Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Ancora Imparo

According to David Markson's The Last Novel, Michelangelo, at the age of eighty-seven, said, "Ancora imparo"--still, I'm learning. Ergo, far be it from me, at forty-nine and with a slightly less impressive resume than Mr. Michelangelo, to say I know it all. Not a bad mantra to keep front and center in one's everyday life, ancora imparo (I'm going to choose to say it ala Don Vito Corleone, just because). It might save you a lot of frustration, consternation, and downright anger, let alone uttering sentences that begin, "But I thought ... " Besides, it might also save you a lot of wincing from acquaintances at cocktail parties if you simply say, "Ancora imparo," (again, I think Don Vito would work best in this instance) rather than that Sally Fieldsesque modern translation, "I'm a life-long learner!" (Fine, Sally. BTW, AARP is calling with more bonus rewards points for you; get a third bottle of Ex-Lax free when you buy just one.)

Anyway, to prove my ancora imparo bone fides, here's a small sampling of what I have learned, still, just in the six days since my last post. First, I learned that when faced with a brewing donnybrook between two middle-aged women holiday shoppers one minute before your shift ends two days before Christmas ("Call a cop and have me charged with battery? You don't even know what battery is!"--that's verbatim), rather than saying a quick silent, "Lord, make me a channel of your peace," and stepping into the fray to play U.N. Peacekeeper, it's much better to say a rather loud "Merry Christmas, everyone," and just walk (and keep walking) away. I've also learned that a slow leak in one of your car tires never slows down, it only speeds up, and that buying a new tire is one thing, but when the mechanic mentions four new struts, it ain't no cheap talk. I learned (coincidentally in the car repair waiting area) that Leeza Gibbons is still on TV, hosting, and--it was a wait long enough for me to see the credits roll--executive producing a show called America Now (which, beg pardon, Leeza, isn't quite "now," as the taped segments made no mention of the holidays or a blizzard stomping half the country). I also learned (well, had my learning refined) that my sister and brother-in-law put Gatsby totally to shame--they throw wonderful parties, with sincerity! I learned that in this fast-paced world of ours, the Christmas Season indeed ends at midnight on Christmas: I received three pieces of mail today. Yep, bill bill bill. After having coffee with one former student and then a few hours later running into a couple of former students in a bar, I learned 16 is a far far cry from 29. I learned that a cheese ball that looks like a somewhat unappetizing meatloaf is actually just about the heavenliest tasting thing on Earth. I'm learning as I type and look out the window, that with today's radars, when a weatherman says twenty-four hours prior that it will start snowing at 11 a.m. tomorrow and not let up for another twenty-four hours, he's pretty damned accurate. A couple of my nieces are apparently quite adept blizzard, what blizzard automobile drivers. I think I already knew this, but it was confirmed to me on Christmas, that only a Jesuit priest could/would bring Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov into a true-meaning-of-Christmas sermon. And yes, mother, with aplomb, he did it with aplomb. Most viscerally, though, I have learned in the last week that despite centuries of good publicity, those Mayans didn't know shit.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Penultimate? Not Likely, Unless ...

So it's the day before the alleged end of the world. Kind of makes me a little less enthusiastic to shave, do a load of laundry, or eat sensibly. So, basically, today is like any other. Besides I've always been a little fonder of the Incas than the Mayans--their marching band was classier, I think. Now I admit, whenever I hear about scientists all of a sudden discovering that some near-miss asteroid is just two days away (I'm not buying it, telescope men--on one hand you're telling me about some small planet trillions of light years [and can we stop the confusing mixing of time and space with the concept of light years? Yes, I get it, but you're scientists, for God's {or no God's, whatever} sake--do some easy translating into miles for me, please] away from Earth, and then you're all like, oops, low bridge! here comes a [relatively] tiny rock hurtling at us now!), I do kind of think maybe the world could end just like that, not with a whimper but a bang. But still, call me skeptical. I do believe in a higher power--one whose sense of irony, appropriateness, and dark humor is no match for ours--so I'm thinking there's no way the world is ending tomorrow, Friday, December 21st, 2012, unless certain things--a tidying up of sorts--occur first. Take for instance the following ten have-to-happen-'fore-the-world-ends scenarios. If I hear of, oh, five or six of them happening by the eleven o'clock news, then maybe I'll start ducking and praying and even shaving (who doesn't want to greet Doomsday with a smooth face?).

