Babysitting Gig

Babysitting Gig“And He Was…”

Found myself thrown into an impromptu babysitting gig for a friend.  Seems her chain of emergency back-up babysitters all came up empty, and I was her last resort.  Needless to say, I’m a sucker for sacrifice, and since she’s one of the few people I’d do anything for, I said, “sure– what the hell.”

Her children were delightful.  The baby boy is the most cherubic child I’ve ever seen, and he was an absolute hoot.  Give that kid a napkin or a paper towel and he’s dancing around the room as if he’s doing a ribbon-twirling gymnastics floor exercise.  The little girl is also a sweetheart, despite the fact that she threatened to pour root beer over my head.  (I would’ve let her, honestly… I have no shame anymore.)  She was playing an iPad game at one point, and when the obligatory in-game purchase opportunity appeared, she shouted, “I DON’T WANT YOUR GARBAGE!”  Good girl.  I did feel for “Fabio,” the virtual chef in her culinary game, though… he was trying so hard to teach her how to make an omelette, in his over-the-top stereotypical Italian accent (“Mama Mia!”) when she dismissively said, “Fabio’s a failure.”  Damn, girl… that’s cold.  I immediately thought of one of my favorite moments from Wes Anderson’s first film, Bottle Rocket, in which Anthony (Luke Wilson) visits his grade-school-aged little sister shortly after his release from a “nervous hospital.”  After the visit, Anthony tells his friend Dignan (Owen Wilson) that his little sister thinks he’s a failure.  Dignan replies:

“What?!?  She said you’re a failure?!?   What has she ever accomplished with her life that’s so great, man?”

Brilliant.

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So anyway, in a moment of respite (shortly after the baby boy went down for his nap) I snapped the above photograph on my phone– an homage to both Julie Blackmon and The Talking Heads, I guess.

Treading Softly

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He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

-W.B. Yeats

The Emperor of Ice-Cream

Boy Crying With Ice Cream Cone

Just felt like sharing a poem.  No particular reason.

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The Emperor of Ice-Cream

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month’s newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Take from the dresser of deal.
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

-Wallace Stevens

 

Storming the Bastille

LibertyEqualityorDeath

Happy Bastille Day to all the Francophiles and other freedom lovers out there.  Bastille Day 2016 marked a banner day for the Closser clan.  I am wallowing in my own misery, per usual, while damn near everyone I love is going through something terrible.  My mother is lying in bed in a nursing home with pneumonia.  My brother’s life “got flipped turned upside down,” as the Fresh Prince would say.  And my father had to put down his dog of nearly sixteen years, a black Dachshund named “Nietzsche” who was in such poor health that there was really no other course of action but to put him to sleep.

It’s always a sad affair when one loses an animal, but as the poet Mark Doty once noted, to have a pet is to make a “pact with grief.”  Unless you own a tortoise, odds are that you will inevitably outlive the creature you’ve agreed to love and nurture, and one day you will have to deal with the grief that comes with its loss.

It’s not a Mark Doty poem I’m choosing to share below, but rather it’s a poem from Billy Collins.  I had forgotten about this particular poem, but my father mentioned it in our phone conversation this afternoon, and now I feel the need to share it.  (Apologies to Billy Collins.)

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The Revenant

I am the dog you put to sleep,
as you like to call the needle of oblivion,
come back to tell you this simple thing:
I never liked you–not one bit.

When I licked your face,
I thought of biting off your nose.
When I watched you toweling yourself dry,
I wanted to leap and unman you with a snap.

I resented the way you moved,
your lack of animal grace,
the way you would sit in a chair to eat,
a napkin on your lap, knife in your hand.

I would have run away,
but I was too weak, a trick you taught me
while I was learning to sit and heel,
and–greatest of insults–shake hands without a hand.

I admit the sight of the leash
would excite me
but only because it meant I was about
to smell things you had never touched.

You do not want to believe this,
but I have no reason to lie.
I hated the car, the rubber toys,
disliked your friends and, worse, your relatives.

The jingling of my tags drove me mad.
You always scratched me in the wrong place.
All I ever wanted from you
was food and fresh water in my metal bowls.

While you slept, I watched you breathe
as the moon rose in the sky.
It took all of my strength
not to raise my head and howl.

Now I am free of the collar,
the yellow raincoat, monogrammed sweater,
the absurdity of your lawn,
and that is all you need to know about this place

except what you already supposed
and are glad it did not happen sooner–
that everyone here can read and write,
the dogs in poetry, the cats and the others in prose.

-Billy Collins

 

Stand up… Harper Lee has passed

harper lee

Harper Lee has died.  She was 89 years old.

Author of one of the most wonderful (and wonderfully overrated) novels of all time, Harper herself was a bit of an enigma.  A soft-spoken and somewhat reclusive resident of the small southern town of Monroeville, Alabama (the same tiny town where she was born is also where she would die), Nelle Harper Lee would become one of the most influential American novelists of the 20th century having only written one book.  But oh, what a book!  Harper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird was so successful that there was simply no need for her to write anything else; her lone novel eclipsing the entire body of work of her childhood friend, the brash literary genius Truman Capote.

