Thursday, May 31, 2007

Pure Romance or Impure Holiness?

Pure romance? Or impure holiness? You decide. (Why not both? I say.) You may've heard about the church organist and choir director in Wisconsin (as in WisconSIN) who got fired for selling sex toys (on the side, so to speak). Yep. She was, um, a sales consultant for Pure Romance, sort of an erotic Avon products company that throws parties in women's homes. Wow. How shocking. What next? Women who take pole-dancing lessons at home? Oh. Right. Already happening. The priest said her position was not consistent with church teachings. Presumably, it would be okay if somehow these toys led to procreation. Or increased bingo revenues. Or squashed child molestation lawsuits. You can't make certain stuff up: the dateline for the story? New Franken, Wisconsin, where it's okay to be frank, but not too frank, at least not sexually, and evidently not with plastic vibrating frankfurters. The woman noted the choice was not hard (would you like that in pink or black?). According to news reports, she said she began selling the erogenous enhancers after a brain tumor and treatment resulted in sexual dysfunction. The former organist (go ahead! make your own puerile penile pun!), Linette Servais, 50, reportedly said, "After I got over the initial shock [was it a short circuit!?], I prayed over this a long time. I feel that Pure Romance is my ministry.'' She said she helps other women with problems like her own. So, let me get this, er, straight. If we accept her story, and the priest's premise, the sin consists of, what, the profit motive? The pleasure principle? The Peter Principle? A schedule conflict with choir practice? What's she guilty of? After all, she could even say she's helping these women put the pro in procreation. Apparently, some choir members quit in protest. And I quote: ". . . some have gathered at her home on occasional Thursdays to sing hymns." Beethoven's "Ode to Joy"? I've got a few others I could name, but decorum (and former seminarian boyhood guilt) prevent me.

Excuse me. Gotta go. My phone's vibrating.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Dogged by Loyalty

So, in the end, after failing rapidly in the space of a Saturday afternoon, she lay down at the bottom of the stairs. She was unfazed and unexcited by a chunk of meat. Her gaze met an unknown country past the horizon. She was in a limbo of lethargy. I lay down beside her, caressing her. Her ribs rippled under my hand. Upstairs, my younger daughter's crying threatened to escalate into an unmanageable storm. 'Rosie seems cold,' I said. 'Why not make her feel better by putting this little green blanket of yours on her? Make her feel cozy.' And that's what we did, along with a little pillow, along with hypnotic petting, caressing. Somehow sleep descended on all of us, at times, here and there, fitfully. We were certain we would find a deceased dog Sunday morning. We did not. She rallied a bit. But of course it was just a stage. The vet had left his cellphone number in case things had turned bad. We called. He called back to say he would meet us at his office; he was about two hours away. As if to make it harder, Rosie had come upstairs and lay by my daughter's bed. I took a nap, waiting for a call back from the veterinarian. She bravely said her goodbyes (the unclear antecedent for the pronoun is okay; 'she' and 'her' are interchangeable as to whom they refer here). My daughter went to stay with neighbors. I put Rosie's leash on upstairs, feeling vaguely like a sombre hangman. She almost stumbled on the stairs, confirming her accelerating weakness. A deception here, as if going for a beloved walk. Into the car she went, fairly enthusiastically. We had to lift her onto the back seat. My wife sat with her. Rosie sat on my daughter's emerald blanket. Pretty eager, getting out of the car. Then, as if it all dawned on her, resistance. We picked her up. Our voices were soft. The doctor asked me to sign a form. I did. My wife tearfully said goodbye. I said I'd stay, at least for a while. My thought is this: she was loyal to me, to us; I shall be loyal to her. I shall not abandon her. He shaved her left paw. He said he'd give her an IV. As he's putting the needle in ever so imperceptibly, she does not even flinch. Through my curtain of tears, I hold her and tell her I love her and gently reassure her. I ask the doctor about an IV but then it dawns on me: this is the IV, of course. All the liquid in the chamber enters her. I ask the doctor if she is conscious as I look into her brown eyes. 'I think she's gone,' he says softly. His stethoscope and his eyes verify it. 'Sometimes their eyes close if a muscle contracts,' he says, when I point out her eyes were still gazing into that unknown geography. My voice and eyes are filled with tears but I compose myself so as not to collapse into an undignified heap. I am willing to wager that a veterinarian sees more grown men cry than a funeral director. Outside, the bright sunlight of Pentecost. In the car, my wife's hand. My bark of a sob.

