Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Only Book That Matters

As a general rule, I'm in favor of literacy, and I certainly have a vested interest in people buying books (actually reading them is nice, too), so I was excited when I saw this post (click on it once or twice to enlarge it) on yesterday, originally posted by one Dorsey Shaw at

Pretty utilitarian, I'd say, and kind of cute. Although I've only read Jane Eyre and A People's History of the United States from this chart, I know most of the other books, and I wouldn't really quibble with the selections. But, as usual, I've got issues. First of all, flow charts, when they're not being cute, remind me too much of meetings, and ultimately I don't know which is worse, cute or meetings. Also, most of the questions that keep the chart flowing are kind of simplistic, and since there are too many books to read and too little time, one needs more than a simplistic question to answer in order to determine the next book one might spend his or her precious time reading. Finally, as I studied the chart more closely, I realized that every question could be answered with, "Read Moby-Dick."

Which, I realize, is kind of a cop out, because just about every pertinent question confronting any human being could be answered quite efficaciously with, "Read Moby-Dick." You scoff? Well, a couple years ago for Lent I decided that for the forty days I would respond to any- and everybody's questions with, "Read Moby-Dick." I don't know if such an endeavor scored me any points in Heaven (though if there's a book written by a human that might impress God, can it be anything other than Moby-Dick?), but I must say I had the most enjoyable Lent of my life, and despite some initial bizarre looks, some talk among some close friends about an intervention, and a slap in the face from a mohawk-wearing woman who asked me where the bathroom was, the overall response was fantastic. People I don't even remember ever interacting with still come up to me on the street, kiss my hand, and say, "Thank you. You once told me, 'Read Moby-Dick,' and I did and my life is so much richer."

So, let's play the game my way. You say, "What should I read next?" I say, "Okay, I don't do flow charts, but do you want to read a book that's fiction, non-fiction, mystery, horror, dramatic, humorous, philosophical, that will make you laugh out loud and sob quietly, that will put you to sleep and keep you up nights, that contains no whiny spoiled British girls desperately trying to get married, that will make you ponder questions that ultimately will help you see yourself more clearly, that will give you a huge sense of accomplishment, that will help you discover how a person can arrive at the wise conclusion that the only necessities are 'time, strength, cash, and patience,' that will help you quench your thirst to learn all there is to know about cetology, that you can read with beautiful and intelligent teenaged girls in a summer park, that you can pick up anytime and read any three pages and get a better life-affirming jolt from than any morning pot of coffee, that will wow you with its prose and poetry, that will challenge/deepen/confirm your beliefs in the multifariousness of human nature and the awesomeness of nature nature, a book that will thrill you kill you spill you, chastise baptize fortify multiply sustain drain brain cuddle befuddle daze amaze tickle fickle prickle you?"

If yes, read Moby-Dick and be blessed.

If no, repent, get a life, and then read Moby-Dick

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Zoned Out, Teed Off

I first learned (one never stops learning, or at least trying to) to play golf on a nine-hole par 3 course named Locust Grove. I played there with my father, my mother, my sisters, and my friends (once even carting our clubs on an RTA bus while wearing our golf shoes). As well as other golf firsts, I also nearly killed a fellow golfer there with an errant shot and nearly had a hole in one (several of them over the years, never an ace, though). Years later I took a couple of my nephews out there a few times. One was even so little he just walked around smacking a plastic ball with a plastic club. A fine place. A few years ago Locust Grove closed. It now sits abandoned next to a "corporate park" waiting for development. I can still distinguish where the holes were, once I look beyond the aging "build to suit" sign and overflowing grass.

A couple years ago Oakwood Country Club closed. It was Cleveland's first (I believe) Jewish country club, built in 1905. I never had the opportunity to play there, but a friend of mine did, several times, and he said it was a nice course. Another friend of mine grew up caddying there, learning the same great life lessons I learned caddying at a different club a few miles away. With a decent lawn mower and a day's work raking some sand traps, the course still looks playable, from what I can tell glimpsing it as I drive by.

In general, Cleveland, let alone the world, hardly misses a couple golf courses; there are plenty of others. Still, I was saddened when I read in the newspaper today that the city of South Euclid (where some of Oakwood sits; part of it's in Cleveland Heights, too) okayed a change in zoning laws allowing the property to be developed for a planned "retail development." The world may not need another golf course, but it, and certainly not South Euclid/Cleveland Heights, really doesn't need another retail development. I suppose I could do some research and drive around and count up the number of vacant store fronts within a two-mile radius of the proposed "Oakwood Commons," but I'm not sure I can count that high, and these days driving around South Euclid/Cleveland Heights streets is an exercise in bone-rattling, pothole-dodging, shock-absorber-killing despair. Just down the road from this latest retail development panacea is Severance Town Center, last decade's hope of commercial revitalization. My beloved former place of employment, Borders, is just one of several empty storefronts there. About the same distance away on another side, a huge empty lot stands where South Euclid tore down its side of the vintage Cedar Center Shopping Plaza a few years ago to make way for--go ahead, guess--a retail development. Nothing shouts with more authority, "Welcome To South Euclid" quite like that flattened empty lot. Yep, South Euclid is ripe ripe ripe for more retail development.

