From the edge of the swamp

Location: marengo, il, United States

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Well, Hello Bird

A secret and seldom-used footpath worms its way deep into a cool forest of green. It is well-shaded back in the ancient hidden parts, and more hushed, so one hot afternoon I left the house to take a lone stroll there. City life can be so annoying at times.

At some point on this walk of solitude I came to a bend where ends of low branches extended out over the trail. I pushed one aside to pass when I heard a sharp chirping sound coming from somewhere. One more step forward, and after letting the branch go, another cheep broke the silence, followed quickly by one more. I paused there and stood motionless and listened.

All things kept still around me. Not even the limb swayed. Hardly a leaf trembled anywhere and not one blade of grass moved, but I heard the mystery cry again. One loud tweet, and yet its source eluded me. My eyes swept the area, shifting and searching for the maker of this sound.


Then I saw him. A young bird sat clinging to a tiny stick of a tree limb that grew at eye-level, less than ten feet away. The small creature glared at me as he opened his beak and squawked again. I had to laugh, but I refused to budge. He looked to be a passionate thing as he hung on to his perch; almost looking angry in a bird sort of way, and certainly demanding, according to his insistent tone and singular cry.

But I knew exactly what he was trying to say to me, so I spoke kindly.

“Hello, Bird.”


“You are a hungry little bird, aren’t you?”


“I bet you are starving. So tell me, how long you been sitting up there and squalling like that.”


“Really? Well, pray tell, where is your momma and daddy at?”


Out of the corner of my eye I saw where the sun had managed to break through the treetops, and a luminous shaft of light exposed the flight of a happy grasshopper, which gave me an idea.

I know the secret to catching them, I thought to myself, just as the bird gave out another cry.

“Well, you fly over here and tell me about it then. Don’t sit there and complain.”

And I pointed to the ground at my feet.

I refuse to tell a lie -- I was more surprised to see him spread his baby wings and give one more raucous peep, then launch from his safe perch to sail through the air and unceremoniously crash-land mere inches away my toes than you might be when you find yourself believing any part of this wild claim I put before you. But it certainly happened.

That fluff of a bird then shook himself all around, and rearranged his young feathers with such haste that I could not help but think he wants to look presentable when he goes out to dine with the likes of me. I felt I should respect such swell manners so I did, but I remained firm where I stood and asked softly.

“You sure that’s what you want to do, Bird?”

He came one tiny hop closer to my foot, and after he gave a final peep, I knelt down and extended a bird invitation by laying an index finger low to the ground close to his little talons. Bird looked up at my face. I nudged his knees just once before he hopped on board. Then the two of us went on a search through the area, looking for tasty grub.

Along the route I had to remind him to stop his loud screech several times, or he might frighten away the menu, but you get a little bird excited and they rarely pay close attention.

There must have been a gazillion grasshoppers and other crawling delicacies living in the wood that day, and most went into hiding after the ones I caught spread the word before Bird interrupted their stories, one by one. So when the herd seemed scarce, we up and left, me and the bird.

Now he had already started acting calmer after he devoured the dozen or so I managed to nab, but by this time I had run out of steam and grown hungry too. And since he hogged all the food for himself there in the forest, I decided to drive by my sister’s place and see what leftovers she might have stored in her fridge.

My new friend rode the entire distance perched atop my steering wheel. He had no problem holding on to its laced-leather covering , but he complaining during the turns. I tried explaining about geography to him by using simple expressions, and how we could not drive in a straight line all of the time, even in the state of Texas, but his brain acted like it was not in the right gear for educating. Or maybe Bird hated the traffic worse than me.

The kids greeted my vehicle at the curb. The two girls squealed with delight when they saw little Bird, and both wanted a turn holding him. To keep the peace, I sent them and him to the back yard with proper instructions.

“Go find that bird some bugs.”

I went inside the cooled-down house and pestered my sis to make me a big ham sandwich. I took it and a glass of her sweet iced tea outside to sit on the back step where I could eat and watch all the running and stalking and all the creeping and catching that was happening all over the lawn. Lots of little creatures gave their lives that day, especially the pill bugs.

One of the girls brought out an old bird nest they had found, and the next thing I knew, they had it set securely atop a neatly-trimmed hedge next to the backside of their house. Bird sat in the middle of it, looking natural in his new digs, while his new parents ran around attended to his unending calls.

That iced tea hit the spot with me, and so did her sandwich. It was way after dark and fire flies had been blinking for some time when sis finally called her own little birds to come inside and wash up for bed.

We all-together chirped, “Goodnight, Bird.”

But the little thing was fast asleep and never answered.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Country Gentlemen

Friday, late afternoon. Too hot as usual. A typical brilliant sun does its job, unmercifully baking the surrounding desert landscape. Nothing stirs.

The heavy front door to the Tahiti Reef had never been set properly to begin with. Or maybe countless coats of black paint brushed on over the years might have helped the sticking effect. Give a tug on the big brass handle. It will resist at first, making the old tavern seem to be locked up tight. Yank hard enough, and the door yelps once, but it will swing outward with practical ease.

Cool air then rushes to refresh the face.

At this time of day, the interior appears to be as dark as a cave. The bright light coming from the sun tries to fry my backside. An elongated patch of sunlight spills onto the floor in front of me, stretching out across dingy red-and-white linoleum squares. I step over the threshold and allow the door to pull itself closed again.

Tex owns the bar. His wife waits tables. Both are in here somewhere. My eyes have barely adjusted. I see movement coming from behind the dim-lit bar to my right. A familiar shape waves once and says hello, and I have to imagine a mustachioed smile above a string bow tie from where I stand, nearly blind from the California desert sun. Tex can move fast for an older gent. He keeps going, preparing for the long night ahead. I carry my gear and go left, headed toward the bandstand in a back corner.

