Dangerous Poems

Background:

There is a short, daily radio program hosted by author and entertainer, Garrison Keillor called “The Writer’s Almanac.” He starts off with some information pertinent to that day in history and then reads one poem. Here in Maine, the show is on at eight in the morning and I often heard it on my way to work as I drove along, alone with my own thoughts. Here is my take on that experience.

Dangerous Poems- 2/25/05

My car hums along the morning highway and the man with the laconic voice, the man from Minnesota, comes over the radio.

It is time for dangerous poetry.

This is always a moment of apprehension. This is a moment to hold the breath and be ready to snap the volume off or… pay close attention and let the vision develop.

My day has just begun and could be anything. My mind is open and uncluttered, waiting to find out how things will go.

Will it be drawn up in hope and humor?
Cast off in deep thoughts?
Or crushed in some previously unknowns personal misery?

Will it be:
“I met a funny man in a cap…”

Or,

“Cancer has gripped her body and hopes…”

Perhaps I’m a coward, but it seems that it’s too early this morning for cancer. The day is fresh. My smile is easy, but as the Minnesotan speaks the words, I listen with worry in my eyes.

On?

Off?

My hand hovers over the dial.

“I saw a woman with a bright blue hat today…”

Oh, thank goodness.

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A Year and A Day

For one year, I kept a book of poetry. I didn’t write everyday, but I did write steadily. Almost immediately upon finishing it, I managed to loose the book. For the last two years, I though it lost forever, moldering at the bottom of the local landfill.

I was wrong.

I found it.

Every Monday, I will endeavor to post one of my little poems here. They are mostly free verse, though not all and like anything in life, vary in quality. For the poor ones, I offer my apologies. For the better ones… well, they are their own reward.

I call this collection “A Year and A Day,” since that is how long it took to write it.

I hope that if you don’t actually enjoy it, then hopefully it won’t make you physically cringe.

-Turkish Prawn

Merry Christmas!

Basement Archiology.

I know that using the TV as a babysitter is not going to win me “Parent of the Year,” but there are moments where there just aren’t a lot of other options. To be fair to myself, I don’t actually own a television and haven’t for well over a decade. What I do have though is a laptop and my own personal “Leaning Tower of Pisa” built entirely out of the kid’s DVDs and the empty cases in which they are supposed to be put neatly away. I do my best, but the cases often do far less of a job protecting the movies that came in them than duty as coasters for either my coffee or beer, depending on what time of day you happen to catch me. Either way, provided that a disk remains relatively scratch free, popping one in will buy me about a half hour of productivity as Short Stack and Lulu Belle learn about something wholesome and educational. Thus far, I haven’t mistaken a Miffy DVD for say… The Guns of Navarone or Big Trouble in Little China, but I could see that happening eventually. THAT will be a fun time to explain.

Being the Christmas Season and I, being a sucker for the trappings thereof, I’ve been slowly tarting up the house with the trapping of the Holiday. It’s something that I get form my Mom and though the gene isn’t as strong with me as it is with her, it’s there nonetheless. Her house is always decorated like something out of a children’s book and it was magical to watch the transformation happen as a child. As a kid, I just assumed that everyone’s Mom went bonkers with the seasonal decorations and cookie making. I’ve since learned that’s not the case, so I do what I can with my own meager attempts to carry the torch for the sake of my own children’s holiday memories. The DVD that the kids were now successfully glued to gave me the chance I needed to do some rooting in the boxes that lurked in darker corners beneath the house.

Let me explain my house, just briefly. It’s small. No. It’s VERY small. We have exactly one closet in the entire structure and that is crammed to the bursting point with coats and boots. When we moved in here seven years ago, it was only a summer camp with no pretensions of being anything but that. It sat on posts and scoffed at the notion of insulation. I’ve spent the last seven years and a wheelbarrow full of cash changing all that. We now mostly have insulation in the walls and ceilings, but most importantly enough, we also have a basement. A FULL basement that is about seven and a half feet high at its shortest and nearly nine and a half at its highest.

It is also, do to the lack of storage anywhere else in the house, packed to the point of horror/hilarity. Finding anything down there requires persistence, the ability to balance on one foot for extended periods of time and very strong arms so you can carefully tilt four stacked boxes at once so you can peek into the fifth one. This can often result in something that Action Girl and I refer to as a “stuffalanche.”

