Saturday, December 31, 2011

Questions For 2012

With only hours to spare before the new year bustles its way in, I have some questions I'd like to ask of 2012:

Why must this clean slate you offer commence in the dead of winter when I am fat and hairy like the drooling bear asleep in its lair? (Please note, I am not drooling, only fat and hairy.)

If pitted against each other in a cosmic battle, who would win? Old Man Winter, Father Time or the diapered new year baby?

How long will it take me to stop writing 2011 on checks and important documents?

What as-yet-undiscovered music will delight me this year?

How many books will I read?

Will I succumb to the Meatball craze?

Is this going to be the year in which I learn to stop being so reactive?


Should I get off Facebook and switch to Google+?

Is there an Ipad in my future?

What new technologies will emerge to dazzle and nauseate me?

Will 2012 be the year I begin tweeting?

Will I Skype, Swype or Tumble?

Will I be pretty? Will I be rich?

Will I keep the wolves at bay?

Will my endless search for the perfect chai tea bag finally be fulfilled?

How many loved ones' birthdays will I manage to remember? For more than two seconds?

Will I finally gain the respect of my peers?

Will I discover muscles I didn't know I had?

Are you listening to anything I just said?

Friday, December 30, 2011

December 30th

December 30th. The day has kind of a shifty quailty that I like. It barely belongs to 2011, but it's not part of 2012 yet either. And so it affords me the pleasant illusion of existing outside of time. For a few hours, anyway. It's like living on a borderland and being at liberty to cross back and forth without declaring my loyalty to one year or the other. I can turn my nose up at 2011--been there, done that--while smugly holding 2012 at arm's length.

 Feeling exempt from time, I can ignore its laws and ravages.I don't age on this day. Nothing in my possession degrades. All is suspended. I am not accountable to anything. Everyone should know this.  The e-mail I received as cookie mom, from another mom in our Girl Scout troop, asking for two boxes of Peanut Butter Sandwich cookies, was sent without strategy or planning for circumventing this day. Is it my fault that her e-mail will drop into the void of this non-day, un-answered? As for the violin shop, could it reasonably expect to collect its viola rental fee on such a sliver of a due date as the 30th, squashed as it is between the massive shoulders of two full-blown years? I should say it couldn't.

However, the mail man, prosaic laborer that he is, unaware of the metaphysical loopholes that abound on this day, brings me my mail just as routinely as he has done all year. I am not particularly pleased with his reliability, nor with the cher-klunk sound inside my mail box as he drops a mess of time-sensitive bundles into it. I hide myself until he is heading solidly down my driveway and his back is turned, at which point I stand before the window and glare at him. Why does he insist on these deliveries? Who can receive bills and overdue notices on such a day?!

Not me! I am un-girded by time. I shall not be fettered!

But wait---while quickly rifling through the bundle -- is that a paycheck from my employer I see? Conveniently mailed to my home because the college is closed for the winter break? Yes it is. Well then --Straight away to the bank, before it closes! There is not a moment to lose!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Burl Protesters Disrupt Holiday Festivities

Burl Ives and his alter ego, the Talking Snowman

Peaksville, MD – A beloved holiday tradition turned ugly in Peaksville, Maryland when local pro-Burl and anti-Burl factions clashed at the annual Tree n' Tunes event Friday evening.

The unrest started when members of the Burl Ives My Ass Coalition (BIMAC) allegedly shouted obscenities as the Burl Ives song "Snow for Johnny" played in the town square where the Tree n' Tunes event was in progress. Members of Burl's Legacy Is Treasured, Honored and Enduring (BLITHE), responded by hurling "Burl bombs"- Christmas tree ornaments with Burl's image glued onto them --- into the crowd of demonstrators.

A spokesperson for BLITHE denied that the group came armed to the event. "We brought those ornaments to hand out free to the crowd, to spread good Burly Christmas cheer to our fellow man. And woman," said Vera Clapper.  Maybe a few of our members got carried away, but who can blame them? Those BIMACers have real potty-mouths. I mean, there were children present."

Dave Shivers, a member of BIMAC , denied that his group had used strong language in their protest. "Those pansy-ass Burl Lovers are *&$%*  liars. And they're a bunch of Marys. Well, as far as I'm concerned, "Burl" is a curse word." Shivers said that BIMAC was still upset about the Burl Pride parade that BLITHE staged the previous year, and that hearing the tweedling strains of Burl's voice on "Snow for Johnny" had caused some individuals to cry out in a wounded manner that had been mistaken for swearing.

Authorities say that the longstanding friction between the two groups has been fueled by internet sites like Facebook and Twitter.

"It's all this younger generation and their fast social medias, their tweetin' and tumblin," said Dan Hardcovers, Peaksville Chief of Police. "Now everybody's a rabble-rouser. We never used to have this sort of trouble in Peaksville. Folks got along."

Hardcovers said that security concerns have led his department to start monitoring tweets. "It's easy to see where people fall on the Burl issue. When we see hashtags like #BurlBlowz and  #Burlmakesmehurl, we know it's a BIMAC. The BLITHE people are more apt to use tags like #HollyJolly or #Burl4Ever or #JesBurl." 

Hardcovers said his department is investigating other incidents that seem to be Burl-related. Area nativity scenes have been beset by vandals who have re-arranged or even stolen the manger figures, and Hardcovers said there is a clear pattern. "Members of BIMAC say someone's taking their Three Wise Men and leaving them a miniature Talking Snowman in its place. And the BLITHE folk---well....someone's swiping their baby Jesusus." Hardcover blames technology.

"There have been some sore feelings in our town over this Burl thing for some time now and people have got their pride hurt and even come to blows over it. But now... it's getting ugly. I guess we have that Jobs guy to thank for that."

For more on Burl Ives see: 

Burl's Pearl's ---Burl Ives' Surprising Oeuvre  

Burl Ives Event Stirs Trouble Anew in Small Maryland Town

Burl Ives Debate Erupts, Dividing Town

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

No More NaNoRiMo

Today is the official last day of the November challenge NaNoRiMo or, National Novel Writing Month, in which  you attempt to write a 50,000 word novel. I guess they're having a big hoo-dang at the Writer's Place tonight to celebrate.

So how did I do? Not too awful bad. I got up to 33,000 and some words. Driving to Pennsylvania and back for Thanksgiving certainly put a cramp in my style. I was not so devoted to my NaNoRiMo project that I was willing to sequester myself in the bedroom and have people shove me turkey and dressing through a slot in the door.

So, after 30 days, do I have anything resembling a novel? Not so much. What I have now are a bunch of scraps of writing that are akin to cloth pieces scattered all over the floor that someone with a lot of patience and imagination might be able to sew together into one big quilt. Someone who could force some kind of pattern and design onto the thing. But I did get a lot of good ideas, that I'm eager to exploit.

I'm not so sure I want to write a novel anyway. I'm envisioning more a collection of stories--related, with re-occurring characters. So that's where I'm going to take this project next.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Big Apples

Several weeks ago, Roger brought home some really big apples from the Farmer's Market. Normally I prefer the smaller ones. He explained:  "The orchard lady said that back when everything was still growing they had a big wind that blew a lot of the apples off the tree. As a result, all the remaining apples get bigger to compensate."

Well, I just thought that was fascinating. Does this mean that if I knocked all but one of the apples off the tree that apple would grow into a ginormo monster apple? The plant world is so badass.

It is November 17th, past the halfway point of the Nanorimo challenge, whereby you write a 50,000 novel during the month of November. So far I have a little over 25,000 words, so I'm a little behind.

For most of these 25,000 words, I've been wandering in the desert, eating sand for nourishment and bashing open prickly pears with the bones of dead animals, in order to squeeze out enough drops of moisture to stay technically alive. There have been occasional shimmers of hope off in the distance, causing me to throw down the bones and stagger desperately towards the oasis of flowing ideas and sweet, juicy stories, but when I got up close, they always turned out to be a mirage. But last night I got a plot idea that was akin to stumbling upon a whole, roaring river. Or so it seems. It will take things in a new direction anyway. I don't want to begin to talk about it, for fear I'll jinx it. But the next 5,000 words should be interesting    

Monday, November 7, 2011

They Might Be Giants. Or Maybe Just Windmills.

They Might Be Giants. Giants in my musical heart, anyway. Their concert Wednesday night was an electro-sea of double-good energy. The audience felt it, and sent the energy back in prototonic waves. A young guy to my left, about 20, was pogo-ing excitedly, singing all the words. People on all sides of me were singing all the words, their heads bobbing. The dial was set on Happy.  