And so, farewell to you who knew my rages and secrets, my exaltations and lamentations, on our evening and nighttime walks, through billowing snow (you delighted in burrowing in it) and scarlet sunsets, locusts and lunar light. Farewell, my loyal lovely, farewell.

'The water is wide
I can't cross o'er...

Build me a boat that will carry two...'

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Articles Found and Lost

It has been said, "Wear the world like a loose garment." Good advice, especially when it's hot and sticky. It's often wise to avoid chafing, with clothes or demeanor. I sometimes chafe, as word that sounds like "chase" with a lisp. Whoever came up with the loose-garment theory may have been thinking of saris or Hawaiian shirts or dashikis. This will sound strange, but I carry a piece of fabric in my right pants pocket. not a security blanket, no. It has to do with my glasses. They said don't use tissues to clean them. I believed them. The glasses makers provided me with a black silkish microfiber cloth, 6.5 inches by 6.5 inches, I just measured it, centimeters not listed on the ruler, with "DKNY Donna Karan New York" imprinted in silverish. But sometimes I lose it. So as back-up I cut up some old white T-shirts into pieces (smaller than the DKNY official issue). Mind you, I'm lucky if I clean my glasses twice a week. But they cost me a considerable expense so I must be terrified of scratching the lenses. I even bought a little bottle of spray cleaner for the glasses. I rarely use it. Well, I lost the black DKNY cloth, feeling like Leopold Bloom without Molly's panties in his pocket. I looked in all my pants. Again. And again. No success. I pretty much surrendered, gave up. Then this morning, panty cloth shows up in the right pocket of my green pants, one of the collection of pants I had checked repeatedly while they were hanging in the closet. The thought that maybe I really hadn't checked as thoroughly as I had presumed nearly sent me into manic and neurotic and compulsive searching for that recently lost money. Almost.

After all, it's just an article of would-be clothing.

Letting go is hard.

Letting go of people, places, or things.
Articles. Article. It's a pleasant-sounding word, as if it were the smaller second cousin of art. In grammar, we have definite articles (the) and indefinite articles (a, an) (as well as partitive and zero articles).

Let me amend that earlier declaration: Letting go of people, places, things, and animals is hard.

My beloved Rosie, our faithful Golden Retriever, is becoming a zero article.

We learned today she has liver and spleen cancer.

Today, after a slow but pleasing walk (yesterday, she spooked a deer in the brush, in the city! and the deer pranced away across a field), I lay down with her, on the grass besides the women's softball game in Burnet Park. An overly warm May sunset. She was panting. I hypnotically caressed her; she moved her paw if I stopped, urging me to continue. I tearfully and softly told her I loved her and kissed her on her snout, the bridge of her thinning frame, her brown deep eyes sad and vacant. And trusting.

Those same eyes replied to me, "I know," and when the game abruptly ended we got up and walked home.

Articles? Rosie's the real article.

And this precious garment I surrender not readily.

Monday, May 21, 2007

How's That Sit With You?

In Berlin, I have had the distinct pleasure of visiting one of Europe's most luxurious department stores, KaDeWe, short for Kaufhaus des Westens. Only minutes from the Zoo Bahnhof, KaDeWe is filled with upscale clothes, accessories, and gourmet food. And more! (As copywriters like to throw in there.) On the top floor, there are stations exhibiting fresh, exotic foods, including pastries, coffees, chocolates, truffles, and a cornucopia of lush delicacies. You can buy a cup of coffee for about 3 euros and sit by windows offering panoramic views of Berlin (well, para-panoramic: one side of the building). And when you purchase this cup of coffee, or strudel, or smoked salmon, you pay (dearly but you don't mind) a lovely cashier sitting comfortably at a computerized checkout register. Go back seven words in the preceding sentence. She (or he, as the case may be) is sitting comfortably. And the cashier presumably can sit all day.

Contrast that with our premier local supermarket chain, Wegmans, renowned for being one of the best places to work in the United States. In fact, it is currently listed Number 3 on Fortune magazine's list of best places to work, and was Number 1 as recently as 2005. (While I disagree with the explanation, the company's website even addresses the issue of the missing apostrophe in the store's name.) Anyway, Wegmans cashiers all stand up, all the time, unless they are granted a break or have a disability.

