Sunday, May 31, 2009

Some Fantastic Place

Banquo's ghosts all shuffle in
Take their chairs and we begin
They whisper things incessantly
Beyond the ken of men like me

I want to speak but I am mute
So they continue in cahoots
Or I can speak but never dare
To make a squeak while they are there

They hold a mirror to my face
While drawing marks to prove their case
Regret is limned in every one
Perish crosshatched when they're done

The statue's broke, there's no repair
But broken now it cannot wear
But I am worn down -- there's the rub
Until I join their shady club

There's one among them I can't stand
I've felt the touch of his right hand
If he ever looks me in the eye
I'll lay down on the ground and die

It's worst than that; he does not linger
Or look my way or lift a finger
I turned my back on him you see
Can't help but turn his back on me

Now I wander all alone
The seconds tick by like a loan
I'll sit and murmur in my turn
While children fill my leaky urn

Saturday, May 30, 2009

There Are Only Two Kinds Of People In Los Angeles

Dick Dale or the Ventures; Von's or Ralph's.

That's it. There is no use dividing people up by race, color, creed, gender, sexual orientation, height, weight, IQ, or any other way.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Don't Be A Jerk (From 2005)

[Editor's Note: It's been colder than a car salesman's heart all year this year. ]
[Author's Note: It's always the same temperature in a concrete bunker underground: some version of cold. I gave up trying to explain wearing a turtleneck in July if I leave the house during the day. There is no editor.]

It's been hot here. Sticky hot. The Queen takes the children to the beach each day. It's at the end of the street we live on, just a few miles. The beach in our town is an afterthought, really; the town's anima is centered around being on the water, not in it. But the Big One has swimming lessons at the beach, and the Wee One sits in the gentle lapping waves, up to his waist, and dredges sand through his fingers, and is content.

The beach has a lot of rules. I think the beach should have one rule: DON'T BE A JERK. That would about cover it. But things are never that simple anymore. People get together and start laying out the rules landscape, and forget when to stop. After a while, the rules, and especially the impetus behind the rules, starts to conflict with itself. And after a while, you could sum up the rules as: DANGER -WARNING -NO FUN ALLOWED. GAMBOLERS WILL BE CHASTENED.

Safety is paramount, to an idiotic degree. There's a float you can swim out to, and rest a spell, and swim back. Woe be it to anyone who dives off the float into the water. This is strictly impermissible. A few years ago, a youngster broke his neck diving into the water, and the town, with an eye towards lawsuits, forbade diving. But as I understand it, the poor fellow that hurt himself did so because he didn't dive off the float, he dove off a rock near the shore, into shallow water. If he had done what is now proscribed, he would have been fine. It's curious.

Judgement and reason are assumed to be beyond the capabilities of the average person here. And the idea that children should be policed by their parents is apparently no longer current.
Any plastic device for amusing yourself is not allowed. Now, I understand why the sign says: No Glass. Accidents happen, and broken glass at the beach I can live without. But glass is easily replaceable by other containers, and so no ox is gored. But the interdict against boogie boards, and inner tubes and so forth extends to water wings. They're plastic, so no dice. In other words, safety is paramount to the nth degree- someone might get hurt!, so everything is banned, but taking a chance on a tot drowning for the lack of two little rings of airfilled plastic is preferable to allowing some barbarian to show up with anything so declasse as, well...plastic anything.

Dogs are banned, of course. But why? It's not because the dogs really can't go to the beach and coexist with bathers; it's because civility has broken down to the point where people can't be expected to take responsibility for their animals. People bring really mean animals to public places now, and take pleasure in menacing people. They always put you off with a "My dog doesn't bite," if you ask them to restrain their pit bull named "Satan" because he's menacing your children. And he leaves the brown, cylindrical objects in the sand that smell disagreeable when you step in them, and his owner can't be bothered to clean it up, or bring the dog off the beach when he's in the grunting mood. So no dogs. More rules, because no one remembers the Golden Rule. No not that one, the one I just coined, the new one: DON'T BE A JERK.

The beach is mostly empty these days, although the steamy heat has driven that Demosthenes of Boston, Hizzoner Mayor Tom Menino, to the radio each day announcing a weather alert and telling us in mumbled spoonerisms to drink lots of water and look in on shut-ins. Thanks for that, really. I was planning on sitting in front of the open oven door all day in a ski parka until you warned me off it.

