Monday, July 27, 2015

the sparrow-cicada skirmish

Parking lot of a Target store. A commotion on the pavement to the left and in front of my car. It's a sparrow tormenting and darting toward, attacking, a cicada, or whatever it was making that buzzing summer sound. The insect trying to excape, the sparrow vigorously making a point. "Leave me alone," if nothing else. A brief bit of drama. Not exactly Henry David Thoreau witnessing a war of ants, but the sparrow-cicada skirmish just the same.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

a cardinal virtue

I heard the sonorous chirp of what almost sounded like a cardinal, but somewhat off, truncated. It was as if the familiar (to me) sound loop of the male cardinal were skewed, off a few notes. No, more like it was a tape of a male cardinal being played backward, abbreviated. Picture the wind-up bird of Haruki Murakami fame being wound down or rewound.

I looked up.

High in the honey locust tree (I think it was), shading me if I were to stand under its foliage, was, yes, a male cardinal.

The sight shocked me, arrested me.

I was expecting to see a different bird, something unexpected.

But the cardinal himself stopped me, gave me pause as he went through his routine, which I had mistakenly taken to be a tad uncardinalish.

I watched him. And listened.

I wanted to do my mockingbird thing and imitate a typical cardinal song, to see if it would answer my call. (Was the perceived modified male cardinal song modified as some sort of mating ritual?)

But no.

I just stopped and listened.

I wanted to bow or make the sign of the cross through the air.

I did not.

But I was grateful enough to do either.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


I woke up to see the mosaic-looking pockmarks of broken so-called safety class consisting of the (now former) rear (driver's side) window of my car. Technically, I was seeing this hours after awaking. But it was my first venture outside. Past 11 a.m. I have typically expected this. Or Something Mischievous, e.g., slashed tires. Call it the cost of urban living, though I suppose it can happen anywhere. I suppose. I suspect a bullet, but when the police officer arrives, within an hour or close to it, he discounts that theory instantly, allowing it could have been a BB (no, not Brigitte Bardot; but what is the origin of BB?) and maybe a rock (unlikely) but some sort of projectile, given the dot and its radiating beauty of glass-beaded destruction. I was more pissed off than -- than what? sad? hurt? More or less, dismayed by the stupidity and annoyance of it all.

Since the glass place said they can't replace the window until Thursday (this "event" was Monday), I drove over there, so I could procure a temporary remedy, in case of rain, and to protect me (i.e., my car) from the exposure of naked air, and from the potential for raw entry into my vehicle that holds no valuables, at least in my eyes (children's books? CDs?).

They put some "crash wrap" on it (sort of like shrink wrapping the damage, or keeping it frozen in time in the hot summer day). I joked with the lady at the desk: "'Crash wrap'? I could use some of that every day." Smiles in the waiting room. 

Crash wrap.


Who doesn't need some crash wrap for one's psyche, soul, spirit, person -- almost daily?

And, boys and girls, what exactly, in your view, would that spiritual balm, that crash wrap, consist of? What would it be?

Sunday, July 12, 2015

deer hart

I took a late-afternoon walk in the neighborhood, though it was easily hot enough outdoors to forgo it. As I climbed the hill in Solvay (Caroline Avenue), a deer caught my eye as I was nearly halfway up the hill at the top of which are some woods. The deer was maybe twenty feet in front of me, a little to my right, in some brush near a house. I don't know if it was a hart, but it was a deer. I don't know its gender. We sized each other up. Its ears were perked up and twitching now and then. It was sniffing me. We looked at each other, eyes to eyes. I said something like, "Hi there. What are you going to do now?" It did not reply, at least not verbally. We stood stock still for a while longer. Perhaps we could've done that for ten minutes, or an hour, longer. I don't know enough about deer. I proceeded up to the top of the hill. I didn't see any other deer in the woods. I walked down the hill, wondering where "my" deer went. Ah, there he or she was, higher up the side hill, chewing something from someone's garden. Looking at me intently.

