Fran Landesman and the Sad Songs of Spring

 

“When the hounds of spring are on winter’s traces,” wrote Swinburne, “The mother of months in meadow or plain/Fills the shadows and windy places/With lisp of leaves and ripple of rain”? And who are you or I to gainsay that sentiment, however loaded it may be with hissing sibilants and fricking frickatives?

But those lines, depicted tongue-in-cheek by James Thurber, give no hint of an answer to a more troubling question that arises this time of year: Why are the best of songs about spring–sad?


Swinburne: “Konked,” as Lou Rawls would say, “to the bone.”

 

It’s that time of year. In spring, we ought to be happy; winter is over, and spring, so long longed for, is here. Perhaps the much-awaited fulfillment of a fervent wish is bound to disappoint.

In spring, as e.e. cummings put it,

when the world is mud-
luscious the little lame baloonman whistles far and wee.

A “little lame balloon man”–pretty sad, if you ask me, but you didn’t.

When we sing of spring, we tend–unless we’re idiots humming “Here Comes Peter Cottontail”–to sing sadly.


Fran Landesman

 

Like “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most”–lyrics by Fran Landesman, music by Tommy Wolf.

It is the anti-spring song, one for those who once threw their hearts away each spring, but who now say a “spring romance hasn’t got a chance.”

Here is a fine version by Ella Fitzgerald. Landesman has the look of a woman for whom lines of regret such as

Spring this year has got me feeling
like a horse that never left the post.
I lie in my room staring up at the ceiling.
Spring can really hang you up the most

were more than an exercise in poesy; someone who was a lot of fun, but who may have waited for some calls that never came as men chose other leggier, prettier girls for–as Cleveland Amory said of a young man from Boston backed by a long-winded reference–breeding purposes. She was called “the Dorothy Parker of jazz,” and many assumed (including me) that she’d been disappointed in love because of her acerbic lyrics.


Ella Fitzgerald

 

That view, as it turns out, couldn’t have been more wrong. Landesman was happily married for six decades to her husband Jay, publisher of the beat journal Neurotica, and yet he allowed her a wide latitude in romantic affairs. While there’s no registry or clerk’s office in which to record extramarital acts and deeds, it is widely assumed that Landesman was a lover to, among others, both Jack Kerouac, whom she called the handsomest man she ever met, and Lenny Bruce, who proposed to her. “Let’s you and me go on the road,” Bruce wrote to her, “and send Jay a little money every month.”

She described her relationship with her husband in the poem “Semi-Detached”:

We each have a side that’s as free as the air,
And people don’t see the side that we share.
Our set-up is sweet. There isn’t a catch,
The secret is living semi-detached.

“Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” was a play on T.S. Eliot’s line “April is the cruellest month” from The Waste Land, and was apparently part of a high-brow self-deprecating trend among the beatniks to lampoon themselves by re-casting classics such as Shakespeare into hip argot. (Are today’s hipsters in Brooklyn or elsewhere doing anything similar, or even capable of it?) It was first performed, along with “The Ballad of the Sad Young Men,” in a musical developed from Jay’s unpublished novel about the beat scene in New York, “The Nervous Set.” The show was a huge success in St. Louis, but closed after three weeks when it moved to New York. A half-century later, though, “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” is still being performed.

Happy or ecstatic as Landesman may have been with her love life, when she featured it in her work she tended to shine a melancholy light on it; she titled two collections of her poetry Scars and Stripes and How Was It for You? Freed from the convention of monogamy, she may have found pleasure but not necessarily fulfillment.

At the end of her life her sight failed, but she continued to perform her poetry–in a half spoken, half sung fashion all her own–from memory.

The woman who was sometimes called “the godmother of hip” died in July of 2011 at the age of 83, five months after her husband.

Solve Your Plastic Food Container Problems the Internet Way

In 1969, the first message was successfully sent over the ARPANET, the predecessor to the internet. Four and a half decades later, the internet has developed into one of the greatest advances in human history, freeing up human capital wasted on actual labor and diverting it to fantasy football leagues and cat videos.

Before the internet came into our lives, U.S. husbands and wives would often quarrel, holding back American scientific progress that allowed the Russians to launch space satellites before us. Here is actual, post-dinner dialogue captured on a reel-to-reel tape recorder in 1954:

WIFE: Put away the Franco-American spaghetti leftovers, would you sweetie?

