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1979: Albert's (in Omaha) is lit!

Monday, November 03, 2014

Our New Colossus

A gigantic, bronzed statue of a dame,
Gleaming limbs 'neath 'lectric sunlamp tanned;
Below yon giant lamppost, see her stand—
This brazen woman sings her song of flame.
She gestures, having turned from early fame
To spurn unshelter'd poor. Now her hand
Waves them off with heavy book of Rand;
Thro' painted lashes seeks she fitter game.
“Keep your poor and tired trash,” calls she
With ruby'd lips, “Send me your rich, your white
Your lucky heirs, who scheme to live tax-free;
The wretched I refuse—my legal right!
Outsourcing, open-handed men for me—
Above my door I shine the scarlet light!”

[line 8 tweaked 15 Feb 2015]

Saturday, October 11, 2014

this just in (in 1972)

"A recent study by the Food and Drug Administration reveals that over 90% of all alcoholics started with beer. The yellow-ish colored carbonated beverage, which many groups contend is harmless, contains up to 12% of ethanol (c2h5oh), the same active ingredient found in higher quantities in stronger liquor.

"Though the study failed to find a provable cause-effect link between the use of beer and of harder beverages, the researchers did point to 'an atmosphere of experimentation" that was conducive to involvement with more powerful alcoholic drinks."

This was presented as a (fake) news item in a 1972 National Lampoon, and from time to time I want to quote it somewhere, so here it is as a private service. 

Caveat: reproduced from memory, and likely paraphrased as a result, but it's accurate in its particulars.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

baboon river anthology?

This has been festering in my head for a while.


I met a human from a time-lost land
Who said: “A woman, bronze, with diadem
Sits broken, buried slantwise in the sand,
Her legs and trunk are gone: no sign of them.
A head remains, two shoulders, arm and hand,
A torch, long dead, and one piece yet beside,
A copper plaque in whose impassioned plea,
Corroded words bade weary travelers bide.
I traced their meaning; not an easy chore:
‘Give me your masses, yearning to breathe free…
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’
My horse browsed nigh; the witness to my yell:
You blew it up! Curse you forevermore!
Mad, hairless apes! God damn you all to hell!”

Friday, September 05, 2014

Toon River Anthology continues

It's a long one this time!


No disrespect to Dad, of course, but I never really understood
Why Mom insisted on combing my hair in just that particular way
With those little ‘dags’ always sticking out on the sides. 
The lookalike thing was fun when I was little, but as I grew up,
I wanted to be myself, to be my own man. I asked to change it
When I was sixteen, but she got around me just as easily
As she always got around him. The hair stayed as it was.
I even kept wearing those one-button shirts, just like his.
Years passed. After Dad died, I finally ventured out
And found a college 300 miles away — close enough
For visits, but far enough that I felt independent, able
To make my own decisions and, more importantly,
To make myself something other than a living memorial
To my father. The barber I chose said he’d never seen a cut like it.
I told him to take a picture, because it would soon be gone.
He trimmed it down into a generic cut that I picked
From the poster by his mirror. He chatted away as he cut.
I mumbled assent occasionally, thinking of my new, different life.
For me, the cut symbolized everything regrettable about Dad:
Eccentric, almost willfully so; sticking out inconveniently, 
Yet docile, deferential, even kind of dumb. I was done with it.
The barber brushed and patted and sprayed it with something,
And told me I looked great. In the mirror sat the new man,
Moving when I moved, standing when I stood, brow furrowing
At the exact moment that something looked unsettlingly familiar.
The shop faded away, leaving only me and the staring stranger.
I pushed my hair to the right. He pushed his to the left. I pushed mine back,
As did he. My heart thumped, and I wished I had a sandwich.
For no reason I know, I was holding the barber’s skinny comb.
My hand moved, held it under my nose, not unlike a mustache,
And I knew. I knew him then. I knew myself, and I knew why Mom
Spent all those mornings brushing and combing and spraying my hair
To avoid this moment: The man in the mirror could be none other
Than Mr. Woodley — Herb Woodley, from next door. Dad’s best friend
Who’d died in retirement, down in Florida. The resemblance was clear.
The intolerable moment passed. The barber was still talking. I settled and left.
For the next while, I kept to my room until it was long enough
To restore the way I’d always looked. Well, I stayed in college two years —
Enough to learn I was no office worker; I ended up becoming a mailman.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Jukebox for August 30, 2014

