Monday, April 30, 2007

Lost in Boston

Sometimes, very strange things happen to people who don't deserve the punishment.

Late, late, late on Saturday night, little brother calls me on his cell phone. He's lost, somewhere outside Boston, in the rain, in the dark, trying to get back to Rhode Island.

I have never been to Boston, never been anywhere near it.

But somehow he assumes I can help him. Or at least comfort him until he runs out of gas.

I pull out the only thing of use that State Farm Insurance ever gave me, a well-worn Atlas of the US.

We spend the next 45 minutes trying to figure out where on the map he is, then getting him off the toll road he drifted onto, when he somehow missed the I-95 interchange. Repeatedly, he has to be convinced not to take various side roads.

He finally makes it back to the freeway and I wearily hang up. Two hours later, the phone rings again, just as I have finally managed to get back to sleep. Another side road has been taken and he is lost again.

Out comes the atlas again and he is once more directed back onto the proper road.

I have a family reputation as a great navigator. It's a survival skill, developed growing up in a military family where my world changed completely every three years.

I am -- justifiably, I think -- quite proud that I successfully managed, with only an atlas to assist me, to help brother safely find his way from somewhere I've never been to somewhere else I've never been either, in the middle of the night.

It's not that's he's brain-dead. He's a smart boy. He makes five times as much money as I do, at a very prestigious job. He's just not a navigator, I suppose. He came to maturity after dad had retired, and so he didn't have to handle such upsets.

As for me, today I am very, very tired. Which makes Monday even more horrible than it usually is.

People who can't spell shouldn't post signs.

People who can't spell shouldn't post signs.

Because people with chronic editor-itis like me can't stand to see your sloppiness shoved into the public eye.

Somebody today was either trying to put a building on the market or publicly announce the gift of it to his lover/mother/sister/female companion.

What else am I supposed to think about a 'For Sal' sign?

Yes, I realize grammar and spelling, unlike science, are absolutely arbitrary -- mere human conventions. But if you're human, you should probably observe a few human conventions.

Learn when to write its, as opposed to it's. Your and you're.

And I won't have to restrain myself so hard from ripping your sign down to relieve my agony.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Bemoaning the Big Bans

She stood outside the bar, talking with a friend. I sat in my car, counting down the minutes until I needed to head across the street for a certain freelance interview.

After a moment’s passing, she reached in her bag and withdrew a cigarette. My pulse quickened. I am a capnolagniac, as those who’ve suffered through my blogs know quite well. I love to see a woman enjoy a cigarette.

Suddenly, I didn’t care anymore what time it was. I put away my copy of Ovid, in which a thirty page introduction by some smarty professor was driving me crazy, since I speak about as much Latin as your average Sherpa and the dude sprinkled it joyfully and liberally amongst his already over-my-head prosery.

A click of her lighter and she had her cigarette a-burning. Then she exhaled a great stream of smoke so thick and creamy that I could see it all the way across the parking lot where I was.

In a heartbeat, the breeze battered and blew it away.

Such a sight is so rare these days, and viciously maligned when it does occur. An inhale that intense, to launch such a celestial stream of smoke, had to deliver a mighty jolt of pleasure. And it had to be summoned by a woman who did more than dabble in the fine art of fumery.

In the days before The Big Bans, she might have been allowed to smoke inside, not exiled to a seedy parking lot to satisfy her need. Thank heavens she had that burly-looking friend with her.

Some guys, seated beside her in that bar in those more relaxed days, would have moved away in an angry huff if those sweet lips had turned his way and bathed him in such a beautiful exhalation.

Needless profanity might have been uttered. Foolish hands would have waved it away.

Chances are, that woman might go a lifetime without ever meeting the sort of fellow who, greeted with such a misty salutation, would find his heart thumping; his respiration quickening in hopes of capturing said smoky greeting; his soul melting; and his voice, if he dared utter a word, squeaking like a scrawny teen suddenly French-kissed by the school Homecoming Queen as she passed him in the hallway.
But we do exist. Ladies, we do exist. And we’d hitchhike across the world in the hellstorm of Armageddon and ride to Kandahar in a dune buggy with three functioning wheels and a broken clutch, driven by a terrorist with a blood alcohol level five times the legal limit, and punch out Bin Laden himself if he had the world’s last cigarette hidden in his cave and you were craving it.