With the few moments I had and the baby monitor turned up all the way and clipped to my belt, I moved boxes and totes in an effort to find a missing piece in my Christmas preparations. I didn’t find it, naturally, but as is often the case when I go spelunking through boxes of odds and ends, long forgotten, I did find something else that made me stop cold.

A rapidly disintegrating cardboard box spilled its contents at my feet, and among the old pay stubs, bank statements and notes to my self to do things in 2006, I saw a red binder.

My red binder.

THE red binder.

Once, I had a business that was based some distance from my house. It was a drive to get there and though it was hell on my car and the gas I burned up was impressive, it did give me one thing that I don’t really have any more. Solitude. I’d leave in the morning for work and since Action Girl works mostly night shifts, she’s be too groggy to be calling me as I drove on my commute. Content to leave the radio off, I’d spend that time in my car just letting my mind wander and observe things as I whipped by. It was a very nice way to start the day, to be honest.

One day as I trundled along the highway, I started to compose a little poem in my head. By the time I made it to work, I had worked most of it out and was pretty happy with it. Once my coat was hung up and the lights turned on, I sat down and scribbled it on a bit of lined paper. The next day, I did it again. Then again. I really grew to enjoy what quickly transformed into a morning ritual, and though I did not write something everyday, I did put my mind to it pretty often. By the end of the year, I had quite a little pile of prose. I’m hardly the one to judge its quality in the world of poetry, but it was good to me.

At some point, I got concerned about the scraps of paper with all that work and thinking poured onto them and decided I needed to transfer it all to my computer. I put them all in a red binder and brought them home. Then we lifted the house and the binder disappeared.

Normally, I’d not be too concerned about this. My attitude about these things tends to be, “Hey, it’s got to be here somewhere.” and I’m usually correct. This time though, I was worried. Very worried. After the house was picked up, had a basement put in and plopped back down on it’s new underpinning, my Father-in-law had come over and “helped” This is a dangerous thing. Though he has a good heart and the nervous industry that most twenty year old do not, he also has a very bad and well earned reputation for throwing things out that do not belong to him or that no person in their right mind would toss, all without clearance from the owner. Here I’m thinking about the bag of nuts and bolts that held my table saw bench together. No joke.

Long after the visit, I discovered that he had “helpfully” cleaned up an area in the house that, though I admit it, was knee deep in… stuff and debris, it also contained my binder of poems. It had been hastily put there with everything else during the house construction and was going to be dealt with… later… whenever that would be. When I looked at the spot now, it was empty. I knew he had also been to the dump at least twice during his time here. My heart sank. I never asked him if he saw it. I didn’t want him to feel guilty for only trying to help.

I actually wrote one last poem about my book of poetry moldering away under piles of trash at the city landfill, and then I didn’t write again. For whatever reason, the spirit to write poetry just sort of went dormant for me. I tried here and there over the years, but it just didn’t flow like it did before. Not having the commute to quietly reflect anymore, no doubt was a major impact, but thinking of a year’s worth of writing, gone for good also killed the joy.

With a lightning fast snatch that would have caught a fish by surprised, I grabbed it with both hands before it disappeared once again. Eye’s wide, I fearfully examined the open edge of the binder to look without really looking. I had other red binders like this one. It could easily be filled with receipts or old product information, long since irrelevant. No. It wasn’t that.

A smile spreading across my face, I opened it up to see sheet after sheet of hand written thoughts and personal observations. A year’s worth of thinking and writing. I scanned quickly and then snapped it shut and hugged it to my chest, eyes held tight.

“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” was all I could say.

The little spy speaker on my waist told me that the show upstairs was coming to an end and thus too, my ability to remain here any longer. Holding the long lost binder under my arm, I headed back to the living room where Short Stack immediately burst into a long and accurate description of the show they just watched as Lulu Belle scurried off in search of a lucky stuffed animal with whom to have tea. I listened with half an ear as I made a new home for my memories in a safe and easy to remember location upstairs.

I still have a lot of Christmas-ing to do around the house and that’s the main priority for me, but it will be over soon as well. Once it is, and the kids are tucked into bed, I have some transcribing to do. I don’t know what is in store for me present-wise this Christmas, but I’m already as happy as I could be. What was lost is found and with the distance of time, I’ll be reading these again with new eyes as I type away in the night.

