbing to any existing copper pipe all you need is a spade fitting sweated to the the existing pipe and off you go.

I'm back to considering hanging myself on the shower curtain rod reading this stuff. Let's move on to the subtext.

"And once the paint dries inside a new Spanish colonial-style McMansion, running additional pipes, conduits, or wires necessary for an upgrade creates an ungodly mess — and a shocking bill. "It can be done, but you really need to want it," says Kermit Baker, a Harvard economist who studies the remodeling market."

We'll skip right over the word that's become a sort of hood ornament on the snob's lexicon-Prius for someone else's house: McMansion. We're sniffing around the real reason people want a new house: The old one's too small. They want and can afford a bigger house which doesn't have a leaky roof. It has nothing to do with the author's weird ideas about why people do things. The author hates that idea so he uses a pejorative to describe it. Look at who he goes to to get his advice on remodeling: A Harvard economist. Watch as the light dawns over two Marbleheads. Skilled labor is expensive. Who knew?

"A shocking bill."

I can see these two clutching their pearls, horrified that unlike all the illegal immigrants they have cooking their meals, painting their house, mowing their lawn, and maybe wiping their children's bottoms, an electrician and a plumber and a general contractor must be licensed by the state of Massachusetts where they live, and they're legit, and insured, and can earn a decent wage -- and under no circumstances do these champions of the little guy want to write them a check for doing something they themselves don't understand. They make their living dispensing information with an eyedropper, and charging like it was a firehose. It's anathema to them to pay anybody anything for hidden information -- which normal people just shrug and call "expertise" and write a check for.

I've built and remodeled hundreds of houses and talked to thousands of people about it. And there really are only two kinds of people in this world. People who like to buy things, and people who like to have people make things for them.

The first group constantly talk about "evil corporations" but will never work in any setting or purchase any item which does not come from the corporate setting. I know the Harvard guy thinks Harvard is a sort of intellectual hot-dog stand, but it's one of the most rapacious entities you could name. Its endowment dwarfs the entire budget of the state it resides in. And I noticed the author ain't hardly self-publishing. The non-corporatism is of the "not in front of the servants" variety. When it's time to write a check for the $60.00 an hour to the self-employed electrician to put in a convenience plug, don't the arms get short? And you with those pockets so deep. And you'll have to talk to the ruffians when they come over in a truck, and they haven't even read Naomi Wolf's latest book!

You can buy a great big flat-screen for your house made in a factory in Korea for $750.00 and hang it on the wall. It is a tremendous value, after all. But to the thing-based mind, shelling out any additional funds -- egad! to a person -- to wire a convenience outlet for it and install a dimmer switch in the room it's in is like taking money outside and burning it.

I was always careful to put every bill to the pious wealthy in the form of a flat number. Any reference to the amount of time or the wages involved would never be featured. If you want this - it cost that. Period.

Those people in those McMansions? They were always nice. They lived as decently as they could afford, which is very decently indeed compared to my Kennedy-Johnson-age youth, it's true. They aren't made of money, and often do things themselves to save some, or just for the love of their home, which is, after all, an expression of their most profound ideas about life, family, and citizenship. And they were always glad to find anyone competent to help them realize their dreams for home and hearth, even if they are a tad ham-handed, and gladly paid those contractors to help them.

How dare the architects roaming the earth when Warren G. Harding was president not know that you wouldn't be able to decide where to plug in your iMac from week to week. Something must be done!

I know all about you, Mr. HouseLust and your merry band of Harvard economists. You tell people someone should make furniture here in Massachusetts. Then you shop at IKEA.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Get The Big Knife, Crissy

Look, I know I'm supposed to be pleasant. But I'm having a hard time. Maybe I should commit ritual suicide instead of complaining.

Get the big knife Crissy!

I read an article at Wired called Home Sweet Gadget: How Our Technolust Helped Bring Down The Housing Market by Daniel McGinn, and it struck me as so profoundly shallow and ill-reasoned and ill-informed and... and... oh dear God in heaven forgive me but do they allow you to have a laptop on the short bus? The author is a BC grad and has an MBA. But I don't think his family should let him out of the house without a helmet on.

