Monday, December 29, 2008

Plowing right along

Penelopedia and other local bloggers have noted the unusual amount of snow we've had hereabouts so far this winter. At the same time, local governments are scrambling to find ways to spend less in the face of dire economic news. The Governor -- he's so charming, with that cute grin of his -- has 'unallotted' about six months worth of state aid payments to local governments, and that's just the first of many such cuts to come.

Here's my idea: stop plowing snow. Seriously. I wonder why snow removal is assumed to be the responsibility of the government. The quickest way to privatize this function is for government to simply stop doing it. And our Governor, not without justification, believes that the private sector is more efficient than government at most things, so relying on the private sector would presumably improve snow removal, right? I would happily join my neighbors in contracting with a private vendor who would plow our street. I'd even pay a small premium if that vendor would promise in writing not to leave heaps of snow at the bottom of my driveway.

Maybe the private company that hauls garbage could equip its trucks with plows. Maybe all those grain trucks that sit idle during winter could become snow plowing and snow hauling trucks. In any case, I trust that the market -- that great engine of innovation and opportunism -- would quickly meet the demand. You live in Northfield and it snows, you either remove the snow yourself (from the place where you live or work and from the portion of the public right-of-way that abuts it) or hire somebody to do it.

What say you, Timmy? Mayor Mary?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Too Cold for Baseball?

Everybody's talking about the cold. Y'know, it does get cold in the winter in these parts, but I understand why it's still newsworthy. It got really cold really fast (see the graph on Rob Hardy's blog, it's...umm...chilling). And it's the first nasty cold snap this season, which, though inevitable, still takes one by suprise.

Here are a couple of poems by Gail Mazur that I think are apropos.

Gail Mazur

In the warming house, children lace their skates,
bending, choked, over their thick jackets.

A Franklin stove keeps the place so cozy
it’s hard to imagine why anyone would leave,

clumping across the frozen beach to the river.
December’s always the same at Ware’s Cove,

the first sheer ice, black, then white
and deep until the city sends trucks of men

with wooden barriers to put up the boys’
hockey rink. An hour of skating after school,

of trying wobbly figure-8’s, an hour
of distances moved backwards without falling,

then—twilight, the warming house steamy
with girls pulling on boots, their chafed legs

aching. Outside, the hockey players keep
playing, slamming the round black puck

until it’s dark, until supper. At night,
a shy girl comes to the cove with her father.

Although there isn’t music, they glide
arm in arm onto the blurred surface together,

braced like dancers. She thinks she’ll never
be so happy, for who else will find her graceful,

find her perfect, skate with her
in circles outside the emptied rink forever?

Gail Mazur, “Ice” from Zeppo's First Wife: New & Selected Poems (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005). Copyright © 1995 by Gail Mazur.

Gail Mazur (for John Limon)

The game of baseball is not a metaphor
and I know it’s not really life.
The chalky green diamond, the lovely
dusty brown lanes I see from airplanes
multiplying around the cities
are only neat playing fields.
Their structure is not the frame
of history carved out of forest,
that is not what I see on my ascent.

And down in the stadium,
the veteran catcher guiding the young
pitcher through the innings, the line
of concentration between them,
that delicate filament is not
like the way you are helping me,
only it reminds me when I strain
for analogies, the way a rookie strains
for perfection, and the veteran,
in his wisdom, seems to promise it,
it glows from his upheld glove,

and the man in front of me
in the grandstand, drinking banana
daiquiris from a thermos,
continuing through a whole dinner

and the young wife trying to understand
what a full count could be
to please her husband happy in
his old dreams, or the little boy
in the Yankees cap already nodding
off to sleep against his father,
program and popcorn memories

to the aromatic cigar even as our team
is shut out, nearly hitless, he is
not like the farmer that Auden speaks
of in Breughel’s Icarus,
or the four inevitable woman-hating
drunkards, yelling, hugging
each other and moving up and down
continuously for more beer

sliding into the future,
and the old woman from Lincoln, Maine,
screaming at the Yankee slugger
with wounded knees to break his leg

this is not a microcosm,
not even a slice of life

and the terrible slumps,
when the greatest hitter mysteriously
goes hitless for weeks, or
the pitcher’s stuff is all junk
who threw like a magician all last month,
or the days when our guys look
like Sennett cops, slipping, bumping

each other, then suddenly, the play
that wasn’t humanly possible, the Kid
we know isn’t ready for the big leagues,
leaps into the air to catch a ball
that should have gone downtown,
and coming off the field is hugged
and bottom-slapped by the sudden
sorcerers, the winning team

the question of what makes a man
slump when his form, his eye,
his power aren’t to blame, this isn’t
like the bad luck that hounds us,
and his frustration in the games
not like our deep rage
for disappointing ourselves

the ball park is an artifact,
manicured, safe, “scene in an Easter egg”,
and the order of the ball game,
the firm structure with the mystery
of accidents always contained,
not the wild field we wander in,
where I’m trying to recite the rules,
to repeat the statistics of the game,
and the wind keeps carrying my words away

Gail Mazur, “Baseball” from Zeppo's First Wife: New & Selected Poems (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005). Copyright 1978 by Gail Mazur.

"...the mystery/of accidents always contained..." Sweet music.

Enjoy the cold!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Offseason Acquisitions

Major league Baseball, Inc. is having its annual winter meeting in Las Vegas. Sometimes teams make player trades during these meetings, but there are always more rumored trades than actual trades, especially for the Twins. It’s something for baseball writers and baseball fans to talk about during the long winter months.

In the Star-Tribune, one story from the winter meetings said that the Twins are looking for “a shortstop who can play defense and hit a little.” Read that phrase again. It raises a couple of questions, one of which might be: As opposed to what?

Some other useful things a shortstop can do if the shortstop can’t play defense and hit a little:

Help the umpires rub mud on the baseballs before each game.
Hang plastic sheets over the lockers to prepare for the victory celebration.*
Make sure there are plenty of paper cups in the bullpen so the relievers can play flippy-cup.
Make up elaborate and funny rules for bullpen flippy-cup.
Learn calligraphy and put really fancy numbers on the knobs of the bats and on batting helmets and batting gloves, giving the dugout some class.
Be a manager on the field.
Play with grit and hustle.
Make a festive centerpiece for the post-game buffet out of broken bats, dugout spittoons, an Ace bandage, and the rosin bag.
Start a blog.

* If the shortstop truly can't play defense and hit a little, he will pobably have to hang the plastic in the visitor's locker room.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Show Time!

Two gallery exhibits at the Northfield Arts Guild will include some of my work. The first is the annual members' show. It opens Thursday, December 11, 2008. I will have one, maybe two, pots in that show.

The next will be my very first ever solo! Yowks! On February 11, 2009, I will have the small gallery (known as The Other Room, though I dislike the Biblical allusion*) all to myself. The show runs through the end of February, I think. As soon as that show is mounted, I will bore you with some photos (Pictures From an Exhibition?). The challenge will be to make a dozen or so gallery-worthy pieces between now and then using some new glazes and a rebuilt kiln that won't be test-fired until this weekend. Those sounds you hear are my creative gears grinding and my artistic steering mechanism locking up and my visual esthetic fluttering away like a frightened sparrow. **

Some day, I may write about the bizarre and embarrassing tale of buying and repairing that kiln. Imagine a home improvement project involving many trips to the hardware store and many calls to tech support and many "oh, shit" moments. Then multiply that by a factor of three. Add a couple zeros to the initial cost estimate, too.

It wasn't pretty, though I certainly hope the results will be.

* The Last Supper was in The Upper Room, which of course is different, but to my ears they just sound too much alike.

** Also, this simile gun seems to be misfiring.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


The blogger who calls himself Bleeet posted a list expanding on the Biblical 'inherit the earth' theme. You can read it here.

This little blog has had frequent posts about beer.

In a rather forced attempt to bring these disparate references together, here is one of Richard Brautigan's first published poems.

