Monday, July 30, 2012

Couches

Our couch is dead. Long live our couch. The old one had probably received the rear end of all our friends over these past 26 years. And with each year it seemed harder and harder to get up from. Sometimes I’d be stuck there for weeks at a time. I’ll never know what I missed.

Our new couch is handsome, no cushions, rust color, to hide the grime…

Does that mean I can spill Ragu sauce on it?
No, it does not. Now behave yourself.


and best-of-all, firm. We can actually rise effortlessly. I can hardly wait to get up now if we only had someplace to go.

New furniture is seen by me for just a few weeks, maybe months. After that it becomes invisible from familiarity. It also gets too chummy with the picture over it and coffee table in front of it.

Freud became so emotionally involved with his couch that he is said to have had it transported to England when he fled Austria. Imagine all the scandals and hysterics embedded in its fabric. If couches could talk…

There is something about a couch that induces conversation, even disclosure. I saw a documentary a few years ago in which the filmmaker moved a purple couch to various locations on busy pedestrian sidewalks. He asked people at random to sit on the couch and tell what event changed their lives. The great majority presented themselves as victims of some death in the family or unfortunate happening. It was almost as if Freud was there taking notes.

Matisse delighted in couches. He painted them in patterns which caused aesthetic sparks to fly when seen in dialog with the wallpaper. Those decorators who insist that paintings, throw-pillows and drapes must somehow rhyme or harmonize, shudder at Matisse…and he at them.

The French painter liked his women on couches …when they weren’t frolicking in Nature. Where else for an odalisque than on a sofa-divan-couch? And there is Peggy stretched full-length on our spanking new earth-tone couch. Where’s my easel?

I expect to morph into a potato periodically on this couch. I’ll be gnashing my teeth on election night and living a thousand deaths with my favorite teams. The couch will also be the site of many dramas as I spot tell-tale signs in the first five minutes of murder mysteries and when the judge asks the defendant to rise I will probably jump up.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Plagiarism

I just got a message from a guy named Norm Levine accusing me of plagiarizing some lines from his poems. He further charged me of being his generic equivalent. That was a cheap shot.

Obviously, he’s an imposter, but the name sounded familiar. I checked my driver’s license and sure enough that was my name. In fact he is me… or rather, I.

My poet-self is now suing my blog-self. Some nerve! My only defense is that the words seemed better suited for a paragraph than a stanza. Those jagged right-hand margins can be dangerous. I once jabbed myself on one and bled purple for hours.

There is something about a phrase such as, aggravation was her longest word, it never stopped, speaking about my mother, which I regard as too low-falutin for such a high-falutin home as in a poem.

Or, writing about second bananas, Thank God, we don’t get to see the movie / of our lives before we live it /. Then we would know our place / by the billing alone / and the rest / wouldn’t be worth the price of admission.

I hope to settle our dispute out of court. Maybe I’ll write myself a check for $10,000. It will bounce anyway. It was no less than T.S. Eliot who advised us to steal rather than imitate. If theft is preferred why not from yourself?

A better solution would be a slow blurring of borders and dropping of labels; call it poetic prose or prosaic poetry. Lately I’ve found more poetry in novels than in poems. In the effort to divest itself of archaic language, much contemporary poetry reaches for the conversational. Poetry has become an anecdote with an irregular margin and a zinger at the end. In our poetry group the most severe criticism one can say about a poem is that it is too poetic.

Peggy's poems are different as are many fine poets. They have earned the designation. Her language stretches. It crackles with fresh metaphors and could not fit easily in a paragraph. The operative word is always, transformation.

As for that other Norm Levine, we’re going out for a beer and throw a few darts, hopefully not at each other. Maybe, over time, we’ll merge into one person.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

NEWS

Stacks of newspapers thrown from the truck. The man with a change-belt around his waist is waiting with a blade. He cuts the rope. Dozens of people on their way to work surround him for the morning edition. They will disappear down into the subway with their three-cent Daily News, easy-to-fold, short paragraphs, page three scandals. Some splurge for the ten-cent Times with few photos and hard-to-fold, holding on to the strap below the overhead fan.

A thousand years earlier, a wandering minstrel, in shred and patches, might bring the news in songs and snatches. Maybe he added a bit of color, stretched a tall tale taller or left out a portion to serve his patron, sort of like Fox News.