Let me save you some time. His supposition is that "the US housing market is experiencing its sharpest downturn since the Great Depression," and "Of course, the desire for high tech isn't solely responsible for the bust (low interest rates and insane lending practices, anyone?), but it is surely a contributing factor."

It's a fool's errand to try to torture his tortured logic in a coherent argument to laugh at; the whole thing reads like little more than a melding of pop-culture nonsense buzzwords like "bust" and "McMansion" and "technolust" mixed in with nursing home monikers for anything remotely electronic like "gewgaw" and "gadget." Then he trots out "Dr. No" like it's a cutting edge reference.

If I followed it through correctly, no one wants to live in a "charming 1920s three-bedroom craftsman.." because it " ...wasn't built to accommodate all these new devices, much less modernized subsystems like updated electrical, solar power, or flexible plastic plumbing." So according to him, builders haven't built enough homes that have speakers in the walls, or some utility vaguely worthy of a 2.0 at the end of its name, and simultaneously no one bought those houses because there are too many of them. He didn't explain exactly where everyone went, since they refuse to live in their old house but refuse to buy the new ones as well. I guess the WiFi signal under the bridge is so good that everyone is living there now, while bankers mow the lawns of their abandoned houses.

He's got a book. Here, let me summarize: Snobs don't like it when average people get their hands on decent stuff and big houses, and think they should know their place and go back to ranch houses with formica counters and two bedrooms. Also, if you go looking for neuroses out in the landscape, you'll find them, especially if you bring along an ample supply of your own. The End.

Nothing he wrote makes a lick of sense. How do you get book deals and magazine gigs and write like that? Seriously, I want to know.

Bring me the big knife, Crissy, I'm going to kill myself.

I could jape at him, or poke holes in his logic, such as it is, or cavil about his facts, which aren't factual, but I'm not going to. I will mention that his suggestion that homes need to be made into a sort of cross between a dorm room and an office cubicle should earn him a sentence of transportation. To another galaxy, preferably:

"Some architectural thinkers have begun to advocate adapting construction methods used for commercial office buildings to the residential housing market — dropped ceilings and raised floors allow for easier electrical and plumbing retrofits."

Listen, the Victorians through the Eisenhower generation integrated electricity, the telephone, indoor plumbing, the automobile, the radio, television, central heating, and dozens of other more profoundly useful and game-changing utilities into their houses without breaking a sweat. The idea that housing is deficient because you're such a lotus eater that you can't find a place to plug in an Xbox is absurd. Most"gadgets" that can't be integrated properly into the home easily are simply too poorly designed to be integrated with anything else. (You can always tell when someone's typing on an Apple.) That's the real problem, if there is one. And the reason there's a bust in housing, which is nowhere near the apocalyptic size it's described as, is that the dirt underneath the house is worth less, not the house.

"Some architectural thinkers." Heh. Try that sentence with the emphasis on "some."

Some architectural thinkers, huh?

(There's a fascinating subtext in the article no one noticed. I did. More tomorrow.)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Ginger Ale

I wish it would rain.

No; sleet. Sleet would finish the tableau. Rain is cleansing. It washes away the dirt and corruption. No snow either; the fat, jolly flakes just hide it all. Snow can make a fire hydrant into a wedding cake. I want sleet.

I want to pull my collar up, and hunch my shoulders as if blows from an unseen and merciless god were raining down on me. I don't want a Christmas card. I want the Old Testament.

Old, or new - I knew it. Father and mother would open the Bible to a random page and place an unseeing finger anywhere and use it for their answer to whatever question was at hand. They'd torture the found scripture to fit the problem a lot, but it was uncanny how often that old musty book would burp out something at least fit for a double-take. But any Ouija Board does that, doesn't it?

It was just cold and bracing. No sleet. I didn't need to be clear-minded right now. Paul's tip of the hat to the season, a sort of syphilitic looking tree, hung over your head as you entered the bar like it was Damocle's birthday, not the Redeemer's. It was kinda funny to see it out there, because inside it was always the same day and always the same time. Open is a time.

People yield without thinking in these situations. It had been years since I had found anyone sitting on that stool, my place. It was just understood, like the needle in the compass always pointing the same way for everyone. Paul never even greeted me anymore, just put it wordlessly down in front of me as I hit the seat. Some men understand other men.

