Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Yeats, Mitchell, et. al.

I've been listening to Joni Mitchell's song "Slouching Toward Bethlehem," which is her version of W. B. Yeats' classic poem "The Second Coming." Mitchell's use of percussion in that song is chilling, and her re-working of the poem is brilliant. My favorite line:

"...with a gaze as blank and pitiless as the sun."

It is beyond presumptuous for me to put his poem, her song, and one of my pathetic little verses in the same post. But, as many a blogger has observed, "what the hell, it's a blog."

Here's my poem:


Brown weeds grow in the cracks of the sidewalk.

It rains almost every afternoon – just the hint of a drizzle starting around 3:00.

But by 4:30, it has stopped like a suspended sentence. The sun, or a cheap imitation of it, takes up its vigil again.

Near the main street, a pink wedding dress hangs alone on a clothesline, fluttering just a little in the dry, desultory breeze.

Small birds fly low and silent between the buildings.

In the lone gas station, a dim light blinks behind the counter where the cash register used to sit.

Someone has set up a card table on the corner, piled with used paperbacks, yellowed pages rustling.

Debris floats in one corner of the half-empty motel pool. A middle-aged couple dozes in the sun, lying side-by-side in plastic lounge chairs.

They hold hands.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Hole in the Ice

Just off Highway 3 between Faribault and Northfield is a gravel pit. After the gravel is dug up, it is sorted into various sizes. Part of the sorting process involves washing the gravel. The waste water, bearing a heavy load of sand and silt, is diverted to a settlement pond next to the gravel pit. This pond, shallow and muddy, is home to muskrats and turtles and ducks. It must have some fish in it because a blue heron sometimes stalks its shores in the summer months.

In winter, of course, the pond freezes. I’ve been driving by that little pond almost every day for ten years and have been puzzled every winter to see the same strange phenomenon. A hole appears in the ice at the same location and of the same size. It is a rectangular opening very precisely cut. Its dimensions are of a door or a grave. It is usually marked at its corners by small branches stuck in the ice or at its sides by branches lain on the ice.

Someone cuts that hole every year and keeps it clear of ice through most of the winter. I have never seen any person there. I have never seen any tracks near the hole. No ice fishing shanties, no bait buckets, no bullhead carcasses – nothing to indicate its purpose or function. The ice removed from the hole is not piled nearby.

What is it for? Obvious care has been used in cutting and maintaining this little hole on this little pond in this little county. But to what end?

I suspect, but do not want to believe, that its purpose is something wholly mundane. Probably the gravel pit operator checking the water to satisfy some arcane environmental reporting rules. The reports sit on a shelf in St. Paul, unremarked. But that could be done with a tiny round hole. No need for this neat three-by-six foot rectangle.

I suppose the hole isn’t part of some occult sect’s full-moon ceremony (torches, incantations, iced beverages). And it probably isn’t a portal to another dimension, where the soul is made of clean #2 gravel and veins run thick with silt.

It wasn’t made from under the ice by an especially intelligent and exceedingly neat breed of beaver.

Maybe there’s a sauna just on the other side of the hill and at night a bunch of wrinkled old Swedes lubricated with schnapps come steaming out of the sauna and plunge through the hole.

Maybe there’s a local version of the Loch Ness monster in that pond and the hole hides a remote video camera designed to capture the beast on tape. It was probably on Geraldo. I should watch more TV.

After considering dozens of possibilities on and off for a decade, I’ve settled on a simple but intriguing explanation: the hole is made by someone with a subtle, slightly warped sense of humor – it is there just to make the rest of us wonder why in hell it’s there.

As such, it’s a public service.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

There's No Place Like...

My favorite place name is still Hole in the Day, MN. Ball Club, MN, always draws a smile (it showed up in one of W.P. Kinsella’s books). Gnawbone and Bean Blossom, IN, are quintessential small town names.

Yesterday, I drove past Nowthen, MN. Where did that name come from?

Round Lake, Long Lake, Diamond Lake – prosaic names, dull in their accuracy. But Battle Lake, Hazard Lake, Lac Qui Parle (Lake that speaks) – there’s some history to be discovered. Or invented.

Nodine and Bombay are little towns in southeastern Minnesota. There is in fact a restaurant in Nodine. And an abattoir just outside Bombay. People in Nodine no doubt dine on beef slaughtered in Bombay, proving that there are no sacred cows in Minnesota place names.

