Sunday, January 31, 2010


This is as old as a month is allowed to be, 31 days. And sometimes the 31st day is an outlier, starting a sixth week that the calendar has no room for. So it's forced to bunk with 24, even though it's one week later, even though it's a full day, with the full complement of hours. But some people turn the page before the day's even over! If you want to see 31, you have to look down to the miniature January, next to the miniature March: history and fantasy side by each.

Well, it's not over yet. The Grammies are still on. It's still Jackie Robinson's birthday. It's still Backwards Day, a parting salute to Janus, looking back at his almost-over month. Looking ahead to whatever lives next door. He calls it January 32, for a laugh. But he knows. The valentine displays have colored his aisles since they put the tinsel away.

A bientot, janvier.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Return to Canada

Last night, around 11, I set out to do the dishes. There were quite a lot of them, so of course I turned on the old radio on the windowsill for company. It was the BBC news on NPR, which was fine, but... I wanted something different. It occurred to me that I wanted Canada. It further occurred to me, with that special excitement reserved for technological possibilities, that I could get Canada. Plug in the laptop, find the CBC Radio podcasts, choose "As It Happens" (a more relaxed, more conversational "All Things Considered") and put on the headphones. Moments later, over the faucet and pots, there it was: Canada! my home (Vancouver) from '72 to '85, when CBC Radio was my comfort zone, my ambience. And now here it was in my kitchen. Specifically, it was The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik, former Montrealer (who knew?), talking to Barbara Budd about J.D. Salinger. The best! (

Dishes done. I knew what I really wanted to hear, even though I was approaching the Glide, that dangerous zone that schusses you from 11:30 to 1:00 or 2 in the morning without any work at all. Never mind. I wanted to hear a Canadian appreciation of singer-songwriter Kate McGarrigle, who died on the 18th of this month of cancer, age 63. The McGarrigle sisters were a big part of my Canadian soundtrack, along with the like of Pied Pumpkin, Doug and the Slugs, and varied thrushes, preferably in the rain.

More luck. I found another great interview, this one with Linda Ronstadt, who famously recorded the McGarrigles' "Heart Like a Wheel" around 1974, and was a good friend of Kate and Anna. Which led me to YouTube to hear Kate sing one of the most beautiful songs ever written: "Talk to Me of Mendocino." Watch. Listen.

Canadian radio captures the phenomenon of a small population in a vast land. Compared to the slightly self-important media megaphone of NPR—with the exception, perhaps, of "Bob Edwards' Weekend"—it's like a really interesting conversation overheard among fellow passengers on a train, the VIArail, crossing the lakes and woods, prairies, Rockies, and river valleys between Quebec and B.C. Listening now, it's also a bit like tuning into an exotic country on my shortwave radio when I was eleven. Hey, dad, I got Canada!


Tonight, the Wolf Moon rose over Arlington, muzzier than it looked last night, when it rose huge and astonishing into the blue evening sky around 5:30. It's a moon that goes with a wolf, if there were any. Canada has wolves to go with it. Arlington has coyotes, red foxes, and eagles on Mystic Lake, but no wolves, except the lone moon. No wolf song except the music of the spheres.

Friday, January 29, 2010


Bitter cold, the weatherman said about today, and by the sound of that wind out there, howling through the cracks, I can imagine why. It's a Shingebiss wind, like the North wind that bedeviled the plucky little merganser in the Ojibwe tale that's set in the winter dark of Lake Superior. But Shingebiss was nice and warm in his lodge, infuriating the wind, who came to a bad end, I forget what. Or maybe just stormed off, bitterly.

Bitter cold. A bitter wind. Hard done by, frowning that bitter frown. January has reason to be bitter. Shaking its head like a guy fighting old battles. All those high hopes and resolutions undone. The bird feeder not erected. The upstairs room still as chaotic as it was last month. And today, or yesterday, dammit, J.D. Salinger dies. What the hell?

