27 February 2014
Contrapuntal jackhammering woodpeckers and a cardinal singing for his territory at first light. Sun enough higher that it makes foot-warming patches on the rug, and is not always in my eyes when I'm driving. An entire year blessed by not hearing a single number by Elvis or Michael Jackson. And, in three weeks or so, whether I wake up on the right side of the grass or not, spring peepers will make the evenings theirs.
11 January 2014
The woman in front of me lets space form in the express checkout line, in clear violation of Massachusetts protocol mandating diligent gap-closure lest anyone get ahead of you. She's focused on counting her items. "One over," she says. "You're busted," I smile, but she does not move to leave the queue. The universe shrugs off a wobble as the guy after me nests the haphazard stack of hand baskets under the conveyor.
10 December 2013
The classic English taboo word erupts out of screamed anger and pain, the only intelligible word, its power vitiated by sheer repetition. I hear them arguing way before they heave to on the commuter rail platform. She sobs. "I feel like I suck at my life and I don't know what to do any more." Private first-world problem; get a grip. I want to hiss at her. "You knew once. Why can't you know again?" Of course, I don't.
21 November 2013
Yesterday, to re-stoke my grandson's teenage metabolic furnace after I pick him up at school, I buy him an Italian grinder: order number 47. The same routine today, and the order number is again 47. Maybe I'm stuck in an infinite Ground Hog Day time loop. Or maybe now I can prove God exists and this is a message from Him. Seeking meaning, how sprightly the mind weaves fabric from such fragile threads of coincidence.
04 November 2013
My granddaughters are at table with the freshman volleyball team; their mother and I sit two tables away. I keep a low profile, try not to mortify them. I smile back at Ali's discreet wave, disarm the camera's flash, and speak when spoken to. For the first time, I'm observing them in the wild. A dozen girls of fourteen. Every single one of them has straight hair halfway down her back. It hits me: this is their pack.
17 October 2013
I'm positive that the two black-suited young men striding across the street are not itinerant proselytizers, seeking their way through the mundane world powered by their zeal alone. At the curb, one hugs a young woman, whose face tells me with heart-piercing utter certainty that someone has died. My cherished delusion that I'm so far out on the spectrum as to be impervious to transmitted human emotion—ashes, embers.
13 October 2013
It's not customary, this northeast wind. It brings in cold pinpricks of drizzle, a permeating grey, and a novel olfactory signature. As I climb the stairs to the commuter rail platform, my nose gets rugosa roses, but then it's all downhill. Rancid decaying grasses. Discarded phony hazelnut coffee. Diesel exhaust with cloying drier sheets. Cigaret smoke. I swear I will rip out my nostrils if ersatz butter is next.
27 September 2013
Cheryl and I have spent weeks shepherding froward Uncle Russell along his path into assisted living, and we're just driving home, beat, from his actual move. I haven't even indulged in a sigh of relief yet. A car noses out of a side street the better to see. Driver notices a pedestrian approach the crosswalk he's athwart, and backs off. Wow. I gather up this small grace-note of vehicular courtesy, rebalancing my day.
15 September 2013
My two granddaughters play freshman volleyball. They're into it and are practicing their moves in the street, but I'm glad neither shows any jockish killer instinct. Strong enough but lacking consistency, they spend a lot of time chasing the ball, but not as much as they spend arguing over who by rights should be chasing it. Zeal flags; they call it a day. One chases the last ball, skipping, hard to do in sandals.
17 August 2013
Mom speaks. My granddaughter stalks by. In an unguarded moment she lets escape an aggrieved sigh, grits out a technically civil reply. Her emotions out in the open, she doesn't care that I've heard: heaving sighs is a major form of early-teen aerobics. Despite memories of rather more harrowing mother-daughter beefs I force the thinnest of smiles. I know. She didn't stop growing up at three, nor will she at fourteen.
15 August 2013
I'm tearing into a luscious wrinkled native peach, its flesh separating cleanly from the pit—gratifying enough in itself—when a deep powerful whir throbs through my open window. A family of turkeys has landed in my yard, an appearance not yet common enough to ignore. This, I blaspheme to myself in delight, is exactly how it would sound were the Holy Spirit to descend upon me, traveling incognito. It's a good day.
12 August 2013
Recoiling from the stifling dense nightmare of a Boston subway crowd, I find sanctuary on a plaza bench. Concrete, steel, and glass surround me; they stand back, wary of my overt distaste. The Procrustean bench refuses to accommodate my slouch. I can feel oaken sentience and memory of edged tools through the nerves of my fingertips. Worn smooth, yet textured, the wood could still throw a splinter if it wanted to.
28 July 2013
A chill and nagging April wind fails to stay the bottle scavenger from his appointed rounds at the commuter train. He throws open a lid, delves for nickel deposits, strides to the next trash can—a ravaged Kevin Bacon clone in shades. Some regulars may nod in recognition; he doesn't. Without that flicker I'll never ask. How much does he make? What hours? Is this territory his alone? Is he as cutthroat as a lobsterman?
27 July 2013
I'm content to sweep my driveway, pushing a thousand glittering prisms of auto glass into a pile. Because I can. Because I'm not the head-injured kid in a coma with a fifty-fifty chance, nor his passenger, also with a fifty-fifty chance, who'll be a paraplegic if he lives, nor his weeping friend who came to my yard to pray at the big oak that finally stopped the Civic last night. I'm just out a couple hours of sleep.
17 June 2013
We three old friends watch the granddaughter play the daredevil on her swing set and run across the back yard, all rudimentary coordination and boundless two-year-old energy. She gathers acorns beside an oak wider than she is tall, lit by golden light of setting sun. I pace to where my shadow's head lay. I know my height. I compute the arctangent. The sun is ten degrees above the horizon. Now the day is complete.
26 May 2013
Cheryl spies a handsome small tan frog clamped to the rim of a geranium pot. We inch closer, peering, hope welling. Yes, right on its back, the telltale X: a spring peeper. I just saved myself the cold muddy springtime safari to my backyard swamp that I've been promising to do for 35 years. When a bucket list item delivers itself to you unbidden, signed and sealed, it would be bad karma to bitch that it didn't sing.
