Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Diagramming the Flowering Crab



The crabapple's blossoms masquerading as paper carnations.

Blossoms of crabapple masquerading as paper carnations.

Crabapple blossoms masquerading as paper carnations.

They masquerade as paper carnations.

Masquerade as paper carnations, crabapple blossoms.

Papercarnationally crabapple blossoms masquerading.

. . . and crabapple blossoms masqueraded as incarnations of paper, pink.

Like paperpinkishcarnations, the crabapple blossoms parade or was it masquerade.

Hark! Crabapple blossoms! Alas! Martian-pink-carnal-carnationesque -incantatory buds unhidden!

Blossoming crababble, masquerade is papercarnationing.

Monday, April 28, 2008

333

This is my 333rd post, a trinitarian's trifecta to the third power.

Is a cumulative 333 a total opposite, an antidote, to the beastly 666?

The blogosphere abounds with more consistent bloggers, and those that are funnier, deeper, less ephemeral, more political, more literary, more philosophical, more authentic, more sincere, and more consequential, by far. Many upon many.

But not many upon many who solipsistically touch and gallop and swerve and swagger through such a thicket of topics, eh?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Antie Maim

I saw one ant, in the sugar bowl on the counter. No others. Just one.

One ant, in oceanic sweetness, risking drowning in As Good As It Gets.

I pinched a bit of sugar and ant together, walked out the door, and tossed it all outside, over the chain-link fence, into the weeds. Rescue or relief (for the ant, not the sugar).

The next day: ants all over the counter.

Vengeance is mine: ant traps (do they work? they seemed to after a few days; they did on the other counter, across the kitchen) and much ant death by crushing. Thumbs and other fingers squashing any ant in sight. My thumbs and fingers. Like some Character in an Old Testament chronicle. The ant crusher's ANThem? "Under My Thumb" by the Rolling Stones, of course.

Whether executing passive ant murder by chemical traps or active extinction by thumb crushing, I ain't no Buddha or Gandhi.

Except in the tiny ant eyes of SugarAnt1, wherever he or she, and the few grains of sugar, are.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Diurnal Emission

It's been said, but can't help being noticed.

The eruption of spring.

In one day going from bud to blossom.

The redbud's lavender on the spiny fingers of branch.

The shock of the new: walking in Burnet Park, along the curb, a dusting of lavenderpinkpurple confetti-ish snow. From what from where?

The crabapple a few hundred yards away, casually blizzarding, I guess.

Photos?

Never.

Could never capture this new upon new upon tawny stale breath of wintergray.

The syntax of spring. The grammar of glory (grammar and glamour are related etymologically).

Deo gratias.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The King's English



Here is my book report. For my book report I read the book God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible by Adam Nicolson. (No, that is not a typo. This fellow has no "H" as Jack Nicholson does. [Didn't you just love Chinatown and Five Easy Pieces?].) Being more of a fiction rather than non-fiction (what's the diff, really?) reader, I started off skimming this book for a research project, and then got drawn into it. I loved the prose. And the history. If I reveal what I learned, it will shine a red-hot a klieg light on my ignorance, but that's okay. They didn't much like Catholics in those days, in Merrie Olde England, especially after the Gunpowder Plot. Nicolson says it was mostly trumped-up hysteria. His book was published in 2003, and he pointedly compares the attitude then toward Catholics of all stripes to attitudes today to Muslims of all types. Many see the King James Bible, or the Authorized (Authorised with an "s," for Glamourpuss) Version, as a landmark work of our English language. It was "translated" by a committee of some 50 scholars. A committee! The language was even archaic in its own time. No one knows how many were printed in 1611; the printer sort of mixed and matched versions, so they were all different editions. Therefore, in essence, "The curious fact is that no one such thing as 'The King James Bible' -- agreed, consistent and whole -- has ever existed." (page 226) There are some startling misprints, including "Judas" instead of "Jesus" in one of the Gospels! Plus, a 1631 edition, called the Wicked Bible, left out the word "not" in Exodus 20:14, so it read, "Thou shalt commit adultery." Miles Smith, who wrote the Preface to the KJV Bible, quoted from the popular Geneva Bible instead of from the work of the Translators in the Preface itself! Similarly, Lancelot Andrewes, one of the chief Translators, continued to use the Geneva Bible as text for his sermons, not the fruit of his work, the King James Version (KJV). How's that for a vote of confidence in something you labored over for years? Speaking of the Geneva Bible, that's what the Mayflower Pilgrims (Separatists; radical Nonconformists) carried on board, though the KJV ironically became the guiding text of Puritan America. Finally, click on the image shown here and you will see the most exquisite and delicious use of the semicolon I've ever encountered. That's my book report. The End. (I am a deliberate reader. Though I found this hugely entertaining, I had to renew the book twice. I'm returning it to the library this evening.) p.s. I learned, or relearned, the word "Jacobean" as an adjective referring to King James I and the period of his reign.