Look, I don't know suburban development from a weedy abandoned lot, but something tells me if the powers that be concentrated on improving the quality of life around here it would be easier to fill up the scores of empty retail spaces littering the area. How about a pretty much already laid out park where Oakwood is? How about making the roads drivable? How about getting these investors to ante up some money to improve the schools? Hmm, nice roads, nice parks, nice schools--people might want to live here and spend their money in retail developments.

Bah, I know I don't know what I'm talking about. I'm just sad that after years of driving by Oakwood and catching a glimpse of a well-manicured golf hole and somebody hitting a five iron (and what a great thrill to play on a course like Oakwood, an oasis of green surrounded by miles of concrete), soon I'll be puttering by, waiting at more traffic lights, stuck in traffic big enough to slow my commute time but ultimately I bet not enough traffic to keep stores from falling empty, and staring at the same old retail development fixtures (Geez, right now the nearest Dick's is a whole five miles away and I can't even tell you how far a Chik-Fil-A is)--and probably still dodging potholes. Progress. You go South Euclid!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

No Dull On This Boy

Boy's a Gemini; what do you expect, I guess. Jack, most people call him. He's some kinda combination of nephew/cousin of mine--whenever they try to explain it to me I get lost round about the third removal stage. Kin nonetheless. Favoring the Rayburn side, I'd say. Unfortunate, that. Boy's got two minds and they run on wildly, willfully divergent tracks, only intersecting on some kind of a random whim. Teachers, I suspect, cower a bit when they see his name on their rolls.

Certain the boy's got some kind of a conscience, buried somewhere under layers of grime, branch mud, pockets of gadget parts'n'pieces, firecracker soot, boy thoughts, and whatever Good Book brimstone Calloway the Younger's able to batter him with whenever the boy sets still for five minutes, which is probably about as often as an equinox. He ain't devilish, just three days' walk from angelic. Strangest belly button I ever seen, though. One of them lads always lifting his shirt up to rub a stomach that ain't got no heft to it. Pig's ear like. The navel, that is.

Anyways, we's all come together last week for DaddyBlue's 95th, which means nothing but Ned's Drive-Thru's Budweiser stock gets depleted and it's time for DaddyBlue to find a new wife. He's run through and put in the ground one every decade since he's fifteen. No long-sufferin' wife, any of them. Ten years the shelf life on 'em. Expiration date. One of the Aunt Saundra's (we got three in this family) showed up with some parlor game asking all sorts of bunk questions for you to ponder; none of yourn business, was my standard reply. Eventually she pull out a card asking the best piece of advice you ever heard. Don't answer fool questions in public, naturally I said. The particular Aunt Saundra shot me roller pins through those itty bitty glasses she wears. Well, the boy happened to be there on the veranda that minute, catching wind for another half day's devilment, I suspect, and he blurted out, "All play and no work make Jack a dull boy." Chortle chortle on that one. "Ain't that the truth," shot that grizzly mistake of a man with the state flag tattooed on his shoulder, which who just might be the boy's father, come to think of it. "You ain't worked a lick in your life and you duller than a parson's penknife." The boy didn't like that. "No I ain't," which taking the boy's age and disposition and usual activity was about ninety percent of all that came outta his mouth. He slouched off with me thinking maybe under all that twisted tomfoolery the boy's got half a whit of something wise. "Never a borrower or a lender be," said Aunt Calpurnia, the parsimonious spinster who never gives me a smile, let alone a quarter to flip to see if it's gonna be Bud or Bud Light this time. "Get that yard cut sometime this year, boy," shouted the state flag tattooed man, but by then that boy was scattered.

Of course later we all had to adjourn inside for another of the Aunt Saundra's (the third's mute, praise the Lord) card readings (inside always, the sun and air disturb her medium powers' equilibrium is why), which for the thirty-second at least time running revealed that soon I'll meet the woman of my destiny, which if ever true, tar and feather me today, draw and quarter me tomorrow, all the money's in the hollowed out Joy of Cooking book behind the cistern. So when that voodoo was all through I repair back to the veranda and hear it first then see it: that boy blasting by riding high on DaddyBlue's four-wheeler with the Rayburn heirloom Toro rigged up on the back of it all and sure enough it was getting the aforementioned yard cut very rapidly and somewhat straight-lined. Ain't ever seen a boy reveling in boyishness more than that one swooping about the yard. Soon enough he come up close to the veranda to get around the shrubbery and paused long enough to shout over the din at all of us there, or none of us, more than likely, "I ain't dull nohow." 

Gumption. I might have to sidle up to that boy more. One of these urchins round here's gonna have to see me through my dotage. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Caustic Chords Of Memory

My radio woke me up this morning telling me that at 1:17 (or was it 1:16--I was a bit groggy) this afternoon, summer arrives. Now I'm sure there's some scientific reason why summer suddenly "arrives" in the middle of a hot and muggy and stormy day (a couple weeks tardy, I'd argue; seems like we've been hot and muggy and stormy for a few weeks now), but I don't understand such precision. Anyway, after being informed of this seasonal change, I leapt out of bed thinking, damn, only a few hours to get my spring cleaning done! After surveying the rugged landscape of my rented room, I realized there aren't enough hours in the day, even the year's longest, to adequately get the job done. But then, as the radio was telling me for the umpteenth time about some concoction that would make my nights pee-free and even improve my "intimacy," I hit upon the spring cleaning chore of the day: psychic spring cleaning via a media cleanse.