It was already kind of late. I could bang on those machines like a Fury until the sun winked out, but I didn't feel like working on Christmas Eve until the clock struck midnight. That's a bad time to be alone and sober.

"I'm closing early tonight," Paul said, and he didn't go back to his paper or his taps. He just stood there eying me. I took the drink.

"You've made a mess of this, Paul," I stammered out, coughing a bit, "What the hell is this?"

"It's Ginger Ale. You're coming with me tonight."

I could see it all rolled out in front of me. Pity. Kindness. Friendship.

"No." I rose to leave.

"You'll come, or you'll never darken the doorstep here again."

Now a man find himself in these spots from time to time. There are altogether too many kind souls in the world. They think they understand you. They want to help you. But what Paul will never understand is that he was helping me by taking my money and filling the glass and minding his own. It was the only help there was. A man standing in the broken shards of his life doesn't have any use for people picking up each piece and wondering aloud if this bit wasn't so bad. They never understand that the whole thing is worth something but the pieces are nothing and you can never reassemble them again into anything.

I went. Worse than I imagined, really. Wife. Kids. Home. Happy. I sat in the corner chair, rock-hard sober, and then masticated like a farm animal at the table. Paul was smarter, perhaps, than I gave him credit for. He said nothing to me, or about me. His children nattered at everything and his wife placed the food in front of me and they talked of everything and nothing as if I wasn't there... no, as if I had always been there. As if the man with every bit of his life written right on his face had always sat in that seat.

I wasn't prepared for it when he took out the Bible. Is he a madman like my own father was? It's too much. But the children sat by the tree, and he opened the Bible and placed his finger in there. I wanted to run screaming into the street. I wanted to murder them all and wait for the police. I wanted to lay down on the carpet and die.

"Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."

He put the children to bed, to dream of the morning. His wife kissed him, said only "goodnight" to me, and went upstairs. We sat for a long moment by the fire, the soft gentle sucking sound of the logs being consumed audible now that the children were gone. The fire was reflected in the ornaments on the tree. The mantel clock banged through the seconds.

"Do you want something?" he asked.

"Ginger Ale."

Sunday, December 23, 2007

How To Read The Newspaper

I'm from the Intertubes, and I'm here to help.

Just kidding. You're on your own. I'm busy. But I noticed something last week I'm not sure many people did. The two news items did not seem to be related, really. But I felt as if I was reading the paper and discovered that an obscure person named Rockefeller was drilling a well in Pennsylvania, and simultaneously, some German fellow with a daughter with a hot babe name had figured out how to build a carriage without a horse.

Some background: I don't read like most people. I am generally not interested in many people's opinions as any sort of guidance, as I am a big, hairy adult with opinions of my own. I am much more interested in people's likes and dislikes, which you can only glean by observing them, not by listening to them. And facts. I like them, because they are so rare and piquant.

There is little in the various media that is not editorial in nature. I'm referring to the news stories. The "editorials" are Pleasant Sunday Afternoon rants at this point. The news has taken the place of the editorials. Anyway, I read the news with the same bemused attitude I assume when my toddler is trying to assure me that a big eagle swooped down and smashed the cookie jar, and he bravely tried to stop it, hence he is standing surrounded by shattered crockery holding this one cookie. An unsophisticated person is trying to fool me. And in neither case am I likely to answer the query: "Since I'm so brave and smart, can I eat the cookie?" in the affirmative.

So I skip over all the "applesauce" out of hand. It's 99% applesauce. I got no time for begging the question, or sophistry, or the text version of the cups and balls trick, or muddying the water, or hyperbole, or any of it. And no matter how tightly wound the ball of intellectual tomfoolery is, you can always spot the seams, Timesdudes.

Oh yes, the two items. The first is that someone's figured out how to produce solar panels as if they were running them off a printing press instead of making them in a sort of Intel cleanroom. That meant....

-skip on down
-not interested in "green" euphemisms
-skip on down
-a tricycle with a shroud over it is not a car, shut up
-skip on down
-not interested in faeries' farts and unicorn horn shavings used to power my smug machine
-skip on down

There! What you sift through to get, if you have half a cortex. For the first time I've seen, it will be cheaper to collect solar radiation to get electricity than to burn coal to do it. An amazing development.

