Tuesday, October 30, 2007

One last baseball poem for 2007

The Word Series is often called the Fall Classic. This year's wasn't exactly a nail-biter.

It always takes me a while to adjust to the offseason, and the following poem seemed especially appropriate.

Baseball and Classicism
by Tom Clark

Every day I peruse the box scores for hours
Sometimes I wonder why I do it
Since I am not going to take a test on it
And no one is going to give me money

The pleasure’s something like that of codes
Of deciphering an ancient alphabet say
So as brightly to picturize Eurydice
In the Elysian Fields on her perfect day

The day she went 5 for 5 against Vic Raschi

Tom Clark, “Baseball and Classicism” from Light and Shade: New and Selected Poems. Copyright 2006 by Tom Clark, Coffee House Press

I do not share the growing resentment of the Red Sox. Yes, their payroll is huge and they are darlings of the East Coast media establishment, but consider the kids on this team -- Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury in particular-- who played such a key role in the Series. And Mr. Matsuzaka was certainly not paid millions for his bat (he had never had a hit in either the Japanese or American big leagues), but got a key single with the bases loaded. And there's the lovable David Ortiz, whom the Twins let slip away, silencing the network 'experts' with his solid defense. Even Julio Lugo, a low-profile, middle-of-the-payroll infielder, contributed.

I tip my battered old Twins cap to the Red Sox.

Monday, October 29, 2007


What do we do now?

Read, I guess. Shovel snow or at least prepare to shovel snow. Make vacation plans. Daydream.


Friday, October 26, 2007

Baseball and Poetry

Gregory Luce, who writes poems and other stuff out in Washington, DC, calls himself "Enchilada" for unknown reasons. He alerted his readers to an article about poetry and baseball, which you can enjoy here. The article has, among other things, an excerpt from Donald Hall's classic collection "Fathers Playing Catch With Sons." That book has always struck me as a little too sentimental, but I still like it.

With apologies to Bernard Malamud and W.P. Kinsella, my favorite baseball-themed literary work is Mikhail Horowitz's little gem, "Big League Poets." ** A few selections from that book appear below. I have to admit they lack something without the accompanying pictures of the poets dressed in vintage baseball uniforms. I know next to nothing about copyright and fair use and such, so have no idea if I could legally post digital copies of a couple of those illustrations here. And since our #2 son took the scanner with him to college, it's just a hypothetical question anyway.

Vladimir 'Mad Dog" Mayakovsky was an infamous hit man for the Boston Bolsheviks and a well-red Red for the Red Sox. His stentorian batting stance revolutionized the game's rhetoric. Primarily a borscht-stop, he also played extreme left field.

Gerard Manley "Hoppity" Hopkins pitched with 'sprung rhythm' for the Jersey Jesuits in their glory days. Eventually his fastball lost its wimpling wings and he was, in his own words, "pitched past pitch of grief," a leaden echo of his former self.

A centaur-fielder for the Trojan Horsemen, Homer was the father of big league poetry, inventing the epic poem and the epic clout (which still retains his name today) with one great swing of his wine-dark bat.

Richard 'Beanstalk' Brautigan was a troutfisher in America. He also pitched for the Big Sur Confederate Generals and kept the batters fishing with his spitball soaked in watermelon sugar.

As every schoolboy doubtless knows, Long John Milton pitched for Paradise, and Paradise lost.
I hope the Rockies make it a competitive series, but my loyalties are still with the Red Sox, mostly because I spent quite a bit of time in and around Boston as a kid and because of Basegirl's estimable blog.

** Copyright 1978 Mikhail Horowitz; published by City Lights books

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Ale and baseball

Rob Hardy, who recently returned from an extended stay in England, says he likes real ale. I've never been to England, but have come to enjoy ale and have been exploring some domestic brands. The eight ales listed below have all been sampled (read: consumed in sufficient quantities as to provide a more than adequate basis of comparison for someone who is not a connoisseur) in the past twelve weeks or so.

