Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Songs When They Suck

Every year, the Christmas season teases me with its contradictions. I can see why non-participants in the cultural tradition feel put upon by this formidable phenomenon. I still enjoy the season but have altered my view of it greatly.

Like I’ve said, the contradictions cause bafflement. How does the birth of a Messiah blend with a comic book character who delivers presents to children blend with a massive economic dynamo? Yikes!

I’ll focus my ruminations on the music of the season. I’ve spent the last six weeks force fed largely commercial Christmas music at work. At home I listen to better fare. I’m ready to throw a few punches.

Bruce Springsteen sings “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Okay, we know Santa is a jolly old elf, but the song comes across as badgering if not threatening. Creepy even: “He knows when you are sleeping, he know when you’re awake / he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake.” Right there, we see the use of duality in its most restrictive and legislative. Eff that, frankly.

Bruce is being ironic, of course: he’s allowing himself silly time in concert. There’s the cheesy repartee with his band at the beginning, the Boss as boss chiding his band. Then Bruce and the crisply functional band start in one the song per se. It’s like those radio ads wherein a singer with chops attempts to put some soul into the used car emporium’s jingle. Bruce cannot help turning on the Sincerity Machine, singing in his usual loud overdrive to succour a sense of serious meaning. It’s a crap song, however, and doesn’t deserve the effort.

That’s sort of the point of commercial Christmas songs. Take some drippy old song or hatch a new one, in both cases being sure to throw patented style over it. Elvis sings the egregious “Blue Christmas” as a satire of himself . The Beachboys do “Little St. Nick” as just another hot rod song, a genre they pretty much invented and wore out. The song has the objectively silly line: “Christmas comes this time each year.” They do not pretend to mean anything. Why should they?

For some reason, I’m okay with “Jingle Bell Rock”. It twines with personal memory. I remember it from Christmases when I was young. I don’t so much like it as respect its position in my memory.

Gene Autry gave us “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, a fun song for children to sing. It adds a confusing twist to the legend of eight reindeer that I believe Clement Moore invented. Sometimes Rudolph’s there, sometimes not. Rudolph is ostracized and bullied, an odd darkenss brought to a spritely song. Rudolph’s abnormality redeems him, but why does Santa allow a bunch of assholes to pick on Rudolph? Only if Rudolph can deliver is he deemed worthy. Eff that, too.

Autry also gave us “Here Comes Santa Claus”. The idea of Santa Claus Lane, down which Santa comes, is too precious for me. It sounds downright stupid when Elvis sings it. The idea of good children and bad is disturbing. Children explore their world, make mistakes. The things they do wrong are feelers into the world. With their disobedience and mistakes, they learn boundaries. This and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” side with lockstep. Is that what Christmas is about?

A bunch of songs aren’t Christmas songs at all, but fill the Christmas landscape. “Jingle Bells” is bouncy fun to sing, especially for children. It provides a Currier & Ives picture of what one might do on Christmas, just as Bing Crosby dreams about a white Christmas. Northwest of Boston, I’ve seen white Christmases, brown ones, warm ones, torrential ones. Must be half the country would be surprised by a white Christmas, and portions have tropical ones. That charity song, “Feed the World” laments that there won’t be snow in Africa this year. As if Currier & Ives patented Christmas.

“Winter Wonderland” and “Sleighride” both continue with the snowy picture. Many fatuously clever versions exist of both tunes. That sort of enforced innovation mostly comes across as smarmy. Leave the songs alone.

The “true” Christmas songs, the carols one might sing in church, most often seem best when sung straight. No need to add a lot of style to “Hark the Herald” or “Silent Night”. These songs have their mojo. “Deck the Halls” and “The Twelve Days of Christmas” seem perfect, strange, fun to sing.

The movie “Meet me in St. Louis” gave us “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. In the movie, Margaret O’Brien as the little child in the family has a histrionic tantrum when confronted with the idea of the family moving. She lops the heads off of the snowmen in the backyard. To comfort her, Judy Garland sings this song. It is full of the sadness of separation, made more piquant at holiday time. It bares a fear many have, of loneliness and isolation when everyone else is happy in family embrace.

Andy Williams sings “Happy Holidays", a jaunty description of Santa’s visit. It has a jazz-like swing to it. By jazz-like I mean barely like jazz at all unless you’re an old fart. and I suppose the lyrics owe something to bebop. I mean, “whoop-de-doo and dickory dock / and don’t forget to hang up your sock.” With Andy’s mellow voice, it comes across as strained, however. It means to mean but cannot possibly mean what it means, if you know what I mean.

“The Twelve Days of Christmas” is another fun song for groups to sing. The imagery beguiles even if you don’t know what lords a-leaping might entail. I read where each verse relates symbolically to the Christ story. I don’t recall the explanations nor know if there is some scholarship behind the assertion. Obviously something exists in that vivid gallimaufry.

The song has often been played with. In one version, the gifts are transformed into composers, so that the verse with Beethoven is followed by the familiar notes of his 5th symphony. And so on. An atrocious version transforms the song into “What I Hate About Christmas”. Each verse carries a complaint acted out in a variety of voices: The bills!!! The lights don’t work!!! Somehow, a number of the complainers sound like stock Jewish characters merely sans “oy vey.”

And that gets me to wonder at the pronounced agitation of the season. For two months and more, the commercial program churns to deliver Christmas to the consumer. And we are, apparently, lifeless to resist.

Beth and I make it a point to get to the mall during the Christmas season, tho we go with no intention to buy. We just walk thru and look at things, see the machine in action. Oh boy, Sweatshop Apple will take 10% off some of their less popular items!

Christmas becomes a set piece with everyone carrying a list of musts to observe: must make cookies, must buy gift for Uncle Tim, must attend office party, must see the Nutcracker or The Messiah. The urge is to live in “Silver Bells” or “The Happiest Season of them All”. Paul McCartney wrote the characteristic but lame “Simply Having A Wonderful Day”. It is all inculcation, albeit mindlessly performed.

Christmas churns up deep-seated results. Like I said, “Jingle Bell Rock” still affects me. I react not to its musicality, which is kinda blech, but to how it instigates some competitive memories in shivering child time. At the core is a child’s wonder at the world. This wonder is ecumenical and should not be lent to any one side. The bullying thrust of Christmas Incorporated paves over the keener dynamic that we should be sharing. That dynamic shines forth in much of the music, tho not in most of the crap that I have mentioned here. The lesson, finally, I suppose, belongs in discovering what Merry means. It sounds so very nice.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Thanks to Charles Olson, or Why I Read History

Charles Olson caught my attention on two fronts when I was a young, apple-cheeked writer trying to figure out poetry. One, as a writer doing things with language that I at first resisted but found myself drawn to: disjunction, foreign language, and a primrose of a narrative that rejected straight lines. Two, the immediacy of history, even in its smallest elements. With Olson, they certainly could be pretty small.

Prowling amidst Olson’s work, and that of those affected by him, decidedly helped me into a writing sensibility that I could work with. The sense of history’s immediacy gave me some power to feel contrite, and empathetic. That is, history became a common all, a touchstone by which.

That lesson from Olson about history comes to mind now, with two books. I am reading Battle Cry of Freedom, by James McPherson. During the time up to this past election—Obama vs. Mitt for all the marbles—I read Truman by David McCullough. Both books seem to bear on contemporary events.

As a president, even as a candidate, Truman seems unlikely. He didn’t go to college, which nowadays would be an impossibility. Even a knucklehead like G. W. Bush “went to college”. Truman was simply a farmer thru the first part of his life.

WWI gave him an opportunity to establish his leadership skills. He became captain of an artillery unit, with a good dose of unlikelihood. His practical skills and his ability to get along with people helped him succeed. After the war, his haberdashery was successful enough until the depression took the bottom out. He was not a stumblebum, as some have claimed: the circs were bad.

He was social. He joined the Masons, that network, and otherwise stayed connected to people. He kept in touch with the men who served with him in the war. The father and uncle of a long time friend ran the Democratic machine in Missouri. Truman became Judge then Senator as part of that machine by being reliable. He earnestly went about that business. Missouri was a completely Democratic state then, tho there were factions. He managed to cross factions.

Truman was never anyone’s first choice. Others had failings of one sort or another, and there was unsullied Truman. The same happened when he became Vice President. All the sparkling choices either cancelled themselves out or revealed stridencies that spoiled their venture. Even running for president, Truman was a second choice.

I’m getting wordy here. Truman had practical accomplishments, not designated ones like a plum degree or some shifty exploit in the business world. Specifically, he wasn’t some buffed up myrmidon for Silver Spoon Inc.

Truman had the aroma of racism and anti-Semitism, the product of the era. Yet Truman was, to use a Masonic term, square. He was the first president to press for civil rights, for instance. Given the racist air of the past few years—bestirred by Barack Obama’s presence on the national scene—it shouldn’t amaze that Truman pushed for anti-lynching laws. I mean that lynching could have somehow survived in a culture that legislates against, you know, murder. Yet we know that defenses for racism are silently on a lot of lips.

Truman supported the creation of a Jewish state, against considerable contention. I felt a real sense that expediency was not his central motive. He had this firm sense of what’s right, not the wavering declarations of a candidate who fine tunes the talking points to the specific stupid audience.

Reading this book, I saw how many issues have changed little. I also see how efflorescent dickheads have commandeered the machine. Poll-reading jellyfish (not to insult jellyfish) pretend to stand up straight. Mitt Romney was only an oppositional concept, not a real candidate (McCain was just an opposition). As troubadour for a racist audience, Romney didn’t push where push needs pushing. Imagine Mitt Romney sitting down between Churchill and Stalin one month after being sworn in.

