Wednesday, January 30, 2008

My Life as a Dawg



Scene: U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Post Office, Carousel Center.

I walk to the counter and see three young people preparing a mass mailing, putting address labels or stamps (or both) on postcard mailers. It's not the counter where you make your purchases, but a counter where people fill out addresses, write bills, wrap packages, that sort of thing. This trio has hundreds of cards they're working on. I'm doing some paperwork of my own, listening. One young gal decries Syracuse. "I mean, why would anyone want to live here? There's nothing for artists." Not true, in my view, but I keep quiet. The three are working fast, but seem to be having a good time, openly chatting with each other. I get in line. (USPS lines are notoriously slow, and the USPS is dreadful when it comes to being customer-oriented. Lunchtime and a line of 533 people? Sorry. One staff person to serve you. Need one lovely stamp? Sorry. You must buy 20. Or use the machine, which provides no stamps.) My wife and daughter come in as I am waiting in line and bantering with The Trio, whose leader is blonde, attractive (of course). (Yes, The Laughorist Dawg's tail is wagging and his tongue is lolling; i.e., I'm shamelessly flirting.) "Hey, these folks will pay you to work for 'em," I joke so that my daughter hears and so does The Trio. They laugh but don't offer my young one the job. "Yeah, we've got to get these out before closing," Blonde Entrepreneurial Leader (BEL ) reveals. "What are selling, you entrepreneurs?" I chirpily inquire. BEL, sporting shiny eyeliner, replies, "Permanent makeup." I hardly know what that is, but later my wife and daughter give me the lowdown. "We've got to get all these out by closing." [Closing is 9 p.m., about 35 minutes away.] "Where'd you get your address list from? Did you buy it?" "They're my customers, all 850 of them," BEL says. Detecting a maybe-but-not-so-sure-of-it British accent, I cheekily, rudely, and teasingly add, "And where'd you get your fake British accent from?" while already regretting it and sensing the pie hurling toward my face. "It's Australian. I'm Australian, ya mongrel!" But she says it for effect, with a smile, and we all laugh. Heartily. Especially me. It was funny. She took no prisoners. I deserved it. It seemed everyone had a good time with it. (Except for the stoic, expressionless older woman across from me, whose face declared, like a billboard: "You mongrel cad!") Ah, The Laughorist strikes again. In public, this time. Now you can see why my profile photo is accurate after all. p.s. I love that movie, My Life as a Dog.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

No Countries for Unfunny Folks

For Week 746, The Washington Post's Style Invitational asked readers for mottoes or tourism slogans for countries around the world. Here are the winners (affectionately known as Losers):

4. France: Visit, If You Must. (Sigh.) (Martin Bancroft, Rochester, N.Y.)

3. Burma: What Happens Here REALLY Stays Here. (Rick Haynes, Potomac)

2. the winner of the can of quite possibly genuine Possum Ding Dongs: United States: We Make the World a Warmer Place (Paul VerNooy, Hockessin, Del.)

And the Winner of the Inker:

England: Lie Back and Think of Us (Tom Murphy, Bowie)

The Mis-Universe Semi-Finalists

Austria: No Kangaroos (John Alvey, Annandale, almost a First Offender -- his only other ink was in 1994)

Bermuda: Come Lose Yourself (Brendan Beary, Great Mills)

Burkina Faso: Not Your Father's Upper Volta (George Vary, Bethesda)

We need no signs
Nor shaving cream
Nor your dissent
For our regime
Burma. (Brendan Beary)

Canada: Home of the Almighty Dollar (Kevin Dopart, Washington)

China: Come Visit Your Money (Ira Allen, Bethesda)

Colombia: All It's Cracked Up to Be (Barry Koch, Catlett, Va.)

Denmark: Oh, So Nothing's Rotten in YOUR Country? (Brendan Beary)

England: We Couldn't Beat the Patriots Either (Bruce Evans, Arlington)

France: [motto writers on strike in solidarity with the truffle sorters] (Russ Taylor, Vienna)

Galapagos Islands: Guano Happens (Kevin Dopart)

Germany: It Is Not Necessary to Have a Humorous Slogan (Martin Bancroft)

Germany: Genocide Free Since 1945! (Cy Gardner, Arlington)

Greenland: Site of the 2060 Summer Olympics (J. Larry Schott, Gainesville, Fla.; Elwood Fitzner, Valley City, N.D.)

