Eight Years Later

I mis-set my alarm this morning, getting up at 6:30, an hour later than I usually do on workdays. It was probably just as well — I had a restless night, in part because I knew what today is.

I’ve talked before about how the Big Noise changes how I encounter the world, and how it echoes even in the moments that should exist as unalloyed sweetness. That remains true, although I note that there would have been a pretty good chance that one or both of them might have left by now anyway — Dad would have been 74, Mom 73, and neither had been pictures of health. Sometimes that makes things… not better, but easier to accept that they’re gone. Other times, it makes it worse, as I think stealing a relatively small remainder of life has its own cruelty: “There would have been a time for such a word.” It didn’t have to be hurried into being.

And over the past year, I’ve had so many times as I’ve struggled with different thoughts and feelings when I’ve really wished I could have spoken to them. They had different kinds of wisdom, but I could have used either or both. And there are so many moments, with the Spawn, and Mrs. M, and in my Pinocchio moments as a writer, when I want to say, “See? We did okay. I do these things, and some folks seem to like them, and [Spawn] is smart and beautiful, and well, I got at least some of it right so far. You got it right.” I hope they knew that, even at those final moments when everything must have seemed so horribly wrong and failed to them. I want to tell them the failure lay elsewhere, that what they did brought good, and that’s what they deserved to remember as they were thrust from this life.

I suppose one day I may get to do that. There will be time enough for such a word. Until then, we maneuver through the Big Noise as best we can.

 

Posted in Faith, Family, Literature, Why I Do What I Do | Leave a comment

Of Quilts and Face-Plants: Saturday Potpourri

Just got home from a day trip, in more ways than one. But first things first…

***

Last night, Mrs. M and I were fortunate enough to go to Mondoville’s historic Ritz Theater, where we saw the local community players put on a production of early 80s Tony nominee QuiltersAs it happens, my former student (and current Berries keyboardist) Joseph Schroer directed the play, and his lovely wife Kasey had a major role, with a couple of lovely solo numbers, most notably “Green, Green Green”, but I would have enjoyed the play even without the personal connection.

I think amateur, community theater gives me one of my occasional doses of hope for the world around me. Spare me your Waiting for Guffman — the fact that even in a duckburg like Mondoville, ordinary people put up their time, money, and effort in order to try to make something transient but beautiful for the people around them? That’s pretty cool. The players don’t get big government grants or massive corporate sponsorship — they do this stuff independently and at personal cost… because they want to. They’re one of Burke’s “little platoons” that make society worth living in, and I’m glad they’re here.

***

As for today, at about noon, Mrs. M came back from the Y and asked if I wanted to take a day trip to Greenville, focusing this time on the downtown area. Since my alternative was grading papers, I was glad to postpone my students until tomorrow. So after a quick lunch, we left the Spawn to manage the Hound of the Basketballs and headed west.

The area we visited today is along the falls of the Reedy River, and it combines the hip, artsy area of town with a riverfront park. There’s a nice, paved trail, which today hosted various walkers, cyclists, and stroller-pushing parents, and plenty of chances to view the falls from above and below, and even among. Which leads us to this:

Me at Greenville Falls

A moment or two after this picture, Mrs. M and I stepped across the rivulet to the large rock you see just ahead of me. It’s maybe a 18- to 20-inch stride. We looked at the falls just below us, Mrs. M getting closer to the edge while I stayed closer to the rock’s center.

Deb and Me at Greenville Falls

After a minute or two, we headed back to the bank. We watched a woman carrying a toddler step across, and then I let Mrs. M go, and then I strode forward and my preternatural oafishness came to the fore. I made it across and did a full face-plant, or more accurately, right-knee-impact and bellyflop, onto the rock. I don’t know why I fell — I don’t recall tripping over anything. I think it was just my usual combination of forward momentum and poor balance. “I’m OK,” I said — I was just glad I hadn’t pitched over the falls. But given that I did that in front of a few hundred parkgoers and my wife, maybe it would’ve been better just to roll to my left and plunge over the edge.

After making sure that everything was more or less intact — I felt something pop in my back when I hit, and of course, there’s a lot of me to drop on one knee as it smacks into a boulder — I dusted myself off, and apologized for looking foolish. Then we walked through a few stores, stopped at a tea shop where I had an orange smoothie of some sort, and did a little more sightseeing before heading home. The situation was not improved when we stopped for dinner; when I washed my hands, the soap dispenser somehow managed to squirt not only my hands, but the front of my shirt.

