Monday, December 30, 2013

Crossing Xmas

Nothing is quite as gone as Christmas when it's past —the red-kettle bell ringers departed, the store music abruptly back to unseasonal oldies like "Love Potion Number Nine"— especially as the next port of call comes into view— New Year's Eve–New Year's Day, and a whole new unexplored land stretching to the horizon, known only by its number: 2014.

But I have promises to keep, and hatches to open before I sleep, beginning with the one for December 24.


"It was the day before..." 
(Ah! the anticipitation—waiting for the white in White Christmas, along with all the other props, gifts, and decorations that today is the last chance to assemble before Christmas is what it is...and what it is for me, a non-religious Jew who as a kid used to look at neighbor's tinseled trees in the front windows like a suspicious soldier from Temple Beth El doing recon on the Goyish army, is a holiday I've adopted through Carol's family, even including a tree once, now just fireplace-strung lights, definitely Christmas music [Harry Belafonte; Carol's sister Jacqueline's CD, "Down Came an Angel;" James Taylor] and most definitely gifts, with Santa cartoons drawn on my tags, no longer collaborating with Hanukkah Harry.)

So, it's the day defined by its tomorrow, though no less a full day, midnight to midnight, but there's a strong gravitational pull from that tomorrow that causes me to put off wrapping the gifts I'm responsible for, leaving them naked and shivering in the plastic store bags they came in, until it's midnight, and I've trespassed into Christmas itself, leaving me liable to be challenged and browbeaten by border elves who don't have to show me any stinkin' batches! And still I delay because of the Christmas Eve movies we're watching—me, Matt, Santa (hey, Kringle! Move yer boots!), and three reindeer (who are house-trained).

It starts with going back and forth between A Christmas Story (yes! the part where the dad receives the leg lamp!) and It's a Wonderful Life (yes! starting before Clarence jumps in the water to keep George from committing suicide), which claims our full attention after George starts to get unhinged in the streets of Potterville (his own mother slams the door on him!) and takes us clear through to the end where the house fills with George (now restored to life)'s  neighbors repaying their debt of love and thanks, including the bank examiner and process-server!, and newly-arrived war hero Harry Bailey toasting "my big brother George, the richest man in town!" and by now everyone's singing "Auld Lang Syne" and Jimmy Stewart is grinning so broadly it's ridiculous and the ornament jingles and ZuZu pipes up "Listen, Daddy! Teacher says every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings!" and Jimmy Stewart says in that soft near-tears voice, "That's right...That's right...Atta boy, Clarence!" And I look over to Matt and I'm so happy to see that it's got to him too. And Santa and the reindeer would be crying, too, if they hadn't left.

That was today's hatch. Actually it was supposed to be—and maybe still is—Jean Vigo's L'Atalante, which we watched next, and which is a beautiful movie, 1934,  about a canal barge captain, Jean, who marries a sweet young woman from the village, Juliette, but must compete with the distractions of Pere Jules, the gruff but whimsical first mate, and a persistent magician-one-man-band-street-peddler, and all of Paris, before love conquers all, enfin. It's a pretty wonderful movie. (L'Atalante is the name of the barge.)


Two hatches: 

Morning: oeuf! French toast that turned out too eggy!
I felt like a schmegeggy,
but no one else seemed to mind,
or were just being kind.

Evening: a game of Fictionary with pals Lenni and Mike and Matt and Carol and words plucked from the pages of an old coverless unabridged: including molopo, podzol, pleonasm, and etesian. Carol, bless her, voted for two fake definitions that happened to be mine: molopo—a fretless ukulele; and pleonasm—a hiccough.

So I conclude: 
May your molopos all be fretless and your pleonasms brief!

Friday, December 27, 2013

More Old Hatches

Dec. 25

"Getting klo'd Kreem," as my friend John Carroll used to say back in the 70s, when it seemed more common to keep a collection of made-up sayings than it does nowadays. That one was a kind of melted-cheese version of the observation that it's getting close to Christmas. Which doesn't get much closer than right now, as we enter the daylight nosedive of 4:07 p.m. on the bewreathed day of December 25th, a big address, a trademark, a soundtrack, a destination, and also another day that starts at midnight and ends at the next available midnight. But it is uncommonly quiet out when you take a walk (especially in the cold) and it carries good freight, not the least of which is a kind wish that the day be merry, a brimming bowlful of a word suggesting good smells, flavors, music, and above all, laughter, which snuck away from slaughter to rhyme with rafter, to which it rises on big fat ticklish helium bubbles. Meh Kreem, John.

Today is the final hatch to open, on traditional advent calendars, the one that reveals the angel or ¡Feliz Navidad! or whatever the big payoff is. But I think I go through the last day. If not sail on into the Neues Jahr, maybe make this an adventure calendar.