Don already has his amplifier set in place. It leans against the back of a folding chair. A small stand-by light on the front glows amber. He untangles a microphone cord and grins as I step up on stage.

“Where is your buddy Douglas?”

Our drummer is late, as usual.

Rose stops by to see if we want anything from the bar. She brushes a light-colored wisp of hair from one eye and waits.

I ask for a Coke. Don decides to wave her off. The front door squeaks sharply, and then a figure carrying a bass drum comes wading through a pool of brilliant foyer light, until the portal slams shut quickly. Moment later, Douglas appears out of the murky dark. He looks haggard, but he hurries to set his bass on a patch of carpet in the corner before returning to his car to collect the rest of his things.

He had to pull another double-shift at work, he explains while setting up his rig. An early arrival, a regular customer at the Reef, makes several selections on a juke box that sits close by, so Doug has to shout over the music. That seems to revive him somewhat.

Don sets his guitar back on its stand, happy with his tuning for now.

“Paul should be coming along soon. We still have a couple of hours to kill if you want to go back to the base and get a quick nap.”

I snort at that idea while looping a fresh tape on my new Copicat echo chamber.

“You know he won’t get any sleep if his wife is at home.”

A dreamy look comes over his face as Douglas begins to squeeze two imaginary melons, and he sways from side to side.

The front door pops open just then, and a lanky figure comes through the entry carrying a guitar case in one hand and an amp in the other. Don finishes attaching a cable to one microphone as he looks across the room.

“Paul just walked in.”

The voice of Patsy Cline laments about falling to pieces.

The tall red-head comes over and stops next the rail surrounding the stage. He sets his equipment down on the floor, and then wipes his forehead with the back of a freckled hand as he swears.

“It is hotter than the hubs of hell out there today, you guys.”

Douglas tightens up the last of his cymbal stands and does a final adjustment to his stool. Paul and I tune our guitars to Don. Douglas yawns once as he runs a few test licks from snare to tom-tom and back. Paul sees this and speaks while waving to catch the attention of Rose.

“Go into town and get a pack of Rouse tablets from the pharmacy. Those things are loaded with caffeine and will keep you awake.”

Douglas soon leaves, and the remaining three try out some new songs. We still have two hours to go before the gig starts.

Later that night as a crowd dances during our third set, Don backs off the mic when it is time for me to take off on the instrumental part of Six Days on the Road.

Good Lord have mercy, this echo chamber sounds unbelieavably sweet! Some of the folk on the dance floor are hopping around like mad. I barely notice as the chord changes to D, but I know Rose is out there, moving from table to table.

I glance up around C. Douglas drums while balancing atop his padded seat. Both of his hands are barely moving as he continues to keep up; one over the snare and one held next to his Zildjians. Then I see the way his head nods to the beat, and how his eyes stay closed.

Then I realize that he is no longer smiling.

I motion to Don who then signals Paul. Paul never misses a lick, but he grins before he leans over and yells into our friend’s ear.

“Wake up!”

Douglas tells us the next day that he made a slight mistake by buying and then taking a big dose of a similar product, Drowse.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Fresh Catch of the Day

“Stand off to the other side.” My father told me. He leaned out of a second-story window to keep a closer watch.

I waded back to the tiny island, and then ran to the farthest edge to squat and wait while he and his pal Tony reloaded each of their rifles. The soft sand beneath my bottom, heated up by the Georgia sun, felt wonderfully warm against the pair of wet shorts I wore. I wriggled my toes to drive them all deeper into the snuggly sandbar and hugged both bare knees, and then shivered once while waiting for the sound of the next shot.

The black lake on the other side of the dam was home to bass and catfish and trout. It also supported sunfish as well as several kinds of turtles. Tales of a large alligator, killed when we first moved to the millpond, were retold many times, but here in the shallows of the raceway there was nothing to fear but an occasional water moccasin. My eyes darted around the perimeter of the race, looking for any unusual movements.

In one of the other windows high above, I saw Tony taking careful aim.

My father coughed quietly. Steady, Tony; steady.

Then I heard the slightest ping. The small caliber shot made no real impression on me as it left the rifle, but the sound that bullet made hitting water sure did.


I watched as Tony withdrew his weapon. My dad beamed down at me as he pointed to a familiar shape floating out in the shallows.

“Run get it, son.”

I heard Tony laughing as I splashed forward.

A .22 rifle was a different way to fish, I though, and lots more fun than using a cane pole.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Run-Around Room

If walking into the run-around room did not cause a person to instantly become more happy, then that person had no business being there. The room was designed to do precisely that: make smiles blossom and flourish.

I came into that unfurnished room for the first time, and it faced true north, as I recall. This important fact tugged sharply at my artistic interests. Then I looked at the four larger-than-average sized windows, all butted together in one tight row. They allowed the good lighting to spill in and flood the area. My mouth watered at the sight. Outside, a hefty slab of cement played the role of a stage which faced a secure chain-link fence. Beyond that, a neighboring yard for an audience; beyond the yard, a middle school playground. But my eye roamed around this new indoor space. What could be done in here, it wondered?

Moving a family of any size (and any distance) can be a mixed bag of wonders and heartaches, but this particular moment held nothing but savory promises for me. Allowing it to stew on a back burner seemed to be the right path to take, so for the next few weeks, each of the other rooms in this new part of my world began to fill with common things, and order soon got restored in all but the blank room, the one with the fine north light.

I kept my plans simmering on low heat. Slow-cooking takes little effort; mainly patience. One cook -- one recipe. Smell the intoxicating odors of imagination heating up. Breathe deeply. Enjoy each idea as it wafts and then mingles with the others. Fan the air slightly to increase the effect. Feel presences build and grow until all becomes lovely and desirable things. I can almost taste the thickening, bubbling broth now. Toss in hot peppers, if you so wish; I am game at this stage.

