Thursday, June 28, 2007

After Work


After Work

a hollow KLOHK-KLOHK-KLOHK of one woman's shoes

the shaprer shclick-shclick of another's

a low Bass HAAOOUUUMMMM of the bus

overlaid with the loud I-need-a-new-muffler roar of the motorcycle

a quick squeak of brakes

more squeaks from the trailer towed by another truck

the bird-like PEE-PEE-PEE of a delivery truck backing into place

sh-FLAP sh-FLAP sh-FLAP of the flip-flops

a tiny squick-squick of rubber soles on pavement

a plasticky FLACK! of the door shutting on the van

two blocks away a quick brmp of a car tooting its horn

the cars pass by

SSQUEEEeeehhh, the bus slows for the crosswalk

slk-Cruk, sslck-Cruk more sandles slide by

Oh, good! My ride is here.

I'm not sure I'm finished with this, but it will do for now. It was an experiment in which I listened to what was around me and tried to write in letters the various sounds that came to my ears. It was harder than I thought it would be. Have you tried to listen to a "noise" and figure out how to write that sound?

For more poetry see Poetry Thursday.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

To Tell the Truth


[Inspired by Sunday Scribblings.]

Come on a little journey of memory and exploration.

As I was thinking about the topic,
"I have a secret," it morphed in my mind to "I've Got a Secret." This was, of course, the name of a television game show that I watched with my grandma.

Originated and produced by Mark Goodson and Bill Todman, this was one of their earliest TV programs. Like many other radio and television game shows, it was base on parlour games. [1] I must say, however, that it was better than any parlour game we ever played at home.

"I've Got a Secret" featured a celebrity panel. Each contestant told his or her secret to the host and the panelist attempted to guess that secret. I believe that most episodes featured at one celebrity contestant. Other contestants were regular people (more or less as we discovered from their secrets).

I remember some of the panelists. Among those I remember from various years were Orson Bean, Henry Morgan, and Richard Dawson.

And who could forget Kitty Carlisle. She was on several game shows, perhaps most memorably on all the versions and reincarnations of "To Tell the Truth." [2] She wore gowns (I never knew anyone except beauty pageant contestants wore gowns!) and always seemed elegant and classy.

Looking up info on her, I discovered that she may as well have had secrets (from me anyway). I was only aware of her as a TV game show panelist, but I find she was an actress, opera singer, Broadway performer, patron of the arts, and was married to a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright (Moss Hart). Sadly, I also learned that she died this spring. [2]

As much as I remember what Kitty Carlisle looked like and dressed like, I don't remember much about what she said. That place in my memories of TV game shows is reserved for Nipsey Russell.

I don't remember what Nipsey Russell dressed like. I don't remember whether he guessed right on the panel. I do remember I could hardly wait until he provided a little poem. As quoted on IMDB, he said, "I've always had the ability to manipulate words and communicate ideas and thoughts. Writing poems is very simple to do ... I start with the joke line and write backward."

They weren't great epic poetry; they were often groaners. But I didn't know anyone could make people laugh like that. It is possible that was one of my earliest exposures to poems recited aloud.

This is from his October 2005 obituary in the New York Times:

He had begun reading Shelley, Homer, Keats and Paul Laurence Dunbar when he was 10 and sometimes quoted from Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales." Hip, glib and conspicuously intelligent, he attracted downtown crowds to Harlem, becoming a standout attraction at the Baby Grand, Small's Paradise and other cabarets with quips like "America is the only place in the world where you can work in an Arab home in a Scandinavian neighborhood and find a Puerto Rican baby eating matzo balls with chopsticks."
I learned that he obtained the rank of Captain in the Army during World War II, the same as my dad.

Thanks for coming on my somewhat-random tour spawned by the prompt "I have a secret." In honor of these folks (and especially Mr. Russell) I give you this poem.

To Tell The Truth

Questions and answers
and glamourous Kitty,
but the best of the show
was when Nipsey was witty.

[1] Museum of Broadcast Communications (

[2] The Internet Movie Database (

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Lots of Commuting


Perhaps I've been driving during rush hour too much?

Trust on the Road

I trust that
  my mechanic keeps my brakes working.

I want to trust that
  your mechanic keeps your brakes working.