To open a few more old hatches...

Thursday, Dec. 19

Unclear Thursday fortunes, if you redivide the words, becomes Uncle Arthur's day for tunes

This magic trick made me very happy when I discovered it years ago, and still does. Similar to the smile I once derived from "Gideon sighed, giddy inside." It's called a charade, this kind of word redivider. (And redivider is a palindrome!) The most elegant charades are a pair of redivided sentences that rhyme, like this example I found on a couple of pages on a remote website

Flamingo: pale, scenting a latent shark!
Flaming, opalescent in gala tents - - hark!

There's even a charade that redivides backwards as a palindrome:

Doc, note, I dissent. A fast never prevents a fatness. I diet on cod.

Charades—or any prodigious feats of wordplay, really—are a little scary (check out the poem on the second page of the charade link), but at heart they're deeply entertaining, like a street musician who can't help it if she's extravagantly talented. They remind me of what's called lenticular printing, which is the technical name for those Crackerjack prizes I treasured when I was a kid, the ones with a little screen of ridged plastic, where you turn it one way and the animated magician gestures with his wand, turn it the other way and he pulls out a rabbit.

You can find lenticular videos on YouTube, of things like the Aukland NZ skyline or a vineyard changing through the four seasons, but they're not nearly as thrilling as those little plastic prizes were.

One open door I wandered into, though, while I was browsing lenticular gimcracks, was a video about another Old Hatch—Hatch Show Print— an old-fashioned letterpress poster print shop in Nashville. A vanished craft that can possibly turn unclear Thursday fortunes into Uncle Arthur's day for tunes. So that's my hatch of the day.

Fri., Dec. 20

I don't really remember what the prize in the Crackerjack box was for this day. It might be dragons. I've been thinking about dragons a lot lately, researching for a classroom unit around Beowulf. Most people think of the title character's combat with the monster Grendel and Grendel's mom (played in the movie version as a hottie in skintight gold lamé by Angelina Jolie!), but in the end, fifty years after the Grendels, Beowulf dies from a wound he gets in slaying a dragon who, like most of its kind, was guarding a treasure-hoard. 

So why are western dragons, like the ones in Northern European folklore, mean and incendiary, while eastern dragons, like Chinese dragons, are helpful and inspiring? Something to do with people's                                        different attitudes toward nature?  Combative in the west, harmonious in the east? And what about Fafnir in the Old Norse saga? He was a guy who killed his father and was turned into a dragon, only to be slain by Sigurd, a notable dragon exterminator, who ended up with the treasure-hoard Fafnir was guarding. What's with these dragons coveting goblets and coins and jewels? Irony? Is the dragon the price of greed? Did we make up the bad dragon as the ultimate in-your-face: got fire, got flight, got your gold, got you!

Sat., Dec. 21

Winter solstice: a long yodel from June, but it's a start. Winter, the ultima thule of cold and dark, invented fire and candles worn like a hat by flaxen-haired maidens on St. Lucia's Day (Dec. 13) in Sweden,
and the idea of Yule lights twinkling on a tree inside a house, or one light burning for eight days on, like, zero oil. Winter invented people getting together to warm a long night, telling stories, having sweet potato and coconut soup, brown rice balls and pinot noir, then going home to hibernate, for a while.

Sun., Dec 22                  

I'll go with an aural hatch, not to be confused with Orrin Hatch, the senior senator from Utah, though I believe he'd approve of this portal: Christmas carols; to be precise, James Taylor's At Christmas CD, which was intended to be a Christmas present for Carol, but became a solstice present instead to maximize playing time, and indeed the sound of JT's soothing baritone filling the kitchen is the aural equivalent of the aroma of baking gingerbread. Who'd have guessed that James Taylor back in his strung-out days would later on hop aboard the Christmas standards bandwagon? But he makes 'em feel like smooth, sanded wood.

Mon., Dec 23

A new calendar in the waiting for 2014: what'll it be? French Impressionists? Birds? Irish landscapes? Nope, it's Georgia O'Keeffe's solemnly ecstatic flowers and red hill and white shell and birch and pine tree that will grace the months and maybe even influence the daily revelations of each gallery of hatches.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Old Hatches

Time to reveal a lot of little hatches I've pried open or forgot to open in this burdensome advent calendar metaphor I've been toting along with me all month, mainly as an inducement to open up the big hatch: Old Hatch. To hatch a plot by plotting hatches, maybe; though I feel like that Mexican bandit in Treasure of the Sierra Madre who, tiring of his own ruse when challenged by Bogart ("If you're the police, where are your badges?"), throws it over with a savage, "I don't have to show you any stinkin' batches!"  Likewise, I don't have to show you no stinking hatches! But if I don't, then the bandits win, and what kind of lesson is that for the kids?

