Monday, February 22, 2010

No Hard Feelings

This time, when I went down to Vero Beach, it wasn’t to pay my sister a social visit – it was to bail her inebriated ass out of jail. Again.
My sister and I had both inherited the family jewel – a compulsion to consume inhuman quantities of alcohol and still function, more or less. We came by our alcoholism honestly. Everyone in our family was an alcoholic. Down through to the great-great-greats. Probably went further back than that, too, but drunkards are notoriously bad genealogists because they are too blotto to write anything down, and if they do, they forget where they put it.
The difference between me and my sister was that I hadn’t had a drink in three years. I had gone through my own private hell in giving it up, and I knew there was no guarantee that I wouldn’t plunge right back down into it tomorrow. My sister, however, was still practicing the cursed craft, and that consistent practice had made all the difference in her life.
I don’t remember the latter years of the eighties, and my college education is a blur. Wine, women, and song, says the cliché. I recall the wine and a few of the songs. I recall a woman or maybe two, if I squint hard enough. My old friends were able to fill in some of the blanks, but that’s not saying much because most of them were boozebags, too. That’s why I got rid of them.
Annette had called me on my cell phone at 3:49 on Thursday morning, according to the blurry red numbers on my bedside digital clock radio.
“Paul?” I could smell the alcohol through 700 miles of telephone line. She didn’t say anything after her name. That’s the way our conversations went. She calls me, I do the talking. She makes me dig it out of her. And I do, every time. Dumbass that I am.
“It’s almost 4am.”
“Why are you calling me?”
“You need to come get me.”
“Where are you?”
“I was in a club and a guy put his hand on me and I busted him over the head with a vodka bottle.”
“So…” I said. “I take it you’re in jail. Again.”
“Well, why the hell else would I be calling my big brother in Long Island at four in the morning?” Or something along those lines. Her speech was slurred.
“Annette, I’ve got half a mind to leave you in there, this time. Might be just what you need.”
“Well, what the hell would you do, a guy makes like he’s gonna … do stuff to you…?”
“Wait a minute, Annette did he actually do something to you, or did he just “make like” he was going to do something you?”
“What the hell difference does it make?” Her voice was a loud, painful, and nearly unintelligible scream.
“Jesus, Annette.”
I take the red-eye down to Florida and then a cab to the Vero Beach jail. Or whatever they called it. The cabby knew where it was. He may have taken me there before. I never stop to remember. I liked him, though. He kept his mouth shut.
When I got there, I had to wait a couple of hours before they called me up to fill out the forms to pay her bail. I had to sit in the waiting room with a smorgasbord of human finery. A crying teen-age mother with a toddler in diapers screaming for grape juice. A snoring shirtless fat man with an angry Donald Duck tattoo on his forearm. Two guys in their twenties who filled the hours by swearing at each other, punching each other, and then laughing at each other. Different people. Always the same
At around noon, they called my name, I presented my forms to the cop at the desk, and they asked me if I wanted to bail her out. I said I did and gave him a check for $200, the going rate for drunk and disorderly conduct – it would have been more had she been charged with assault. But the guy had disappeared. Maybe he was on parole, I don’t know.
The desk cop said it would take a few hours to process the papers for her release. I asked if I could see her while they were doing the processing. The cop said yes, and another cop took me back to the room where she was being detained and told me I had ten minutes. Remarkably, she was in the room alone. There were a few men screaming rude things from the holding room next to hers, though. It made conversation harder.
Annette looked like shit, of course. The hair, the mascara, the boots.