I've used two extreme examples, KaDeWe Berlin and Wegmans Inc., because each is a showcase, premier store. But I am pretty sure it is common in all of Germany, and maybe all of Europe, for cashiers to be afforded the pleasure of a seat. Just as it is common in the USA, not just at Wegmans, to see cashiers standing.

Can someone explain this to me?

I myself have stood at a register (a long time ago). It kills your back. And your legs.

Does it all have to do with some kind of Puritan work ethic in America, home of the union movement? Fear of presenting a slovenly appearance? Something about productivity?

Hard to fathom, especially if you are comparing the modern-day U.S. to the forever industrious and dutiful Germany, home of Max Weber and his "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism."

So, what gives?

Can someone give me any plausible explanation why Wegmans, as well as most, if not all, of its competitors, can't find it in their hearts to let the cashiers sit down?

Are there stores (grocery or otherwise) out there that let their folks sit comfortably?

What gives?

Weigh in, folks.

Stand up for sitting down!

Maybe we can start a movement right here.

Just in time for those Labor Day speeches.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Singe of the Thymes

Saw one of those illuminated signs along a well-traveled thoroughfare today, flashing two alternating messages, presumably to motorists (pedestrians! avert thy eyes! Not a problem; there are few sidewalks in Suburbia, folks):


followed by:


Memory is tricky, so I may be off by an R or two.

I know I'm a stickler for grammar and spelling and all that jizz (I mean jazz, which, according to many etymological sources, shares the same taboo origin), but a few questions come to mind:

1. Is a carr some new type of hybird vehickle?

2. Are carrfull drivers occupied by more than three people?

3. Are the laws enforred as carrfully as the singe writters in this well-healed town (well-heeled financially but not with respect to walkability -- and ain't that the way it usually goes?)?

That's awl for now, fulks.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Septuple Hyphenated Hiatus of Hankering

On Friday morning, there were by my count 23 riders on the bus, a fivefold increase from the previous morning's commute. What do we owe the increased ridership to: Gas prices? Global warming? Payday? Report-to-caseworker day?

One of the new riders, a New Rider of the Purple Sage, was Marilyn Monroe, wearing a wise and lavender version of that fabulous famous dress that blows upward erotically from the sidewalk grate in a memorable scene from the 1955 film "The Seven Year Itch." (Speaking of which, I'm really itching to tell you that the movie's title yearns, cries out for, a hyphen between seven and year. And upon reflection, isn't the hyphen itself an intimate mark of punctuation, a subtle conjoiner, a conjugal connector? And upon even further reflection, is there really anything to that "seven-year itch" theory of wanderlust? Or is it more like "seven-minute itch"? The Laughorist wander-wonders, hyphenically.)

Speaking of wonder-wanderings, I almost plaintively asked Marilyn for a lurid lapdance, but demurred.

What do you think I am, some kind of purple necro-nut? Besides, it's a public bus, not a bus with the adjective preceding bus missing that fourth letter, a typo I have paranoically dreaded in my years as an editor.

Further besides, my libido flags at morningtime, at less than half-mast, the mourning dove of love all but dormant.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bus Stop Diaries

