Monday, February 25, 2008

Objectivists and On-Base Percentage

George Oppen was a contemporary of Carl Rakosi. They were part of a loose confederation of poets in the middle of the 20th century who called themselves Objectivists.

Gregory Luce, a.k.a Enchilada, had a post on his blog about Oppen. It’s funny; Oppen was published by, among other imprints, Black Sparrow Press. I have a shelf of Black Sparrow books**, including a volume of Rakosi’s poems, but until Luce mentioned Oppen, I had never read anything by him.

With Luce’s gentle prodding, I tracked down Oppen’s last published collection (Primitive, Black Sparrow Press, 1978). It’s on inter-library loan from the Minneapolis Central Library, so I have to read it quickly (no renewals!), which is a challenge. For me, his stuff isn’t readily approachable. One of the Objectivist principles is the primacy of structure. I have needed some extra time to decipher the structure in some of his work and to see how it affects the meaning and tone of the poem. (Oh god, this is sounding like a sophomore English assignment.)

So, it is serious business, reading George Oppen. But he was a serious guy. He even stopped writing poems for a decade or so because he wanted to effect radical political change and did not think poetry could advance that cause. (Apostate!)

At the same time as I’m trying to appreciate Oppen’s work, Major League Baseball started spring training. Now there’s an interesting juxtaposition. Spring training is not serious business. There’s as much horseplay, goofing around, and golf as there is working on the game. I like spring training for just that combination of work and play, of seriousness and silliness, and of course the optimism (usually unjustified) that infuses every camp. I tried to imagine what George Oppen would write if he left his dour world view behind for a day or two and hung out at spring training.

First, a short example of Oppen’s work. This from Primitive:

Waking Who Knows

the great open

doors of the tall

buildings and the grid

of the streets the seed

is a place the stone
is a place mind

will burn the world down alone
and transparent

will burn the world down tho the starlight is
part of ourselves



So, let’s go from images of the apocalypse to, say, Fort Myers, where the Twins are enjoying the rigors (rigors?) of spring training. This is my presumptuous attempt to turn George Oppen into Donald Hall.

Covering First

pitchers practice fielding
the bunt

trying to decide whether to cover
first or first to
toss that little toss to

the first baseman
has to make sure the
runner will

step on the bag not the foot

these men laugh and sweat
runs run
hard to first

but do not do anything

old coach pitches
batting practice
he’s smoking

a cigar

* Black Sparrow published, among many others, Joyce Carol Oates, Charles Bukowski, Sherril Jaffe, and Ed Dorn.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Where to Live (or not)

This is the 100th post!** It is longer than normal, has more pictures, has more links, and is certainly not as literate or funny as some previous posts. So be it. Is there some protocol or tradition for celebrating the 100th post? I think I'll try one of the bottle-fermented French Canadian ales my wife gave me.

Ed, chief mechanic, driver, navigator, and music director of The Old Blue Bus, may be moving from his long-time home in Virginia. He's travelled a lot and lived in many different places, so it is a bit presumptuous of me to jump in with advice or information. Rob Hardy also had some recent posts about legendary sandwiches he has eaten in far-flung places, which reminded me of Tommy's subs in Columbus, where I lived for a few years. I miss Tommy's. So Ed and Rob got me to thinkin' -- what is it about a place (in addition to sandwiches) that would make one choose to live there?

So, here are thumbnail sketches of everywhere I've lived as an adult and why I would or wouldn't want to live there again.

Elkhart, Indiana: Aack. The small town of my youth has turned into a smelly thicket of marginal industries, poverty, and congestion. I tend not to like zoning laws or city planners or similar means of telling other people what they can or cannot do on their own property, but Elkhart is a damning example of unregulated, too-rapid, helter-skelter growth. It is just plain ugly. The photo on the left is the courts building where I used to work. Inspiring, yes?

You can still get great pizza at the Vesuvius restaurant, and parts of the St. Joseph river above the dam are still lovely. The Bonneyville Mill park in Bristol is a treat. But the pizza, the park, and the river cannot overcome the utter dreariness of the rest of the city.

Preference rating for Elkhart: 0 out of 5

Bloomington, Indiana: Meh. I recently visited the campus of my alma mater (IUB, as it's sometimes known) and was struck by the way cars have taken over. Obviously, the campus (even with all those damned cars) is one of Bloomington's assets. The photo on the left is the IU auditorium with the Showalter fountain in front. A very nice focal point for the campus.

