Saturday, October 31, 2009

Such A Deal

I was in my local drugstore today, picking up my usual sundries--chocolate chip cookies, lip balm, and a copy of National Employment Weekly--when I noticed a box labeled "50% Off" near the checkout line. Being the perspicacious, penny-pinching consumer I am, I took a peek in the box, hoping to find some Rogaine, but expecting to see nothing but soon-to-be outdated Halloween trinkets. Lo and behold, though, what did I see: nothing but boxes of condoms.

Now I have no problem buying irregular products like shirts, shoes, or firearms, but condoms? Just what is an irregular condom?

I bask in being able to outwit retailers and avoid paying full-price for many products, but something tells me I don't want to buy a half-price condom. Would you? I can't imagine people running home to their lovers' arms and crowing, "Look what I got for half-price, honey!" Talk about a headache inducer.

The proverbial cockiness of a man putting a condom in his wallet in preparation for a night on the town has to be negatively affected when that condom is half-priced, I should think. "Well, I'm kinda feeling lucky tonight." Or, "I don't know, my horoscope wasn't too promising today, so I think I'll go with the half-price one, just in case."

Does the threshold of one's promiscuity drop when one is carrying a half-price condom? I mean, if I'm playing golf and am faced with the choice of trying to hit a perfect shot over 200 yards of water or playing safe by laying up, a lot of the decision depends on what type of ball I'm playing. If I'm playing a cut up Kro-Flite special I stole from my buddy's shag bag, what the hell, I let it rip. But if I'm playing one of my new Titleist Pro-V's, well then, I'm not risking it. You know what I'm saying?

Maybe half-priced condoms are kind of like a gambler's sale item. Or for people who are totally ambivalent about having children. Perhaps, though, it's simply a matter of timing: maybe the condoms are nearly at their expiration date. "Guaranteed until midnight Thursday!" If so, the purchasers of such bargains must be some pretty hot-to-trot kind of people.

Could this particular brand of condoms have been blackballed for some reason? Maybe they were the subject of a Stone Phillips report on Dateline. I picture a distraught couple, with gaggles of kids crawling all over them, complaining, "We've used these condoms for years. They simply don't work, Stone."

Then I thought that the sale might have nothing to do with the specific condoms themselves. Maybe the owner of the store was just in a John Lennon mood, trying in his own small way to promulgate the old "make love, not war" sentiment. Or maybe the sale meant my neighborhood was simply a pretty unlively, unsensual place. I raced over to the adult diaper section and sure enough, the racks were bare--a bad sign indeed.

I don't know. But the thought of bargain basement condoms had my mind reeling; I needed an answer. So I walked up to the cashier behind the register, who had the look of a warden in a women's maximum security prison. I felt like I was buying my first athletic supporter.

"Hey," I barked, "what's the deal with all the cheap condoms?"

She looked at me like she was scanning her memory for the last time she noticed the most wanted pictures at the post office. "What?" She was stalling for time, I could tell.

"That box of reduced, er, half-off, er, inexpensive condoms. What gives?"

With a harsh scowl she snapped, "We're no longer carrying those items."

Wham. Her words had the effect of the mother of all mothers nixing any talk of staying up late. I was cowed. Hanging my head in shame, I shuffled out of the store, sans sundries.

Could things be that depressed, I wondered. Out on the street I passed a nice looking woman. "Hi, how ya doin'?"

"Forget it, buster," she sighed apathetically as she threw her scarf over her face. I guess it's going to be one tough winter ahead of us in Cleveland.

The Spinners-Rubberband Man

Friday, October 30, 2009


Art Fry and Dr. Spencer Silver, a hymnal, Cynthiana, Kentucky, and Boise, Idaho, a "permitted bootlegging" policy, and canary yellow: sounds like the bare bones of a novel-in-progress by Thomas Pynchon, doesn't it? But no, according to the obviously 3-M flak-written wikipedia entry, all of the above figure prominently in the All-American success story that is the Post-it. To know that the real, original, official, branded Post-it has always been made in Cynthiana, Kentucky, does my American heart so proud in these days of tumbling DJA and rampant globalization and rumblings about a world currency. We might not be able to make cheap toys like we once used to, but daggummit, we can make bright little pieces of paper that'll stick on just about anything and be removed just as easily, "without leaving any residue." As I always say, residue? Residon't if you know what's good for you.

Perhaps the most useful tidbit I gleaned from the wiki Post-it entry, though, and a tidbit that will come in handy since just today I've decided to become even more self-righteous and not be beholden to any branding whatsoever (well, after I post this Post-it post with the brand-oozing picture of the famous Post-it [BTW--which just today I learned means By The Way, when for years now I thought it meant Bilk Those Wyomingians--any Boss trainspotters out there: I did indeed misquote Bruce Springsteen in yesterday's post {it should be "show a little faith, there's magic in the night"}; sue me and never allow me to pump my fist along to "Badlands" anymore]) is that now that 3-M's patent on the sticky little papers has expired and anyone can produce and market his or her own sticky little papers, the "accepted" generic names for the sticky little papers that the obviously 3-M flak suggests include "sticky notes" or "repositionable notes" or "repositional notes." Thus, next time I need to remind myself to buy a box of kleenex facial tissues, I'll have to jot a reminder down on my handy repositionable note. Nice try, 3-M. Post-its are post-its. You try walking into Office Max Staples your nearest office supply retailer and asking the clerk, "Where do you keep your repositionable notes?" If you only get Maced chemicals sprayed in your face or Tasered get the shock of your life from some handheld device you'll be lucky. Repositionable notes, God help us. Though, come to think of it, change the "o" in notes to an "a" and you'd have a pretty good name for a specialty plastic surgery business. But I regress.

It's a good thing I'm a stickler for correct spelling, because in having to click back to wiki several times to make sure I get the spelling correct on that ridiculous repositionable (I'm still waiting for someone to reposition some bacon, covered in chocolate! from Malley's to my gut), I read the entry more closely and discovered that not only has 3-M trademarked the term Post-it, but they've also trademarked the color canary yellow! What the hell's going on here, folks? You can trademark a color? I'm doing the paperwork for "kind of teal" tonight. And why stop there? Screw the trademark, I want to patent that sound my stomach makes when I haven't eaten for three days thanks to that microwaveable burrito I bought at Stuckey's that probably now-defunct generic laugh-getting tawdry roadside restaurant cum knickknack emporium.

But my point: One of the best things about being a pack rat is the perpetual possibilty of discovering some long-forgotten treasure. Earlier today I was looking for my list (on letter-size paper; no Post-it repositionable note could hope to contain the list) of possible Halloween costumes for the year 1987 (don't ask, it was a quirky year), when I found a dusty old folder that upon opening it brought back a rush of sweet and not-so-sweet memories. For there was my file of unused Post-it repositionable notes. Not unwritten upon, but unused; notes I had actually jotted down intending to use, and then for whatever twists of fate or second thoughts, I chose not to use them. But loving trees as I once did (see below), I couldn't stand the thought of throwing away wasting perfectly good repositionable notes, which, depending on fickle fate and third thoughts, I might find the use for again sometime.  And so, because sharing is good, and at least unilaterally cathartic, I will now share with you some (not all, privacy is a Constitutional right that in this web-frenzied, Reality TV world, we should all exercise a bit more often) choice repositionable notes from my past, complete with annotations.

"Am not!" Long story short: Out of sheer politeness one time I tried to engage a deaf mute in a friendly conversation, using what I thought were appropriate hand gestures. The man took offense, at what I still know not what, and he whipped out a pad of paper and wrote "asshole" on it and shoved it toward my face. Never leaving home without a pen and a healthy supply of repositionable notes, I jotted the above down. By the time I was finished composing and looked up, though, the man, obviously not counting on the fact that I could fight fire with fire, was hightailing it away from me.

"I O U a BIG HUG. C U Tmrw." Back in my tree-hugging days, I was especially fond of one tall tree in particular, so I hugged it everyday. But then I was taken sick, with flu-kind-of-like-but-not-really symptoms. Not wanting to expose my beloved tree to ill health, I wrote it (okay, Trunkie, I called the tree Trunkie) a repositionable note and took my usual walk down to the park to stick the non-residue-leaving repositionable note on Trunkie's trunk, just so he would know. But when I got to the park, the big men were cutting Trunkie down. "Why?" I wondered, in a rather sickly voice. "Dutch elm disease. That tree's dying a slow death unless we cut it down." In time my own symptoms abated, though my doctor still just laughs when I tell him I once had dutch elm disease but now I think I've built up an immunity. Think. Haven't hugged a tree since.

"J.A. 212-555-639_" From just a few weeks ago. I got a voice mail from Jennifer Aniston, raving about the blog, chortling about the word "desuetude," dishing some dirt on David Schwimmer (sp?), and telling me she just had to jet to Cleveland to try some bacon, covered in chocolate! and that she'd love to hook up. So she starts giving me her phone number and right before the last number, she says, "Oh darn, that's Brad again on the other line, I'll be back in a minute." It's been four weeks of waiting on that minute, and still no final digit.