The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth's Beer Bottles

When we were children after the war
we lived for a year in a house next
to a large highway. There were many
sawmills and log ponds on the other side
of the highway. The sound of the saws could
be heard most of the time and when there
was darkness trash burners glowed red
against the sky. We did not have a father
and our mother had to work very hard.
My sister and I got our spending money
by gathering beer bottles that had been
thrown along the highway or left around
the sawmills. At first we carried the
bottles in gunny sacks and cardboard boxes
but later we found an old baby buggy
and we used that to carry our bottles in.
We took the bottles to a grocery store
and were paid a penny for small beer bottles
and two cents for large ones. On almost
any day we could be seen pushing our baby
buggy along the highway looking
for beer bottles.

from Four New Poets. Ed. Leslie Woolf Hedley.
San Francisco: Inferno Press, 1957.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Poetry Crush

Lisa Olstein is my new favorite poet. I hope I get a bunch of her books* for Christmas this year. And if I don't I'll buy 'em my own self.

Here's a sample.

That Magnificent Part the Chorus Does about Tragedy
--- Lisa Olstein

There is a theory of crying that tears are the body’s way of
releasing excess elements from the brain. There is a theory of
dreaming that each one serves to mend something torn, like
cells of new skin lining up to cover a hole. I’m not one to have
dreams about flying, but last week we were thirty feet above the
bay—this was where we went to discuss things, so that no matter
what we decided it was only we two out there, and we’d have
to fly back together. I’m not one to have dreams where animals
can speak, but last night a weeping mare I’d been told to bridle
wanted me to save her. We discussed what was left of her ability
to take children for rides—how much trot, how much canter—
but I wasn't sure I could do it, having already bridled her and
all. I was once very brave. Once I was very brave. I was very
brave once. I boarded a plane before dawn. I carried all those
heavy bags. I stayed up the whole night before folding the house
into duffel bags. I took a curl from the base of your skull and
opened the door to the rusty orange wagon and weighed those
heavy duffel bags and smiled at the airport official. I boarded
a tiny propeller plane and from a tiny window I watched you walk
back to the rusty orange station wagon. They say the whole world
is warming by imperceptible degrees. I watched the rusty orange
wagon go whizzing by.

Lisa Olstein, "That Magnificent Part the Chorus Does about Tragedy" from Radio Crackling, Radio Gone (Copper Canyon Press, 2006).

I think her re-phrasing of the sentence about being brave is brilliant. This is one to be savored.

* So she has just one published collection. That doesn't change my wish.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

100th post in 2008; Robert Creeley

Don at Issa's Untidy Hut posted a verse by Gary Snyder, whom I've always enjoyed. That sent me running to an old collection that includes some Gary Snyder poems. I had planned to call Don's Snyder and raise him a Creeley. But then I found the Creeley I was looking for and decided to stop there (for now).

Here it is, from "Contemporary American Poetry," part of the Penguin Poets series, 1962.

I Know a Man
---- Robert Creeley

As I sd to my
friend, because I am
always talking, -- John, I

sd, which was not his
name, the darkness sur-
rounds us, what

can we do against
it, or else, shall we &
why not, buy a goddamn big car,
drive, he sd, for
christ's sake, look
out where yr going.
For the 100th post on this ol' blog this year, I think the poem is somehow fitting. Especially that last warning.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Culinary Rubicon

On Sunday, I ate my very first matzo ball. I’ve had hamantaschen. I’ve enjoyed borscht and blintzes and babka and bagels with lox. I’ve had latkes and kugel. But never matzo ball soup.

Digging through a kitchen cabinet, I unearthed an old box of Manischewitz matzo ball soup mix. Don’t know where it came from. Hey, it’s a sunny but cool afternoon, not much going on – what the hell, let’s make some matzo ball soup.

It was a little salty, and I think I made the matzo balls a bit too large (didn’t realize they would plump up while boiling). Pretty good, though. Enough left over for lunch today, too.

So…cross that culinary achievement off the list!

Here's a Brautigan poem from "The Octopus Frontier" (1960).

The Winos on Potrero Hill

Alas, they get
their bottles
from a small
neighborhood store.
The old Russian
sells them port
and passes no moral
judgement. They go
and sit under
the green bushes
that grow along
the wooden stairs.
They could almost
be exotic flowers,
they drink so
What kind of wine goes with matzo ball soup?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Columnists (Part I)

Little Debbie Nutty Bars.

I do not believe I have ever eaten a Little Debbie Nutty Bar until today. They would probably be considered pixifood*, but something told me to buy a package from the vending machine today and eat them for desert.

Al Sicherman wrote a food column for the Minneapolis daily newspaper for many years. Just about every day, he would find a way to mention Little Debbie Nutty Bars in his column. I liked Sicherman’s column, which I guess was a victim of the deep cuts which have become common in the newspaper business**. Many columnists have repositioned themselves as bloggers, but not Sicherman. His columns have been collected in two volumes: “Caramel Knowledge” and “Uncle Al’s Geezer Salad.” He still contributes to the food section now and then as Mr. Tidbit, but it’s not the same.

Al Sicherman was the Mike Royko of the food beat. I hope he still enjoys the occasional Little Debbie Nutty Bar.


Review: Little Debbie Nutty Bars taste like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup that has been in your kid’s Halloween treat bag since 1994.

* Pixifood: a noun invented by Joe Posnanski. It is a food that you loved as a kid but cannot stand now that you're a grownup.

** These cuts could be termed 'paper cuts' yes?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

An Undisclosed Amount of Cash

Why is the booty from a bank robbery always described as “an undisclosed amount of cash?” Surely, the bank knows exactly how much cash was stolen. But the FBI apparently doesn’t want us to know.

A newspaper reporter I knew worked in a medium-sized town in northern Indiana. As a reporter, he felt an obligation – a burning obsession, really – to get all salient facts into the story. He wanted to know, among many other things, how much money was stolen. It drove him to distraction when the authorities (whom he naturally mistrusted anyway) wouldn’t tell him. This gnawed at him for some years until he finally decided to just make it up. Ethics aside, it worked brilliantly.

His story would be a straight ahead factual account but for one detail.

Late Monday evening, a tall man in an orange hunting vest walked into the First Regional Bank branch on 33rd Avenue and handed the teller a note. The type-written note said he had a hand grenade and would use it unless the teller emptied the cash drawer. She did and the robber ran to a waiting motorcycle, with which he made his getaway. The robber made off with approximately $5,780.00 in cash and coins. No one was injured and the money was found in a pillow case stuffed into a culvert near where the suspect
was apprehended.

Police captain John Ettinger said “Officers were able to intercept the suspect just a few miles away in River Ridge Park. He did not resist. We are thankful that the teller and customers remained calm and officers acted quickly.” Police and the FBI are continuing their investigation. No weapon has been found.

The suspect will be arraigned in federal district court Friday.

An altogether routine story. Except that the amount of stolen money is entirely fictional. My reporter friend did this repeatedly. If the FBI complained to the paper, the intrepid reporter would say he got the figure from a confidential source. The FBI had a Hobson’s choice: Give the paper the correct number or remain silent. They chose the latter, allowing our reporter to have the last word.

I am not defending the reporter – it’s probably a journalistic no-no to, you know, make stuff up. But I think it’s funny that he could stick it to the FBI. I mean, it was the FBI, the FBI led by J. Edgar Hoover! They did not like the press, and I’m sure this particular reporter made ‘em crazy.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Famous People I Have Kind Of Known

Thirty-some years ago, I read in Esquire magazine a humorous piece by Ed McClanahan entitled “Famous People I have Known.” I’d like to get my hands on that essay again, just to see if it’s as funny as I remember it being. This week, Joe Posnanski described on his blog some awkward encounters he has had with celebrities. It reminded me of the McClanahan piece. *

And of course Mr. Posnanski’s blog post touched off a flurry of comments in which his brilliant readers described their own brushes with the famous or infamous. This naturally led me to make my own list, with which I now proceed to regale you. These are not in chronological (or any logical) order.

