Saturday, April 30, 2011

Huru-Can

Friday was a beautiful day of cloudless blue skies along Florida’s east coast, another of those post card images boasting of a holiday paradise. Unlike other southern regions to the north, Florida has been spared the destruction and loss of life resulting from tornadoes across much of the south this past week. For that we can be thankful, but some of us living here begin to feel a creeping sense of anxiety over the imminent hurricane season running from June through November. It can be especially worrisome if your home is separated from the Atlantic by nothing more than a hundred feet of sand, and less than that during stormy conditions.


The hurricane season of 2004 hit my spot of postcard paradise with devastating fury, leaving me with repairs necessary from the ground up. In the middle of August Hurricane Charlie swung around the bottom of Florida and then doubled back across the state packing a furious wallop, but one which we on the east coast managed to squeak through. A week later I returned to Japan feeling lucky. Only two weeks passed before Hurricane Frances hit the east coast 149 miles south of Daytona and left my home flooded, encased in mold and uninhabitable. Had I been here to jump immediately into action I still couldn’t have saved much. Lucky for me a friend jumped in and rescued the book collection before damp and mold took hold. Those are the times you are are thankful for both friends and insurance. It is also a time when you gain a new respect for the furies of an angry Mother Nature on steroids. It took several months but the condo was rebuilt and refurnished with a new look better than ever.


Having sat out Hurricane Charlie inside these walls wondering if the end would come from evisceration by broken wind-driven glass or from drowning in my bedroom, I developed a finer appreciation for the furies that define a hurricane. Shortly after my experience I came upon a book called The Voyage (1999) by Philip Caputo—one of the greatest coming of age novels ever—which included a particularly fine passage about a hurricane in the Caribbean passing between the tip of Florida and Cuba. Here is Mr Caputo’s vision:


‘The storm was barreling toward them, and the most rational meteorologist, had he seen it as the boys did, from the deck of a forty-six-foot schooner, would have forgotten everything he’d learned from books about heavy weather and felt himself one with the Carib Indians, the first men who had quaked before that wrath and given it a name—huru-can, the demon wind.

Double Eagle tore southwestward under morning stars winking out one by one, her deck slanted thirty degrees…She rolled and banged in the crowded eight-foot seas.

“At this rate, we’ll be in the harbor in less than half an hour,” said Will, standing, as they all were, at a thirty degree angle.

Only minutes later, the storm forced Will to go back on his promises. Though it seemed to the boys’ minds to do so with evil purpose, though it seemed a conscious being, it had no more concern for the promises, the plans, the paltry hopes and dreams of those four adolescents than its ancestor storms had had for the grand schemes of empire and the lust for riches dwelling in the minds and hearts of Spaniards homeward bound from the New World in galleons ballasted with bars of looted silver, their sea chests filled with emeralds and gold plundered from mines where Aztec and Inca labored under the Spanish whip, and all—ships, chests, coins, jewels—driven onto the reefs, smashed, and sunk, the Sevillean and Valencian lords and ladies crying out futile Aves as the waters closed around them and the great wind tore the prayers from their lips and shredded the words before they reached the ear of heaven; no more concern than one of this storm’s big sisters had shown for the souls of Galveston only the summer before, September 8, 1900, when it roared into that city and in a few hours left it looking as if it had undergone a monthlong naval bombardment, the corpses of six thousand of its citizens bloating amid the ruins of their civic pride. Six thousand lives or four, Spanish galleon or Yankee schooner, conquistador or ordinary American boy—it was all the same to huru-can, a true egalitarian in its administration of destruction.’


Friday, April 29, 2011

Funny “Lady”

With her lilac tinted hair and cat eye glasses, with appearances in movies, on television, Broadway, off-Broadway, London’s West End and uncountable interview and talk shows, somehow Dame Edna Everage escaped my attention until today. Had I seen or heard the name it would have meant nothing to me. Maybe I’ve lived with my head inside a brown paper bag all this time. Granted, for many years television never really captured my attention, and from what I can find, Dame Edna has a small following in Japan, my hideout for a number of years. Reading a few items on CNN’s international news website this morning I noticed a link to a video showing a woman with purple hair and the words: “I’m a teeny little bit bored,” so I clicked on it and have been laughing all day over what I saw there and on two or three YouTube videos later.