One small problem loomed that would force my hand: carpet. Not just any carpet, but new and nice carpet. Carpet which, according to its looks, demanded to be taken care of. Clean carpet, virgin and tightly-stretched carpet. Carpet that even smelled nice. And the color beige. Oh!

I instantly did not like the looks of this carpet underfoot. How can I ever paint with abandon with the likes of this? One large canvas drop cloth, suggested by my helpmate, quickly solved that dilemma. It then became my new carpet.

Coming in by the front door, one walks down a long hallway. At the end, one either turns right to go down a flight of stairs which leads to a nice basement, or one might turn left to see this studio, this empty, new room of mine, the one with the north light. I soon put a stop to that latter type of rude intrusion by hanging white sheets from the ceiling.

Yes, soft cotton walls, if you will. And the children took to them right away.

With nothing more than an easel sitting dead-center in the room, enclosed inside billowing borders suspended from above, they all began to run as if the wind propelled them. Arms outstretched, the children ran circles around the easel. Their footsteps tromped and their laughter rang, and it seemed so unfair to cause them to stop, so they continued to run and run and run...

And now you know how the room got its name.

What Say Ye? Say What?

When you say cool I think in degrees
Wine comes to mind as you chill
You must mean neat like tucked-in sheets
But what is this over the hill?

I picture a bear just standing there
Seeing what only bears see
Far out you say so I look straight up
Heaven it looks like to me

Monday, July 24, 2006

Call Me...

I have been called some choice names in this short life of mine. Who hasn’t?* But in the past couple of years, two new titles have cropped up, and each one unbidden by yours truly. Both of them took me by surprise. And both made me wonder.

How was that meant?

And what in tarnation did that one mean?

The first of the two latest awards came about voluntarily from a mad gaggle of hormone-infested teens. You know the sort: they group together for security so that their wiles might destroy anything set in their path that appears to be out of sync with their median age (I know this trick only too well, kids -- watch it). I learned of their pronouncement weeks after the fact, when one of my own accidentally spilled the beans while we sat outside in the yard and threw rocks at silly ground squirrels.

“The guys are now calling you the Blind Beatnik, dad.”

Say what?

How am I to blame for this malfeasance? What exactly did I do? I only opened the door to let the boys in, your Honor. Seriously, I never meant no harm to any of them.

Look. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow.

A few days ago Ned dropped by to see my older son. The pair have become the best of friends. Ned plays guitar, so the three of us at least have that in common. Ned has great hair. Rather, Ned had great hair. Only recently did he shear off a set of dreadlocks that would make Ziggy Marley happy.

My son even has great hair for an average white boy. I look at what Eli grows effortlessly, and I try not to covet. Here I am, with less of that stringy protein cascading off my head than both of those two can produce on their young, collective chins. It is just unfair.

My chin, however, is a current killer. I sort of had that bush in mind as Ned turned to me with a shocking verdict before he left our home that day. But even with my beard, I certainly do not deserve the term, “Great White Aboriginal Poet.”

*Call me crazy or call me a bitch. Please, call me a bastard right now.
Or call me a Bob or a Shirley or gay, or even a black-and-white cow.
Go ahead. Call me a rubber-faced geek who never did learn how to pee.
Feel free to call me whatever you want, but do not forget to call me.

Friday, July 21, 2006

To Plug or Not to Plug

Strange days. This one even more strange.

An old friend of mine sent out an original letter to fifty of his friends on this day, including one original copy to myself.

My own dear mother used to do something sort of similar. She typed all of her correspondence, using a brown, standard Royal typewriter, which she then sent via the post office to her geographically-scattered children. But rather than send each offspring a separately-written letter, we each received a carbon copy of her filled-with-horrible-typos and laced-with-rip-roaring-gossips-styled epistles. The contents were usually wild and hilarious. Mom shot from the hip and could care less where her bullets landed. I think she got drunk from the joy of sitting down to think of life while she typed, but it became a splendid thing for us to read and talk about afterwards.

During a sibling-to-sibling telephone call, one would often hear, “I got mom’s onion-skin letter in the mail today. You get yours?”

That was the era of stamps to lick and letters to tear open. In those days, you savored any hand-written mail addressed to you personally. Most often you waited until the proper moment before stopping to sit and read, and thereby enjoy the focused attention of another.

We live in very strange times now. I get e-mails. Most are what we call forwards -- you must be familiar with the abbreviated term. A lot of those I automatically delete. I get great delight from this small act. It is like some lone vigil I have taken up to keep the world around me from going madder faster. Sometimes the little Dutch boy comes to mind, and I want to hug that historic child, just to encourage his vain attempts to plug a leaking dike.

Today, some things out of the ordinary took place when my friend sent out his fifty original letters. First of all, the subject matter he wrote about captured my interest. Secondly, I could not help but answer his letter right after reading his account. Thirdly, as I sat and (slowly) typed out a personal response, this amazing typewriter of mine told me I had fresh mail to read. And then it informed me I had another, the instant the second one arrived here.

I am not an extremely popular person, nor do I ever want to be, but I do admit to being curious. Who are these people, and how did their mail find its way into my well-guarded letter-box?

As it turned out, they were his other friends, responding back on their own magical typewriters, just as I was doing. What a strange thing to witness -- people actually responding to e-mails of others. I think I might have to reexamine this whole dam business again.

The Little Dutch Boy originates from the American writer Mary Mapes Dodge and is in fact not a real myth, although many people believe it is. She published this tale in 'Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates' in 1865. The Little Dutch Boy is a very popular myth in the United States (and other countries), but is not well known in the Netherlands and has probably been imported there by American tourists.