Dec. 10
A viewing of Shadows, John  Cassavetes's first film, which he shot twice, once in 1957 (a print thought to be lost until a copy was found in an auction of items left on the New York subway) and once in 1959, which was the version Matt and I watched from his box set of Cassavetes DVDs. Great jazz score and window on Greenwich Village hipsters in the late 50s, with black and white actors (students from Cassavetes's acting class) playing siblings, convincingly and reassuringly: sure, why not, she's just very light-skinned, I can see it...

Dec. 11
Next night a viewing of Band of Outsiders (Bande à part) by Jean-Luc Godard (1964). Very cool, noirish, nihilist, sexy, movie about a heist and a pair of thieves who get variously involved with the young Anna Karina, and the best scene is a jazzy dance they do, a Frenchified version of "The Madison," in a café, just because they're young and hip and free and sensational. And it is also pretty cool watching movies with a kid who loves movies and knows way more about movies than his avid moviegoer dad.

Dec. 12
An appointment with my neurologist, who always has interesting facts to share about Parkinson's Disease. This time I learn of a possible connection between the terrible Spanish influenza pandemic in 1918 and subsequent severe cases of PD (much worse than PD today). Also, the introduction of L. Dopa (probably the main medicine for controlling PD) after Chilean miners were treated for manganese poisoning in 1967, which caused Parkinsonian symptoms.

Dec. 13
Fortunate Friday! I received word from my alma mater, Colgate, that "Baker's Dozen," the film Matt and I collaborated on (I wrote, he shot, we both directed) featuring the number 13—which Colgate holds dear and decided to celebrate by inviting alums to submit a home-made movie to coincide with 2013—I found out that our little 6-minute film, shot and edited in three days, had won! Check it out!

Dec. 14
Regime change: snow. Several inches.  Sky acting out some ancient interplay—war, romance, contest—with earth. Also, what they say it is: freezing, adhering crystal hexagrams in the troposphere. Science disguised as art disguised as science...

Dec. 15
Carol and my wedding anniversary number 22, resembling two silhouetted swans. We celebrated over wine and drank toasts to art and nature and acceptance. The nearly full moon rose over a bare tree, over snow, while in the car we were confronted by the same old message, ERRE, on the radio/CD player, thwarting our ability to enter a coded number that would restore music and NPR in the wake of a newly installed battery. But it was fun to say: ERRRRRRRRRRRRR! like an irate Scotsman.

Dec. 16
The full Cold Moon, actually achieving fullness around 4:30 a.m of 12/17, but who's up then, besides my son.

Dec. 17
More snow, requiring Matt—and I, but more for keeping him company—to shovel the driveway and the wall of snow left by plow and front walkway, at midnight, when the snow stopped, so Carol could get to work in the morning. We maintained a dogged silence for the most part, but I silently applauded his father-besting vigor and strength.

Dec. 18
A more than seemly amount of time for a 65-year-old man to spend, absorbed by a collection of LIttle Lulu comics from the 50s, including one I recognized! Tubby is plucking petals from a flower—saying "She loves me, she loves me not..." and ending with "She loves me!" Lulu asks if he means her, but Tubby denies it. Who, then? Tubby runs off a safe distance and then hollers, "BETTY GRABLE!" 
Is it too bad that nearly no one nowadays remembers who Betty Grable was? Or is it too bad that it's not so bad, she had her heyday, died forty years ago, in 1973. But what does it mean that today was her birthday? Dec. 18, 1916. Will Google remember in three years that's her centenary? Will anyone (other than the unseemly, the aged children) spare a little time for Little Lulu?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Voici Les Schweebles

Advent calendar revelation for Dec. 9:

My father-in-law and poet-in-residence, Charlie, also known by his pen name C.R. Schwab, lives downstairs, and on special occasions he will come up with certain holy relics—photos, newspapers, scrapbooks, and such— in his role as Chief Archivist of my wife Carol's childhood.

The 9th was Carol's birthday, and Charlie brought up some particularly cherce mementoes, including a school photo of Carol at the age of 13, gazing upward, smiling slightly, the portrait of the artist as a knowing visionary—and another item bringing that time to this one with the freshness that nothing has like art has. Especially when the artist who made it was Carol at the time of that photograph.

The portal is a small hand-made booklet, about 5 x 7", the pages held together by a pair of large loose steel clasp rings.

