I Am the Poetic Kiss of Death

In a line much admired by Borges, Christopher Marlowe’s Faust says to the apparition of Helen of Troy “make me immortal with a kiss.” I’ve got the opposite capacity–I am the poetic kiss of death.

In the six years since I began writing poetry seriously–and comically–I have persuaded editors to publish eight of my poems. If I’ve got the math right, that’s an average of 1.33 a year, just slightly more frequently than I have birthdays. I’d like to think this isn’t too shabby a track record for a tyro just starting out, but I don’t think I can continue at this torrid pace, in much the same manner that I predicted Pedro Ciriaco, the rookie shortstop of the 2012 Boston Red Sox, would cool down from his torrid .293 batting average to his current .213 with the Kansas City Royals. In his case, it was the law of averages.


Pedro Ciriaco, rookie shortstop phenom: Gone and forgotten.

But not in mine. I anticipate that the frequency with which my poems get published will dwindle and then come to an end entirely for one simple reason; I am the poetic kiss of death. If I keep writing poems and having them accepted, soon there won’t be any poetry publications left–for anybody.

My poems have appeared in five different publications; three have died shortly after they ran my stuff. Coincidence, or something more sinister? You be the judge.


Philip Larkin: “You sure you’re a poet, old man?”

Light Quarterly had been around since 1992, and had published John Updike, among others. Its subscribers included the libraries at Harvard, Brown and Columbia. Tough noogies. They made the mistake of accepting my Lines in Contemplation of a Tragic Accident, and the rest is history, or the end of their history. They’re gone.

Then there was Literary Dilettantes. I actually won their Parody of Epic Proportions contest with The Beerneid, a parody of Virgil’s Aeneid. For those keeping score at home, I hadn’t won anything since 1962 when my Little League Team shocked the world with a 4-2 upset of the Optimist Club team to win the B-level city championship. Chicago Cubs fans like to say that any team can have a bad century, and I can sympathize; I only had a bad half-century.


Virgil: Did he have something to do with it?

But before my poem ever hit the shelves I received an email from the publisher saying “our art director had some personal issues to take care of, which is why the launch was delayed. She was able to start working on the issue but the demands in her personal life are not allowing her to finish for the foreseeable future.” (Note that she didn’t avoid the gerundic, as Strunk & White recommend.)


Strunk & White: “You’re still confusing ‘that’ and ‘which.’”

So just like that, I’ve got two literary homicides hanging over me. The circumstantial evidence would strike a cynical, world-weary cop as suspicious. “What kind of freaking rag shuts down just because its art director has some personal issues to take care of?” you can hear him sneer as the glare of a bare light bulb shines down on my sweat-drenched face. “I don’t know, they said they were legit,” I say after he stops beating me with a rubber truncheon and the Yellow Pages. “They didn’t even charge an entry fee.”


“Okay, let’s take it from the top. You were mindin’ yer own business, imitatin’ Philip Larkin.”

Then I got two poems published in The Poetry Ark, an on-line anthology that was the product of a multi-round competition, like Dancing With the Stars, sort of a Who Wants to Be America’s Next Poet Laureate? I tried to track it down as I wrote this post and I found a reference to it on the internet, but when I clicked on the link I got that “Internet Explorer cannot display the webpage” message, the same one I get when I try Nigerian websites hoping to get refunds for my kids’ on-line purchases of high-tech baseball bats.

So that’s three down, which leaves only The Christian Science Monitor and Spitball, “The Literary Baseball Magazine,” which published my poem “The Million Dollar Infield” a few years back. I’ve got a hard copy of the issue in which it appeared, and I’m guarding it with my life. I need something to show the grammar police when they knock on my door and say “Are you gonna come quietly, or do we have to beat you in iambic pentameter until you wheeze like a Hallmark greeting card?”

Available in print and Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “poetry is kind of important.”

My Liebster Award Acceptance Speech

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, purse-sized dogs and cats.

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It is an honor and a privilege to be here tonight as a recipient of a 2015 Liebster Award, the Oscar, the Heisman, the ne plus ultra for bloggers.

