Friday, April 29, 2011

Before The Month Is Out...

It's been a crazy month, this April. Natural disasters, royal weddings, birth certificate furors. Unfortunately, with all this hubbub, April's annual celebration, National Poetry Month, has been kind of pushed away from everybody's consciousness, I'm afraid. Whereas usually the month is filled with poesy-spouting kids, strangers pulling you aside to recite an octave or two, and politicians vociferously demanding more tax dollars being diverted to poets, this April has been overwhelmed too much by talk of what a particular dress is going to look like (am I the only one who thinks all wedding dresses look the same?), the squeal of weather sirens, and the dementia of a big-haired demagogue. My fear is that some budding young poet, all excited by the promise of a month devoted to his or her would-be passion, will see a dream crushed and be pulled into the mundane life because proper attention has not been paid. Well, just as the month is about to end and that tyro rhymester is about to burn up his or her first notebook of poetic scribbles, I'm here to pay attention and to do my part to inspire. If just one novice bard is saved from a practical, sensible life and is nudged slightly closer to a wonderfully poetic life of poverty, obscurity, and counting syllables on his or her fingers by my words here, I will feel a deep, Trump-like pride in myself. I wrote the following poem last year when I heard that another of the poets I was scheduled to read with one night was bringing his teenage son to read a few of his own poems. And a fine poet he turned out to be. So folks, take the opportunity to turn off the TV and write or read a poem before it's too late (or at least re-contemplate the results of the American Revolution in light of the fact that in a couple years we might be living in a flooded country ruled by President Trump instead of King William).

To A Young Poet

Psst. Hey kid,
Wanna be a poet?
Well, you don't need
a goatee, so
there's no waiting.
Get to it, now.
Disarm yourself and
leap heedlessly into
the whirl of words
with all your
stunning hormones amok.

Look the other way
kick over rocks
ignite all tethers
insist on gray
see the space
displaced by mere things
push away all pull signs
read to write
and cry out to laugh
drink lots of water
don't smoke
and always carry a pen
(paper is superfluous;
you can always write
on hands
and the eyes of others).
Believe or not
in whatever
but trust that
the next poem
will always be your best.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

BREAKING NEWS: Donald Trump Is "Very Proud Of Myself"

With The Donald's earth-shattering announcement today of just how proud of himself he is, we expect film at eleven of several of these other monumental announcements sure to be following in The Donald's trailblazing wake:

  • Print, a fabulous and time-saving way to communicate, is here!
  • Bread: Now it comes sliced!
  • Christianity, the movement spawned by the late Jesus Christ, is making inroads in previously pagan communities.
  • Women beginning to sense men don't adequately communicate.
  • Could the Earth be a bit rounded at the edges?
  • New "wheel" makes a helluva lot of things easier.
  • Get a load of this! Alcohol, consumed orally in moderate to large amounts, causes all sorts of funny and not so funny things to happen.
  • Congress bickers.
  • Fat ones sing the best, opera critic concludes.
  • Fire, hot!
  • "I ain't seen one fly yet," says local pig farmer, "but boy that bacon tastes gooood."
  • Irish not the most taciturn race.
  • Some fans slow to warm to Dylan's mellifluous singing voice.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

If She Were A He

Pardon the interruption; I've been out back the last few days building an ark.

Which (all this rain), coupled with Earth Day and my impromtu gender thing theme last week, got me thinking--why is it Mother Earth/Mother Nature and not Father? Not that I'm the kind of chauvinist who's going to launch a campaign for a more equal masculine presence in representations/personifications of Nature/Earth, just that I'm curious, what if? Sure there's Father Time, but really, what does that entail, winding some kind of cosmic watch every eon or so? Time is tedious, relentless, and unchanging (spare me the Einstein dope I never I understood, please), which, fine, fits a paternalistic view of things, but still--the woman gets domain over Nature/Earth and the man gets what, a golden watch?

Now I'm not advocating a Father Nature/Father Earth pardigm, believe me. The more I've contemplated the idea these last few soggy days of non-blogging, the more I end up whimpering "Mommy," even despite her (Mother Nature/Earth's) rather severe moodiness lately. Because, trust me, I've envisioned a world of Father Nature/Earth, and I'll modestly speak for the human race and say, fine, give us your monsoons and quakes and twisters and hot flashes (for you global warming believers) and everything else, dear mother, just keep father occupied by his tick-tock and far away from the winds, the waters, and the heavens.

First of all, if you do indeed believe in man-caused (and let's not just blame men, here; I gotta believe all that hairspray, predominantly used by women, has some effect) global warming, try this on for size: Father Nature/Earth always leaves the lid up on the ozone layer whenever he's through piddling about in earthly affairs. And he likes plenty of ice with his pre-prandial cocktails, so one way or another, the polar ice caps would have been long kaput. And of course the Old Man is a bit confrontational, even impulsively violent at times. You think he could abide, let alone live in harmony with, the moon? Especially with all its pull? Hell no. The moon would have been blasted out of the cosmos millennia ago. And whereas Mother N/E adopts the "oh, don't mind us, we'll just keep on spinning here, nice to see you, have a pleasant trip" attitude towards asteroids and comets and such, Father N/E is a wee bit more combative in the No Trespassing sign/"hey kids, get off my lawn" mode. Star Wars indeed.

