A Few of My Least Favorite Things

Portable crappers, and phat gangsta rappers,
Overdressed lawyers who think that they’re dapper,
Blonde second wives who are festooned with bling–
These are a few of my least favorite things.

New SUVs that my teenage son crashes,
Posh window treatments with jabots and sashes,
Pant legs that stick ’cause they’ve got static cling–
These are a few of my least favorite things.

When a friend croaks, when my feet stink,
When I’m feeeeling sad . . .
I simply remember my least favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad.

Cool summer cocktails whose tonic is flattened,
Obnoxious parents with children they’ve fattened,
Hearing your cell phone when you let it ring–
These are a few of my least favorite things.

Visible butt-cracks and sandals with sweat socks,
Income and sales tax, celebrity de-tox,
Middle-aged men who still wear college rings–
These are a few of my least favorite things.

When the pierced tongue, and the nose ring
Become more than fads–
I simply remember my least favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad.

Non-urgent emails with little red flaggies,
Mice that my cat kills in clear plastic baggies,
Ersatz Gambinos who say “Ba-da-bing”–
These are a few of my least favorite things.

Travel by buses and overstuffed bedding,
In-laws who offer to sing at my wedding,
Being held hostage, all tied up with string–
These are a few of my least favorite things.

Poetry on a Split Shift

The task of being a poet is not completed at a fixed schedule.  No one is a poet from eight to twelve and from two to six.

Jorge Luis Borges, lecture on Blindness, 1977

I should have known that my career as a singing waiter was doomed to failure.  I had the garcon chops, there was no denying that; I could remember four orders, with appetizers and salads, without touching the pencil behind my ear.  I could serve from the right and clear from the left.  I could even interrupt a conversation in an ingratiating manner to ask if anyone wanted coffee or dessert so as to speed folks out the door and increase my employer’s “gross” by faster “turnover,” to use the base lingo of the dining industry.  There was just one problem; I couldn’t carry a tune in a wheelbarrow, much less a bucket.


“Breathes there a man with soul so dead/Who never to himself hath said . . .”

 

And so  I was bounced, given the old heave-ho, kicked down the stairs as so often happens to tone-deaf singing waiters.  And now I try to make ends meet in a less remunerative field.  As a poetry waiter.

Believe me, demand is low, so none of the poetry restaurants stay open all day.  If you’re stuck in the “Verse ‘n Veal” field, you’re gonna have to work a split shift; 10 to 2 for the lunch crowd, six to ten for dinner.  Nothing ruins your day like having to be on call as a poet for twelve hours, even though you only work eight.  You can’t go to the beach, you can’t take the road less traveled by, you can’t wander lonely as a cloud.  You can’t do nothing!  Your whole day is shot.

Plus the money is nowhere as good being a poet waiter instead of a singing waiter; poets for show, minstrels for dough, is what they been saying since the Middle Ages, which raises the question:  How did they know they were in the Middle of history way back when, with so much more time to pass?

No, if you want the big tips you’ve got to sing.  Tips for poet waiters start at 15% and maybe–maybe–get up to 18%.  If you’re lucky.  Singing waiters are to poet waiters what rock stars are to poets; the take from the t-shirt stand at a typical rock concert could buy you a half-dozen poets-in-residence at four-year liberal arts colleges.  Singing waiters expect 20% minimum, and if you short ’em the next time you come in with your secretary they sing “Your Cheating Heart.”

poetryslam
“You say you want scrod, no doubt about it/But I tell you you’re screwed pal, because we’re out of it.”

 

This morning was rough, some guy tried to trick me by ordering “the juice of an orange,” knowing there’s no word in the English language that rhymes with the last word in that line, but I took his best shot and counterpunched:  “You’ve ordered a glass filled with juice of an orange/Your voice–it squeaks like a rusty door hinge.”

His jaw dropped, nearly killing one of his pigs in a blanket.  He should have rewarded me for rhyming on my feet, but no, he dinged me, tipping only 17.99999%.  I suppose if I had world enough and time (hat tip to Andy Marvell!) and could carry that out to a million decimal places it might turn into 18%, but the universe is expanding, I haven’t got time.


Andrew Marvell: *urp*

 

The dinner crowd begins to filter in and I recognize my least favorite customers; its Judge Samuel Fishback and his wife Dottie, who writes occasional poetry for our local paper, The West Haven Teapot-Picayune.  Dottie’s a sweet gal but for all the Yankee swaps and hostess gifting back-and-forth she engages in, there’s one present she’s never received; the divine afflatus that would enable her to write an actual, you know, like poem, as opposed to some galumphing doggerel with a meter like a Packard sedan, umpty-dumpty-dumptying along a bumpy metric highway.