Dame Edna Everage is a character created by Australian comedian Barry Humphries back in the 1950s and one that has continued to evolve since her first appearance as Mrs Norm Everage, “average Australian housewife” from Moonee Ponds, a Melbourne suburb. A repertory actor on tour, Humphries invented the character as a kind of entertainment on bus commutes between towns. Over time Edna developed a falsetto voice in imitation of the women’s association representatives who welcomed the actors to each town. In her earliest characterization the character had none of the flamboyance of the contemporary Dame Edna. What we see today is the full-blown Dame Edna, housewife and superstar with her own autobiography, My Gorgeous Life.


According to her autobiography, Dame Edna (née Edna May Beazley) has three adult children, Bruce, Kenny, and Valmai. While still an infant her first daughter was tragically abducted by a rogue koala during a family camp-out in the outback. She takes great pride in her two sons. Her youngest, Kenneth designs all of her dresses. Dame Edna often speaks of Kenny and his partner, Clifford Smale, both of whom Edna believes are searching for “Miss Right” although she admits they are looking “in some very strange places.” Her husband, Sir Norman Everage died in 1988 after many years in hospitals suffering from prostate problems and a “testicular murmur.” Edna founded the non-profit “Friends of the Prostate” in his honor.


In spite of the humor and guffaws Dame Edna’s comments often arouse, Humphries has been controversial with some of his remarks as Dame Edna. In a 2003 Vanity Fair satirical advice column Dame Edna replied to a question about learning Spanish this way: “Forget Spanish. There’s nothing in that language worth reading except Don Quixote, and a quick listen to the CD of Man of La Mancha will take care of that…Who speaks it that you are really desperate to talk to? The help? Your leaf blower?” That answer drew numerous complaints from the Hispanic community. The magazine received death threats and had to publish a full-page apology.



Maybe it’s just me but one video of this ‘woman’ has had me laughing all day long.


The CNN interview with Dame Edna about the Royal Wedding is here.

Those interested in a Dame Edna costume kit, look here.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Lizards in Space

Always a little special for me when I can cadge a snippet of something from my writer friend R, something he passes on along with the freedom to share it with others. I’ve often badgered him with entreaties to let me post something from his stories, or if not a story then an extract from a longer work. In conversation the other day I renewed my request, not really imagining that it would produce a response so quickly. Well, here it is readers—a few lines on what can only be called weird science.

With the recent retirement of the Space Shuttle after so many flights—over 130—it’s not hard to look back if you are of a certain age and remember what the early days of space flight meant to young imaginations. Sputnik 1, the first man made object to be launched into Earth’s orbit in 1957, marked attention shifting away from Saturday afternoon television with programs of aerial dogfights from World War II and serials of daring-do and cowboys riding the range in search of rustlers. Young boys turned eyes heavenward and wondered about the limitless blue sky.


In the early days of the space program, Will and I were always experimenting with lizards in the name of furthering scientific research. And once Will’s father asked why we were torturing those animals. And we had Orville and Wilbur disbelieving looks on our faces, confused by the question of why the thrill of experiencing flight might not translate to green lizards. After all, wasn’t there a Russian dog orbiting above our heads, sending yip yips back to earth so one day Death Rays can be launched from orbit?


Having graduated from games of Indians slaughtering Pale Face Settlers, our bows and arrows were now launchers and missiles. Borrowed handkerchiefs became parachutes draped over the point of the arrow for flight into space, strings from the four corners of the handkerchiefs knotted neatly on the shaft for the floating reentry. So before the first lizard was launched into space, Will’s bicycle was turned over on seat and handlebars, the back wheel now the Johnsville Centrifuge that would generate up to 40 g/s. The first lizard was strapped on and the back-wheel centrifuge started slowly, building up to a speed where the spinning pedal was difficult to hold. Brakes were quickly applied to test rapid deceleration. Look and find the first scientific principle: When placing the astronaut lizard on the centrifuge, always make sure the head of the astronaut lizard is also secured.


Years later, perhaps after one of the space program disasters—the fire that killed the three Apollo 1 astronauts in 1967, or the loss of lives on Challenger in 1973 or on Columbia in 2003—I found myself thinking back to those youthful attempts to launch a lizard as far as possible up toward that blue sky, marveling at the cost of achievement in space exploration: animals used and lost, the human toll, the billions of dollars spent to explore and expand what is known about our existence on this speck of sand in the universe. And it always comes down to was it worth it?


With a slight nod to the heretofore unacknowledged contribution of a few green lizards of a Louisiana summer, I say yes.


………………..