I'm already late, so what's the diff, try and catch the bus, save some gas, save some cash, feel good about it, go green, all that. I don't know the schedule but I know the buses are not too frequent; nevertheless, I walk down the hill on a chilly morning with birds in my ears. I'll take the chill any day over the sweltering throb of simmering morning heat. Turn left, no bus and no one waiting for one. Go down toward the Ukrainian church (well, Ukrainian but Roman too) with the five gorgeous emerald onion domes, each topped with a glittering gold cross, where I caught the bus last week or was it the week before? No bus. Keep walking. Go through the alleyway, a one-way street, against the permitted way for cars but okay for pedestrians, head toward the busier (nice oxymoronic pun) thoroughfare. A bus passes 350 to 500 yards before me. Missed it. When's the next one? Hope it's not an hour. I reach the bus stop and stand there. Dandelion leaves and blades of grass strewn like a toddler's battlefield give evidence that a weed whacker's been here. I hate them, especially their sound. Do I stand in front of the little concrete barrier, closer to the traffic? Sure. Bus Stop. That was a movie with Marilyn Monroe. (Speaking of tragic celebrities with billowing breasts, blond hair, and ruby lips, Anna Nicole Smith's diaries in the news today give evidence of horrible spelling and bad grammar. That immediately lowers my libido. My tail stops wagging. For her.) At the bus stop, you see more litter, you see the grim faces of drivers, you see people who are complaining about the price of gas flooring it to get past the intersection in big-ass vehicles, en route roughly to where I'm headed, two miles away or less. Hey, isn't that what's her name? Hi! The bus stop is handicap-accessible and has a sign posted that says NO STANDING ANY TIME. I chuckle. File that for blogging. Can I stand here now? Please? What if I sit down right here on the weed-whacked limp shrapnel of greenery gone to its grave? Then the Downtown-heralded bus comes. The driver is a serious but amiable African-American fellow with sunglasses (but I don't really know his lineage; he might be African-British or Jamaican-American or Canadian-American; after all, I know a guy who's white, has an African name; his folks are from Cameroon; and he is as white as the cliffs of Dover, mate). I put in my wrinkled dollar; the machine takes it. The lone passenger is an elderly woman; she's reading a magazine about birds. I want to tell her about last night's post at my blog. I want to tell her I wrote about bird sounds, but I resist. It's not beyond me to strike up a conversation like that. Half a block away, a teenage girl with a backpack flashes a pass or ID, and gets on the bus. She looks stressed, unsettled, in a hurry. I feel bad for her. She obviously forgot something, for school or work. She's fumbling in her backpack. She pulls the cord. The bus stops. As she turns toward me before exiting the bus, I give her the most compassionate smile I can muster because I really sympathize with her; it reminds me of losing that twenty-dollar bill a week ago Sunday. Maybe she's the bus driver's daughter (but obviously isn't or he would've greeted her. He would've said, "What's the problem? I'll help you out.") Outside on the sidewalk she is still searching her backpack. Several blocks away, two more people get on. So now it's a bus "filled" with four people. "Price of gas price of gas price of gas" is the mantra of the bus's engine. The two that get on: a young guy with a filthy baseball cap, looks depressed, not from Cameroon or Africa or even Bakersfield or Cedar Rapids. She, she's got blond hair pulled back and bling earrings (large and trashy) and ghoulishly long fingernails that I stare at and loathe as I endure her shouts to the driver asking if it's the usual time he's here. He solemnly and evenly intones, "I'm supposed to be here at 8:27." We arrive. I thank him. He wishes me a good day, as I embark into the haven of cigarette smokers and litterers and walk the two blocks to work, late but already entertained, if that's the word, but it really isn't. The word is Bus. Full Stop.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Calls of the Wild

Haruki Murakami has his Wind-up Bird; I've got my Unwind Bird. I've even got my Unravel Bird, my Unwindable Bird, and my Long and Winding Road Bird.

I once spent the better part of a year writing haiku, as directed by a spiritual mentor. It was a good suggestion. It forced me to observe the world before me more acutely. And awareness is what It's all about, in't? (Years later, I found the little red notebook I carried around with me while commuting daily from Jersey to Random House in Manhattan. It was pretty cool. In the same book is an autograph of the author James Baldwin, spotted at a Hyatt Hotel lobby in Chicago. But I mentioned this in some previous blog. Oh. That's right. Doesn't matter. Blogging is all about The Eternal Now, baby. Incidentally, in case you missed it at the beginning of this paragraph of digression, the haiku link is perfectly splendid. Really.)

Well, blogging sometimes provides me with the same observational motivation.

I walk out at lunchtime.

I hear the purple finch. I know its lighthearted corkscrew of frivolous song.

In the evening, or sometimes the early morn, I discern the lyrical, slow repetitive lament of the robin, or a mourning dove.

Or the grackle's onomatopoeia.

These are sounds that give me pause. Why does most writing (including blogging) focus on the visual, rather than the olfactory or the aural? (Of course, exceptions abound, such as Marcel Proust, or Patrick Suskind [can you tell me how to add the umlaut over the u?], author of Perfume, which was made into a movie.)

I know perfume can get my tail wagging.

Sometimes flashing neon lights in Naughtyville get me all flustered.

But sounds?

The unmistakable crisp click of heels on a hardwood floor.

The languid reverie of a cardinal.

The "mermaids singing, each to each."

The crack of the bat.

An endless trickle from the aquarium's filter.

The closing of the elevator doors.

The mating-call whisper of the unhooked bra.

The cry of the titmouse (how could I resist?)

An unfettered laugh.

The tap on the keyboard.

The I/O switch.

(A tip of The Laughorist's beak to I've taken poetic liberties in my descriptions, for fun. But this is a seriously great site.)