That means little, in and of itself. The sun doesn't shine at night. I've noticed that's exactly when I like electricity to be available, so I can turn on lights and not live like a medieval peasant.

Then I read this:

-skip on down
-don't care
-off topic
-skip on down

There! They can make an existing lithium ion battery hold ten times the charge it did before, by changing one thing about them. It's not that expensive to do so. An amazing development.

Now, I don't trust the people that wrote those articles. They might not be sharp enough to understand what they are talking about. They probably have an axe they'd like to grind, first and foremost. And you really can't tell if the people claiming these things are full of merde until we get to see the test tubes and rulers and so forth. But if it is true, the fundamental rules of the Western World have changed, because we will shortly be able to make enough electricity to serve our needs, and we have a way to store it.

I live near New Bedford, so I'm going to claim the experience, derived by osmosis, to tell the Let's Douse Shorebirds-With-Crude-Oil Multinationals, the Ed Begley Rationing Freaks, the Composting Toilet/Velocipede Innovators, the Chrome Fin-Cupholder-Carbon-Belching Behemoth Sedan Builders, the Wahhabi Throatslasher Hearts Club Band, and The Switchgrass/Ethanol/ Congressional Jackleg Society that, sorry, but we soon won't be needing your goddamned whales anymore.

And to my friends in the media: Everything you wrote up until now about anything to do with climate and energy and geopolitics has all been nonsense; because unless it was cheaper than burning dead fossils, it was all stupid. Actually cheaper, not "by-fiat"cheaper, I mean. Al Gore can tell me to shiver in the dark all he wants. If he tells Putin and the Chinese and the Iranians that, he's going to get a polonium enema in a big hurry. And the fossils will be burned whether we want them to be or not. No Blood For Oil is a nonsensical slogan. No Blood For No Oil would be twice as dumb.

Did smart people solve the problem while the media camped out in Britney's sister's fallopian tubes and an obscure airport bathroom? Geez, I hope so. How could I tell by reading the newspaper?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Merry Christmas, Everybody, Everywhere (Again)

[Editor's Note: A year old item about a fifty-seven year old item.]
{Author's Note: There is no editor.}

They were standing in the rubble of a world gone mad. Finally they stood over the stricken bully, exulting only that the thing was done, and offered their hand again to all that would take it. Like all decent people, they did what they had to do, then shrugged and decided to get back to the real business at hand.

I like people that scrape themselves up off the floor and come back swinging. We've been swinging ever since, more or less.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Honest Ta Gawd, It's Awlways Somethin' With These Boys

I have no idea how to raise a girl. I can't even figure out the adult ones. Divine Providence has wisely skipped giving me a girl to raise, knowing I'd surely botch it.

But this all-male anthropomorphic demolition derby we're running around here is really something to behold, sometimes.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Take Your Image

Take the image, you blighter.

Amn't I what yz all need? My gammy back's a corkscrew and me a culchie to boot. A man could lift a girl out of it, couldn't he, if he was a good skin. But you're Cromwell's men all over again, ain't ye?

Oh, yes, me spine is banjaxed to beat the band. But yz not at nothin', are ye? Trollin' the locals and askin' for the girls that are bent. But you can wear your white coat and your pince-nez and jot on the paper but I seen you looking, din't I now? Put your shift in the press and your eyes are on me proper, ain't they?

I'm not like the ignorant savage who thinks you're stealin' his immortal soul through your lens; no. I know better but we're all bent from the rickets and you put a dingy coin in my hand and for you it's Bob's your Uncle but for me it naught but shame and half a meal. Take the image.

I'm bent but my fanny is there and I could drop bairns like apples from a tree if our Lord and Saviour hadn't pissed on my chips and made me a freak for such as ye.

Take your image.

Monday, December 17, 2007

As My Beloved Uncle Ray Always Says:

My Uncle Ray is two-and-a-half regular people, and a down-payment on a Rent-A-Hercules. He always has an easy way about him, even when working pretty hard. Whenever his little wisp of a nephew would talk in the Irish way when he should have been working, Uncle Ray would always append: "With all my might," along with his sheepish chuckle, to the end of his answer to any question.