19 May 2013
At the commuter rail station I share a bench with an infernal leg-jiggler. A mockingbird quarters the trackside wasteland, pausing often to give me wing flash displays like some mutant butterfly, dead silent against the background of chittering chimney swifts. Except for one isolated burst of redwing. Oh, great, now I have to do a mind meld. Why redwing? Was it random? And if not random, what were your criteria?
18 May 2013
I won't have passed away. I won't have gone home to my Lord. I will have died. On pain of my ghostly vengeance, my obit may not contain the word avid. Though it'll probably be public record, the cause of my death is nobody's goddamned business; my friends will already know. Come to think of it, I've done nothing a million of my betters haven't, so unless newspapers stop charging for printing obituaries, don't bother.
16 May 2013
It's mid-May; I shouldn't have been surprised. But I was—and delighted—when I saw a horse chestnut in bloom. Cones of white flowers, leaves like the fingers of God; dead giveaways to burr-hunters. I know a tree in Attleboro, a tree in Rehoboth, a tree in Mansfield, and I'm sorely tempted to GPS them and put maps on the web. But it won't do for infidels to gather fall's evanescent gold-brown spheroids. Secrecy rules.
08 May 2013
"I lost my little pal. I had him for fourteen years. I buried him in a wood coffin in a corner of the garden. It's tough." My barber's dog has died. From the shrine in the shop corner he picks up a five-by-seven and explains the grave to me: flowers, marble plaque, half a dozen solar lawn lights, solar butterflies, Virgin Mary. I say, "So many years; it's hard. He's like family." The man pauses. "No, I trusted him."
05 May 2013
Some have surgical wounds, some have scarred heart tissue: in cardiac rehab we're all damaged, by definition. We're men, comfortable not blurting out our feelings about this, how vulnerable we are since we've been introduced to the grim reaper. Relentless professional supervision forbids competition amongst us, but we are still men, and on the bikes, weight machines, and treadmills we strive for our small glory.
25 April 2013
It's time to welcome the late-April advent of black flies, renewing as they do my appreciation for the relative benignness of ticks, mosquitoes, and deer flies. Swarms carom off my face while I'm outside maintaining my manicured monoculture acre; I catch one of them under my eyelashes and crush her to death. I rejoice that trout gorge on adults emerging from their aquatic pupae, and that eleven species are extinct.
10 April 2013
Two weeks of peepers, not much green, but it's 70 degrees. A young mother striding uphill with a stroller looks and smiles as I swing across the center line to give her leeway. She flaunts her joy, and it's infectious. A morose guy in pulmonary rehab, wheelchair-bound and piped for oxygen, bobs his head to Cyndi Lauper on the oldies station. Promise abounds. April is the explanation. These are not January phenomena.
28 March 2013
In winter I'll play an MP3 of a swamp full of spring peepers to remind myself that life will continue. Often enough their debut evening follows a day of warmish rain, and they usually—not always—beat the equinox. This year, on February 25th I awoke and smiled. A cardinal singing his territorial ass off: I'd frittered away weeks recovering from surgery and Spring blindsided me. More snow coming; no peepers; OK by me.
15 February 2013
A cow just donated tissue for my new aortic valve, and I'm deliberately ignoring PETA. My cardiologist tells Cheryl and me his partner was snowed in at a local hospital with a full cardiac catheterization team, just waiting for new clients from the snow-shoveling cohort. Still, I plunge a shovel into a snowbank, so Cheryl will be sure to see it when she turns into the driveway. Lucky I'm still alive, in so many ways.
09 January 2013
I used to be way more into greed than social correctness, but my parents insisted I write thank-yous, and finally that tree has borne fruit. Via Dick Tracy two-way wrist radio I've just sent thank-you notes to my grandchildren for the coffee they gave me for Christmas. Now I'm a dinosaur clinging to outdated custom, yet with abysmal standards, lamely pandering to the zeitgeist by sending texts. A prerogative of age.
09 January 2013
Coming with the dogs to the snowy field I expected to follow my footprints from our previous visit. Instead, drifting snow had obliterated them for fifty yards. Then wondrous pristine foot-shaped mesas: stunning. Unconsolidated powder atop wet snow and two days of the proper weather converged to let wind etch away the surrounding loose snow, leaving my compressed footprints in crisp relief. Ephemeral and soon to go.
26 December 2012
After fifty years, I can see normally when I get out of bed, thanks to cataract surgery. One eye provides focused video to my caffeine-deprived night-owl brain long before it's ready, but my brain's OK with that. Waking, it delights to recall a girl I knew who believed that sunbeams create dust, as I toast my feet on the sun-warmed rug and watch gleaming motes betray the secret motion of currents I can't even feel.
06 December 2012
My grandson taught me that you can fully specify a man's basic haircut with two small integers—the size numbers of the clipper's guide combs—proxies for the length of sides and top. This precise concision intoxicates a nerd who's no connoisseur of chaos. It's as elegant and powerful as being able to walk into the deli and ask for liverwurst cut to thickness number 23 on the slicer: the delight of disambiguation.
04 December 2012
My grandson tosses backpack and books into my car. We greet. I ask if I can consult with geometry homework. No need, he says, and attends to his hand-held digital device. Arriving home, he tells me, "Ma says if you have errands you can leave." He goes inside, and I drive off. A quarter hour alone before his mother and sisters come. At fifteen I craved solitude; how easy to convince myself I'm fulfilling his wishes.
26 November 2012
Gift of the Atlantic, a raw grey wind tears at the flags marking the Dunkin' drive-thru. Abetted by twangy country guitar, noxious pine tree air freshener scent oozes out through a pickup's sheet metal. Counter lady's tattoo-sheathed forearms clutch my money. My bubbled pretty life is under siege. Only the air-borne power of freshly ground coffee lets me face this unattractive Black Friday without fear and loathing.