Packard: Poetry in motion, at rest.

 

The Judge, by contrast, is all prose, proving the falsity of Clarence Darrow’s gag “Inside every lawyer is the wreck of a poet.”  If there’s a wreck of a poet in his neighborhood it’s probably one he ran over in his late-model American-made sedan.  On purpose.

“Good evening,” I say after the hostess seats them, although it’s rarely a good evening with the Judge.  He generally has a whiskey sour first, then a whiskey sour second, then hits the chardonnay.  If he’s coming from his club he’s already had a beer or two, so by the time he sits down at Chez de la Maison Pommes Frites, he’s more stewed than the prunes in the assisted living center I hope he’s carted off to before long.

“Hello there!” Dottie replies with a beaming smile, while the Judge goes out of his way to give me a hearty “Hrumph.”  Must have broken 100 on the golf course.

“Written anything lately?” I ask Dottie as I fill up their water glasses.

“I certainly have!” she says as she reaches in her purse, pulls out her “readers” and a sheet of lilac-colored paper.  “Listen to this,” she says as clears her throat:

 


Dottie’s whimsical “readers.”

 

How lovely to be a poet,
I feel bless-ed every day,
That I can put down on paper
My thoughts so light and gay.

If really makes me feel sorry
for someone who isn’t bitten by the “bug”
of verse so pretty and beautiful,
it’s like I’m a butterfly and he’s a slug.

The unspoken accusation hangs heavy in the air, and I move to dispel it by launching into my heartfelt recitation of the evening’s specials.

We’ve got lobster risotto that’ll float your boat-o,
and a steak au poivre that’s to die for.
The cost for each is $19.95 in toto,
so the bill won’t be something you’ll cry for.

“Oh, you are so witty!” Dottie says, but I demur:  “Really, that was nothing,” and for once I’m being sincere.  “Are you ready to order or shall I give you a few minutes?”

“How about a drink?” the Judge asks, like a Bedouin parking his camel after a 40-day trek in the desert.

“Sure–the usual?”

“Yes, a whiskey sour, and I’ll have the sirloin with baked potato.”  That’s the Judge for you; just when you think he’s going to order the same old thing, he surprises you and orders the same old thing.

“Don’t you think you should have a salad?” Dottie asks with wifely concern.

“Rabbit food!” the Judge snaps.

“It helps to keep you regular,” she adds as she touches him ever so lightly on the arm.  I discreetly avert my eyes–never noticed that exposed beam ceiling before!

“All right,” the Judge says with grim resignation, as if he’s a prisoner on death row who only got his second choice for a final meal.

“Et vous?” I ask Dottie with what I hope is a lilt in my voice.  She often writes-up the Judge’s tip when he tries to stiff me.

“You mean ‘Et tu?’–don’t you?” she asks coquettishly.

“You’re bad!” I say, not meaning it.

“I’ll have a Rob Roy,” she says.  The Fishbacks are dues-paying members of the Society for the Preservation of Antiquated Cocktails.

“And for dinner?”

“The lobster risotto sounds lovely!” she says with a big smile.

“That’s funny, they’ve been cooking it all day and I haven’t heard a peep out of it!”

“You’re a stitch!” Dottie says.  She’s brought her folding fan, and she gives me a little love-tap on the wrist with it.  “And I’ll have a Caesar salad, hold the anchovies.”

“I tried holding them last night, but they complained I was getting fresh!”

“You!”

I go back to the kitchen and place the order, but the manager is giving me a big scowl.  “I heard that alleged poem you recited to them,” he says surlily, and try saying that five times fast.  “You’d better shape up.”

“Why?” I ask.  “Am I undermining the vibrant bohemian life of your little boit de nuite?”

“No, you dingbat–there’s a restaurant critic here tonight,” he says and he nods in the direction of a table off in a corner where I see–elena gotchko, my former girlfriend and editoress-in-chief of plangent voices, the little poetry rag that I started with her back when we were demon lovers.

“She’s not a restaurant critic,” I say.  “She’s a lower-case poetess, and an awfully bad one at that.”

“That’s not what she told me when she walked in.”

“Probably just trying to cadge a free meal.  There’s not a lot of money in poetry, as you well know from the low-three figure checks you write me every week.”

He sniffs, and not because he’s checking the lobster bisque.  “I pay the going rate, so get going,” he says, before turning on his heel and returning to his maître d’ station.