By the time we got home, there was significant swelling on the left side of my right knee, and I’m pretty sure I’ll have a pretty impressive bruise by morning. So I’m sitting downstairs with an ice pack on my leg, but the biggest injury was to my self-respect — and it’s not like I had much of that to spare anyway.

Later, Mrs. M and I were walking along, and she said, “Watch out for the edge of the sidewalk.” The sad thing is that she wasn’t being sarcastic. The worse thing is that she was probably right to warn me.

***

I want to take a moment to wish a happy tenth bloggiversary to Jeff Sypeck, whose Quid Plura is a fine example of what the form is good for. He ruminates at medium length on a variety of topics, generally under the heading of medievalism in America. He’s also a pretty nifty poet, and you can find bits and pieces of his work at the blog as well. Check him out. And Jeff — I’m glad you’re here.

***

On the music front, now that the play has been put to bed, it’s time for the Berries to emerge from hibernation. We currently have shows in Columbia in July and August, and we’ll be playing in the Upstate at the beginning of August as well. More details will follow.

And speaking of music, let’s wrap things up today with a nifty little number from Mexican-American garage rockers Louie and the Lovers. Their lone album was produced by Doug “Sir Douglas” Sahm, and original copies are the sort of thing after which hardcore records salivate. Louie Ortega, the group’s singer and principal songwriter, went on to work with Sahm in the Texas Tornados. This particular track was released as a single by Epic, and appears on the reissue of the album from a few years back. Sahm also was known to do the song live on occasion.

As you might expect from that background and the 1970 release date, there’s a nice jangly feel to the song, and if country rock had paid more attention to this sort of thing and less to the Eagles, I might have liked the genre better. In any case, here’s “Little Georgie Baker.”

See you soon!

Posted in Alternating Feet, Culture, Family, Literature, Music | 1 Comment

In Which the Prof Accidentally Finds Himself in the Transit Business

So I had to swing by the grocery this afternoon, and on my way home, I saw a gentleman walking along the side of the road — a not uncommon sight down here. He was on the tall side of middling, with scrawny arms. He wore a bright yellow tank top, a pair of green shorts in a style that kids used to wear in gym class, a ball cap, and blue Reebok shoes.

Anyway, as I started to pass, he started waving at me — really flailing his arms. I wondered if we had met before, if he knew me; I’m pretty easy to spot. So I stopped the car, rolled down the window, and said “Hi! Are you okay?”

He replied,  “Zarggarfnnnnx!” At least that’s what I heard, but I have some hearing challenges on occasion.

So I said “Excuse me?” and he ran across the street to my car and asked if I could give him a ride.

Now, I know better than that. Hell, I’ve written stories about this kind of thing. But I think I was so surprised (and still wondering if I knew him), so I let him in . Turns out I didn’t know him, and as I drove, following his directions to the western edge of Mondoville proper. It didn’t take me long to realize that  he… well, he was kind of childlike. It was like I was driving a four-year-old who just happened to be in the body of a man in his forties.

He peppered me with questions as we drove: “Do you live here? Where did you get this van? How many people can ride in it? Can I turn up the stereo?” We stopped at a railroad crossing, and he noticed the change bin by the ashtray. “Can I have that?”

“OK,” I said, and kept driving.

After a moment, he showed me his handful of the coins he had taken. “Is this a dollar?”

“It looks like about ninety cents.” The gates lifted, and he directed me a bit farther, before telling me he could get out at a stop sign. He asked if he could wash my van sometime; I said that it was beaten up to the point that I almost never wash it, but that I’d keep him in mind. While all of this was going on, the fiction writer in my head was wondering where they’d find my body.

He asked me, “Are you married?”

“Yes. You.”

“Naw.” A string of saliva slid from the corner of his mouth onto his tank top. I turned the stereo back down a little.

We got to his designated stopping point. “Do you know how to get back?” he asked.

“Yeah, I’ll figure it out.”

“Do you have any more change?”

“No.”

He got out of the car and shambled away. I went around the block and found a street I recognized. I glanced at the change bin; the pennies were still there. I finished my drive home.

Posted in Faith, Pixel-stained Wretchery, Why I Do What I Do | Leave a comment

Poetry Corner: In Which the Great Cham Anticipates Housman

Anyone who has spent much time here in my internet home is aware of my admiration for Samuel Johnson. After all, I’m on my second custom-made SJ T-shirt, and I reveled in the chance to teach a lot of his work when I did the Restoration/18th-C. course a couple of years back.

