Saturday, November 09, 2013

leaf it alone

As I watched Onondaga Creek swirl before me, after heavy rains, the waters muddy and leaf-laden, over by Plum Street, standing near those gorgeous, black industrial pedestrian bridges, I fixated on one greenish-yellow maple leaf, caught in the stream, carried along, floating, twirling. And I thought: why that leaf? What about the other leaves and twigs? And for how long do they pass before me?

Thursday, November 07, 2013

November nuances

Several readers got nervous when they saw my post about the calendar turning to September, "nervous" not being entirely an accurate adjective, but suffice it to say that they were concerned, caring, considerate. They feared I might be on some sort of psychic shelf, a ledge, a place of morose departure. I assured them then that it was all about transition, turning the page, if not a chapter, or even a whole new book. So, since then, more days have tumbled by, more seconds ticked, and so on. If I say, I'm doing fine, will you doubt it, since men tend to assert that claim so readily despite the odds? Well, my doing fine is fine enough, embracing all of it: pain, change, renewal, reinvention, loss, gain, discovery, recovery, penury, luxury, song, silence. The leaves fall off the trees by the end of November, though at first many of those dappled delights cling on to the branch. But the bare branches have a stark beauty all their own. My friend the late Raymond Davidson, a New Yorker magazine artist, used to tell me he loved the simple line of those branches in preference to the picture-postcard leafy scenes. It's all all right. It's all there, all here.

Monday, September 02, 2013

the gates, the questions, the monologue

Yesterday, driving on the stretch of 92 from Fayetteville to Manlius, I saw a wooden sign advertising for homes or apartments. GATED COMMUNITY, it said. Since this portion of the county houses our landed aristocracy, I entertained questions popping into my head like comics' speech-dialogue balloons: what are the gates for? to block you in? or block you out? to give you security? what is security? security from whom? Trayvon Martin? George Zimmerman? the approaching tanks? the marching menace? are the gates there to protect you from -- wait for it -- THE CITY, and its alleged rampaging crime and welfare and urban terror and guns the NRA says we need to have but They must not possess and everything else the paranoiac fear-mongers outside its borders sell? will the gates be designed to protect you from the Liberal Agenda? or from FoxNews's evangelism of negativity? in short (actually, not so short), will these gates be so designed as to give you peace and quiet, safe from Them and It and That, the peace you have earned and deserve and have a right and entitlement to? those gates?

That's a lot of pompous questions on a Monday afternoon, on a day we call Labor Day but do not labor and instead celebrate as a holiday, thanks to the labor movement (a holiday, unless you are one who must work today: nurses, doctors, police, firefighters, fast-food workers, gas station clerks, mall workers, military, musicians at the fair, fair workers, EMTs, prison guards, caregivers, clergy, and many others).

Speaking of prisons and prisoners, I know a fellow just released from prison. He did his time, paid his debt to society, as the saying goes; a little over two years. What's he going to put on his resume, "Employed at a gated community"?

Sunday, September 01, 2013

turn the page

The turned page I am referring to is the calendar, the one on the wall with images of sunlit vineyards and the darker one in my head and along my veins. I welcome its turning, its flip into September, with promises of cooler weather, falling leaves, lighter branches. My August was stormy, tempestuous, and laden with hollow anxiety. (How was yours?) August is gone. It is so yesterday. Its self-inflicted wounds are already scabbing over, hardening, waiting to fall off so that new skin can be brightly born. September song: shed, shed, let go, let go, tweet, tweet. Say farewell to thunder and rain and prepare for wind and snow and sleet. Welcome the gently falling leaf floating in the dusk offering Vesper prayers with no incense but weary sighs. Hello, curled redbud leaf now yellowed still partly heart-shaped settled on yesterday's lawn tomorrow. Greetings, September.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Mrs. Dalloway