What am I doing? It's unimportant, really, to talk of it here. But let me assure you, I'm doing it... with all my might.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Merry Christmas, Baby

Shoveling is done.
Let's go!

Cleaning the windshield is funny.

Always Nasralla's Farm Stand.

Got the goods!
Home again, home again, jiggity jig. Glance out windshield occasionally, Dad. It's fun to be four, like to make it to five.
Lunch is inside-out pizza.
The tree is exactly eight foot two inches tall. He is exactly twelve. Fear me.
Merry Christmas baby, you sure did treat me nice

Merry Christmas baby, you sure did treat me nice

Gave me a diamond ring for Christmas

Now I'm living in paradise

Well I'm feelin' mighty fine, got good music on my radio

Well I'm feelin' mighty fine, got good music on my radio

Well I wanna kiss you baby,

While you're standing 'neath the mistletoe

Santy came down the chimney

'Bout half past three

Left all these pretty presents

That you see before me

Merry Christmas pretty baby, you sure been good to me

I haven't had a drink this morning

But I'm all lit up like a Christmas tree

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Damn Dirty Lies

They tell damn dirty lies.

The Staples Singers .Come Go With Me [SoulTrainTv 70's]

They tell you the Staples Singers used to come right out of the radio. The regular radio. They said you could hear an actual person striking the heads of actual drums in the background of the recording. Please. They said there were old black men and plain women and they were still eligible for a career in the music business. Lies, all lies. One of the people singing was actually playing an instrument for more than an affectation. It was plugged in and prominently featured. More lies. They tried to give you the misimpression that these people who were forced by the TV broadcaster to lipsynch to their recording could have actually performed the song just as well live. They think we're all rubes and would believe Mavis Staples could actually carry a tune without pitch-shifting equipment. And as a capstone on their pile of prevarication, they try to fool you into thinking that people that learned everything they know in a church, a church, mind you, would be able to get over on the regular radio.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Quincy Market

-Gimme a pack a luckies and a Traveler, Sonny.
+Sure thing, Tom.
-Weather ain't cooperatin'.
+Sit on the bench over there and read the paper. I'll make joe. No sense tryin' to drive west in the snow.
-I'll see if the thieves in the State House are robbin' me or botherin' me today.
+If that's all they're doin', they must be sleepin' in.
-It's good we got a Catholic in the corner office for an accomplice, anyway. The Curley ain't Robin Hood, but he'll do. Got my brother a job on the highway.
+I heard about that highway. Fell in, didn't it?
-The man's got the gift, he does, you've got to give it to him. They shoved their snoots and pencils in his face and said: The overpass collapsed, and your friend built it. What do you got to say about that...
+Oh, they'll have to try harder than that...
-As God is my witness, Sonny, he says: "It was an injudicious mixture of sand and cement." And the damn fool reporter just writes it down!
+What does he care what he puts in his paper? I'd rather read the Blarney, anyway. More interesting than the truth.
-And truer than the truth, maybe.
-God, I lived in the City when The Curley was mayor. What a scream. The Great War breaks out and a Britisher comes and calls at the City Hall and asks for permission to try and enlist Bostonians of British descent to fight the Kaiser.
+And The Curley?
-"Go ahead; take every damn one of them."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Fresh Crop Of (Stale) Rocks

{Editor's Note: This one is at least a year old. If you're at least a year old, you may have read it already.}

[Author's Note: There is no editor]

