Sunday, May 30, 2010

Could It Be Love?

Wonderful wedding yesterday, Josh and Emily's. During the service the reverend talked about "the aroma of love," an unexpected and, quite frankly, jarring image. One that a couple hours later, as we waited for our dinner (and let me give a huge shout out to the Villa di Borally: unbelievable food, and the beef was to kill a vegan for), gave my table mates and me much to ponder. Just what is the aroma of love? Some of us even thought the best way to answer the question most accurately would be to start listing all the aromas that definitely are not love; not a fun list to compile. All of which got me thinking about a skinny little book I ran across in a theology class at an all-boys high school, titled Sex, Love or Infatuation? Indeed. Those three categories seemed a pretty good starting point for classifying various smells, but as I started to chart them, I realized the taxonomy needed one more category--just plain Nope. So, what follows is one man's rating of various could-it-be-the-aroma-of-love odors, along the Sex, Love, Infatuation, Nope continuum.
  • New Car Smell--a tricky one; certainly smells like love at first sniff, but just think about the first brake job you'll sink several hundred dollars into, and presto, definite Infatuation
  • The Morning's First Hot Cup of Coffee--Sex, completely
  • The First Day of School--Nope
  • Bananas--Love
  • Freshly Cut Grass--for the non-hay fever sufferers, Sex bordering on Love
  • Teen Spirit--Infatuation
  • Bar-B-Cue Sauce--Love
  • Burning Rubber--Sex
  • The Guy In The Baggy Shorts Who Makes That Kind Of Toot Sound With His Nose About Once Every Thirty Seconds--Nope
  • Napalm In The Morning--Infatuation
  • Moth Balls--Love
  • Cigar Smoke--Infatuation bordering on Nope
  • The Ocean--Sex
  • A Secluded Creek--Love
  • A Swimming Pool--Infatuation
  • A Pond After a Bad Rain Storm--Nope
  • Bluejeans Fresh Out of the Dryer--Love
  • Listerine--Infatuation
  • Juicy Fruit Gum--Infatuation
  • Waffle House (any location)--Sex
  • The Beef at Villa di Borally--Love
  • Going to Work On a National Holiday Monday--Nope
Everything But The Girl-Love Is Strange

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Nice Legs

You know the move, it's practically patented, a poor stepchild to the classic vaudevillian spit-take: the whipping off of the sunglasses, the craning neck, the squint of disbelief, the wry, cutting witticism. At this time of year, the first few days I dare go out in public in shorts, I am the subject of dozens of these herky-jerkyisms. The most extreme was today, when some would-be hipster ripped off his shades only to shade his eyes further with his flailing arms while shouting, "Nice legs, buddy. My God, they're as white as a priest's."

"Nice try, dip-wad," (my first use of that epithet since like sixth grade), "'I Live Where It's Gray,' The Horseflies, from their criminally underrated Human Fly album, 1988, Rounder Records. I was grooving to it while you were still in diapers."

"Fine," the dude retorted, kind of put in his place, as he re-donned his sunglasses, "so you're hipper than I, but you still got butt ugly legs to be parading about."

"Cannibals drool. Beat that on your ultra-cool index."

"Oh shit dude, you've just like ruined my whole astrological chart for months," he moped and slithered away.

Time was, though, even in jest, my legs could never be described as "nice." Recalcitrant and incorrigible, but never nice. You see, I'm a Gemini with a bit of a Libertarian streak, and while I certainly pay heed to the whole "my body is a temple thing," my temple is, well, kind of ecumenical, and I've always allowed my limbs, the apses if you will, or whatever fits appropriate to the whole temple metaphor, a fair bit of autonomy. Anyway, about ten years ago, my legs, it seems, finally hit their rebellious adolescence.

My knees would knock violently in my most serene moments, at first leading me to believe I was becoming a full-blown scaredy-cat, but then I realized it was just my legs, fighting like 14-year-old twin brothers. One night I woke to find my left leg had wrapped itself around the back of my head and had written a list of grievances on the sole of its foot. Obviously feeling slighted because it was the "weaker" leg, the left took umbrage at always being the bottom leg when legs got crossed, at never being the one to absently kick a stone while walking down a road, at never (underlined three times, this never) being the foot, while I was deeply engaged in the rituals of courting, that was the designated "footsie" foot. What could I say, or do? It was three a.m., my leg was wrapped around my head with my left foot two inches from my nose. I stammered out apologies, made grandiose promises of atonements, even swore to put the less hole-y sock on it for a year straight. My harried pleas seemed to work; soon I was asleep again in a much less-contorted position.