The front cover is a kind of crazy water ballet of cut-out mollusk-like shapes, pink and crimson and purple, all getting in each other's way and even coming unstuck, with beckoning, sweeping arms. An eager invitation... You open to the first small page, which says



Okay. French. Art project, introducing one's family, perhaps. VOICI in psychedelic rock-poster letters; Les Schweebles in elegant curling, grey-ink, cursive. And the first Schweeble is...turn the page...

CHESTER            (in different psychedelic rock-poster letters)

—who's a big circle drawn in orange, standing on tiny L legs, a pair of black spectacles, crooked mouth with black pipe curlicuing smoke (must be the dad), and a single row of blue stubble hair on top. It's fairly clear to me who Chester Schweeble must be.

The second Schweeble...

SYLVESTRIA       (in red, speckled, gummy-bear letters)

—who's a similar circle on tiny L legs with similar black spectacles, a small scribble of brown hair, and a slight smirk achieved by a little L lying on its back. (Could that be Carol's mom, Sylvia?)

Third Schweeble...


—another circular family member, small satisfied smile, same kind of glasses, and an explosion of brown quills for hair. (Jacqueline.) Next...


(or however 
you spell it)

—looking equally pleased (best name!), with brown glasses and brown hair framing the face like curtains, with a pink bow on top.

I see we're going by seniority here... le dernier

(mais ne pas le moins)
personnage s'appelle

NORBERT     (biggest psychedelic rock-concert lettering of all)

—for the smallest Schweeble with the biggest grin, plus a crewcut, and glasses, of course. It's baby bro, Norman.

Next page, more psych. rock-conc. letters nested into a kind of shield shape, announcing:



First: to confirm in plump cactusy letters:

TOUTE LA famille


Just as I suspected: The whole family wears glasses.

Followed by this startling news on the next page:

ils ont trés, trés

trés, trés, trés, trés

MUSICALE         (each letter striped with segments of concentric rings narrowing to a little eye or knothole, 
like a tree full of owls.)

Followed by all five Schweebles as five looping, bespectacled orange treble signs, like the logo for a family band. 

 And then we learn: CHESTER CHANTE  (mouth open, pipe magically suspended in mid-air)

Sylvestria danse (toe-shoes beribboned to a fluffy tutu)



(and so they do, back to back, with Jennifer looking like a mad genius in her mane of brown quills; and Norbert having a fine old time pounding ivories and kicking back on the black piano bench.

And what about Chrisanthemum?)



(These letters are criss-crossed with strips at all angles, filling the page and requiring a second page to show Chris, partly hidden behind a cello which she is bowing earnestly, you can tell by the concentrated gaze from her lunettes.

And there's another piece of information:)

Mais tous les jours, toute 

la famille ne joue que 
le radio.

But each day, the entire family only plays the radio. 

Sure enough, there are Chris and Jennifer dancing away next to a big rectangular, note-spilling shape bedecked with knobs and dials and helpfully labeled "talk-box". 

But wait, there's more! Here is a page labeled 



I know I'm being set up for something, as I unfold the page to five times its length, to read:



"If you believe it of us or not, we hope that you will be a happy anniversary!" (Peut-être.)

Et voila...c'est revoir, Schweebles. You have lost none of your élan, your joie de vivre. And where have your Schwab counterparts taken you? Jennifer has become a renowned pianist; Norbert is a global lighting designer; Chester is a published poet; Chrisanthemum (or however you spell it) teaches digital art at the Media Lab in Newton South High School; and Sylvestria imparted a love of learning in her grandson (now a student filmmaker), and danse toujours

Monday, December 16, 2013

Hello, Windows

Just thinking of that song "Hello, Walls", about a guy bonding with the furnishings of his room to fill the vacuum left by his departed girlfriend. After the walls, he takes the window and the ceiling in his confidence, but it seems like more.

Am I up to something similar in my gallery of opening windows for December, playing chief inspector of revelations? Not to fill a vacuum, exactly, but to write, and survey the real estate of the day. One day being as deep as a missing mouse. Another day inviting a brief montage of elevator rides.

So, hello windows through which I've surveyed the day, a few at a time...

Dec. 6
Squares of con + fusion

Crossword puzzles are cheap conundrums that eat time like Captain Hook's crocodile, so it helps to have a lot of time available, like I did on Friday. 

Carol brought the Times. Luxury of munching through the movie reviews, including a tasty one of Inside Llewyn Davis, before cozying up to the Friday crossword, which is no pushover. 

Nothing like the allure of an empty grid, taxing clues, and a black Pilot pen to steer it by. But first I needed Carol to rip out the adjoining printed solution to the Times Thursday puzzle, which I hadn't done and didn't want to see. It's a known fact that few things imprint in the memory as indelibly as a glimpsed word in a crossword puzzle solution you were trying not to look at. 