Now I admit I probably listen to more radio than the average person, due to the fact that I live without a television and that my car's tape deck (yes, the auto I drive is rather quaintly vintage) is on permanent Fritz. Hence, my intimate familiarity with "radio jingles." But even though I've lived without daily access to a television for most of the past twenty years, I still have "TV jingles" from thirty and forty years ago emblazoned on my brain. The other night I kind of wowed some fellow Trivial Pursuit players with my trivial memory. "Do you have a photographic memory?" one of the players, I can't remember which, asked. No, but I think I have an audio recorder memory. Naturally that night I dreamed an ugly dream: I was 117-years-old and some Cub Scouts had come to the assisted living (sic) home and asked me what it was like to live back in the olden days. All I could sputter was "Two all beef patties special sauce lettuce cheese pickles onions on a sesame seed bun."

Thus, to ward off such an old man's fate and to get some spring cleaning done in the waning minutes of spring '11, I'm going to attempt a media cleanse right here via the medium of blogging. Maybe if I just vomit out these jingles and ad taglines onto this eternal, genuinely world wide platform, I can rid my mind of them once and for all. Why not, hunh? If this will get that stupid copier song out of my noggin and implanted in yours half as naggingly as it is in mine, I'll be ready to greet summer with all the fresh effervesence it allegedly deserves. So here you go, media mulch for the taking. And as we used to say on the playground, no backs.

  • "A perfect place to rest your ash."
  • "Calgon, take me away."
  • "WIXY 1260!"
  • "By.... MENnen."
  • "If you dare wear short shorts Nair for short shorts."
  • "Garfield one, two three two three, Garfield one, two three two three."
  • "One man sleeps while the other man drives."
  • "If you, or someone you know, needs some fast cash now..."
  • "See the USA in a C. Miller Chevrolet." Smooch.
  • "...Not just another...COPier COMpany!"
  • "Thanks for the gumball, Mickey!"
  • "Stuffing? I'm staying!"
  • "You're soaking in it."
  • "If you haven't seen Higbee's today, you haven't seen Higbee's today."
  • "And every nineteen minutes, the place goes CRAzy!"
  • "When you're thinkin' thinkin' Lincoln, better carpeting for less, dial National two nine thousand, National two nine (ring) THOUsand."
  • "Five eight eight, two three hundred, Empire."
  • "Call one eight hundred two six seven two thousand and one, one eight hundred two six seven two thousand and one, aLARM FORCE!"
  • "Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids."
  • "Ho ho ho, Green Giant."
Hey, something just popped up in my right eye, telling me I've freed up 1.7 MB of disk space. Bring on summer.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Whither Whistlin'?

Does anybody remember whistlin? I'm not sure. This morning I spent a few idle minutes sitting on the back porch doing nothing but listening to birds whistle. Mellifluous cacophony. One in particular sounded most familiar: choooo choooo ch ch ch ch chooooo. Either that bird's been around a helluva long time, or that mating call's been so successful it's been passed down through the generations. I remember lying in my bed as a kid underneath an open window as the morning breezes rustled the large acorn tree's upper limbs right outside the window. That same choooo choooo ch ch ch ch chooooo greeted me to a new day.

It all got me thinking. Does anybody whistle anymore? Seems like you could always count on some old guy entering your daily orbit whistling some old air. And those old guys could whistle, some of them even appeared to be able to harmonize with themselves. I can't remember the last time I encountered someone who was randomly whistling a tune. Could it be that rock songs don't lend themselves to easy, happy whistling (try whistling "Johnny B. Goode" or "Get Off My Cloud"--you're liable to give yourself a hernia or heart attack), and that now that many old guys are children of the rock era, whistling is becoming obsolete? Has the social kibosh that's been put on whistling at girls filtered down to eliminating all whistling? Why, when I think of whistling, do I always think of men? Except, naturally, for Lauren "Just Put Your Lips Together And Blow" Bacall.

My dad was a decent whistler, tune-wise, but he was a Michelangelo of the loud, hey you! whistle. He could quickly contort his mouth and, with no help from any fingers, let out a shrieky whistle that could startle a desert monk. I wish I had inherited that attention-getter. As it is, I painstakingly taught myself the two fingers from each hand stuffed on top of a folded back tongue whistle. Not bad (though it must be twenty years at least since I've utilized it), but nothing compared to the old man's. But again, when was the last time you heard such a hey you! whistle?

Now I'm not as up on current popular music as I used to be, and for all I know Lady Gaga is a whistlin' dervish, but when was the last great song to employ whistling? Besides those great movie theme songs I don't even have to mention, and the Andy Griffith Show theme song, of course, I do remember a few great rock songs with significant whistles. In fact, while pondering all of this today I heard Otis Redding whistling away his time sitting on the dock of the bay. The Beatles of course whistled their way through "Two Of Us" and Peter Gabriel not only whistled but mentioned whistling tunes in "Games Without Frontiers." I'm sure there are a host of others, but those are the ones that stick on the tip of my tongue. As well as my good old friends the Meat Puppets, who not only have a song called "The Whistling Song," which doesn't really whistle, but a song called "Maiden's Milk," which is all about whistling.

I don't know, maybe I'm old and nostalgic, but I think if we whistled more, maybe we could reduce some of the negative energy around these days. Something tells me things would be a little more civilized with more whistling in the air. So go ahead now, put your lips together and blow.