“You know how it is. It’s gonna take a few hours.”
“Yeah, well.”
We didn’t say much more to each other. We knew our parts. She had fun with her drunkenness, she got in trouble. I struggled with my sobriety, I got her out of trouble. When the ten minutes were over, I got up and left. I had paid her bail. This is how things would go from here: She would have her day in court, pay a fine, and do community service. End of story. Until the next time.
The precinct was in a depressed part of town, as they always are. A dollar store. A gas station. A dilapidated movie theater showing a movie I didn’t want to see. I was hungry. The only place around where I could get food and maybe sit down for a while was a hole in the wall establishment called The Jazzy Gent Entertainment and Cocktail Lounge.
I went in, and when my eyes adjusted to the near total darkness of the place, I saw that the only other people there were a rheumatoid bartender and a guy in plaid golf-pants drinking what I could smell was scotch. I sat next to the guy with the plaid pants and ordered a ginger ale.
The guy drinking scotch saw my ginger ale and said, “How many years?”
“Three,” I said.
“Not bad,” he said. “Congratulations. My last drink was twenty minutes before you came in.”
“You ever think about quitting?”
“You sound like my sister. I’m down from Long Island to get her out of the tank. Says she bashed a vodka bottle over some guy’s head. Couldn’t find the guy, though. They’re holding her in the precinct down the street.”
He looked at me like he recognized me. Maybe he did. I don’t know. “I know people on the Island. A colleague of mine works in Cedarhurst.”
“About fifteen minutes from me.” It didn’t surprise me much. Half of Florida came from Long Island. The other half came down to visit the first half.
“I also know the precinct where they’re holding your sister,” said the guy. “They call me over there, sometimes, to look over some of the more extreme cases. Psychotics, potential suicides, that sort of thing.”
“You’re a psychologist?”
“Psychiatrist, actually. I don’t have to rely on the talking cure. I can prescribe drugs, instead.”
Guys like this were why I didn’t go to counseling.
We sat awhile. He finished his scotch and ordered another.
At some point nearing the time when I had to go pick up Annette, the guy raised his glass, glanced at me out of the corner of his eye and said, “Here’s to sobriety.”
When my fist connected with his jawbone, it knocked him off his stool and sent him sprawling onto the floor. I knew nothing but rage as I sat on top of him and belted him with both fists. Left. Right. Left. Right.
I finished of my own accord, got off him, and went back to sitting on my barstool. The bartender, who in a better world would have been more alarmed than he was, peered over the bar at the psychiatrist and asked languidly whether he wanted him to call the police.
“No,” said the psychiatrist. “That won’t be necessary.”
He got up and went back to his own seat, next to mine. There was a little line of blood coming from his nose. The bartender poured him a free scotch. I got up to use the bathroom. I took my time. I cooled off a bit. Splashed some water on my face from the tiny stained porcelain sink they had in there. When I returned, the psychiatrist had left. The bartender handed me a small white rectangle. A business card.
“Wanted me to give this to you.”
His name followed by M.D. and Ph.D., an address, and various contact numbers. On the back, he had written the name and number of his colleague in Cedarhurst. I thanked the bartender, paid for my ginger ale, and walked out of the bar and back into the glaring mid-afternoon Florida sunshine.
I put the card in my wallet. I felt too damn’ good not to.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Portrait of Damian

Enigmatic portrait taken by M. Russo

Of Ducks and Oranges

Mike and I wrote different versions of this story.

After a long life, an old man died and found himself in front of the pearly gates standing before St. Peter and his book of judgment.

“Before I let you in,” said St. Peter, looking up from the book, “I must tell you a joke.” The man, a successful if rather stern lawyer in life, found this rather irregular, yet he nodded to Peter and stood quietly and respectfully, awaiting the joke.

“A duck walks into a bar,” began the saint, giggling a little. “He says to the bartender, ‘You got any oranges?’

“‘No,’ says the bartender, ‘and we don’t allow ducks in here, either, so get out.’

“The next night, the duck is back. ‘Bartender, you got any oranges?’

“‘Look Pal,’ says the bartender, ‘I told you yesterday. No oranges. I also told you that we don’t allow ducks in here. Now get out, and if you come here again, I’ll nail your beak to the bar!’

“‘Jeez Louise,’ mutters the duck as he leaves. The next night, however, there he is, again, back at the bar.

“‘Bartender,’ he says, ‘You got any nails?’

“‘No, I don’t have any nails!’ shouts the bartender.

“‘You got any oranges?’ says the Duck.” St. Peter sat there, rocking back and forth on his chair, laughing in a great and loud belly-laugh that the man felt was a bit uncouth, not to say inappropriate, given the occasion.

Having waited patiently for the joke to conclude, the man said to St. Peter, “Charming. May I pass, now?”

His final sputterings of laughter ending, St. Peter regarded the man for a moment or two.


“Sir,” said the man with visible anger, “I have led a productive and successful life. I have hurt no one and, indeed, have helped a great many. I have met all with courtesy. I have been a caring family man, I have attended church, regularly, and I have followed the commandments, each and every one of them, to the very best of my ability. Why then, Sir, if I may be so presumptuous to ask, am I not now allowed entrance?”

“Because,” said St. Peter, “Heaven is a place of great joy. And you, though a good man in most areas, are utterly without humor.”

Hearing this, the man walked away into the clouds, grumbling to himself. For a long while, he attempted to use his earthly experience – his decades as a litigating attorney – to construct an argument that would win him access to his eternal reward. Try though he might, however, he could think of nothing. With despair in his heart, he approached the pearly gates once more.

This time, however, St. Peter was not there. Instead, a duck sat in his chair, his feathery head bent down to the pages of the great book.

“Where is St. Peter?” asked the man.

“Oh,” said the duck, looking up from the book, “He’s on his lunch break. Perhaps you’d care to wait there until he returns?”

“Fine,” said the man. A chair made of cloud appeared behind him, and the two sat in silence. After a while, the duck spoke.

“Excuse me, Sir, but may I ask you a question?”

“Very well,” said the man.

“Do you have any oranges?”

The man stared furiously at the duck for a tense moment or two. Then, he burst into hysterical laughter.

