Tuesday, December 30, 2008

'I'm Yours'

I learned about this Jason Mraz song from my young daughter.

Say what you want, but I think it's just about the catchiest, most infectious happy-go-lucky song to appear in a long time. Appear? Did it just appear? Or did Mr. Mraz create it?


Enjoy (an imperative one-word grammatically correct and complete sentence with "you" as the understood subject, as we learned to diagram sentences, at the chalkboard, instructed imperatively and imperially (albeit thoroughly) by the inestimable Mrs. Helen Clarke Rivers in English class in seventh grade, at Burdick Junior High School, in Stamford, Connecticut, circa 1961.

I'm yours.

Merry Christmas, I Say

I wish you a Merry Christmas, and notice that I did not append the word "belated" to the greeting. Why not? It's not late. Despite the mercantile manifestations to the contrary, it is still the Christmas season, liturgically and actually. What do you think those Twelve Days of Christmas are all about? In my palace, the tree (always live) is not permitted to go out to the curb for recycling until Epiphany, traditional Epiphany, January 6. So there.

It Is Written (or is it?)

Scene: Downtown, Montgomery Street, near the Y. About 12:25 p.m. I feed the coins into the solar-powered parking kiosk-thingy. It spits out the parking permit, a little receipt, a ticket, if you will, with the expiration time of 1:10 p.m. This little piece of paper is to be placed on the dashboard. I do so. Driver's side. I close the door. The paper wedges up against the window, in a crevice, making it unreadable, or virtually (why don't we say vicely?) unreadable, hence the danger of a parking ticket, but not the good kind of ticket. I open the door. I fish out the wedged paper and place it again on the dashboard, in a readable position. Take 2. I try to close the door, playing cat and mouse, waiting to see if the wind will swoop it, as if I were a bit player in a Charlie Chaplin movie, oh what the heck, as if I were the befuddled Chaplin himself. Or Harold Lloyd. The small piece of paper goes flying, orbiting above the dash. I pick it up and retrieve it. Is it written by the gods that I cannot or should not park here? Take 3. It not only goes flying but whips around and hides under the passenger seat, as if it has a personality or as if this is a cinematic special effect. I smile, even chuckle. Why get pissed? This is life! Is anything wackier than this? Take 4. I gingerly place it again on the driver's dashboard, pause, stand in front of the door, balancing, shieldng my precious receipt from the wind, waiting, and close the door gently, very softly. It works. Presto.

Book List, Executive Branch Version

Speaking of book lists (see post of a few days ago), Karl Rove in a Wall Street Journal column reveals that he and President Bush have had a yearly book-reading contest since New Year's Eve 2005.

And if Rove is to be believed (one would have healthy reason to be skeptical of anything these guys assert) their reading habits are if not prodigious at least substantial. Rove says he outdid the president each year, with Bush logging 95 books to Rove's 110 in the first year.

You can carp and quibble about their choices (more fiction, please; and some potent poetry, too; but, hey, The Stranger, by Albert Camus?!), and you can argue vehemently with their existential conclusions and lament loudly their decisions, but... but.... you've got to applaud the fact of reading.

Why do I say more fiction and more poetry? It's hard to explain, but true literature reveals, illuminates, pierces, shreds, unravels, sanctifies, enlightens, and translates reality in more and deeper ways that nonfiction never can.

Think King Lear. Or Hamlet. Or Julius Caesar. Or Macbeth. Or Richard III.

I stand by my list of 22, though.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Spy in the House of Ah!

