From the edge of the swamp

Location: marengo, il, United States

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Some Arrest

I thought I would take a short stroll up town
Just to see
But there I found
People all around looking at me
Who said
And he said
Then she said
So I said
I like


She smiled then and took my hand for a mile
With no fuss
As we walked back
They each pointed and stared hard at us
And one said
Another said
And then said
But she said
I like


Sunday, October 29, 2006

Excerpt Seven from Letters to Elisha Hamilton

Talked to Joel on his sail phone briefly last night (they call them mobiles over in Yerup). Raining hard, he claimed, as he drove to a Halloween party. Said something about four horns. Promised to call me later. You kids today.

Cold front got here. You see any more leaves in the maple tree shadow?

Wind picked up fierce. I saw where a squirrel built a new nest out back near the edge of the swamp. I wonder if squirrels ever get seasick?

Ned helped to take down the tarp just in time, plus he set the air conditioners in the garage and put up several storm windows. I should adopt him since he never eats much.

Your Aunt Donna has threatened to come to your graduation, along with Alma and who knows who else. But do not accept any animals from either one of them.

Your ma and spy brother will be there too, but most likely he will be invisible. Or dressed as a fat pumpkin.

All is well; all is well.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Excerpt Six from Letters to Elisha Hamilton

Loving son,

Good to hear you are still alive, rather than being eaten alive by the mean, mean drill instructors. It does seem odd though, getting phone calls from boot camp. Is that some sort of Girl Scout thing they are running down there?

The roaches that came with the dog seem to have simply vanished. Either they made their nest in the microwave (a bad idea around here), or one of your ma’s many spiders took the group out for dinner.

Last night she had to attend a parent-teacher conference, which means left-overs for us. A taco pizza is living in the fridge, still waiting to hitch a ride with someone, but David wanted clam chowder instead. I thought, sure, why not. Plus, this would be a good time to teach him the fine art of making a fire in the house.

Teaching gets me giddy.

“Go get a pot from over there.”

“No, a bigger one.”

“No, not that big. Next to it.”

“There. That’s the one.”

I put the pot on the table.

“Now, bring me a big spoon and the can opener.”

There is some confusion as to what governs the laws of Big Spoons, but that gets settled shortly.

“Now, go back and get the can opener.”

“Great. You are almost ready to cook. Now, let’s light the fire.”

That makes him nervous, so I say softly,

“Turn the knob all the way. Listen for the faint clicking sound.”

You would think that turning a knob is a simple task.

“No, turn the knob. It only goes one way.”

“Turn the darn knob!”


This seems like a good time to test his general knowledge.

“Where do most house fires begin?”

“In the kitchen?”

“You got it. Hand me the big can now.”

I decide to operate the can opener myself. After all, it’s just him and me who are hungry. And Buddy The Dog, of course.

“See? First, clamp it down like so.”

As I make the last turn around the rim, and as the lid rises up slightly (which I had predicted), David’s eyes get funny, so he cups a hand up to his mouth which made me scream like a man.

“Turn your head! Turn your head! Don’t sneeze on the food! Cover, cover!”

He missed us all, barely.

“Now go wash your hands unless you want to start a plague and wipe out the human race.”

Why am I worrying so much? After all, we do plan on adding oysters at the end.

While he is gone I spoon the cold white gunk into the pot and place it on medium heat.

Then I stand and stir and stir and stir and stir, waiting.

Then I yell so he can hear.

“I thought you were going to help me cook?”

“I have to pee.”

I mumble.

“Wash your hands again.”

Buddy likes to sit and bore you with intense looks whenever food is around. He stared at me the whole time while I slaved over the hot stove. He jumped around under my feet, eyes locked on my steaming bowl, and followed me all the way to the couch. He hit his head nineteen times on the underside of the coffee table as he darted from end to end, stopping to stare up first at me and then at David and our collective bowls of hot chowder. Poor little table. Good thing it’s a hardwood.