Blog ruminations

So I've done this blog thing for a couple months now -- and find it to be both frustrating and yet satisfying.

I'm a writer, cursed from childhood with the urge to scribble my thoughts, whether the world gives a damn or not.

I have written my thoughts in little notebooks about virtually every book I have read in the last ten years, like some stupid kid unaware that I'm out of school and don't need to do that anymore. Hello -- anyone home in there? (Sound of echo heard within empty head).

I've kept a journal for twenty years and counting, 99 percent bird poop and maybe one percent intelligent thoughts.

I've written a weekly column for a local newspaper for ten years.

I've badgered my way into writing articles for local magazines.

And still I seek more ways to punish myself.

Thus, this blog. In here, I can be almost 100 percent honest, because if I ever get crushed by a tractor trailer on some bad day, or summon the courage to pay some hotel room escort to blow her cigarette smoke at me until I die in ecstasy from a secondhand nicotine overdose, no one who knows me will ever know this blog even exists. They'll have to satisfy themselves with only the far less juicy scribblings in my journal.

But a blog is work. Some bloggers seem satisfied to just write and write and never get any comments from anyone. They don't even care to reply to the few that trickle in by chance.

Me, I crave comments. I open this blog everyday hoping for the Christmas present of a response. Sometimes, Santa forgets to stop by my computer.

You see, a blogger has to work for his or her responses. There are tens of thousands of blogs out there and who in hell has the time to sift through them all, the dross and the gold?

So you have to visit other blogs and actually read them and make comments and hope that someone will eventually become curious enough about their commentator (commentor?) to follow you back to your blog.

And then, if you keep working on the blog-to-blog relationship, you find a friend. And then you have to be careful, because in the cyberworld, nobody can see you smile. Or wink. A little joke can seem an insult. And that friendship can die in a splat of miscommunication, as quickly as a bug on a windshield.

P.S. This post is dedicated to Lance (toughmindwarmheart) and Adena, (ilovesquishingants) the first two enablers of my blog addiction. Smart folk the both of them. Blogs worth your reading.

Obedience School for your inner Genius

Some Roman once wrote of the poet Ovid:

"He would have been a better poet if he had controlled his genius instead of letting his genius control him."

I have pondered and pondered that sentence but it still makes no sense to me.

Any thoughts?

Winner of the best response gets a certificate for ten days free obedience training for his/her inner genius.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Do you feel like a man?

I should not ever listen to Red Jumpsuit Apparatus and that song of theirs about domestic violence:

"Do you feel like a man, when you push her around?"

Because it makes me want to hunt down the kind of guy that actually does feel that way and deprive him painfully, with whatever instrument or object I can find at hand, of his manhood. Or maybe just beat him senseless.

Which is, of course, two wrongs trying to make a right. Violence begetting violence.

So instead, I will simply advise any so-called man out there who believes he has any right whatsoever to dictate any demand to a woman; to blame her for his bad moods; or to lay one finger upon her with the intent to cause pain:

You are a pathetic loser, the weakest of the weaklings. Get help. Get it fast. I don't care if you saw your daddy hurt your mother, or your boss at work is mean to you, or your IQ is too low for you to come up with better options for your free time. If you were a real man, you'd go punch a grain sack to get your anger out or just take a long walk.

My father had a rotten childhood with a chronically angry father who was no role model whatsoever for him. My father is a real man. He's put that behind him, broken the cycle, and he does not abuse my mother. He treats her like the gold that she is. If he can do it, you can do it. Stop making excuses.

Because eventually you will go too far. Little bruises will become big bruises and you will go to jail, where you belong, God willing, and you will be very badly hurt or maybe killed in there and no one will feel sorry for you.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The haircut

Once again, I have been fooled by The Haircut.