I thought my feet were going to be killing me, because this was at the Beaumont in Westport --so just a big open floor in front of the stage, no chairs or any place to lean. We basically stood in the same spot for three hours. But it's amazing what music can do. Once the band came on, I forgot about my feet and legs, except for when I wanted to move them about in joyous unison with the beat. Yeah!!!

It's been too long....I had forgotten....forgotten how good it feels to be among the young, dancing to live rock music. It was like getting an infusion of powerful youth juju. There were people our age, but the crowd was mostly young and younger, such as the 20ish guy next to us who bounced away the evening. And that is what I love about rock concerts---the people in the audience who are unbridled in their enthusiasm.

We saw Roger Daltrey in concert a few weeks ago. My boss had tickets but something came up and she couldn't go, so she gave them to us. Daltrey did all the songs from Tommy, and then followed them up with some Who classics like "Miles and Miles" and "The Kids are Alright." This was in a much bigger theater, but the fans still made their love known across the vastness.There was a guy in the very front row, front and center, who pumped his fist and played air drums and air guitar, and every so often he turned to face the rest of the audience as if to say, "Isn't this the most awesomest thing ever?!" At one point Roger Daltrey had just finished singing, "Tommy can you hear me?" and even though we were way up in the balcony, someone behind us yelled out, "ROGER CAN YOU HEAR ME?!" I loved that.

At the TMBG concert, we were really close to the stage, and John Linnell was set up with his keyboard near the edge of the stage, which made the energy exchange between the band and the audience seem more immediate. I felt that these good vibrations flowing around me much surely be giving years back to me, and I decided that this would be my path to longevity--coming to see fun, upbeat rock bands in small clubs like this.

John Linnell and John Flansburgh started They Might Be Giants in 1982 and they themselves were showing a little wear --we were close enough I could see the bags under Linnell's eyes and the gray stubble on his chin----but their material was as fresh and creative ever. Linnell grabbed an accordian or bass clarinet when the usual mix of keyboard and guitar just wasn't enough, and both guys surprised the audience with a loopy routine they performed with two sock puppets, who went on a psychedelic journey and then sang a song called "Spoiler Alert" off the new CD.  Flansburgh used a flash light to divide the crowd into "People" and "Apes" and made us chant our identity to prove our domination over the other. The People (our group) won.

Perhaps it was this heady mix of great music and whimsy that inspired the bouncing guy next to us to suddenly yell, "I want to have your babies!" Yeah, that's what I love about rock concerts.

!  Name-dropping footnote:  !

Roger knew the drummer in the band. When he heard the guy's name, he realized he had known him in Miami. The drummer was handing out TMBG stickers to the audience after the show, so we went up and Roger said hi and gave the guy his name, and the guy was like "Roger?!! Great to see you , man. Wow, you haven't changed!"

Roger's brother-in-law from his sister's first marriage, David Cowles, is a graphic artist and created the video for TMBG's song "Mesopotamians."

Oh yes, we know people. Or at least I know people who know people.

John Flansburgh and John Linnell not quite so young but still qetting their quirk on.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Before The Cold Front Comes In

"It's 1:00 in the morning. What's that loud ripping sound outside?"

"Oh, that's just Simone taping up her car. She's gotta cover that broken window with plastic, you know, before the cold front comes in and brings a bunch of rain with it. And nothing holds a trash bag in place better than big strips of duct tape."

I was indeed outside at 1:00 this morning, covering up the de-electrified window of my 94 Corolla with a most sightly arrangement of plastic and tape. A display that surely warms our neighbors hearts. Just getting the old gal ready for winter, now that it's breathing down our necks. But when I stepped outside a little after midnight, it was still incredibly warm for a November night. I decided to take my old car with the broken electric window out for a spin. Since I bought my new Civic she barely gets out, and once it turns really cold it's going to be hard to talk myself into riding around wth the window stuck in the down position, just so she can stretch her legs.

So I hopped in and off we went. It was a peaceful night in suburbia. Mine was the only car on the quiet residential street, and I easily rolled up and down Lamar a few times, through street lights that turned green for me. A couple of houses still had their orange Halloween lights on, just like us. Because my window was open to the night, and because I could drive as freely and casually as I pleased, the sole moving figure on the deserted street, I felt a fleeting sense of possession of the yards and houses, demure against the shadows. Goodbye to this lovely warm autumn, to gold leaves and golden days as mild as summer. We knew it couldn't last.

Monday, October 31, 2011

It Lives!

My blog isn't exactly coming back to life. It's more that it's among the undead. A zombie blog, that refuses to die, even though it exhibits no signs of normal functioning, no signs of spirit or connection to anything human. Yes, my blog, though it bears no resemblance to any form heretofore known to man----though the sight of it curdles the blood and tingles the spine.....though the sight of its cobwebbed decay stirs repugnance and blog......IT LIVES!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Random Things Simone Digs

And now friends, it's time for another installment of "Random Things Simone Digs."  Because when it comes to random things that I dig, no one should be left to wonder.

Here are some things I currently dig:

The aluminum block letters outside Lilah's high school that look like they're from the 1970's. They are missing an "N", so that they only read "Gym asium."I dig that. I hope they don't put the N back, or replace all the letters with something more updated.

The Town Topic patty melt. I dig it. I want to go eat one right now. I could too. Town Topic is open all night.

A road I just discovered that goes from Lenexa to Olathe, alongside the railroad tracks and warehouses of that ugly industrial stretch that parallels I-35.This road is continuous and unbroken but seems to take you nowhere. It would be deserted on a Sunday morning. It would be a good road for driving on bleak winter days when one is feeling bleak

My secret stash of chocolate. Don't ask. But know that I dig it.

The electronically rotating tone wheels of a Hammond organ from instrumental lounge recordings of the 50's and 60's, as heard on my new "Organs in Orbit" cd. God I dig the sound of that Hammond! Imagine "The Girl From Impanena" played in an otherworldly space-age style.

Bean soup. Dig it.

Ham radios. Dig.

Stay tuned, for more Random Things Simone Digs.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Happy Birthday To Me! And Many More!

So this is 48.......

I know I should be happy, but this just isn't enough. Nice try back there, Mr. Plaster Head....but something is still missing......

YES! This is it!!! This is everything I wanted. Thank you, my darlings. Now my birthday is fabulous! Don't dream it.....BE IT!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

My October Porch

Here's what I need:  A porch for sitting, for gathering dark thoughts and reflections that come in with the clouds, settling like a nubby hand-knitted sweater. A scattering of windblown leaves in the corner to keep me company. Here's how I'll get it: give a big shove to the bikes that nobody rides and send em rolling out to the driveway. Hang lights. Hang squash and pumpkins. Is that possible? Can I find wire strong enough --or do I have to gut the pumpkins first? Haul out an old table and load it up with candles, or oil lamps. Bring out a pot of tea. Strum a guitar. Screetch and scratch at my fiddle. There should be something in some dirt nearby, growing -weeds, vines, whatever. Put up pretend spider webs, or maybe just leave up the ones that are already there.

When I'm a-sitting on my October porch, you can come over. You can lean over the railing and talk to me, or leap over it and sit next to me. If it's a little chilly, don't let that stop you. I'll have something hot to drink.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Eve Before It All Begins

Tonight the world is a-hush. It is the eve of the Golden Time for the Golden Child. I am autumn's golden child. It is the Eve of the Month of My Increasing Power. My blood runs on high October octane. My energies are at their peak.

In a canyon deep in the heart of Zuni land in west-central New Mexico, a herd of wild mustangs  paws the earth and snorts. At the stroke of midnight they will break out running, their hooves ringing out an earth song celebrating my birth, their manes flying freely in my honor. Deep in a primevial forest, an elf will emerge from his crude tree dwelling and join a fairy ring dancing on a bed of moss, and the elf and fairies will signal to all the creatures of magic and mischief that the time at last has rolled around again, a time of merriment and mayhem in my honor, and the fairies will sprinkle their fairy dust in the shape of my silhouetted head. A bungee jumper in New Zealand will plunge hundreds of feet off a cliff, shouting my name so that it echoes off the rocks and reverberates throughout the valley. Simooooonnne!  Simooooooooone! Simoooooaaaaanne!. The moon will come out at night anxious to share my sky, its dark side bulbous and visible against its Lite Brite cresent. The solar wind will intensify. Robots will march across the land. Rows and rows of goofy, lovable robots, made from old machine parts and washer dials and transitor tubes, and in their cute robot voices they will say "Sim One We Are Loyal....Sim One We Are Loyal .....Sim One We Are Loyal....Sim One We Will Follow.......Some of these robots will be somewhat attractive....People who like to build random rock sculptures on mountain trails and river beds will build even more rock sculptures in those places. A man sitting in a tent will rise and face the east as the dawn breaks, and he will smoke peyote and burn sage and sing of the blessing that is my birth.  A woman on a boat in a boggy swamp will string Christmas lights and hand out candy to children.