I am reading Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. The book, a paperback edition published decades ago, had been sitting on my nightstand for ages. Isn't "nightstand: a quaint, old-fashioned word, rather Victorian, suggesting reading and domestic habit and a hint of orderly bliss and harmony? Not that I have that gospel to preach this evening. Would that I could. The novel is A Day in the Life (which was termed the #1 song by the Beatles in a special edition of Rolling Stone magazine on newsstands now) of Clarissa Dalloway and her privileged if angst-ridden world and those around her. The words are delicious, the sentences stringy and sinewy, the cadences charming, the characters perplexing and intertwined (none more than Septimus Warren Smith, fresh from the horrors of the War, and his Italian wife Lucrezia). I like this work, today, better than the work of Marcel Proust. And doesn't Nicholson Baker's The Mezzanine owe a tip of his cap to this book, since his book explored lushly not a full day but a lunch hour? "It had no plot," you'll hear someone say as a negative comment against a movie or novel or story or you-name-it. That critique typically rankles me, not that I should take it personally. Who the feck cares if it has a plot? We all know Hamlet or Macbeth or Tony soprano will die, but we watch it anyway. Ooops. Trapped myself there. "It" in those cases refers to productions that have a dramatic arc. Fine. I'll grant you that. Maybe the whole "plot" business, or the fixation on it, bothers me because I transfer that to the "God has a plan for me" saying. I get it, but I don't see the Divine Power playing with us like puppets or marionettes. Yet I have experienced "grace" and "providence," so perhaps I am a confused and sloppy thinker or feeler. Where was I? On the street in London, or the park, just after lunch, inside the head of clarissa and her band of drawing-room characters. Carry on.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Waiting for the Street Sweepers

On Sunday night I was fortunate to find a parking space on 107th Street, yards from leafy Riverside Drive and down the block from Broadway and West End Avenue. The space -- so close to where I'd be staying for the night -- was a surprise, and free.( Isn't this what we mean by gratuitous?) The only condition, so far as I could discern, was that my comfortably wedged-in vehicle had to be moved from this sanguine-spurring spot between the hours of 9:30 and 11 a.m. Monday, to permit and facilitate the cleaning of that northern side of this east-west street. (Manhattan's street grid is eminently logical.) Being neurotic (now, we like to call it OCD; for a decade or so it was anal-retentive), I checked the sign about parking permission at least three and four times and surveyed other cars to confirm further the legitimacy of this piece of vehicular real estate. A car in back of mine seemed to have one of those anti-theft attached to the steering wheel. So Nineties, I thought. Things looked safe and secure, but I'm not naive. Gotham is surely not free of all crime, nor is your hometown. I was very tired, so awoke as late as I could Monday. Blaring sunshine and body clock had votes on this matter. I purchased a Times and read part of the lead story on the Zimmerman acquittal and realized the demonstration I had encountered Sunday evening on First Avenue might have been the same one that converged later onto Times Square, as pictured. I was hungry. A bagel shop on Broadway looked appealing. I went in. Long lines. Slow progress. It was already 9:10. I pictured my car being ticketed and towed. I left. I went up the street to the Manchester Diner. I started to order a bagel but grew more nervous about that concept we call time. Just give me a corn muffin, please. And a tea. Breakfast tea. With cream. no sugar. I walked to my car. still there. Everything fine. But already people were moving cars to the opposite side of the street. A few may have been sitting double-parked in their vehicles. The promised furnace heat was only simmering at this hour. Picture a stream of cars lining up double-parked on the non-street-sweeper side of 107th Street. Perhaps influenced by the Times story and current events, I mused to myself about law. We pay attention to  -- or ignore -- laws as they suit us, do we not? There is obviously a social compact here. I am fairly certain double-parking in New York City is illegal. Imagine if your car was curbside and had to get out but was blocked by a double-parked car. But I did not see such cars ticketed. (Maybe they are, all the time. I don't know. I suspect these folks -- some perhaps paid to do so -- jockeying the cars are ready to move them.) And does the city want hundreds or even thousands of cars driving around during the street-cleaning times? What purpose would that serve? I dutifully moved my car to the opposite side, near but not blocking a driveway. I rolled my windows down. I ate my corn muffin, crumbs falling all over me. Who made this corn muffin? Where? When? How many were made? I drank my morning tea, as is my wont at home. Sitting here, you hardly hear the traffic in back, on Broadway, or anywhere else. Hardly any cars come down 107th. I perform my Times fetish ritual of reading all the articles on the front page, if nothing else. I browse through some of the Sports section. A disembodied hose is watering the plants at the base of a tree to my left. I do not want to get sprayed and close my window. The watering over, I reopen my window. I put the paper down and close my eyes. Starlings. Sparrows. No sirens. The road in front, which is the Riverside Drive before Riverside Drive, is quiet. Am I in the country? Where did all the sound go to? A hint of a breeze. Be mindful of breathing. And breathing out. As suggested by Thich Nhat Hanh. Offer myself and the world the hint of a smile. Try to smile. Try to hear your breathing. Feel it. Be it. Open your eyes. Turn the car on. Close the windows. Put on the AC. Turn right and follow Riverside Drive all the up to the Cross-Bronx. A brand-new vista offering the GWB and the Palisades. A brand-new road. Just for me.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Bloomsday, the day after