07 November 2012
The last katydid standing, his sluggish song truncated, only just gave up the ghost, and the typical Halloween storm stripped the trees ragged. First snow today; winter is near. We don't yet see the austere palette in which brown oak leaf remnants pass for gaudy, but it will be welcome. Bleakness after summer's polychrome binge is restorative, an essential part of the yearly cycle. And, fortunately, of finite length.
04 November 2012
The FM Celtic hour washes over me on the hypnotic highway drive to visit Dad, and I wait for the reels and jigs to trigger old tribal memory. I'll sop up whiskey, understand Gaelic, brawl, make my fiddle sing, endure the hard righteous life of the congenitally aggrieved, and woo dark-haired fiery-eyed feral maids with poetry and silver words. On the way home it's the Bach hour, and I have to resist conquering Europe.
24 October 2012. Appears in Stymie.
My grandson and his dad toss a football around; I smile at their banter and laughter. The barefooted boy chases a pass, dancing across the pea-stone driveway. All I see of dad is white hands and face, an occasional glow of his cigar. Two lawn mowers still duel. No one's eager to go inside, where a big pot of chili simmers. We don't so much rage against the dying of the light as indulge a little yankee contrariness.
21 October 2012
Last night I saw my grandson chauffeured off to the homecoming dance. After Sponge Bob, my granddaughter drew tattoos on my wrists: left, a smiley-face skull and crossbones; right, thunderhead with lightning strikes and optional bird, similar to a Portuguese man-o'-war. My niece took her yearling boy out into the cold pre-dawn to see his first Orionids. I'm a day older—not an exorbitant price to pay for such bounty.
10 October 2012. Appears in Short, Fast, and Deadly.
Uncle Russell is a consumer of talk radio, contrary, cantankerous, bedeviled by indecision, always second-guessing himself. But he's sure—adamant—that October is his favorite month. As I drive down a corridor of sun-colored maples, light grey sky, light rain falling, the yellow is luminous, almost palpable. If I were indulging him in the pleasure of an argument, I'd counter with April, but my heart wouldn't be in it.
27 September 2012
The clerk at my hardware store helps me look for a light bulb. No luck. He's spieling about the damn kids these days and tells me the generation coming up—seventeen and eighteen year olds—are rude and lazy. I know him and I'm prepared. He's what Cheryl calls a serial talker, not acutely attuned to irony, nor to personal space. I have to do it: "How old are you?" "Twenty-one," he says. I feel my lip corners twitch.
08 September 2012
Dumpster should have tipped me off; now ladder and scaffold. My neighbor and his buddies are shingling his roof, outracing thunderstorms. Nail guns pop. Hammer blows. Technical exchanges, shouts, laughter. An extravagant belch. AC/DC on the boom box. An Acela whistles past East Junction. In 1970 I listened to a drunk on the bus mutter all the way to Boston, "I'm the best f@#*ing roofer," but I doubt he could compete.
05 September 2012
Work-booted guy sits, jeans crusty brown, waits for the train. He comments on a vomit puddle; pauses. "Never say it can't get any worse. It can." His girlfriend left him for another guy and it's all over Facebook. Briefly had no job, no home, but he's OK with it. "I read the Bible every night. It's all part of God's plan. I do wonder why He throws me these curves." He looks at me. "Do you believe that?" I temporize.
21 August 2012. Appears in Short, Fast, and Deadly.
This morning I'm the first of my peeps to hold down a porch chair, and I'm pretty damn pleased about it. Our B&B neighbor heaves to on the veranda, where I rusticate with book and passable coffee. Despite my New England introvert aura, our exchange escalates from "good morning" to "how are you?" He says "fair to middling"—some days that covers it. Then the low sun backlights a bike, strobes off its rotating spokes.
17 August 2012
Boston train's late. I'm a fly on the wall to a drama on the platform. Talking marriage, an aggrieved couple relives a brutish farce of threats, insults, and arguments. Grievance permeates the air. Obsessively hashed, hashed again, rehashed, but never resolved: "She didn't have no f---in' need to get mouthy on me." Train pulls in; they board. I pick my way gingerly across the f-bomb cratered asphalt to another car.
02 August 2012. Appears in Camroc Press Review.
Last night my grandson guided me on a full-moon nature walk: a labor of love compensates for my diabetes-blasted night vision. Today I started a round of interventional cardiology—love that term—which has already saved my sorry butt more than once. Cheryl and I saw Dad, whose stroke might well have killed him. My Holocaust experience is Wiesel's Night. I ate ginger ice cream. Who dares tell me my life is not good?
30 July 2012. Appears in Camroc Press Review.
From the cliff road I watch vultures soar above and below. No vultures? Gaze at the Catskills. Wiry geezer, all swaggering pockets and straps and walking staff, tells Aussies with him they've seen a red-tailed hawk, or maybe an immature bald eagle. Lightning fails to strike him down. Some of my ashes will be dumped here; some will wait in my closet for other venues. As if in death I'll be any better at multitasking.
06 July 2012. Appears in Short, Fast, and Deadly.
The eve, I dice cucumbers; full moon, a wood thrush near, and fireworks next town over. Independence Day, the guy with fifty tractors and lawn mowers in his yard is closed, MY PLACE MY RULES spray-painted on his barn. Ice-cream man blares Doppler-shifting "Turkey In The Straw." Eleven-year-old next door shrieks a sincere "I hate you!" at her mother. Black and bold orange monarch tacks randomly past me. Red Sox lose.
24 June 2012
From a wire coat hanger my grandfather constructed hackle pliers, a fly-tying tool, and weighted it with solder. On his death my grandmother gave it to me to use in my own angling career. For my grandson, I'm making a fart-harp from the same materials. This, along with a propane torch, is an essential tool for a fifteen-year-old. I'm still not completely convinced that making fart jokes with him signals progress.
03 June 2012
It's poor form for a man who professes he'd do anything for his grandchildren to balk at attending his granddaughters' dance recital, except I learn from experience. Three long, brutal hours. Egomaniacal dance mistress. Fog machines can be overused and I find rap vile. But there's less JonBenét-Madonna sleaze than usual, rain keeps the auditorium down to a simmer, and I see my girls. It's not really all about me.