Anyway, I printed the on-line Thursday puzzle when we got home and it had a nice gimmick, explained by 34 Across: CONFUSION. Turned out that ten clues only made sense if you mentally "fused" CON to the answer: (con)CAVE, (con)TRITE, (con)TEMPT, etc.

I love jumping into those windows of confusion and bringing order and finally winning the congratulations of the smiling cartoon pencil.

Dec 7

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik

This window is invisible. It's a cube of sound I'm inside and outside of, in the dark. I'm pretty sure it was Ballet music by Charles Gounod, emanating from a small transistor radio by way of black foam headphones, in bed, at night. It's something I do from time to time, enter the night cave of radio, sometimes a baseball game, or classical music, or NPR Remix.

It's being the invisible witness to the story, whatever it is. I did something similar as a kid: pulled the covers over me, turned on the transistor radio and was in the center of the earth yet connected to the universe, as represented by the galloping babble of voices and music from the transmitters of New York City, especially the mooring mast of the Empire State Building where a blimp or a great ape might take the pause that refreshes before yielding to a ballad by Sinatra, who owns the night.

Or later, as a teenager in El Paso, hunkered in front of a Hallicrafters shortwave radio, wearing an uncomfortable pair of hard headphones but intent on trawling the whole confiding world—Australia, Moscow, the Voice of America, the Voice of the Andes, the BBC World Service, Havana Kooba, Hilversum Holland, and once a snatch of a commercial for Peter Stuyvesant Cigarettes in Capetown, South Africa.

Dec. 8

Road Warrior

And last, just this revelation: Carol and I sitting at a table in the café mall of South Station, watching the departing train destinations roll in on the big abacus/tote board above us while waiting for a VIP who will be disembarking a bus from Montreal and walking from the bus depot to the train concourse, likely from that direction, and here's a tall grinning kid with a mustache and sideburns and I know him, that's Matt, my son, he's here! 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A Room with a View

I need to catch up on my advent windows. It's easy to fall behind and skip days. Or to enter them out of chronological order. For instance, I will now begin with two days ago, pay a visit to the day before that, then maybe vault back to yesterday, which has its own square of confusion. As for today, I'll probably deal with that tomorrow.

So: December 5th

Room 357A, Stanton Building, Mt. Auburn Hospital

There are two windows. The superficial one is the outside view from my hospital bed: a shingled roof with a large chimney that has its own roof and chimney, and arrayed beyond it, a line of treetops, bare maples and modest conifers. One of the conifers I can see just the top of is a bona fide Christmas tree that is being strung with lights by a man on a crane, making this view, ironically, a traditional advent calendar image.

The window that explains that window and why I am in a hospital bed and a hospital johnny to begin with, is looking into my inside. It is a computer screen image of my coronary artery, which is now easier to see through following the journey of a catheter tube that traveled there by way of an artery in my groin, and inserted an artery expander called a stent so the blood could flow through more easily.

Another pair of windows over the past few months would have shown that artery clogged by plaque; and concurrently shown me walking up a hill or on a straightaway, feeling an annoying pain of protest in my chest, joined by a sympathetic pain in my left arm. Out of shape, I told myself at first, and besides, the pain wasn't consistent. Sometimes I walked uphill pain-free. On a treadmill it went away or didn't come on at all. A stress test in October was normal. The EKG concurred. But the heart persisted in calling for more oxygen than it was getting through its plaqued artery, passing on the cost to the consumer.

Finally a cardiologist translated the message correctly, leading to the angiogram (checking the arteries) which led to the angioplasty (a word I had previously made fun of as Angie O'Plasty), delivering the aforementioned stent by artery-expanding balloon, which it eventually dawned on me, may have—probably did—save my life. By whom I mean the team of doctors and nurses at Mt. Auburn Hospital in the Cardiology Dept, helmed by the stalwart, patient, good-humored, Dr. Michael A. Kjelsberg, and on the third floor, Dr. Kumar, and nurses named Lizzie, Felicia, Katie, Melissa, Jenny, Nick, Maria, and others.

Windows beget windows. I winced when I was routinely referred to as having "coronary disease." I already have a disease—Parkinson's, and I'm still slowly coming to terms with that. Heart disease is what my dad had. I'd long since ceded that territory to him, the rheumatic fever he'd had as a boy, the subsequent heart operation in the Fifties, the second operation in 1961, his death that July at age 48. His trouble was heart valves and a technology that was not yet capable of repairing or replacing them. I had trespassed on his territory, but I felt I didn't fully belong there. The repair was too quick, the issue barely raised when it was fixed. I was way luckier. Was it okay to move on, maybe after writing this dutiful account in a far corner of the blogosphere?