Kevin Kline, the actor. He and I were theatre majors at IU. We were in a couple of classes and one production together – a radio play based on the Apollo I launching-pad disaster in 1967. Kline was dashing and smart and funny but not yet famous.

Jack Teagarden, the musician. His quintet played a concert in my home town when I was in high school. My mom knew the piano player from their time in the Army together, so we got to go back stage. I shook hands with Mr. Teagarden, but was more interested in meeting Barrett Deems, the drummer. Mr. Deems wasn’t too keen on meeting me.

Quincy Jones, the music legend. Jones was a judge at the Notre Dame jazz festival (1969 or so). My ticket was one of the winners in the drawing for some records, so I got to meet the pianist Billy Taylor and Quincy Jones and take home a couple of their LPs. I think those old records are still in the basement.

Jimmy Carter, the President. Carter visited St. Paul in about 1979 and took a riverboat cruise. A friend recruited me as a crowd control volunteer (she knew somebody who knew somebody in the Secret Service, I guess). Somehow, I got assigned to help check press credentials at the entrance (the companionway?) to the boat. Sam Donaldson, the reporter, just about knocked me aside as he hurried by. The President and his wife said hello (from behind a phalanx of secret service guys and reporters) as they boarded.

Rudy Giuliani, the political dilettante. I went to a conference (1982 or thereabouts) in Denver sponsored by the Department of Justice. Mr. Giuliani was at that time a high-level functionary at DOJ. He gave a very boring speech one morning. Because I was on the discussion panel for the session following his speech, we shook hands as he left the stage.

Rudy Perpich, the Governor of Minnesota. Governor Perpich signed some kind of grand proclamation related to my profession. I and about a dozen others each received a signed and sealed copy of the proclamation and each had our photo taken with the governor. I gave my picture to my mother-in-law, who had been a high-school classmate of Rudy Perpich. She thought that was pretty cool.

John Volpe, the Governor of Massachusetts. My grandmother gave Volpe some money during his campaign so she got invited to a reception at his house. She dragged her darling little grandkids along, which the Governor’s staff clearly did not appreciate.

Dave Winfield and Kirby Puckett, baseball players. At the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, my eldest son and I got to meet Mr. Winfield and Mr. Puckett. Just a handshake in an impromptu reception line, but it was pretty fun. Some years later, I was walking through the Los Angeles airport when Winfield strode past in the other direction. I waved and yelled “David!” About an hour later, I realized that Winfield was flying back to Minneapolis to attend the public memorial service at the Metrodome following Puckett’s untimely death.

Tony Oliva, baseball player. Walking along the Metrodome concourse before a game, my youngest son and I ran (almost literally) into Tony O, who must have been on his way up to the broadcast booth (Tony does commentary on the Twins’ Spanish-language broadcasts). I introduced my son and they shook hands. Tony is one of my all-time favorite players. He is such a gracious gentleman.

Tony Bouza, cop and erstwhile politician. Bouza is a minor Minnesota celebrity, having been a very colorful and entertaining chief of police in Minneapolis. He once threw me out of his office. After he retired and was running for something (governor?), we played on the same charity softball team for one game. Dude could not hit a lick.

My daddy. Ok, he’s not famous, but he’s my favorite character. He’s a very kind, very modest, very smart guy. The epitome of control and class. He rarely swore, preferring some euphemism. If another driver did something dumb, dad would mutter “you hamburger” under his breath. If one of his kids did something dumb, he might say “Judas priest!” Working on getting a stubborn bolt unbolted or hammering a nail into an especially hard board, he’d say “that thing is tougher’n whang leather!” His strongest general-use epithets were “sonofabuck” or “well...hell.”

* The interwebs are so amazing. Ed McClanahan, I learned with just a few mouse clicks, turned his essay into an autobiography with the same title. The sonofabuck even has (surprise) his own web site, where you can get free samples of his writing. He’s wobbling toward geezerhood, but some of you might enjoy his stuff.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Election Returns

This is from Richard Brautigan's "Loading Mercury with a Pitchfork." It's one in a long series entitled "Group Portrait Without The Lions (Available Light)"


Part 12

Morgan finished second in his high school
presidential election in 1931.

He never recovered from it.

After that he wasn't interested in people
any more. They couldn't be counted on.
He has been working as a night watchman
at the same factory for over thirty years now.
At midnight he walks among the silent equipment.
He pretends they are his friends and they like
him very much. They would have voted
for him

I am distressed by the public's seeming lack of trust in the recount process (in the senate race between Franken and Coleman). The law is clear, the procedures are spelled out, the responsible officials (county auditors, election judges, the Secretary of State) are for the most part not political hacks, the process is transparent (both parties have observers), and the courts provide a fallback. What's not to trust?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

ULEV and baseball

Before last week, I'd never heard of a ULEV. It stands for "Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle." Shopping for a fuel efficient car, I settled on the Honda 'Fit.' In the first week of ownership, I've used it on the regular daily short commute (25 miles round trip) and one longer drive (just over 100 miles round trip). The results: 42 and 47 MPG respectively. That's even better than expected. Fuel economy and low emissions? Nice.

I do not generally get excited about cars, viewing them as a necessary evil. This one certainly is less evil than most.


The end of the baseball season is always an uncomfortable time. For me, baseball is part of the rhythm of summer. Following the standings and my favorite team and players is a pleasant ritual. It always takes a while to adjust to the short, dark days with no box score, no game summary, no baselball blogs to check for highlights and funny stories.

Reading baseball books is one way to fill the off-season days. One of my favorites is "You Gotta Have Wa," about American ballplayer Bob Horner's experience playing in Japan. It's fascinating. I'm re-reading it in light of my new-found interest in Haiku and my son's studies on Buddhism. Look for a review soon.
In the meantime, think about spring training. I wonder if President Obama will wear his White Sox hat in the White House. I hope not, but won't get all worked up if he does.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Voting and a poem

There were long but very orderly lines at the polling place this morning. I hung out with Carl, a neighbor, who arrived just ahead of me. We talked about motorcycles as we waited in line. Carl drives a big Harley on his daily commute between here and Red Wing, which is a lovely drive most of the year. I saw lots of folks I know and hundreds I didn't. It was a pleasant way to experience direct democracy.

I'm not sure why, but the scene reminded me of this Brautigan poem, from "The Octopus Frontier" (his 2nd collection, published in 1960).

The Fever Monument

I walked across the park to the fever monument.
It was in the center of a glass square surrounded
by red flowers and fountains. The monument
was in the shape of a sea horse and the plaque read
We got hot and died.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Spare Parts Poem

Some of R. Brautigan's work feels to me like it's made of bits and pieces that he had lying around the shop.

Here is one of my own made of mostly spare parts. I say 'mostly' because I think it does have some structure and adhesion to it.

How to make autumn

Where are all these people going? Isn’t
it wonderful and amazing that there
are so many different styles of automobile?

Freedom of choice!
Choose your poison.
Put the top down.
Turn the radio up.

Do all these people really need or want
to be someplace else?
As soon as we arrive, we start planning to leave.

I'm pleased the Phillies won the World Series, though watching it on the Fox network was painful, and not just because of the nasty weather. Tim McCarver continues to make odd statements and just plain stupid observations.

For example: One of the pitchers threw two changeups in a row. Timmy described this as unusual, saying that it's OK to throw two fastballs in a row or two curveballs, but a pitcher would have to have lots of confidence to think he can throw two changeups in a row. Timmy did not explain why this is so. He simply said it, as if the truth of it were obvious to everyone. His broadcast partner did not respond in any fashion at all, which usually means his broadcast partner has realized that Timmy just laid another one. But I really do want to know why. I thirst for more baseball knowledge, and Timmy did not even try to quench my thirst!

Do any readers of this blog (this means you, Rob) have any idea why a pitcher should never throw two changeups in a row?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Save the buckthorn! (Part III)

According to the Minnesota Historical Society, the first official pheasant hunting season in Minnesota began on October 16, 1924. The ring-necked pheasant was introduced to Minnesota in about 1905. It isn’t native to these parts. In fact, the Historical Society says it was brought here from China. China!