I admit, though, paying such conscious attention to one leg in particular soon wore thin, and soon I was back to my old ways. Tha's when my legs--the left at first, but soon the right followed, jealous of the attention the left was getting--started really acting up. Uncontrollably they lurched themselves out to trip unassuming passersby, kicked dinner partners under tables, spasmodically stumbled over the foul line at the bowling alley, ruining my average and eventually getting me kicked out of my five leagues. One night, things finally came to a head with my legs. I was up late watching TV when an infomercial came on about RLS. I had started to watch thinking it was about the great author Robert Louis Stevenson, but alas, it was about Restless Leg Syndrome. As they started describing the symptoms and the ensuing wreckage wreaked by the horrifying syndrome, I noticed my right leg shaking like a crystal-meth-jonesing stripper (or, um, what I imagine such an unfortunate person would look like). Fully enraptured now by the infomercial's info, I hastened to turn up the volume (okay, I must confess, turning up the volume wasn't as easy as pushing the up-arrow button on the remote and seeing those bars light up on the screen as some not only totally superfluous but also meaningless number starts increasing; you see this was my "throw-back" weekend, a little annual ritual I celebrate to get back in touch with my dearly Proustian childhood in the 1970s; in short, I attempt to live that yearly weekend in as close an approximation to 70s life as possible--no bottled water, no Internet, leaded fuel in the jalopy, dreams of Farrah nightly, dial phone [God, remember the pleasures to be had stabbing and hurling those quick 2's and dragging out those long, dizzying 9's and 0's?], and no TV remote, to name a few of the lifestyle adjustments I make). Anyway, I had to get up off the couch and walk all the way over to the TV set to turn the volume up so I could learn fully the horrors of Restless Leg Syndrome before my right leg managed to completely bounce its way off and away from my body (a definite schism if you're still following the body is a temple thing). So I roll off the couch, take one step toward the TV and the volume button (much to my disgrace, I don't own a vintage 1970s TV to use during my throw-back weekend, one with a proper volume knob), and wham I hit the floor, though not before banging my mouth on the coffee table (um, and the various Hot Wheels arrayed on it).

To make a long story a bit less long, after stitches in the emergency room, oral surgery, and finally hitting bottom and succumbing to year-long analysis with a psychiatrist who specializes in "limb-therapy," it came out in one very intense session that while my right leg had skittered down the decadent dead end that is RLS, my left leg, not to be outdone, willfully turned himself into a narcoleptic: when I stood up to raise the volume, Lefty was fast asleep, thus offering me, the nave, or whatever of the temple, no support; down I went. Anway, through much therapy (wouldn't you know it, for recalcitrant legs it's more like a 12,000 step course to recovery), soul-searching, and prayer, my legs and I are now gloriously on the same page, or in the same pew, if you like. My legs behave, not only on their own, but in concert with each other, with me, and with the world in general. They voluntarily hold doors open for packages-ladened people, they gently kick back soccer balls that have strayed from their playing fields, they happily stand when others need a seat. In short, they are indeed nice legs. I see no reason to hide their niceness from the world when the weather gets hot.

The Horseflies-I Live Where It's Gray

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Still Quitting

Yes, I still haven't smoked a cigarette since April 1, but I've been "tapering" (fooling myself? rationalizing?) with cigarillos ever since. My aim, though, is to make June 1, a week from today, my first totally smoke-free day. We'll see, and probably smell, too. One fear I have about quitting is addressed in this, the second excerpt from my magnum (or should it be king-sized, 100?) opus concerning smoking.

Smoking: A Eulogy In Progress (Part 2)

It was poets who
hooked me smoking
down in North Carolina,
where it's one's patriotic duty
to smoke, so I guess
it'll have to be poetry
to unhook me.
I haven't been able to quit
for my health, hygiene
or my wallet,
but maybe I can for poetry.
Silly fool me,
thinking on March thirty-first
that April first, Holy Thursday,
would be the day to smoke
my last cigarette:
Go through the agony
of initial withdrawal
during Christ's passion,
but most important,
give me fodder
for writing a poem
for a reading in less than three weeks.
Anything for a poem,
including my sanity.
But how truly foolish
to spite the the unofficial
tenth muse, Nicotina,
fraternal half-sister
of Erato, muse of lyric poetry,
and arch-rival of Melpomene,
muse of tragedy.
Oh Nicotina,
let it be an amicable divorce,
in flesh only, not spirit.
All the lines, stanzas, poems complete
that have come via
the dingy fumes
of your writer's unblocking instrument
of inspiration, that virgin white
nail of noxious nirvana,
while I stood shivering
outside of coffeehouses or the house itself,
where will they all come from now?
Undrugged, unversed in this abstinent existence,
I'm jonesing right now for a rhyme, a line,
a metaphor, a mere word,
something like, well,
something fitting.
Whence, dear smokey seductress,
whence now?

k.d. lang-Smoke Dreams

Monday, May 24, 2010

Happy Birthday, Bob

Bob goes through changes...He can disappear with a car-load of Mexicans. No phase is the final one.
                                                                                   --Eric Clapton

Syd Barrett-Bob Dylan Blues

Minutemen-Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs

Loudon Wainwright III-Talking New Bob Dylan

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Fart That Changed My Life

I was thirteen. Still a bit new to the world of being a golf caddie, but learning all the time. On this particular day I was teamed up with a good friend, Chris. Not only did Chris have older brothers, which made him privy to all kinds of worlds whose existence I was just gaining a sense of, but his older brothers had all been caddies at this same golf course, so he was really in the know. No reason for him, then, not to be excited with the bags we had been assigned, one each, with two more in a cart. Chris stood there on the first tee before the golfers had arrived, practically caressing the bag he had and chanting the owner's name like it was some kind of talisman. "This is going to be a great loop," he smiled, and I could tell he felt like he was on the verge of being initiated to a club all his older brothers belonged to and savored--the club of caddying for these guys. Being thirteen, therefore an impressionable follower of those in the know, I got pretty excited too.

Imagine my confusion when the four golfers showed up to the first tee. First and foremost, they were old, sixties, maybe into their seventies, which for me at thirteen meant they were old codgers, fossils. Nothing over the first few holes led me to believe that I hadn't been duped in some way, by Chris and fate. The guys were hacks, maybe a par or two between all four of them in the first four holes. Naturally, at the time, I believed the only criterion for a good loop was if the golfer was a good golfer. The guy I caddied for certainly wasn't. He was short with white hair and chain-smoked un-filtered Pall Malls, tossing them on the wet grass when it was his turn to take a shot, then picking up the wet rag to inhale some more; this action, which frankly kind of disgusted me, took place often, as the guy needed several shots each hole just to reach the green.