I trust that
  your car has turn signals,
  although I do not trust
  that you know how to use them.

I'd like to trust
  that you won't stray or swerve over the center line,
  that you are paying at least as much attention
    to traffic as you are to
      your children in the back seat,
      your cell phone conversation,
      your makeup application,
      your coffee and donuts,
      your newspaper.

I cannot trust
  that you know the height/width/length/turning radius
    of the truck you rented.

I cannot trust
  that you know how to safely
    navigate a rotary/roundabout/traffic circle.

I cannot trust
  that you know how to
    avoid hydroplaning
    manage a skid on ice.

I want
  to look into your eyes
    across a four-way-stop intersection
  and see that
    you too,
      have trust issues.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Welcome to My Parlor


[inspired by Sunday Scribblings]

I loved the scene in the sitcom "Designing Women" where they talked about their crazy relatives. They said that most people would be ashamed and hide them away. But not in the south, where people brought them into the parlor to show them off.

In honor of the Sunday Scribblings prompt, even though I'm not in the south, I am showing off some of my crazy relatives in the parlor.

One used to say, "whoa, Ford," each time he parked the car in the garage.

Mom grew up in The Depression. The house was shared with five adults and two (later three) kids. All the grownups worked whatever jobs they could find and the shifts sometimes overlapped. Only Mom's Grandpa didn't work.
One day when she home sick, my mom and her Grandpa watched nearly everyone leave for work. Mom's mother cleared the breakfast mess and did some straightening up. She then collected all the throw rugs from the house and took them to the porch where she shook them out. She swept the floors and then returned the rugs. A little later she left for her job as a cook.

Soon after that, my mom's aunt came home from one of her jobs. She made lunch for whoever got a lunch break and cleaned up the lunch mess. She then collected all the throw rugs from the house and took them to the porch where she shook them out. She swept the floors and then returned the rugs.
Grandpa told my mom, "We're either the cleanest people in town, or the dirtiest. I don't know which."

I don't know if it is related to that or not, but my mom is now (and has been all my life anyway) an uber-neatnik. No, even more obsessive than you think. Unless you're family. Then you know.

My dad's sister-in-law (yes, that makes her my aunt) from New York City visited our small-town-in-the-Midwest house in the 1960's. She pulled shut all the blinds and curtains in the bedroom and she kept them shut 24 hours a day for the full week they were at our house.

When she went into labor, my Mom got behind the wheel of the car and drove my dad 70 miles to the hospital where she gave birth to me.

Decades after the shoe factory closed my hometown still had the "5:30 whistle," a siren that blew at 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. [Try explaining that to visitors to the town when you're a kid. "What's that?" "The 5:30 whistle." "What's it mean?" "That it is 5:30."] I know this isn't about my family, but maybe it was something in the water.

I can't stand silverware handles or straws pointing at my face. I reach out and push them to the side.

There are more, but I think the parlor is quite full enough now. You'll have to come back another time.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Eye of the Beholder


Sunday Scribblings prompted us to write something spicy.

I have "spicy" stories in me. I could write about how when I hear about spicy food, I think how my dad's bald heat used to sweat when he ate hot stuff. I could write about getting my wife to eat spicier food. And I did take a trip to Grenada, the Spice Island, once when I was twelve.

But my muse was not amused with those stories. My muse wanted this one.

Spice Is in the Eye of the Beholder

I really liked my grandma's chili. She kept forgetting that I liked it. In fact, she got stuck in her head that I didn't like it (I don't know which grandchild she got me confused with over that). So it was rare that I was around to either ask for it specifically and remind her that I really liked it.

Now the chili I grew up with was not spicy. Remember that I grew up in the midwest, where the only chili peppers we had came powdered in a spice tin. I may very well have been the same tin my whole childhood since chili was probably the only thing chili powder was used for.

But every time my grandma made chili she disappeared for a while into her basement. She took the cutting board and the hand-cranked meat grinder so I always figured it had something to do with the meat.

I figured wrong.

One time I went looking for grandma during chili preparation and I found her in the basement. It was then I discovered what the meat grinder was for.

Onions. Plain white onions went into the grinder and came out in a kind of onion paste. And I was sworn to secrecy. I was not to tell anyone that there were onions in the chili.