Source: Encyclopedia Mythica

Monday, July 17, 2006

Bus Terminal Band

Oceanside Saturday night. Slick handrail. Painted black. Solid. Cold. Worn. Iron leading downward. Wide cement steps. Gritty hall. Cool air. Wrapped overhead pipes. Fluorescent-lit linoleum floor. Yellow ceramic-tiled walls. Footsteps echo excitedly. Heady disinfectant stink. Mirrors reflect snow-white lavatories. Timed faucets gush. Pink soap oozes. Paper towels tossed. Hurry. Run fast. Go further.

Behind his half-door, musical lures glitter.

Bubs, his nametag reads.

“What can I do for you fellows? That guitar hanging up there? Take one of these picks. They come free, but don’t break any. You two need amps? ”

The pair hungers to jam.

“This one look good? Try on this baby for size. Plug those amps in down the hall. My rates are by the hour, boys.”

Two amps. Two guitars. One riffs in E major. The other follows. Traffic stops to listen. Toes tap.

“Another guitar, Bubs?”

Eighteen strings then wail against the hot summer night. Outsiders linger, forgetting. Time stops. Raw beats grow to become ever-strong, ever-pure, ever-nice. A cosmic connection feeds, pleasing the brotherhood.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

War of the Terms

Garza was a amiable young man, and wise. Garza always acted polite, even though he was strong and courageous. Garza understood humor and smiled a lot. He could be silly, but Garza rarely told funny stories. Garza could be best-described as an honest and likable man. I admired the good qualities of my Corporal Garza.

He might hold up his hand in the middle of another man’s discourse on some lofty subject to interrupt with a personal request for himself.

“Please. Speak to me in simple terms I can understand, like cat and dog.”

No one ever became angry because of this man of mine, Garza.

I recently sat down and listened to a gentleman answering questions during an interview on the teevee.

I like doing that at times. Let us hear what this guy says, and let us see how well he presents his subject, I say.

The host gets closely observed too. Let us see what sort of questions they might ask, and how thoughtful both will sound to my ear; I had nowhere pressing to be for some time so I turned up the volume.

But this particular subject of theirs quickly began to fly above my meager understanding with the ease of an American bald eagle: electronic gadgetry, and how those things affect our present world and the future.

And yet I listened and watched as the man held a tiny, mysterious object up, and then told of its capabilities.

I like hearing about the future. Who would not? I also like gadgets. Most men I know do. The thing that struck me as too complicated to comprehend, as I sat and tried to pay attention, was the single word, electronics.

I am woefully ignorant. Electricity is a beast who knows that I am not its pal. Hand me an extension cord, one which might have been stored up in an attic for several years, and it will right away shock me, and I will soon regret knowing you forever.

I am not an imbecile, however. I can and often do plug electric things correctly into proper holes, and then go on to use the clever inventions without serious incident. You could dare say that I am a wary person when it concerns electricity, and you would be telling an enormous truth. I would like that to be said about me, in fact.

But I, as does most of the human race, dislike appearing to be stupid. And I, in particular, hate admitting that I do not keep up with our changing technology.

So there I sat, torn. Do I want to hear about these marvelous gadgets and how they could affect our present world as well as our future? Or do I want to risk more confusion?

I kept right on listening to the interrogation and watching for new developments.

Then my older son left his private den and walked through the main room, heading straight for our kitchen. From his vacated quarters I could hear zapping sounds of ray guns as the younger brother took over the helm of an abandoned electronic gadget. Blips and blings came through my walls -- shots fired at unseen aliens. I could then hear each digitalized cry of pain as one would scream and melt, followed by a gurgling, cheerful noise of scores being racked up. Muffled explosions dotted the ghoulish landscape of this mental image.

I noticed when the older one passed by my seat that a long, thin wire dangled loosely from one of his ears. I had to yell loud enough to wake a neighbor.

“Hey! What exactly is an iPod?”

He stopped there and tried his best to tell me what I needed to know, and in a selfless manner, I noticed. But in the earliest part of his erudite speech, he referred to an MP3 player. I had to stop and hold up my hand like Garza, and so ended anymore intelligent acts on my part.

No, I had to cut to the chase instead, so I asked, what exactly was an MP3 player?

Ten minutes later, the pair of us were ready to single-handedly take on North Korea in hand-to-hand combat, and then march to whip France. He stormed off to plug into another life-assisting device at a different section of our cave while I invaded the kitchen and groused inside the fridge. Neither of us felt any camaraderie or satisfaction.

Then an amazing thing took place. He came back after awhile with facts that even a dad could grasp: a lone quotation taken from Wikipedia.

Well finally, I thought, here comes my cat and dog. I took a deep breath, sat back and smiled while the resourceful son began to quote the entry.

“MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3, more commonly referred to as MP3, is a popular digital audio encoding and compression format designed to greatly reduce the amount of data required to represent audio, yet still sound like a faithful reproduction of the original uncompressed audio to most listeners.”

The old hand shot up again. Brows on two fronts dropped right away. Tempers rose and flared like rockets after lift-offs, and then exploded in mid-air.


But before the occupied area could become a smoldering ruin, both forces withdrew and ran for cover.

This is a nice cave with many rooms, I later mumbled to no one.

Garza always showed the nicest teeth whenever he smiled, but unfortunately he had no brilliant teenagers to bare them at.

Sunday, July 09, 2006


DIDGERYDOO/SINGER: Hmmm-chirp-hmmm-chirp-hmmm-wow-hmmm-chirp-hmmm-ooooo

NARRATOR: I woke up that morning to find myself laying in a pool of warm sweat. My back felt clammy but hot; vaguely like I had been placed on a bed made up of many pins and prickly needles. My brain felt as if a wildfire raged uncontrollably inside my aching skull, burning away layer upon layer of all its dense growth, and the whole world felt feverish.

