Swamp Thing Film Festival

At the impressionable age of 17 I left the rural town where I grew up to attend college in the big city.  There I soon learned that movies weren’t just a convenient occasion to feel up a girl and, if she turned you down, to blow into your empty Milk Duds box and make a fart noise. No, they were “films,” a form of entertainment that, when molded by a master director–an auteur–could achieve the status of art.

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Jean-Luc Godard, checking his vacation pictures.

 

At my college there were film societies for foreign films, contemporary films, documentary films–you name it. The people who ran these clubs dressed in black turtlenecks and wore berets–indoors! They talked about “tracking shots” and “jump cuts,” which I thought was a passing route run by a tight end. I was woefully behind in my knowledge of le cinema, but I got up to speed as fast as I could on the road to becoming a cineaste.

I boned up on Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. I watched the films of Indian director Satyajit Ray. I saw Orson Welles play Harry Lime in The Third Man, before Welles got so big the phone company issued him his own area code.

At the end of the school year I would return to my home town to harvest fescue or haul ice or man the staple gun on an RV assembly line. Believe it or not, I found it hard to squeeze my hard-earned knowledge of French New Wave directors into the conversation when we’d go out to lunch for chicken fried steak.

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The contrast between the two cultures was striking–“decomboobulating” in the words of Bird Dog, a guy who worked the 2 to 10 shift with me at one summer job. How could one live with such cognitive dissonance? And then came the epiphany–l’apercu–that would henceforth shape my summer leisure time. Why not apply the finely-honed bullshitting skills I had picked up hanging around with avant garde film fans to the Swamp Thing cinema that flourished all around me?

It isn’t easy to just jump into the bog of Swamp Thing cinema. Like the early British films of Alfred Hitchcock, the prints have often deteriorated, and they are hard to find. Your local library or video store is unlikely to offer The Legend of Boggy Creek, whose heart-stopping slumber party scene ranks right up there with the Rosebud shot at the end of Citizen Kane: A gaggle of high school girls assemble in a mobile home for an evening of popcorn and cootie catchers, and are dreamily discussing who has cuter eyes, Joe Don or Gene Ray, when the hairy arm of the Boggy Creek monster busts through a window, spoiling all the fun!

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But, you ask, what if my local college adult extension night school doesn’t offer a Le Cinema du Swamp course.  How will I hold my own when somebody starts in with “I found the denouement of The Swamp Thing Escapes anti-climactic, and the jute-and-epoxy costume unconvincing”?

Simple–take this quick and easy online Introduction to Swamp Thing Cinema!  It’s pass-fail–continuing education credit may be available in some states.

Swamp Thing Returns: 3 1/2 gators As every aficionado of le cinema du swamp knows, Swamp Things never die, they are merely injured and withdraw into the muck to lick their wounds. When they recover, they come back madder than ever. In this fine debut flick Roger Nelson, who went on to direct It Came From the Compost Heap, lures you into the ultimate horror with a succession of increasingly larger victims, from a harmless baby chick to a miniature French poodle.

Bride of Swamp Thing: 4 gators Sandra Bernhard steals the show in this romantic comedy that sends an important message: if abducted by a Swamp Thing from your campsite, make the most of it!  You may find love where you least expect it–the arms of a seven-foot-tall lizard-like creature with day-old possum on its breath.

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Sandra Bernhard:  No makeup required.

 

Beauty and the Swamp Thing: 3 gators.  Nicolas Cage is “Unga,” a misunderstood swamp thing who is befriended by Mariah Carey after he picks a tick out of her hair. A worthy effort by an NYU School of Film grad, the plot is ultimately overpowered by the soundtrack, especially “Swamp Thing’s Love Theme.”  The production numbers flag as the creatures from the lagoon flop their tails around a lackluster swamp daubed in mud by set designer Otile Villa, giving the film a claustrophobic feel. I found myself wanting to hold my head under brackish swamp water until the film died a natural death, or had its limbs torn off by Zorz, the lizard-like creature that earned a Best Supporting Swamp Creature nomination for his performance.