Meat Puppets--Maiden's Milk

Thursday, June 16, 2011

How Could I Have Gone 33 Years Without The Use Of The Word 'Zaftig'?

I finally finished reading a book last night that I started reading 33 years ago. The exact same copy of the book I bought, I'm pretty sure, on a trip to Washington, D.C., I made when I was fifteen. A mass market "pocket book" copy of Larry "Ratso" Sloman's On The Road With Bob Dylan, an insider's account of the 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue tour. I know, I know: For shame, a self-proclaimed, supposedly well-read Dylan nut who up until now had not read the book--may I spend 100 years in Purgatory listening to nothing but Pat Boone renditions of Little Richard hits for my transgression.

Now I haven't been continuously reading the book all these years; that would average out to about four words a night. But over the years, through all the moves and infrequent bookshelf purgings (sellings off), the book has stayed with me, and every five years or so I'd say to myself, It's time to read this book. I'd start, but for whatever reasons never got through much of it. This time I did, and I wonder what took me so long. It's a fun, great read, loaded with lots of great scenes and wonderful stories about Dylan and his vagabond troupe of musicians, actors, poets, filmmakers, hangers on, etc. (as well as the most detailed glimpse at Bob's first wife Sara I've ever read).

Years ago I heard a woman at a bookstore tell her little son, who wanted two books, "You can only read one at a time, Henry." Which of course is bull. Most well-read people I know are always juggling three or four books at once. Then there's the usual question asked when somebody's looking over your bookshelves: "Have you read all these books?" Of course not, what would be the point in that? The point is, sometimes a book and its reader need to come together at the appropriate time; even, I now claim, if that time is 33 years after the reader acquires the book. With some books you need them spying you from the shelf, tempting you to dare their pages, mocking your specific illiteracy, knowingly winking and whispering, some day, when you're ready, you'll be able to read me. I'm sure we all have books like that, books we finally pulled out late one lonely night after years of neglect and suddenly discovered a new friend who speaks perfectly to you exactly where you are at that moment. Or books we've tried to read several times and failed, only to try once more and it finally conquers you as you conquer its pages. I don't know if Sloman's book quite qualifies as such a transcendent, now-is-the-appropriate-time read for me, but I'm sure glad I've finally read it.

At least twice in the book, Sloman, writing as a proud Jew, uses the Yiddish word zaftig. I can't say I had never seen the word before, but I certainly wouldn't have aced a vocabulary quiz it was on, and I know I had never used it before. Turns out zaftig means "pleasantly plump, buxom, full-figured, as a woman," and comes from the Yiddish zaftik and/or the German saftig, both meaning "juicy." What a wonderful word. Is there any other word anywhere containing the letters z,f,g? Surely any word beginning with a z is pretty cool, but when you caboose it with -aftig, my o my, poetry. Whereas "pleasantly plump" sounds patronizing at best, and rude at worst, how can you go wrong with zaftig? Do these jeans make me look fat? No, baby, zaftig, ooh la la!

Reading a well-written, fun, informative book about Bob Dylan makes my day. Reading one I've been trying to read for thirty-three years makes my week. Learning the word zaftig? Bring on 2012, my year's complete.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

My New Heroine

Message to the kids out there: Live long enough and you too just might end up worshipping someone named Trilby.

Due to various Federal Privacy Acts, I cannot divulge details, but suffice it to say that I spent the better part of yesterday morning in a hospital waiting room where I was subjected to unavoidable big screen CNN coverage. Outside of developing a crush on the morning's anchor, whose name I never did catch and whose dress had a weird chest line cut, I cannot say that watching the same "news" over and over again was that enlightening. However, with all the repetitiveness of the news, I finally reached my personal tipping point with "the Lundberg survey."

You know the Lundberg survey, don't you? That seemingly ubiquitous report about gasoline prices across the USA? Well, in this age of wholesale media redundancy, the Lundberg survey seems to be the only reliable source on gasoline prices, and it is run by that dashing driver above, Ms. Trilby Lundberg (which I'm sure can't be her real name; it sounds more like the name of a character in one of Woody Allen's late 70s early 80s movies, probably played by the estimable Dianne Wiest or the equally estimable Lanie Kazan). Now up until yesterday, whenever I considered Trilby Lundberg, which wasn't much, my initial reaction was Pshaw! What kind of a (pre)occupation is that, what kind of a (get a) lifestyle choice is that, to survey gasoline prices? We all drive in this country and most of us live in or around cities where in any kind of a commute or trip to the convenience store one easily passes a dozen gas stations, so info on gas prices is not exactly insiders' dope. And it's not as if you can mail order or e-tail your next tank of gas; you're stuck having to get gas where you are. And really, what the hell do you ultimately care where your city ranks in the national average? Can you do anything about it? And what good does knowing, every week, where the lowest and highest gas prices are in the country? Do you text a friend in most expensive Detroit and say, "LOL u r gettin scrwd @ da pump, dude!" (as if there aren't five dozen better reasons to hammer someone for living in Detroit)? I mean what can be involved in Trilby's "survey"? Call up a few random gas stations around the country, ask what the big sign out front says today, add 'em up and divide and there's your survey. Fifteen minutes work, max. And then, as if all this superfluous info isn't enough, Trilby has to explain why the price of gas has risen or fallen a few pennies since last week. And 99% of the time it's due to supply/demand issues, which might sound Keynesian but is really balderdash, no? We're hostages to our cars/gasoline--don't tell me all of a sudden people are saying no to gas like a good old e coli scare makes us say no to squash for a month or two.