Now it comes at us 24/7, relentless in all directions, NEWS, North, East, West, South unless you go into hiding. But news junkies, like me, have to keep up, have to know what’s coming. I want to be among the first to stop the tsunami or run like hell and shout the word. Maybe it goes back to the time I missed a few days in school and wasn’t there when the key to everything was revealed or at least some clue given for the great sleuthing of life.

Facts can be a hindrance to truth. When the police came to tell me of my brother’s death they recited the time, the name of the mountain road and where the car was towed. All that told me less than nothing.

There may be more news in Miles Davis or Mahler or just listening to the garbage truck backing up. If poets are the true legislators of the world, I should stick with the Norton Anthology of English Poetry.

There are people, said to be of my species, who really don’t know or care about the latest shooting, kerfuffle in Congress or even who gets elected. A small part of me envies them. Oh, to be blissfully ignorant of who denied saying what to whom, which country growled and which bowed, what Dow did to Jones. Maybe it is folly to be wise with bulletins, bites, gotchas and spin. It's clear that the buzz among the chattering class has little, if any, effect on moving the poll numbers.

As it is, I’m feeling a need to retreat. I’m looking for a mid-distance perch. Up too close, politics can be hazardous to one’s health. The air is noxious particularly in an election year. My bile rises as the vitriol flows. I could rage against the dying of the light or put on some chamber music and gaze out the patio with its keyboard of verdant leaves, the pluck of hummingbirds darting as variations of light and shadow orchestrate the canvas. A slight wind stirs the fern with a message from that famous butterfly in Brazil. News has a way of finding us in the end.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Dentists I Have Known

First was the father of my close friend whom I remember as a no-nonsense man masking a kind and gentle heart. The combination must have been the right mix since I’ve never had any phobia around drilling. However it took its toll on the driller more than the drill-ee. His kind heart stopped ticking when I was about 15. I can only hope my teeth played no role in his early demise.

My next dentist was a Saul K., a left-wing activist. I remember him at some Progressive Party rally in 1947-48 speaking as a fund-raiser before introducing Henry Wallace or was it Pete Seeger? He was a hell of a guy but perhaps either disinterested in dentistry or distracted by the issues of the day. I’d like to believe that my mouth was a sacrificial offering to the greater good.

When I came to California in 1954 G. Saltzman DDS took one look at my fillings and was aghast. Twenty-three teeth required do-overs. I had visions of all the Milk Duds, Milky Ways and Necco Wafers I had ever munched making a meal of my enamel. It could have been his way of buying a new Oldsmobile. Or my molars and bicuspids looked like dollar signs and a down payment on a five bedroom split-level house in Beverly Hills.

In 1959 I had all four wisdom teeth pulled on New Years Eve day, plastered before the crowd got partying. I ushered in the new decade with ice and gauze. Why my appointment was scheduled for Dec. 31, I have no idea. Maybe it had something to do with dental insurance or the oral surgeon did it for tax purposes. One doesn’t question the guy with the pliers.

The next decades are a blur. In 1980 I started seeing Mal, the dentist in the medical building where my pharmacy was located. Open after hours, he was my man for about twenty years. He meant well. I can’t imagine anybody having to stare into my oral cavity for that long. I wondered if he dreamt of fangs at night. I would make my appointment for 6 PM and get out of his office at 8:30. He ran on his own clock, schmoozing with patients in every room. I would get a shot of Lidocaine and he’d disappear. When he returned I might need another to boost the anesthetic effect.

He was in my face with one-way conversation and my mouth full of cotton and clamps, yaking mostly about money; how to make it, keep it and spend it. My strategy was to nod at everything. He had me. Any slippage could be my doom. I was there to fill his cavity. Finally I’d had enough.

For the past dozen years I see the dentist across the hall from him. I call him Homer. He is a simple man with simple life style. No frills. No dental assistant. No hygienist. Always sees me on time, never over-books. I imagine he sees my teeth as boy scouts lined up in a row. He coaches a soccer team on weekends. I saw him this past Tuesday. He started to talk about retirement. I asked what he plans to do. Optimize my variables, he said. That ended the conversation. It is perpetually 1950 in his office. I walk out with clean teeth and I pick up sixty years.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Sticks

Having riffed on carrots I’m now reminded of that old saw, The carrot AND the stick or is it the carrot OR the stick or ON the stick? Maybe it works getting a mule to move the cart but I’m not fond of any of them as a way of behavior modification.

As applied to us humans it is even more abhorrent. I recall an English movie seen as a child, Tom Brown’s School Days, in which he was subjected to corporal punishment by a switch or whip or some other demented form of imbecility; knuckle-wrapping being the most benign in the sadist’s handbook. Whether this was a hand-me-down from those days of papal fervor or part of Brit imperialism or just garden-variety proto-Fascism I winced then and I wince now.