"This is just to say I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox and which you were probably saving for breakfast. Forgive me they were delicious so sweet and so cold." I was ready to leave this on the refrigerator door when I realized that I had eaten my roommate's stale chocolate-covered graham crackers (please tell me graham cracker is a generic, not a brand name) he had left under the sink last Lent and which truth be told nearly made me wretch and then I realized it was William Carlos Williams, the great American bard poet who had written the poem about eating the plums.

"Buy more Post-it notes." Well, obviously this one is now obsolete. I'll have to re-write it "Buy more repositionable notes." I had had the genius idea once when opening a new package of actual Post-it notes to flip all the way to the ante-penultimate note and write this message, so when the time came when I would soon be needing a new package, I could be reminded to buy one. I thought the third last one was appropriate: it gave me time to plan a shopping excursion without the threat of possibly running out of repositionable notes before I would be able to go shopping. Alas, it was November 5, 1987, and by the time I had reached the ante-penultimate repositionable note reminding me it was time to purchase a new package of repositionable notes it was Christmas morning and I was just going to use a repositionable note to jot a quick thank you note to my deaf/mute friend (different one, a real friend; I don't hold grudges against groups of people) who had left me an entire six-pack of repositionable notes in my stocking, when what should be the next repositionable note in the stack? You guessed it, the now-suddenly superfluous reminder to buy more repositionable notes. Ah, the non-residue-leaving irony of it all!

As I always say, obviously, if you can't write it all on one repositionable note, it's not worth writing at all.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Have A Little Faith There's Magic In The Night

Time was I wouldn't have missed a World Series game for anything, especially one with the star power of Yankees vs. Phillies. But time is I don't have a television, and besides, there was a poetry reading I wanted to go to tonight. Time was and time is and times change. Though I'll have you know the afternoon of game one I picked the Phillies in six, and if I were a betting man, I would have had my money on Cliff Lee to outpitch C.C. Sabathia. Anyway, any night that starts off with beef stew and a "takeout" of a half gallon of Patterson's Cider is destined to have magic ready to burst out of its dark seams. The last song my car radio played before the reading was The Four Tops' "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)" and I swear the first song it played two hours later when I was leaving was The Four Tops' "It's The Same Old Song," "Sugar Pie"'s ripped-off younger brother. Magic indeed. Besides, as I pulled away from the first light, the slick, late model silver Toyota ahead of me was making a much more fatal sound than all of my 18-year-old car's baker's dozen of whines, wheezes, groans, and squeaks make combined in their own post-modern symphony. In such a good mood, I didn't worry too much when I pulled up to the gas station and realized that somehow somewhere today I lost a five dollar bill (it's yours in spirit, mom), and when I got home and took out the garbage then realized I had thrown away something I shouldn't have and had to dig through the trash to retrieve it, I only laughed at my idiocy rather than cursed it. But the real magic was the poetry. Earlier today I thought I'd come home and spew my usual snarkiness about attending poetry readings, but I should have known better. Maj Ragain was reading tonight. Now for years I've said, when in doubt read poetry. Well, if you're doubtless sheer fortunate, you get to hear Maj read his poetry. As usual, it was great, but when he ended by reading his poem "Alton Memorial/To My Son, From Greece" stars aligned, the Muses paused, and grown men shed tears. I'd trade a lifetime of World Series memories to live in that poem forever. Somewhere in all the poetry, it struck me: the real Clevelander is the one who stays and lives; he may leave, but he comes back and stays; the rest are merely tourists who have no genuine claims on the place. Just a thought. Another one: despite its chauvinism, I kind of always liked the line in "Thunder Road" where Bruce Springsteen sings, "you ain't a beauty but hey you're all right." It fits the song. But tonight it struck me, what a weak rhyme, and what a poor follow-up to "Have a little faith, there's magic in the night." I wonder how Bruce would follow a line like that these days. Because there is magic in the night, sometimes, and it deserves to be respected, honored, and thanked.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


It's been a cold, gray, rainy day today, a perfect day for soup and tears. Yes, a good cry today would feel empathetic and, as usual, cathartic. But I wish sadness on no one, so I'll provide some vicarious tears for you all to cry. Following the jump you'll find a couple-pages excerpt from a novel I've written called Zeal Outruns Discretion. It's about life at an all-girls high school, where tears flow a lot, for reasons both sad and absurd. I must admit, I stole the basic idea for this scene from a guy I used to work with, Tom, who had originated the "crying circle" explanation. I took his idea and extrapolated it to the extreme. All in good fun.

So grab some tissues, fix yourself something warm to eat or drink, and have a good cry, on me.

Charlie Rich-Tears A Go-Go

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Can I Help You?

Thought I'd peel back the curtain a bit here and show you all the oft-mentioned bookstore where I work. It's cozy, off-beat in the best ways, and endlessly intellectually stimulating; in a word, it's home.

And not without its quirks. We arrange the books in a kind of binary-shelving method. We have only five main sections: books that begin with "The"; books your mother would be ashamed to know you're reading; movie novelizations; miscellaneous; and origami. Within those sections we arrange the books not alphabetically by author or title, but by length. Short books on the left, long books on the right. FYI, the 261-page sub-section of each section is the largest. Of course, on that odd, once-a-month occasion when a customer comes in with exactly the correct title and author of the book he or she is looking for, it might take some time, but for everybody else (the scores who come in saying, "I don't know the title, author, or subject matter, but the book's kind of a cream color and it's about this thick," (holding out their thumb and forefinger, indicating a book of roughly 312 pages) "and I have to have it read by tomorrow for my book club," the system is amazingly convenient.

We don't have any author signings, because, frankly, who wants those kinds of people in a bookstore? Live authors, that is. Drake, the young Goth woman who runs our cafe, is also a medium (as in ghosts; her dress size is actually petite), and she offers her services gratis once a fortnight for an author seance in the back. Poe was a lot more garrulous than you'd expect, Austen a raving diva, Hemingway picked a fight with me when I innocently asked him if maybe A Farewell To Arms was a bit mawkish, and that Kafka was a stitch.

I mentioned the cafe. It's actually a small table near the water fountain (five cents a slurp, strictly enforced by Drake) with a "leave a crumb, take a crumb" plate. The restroom, unisex (we're progressive), consists of a pilfered key on a large wooden plank (Marathon station across the street, wink wink). The magazine section is filled with mags we scavenge from backpacks checked at the front counter.

Like any friendly bookstore, we have our share of alternative regulars. Alice is a card, and harmless (don't mind the flyswatter, that's just her way of showing affection); Orson gets a tad polemical, but if you hit the couch right after he wakes and trots off for the wooden plank, you can usually scrounge enough coin for bus fare home; Ambidexter's promised to reveal (figuritvely speaking, we assume) the truth this Halloween--my money's on male, Drake's vibrations tell her hermaphrodite; we're all convinced Suugeee is the one responsible for looting the entire shelf of 477-page "The" books every week or so, but she's so darn cute nobody seems to mind; Fred should be back lurking in the origami books in 7-15.

Oops, there's the sensor, got to run. Stop on by sometime. We're open occasionally `til dusk.

Everything But The Girl-Wrong

The Fall-Wrong Place, Right Time (No.2)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Buncha Basement Noise

I've been duped. For years I recalled reading somewhere that some survey of linguistic bigwigs had determined that the seemingly mundane phrase "cellar door" was the most beautiful in the English language. I had my quibbles--for starters I'd take the phrase "another brewski, dude?"--but I liked knowing this rather obscure fact. Well, it's neither obscure (the first person I assailed today by shouting "cellar door" at her immediately said, "Isn't that like the most supposedly beautiful phrase in the English language or something?" [she quibbled too, preferring the phrase "Harvey says hello"]), nor apparently fact. Once again, the know-it-alls at wikipedia seem to have the full, and quite interesting, scoop here. It seems that the estimable (though unread by some who shall remain nameless) J.R.R. Tolkien is the likely candidate for starting the cult of "cellar door" in an essay and later an interview. From there the tale winds through heavyweights H.L. Mencken, Jacques Barzun, anonymous Chinese or Japanese of Italian students (no, it doesn't involve someone saying, "Sell her door, she'll be back tomorrow for hinges and knobs") and even Donnie Darko. The survey, alas, is apocryphal.

Too bad, because I was all set to reveal numbers two through ten here today: "cheesey breeze," "more bacon?" "that blonde likes you," "sufferin' succotash," "liposuctions performed here," "he was the nazz, with God-given ass," "idiot's delight," "Uma Thurman" and "hellfire." But I guess that joke's gone.

Now in his defense, Tolkien says you have to detach the phrase "cellar door" from its meaning and its spelling. Okay, J double-R. But that's kind of like taking the sugar out of cotton candy. Anyway, I can't detach anything from the word cellar. The word freaks me out, to be honest, conjuring all sorts of nasty images of Kansas tornados, earth-mothers preservering pickles in big jars whose lids (the jars) never come off correctly, cobwebs, the ultimate fantod word "dank," sump pumps, and people not hip enough to use the word basement. And those doors! Those maw of hell flapping wooden things! Not for nothing did my sister and I spend half our childhoods trying to convince the other to accompany her or me whenever we had to go to the basement for something. There weren't monsters under my bed (too crowded what with all the dirty clothes), but down in the dank cellar, just the other side of the cellar door, lurked hideous things that J.R.R. couldn't imagine in his worst fevered nightmares. I'm sorry, no "cellar door" on any best of list for me.