Saturday, April 19, 2008

A Quarter for Your Thoughts


A recent piece by David Owen in The New Yorker magazine profiles the
less-than-useless United States penny. For good measure, the article tosses in (like so many pennies into a coffee can) the idea of eliminating not only the penny but also the nickel -- and maybe even the dime, as in New Zealand (not to mention eliminating paper currency for the one- and two-dollar denominations).

It's an entertaining and informative bit of reportage, as you would expect from The New Yorker.

Speaking of coins, I learned a new (for me) coinage in reading the essay: negative seigniorage.

Negative seigniorage refers to the fact that the U.S. Mint loses money on every penny it produces to the tune of about $50 million a year (the cost of zinc being a factor as well as the zinc lobby).

It occurs to me that negative seigniorage has other connotations, namely:

-- You're both in bed naked but drift off to sleep reading the latest issue of the AARP magazine after each of you fails to conjure up an erotic fantasy figure to get things going.

-- You forget that you forgot to pay the AARP annual membership bill.

-- You snarl at the grandkids for disturbing your nap.


--John McCain.


Monday, April 14, 2008

The Wearin' of the Green

Despite the wind and the cold, despite tonight's wintry temps and this day's brisk a-seasonal atonality, the verdant tapestry greens each day, a whispering carpet brightening.

As the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins put it:

"There lives the dearest freshness deep down things."

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Who Is Phillip Gleiden, Anyway?

When the doors to the U-bahn train in Berlin are about to open (or is it close?), a pleasant-sounding female voice intones at every stop:

Phillip Gleiden, bitte.

Who is this mysterious person?

And what will they do when they find him, or her disguised as him?

Sure different than the New York City subways, with the announcer shouting hoarsely something garbled, something like this:

Fawthalanceyeightyseventh Station! Next stop!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Apostle of Atheism

Saw Richard Dawkins, the popular armchair theologian cum scientist, on "Real Time with Bill Maher" on HBO last night. The most striking thing is that Father Dawkins comes off sounding like a country vicar, he does, with his genteel and dulcet tones.

You expect him next to offer absolution with a very light-handed penance.

How silly, really, that a genetic or evolutionary scientist, or whatever the feck he is, would pontificate about religion as if he were examining dead ants under a microscope.

Taking a concept from Dawkins's attack on God (psssst: don't tell this to John Milton or John Donne), Maher invoked Dawkins's scale of 1 to 7 regarding one's certainty or uncertainty about the existence or nonexistence of God.

Dawkins claimed a 6, meaning he's virtually certain that God does not exist.

"I mean as a scientist I can't prove that fairies don't exist. But as a scientist I'd have to leave the possibility open." Snickers from him and the audience.

So, when pressed, he amended his atheism scale up to 6.9. How grandly forgiving and generous of the Vicar of Vacuity and to allow the slim chance that God might exist. Move over, Aristotle, Plato, Kierkegaard, Aquinas, and Marcel to make room for the Reverend Dawkins. Then Maher and Dawkins engaged in a debate as to whether any truly intelligent person could really, truly embrace religion (which for Maher boils down to a sophomoric icon: The Talking Snake).

Of course, one does not win or lose arguments on this subject.

The Buddha merely smiles.

As does, to use the phrase of Meister Eckhart, the "God Beyond God" smile indulgently.

To me, the truly amusing thing is this: ask a scientist to do the same deconstruction on beauty, truth, love, kiss, or goodness.

It was odd that, toward the end of the show, Maher launched a tirade (a la Christopher Hitchens) against the pope for the church's organizational misdeeds regarding sexual abuse. On what basis would Maher, Dawkins, or Hitchens be against sexual abuse? Why have a moral code at all? And what would be its underpinnings?