Another attractive feature is the hilly, forested countryside surrounding the town. The glaciers stopped short (the furthest southern advance was where Martinsville is now, just north of Bloomington), so the landscape of southern Indiana wasn't scraped flat. The woods and streams and lakes (even the man-made Lake Monroe) are beautiful.

I was the drummer in a crummy rock band that played at bars and VFW clubs in the little towns around Bloomington: Linton, Loogootee, Oolitic, Bedford. That was fun. The legendary bar - Nick's - is still operating. It's right around the corner from the place where Hoagy Charmichael wrote his most famous tunes. Interesting clash of cultures -- the rarefied academic air of the big IU campus vs. the tough, self-reliant limestone workers. I think there was a movie about that.

Preference rating for Bloomington: 3 out of 5

South Bend, Indiana: If you are a college football fan, this is the place. You've got the College Football Hall of Fame and of course the legendary Notre Dame stadium (see photo). If you are not a college football fan, don't give South Bend a second thought as a place to live. It's OK, but if you have the luxury of choosing just about anywhere, this town shouldn't make the short list.

Peter Theodosius was the program director in the St. Joe County jail when I was a grant writer and erstwhile administrator in the probation department. We became friends. Peter's dad ran a bakery a few blocks from the courthouse, so Peter would show up many mornings with some delectable snacks, and we would often wander down to the bakery for an afternoon break -- coffee and Greek pastry. Mmmmm... Peter died of leukemia the year after I left South Bend. He was about 28 years old. That was hard.

And there's the Studebaker museum, which at one time displayed a picture of my great grandfather, George Milburn. He worked at a rival company -- The Milburn Wagon Works -- which was founded by his uncle, also named George Milburn. The owner's daughter Anna (my grandpa's niece) married into the Studebaker family. Milburn sold his wagon business to Studebaker and moved to Toledo, where he built a large automobile factory and made electric cars with some success in the early part of the 20th century.

Preference rating for South Bend: 2.5 of 5

Champaign, Illinois: God, it's flat! The plains can be quite beautiful, but I only recall the howling relentless winter winds and the unrelieved landscape. Damn, people, where are the mountains (or even just a few hills to break up the monotony)? Where are the lakes, the streams, the woods? Why in bloody hell did somebody choose to put the state's big land grant college here?

There was a little bar on Green Street that used to feature fish sandwiches for lunch on Fridays. The proprietors would cover the pool tables with plywood, set out the mayo, mustard, and tartar sauce, and do a very brisk and noisy business. Word was that the fish fillets were tank-raised catfish from Louisiana, which put some people off, but I liked 'em!

The only other highlight I can think of is Assembly Hall, where the Illini play their home basketball games. I'm not a big college hoops fan, but the building is architecturally unique. It's made of two huge cement bowls, one inverted on the other. Where they meet, the lateral forces are contained by heavy steel cable wound around the circumference. It's a brilliantly simple way to hold up the roof, making internal supports unnecessary. The effect is striking, both inside and out. How come more arenas aren't built this way?

Preference rating for Champaign: 2.5 of 5

Columbus, Ohio: I liked living in Columbus. Tommy's pizza and subs, a little bagel place called "Easy Living," the Clippers minor league ballpark, German Village, Marzetti's Studio 35 Cinema.

Every city should have a Studio 35. An old movie theatre playing first-run, second-run, independent, and foreign films. The unique twist is a little bar/restaurant in the back. One can get a beer and a burger, sit in a booth, and watch the movie through a plate glass window separating the restaurant from the theatre proper. Brilliant idea! I lived just blocks from Studio 35 and considered myself fortunate.

And the countryside around Columbus is attractive -- the Hocking Hills and some reservoirs on the Olentangy and Scioto rivers are great in summer and fall.

Preference rating for Columbus: 4 of 5

St. Paul, Minnesota: I lived briefly on the East Side, which had a bad reputation. At the time, Payne Avenue was known for its seedy bars, strip joints, and porn shops. The big draw was a place called The Payne Reliever, which drew crowds, but not the kind of crowds the Chamber of Commerce prefers. Payne Avenue and the rest of the East Side have undergone something of a transformation. That's good, I guess.