Note to Tom: After Demosthenes cured his faulty speech by filling his mouth with pebbles and yelling over the sound of the surf, he took the pebbles out. You seem to have left a few in there.
I read in the paper that eleven people have died of heat related causes in Phoenix this week, and it reached 116 degrees on the thermometer there. If you investigated a little further, you found that ten of them were homeless people, and you can't force them to stop drinking dehydrating liquor and come in out of the sun, there's a rule against that, and they died of heatstroke. The eleventh person was an elderly woman who was found in her apartment, which was equipped with air conditioning, which she had turned off. Waste not, want not got her.

So maybe mumbling Tom has a point. But people who used to look after the elderly, like their friends or relatives, did so because it was the right thing to do, not because the Mayor told them to. We live in a time where the national legislature feels the need to pass legislation called "Good Samaritan Laws," making it a crime to see someone in distress and refuse to help. But isn't it all the other laws and rules and codes and statutes that they passed, and the insane litigation that they turn a blind eye to, and sometimes encourage, that made us so distant from one another in the first place? People are afraid to interfere in anybody's affairs, not through an aversion of being a busybody, but because they're afraid of being sued. Or assaulted.

The Queen and the Wee One and the Large Child settled themselves on the blanket in the sand yesterday, and tried not to break any rules. Another party settled down beside them. They had brought a nuclear powered boom box, and felt no compunction to respect the wants or wishes of others a few feet from them, and blared rap music at flight deck volume. No one ever seems to blast Respighi at that volume, I've noticed.

Now my wife could go to the authorities in town, and dutifully, in a few days, the DPW would come on down to the beach, and add another line to the "Prohibited" sign, to specify music. And so the worst of us will make it impossible to have any music at the beach, which is unfortunate. That's not the way it should be done, and they'll find another way to annoy everybody next time, anyway. Because rules are for squares you know, the people who don't need rules on civility and parental probity in the first place. You know, people that don't want to listen to hateful misogynist singsong or death metal at the beach. Rules only apply to the people that need them least.

I say: Take down the sign with the laundry list of real and imagined threats to civility and safety. Replace it with a smaller one:


And give the lifeguard a pistol. Problem solved.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

We're Sargent Pepper's Lonely Pleasant Sunday Afternoon Club Band

My Intertunnel compadre Gerard is a wag. I met him once. Someone asked him how to make a website pay. He said the only way he knew to make a website pay was to make it a website devoted to advice on how to make a website pay.

I looked at the Intertunnel over the weekend on someone else's laptop. I don't have a laptop. They asked me what I was doing; what are you looking at on that thing? I wasn't looking at anything, really. I was looking at everything and nothing, to see how it looked. What impression I might get from it.

People talk a lot about how the Intertunnel has upended the applecart of commerce in writing. True dat. But not in the way you might think.

I was amazed when I used another man's laptop, because I saw all sorts of stuff I never see. It was an Apple, so everything was exactly wrong and backwards, and so was easy to figure out. I had no idea all that advertising was on the webs. I never see it. I can't imagine how the average advertiser thinks they're getting any bang for their buck buying advertising by the impression.

We used the laptop to display video that was advertising. It's not sneaky. It was de facto advertising, we looked for it, and we watched it. I'm not sure it was efficacious either, as we never use the service being advertised, but we at least looked at it. It's a start. Apparently there's a Progressive Insurance ad on the page that displays the statistics for my blog. Apparently they charge someone to not show it to me, because I'd never seen it before.

It's all broken except it works somehow. I don't see any starlets missing any meals even though every kid with a computer knows how to steal movies. They've still got more than cornflakes and peanut butter in the company lunchroom at the New York Times, I imagine.

One of the mistakes being made by everyone is thinking that there is any kind of line between news and entertainment. I don't read any newspapers because I can't find out anything useful from them, and they are deuced poor entertainment. They remind me of watching a Health Class short film warning you about Polio. The topic is irrelevant and so the information is useless and so all that's left is the entertainment value in it. If you're a hipster doofus you can make a website devoted to how wry watching pointless stuff is, but that's about the sum of the entertainment you can get out of it.