These things will take place as the eve of my month of increasing power gives way to the eve of my birth. These things will happen as they happened long ago. But not SO long ago ---they have happened since the morning of the day I alighted upon this earth sphere. Which was really not so long ago. But it happened then and it's happening now and ever more shall be.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Good Day For It

It was a brilliantly lovely fall day today. On my lunch break I saw a woman walking in the park, smoking a cigarette. I applauded her freedom. Obviously smoking was the thing she wanted to do in that moment, with the sunshine in her hair and mild breeze on her skin. So why shouldn't she? There are those who would make out like it's some sort of moral failing on her part, for wanting to light up instead of taking advantage of the fresh air, but maybe she'd had enough of fresh air. Maybe what she really needed right then was a good, clean smoke. Without apology, without filters.    

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Darn it, they plugged up the gap in the fence over on Barkley street. That means our dog Cheri can't see her boyfriend no more. He used to hang his head through the gap and get fresh with her. She didn't seem to mind it one bit. She would sit there and let him, uh, er...check her out. I'll miss his sorrowful face and the way he used to stick his neck out between the boards to look at Cheri when we came up the street. He looked just like a hound dog in the movies. And yeah, this all happened on Barkley street, for real.

The other day, Lilah's volleyball team had a car wash. She was supposed to make a sign for it.

I was like, "I'm not running out to buy poster board. We have cardboard in the garage. You can use that."

Lilah was like, "I'm not gonna use cardboard. That's what hobos use."

I was like, "Oh for pete's sake. You can use cardboard."

Lilah was like, "I'm not using cardboard."

Me: "Well, I'm not going to run out and buy poster board!"

Lilah: "You always see hobos with cardboard signs. They never have poster board signs."

Me:  "Of course they don't have poster board signs. And that's a good thing. Because if you give a hobo money, you don't want him running off and buying poster board. You want him to buy a sandwich, or a pint to steady his nerves."

Lilah: "Yeah, so I'm not using cardboard."

Me: "Well I'm not running out to buy poster board!

 Lilah: "I know!"

Me: "How about a pizza box? We have a pizza box. It's white. It looks clean. You could use that."

Lilah: "No, I'm not using a pizza box."

Me: "You won't look like a hobo if you use a pizza box. Hobos don't have pizza boxes. Hobos don't get carryout from Pizza Hut."

Lilah: "No!"

Me: "Fine! But I'm not running out to buy poster board!"

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The School Bell's A' Ringin'

School has started and you can feel summer losing its grip. The mornings and nights are cooler. The works aren't all gummed up after all. The seasonal machinery is still turning.

A brand new shiny school year calls for brand new shiny clothes. I stood in Wet Seal for two hours waiting for Annabelle to try on clothes.

I might as well shop for myself, while I'm waiting, right? Not unless you think a 47 year old woman can pull of wearing ripped shorts with a slouchy loose top drooping off her shoulders that says, "I LOVE MY BOYFRIEND."

We shopped for school supplies. No more crayons, markers, safety scissors, or Elmer's cow wearing a nose ring. No more baby seals or Disney characters on folders.
Now it's scientific calculators and flash drives. College ruled paper.

Both girls picked out black converse sneakers for their back-to-school shoes.
Annabelle is taller and wears a bigger size shoe than Lilah. Even though she's the youngest.

Lilah's a Lancer. A freshman in high school. The Lancer logo is a knight on horseback carrying, what else? --a lance.

Annabelle's a Warrior. A 7th grader. The Warrior logo is an Indian in full headdress on a blood red blackground.

Annabelle's grade school, Tomahawk Elementary, did away with their warrior mascot years ago. Apparently Indian Hills didn't get the memo.

If Lancer and Warrior should come to blows, who do you think will win?

The correct answer is MOM, who will declare both of them grounded.

Both girls wear mascara now. And body spray. And a little hair spray. Each morning, the fumes hang heavy in the air.

Nobody light a match!

Lilah's taking choir. They're washing cars this Saturday to raise money.

Annabelle's taking orchestra. They're raising a small cash crop of cannabis to fund their field trip.

NO THEY'RE NOT! I was just checking to see if you've read this far.

Yes, it's clear. With the new school year in swing, the seasonal machinery is turning. Might need a squirt or two of W-40, but it's turning.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Root Root Root For The Home Team

I had the rare privilege on Saturday night of attending a ball game and hanging out with a rash of cousins. Heat rash is more like it --it was in the 90's and humid. It's a good thing I had those two beers before going into the gate. I needed them to wash down the brat, chips, deviled eggs, corn, and other assorted foodstuffs that made their way to my mouth, during Jim the Younger's Extreme Tail-Gating Extravaganza. Laura said it best when she said his grill was so big it was like a cartoon grill. It grilled awesome things very awesomely. It's just too bad that cousin Hal had to miss it, due to a flight delay, that was due to an air show. Hal, who is a Michigan dude, obviously has a generous streak, because he treated us all to the game between the Kansas City Royals and the Detroit Tigers. Or maybe he just wanted to rub victory in our faces, because Detroit won. (By only one point.)

I can only remember seeing the Royals play one other time, when I was on a date during my college years, around 1985 or so. I wasn't that interested in the game then, or the boy who took me, for that matter. But this time I totally enjoyed watching the action on the field. My only problem was trying to follow the trajectory of that ball, so white, so little, against the bright lights of the stadium.

As much as I liked watching the players, my favorite thing of all was the organ. Its chunky sound is a festive, aural sepia that conjures up peanuts and crackerjacks. I read that Chicago's Wrigley Field started the whole baseball organ thing in 1941. They only meant to use the organ for one game, as a gimmick, but people liked it so much they kept it, and soon other ball fields copied them.The organ at the Royals stadium is woefully under-utilized. It teased us with brief riffs that disappeared as fast as the weak, occasional breezes that vanished before we could really feel them. If it were up to me, the organist would be throwing down some wicked organ solos while the teams switched on and off the field. But the world doesn't operate by my crazy rules. 

At least they still play "Take me out to the ball game." I was compelled to sing along. I have liked that song ever since we sang it at my Kindergarten graduation.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

First Friday of August 2011

On Friday I went down to the Crossroads area for Frst Friday, to walk around and see some art. There was a guy wearing a giant foam bowling pin costume. There was a small herd of Ren Fest expatriates, wearing tights and moss and tendrils and fairy wings and strange patches of color on their face. They were standing smack in the middle of 18th street, outside Y J's Snack Bar. I thought they might do something, but after watching them stand idly for a minute, I moved on.

There was a guy parked further down the street selling books out of the back of his car. I took a look, and bought "On the road, the original scroll" by Jack Kerouac for a dollar. I also bought Ulysses and The Dubliners by James Joyce. I want to put Ulysses up in my writing corner as a challenge to myself ---to read it, to understand it. I know someone who has said they won't read Ulysses until they read Homer's Odyssey, and perhaps I should do the same. Jim Morrison of the Doors was the only kid in class who read it and understood it, according to Jim Morrison's English teacher. I also bought a book about a woman who goes into the wilderness and fends for herself out there. But it's not such a remarkable story. I know a wilderness where women are doing this all the time. It's called "marriage." Baddah-boom! That was a joke. Now that I have married again, I have license to make these kinds of jokes, you see.

I went down to gape at art galleries, and ended up with a pile of books. I'm such a librarian. I was walking along, holding my stack of books ---the hard-cover copy of Ulysses is really thick ---when a girl stopped me on the street. "Books!" she called out. "I love books! Where did you get those?" "There's a guy selling books out of the back of his car," I told her. "Get out of dodge!" the girl shouted. She might have slurred her words a little. She was holding a beer, and looked like she might have been more at home in the Power and Light district. I figured she was just having fun with me. She asked me where the bookseller was, and I told her where he was parked. "I'm there with bells on!" she hollered, and turned up the street.

Now I say things like "Let's get out of dodge," but I was surprised to hear a young woman her age talk that way, and show even mock interest in books. It was most peculiar. But fitting for a First Friday.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Train Not Taken

If it's the end of the day and you are stranded in Newark because of a cancelled flight, and you are faced with the choice of either getting a hotel room, or taking a train into Manhattan, so that you can stay up all night in the city that never sleeps. I say, take Manhattan. You aren't going to get any sleep in your crummy airport hotel anyway, and you'll face a lot less aggravation in the Big Apple. Take it from the voice of experience.