It's easy, and misleading, to focus on the problem rather than the solution. The fact is, I had had coronary disease, past critical mass, for the past 3+ months. This week the good guys, the posse, came to the rescue. I got the stent; a new statin, Lipitor, with more cholesterol-countering punch than the last one; more reason for consistent exercise and a smarter diet; and a reliable medical team in the wings. 

My windows have gotten a lot clearer.

December 4th

The day before the angioplasty, on my way to see Dr. Kjelsberg, I was waved into a crowded elevator in the hospital by a short, brash, talkative, woman who punched in my floor and mused aloud to the group that she was old enough to remember when elevators had operators, who called out floors and let the people in and out. I remember that, I chimed in, picturing a host of mostly men in uniform, often wizened, short, outrageous, of diverse nationalities, cheery or bitter, part of a loose semi-military army of doormen, bellhops, conductors, and even gas station attendants, variously khakied, epauletted, and peak-capped, in the 1940s and 50s. "I remember when there was music piped in, too," I added, to which she responded, "That I could do without," and noted, "It was always that guy...Chuck Mangione," and she proceeded to do a cheesy flugelhorn rendition of some forgotten '70s tune.

It occurred to me later, when I was sifting the day for an advent revelation, that I could do a lot worse than an opening elevator door with that woman ushering in the deep folklore of elevator operators, and perhaps there was an old video on-line of some elevator captain in some hotel or department store, circa 1948. And it turns out from the videos I did find that the popular culture has an abiding fascination with the elevator operator. Maybe it's the lyric-worthy rhyme of "elevator operator" or the quaint idea that elevator riders are, or were, passengers in a bona fide transportation device, called a car, and in need of a driver who merely pushed buttons. Didn't they even wear white gloves?

So here's a small sampling of some short elevator operator videos in honor of the bygone panjandrum of the lift who still clings to a scrap of dignity in the cultural jetsam, and even in a few actual elevators.

"Elevator Operator", a doo-wop hit for the Rays

— An LA Times feature about Ruben Pardo, a veteran elevator operator in an Art Deco office building on Wilshire Blvd.

— James Bianco's song, "Elevator Operator," animated by Caroline Attia Lariviére, about a bored secretary with dreams of an upward career move

—Vimeo by Dave Budge about Joan, an elevator operator in a Melbourne office building.

Little Richard's inimitable take on the up-and-down of the elevator operator

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Three Hapangueros

Of mice and men: well, our fates continue to entwine. Two more brave soldiers felled by Agent Peanut Butter on Monday night; this morning, two more micro-bombs in the fork bay!

O why must this senseless war go on? Why can't we all just get along? (Get along, little mousies, get along...)

Meanwhile, the daily quest for advent-worthy revelations continues. Yesterday, Dec. 3, I thought I had it neatly bound in the hour between four and five pm, a circular window. Last week I had written "I wish I didn't like 2 to 3 better than 4 to 5," meaning the rising dark of forsaken opportunities between sundown and night, which is four to five nowadays. (I changed it to 5–6 in the post, but I knew what I meant.)

So I decided to go out and try to befriend the hour: a walk to Spy Pond, with salmon wisps in the western sky resolving to yellow along the horizon as the daylight continued to ebb. Not so bad, a kind of detente as evening slid in, or rather appeared from within, since it had been there all the time behind the tinted sky,  and was only revealed now by the disinterest of the sun. I went into a bookstore and when I came out the forenight still held a spoonful of evening light and Jupiter rode in it like the daring young man on the flying trapeze. All the manmade lights were doing a kind of tribute to the sun, the moon, and the stars. It all hung together.

But the menorah candles stole the honors a few hours later. They were down to the last three lit stubs of waning wax and they weren't long for it. I should mention that this is a small bronze menorah that takes the form of eight shtetl musicians bearing drum, fiddle, sax, cello, tuba, clarinet, tambourine, and mandolin; and the ninth musician, the shamash, just seems to be dancing.

Meanwhile I was listening to an online interview with Linda Ronstadt, and they were playing one of her songs from Canciones de mi padre, called "Rogociano el Hapanguero," a sad song, delivered in that pleading, heartfelt way that Ronstadt has, about a certain wandering troubadour who has died and will never again come by singing his hapangos.  

Anyway, in the middle of this sad cancione, the last three menorah musicians—or their candles—gave up the ghost, more or less at the same time. And it was so beautiful: the tall twining tendrils of smoke, drawing pale shifting lines, each with a wick-ember still glowing, one by one each smoke ribbon narrowing to a string that seemed to pay out endlessly, like a fakir's rope, rising and twisting and climbing like a living thing, all to the plaintive threnody of "Rogociano el Hapanguero,"about another musician who gave up the ghost; and one by one, they finished writing their cryptic snake-dancing inscriptions and signed off, the three klezmer hapangueros of Hanukkah.