St. Paul really is a lovely, lively city, having pushed itself hard to shine as brightly as its cross-river rival, Minneapolis. But you can have the fancy hockey arena, the glitzy science museum, and the classic state capitol building. I'd live in St. Paul for just two reasons: Cossetta Italian deli and the Ordway Theatre. The Ordway, pictured above, is on Rice Park, which is surrounded by beautiful buildings -- Landmark Center (the old federal courts building), the venerable St. Paul Hotel, and the main public library. These buildings make Rice Park one of the prettiest urban settings I've seen.

Preference rating for St. Paul: 4 of 5

Minneapolis, Minnesota: No two ways about it, I like Minneapolis. I liked living there and working there and I like to hang out there. I like the stuff I'm supposed to like -- the Guthrie Theatre, the Minneapolis Instutute of Arts, the Walker, the Weisman, the fantastic lakes and the parkway linking them together. The river. I like to prowl the skyway system. I like the distinct neighborhoods. I like the public transit system, which is even better now than when I lived there.

And there are some hidden gems in Minneapolis that make it even more interesting. Ted Cook's 19th hole barbecue joint reminds me of the famous tiny rib places near the University of Chicago or in Berkely. Good stuff cheap. The International Design Center -- a pretentious name for a furniture store -- has beautiful, high-quality stuff and reasonable prices. The public golf courses are excellent. Stub and Herbs deli. The Northern Clay Center. The Electric Fetus record store. The annual summer Fringe Festival is a lot of fun.

And of course, to top it all off, the Twins will open the 2010 season in a new downtown ballpark.

Ok, that's probably enough for you to get the idea. Yeah, there's that annoying thing called winter, but even so, Minneapolis tops my list.

Preference rating for Minneapolis: 4.75 of 5

Northfield, Minnesota: Nice little college town just 35 miles from Minneapolis/St. Paul. What could be better? All the charm and ease of a small town with ready access to the delights of the Twin Cities. It's nice. People are nice. The hidden gem is probably Chapati, the excellent Indian restaurant, which one would not expect to find in a little town. City planners have made some bad decisions in recent decades, resulting in a proliferation of cheap suburban-style development, including a commercial strip on the south edge of town that is painfully bleak. Makes me sad.

Still, it's a nice little town, which reminds me of the opening lines of a Greg Brown song, Speed Trap Boogie:

It's a nice little town
It's a clean little town
It's a nice little, clean little, happy little, friendly little
town for miles around.

Preference rating for Northfield: 4.5 of 5


** Blogger's counting mechanisms are contradictory. According to the archives on the right sidebar, this is the 97th post. But according to the counter in the "manage posts" section of Blogger, the one before this was number 99 and this one is number 99. I haven't conducted a manual count because I don't care. This is post number 100.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Fidel, meet Livan

Sign Fidel!

The Twins have a penchant for signing over-the-hill pitchers. Fidel would be a great clubhouse guy and could keep Gardy supplied with the finest cigars. Just don't put his locker next to that other old new guy from Cuba.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Facts: Retention of

Uno: The human trachea is lined with pseudostratified superciliated columnar epithelium with goblet cells. This I learned from Dr. Rafalko in introductory human anatomy, circa 1967. I believe it was Dr. Rafalko's single favorite anatomical fact. He stressed over and over that this would be a test question. Why the quirky professor attached such importance to this arcane fact is still a mystery to me.

Superciliated means that even the cilia have cilia!

Dos: In the decade before construction of the Brooklyn Bridge began, Brooklyn was the fastest growing city in the US of A -- adding about 130,000 residents between 1860 and 1870. This fact was included in the entertaining but somewhat annoying spiel of a tour guide. My youngest son and I had come to New York mostly to see a game at legendary Yankee Stadium. The next day, before heading to Philadelphia, we took a little tour of Manhattan, from Central Park to the Battery to the Staten Island Ferry to the Brooklyn Bridge. Out of the roughly four hours of almost non-stop patter by our guide (who was from Queens), I remember almost nothing except the population growth of Brooklyn. Inexplicable.

Tres: John Prine once upon a time cast himself as a rebellious, outlaw-type singer-songwriter. The refrain of his song "Illegal Smile," about smokin' dope, goes "Won't you please tell the man I didn't kill anyone, I'm just tryin' to have me some fun." That was back in the early 1970's. I don't think he has that edge any more.

