Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Mourning New Orleans

Andrei Codrescu on NPR's All Things Considered this afternoon:

[Codrescu/Mourning]: It's heart breaking watching my beautiful city sink. But I am at a safe distance 90 miles away, and my heartbreak is nothing compared to the suffering of the people still in the city.


"We already know who's going to pay for all this -- the poor. They always do. The whole country's garbage flows down the Mississippi to them. Until now, they turned all that waste into song. They took the sins of America onto themselves. But this blues now is just too big.

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 Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Pointless Sentences Here and There

I sit here and wonder that I don't have it so bad. I sit here and talk of flowers one day and birds singing another. I sit here and dream and muse and write my pointless sentences.

I have a home. I live on high ground. We can walk in the streets at night with the dog. I have a job. My son plays a trombone. The sun shines daily on our lives.

Yet I sit here and speak my pointless sentences. Like that one. And the others before it. And the others that will undoubtedly follow.

Don't think less of me for it. I try to let the right hand act while the left hand writes. And even if the words are pointless, perhaps the action is not.

Here: Red Cross
There: Doctors Without Borders

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Morning Time

You said this morning in amazement something about how I roll out of bed so long after you but still walk out the door first. You said it with a tone of regret that I interpret as a lamentation for lost time -- time that could be spent sleeping just a little while longer.

But consider Tom. I saw him drive into work this morning after I had been sitting at my desk reading my mail, after I was on my 3rd cup of coffee. The sun was peeking over the oaks, and their shadows on the parking lot were shrinking.

The thing of it is, I know where Tom lives, and I know how far he has to drive. And I know how long that drive takes, in spite of the turbo kit on his Bug.

So as Tom came in, 3 cups of coffee after me, I realized that he was up and on the road before either of us. And I realized that neither of us have it so bad.

based on some scribbled notes from two years ago

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 Monday, August 29, 2005

Keeping My Thoughts To Myself

1. Kids In The Trees

Ok man, settle down. Let the kids climb in the trees along the river just a little bit longer. Heck, grab the toddler and take him over there, too. You might even let your dress pants get dirty.

Let the kids play. Its afternoon. The day is over. Let the schedule slip. Stop yelling at them to come over, and just let 'em play.

2. Kids On The Hill

Ok lady, settle down. Let the kids roll down the hill along the river, under the trees, near the bridge while you all wait for the bats to come out. Let 'em burn up more energy. They'll sleep better tonite.

Let the kids play. Its afternoon. The day is over. It doesn't matter if they're loud. At least hang up your cell phone before you yell at them to be quiet.

3. Explanations

The two kids who were in the trees dash past me and run up the ramp to the paddle boat. People are sitting on the deck looking impatient. Clearly the boat is about to leave. The man must be right behind, running with the toddler in his arms.

I see what his rush was. But what about the lady with the cell phone?

Perhaps it's best if I just keep my thoughts to myself.

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 Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Night Has Set In

On a faded piece of pinkish-redish paper in green ink written in my hand, I found the following few words.

The teapot is singing,
But you're not home to drink.
...I'm alone.
It's cold outside,
and the night has set in.

Evidently I wrote these, but I do not remember it. It sounds a little melancholy.

Tonite it is not cold outside. The earth is giving up the heat that beat down on the ground all day, but it is still hot. There is not teapot on the stove, and you are in the other room speaking firmly to the dog.

I'm glad I'm never alone with you. Nevertheless, the night has set in.

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 Saturday, August 27, 2005


It was quiet -- a welcome relief from the storm of the night before. A gray sky hung low overhead, grazing the mountain tops to the north and south. A stream ran thru the center of the narrow valley, its cold water bubbling over round pebbles as it followed its course.

To the east, there was a hint of sun behind the clouds. A waterfall fell from the heights, its water cascading in great leaps, making a spray that filled that end of the valley with mist.

To the west, the stream wound its way around sharp rocks and great boulders and parts of mountain that jutted into the valley. Far in the distance, you could make out the sea.

He stood there for a moment, taking it all in. And then his mind was drawn again to the crack in the mountain wall that stood before him, a yawning mouth of darkness that you could not miss even if you turned your back on it.

Something was beckoning him to come in. Despite his trembling legs, he began to move forward.