EFX: (echoes) Feverish-Feverish-Feverish

OCARINA: (theme from the Good, the Bad and the Ugly) One-two-one-two-one

DIDGERYDOO: Hmmm-hmmm-hmmm

NARRATOR: I though for a while my body might eventually explode from this devilish heat. My two legs began to jerk and dance spasmodically, like limp slices of bacon placed on the surface of a hot grill in some early-morning diner in the center of Hades.

SFX: (Bacon sizzles and pops)

NARRATOR: Before the sun would rise on that very dark day, I would soon learn that I had come down with a bad case of …

EFX: (bass voice) …THE FEVER!

DIDGERYDOO/SINGER: Hmmm-hmmm-yip-yip-ooooo

NARRATOR: Yes, I had felt the germ of an original idea welling up in my head. I could feel my tiny intruder twisting and squirming as the thing expanded and grew, and I even felt the entity bump and knock against the inside of my skull…

SFX: (Marble landing and rolling around in an empty bucket)

NARRATOR: …struggling as it staggered to stand alone. I fanned my covers madly, trying to dry the dampness that had by now settled over my hot-and-sticky torso. I envisioned heat waves dancing seductively among the shadows that lived along side me in that darkened room on that early summer morn. I laid still and waited for this fragile idea to blossom, and then burst forth from its womb.

SFX: (Build-up to an explosive sneeze) Ahchoo!

ARLO: It sure is a frosty one this morning.

GUTHRIE: (shivering) Yep, it is.

(both men stomp their feet and slap their gloves together) ARLO: What time does that bus usually stop here?

GUTHRIE: Oh, it should be coming along any second now.

ARLO: Well, there she is yonder.

(an approaching motor coach slows down; airbrakes hiss)

NARRATOR: Hoohooville is a very silly place. The people who live in Hoohooville can be fine or short, light or cross, totally unwired, unbridled, unfenced, and at times, appear completely unvarnished -- depending on any given mood, no matter the hour of any day, or the individual season, for that matter. Sometimes the silly things they do are worth repeating, and occasionally songs are even composed about their misadventures. (trumpet fanfare) There was once a pretty young woman who lived all alone in a nice house at the very far edge of Hoohooville. She always arose early to prepare for the day job she held across town.

WOMAN: (yawns, stretches and smacks lips)

NARRATOR: One bright and crisp December morning came with a slight amount of warmth in the winter’s air, so rather than drive her car, she opted to walk a foot path which followed close to the edge of a near-by frozen pond. The woman was ever so happy to do so, thinking it would certainly help save the planet’s valuable resources. Besides, the ten-minute exercise could help her stay young and pretty.

WOMAN: (singing gaily as she crunches over a thin layer of snow) La-la La-la-la

NARRATOR: She had taken only a few steps that chilled day when she spied a colorful object laying directly across her path.


NARRATOR: It dazzled her eyes in the sunlight, looking like a string of brightly-colored jewels, so of course she stopped to inspect it.

WOMAN: Oh, my! What do we have here?

NARRATOR: Each cloud of her breath hung in momentary measures in front of her lovely face before being whisked away to vanish forever. At her feet lay a gorgeous but half-frozen snake. The creature appeared stunned and unmoving.

WOMAN: Oh, my stars!

NARRATOR: So she bent over to pick the creature up. The snake lay limp and stilled in her warm hands, but it was able to look up at her and speak slightly above a hoarse whisper.

SNAKE: Take me home, pretty woman.

NARRATOR: The woman felt a deep sorrow quickly rise from within her bosom.

WOMAN: You poor, frightened thing, you. Just look at the shape you are in here. I will. I will take you home right now and warm you up, you beautiful snake, because you are going to just die out here in this cold, cold climate.

Take me home, pretty woman Take me home, for Heaven’s sake Take me home, pretty woman, cried the snake

NARRATOR: And so she did. After work that day, the pretty young woman rushed home (running footsteps) to see if her snake had recovered. (Door opens) And there, laying in a box set in a sunlit corner, she saw her charming snake coiled upon a fresh and clean red-and-white checkered blanket which she had provided earlier. He grinned up at her attractive features.

SNAKE: I feel so much better now.

NARRATOR: The young woman’s heart melted at the sight.


SNAKE: So come over here and give me a big hug, and let me thank you in a proper way.

NARRATOR: She ran across the room, scooped up the lively snake, and prepared to kiss it square on the lips when the snake gave her a sudden, vicious bite. The pretty woman then screamed as she dropped the venomous reptile on the floor by her feet. It slithered backwards ever so slightly, wound itself into another tight coil, and then stared up at her coldly, but with a frozen grin.

WOMAN: Why did you do such a thing to me after all I did for you? Did you not know that I will now die?

SNAKE: Oh, shut up silly woman. I am a snake after all; that is what snakes do.

Take me home, pretty woman Take me home, for Heaven’s sake Take me home, pretty woman, cried the snake

DIDGERYDOO/SINGER: Hmmm-hmmm-yip-yippee-ooooo

ARLO: What time you get off work?

GUTHRIE: Same time as always.

ARLO: Want to grab a beer after?

GUTHRIE: I would, but the wife wants me to get the rest of her storm windows up.

ARLO: You only got another month before spring. Might as well let them go.

GUTHRIE: Don’t tempt me.

The author now gladly doffs his hat, and hereby wishes to acknowledge the true source of this unlikely tale. Oscar Brown Jr. first sang The Snake on his album, OSCAR BROWN JR. TELLS IT LIKE IT IS! (Columbia, 1963).

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Meet My Friend, Charlie

The younger son came to me recently with a most serious question.

“Dad, can I go to the park so I can catch some grasshoppers?”

Hoohooville features a park like most any small town. Our official version lays far from here on the western edge of this fair city, surrounded by a row of well-kept apartments, several blocks of houses of different shapes and sizes, plus an expansive, private lawn where many mobile homes have gathered to form an orderly-looking outfit. To get there from here, one would rather drive a car unless one wants to hike for an hour.