But as I said, debate is fruitless, in the final analysis; for two lovers do not debate the concept of love. (They could but where's it get them?)

I am reminded, concerning God, the words of Archibald MacLeish:

"A poem should not mean but be."

Try an experiment. Read "Ars Poetica," linked above, and substitute the word "God" for the word "poem." No. Wait. Do not do that. We do cheapen the word
God, do we not? The ancient Israelites had a point about that, about not uttering that which is beyond words.

Silence speaks so much louder and more eloquently, sung on a "Small Wire."

Friday, April 11, 2008

I, Um, Had a Dream

Bob Dylan dreamed he saw Saint Augustine, or so he said in his song from the John Wesley Harding album:

I dreamed I saw St. Augustine,
Alive as you or me,
Tearing through these quarters
In the utmost misery,
With a blanket underneath his arm
And a coat of solid gold,
Searching for the very souls
Whom already have been sold.

"Arise, arise," he cried so loud,
In a voice without restraint,
"Come out, ye gifted kings and queens
And hear my sad complaint.
No martyr is among ye now
Whom you can call your own,
So go on your way accordingly
But know you're not alone."

I dreamed I saw St. Augustine,
Alive with fiery breath,
And I dreamed I was amongst the ones
That put him out to death.
Oh, I awoke in anger,
So alone and terrified,
I put my fingers against the glass
And bowed my head and cried.

Copyright © 1968; renewed 1996 Dwarf Music

(No offense, Mr. Dylan, but the "whom" at the end of the first verse should've been a "who," but you can rightfully claim poetic license.)

Me, I dreamed last night John Lennon was about to kick my ass in a drunken brawl at a party. He was drunk, not me. I was lying there, mute, minding my own business, sleeping in my bed. John, did you forget "I'm Only Sleeping"? Good song. That was me, sleeping. What was he so pissed off about anyway? I mean, "Give Peace a Chance," won't you? "We Can Work It Out." I don't know what caused the fracas (we in America pronounce it FRAY-kuss; do they really say frah-KAH in the British Isles?). Maybe he was angry because he found out Paul used to be (past tense) my favorite Beatle when I was in high school (same first name; we're both left-handed; plus, his cuteness must've appealed to my subterranean homesick blues latent homosexuality or anglophilia or whatever).

"Let It Be."

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Nomenclature

The unshaven fellow with the shopping cart and plastic bags full of returnable bottles and cans, the one whom neighbors fear (not because of who he is but who he might be, or what they might be), has real eyes that I have looked into, a real hand I have grasped, and a real name I have uttered.

His name is Michael.

He remembers my name, for he has a brother, Paul.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Snapshot

On a hillock by the park's entrance, a three-iron shot from my back door, stands a cluster of pines, in the city confines, and at the foot of these pines a bed of needles burnished a burnt sienna, beckoning me to lie down in their autumnal comfort, their soft cushion with last year's fragrances and brittle repose, so yielding, so inviting.

But I keep walking.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Duke of Hazard


Sometimes it's a sheer pleasure when things work in America, more specifically, at the Hazard Branch Library, on Syracuse's West Side. (However, it decidedly is
not a pleasure when things work all too well, as they did under the East German secret police, the Stasi. Turns out I could've visited the Stasi museum, on the U5, in Berlin. Now that would've been a hofbrau barrel of belly laughs.)

I had twice received automated calls to my cellphone, informing me, very erroneously, that I had a book (or books) overdue, return it or face fines, etc., etc.

I explain this to the librarian. She listens. I fully expect this will have to be resolved down at the Central branch, and we'll blame it all on computers and modern life and transistors and sun spots and rising fundamentalism ad nauseam.

But she listens. She seems to actually understand. She seems not to mind the preceding split infinitive.

"Maybe you can check your database or something and you can fix it. Someone obviously entered the wrong information. A typo or something. As you just confirmed, I have no books overdue."

"Let me see."

So far, this is the quintessential opposite from what you'd get at, say, the DMV.

She finds a screen on her computer, enters my cellphone number, and up pops someone else's name, just as I had expected. She discreetly shows me the screen.

"That's my number, all right, but I'm not that person."