We went with the hotel idea last Saturday, when our flight was wiped off the board, and here's what unfolded: We were told the airline would reimburse us for our hotel, but we had to call around and find one. Good luck! Many of them were booked. The room we finally got at Howard Johnson's would be $279. And once we said yes to it on the phone, we were locked in. No cancelling the reservation. We waited 50 minutes for the Howard Johnson shuttle to pick us up, even after calling them twice to ask where they were. When the shuttle driver finally pulled up, she didn't get out to open the doors for us until she saw we had bags (duh!), at which point she got out to open the back end of the van. She drove aggressively, tail-gating other drivers and taking the curves fast. A printed sign on the windows of the shuttle said No eating! No drinking! No smoking! Someone had written underneath in pencil, "No breathing! No farting! No being gay!" The hotel was located in an ugly industrial lot a mile or two from the airport. Just across from the hotel was a huge lot full of cars behind a tall wire fence, and a car carrier loaded up with even more cars.

The lobby of the hotel smelled like cigarette smoke. There was nothing good on the hotel TV. It was all crime shows and violence. And this was the noisiest hotel I've ever been in. We could hear a woman in a nearby room taking a shower, could hear the shower runining the whole time. Every time someone turned on a faucet somewhere, or opened their door, it echoed through our room. We heard a little kid running pell mell down the hallway in the wee hours. The worst sound of all though, was the deafening shriek and roar of incoming airplanes. We were right in the flight path and when some of the planes came in for a landing, I swear to God, it sounded lke they were headed straight for us. Lilah had to put the blanket over her head to keep from screaming. I knew, intellectually, that they were not really about to slam into our hotel, but every nerve in my body told me that they were. "This is it," I thought, as I heard the plane's engine dive in closer and closer. This happened at least 6 or 7 times.

I supppose I fell into some sort of uneasy slumber for 45 minutes or so, before the alarm went off, but I didn't get much sleep. I just lay there wanting dawn to come so we could get the hell out of there. To think I could have been hanging out in Times Square instead. If I have to feel worn out and uneasy, at least I would like to be someplace awesome. And there would have been street vendors selling hot dogs.

 We went downstairs to catch the 6:00 am shuttle back to the airport. It was like ten minutes till the hour. Another guest, disgruntled, said the guy at the desk had told him the shuttle driver had just left--- before the scheduled 6:00 am time, and with an empty van. The desk called the shuttle and told it to come back to pick us up. Roger went to the desk to get a receipt for our stay, so we could get reimbursed. When he asked for one, the clerk made a put-out expression as if Roger had requested a free massage and facial. Meanwhile, the rest of us waited outside. There were two benches --both of them broken and about to collapse. The ground was littered with cigarette butts. Annabelle ran in to take a drink from the water fountain. When she pushed on the bar on the fountain to make the water flow, it fell off.

When the shuttle driver did come back, it was the same lady who had dropped us off before, and who had apparently been driving all night. She drove just as crazy, but on even less sleep.

We didn't find out until that morning that the reason our flight had been cancelled was because there was no crew to fly the plane. I was not a happy Continental customer, to say the least.

There was one consolation: When our plane took off, it flew right over New York City. We saw the Statue of Liberty, we passed directly over Central Park, we could see the bridges leading into the city, could see that Manhattan truly is an island, top-heavy with skyscrapers. That was an incredible view. Which made me wish even more we had been there.

So I say avoid Newark and Continental airlines entirely if you can, but if fate leaves you stranded....
you know what to do.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Almost Manhattan

You are riding a tram at the Newark, New Jersey airport. You are not supposed to be here. This was not in the travel brochure you had flipped through in your head, while enjoying the complimentary beverage and ice cubes aboard your Continental airbus. You are tired, trying to hold it together, but growing a little desperate. Your connecting flight was cancelled. No one explains why. You have joined a growing swell of weary travelers, who waited for the tram with you, frowning, squinting, dragging their carry-on behind them. You fought them at the ticket counter, fought them back with sticks, so you could get boarding passes for your family on the next flight out in the morning. You fought them at the phone kiosk for a hotel room. Now these same people are riding with you above the airport on little tracks. The tram jostles you but you are stone-faced. You will not let these people see any hint of weakness. For your next battle is coming and it will be a knock-down, drag-out fight over hotel shuttles. Then, all of a sudden, you turn your head and see the lights of New York City!  Manhattan against the night sky. You hear Gershwin. She's a beauty, all lit up and beckoning. Come on, she's saying, get on over here. I'm right here --so close!---what are you waiting for? And oh how you want to do it. You  could catch a train into Manhattan and stay up all night, just walking around. You could do that very thing.

Sigh. Just a few hours earlier, and you might have.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Van Gogh When No One's Looking

The day will come, my friend, when art will no longer be kept in square cages. It will weave seamlessly through various points of interest in the home. It will pop up with the toast, and sit at our feet with the dog. Frames will seem a severe convention of the past. A contrivance to show the straight edges of walls. How we like to get things level!  Walk down a suburban street and when you hear the pinging of a hammer in the front room, stop. Someone's hanging a new print to match their couch. "Is it level? Is it level?", they ask. Perhaps they should be asking, "Why am I living in a rectangle box, surrounded by squares? Why not circles and triangles? Spirals and ellipses? They could ponder the white space inside the frame. Does it give the art room to breathe? Or hold it in place? Art is a wild animal, you know, that will one day devour you whole. Don't kid yourself, that you've tamed it. Somewhere sits a woman, reading her copy of House Beautiful, and while her back is turned, the painting over the mantel, creeps that much closer to bursting out of its frame.    

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Box Fan

Well hell's here and a'knockin'
The devil wants to dance and he won't take no
so let's head down to the hardware store
they got a big ol' box fan on a shiny display
bright colored streamers blowing out of it
all the fresh-spun air a body can crave

hang-tongued dragging busking for dust
livin' like rags but sweatin' like kings
cool brains is a luxury we can't afford
so let's head down to the hardware store

we can stick our faces close to the blade
catch that axial-flow on the back of our necks
the smell of sawdust is a good, dry thing
when it's a faint backdrop to the airplane hum
of a high-speed motor turning the gears
that send the streamers flying
straight into your hair
kneeling in a holy cold corner
before the box fan display
of the hardware store
in July

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


I don't want to learn to read the signals, I just like the swooping and flailing and waving. Get those freak flags flying, yes!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Thunder Cloud That Wanted To Sing

This morning the thunder was rumbling, and it told me a story:

Once upon a time there was a thunder cloud named Boomer that wanted to sing.

 "Oh, please teach me how to sing like you," he said, to the operatic gypsy, who was mining the clouds for tears she might put into her arias.

She said, 'Let me hear your voice."

So he let out the biggest sound he could, deep and low, rumbling.

 The gypsy frowned and shook her head. "You'll never make it to Carnegie Hall."

 The cloud laughed. "Ha! I've already been there."

I interrupted the thunder and asked, "Is this about you?"

 The thunder replied, "It's loosely autobiographical."

I said, "You're a short-lived weather phenonomen.Why wish to be something you're not?"

 The thunder replied, "Why settle for drumming when I could be singing?"

I said, "Why do you need to sing? You already inspire awe, and sometimes, even dread."

The thunder said, "I scare people?"

 I said, "Well, mostly little children and dogs. Like my black dog Cheri. She's terrified of you."

That seemed to satisfy the thunder cloud. It growled with satisfaction, and rumbled off in a northeasterly direction.

I imagined this exchange between me and Boomer in the scrambled egg bleariness of 6:00 am, after finding that my dog Cheri had been sleeping in the bathroom, because thunder totally wigs her out. I spent a long time scratching her on the belly this morning. She stuck her forepaws straight out, and then came the sign that she was feeling relaxed: a single tooth stuck out of her mouth, and she let her head fall back with her eyes closed. 

Cheri is a sweet, laid-back dog, with a submissive personality, but she is full of fire when she wants to chase a rabbit or squirrel. She should be running and bounding through fields. I think of her doing that when I listen to a fiddle song called "My friend buddy", played by violinist/fiddler Natalie McMaster on a cd that I borrowed from my brother Marc like FIVE years ago and still haven't returned. I listened to that and another song off the cd on the way to work this morning, and they literally gave me goose bumps, because of their ebulliant joy. The fiddling McMaster does is in the Cape Breton style --a Celtic style that Scottish immigrants took to the Nova Scotia island of Cape Breton.

 The other day I decided to get re-acquainted with my fiddle. I had loaned it out to Marc, when I was in grad school and didn't have time to fool with it, and it turns out that not having time to fool with it becomes a habit that is hard to break. Marc -even if you had returned it to me earlier, I probably wouldn't have found time to play it.