Sounds used are copyrighted to, 1999-2007.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Moonday Moonday

Monday, the first day of the week, at least according to ISO 8601, of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Stubbornly, unlike the ISO, the United States still holds that Sunday is the first day of the week, despite the cyclical symbolism of mini-Easter drowning in a sea of secularism.

But, let's face it, Monday is for most of us the first day of the week, the first whirrings of human anxiety over the labor pains mandated by Adam Smith and his Captains of Commerce.

Is this what St. Benedict had in mind with his "labora
re est orare" ["to work is to pray"]? I believe he symmetrically balanced the phrase with "orare est laborare" ["to pray is to work"]. Yes, sometimes it takes work to pray; other times it comes as easily as






as one dangles from one's fingertips from the ledge of one's unmaking.

But back to Monday. Or, if you prefer, Moonday.

I wonder why we have this moon thing going on. I invite your lunar musings. Monday means the day of the moon, Moonday. (Of course, right after the day of the sun, Sunday.) The inevitable
comparisons to the moon's feminine attributes will be invoked, but what are we to make of them?

On Mondays I typically must invoke ever-more-powerful prayers and incantations to pry myself from under the canopy of cozy sheets. Translation: God! It is hard to get up!

Am I trained to dread Monday with its quest for the almighty quotidian, its maelstrom of management and duty? Or, am I out of training for the travails of work? Does Friday and Saturday catapult me away from the rigors of capitalism?

Maybe that's it: workaholics are so afraid of losing stride, so neurotic about getting out of workshape, they never stop working. Feck 'em.

Or is Monday no worse than any other day, except in my weekend-laden mind?

Perhaps Monday is perfectly named, with its moonish craters and cravings, its hotness and coldness, its unearthly airiness, its moonday Mondayishness.

In all honesty, it wasn't too bad today. I got through the day. I didn't invoke Saint Monday and stay home. I'd say Mondays are dangerous and potentially subversive, in the same way vacations are. That's it! That's where the powers of the moon come in! Beware of anyone making a life-changing decision on a Monday or during or right after a vacation. ("Marge, I think we should stay here in Aruba. We can find work. We'll love it. It'll work. Really!")

Well, at least I didn't book a flight to Vegas, just to escape the pressure, as Tony Soprano did in last night's episode.

He just might stare at the Vegas desert sun forever, and never see the moon again, anywhere, day or night, Moonday or Monday.

How was your Moonday?

P.S. Incidentally, come to think of it, the French don't mince words: Work literally is travail!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Brand X (or Y) (or maybe ZZZZZZZ)

The makers of OxyContin just got fined for "misbranding" a narcotic. Sheeesh, can you imagine getting addicted to a legally available narcotic? Aren't you shocked? The company is being fined $600 million, and three executives are getting punished to the tune of $34.5 million, for misrepresenting the potential for addiction.

Frankly, I'm worried. (Ever notice when someone, especially at work, says "frankly," he or she is following with a lie?)

Am I next? Will the Feds come after me for misbranding The Laughorist? In my banner at the top of my web log, I proclaim ex cathedra:

A venue for solipsistic eavesdroppers, verbal voyeurs, and hoarse whisperers.

Well, let's do a little examen of conscience:

Is The Laughorist a venue? True enough.

Is The Laughorist for "solipsistic eavesdroppers"? I'll go along with the "eavesdroppers" part, but I confess I'm the one all too typically solipsistic. (Eavesdropper? What the heck is the origin of that word? See preceding link.)

"Verbal voyeurs"? I'm all for voyeurism, verbal or otherwise, but are you? Yes, you viewers are playing peek-a-boo under the eaves of my inner brain, or loins, such as it is; such as they are (or was; were).

"Hoarse whisperers"? Fair enough. One can get hoarse and easily lose one's voice amid the flood and flotsam of miasmic hordes of words, words, words.

But the biggest question of branding vs. misbranding is this:

Does The Laughorist live up to his self-anointed, self-appointed name, namely: blend laughs with aphorisms? Is he one who is a humorist + aphorist?

Alas, only part of the time. Just as often The Laughorist is simply only one paltry, plebeian, morose, or raunchy voice amid the many thongs (oops, I mean, throngs) out in Cyberville. He might even more accurately be sporting one of these monikers: The Grammaticist, or The Solipsist, or The Redactorist.

Remember "We, The Ephemerists"?