She fixes the database, right then and there. . . . just as I had not expected.

Presto. Simple. She even thwarted and arrested my incipient combative demeanor or my full-throttle, laying-it-on-with-a-trowel kindliness when dealing with Official Rulebook Officious Officials. (Herr Doktor, I seem to have this running theme: a problem with authority figures, or figurines.)

Done. Beautiful, with the panache of knowing the other person won't even know of the correction (because that person didn't even know of the problem). A certain symmetrical anonymity.

I am the Duke of Hazard.

(It's been said libraries are the bastion of civilization. So true. So true.)


Monday, April 07, 2008

Surreal Serial Solecisms

You people want evidence as to how things start falling apart (like a clock going limp) without proper punctuation? Well, take this sentence, in today's Post-Standard of Syracuse, New York, in an article it carried by one Frazier Moore, of The Associated Press:

Fifty years ago this month, viewers saw [Mike] Wallace interview Israeli statesman Abba Eban, influential theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, actress-singer Lillian Roth (whose autobiography, "I'll Cry Tomorrow," told of her battles with alcoholism and surrealist painter Salvador Dali.

Problem 1: No closing parenthesis. We're still waiting to end that parenthetical aside. It's sort of the way I talk. Surreal.

Problem 2: Without the serial comma after "alcoholism," we must assume that Ms. Roth did battle with Mr. Dali. (Maybe she did; maybe all those limp clocks ticked her off. Note, I was very careful to avoid typos in this post.)

The big mystery: was the parens boner by AP? Or by the local paper? (We already know AP would never have put that serial comma in there, no way no how. Well, that's what you get. Confusion.)



Sunday, April 06, 2008

Boss

In reading a pro's prose, a bit of writer's writing, I happened on this passage:

This Tudor Hampton Court, before Christopher Wren transformed it in the 1690s into a massive red-brick slab of power and grandeur, an attempt at an English Versailles, was a fairy palace, full of little towers and toy battlements, weathervanes that caught the light, as romantic and play-chivalric as as an illumination in a Book of Hours. Here and there, the Italian craftsmen imported by the cardinal and king had contributed a terracotta medallion or a frieze of satyrs. Plaster ceilings, in which large pendant bosses hung down over the heads of the churchmen, and whose panels were filled with papier mache roses and sculpted ostrich feathers, were painted light blue and gold. Braziers stood glowing in the rooms.

The excerpt is from Adam Nicolson's God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible. The book is an erudite, well-crafted, fascinating history of England in the early 1600s. Nicolson deftly shows how the Translators worked as a committee to create a singular work of the English language. He illustrates the politicking and intrigue behind that effort, under King James I of England (James VI of Scotland), the, um, boss of the project.

Back to that word "boss." I hadn't known that meaning used above: an ornamental protuberance, an architectural embellishment.

Are all bosses merely ornaments?

The Oxford English Dictionary cites these other senses for "boss":

-- a swelling on the body of a plant or animal
-- a bump or hunch on the back
-- a bulky animal
-- a fat woman
-- a knoll or mass of rock
-- an enlarged part of a shaft
-- a water conduit

Some word!

So, on Monday morning, when you say, or think, "Good morning, boss," choose your connotations carefully.

(In the Fifties, "That's boss" meant something was very cool.)

Carry on.

As you were.

Laugh. Or else.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Office Officious Offal Ordinaire



If (a starkly simple syllable that bears infinite weight) you have:
  • ever worked in a cubicle farm
  • experienced the absurdity of office life
  • borne the brunt of brutal workplace fear
  • participated in or heard office gossip
  • hungered for humaneness in the halls of capitalism
  • felt frustrated at work
  • wondered about the interior life of your colleagues behind the workplace veneer
then (another word that carries great freight) read Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris. Catch-22 goes to the office.

(Check out the book's website, linked above. Disclaimer: I receive zilch from this endorsement. Just want to share.)

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Topography of Pain

About six weeks ago, I slipped on black ice. I didn't fall to the ground, but my left leg went flying out from me, asunder from the mainframe, making feel as if a bullet had entered my hamstring. It was evening. I almost thought I might pass out from this breathtaking shock, or that I'd need to call from my cellphone to get help into the house. I managed to walk, got some traction, and limped through the home portal.