Virtually every girl I know saws off her hair at about 11 or 12. Someone please tell me why. Is it a secret feminine ritual, some pretext for entry into the Bacchanal order?

It can be disconcerting, even cause some identity problems, since at that age, it's not easy to tell the difference, under the normal circumstances of a normal non-sicko or pediatrician type-person, of boy from girl in any other way.

I had to interview a group of kids for a newspaper article a while ago, and thought that I would dignify them by addressing each as sir or ma'am. Well-behaved children deserve adult respect, that's my belief.

Well, one short-haired sir-so-called, very indignantly informed me that she was a girl, not a boy. Oops. I felt guilty for quite some time. After all, it cut me to the quick in my early, high-pitched teen years when callers to my home thought that I was a girl, not the suave young dude I imagined myself to be.

Today I had another get-together with a bunch of kids, and I was quite surprised to learn that the young fellow at table such and such was actually, um, a fellowette, as revealed when the person in charge called out her name. And when I heard that name, I realized that it was the same young lady whom I had met a few years ago with long, strawberry blonde locks, now shorn quite short. Yep, same facial structure, same kid. Just a foot taller or so and with very little hair.

Curious and curiouser.

Ovid and the law of gravid-y

"The night is slipping by -- unbolt the door!"

--Ovid, Amores

So doth the poet plead to the guard behind the bedroom door of a girl he desires. Presumably, she desires him too, and would admit him but slumbers unaware.

The guard is implacable. He will not be as the "old lamplighter" from an old song I know, who'd "pass a couple in the park and dim the light and leave it dark, remembering the days when he was young." He is no friend to impulsive passion.

Ovid to such a man is a wheedling would-be thief, a fox craving entry to the coop to satiate his animal greed. He cannot sympathize, so he will not yield.

Can we presume to condemn one or the other? Pass judgment on the chaotic ocean wave or the rock cliffs against which it beats?

What if all Ovids won entry? What if all door guards prevailed?

Desire, suppressed, burns in every human breast. I pass a hundred lovely souls, who please my senses, in just a few moments amongst a crowd, but I walk on in silence. Do they also desire me?

In the decades since my own youthful awakening, had I indulged every such impulse, with, of course, the unlikely consent of each fair damsel, a million passionate unions might have been consumated, ten thousand children might today carry my genes.

I met a man the other day, an old man, long devoted to one woman, as our society expects a man to be. He'd written of her, had been devoted to her and only her. Then she passed away. And upon my meeting him in person for the first time, I was genuinely startled to also meet his new wife, to whom he is now devoted. If by some spell, this man lived a million years, might he respectably take a thousand wives in turn, love a thousand women, one at a time, with each being his one and only for that certain indefinite period of time? Or what if a woman were touched by such a spell? Could she love a thousand men, each honestly and completely with every measure of devotion?

What if I were to be reborn a billion times, becoming the soul mate in turn of every woman who ever lived, even the most wicked of women, even the ones judged most plain and unattractive by society? From the Hebrides to the Sahara, Alaska to Patagonia, Tokyo to Turkey? Could I discover the core of beauty in even the most sallow and ill-favoured, the germ of goodness even in a Herodias or a Lady MacBeth?

Monday, April 23, 2007

I have no words for this at all

Found this stunner of an article on liliapilia's blog and thought it deserved repetition.

Read it and see if you don't find yourself shaking your head in amazement.

To help, to ignore or to eliminate?

Every spring, the eastern US is invaded by a small, furry creature called a tent caterpillar.

The tiny monsters live together in a thick, white mass of silk, crawling forth to strip whatever unlucky tree in which it's built, of every last little leaf. They seem to prefer trees in the rose family, such as cherries, apples and pears.

When they've utterly denuded their host tree, they abandon it, creeping forth across the land in search of something else to eat before becoming adult moths.

Gardeners and lovers of trees hate these things. Children find them adorable.

Already this year, I've ruined my karma by squashing the inhabitants of several such nests that had set up shop in my apple trees. And when those whose nests survived beyond my view begin their migration across my yard, I will tempt karma again, leaving green gooey smears everywhere.