I didn't want to say anything to Chris, because he was thoroughly enjoying the round, and besides, he was Chris, he knew things. So I just doggedly followed my golfer, not a mean guy by any definition, but not a real talkative, personable guy like a lot of the other, much younger, golfers I had caddied for. I raked traps, pulled pins, and found lost balls, waiting kind of anxiously for it all to click--why I should be so happy and enlightened caddying for these old coots. Picking up on any kind of subtlety, definitely without the aid of older brothers, is kind of out of the ken of a thirteen-year-old.

By the fourteenth hole I had pretty much given up on discovering the reason why this should be the loop of my life up to that point, and was only trying not to let the image of my golfer's too-low-crouch and mad lurch swing at the ball imprint itself too deeply into my mind, thus ruining any chances I would ever have to develop a smooth golf swing. But then, there on the fourteenth tee, tucked into an obscure corner of the golf course, something monumental happened, the reverberations of which still shudder through me, something which, when I think about it and tell it--as I used to tell it to my classes--is as distinct a marker for me as any other that separates innocence from experience, childhood from maturity, being clueless to beginning to get it--a rite of passage indeed.

As my golfer teed up his ball, crouched way low and began his wild, herky-jerky backswing, the guy Chris was caddying for farted kind of monstrously. I believe my golfer whiffed his shot entirely as his laughing fit commenced. The two old guys in the cart rocked the frail machine with their laughter, and probably added a fart or two themselves. Chris's golfer, the farter, laughed so hard at the result of his gaseous prank, he turned heart attack red, gagged for air, and fell down on all fours laughing or dying, for a while I couldn't tell which. One well-timed fart and at least five minutes of uncontrolled laughter from these legal and business paragons. Chris and I, at that curious age when our senses of humor were just beginning to see behind the horizon of fart humor, were kind of mystified; we looked at each other and smiled, but also looked confused: what the hell are these old guys doing laughing so hard about a fart that admittedly would have sent us howling a year ago, but now, isn't it all kind of juvenile (at least that's what I read in Chris's look and tried to match in the look I was giving him). Eventually the old guys controlled themselves, we finished eighteen holes, they paid us--not bad, but not great--and that was that. What the hell was that all about, I probably wondered myself to sleep for a good week afterwards.

Well, over the next few summers I caddied for those guys and their cronies many many times, in all sorts of combinations. They weren't as exciting to caddie for as the young hotshots, they didn't pay as well as some high-roller with guests to impress, and between the cigarette and fart fumes, being around them could be kind of noxious, but they were all great guys, a lot of fun, and as unpretentious as could be. Whenever I would be assigned their bags, I would kind of re-enact Chris's gleeful chanting. And of course, they started dying off. The farter died quickly one summer of cancer, and his ashes were famously scattered in the pond in front of the third green. My golfer, the fartee, I guess, died more slowly of throat cancer. He was scarce one summer, as the news of his sickness got around. But toward the end of the summer, as I attained the pinnacle of caddying in the club championship match (for a young hotshot who paid very well but was basically a jerk), I saw him again. Crowds would turn out to watch the championship finals match, and as we walked down the ninth hole, I looked over and saw the guy. He looked exactly like a guy who would be dead in six weeks from cancer. By then he had lost the ability to speak. After my hotshot golfer had hit his approach shot to the ninth hole, and as I loitered behind, retrieving and replacing his divot, suddenly I looked up and the old dying man, not laughing hysterically like someone had just farted in his backswing, but looking serious, but somehow happy to see me, was standing right by my bag, sticking out his hands to give me one of those two-handed handshakes. The old skinny guy gripped my hands firmly and shook them, giving me a watery look from his eyes that said something ineffable but clear, something which nearly thirty years later is just as untranslatable but just as clear and meaningful to me as it was back then.

That fart has come to symbolize for me the fact that life makes you older but you don't necessarily have to be older. Adulthood isn't completely serious. Old codgers can have as much fun if not more than thirteen-year-olds. Aging isn't all bad. Golf isn't really about the score. A well-timed fart is priceless, at any age.

For a bevy of reasons I've been thinking about this story all day, not the least of which is that today I attended the funeral of one of my best friends from when I was thirteen. I probably hadn't seen Mike since college, and as I sat there listening to the priest's homily, I thought of how Mike and I used to sit together at mass in high school and whisper irreverent jokes. I thought of how much he, as I, must have grown and changed in the twenty-five years since I knew him. I thought, too, of how little he might have changed, and laughed to myself at what funny things he might have whispered to me in church today, listening to his own eulogy.

T. Rex-Life's A Gas

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

LeBron's Mission

As any semi-regular reader of this blog knows, nothing concerns me more than 100% factual truth. That said, and despite the fact that I thought I had made my feelings about the Cavaliers clear a few days ago, I just can't stop myself from passing on this atomic nugget--a rumor, I guess, but in name only until it is officially confirmed--not so much out of a desire to scoop anyone, but to express my feelings about this significant news item before all the other media-heads go nuts over it.

LeBron James is indeed leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers, but instead of heading to New York or Chicago as many pundits believe, I have it from a very reliable source that LeBron is heading to Salt Lake City to play for the Utah Jazz. The really big news about this move, though, isn't so much LeBron's desire to play for well-respected head coach Jerry Sloan and alongside Deron Williams, but because LeBron has recently converted to Mormonism and believes playing in Utah will be best for his soul.