Several days later, in the shower, I noticed a shocking but luridly beautiful bruise running from the back of my upper thigh, near my groin, to well below my knee, down to the calf almost to my ankle. A bruise without even falling. I asked BalletDaughter, who witnesses or experiences many leg injuries, is that possible? Have you seen it? Yes. Ice it. R.I.C.E., which, I think, stands for rest, ice, compression, elevation. I iced it in Germany. The bruise more or less bled downward and dissipated. But I can still feel the tug of the pulled hamstring from certain movements.

Bruises.

They take a long time to heal. A very long time.

Especially the unseen ones, outside the domain of the physical.

What acronym, as in R.I.C.E. above, would be recommended for the healing of spiritual bruises?

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Water You Know (Or Thought You Did)


In browsing through the March 24, 2008, issue of The New Yorker, trying to look as if I have risen above my modest station in life, I came across this sentence, discussing the Eliot Spitzer scandal, in a fine essay by Hendrik Hertzberg (ah, America's puritanism!):

"That's what Larry Craig and David Vitter, hypocrites of the first water, are doing; they have faded into the echoing hallways of the Capitol like guerrillas melting into a crowd of campesinos."

"Of the first water"?

I had always seen or heard the phrase "of the first order."

Turns out "of the first water" has a very cool, as in ice (as in diamonds), etymology, as reported in The Phrase Finder, a gem of a British website (which parenthetically does not enlighten us on "of the first order"):

First water - Of the

Meaning

Of the highest quality.

Origin

first waterFrom the gem trade. The clarity of diamonds is assessed by their translucence; the more like water, the higher the quality. This comparison of diamonds with water dates back to at least the early 17th century, and Shakespeare alludes to it in Tymon of Athens, 1607. The 1753 edition of Chambers' Encyclopedia has this under an entry for 'Diamond':

"The first water in Diamonds means the greatest purity and perfection of their complexion, which ought to be that of the clearest drop of water. When Diamonds fall short of this perfection, they are said to be of the second or third water, &c. till the stone may be properly called a coloured one."


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Standing 'On' Ceremony


The mall post office, late at night, locale of the Aussie woman calling me a mongrel, is quite the laboratory of human intercourse (as Eudora Welty would attest).

"Are you on line?"

"Yes." (Although I was and I wasn't, since I was fooling with customs forms.)

"You must be from New York," I said.

"Because of my accent?" he said.

"No, because you said 'on line' instead of 'in line.' That's said only in New York City or immediate vicinity."

"You a linguist?"

No, just a Laughorist.


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Pawlie Kokonuts Sr.


So the presumably suburban parents are huddled in a corner as the kids are getting their lustrous and intricately ornate celtic costumes on, as the senior citizens at the senior center are having their lunch, awaiting this entertainment of cultural dance and music. It is a kaffeeklatsch type of thing I don't participate in, never have, for any of my kids, or more accurately, with the parents of the kids who may by some external accident be hanging out with my kids or kid. I'm not one who feels anything in common with the Nascar dads, lawyer types, moms or dads, soccer moms, professional harried types, let's just say: people who read John Grisham or people who think Syracuse has good pizza or who bemoan the price of gas for their S.U.V.'s or use the words "family room."  Which is most anyone, these days.

The woman in the leather jacket, mousy hair, petite frame, wire-rimmed glasses, says to me, "So, you come here?" Or was it, "Do you belong here?"

I paused in disbelief, also allowing for her sidekicks to kick in with some laughter, which never came, just blank faces.

When you next look up "incredulous" in your Merriam-Webtser, not just any Webtser, mind you, you will see a photo of my face, and you will also conclude that this dawg (see blog profile photo) ain't old enough o be considered a senior citizen center habitue.

I mean, in plain English, what the feck?

I don't see me taking the sunset years placidly, mudderruckers.

WTF!

"Do I what?"

"I don't know, I thought you might know about this place. They have so many active programs here, my parents live down the street, and..."

I spent the time during the danceout with Patty A. and  his wife, Carol. Patty, me boyo, is older than me.

Doesn't look a day over 50, bless the lad.

I mean, really.

Does jet lag add that many years to you?

(Incidentally, as you can see, I'm back. I hereby promise to blog at least five days straight and to browse the blogging community. Been working hard on some monetary-inducing efforts.)