26 May 2012
I'm in the city. As if it's the most natural thing in the world for a New Englander to talk to strangers, a white-mustachioed gent busts out and tells me I could sharpen and balance the lawn mower blade I'm carrying myself. His overt neighborliness delights me, and I grin at my inclusion in his fraternity of competent tool users. I refuse to believe he mistakes me for a fanatic devotee of suburban green monoculture.
19 May 2012. Appears in Stymie.
In the long shadows my grandchildren desecrate a soccer field with improvised barefoot baseball: taking turns, one fungoes a wiffle ball while the other two chase and dive on it. Since they invent and tweak the rules on the fly, there are re-dos galore. They adopt animal pseudonyms for color commentary and dramatic scoring announcements. Agreeable and considerate of each other, they run and laugh. They laugh a lot.
13 May 2012. Appears in Thickjam.
I avoid interrupting a pair of lovebirds on the train platform. Perhaps my grasp of karma is faulty? What comes around is in-your-face human frailty and wickedness. An obese woman tows her morbidly bowlegged son to her car. I grimace and avert my eyes only to see the platform's crumbling, criminally lousy masonry. But: swifts chitter, rugosa roses bloom, and new anthills rise over the pavement's tar-sealed cracks.
12 May 2012. Appears in Vine Leaves Literary Journal.
In Cav's back yard the sun sets on our sea-dark wine. Contented, we banter, speculating on wildlife's total obliviousness to noisy lethal tractors. Calm dusky green envelops us, not early spring's tentative pale yellowy stuff, but the dense rich green of full-throttle photosynthesis. We are in a place and time that make a brief state of grace inevitable: a wood thrush sings in the tree above us. And we can see him.
01 May 2012. Appears in August 2012 Short, Fast, and Deadly.
Crossing a street, one kind of person trots to acknowledge a stopped driver's consideration. The other kind seizes his right of way and slackens his swagger, taunting the delayed car. I see both as khaki-trousered teens traverse their high school campus. I memorize the laughing girl and boy holding hands who break into awkward skipping, oblivious to me, the huge elephant-grey pinfeathered beech, and the gentle rain.
19 April 2012
It's a gift on a silver platter to my smug superior side, the dark part that so loves to despise cheesy brute pop culture and ignorance. Agape, I blink twice; no mistake. Right there on the convenience store's sugary slush machine a banner exhorts, "Guzzle for less." If only it were a simple case of competent marketers knowing that "guzzle" has no positive connotation whatsoever, and cynically pandering to our greed.
14 April 2012. Appears in August 2012 Short, Fast, and Deadly.
There's a perverse thrill in alternately whiffing scorched bone and the crayon scent of articulating paper: on one hand, slaughterhouse, on the other hand, comforting flashback to childhood. Add volatile solvents and adhesives; add easy workmanlike shop talk of #557 burrs. The dermatologist offers only a cauterizer's audible electric zap and nostril-tweaking charred flesh. For good times my dentist wins hands down.
10 April 2012
Dandelions resist man's attempted genocide. Every year, when we need it most, dandelions in gorgeous profusion reaffirm life. They protect my delicate theological sensibilities from the violence of trying to believe the literal Easter story, and obviate any need to entertain a metaphorical version. Failing its cockroach reincarnation, maybe my dead body's second-hand molecules will help push up fields of dandelions.
06 April 2012
It takes hours to yank out two hundred screen tacks with my needle-nose pliers, but I'm not insanely perched atop the step-ladder to do it. The online how-to suggests tensioning the new screen with a wedge-driven jig; my jury-rig works. It says trim the aluminum with a utility knife. Despite my intuition's frenzied warnings I risk it—elegant. We dine to the St. Matthew Passion, and I'm growing fonder of blueberries.
24 March 2012
I was about fifteen when I bought my propane torch; Dad said that's what I'd need for some damn fool soldering I wanted to do. It served me well for igniting sketchy recalcitrant homemade fireworks, and it kept my tender bits at a safer distance. I made a couple of wedding rings with it, too, but it's been idle for twenty years now. My grandson just turned fifteen. With proper words of blessing I gave him the torch.
03 March 2012. Appears in August 2012 Short, Fast, and Deadly.
Ten degrees north of freezing. A guy at the train shivers in rapper shorts and light jacket. Cell chatter isn't enough for him; he thrusts with hockey small talk, I parry with baseball defense. I'm in no mood to chat, but the day is redeemed: a hawk crosses the tracks in a paralyzingly gorgeous glide just below the catenary. I lack the true birder's gestalt, can't even tell if it's a buteo or accipiter. I just gape.
02 March 2012
This winter I missed feeling the anechoic stillness of a deep fresh snowfall, the night newly crystal clear, a great horned owl's hoot shockingly near. But I can get over it. I'm at the field, red-bellied woodpecker calling in the woods, Canada geese honking overhead, automotive noise along the highway. An unlikely combination, it still tells me spring and rebirth impend. My tear-assing pug chases flocks of robins.
27 February 2012. Appears in August 2012 Short, Fast, and Deadly.
I feel grateful for yet another year above ground confounding my doctors' expectations. Of course my gratitude embraces my wife, family, and friends. Also shahi paneer, cheap honest Portuguese red, and J. S. Bach. Not to mention my salivary glands, who indulge my inner child during rare and particularly robust yawns, when they let the little scamp gleefully emulate the archerfish, only without its deadly accuracy.
21 February 2012
However sensuous it may be to scrape scary-sharp steel over my face, paying two bucks for a razor blade still galls me. So I use my Mach 3s until the blue indicator strips shred to tattered white. With my right arm recently splinted, I found I could shave equally well left-handed by moving slowly and deliberately. This perfected my right-hand technique, too. It took forty-odd years to learn to shave right. Pitiful.