As part of his conversion, LeBron must embark on a two-year mission trip. Therefore, we will not be seeing LeBron playing basketball until the 2012-13 season. Well, not NBA basketball. You got to believe that as LeBron mission treks through Nepal, Mongolia, and Laos (the tentative itinerary), a basketball just might find its way into his hands.

Where did I get this information? Well, from LeBron himself. As I woke up today I had an insatiable urge to bite my left ring finger's nail, whch, in my experience means only one thing: unwanted knockings at my door. Now I long along mailed in my census form, and it seems to me Jehovah's Witnesses in these parts only come knocking on the weekends, so, as I did everything in my power not to give in to the urge and gnaw my nail to the nub, I sat in anxious turmoil wondering who would be knocking. Well, at precisely 10:15 a.m. I got my answer: the King himself, LeBron.

Despite being dressed in black pants, white shirt, and a black tie, and carrying a Bible, I knew instantly it was LeBron. He was very polite, introducing himself as LeBron, and asking me immediately if I ever read the Bible. Respecting religion as I do, and realizing the guy has had a tough week, I refrained myself from fawning and begging him to stay in Cleveland. He was on my doorstep to talk the Bible, so I obliged. We had an interesting discussion about the Beatitudes, and a civilized, if somewhat argumentative debate about whether Corinthians 1 or 2 is the better written letter, but we bonded like sailors over Revelations. Eventually I took the pamphlets he offered, promised I would read them over, and we each thanked each other for his time. As he started to walk away, I couldn't resist: "Bron," I said, and he turned to look at me, "I've always been impressed by how you've carried yourself on the court, and I'm so pleased to see you carry yourself so well preaching door to door, as well."

"You really mean that?" He looked like a little kid, all smiles.


It was then that he broke down. Not a sobbing fit or anything, just an unburdening, I guess. Over the next thirty minutes he told me the whole story. He had just converted two weeks ago. This was his first ever door-knocking. He was more nervous than at any time on any basketball court anywhere. He asked me what he thought the reaction to his conversion, his two-year mission hiatus, his move to Utah would be like. I told him to have faith. He had given Cleveland everything he had for seven years. People know it in their bones, even if they don't want to admit it. The rest was between him and God, only. He smiled, chest-bumped me, and went on his way. Godspeed, LeBron.

Monday, May 17, 2010

It's Really Quite Easy

  • apples are usually red or yellow; oranges are orange
  • apple skin tastes good; orange skin not so
  • apples always have seeds, I believe; oranges not always
  • apples allegedly keep doctors away; oranges seem to have little effect on them
  • apples taste good covered with caramel on a stick; oranges not so
  • apple juice is good; orange juice, freshly squeezed, without concentrate, drunk straight from the carton, is tied with Guinness as the best drink ever, right behind cold water
  • the guy who played the apple in the Fruit of the Loom commercials was not as good of an actor as the guy who played the orange
  • there is no comparison between the apple's effect on culture and the orange's: apple kicks orange's ass
  • they don't seem to make an orange pie, but then again, I've never seen apple sherbet
  • an apple is always satisfying; eating an orange can be transcendent
  • apples are whole; oranges are naturally segmented
  • Johnny Appleseed; Lawson's Big O ("one man sleeps while the other man drives...")
  • apples can be cooked up in a variety of ways; you either squeeze an orange or just eat it
  • I've eaten more apples in my life, but made to choose, I'd rather live in a world without apples than one without oranges
  • the word apple can be rhymed, rather cheaply; the word orange cannot

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Existential Capital Of The World (Chokeland [nee Cleveland] Deserves A Non-Victory Parade)

If we've all been witnesses, isn't it time for a universal Witness Protection Program?

I must admit, for several hours after the Cavaliers' totally disheartening, mega-choking defeat at the hands of the Boston Celtics Thursday night, that was my thinking: change the name of the city to Chokeland, give all fans a new identity and ship them in secret to parts unknown to attempt living a new life. For the first time in my life I faced, starkly, with no more delusions clouding my eyes, the very real possibility that Cleveland's last victory parade, for the 1964 Cleveland Browns, when I wasn't even two years old, would be the only such parade I would live to enjoy (I recall being so happy at that moment of victory in '64 I promptly chugged my bottle, bellowed "Goo goo gaa gaa," and crapped in my pants).

But then the sun came up Friday. Just out of habit, I muttered as a I squinted; you can't expect the entire cycle of life to just shut down automatically so fast; give it another day or two. But then I saw a sight that immediately should have confirmed what I had assumed was impossible: life will go on. For walking across an empty, seagull-swooping parking lot, fresh off the 8:07 bus, was my boss, Joe, the most diehard, dedicated, optimistic Cleveland sports fan I know (the man owns a Tim Couch jersey, beat that). Joe (who was born several years after 1964) trudged up to the front door, snapping out his I-Pod ear things as usual, dug out his keys, grunted a good morning, and the workday commenced, like any other day. How unusual, I thought to myself, and kind of rejuvenating.

As you can guess, the sun has continued to rise in Cleveland all weekend, my car's still getting sucked into pot holes no matter all the road-repair orange barrels I serpentine through, people are still dressing to extremes in this fickle Cleveland spring (one guy in shorts and a tank top, another in a zipped up winter coat), and just yesterday I heard two guys, like cockroaches fighting over the last crumb after the world's been destroyed, arguing about the make-up of the Cleveland Indians pitching staff (the Cleveland Indians? weren't they this year supposed to be only a blip of interest to us for a homestand, at most, between the Cavs victory parade and the Browns starting training camp?).