Your mom came home late and exhausted. David went to bed right after she did, and so did the mutt. Me and the teevee sat and glowed together.

Before I fell asleep, I went in the kitchen to catch more pests. David discovered them the day before.

“Look up, dad.”

Who ever notices ceilings? No one, that is who. But apparently David does. Up there were a dozen or more pantry moth larvae, slowly inching their way along. (That is how they do it, I thought!) So for the past two days and nights, I look up quite a lot.

I usually collect them in a plastic cup, and then microwave the sorry lot. Fifteen seconds works just fine. But this time I used a napkin to pinch each little bugger off, and I found four up there.

The napkins I used made a nice-sized fire in the microwave, and they also made the house smell funny for awhile.

I think if I was a cockroach, I would move out of this place.


The dad

Friday, October 27, 2006

Back to Work Right After This...

At one time I worked hard for my money, but since retirement, that dictum went straight down the toilet. The weather outside feels uncomfortably damp today, yet ideas for new stories are dryer than popcorn farts. Yes, always and forever treading on the verge of smelly lawsuits peopled with stinking sorts and boring torts, I find myself compelled now to lead us into the bathroom where we shall all experience a fresh load of dry humors a kindly friend dumped on me. I have no idea who penned this either. In fact, I don't really care. Furthermore, I now claim the rank thing as my very own. Afrer all, I corrected the typos.

We've all been there but don't like to admit it. As much as we try to convince ourselves otherwise, the WORKPOOP is inevitable. For those who hate pooping at work, follow the Survival Guide for taking a dump at work.


When farting, walk briskly around the office so the smell is not in your area and everyone else gets a whiff but doesn't know where the smell came from. Be careful when you do this. Do not stop until the full fart has been expelled. Walk an extra 30 feet to make sure the smell has left your pants.


This is the act of scouting out a bathroom before pooping. Walk in and check for other poopers. If there are others in the bathroom, leave and come back again. Be careful not to become a FREQUENT FLYER. People may become suspicious if they catch you constantly going into the bathroom.


This is the fart that slips out while taking a leak at the urinal, or forcing a poop in a stall. This is usually accompanied by a sudden wave of embarrassment. If you release an escapee, do not acknowledge it. Pretend it did not happen. If you are standing next to the farter in the urinal, pretend you did not hear it. No one likes an escapee. It is uncomfortable for all involved. Making a joke or laughing makes both parties feel uneasy.


When forcing a poop, several farts slip out at a machine gun pace. This is usually a side effect of diarrhea or a hangover. If this should happend, do not panic. Remain in the stall until everyone has left the bathroom to spare everyone the awkwardness of what just occurred.


The act of flushing the toilet the instant the poop hits the water. This reduces the amount of air time the poop has to stink up the bathroom. This can help you avoid being caught doing the WALK OF SHAME.


Walking from the stall, to the sink, to the door after you have just stunk up the bathroom. This can be a very uncomfortable moment if someone walks in and busts you. As with farts, it is best to pretend that smell does not exist.


This is a colleague who poops at work and is darn proud of it. You will often see an Out of the Closet Pooper enter the bathroom with a newspaper or magazine under his or her arm. Always look around the office for Out of the Closet Pooper before entering the bathroom.


A group of co-workers who band together to ensure emergency pooping goes off without incident. This group can help you to monitor the whereabouts of the Out of the Closet Poopers, and identify SAFE HAVENS.


A Safe Haven is a seldom used bathroom somewhere in the building where you can least expect visitors. Try floors that are predominantly of the opposite sex. This will reduce the odds of a pooper of your sex entering the bathroom.


This is someone who does not realize that you are in the stall and tries to force the door open. This is one of the most shocking and vulnerable moments that can occur when taking a poop at work. If this occurs, remain in the stall until the Turd Burglar leaves. This way you will avoid all uncomfortable eye contact.