And so I’m forced to confront my past, and the awful years when I wandered in the poetic wilderness after elena ejected me from the plangent voices offices, displacing me with that awful buck-toothed Brit Bendall Hyde as Managing Editor.  I was a ship without a home port, thrown back upon my own devices, which were mainly handy counter-top appliances and stereo components.  I eventually clawed my way back to the top of highly low-paid world of highbrow quarterly poetry, to the point where I now have three–three!–tote bags from college literary magazines to choose from when I go shopping at our local natural food store.

But to paraphrase Santayana, those who do not confront their past are still doomed to run into their old girlfriend when they work a split-shift as a waiter in a restaurant, so it really doesn’t matter.  All I know is, I’m going to put on the best damn performance by a waiter-poet since e e cummings told a woman “86 on the noisettes de porc” at Le Bocage, the first classic French restaurant in Massachusetts.

It’s salads first, so I come out with the small tray, a Caesar and a “house” salad, so called because it tastes like it’s made with materials bought at Home Depot.  I cast a gimlet eye in elena’s direction and begin:

Here are your salads, I also brought pepper,
in a grinder as big as a bazooka.
Don’t take too much, cause the stuff’s got a punch
that will deck you like you’re a Palooka.

For some reason I’ve finally tickled the Judge’s fancy, and he starts to laugh, drawing the attention of several diners, including my beloved lower-case elena.  Maybe–just maybe–I can make her jealous enough to ask me back into her life and a cushy sinecure at plangent, as it’s known by writers who want to preserve every precious syllable.

Now it’s Dottie’s turn; it’s a bit like playing tennis against your grandmother, you have to humor her:

I don’t want pepper, you ought to know better,
my digestive system it does not please.
I would, on the other hand, greatly enjoy,
a little more parmesan cheese.

“Coming right up,” I say, and as I walk away I catch elena’s eye, which she’s cast in my direction.  I saunter over, even though she’s outside my “zone,” and try to chat her up amiably.

“Well hello stranger!” I say in a voice that could have been exorcised from a Chamber of Commerce Sergeant-at-Arms.  “Long time no see!”

elena was always, if anything, more of a bear about avoiding clichés and small talk than I, so she greets me with a sort of sneer/smile–a snile?  a smeer?–that could flash-freeze a quart of strawberries.

“hello,” she says, sticking to her self-conscious lower-case attitudinizing.  “will you be my server tonight?”

“Sorry, no,” I say with mock regret.  “Although you should be able to hear my extempore poetry from where you sit.”

“and why would I want to do that?” she asks bitterly.

“I’ve always wondered–if you’re such a non-conformist, why do you use punctuation marks?”

“You’re”–I had her so riled up she started off with a capital!  “you’re playing with text versus speech now, and don’t think i don’t know it.”

“nice to see you,” I say, mocking her no-capitalization affectation.

I head off to the kitchen, where the Fishbacks’ entrees are ready, but I’m suddenly faced with a poet’s predicament; how do you summon the muse to inspire you over–meat and potatoes?

“Table 3 up,” the chef says, and I gulp with dread.  Steak, bake, cake, drake, fake etc.  All pretty pedestrian.  There’s no way I’m going to knock elena’s self-consciously artistic vertical striped socks off with that selection of rhymes.  There’s only one thing to do.

“Hey chef!” I yell.

“Yeah?”

“Give me the cooking sherry!”

He plays dumb for a moment, but I know from experience that drink on the job is the occupation, not the occupational hazard, of a cook.

He hesitates, looks around to make sure the boss isn’t watching, then reluctantly and surreptitiously pulls a green bottle of rotgut fortified wine out from under the counter.

“Leave me some, okay?  It’s gonna be a long night,” he says.

“I will,” I reply, “but I’ll try to make your evening fly past faster with some alcohol-enhanced verse.”

“Whatever,” he says, and tourns back to a tournedos of beef.

I take a pull, as much as I can stand, and the varnish-like finish of the jerez hits my soft palate like dragster fuel spilling on asphalt.  I shake my head not to clear my brain, but to mix things up.  I cast a steely glance across the dining room, and launch my boat laden down with verse across the godawful carpet towards the Fishbacks.

Here’s your steak, I say to the judge,
please chew each morsel thoroughly,
or else to the emergency room you’ll fly
and we’ll bury you tomorrow, quite ear-i-ly.

The patrons gasp–have I been so gauche as to recite a poem that hints at the death of a diner?  The only way I can redeem myself is with a chivalric tribute to Dottie, the fair damsel who suffers under the Judge’s pig iron rule.

To you, Dottie, I now proclaim,
I’ve brought the lobster risotto.
You were supposed to get a side of manicotti,
but I decided on you I would dote-o.
You have such a slim, girlish figure, you know,
and it’s surely one worth preserving,
so ix-nay on the carbs is priority uno,
as your profile I’m fond of observing.