So sue me.

Sue me for misbranding.

But don't fine me.

I'm no narcotic misbrander. I might put you to sleep sometime, but addictively narcotic?

I hope I am at least a mild stimulant at least some of the time, if not laughoristically laxative most of the time.

Ever Yours, etc.

Pawlie Kokonuts, Esq.

p.s. Why doesn't the firm that got fined come out with a new product, call it Acci-InContinent? What a pisser!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Putting the Pop in Boston Pops

You may have heard about the fisticuffs in the balcony last night at the Boston Pops. It was opening night. This must've been the undercard. Maybe it was part of the fireworks accompanying "The 1812 Overture." Maybe it was all a stunt for a night of movie themes ("Fight Club" or "Rocky").

Why am I so amused by this? It could easily have been me. It has almost happened, once in New York and most recently in Berlin, Germany, at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, on Easter Sunday no less. From what I understand, the reasons for the real brawl and my would-be brawl are similar: talking.

Well, it's no shock that any blogger would be a talker. Certainly no shock to anyone who knows me. (Sorry to disappoint anyone whom I had fooled into thinking I had any sense of refinement or decorum.) But my excuse is personal. Our hushed murmurs (not hushed enough for some) typically consist of these excited words in reference to my daughter on stage as a ballerina:

"There she is. Where? No, there. Oh, yes. I see her. Now. There. Wait. Third from the left. Right in front. Shhhh. I see her. Wait; I lost her. There. Cool."

All of which sounds like a Samuel Beckett play, which would be perfectly apt, because the Berlin ballet we saw was a portion of Richard Wagner's "The Ring" ("Ring um den Ring" in German if you must know) as choreographed by Maurice Bejart. It might just as well have been by Beckett, in German, for all the comprehension I was able to conjure up. The shushing disdain from the well-dressed gent on my right was palpable, splendidly Teutonic, and dripping with condescension that hung like lead in the atmosphere, until I silently announced to myself, "Screw it, get over it, Horst." I still wanted to kick his ass, though. As if I could.

So it could easily have been me banging it out in Berlin instead of brawling in Beantown. And because these two fellas really went at it, instead of politely dancing around it, I have a certain existential "Fight Club" admiration of their pure rage. For them, it wasn't "What would Kierkegaard do?" [WWKD?] but "What would Hemingway do?" [WWHD?]

I sent a link for the news story about this to a colleague, formerly of Boston. She emailed back to say, "Just because you can afford the symphony doesn't mean you don't have 'Southie' in you." Something like that.

As if I'd know. As if my housing-project past couldn't erupt from me like the alien coming out of the chest in "Alien," the 1979 sci-fi thriller.

Sometimes I wish it would. Maybe things would've been a tad less frustrating at work today.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

A Sentence of Patinations

Across the street from our new downtown office sits a cathedral (sits being an apt word, for a cathedral is the seat of the bishop) whose pale patina from the copper roof installed several years ago has pistachio-stained Montgomery Street, having oozed onto the sidewalk peopled by panhandlers and politicos alike, whispering intimations of greenery onto stale concrete, holding a paten of eucharistic morsels for anyone willing to offer their emptiness as two naked palms and a tiny pang of hunger.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Stuff of Loss

