Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Antimatter

On the other side of a mirror there's an inverse world, where the in-
sane go sane; where bones climb out of the earth and recede to the first
slime of love.

And in the evening the sun is just rising.

Lovers cry because they are a day younger, and soon childhood robs
them of their pleasure.

In such a world there is much sadness which, of course, is joy...

by Russell Edson, from The Tunnel (Field Translations Series).

Monday, November 28, 2005

TiVo Users Soon Can Search for Ads

Kind of in the category of, "telephone users can soon get unsolicited calls," or "email users soon can get spam."

As this this WSJ article notes, "... Yet a big question remains: If viewers use DVRs in part to avoid advertising, will they use the devices to watch more of it?"


That would probably be, "No!" unless they come up with an entirely new type of ad.

Pandora does the Holidays

Like apparently every other Pandora user, I was thinking "how cool would it be to have a Christmas/Holiday station?" And so was Pandora...

To hear seasonal music on Pandora, just start by entering the name of a favorite holiday song (for example, "Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow"). We'll then ask you to pick your favorite version and we'll create a station that will play other similar holiday music. While we're not able to play that exact song immediately, it will play on your station eventually so keep listening!

If you'd rather start from an artist, just enter the artist's name followed by the word holiday (for example, "Nat King Cole (Holiday)"). We'll then use that input to build a holiday station based on the musical qualities of that performer's holiday classics.

Friday, November 25, 2005

American Life in Poetry: Column 035

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Massachusetts poet J. Lorraine Brown has used an unusual image in "Tintype on the Pond, 1925." This poem, like many others, offers us a unique experience, presented as a gift, for us to respond to as we will. We need not ferret out a hidden message. How many of us will recall this little scene the next time we see ice skates or a Sunday-dinner roast?


Tintype on the Pond, 1925

Believe it or not,
the old woman said,
and I tried to picture it:
a girl,
the polished white ribs of a roast
tied to her boots with twine,
the twine coated with candle wax
so she could glide
uninterrupted
across the ice--
my mother,
skating on bones.

Reprinted from "Eclipse" by permission of the author. Poem copyright (c) 2004 by J. Lorraine Brown. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. For information on permissions and usage, or to download a PDF version of the column, visit www.americanlifeinpoetry.org.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Dates


Today is the 42nd anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, if you've forgotten, or never remembered. We're at the point where JFK is becoming more an icon of history books and grainy films than as someone who played a role in personal history. And November 22, 1963 has been overshadowed by even uglier dates, of course, as that day overshadowed December 7th, which had been the touchstone date before it. You wonder what date awaits in the future, coiled like a sleeping rattler under a rock.

I'm old enough to remember both the man and the day, a cold, gray day in Maine where the schoolroom loudspeaker rumbled out the news, and a teacher weeping, and all of us loaded back on buses early in the afternoon. And Oswald shot over the weekend, and the funeral with the riderless mount and the upturned boots and finally Jackie leaning over to young John and his saluting the coffin.

And then we all entered the `60s. Although we didn't know it yet, the first two years and 11 months hadn't counted.

If you're of a certain age, you can't talk about the Kennedy assassination without talking about conspiracy theories. For awhile I entertained and researched my own, that Castro had engineered it in retribution for the attempts on his life engineered by the U.S. government. It was hard to look at the Zapruder film without evolving a conspiracy theory - Kennedy's head snapping back from that final shot seemed to fly in the face of all reason that the bullet could have come from the rear. But after enough reading and enough research, I came to the conclusion it had, and that Oswald was the lone gunman, and shot Kennedy for as much reason as his wife had expressed admiration for the young, sexy President as anything else. You look at the smirk on Oswald's face in his brief police station press interview and you see a man who has put himself just where he wants to be, in the limelight finally. It would have been one hell of a show trial, I bet, if Ruby's bullet hadn't been there first.

The polls say that each year less and less people believe in any conspiracy theory at all, I suspect because less and less people give a damn one way or another. There was a time when this country seemed to have gone purely mad, and the thought that the vortex we were in had been triggered by Mafia, Communists, Cubans on either side of the Gulf, right-wingers, left-wingers, Hoover, Johnson, Nixon or whatever your favorite whipping boy, first assassinating Kennedy made perfect sense.

It's always easier on the psyche to find a pattern rather than stare into the abyss.

Back when I was working for Google Answers, someone asked about "Jennifer Juniors," at floors five and six of the Dal-Tex Building across the street from the Texas School Book Depository. Here's what I answered.

Life Getting in the way, Part 1


"why aren't you going to vegas?' Iggy demands to know e.e. cummings-style, and, given the recent news of the PokerStars sponsorship, I'm kinda wondering that too. I mean a pot already at around $7k , Wil Wheaton there, possible guest appearances by pros, and it's even close to my birthday. Not even to mention getting to meet the whole scurvy WPBT crew.