So why is it that away from my yard, working in the city, I feel uneasy about engaging in such murderous behavior? Why do I pass a wayward tent caterpillar wriggling on the hot concrete, far from grass, surely doomed, and argue within myself my ethical options: Walk on by and leave it to slowly die? Hasten the job via shoe leather when the little thing has done my green acres no specific harm? Or carry it to safety in some nearby green area, thus increasing the chances that it will survive and reproduce its pestilent kind?

Friday, April 20, 2007

New Bumper Sticker Suggestion: Idiot on Board

I saw a car today, plastered with a bunch of idealistic bumper stickers hoping for world peace. Good. I hope for world peace, too. Most people do.

But what made me shake my head and laugh, was a big one: Grand Oil Party.

You have to be conversant with U.S. politics to get the attempted joke. The U.S. Republican Party is nicknamed the Grand Old Party. Who the heck knows why.

The irony of such a bumper sticker tickled me.

The driver apparently supports two propositions: Oil is evil. The Republican Party supports the protection of oil interests.

The driver is apparently an idiot.

Hey, I hate congestion, pollution and the cars that spew it as much as anybody. I hate the daily dead zoo of crushed animals I pass on my way to work. I hate putting money into the pockets of Chavez, Putin and other anti-democratic, oil-rich numbskulls around the world every time I fill up my tank. I walk when I can, where I can, and I drive a small, cheap car when I can't.

If I woke up tomorrow and some brilliant soul had found a practical and economically feasible way for all of us to get around, that involved none of the above, I'd celebrate. But I live in the Southern U.S. You wouldn't want to be around me on a summer day if I had only a bicycle to do my daily job and if I had to hike or bike the thirty miles to get to my office in the first place.

And in the meantime, somebody driving a gas-powered car (coated with a petroleum-based paint and no doubt loaded with various plastic components) looks awfully stupid sporting a bumper sticker proclaiming the evils of said product and mocking some political party for supposedly protecting the supply of said product.

What if he/she got his/her wish? What if they pulled into the gas station tomorrow with their needle on empty, only to be told that every Republican was in jail and the petroleum industry had collapsed?

Such a bumper sticker should only be sported by someone courageous enough to sell their car and move into the wilderness; or blessed enough to find a job where they didn't need a car to get around. And it belongs not on a bumper at all, but rather on a bicycle or a hiker's blue-jeaned backside.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Strange photo of the day

Yet another dreary site detailing the supposed horrors of environmental tobacco smoke.

Yes, I know that if you are a waiter/waitress working daily in a bar so thick with smoke that you need night vision goggles to see across the floor, you could have problems after a while. But then again, people have bitten the dust drinking too much water. Stop sipping while you still have time!

But if ETS was such a horrific and potent killer, if it was really the twin brother to sarin gas or cyanide, it seems like most of the developed world, which was a smoker's paradise until about 20 years ago would be a ghost town by now, littered with the corpses of pedestrians felled by a passing whiff.

But I thought this site was interesting just for its choice of graphics and lead.

"She may look trendy in her little black dress but there's nothing "in style" about her cigarette smoke."

Folks, we have a scheming killer on the loose at this hypothetical party. In her trendy little black dress, gun -- er, cigarette holder -- in hand, she walzes around maniacally laying waste to anyone foolish enough to catch even a wisp of her secondhand death-fumes. You might knock .0000000001 percent of a second off your life if you dare step within breathing range. Better to hiss and spurn her, that beautiful she-beast with the deadly habit.

Ick, what a way to think and live.

The endless cycle

I remember the scramble in high school when a big project was due. The misery, the long nights, the utter relief when it was finally done and turned in.

Then I went to college. More big projects, more misery, more long nights, followed by utter relief.

Then I got a job.

See where this is going?

Today will be a clean up the office, enjoy the relief of a deadline met and vanquished, sort of day. Soon enough, a new project will come along.