Some people make a bigger minus. I mean, I'll read the obit tomorrow having accommodated myself to the news. But when I first heard, and saw his young-old face next to a copy of Catcher in the Rye (with the carousel horse on the cover) on Lehrer, it was: aw, no, not you. You're supposed to be immortal, like a slender mythic type, a weathered wind god. You're not supposed to die. Maybe turn into a tree. But, no, it turns out he was 91, getting quite old, and maybe he'd also had enough.

NO, wind, you can't come in, said Shingebiss, taking out his kazoo and further infuriating the wind. Thursday, it seems, was Kazoo Day. As a wind instrument, the kazoo is something of an insult, which makes it the perfect choice. Ready?

Be kind to your web-footed friends,
for a duck may be somebody's mother.
They live in the swamps and the woods,
where the weather is cold and damp.
You may think that this is the end. Well, it is.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Eine Kleine Jabberwocky

I like to think they would have enjoyed each other's company. Isn't there a common bond between mathematics and music? And I think they were both playful spirits. You've got The Magic Flute on the one hand and Tweedledum/Tweedledee on the other. Or the Queen of the Night and the Queen of Hearts. And it turns out they sort of crossed paths over "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," of all things. Mozart wrote twelve variations on its melody, from a French ditty, "Ah, vous dirai-je, maman." And Lewis Carroll wrote:

Twinkle, twinkle, little bat!
How I wonder what you're at!
Up above the world you fly,
Like a tea tray in the sky.

They certainly meet—in fact, hang out together forever—on their mutual birthday, which is today. I too am a member of the League of 27 (in October), as is my son (in April), and my brother-in-law (in December). So I look at these two delightful chaps (Mozart and Carroll, that is) as fraternity members or distant cousins.

Celebrating their day is simply a matter of turning on the nearest classical radio station for the probable tribute, or else finding that "Elvira Madigan" Piano Concerto (No. 21) you haven't played in several decades, or just find Eine Kleine Nachtmusik on YouTube ( That'll take care of Wolfgang.

For Lewis, go to your bookshelf or go online and dig up "Jabberwocky" or "You Are Old, Father William," or, if you're really ambitious, "The Hunting of the Snark." (Here's a particularly fine version with illustrations by Henry Holiday:

Or it may be asking too much to cram both of these blithe spirits into one day's celebration. You could do worse than keep their company tomorrow, or meander with them into March. Fine winter companions, separately or together.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Waist of Time

Ten o' clock and all's well. Relatively speaking. I've got nothing to say, but it's okay, as John Lennon sang in that sanguine sangfroid of his. There's a dish full of sinks waiting for me in the other room. They know it, I know it. But I'm thinking I should go out and see the moon, which is going to be full in a few days. Waxing. Pity that Icarus didn't take his flight at night. No melting wax under a cold moon. But also no fable against over-lofty ambitions and disobeying your father. One of which maybe applies to my son, who's not getting ready for bed because he's strumming his electric guitar (no amp) and probably thinking of the Battle of the Bands this Saturday. His band goes first.

I did the dishes. I went outside. The rain yesterday has left a gallery of sculpted snow out there, derelict & fantastic. The moon is high and bright and gibbous, about 3/4 full, bright enough to flood the sky with light. I could barely make out Orion: eleven tiny pinheads in the sky. Stars, zillions of miles away, but hanging meekly over Walgreen's like an ad. I saw the moon and the moon saw me. Not really. The moon is blind, but it's an open book. It's a Kindle.

This is the isthmus in the hourglass between two birthdays, Burns's and two others'. I didn't want the birthday boys right next to each other. Wanted a little separation. Hence this waist of time. (no originality points for that phrase: 26 million citations in Google, some accidental.) Just a little narrow voyage from ten to midnight with a moon break. (Good morning!)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Of Mice and Men

Around the world tonight Scots and would-be Scots are toasting Robert Burns, contemplating haggis, either in fact or as an idea, and reading or singing Burns lyrics. I kind of wish I were among them. It's Robert Burns's birthday today and one birthday that's really celebrated, with a Burns Supper and with music and recitation and a fire in a hearth. That's the way to do a birthday.