But no, not this time around for lil Rico, although the idea is tempting to go grab some grapefruit, a bottle of ether, some blotter acid, and a Bowie knife... and just go, and see how much trouble I could get myself into over that weekend. As Peggy said this morning, it's a straight shot to Vegas from the Manchester airport.

The fact that I even considered it should be considered something of interest, as my usual avoidance of social events makes a certain taciturn Oklahoma blogger look like a Vegas lap dancer in comparison, to the point that I'm known as the Hermit of the North to the group who I regularly work with by way of email and con-calls, with a f2f with those cohorts maybe once every couple of months.

But I suspect Peggy and I will make our way to Sin City for one of the blogger get-togethers in 2006. Peg likes gambling and Vegas well enough that she won't be bored, and she often gets a kick out of group things that started out as my primary interest. Back in the day when we did SF conventions, Peg won the ultimate compliment from another writer, "... that she doesn't even act like a spouse..." and once in New Orleans kept up with an inexhaustible Tad Williams during a late night/early morning crawl through more convention party suites than I could count. Of course, she did lose our hotel, but that's another story.

Where was I? Ah, Vegas, and the reason I started this rambling post. As you may have noticed, I haven't been blogging as much as I usually do and, for that matter, haven't been playing all that much poker. OOe of the companies I regularly contract out to is funding my work on something I recently g
'ot ''''''i''''''n'''''/ter///e////s/////////t///////e//////d/////// /////////

You know, I think I'll leave the above, courtesy of the Bear, who was trying to discipline a totally out-of-control tail and ended up rolling over the keyboard while taming it.

Where was I again? Yeah, here we are. Anyway, as Peggy will tell you, I tend to have these ah, enthusiasms, which follow a regular pattern of, "That is cool!" "I wonder how they do that?" to "Hmmm. I bet I could learn how to do that." and "I want to find somebody to pay me to do that." It's not a bad quirk to have... it's what helped buy our house, among other things, when I got interested in the wonderful world of multimedia.

And I got interested in something new over the summer, and now I'm in the "Somebody pay me to do that." stage, and now I have a client paying me. And it's lots of fun, and I'm working hard and well, as Ernesto would say. And yes, I'm being deliberately coy, because I don't talk about what I'm doing for clients, ever, past the very general. But I have a few ideas of my own too, and maybe I'll be blogging about them soon.

In the meantime - keeping in the spirit of the season - have a good Thanksgiving, stay warm, and I'll be writing more soon.

Monday, November 21, 2005

American Life in Poetry: Column 034

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

In this poem by Pittsburgh resident Jim Daniels, a father struggles to heal his son's grief after an incident at school. The poem reminds us that when we're young little things can hurt in a big way.


Dim

Today my son realized someone's smarter
than him. Not me or his mom --
he still thinks we know everything --
one of the other kids, Nathan. Making fun
of him at the computer terminal
for screwing up at the math game.
Other kids laughing at him. Second grade.
I'm never gonna be as smart as him,
he says.
I'm never gonna be as smart
as half my students if we're talking
IQs. He doesn't want me to explain.
He wants me to acknowledge
that he's dumb. He's lying in bed
and taking his glasses off and on,
trying to get them perfectly clean
for the morning. I'm looking around
his dark room for a joke or some
decent words to lay on him. His eyes
are glassy with almost-tears. Second grade.
The world wants to call on him.
I take his hand in mine.

Reprinted from "The Paterson Literary Review," No. 32, by permission of the author. Copyright (c) 2004 by Jim Daniels, whose most recent book is "Show and Tell: New and Selected Poems" University of Wisconsin Press, 2004. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. For information on permissions and usage, or to download a PDF version of the column, visit www.americanlifeinpoetry.org.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Quest for the Colored Bubble


Every now and then I come across a boingboing post that reminds me why I read that site - even with all the self-indulgent, self-promoting, over-the-top hyperbolic posting that the writers can do over there.

I found one of those posts yesterday, a link to a wonderful Popular Science article (that incidentally has my vote to be included in the next "The Best American Science and Nature Writing" series) about a man named Tim Kehoe, and his search for the colored bubble.

Go take some time right now and go read it. I guarantee you'll be enchanted.

"Tim Kehoe has stained the whites of his eyes deep blue. He's also stained his face, his car, several bathtubs and a few dozen children. He's had to evacuate his family because he filled the house with noxious fumes. He's ruined every kitchen he's ever had. Kehoe, a 35-year-old toy inventor from St. Paul, Minnesota, has done all this in an effort to make real an idea he had more than 10 years ago, one he's been told repeatedly cannot be realized: a colored bubble."
More on Tim Kehoe's colored bubbles, and the Zubble site.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Note to executives (and those who want to be)...