Apache Dance With a Fellow Commuter

It is 7:20 p.m., time for the last train from South Station to the western suburbs of Boston. My point of embarcation, a once-proud civic landmark, is despite its grandiose re-christening as the Michael S. Dukakis Transportation Center, a scene of degraded desolation. Over there, a homeless man mumbles to himself. Here, a familiar street person approaches me to compliment me on my suit–a boxy chalk-striped number. “You lookin’ sharp, guv’nor–nothing like charcoal grey,” he says. I wonder where he acquired his unerring sense of style as I give him my usual lagniappe, a single dollar bill.

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The train is not here, but I know it has not departed or even arrived yet as I recognize familiar faces from my back-and-forth commute; the money manager whom I once recognized on vacation in Florida, his wife hectoring him because she’s “not really an outdoors person”; the woman who wheezes like a pigeon on the morning train; the bore who talks of nothing but golf, his face transported as if this mundane pastime is a cult of divine madness. “I taped the Masters and I’m going to watch it again this weekend,” he says to an acquaintance who appears to tolerate him, perhaps from a desire to do business. “I’m not sure I caught the rhythm of the final round.” I’ll tell you what the rhythm was, pal; 4/4, at a largo tempo.

And then I see her. A tall–taller than me–dark-haired woman, with an aloof expression. I’ve noticed her before, and I know that she has no ring on the third finger of her left hand; she has a daughter, however, who sometimes greets her at the suburban station where I catch my train. A divorcee, no doubt, but not a gay one; she is world-weary, bitter. Life has not been kind to her, but still–she is beautiful with a tragic I-coulda-had-a-V8 air of regret, missed chances, lost opportunities about her.

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Quebrada Bakery, Wellesley, Mass.:  To have coffee here is to live dangerously.

 

I know that she is a bad woman. I have seen her leave her car all day at Quebrada, the shop where I get my coffee every morning, even though the parking is limited to one hour, for customers only! She works out at my health club, and I have seen her take calls in areas that are not designated for cell phone use. On a number of occasions she has spread her purse, her briefcase and shopping bags out on a train seat designed for three passengers without a trace of shame. She is–I know it–the woman who could complete me.

Because it is late, we cannot avoid each other’s eyes the way we usually do as members of a floating mass of sullen commuters, each intent upon the pedestrian tasks that lay ahead in the morning, or withdrawn, the miserable day behind them at night. I gaze into her eyes. She sees, but does not acknowledge me. I move closer.

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The essence of the Apache dance is to balance the savagery of early twentieth-century Parisian street urchins with the aplomb of a prima ballerina. We–if she accepts my unspoken invitation–will join in a danse dangereux that can result in injury, even death–as we throw each other into the little red chairs and tables that surround Au Bon Pain, the “fast casual” bakery and cafe chain whose illegal alien baristas dream of some day working at Starbucks, where they will be surrounded by “world” music that drove them batty on AM radio in their native countries.

She lowers her eyelids–I take this as a silent command to commence. I take her right hand in my left, clasp her around the waist, and begin.

We dance in a circle at first, affected expressions of contempt and indifference on our faces. We who live by our wits, knowledge workers sending pdf documents by attachment! What do ordinary mortals understand of our lives, and yet these tasks–they are so advanced, so fraught with danger if we get an email address wrong!

The apache dance traditionally takes the form of a highly-stylized argument between a pimp and his prostitute, but–taking our cue from wacked-out poet and Mussolini admirer Ezra Pound–we transform the genre into something entirely new.

I spin my partner into a glass bakery shelf stuffed with croissants, brioches and cloches, the last-named items apparently stocked in error as a result of a typo in a purchase order. “Do you want me to wear a croissant,” my unknown companion says, spitting the words at me with barely-repressed fury, “or would you like to eat my cloche?

“Yes I think I’d like that,” I say, a malicious sneer forming on my lips.

“Would you like a napkin to wipe the sneer off your face?” the trainee at the counter asks innocently. She cannot imagine the wild torrents of passion that consume us, she who naively suggests that I might like the “Manager’s Special” every morning when all I want is a large mocha, no whipped.

Non, mon petite armoire,” I say, lapsing into the high school French that I perfected to the level of a B+. “It is better that you laissez nous tranquille, s’il vous plait.

“We don’t have the s’il vous plait anymore,” she says. “They substituted a chicken Caesar wrap and cup of soup for it.”