So, against most people's expectations and hopes, life goes on in Cleveland. And the more I think of it, that's the point, the whole point, the only point of Cleveland. Life goes on. It exists, simply but profoundly. No extreme natural disasters to ruin us, no extreme civic ecstasies like world championships to excite us. We simply take the next jolt from the next pot hole and drive on to the next closed lane sign (we do road repair great in this town, just not road construction, or really any other kind of construction; the labor of mere existence pretty much precludes creation).

And so I think it's high time we recognize the fact of our "mere existence" status here in Cleveland. Recognize it, embrace it, as much as one can embrace such a neutral abstract concept, and dare I say it, begin to capitalize on it. I propose that Cleveland market itself as the Existential Capital of the World. Change the names of our main downtown thoroughfares from the optimistic, capitalism-embracing Euclid, Prospect, and Carnegie to Nietzsche, de Beauvoir, and Camus avenues. Change Quicken Loans Arena (the Q) to Kiekegaard Arena (the K), Browns Stadium to Sartre Stadium, Progressive Field to Heidegger Park. Instead of trying to seduce big businesses and conventions to come to town with sweetheart tax and hotel deals, let's lure all the gloomy coffeehouse denizens of the world to Cleveland with the promise of our gray skies. Our new marketing slogan can be something like, "Let's face it, life is a miserable existence; give in and spend yours in life's most miserable city." Or, "We have the world's best hospitals--come to Cleveland and prolong your meaningless existence in good hands." Or "You know it's all pointless--come to Cleveland where no community-unifying, temporarily-transcending sports team world championship will delude you into thinking otherwise."

Come on Cleveland, let's embrace the crude truth that there's really nothing to embrace except the fact that we exist, merely, like all those abandoned buildings in the "midtown corridor," and make some hay while the sun continues to shine on our potholes. Regardless of whether or not Cleveland Rocks, or ever really did or ever really will, Cleveland Is, and that's all that matters. Now somebody design a Statue of Existence, somebody chisel the words "Give us your whatever" on it, let's knock down that truth-defyingly named Terminal Tower (nothing is terminal in Cleveland; it goes on forever) and put the statue there, and let's throw a parade to celebrate the fact that we have nothing to celebrate except that fact that we're here.

Nobody loves a parade less than I do, but I say we round up all those millionaire athletes we've practically sold our souls to in the past in the (delusional) hope that they would deliver us a championship to distract us from our mere existence lives for a week or two, only to see them choke and fail, and make them, those millionaire athletes who choked away all our hopes, foot the bill for the greatest non-victory parade in the annals of the world. I'm talking the hallowed Dawgs of the late 1980s Browns who allowed the Drive and Fumbled away our hearts. I'm talking the 1997 (and throw in Sabathia from 2007) Indians who couldn't score enough runs in Game 7 so none of us had to endure Jose Mesa attempting a one-run save. And I'm talking LeBron, Shaq, Delonte, etc.--yeah, we witnessed you guys, now fork over some cash for confetti, port-a-johns, riot police (maybe Denver and Miami and Boston can kick in a few junkers from their impound lots for us to ceremonially trash and burn) and noisemakers so we can have our long-deserved parade already.

We exist...still...despite, dammit! Now throw us a parade.

Pere Ubu-Life Stinks

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Manic Depressive's Paradise

Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown Cleveland sports.

A Milkshake For Harry Dean Stanton

Last night I had a dream where I came upon the great actor Harry Dean Stanton sitting behind some friends of mine in a ratty old theater. Harry Dean smiled and politely reminded me I owed him a milkshake for the time he kept me from smoking in Atlanta. So I went and got him a milkshake. Maybe my dreams are other people's nightmares, but I wouldn't trade this one for anything.

Click on Harry Dean's wiki page and just gawk at all the great movies he's been in for fifty years (the guy's 83!). Never the star, except his one-two existential punch around 1984 with Repo Man and Paris, Texas, Harry Dean is an amazing character actor. With a voice (he sings, too) and face that make him, like a cockroach, the ultimate survivor, he's the kind of guy I want to watch the end of the world with. Six degrees of Kevin Bacon? No offense, Kevin, but any degree of Harry Dean Stanton is about as cool as it gets. How cool is Harry Dean? He once sang Jewish folksongs with Bob Dylan and Bob Dylan's son-in-law on a telethon (see below). So, in honor of Harry Dean, here's a mini-film fest (and that hand gesture in the Paris, Texas clip--isn't that the physical representation of how Harry Dean treats his audience in every movie?). And Harry Dean, if you're ever in Cleveland, the milkshake's on me.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

On the Appropriateness of 'Fetching'

I don't need the software I employ for merely functional purposes to be cute. In fact, as I realized today, I kind of get insulted by merely functional software trying to be cute. I was at work, attempting to locate a book for a customer. I clicked on a tool that searches the inventory of our sister stores, an act I commit several times a day. Today, things seemed to be running a little slowly, and as I telepathically told the computer to get its ass in gear so the customer didn't have to wait so long, I looked down at the bottom of the screen, to see if perhaps the usual, "searching for results..." message had changed to something like, "unable to process search at this time, try again," which happens every once in a while. What I saw instead was this, no lie: "fetching results from sister stores." What the. I actually pointed it out to the customer, telling her I didn't know computers were into fetching these days. She kind of chuckled.