So, up until yesterday morning my regard for Trilby Lundberg was pretty low, bottom of the barrel, so to speak. But then, after seeing and hearing Trilby get regular airtime on CNN every half hour after every half hour, I have gained a much deeper, more profound respect for the lady. What chutzpah. To be able to peddle/flog (now there's a new word that should reach ubiquity in this crass commercialist, media-soaked world: peddleflog) such an inane and useless "service" to the point of "expert" status (I mean is there anybody else we trust with gas price info other than Trilby?) makes Trilby an American heroine in the mold of Ripley, Barnum, Gatsby, and Kiper Jr. Give the woman a Congressional Medal of Hucksterism immediately.

So, in the sincerest form of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, I am announcing that I will be following in Trilby's gargantuan trailblazing footsteps, minus the, um, pumps I'm sure she sports. At first I thought I'd make myself the nation's expert on beer prices ("Yeah, with the NFL lockout, look for demand to plunge; by Thanksgiving, cases of PBR should be had for a buck in most places, a buck fifty in Detroit"), but that just sounds a little too cliched and adolescent. Besides, beer drinking, outside of Wisconsin, is not necessarily as ubiquitous as gas guzzling. Then, light bulb! TP. Toilet paper! Everyone uses it, has to use it, even moreso than gas. With rain forests disappearing, and all the economic, climate, and political upheavals around the world surely contributing to an increase in individual gastric disturbances, I'm thinking the TP market is in for some wide price fluctuations. So I've been making some calls to TP proprietors here and elsewhere (Detroit, for some strange reason, has great prices on TP) setting up my network for my scientific survey. Give it a month or two and I'm sure you'll be seeing me on CNN regularly, giving my weekly spitoutyourgum TP survey results and making up arcane supply/demand explanations on the spot. Dancing With the Stars won't be far behind. And I'll owe it all to the inspiration that is Trilby.

Friday, June 10, 2011

My Top Ten Songs Of All Time (This Half Hour's Version)

About a year ago, Rolling Stone came out with a special issue listing the top 500 songs of all time, according to them. Of course everyone knows such an undertaking is absurd yet endlessly fascinating. Naturally, I turned the whole thing into an epic project: I amassed all 500, tracking down the couple dozen I didn't already possess, and started putting them on CDs for a couple friends of mine. Tomorrow I'll see them again, so tonight I burned up vols. 16-20, encompassing songs 315-407. Among the many travesties in the list I noticed, this one struck me the hardest: The Who's "I Can't Explain" came in at #380; Eric Clapton's "Tears In Heaven" came in at #362. Let alone "I Can't Explain" not placing in the top 100, how it falls below, 18 spots!, "Tears In Heaven" I'll never be able to comprehend, let alone, well, explain. But, admittedly, compiling such a list is tough tough tough. As an experiment, then, a few minutes ago I just started listing my all-time favorite songs, cutting myself off at what I thought was ten (I've never claimed mathematical geniusosity, or ever tried to rein in my love for music). So, after writing down my spur of the moment favorites, I quickly assigned numbers to them. By the time I post this, the list could/would change drastically, though I'm sure five or six would remain always (not necessarily this list's top five or six). Anyway, for what it's worth (nothing), here's my top ten favorite songs this half hour. I can't really explain the list, but I do know my number thirteen will kick most of your top tens any day.

  1. Sweet Thing--Van Morrison
  2. Apple Suckling Tree--Bob Dylan and The Band
  3. Eight Miles High--Husker Du
  4. Favorite Thing--The Replacements
  5. Cyprus Avenue--Van Morrison
  6. Lo and Behold!--Bob Dylan and The Band
  7. Kiss--Prince
  8. Where Have All The Good Times Gone--The Kinks
  9. Ambulance Blues--Neil Young
  10. Rocks Off--The Rolling Stones
  11. Hey Hey What Can I Do--Led Zeppelin
  12. Carey--Joni Mitchell
  13. Enchanted Pork Fist--Meat Puppets

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Too Summer

I knew this day was going to be weird when I woke up to Glenn Beck on the radio telling David Mamet his (Mamet's) new book was well-written (which would be like me telling Jack Nicklaus he's a decent golfer). We're not even into June double figures ("summer" is two weeks away), my back is still recovering from my last bout of snow shovelling, and my sneakers are still drying out from spring's constant deluges, and the temperature reached at least 94 today (and lucky me, I was off from work today, so I was without air conditioning). I've been steadily sweating a languid sweat for twelve hours. This is dog days weather, end of July, beginning of August (a school teacher's cruelest month), actually looking forward to October weather. But on June 8? Bah.

Summers used to be better...street baseball and telephone pole to telephone pole football games, ghost runners and three completes for a first down, heads up car coming, come in when the streetlights come on, proud, active sweat, kick the can ghosts in the graveyard, grape popsicles and Kool-Aid packets and Hi-C poured from punctured tall aluminum cans, PF Flyers and Red Ball Jets and Keds, breezes that actually cooled, black and white TV on the back porch, nectarines, big black ants smashed on flagstones, slugs after rains, bicycle rides around the block, and always the nightly scorecard ritual: licking a finger and rubbing off the day's and evening's accumulated dirt from those little indentations below each knobby ankle bone, the more dirt I could rub off, the better the day had been...