I had taken lessons for almost two years, struggling through an exercise book and then a Suzuki book. But once in a while, I'd put on Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde cd and try to play along to "Absolutely Sweet Marie." Getting my notes to harmonize with the song and blend in with the other instruments was a heap of fun. I felt like a real simpleton, because I got such a kick out of it.

On a few rare occasions, after warming up by playing along with Bob, or other music I liked, this thing would come over me where I felt one with my instrument and I would just play effortlessly. I wasn't thinking about each string or each movement of the bow, it just flowed like water. I don't know if it sounded any good, but I was able to play little solos and I was barely aware of anything else and it all came out smooth.

The memory of that makes me want to spend some time feeling my way around the fiddle, without straining to follow a book. Maybe I'll be ready for that again later, but for now, I just want to pick out old songs I like, such as "Red River Valley" and "Carry me back to the lone prairie." And get out my Bob Dylan cds and play along.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Perfect Paisley For Peaceful Poets

I scanned my elbow, to show you. In all your psychedelic dreams, could you ever ride a cloud as mind-blowing as the paisley on my blouse? Intricate patterns hint at life's inner mysteries, the cosmos unwinding around a single pearly star, the nuclei spirals of broken atoms. The paisley reads like an ancient text revealing the root of all things.  I bought it at Boomerang, a vintage store in Westport. Good for trips of all kinds.

Monday, June 6, 2011

What's Blowing 'Round In Western Kansas

Did you know that "epic" is currently a hot word among teenagers? When something is amazing or wild it is not bitchin', radical, gnarly or awesome, it is "epic."  As in the epic wind that came up in western Kansas last Wednesday night. You gotta understand, it hadn't exactly been calm before that. The wind had already---well, what I thought was real wind --had been whipping at us all evening, throwing our hair in our face as we played tennis. But then, around 10:30 or so, this big gust came blasting into town. Except it wasn't a momentary gust --it held steady. The livingroom curtains blew like a movie set with a wind machine. All the placemats were whisked off the kitchen table. The back door rattled, and the fast-moving air made swirly whistling noises as it came through the window. But there wasn't any tornado or thunderstorm to worry about. It was just a lot of wind.

I can't say I mind the wind out there. The way the air keeps moving, a body feels light and shaken free of all cares. There is no sticky, oppressive feeling to bring you down.   

It's been awful dry though, so the wind picks up dust and blows it at you. One night at the tennis court, we could see dust clouds above the trees. Mom said because of the drought, the harvest isn't worth shit. Well, she didn't exactly put it that way. But that's what she meant. In a conversation with an aunt and a cousin, I heard that most farmers will either spray their sorry wheat or disk it, to get rid of it and make way for planting milo.

It might be the drought too, that has made the stickers extra bad this year. Every night after we played tennis, we carried them into mom's house on our shoes. Getting down on our knees for a closer look, we'd find them laying in wait on her carpet, or we'd step on them and find them that way. We tried clearing our shoes of them before we came in the house, then we took to leaving our shoes at the top of the back stairs. No matter. The stickers made it in anyway, invasive little buggers. Hard as rocks, and pointy as sin. Lilah counted 32 one evening.

Now it was awful hot the day we drove out to Ness City. We weren't surprised, driving past Cedar Bluff Dam, to see lots of motorboats in the water, and a few water-skiers besides.  The bank clock downtown said 102. When it is that dry and hot, on a Sunday afternoon in western Kansas, there is only one thing to do. Drink beer! I like to sit on the front porch with a cold one, even when my brother is toiling out back to fix a rotting fence. But I had forgotten that you can't just roll up to the liquor store in Ness City, if it's a Sunday. Well, you can, but there won't be anyone there to let you in the door. So we went to Butterfields, just to get some pop, and then I saw a sign that said you could buy beer at Butterfield's on Sunday from noon to 8:00. My heart was gladdened. But then I saw their selection and I was downcast again. It was all Bud, Miller and Coors. I don't wanna be a snob, but I like a brew with some depth and flavor. Mostly I like ales. I finally settled on a six pack of Corona.

This is not to say you can't get good beer in Ness City. They sell Sam Adams and Kansas City's Boulevard brand at both liquor stores in town. Yes, Ness has two liquor stores, but they lost Duckwalls, the little discount store next door to JD Spirits. Mom says the town is trying to start up their own discount store, and is looking for investors. Lacrosse already has their new store up and running. When Duckwalls pulled out, Lacrosse said they would have their own store up in two months, and there it is, the Post Rock Variety Store, right next to High Plains Karate. We stopped at the variety store on the way home from mom's cataract surgery. The girls were thrilled, because they found packages of off-brand cosmetics for a dollar each.  They walked up to me with fistfuls of mascara and eyeshadow. "Mom, can we buy these?" Annabelle hasn't really started wearing makeup yet, but she is ready to experiment, and at a buck a pop, that's okay by me. When we got up to the counter, we also found a whole slew of Cover Girl powder compacts on clearance for a dollar each, so we went home happy.

It's funny how thrilling those little finds are, when you're out in the boonies where you can't take goods or services for granted. The girls and I are always glad and relieved to find the Frigid Creme open. I usually have a tough time deciding between a hot fudge sundae, a malt, or a rootbeer float.

The day after mom's surgery, I took her back to Hays to have her bandage removed, and while driving from the hospital to Wal-mart, we passed by a little coffeeshop on 27th street, called Mokas. Well, naturally I had to check it out. There was a bakery case with pastries and a sign board offering  a whole line-up of espresso drinks. The interior was cool and dark and flirting with funky. The walls were covered with abstract Kandinsky prints. And they had WiFi. The two men in the back drinking and talking were wearing tight latex biker outfits.

I wondered if they were locals, or out of town bikers passing through. This time of year, western Kansas is lousy with bikers. The Bike Across Kansas (BAK) wasn't due to start for a few more days, but there are always those renegade bikers who like to cross the state on their own terms and schedules. I had already seen a stray biker outside Butterfields, and we passed a few out on highway 96, going east. How they rode in all that wind I'll never know.

When the BAK bikers come to Ness City, they pitch colorful tents on the grass outside the high school.  They hang clothes on the fence and play frisbee. You can see them standing around the Frigid Creme in clusters of two or three, ordering limeades and soft-serve ice cream. I have always liked the feeling I get, walking past their tent city, that here is a big outdoor party waiting to happen. The night of their encampment seems ripe with potential. Would that I could be invited into their tent, I would bring my own bottle, with extras to share. There could be dancing in the moonlight, in the wee hours, on the football field. But no. The bikers are always too well-behaved. Not wanting to upset the city fathers, or to mess with their sleep. I've driven past their tents at midnight, disappointed to find them so quiet.

You have to make your own fun, in a town like this. The girls and I used to get a big kick out of going to  Ralph's and picking out individual cans of Shasta pop. The cans sold for about 30 cents and they came in all kinds of flavors, like black cherry and orange and cream soda. But Ralph's doesn't sell single cans of Shasta pop anymore. So now our new thing is going to the Prairie Mercantile, where they sell brown bags of coffee candy that tastes better than Pearson's Coffee Nips. The price Annabelle and Lilah pay for the candy is to be bored out of their minds while I browse the other items in the shop. I like the Steve Ashley pottery they sell, and have been slowly addings his soup mugs and cereal bowls to my collection.

There are a whole host of mandatory spots we have to hit, while we're in town. Traditions, Lilah calls them. The tennis courts, the pool (in summer), Aunt Virginia's...We have to go to three playgrounds. The girls still like to push each other on the merry-go-round, and climb on the monkey bars. We have found that the rocks underneath the round monkey bars next to the tennis courts are very cool and soothing to the skin. They make great beds. We scoop out a space in the rocks for our body, and pile up a mound of rocks to use as a pillow, then we lie down. It feels surprisingly good to lie on a bed of rocks. It's very relaxing. When we were there Thurday night, we buried Annabelle up to her neck in rocks (per her request.). Lilah wanted to be buried too, until she realized how dirty it was going to make her shirt, which is a delicate thing that has to be hand-washed.

The night we buried Annabelle, we had turned on the tennis court lights for something to see by. Those lights didn't carry very far though, and beyond the courts and the playground, the rest of the vast field was in darkness. Across the alley from Cokers', we could see shadowy figures on the softball diamond, continuing to play, even though they had no light at all. I don't know how they could even follow the ball. When we were ready to go back to Mom's house, Annabelle ran to the tennis court light box and punched the big metal buttons OFF, and we were all plunged into darkness. I think the ball players kept up their game, but we ran across the field to the house as if our lives depended on it.  

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

New Products To Enjoy At Your Hometown Pharmacy

I want this: The Mr. Root Beer Home Brewing Kit. It has everything I need to make homemade root beer. The drug store in Ness City has a coupon for it.