Truman was direct in his language, sincere, and thoughtful. He wasn’t always “right”, that would be a ridiculous expectation. But he was real at what he did, which is an expectation we should have for our political leaders. He had little money when he became president and little when he left, tho a book deal from Life Magazine soon gave him funds. Can any president since say the same?

I have had Battle Cry of Freedom for years now, but only now am reading it. When I first got it, my interest in the Civil War circled around the battles, the drama. McPherson takes his time getting to that. McPherson is a full third of the way into the book before he gets to the attack on Fort Sumter. He provides a detailed rendering of the forces that led to the war. It’s not just state’s right versus anti-slavery, as everyone can realize. It’s many divergent forces, social, political, and stupid, that brings this country to an angry implosion.

The jibber jabber about secession today exhibits zero comprehension of what that might entail. It’s a childish sort of whining by those who think they aren’t getting their way. The slavery issue, which the framers of the Constitution dodged, took a long coming to this head. How could a country exist with a division on this issue? It finally could not.

I recently found myself writing rather “partisan” pieces in the days leading to the election. It was how I dealt with the ghastly urgencies of false language and disrupted empathy, Glenn Beck type assholes with simulated virtues in their mouths. Iniquities spoil our language because it is so difficult to find words that will stand true in the face of war, slavery, anti-Semitism, and such other doors that close on our humanity.

Charles Olson gave me a sense of mission as a writer. Language has been undermined by political underwriters. The necessity, then, is to find ways to write words, and read them, such that meaning isn’t twisted by endeavour. Olson helped me to see this path.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Simple Theories

I got caught up, in the words and machinations of the politic. Immersion and then distinction let me write some poems. The point is not opinion,  but rather the words in the presence. Thus the ongoing, captured here:

 

http://simpletheories.blogspot.com/

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving Report: Controversial, Salacious, and Inviting!!!

The simplicity of Thanksgiving makes it a pleasant holiday. People gather and share food. Certainly the meal can get complicated, it does with us, with many items to prepare, but that’s controllable. In our home, Beth likes to create a big spread of food.

Wednesday, I made bread, as noted here: http://tribute-airy.blogspot.com/2012/11/making-bread.html. Without trying to mirror an insipid Judy Collins song (“I always cook with honey / It sweetens up the night / I always cook with honey / Tell me how’s your appetite”), there’s something keenly appealing about such an old-fashioned act as baking bread.

I rose early on Thanksgiving to bake pies before the turkey went in. We weren’t eating till after 4:00, so I had time. A few years ago, I stumbled on a Martha Stewart recipe for Apple-Blackberry pie. She supplies a recipe for pate brise, which somehow is no different from the recipe for the pecan pie crust that I used. I’ve made Martha’s pie at least three times, probably more, and each time there seems to be a new step that I never saw before. How does that happen?

I punted a bit with the pecan pie; most of the pecans were walnuts. It turned out that we had more pecans but so it goes. Agave syrup replaced corn syrup. I think I forgot to include the dollop of molasses that the recipe asks for.

With the pies done and the turkey in the oven, Beth and I risked going for our almost daily walk in the woods. We go to the same place because we have found the daily changes fascinating. We take at least 100 pictures every visit.

We got back in time to rush thru cleaning the place, and readying the rest of the meal. Our guests were our neighbor and her daughter home from school. They arrived bearing pie and ice cream. In the introductory phase, the daughter mentioned that she works at a brew pub, which stoked my interest. She said to her mother the like of “Oh my god, if you had told me they like beer I would’ve brought a growler!” We had more than enough wine as it was; both the mother and Erin are teetotalers,but still.

And so it went, with an enormous amount of food leftover. What we did not do was rush off to Black Friday celebrations. Thanks but no thanks.

I realize that there’s an adventure element to these midnight store openings, like midnight showings of the newest Harry Potter movie, but the fire of desperation burns hard for the Thanksgiving sales. An awkward feeling of necessity arises.

According to a study by the Wall Street Journal, the discounts of Black Friday aren’t all that great, and often not applied to the cherry items people hope for. Apple’s is in the 10-20% range, which is paltry for the richest company in the universe using sweatshop labour. Well, isn’t it, or must the Apple mystique win out?

Saturday we decided to skip our walk and go to the mall. Not with intention of buying anything, just for our yearly look around. The place was busy but not maxed out. I would imagine all those Black Friday troopers might have taken the day to rest.

I should mench that a decorated Christmas tree, along with window decorations, were seen near us, BEFORE Halloween. That’s part of the desperation that I have noted. And on it goes at the mall.

A Christmas decoration place called A Christmas to Remember—which, for my next movie, I have changed to A Christmas to Dismember (© Bramhall Creative Trust)—looked initially cleaner than previous years. The store exists for two months then disappears till next Christmas. I then noticed stains on the carpet and breakage in an ignored condition. No time to clean up the image, it’s about sales.

The store offers enough tasteful stuff to keep the place honest, but Santa with a gun ornament, Santa in fatigues, these push the limits. If you like to fish, then a fisherman Santa makes sense. Solider Santa doesn’t make sense. Neither does the song “Santa Baby”, a pernicious piece of melodic desuetude if ever.

The place had a cashier, another person who remained behind the counter doing something, and another who wandered around. I could tell what the cashier was doing, she dealt with a line of customers. The others were mysteries to me. Not saying they weren’t doing their job, it just wasn’t evident to me what their job was. Usually you can tell.

Saw Santa trudge down the main corridor to his post in front of the camera. He used a wizard-like staff to walk, bent forward. He wore red rather than the green of previous years. His vest was a light green silk. An entourage went with him, kids and associates, I guess. A woman who may not have been part of the entourage followed, talking on her phone. She looked like Secret Service.

The Apple Store was busy but not crammed. I am developing an aversion to Apple. As much as the iPod seemed nifty, it was surprisingly clunky to use. Maybe that has changed. Likewise iTunes, which I no longer have on my computer. I cannot comment on other hardware because my experience is limited. I just don’t think Apple deserves the sheen it has. With the money it saves with its sweatshops, it can litigate against all comers. Sure would like an iPad, tho.

Saw a woman dressed in black shorts, black top, with heavy black eye makeup. For a suburban mall, that’s pretty extreme. The display of muffin top seemed to be a feature. In the city, the look would not bear noting. Here she seemed like a victim. She scurried back to Bebe, where apparently staff all dress like that, for safety. She looked awkwardly out of her element out in “the real world”. And sorry to even mention this, I don’t like to judge others. I’ve looked in the mirror once or twice.

Nordstrom’s was its busy old self. Beth thunk as how she could use boots, and entered that process. A lot of women’s shoes, in my estimation, belong on the Are You Kidding? shelf. Plastic uppers, for heaven’s sake! Some plastic, some chintz, and you’ve spent $150. Beth hooked up with an associate, or whatever a staff minion is called, who didn’t have a clue how to deal with anyone older than 22. She brought out a completely random selection of items, including slippers which, the canny will note, are not boots.

I tried on a wool coat at Beth’s insistence. Wasting the sales associate’s time, we weren’t going to buy. Some of the softest flannel shirts were displayed, but $125 therefore doesn’t work.

We glanced thru a few more stores. When we left, the temperature had dropped closer to 40 and the wind was plenty lively. The Christmas engine lurched right into 4th gear. I no longer want much to do with it. I mean, I like stuff too, I just don’t want to feel desperate. Is that so wrong?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Making Bread

I'm in the process of making bread, for the Thanksgiving table. I just accomplished the sponge step. The yeast are now busily consuming sugar and converting to CO2. Yes, the secret to bread is yeast farts. But it smells good, tastes good. Not an onerous task, either. I enjoy making bread but don’t do it much nowadays. I should get back to it.

Baking bread for holidays and special occasions rings true. For one, homemade bread is better, period. Two, the making has an almost ceremonial aspect. Lammas Day, which is my birthday, is the day the harvest is consecrated. From the Old English for Loaf Mass. This doesn’t make me a baker, I just note the importance of bread.

In the day, I used to make eight loaves a week, four at a time. This was for Erin, Beth, my father and me. The first loaf would be gone before cooled, still warm from the oven enchantment. It should never count as a loaf, we disappeared it before it existed.

Beth routinely handed out loaves to people like the mailman, or when visiting. A simple gift that people took much pleasure in. Bread is a staple as much as any food.

I’ve baked bread since I was young, single digits even. I used various recipes. I became more serious about it when I got the Tassajara Bread Book. That book, by a baker at a Zen center, expanded on the thoughtfulness of the process. Without over-zenning it, he made each step, and the addition of each ingredient, singular, important, and worthy of consideration.

I have nothing against bread machines. They are convenient. I won’t knock that. I find bread making a pleasure, with many sensual and tactile components. The way the ingredients change within the process stimulates a certain feeling like awe. Why leave that feeling to the machine?

I made many of the recipes in the Tassajara book, tried a lot of different ingredients and flours. The book, in fact, is just about edible, since it was handled many times by dough-covered hands. I even made unyeasted bread, which is something of a practical joke to play on the unwary (including the unwary gut). Unyeasted bread is leaden nourishment at best. At worst it is something to discreetly ignore until the appearance of mold makes it okay to discard the loaf.

I have to admit that I favour plain old white bread, but I like adding other flours (oat, rye, barley (toasted), and rice). I’ve also added things like lecithin and soy protein powder. I don’t even remember why I added lecithin except that it’s good for you. The bread was lovely wit it, I remember.

I had to check the recipe today, since it has been a while since I made bread. Used to be I didn’t need a crib, it was in my head. Anyway, you can’t be too specific in following measurements. The amount of extra flour one might use on a humid day is considerably greater than on a dry day.

I start by adding yeast to warm water. Just to make the yeast happy, I add some form of sugar, like honey or agave. The yeast can get by without it, but I want them to feel inspired.