A college friend grew up near Trevlac, Indiana. He claimed that the town’s founders wanted to name it Calvert, but there already was a Calvert, IN, so they just reversed the spelling and that was that. I’ve never bothered to check the veracity of this tale. Truth or fiction, it’s a good story.

Often, places are named for their position relative to other places. East Saint Louis, IL is in fact east of St. Louis, MO. Tom Waits’ definition of nowhere is “east of East St. Louis.” (from the song "Time" on the album called Rain Dogs: "...and you're east of East Saint Louis and the wind is making speeches / and the rain sounds like a round of applause.")

East Chicago, IN is as much south of Chicago as it is east, but that’s out of geographic necessity, unlike Upper Sandusky OH, which is in truth below Sandusky. And there’s Upper Arlington, OH, which may have absorbed its namesake, because there is no Arlington for it to be upper to.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Dude, nice pot!

Here's a slab-built pot I made. It sold at the Arts Guild shop. I should make some more like this, 'cause it was pretty and fun to make.

I'll Grant You That

All of these federal grant announcements were made in June and July, 2007. They are reproduced here verbatim from the grants.gov web site.

The comments are my own.

Department of the Interior
Community Fire Assistance for Southwest Colorado
Modification 3

Comment: Why does southwest Colorado get fire assistance and not, say, southeast Minnesota? And why would the announcement have to be modified three times – how hard can it be to give money away for this purpose? I’ve been to southwest Colorado (Durango and environs) and there probably aren’t too many organizations competing for this grant. To simplify things, the Department of the Interior should just give money to the Durango fire department and say to them “anything burning between you and Grand Junction, get out there quick.”

Environmental Protection Agency
Servicizing in Schools Grant (FY06)

Comment: Servicizing? In schools? I wouldn’t want my school-age kids anywhere near anybody who would even type the word, let alone actually servicize anything. Servicizing is a private matter. What’s next, a food for mohel program? And what’s the EPA doing in the servicizing business anyway?

Department of Health and Human Services
National Healthy Marriage Resource Center

Comment: I wonder if people who have been servicized have healthier marriages. What would a national resource center look like? A room where couples could watch old episodes of Dr. Phil, Donohue, Oprah, and Night Court? Maybe a dating service for recent divorcees -- on the thesis that these people have shown increased propensity toward unhealthy marriage and maybe we can help them avoid a repeat. Yeah, but, just as sex education encourages sexual promiscuity, marriage education might encourage marital promiscuity. Marriage is fun, I think I’ll do it again!

Department of Health and Human Services
Brain Disorders in the Developing World: Research Across the Lifespan (R21)

Comment: Notice that it doesn’t say “Preventing Brain Disorders…” The phrase ‘developing world’ has always struck me as odd. Hasn’t the world been developing pretty much since time began? If sub-Saharan Africa is ‘developing,’ does that mean Australia has reached is zenith of development? No place else to go? The cornfields just south of where I live are being overrun by town homes and apartment complexes and strip malls. Does that mean my neighborhood is part of the developing world? Come to think of it, this kind of development does seem to cause brain disorders, especially among politicians and planning commissioners. Nothing a research grant would cure, though.

Department of Health and Human Services
Healthy Marriage Demonstration Grants

Comment: So now the Bush administration is going to pay Bill and Hilary to give speeches about martial resiliency! OK, probably not. Can I get some of this money to organize a demonstration celebrating the many healthy long-term committed relationships my homosexual friends have? Thought not.

United States Department of Agriculture
Regional Integrated Pest Management Centers
Modification 1

Comment: If pest management is good, then regional integrated pest management is better, eh? And I for one am happy to see that the pests have integrated. Might make them easier to manage, regionally speaking.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Smoldering Hat

I saw this on my way home from work one afternoon.

On the shoulder of the road lay a baseball cap, from which white smoke billowed. From a distance, I thought perhaps it was a railroad flare or someone’s carelessly tossed cigar. But I slowed to get a better look and it was in fact a baseball cap, lying by the side of the road, smoking.

There are many fanciful explanations. Are there any plausible ones? I’m sure I’ve never seen a smoldering hat before. My otherwise long and fascinating life has failed to prepare me for this.

........A late-model Buick, hat sitting on passenger seat. Driver tries to flip burning cigarette butt out passenger window, butt blows back in (or bounces off closed window) and into hat. Driver shouts, grabs hat, throws it out, keeps going, vows once more to quit smoking.

....... A gray pickup truck. Wife in passenger seat argues with husband wearing favorite baseball cap, wife grabs cap, threatens to light it, doesn’t get the hoped- for response, lights it (laughing/screaming?), waves it in husband’s face, tosses it out the window.