But as one might expect, I’ve not read everything the man wrote — and if we believe Boswell’s reports, neither did Johnson himself. So from time to time, I crack open my collection of the major works more or less at random and read something new.

Today I decided to look at a couple of the shorter poems. Like most people, my focus on Johnson’s work has been the prose — the essays, Rasselas, the Lives of the Poets. Of the poetry, I was most familiar with his Vanity of Human Wishes and “Verses on the Death of Dr. Levet.” But today, I happened across “A Short Song of Congratulations”, a poem he wrote on the occasion of the 21st birthday of a young man named John Lade. Having turned 21, Lade came into a substantial inheritance, which he would eventually squander. Lade also happened to be a relative by marriage of Hester Thrale (later Piozzi), the woman who probably was the closest thing to Johnson’s Muse, and whose kindness to him did a great deal, I suspect, to keep him alive. Johnson apparently though Lade was something of a lunkhead, but offered him some rather ironic advice.

John_Lade,_2nd_Bt_(1759–1838)_with_his_dog,_by_Joshua_Reynolds

A painting of Sir John by Joshua Reynolds, via Wikipedia

What struck me about the poem (which seems to have been a spontaneous bit of extemporanea in a letter from Johnson to Thrale) is how much it reads like Housman. I just read on Wiki that Johnson’s poem influenced Housman’s Shropshire Lad, but I’ll have to pursue that information farther down the line. As it is, read Johnson’s poem and admire the wit, the grace, and how deftly he inserts the dagger:

LONG-EXPECTED one and twenty
Ling’ring year at last has flown,
Pomp and pleasure, pride and plenty
Great Sir John, are all your own.

Loosen’d from the minor’s tether,
Free to mortgage or to sell,
Wild as wind, and light as feather
Bid the slaves of thrift farewell.

Call the Bettys, Kates, and Jenneys
Ev’ry name that laughs at care,
Lavish of your Grandsire’s guineas,
Show the spirit of an heir.

All that prey on vice and folly
Joy to see their quarry fly,
Here the gamester light and jolly
There the lender grave and sly.

Wealth, Sir John, was made to wander,
Let it wander as it will;
See the jocky, see the pander,
Bid them come, and take their fill.

When the bonny blade carouses,
Pockets full, and spirits high,
What are acres? What are houses?
Only dirt, or wet or dry.

If the Guardian or the Mother
Tell the woes of willful waste,
Scorn their counsel and their pother,
You can hang or drown at last.

 

If Johnson hadn’t been a hero of mine before I read this, he would be now.

Posted in Literature | Leave a comment

On the Spawn’s Unusual Upbringing

As she was growing up, I took the Spawn to and from school every day, and we’d listen to whatever I felt like hearing in the car. (Because I listen to so much garage, psych, and prog, she says she thinks of me any time she hears a sitar in a rock song.)

Anyway, she listened to a lot of the Who; I used to sing “Silas Stingy” and “Whiskey Man” to her when I pushed her on the playground swings. She would claim the Who as one of her fave bands. But because of my own orientation, all she knew was pre-Tommy.

I realized this one day a couple of years ago as we were driving somewhere with the radio on, and “Behind Blue Eyes” began to play. During one of the fills, I said, “Go, Keith.”

She said, “That’s the Who?” And it dawned on me that she had never heard the song. I don’t know whether to be proud or ashamed.

Posted in Family, Music | Leave a comment

A Whiff of Saturday Potpourri

Another Saturday morning. Mrs. M is off to the Y, and the Spawn will likely sleep til the crack of noon, as is her wont on days off. Me? I’m downstairs with the Hound, listening to Little Steven’s Underground Garage, so it must be time for a potpourri post.

***

Let’s go ahead and get l’affaire covfefe out of the way. I manage to find new ways to be appalled by both the current administration and its opposition each day, but sometimes things just reach a level where I have to shake my head at the level of lunacy.

A simple look at the context of the original post indicates that the word in question was likely supposed to be coverage. Anyone who tweets much is likely to have made a similar error, and I can even see compounding the matter by hitting “Send” instead of “Backspace.” This is one reason why I only rarely tweet from my phone, and why I don’t like to text — my fingers are too darned big (and square) for the keyboard on my phone’s screen. So I get it.