Merry Christmas to me!

Copies of Memories of Copies

“If anyone wants a piece of crap, four head VCR, I just tossed mine in the trash can outside.”

This was the announcement my friend Rae had made from the open doorway that lead to the computer arts room. There were five or six of us in there at the time so I didn’t waste a moment. In vein, I attempted to not look too eager, as I lunged at the black barrel that sat in the hall and reaching past the debris of cut off bits of foam core and mat board, I nabbed the unit it and gave it a quick look-see.

“It wasn’t cheap, actually.” Rae had followed me after I had bolted past her to snatch up the failed bit of technology before someone else decided to break it apart and make a mobile out of its guts. This was, after all, an art school, so the danger was real. “It worked well for a while but then it just stopped playing or recording tapes correctly. If you can fix it, it’s yours.” After a pause, she added, “Actually, it’s yours even if you can’t. Either way, good riddance.”

Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I’m a totally unrepentant scrounge and at the time, a four head VCR recorder was nothing to sneeze at. They were fairly pricy and for a college student who routinely checked under the cushions in the common areas for loose change (The trick was to beat the other guys to the cushion mining expeditions) so that he might order a horrible, little pizza from Dominoes, this was a huge win. Well, a potential win at any rate.

I’ve always loved taking things apart. Mechanical things, to be specific. Getting into some critter’s innards in biology class never made me feel sick, but it didn’t get me very excited either. That’s probably a good thing since I doubt seriously that I have the mental aptitude for professional science and so if I had that gory interest… well, it would lead me to decidedly creepier waters. A good thing all around, for all parties involved, so far as I’m concerned.

Gore? No.

Gears? OH, YES, PLEASE!

I loved finding free technology to vivisect. My feeling has always been that if it was already broken, then there wasn’t much for me to loose. The possible gain was worth the time tinkering around with screwdrivers, soldering guns and pliers. In this particular case, I got lucky. Within moments of opening the case, I spotted the main drive belt, stretched and distorted as it snaked through various pulleys in the VCR.

I replaced it with a large rubber band, and oddly enough, it worked perfectly.

What this got me was not only the satisfaction of getting a new VCR for the price of a rubber band, but also the ability to inflict… I mean “share” a newfound insanity with my classmates.

Mystery Science Theater 3000

Back in the late eighties and early nineties, the concept of viral marketing was virtually unknown. If you wanted to get your product, TV show, or what ever, to go over big then you needed big corporations to shepherd the way. There was no other real way to break through.

Then came MST3K.

The show had nothing to do with Mystery, Science, or the number three thousand. The theater part though, oh… it had theater. The premise of the show was simple and bizarre. A guy is shot into space by two mad scientists. He is a prisoner on the “Satellite of Love” with a variety of strange little marionette style robots and each week, he and the robots are forced to watch bad movies.

No. That’s not quite right.

HORRIBLE movies. Movies that people wish had been forgotten… and here, I’m talking about the people IN the movie. These movies often redefine the word, “ghastly” or at least set the bar that much lower.

When you watch the movie, you watch it with the prisoner/astronaut guy and his robot friends. They will appear as little silhouettes at the bottom of the screen and mock the actors, the plot (if any) and anything else through the length of the entire thing.

This, in essence, was college humor gold.

Here’s where the marketing comes in. MST3K, as it was lovingly known, started out as an “on the cheep”, cable access show out in the Minnesota. If you didn’t live near by, there was no way to see it… except for the tapes.

There was no way, back then, that any major broadcaster was going to touch MST3K with a ten foot antenna and video streaming over computers was not even close to on the horizon. If they wanted distribution, it was going to have to happen the hard way. Knowing their audience, the minds behind the show not only turned a blind eye to taped copies being handed around campuses all over the nation, they actually promoted it! In the end credits, a message appears reading, “Keep circulating the tapes, guys!”

Talk about appealing to your fan base! When it came to marketing, these guys were at least fifteen years ahead of the game.

So, with my new VCR, I happily introduced MST3K to the dormitory and, as expected, it went over as well as you’d expect juvenile and often esoteric humor would on a college campus. No. BETTER! We’d sit up late at night watching, “The Cave Dwellers”, “The Phantom Creeps” or “Manos, The Hands of Fate,” all the while laughing our heads off at the cutting remarks made by the professionals in the front row. It was great!