For more short pieces from R check out the lagniappe add-ons at the bottom of these earlier posts:

Lagniappe One (Lagniappe is a Cajun word meaning ‘a little bit extra.’)

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hell on Earth

Trouble with my cell phone a few days ago had me scrambling for most of the day trying to find a solution to what anyone would have called a simple problem—everyone that is except Sprint and the folks at Best Buy where I bought the phone. In a post last Wednesday I wrote a little about this problem and the frustrations that followed, wondering then if I shouldn’t just throw the phone away. But really, how many people do you know who throw their phone away? Hyperbole sometimes looks good on paper, but…

The experience last Tuesday started with two interminable hours on the phone (not mine) with Sprint tech support explaining the problem to two different reps who…well, let’s just say English was a problem. In the end I gave up and said I would take the problem to where I bought the phone less than one year ago. Twenty-two miles and forty minutes later I sat down with a young lady at the cell phone counter in Best Buy. She listened to my explanation, took the cell phone but immediately answered a call on her cell phone. She continued to fiddle with my phone with one hand and upon finishing her call handed my phone back saying it was okay, that she had reinstalled the ABC and deleted the XYZ. The phone was showing full bars and she even told me to call her number to be sure. It worked.


For fifteen minutes. Whatever the Best Buy rep did to the phone, it didn’t last. So, I drove the long road home and went to the Sprint office in my little beachtown. The man I spoke to there fiddled with the phone, clicked a few keys on the computer and said it was fixed. “Look. it’s only showing one bar in the window,” I pointed out. “Oh, don’t worry. That’s okay,” he answered. “But if you’re worried about it you can take it to the Sprint store in Port Orange. The guy there is real sharp.” Port Orange is only eighteen miles away.


The second fix was just as short-lived as the first, so the following morning I made the long drive over to the Port Orange Sprint store to have the ‘real sharp guy’ check out my phone. He and another store rep huddled over my phone and did ‘phone speak’ for about twenty minutes, jiggled some buttons and pronounced it cured. Could you blame me for being just a wee tiny bit skeptical about that pronouncement? Back in the car and a half mile down the road the phone died on the seat next to me. That was enough for one day. I pushed the problem out of my head.


Saturday and Sunday passed, my telephone working in a sort of hit ’n miss fashion, though incoming calls were blocked. On Monday noon I retuned to Best Buy in Daytona, determined to speak to the store manager and demand a new telephone. At first, the same young lady, the one from last Tuesday with the full body tattoos asked if she could help me, and I asked for the supervisor. He came over and listened to the whole story then went to work pressing buttons and adjusting the ABC. Another rep drifted over and suggested resetting the phone. “Oh, yes! Let’s try that.” And there went my contacts in a poof of smoke. I suggested a new phone, an upgrade of the broken one and I would happily pay the $9.99 listed, but was told it would cost $279.99 unless I waited until May of 2013 and then it would be $9.99. Then I got the suggestion to take the broken phone to ANOTHER Sprint store in Ormond Beach ten miles away. Naturally I got lost trying to find it.


Inside the Ormond Beach Sprint store a man was filling out the forms for a new phone, the store rep pointing where to sign and initial the pages. My first words were to the man signing the papers. “Are you sure you want to do that?” The store rep looked at me as if I were crazy, which by that time was pretty much the case. But he listened to my story and suggested I send the phone back to the maker asking for a replacement. “That will cost $36.95 and take 3-5 days, and then you'll have to drive the thirty miles from home back to Ormond beach to pick up the phone.” Oh, super cool I thought; only five days more without a phone, and I get to pay. Why not send the new phone to the Sprint store where I live? For some reason they couldn’t do that, but they could send it to the Port Orange store.


After I had refilled my gas tank and driven once more to the Port Orange Sprint store I was told I couldn’t exchange the phone because the case has a small crack, though the crack was unrelated to the problem with the phone. The same man who had failed to repair the phone several days earlier looked closely at my face, saw something dangerous there and quickly offered, “Let me see what I can do.”


It was a post Easter miracle but he found and fixed the problem. According to him, the problem was not with the phone but with the Sprint network which had for reasons known only to God and the twelve disciples dropped all my data through a digital crack, and as far as Sprint was concerned I no longer existed. The ‘real sharp guy’ in Port Orange put all that data back into the network.