A phony cough that alerts all new entrants into the bathroom that you are in a stall is called a Camo-Cough. This can be used to cover up a WATERMELON, or to alert potential Turd Burglars. The Camo-Cough is very effective when used in conjunction with an ASTAIRE.


An Astaire is a subtle toe-tap that is used to alert potential Turd Burglars that you are occupying a stall. This will eliminate all doubt that the stall is occupied. If you hear an Astaire, leave the bathroom immediately so the pooper can poop in peace.


A Watermelon is a big poop that creates a loud splash when hitting the toilet. This is also an embarrassing moment. If you feel a Watermelon coming on, create a diversion. See Camo-Cough or Courtesy Flush.


A case of diarrhea that creates a series of loud splashes in the toilet. Often accompanied by an escapee. Try using a Camo-Cough with an Astaire, or even a Courtesy Flush.


An Uncle Todd is a bathroom user who seems to linger forever. This person could spend extended lengths of time in front of the mirror or sitting on the pot. An Uncle Todd makes it difficult to relax while on the crapper, as you should always wait to poop when the bathroom is empty.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Excerpt Five from Letters to Elisha Hamilton

Favored son,

Mom says I should write.

I asked if she did; she said no. She’s been really busy all week, but I haven’t done much of anything since David (who has been in school since Monday, and my phone has still not rung) showed me how to get to

What fun. I got to help a meek little computer guy chase computer aliens and rescue his computer dog while listening to computer music.

Our virtual dog is soon to be toast. David would rather play video games and let the mutt poop next to his bed -- or down at the bottom of the stairs, or in the hallway -- rather than walk him. I have since took to turning on lights whenever I walk through the house at night.

Doggie-do sure do stink.

We are having popcorn for supper tonite.

Oh, and Coronas for me, of course.

I found a Weird Al song called Nine Coronas.

Here’s a sample:

The girl looks good to me
Good to me
She looks like Pam’la Lee
After nine Coronas
I began to kiss her
Undid her zipper (ziiiip)
She looks like Claudia Schiffer
After nine Coronas
She kind of looks like Mr. Spock
(Live long and prosper)
But she was Courtney Cox after
Nine Coronas

Combo # 5 (a lirril bit of vegetable and why rice) was catchy, too.

I am full off popcorn now, plus three Coronas. (burps)

And just my luck: I smell poop already.

Love The dad

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Old Man (Rapping) on the Back Porch

I got the oven lit up I'm waiting in the next room
All I’m hoping now is that I don’t hear a sudden boom
I do not want to leave here on a cloud like a mushroom
I really want to stay away from that kind of dread doom
Hot pizza yes; explosion, hell no!
One does not sound like a happy way to go

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Excerpt Four from Letters to Elisha Hamilton

Today looks bright outdoors. It is trying to trick me, I know, because I saw a mosquito out there earlier, shivering and begging to be let in.

We gave David your old cell phone. I just took his first call for the day. Your little brother is sitting on the couch in the living room, telling me that he is sitting on the couch in the living room while getting Buddy T. Dog ready to go for a walk up to the graveyard.

I just got another call shortly after that one; this time, from a block away.

He remembered that he had forgot to tell me he was walking out the front door.

After he got back, he told me how it went. Buddy had lunged at some huge black dog, one wearing a ferocious-looking spiked collar.

“He was hard to hold back, too. He is strong like you would not believe.”

“Where was the other dog?”

“Behind a fence. You should have heard it whine, dad, and you should have heard the way Buddy growled at him!”

He imitated the sound then, which made Buddy look nervous.

The hummingbird must have took off, since I haven’t seen him flitting around the feeder lately. Probably going down to visit its kin at the Hummingbird Hostel, which is being illegally run by your piddle-man cousin James (who I doubt bothered to obtain a license).

Your mom went out in the back to twist a new corkscrew into the ground, close to the sandbox. Then David took the wire door off the dog’s cage. He used two of those square patio blocks as a base, so now B. T. has a nifty dog house which sits under the garage overhang.