It's not fun to collect and distribute real information. It's hard work, but you can charge for it. Dun and Bradstreet collects all sorts of real, hard information about companies. If you read their gathered information about those companies, you could make real, hard decisions about how you might interact with those companies, as a investor or a consumer or a competitor. And if you want D & B to tell you what they know, they'd like $139, right now, up front, no fooling.

Amuse yourself on the Internet. There's nothing else to do here but howl gigantic curses into the ether, or post pictures of your cat. If you think your content is worth money, charge for it and reap the tumbleweeds or the treasure. But for god sakes, stop whining.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Do Flowers Grow On Pork Chop Hill?

[I Hope You Have A Pleasant Memorial Day Weekend. I wrote this back before I had a blog. Uncle Bobby Stays 'til Tuesday.]

He gazes out of the photo, mute, enigmatic, not quite smiling, and speaks to me across the decades.

When I was a little boy, amusements were few and far between. Television was still in black and white for us, and after the reruns of Gilligan's Island and The Three Stooges, not much was on the idiot box, as my father called it.

I remember my father and me trying to watch a hockey game broadcast from the west coast featuring the California Golden Seals, who were setting a new low in sports sumptuary and getting pasted by our mighty Boston Bruins -- Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito and Pie McKenzie and... well, I can still recite all their names down to the most obscure, even Garnet (Ace to his friends)Bailey. On a thirteen inch black and white TV with rabbit ears. We might as well have used the Etch-a-Sketch.

Eisenhower's X-Box, the Etch-a-Sketch was.

And so it always seemed a real treat when we could wheedle our mother to drag out the elegant but battered silverware box, left from some set our family never owned, filled with the family photographs. The pictures were mostly black and white too, the current cutting edge of photography being Polaroid's prehistoric b&w instant photos. They'd come out of the camera, and you'd count to a now forgotten tempo, and pray, and pull off the cover paper to expose the image and stop the developer, and smear your clothes, and hope the picture was vaguely done.

We'd see the usual babies on the shag carpet, buns up; confirmation and communion suits that fit like either a tent or a rubber glove, never any degree in between; little girls in their Easter jumpers and patent leather shoes, with their mothers wearing a hat, a real hat, ready for church. Father, grim, unsmiling in his workday suit, a little shiny at the elbows and knees.

Those photos were only the littlest bit interesting after a while, because they were for the most part, well -- us. The exotic ones were always deeper in the pile, instantly recognizable as special by that magnificent sepia tone that photos used to have, and spalling and cracking like a fresco in damp cathedral.

There they'd be, the southern Italian or Irish immigrant faces, looking stoically at the camera, surrounded by extended family on a stoop in Cambridge or Dorchester or Roxbury Massachusetts, or perhaps Antigonish, Nova Scotia. They had their hard lives written all over their faces. But always calm looking. Serene, really; not introspective or egoist. And they looked into the lens in a way that we never do. Not at it, but through it.

Our parents would strain to remember all the names, and who did what and from where, and why and when. And I figure, with the small wisdom that I've accumulated with age, that when we pestered them too much about someone obscure, they made stuff up.

And then his face would turn up. Handsome, mysterious, forever young. Forte.

Who's that?

That's my brother Bobby, my mother would answer. And that was that.

I was young, and still in the thrall of my parents, and sensed it. Here is a place you do not go.

The years passed, and the TV was in color, and my wrists and ankles began to show from my hand-me-down cousins' clothes. And the box came out less often. But when it did, the tantalizing face, handsomer than all the others, undiminished by time or care, resplendent in a uniform, always caught your eye. He died before I was born I learned, by osmosis I think, I don't remember ever having the nerve to ask, and I'm sure it wasn't offered.

In Korea.

And the earth spun, and the seasons changed, and then I was a man.

One day, my mother came to me. She had a picture. it had lain stored and untouched for fifty years, coiled, and she couldn't unroll it without destroying it. We slowly, ever so carefully unrolled it, the flecks of black and white popping off, as I stared at the faces. Hundreds and hundreds of faces. Five rows, stretching right off the page, four feet long, all in identical infantry uniforms, except the six cooks dressed all in white. C Company 506- Infantry, 101st Airborne Division. Camp Breckinridge, KY. December 27, 1952.

