For Frank on National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

It’s that time of year again.

This was originally published here on 7 December 2012. In what has become an annual tradition, I am re-posting it today in honor of its subject, my buddy Frank.

Intermezzo: Wherein I Offer You a Few Disjointed but Heartfelt Memories of My Dead Friend Frank on Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day 

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National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

This was originally published here on 7 December 2012. In what is turning into an annual tradition, I am re-posting it today in honor of its subject, my buddy Frank.

[Intermezzo] Wherein I Offer You a Few Disjointed but Heartfelt Memories of My Dear Friend Frank on Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

[Intermezzo] No Concentration, or Why I’m as Happy as Clara Bow with a Beach Ball

The winter-encrusted inhabitants of this drafty house are agog at the most gladsome of all tidings: spring is here! It is here! It is here! Glorious. Insistent. Blustery. She’s a grand dame, is Spring. I should be writing. I could be cleaning. I would, I would…but it is 77 degrees outside! The day that a season elbows her way back into our lives is a cause for celebration, not concentration.

Clara Bow

I’m as happy as Clara Bow with a beach ball!

This is where I put words about how the contented chirping of birds, barking of dogs, and mewing of small children have all joined to create the newest soundtrack sensation. Ice cream trucks, green shoots of plants I am constitutionally unable to recognize but overjoyed to see, and motorcycle engines belong here, too. Tank tops, sandals, and Margaritas for the win!

The front porch boards are warm beneath my feet.

[Intermezzo] Wherein I Offer You a Few Disjointed but Heartfelt Memories of My Dead Friend Frank on Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

Dear World,

Frank died at 87 1/2 years old. Picture this: When he was a tow-headed little boy, just a toddler, his parents dressed him in short pants and a striped shirt and posed him on the hood of the family Model T, grinning. Feisty. He was named after a prominent ancestor, Benjamin Franklin, and they shared more than a name: both were brilliant, larger-than-life, charismatic. Actually, he came from a long line of characters: a grandfather who died, in his 90s, as the result of a bar fight, a father who was an early aviator. That family bred their men big, bold, and memorable. Frank, my Frank, my friend, came of age during the Great Depression. He had an older brother, equally brilliant; when it came time for Frank to attend college in ’37 or ’38, there was no money left. None. His brother had the degree that Frank would never get. He didn’t sweat it, moved on with life. Somewhere along the way he met a beautiful lady and they got married. Everything changed on 7 December 1941. Continue reading

[Intermezzo] It’s Late September, Come Watch the Seasons Duel

The windows are open, all nine of them, the sashes stretching towards the sky. Street-facing, breeze-embracing. The sun crawls in, climbs in, cascades in: it is everywhere, covering everything, dappling the furniture and the like-coloured dogs with its brightness. The leaves have not dropped; they are green, still supple. Juicy. Plump. They have not yet been riddled with brittleness, or opacity.

Although the calendar suggests otherwise, here, in the North-South corridor, we are caught between seasons. I have lived in this city six years. Autumn comes late, later than I am accustomed to: it is a blip, a blink, a grimace. Normally, autumn is summer, winter is autumn; in September, cool, calm, sunny weather is a hiccough, an anomaly. The days blaze, the nights burn. This year, it is different: thermals in the morning give way to sundresses in the afternoon. The sun is out, but the wind lasts all day: sweaters have already been unpacked, pressed neatly. Smoothed against fading tan skin, pulled tightly against prematurely hunched shoulders.

It is autumn, almost as I know it: cool, windy, exhilarating. Pumpkin patches beckon, the hint of cold-weather spices whirl through the air: cinnamon, nutmeg. Cool temperatures are still an early morning affair, but the time for apple cider and warm soup is near. The cloudy point between seasons-the neither here nor there-is my creative comfort zone: the blood seeping through my pores.

[Intermezzo] A Ball of Light*

We crossed the river, yesterday. We skimmed impatient hands across jewelry, postcards, record albums, tin canisters emblazoned with long-dead logos, crockery. My eye was momentarily entrapped by these shiny things, distractions all. The sun riveted its heat into my flesh, dribbles of sweat danced down my arms before diving off of my jagged fingernails to land in the grassy unknown, spent. My eyes, shaded, landed on a pile of ink and ideas cobbled together with old leather and faith. This fellow was on top… Continue reading

Daily Diversion #20: Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad*/My Neighborhood is Weirder Than Yours

This pig has been keeping watch outside the main entrance of our building since Friday. This is totally normal, right? Right?

What is this, you ask?

What is this, you ask?

I recently wrote about one of my main concerns as a writer, which is feeling at home in my surroundings. I’ve struggled with this since moving to the Queen City six years ago. I love our flat, and our building; if the whole thing could be picked up and moved somewhere else, my contentment would shine forth like a lighthouse beacon. I know that I am guilty of focusing on what I wish I could change about our neighborhood, even as I am faced with all that there is to enjoy in this weird little corner of town. Mr. Enormous Pig has reminded me of some of the perks of living in the CW. They are:

  • Sharing a building with an unusual museum (thus, Mr. EP).

    Come closer.

    Come closer.

  • The best (and wackiest) mural of George Washington you will ever see.
  • The ability to get chili at 3:00 in the morning, and the simultaneous people watching opportunity.
  • A giant gorilla hanging off the side of a costume shop building.
  • People watching. Oh, the people watching.
  • The beautiful park across the street (visible from all of our windows), especially the dough boy statue that was dedicated just post-war.
  • The handsome architecture of this neighborhood is truly impressive, even if many of the buildings are derelict or down-right abandoned.
  • The city salt barn directly across the street. Not only is it an easy landmark for guests, it is absurdly fun to watch news crews swarm the premises at the slightest indication of snow. Also, it looks like a voluptuous breast. At least a C-cup.
  • I love being surrounded by manufacturing businesses and a sea of trees. This area is not very residential, but is intensely lush.
  • The minimum-security jail behind the park (also constantly on view from our windows). It sits on the site of an old workhouse, razed many decades ago. Only the stunning stone wall remains. A jail in the neighborhood means that the streets are very well patrolled. Even though some people think the CW is sketchy, it actually means that we have the lowest crime rate in the city.
  • Diversity, diversity, diversity.