It was amazing, some kind of miraculous agreement of music, smoke, and two cultures, and a worthy winner of the advent hunt for 12/3.

I'll get to today's revelation tomorrow.                                                             

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Messenger mice and Matt's movie

December 2

The dishwasher is making a weird racket.A loud masticating noise that I think might be connected to the presence of mice in the neighboring silverware drawer. It matches the rhythm of the dishwasher, but I'm still not certain.

After the mouseless revelation of yesterday morning, I may as well say that the two new traps I bought resulted in two dead mice overnight. One large, one small. And I may as well add that one trap showed extensive gnawing around its edges. Yes, I interpreted it that way, too. A desperate effort of one mouse to free the other, followed by the accidental or purposeful death of the would-be rescuer.

You bait a trap, you set the trap, and you hope that death comes quickly, without suffering, but you can't guarantee it so. If this sounds like a guilty eulogy, well, maybe a little. I disposed of the corpses, washed out the drawer and lining, put the cleansed silverware back in the tray, cleaned the peanut butter out of the traps, and felt bad again about the gnaw marks, in a resigned, grim, shit-happens sort of way. And then, not a half hour after I plucked knives, forks, and spoons out of their unblemished residences to set the table, Carol announced that there were two fresh black apostrophes right up front in the drawer, one on the tines of a white plastic fork for contrast (yes, I admit it, there are a few plastic items among the silver), the other casually on the tray floor, like a well-executed April Fool welcome-mat deposit.

A mouse, maybe two, had dared to boldly venture out during our suppertime, only minutes earlier, unafraid of our voices or commotion—clearly to leave a message.  "You may have gotten two of our soldiers, but here's a souvenir they left for you, man.  This is war!"

This is no wee, sleekit, cow'rin, timorous beastie, and I know what happens to the villains in Mighty Mouse cartoons. Pray for me.

As for today's reveal, it's a one-minute silent movie my son Matt made in the Concordia U. Film Production Dept. up in chill, hip, Montreal. It's called Man Is Broken and it's full of little revelations. See for yourself. Here's the link on Vimeo:

Sunday, December 1, 2013

December camera

December 1, a candle in the dark tonight joined by six others from ongoing Hanukkah, now Thanksgiving-free!

I'm going to try something this month that I did four years ago when this blog was new—in the spirit of seizing or seasoning or scavenging the day. Here's an excerpt from that other December 1:

There's one way of slowing down that cascade of days. December has its own calendar. LIttle paper windows to open each day of the month until Christmas, usually revealing things like angels, toys, wreaths, ornaments. We even had one once when I was a kid. I remember it hanging in our kitchen, an exotic item in a Jewish household, but I enjoyed those little daily revelations.

One December first, a few years ago, I was wandering through the meadowy acreage of Alewife Brook reservation. Came upon a bird box, one of several put up to attract bluebirds. On a whim, I reached up, opened the hinged wooden lid and peeked inside. There lay a little field mouse, fast asleep. Of course there would be! I quickly reclosed the lid. And it occurred to me later that what I had here was the first opening of a natural advent calendar. One could fill all the days of the month (or any other month) with such unexpected revelations, ones that shed light on the other December. Or just passed the time interestingly.

As it happens, another mouse has crossed paths with me this November-December. Like many before it, this mouse betrayed its presence in the silverware drawer (a.k.a. the poop deck) with tiny dry black peppercorns. So last night, 11/30, faced with two or three egregious specimens—not periods, but commas—I baited a Victory mousetrap with a dab of peanut butter, placed it in the otherwise empty drawer, closed the drawer, and called it a foul but necessary night's work.

Come the morning, expecting to see the unfortunate rodent lying stiff under the sprung counterweight, I opened the drawer. Opened the first square of December's calendar to mouse. The dab of peanut butter solid gone. And a festschrift of periods, commas, semicolons, hyphens, and quotation marks scattered all around.

Whatever ensues after tonight (with two new traps), the first advent window for this December is the anticlimactic open silverware drawer strewn with apostrophes, and the useless mousetrap parked among them, sans peanut butter, sans mouse, sans everything.

Runner-up: a new box of Kleenex tissues, with the first one pulled up like an iceberg, which is  good way to catch a cold. But for sheer impact on the day, the mouse roars.

Season the Day

Sunday, 11/24

It's the beginning of Thanksgiving week! A landing party of Christmas trees has mobilized in the parking lot of Walgreen's! (They're not early; Thanksgiving's late, even colliding with Chanukah in a vaguely patronizing dual identity called Thanksgivukah that made both days a kind of Jabberwocky.)