Have you ever wondered about hell on earth?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Runaway

Remember back in 1994 when Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock made a movie called Speed? Most of us who saw that picture remember it as a supercharged thriller about a bomb-rigged bus loaded with people and headed for tragedy, a movie that left the viewer almost panting with tension and excitement; one of those edge of your seat pictures. Well, every now and then Hollywood does it again, comes up with a script and a director that combine to produce another of those breathless thrillers. This time it’s a 2010 movie called Unstoppable directed by Tony Scott and starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pine.


The movie is inspired by an incident they called “Crazy Eights” involving an unmanned runaway train in Ohio ten years ago. The train left a Walbridge, Ohio rail yard on a sixty-six mile journey through northwest Ohio with no one at the controls. The engineer hopped off the slow-moving train in the rail yard to pull a track switch thinking he had set the train’s dynamic braking system. The train picked up speed and he couldn’t get back on.


Unstoppable is about that runaway, a million tons of train carrying eight carriages of a highly toxic chemical and thousands of gallons of diesel fuel at seventy miles per hour and no one on board. Denzel Washington plays a veteran engineer on a different train with greenhorn conductor Chris Pine. They are headed for a nose to nose collision with the runaway train but in a very tense switch, they end up chasing the train in their one-car locomotive with the idea of locking on to the rear car and slowing it down with brakes and reverse power. The train has to be brought under control before derailing on a curve and causing a toxic spill that will wipe out an entire town.


The characters in the movie are not too finely drawn and don’t have much of what we could call depth, but for a gritty blue-collar story of men doing a hard job, the requirements are there. The main point of the script is to set up a story and play it out with as much excitement as possible. With Tony Scott as director the producers certainly got the man to do just that. Look at at his résumé and it reads like a how-to manual on exciting filmmaking. (Top Gun, The Last Boy Scout, Crimson Tide).


One aspect of the production that is especially good is the production design as well as the choice of locations in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. There’s little that’s pretty in Unstoppable and both characters and locations are grimed with cinder dust and oil smears. There is a thoroughly average American blue collar stamp on the production and it does much to enhance believability in the face of big Hollywood stars.


Looking for a movie to grab you by the throat? You can do a lot worse than picking up a disc of Unstoppable wherever you get your movies.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Horseplay

Late on Friday night we were in Jimmy’s blue Chevy convertible, parked on a ferry crawling across the Atchafalaya. Horseplay, loud songs and the smell of beer told anyone nearby that a carload of teenagers was in the area. Another couple of minutes and the ferry would drop us on a back road leading into St Francisville and the old churchyard cemetery we liked to creep through, sitting around on grave markers telling ghost stories under moss hung live oaks. Meanwhile Mark and J.D. were on the floor of the back seat grunting and snuffling, though no one but Nancy Kay paid them any mind. Slipping another Kent from her pack and lighting it with the big silver Ronson table lighter she carried, she told Kermon to slap the two fruits down on the floorboards. “Other people on this ferry are gonna get all over us if they see two men in the backseat moaning and giving each other the homo hug,” she predicted in her usual sarcastic tone, curls of smoke twisting around her blonde hair.


At the front end of the ferry Teetaw stood singing “Bali Hai” to the black waters of the river while one of the crew stood off to the side and stared at her through pale eyes set wide on a flat face. By all accounts we were lucky on those weekend rambles not to be stopped by police, caretakers or angry neighbors rattled out of bed by teenage shenanigans. Most of the time we were too drunk on fun and good times to ever pause long enough to consider the ruckus we kicked up and left behind in churchyards, drive-in movies and curb service hamburger joints. On some nights we coasted on the joy we got from hammering together stage sets and acting out parts in summer musicals at the theatre downtown, hair spattered with paint, voices hoarse from rehearsal. Freed by parents busy with bridge and I Love Lucy, we played out nighttime scenes from Tennessee Williams on City Park lawns and danced through routines under streetlights.


The next night six of us went to the drive-in to see a western. Previews the week before emblazoned the giant screen with words shouting that Burt Lancaster was a man chased by men with guns on their hips and women with love on their lips, preview enough to send us piling into Jimmy’s car for the picture show. Following a familiar routine, Jimmy stopped the car around the block from the drive-in and the other five of us climbed into the car’s trunk. With its tailpipe dragging on the ground the car pulled up to the ticket booth and Jimmy asked for a single ticket, complaining that his date had two-timed him with another man. Dulled by engine sounds and trunk lid, we heard a muffled, “Hun, that’s the saddest thing I heard all night. Maybe the picture will raise your spirits.” Half the time we hardly watched the movies at the drive-in, even one with Rhonda Fleming and her D cup boobs chasing Burt with love all over her lips.


