Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Household Systems Analysis

Homes are complex systems like bread mold or UPS.  I’ve got the results of the in-depth Systems Analysis that was recently completed on my home.  I did it myself without relying on the Federal Government for assistance.  Costco sells a Home Systems Analysis Kit.  I purchased a three pack but couldn’t figure out how to open the blister wrap. 

That’s where I began my analysis, looking at Incoming Stuff, or, more to the point, Stuff packaged so thoroughly it can never be free.  Like Johnny Cash in Folsum Prison.  My backyard shed is the primary repository of this sort of stuff.  The shed isn’t weather tight but it hardly matters.  The stuff inside is contained within materials impervious to the elements.   It’s as if the International Space Station was woven from sea grass and the astronauts inside were sheathed in fifty gauge polystyrene and slick cardboard that cannot be cut with the dull scissors we keep in the silverware drawer. 

In the interest of efficiency, I analyzed the big systems first.  Fresh Water In Flow, check, as long as you don’t mind a slight chlorine tang.  Grey Water Out Flow and Brown Water Out Flow, check and double check.  These are euphemisms engineers stole from the art world to describe a certain type of water.  Water you would cross the street to avoid stepping in.  Grey water comes from washing machines.  Brown water comes from toilets.  Greyish brown water indicates someone had a bowel movement in your Lady Kenmore.   All the more amazing if it’s a front loader. 

HVAC, check!  This is an acronym that has something to do with the furnace and the maze of filthy air ducts connected to it.  This system maintains a continuous cycle of flowing air, insuring that every corner of the house is contaminated with a rich stew of viruses and bacteria.  The V in HVAC stands for vector, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control. 

Magical Mystery Humours, check!   Houses are connected to something called the Power and Entertainment Grid by mysterious underground cables that can be easily severed with a shovel.  Once that happens the house becomes a soulless, blackened, dead hulk.   The house can only be resuscitated by a Utility Technician.  One simple phone call sets off a complex series of events leading to a repair two or three weeks later.  The tech can usually remedy the trouble by triangulating invisible rays between the orange cone placed behind his van, the aluminum ladder extending into the birds nest of wires on the power pole and your Visa card. 

Gas, check!  Gas and oil are fossil fuels made from dead dinosaurs, coconut trees and the Rolling Stones.  Burning them in our houses allows us to run our juicers without connecting them to the stationary bike tucked behind the furnace.  It also releases something called carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  To illustrate, I’ll provide a visual example.  Let’s say you’re vacationing in the Greek Isles and, while walking down the beach, stumble on what looks to be a manatee.  Closer inspection reveals that it’s not a manatee at all but a nude and glistening Newt Gingrich.  He’s back in Greece with his creepy, current wife Callista, recovering from his failed coup attempt and conducting further studies of the Greek financial meltdown.  Every exhalation from his liver lips, every yawning pore on his corpulent body, every auxiliary orifice is dumping tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  Al Gore approaches from the other direction.  Together, using block and tackle and sturdy maritime ropes, you hoist Newt into the sea where Italian divers siphon off the remainder of his grandiose ideas and scuttle him to the bottom. 

Structural Integrity, check!  This is the umbrella term used to describe everything else.  Houses are essentially poorly fabricated versions of the packaging I described earlier.  If packaging was made to the same specifications as houses, it could be opened by premature babies. 

Miscellaneous, check!  Covered here are: 
·        The clock radio too complex to operate, the one with absolutely no FM reception.  
·        The spider egg hatching system in the walk-in shower.
·        The vanishing Tupperwear lid paradox.
·        Skyrocketing squirrel fertility rates in the backyard.
·        Alarming wine cork accumulation rates.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Walk North From Lakeview

The Walk North From Lakeview

Why don’t you come with us.  You won’t be a
bother, if that’s what you’re worried about. 

