I was reading something about the ineffectiveness of various youth programs around the United States and was struck by a thought that rarely enters my mind: oh, t’were it we only had more fire and brimstone! Well-meaning liberals (and some conservatives surely) put their grand efforts into turning troubled and disadvantaged kids around at every corner. And they mostly fail, but that is not for lack of effort. There is such a giant stew of reasons – ranging from rap music to broken homes to lack of jobs to under-funded schools and missing parents – that something like after-school basketball just can’t make much of a difference. The kids spend a couple of hours a week in some well-planned utopia and then the other 165 in reality. And reality sucks for most of those we are trying to help.
But back in the day, see, religion had an iron grip on many kid’s minds. Yes, they were also more likely to be from two-parent homes, the union kept dad working, there was no such thing as thrash metal and Facebook, and watching too much Flintstones was what parents feared most about the effects of the media, but it was the Sunday sermon that often prevented the slide from good boy to juvenile delinquent. The real horror of burning in hell for lifting a pack of bubble gum held some sway back in those days. And while my own opinion is that it was (and is) tall tales long ago concocted by men wanting to control other men, women and children, Jesus man, it worked!
Okay, so how did this happen?
First, I never wanted a dog. I was fully aware of how much work dogs are, how much they tie you down, how much exercise they need (that is, if you care enough about them you will make certain they get, which is one of the things that so amazes me about many so-called dog lovers who let their dog sit in the house all day long and then merely open the back door when they get home so doggy-do-nothing can amble about in the 300 square feet of outside space available to them – rant complete), I was especially fully cognizant of how much they poop, and also how much the annoying little bark machines can cost you in food, dog accouterments and vet fees. So how did this happen?
It may not come as a surprise, but I don’t even really like dogs and those same dog people are always quick to say, “That’s because you never had a dog growing up!”, as if not having a dog growing up is like not having ever ascended Mount Everest growing up. I had plenty of access to dogs because pretty much everyone else had a dog and quite honestly even that was too much dog for me.
So one night, admittedly, after a few beers – and years and years and years of friends, family, and every other dog person who felt the right, telling me that I had to have a dog and that my kids needed to grow up with a dog (lest they end up a dog-hater like me – touché) – I simply caved. I walked into the living room where the kids were watching tv and my eight-year-old daughter asked again, as she had a hundred thousand times before, “When can we get a dog?”
I remember the moment. It’s visually kind of gauzy now, like one of those wax paper photo effects of yore, and I felt my strength not only ebb but drop out of me like I’d eaten a pound of resolve laxative. I paused for a split second and then said it, “We can get a dog.”
All faces turned to me, stunned, which would have been truly comic had it not simply reinforced what I suddenly realized had come out of my mouth.
I was screwed.
I followed up with something about how it had to be a rescue dog, as I’m particularly annoyed by those who concern themselves with holding one bucket of dog genes above another. You know the Nazis did that.
And, yes, I know, suddenly I was the great champion of dogs, but I do have to make that distinction: you can heartily dislike dogs as an aggregate, and yet also not want any one of them to suffer. I don’t have any particular affinity for deer but you’ll never find me hiding in a tree (dressed like a tree) punching a hole through one’s neck with a high-powered rifle. There are plenty of people we dislike passionately, but we’d still pity them their terminal cancer diagnosis, right?
My wife was on the Google and in minutes and had all sorts of printed pictures of future dogs that they all pored over screeching, “Oh, look at that one!” “Ooh, daddy, I want this one!” “I love Scout!” “Can we get Molly?”
Note that I married into a family of serious dog people. There are more dogs than people, I think. These people would shoot one another rather than withhold a biscuit for Spunky. Family get-togethers are like trips to the humane society. Imagine the stress I was under.
Fast forward to today and we have a half black lab/half Australian shepherd (we think) female dog animal named Bindi (came with that, by the way) and here’s the mystery: I’m her alpha dog. She follows me everywhere – up the stairs, down the stairs, into this room and out of that one – into the bathroom for the love of god. She lies at my feet at any opportunity. She stares at me.