I need to thank a lot of people tonight, but first and foremost, Nikki Stern, for nominating me.  Nikki–are you here tonight?  There she is, ladies and gentlemen, over there at table 23.  Let’s give her a big Liebster round of applause.

[Tepid, golf-tournament level clapping.]

Oh, come on, people–you can do better than that!  Can I at least get a couple of “woots”!

[Louder, more enthusiastic clapping, punctuated by woots.]

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That’s more like it.  (clears throat nervously)  You know, Nikki is really the nicest person I know.

[Moderate applause.]

No seriously, I truly don’t think she has a mean bone in her body.  That’s why I find her so . . . and I’m groping for the right word now, because I’m a happily married man . . . intriguing.  I mean, it’s like we’re those little Scotty dog magnets, the black and white ones you used to see in tacky gift shops?  The kind where you try to sneak one dog up behind the other, and the other–the one being snuck up upon, not the one doing the sneaking–whirls around as if propelled by some mysterious force.  Like, say, magnetism.

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(pauses for laughter that doesn’t come)  Is this mike on?  Anyway, Nikki is the author of “Hope in Small Doses,” which is a great title and a very heartwarming book if your heart needs warming.  Which mine does, no doubt about it.  “Hope” now comes in two decorator colors, green and orange, and as all good poets know, there’s nothing that rhymes with “orange.”

But I’ve wandered off the path a bit.  I was going to say that Nikki is so nice that she’s allowed me to make up my own questions, which is a good thing, because I was never good at “slam” books in high school, those self-administered personality tests that kids would pass around for you to record your deepest, darkest secrets in, like “Who do you think is better, Herman’s Hermits or The Dave Clark Five?”

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No, I had a bad experience with slam books in 10th grade.  I had just started dating Lisa Flores–I think we’d kissed once at a homecoming dance.  When the latest slam book found its way into my hands and I flipped to the page that asked “Who do you think is the best kisser?” I ran my finger down the column to find Lisa’s entry and it read–Junior Fidler!

[Gasps from audience.]

Well, you can imagine how I felt–not so hot, lemme tell ya!

But again, I digress.  Nikki has been kind enough to allow me to make up my own questions, rather than struggle in vain to come up with a favorite color or a favorite TV show.  I’ve never been able to keep a favorite color for very long–I’m capricious that way–and I haven’t had any favorite TV shows since “Sea Hunt” with Lloyd Bridges went off the air.

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So here goes–no holds barred, lumberjack rules, you may tap out at any time by saying the safe word “Blog!”

1.  Where did you get that the ugly car you drive?

Seems strange to say, but I inherited the 2006 Pontiac Torrent that I drive to the train station every day from my son.  Not that he left it to me in his will, it’s just that he’s living in the city and it’s really expensive to keep a car and . . . maybe we better move on to your next question.

2.  Who was your favorite baseball player growing up and why?

Stan Musial, no question.  Great hitter, plays harmonica like me, and as my dad pointed out–he never argued with an umpire.

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[Hypocritical, self-congratulatory applause.]

Oh, please.  Like you don’t scream at the ump every time a call doesn’t go your way?  Next question.

3.  Were you raised by wolves?

What the hell kind of question is that?  Of course not.  They were muskrats, or something.

4.  Any scars or distinguishing marks?

Whadda you, the FBI?  As a matter of fact I have an unsightly mole on my right elbow that’s so big it has the right to vote in municipal elections around here.

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Family portrait, Christmas, 1963

5.  What surprising fact will people discover when they read your obituary?

You mean other than the cross-dressing?  I hope to have that under control by the time I die.  I guess it would be the curious fact that I played harmonica with both Mississippi Fred McDowell and Willie Dixon . . .

6.  Forty years ago, and you’ve been dining out on it ever since.

I thought you were supposed to ask questions, not make snide remarks.

7.  What exactly does “snide” mean, anyway?

Cutting, sly, malicious or sarcastic.  That counts as one of your questions, by the way.

8.  No it doesn’t.

You’d better quit while you’re ahead.

