Sunday, August 31, 2008

Rotator Cuff, the Metaphor

The orthopedist (or orthopaedist, if you're into such diphthongs) says I have a rotator cuff problem. It might be bursitis or tendinitis (a word frequently misspelled). It's also called Shoulder Impingement Syndrome. It's my right wing (the Sarah Palin section of the body), even though I'm left-handed and mostly left wing. The doc says the rotator cuff essentially keeps my arm from flying off my body. I'm now going to physical therapy a few times a week and have to do a series of exercises in the meantime. Sometmes I do, sometimes I don't.

What's the prescription for my more frequent malady, Interlocutor Infringement Sindrome? What exercises are recommended to thwart my propensity for the conversational interruption (talkus interruptus), the errant comment at the inopportune moment? Maybe that's how I developed TMJ, from biting off sentences. Naw. Doesn't happen enough. My sentences more frequently wander off like the fly fisherman's lure cast into a burbling brook.

Carry on.

As you were.

Have a pleasant Labor Day, in America -- or a fine-fettled Monday elsewhere.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Notice how ubiquitous the word "absolutely" has become?


It has become a substitute for certainly, yes, very much so, truly, indeed, without a doubt, yes, of course, undoubtedly, unquestionably, emphatically, unequivocally, yes, heartily, infinitely, assuredly, yes.

It kind of annoys me.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

American History

Win, lose, or draw, history was made tonight with the nomination of Barack Obama, the first African American to be nominated for president by a major party. I fully understand that such a status does not automatically qualify him for that job, or any job. I get that.


I am proud to be an American, a Democrat, and an Obama supporter (with cash to back up that statement). At this point, I will not launch into an array of reasons for my supporting him (but one reason is rhetoric: I obvously believe in the power of words). Besides, my opinion is unlikely to change anyone's views. But picture me, an old white guy, backing this galvanizer -- and I'm not expected to be in the demographic of his supporters.

Congratulations, Senator Obama.

For the most part, this blog avoids overt political discussion. But at times such avoidance verges on the immoral.

Case in point: I am morally bound to ask:

why did the American media make so little of nearly 100 civilians, including an estimated 50 children, allegedly dying recently from an American airstrike in Afghanistan? Even if the allegation proves to be wrong, my God, can you imagine if it was one blond, blue-eyed child in Santa Barbara, California, or Greenwich, Connecticut, or Omaha, Nebraska, who died from an airstrike by occupiers of our land, however well-intentioned ? Can you imagine the cable chatter? American TV gushes more about somebody's Olympic bronze medal (that's an assumption; I didn't watch the Olympics) than the death of innocents, even if accidental, even if not by our forces, even if . . . .

We seem blind to the rest of the world, obtuse, as evidenced by a stroll through news coverage at The Guardian or Der Spiegel or the BBC.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Lest anyone think I am snobby, what with blog posts about the serial comma and Soren Kierkegaard and Marcel Proust and gerunds and dangling participles and Bloomsday and [enough, already, with the freight train of conjunctions, dude!] what-not, I hereby report I just finished watching Wipeout.

Love them thrills and spills.

I was really rooting for Aprl Robles, who would've been the first female winner.

She did okay with the big balls.

It was the finale that did her in.

Such is life: big balls followed by the climax.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Bruiting About Bruises

In the shower I discovered a small, slightly yellow bruise on my right biceps.

I can't for sure recall how the bruise might have gotten there. I can't recall a bump or jostle or collision. I can't recall being hit there by anyone, not even in jest.

I, I, I.
Aye, there's the rub!

When it comes to bruised egos and bruised feelings, however, I tend to recall all the micro-details. (Don't you too?) How non-Buddhist of me.

Bruit. I like that word. I'm probably using it slightly wrong in the heading, but it's my blog and I'll blog how I want to.

And I'm surprised to learn through Merriam-Webster's pronunciation feature that the word is just one syllable.

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Sticky Situation

It is not surprising to learn the persuasive power of Post-It sticky notes. (Yes, Post-It is a 3M brand name.)

Researchers found that more people responded to a survey if the request to fill it out was accompanied by a Post-It.