There are, of course, some philistines in the crowd who don’t get my innovative a-b-a-b-c-d-c-d rhyme scheme, but elena–who’s been limping along with her trademark a-a-b-b-c-c-d-d pattern for what seems like decades now, is suddenly all ears.  And other facial features, of course, but her lobes are throbbing, as they once did when I nibbled on them while we stood over a hot Xerox machine, churning out our first edition!

She rushes up to me and says “you–you’ve progressed quite a bit since . . . i dumped you,” with more than a trace of rue, I might add.

“Poetry is hard work,” I say, chucking her under the chin so our eyes can meet through her sloppy self-cut bangs.  “If . . . we got back together, perhaps we could pull our oars in tandem, like double-scullers.”

She’s about to melt in my arms when a projectile piece of meat hits me in the ear, expelled from the throat of the Judge by the force of Dottie’s Heimlich maneuver.  She looks at me over his shoulder now that the coast . . . and the Judge’s throat . . . is clear, and she appears more than a trifle–miffed.

“My husband could have died while you were goofing around!” she says.

“Sorry about that, he’s never had a problem before,” I say.  “Are you okay?” I ask His Honor.

“I am now but it was a close call,” he says.  “I should have known better.”

“why’s that?” elena asks.

“Because his poetry always makes me gag.”

 

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

As Roadside Elegies Spread, Cops Take on Poetry Duty

FRAMINGHAM, Mass. As the Thanksgiving vacation week began Lieutenant Jim Hampy of the Massachusetts State DMVD was patrolling the Metrowest area of Boston, on the lookout for college students home from school with too much time on their hands and beer in their bellies. “I’m not sure how much longer I can take this beat,” he says with resignation as he watches a carful of twenty-somethings beat a hasty retreat when they spot his car parked behind Ye Olde Package Store, a faux-Colonial retail liquor outlet that is the last place to buy booze before a driver goes through two “dry” towns. “The things you see out here–it’ll turn your stomach.”

Hampy decides not to give chase and takes a sip from his “lahge” Dunkin Donuts regular coffee. “I got bigger fish to fry tonight,” he says. “I been tailin’ a gang of girls for almost a year now. I got a suspicion they’ll be out in force, since they’re probably sick of their parents already.”

The instincts of the “statie,” as his adversaries in this cat-and-mouse game refer to him, prove correct as a Volvo blasts down the highway loaded to the gills with six girls, singing songs from their senior year in high school. “Suspects heading west on Route 20, send backup,” he says as he accelerates out of the parking lot, without, however, turning on his siren or flasher. “I don’t want ‘em to know I’m coming,” he says.

The girls have a quarter-mile lead that is lengthened when Hampy is forced to stop at a red light, but he seems unperturbed. “It’s okay, I want to catch ‘em in the act,” he says, and his game plan works to perfection as he pulls up at the dangerous intersection where the girls have set up a makeshift–and illegal–memorial in honor of Amanda Skrulnik, a classmate of theirs whose cheerleading career was tragically cut short when she broke her femur in a car crash last New Year’s Eve.


“I . . . I tried to rhyme ‘awesome’ with ‘possum.’”

“Those things are a fire hazard, and people could mistake them for a traffic signal,” he says unconvincingly, referring to the tall votive candles the girls have kept burning since that horrible night. As he cuts his headlights and cruises slowly to a stop, it becomes clear that safety concerns are secondary to him, however. “Worst of all is the poetry,” he says, shaking his head. “I hope no daughter of mine ever writes nothin’ as bad.”

He exits the car along with this reporter and makes his presence known to the girls, who are sobbing quietly. “Good evening ladies,” he says, and it is clear to this reporter that he maintains an air of professional calm only with difficulty. “I thought we reached an understanding there last summer,” he says, as he plucks a piece of paper from the paws of a stuffed animal at the roadside shrine and begins to read aloud, his voice at times betraying his overflowing emotions:

We really miss you, Dear Amanda,
On the sidelines where you cheered with flair.
We know your favorite animal was the panda
but we could only find this Teddy Bear.

Hampy looks at the girls one by one, as if scanning a police station lineup. “I want to know who wrote this,” he says gently but firmly. “Tracy? Lindsey? Chloe?”

The girls from the back seat are silent, so he continues. “Siobhan? Whitney? Courtney?”

The last-named friend finally cracks. “It wasn’t any one of us–it was all of us, a joint effort,” she says.

Hampy groans involuntarily. “Haven’t I told you–poetry is the product of a unique and individual vision. It’s not something you write by committee, like the mission statement of a non-profit that wants to rid the world of trans-fats. Now clean this up and go home.”