“Do you have a driver’s license by now, son?”

The small boy can produce wonderful baleful looks. One showed up on his face, which he offered to me for free.

I smiled back at his expression but nodded my permission, and as he rushed for the front door, I thought to holler after him.

“Take a big jar along!”

A half-hour later he returned from the ballpark down the street with a smile and some good news.

“I found me a new friend, dad.”

The boy entered the room walking slow and cautiously.

“And I named him Charlie.”

He had one of his arms out in front, level with the floor. Its steadily-held hand pointed toward me.

“Want to see?”

He paced each step carefully while staring down at his extended index finger. Then he stopped a few feet away from my chair. There, dangling from the tip of his small finger, I saw a frail, green thing hanging on for dear life. The boy had caught a tiny praying mantis.

As a boy, I took control over the lives of various types of unfortunate bugs, and pretty much had my way with the wide range of the ones I came across. It is a normal rite of passage most of us young males take to readily. Even a few braver girls I have known claimed they experienced the thrill of the heated chase, the mad capture, the daring experiment, and the eventual death.

Poor bugs. Poor, wonderful bugs. What would we ever do without them? I remember trying to pull arms and legs off my two sisters several times, but bugs never seemed to mind as much.

Charlie swiveled his tiny upside-down head, and he looked me in my eyes as I leaned in close.

“I had one of these guys before.”

The boy gave a slow twist to his wrist, and the half-inch-long creature scrambled to get topside.

“You did?”

“Yeah, but mine was huge. Almost three inches long.”

That impressed him well-enough, so we lingered together for awhile, watching and studying Charlie as my mind wandered back to another age in another era.

That vicious insect I caught gave me a mean bite once. This poor, poor innocent thing will probably never stand a chance around here, not around us two.

But only time will tell, you know, for hope does spring eternal.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Foot to the Mouth

God certainly had dynamics in mind by telling man to go forth and subdue this huge Earth of his. We humans have been at the job ever since, and every day provides us new details to write home about.

An able coworker of mine, Jules Teasley, altered his role on one noteworthy summer day by becoming a close and personal friend of mine. He accomplished this feat in what I thought was a most amazing manner. First, the man politely called me aside, and then in his calm and even-tempered voice, he proceeded to tell of a cruel and ugly fact about me.

“You have absolutely no tact.”

I remember standing in front of him being shocked at his serene charge, but I do not recall exactly how I responded at the time. I doubt that I understood the full meaning of the word, it being of such a petty size. However, Jules had certainly presented me with an honest revelation, and he gave me a truth that I live with still.

I girl I once knew replied to my own observation about her mental state with a sharp laugh.

“That is one of my seventy-six major character flaws.”

I admired her wit, so the next chance that came along, I experimented with mine. A casual acquaintance told me I was crazy. I replied with a laugh, so is your mother. The details of the confrontation that took place next cannot ever be put down on paper with any accuracy.

I might never get it right, I think, so I wonder how did we ever manage to survive here this long?

I decided at one point in my life to enroll in a university of some standing. The stimulation they offered there might cure my ills, I hoped. Several weeks into my studies, I found myself feeling smug and a lot less uncomfortable with my ignorance. I had a fine car. I had my books. I had me a new future waiting.

On one grand day I sat with others at a long table inside a noisy campus cafeteria. It was a global mix of humanity, filled with urbane and witty conversations. It was an exciting place to be, as it was filled with sophisticated ideas and exotic voices and foreign faces and odd clothing. I was ecstatic and I was even encouraged to join in the talks.

Soon the group stood and departed our area, leaving me alone with the last woman seated. Her dark eyes, I had noted already, were shaped rather nicely. Her darker skin intrigued me and took over my imagination. Her lilting voice had by now burrowed its way deep inside my brain, and so my heart waited in anticipation as I leaned forward just so slightly. I wanted nothing more than a chance to engage this delightfully-beautiful creature in a pleasant conversation, so I opened my mouth.

“How long have you been living in this country?”

She then looked into my soul with those mysterious, almond-shaped eyes, and she spoke back precisely.

“Wan year.”

“Wow! You sure did learn to speak English fast.”

Texas is one of the hottest places you could ever find on God’s green Earth. I don’t care what those Australians claim; Dallas or Ft. Worth are both insufferable places, and unfit. But I was sure snow was about to rain down on us all after her hasty departure, which would immediately fall after her frosted reply.

“EFF ree body in AH free kah speak EEN glish.”

Thursday, July 06, 2006

I am Still Waiting

“Stop it! Just stop it! Stop it! No!

Soon as I heard the screaming, I got up and walked into the kitchen to get a cold drink from the fridge. While I was there, I took out one of the lime slices my wife keeps stored inside a baggie which sets on a shelf in the door. They nest there with several whole limes and lemons. Then I eased the door shut and went out and sat down on the front steps where the beer and the lime and I waited patiently for the cops to show up.

I knew that they would eventually. Any of our responsible neighbors who had heard that awful late-night racket would definitely call 911. These Hoohooville policemen are attentive to calls from my up-standing neighbors, and they can and do respond quickly, since the station lays less than six blocks from my front door.

I leaned over to pull a bottle opener from my front pocket. After popping off the cap, I replaced it and laid the cap next to me on the stoop, with its sharp edges facing up. I had carried the slice of lime all the way from the fridge, clasped gently between my lips, and as it rested there, it offered my mouth tiny electric jolts of bitter sweetness. How readily it then slipped into the opening of my full, frosty glass bottle.

The ale foamed slightly. I raised the neck just as one of my two boys came from around the corner of the house. The older boy strode with a purpose, carrying himself with dignity and great innocence. I sipped first, and then I asked.