19 February 2012
Uncle Russell's idea of post-surgery rehab is complete bed rest, so he's cranky at the forced walking. When they spring him we drive to the market so he can replenish his larder. He picks up bread, olive loaf, Jimmy Dean frozen sausage, egg, and cheese on biscuit. Of course I know what's best, and just barely resist the totalitarian nanny itch to make him buy some broccoli. He's achieved ninety—how wrong can he be?
09 February 2012. Appears in April 2012 Short, Fast, and Deadly.
Hanging out with wine after a day of low-key camaraderie at the sea-shore, how pleasant to reprise sniggery junior high days and read that the male octopus has a special arm, a specific one of his eight that's evolved into double duty as his sex organ. My own quest for the facts of life cracked open when I discovered the last vowel in penis isn't "u." The dictionary definition didn't help much, but now I had the key.
01 February 2012
Skin crawls, stomach churns: the prospect of a club tonight. I exaggerate only a little. Shouting over loud crappy music, sardine-packed crowds in my face, twin horrors of dancing and light beer. Hours I'll never get back. But every time I do go I catch some vibe of essential pack-animal humanity, a coherent shimmer out of chaos, that reminds me we're connected and nothing's changed in millennia. A hard-won payoff.
24 January 2012. Appears in April 2012 Short, Fast, and Deadly.
For St. Patrick's Day practice, Jeff boiled us one of his excellent corned beef and cabbage dinners. After, rather than old dead Shakespeare again—Hamlet stabs Polonius; Ali empathizes: "How awkward!"—Gram uses a deck of crisp Bicycle playing cards to teach the grandkids, as fans of politics and Dilbert might agree, something useful instead: building houses of cards, clock solitaire, Klondike, and other card magic.
22 January 2012
In a year which brought two healthy, adorable babies into my circle, nothing has shaken out the hoariest and truest circle-of-life clichés like getting, while driving home from an old friend's wake, the news of a beloved uncle's death. We are forced to stare it down in the starkest terms: life is pain—and joy; some must die, yet we live on; we're next. Is this what syphilitic old Nietzsche claimed made him stronger?
18 January 2012
What little strength I have I don't derive from touching the ground, like some two-bit Antaeus wannabe. I get it from my gently snoring wife spooned against my back. I get it from laughing with my roughhousing grandchildren, and sharing meals, wine, and conversation with my friends. I get it when I hear surf and watch vultures. Lucky for me that none of them begrudge a parasite an extravagant helping of their riches.
06 January 2012. Appears in April 2012 Short, Fast, and Deadly.
In our early teens, nearly every summer day my friends and I bicycled to some place we'd never been. One was Camp Myles Standish, street after street of ghost-ridden barracks, abandoned to the crows and three raucous boys. A startling artifact of World War II, it served POWs and myriad GIs. We were born just five years after an enterprise of overwhelming scale, and our parents had made it almost invisible to us.
03 January 2012
Water pump wakes me at 3:30 A.M. Uh-oh. Kitchen's lit up. Insomniac Gram's rinsing recyclables at the sink. I stumble in and croak out "What's up?" She spins, staring, and lets loose a heartfelt, throaty, carving-knife-in-the-shower scream, so worth my lost beauty rest. A startle reflex that much more robust than a twitch and a gasp is such a gratifying gift. Our grandchildren plot for hours how they can scare her.
23 December 2011
For mental health, I skin and dismember vegetables. I rock the knife to cut creepily uniform pieces, boil them in stock with spices, and give quarts of it to my grandchildren. I try not to nick my left thumb, which long ago had a two-stitch meeting with my first jackknife. The skins and rejected bits I save to brew stock for the next batch. When I'm doing this alone I play Brahms on the stereo, really, really loud.
16 December 2011
Reaching into her backpack, Hunter asks me if I want to see the newest book she's reading. Because I well know my grandchildren's propensity for jokes, I ask "Is it some revolting thing I don't want to see?" "Well, maybe not," she eagerly replies. I can tell from her proud hesitant smile that I need to notice something. "OK, I'd love to." She hauls out a honking paperback and cracks it open. "563 pages," she beams.
16 December 2011
My seventh-grade granddaughters doze in the back seat while we wait for their brother to emerge from school. Home, they change into PJs. Ali makes a sub of pepperoni, buffalo chicken, cheese, mayo, and mustard. Hunter grabs a chicken leg and ranch dressing. Jord gets sub leftovers and ice cream. We settle in to watch American Chopper, scoffing grapes, pickled onions, and mini-donuts, and chat about the dog's jowls.
14 December 2011
Drab medium grey so dense I can only guess where the sun is: it's a day that threatens snow. I walk toward the Target store, scrunched up against the cheer-sapping chill. A lovely woman comes out, slight, dark-haired, lively-eyed. She pauses to examine her register tape, singing softly to herself. Warm humanity, usually so private, flares in the Christmas-shopping crowd. It's all I can do not to stop dead and gawk.
04 December 2011
I hear Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" at a cherished family wedding and just before I find Dad after his stroke, as if I need memory aids for these events. Now it gives me quite the frisson; pure superstition, of course. I'll believe it's not coincidence as soon as my radio blasts "You Can't Always Get What You Want" whenever I pass a Powerball billboard or a gorgeous intelligent woman flashes me an innocent smile.
25 November 2011
My grandchildren and niece unexpectedly sleep over. It's the usual debauchery: stay up late, watch stupid TV, play card and word games, eat massive amounts of ice cream, act silly. I gaze at a granddaughter brushing her hair at the mirror. She carefully explains the finer points of using hair gel and mousse. She wastes her effort; all I remember is how much I love this girl. How easily a good day becomes a great day.
17 November 2011. Appears in January 2012 Short, Fast, and Deadly.
The brain within its groove is a freaking marvel. Dad had a stroke yesterday that would've felled an unluckier man. He sits up in his hospital bed, hands on the tray table before him. The fingers of his impaired dominant right arm want to curl. He flattens them out with his left hand, carefully separating them a hair, each gap exactly uniform. Establishing order in his disrupted life, his small gesture so moves me.
[Stolen from Emily Dickinson. Poems, Series One, Life: XXVI.]
