Friday, August 30, 2013

Kelli vs. Miley or "Yuck" vs. "Enchanted!"

The collective social concept of sexuality is "devolving," no?

Uh, no. 
To borrow a phrase once used by someone I know: I knew I was heterosexual at a very early age. From as early as I can remember, I was powerfully attracted to the opposite sex. It was silly, really. (Isn't it, always?) 

Ask any man, and he will agree: sometimes, you felt like Curly from The Three Stooges in the episode in which he was conditioned to a Pavlovian response to a bell: ding, and he started boxing. Except, for us, a pretty girl was the bell and you couldn't just start...uh...boxing. So, then, you were the cowboy from the old movies jumping out onto the team of horses to the stagecoach to stop the whole thing before it fell off of the cliff.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Tasteless Joke of Fate

Once, a young student stifled my instinctual and unshakable belief in the afterlife -- when I had mentioned my inability to grasp the idea of oblivion -- by pointing out the feeling of being under anesthesia; the complete absence of the perception of the passage of time that one experiences before and after an operation. It was an eye-opener, even if I wound up still believing, in the end, after some real intellectual trials.

Now, I'm given very solid reasons to question the idea of the state of existence, itself.

Dementia. Many of our elder parents and grandparents fall victim. They lose themselves. They can't think; they can't express themselves. People we know to have been brilliant, creative and sharp-witted, often take their last bows on life's stage not to applause while juggling knives and playing concertos, but in a state not knowing how to accomplish such simple tasks as buttering their own bread. Sometimes, their personalities change, altogether. A mother we know to have been patient and kind might accuse a son or daughter of vile transgressions; she might throw a sandwich across the room -- a sandwich that was lovingly made. A father who was a guide on every difficult front becomes one who needs guidance, himself -- maybe even to get from the bathroom to a chair.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Distant Ones (A Parable)

When the Traveler returned from his journey to the future, he staggered into the room, unshaven, exhausted. His clothing was rumpled and his skin was pale. My first instinct was to somehow discern, by the twitching in the corners of his mouth or from the removed look in his eyes or from the slight quivering of his hand as he filled his glass with port wine, what it might have been that he had endured.

His expression was not one of frantic horror, but of a frozen kind of terror; better still, it was one born of a draining fear that had depleted him of the ability to scream out. He was an emptied vessel. He was a ship under shredded sails.

I let him sit back in his chair and drain his glass and then another. It wouldn't do to force him to talk. He would need to come to it on his own. What idea could I have as to the trials he had endured on his journey into the distant future? What monsters had he seen? What horrors of human evolution had he witnessed? Maniacal genocides? Rampant oppression?

We sat, without speaking, amidst the clicking din of the numerous clocks in his parlour. As he sat, his forehead balanced on his right hand, a third glass of port dangled from his left, tilted to the brink of spilling. I tried to let my gaze fall on anything other than him, so as not to pressure him into speech. I surveyed the handsomely bound books that lined the room; the guttering oil lamps that sent delicate ribbons of black smoke into the shadows on the ceiling and set the red wood of the desk aglow; the clutter of notes, drawings and papers thereon; the arabesque Indian patterns in the carpet below my shoes; the fine Havana between my fingers...

Friday, August 23, 2013

In Defense of Dr. Phil (and of Women Everywhere)

There are many times when I look at what is going on around me and think it must be some elaborate hoax staged for my benefit. Then, I realize I'm not that important and go back to wondering what the heck everyone else is thinking.

Dr. Phil, for instance. Have you heard about the tweet? Here it is (was -- he took it down):

"If a girl is drunk, is it OK to have sex with her? Reply yes or no to @drphil #teensaccused "

People flipped out over this. Twitter users attacked him. I even just looked at a TIME magazine article that called it the "disappearing rape tweet" and that says: "Outrage after TV therapist asks if date rape is justified."


I'm no Dr. Phil fanatic, but the guy does a TV show and he discusses sometimes controversial interpersonal topics about which he expresses his opinions. The tweet, above, looks like a pretty straight-forward. 

(Maybe we English teachers are to blame, for teaching people how to "interpret" things -- to read below the written word. Maybe more English teachers should make a point of doing what I do with young readers of poetry: teach them to grasp the literal concepts before they start jumping to messages about life, love and death.)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

C&D Bike Repair (A Memoir Parable)

On a sprawlingly long, deliciously cool summer day, when I was about eleven or twelve, my friend Dave and I decided to put in some hard work. We were going to open a bike repair shop.