She was a one-hit wonder for nearly all of her life until somebody at HarperCollins got wise and decided to make a small fortune last year by unscrupulously publishing her “rough draft” of Mockingbird, entitled Go Set a Watchman.  I initially withstood the urge to read this exploitative effort because I believed that some things should remain sacred, but the historian in me eventually won out and I compromised my principles and bought a copy.  And I’m sorry I did.  I made it about three-quarters of the way through the book before I completely lost interest and let the rest of the story go unread.  I should have known better, but HarperCollins got my blood money all the same.

51EU92Bi4GLdon’t judge a book by its cover…

It’s a shame, really, because To Kill a Mockingbird remains one of my favorite books, and one of a handful of novels I have read and re-read just for pleasure.  Damn near everyone has to read it at some point in high school, but I was about eleven years old when I first read it (although my first reading was equally mandatory).  My father, who was a literature professor, was fond of forcing books upon me and my brother during the summer months, even going so far as to assign us book reports, no doubt in the hopes of supplementing our public school education and preventing our tiny brains from atrophying any further from non-stop Nintendo playing.  [note:  we did not have a Nintendo growing up, and we had to visit our friends’ houses to get our fix.]

mockingbirdcover…unless its one of the most iconic book covers of all time

Though Mockingbird is set in the depression, its coming-of-age story is truly timeless.  Anyone who’s spent any of their youth growing up in the south will easily recognize chunks of their own childhood in the novel, which is one of the reasons I have such a special place in my heart for this book.  In fact, I would argue that this is perhaps the single greatest and most accurate account of childhood in all of fiction.  But the primary reason this book remains so beloved is not its depiction of the innocence and experience of growing up– rather, it’s the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) way in which it addressed racism and social injustice.  Mockingbird arguably opened up more hearts and minds to these issues than any novel had before (or since), and for that reason alone it will remain required reading in most schools for the interminable future.

When it comes down to it, though, my deep affinity for the book can ultimately be traced to one Atticus Finch.  He was the quintessential father figure– a hard-working man who was as tough as he was fair, as smart as he was honest, and whose bleeding heart carried a deep love for his family along with an unflinching sense of right and wrong.  He embodied the kind of man I aspired to be when I grew up.  In all the books I’ve read, few fictional characters have been as admirable or inspirational to me as Atticus was.

atticusfinchmy hero (and yes, I think the movie is better than the book– sue me)

As soon as I finished the novel for the first time, I knew that Atticus Finch was my literary hero, but it was Gregory Peck’s performance as Atticus in the brilliantly cast film adaptation that would later cement the character’s place in my heart, so much so that I can remember getting emotional years ago when I heard Gregory Peck had died.  One of my functionally-literate co-workers at the time seemed shocked.  “Jeez, it’s not like you knew the guy,” she said.  “You don’t understand,” I replied, “I, and millions of people like me, just lost the father I never had.  So yeah… I feel like I knew the guy.”

It’s with the same sense of familiarity that I am now mourning the loss of Harper Lee, and I can’t help but feel that Harper deserves the same kind of respect shown to Atticus when he’s leaving the courtroom:

R.I.P., Harper Lee.

Valentimes

lovecrystalbridges

*sigh*

Well, here we are again.  February 14th, a date which will live in infamy for most of us lonely hearts.  Valentine’s Day is the one day of the year when those of us who are alone are not allowed to forget that we are utterly alone.  For the last couple of weeks, we singles have been ruthlessly and relentlessly bombarded in person and in the media with constant reminders that we are, in fact, fucking losers.  As if I needed a reminder.  It might as well be cross stitched into a pillow in my living room.

loser pillowSeriously.

I thought I could avoid this “singles shaming” by not leaving the house today, holing up on my couch and binge watching The Walking Dead, but even a show filled with flesh-eating corpses still contains just enough romance to put a damper on the day.  And it really couldn’t have been a more perfect Valentine’s Day.  Cloudy skies and cold rain all day long– not once did the sun come out to shine, not even for a moment.  Ideal weather for suffering the tortures of the memory of a lost love.

Lucy knows what’s up

You’ve gotta give Lucy credit– at least she’s trying, though her pursuit of Schroeder is fruitless and completely misguided.  For god’s sakes, Lucy, leave the man alone– can’t you see he’s immersed in his music, not to mention he’s most likely struggling with his own sexuality?  (Does anyone else think Schroeder is gay?  I’ve always just assumed so.)  But you really do have to give Lucy props for putting her heart out there and taking a chance.  Exactly one year ago on this very blog I wrote a Valentine’s Day post in which I mentioned receiving some sage advice from a pretty girl about the importance of putting oneself out there, but at thirty-six years of age, my options are so severely limited that there’s just no point to any of it anymore.  My best option for meeting people is the bar and club scene, but despite my penchant for drinking, I don’t belong in bars.  These are locales where my misanthropy and agoraphobia can combine to make for an unpleasant cocktail.  I’m far more likely to get into a fist fight with some douchebag in a bar or a dance hall than I am to get a girl’s phone number.