If you watch, the yeast and water will start to show activity. Nothing violent, but one realizes that cooking is chemistry. I let it bubble for a bit before adding flour. I tend to add the flour by greater quantities than the recipe says, that’s mere impatience. The flour at first clumps up in what seems like intractable clumps, as if it will never mix with the water. Persevere, Pilgrim!

The recipe says stir one hundred times. I dip the spoon down the side and swing it around the bowl’s side. After a few strokes, blending seems possible. You can see the dough becoming more elastic. I count the full 100 strokes, and only a few more. Supposedly you can overdo it, but by the 100th stroke, things look pretty good, and my arm’s tired.

The sponge rises for an hour or so. When squished for time, I’ve gone less, much less. I’ve also gone much longer, when I’ve been distracted. The bread forgives.

There is something here about the creative act. Certainly there is an alchemical transmutation of base element, which perhaps isn’t a nice thing to say about those stalwart yeast cells. Thank you for the bread, Yeast Friends, and the wine and beer!

I’ve skipped steps, forgotten ingredients, over- or underextended rises, and something breadlike has resulted. The rules offer guidance, not stricture.

In cool weather, I’ll turn the oven on for a few seconds and stick the dough to rise there. Turns out that that incandescent bulb in the oven provides a suitable, non-yeast-killing, temperature.

The next step begins hopelessly. You’re supposed to stir in the remaining flour (for 4 loaves, a five pound bag roughly does the job). For me, the dough isn’t stirable so I just scrape the dough onto the counter and dump the remaining flour on. It doesn’t look like it will happen: the inchoate mass cannot possibly become an amalgamated dough. Eventually, by pushing the dough and flour together, using a scraper to push the mass and clean the counter, a bread-like dough replaces the previous glop. Kneading will bring the former glop to dough perfection. Trust me, it will happen. The dough becomes smooth with a silky surface. I have maximized the available gluten.

I ball the mass up, pour oil over it, and let it rise once more. Just like with my joke telling, I forgot to mention a few things I should have added earlier: oil and salt. These are withheld from the sponge so that yeast activity won’t be hindered. I’ve added eggs in my time but I don’t really care for the cakiness that results. I’ve also forgotten to add eggs and oil. Without oil isn’t too noticeable but lack of salt is.

The second rise means I get to punch it down. The whoosh of yeasty gas is pleasant. The dough is easy to work with. I cut it into four equal parts. Shaping the loaf is important otherwise you get a poor rise, or misshapen loaf.

I shape the dough into a loaf. I can’t explain it well but I roll and pull it with my hand so that there is tension at the top. Then I pinch the seam on the underside. I pull and pinch the ends the same way. I place this dough loaf against one side of a bread pan to support it in its final rise. Ayn Rand comes to mind suddenly, but let it pass. With luck I will have remembered to oil the pan before placing the dough in it.

Sometimes I will cut each quarter into thirds, roll them into sausages then braid them to form a loaf. Lardy dardy. It is food first of all. Pass that test then let Martha Stewart take over.

Brush with melted butter or egg wash, sprinkle with salt, wheat germ, or sesame seeds. Or, moat likely, none of the above. Bake. I’m big on underbaking, then cutting a loaf, realizing the fact with a gasp and returning the loaves to the oven. You may want to try patience, instead. The first loaf will soon be gone. The next, the alternate first, will be for dinner. The other two can be frozen, once cooled. Or just leave them out and finish them off tomorrow.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Exciting Visit to the Boston Antiquarian Book Fair

A few weeks ago, we sold some books to a used book seller, Derringer Books. He gave us tickets to the book fair in Boston. Didn’t know of such a thing but it sounded cool. We attended yesterday.

It’s a three day event, much like Anime Boston that Erin goes to every year. And located in the same place, Hynes Convention Center.

We drove in, taking the requisite wrong turns for what should a fairly direct journey. Parking, ugh, the city sinks with its parked cars. We squeezed into the Prudential’s parking hell, with the forecast of formidable cost. But wait, buy 10 dollars worth of stuff at the mall and your parking cost shrinks.

Anyway, we walked into the Hynes, where a long line stood waiting to have books appraised. Passing that, we found that we had to check our coats—for free—to block theft. Just a gesture to make people feel good. At the door there were several official looking people, none of whom asked for our tickets. We immediately discovered Alan of Derringer Books.

As with most of the sellers, he features an eclectic selection, tho he focuses on poetry. He had several books by Jack Gilbert, for instance. Alan had already gathered together what he planned to offer before Gilbert’s death. Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara was on display for around $500 dollars. Maybe I still have my copy, because I like the size of City Lights books, but I may have gotten rid of it when I got the superseding selected poems. And so it goes.

I do not collect books. That is to say, I may well get rid of collections if I find selected or collected editions. Further, I write in books, put coffee cups on them, and otherwise reduce their value as objets. And further furthermore, storage is a concern. I’ve sifted thru my books numerous times to retain what will fit on the shelves. Anyway, I don’t even know if my copy of Lunch Poems is 1st edition or not, which I assume Derringer’s is.

Copies of Fuck You A Journal of the Arts were available. Always thought that was about the best title for a poetry journal.

I once attended a baseball card convention. I stopped getting baseball cards when I was about 11. I liked the information on the card. Supposedly every card was issued in equal numbers. In the sense of rarity, Willie Mays was just as valuable as Eddie Bressoud, but I wasn’t buying that type of logic. I whooped when I got Mays. Eddie Bressoud, at best, was just more stats to pore over.

In the same way, I got excited to see At Swim-Two-Birds, some early hardback edition. I don’t know its value as a collectible. It’s the novel itself that matters. Even signed wouldn’t increase its value to me. Two David McCullough books that I haven’t read yet were available, but signed 1st editions aren’t important to me.

Still, it’s fascinating to see the different cover art of familiar books. There were sellers from other countries (England, Germany, France, Sweden). Myriad editions of Lord the Rings, for instance.

Many dealers offered rarities going to the 15th century, at least. One was the apparently first cookbook, an imposing German book in uncipherable gothic print. Another was a sketchbook of a ship builder with delicate pencil drawings of ships. Nature books of the Audubon ilk. the first facsimile of the Declaration of Independence.

A magnificent book was displayed in a case. It was a large book, and when its pages were unfolded, they were at least 3’ long and more than 1’ tall. On the displayed page was an impressive engraving of a church construction in Rome. It was meant to simply show the work being done—one apart of the building was cut away to reveal the inside of the already constructed part—but the mob of people doing individual things brought to mind Hieronymous Bosch or Dante’s Inferno. As Beth and I clucked over it, the dealer offered to bring it out for inspection but we refused. Just didn’t seem right to handle something so exquisite that we had no intention of buying.

There were maps to overflowing, which delighted both of us. And papers. Beth was impressed by a note written by Lincoln. I was taken by a check for $69 signed by George Herman Ruth.

A tv newsperson and the person who ran the camera interviewed a few of the dealers. I watched that a little, it’s a fatuous process. The reporter somehow looked manufactured as a reporter. She looked crisp, sounded crisp, and of course it is just the same old thing. Earlier, just walking along, I moved into the camera’s line of fire. I thought then that it was just a tourist with a fancy camera, and I apologized. I think he was just getting ambiance shots.

Some of the dealers were crusty dusty old guys, members of a weird little cabal of interest. Others were just dealers in the sense of dealers. There were a few cases where questions could not be posed because the dealer was schmoozing with a likely captive. I don’t suppose the really expensive stuff (6 digits) are actually dealt right there. Alan says that he would like to offer less expensive items but the cost of the booth and a hotel room makes that impossible. It was a fun event tho tiring. It would be nice to go all three days, and not feel obliged to race around. As we left, a guard asked to peek into Beth’s handbag.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Lowell, MA (Redux)

Lowell sits by the banks of the Merrimack and accepts the Concord as tributary. How’s that for a good National Public Radio beginning to a “story”? Lowell is a story, but not entirely a positive one. Lowell is not Detroit, it’s still kickin’, but it seems more and more like a mirage. Welcome to America.

I don’t mean that last sentence as acerbic crassness. I believe Lowell struggles in miniature as this country does. And this country, let us realize, struggles as this world does.

Somehow, in the way these things happen, Lowell became a federal prize. The downtown section is a National Park for its dynamic place in history. Mills, factories, production, early on these helped propel the land into mercantile excitement. The Merrimack, and the canny canals that worked their way to Boston, brought merchandise, and commerce.

That’s just history now. Cheaper southern mills took the energy away, just as cheaper production outside the country stole the southern industry.

What’s left is museums and tourist interest. More driving than that, one sees the school, the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. Most people say UMass Lowell, to differentiate from the campuses at Boston, Amherst and Dartmouth.

Lowell turned into an armpit somewhere along the way. Dragged down and inconsequential. Money is the answer, funneled in thru the school. On the South Campus, a park-like set of trees were swept away so a large building could be planted. A mile and a half away on North Campus sprouts another large expansion. On the other side of the river, a hospital was torn down I think so that a road and new bridge could be built, better access to this now central school area. East Campus has a new building rising too. East Campus sits on the far side of the river from North Campus, about a half mile away. This is mostly student housing, brand new, including a 20-story dorm. Across the street, the Lowell Spinners suffer the baseball gods.

Tuition, Beth and I have firsthand knowledge, has risen at a gallop, every semester. Where university buildings abound, the school has placed banners adverting the readiness of UMass students to face the future. The banners show emphatically normal students, emphatically presentable. Not the weirdos, ditzes, hoodlums, and such, but the earnest percent, the fit ins. What world do they expect to paint in this world?