I can't pretend to be a Burns acolyte. I'm a bit on the outside, peering through the window, a tad enviously, at the gathering, but it's one of those attention-must-be-paid occasions. You don't want to be belated about January 25. Ben Franklin it's okay. He doesn't have that soulfulness that makes the day go down a little deeper. To miss it is a bit like the anonymous someone neglecting to leave the rose and the cognac at Poe's grave in Baltimore. Which happened on the 19th this year for the first time since the tradition started in 1949.

Today had a Burnsian quality about it, too, especially after midday. A spattering, wind-driven rain lashing against the windowpanes for hours. Calling to mind the phrase, "a night not fit for man nor beast," which is reminiscent of the "wee, sleekit, cow'rin' tim'rous beastie" of "To a Mouse." And the immortal lines: "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley". And even earlier, setting that up:

Thou saw the fields laid bare an' waste,
An' weary winter comin fast,
An' cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro' thy cell.

Man, beast, weary winter, cozy cell, and crash! comes the cruel plow, earthquake, election, and what's left but to gather together with soulmates and toast the poet and the 25th of January. Happy birthday, Robbie.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Five O'Clock

I have pleasant associations with 5:00. I think that was when "The Early Show" came on TV when I was a kid, with its comfortable theme song, "The Syncopated Clock," followed by good old black and white movies of cowboys, detectives, and Hollywood sophisticates.

Five o'clock has a certain ideal look for me. It balances out as the long-shadowed late afternoon, good hour for flinging a Frisbee or running your dog, good time to head home, start supper, begin the elegant glide into evening. By the end of five's hour, on average, it's getting dark.

Which is why I was happy to see that 5:00 is coming back to twilight. Looking like 4:00 did a month ago.

Stepping out of the Arlington library just before Friday closing time, I saw a sky suffused with pink and soft blue. Walked northwest on the bike path till I got to the place where a brook runs at the bottom of a ravine. The brook held the rosy light in a long narrow strip. It was framed by snow and black trees. I wanted my camera, but it was at home, and there was no time to go back for it. So I stood and drank in the water-light for a good while.

Tomorrow I will go back to that spot with my camera at the same time and maybe the light will be like today's. Maybe not. But it will be precisely five o'clock.


Actually, it was 5:10, and the camera battery ran out after the first two pictures, which were too dark to commemorate the light anyway, which was not rosy, as expected, but kind of pewtery. Thus proving something about time not being the same as history. But five o'clock will always have that theme music of "The Syncopated Clock," and we (that is, we Earth in our January arc) are bringing 5:00 back to the early show, with longer and springier strides.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Belated B'day Benisons, Benjamin!

How could I forget? I even wrote it down in my new 2010 "At a Glance" organizer. January 17: Benjamin Franklin's birthday. If January has a picture of Paul Revere mid-gallop on the 1, then by golly it should have one of Ben Franklin flying a kite or inspecting a page proof on the 17. And me overlooking a fellow almanacker, too. Practically the inventor of the genre. I have to admit that I haven't perused Poor Richard's Almanack, being the sort of poor scholar Ben would have written a proverb about. But I know it ran every year from 1732 to 1758, and was incredibly popular in the colonies, with print runs of 10,000 a year. And I know it contained "Lunations, Eclipses, Judgment of the Weather, Spring Tides, Planets Motions & mutual Aspects, Sun and Moon's Rising and Setting, Length of Days, Time of High Water, Fairs, Courts, and observable Days." In addition to reams of proverbs and puzzles and even serialized stories so people would buy it just to find out if Titan Leeds died on October 17 or 26.

I'm not sure Ben would have approved of the belated birthday greeting tradition, or when that tradition started. He was all about self-improvement, early to bed, early to rise, etc. On the other hand, the man trafficked in foibles, so he certainly would have understood forgetfulness. And even though he wasn't the one who coined "Better late than never" (it was Titus Livius), it sounds like something Poor Richard might have said. So, happy 304th, Mr. Franklin: author, printer, satirist, inventor, scientist, politician, statesman, diplomat, and almanacker, born a subway ride away on Milk Street in downtown Boston. Rock on.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What the—?