Hope you all yesterday yeast of year had your blossoming sedge of selves a precious opposite of precocious Bloomsday. It also marks the day, aptly enough, I started this blog, in 2006.

Poldy carrying Molly's panties in his pocket, and all that.

As you were.

Carry on.

Eh?

Friday, May 31, 2013

baby, love

She crossed South Salina Street, against  traffic, looking over her shoulder, walking fast. Slung on her hip a curly-haired boy, maybe three years old, mixed race. He'd look beautiful in a cereal commercial, or on a box of Wheaties. She was young, white, skinny, harried, nervous. She darted diagonally, pausing for traffic on the double yellow line in the center only because she had to. She kept looking back. Reaching the bus kiosk on the other side, she averted dashing the kid's head into a metal column of the bus-passenger waiting area. If she did, you imagined, she'd just keep going. You silently compared her handling of the boy to lugging a sack of potatoes, carrying a package, a handbag. The child seemed an after-thought in every respect. A physical burden, for starters, but she was not about to let him slow her down. He did not complain, though he was awake. Her reckless rush began to irk you. This boy is going to get hurt. And this is just what the public sees. What are his chances? You began to generalize and fantasize in the extreme: what is it with everyone, nobody works, she's running to find cocaine, what a shithole. What a dampening of a sunny day in Syracuse, though too hot for your comfort. But something slowed you down. Grace or whatever you care to name it (or not name it) freeze-framed your observation as she moved out of sight. The conversation in your head shifted. Christ, she's scared. It's fear. Don't be mad at her. Maybe she's running for her life, both figuratively and literally. What would anger at her accomplish, anyway? Is someone chasing her? She's panicked. Off to your right and in her urban wake, maybe someone is flashing a gun or yelling threats at her on the other side of the window in front of where you safely and coolly sit, sipping iced black tea with wild berry. Refugees in America.

Monday, May 20, 2013

a gift in dying

On this day in 2005 my friend Doug Sullivan died. He was 58. From his bed at Upstate Medical University Hospital, he asked a favor of me in his last week.

"Would you do a reading for me at a memorial service?"

"Sure. Of course. Thank you."

His dear, dear friend Debora had called me days before.

"Doug's back in the hospital. I thought you'd want to know. He's not going to be coming home."

It was a Sunday. I recall just coming back from a trip, probably to Connecticut.

I visited him a lot that last week. That Sunday, on the elevator I met two Steves. One has since died; the other is someone whose life is now intertwined with mine, or I should say vice versa.

He was in good spirits. He was in great spirits.

People paraded in.

A brother came in from Maine, I believe, in the last 48 hours. I think they had been estranged for several years. Doug had gotten a transfusion that enabled him to hang on long enough for his brother to arrive.

On the last day, a Friday, I visited Doug during my lunch hour from work. (I worked for others in those days.) I came to say good bye. Everyone knew these were good byes.

"Good bye, Doug. I love you."

I started to cry.

He looked at me, and kindly laughed.

"What are you crying for? I'm all right. I'll be all right. It's okay."