India: For More Information Press 1 (Matthew Morris, Rockville, a First Offender)

Iran: We're Gonna Party Like It's 999 (Brendan Beary)

Iran: World's Largest Non-American Theocracy (Ira Allen)

Come Visit Liechtenstein: Just Don't All Come at Once (Brendan Beary)

Mexico: A Little Less Crowded Every Day (Dan Milam, Paducah, Ky., a First Offender)

Monaco: Disneyland for Adults -- and Almost Twice as Large (Russell Beland, Springfield)

Myanmar: We Liked "Burma" Better Too, but These Guys Have Guns (Jeff Brechlin, Eagan, Minn.)

Norway: Just a Little to the Left of Sweden (Matthew Morris)

Pakistan: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow (Steve Fahey, Kensington)

Qatar: Wish U Were Here (Barry Koch)

Tajikistan: Stan of Opportunity (Cy Gardner)

Tibet: Doormat to China (Lawrence McGuire, Waldorf)

United States: War Is Peace (Bill Moulden, Frederick)

And Last:

Bosnia: The Peaceful Land Surrounded by Nations of Murderous Thieves

Herzegovina: The Peaceful Land Surrounded by Nations of Murderous Thieves

Croatia: The Peaceful Land Surrounded by Nations of Murderous Thieves

Serbia: The Peaceful Land Surrounded by Nations of Murderous Thieves

Macedonia: The Peaceful Land Surrounded by Nations of Murderous Thieves

Montenegro: The Peaceful Land Surrounded by Nations of Murderous Thieves (Peter Metrinko, Chantilly)

Pawlie Kokonuts was not deemed funny enough. Do you I agree? Here's a select list of my entries:

Chile -- Thin, But Long, For Your Pleasure.

Chile -- We're Not Just Peppers Anymore.

Cayman Islands -- No Deposit, No Return

Cayman Islands -- The World's Financial Laundromat

Cayman Islands -- Your cash, we stash.

Cayman Islands -- The bucks stop here.

Cayman Islands -- Have lockbox, will prosper.

Cayman Islands -- Don't worry, be tax-free.

Albania -- Tractors soon we have.

Afghanistan -- Come, hide with us.

Afghanistan -- Poppies, Mountains, Caves: Take Your Pick.

Canada -- The Puck Stops Here, eh?

(What's with all the Cayman Islands jokes? I've got friends there, including my son's godmother. And to think: I've never visited. Yet.)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Stylin'

Since it's right up my Laughoristic alley,

and because I have enjoyed past successes accordingly,

I may be away several days,

working on The Syle Invitational.

(Previous returns are no guarantee of future results.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

On the Rocks



















(No, not that.) This is a poem by Eamon Grennan, from his book of poems The Quick of It (Graywolf Press, 2007), a requested Christmas gift. All the poems in the book have 10 lines, with each poem configuring the 10 lines in a different manner. Many of Grennan's poems are still-life snapshots of places in the west of Ireland, where we were in October 2006. This poem reminds me of both of my daughters, in different ways, for different reasons (reasons? does poetry need "reasons"?). It recollects for me a scene of standing on a rock in The Burren [cool link with music] or along a shore in Clifden.



When we stood on that brink-bit where rock, sea, sand and grass
Touched each other, stood on a prow of stone shouldering
Waves foaming over it, I knew how separate father and daughter
Were, how her self she was, how that stage of the journey was over.

With wind in her face and a faraway look in her eyes, she seemed
Free of all my fret and hover, sufficient to herself, ready to meet
(I could almost hear her Let be) whatever might happen, to take all

In. I let her be like that, then, feeling it, and went back to looking
At what the waves were doing to the stone mass we stood our
Ground on: how heaviness rose, cracked, broke, becoming light.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Nolo Commentare


Ever notice that many commercially or
intellectually elite blogs (albeit excellent in other respects) often do not allow readers' comments?

Is the restriction against comments an attempt to avoid the muss and fuss of responding to a gazillion comments (often nutty)? Or is it intended to thwart spammers?

Or does it merely provide the blogger with the smug insularity of protection against the masses (id est, us)?

Alas, we of the proletarian elite readily accept the radically ragtag (ergo, democratic) interplay of comments and (albeit rare in my case) responses.

Excelsior! Ex mea sententia!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Queery


Why do I seemingly have so few male readers and so many readers of the female persuasion?


How to explain this gender gap (to use the overused phrase of pundits and media blarecasters)?

Is it something I said? Does it point to gender issues of my own that I am struggling to suppress swimming against a Freudian tidal wave of "whatever"?

Is it my clothes? My accessories (which would make me an Accessory After the Fact, as they say in crime stories, as if I would know, not being a frequent reader of that genre, which almost spells g-e-n-d-e-r, except for the D)?

Is it that the blogging demographic skews "chick," to put it technically?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Punctuation Nomination


Given the architecture and visual plumage of the colon [:], why is the semicolon [;] so named?


