Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Money (Still) Changes Everything

[Editor's Note: First offered in 2006]
{Author's Note: There is no editor. }
It is gratifying to see effort rewarded.

My good friend Steve is an excellent father to his two boys. His older son, Flapdoodle, is twenty years old, and wishes to follow in the old man's wake a bit and play music with his friends. My avid readers will recall that Flapdoodle is Mr. Pom Pom's brother, whose brush with death and musical greatness we recounted here before.

Now, I've known Flapdoodle since he was a wee bairn. He's always been a nice kid, and afflicted with a kind of adult poise from a tender age. "Born old," as we say. Every spare minute, he's been plunking on his guitar to learn how to do it. He's got college age friends now who are similarly thoughtful and fun and dedicated to making music for the amusement of others.

"Making music for the amusement of others" is more than just learning how to play Stairway to Heaven, halfway through, in your basement. Everybody wants to be a rock star. But the local bar don't need no rockstar. It needs you to learn how to play your instruments properly, gather the proper equipment, figure out what the audience would want to hear, and show up on time and work hard. And I can assure you that all that in one package is rarer than hen's teeth.

Father Steve is both mildly demanding and helpful. Flapdoodle goes to college now, and spends his summer toiling at a beachside restaurant/nightclub, working hard in the kitchen. Steve used to play in that same nightclub twenty years ago. When Flappy's done, he comes home to the apartment over Steve's garage that he and his musical compatriots rent from Steve.

I'm not sure, but I don't think Steve is getting wealthy off the rent.

Steve cleared out half the basement in his house, painted the floor, and they cobbled together the equipment needed to simply go down there, pick up instruments, and bang out a four chord song. It's much more marvelous for not being lavish.

Steve tells me the band works down there every spare moment, and he's gratified to hear them really applying themselves and trying to get better in an organized and intelligent way. They don't make the mistake most aspiring musicians make --to just plunk away indefinitely at the same old thing, never really learning it, never giving much attention to the wants or desires of any prospective audience. Rock music suffers from festering self-absorption enough without adding any of your own on there. It's not rocket science. But it ain't that easy to be entertaining, either. Steve helps them when he can, and mostly helps them by not intruding much. He always seems to be around when they can't remember the end of "Light My Fire," though, and the door opens up a crack while they argue over it mildly, and Steve says F C D and they're back at it again.

They were going to get their chance last weekend, until nature intervened. Steve's old band [Editor's Note: The author should have admitted he was in that band.] was dragged back from semi-retirement to perform at an annual outdoor party, on the water's edge, at a fine little community called Far Echo Harbor. It's along the shores of the gigantic Lake Winnepesaukee in New Hampshire. Steve's got a summer home there, and helps put on this entertainment as a gesture of neighborliness and goodwill. It's become something of a tradition. And Scrambled Porn, as Flapdoodle's band calls themselves, was going to play for an hour in the middle of the old man's performance.

That's perfect. Big, ready made audience. Instruments already set up. Familiar friendly faces in the audience. The only pressure was the internal kind, the desire to do well and entertain. There's a lot more pressure when you're professional. Money changes everything.

There was a problem. It rained like the first ten pages of the Bible for twelve straight hours. There was no venue large enough to hold the audience and the bands indoors, and it had to be cancelled. Long faces.

But sometimes, marvelous things happen, and minor disappointments only make the story flow better. They had the tent set up for the caterer, and he served that food anyway, and as a hundred or two of us huddled under the tent in the rain and watched the kids splash in the puddles just outside it, something coalesced amongst the disappointment.

The caterer ran a roadhouse restaurant right down the street called the Bad Moose. It's a great place, haunted by locals and tourists alike, serving food in the afternoon and bluesy music and beer at night. That man had hired a band to play on Saturday night. And they didn't show up.

So here's your chance Flapdoodle and friends. First you have to convince Old Steve to let you. He's wise, your father; he didn't say yes right away. He went there first to take one look at the crowd and see if things would be thrown at you if you faltered. Because you were about to be among strangers. And entertaining strangers is ... different.

The Bad Moose crowd at night is prone to motorcycles and tattoos. There are very few drinks with umbrellas in them in evidence. There is a contingent of very large males enamored of high-fives and bottled beer, and some women who might have danced around a pole previously. The bartender works alone, whirling like a dervish, is dressed like a vampire, has some metal in the face and tattoos on the skin, and could probably clear the room in 15 seconds flat. And she's a girl.

There is a lot of commotion and confusion as Steve and I tried to set up the instruments and PA system for unfamiliar idiosyncracies in a crowded bar. The crowd was restless. The manager of the bar looked at the childish faces of the band, old enough to work in a bar, but not old enough to drink in one, and I saw a moment of doubt flash over his face. After we sorted out all the cables and applied all the necessary duct tape, those young fellows let it rip.

Steve and I crouched by the door, winced a little, and prayed or something. I went to Catholic School for seven years, but I couldn't remember for the life of me the name of any Saint that would be the Patron Saint of Bar Fights, so the the prayers may have been of doubtful utility.


They were great. Not polished, but not so's you'd notice. And after about five minutes, you could feel it -- the audience wanted to like them. And when they faltered, the audience picked them up and carried them to the next passage where they knew the way better. There was lots of wild abandon on the dance floor, which is just the same scoured pine planks the band's standing on. And the audience whooped and hollered and beat their spilled beer to sea foam in front of the manchildren drinking water and smiling like they'd just won the world series -- when they got the nerve to look up from their strings. And when they ran out of things to play, the audience made them play it all over again.

The next morning, an emissary came from the Bad Moose. The boys were asleep still, crashed out on every couch and bunkbed in the little summer home like some invading army. Steve was awake, and the fellow pressed two damp and wrinkled fifty-dollar bills in his hand. Give that to the boys and tell them they can play there anytime.

Money changes everything.

Monday, June 29, 2009

We're Auteurs. It's Like Authors, Only Spelled Wrong

Tank Engine...OF DOOM!! from sippican cottage on Vimeo.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Gimme Some (More) Of That Old Time Religion

[Editor's Note: First offered in the summer of 2006]
{Author's Note: The second paragraph is depressing me to no end, as it's Sunday and I'm working twelve hours, minimum. If someone's going to emancipate me, I wish they'd get on with it. In your heart of hearts you know only the undertaker can do that. And there is no editor.}

We'll visit Benefit Street in Providence Rhode Island, dear reader. But first, a diversion.

Sunday is for wandering. My wife pleads for me not to work all seven days of the week, and not-working-but-staying-home is no day off for her. Let's go for a walk, and point the camera at things, shall we?

