Random musings on a writer's life & times, with occasional input from acquaintances


Friday, May 02, 2003

Notes and comment on important recent happenings from the ever-insightful Peoria Dave, news analyst extraordinaire.

In Hamlin, W.Va., a 19-year-old driver survived having her car hit by trains on two separate tracks (being knocked off one track onto another and then hit while on that track). She wound up in the predicament because she followed safe-driver guidelines by pulling off the road to make a cellphone call, but the place she stopped was a railroad track. [Lincoln Journal, Hamlin, W.Va.]

Jeez, maybe I need to expand my crusade against drivers talking on cell phones. The infernal devices may need to be banned from cars entirely.


The Palo Alto, Calif., City Council scheduled for a final vote in May a proposed code of conduct that includes (in order to coax civility among members) an official admonition to avoid nonverbal forms of disagreement with each other, such as rolling one's eyes or shaking one's head or frowning. A former resident told the San Jose Mercury News the proposal is a prime example of the "Palo Alto mindset." [San Jose Mercury News]

My eldest son, Joseph C. Jordan, King of the Cocked Eyebrow, lives in Palo Alto. He’d better stay out of politics.


Jerry Thomason, 41, was charged with aggravated assault in San Antonio, Texas, in April after police found his 45-year-old wife at home with a heavy chain and padlock around her neck. Thomason said he loved his wife and regularly chained her up to keep her from leaving. [San Antonio Express-News]

This is a crime? Sounds like true love to me.


Luis Chavez, 33, was arrested in Cypress, Calif., in February after he allegedly set off aerial fireworks in his condominium bedroom (motive unknown), leading to a $135,000 fire. Patricia Martin burned down her Kings Mountain, N.C., house in February when she lit a piece of paper to create smoke to get rid of a nest of spiders. And a Massapequa, N.Y., high school student inadvertently set a fire that gutted the second story of the family home in January when he tried to burn school papers on which he had done badly. He tossed the papers out a window, but an ember blew back inside. [Los Angeles Times, Shelby Star, New York Times}

Reminds me of the time I bought a cow kidney to feed my cat, Spook, because someone said it would make his coat shiny. The Spookster sniffed the kidney and walked away. I decided cats must prefer kidney cooked. I slopped the slimy thing in a frying pan and fired up the stove, not stopping to think what kidneys do -- produce urine. The result was a cloud of pee smoke that permeated my duplex for weeks. Major dry-cleaning bills ensued.


Officials at a prison in Sombor, Serbia, shot to death two guard dogs, execution style, in February after concluding they had been lax in failing to bark when five inmates were escaping. [BBC News]

There’s a dog next door who goes the other direction. He doesn’t know how to STOP barking. What did I do with that cigarette and blindfold?


The town council in Enfield, Conn., was criticized for letting its insurance company pay two settlements last year to softball players who hurt themselves sliding into bases in city parks. Mark Brengi tore ligaments sliding into third base and settled for $45,000. A week later, his brother Scott broke an ankle sliding into second base on the same field. He settled for $90,000. [Hartford Courant]

I broke my left wrist a few years ago when I slipped rounding a wet base and fell while playing city league softball in Corvallis. No one gave me any money, though. I should have played in Connecticut!


James C. Schaefer recently self-published an autobiography chronicling what he calls his "Wisconsinaphobia," described as anxiety attacks and back pains triggered by mention of the state or anything associated with it. After relocating from Milwaukee to California, he became unnerved by people speaking with nasal Wisconsin accents, mentioning Wisconsin-made products such as Harley-Davidson motorcycles and reciting Green Bay Packers' football scores. Schaefer, 64, said he is “90 percent cured” after intensive therapy. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]

I spent a long-ago year in Madison attending graduate school at the University of Wisconsin. I have yet to recover. (Did you know the temperature stays below zero for WEEKS AT A TIME in Wisconsin? The place is a white hell!)


The attorney general of the Australian state of Victoria told reporters the government would propose legislation to abolish the common-law practice of varying death benefits for widows according to how pretty they are. The doctrine allows a discount on a widow's compensation if she has strong prospects of remarriage, so judges take note of her appearance in deciding how much money she needs. The widow most recently judged a looker lost the equivalent of $62,000 in U.S. money until an appeals court intervened. [The Age, Melbourne]

Well, as I always say -- money is only skin deep.


Officials at Nevada's Yucca Mountain repository for high-level nuclear waste are struggling with a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission requirement that it post signs, lasting as far into the future as the year 12,000 A.D., warning intruders of the site's dangers. Among the counter-suggestions: discourage trespassers by making Yucca Mountain also a global feces dump. [Wall Street Journal]

Is Yucca Mountain near Las Vegas? It’s already a shitpile of the first rank. Intrude at your own risk.