On a 1975 album called Common Sense, Prine recorded "Come Back To Us Barbara Lewis (Hare Krishna Beauregard)." I memorized the lyrics to that song and can recite them today. In the intervening decades, I have memorized dozens, maybe hundreds, of songs -- for a while. But these have faded or gotten jumbled. Why is it that this stupid song of Prine's is fixed so well in my addled brain? Strange.

Quatro: "Impact" makes a lousy verb. OK, so that's an opinion and not strictly speaking a fact. It's my blog, so I can include an opnion in a post that is concerned with facts. Can't I?

Anyway, to make an obvious but no less interesting point: memory is a tricky thing, made even more slippery because the line between fact and opinion isn't always clear. Just ask Roger Clemens.

Here's a poem by Richard Brautigan that touches on this phenomenon. From "Lay the Marble Tea"

Hansel and Gretel

I have always wanted to write a poem about Hansel
and Gretel going through the forest, leaving behind
them pieces of apple pie to form sort of a bridge between
dream and reality, and being followed by those gentle
birds that embrace both illusions like violins eating
pieces of apple pie.



Saturday, February 16, 2008

Lee Mellon, meet Ferris Buelller

Next to Trout Fishing in America, I think A Confederate General from Big Sur is probably Brautigan's best-known book. Lee Mellon is the title character. Brautigan casts himself as Jesse, the narrator and a friend of Lee Mellon's.

I'm trying to figure out why I like Lee Mellon. He does some mean things (in one of the early chapters, he assaults and robs a stranger who is giving him a ride); he is perpetually desperate for sex (preferably with a prostitute); and he just isn't very smart sometimes (wasting their last bullet in an ill-concieved attempt at shooting a rabbit to be roasted for dinner).

The engaging side of Lee Mellon is that he is the most cockeyed of optimists, a grinning grandiose spinner of yarns and teller of lies. In one gin-soaked afternoon, he and an acquaintance build a rickety, dangerous, dirt-floored, low-ceilinged hut which barely clings to a seaside bluff in Big Sur. Mellon, inviting Jesse to join him there, describes the place as a virtual paradise. Jesse has just broken up with Cynthia and is in a funk. Mellon writes from Big Sur:

"Cheer up, smarts! You've still got old Lee Mellon and a cabin waiting for you down here at Big Sur. A good cabin. It's on a cliff high over the Pacific. It has a stove and three glass walls. You can lie in bed in the morning and watch the sea otters making it. Very educational. It's the greatest place in the world."
And, after another morose reply from Jesse:

"I've got a garden that grows all year round! A 30:30 Winchester for deer, a .22 for rabbits and quail. I've got some fishing tackle and The Journal of Albion Moonlight. We can make it OK. What do you want, a fur-lined box of Kleenex to absorb the sour of your true love Cynthia, the Ketchikan and/or Battle Mountain cookie? Come to the party and hurry down to Big Sur and don't forget to bring some whiskey. I need whiskey!"
And Mellon loves to needle his buddy Jesse in a good-natured way, which sometimes exhasperates Jesse but usually just draws a bemused grin. Near the end of the book, Mellon suggests that he and Jesse and their new girlfriends hike down to the ocean, get a little high, and watch the waves.

"I like the way [the waves] crack like eggs against the grand grill of North America. You like that, huh? You're supposed to be literary."

Mellon is also protective and solicitous of a character named Roy Earle, who pops up unexpectedly and is a mess of paranoia, hyperactvity, and hallucination. In one episode, Roy Earle starts a fire at the Big Sur encampment, whch Jesse and and Lee struggle to put out. Jesse says, "I thought Lee Mellon was going to slug him, but all Lee Mellon did was tell him to sit down and cover his eyes with his hands." Mellon and Earle are kindred spirits in a way, so Mellon just knows how to calm Roy Earle down. "He's a nut, so you just have to treat him like a nut." For the rest of that evening, Jesse addresses Lee Mellon as "Dr. Jung."

Lee Mellon is the kind of character Brautigan clearly admires. Untroubled, crazy-like-a-fox, lazy, hipster doofus. Mellon brags about reading "The Russians" but unlike many of Brautigan's contemporaries, he actually has.

Mellon was the Ferris Bueller of the 1960's. Self-absorbed, charismatic, zany, and a true friend.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Eve of Spring Training

Barak Obama is selling change. We Twins fans are having change -- on a fairly large scale -- forced upon us. And in a fairly short time.