Shouldn't the period [.] be the true semicolon [;], since it is half as many dots as the colon [:]?

Ergo, I hereby nominate the nomenclature of the comma [,] as the paraquasidemicolon.

(The disturbing thing is that I thought of this in my sleep, or semidemiquasisleep, last night.)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

She Said, Look Out the Window More for the Real Miracle



On the other side of the pain, I have


Stared at the crabapple's branches, skeletal fingers

Finding more December window-dressing

The day's appointed epistle

Wondering what my ashes will feel

In the garden elbowing worms

Aside no stained glass

Work's windows towering over urbanscape

Don't cast aspersions (yes, asperges me,

Domine
) on the rusted rivets I bow

Before each morning in the solemn Garage of Go Get 'Em

The real miracle is that glass stains at

All and we don't for long scrubbed by time

Memory's slippery polish still

Yet still


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Simple Twist of Fate


This will be hard to explain, but I'll try. I solipsistically did a Yahoo search of my real name (not my nom de plumage). Results? 2,000 hits, most inaccurate in their attribution, which I find amusing. Around hit number 700, there was a link for a poetry magazine I had long ago forgotten. The link apparently provides digital archives (or maybe just an index) of all the issues of the magazine, going back over 40 years. My name shows up, on an endlessly long and unreadable litany of names, many of them literary lights, right next to a former poet laureate of the United States, side by side, as if we are rubbing elbows, literarily and metaphorically speaking. (I actually met the guy about 18 months ago at an event, and he signed a book of his poems that a friend had sent me as a gift. You already know I am a shameless name-dropper, but not as bad as my brother, methinks. Isn't it a sign of neurotic low self-esteem?) I had something published in the magazine in 1967, the datastream tells me. A poem. A vague memory tells me that contributors had to pay to get into this poetry press's anthology. I would probably cringe now at what I wrote, but I'm still curious. Then, after my name, the website reports that the celebrated poet published something in the magazine in 2006, if I'm reading the streaming run-on river of data correctly. Earlier in the stream is the maiden name of my son's new bride. Sheeeesh! What next? The date, hour, and minute of my death? On the surface, none of this is the least bit noteworthy or remarkable. It is so obvious: We all have K at the outset of our last names. A simple-enough explanation. So what? you say. Big deal. But it all struck me as eerily coincidental, even providential. It creeped me out, as if it was fore-ordained that these connections should occur. It reminded me of the saying "Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous." But if I allow that the connections and their discovery may've been providential, why did it scare me? Is my faith that shallow? And, after all, are the connections more alphabetical than coincidental? Are they more alphanumerical than providential? Or is it all a modern personal message of the Alpha and the Omega? And, if so, how do I decode it?

Photo by Matej "Dedek" Batha; at least, I surmise as much.

Monday, January 14, 2008

F (as in Foolish)-150



Tonight ABC News aired a feature about "America's best-selling car." Um, except it's not a car.

And that's the problem.

Mitt Romney and John McCain and Mike Huckabee are traversing Michigan talking jobs, tring to coax votes in tomorrow's Republican presidential primary. (That's funny: millionaire, starched-shirt Republicans talking to laid-off workers.). So, ABC figured they'd take us to the assembly line of "America's best-selling car." The bit, linked above as a video clip, depicts hard-working folks, and smart technology. I have no problem with any of that. (ABC News's "24" segments are a good approach, in theory.) Both of my parents worked in factories, and they had to quit school after eighth grade during the Great Depression. I don't belittle or demean the workers or what they do. I myself have worked in a factory. Tough stuff. Or unbearably tedious. Or dangerous (my mother got her arm ripped in a machine the plant was trying out; human guinea pigs. They docked her pay for going to the doctor's. Really. This was not 1898, the Age of the Robber Barons. This was a shop with a union in the early 1980s, for God's sake!).

My whole problem is what the story did not say. Why is Ford now trailing Toyota? Why are people losing jobs? Why are politicians lying when they promise they can redeem Detroit from its woes? Why was none of this asked?

How long does everyone think a TRUCK will remain Ford's best-selling vehicle? And why should a truck be America's best-selling vehicle?

I don't get it. Oh sure. Some people have a real need for this vehicle and its strength and power and gas-guzzlingness and its fortresslike protection and its virile potency. But most people don't. And our politicians (except for Bill Richardson, who has dropped out of the race) pander to the public by decrying so-called soaring gas prices (soaring compared to what? based on what value? still cheap compared to thrifty Europe), a mythos perpetuated by the word choices of newscasters and news writers.

My neighbor across the street loves his beautiful F-150. Loves it.