We dug in to the work, clearing out and organizing my parent's aluminum storage shed in the back yard. We put things where they belonged and hung things on pegs. We swept. We gathered up the available tools (not that many were around in the home of a trumpet player/arranger, but we made-do) and put them on a shelf, neatly lined up. If I'm not mistaken, we polished them with our breath and a rag, too.

When we were finished organizing, we examined the fruits of our labor -- must have been five-hours' work -- with fists on evaluative hips. I remember bending to pick up a small piece of dried leaf from the concrete floor. It wouldn't do to have the alabaster interrupted by some deciduous intruder, after all we'd done.

We looked at each other. What was next? We snapped our fingers: the sign.

We walked to the nearest store and purchased poster board with the change I kept in my room in a nine-inch high, toy Mosler safe (with a real combination lock). We gathered up markers and paints and pencils and rulers. I, having already been recognized as the neighborhood bohemian (despite my modestly impressive talents as a third baseman) was given the task of creating the sign. Dave reclined in the shade of our walnut tree, a blade of grass between his teeth, as I set to work. Eventually, he fell asleep, no doubt dreaming of the wealth we would accrue as bicycle repair moguls.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Charlie Manuel, Fired: It's not "just business" and it is personal

As you already know, this is not a sports blog. But I happen to be a baseball fan; in particular, a Phillies fan. I have to comment on something, not so much from a sports perspective, but from a cultural perspective. It just so happens to be related to baseball. (If you are not a sports fan, stick with me -- this is about human nature and ethics...)

Recently, the Philadelphia Phillies, who recently had the greatest run of success in the franchise's time (a very long time, having started up in 1883) fired their manager, Charlie Manuel. It is clear, by most accounts, that Manuel was the greatest manager in team's history. It is equally clear, from my vantage point as a follower of the team since about 1978, that he was the most beloved.

Charlie: from
Manuel's contract was up at the end of this year, and most people assumed, since the Phillies seem to be in decline and since Charlie is seventy this year, that this would be his last year at the helm. Most people (including myself) accepted this with wistful sadness, and they expected a nice send-off: thanks for the memories and the several seasons of October baseball and the 2008 World Series victory, Charlie. We love you. That kind of thing. (Oh, I also forgot to mention that he recently acquired his 1000th victory as a manager.)

Instead, Ruben Amaro, Jr., the general manager of the team, decided to fire Manuel with forty-some games left in the season. His reasoning? They wanted to bring in the next expected manager, Ryne Sandberg (a great guy and a great manager and Hall-of-Famer, to boot) as an interim manager, to see how he would do for the last few games of a desolate season.

Friday, August 16, 2013

"You've got to be taught to hate and fear ..."

Coming home from work yesterday, I saw a man on a bike. It was an old bike. His clothes were old and worn-out. His dirty skin was slick with sweat and he was pedaling slowly. He was dog tired.

He'd ingeniously figured out a way to strap a rake to his bike so that he would steer and pedal without it getting in the way. On the back of the bike, on a flat metal shelf and secured with bungees, was a box of garbage bags. He pedaled away in the sun and I saw him turn up the next suburban driveway, put down his kickstand and walk to the door. He knocked and then stepped back, off of the porch to await an answer.

The light changed to green and I had to drive away.

Of course, I imagine he was going door-to-door asking to do yard clean-up for people. This is a good thing. Here is a guy willing to work, trying to either increase his income or to make some kind of a living for himself in hard economic times. I admire him.

Then, I thought about the responses he was likely to get. How many people would slam the door in the face of an unkempt stranger? How few would be willing to let him into their yard to do a few hours' work? Would I let him  in to work on my yard...

...or would I fear the stranger, as we have all been taught to do?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

As Close As I Can Get

It's too personal. I can't write about it. It would break too many hearts. But it all comes down to a moment, this life. A moment sitting in the dark, knowing that this is the one in which time, living, death and mortality all meet and tell you that you need to make decisions about your own decline -- your own end. 

I can't write about it, because it would break too many hearts too close to me. But I can say there were tears and there was deep love, in that moment, and that there was a desperate need to see deeper, beyond the gathering clouds, below the the foot-sucking, energy-sucking mud. There was such a desperation to see back to that which I once knew so well; depended upon so much; aspired to be. 

This is as close as I can get to expressing it, right now. I ache to make it a novel or a poem that will make you nod and say: "Yes. I see how it is. I would feel the same," or "I once felt the same."