We’ll drop by as we make our way down the
slope toward the tree, the one aligned just right

for shade on long, languid summer days, bare,
a stark presence the last time we drove out

this way, parking on the far edge, cutting
through to avoid the icy lane, our boots

biting into the thin, white crust, breaking
the flat silence, a stillness that vibrates

with your presence, you and all the rest tucked
away, ticking off the seasons, ruing

the deer that come to graze on the flowers. 
We wait while you bundle yourself up in

your old cardigan to ward off the chill
on the breeze off Deer Lake then leave by the

main gate, heading north on Depot Road past
the beach, dormant lifeguard tower the sole

witness to our leisurely stroll, the three
of us, until I turn to see we’re not

alone.  We seem to have been joined by a
few of the others out for a walk on

this fine spring day, more than a few, in fact,
enough to merit a police permit. 

I mention this to the fellow striding
behind me, dapper in a felt bowler

and handlebar moustache, and it occurs
to me he could be a former mayor

or town hall crony so I watch my p’s
and q’s.  In town, we walk the path around

Depot Park, then head back at the head of
an impromptu parade snaking back on

itself, nodding politely as some tip
hats or snap crisp salutes, our past catching

up with us or the other way around,
I suppose.  We slip back into Lakeview

through a gap in the old gate, the one they
padlock, and wave goodbye to them as they

drop out one by one until it’s just the
three of us again.  “I’m so glad you came

by”, you say as you gather your sweater
about you in the low afternoon sun 

then wave farewell beneath the tree, buds set
to burst, spring closing another circle.     


Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Fossil Record

The Fossil Record

Some things never change, the angle of
the sun at precisely this time of the
day, for instance, on this particular
date in the heart of winter.  Provided
the day in question isn’t overcast,

some successor of mine will peer up this
staircase, right foot poised above the bottom

tread, humming absently, thinking of lunch
or dogs or the persistence of
ignorance in the world then pause,
his attention drawn by the small footprints
leading to the top, hugging the left side

beneath the bannister, each carefully
pressed into polyurethane, long cured,

a fossil record revealed by the ever
reliable sun and sheer happenstance. 
Maybe he’ll take a moment to speculate
on the owner of the stocking clad feet
commemorated here, running a

finger over a gritty imprint,
perhaps raising a hand to the back of

his neck, the hairs standing on end.  I’ll
gently point out the almost imperceptible
concavity left by the balls of the feet, as I
hover, unseen just over his right shoulder, and
note the effort required to place each step just so and

ask him to imagine, eyes closed, the moist
tearing sound of each foot pulled free, heel first,

from the newly finished wood.  An embarrassing
reverie of course, no less so because he won't
hear a word I say.  He’ll follow your path up and
out of sight, leaving me alone, grateful for winter
sunlight that falls just so and my failure to

repair these stairs, the ones you learned to take
in bounds, where I linger, peaceful vapor.   


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Mose Allison

Mose Allison

Glottal blues sing-song,  
Dixie drawl behind beat, wry
as toast, work as play. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Part I Left Out

The Part I Left Out

Last night I dreamed I had one or two dire
symptoms.  Details are not germane at this
point.  Let’s just say it was impossible
to ignore them which is saying a lot

if you agree that in our dreams only
one rule applies, the dictum that all is
possible, an old saw that holds up in
the waking world as well, if you are a

reader of the daily headlines.  How to
explain the sheer relief I feel upon
waking, tempered by the disappointment
that goes hand in hand with understanding

that yes, I am healthy, at least no less
so than the day before and no, I don’t
look like Christian Bale, the part I left out
of the interpretation of my dream.  

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Teachers I Never Married

Teachers I Never Married

You would think by now I would know better
than to read a piece about
Callista and Newt right before going

to sleep, her pearls and jewels from
Tiffany, his Robert the Bruce complex.
How else to explain the need

upon waking to recall, in order,
the names of my teachers at
Edgewood Elementary School, a task

many would consider not
to be essential in the least, no more
than the vestigial tail of

some bad dream.  Here goes nothing:  Miss Morton,
my kindergarten teacher,
notable for selecting me, after

much deliberation no
doubt, to lead the evacuation drill
one particularly warm

spring afternoon, my red helmet gleaming
under a hopeful yellow
sun.  Next up, Miss Trippler, eyes of a barn

owl, she caught the slight, furtive
movements I made trying to retrieve the
Pink Pearl eraser Linda