Why aren’t environmentalists and historic preservationists falling all over themselves trying to rid the state of pheasant? Like the zebra mussel, purple loosestrife, and buckthorn, pheasant don’t belong here!

Pheasant probably pushed the native prairie chicken population from Minnesota into the Dakotas, so pheasant could be considered invasive. The species has only been here for a century or so, which is pretty recent considering that most animals began to populate this region ten thousand years ago, as the ice receded.

If you aren’t willing to eradicate pheasant, then I’m not willing to join the fight against buckthorn.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Smoke and Mirrors

There was surprisingly little smoke (and no mirror).

Helped a friend do the inaugural firing of her wood kiln last Sunday. It was fun. She had spent three hours stacking and restacking the ware before I showed up. We spent another hour assembling the lid and putting the chimney extension up through the roof of the shed. The firing itself took about 7.5 hours. I stoked and kept the logbook for about half that time. In exchange for my help, she made room for a couple of my pots.

She is a meticulous potter, and that characteristic extends to her kiln building and firing. She had planned every detail and the firing went off almost exactly as she had laid it out. The only problem was that the damper mechanism jammed up about halfway through. The mechanism involved two small rectangular pieces of kiln shelf (silicone carbide, I think) sliding through vertical openings on either side of the chimney as it came out of the back of the kiln. She had made the shelf pieces fit too well into the slots – they swelled in the heat and got stuck, so we couldn’t adjust them. Because the kiln is made of soft refractory brick, we used a length of thin metal, like a putty knife, to make the slots just a little wider. Worked fine from then on. She was very disappointed at this design problem that she felt she should have anticipated. But the whole thing – from the clever way the removable top section of the chimney stack was designed, to the simple but effective method for keeping that stack from wobbling in the stiff wind, to the extremely precise use of a secondary atmospheric damper – was so well executed, the temporary damper problem seemed to me a minor (and easily fixed) setback.

I have long wanted to build a small gas-fired kiln for my own work and this experience helped me see how challenging that will be!

My pieces turned out poorly, but that had nothing to do with the kiln or the firing. I had grabbed them off a shelf of pots that were in the not-very-good-but-worth-using-in-a-test-someday category. If there is a next time, I'll be prepared with better stock.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

New short poem


“Just get in the damn car,” he said
with a resigned sigh.
He spread his hands out slowly
and put them on top of the car.
He hung his head between his outstretched arms
and closed his eyes for a moment,
as if willing himself to be somewhere
I expected anger, so his calm unnerved me.
I hesitated.
He looked up at me and nodded once.
as if to say “OK.”
He drew in a long deep breath,
got in the car,
put on his hat,
and drove slowly away.

--- Jim Haas

Friday, October 10, 2008

Capsule Review

Saw "The View from the Bridge" last night at the Guthrie. First visit since the new building opened on the riverfront.

The building: Not good, except for the cantilevered walkway with a terrific view of the Mississippi river and downtown. The thrust stage is very nice, too, but that's because it is faithful to Rapson's design of the original Guthrie. The rest of the building is dark, stark, confusing, uninviting.

The play: Excellent. Outstanding. The acting was superb, especially Marco, whose pride was subtle and fierce. An understudy played the part of the lawyer/narrator. He was marvelous. His grief and his sense of responsibility were utterly convincing. And the script, of course, is just amazing, pulling the audience in. The plot is simple but the characters complex. You have to think.

Recommendation: Go! Enjoy! Overlook the stupid pop architecture but savor the powerful theatrical experience.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Let's Cook!

My lovely wife made a hearty beef stew earlier this week. I was going to bring some of the leftovers to work for lunch today (it tastes even better after a day or two) but forgot.

Ah, well. Just thinking about it makes me smile.

Here's a poem by Richard Brautigan from "The Pill Versus the Spring Hill Mine Disaster." For some reason, I believe it was written in the Fall.

The Garlic Meat Lady from

We're cooking dinner tonight.
I'm making a kind of Stonehenge
Marcia is helping me. You
already know the legend
of her beauty.
I've asked her to rub garlic
on the meat. She takes
each piece of meat like a lover
and rubs it gently with garlic.
I've never seen anything like this
before. Every orifice
of the meat is explored, caressed
relentlessly with garlic.
There is a passion here that would
drive a deaf saint to learn
the violin and play Beethoven at

Note to purists: I am aware that in the original, a number of these lines are indented, which gives the poem a better rhythm. For the life of me, I cannot figure out how to make Blogger recognize the indentation. I'm sorry.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A one-game season

This may sound like apostasy here in Twins Territory, but I won't be all torn up if the Twin lose tonight. They played some really crappy baseball in September (as did the White Sox), so one last loss would be fitting in a way.

I hope the Twins win. If they do, I will go to every post-season game they play at the Dumpty Dome. But...whatever happens happens.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Go, Tigers.

This strange baseball season is over. Almost. The Whine Sox and Tiggers play a makeup game this afternoon. If Detroit wins, the Twins are Central Division champs and will go to FL to play the Rays on Wednesday. The other scenario will not be discussed here unless needed.

I will express the same preference as most other Twins fans: Go, Tigers!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What is the plural of 'non sequitur?'

While we are on the subject of haiku, here is one from Richard Brautigan's collection of poems "June 30th, June 30th."

Strawberry Haiku

• • • • •
• • • • • • •
The twelve red berries


Other random stuff:

Are trees musical, or is that just some silly notion made up by effete sensitive artistic dreamy people?

The idea is that trees make a pleasing noise when the wind blows through the limbs and leaves. They creak. They rustle. And when trees or branches bend in the wind, they bend with a certain rhythm or cadence. Aspen leaves wiggle invitingly.

But rabbits wiggle and make noise, too. And mice. Does anybody wax poetic about the music of rabbits or mice? Trees have been so romanticized it’s almost not fair to other plants. Yes, sonnets and songs have been written about roses, but that’s because of their smell or their color or texture, not their sounds.

Oak = Sousa march
Aspen = polka (or American folk music)
Redwood = acid rock
Jackpine = country swing
Linden = lullabye
Locust = Bach fugue
Magnolia = New Orleans jazz
Live oak = delta blues

Listening to the black walnut trees out my back window, I hear Shostakovich. Or maybe that’s my neighbor’s 13-year-old daughter practicing, I don’t know. I’m just killing time tossing this metaphor into the breeze to see where it lands, how high it bounces, what pleasing noises it might make.

Two blocks from my office is a state highway, a major east-west route across the bottom third of the state. This week, there’s some work being done on that highway, and the detour takes traffic right past my window. There sure are lots of big trucks rumbling by. Some of them are kind of smelly, too. One especially noisy and pungent truck had these words stenciled on the door: “Midwest Byproducts.” This little town has more than its share of meat processing plants, so it’s not hard to imagine what might have been in that truck.

Pool cue handles are often made of exotic woods, as much for appearance as performance. But the shafts should be made of a simple straight-grained light wood (maple, usually) for better control and feel. Shaft and handle are the perfect marriage of function and decoration. The joint should allow a wood-on-wood connection even where the joint is some fancy brass fitting with cloisonné decoration. Ivory-butted handles are pretty, but the shaft and tip are what make a cue work. Likewise, a stock made of African rosewood doesn’t make the rifle shoot any better.

Someday, I would like to drive a pickup truck with flames painted on the side.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Playoff Atmosphere

The Twins host the White Sox tonight in the first of a three-game series. I will be unable to attend, but eldest son will be in our season ticket seats. This series is the season.

A few years ago, eldest son and I were lucky enough to be at US Cellular (New Comiskey) in Chicago when the Twins beat the White Sox to clinch the division. That was fun. During that off-season, Mark Buehrle, Sox starting pitcher, said something like, "Sure, the Twins were the division's best on paper..." Ummm, Mark? I distinctly remember the Twins winning it on the field. On your field.

Go, Twins.