Sunday regards this week with amused tolerance, bowing to Thursday, of all days, with Wednesday and Friday in supporting roles.

Let this be the unfurling of the half-baked radio station (another contribution from the little inner voice, who takes no responsibility for meaning)! Over to you, Monday.


Monday anagram poems

Oy. Damn!


A dew-key
waked ye,
eked way:
yak weed.

So you wake up feeling like yak weed. Maybe you blame it on Monday, but this time Monday's wearing the same white coat that Sunday had on—labeled TWC, Thanksgiving Week Caterers. Not that Monday's doing much work, but it still gets to wear that silly chef's toque, and still has deniability, don't look at me, Thursday's calling the shots this week.

Ever feel like you're in a pre-launch mode that's lasting forever, not that it's without aspiration. It's like this slow, rhythmic nodding I sometimes get into when I'm writing or listening intently—yesyesyes—a kind of assent to an ascent. Without doing much actual climbing.

i need to (aha!) seize the day. But the day is a hard thing to seize, being time, akin to air, or thought, or sound waves.

You can seize a thought, like that aha! moment in the last paragraph, maybe write it down, and discover it is a handhold on the day, giving the day that meaning you were looking for. Carpe diem or substantia nigra (the "dark matter" of the brain)? Choose a direction. Spin the dial—diem—day.

Tuesday, 11/26

How to seize a day.
Not so easy. Does a day like to be seized? Would I?
Depends. Seized by an inspiration, yes. Seized by a desire, probably. Seized by an orangutan? Probably not.          
It gets at how you see a day. As a microcosm, a small cube of life? Or just the dawn-to-dusk arc that appears to be the sun's motion, but is really ours? Trying to seize planetary motion would be, well, unnecessary. We're each born to the reins. No one falls off, not even the upside-down people who live in the southern hemisphere. Let the great world spin.

Back to seizing the idea—the art of mental grabbing. (Maybe you even carpe the diem with the substantia nigra.) You wake up. It's a new day. What do you do? Just lie in bed, existing, not being asleep, attending to whatever hypnopompic colors float across the mental bubble? Maybe.  Is that seizing? Or do you have to get out of bed and exert yourself? Tasks suggest themselves, things that need to be done. You choose one: getting up to pee. Other choices are not so compelling, except maybe going back to bed. Let's say seizing the day should be bolder than that, more like the orangutan grabbing you to its red hairy chest, an affectionate display of alpha ownership. You are mine, baby. 

So, like, boldly going back to bed? 


Odin's day. Anything-can-happen day on the Mickey Mouse Club. "Wed-nez-day," as it's jokingly mispronounced. Mercredi in French, very dashing. Mittwoch in German. Very functional—mid-week. And certain Wednesdays are distinguished, like today, the Wednesday before the biggest Thursday; a half-workday or half-schoolday. I've written about this Wednesday before, back in '09—called it Uncle Wally—but the fact is, a day is mainly defined by what it's filled with, especially the routines (in my case, a Tai Chi class, maybe the Wednesday Times crossword, the customary availability of my father-in-law's car...)

My date is getting bored. She's looking round for someone else to leave with. Seize the day, man! says the bartender, meaning what? Take her in my arms, orangutan-style, plant a big wet one on her mouth? Emulate weird Wednesday, the little girl in the Addams Family? Avoid the usual. Do one odd thing a day, or maybe three odd things. But what if you don't want to? Odd for the sake of odd is even, man!
Anyway, I gotta go. But what about...caress the day? Befriend the day? Write an entry a day. Entry!
Entrance! Entrance the day!

Wednesday proceeds. I am warming to the idea of seizing the day by writing about it. Grabbing it by the tailcoat, like the ancient mariner nabbing the wedding-guest—"Hey Wed! Not so fast! Lemme tell you shtory! 'There was a ship!'" quoth he. But to what end? To confer an identity on the day before it disappears? To write a "Kilroy was here" on the smooth wall of the day to validate your own existence? At the end of the day: to assert some control.

Life is like a sheet of graph paper (I'm writing on). All these little squares so easily blend together. They're so easy to write over. The vertical lines kind of cancel out the row lines, but I need them both. A blank sheet would be scarier: no structure at all? Give me a structure I can ignore. Or disregard.

So thanks, Wed, for your morning, afternoon, and evening, even though I wish you didn't get dark so soon. I wish I didn't feel I had to cram my life into your hours. I wish I didn't like two to three better than five to six. It's possible to like the possibilities of time but resent the containment. To admire the generosity and art of the clock and calendar but feel constrained by the tick-tock, the chime, and the impatience of the SMTWTFS—the Smith-Whitfords.  Slow it down! Walk the day! Stroll the day. Amble the day. Season the day. A walk in progress.