Consider: The following players are featured in the Twins official 2008 calendar. We got one in November (less than three months ago) as part of a plea for us to renew our partial season-ticket package.

October 2007 Torii Hunter Gone. He's a highly paid member of the Angels Who Play in the Greater Los Angeles Metropolitan Area. I think he'll flourish on the coast.

November 2007 Carlos Silva Gone.

December 2007 Jason Kubel At least KOOOOOBS! is still with us. His outfield play reminds me of Brian Buchanan. Good thing Koobs is better at the plate.

January 2008 Boof Bonser The slimmed-down BOOOOF! has to prove himself as a starter or he'll spend lots of time playing flippy cup in the bullpen.

February 2008 Jason Bartlett Gone. I will not miss this guy.

March 2008 Michael Cuddyer Solid fielder, good hitter, articulate, got that gentlemanly southern twang. AL outfield assist leader in 2008.

April 2008 Joe Nathan Twitchy McXanax!

May 2008 Johan Santana Gone. Bright lights, big city, absurd salary. He'll feast on NL hitters.

June 2008 Mike Redmond Red Dog! The quintessential backup catcher and clubhouse zany.

July 2008 Justin Morneau Our new seats are out in right field. I think we'll get a few long foul balls our way when Morneau gets in front of a curve ball. I hope many more will be bouncing off the football pressbox.

August 2008 Pat Neshek With today's acquisition of Livan Hernandez, Neshek will have a tough time breaking into the starting rotation. I like him as a middle-to-late reliever.

September 2008 Joe Mauer He seemed distracted or tired last year. Prediction: he will eat up central division pitching in 2008 and maybe add some power.

October 2008 Scott Baker The pitcher with the greatest anagrammed name of all: Rocket Bats! [credit to the clever fellows at Pulling a Blyleven] Somehow, he is is expected to anchor the rotation. Yikes!

November 2008 Francisco Liriano Returning from elbow surgery. Huge question mark.

December 2008 Matt Guerrier Ummmm...I confess I had to look him up to know whether he's even still with the team. He is. He has pitched 248 big league innings in four seasons (the equivalent of 27.5 games) and has only 11 decisions (3W, 8L) and 3 saves. Is this guy a middle reliever or what?

So. That's fifteen players chosen by the club to be on the official calendar. Of those, four aren't with the club. I guess that's not a huge change, except when you realize that three of those four were pretty important to this club.

It should be fun. Hell, baseball is always fun! And part of the fun is that rosters always change. Here's to change.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Equatorial Thoughts #2: Sao Tome & Principe

This is is one of 13 countries around the globe through which the equator passes, which makes it a fit subject for those of us endurinng yet another blast of arctic air.

It's kind of a remarkable story. A tiny African nation – in fact, the smallest – with a colonial past like many others. The Portuguese ruled here for centuries, creating cocao and coffee plantations overseen by Portuguese masters and worked by slaves snared on the African mainland. Missionaries converted them to Christianity. A long sordid chapter, the effects of which are still felt throughout Africa.

The population of Sao Tome and Principe (about 157,000*) includes descendants of all these groups – slaves, slave-owners, missionaries, merchants, revolutionaries. Even on these tiny volcanic islands off the coast of Gabon, there are no fewer than eight political parties.

Independence from Portugal was achieved in 1975 and self-rule has been evolving since, including a failed attempt at Marxist government. The current constitution was adopted in 1990. A couple of coup attempts have been mounted, but bloodshed and violence were avoided through international mediation. Imagine that.

With all those strains of a difficult history and a youthful and sometimes fragile democracy, the Sao Tomeans have managed to remain at peace with each other, which is more than can be said for many of its neighbors.

Before the latest elections in July 2006, the country even had its own version of Carol Molnau.** Maria Silveira was head of the country’s central bank and held the positions of Prime Minister and Finance Minister all at the same time! That’s efficient! So far as I can tell, she’s still head of the central bank of Sao Tome and Principe (has been since 1999).

You can fly from Lisbon to Sao Tome for 750 Euros and stay at the Miramar Hotel (which appears to be the sole hotel on either island) for between 112 and 150 Euros a night. The hotel bar is the Graziano (probably not named for the famed prize fighter).