Eventually, we all moved on. College ended, jobs were found, connections with old friends were lost and MST3K, which reached its zenith by finally being picked up by Comedy Central and then briefly, the Sci-Fi network, ended its time on TV and as most shows are, was finally canceled. To all good things…. Ah, well.

A funny thing about technology today is that it often seems to all be focused on ordering our lives. We, as a culture have become obsessed with keeping track of everything that we have or will encounter, be it friends, appointments or nostalgia. Facebook has reconnected me with many individuals whom I thought I might never again speak to. My computer calendar attempts (and mostly fails) to keep me apprised of when I should be doing something I scheduled and, as I have just discovered, Hulu and Netflix have brought me back MST3K.

So, I sat down this evening with my laptop to see if the old magic was still there. The verdict? Hmm.

It’s not quite like I remember it. To watch it again all these years later, and this time in a crisp, clean resolution was a little… odd. The shows that I recall were grainy to watch and the sound was often distorted as well. The tapes had been copied so many times, that to have the show fail for a minute or two was not unheard of. It was even expected, to a degree. This time, it was so… so… perfect. Too perfect. The lack of a room full of drunk or otherwise decision impaired college friends also dragged the laugh-o-meter down a bit. It may have something to do with a change in my own tastes as well, I suppose.

Still, the fun (at what ever level) is there to be had and if you’re in the mood for some seriously horrible cinema, there is no doubt in my mind that this is the way to watch it.

In my basement, somewhere, no doubt in a very dusty box, sits my old and neglected VCR tapes. Among them is my own ancient collection of bootleg Mystery Science Theater 3000 shows. Copies of copies of copies, in all their blurry finery. Somewhere, I might even have that old VCR player as well. Who knows? The overall lesson though seems to be that some memories are best left as just that.

It’s great to reconnect with friends and relive some of the good times over a beer or three, or even over a computer if that’s the only way you have available, but I think I’ll leave it at that. Someday, I might just get around to tossing out all that old stuff saved for years for God knows what reason. We’ll see. It’ll wind up at the local dump here and perhaps, just PERHAPS, someone will find it and think, “SCORE! I can’t believe someone just threw this all out! I’ll go get a box!”

Yah…

I doubt that too.

No Excuses…

A quick note to those who have been following Fox & Maus faithfully over the last year and a half:

My Apologies.

My writing has gotten pretty sparse over the last few months and I have a bevy of excuses in my bag that I could dole out, but that’s all they would be. Excuses.

Thank you, Ross for the prod. I really do appreciate it and I’m going to see if I can get the boilers up to full steam again and start cranking away. You folks seem to like it, it’s good for me and my writing and honestly, I enjoy it when I actually sit down and slap the keys around.

I shall endeavor to do better. And now… Tooth rot and jigged up kids with bikes!

Very best,
TP

Homer’s Odyssey

As I looked at the small, green, plastic coffin in my hand, a joyous smile spread across my face. Inside were the delicious “bones” of a compresses sugar skeleton, just waiting to be pit together… and then eaten.

I hadn’t seen one of these little candy coffins since I was a very young child and holding one now brought me flying back to a mental image of the route I would take to bike to the store when I had managed to get my hands on some money and needed a sugar fix.

My childhood home was in just about the perfect place when it came to possibilities. If I went out the back door, I had only to walk to the back of a dead end road before I was looking at trees to climb, fields to cross, ancient stone walls to follow and abandoned railroad cuts to walk along as I enjoyed the birds, forest and quiet. If I went out the front door, I was in suburbia. Little developments in neat blocks with architecture that told you definitively what decade the construction took place in. It also was a rich environment to find friends in.

The neighborhoods were old enough to still have some charm and life to them. Not like the dead and sprawling house farms they’ve been making since the late eighties. Their weird, arching roads with cliché’ names taken from flowers, states of happiness or saddest of all, the farm they paved over. Here the streets ran in efficient, square blocks and were named, I’m guessing, after some of the various developers or possibly the initial inhabitants. The houses were closer than they would be if built today, but it made for a closer community as well.