It's Ben Light again (see also January 11, 2009)! Last time we had the science fiction utopian tale of the scientific robot man. This time, we're bending genders just to see what happens, with Ben's unnamed vocalist singing the role of a housewife with a special friend. Clicking the title will send you to archive.org and their meagre collection of his works. Let's see if I can embed the thing.

Okay, I can, but it wants to put all the songs in. Between you and me, I can only recommend numbers 2 and 4. (The extra space is apparently unavoidable.)


I listen for the bell
I’ve primped and powdered so
I know his footsteps well, and in case you didn’t know,
I’ve got a crush
I’ve got a crush on the Fuller Brush Man.

He shows me all his samples
And he looks so wondrous wise
That I can’t help but listen
As he looks into my eyes.
I’ve got a crush
I’ve got a crush on the Fuller Brush Man.

Oh, every time he comes he shows me something new
He sweeps my sitting room
With a fancy broom
He sweeps my dining room
And then my back porch too
For a man like that, what wouldn’t I do?

Oh, he sets me all a-twitter
My, I could write a book
Oh, what a wife that man could make
If only he could cook
I’ve got a crush
I’ve got a crush on the Fuller Brush Man.

[instrumental with tinkly, arpeggiated piano from Ben]

Oh, he takes me in his confidence
And he holds me in his spell
He plays with my… emotions
And he makes me feel, oh, well,
I’ve got a crush
I’ve got a crush on the Fuller Brush Man.

For every brush he sells, he gives a guarantee
That it would last for forty years,
That’s long enough for me!
I’ve got a crush
I’ve got a crush on the Fuller Brush Man.

He gives a special prize with every brush he sells
With ones as big as this, he gives a little kiss.
It won’t be long before my precious bankroll’s shot
Cause I’m a-gonna buy the biggest brush he’s got!

He’s got a brush that tickles,
And he’s got a brush that hurts
And then he’s got a special brush
That I think is the nerts,
I’ve got a crush

I’ve got a crush on the Fuller Brush Man!

Charming, and the music flows like water with Ben's liquid piano playing. I was so impressed by this and the Robot Man song that I listened to all the Ben Light sides I could find at Archive, and I was a bit disappointed with the rest of his output (which is far larger than what they have), because of a degree of casual racism that suddenly showed up and ruined everything for me. I do hope there's more of the good stuff out there somewhere.

ps: According to a link I followed at the bottom of Ben's page at Archive, he's not the vocalist in these recordings. They don't know the vocalist's name. It seems to be Bob Tank (2017 note). He sounds a bit like Benny Bell at times, but I think that's just the tone of their delivery. There's a two-CD set of recordings from Light (born Benjamin Leight in 1893), but these don't seem to be the party records, alas. Which doesn't mean they might not be great. Time will quite possibly tell.

Archive.org has some of his instrumental covers in decent fidelity, as of 2017. Included in a massive batch of around 25,000 tracks or something like that. Ben's playing (on the Steinway) holds up.


from January 26, 2001 (quoting myself):

I've been reading Marlowe lately. Great stuff. Nobody could begin a
story like him:

For long and weary hours, I bored myself
Counting the old, tired webs of spiders
In my narrow office. Just then I heard
A ringing sound from the bell out front,
And in my dismal garrett I beheld
A wench who made a good first impression
To my eyes. Her face, I thought could launch,
A thousand or so ships, her eyes burn down
A hell of a lot of topless towers.
I took in her form and her tear-streaked face
She beseechingly asked,  "Mister Marlowe?
I'm in trouble. They told me you could help."