Sierra Nevada, Chico, CA (especially with Chico's favorite son Matt Garza on the mound)
Full Sail, Hood River, OR (first encountered in a waterfront bar not far from Giants stadium)
Summit Pale Ale, St. Paul, MN (all over)
Summit India Pale Ale, St. Paul, MN (ditto, especially at the Contented Cow pub)
Avalanche Amber-style Ale, Breckenridge Brewing, Denver, CO (during the Rockies' remarkable late-season winning streak, of course)
Schell's Pale Ale, New Ulm, MN (why is this hard to find when we live within spittin' distance?)
James Page Burly Brown Ale, Stevens Point, WI (a feature at The James Gang Hideaway)
Goose Island Hex Nut Brown Ale, Chicago (the father of a friend of my daughter is the CFO of Goose Island brewing, so we bought some just because we thought we should)

According to the kind folks at Cryptobrewology, an ale is a lager beer, except --

The main difference between yeasts used for lagers and ales is that ale yeast is a top-fermenting yeast, which means the yeast floats to the top and hangs around up there during most of the fermentation process. Lager yeast is a bottom-fermenting yeast, which means it hangs around the bottom of the fermenter. During both types of fermentation the active yeast does permeate the brew and eventually settles out on the bottom of the fermenter when it is done.

The other main difference in producing a lager or ale is in the temperature during fermentation. Most ales are fermented at a controlled temperature around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, although Sierra Nevada's Celebration Ale is said to be fermented at 65 degrees. Lagers, on the other hand, are fermented about 15 degrees lower, around 55 degrees.
I'll take their word for it. Baseball and beer are, of course, intimately intertwined: Miller Park, Coors Field, Busch Stadium. I remember going to a game at old Comiskey Park in about 1958 and being fascinated by the beer vendors hawking Hamm's. My uncle George worked for a time at the old Drewery's brewery (no kidding) in South Bend and would bring home a case a week, which he and my dad and my other uncles would consume in the back yard on a Sunday afternoon with a White Sox or Tigers game on the radio.

Right now, my vote goes to Sierra Nevada, with Schell's a very close second. Full Sail seems a little weak to me. Summit Pale Ale is very crisp -- good with pizza (B & L, anyone?) The Burly Brown and the Hex Nut Brown are, for me, just novelty brews. Good, though.

What say thee?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Life list

Bird watchers keep detailed field notes and are very proud of their 'life lists', accounting for every unique bird species they've ever seen. I am not a bird watcher (or 'birder' as they are sometimes called). I do have an old Peterson's field guide that has been used perhaps a half dozen times in 25 years. Instead, I collect ballparks.

In approximate chronological order (major league teams, including spring training and exhibition games):

1. Memorial Stadium, Baltimore
2. Comiskey Park (old Comiskey), Chicago
3. Wrigley Field, Chicago
4. Candlestick Park, San Francisco
5. County Stadium, Milwaukee
6. Metropolitan Stadium, Bloomington, Minnesota
7. Tinker Field, Orlando, FL (Twins spring training)
8. Oakland Coliseum, California
9. Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, Minneapolis
10. Comiskey Park (a.k.a US Cellular), Chicago
11. Doubleday Field, Cooperstown, NY
12. Miller Park, Milwaukee
13. Camden Yards, Baltimore
14. Fenway Park, Boston
15. Yankee Stadium, New York
16. Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia
17. Angels Stadium, Anaheim
---- updated Sept. 2009 ---
18. That new ballpark named for some insurance conglomerate in Cincinnati (nice park, bad name)
19. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles
20. Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City
---- updated April 2010 ----
21. Target Field, Minneapolis

There have also been dozens of minor league, independent league, high school, college, and amatuer games in various places. Each comes with a story. Cape Cod league games in the little resort town of Orleans were extremely pleasant. Stumbling upon an alumni versus student game in Hilo, Hawaii was fun. Going to the annual Labor Day weekend Minnesota amatuer (a.k.a. town ball) tournament was a slice of Americana. Meeting Wally the Beer Man at a Miesville Mudhens game -- priceless.

My grandmother would listen with great intensity and joy to White Sox radio broadcasts, so baseball was a big part of the soundtrack of my life as a kid, and it is reassuring to have the game, essentially unchanged (except for the damnable DH rule and artficial turf), to enjoy as an old dude.

My father will be 90 in a few months. His two most enjoyable outings recently have been to a vintage air show (he was a pilot in WWII) and to a minor league game in Indianapolis. He and I and many others use these memories to keep us warm in the winter.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


Tonight's elimination game at Fenway Park, starting at an absurdly late hour, should be good. In 2004, my youngest son and I took a little baseball trip to the east coast, visiting Fenway, Yankee Stadium, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and the new stadium in Philadelphia (I don't even remember what it's called but it's named for a bank). Fenway was probably the most fun because:

1. Pedro Martinez pitched. He wasn't very sharp that day, but we sat near a man who lead cheers for Pedro that consisted of chanting "PayDRO, PayDRO, PayDRO; Ah HOO ah" and waving the Dominican flag.