08 November 2011
Uncle Russell hits ninety in a few days. Quirky, he's infamous in our family for drilling holes in his shoes to augment ventilation. He's devoted nine decades to self-recrimination, so I think it's good to celebrate bygones about which he's never once expressed regret: riding a rent-a-horse in the Blue Hills, and his 1938 straight-eight Packard with seventeen-inch wheels and seven-ply bias ply tires. To his health!
31 October 2011
My twin granddaughters, twelve, get ready for school, a task for which there's never enough time. Through closed doors, voices alternate between indistinct words of towering indignation and vehement conspiratorial whispers. History suggests a problem with hair, clothes, or interpreting "maybe" as a promise. Mom stays calm. The girls run to the car across extraordinary October snow, carrying their coats and shoes.
26 October 2011
I hear a lone katydid this October afternoon. In broad daylight, way before his usual sunset debut, he seizes the day. Trying to get lucky, he can't even wait for nightfall, a teenage insect boy who really, really doesn't want to die a virgin. Apparently he's aware that a hard frost is just around the corner and his stridulating days are numbered. It's now or never. Incorrigibly anthropomorphic, but do you doubt me?
20 October 2011
A white-haired woman at the earthy-crunchy market asks what my cilantro's for. "Soups," I tell her. "I'm forgetting how to cook," she says, "I put things down and can't remember where they are. I don't much like the world today; I really wouldn't mind leaving." "No need to hurry, your time'll come soon enough," I rush to rejoin, the man for whom every day above ground is a gift, who understands nothing of her life.
16 October 2011
Two people wait for a train. I see our ethnicity, sex, and age differ significantly; not to mention they dress funny. I give a start when they speak English, not some vile linguistically valid urban dialect unintelligible to dead white males, but my own language. Much of what we perceive as dangerous otherness is from what we hear. We can close our eyes or look away; not so with our ears. Hearing's primal, reptilian.
08 October 2011
Ahead, my first fisher runs across the road: to get to the other side. There's no mistaking his gait and shape, as unique as those of a black bear galumphing over the guardrail on my Berkshires trip. Way too long for his stubby legs, long-tailed to boot, he moves in a squirrelly sinusoid, but calm and intent, unlike the typical squirrel. By rights he and his cousins should evolve into the only six-legged vertebrates.
05 October 2011. Appears in The Montucky Review.
Waiting for the Providence train, a dude in a hoodie expounds to his Asian pal, who owns a waist-long ponytail: "Weird shit's happening" in the Antarctic Ocean and along every fault line on earth, there will be mega-quakes and thousand-foot tidal waves, the only safe place will be in the air or maybe the moon would be OK, too. I'm hoping Hoodie hasn't reproduced. Then he says it came from the Internet. What a relief.
03 October 2011. Appears in The Montucky Review.
A guy hands a lost dog flyer to a woman with a cane on the commuter platform. She's repeating his tale to us. Not entirely coherent; choppy. Seems sort of simple. And she's blocking my view of the arriving CSX freight train. By now I've snap-judged her, unfairly dismissive. She's a K9 cop, whose dog latched onto the armed robber she and her partners were chasing. He shot her in the leg. That's not the story I expect.
25 September 2011. Appears in The Montucky Review.
A guy's walking his dog at the edge of the empty commuter rail parking lot, with his dutifully helmeted daughter on her bike, maybe six. She wends her way to the pay phone at the bottom of the platform, picks it up, and carries on half a conversation with a person unknown. Any boy, of any age, would check the coin return for change and be off. Invidious? Politically incorrect? Stereotype? Nature? Nurture? Your call.
15 September 2011. Appears in Short, Fast, and Deadly i98.
I finish walking the dogs at Jeff's, racing the cold front. Angina ebbs, sky blackens, a few dozen raindrops smack the windshield. A whiff of petrichor and Bach's Orchestral Suite #3 graces the radio: I'm content. Then all hell envelops me. Gravity temporarily trebles, rending water out of air. A half-hour of biblically-proportioned rain and lightning, street gutters overflow, I can't see. Now it stops. Just stops.
06 September 2011. Appears in Apocrypha and Abstractions.
On my way to the bathroom I stumble over the vacuum cleaner hose she left in the hall, and jar loose an f-word. I sponge up a lake around the basin, rinse crusty toothpaste off the hot-water knob, set the toothbrush back onto its charger. Flirting with retaliation, I think of her throaty diaphragm-driven laugh: a sonic Duchenne smile, not the faux soprano version she uses to punctuate voice mails. I lower the seat.
17 August 2011
Nobody asked what I think about on my constitutionals, but I'll tell you anyway. The shame of exposure will be worth it if I save one child from a life of sin and misery. Walking, I see a billboard plugging a movie, Rescue: Disaster Response. The madness overpowers me. I think: Rescue. Secure... oh, and recuse. Yeah, that's all. You must eradicate the disease when it presents. There's no other effective therapy.
13 August 2011. Appears in Prick of the Spindle 5.3.
Guy wheels his bike toward the train, and turns to me, face not overtly crazed but hard-used: "Nice day, isn't it, sir?" I verify it. "Can't complain one bit." Seconds later a well-nourished trainman asks, "Nice day, isn't it, sir?" The carpe diems are implicit. Maybe we sense the past-its-primeness of a soft grey August afternoon. Or maybe I'm making it up, assuming that humans share more than weather commonplaces.
11 August 2011
There's now a single English word (stolen, no surprise) encompassing an age-old phenomenon, the distinctive aroma dispersed when a thunderstorm's first fat drops shatter on parched ground just before the deluge. I've been waiting half a century to learn that word. Then in my own lifetime Aussie chemists identify and analyze the responsible mixture and serendipity brings me the word. So slight a thing, so delightful.
09 August 2011. Appears in Prick of the Spindle 5.3.
Drummers are impervious to the enraging diabolical monotony of unaccompanied drums at full volume, which would unhinge a sentient being. No wonder musicians think they're barely human, more primitive than even trombonists. One practices in a trackside flat. Acela riders blaze by before the horror sinks in, and clients of the nearby funeral home don't care, but a neighbor's murder trial and acquittal seem inevitable.