She speaks but we do not hear. I am whirling my unknown paramour towards the McDonald’s, which has recently returned coffee-flavored milk shakes to its menu.

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Shlurp!

 

I can tell that I have exhausted my lover. She leans back on the counter, her pupils rolling back into her eyelids, her hair matted from perspiration. She is no longer une guerriere–a warrior. She has succumbed at last to the superior force of my masculinity.

“Can I help who’s next?” the woman at the counter with the thick glasses says.

“I’m next,” my lover says, looking backwards up into the brightly-colored menu over head. “I’ll have two crispy chicken Snack Wraps and a medium Diet Coke.”

“You want honey mustard, ranch or chipotle barbecue sauce on that?”

“Chip-O-tul,” she says, incorrectly. “I want something . . . hot.”

“It’s chee-POHT-lay,” I say, as gently as I can, reaching for my wallet, and then to the woman behind the counter, “Make it snappy–we’ve got a train to catch.”

Available in print and Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection Boston Baroques.

The Monster

We were coming home from the Lake of the Ozarks and I wanted daddy to stop for ice cream, but I didn’t want to say so. I wanted him to stop by himself, or because somebody else asked him. If I asked him, Delia would make fun of me. She’d look at my sister Sally and say “You’re gonna get fat,” then look at me and say “And you’re gonna get fatter.”

We were listening to Bob and Ray on the radio and I wanted daddy to switch to the Cardinals, but it was August and they were out of it and he said there wasn’t any point in paying attention to them anymore, so he and mom wanted to listen to something else.

“Why don’t you see if you can get KYDJ?” Delia asked. She watched American Bandstand every day and was a good dancer.

“See if you can find ‘Hound Dog’,” I said. That always made her mad.

“Elvis isn’t as good as Frankie Avalon,” she said.

I arranged my Cardinal cards on my lap like they were playing in the field. Curt Flood on my knees in center, Bill White at first and Julian Javier at second on my right thigh, Ken Boyer at third on my left. My Dick Groat card still had him in a Pirates’ uniform, so he didn’t fit in but I put him at shortstop anyway.

“You’re on my side,” Sally said to me. She was sitting in the middle, on the hump, because she was the shortest. My territory extended over to the crease in the seat.

“Sorry.”

“Can we stop for ice cream, daddy?” Sally said.

“Let’s keep going—I want to get home,” Delia said. Probably hoping some boy would ask her to go out to Dog ‘n’ Suds.

“I’d like to stop,” my mom said.

“I need gas anyway,” my dad said, so it was settled. Delia let out a puff of air like a balloon, to show she was unhappy.

“We’ll be home soon enough,” my mom said to no one in particular, but she meant it for Delia. Mom was trying to keep things pleasant.

We pulled into the store with the gas pumps out front and mom took me and Sally in for ice cream. “Get me a butter brickle,” my dad said. “You want anything, Delia?”

“No thank you,” she said. She was always on a diet.

Mom took us to the bathroom first, and when we came out we got our ice cream, one scoop apiece, including dad. “I don’t want anybody to spoil their dinner,” she said. “We have a lot of crappie to eat.”

“I want a hamburger,” Sally said.

“We’ll see,” mom said.

We got back in the car and dad drove slowly for awhile so he could eat his ice cream cone and drive with one hand.

“Can we please change the radio station?” Delia said after a while. “This is boring.”

“I’ll change it after the news comes on,” dad said.

We passed under an overhead traffic light that flashed yellow on the road we were on, and red to the sides for the people coming from the side roads.

“Beaman, 5 miles,” Delia said as she read the sign with an arrow that pointed off to the right. “That’s where the monster lives.”

“What monster?” I asked.

“The Beaman Monster, stupid,” Delia replied.

“There’s no need to be unpleasant, Delia,” my mom said.

“There is no monster,” my dad added.

“Yes there is,” Delia said. “They’ve found dead dogs and cats, and big paw prints in the mud.”

“Really?” Sally asked.

“Yes. Linda Caroll has relatives down there–she told me all about it.”

“It’s probably just a wolf or a coyote,” my dad said.

“The monster doesn’t have little feet like that,” Delia said. “It has big feet like an ape.”