I am sitting at a coffeehouse on the east side. I live on the west side. I grew up in a housing project on the west side (of another city), went to college on the east side (of this city, its environs, actually), lived a short time in an urban east-side neighborhood here. This place is sumptuous, with Craftsman (or is it Arts & Crafts style? is there a difference?) furniture and furnishings. I (typically) go to church on the east side. My spiritual mentors meet weekly on the west side; in fact, West End is emblazoned in their name. I do not speak the east side language, though I can. I do not dress the east side style, though I can fake it (but they would know). I once owned an Audi (used); still, they knew then and would know now. If I were to quote Kierkegaard and Goethe, hum Bach and Berlioz, all while attired from head to toe in Ralph Lauren, underwear too, still they'd know. They'd know I was a west sider; they'd know I was a spy in the House of Ah! (All apologies and kudos to Anais Nin, for one of the best titles ever dreamed, which I have borrowed and adapted.)

p.s. Is it always the same cultural-class split vis-a-vis East and West? Someone once claimed to me it was based on the inconvenience of sun in the eyes of commuters. A cute theory, but not likely. Let's see. Manhattan. Upper East Side, definitely more high-brow. Berlin. West is definitely more upper-crust. So, not much of a theory to go on because I do not have much empirical, or any other kind of, data.

Book 'em: We Are Listing, But Not Listless

In what has become an annual rite, here is my list of books read in 2008, in the order of my having read them. I know the year is not over, but I won't finish Netherland by Joseph O'Neill until sometime in 2009. You are invited to share lists of your own, publicly or privately.

1. The Lay of the Land. Richard Ford. Fiction. I place it in the top ranks of any year. A journey through the modern American landscape, especially the interior landscape of the older American white male. Yes, he has a soul.

2. The Quick of It. Eamon Grennan. Poetry.

3. Born Standing Up. Steve Martin. Autobiography.

4. Returning to Earth. Jim Harrison. Fiction.

5. A Three Dog Life. Abigail Thomas. Memoir. (Yes, Mark Murphy, I would have added a hyphen to the title.)

6. What the Gospels Meant. Garry Wills. Nonfiction. Erudite and excellent. Readable.

7. Three Days to Never. Tim Powers. Fiction. (Powers is one of son's favorites.)

8. Then We Came to the End. Joshua Ferris. Fiction. Bought in paperback at a fine bookstore in Potsdam, Germany. Catch-22 goes to the office. A book about people losing their jobs, the right book at the right time, for me.

9. God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible. Adam Nicolson. Nonfiction. Scholarly and hugely entertaining.

10. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Kate Di Camillo. Fiction. It can be rewarding to share reading with your children (which is also true for numbers 7 and 3; or with one's spouse, number 5).

11. The Unknown Terrorist. Richard Flanagan. Fiction.

12. Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha. Roddy Doyle. Fiction. Touching, and unbearably sad.

13. The Hidden Assassins. Robert Wilson. Fiction.

14. Once Upon a Fastball. Bob Mitchell. Fiction. Rewarding.

15. After Dark. Haruki Murakami. Fiction. Murakami. What else to say? (Read first by my daughter, who has become a fan.)

16. Skin Deep. E.M. Crane. Fiction.

17. Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive. Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin, and Robert B. Cialdini. Nonfiction.

18. A Step From Death. Larry Woiwode. Memoir.

19. One Good Turn. Kate Atkinson. Fiction.

20. Supreme Courtship. Christopher Buckley. Fiction. I met his dad, William F. Buckley Jr., when "Christo" was around 12, at his home. He surely does not remember.

21. What Jesus Meant. Garry Wills. Again, Wills is so great. Unconventional and intelligent.

22. Holidays on Ice. David Sedaris. Fiction (some say nonfiction, but depends on the piece). Fresh after seeing him and meeting him at the Landmark Theatre, Syracuse. My kind of humor, for the most part.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Vision Fission Fusion

The other day, my Zen Calendar had this quotation:

"As a man is, so he sees." -- William Blake

I dare say, au contraire:

As a man sees, so he is.