One sweltering weekend in August at a camp on the river the usual bunch sat around the backyard playing records and eating boiled crabs. Jimmy had the boat out pulling Chandler up and down the river on water skis and Lillian dozed in the hammock, the Viceroy in her hand about to set her fingers on fire. Another of those golden afternoons until Kermon came busting out of the screened porch shouting, “Oh, my God, Marilyn Monroe is dead! Marilyn killed herself!” Nancy Kay ran out to the boat dock and shouted the news to Jimmy and Chandler. When words finally cut through the motor noise Chandler fell off those skis like he’d been shot. Jimmy swung the boat around and pulled him coughing out of the khaki green water. Hard news for a while, but youthful vigor had us back to the usual high jinks by suppertime.


Intoxicated by the exuberance of our salad days most of us never saw through the rainbow to a time when life isn’t always kind and forgiving and when understanding doesn’t come as easily as it once did with angry parents and neighbors. Two of the gang never did find that understanding and a few years later ended their time like the movie star in that August headline.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Scent of Wood

In those days we filled scratch pads with tales of our daily adventures loosely copied from Mark Twain and charred around the edges with Diamond kitchen matches to give them what we thought was an antique look of truth. Like many other boys of that time, we lived and breathed the pages and chapters from Mr Twain’s two most well known books, going as far as calling each by the names Tom and Huck. Our heads were filled with images of runaway slaves, corn likker, whitewashed fences and dead cats, and there weren’t many summer nights when we didn’t sneak out bedroom windows to reenact or reinvent episodes from those two favorite books.


The setting was far from Twain’s Hannibal, Missouri, but like that dreamed-of river port, our town too was nestled against the mighty Mississippi and gave our play-like Tom ’n Huck games an aura of authenticity. But despite the proximity of that muddy brown and mile-wide twist of river, most of our play was centered around the neighborhood we knew as well as any river pilot knew his channels. We had the small clubhouse in Kermon’s backyard for those times we wanted to smoke a corncob pipe stuffed with tobacco from my daddy’s big red tin of Sir Walter Raleigh, and we had the pitch black tunnels and spaces in the lumber yard for the nights we explored secret grottoes built of stacked lumber. Our friend was Ol’ Charley the nightwatchman, to our eyes someone possibly like Jim in Huckleberry Finn.


The lumber yard was a defining presence rising amidst the streets and houses of the neighborhood. Seldom quiet, it screeched and moaned, sometimes humming in tones that grew to be relaxing when heard day after day. On those days when the mill was shaping oak or knotty pine planks the air was torn by woody screams, by choked gargles of knots and hard wood cut apart by whirring sawtoothed steel. On milling days sawdust flowed through giant vents spurting unending rivers of pale orange chips and dust into bulk carriers, hauled away several times a day by company trucks. The best part was the smell of fresh-cut wood that passed through window screens and left rooms smelling of woods, a fragrance that lingered in the air long after the mill had shut down for the night.


The boyish games we messed around with, the pranks and Tom Sawyer scenes played out were as most boyhood games harmless, never raising alarm with parents or other adults. But in any child’s life accidents lurk between the cracks and when they pop out everything screeches to a halt and frightened faces turn toward home.


Deep in a Huck Finn fantasy, carving swords out of short lengths of pilfered white pine, we sat in a scratchy nest of cut and dried sugar cane stalks in Popee’s next door lot. The lumber mill across the road hummed in familiar notes and the July sun painted hot crosshatches on the yellowed sugar cane turning it to crinkled gold. Two boys at one moment on an imaginary Mississippi raft, and the next plunged back into real time, both staring down at the disappearing milky blue of my old blue jeans as a sudden red tide spread across the top of my leg, a pocketknife gash smiling wide.

“Quick, rub some stump water on it!” I stupidly blurted out, calling up some backcountry medical lore from Tom Sawyer.

“That ain’t gon’ do no good,” Kermon said. “Less you got some warts on your leg.”

We both looked down at the gaping cut, mesmerized by the pulsing blood. A minute passed and Kermon said, “I reckon we better forget the stump water and have your mama fix that.”


The fat scar is still there on my leg, lifelong souvenir of a sharp new pocketknife in my ten year-old hands.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Anchors Aweigh

Two fountain pens that have gotten frequent mention in Scriblets are the Sailor Professional Gear Silver and the Professional Gear Slim Gold, pens that in my estimation deserve more attention than is the case now in blogs devoted to fountain pens. Easy enough to call me a Sailor aficionado and not be far from the truth. Seven different Sailor pens lay about my desk, all used regularly, but the two most frequently used are the Professional Gear models pictured below. Dependable tools that are heavily used and never break down are what most of us call a ‘workhorse’ and Sailor fountain pens slip easily into that category.