(I forgot to tell you that his collar has the words Cat Killer inscribed on it. I might have more news about that later.)

Ned stopped by last night, so me and him sat around and watched a few Youtubes, and later on, traded a few licks.

On the guitar.

You knew what I meant.

David is taking new “classes” now. One is a 3-story rock/wall-climbing course, which he seems to like. In involves straps and ropes (who would not get excited about that?).

I asked him how it went later, and if anyone had died. He struck a thoughtful pose and said, “Well, I don’t remember Reggie being on the bus on the way back…”

Another thing he signed up for is an outdoor photography clinic. They meet at the park at noon today, and then go out to Marengo ridge for a shoot.

(Above is a hippo he found, plus the tree shadow).

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Excerpt Three from Letters to Elisha Hamilton

“Dad, after just a few days of this crap, I understand where you were coming from when you were always yelling at me and Joel to do stuff. The idea of boot camp is genius!”

Two days ago, David lost another pair of glasses, so mom took him to the optometrist ($200,with a coupon) again.

While they were gone, a lady from DCFS rang the doorbell here at the cave entrance, asking to see David. She had a report, she claimed, that we were starving the child to death, so she wanted to see what he looked like for herself.

Oy vey. The lovely inquisitor turned out to be some lively entertainment, but she has things settled nicely by now, we think.

We hope.

Later, your mom and me sat in the living room and stared at each other for awhile. Then she went to crying how he had just gotten suspended from school for the day, as well as all the money for new glasses, and the poop in the cage, and the fleas…

I understood each point she made, but…

“Well, look on the bright side, hon. At least we don’t have cockroaches.”

She shot me a cold February look.

“Don’t ever say things like that -- you will jinx us for sure.”

…which led to an interesting theological debate.

Later on, I went out and showed David how to take the cage apart so it could be hosed clean.

And right after he lifted the top half, he came back inside to tell me what he just found.

Little German cockroaches…hiding in the gaps and crevasses of the cage…free from the great state of Texas.

Okay, so maybe I should stop looking on the bright side.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

And the Angels Sing

Hamilton Allen Tippins rarely spoke about it. He had bigger fish to fry, he always said.

Prior to 1929, the youthful man enjoyed steady employment working in a busy office machine shop. Located just blocks away from the banking district of a metropolitan seaport, the repairman would soon learn the horrifying news on the same day of the infamous crash: the Mercer National Bank of Savannah, Georgia had, for all practical purposes, vanished on that Black Monday, along with all of his hard-earned money.

Over the next few decades, he, like countless others throughout America, struggled to rebuild their lives and provide for growing families. By his own account, he did survive to prosper, and he did exceedingly well for himself.

However, this is not meant to be a story about the father whom I love.

But at some point during the mid-fifties, pa received a mysterious check in the mail. It had been sent to him by the famed composer and lyricist, Johnny Mercer. The amount on the check included every dollar dad had lost during those bleak years, along with every bit of interest accrued.

What a huckleberry friend was Johnny Mercer.

Monday, October 09, 2006

A Collection of Rare Circles

“First, you got to find the right size. And look for the smoothest, flattest kind.”

I nodded my head and listened closely as he searched the ground with his toes until he found exactly what he wanted.

“Then curl your finger around the edges like this. Make sure it fits in there tight.”

I looked over his hand to see what he meant.

“Now bend down just a little, see, and then sight out yonder along the horizon.”

He leaned at the waist, and then Gary drew an arm back.

In a flash, he let go and sent the stone spinning as it flew through the air.

We both watched as it skipped magically across the surface of the water. How far would this one go?

The rock landed once and bounced twice, but it didn’t stop there. Seconds later, six widening circles told the story.

I let out a loud cheer.

“That one went six times!”

Gary blew the most admirable spit bubble before he turned to grin at me.

“See how you supposed to do it now?”