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 Friday, August 26, 2005

In An Odd Restaurant

When we walked into the restaurant, there was almost nobody there -- only a few people scattered around the room and no one in line to order. (This was the kind of restaurant where you order first and then sit down.) As we were waiting to pay, two men got into line behind us. The first man stood barely an inch from my left shoulder.

Now it's not like I have a very particular sense of personal space. But whatever kind of space I've got around me, this guy was breaking the boundary -- not just invading my heretofore unrecognized personal sphere, but moving in and out of it, rocking back and forth, looking up and down, and just setting off all kinds of alarms that I never knew existed. Before Trudy got the receipt, I grabbed our glasses and left quickly to fill them with water.

We found a booth at the far side of the room next to the window. And when we sat down, we looked back and saw that the two men had been joined by ten others. These guys were -- like -- clones of each other. All were in their 50s, wore loose fitting shirts, had gray thinning hair, and wore glasses.

No problem so far, right? (Except of the agitated guy.) They must have been some men's club -- guys' night out or some such. That's what we figured, telling each other that we got there just in time (just before the rush).

But then one of them, the guy who had triggered my left shoulder alarms, came over to our booth and started moving tables and chairs, pushing the tables together and lining up the chairs so that they were arranged on two sides of the tables. He didn't just push and line up, though, he pushed and repushed, lined up and fine-tuned. He moved his glass of water first from one place to another, and then he the salt and pepper shakers back and forth. He looked up and down the rows of chairs, and then he looked back to the other men who were each ordering their meals. There was not a moment when he was still.

One by one, the others came over to the makeshift banquet hall. There was something not quite right about each of them. It's hard to describe this second hand, because it was really their body language that wasn't quite right. One guy pointed to the thermostat on the wall just behind us and suggested that if they got hot they could adjust it. Another stared mercilessly at the guy next to him as they talked, cocking his head back and forth and squinting his eyes as the other man spoke. A third man wore a loose fitting Mexican shirt, perfect for the 100+ weather we've been having, except that it was black, as were his long pants and shoes.

Trudy and I were speechless.

I think this place is a little too close to the hospital, I said.

At the other end of the room, a woman who had been sitting alone (also dressed in black) spoke to an employee in an animated fashion, pointing to something on her table, then pointing to her shoulder and making a distasteful squinting face. He nodded sympathetically and walked off. She stood up and pulled a belt of shiny silver and turquoise medallions around her large midsection, struggling to get it buckled. And then she left.

We ate our chicken and spinach and salad. I guzzled my water. Trudy sipped her wine.

I like to think that they were the odd ones and that our body language didn't radiate the same kind of messages -- that we didn't set off alarm bells.

I wonder if that's true.

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 Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Pink Fence Backdrop Toad Night

The sky in the west was pink when we went out. I know that's not particularly exciting, but that's how it was. The western sky was still glowing, and the east was turning dark blue, and in a few places the brightest stars were beginning to shine.

We went out to the field, the dog and I, and walked along the fence line. The grass underfoot was crunchy from the summer sun. And there were bare spots of cracked earth here and there.

We walked along the fence line for a while, and then we headed into the field to where a softball backstop stands partially broken from the slam of a car doing donuts in the dirt a while back. (I'm sure that's what it was. No mowing tractor would have banged it hard enough to break and bend the pipes.)

After the backstop, we continued across the field to where the sumac grove sits at the edge of the woods. And then we headed home.

The pink light in the west was gone now. The eastern sky was dark. A toad hopped across our path, but the dog ignored it, as he always seems to do.

The day was done. Not particularly exciting, but that's how it was.

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 Sunday, August 21, 2005

No Ice Cream for a Cowboy

A building along the highway. White painted walls with green trim. A pink and blue neon sign: Open. A man in a cowboy hat leans on a counter, the summer sun beating on his back. He leans on a counter at a window in the white and green painted walls.

A woman looks out from inside. This is a motel; she is the clerk. The man stands there as you might at an ice cream stand. If you squint your eyes, she could be taking orders -- one scoop or two?

Ice cream.

This is summer. It is hot. Ice cream would probably taste mighty good right now. To both of them. But they probably don't sell it there, so he won't get a chance to find out just how good a cold scoop or two would taste.


rural Oklahoma in July

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 Saturday, August 20, 2005

Kiowa, OK

Speed limit 70.
Speed limit 60.
Speed limit 50.