If I shop now I can take advantage of their big summer sale. Save money on a Bean Bag Toss. Selections may vary.

Many off-brands to choose from:

Dr. Fresh toothbrushes. I can get six in a package for 99 cents.  
The Geneva Clock Company. They make a 10" clock that looks like a rubber tire.
Ocean Potion brand sunblock.
The FineAuto car vacuum. For people who have a fine auto.
The Touch Me Alarm Clock.
Bubbly brand bubbles.
The Vortex barbecue grill.

Get Yours Today!

Monday, May 30, 2011

You Are Here

I like the polar bear cradling cubes and smiling, on that store-bought bag of ice. The plastic pitcher with the smiling sun, now collecting dust on my mom's back porch. Several varieties of sunflower seeds hanging on a convenience store vrack. Signs of summer past and present. 

When I go out to western Kansas in the summertime, I make sure to go outside late at night. I can walk barefoot in the yard, and the buffalo grass feels  crisp and dry under my feet. In eastern Kansas, the grass feels buggy, itchy and wet. I don't enjoy taking my shoes off there. I feel like I have to rinse my feet off afterwards. There are slugs!

But out here, the grass is just grass. It feels clean and empty. The air that blew hot across the porch earlier in the day has turned cool. The wind greets me at the bottom of the steps like a late-night accomplice waiting for me to sneak out when no one's looking. Together we walk into the hugeness of a summer night, under trees that whisper and stretch overhead. Their silent forms create soft shadows across the yard, that I disappear into. All I see and feel is velvet. I circle the house like a stranger, observing the lights I left on. The house an unlikely light in the universe, under a sky holding so many stars. I step back to see the big picture. My placement here, unlikely too.   

Sunday, April 24, 2011

No Jellybeans On Easter.

I couldn't find our Easter baskets. They're either in the garage, buried under a pile of boxes and probably all dusty and spidery, or they're up in the attic, all dusty and spidery. So I put the candy in the plastic tubs I had made into bongos last year for our "Camp Kerouac" tent at Old Settler's, and hid those. One daughter is still looking for her basket. It's not that hard to find, but there is a certain cabinet that lifts up, that I bet she never notices, and it hasn't occurred to her yet to look there. It was genius for me to hide the basket there. The first place you'd look is a cabinet or a door, unless it's a cabinet or door that is below your radar.

Going to attempt to make mashed potatoes. I haven't done this much in my life, so I'm trying to keep expectations low. I am going to use the Pioneer Woman recipe that uses cream cheese and half and half. Lordy! 

Am also making a turkey breast. And gravy. Again with the gravy, I'm going to shoot for amazing, but am hoping for adequate.

We dyed eggs last night. The Paas tablets were much tinier than usual. What's up with that? Do they have the technology now to squeeze just as much dye power into a smaller tablet? Or is this another case of product shrinkage?

Update: Daughter has found the basket. And she tells me that she did see the cabinet, and that was one of the first places she looked, but she couldn't figure out how to open it. (It just lifts up.) So I guess I'm not such a genius after all.

This daughter is asking, "Where are the jelly beans? There are no jelly beans!"

 Okay, I debated while I was in Walgreen's. Did they really even like the jelly beans? Didn't they just swim around at the bottom of their baskets last year,  ignored and forgotten? So this time I passed on the jelly beans. Big mistake.

 "I love the jelly beans," Lilah said. "I ate all my jelly beans last year. "  Oh. Maybe it was Annabelle who ignored all her jelly beans.

"Here's a tip for next year," Lilah said. "Don't get these." It's the Cadbury eggs she's talking about. The cream-filled ones.

"I thought you loved those! I thought you'd be upset if you didn't get any!"

"No," she said. "They're nasty."      

Friday, April 22, 2011

More Bass Sax

Sunday night at the Record Bar. That dark little gem in Westport, with the sign above the door that says-- Eat. Hear. A comfy spot with a stage full of unusual music on Sunday nights. This particular Sunday it was Crosscurrent, a band devoted to exploring the work of Lennie Tristano, to writing original pieces that evoke Lenny Tristano, and to creating new Tristano-ized arrangements of old classics, such as Skylark.

Matt Otto brought his big mother of a saxophone, a recently acquired bass saxophone, that is so big he has to sit down to play it, not holding it but sitting behind it. It's an industrial-sized hunk of heating duct, it's a great Seussian bellower, and he is like a cartoon figure playing it. He ought to be rolling it across the stage on some wild contraption with mismatched wheels.

If that wasn't fantastical enough I had a memory flash of my green 1979 Mercury Monarch, may it rest in peace. My first car ever, that Dad bought for me when I moved to Miami after college. I would kill to have that car again. It was green inside and out. It could seat about twenty. I didn't know what I had when I had it. I let it die and replaced it with a weaselly Honda Civic Hatchback. Anyway, this flash burst inside my skull when Roger leaned over and pointed out that it was his Fender Rhodes up on stage, the very one that my car had transported through Miami's streets and alleys in the late 80's. When Roger bought it more than 20 years ago, Fender Rhodes were going out of fashion, and he wondered how long it would be useful, but it turns out that the canned sound of digital keyboards soon wore thin, and musicians began pining for the old school cool of mechanically-generated sound. Now Roger's old Fender Rhodes is much in demand and is frequently borrowed by cats around town.

The following photos capture a back alley moment with the Fender Rhodes, the day after a gig at a club called "Tropics" on Miami Beach.

My awesome green Mercury Monarch.

Yes, that is Poky (of Gumby and Poky clay-mation fame), who had come along for the ride and was suffering from a bout of vertigo. I like the way my car still has a Kansas tag in this picture, even though this was August of 1988 and I had moved to Florida in January of 1987. (And what's going on with my gas cap?). I got pulled over on more than one occasion, and was ticketed each time. Once for driving with an expired tag, and once for driving with a Kansas driver's license. Silly motor vehicle laws.

 Back to the Record Bar. My reverie over the streets of Miami was abruptly broken when Roger yelled out to the stage from where we were sitting, "More bass sax!" After he had shouted this several times, the jazz writer for the Kansas City Star, who was seated nearby, turned back to look at Roger and cracked, "Who keeps calling for morbid sex?"  

I managed a grin at this, but I was very tired. I had agreed to go out to the Record Bar because I knew it would be dark and not heavily populated and I could just zone out while listening to the music.

My mom and sister had been visiting from out of town, and I was suffering the natural effects of staying up late, crashing on my local sister's couch, eating heavy foodstuffs, like brats and Smokehouse Hickory Pit beans, and walking for an hour up and down the hills of a suburban enclave known as Creek Brook Ridge, or Wood River Glen, or  Oak Pine Crest, or some such. Anyway, I was so bushed I didn't even want any alcohol. I passed on the Magic Hat ale I usually like to order, and asked for pomegranate juice instead. But the waiter came back to the table, lowering his head and whispering that they were afraid that the pomegranate juice might be going bad. So I got a Republic of Tea Raspberry Quince instead. (Raspberry-flavored tea.)

I had ordered this drink from a menu that had been made out of the old album cover for the Bread's Greatest Hits LP. The last time we were here, the menu was an old Neil Diamond album. Roger had once owned that Bread album, and loved it. When he was ten.

What about those of us who never outgrew the pop music of our childhoods?

We come here, hoping to be rehabilitated. Hoping some irregular jazz chords will blow the dust off our neurons and re-wire us for a new musical fluency. Dreaming in the old music we've known but processing some new stuff too. Finding a way to straddle both.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bright Objects Hypnotize the Mind

I did not know that April the 14th was National Poem in Your Pocket Day.

I did know that April was National Poetry Month. I have a big poster in my work cubicle that reminds me. It came in the mail with one of our journals, or a publisher's catalog. It says, "Bright objects hypnotize the mind" in white letters that glow on a dark, woodsy background. The line is from a poem by Elizabeth Bishop.

It's the first thing I see when I come to my cubicle in the morning.  I look at it when I am despairing over the piles of paper on my desk, that I keep vowing to go through. I look at it when I spill hot chocolate powder on my desk and have to scrape it into a trash can, like right now.

Since National Poem in Your Pocket Day was only a week ago, the public library still had a basket of leftover poems to give away at their poetry reading last night. These pocket poems were printed on thin cardstock, about 2" x 3" and were offered along with brownies and coffee. I grabbed six of them. The  idea is to carry them around and share them with other people. So far I've shared one of them with one person.