When I was still working in an office, I used to get this message on my computer when I logged out: Word is saving "Normal". I suppose it meant that the settings on whatever I had been working on ("Normal") were being saved by my writing platform, Microsoft Word. But of course I liked the larger meaning. Thanks to the written word, once again, normalcy was being rescued. Whew! And how does word save normal? By revealing it to be particular and unusual, rather than boring and superficial and...normal.

As the news once again careens across the path of this almanac in the form of Scott Brown's unlikely victory over Martha Coakley (whose robo-calls from Bill and Barack and Vicky and Ted if she could have, began sounding more and more tense, as if she were trapped in a room with closing walls), I ask word once again to save normal, because what has happened here in Massachusetts is so bizarre that normal must be in serious trouble. I want Lassie to find normal. Bring her back, girl. She must be trapped in the old mineshaft on the edge of town. I warned normal not to play around there. But Lassie looks confused. Normal's fine. Normal's just being her normal weird self. Well, hell, go save Timmy then. Save someone.

It's National Disc Jockey Day (I announce, peevishly, like a disc jockey with a bad hangover). How about a little music?

Martha, my dear, though I spend my days in conversation, please, remember me...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Old January

Third week, and how well-worn this new month feels. Here we are at Martin Luther King Day, which has become a kind of fortunate resting square on the board of the calendar, a good place to pause. Take stock of the young year. Listen to those amazing cadences of the "I Have a Dream" speech if you have the radio turned on. And chances are you do, it being a Monday disguised as a Sunday, so all the weekday programs have a weekend leisureliness to them. Fresh Air had a piece on Satchel Paige. He was a hometown hero up in Bismarck, North Dakota, at one point. Who knew?

I was trying to say something about Haiti as news the other day, and wasn't sure I was up to the task in this woolgathering almanac. But it has become a January setting now. It shares temporal space with wherever else we are, home, car, somewhere else, by virtue of the media and the pull of great need. So if December flows into Christmas, then January/janvier/enero is eddying around the demi-island of Haiti, that gallant Citadel Belafonte sang about. And we watch from this (safe) distance as thousands die, lights wink out under the rubble, and what can we do but let them, as if it is a newsreel story we are read to on a daily basis in an ornate movie house. A tragedy we must rehearse until we have made it our own.

It is past the expiry date for most Christmas trees, I think. Many were lying on their backs in the snow last week, waiting to be manhandled by guys with heavy gloves and tipped into the maw of a truck that eats trees. This week, fewer, I'm guessing. It makes me think of another way people had of bidding farewell to their trees when I lived in Vancouver back in the 70s and early 80s. There was a big bonfire on Locarno Beach, back in a bit from the strand, among the conifers. It was long and loud and pagan. The trees would be hoisted high and passed along on a conveying of hands until, close to the edge, a mighty heave and a joyous roar as the tree exploded in flame and sparks. I believe it was halted after a kid fell out of a tree and broke his arm. But I still think of trees silhouetted against the firelight as if it were a tribe I once belonged to before I got all civilized.

Wouldn't you know, they have a Christmas tree bonfire in Salem, Mass., down on Deadhorse Beach. No auto da-fé of trees in motion, but something of that pagan feel, especially after the two minute mark:

Friday, January 15, 2010


Yesterday there were people walking on Spy Pond, distant people and nearer people. Dark as raisins against the white. One woman made a train with three kids holding on to each other, smallest to tallest, the tallest grasping her leg. She backed up, laughing and making choo-choo sounds. Others were just walking, somewhere between water and land. The sun was low but bright, making a sheen. Our Little Holland.