The World Ain't Ending Unless These Things Happen First
  • Pete Rose dies and his arm continues signing his name for another 12 hours
  • Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is captured on video reading a Philip Roth novel (and smiling), humming "Hava Nagila," and eating a knish
  • Harry Reid talks and sounds like a man
  • John Boehner looks pale
  • Cleveland is named the World's No.1 Tourist Destination and Place To Retire
  • Tom Waits clears his throat, starts singing, and sounds just like John Denver
  • Honey Boo Boo releases a video of her reading and deconstructing Sartre's Being and Nothingness
  • Pope Benedict tweets: "What the hell, let women be priests"
  • Donald Trump shuts up
  • I get a new job

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Shirt Off Her Back

If you ask for an inch, Aunt Yvette will give you a yard, except she's not exactly linear; she'll probably give you an entire hectare. She abides by no modern, made-up, self-serving law like don't wear white after Labor Day ("What ain't a day of labor?" she protests). Verity isn't her God-given middle name for nothing. The Golden Rule is the land where she's pitched her tent, for the duration. "I can't spell the word 'me' without the letters o-t-h-e-r-s," she insists. She's a true super model.

And so it came as no surprise (a little shock, sure, but those don't mean much) the other day when I zipped into Giant Eagle looking for a block of American because you can't have cheeseburgers without cheese, and discovered Aunt Yvette studying the Goudas sans top. "Aunt Yvette," I began, a little embarrassed at first, I admit, but then I remembered Aunt Yvette is the least embarrassment-inducing person I know, "aren't you, well, aren't you a mite cold here in the refrigerated section?" "State of mind, son, state of mind. Haven't I told you that before? Besides, I've got natural insulation. The best kind. Who eats this stuff anyway," she inquired while tossing aside a wheel of brie. "I just thank God for gravity and a stretchy waistband. Otherwise some nosy, ashamed of the human body type would probably take issue with my natural assets. Never underestimate the efficacy of a stretchy waistband, by the way." Because we look after each other in this town, I asked, "So what did happen to your shirt anyway, Aunt Yvette?" Ultimately she opted for some sharp cheddar and made to move on, but although she can be short, Aunt Yvette is never not polite. "Fella outside in the parking lot asking for money. Said his house burned down. Said all he had was the clothes on his back, which was kind of misinformation seeing that all he had on was a pair of shorts. So I gave him five dollars and my shirt. If he doesn't have one, and I've got more at home, I kind of have to give it to him, don't you reckon? Excuse me, I've got to go get some bread."

Friday, December 14, 2012

Happy Holidays From The Kitschies

My how time scoots along, don't it? It seems like just a fortnight ago that Jenny was settling into her second month of pregnancy, Denny was beginning to squint at the cereal box too much, baby Lenny was just starting to come to grips with Daddy Kenny's moustache, and all of us Kitschies were trimming (finding the right slots for all the aluminum branches) the tree. And now look at us: Jenny is navigating month 14 with aplomb, Denny's cool eyewear is the hit of his entire Cub Scout Pack, baby Lenny is starting to sprout an authentic Kitschie 'do, and Kenny's still gloating over his second place finish in the William H. Macy lookalike contest at the Halloween Bowl-a-Thon down at Wonder Lanes (and a 583 series to boot, a personal best! Look out Earl Anthony!) (We hear next year's contest might be an Al Franken lookalike; Denny's ecstatic).