There were two poets at the reading, and my cousin's wife, Maril, was one of them. It was a grey damp day outside, and very breezy and chilly. The wind that had assaulted me on my walk to the library building from the parking lot seemed intent on turning me back to my car. But I was glad I had persevered. The meeting room was warm with the fresh-brewed coffee, and with the free-flow of words. Maril's words and her soft voice reading them, relaxed me and filled my mind with pictures, and got me to thinking. I belong in these spaces where words and language are celebrated. I like the reverence of it. The agreement among strangers that reading and writing matters. I have to do more of this, I thought. I've been an isolated writer, but whether I'm writing myself or not, I need to go where the written word is welcomed and embraced.               

The 2nd poet at the reading  had a collection of haikus, and they were sparse and elegant. But they left me craving Jack Kerouac's haikus.

Here are some of his haikus I like:

50 miles from NY
All alone in nature
The squirrel eating

Well here I am
2 pm. -
What day is it?

The tree
looks like a dog
barking at heaven

In my medicine cabinet
the winter fly
has died of old age

Holding up my purring cat
to the moon
I sighed

All day long
wearing a hat
that wasn't on my head

too dark to read the page
too cold

Drunk as a hoot owl,
writing letters
by thunderstorm.

And a few of my absolute favorites, which I've posted before:

Missing a kick
at the icebox door
it closed anyway

The little worm
lowers itself to the roof
by a self shat thread

Quietly pouring coffee
in the afternoon,
how pleasant!

When the moon sinks
down to the power line
I'll go in

Glow worm
sleeping on this flower
your light's on

Jack didn't follow the strict Japanese form. He was a writer of American Haiku. He said,

The Japanese Haiku is strictly disciplined to seventeen syllables but since the language structure is different I don't think American Haikus should worry about syllables because American speech is something again...bursting to pop. Above all, a Haiku must be very simple and free of all poetic trickery and make a little picture and yet be as airy and graceful as a Vivaldi Pastorella."

Friday, April 15, 2011

This Is All I Want To Know

There once was a screenwriter in Hollywood named Vincent Lawrence who worked on lots of movies with big names stars such as Clark Gable, Betty Grable, Gary Cooper, Spencer Tracy and Kathryn Hepburn. It is said his own everyday way of talking was as interesting as the lines he wrote for his movie characters.

If you were in a bar and you offered him a drink he'd say, "Tell me this, pal, why isn't everybody sitting on a fence in the moonlight playing a banjo? That's all I want to know." *

Yes, exactly. There you have it. The The sum of all my existenstial questions.

*As reported in the March 28th issue of the New Yorker.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wunnerful, Wunnerful

Oh god, this made me laugh until I almost cried. Here "Gail and Dale", the perky, steam-cleaned duo on Lawrence Welk are singing "One toke over the line." The song was a hit by Brewer and Shipley in 1971, but some radio stations banned it BECAUSE IT WAS ABOUT SMOKING WEED! Did anybody at the Lawrence Welk show have a clue what the song was about? Nooo. Why ol' Lawrence thought it was a "modern spiritual." Too funny! Just throw out the name "Jesus" a few times and folks think you're walkin' that gospel road.

Tom Shipley has been quoted as saying,"When we wrote 'One Toke Over the Line,' I think we were one toke over the line. I considered marijuana a sort of a sacrament."

Brewer says of the song's origin: "We wrote that one night in the dressing room of a coffee house. We were literally just entertaining ourselves. The next day we got together to do some picking and said, 'What was that we were messing with last night?' We remembered it, and in about an hour, we'd written 'One Toke Over the Line.' Just making ourselves laugh, really. We had no idea that it would ever even be considered as a single, because it was just another song to us. Actually Tom and I always thought that our ballads were our forte."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Magic Potion Hair Dye

You know, I've colored my hair before, people! There was another time when it turned out very very dark, and no one said much then. What is going on? This time people act like they're under some kind of spell.

See I dyed my hair Saturday. It was supposed to be medium ash brown, but turned out black. Okay, whatever. A few shampoos, and it will fade quickly. I didn't think it was anything remarkable. Well, check out the reaction I'm getting. All day long at work, all sorts of people, people I don't really talk to, people I don't really know, see me in the hall, or walk by the desk and their head jerks like it's on a spring and they say "You dyed your hair! I like it!"  "Your hair is darker! It looks good!"  "Is that new? When did you do it? It's nice!"  Everyone says it fast, without hesitation, as if they are being poked. As if their voo-doo doll self somewhere is being poked. And they sound enthusiastic. I think they really are enthusiastic. So I've begun to conclude that the bottle of Nice and Easy Foam Hair Color I used was infused with a magic potion that makes people dig my hair so intensely they are overcome with a need to say so. They can't help themselves.

I'm telling you, it's spooky, the reaction I've gotten. Perhaps it's more than the hair. Perhaps it's the way that spring has warmed up my blood and brought me out of my cave. The hunch has receded from my back, the shadows have fallen from my face. I am feeling human again. Perhaps this is what people are seeing.

The one person immune to the power of the spell has been, of course, my daughter Lilah, whose immediate reaction was to ask me how long before it washed out. She said I looked goth. But the next day, she conceded that it didn't really look bad. She just wasn't used to it.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Bulky. Trashy.

Cheri and I were out for our evening walk and began to get the sense that something was up in the neighborhood. I saw more than one vehicle creeping down the street, driving slowly. They were all largish --a pickup here, a van here...a pickup carrying something odd-shaped in its I passed by a mound of debris piled up on the curb, the light finally went off. Tomorrow was bulk trash day!

Yes, tomorrow is Bulk Trash Day. It's kind of like a holiday. Suburbanites clean out their garages and dump all the stuff they don't want on the edge of their lawn, and other folks from all around come by in the dark of night and pick it up. It's rather a festive atmosphere that sets in --the exhilaration of plundering other people's stuff, and the giddy thrill of driving off with it--all perfectly legal --and the euphoria of getting other people to haul off your junk. And whatever they don't take --the trash men will. 

Several years ago, when I still lived by myself with the girls in Prairie Village, I put out my big pile of crap, that stretched the entire length of my yard, and added to the pile the double stroller that I used to push the girls around in. That double stroller had gone everywhere. Starting in New York, it had traveled up and down our street, Ellis Place, in Ossining. I had pushed it down the hill to the pharmacy, further downhill to the Farmer's Market, and then pushed it back up the torturous climb, with bags of produce hanging off it. I had pushed it to the public library, and then grunted and heaved to get it back up the steep hill to our house.

I had pushed it around New York City, that time that another woman named Carrie and I were brave enough and maybe foolish enough to take a trip to NYC with our small children. With my two girls, almost 1 and 3, and her two boys, about 2 and 4, we took the train into the city, and made our way down to the South Street Seaport. By the time we were ready to leave there, we were so exhausted from lugging our kids around, we took a cab back to Grand Central Station, instead of getting back on the subway.

I pushed the double stroller through countless malls, since going to the mall is a primary way to get out of the house and kill time when you're stuck with the kids on cold winter days. And we pushed that stroller through the dirt and mud at the Renaissance Festival.

We had really gotten our money's worth out of it, especially considering we got it used in the first place. I felt a little pang to see it go, but mostly I was also eager to be rid of the monstrosity. Even folded up, it took up valuable space in my garage. But the thrift stores wouldn't take it, because it was too old and not up to code. So I put it out the night before Bulk Trash Day, just praying that someone who needed it would pass by. I didn't live on a very busy street, so it was sort of a long shot. I hated the thought of it just being thrown out by the trash guys in the morning. I opened the stroller up and made it as visible as possible.

I was still hauling stuff out of my garage to add to my pile, when I saw a van slow down and stop next to my curb. A woman got out and looked over the stroller. She folded it up and proceeded to take it. I walked up and told her I got a lot of use out of it, and was glad to see someone take it. She said she had twin grand-daughters. Hooray!

Walking around tonight, I saw some of the oddest things. Really, you should take a  stroll around  your neighborhood before Bulk Trash Day. You might learn something about your neighbors. Most of the stuff is unknowable. You can't tell what the heck it is or used to be. Chunks of wood, shards of metal, pipe, rubber hosing, pieces that look like they once were furniture...Tonight, in addition to all that, I saw sitting out on the curb, an entire toilet. It looked perfectly fine. It was shiny and everything. Wouldn't you know, Cheri took it as a cue, because it was right then that she got in that peculiar squatting position of hers and went number 2 in the grass. I'm not making that up. A few houses up the street from ours, I saw a Christmas tree. Not an artificial Christmas tree. A real one, that was all dried up and sorry to be seeing April. They sure hung on to that a long time!