The girls are properly chastened and get to work at a routine they have down pat; extinguishing the flames, removing beads, stuffed animals and signs, and crumpling up their roadside elegies, as commanded by a duly-authorized officer of the Massachusetts Department of Motor Vehicle Doggerel.

On Saturday morning Hampy spoke is the speaker for a public service assembly at Pumpsie Green Consolidated Regional High School, lecturing a gym full of bored and inattentive kids about the dangers of roadside poetry. “For the first offense, all you got to do is take the Junior Operator Scansion Adjustment Seminar,” he says, drawing no reaction from the students. “It’s three Saturdays,” he adds, eliciting sighs and the rolling of many eyes.

“Second offense, you got to go to the Do Not Go Premature Into That Good Night Retreat.” The young men and women are paying attention now, as Hampy pauses for effect. “That’s a whole weekend.” Groans are heard from several students, but Hampy cuts them off to let them know it could get even worse.


“These are good kids–they just write crappy poetry.”

“Finally, after three violations or refusal to comply with prescribed meter or rhyme scheme mandated by court order, we impose the death sentence.”

“What’s that?” asks Wade Aucoin, a pimply 15-year-old in the first row of the bleachers.

“Permanent revocation of your poetic license.”

Available in Kindle format as part of the collection “poetry is kind of important.”

With Arthur Rimbaud at the Chamber of Commerce

French poet Arthur Rimbaud wrote most of his well-known works as a teenager, then abandoned poetry for a mercantile career.

                                              Poetry Magazine


Rimbaud

It’s 11:45 and I’m standing outside Rimbaud’s Hardware, waiting for my friend Art to break away so we can head over to the Chamber of Commerce lunch at the Bothwell Hotel.  Art is listening to a customer complain about a lawn sprinkler he bought the week before–apparently the guy can’t figure out how to change the flow from one side to the other without getting soaked.

“Easiest thing to do is just turn off the hose for a second,” Art is saying to the man, an old duffer in one of those “scrambled-egg” hats worn by captains of U.S. Navy vessels and–for reasons that have never been clear to me–retirees.

“You think that will work?” the old man is saying to Art, who’s trying–but not too hard–to break away for lunch.  That’s Art for you–he’s got a cardboard sign in his little office that says “The customer is always right.”

“Try it and see,” Art says as he pats the man on the arm and starts towards the door.  “If it doesn’t work, you bring it back in here for a full refund.  If you’ve got the original packaging and the product is not damaged and you pay a $5 re-shelving fee,” he adds facetiously.


“If it ain’t right–we’ll fix it!  For a price.”

“I will, I will,” the man says.  I think he’s a little hard of hearing.

“Hey there!” Art says as he sees me lingering outside his door.  “Let’s skedaddle–I don’t want to be late.”

It’s amazing the transformation that has been wrought in the former decadent poete maudite since he turned twenty-one and his old man told him the gravy train was coming to a screeching halt.  I guess he looked at himself in the mirror one morning and realized that if he wanted to eat three square meals a day, poetry wasn’t the line of business for him.

He came back to Charleville where we grew up and threw himself into the family business with a gusto that surprised a lot of people who remembered him hanging around the Dog ‘n Suds leaning against the cherry T-Bird his grandmother bought him when he turned sixteen, or smoking pot beneath the purple glow of black lights in basements occupied by loser friends of ours who were living with their parents while they tried to put off adulthood.

He had in fact turned into a much sought-after inspirational speaker for fraternal society lunch meetings.  One week the Rotary, next the Optimists, then the Lions Club, the Moose, the Elks, and so on.  He did it all without pay, too.  He said he wanted to give back to the community, since the warm bath of affection that our small town offered a well-meaning but prodigal son who returned to the fold had saved him from a life of absinthe, bad art and boring poetry slams.  “I found the celebrities of modern painting and poetry ridiculous,” he said, shaking his head ruefully when we first got together for a pitcher of beer shortly after he returned from the big city.


Rimbaud hangin’ with his homeys.

“One single true word–COME BACK,” he said in explanation of his homecoming, inadvertently revealing the poor math skills that made it necessary for him to hire a full-time bookkeeper.

His parents forgave him all the money he’d blown in his bohemian youth, but his dad said he’d have to start at the very bottom of the Rimbaud’s Hardware corporate org chart and work his way up.  He got the message, stopped wasting his time driving around town every night, put his nose to the grindstone and shoulder to the wheel–and he hasn’t looked back since!  “Idle youth, enslaved to everything!” he had groaned one night after having one too many Busch Light beers.  “By being too sensitive I have wasted my life!”

We make our way into the hotel and see a few Chamber members chewing the fat.  There’s Hiram Muller, State Farm insurance agent; Bob Dunn, who owns the new AMF Bowladrome on the western edge of town; and C.J. Turner, the Chevy-Buick-GMC dealer.