  (Christopher Marlowe, _The Tragedy of The Big Slumber_, act I)

(This is on the web in a couple of places, but it seemed advisable to put it somewhere I could reliably point to it as needed.)

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

toon river anthology strikes again


Sweet Mother Macreedy! I hate to disappoint you,
But if you’re here for a tearful admission 
Of my gnawing fears and secret doubts, or
An ironically revealing origin story, or perhaps
The news that I was put here by the betrayal
Of a colleague or a loved one —
My dog, maybe — then you’re out of luck.
Dead? No way! I don’t know what this is about, but
It sure as hello kitty isn’t my grave or my stone.
Death is for saps and sidekicks. No sirree Bob,
I’m not under this dumb rock. I’m somewhere else,
Sticking my neck out, enjoying an honest rhubarb.
This? This is a dream, or some imaginary story,
Maybe even a sinister plot by my enemies
Meant to fool someone or other. Happens every day.
Heroes don’t die. Anyone with the common sense of a flapjack
Would know that. Scrambooch, buster,
And save your flowers for somebody who needs 'em.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

still more toon river anthology


Dithers came at me with the ash tray. I ran, of course.
One minute, I was tossing paper airplanes with Crane in Payroll,
And the next, the boss was screaming about the Stevens account
(Which, for reasons beyond my understanding, flew remarkably well)
And the old man went completely ape. Well, I’d seen him like that,
So I ran for the elevator, which closed in my face as usual.
With practiced grace, I pirouetted past him toward the break room,
Trying to put the table between us, but he flung it aside and kept coming.
Long years of running had taught me to head for his office:
Sometimes Cora was there, and he always stopped when he saw her.
This time she wasn’t, so my only recourse was the window.
Hoping to get out on the ledge. The old boy hated heights,
So usually he’d just throw things at me and curse till he calmed down,
But before I could get my footing, he was striking at me,
Red-faced, panting and shaking. I slipped, whirled, and grabbed the sill.
In half a second, he was banging away at my fingers with the ash tray.
When he lost his hold on that, I thought we were done, but he resumed
With his putter. Up to now, there was nothing new about any of this,
But this time, he kept hitting. He screamed. I screamed. I was losing my hold
On the sill, and still he kept hitting. My fingers were bleeding
And my attempts to keep a purchase on the wood only resulted
In trying to cling to a surface slick with blood. That couldn’t last.
When I fell, I was dimly aware that my hands were hurting a bit less
And that Mr. Dithers was still yelling, brandishing the club like a Zulu,
His face getting smaller and smaller as the buildings seemed
To crowd together, as if to witness my descent.
The last thing I remember was my own feeling of surprise
About life, the boss, and the Stevens account. Well.
How was I to know the old man was really mad?

Thursday, April 03, 2014


Behind our brow the pressure's far too high
The dam of silence burdens us too hard
The hand we hold leaves us no other card,
So come; the weight's too much. It's time to cry.

We'll prime the pump with brine, our eyelids pursed
We're all alone. No one will mock our sobs
The others are off, busy at their jobs
And won't be here to see us at our worst.

Some gland purrs like a cat behind our eyes
We pray that brain's endorphins buy some peace
Too much to hope our cares might really cease
But, for a time, the hard lump liquefies.

The silent burden won't be eased by sleep
So come; the load's too great. It's time to weep.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

the meaning

It was merciful.

There I was, looking down at the contorted shape that had been my car, thinking that the idea I'd been trying to scribble on the back of one of my business cards probably hadn't been worth it, after all. As the flames that started in the puddle under the engine quickly engulfed it, I concluded that this wasn't going to be one of those near-death experiences, and it only took a short look at my body to confirm that, to paraphrase some Madison Avenue type, death was the new life.