In fact, if it weren't for my beloved Bob Dylan, I might have no use for basements at all. But after all, Johnny was mixing the medicine down there, and of course "I lived with them on Montague Street, in a basement down the stairs," and the pinnacle of any kind of basement talk celebration, "Look here you buncha basement noise," on the album titled, naturally, The Basement Tapes. In fact, I think my lifelong fear of cellars and such only abated enough for me to go down there unshaking after I discovered The Basement Tapes, ironically, around the same time my sister went off to college.

So, balderdash or not, I just can't credit "cellar door" at all. To me, the sweetest sounding word/phrase in the English language is really quite apparent, once you give it some thought. It's anytime Smokey Robinson sings "baby..."

Bob Dylan and The Band-You Ain't Goin' Nowhere

The Ramones-I Don't Wanna Go Down To The Basement

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Touch, Part 2

So anyway, what brought on yesterday's reminiscence about my one-armed smoking professor was a sidebar article in the British music magazine The Word titled "You Still Here?" about things that, according to the author, should be obsolete but are still hanging around in the 21st century. Among the items listed that I still find various degrees of use for (let alone fondness for) are stamps, newspapers, umbrellas, spectacles (hell, I just got my first pair a couple months ago), cigarette lighters in cars, and razors. But the one that piqued me the most was this one, "Wind-up Watches: As anachronistic as walking around in a tweed suit." Aside from the non sequitur of the whole thing (how can a watch be anachronistic?), I felt the sting of this jab most acutely. Recently an old (as in, was my grandfather's) watch of mine was repaired after years of being out of commission. The repairman was almost apologetic when he explained that the watch had to be wound, manually, thirty "winds" every day or so.

Now there's certainly a sentimental reason for me to love having a functional watch on my wrist again. But is there any other reason? I had gone watchless for several years, and it really was no problem. With all of the mechanical/computerized devices around these days, the time of day is never far from our apprehension. I was late to cellphones, but now I carry one everywhere, and it has become my de facto "go to" time-telling device. I've also become pretty adept at spying people's watches and telling even upside down time from them across tables and counters. And in a pinch, ala my color blind "the world is light or dark," I can always tell if it's day or night.

But I have to exclaim, I love winding my newly repaired watch! It's such a pensive, wholly task to be done, task completed few seconds of my day. The feel of the tiny ridges on my fingers, the repetitive motion of tiny winds, the I am not an animal, I am a human being celebration of my opposable thumb--it's all such a small pleasure, let alone a nostalgic one. I'm always transported to being a little boy again, feeling important with my first watch. I suppose I could also get quasi-poetic and sling the verbiage about having control over time, but such metaphysical joy pales in comparison to the physical, tactile thrill of it all.

It ain't news, but we live in an increasingly push-button world, and contemplating the joys of winding my watch makes me think about the all of the quotidian, tactile pleasures that we have lost or are losing. I love the challenge and feel of opening a cardboard milk or juice carton, but when was the last time we got to experience that wonder? I love still having to open my car door by inserting and turning the key, and I'm sure eventually I'll upgrade to a car whose ignition I won't have to start by inserting and turning. With the recent purchase of some nifty Velcro sneakers, I can go weeks, even months without having to tie a shoe. Remember when writing used to mean having to actually write something? And don't get me started on phones. Beyond the tactile, remember how many phone numbers you used to know by heart? Or even with the arrival of push button phones, when you could remember a person's number only by fake-"dialing" it by stabbing your fingers all around the keypad? Now how many numbers do you know? Once programmed (even remember when that word had such fascist/totalitarian connotations?), all you need to do is push one button. Oh, but remember the physical excitement of actually dialing a phone number on a rotary dial phone. The quick jab of the one's and two's. The resistance/force thrill of a nine and that great feeling of release and the sight of the dial spinning all the way back. And of course that sweet spiral sound of the dial rewinding. They always say smell is the most nostalgic of the senses, but revisiting any of these once-ordinary tactile experiences sets the mind reeling to equal the effect of any effete French cookie.

I know, I've got old fart Luddite fumes spewing out of me at the moment. The man who in college (oh, those days!), after a debate about American League vs. National League, wrote on his graffiti-covered dorm room wall, "If tradition were adhered to, we'd all still be crapping in outhouses; succumb to the modern age and bow to the DH," is now sounding like the old man he's becoming as somebody much greater than he continues to wind the ultimate watch. But pleasure is pleasure, folks, and winding a watch, tying shoes, writing a letter, getting that cardboard spout to jut origamically correct out at you, feeling the heavy click of the door's lock turning--all of it is becoming extinct. Hell, even the good-deed-accomplished rush of a good toilet flush is replaced by buttons to merely push and automatic sensors. Think of it, we have acquiesced our human powers of touch to the point that we have welcomed, with nary a hue and hardly a cry, automatic sensors in our bathrooms! We are the generation that likes to push and to be sensored.

In a million years, will evolution bring us to the point where our sense of touch is obsolete, vestigial at best, like nipples on men? Take a stand. Reach out and touch and work and manipulate something today, before it's gone.

The Replacements-20th Century Boy

The Kinks-The Village Green Preservation Society

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Touch, Part 1

I had an English professor in college who was mesmerizing. It wasn't that he was a great teacher; he was competent enough, probably moreso for all I knew at the time, but he certainly wasn't one of those handful of teachers I've had in my life (to be honest I can think of more high school teachers than professors) whose classes were events, who made you almost physically and certainly intellectually excited just coming to class everyday. And it wasn't as if his voice were anything immediately memorable: no great accent to ride while you jotted down notes, no rapid fire delivery that challenged you to keep pace, no booming quality that kept you awake and alert, no distinct verbal tics to listen for and keep a running tally of (my first year of teaching two students stayed after class once to show me their slashed-mark scoreboard of how many times I had uttered the erudite phrase "awright" in one forty-two minute session; I think the Guinness [book, not beer] people would be interested in the number)--no, if anything this particular professor had a very soothing, almost soporific speaking voice. And it wasn't even the fact that this professor had only one arm (the other was a prosthetic device with one of those clamping-hook devices); I had had and would have more teachers with some kind of physical "abnormailty" and believe me, after day after day sitting in class, you get used to any sort of "freakish" distraction to the point where it isn't a distraction any longer (although for some reason there was an air of incongruity about this guy and his arm: he was pretty young, mid-thirties would be my recollective guess, almost male-model good looking, and possessed that soothing voice talking about the Romantic poets: in my limited imagination and understanding at the time [maybe still now] a guy like that didn't seem to be the type to have one false arm, which I know sounds terribly stupid, but believe me, the total picture of this guy just didn't all add up neatly for some reason).

Nevertheless, all of this didn't serve to make him mesmerizing, and the more I think of it it's not so much the guy that was mesmerizing but just one thing that he did: light a cigarette. Sure he eventually smoked the cigarette, which in and of itself, while certainly a can-you-believe-it-now! teachers used to be able to smoke in class (I had others), was no big deal. It was the very act of him, maybe two or three times in the course of a ninety minute lecture, lighting a cigarette which mesmerized me and I'm sure most of the other twenty or so students sitting around the large table. For this guy with his hook arm, taking out his pack of cigarettes, removing one of them, putting it in his mouth, getting his lighter out, managing to flick it and then light the cigarette, and then put everything away again, all the while going through the natural gestures of one soothingly elucidating a point or two about Keats or Blake, the whole process was about a three to four minute production, performance even, and I'm pretty sure he was very aware of the hypnotic spell he cast on us all as he "went through the (very functional) motions." It was almost as if he knew he had a crucial point to make about some poem, and at just the right moment he'd begin the long process of getting that cigarette lit because he knew we'd wake up and take notice, be collectively centered on his hands (sic) while almost subliminally he would be able to get his point across in his soothing voice.

I can't quite call it a work of art, but watching that guy light those cigarettes a half a dozen times a week over the course of nine weeks in the winter of 1985 was an aesthetic experience that hasn't been rivalled for its particular grace and singular functionality in the twenty-five years since.

The point of all of this to follow in tomorrow's post. Right now I've got to run to a tailgate, football game, and then a movie.

Peter Gabriel-I Have The Touch

Friday, October 23, 2009

That Roy Guy

I admit, I can't stand the guy. He's a fickle con, the source of much consternation, embarrassment, and harassment in my life. Come to think of it, he might be the only Roy I've ever known in my life; ergo, I've never met a guy named Roy I liked. And just what the hell is Roy short for? Any saints named Roy? Didn't think so. If/when a Roy is ever canonized, I cast my vote for making him the patron saint of aggravation.