...don't make promises unless you can keep them. Below, email in my mailbox this morning. Above, picture snapped 10 minutes ago.

Dear Pandora listener,

We want to apologize to those of you who've experienced performance issues with Pandora over the past week. We have now fixed them - we're sorry it took so long. We were simply caught off guard by the huge surge in listenership we experienced after the launch of Pandora version 2 - it was far beyond anything we had anticipated.

Yesterday we dramatically increased our capacity. We hope you have noticed the improvement today.

We apologize again. Thanks for your support and your patience.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

"... we're bringing Hellboy to animation."


and that's a Good Thing (only fhb could do a mashup of Martha Stewart and Hellboy).

I'm a fan of Mike Mignola's series, less so of the indiffferent movie that was released awhile back. But there's another chance to get Hellboy right on screen. The Hellboy Animated blog is a running diary of the effort.

Is it just me, or does the Hellboy pictured to the left bear more than a little resemblance to a certain Disney character?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Was it hard to fold a hand you knew could win?

I met you on a midway at a fair last year
And you stood out like a ruby in a black man's ear
You were playing on the horses, you were playing on the guitar strings
You were playing like a devil wearing wings, wearing wings
You looked so grand wearing wings
Do you tape them to your shoulders just to sing
Can you fly
I heard you can! Can you fly
Like an eagle doin' your hunting from the sky

I followed with the sideshows to another town
And I found you in a trailer on the camping grounds
You were betting on some lover, you were shaking up the dice
And I thought I saw you cheating once or twice, once or twice

I heard your bid once or twice
Were you wondering was the gamble worth the price
Pack it in
I heard you did! Pack it in
Was it hard to fold a hand you knew could win

So lately you've been hiding, it was somewhere in the news
And I'm still at these races with my ticket stubs and my blues
And a voice calls out the numbers, and it sometimes mentions mine
And I feel like I've been working overtime, overtime

I've lost my fire overtime
Always playin' one more hand for one more dime
Slowin' down
I'm gettin' tired! Slowin' down
And I envy you the valley that you've found
'Cause I'm midway down the midway
Slowin' down, down, down, down

That Song About the Midway, Joni Mitchell. From Clouds

Some more thoughts on Pandora

Pandora went to Version 2 last week, with a letter from founder Tim Westergren. They’ve added a few new features – including the much-demanded bookmarking that now lets you keep a playlist of favorite pieces of music – and announced that along with subscription, they’ll be offering a free, ad-based model. Listeners can either subscribe and stay clear of ads, or use the free service which will have advertising. No word yet as to whether the ads will be text-based or, as I suspect, audio. What use are text-based ads when you can simply close a window?

In any case, in order to salve whatever wounded feelings those of us adopters might have for shelling out money earlier, Pandora also gave present subscribers complimentary upgrades. I now have a year’s worth of Pandora for my original $12 three-month subscription; not a bad deal at all considering the several hours I listen to it on a daily basis. As I write this, I have my current favorite, John Fahey Radio, playing; a station I created that my friend Jill says reminds her of funky bookstores smelling of incense and tea.

The bookmarking feature is utilitarian, simply a “favorites” page that keeps track of any selection you add to it through Pandora, although the “artist” link will send you off to allmusic.com where you can learn more about a heretofore unknown favorite. For example, I found out that I really like “Six Organs of Admittance,” an obscure band out of northern California, again thanks to John Fahey Radio, and was able to get more information about them and their albums through the allmusic link in my favorites page.

I like better the “Edit this station” feature that lets you fine-tune your Pandora stations. This tab lets you see what music/artists you’ve added to any particular station; music you’ve liked; music you’ve banned – any of which can be removed if you’ve decided, for instance, that adding Cyndi Lauper to your female vocalists station during a weak moment was ill-advised or that maybe you should give Wilco one more try in your alt.country station.

So what else am I listening to on Pandora? Outside of my Fahey station my current favorites include a jazz station I’m still fine-tuning; and an interesting shared station featuring a band I never heard of before, with the wonderful name of Iron & Wine.

Pandora seems to be a victim of its growing popularity this week; lots of downtime and interruptions, but that’s just growing pains I’d guess. I have no idea whether Tim Westergren wants to keep Pandora independent, but I could see Amazon, Google (maybe especially Google. Imagine audio-based AdSense ads based on your music preferences), or Apple all buying it within the next couple of years.