2. The Italian sausage and pepper sandwiches at the ballpark.

3. The pizza at the ballpark.

4. The ballpark. We got to explore the place inside and out, wandering around during batting practice. I like it because it's old and cannot be anything else.

Camden Yard was also fun. We saw Justin Morneau hit a towering homer to right-center field, onto the brick plaza in front of the famous warehouse. The sound of bat on ball was unmistakable and brought an immediate hush to the crowd. There are lots of brass markers on that plaza commemorating home runs. I wonder if one now has Morneau's name on it. And Lew Ford (bye, Leeewww) gunned down a runner at home with an outstanding throw from deep left field. A Baltimore fan sitting in front of us screamed at the ump that the runner was safe, then turned to us, smiled, and said "Helluva throw."

Yankee Stadium was disappointing because it is kind of a dump. It looked like it had been deliberately neglected to bolster the case for a new stadium. Sad. It was a great game, though, because Toronto and New York took a scoreless tie into the ninth and Ruben Sierra (who would briefly become a Twin) hit a solo homer in the bottom of the ninth to win it for the Yankees.

And the park in Philadelphia was nice, although it has a soulless name and is stuck out on the edge of town like an unwanted relative.

I want to be at Fenway tonight, eating and drinking and cheering. I guess I can do all those things at home, but...definitely not the same.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Wind Howls Like a Hammer

That's a line from a Bob Dylan song, which has little if anything to do with this poem.


I want to go back in time and be interviewed by Dick Cavett or David Frost. They would be their charming and impish selves and I would expound upon the pressing need for weed control in southeast Colorado or the plight of the blue whale or the mid-term elections. I would be sincere, compassionate, handsome.

I want to be interviewed on public television. Charlayne Hunter-Gault could look me in the eye and ask pointed questions about the middle east peace process or good restaurants in Sao Paulo or the state of Italian opera. I will be smooth, clever, confident.

I want to be the sole eyewitness when the local TV reporter runs breathlessly up and asks for my first-hand account. I’ll tell her about the getaway car and rain and sirens or about the daring rooftop rescue or the tense hostage negotiations. I will be accurate, erudite, unruffled.

I want to testify at a high-profile trial and be questioned by high-powered attorneys. I’ll awe the courtroom with riveting details about my boss’s indiscretions. I’ll single-handedly expose the corporate corruption, intrigue, and greed. I will be steely-eyed and relentless.

America will not be able to get enough of me.

And then I will disappear like Butch Cassidy into the Andes or the south Pacific or the Georgia swamps.

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Team Mascots

If I could find a picture of William Carlos Williams on horseback, carrying a pen like a sabre, he could be this blog's mascot. Or even better, the illustration that Mikhail Horowitz used in his book "Big League Poets" that showed Richard Brautigan in a vintage baseball uniform.

Joe Posnanski has been mentioned several times here and you'll find a link to his blog on the right. He's an award-winning sports columnist for the Kansas City Star, but his blog is entirely his own.

He's written a few entries about growing up near Cleveland and being a life-long fan of Cleveland sports teams. His recollection of the crazy first owner of the Cavaliers is hilarious.

Then he went and got all serious about the embarrassment that is Chief Wahoo, the cartoon logo of the Cleveland Indians. He got a lot of support for the idea that it's time to retire the logo, and he also got a lot of crap.

My mother -- Maria Salvatrice Regina Vigneri -- grew up in Baltimore, in a section that was then mostly Italian immigrants. The neighborhood is still known as Baltimore's 'little Italy' (Albemarle Street and Normal Avenue). She told us stories of being spit at and called names like wop and dago. After reading Mr. Posnanski's take on the Chief Wahoo question, I wondered how my mother might have felt if there had been a team called the Baltimore Italianos, with a grinning mobster for a logo. The Italiano name wouldn't be so bad (it could even be interpreted as an honor), but the cartoon logo -- I don't think so.

Chief Wahoo is demeaning. At least Chief Illiniwek (at the University of Illinois, where I used to work) was not so much of a caricature, and the logo of the Fighting Sioux seems respectful (at least compared to Chief Wahoo).

Symbols matter, even on something as superficially trivial as a sports team.