What I want to know is who is the nerdy software programmer who changed the "searching" to "fetching." He needs to fetch himself a sharp protractor and impale his one and only creative brain cell.

Hypocrite, I hear some of you scream. How can you, mr. spitoutyourgum, who waxes ad nauseam about words like umpteenth and desuetude and irrigate, and urges us all to make ample use of these words in our everyday language, how can you have the pedantic, miserly gall to hector some nerdy software programmer over his modest attempt to sprinkle some poetry into his work by using the, you must admit it, pretty damn good word fetch(ing) to describe the software's attempt to retrieve the information you seek?

Well, I rebut, it's all about appropriateness, or, as I believe Heloise or Martha Stewart or Thom Yorke was the first to say, "everything in its right place." And I'm not talking about some horridly proscriptive, Emily Post type of which fork do I use with this dress kind of appropriateness. I'm talking common sense appropriateness. Tell your buddy to fetch you another beer, tell your lover you're just going out to CVS to fetch some more Cialis, tell your fellow volunteer bounty hunters you're going to "fetch that rapscallion afore he makes Hooper's Gulch and then we'll tar'n'feather and/or draw'n'quarter him, whichever 'em is meaner," but please, never tell me computer software is "fetching" information for me, like some kind of cyborg Lassie. It's just plain insulting to my, and I'm sure most sensible people's, regard and relish and damn near adoration of the beautiful English language. It's trying to be cute, which, if you hit puberty (okay, guilty, I realize the offending computer programmer I am herewith impugning might be some eight-year-old whiz kid who never gets a chance to act his age, and if so, and you can prove it, I take it all back and as penance and out of sympathy for the poor prodigy, I'll eat the page out of my dictionary with fetch on it, and wolf down the one with impugn, too, as a bonus) anyway, if you've hit and passed beyond puberty and you're still trying to be cute, you deserve to be the stick in a game of fetch with rabid pit bulls. Software, merely functional software, should just work, damn quickly, and leave the language fun and games to human beings.

But still, fetch is a helluva word, isn't it? Borderline condescending, but that just makes the use of it more of a challenge and a lot more fun. Nothing great in its backstory, an Old English word that means "to go get and bring back," rendering the phrase "go fetch" a bit redundant, but who's looking? Then of course there's the way under-used adjective, "fetching," as in "Laura Mae with that fetching smile of hers was there and Lord I almost fell into the cider bowl." Can you say about someone who's really working it that he or she has got his or her fetch on? "With that dress and those heels, ooohhhh girl, you've got your fetch on tonight"? I hope so, I think so, and I think you ought to.

And finally, I'm reminded of my fraternity days, when among the few word lovers the term "garner" gained, or, um, garnered a lot of currency for a while. I can still remember Kendall, at the dinner table, leaning over and asking me to garner him the beans. Or when you were heading down to the basement where our $.35 pop machine with the one column of beer in it resided, somebody would always call out, as he dug around the sofa for loose change, "Hey, can you garner me another Old Style?" Ah, academia.

Now if that little note on my work computer today said, "Garnering the results from sister stores," then I would have applauded; not cute, much more appropriate (the software program is much more about garnering than fetching), and giving me images of Kendall, not Lassie, running around the innards of the computer. That's a fetching vision.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Notes On A Root Canal

I realize the continuing saga of my root canal is not nearly as exciting as O.J. in the Bronco, Balloon Boy, or efforts to cap an ocean-floor-bound gushing oil well with a 100 ton concrete hat, but after the thirty minutes of howling pain I endured today, you'll just have to indulge me. The actual procedure, as I claimed yesterday, was not bad at all. I just sat there with my eyes closed, in my mind walking in the park mumbling Hail Mary, while the doctor and his assistant did their work. Not quite a literal walk in the park, but not hell, either. Afterward, I even thanked the doctor for a rather pleasant root canal, a half-heartfelt attempt to be the first person ever to append that adjective to the procedure. He kind of chuckled and warned me to wait until the anesthesia wore off, then rushed away rather quickly, I thought. Well, doc ain't no dummy, because just about the time I was pressing the down button on the elevator outside his office, the pain started to rise. And rise. My short drive home was a mad rush to get to two Advil capsules. Once I inhaled them I was a pacin' and cussin' fool, rooting those liqui-gel capsules home like a railbird with next month's paycheck riding on a win bet for a nag named Ibuprofen. Turned out to be a race for trotting, not galloping, but within a half hour Toothache was broken and corralled and I was soon sleeping like a newborn foal on a bed of hay.

The experience got me thinking a bit, between prayers, though. I'm sure I've written before about my lifetime debate about whether blindness or deafness would be worse. I've always said that while blindness would be a horrible incovenience, a world without music and conversation would be insanity, and though my track record doesn't always show it, I much prefer inconvenience to insanity. But my belief was weakened a bit in the dental chair today. Although I mostly kept my eyes shut, out of an admittedly infantile notion that what can't be seen doesn't exist, at times I did peek, and although doc and assistant shuffled all kinds of gnarly looking instruments back and forth between each other and my mouth, the sight of none of them really gave me the heebie jeebies. But, open eyed or shut, the sound of those things was terrifying. Obviously, anyone who's seen a scary film knows the horrific heft music can bring to the fright, but really, the sound of those drills and God knows what else, so close to the ears, was unnerving to the nth degree. I wonder if giving the patient some earplugs or headphones with Black Sabbath blaring might not help ease the tension some. I mean, after all, you don't really need to hear anything. You can't talk with everything in your mouth, so conversation's out, and if the dentist is worried if you're doing okay, well, I think flinging yourself out of the chair, raising your arms to strangle him or her or yourself, or simply howling past all the hardware in your mouth would get the job done. So, in certain circumstances, I concede, deafness over blindness.