I – believe it or not – get no kickbacks from Pandora for flogging it (I even created the ad to your right on my own). I’m just a fan. But if you like listening to music on your computer, give it a try. I bet you’ll become a fan too.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

No new 'witch trial' as judge dismisses case against protester

via The Salem News:

By Julie Manganis
Staff writer

SALEM — Richard Sorell, the local history buff arrested for disorderly conduct while protesting the unveiling of the "Bewitched" statue in June, finally got his day in court yesterday.

And he won — a judge dismissed the charges against him.

But Sorell, 65, called yesterday's ruling "bittersweet," saying he had hoped to prove at trial that police violated his First Amendment rights — something the judge and the prosecutor said wasn't the issue at hand.

"I believe you fervently feel the feelings you have, and you were probably trying to express yourself, under the great tradition we have in America," Judge Stephen Albany told Sorell, suggesting he was simply caught up in the emotion of the situation. But, the judge added, Sorell should have been more careful.

"It's not about the First Amendment," prosecutor Cesar Archilla argued. "That's not why the police arrested Mr. Sorell. Everyone can agree Mr. Sorell had a right to espouse his view."

When he began disturbing the others around him, Archilla said, he crossed the line.

But Sorell's lawyer, Astrid AfKlinteberg, said her client believes that segregating the protesters across the street was a fundamental violation of his rights.

"It really does come down to a First Amendment value," she said.

Instead of a trial, the judge conducted an informal hearing where he invited each of the parties involved — Sorell, the 71-year-old woman he nearly knocked over and Salem police officers — to describe what happened on the afternoon of June 15, when crowds gathered to see the new statue of actress Elizabeth Montgomery, the star of the 1960s sitcom.

Sorell — indignant that the statue was erected just a few yards from where the notorious Salem witch trials had taken place — carried a sign that read: "Elizabeth Who? Is She from Salem?"

But he says he was forced to the back of the crowd, and across the street, by Salem police officers.

"If you were in favor, you could get right up front," Sorell told the judge yesterday. "If you were opposed, you had to go back and across the street."

That, Sorell thought, was unfair. He wanted his sign to be seen on camera. So, he acknowledged, he began working his way to the front of the crowd, carrying his large sign.

Sorell complained to the judge that police had no right to separate the two sides, comparing it to segregation based on race or religion. But Albany advised him that under the law, even if someone is treated unfairly by police, the place to fight it is in court.

"They arrest you, you sue the pants off of them," Albany quipped.

"That's why we're here," Sorell said.

"Why we're here today is because you are accused of a crime," the judge shot back.

Salem police Capt. Robert Callahan said police weren't looking to arrest anyone that day. "We didn't want him hitting and elbowing other people," he said. When Sgt. Mark Riley saw the woman nearly knocked to the ground, he had no choice, Callahan said.

Sorell was adamant that he did not assault anyone, demonstrating how he was carrying his sign with his elbows down. And the judge agreed that even if he did nearly knock someone over, he didn't intend for it to happen.

Sorell apologized to Mary L'Heureux, the 71-year-old Salem woman he nearly knocked over. She said she was satisfied with the apology.

"I came to do my civic duty, and that's the way the judge ruled," L'Heureux said after the hearing.

Even though the case was dismissed, Sorell said he's still upset about the way he was treated that day.

"This isn't over," he said.

Friday, November 11, 2005

American Life in Poetry: Column 033

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Katy Giebenhain, an American living in Berlin, Germany, depicts a ritual that many diabetics undergo several times per day: testing one's blood sugar. The poet shows us new ways of looking at what can be an uncomfortable chore by comparing it to other things: tapping trees for syrup, checking oil levels in a car, milking a cow.


Glucose Self-Monitoring

A stabbing in miniature, it is,
a tiny crime,
my own blood parceled
drop by drop and set
on the flickering tongue
of this machine.
It is the spout-punching of trees
for syrup new and smooth
and sweeter
than nature ever intended.
It is Sleeping Beauty's curse
and fascination.
It is the dipstick measuring of oil
from the Buick's throat,
the necessary maintenance.
It is every vampire movie ever made.
Hand, my martyr without lips,
my quiet cow.
I'll milk your fingertips
for all they're worth.
For what they're worth.
Something like a harvest, it is,
a tiny crime.

Reprinted from "Best of Prairie Schooner: Fiction and Poetry," University of Nebraska Press, 2001, by permission of the author, whose most recent book is "Good Morning and Good Night", University of Illinois Press, 2005. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. For information on permissions and usage, or to download a PDF version of the column, visit www.americanlifeinpoetry.org.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Best Ex-Husband You Could Ever Ask For


The Best Ex-Husband You Could Ever Ask For

Traveling with my Ex,
we take our daughter and her friend to New York City.
Since we were traveling the same way,
it only made sense.

