Saturday, May 30, 2009

Friday, May 29, 2009

urban haiku II

scimitar moonlight

Maxfield Parrish skyview

zigzag bat vespers

urban haiku

morning drizzle halts

tires slap on commuters' road

distant siren moans

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Lush Life


The other night (more accurately, morning) a strange addiction took hold of me, something called reading, but not just any ol' bedstand reading, because the cliche "a real page-turner" took hold of me, became incarnate, as I kept helplessly fighting the common-sense and body-demanding notion of cease and desist, turn off the light and sink deeper into the pillow, into the wee hours, sometime around 5 a.m., the birds not yet on speaking terms, and me afraid to know how bright it might really be on the other side of the bedroom shades, even figuring that I'm going to feel dreadfully bad if I go to sleep now and wake up at 6:20 when my daughter jauntily answers her alarm (I didn't; felt okay but jet-lagged).

What book would keep you riveted like that, you ask?

Lush Life by Richard Price (a requested birthday or Christmas book I am just getting round to; each book in its rightful time).

Yes, a real tribute to an author, that he or she could have such sway and magnetic force.

Either that or the coffee I drank before the Vestry meeting had mega-doses of Caffeine Plus.

Or just something weird going on in me and my brain (I love reading the latest stuff on neurology, realizing we are pretty darn hard-wired in compelling but just-beginning-to-understand ways).

Tip of my San Francisco Giants' baseball cap to Richard Price and Lush Life anyway.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

going Global

"They" can say what they want about the dearth or death of newspapers as we know them, but let me tell you, you electronic readers (we co-conspirators, if you will):

The (Toronto) Globe and Mail is as bright and shiny an example of journalism as you are likely to find anywhere, either in the tactile medium of tree-originated, new-fashioned paper or the tap-tapping medium of click-click-keyboarding.

The Globe and [no ampersand, folks] Mail has lively writing, superb international coverage, and sit-and-read-for-a-week comprehensiveness. Essays abound. And The Globe and Mail devotes a reverential amount of space to books. Books!

I rediscovered this fact this past weekend in Kingston, Ontario, when I was treated to the luxury of idly reading the paper at one of Kingston's fine coffee shops in the aftermath of the Leonard Cohen concert. (Americans may not know this, but Canada's Sunday papers come out on Saturday. Sort of. In other words, the Saturday paper is the big one; getting the Sunday New York Times-like paper on Saturday is kind of like celebrating the vigil of a feast in the Roman Catholic Church the eve before the feast, or like going to church on Saturday, for the same reason.)

The Globe and Mail is truly world-class.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

He's Our Man

Last Friday, attended a Leonard Cohen concert in Kingston, Ontario.

A cathedral chapel cabaret connection.

This online reviewer captures the evening well.

Worth the trip.

And then some.

Back to the Pluperfect Present, Tense

Back to the present, be it pluperfect or tense or neither or both.

Pluperfect, a quintessentially mysterious concept.

As Merriam-Webster informs us:


Late Latin plusquamperfectus, literally, more than perfect
Date: 15th century


A steady rain.


Late evening, May, cool.

Hypnotic tapping of raindrops on the pavement.

Breathing in and out.

Pluperfect, by any other definition.


Monday, May 18, 2009

All Choked Up

The blog post preceding this one almost proved to be my last, forever. Amen.

Unless blogging is permitted or encouraged on The Other Side.

(And what do bloggers do about such matters? Do they stipulate in their will: "Hidden in the L volume of the Encyclopaedia Britannica you will find my Blogger username and password. Post the following valedictory message. . . ."?)

Last Monday evening, before eating, I had mowed the back lawn. (Cf. my poem "Mowing the Last Lawn," previously and aptly posted on this blog.)