But, as in most things, there are, as John Proctor said, "circles within circles." You want to toss your soul out to the world, but it is tethered -- to you; to the ones who love you; to the ones who would blame you for what you express or damn you for not having expressed it. 

This is enough. This is asking too much patience of you. I don't mean to manipulate, but just to say as much as I can and to ask for whatever energy you all can send, whether through prayer or song or good will. I don't want you to ask what it is about. This time I don't even want you to comment. Just send orisons or smiles or envision your hand on my shoulder, just for a second. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Four Piano Pieces

My mother's CD,
(her vocals) including
the original
"Top of the Mountain"
I'm just getting around to digitizing some of my music from over the years. How about a music Monday? I thought I would share...

Here are three short piano sketches, written over the course of about fifteen years -- not of intensive work, but, at various times, as I noticed things. They were all (mostly) improvised; pretty much a spontaneous reaction to scene and mood. They are truly as close to drawn sketches as music gets; the composition was as I said, improv-based. The first two were written in a sitting; the third, over two nights.

Friday, August 9, 2013

In the Infinite Palm of God: First Encounter Beach, Cape Cod

Whenever we can squirrel away the money, pack up the family and go to Cape Cod in the summer. We're on our third trip.

We love it here. The pace is (generally) slow and there are abundant houses to rent on lakes, in which one can swim and canoe, etc. There are plenty of ice cream places and plenty of seafood restaurants (with, of course, clam chowder to die for) and with a quickish ferry ride, one can explore Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard.

Our house, this year, is on a pond called Widow Harding's Pond, which is inhabited (the pond, not the house) by a shy, but massive green fellow I like to call Moby Turtle. He generally stays away from our toes on swims, but I caught him following my canoe a few times.
Our house, from the canoe on the opposite side of the pond.
It's quiet and the wind plays like a virtuoso through the scrub pines around us. At night, the cacophony of nature, broken by the occasional maniacal debates among coyote factions, is, strangely, soothing.

Today, it is raining (my older son's prayers answered -- he loves the coziness of rain) and the lake is pin-holed glass. Down by the pond, sitting in the beached canoe:

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


Maybe someone who knows more about psychology can help me. I studied psycho-linguistics pretty intensely as an undergraduate, so my concept of thought and speech is driven by de Saussure and his notions of the signifier and the signified. To put it ridiculously simply, there is the thing itself and there is the word that signifies it. Our brains latch on to this in thought and in speech. To different degrees, of course, most of us see an image in our head when we read or hear, for example, the word "castle."

As a generally binary machine, when it comes to language, the brain works, linguistically, in comparison and contrast. If we see a thing run across the road in front of our car at dusk, we immediately compare it to everything we know it is not, until we reach a  conclusion: it must have been a deer, because it was not a dog or a rabbit or a ketchup bottle, based on comparisons of size and everything else. This, of course, happens in a fleeting second. (Though, I swear, one time a gorilla ran across interstate 95 in front of me as I drove in for a Phillies game.)

Monday, August 5, 2013

Sincerity of the Close-Talker

Don't hate me because I am writing from a Cape Cod lakeside, under swaying trees on a perfect seventy-five degree day after a relaxing swim... Hate me because I pointed it out.

Anyway, I had an experience with a close-talker the other day. I had to take the my dog to the vet for a checkup and she was taken care of by a very nice doctor -- an extremely caring and concerned young man. His only problem: he was a close-talker. He didn't allow enough personal space. 

It occurred to me that he, like some other close-talkers I have met, seems to be driven by an overly powerful urge for eye-contact. It seems to me that close-talkers have more of a need for the invisible personal tether than most of the rest of us do. They seem to have more of a need for intimate personal connection, in conversation, than many others.

Friday, August 2, 2013

David Hasselhoff and Me

Today, in the car, my son asked to listen to my CD (available, here [fireworks and flashing sign in the shape of an arrow pointing to the link]!) so I put it on. Halfway through the first song, my son asked me: "Dad, are you ever going to try to get a record deal."

I thought about it for longer than I needed to. "No," I told him.


"Too much work," I said. "If someone heard my music on Internet radio or something and offered me a deal, I would consider it," I said. "But I'm not going to waste valuable time trying to get signed."

His knowledge of the record business, at this point, comes exclusively from the sit-com Full House, which, for some reason, he is addicted to. He knows "Uncle Jesse" (John Stamos) was in a band and they had a contract, etc.

"What if," he said, echoing the show, "you had a hit in Japan?"