The name of the hotel reminded me of the following poem by Ed Dorn (from "Hello La Jolla"):

Suppertime Down South

The ceaseless jets of Miramar
Make their planar way to the Islands
They scatter the bones of the pygmy mammoth
It is some remote substitute for blood they seek
They are a niusance of zipping mosquitoes.

They are on their exhuberant bombing runs
That is their work, a craft long disused
And they are under the gladsome,
Old-fashioned control of their pilots
Who, it is related, get very high and crazy
On the shocking hits of acceleration
And then return to the ground somewhere
Around suppertime, shout a lot,
And lift drinks to it in the officers' club.

Dorn's Miramar is aMarine Corps Air Station near San Diego, and I believe his Islands are a few small ones off the southern California coast which at one time were in fact used for target practice. Quite a contrast to the peaceful islands of Sao Tome and Principe.

* About the same as the metropolitan statistical area surrounding Waterloo and Cedar Falls, Iowa.
** For those not from Minnesota, Carol Molnau is our Lt. Governor and also serves as the Commissioner of Transportation. Initially, I thought it was a good move on the Governor's part. Lt. Govs usually don't do much, Ms. Molnau had served for years on legislative committees focused on transporatation, and it would save a little money. Well, Ms. Molnau has had a rocky tenure, punctuated rather emphatically by the collapse of the I-35 bridge last summer.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


Rob Hardy, writer of beautiful and compelling essays, said a couple days ago that he was bored with convalescence. Judging from his latest Rough Draft blog post, he's getting past the boredom. But it reminded me -- as do so many things -- of a Brautigan poem.

This is for you, Rob, from the collection "June 30th, June 30th" (1977, 1978 Dell Publishing):

Things to Do on a Boring Tokyo Night in a Hotel

1. Have dinner by yourself.
That’s always a lot of fun.

2. Wander aimlessly around the hotel.
This is a huge hotel, so there’s lots of space
to wander aimlessly around.

3. Go up and down the elevator for no reason
at all.
The people going up are going to their rooms.
I’m not.
The people going down are going out.
I’m not.

4. I seriously think about the house phone
and calling my room 3003 and letting it ring
for a very long time. Then wondering where
I’m at and when I will return. Should I leave
a message at the desk saying that when I return
I should call myself?

Please note that the format of this poem is not exacly faithful to the original, which I think is important. I have fooeld around with various Word file formats, some html mumbo-jumbo, many unsavory imprecations directed at Blogger. Still can't get it right, for which I apologize.

Bing bored in a hotel in a far-off land is better than being bored in a hospital. If one has to be bored, I guess being bored at home is the best option.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Weekend miscellany

Atonement (Ian McEwan): I just finished the book, which I thought confounding at first -- because the narrative jumped decades in a couple of spots and seemed to avoid the promised confrontations or resolutions, with the reader left to fill in the missing events. But on reflection, I liked that technique because it hooked the reader into seriously considering what the characters most likely did. I haven't seen the movie and am not sure I want to. I'm almost always disappointed in the movie if I've read the book.

My assignment: I was asked by my daughter, a junior history major at Occidental, to help in her search for paid summer internships. She asked me to look up opportunities at some large PR/marketing firms. That was a revealing exercise. Most of these multi-national PR "consultancies" I'd never heard of, but their client list is impressive -- outfits like the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the World Bank, and just about every Fortune 500 company. Karin is a talented writer and sound thinker, but I'm not sure she could use those skills in the service of some company or product she didn't believe in. If you know anyone in the PR/communications/marketing business who could use a sharp PAID summer intern, let me know!

The presidential campaign: Senator Obama did extremely well in the Minnesota caucuses. My daughter is firmly in the Obama camp, mostly because of his charisma, but also because he spent his first two undergraduate years at Occidental and they still claim him as their own. I like Obama, but it's as much an anti-Clinton feeling on my part. George Will is salivating at the prospect of a Clinton nomination because he believes she is beatable. (And Mr. Will doesn't much like John McCain, either.)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Return to Richard

This blog started life in the middle of 2007 with the idea that the writing of Richard Brautigan should be shared and could be the jumping-off point for a variety of musings and idle speculation and reflection and some other nonsense.

It's been a while since Brautigan's work has shown up here. That's a shame. Here's one from "The Pill Versus the Spring Hill Mine Disaster:"

Kafka's Hat

With the rain falling
surgically against the roof,
I ate a dish of ice cream
that looked like Kafka's hat.