I watched myself for a few more seconds, thinking I hadn't done so badly. I wasn't too far out of shape. My face and form weren't all that ungainly. I actually regretted what the fire was about to do to me in there. Closed casket, definitely. I couldn't watch. I pulled away and took stock of my situation.

Forty-five years old, and already, I belonged to the ages. The small design firm I had managed to keep solvent was someone else's concern now. By rights, it should pass to Dave and Irma, who I'd come to rely on more and more, but I wasn't sure they could do it, legally. I hoped they would at least start a new company together -- I think they'd be good at it, even if they didn't seem to have the confidence.

At the moment, I had nothing. Fair's fair, I didn't really need anything. I could float around. Was I dressed? Wearing, perhaps, a ghostly pair of Dockers with a pressed shirt and a vest? It didn't feel like it, and it didn't feel unlike it. Whatever. It was sufficient. So now what? Do I do something? Do I go somewhere? Heaven? Purgatory? Relive my life now past, like the movie about that small-town cemetery?

What is the meaning of life?

The thought came to my mind like any other, but there was something different about it. A different voice, or a different typeface. It wasn't my own thought. I realized I now had a task. Homework, or maybe a final exam. I had to figure out the meaning of life. 

My life? Life in general? No answer. Any explanation apparently has to come from me. The clock is ticking. Use only a Number Two pencil. As the emergency vehicles started showing up, I willed myself along the way I was going when I had so rudely interrupted myself. Home. I was heading home.

Home. My progress was a little unsteady. I was distracted by things I saw along the way. There was so much going on along the familiar route. I saw a family of mice in a culvert. How could they live there? What would they do when it rained? They reminded me suddenly of my own family, and my -figurative- heart fell. My family! They didn't know yet, did they? I hurried along a little faster, then paused again to look at one of those roadside crosses people put up when someone they know is killed on or near the road. It barely registered on me when I was alive, but it had been there for two years. The flowers on it hadn't been there for two years; they looked a week old at the oldest. Would Elaine put up one of those for me? Elaine! I stopped looking at the cross and made for our apartment.

Once there, I determined that I could pass through a wall. No real surprise there. Elaine was in the living room watching a kid show with our two boys. The stuff six- and eight-year-olds watch. They were on the floor about a foot from the screen. I went to Elaine and tried to get her attention. I think I was relieved that nothing I said or did got through to her. I tried with Rodney, and then with Jacob. I even checked to see if I could mess with the TV. Nothing. Then the phone rang.

I didn't want to watch. I wanted to fly away and not think about it. I was strangely unemotional about my own death, but the idea of watching my family cope with it was painful. Still, I stayed and watched as she told Rod to turn the sound down, picked up the phone, confirmed who she was with a nod the caller couldn't see. Then she got the news. Disbelief and shock caused her to stagger. She yelled at Rod to turn the set down again, then turned away and shielded the mouthpiece and her mouth with a hand, as if she could keep the bad news from leaking out. She asked a few questions. Are you sure? When did it...? Was anybody else...? The voice at the other end answered, offered official condolence, gave her a number to write down. She absently drifted as far as the cord would let her from the living room and called her sister Doris. Asked her to take care of letting the rest of the family know. Pause. No, she said, they don't know yet. Pause. I will. Longer pause. Yes, she said, yes, please.

She hung up again. She looked back at the doorway to the living room where our boys didn't know yet. Stood looking at the silent phone. I'm off now, she said, and the TV got louder. Then she sat at the kitchen table and buried her face in her arms. I wanted to put my hands on her shoulders and stop them from shaking, but I couldn't. I could only watch as she got control of herself and wiped her face. Then she called to the boys to turn the TV off and come into the kitchen. They tried to argue a little, and she said no, come in now. And because she didn't raise her voice, they were curious and came in, and they looked at her face and said, what's wrong, Mom?

And she told them. 