And despite all the carping about her we do (oh, there's just two here: winter and road repair) regarding the seasons, Mother N/E does indeed provide us with four semi-regular and -distinct ones. But Father? Look at it this way: mom's orderly magnetic family activity calendar on the refrigerator vs. dad's garage. We'd have dozens and dozens of seasons, employed in an erratic, quite random pattern (sic) that would make our daily lives an ADD's/OCD's/neurotic's nightmare. The good old Five Day Forecast (with due apologies to A.J. Colby, the last vestige of some alchemical/oracle/seer pagan hope ritual we have left in this modern world) would be totally (as opposed to semi-dependently) superfluous and worthless. Talk about mood swings: "thanks for the tropical weather, Fath-- ur, where are my snowshoes, honey?"

Has anyone else had the same weird introduction to the French Quarter in New Orleans that I did, arriving by boat? You get about halfway down the three or four flights of steps before reason hits you (probably for the last time until you get way beyond the French Quarter's boundaries) and you think, wait a minute, I'm walking one hundred or so steps down from the river to dry (?) land, that's crazy (or, that's counter-intuitive, if you're one of those people). The non-sensical juxtaposition that is New Orleans (and thank God for it) would be the norm, not the quaint exception. Because in his natural inclination to tinker with things, gerryrig everything, not follow directions ("I know what it says, but this way's going to be much better, believe me"), let's just see what happens if we do this, hey, wouldn't it be cool if...Father N/E, being at heart a man, wouldn't abide by the "rules of nature"; hell, being Father Nature, he wouldn't even have written them in the first place, and if he did, they'd have gotten lost, "somewhere around here; look under that old toolbox, will you, son." Some waterfalls would fall up, stretches of desert would be found at the poles, the river would hardly ever run to the sea, and sure as hell, day wouldn't always follow night, necessarily. Oh, the tinkering that man's man would do: let's see what happens if we spin this planet the other way, or, better yet, roll it, pole over pole; I'm kinda tired of this blue, a bit too wimpy for me, let's paint the sky a sorta mahogany, give it a den-like feel; go ahead son, squirt some of that lighter fluid on the sun there, goose the old bastard a bit. And so on.

And let's face it, with a man in charge, volcanoes would be erupting everywhere at anytime.

Chaos, I tell you, sheer chaos with a man at nature's helm. Let the cantankerous, why don't we see what a little rubbing alcohol, duct tape, ammonia, and this new torch I just picked up at Ace will do to this rickety old hot water heater, old man fuss with his watch. Mother Nature/Earth, despite your tough love at times, we're sticking with you.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Men Are Better Than Women (At A Few Things, I'm Pretty Sure)

Today I was asked about a new book I had never heard of before, Man Down. The customer, a woman, said it was about how women are better at a lot of things than men. My response: "It's only one volume?" Turns out the book has quite a sub-title: Man Down: Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt That Women Are Better Cops, Drivers, Gamblers, Spies, World Leaders, Beer Tasters, Hedge Fund Managers, and Just About Everything Else (check it out here). Turns out too that the book was written by a man, Dan Abrams, which just goes to show you. What, I don't know, but it should show you something. Now I could take some potshots at that sub-title (beer's for drinking, not tasting; just who wants to identify him or herself as either a world leader or a hedge fund manager these days?; drivers?! Mr. Abrams has never driven the streets I drive!) and I suppose I could read the book and review it here (though I'm sure a woman blogger could do a better job), but I've reached that stage in life (post first grade) where I'm really only interested in things I don't already know. Of course women are better at most things; I've been saying it for years, truly.


"Just about everything else"; "most things"; not everything. There are definitely a few skill sets left out there that men excel at and at which they totally out-perform women. So while Mr. Abrams is out there doing the media thing and singing the praises of women, I think it's only fair that a little equal time is given over to the prowess of men right here right now.

Scratching. May seem trivial to you, but just wait a few minutes until you get a really bad itch. Hands down, men scratch--in a utilitarian, not pugilistic sense--way better than women. Growing hair. Yes, as far as I know there's no such thing as female pattern baldness, but knuckles, ears, noses, backs--men can grow some serious hair. I mean, compared to taking someone else's money, lifting a wet finger to the times, and taking an educated guess, i.e. hedge fund managing, growing a nice bushy patch between one's shoulder blades is godlike.

Spitting. That's a given, isn't it? No argument there, right? In keeping with this blog's theme, I'll go a step further and claim that men are much better than women at chewing gum, too. Men work the gum, gnawing on a wad of it; women frenetically chimp chomp a tiny square piece at the back of their mouths and snap it. In terms of chewing gum, men are like DaVinci, women are like etch-a-sketchers. And while we're in the vicinity of the mouth, burping. Spend ten minutes around five 13-year-old boys, and if you come out of it still sane, you'll grant the less fair gender the burping crown, no question.

Artisans of the remote control. I cry tears of pride and wonder when I watch one of my nephews work a TV remote. A woman with a remote in her hand only gives me a nic fit.

Grilling/barbequeing. Yeah, you're going to argue that one?

Getting ready. For anything. Except maybe a fantasy football/baseball draft, but since I despise fantasy sports, that doesn't count.

Killing creepy crawling things. I'm sure she exists, and I'm sure she's good, but you never think of the Orkin Woman, do you?