HUSBAND: Sure, hon. Let me just get a convenient plastic food storage container out of the pantry here.

WIFE: Don’t forget the lid!

HUSBAND: You and your joshing!

[SOUND OF CRASH]

HUSBAND: Dad blast it! Why are our food storage containers and lids always in such an uproar!

WIFE: I wish somebody would hurry up and invent the internet!


Utter chaos

The internet allows scientists and intellectuals to share news of developments without having to attend boring conferences with cash bars and listen to white papers with titles like Threat or Menace: Is America’s Love Affair With Plastic Food Storage Receptacles Endangering Our Standard of Living? With the internet at their fingertips, food storage scientists can now log onto http://www.wikihow.com/, search the index for “How to Organize Empty Food Storage Containers and Lids”, and enter a magical world where ideas are exchanged freely and openly, as if by telepathy, generating new and exciting concepts in food-storage-container-and-lid-technology twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.


Much better!

An eleven-member team of food storage receptacle scientists and engineers, generously donating their apparently ample time, has posted a ten-point food storage container organization protocol at this “wiki” website. “Wiki” refers to software that allows multiple users to collaboratively create, edit, link and organize content on a website. The term “wiki” is a reduplication of the Hawaiian word for “goof off.”

While users are cautioned that the protocol has not yet been peer-reviewed by independent specialists in the field, it appears to represent a breakthrough in container-organization comparable to the realization during the Italian Renaissance that it is easier to fit small containers inside large ones than vice versa, a discovery that helped bring the Dark Ages to an end.

That historical breakthrough forms part of the canon of modern plastic food container thought, and appears as principle no. 6 in the new world-wide web protocol on food storage container organization, as follows:

6. Nest and stack. For the containers, nest them in stacks that are as tall as your space. Start with the largest on the bottom and work upwards to the smallest.

Note the citation of an important ancillary principle of food storage container organization: stacks should only be as tall as the space you have to put them in. If you stack them any higher, you risk breaking through the ceiling into an upstairs bathroom!

I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of trenchant, insightful, hard-hitting plastic container news I’m looking for when I log on to the internet in the office every morning.

Right after I watch a few cat videos.

Mort Spiksa, “Poet of Terms and Conditions,” Dead at 78

FRAMINGHAM, Mass.  Morton “Mort” Spiksa, a lawyer who came to be known as the “Poet of Terms and Conditions,” died last night after a brief illness at Gino Cappelletti Memorial Hospital.  He was seventy-eight.

“Mort really had a way with words,” said Norton Oswald, a retired plant manager at the General Motors assembly plant here before it closed.  “Our vendors didn’t mind that we were the big guy who could crush them like a bug just to watch the juice ran out when they read his lyrical ‘T&C’s’.”

lawyer
Mort Spiksa, about to exclude the implied warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose.

 

Spiksa had hoped to become a poet as an undergraduate but decided to study law after his father was diagnosed with terminal Osgood Schlatter’s Disease.  “He realized he’d have to take care of mom,” said his sister Evelyn Spiksa Ryan.  “I could barely support myself as a left-handed stenographer cruelly forced to work in a right-handed desk.”

In law school Spiksa was a slightly-above-average student who nonetheless demonstrated a perverse passion for commercial law, one of the less lucrative and more boring areas of the profession.  “It appealed to his poetic side,” said Professor Galston Willier.  “Nobody reads poetry, and nobody reads those terms and conditions in four-point type on commercial forms.”

desk
Awkward!

 

Spicksa became living proof of Clarence Darrow’s belief that “inside every lawyer is the wreck of a poet,” but he nonetheless struggled to forge an aesthetic identity apart from the mundane prose he wrote for purchase orders and invoices, such as his oft-repeated quatrain celebrating a number of common shipping terms that he surreptitiously slipped into a bill of lading:

F.O.B., C.I.F.,
Take away one and what is left?
C&F, F.A.S.,
One is more, the other less.

“There’s a simple sense of mystery to Mort’s verses, like William Blake’s,” says Newton Adair, III, Professor of Commercial Poetry at the University of Southern Iowa.  “He could take a homely warehouse receipt and turn it into a thing of beauty–in triplicate, with white, pink and canary-colored copies.

 

loading dock
“Behold the lonely loading dock, where we made off with Pots of Crock.”