At that very moment, St. Peter returned, the gates opened, and the man was welcomed into paradise.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Another Short, Silly, Anachronistic, Quasi-Victorian Drama: A Discussion between Two Mutton-Chopped Gentlemen on the Honor of Each Other's Mother


Sam – A Top-Hatted, Caped Gentleman with Mutton-chop whiskers
Joe – Another Top-Hatted, Caped Gentleman with Mutton-chop whiskers

Setting:A Bus Stop

Sam: Good morrow to you, Joe!

Joe: Good morrow to you, Sam!

Sam: I say, Joe, how fares your mother, these days?

Joe: Why, Sam, she fares quite well! I shall tell her that you have enquired after her welfare, and I thank you for asking… although I do wonder the occasion of said enquiry. Pray tell?

Sam: Oh, my fine friend, ‘tis nothing, to be sure. …Only… I did hear tell that your mother is so odiferous that the local peasantry make use of her bathwater to fertilize their rented farmlands!

Joe: Oh. Right. Well, the old girl does sport a rather heightened bouquet, I’ll grant. But, Dear Sir, I should be remiss indeed were I not to enquire after the welfare of your own mother, now that you have shown mine own a kindness.

Sam: How very civil of you, Sir, in turn! And so I shall relate to you that my mother does excellent well, thank you! And, as you have promised to do, so I now promise to pass along to her your gracious sentiment!

Joe: Oh, not at all, my good man! …Of course, I must tell you that I am quite pleased that your mother does well! But tell me further, my good man: Is it also true what I have heard in the streets that your mother does well not only by herself but also by every scurvied, swagbellied dogsbody of a sailor who finds himself alone – that is to say, lonely – in the Port of Londontown?

Sam (chortling): Oh my how you do have a thumb on the pulse of our good town! You are correct when you say that my mother is, shall we say, cordial to a fault… and, indeed, charitable beyond the call to those poor souls of Christendom who are in need of the milk of human kindness!

Joe (sharing a chortle with his friend): Verily, the fine Dam is as knowledgable in the wants and needs of the individual mariner as our good Queen, herself, is knowledgable in the workings of her noble empire's navy!

Sam (clapping his fellow on the back): In this, then, we are in complete agreement! But, so long as we speak of politics…

Joe: Yes, Noble Sirrah?

Sam: I have heard tell among my associates, and I think I have no reason to doubt their assessments… Oh, I must say I do not know how to approach the matter…


Joe: There shall be no awkwardness between us! I tell you, as a gentleman, that you may be forthcoming howsoever, and wheresoever, the words lead!

Sam: Sir, they tell me... that your good mother…

Joe: Speak it, Sir!

Sam: Is rumoured to harbor certain… Republican sympathies!

Joe: (visibly taken aback at the affrontery of his associate): To the contrary, my good man -- there can be no doubt of the fact that my good mother is as Royalist as they come!

Sam: Alas, ‘tis contrary to that which I have heard tell… must we then resolve the matter with fisticuffs?

Joe: Nay, Sir! My mother’s honor hath been besmirched! This is a matter quite beyond mere pugilism! We shall duel! And I shall attain satisfaction!

Sam: Then a duel it is!(Both gentlemen produce pistols. They separate in opposing directions ten full paces. They turn. They fire. Joe is hit. Joe falls to the ground.)

Joe: My friend, ‘twould appear that you have undone me quite!

Sam: Alas, ‘twould appear as you say. (The bus arrives. Joe remains on the ground until the play’s conclusion.)

Sam: What ho! The bus is come! (Looking down at Joe) Good day to you, Sir!

Joe: And to you, Sir!

(Exit bus, Sam thereupon.)

Joe: My poor skills as a duelist give poor justice to my love of my sainted mother’s honor. Therefore, I die not of a bullet's insult to my person but rather of shame.

(Dies. An hour passes. Another bus comes. Sam returns, thereupon. Seeing Joe, lying dead, Sam kneels and reaches into his coat pocket. He withdraws, from Joe’s pocket, a picture of the English monarch. He turns over the picture and regards the back with gravity.)

Sam (reading): My beloved Son, Joseph, I beseech you to carry around on your person this picture of our Queen. Know that my love for you is second only to my love for Crown and Country! Your doting mother, Adelaide.

(pauses before speaking, again)

Here lies a most noble man whom I am honored to have called my friend. And although I have done an honor by the Queen in defending her sovereignty in the face of his mother’s rumoured Republicanism, the particularities of the deed now reveal themselves to have been other than I and my associates had, in all good conscience, imagined. (Places the picture in the pocket of his own overcoat) Rest now, noble Englishman. From this moment forward, I shall speak of your mother as a faithful subject of Her Majesty, Queen Victoria! God Save the Queen!

(Fade to black)

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Short, Silly Piece of Anachronistic, Quasi-Victorian Drama about Cheese


Sam – A Top-Hatted, Caped Gentleman with Mutton-chop whiskers
Joe – Another Top-Hatted, Caped Gentleman with Mutton-chop whiskers

A Bus Stop

Sam: Good morrow to you, Joe!

Joe: Good morrow to you, Sam!

Sam: I say, Joe, have you any cheese?