Carrying on a half-hour conversation using less than a hundred words. Physically impossible for women, nirvana for two good male friends.

Laughing at one's self (just a hunch).

Prelude to 110 or 220/Women of the World--Jim O'Rourke by spitoutyourgumblog

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

I Know A Guy

I know a guy who fell asleep on the toilet and later asked me if I had ever done the same thing.

I knew a French guy named Guy (pronunciation rhymes with Bye, not Bee) who had a sex change operation but didn't change her name.

I know another French guy (Henri, not Guy) who hates Jerry Lewis.

I know a Chinese guy who jumped off a chair two seconds before the earthquake hit San Francisco in 1989.

I know a guy who custom orders Sudokus with every 1 filled in and two random 9s and he solves them in less than twenty minutes.

I know a guy who sings the long-forgotten second verse to "The Star-Spangled Banner" at sporting events.

I know a guy who knows a guy who swears he knew me in 1957, years before I was born.

I know a guy who puts ketchup on celery and calls it lunch.

I know another guy who prefers the word catsup.

I know a guy who claims he saw Thomas Pynchon knitting a shawl in the Detroit Greyhound station the same week Jimmy Hoffa disappeared.

I know a guy who, after telling his friends he was going to propose to his girlfriend on a weekend trip, chickened out. He came home and had to go to the bathroom where he sat in embarrassed horror as his girlfriend checked the answering machine and heard a message from one of his friends asking how the proposal went.

I know a different guy who, on his honeymoon, got knocked senseless by a wave and as his new bride hovered over him on the beach to see if he was all right said to her, "Don't panic. I know I should know your name, but I can't remember it."

I know a guy, a pretty good athlete, who could never synchronize coughing and opening a contraband can of pop in biology class and who eventually had me cover cough for him.

I know a guy who once won a lip synch contest lip synching to an instrumental.

I know two learned guys who, while waiting in a long ride at an amusement park, started joking in Classical Latin about all the weird people around them. They became conscious of two middle-aged women nearby who seemed to be laughing with them a bit too much. Finally the women told the guys that they were nuns and understood everything the guys were saying and wanted to tell them before the guys started talking about them, the nuns.

I know a guy who used to go into work in the morning, leave his jacket on his desk, go out to the racetrack all day, come back and get his jacket, and go home.

I know a guy who was the last to leave a party and two minutes later knocked on the hosts' door and when they opened it said, "I locked my keys in the car. Do you have a brick?"

I know a guy who claimed he didn't know any guys who had ever done anything special until I told him I once wrestled a bear.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

'This. This Is Important To Me.'

Ironically, I found this picture of my all-time favorite record store, Vintage Vinyl in Evanston, Illinois (great memories from college), on a Cleveland radio station's website, which is too bad, because Cleveland still has a few good record stores. Anyway, in honor of Record Store Day, here's my favorite "record" movie clip--from what seems to be now an underrated and too unknown great movie, Diner: Daniel Stern explaining to his wife Ellen Barkin how important records are to him. Anyone with the disease can relate, if not excuse, his behavior here.

Thank you music, and all the great stores over the years.

Put Records Back In The Record Store--Coo Coo Party Time by spitoutyourgumblog

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The 17th Robin Of Spring Chirps His Mind

Yeah, we finally flew in late last week. No sense rushing things when Spring Break's in full swing in Lauderdale (we're strictly east coast snowbirds; none of that noveau riche west coast frippery for us). Pelican Jack treats us real good. Doesn't break out the real good stuff until late in the season. Made our way up slowly, stopping off in the Carolinas to party with some blackbirds we met one crazy night in Pompano a few years back. Good God the hummingbirds in Wilmington are enough to make you give up flight. Gorgeous. The wife nearly broke my beak off one night just because I chirped at one.

So I'm the seventeenth robin this spring, hunh? Like I give a squirt. That early bird gets the worm nonsense? Right here, woodpecker. You ever taste a worm? Believe me, there's always more worms. And don't get me started on Rusty Williger, but since you did, here's what I think of Rusty Williger, the perennial "first robin of spring": an obsequious white-nosing preener. Everytime I fly by him (which isn't often, trust me; more likely than not I'm just getting back to my nest while he's up and at 'em and leaving his to put in some appearance somewhere) I flip him the human. That's what I think of Rusty Williger. You should see him down in Florida. It's just barely getting good and hot down there and he's tweeting all day about getting back north and heralding spring for all the goddamn humans. I've hardly got a base tan and he's packing up the nattering little Willigers and heading north to peck at everybody's window the first time the temp tops forty--"Look here, folks, it's me, Rusty Williger, the first robin you've seen in months; spring's a-coming!" Gag me with a twig. Let me tell you, folks, the "first robin of spring" is nothing but a marketing ploy. Poetry, my tail feather. Rusty Shilliger we all call him. I hear that behind his nest twigs he prefers to be called "The Muse." Show me an unmarked sliding glass door. The first robin of spring is nothing but a prudish, self-esteem deficient cold bird looking for some Cheerios tossed out a foggy back door.