Monday, October 15, 2007

A poem for the week

Cold Rain

The rain is about to turn to snow
or sleet
or freezing rain
or maybe stop altogether while it makes up its mind
what it will become
where it will go next

We are between the mountains and the sea
between cloud and fog
between seasons

Somewhere kids are playing stickball
in a noisy street
or soccer
on a dry and dusty field

Somewhere men cut cane in the heat;
women lie on a sun-splashed beach

We, perched on the edge of the continent,
look out on the misty uncertainty
and wait


Jim Haas

Friday, October 12, 2007

Brautigan again

Many of my friends are captivated by the WWII documentary airing on PBS. I asked my dad, who was a pilot in the war, what he thinks so far. He said "Well, they make it seem worse than it was in some ways and better than it was in other ways." That's quintessential Dadspeak -- he has always had the ability to see many sides and the equanimity to reserve judgement. He reminds me of that Bob Dylan line: "He knows too much to argue or to judge." I guess I got my opnoinatedness from my mother (also a veteran of WWII).

Watching parts of the documentary, I thought of this poem from Brautigan:

The Sister Cities of Los Alamos, New Mexico, and Hiroshima, Japan

It was snowing hard when we drove
into Los Alamos. There was a clinical feeling
to the town as if every man, woman, and child
were a doctor. We shopped at the Safeway
and got a bag of groceries. A toddler
looked like a brain surgeon. He carefully
watched us shop at the exact place where he would
make his first incision.

Then two things occurred recently to make me think of a Brautigan poem about Pompeii. (Well, it's not really about Pompeii, but it uses Pompeii as a metaphor.) The Science Museum of Minnesota is hosting a traveling exhibit of Pompeiian artifacts and, coincidentally, a coworker of mine just got back from a month-long dig in Pompeii. Ruins are still being unearthed there and my co-worker spoke of the striking immediacy of the things they found -- as if the eruption had just happened. That's also in the background of this poem:

Mouths That Kissed in the Hot Ashes of Pompeii

Mouths that kissed
in the hot ashes of Pompeii
are returning
and eyes that could adore their beloved only
in the fires of Pompeii
are returning
and bodies that squirmed in ecstasy
in the lava of Pompeii
are returning
and lovers who found their perfect passion
in the death of Pompeii
are returning,
and they’re letting themselves in
again with the names of your sons
and your daughters.

Something about the tone in these pieces makes me shiver.

NB: As an amateur geologist, I would point out that Pompeii was buried in hot ashes (as in line 2) not lava (as in line 8). Nearby Ercolano (aka Herculaneum) was buried in lava. Parts of Ercolano have also been unearthed and preserved. Not as famous as Pompeii, it is fascinating to visit, though I have to confess that my most vivid memory of a day in Ercolano is drinking cold Peroni beer on the porch of a little tavern on a hot October afternoon, the Bay of Naples in the distance. That was refreshing!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

What Makes Poz Special

Joe Posnanski is a sports writer. He published a wonderful book this year called "The Soul of Baseball" about Buck O'Niel and the negro leagues. He writes a regular column for the Kansas City Star. And he just re-started his fantastic blog, cleverly named Joe Posnanski. There's a link over there on the right.

I'm a baseball fan, so I check several baseball blogs almost every day. Each has its own appeal, about which I have written before (see the entry for September 4, 2007). Posnanski sets himself apart, though, because he blends an astonishing knowledge of the game's history, an appreciation for and understanding of the more advanced metrics used by stat geeks (and even some general managers), a wide-eyed fan's genuine enthusiasm, and a writing style that's just plain fun to read.

Joe's posts are usually very long -- no short bursts or journal entries like many blogs. I don't know when the guy sleeps, but I'm awfully glad he shares his skill and humor and insight with the rest of us.

If blogs had dust jackets, his could quote me (and many others) saying "Highly recommended!"

Monday, October 8, 2007

This is Not an Artist's Statement

I make pots as a hobby (see photo). Some people call it art, others may say it’s a craft. I’ve had a couple pieces in some gallery shows and the galleries always ask for an artist’s statement. The request makes me uncomfortable.

When visual artists write about their art, I fall asleep. Part of the problem is that most of them don’t write well, but the simple truth is that I don’t much care what motivates or inspires them. I’m not especially interested in their explanations of what their art means. I want the work to speak for itself; it shouldn’t need some tortured exegesis.

When musicians are interviewed about their music, I mutter, “Shut up and play!” And if they don’t, I quickly switch stations. Joni Mitchell -- who has a reputatiion for being hard to work with, driven, intense, opinionated -- doesn’t need an artist’s statement. Her music IS her statement. Just listen.

There’s an exception to this rule: when writers write about writing, I read. Annie Dillard’s “The Writing Life” was revealing and instructive. Paula Granquist, a writing teacher at The Loft and at the Northfield Arts Guild, provided me with some wonderful essays by writers on writing.