“How would you know what kind of feet an ape has?” I asked. “You’ve never seen one.”

“You can look it up in an encyclopedia, smarty pants.” She lowered her voice so that mom and dad couldn’t hear her being mean to me.

“Does it eat people?” Sally asked.

“They don’t know yet,” Delia said. “I don’t want to be the one that finds out first.”

“You and your girlfriends have been watching too many monster movies,” I said.

“For your information, I don’t watch monster movies. They’re stupid.”

“Better than your stupid beach blanket movies.”

The sun was getting lower in the sky out the left windows, and it was getting dark out the right side. Sally started looking over me to see if she could see the monster.

“Is he big and furry?” she asked Delia.

“Nobody’s seen him, so they don’t know,” Delia answered. “My guess is he looks like the abominable snowman.”

“What’s that?” Sally asked.

“It’s a half-ape, half-man that lives up in the mountains in Asia.”

“Is there a picture of him in your encyclopedia?” I asked.

“Shut up,” Delia hissed at me.

Dad had finished his ice cream but he was still driving slowly, then slower still.

“I think we’ve got a flat,” he said to mom.

“Oh, dear. And we were just at the gas station.”

After he pulled off on the side of the road, he said “Everybody out of the car.”

I got out on my side, but Sally didn’t move at first. “I don’t want to get eaten by the monster.” she said.

“You won’t,” my mother said. “C’mon and get out. Daddy has to jack the car up.”

“No!”

“She can stay in,” my dad said. “She’s so little it won’t make any difference.”

“See what you’ve done with your silly story,” my mom said to Delia.

“It’s not my fault she’s a big baby.”

“Roll down the window so she gets some air,” my mom said.

“No—the monster will get in!” Sally screamed.

“Sally, honey, there is no monster.”

“Yes there is!” She was crying now, and red in the face.

My dad got the car jacked up fast enough but then had trouble getting the lug nuts off the wheel. He’s an insurance agent, so he doesn’t have many muscles.

“Dammit,” he said as the wrench slipped out of his hands.

“Dad said a swear,” I said to Delia.

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“What do I care?” she said. “I’ve heard it before.”

“Suit yourself.” She’s horrible.

Dad finally got the tire off. A blue Ford Fairlane came up beside us and the guy in the passenger seat rolled down his window.

“Y’all need any help?” he said. They were teenagers, and probably stopped because they saw Delia.

“Thanks, I think I’ve got it under control,” my dad said.

The two didn’t drive off. “That spare looks a little flat,” the boy on the passenger side said. “How far you goin’?”

“To the next gas station, then on to Sedville.”

“You won’t find a gas station open between here and there on a Sunday night.”

My dad looked at the boys for the first time as if he took them seriously.

“Then I guess we’ve got about eighteen miles to go,” my dad said.

“We’ve got a pump in the back,” the driver said.

“Well, sure, if you don’t mind,” my dad said.

The boys got out, took the pump out of the trunk and came over to look at the spare. “Yeah, it needs air,” the passenger said.

The driver attached the pump to the nipple and began to inflate the tire. I stood there watching him and his buddy. The work wasn’t as hard as they made it look—they were showing off for Delia.

“Do you guys live around here?” I asked the passenger.

“Yep.”

“Have you heard about a monster down here?”

“A monster?” the passenger said. He looked at his friend, who was pumping away. “What kind of monster?”

“Like an abominable snowman.” I took a glance at Delia, and she was giving me a look to kill.

“It’s August—no snow around here.”

“No, I mean like an ape.”

“Something killed one of the Mergens’ chickens the other night, but I don’t think it was an ape,” the driver said. “Probably a fox.”

“So it didn’t walk on two legs?”

“That would be one talented fox,” the driver laughed. “That oughta do it,” he said and stopped pumping. He rolled the tire over to where my dad was and slipped it onto the wheel, tightened the nuts and lowered the jack.

“There you are,” he said. “That oughta get you to Sedville.”

“Well, thank you boys very much,” my dad said.

“No problem,” the passenger said.

“You didn’t do any of the work,” the driver said with a laugh.

“Here’s something for your trouble,” my dad said as he slipped the driver a bill. “Go have yourself a hamburger.”