Ah hell, that's enough grousing. I gotta build a nest or the wife's gonna have my breast for dinner. Spring's just a drawn-out tease. I can't wait for some really hot weather. Nothing's better than gorging on some tardy worms and looking for a convertible to bomb.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Nirvana = Coffee, Coldplay = I'll Call You Sometime

With a host of social problems that cry out for fixing and scientific mysteries that demand solving, it's always a pleasure to report on those institutions that are on the front line of investigating and helping us understand the ways of our world. Via the good folks at I stumbled upon a groundbreaking piece of research into the inter-connection between musical tastes and promiscuity that was done by the socially-conscious people at, a musical dating site. As you can see, this chart (click on it to enlarge) measures which fans of a particular musical artist are more likely to "come back for coffee" on the first date.

Is it any surprise that the fans of the only Seattle-based group on the chart are most likely to equate coffee with sex? Nomenclature as destiny in the case of Coldplay? Is it possible for Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich's ego to get any bigger? Got to believe The Strokes, of all bands, are a bit disappointed with these results; even the 40+ year defunct Beatles are more of an aphrodisiac! With Gorillaz charting so respectably, one wonders where that other great cartoon band, The Archies, would fall on the graph. Ahead of Coldplay I'm sure. Am I, who saw the Red Hot Chili Peppers way back in 1985 when they were actually a pretty good band, getting rock-senile because it took me like fifteen minutes to figure out what RHCP stood for?

Not to be outdone by the wonks at Tastebuds, the crack research team here at spitouyourgum (admittedly twiddling their thumbs lately with nothing better to do than ascertaining the obsolete date of steam shovels and determining the continuing commercial viability of Fresca) quickly crunched some numbers and came up with the following data.
  • No surprise, I guess, but the people who responded most enthusiastically to the question, "Would you like to come up and check out my collection of Star Wars knick-knacks memorabilia?" are fans of the Alan Parsons Project.
  • Surprisingly, to me at least, the people who asked, "What's coffee?" were neither Jonas Brothers fans nor Justin Bieber fans, but overwhelmingly fans of Dan Fogelberg.
  • "It's too late for coffee, would you like to come up for a martini instead?" elicited the most favorable responses from the Sinatra-loving set.
  • "I hate to be so personal on a first date, but could you come up and help me lance the troublesome boil on back?" scored high with Talking Heads fans.
  • Devotees of the Motley Crue oeuvre frothed at the mouth to the question, "Presently I don't have anywhere to 'go up to' but would you like to go to 7-11 and distract the cashier while getting some Slurpees so that I can rip us off some burritos?"
  • Fans of Bauhaus couldn't be found to participate in the survey.
  • Ironically, fans of Bare Naked Ladies were the ones who scored highest on the question, "Would you like to come up and see the literature promoting the Abstinence Club I'm co-vice-president of?"
  • For the forty-fifth consecutive year, fans of the Velvet Underground easily outdistanced all comers when it came to favorably responding to the statement, "Want to shoot some heroin? We'll probably have no interest in sex then, but we can sit around and nod off while talking about Kant." Time to retire that question, I guess.
  • Regardless of their own musical tastes, participants in the survey unanimously voted Bob Dylan fans the sexiest and left the testing site involuntarily singing Bob's "One More Cup of Coffee" song.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Nice Guys Finishing

A.J. Colby

Mike Snyder
Today at work I was asked if I was local. I may be paranoid or just getting hard of hearing, but I thought I was being asked if I was loco. While the jury deliberates on that one, yes I am local, meaning, in the questioner's mind, I grew up in Cleveland. The question pertained to everybody's favorite former Browns coach Sam "The Riverboat Gambler" Rutigliano. I remember him well. Rutigliano and steam shovels--I'm showing my age, I guess. Crank up the rocking chair.

But I'm going local for this post, specifically media local. I realize that because I don't own a TV my qualifications for commenting on some aspects of the local media scene could be called into question, but I do snatch a glimpse of television now and then, and I believe I am qualified to smell a rat when I see one. What I thought was an April Fool's joke when I heard about it on April 1 has turned out to be cruel reality: WKYC-TV 3 has announced it is letting weatherman A.J. Colby go. More than a year ago I sang the praises of A.J. on this blog. You may not need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, but you sure could use one who can tell you why what's happening out there is happening and what's likely to happen over the next few days without foaming at the mouth and scaring you into battening down your hatches and whatever else you can batten down. And A.J. Colby is precisely that guy. In the maelstrom of Cleveland weather, A.J. is the calming breeze. Unlike so many of his counterparts, A.J. keeps his cool and avoids the hype. He's the kind of guy you want to talk weather with all afternoon. I'm generally okay with WKYC (Will'ya Keep Your Colby), but this move has me ticked off. If I had a TV I'd actively boycott the station (and with the alternative local newscasts being what they are in Cleveland, that's like saying I'd give up ice cream for a steady diet of liver, sardines, and Fresca). As it is, though, I guess I'll just have to curse WKYC: may ceiling leaks plague your studios after A.J.'s scheduled May 29 last day, and may the AC work perfectly December through March, and the heating system work perfectly June through August. Reinstate A.J. and I'll rescind. As for you, A.J., you're a pro--nothing but sunny, mild days in your forecast.