“Hey Art!” Turner yells as he swivels his double chin around when he spies us out of the corner of his eye.  “You preachin’ a sermon today?”

“You will always be a hyena!” Rimbaud laughs as he claps Turner on the shoulder before shaking hands all around.  I have to admit, he’s got the gift of gab that a small businessman needs to succeed in a world dominated by big chain stores.

We take the elevator up to the second floor and see a bunch of members milling around, making small talk.  Since Art’s on the program today he’s supposed to sit up at the dais, while I take a seat at a table with Hiram and Bob and C.J.

As always, we start the meeting with a prayer, led to my surprise by Art himself.  Although he’d been one of the first of our teenage gang to go atheist, he had a religious experience, a sort of St. Paul knocked on his ass on the road to Damascus deal.  He was coming out of Hersch’s Quik Liquor on South 65 one night with a suitcase of Bud Light on his shoulder when he slipped on a ballpoint pen somebody had dropped in the parking lot, fell backwards and hit his head–hard–on the concrete.

“Life is the farce we are all forced to endure,” he had said groggily as we took the steps we had learned for our Boy Scouts First Aid merit badge, elevating his feet, covering him with a beach towel and not moving him until we were sure he was okay.  From that point on, Art had an ethereal quality about him.  I think he’d had a near-death experience, and he understood in a way that nobody else in our little circle of friends did that there is another, better world waiting for us after we pass through this vale of tears.

Art begins the invocation, his eyes downcast and his hands clasped together, “Only divine love bestows the keys of knowledge.”  He continues in this vein–humble and genuine–and his sentiments are echoed by a simple “Amen” by all present when he’s done.

Then, as you might expect with this gang, it’s business.  The president welcomes everybody, including some new members–Ted Fhlegm who’s opened up an auto parts store on east 50–and a few guests, such as the sons of some members who have skipped school to see a highlights film of the Kansas City Chiefs that is introduced by a guy from the front office who tries, without much success, to sell season tickets to a room full of guys who’d rather spend their Sunday afternoons snoring on the den couch.

It’s Art’s turn now, and he sits quietly as the president introduces him, saying we’ve all known him since he was a boy and a man and noting his growing reputation as an inspirational speaker.  The crowd applauds politely but warmly, Art says thanks for the kind words, and puts the crowd at ease from the get-go with some self-deprecatory humor.  “What am I doing here?” he asks, and the crowd laughs, thinking of him as a French version of Vice Admiral James Stockdale, H. Ross Perot’s running mate in his 1992 bid to become the first independent candidate to become President of the United States.


James “What am I doing here?” Stockdale

“I’ve just noticed that my mind is asleep,” he says, continuing in the vein of humility he’s struck, and the assembled burghers lean back in their seat, digesting their lunch of Salisbury steak, steamed carrots and mashed potatoes.  If Art had any after-dinner mints, the crowd would be eating them out of his hand.

“What a life!” Art begins, turning serious as he begins the tale of his transformation from dissolute poet to successful businessman.  “As I descended into impassable rivers I no longer felt guided by the ferrymen,” he says, recounting his bouts with writer’s block, depression, dry flaky skin and existential torment.  “Misfortune was my god.”

You could hear a toothpick drop, and when Clell Furnell, the local John Deere dealer fumbles his, a few heads turn to shush him.  “I shed more tears than God could ever have required,” Art says somberly.  I notice a glint of a moistness in more than one hard-nosed businessman’s eyes.

“I’m intact, and I don’t give a damn,” Art says by way of peroration.  “A thousand dreams within me softly burn.”  The room is hanging on his every word, and he leaves them with one final thought:  “The only unbearable thing–is that nothing is unbearable.  We know how to give our whole lives every day.”

With that, he is done, and there is a moment of calm before a thunderous storm of applause breaks out.

“That was great,” C.J. says to me as he pounds his beefy hands together.

“I know–isn’t he terrific?” Hiram adds.  “A hell of a lot better than that guy who gave that talk about long-term care insurance.”

“What’s amazing to me,” I say, leaning into the table so the others can hear me over the crowd’s adulation, “is that this is the same guy who wrote ‘Then you’ll feel your cheek scratched . . . a little kiss, like a crazy spider, will run round your neck.’”

The others look at me like I’m crazy.  Bob Dunn arches his left eyebrow skyward in skepticism, then pops the question that the others are probably asking themselves at the same time.  “Are you sure about that?” he asks dubiously.  “I thought that was Dr. Norman Vincent Peale.”

All quotes after the “skedaddle” one guaranteed verbatim Rimbaud.  Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Dead Writers Make More Money.”