We settle into an old comfort,
the familiarity of all the years of car trips with our children,
as the girls chatter away in the backseat.
We worry about our sleep-deprived son at college,
and share our amazement at his last paper
he'd emailed both of us for our editing comments.

It's been six years of unwinding the knotted battles,
until they've mostly vanished, forgotten.
What were those battles all about,
when it felt like I was fighting for my life?

He talks of his girlfriend,
of living without making plans.
I gently hold him at a distance,
as he continues to vaguely court me.
as he, perhaps, vaguely courts all women.
We drive, facing our unknown lives ahead,
wondering about what still waits to be lived.

Mid trip, my mind goes blank with his talk
in all the old familiar ways.
This used to feel like dying, again and again.
Today it's like being a tourist
at a historic battleground.
Grass has grown over all the bloodshed.

We settle into the easy silence
of long married couples,
smiling as we overhear the conversations from the backseat.

It is good to find peace.
No furious expectations haunt us,
no heartbreaking slights,
no land-mined conversations.

We are thoughtful about simple things.
Thank you for driving,
for packing food, for trading off on paying tolls,
for finding this great Salsa club in Soho for our teenaged daughter.

We sit together, the parents, smiling and slightly anxious
as a man asks our daughter to dance.
We stand up as well, but tentatively,
following a rhythm and steps we don't know,
dancing like chaste old friends.
We are careful,
discovering this new dance.

by Elizabeth W. Garber from Listening Inside the Dance: A Life in Maine Infused with Tango. © The Illuminated Sea Press, 2005.

One red paperclip

Forget the Universe. The blogosphere is weirder than we can imagine.

This is the story of one red paperclip, and...

"I'm going to make a continuous chain of 'up trades' until I get a house. Or an Island. Or a house on an island. You get the idea. So, if you have something bigger or better than a red paperclip to trade, email me with the details..."

The Best of Hubble


In case you need a case for why the Hubble telescope is important, here it is.

"Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we CAN suppose." - JBS Haldane

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

What? And what's with the 86 cents?


My blog is worth $5,080.86.
How much is your blog worth?



As point of comparisons, wilwheaton.net is worth $1,639,988.70 (using his original blog location); Maudie's Poker Perspectives is worth $50,808.60; and Neil Gaiman's blog (where I found this) is worth $864,875.28. At least according to Technorati.

This uses Technorati's API which computes and displays your blog's worth using the same link to dollar ratio as the AOL-Weblogs Inc deal.

But I don't want to be the one to tell that sensitive little dwarf hausfrau that all those Guinness-fueled uber-posts have apparently diluted his market value.

More Clan and Kin

"They came to see that family need not be defined merely as those with whom they share blood, but for those whom they would give their blood." -Vincent Crummles, from Nicholas Nickleby

One of the few big family get-togethers of 2005, taken on November 6, this time another side of Peggy and Fred's multifaceted family.

From center clockwise: Bea and Clayton; Donnie; Lugene; Dave; Bonnie; Peggy; Fred; Cindy; Phil; Christina and Jordan; Jean; Vic; George; Matt; Pauline; Nick; Mary; Josh.

Not pictured: Joe (working); Paulette (working); Scott (working); Mark (working); and Lindsey (napping in next room).

Photo with Peggy's camera, courtesy of Nick's "just-friend" Christina (that's for Mimi).

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Busted at the Doctor's

Almost a live poker report here from Pauly's tournament. Got knocked out in 77th in the first hour by last night's winner of the WWdN Invitational, penner42, who as I write, is now in 1st finished in 45th place.

Iggy recently posted,

"Nobody is always a winner, and anybody who says he is, is either a liar or doesn't play poker." - Amarillo Slim

Yup, even good players lose often.
Accepting that truism as a student of poker is one thing. Using it as an excuse for poor play is another. Discerning the difference is what separates the long-term good players from the bad.
Which is about as true as anything I've read lately. As usual when I lose, especially when I lose early, I can usually chalk it up to a combination of bad cards, bad luck, and bad decisions, rather than any one thing. All three of which played a role in my exit this time around, although, as usual, impatience also caught up with me, and I played hands I shouldn't have been playing. So, as I write this, I'm in a 3-table SNG, seeing if I can recover my noive, (and my buy-in) as The Cowardly Lion says.