08 August 2011
We're driving home from the Catskills with our grandkids and niece. It's a long four-hour drive even without Orange County Chopper detours, teen refueling breaks, and infernal traffic. Mobile devices earn their keep.
Sweet twelve-year-old granddaughter proposes, "Let's tell jokes. I know one. Say I."
"Now all together."
Gram: "I am a penis."
07 August 2011
Last night I heard a katydid during the onset of a gentle vertical shower. Two favorite sounds, electrifying because I don't remember ever hearing them together. I'm old as dirt and August is not always dry, so there should have been plenty of opportunity. Later, harder rain, no katydids. Perhaps this evening's weather will confirm that rain inhibits katydids, or suggest another theory. I can't believe I don't know.
11 July 2011
I love cobalt blue, a flamboyant, gorgeous, even sex-freighted color. Reminds me of lasers. It's de trop, brilliant way beyond good taste. For once I think fondly of marketers. Trendy bottles of so-so wine; squat fifty-year-old Noxzema jar juxtaposed with red lava soap tin; Cheryl's slim picnic table vase flaunting daisies' fecal pungency; plates, cups, and gimcrackery sharing sun in the B&B window: can't get enough.
29 June 2011
Memory of an article on the resonant frequency of dogs shaking themselves dry bubbles up unbidden as my shower ends. I picture it: eggshell chest torquing spastically about its long axis, toothpick limbs flailing, wattle and paunch flapping dangerously. The inefficiency, the sheer obscene inelegance, not to mention the likelihood of serious self-inflicted injury, warn me. Age brings wisdom. I snatch at the towel.
27 June 2011
Opportunity strikes; Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" breaks out on the radio. I crank it up, first rolling the windows down so the car won't explode. Certain music seems to alter my brain, priming it to more readily perceive moments outside of time. As I glance at two guys on a scaffold hammering on the barn up the street I catch a brief flicker of the 1830s, pickup truck and nail guns notwithstanding. No surprise.
19 June 2011. Appears in Short, Fast, and Deadly i88.
Cigaret: caustic, ashy death. Pipe: cloys. Cigar: intoxicating, evocative. Heady as wood fires and burning leaves, sensuous as a woman's Chanel. Port. Gunpowder. Mark Twain, H. L. Mencken, Wm. F. Buckley. The Sherlock Holmes monograph. Connecticut River valley tobacco fields. Writing of Hester Prynne in my 1920s dorm room. Rusty and Uncle Edward cruising Boston's North End. Jeff and my grandkids playing wiffle ball.
11 June 2011
I'm proud of my grandson. At three he readily grasped what I taught him: always spit into storm drains for the peculiarly masculine joy of aimed spitting, and, since a pebble isn't always at hand, to hear if they're full of water. One Sunday Grammy decided it was time to bring him to church. As she introduced him to strait-laced old women of both sexes, he spied the heating register in the floor. He knew what to do.
25 May 2011
A cousin brought Dad a garnet from out West. He kept it in a crazed polystyrene compartmented box with his other minerals. Deep burgundy, complex geometry and symmetry, embedded in grey matrix, it struck me incoherent. I so coveted it. Years later I got my own for $2 at a gem show, my second-best investment ever. No wonder new-agers ascribe magic to crystals. Like finding freaking Excalibur sticking out of a rock.
20 May 2011. Appears in Short, Fast, and Deadly i86.
Casual observers can see a dandelion's intense yellow bionic energy aura; I compute that a typical ball field will power a small city, including its vehicles. Any fool can build a collector of garnets, fluorite crystals, and duct tape—tricky part is the tinfoil shielding to make the thing practical. The suits and sunglasses in the dark green Prius are no problem. They back off when they get a load of my light saber.
15 May 2011. Appears in Prick of the Spindle 5.3.
A man and a boy often show up at my Sunday afternoon train watching. The boy always holds his hands at chest level, close to his body, except when he hops around and flaps his arms. I wonder who's the railfan: man, boy, or both. Neither shows much interest in trains. I wonder, too, what the boy's affliction is, because naming opens a world of understanding. But it's all idle speculation—none of my goddamn business.
14 May 2011
Forty-odd years ago I sent a girl a happy-birthday telegram, and, achieving a truly geeky simulacrum of romance, promised to send her one every year, forever. She smiled and told me I'd fail; I swore I'd do it. The promise lasted a shamefully small number of years, but before long the end of time came. I regret I proved her right. Superior knowledge of male human nature or technological prescience? I say the latter.
09 May 2011. Appears in Camroc Press Review.
A warm early May sun dips, shading the back yard; gnats and mosquitos rule the air; pine warblers command the treetops. Jeff, his cigar aromatic, plays wiffle ball with his children. Runner, fielder, pitcher, and batter constantly change places as near-chaos unfolds from iterating the simple, if cryptic, rules. Jord and his dad pitch to strike each other out. The girls take their base-running leads in cartwheels.
28 March 2011
At Burke's Beach, a gull leaps into the wind, takes five strokes, rises thirty feet, drops a crab onto the packed wet sand. Stunned, defeated by superior technology, it lies twitching and meets its fate as sushi. Later, just after sunset, fire glows on the eastern horizon: a full moon erupts out of the Atlantic. You can see it move, so fast that it seems the cold-hearted orb will traverse the sky and sink in minutes.
26 March 2011. Appears in Short, Fast, and Deadly i79.
My granddaughter, grave Alice, concentrates on holding the Chianti bottle steady while her father pulls the cork, and she cautiously sniffs the open bottle. Leaving the kitchen she peeks under the lid of the simmering shells to check their progress. In the yard her twin, laughing Allegra, does cartwheels on the trampoline. Her static-charged hair radiates straight out, and pine needles jump away as her finger nears.
15 March 2011
Turning off the road into my driveway, I stare into the yellow eye of a young sharp-shinned hawk perched on the four-foot snow-bank. This accipiter would as soon eviscerate you as give you the time of day. I get it in a flash: the blue jay feathers and guts on my car, the fate of Prometheus, a Frenchman's obsession with his liver, and phrases involving chopped liver. Years of baiting the bird feeders finally pay off.
