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