Nothing much else to write about Pauly's tournament. I started at a table with Iggy, as well as a few other recognizable blogger names. Iggy, btw, placed 2nd in last night's Wil Wheaton tournament, and from the chat at my table, it was a wild final table. Iggy - who didn't remember my screen name at first - hit me with a hard raise when I was holding bottom pair, and I had to fold. And that kind of set the tenor for the rest of my tenure. The small pocket pairs that have plagued me for my last few games - whispering in my ear of sets and quads but never delivering - continued to show regularly in my hands, and I spent most of my time at the first table donking my chips away, a term I learned from reading Wil's site, with minimum bets, and then folding at hard bets with over cards on the board. The one hard raise I made was greeted by a harder re-raise, and a call to that, and I folded my pair of 7s. The right decision, for once, as the first raiser had a pair of 9s that would ultimately take the hand. I think I won one hand in the 15 or so minutes I was there.

And then off to the second table where I'd ultimately meet my nemesis and short-stacked, push hard with an A9 when a 9 showed as high card on the flop. Unfortunately, penner42 also had a 9 in his hand, as well as a 5 card and thus two pair vs. my one. His two pair turned into a full house when another 5 showed at the turn... and that was all she wrote for Lil' Rico.

And, I just busted out in 14th place at my 27-person SNG when I called an All-In with 945 chips left and AJo offsuit and ran into a pair of Jacks. As I write, Maudie's in 16th place and Iggy has finished in 36th with 31 players left in Pauly's tournament. Good luck to Maudie, and I'm calling it a day.

Friday, November 04, 2005

American Life in Poetry: Column 032

Road Report

Driving west through sandstone's
red arenas, a rodeo of slow erosion
cleaves these plains, these ravaged cliffs.
This is cowboy country. Desolate. Dull. Except
on weekends, when cafes bloom like cactus
after drought. My rented Mustang bucks
the wind--I'm strapped up, wide-eyed,
busting speed with both heels, a sure grip
on the wheel. Black clouds maneuver
in the distance, but I don't care. Mileage
is my obsession. I'm always racing off,
passing through, as though the present
were a dying town I'd rather flee.
What matters is the future, its glittering
Hotel. Clouds loom closer, big as Brahmas
in the heavy air. The radio crackles
like a shattered rib. I'm in the chute.
I check the gas and set my jaw. I'm almost there.

Reprinted from "New York Quarterly," No. 59, by permission of the author, whose new book, "Future Ship," is due out this summer from Story Line Press. Poem copyright (c) 2003 by Kurt Brown. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. For information on permissions and usage, or to download a PDF version of the column, visit www.americanlifeinpoetry.org.

Bummer

I think I'm still in `60s-70s mode after the last two posts.

I had been looking forward to playing in the WWdN Invitational tonight, "The biggest homegame in the world," but Wil is still fiddling with times to accomodate the largest number of East/West Coast players and has set this one for 7 p.m. ET. That would put the game smack in the middle of our dinner hour, and I don't feel like eating between hands (or playing in between bites), nor wanting to try the patience of the ever-patient Peg. So I'll be taking a pass. That's not a complaint, btw. It's Wil's bat-and-ball and, as anyone who has tried to organize any schedule involving anything more than two people knows, someone is always going to have a problem with whatever time is set, as the comments on both Wil's site and Card Squad show (my favorite comment is the guy without money asking for a freeroll).

But maybe next week. I may try the logorrheic Doctor's game tomorrow if I finish my chores soon enough:

What: Saturdays with Dr. Pauly
Where: Poker Stars
When: Saturday November 5th at 1pm EST
Tournament Info: #14338880 (check under Private Tournament Tab)
Password: hiltons

Eligibility: Anyone with a Poker Stars account
Attire: Pants optional

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Me and Cat


Apropos of the post below, somewhere - either packed away in some unremembered box or possibly lost in one of our periodic basement floods - is my Chadwick high school yearbook, where there should be at least one picture of a young Fred in full imitative Cat Stevens wannabe mode.

Chadwick didn't allow facial hair on students, of course. Back in that day they didn't even allow jeans on students, but they had a tradition of inviting back the previous year's seniors in the late summer for one last get-together and year book addendum photo session before we went to wherever we were going. By that point my mustache and beard, always threatening to blossom while I was in school, had gone into full bloom, and I'm fairly sure I remember a photo, my arm around a couple of buddies, all of us sprawled against a chopper bike. Probably not the graduate image Chadwick wanted us to project, but what the hell, it was the early `70s, and if you lived through that period, you knew it was still really the late `60s.

My hair was already shoulder-length in school, although the Chadwick administration had complained several times to my parents about it. My father finally growled in a face-to-face meeting that given the tuition he was paying the school for me and my two brothers to attend, I should be allowed to paint myself blue and run buck-naked there if I wanted to. My Dad was less of a fan of my hair than they were, but that was the last I heard about it from anyone.