The entire family can be yelling “No, Bindi! Drop that, Bindi!” and she’ll just stand there looking up at them, and then I can walk in the room and say, “Drop it.” And the ravaged shoe is on the ground.
But why me? Does she know about my past? Is she affording me this deference because I never wanted her in the first place? Is she trying to break me as they did, but this time not from non-dog-owner to dog-owner, but from dog owner to dog lover?
Restaurants consider themselves either “kid-friendly” or “kid-tolerant”. I am dog tolerant. I am a dog tolerant alpha dog.
Yes, there are fleeting moments where I look over at her and she’s staring up at me, cocks her head every so slightly, and raises an eyebrow and, yes, it’s kind of cute. But, really, did I trade my freedom (she can’t be alone for more than about 6 hours), my money (we talked about that), and my dignity (I pick up her poop, she does not pick up mine), for kind of cute?
Apparently so. And she does sit when I tell her to sit.
Each night I wander
through streets mostly empty
and speak to the lights
at the tops of the poles
radiant and still
measured and steadfast
the voices that passed
reach to my present
How real is that nexus
trustworthy the voices?
Am I just a mad man
who’s made the wrong choices?
Who walks in the night
A ventriloquist of wishes
conjuring dead folk?
I walk on.
I watch out.
And in every house
the blue light flickers
casting erratic shadows
and jittery realities
belying the stillness
the stilted stiffness
of interest coupled with indifference.
To the history of the dead folk
Hubbard’s among them
first to connect us to
the sound and the vision
Like splitting the atom
breaking the silence
smashing the walls
A fine hocus pocus –
And all the world turned
But they’re lonely, the dead folk
The ones that you know
They wish you would listen
Pay a little attention
They know that you’re busy, but, really?
You speak to your gods, you stare at your screens
but find not a moment to say what you mean
to the ones who know you
the ones who know now
if you listen, they will speak
if you speak, they will listen
take time. be quiet. talk. wait.
And the other dead folk – the pioneers!
they broadcast the future
to eyes and to ears
like sneaky disease
slips in through the breathing
bypassing the mind
dissecting the meaning.
Red, Green and Blue
is plenty for you
And in every house the blue light flickers.
The sky is eclipsed
by a star machine
manufacturing gods, heroes and
heroines, heroin, mescaline,
you’ll be king!
An old man stifles a yawn.
Beneath my feet the sidewalk retreats
the oncoming traffic of life in the seats
and the chairs and the sofas
the idle, bystanders,
loungers and loafers
(bumps on a log
lumps in a bog)
A fine hocus pocus –
And the world turned
But the others, the headmost,
ahead of the curve
who colonized the minds
of the hoi polloi,
they were as surprised as you and I.
spearheading and primitive
could (high)jack right into
primordial you and I
inventing the gaping maw
and glassy eye.
And each night I wander
through streets mostly empty
surrounded by dead friends
and family just waiting
for us to discern
them from the gods,
the gods from them,
one is unknowable
one is at hand.
A man suddenly stands,
stretches and leaves the room
a woman leans back
and lifts her arm
a guy rubs his eye
and contorts his face
and I see in these moments
what they’ll never see
scenes in the movie
starring the man who stands,
the leaning lady and rubbing guy.
Watching and walking
I’m on to the next.
Please don’t shut your curtains
Please don’t look my way.
I can’t say how much I love how Edward St. Aubyn skewers the holy, high and mighty, landed, nam-ed, people of his Patrick Melrose novels. But I also feel a similar anger toward his own prodigious talent. Like, well, fuck you, Eddie, with all you got through whatever genetic re-redistribution that led to your own genius! You are the heir to whatever it is you do. You skewer them with the same unabashed cruelty and poetry that they do others. Yes, you are infinitely better and more able, while they skewer, you fillet. And I Iove you for it. But I hate you, too. That cruelty doesn’t come from nowhere.