Better yet if the Post-It had a personal, handwritten message.

By extension, what other applications can we derive from this sort of personal attention?

Bloggers who engage their readers build a community of followers, right? (I'm not sure. You tell me.) Some very successful blogs allow for no comments at all.

So, does the blogger merely pro
vide the illusion of being interactive with the blog's readers? Or does the blogger communicate with every visitor on the side, under the table, sotto voce, so to speak? Under the table. Sotto voce. I love the audio pronunciation thingy Merriam-Webster gives us, don't you? Sounds so lascivious and naughty. Stop smirking, you, sitting in front of the computer.

Just this once, I promise to personally respond to every person who comments, either directly or in the comments box.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

sock it to me

"I grow old. . . I grow old. . .

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled," quoth T. S. Eliot.

"I grow old. I grow old. I shall wear footwear of Joseph Abboud," declares Monsieur le Kokonuts.

The sock drawer (top one of the bureau) is populated by old socks. Most are black. Some are white. The black pairs had served as dress socks. They were all tight, a struggle to put on. Many had nascent or fully realized holes.

The other day I went to Marshall's and splurged. I bought three pairs of Docker's socks (shades of brown and green; a radical innovation) $6.99, and three pairs of Joseph Abboud socks, similarly tan and brown and pale green. $9.99, a stylish revolution.

Let me tell you. These socks glide on like water.

Wearing them is like walking on air, compared to the peasant socks I was formerly wedded (or welded) to, sweatily. Euuuuuuuuh.

A footly pleasure. (We shall not at this juncture veer off into fetishistic digressions, for once.)

Who knew socks could be so stylish and functional?

In what other areas of my life am I missing out on such pleasures?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Happy Birthday, etc.

Happy Birthday.


Happy Anniversary.

Sorry for your loss.

Best wishes.

Speedy recovery.

I'm sure some of these words apply to someone.

Maybe even you.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Boxing Blind

This guy in Uganda, Bashir Ramathan, is blind.

He boxes.

He requires that his opponents blindfold themselves.

Sometimes the two boxers are "back to back, punching like crazy in the absolute wrong direction."

I once saw a Gospel musical with the evocative title "Your Arms Too Short to Box with God."

I box blind a lot. Most of the time I don't even take off my glasses.

I'm hoping to hang the gloves up before it's too late.

Somebody can get hurt with all that flailing.

And not just me.

(p.s. The movie "Boxing Helena" was stupid and dreadful.)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Father Luke

More than once

in my life death

united me to someone or something otherwise not.

We started going to the Episcopal Church because they

(Ron and Betsy, his parents) had asked me to read a poem

for Nathaniel whom Beth had taken care of

who died in the NICU at 10 months

rare a poem about beacons something

about the light in his eyes.

And now through the threadbare thread of Raymond Davidson

there's Father Luke

and his delicious confessions

Olympian Lethargy

In Greek mythology, isn't Lethe the river in Hades that evokes forgetfulness, hence our word lethargy?

To answer my own question: yes.

Is it anywhere near Mount Olympus?

To answer my own question (redux): you decide.

This is my roundabout way of declaring that I have watched zero seconds of the Beijing Olympics.

And I'm not sure why that is so.

It's been that way for several Olympics for me, so it isn't anything in particular related to this year's extravaganza.

Strange, because as kids my brother Jack and I would reenact our own Olympic events with great fervor, winter or summer, using a stopwatch I still possess. We'd mimic the Olympic theme and perform copycat events in the snow or high-jump or run.

Maybe it's commercialism, unwillingness to invest the time or emotion, lack of interest in the chauvinism. Something. I don't know. I'm just not sure.

I do, however, rather enjoy reading about the dramas, the events, the backstories, so to speak.

What happened to me?

I'm more interested in my new favorites TV series, "Mad Men," on tonight.

Appropriately enough, the same time slot, 10 to 11 p.m., formerly occupied by "The Sopranos."

Sunflower Seance

This year's crop of some twenty sunflowers, planted late in a patch of the backyard by the clothesline, is stellar, almost literally, seemingly reaching to the less-yellow stars.