What it also had was a good, old fashioned, neighborhood store of the type that is pretty much gone now. It’s name was “Stop and Shop” and as local lore had it, though the much larger grocery store chain had told them that they couldn’t use that name, our little family run corner store had been there first and had all the rights in the world to use that name. For whatever reason, that made us, as the kids of the area, stand in awe. OUR store was first! Cool!

The trip there wasn’t a very long one, unless you were reduced to walking it. On bike, it took perhaps ten minutes and the route its self was pretty enjoyable. Zigzagging though the quiet neighborhoods, it wasn’t uncommon to pick up more friends as we went until a convoy of bicycles driven by candy crazed children finally descended on Stop and Shop with coins jingling in pockets and mouths already salivating. The steps themselves up to the front door were special. The door had been installed at a forty-five degree angle on a corner of the building. The steps were made round and radiated down from the entry, like the layers of a cement wedding cake. I always noticed the steps as I padded up them and wished that my own stairs at home could be so cool.

Inside, it was exactly what you’d expect. This was before the days of scratch tickets and lotto machines and I’m reasonably sure that there were no magazines for sale either. Instead, there were the racks of potato chips, a small meat counter, milk in the back and beer down the side. You could also get ice cream from a cooler, but we had arrived with the candy display in mind and the racks and racks of it never disappointed.

The owner, a bearded and stern looking man by the name of, Homer must have made at least half his money from candy sales. Right in the front, near the register, there was a wonderland of confection. Compressed or liquefied, flavored, sugary treats were abundant in their numbers and diverse in their types.

Necco Wafers
Bottle Caps
Smarties
Sweet Tarts
Wax lips
Jaw Breakers
Big League Chew
Canada mints
Tart N Tinies
Nerds
Hot Balls
Gummi Bears
Juicy Fruit
Hubba Bubba Bubble Gum
Tootsie Rolls

And on, and on, and on….

Homer knew what he was doing when it came to ordering candy and he never, EVER let us down. Most of the hard candy stuff cost five cents each, though the usual candy bars and packs of gun naturally cost more. The best part was that he also kept a good supply of penny candy. That is to say, candy that actually cost one penny per piece. Some years ago I mentioned penny candy to someone a good deal younger than I only to meet with a befuddled look and the question, “What’s penny candy?”

Ok… I feel old now.

The penny candy was naturally at the bottom of the food chain, desirability wise, but still, it was nice to have to round out your pickings for the day and it filled out the little brown bags of hyper-powder that dangled from our handlebars as we zoomed home, shouting.

After paying Homer with our collection of scrounged pocket change, we’d hop back on our mighty steeds, new baseball cards firmly attached to spokes, and ride off into the sunset. Well… actually to the pond that was a little better than half way home. We’d sit in the grass, happily rotting our teeth on Twizzlers and Pixi Stix, arguing the benefits of Star Wars versus Star Trek or what ever else struck our fancy and throwing rocks at anything that disturbed the water’s surface. Hey, we were boys on a sugar high. What else would you expect?

All of this comes back to my little plastic, sugar filled coffin. I had almost forgotten about Homer but this made me recall him and realize that he had not only done a good job with the staples of a sugar addicts desires, but he had been seasonal as well. When Christmas rolled around, he got Christmas themed candy. When Easter came close, Cadbury eggs appeared at the counter. When Halloween was in the air, for one year at least, Homer bought these little coffin candies, and I had bought one.

This year, I took it upon my self to buy my Halloween candy for the night’s festivities and perusing through a catalog I came across them. They came twelve to a box and were not cheap. There was no way I would have bought them for that price when I was a kid, but I’m not a kid anymore… and I’m better at justifying dumb purchases.

I gave them away to kids whom I knew or who had really great and obviously homemade costumes. I like to reward those who put in the effort. By the end of the evening, they were all gone, except one. That one I had grabbed from the full box and set aside. Later that night, I happily put the puzzle like candy skeleton together and laid him to rest in his little coffin and there he lies, slowly loosing body parts as I pass and remember that he’s there. He’s delicious.

The Stop and Shop is gone now and I live far from there anyway. Homer was no spring chicken when I was a kid, so who knows if he’s still around either, but I’m glad for the memory. I’m also in his debt for making me a connoisseur of fine, compressed, flavored sugar, no matter what form it may take.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a grave to rob.

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