“Well, thank you very much,” the driver said. He didn’t turn it down like a lot of people would. He just put the money in his pocket, nodded his head and went back to his car.

“Nice to meet you,” the passenger said. He took us all in, but he was really talking to Delia.

They got back in their car and drove off, the passenger hanging out his window to give Delia the eye. We got back in the car, where Sally was still sniffling.

“I asked those guys, they said there wasn’t any monster around here,” I said to her. “Delia was just being mean, as usual.”

Delia leaned over and put her face up to mine. “Why don’t you mind your own business,” she hissed at me.

“It is my business whether there’s a monster roaming around,” I said. “’Specially if it’s gonna eat my little sister.”

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Sally started to cry again and I realized I probably shouldn’t have said that. “I wanna get up front with you, momma!” she said.

“C’mere, sweetie,” mom said, and Sally climbed over the front seat. “You’re tired. You’ve had a long day.”

We rode on into the darkening sky, Delia looking out her window like she was bored and disgusted with us all, scratchy sounds coming out of the radio.

“Can you try and get the Cardinals game?” I asked my dad, and he turned the dial until he found it.

 

Ask the Wedding Lady

The day of your wedding should be the happiest day of your life, or at least the day of your first wedding. But the customs, folkways and by-laws of matrimony are so darned confusing, it is easy to “slip up,” with disastrous consequences. Ms. Wedding Lady is here to help sort it all out.

Dear Wedding Lady:

Six years ago my sister Nae Ann got “married” to “Chick” Johnson, whose dad owns the Jiffy Lube franchise out on south 65. I use “quotes” (around “married,” not “Chick”–that is his nickname) to indicate my problem.

We went along with Nae Ann and Chick’s little “charade” for many years, then they announced last summer they were getting divorced. He moved out of the trailer, and along about November I asked mom “How come there was never no divorce notice in the paper?”

Turns out Nae Ann and Chick were never married, just cohabitating until they got past the 7-year common law marriage limit, all to save $40 on the justice of the peace! That is Chick for you–he is a former “carney” who will order a cup of hot water for a nickel at a restaurant, then put little packs of ketchup in it to make tomato soup.

My question is this. Sue Ellen–that’s my wife–and I went all out and bought the newlyweds the 6 and a half quart ceramic Crock Pot with the “dancing vegetables” trim. Since Nae Ann and Chick never legally “tied the knot,” don’t we have a right to get it back?

Duane D. Bohammer, Smithton MO

 

Dear Duane:

First, let’s work on your anger. Sure you are upset, but in the great scheme of things, won’t that Crock Pot bring happiness to Nae Ann as she tries to cope with her loss–or gain?  Rather than focus on Chick’s perfidy, why not join Nae Ann for a Quik ‘n Easy Chicken Pot Stew–the recipe is in the instruction manual, if she didn’t throw it out. You’ll find that with the larger six and a half quart size, the stew won’t stick to the sides and burn.


“Lowell, we have enough official NHL Penguins gear!”

 

Dear Wedding Lady:

My fiance Lowell is a die-hard Pittsburgh Penguins fan. He lives, breathes and eats Penguins. He doesn’t really eat them, you know what I mean. He actually prefers steak.

Anyway, we have been talking about a number of “themes” for our upcoming wedding, including “Hawaiian Luau” and “Evening in Paris,” but Lowell is insistent we make it a black-and-white Penguin theme. He thinks he can get somebody from the team to come if he tells the community relations department we’re a charity.


Sidney Crosby: Forget it, you’ll never get him to come.

I know there is a certain similarity between the Penguins colors and men’s tuxedos and a white wedding gown and the ice and snow of the South Pole and all that, but do you really think that is enough to change a whole ceremony that goes back many centuries?

Trudy Birks, Wilkes-Barre, PA

 

Dear Trudy:

I agree, Lowell has gone way “over the top” on this one. Many contemporary couples express their individuality by a “theme” wedding, but don’t drag a losing team that has only won five Stanley Cups into your bridesmaids’ dress planning! Why don’t you suggest, over a candlelight dinner, that Lowell switch his allegiance to the Montreal Canadians, the most successful NHL franchise ever, with their bleu-blanc-rouge color scheme to work with!