His specialty was the so-called “Battle of the Forms,” when terms in documents presented by different parties conflicted and the parties’ agreement had to be determined by statutory rules of construction.  In a case involving the rejection of a defective shipment of flanges and hasps, Spiksa’s poetry reached perhaps the apogee of his style, at once perfervid and peremptory:

These flanges and hasps,
are so defective it’s barely
worth shipping them back.
They make me gasp,
I mean that squarely,
I’m giving the whole lot the sack.

He is survived by his wife Ethel; a son, Mort Jr. of Mundelein, Illinois; a daughter, Traci of Hamtramck, Michigan; and his pet fork lift, Chucho.  In lieu of flowers the family requests that donations be made to the Business Forms, Systems & Labels Hall of Fame.

Barbie at the Double Nickel

2014 is Barbie’s 55th anniversary–news item.

I looked out the window of my Dream House and allowed myself a teensy-tiny moment of reflection. How far I’d come in fifty-five years! It seemed like only yesterday I was born, fully-developed, in a secret test lab deep within the bowels of the Mattel Toy Company.

Here I am at 55–the “double nickel” in baby boomer parlance–and not a single stretch mark, even though I seem to have a daughter, Skipper, by Ken, my “on again-off again” boyfriend as my Press Site notes. On again-off again, my bony ass. He’s a shiftless, no-count loser. But I don’t like to dwell on the negative.

Some people criticize me for having a perfect, unattainable body that creates unrealistic expectations in young girls, causing them to turn up their noses at mom’s American Chop Suey and Stuffing Puppies. Well, which would you rather have–a durable, dishwasher-safe hard-plastic torso like mine, or a body that could be “attained” by every Buzz Lightyear and GI Joe on the shelf? To ask the question, as they say, is to answer it. Besides, American Chop Suey sucks.

I just wish I could spend more time with Skipper, but I seem to have shipped her off to boarding school, like some cruel parent in a W. Somerset Maugham novel.


Maugham: “May I have a turn with Barbie–please?”

 

You know, long before everyone got so “hip” to being “post-racial” and including black sidekicks in gangs of guys eating at Chili’s in TV commercials, I had an African-American friend–”Christie.” The Federal Trade Commission did an investigation after someone sent in an anonymous tip that no self-respecting black woman would ever allow herself to be called “Christie.” Because of Mattel quality control, we passed with flying persons of color!

But I’m not just racially tolerant, I’m omni-tolerant! I had a friend in a wheelchair–Becky–long before you did. I had another friend with a crippling beauty handicap–glasses! Don’t believe me? Again, it’s right there on the World Wide Web, writ large so those who surf may read.

Maybe I’ll have a big family reunion for my 55th. My brother Todd and my sisters Skipper, Tutti, Stacie, Kelly and Krissy. My “gal pals” Teresa, Kira, Kayla, Becky and Christie.  My BFF Midge and her husband Alan.  I wonder what ever happened to Alan? I don’t remember hearing about a divorce or a death or anything.  If anything ever happens between me and Ken, it’s on the front page of the National Enquirer before you can say “Holly Hobby.”

With Ken and me it’s always a “headline-generating breakup”–no thanks to the Mattel public relations department. What I wouldn’t give for Midge’s quiet life with Alan! I don’t want to end up alone in some Barbie Dream Nursing Home, with flabby bingo-arms, doddering around reliving my outfits of the past; Stewardess Barbie, Nurse Barbie, Executive Barbie, Rapper Barbie, Streetwalker Barbie.

No, all I want is . . . hey, that’s Midge down there now–with Ken! Why that f**king skank! Hey you! Yeah you, you red-headed bitch! Get your hands off my arm-candy! He may drive around all day in my dream car, and shack-up in my dream house, and never go out and get a job so he could have cool outfits like me–but he’s all I’ve got!

At the Vatican-UFO Summit

In a departure from its traditional position that the earth is the only inhabited planet, the Vatican has consulted experts on the possibility of extraterrestrial life.

The Boston Herald

 

Even though I’ve been instructed never to disturb the Pope when he’s watching “Star Trek” reruns, the alien in the reception area was getting impatient. I’d kept him at bay by giving him free espresso and biscotti, but after a while he ate a potted plant, then the receptionist. I had to do something.


“If we hit warp speed, we can still make the 11:30 Mass.”