Irrigate. That one word, repeated about twenty times, accounted for most of the talk during my root canal. The dentist would say, "irrigate," and then from my left the assistant would shove a tube in my mouth for a second or two. What a weird and beautiful word. Where does it come from? I'm going to start using it in all sorts of instances. When I'm sitting at the bar and in need of another beer, I'll just look at the bartender, point to my empty, and say, "irrigate." Walking off the eighteenth hole, I'll turn to my golfing companions, as they're digging in their pants for the money they owe me, and say, "Boys, how about a little irrigation," and point to the nineteenth hole. When I'm at some picnic and somebody with a water balloon sneaks up behind the person I'm speaking to, I'll just nod slightly and say, "irrigate." When I'm sitting around all sweaty and grimy after some physical exertion, I'll simply make a nominal gesture of sniffing my armpits and announce to anyone present, "Time for some irrigation, don't you think?"

That's it. With Advil happily ensconced in my blood system, I believe the root canal saga is over, with a blissful whimper, and not a horrible bang: I'm still ambivalent about being either deaf or blind, and I now cherish the word irrigate. Oh, and I will floss more regularly.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Public Notice: All Promises Made During Agony Are Hereby Null And Void

The older you get the crazier your expectations. Not outlandish or grandiose, just damn crazier and crazier. Example one and only: I'm looking forward to my root canal tomorrow. I could say I've experienced a couple root canals in my time and that they don't really live up to all the negative hype, but then, what would such a statement do to my sociability quotient? Oh, there's a guy I want to hang out with--a guy's who's well-versed in root canals (from the receiving, not the profitable performing end) and who practically pooh-poohs them (is A.A. Milne responsible for the phrase pooh-pooh [one hopes] or is there a more basic, less literary origin?).

Anyway, I had a horrible weekend suffering through Toothache (certainly deserving of capital status; admittedly, and fortunately, my life has been a relatively healthy one, but is there anything more persuasively paralyzing [in the rather normal range of potential body aches] than Toothache?). In addition to the pain, facial disfigurement, and limits to my diet (God forbid; I had to pass on the season's first outdoor-grilled [I just typed drilled instead of grilled--see where my mind's at?] cheeseburger and was pretty much reduced to gumming and inhaling a hot dog, which was still pretty darn good) Toothace imposed, it also affected my sleeping routine (and as one whose sleep is sacrosanct, you can imagine the further psychic damage inflicted; if one could sue one's own mouth, I'd be seeking eight figures, minimum). Put it all together and for hours on what should have been a relaxing, mom-celebrating beautiful weekend (well, outrageous storms and unseasonably cold temps notwithstanding), I was a writhing mess on alternately cold and sweaty sheets, begging for mercy (a necessary shout out to the good folks at Advil, without whose aid I might have still lived to tell this tale, but, per straitjacket and muzzle, might not have been actually able to tell it).

But now (and when, I ask myself, has a Monday ever been so good to me?) there are antibiotics coursing through my veins, the pain is virtually gone, the swelling much abated (one advantage to a chubby face: swelling isn't so obvious; though yesterday, well-rounded countenance or no, I looked like a bad fighter, so bad he had to take the punishment rather than be offered the chance to throw the fight via phantom punches). However, there is still some business to attend to (not counting enduring a root canal tomorrow) rather than blissfully basking in my non-painness. I don't know what kind of laughing gas my good friend Bob Dylan was on when he sang, "Pain sure brings out the best in people, now doesn't iiiiiiiiiiittt?" but for me, the pain of Toothache brought out some rather desperate attempts at deal-making, whined out to God or whatever other powers were listening with any kind of an interested ear. And now, while I have certainly spent some time today thanking the Good Lord for seeing me through my agony of the gums, I must, with a saner state of mind, address the promises I made in exchange for sleep and the relief of torment during my dark couple of days and nights of the molar.

Certainly some of these promises have some merit, and I will definitely consider "seeing what I can do about them" in the future; but the others, well, any sentient soul will recognize they were the mere and unfortunate ravings of a temporarily unhinged mind and as such, oblige the promiser nonewhatsoever (the legal Latin equivalent temporarily escapes me) in the future fulfillment of them. Ergo, I now decree null and void the following promises: I will shovel every driveway in Cleveland Heights next winter, everyday, snow or no snow; I will read the literary oeuvre of Jackie Collins and use tirelessly my humble blog to trumpet her canonical status and plead for her admission into the Nobel club; I will spend a year not only rooting passionately for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but daily wearing their garb; I will learn the game of cricket and enforce its pleasures on the neighborhood kids; I will look into Mormonism (it was like 4 a.m. and a fresh surge of pain gave me the momentary notion that only somebody named Joe Smith could save me); I will organize a local Tea Party to take place on Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights, July 4th (as somebody unmentioned once claimed, "The only thing worse than a Wisconsin liberal is a Cleveland Heights liberal"); I will reconsider the merits of Men Without Hats; I will uncomplainingly become one of those people who say, "And so I said to myself, 'Self...'"; I will go by the nickname Wildflower for the rest of my life; I will shop daily at Marc's discount store for exactly one item and then allow anyone who so desires to cut in front of me in the check-out line, for as long as it takes; I will only blog about my interest in numismatics; I will floss hourly from now until the hour of my death, amen (well, that one might warrant some second thoughts).