Bob's Good Junk.
Historical marker ahead.
A pile of torn-up asphalt.
Tractors sitting on the back of a semi-truck trailer.
The Country Cottage restaurant.

A quarter mile to peaches and plums.
Hay rolls in a green field.
Registered Brangus and Braford bulls.
A northbound horse trailer and then another one.

Cattle on a hill.
Orange barrels by the side of the road.
A two-rut road crossing the railroad tracks.
Tent-caterpillars in the trees.
An old roofless stone-walled home.
A water tower on a hill in the distance.

Speed limit 50.
Speed limit 60.
Speed limit 70.

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 Friday, August 19, 2005

Two Weeks Ago

Two weeks ago to the day, we came by this place. It was hot. We were hungry. And we stopped to eat at that restaurant on the other side of the street.

The waitress asked if she could bring us drinks, and she gave us our menus. She had a plain face, bad teeth, a long skirt, and a hairdo from a bygone time. But her smile was sincere, and she looked at each one of us directly as she spoke. She told us that she was working two jobs: one there and one at the store next door.

I've got to run over there and get something, she told us after she had turned in our order, and sure enough, she walked out the front door only to return after a short while.

What did you get? I asked.

Pens, she said, holding one up as she wrote out our bill. Now she had my attention.

I don't like using my purple one for this, she confessed, pointing to the purple gel pen in her apron pocket. Purple is my favorite color. And she told us about her fiancee and how she painted his living room purple, even though it wasn't her apartment. And she smiled as she spoke.

But that was two weeks ago, and today we're not hungry. And the restaurant and the city limits are already behind us.

Ahead of us is the Red River and then Texas. And hours beyond that is home -- home that we left two weeks ago to the day.

sometime in July 2005
McAlester, OK

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On Our Way Home

Beside the forested hill, between the fingers of the long lake, a railroad track runs southbound thru hot Oklahoma. Next to it, the highway takes us to Texas.

In the median between the pavement and the rails, a red pickup truck is pulled off the concrete. No one is in it. Its doors are shut, but the windows are rolled down.

Where is the driver? Walking in the woods on the hill? Fishing by the shore on the other side?

In the blink of an eye, our car passes by, and the red truck is behind us. And the hill. And the lake. And soon ... Oklahoma.

We're on our way home.

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 Thursday, August 18, 2005

They've Got Religious Freedom

We liberated them, he said. They have democracy now. They have religious freedom.

Yes, that's what that turkey said: they've got religious freedom.

What planet does this guy live on!?

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Airplane and Sun

There is an airplane flying south in the western sky.

The sun has just set behind the pines across the lake, and although its light is still shining on the trunks of the trees on this side of the lake, the coolness of evening is settling in.

A breeze is washing slowly out of the woods and down the hill. I sit and marvel at how gentle summer in the north can sometimes be.

And now the airplane and the sun are gone.

sometime in July
Half Mile Lake
Gowen, MI

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 Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Cedar Post

We pulled into the lot and parked the car. As we started to walk to the restaurant, I turned to look back at the car.

Trudy, I said.

She stopped and looked at me.

My log.

She looked at the cedar post strapped to the top of the car.

It was part of some trimming that her brother had done at her mother's house long ago. And only now, more than a year after the cutting, had we finally gone down there with the car-top carrier. So only now was I able to strap it to the top of the car to bring it home.

Trudy looked back at me.

I'm worried about my log, I said to her.

You mean, she started slowly, that it's not safe?

Yes, I said. Someone might take it.

She looked at me and then at the log again.

But I was joking, and I smiled. With a look of relief, she rolled her eyes and said, I was trying to find some gentle way to tell you that no one would want your log, which of course was the truth.

So we went inside and sat down at a booth in the corner where, as it turned out, we could see the car in the parking lot with the cedar post strapped to the top.

We watched the hubbub around the restaurant for a while, and then we ordered our food. And then Trudy poked me in the side and whispered to me.

David, look! That man next to our car is pointing to your cedar post and talking to his wife.

She wasn't joking. It was true. He was doing just that.

Undoubtedly he was a man of good taste.

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 Saturday, August 13, 2005

Early Light

Lying in the dark with my eyes wide-open, I cannot sleep. It's too early on Saturday morning. There's no need to wake up. It's dark outside. Why can I not sleep?

I turn over.

Lying on my side with my eyes wide-open, I see a puddle of light beside the bed.