In 1911, Kyugoro Sakata founded The Sailor Pen Company in Hiroshima, Japan. The engineering skills of Mr Sakata guided him and his company, and over the years the quality of Sailor fountain pens grew, as did the company’s reputation. Nothing in that statement has changed as far as quality and reputation are concerned. When you put your money down for a Sailor fountain pen high quality and long life are assured, or at least that has been my experience.


My first Sailor pen was the Professional Gear Slim Gold, purchased at a pen shop in Tokyo almost five years ago. From the moment I tested the pen in the shop there was a jackpot feeling about it. Not a large pen, it measures 4⁷⁄₈ inches capped and 5½ inches posted. The body design is traditional and made of black resin with gold plated trim. The 14k medium nib never falters, never skips, drips or dries out. It strikes me as just the kind of fountain pen any pen lover would cherish.


A couple of months after purchasing the Professional Gear Slim Gold I returned to the same pen shop and tested the larger big brother, the Professional Gear Silver. This one is 5¹⁄₁₆ inches capped and 5¾ inches posted, with a barrel diameter of a ½ inch. It has the same design as the smaller pen but with rhodium trim instead of gold. The medium nib is 21k with rhodium inlay. Writing quality? Like the smaller model, it never fails to lay down a smooth flow of ink, whatever the brand or color.



No one would tell you that Sailor fountain pens are cheap. Most of them retail at prices over $200, but there is comfort in the knowledge that you are getting a quality item that will last a lifetime. Surely something worth saving for.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Apple-Picking

With a feeling for something traditional, today I pulled down a book of Robert Frost and came across one of his better known poems from the 1914 collection, North of Boston. The poem is “After Apple-Picking” and describes a time after a long day’s work when the speaker is tired of apple picking. He has felt drowsy and dreamy since the morning when he looked through a sheet of ice lifted from the surface of a water trough. Now he feels tired, feels sleep coming on, but wonders whether it is a normal, end-of-the-day sleep or something deeper.


Frost once said, “After Apple-Picking” is about picking apples, but with its ladders pointing ‘toward heaven still,’ with its great weariness, and with its rumination on the harvest, the coming of winter, and inhuman sleep, the reader feels certain that the poem harbors some ulteriority.” Well, there is always something concealed in the poetry of Robert Frost though he himself was many times prone to discourage critical implications of the ‘ulterior’ in his work.


In this case Frost transforms an ordinary experience, into a meditation, a philosophical musing. He moves gradually away from harvesting apples to considering how life has been experienced fully despite the regrets and mistakes. Reference to winter in the poetry of Frost often carries implications of mortality. In this poem he wonders if his sleep will resemble the long hibernating sleep of the woodchuck.


AFTER APPLE-PICKING

My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree

Toward heaven still,

And there's a barrel that I didn’t fill

Beside it, and there may be two or three

Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.

But I am done with apple-picking now.

Essence of winter sleep is on the night,

The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.

I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight

I got from looking through a pane of glass

I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough

And held against the world of hoary grass.

It melted, and I let it fall and break.

But I was well

Upon my way to sleep before it fell,

And I could tell

What form my dreaming was about to take.

Magnified apples appear and disappear,

Stem end and blossom end,

And every fleck of russet showing clear.

My instep arch not only keeps the ache,

It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.

I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.


And I keep hearing from the cellar bin

The rumbling sound

Of load on load of apples coming in.

For I have had too much

Of apple-picking: I am overtired

Of the great harvest I myself desired.

There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,

Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.

For all

That struck the earth,

No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,

Went surely to the cider-apple heap

As of no worth.

One can see what will trouble

This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.

Were he not gone,

The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his

Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,

Or just some human sleep.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Gluttony of a Kind

First to admit it—I’m out of control and blind to the diminishing space and vanishing dollars brought on by my condition. Compulsion comes in a variety of flavors and it’s probably safe to say that some are less dangerous than others and I have to hope my own falls in that category. There’s a lot of compulsive behavior out there I’m happily immune to, but book buying is not one of them. When it comes to buying books, new or old, reason goes out the door.