Mathon had hidden beneath her gingham
dress.  How could I forget Miss
Fuhrman, second and third grade, some kind of

administrative blunder
that, but credit where credit is due, she
correctly diagnosed the

early symptoms of my tendency to
daydream, a curious sort
of vagueness with dire academic

implications that followed
me to fourth grade and Miss McKinney, my
first black teacher, a woman

with a smile you never forget and the
creative audacity
to allow us boys to indulge our urge

to wage World War Two on a
table top, a wildly inaccurate,
bloodthirsty diorama

enlivened with handfuls of green plastic
soldiers.   Another first in
fifth grade, the balding, jovial Mister

Conti who read to us out
loud, an experience that resonates
today, as if I were in

a darkened theater listening to
Stanley Tucci, glasses perched
on the end of his nose, reading Charlottes

Web, his voice smooth as aged scotch.  
That brings us to Mister Ramella, a
bantam of a man, snarling

countenance only a quirk, a habit,
the repositioning of
his heavy, black horn rims hands-free, setting

those appendages loose to
wave wildly, emphatically fending off
clouds of unseen mosquitos. 

A decent group of people, they did their
best given what they had to
work with, but I was never tempted to

date one, let alone marry
any of them, as did Newt, one of his
bolder acts, the successful

propositioning of Miss Battley, his
geometry teacher, an
unfortunate woman damned forever

by the observation that,
according to his mother, “he was her
little boy.”  Somewhere in the

craggy highlands of Scotland the ghost of
Robert the Bruce is crying,
bereft beyond hope, plotting sweet revenge.  

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Paul Irving Precedes Me

Paul Irving Precedes Me

Life is one grand procession someone has
no doubt noted, a parade, the Second
Line, brass and mourners weave winding streets, wails

drowned out by grace notes and wild whoops of joy,
an appealing image, though truth be told
I prefer metaphor with a bit less

pizazz, something a little more buttoned
down, the protocol clear.  As I make my
way I wish to be preceded by Paul

Irving, a stern, eagle beaked fellow, the
new House-Sergeant-At-Arms, a man given
to regular habits, a guy who knows

exactly where we’re headed and how we
will get there.  Paul can be relied on to
part the waters ahead, the flood of well-

wishers with which I have to contend each
and every day, dragging me by my
lapels, bald head pivoting, eyes steely,

scanning the room for trouble, alert to
roadblocks, anyone bent on delay, keen
to deliver me to my last address. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

How To Dress A Chicken

How To Dress A Chicken

No, this is no joke, so go on, get it
out of your system so we can get down
to the business at hand, that of dressing

a chicken.  You bet I’ve heard them all and
then some, the one about not making the
mistake of dressing your bird in plaids and

stripes or allowing them to wear white shoes
before Memorial Day.  If I had
a dime for every time some wag has warned

me of the pitfalls of taking inseam
measurements from a red Araucana
I could get out of the business, maybe

open a chic café on some quiet
side street, small plates, espresso, pigs-in-a-
blanket the house specialty, attract the

lunch trade, have my evenings free instead of
fending off smart alecks asking whether
my Barnevelder wears boxers or briefs,

or speculating with winking, wide-eyed
innocence on the mechanics of how
a Cubalaya would manage to tie

a Windsor knot and smoke a cigar at
the same time, knowing good and well chickens
have neither hands for performing such a

complicated maneuver or teeth for
clenching a fat Havana.  No, I’m done
with the whole business, I’m hanging up

my spurs, flying the coop, over chickens,
clucking hecklers, the whole nine yards.  Never
again will I stand by patiently while

some jerk lewdly mimes the delicate dance  
of a Jersey Giant hiking up her
little black dress to lay one perfect egg.