And there was only four ways to stand out in that mob of faces. The cooks, of course. One man in the hundreds wears an officer's hat, and looks ten minutes older than the rest. One man is holding drumsticks over a military style snare drum. And in the very center, in the very front, one man holds the company colors on a lance. Two crossed muskets, a Capital "C" and a "506."

And he has the face that speaks to me.

Now when I was in college, on a lark, my friends and I went skydiving. We trained all day in a sweltering hangar in upstate New York amongst the farms. They strapped army surplus gear on us, hung us on straps depending from the hangar roof, and shook us around violently by our heels until we demonstrated that we could unbuckle our main chute from the straps on our shoulders, then pull the cord on our belly chute. Fun.

We climbed resolutely into a DeHavilland Beaver, which now seems to me an odd name for a plane, and knelt in rows in the fuselage. A few long minutes later we launched ourselves, some with difficulty, out the open hole in the side and into a whirlwind far over the patchwork quilt of the fields. A tether pulled our chute for us, and we drifted down and found a place with a liquor license.

I called my father, and told him what I had done. Expecting praise, I guess, or some such. And he called me, gently, the fool I was.

I protested: but you were in a bomber plane. They must have made you jump. And he told me, son, if that plane was on fire, filled to the brim with rabid rats, and piloted by a dead man, I'd still take my chances in the plane. And to jump from a perfectly good one, he said, is foolish. Click.

My father was in the Army Air Force. Ball gunner, hanging in a plastic bubble under a B-24J, Les Miserables, over the Pacific. Air Medal. Distinguished Flying Cross. After I pestered him enough, he once told me a sort of a story about the war. He reeled off the names, Tarawa. Pelelau, Kwajalein, Tinian. He mentioned, in an offhand way, that after some island had been bombed flat, they later landed on it. It looked like the island had been picked up ten feet, he said, then dropped. His CO told them that some planes were coming. On these planes were some people. They were coming from somewhere. They were going somewhere else. When the planes landed, my father and his compatriots were instructed not to talk to these men, or even about them; and if he said so much as hello to one of them, or said "boo" about them to anyone else, he would spend the remainder of the war in a military prison, incommunicado. My father lost his desire, if he had had any, to speak about those men. He surmised some of them later flew a plane named the Enola Gay.

My father seldom talked much about being in the military.

And my mother never talked about the brother in the photographs.

Now the picture, the coiled picture, was ruined. But then, we don't watch black and white TV any more, do we? My mother took that picture, and a bankroll, and had a necromancer or an alchemist or something at a digital photography studio restore it, perfectly, and make copies for all of us nephews. Mine hangs today over my kitchen table.

He watches over me.

I was forty years old. My mother told me, Uncle Bobby hated his real name.

His real name?

Francis, she said.

My middle name is Francis. I never knew.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

50 State Ring-And-Run Crime Spree Continued: All The Way To The Virgin Islands (From 2007)

Here's the final installment of our Fifty State tour of American front doors. We've thrown in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands too. Now you all know what's it's like to be a Fuller Brush Man.

South Carolina:
South Dakota:

Virgin Islands:
West Virginia:

Friday, May 22, 2009

50 State Ring-And-Run Crime Spree Continued: Mostly New, Some North, It's Not An Island (From 2007)

We're continuing our fifty state tour of old front doors. It tells us a lot about our front door heritage, which is to say: not very much.

New Jersey:
New Mexico:

New York:

North Carolina:
North Dakota:





Puerto Rico:

Rhode Island:
I'll run out of states soon, so I'm contemplating "Drainage Ditches Of The Near East," or perhaps "Garden Gnomes Of The Marianas Islands" as a theme for next week. I'm open to suggestions, of course.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Fifty State Ring-And-Run Crime Spree Day Three: MMMMMMMNNNH (From 2007)

It's day three of our quixotic quest to codify a pack of portals from fitty states. Today we linger over the M's a good long while. Beware the arm. Ask not for whom he holds the door. He holds for you.




New Hampshire:
New letters being added daily! Get fresh alphabet tomorrow!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Fifty State Ring-And-Run Crime Spree Part Two (From 2007)

We're trying to find a doorway worth looking at in all Fifty States, at least fifty years old. So far so good. Pretend you're the paper boy.




And just because we love Maine, a two-fer -- because I want to spend every possible waking hour of five eternities lingering at a doorway that looks like this one in Wiscasset, Maine:More tomorrow, and until one of us gets bored.