Since we hadn't put out anything, I worried that Roger had forgotten. We had both gotten excited a couple of weeks ago, when we saw Bulk Trash Day on some calendar. I started dreaming out loud about the things we might throw out. Well, now Roger was in Topeka doing a gig, and wouldn't be back until late. Darn. I think I know what we'll be doing early in the morning.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Car Tag

The Merry Pranksters

I'm looking for a word or phrase that evokes a free-wheelin' non-conformist spirit of adventure, a rejection of society's conventions on wheels - the type of spirit that propelled Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty down the highway in the book "On the Road" --that sent the Merry Pranksters merrily across the country in 1964 in their 1939 International Harvester psychedelic-painted school bus.

This is the spirit I want to channel when I drive, the spirit of gypsies and hobos and the open road. This is the fantasy of freedom that I, as a motorist, licensed in the state of Kansas, want to indulge in. To properly register my car for this purpose, I am going to get a license plate with a word or phrase that expresses this freedom. It's hard, though. The DMV will only give me seven letters or numbers to make this statement to the world.

To help in my brain-storming for the right car tag, I've been doing a little research. Did you know that Neal Cassady, one of the original Beats in the 50's, and the inspiration for the character Dean Moriarty in "On the Road," hung out with the hippies in the 60's, and became the driver of the Merry Pranksters' bus?

Robert Stone said of him: He was "the world's greatest driver, who could roll a joint while backing a 1937 Packard onto the lip of the Grand Canyon". 

Cassady's post-Beat years bear a striking contrast to those of Jack Kerouac's. While Cassady was out joyriding with his happy band of long-hairs, Kerouac was at home, being all curmudgeonly and conservative,  refusing to join the Pranksters. The bus stopped at Kerouac's en route for a visit, and reportedly it did not go well.

Now the Pranksters had a name for their bus. They called it "Further" and it just so happens that "Further" is exactly seven letters. So I'm giving that word some serious thought. If I put "Further" on my car tag, I think maybe I can summon the spirit of Cassady and the Pranksters to join me behind the wheel.

There is a world of possibilities for what could go on my tag. What plagues me is knowing there may be some choice word out there I haven't thought of. So I'm soliciting ideas. If you think of anything, let me know. Post it in a comment below. As you can see from my last brainstorming session (below), it doesn't have to be brilliant.

RAILHPR  (Rail Hopper) No, I'm not really jumping freights, but it has a nice ring to it.
Forget ROADTRP and ONTHERD ---those are already taken.

The word doesn't even have to have anything to do with travel. It could just be random words that are cool, like these words I like just because:  


What else?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Wind! Sun! Stickers!

On Wednesday the girls and I set out to play tennis, but it quickly became a game of sticker ball. On the way to the tennis courts, Lilah got 12 stickers in her flip flop. As we hit balls back and forth, Annabelle picked up a sticker in her barefoot, one of the hard, thorny ones. Whenever the ball bounced off the court and into the surrounding grass, it got covered with stickers. Whoever retrieved it had to pick it up delicately. I found that raking the ball across the wire fence in back of the court helped to dislodge the stickers effectively.

When we weren't battling stickers, we were being beaten by the wind, which blew our hair into our faces, and blew the ball back onto our side if we hit it over the fence too weakly. And then there was the constant glare of the sun in our eyes. Playing tennis in western Kansas is exhausting!

It made me appreciate how tough our girls' tennis team was in high school. We routinely played in gusty prairie winds and in the blazing heat of cloudless skies. I remember a tournament we played out in Tribune. We drove out in the morning and ate at a little place called the Feedlot Cafe. The name should tell you something about how the whole town smelled.

The tennis courts were located somewhere on the outskirts, out in the big wide open under an intense amount of sunshine. There was no shelter, not an inch of shade, and I got a nasty sunburn that day. And water? I'm sure I drank some, but I don't remember people carrying around water bottles like they do now.

I wasn't an athlete and was just an okay player, but tennis was the one sport I could play without embarrassing myself totally, thanks to all the time Deana and I had spent on the courts during our goofing off hours. We had spent many an evening on the tennis court hitting balls back and forth, yelling at the top of our lungs, trading pretend insults, (and a few obscenities) and one time, we had an epic fight that we both remember to this day. We were both juniors, and the other two girls on the team were seniors (yes, there were only four of us on the team), and they both ended up getting pregnant and had to quit the team before the school year was over.

Back then I played with a fiberglass Yamaha racket. I had talked mom in laying down $50 for it, an incredible extravagance that would have been unthinkable when all five kids were still under the roof. But I was the last child at home, and could shake down my parents more easily than my older siblings. I still have that racket, and still bring it out here on visits to western Kansas, and usually end up playing with it. The kids prefer to use the vintage wooden rackets I bought used off of Craig's list.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Spring Break In Western Kansas

Whoever says Kansas is flat hasn't driven through the Smoky Hill River Valley. There are some righteous hills right around Cedar bluff, where we were detoured yesterday by the highway patrol. We had just crossed the bridge over Cedar Bluff dam, heading south, when we ran into the patrolman, blocking the road. He said a semi had overturned the day before and had spilled grain all over the road, and they hadn't got it all cleaned up yet. So he sent us the long way around  ---three miles to the east, four miles south, and then a couple of miles west back to the highway.

Man, those dirt roads are steep, traveling through terrain that is more wild than the smooth plains further west. There are rocky outcroppings and the land is covered with an unruly mixture of native plants and grasses. How untamed and heaving is the bosom of Kansas! "I really need to get out here more," I thought, while navigating the sharp uphill twists and plunging descents.

When we finally got to Ness City, we drove straight to the nursing home, where mom was in the middle of a concert. Every other Tuesday, she loads her keyboard and stand into her car and drives a block and a half to the Long Term care facility. She played "Red River Valley," "Wooden Heart," and an original, titled "Nostalgia."

We're hangin' in western Kansas for spring break, and we got out here by way of my brand new used car. My 2008 Honda Civic is easy to drive fast. When I get above 60 in my 1994 Corolla, everything starts vibrating and rattling, and the engine gets really loud. I can hear Scotty yelling, "She's breaking up, Captain!" The cd player skips and air whistles through the breach in the sunroof. My new car is smooth as silk and it has an MP3 player hookup. And as you accelerate, the volume increases automatically to compensate for the increased highway noise.

And something else. By the time we got to Ness county, the sun was bright and unchallenged and it had grown quite warm inside the car. So we were glad to have working AC, that flowed easily at the push of a button, and didn't require the imagination to make it colder.

The car is three years old, but from our perspective, this road trip was its maiden voyage. We christened it by picking up a sack of Cozy Burgers in Salina and eating them in the car. Lilah and I like ours plain, so we can really taste the beef and onions, but Annabelle's burgers had ketchup on them. I cringed inwardly, but tried not to think about the possibility of ketchup dripping onto the newish seats.

What a different world I've been living in these past few weeks, a world where my car's interior is impeccable, and not crusted over by food crumbs, french fry grease, chocolate stains, beach sand, snotty tissues, and dog hair. Now I have a chance to make a fresh start. All these years, I've blamed the state of my car on the grubby urchins occupying the back seat. "Well, you know, I have kids...." I would say, waving my hand over the front and back seat to indicate that all of the debris, all of the detritus bulging under the seats, was an unavoidable consequence of ferrying two uncivilized passengers for over a decade. Now that the kids are older, I may find out whether I've just been an overwhelmed mother all these years, or just an incurable slob.

Today is a wonderfully warm and mild day in the 70's, and so we'll play tennis, and swing by the Frigid Creme to see if it's open yet, or still closed for the season. And tonight we'll work on the 750 piece puzzle named "Carnival in Venice" that we started last night.

 I started the day off right by doing something I've been wanting to do for ages. I spent the entire morning reading. I finished the young adult book "Steinbeck's Ghost," that Lilah had read and urged me to read. In it, the characters of some of Steinbeck's books reappear, so to speak, and so does the ghost of Steinbeck himself, until he finds someone who will tell the one story he had left to tell, that he was afraid to tell while he was alive. The book also follows the fight of the Salinas, California community to save its public library, the John Steinbeck library, that is threatened with closing. I love the book's passionate message about the importance of books, stories and libraries!

Now Lilah has checked out several Steinbeck books, and is currently reading "Grapes of Wrath." It's been a long time since I read any Steinbeck, but I think my favorite book was "Cannery Row", about the fish canneries near Monterey Bay. I just may have to read that one again. But right now I'm ready to crack open "A wrinkle in time," which I have here in western Kansas with me. I barely remember it, but I remember where it was shelved in the children's section of the Ness County Public Library, and I can still picture its  nondescript cover. It had no fancy book jacket, just its plain title on the original binding. But inside it was weird, so unlike anything else I had read before, it quickly became one of my favorite books.