Meanwhile, being a glutton for punishment, I have assigned myself writing projects beyond this office, on my own time, for various local magazines. Interviewing an expatriate historian. Tracking down a guy who made a huge archaeological discovery in my region.

Life is great. Projects spring eternal. And my office is a mess.

Friday, April 13, 2007

9 to 5 hath its blessings

I've never had a 9 to 5 job. My required arrival times have been all over the clock. That has its benefits. I usually miss out on the hellish horror of 9 t0 5 congestion.

It must be so wonderful to lay around in bed until 7 or 8 in the morning, though, and to enjoy that mythical meal called breakfast.

And it appears that 9 to 5 ers, being something of a majority, and therefore an advertiser's bread-and-butter, get another treat: good music on the radio.

I usually have two musical choices for my commute: bring a CD or resign myself to pushing a lot of buttons on the radio before finding anything worth cranking up.

But I had to run an errand today circa 9 a.m. and that's when I discovered what I'm missing. In just ten minutes, not only was I treated to Ozzy's "Going off the Rails on a Crazy Train," but right after that, G N R's "November Rain."

Perhaps it was mere cooincidence, or a dj in tune with my vibe.

Whatever the case, I think I'm going to have a great Friday.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Redbud discovery

The woodland behind my home can't be more than 40 acres, and yet every journey into it brings a new discovery, if I slow down and pay attention.

It belongs to some mining company, which has had the sense to leave it alone so far.

Internet buddies helped me identify this sapling as a redbud, Cercis canadensis.

It's a sibling to the green peas on your dinner plate, and to the tamarind from which tropical folk make such a fine drink.

Does time hallow all chili dogs?

I used to work at a certain little restaurant, and from those days, before they flattened it to buidl a highway, I remember the finest-tasting chili-cheese dogs I ever put into my mouth.

In all the years since, no chili dog has ever lived up to that standard. Perhaps none ever will.

This morning, I played a little Bach on my way in to work, and lamented to myself the passing of that man and the end of that great age of music.

I like my rock as much as the next Gen X'er, don't get me wrong. I know the lyrics to every Tom Petty song, a little Korn, a little Ozzie, a lot of AC/DC.

But seems to me, my thoughts-a-spinning, that the world is a drearier, lesser place since the great classical composers have departed it, since the Golden Age of Music ended.

Where is today's Bach, today's Mozart or Pachabel?

Am I just salivating for a long-lost chili dog and being unfair to the modern composers of great instrumental music who must surely be out there?

Or has that age truly ended, has it passed beyond all hope of reclamation?

You could assemble all the ingredients of a great ethnic recipe from Baluchistan and follow the instructions exactly to make it, and yet never achieve the same results as some little old bent over granny in a dusty Baluchistani village. You can't replicate the soil in which she grew her vegetables, the atmosphere of her kitchen or the tang of the old pots in which she cooked them.

Every work of art, whether a painting, a melody or a fine bowl of Magyar gulyas soup, is a product of its time and place, and when that time and place has passed, the mold has been broken, so to speak.

It doesn't have to be that way

Last night, I watched a drama about child runaways in the U.S., picked off one-by-one by disease, violence or drugs.

And again, the sad thought came to my mind: It doesn't have to be this way.

We may or may not be able to control whether a giant meteor slams into our planet. We may or may not find a way to cure the common cold or prevent aging.

But, theoretically, it is absolutely possible, right now, right this minute, to cure poverty, to end war, to end crime. The billions of dollars wasted on police, penal institutions, military, judges, lawyers and courts -- it could then be put towards eradicating polio, the guinea worm, malaria and birth defects. The broken homes, the haunted eyes, the fear, the anger -- all of it could vanish like a bad dream.

All it would take would be one collective decision by humanity, every human being, to do right, to live at peace, to eschew power.

Don't hold your breath.

Friday, April 6, 2007

The most useless person in the world

Pop quiz:

Which is the most useless category of human being on the planet?

a) People who create spam email.

b) People who collect dried nasal mucus for fun.

c) People who waste the public's tax dollars prowling the roads to enforce arbitrary automobile speed limits.

Correct answer: c.