The moon -- the light of the moon coming thru the window. The thought of it is comforting.

I hold my arm out so that the light might fall on my hand, but it doesn't. I move my arm around, trying to find the moonbeam, but I don't.

Somewhere up there in the sky, the moon has just recently made its transit past Spica. Somewhere up in the sky. Probably over the horizon by now. Certainly not shining thru my window pane.

The puddle of light? It's the telephone that sits on the floor. And there's nothing particularly comforting about that.

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 Friday, August 12, 2005

Dark Clouds and Sunshine

Don't tell us about the dark clouds, tell us about the sunshine.
Don't lament the times we find ourselves in, we have no time for that.
Don't whine and complain unless you've got a solution.

I have no solutions.
We have no time for anything.
And on some days the clouds pass in front of the sun.

(Around the corner, the Green Thread plant is blooming.)

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 Wednesday, August 10, 2005


The rabble are at the gates, and there is hatred in their eyes. Close the doors! Bolt the windows! Build a wall to keep the rabble out!

If you thought they were coming soon, know that they have arrived. And you should see the venom and wrath that your actions have wrought.

I hope you built your house of brick.

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 Tuesday, August 9, 2005

They Landed Safely

Discovery landed today. They even carried it on the radio. Sitting on the bed listening to the NPR reporters, it seemed as if they were learning the Shuttle and its systems for the very first time, twenty-four years after the first flight. And they probably were -- or at least thought we were.

I sat on the bed while Trudy did the morning things that keep this household running. I sat still and silent as they burned off the energy that comes from going around the world once every ninety minutes. I sat on the bed in my work clothes with a puffy morning face and wet hair while the reporters reported and the commentators commented and Discovery came out of the blackness of predawn night and landed.

And as the nose gear touched down, Trudy came into the bedroom and saw me sitting there still and silent on the edge of the bed with my hands between my legs and my face staring down at the floor. She came in and sat next to me, and she put her arms around me.

And tears started running down my face.

Because they landed safely.

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 Sunday, August 7, 2005

My Social Security Number

"You forget to put social security number," the nurse said in an eastern European accent. She was pointing to my file.

I had already discussed this at the front desk, and I wasn't anxious to do go thru it again.

I don't give out my social security number.

She tried to explain why they need it, and I tried to explain why they don't and why I don't want to surrender it.

But you know, this is HIPPA, she said. She pointed to my file and tapped it. This is safe.

She wouldn't relent. Every time I tried to explain, she kept insisting that my social security number was safe with them. The room began to feel hot. Finally, I looked at her and asked, Do you want me to leave?

A horrified look came over her face.

No, no! she said. I am not from this country. I need to learn.

Of course this broke the ice immediately.

I smiled, and we proceeded to talk for a few minutes as she took my blood pressure. She had never heard of anyone reluctant to give their social security number. She began to ask a lot of questions.

I'm a bit odd when it comes to this, I said.

What is that, odd?


She nodded, but our conversation had to stop. There was a knock on the door, and someone poked their head in. She waved for them to come in and gave me an embarrassed look and quickly left the room.

And that was the end of that.

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 Saturday, August 6, 2005

Stuffed Celery Sticks

They stood in the hall, one leaning on one side, the other leaning on the other. It was late in the day on Friday. Most people were already gone. I was on my way out.

I looked down at them and saw them chatting and smiling. After I shut the door of my office, I took a bite of my afternoon snack and walked down the hall to say goodbye.

Want a snack? I asked them, holding out a plastic container with my celery sticks stuffed with low-fat cheese.

Arif smiled but said no thanks. Bazil smiled and accepted my offer.

Take your pick, I said. There were four more left. Have the largest one. I've got plenty.

He took the first celery stick he could grab (they were kind of sticky) and said, Thank you. He took a bite as I was turning to leave.

You're welcome, I said as I turned to go.

But in that moment, his face turned. His smile evaporated, and a scowl replaced it.

This is terrible! Bazil asked. I feel sorry for you!

Arif laughed loudly.

You see, we are in the first two weeks of South Beach, Trudy and I. And it is a measure of my plight that I now consider celery sticks stuffed with low-fat cheese to be the highlight of my day. Stuffed celery sticks. I don't think I've willingly eaten stuffed celery sticks ever in my life. And now they're the highlight of my day.