But I certainly don't see him hauling timber or cinder blocks every weekend.

It's all about a John Wayne fantasy of manliness (many women want to partake of the same fantasy), and Manifest Destiny and power and strength and indomitable force and We Are Number One and Who Are You to Suggest Otherwise, It's My Right, Title, and Heir.

Illusion. Illusion. Illusion. Illusions blessed and endorsed by our politicians and entertainment barons (it ain't news, really). They dare not offend our fantasies or break the spell of our collective psychosis.

So, it isn't what the so-called news says, as much as what it doesn't say or how it says it.

And to think, people think there's a liberal media bias. The media is too lazy to have a bias (or for some traditional grammarians: "The media are...").

There. I feel better. But only slightly. Because nothing was accomplished by this. Nothing at all.

(For the record, I own a 1999 Ford Contour with 93,700 miles and my car before that was a Ford Escort station wagon and my son owns a 2006 Ford Focus.)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

What We Talk About When We Talk About Writing


Any fan of Raymond Carver knows the title of this post is taken from one of his signature stories, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love."


Or is it his story? Or his title?

I just got around to delving into a December issue of The New Yorker that explores this.

Fascinating stuff.

The article prints a series of heart-wrenching letters between Carver and his editor at Alfred A. Knopf, Gordon Lish.

Lish suggested the famous title. He also evidently cut up to 40% of some of Carver's early stories. The stories were critically acclaimed and famous for being minimalist ("Kmart realism"). But it appears the minimalism came from Lish. Later, Carver began to insist on something more expansive, and the letters chronicle this struggle between writer and beloved editor (and an editor who was instrumental in success); between authenticity and artifice.

The New Yorker elicits an intriguing literary debate by printing the expanded version, you might say the unedited version, of the now-classic "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love," as urged by Carver's widow, the poet Tess Gallagher. The expanded story is called "Beginners" (Carver's title). Let's just say the story is markedly different. I don't quite know what I feel, or think, since I'd have to re-read the edited, famous version, and I haven't yet done that. (It would make for a challenging lit class to compare the two versions.) [BULLETIN: After initially posting this, I discovered The New Yorker provides the two versions, complete with edits! Here it is. Very cool! Decide for yourself.]

A few personal connections and observations:
  1. Carver wrote many of the letters while he was here in Syracuse, while on the faculty of Syracuse University.
  2. During this time, the 1980s, I was living in New Jersey. Around 1984 or -85, I met Gordon Lish by the copier, while I was working for the Random House School Division (no longer exists). My boss and publisher, Charlie Selden, knew Lish pretty well, so I used that as an excuse to introduce myself.
  3. I wrote a memoir-essay piece about baseball, fathers, and sons and shared it with Gordon. He was very positive about it and encouraged me to send it to The New York Times Magazine, for a column they ran in those days, called About Men. (The piece wasn't accepted; they had already selected something similar, but the rejection was also very supportive.) Charlie Selden assured me that Gordon Lish would not have said such good words about my writing if he didn't mean it. Cool.
  4. Once, several years later, I spied John Updike coming into the building at 201 East 50th Street. I engaged him in conversation and got his autograph in the lobby. It was Gordon Lish who interrupted me and Updike, whereupon I bowed out.
Editing is intimacy. Carver says frequently that Lish was closer to him than a blood brother.

Alas, blogging lacks editing, lacks that other eye, that elbow-to-elbow challenging, critiquing, and nurturing.

For that, we are all the poorer.

Order Out of Disorder

Had some success this weekend in the Order vs. Disorder Department. I tackled Mount Sweaterest, as referred to in a recent post. I kept true to my word, pretty much, and tended to my side of the street, or mountain, in this case. What I mean is:
  1. I disassembled the pile and laid it all out on the bed, to get an inventory.
  2. My Spouse was working, so I could not rant or point fingers even if i wanted to. Besides, that would not be very Zen-lke now, would it?
  3. Results: Approximately 78.9% of the articles of clothing were hers, not mine. No matter.
  4. Part of the, um, problem is that the edifice no longer consisted of sweaters only: sweat pants, t-shirts, a sports bra or two, pajamas, and one pair of undies somehow crept onto this cloth column.
  5. No matter.
  6. I got into it, in a binge fashion. I took two bags of my stuff (including some very nice sweaters, a very warm and thick sweatshirt, pajamas, etc.) to the Rescue Mission. I threw out a bag of my clothes. It was time for them to go. Very purgative. No, i did not commit the suicidal act of throwing out any of her clothes.
  7. In doing so, I freed up space in my bureau. I did not have to buy any new shelves after all. Very minimalist, just like the experts said.
  8. Yes, the problem is me.
  9. Very rewarding. What will be my next target?
I have no illusions, though. This is all part of my binge nature. On the same day, I did four of five loads of laundry, went shopping, walked the dog, did dashes, and took a brief nap.