9.  All right.  What was the name of your first pet?

So you’re the one who’s been trying to hack into my bank account!

10.  No I’m not.

Gotcha–you’re out of questions.  So now it’s time for me to send each and every one of my 2,896 followers . . .

11.  You haven’t made it past the 3,000 reader threshold after you’ve been blogging for what . . .

Nine years.  Don’t rub it in.  Send them over to Nikki’s blog.

12.  Aren’t you supposed to recommend five other blogs or . . .

Or what?

13.  Or you’ll break the chain.

Let me tell you something my dad told me the first time I ever saw a chain letter.

14.  Okay.

Do you have to say everything with a number?

15.  I’ll stop after this one.

Anyway, he showed it to me, and told me anybody who’d send a dollar to a stranger because an anonymous letter said something awful would happen to them if they didn’t needed to have his head examined.

Like people who fall for the Liebster Award and spend time answering questions on the internet in the vain hope it will increase their readership and make them rich beyond the dreams of avarice?

Yeah.  Present company excepted, of course.

For One Marathon Runner, Race is Not Always to the Swift

HOPKINTON, Mass.  The rows of portable toilets that line the streets of this bucolic suburb on the morning of the Boston Marathon see heavy duty just before the starter’s gun goes off as runners nervously empty their bladders before the race, but one contestant who emerges from the turquoise and white enclosure stands out from the crowd.

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“I know I’m different,” the male runner who identifies himself only as “Sam” says to this reporter, “but my needs are the same.”

Sam is conspicuous by his shortcomings; he’s not nearly as tall as any of the other entrants, and despite a diet that consists entirely of seafood, he’s nowhere near as slim as the world-class competitors who will line up against him at precisely twelve noon.

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Training run.

“Lotta people are counting me out,” says the three-and-a-half foot emperor penguin.  “I’ve never let other people’s opinions hold me back.”

The Boston Marathon is the nation’s oldest, and it has gradually expanded from an event for able-bodied men only to one that features ten different divisions, including male and female runners, male and female handcyclists, male and female wheelchair competitors, and unisex categories for cosmetologists, osteopaths, calligraphers,  Aleutian Islanders and excommunicated members of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod.  “The race now reflects the colorful tapestry that makes Boston such a vibrant city,” says Chamber of Commerce Spokeswoman Edie Miniscus.  “I just hope the penguins don’t litter the streets with krill.”

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Switzer:  “Get out of my way–the penguins are gaining on me!”

There was no official bar to penguins entering the historic race, which is patterned after the 26.1 mile course run by Pheidippides from Marathon to Athens to bring news of a military victory, but a culture of anti-penguin sentiment worked to discourage the aquatic birds from entering.  “In high school I showed up for track and field and the coach told me I’d be better off on the yearbook staff,” says a determined Sphenisciform wearing bib number 16,001 named “Lyle.”  “I went to one meeting and couldn’t get away from those goody-goody types fast enough.”

And so it took guerilla action similar to that employed by Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the race with an official number that she obtained by the apparent subterfuge of signing her registration papers as “K.V. Switzer.”  Sam and Lyle mingled with other runners at the starting line last year and jumped into the field as it took off, only to be accosted by Boston Athletic Association officials when they slowed down to climb “Heartbreak Hill” in Newton, Mass.

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“Guys–remember to stretch!”

“I don’t mind them birds racing,” said Jock Semple IV, great-grandson of the race official who tried to remove Switzer from the race course.  “As long as they remain flightless, which I figure ain’t gonna change for a couple million years of evolution.”

The penguins make good time through Ashland, Framingham and Natick, but begin to slow as they reach the half-way point, alongside the campus of the all-female Wellesley College.  There, young women lavish attention and affection on them in addition to the customary cup of water as the birds re-hydrate in style, then linger longer than their race-day game plan calls for.

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“Penguins!”

“How you feeling?” Sam says to Lyle as the latter climbs onto the lap of Meredith Gersh, a senior English major from Nyack, New York.

