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.