I’m realizing how that word, stick, is not one I use very much or have ever used except when attached to another word like stick-shift, chop-stick or drum-stick. As a kid a stick was that piece that held a popsicle or toasted almond bar together. It was your lucky day if your stick gifted you with a free Good Humor next time around.

After rain we would float them down the gutter in a race toward the sewer. On a sunny day I might have snapped a stick of wood from a tree and gone fishing for a nickel through a grate. Sticks were also a weapon along with stones which could break my bones but names could never….

My favorite stick was the broom which, when sawed off against the curb, became a stickball bat. Many a tennis ball got whacked with those vandalized sticks. I never once thought of the superintendant of the apartment building left with a disembodied collection of bundled straw.

Once upon a time this country was a coast-to-coast forest with branches sufficient to convey a squirrel three thousand miles. Non-stop trees were a super highway. Then settlers and our motherland put the axe to the woodland to create more pastureland and to get them through the winters. The big sticks also allowed Lincoln to build the log cabin he was born in. I doubt if stickball was on their mind or even cricket. In order for Britannia to rule the waves they deforested North America for their ships and steel mills.

As a boy scout I never figured out how to rub two sticks together to start a campfire. Maybe rubbing two boy scouts would have worked better. Raised as a street urchin I wouldn’t know about such things but why not just put match to candlestick? Before I sail down the River Styx I would, at least, like to think of myself as not just another stick-in-the-mud.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Big And Little Numbers


41…………….. The percentage of Americans who didn’t know the Supreme Court made a decision on the healthcare bill. Never underestimate the stupidity of the American people.

24th…………… U.S. ranking out of 34 countries in math scores

1st……………….U.S. ranking for number of persons incarcerated

82……………. How many electoral votes Wendell Wilkie won in the 1940 election against FDR with 14.7% unemployment. Heartening news for Obama.

325……………The number of islands that comprise Hong Kong… Better remember where you parked your boat.

22% …………..George W Bush’s approval rating when he left office…and they probably thought his father was still president.

13% ………… Dick Cheney’s approval rating…it doesn’t get any lower.

25% ………… The % of eligble Black voters in Pennsylvania without a voter I.D…..a form of creative racism.

8%......................The % of Whites without voter I.D.

3%..................... The % of foreign-born in Japan. Go find a Chinese restaurant.

30%.................. The % of foreign-born in Canada. Always a good Plan B for us.

158……………..The number of times electors in the Electoral college did not vote for the candidate they were pledged for. The last time was in 2000.

66%………… The chance Obama has of winning in November according to Nate Silver, our best predictor. He is running 7 points ahead of Romney in Wisconsin…. I’m just saying.

4………………. Number of countries where Mitt hides his money, Luxembourg, Bermuda, Switzerland, and Cayman Islands. I presume he must keep a few bucks here.

25%................... Percentage of American soldiers who fired their guns during combat in World WarII.

Carrots


I ran into Smart & Final the other day and came out finally not so smart. In my haste to pick up a couple bottles of Sugar-Free Torani I passed the produce section and remembered that we had run out of carrots. I grabbed a package and got home to discover I had just purchased 26 carrots. It must be the industrial size for restaurants. The average American eats 10,866 in a lifetime. This should make up any deficit I may have had.

I do love carrots as much as the next guy. I like to peel them. I like to dip them in whatever dip we happen to have. I enjoy the way they crunch and how noble I feel eating them instead of one of those unmentionable sweet snacks for which I have a special tooth.

For the past three days I’ve been eating carrots at the rate of Bugs Bunny. I remember, as a kid, hearing that carrots were good for the eyes. It made sense; I’d never seen a rabbit wearing glasses. Research shows that rabbits really don’t eat carrots; another lie I’d been raised on and swallowed. Now, after my eleventh carrot, I’m beginning to lose my taste for them.

This must be the source of food-phobias. A dear friend of mine dislikes all fruits except apples. I’m imagining he was trapped under a truck-load of peaches, apricots and plums as a child and was traumatized. How else to explain anyone disliking summer fruit? One day I may trace my hatred of coconuts. If I were shipwrecked and floated on an orange crate to a desert island with a coconut grove I would pass it by and take my chances.