Mr. Biv, I'm talking about, as in Roy G. I'm color blind, okay, are you happy? It's genetic, I have no control over it, so don't blame me when I'm driving at night and the green lights look like regular street lights and the reds blend in too well with any other lights there might be (that's right, you don't want to ride shotgun with me at the wheel after sundown). Do you know what it's like to live your life praying that every light you come upon turns yellow when you approach it? I've always liked yellow. There isn't much fudging with yellow.

So yes, I'm quite biased against old Roy, or as I like to call him, based on how I see things, Virgboy. I'm still getting over the trauma I suffered in first grade art class at Catholic school when I inadvertently created a polka-dotted tissue-paper Easter Bunny. When I finally had enough of the inner torment, about five years ago, I went to see a therapist. Turns out it was an art therapist. Told me I was suffering from the blues, I said, "You mean the pinks?"

I've adapted, though, quite well, I think. When I go clothes shopping, I have no qualms about introducing myself to the clerk, saying, "Hello, my name is Dan, and I'm color blind." Once, though, I succumbed to potential peer pressure. I needed a spring jacket, and found a nice light gray one in a sporting goods store. Trouble was, there was a long line, and while waiting, I suddenly grew insecure, thinking maybe the jacket was pink, after all. Normally I would have had no problem asking the register person what color the jacket was, but this particular time I thought if it does turn out to be pink, then I'll have to say no thanks, put the jacket down and leave the store, wasting all that precious time I had spent in line and leaving the rest of the customers to laugh hardily. So I didn't say a thing, bought the jacket, and stashed it in my car until later that day when I was out with a friend. "What color is this jacket?" I asked. "Kind of a light gray." "Bingo," I said happily, and donned the jacket.

It's that "kind of" that gets me. I don't mean to sound sexist, but women seem to get the most kick out hearing about my color blindness, and, ironically, these self-expressed mistresses of all-things-color never seem to have a clear-cut opinion on colors. It's always, "kind of" some color, like charcoal, or rust, or teal--colors that even my nemesis Roy G. doesn't seem to account for, unless that G. stands for something like gingivitis or something. Yes, women and colors; wherever two or more are gathered, there's a snit about color just waiting to happen. It always goes something like this at a party or something: "Nice shirt, Dan." "Thanks. Got it for Christmas. By the way, what color is it, just wondering." "Kind of charcoal." "No it isn't! It's kind of rust." "Bullshit! It's kind of teal, if nothing." And I'm the one who's laughed at, all because I thought it was something definite like green.

All of this is simply to say that today might be the most colorful day of the year. It's one of the few days when I can almost say I can almost see what Van Gogh must have seen. Trees with leaves all sorts of electric colors, offset against wet black trunks. Those leaves hanging on for dear life (for all of us, I think; they know once they fall, winter's here and we're all glum) in the rough and steady wind. Still a lot of leaves on the trees, but a helluva lot more on the ground than there were yesterday. Could wake up tomorrow morning to bare trees and a five-month Cleveland funk. Today's one of the few days I feel like I live in a world colored with all kinds of kind of colors, rather than my usual, "the world is dark or light, that's all you're getting out of me, folks."

I once was forced to give a classful of rantipoles five bonus points after I bet them I could answer one trivia question correctly. They asked me what color the blackboard was. "Black, of course." A tsunami of pubescent guffaws. "No! It's green!" Obviously, this was when I taught boys. Girls would have still been fighting among themselves about all the kind of colors other than black the thing was. But green blackboards? Who knew?

Enjoy my kind of color blindness test (below, not that Biv-approved monstrosity above) and two favorite songs with "color" in the title, though not in any literal way I can make out. Figurative colors, my favorite kinds.

The Replacements-Color Me Impressed

Cat Power-Colors And The Kids

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Yes, that is yours truly, diligently working on another charming post for you all. Unfortunately, tonight I've been waiting on inspiration, post-haste. I even tried typing one of my favorite obscure words into Google Images, trying to find some sort of spark, and all I found was somebody who mentioned the word in his post three weeks ago. It's tough out there, folks.

I've actually never met a post I didn't like (except for Emily--no, not you, Emily; Emily Post, get it?). I like post patterns in football, post time at the Kentucky Derby, post-prandial ambles, post offices, the Allman Brothers' "Whippin' Post," an assortment of Post cereals, LeBron James when he posts up an opponent, and especially post-game press conferences with Charlie Manuel.

All this to say this is hard work, and tonight the work ain't working. Listen to Dan Reeder's "Work Song," the ultimate work song for workers who don't feel like working. Never mind the repeated use of the big obscenity--it's intrinsic to the whole song. Tomorrow will be a better day, because it isn't today. Cheers.

Dan Reeder-Work Song

Dion=Work Song

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ichabod's iPod

For a while I've had the idea for a recurring series called "Ichabod's iPod," which would examine the top songs in rotation on a famous literary character's iPod. Nice idea, don't you think? The only problem was, I had never actually read Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," from whence we get the famed Ichabod Crane (heresy, I know, coming from a former American Lit. teacher). Well, a few nights ago I finally read the story, so now I'm ready to commence Ichabod's iPod, part 1.

If it's been a long time (or, like me, since never) since you've read the short story about the awkward, but lively schoolmaster Ichabod, his infatuation with one Katrina Van Tassel, his rivalry with the strapping Brom Bones for the affections of Katrina, and the looming specter of the legend of the Headless Horseman, I recommend you take an hour and read the story, especially in the Halloween season. It's funny and even scary, and the writing is great. Beyond Irving's penchant for great names (Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones), I loved his use of words completely new to me, words that should be in everyone's vocabulary, including varlet (a knavish person; rascal), rantipole (a wild, romping young person), and ferule (a rod, cane, or flat piece of wood for punishing children, esp. by striking them on the hand [ah, the teacher in me thinks of all those gum-chewers I taught and what use I could have made of a good ferule]). He also uses, a couple of times, the word con as a verb, meaning "to learn; study; peruse or examine carefully"--a meaning of the word I never knew. Thanks for the edification, Mr. Irving. He also uses the familiar expressions "through thick and thin" and "bend but not break," which got me thinking about where those phrases came from. Well, extensive web-searching informed me that "through thick and thin" is a very old English phrase, but I couldn't find anything on "bend but not break" except a load of references to modern day football teams whose defenses' do a lot of bending but not breaking. Could Irving have been the one to coin the phrase? I don't know, but the thought intrigues me.

Anyway, poor Ichabod's iPod, the most played songs:

I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry-Hank Williams: Ichabod is a rather lonely man, and he spends a good deal of his life walking at night through woods, which only feeds his active, supernatural-leaning imagination: " he wended his way, by swamp and stream and awful woodland, to the farmhouse where he happened to be quartered, every sound of nature, at that witching hour, fluttered his excited imagination: the moan of the whippoorwill..."

Mystic Eyes-Them: Van Morrison's great, paranoid, noisy, frenetic stomper to further spook Ichabod on his nightly rambles.

My Mind's Eye-The Small Faces: Just read this sumptuous paragraph about Ichabod's imagination and his prodigious love of food: "The pedagogue's mouth watered as he looked upon this sumptuous promise of luxurious winter fare. In his devouring mind's eye, he pictured to himself every roasting-pig running
about with a pudding in his belly, and an apple in his mouth; the pigeons were snugly put to bed in a comfortable pie, and tucked in with a coverlet of crust; the geese were swimming in their own gravy; and the ducks pairing cosily in dishes, like snug married couples, with a decent competency of onion sauce. In the porkers he saw carved out the future sleek side of bacon, and juicy relishing ham; not a turkey but he beheld daintily trussed up, with its gizzard under its wing, and, peradventure, a necklace of savory sausages; and even bright chanticleer himself lay sprawling on his back, in a side dish, with uplifted claws, as if craving that quarter which his chivalrous spirit disdained to ask while living." Good God, a "decent competency of onion sauce"--brilliance. To think what Ichabod would have made of bacon, covered in chocolate!, is mind-boggling.

Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)-The Temptations: Not only for the terrors and the culinary feasts he conjures, but for the life of the lord of the country manor he envisions once he can successfully woo Katrina.

Hold Your Head Up-Argent: Obviously.

St. Vitus Dance-Bauhaus: Louis Jordan's tune of the same name is on the iPod as well, but this protypical Goth rocker is more perfect for the man who loved to dance, awkwardness be damned. "Ichabod prided himself upon his dancing as much as upon his vocal powers. Not a limb, not a fibre about him was idle; and to have seen his loosely hung frame in full motion, and clattering about the room, you would have thought St. Vitus himself, that blessed patron of the dance, was figuring before you in person."

Trampled Under Foot-Led Zeppelin: There it is, 150 some odd years before Jimmy Page and company wrote the song: "But all these were nothing to the tales of ghosts and apparitions that succeeded. The neighborhood is rich in legendary treasures of the kind. Local tales and superstitions thrive best in these sheltered, long-settled retreats; but are trampled under foot by the shifting throng that forms the population of most of our country places."

Who Are You-The Who: What better song to course through Ichabod's head while he's riding through the woods, pursued by that figure on the steed?