As it turned out, there was only one person from whom she was trying to keep the secret--her husband. If he knew there were onions in the chili, she said, he would not eat it.

Thinking back, I couldn't recall anything cooked in their house that had obvious pieces of onions in it. So I kept her secret for years.

I didn't say anything when they visited my house and I saw him eat onions that were in the foods my mom cooked. I told my mom and she said to leave it alone.

I'm guessing he knew the onions were in the chili. And I'm guessing he didn't know how to tell her it was OK.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Fevered Obsession


I have, indeed, been sick. Not awfully so. Just seemingly endlessly so.

I took the endless low-grade fever (3 weeks now and counting) and the obsessive form of the villanelle proposed in Poetry Thursday a while back and put this together. It's a bit forced, but that roughness somehow fits with the lack of smoothness my mind has right now due to the everlasting (insert expletive here) cold.

[And yes, I'm going to the doctor's office (again) this morning in hopes they can do something.]

Low-Grade Fever

Treating symptoms hasn’t helped me mend.
I’m tired and I have too much to do.
My low-grade fever never seems to end.

I’m tired from each effort I expend.
My tasks wait in an ever-longer queue.
Treating symptoms hasn’t helped me mend.

I have a stack of bills I need to send.
(I hate to think that they are overdue.)
My low-grade fever never seems to end.

I go to work and try to apprehend
The topics of the meetings I sit through,
But treating symptoms hasn’t helped me mend.

To sit at home and nap, oh God forfend!
I only fret and fuss and carp and stew.
My low-grade fever never seems to end.

My sad malaise seems ever to extend.
Some nasty germs achieved a brilliant coup.
Treating symptoms hasn’t helped me mend.
My low-grade fever never seems to end.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Town and Country


[Inspired by Sunday Scribblings]

My dad was born and raised in Borough Park, a neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York City. He attended school there, and went to college and medical school within that southeast corner of New York State.

It wasn't that he never left the city - he went to a summer camp in rural New Hampshire. And when he was in college, he took ski trains that went to Vermont, where they parked on a siding, and the skiers climbed up the hills in order to slide down them. And to further his medical experience, he was able to take a trip (via boat) to Puerto Rico to study tropical diseases.

Then World War II interrupted. He spent years in the South Pacific as a medic.

When he got back from the war, he needed to apply for medical residency programs. He and his friend (who had also been in the Army) decided that the next time there was a war, it was likely that New York City would be bombed. They didn't want to be there for that. They had also been reading Mark Twain's "Life on the Mississippi" and, inspired by that book, they applied to programs in St. Louis, Missouri.

So that is how my city-born and city-bred father came to the middle of the country.

He was always something of a modern-day Renaissance Man, studying everything and able to talk to anybody. He was always learning and inspiring others to learn. I don't know what he had been reading or studying when he completed his medical training. But whatever the inspiration, he had visions of becoming a "gentleman farmer."

And that was what brought him to the small town in the middle of the midwest nowhere, where he eventually met my mom.

My mom was born and raised in that small midwest town. That town of about 5500 people, surrounded by even smaller towns and lots and lots of farmland. Her family had been farmers, some were still farmers then. She knew how hard farming was. She thought my dad didn't really understand what was involved with farming. She encouraged him to start with a garden.

As it turns out, a garden was a good compromise. Eventually it was a very large garden, providing a lot of food for the family and friends, not because we needed it, but because he had fun with it and it all tasted so good.

So you see, I grew up in a small town, child of a mixed marriage of sorts. I received different gifts from each of my parents.

From my mom, I grew up to appreciate trees and space. From her I learned what it is like to live in a place where everyone knows you. And I learned from her relatives how hard it is to run a farm, and that although they are nice places to visit, I am much too lazy to survive on one. I learned that some small town and country folks are very intimidated by the city.

From my dad, I grew to appreciate the search for more. I learned to experiment with other cultures, to read, explore, and travel. To see out art and literature. I learned how to walk in the city without looking like a target. And from his relatives I learned that even in the 1960's some city folks still believed that Cowboys and Indians still battled it out on the plains of the midwest. (seriously!)

I now live in the 'burbs. I work in a city, but I come home to see woods behind my house and pond behind the neighbor's house. And I vacation in the middle of the woods, out of cell phone range. I try to appreciate both my country-heritage and my city-heritage