It's odd that a zen calendar wouldn't see things that way, the latter way. After all, see the whole universe in one drop of dew on a blade of grass. That sort of thing. I remember a line in one of John Updike's Rabbit books, Rabbit Is Rich, I believe, something like, "When you feel better you see better." That too. Or vice versa. It might all sound counterintuitive, but it's the same thing as: "You can act yourself into a new way of thinking." When I first heard that, I thought they were crazy, but it has turned out to be empirically true for me and many others.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Obituary of Silences

Harold Pinter is dead at 78. I claim no special knowledge of his works. I saw a film version of "The Homecoming" in the 1970s. I thought the lovely Lee Remick was in it but now don't find any evidence of that at various movie sites. My wife and I saw a fine Syracuse Stage production of Harold Pinter's "Betrayal" a few years ago.

Critics talk of the power of the tortured silences in Pinter dialogue.


Oh yes.


We had a bite to eat afterward.

Some tea.


Yes, some tea.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Latte, avec laissez-faire

Starbucks (do they use the apostrophe?). Tuesday, 8:39 p.m. A line of holiday shoppers snakes out toward the food court, but doesn't quite reach it, either a sign of the poor economy or the weariness of shoppers or a paucity of coffee addicts. A few slots ahead of my spot in the line (overwhelmingly populated by youngish women; why is that?) is a mother, say 28, with two animated young devils (I mean, girls), say 2 and 4. These two do not need any beverage or food with caffeine, since clearly their mother a few minutes earlier had gone into the lavatory to inject them with high-grade, imported, pure caffeine, illegal amounts of it. Oh, and Mommy appears to be pregnant, showing a roundness of belly on an otherwise thin frame. She is well-dressed, even stylish in a low-key way. Think Audrey Hepburn, on an off-day, distracted and a tad disheveled, with a stroller. The stroller is unoccupied. Mommy Dearest is either bored, tired, or else she extracted all her body's caffeine to put into the hypodermic needles for the kids. Suffice it to say she needs a pick-me-up. Something! Or maybe she is always this blase and breezy, having attended the Laissez-Faire Academy of Parenting. No ring on her finger, so perhaps she attended alone. Clearly, she graduated with high honors from the Laissez-Faire ranks, summa cum loud. The two girls may have been robots or Christmas toys. Humans do not move that quickly close to 9 p.m. The wind-up springs in them were about to snap. Like worker bees, the amphetamine-addled tots buzzed back and forth, clinking Starbucks mugs like revellers in a Holbein masterpiece, rearranging coffee packages, reconfiguring bric-a-brac on the sales shelves. Merry mayhem. I seriously entertained the fleeting thought that the tiny pranksters were not her children. I searched for the look of a concerned parent. No one. She paid them no mind. It was as if the children existed in another dimension or in another time zone or on another continent. Predictably, one of the younguns chipped one of the display coffee mugs. Uh-oh. Not to worry. Mother put the chipped fragment in the cup and took the cup and placed into the stroller. She obviously subscribed to the You Break It It's Yours philosophy that was not part of the Laissez-Faire curriculum. She took the cup from one of the little whirling dervishes! -- meaning they were her charges! She mumbled a few half-hearted remonstrances and then went back to staring off into outer space. She paid in coins, from what I could discern, so maybe she was not rich, as I had suspected. "Look at me," she said to one of the locomotives, garnering the girls' attention for a nanosecond. "I must be getting old," I said to the man around my age to my left, in back of me in line. One of the girls had wandered in back, rearranging the inventory again. Mommy Oblivious again. "Down in Atlanta those kids'd be gone," he remarked in a slight drawl. Mother went up front to await her beverages. She ambled toward the food court, sans precisely one daughter-cyclone. She exhibited no evidence of awareness that Dervish 2 (or was it Dervish 1?) was Missing in Active Animated Action (MIA3). How long would it have been until she made this discovery? I suspect cold fusion would have been perfected sooner; a new planet would have been discovered and inhabited. Atlanta Man, fortunately a kindly and good-hearted soul, steered the kid to Momma. I could neither hear nor lip-read the conversation between Atlanta Man and Mominator. "Oh!" seemed to be the word she uttered. Or: "Oh, shucks, golly, I had no idea my kid was hanging out with an adult. Oh, dear. She was probably getting references lined up for Harvard. Oh. Thanks." Oh.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