Jack Kerouac is still legend and legion here, but this was his town only when he wasn’t anywhere. He was on the road when anything happened. Lowell’s where the road stopped. It still stops there. Despair masquerades as hope.

A little waterway, River Meadow Brook, runs past factories and acquires metals. The brook delivers itself to the Concord. Nothing really goes away. The cycle continues.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Confederacy of Dunces

Years ago, I read John Kennedy Toole’s book, despite hesitation. The back story of the book’s publication, that he killed himself and that his mother pushed to get it published, put a pall over that caused me reluctance. Besides that, books orphically called humourous, hilarious, and the like have too often disappointed me.

Somehow, tho, I overcame my prejudice, and found the book much better than expected. I just reread it, for some reason for only the second time.

Ignatius J. Reilly, the protagonist, stands as one of the best-conceived comic characters in books, and maybe anywhere else. He’s a wound up bundle of imposing dictates. He’s gargantuan gross, overbearing, and barely ready for this real world here. He’s so imperious in his weaknesses, astounding in his critical decrees. He lives with his abetting mother in crank symbiosis.

The book goes astray narratively when Reilly starts having sitcom adventures. I mean, predestined and perfunctory occasions of extraordinary setting. His best adventures are with the ordinary. His mother and a helpful police officer are talking while in the next room we hear Ignatius exploding about the fall  of civilization as he watches American Bandstand.  He greedily watches a movie in a theatre so he can criticize everything. He’s in his own little world, but with plenty of peepholes into our opulent decay.

I read about Toole in Wikipedia and, yeah, I know, but it did have citations. Anyway,Toole as presented certainly lived in Reilly. The servile yet oppressive mother comes thru even in Walker Percy’s intro in which he describes how the manuscript came to him. Toole was said to have a sardonic wit like Reilly. Not to push far with that stuff. You see the necessity of the book for Toole.

The book is flawed. A couple of editors weren’t content with what they had and maybe Toole tried to please them. Or he didn’t know how to handle the narrative. The book definitively goes off the tracks whenever Reilly is offstage. Tho Toole writes with a keen sense of dialect, like unto Huckleberry Finn, he’s not energized by his secondary characters.

Reilly gets a job at Levy Pants, where he becomes painstakingly and ridiculously professional. He’s supposed to file correspondence but he throws that away and spends hours making signs and having big ideas. Pushed by his radical ex-girlfriend (of  sorts), he incites the blacks in the factory to riot against the man, which leaves Reilly fired. Next stop, hot dog vendor.

Here he attempts to incite the gay community to join his revolution. They just want to party. These episodes have a certain sardonic vigour but carry the panache of a Jerry Lewis movie. And Reilly, amazingly, gets rather lost in all the bustle. The ending is pretty much deus ex machina times about 20.

Toole wrote one other novel, at age 16, posthumously published, and that, so far as I know, is his oeuvre. Maybe he wasted his energy, like Reilly, I don’t know. The preposterous yet lifelike Reilly character carries the book. Writers treat narrative like melody, an invention while forgetting the naturalness of harmony. Life, not lifelike, and that means letting the character find his/her way, rather than force it to comply.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Boston Marathoon Poetry Reading, and Concord River

This cannot be a report on the reading, since I attended only one day, and missed parts of that. Still, I feel it behooves to give impressions, incomplete, and bisased, as they may be. Thus:

Beth and I arrived in Cambridge just about noon on Saturday. Wait, back up. Drama just printing out what I wanted to read. Four printers combined to not print the recent gems I wanted to read. I planned to read from Simple Theory, but also these recent ones. I took to copying out by hand while Beth and Erin tried to convince the last printer standing that it had a job to do. Printer won, so I had to read my scribble.

Inman Square in Cambridge, found some apparently legal parking within the same time zone as the reading.Somebody in a little park across the street was playing the sousaphone, pure football halftime stuff. Good start.

At the reading site, 186 1/2 Hampshire St, we immediately met Maria Damon, famous for being Maria Damon. We’ve known her thru listservs, met her at previous marathons, and had her to lunch when we published a collab she did with mIEKAL aND. She presented the night before (I worked Friday evening). Saw Joel Sloman, who was very good at the reading two years ago (remembering that I missed last year’s show). It seems like he has attended every local reading that I have attended, plus a whole lot more. How’s that for supporting the local scene.

Hassen came out and greeted us. Since she and I were reading the same day, we arranged to meet. The three of us came to realize that we all met online more than 12 years ago. I met Hassen in person at a subsequent marathon, but not since. She wanted to prep for her presentation, which would be before my set. Beth and I managed to get seats in the back of the room, next to the vexacious bathroom. The venue was basically a large living room.Overflow filled the hallway at the door.

Jim Behrle led off the day’s reading. His writing consists of phrases of wry observation and non sequitur, with cultural clues (“I fell in love with your avatar”). He reads in an offhand way, and of course he’s very funny. His poetry doesn’t seem to change, however.

As I think on it, I hardly want to comment on individual poets. One, I do not absorb well by ear. To be fair to the work, I’d have to read it. Two, I felt notes of a malaise that I do not want to demonize specific people with, at least not publicly. A lot of what I heard sounded like writers pressed into a corner, fulfilling definitions that don’t fit. A poem is this. Of course it is hubris on my part to say this. Bear with me. Or don’t.

I do not know what much of what I heard satisfied. I mean, is this what people want to read and hear? There was an awful lot of narrative, stories even, told in splotchy detail and first person. Reading long works in a monotone doesn’t help. Well, reading short works in a monotone doesn’t help either, but perhaps you get my drift. Maybe reading these longer works myself I would grasp them better, but such works aren’t great choices to read aloud. I make these generalities realizing that exceptions exist. Howl, we all know, works as performance.

Ish Klein presented an exception. She has a high, urgent, child-like voice that takes a moment to get used to. She started at urgent, and ramped it up from there. It was a bewildering and powerful performance. I thanked her afterwards. I got the impression of birdlike frailty but I do not pretend to have an accurate impression.

Hassen did a multimedia presentation, altho I recall that in conversation she was pleased to use another term. Which I forget (peccavi). The first was filmed inside a sub (for realz!!!). She read text with the sound distorted, suggesting the underwater environment. I couldn’t make out much of the words, but the effect was curious and haunting. The second film showed a woodland pond and environs, with colours I think intensified. There was a music track, as well as the text she read. The effect was primordial. The final image was the entrails of a deer, victim presumably of coyotes. Stark and compelling.

But enough of others, what about me?

I found something funny that I could read, and lead off with. This is the text:

How To Recognize If A Poetry Reading Is Imminent
1. there is a sharp rise or fall in sea level
2. all birds vacate the area
3. the ocean turns a very dark brown
How To Protect Your Home From A Poetry Reading
1. turn off hot water heater
2. unplug all appliances and open the stove
3. tape toilet seat shut
4. dampen floors with garden hose

How To Survive A Poetry Reading

1. seek shelter when the day is half over
2. rub bat guano on your skin to protect it from bites
3. drink alcohol for warmth
4. remain still to conserve heat until the reading subsides
5. if you are not in danger, simply surrender your belongings
6. scream loudly and perform animated, martial arts style kicks in the air
7. wet your pants, or, if you can't do that, drool saliva down your chin
8. avoid wearing shiny jewelry

9. stay near groups of other poets

There is more but I didn’t read it, fearing it would lose its steam. I wrote it by taking various survival tips and replacing terms. I read it well enough, with animation, and perhaps assured listeners that I wasn’t simply interested in boring them. It got a good response. I then read a short quirky piece that was sort of funny. Then came a serious poem. I wrote it on hearing about Emma Bernstein’s death, which radiated at Christmastime 3-4 years ago. I didn’t know her or her work but her death struck a nerve. I almost spoke about its provenance, then thought with all the New Yorkers present,  people who knew her, it would be unseemly. I just said it was about death, something like that. I also defended my m.o. by saying narrative + disjunction = meaning, in case anyone wanted cryptic truths.

I also read a poem that again used an ur-text. I had kept a diary of our interactions with our landlord concerning a rug stain that we didn’t cause and didn’t want to pay for. I used that, replacing names with Revolutionary Era names. Just screwy enough.

I then read three from Simple Theory: “Lettered”, featuring Tarzan and Jane, “Ceremonial”,  and ended with “Simple Theory”. I looked to see Beth at the back of the room and read to her. I made a few offhand remarks as I read.

I was nervous, but not cruelly so. I stumbled over my handwriting a couple of times with the more recent stuff. A greater struggle reading from the book. My eyes weren’t focusing and I was sorta seeing double. Should have worn glasses.

Simple Theory” felt like a great poem (he said modestly), and made a quick and possibly dramatic end. Here is the text:

the wheatfield looks lovely

because people say so. that must be a

poem or perhaps just a

title for the familiarity

that words breed. there is no

wheatfield so lovely

as the time it took

to say so. or really, what

day could grow greater

than the morning greeting? the

wheatfield springs from a

logic, words on

one’s lips. if one is not

ecstatic then

one has traveled wrong. the

wheatfield fills the eye, space

brings a determined

marking to our careers. there are

poems placed in every

conversation, they are

why we stay up late.

Of course the formatting is stupid here. Anyway, I think I kept below the allotted 8 minutes, and got a good response from the crowd. Note to poets: that 8 minutes is a decent amount of time to present a few things. Exceeding the limit fosters a sense of drag. Some people went way long. I felt like I put some life into the reading, which is a nice feeling. A monotone poet read after me. Mairead Byrne read captions she wrote for a photo book. The words were actually dictated by people living the poverty life in Providence. They were quite powerful. With her Irish accent, the stories could have come from Dublin’s slums, which added a sense of universality. Mark Lamoureux offered a set of rhythmic poems that did not depend on first person singular.