[Update Sept. 24: Twins won last night. Mr. Buehrle starts for the White Sox tonight.] [Update Sept. 26: Twins won again. Buehrle pitched well, but the Twins managed to eke out the one-run win. The third game of the series is tonight. Twins win and they take a slim half-game lead in the division. It's kind of exciting!]

Friday, September 19, 2008


We’ve all heard quite enough about the infamous ‘bridge to nowhere’ in Alaska. And yesterday, the new I-35W bridge over the Mississippi in Minneapolis opened. So bridges are on my mind.

Italy has its own bridge controversy going. For decades, some folks have advocated a bridge between Sicily and the mainland (Reggio di Calabria), over the Straits of Messina. The project has been on-again, off-again while the merry-go-round that is the Italian government tries to finally decide. Silvio Berlusconi, the once and current Prime Minister, is all for it.

This would be a very costly proposition – 4.4 billion Euros, which is somewhere near 3.1 billion dollars. The bridge would be about 2.5 miles long, so that’s more than a billion per mile. Yikes! And a major fault line runs right under the proposed bridge route. The bridge would cut the crossing time in half – but that means saving all of 15 minutes!

People have been crossing that narrow strip of water in boats ever since boats were invented. The huge ferries and the hydrofoils (see photo at left) are famous. And they work quite well. I have enjoyed two crossings -- admittedly as just a wide-eyed tourist.

Bridges can be beautiful, famous, iconic. But I wonder if this isn’t just a big ego thing for Mr. Berlusconi (and a power thing for mainland interests). Pyramids are passé, and Italian prime ministers don’t build palatial libraries like ex-presidents in the USA do. So maybe a big fancy bridge with his name on it is Berlusconi’s best shot at immortality.

My biggest objection: The bridge celebrates the hegemony of the automobile at the expense of everything else – history, tradition, serenity, sanity. Sicily, like most other islands, has its own languorous pace. Please, Mr. Berlusconi, don’t wreck that.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The smiling calf

Driving home from work yesterday, I saw a calf run free. It was a beautiful day, and the calf had managed to get out of the fenced field. She was running down the side of the road – skipping, if a calf can do that – enjoying her sudden freedom. She started to cross the road in front of me. I stopped, she stopped, and the few cars behind me stopped. We waited for her to make up her mind. She turned and ran on down the side of the road.

I never knew a 500 lb animal could be frisky. I never knew a dour-faced bovine could look happy. I do hope she got home all right, where she might get a good meal and a refreshing drink. Where she could tell the others of her brief adventure.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Four haiku

Just for fun, inspired by reading some classic haiku (Basho, Issa, Buson), I wrote these.

Yellow leaves floating
on the green slow-moving river;
where will they end up?


Make the dough early;
it may take longer to rise
on this cool fall day


Parking enforcement.
Can there be a job less fun?
Yes, but very few.


In baseball and life
it’s the little things that count;
wins losses ups downs


These are not the ones submitted to Issa's Untidy Hut in response to the Basho Haiku Challenge. Those are better!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Buncha unrelated junk 'n' stuff

Issa's Untidy Hut (see link at right) is sponsoring the Basho Haiku Challenge. I've already submitted four haiku. Winner gets a poem or two published in The Lilliput Review (or at least posted on IUT blog) and a new book with the complete collection of Basho's verses. Contest runs for another couple of weeks. Join in!

Twins bullpen has been bad. The clever folks at Alright Hamilton! (see link at right) have written a blues song about the bullpen. Check it out. It begs to be recorded and played on the day the Twins are eliminated.

Every September, Northfield holds a community festival commemorating the foiled bank raid by the James-Younger gang in 1876. It's over for another year. We try to avoid the crowds but do enjoy at least one greasy meal. This year the line was so long for sish kebabs that I settled for a pulled pork sandwich with some BBQ sauce. It wasn't very good. Also in September, school resumes. So the two events -- school and The Defeat of Jesse James Days (DJJD) -- always prompt me to re-read Richard Brautigan's little gem:

The Memoirs of Jesse James
I remember all those thousands of hours
that I spent in grade school watching the clock,
waiting for recess or lunch or to go home. Waiting: for anything but school.
My teachers could easily have ridden with Jesse James
for all the time they stole from me.

Primary elections were held today. The secretary of state predicted that about 15% of eligible voters will show up at the polls today, which I gather is about normal for a primary. But in Northfield, seven candidates are running for mayor. After today's primary, the two biggest vote-getters will sqaure off in the general election. The race has garnered quite a bit of interest locally for a variety of reasons.

The incumbent is running even though he was locked out of his city hall office by the city council (they can't fire him) and was found by an independent investigator to have acted improperly by trying to get the city to locate a new municipal liquor store on property owned by his son.

Anther candidate is a city council member who nearly lost his city council seat because he moved out of his district. "Moved out" is a charitable way to put it. He was evicted for not paying rent, which is the third time that has happened to him in recent years.

Another is a former mayor who did a good job the first time around. This time, one of his ideas is to give the city council the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test. He might be kidding. I hope he's kidding.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Original Maverick

James Garner was the original Maverick, not John McCain.

My dad thinks we may be related to Sarah Palin. His mom's sister (my great aunt) married a guy named Palin. The sisters grew up in Bristol, IN, which as everyone has learned this week is also the name of one of Governor Palin's daughters. I haven't researched it yet, but if it turns out that we are related, I still probably won't vote for her.

Sorry, Guvnah.

Here's a Brautigan poem from "Rommel Drives on Deep into Egypt." For me, it captures the mood coming out of St. Paul this week.

Feasting and Drinking Went on Far into the Night

Feasting and drinking went on far into the night
but in the end we went home alone to console ourselves
which seems to be what so many things are all about
like the branches of a tree just after the wind
stops blowing.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Haiku education

"The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa" by Robert Hass, The Ecco Press 1994.

An attractive feature of many poetic forms like the sonnet or the haiku is structure. The writer's challenge is to be true to the form (lines, syllables, meter) and be original at the same time.

I always shied from the challenge, retreating (if you will) to free verse.

Now, reading Hass' history of the Haiku form, I discover that the rules we were taught in high school (17 syllables divided into 3 lines [5/7/5]) aren't really a big part of the haiku at all. What a liberating revelation!

Hass says that the important characteristics of Haiku are (aside from the three-line form) a reference to time or season, personalization (that is, the subject is something the writer experiences directly and in the present), and a sense that the observation is both simple and connected to something more. Humor is also frequent, though not required.

Hass* was the verse translator for this volume and there are some essays translated by others.

My favorite by Basho:

A cicada shell;
It sang itself
utterly away.

The cicadas are putting on a concert in my yard as I write this, four centuries after Basho wrote those words.


*My dad's name is Robert Haas. Not the same guy.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Ale Contest is Over

The winner is: Bell's Amber Ale from Comstock, Michigan. (Cheers, huzzahs, confetti, fireworks, medals, tearful speeches about sacrifice and persistence and loyalty, endorsement deals...)

2nd place: Fat Tire from Fort Collins, Colorado

Honorable mention:
Summit Extra Pale Ale, St. Paul
Sierra Nevada Anniversary Ale and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Chico, CA
Boulevard Ale, Kansas City
Schell's Pale Ale, New Ulm, MN
Goose Island Hex Nut Brown Ale, Chicago
James Page Burly Brown Ale, Stevens Point, Wisconsin
Full Sail Ale, Hood River, Oregon
Bell's Oberon Ale, Comstock, Michigan
Avalanche Ale, Breckenridge Brewing Co., Colorado

Note: These results have not been certified. They could change tomorrow.

Monday, August 25, 2008

We are So Green!

I make fun of environmentalists, mostly because zealots of any stripe bug me. But in many small ways we do try to act responsibly toward the air and water and soil.

For example:

Washed the car on the lawn and not the driveway. I don't wash the car very often, but this summer the water is going into the grass and not the gutter.

Got a rain barrel. For watering our comically small garden and the lovely flowers my wife planted by the front door, the rain barrel works great.