On the radio side of things, tonight seems to be an appropriate night to bow to the greatness of WTAM 1100's Mike Snyder. For years I've loved this guy's work as the sports director for Cleveland's big radio station. He knows sports, he's friendly as hell on the air, and he's the antithesis of a blowhard. Due to unfortunate circumstances, though, over the last few years Snyder has evolved into without a doubt the hardest working man in Cleveland media. After the death of Casey Coleman, Snyder took over on the morning shift, in addition to handling studio duties during and after Browns and Cavs games. How/if the man slept, I'll never know. Then, suddenly this past fall, Snyder was thrust into the Cavs play-by-play chair. No ordinary chair, that. It's only the chair of forever Cavs radio voice, Hall of Famer, and soundtrack to just about my entire life's worth of Cleveland sports memories, Joe Tait. Tait had some health problems this year, which allowed him to call only a handful of Cavs home games. Now replacing/filling in for Joe Tait is kind of like taking over the wheel of the ark from Noah, but I have to say, Snyder's been great, making listening to Cavs game this dreadful year as enjoyable as it could be. Amazing work. For the past six months, Snyder's been on the radio at all hours of the day and night, from here there and everywhere--and always upbeat, friendly, informative, and insightful. Tonight's the last Cavs away game, Snyder's swan song in his play-by-play role, I suppose. Now he can kick back and relax and probably reduce his working hours to just 18 a day. Congratulations, Mike, on jobs well done.

And while I'm on the subject of Cleveland media, is Bud Shaw's Shaw's Spin column in the Plain Dealer the unfunniest, biggest waste of space in town? I liked Shaw when he was writing real columns, not this pale rip-off of Norman Chad's shtick.

In closing:
WKYC--come to your senses and retain A.J. Colby.
WTAM--give Mike Snyder a big raise and two months vacation.
PD--Bud Shaw should write, not joke around.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


No, I'm not here to sing the praises of Vegemite. And I'm not going to congratulate our dearly elected legislators and president for putting the good of the country before their own interests (there's a concept), buckling down, and getting the job done on a budget agreement at the eleventh hour last night. Although I'd rather be locked in a room with Vegemite than politicians any day.

What I want to address, nay, celebrate today is good old work, manual labor. I live on a side street, just a couple doors down from a fairly busy street. The fairly busy street, for years, has been one of the roughest rides I have ever driven (memories of Saturday Night Live's iconic commercial about a rabbi performing a circumcision in the backseat of a Lincoln or Mercury while being driven on a pothole-heavy road; alas, despite the appropriateness of that commercial and this particular road, I can't find the clip on YouTube). So imagine my delight a week or so ago when heavy duty construction equipment started appearing along the roadside. Finally, a paving job. But then big yellow pipes started appearing too, and the guys have started work installing new pipes on the side of the road. One would think that the powers that be would be in synch and that after laying pipe the boys would start a smooth re-surfacing job, right? I don't know, though; it all sounds too obvious for the bureaucrats. I'll believe it only when I can drive the road without fear of losing a filling.

Anyway, on this Saturday morning, a glorious no-work day for me, I was awakened at 7 by the road crew dragging pipes around. I was eventually awakened momentarily again a few times before finally (three adverbs in half a sentence; working English teachers connipt) succumbing to full consciousness after nine when a backing up piece of machinery's incessant beep beep beep fooled me into believing it was my alarm. I looked out the window and the sight of several beefy guys in hardhats and yellow smocks standing around a hole while various orange hulking machines and a loud generator idled nearby instantly, like I was a Midwest American counterpart to little Marcel and his bisquit, transported me back forty years to the glorious summer days of my youth watching men at work.

Oh those mornings back then when waking to the noise of a road crew was like waking up to find Santa Claus dropping by for a picnic in June. All the little boys of the neighborhood would congregate on a tree lawn near the action, and with nothing more than a PB&J and lemonade break and a potty trip or two to interrupt the day, we'd be in heaven until quitting time. It was a pageant. You could spend thirty minutes just watching one guy wrestle with a piece of pipe, or three hours admiring the mechanical wonder of a long, flexible steam shovel. Over time you'd get to know the personalities of the crew: the young guy who seemed so cool smoking a cigarette as he guided a backing up pick-up truck. The dirty guy loser who seemed always to be the one who had to jump down in the hole to do something nasty. The lazy guy who slept for hours at the controls of a not-needed-yet piece of machinery parked a ways down the street. The fat guy, who seemed to be the boss, who mostly directed what little traffic there was and once every two hours or so would be called over to make some kind of decision about dirt. If you were lucky there'd be a guy who would shout a bad word or two above the non-stop moan of a generator. My God it was paradise: Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel come to life in living color right in your own front yard. Our moms must have rejoiced when the work crews showed up for a day or two or even a week or two. We were out of their hair and merely a glance out of the window away for hours, days, weeks--hypnotized by men at work. Taking some time today to watch these descendants of the gods of my youth, I missed most of the wonder, but I did give a long overdue nod of gratitude: I promise to thank these guys over the ensuing weeks/months/years for their now-seemingly tedious, exhausting work when I turn the knobs and get a stream of clean, fresh water or flush away what I flush away. Thank you gentlemen, for the wonder of sheer entertainment then and the wonder of indoor plumbing now.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Two Birds, One Stone: Solving The Budget Crunch And Restoring Civility

Is there anything more tiresome and irritating than listening to politicians grouse, grandstand, and finger-point about the ongoing budget fracas in Washington that threatens to shut down Uncle Sam tomorrow? Other than listening to pundits comment on it all (which, living as I do without a TV, I'm thankfully spared), I think not. Outside of the always-threatened but never enacted plan of "locking both sides in a room and not letting them out until..." there doesn't seem to be any solution to the mess.