A couple  of people—I guess it would be cheesy to name names—complimented me effusively. Beth, Hassen and I went out for food, sacrificing attendance in the next set. We found a place, one of those places. I had a tasty beer, Hop Devil from Victory, and an eggplant sandwich. We talked, connected. Mairead and her daughter passed and Beth waved them in for a brief greeting. Jack Kimball likewise, but he stayed a while. After he left to prepare for his talk, Beth, Hassen and I went for a walk. I don’t remember Inman Square in the old days. It was sparkling now. Many people using what space available, have made the most terrific gardens. One little patch of soil was thick with cleome and other flowers. Whew!

We got back in time to stand uncomfortably in the doorway. That set was pretty much lost. I stood on the porch trying to listen to Eileen Myles. I got that she speaks fast, but could hear little more. After that set, Beth and I claimed seats. Things got kind of loud and social, beer had been in attendance here and there thru out the reading. Wish I had some, except that one bathroom, which, as a note on the wall warned, backed up.

Longer timeslots were given to those who wanted to give talks. Marcella Durand spoke on translating  Proust’s poems. She admitted that her father helped her, who has better French. Zachary Bos spoke on L. E. Sissmann, which seemed quirky. He plans to publish Sissmann’s work. Jack gave a talk on some local iconoclasts, “fairies” as he called them. Billy Barnum is a sort of cultured Wildman Larry Fischer, I gather. I’d heard of Rene Ricard, one of Wiener’s crowd. And another man, also of the Wiener’s crowd, as was Jack, in the day. Jack lived with this man for a while, I’ve misplaced his name. Jack seemed to get emotional reading the work of this last one. I had moments of surprisingly strong emotion as I read. Suddenly meeting something, poems are like that.

Beth and I left directly after Jack finished. As little of the Marathoon as I took in, it still proved a lot to process. That’s why I largely steered clear of particulars.

We got home about 10:00, with a 4:30 wake up call due, so that Erin and I could collect data on the Sudbury and Concord Rivers. Home by 9 for breakfast, then Beth and I walked in the magical woods of Concord, Punkatasset Hill. It was an awesomely lovely weekend.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

I shall be reading at Dog Day Poetry Marathon, info here. I have to thank Jim Behrle, John Mulrooney, Aaron Tieger, and Michael Carr for putting the event on. Boston needs more such events. I made some challenging remarks about the event last year, which I didn't attend (my remarks were about the structure hereabouts for such things), and Michael duly responded. Alas, it is not easy to do these events, and those who make the effort should be applauded. Michael even made me consider doing a reading series myself, but that has yet to bear fruit. I will at least support the reading by writing about it. If you can find Cambridge, MA on the map, it happens this Friday thru Sunday. I work Friday, and probably cannot make Sunday due to taking data on the Concord River, but spiritual, or spirituous Allen will be there thru out.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Dollar Tree and More!!!

Billerica, Massachusetts has a strip mall that would do Detroit proud. An ongoing facelift brings great improvement, but the place still seems to aim at a Detroitish level of desuetude. When we arrived in town, the place featured Market Basket (a local supermarket chain), and an ideally rundown KMart. Burlington Coat Factory (a cut rate shop), and a liquor store also guest starred. The liquor store soon moved to another strip mall down the road. One store front had been empty right along, and remains so. Perhaps it makes a monument to economic wreck, the one we’re building right now.

We had issues with Market Basket early on. Both meat and produce proved poor. Prices were low on laundry soap and such, so we brought our custom. Perhaps a change in management woke the place up, because food quality seems to have risen. We don’t buy much meat there—Costco is the lad—but produce doesn’t hurt there anymore.

Improvement eventually started percolating thru out the mall. The liquor store was replaced by Dollar Store. A smoke shop, fitness center, and something called Big Lots! have filled in the mall. And someone’s even improving the building and the landscaping.

But really: Dollar Tree? Big Lots!?

Dollar Tree makes a categorical plea in favour of hopelessness. Everything, that is EVERYTHING, is a dollar. It’s like a real store, I’ll give it that. You can find pencils at Dollar Tree, and cosmetics, and things referencing Justin Bieber. And a good deal of other things that ultimately fuel China’s economy. You can even purchase food. You can find actual name brands, if you look closely, but you will also find what look like name brands, but aren’t. Retail mirages to make you feel like quality. Presumably the FDA looks elsewhere when these items arrive in the country.

I do not know why someone would enter the store a second time. It’s not like people feel like they are saving money. The motivation seems more likely to stem from a sense of an anvil called economic downswing landing with pert hilarity on the thinking portion of one’s head. Dream of crap? We have the gimcrack for you! Value is a euphemism for hopeless yearning. The crooks aren’t fixing things, they’re heading off to the Caymans. Yes, you buy that can of Turd’s Eye Peas, see what happens.

It’s is uncomfortable to think that candy, manipulated plastic, and a simulation of SAVINGS could be offered as value. Brothers and Sisters, it is the tail end of the American Dream. Tell Fox News that the peas taste like emptiness. Bill O’Reilly will tell you it is what you deserve. Karl Marx just wanted to wash the coal dust off his hands.

I seem to be heating up about this but why are these scrids deemed valuable by or for us? Thrill that your dollar, that is, your poorly dollar, can buy the labour of people under the foot. Quality is a perceptual impasse when you are just trying to gain a handful. You bought something useless so that you can save for the something that isn’t really there. I bought the same thing.

Big Lots! didn’t actually make sense to me, or at least to my expectations. It had groceries, furniture, and various stuff, distributed neatly if without evocation of wonder. I thought it would be more like Costco, where you are amazed at the larceny they allow you to practice. I got six months worth of toilet paper for the price of six month’s of something else! I guess you can get deals at Big Lots! but you have to go there with a purpose of finding them. You don’t just go to shop, you go to enjoin the machine to release something, anything. The store somehow underplays the value you might find. It’s enough, in the grand scheme, to know that you are fishing, at least. Save money on the juice drinks you buy your kids and you might be able to afford anything else. Someone asked to help us, when we were in the furniture area, and the cashier was willing to engage. That’s called human, and it feels rare. The store seems to be for people who wish to wander thru aisles. America remains home to many aisles. They can’t take that away from us.

KMart, I have to say, has thrown in the towel, if the one in this mall works as exemplar. Even with the facelift, the place delivers dinginess in monochrome festivity. We recently sought a simple Melita coffee maker after our bruising grinder/maker gave up the ghost. They had no Melitas, okay, but the selection hardly embraced interest. Nothing did. It’s all there because of a compulsion in us to get it. All I need today is Justin Bieber monocles and a report on Tom Cruses’ imported marriage. I think you can get a card saying you believe in savings. Is your laundry soap brashly inexpensive or shall I take my pleasure elsewhere? Some stores want you to see a clean floor.

Bankers and Facebook dilettantes and the nuance of capital gains while meanwhile the enriched campaign trail makes up numbers. The Dollar Tree grows downward. Mitt Romney and Barack Obamacare are both communist instigators.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Flann O’Brien Furtherly

After I read The Dalkey Archives, I went right into The Third Policeman. I have since run thru At Swim-Two-Birds. I wish to read more of O’Brien’s stuff, but what I got is fine for now.

Any number of felicities and oddities occur. Hugh De Selby appears in both Dalkey and Policeman, or sort of. He’s an actual character in Dalkey, but a much-quoted and studied author in Policeman. And it’s ‘De’ in the one, ‘de’ in the other. His writing’s, which the nameless protagonist in Policeman studies and comments on, are strange and fantastical. The author and the character do not seem exactly the same person. Still, the books pair somewhat.

The jumbling of human and bicycle molecules is fretted in both books. There are, as well, exact passages repeated in both. Dalkey has a fairly normative narrative while Policeman rambles wildly, albeit within narrative constraints. The comic impulse stands forward, but so does a thrilled, dashing erudition, on a pace with Joyce in both cases. Both books are tamer, if that’s a fair word, than Swim.

Swim, now, that’s a show off piece. You’d think he was actively trying to beat Joyce at his own game, the young buck. The shifts in narrative tone and  the radiating of meta narratives seems consciously Joycean. Yet it all seems well in hand for O’Brien, with high hilarity.

I love this stuff!

O’Brien carries his word slightly, like few writers. Bejesus, he’s got a vocabulary, from several languages. This quare civil servant.

O’Brien spends, it seems, too much time with Sweeny, but the passage still seems gorgeously written, thick with the Celtic twilight. The Irish stuff is rendered both with awe and satire.It puts the scale to the ridiculous working class poet brought in later, who writes for the ordinary man (poems about porter).

The story is wonderful in entailing a young student/writer who writes a story and how the characters of the story conspire to break free from the author’s tyranny. See, when they are not being used in the story, they just hang out. They dope the writer so that they can be free. And so forth. These ordinary people talk a breathtaking ordinary talk. The pleonasms of conversation bubble out in a Joycean sort of clarity and vigour. O’Brien sports around with goofy ideas, like the cowpunching cowboys that are invested into Dublin fair city, dime store cowboy tales with an Irish brogue. It’s like a Saturday Night Live bit prompted into hilarious depth. O’Brien places it full and bright.

I have to admit that I wonder about Joyce. Dubliners and Portrait stand neatly enough. Ulysses is delightful in fullness, sharpness, majesty, and humour. Finnegans Wake, I’m not sure that doesn’t mark a stop point. I’ve only poked at it, and enjoy it as such, but I’m on the skids for studying it. I have no picture of what’s next. O’Brien doesn’t seem to batch himself into a corner so. I don’t mean to put them at odds, nor to diminish Joyce. The real enemy is just the same old tiresomeness of narrative to a happy conclusion, or downright drudging “realism” made of whole cloth. It’s the flights that count.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Dalkey Archives by Flann O’Brien

Read The Dalkey Archives again. I read it previously years ago. Tho spots impressed me, it didn’t strike me as hard as At Swim-Two-Bird or The Third Policeman. I’m willing to amend my earlier judgment.