Never had taller stalks.

Three or four are now maybe thirteen feet high, visible to the loud and often unruly neighbors (i.e., young and unbridled) on the other side of the wooden fence.

I thought such tall plants would support only small heads, impish crowns.

But there they are, three drooping, lolling heads of a yellow that surpasses definition.

Proud and fulsome as the seeds of their robust final days germinate.

A Dream and the Persistence of Grief

You think it is final. You think all that is over and done with, fine linen stained with tears put away in a drawer. And then a morning dream. We seem to be somewhere with a countertop. It might even be a bar, but there is no drinking, no smoke, no sounds. It seems bottles might be arrayed in the background, in front of a mirror. It is a dream, so one never know, afterwards. It is Richard, my older brother. The cancer was discovered in August of 2005, just after we got back from camp, as we did yesterday. The course was rapid. The light, what little there is, is dusty, no not dusty, more like dusky but gray. A clear gray if that is imaginable. Richard is wearing a gray suit. How do I know it is him? I see his face. There are no words. We embrace. I sob uncontrollably hard. We hug tightly. My ample tears fall on his neck and shoulder. The moisture seeps through the padded fabric of his suit.

I awake sad.

In halting and fractured terms, I tell my wife of this dream, knowing full well how inadequate my description is. She says something about my love for him or me for him, that he is trying to tell me something from there. I don't know if I believe that. I don't find it especially reassuring. I tell her I am sad, it was sad.

I stop and think that Mom and Beverly and Laurie, for all I know, have had such dreams countless times. I will not ask them.

We go to church, first time together in months. I was going to go to nearby Saint Mark's, on the west side; she had already left for Saint David's. I changed my mind and showed up, in the middle of the sermon, at Saint David's, on the east side, the suburbs. She said yesterday was her dead father's birthday. At the prayers for the dead I couldn't get the words out and tried to make no show of what my eyes were doing.

She pointed to the bulletin, to the first reading, which I had missed, from Genesis. She pointed to the bottom of the passage, an excerpt about Joseph, in exile in Egypt.

Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin's neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

In the mail that had accumulated in our absence, a large envelope package, from my brother Bobby. A luscious coffee-table book, Baseball As America.

Beth and I went to a minor-league game last night, before the dream, with Steve and Steve and Ed. Beth and I left before the fireworks.

Today I wonder if Jack is back from Chicago.

And marvel at how three surviving brothers can skirt this grief of many colors.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


. . . not just the familiar smells of the furniture and the needs-to-be-refinished flooring and the secretly conspiring dust but also knowing which steps creak most loudly (and which one does not creak at all)

. . . not only the walls that have heard the silent cries and wretched rages as well as sober triumphs but also the windows that see right through you

. . . not just the sureness of the bed, its remembered shapes and moldings just for you

. . . or the tilt of the toothbrush, its nightly resting place

. . .nor even the absence of the alien walls in the pine-drenched forest lakeside

not any of those

and yet all of those

something about the fitness of a worn slipper or even an old shoe that never fit or threadbare pajamas everlastingly worn

not that either

the burnished banister

the hand-polished doorknob

the taste of the water

the rhythm of these clocks


Thursday, August 14, 2008

a-snooze at the wheel

I was doing some research at the Brantingham Free (as in free wi-fi, baby) Library, and came across this phrase:

tranquilization by the trivial

attributed to our friend Soren Kierkegaard.

If there is a more apt phrase describing American culture, let me know.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Vac Vacancy

I am on vacation.

Vacation from what? a skeptic or cynic or demurrer would opine.

Speaking opine, as we speak and listen and blog, I am at the Pine Tree Inn, in Brantingham, New York, at this moment.

Can you find it, or me?

There must be dozens upon dozens of Pine Tree Inns or Lodges or Motels in these parts.

Many other years, while I was fully or partially or pretendingly and gainfully (as well as stressfully and tensely) employed, I pined for a woodsy retreat. A getaway. Now I'm sort of restless, although I revere the scenic drama, the butterfly on the flower, the dragonfly on the leaf, the mile-plus walks.