I've been going to Providence Rhode Island regularly for over thirty years. I've done most everything there is to do there -- thrice over. What are considered hoary old establishments now by the locals are places I go by and recall their predecessors of Jimmy Carter vintage. Hell, Gerry Ford vintage. Damn! Nixon vintage.

I know exactly what my family looks like to the denizens of the part of town known as college hill. Both Brown and the Rhode Island School of Design are right there, and the place has had alternated between a bohemian and a faux-bohemian vibe since I've trod the earth.

We have no tattoos. No skinny glasses. No moonboot athletic shoes. No swoosh stripes. We dress ourselves and our children unstylishly, really; to be stylish nowadays, and casual, is to be deliberately poorly dressed. And it's expensive to dress badly; the affectation of poverty costs big, generally. We are neatly turned out, and all our clothes match- that's it. There are no slogans of any kind on anything we wear. My wife has the beauty of a real woman, and her clothes just wrap it. Women wish they were her; I doubt many wished they were dressed like her.

Our children unselfconciously clutched balloons from the burger restaurant, and wore the paper hats given them. They were not being wry- and genuine need not a apply on college hill.

A disreputable street person approached me, and tried to press a pamphlet in my hand, and whisperered that the Marxist something Worker's something Revolutionary something something would set me free.

I know how this works. He is a bum. He is being paid to hand out these pamphlets. That is why he mumbles a slogan that is designed to be delivered like Mussolini from a balcony. He's not getting his dough for drugs or booze or a flop if he doesn't unload the pamphlets, but he couldn't care less what's on it. And I know that if ridding himself of the documents was all he had to do, they'd be in the nearby 7/11 dumpster by now. So I know he's being watched. My conjecture is not disappointed.

We cross the street to promenade further, and head back the direction we came. And there they are: his handlers. They have a card table, and a banner, and folding chairs, and big stacks of said pamphlets, and they see us coming.

It's striking to walk down that street, after over thirty years of walking down that street, and seeing them there. Because they are squatting right adjacent to the location of my own brother's old place of business. They called it an "alternative" bookstore back then, but let's not pussyfoot around; it was a communist bookstore.

Communism is that sweetest of ideals -- we're all pals and should share everything. My brother is smarter than me; he's a better father to his children than me; he's more talented at everything he's ever tried than me; and he devoted a goodly portion of his time to the ideals on those pamphlets I was looking at now, thirty years later, flapping a bit in the breeze outside his old haunt. The Soviet Union was still very much a going concern, back then.

The two fellows eyed me a bit. They scanned my familial situation. I could see intellectual calculations going on behind their severe skinny glasses.

I was doing some mental calculations too. Mine were wobbling between the sort of polite demurrals you have at the ready for the panoply of geeks, freaks, and entreaters of all sorts that come at you in any city, and the unwise urge to tell them how stupid they looked to me.

There are certain things you know without having to be told. And I knew for a certainty that those two fauntleroys have never, and will never, really work a day in their lives. They were each wearing north of five hundred dollars worth of clothing and accessories, minutely calculated to make them look disheveled. My wife, who you perhaps have gathered is a female, would be unable to afford having her hair cut by the salon where these two had their hair artfully arranged to look like they had just rolled out of bed. They are attending schools using money unearned by them, and are out politicking for a lark. The Workers are a lovely abstraction to them. They are going to save them.

I read once that college educated persons rarely have friends that are not. If you press them on that, they always claim their menial laborers as their friends, like a country club swell hugging the landscaper for unbigoted effect. I attended a conclave of writers once, and a nice fellow made a remark about the great unwashed, which took the form of the great uneducated in his vernacular. He asked me directly where I was degreed. I said I was not. He almost fell over me trying to apologize while saying "not that there's anything wrong with that." He was pleasant and didn't understand why what he said was interesting. The idea that anyone present would have a different background never occurred to him; he doesn't have a mean bone in his body, and really, I didn't care.

Well the card table bohemian Marxists loomed large now on the radar screen. I saw them watching the bum they had hired directly across the street, and eying me. And here I was, right in front of them; I was the person they were touting on all those flyers. I was the worker who they would emancipate. I've been a body shop mechanic, and a janitor, and a housepainter, and a welder, and a factory hand, and a starving artist, and a laborer, and every other damn thing. If I sneeze at the wrong time I could still lose a finger or two at work. And I didn't play at working hard for a few months between semesters, and then think I know what it's like to see the horizon, fifty or sixty years off, with nothing but your wits and your back to get you there.

I actually became interested. What could you possibly have to say to me, I wonder?

They sized me up, and pulled their hands back in, and let me pass by without saying anything. They waited a short moment for the next trust fund bohemian to come along, and pressed the pamphlet into their hands with a rousing: Help us emancipate the working man.

The communist bookstore is a Sovereign Bank now.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Joys Of Owning Rental Property


Oh! Too late.

Be right back. Got a hankerin' for some sake.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Did You Know That Michael Jackson Could Sing?

[Up-Up-Update Author's Note: I wrote this before I had a blog, about four years ago. A lot of people have dug it up today. I don't feel the need to change word of it just because he's dead now. He's been dead for thirty years, really.]

Sorta like Groundhog Day, Michael Jackson's in the news again, same as last time, same as last time. No dangling babies or weird hejiras or court appearances in his pajamas though, it's straight up bankruptcy this time. I doubt it. Like a guy that has a fetish for burying money in the yard, there always seems to be one more coffee can stuffed with cash he can disinter when he needs it. He needs it bad, this time, it appears. I'm not interested in Michael Jackson's notoriety -- or notoriousness, depending on which paper you read; and I wasn't interested in it a year ago when I wrote this during his last trial, in the dock again for making all our skins crawl. And just like last year, just like last year, I ask you: Did you know Michael Jackson could sing?

6/10/05-His face, what's left of it, is all over the news, every day. And I'm weary of it, and I don't share everyone's interest in him. If everything he's accused of is false, he's still a very scary human being. If ten percent is true, he's a monster besides being a weirdo. And since every news outlet, blog, talk show host, drive time morning zoo radio loser, and drunk in a bar is disgorging 24/7 about him, it's unlikely I'll be able to bring anything fresh to the table. Or is it? Let me give it a try.

Did you know that Michael Jackson could sing?

It's easy to forget that. He's been busy for the last 30 years or so, first being a celebrity, then a sort of royal screwball, and then a kind of a carnival freak, then an Elephant Man wannabe, and finally John Wayne Gacy Light, or so it appears. But I assure you, I've heard it. He could sing.