My girlfriend, Maggie, became a huge fan of Cat Stevens when Tea for the Tillerman came out in 1970. Nearly everyone did. The FM band was alive with "Where do the Children Play?" "Hard-Headed Woman," and "Wild World." It was a time of soft rock, with CSN&Y, Joni Mitchell, The Carpenters, Carole King, Simon and Garfunkel all at the height of popularity, and "Tea" was the distilled essence of that style. That album played literally every afternoon in my bedroom where Maggie and I were, ah, doing homework. And when:

Bring Tea for the Tillerman;
Steak for the Sun
Wine for the women who make the rain come
Seagulls sing your hearts away
'Cause while the sinners sin the children play
O Lord, how they play and play
For that happy day, for that...

happy day.

played out and the chorus faded away, the children in my room stopped playing for a moment, and I would get up, move the needle back to the beginning, and then we would all shine on.

Stevens was coming to the Troubadour, one of L.A.'s oldest clubs. Maggie and I had been to the Troub before, as it was also one of the few L.A. clubs that had an all-ages policy, a bit ironic since Hollywood had a curfew at the time to get us troubled yutes off the street, and you had to be very wary of cops when you left the Troub if you were underage, as the two of us were. The last time we had been to the Troub was to see one of my favorite bands, Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks, where, if you care, we became part of the live crowd noise recorded on their classic "Where's the Money?"

So, Maggie and Fred, young hippie prince and princess, put on their beads and finery and hustled off to West Hollywood one night to see Cat Stevens. We probably had dinner at Zap's, a long-departed Hollywood vegetarian restaurant that Maggie loved, although it's possible I talked her into breaking training and getting a burger at Barney's Beanery, a then-dive since become iconic that I loved because Janis Joplin used to drink there. One or the other, dependent on which of us had the more engaging argument that night.

You couldn't sit at the bar area in the Troubadour if you were underage, and you definitely could not sit upstairs on the couches in the loft with the glitterati of the day, and we were obviously very young and very inexperienced with night clubbing and it was the last show of the night of Stevens first appearance in L.A. since the release of "Tea" and all the hoi polloi were all there. All leading up to explain why Maggie and I secured the worse seats in the house, so far out that we would have been back on the boulevard if we leaned too far back in our seats, right next to the performers' entrance. But we were there.

Opening for Stevens was a then-unknown and very nervous Carly Simon, whose self-titled debut album was yet to be released. As we were listening to Simon sing "That's the Way I Always Heard it Should Be," Maggie started poking me - hard - in the ribs.

"Look, look," she hissed. And I turned to see Cat Stevens standing next to Maggie, having emerged from the performers' entrance to listen to Simon. "It's him!" Maggie hissed even louder. Stevens turned and smiled at her. "Like her?" he whispered to Maggie about Simon. "Very much," she whisperered back. "Almost as much as you."

He smiled again, maybe at the innocent double entendre. We didn't know it, but he and Simon were an item at the time. "Anticipation," a song that before becoming known as a ketchup flogging commercial, was written by Simon while she was waiting for Stevens to pick her up for a date. In any case, he said, "She's going to be really big."

The song ended, and Cat asked, "What's your name?" He told Maggie to enjoy the show and disappeared back into the performers' alley. And later came out and performed, and midway through his set said, "This is for pretty Maggie in back," and then played "Wild World."

I had to stop her from rushing the stage at the "ooooh, baby, baby" part.

Stevens would have a few more hits, notably "Peace Train," and "Moon Dancer," but never again anything as massive an album as "Tea." As you probably know, he'd eventually convert to Islam and turn his back on commercial music. It was the last time Maggie and I went to the Troubadour together; my last time at the Troub altogether. In a year I'd be in the Army, and on the road that would eventually lead here, in my kitchen in New Hampshire, looking out the window at golden Fall light, writing, in the year of our Lord, 2005.

It was such a long time ago, in what sometimes seems like another country now. But I can still go back any time I want.

The Singer Renews the Song

Maudie, over at Poker Perspectives, doesn't post enough. When she does, it's always worth reading.

Maudie's latest essay made me remember there was a time when - inspired by Richard FariƱa - what I most wanted to do with my life was learn how to play the mountain dulcimer and head for the local coffee houses of Hermosa Beach. But I quickly learned that - like painting - I have absolutely no talent for making music, as much as I enjoy it. I had to settle for being regularly mistaken for Cat Stevens, circa his "Tea for the Tillerman" era, much to to the amusement of my more musical friends.