But today I didn't see anyone. It's a little more of water (on top), less of land. Temperature in the 40s, which is nice but also slightly upsetting. What opportunities does this present? I wasn't loving the cold, understand. But I was beginning to grasp its rules. Measure out time spent outside, gauge need for particular garments, rhythm of breathing against wind chill. And respect the persistence of ice and sculpted snow on the yards and surfaces. Now it's...Cut! Who ordered the thaw? That's not due till February. (February puts her head out her dressing room door. Was that my cue?) No, no, not yet, not yet. Half a month left. (Door closes.)

Tomorrow is Saturday. Another day of thaw. I'll have the new script. I'll be fine.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


The heart quickens to see that word in a subject heading, like two men in black suits at the classroom door. Like luck, it could be good or bad. But "breaking news": almost never good.

Almanacs of the fat kind, like the World Almanac, gather major news stories of the preceding year, but after they've turned into history. Almanacs of the folksier kind (like the Farmer's), being published ahead of time and concerned with the predictable and not the time-sensitive, leave the news alone.

I bring this up because I'm sort of in the middle, gathering up quirky daily events, like seeing a lady walking her goats, but so far not including the news of the day. However, when I find myself writing trivially about anagrams for pharmacy on the same day there's a major earthquake in Haiti, I wonder if an almanacker of the daily kind has a responsibility to discuss the big news sometimes.

The trouble is, I'm not a journalist. News of this kind isn't my beat. I could say that it's weird to be in such peaceful surroundings as Arlington when not far away is a place of chaos and death. That I was just reading in a bio of Roberto Clemente today about the Nicaragua earthquake on Christmas Eve of 1972, which must be part of the same fault line as Haiti. That Pat Robertson is this astonishing throwback to medieval times with his assertion that the Haitians suffer because they made a pact with Satan in 1791. That it's tragic but it's still disturbingly easy to forget about.

It all amounts to a sigh and a grimace and then a return to the trivial, the quirky, and the universal. It's what I do.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Today, January 12, is National Pharmacists' Day. The first pharmacist I knew was Herbert Feldsher of Feldsher's Pharmacy on High Ridge Road in Stamford. He was a tall, austere gent with a moustache. He could be cordial, but he also had an annoying habit of stalking down to the magazines where I was communing with the always-friendly Playboy centerfold. How rude!

Did he use that classic line, "This isn't a library, son"? Probably. But what did he expect me to do, buy it? Anyway, I got a little better at waiting until Herbert was busy filling prescriptions. And I probably bought my share of Wrigley's Spearmint gum to compensate.

Funny thing about his name. I recently came across the word "feldsher" as a common noun somewhere. And it means, almost, "pharmacist": a medical or surgical practitioner without full professional qualifications. From feld + scherer: field shearer, like those medieval barbers who were kind-of doctors (see Steve Martin on old SNL sketch). Anyway, almost a Joseph Hellerish name for a pharmacist character, Feldsher.

Which brings me to pharmacy. Often when I take the one-block walk over to Walgreen's, I gaze at the big red sign PHARMACY and idly indulge, hardly knowing I'm doing it, in my obsessive habit of anagramming. But the word is so ripe. So I cobbled together a poem, or a kind of comic strip without the art. It may help to imagine a soldier at the drugstore with a strange ailment and several squabbling pharmacists serving him.


Army chap,
march, yap:
"Hay cramp!
Achy armp—"
Archy: "AMP!"
Cry: "Ha! AMP
may parch,
harm y', Cap!"
(Chary Pam.)
Marcy: "Pah!"
(Charm...) "Pay,
Champ!" Ray:
"Ah, my. Crap."
"Ach! Mr. Yap!"
Mac: "Harpy!"

(Army chap:

Monday, January 11, 2010

Yester & Morrow

I know I said zeroes don't count. But if they did, today would make an elegant palindrome: 01/11/10. Not that I want to be Janus-faced about this. Well, actually, I do. Today is as good a day as any to summon Janus, the two-faced god of doors, gates, and portals, the eponym of January and janitors. Here we have January 11, with one one facing one way and one one facing the other, like a two-chimed doorbell. ("You rang?" as Maynard G. Krebs used to say on "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.")

