Copper Trains

Far away in the small hours a locomotive bellows a warning to make way for its ponderous mass, dragging a long, iron chain of tank and boxcars behind, resigned to its somber duty like a woman hauling water from the creek to the cabin where washing waits in a filthy heap for soap and brush. Miles ahead in the light of day, boys lay a dozen or so pennies on the rails, bright copper spots on the burnished bars of parallel steel. I searched among the cinders between the ties after the red caboose trundled by, the brakeman saying hello and goodbye with a single wave from his copula and found the coin, still warm from its transfiguration, thin and smooth as a lithograph plate ready to be etched with the news of the world or a memorable print of a desert still life littered with a cactus, creosote bush and a steer skull bleached to ivory by the sun and sold in a roadside gift shop where years after the Norfolk and Western line obliterated Lincoln's profile, I slide a quarter into a slot and crank the handle to flatten a penny and emboss it with the words Death Valley.

I’m Taking Next Summer Off

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My Jim Anchower Impression

“Hola Amigos, I know it has been a long time since I rapped at ya.” This is how columnist Jim Anchower began each article for The Onion – America’s Finest News Source. This was back in the days when the venerable periodical was worth reading, or perhaps I’m just nostalgic for the old days when satire was still possible, a time when a reader could differentiate between real life and stories too ridiculous to not be a joke. 

Anchower’s articles chronicled his life as a total, hapless loser with absolutely no irony and few, if any, moments of self-reflection that might turn his life around. Anchower is retired but bad luck is still around and sometimes, for no fault of your own, you can experience a string of it that would rival Unlucky Jim.

So, amigos, let me rap to ya about why I haven’t posted for a while. It has been a bad summer. I had a vacation that got canceled due to a natural disaster, my father passed away, I contracted the latest variant of covid and was out of commission for a few weeks. I got the ax from my only remaining music gig (for reasons listed above, no less). And I had a procedure to fix my eye left damaged by radiation from my skin cancer party of 2020. For about three weeks I have been trying not to stumble into walls and work with one peeper sewn up.

Of course, none of these events were my fault and, unlike Anchower who made bad decisions, my moments of self-reflection were many. I realized after all of this that it doesn’t take very much to make things fall apart even when we think we have it all together. 

Here is a little verse that Jim Anchower wouldn’t care for because it doesn’t rhyme like the lyrics to an REO Speedwagon song.

Smooth and polished as glass
      Clear, flawless
           A pleasure to hold
To fill and lift up with rousing plaudits

One day you flowed over
       And slipped from my fingers
            The hard world caught and shattered you
Into sharp, untouchable pieces

Also-ran Reckless

Most wade in, ankle deep and no further. 
         I went crashing 
              Past those who ventured up to their knees, freestyle
On gall’s impulsive course
        Far beyond the drowners, I gave out and rolled

On my back like a slick otter about to crack a mollusk
I searched the sky for a lodestar. 

I did not recognize heaven. All the jewels were falling
       One after the other
            Bright, final moments.

Cold and shriveled, I slithered to bitter ground 
Capitulant among prudent ankles.