“What’s going on out here, son?”

The older boy has gained a total of eighteen years worth of experiences from living on this planet, and has spent all but several of his days living with the entire family. He replied to me with the seriousness of an old judge.

“He won’t clean up his room. You saw that mess in there. I told him I would help him, but he has to get rid of his hamster first.”

I sipped again and cocked an ear toward his seething voice.

“You should see the floor in there, dad. There is hamster food and wood chips everywhere. And since the little moron never listens to me, I told him I would let the thing go. He laughed and ignored me as usual, so I just now turned it loose.”

I set my bottle down gently.

“You mean in the yard in the dark?”

His shirtless body paced back and forth over the dark lawn underfoot. Then his left hand took up a familiar pose right next to his left ear. A cell phone had bubbled at the close of his rant, and so for the next few minutes, one of his peers took his mind off me.

I kept a close eye on the roadway and picked up the beer again.

Down at a corner, one lone streetlight stood guard. The elder son slipped inside, mumbling quiet words into his device. I took several long sips, expecting new lights to come along, but nothing stirred. Suddenly a younger face appeared out of the darkness. It appeared to be very unhappy about something.

“What’s going on out here, son?”

This younger boy has been with us since birth, also. That event took place thirteen years ago, and he causes all sorts of entertainments for us to take pleasure in. He replied to my question with the seriousness of a riled lawyer filled with justifiable consternations.

“He tried to kill my hamster.”

“He did? He told me he let it go.”

“Well he threatened to bite its head off first.”

I looked up the street and planned on what to say to the first patrolman to arrive.

The younger boy slipped past the opened storm door and ran inside as the older one stuck out an arm and handed me our house telephone. It was the much older son, he said, so I took the receiver in one hand and held my half-empty bottle in the other.

The door then slipped shut while I talked to another far, far away, sitting alone in the peaceful dark outside, and I waited for some time for many cops to arrive.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A Dan and His Dog

You know how a person can get a song stuck inside their head, and then the tune decides to stay and rattle around over and over until it drives them past the edge? Those ditties visit me as often as hiccups. First they come, and then they finally go away, but all are mercifully soon forgotten by me, and life is just fine again.

Pesky little maddening melodies; we all get them.

And then there are those mystery songs, the secretive ones you dimly recall from way back when, the kinds which taunt and tug at your memory until you wish you could give up and forget -- how exactly did that blasted thing go?

No, you either cannot get the notes to come out right, or the words themselves move about and shift like unfocused shadows. Just try and look away. Act as if you do not care one tiny bit. Hopefully, we think, something will happen in some peripheral manner which could conceivable lead to a surprising capture of this thing. Hot damn! Just wait!

I tell you this: if you can adopt that last part as a true statement, then you are indeed an eternal optimist in my aged eyes.

I have lived along side of a certain nonsensical string of words for a mighty long time. I presently growl out of habit when it arrives, and I bare my fangs every time it approaches me, but it does my situation no good. The thing is as blind to my feelings as a goat. It comes in, cavorts and parades up and down my mind shamelessly, and then, without warning, prances off into the wings and vanishes. Only after the clattering hushes can I relax.

We, through the years, have become accustomed to each other, you might say, but not in any Biblical sense. I know that it knows of me, and I also suspect it thinks I like it coming round here. It is worse than a puppy, in that bothersome way.

Lately, I decided I must have made the whole thing up. Long ago I might have fell and hit my head (that is a possibility). It could have come from an experimental session of self-hypnosis (hmm). Or maybe I was adopted by gypsies and fed something weird for months upon years (I feel like calling a close relative now). But my decision was necessary, I felt, for my sanity wanted a divorce from all of this. No such song could ever possibly exist.

The few words I could recall proved that to me: who in their right mind would wash their face with a frying pan?

Well sir.

I am humbled to report to you that a recent discovery has proven the infernal thing to be not only real like fresh peaches are, but is so much more than I could ever have expected. Days ago I found myself sifting through new information like a loose spy in the Pentagon. My palms got moist and my jaw hung slack. Both eyes bulged in their seats as I read and read and read these exposed documents.

What I found most amazing (after the initial shock subsided) was this: Old Dan Tucker, published in 1843, not only came with many more verses than the one which had dogged me for decades, but it grew over time to become a proper legend of sorts -- it has multiple and different versions which had sprung up all around this great land of ours.

And I am also happy to report I repeated my one particular line incorrectly all these years, and I feel healed for admitting that small error. I will now lay out the entire devilish verse for you to see.

Old Dan Tucker was a mighty man He washed his face in a frying pan Combed his hair with a wagon wheel And died with a toothache in his heel

Now that my little mystery has been solved to my total satisfaction, let me add that there is a supposedly true story behind this song. If one wants to learn more, go here:

Or, kindly ignore that part and continue to read on. I took some time to rewrite history, which you might perhaps enjoy, and I would surely appreciate being recognized for my work. Besides, I think this is the way journalists become famous nowadays.

A Dan and His Dog

A small troupe of itinerant entertainers arrived at the edge of town an hour before sundown. The elder driver, a self-proclaimed thespian and trained theological orator, Zechariahs Whitney, called out to the others as soon as he spotted rooftops rising above the crest of a low hill not too far away. Each of his weary band quickly turned to look ahead, and all felt a burst of excitement from within as a settlement slowly came into view. Even the team of worn horses pulling the laden wagon seemed to act eager to continue.

As they approached the rural community, several local children and a pair of dogs ran out to greet the newcomers. Barks and gleeful shouts plus flashing smiles mixed into the warm, evening air, while a tail of light dust, which had followed the band from the last village, drifted off quietly to lay among the trees.