Kenny's typewriter repair business, Tabs, is clicking along, and he's even taken on some tape recorder and VCR work. What the man can't do with a pair of pliers and a mortgage payment hanging over his head, hunh? Once again, he's been re-elected, unanimously, to his position as recording secretary for the local Kiwanis. Despite having increasingly less (hey, English teachers, I do believe that's what you call an oxymoron!) space to move around in in the kitchen, Jenny's specialized catering service business, Celery Surprise, is the envy of her quilting circle. Denny--no surprise there--ranks number one in his Home School class, and is slowly making progress in conquering his fear of blinking, having distinctly winked at a squirrel the other day during Nature Play. Lenny is quite the self-starter when it comes to burping. What more can a family wish for? Happy Holidays to all, from Kenny, Jenny, Denny, Lenny, (and--news flash!--Penny on the way, eventually!) Kitschie!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Look At Me, World

I am happy to announce that in two days, Thursday, December 13th, at 7 p.m., to be precise, I will be reading poetry along with my good friend Joe Toner at the Bertram Woods Library in Shaker Heights, OH. Most previous attendees of our past readings are still alive, so I can safely invite any and all to this wonderful evening. As usual, though, this procrastinating poet is busily scribbling the soon-to-be inspiring-awe poems as we speak. Ergo, the blog's taking a bit of a backseat for the next few days. Never fear, though--I've used all my technological skills to copy and paste parts of an earlier, relevant post for your entertainment today. What follows, then, is a primer on How To Behave At A Poetry Reading:

Kneeling in praise is optional, but deeply appreciated.

First, the event, naturally, is free, but as Emily Post makes clear, gifts of neither small nor large but medium, say tens and twenties, unmarked bills is kind of de rigueur; and it goes without saying that poets don't have time to make change, so if you bring a fifty or hundred, be prepared to part with it. Polite applause after each and every poem read is mandatory, but a bit blase. Cries of "ole," coupled with hula hoops tossed stageward, and public avowals of treating the poets to a nice dinner (two drink minimum) in the near future are all pretty standard displays of affection and gratitude toward poets these days.

If one doesn't quite "get" a given poem, or loses one's concentration during a poem, usually due to one's involuntary swooning at the poet's dreamy blue eyes, simply ride it out to the end of the poem, offer one of those learned, I've-just-been-provoked-into-thinking-about-life-in-a-totally-new-way-and-my-life-will-never-be-the-same-again "hmms." If nothing more, this small auditory recognition of the poet's genius will cow the person sitting next to you, who is probably equally lost, into getting with the program and offering a similar "hmmm" at the conclusion of the next poem, so that by the end of the evening, each poem read will culminate with a group "hmmm" that will make the poet feel as if he or she is the wisest person in the world (a state of mind all poets dwell in, but to receive the collective "hmmm" power from the usual crowd of 15-20 hearty souls can help ward off the poet's eventual madness for a good 'nother six to eight months).

All poets carry sharp, hefty rocks in their trousers; yawn once at your peril and you'll discover why.

After the reading, feel free to approach the poet, but under no circumstances say anything like, "I thought poems were supposed to rhyme," or "Great stuff, bard boy," or "My uncle used to rhyme a bit in his periods of lucidity," or "I guess they give away those poetic licenses in boxes of Cracker Jacks these days, hunh?" Instead, say something like, "Your eminence, genius is too small a word for you."

If bored senseless, envision the poet at the podium envisioning the audience naked and hang your head in shame, or, if you're feeling cocky, start winking at the poet unabashedly.

Concentrate hard so that you remember one line from the poet. Afterward, recite the line to the poet and say, "Now that line I remember."

Have fun, but in this case, not too much fun; we'll be in a library after all.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

I Heard The News That Night

I can't believe I'm old enough to say I can't believe it was thirty-two years ago today that John Lennon was killed. In fact, I was mere months from becoming a legal adult that Monday night in 1980. Just think, Lennon's been dead twice as long as most Americans (at least those over 55 or so) knew him alive. Like most Americans, it seems, I first heard of Lennon's murder from Howard Cosell on Monday Night Football, which has me thinking about a couple of things today.