The descriptive first page or so jumped out at me this time. My eyes tend to blur with descriptive passages. Often, the author’s specificity seems unnecessary: the reader can fill in the gaps between adjectives.

Here, O’Brien’s descriptions seem weighted. When they start to rattle into commonplace, he throws in a surprise. First paragraph:

Dalkey is a little town maybe twelve miles south of Dublin, on the shore. It is an unlikely town, huddled, quiet, pretending to be asleep. Its streets are narrow, not quite self-evident as streets and with meetings which seem accidental. Small shops look closed but are open. Dalkey looks like an humble settlement which must, a traveler feels, be next door to some place of the first importance and distinction. And it is—vestibule of a heavenly conspection.

O’Brien goes on for a bit more before he offers characters and stories. The book’s cover shows a facsimile of a draft of the first page. O’Brien initially introduced the character Hugh De Selby directly but cut that out and began with description of place. The passage prepares the reader, at least a little, for O’Brien’s onslaught of jabs, winks, profundities, scholarship, and general comic explosion. O’Brien gives due warning simply by using the word—it is a word, isn’t it?—conspection.

It’s probably too bad that we know the legend of Flann O’Brien, that a reader will likely have expectations. I’m sure he was indeed a boozy fellow, maven of the pub. He’s not some second rate James Joyce, however, who spent too much time making public house grandiloquence. The three novels that I’ve read, and the smattering of newspaper work, show rare, hilarious achievement.

His novels could almost be marketed under the aegis of scifi & fantasy, except they are much too good, much too idiosyncratic for that. He sets up wild and goofy possibilities then makes good on them. I don’t even know how to describe At Swim-Two-Birds. Dalkey at least carries on with a certain novel normalcy. The narrative includes the sort of machinations that proliferate in, say, the Fu Manchu thrillers. A delineated hero meets an outsized threat, and the story swells as he works to save all.

O’Brien makes this all look unfamiliar with the inclusion of farfetched trappings. The ruminations of the characters, most of whom speak the rounded and engaging patois of the Irish countryside, provokes the reader with strange immediacy. Some of the banter is deliciously ludicrous. The expounded theory that the molecules of bicycles, as time and jostling roads go by, will interchange with the rider, causing people to become bicycles, is one for the ages. All characters speak with that expressive roundabout typical, I think, of the (so-called) lower class. A certain Sgt. Fottrell speaks a grandiloquent fustian that just about makes sense:

I recede portentously from the sea, the sergeant beamed, except for a fastidious little wade for the good of my spawgs. For the truth is that I’m destroyed with the corns. Our work is walking work if you understand my portent.

Not only does he multisyllabilize, he gets to use words like spawgs.

And furthermore, we have the dire Dr De Selby, who manages to converse with St Augustine and others of the holy bound, with the help of his inventions and scientific discovery. De Selby plans to destroy the world, like Fu Manchu or James Bonds’ nemeses, for the usual fuzzy reason. This supplies the book with its central plot point.

Sidelines include conversation with James Joyce, who did not indeed die back in the 40s as rumoured. Instead, he disappeared himself. The elderly Joyce dismisses Ulysses as his own work, and mention of Finnegans Wake causes Joyce only to remember it as an old folk song. O’Brien flairs these exotic instances with great ease, even tho we know he’s showing off.

The appearance of Joyce in the story is a thump and a bump, something both canny and inevitable. Joyce makes such a towering figure in literature, certainly in Irish literature, that he needs to be reckoned with. And O’Brien can do so on somewhat equal terms. Joyce, here, when Mick the protagonist finally tracks him down, adverts an interest in joining holy orders. Mick takes it as his mission to help Joyce in that. In a deflating scene, the father to whom they apply thinks merely that Joyce wants a job. When Mick makes Joyce’s intention clear, he leaves. We are left with a dangle, wondering how that plays out.

I don’t know if O’Brien rushed the ending. De Selby’s threat ends quickly, with a complacency that thwarts earlier tension. That seems like a commentary on the narrative impulse to make grand. Still, O’Brien writes with a seeming ease that you could believe that it’s all an ad lib.

O’Brien’s satire blazes, albeit lightheartedly. It feels odd to find philosophical disputations played with so grandly. The characters move from pub to pub in a blithering ordinariness, yet their interests—O’Brien’s, really—run high and low. I guess I need not fuss about the Pantheon. Many, many novels have given me less pleasure, let us say that, than what I’ve read by O’Brien.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Fort Apache, River Work and So Forth

Our latest Costco run supplied us with a cheap collection of John Wayne movies. We watched Fort Apache last night. John Wayne was a bugaboo when I was in high school. He was that crusty dick who supported the war in Vietnam on television talk shows. A guy like him who only played soldiers was easily made iconic as the face of stupid America—remembering that I was a teenager. I had no interest in his movies at the time.

Later, I came round to them, especially the ones directed by John Ford. Beth saw a few when she recently visited her mother and aunt, and caught the urge to see more. She hadn’t seen Fort Apache, and it has been a while  for me.

From the cover, I feared it would be colourized—Ted Turner’s gift to the non-Ted Turner world—which I find obnoxious. Luckily, it was in its original b&w state. If colourization can work at all—a possibility that I find dubious—it aint going to work with the sort of breathtaking landscapes of this one. Smeary, over-excited colour would just ruin the geology.

Ford movies all have a set of features. He uses a lot of the same people in his movies: Victor McLagen, Ward Bond, not to mention John Wayne 11 times. There’s always comedy, whether slapstick or a sort of parlour humour. There are sentimental moments, and finally, action moments.

The movie centres on Henry Fonda’s character, Wayne’s in support. Fonda’s the new commandant of Fort Apache, which posting he regards as a radical swerve in his career. A teenage Shirley Temple plays his nubile daughter. She’s all fresh and sparkly while dad is dour and moody.

She encounters the young and handsome John Agar as a West Point grad newly posted to Fort Apache. She doesn’t stop drooling over him. She’s inadvertently led into a room where he’s shirtless and her tongue hangs out as he covers up in embarrassment.

Agar is met by cronies of his father, who is a sergeant at the fort. The cronies, who include McLagen, supply comic relief.

Wayne is a captain at the fort. His loose outpost ways conflict with Fonda’s spit and polish colonel. The burgeoning Temple/Agar match runs amiss when the Lieutenant takes the miss for a ride out in the endless desert and they come upon victims of an Apache raiding party. Subjecting Fonda’s daughter to the sight and the danger earns Agar the enmity of the angry father.

Fonda is keen to make his mark, so that he can correct the arc of his career. The raiding party consisted of disaffected Apache who were sick of being screwed by the Indian agent. Wayne manages to make council with Cochise, and Cochise agrees to return to the reservation if the Indian agent is removed. Fonda decides to break the truce and capture Cochise, because it will look good on his record. Now wait, first there’s a small detachment that goes to collect the corpses of that earlier raid. They were chased by Apaches but the cavalry rescued them. The Lieutenant showed his stuff in that affair, like we didn’t see it coming.

THEN Fonda leads a regiment to meet take the Apaches by force. Wayne is outraged and having expressed that outrage is sent to remain with the supply train, as is the Lieutenant. The regiment then rides full out into a defile, where they are mowed down. Fonda loses his horse and Wayne somehow rides in to save him. Instead, Fonda commandeers Wayne’s horse and rides back to his men. I guess Wayne walked back to safety. The few remaining men of the regiment are quietly over run. They approach the supply rain in defensive posture, return the regimental guidon and leave.

The interesting things about the movie include the sensitivity towards the Indians, the stalwart by the book of Fonda’s character, and the rather complex motivations of some of the characters. Fonda has a military weed up his ass: tall, straight, slender, with a dashing moustache. In contradistinction, Wayne moves with that sidling slouch. He doesn’t seem to be acting, Fonda definitely does, and both do so in the best sense.

This morning, once again, I collected data for the Organization for the Assabet River System. I can’t call it an onerous task. Had to get up at 4:30, which is not unusual for me. Went to bed somewhat late, however. I set my phone to wake me. At 3:30, I woke from a dream that basically told me to wake up. The cat confirmed it was time to get up. Really, it was breakfast time, I was assured. I went to the couch where I could doze but wouldn’t be so comfortable as to oversleep. And an hour later the plucky reel from the movie This Is Spinal Tap thrummed me awake.

Beth had no posting, Erin was on the middle Assabet, and I was on the Concord. I arrived early at the boathouse in Concord. I went down to where the canoes are parked. A blue heron apparently among the canoes reacted to my presence by taking wing with a squawk. It flew upriver, looped around, squawked mightily then away. Fred, the same person as last time arrived. We waited a bit for Nancy’s arrival. She had as much experience as I.

We took our readings, which isn’t complex. We record air temperature, then use a meter that records water temperature, pH, conductivity, and such. We take two water samples, one with a preservative. This site was the only one that didn’t require an extension pole to take the samples and readings. The boathouse is a pretty spot. It’s in Concord, Massachusetts!!! As Thoreau noted, the river hardly has any gait at all at this point. A man in a kayak passed by.

The three of us collected in Fred’s pickup and headed for Bedford’s boat ramp. There were some men getting their boats into the water to fish. They weren’t yahoos but at that time of day they seemed jarringly hearty. The water had a miserable oil slick and Fred decided that we should take readings elsewhere. He thought maybe from the bridge, which looked awkward. I suggested the other wide of the river. We’d just watched a heron fly across the river to land there. Fred said, let’s go join it.