My older cousin knew the most amazing sorts of things. He had already taught me how to put together a first-class sling-shot, using real rubber straps from an old inner tube he found. He even attached the leather pad that held the rock in place, which he cut from the tongue of a worn-out shoe. At the end, he used a leather shoe lace to tie everything together, but after soaking the long strip in water first (it would stretch tight once it dried -- something an Indian had told him how to do, he confided).

He also let me in on his secret style of whistling, which made the sound of a rain crow’s mournful cry, and which he did with ease.

He once made a toy tractor out of an empty wooden spool of thread. Later, I made one just like it, and then powered mine the same way, using a button, a wound-up rubber band and a match stick.

But skipping stones across the millpond like he did was not an easy thing to learn; even using his precise instructions did little to help me. That is, until the day I stumbled across a box filled with flawless objects which looked perfectly suited for the job.

I don’t know why ma kept the little golden box in her bedroom, hidden away in a back corner of a bottom dresser drawer. It looked too nice and so fancy. And why did she bury the pretty box under silky piles of her perfumed clothing?

I quietly opened the lid to see what might be inside.

How smooth these feel -- and how bright they look! Each one has heft, too. All are circular, yet not a one is too thick. On one side of the biggest one, a raised picture of a woman with a crown in her hair; on the other, an angry-looking bird spreads his wings.

Gary had already told me that the best rocks to use would be thin and rounded: here I had an ample cache of more than I could count. I kept the little box tucked tightly under one arm until I reached the far end of the dam, where I sat it carefully on the ground.

Then ignoring the abundant pebbles underfoot, and with only a lone horsefly for an audience, each disc was held just so, and then one after another, hurled with studied accuracy far out across the deep water.

The last and the largest of them skipped a record number of eight times before it sank and disappeared.

Then I sat on the ground and crossed my legs, and for awhile, I quietly held the empty box in my lap. A great sadness began to overtake me as I raised and shut its small lid, thinking how my older cousin Gary had missed being there to see just how good I did.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Excerpt Two from Letters to Elisha Hamilton

The older son has fell into the clutches of the United States Air Force, but we somehow manage to get messages delivered.

On the way up here, Alma had called several times, telling me her current location. At some point, she mentioned fleas. She had seen a couple crawling on the dog’s head, but after looking closer, she found lots more. Her cell phone crackled out the ruinous news.

But she felt bad and promised she would find a vet before stopping by the cave.

We also talked about David adopting the dog, but that was to be wait-and-see. So far, your mom didn’t know anything about a dog.

I confessed the truth after sister left Memphis, and until she arrived, I got the cold, cold stares.

But just wait till you see this little dog, darlin’.

Somewhere along her route, she stopped and purchased a product that promised to kill fleas (reminds me of the hammer-and-ants story). By the time she got here, the fleas were half-finished absorbing the costly merchandise. They were also busy whooping it up and partying merrily, so fleas, dog and cage went outside the cave to live on the deck. There it stayed for several nights while we waited for the parasites to pass out or move, but they hung tough, so I got flea powder to dust him and the cage, too. That turned out to work a lot better.

The last night that he slept outdoors, a few stubborn ones were still around. The next day, David couldn’t find any, which was good for the dog, because overnight temps were expected to drop to near freezing. So Buddy came inside at last. But not knowing his pooping habits, we kept him and the cage in the kitchen.

Night number one went by without problems.

Night two, he whined like a dog so I hollered like my dad.

“Shut that noise up!”

The next morning, I learned why he had howled. Mister Dog went and broke all of the rules by crapping inside his cage. How lovely.

Okay, everybody. Back out on the deck!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Excerpt One from Letters to Elisha Hamilton

The older son left for boot camp recently, so during the next few weeks, my thoughts will be with him.

Meet Buddy.

We’re pretty sure he’s a Yorkshire terrier, but who knows?

All of Alma’s mutts died, as you recall, except for one pup. Been a hard year for dogs down in the heat of Texas, we reckon.