Until now. My plan, which I will be unveiling at a public rally at dusk today in the linen section of a nearby Wal-Mart, not only will solve the budget crisis today but will make budget crises a thing of the past. How can you do the impossible, Mr. spitoutyourgum, you say? Easy, I'm relying on the very thing that's fueling the current crisis-- the unchecked assholiness of our politicians--but writ much larger. You see, if our politicians are truly our representatives, then we, the citizens of the United States, must have a wealth of assholiness(AHs) ourselves. I say tap that pool of AHs. In doing so, not only will our fiscal emergencies be rectified almost immediately, but perhaps, the US will be a more civil place to live, maybe not for us, but quite possibly for our children's children, and aren't they the ones who matter most?

I'm not talking about a tax on AHs, just a fine. Taxes are imposed on all and, as we've been told, are inevitable. But fines are only levied on those who deserve them, the jerks who behave in a such a way that the rest of society is disgusted. Make the transgressing jerks pay for the general upkeep of our way of life, that's my proposal. It doesn't take a cynical blogger to see that the revenue streams possible for such an endeavor are boundless.

Now I am more than prepared to provide the list of fine-able AHs (see below), but this being America and all, I do not aspire to be a dictator. I think we as a nation are more than capable of coming up with a fair list of AHs transgressions which deserve a fine. Hold a national AHs referendum. Or maybe you want to go the more bureaucratically dignified route of appointing a Blue-Ribbon Bi-Partisan Multi-Hyphenated Commission of Assholiness (where are Warren Christopher, James Baker, Ramsey Clark, Elizabeth Dole, and Vernon Jordan?) to study the issue, call witnesses, draft a proposal and present it to us? Fine, whatever works. Maybe, in a true sign of harmony and the New Civility, we could appoint those dueling pols of old, George W. Bush and Al Gore, to be the co-czars of the AHs Watch and they could Alfred E. Neuman the whole thing when announcing its catch-phrase: Everything's Fine, America. Whatever. Just let's get the job done. So, to get the ball rolling and the minds working, here's my list of some, not all, just some of the more egregious examples of AHs, which, if fined properly, would provide a torrent of revenue to the US coffers and maybe eventually bring about a more polite, reasonable society. Anyone caught demonstrating the following behaviors will be told, "Hey buddy, you're not fine, you're fined!" (Let the pros quibble over the monetary details--that's their job, you know--but I suggest $50 for first offense, escalating $25 per repeat offense.)

  • Anyone who, while walking across a parking lot replies, to the only-trying-to-help statement by a stranger that "your lights are on," with a cocky, condescending, don't-intrude-upon-my-privileged-world-status, "they'll go off"? Fined.
  • Anyone who, when hearing two notes of a Grateful Dead song, mutters in a dazed, worshipful tone, "Jerry"? Fined.
  • Anyone, over the age of 18, who begins a speech with the phrase, "Webster's defines the word..."? Fined.
  • Anyone who goes out in public on a day where the temperature is below fifty wearing shorts? Fined. If it's raining or snowing or sleeting? Doubly fined.
  • Anyone who refuses a bag at a retail establishment, telling the retail clerk to "save a tree"? Fined.
  • Anyone who talks on his or her cellphone in a public restroom? Fined, maybe flogged too, if the public deems it appropriate.
  • Anyone who blogs an apology for not blogging more frequently lately? Fined.
  • Anyone with more than two bumper stickers on his or her car? Fined.
  • Anyone who, talking about the weather, says, "If this rain was snow we'd be getting killed"? Fined.
  • Any politician who isn't already a household name appearing on television more than once a month to denigrate the other side as if this were a boxing match? Fined. With a household name more than once a week? Fined.
  • Anyone not a girl under the age of 12 who uses the word "cute" more than twice a day? Fined.
  • Any guy not under the age of 16 who utters the phrase, "that's what she said"? Fined.
  • Anyone outside of the legally-defined boundaries of New England displaying any Red Sox garb? Fined. Talking incessantly (excuse the redundancy) about the Red Sox? Lobotomized. Then fined.
  • Anyone who corrects anyone else by saying, "I'm not a Trekkie; I'm a Trekker"? Fined.
  • Anyone who utters a variation on the sentence, "His songs are okay, but I can't stand his voice"? Fined.
  • Any drive-thru employee who refuses to or forgets to put at least three packets of ketchup in any order involving french fries? Fined.
There's your start, America. Now let's get to work.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