We were in the midst of having some roast pork from the grill, potato salad, and broccoli when my son E. and his wife J. popped over to give my wife a Mother's Day gift of an orchid and a card. Filial pleasantries were exchanged, and then they were off to see "Star Trek." I returned to my mostly-finished meal. Upon reaching the hallowed space of the dinner table, I noticed that my wife, B., had turned on the televised national news (thinking, I later learned, that our meal was done, over, complete). This is an ongoing tug-of-war. I strongly feel that having the television on at this time is vulgar, that it thwarts any chance of familial discourse, whether that discourse is contrary and sullen or bright and airy or silent or raucous. She strongly feels otherwise, wanting to learn about the day's sordid events via something called "the news" ("there's the Internet 24/7, I protest), relishing the electronic medium as a facilitator in the lost art of conversation, or perhaps welcoming the brash way it fills up the empty spaces between what settles for dialogue. In silent protest, I left the kitchen table with plate in hand, almost as a second thought grabbing a lonely chunk of grilled meat, leaving daughter A. and wife B. with the TV on and me gone. I paraded upstairs to my office, where I now sit. I marched with my plate in hand and a piece of meat shoved by my other hand into my mouth. As I was walking upstairs, I detected a sponginess in my chewing. This wasn't going right. Or was it? Try chewing a little more. Well, I can't chew anymore, now, can I? Don't panic. It'll sort itself out. Or will it? By the time I was upstairs, I knew the food had slid down and had managed to get stuck in my throat or somewhere along its preordained path. I couldn't breathe. I was getting dizzy. I was scared. I knew I had to get downstairs, which I managed to do, staggeringly, Frankenstein-like, plate in hand. I did hear something like a silent inner voice say something like, "Well, maybe this is it. It's that simple and ordinary." I got to the dining room near the doorway to the kitchen, and collapsed onto the floor, making frothy sounds, turning, I've been told, bluish gray. B. said, "Are you choking?" "I managed to nod yes. "Daddy! Daddy!" A. screamed in a voice neither one of us, or B., is likely to forget. "Mommy, should I call 911?" "Yes." B. somehow lifted me up and began to perform the Heimlich. She is a nurse. I could hear A. talking to the 911 folks. I could hear her give my age as 56 (yay! I am really 60) and calmly relay answers to their questions. I had not lost all consciousness, although things were getting blurrier and for all I know I'm making all this up and remember this in some fantasy-fractured manner. But A. kept yelling, "Daddy! Daddy!" didn't she? A cry of fierce determination, fear, and love. B. repeatedly administered the Heimlich Maneuver frantically and vigorously (also with fierce determination, fear, and love), but it was not working. There goes that little voice of Sayonara whispering to me again. It wasn't working. For some moments I did think, well, I guess this is it with uppercase i and t underscore bold italic. "Stop fighting me. Relax," my wife yelled, getting more and more frustrated and terrified. Although I found, like the drowning man, it was hard to relax (relax? I'm dying here, like a bad Catskills comedian!), I must have done so even a little because I drew a breath. I had no sensation of having drawn a breath, but something had changed. Something Happened, as Joseph Heller put it in the title of his post-Catch-22 novel. The blurriness began to recede. I could hear better. The pork went who knows where, but not outward. I collapsed onto a chair, exhausted. Were we crying? Or was it later? Or not at all? "Thank you. Thank you. I'm sorry I scared you. I'm sorry. Thanks. You both did a great job. I didn't mean to scare you. I'm sorry I scared you." My voice was hoarse, soft, defeated. The medics got here. My vitals were okay. A. was still frightened out of her 12-year-old skull and escaped to friends across the street, beside herself.

A friend asked if I saw a white light or anything like that.

Yeah. In the kitchen.

We now return to our irregularly written and read weblog.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Nightwalk

Walked blind for a while there

Letting the dog see my eyes

Closed for R&R (rest and repair)

Feeling the gravel as much as hearing

That bat swoop nightward

Dwarfing the traffic growl on Avery Avenue

What nerve those summers I worked with blind kids

Pretending I knew their ways

Eating night in monastic rooms

Tonight interrupted by outlaw golfers

Playing the green in youth's faithful madness

Stealing glee from the jaws of the coyote chorus

Sirening in their municipal asylum

Or merely partying Friday night

As beams from a skybound plane

Single me out wincing wonder

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Serial Comma Wars, Continued



As some of you know, a blog post here in January 2007 caused quite a stir. Weird that my post about the serial comma set off a minor storm -- and continues to be the most popular reason visitors come to my blog.