Restless, because I'm not making money as a self-employed entrepreneur.

Maybe it's the Protestant capitalistic work ethic thing, Max Weber-style.

Or an ancient Catholic guilt.

Or an urban yearning.

Time to go.

Maybe we'll talk later in the week.

Oh. I do have something to write home about. I finished a crossword. The first one, with maybe a few errors, in thirty years or more. You'd think a worldly wordsmith would be good at crossword puzzles, but you should remind yourself of Pawlie Kokonuts's attention deficit-surplus syndrome.

The puzzle was from New York magazine. I'm looking forward to seeing the answers in the next issue. A few parts were puzzling.

But no blank spaces.

We like that illusion, do we not? All the blanks filled in? (In relationships, jobs, games, transactions.)

A deception, surely.

Saturday, August 09, 2008


Well, my submittals didn't make the grade.

These did.

A sampling of some good ones:

Depressbyterians: Those who think the End of Days actually did come in 2000. (Russ Taylor, Vienna)

Eunuchtarians: A sect whose hymnal is written for sopranos only. Its most prominent evangelist is the Rev. Jesse Jackson. (Ira Allen, Bethesda)

Geek Orthodox: A sect that worships technology, but only up to the 2003 upgrades. (Peter Metrinko)

Hurling Dervishes: Believers in heavin' on earth. (Kevin Dopart, Washington)

Friday, August 08, 2008

Losering Your Religion

The Style Invitational, which honors its winners with the honorific "Loser," recently asked for new religions. My contributions, none of which made it into print, were:

Funyoumeantalism -- The belief that the road to heaven is paved with practical jokes. Those who see spiritual gain from attempted humor, even if misunderstood or not funny.

Solispsism -- The belieth that only the thelf exiths in the Univerth.

Awetism -- Belief system rooted in natural mysticism.

Ahhhtism -- The belief that pleasure is the basis of all goodness.

Pollism = System of dynamic beliefs derived from discerning the majority or prevailing beliefs of others.

Canservutism = radical notion that government consists of servants of the people.

Apothecarianism -- the belief that drugs are the way to salvation.

Pageanism -- the belief that salvation is attained through reading or writing voluminous scholarly works (espoused mainly by erudite academics).

Wednesday, August 06, 2008


Today is the anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.













pacem in terris

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Trois d'Haiku

twenty green towers

urban sunflower garden

one shining crown rules

cumulus breezes

clear cerulean backdrop

cicadas at noon

solo cardinal

barren pine branch skyward still

swaying after flight

A Life-or-Death Sentence of Near-CATastrophe

Miraculously exerting less force than usual, in the dark unlighted house I pushed down the side window near the stairway landing, to prevent rain from a potential storm, and felt a little give, a lumpy resistance, shockingly and alarmingly discovering the space below the window's downward trajectory regally occupied by Tommy the ginger cat, unmeowingly grateful (seemingly) that he had narrowly averted a modern-day guillotine-gruesome death, albeit entirely accidental, at my hands.

The Hit Charade

Jokingly, we used to say, sitting at a restaurant in Manhattan, any restaurant, don't sit with your back to the entrance door, sit facing the door, as if we were important enough to be rubbed out in a mob hit, and as if this seating arrangement would protect any one of us. This was in the days when Paul "Big Paulie" Castellano was in fact assassinated just outside Sparks restaurant off or on Third Avenue, not far from where I worked, and not too distant in time from when I, Pawlie Kokonuts, had walked by the steakhouse, which is now probably closed. Of course, it's not like one has to be important to be felled by mob bullets, or by anyone's bullets, or by anything. Collateral damage is the military term, ain't it. But the biggest fallacy of all, as we were saying at breakfast Saturday at the Good News Cafe, the biggest pretense of all is the illusion of control. Sure, if you had a machine gun, a Tommy gun, as it was called in the Al Capone days, you might be able to spray your attackers with hot metal before they got you. Maybe. But unlikely. You might more likely be in mid-bite of your ravioli or mid-dip of your bread into the olive oil or spreading butter on your bread or in latter-day modern life feeling your cellphone vibrate in your pants, only to realize it's your leg going numb from the onslaught of the loss of consciousness and blood in the final nanoseconds, just as you were formulating the syllables of a final joke about vibrators vibrate get it haha a joke they all have heard from you countless times haha as it dawns on you in the darkest of dawns that your dawns are over, buddy. The utter conceit of it all, to think you are not powerless, to think that your position, your positioning, your placement, your posturing, your posing, your pronouncing, your protecting will stave it off, will delay it, will forestall it, will spin a cocoon around it, will armor you against arms and the man, or woman, or transgendered, will make you quicker, safer, surer, you or yours, if only you had faced the entrance, if only sooner, later, this, that, a little over here, there, anywhere, everywhere, if maybe why not if that or this. The utter hubris of it. They say alcoholism is the disease of denial but the disease of denial is called by something else, a tiny four-lettered L word we all conspire to and with and for (and other prepositional propositions), something we all aspire to as we pray for its continuance fending off respirable dust unto dust, just as Father Luke once intoned or invoked, or maybe even choked on the words, I don't know.