Coffee and Bullets

It is wise to set aside money for emergencies and your retirement. Just as it is wise to set aside one bullet for yourself if the emergency is more than you can handle or retirement is impossible. Who wants to have a job until they drop dead? Who wants a job at all? I would rather not have my morning coffee in rush hour traffic or at a desk while reading the daily headlines in procrastination of opening that dreaded inbox where trouble lurks like a cancer in your bowels waiting for the day when you are too old to fight back. I have witnessed growing old and feeble firsthand. I don’t recommend it; cancer always wins. I would prefer my first cup of Joe on a porch that looks out on a beach welcoming the Atlantic like an old friend who travels the world while the sand, shells and sea oats wait patiently for his return with stories of foreign lands. The prevailing sound is the enduring surf and the tireless desire of the sea to reunite with land. The soft crash of the of waves counterpoints the shrill cry of a gull and the tubular chatter of wind chimes played by a gentle breeze that carries the faint taste of salt and nori and the rain collecting in the menacing clouds forming like a fleet of gray warships on the horizon. They are too far away to worry about, though, they may sail off to sea. Perhaps the gentle breeze will blow the crisis away. I will help by blowing on the hot, black surface of my coffee steaming in the cup. In coastal towns, everyone knows you cannot make coffee using the local tap water. The salinity will give it an off taste; keep bottled spring water handy. It is wise to stock up on potable water, anyway. Especially if you are living beside the ocean with the unpredictable tempests that take advantage of her generous currents and temperatures to ride on her back all over the globe for free looking for trouble. Stock up on coffee while you are at it, although it is unwise to weather a hurricane unless you have a bullet set aside when the emergency gets out of hand. 

Foxy Fawkes

Ah…Springtide. Tis April 13 and the birthday of England’s infamous would-be assassin, Guy Fawkes. That is spelled with an “awkes” because nothing can ever be easy around here. Happy Birthday, Guy! What should we do to celebrate? Shall we blow something up with gunpowder or is that too cliche?

Sometimes following tradition is the only thing one can do. You can’t always think up something exciting and new. It is a lot easier putting up a Christmas tree than researching an ancient Winter festival of pagan culture and convincing the family to sacrifice one of your own before a roaring bonfire in order to please the Gods of Hunt and Harvest.

My mother once tried roast goose instead of the regular Butterball for Christmas dinner. Waterfowl produces so much more fat, what a mess, and all dark meat, to boot. So much for a Boxing Day turkey sandwich. See what happens when established practice unravels?

Murdering your fellow countrymen as a means of social change is not really a break with English tradition but you could argue that the birthday boy’s plan was a radical departure from quietly poisoning your first cousin to advance your career.

What do you suppose Mr. Fawkes would have done had he been successful and the royal family had all gone up in smoke, scraps and jewelry? Being British, he likely would have carried on in the same way England had done for years prior since “carrying on” is what the Brits do and that was all or most of what Fawkes knew.

I am speculating, of course, my knowledge of British history is scant and I hate doing research, but I would be willing to bet Guy would have installed himself as some sort of “New” king. Then there would have been a civil war between Fawkes’ Catholics and the Protestants loyal to the old crown; he couldn’t have executed all them with one blast.

And there you have it: a break with tradition would have led to calamity that served as an impetus to return to tradition. That is, if Guy Fawkes had succeeded. Well, happy birthday to you old boy. At least you gave it a shot. Most people do not. If it is any consolation, remember the British still celebrate Guy Fawkes Night every November because it is a tradition and no one celebrates King James I day.

Take a Risk

Risk, the classic board game of world conquest. The secret to winning is to occupy Australia first as players begin to place their armies. The less experienced invariably chose more colorful locations like England and Egypt but those mythical lands are vulnerable to foreign attack whereas Australia is the only isolated territory on the board. Launch your invasions from the land down under and victory will be yours. As it is true in history, it is true in Risk, Ukraine is a terrible place to find yourself defending. Like wind off the steppe, alien hordes periodically sweep across Ukraine’s fertile plains, stopping long enough to gorge themselves on her ample wheat before steamrolling West to plunder the Gold. If you are lucky enough to be hundreds of miles away from the current upheaval, my advice is to stock up on staples: dried beans, rice, coffee, bottled water and wine before the prices get too high or there is simply nothing on the shelves. Hunker down in your own private Australia for a while and work on that project that has been collecting dust because you have been too busy binge watching reality shows. That novel isn’t going to finish itself. Who is going to pluck the right phrases out of the air and assemble them into poems if not you? Tàpies did not have a staff of brush monkeys to do the work for him. Ravel did not own a synthesizer. When the fighting stops and the world returns to whatever we accept as normalcy you will be ready to strike from your isolation and be triumphant.