If I had come upon it sooner, I could have seen what kind of cap it was – NASCAR? Twins? Seed corn? Maybe that would help reconstruct the events leading up to its immolation, but probably not.

....... Old battered passenger car. Owner doing some minor engine work leaves his hat under the hood, starts off toward the video store, sees smoke coming from engine compartment, stops, opens hood to discover source of smoke, throws hat out, goes on into town, rents The Big Lebowski.

....... Rural homeowner cleaning garage. Tosses hat into a box with a bunch of other used stuff, sets box at end of driveway. Hat is blown out of the box, rolls up the highway, comes to rest on the shoulder. Lightning strikes nearby tree and a burning leaf falls on hat. I am by sheer chance the only person in the whole world to witness the result of this coincidence. The same combination of events might never occur again anywhere. I mean, what are the odds?

....... Kids playing with some dried weeds, a salamander from the roadside ditch, and a magnifying glass. They train a concentrated beam of sunlight on the little pile of stuff. It ignites. One throws his hat over the pile to try to smother the flames. They run home. They really were not planning to cook that salamander.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Another Roadside Abstraction

Three things seen lying on the side of a rural road within a few feet of each other this afternoon: an old mattress, one in-line skate, and a dead raccoon, feet in the air.

It’s obvious, after a little consideration, that these are related.

The raccoon, rooting around in a nearby garage, finds a pair of in-line skates. This might be fun! says he. Squeezing into one skate, he pushes off, like a luge racer at the start of his run, and sails down the long driveway, heading for the discarded mattress. He hits the ditch, is flung into the air, separates from the skate, overshoots the mattress, and blam! He’s DOA on the pavement next to the mattress.

It’s a stunt worthy of Wile E. Coyote, and I almost got to see it happen!

When being wrong still feels right

Punto came up with the bases loaded in the eighth inning of a one-run game. I screamed at Gardenhire through the radio "You've got Kubel on the bench and you're letting Punto bat? Aaakkk!" Punto grounded into a double play to end the inning. Sheesh.

At the breakfast table the next morning, I mentioned this to my oldest son. He said "Kubel is terrible." I said something about him being at least better than Punto in a high-leverage situation. Son said "nope," and referred me to Aaron Gleeman's analysis of the Twins lineup using a stat called "adjWPA." Sure enough, Kubel is dead last. (See the link to Gleeman's blog in the sidebar. If I knew how to embed a link directly in this post, I would. Be patient.)

The following night, Kubel had to go into the game to replace a gimpy Torii Hunter. Kubel managed to be up with the bases loaded and two out in a one-run game and STRUCK OUT LOOKING!

Punto....expect the worst at the plate and be vindicated. Kubel...expect big things and be disappointed.

Tough being a Twins fan these days.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

So many ideas, so much time

I have this collection of essays and poems and other bits and pieces, most stored on a USB drive. I was all excited about the first real post on this blog (hint: this is not it), but I have misplaced that little storage device. Crap.

But I did manage to link to a couple of other blogs (see sidebar), which for me is enough of an accomplishment that I am tempted to reward myself with a day off from blogging. Is there some commandment that one shalt blog every day? Is one shunned by the blogging community if one can't come up with some pithy, trenchant entry every single day?

Know what? I don't care.

It's off to search for the damned jump drive and listen to Santana shut down Los Tigres.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Things that don't work

Brautigan wrote a little poem about the light bulb in his bathroom. The last lines are:

it just keeps burning away.
I believe that it is fond of me.

Yeah, well, Brautigan was just lucky, I guess. I can't seem to get a lightbulb to last as long as I think it should last. The ones claiming long life die first. The ones that are supposed to be heavy duty aren't.

We live in the greatest country in the world at the apex of technological history and should be happy that we don't have to burn the porch furniture to provide light or heat. But, damn, I hate it when I flip the switch and get that little popping sound and then have to search around for a new bulb or steal one from another lamp.

And the "links" feature on Blogger. Can't figure out how to put links to my favoritest blogs on the sidebar to this blog. Not strictly an example of things that don't work. More like things that should be easier to learn.

Another blog?

My oldest son started a blog a few weeks ago because he was bored at work.

My daughter started a blog as part of a college writing class. She actually got credit for writing about the Minnesota Twins.

My youngest son started a web site to post his digital video before there was YouTube and before blogging became ubiquitous.

Some writers I like have started blogging as a way to hone their writing chops and get some attention and maybe even sell books or plays.

So, y'know, why not?