Where Is My Mind?-The Pixies: Followed by this one.

No More Hot Dogs-Hasil Adkins: Not just because it's the best song about decapitation. Not just because it mocks somebody, like Ichabod, who loves to eat, but that laugh! Is that not Brom Bones himself chuckling away?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Poetic Diplomacy

I don't think it made the nightly news shows, but about a year ago I invented a new form of poetry, limericku. A merging of two great poetic traditions, the limerick and haiku, limericku is my small contribution to bringing harmony to the world, an attempt to bring together two great cultures in a literate, whimsical, and best of all, very short, manner. Nominations for either the Nobel prize in literature or peace are not necessary, but would be appreciated. Take a minute, memorize one of the following limericku, and then you'll be ready; the mark of a cultural sophisticate, naturally, is the ability not just to quote poetry from memory, but to be able to recite an entire poem. Limericku are very easy on the memory muscles.


Man from Nantucket
Perverse whaler descendant
Craves Red Sox ducat.

Drunk named McMoto
World’s first Japanese-Celt sot
Can’t snap clear photo

Gal from Tokyo
No rogue she, loved my brogue, see
Kismet, don't you know

The Pogues-Sayonara

Cibo Matto-Know Your Chicken

Monday, October 19, 2009

Something New Everyday

As a now de facto member of the mass media, I feel it is my responsibilty to keep abreast of the latest developments in commerce that might provide comfort (bacon, covered in chocolate!) and aid (this here Kush) to my readers.

Who knew? Certainly not I. I guess when Tammy Wynette sings, "Sometimes it's hard to be a woman," I know only a tenth of the story (okay, maybe a millionth). All along I thought shaving my face a couple times a week and remembering to turn my socks inside out for wearing the second consecutive day were just about the limits of one's capacity for personal upkeep. Call me a boob. I wonder if former college football coach Frank Kush gets any royalties.

The 5th Dimension-Last Night I Didn't Get To Sleep At All

Jim Kweskin & The Jug Band (Maria Muldaur on vocals)-I'm A Woman

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Let me make this perfectly clear at the outset: I in no way mean to make light of the physical (act? happenstance? occurrence?) experience of choking. We've all experienced it ourselves and been among those who have, and it's pretty scary.

That said, I hope the Pittsburgh Steelers choke this afternoon. They're hosting my battered but still half-beloved Cleveland Browns today, and on paper it should be no contest. The Steelers, while they've stumbled a bit already this year, are the Super Bowl Champions (some phrases are just so difficult to type) and they rarely lose to the Browns, anywhere, anytime of year, any type of weather, but especially in Pittsburgh. And the Browns, well, they're lousy. In metaphorical terms, it is quite impossible for them to choke these days, because they've been fasting (though to watch their defense, the term might be slowing) for years and years. But what are Sunday mornings for other than hope? A Steelers choke (really, the only hope, because there is no reasonable way for the Browns to actually beat them) would be a great gift indeed.

I say this all as prelude to my real subject, my years-long problem with "the universal sign for choking." Is it really necessary? I mean we all need to know the signs of depression, diabetes, imminent stroke, the H1 N1 virus because those signs can go undetected, right? But has anyone ever not known they were choking? Has anyone ever tried to mask or hide the signs of choking, out of shame, guilt, embarrassment, what have you? I mean has any variation on this sentence ever been uttered in any language in the whole of human history: "By God, I think Phil is choking over there, but repressively cagey bastard that he is, he won't let on"? Nada. Choking is choking, it is what it is (more on that pathetic, erroneous phrase at a later date).

I admit it's a fine line. I DO believe we need words for a group of peacocks or proctologists, but we do not need signs for certain obvious physical conundra. Is there a universal sign for having just stubbed one's toe? No. You just shout some cuss words and hop around for a minute or two. Nobody can mistake those actions for something like, "Gee, I think Phil's trying to tell us he's choking, or maybe that his 401K just tanked." A universal sign for whacking your crazy bone? No. A universal sign that you're going to vomit? No. A universal sign that you're craving bacon, covered in chocolate!? No. We're humans, we get it.

So why a universal sign for choking? Are there medical procedure fascists out there who will refuse to respond unless they see the correct universal sign? "I'm sorry, but unless you give me the correct sign, which we all should have learned by now, for ethical, legal, and very personal reasons, I ain't doing a thing to help you in your obvious distress. Rules are rules, universal signs are universal signs." The whole "universal" thing really gets me. So if I'm on Mars and start choking on dried Tang the Martians are going to recognize the problem stat when I criss-cross my arms and grip my throat with both hands? Do we really know if on Mars this is not the "universal" sign for "I've got a nice bottle of Merlot, why don't you put on that turtleneck I love so much and meet me at the Motel 6 on the other side of that rock formation, say eightish"? Even here on Earth, I have my doubts about the whole "universal" thing. Was there ever a vote? Are the Zulus, the Trinidadians, and the Scranton-Wilkes Barreans on board? Who came up with the sign and were there other signs (I want to see those) that lost out ? Was there some huge UN or Vatican II-like convocation and committee-forming that took place when we all weren't looking? I'm pretty sure that the universal sign was adopted during the Cold War years; certainly there must have been some wrangled, high-stakes diplomacy that went on to bring about a universal sign for anything. Was the sign that we now blindly accept as the universal one really a Western idea, one that cost us untold missiles and political prisoners and the rescinding of all sorts of punitive sanctions just to get an okay from the Russians and Chinese? Or did those commies "choke" at the negotiating table and allow the sign to become universal for nothing more than some vodka from the well and a dozen ping pong balls bought at Target? Where is the documentation? I demand full-disclosure.

Regardless of whether or not the universal sign for choking is really necessary and regardless of the means by which it was adopted, the sign, as is, is horribly discriminatory. What about people who have lost, or lost the use of, one or both of their arms? Sorry folks, unless you can make the sign, I guess you're not choking.

Doomsayers like to say things like, "You didn't think they could make money off of selling bottled water, right? You wait, before you know it they'll be selling us the air to breathe." Well, how about all the money being made from the mandatory signs in restaurants and the like, informing people what the universal sign for choking is? Somebody's making a mint out of all this absurdity. Where's the hue and cry from Glenn Beck on that one?

Anyway, I'm starting to hyperventilate, and must desist so I can go to Wikipedia and find out what the universal sign for that is. Speaking of which, check out the Wiki entry on Dr. Heimlich (you don't think I don't do my research first, before ascending my soapbox?). Some incredible info, including a son who's a former Cincinnati politician turned Consevative Christian radio talk-show host, another son who has a website documenting his father's alleged "wide-ranging, unseen 50-year history of fraud," info about the doctor's past, including his stint as a drum major for the Cornell Big Red Marching Band and his marriage to the daughter of dancing guru Arthur Murray, plus the dope on Heimlich's controversial theory that AIDS can be treated with Malaria. Also, the powers that be, in their literature about choking, no longer refer to "the Heimlich maneuver," using instead the too-clinical for my tastes term "abdominal thrusts," let alone listing other supposedly effective ways to eject the presence of a "FBAO (foreign body airway obstruction)." If only I could make this stuff up.

Go Browns (if the Steelers do start choking, and they make the universal sign to communicate the fact that they are choking, never fear--in trying to execute the Heimlich maneuver, undoubtedly the Browns will be flagged for illegal procedure and forced to punt, by which time the Steelers should be out cold)!

Joe Simon-The Chokin' Kind

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Singular Collection Of Plurals

Have you ever noticed that outside of square dancing and county fair eating (see a great video here), animals seem to have a lot more fun than humans? They get to fly, stink up the joint in an instant, spout, and lick themselves, when we, the alleged superior species, are left to spiral in doubt, become addicted to American Idol, and wait in line at the BMV. Sure we get to kill and eat them, but isn't that mere justice for the fear they strike in us? See what one bee does to an itch of picnic goers or what an itty bitty chipmunk does to a prim of classy ladies and I think you'll feel justified in roasting your next pig.

What really irks me, admittedly one of the weird dicts of wordlovers, about the whole animal/human inequality thing is that just about every single minuscule segment of the animal kingdom gets its own word for its plural (check out a great list here, my favorite being "an ostentation of peacocks" [see video below]), when we, diverse, every-fingerprint-is-unique, I'm-this-and-certainly-not-one-of-them, humans get nothing more than a few generic terms like "crowd" or "gang" or "bunch" (bunch being a word I once used in high school to describe a group of people [for lack of a more specific word, my point precisely] and my priest/teacher wrote in the margins, after circling the offensive "bunch": "save this word for bananas").

So, years ago, probably in search of a good diversion from grading papers or shaving, I started to compile, or really invent, a list of proper plurals for distinct groups of people. Well, to make a long, embarrassing and not too interesting story short, I nearly broke my two pinky fingers yesterday re-discovering this list while looking for something else (thankfully I use the phrase "nearly broke" but part of me is kind of nostalgic for the conversations I might have had trying to explain the sight of me with two pinky splints [if it's possible to feel nostalgic for something in the future which will not occur; now that feeling needs a word, kind of a negative image of saudade, maybe saudidnt]).