My Y Chromosome

I kinda like my Y chromosome–
I take him with me whenever I leave home,
no matter where or how far I roam.
As you may have guessed by now,
he’s the subject of this poem.

Without my Y, I’d have to watch
a lot less televised sports,
and I couldn’t wear cargo shorts.
You think I’m copping an attitude?
You don’t want to see me even partially nude.

I know a lot of folks groan at dad jokes,
but without the guys who make them
I ask you—where would we be?
There wouldn’t be any moms to tell ‘em–
to reproduce you need someone with a Y–like me.

No, I like my little Y guy,
I’m not going to tell him to beat it.
We play by our own rules:
When I drop food on the ground,
He says “Go ahead and eat it.”

We’ll leave the finer things in life
to the folks with two XX’s,
and thank our lucky stars that
that–at last count–
there were two sexes.

 

Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Poets

With apologies to Waylon Jennings, not that he needs them.

They’re hard to love and harder to hold.
They’ll give you a poem ‘stead of diamonds or gold,
Ripped off from Auden, or maybe from Yeats
Somethin’ that won’t make them rich as Bill Gates.
As each night fades into a new day
They can’t find a job with their MFA’s.

They think it’s a safe job hanging ’round a faculty lounge.
But when mealtime comes, they find that they have to scrounge.
There isn’t much market our there in the world for sestinas.
They’d make more as a cop, or even a ballerina.
They’re wrong in the head, I think you know that for sure
Their poems are the symptoms, and lettin’ them write is no cure.

Poets git lost when they’re out drivin’ around,
Wanderin’ lonely as old Bill Wordsworth’s cloud.
They takin’ the road less traveled, like Robert Frost
But unlike him they tend to get lost.
They’re anal retentive about every one of their commas,
Freud would have a heyday analyzin’ their mommas.

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be poets
They’re headed for ruin for sure and both of you know it.
Let ‘em be doctors and lawyers and such,
the schoolin’s as long, but poets don’t make as much.
Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be poets.
‘Cause they’re always at home but they’re always alone.
Even with someone they love.

My Poetic Life Insurance Exam

“Do you think you have enough life insurance?” my wife asked with concern after watching another half hour’s worth of depressing news about the coronavirus.


“All those Star Wars tchotchkes!”

“Why do you ask?” I asked, and not unreasonably I thought.

“Well–you’re 71.  You’re at high risk.”

“I’m in good health.”

“Yes–but if you traipse mud on the new white carpet again, I might be tempted to kill you.”

We shared a laugh, but I wasn’t going to let her off easy.

“Life insurance isn’t for me, it’s for you.  If I die I won’t care how much insurance I had, and I’m leaving everything I have to you.”

“Everything?”

“Yep.  The Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson CDs, the boxing books, the Star Wars collectible plastic drink cups, the Betty Boop DVDs.”

“Thanks, but I’m going to need some liquid assets when you die.”

“Why?”

“To pay somebody to haul all that stuff away.”

I looked in her eyes and saw tiny little tears forming at the corners.  We’ve always had some common interests–ballet, wine, our children–but each of us also had other enthusiasms that lay outside the intersection of the Venn Diagram of our marriage.  I respected her space, and she had no interest in mine.

“Okay–I get it.  I’ll call the insurance agent today and get a quote.”

It was the work of just a few minutes to learn that, even at my advanced age, I might qualify for plenty of additional term insurance, at very affordable rates.  All I had to do was pass a physical–and they’d do it in my home!

I set up an appointment and the next day a pert nurse arrived with her black bag of medical equipment to check me out–I mean my vital signs.  Without even studying the night before, I passed all her tests–cholesterol, blood pressure, body mass index, the works.

“You’re in great shape,” she said as she took off her stethoscope.  “I just have to ask you a few questions about hazardous pastimes you may indulge in.”

“Like what?”

“Let me read the list.”

“Okay.”

“Skydiving?”

“Nope.”

“Scuba diving?”

“I used to love Sea Hunt with Lloyd Bridges when I was a kid, but I’ve never done it myself.”

“Okay.  Flying or parasailing?”

“Nope.”

“Poetry?”

I gulped involuntarily.  I had no idea that my ham-handed attempts at versification might stand in the way of my wife’s desire to maintain her standard of living after I croaked.

“What does poetry have to do with life insurance?”

“We don’t have to write a policy to cover someone who engages in risky activities.”

“What’s risky about poetry–besides paper cuts?”

“Here are the stats,” she said, pulling a pamphlet out of her bag, the kind you see in racks in doctors’ offices about the causes and cures of psoriasis and Osgood Schlatter’s Disease.