Burned E-85. Yes there is tremendous controversy about whether ethanol production is good or bad for the environment, but one thing is clear: burning it in your car instead of gasoline produces fewer emissions. Here's hoping that some other fiber will replace corn as the main source of ethanol.

Hung laundry outside to dry. Some suburbs have outlawed this practice. Do it anyway.

Recycled trash. We've always been faithful recyclers. This summer, the county where we live finally switched to a 'single-sort' system so we no longer have to have separate containers for cardboard, paper, metal, glass, and plastic. Single-sort makes it a lot easier for us, a little cheaper for the hauler, and a little cheaper for the county recycling facility. I'm told recycling participation may double with the new system. That's a good thing, isn't it?

Recycled printer cartridges. Some businesses hereabouts have put in ink-jet cartridge recycling boxes, making it more convenient to get rid of these.

Recycled furniture. I was all for hauling a bunch of used furniture from our basement to the dump. How we accumulated all this is a closely-guarded family secret. Suffice it to say that the basement is chock full of tables and chairs and couches and dressers that we will never use. My wife (who is more tolerant, caring, and frugal than I) found somebody to give it to. Hooray!

Used hand tools. My neighbor loves power tools. He attacks his driveway with a huge snow blower in the winter and a whiny, smoke-spewing leaf blower in the fall. He's on a military mission and has the ordnance to support it. We could have borrowed one of his chain saws, but I just handed my son a bow saw and sent him into the trees to trim the deadwood.

Took the Megabus. Mass transportation! For the masses!

Re-used packaging. We sold a bunch of textbooks via Marketplace. Reselling textbooks is an ancient recycling ritual in college towns, but we also re-used packing material that I had saved.

These ten little things make me feel better even though they probably don't mean a damned thing in the grand sweep of history.

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Little Bit Famous

Walter Trout
(considered by some to be
among the best blues guitarists ever).

My sister lives in Indiana, not far from Indianapolis. Her son (my nephew) plays in a band there. Last week, we were comparing the local music scenes of the Twin Cities and Indianapolis. She mentioned that Duke Tumatoe is still playing bars in and around Indianapolis. Wow, I said, that guy’s getting kind of old. I remember Duke Tumatoe and the All-Star Frogs from 30 years ago, when I lived in Champaign, IL and he had frequent gigs there.

I compared him to Walter Trout as a “second tier” artist – someone very very good but who never quite hit the big time. Walter Trout is bigger in Europe than in his native USA.

Yesterday, I picked up a Shannon Curfman CD at the library. She made a big splash a few years ago (her “Loud Guitars, Big Suspicions” CD was recorded in Minneapolis in 1999) and then disappeared – at least from my limited radar. She’s good – mean blues guitar, pretty good songwriter, very good singer. So how come she’s not a star? She’s still doing lots of gigs – summer blues festivals in the Midwest, some bar shows, the national anthem at an upcoming Vikings game – but she doesn’t draw like Cheryl Crow or even Lucy Kaplanski.

Is music a meritocracy (George Will is fond of saying that baseball is almost a pure meritocracy)?

Check out Ms. Curfman or Walter Trout or Duke Tumatoe and see if you can figure out why they aren’t on the radio every day.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Mowing the grass

My dad loved mowing.
And his sidewalk and driveway were
always cleared of snow edge to edge
even if that meant shoveling several times a day.

He didn’t do this out of a sense of obligation
or to show up the neighbors
or because he was obsessively neat.


He found pleasure in a simple task well done.

Splitting firewood
Tuning an engine
Harvesting strawberries just before the peak of ripeness
Mowing the grass


Monday, August 18, 2008

Transporting Yourself To Another Place

Imagining myself somewhere else is easy. I do it quite a bit.
Getting myself to some distant place in the real world is sometimes difficult and unpleasant. Not as bad as the guy in the Odyssey or Captain Queeg or those wonderful folks about whom Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote. We aren't in the dust bowl or the depression or the Long March. But getting from Minneapolis to Indianapolis is still a challenge. My advice: Don't take the Megabus. Or if you do, preparation is the key, and that includes adopting the right mind-set.

First, the good things about Megabus:

It's cheap.
It's easy to book reservations.
It's very inexpensive.
It's fairly quick -- not quicker than flying of course, but not much slower than driving.
It's less expensive than any conventional alternative (hitchhiking might be cheaper but too risky and walking or riding a bicycle too slow).
It's pretty cheap.
The drivers were nice. (One driver's choice of radio stations differed significantly from my own, which was only a problem for us because we happened to be sitting in the front row, directly behind the driver).


The schedules may be just an approximation or an average. By the time we reached our destination (admittedly a long trip), we were an hour late. Given the performance of airlines and railroads, that ain't bad. It ain't good, either, so it belongs on the minus side of the ledger.
No cancellations, no refunds, and they mean it.
No air conditioning. (On one bus, the driver announced that the AC wasn't working very well. He explained by saying "It's an old bus.")
No stations. Changing buses in Chicago, passengers stand outside Union Station. It was a beautiful day. I wouldn't want to be stuck there in a thunderstorm or snowstorm. Of course, not having stations is a very good way to keep costs down, and low cost is precisely the appeal of Megabus service. Just be prepared to stand outside in any weather.

Overall: Very good for short hauls (for example: Minneapolis to Madison; Madison to Chicago; Indy to Cincy). Not great for long hauls.

Here's a poem by Franz Wright that features bus travel. The last line "I don't have to be anywhere" could become the marketing slogan for Megabus.

Franz Wright
You do look a little ill.

But we can do something about that, now.

Can’t we.

The fact is you’re a shocking wreck.

Do you hear me.

You aren’t all alone.

And you could use some help today, packing in the
dark, boarding buses north, putting the seat back and
grinning with terror flowing over your legs through
your fingers and hair . . .

I was always waiting, always here.

Know anyone else who can say that.

My advice to you is think of her for what she is:
one more name cut in the scar of your tongue.

What was it you said, “To rather be harmed than
harm, is not abject.”


Can we be leaving now.

We like bus trips, remember. Together

we could watch these winter fields slip past, and
never care again,

think of it.

I don’t have to be anywhere.

Franz Wright, “Alcohol” from Ill Lit: Selected and New Poems. Copyright © 1998 by Franz Wright. Reprinted with the permission of Oberlin College Press.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

In the Garden and on the Megabus

We have begun to harvest a few tomatoes and peppers and herbs from our excruciatingly modest garden. I would enjoy having a big, bountiful garden, but my skills, I fear, are not equal to the task. This poem captures my hesitancy perfectly:

The Definition of Gardening
by James Tate

Jim just loves to garden, yes he does.
He likes nothing better than to put on
his little overalls and his straw hat.
He says, "Let's go get those tools, Jim."
But then doubt begins to set in.
He says, "What is a garden, anyway?"
And thoughts about a "modernistic" garden
begin to trouble him, eat away at his resolve.
He stands in the driveway a long time.
"Horticulture is a groping in the dark
into the obscure and unfamiliar,
kneeling before a disinterested secret,
slapping it, punching it like a Chinese puzzle,
birdbrained, babbling gibberish, dig and
destroy, pull out and apply salt,
hoe and spray, before it spreads, burn roots,
where not desired, with gloved hands, poisonous,
the self-sacrifice of it, the self-love,
into the interior, thunderclap, excruciating,
through the nose, the earsplitting necrology
of it, the withering, shriveling,
the handy hose holder and Persian insect powder
and smut fungi, the enemies of the iris,
wireworms are worse than their parents,
there is no way out, flowers as big as heads,
pock-marked, disfigured, blinking insolently
at me, the me who so loves to garden
because it prevents the heaving of the ground
and the untimely death of porch furniture,
and dark, murky days in a large city
and the dream home under a permanent storm
is also a factor to keep in mind."

James Tate, "The Definition of Gardening" from Shroud of the Gnome. Copyright © 1997 by James Tate.