I like what Willie Mays said about his considerable baseball skills: “They throw the ball, I hit it; they hit the ball, I catch it.” Or what Willie Sutton told the judge who politely inquired as to Mr. Sutton’s occupation: “I’m a thief.” Or Willie Nelson when asked if he listened to his own songs: "No, not really." **

At the same time, I will not begrudge any artist for writing such a statement. It may help the artist, it may help the viewer, it may help a curator. Just not me.

So. I make pots. Hope you like them.

** I'm not sure if any of these quotes is accurate, but you get the point.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Holm the iconoclast

"The Music of Failure" is one of Bill Holm's masterpieces, although he would cringe at the use of that word. The book is a meditation on the hazards of success and the many ways in which failure can be defined and be useful, even necessary.

He describes his first piano teacher -- a spinster with arthritis, living on a hardscrabble farm, poor. By most definitions, a failure. But it was that teacher, on her out-of-tune upright, who introduced Holm and others to the beauty and mystery of music, especially the European masters. This a wonderful failure, if failure it be.

Holm, Howard Mohr, and a couple of others organized a group called Poetry Out Loud. They toured small towns reading W. H. Auden, Wordsworth, and their own poems in libraries, churches, town halls, and nursing homes. In "The Music of Failure," Holm writes a kind of critique or post mortem after each stop. Here is one:


The poets read. There is a faint stink of excrement, ammonia, scented candles, and sugar cookies. She sits quietly for the first stanza, but then screws up her toothless face...

"Shit! It's all shit! They're crazy! Crazy! Why do we have to sit here and listen to this shit?"

The dignified Norwegian lady sitting next to her is so used to boredom that she would sit quietly listening to The Congressional Record read in Urdu by a computer. She has survived sermons for ninety years, after all. She reaches discreetly for her ear to disconnect her hearing aid.

The crank goes on: "Shit! Nothing but shit!"

She will do no such thing as go gentle into that good night. She gets louder and crankier during my poem. I like her even better. I want to kidnap her, first to Minneapolis, then New York, and wheel her into committee meetings, cocktail parties, congressional hearings, celebrations of the mass, and serious cultural occasions. I may even marry her.


I enjoy Holm because he is blustery, opinionated, cranky. But he is also compassionate and self-deprecating. And funny.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Your Attic Is Ticking

This is a Brautigan-themed blog. Loosely. But it's really just stuff I like, and I really like Bill Holm's work, so you'll be seeing more of it here. At some point.

I think Mr. Brautigan would have enjoyed Bill Holm and Howard Mohr. Not just their poetry but their company, too. I was fortunate to have lunch with Howard Mohr some years ago and I once met Bill Holm very briefly at a small-press book show.

Mohr and Holm used to tour the small, isolated farming towns of Southwestern Minnesota, reading their poetry in churches and retirement homes and township halls. Here's one of Mohr's, from his collection "How to Tell a Tornado."


Coming home late one night I find him
under the kitchen sink with a flashlight
taking down the names of canned goods.
I know it's him.
He shines the light in my face.
He reads from his list:
"Artificial colors, bulging tops,
barbiturates and chemical garbage.
And this is only the beginning.
Sit down please."
I sit down, shielding my eyes,
trying to make out his face.
"Crawling between your walls
I discovered mice nesting among the wires.
The water heater has no safety valve.
Your attic is ticking."
"But..." I say.
He smiles. "The fully documented account
of the accidents you will have
is to be published in Friday's New York Times."
The chair collapses when I stand,
light bulbs pop out of their sockets,
my shoelaces burst into flames.
"Your wife is also defective," he sneers,
climbing out the window
avoiding my dangerous doors.

Mohr is known around these parts for writing "How to Talk Minnesotan," which was turned into a long-running musical comedy. Haven't heard much from him lately.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Box elder bugs

Bill Holm is a brilliant poet and essayist from southwestern Minnesota. His book called "Box Elder Bug Variations" is a favorite of mine. I think of it today because the annual box elder bug invasion has begun. Bugs by the thousands have converged on our front porch, looking (apparently) for someplace to hunker down for the winter.

The story, which may be apocryphal, is that Holm, teaching at Southwest Minnesota State University, got disgusted with the poems his students were writing, in part because the students were trying too hard to be profound -- choosing weighty subjects like love and death and beauty and war. Holm was in mid-rant when a box elder bug crawled across his desk. He said he could write a great poem about a goddamn box elder bug. And, by gum, he did. It turned into a whole book of poems.