Friday, July 10, 2015

barking dog

Barking dog. It sounds like the name of a so-called craft beer, and might be, for all I know. It's been the name of more than one restaurant. (One wonders why.) Last night, for me, "barking dog" was an actual sound in the actual night. I wasn't dreaming. I heard the actual barking dog before I was gifted with actual sleep, in the small hours of 1 or 2 a.m. I stood by first one window and then another, in an attempt to discover the location of the barking dog. It was either a back yard of a house on Avery Avenue or the back yard of a house on Chemung Street, Syracuse. I had a proposal to write, so I did that, listening to some Phil Ochs, with the hope that I'd not hear the barking dog. Not unlike the phenomenon in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart," the sound still haunted me. In some ways, it bothered me more when I couldn't hear it. (The other day, not in the night, I heard what might have been the same dog barking while I meditated. I concentrated on "barking dog" as a mere notion, a sound among an infinity of sounds, neither good nor bad. It evoked a wry smile in me, or the notion of a wry smile. But it was actual daytime, and I waltzed out of the actual house soon afterward.) After a while last night, I called the nonemergency police number to report the barking dog. I had had enough of the sound of the barking dog. The dispatcher or call-receiver said he'd already received one call about the same dog. Police policy prevented the police from sending an officer out there. I raised the spectre of animal cruelty, but upon being questioned, I admitted the dog was probably not in dire danger, though he or she lapsed into whimpering and crying at times. I half-jokingly threatened to take matters into my own hands, unleashing my frustration. The police gave me the number of Animal Control, which was to open at 8 a.m. I wrote the number down. I put a fan on in my room, blowing away from me, to provide some so-called white noise (why is it white noise, and not black noise or yellow noise or purple noise or rainbow noise?). I am not sure that it helped. In the night, the dog would seem to drift off, after a spasm of plaintive barking. Or maybe I was the one who drifted off, without plaintive barking. I was angry at the owner or owners of the barking dog. How could they allow that? It still angers me. But in the morning, when I awoke, groggy from a night of poor or fragmented, bark-laden sleep, I suggested to myself I did not know the facts. Maybe the owner or owners took ill and were in the hospital. Or the owner or owners died in the night. Maybe the owner or owners of the barking dog worked at night and got called on an emergency, to prevent a nuclear power plant from exploding, for example. I say those things, I type those words, but I do not believe them. I believe the barking dog was a victim of malign neglect, and we the neighbors were victims of callous disregard. My evidence is scant. I may be barking up the wrong tree, but I will stop before sundown.

Monday, July 06, 2015

boys and gulls

To my ears, those who speak with a certain shade of British accent pronounce "girls" so that the word sounds like "gulls." But that's just me. So, the other day two seagulls were on the roof, on the roof of an attic window, above and beyond my apartment. I had never seen these two gulls before, not that I recall. They were squawking and strutting. It seemed they were arguing or posturing. As those things go, I assume they were two male birds fighting for territory or mating rights or ornithological semantics.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

fireworks vs. firecrackers

I guess I can understand fireworks, with their pyrotechnical bombast (like this sentence), luminosity in the night, concussive heart-thumping, high-decibel drama, and aesthetic symmetry -- not to mention their evocation of adult and youthful oohs and ahs. I consider fireworks a communal and celebratory ode to military use of ordnance in accord with ancient traditions. We can debate the demerits or merits of corporate or municipal fireworks, but not here, not now.

Firecrackers are something else altogether. I think of firecrackers as one-offs for personal use. I don't get them or their use. What's the point? Especially M-80s, or whatever the hideously loud ones are called. I might even get it if, in America, firecrackers were ignited simultaneously, making a common statement (what sort of statement, I honestly can't say for sure) at an opportune time, such as the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve (apparently this was a huge thing in Berlin, at least several years ago). 

But a random firecracker in the middle of the night? What's the point? Is it some sort of audible chest thumping? A provocation, a spit-at-you-all, a testosterone rant, a protest, a type of trash-talking? 

Perhaps my opposition to firecrackers derives from memories of my boyhood, when neighborhood kids would insert a firecracker or two under the turtle's shell. Just to watch him die, to borrow from a Johnny Cash tune. (I can't be making this memory up.) I was not immune to lighting the little firecrackers that looked like birthday candles. We also had a habit of breaking one in half and then stomping on it. Smart. 

On this Fourth of July I'd gladly forgo hearing one more firecracker, though it is merely 1:23 a.m. The holiday is just beginning.But it's beyond me what this has to do with independence, freedom, and all that.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

'if you see something, say something'

Actually, the Department of Homeland Security has trademarked the slogan, so it is displayed as "If you see something, say somethingTM." Which may mean the U.S. government is encouraging its citizens and noncitizens alike to practice Transcendental Meditation (which is a proprietary name and is followed by a TM; maybe even TM TM, for an abbreviation followed by a trademark declaration).