We drove around and I stupidly didn’t have my camera ready. The heron took majestic wing on our arrival, and I missed the picture. a sign was posted at the site concerning the safety of eating the freshwater fish in Massachusetts: Don’t Eat the Fish! It is not an issue with me in the sense that I don’t like fish, but I still like the possibility available. I kinda would like to think that water, which I tend to drink daily, is potable. This river system, at least, has very little uphill, so even your average fat ass could be inspired to use main strength to motivate a boat to a fishing hotspot. Eventually the problem will become serious…

Next stop  was somewhere in Billerica. I live in a corner of the town but have hardly explored the place. rambling the country roads of Carlisle and Billerica, we almost hit a female turkey and three rabbits. With the rabbits, one made a cunning dash. Two others less explosively followed suit, but Fred managed to miss them. Behind one of the fire stations there’s access to the river. It is chained off now, because people were driving in and making a mess. Mist rose from the water, a lovely scene.

Next we went to Lowell, to the little park we visited last month.There’s actually something akin to rapids here. A heron flew right under the bridge, but of course I missed the picture. A woman brought her large dog to the park but seeing us retreated, whether not wishing to disturb us or concerned that her dog would eat us.

The final site was an overgrown place next to a small factory building. This was actually River Meadow Brook, which feeds into the Concord. Sadly trashy.

It is fun doing this and therefore I cannot pretend that this proves my commitment to a noble  good. The scuzzy scene at the boat ramp distresses me. When I was reading William Manchester’s book about the Krupp dynasty, I got stuck on the idea of those mines in Alsace or wherever, that supplied the war with ores. Think of battleships, planes, and bombs, bombs, bombs, all gouged from the earth terrifically. I mean, when does endlessness stop?

I read in the paper that there’s a helium shortage. Helium supplies are exhaustible. Think of all those creepy silvery balloons hustled to parties. For something so dippy as a balloon, the loss of this element. Oh by the way,  fracking poisons the water table.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Son of the Morning Star (Custer)


This book by Even S. Connell came out in 1984. It concerns General Custer and the events at Little Bighorn. I have read it numerous times. Periodically, I pick it up and read it again.

Why I’ve repeatedly read it owes not so much to scholarly study. The book and the story it tells simply catches my interest and reverberates within it. Perhaps in the book resides the reason why I like history and narrative.

The first time I read it, the detail that Connell dug up astonished me. Tho written little more than a century after the events, the story itself seems more like ancient history. The Wild West, to use that phrase, has become so iconic as to seem back in the mists of time.

Furthermore, one realizes that the Indians were more connected to and even integrated with the settling wave from Europe than you might have expected. They were not off by themselves. Despite the antagonisms and cultural differences, considerable exchange went on. A common human denominator appears, even as people try to eradicate it.

Trying to recall my earliest inkling of these events, I guess they were presented as Forlorn Hope. There was a battle and the outnumbered side didn’t fare so well. Contemporary representations of the events at Little Bighorn portray brave men fighting for some glory to the very end. As portrayed here with cool precision, that picture holds little water.

Columbus discovering America bears a similar if more potent motive in history as taught. Presented as a benign example of human enterprise, we see a hero animated by the urge of discovery. We know how it turns out. Samuel Eliot Morison wrote a pretty good biography of Columbus. He doesn’t hide Columbus’ effort at annihilating the native population, but he balances it against Columbus’ abilities as a seaman. That sounds ridiculous now.

Custer was brave in a headlong way; he proved that in the Civil War. And he was a charismatic leader. But this last action displayed disobedience, malfeasance, and, frankly, hubris out the wazoo. When you realize that some 200 soldiers attacked a village of thousands, you start to see a different picture from the Errol Flynn sort that followed the man. Something was way wrong in the planning,

Connell has managed to deliver biographical sketches of an astonishing number of people involved in the fight including most of the troops and many of the Indians. Custer gets the hubris award for making sure that shit hit the fan. Dynamic loose cannon par excellence, he charged.

And the 7th cavalry’s intention smacks not a little of something similar to what happened at My Lai. There was a crazy hope for a deadly end all. Ending the Indian problem, to put it in delicate terms, was the Army’s goal. Two hundred troopers gaining a Final Solution in a single action was not. Not reasonably, at least.

That’s the historical terms of the story, currently at least. We also see implacable Greek theatre forces at work. So many had onlys steered events, leading Major Reno into Shit Creek, in the form of an entire village of hostiles fired up to defend themselves.

Reading the various accounts of soldiers up that creek with no paddle is a keen and terrifying thought experiment. Here’s death, just or not, waiting with clamour. It’s no use anymore to put demons and heroes to work here. Horrors happen because we make them.

Eleven years ago, the World Trade Centre was destroyed. Without defending the act, one must at least understand that it answered iniquities. We live small in our world, aghast at the forces that propel events. Some mule driver suddenly represents hundreds of years of mishandled human endeavour, and so suffers mutilation and death. And so on, and on, every person on that field. Some fought bravely, if that means anything, and some saved the last bullet for themselves.

And Wounded Knee answers Little Bighorn, but not really. The times change, pushing people along. Death, says Reverend Gary, don’t have no mercy. We keep getting stuck on that one.

Monday, June 04, 2012

The Avengers



Erin and I have now become au courant with The Avengers, having partaken yesterday afternoon. We arrived a trifle late, which makes me anxious. I want to see the previews. The room was full, which hasn’t been the case the last few times I’ve gone to the movies.

As to the up and coming, it is the sort of stuff I want to see, large-scale cheesy summer flicks, but I am beginning to think technology has run away with the genre. I shall expatiate.

The new Batman looks almost wonderful, full of wonder. I hedge because it seems way too grim and serious for something that is basically ridiculous. And disaster and horror are just not that prettily designed. I know from nothing regarding the plot, but the central villain appears to be particularly sadistic, I mean enough to make me consider giving the movie a miss. And the sense of angst amidst all the pyrotechnic gewgaws gets sillier and sillier. One shouldn’t be taken seriously while wearing prosthetics pecs: that’s one of my main rules.

Spiderman looks like redux. Am I right? Is Sam Raimi still involved? It looked like more of the same, with a new everybody. Now that Spidey has hit Broadway—and I think the verb most apt—it looks like it is time to walk away. Anyway, franchise movies work against themselves. Superhero movie plots tend toward apocalyptic, so the films require ever-increasing literal bang for buck. The franchise wears out fast. Back in the day, Tarzan or Sherlock Holmes would chug along for years, more and more, but these dazzlers flash and flare out. By the second Spiderman, I’d seen all the sweeping web swinging that I needed. Why are we starting over?

There’s an animated feature coming about a headstrong princess, probably from Disney, that seems to be zesty. I bet it would be better as live action, with good actors working the comedy, rather than broad cartoon strokes. Tim Burton has an unpleasant looking animation about a boy who reanimates his dog. I imagine he took the plot from Re-animator, a movie by Wes Craven, I think. Burton might want to stop channeling the awkward boy in grade school or whatever explains his self-pitying sense of the outsider.

Finally, there’s the Alien prequel. Mon Dieu! it looks lavish. Truth to say, I’ve never watched any of the Alien movies, not counting about 2 millions clips. This one seems over-invested in visual splash. And it is not in a position to surprise us much at this point.

So I did, in fact, see The Avengers. With reviews and the Joss Whedon mystique, I expected more. It moved along well enough but I can’t even remember how it started. Erin said the plot was like Where’s Waldo. Hard to believe screenwriting is a profession when you can get away with such muddle.

Like with every new franchise, the first half of the movie has to introduce characters, suggest back-story and otherwise dither about until the narratives can be twined into a big explosion. The Avengers has a lot of important characters needing face time so the introductory process drags out, even with the head start of the Ironman, Captain America, The Hulk, and Thor movies.

We start off with Nick Fury, some super military commando or whatever. It’s just Samuel Jackson doggedly brusque and serious. The character doesn’t seem worth placing in a central role. Jackson chews on it but he’s effectively MC Fury shouting orders to the heroes.

Loki is the main evil, and a bit tiresome. Both he and Thor are stuck with dialogue that sounds like Elizabethan drama. I don’t recall that in Thor’s flick, but at any rate, the screenwriters seem to labour with it.

I expected more wit in the proceedings, but it didn’t really show up until Black Widow did. I hadn’t seen Scarlett Johansson before. There was a dry humour to her lines. She often looks pouty, more of a tic than anything sexy, but doesn’t get stuck in that sort of act. We meet her when she is bound and being interrogated. It looks grim for her but then a phone call comes thru to the bad guys. It is for Black Widow. Given the phone, she replies exasperatedly that she’s right in the middle of an interrogation, but learning the nature of the emergency, sighs, and proceeds to clean up the bad guys. What ho!

The Ironman superhero is more of the same but Robert Downey is just so strong with his lines, tossing them off carelessly, that he gives the movie a great deal of energy. The whole cast in fact is quite strong but no one can top Downey in a scene.

Hawkeye was given short shrift. Early on, Loki makes him a minion, a rather simple trick and why didn’t Loki just use that wand thing to command more heroes, thence the world? Hawkeye gets few lines but comes across as weirdly obsessed with archery when everyone else has nice explody things. Well, his arrows explode and do all sorts of unlikely hi-tech stuff but, you know, arrows versus airplanes seems a bit naff.

I should mention the aircraft carrier/flying fortress. It seemed large by aircraft standards. Then, in a strong vote for unlikelihood—thank god gravity doesn’t exist—it rises in the air and flies. I think it also trims weeds. By the way, nobody in the movie suffers acrophobia, just me in the audience.

Against expectation, I liked Captain America. His action sequences are less covered by technological dazzle, and the old-fashioned soldier in him gives him a touch of humanity that the others lack. Wasn’t he Johnny Storm as well?