Now you're going to be angry with me dear reader, I'm sure of it. Because I'm going to point out that you're mistaken if you thought he could sing because you bought "Off The Wall" and then "Thriller." You loved his moonwalking, and overlooked his screeching falsetto, and Quincy Jones' audio spackle distracted you from noticing that he couldn't sing anymore. Not even a little.

Quincy Jones produced those records, and Quincy Jones is a very talented man. To a male kid growing up in the seventies, he was da man simply for marrying Peggy Lipton of the Mod Squad. Quincy warmed up by tinkering with Sinatra, after Sinatra had blown his voice out with poor method and booze and cigarettes and putting his head in ovens over Ava Gardener and couldn't sing much anymore. Sinatra had gotten all the mileage he could from just sort of talking in a singsong way in a low register, with Nelson Riddle riding herd over the half a gross of string players sawing away behind him. Quincy coaxed one last blast of Brooklyn funk from ol' Blue Eyes' leather lungs by putting Count Basie behind him, and perhaps reminding him of what he used to be.

But Quincy's magnum opus was fixing it so you didn't notice that the greatest child soul singer, ever, couldn't sing a lick anymore. Every bit of Quincy's talents were needed to foist this future circus freak on the public, when the freak had nothing left in the tank but a visually disorienting dance step. And Quincy kept moving the musical cups around so you couldn't find the little ball under the one marked "He can't sing." Because poor old Michael couldn't sing a lick after his Adams Apple showed up.

Now lots of people are child singers and have long and prosperous careers after their voice drops an octave or two. Listen to Wayne Newton. You heard me. Wayne Newton. He sang Danke Shoen when he was a young teen, if that, and he sang it with the brio, and range, and emotive bluster of a world-weary and experienced Vegas singer. Which is exactly what he eventually became, god love 'em. And now, even as he becomes geriatric, he can still do it. And people still go see him, I guess, and he's turned his uncool persona into a cottage industry, like David Hasselhoff and William Shatner and a dozen others that learned to embrace the trajectory of their careers and find a way to keep the third wife in minks, even if it involves self parody.

But it was over for Michael when his voice changed, and he knew it. And it's probably what drove him crazy. And if Michael Jackson is anything, it's crazy.
Perhaps you'd go crazy too, if you were given that gift, and then it was taken away from you like that. And it is a gift. Michael's father Joe couldn't beat that sound out of Tito or Jermaine, after all, no matter how hard he tried. Michael had it, and out it came.

Michael Jackson was made for Motown, and especially Motown for him. The entire musical edifice was there when he arrived, and he just rode the elevator right to the top floor. Berry Gordy had honed the template to an iota, and assembled the most talented and innovative studio musicians and writers together in Detroit, and later Los Angeles, and could use every bit of what the Jackson Five could deliver.

I linked to a Jackson Five compilation in the left margin. [Editor's note: Here it is:]

Purchase that item. If you do not , your life will be a meaningless and barren wasteland, populated only by the Court TV freakshows, and not the Jackson Five's freaky show. Because Michael was a freak. The good kind, I mean, before the bad kind. He could belt out a song or croon a ballad with the emotional intensity of an adult, the range of an opera singer, and the pure joy in life that a little boy knows. And at Motown, they knew what to do with it.

They don't always know what to do with these gifts, you know, neither the gift's holders or the holder's discoverers. Ever hear Sam Cooke sing? He might be the greatest singer, of any kind, ever, and if you don't believe me, get the soundtrack from " The Ladykillers" and listen to him sing gospel, before he was "discovered" by Holywood. He was transcendently talented and gifted, well before two strange Knights of Columbus looking guys that had no idea what to do with his gifts signed him to a six lifetime contract, and put some syrupy strings and a bunch of people who sounded like the Ray Conniff Singers behind him. And still Sam managed to sound sublime singing pop songs like You Send Me over the noise, but just. He should have stayed in church, and he probably would have sung like that 'til this very day; instead of ending up with an underage girl for an unwilling companion, drugged up, dead and pantsless in a cheap Motel from gunshot wounds and baseball bat contusions. Which is even worse than what they did to him on those records, but just barely. Which cautions us to keep in mind Michael Jackson didn't invent depravity either.

Where was I? Oh yes, the record. Put the needle on the vinyl, with a stack of pennies on the stylus so the dancing doesn't make the record skip, and let it rip. What's that? When? Oh, I see. OK, put it in the CD player.

I Want You Back. Glissando down to one bass note, courtesy of THE bass player, James Jamerson, the only genius ever in popular music. And then, it erupts a little more, then it it starts with a jerk like a motorcycle, and then hops around like a bunny, then down some steps, up a few like dancing on a staircase with Bojangles Robinson, and then the guitar, drums and every manjack in the studio joins in and the assorted Jacksons sing a nonsense riff. And then Michael chimes in, warming up like a jet on a runway, talking about schoolyard jealously, the words a trifle, not bothering to rhyme. And after the perfunctory verse, he lets it rip. He goes up to the ceiling and belts Oh! to kick off the refrain, and you realize, when you hear it in hindsight, that he couldn't hit that note now if his life depended on it, and hasn't even tried to for thirty years. All those breathless sounding oohs and ahs and squeals and, pardon me for using the word, breathy ejaculations he's been using instead of singing, are the shadow of what he could do when he was just a little boy, which was sing! And here it's just effortless, and fun, with the exclamation point at the beginning of the phrase, just to show the joy that's in it.

There's lots more of that ebullient and joyous singing on the compilation. Skip on down to Never Can Say Goodbye. The bass percolates all over, never really repeating itself, never really straying far either, and carrying the simple ballad on its back. And Michael swoops and soars, declaiming the lyrics perfectly, and always completely in control of the the song, and his singing. And there are those moments in the song, where you think he'll chicken out, and drop into another register, or bail out from a note he held too long for another singer, or break the reins and run all over the place, like a bad singer singing the national anthem, but he never misses. There's all sort of strings and flutes and aural wallpaper at the end, trying to keep up with him, but they can't get a word in edgewise, not with that singing.

Now listen to I'll Be There. A bevy of slatternly pop stars covered this song with melisma slime recently, and every one of their singing lessons showed through their bustiers the whole time. With Michael, there's no heavy lifting. It's a simple, heartfelt ballad, and his brothers sing well in the background, where they mostly belong. Michael sings it throughout with grace and verve, and knows too how to build the song, and not give away the musical store all at once. He parcels out the excitement throughout until the end, when he just launches himself into the stratosphere, and goes wherever he wants or needs to, and you know when to clap.