-Do you miss the farm, Mr. Perkins?
~Are you daft? Another year and a fresh crop of rocks.
-Crop of rocks?
~Have you never been where the trolley don't go? Do you think we pile those rocks along the plotlines to be picturesque for tourists?
-I take your meaning, but it would seem that a fresh crop is out of the question.
~They grow right out of the ground every spring.
-Now you're having me on.
~You get frostbite standing in front of the icebox with the door open, don't you? Have you ever been on a farm?
-A pig farm.
~They're all pig farms. except on most, the farmer is the pig.
-I still don't get the fresh rocks.
~Nature provides, I tell you. But it never provides what you want when you want it. Above all, it provides rocks.
-How do they taste?
~Like sweat. Every thing on a farm tastes like sweat.
-What about the rocks?
~Look, the ground freezes hard here. Rock hard.
-I'm praying for a stony silence, now, myself.
~You asked. The glaciers came through here a long time ago. Back before locusts and Republicans. And it spread rocks around. The devil's rocks. Smooth as cannonballs, and hard enough to turn a plowshare into, well, not a sword, but not a plowshare anymore, either. It turns it into the raw materials a plow used to be made from.
-I get that part. But once they're stacked on the corners, and the plow salesman is retired on your money, that's about it, isn't it?
~You'd think so. You'd think wrong. A farmer never thinks wrong. Because a farmer never thinks his troubles are over. A farmer knows when he's eating a turkey with one hand and holding hands with a pretty girl with the other, that things are going to go downhill soon. He feels about the same way when his hands are empty and the girl is ugly.
-My hands were always empty, and the girls were always ugly.
~That's the difference, see? At least the farmer's wife starts out pretty. The farm fixes that too.
-What about the rocks?
~I told you, the ground freezes harder than a banker's heart every winter. Everything expands when it freezes. Except the rocks. They're held there, in the ground, and a little space opens up around them. In the spring, during mud season...
-Mud season?
~It's right after black fly time.
~Anyway, that sun gets to working, and the water trickles down into the earth with the heat, and fills in that tiny gap under that rock with the slurry and gurry. Imperceptible. Like a raise in the army.
After many a year, that rock shows up, like a bald head, and you've got to pry it out of there before you lose another harrow.
-I get you. A fresh crop of rocks. Why are the walls so low, then? Should be Egyptian sized, by now.
~By the time you're at waist level with those devil's marbles, your greatgrandson has moved to Nebraska to farm in peace.
-Speaking of slurry and gurry, let's go get some coffee at my house. There's no farming there.

Monday, December 10, 2007


We traveled half a world and it wasn't enough. We needed to get the stink of Europe off us at all costs. We wandered and pounded and leaked to the West, did the end-around Tierra del Fuego, and finally bisected the continents, parting a curtain of mosquitoes and jungle, to make two oceans one puddle to hop.

The faint aroma of the lost cities of Cibola mixed with the piquant fragrance of Kublai Khan that wafted over the only water left. Across it the Japanese would come, and soon enough. It seems calm, there on the edge of the precipice. Perhaps Americans aren't happy anywhere else.

Saturday, December 08, 2007


-It's cold, Father.
-Generally is, in the winter.
-Aren't you cold, Father?
-Not so anybody'd notice.
-Why is it cold in the winter, Father?
-To remind you to pay attention in the summer.
-Will it ever be summer again, Father?
-Oh, I expect so. Not tomorrow.
-Why do you wear a ring, Father? Doesn't it get cold?
-To tell people things.
-It just goes 'round and 'round. What can a ring tell people, Father?


Friday, December 07, 2007

I'm Busy. Here's Some Turtles To Tide You Over

I have never seen a better example of something that's really sort of complicated that is made to seem effortless and off-the-cuff. This is a very sophisticated trifle.

We used to play this song, and break into the theme for the Gary Shandling Show in the middle of it. I'm sure the Turtles would approve. Key of F.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Ice, Ice, Baby

The sun is a smudge in the sky and a smear on the ice.

There's evidence of each turn around the pond. The little aretes of chips frozen on the ice from all the yesterdays after the freeze remind you.

Everyone talks about the washboard feel of it. They're not paying attention. It's the sound that's a thrill. I hear the thrum of the water beneath the slab of ice. The ice lives atop it, really. Alive is not too strong a word. The liquid has been bested and waits its turn, but complains the whole time. All water hates to be in the audience. It seeks the stage, always. Sorry, I'm on it.

There's wind to whistle in your ears of your own making. The best kind. Even when you steal the breeze in the hot summer in the shadow of your shoulder-of-mutton it's not your wind. Here you make it.

No hockey. No noise. No fun. Glide.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Subterranean Homesick Blues

This is the part of the year that grinds.