The Bleeding Mind

A great man was giving a lecture in a town
about thirty miles from here. The lecture was called
"Modern and Contemporary Documented Cases of Stigmata,
or, The Bleeding Mind." Cheryl and I were excited
about going, We managed to make several wrong turns
at poorly marked junctures, and arrived at the church
just in time. There were hundreds of cars parked
up and down Main Street, and a line of people
greater than anything we could have imagined. "Who
would have thought this many people would have been
interested in stigmata?" I said. "It's the whole
crucifixion thing," Cheryl said. "You know, people
say they don't want to be crucified, but then they
go around being obsessed with it. Look at this line,
they all want to know if they're candidates for the
stigmata." "That's crazy," I said, "that's not why
we're here, is it?" "Speak for yourself," she said.
"And, besides, this man, Ian Wilson, is supposed to
be very sexy. He's eighty years old, but with this
long white hair that he whips back and forth as he
speaks. At the end he goes out into the audience
actually weeping as he touches the two or three
people he believes may become stigmatic in their
lifetimes." "Cheryl," I said, "I don't think we're
going to get in. It's a very long line. And, besides,
the looks on some of these peoples' faces are beginning
to scare me." "My god, Aaron, I don't know what you
thought we were going to, a lecture on flatboats of
the Mississippi? This is all or nothing at all. Of
course people are terrified out of their minds,"
she said. "Flatboats of the Mississippi sounds
good to me," I said.

"The Bleeding Mind" by James Tate from Return to the City of White Donkeys: Poems.© Ecco Press.

I usually refrain from commenting on the poems I put up here, feeling that if they're good enough to speak to me, they're probably good enough to speak to you. But I should note that I'm assuming "The Writer's Almanac" introduced a typo in line 9, reproducing "imagined" as "imaged." I might be wrong now, as Mr. Monk sings, and I apologize to both Garrison Keillor and James Tate if I am, but I don't think so.

Incidentally, "the great man," Ian Wilson, is a well-known author and lecturer on the religious paranormal.

Sam's 1st Halloween

via Salem News Online:

On her first Halloween in Salem, Samantha Stephens was busy all night. The bronze representation of "Bewitched" star Elizabeth Montgomery in Lappin Park was posing with fans almost nonstop.

"We came all the way from Boston," said Joan Pennant as her niece Yuniesh Robinson peeked above Samantha's broomstick. "I grew up with Samantha."

"Sam is my role model," joked an older niece, Fiona Gerrick, after snapping a picture.

"I love her," Pennant said. "I wish I was a witch. ... I would change the world. I would change evil for good."

A smiling Mayor Stanley Usovicz arrived moments later to see how the new statue was being received.

"What's the consensus?" he asked.

In fact, a steady stream of fans took turns coming near, touching the cold metal, sometimes bending over to read the bronze plaque on the sidewalk.

"Can I get up on the broomstick?" A woman studied the figure before deciding it can't be done and settling for a picture just standing beside the tin goddess.

"I hear people say it's ugly," said Pat Ayres of Salem. "There are a lot of ugly things in the city. But, believe me, it's not ugly. It goes with the city."

Kids seemed especially drawn to Samantha. And visitors from all over the world stopped to touch the TV Land creation.

"It's a really popular TV show," said a wistful Patricia Kimoto, a tourist from Mexico. Both the recent movie and the 1960s television show are well-known south of the border, she explained, as companion Javier Felix snapped her picture.

And why not?

"It's about the witch," Kimoto said. "It's about magic. I want to be like her, but in real life."

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

House

I lie in a bedroom of a house
that was built in 1862, we were told—
the two windows still facing east
into the bright daily reveille of the sun.

The early birds are chirping,
and I think of those who have slept here before,
the family we bought the house from—
the five Critchlows—

and the engineer they told us about
who lived here alone before them,
the one who built onto the back
of the house a large glassy room with wood beams.

I have an old photograph of the house
in black and white, a few small trees,
and a curved dirt driveway,
but I do not know who lived here then.

So I go back to the Civil War
and to the farmer who built the house
and the rough stone walls
that encompass the house and run up into the woods,

he who mounted his thin wife in this room,
while the war raged to the south,
with the strength of a dairyman
or with the tenderness of a dairyman

or with both, alternating back and forth
so as to give his wife much pleasure
and to call down a son to earth
to take over the cows and the farm

when he no longer had the strength
after all the days and nights of toil and—
the sun breaking over the same horizon
into these same windows,

lighting the same bed-space where I lie
having nothing to farm, and no son,
the dead farmer and his dead wife for company,
feeling better and worse by turns.

"House" by Billy Collins from The Trouble With Poetry And Other Poems.© Random House, New York.

Great Hera!






Taking a break from crime-fighting, the Princess Diana dances with the devil in the pale moonlight.

The Littlest Dragon


We had our usual 25-30 kids coming by 10 Reeds Ferry Way last night including our grand-nephew, Clayton, who used those little wings to fly all the way from Bedford and claim some Skittles.

This was Clayton's Halloween coming out and, from the grin, I would guess he had a good time. You can see a larger version by clicking on the photos.