Tuesday, April 29, 2008

All the President's Men

I've mentioned before on this blog how much I enjoy "Big League Poets" by Mikhail Horowitz. Mr. Horowitz also contributes to Elysian Fields Quarterly, which bills itself as a baseball literary magazine. He constructs rosters with a theme. Here's one of my own fantasy rosters, using players who are named for or have the same last name as one of our country's presidents.

First the lineup, then the commentary.

All the Presidents, Man

1b Brian “Buck” Buchanan
2b Woodrow Wilson Williams
SS U.L. Washington
3b John Kennedy
C Gary Carter

RF Lew Ford
CF Trot Nixon (Christopher Trotman Nixon)
LF Joseph Jefferson Jackson

SP Grover Cleveland Alexander
RP Franklin Delano Roosevelt Wieand
DH Reggie Jackson
PH Randy Bush

Brian “Buck” Buchanan (1b): It's a stretch (so to speak) to put him at first base, because he was primarily an outfielder and DH. But he did appear at 1b in 43 of his 213 big league games, most likely not as a late-inning defensive substitution. He played for the Twins for a while and it always pained me to watch him run.

Woodrow Wilson Williams (2b): 1938 through 1945. Woody Williams made over 1,300 plate appearances, mostly for Cincinnati.

U.L. Washington (ss): Man, I liked U.L. Partly for his name, but mostly for that toothpick.

John Kennedy (3b): 1962 to 1974. Over 2,000 plate appearances for six teams in both leagues, including the short-lived Seattle Pilots. He was playing the year his presidential namesake was shot.

Gary Carter (c): Carter was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003. Jimmy Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize the year before.

Lew Ford (RF): Leeewww!

Trot Nixon (CF): When Nixon ranges over into right field and almost bumps into Ford, he can say "pardon me."

Joseph Jefferson Jackson (LF): You might know him better as Shoeless Joe.

Grover Cleveland Alexander (SP): Not only named for a president, but for an emperor, too.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Wieand (RP): This gentleman with the complete presidential appellation pitched a grand total of 6.3 innings in the majors, all in relief.

Reggie Jackson (DH): If he had been running for President, he'd be called Mr. November.

Randy Bush (PH): How'd you like to be known as a great bench player? Bush was said to be one of the best pinch hitters in the game, and it may be true.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

On the way to work...

So the Twins bats kind of came alive against Texas in the first two games of that series. Morneau hit a grand slam (and they still lost) , Cuddyer came back from the DL to hit a three-run blast. Delmon Young got a couple of RBI. Then they fell asleep again in the third game. Gonna be a long year.

These are the kinds of things I think about on the way to work. Also...

Rice County, where I live and work, has some interesting contrasts: suburban sprawl, quaint small towns, and the predominant still-rural feel. Some mornings, on my short drive through the countryside to work, I will see very few other cars. That's nice.

Other things I've seen on the drive to work:

Bald eagles
Blue herons
Red-tailed hawks
White egrets
Wild turkeys
Ring-necked pheasant
Barn swallows
Raccoons (mostly carrion)
Cats 'n' dogs
Squirrels (black, brown, red)
Horses (domesticated, including some massive Belgian draft horses)
Burros *
Turtles (sunning themselves on a big rock in an oxbow off the Cannon River)
Green algae
A rusted-out Jeepster
Several barns and sheds that are slowly succumbing to gravity

All in all, it's a pleasant drive, even in winter.

* I can understand why people around here raise horses, even when those horses aren't intended for work or racing. But burros?
** On the first truly beautiful spring day this year, I was watching a gentleman in a Mazda Miata, top down, zipping along the country road, enjoying the sun and scenery. About half way home, we drove along Pork Chop Ridge, so named because it is occupied by a large hog-raising operation. The smell was overpowering. Ah, springtime!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Twins hitting: Oxymoron?

The Twins have three of the greatest hitters in franchise history to help out during spring training -- Tony Oliva, Rod Carew, and Harmon Killebrew. Yet the team struggles to get on base and struggles even more to score runs. What's the deal here? Yeah, it's still only April, and Cuddyer's been on the DL. Morneau and Mauer are notoriously slow starters. But...damn!

I had in mind a longer post, comparing the Twins to their central division rivals in all the offensive statistical categories, but then I decided it's not worth the energy it takes to do that. Maybe Joe Vavra can do that when he's not screwing up Delmon Young's swing, or whoever Bill Smith has as his gopher can run the numbers. Or maybe Aaron Gleeman, who's pretty damn good with those stats, can (or has) put them up on his blog.

This team is going to be fun to watch because of the new faces (Gomez, Tolbert, young Mr. Young) but hard to watch because they'll hover around .500 all year, which is just painful for fans like me. They won't be lovable losers or surprise winners, they'll just be mediocre. Ah, well, it's still baseball and we still have decent seats (in the Dome, those are hard to come by).