I confess that some of the entries on the list that follows mystify me, though I'm sure they made sense to me and made me chuckle when I wrote them years ago, and maybe you'll get them and chuckle now. I do have to give propers to one Ned Gulley through whose blog I discovered the animal plural list linked above. Now Ned (maybe being a math/science guy apparently) doesn't share my enthusiasm for the menagerie of animal plurals, but in criticizing the dicts who came up with all those great plurals, can't help but fall into the trap, calling them a "smarm of smarty-pants" (that's the spirit, Ned!).

Anyway, enjoy the list and feel free to use the terms as the need arises, no fees required.

  • a brace of whiplash patients
  • a whine of toddlers
  • a giggle of girls
  • a fidget of boys
  • a slouch of teenagers
  • a screech of cabbies
  • an ooze of politicians
  • a reek of hobos
  • a whistle of debutantes
  • a wad of billionaires
  • an excuse of golfers
  • a shush of librarians
  • a spoil of professional athletes
  • a stew of chefs
  • a crack of plumbers
  • a rump of proctologists
  • a lash of masochists
  • a glaze of cops
  • an avalanche of skiers
  • a rinse of dentists
  • a slug of journalists
  • a sob of undertakers
  • a fall of acrobats
  • a craving of vegans
  • a ruse of plastic surgeons
  • a dent of used car dealers
  • a hyperbole of TV weathermen
  • a ruin of creditors
  • a gathering of loners
  • a shovel of elephant-keepers
  • a lot of nuns
  • a nausea of IRS agents
  • a vomit of rock stars
  • a drunk of poets
  • a Shatner of actors
  • a rash of strippers
  • a couch of husbands
  • a slice of supermodels
  • a squint of umpires
  • a complaint of retail customers
  • a goose of pranksters
  • a knock of Jehovah's Witnesses
  • a metonymy of plural namers
  • a bliss of bacon, covered in chocolate! lovers

Friday, October 16, 2009

Hair Today

Some Danish gloomy Gus named Hamlet once deigned to lament: "How all occasions do inform against me." Well, I've never seen a ghost, so I guess I'm a wee bit more optimistic than Ham, but for the last hour, I swear, it does seem like all occasions are informing for me. You see, it's Friday, the end of my seventh week of blogging every day, and I thought I was a little tapped out for ideas. So I scanned the paper, looking for inspiration, and certainly the whole balloon boy shenanigans is potential grist for the mill, but somehow I felt I'd reached my limit on hot air for one week. So finally I turned to the horoscopes, and lo and behold, the advice proffered me for tonight was this: "Let your hair down." Now I've still got hair left, but there isn't enough to let down, so that anyone would notice, and besides, I was kind of thinking of actually getting my hair up for tonight. I was going to dig out the old pomade, shape a nice, middle-aged balding guy spiky pseudo Mohawk and go stand on a corner somewhere munching bacon, covered in chocolate! and mocking passersby with what I had and they had not, namely a Mohawk and bacon, covered in chocolate!.

So I started thinking, Hair, yeah, that's today's subject. I thought of a long ("hairy" as the mighty, late great Joe Gaul would have said, meaning something like awesome, humongous, gnarly) poem about hair, inspired by Dr. Seuss no doubt, I had written a couple years ago, posting which might enable me to figure out the "Jump" function on this blogger thing. Sounded like a plan.

So I get on the computer, check my e-mail first, looking for all the notes from people telling me to expect a rushed-package delivery of Malley's bacon, covered in chocolate!. Well, those missives must have gotten lost in the mail because the only e-mail I had newly received was in my Junk file, and the subject, I swear to Samson, was this: "Get Your Hair Back in Just Weeks‏." Right about then the hair on my neck that hasn't gone anywhere, started to rise. Spooky, no? Next stop YouTube, where I naturally go looking for a pertinent clip (!) from that dreadful movie version of Hair. I'm watching some scene with a young Treat Williams (what happened to him? can he get his career back in just weeks?) struggling in the Army when the drill sergeant starts calling out names, and what do I hear, or at least think I hear (it could be Brook, but I don't think so)? The badass sarge call out the name "Rourke!"
Now I'm freaked out, ready to shave my head, give away the bacon, covered in chocolate!, and go recite Hamlet soliloquies until I either win a lifetime achievement award from the Obies, or mad crowds of people rip all the hairs off my neck. So, as usual, when in doubt, I turned to Elvis, or, more precisely, Elvii.

So watch the Hair clip and listen for what sounds like "Rourke!" Watch Elvis get his Army induction haircut. Listen to the other Elvis croon about "the girl who used to have it and the girl who still has." And if you feel like reading my hairy hair poem, click the read more button after the videos, or if the jump thing doesn't work, just read the poem there, I guess.

As for me, I'm buttoning up my hair and staying off the Internet tonight.

Oh gross, there's a hair in my bacon, covered in chocolate!

Elvis Costello-Baby's Got A Brand New Hairdo

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Paradise Found

Well, forget sliced bread. There's a new greatest-thing-ever kid on the block, and methinks this one's got staying power. Maybe you folks on the coasts have been blessed for years, but this is the first I have ever heard of this nugget of nirvana, and I would just love for this to be its world-wide debut. Cleveland could use a little recognition, and this item has Cleveland written all over it.

What the hell am I talking about, you scream? It's simply the simplest. It's culinary Lennon & McCartney; a gourmand's Burns & Allen; a munchie fiend's Watson & Crick; a gustatory Trinidad & Tobago. It's bacon, covered in chocolate!.

Hey, you, come back down to Earth; spark up the defibrillator; you haven't died, but this is heaven. The ultimate pairing of the two greatest food groups, nay, the two greatest foods. Bacon, covered in chocolate!. Elton John once sang that the New York Times said God was dead. Well, if that's so, He/She/It is back and wearing a confectioner's toque. I think this might spell the death of sex, amusement parks, cable TV, booze, and Lotto. I mean, really, once one has bacon, covered in chocolate!, what does one need/want/crave?

Keep thinking, because now that there's bacon, covered in chocolate!, I've got all the time in the world.

The last thing I ever want to be (besides, suddenly, a man without access to bacon, covered in chocolate!) is a shill, but I must tip my spat out gum to Cleveland's greatest institution, Malley's Chocolates. This morning I turned on the radio and heard an ad for Malley's, pushing their usual (and very scrumptious) chocolate-covered grapes and strawberries, among other goodies, all in time for Sweetest Day this Saturday. Now at first I was disappointed not to hear the voice of the Malley's Matriarch, Adele, on the radio. The way she pronounces "chocolate-covered strawberries" makes you want to shed everything you are or will ever be, down to your mouth, tongue, and stomach, and burn effigies of Hershey's bars and the like, just so you can indulge yourself in chocolate-covered strawberries.

But then, just as I was missing Adele's tenderly excitable tones, came the announcement: Malley's now has bacon, covered in chocolate! Five hours later, when I could again breathe somewhat normally and had shed every tear of joy I'll ever muster for the rest of my life, I realized that if Adele had made the announcement of Malley's new bacon, covered in chocolate!, well, the excitement in her voice and the excitement that that voice would have ignited in the listeners, would have blown out any sense of sanity left in Cleveland. For public health reasons, I'm thankful Adele stayed away from the microphone; for personal mental health reasons, I'm thankful Adele and her minions have now taken bacon, and covered it in chocolate!.

Go to Malley's website, it's drool-worthy enough, but I just checked and there are no pictures of bacon, covered in chocolate! Again, for our safety, I'm sure. Just reading the phrase bacon, covered in chocolate! must have you all in a lather (writing it is just as bad); imagine seeing a picture of bacon, covered in chocolate! and not being able to sample it immediately? Torture.

I'm at a loss of thought. Jet packs, the ability to Tivo my dreams, a Cleveland championship of some kind--those seemingly untouchable wished-for lifetime dreams now seem so passe. We've got bacon, covered with chocolate!. What more could one ask for?

Um, Adele, how about sausage links, covered in chocolate!?

Joan Armatrading-Heaven

Pere Ubu-Heaven

Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians-Heaven

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

See Emily Dismay

All right, who died and made Emily Dickinson warden of my conscience? At first I thought maybe it was the Dylan folks getting me back for yesterday's gaffe of mistaking the title of Bob's new Christmas album Christmas In The Heart. I had written it was Christmas From The Heart (to be honest, I'd rather have my seasonal carols from the heart, rather than in the heart, beloved Bob's or anybody's).

But no, I detect something more cosmic than a rock star's aide-de-camps has its hand in confounding me like I've been confounded ever since I read the following quote from Ms. Dickinson nearly twenty-four hours ago: "To be worthy of what we lose is the supreme Aim--" (yes, even in her letters, one to T. W. Higginson, summer 1882, from which this atomic bomb comes from, Emily had to get her precious dashes in). What does she mean? Should I supremely aim to be worthy of my thick thatch of glowing red hair that I started losing twenty-five years ago (though at least I'm still losing it, or what thin, unglowing wisps do remain)? Worthy of that tooth? That phone number? That bet I had on Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes?