Joe: Alas, I have no cheese of which either to speak or to eat, Sam! Have you?

Sam: As Dame Fortuna would have it, I have. Would you care for some, Dear Fellow?

Joe: In truth, Excellent Sir, I would!

Sam: Here you go then, Joe. Some cheese. I bid you have at it!

Joe: As concerns cheese, you, Sir, are a gentleman gourmand, friend Sam!

Sam: And you, friend Joe, are the picture of an honored member of the gentry class!

(They eat)

Joe: Oh, I do so love cheese, Sam!

Sam: Oh, so, too, do I so love cheese, Joe!

Joe (playfully with a wink to Sam): I should think I love cheese a sight more than do you, Sam...

Sam (visibly taken aback at the affrontery of his associate): To the contrary, my good man -- there can be no doubt of the fact that it is I, rather than you, who does love cheese the more!

Joe: Why then, we must resort to fisticuffs to resolve the matter.

Sam: Quite right, Old Chap! Come to fisticuffs, it must!

(They fight. Sam punches Joe in the eye. Joe falls to the ground.)

Joe: You have smitten me in the eye, and I am fallen. In troth, you love cheese more than I.

Sam: It is as I have said.

(The bus arrives. Joe remains on the ground until the play’s conclusion.)

Sam: What ho! The bus is come! (Looking down at Joe) Good day to you, Sir!

Joe: And to you, Sir!

(Exit bus, Sam thereupon.)

Joe: My poor pugilistic skills give poor justice to my love for cheese. Therefore, I die of shame.

(Dies. An hour passes. Another bus comes. Sam returns, thereupon. Seeing Joe, lying dead, Sam kneels and reaches into his coat pocket. He withdraws, from Joe’s pocket, a large, magnificent piece of cheese.)

Sam: My friend, who has died, has told me he had no cheese when, indeed, he had, secreted upon his person, as fine a morsel of cheese as eye has ever beheld. In purposefully keeping me, his eldest and most trusted friend, in ignorance of this sublime possession, he has shown that, though some, such as I, may claim an equal love to his of cheese, man has not lived who loves it more.

(Fade to black)

A Rather Crassly Related Interchange about Bacon

Alright, so it's in the mornin and since I live so close to my job I'm walkin over to work, and I go down this one street -- you know, over by the firehouse, there -- and there's these two guys standin there in fronta this van. Not by the firehouse... what am I sayin... over by the -- you know... Jimmy, what am I thinkin of? Yeah, that's it, the deli they got there. What's the name-a that street. You don't know... it'll come to me. It's that street ova there cross from the deli. Where Frank useda live. You know, Frank, with the hair? Yeah, him. Had the Impala with the ding on it. Yeah, Jimmy, I got CRS -- Can't Remember Shit -- don't quitcher day job. Anyway, these guys're contractors or sompin. Plumbers, maybe -- I don't know. It don't matter. One these fellas is leanin on the van -- oh, and now I remember what it says on the van. Itsa white van that says in big red letters: "Ralph's Electrical Contractors and Associates." And a-soc-iates, it says, like it's some big whup commercial deal, you know, like whaddayacallit -- a conglomerate or whatnot. Whatever. Ya gonna let me finish my story, Jimmy?
So one of 'em is pacin' back and forth inna street gesticulatin' vociferously. I get a little closer an I see he's got a samwitch in his hand, an he's goin on about it
"I paid way too much f'this fuckin samwitch!" He says, shoutin like. The other guy's against the van. He's nodding at him.
"How much ya pay?" says the other guy -- you know, the nodding guy.
"Fie Dollars! F'r a fuckin BLT! Can't fuckin believe it! Those guys in that deli over there! Samwitch ain't even got any meat in it!"
So the other guy, the guy who's leaning up against the van, he don't say nothin.
So I'm saying to myself Jesus whatta coupla morons we got here. And you know me. I can't keep my mouth shut around the ignorant, so I calls over to 'em. I says, "Ya know, pardon my juxtaposition, here, but they got bacon inna BLT and that's meat, right?"
They look over at me, and they're friendly enough guys. Stupid, but nice enough, you know. The guy with the samwitch goes -- get this! -- he goes, lookin from me down at the samwitch he's got in his hand, like it's the first time he sees it an he's surprised it's there, like an alien put it there when he wasn't lookin or sompin, he goes, lemme see if I can do the voice: "Hey, yeah, bacon is meat, ain't it!"
Leanin guy just nods like he's listenin ta fuckin Socrates or some shit.
"I guess that's why they charged me fie dollars. Got the bacon in there! Thanks, pal!" Samwitch says.
"Forget about it," I says and continue on to my place of employment.
I'm about to the end of the block and I hear the guy say to the other guy, "Still ain't worth no fuckin fie dollars, I don't care if they put the whole cow in there."

Chestnut. That's the name of the street! See, I knew it'd come to me.