And the guys at Allright Hamilton! are still pretty funny.

C'est la baseball.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Big Houses

Over at Rob Hardy's Rough Draft, there has been some discussion of so-called McMansions -- huge new houses on the edge of town that seem ostentatious, super-sized for no good reason, and mismatched with the landscape.

My grandmother owned an eight-bedroom brick house on Buzzard's Bay. Every bedroom had its own bath. There were servant's quarters on the third floor, a butler's pantry, a sun room, a large formal dining room, a long porch overlooking the bay. It had a detached four-stall garage with a two-bedroom apartment above it. To complete the picture, it had a circular driveway. (For some reason, the driveway was the one feature that, for me, distinguished the place as a mansion and not just a big house.) In the picture of Sias Point, you can see the house on that large lot near the top left (the copyright mark is on the north border of the property). When my grandparents lived there, the pointy part of Sias Point was empty because the houses had all been destroyed by a hurricane.

My family made the long drive from Indiana to "the Cape" every summer when I was growing up. We very much enjoyed the house and the beach. My grandma and her hubby (step-grandpa) didn't own a boat, didn't swim, didn't fish. They bought the house for several interesting reasons.

My step-grandpa was a wealthy businessman and wanted a house to match his economic and social stature. He was a little like the character played by Anthony Hopkins in "Meet Joe Black." His peers all owned houses on or near the Cape.

My grandparents had grown up poor, she in a rough neighborhood of Baltimore, he near the shipyards of Maryland's Eastern Shore. They liked the house because it represented a prize for a lifetime of hard work and persistence, though Grandma was also slightly embarrassed by it, reminding her grandkids often that life was not about money and big houses.

And the house was a bargain (relatively) because it had been abandoned after a hurricane. My grandparents bought it and fixed it up, partly with their own hands. A smart investment.

As my father would say, I feel very strongly both ways.

On the one hand, people who can afford such houses (old money, new money, whatever) should build them or buy them if they want to. Just because I can't (or won't) doesn't mean they shouldn't. You work hard, get through med school, pay off the student loans, save up for a few years, set aside money for the kids' college fund, and build a big house. It's the American dream, people!

On the other hand are all the arguments about waste and the environment and the yawning chasm between rich and poor. Oh, yes, it would be so nice if those rich folk would give away more of their money and live modestly among the rest of us. They really should, shouldn't they? Or we can pine for an economic structure that spreads rewards in a more equitable way. Why is a doctor's skill so much more valuable than, say, a highway engineer or a high school teacher?

Well, friends, I do not know the answer. Which reminds me of a poem by Richard Brautigan (from "All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace.")

Let's Voyage into the New American House

There are doors
that want to be free
from their hinges to
fly with perfect clouds.

There are windows
that want to be
released from their
frames to run with
the deer through
back country meadows.

There are walls
that want to prowl
with the mountains
through the early
morning dusk.

There are floors
that want to digest
their furniture into
flowers and trees.

There are roofs
that want to travel
gracefully with
the stars through
circles of darkness.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Volume Pig: A review

The St. Olaf percussion ensemble held its spring recital last night. I've written about this group before. This year, their final number was "Volume Pig," which they also did a couple years ago. It's a great piece of music with a little performance art thrown in. The composer is Gareth Farr, a New Zealander with an impressive if strange resume. Read about him here and here.

"Volume Pig" was inspired by a rare breed of feral pig found in New Zealand which is said to stun its prey with a series of very loud screams and squeals and grunts. Last night's audience was warned first by Dave Hagedorn, the St. Olaf percussion teacher (who read us some old program notes about the pig), and second by the student conductor for this piece, Levi Comstock, who took the podium and very pointedly inserted foam plugs in his ears.

My ears did not hurt, but my face muscles were sore from smiling broadly throughout the piece. The student musicians, of whom I stand in awe, were working very hard (as the piece demands) but clearly having a ball.

Man, that was fun!

Monday, April 14, 2008

April is still national poetry month

Greg Luce, of Enchilada's Blog, wrote about two challenges issued by somebody for the month of April. One was to write a poem a day. The other is to take the last line of a favorite poem and use it as the first line of a new poem. Greg did that quite well on his blog.

Here is my own vain attempt:


It looks like a cracked Egyptian tablecloth,
hanging from the line all by itself.
It’s been there ever since I moved in a block or so down the street.

It’s there every morning when I walk to the bus stop and there again (or still) every evening.
It could be from the reign of Psusennes, last king of the 21st Egyptian Empire, washed and hung by his beautiful daughter Maatkare.
Except that it hangs in a non-descript neighborhood in an anonymous suburb, not in the anteroom of a pyramid or crypt.

It’s like a rock or a treestump, except that some human made it
and some other human hung it out there to dry. Or die.
Somebody simply moved away, I guess, and left this thing (a sheet, a curtain, whatever it is) behind.