Okay, piddly stuff. Certainly Emily (who obviously knew a thing or two about saudade even if she didn't know the word), who because she did not stop for death, it kindly stopped for her, and who didn't mean a snake when she wrote about the narrow fellow in the grass, had more important ideas on her mind when writing of "what we lose." But what, loved ones, long-gone opportunities, the physical or emotional courage that we might lose over the years? What? Am I supposed to live my life supremely aiming to be worthy of these lost things? What would that be like, to devote your life so intently on proving yourself worthy of such a lost thing or person?

Of course, with Emily and that "supreme," one does think along religious lines. And maybe that "we" is not so individual but collective: Are we to live so as to be worthy of what "we" lost in the Garden of Eden, that intimate, unconditional, and undemanding love of God?

Now there's a blog project worth something grand, if not a book deal and a major motion picture starring Meryl Streep: publicly inventory your life's losses, and publicly chronicle your attempt to "be worthy" of those losses. Well, publicly, I'll stick to made-up words and UFOs abducting cows, but privately, this one might be hard to shake. Pound for pound, in the psychic quandary category, I'll put my money on the demure Belle of Amherst up against anybody this side of Immanuel Kant (and as far as that side of Immanuel Kant goes, well, as the lavatory attendant in Hell says, "don't go there").

The Roches-Losing True

Percy Mayfield-Lost Love

And because Youtube won't let me "embed" this clip, you have to go directly (t)here to see Elvis singing "The Yellow Rose of Texas."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Back

I know what you're thinking. It's Tuesday, October 13, the stores have been opened for an hour or two, surely Mr. Spitoutyourgum has already purchased the new Bob Dylan Christmas album (yes, you heard me right, Bob Dylan has a Christmas album--Christmas From The Heart) that comes out today, listened to it once or twice, and will now give his (undoubtedly) five-star review. Well, no. I have heard some snippets, and I know I'll like it, though I foresee three, maybe three-and-half stars (it's a Christmas album after all).

It's just that I'm not ready to bow to Christmas just yet. You see, in my line of work at the bookstore, it's been coming on Christmas for about two months now. No joke: calendars, kids xmas books, sideline junk people only buy at the holidays, and massive shipments of product for the "holiday build-up" have been pouring in for weeks. Coupled with the chilly temps here lately, it feels to me like Christmas should be next week, and because it isn't, I don't want to think about it. Soon enough I'll be hearing holiday music round the clock at work, so as much as I love Bob, I know his soothing voice will still be there for me when I'm in the mood (probably next pay day; a full review will be forthcoming next week).

In the meantime, while the thought of holiday shoppers is making me cringe, I thought I'd pass along a little nugget of holiday shopping advice to all of you, whether you'll be doing your shopping today or sometime over the next 72 days. The advice concerns that mirage called "the back," the place every customer assumes is filled with everything they want, as opposed to the junk on the sales floor. I don't want to preach, so I'll attempt to show and not tell, hoping you get my drift. The following little passage is from Fine Spines and Dead Dollys, a knee-slapping murder mystery spoof I have written (alas, the novel is unpublished; agents and people with connections to the publishing world take note, and contact me). To "set up" the clip, all you need to know is that the narrator, Guff, has recently switched allegiances, leaving his longtime job at a small, independent bookstore, Fine Spines, and gone over to the dark side, taking a job at the national chain mega-store, Tomes. Roll tape (and take notes, consumers).

“How can I help you?” She was about sixty, and the only pertinent description of her is that she looked very insistent.

“I noticed you had only one copy of this on the shelf.” She held out a large paperback, How To Wash Your Face. “But this one is a little ruffled. Could you check in the back to see if you have a better copy?”

"I'm on it.” What the hell, I thought, I could use some exercise.

The Myth of the Back. Every Goddamned Customer thinks the Back is some mega-Xanadu of goods, merchandise, product; as excessively American as Gatsby’s shirts, Babe Ruth’s hotdogs, Oprah’s Midas smile; a mass-consumer Shangri-La with regional offices in Kalamazoo, Colorado Springs, Flagstaff, and Little Rock, with corporate HQ in Trenton; an omnipresent shrine to our crass hopes and national motto—More For Me. Well folks, there is no Back. It’s filled not with merch for you and you only, but with packaging popcorn, unrepentant smokers, pop-up books some little fiend has destroyed, honor-system snack packs stocked with peanut butter cheese crackers and obscure candy bars. It’s the place where the music department geek is hitting on some underaged overworked espresso girl who’s just trying to take a break, and three clerks are playing chicken with box cutters for five minutes before emerging with a shrug, “Sorry sir, I didn’t find a copy for you.” I didn’t know any clerks well enough to engage in swordplay, so I took the opportunity to send out a page for customer service to the men’s room and clock in everybody who was out.

"Sorry, ma'am, no extra copies."

The Replacements-Customer

Amy Rigby-Knapsack

Monday, October 12, 2009

Conundrum: Sliced Bread, as in The Greatest Thing Since

I do not possess a television, so while I was spared the visual ugliness of yesterday's Cleveland Browns' very ugly "winning ugly" first (sole?) victory of the year, I had to endure about a baker's dozen repetitions of a radio ad for Smuckers Uncrustables (which truly are very good but not THAT good) in which the homespun announcer claims that said PB&J concoction (and let's face it, if we've come to the point where we have to have somebody else make and then freeze our PB&J sandwiches for us, Nero's Rome ain't got nothing on us except maybe better taste in togas) is (Smucker's Uncrsutables, that is) the proverbially greatest thing since sliced bread. The time is nigh to (in the words of my AP English teacher) "unpack" that proverbial phrase a bit.

First, though bread, and its many synonyms and off-shoots (AKA manna), does appear with some frequency in the Bible, I do not recall the phrase "sliced bread" appearing in the Book of Proverbs, so to label the phrase "proverbial" is an error on my part. My apologies.

B) It goes without saying that just as there have been many "things" that have come along since the advent of sliced bread (more on which later) and have made the (not completely unwarranted claim, for many of them) claim that they are indeed the greatest thing since sliced bread, there are certainly many "things" that have come along since the advent of sliced bread (ibid.) that could very arguably have been validated truly as the "greatest thing" since sliced bread, even if they, or no one else, have not made the claim (and assuming there is actually an entity--czar or otherwise--that has the power to validate such things). I offer any remote control devices, chocolate-dipped potato chips, and the Slinky as a mere off-the-top-of-my-head list of viable greatest things since (yes, I do have a bias, not being one who--despite my love of toast and homemade PB&Js--thinks all that much of the achievement of sliced bread, but in admitting that bias and working hard to overcome it, I strive to be as objective here as possible; I mean, come on, sliced bread folks; we can't do better than that?). The point though, I think, is that until something comes along that truly wows us all, including the guardians of acceptable proverbial (speaking extra-biblically here) phrases, to the point that we as a collective people start using a different "thing" of comparison, sliced bread is the de facto greatest thing.

Enough semantics. I give you Otto Frederick Rohwedder of humble Davenport, Iowa. He's the one to simultaneously praise/scourge. Rohwedder, perhaps in a lifelong attempt to overcome his unfortunate name, was the man responsible for inventing the automatic bread slicer (any Davenportians out there? Can you please confirm the existence of a Rhowedder Avenue in your parts? There must be some recognition of this pioneer in his hometown. Do people around Iowa say things like, "Oh, the Davenport Rohwedders" [while making slicing motions with their hands] with a mixture of awe and envy in their voices?). The thing that intrigues me, though, is that according to the folks who know all things webbish, Rohwedder's prototype bread slicer was destroyed in a fire in 1912! Not being an engineer, and granting that if it took until the 20th century to invent a bread-slicing machine there must be a lot more to slicing bread automatically than meets my eye, I still find it hard to believe that it took Mr. Rohwedder sixteen years to get over the smoldering ruins of his prototype enough to come up with another one (unless there was some unsliced bread mafia operating in Davenport putting the, um, heat on him).

Though despite his sluggishness, maybe Rohwedder isn't fully to blame for the proverbial phrase "the greatest thing since slice bread." It turns out that after successfully debuting his slicer on 7/7/28 (an auspicious date, don't you think, numerologists?), the slicer was marketed as the very apt and very modest "greatest thing to happen to the baking industry since bread was wrapped." Fair enough, and who doesn't appreciate wrapped bread? Lo and behold, it was Wonder Bread, in the Depression-starved (in more ways than one, certainly the use of hyperbole) 1930s who launched an ad campaign with the "greatest thing since sliced bread" line (my work for the CIA prohibits me from saying anything more about Wonder Bread than relating this story: twenty years ago I visited an abbey, where the monks bake--and slice--amazing bread; alas, the wheat they grow at the abbey is not good enough for their own bread; they sell the wheat to Wonder Bread; the monk who told me this said, as dryly as any monk could, "Wonder Bread, it's a wonder people eat it").