And that, I postulate, as a poor postulant, is why the last episode of The Sopranos was right and fitting, in the familiar family way.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Zen in the Art of Anything

Raymond Davidson also introduced me to Eugen Herrigel, who wrote Zen in the Art of Archery, which, I learned, predated the popular Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig.

I remember copying quotations from Herrigel's little gem, and they helped me to get through stressful days soberly and sanely.

Some say Herrigel's stuff is more archery lesson than zen. I say, who cares?

One of the quotations, which I can't find precisely, went something like this: "You can't be a master archer if you worry too much where the arrow will go. You can be a master archer even if you miss the target every time."

I guess I'll have to go buy another copy of the book (can't find it) or rely on all of you to get the quote right.

Here are some Eugen Herrigel tidbits I've rounded up:

The more a human being feels himself a self, tries to intensify this self and reach a never-attainable perfection, the more drastically he steps out of the center of being.

The more obstinately you try to learn how to shoot the arrow for the sake of hitting the goal, the less you will succeed in the one and the further the other will recede.

If everything depends on the archer's becoming purposeless and effacing himself in the event, then its outward realization must occur automatically, in no further need of the controlling or reflecting intelligence.

This state, in which nothing definite is thought, planned, striven for, desired or expected, which aims in no particular direction and yet knows itself capable alike of the possible and the impossible, so unswerving is its power - this state, which is at bottom purposeless and egoless, was called by the Masters truly "spiritual."

"Assuming that his talent can survive the increasing strain, there is one scarcely avoidable danger that lies ahead of the pupil on his road to mastery. Not the danger of wasting himself in idle self-gratification - for the East has no aptitude for this cult of the ego - but rather of getting stuck in his achievement, which is confirmed by his success and magnified by his renown: in other words, of behaving as if the artistic existence were a form of life that bore witness to its own validity.
"The teacher foresees this danger. Carefully and with the adroitness of a psychopomp he seeks to head the pupil off in time and to detach him from himself. This he does by pointing out, casually and as though it were scarcely worth a mention in view of all that the pupil has already learned, that all right doing is accomplished only in a state of true selflessness, in which the doer cannot be present any longer as "himself". Only the spirit is present, a kind of awareness which shows no trace of egohood and for that reason ranges without limit through all distances and depths, with "eyes that hear and with ears that see."

When I asked the Master how we could get on without him on our return to Europe, he said: "Your question is already answered by the fact that I made you take a test. You have now reached a stage where teacher and pupil are no longer two persons, but one. You can separate from me any time you wish. Even if broad seas lie between us, I shall always be with you when you practice what you have learned. I need not ask you to keep up your regular practicing, not to discontinue it on any pretext whatsoever, and to let no day go by without your performing the ceremony, even without bow and arrow, or at least without having breathed properly. I need not ask you because I know that you can never give up this spiritual archery. Do not ever write to me about it, but send me photographs from time to time so that I can see how you draw the bow. Then I shall know everything I need to know.

Broad seas now separate Raymond and me, alas, but this quote gives me solace and connection. But I draw the bow as a novice.