I work below ground. There are a few windows, but essentially no natural light creeps in. If you've never worked on a concrete floor for long periods of time, you're lucky. It sucks the life out of you through the bottom of your feet, is the only way I can describe it. The fluorescent lights overhead cast a greenish pall on everything. From November to March, it's like being suspended in refrigerated, dessicating formaldehyde.

There's none of the dampness of the usual basement to it. It's dehumidified to death for the sake of the wood I use and store. Between the low temperature and no humidity, all the heat and moisture is wicked from your body all the time. I have a heater, but I can only afford to use it when the items I'm working on require a warmer temperature for finishing or something. By late December it gets down in the forties otherwise.

My fingers don't work properly when they are cold. Many in construction don't mind the cold, but are enervated by heat. I'm the opposite, generally.

Everything makes noise. It's tiring to listen to it, and tiring to wear something to muffle it. I listen to the sports talk radio in the background because I don't care about sports.

Almost every machine I use is dangerous enough to hurt or maim or kill me in an instant, or perhaps debilitate me over the long run. There is a constant state of readiness, an alertness I imagine a person that hunts for more than sport has. It never goes away. It is taxing to have job where a mental lapse can be freighted with such dread. A surgeon must feel that way, a little. If you sneeze, someone might be hurt, or perhaps die. At least with the surgeon, it's not him.

People generally dabble in physical labor when they are young and then move on. Cubicle farmers often regale me with stories of their toil in life's vineyard of the aching back before becoming men and women of letters. It's different, you know. Many people-- and I do not really count myself among them, as I have chosen the path I walk in life -- have nothing but hard, unremitting physical toil stretched out in front of them from day one to the horizon, and beyond, and can never choose another way. I've done more than dabble in hard, physical labor, so perhaps I am able to talk about it better than most by sheer familiarity. But that's about it. It would be presumptuous of me to claim to be like the people born with their shoulder to the wheel. I've always cherished their respect where I could cadge it.

I'm not sure why I keep doing it. Some character flaw. A kind of stubbornness, perhaps. Maybe I like it. I don't really know.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Amplitude Modification

The naugahyde was cool against your cheek. I remember that.

Driving back from Roxbury. Rambling along the Charles on Storrow. The car pitched and yawed on its butt-sprung suspension and the spidered pavement . You could reach down and lift the floor mat and see the asphalt roll by through the rusty pinholes in the floor, where the road salt had done its work, and worked overtime, too.

Pop was operatin'. He was like a sub commander. Steering through shoals with vision obscured. Our moist breath clouded the windshield. The defroster exhaled on the windshield like the dying animal it was. Pop wiped the fog away with his hanky, and pressed on.

Little brother was already asleep on the seat next to you. Mom packed the blankets and pillow around him to hold him on the seat. I bivouacked on the rest, and tried to align my face on the part where the cushion wasn't split from a thousand butts. The edge of the rip would cut your face and the foam would tickle you.

The scene was framed, imperfectly, through the lens of the side window. Left to right, the world ran past. The drops of condensation coalesced on the fogged window's screen, ran down, and revealed the Cambridge shore through the mist. Low-watt Christmas everywhere. The enormous billboards shrunk by distance and time and poverty to faraway smears of luminous color with winking neon and the stink of death on their topics. FULLER OLDS. NECCO. KASANOF'S. The window made them into a kaleidoscope.

The useless wipers went scrreee-BAP, scrreee-BAP over and over, and Pop would fiddle with everything to no effect and keep going. Mom would look out the window and over her shoulder and her thoughts were her own. The Christmas presents from doting Aunts who asked you over and over "Which one are you?" would shift and tumble over in the trunk an inch behind my head when we got to the huge sign that said REVERSE CURVE -- the one that caught Pop by surprise every time even though he was born a brisk walk from it.

There was sometimes a hand free to twist the huge, mostly useless dial on the radio. Snap, Crackle, Pop, for breakfast, lunch and dinner, came out of that thing. At night the big stations like BeeZee would bleed all over the place, and bizarre incursions of French from Canada would appear, unwonted, fight for primacy like radio chimeras, then disappear as Pop searched again for whatever you could catch and hold.

Papa Was A Rollin' Stone...

We rolled on into the night.