So I go to Wegmans [whose eponymous letters of ownership are missing the would-be apostrophe, that impotent and almost-forgotten icon of possession] and in a huff buy stuff for Sunday's supper and the week's lunches, grumbling this chore could have been performed at any one of several days earlier in the preceding week. Fueled by both hunger and anger, I lose focus. I use my debit card. I ask for twenty dollars in cash back, over and above the $30.18 for the groceries. I dutifully pack everything into the Wegmans fabric reusable bag. I get home, unpack in a storm of activity, cook supper in a maelstrom. One lingering problem: one big pebble in the shoe of my evening: where's that twenty-dollar bill? It's not in my pocket. Only the receipt is. Did my cash fall out, mocking my self-righteous indignation and get-things-done pose? I check all my pockets, in my pants, in my pullover San Francisco Giants sweatshirt worn on Willie Mays's birthday. I go back to the car, running my hands along cracks, crevices, corners, cushions, any other C word you want to throw in there. I retrace my steps and search my pockets, fingering the tired lint of obsession. Twice. Thrice. Whatever-the-word-is-for-fourths. I call Wegmans. I drive back there, and leave my name. I retrace my steps again. I check pockets. Again. Everything again. I even mention this to Mom, 90, as if she needs to hear a grown man whine about this. We talk about praying to Saint Anthony. I don't. Or do I? It's a whirr. I am crazed. I look upstairs. I look in places, such as other pants, where the twenty-dollar bill could not possibly be. I grimly tell myself, You cannot find this. Let it go. It will drive you crazy. It's only twenty dollars. I feel accusatory. Who did this to me? On the phone, as I feign breezy self-control, my mother mentions a story of a clerk once shorting her, only to have the clerk ultimately admit to the error. Did my clerk actually hand me the twenty? I'd say, yes, because I believe I also had a five in my pocket from earlier in the day. That's gone too. Somewhere. In the same place where missing socks from the dryer go. Or missing panties (into the pockets of pervs or guys like me and Leopold Bloom). It'll turn up, I figure. Or not. One thing I know, I must give up. I must let it go. I cannot conjure it from its hidden metaphysical or physical place. It will turn up? By magic? My hope is I will turn the page of a book or sort the old newspapers or look under a chair (did that) and find the money some long-lost day. Or not. Give it up, you phony would-be Buddhist. Detachment? You can't even practice this tiny bit of letting go, you sanctimonious, possessed possessor. Let it go. Besides, there's no choice.

The next day, at work, for a brief moment I irrationally think of looking for the missing moulah there, in my desk drawer, for example, and chuckle at the grand absurdity of it. Later that day, at suppertime, with the television news on (I despise having the idiot box on during meals, but what the hey; not much fight left in me), ABC shows footage of the devastation left by the tornado in Greensburg, Kansas. One woman, I'm not sure of her name (Kathy Kelly?), says, "It's just stuff." She says it almost merrily, but not crazily, not post-traumatic-stressedly. She's maybe in her fifties (as if I know how to discern ages). She's sifting through rubble. The remains of her day, and her life, are missing in inaction. The shards of a splintered life surround her: ghosts of old photos, old recipes ("Recipes? I can get recipes, new recipes from someone else," she says, or words to that effect), surrealistic configurations of former furniture, silverware, sweaters, echoes of a life as recent as last week and forever ago. Stuff. The stuff of a life. And yet. And yet she gives ample evidence of being truly grateful, to be alive, whole, presumably surrounded by others just as alive. She does not say these words I've just written. She merely states, "It's just stuff," and declares it calmly, as a statement of Midwestern stubborn fact and acceptance, like acceptance of ordinary daylight.

"It's just stuff," she says

as breezily as a Willie Mays homer

sailing into the sun-drenched bleachers in left-field

at the old Seals Stadium

on a Tuesday afternoon

in May 1958.

Just stuff.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Mysteries of Fate and Transport

Fate and transport.

I love that term, even though it evokes a dreadful memory. Edit that to say, formerly dreadful.

First, the memory. Or, as Vladimir Nabokov memorably put it, in the wondrous title of a piercing and singular autobiography: Speak, Memory. (Anyone interested in writers or writing should check out the terrific essay at the link.)

It's 2002. I'm a technical editor and writer ("Project Specialist") at an environmental engineering firm. Oh. Let's speak it. (Why not? I am too old and detached from it to care or fear.) It was Blasland, Bouck & Lee, or BBL. (Today it goes by something like "BBL, an Arcadis company.") The client needs a chapter on the "fate and transport of constituents" at a contaminated site. We cannot, however, use the words "contaminated" or "contaminant" or "contaminants." In language -twisting the evil propagandist Joseph Goebbels could appreciate, we euphemistically call the pollutants or contaminants "constituents," evoking thoughts of the electorate or at worst neutral players in the drama authored by Mother Nature. I am tasked with writing Chapter 6, if I recall correctly, of a feasibility study (FS), or maybe it's a remedial investigation (RI). There's one problem: I am not in any manner an expert on the fate and transport of anything, certainly not constituents. I read up on everything I can find (articles, websites, in-house technical journals). I enlist the help a brilliant colleague, but he too is not an expert on fate and transport. But no one else wants to help; it is not corporately expedient. In fact, it is de rigueur not to help me. The real corporate expert, out in the Rocky Mountains, could conceivably help but does not, owing to schedule, distraction, indifference, malice, or, what?, his pending sex-change operation. He doesn't write one word to help me but charges 40-some hours to the project, for feck's sake. I can't sleep. My eyes are hollow. I am falling apart, ready to cry at anything or anyone. My therapist sees me in ruins. I work on drafts until 1 a.m. at home. I submit it to the clients. They hate it. My superior hangs me out to dry. That is my fate, transported there by misery and madness.