“I’ve got a cramp,” Lyle replies.  “I think I’d better drop out.”

The Lost Worcester Poems of Elizabeth Bishop

          Elizabeth Bishop was born and lived in Worcester, Massachusetts, and is buried there, but “had no fond feelings” for the city.

                                                 The Boston Globe

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Diner Sonnet

I am in need of Worcester home fries, the kind
that the counter-man makes jump in the skillet
at the Miss Worcester Diner. He really kills it,
underneath the railroad bridge, where you find
pigeons at any hour of the day. It may be a grind
but he with pride has made it his life’s trade.
I will wake tomorrow with indigestion, I’m afraid
but even with sweat-drenched brow he doesn’t mind.

The secret, the Worcester-magic, is in the paprika.
In no other city is this ingredient added to the mix.
It is not just the spice, it is the oddity, the loneliness
of this recipe in the world. Who first said “Eureka!”
when sprinkling the red powder, perhaps for kicks,
and created a dish that I celebrate for its only-ness?

 

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South Main Nocturne

And now creeps down
Grand Street from South Main,
to the top porches of the town’s
triple-deckers, a mother’s pain:

“Karen,” she cries to her kin,
“Put that pigeon down,
you don’t know where it’s been!”
The girl looks up and frowns.

Later, at Guertin’s, a waggish crone
calls out to the owner regarding his fare:
“Richie–are them pigeon eggs?” She is alone,
the publican lets the question hang in the air.

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Stupid Argument

The City Council’s proceedings
are there for all to see,
in the paper, for the reading.
The Mayor’s adversary, a hack,
calls him “Stupid.”
Hizzoner’s response is not muted,
he says “Stupid!”–quite cursory–back.

Your Guide to Boston Sports Landmarks

Game One of a Celtics’ playoff series.  Gosh, it brings back memories of the 80s, when I witnessed so many sports events that Boston from Loserville to City of Champions.

For those who are new to Boston or just visiting, here’s a handy, dishwasher-safe pocket guide to some “must see” landmarks in one of America’s great sports towns.

Lake Placid, New York. It was here that the United States pulled off one of the greatest upsets in sports history, defeating the heavily-favored Soviet Union team, 4-3, with a bunch of college players and amateurs. While this technically did not occur in Boston, or even in Massachusetts, I watched it happen at the Seven’s bar on Charles Street in Boston, where as a result of a rip in the space-time continuum, we knew that the US had won before the people in Lake Placid did! It was incredible! We were chanting “U-S-A . . . U-S-A” in the third period, when everybody at the rink seemed completely clueless that we’d already won!

South Main Street, Worcester, Mass. Again, not actually in Boston, more like fifty miles away as the crow flies, but who wants to fly with a dirty, possibly disease-bearing carrion bird? It was here that Carlton Fisk hit his historic home run in the bottom of the twelfth inning of game six of the 1975 World Series on the television in my apartment. A recent transplant to the East Coast from St. Louis Cardinal country, I was moved that night to develop a rooting interest in the Red Sox as my favorite American League team, a decision with consequences that reverberate to this day for my wife.

One Boston Place, Boston. It was here that the world, or at least the part of the world that I then occupied, first learned of the tragic death of young Len Bias from a cocaine overdose. A Boston Celtics season ticket holder at the firm where I worked came walking down the hall mumbling “Len Bias is dead” in a somber tone that suggested the President had been shot. The first-round pick that the Celtics used to select Bias–projected to be ”the next Michael Jordan”–was acquired in exchange for Gerald Henderson, a starting guard on the Celtics’ 1986 championship squad whose steal of a James Worthy pass in game two of the 1984 NBA Finals led to a Celtics victory in overtime.

The tragic death of Len Bias taught a lesson that one hopes will not soon be forgotten; never trade a starting guard for a draft choice.


“Henderson steals . . . and scores!”