 

“Excuse me–Your Holiness?” I said meekly after cracking the door to the papal den. “There’s someone here to see you.”

“Who is it?” the Pope asked, pausing only to mute the volume.

“The fellow from the THX 1138 spiral galaxy you invited in to discuss the possibility of extraterresterial life.”

“What’s his name?”


“Go in peace, and may Glzorp bless you.”

 

I handed the Pope a piece of paper on which the alien had scrawled his name.

“Glx13*//:37aH2″? the Pope asked haltingly.

“He puts the accent on the asterisk,” I said.

“Okay–show him in. I’ve got this episode on my 7-DVD boxed set.”

I went out to the reception area. “The Pope will see you now,” I said.

“About frzeleepkink time!” the alien replied. He’d been reading a copy of US Weekly that the receptionist . . . uh, left behind.


Lady Gaga: It could happen here.

 

“That Lady Gaga is one hot glizzkt34i, isn’t she?” he said.

“I suppose you could say that,” I said. I tried, as best I could, to maintain a proper professional reserve. We get a lot of kooks at the Vatican–people asking for miracle cures, autograph hounds, youth hockey coaches looking for relief from Pope John Paul II’s “Pray Don’t Play on Sunday” Encyclical a few years back.

“Your Holiness?” I asked tentatively, hoping he’d take my cue and relieve me of the pressure of pronouncing the alien’s name.

“Hi–Pope Francis I here,” the Pontiff said, trying to make the alien comfortable by using a numeral, even though as the first Francis he technically doesn’t have to.


“I just flew in from Alpha Centauri, and boy are my arms tired!”

 

“Pope, Glx13*//:37aH2 here–nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you, Glx13*//:3 . . .”

“Please–call me ‘Glx’. Everybody else does.”

“Okay, Glx–sit down, sit down. Can I get you anything?”

“No, I’m all set. I had something called a ‘Courtney’ out there on the buffet.”


Alien receptionist: She has to leave early to meet friends at the T.G.I. Friday’s on Venus.

 

The Pope looked at me in horror. “Who’s covering for her?” he asked.

“I’ll take care of it,” I said.

“Because I need someone to validate Glx’s parking.”

“I know where she keeps the stamp.”

With that I excused myself from the two intergalactic leaders, but I left the door ajar in order to bear witness to their historic meeting.

“So, tell me a little about yourself, Glx,” the Pope said.


Giordano Bruno, early sci-fi fan

 

“Well, just as your Giordano Bruno predicted,” the alien began, “there are forms of life in the universe other than you self-centered, egotistical humans.”

The Pope got a far-away look in his eye. “My bad,” he said, “or rather our bad. Really too bad for Bruno, though.”

“Yeah. Being burned at the stake has got to be tough.”

“It’s not really a stake–it’s more like a Weber Grill.”

“So patented Weber technology means meats stay moist and juicy?”

“On the nosy,” the Pope said. The guy loved his grilled bratwurst. “So anyway, what is it with you space aliens?”

“What do you mean?” Glx asked. “And by the way,” he continued before the Pope had a chance to answer him, “we think you’re the aliens.”

“Everybody’s multi-culti these days,” the Pope said with a sigh. “What I mean is, you swoop down out of the skies, abduct productive, tithe-paying parishioners, and just drop them off when you’re done with them, their bodily orifices singed and their memories zapped so they have no recollection of where they’ve been.”

“We,” Glx began, then hesitated. “We find it hard to talk . . . to women.”

“Well, Christ almighty–I do too, but you don’t see me abducting them!”

“That’s because you prefer little . . .”

“Don’t go there!” the Pope said sharply, interrupting his visitor.

It was one of the Pontiff’s great skills, the ability to piss off people of different backgrounds, then act as if it was all a misunderstanding. “So tell me Glx,” he began again. “Why exactly should I believe in you?”


Holy water font

 

The alien looked him up and down. He didn’t have eyebrows, exactly, but he lifted the fleshy fold over his single visual aperture upwards in an expression of skepticism. “Right back at ya, Benny,” he said after a moment of awkward silence. “Why should I believe in you?

You could have knocked the pontiff over with a splash from a holy water font. “Because I’m . . . I’m the Vicar of Christ on earth!”

“So what,” the alien said. “I’m the Vlzkkx1 of Glzorp on K2H1z!”