I looked at Doug. He was not kidding. He really was all right. He was fine. He was not afraid. He was even happy. I looked for a crack in the wall. I could not find any.

He tousled my hair, as if I were his beloved dog or his child.

"Good bye."

And days later the reading I delivered was no more than a collage of words from him, from me, from others in the room, from poetry, from Scriptures. I didn't know if I could do it. Beforehand, I was surprised to see Sara Maypole at the church. She had been a fellow parishioner at St. David's, my parish. She is a retired priest. It turns out her husband Tom, who has since died, was a mutual friend of Doug and me. I had not been aware of the connection. In the pew there she said a prayer for me and with me so I could do this hard thing.

I did it.

Doug gave me -- gave all of us -- a gift in his dying. For me, his asking me to do that reading was a gesture of love. It was apostolic. Other folks knew him better, I figured. Played golf with him often, talked to him more, hung out with him more. My guess is he treasured our mutual honesty. We held no secrets from each other. Oh, we were baseball fans together, too. We would attend Chiefs games. Since his Red Sox had won the Series in 2004 he joked he could now die. There was a literal truth in that. But I don't need to have any special reason to explain why he chose me for the honor. It does not matter.

His doing so was a great gift to me. His dying proved somehow rewarding.

And when my own brother (because, let's face it, Doug was a brother too) passed away in November of the same year I was more prepared, if you will.

Thanks, Doug.

We miss you.

But we know you're all right.

As are we all.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

That's My Style

The New York Times of May 10, 2013, relates an episode involving former Apple exec John Sculley and David Steinberg, head of digital marketing firm XL Marketing. The article has an apt title: "He's No Longer The Loudest Guy In the Room."

Years ago Sculley and Steinberg were on a West Coast swing. They had 10 or 15 client meetings. After the first meeting Sculley said to Steinberg:

"David, there's a West Coast style and there's an East Coast style. We need to work on your West Coast style."

Steinberg went on to explain so-called West Coast style: "Soften it up. Take it down a number of notches, and just listen instead of always talking." Of Sculley, he added: "He taught me how, from a leadership perspective, to step back and take in the landscape. . . . He will sit in a room for an hour before he says one thing, but when he says that thing, he is so right."

That explains a lot.

I need to work on my West Coast style.

Excuse me. We need to work on my West Coast style.

I intuitively have known this for many years. Rather, others have either pointed this out directly to me or have implicitly offered it as an unsolicited suggestion toward my "continuous improvement."

It's not too late, is it?

(This may be a subconscious reason I've been a San Francisco Giants fan ever since and before they moved to San Francisco.)


Saturday, May 18, 2013

666 upside down

Warning: This is post number 999 at this blog.

garage sale: yes, we have no bananas

But we do have books, high-brow, low-brow, no-brow, pulp, pop, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, biography, spiritual, you-name-it. We put some books out for the annual Tipperary Hill Neighborhood Association garage sale. Also put out a few bicycles, a scooter, a hula hoop [should that be capped, as a brand name? Too lazy to look]. Sold the bikes, for $7 and $10 respectively. Sold some books, 10 for 10 bucks hardcover, 50 cents or best offer for paperbacks. (I typically worked out a deal for less. Just want to clear space on my shelves.) One young fella, Yankees fan, from down the street on Tipp Hill, came back to talk to me. I had given him a postcard promoting TIPP HILL LITANIES, my poetry book about Tipp Hill. He was all excited. He said he had heard me on the radio last year, on "Upon Further Review," talking about my baseball book. I happened to have a copy on the step. BASEBALL'S STARRY NIGHT. He bought one. I signed it. Good day.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

break fast, slowly

Upon reflection, breakfast is my favorite meal. This from a guy who sermonizes on the value and importance of communal eating. This from one who loftily pontificates on the tribal need for family interaction around one table, even if voices and views are discordant.

Breakfast involves ritual. Breakfast tea with milk, exactly three slices of Heidelberg Baking Company bread, preferably Cracked Wheat, with Earth Balance buttery spread, one slice with Welch's grape jelly.

I typically read from The New Yorker or the New York Times, one from several days ago.

I take my time.