But when I got up a couple of days ago, I saw much of my Facebook feed cavorting in sack dancing glee about this literal nonsense — a typo. Again, I guess I understand; people loathe the Current Occupant so much that any stick will do if it lets them beat the dog. If it lets them lower their blood pressure a bit, OK (although I think it might be easier simply to walk away as much as possible. But I get worked up over Kentucky football and (especially) basketball — your obsessions are your own.)

But where we start to move into Platonic Forms of crazy is when the administration’s flack announced that the original typo (for which people were mocking the Prez) was in fact some inside joke and an example of Trumpian 8-Dimensional Chess. When I heard that, my first thought was:

The culture is in a full-bore sprint toward 24/7 simian shit-flinging. In his “Future History” stories, Robert Heinlein posited a period he called “The Crazy Years.” Like many other folks, I’m convinced that a) we’re in them, and b) they’ve gone on longer than the Wise Old Man predicted. Indeed, I no longer expect to outlive them.

***

My foot seems to be pretty well recovered, so I went walking earlier this week, only to discover that I managed to … well, do something. Specifically, I spent the second half of the week with a tearing sort of pain in my right anterior hip joint, lower right glute, and what my wife teaches her students to call the “bathing suit area.” I wonder if it’s connected to my sluefootedness, but I don’t really know. It seems to have receded in the last day or so, but was bad enough Wednesday night that it woke me up when I’d shift in my sleep. Still, I may try to get a little stroll in later today.

***

Given that Mrs. M and I are both in the teaching racket, people think we have endless vistas of time together in the summers. However, this isn’t exactly the case. Because I teach a course or two each June, and because she teaches through May and resumes in early August, July is our only real overlap. So like most folks, we have to fit vacation travel into a fairly tight window.

This year, for example, we’ll probably spend the first couple of days of July with the Mads in Knoxville, possibly hitting Asheville for a visit to Biltmore on the way back. Later in the month, we’re looking at taking the Spawn to her current first-choice grad school for a scouting trip, but those dates are not yet fixed. And on 29 Jul, I’ll be attending a writer’s class with Jeffrey Deaver in Real City, thanks to the Southeast regional chapter of the Mystery Writers of America.

In the meantime? The Spawn and I will make our annual pilgrimage to HeroesCon in a couple of weeks — I’ll do my usual reports, I’m sure (and I hope they bring back the arcade they had last year — dare I dream of a Crazy Climber machine? Dare! Dare!).

***

I mentioned SEMWA a couple of paragraphs ago, and a few days back, I had the pleasure of listening in on a live SEMWA podcast featuring Steven Womack, author of the Harry James Denton PI series, which was set in my original hometown of Nashville.

Mr. Womack had some nifty things to say about story construction, particularly on the scale of the novel, and he drew both on his experience in screenwriting (which he teaches at Watkins College) and mythopoetic theory (as represented by Joseph Campbell, although I remain a Frygean, m’self.) Afterward, I mentioned that my dad had taught printmaking at Watkins back in the 70s, and that we still had a few of those prints and plates here around the house.

Additionally, Womack mentioned that he hopes to put out the first new Denton novel in 16 years before too long. Nashville has changed in that time, and so has Harry’s life; I’m looking forward to seeing how Steven handles both.

And speaking of writing stuff, my friend and former office mate Chris McGinley has a new story at Out of the Gutter Online. It’s a Western, and it’s worth a look.

Me? I have a couple of titles and some fragments, but we’ll see if anything happens before too long.

***

On the musical front, the Berries are showing signs of emerging from a six-week slumber. We’d better, because we’re booked to do a show on Friday, 4 Aug at our Upstate pied a terre, Simpsonville’s Soundbox Tavern, and we’ll be the only band performing. So brace yourselves, kids — “An Evening with the Berries” will be coming your way!

***

And since we’re talking about music, I may as well wrap this installment up with a song. Graham Parker is recognized for being under-recognized, if you know what I mean. He’s respected by his peers, but isn’t as known (or presumably as wealthy) as say, an Elvis Costello (to whom he’s often compared.) But here’s a song from his 1980 breakout album, and underneath the punky sneer, I think there’s a message about vulnerability here. So here’s “Protection.”

See you soon!

Posted in Alternating Feet, Culture, Education, Family, Literature, Music, Politics | 1 Comment

QotD: Mondo’s Mood Edition

In an article about the seeming decline of brick-and-mortar retail in the U.S., Kevin Williamson offers this:

[T]here’s a blood-plasma donation center two doors down from an Arby’s — if you are in search of the Eliotic objective correlative for despair, there it is.

Further deponent saith not.

Posted in Culture, Literature | Leave a comment