South Dakota Highway Patrolmen made a guns-drawn stop of a motorist in February after they became suspicious because the man was wearing a gas mask while driving a van on Interstate 90. He told officers he was just making a delivery of restaurant food that had an unpleasant smell. [WCCO.com-AP]

So THAT’S why my order from the House of Anchovies in Sioux Falls never showed up!


With thanks to my main source, Chuck Shepherd’s News of the Weird.

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

I have to read five of my poems aloud at a workshop tonight. I am not looking forward to it.

Poetry gurus tell me reading poems aloud is important, and I should do it with enthusiasm and skill. Poetry originated as spoken word, they point out. In olden days, before most people could write, the populace passed down tales of the tribe by speaking. Stories, parables, words of wisdom and what have you often were made to rhyme in order to render them easier to remember. So when you write poetry, even if it doesn’t rhyme, as mine usually doesn’t, you are working in an oral tradition, and you should buy into that by reading your poems in public as often as possible. So goes the advice.

I have been to many poetry readings and I own video and audio recordings of many famous poets, from Sharon Olds to W.B. Yeats, so I know there are as many ways to read as there are poets. Some poets declaim dramatically like Dylan Thomas. Others just sort of talk along, like William Stafford. The best I’ve ever heard in the flesh is Robert Wrigley, who taught at a summer workshop I attended a couple years ago in Ashland. The Idaho poet is enthusiastic and entertaining without being flowery or self-indulgent, which is a considerable accomplishment.

A big part of my problem is I don’t like my own voice. My speaking voice, that is. My reading aloud voice. When I speak, I sound like a frog gargling molasses. When I try to read my poems aloud, I also mumble, stumble and generally muck about. I put the emPHAsis on the wrong sylLAble, often as not, because I distract myself by misreading about one word every three lines. Whipping morphs into tripping, and things like that.

I can practice reading poems aloud and smooth out some of the rough edges, given enough time, but I still can’t read like Wrigley. There is something inside me that won’t turn my tongue loose. It’s the same thing that kept me from becoming an actor, despite my decades-long interest in theater and film. I just can’t let go front of an audience, as a real performer must. I come across sounding half-sleep, I fear, reading in a monotone while the audience’s eyes drift closed.

Whenever I face the prospect of doing a poetry reading, I am reminded of the first time I heard a recording of my voice. I was in the ninth grade in Knoxville, Tennessee, taking a Bible class. The teacher organized a three-person panel discussion of a passage from Exodus, and I was tapped to be one of the three. I did my bit along with the others, and the teacher taped our presentation. Afterwards, she played the tape back. I sat listening through the whole thing, waiting to hear myself speak. I never did.

What’s the deal? I wondered. Was I talking so slowly the microphone didn’t pick up my words? Finally, I raised my hand and asked the teacher why my voice didn’t appear on the tape. It does, she assured me. She played the recording again, pausing it for a moment to announce: “Here you come.” Out of the machine oozed an oily croak maundering on about Jehovah. I was appalled. Still am.

Sunday, April 27, 2003

Ah, the Sunday Seven hit the road! I am in Bend, Oregon, as I write this, instead of at home in Portland.

1) What are you wearing?

Black cotton sweatshirt given to me for my birthday by my mother; chartreuse tee shirt I bought as a souvenir of New York City when I traveled there to see "The Producers" on Broadway a couple of summers ago; blue jeans that grow more tattered each time I wear them (what does it mean if they wear out in the front of the thigh?); white Wilson tennis sox; auxiliary sweatboots (I keep a pair stashed at the cabin my family owns in the Bend area for visits like this weekend's).

2) What are you reading?

A New Yorker magazine review of a biography of Nikita Khruschev, the former Soviet premier who was a bad-guy icon of my all-American youth.

3) What's for breakfast?

I changed the question from "What's for dinner?" because I have no clue about the evening meal. I have to drive the 150 miles back to Portland today, so by the time I get there the options will probably be reduced to take-out swill of some sort. For breakfast, however, I am having coffee and a sumptuous banana. I may even splurge with some Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal after a bit.

4) What's the best thing that happened this week?

My wife, son Andy and I came to Bend to celebrate my birthday with my son Mickey, who lives at our cabin while working at the local newspaper, and my mother and brother Vic, who live in Bend. I opened gifts, we ate Mexican food, we watched dozens of episodes of "Sports Night" on DVD (that was one of Mickey's birthday gifts from me). A nice time was had by all. As my old pal Sheridan Fahnestock the Third used to say: "Will you pour?"

5) What's bugging you?

It's been snowing in Bend! April 26, and snow came down like January in Siberia! (Well, not quite that bad -- but it seemed that way after spending most of this spring in the rainy but mild Willamette Valley). I may have to drive home in snow today, and one of the windshield wipers on my car doesn't work. Heavy sigh.

6) Where in the world is Carmen San Diego?

Sisters, Oregon, probably. Or Brothers. Both are near Bend.

7) What's it all about, Dave?

The lure of the open road.

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