Friday, February 12, 2010


The guy who rents the house across the street washes his car every day. Sometimes, he washes it more than once. And periodically, throughout the day, he will come out with a rag and a spray bottle to wipe away some invisible speck or blemish or to do just a little more polishing. I know, because I work from home, and I see him out there when I’m sitting at my desk in the study.

He parks on the street, rather than in the driveway, even though he risks receiving a ticket from the city ordinances. Trees, you see, hang over the driveway. And trees, of course, have pollen. And pollen, well, pollen would fall on the car, and then he’d have to come out, immediately, to wash the car.

I wonder how much difference it would make for him to park in the driveway. As I say, he washes his car every day, regardless. The pollen wouldn’t be on his car for very long.

I went outside to talk with him, one day. I told him he could call me Marty, and he told me I could call him Jim. We went through the usual introductory topics. The talking was easy, and Jim was good at it.

He told me he used to be in marketing. Everyone around him was being laid-off, so he quit the big company and now mainly did consulting. He and his wife had separated. She was still living in Westchester because she had gotten the house. Things were amicable between them. They still talked on the phone. They had gotten married too young, he said. But they were still good friends.

He had two daughters, Lauren and Amanda, and they both went to college in New Jersey. He was going to visit them that afternoon, as a matter of fact, once he got done with some other stuff he had to do.

I told him this and that about me, and about my job, and about my family.

"You happy, Marty?" he said.

I thought for a moment or two. "Yeah, Jim. I think I’m pretty happy. You?"

"Not really," he said. He leaned over to pick a pine needle out from between the windshield wipers. "But you gotta keep your perspective on things."

We talked some more, and then I went back inside. It started to rain, and the drops were loud against the roof.

Later that night, when I was done with my work and my wife had come home, and the kids had all been put to bed, I looked out of the window in my study, again.

Jim’s car was still there. I wondered if he was going to New Jersey or if he had changed his mind because it was too late.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Two Dudes and a Hole

My friend was showing me a large hole in his front yard.

“What's that from?” I said.

“I found it this morning,” he said.

“Oh yeah? How deep do you think it goes?” I said.

“Couldn't tell you,” he said.

My friend wanted to fill the hole, but he didn't want to dig another hole in his yard to do it. We looked around and decided to use some compost from a large, unused heap they had in the lot next door.

"Those people've been gone for months," he said.

"Waste not, want not," I said.

We spent a couple of hours going back and forth with wheelbarrows full of compost that we'd shovel down into the hole.

Finally, the hole was filled, and the ground around it was no longer depressed.

I saw my friend in the grocery store about a month later.

“How’s your hole?” I said.

“What the hell kind of question is that?” he said.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


A Japanese zen master came to the college and delivered a lecture as part of a series on spirituality and the modern world. A large crowd was in attendance. The master brought a younger monk with him, and the two men stood together on the stage. Although the master was more or less fluent in English, he used the younger monk, an American, to translate for him at certain points as he spoke.

The lecture covered a wide range of topics having to do with practicing the teachings of the Buddha in a post-industrial world wrought with stress, confusion, and moral ambiguity. He made the point that these sorts of difficulties had always been present, and that every society had had to learn how to exist with them. He reminded the audience that the Buddha had become enlightened when he realized that life was suffering. He also told them that enlightenment was not an escape from the harshness of the world.

"Just because you have reached enlightenment," he said, "doesn’t mean that you no longer suffer. Just because you have reached enlightenment, doesn’t mean you are freed from the demands of work.

"Always remember: Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment: chop wood, carry water."

After about an hour, the lecture ended, and the younger monk came to the podium and announced that the master would now entertain questions.

There followed the usual awkward rustling while members of the audience formulated their questions. This awkwardness was augmented considerably when the zen master sat down, took a cigar out of the pocket of his robe, lit it, and began to smoke.

No one knew what to do. There was much uncomfortable murmuring. Eventually, someone stood and approached the audience microphone.

"If the Buddha saw you smoking that cigar," the audience member asked, the contempt obvious in her voice, "do you think he would approve?"

"Absolutely not," replied the master. He paused and looked out into the tense auditorium for a moment or two.

"It is a good thing," he continued, "that he does not appear to be with us, this evening."

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Walking Man

In the old neighborhood, I would see The Walking Man pass by my window, either on his way to the grocery store or on his way back. When he was walking to the grocery store, he would carry immense plastic bags full of cans, plastics, and other recyclable materials. When he was walking back from the grocery store, he would carry equally immense plastic bags full of junk food. But he didn’t simply walk to the grocery store. During the years I lived in that neighborhood and drove through it, I saw him everywhere. Walking.

Many were the occasions I would see him first at one end of the neighborhood and then, miraculously, at the other end of the neighborhood. Somehow, in direct disobedience to the laws of thermodynamics, he had managed to cover a greater distance in a shorter time, walking, than I could cover driving in my car.

I could never figure out how he managed to do that, but that he could and did made perfect sense to me all the same.