 

Massachusetts Turnpike, eastbound, Framingham exit. It is here that David Henderson hit the home run on the radio of a Toyota Corolla against California Angels’ relief pitcher Donnie Moore in Game 5 of the 1986 American League Championship Series as my fiancee and I were returning from a getaway weekend at a Vermont bed-and-breakfast that did not have a single TV. With only one strike needed to clinch the Angels’ first-ever pennant, Henderson homered to tie the game, and in the 11th drove in what proved to be the winning run with a sacrifice fly off Moore. The teams returned to Boston where the Sox won two straight games to advance to the 1986 World Series.


Dave Henderson

Moore, who had long battled depression, was subsequently traded to the Kansas City Royals, which didn’t help. He ultimately committed suicide as California fans and the media never forgave or forgot that he “blew” game five. In Donnie’s memory, I recall this moment in baseball history for my wife whenever we pass this exit.


“Kansas City sucks, but at least Tampa Bay doesn’t have a team yet.”

 

Nino’s Pizza, Cambridge Street, Boston. It is here that I once had a slice of pizza with a friend and noticed an autographed picture of Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito above the booth we were sitting in. This is my only link to the 1972 Boston Bruins, the team that won two Stanley Cups. Esposito was known for his gritty play in front of the net which often produced second-chance goals. He is the punch line to the most famous graffito in Boston sports history. “Jesus Saves” wrote an anonymous author with a religious turn of mind above a urinal; “Espo scores on the rebound!” a wag writes just underneath.

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“Let’s go to Nino’s!”

Jordan’s Furniture, Natick, Mass. In the 1986 Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics faced a tough Milwaukee Bucks team led by Sidney Moncrieff. Celtics center Robert Parrish sprained his ankle as I’m shopping with my wife for a couch–and came back out after half-time to play hurt! They’ve got a TV with the game on–I can’t tear myself away as I watch Parrish gut it out in a demonstration that inspires his teammates to sweep the series. My wife asks me whether I prefer the bluish-green sofa that I’m sitting on, or one that’s covered with red chintz on the other side of the store. “This one’s fine,” I say as I settle in to watch the game. She has buyer’s remorse as soon as the thing is delivered, and blames me. Parish retires in 1997, outlasting the couch by several years.


“Don’t sit on the couch if you’re all sweaty!”

Beacon Street, Boston. On November 23, 1984, my girlfriend and I are scheduled to have dinner at a fashionable restaurant with her smug sister–an investment banker whose bonus alone is five times what I make. It is the fourth quarter of the Boston College-Miami game, with Miami leading 45-41. “Della’s waiting in the car,” my girlfriend says.

“There’s only time for one more play,” I say. “Tell her to blow it out her panty hose.”

My girlfriend starts to get all teary-eyed. “You and your stupid sports!” she says. “All right,” I say and turn off the TV. Gerard Phelan catches Doug Flutie’s “Hail Mary” pass and BC wins, 47-41. Thankfully, I have since been able to see the replay a few times.

Suggestion: Next time, call the restaurant and tell them you’ll be a few minutes late, the ball is about to be snapped for the college freaking football play of the century.


“Cute widdle kitty!”

Looney Tunes Records, Newbury Street, Boston. In 1987 I sell the only Michael Jackson album I ever owned–”Thriller”–at this used record store. Chuck Sullivan, son of New England Patriots’ owner Billy Sullivan, organizes the Jackson Family “Victory Tour,” which includes Michael, Jermaine, Tito, Randy, Marlon and Jackie Jackson–in fact, every Jackson since Andrew.


Andrew Jackson: He couldn’t make it.

The tour is a financial disaster, leading to the sale of the Patriots to Victor Kiam, then to James Orthwein, who threatens to move the team to St. Louis. Instead, Robert Kraft purchases the team, and four Super Bowl victories are the improbable result of this “Butterfly Effect”–the notion popularized by mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil can cause a tornado in Texas.


“Ladies and gentlemen–game five is cancelled.”

Hanscom Field, Bedford, Massachusetts. It is here that, on October 28, 2004, I was scheduled to board a flight for St. Louis to see Game 5 of the 2004 World Series, which ended on October 27, 2004. After four games.


Bucky Bleepin’ Dent.