I summoned Janus once before for a college reunion essay I wrote ten years ago. Found him in the Palindrome Café, decaf-faced. One face, Yester, was gazing out the window, dreamy and nostalgic, benignly awash in old TV shows, song lyrics, and other trivia. The other, Morrow, was equally absorbed in the future, peering intently at his Pot Pal laptop: cutting edge, ahead of the curve. Morrow was speed-talking about something called influency, where you can see on-screen how the past affects the future. Yester was reminiscing about a Doors concert from our junior year. And then everyone in the café broke into a rendition of "Break on Through to the Other Side".

I'm more of a Yester guy, temperamentally. Tend to dwell in the past. But this blog was Morrow's idea, or rather, Paul DePaolo's. He's more of a Morrow guy, I suspect. Obviously we need both: the conscience and the visionary, the historian and the planner, the golden oldies and the new wave...

I feel like I've heard that before, Yester might nod. But Morrow gets the last word: Tell me something I don't know.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Pits and Sparks

Today was National Apricot Day. The word apricot is related to the word precocious, because it's an early-ripening fruit. And what muse, I wonder, inspired Yip Harburg to come up with the line, "Who put the ape in apricot" in the Cowardly Lion's coronation number? Nowadays, he might have written, "Who put the app in apricot?". In any case they're a very nice soft-skinned fruit with a nuzzlable texture and a color that is best described as apricot. And when dried they look and feel like tender little ears. And you can anagram "an apricot" to make "Tropicana."

Yesterday (we just jumped over to tomorrow) was also National Static Electricity Day. Having spent fifteen minutes the other day picking about a hundred fragments of Kleenex off T-shirts and flannel shirts fresh from the dryer, only to have many of the tissue bits leap back to the fabric like caped fleas, I don't feel like shuffling my feet on the carpet and making sparks fly from my fingertips in celebration. But I will say this:
I speak of static
without ecstatic
It raises my hackles
when it crackles.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Elvis Lives

I don't usually think about a week,which seems organized for manmade purposes--no moon or sun behind that raft of seven days. More as if they ran out of names after Saturday and had to start over again. But the first week of the year deserves a little consideration. Here it is the 8th, a long week after the pizzazz of New Year's Eve. In fact this time a week ago it was still December, still 2009. So last year! And then we had that New Year's weekend, kind of the foredeck of a cruise ship as it eases into the harbor. So we didn't get down the gangplank into the business of 2010 until Monday. I'd call it a test week, like a tester pancake. We're not expected to actually eat the week, are we? We are? Fine. I say it was a bunch of practice serves, though. (How'd this tennis ball get in the pancake batter?) Even if one serve went in, for show, on Monday. The other four needed work, needed style.

Like January needs Elvis. It really does. I wasn't going to make much of his birthday today. I was never a huge fan. And he's already pretty overpraised in a wall-to-wall, Kraft foods/Life magazine kind of way. But then I got an email from Sylvia supposing that I'd be ruminating on him. So I did, a bit. And decided that January needs Elvis, especially eight days in, as the novelty of 2010 is wearing off and the Christmas trees are beginning to lie down in the snow outside the houses. Doesn't even matter if it's young Elvis or old Elvis. The spangled white jumpsuit works about as well as the red open-necked shirt. January needs a little adrenaline. (Or else it needs to hibernate.) It could use more Heartbreak Hotel, Jailhouse Rock, and Blue Suede Shoes. Jan. is prone to go gray, or to go prone. It could use a visit from Dr. Rhythm and Dr. Blues.

I mean, sure, it's got Martin Luther King Jr., but I'm talking Elvis Pelvis. A little electricity on the eighth. The curled lip, the sideburns, the greasy forelock. The juke joint, and the rest of them: Son House, Big Mama Thornton, Howlin' Wolf. I mean, I'm already way in over my head here. I'm just saying it would do January some good. A little fervor.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Martha, My Dear

No particular reason. It just happens to be on right now, and hits the spot, as Beatles songs so often do. "Silly girl..." (Paul's sheepdog.)