And as he walked, he talked. Continually. Except when he saw that I had seen him. Then, he would stop talking. Even when I pretended to be out of sight because I wanted to see if he would start up again. Regardless of any other judgments I had made about The Walking Man, I knew that he was not a man to be fooled. The only time, in fact, that I would ever hear him talk in his presumably continuous manner was when I was caught off guard. Sitting near an open window in my living room. Turning off the lawn mower to move a rock out of the way.

Most often, he talked about a party they were going to have. And whether or not the weather would allow them to have a barbecue. I would wonder who "they" were and where this party and/or possible barbecue might be. I envisioned twenty or so people just like The Walking Man standing in a nearby, yet just hidden, backyard eating hotdogs and drinking beer. And talking.

Two years ago, when we moved out of our old neighborhood, I never thought I would see the Walking Man, again. One day, however, as I was coming out of the new house to pick up the Penny Saver, I saw him coming toward me on the sidewalk. When he passed by, he looked at me and said, "There you are."

The phrase was buried in the same constant narrative about parties and barbecues, but the incorporation of the phrase had caused the narrative to become altered in the most subtle of ways.

Although I was fairly certain that the phrase was more a repetition of someone else’s words than a personal connection upon seeing me there, I nevertheless allowed myself to imagine that I had become a newly arrived stock character in the realm of his words.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

TV Haiku

I write artless TV haiku of questionable poetic value. So can you! Here’s how!

(By the way, you have my wacky and inspirational colleague Mike to blame for this post, because he insisted I share this nonsense. Somewhere to the right of this entry, I've posted a link to Mike's blog, Dancing in the Kali Yuga, for those who want to check out his stuff.)

Two Rules to Follow for Composing TV Haiku -- (soon to be a timeless and revered genre!):

1. All TV haiku must, in some way or another, explicitly or implicitly, praise TV. Note: TV haiku may also praise nature, as per conventional haiku, but praise of TV must come first.

2. There must be 17 syllables arranged in three lines of 5-7-5. Within these parameters, however, anything goes. You could just write a sentence with 17 syllables about how great TV is, arrange them in bits of 5-7-5, and it would be, I’m sure, a mighty fine TV haiku!

For example: "TV's so wonderful that I'll write a(n) haiku about it, right now!"

Put it in 5-7-5, you get:

TV's so wonder-
Ful that I'll write a(n) haiku
About it, right now!
(Oh, and make sure you "center" it, because everyone knows that just makes it look more like good poetry -- all ooh-ahh mystical and whatnot!)
Easy, right? Now, here are eleven more of the durned things I wrote, just tonight! While watching TV!
They will say to you:
"Don’t watch TV – go outside!"
Such poor parenting...

Oracle for all
Box of inspired wisdom
Give to us our dreams

Noble TV set
Always, you give of yourself
Expecting nothing

People! Free your minds
From the tyranny of thought!
Sit! Bask in the glow...

The TV’s the thing
Wherein I’ll catch the conscience
Of – what? ...Oh, who cares...

"Which do you love more?"
She asked, "Me or the TV?"
"Peace," I said. "Alf’s on."

Give me liberty
Or give me – hold on... scratch that.
Give me a TV.

The idiot box
Makes being an idiot
A fine vocation

The greatest sage says,
"All things in moderation.
Except for TV."

Get inside! Right now!
Sit down, turn that TV on,
And shut the hell up!

Tribal fire? Doused!
Village elders speak no more.
TV, instead! Yay!
Here's an older one, but perhaps my favorite:

TVs in a field.
Overhead, ducks fly by. They
Turn their heads to watch.
If you want to see some stuffier stuff, look a few entries down where I wrote some sonnets on the Seven Deadly Sins...

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Ice on Mars

I'm ordering a pizza, and I’m waiting for it at the bar next door. For me, it takes about a beer for the pizza to be ready. Sometimes, it takes two.

The only other person in the bar besides me is the bartender. He serves me my beer, and we watch the TV. There’s a news story on about how they found ice on Mars. There's pictures one of those rover things sent back. There's red clay in the pictures along with some patches of white stuff.

About half-way through the story, a guy comes in. Scrawny arms, shabby clothes, long beard, raggedy baseball cap. His walk says he’s already had a few. He has a sneer on his face, as though he's above everything despite himself. For all I know, he could be a millionaire. One of those weirdo millionaires that hoard all their money and walk around looking like homeless people. Like Howard Hughes or some shit.

"Would you look at that!" says the bartender, pointing at the TV. "They found ice on Mars! Absolutely amazing!" He looks at the guy. "Sir! What can I get for you?"
"Gin and Tonic, if you don’t mind," says the guy.
"You got it."
The bartender gets the guy his drink. He pays and takes a sip or two.
"There’s no ice on Mars," he says.
"Yeah, well," says the bartender, "that sure looks like ice, to me!"
"It's not ice," says the guy. "Trust me. I’m from there."
"You're from where? Mars?" says the bartender.
"Yeah," says the guy.
The bartender throws me a look. I’m supposed to say something, so I do:
"What’s it like up there? On Mars, I mean."
"About like you'd expect," says the guy.
"Mmm," I say.
"Okay," says the bartender, "let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that you really are from Mars. How’d you get here?"
"To Baldwin?" says the guy.
"To Earth," says the bartender.
"The usual way," says the guy.
"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph," says the bartender. "You know, I had a guy in here, once, said he was from the North Pole. Said he worked for Santa Claus. Said he was here visiting family in the off-season. So now I got you in here telling me you're a Martian. Fine, you're a Martian. Whatever you want. Only thing I give a rat's ass about is that you pay your bill."