Greenwich Village, New York. Again, while technically outside the 617 area code, it is here that Bucky Dent hit his historic home run off Mike Torrez on a television in my college roommate’s apartment, propelling the New York Yankees to victory in a one-game playoff to decide the 1978 American League Eastern Division champions. I was sitting between two Yankee fans. I suppose it could have been worse, but only if I had been there in person.

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “This Just In–From Gerbil Sports Network.”

Joy in New England as Spring Falls on a Weekend

FRAMINGHAM, Mass. Spring is the season that inspires poets and causes young men’s thoughts to turn to love, but in New England it is part rumor and part myth. “There is no spring here,” a British soldier wrote to his young wife during the Revolutionary War, “only a second winter of cold rain and sleet. It is not worth sending The Dave Clark Five to the colonies, much less The Beatles.”


Ed Sullivan: “The Beatles couldn’t make it, so here’s The Dave Clark Five!”

 

But this year there is joy among New Englanders as the two-day season, which lasts for three months in other areas of the country, fell on a weekend, meaning residents of the six-state region were able to enjoy it without calling in sick or faking an outbreak of eczema.


“Why don’t you kids go out and play in the rain?”

 

“The fleeting nature of spring here is reflected in the distinctive spin we put on common folk sayings,” says Edward Muensch, curator at the New England Heritage Museum. “We say ‘March comes in like a lion, and goes out like a platypus.’”


Platypus, enjoying the wet weather

 

While the Northwest is widely thought of as the wettest area of the country, it places second in average annual rainfall to the Northeast, a fact that some say is responsible for the reserved, dour temperament of the native New Englander. “Who said I was dour?” asks Fred Twining, III, a descendant of the yeoman farmers of the region who built America’s first strip mall, Shopper’s World. “Probably some smart-aleck ‘grunge’ kid from Seattle.”


Ye Olde Colonial Strip Mall

 

Spring is a season that typically falls between winter and summer in other parts of the country. In New England, it is characterized by first snow, then freezing rain, then plagues of toads. It is followed by summer, then hurricane season.

Spring is scheduled to run from Saturday, April 18th, through Sunday, April 19th this year, after which it will be replaced by hot weather punctuated by thunderstorms and flesh-eating black flies. “Like we say around here,” Meunsch notes, “‘If you don’t like the weather, wait awhile, it won’t get any better.’”

My Quest to Bring Karaoke to Mt. Everest

Sometimes, it takes a tragedy to change the way we view the world. For me, it was the story of David Sharp.

Sharp was a climber in distress who died 300 feet from the summit of Mt. Everest. A number of parties, including that of double-amputee Mark Inglis, passed him by, oblivious to his plight as they sought the small beer glory that comes to those who scale the world’s highest mountain long after the feat has become commonplace.

When I learned of Sharp’s death, I could only sigh in disgust at my fellow man (and the overwhelming majority of the world’s premier climbers are men).

And then it struck me–this never would have happened if the many highly-competitive egotists who passed Sharp by had only stopped to partake in the camaraderie of karaoke as they made their way up and down the mountain.

Since it was first developed in the 1970′s, karaoke has become a staple of after-work get-togethers around the world. The term is derived from two Japanese words, kara and okestura, which roughly translated mean “bad singing.”

Karaoke first became popular among Japanese “salary men” who are expected to go out after long work days and socialize into the night. Their bosses hope that bonding through singing will improve team spirit, leading to greater corporate profits. Simply put, it is impossible not to feel a sense of common purpose with someone who has heard you sing Donna Summer’s “I Will Survive” after you’ve had three Margaritas.

My goal: To bring the bonhomie that karaoke engenders to the mountain known to sherpas, the Nepalese natives who guide foreigners to its peak, as “Chomolungma” or “Graveyard of Lousy Tippers.”

My sherpa’s name is Pemba Dorjie, and he recommends the VocoPro Karaoke King, a 7 Watt, 120 volt beauty with a Signal-to-Noise Ratio of 65 db and Wow and Flutter of 0.35% WRMS. “This bad boy has two microphone inputs with individual volume controls,” he notes in his native Tibetan tongue. “Duets can thus be performed with ease, cranking the fun up another notch.”