No ankle dirt today, just stagnant sweat pooling everywhere.

Mark Kozelek--Celebrated Summer

Monday, June 6, 2011

Pack Of What The Hell

It's called pachysandra (that is the correct spelling). I've known it my entire conscious life, though up until a few years ago (long, unnecessary story; suffice it to say a bizarre bar bet, a lunar eclipse, and a month of listening to nothing but Deep Purple all conspired to set me off on an autodidactic botanical binge, the end result of which involved EMT guys liberating me from a greenhouse via the jaws of life and a chronic case of cacti-induced hives) I thought it was pack'o'sandra, as if some Johnny Appleseed wannabe named Sandra had dumped packs of her seeds all over the front lawns of Midwestern homes. We had a strange revolver/Florida-shaped expanse of it on our front yard when I was growing up. Right about where the trigger/Alligator Alley would be, was a natural cut-through to our front door. "Don't walk through the pack'o'sandra!" was one of the earliest admonitions of my life. It left a mark. I've never liked the stuff.

It doesn't look very pretty to my eyes and it doesn't ever seem to grow; it's just there, always. It's like the parsley of landscaping. Garnish, only. Little surprise, then, when I discovered that it is classified as a subshrub. That's like being called a so-so mediocrity or receiving a Rube's (as opposed to a Gentleman's) C. Has Jerry Baker ever done more than a one-minute spot on pachysandra? Has Martha Stewart ever sung its praises and fashioned it into a wreath or skirt or tea cozy? I doubt it. But do I care that the stuff never gets any respect? Hell no. And I'll tell you why: Beneath its blah surface, underneath, pachysandra just might be the roof of hell. "Gnarly thicket" does not do justice to the entanglement of stems, roots, branches, tendrils, tentacles, Satan's greedy digits--whatever it all is. Looking to get rid of an unruly guest? Throw his cellphone in the pachysandra; you'll most likely never see the guy again. I believe I personally kept the Spalding company a going concern in the 1970s with the amount of whiffle baseballs, whiffle golfballs, real baseballs, real golfballs, tennis balls, mini footballs, etc. I somehow lost in the really not too expansive expanse of pack'o'sandra in our front yard. Sure I found some guy named Jmmy Hoffa's driver's license in there once, but never a ball of any sort.

I thought I had put my hatred of pachysandra behind me a while ago, but there I was today, trying to yank out yard-long prickly weeds from the pachysandra surrounding the front of the house where I now live. This time I had to "walk in the pack'o'sandra" in order to reach some of the weeds. Twice I lost all contact with my right foot for five minute stretches. The stuff was so thick once I even looked closely to track the origin of a particularly long weed and lost my eyesight for a few seconds. I never saw dirt until I managed to uproot the weeds and they came up with mud clinging to them. I must have pulled out a hundred weeds, but in all that blind foraging and tugging through the packysandra's underbelly, I never once felt anything resembling a ball. Pachysandra: gobbler of sports balls, fertile bed for weeds, absolutely no redeeming value. A subshrub in every possible way. I'm thinking if pachysandra was growing in the Garden of Eden, the apple story is just a myth-making piece of misinformation. Maybe Eve did offer an apple to Adam, but she dropped it in some pachysandra, the pair spent hours looking for it and finally gave up. "Let's get the hell away from this stupid stuff."

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Does This Soda Pop Make Me Look Wimpy?

It started with an innoucuous time-killing-at-work question: If you could drink only one particular liquid, besides water, for the rest of your life, what would it be? For me, coffee and Guinness finished distant also-rans to Tropicana Orange Juice, not from concentrate, straight out of the carton. For my co-worker, a woman, significantly, Fresca was her immediate choice. "Fresca!" I yeccchhhhedd. "God that stuff is awful. Do they even still make it?" I was informed they do, which means, I presume, one can somwhere still purchase Hadacol, PF Flyers, Model-Ts, Johnny Mathis 8-tracks, and season tickets to the WFL's Shreveport Steamers. "I love Fresca," my co-worker continued, as I tried to make sense of a world that suddenly was neither flat nor round but something in a hexagonal motif. "It's so refreshing and grapefruity." She sounded like the heiress to the Fresca fortune (sic). Grapefruit, ugh. Grapefruit is the exception to the rule that all fruits are delicious. They say everyone in the world has his or her double, but I was sure my co-worker, the one who not only knows Fresca still exists, not only buys Fresca, not only willingly drinks Fresca, but actually likes it so much it's her besides-water-desert-island-eternity drink, was the most unique person I had ever met in my virtually Fresca-free (we'll get to that in due time) life. "Hey, Female Co-Worker No. 2," I yelled across my place of employment, "Fresca. Your thoughts." "Oh, Fresca," she cooed, "I love it. It's so refreshing and grapefruity." Good God, I shuddered; I've been transported to a completely different universe. "Hey, Female Co-Worker No. 3," I bellowed across my work place, my grip on not only sanity but everything I purportedly know about life sliding through my hands, "please don't tell me you like Fresca." "Oh, Fresca," she sighed dreamily, "I love it. It's so refreshing and grapefruity."