winter roars in with wind and snow

brightness inches incrementally

onto the screen from here on

white on white on dark

Breaking Bread

Last Thursday, the day starts off ordinary. A quotidian routine. Morning toast and tea. With whole milk. No sugar anymore; gave it up one Lent; never looked back, except for the occasional indulgence. It's so addictive to slide back into, but I don't miss that sweetness, not really. Shockingly sweet if sugar added. The bread is local, artisanal. Heidelberg Baking Company. Herkimer, New York. This morning, white. Excellent for toasting. But first the sliced pieces need delicate separating. Had we frozen this loaf? So, sliced is not quite sliced until my hands surgically finish the existential act. It is a careful operation. Attentive. Or else the pieces will crumble into untoastable morsels. But the division is complete and the toaster accepts this sacrifice. Breakfast is a quiet feast.

Lunch is a pleasant indulgence with a dear friend.

Supper at India House with wife, younger daughter, son, his wife.

Gifts, mostly books.

Wrapping paper.

Such was my 60th birthday.


Found in the breaking of the bread.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


In 1989 or 1990 I was working on a government proposal. Huge. Many volumes. Military stuff. I came upon a blank page that was not quite blank. "This page intentionally left blank." These words emblazoned the otherwise white 8.5 by 11 page. In brackets. Centered. Is my memory accurate? Is the phrasing correct? At first I laughed, thinking, how stupid! I still don't get it, not entirely. Was it a placeholder for information to be filled in later? Was it blank for security reasons, and if so when would it become nonblank? But, of course, in a swirl of circular Dadaism, the page could never be blank as long as it had words on it, albeit bracketed words. How powerful, then, are brackets! They are cogent enough to suspend reality, as it were, or is, or ever shall be. They are Editors Supreme. Would that we could employ (do not expect to see me use the loathsome word "utilize"!) brackets orally, the way people bend their raised index and middle fingers, genuflecting the air, to indicate either irony or a literal quotation. Of course, that's not oral at all. I meant visually vis-a-vis speech, didn't I? Perhaps we could start a new movement (literally qua literalness) of angling the thumb and index finger of each hand rectangularly, raised parallel to each other, like a referee signaling a touchdown, bracketlike, to alert the world to the advent of one's bracketed speech, as if to say, "I'm not really saying this" or "I cannot believe what I'm going to say" or "I'm saying this but it doesn't count" or [This mind intentionally left blank].

Monday, December 15, 2008


T.S. Eliot called April the cruelest month in his poem "The Wasteland."

Do you think December was a cruel-month candidate in any of the earlier drafts, the ones subjected to scratchings and emendations and scribblings and redactions courtesy of Ezra Pound?

In the northern climes, December is dark and has the shortest hours of daylight.

Plus, all that pressure of the holidays.


Advent, the Conspiracy

Speaking of the Advent Conspiracy, does anyone in the world at large even know what Advent is any more? (Ever see those Advent calendars with all the little doors? Are the calendars a German tradition? Didn't the Advent calendars often have little pieces of chocolate behind each door?)

Then again, maybe Advent should be a secret, a subversive holiness. A conspiracy of caritas.

Trim, the Mystery

English is a funny language, with much grist for the humor mill (or humour mill, across the pond). George Carlin, who died this year, surely made much hay of our funny linguistic harvestings. Am I mixing enough metaphors here?

