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.