So there you have it, a slice of bread history. But all this prelude, because, frankly, as long as it's not moldy and of the ultra-thin, diet, wheat variety, I don't think much about bread. It's that damned phrase, the greatest thing since sliced bread, that irks me. What I really wanted to discover was what were the previous "greatest things since x" before sliced bread usurped the throne? In my research, I discovered a host of surprises, a few non-surprises, and inevitably a schism along religious lines (can't we just all get along?). Herewith, then, the history of the greatest things since (pre-sliced bread era), divided into Evolutionist and Creationist lists.


Big Bang > amoeba: "That's the greatest thing since that loud explosion."

Amoeba > Lucy (humankind's progenitor, not Van Pelt or Ricardo): "That's the greatest thing since raw meat (figuratively speaking for at least a few eons)."

Lucy > the discovery of fire: "That's the greatest thing since we discovered our thumbs are opposable."

The discovery of fire > two weeks after the beginning of theatrical performance: "That's the greatest thing since medium rare red meat."

Two weeks after the beginning of theatrical performance > three weeks after the beginning of theatrical performance: "That's the greatest thing since realizing you can throw tomatos at bad thespians."

Three weeks after the beginning of theatrical performance > The Dark Ages: "That's the greatest thing since catsup/ketchup."

The Dark Ages > The Age of Enlightenment: "That's the greatest thing I've been able to see in Ages."

The Age of Enlightenment > 1864: "That's the greatest thing since French bread (unsliced though it may be)."

1864 > that Wonder Bread ad circa 1930s: "That's the greatest thing since sideburns."

** It must be said that there's a small but powerful sect in Maine who've never bought the sliced bread thing. Outside of the sixteen months commencing on May 10, 1975, and ending in September 1976, when these Mainesters (Maineians? Mainers? Those Who Hail From Maine? Them?) used the phrase, "That's the greatest thing since the SONY Beta max," they have stuck proudly to the phrase "Greatest thing since the lobster bib, yeah," since God knows when.

***Also, universally since recorded time, ninth grade students at all-boys schools, because the phrase "that's the greatest thing since breasts" is to them a non sequitur, as in, nothing can compare to the idea or sight of breasts, they linguistically find it impossible to utter the phrase "that's the greatest thing since" so they are left to say, upon encountering anything like a loud car, a plate of french fries, an unattended keg, or a Van Halen guitar solo, merely, "Sweet!"


"Let There Be Light" > "Get Out of Eden, You Two": not applicable, since everything was the greatest.

"Get Out of Eden, You Two" > the invention of the loom: "That's the greatest thing since unashamed nudity."

The invention of the loom > that Wonder Bread ad, circa 1930s: "That's the greatest thing since underwear."

Intelligent Design

Since the term "intelligent design" has only been in use since 1987, there is no pre-sliced bread history to excavate, and though many intelligent designers (including Versace and Hilfiger) are heard to use the phrase, "that's the greatest thing since intelligent design," the jury's still out on that one.

Now if only my golf slice were as easy to analyze.

The Newbeats-Bread and Butter

Bob Dylan & The Band-Yea! Heavy And A Bottle Of Bread

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Until The Cows Come Home

More Lattice of Coincidence stuff. For a few days, God knows why, I've been puttering around with the idea of doing something writerly with the phrase "until the cows come home." Then, plate of shrimp-like, as I was getting my daily fill of the only news that matters here, I stumbled upon this story/picture, of a cow seemingly being abducted by a UFO in Argentina. Voila, prosaic license activated, validated, and eventually mutilated by the following (disclaimer: several regional dilaects were undoubtedly harmed in the process of the writing of this nonsense; snickers and grins come with a price, gang).

`Til The Cow Come Home

Rayleen shouted, “Boy, get them cows out afore I whup ya's to June.”

This being only October, I put down my whittler and hooked up my britches and awoke Curdle and Fine Tune. They ain't really my cousins `cept they act like it. Curdle ain't his given name, that's Plymouth, but everybuddy call him Curdle on account of he likes his milk old and warm. Fine Tune is Fine Tune.

“Boy yor sister sure can screech,” Fine Tune said as we ambled to the barn.

“She ain't my sister either.”

“Then what is she?”

“She Rayleen is all.”

We got four cows left. Jesse G., Dander, DeLorean and Jack. That one's mine, Jack. County Fair in `12 better watch on out for us two.

They was all kind of slow to muster like Aunt Conestoga is after supper but my whistlin' won out and soon we was gettin' them up the hill into the sun.

“Why can't we never run `em up there? Have some fun?” Just `cause Curdle's awake, don't mean he's alert. That boy sure ain't well-lit, Rayleen like to say.

“`Cause we got to amble `em. Good for the blood, theirs'n ours. That's what Uncle Evelyn say.”

“How come you call yor daddy Uncle not daddy?” See, I told you about Curdle. He flickers, at best. But at least he's tolerable. Fine Tune can get you hiding in the outhouse all afternoon a sunny day. What with his extrateez. Think he know everything, Grandpa Lick'd say, and you know right then he'd spit. Splotchit! Don't know his Brussel sprouts from his carrot. I can't tell Lima beans from Garbanzo beans, but Grandpa Lick don't know that.

“Ell I be `stilled. Lookit `at” Fine Tune was already atop the hill on account he thinks he knows how to amble quick, of which there ain't no thing. Curdle ran up but I'm a thisaplanned ambler. Besides, `cept for DeLorean, who namewise naturally was speedy and had crested even afore Fine Tune, the other cows were doing more munching and musing than ambling and were still scattered about the upside of the hill.

“Gawl.” Curdle kind of froze near to the top.

“It's a genuine youfoe!” Uh oh. He know all about `em, surely he do. Fine Tune was dancing like the caller suddenly sped up the record. “I know all about `em, surely I do. It look just like Cal Daddy say it do.”

I confess I quit amblin' then; Cal Daddy is a real thing extrateezer on such like is-so stuff so I hoofed up top.

Lo and behold there it was, hoovering over the flat beyond the back slope higher'n even Uncle Evelyn could throw a stick at but not much higher, a round thing about the color a Granny Lick's hair, and just as silent too. It was right above DeLorean, who was looking up at it and trying to get her front hooves to swat at it like kitty Shizzle do to Rayleen's yarn balls.

“That's a youfoe or I ain't Fine Tune,” Fine Tune said and started to amble proper for once down toward it and DeLorean.

“Fine Tune, don't!” Curdle whined like when you flick his ears, and sure enough, I smelled it first and didn't actually see the spot until after everything, damped his britches.

Fine Tune hadn't taken more'n six amble steps when all sudden that thing shot straight up another stick throw or two and made one quick sound sorta like a Rayleen windbreaker that she swear warn't her and then, may I drown in the outhouse if I fib it, DeLorean started flying straight up to it. Good thing we ain't had no breakfast `cause Curdle woulda stained the other side a his britches. He just kinda made a soft sound like Granny Lick does when Granpa Lick takes his fake teeth out at the supper table when Rayleen brings out her homemade cream.

If there's such a thing as a flying amble, that's what DeLorean was doing on his way up to the youfoe. `Bout halfway up he let out a noise that warn't scared like the ones Curdle kept making but almost innerested noises like what Rayleen makes when Cal Daddy lathers up his face on a Sunday for his twice a month shave. Kinda like this: “Hhhhhhmmmmmmooooooooowwww!” Which must be some kind of secret cow talk `cause without hearing `em all sudden Jesse G., Dander, and Jack were standing next to me craning their necks just like me watching DeLorean get sucked all the way into that youfoe which opened up a door or at least some kinda window just as DeLorean got to it and then she disappeared in it.

“Holy cow!” Fine Tune yelped and was running down the backslope waving at the youfoe which now was kinda bumping in place in the air sorta like it was chewin' or something. Curdle was all fours trying to stick his head in the hill by then.

“Take me too, take me too!” Fine Tune was yelling up at the thing and jumping like he was trying to get to it. Well, and I ain't never drunk from Grandpa Lick's demijohn `cept for that one time of which on cold nights I still can't sit right, them youfoers must be pretty good at talking English `cause right then, much faster'n DeLorean ambledflew, Fine Tune shot right up to the thing, that window opened and shut real quick, I never saw no chewin' bounce and with a quick little almost goodbye wave that youfoe started toward Boone then swerved the other way toward Strother and was gone.

That was hours ago. Curdle's all dry now but still all fours and whimpering. Jesse G., Dander, and Jack are all sitting down but their tails are acting all funny. I'm hungrier than Uncle Evelyn's caged muskrat but I'm just not thinking about it, just whittlin' my time away, knowin' I better not go home with one cow less'n I left it with. It's kind of peaceful without Fine Tune extrateezin' in my ear. I reckon everybuddy else will feel the same and besides even if he do come back maybe he'll be all dollso like they say Aunt Conestoga's been ever since she got back from having her bottommee lowered , but I gotta wait `til that cow come home or I'm gonna get hellfire on my backside less the britches.

By the way, my name ain't Boy, it Roswell, but when I get to the County Fair in `12 I'm gonna change it to Hercules.

Daniel Johnston-Walking the Cow