1,000 Words In Need Of A Picture

behemoth beckon rube slush gait truth plaza wastrel rumble rutabaga frenetic velvet yearn trait hoary universal showboat gruff bucolic fructify palaver querulous xylophone jaded nectar mucilage transom tarmac cluster nullify kneel gnarly languid vernal zealot rustic trash brash jocular seismic detente lagniappe lambaste flambe cranial porous heretic vestigial redundant pushover cease warfare quiet heighten brusque antimacassar slouch niggardly molten blight tubular charitable polish forte foregone glandular modular lunar prayer prior abbot umpire humdinger doggerel splenetic spleen muscular triune debate oracular elephantine crepuscular blackguard cube idiotic imbecile cancerous grate cheese innoculate pry sty vertical original rabid zeugma chiasmus caesura haiku despicable flange bratwurst open bind masticate virginal ululate queer particular circumspect lucky thankful idiom opulent lanky lithe justice regard sincerely avuncular cousin innate fungus yo-yo gratify turkey ossify fossil burn trunk mook nook crayon data gunk goo politician suspiration lambent turnkey hoosegow poke prod nick jejune picayune vague hasty cupcake dry gentle placid rotund filibuster economical consume digest exhaust plod league satanic uniform peer cucumber gam vetiver ambergris junket ore toe finger digit junebug mallard hyacinth ghostly phantom yam stash den hide melt liquid fruit multiply text diode catamite crazy link erudite tumescent flag moist damp bait trout wonk inch scratch church confess atone tune zest voracious effervescent crash crush press dress haberdasher soirée impede imprecate pregnant pageant reify thrust brute xenophobe quiescent hops barley malt imbibe tankard cross crux injurious peculiar subscription lot prong tine fork spoon moon goon elide deify delectable sugar butter lard acid photograph nuisance asinine freakish determine orange tithe furnace desk pen penal impale implant vegetation comatose lionize saturnine phlegm modicum hirsute wicked electrify fry yeast batter diamond kick bawl enunciate vocabulary diction essay effect affect wherewithal werewolf igloo denigrate milquetoast frizzy shapely soothe sale lullaby trek atavistic avatar radar range police ratiocination interrupt corrupt major moral morale jingoistic patriotic pale plunk catapult carom dodge whisk buzz buxom unify griffin erupt ostracize syzygy zenith acme plunge plumber depths abyss stare noise careen career oust cease cede shine glory truncate trenchant transgress define delineate eat glutton narcissus platonic ionize modulate wiener roue cad hoyden veritable ersatz venerable vulnerable cacophony cauterize blitz rocket rainbow gravity grave cellar portal lee buoy stub ducat sayso sauce chippy iron wood putter eagle hoist foist fling hurl despot pig quit rut gut hut fit residue trump bridge ford creek rill branch nil null void treacle fire brimstone spark ether poesy prosaic master tipple trickster magus shaman urbanite urbane muck mire routine redux duck scatter cart stevedore bellows embers boast bray squint lint cache abscond pardon parse arse pin cushion pillow heat perspire moan shimmy shrimp slight skinny paper moose goose pinch thievery vagabond bum steer polymath didactic dactyl foot member donkey was wish opine mash gnash masticate molar uvula voicebox lesion practice doctor summit executive brainy aspersion aspect sumac churlish admonition dork squirrel joke débutante vomit rusticate adumbrate umbrella penumbra spectacular motivate vote elect statuary statute constitution suds bud butt yep yule logger peppermint balsamic pasta chop lop mop nope rope twine string dust gimpy cripple ferry titan giant midget dwarf blaze orb torte totter twit titter placate robust ghoul foolish drug bin nib nub hymnal noon gloaming spheroid loquacious binge burp regurgitate fart intestine institutional malaise pot belly spare bowl hydroplane jet ski tobaggon makeover retinue reticule ocean tomfoolery heaven hitch bitch stitch pitch ebony soprano bass toady intuit counter grime formica slate troglodyte rush rug fake tomcat compact jalopy chutney jitney sideboard muffler cap screw sedate see saw bite rite unctuous afar effort adjudicate verge canyon tarn aerie low lay payee chuck junket lame claim vague vacuous dais breeze slide simpering hinge fractal fulcrum negate pessimistic hedonist gloom misanthropic testy phallus benign malevolent toast singe catastrophic beggar tangible imp hippie wag bag nag hag laden impecunious miserly omnipresent sole bespoke smitten behest heir sanctuary keyhole hubris spell spelunker punk pod codpiece instrument polar trenchant analyze anise licorice tush abreast white elm musky undulate resurrect tress dressage gambol adenoid obnoxious notorious famous fly bastardize cowl juniper anthrax angelic crucify posterior posterity potentate oligarchy pledge paddle earmark legume shell skull row rouse grouse dredge dowse dowdy frumpy grumpy vaccine celestial undone zombie bellhop totem workshop level cracker redneck ignorant tree anteater memory oxymoron beast blessed ratio ponder kite jut hew bent tenacious paten secular hector uppity jaundice indemnify fyce onion union ink thud potable jeopardy verify cameo spendthrift queasy rote earful ham emote thespian lesbian exacerbate bloat thrive pogo escape hatch ovary facial benediction tan beige renewal oil yo beau cob fob nod fore tar spiffy ply car ewe ram orca juice spoil carton swamp quagmire desuetude hooligan thug pugnacious pugilistic umpteenth zig-zag rollover retire disrespect taxonomy taxidermist hack shack thatched polity porcelain marble shenanigan gaseous halitosis blunderbuss cant viceroy plunder ravage rave princely hansom livery trot fickle fission convex concave flotsam jetsam hickory curvaceous frolicsome fairy canine feline cusp ketchup peony flora fauna fawn dawn spawn drawn callow fallow elliptical wordy viscous ploy numb cardinal nervous wall trench moat druid rune monolith megalomaniac insouciant reckless wreckage collision paperhanger twin pallet sand doghouse seizure dew ugly druggist inchoate beguile bedizen fustigate garrulous defenestration intrepid chatty waist banana pygmy turban exotica ruminate marginal whey wherefore strategy winning fail proximity rebuff gangly touchstone box caboose linear algebraic cone buck quicksand wagon pantaloons doubloon gourmand wrath insipid trachea wired ostracize impel repellent goose poker retroactive crewcut bevel bovine ursine doff don pillage gallon dollop firearm decanter gin rickety hangover buzzard pit voluble exertion friction fiction novel inspect ubiquity lid sill pane boisterous knowhow none brother gormless wit snit donnybrook gully noggin bean kipper boot lift deign humanoid esteem estivate hibernate triangulate witness intestine moxie pluck unseemly thorax abdomen glutes pectoral hipster tuition hokey puckish dig fig gig victuals gray lox sprint maximize itemize resonant dwell denizen blowhard pounce noun nomination rote hog briar bramble lantern torch fiery codicil bodkin jerkin loathe jelly hug vagrant coffee clash pistol puppet sodden tolerate maze coast guff inept mute avowal terminal ingot mug nugget lectern disable tired salutations goodbye