If you see something, say something.

If you see injustice (verbal, physical, social, economic), say it is wrong.

If you see justice, say it is right.

If you see lies (in print, on TV, online), say something truthful.

If you see intolerance, say something tolerant.

If you see error, say something factual.

If you see something banal, say something provocative.

If you see something grammatically naked, say something syntactically dressed up with every place to go, with gerunds, participles, prepositions, ablative absolutes, infinitives, adjectives, adverbs, articles, conjunctions, auxiliary verbs, pronouns, synonymous nouns, and parenthetical asides.

If you don't see something, don't say something.

If you don't see anything, say anything but nothing.

If you see some things but not others, say something to yourself to discern why.

If you see nothing, say nothing. (But say it eloquently.)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

comma sense

The billboard, for local baseball, declared:


Whoa! I may've been speeding on the intrastate as I spied the sign, but I nevertheless feel my recollection is accurate.

Why those commas, copywriter dude or dudette?

I recognize that some folks believe punctuation is wedded to sound. It is. To a point. Punctuation choices (e.g., employing or not employing commas) certainly can be influenced by desires related to cadence and rhythm. Subjective considerations along those lines might turn out to be important, especially in poetry or in a speech.


Punctuation also conforms to rules of structure and logic. In the example above, logic is defied as to why commas are employed. In fact, the commas nearly make me laugh.

Granted, one could argue that copywriters readily use periods for dramatic effect, to slow the reader down. As in: AFFORDABLE. FAMILY. FUN. That might be mighty fine except in this case the lack of parallelism is jarring. We have different parts of speech. It throws the train off the tracks.

Commas matter.

And no commas matter, too. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

maybe words don't matter

I'm often declaring that words matter. "Words matter" is the tagline on a promotional piece for my business. I make a living flirting, fondling, and fussing with words, as is evidenced in this space. But how and when words matter circumscribes a shifting landscape of context, complexion, and atmosphere. 

Listening to some Beatles oldies has driven this home ("Baby, you can drive my deconstructionist car...") Several years ago, I was driving around. "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," from Abbey Road, was playing. My youngest child was in the car; maybe a young teenager at the time, or younger. I was bopping along to the relentlessly cheery and bubbly tune. My daughter said something like, "Dad, are you listening to these lyrics?" Well, I had many times listened to the song's gleeful depictions of MURDER, but never gave it any mind. The narrative was indefensible, if you were to take the lyrics seriously, that is. But who did? I never did. But a new generation of listeners perhaps took away an utterly different message. This has become a family joke, especially if we listen to "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" in the car.

I recently slipped in the CD for Rubber Soul. (I am really bothered that Capitol released the British version; it totally messes with my boyhood memory of listening to the LP; different songs, different sequence.) "Run for Your Life" has John Lennon, or more accurately the character in a song, threatening death to a girlfriend (maybe it's an ex-girlfriend) owing to the narrator's jealous rage. As a teenager, these lyrics never fazed me (perhaps because I was such a late bloomer and had no actual 3D girlfriend at the time of the song's release). I don't recall the song causing the slightest controversy. It likely caused less stir than "Under My Thumb" by the Rolling Stones. (Was preconceived prejudice a factor? After all, the Stones traded on their outlaw appeal.)

Would any of these lyrics cause a ripple today?

These reflections have forced me to evaluate some of my easy-access hostility to pop or hiphop lyrics that strike me as patently offensive (though, I don't have ready examples except the obscenities or verbal brickbats hurled from car speakers whose drivers are pleased to give the finger to society as if to shout, "you got a problem with that?").

And it's not just words alone, is it? In music, the lyrics coexist with the melody, whether we like it or not. It has been said that the tune for "Yesterday" started off with "scrambled eggs" as a holding pattern, a place holder, for the immortal lyrics eventually wedded to the musical notes. Imagine if "Yesterday," perhaps the most covered song in history, with its haunting and heartbreaking melody and lyrics, had silly or indecipherable or obscene lyrics. It would not endure.  At all.

So, I'll come full circle and say that words do matter. But how and when and why are tricky concepts to delineate. 

Just as in life.