I capped the day by attending a rather good rendition of "Hamlet" by the Syracuse Shakespeare Festival. Mark Allen Holt, playing the eponymous character, was especially good.

Never before had I viewed "Hamlet" as such a telling example of self-will run riot.

Oh, and I (and possibly a fellow in back of me) was the only person to chuckle at Glamourpuss's favorite dirty line, when Hamlet, lying in Ophelia's lap, saucily asks her if she thinks he was speaking of "country matters." (I probably would've ignored it, were it not for this fellow blogger's alert to it. We are all about haute couture here.)

A full day.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Lights Alive


Entering Burnet Park, at the top of Syracuse's Tipperary Hill, I noticed the presence of absence.


Missing were the strings of festive amberish-whitish lights draping several mature trees. More accurately, on closer inspection, many of these strings of lights remained on the trees but were unplugged, unlit. To paraphrase Hemingway, a clean, unlighted place. Darker, moodier in the night wind.

Higher up the winding drive, gone was the banner of lights, high up between two tall trees, announcing HAPPY HOLIDAYS, demurely (or cowardly) declining to declare exactly which holidays, as if the secular gods would gripe about the explicit nomenclature of the God-incarnate In Nomine Patris feast.

Some lights still shone.

Within the gates of the pool, an image of a toy train illuminated the space between two lifeguard stations, tall seats, sentinels overlooking a white and snowless empty pool, bereft of the excited jeering and obscenity and glee (mostly in Spanish) of its frolicking residents.

Back near the zoo, some trees or streetlights had, what?, snowmen or holly or candy canes brightly shining.

Sirens in the distance got the coyotes or wolves stirred up at the zoo, singing their own eerie siren songs.

In the distance, downtown, the Niagara Mohawk building (I'll never call it the NationalGrid building) and M&T Bank were wrapped in lights of green.

Spotting a skateboarder, with shorts on, passing me, I circled back to monitor him, wondering if that was a spray can in his hand.

Did he paint the now-gone LIFE graffito?

The echoes of his skateboard antics forced me to conclude, no, for now, he was too busy just skating along, skimming the surface, riding the landward wave.


Sunday, January 06, 2008

Chaos Theory: Hoard to Tears


Many of my favorite sweaters are buried. They groan under the weight of Mount Sweaterest, which is something like six feet wide and five feet high, and counting, and consists mostly of my spouse's 789 sweaters -- even after massive donations to charity over the years. (Hey! it's cold in these parts nine months of the year!) Mount Sweaterest occupies a significant portion of Syracuse's Tipperary Hill, as contained within our modest abode.


This weekend, I was tempted to exert a little energy and personal responsibility by going out and buying some plastic shelves or bins (certainly not a new bureau). You know, organize my life.

Then I found that my problem is me (per usual), not shelf space. Yup, as noted by the wellness (isn't that a fine word?) columnist of The New York Times,

"Excessive clutter and disorganization are often symptoms of a bigger health problem."


It goes on to say, "Attention deficit disorder, depression, chronic pain, and grief can prevent people from getting organized or lead to a buildup of clutter." (I inserted my own serial comma in that quotation. So sue me.) Bingo! I'll cop to three out of four of those qualifiers.

What to do?

I told wifey I was going to liberate drawer space from some of the bureaus her clothes occupy. That was met with, um, slight resistance.

Doesn't matter. My job is to de-clutter my own life, clean up my side of the street.

Didn't get too far on that this weekend.

But we did take down the Christmas tree. (I regally decree annually that we wait until Epiphany before de-foresting the living room.)

The falling pine needles refreshed the pine scent of the tree when it was freshly cut. An old memory instantly resurrected.

The space formerly occupied by the tree seems so vacant and secular and quotidian now.

Back to normal life. Whatever normal is.

Incidentally, I still find myself greeting people with "Happy New Year." How long is that permitted? I think I might stop soon; this might be the last week for that. Or maybe not. What else do we have to say until Valentine's Day (a depressing holiday for me ever since Barbara Wallace didn't give me a card in first grade) anyway? Yeah, I know. "If you see Kay. . . . off."

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Planet-Lagged


This New Year's Day has me feeling jet-lagged, planetarily lopsided -- and this is without any consumption of alcoholic beverages!

How did I ever manage it when I did?

Lawdy! Lawdy!

(Be sure to keep that apostrophe for New Year's Day, eh?)