It is Cuddle-up Day, which sounds as if it were invented by an advertising company. Still, it's sweet. Put it in the mix. A day doesn't insist on any tributes. It just requires the earth to pirouette on its axis once. (Big wheel, keep on turning.) The weather will provide some atmosphere. Events will take place, both random and predictable, and we can define it however we like.

It's also Epiphany today, which is the twelfth day of Christmas, with the twelve drummers drumming, and Three Kings Day in many countries, in honor of the three wise men, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, who had an epiphany (a dramatic realization, usually amid the everyday) when they beheld the Epiphany (manifestation of the divine) of baby Jesus in the manger. In Mexico, kids leave their shoes out to get gifts. The shoes are stuffed with hay for the kings' camels. A nice touch, like the milk and cookies for Santa.

What defined my day today, if anything, was a career counseling workshop I went to called "Getting Unstuck," run by a peppy woman with the common sense of a wise aunt. Since I'm freelancing these days, I was applying the insights more broadly than getting unstuck with your job search. Namely, that a day is both that pirouetting shell of earth and sky and an interior hum of energy, from you to it, from it to you. And you can give a day meaning and momentum with what you put on your to-do list. In theory, anyway.

There are also those non-agenda ingredients: the things you add just because you like them, or that pop up as pleasant epiphanies.

I phoned Myrtle Beach, SC to determine if there is still a Myrtle Beach Open Sand Sculpting Competition. No confirmation of this, but it was cool talking to someone with a Southern drawl. Another ingredient, along with Martha My Dear, Matthew's eureka moment at figuring out a geometry problem, and maybe, why not?, cuddling up.


Thursday addendum: Today, January 7th, is Old Rock Day. This is open to interpretation. Could be a celebration of fossils, stones, the Stones, Chuck Berry, Alcatraz, or Rock Hudson and Doris Day movies. Or tell someone who's old, "You rock!"

Monday, January 4, 2010

Warming up the calendar

Happy holiday, happy holiday
May the calendar keep bringing
Happy holidays to you
—Irving Berlin, from "Holiday Inn"

I've been thinking about the calendar as a delivery system of holidays, especially now, looking over the trove of holidays to come.

I definitely felt comforted by holidays as a kid. Take February, which needs the company. The groundhog on the 2. The face of Lincoln on the 12, trustworthy as an old penny. Followed by the red trimmed heart on the 14, and the slightly austere George Washington on the 22. They gave the month color, warmth (George, too), momentum.

And now, with this almanac, I feel like I've been entrusted with a vital job: dispenser of holidays. In fact, I've been remiss for the last three months, even though I mentioned the major ones. But you don't really get the call until the year sets forth again. So, let me hasten to say that January's birthstone is the garnet, and its flower (I almost said the state flower) is the carnation. Is that important knowledge? Yes! I'm telling you, it warms up the calendar. You don't want a cold calendar, and the picture can only go so far.

Furthermore, January wears a lot of different hats. It is, it turns out, Hot Tea Month, National Oatmeal Month, National Soup Month, National Blood Donor Month, and National Thank You Month. This is important information.

But you have to be judicious. I won't be mentioning the weeks, except, okay, just one: Universal Letter Writing Week is from the 8th to the 14th. And you can go a little crazy with the days. If you have too many observances, your calendar gets too warm.

So I'll mention Paul Revere's birthday (the first) because we need the image of Paul galloping through the month, and it only takes that one little picture of him on his horse. And okay, I'll mention that the drinking straw was invented on January 2, 1888. And I'll skip to today, the 5th, which is National Bird Day. So I think I'll go outside and try again to see our national bird in "The Tree" on Mystic Lake. (I just got a report that he's there.) But if I miss him, what the hey, I'll come home and have a hot tea.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The 2d beckoned...

The 3d demurred.