Eldest son and I will be on the road this weekend, adding to our ballpark life lists. We'll be in Cincinnati to see the Reds play the Cardinals. A pretty meaningless game for the home team, but the Cards are still in it, so that should be fun.

We are taking the Megabus, which is cheap and doesn't take much more time than driving. It could be horrible or pleasant or somewhere in between. We'll let you know. This blog will most likely be silent until we get back home next week.

Monday, August 11, 2008


Little Nicky Punto
after his third
strikeout Sunday in
Kansas City

A few days ago, I wrote about how Nick Punto has improved this year. He's no longer the worst hitter in the league, as he was in 2007. That distinction now belongs to Tony Pena, Jr. of the Kansas City Royals. A .148 batting average for a major leaguer? You can't even see the Mendoza line from there. Yesterday in Kansas City, Nick Punto had a terrible game, looking lost at the plate. And Tony Pena, Jr.? He came off the bench to deliver two key hits in the Royals' extra-inning victory over the pathetic-looking Twins.

You just never know.

The Twins certainly don't seem to enjoy being in first place because every time they climb into first, they very quickly fall back again.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sunday indecison (more or less)

A beautiful day in the upper midwest. How to spend it?


In the basement clay studio, mixing some colored slips to use on a new batch of slab trays and vases.
The weather is just too nice to be in the basement. I'll hang the laundry out to dry in the sun and breeze.

In the yard, planting some more grass in that big bare spot where the stately spruces once stood.
Did that yesterday. Gotta take it easy today.

Watching the Olympics on TV.
The opening ceremony was certainly impressive, but....nah.

Watching an amateur baseball game in which eldest son is a pitcher.
That would work except I don't have a car or a bike today (long story).

Watching the Twins play the Royals on TV.
Yeah, maybe. But Bert Blyleven shouldn't be an announcer "at the major league level."

Finalizing a blog entry about a couple of odd grants from the Department of the Interior.
Yes! With footnotes!

These two grant announcements appeared recently on I’m sure the good folks at the Department of the Interior think I’m picking on them. (Yeah, like they read this blog.) I may well be, but that’s only because these projects raise so many questions. Plus I’m bored.* And cranky.**

Department of the Interior
Bureau of Land Management
Wyoming Honor Farm Wild Horse Care & Training Agreement
Modification 1

The only other honor farm I’d heard of was on the flanks of the Mauna Loa volcano on the Big Island. The Kulani Honor Camp was for inmates who’d earned their way into this minimum security facility by behaving themselves in one of the other Hawai’i prisons. Inmates at Kulani spent their days raising crops and making things out of the rare native koa wood. I still prize my beautiful large koa bowl made by some anonymous but talented soul at Kulani. ***

The honor farm referenced in the DOI grant announcement is probably not a prison. “Wild Horse care” is an oxymoron. If they have to be cared for by humans, they aren’t wild any more. The announcement also refers to training, but it’s not clear whether the training is for people to learn how to take care of wild horses, or for the horses themselves. Training regular horses how to be wild? Training wild horses how to be even wilder? Training wild horses how to be less wild?

I guess I’m just having trouble understanding what’s so unique about wild horses that they are entitled to some special care. Aren’t they an invasive species, having been introduced to this continent by Europeans?**** Aren’t we trying to rid ourselves of invasive species?

Why, yes, we are.

Department of the Interior
Bureau of Land Management
Noxious & Invasive Plant Control in Sheridan County, WY
Modification 2

Interesting tidbit: A road in Sheridan County is named Wild Horse Road. I wonder what entitles one county to get federal help to control weeds when most counties (even those where weeds might actually be a problem for local famers or ranchers or parks or natural areas or wildlife habitat or my front yard) are on their own. Earmarks?

* Boredom may be the worst motive for writing, but I’ll bet that many a famous poem or novel sprang from such humble roots.

** It says so right in my Blogger ™ profile.

*** The camp is now known as the Kulani Correctional Facility and houses sex offenders.

**** One source says that an equine ancestor did roam North America but went extinct eons ago. Horses didn’t come back to the continent until Spanish explorers brought them along in the 16th century. These were, of course, entirely domesticated animals.

I love footnotes. And the Twins' game is only an inning old!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

R. Brautigan, E. Webster, and S. Stover

Here are three little shards of poems from the book "The Edna Webster Collection of Undiscovered Writings" [Houghton-Mifflin 1999]. Though the book was published posthumously, it contains Brautigan's earliest work, which he had given to a friend (Edna) in Washington when he was about 20 years old, just before heading off to San Francisco.



is something.
is like,
a piece
of apple pie.

Nature Lover, or Something

I am
not particular.

I like whatever
the sky happens
to be doing at the time.

profound saying 4

People who
live in glass
have Chihuahuas
instead of

That last one reminds me of Smokey Stover, a cartoon strip my parents liked. One of Smokey's trademarks was taking aphorisms or phrases and making them slightly nonsensical. These often appeared in framed needlepoint on the wall of his house. One was "People who live in glass houses should foo in the barn." Another: "Notary Sojac." Smokey drove a fire truck. The license plate on the truck sometimes read "FOO E 2 U." My parents thought that was hilarious, which may explain some things.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Redemption of Little Nicky Punto

Nick Punto hit a homer last night – his 2nd this year – though the Twins later gave the game away. If Bat-Girl were still writing her hilarious blog, she would have had the tiny super hero flying around the bases in a cape. Bat-Girl loved Little Nicky Punto.

I wrote about Punto last year, calling him the worst 3rd baseman in the league and wondering why Mr. Gardenhire gave Mr. Punto so much playing time. This year, Punto hasn’t played much at third, but has gotten lots of playing time at second base and short stop, especially after Alexi Casilla went down with a finger injury.

Has Punto, long known as a good defender but very poor batter, improved this year? Well, yes, it appears so. I looked at a few stats that purport to measure offense and, compared to the Punto of 2007, Little Nicky has stepped up his game. I looked at the two Puntos (07 and 08) and eight other American League middle infielders. I chose these because I didn’t want to spend the time looking at every single AL player who’s seen regular duty at second base or shortstop this year. That’s too much work and I think the point can be made with just a sampling.

The eight other players are:
Pedroia (Bosox)
Lugo (Bosox)
Cabrera (Chisox)
Ramirez (Chisox)
Carroll (Cleve)
Peralta (Cleve)
T. Pena, Jr. (KC)
Grudz (KC)

Batting average: Punto is batting .285 so far, which ranks him 4th in this group. The ’07 Punto would be 9th. (Pedroia is hitting .317).

Slugging %: Punto’s is .424, also placing him 4th in this group. Last year’s version would rank 9th.

OPS+: Punto’s tied for 2nd in this group at 107 (with Peralta and Ramirez), behind Pedroia at 112. Last year’s OPS+ would put Punto 9th.

Looking at just these few indicators, I’d say Punto has gone from a dismal offensive force to an acceptable one. And the homers? Well, he’s already hit twice as many as he hit in 2007!

Joe Posnanski has written about how bad Tony Pena, Jr. (known around Kansas City as TPJ) is for the Royals. I looked at these ten players, and in every category that matters, the ’07 Punto is ninth and Pena is tenth. TPJ is the only one on this list with an OPS+ on the negative side of zero.

But TPJ can pitch!

Monday, August 4, 2008

First place

My son and I were at the Dome Sunday to watch the Twins at last climb precariously into first place. I've written about this before -- how tenuous the hold on first can be. The glow may last a day or a week or until the end of September. Let's enjoy it.

Welcome back, Francisco. So long, Livan.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Two short poems

In honor of Minnesota's sesquicentennial and the 150th post (!) on this here blog, here are two short poems.

In an authentic drawl

“I should have been a country record producer,” he said

between puffs on his cigarette. It was a familiar

lament, and I responded as I usually do.

“Why is that, Dad?”

“Because I know that when you resort to strings,

you’re either desperate or dead.”

I nodded.


Kabuki Circus

The circus came and went.

A one-night stand in a nondescript town.