But just as she was preparing for the long drive to Great Lakes Naval Training Center (to attend the graduation ceremony of two of her granddaughters), a silvery-gray dog wandered into her yard, looking dirty and half-starved and pitiful, so naturally, she fed the thing. Then of course it wouldn’t leave.

Rather than take off for a week and come back to face another dead animal, she stuck the mutt inside a travel cage, loaded it in the back of her Alligator Annie pickup truck, and then took off driving north.

Oh, and she thought to stop by the Whataburger place on the way out of town. A girl behind the counter inside found it hard to believe after hearing her request and the reason why.

“You driving all the way up to Illinois, all by your little lonesome, plus you want three of these Whataburgers to take to your hungry Yankee brother who lives up there, just because he misses these burgers so much?

I tell you what, ma’am. I ain’t never heard of nobody doing nothing like that before. Hang on just one second-- I’ll fix you up something special.”

She came back with the order right away, along with a nice surprise: a huge to-go container filled with chopped lettuce, sliced tomatoes and dill pickles, plus a cup of fresh mustard. She put a regulation-sized Whataburger sack along side the box, which contained three beef patties in individually-wrapped buns.

The girl beamed as Alma paid.

“That should keep them from getting too soggy.”

Then box and bag both went inside an ice chest sitting next to the dog cage in the back of the green truck.

A day and a half later, I sat on the couch here in the cave and devoured one.

Her crazy idea worked, and the single burger I was lucky enough to get tasted as superb as any steak. The other two…well, you know how everybody here hankers for Whataburgers almost as much as me.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Musical Toes Tapping

Ottmar Liebert, like any musician, is permitted to have odd traits. An obvious one must be a healthy dislike of shoes, for he often appears barefoot while performing on-stage. Close your eyes now as you listen to two different versions of Barcelona Nights.

But watch out -- your own feet might want to get naked and dance.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Carpet as a Rorschach Test

Some days I wonder if being homeless and a drug addict would be any improvement.


Of course, that made Buddy start barking. How can anyone nap around here?


Whoever invented doorbells should be wired to one.


“Hello. Can I help you?”

(followed by)

“Sorry, but I can’t open the door (a head pokes at a one-inch gap with its nose) or the dog might get out.”


“Is David home? I need to see him.”

Now that’s a curious survey you doing, lady with a clipboard.

“No he isn’t. Why?”

“Then is his mother home?”

“No. She’s gone too. What you need?”

“I am with DCFS. We received a report about David, so I need to ask a few questions.”

Mindless stare. Has Big Brother arrived?

“May I come in?”

The dog stays back and waits, which is surprising. I open the door.

“Pardon the mess.”

A pair of pants and a towel get moved from the recliner to the couch.

“Here. Have a seat.”

Excuse the mess. People always say that. A house could be as shiny as a brand-new dime, yet someone in charge will not only say the phrase, they will sincerely mean it. I eye the carpet on the way.

She settles into the cleared chair. I sit facing her from the couch, towel and pants at my side. Her pencil hovers at the ready.

“Now what is your report about?”

“Someone called who is concerned that David is not being fed properly.”

“What? Who in the world said that?”

“We are not allowed to say. But before we get started, I need to know who exactly you are.”


“I am the boy’s father.”

Surprise; eyes to clip board.

“Hmm. There is no mention of your name on here anywhere.”

What can I say, lady?

“So what questions did you want to ask?”

“How often is he fed? Let’s start with that. Breakfast? Lunch? Supper?”

Did he walk the dog while not wearing his shirt? Some nosy neighbor saw him through their blinds?

I nod to all three.

“Do you have a working smoke alarm?”

If that thing starts beeping now, I am sunk.

I nod hopefully, saying yes.

“Do you keep weapons anywhere in the house?”

My tongue. A drawer full of sharp knives. Bleach. Ammonia. The coffee-maker. Rocks lining the flower bed outside.

“Just a computer.”

She did not stay long (after seeing all the food in the house).