Amid all the immediate enthusiasm, Zechariahs spotted a clearing ahead. Minutes later, as he unhitched the team, he asked where a stable might be located. One tall and barefoot boy raised an arm and pointed. He and one of the barking dogs then followed along side, and the man led his team to water and feed.

“What’s your name, boy?”

“Daniel, sir. Daniel D. Emmett.”

“Daniel sounds like a good name.”

“Yes, sir, it does. My momma picked it out of her Bible, and he was a famous man. We all go to church on Sundays right over yonder.”

The young man pointed toward an empty building.

“Daniel, my people plan on setting up back there in that cleared spot to put on a show. You and the whole town will be invited to come out and see us after sundown tomorrow.”

Daniel’s face lit up.

“I can play a fiddle, sir.”

Zechariahs looked at the beaming youngster.

“You don’t say. How old are you, son?”

“I turned fifteen last May, but I wrote a fiddle song last year that folks here like.”

Muscles rippled across the flanks of one horse as flies circled to land and bite. Zechariahs kept a strong hand on the reigns as the group approached one of the unpainted structures. A thin man wearing a short leather apron stood just inside a large opening of one that faced the dirt street, watching and waiting.

Two grown men then talked briefly while Daniel threw a stick for his dog to fetch.

Soon, the old entertainer stepped back outside, and while he wiped a kerchief at the nape of his neck, he spoke again to the boy as the mutt returned to lay down at his feet.

“That looks like a smart dog. He got a name too?”

“Yes sir, he does. I call him Tucker.”

“Why don’t you and Tucker show up tomorrow afternoon, young Daniel, and bring that fiddle of yours along. We will see what that song of yours sounds like.”

The boy’s smile widened, and he answered Zechariahs quickly, just before he and his dog Tucker ran home with the good news.

“Yes, sir!”

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Haiku to Tone

Ring-ring, says your phone
Dulcet melodies play on
While mine twice harangues

Monday, July 03, 2006

On Raising Boys

I remember being taught during childhood how to use certain phrases at certain times for certain places. It must have been an instinctive way to learn the complicated language my parents spoke, as I seemed to have understood those meaningless phrases relating to normal body functions easily enough, and I took to them all with no objection. In the end I can recall completing each duty exactly as graphically illustrated. More often than not I did so, and in a proper mode too.

But it was not until later on that I began to question the wisdom of these two particular relatives of mine. Briefly, here is what happened: I got married, and then my new wife found babies for us to raise.

I never balked at that chore at all, but fell right in step with her and her growing collection. Even as an untrained father, I expected them to each get bigger in size, which they all did. The wife and I took turns feeding them along the way, so that news came as no real shock.

I had no problem imagining that they would soon learn to walk and climb and thereby knock over our valuables in the process. We voluntarily went shopping, purchasing straps and wheels and other strange devices to encourage these behaviors.

It was implicit, as society reminded us two newlyweds, that we should teach our creatures how to communicate well, so as soon as they made sounds, I got busy.

What a joy to hear first words uttered by one of your offspring. It is nothing short of a miracle and worthy of huge celebrations accompanied by lots of excitement. It causes some people to cry real tears, while others might strut about and brag for endless days. It is indeed remarkable. Yes, it is an emotional milestone and a most-wondrous event to witness.

How cute! It just said dada!

It makes a little fist and gurgles.

Oh, listen! Did you hear that? That one came out clear as a dinner bell! It said mama!

A sharp noise suddenly emits from its lower end.

Go get a camera, quickly! Write this down! Call your mother! Hooray! Invite every one of our neighbors!

I began to glow as each child learned to mouth the most common of words, and I beamed as each toyed with pronunciations. Ball became bah. A bottle became bah-bah. A pacifier soon became known to us grown-ups as a bip, and I got to become an ecstatic father as a result of these innocent changes. Yes, we adults quickly came to understand this twilight language as well as our modern English.

Each of our children soon began to babble completed sentences, and while outsiders might look on with blank expressions, the wife and I completely understood their meanings, and in the tiny child’s defense, I would proudly translate to the baffled tourists. Things went along fine until certain phrases at certain times for certain places became required. Then a radical thought approached me.

Should one not teach a child the proper words for bodily functions?

Friend, I was so horribly scarred for life by a form of verbal abuse from hearing embarrassing expressions like pooh-pooh and pee-pee and go grunt, as well as do number one and its low-life partner, do number two, that I presently have the shakes from even mentioning the silly euphemisms.

Well, I exaggerated slightly there, but only to make my point clear.

So without looking for any fame on my part, I decided to pioneer the usage of two particular words which I thought would serve my youngsters fine. I taught them how to say urinate and defecate.

Simple. Straightforward. Modern thinking at its best. Situation considered, addressed and resolved. Yessiree, Bob.

I had forgotten about our aged grandmother when I decided on this. The poor, poor woman. It was not her fault that she was raised with little education. It was not her fault that she had never traveled far from the place where she grew up. And it was certainly not her fault that her granddaughter and I produced a brood of excitable little boys, but it was so very kind of her to volunteer and baby-sit our trio while we two escaped to go see a movie one night.

We later learned of the conversation that took place between Big Mama and our three-year-old.

“Big Mama?”

“Yes, son?”

“I wanna defumcate.”

Big Mama stopped rocking her chair and looked at the boy.

“You what?”

“I wanna defumcate, Big Mama.”

She laid her knitting aside and slowly stood up. The elderly woman turned to walk a few slow steps into her kitchen where she paused to look around.

“Son, I don’t got any of those.”

She opened a cabinet door while the child whimpered.

“But I do have some homemade cookies.”

His lip began quivering as he demanded.

“No, I wanna defumcate!”

“How about a slice of some chocolate cake, honey?”

The child could contain his composure no longer, so he reverted to instinct.

“Big Mama, I wanna poop, and I mean bad!”

I stopped teaching any of my emissions classes soon afterwards.