The advance publicity consisted entirely of

posters nailed to telephone poles.

The trucks arrived in the morning,

the tent went up in the afternoon,

and by midnight the lot was empty.


I recently subscribed to The Lilliput Review, a poetry journal produced only in print (quaint) and featuring poems no longer than ten lines. These two poems meet that simple criterion, though I'm reluctant to submit them. Never done that before.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Adventures in the Big City

We got a late start because of my wife’s work-related obligation, which was supposed to have included dinner, but the food didn’t come.

On the way out of town, there was a slow train blocking the crossing so we had to take a little detour. That’s one disadvantage of living in a small town – a single long train can cut the town in half like a giant ax.

The place we normally park near the Dome was full, and the alternate place was, too, so we ended up in a big parking ramp a few blocks from the Dome. At least it was cheap.

The plaza outside the Dome was packed – student night, dollar-a-dog night, and a battle for first place in the division had brought the crowds out. That’s OK. Big crowds are exciting and can pump up the home team, eh? Before we even got to our seats, Livan “El Principe” Hernandez had given up a solo home run to Carlos Quentin. A sense of foreboding was building.

A few rows from us, the obligatory drunken, foul-mouthed fan was in full throat and had lost all entertainment value by the third inning. He finally got escorted out in about the seventh inning.

The fan right behind us regaled everyone within earshot with her opinions of A.J. Peirzinski’s new hairdo. She didn’t like it.

Livan was relieved by Boof and Boof pitched well until he was visited on the mound by the pitching coach. The next batter hit a two-out, bases-clearing double. I may just be imagining it, but that sequence seems to happen a lot. Pitcher gets in jam, Anderson has brief talk with pitcher, pitcher promptly gives up big hit or walk. Somebody should be analyzing this. We need a new stat called RAPCV – Results After Pitching Coach Visit. So Boof’s trade value went from ‘not much’ to ‘near nothing’ in about five minutes.

The Twins did make a few nice plays. And we got to see Bobby Jenks pitch with a seven run lead. How often has that happened?

We didn’t eat or drink anything at the Dome because it was too crowded to stand in line at the concession stands and everything is so damned expensive anyway. Even with the losing and the loudmouths and the hunger, the game was still kind of fun. Almost caught a foul ball.

The parking ramp was jammed. Long lines of people at the pay station, longer lines of cars snaking up all six levels. We decided not to waste time or gas sitting around in a parking ramp, so we went next door to get a bite to eat and wait for the traffic to clear. The bar wasn’t too crowded and the waitress took our order right away and they were selling tap beer two-for-one with our Twins ticket stub. But the kitchen was closed so all they could offer my starving wife was a bowl of pretzels. The waitress seemed to disappear for the longest time, and when she returned she said that they were out of the beer we’d ordered. OK, so we are still thirsty but we aren’t in a huge hurry. The substitute beer took forever to arrive and it was served in tiny plastic cups. Very classy. Even at two for one, it was no bargain.

A big section of the highway going south out of downtown was closed, so our route home included a leisurely tour through the streets of south Minneapolis, where my wife grew up. We decided to take Portland all they way down to 66th, then take 66th west to the freeway. At the intersection of Portland and 66th, we encountered a brand-new roundabout, still under construction. I hate roundabouts. But by then it was late and there wasn’t any traffic, so no big deal. I would certainly avoid that intersection during rush hour, though.

Glad to be home.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Six things (or, nostalgia is curable)

Three cool things I didn’t have as a kid:

Postage stamps. OK, we had stamps. I’m not THAT old. But the kind you peel and stick instead of lick and stick? Those are a brilliant innovation.

Window clings. The elegantly simple use of static electricity instead of messy adhesives. Nice. These came in quite handy when daughter changed college affiliations three times in less than three years (accepted at Simmons, then decided at the last minute to go to the U of M, then transferred to Occidental* after her freshman year.) Also handy when selling a car.

Refrigerator containers. My mom had a world-class collection of Tupperware. She had to go to these lame-ass parties to get it. And it was expensive. But if you had leftovers (and for my mother, leftovers were treated like sacraments), you had Tupperware. It was apparently the only game in town. Now, the plethora of cheap plastic containers is amazing. Every shape, size, color. We are truly blessed.

Three not so cool things I didn’t have as a kid:

Roundabouts. Sometimes called traffic circles, these suddenly seem to be the darlings of traffic engineers. I have driven on roundabouts in the eastern US and in Europe, so I know they’ve been in use for a very long time, but here in the great middle west, the plains states, where we have bad winters and worse drivers, roundabouts just don’t work very well. Traffic experts like them because they enable a more or less continuous flow of traffic, but I think that’s exactly the problem. At least when cars stop at a four-way stop, they can’t bang into other cars while they are stopped.

Check engine lights. There are two ways to interpret the signal from a check engine light. 1. “EMERGENCY! STOP RIGHT NOW AND CALL A TOW TRUCK! ONE MORE MILE AND I BLOW UP!” or 2. “Hey, buddy, how’s it going? Y’know, there might be some little issue with your car. Maybe the catalytic converter only has, like, 3,500 miles left? Or it could be somebody didn’t screw the gas cap in tightly enough. I don’t know. You might want to get that checked out sometime. Or not.” The worst kind is the intermittent kind. PANIC! Don’t worry. HELP! Never mind. OH MY GOD! It’s okay, really.

Free shipping. Who are they kidding? We all pay for shipping.

* On the Occidental College bookstore web site, the window cling that says simply "Occidental College" in block letters is described as a "rear window strip." Does it not work on the side windows? I know it's not a good idea to put it on the front window. It could be distracting, especially if the driver is approaching a roundabout with the check engine light on.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

How to grow dwarf peppers

Buy regular pepper plant sprouts early in the spring.
Green, yellow, red.

Buy a bunch of tomato plants, too.
Roma, cherry, Big Boy.

Plant the pepper plants very close to the tomato plants.
A few inches, a foot at most.


The tomato plants will grow large and bushy.
They will hog the light, forcing the pepper plants to cower and cringe.
The resulting peppers will be undernourished, puny, shrunken.

We haven't picked any yet, so we don't know if they will be all the sweeter for having suffered so, or bitter. But they are kind of cute.


Here is one of Brautigan's earliest published poems, from the series printed on seed packets and bound together as "Please Plant This Book."

Shasta Daisy
I pray that in thirty-two years
passing that flowers and vegetables
will water the Twenty-First Cent-
ury with their voices telling that
they were once a book turned by
loving hands into life.

Friday, July 25, 2008


Here's a video of Brazilian percussionist Kiko Freitas playing on a song called "Vento Bravo" with the group Nosso Trio. Kiko's solo begins at about the 5:30 mark. Be patient -- it's worth it.


I especially like how he changes his left hand grip seamlessly. The glasses remind me of Joe Morello.

Something Else That's Been Bugging Me

New link on the right side: Issa's Untidy Hut, which is a sister blog of the Lilliput Review. I added it mostly because its proprietor recently posted a short clip of a movie featuring Richard Brautigan and two of my other favorite writers: Jim Harrison and Tom McGuane. At one time, these guys were the backbone of the Montana literary Mafia. Check it out.

A new video from Drummers World will be posted here this weekend. A fantastic Latin/Fusion drum solo from a young man in Brazil who reminds me of Joe Morello. I just gotta get to the right computer to make the 'embed video' feature work.

The Twins start a three-game series in Cleveland tonight at the regressively-named Progressive Field. Jacobs Field was a nice name and lent itself to a clever diminutive form: "The Jake." What kind of nickname can be fashioned from Progressive Field? "The Prof?" "The Pro?" Don't bother.

If you happen to be in or around Northfield on election day this November, don't forget to stop by a polling place (there are many to choose from) and write in Brendon Etter's name for mayor. His write-in campaign is off to a rousing start, with dozens of slogans, a lawsuit or two, intriguing proposals, and preemptive apologies. Local politics have been quite entertaining in recent years, but not in a good way. Etter's candidacy changes that.