One of his older brothers sings counterpoint in the duet with him, bravely but insipidly, and his voice, lower and uninspired, warns us all, though we did not know it then: This is what happens, when you reach puberty. Time for plan B.

But Michael Jackson could sing. When Nixon was President.

On June 25th, 1976, Johnny Mercer Left Us Alone, With Only His Music To Fortify Us

It should be plenty, but we're whiners.

Gather 'round me, everybody
Gather 'round me, while I preach some
Feel a sermon coming on here
The topic will be sin
And that's what I'm agin'
If you wanna hear my story
Then settle back and just sit tight
While I start reviewing
The attitude of doing right

You got to ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive
E-lim-i-nate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with mister inbetween

You got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
And have faith, or pandemonium
Liable to walk upon the scene

To illustrate my last remark
Jonah in the whale, Noah in the ark,
What did they do, just when everything looked so dark?
Man, they said, we better

Ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive
E-lim-i-nate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with mister inbetween

No don't mess with mister inbetween

You got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
And have faith, or pandemonium
Liable to walk upon the scene

You got to ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive
E-lim-i-nate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with mister inbetween

No don't mess with mister inbetween

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

This Is Bowling; There Are Rules

It's a weird sort of a world we live in.

Wonderful, truly. There's a visual diversity and ebullience available all over the place. It's not universal, of course, but that's the nature of true diversity, isn't it? It's the people that say that the culture and its artifacts are monolithic, and bad, that have no idea what a robust society produces. Stuff you don't like, sometimes.

That's a house in Madison, Indiana. I do believe I wouldn't mind sitting on that porch for a good long while. The house it's attached to is really nothing more than a little ranch house. You could say it was sprawl, and ask that it be flattened, or never built in the first place. Conversely, you could put a plaque on it and get a commission together to decide what colors it should be allowed to be painted, if anyone is to be allowed to touch it at all. It's likely the same people would participate in both activities without noticing their left hand doesn't know what their right hand is doing. America's like that a lot.

It's really very difficult to lay on dense decoration like that and do it well. It seems like a jumble to many eyes, because we've lost the knack. People try, timidly, to go a little way down this route, and make a mess of it. It's only difficult because we don't know the rules of decoration anymore, because there's only been one rule exalted above all: No Decoration. It's mildly counterintuitive, but I assure you that there's nothing fussier than an absolute lack of decoration. Everything has to be flawless to pull it off, and nothing is, or stays that way very long.

We drive by the attempts to put decoration on dwellings now and I say to my wife: "Home Depot blew up," and she knows exactly what I'm thinking without any further comment. Decoration has to be layered on, all of it in keeping with what's already there and everything else you're adding simultaneously.

For the most part, no one would have this on their house because they couldn't picture expending even the effort it would take to maintain it, never mind the effort necessary to produce it in the first place. There is a great deal of contemporary American life and its institutions that answers that description, and that's not good.

Get some wonderful and keep it. Then you'll be qualified to make some, maybe.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Cape Cod, 1950

Before my time, of course. But maybe not.

I saw the vestigal tail of summering on Cape Cod when I was young. It wasn't a year round home for people so much then. You got a summer rental and suffered on the clogged highways in the smothering heat to get your ration of seabreeze. The rental house and the idea behind it smelled a bit of mildew by the time I was there, but you could make it out on the receding horizon.

Later on, I used to perform at all the nightspots there in the summer. The owners were still trying to cobble together one more year of sunburned customers with too much cash and nothing to do but get a bit loaded and party. Jimmy Buffet has a sort of traveling Potemkin Village of the ideal, but it had gone grey and thick in the middle well before he latched on to it, and it hadn't moved to God's Great Waiting Room down south yet.

I played Happy Hour on Cape Cod before Happy Hour was made illegal here. (I'm not exaggerating; Happy Hour is illegal in Massachusetts.) The young girls would come and dance and the men would eye them warily until they all had enough tonsil polish to mix properly. We'd run sweat while we played badly and told a few bad jokes, and preside over it.

Afterwards, we used to go to an old shack called The Sandbar on the access road to the West Dennis Beach, and hear Rockwell King exhume a couple jokes and play moldy standards on the piano to people with blue hair. It was like visiting a club you were grandfathered into but never really joined, and seeing the pictures of dead club presidents on the wall in the lobby, half-remembered when alive, only half dead now that they're gone.

No one's born with blue hair, you know.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Friday Slog (Again, Only On A Monday Three Years Later)

[Editor's Note: Written three years ago in June. I guess it's never going above 70 in June forever.]
{Author's Note: My foot really hurts.}
Endless dreary rain.

It was more interesting when it was raging down like a monsoon. Now it's just limitless, piddling, annoying dismal dripping.

The sky is dishwater, the ground coffee grounds under the sink. The sodden leaves weigh down the branches, and the trees slump like mourners. The birds sleep in.

The ground is sated, and more. Every little seam and pinhole in the basement weeps the water flung on the ground outside a week ago. It's an assault, but the worst kind; a siege, slowly but inexorably finding the weakness in your subterranean parapets. The sump pump has become the central theme in my life.

There's often a marvelous moment, late at night, when it first starts to rain. You're warm and comfortable, it's late or early, and the rain, gone for too long, reappears with a little sizzle on the windowsill, and then the steady drops drum on the roof, and you drowse and dream of creek, the river, the ocean.

That's ten days ago. Now the sound of the rain is like the tramp of an occupying force, implacable, smothering, brutal and cold.

The windowboxes are aquariums. The toads drown in the window wells. the mosquitos hatch, and hatch their plots for the summer, when they will remind us of the awful rain long after it's gone and we miss it.

The grass is as green as Cambodia. Water glints through the underbrush, reflecting the dull sky from the most unlikely places. It seems like it will never end.

And sure as age, and death, and taxes, and the turning of the earth and the rising of the sun, on the day it's over, I'll get a postcard from the town, announcing the water ban.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Friday, June 19, 2009

In My Cups

In his cups, they said.

You're damn straight I am, and no denyin'. I go there to keep from killin' those that murmur in his cups on the way to drink champagne and wine. The sinews stand out now as the flesh falls away with the passage of years but I could take them apart still.

These hands were given to me for something. Like curbstones they are, and ready always for work. But there is no work and the hands can't pick up anything else now.

They scratched in their copybooks easy like, while I blotted mine, and that's the way life is. You're born to things. It's a mohammedan life all around the globe. And so they lord over those damn dots and wear wool, summer and winter, and look out the window at life like it's a picture.