And she said, we're packing some clothes and we're going to visit your aunt and uncle for a couple of days. And I watched them hug each other and cry and try to comfort each other, and I thought, I really had a good family. They picked out some clothes and toys and put them in the big suitcase we used last summer to go to Oregon, and every now and then one of them broke down and the others were there, and they got in the car and set out on the sixty-mile drive to her capable sister's house.

I followed along. It was a pretty quiet procession. Rodney had to go to the bathroom, and they stopped for that. A couple of times, they just pulled off the road so she could cry some more, but for the most part, she kept it together in front of the boys. I watched them and cringed when another car got too close, and asked myself the question. What is the meaning of life?

What had my life meant? What did my life mean to them? What did their lives mean?

I thought back over my life, now conveniently completed. It seemed like my memories were actually clearer than they had been when I was alive. Was I distracted by life when I was experiencing it? Was this a fringe benefit of being dead? Whatever, it was easy to review my twoscore years and five. There was my great-grandpa who died when I was four. I was four, and they were explaining to me. Nineteen, and I'm getting the news about Grandpa Ben. Twenty, and it's Grandma Alice. 

I wondered if Doris had called my folks in Florida yet. 

I felt close to the meaning. It wasn't things. It wasn't stuff. Ideas? Ideals? 

Those things were important, but they weren't the meaning. They were things we had, things we did, to get close to other people. Or maybe keep them away. Were people the meaning? I watched our minivan pull into another rest stop. Elaine went to the vending machines, bought a bottle of cold water, and they set off again, sharing the water. Was sharing the meaning? I noted that Elaine was driving very carefully. Good girl. Might as well learn from my mistake! She had to take care of the family now, this new family that was shaping itself to get along with three. Rod was already starting to move into his niche, taking some of the load off of Elaine. I wanted to hug him.

I sighed. Metaphorically, if not corporeally. I thought I was kind of detached about this death thing, but I realized that I was really regretting it. I had wanted to live a lot longer. That was when it came to me. The meaning of life.

The meaning of life, I said, phrasing it in my mind (as if writing with a number 2 pencil), is to live as long as you can. We surround ourselves with others to form entanglements so that we'll be sure and try to live as long as possible. Life wants life. If we're alone, we might succumb to a momentary impulse or get careless and lose the thread. 

We intellectualize it, but it's a flame that wants to burn as long as it possibly can. It's as simple as that. The meaning of life is to live as long as possible. That was my final answer. I stopped following the car and looked up at the clouds and the stars and the moon. That's my answer, I thought. How did I do?

The foreign thought spoke in my brain again. Without words, I now had the impression that this answer had been satisfactory. I had passed the first part of the test.

First part? That was the first part? I looked at the cars below and realized they were starting to look indistinct, as if they were farther away. Not smaller, just harder to see. Words formed in my mind.

What is the meaning of death?

I groaned inwardly.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Toon River Anthology continues


How does it happen that Mr. Wilson outlived me?
I was young, with decades yet to go,
And I reminded him of it every day,
Sometimes loudly playing games to point up the age gap
Or by frequently speculating on just how ancient he was.
One giddy time, I yelled across the fence
That when I reached half his age, he’d be long gone.
I could see the red run up his neck 
Like Mrs. Dowd’s ol’ cat skinning up her elm tree to avoid a rock.
That changed him. He stopped yelling, stopped cursing,
Stopped trying to keep me out of his house.
He got friendly with me, gave me presents,
Like his old Boy Scout knife, lawn darts, a Zippo lighter.
He convinced Dad I was ready for a two-wheeler,
And later showed me how he could ride with one hand—
No hands! Who knew? All it took, he said, was practice.
When our other neighbor’s moving van backed over me practicing,
Good ol’ Mr. Wilson was first on the scene. Insisted on carrying me in.
The last thing I remember was him murmuring “sleep quietly,”
With a look of mild regret on his saggy, bulbous old features.


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