Now the lofty Columbia Journalism Review jumps into the fray with a piece titled "Serial Killer" and subtitled "Why the 'serial comma' isn't important." Not that a slight aroma of condescension bothers me. Much. The essay, by a Merrill Perlman, is a paltry defense of, what?, ambiguity?, or maybe is a passionless defense of apathy toward something that is, yes, less important than Mideast peace. But. It is a wishy-washy polemic, missing the simple point that opponents of the serial comma just can't allow themselves to admit: if you use the serial comma, you can't go wrong, you can't be unclear. Well, they do sheepishly admit that. They do begrudgingly admit that occasions call for use of the serial comma. Sometimes. Sort of. But we don't have to declare it as a universal rule. (Look, I understand this is all about stylistic preference and that it is beyond the realm of hard-and-fast rules. I get that. But style guides have no point if they do not profess preferences, and they profess them for a reason. Or should.)

In response to my post at the Columbia Journalism Review, Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, who declares herself "a big fan of 'no serial commas,' nevertheless provides her favorite argument in favor of the serial comma by way of the "classic book dedication":

"To my parents, Ayn Rand and God."

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I love it. I had not heard that one and of course it is essentially a cousin of the example I like to quote from the folks at The Chicago Manual of Style:

"With gratitude to my parents, Mother Teresa and the pope."

Sit on the sidelines no longer.

Fight the good fight.

Join the brigades.


Become a commando in the Serial Comma War.

Be a Serial Commakazie.

Evocative Vocative

Sign above a bathroom at a Tipperary Hill cafe:

CUSTOMERS ONLY PLEASE

Without the vocative comma after the word "only," we can surmise that customers only please if they are in the mood, or if someone or something suits their fancy. Or we can conclude that said customers only please, but nothing else.

And why the pleasing in the private confines of the bathroom? What the heck is going on in there? I won't ask, if you won't tell.

(Of course, switching the position of "only" invites other questions.)

All the difference one comma can make.

Chief Commando, Serial Comma Brigade

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Tagging Alert

When you saw the heading "tagging alert," you assumed The Laughorist was referring to the blogging phenomenon of tagging, which I won't explain because a) I hardly know what it is (is it a meme chose in English?) and b) I rarely indulge. No, I was referring to the ominous tag one finds on a pillow or a mattress, the one that says:

UNDER PENALTY OF LAW THIS TAG NOT TO BE REMOVED EXCEPT BY THE CONSUMER

or words to that effect.

It used to be more foreboding, with the last four words omitted.

The nightmares this caused me as a kid!

Years ago, say in the early 1970s, The Saturday Review magazine, now defunct, I believe, had a cartoon about this. A house was surrounded by tanks, a helicopter with spotlights on the home, and military personnel. The caption read something like: "We have word you tore off a mattress tag."

I once heard this tagging business had something to do with tracing fibers in the event of a crime, something enacted after the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. I am too lazy to research the accuracy of that.

I do know it is meant as a protection against consumer fraud in these sleep products, aiming to prevent vermin and what-not in pillows and mattresses. (Well, c'mon, the manufacturer simply cannot be held responsible when a drunken person drags home a nasty critter to one's pillow or mattress. I mean, let's be reasonable. While we're on the subject, ever notice how when a person describes the effects of bringing home a less-than-attractive bedmate, only to discover the unpalatable horror of it all the next morning, NO ONE EVER ADMITS TO BEING THE UGLY ONE?!?) Anyway, the tag is meant to prevent manufacturers from putting in ostrich feathers when they declare the contents to be peacock feathers or genuine synthetic beaver bristles or whatever.

This came to mind because I recently bought a pillow from Target. And then another one. At first I thought I wanted a hard one. didn't work. Neither does the soft one. My Goldilocks Syndrome is killing me. A pillow is such an intimate device. And I am such a fussy, challenged sleeper.

Warning tags.

Our society puts such a premium on these intimate sleep products.

Can you imagine the warning labels we could really use?

How about the same sort of dire warning labels for fast-food products, ill-fitting undies, workplace cubicles, automotive vehicles, babies, textbooks, computer manuals, marriages, credit cards, sitcoms, dating services, airport novels, and would-be-humorous bloggers? Hunh? How about it?

Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Economy of Style

Just how bad is the economy?