Pretty soon the living room sofa will have to go. That or trade in the refrigerator for more bookshelves. Existing shelves are full and the stacks of books on tables, chairs and floor are beginning to lean. When someone comes for dinner it requires ten minutes to shift the stacks off the dining table and squeeze out room for place settings.


The past three days have added six more to the stacks, but fortunately only one of them required an outlay of money, and even then the discount was hefty. A quick word about the six pictured above…


Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks, May 2011 — After reading her 2006 Pulitzer Prize winning book, March, I would stand in line to read the author’s grocery list.

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis, 1954 — A book I should have read long ago.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, 2010 — In the words of a friend I trust, ‘Drive, don’t walk, to get a copy of A Visit from the Goon Squad. What a voice, different for all the characters, and funny stuff that made me laugh out loud. Been a long time since I laughed like that at something so literary.’

Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham, 2005 — One by the author that I have not read and couldn't turn down the $1.10 price for a first edition in mint condition. Cunningham is best known for The Hours, another Pulitzer Prize winning work.

The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly, April 2011 — I’m a Connelly fan, simple as that.

Naoko by Keigo Higashino, 2004 — Ordered this book because I enjoyed his most recent book, The Devotion of Suspect X so much. Higashino is a huge seller in Japan.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Good & Bad


Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth the trouble. For those of us who give little thought to phones of any kind, an entire day devoted to the mysterious ills of a cell phone raises questions about necessity and increasing dependance. When I finally broke down and bought a mobile phone I was already years behind. The disbelieving looks when telling people I didn’t have a cell phone were by then an ordinary part of the day. Of course, the day came when like everyone else I did have a cell phone in my pocket and little by little I learned about a new brand of dependance. At this point, it’s second nature and the phone goes in my pocket automatically when I grab up the keys and leave home.


Frustrated now because a full day has been squandered on attempts to solve a ‘no service’ problem. Cut off in the middle of a call last night, suddenly a message appeared informing me of no service. No big deal, I thought; it will correct itself. Yeah, right. Two hours on another telephone talking to three different tech support reps this morning, a forty minute drive to the store where I bought the phone produced no results, no fix; another thirty minutes in the car hunting down the service provider’s office and finding no solution there. But hey, the man says if I get in the car and drive another thirty minutes over to Dunlawton they can probably fix it there, but no guarantees. I'm close to dropping the ornery thing in the trash and having done with it.

That was the bad part.

With day long frustration over a broken palm-sized gadget, a change of pace was in order. Things usually improve once you’re home and comfortable in a cushy chair, an icy jolt of spirits at hand and some cheery lines to look over. In a notebook next to the cushy chair are some newly jotted quotes from the long running television show, The Simpsons. Never seen it more than a time or two, but I read somes quotes this morning that hit the spot…
• Homer Simpson on his aspirations, “All my life I’ve had one dream—to achieve my many goals.”
• About responsibility, “You can’t keep blaming yourself. Just blame yourself once, and move on.
• On survival: “Three sentences will get you through life. One, ‘Cover for me.’ Two, ‘Good idea, Boss.’ And three, ‘It was like that when I got here.’”
• Talking about marriage, his wife Marge asks, “Homer, is this the way you pictured married life?” Homer ponders a moment and answers, “Pretty much. Except we drove around in a van solving mysteries.”
A short time later the gritty hours of frustration sort of rolled away looking at a quotation from William Blake. Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence” (1863) is a long poem of 132 lines, but the opening four lines are a familiar balm to many…
To see a world in a grain of sand,
And heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palms of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

Words good for clearing the head.


And finally, one more well written thought…
“Is there anything more beautiful in the world than to sit before an open window and enjoy nature, to listen to the birds singing, feel the sun on your cheeks and have a darling boy in your arms?” —Anne Frank, spring 1944.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Paper Dreams

As luck would have it, paper has made its way into the spotlight again. Totally unaware of what was coming and what Saturday’s post would leave in my mailbox, a pleasant shock arrived in the form of six note pads from Richard Binder. They came to me via my friend and cousin in Louisiana, Carolyne the Cajun Queen. She has the perfect knack for knowing just the thing that will bring the greatest pleasure and enjoyment.


Richard Binder is no stranger to anyone with an interest in fountain pens and his website is in my bookmarks, but for those unfamiliar with the name… Richard Binder is a fountain pen and nib expert running a family business repairing and restoring pens. He and his wife and two assistants work out of an 1846 Italianate house in Nashua, New Hampshire. In 2002 he gave up his work in the computer business to become a full-time pen person.