“Is that like a big deal?” the Pope asked.

“Absolutely–you’ve got a Popemobile, I’ve got a Glzorpmobile.”

“How many miles per gallon do you get?” the Pope asked.

“Highway or city?”

“City.”

“24 to 26–I keep pretty good records for expense reimbursement. Anyway, it might surprise you to know that, where I come from, nobody believes in you!”

“Get outta town!” the pontiff exclaimed.

“Seriously,” the alien assured him. “Just as you have your science fiction nuts here on earth, in my galaxy we have organized religion fans–like myself.”

The Pope gave the creature a wild surmise, like Cortez’s men in Keats’ “On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer.” “So–do you have, like, Star Trek conventions . . .”

Francis
“With my mitre on, my head’s as big as an alien’s!”

 

“With carbon-based life forms dressing up as saints and monks and cardinals.”

The Pope was stunned, and fell into silence. “Well, I guess what’s sauce for the priest is sauce for the nun, or something like that.”

I could tell from the expression on the alien’s face that he was smiling inwardly.

“So who’s your favorite Pope?” the Pope asked Glx.

“Well, it’s hard to say,” the green being said as he rubbed what passes for a chin in the THX 1138 neck of the woods, “but if I had to pick, I’d go with Hadrian III.”

“Why him?” the Pope asked. I could tell he was a teensy bit miffed that he wasn’t #1 in the alien’s mind.


Pope Hadrian IV: That’s as close as I could get.

“Well, he was only Pope for a year and a half, but during that time he whipped a naked widow through the streets of Rome, and poked out the eyes of George of the Aventine.”

“Sounds like something out of WWE Raw,” the pontiff said, obviously impressed. “Anything else?”

“Well, Emperor Charles the Fat invited Pope Hadrian to a diet at Worms.”

The two looked at each other, then exploded in laughter. “Where do you pick this stuff up?” the Pope finally asked.

“The Oxford Dictionary of Popes,” the alien said. “Either that or something called Wikipedia, which we’re starting to get as part of basic cable.”

 

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Here’s to His Holiness: Fake Stories About Real Popes.”

Get Off My Lawn

 

I’ve reached the age at which I find
I value most my peace of mind
And for my mind to be at peace
I sometimes have to be unkind.

When I lie down to take a nap
I’m not inclined to hear some crap
about the coming fall of Greece
or some place hard to find on maps.

Greenpeace

And yet as soon as I lie down
the bleeding hearts invade my town
Sierra Club or maybe Greenpeace
They have big smiles that make me frown.

They’ve come for me to save the whales
I just nodded off—it never fails.
A rap-tap-tapping that will not cease
It hammers my head like three-penny nails!

Jehovah

There’s peripatetic religionists,
Jehovah’s Witnesses—or is it Adventists?—
Who warn me of the flames of hell
After they ring my front doorbell.

There’s politicians of every stripe
Peddling door-to-door their tripe.
I signed our house up for no-solicitation
But the First Amendment’s the pride of our nation.

Politician

Before they cross my property line,
I’d tell them not to waste their time.
“Leave your literature, I’ll take no offense,
Be careful—that’s an electric fence!”

Yet still they came, like nuns, in pairs,
I’ve thought of adding ice to the stairs,
But then a suit they would commence
Mulcting the estate I’d leave for my heirs.

I’d hear them all out, I’d stifle a yawn,
by then all hope of sleep was gone
And so I learned to play offense
By yelling at them “Get off my lawn!”

For I have reached the age at last
When time is short, for time has passed
I’ll chase them all straight over my fence
They’d better run, and they’d better be fast.

 

Ode to Tautology

The Morning Star looks like the Evening Star,
a B# sounds like a C.
My unmarried brother’s a bachelor–
They’re pretty much the same to me.

I travelled to visit Grant’s Tomb
to see who was buried there
I ate a hoagie, a sub and a grinder–
a lot of food, but I didn’t care.

hoagie

I went on a trip to Upper Volta,
I forgot to bring my lasso.
Next time I go on vacation
I want to see Burkina Faso.

I live in close proximity
to the place that I call home.
I go to the beach for the shore.
These are truths, as far as I know ‘em.

burkina faso

Whenever I order chai tea
they never bring me two cups.
It gives me pause, so I hesitate,
But then I ask “Hey—what’s up?”

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