Time takes me.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

orange

Interrupting myself in the middle of my snarky comments to amiable barista Erin regarding GMO at Freedom of Espresso, my home base as an artisanal certified word roaster, I said, "See this orange?" I grabbed one of the oranges in a bowl on the counter. I re-interrupted myself, to add: "Did you hear about the terrible citrus blight in Florida?" Erin threw in something about GMOs and Nature and purity. I countered with something askew, about fighting "nature" by fighting polio. "I don't eat polio," Erin added. Then I re-re-interrupted myself to proclaim: "Speaking of eating. So, some Buddhists, like Thich Nhat Hanh, suggest eating one orange mindfully, and contemplating the air, rain, soil, everything." "And GMOs," she tossed in there, as if in a salad. All the while, a coffee-wanting or tea-desiring customer, a young man, hipsterish, as if I'd know, is listening and watching this. I try to give him my apportioned eye contact. "Shouldn't that be everything, not just an orange? A rugelach?" she asks. "Sure," I say. (At the coffee shop, the rugelach is such a standard and so good, I just ask for cinnamon "rugs" and they know.)

The State of New York State Route 17

As the road ribbons before me and behind me, the hills rising and greening, the setting sun reflects ferocious light on metal or stream, contrasting with quiet shadows from pines, aspens, maples. Not one fly fisherman in the famous trout spots near Roscoe, not on this evening of Mother's Day. Why do the hills remind me of Japan, where I have never been? Just after Roscoe, the sign says, if I recall rightly, REST STOP 19 MILES. It is a long, long 19 miles if you have to pee. This time, I am not afflicted with that need. The 19 miles unwind if not rapidly at least not painfully. The rest stop for me is more of a stretch stop. It feels great to move. How many times have I made this trip? 89 times? Maybe more. Back in college, it wasn't even a real highway. You would think I could drive it blind. No radio on, no CD playing. My 2007 VW Rabbit makes some disturbing sounds. Alignment? Tires? Brakes? Worst of all, transmission? I keep rolling. Very soon after the Route 17 West rest stop, on the right, a commercial concern offers mulch and other wood products. It also displays a BRIDGE FOR SALE sign. And as I pass by rapidly, I see a bridge really is for sale, not the fabled Brooklyn Bridge for sale as offered by fast-tawkin' hucksters, but what seems to be a real-life rusted bridge, on a platform, maybe a platform truck, a bridge for your back yard or creek or temporary stream or wetland or movie set. Bridge for Sale. After all is said and done, we all need bridges. Pontifex and pontiff, they mean "bridge," did you know that? The next exit is Exit 89, Fishs Eddy, with the same missing apostrophe that Wegmans is missing, Fishs Eddy, a name appropriated by NYC interests. I keep rolling.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

what are you reading?

I am reading

ALL THAT IS

by

James Salter

plus, I read YOUR TRUE HOME

by

Thich Nhat Hanh

for daily meditation.

Other than that, I typically don't have more than one book going. Usually, The New Yorker or NY Times provides some breakfast reading.

stories


"The universe is made up of stories, not atoms." -- Muriel Rukeyser

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Thursday's collage of nouns + verbs

confetti showers blossoms crabapple cumulus floats walks lawn mowed words spoken silence broken token taken bread eaten grace gotten moment lived touch felt

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

hard rain soft ground

Welcome, rain. And welcome to the miracle of percussion on the car roof, the slapping wipers, rivulets, deluge of downpour, and song of pelting. The ground was hard. Aching for relief. And what softened the compacted soil? Water, in force. Something softer and more transparent than the dirt. The repetition of softness yielded softness. And a more pliable ground upon which to walk.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

you think you know though you do not

You talk to a man in the discount shoe store. Tall, handsome, a bright smile, French accent. Assistant manager. I ask him about the Cole Haan shoes I was considering. Brown. Too expensive for me, even at 40% off. About $130. You think you know something of him or his background. You know nothing, or less. Are you from Africa? No. I am from Lvov, Ukraine. But I've lived in Moscow. And Washington, D.C. And Nigeria. When he was an infant, his mother tells him, he was a novelty, an item of fascination, like a display. The people there had never seen a black child, he says. Though of course the adjective "black" in this context is so skewed as to be meaningless, isn't it? I mean, think of the hues of a baby's skin, if you've ever observed a newborn, which I have but not recently. You think you remember though you do not.