Roxbury douchebagsSaid douchebags: “What is love?  Baby, don’t hurt me…”

[SIDE NOTE:  in high school, my hair and sideburns looked just like Will Ferrell’s in Night at the Roxbury]

What is love, though?  Hell if I know.  There have been a handful of times in my life where I thought I knew– I was certain that I knew– but I was ultimately proven wrong in each instance and left holding my head in my hands wondering what I could have done differently.  But there’s no use in wondering now.  The past is gone, and it’s gone for good– there’s no return to any idyllic garden.  Much like Adam and Eve, I’m no longer in paradise, but at least I’m wiser for it, right?  RIGHT?!?

[crickets chirping]

It’s quite the disturbing thing to be stuck in a perpetual state of despair and apathy.  Both states of mind seem to go hand in hand with one another, and it’s not the good kind of hand holding, either.  There’s no “off to see the Wizard” singing and skipping while holding hands bullshit here– this is the kind of death grip hand holding when someone who can’t swim is drowning, grabbing at anything and anyone they can get their mitts on and pulling them under in sheer panic and desperation.

[cue Debbie Downer music: waaahhhhh waaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh]

I’m not really that bitter about the holiday, though.  I sincerely hope as many people as possible are finding happiness right now in the arms of a loved one.  I really do.  As for me, I’m going to polish off the bottle of whiskey I’ve been nursing all day in the dark with Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown running on a loop until I pass out.

May Thoreau Be With You

forcewalden

I saw the Star Wars memes going around and couldn’t resist doing a shoutout to my homeboy H.D.T.  I deliberately (no pun intended) misspelled “sturdily” because the meme generator wouldn’t accept the correct spelling as the word “turd” was in it.  I mean, really?

The Prairie Troubadour

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My previous post about poet Stevie Smith got me thinking about one of the other prized volumes in my poetry collection:  Vachel Lindsay’s Collected Poems.  Discovered by chance while browsing the poetry section of a used bookstore in Knoxville, Tennessee [note: used bookstores in academic towns are the best places to find fantastic yet forgotten books of poetry], it was the first (and only) time I’d ever encountered the volume, and I bought it immediately.

One of the first things I noticed about the book (other than its wonderful illustrations) was its dedication page:

IMG_1093“this book is dedicated to Sara Teasdale, poet”

For those who don’t know, Sara Teasdale was a poet with whom Vachel was romantically involved and very much in love.  A man whose means were as modest as his self-image, Vachel was far too worried about his ability (or inability, rather) to provide for Sara, and over much hand-wringing managed to convince himself that no matter how much she might also love him, he just wasn’t good enough for her.  So she, of course, ended up marrying a wealthy businessman with whom she was ultimately unhappy.  (Ain’t life grand?)

For lack of a better term, Vachel was an “interesting” dude.  Handsome, brilliant, and too artistic for med school (he dropped out to pursue his calling as an artist/poet), he was a romantic at heart as well as a bit of a politico.  Nicknamed “The Prairie Troubadour” for the impassioned poetry readings he delivered as he travelled the midwest, he was known as a nationalistic progressive, which seems something of an anachronism now (believe it or not, there was a time when patriotic people could both love their country and want to change it without having to be labeled a Communist).  Never to be mistaken for a cynic, Vachel was an extremely sincere man who stood for his convictions and among those convictions was fighting for equality, especially among racial and socio-economic divides, as evidenced in both his writing and his life (he was an early mentor of Langston Hughes).

Vachel also believed strongly in the musical roots of poetry, most of his verse carrying an undeniable musical rhythm within its meter.  I’ve often wondered what he would’ve thought of the last forty years or so of musicians who fancy themselves poets, particularly the more progressive songwriters such as Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, et al.

vachellindsay“my precious,” as Golem would say

Like Stevie Smith, Vachel was also a draftsman (and a talented one, at that), and his art is scattered throughout his Collected Poems.  And like Stevie, he, too, suffered from depression.  But Vachel didn’t handle his depression nearly as well as Stevie did.  On December 5, 1931, he killed himself by drinking a bottle of Lysol.  I can remember reading about Vachel’s suicide when I was a child, and that image haunted me then just as much as it haunts me now– I cannot imagine a more particularly terrible or horrific way to go.  [note:  two years after Vachel’s suicide, Sara Teasdale would kill herself by swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills]

I’ll finish this post with one of Vachel’s poems.  It’s not his best poem, but it’s one I have always enjoyed for shallow and superficial reasons.  Though Vachel was from Springfield, Illinois, the woman he loved was from St. Louis, Missouri, and I’ve always identified with this poem as a writer from Springfield, Missouri.

vachel lindsay springfield