But they never stood for a moment with the big redwood bole poised between up and down, and felt the pinch on the two-man, and heard the wonder of the fibers lettin' go inside. The ground shakes when it comes down and you know you're alive, if you can keep it. They never saw the eastern sky in the desert when the sun retires. They never saw a fish, one hundred feet down in Tahoe, clear as day, nibble your hook.

They can make greenbacks pile themselves to the ceiling without effort, but any machine can do that. There's life in that money. Other men's lives stored like the fire hibernatin' in a log in there. They can't get it out without me.

The creatures -- the live creatures -- come to me, because I got the life in me, banked low but still there. I'll tell you all about it. When I'm in my cups.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sippican's Foray Into Taxonomy: The Remora Commenter

Luckily for ol' Sippican, these creatures do not infest my little grotto here. I look for no trouble, and brook none. Still, I recognize the species when I see it elsewhere. Here's a handy guide for my asstoot readers:


Geographic Range:
Common only in warmer parts of all opinion waters, as it cannot generate its own heat. Rarely seen inland; it congregates mainly along both Atlantic coasts. Europe is overrun with them, along with their implacable foes and fellow travelers, the Mussels (Unesco 1989).

The Remora Commenter is a pelagic heresy marine fish (Latin name: CARP CARP CARP) that is usually found in the warmer parts of most intellectual oceans clinging on to Typing Hammerheads, Alewifes, Flatheads, Barackudas, Largemouths, Forehead Brooders, California Smoothtongues, Goldfish (Along with their other devoted parasites, the Gold Bugs) Clownfish, Groupers, Sarcastic Fringeheads, Snipe Eels, Cookie Cutter Sharks, Gibberfish, Four-Eyed Fishes, Electric Stargazers, and Hagfish. They are occasionally seen with Grey Mullets (and large belt buckles). They are likewise prone to be seen with European Chubs, or conversely, like to feed on European Flounder. Often spotted with Walleyes when they venture close to the surface from their lairs. (Marshall 1965).

Physical Description:
Remora Commenters are short, thick-set sucking fish. (Marshall 1965) The Remora has 10 long, slender gillrakers, (also called typing appendages) 21-27 dorsal fin rays, and between 1200-24,000 anal fin rays, depending upon the amount of ivy present at its secondary nursery site, also called a "college". It is rudderless, and must be steered to its prey by sentient beings, like Cardcarius Soros or Cardcarius Limbaugh. (Unesco 1989).

The dorsal fin lacks spines (Nelson 1984). The Remora has no swim bladder, but its other bladder can hold ten cans of Red Bull or 6 cans of Jolt Cola, and so uses a sucking disc on the front of its head to obtain rides from other, more accomplished ocean-going animals. The Remora is born puny and does not grow. (Marshall 1965).

Some key physical features:
Strangely, bilateral symmetry is not present. All features are to the left or to the right of center axis. Swims in circles if not attached to competent being.

Near nothing is known about the Remora Commenter's breeding habits or larval development. It returns and lurks in its mother's grotto regularly to spawn in a poorly understood and seldom seen ritual involving Internet pornography, sweatsocks, and Pringles. (McClane 1998). They are hermaphroditic, and sometimes morph without mating into Parrotfish.

Economic Importance for Humans:
No known positive impacts.

Well, maybe the occasional CafePress T-shirt sale.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Ten Most Frustrating Things I've Encountered

You need to keep in mind I'm not like most people. Your mileage might... will most definitely vary. I once bummed across Guatemala, by bus and hitchhiking, with fifty bucks and a machete. I was fifteen. That was easy. These got me fuming, over and over. Remember, "frustrating" is not exactly the same as hard:

  • Getting a utility pole put in place
I've done this a whole bunch of times at this point. It has never gotten any easier. There is a paperwork and voicemail labyrinth involved with setting the bole of a tree in a hole that makes walking on the moon look straightforward. Hint: the telephone company owns them.
  • Trying to sing while playing the bass
I am neither a good bass player nor a good singer. Imagine doing both badly simultaneously. I find it much easier to play the guitar or drums and sing, even though I stink even worse at playing those. The closest example I can offer to uttering sounds while fretting (over) syncopated rhythms, is juggling. You can't ever look directly at one ball or you'll drop all of them.
  • Getting a building permit
Like the phone pole, but more of a tag team beating. I've been responsible for hundreds of building permits in a handful of states for almost every kind of construction. It's the strangest gamut of Bureaus of Silly Walks interspersed with jailhouse lawyer neighbors you can mention. I was trying to build a little house on a plot of land that was laid out as a houselot since the seventies, in a little neighborhood near here, and a doughy neighbor woman dressed like a four dollar hooker got up and and said: "I'd like to read a prepared statement." This, in a room with a wobbly banquet table and few bockety folding chairs, presided over by four commisioners who were dressed in Sunday go-to-hell yardwork clothes, and me.
  • Unionized
People who are in unions that just collect dues and waste it on bribing state senators have no idea what I'm talking about. If you've ever been in a real union that takes an active interest in eveything a member does, you'd know it's more constricting than being a comedian in North Korea.
  • Changed the ball joints on 1966 Ford Fairlane
No one fixes their car anymore. Not changing your oil, and so forth, mind you, but effecting repairs so you can go to work. Used to happen all the time. Before emissions inspections, they just checked to see if you were sitting on milk crates to drive, made sure the horn worked, that the tires didn't have inner tube showing, and that your ball joints weren't dodecahedrons. Mine were. I took the car apart in my mother's garage, and started banging on a giant steel tuning fork to pop the conical part from its tapered lair. I banged on it for two solid days before I got it loose. When it came loose, it fell on my foot. When I got done swearing and exulting, I realized there was another on the other side.
  • set up a .htaccess redirect on a website via FTP
I had to do it. I did it. I have no idea how.
  • Grow grass
People who live in apartments, in cities where every square inch of everything is paved, like to write comments on blogs at three AM on how wasteful and unsustainable a lawn is. They're missing the possibilities lawns offer for population control -- because I swear if you tried to grow a little patch of grass around your house for your kids to play on where I live, you would have taken your own life by now.
  • Find a decent plumber
My first plumber was named Leaky. His name was an exaggeration. "Leaky" would indicate that at least some of the water was still in the pipes. After him, came Squeaky. He was a good plumber, but very strange, and now very dead. Dead is a bad attribute for returning calls. After that came Sully. I should have recalled that the shortest book that could ever be written would likely be Famous Irish Plumbers. All the trouble in Angela's Ashes could have been avoided if anyone in Ireland understood righty tighty lefty loosie, after all. Sully cut a trench through the center of my second floor that left overweight him, underweight me, and one quarter of the footprint of the second storey being supported on enough lumber to make a rickety hummingbird house. "Don't worry; wood is strong!" he said, while walking to the edge of the property line with his feet barely touching the ground.
  • Built a boat
I've built damn near everything at one time or another. I unrolled the plans for a little skiff, and while searching in vain for anything that resembled a rectangle, I realized that even the stuff that wasn't curved had beveled edges.
  • Put my kids in public school
Anything that resembles what I would consider a good education is unavailable at any price in the United States at this point, so I don't spend a lot of time wondering what else we should be doing with our kids. But I wouldn't mind if when my wife and I went to talk to my children's tormen... er... teachers, they would at least pretend that they didn't think I was just hit in the head with a shovel, and wasn't too bright beforehand anyway. I might be dumb, but my kids can at least learn to change the ball joints in a '66 Fairlane from me.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Fitties (Again; Again)