Trim got me thinking. We talk about "trimming the tree" at Christmastime, but in doing so we are adorning and adding ornaments. how is that trimming? Maybe the sense comes from trimming, or paring, the tree to its ornamentable size (as we did Saturday, when we hunted one down at a farm and hauled it home). I gladly participated in the ritual sawing and hoisting and erecting in the stand, then I took a nap and let the ladies have at it, ornamentwise (actually, I hate that overuse of -wise as a suffix; the estimable reference book Words Into Type cites a New Yorker cartoon in which one owl says to another something like, "So, wisewise, how are things?" HAHAHAHAAHAHAHAAHAHA. [H]owls of laughter). This year after bringing the box of ornaments down from the attic, I studiously avoided all manner of familial tension regarding the stringing of lights or placement of baubles. My nap on Sunday was luxuriously guilt-free (yes, the day after we fetched the tree from the proxy-quasi-semi-Bavarian forest).

But we trim our hair, which is taking away.

If you drill down far enough in the etymology of trim, you find that "trim a tree" is redundant, because trim is a tree, or was long ago, in the knotty-so-distant-past we sometimes pine for, oakay?

Friday, December 12, 2008


My annual holiday malaise is creeping in, ready to swamp me, swarm me with melancholy and angst.

Maybe this video can be an antidote (or, for some a Christmas anecdote to tell tellingly). Dote upon this message from the Advent Conspiracy, if you will:

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Anno Domini

Forty years ago today, Thomas Merton died.

Here was a man who truly mattered, who matters now.

Traditionally, a saint's feast day is celebrated on the day of his or her death.

We are blessed by his presence, by his absence, by his eloquent silence.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Psychopathy for Beginners

Just finished an engaging piece about psychopathy in the November 10, 2008, issue of The New Yorker. First, a word about the word "psychopathy" itself. As I was reading the article, "Suffering Souls," by John Seabrook, I more or less assumed that the word was pronounced with the accent on -path, but also wondered it might not be true, because, after all, we don't put the accent on -log in psychology. Sure enough, Merriam-Webster, with its pronunciation thingy-doodle audio device, informs us that the accent is on the -op. But I digress. The article explores how neuroscientists, especally Dr. Kent Kiehl, are studying the functional MRIs of prison inmates, to see if their brains function differently than the brain of, um, normal people. It all provokes fascinating and provocative questions about good, evil, justice, and salami-on-rye sandwiches. Sorry, I digress again. Uh-oh. A diagnostic checklist used to evaluate for psychopathy, the PCL-R, measures, among other things, poor impulse control (not mind-wanderingness, not exactly sort of). We are let off the hook, a bit, with this: "If a biological basis for psychopathy could be establshed and pharmacological treatments developed, the idea that many people have at least a little of the psychopath in them could well become acepted." Relax, will you? This is not making a pitch for the acceptance of antisocial behavior. I'm merely saying how intriguing it is to ponder how the brain works and how we move within very lmited realms, it seems. (On a similar note, NPR today had a bit about brain scans and what they reveal about our shopping and other choices. Buyology. Neuromarketing. Martin Lindstrom. Whew, I love "Mad Men, " but times have changed since Don Draper and his team at Sterling Cooper left the building.)

Seabrook's Q. and A. is here.

The Unkindest Cut, Revisited

Come to think of it, maybe I got that pesky cut from slicing a bagel. See, man (or woman) does not live (or die) by bread alone. Strange, isn't it, how one can forget a source of physical pain but cling tenaciously (elevenaciously, in times of inflation) to the sources of mental or spiritual pain.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Mongrel Redux

Long, long lines at the P.O. tonight, of course.

Of course, I ran into the Aussie who called me a "mongrel" earlier this year.

Ruff, ruff.

No more bytes here.

The Unkindest Cut

I have a tiny diagonal cut on my right hand, in the meat of the palm, in a fleshy portion opposite the fleshy portion near my thumb. The way of all flesh. I guess it's a paper cut, but I don't remember getting it. It stings. Today it is visible, yesterday it wasn't.

How many know that "the unkindest cut" is an allusion to Shakespeare's "Hamlet"?

Or who recalls that "the way of all flesh" is a novel, or a movie? (I'll leave the searching to others.)

"The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."

Another allusion, this one biblical, or Biblical, if you prefer.