If I'm going to get a ticket, give it to me for actually speeding. As in, the kind of speed resulting in rattling the stop-signs I blow past, burning out my engine governor, sucking down migrating geese, or something.

Not 41 in a 25 zone, nowhere near a school, a residential neighborhood or anything remotely resembling one. Little old grannies go 41. Kids on skateboards go 41. There's probably a guy somewhere in the world who can run that fast on foot.

The next bozo that calls me asking for a donation to the police fund for this or that, is going to get the phone slammed down in his or her ear. Not that I would ever donate anyway -- bunch of morons with toy guns playing roadway hero. People do donuts all night long around our neighborhood and drag race so loud you can hear it two counties over, but a cop can't be found to do a thing about it. Somebody shot out my back driver's side window a few months ago, but no cop could be spared to do a damn thing.

There are things people should be punished for. Road rage. Jackrabbiting. Making five lane changes in as many seconds. Driving drunk. Driving naked while high on acid.

My brother has a radar jammer. I want a radar jammer. I want it so bad.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Toes upon the grass

With spring's arrival and the warmth of the ground where concrete has not yet smothered it, comes an interesting dillema: to bare or not to bare?

I'm speaking of feet, not nudity.

I love going barefoot and I kick off my shoes the minute I step out of my car at the end of the day.

Of course, that means that I've stepped on a few nails and a bee or two, which earns me no sympathy from my shoe-bound relatives.

The advertising circulars at this time of year depict lovely women and handsome men in the latest pastels and snow white outfits; and sunshiney, wholesome children dressed so adorably that one just can't help but smile and believe that innocence can't be dead quite yet. Little princesses in prim, white shoes stand upon perfect grass that does not in the least look anything like the weedpatch around my house.

But are these Easter-adorned little people actually being repressed? Should their young feet be free in these giddy, mild days of spring, to scamper unshod upon the sod? Check out this website:, for a group of people that certainly feels that way.

By the way, if shoes we grown-ups must wear in going about our daily drudgery, I lend my full support to anything open-toed, at least for the ladies. Wiggle your little piggies and let them enjoy the sunshine.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

On Women

What a magic, wonderful word that is.

When I awoke from childhood and suddenly realized that Women were all around me, I about went insane. I distinctly remember those early years of absolute obsession -- of scribbling down on a piece of paper one day the ordinary words in conversation of a female classmate, which had achieved sanctity just by passing her lips. (I realized quickly that I would never be able to keep that effort up!)

Litter they threw upon the ground, the scent of their perfume, their cigarette smoke, the warm spot on the bus seat they had recently occupied, their discarded homework papers and doodles, the hairs they brushed from their heads, even the mist of their exhaled breath on a cold day -- I wanted to possess it all, to gather it around me in worship.

I've had to grow up and calm down. I've had to learn the hard, hard lesson that women are mortals of flesh and blood, not all of whom belong on a pedestal and few of whom want to be there anyway.

I'm not writing this post to insinuate that I am any better than the next guy, because I certainly am not. Neither am I any kind of infallible expert. But I will say this: What do women want? They want to be respected. They want you to listen. That's not so hard to do, is it?

Why do I bring this up? Because one, I have a playboy brother who goes through women like socks. And now he is on the verge of actually falling in love, but the girl has what is referred to as emotional "baggage." He asked me today for advice and all I could say was, if he can be strong enough to stand by her, and with her, as she copes with her agonies, then go forward, otherwise, back off now.

Reason two is a blog friend of mine, a very intelligent and brave woman, who is suffering heartache and anger right now, due to the actions of the man in her life. And she shouldn't have to. No one should.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Who could sit in Linus' Pumpkin Patch?

It has often been noted that most people who follow a religion, follow the religion of their parents. It has therefore been questioned how legitimate their adherence to, and defense of, said religion could possibly be.

I.e., a baby born in Poland would probably grow up to be Roman Catholic. That same baby, if it chanced to come to earth in Saudi Arabia, would probably be Muslim. In Russia, Orthodox Christian. Israel, Jewish.