31 January 2011
Hunters have Bambi moments when they decide to no longer kill for sport. Mine happened fifty years ago. My grandfather offered me a quarter if I could hit a sitting dragonfly with my inter-digit rubber band slingshot. Carefully calculating windage, at a range of ten inches I took its head off with a hollow-point unfolded paper clip. Amazed, I got the quarter, but to this day I don't hunt insects. Except mosquitoes.
22 January 2011. Appears in Short, Fast, and Deadly i63.
Suddenly I'm aware of a great horned owl out in the swamp, his faint, distinctive hoots seeping in with the cold air around the edges of the storm window. Snow from the last nor'easter is still frozen to tree trunks, and there's another six inches predicted for tomorrow. The owl doesn't give a rat's ass; he's busy soliciting feathery vole-terrifying sex. There are no answering calls, so he won't get lucky tonight.
17 January 2011
The older I get, the luckier I am. I have three grandchildren; inexplicably, a wife who loves me; friends of nearly half a century. I've survived open heart surgery and over fifty years of diabetes. I've always been a lucky man, except when I was a lucky boy. As a teenager I sought to build my character—how obnoxious is that?—by listening to my parents' set of LPs purporting to be the world's best classical music. Fortunately I started at the beginning: Bach's keyboard concerti. Doubtless I'd have turned bitter and twisted if I'd afflicted myself with Lutoslawski or Schubert lieder.
17 December 2010
Dad's father honeymooned at Quonochontaug Beach in Rhode Island. He'd been married to my grandmother nearly fifty years when he died. Dad and Mom honeymooned at Bass River on Cape Cod, and were still married when Mom died. I honeymooned in Moravia, New York, birthplace of Millard Fillmore. We divorced. When I remarried, we honeymooned in Edgartown, on Martha's Vineyard, and tied the knot there, too. So far, so good.
05 December 2010. Appears in Short, Fast, and Deadly's 2010 Anthology.
On the Cape we spent long August hours at Dowse's Beach, where the gatekeeper had cauliflower ears and was tanned to the bone. The phrase "sun protection factor" had not been invented yet, and we were all pretty crispy after a week. We chased gulls, built castles, buried each other in the sand, soaked our poison ivy in sea water, and accumulated halcyon days against the demands of future New England Februaries.
I'm driving home. The air is sharp, my eyes aflame with autumn orange and yellow. The oldies station erupts into Van Halen's "Jump." I crank the volume to its natural level, loud enough for a do-it-yourself lithotripsy, but not so that my ears bleed. No doubt it's coincidence that this is the instant a brown dihedral glides out of St. Stephen's Cemetery into the east, just above the telephone poles: turkey vulture.
10 September 2010. Appears in Camroc Press Review.
Train pulls out; Cheryl's off to Boston. A guy approaches my car. "I just came in from Kansas City..." "A likely story," I interrupt, not yet knowing how true. He's in shorts, hiking boots, beat flannel shirt. Gigantic pack, bedroll below, bandanna. "I'm going to Lowell; can you help me with train fare?" Ahh. His accent's not from here. He's wicked plausible. "Where Jack Kerouac was from." I give him the eight bucks.
17 August 2010. Appears in Camroc Press Review.
At the Dunkin Donuts there's a muted television. To compensate there's Elvis on the Muzak, three chatty teen-age girls, and Spanish on a cell phone; cell phones by definition are always too freaking loud. Behind me there's a robust trade in ice, caffeine, and fat calories. I'm composing haiku in my head, but lucky for me the symptoms are subtle and misleading. Anyone who notices is too polite to take me to task.
Katydids done, birds haven't started; dead silence. An hour before dawn, when blackest imagining and worst-case scenarios entertain the racing insomniac mind, I lie, aware enough to notice the hours chime by too fast. I hear Cheryl breathe; currents tickle my back. Humans breathe each other's air—a most intimate, continuous exchange—yet can't sense how we alter atmospheric gas concentrations. But mosquitoes can.
24 July 2010
Fifty years ago towns bristled with coin-operated telephones, often wrapped in plexiglass-and-aluminum cabinets for audio privacy. One could cheat the Bell System of its real silver dime: talk fast, hang up soon enough. Now dimes are crap, talk is cheap. Cell phones blossom except among misfits, the marginal, the occasional refractory Republican, and it's a sin to be even momentarily incommunicado. I smell progress.
15 May 2010. Appears in Magnolia's Press.
Tommy was an Irishman, easily two or three times my age, indoor-pale, with a shy smile, reputed to be drunk twenty-four/seven. He worked with dangerous pre-OSHA machines in the bindery. The massive trimming shears had a safety interlock you had to physically span with both arms spread wide. This effectively prevented inadvertent hand-chopping, but I suspect a determined suicide might have been able to behead himself.
10 May 2010. Appears in Journal of Microliterature.
The vulture floats up from below me, pausing to look me in the eye, perhaps appraising my lifespan: not short enough. She continues to rise, a sublime bird, brown in reflected sunlight, beautiful in her thermal-soaring grace and finesse, beautiful in her power and nonchalance in the teeth of a forty-mile-an-hour wind, terrifying in her diet of putrid carrion. I watch her, beguiling consort of death, for hours.
Consider a mutant typewriter on steroids, orders of magnitude more complex than Rube Goldberg's worst nightmare. Think of a sort of self-organizing spidery intelligence emerging from the seeming chaos of hot lead slugs falling into a galley, surrounded by a myriad of large-postage-stamp-sized brass matrices marching ant-like up and down the machine. There is no way a Linotype machine could possibly work, but it did.
A Boston-bound Amtrak headlight snaps into view at East Junction. Donald balances on one leg, leans forward toward the train while extending his other leg back like an ice skater, doffs his ever-present baseball cap to the oncoming Acela, and curls his tongue out and down beneath an upper jaw totally devoid of incisors. This man is a living gargoyle, I think, and realize that we don't have much more to talk about.