We choose the southwest ridge for our ascent, and make base camp at 17,600 feet above sea level. Pemba asks if he can be the first to try out the VocoPro, and I gladly agree. I know him to be a big Barry Manilow fan and–wouldn’t you know it–his first selection is “Copacabana,” the 1978 disco hit that combined Latin rhythm and Borscht Belt nightclub shtick to produce what Rolling Stone magazine called the worst song of the decade.


“Pemba–you rock!”

Pemba’s voice is strong and soulful as it echoes across the mountain face, triggering an avalanche that wipes out a party of five below us who were trying to become the first set of quintuplets of Lithuanian descent to reach the summit. “Tough luck,” says Pemba. “Avalanches are the leading cause of death here.”

After a few weeks to acclimatize ourselves to the altitude, we move up the Western Cwm to the base of the Lhotse face. Before we turn in for the night, we stare into our campfire and think the thoughts that come to men as they reach into the heavens.

“Pemba,” I say. “This Cwm–why does it have no vowel?”

Pemba is uneasy at first. “We are a poor nation,” he says after a while. “We cannot afford all the vowels that you rich Americans toss around so freely.” I nod my head in sympathy, then show him how a “y” is the Swiss Army knife of the alphabet and can be used as either a consonant or a vowel!

“Thanks,” Pemba says with a smile. “This will bring many hours of happiness to my children.”

Over the next two days we pass through the South Col, the Geneva Spur and the Yellow Band until we hit the Death Zone. At 26,000 feet, we can survive only two or three days in the rarefied atmosphere near the summit, where there are estimated to be corpses of over 100 climbers who died without realizing their goal.

I begin to have trouble breathing, and Pemba urges caution. “Here,” he says as he hands me an aerosol canister of Cheez Whiz, the processed cheese spread. “Stick this up a nostril and squirt.” I do as he instructs me, and after an initial blast of the orange, viscous liquid hits my soft palate, my nostrils clear from the gases that propel this delicious treat onto corn chips, hot dogs and cheesesteaks across America. “Wow,” I say as the fluorocarbons jolt me into a heightened state of consciousness. “What a rush! Hope it doesn’t poke a hole in the ozone layer.”

“You some kind of tree hugger?” Pemba asks scornfully. “Nature is your enemy, man.” And indeed, my concerns about global warming evaporate in the -100 degree Fahrenheit cold.

“That should last you a few hours,” Pemba says. “Just enough time to get set up.”

We hurry to hook a solar-powered generator up to the karaoke machine, then wait for teams of climbers to pass by. We notice one straggler, apparently disoriented from lack of oxygen to the brain, making his way up the slope. “Excuse me,” he shouts out as he draws nearer. “I’m looking for the Northeast Bancshares Spring Outing.”

Pemba and I exchange looks of concern. The man has been separated from his party, and is unlikely to survive a night alone. “You like Kool and the Gang?” Pemba asks tentatively.

“Who doesn’t?” the man replies, and before you can say “Jungle Boogie,” our new friend is laying down a loose groove of funky stuff to “Celebration.”

“Cel-e-brate good time–c’mon on!” he sings, not too well, but with more than enough gusto. The words ring out across the Kangshung Face and–out of nowhere–who should appear but Beth Lindsay, Director of Human Resources for the fourth-largest bank holding company in America.

“Ed Ferguson–we need you over on the northeast ridge for volleyball,” she says with concern as she checks her clipboard. “You two don’t mind if I steal Ed for awhile, do you?” she asks Pemba and me. “Karaoke doesn’t start until after dinner tonight.”

“Not a problem,” I reply with more than a little satisfaction at a mission accomplished. Pemba puts Ed’s microphone back into the VocoPro’s hard shell protective case, and we head back down the mountain.

“You know,” he says as we pass the body of a climber who was abandoned by his party after he fell forty feet from a ledge above us, “music can really bring people together.”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Yes I Can’t!”

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