Monday, May 06, 2013

white space

some times

that is

all you have

the space

between words

after white noise

before the thought

white space

on the page

letters above and below

no leading

no weight

or ascenders or descenders

mind the gap

Friday, April 19, 2013

shelter in place


an addendum to a fearsome lexicon

twisting

gimme shelter

here and now

there and then

tedium

awaiting

the knock on the door

blasting

dead bolt

click

rustling

roiling

curtained heart

stopping

stuttering

in place






Sunday, January 27, 2013

Money, money, money

"Money dignifies what is frivolous if unpaid for."

Virginia Woolf
"A Room of One's Own"

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sunday Diary

Since I feel as if I did not "accomplish" much today, I thought this tiny inventory might prove beneficial.

  • went to church, though I sang few if any hymns
  • made friendly quips and conversation with the priest's son afterward
  • at the fellowship hour, had the longest conversation, by far, I had ever had with Wayne, a parishioner
  • read some of Affliction by Russell Banks
  • did dishes
  • did some digital marketing of my three published books
  • cleared my desk of old bills, magazines, newspapers; dusted and polished it
  • my laptop, which I am using now, sits atop the desk
  • walked the dog
  • went to two grocery stores

Friday, January 11, 2013

How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?

When I was very young, I was enthralled with the song "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window." Maybe I wrote this because I was subconsciously influenced by the fact that the song's singer, Patti Page, just died, on January 1.

You know what? We never did find out how much that little doggie cost.

But I want to ask you something: "how much is that word on the Internet?"

What I'm asking is, how much would you be willing to pay if you had to pay for each word you send out into the ether of the Etherworld, the Internet, cyberspace, you-name-it?

I'm not engaging in a debate over free speech or free Internet. I am asking you to put a value on the words tapped out on your keyboard and transported into and onto and through the digital realms of the planet.

How much would you be willing to pay for each word, if you were forced to do make such a payment?

The great writer Jorge Luis Borges, one of my favorites, once commented that censorship imposed in his native Argentina by the regime there forced him to choose his words more carefully.

Would Modern Wordcost Internet Protocols (MWIP) make us act in a similar manner? 

And how would such a "cost" influence what you tapped, typed, wrote, scrawled, whatever-you-want-to-call-it?

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Reading, Nonpennsylvania

You've become such a blogvoyeur, lurking here without commenting.

C'mon.

Tell us.

What are you reading?

Monday, January 07, 2013

Habit

I got out of the habit of blogging here.

I am sorry.

If you recall, this is where we began our digital conversation, back on Bloomsday, in 2006.

Can we begin again?

May we begin again?

Sunday, January 06, 2013

2012 Book List

It's a tiny bit late, but here is my annual list of books I have read. For no reason other than I've been writing my OWN books, the list is a little shorter this year. I could claim the list is briefer because I have one or two monster-long books, but that wouldn't work. I typically have one or two monster-long books. Here goes:

1. The Greatest Game Ever Pitched: Juan Marichal, Warren Spahn, and the Pitching Duel of the Century -- Jim Kaplan

2.  Wait Till Next Year -- Doris Kearns Goodwin

3. The Odds: A Love Story -- Stewart O'Nan

4. The Great Leader -- Jim Harrison

5. Just Kids -- Patti Smith

6. The Hunger Games -- Suzanne Collins

7. Cutting for Stone -- Abraham Verghese

8. Ignorance: How It Drives Science -- Stuart Firestein

9. A Pirate for Life -- Steve Blass

10. Canada -- Richard Ford

11. The Juju Rules, or How to Win Ballgames from Your Couch -- Hart Seely

12. You & Me -- Padgett Powell

13. The Cow in the Parking Lot: A Zen Approach to Overcoming Anger -- Leonard Scheff and Susan Edmiston

What are you reading?