Here's my favorite.


Take two bricks.
Creep deliberately up
Behind the boxelder bug,
Being careful not to sing --
This will alert him.
In a graceful flowing gesture,
Something like a golf swing
Or reaching for your lover in the dark,
Gather up the boxelder bug
On the surface of the left brick
Bringing the right brick
At the same time firmly down
Together with the left brick.
There will be loud crashing,
Like broken cymbals,
Maybe a breaking of brick, and
If you are not careful,
Your own voice rising.
When the brick dust has settled
And you have examined your own hands
Carefully, You will not see the boxelder bug.
There is a small hole in the brick
And he he is exploring it,
Calmly, like a millionaire
In an antique shop.

is is one of a small cabal of writers and raconteurs from southwestern Minnesota (Montevideo, Minneota, Luvern) . Verlyn Klinkenborg is one. Another is Howard Mohr. Tomorrow, a selection from Mohr's "How to Tell a Tornado."

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Taking over the airwaves

Our eldest son had a show on the student radio station at Augsburg College in Minneapolis.

Our daughter has a show on KOXY 104.7, the student radio station at Occidental College in Los Angeles. If you're inclined, you can listen via streaming audio at 7:00PM every Wednesday -- just use the link above and click "listen."

Our youngest son has a show on KRNL 89.7, the student radio station at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa. The station is temporarily off the air because of a dead main control board, but should be back up in a week or so. He's on Saturdays at 7:00PM.

When I was an undergraduate at Indiana University many eons ago (shortly after the invention of radio), I had a show on the student radio station.

I guess we all like the sounds of our own voices and want to share them with or inflict them upon others. Makes a daddy proud.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


Rob Hardy posted an excellent poem on his blog about learning patience. It's zen-like, it's funny, it's instructive, it's Hardy.

It reminded me of Brautigan's piece about standing in line at the bank. That piece, from "Revenge of the Lawn," is reproduced here.
Complicated Banking Problems

I have a bank account because I grew tired of burying my money in the back yard and something else happened. I was burying some money a few years ago when I came across a human skeleton.

The skeleton had the remains of shovel in one hand and a half-dissolved coffee can in the other hand. The coffee can was filled with a kind of rustdust material that I think was once money, so now I have a bank account.

But most of the time that doesn't work out very well either. When I wait in line there are almost always people in front of me who have complicated banking problems. I have to stand there and endure the financial cartoon crucifixions of America.

It goes something like this: There are three people in front of me. I have
a little check to cash. May banking will only take a minute. The check is already endorsed. I have it in my hand, pointed in the direction of the teller.

The person just being waited on now is a woman fifty years old. She is
wearing a long black coat, though it is a hot day. She appears to be very
comfortable in the coat and there is a strange smell coming from her. I think about it for a few seconds and realize that this is the first sign of a complicated banking problem.

Then she reaches into the folds of the coat and removes the shadow of a
refrigerator filled with sour milk and year-old carrots. She wants to put the shadow in her savings account. She's already made out the slip.

I look up at the ceiling and pretend that it is the Sistine Chapel.

The old woman puts up quite a struggle before she's taken away. There's lots of blood on the floor. She bit an ear off one of the guards.

I guess you have to admire her spunk.

The check in my hand is for ten dollars.

The next two people in line are actually one person. They are a pair of
Siamese twins, but they each have their own bank book.

One of them is putting eighty-two dollars in his savings account and the other one is closing his savings account. The teller counts out 3,574 dollars for him and he puts it away in the pocket on his side of the pants.

All of this takes time. I look up at the ceiling of the bank again but I cannot pretend that it is the Sistine Chapel any more. My check is sweaty as if it had been written in 1929.

The last person between me and the teller is totally anonymous looking.
He's so anonymous that he's barely there.

He puts 237 checks down on the counter that he wants to deposit in his checking account. They are for a total of 489,000 dollars. He also has 611 checks that he wants to deposit in his savings account. They are for a total of 1,754,961 dollars.

His checks completely cover the counter like a success snowstorm. The teller starts on his banking as if she were a long distance runner while I stand there thinking that the skeleton in the back yard had made the right decision after all.


Hardy's verse has the line "Why don't we do more damage -- or more good?" That is a question on which the entire apparatus of the criminal justice system is built. A fundamental question. It is wonderful to find it in a poem (ostensibly) about standing in line at the grocery store.

My favorite line in the Brautigan piece is "My check is sweaty, as if it had been written in 1929." The ominous and the whimsical side by side. That's a Brautigan trademark.