We have had a weekend, a nice ledge to ponder the new year. Define it in some way. Put a good habit into motion, perhaps. Yet not neglect the opportunity to punt. I for one have solved many crossword puzzles, and made one attempt to see the bald eagle that has taken up its perch of winters past on a certain tree ("The Tree") on Lower Mystic Lake, hard by the Medford Boat Club dam. Did not see the eagle. But did dream of seeing three bald eagles last night, by way of compensation. And it did compensate. Eagle dreams are almost as rare as real eagles.

Tomorrow will be a different view of the year, a workday/schoolday perspective. The number 2010 will weigh more than it did. We will have to learn the new contraption: the wings, the wheels, the gears, and how to get the fool thing up to speed before we manage to get it off the ground, and then how to steer it so we can clear the trees and begin to have some sense of control, and can even enjoy the view. But we will. We're all better aviators than we give ourselves credit for.


When winter’s too wicked for bicycles
And eaves are all fangled with icicles,
There’s this farmer I know whose
Field’s perfect for snowshoes
And barn owls hunting for micicles.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Orbit Twenty Ten; Betty B. Rides Again

Hello, 2010. We almanackers salute you and the new, clean, unfilled calendar that bears your name, a new orbit plotted out, waiting to be lived.

You sound more futuristic than your predecessor did. It's that confident 1 in the tens column, copilot to the 2. We're a decade in, by common consent, and ready to call you Twenty Ten.

And hello, January, elder of the Ary brothers. Still wearing your tophat, but not a diaper or sash. Heck, no. Silk pyjamas. You slept late. Woke carefully. Tried not to make any mistakes, but that'll pass. In a few days, the resolutions will start looking a bit shopworn, if not already. And the newspapers already bear testament to bad news. Don't feel responsible. You can enjoy your firstness, your virginity, for a few more days. Put on Tony Bennett. Do another crossword puzzle. It's the weekend.

Let's start things off with another Betty Begonia poem, written for my mom in a year that's receded a bit, but she hasn't. She's riding along with us. I believe she just smiled.

Betty Begonia and the Coyote

“Miz B, that stew shore was delicious,”
said Ringo, soap-sudsing the dishes
while Jim melancholically
played his harmonicky,
mourning his unfulfilled wishes.

Jim’s tune wafted out, wild and throaty
like a brujo on too much peyote
and it proved so persistent
that five miles distant,
it lassoed a lonesome coyote.

The critter stood high on a butte
and listened, alert and astute.
then, nose to the sky,
he howled a reply:
a fellow night crier’s salute.

Sure enough, that long note left a scorch
clear back to Ms. Betty’s back porch.
“Whoa! I declare, boyos,”
said Thomas, “That coyo’s
a-carryin’ some kind of torch!”

For hours the concert kept going,
the howl-and-harp music flowing,
criss-crossing like rivers
and giving the shivers
to anyone born and still growing.

* * *

The next morning, Betty Begonia
woke up to diverse pandemonia!
Her llamas were manic,
her goats in a panic—
especially Sadie and Sonya.

For there in the yard by the pen,
having traveled since dawn from his den,
sat a big gray coyote,
smelling all creosote-y…
He scratched himself now and again.

“No fears!” Ringo yelled from a tree,
while attempting to yank his gun free
from out of his holster
and also to bolster
his trembling hand with his knee.

“Stow your pistol ‘fore someone gets hurt,”
Betty said as she tucked in her shirt
and strode out in the yard
with a pause for a hard
authoritative spit in the dirt.

“I’m guessing this here’s the same critter
who crooned like a canine Tex Ritter
all evenin’—remember?—
from sunset’s last ember
just about ‘til the first starry glitter.”

“Hey, there, partner!” whooped Jim with a grin,
bursting out of the bush he’d been in.
“If my face ain’t too gruesome,
let’s form up a twosome—
we'd make us a right purty din!”

Well, the goats were initially wary
and the llamas were downright contrary.
But Jim built the varmint
its own snug apartment
right next to the barn—nice and airy.

And each Saturday night, KYOT
broadcasts Jim and the Singing Coyote
doing ballads and blues
on mouth harp and ARROOOOOOOOOOOOOs
from Ms. Betty’s—with many devotees!