I wonder if we're quickly moving past, or already are past, the time when we "hear" news. I probably listen to radio now more than I ever had, but I'm sure I'm way in the minority on that score. And, not being much of a TV watcher myself, it seems that more and more people aren't watching live TV but watching streams and DVD collections of shows. Everybody pretty much wears a phone around the clock these days, but it seems like people spend a lot more time reading, touching, and typing on their phones than actually using them to talk to somebody. Just the other day I saw a headline for a story about some poor parents learning about the death of their child on facebook. It seems like we're much more apt to read the news these days than to hear it. Read it via text, or facebook, or Twitter or whatever--certainly not via the so yesterday medium of the (apparently dying) newspaper (oh, the are-you-a-fossilized-relic looks and comments I get from my young co-workers as I tote in my daily newspaper every day and spend my lunch break reading it). I remember, months after Lennon's death, turning on the afternoon TV to catch up on the latest doings of Luke and Laura on General Hospital and getting instead Frank Reynolds telling me about Reagan getting shot. I remember hearing the late great Peter Jennings--on the radio--gasping as he watched the first World Trade Center tower fall. Call me needy or what you will, but I kind of take contextual comfort in hearing jarring news from familiar voices (ah, the good old days when Howard Cosell's sui generis voice was as familiar as anything). I was texted/tweeted the news today? Oh boy.

I could have the specifics screwed up here a little bit, but I distinctly remember Cosell eloquently reciting the "May your hands always be busy/May your feet always be swift" lines from Bob Dylan's "Forever Young" during the telecast of a Muhammad Ali fight (I'm thinking it was his triumphant second fight with Leon Spinks, in New Orleans?). I can't remember how having Cosell quote Dylan affected my adolescent self-defined-cool-factor (I'm hip to Bob but none of my friends are), but I thought then, and still do, that it was not only apt, but pretty cool. All of which makes me wonder who'll deliver the sad but inevitable news to me that Bob has passed. If it's going to be a sportscaster (and I'm not foolish--things have changed--I sadly doubt Bob's death would merit breaking news mention during a nationally televised sporting event), but please, if it's going to be a sportscaster, please God, make it the great and utterly respectful Al Michaels and not that sanctimonious Bob Costas. Mike Tirico and not Jim Nantz. Dan Patrick and not Chris Berman. Verne Lundquist and not Brent Musburger.  

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Pre-Sale: Happenings 19 Days Before The 12 Days Of Christmas

A partridge is treeless, having been evicted the night before from the apple tree for a rather unseemly act of moral outrage. Having spied the would-be lover sitting under the apple tree with a floozy definitely somebody else than the songster's "me," Danny, said partridge, took it upon himself to "dispense" his rather liquidy disapproval from above. He's currently lining up appointments with a realtor to check out possibilities in the peach orchard and hoping he doesn't have to sublet slum it on the other side of the tracks where the pears grow.

Two turtle doves are still in therapy, trying to decide whether they are birds or reptiles.

Three French hens, as per usual, are melodramatically going through the rather ennui-ish motions of negotiating the intricacies of the modern avian menage a trois. Presently Jean puffs Gauloises, Jeanette frets on the bidet, and Pepe dons his mime outfit for another day's labor.

Four colly birds are sitting on a telephone wire singing Leonard Cohen songs to squirrels running up and down the nearby pole.

Five cheap aluminum rings sit misplaced somewhere on a charlatan's shelf, awaiting the arrival of the gold spray paint, which has been back ordered at Marc's for like six long weeks now.

Six frustrated geese are wondering if they'll ever get any action while on the alert, as always, for down foragers.

Seven swans are plotting the ultimate Speedo Outlet heist.

Eight maids are lolling about the lounge watching the complete Bachelor series on pirated DVDs and trying to bully Les, their eunuch, into doing their chores for them. Les silently wishes he could grow a pair and report the maids' sloth to the boss.