If he adhered to his parental faith, he would therefore feel quite comfortable believing in its superiority to all others; and he/she would espouse the logic of the Incarnation, the Quran, Iconography or the Talmud, respectively -- even though his/her outlook appears to be no more than an accident of geography/birth.

Should we then suggest that the only true believer is a convert from some other faith?

What of more secular conceptions?

Patriotism? Politics?

Must we conclude that the only human being who is truly qualified to sit in Linus Van Pelt's Pumpkin Patch of Sincerity, is an emigrant convert/agnostic who has severed all ties (cultural, linguistic, national and religious) to his/her past?

Monday, April 2, 2007

She was here (a short story)

Here she was.

I never saw her, but I know.

I stand inside the bus shelter and read the graffiti on its plexiglass walls and wonder about her.

Was she a kindly granny or a hard-faced business-woman? Was she a bubbly teenager or a tired mother with a child in a stroller?

All I know is that she was here.

The plastic seat is still warm where she so recently sat, maybe impressing the faint softness of a skirt or the tough shove of denim jeans.

She was here, for the fresh fragrance of her cigarette still perfumes the air. The wind has not yet scattered the ashes she tapped from it – soft and frail and fleeting upon the concrete. And in the midst of them, crushed out, stepped on, left behind, lies her cigarette, a half-smoked Virginia Slims with a faint, feminine crescent of lipgloss upon the filter.

Here she was, alone or in a crowd, here she sipped sweet smoke and breathed it out again into the morning air – comforting ceremony now scorned by a cowardly new world. I’ve seen the looks the smokers get. I’ve heard the rude and stupid words.

She never knew me nor I her. Had I been here, had I arrived five, ten minutes ago, I would have smiled at her -- gently, pleasantly, a friendly face, neither cursing nor forbidding her exhalations.

I sit where she sat and watch the breeze carry away the bits of ash and wonder what has gone wrong in our world.

Hyperbole, thy name is soup

Where do bad folks go when they die?

None of us really know, except apparently the guys from Nirvana, who wrote an awesome song based on that ancient human concern.

But I know where bad writers go, at least before they die.

Camden, New Jersey, USA.

There they write soup labels, through the mist of their tear-glazed eyes.

According to the label on XYZ brand of soup which I imbibed for lunch today, the stuff was delightful, traditional, memorable, generous, chock full, oven-roasted, whimsical, rich, aromatic and savory. None of those labels apply to anything or anyplace I ever saw in New Jersey, except perhaps aromatic, leading me to wonder from whence the writer drew his stock.

It was, the label continued, sure not only to "delight my tastebuds" but to "soothe my soul."

I wonder if the savory herbs included cannabis sativa. Or if the writer himself/herself indulged in a little extract of ergot before gushing out the preceeding thesaurus-worth of adjectives.

My belly is slightly fuller but my soul is hardly soothed. Perhaps I need to assume a yoga position, shed my capitalist inhibitions, man, and commune more sincerely with the all-white chicken pieces.

Soundtrack for the Road

It's Monday. Monday sucks. People who like Mondays have serious pyschological problems and should consult a qualified counselor.

But I did enjoy my drive in. Had some great music on the CD player.

Good road music can be gauged by its effect on your speed. And since I pushed 80 mph the whole way, seriously risking a speeding ticket, it should be obvious that my tunes rocked.

Usually Metallica does that for me. Lars and crew are the penultimate gods of metal. Do not listen to Ride The Lightning while passing through a speed trap.

But today I buzzed with another M: Mozart. As in, the Coronation Mass, at least the Gloria and Credo. I'll have to catch the rest of it on the way home.

The fever pitch, the excitement of the voices rising to a crescendo, reminded me of a long-ago music class revelation -- when my high school teacher showed us with a metronome how some classical pieces had a faster beat than what we kids thought were the rocking hot tunes of the day.

To my first college roommate -- a tragic genius who got tangled up in heroin and vanished, never to be found, a great loss to the world -- I owe my second musical revelation, that a person can -- and should -- live to enjoy both rock and great classical music.