Category: Writing

Happy Saint Pat’s Day

Photo by Kelly on
The landscaper hails from Guatemala. His small family business is composed of himself and his nephew. I feel uncomfortably tall around them but both are strong as mules. They brought a mountain of black mulch and fresh grass cut into neat rectangles like industrial carpet that can be easily replaced when someone spills their coffee in the office. In the spots where they patched the lawn the new turf sparkles like emeralds against a yard, sallow from winter. It is Saint Patrick’s Day and only fitting that the morning be filled with the business of greenery. The landscaper is a tee-teetotaler, though. After a hot day of extracting a stump of a long dead cypress like a stubborn, rotten molar clinging to its dead roots as if it wished to leave behind only a legacy of discomfort and exasperation, I asked him if he would go home and enjoy an ice cold beer. His family life was too demanding to succumb to the comfort of the bottle. At least that is what I gathered from his broken English. Not much of the Irish blood that boils in my veins made it to the jungles of Central America. Plenty flooded into New York, though. Amateur Day is what I called it. An excuse in March to get tanked and make an ass yourself as if anyone needs an excuse to drink and search for a moment of joy during a bleak month in a filthy Northeast metropolis. It is ironic Saint Patrick was credited for expanding literacy when observing throngs of revelers in the street, falling down, fighting, vomiting, getting stuck in a revolving door. It is not ironic that as a boy the would be patron was sold into slavery when one considers how many Irish are chattel to demon rum. A coffle stumbles from bar to bar chanting a phrase that announces to fellow countryman they are from Sligo. I know little of Guatemala or what part the landscaper comes from. I suspect they have their own share of drunken revelers. He and his nephew loaded their tools into the trailer. A silver braid of municipal water from the spigot on the side of my house washed the earth from their sturdy hands. They were still wet when he and I shook to seal the deal the way men do, his grip surprisingly gentle for hands accustomed to hard labor. My grip might be considered substantial for a man who types on a keyboard all day. It is likely attributed to my Irish heritage and years of clinging to the bottle for help in clinging to this life, sometimes just out of spite. As they drive off I think how lucky they are to not need a drink at the end of a grueling day. I should be so lucky, after all, I am of Irish stock. And like any good Irishman, I will toast their health and have a drink for them and anyone else who cannot. 

Normal Business Hours


During normal business hours my time is not my own, I am not at liberty to dwell on personaDuring normal business hours my time is not my own, I am not at liberty to dwell on personal matters.l matters. My daily tasks occupy all my time during normal business hours and I leave details of my life hanging on a hook by the door with my hat and coat and umbrella if the forecast calls for rain and the morning commute is gray and the train is filled with damp passengers contemplating the idiomatic pieces of their existence before arriving at office doors where they, too, will surrender those parts of themselves in order to focus on matters at hand during normal business hours. Coats will hang, glistening with pearls of fine mist or dripping into puddles on the floor.

I might wonder if it is raining back home on the farm where the cows stand, steaming in the barn as they wait for the cribs to be filled with a breakfast of hay carefully stored during the hot days of July. This is during normal business hours, yet I see my calloused hands lifting the bales into the rack before cutting the rough twine, allowing the tightly packed dried grass to explode in a cloud reeking of mildew and summer sun. A sun that shines two seasons away on beach sand the same shade as the stalks of hay that long bovine tongues pull into the gnashing mill of grinding molars. I pause to lean, during normal business hours, in the doorway of the barn, gazing at the leaden sky, listening to the far away roar of surf and smell brine in the moist air and taste the mild saltiness on the tip of a bottle of beer that is so cold and refreshing after a swim in the ocean and riding a breaker back to shore like a slick sea lion to bask in the sun, you silly, fat, lazy thing.

The photo of you on my desk is the only indulgence from nostalgia’s cabinet I allow myself during normal business hours. You smiling in front of Doge’s Palace after wandering, lost but unconcerned with finding our way through the dark twisted maze of Venice in search of wine and cicchetti. Most tourists leave the city after dark for cheap hotels on the mainland or cruise ships bobbing in the lagoon and you have the quiet, sinking streets all to yourself if you don’t mind the ghosts that glide like fog across wet stones. A melody I cannot place floats from a window, coalescing with the dulcet melody of the On Hold Ensemble as I wait for the call to be connected during normal business hours. What would ersatz background distractions sound like today had Bartok stopped writing for string ensembles and concentrated on Tin Pan Alley palaver during normal business hours? As complex as multiple, compound time signatures can be, music is confined to the restraints of time itself and must pass just as normal business hours must conclude eventually freeing me to dwell on personal matters once again.

Magnetism And You


How many MRIs do you need in order to develop a magnetic personality? The procedure is expensive so hopefully not too many if that is your plan. In his Dynamic Tension course, Charles Atlas instructs that proper posture is the first step in achieving a magnetic personality. He also suggested adopting an attitude of Hopefulness. His training is far more affordable than the resonance tube but there are no guarantees in life.

All of us contain a certain amount of hard wiring that we cannot change when we roll off the assembly line into our beautiful existence. If you don’t naturally attract a crowd, consider how lucky you are to even be part of a crowd. The odds of you being born a human are effectively zero if you can do the math and if you can do the math consider how fortunate you are to have a brain capable of performing such intense calculations. People born with big personalities tend to cruise through life always getting what they want but someone has to manage their money.

Among the many people lucky enough to be alive, I have met a few with not much personality but they did not seem to notice or be bothered in the least nor was it obvious they suffered any ill effects from being dull. People with no distractions get things accomplished and nothing is more distracting than other people hanging around waiting to see what you are going to do next. Stop trying to convince others that you are special, remember the odds of being born human are practically null. Now go and get something accomplished. People with magnetic personalities are depending on you.

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

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

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.

Leaf Blowers

The Season’s visage wears a scowl. 

Cold smoke moves on specter toes. 

Join the lonely wind in howl,

Chant the words in Winter’s prose.

It has been a long, cold winter but the worst has passed. February brings milder temperatures to South Texas. The only sign of the old frigid man is yellow grass, some bare tree branches and pruned crape myrtles. A sense of season is easily confused. Landscapes surrounding office buildings and cul de sacs alike are planted with invasive, perennials of implacable green. The display of chocolate hearts is replaced by chocolate rabbits beside a sale for sunscreen. The new line of patio furniture relaxes in cool umbrella shade, inviting a shopper to sit and consider the sale price on the laminated tag. Everyone should own a grill at least once in their life but no one really needs a leaf blower. Did Washington and Lincoln believe in one nation under God with liberty and justice and 30% off for all? Wait! Don’t buy that, put it back on the shelf. Save your money for a weekend getaway to Port Aransas. The seashore is enticing but beware the Ides of March and the college students who storm the beach in amphibious assaults like drunken Marines. Spring loves to tease but she is just around the corner. Open a bottle of wine and listen to Carmina Burana. You may have to turn the stereo up loud to be heard above the mating call of leaf blowers.