Nine ladies, still despondent about not making the cut for this year's Rockettes line-up and eating too many Skittles, are a few days away from coming up with the idea of launching their own troupe, the Nono-Kettes.

Ten lords are knee-deep (and knee-aching) in boot camp, limbering up their limbs and glutes. As of this morning, thanks to the intensive training, there's a lot more bleeping than leaping going on.

Eleven bored plumbers fill their work trucks with the implements of their trade, dreaming of more exciting lives.

Twelve separate percussionists in twelve separate towns, bummed out about being unceremoniously sacked from their most recent gigs as mallet-wielding timekeepers for various bad cover bands, each post simultaneous ads on Craigslist that all boil down to this message: "Awesome drummer seeks like-minded dudes into Rush and TSO."

And wandering aimlessly from mall to plaza to his favorites bar to a stack of mail-order catalogs, one clueless, alliteration-adoring would-be true-lover, whose silly Romantic notions won't allow him to just go buy an Apple Store gift card and get it over with already, wonders just what in the hell can he get her this Christmas.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Phew! "A Few (the most frustratingly ambiguous word in any language) Moments" Really Did Take Only A Few Moments

Sorry, I've been away from this blog for a few days more than I'd like; chalk it up to insecurity. Not my usual attache case of insecurities (ubiquitous), but the fact that my internet security system had lapsed and I had to wait a couple days for a replacement. I've been zapped before, so I was treading oh so softly 'round the web the last few days. But now I'm installed, re-booted, activated, and seemingly safe--and therein lies today's tale.

My technological phobias begin with "batteries not included," so you can imagine the paranoia I felt when I inserted the disc into my drive and began the often excruciating process of installing a piece of software. I always want to be deaf in such circumstances. The clicks and revvings and ticks and brakings of a spinning disc in my drive make me want to dive for cover with a fire extinguisher--must high tech be so frightfully noisy? And then there's always the possibility that I will be faced with a choice other than continue/cancel: I speak a very halting computerese, so anything beyond continue/cancel takes me back to my lifelong recurring nightmare that I'm in Bulgaria, ask for directions to a bathroom, and end up in a torture dungeon run by renegade Bulgarian nuns. Luckily, though, tonight all I had to do was "continue." Twice, downloading updates and installing, I had to sit through that wonderful computer tease of the percentage count. You know, watching the numbers climb from 0 to 100 as the computer goes about its business. Being something of a counting aficionado (on a completely sub-Rain Man basis), I kind of like this digital ritual. If you're not in total luck and the numbers whiz by faster than you count, you find yourself trying to figure out the rhythm of the numbers climb. You get your internal clock adjusted during the 1-10 accrual, wondering, is it really going to be this slow, or is something going to kick in  and the numbers start flashing by. My favorite percentage climb is the uneven but eventually reliable cluster-climb, as I like to call it. You know, a jump of seven numbers quickly, pause, two more, pause, pause, pause, four more, pause, seven, etc. Oh, the zen-like experiences our non-computerized ancestors knew not. Tonight's percentage climbs--both of them--were slow, methodical, hit-every-digit-from-one-to-a-hundred-for-a-few-seconds-at-least ones. Frustrating by the teens, maddening by the twenties, eventually I adapted to the digital war of attrition. I studied the font-look of each numeral and tried to recall where I had seen the identical numerical representation before--the 5 tonight looked just like the 5 on Cleveland's WEWS TV station. Then, as the climb inexorably reached into the fifties, I meditated on the per cent sign--%. Now I've never been a math genius, so let me tell you, tonight when I realized that what I thought had always been some goofy, idiosyncratic symbol is really just a representation of a ratio, i.e. per cent, I was mildly wowed. By the seventies, though, I was back to the mundane, closing my eyes and trying to open them at the exact instant the number changed to its successor. Let me just say, justifiably, no one has ever complimented me on my rhythm. Suddenly, though, I was into the nineties, and the countdown to liftoff took over.