Dear Wedding Lady:

I am engaged to my betrothed, Frasier Collins Hemmings III, and the banns have been published. Mummy, Popsy and I had long ago decided that we wanted to have Henry Purcell’s “Trumpet Voluntary in D Major” for the processional, and of course Mendelsshon’s “Wedding March” from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” as the recessional for my ceremony. Then along comes my fiance, who “sowed a few wild oats” I’m afraid, who insists that we walk out of the church to Al Green’s “Let’s Get Married.”

Mummy is beside herself as is Popsy, although on the other side, because they can find no precedent for this in the Book of Common Prayer. Frasier says it is all right because Al Green is an ordained minister.  Mummy, Popsy and I have agreed to abide by your decision as long as you take our side.  We are, after all, Presbyterians.

 

Elinor Chadwick, Wellesley Falls, Mass.

Dear Elinor:

I think you are being just a tad narrow-minded. Al Green is in fact an ordained minister, and his “Let’s Get Married” is slowly but surely working its way into the canon of accepted wedding marches. It is nonetheless inappropriate for a recessional since by the time you are leaving the church you are already married. Why not compromise; Al Green going in, Mendelssohn coming out?

Hey Wedding Lady:

My buddy Rick got married last year to a woman who I swear has a poker up her you know what. All his brothers from the I Felta Thi fraternity tried to talk him out of it, but no luck. I uh, didn’t get around to buying a gift by the day of the wedding, but I asked somebody and they told me you can hand it in up to a year late.

Anyway, I timed it pretty close, got them a cocktail party tray thing, and was on my way to their apartment when I got busted for speeding. Long story short, it was exactly one year, one hour and fifteen minutes later when I got to their place, and his wife who’s already gained ten pounds says you missed the deadline, you have to get us another gift, we’re registered at Pottery Barn and we could still use a large salad bowl.

Ms. Wedding Lady, I don’t think I should be penalized since I am already facing a fine for breaking the speed limit. I was trying my best to get there on time–isn’t there like an emergency exception?

Blake Cauthen, Ridgewood, New Jersey


“Star Wars” wedding

 

Dear Blake:

Thankfully, late wedding gift sanctions can be appealed, just like traffic violations. File a petition for a writ of certiorari with the Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey, District Court, Traffic Division, and ask for an ex parte hearing so the other side won’t know about it. Give the bailiff a $10 bill, just as you tipped (I hope!) the altar boys at the wedding. And next time, rather than speeding around town, shop on-line at stores where the bride and groom are registered. The life you save may be mine.

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Take My Advice–I Wasn’t Using it Anyway.”

Dancing With the Refrigerator

In the fifties when the madness of dance
descended upon the youth of the land,
enflamed by images of other teens
flickering across TV screens

dance

from Philadelphia, of all places,
practice was essential if perfection
was to be achieved, and a necessity,
since able males willing to serve as partner

were in short supply.  It was as necessary
as a pessary had been to their mothers
for girls to practice their steps holding
on to the handle of a refrigerator.

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Stoic, stolid, the appliances stood
doing their duty as men would,
allowing the girls to shine; after all,
a fridge is just an appliance.

I wonder what passions pulsed
through their Freon tubes,
trapped beneath their skins of
avocado green, harvest gold and white.

To feel the warmth of a girl’s hand upon
their handles, tiny lights unlit within; up
in their freezer compartments their brains
frozen like those of boys they stood in for.

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For the duration of a 45 rpm record, they might
believe themselves beloved, but of course
nothing would come of it.  The most
morganatic marriage Faulkner could dream of

did not contemplate that an icebox
would lose its cool over
a gamin’s brown locks.  And
as for those girls, now long grown,

let us hope they have men
as solid, if less cold, and capable
in their domestic dealings
of better expressing their feelings.

For Some Artistic Parents, Summer Camp Choice is Serious

NEEDHAM, Mass.  Joy Olivet-Scramm and Martin Scramm are creative types who survive in the notoriously impecunious world of the arts by holding down full-time jobs in academia, a double-life that lends an air of seriousness to their otherwise whimsical natures.  “Shaw said those who can, do, and those who can’t teach–but we do both!” Joy says as she waits with other parents for a tour of the grounds of a possible summer camp for their son Miles, 10, and daughter Daphne, 9, after a disappointing vacation placement last year.