These bits of good humor from The Style Invitational:

Report from Week 811

In which we asked for signs that the economy has hit rock bottom. Only a few people took that to mean that things had finally started to turn around -- the best of these was from Jim Lubell of Mechanicsville, Md., who said: "After being told for the past two years that my property wasn't worth $%{$181}&*, I'm finally being told that my property IS worth $%{$181}&*." Most everyone else sent jokes along the line of "The economy is so bad that . . ."

The Winner of the Inker

You go into debt to keep up with the Joads. (John H. Tuohy, Arlington)

2.Al Gore is burning old car tires in his furnace. (JL Strickland, Valley, Ala.)

3. Crate and Barrel starts selling crates and barrels. (David Epstein, Potomac)

4. The Virgin Mary appears in Akron on a loaf of bread, which is immediately eaten. (Jeff Brechlin, Eagan, Minn.)

Splinters From the Bottom of the Barrel: Honorable Mentions

The dollar is propped up by an emergency loan from Zimbabwe. (Jeffrey Contompasis, Ashburn)

When waiters at snooty restaurants scrape the crumbs off your table with one of those fancy tools, they ask if you would like a birdie bag. (Roy Ashley, Washington)

"I work for the government" is finally a good pickup line in a bar. (Rick Haynes, Potomac)

The Petco flier in the Sunday paper has a page of recipes. (Bridget Goodman, Philadelphia)

The Republicans can't find anyone rich enough to deserve a tax cut. (Cy Gardner, Arlington)

"The Amazing Race" is run entirely in Gaithersburg. (Chuck Smith, Woodbridge)

People in India with broken computers now call here. (Cy Gardner)

"Day financiers" hang out in parking lots hoping to get hired for a day of commodities speculation. (Michael Reinemer, Annandale)

Mattel is asking for a government bailout for its Hot Wheels division. (JL Strickland)

"The Office" replaces highly paid actors with real Dunder Mifflin employees. (Chuck Smith)

NASA announces that free meals will no longer be provided on space shuttle flights. (Mike Czuhajewski, Severn)

McDonald's introduces the Totally Bummed Out Meal. (Mike Czuhajewski; Toni Gagnon Ross, Alexandria, a First Offender)

The Detroit Pistons change the team name to something more geographically accurate, like the Detroit Squeegee Guys. (Russell Beland, Fairfax)

Mattress companies are making box springs with cash compartments. (Beverley Sharp, Washington)

Hugh Hefner has to scale back to just twins. (Art Grinath, Takoma Park)

Foreign journalists now throw flip-flops at world leaders. (Lee Dobbins, Arlington)

911 now requires a "convenience charge." (Chuck Smith)

Frank McCourt yearns for the good old days. (Barbara Turner, Takoma Park)

Your kid's Career Day speakers include a pencil seller, a repo man and a subsistence small-game hunter. (Kevin Dopart, Washington)

A share of stock in the New York Times costs less than a copy of the New York Times. (David Kleinbard, Jersey City)

The closing bell on Wall Street was melted down for scrap metal. (Sue Lin Chong, Baltimore)

People are actually eating fortune cookies after breaking them open. (Tom Lacombe, Browntown, Va.)

In San Francisco, hollow-eyed men are standing in focaccia lines. (Chuck Smith)

If you open a bank account, they give you a piece of toast. (Kevin Dopart)

The Navy is spending 25 percent of its fuel budget on oars. (Bob Reichenbach, Middletown, Del.)

The Five-Second Rule has been changed to 10 for chocolate and pecans. (Stephen Dudzik, Olney)

A homeowner in Potomac was seen mowing his own lawn. (Larry Yungk, Arlington)

A new ad campaign: "Fancy Feast: It's Not Just for Seniors Anymore." (Chad Pridgen, Marshall, Va.)

Pink slips must be returned for use by the next laid-off employee. (John O'Byrne, Dublin)

And Last: Winner gets the Inker, the official Style Invitational trophy. Second place receives General Motors, donated by Detroit, Michigan (Mike Czuhajewski)

Center Field Fantasy

an early birthday present for Willie Mays:

Center Field Fantasy

I could do that
Tap my glove gallop hat’s off
Horizon bound
Basket catch twirl homeward

I could do that
I all but said to the stranger
In the park
All shiny youth
On my sunset stroll

I could do that
If you only knew
In my dreams
Of Technicolor yesterday
Long gone
Rounding third