In the comics, Hulk could talk, albeit simple sentences. In this movie he just bellows and roars. Computer generated graphics can work as a character—witness Gollum—but often look out of place with the live characters. Mr Hulk was a bit blobby in the green side of things, but could be antic when he got momentum. At least there are a couple of funny moments with the Hulk. He and Thor have just finished defeating some bad guys and for no reason Hulk slugs Thor, exit stage right. And when Loki starts to speechify his superiourity, Hulk grabs him and slaps him against the floor repeatedly like a dish towel. Bruce Banner comes across okay but the Hulk is highly limited.

Comics movies, and comics themselves, lose scale because they allow characters to shake off anything. I mean, characters get mashed but get up and go full tilt again. Takes away the possibility of anyone losing.

The alien attack allowed a lot more crashing and exploding. We saw this in Independence Day, etc. I really don’t know why the movie is a big hit. A smattering of applause greeted the ending, which is unusual. A lot of youngsters in the crowd but I didn’t hear much reaction from them. The little scene in the apr├Ęs credits with the heroes sitting in a diner eating is priceless.

I feel a bit grim about the movies, with noise replacing action. A strong cast and characters puts The Avengers over, say, that X-Men movie of last year, but otherwise it offers little to distinguish it from a raft of other superhero flicks. Popcorn was about average.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

The Tangled Web

Clever Shakespeare reference, yes? Well I just presume to scribble about the Internet, and specifically Facebook. Facebook’s initial public offering—the drama!—brought on this urge to opine.

The build up to that IPO caught me. I don’t like Facebook, which made any misstep by the company, and with luck any train wreck, entertaining. When Ford cancelled advertising on Facebook, my wish was fulfilled. Not that Facebook could not weather the blow, just that something had occurred to diminish the surge of excitement for the stock.

The small family of Internet bullies—Facebook, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple—leaves us all weary, I’m sure. We want their services, but their intent directive to extract from us becomes more burdensome as times goes by. We have to put up with some of this crap, but everyone, and every thing, are within limits, as Charles Olson noted.

I used to think of Microsoft as a sort of evil. I do not want to overextend the idea, but its presence has been heavy. I have a more relaxed view now, because of the company’s ability to stumble and barely get out of its own way. Amazon smells like Walmart, something I would like to avoid. Google seems earnest but somehow autistic. I mean, Google has grand ideas and the ability to innovate but comes across like a guy in a zoot suit wondering why people don’t think he’s cool. Apple, its dappled face oif his innovation, combines cheap labour with gadgety foofaraw to extricate oodles of cash from consumerism. Facebook just never feels good; all sneaky and peremptory.

Design-wise, Facebook is surprisingly messy. It’s clearer than Myspace, but so’s my closet. I have to hunt the page if I want to do anything beyond posting. I am amazed that Facebook  makes billions with their advertising. Ads on it seem like those tv commercials that, when over, leave you wondering what kind of tree that was in the background. I almost never notice Facebook’s ads, let alone interact with them in some critically prosperous way. Somebody is, apparently, but  I do not know why.

I make it hard, perhaps, for Facebook to bleed me, because I don’t use the Like button much. When I do, it is for something someone wrote or uploaded. Leaves Facebook to make broad guesses about what sort of commodity exerts my eagerness. The button should be called Monetize This. The thing is, Facebook’s advertising model seems pretty old skool, or, more formally, the See If Anyone Salutes School of Advertising. Who am I to say, tho: they seem to be making a buck.

The IPO did not seem to have a point beyond making a handful of people rich. We keep hearing that Facebook has all this raw data, but until Facebook finds a way to cook it, the data collection just becomes an obsession. And for Facebook to succeed, that obsession can’t be irritating users. Facebook and all the other extremities of the social combine must balance that obsession with the necessity to remain within bounds. There are legal lines, however vague, that the company should not exceed. They must also respect—that’s an entirely wrong term to use in these circs, considering the disrespectful land grab these companies participate in—what their users think is too much. Users will push back when things get uncomfortable. That’s their job.

If I’m right that Facebook earned a billion dollars in advertising last quarter, and if I’m to believe that it has close to a billion active users, then the company earns about a buck per user per quarter. You can jiggle the numbers, everybody else does, but that billion sounds less lucrative. Still, a billion is a billion.

No use pretending that I can see the future. The mechanization of the social graph has its limits, which is to say, the social network seems less social. Facebook is trying to read a whole lot more into its Like button, for instance, than seems reasonable. Facebook seems to believe that people log in to get themselves some advertising. Of course we just put up with that. Even if we are interested in what ads offer, we invest our time in Facebook for the service, the chit chat, the pictures, the games, the excitement. And I was thinking about photos, which I admit I occasionally upload. Will I be uploading photos to Facebook the rest of my life? Facebook, Youtube, and so on, picture a future of that sort of desperation. Oh yes, things change.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Dear Friends,

I have a project on Kickstarter that I hope you will help with. It is a book about family, love and loss. It deals with Alzheimer's, Asperger's, and inherent confusion. It's also funny. Details are at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/theforgetting/the-stories-we-tell-documented-in-time?ref=home_location

Kickstarter projects are supported by PEOPLE LIKE YOU. People donate to the project, in exchange for gifts and the experience of crowd-sourcing. If funding reaches my goal within the set time, the project is a success and I get the funds (less Amazon's fee), and the book gets published. If not, then no money is taken. It's a nifty, supportive, collaborative concept. Please consider contributing, and please tell people about my project and share the url.

yours,

Allen

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mother’s Day Roundabout

Sunday Beth and I did a number of things, nothing large but all satisfying. It was a beautiful spring day.

First, we did our volunteer work for OARS. I think that stands for Organization for the Assabet River System. The organization works towards improving the Assabet, Sudbury and Concord Rivers. The sources of the Assabet and the Sudbury are about a mile apart, 20 some miles away. They hook away from each other but end up in the Concord, which then ends up in the Merrimac, which is tributary to the Atlantic. Got the picture?

I was surprised by the industrial usage of the rivers, from earliest colonial times. Mills and tanneries, but even iron foundries, sat by the banks of these rivers. All of which, as you might imagine, had deleterious effect.

We met our squire at the Concord boathouse at 6am. He’s been doing this monitoring for several years. Our job was to take water samples and other data. We scooped water from the river, dunked a meter in the water, stuff like that. It was cool and quiet. Beth and I found that the water seemed to make our skin tingle, from that one dunking (the other two sites we visited, we used an extender to reach into the water from the precarious banks).

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For some reason, we only had three spots to take readings from. Usually it’s more like six. Our next stop was Lowell, ignoring publicly accessible points in Bedford and Billerica. The first spot we hit was in this nook in the city. It was a cramped little village of houses. Provincetown offers a similar quality of houses close together in quaint congestion. Lowell alas is dumpish in nature. Still, the beauty of the land survives.

DSCN8772The site was a small park next to a bridge over the river. The Concord’s a pretty mopey river, especially in the area of Concord, but at this spot, it had some momentum. It looks sylvan but to the left is the bridge, well covered with graffiti, and let’s don’t forget to leave trash around.

Sadly my camera’s battery died so no more pictures. A little park above the river had a large arbour covered with wisteria, with species roses around it. Wowzer! Our guide warned us about poison ivy so Beth kept me back to just write down the data. Years ago, I had a bad reaction to poison ivy, which inspired a memorable response from Beth. One night in bed I was unconsciously scratching my affected arm and Beth in her sleep said, in succession, Don’t Scratch. I love you. What’s for dinner?

The next site was even more poison ivyish, down an embankment next to a building and near another bridge.  There was a dam upstream, and the water was suspiciously foamy. Readings there showed greater conductivity, which, I believe, means the presence of metals. Grape vines growing into the trees had bunches the size of my thumbnail. Here we bid adieu to our guide and headed home. We got coffee at Starbuck’s then went to the Concord Bridge. It is actually called North Bridge, tho Emerson called it rude. I don’t think Emerson ever saw a bridge at that location, in sooth. Several bridges there have been destroyed by flood, and I think in his lifetime folks settled for the bridge down the road.

The area around the bridge looked spectacular. Trees leafed out last week, and the sun shone. The National Parks Service in their wisdom have attempted to make the area look at it did during the Revolution, which is to say, divested of trees. A lot of trees were removed a few years ago, which I find disturbing.

An earlier visit to the visitor’s centre was equally dispiriting. It’s a former mansion sitting on a hill. Brick patios, if that’s what you want to call them, and walkways, go down the embankment. Vines and bushes made these walkways mysterious and wonderful, but they’ve been removed. The formal garden looks like it is cared for by the DPW. Sigh.

Anyway, it was lovely by the bridge.  A Canada goose barked and barked. I watched it drift across the river, barking rhythmically. Another goose, probably his mate, hung back. Sounded like he was taking command of the whole river area.

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We had pancakes that Erin prepared then Beth and I went out again. Beth wanted pictures of the Bridge. We then headed to Lowes in Lowell, again, and got a couple of ferns and a bird feeder for our porch. Oh, I guess I should mench that we stopped at a car wash, and cleaned the car thoroughly inside and out. That’s a gift and a thrill for Beth.

Not quite satisfied, plantwise, we stopped at a nursery. We got a basket of impatiens and some other plants. One was a green and yellow variegated planted with leaves that resemble a maple in shape. The flower is a round sort of tulip shape (abutilon: new to me)     bbbb. Unusual. Beth hung the feeder and basket, and arranged the other plants. ten hours later, a redpoll sat on the feeder bracket and announced his territory. A little later a female nestled into the pothos. That afternoon, a hummingbird partook of the impatiens.