Warren Zevon-Ain't That Pretty At All

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Niche Markets: twitter Product Extensions

Remember the easy old days when the only decision to be made when purchasing a tube of Crest or a bottle of Coke was what size container? Now there must be at least a dozen variations of each product to choose from. Well, according to a top-secret intra-office memo from the HQ of twitter, obtained by the corporate espionage arm of spitoutyourgum, twitter is set to branch out into a host of niche markets. Outside of a few exceptions, these more specific social networks will still be limited to the 140 or less characters rule. To ensure my readers are always ahead of the curve, I hereby provide you with a list of some of the more interesting twitter product extensions, so you can be the first in your social network to make use of these soon-to-be essential electronic media.
  • bitter: a network for heartbroken vampires to vent about the women who dumped them
  • critter: a network for people to describe, comment on, and generally freak out about the animals they encounter when forced to smoke outside their homes in the middle of the night
  • ditter: a network for good old boys to repeat the kick ass posts their peers posted
  • fitter?: a network for guys shopping for clothes for their girlfriends/wives to gather information about the right size
  • fjitter: a network for the Dutch
  • flitter: a network for lepidopterists
  • fritter: a network for procrastinators
  • gitter: a network for bounty hunters and repo men
  • hitter: a network whose use is prohibited for any member of the Cleveland Indians
  • jitter: a network for performers about to take the stage
  • kitter: a network for kaboodles seeking a partner
  • litter: a network for tearing-up Native Americans to post their lamentations about unbagged garbage
  • mitter: alas, already taken by the Romney In 2012! folks
  • mnitter: a network for weary students to exchange memorization tips
  • nitter: a network for grammarians who like to point out mistakes in other people's twitter posts
  • phitter: a network for slimming down old skool b-boys who are sick of being phat
  • pitter: a network providing diversion for old folks with nothing better to do with their time than putter around the house
  • quitter: a support network for recovering twitter addicts
  • ritter: all hail the late John
  • shitter: a network for those communication-addicts who, like most sensible people, are too embarrassed to carry on a cell phone conversation while sitting on a public toilet
  • sitter: a network for life drawing class models to relieve their boredom
  • snitter: a network for people to escalate their twitter spats
  • spitter: a network for twelve-year-old boys to exaggerate their latest "awesome loogies"
  • stitter: a network for stuttering funny folks to exchange jokes
  • thitter: a network for lisping baby-sitters to exchange useful tips
  • titter: a women-only humor network where subscribers post two approximately symmetrical posts, whose characters are limited to the number corresponding to the poster's bust size
  • witter: a men-only humor network for competitive guys out to post a funnier comment than their buddies
  • yitter: a network for mensches
  • zitter: a network for dermatologists

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


I don't know if I've written before about my expertise when it comes to lip-synching (if I haven't, ask me sometime), but I am an expert based on my winning a contest once by lip-synching to an instrumental (the "Mission Impossible Theme Song"). So I am qualified to state unequivocally that the lads in the video above are truly pioneers and kings of the craft. Now I admit I was a latecomer to Seinfeld, and I've never really been that enamored of his stand-up schtik, and I see this video has been around for a while, but as of yesterday it was "going viral" according to, so if you've already seen this and it's old hat, my apologies, but it's new to me and I think very funny. Enjoy it.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Cigarette-less In The Heights

It's been more than a month, April 1, since I've smoked a cigarette. Hold the applause, though; I've been weaning myself with cigarillos. Some of you may not see, or smell, the difference, but to me it's huge. I'm on my way, with the grace of God. Prayer, willpower, and poetry have been my main guides, not forgetting those cigarillos, so I thought I'd celebrate a little by giving you all a snippet of my work-in-progress opus.

Smoking: A Eulogy In Progress (Part 1)

Get behind me, Satan,
and blow rings of Marlboro smoke
round my neck,
flick the ashes
down the back of my shirt
and stub your butt out
on one of my butt pockets.
Permit me all conceivable intercourse
with that cigarette
except inhalation and I'll
bequeath you the sole
of my right shoe,
the one that's damned
thousands of brotherly rags.
One never wants
for a lighter in hell,
I suppose.

Tex Williams-Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Derby Dan

My head's in Cleveland today (as if it isn't always) but my heart's in Louisville, Kentucky. From 1984-98 I attended the Kentucky Derby for fifteen straight years, a few years after my grandfather stopped his yearly pigrimage there. I'm proud to say my niece is there today for her third straight, keeping the family tradition allive.

Over the years some of my best friends made the trek with me, tightening the grip the sports world's two most exciting minutes has on my heart. From overnight rides to and from the track, morning mint juleps and evening countings up the winnings (1987-Alysheba, 1990-Unbridled, 1994-Go for Gin--three wonderful steads that made me momentarily rich), to strange guys shouting "Party Party Party" at all hours of the night, cold dawns waiting in line, and days spent roaming the infield with a cheap camera looking to document the Dorks of the Derby, all the memories are great. One year I'll return. As for today, though, I'll be watching and betting at one of my favorite fellow Derby-goers Doug's house, a party I've attended twice and walked out with the winnings both times; here's hoping the streak continues.

Based on nothing but my sheer gut (see above, '87, '90, '94 for a decent track record), I'm picking Paddy O'Prado to shock the field and come home with the roses this year. You heard it here first. Party Party Party!

The Duhks-Camptown Races