Please disregard the 1970s collars flapping like jibsails in the breeze. This is hardcore 1950s. The Flamingos have to eat, and this is their only real ticket. This song is from an era before mine, of course, but so what? So is Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. If I had to pick one piece of music to explain to a Martian what the 1950s were, that would be it. The music is barbarous compared to the big band music it killed, but it's light years more sophisticated than the rock music that pounded it flat in its turn.

It's nighttime. You are on the road. It is sultry warm. The music is coming over a small speaker via a dashboard AM radio, and is mixed in a bizarre fashion to punch through the skinny bandwith. There is chrome and spending money and booze and cigs and a woman in a real dress or a man in a suit, maybe. Lipstick is red or coral pink. Guitars are gold or turquoise. Amplifiers are tweed, like Bertie Wooster's traveling suit. You burn gasoline by the pail and drive around for the sheer joy of being abroad in the world.

The neon winks at you and you pull in and the harsh light shines on the formica tables with the Sputnik patterns printed on them. You don't go in right away. The Flamingos are still singing.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

If Your Personal Soul Singer Doesn't Carry A Hankie, You Need To Rethink Your Entire Worldview

Al Green would be less likely to lose life and limb if he entered a tiger cage in a sirloin suit instead of the front row of the audience.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Whose House Fourteen

Doesn't look all that spartan. But he did live in there for nine years with no electricity.

(In the comments: Andy gets it. Andy wins 1.5 Intarnets! Good jerb.)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

I Felt Fine (In 2006)

I've made money, in varying, modest piles, playing four different instruments at one time or another. I never learned to play any of them properly. Funny that; the topic of playing them properly never came up -- it was mostly rock music. I've been paid to show up and own the instruments occasionally. It ain't rocket surgery.

My older brother can play properly. He's a scholar, and a performer, and a teacher. That's the correct formulation for any endeavour, by the way: learn, do, teach.

Anyway, I told him, a long time ago, that I wanted to learn to play the guitar. He said fine, and plopped The Compleat Beatles down in front of me. It's two very heavy books of sheet music of all the Beatles' songs. It's in there, he said; just learn it. (It's out of print now. Figures.)

I remember how he had painstakingly learned to play Beatles and Stones and assorted pop songs in our parents' living room by implacably picking up and dropping the needle on the scratchy records and listening to little bits of it over and over and over, and pecking them out on his guitar. And then he would perform them with his friends and get girls mooning over him like a Beatle.

He was eight years older than me, and I got interesting looks from some of my teachers in high school, of the female eight-years-older-than-me variety: You're Garrett's brother? He didn't... ahem -- er, mention me, did he?

I got away with murder, I'm tellin' ya.

Well, he'd figured it all out a long time ago, the hard way, and so could point you right to the right place, right away. And he's right, of course, the distillation of the american country blues and pop song and the british music hall ballad is all in there. The Beatles dug it all out of there for you.

All that's left is for you to go and get it.

Lennon flubs the lyrics halfway through. Like it matters.

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Fireflies Take Their Vigorish

You should read The Hobbit at the beach. Who the hell reads important books in a sling chair in the sand? It's like dinner theater. An insult to the cook and the composer.

People that play chess on vacation, do, I guess. Do a puzzle with five pieces missing and read a Reader's Digest Condensed book, I say. Feel the flush of the sun rising in your cheeks from the afternoon, mixing with the bit of gin you nursed in the kitchen, and leave the heavy thinking back over the bridges. Play backgammon, and cheat badly, and laugh.

You can't win if you don't play, someone once said. A loser, most likely. A spectator, even more likely; the pinnacle of losers. What would they know about it?

You see, you can't even play if you won't lose. That's the world. You have to steel yourself beforehand, understand that the game is fixed, and you're born to lose. That's the cover charge to even get on the pitch.

It was a perfect moment there. The sun was just an ornament hung on the Christmas tree of my life. The reeds murmur assent; the muck beats anything a doctor could conjure. She was a flawless diamond hung on a chain of luck around the neck of a muse. I saw it, and knew, that I must lose, right there, if I was to play. Even if she could hide a portrait in the attic, and play keep-away with time, there isn't much chance for me to mark time as well.

A decision must be made. And you cannot be eying the bridesmaids, forevermore, after you make it, or it's not really made. You will drift through this world, forever trying to win, and not really playing.

So you make up your mind, and wend your way back through the wicked edged grasses and the beach roses, the faint sound of the table radio in the kitchen getting louder as you get nearer. The screen door can't keep mosquitoes out, or music in. Milt Jackson is identifiable at a hundred yards, Percy Heath at fifty. Eventually you sit at the battered kitchen table that's hardly suitable for a third house, not someone else's second, but it's your legs that are wobbly.

On the way home, you stop at the crazy old boneyard hard by 6A. The white marble is too soft for the centuries and the names are as fuzzy as the people they were. But you think for a moment, what you'll risk together, when you see the little nameless granite stubs at the foot of the graves.


Sunday, June 07, 2009

Fresh Out Of Advice

We attended a party for our niece's graduation yesterday. They had a band perform. They were maybe 21 years old. They all play their instruments better than I ever did. They had the look of dishevelment that takes more time in the bathroom with sprays and unguents than my sister ever took to leave the house when I was young. They were completely indifferent to the need to entertain the audience. They were so self-absorbed I was wondering if they even care what each other is doing, never mind the audience. The average nascent rock band inflicts themselves on any captive audience they can find.

When they were done, their father carried their stuff out.

My junior-high vintage son works in the shop sometimes. He saved his money for a long time and bought a guitar and amplifier. He teaches himself guitar by watching videos on the Intertunnel.