Monday, January 23, 2012


Things I’ll Miss The Most

There’s nothing quite like lying in bed on
a rainy morning making a
mental list like the one I’m about to
compile.  The sound of rain falling on the

roof is a good place to start since 
they're in no particular order.  I’m no
surgeon, after all, silently reviewing
the steps required to replace a

failing joint or sputtering organ.  
Your pies are on there, too, along with
your smile, the one meant only for
me.  Let’s not forget the sound of your

voice and the undeniable fact
that you smell like flowers in a soft,
warm rain.  The kids at age six, let’s say,
though I could make a compelling case

for two or sixteen or the days on which
they were born.  Maybe I will round it
out with spring, jazz, blank canvas, long bike
rides, the Sunday Times and the singular

sound of a word that leads, somehow,
to another poem.  But suppose heaven
is just a good restaurant, nothing fancy,
a neighborhood café with a decent

wine list and sidewalk tables.  Who knows?
The omnipotent waiter, friendly
though a bit indifferent, reads the specials
from a curled yellow index card not

unlike the mental one on which
I’ve made my list.  I order one of
everything and two glasses of good
Malbec.  You look lovely on this warm

spring evening as you smile and take
my hand across the table.  The air
is fragrant with flowers and, from
somewhere nearby, I can hear After

the Rain played softly.  The waiter
is back with our wine. I make a mental
note to leave Him a good tip at
the end of our eternal night out. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Political haiku

I Voted For Newt

Ripe dupe, hate and fear- 

fueled, prey to heir of thugs past, 

sneering demigod.  

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Drawing 101

Drawing 101

I wonder if I kept that
self-portrait from my
first college art class, contour

in pencil, peering
into a mirror, on sketch
bond.  Dave Barr, he would

have to be, what, in
his seventies by now, my
first acquaintance with

a practicing artist, one
with a studio
and ideas that woke him up

mornings.  The twist, I
recall, was to render ones’
face as it might look

forty years in the future,
warts and all, as they
say.  As if by magic I’ve

arrived, suddenly,
at my destination, the
one I predicted  

using only line to map
sagging jowls, face etched
and a nose grown to epic

proportion.  At least
that’s how I remember it,
a masterpiece of

draftsmanship that captured the
soul of its subject,
a man rendered in short hand,

his gaze bewildered
when I was going for a
bemused detachment.   

Friday, January 20, 2012

Gift Card

Gift Card

The woman ahead of me placed her stuff
on the belt, off-loading in a pattern
I could not seem to discern.  She wasn’t
applying the alphabet, that much was

clear, Dawn Anti-Bacterial Dish Soap
ahead of Burt’s Bee’s Dry Skin Salve plunked down
well after a brace of green peppers side
by side among a skyline of boxes

of breakfast cereal.  I was that close
to cracking her scheme wide open when I
was distracted by a rack of gift cards
placed with deliberation, the perfect

ploy, a pleasing grid of gleaming colored
thin plastic rectangles that appeared to  
suggest a collectable set.  Why not
buy all thirty, seemed to be the message,

display them framed, under glass above the
fireplace, though at that moment I was
wondering what it would feel like to be
in that rack, among those cards, side by side

with Chili’s and VISA and Home Depot
and i Tunes and The Gap.  You, unloading
your cart, lost in thought perhaps, giving us
only a cursory glance while I shout

silently from my slot below Sunglass
Hut, vying for your attention, fearful
you won’t notice me there among the rest,
screaming at the top of my lungs, choose me!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Reading Braille

Reading Braille

It took me longer than the others, my
coworkers, to learn to read the serrated
subtext that formed the real contours of

my job.  It looked simple enough, a wash
cycle of tasks on a dial that, when
performed in the proper order, with

enough heart, would yield a tidy load
rinsed clean of the stains on the knees of
those driven into the dirt by fate, me

smelling like roses, bearing the weight
of my brothers, sins scrubbed, pure.  That, and it
paid steady if not very much.  My boss

was a profane Brit, a little keg
of a man, chain smoking, hair flying,
eternally proud of The One Shot, one

meaningless leaf of innovation on
one tiny branch on one spindly tree
in a forest denuded of trees.  His

only advice to me as I set sail
on my first case was to confide that
the man I was to see was a “fucking

malingering nigger”, driving the nail
home with one fat, stained index finger,
a miracle of concision, his

expectations laid bare while I nodded
in (disbelief, disgust, assent?), my first
lesson, a blind man learning to read braille.