And that’s the point, I guess. I love you again.
It started out with stopping by, droppin’ in and poppin’ over. Cave to cave. Cabin to cabin.
Then we learned to write with letters and along came letters written to drop in the box and on to whomever.
The telegraph turned letters into tweets – instantaneous and terse.
The telephone turned everything else upside down, inside everywhere – voices over lines of metal – spoken in Spokane heard in Japan. Conversations across the universe. There was nothing more to say. And when they got into homes, there was nowhere to hide. They had you in your house. The perfect crime.
Then phones divided into cellphones and proliferated. Popping up everywhere, public spaces, intimate places. Joined at the hip. Cool shit. The crime perfected.
Emails hail down upon your desktop, your laptop, iPad and cellphone. Damage occurs.
But that was not enough – we’ve rebuilt the telegraph from man to man, phone to phone. Tweeting everything. Leaving out nothing.
We’re dropping by all the time.
We’re just buggin’ the shit out of each other.
The first line of “On Poetry” by David Orr, entitled Daily Devotions, from this last Sunday..
“It is impossible to picture certain poets buying Cheetos at a Sunoco. Granted, this is true of a particular sort of person in any occupation – it’s hard, for example, to imagine Mitt Romney with iridescent orange dust all over his hands, unless he had accidentally purchased Halloween.”
His wife was small, diminutive,
kept order in the place they lived
made lists of things and scolded him
when he bought something on a whim.
The girl was round, voluptuous,
she ordered fries and chicken strips
chewed bubble gum she shared with him
before they worked out in the gym.
His wife would wait at home and cook
and clean and read another book
and glare at him when he came in
fresh showered with a sheepish grin.
The girl would go out to the bars
and drink and dance under the stars
and send him pictures and silly notes
he read in the closet behind the coats
that smelled of must and of his wife
to whom he’d promised all his life
that day when she seemed worth it all –
open, caring, beautiful.
But now she’s scrunched and crumpled up,
filled with contempt, her loving cup,
tired and weary, wrinkly and prudish,
so, really, was he being all that brutish
by wrapping his arms ’round something so soft,
so round and moist that lifts him aloft,
that giggles and smiles and laughs at his jokes
and teases and tickles and fondles and pokes?
Must he avoid this happiness
to uphold a law that was really a guess?
Should he stay with scrunchy or go with the lass?
The answer, he knew, was of course, yes.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, sad, smile
A rather clinical name for frozen blood, acid stomach, twitchy body and rickety mind.
Crank it up!
Another few bars
to get me through
another sleepless night
to hang/over again
and another night
flip switch growl cry
light goes south
F. Scott said, “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”
but death hurts
I’m a loser. I really am. And not in a really bad way, but I’m not cool, or daring, or particularly outgoing. Not that I ever was, but I think age solidifies our personal qualities. So my loser-ness is increasing.
I don’t go out much. I don’t really care to. I don’t particularly care to see music performed or movies in a cinema. Brian Eno could come through town but if it looked like rain, I might skip it. Okay, not Brian Eno, but anyone else. It might be too loud or too crowded. Parking might suck. I’m cool just listening to the radio.
Travel really doesn’t interest me. I know I should be hang-gliding en la montanas de Brazil right now, but I really don’t want to. I don’t like heights, Brazil is a long way away. Air travel sucks, who knows what kind of shitty hotel I’d end up in?
I like well-prepared, high end, locavore cuisine, but not if it inconveniences me to get it. The amazing new restaurant? It’s miles away. The joy of cooking? Not any more. Too much work. I crack a can of this or that and eat standing up in the kitchen.
I don’t watch much television and I rarely see any movies so I’m absolutely unable to keep up with any pop culture conversation whatsoever. And that’s not some, I just sit around and read great novels, I don’t. A bit of this and a bit of that.
Maybe this just makes me a homebody, and not a loser, but sometimes if feels really loserly.
My friend thinks I’m boring. My family mocks me.
I pity my wife.
I’m a loser.