I have little advice for my son about this topic. I would advise him, if he asked, that for a while, if he actually tries to entertain the audience in front of him, disinterested in rigid boundaries of what's trendy, he will be ridiculed by the self-absorbed cool kids. Eventually, the cool kids' girlfriends will wave to them from the passenger seat of your car.

The back seat will be filled with money.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Spill The Wine, Gerard

But there I was, I was taken to a place, the hall of the mountain kings
I stood high upon a mountain top, naked to the world
In front of every kind of girl, there was
black ones, round ones, big ones, crazy ones...

Out of the middle came a lady
She whispered in my ear something crazy
She said:

I do... I guess.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Friday! (From 2006)

(First offered in 2006. I'm closer to needing diapers than the little kid is now. Such is life.)

I remember when Friday meant something. It' s a fuzzy, dim memory, like differential equations or the theme song to The Joey Bishop Show. But it was real, once.

You got paid on Friday. A check that you brought to the bank after work. A slip of paper that represented a fiduciary obligation on the part of your employer; you remember, that sort of thing. You'd go to the bank... no, I'm not kidding, you'd actually go there and wait in a line between velvet ropes depending in caternary curves from chrome stanchions, like it's an opening night on Broadway and not a crummy line to get beer money; you'd stare at the clock and the neck of the person in front of you and remember lame jokes you saw on the Tonight Show about the little chain on the pen at all the stand up desks. Why, those jokes were funnier than airline peanuts, I'm tellin' ya.

And you'd have that slip filled out to go with your paycheck-- but never correctly; always with your deposit on the first line until you noticed that line was labeled "cash" or "currency," and you'd scratch it out and fill it in a line lower, and then wonder if it was OK to have scratched out stuff written on a DEPOSIT SLIP. It's like a legal document and all, and you can't just have a do-over on that, can you? So you'd make out another and put the info on the second line, like a good doobie, until you noticed the "cash" line you avoided has a check box with it. The first one was correct all along, and now you've got one with the first line inexplicably left blank; and you' do it over but you're last in line again already and you need to get out of there -- It's FRIDAY!

After you wait and wait, the clerk behind the bullet proof glass that doesn't even go up to the ceiling barely even looks at what you wrote, they just read the check and push a few twenties back and grunt at you anyway.

But it's Friday! You don't care. You need to find clean clothes that match. That's only two variables. Why do you still end up inspecting your second clothes hamper -- the floor --for stuff only lightly worn that looks slightly better than the Mr. Zog's Sex Wax tee shirt that's the only clean thing in your drawer? Who cares? It smoky in the bar anyway, and it's Friday!.

Oh. You can't go to that bar. She'll be there, and you took her number and didn't call it. You meant to... no you didn't.

Who cares? It's Friday! There's many other places with a common victualler's license, ain't there? Your friends all have dates -- or geez poor Steve got married fer crissakes -- but you'll find someone you know at the Irish Bar, won't you? Yeah, but maybe it'll be that guy you impaled with the dart two weeks ago. You keep asking yourself the same two questions about that place: Who walks in front of a guy throwing darts? That, and: What kind of person wears a sheetrock knife on his belt in an Irish Bar on... yup: Friday night!

What's on TV? Remington Steele. Blecch. A repeat at that. Hello Domino's? No anchovies. No; no anchovies. The little fishes. No, I don't want extra anchovies. I WANT EXTRA NO ANCHOVIES.

(fast forward)

It's so much easier now. Friday! is still the best day of the week. There's always clean clothes. They still don't match, but you're old and you don't care. Who are you going to impress? Your wife? She bought you those clothes. The money is already in the bank of course. You only go to the bank to sign mortgage papers once every ten years now. The rest is just keystrokes. Where is the bank, exactly? You haven't had money in your pocket for ten years. What would you do with money? Get pennies handed back to you. Who wants those? Even my children want quarters. Pay the plastic bill when it comes. Keystrokes. Stamps? What are those?

But it's still Friday! and Friday! is still wonderful, because Friday! is the day you take the six plastic bags that have been lurking at the bottom of the stairs all week to the end of the driveway. Yeah, those bags. The ones with the diapers in them.

Happy Friday! to one and all!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Quiet Contemplation (From 2007)

Is there a spot in your world suitable for quiet contemplation?

I find it's become a rare thing. You don't have to be away from the whole world to achieve it. Just the opposite. Being all alone out in the wilderness is not restful. Even a tiny urban dooryard used to have the potential to serve the purpose I'm referring to, or the small parks that would dot the urban landscape. But exterior spaces are mostly too busy or barren, and so suburb or city or exurb, they don't serve the purpose anymore.

There are fads. Decks, hot tubs, elaborate grilling devices, pools, tennis courts, swingsets, treeforts, bocce, horseshoes... I could keep going, but you get the picture. There's a great deal of hardscaping in the exterior world these days. I am mostly ambivalent about most of those things. They are either useful or not according to taste. But they are not what I am talking about.

I'm talking about a place that is designed to place a person at ease outdoors, sheltered enough from hubbub to stop for a moment and contemplate the outdoors and your place in it.

I am not often on the lookout for things to do. I have too many things to do. I am looking for a place to do not much of anything for a pleasant moment.

Put a garden in your yard. Put a seat in your garden. Enclose it enough to be private. Give it a view through to something else that is pleasant to look at from a distance. Open it to the sky but dapple the sunlight. Get out of the wind, invite a breeze. Stay on the ground if you can, but get out of the dirt.

Keep the fun out of there. It's too much like work.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Hey, It's Curtis Mayfield's Birthday (Again)

(Curtis Mayfield, June 3rd, 1942 - December 26th 1999)

I was a child in the sixties, a teenager in the seventies. The natural trajectory for a young man in the suburbs would be to embrace rock music. I never really did.

They were too much like me, perhaps, the arena power chorders. Aerosmith used to play in my high school gym, after all. I wouldn't change the channel if Bachman Turner Overdrive came on, and I had a well worn copy of Frampton Comes Alive, just like everybody else, but that was about it.

There was a jukebox in the lunchroom at our public high school. It was a revelation to me after spending my grammar school years in Catholic School. The nuns would have no more brought in a juke box than a Wiccan into our lunchroom. Upon reflection, it's the nuns that got it right. It was a symptom of the profound unseriousness of the place that the public high school supplied the same soundtrack a teenager demanded in his non-school life to muddle through it.

I could probably list every single song in that jukebox, down to the most obscure, and it was over thirty years ago. Not much of it was very good. But it was generally fun and disposable, like popular entertainment should be, but rarely is, any more. There was:
Led Zeppelin
Harry Nilsson
Dr John
Rolling Stones
Eric Clapton
The Beach Boys
Moody Blues
More Led Zeppelin
Grand Funk Railroad
Elton John
Billy Paul
Billy Preston
Earth Wind and Fire
Still more Led Zeppelin
Gilbert O'Sullivan
Looking Glass
Marvin Gaye
The Rasberries...