After the two percentage climbs of downloading and installing, I was presented with the next step in the process--"revising your settings." I blanched. Existentially, I feel like I've been perpetually revising my settings since the age of twelve--and I have the graying hair loss to prove it. And then the computer hit me--THIS MAY TAKE A FEW MOMENTS . . .

Good God, don't say that, then add that elipsis, almost as a winking insulting afterthought (which in words translates to "or this could take the rest of your sane life"). Is there a more ambiguity-laden/stuffed/crammed/overflowing sentence in any language than those six words--This may take a few moments? That specific "a" thrown in as cruel irony in the midst of five super-ambiguous, unspecific words. For your homework tonight, kids, meditate on the potential heinosity of the seemingly insignificant words "this," "may," "take," and "moments"; I'll take on "few" right here. Beauty might indeed lie in the eye of the beholder, but outside of a few of our crazy fellow humans, most of us cheer in roughly the same ballpark when it comes to beauty, right? You don't find too many people who'll switch the adjectives when talking about the wonderful smell of fresh coffee and the yuck odor of a hackle-raised skunk. But, in any context, try to get a few people to come up with a consensus of what exactly "few" represents and you're in for a McConnell-Reid donnybrook 100% of the time.  Just consider, at random, these phrases: "Oh, just a few beers," "Yeah, I've put on a few pounds since I first slipped into that wedding tux," or "The repairs to your automobile will cost you a few bucks, sir." You see? You'd think the dictionary, as usual, would provide, um, the definitive answer to the few quandry, right? Well, try this one on for size: "few--not many, but more than one; dating from before 900." Considering that "many" is just a few fewer ticks on the ambiguity meter than few, and that mankind is still trying to figure out the extent of "more than one," the dictionary definition of "few" fails miserably. Just what's a man to do when offered a bag of M&Ms and told to "have a few"?

These were just a few of my thoughts while staring at the "This may take a few moments" message on my computer screen, which was sorely lacking in a percentage climb. Few moments--can I go floss my teeth, walk the dog, tile the kitchen, or read War and Peace during the duration? What? In my lifetime, I've lost tons of data, sat through eight commercials, waited fifteen minutes for the next available teller, and spent an afternoon trying to channel a thousand dollars into my checking account in the auto repair waiting room. God bless her, but I bet Mrs. Hoffa is still waiting for Jimmy to return from his "this will only take a few moments" errand.

Lo and behold, though, the computer's few moments this time ended up being indeed not (too) many moments. And I've been basking in security ever since. Phew!, I said, and got on with my life. Phew!, I said? Indeed I did. Phew! (go ahead, try to type the word phew! without the exclamation point--few can, I bet). Wait a few moments, I said. There's got to be a connection. Few. Phew! Back to phew--vocalic gesture expressing weariness, impatience, surprise, relief, etc., attested from 1604Um (I love definitions that send you flipping through a few more thumb-indexed pages in order to comprehend), vocalic--of, pertaining to, or resembling a vowel. Now I've long had my doubts about the relative collective wit and wisdom of the denizens of the early 17th century, but no more. After mankind somehow survived for more than a few hundred years with the nuisance word few, those Enlightened Elizabethans came up with a pretty good rejoinder to the potential woes of few, phew! Phew!, the natural response (see how it cuts both ways--weariness and impatience, but also surprise and relief) to the perils of few. Just think of your relieved phew! when hearing your designated driver say, "I had only two beers," or when you manage to shoehorn your flabbier body back into that tux, or when Mr. Goodwrench says the total comes to $297.17 (not to tangent here, but isn't $300 the threshold of all auto repairs? No matter how much money you do or don't have, anything under $300 and you feel lucky; anything over and you've been screwed).

So, indeed, I'm secure (computer-wise, at least) again, and it only took a few moments, enabling this screed. Back in a few days.