Looking out our wall of windows, nine stretching full-height in a salute to the ceiling, I see colour and character; zest and life; dirt and beauty. It’s always interesting. A writer could do worse than to have so much at hand.

Don't look into his eyes, or you will turn to stone.

Don’t look into his eyes, or you will turn to stone.

Belly of the beast.

Belly of the beast.

*This is a quote from George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

[Intermezzo] Develop Monomania or Go Home!

Excuse me, but I’ve been holed up in the 19th century for the last few days. Time flies when your nose is in a book (or two). Close the cover and, wham, it is 2012 again. How did that happen? Where are the Shelleys, the Hunts, Keats, Byron? They were here just ten minutes ago. Their laughter hangs in the air, lilting and vaporous. I wish they had been able to stay longer; I enjoyed the discourse, the flinging of ideas, their beautiful and weighty words. Emily, too, slipped off when I wasn’t looking. She cannot be shackled, or fully understood. She is the elusive one. The great riddle. Why am I annoyed? They were selfish, demanding my time when it wasn’t healthy to give: develop monomania, or go home! was their request. It is always the same with them. Nothing ever changes. They aren’t very romantic-never were-but they are sirens, alluring as they lure you away from workaday life. They left, and do not linger. Out of the moment, through the fire, and I am not affected at all. I like it that way. Back in reality, refreshed, I can write again.

[Intermezzo] A Howling Phantasma or, Is That You, Allen Ginsberg?

I met Allen Ginsberg today. Thirty year old, Howl-era Ginsberg. Pre-beard, lean-faced, second-hand button down shirt and wrinkly chinos Ginsberg. Passionate, open, distilled, intellectual. Chatty, with a beatific smile. Slight yet strong, like a controlled exhalation. He didn’t seem to know who he was, the great Ginsberg unaware of his greatness. How could that happen? Modesty is not one of his virtues. There’s a sturdy ego beneath that skull, that nose, those glasses. He was there, but not there. Present yet absent. The voice, the words, the attitude-all off. Wrong. He was fading, chimerical. If I blinked one more time, would he be gone, disappear into nothing, recede into my brain cells? No, he was still there. Moving to the door, thanking me. Thanking me for the package carried in his hand. Only now his shirt was too smooth, the chinos too crisp, the shoes too smart. The accent was all wrong, there was no poetical thought behind the eyes. Just a nice man, polite. Grateful. Gone. Gone, with his casual canniness worn like smooth skin, neither pondered nor known.

[Intermezzo] I’m the Kind of Chick the Bards Wrote About (Okay, not really. But read this anyway.)

The universe, mysterious and impenetrable, stony-faced like a cosmic Buster Keaton, has ensured that my life has two constants; woven like invisible threads, gaining strength with each new pass through the fabric of my days, these two constants have followed me throughout the bulk of my existence. They are: that birds shall die in my presence (no joke, but that’s a story or ten for another time) and that the poets of the people, wild-eyed, shall stop to render my splendid something into verse.

To put the latter into blunt, prosaic prose: dudes stop me and shout or caress off-the-cuff poems in my honor. Crazy, right? Not at all. I’m no Samantha Brick, so put down that verbal projectile and hear me out. It has nothing to do with beauty or my perception of my attractiveness. I just have a legitimately real knack for being in the right place at the wrong time, of regularly crossing paths with the drunk and the crazy and the horny who are blessed with a knack for poetry.

In my time, I’ve met Romeo rappers, shopping bards and homeless street poets. Trying to tap that, make my day better, get money or a sympathetic ear to listen to their problems. Off their meds or high on drugs or life. Wanting some action. Not taking no for an answer, no never, I’ve been forced to hear these ramblings and rhythms and rhymes as they’ve followed me down the street or down the aisle or around the corner. Harmless, mostly. Talented, usually. If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that there are a lot of skilled amateur poets roaming the streets and stores of this country. All in it for different reasons, but fame isn’t one of them.

I’ve remembered the corny and the shit-dipped and the (rare) scary encounters, have forgotten most of the in-between ones. Sanity is forgettable, I guess. The homeless bards are my favorite. There are some brilliant people among the forgotten ones, quicker with lines of rhyme than anyone I’ve encountered at an open mic poetry reading. Dignified. They usually seem to have a purpose, even if I don’t know what that purpose is; it’s usually not just for want of a dollar or two (although that is the regular result).The self-proclaimed Poet of The Street, who I encountered two nights ago on the way to a bar for Happy Hour with my best friend, was one such gentleman. Three sentences after hello and it was happening again; two sentences in and I knew that this was different, somehow. I didn’t know why then and I don’t know why now. He was rapid with the rhymes, customized and focused and furiously streaming from his beard enshrouded lips. Quicker and longer than I am accustomed to, effortless.

I’ve no idea why he chose me; anyone walking by would have given him a dollar or two. Maybe it’s that mysterious universe at work again. Instead of a dead bird landing at my feet, I was given a poem by the Poet of the Street. I had no idea what to do with it but this: tell the world that there are geniuses everywhere we look, behind bushes and leaning against doors, sitting across from you on the bus, behind you in line at the coffee shop. If you just learned to look, maybe it would happen to you, too. Then you would see.