“They said they’d teach our kids to be creative, but it was just lip service,” Martin says of his children’s experience at another camp with a focus on the arts.  “There was a lot of face-painting and sing-alongs–no rigor at all,” says the tenured professor at New England College, where he teaches introductory English and upper-level courses on Chaucer while moonlighting as a neo-formalist poet.

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“Okay everybody–‘Lord of the Flies’ from the top.”

 

“It was glorified baby-sitting,” adds Joy, whose day job is executive director of the Boston Light Opera Company, but whose avocation is her all-female Gregorian Chant group, The Monotones.  “For the kind of money we spent, I’d expect the kids to learn some Shakespeare or at least Balanchine.”

And so the Scramms and four other groups of parents are here to learn more about Little Dickens Creative Camp, where camp counselors must be both certified Outward Bound instructors and hold a Master of Fine Arts degree.  “Other camps tell kids they’re all artists down deep inside,” says Rowley Merrick, who holds degrees a small liberal arts school in Ohio.  “We level with them, and let them know that no great art is produced without suffering.”

The focal point of the camp, like the swimmin’ hole at most others, is a 19th century factory straight out of the Industrial Revolution, where youngsters stay out of the sun (“It can cause skin cancer,” Merrick notes) and paste labels on bottles of boot blacking, just as Charles Dickens did for a brief time when his father was in debtor’s prison.  “It worked for Dickens,” notes Martin, “and I’d like to think a little of that creative ju-ju will rub off on our kids–along with a lot of inky black stuff.”

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“Must stay awake–get boot blacking merit badge.”

 

Parents are treated to a video made by campers and counselors last summer, which shows children crying and begging their parents not to leave them at the camp on “drop-off day.”  “You’ve got to cut the apron strings firmly and decisively,” the voice-over narrator says.  “Little Dickens Creative Camp will teach your child that being an artist is hard and unrewarding work!”

The methods of Little Dickens fly in the face of the prevailing orthodoxy in the world of arts education, where technique is subordinated to enthusiasm and a Rousseau-like aesthetic philosophy that children are natural artists whose finger paintings will sell for big bucks if you can only get them in avant-garde galleries.

Head Counselor Mark Adamle can only laugh at this notion, as he leads parents through the main dining hall.  “Here’s where the kids enjoy their bread and milk for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

blacking
“Today we’re going to make gimp necklaces–for export to China.”

 

“Do you serve them dessert?” asks Amy Weinholtz, whose son has a number of allergies.

“Of course,” Adamle notes, hoping to allay her concerns, “but only if they catch a squirrel.”

I Miss Miss Near-Miss Congeniality

I once dated—and I’m not making this up–
not quite a Miss Congeniality, but a runner-up
at the Miss Massachusetts Teenager Pageant
Yes—she was my lady, and I was her gent.

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I met her on the outbound T
we both got off at Copley Square.
She was more than congenial enough for me
and had blonde highlights in brunette hair.

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We started to talk of this and that–
actually, to be more specific–
about a crazy guy who jabbered as we sat,
stifling laughs at his dementia tres horrific.

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I suppose that’s a flaw that would hurt your chance
if you revealed it when asked a beauty pageant question.
“Are there any social causes that you like to advance?”
“No but I crack up at guys with manic depression.”

Image result for teen beauty pageant question

We went out for a while, I had just hit thirty,
but no matter how hard I tried to get her into the sack
she resolutely refused to do anything dirty.
She’d go away for the weekend, and call when she got back.

Image result for copley square bar dave mckenna

I never quite pieced her personality together;
We eventually stopped seeing each other.
I needed a girlfriend who was more than fair weather,
not always running off to take care of her mother.

And so I miss Miss Congeniality (runner-up),
fate dashed her from my lips like a flowing cup.
We coulda been something, her and me,
but instead she’s just part of my yuppie history.
Image result for crazy guy subway

I suppose there’s a lesson, however odd,
for all who would strike up an acquaintanceship
on public transportation, with a beautiful broad:
a lunatic’s not enough to sustain a relationship.