With this, the bartender goes to the back of the bar to get something or other. I’ve paid already for my drink, and now it’s time to get the pizza. Before I leave, I turn to the guy.

"If that white stuff in the picture isn't ice, what is it?" I say.
"Oh, that's ice, alright," says the guy. "Got more of it up there than they know what to do with."

He takes another sip of his Gin and Tonic. "I just like to bullshit."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

It Never Ends

My wife’s old high school in Queens is right next to a water treatment facility. Whenever we drive out there to visit her mother, we pass the high school and the water treatment facility and have to endure the cloying smell of sewage. According to my odometer, the smell hits about a tenth of a mile before, and lasts for about a third of a mile after, we pass these buildings.

Nearly every time we get to this part of the trip, I turn to my wife and say, “Gee, Honey... maybe you oughta go a little easy on the chili, next time, huh?” After eight years of visiting my mother-in-law, my wife no longer hears me.

She tells me it never smelled like this when she was going to school. They didn’t have the water treatment facility, then, she says. Maybe it’s not the water treatment facility, I say. I hear the educational system has deteriorated in the past couple of decades. Maybe it’s the high school that stinks.

I take a moment to swerve intentionally close to a high school student with a ‘tude who has decided to swagger onto the street and directly toward my car's on-coming path. I want to give him a little scare. A breath closer, and I would have nicked him. Naturally, he gives no outward indication whether I have actually scared him. Pride dictates otherwise. In any case, I have missed my wife’s response, if there is one, to my witty suggestion that perhaps it is the educational facility that smells rather than the sewage plant.

Of course, the school is closer to Far Rockaway than to where my mother-in-law lives. She’s over in a nice, generally pleasant-smelling little beach community in Belle Harbor. When the weather permits, my wife and I will park and walk up and down the boardwalk enjoying the sea air. We get a kick out of people-watching, as well. There are all kinds along the boardwalk. Old people, young people. In-between age people such as my wife and I.

Go back a few years. My wife’s grandmother, Irene, is still alive, living with my wife’s mother in the apartment, and all four of us are strolling along the oceanfront. An old man wearing a bowling shirt and porkpie hat approaches us and makes an overture to Irene.

He doffs his hat, he bows forward a little, he raises his furry white eyebrows, and he says, “Hiya Beautiful! Are you goin’ my way, or am I goin’ yours?”

Never in all the ages of chivalry has man been ignored by woman more brilliantly than this man is ignored by my wife’s grandmother. Now this, I think to myself, this is a woman who knows how to ignore a man!

A half hour or so later, Irene turns to my wife and takes her gently by the arm. The two women walk together in this way, for a while, arm in arm, sharing a slight, knowing smile. Irene says to my wife, “It never ends, Dear.”

“No, Grandma,” I hear my wife reply, “it never does.”

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sonnets on the Seven Deadly Sins

Around the beginning of Lent, I wrote a Shakespearian sonnet cycle on the Seven Deadly Sins. I was feeling pompous and puritanical and began hallucinating that I was an Elizabethan. Writing the sonnets got it out of my system.

I. Gluttony

I mourn the age when Gluttony was young–
Synonymous in valor and in arts –
And never ending even when the tongue
Falls deadened and the stomach, filling, starts
To beg for moderation. Appetite
Was paradoxical as genius, spent.
‘Twas all-consuming, joyous, and contrite
In nothing – mad, and all exuberant
To-ward its own annihilation. How
We did excel in ravenous decay,
Creative, past what temp'rance could allow!
A suicidal bloating marked the way
To greatness. Now, though artifice is dulled,
In private heart, few wish it full annulled.

II. Lust

Desire is a thing that loathes an end
And dies upon achieving what it seeks.
Desire’s not quite foe and never friend,
And, through it, lustful excess loudly speaks.
With Lechery, prodigious love is reckoned;
In Compulsion, weakened souls are driven:
Love for others, first – for God comes second.
Blind devotion to our passion’s given
And we fall, addicted to the thought –
Impure. In fornication, incest, rape,
And rank obsessions, heedless ones are caught
And walk in Dante’s flames through which they gape
Unpenitent of their transgressions, all.
The truth in Lust lasts only to enthrall.