Women. Fresca is the dividing line between genders. It has to be. "I bet if you Googled 'man drinking Fresca' in Google Images," I challenged Female Co-Worker No. 1, "nothing will come up." Next thing I know she Googles "man drinking Fresca" and gets nothing but blog entries about Fresca being unmanly, no self-respecting man would ever drink Fresca, etc. "See," I argued, "it's not just me. The world knows Fresca is for women, not men." Then she hit me with the ultimate Catch-22 challenge. "I bet you're not man enough to drink a can of Fresca right here at work in front of everyone." Holy Saspirilla! What was I to do? To prove my manhood I was going to have to do the most unmanly thing imaginable--drink Fresca! I had to let my whirpooling testosterone settle a bit before I could reply.

Now as a boy (literally, we're talking pre-pubescent) Fresca was occasionally around the house and I had me some. Never liked it. Maybe it was the whole anti-grapefruit thing, but whatever, I was totally ixnay on the Escafray. The last Fresca I ever drank is clear to me, and significantly it was when I was thirteen or fourteen. I was a golf caddie then. One day, I was caddying with a really cool, never-one-shy-to-express-his-displeasure-at-anything friend of mine. We were caddying for a very unhip guy and his three guests. It was tortuously hot that day. We had started on the back nine, so at the end of nine holes we were nowhere near the Halfway House, which sat beside the tenth tee. The Halfway House was an oasis. After nine holes, the golfers would go in and sit down and refresh themselves for ten minutes. We caddies would stand around a back window, and after the golfers had gotten their drinks and food, it was customary that the caddies would get a drink (if the golfer was really ace, you might get a hot dog or hamburger too). Now at thirteen or fourteen the prospect of a free liquid refreshment from a well-stocked snack bar was heaven. As you trudged up the long ninth hole you'd kind of lose concentration and track of where all the golf balls were flying because all you could think about was what you'd be drinking in a couple minutes. They had everything--all the soda pops you could want, root beer floats, Gatorade, juices, and that delectable combo, the Californian (half a cup of 7-Up mixed with half a cup of Welch's Grape Juice = Nirvana), which I believe I exclusively drank throughout the summers of 1982 and 1983. But on that hot, back-nine starting day, the unhip golfer decided not to trek us all over to the Halfway House. "I'll get everybody something inside," he said, not bothering to take orders, as he walked toward the clubhouse after the 18th hole (our ninth) and the rest of us made our parched way to the first hole (our tenth that day). Well, five minutes later the guy appeared on the first tee with six cans of Fresca, one for each of the golfers, and one for me and my friend. Thanks, guy. Believe me, the thirst multiplies geometrically when your heart's set on a Coke or Gatorade or Californian and life deals you a can of Fresca. Being a polite, thirsty kid with an at best inchoate sense of "what it means to be a man," I begrudgingly sipped the Fresca down. IT DID NOT REFRESH. Later, walking ahead of the golfers down the first fairway, my friend slowly emptied his can of Fresca onto the closely-mown grass and sneered, "I hate this shit." Nearly thirty-five years later, I have hardly given a thought to Fresca again.

"Buy me a can of Fresca, and I'll drink it down in less than ten swigs," I boldly declared to Female Co-Worker No. 1. "Any man who makes a habit of drinking Fresca isn't a real man, but neither is one who can't drink one can of the stuff when his manhood is questioned!" There.

Secretly I wondered/feared: Over the course of my life, as my expanding waist line proves, I have embraced many foods and drinks that as a kid I had despised (though mushrooms and olives are still right out), even to the point where I don't paranoidically and obsessively hunt out each piece of grapefruit in a fruit cup (I just surround it on the spoon with grapes, blueberries, and watermelon and inhale)--what if, what if I actually like Fresca when I so macho-ly gulp a can of it down? Would I ever be able to admit it? I slept poorly that night.

The next day at work, just two days ago, a can of Fresca (in some generic looking silverish can, not anything like the forbidding can I remember from my youth) sat for me in the employee refrigerator. Later in the day I was ready. "Call the media," I said to Female Co-Worker No. 1, "gather the crowd, fetch me the can." A group of Male Co-Workers looked on in obvious disgust but, being one of them, I also noticed a hint of envy in their demeanors: This guy is so tough he'll even drink a can of Fresca to show how tough he is. I popped the pop top and dove right in, swigging a massive gulp of the stuff. Women giggled; men held their breath. I swallowed and they all looked at me for my reaction. Keeping my best poker face, I saved all my opinions for my words: "Certainly not awful, but definitely not good."

It turned out to be the non-event of the month. I finished the can in about seven more swigs. "Kind of tastes like yellow chalk-flavored water," I concluded decisively about three-quarters of the way through the 12 ounces, "but not in a necessarily bad way. It's just kind of nothing. But no," I summed up after draining the last few drops, "I am most assuredly not refreshed. In a desperate situation I'd drink another one, but I'd never willingly order or buy another Fresca." Nothing but the truth, there. No macho BS. That can of Fresca really did nothing to/for me. Though I will admit, that last sentence is bona fide now, two days later, but immediately upon finishing the can I did harbor some deep, never-to-be-spoken doubts: I've just drunk a can of Fresca! The next time I handle a TV remote will my fingers, instead of instinctively punching 28, the channel number for ESPN round these parts, somehow unconsciously punch in XX or XY or YY, the whatever numbers, respectively, for HGTV, Lifetime, or, God forbid, the OWN network? Will I suddenly start to panic when I realize I don't have a tube of lip balm on my person? Will I make a midnight run to Giant Eagle for grapefruits and wine coolers? 