You could have knocked me over with a feather duster, if not a feather, but the facts were as plain as a pig on a sofa, to mix my metaphors.  The text referred to a classic study by James C. Kaufman and John Baer that found poets to have the highest risk of suicide of any type of artist.

“So your answer is?” she continued with an eyebrow arched upwards now that I’d tipped my hand, so to speak.

“Uh, yes, I write poetry.  At least think I do, even if the editors of both general circulation and literary magazines often–almost always–disagree.”

She check a box on her form in a perfunctory manner.  “What kind of poetry–dramatic, narrative, or lyrical?”

“A little of all three,” I said nervously.

“Okay–hit me,” she said as she pushed up one sleeve, as if she was really getting down to work.

“Well, uh, in the dramatic mode, I wrote a full-length verse play about St. Thomas a Becket that will probably never see the light of day.”

“Okay.  Narrative?”

I hesitated, a little embarrassed to continue.  “I’ve, uh, done a series of blank verse poems about . . .”

“Yes?”

“St. Louis Cardinals players of the 1960s.”

I thought I saw just a flicker of a snicker form on her lips.  “English major?” I asked, taking the offensive.

“Minor.  Now comes the hard part.  Any lyrical poetry in your little moleskin leather notebooks?”

I swallowed, hard, and turned my head to avoid her gimlet gaze.  Nothing I hate worse than having the full force of a woman’s gimlet–whatever that is–trained on me.

“Well?–I’m waiting.”

“YES!” I said, and I put some starch into my reply.  “I’ve written the typical moonstruck love poems any boy of 16 would produce.  Only I waited until I was middle-aged to do it–so I could get them right.  Is that so wrong?”

I could tell my words had had an effect on her.  She looked me up and down with a clinical attitude, as if to say she was only doing her part in the world-wide effort to stop the spread of bad poetry being produced right now, by otherwise well-meaning people who think that anybody else gives a shit.

“No, no, there’s nothing wrong with that,” she said as she returned her gaze to the form and made two little “x’s” at the bottom.  “But it’s going to cost you an extra $3.95 per month for every $100,000 worth of coverage.”

Don’t Come Home From Book Group With Lovin’ on Your Mind

(with apologies to Loretta Lynn)

Image result for don't come home from drinkin with lovin on your mind

Well you thought I’d be waitin’ up when you came home last night
You’d been out with all the girls and you ended up half tight.
But books and chardonnay don’t mix, leave a bottle or me behind
And don’t come home from book group with lovin’ on your mind.

Image result for book groupbooks

No don’t come from book group with lovin’ on your mind.
Keep talkin’ about your novel and suckin’ down your wine.
When you gals read that chick lit it don’t improve your minds,
So don’t come home from book group with lovin’ on your mind.

Image result for book group

You’re never home, you’re always gone, readin’ bodice rippers.
Many’s the night I’ve laid awake, yearnin’ for your nippers.
But you come in too drunk for love, it happens every time
No don’t come home from book group—with lovin’ on your mind.

I Wish You Loved Me as Much as Your Phone

We’re here together, but I’m all alone.
Your body’s here, but your mind is gone.
I might as well be in The Twilight Zone–
I wish you loved me as much as your phone.

You call me baby, you call me doll–
And then you say “I gotta take this call.”
You talk to someone from parts unknown–
I wish you loved me as much as your phone.

When we get home from our evening date
I think of romance as it’s gettin’ late.
And then I hear that little nuisance ring
I don’t know why you can’t turn off that thing.

You say you love me as you stare at your screen
The way you treat me is beyond obscene.
When you look up you’ll see this bird has flown–
‘Cause you don’t love me as much as your phone.

I Wear My Erudition Lightly

I wear my erudition lightly,
or at least I really try.
If you put on a heavily learned cloak
folks won’t think you’re a regular guy.

So I drop bon mots at cocktail parties
when the conversation starts to flag.
Like “Didja know that a guy named Tiresias
used to walk around all the time in drag?”

Or the fact that Lincoln crossed the Rubicon
to end the Peloponnesian War?
It was either that or the French Revolution,
I’m sure I read it somewhere before.

I’m also good with orthography,
I’m a former spelling bee champ.
I’ve never misspelled H2SO4
And I know why the lady’s a tramp.

I know about quantum mechanics,
Which is a concept thought up by Niels Bohr.
I take my quantum in every three thousand miles
and they lube my four-on-the floor.

I took some classes in vers libre,
which I found to be most stimulating.
I also drink mojitos and daiquiris,
and I find them all very intoxicating

If you want to display your brainpower,
don’t be afraid to let it all out.
When people say they think I’m unlearned,
I don’t leave any room for doubt.