As I sit on my front step on a warm evening, I can hear it, luffing and snapping in the breeze. I strain to understand these sounds.

Guess where the first line came from. Prize: Two tickets to the off-Broadway revival of LeRoi Jones' "The Toilet."

Friday, April 11, 2008

Nice pots, I think

Here are three new pots that came out of the kiln last week, part of a load of about 15 pots. Most of them will end up in the Northfield Arts Guild shop. Some of these were partially glazed using the most inexpensive spray tool ever invented -- a little aluminum mouth sprayer that I'm told has been used in the far east for centuries.* I just bought one at Continental Clay in Minneapolis. It's cool!

* Yes, I know aluminum hasn't been around for centuries. The ancient Japanese and Chinese potters made them out of something else.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

I'll grant you that (part II)

Here are three announcements posted on the Grants.gov site recently.

Department of the Interior
Bureau of Reclamation, Great Plains Region
Measuring In-Situ Denitrification in Both the Native Groundwater and a Tracer Test in the Tile Drainage System of the Oakes Test Area in Southeastern North Dakota

Department of the Interior
Bureau of Land Management
Shared Cadastral Information System, Alaska

National Endowment for the Humanities
Institutes for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities

I know nothing about these things. I do enjoy the way they sound, though – I mean, denitrification is just fun to say! And it’s also fun (kind of like that game Balderdash) to speculate, theorize, guess, or make up stuff about these topics. I’m also reminded of Bill Proxmire, the late senator from Wisconsin, who used to give out his golden fleece awards for pointless and expensive government projects. Not that any of these fit that description. But they might.

Let’s start with digital humanities. “Digital humanities” seems like an advanced topic all by itself, yet the NEH will pay somebody to run institutes on advanced topics (plural) in digital humanities. I confess, I’m having trouble imagining what a digital humanity might be. If I write a poem and post it on a blog (there’s an idea for someone!), am I engaging in a digital humanity? If so, where’s my grant money?

And what about cadastral information systems (shared, no less)? OK, I had to look that one up. Turns out that cadastral surveying is an ancient profession. Mssrs. Mason and Dixon and Thomas Jefferson were among its practitioners. It is a particular kind of land survey designed to establish ownership boundaries – where my land stops and yours starts. In a place like Alaska, that’s especially important, because the federal government owns huge chunks of that state and sometimes private or corporate landowners covet the federal land and will invest great sums to dispute the boundaries. Without a definitive cadastral survey, you could have a...cadastrophe. Reminds me of the story told by H. Allen Smith about the Texas rancher who was accused of being a land grabber. He said, “Nope, I only want the land that adjoins mine.”

Denitrification. I wish I could find a way to work that word into an ordinary conversation. I guess having nitrites or nitrates in ground water isn’t a good thing, so figuring out how to get rid of them is a worthy pursuit, and doing it in Southeastern North Dakota (which borders Northeastern South Dakota) is as good a place as any to start. It’s an interesting landscape. And, apropos of nothing, there’s a little town there with the perfect name: Minor.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

April is National Poetry Month

Song lyrics don't always come off well as poetry. But I have become so fond of (or obsessed with) a song by The Skeletons that I have memorized it and practiced reciting it as a poem. (You do NOT want me to sing.)

Thinking about using it as an audition piece for an upcoming Arts Guild play.

Does this work as a poem?
I Ain't Lyin'

The Isrealis built a toll road
between the West Bank and Gaza.
The Palestinians won the contract
to run the half-way plaza.
Now Arab girls and Isreali boys
are walking hand in hand.
Now I think I'm beginning to see
what they meant by The Promised Land.

I've seen you in the papers lately,
been watching you on the news.
Sometimes you get panned,
but mostly rave reviews.
At least they don't ignore you.
But remember all those ups and downs.
It won't be long till your new heroes
all start looking like clowns.

On the other hand, you know I'd never blame someone
for something they didn't do.
You shouldn't count on them
if they don't count on you.
A deal is just a deal
and here's a word to the wise:
You ain't never gonna tell the truth
til you live down all those lies.

Listen to me...
It's nice...
I ain't lyin'...

I'll tell you about this guy we knew
who thought he'd figured it out.
He said time is just a concept,
and he was gonna sit it out.
He sat down by the sewer on Wednesday
and on Thursday he died.
And at the coroner's inquest,
they called it a sewercide
(but he was a joker).

Not like this other guy
who thought he was so wise.
He spent his whole life making A's
in things you can't criticize.
Like motherhood and highway safety, the deficit.
And he may be right.
But to date his proudest accomplishment
is having been

That was recorded in 1997 on an album produced by Hightone Records. Some people say The Skeletons were the best bar band in America. I'm not sure what that means, but I sure like the way they do this song.