But no, nothing like any of that has happened. I feel as much of a man today as I did before all this Fresca fracas began. Though, and I truly believe it's just a sign of age (I did, after all, attend my 30th high school reunion last night), when I took off my shirt two nights ago, with those 12 ounces of Fresca still burbling their non-entity-ness through my innards, I swear I saw one tiny chest hair detach itself from my thatchy pecs and fall sadly to the ground. So there, Fresca, a new ad slogan is yours, gratis, for the experience: Fresca, It'll Take Hair Off Your Chest! 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

It Takes A Baby To Cry, It Takes A Train To Describe A Tornado

The other evening I was wrapping up another hard day's work by dining out; I had just pulled up to the drive-thru window and forked over some hard-earned cash and waited for my plastic-encased cuisine when the girl at the window looked above and beyond my car and said, "Does that cloud look right?" Hmm, a budding TV weatherperson, I thought to myself, as my glands started hyperventilating with thoughts of savory fried food. Next thing I knew she had called the fry fryer over to look at the western skies. Allowing myself to be distracted from my imminent culinary reveries, I turned my head and saw nothing but a huge black cloud "booking" (as we used to say) right at us. The cloud--more like the entire approaching sky--had a kind of curlicue at the front which, I assumed, the girl at the window took to be a funnel cloud, as in, get thee to a cellar, Dorothy, twister's a-comin'. Just my luck, I thought. To be swept away after I paid my money but before I got my victuals. Instinctively, I listened for the sound of the ol' Double E coming down the tracks. All I heard, though, fortunately, was somebody's muffled voice repeating his order for a Number 4, large, with extra cheese. Saved again.

Because, being upper middle aged, I know that unless you hear that train, there is no tornado. That's all tornado survivors ever say, isn't it? "It sounded just like a freight train." Unfortunately, we've all heard that description far too many times over the last few weeks. Thankfully, I've never experienced a tornado, and I'm not here to make light of them. I'm just curious about that "sounded like a train" description. Everybody says it, so it must be eerily true, but I wonder: What did people say before there were trains? How did they describe a tornado prior to the mid-1800s? "Hark, said tornado sounded akin to a, well, forsooth, like naught I have ever heard heretofore." I mean, try to describe the sound of a rumbling train. It sounds loud, like, well, just like a tornado, if you've been unfortunate to hear one, otherwise, it sounds like nothing else. Did people freak out the first time they heard a train, thinking, with no other frame of reference, that a tornado was coming? Did some wise guy immediately say, "Sounds just like a twister, don't it Jed?" thus linking tornadoes and trains forever? Makes you wonder.

And wonder about other expressions. Now I've gone on at length about at what might have preceded sliced bread as "the greatest thing since" here, but this whole train/tornado thing has me thinking about other "modern" expressions as well. Before rockets and thus rocket science, what was it "ain't" when somebody couldn't perform a simple task? "Churn that butter, boy! It ain't building a stage coach!" Before there were headlights, clueless, startled people looked like deer caught how? "Whatsa matter, Jethro, you look like a buck staring at a lantern." My God, it's only been in my lifetime that people have been able to complain that if they can put a man on the moon, why can't they make a milk carton you can actually open. What was the gold standard of human achievement before Neil and Buzz romped lunarly? "If they can amputate Abner Yoder's leg with nothing more than a pint of whiskey and Armstead Claythorne's hacksaw, you'd think they could make a commode that could somehow flush crap far away from here." What was the Cadillac of expressions before there were Cadillacs? "Did you see how Pretentius was dressed last night? He's got the Caesarian Chariot of togas." Forget about issues of modernity, what about cultural differences? Surely cannibals don't say they're so hungry they could eat a horse. I'm so hungry I could eat the Lard triplets and still have room for Baby Huey?

Pondering all of this, it makes me conclude that one of the oldest expressions, one that has stood the test of time and newer ways to convey an apt description, must be "cry like a baby." Ever since Cain and Abel (do we know which was older? I'm no rocket scientist/Einstein [who was the Cadillac of smart people before Einstein? My guess is Erasmus. It's been a long time since I had to remember what Erasmus was known for, but I do remember he was smart. And isn't Erasmus a name overdue for a resurgence in popularity? Don't we have enough little Joshuas and Taylors running around? I want to meet a six-year-old Erasmus one of these days] when it comes to Biblical scholarship) I'm sure anyone who cries a lot has been described as crying like a baby. Maybe, following the lead of trains (and think about it: trains certainly aren't surging in popularity; once they're obsolete, how are people going to describe tornadoes?) it will take some new form of transportation to cry better than a baby: "Oh be quiet. You're crying just like a flying car!"

I don't know. I just count my lucky twinkling orbs in the sky I live in such modern times where figurative expressions are so easily at hand. Let alone the hardships of making one's own butter, dealing with outhouses, and taking all day to travel a couple miles, coming up with appropriate descriptions for everyday occurrences must have been like dealing with a dial-up internet connection. I live so far away from train tracks I can't really say if I'm on the right or wrong side of them, so as long as I don't hear trains--literal or figurative--I'm happy exactly where and when I live.

HEY: There's still time to do a good deed, have some fun, and maybe win some money by being a rock swami. Check out the details here.