It was a dish of ice cream
tasting like an operating table
with the patient staring
up at the ceiling.

This is one of many in which it appears Mr. Brautigan is just reaching a little far. Seriously, what would an operating table taste like? Sometimes his poems feel like a sculpture made of random junk welded together: a rusted car bumper, an ice auger, an old tractor seat, and clock gears.

Ice cream, Kafka, operating room, rain.

It's like one of those scenes in a Marx brothers film in which the brothers engage in some peice of physical funny-business that has nothing whatsoever to do with the plot (thin as it is). Still funny, though, and in their quirky way these Brautigan constructions are still fun to read.

Another in that same vien, this from "Rommel Drives on Deep into Egypt:"

Propelled by Portals Whose Only Shame

Propelled by portals whose only shame
is a zeppelin's shadow crossing a field
of burning bathtubs,
I ask myself: There must be more to life
than this?

It's like an imrov comedy troupe drawing random words and phrases from a hat and building a funny sketch incorporating them. Sometimes it works, sometimes its just silliness. You decide.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Equatorial Thoughts #1: Kiribati

Earth's equator, that imaginary line around the planet's midriff, passes through 13 countries (or 14 depending on whether you count Sao Tome and Principe as one or two). Given how cold it's been where I live, I've been fantasizing about the kinds of places that are consistently, predictably warm. Those countries through which the equator passes are a good place to start.

Here they are, with 2008 population projections:
  1. Ecuador [13,835,076]

  2. Colombia [44,459,803]

  3. Brazil [192,047,523]

  4. Sao Tome & Principe [157,847]

  5. Gabon [1,725,105]

  6. Republic of the Congo [3,702,311]

  7. Democratic Republic of the Congo [64,105,984]

  8. Uganda [29,395,836]

  9. Kenya [35,112,181]

  10. Somalia [12,692,376]

  11. Maldives [308,797]

  12. Indonesia [227,070,492]

  13. Kiribati [97,031]

So 624,710,262 people can visit the equator without having to go to another country. That seems like a lot of folks, although it is a miniscule percentage of the 6.6 billion humans who call Earth home.

What can we extract from this simple list? Are there interesting, amazing, astonishing, quirky, revealing facts to be gleaned? Are there nuggets here which could be battered or crafted into trenchant or dazzling commentary on the state of the world or the long reach of history? Well, let's hope so -- otherwise why am I bothering to write or you to read?


Kiribati: The only country on this entire planet which straddles both the equator and the international date line! To be honest, I had never heard of Kiribati. It's composed of three chains of islands and atolls north of Samoa -- the Gilbert Islands, the Line Islands, and the Phoenix Islands. Remarkably, both my father and father-in-law have been there, but it wasn't known as Kiribati then. Their visits were during WWII, when both were stationed in the Pacific and Christmas Island was a staging area used by US troops. Christmas Island is now known as Kiritimati Island.

Oh, Kiribati! (pronounced kee-ree-bosh). Split asunder in so many ways: hemispherically, temporally, linguistically (the native language is I-Kiribati -- a.k.a. Gilbertese -- but the official language is English) and physically (there are 33 separate atolls, though only a dozen or so are inhabited). Yet since achieving independence from the UK in 1979, they have managed to construct a peaceful republic, unlike so many of the countries on the equatorial list.

I wonder if any Kiribatians commute to work across the international date line? "Hey, boss, can I have Thursday off?" "Sorry, pal, it IS Thursday."

I also assume that line dancing originated in the Line Islands.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Bloggy News, February Edition

1: Albedo - This sounds like a guy who may have played shortstop for the old Brooklyn Dodgers or like something related to one's libido. But it has to do with earth's ability to absorb or reflect the sun's energy. I learned about it from an eclectic new blog written by a student at Occidental College. She writes well about all sorts of stuff, so please check out the new link on the right sidebar called "K. Haas Does the Interweb."

2: Predicting the Future - Because I will be confined to my home for a few weeks and because I can't pursue my usual hobby of collecting and preserving discarded plastic soda bottles and caps that have been run over by cars*, I will be free to inflict upon you far more frequent blog entries. Hooray. Among other things, Im working on a profile of countries through which the equator runs. Might even dig up a few more Brautigan** poems to enliven things.

You have been warned...

* And you thought I did pottery!
** Remember him?