But I digress. The subject is carrots. If I weren’t so busy writing blogs I’d bake a carrot cake. I just looked it up. There are 943 recipes for carrot cake. The average one lists 13 ingredients and carrots are the tenth, behind, flour, sugar and cream cheese. Each serving adds 47 grams of carbohydrates to one’s diet. Forget it.

If you take the wrong freeway and find yourself in the Hebrides, Scotland toward the end of September you might wonder why carrots are being dug up by the locals. It is, of course, to celebrate Michaelmas. Wild carrots are ritually gathered. It is an occasion for revelry and why not, I ask you?

Carrots translate to some fairly strange words in other countries. Spain calls them zanahoria. In China they are huluobo and marchew in Poland. Remember this. It could come in handy one day.

Starlings seek out wild carrots which kill certain mites in their nests. The carrot contains a compound that repels mites and inhibits their egg-laying abilities. How starlings know to choose parasite-deterring plants like the wild carrot remains a mystery. I might go on a starling hunt tomorrow and drop some carrot-mush in their flight-path. Then again parasites need love too. Let the birds fend for themselves. Better not mess with Mother Nature.

Final thought: If had 26 karats instead of carrots I'd be a rich man but I'd rather remain lucky instead.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Nothing Here To Speak Of

We have no weather here to speak of, just the usual marine air in the morning and a few gusty winds below the canyons. Another high of 75 and no relief in sight. Increasing light until evening followed by decreasing sun. Looks like another nice day, huh? Yup.

Back East they’re boiling. The Statue of Liberty is perspiring. Eggs are over-easy on Times Square. The lunatic moon is red hot like a second sun driving cab drivers sane. The heat and humidity are tied at 98 in the shade, going into extra innings. The Hudson is bubbling. Stay wet, the hydrants are open. Every street compares with Mott St. New England Blue States are sizzling red.

Whatever the absence of real weather has done to upset the seasons of my body, I’ve made the adjustment. The damage is reparable. I’m ready to live without the bite of snow or withering triple digit temperature, without spring showers or fall foliage. Maybe just the memory of it is sufficient. I'm content living with our four seasons: fire, flood, drought and quake.

I do miss the smell of rain on a hot sidewalk but somehow that vapor remains in my olfactory factory. The picture in my head is enough of people sleeping on fire escapes in their underwear.

I heard Mayor Bloomberg declare that New Yorkers will live three years longer than the national average. With 8.5 million folks in the city maybe nobody notices when they drop.

Deniers of climate change should be sent there. Chunks of Labrador have been spotted in the East River. Migratory birds are bumping into each other. Bulbs will be bursting at off-season rates.

Now it is getting a bit drafty. The temperature has dipped below 71. It has taken me out of my comfort-zone. If it goes over 80 for three days I’m prepared to march on City Hall.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Everything Contained in Anything


The poet in us knows it. Get close enough and its walls become windows. Doors open into rooms. The cottage cheese ceiling holds lumpy secrets. Listen; there are signals in the static, choreography in your steps. You are crowded with memories, and some that haven’t happened yet. Wallace Stevens never left this country, Emily Dickinson hardly left her room.

You are having breakfast cereal; Twigs, they call it, low-carb, high fiber. You throw in some strawberries and blueberries. Now you have a flag of red, milk and blue; a regular Fourth of July. Add some Krispies to snap, crackle and pop like bombs bursting in anthems of Irving Berlin. Look, you’re down to the bottom of the bowl never seen before with its faux-Delft blue; a Chinese scene of two peasants crossing a footbridge between mountains carrying pottery half way up the bowl. It’s all here and no jet lag.

Somehow this got me thinking about fractals. Fractals are patterns that repeat themselves at a smaller scale throughout the system. Don’t feel bad; it’s easy for me to say because I just looked it up. In the late 60s Benoit Mendelbrot demonstrated through mathematics that fractals are quite common in nature, from snow flakes to broccoli to our own beautiful bodies.

Some have said that our universe is fractal in construction, that black holes orbit exactly the same way as electrons do in atoms. I don’t get around much these days apart from lunch with friends so I have no opinion on the subject unless those are constellations and dark matter in my Cobb salad.

I wonder if this sort of patterning happens in human relationships. Do groups speak in macro the way their members do in micro? It does seem so with political messaging. Not only key points but exact fractal words seem to be passed along from headquarters to surrogates to Plummer Joes. There’s nothing like a second-hand phrase rolling off the tongue you could swear you just heard from someone else.

Fractals may not be the everything contained in anything; more like the small versions of something found within the larger something like the bowl carried by the Chinese peasant inside my cereal bowl under the blue bowl of sky.