That was then.

Today, somebody at my current workplace mentioned something about aquifers, and it transported me back to those fateful days. Those former days were the beginning of the end of that toxic job.

Tonight, walking the dog, the sky bright at the horizon, a blue of Caribbean waters deepening into a nightly dark blue denim of dreams and blankets, starlit fabric heralding a creeping absence of day and light, I wondered at the fate and transport of the blossomed and billowing forsythias competing for hue and chroma with the double-yellow stripe in the middle of the park road.

I wondered at the fate and transport of emerald hills carpeted fresh and raw as any dusk in Ireland.

What is my own fate and how will I be transported there?

My mind bubbled with echoes of virility and nubility seen at the mall I just returned from (okay, I'll fess up: that's a highfalutin way to describe my ogling of scantily clad female beauty -- at least scanty compared to the coated cocoons of wintry dress sported round these parts for about nine months of the year).

Fate and transport. We see it all over.

I get home and a silverfish centipede scampers in the dark of the kitchen. I cringe at them. I fear and loathe them. I kill it by stepping on it with my shoes, slightly disappointed the dog or one of the cats didn't see it first to do my dirty work. Then it would seem more, um, natural.

Moments later, in the bathroom off the kitchen, it's a spider. I take a tissue and catch it and toss it into the toilet bowl while continuing with the fate and transport of the not-quite-forsythia-colored streaming of my personal constituents. After earlier browsing through Buddhist books and after buying A Book of Hours illustrated by my high-school teacher John Giuliani, I admit it wasn't kindly to Mr. Spider. Yes, I suppose I could've tossed him or her outside.

But I was in the middle of my own surficial water discharge/recharge cycle.

Nobody's perfect.

Such is my fate.

May this posting transport you to somewhere you have not been to before.


P.S. As you know, I'm annoyed that the poster up above is missing the comma after wildlife; plus the rest of its punctuation is a dog's breakfast.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Attorney at Law(less)

Riding in the elevator, I see the doors open. (I almost wrote, "Riding in the elevator, the doors swing open." That would be a classic case of a neoclassic dangling participle [take your little mind out of the grammatical gutter, thank you]). On the wall opposite the open elevator doors, a sign says,
Attorney at Law. Maybe it said, Attorney-at-Law.

For a long time, I have found the term redundant and redolent of the affectations and entitlements allegedly owing to attorneys, to wit, ipso facto, ergo, postcoitus, et cetera ad nauseam (at least in their jurisprudential little minds). (Incidentally, did you know that Esquire or Esq. appended after a surname has no real legal status, at least in the U.S.? Maybe we all should start putting it after our last names. Yeah, let's start doing that. Serves those subpoena servers right!

Attorney at law? Well, attorney at what else? Internal cumbustion? Flagellation? Solipsism? Antioxidation? Onanism? Fiduciary flatulence? I mean, you don't ever hear the variants listed below, do you?

Priest at Religion

Teacher at Education

Pole-dancer at Terpsichore

Psychotherapist at Psychology

Linguist at Labial

Anarchist at Nonlaw

All right, so I got a little carried away (note the quasi-passive voice, similar to the passive voice favored by politicians, as in "Mistakes were made," instead of the more active, and responsible, "I digressed"). I conducted a little research (very little; this is weblogging not legal briefs) ("I like your briefs, sweetie; they're so saucy, they're barely legal HAHAHAHAHAHA."), and discovered there is a difference between an attorney at law and an attorney in fact. Turns out, anyone can be an attorney in fact (well, not ANYONE; certain former failed-business fratboys from Midland, Texas [viz., Greenwich, Connecticut] with aggressive tendencies are hereby excluded). You don't need a license (licence, for Brits). You just need some brains and common sense and trustworthiness. Maybe. I guess. This is what we have when we refer to someone as having "power of attorney." So, this weblogging ended up teaching me something:

I've got the power!

It may not be habeas corpus or corpus delecti, but it sure is flagrante delicto -- but only if I get caught (red-handed, so to speak, or with my legal briefs down, I should say, Your Honor).

Your witness. No further questions. No redirect.

Yours, etc.

Pawlie J. S. Kokonuts, Esq.