The Richard Binder Note Pads are not anything new, or at least I don’t think they’re new. Pocket Blonde put up a post about them earlier this month, and 2008 appears at the bottom of the cover sheet with all the note pad information. There are six note pads in a set, each measuring 5¼ x 8½in, a size that fits into a standard A5 pad folio. Each pad contains 50 sheets of ultra-smooth 28lb bright white paper. Richard Binder’s printer researched and tested paper, ending up with a smooth high-brightness premium paper. It is produced by the last family-owned paper mill in the US. One point explained is that the paper is uncoated, giving it the best surface for smooth writing, and because it’s uncoated there is no risk your pens will be clogged with clay or chalk.


Each of the six note pads in a set are printed with a photo of a vintage fountain pen. The photos are crisp, high resolution pictures unlike the low resolution photo shown here.


The six pens, one for each note pad are, from left to right:

• Conklin’s Endura Senior, c1926

• Parker “51” Nassaue Green, 1940s

• Sheaffer’s Model 47 Crest, 1937-1941

• Wahl 652C, c1925

• Waterman’s Ideal No. 5, c1927

• Waterman’s Hundred Year Pen, 1939


For those wanting to use the note pads as stationery, the Binder website also offers a package of six plain pads. The photo pads are printed on a high-speed Heidelberg press and allow writing over the pen photos without worry about skipping or blurring of the photos.


Once again the Cajun Queen has surprised me with a handsome and useful gift. She wrote an email note today saying that she found the Binder Note Pads on Pocket Blonde and ordered a set of the plain for herself and a set of the pen design pads for me. My thanks to both Diane at Pocket Blonde and my cousin Carolyne in Louisiana.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Life Goes On

Look around and you will find a few well-known writers who are, or were attached to their pencils and notebooks for early drafts. John Steinbeck was single-minded about his use of pencils, as was Patrick O’Brian with his fountain pen. In much the same way many of us ordinary folk are particular about what kind of paper and notebooks we use for journals, letters, sketching and sometimes rough drafts of articles and stories. Probably much more than the average Joe I spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about the right paper, pen or pencil, taking it as far even as searching out the ‘right’ eraser.


Ask most people and they would tell you that a throwaway plastic ballpoint and a hotel scratch pad serve just fine. But for some of us ballpoint pens freeze up and scratch pads bring on the hives. Not the first time saying it, but for me a day without a Life Noble Note Plain A5 (5.83 x 8.26in) unlined notebook of 100 pages is a day without sunshine. One of the first actions each morning is jotting down some quick notes in a Life notebook. It rests beside the reading chair, handy for scribbling out phrase or passage from a book; it’s full of lists, quotations, excerpts, passing thoughts and phrases, the frequent doodle, the now and then sketch.


Back in November 2009 I posted a short introduction to the Life Noble Note series of notebooks. Some of the same information may follow here but a notebook this fine deserves a recap. Life is a high quality line of notebooks made in Japan in three sizes. I’ve already mentioned the A5 size; in addition there is an A4 (8.26 x 11.69in) notebook and a B5 (6.93 x 9.85in) size. A newer series by Life called Premium also includes a small pocket sized notebook. The paper in all of the notebooks is heavy gauge and is either blank, ruled or graphed. Little hesitation in calling the paper fountain pen friendly. Nine out of ten times the ink and paper work together in perfect harmony. There is the occasional ink that comes out messy and unfriendly, but time and experience will reveal those few inks that are problematic in Life notebooks. I fiddle with altogether too many different inks and sometimes write sloppy pages, but in the end, Life loves most inks.


Most of the past year’s writing has been in pencil, and for that there is absolutely nothing better than a Life Noble Note Plain notebook. Many times pages end up with a mix of pencil and ink, a combination that works well on the cream colored paper. Pencil or ink, Life paper is agreeable.


For years these notebooks were a neighborhood item, resting in stacks at my local stationery store in Kugayama, a little town in western Tokyo. They are still there I’m sure, though I’m not. For a fact they continue to be stock items in many stationery stores in Japan, but are unheard of in American stores and very difficult to get in the US. The Japanese online shopping site Rakuten offers Life notebooks, but shipment to the US would make a $10.00 (A5 size) notebook ridiculous in cost. I keep hoping that someone like Art Brown or JetPens will one day begin stocking these Japanese notebooks. Meanwhile, if you have a friend in Japan have him or her send you a couple. You won’t be disappointed.


About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America