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 Friday, August 5, 2005

In The Parking Lot

There are white lines painted on the parking lot outside the auditorium of Austin High -- white lines every five yards, I suppose. And at this time of year, the few weeks remaining before the start of school, the band is out there every day. In the heat, in the sun, sometimes in the rain, they are out there rehearsing their music and practicing their marching.

As I drive up, the kids are in some kind of formation. They are looking in different directions, talking to each other, walking a little bit to and fro. I park along the curb and get out to watch.

Band! Ten-HUT!

The kids snap to attention and shout a single response. Heads up, eyes straight ahead, arms at their sides, not one of them moves.

Horns, UP!

Although none have instruments, their arms snap up as if they did. You can almost see the trumpets between the their hands, the trombones, the flutes.

A few beats of introduction, and then they all start counting in unison.


They move in different directions: some forwards, some back, some sideways, and some barely at all.


Then they come to an abrupt halt. A few teeter to catch their balance. A few scurry to get to where they are suppose to be.

The sky in the north darkens. It begins to drizzle. The director calls them to attention again, and they continue marching from where they stopped.

I retreat into the dryness of my car, turn it around and continue my commute to work.

Before I make the last turn, I steal a final glance at the parking lot. The rain is coming down harder now, but the kids are still there -- standing at attention, waiting for what comes next.

Austin High School Maroons Marching Band Camp
Austin, TX

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 Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Where Sunset Has Already Come

The sun is low in the west, hovering above the trees on the far side of the lake. A slow breeze is moving thru the woods, a gentle ending to a gentle day during which scarcely a wave rose on the water.

A chipmunk dashes into his secret home in the undergrowth. A daddy longlegs lumbers across the fallen leaves of the forest floor. The last sun rays of day shoot between the tree trunks, leaving puddles of gold sprinkled about the oaks and maples and tall white pines. Glimmering light reflects off the water and dances on the silver undersides of the maple leaves.

And a lone thrush is calling from deep in the woods, where sunset has already come.

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 Tuesday, August 2, 2005

The Forgetful One

Let's just say that my brother is not the forgetful one.

Ben is better with names. He remembers things that he and I did that I have long since forgotten. He remembers details from school band concerts and track meets that I wouldn't remember if they were yesterday. He didn't miss his GRE exams because he thought they were on Sunday. He didn't miss his first day of grad school because he thought it was still the weekend.

So imagine my ... relief this summer when he confessed upon arriving in the woods that he had forgotten to pack their tent. They got to the woods in the wee hours of the morning after five hours of driving with no tent to sleep in. And as he told the story, I could so empathize. It was such a mistake that I would make.

But had it been my mistake, there would have been (I can imagine it clearly) nods of knowing sympathy for Trudy and son-Ben. There would have been polite pats of sympathy on my shoulder. Such is the life of a forgetful man: everyone knows it about you, and although they are discrete, you know they go home at night thinking, I'm sure glad I'm not him!

So for once, it was somebody else. For once, it was my brother and not me. Mind you, it wasn't that I took any satisfaction in the event, but thank heavens it wasn't me.

But here's the thing of it...

Had I been the one who had left his tent behind (like the time son-Ben and I went camping in East Texas and I left the packed ice chest on the floor in the kitchen), the story would have served as family entertainment for many years. Yet somehow my brother not only escaped that fate but turned his shame into personal triumph.

On the morning after they arrived, brother-Ben went to the store to look for a new tent. On the 4th of July weekend, he just walked into the store and went looking for one to buy. And he found one. Not only that, but it was 20% off. Not only that, but the tent he selected and brought back was hailed by our group as a very cool tent and elicited shouts of approval and envy all weekend long.

And so, instead of being remembered as the day that Ben forgot to bring his tent to the woods, it will forever be remembered in story as the day he found that great tent at Meijer's on a holiday weekend for such a great price.

No. My brother is not the forgetful one.

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 Monday, August 1, 2005

Doing Enough

I don't have much to say today.

Thank heavens. We all tire of it, you know.

What did I do to deserve that?

The sunset. The birds singing. The warm summer breezes. We all tire of that stuff. Why do you waste our time?

Sometimes it doesn't seem like a waste of time to me.

It should. Look around you. Look beyond you. It's not all sunsets and singing birds, you know.

Yes, I know.

It just becomes ... tiresome.

It's about all I can do.

Then you can't do enough.

That's the truth.

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