III. Greed

A hearty sin of excess we call Greed.
Aquinas writes that avarice will hoard
Temporal things which into wealth may lead
Condemning things eternal, ever stored
In Heaven. Greed may come in many forms
In service to the constant urge to gain.
It drowns the soul beneath the righteous storms
That seek with holy rage to bleach its stain.
Materiality’s the only goal
That Constant Greed can recognize in full.
Yet no abiding fullness fills the hole –
It deepens all the more, insatiable.
There’s quite a loyal rigor that attends
The work of Greed that with addiction blends.

IV. Sloth

Sloth, the saddest of the sins, has changed
And changes still. At first was named Despair,
Then Apathy, then Discontent. It ranged
And ranges still in restlessness and care
Of anxious thoughts and ever failing faith.
It is a lack, a paucity, of Love –
The Middle Sin, per Dante, and the pathos
Of the undecided mind. And of
This vice – indifference, laziness, now named –
It’s said to cause our love for God to fail
Through our own apathy. Omission’s blamed,
As opposite to virtuous travail.
Insidious for wanting of the fact
Of action: sinful deed without an act.

V. Wrath

Beyond all right, Wrath seeks perverted law.
Beyond all love of law, Wrath seeks to right
The wrong which Mind Subjective turns to. Raw,
And fetishized, and bathed in famished light,
The object loved by Wrath is great, indeed
Because it overpowers (with the rage
Of vengeance born like fertile bursting seed)
The one who would impatient truth engage
Toward its obliteration. Suicide –
With Wrath directed toward the self – designs
Its own destruction inwardly. Abiding
Self-transgression, Wrath, as spite, maligns
The sweetened justice it forever seeks...
Regression drives the tongue through which it speaks.

VI. Envy

Envy can’t abide another’s good,
Resents that others have what it has not,
And wishes fervently for ill which would
Deprive them of it. Envy’s petty lot
Resembles Greed with want it cannot sate,
But Greed consumes material alone
While Envy soaks whate’er it lacks in hate
And chews the prosperous body to the bone
With all adverse effect non-various:
Envy wounds itself with wishing will.
Its gains are naught but hurt, precarious
That keeps it barely balanced, loud and still
Between exquisite loathing and the drive
To fuel its rage toward those which, heedless, thrive.

VII. Pride

Most deadly of the seven sins is Pride
And from it, ultimately, rise the rest.
Remember how the Spirit Proud decried
The Lord, and his dominion did contest?
His competition with the God of All
(Though really not a competition, true)
Resulted in his own eternal fall
To Hell wherein the other evils grew
As demons utterly apart from God.
Though nothing on this scale occurs with us,
We nonetheless beneath our slabs have trod
The more to gain humility. The truss
Of our own greatness binds us fast and sure
And vanity contaminates the pure.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


As a youth, I went to Illinois with my family to visit my paternal grandparents. It was the beginning of Summer, and we drove all the way from Albany (New York) to Dixon. This was before the age of children's carseats and airbags. We didn't wear seatbelts, either. This was an era when competitive people played Lawn Darts and people without personal boundaries played Twister. We played neither of these games when we got to Dixon. We are not a game-playing family.

In those days, at a small family reunion of the sort I am recounting, you might have been served fondue. We may very well have eaten some fondue, but I don't remember for sure.

While we're on the topic of food, I should tell you that my grandfather owned an ice cream factory. He did a decent business, most of the time. Although he was always a wealthy man, there were times when he was more wealthy and times when he was less wealthy. He liked to buy Cadillacs. He paid for them in cash.

My grandfather's interests were what people today might call multi-disciplinary. In his living room, in front of the baby grand piano, each upon its own pedestal, were a dictionary, a bible, and a tickertape machine.

My grandmother was a patient woman. She gave children piano lessons at the house. Once, a child became enthralled by the chattering of the tickertape machine and knocked it over. My grandmother decided to leave the machine, now broken and silent, upon the floor.

On this particular visit, I came into the living room one day and noticed my grandfather lying in his recliner. He was barely awake. In front of him were two television sets, both on, both full volume, both tuned to different channels.

"Grandpa," I asked, "why are you watching two tv's at once?"

"I've got two eyes, don't I?" he said.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Welcome to the Whitman Creative Studies Program!

Greetings, folks!

Welcome to the Spring 2010 class of the Whitman Creative Studies Program, Core Version!
I look forward to meeting all of you on the 20th! I look forward to guiding you in your development as creative individuals -- and particularly in your development as creative writers. I always have a blast teaching this class, and I get a real kick out of seeing what the students do and how they learn to express themselves.

Do keep in mind, however, that both Mike and I will require quite a bit of work from you. But, it is interesting work; it is work of a sort that, perhaps, you have never before done. This in mind, let me give you one bit of advice as you enter what promises to be an interesting academic, artistic, philosophical and, above all else, creative, journey: Do your work, and do not be afraid to do new things! If you follow this advice, you will succeed beyond your wildest dreams and have just a by golly hoot of a time while doing so!

(...and, of course, it goes without saying that if you don't do the work, we'll fail you in a heartbeat...)

See you soon!

Damian Hey, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of English
Molloy College