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Real Life Begins The Day After Opening Day

The sportswriter Thomas Boswell wrote that "time begins on Opening Day." Baseball, he was speaking of, and in many ways he was correct. Six straight months of daily drama and the holy grail of boxscores: there definitely is something to celebrate. A baseball-loving friend of mine, though, says that Opening Day is for tourists; the real fans show up to the ballpark for the next game. Case in point--the seemingly-going-nowhere Cleveland Indians opened their season yesterday to a sellout crowd of 42,000 fans, and got thumped. Today, they got thumped again in front of barely 9,000 fans, the smallest crowd in Jacobs/Progressive Field history. At 0-2, the pessimist in me wonders if they'll ever be closer to playing .500 ball all season.

But the optimist in me is thrilled baseball is back. So, in honor not of Opening Day but the rest of the season, I'm going to share my "greatest hit" poem here today. This has been published in a couple of places over the years, and is still a favorite when I give a reading. Somewhere, unseen ever by me, is a video of a performance of the poem I gave at the National Poetry Slam in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1994. My slam team and I split the poem into a four-voice piece and we rocked the house that night. I'd love to see the video sometime. Anyway, a year or so after writing the poem, I found this passage in The Journals of John Cheever, written in the late summer of 1963, when I was just an infant. It's all the validation I ever need: "I think that the task of an American writer is not to describe the misgivings of a woman taken in adultery as she looks out of a window at the rain but to describe four hundred people under the lights reaching for a foul ball. This is ceremony."

Catch Me

I'm a foul ball.
You see, this is how I picture it:

Wednesday night and 8,716 fans
make old Cleveland Stadium
look like a cherry cheesecake tin
in the refrigerator with no
discernible pieces left,
just sparse hunks of
graham cracker crust,
blobs of cheesecake,
and a stray cherry
here and there.

Before the game umpire Rocky Roe rubs
Delaware River mud all over me,
deep into me, hiding my gloss.

And you've been here hours
squirming in those wooden seats
because George the guy from your office
is passionate and says,
“If you miss batting practice, you miss the whole game”
and he's bragging to Linda from finance
about the strings he pulled to get these seats
“You'll be able to hear 'em swearing at the ump”
and you kind of wish you were high up
so you could see the lake
and you and your friend Stacy look through
George's binoculars at the players' good butts
and you're glad George has a crush on Linda, not you.

And I wait in a bag for hours.
Drunks behind you get another beer
for another inning.
A well-lit plane buzzes the horseshoe
in the almost black night sky;
I'm anxious for contact, baby, and I hope
I'm not a homerun to the alley
where I'll wind up in a security guard's hands
and spend my life in batting practice.
I want human contact.

And now in the seventh the ball girl
and her fat fingers walks me
and a few other balls up to Rocky
who shoves us in a thin pocket
and you and Stacy return
from the “scummy” rest room
and George too drunk now says
“You should see the men's room, you gotta piss in a trough”
and Linda laughs
and you and Stacy share an Arctic Blast
and I'm flying out to Wickander's glove
and his rosined up left hand
grips me across my seams
and I start wishing wishing
to be swatted high backwards
and you're actually a little drunk now you realize and


and I'm free flying like God spinning
up up and back and a congregation
bussed from Bentleyville
screams and stands and watches me
and dreams as I stop climbing
and open wide my eyes
and fall with the ease of love
and a bald guy leans his fat
Docker shorts legs into the blue upper deck rail
and looks at me like money
and offers me his arms
and I pray I don't go easily
and I spin through his fingers painlessly
and head down past an empty loge
blue plastic tarp-covered chairs down
and you and Stacy scream
and hold your arms up helplessly
and George elbows Linda aside
“I got it honey”
(his first words of affection)
and I'm so happy
and I give myself up
and smack George on his shoulder
and bounce off Linda's head
(she'll remember the bump lovingly tomorrow)
and I land softly in your screaming dreamy
soft hands like an egg
tossed from Lonnie Beauchamp
your seventh grade love at the school picnic
and you hold me to thousands of cheers
and scream madly and hug me to your cleavage
oblivious to my 108 double stitches
and I smile knowing
I'll be lost
in your closet
for life.