Which is worse: losing our allusions? Or losing our illusions?

To paraphrase Dylan Thomas (or to quote him out of context), "Man, be my metaphor."

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Comma-ical Populism

Yesterday, The Laughorist blog had more than 200 hits, and I can't tell you why. Not exactly.

From what I can gather by my stats counter (provided, thank you, by statcounter.com), most people stopped by for a brief flirtatious visit (most visitors staying fewer than 5 seconds; is that an eon in cyberworld?), and most either coming in to browse over palaver I posted on the serial comma or so-called obitchuaries; that and a few other bits here and there.

I'm flummoxed.

And bowled over.

People apparently came from -- as a sampling: Wisconsin, New Mexico, the United Kingdom (quite a few; thank ye), Sweden, Pennsylvania, Syracuse and Rochester, New York; Connecticut, Kentucky, Oregon, Florida, Wshington, Kansas, Ohio, Ontario, South Africa, Norway, Iowa, Indiana, Texas, Egypt, California, Mexico, Maine, Australia, Ireland, Arizona.

And Elsewhere, initial cap E.


Pony Tale

Tonight I carried a pony up from the basement, out the basement side door, over the metal fence, and out to the curb. Garbage night. More accurately: garbage-the-night-before-tomorrow-morning's collection night. Cobwebs swarmed all over my coat from the effort, cumbersome and awkward. It was one of those old-fashioned bouncy-bounce rocking horse toys. A plastic pony astride springs. Metal stirrups. Whose was it? Probably my youngest child's. I cannot summon vivid images of her frolicking on this play pony. I mean, I could imagine her toddler face, her unfettered glee, that look, that laugh, but I can't conjure a real and accurate image, one grounded in a quotidian event. I left for a meeting and the pony was sitting there, in the glow of a nearby streetlight. I came back, about 90 minutes later, and it was still there, wasn't it? I saw a van pull up near the curb, by the front of the house. The sliding door. Someone getting back in. The sliding door. A kid? The pony was gone. As typically happens in our urban environment, you can put just about anything out by the curb and someone will find some use for it. Lawn mower. Computer. Broom. Couch. Anything metal. Not old tires. Then I wondered: will it be cleaned up, made to look brand-new? And will this be some child's present on Christmas morning? I ached with the thought and its sentimentality. And wrestled: is this an occasion for heart-wrenching joy or heart-wrenching sadness?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Post Position

For some neurotic, compulsive, obsessive reason (or lack of any reason), I am determined to publish more posts this year than last year, 2007, which was my first full year of blogging.

And that won't be hard, given posts like this one.

Ever notice that THAT SAID or HAVING SAID THAT are vogue phrases?

I think people think it makes them sound erudite.

Having said that, I sign off for now.


Maybe typocast is a more accurate title.

I find that by far visitors to my blog come from places far and wide because of one or two posts I did a few years or so ago on the serial comma.

That's right.

Individuals, companies, government entities, universities, law firms, and you-name-its come to this URL to pause and ponder my wisdom about the serial comma -- whether I like it or not.

They come from all around the planet.

However, in terms of keyword searches, "serial comma" gets beat, by a margin of 1% or less, by the term "obitchuaries," from a post I did back in 2006.

So, you never know how you'll get typocast.

As you were.

At ease.


Yes, I do get visitors to this forum, not a ton by entertainment standards, but typically a steady daily stream. (A steady daily stream. There's a seventh-grade joke in there somewhere.)

In the last several months, though, I rarely receive comments. (Is it a forum, really? Or more of a Monologue Echo Chamber?)

A. This is exactly what a solipsistic blogger gets and deserves. (After all, I rarely comment at other blogs, except during periodic comment-binges.)

B. So, do I eliminate the capability for others to comment?

C. Does doing so make this blog more pure?

D. Or does it miss the whole communal point of it all?

E. And are these questions merely fraudulent attempts to garner comments via a slightly veiled, though readily transparent, manner?