Well, you get the picture. Nothing much recorded at La Scala. Nothing much recorded in a gospel church. Now having enough money to put into a jukebox was a foreign concept to me. The thing would play anyway, and you'd hear everyhing in it no matter what, eventually. I recall the only time an insurrection against the thing was mounted, when some wisenheimer pumped a buck or two into the thing and selected "Dogs Barking Christmas Carols" 15 straight times. After about five minutes, a grim and resolute shop teacher marched over, pulled the enormous contraption away from the wall, and yanked the plug. I'm certain it's the only cheer the prickly old fellow ever heard from his charges.

This one comes back to me though, and kindly:

The man, and the topic, was a world away from me. I was unlikely to adopt his huggybear/trotsky cap or his owlish glasses. But really, to a fifteen year old, looking into a world of dead ends, who could say it better, and funkier, than Curtis Mayfield?

Ask him his dream
What does it mean?
He wouldn't know...

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Rise Of Surety

I'm sick of surety.

There is generally only one form of surety available to the consumer of information. That is the surety of self-enforced ignorance. I'll explain.

I need to know things, and I want to know things. People who are going to report things to me have a profound duty, almost always shirked. I can only find out things from most people and institutions around the edges, exposed -- or perhaps betrayed is a better word --unintentionally. To be an intellectual is to be a skeptic who is willing to listen. It's a waste of time, mostly, now. No one's going to tell you much of anything.

Many talk and write all the time. The most tedious people talk like they are writing at you aloud. Bloggers have a tendency to do this if they meet anywhere. Show me a picture of your children, you housebound agoraphobes. It's the only thing you have I can be sure you know much of anything about, that I don't. Unlike whatever half-remembered lesson from a fool you're half-remembering again and hurling down on the listener's ear from your intellectual dunghill Olympus, your children might be interesting --if they have the innate sense to run away from home.

Ignorance begets speculation. But ignorance, self-imposed mostly, is being transmogrified directly into obdurate surety without the intermediate step of true speculation. True speculation involves saying "I don't know," prepared to hear the truth, if available. Few will admit that they don't know much about any particular thing, because they think it leaves an opening for their enemies, who being bad people unlike you will never admit ignorance; but at the bottom of it everyone's simply afraid to be presented with facts that would make them uncomfortable. That's why all they'll acknowledge they don't know --if anything -- is how their personal bete noires managed to wreck the particular wreckage at hand, or how exactly their Dear Leader managed to arrange good weather for them on the day of their picnic. In this world, never allowing anyone else to get a word in edgewise is the Eleventh Commandment that trumps the other ten stitched together.

There are very few people who said "I wonder what happened to that plane that disappeared without a trace" yesterday, and left it at that. They immediately began to speculate, as humans do, but in the new, adamantine method. They rearranged their prejudices, born, weaned, and brought to manhood by rigid talk-to-the hand disinterest in others' opinions and objective reality, to fit the topic, as they would fit every topic.

The Drudge Report keeps a list of cable "Chat (yelling) About News Shows." Apparently even this thin intellectual gruel is a kind of bloodsport horserace, too, like so many things. I have never seen one minute of any one of those shows, and I don't think I'm missing much. That which is useless is boring or infuriating, to taste, in these matters. I could learn more in five minutes of How It's Made than if I watched a century of people yelling things at one another wearing pancake makeup. And I already know how it's made.

I dare you to tell me something I don't know. Telling me something you don't know but are absolutely sure of is of supremely doubtful utility.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Ode To June (From 2006)

June is the king of all months. Now, I'm not qualified to offer an opinion on the king of all months in Calgary, or Phoenix, or Oklahoma, or the Seychelles, but I know June in New England as well as anyone, and let me tell you, it's sweet.

June is the monthly dessert after eight months of eating your calendar vegetables. June is the coins rattling in the tray after you pulled the lever of life for all those bleak, grey days of early spring without effect. June is the ball crossing the stripe and swishing into the twine at soccer. If you're the forward, I mean. If you're the goalie, the other eleven months are the ball crossing the line, and you, defeated, looking up from the mud as it sails past. June is the save.

And that magnificent long gentle slide from the longest day of the year (that's in June, of course) to Columbus Day is the payoff for having to scrape your windshield frost with an expired credit card, without gloves, in February.

June is the first month you look at the fireplace and try to recall the last time you really needed it to take the chill from your bones that winter had pounded into them. You close the fireplace flue, in a ceremony like the immurement of a Pharoah in his pointy stone temple, to slumber for the ages that pass on the calendar until you resurrect it in October.

The hummingbirds peer in your window, wondering when the delicate bell shaped flowers you put out for them each year might be ready, but too polite to knock. The finches sing outside the window, replacing the sound of the scraping of the snowplow on a distant road just before daybreak. The finch is preferable, I think.

That houseplant that you ministered to like a hemophiliac prince all winter, and looked each day like it would collapse in a pile of dust and corruption if you forgot to water it hourly, goes out on the porch in June, and untended, grows like a two year old child does, washed only by the warm gentle showers of June rain.

And in the evening, which seems to go on for days, the gloaming lowers itself gently on your head like a crown; the bats begin their endless circles overhead, their leathery wings beating time to nature's tune, whispering in your ear as you walk the yard between the luminous Hostas and ferns -- all the while illuminated only by the rich dregs of sunshine left in the June day's cup, and the fireflies.

And the ocean in June, dear reader, the ocean. Nature erases the line between earth and sky, and you feel as though you could sail right up the wall of the heavens, if you could just get to the horizon, to trail your fingers through the firmament. The clouds float by one by one, like lone teenagers at a mall. Unable to coalesce into a gang, and so without the others to goad them on, they smile and look almost cheery- and a little silly if they try to puff themselves up into something threatening.

When the thunderstorms come in late June, to settle the dispute between the earth and the sky -- with the ocean third man in -- the great anvil headed clouds rise up to the earth's ceiling and break open like a pinata, bringing the great gift of a cleansing summer rain to cool the air and pop the humidity like a bubble in the bath. Then it's over, and the air is filled with bracing ionized air, as if you lived under a waterfall; and you walk shoeless in the grass outside the door and watch the birds gather themselves for another take at their improvised opera. If the storm tales a pole, and the electricity with it, no matter, for the sun shines until you're done with it, and you wink off to sleep with it winking back at you on the horizon.

I like June.