Haiku for the airline jerks at Pearson

In Uncategorized on July 12, 2014 at 19:57

It is all shining
glassy and dumb as old stones
no one leaves footprints

The expectant fold
their hands in their laps and wait
for the sign to move

All the bags on wheels
roll hard and fast, bent forward
like coolies in rain

Look downwards, old souls
find a friend in your fingers
stare till you know her

Helpful machines slow
you, before you find the line
stopped still as the dead

Look up, I wonder
who wipes the light bulbs and who
do the sprinklers wet?

Fast feet flip flop, eyes
fixed upon the next stream to ford
Faces blank as windows

Eyeglassed guardians
in navy pants and badges keep
you safe for routine

Dread unspoken grows
’cause nobody knows what the next
box cutters will be

Airline people in small
lives, swelling up like blowfish
poison you with rules

Smile and remember
You’re going someplace tonight
and those fuckers aren’t

what the head makes cloudy

In Arts and Entertainment, what is this thing called love? on July 11, 2014 at 22:41

the heart makes very clear


Don Henley can be rather gloomy and grim.  Some people may find his lyrics portentous and his vocals oddly whiny.   I am not one of those people.

Mr. Henley has the rather rare trait of being a very serious man, using his artistry to say what’s on his mind and in his heart.   The word for his face is “dour” and I am not sure that I can remember seeing a photo of him smiling.  Even in live concert, where his voice today sounds remarkably like its original self, Mr. Henley looks slightly pained but earnest, singing out those Eagles songs.

It is consistent with Mr. Henley’s persona that his recordings are difficult to retrieve on the free web: his lawyers are constantly on the prowl for unauthorized uploads.  “If you want it, pay for it” he seems to be saying.  Which is perfectly cool.   But of course, there are some live recordings and fortunately the guy is good at replicating his records, giving us pretty effective proxies for the originals much of the time.

Mr. Henley is a tremendous romantic.  Tremendous in the sense that it pervades his thought, alters his view of life and, not insignificantly, he’s really good at being romantic.  I would go so far as to say that Mr. Henley is a prime exponent of what we will call the School of Romantic Realism.  As a member of said academy, I can tell you what it’s all about.  Or rather, John Lennon can tell you:  love is real, real is love. You can’t see oxygen and you can’t really see sunshine (you can only bask in it) and you may not be able to see love.  But guess what.

You know what.  So does Don Henley.

Poetic and something of a dramatist, Mr. Henley tends towards storytelling in his work.  His “A Month of Sundays” gives a first hand account of the death of the family farm, a kind of sweet grass Springsteen evocation of the disappearing American dream.  The farmer sits “within earshot of the bypass” as “the shadow of suburbia” spreads out across what once were farm fields.  I remember driving westward out of downtown Chicago in the mid 1990s, as endless acres of farmland disappeared under monster homes, malls and mega-churches.  Even if one likes that way of life and doesn’t object to the architecture, those fields aren’t coming back.   The farmer knows it as he says:

“Now it all comes down to numbers, now I’m glad that I have quit.  Folks these days just don’t do nothing, simply for the love of it.”

Only a man who knows that love is real, and is therefore a perfectly legitimate reason to do something - even when it really costs you - could write or say those words.

“The Heart of the Matter” included in my recent Gems for July, is a kind of biblical message delivered within the title of a Graham Greene novel (not a coincidence, I am certain).  He makes it plain what happened (“the work I put between us, you know it doesn’t keep me warm”) but surrenders to reality (“I’m learning to live without you now”) but longs for a sign that the lover he deserted might at least, let him off the hook – forgive him “even if you don’t love me anymore.”   It is unclear why he needs this forgiveness or what it really relieves him of.  I suspect it’s just a ploy to talk to her again because, basically, that’s what people always try with the ones who’ve let them go.

“The Last Worthless Evening” paints a stark picture of singles searching for a new life.  Henley is one, the hunter and the hunted but also an observer.  When he sees the one who might be for him, he tells her rather confidently, “this is the last worthless evening that you’ll ever spend” –  if she takes up with him, that is.  Even when depressed, our hero retains his basic sense of self-worth.  He even points out to her the terrible risk of tarrying:

I know you’re still afraid to rush into anything
But there’re just so many summers
And just so many springs

In “Home”  it is many years later.  Mr. Henley has moved past his lonesome days, his sunset strips and worthless evenings, into the quiet glow of marriage and fatherhood.  “Home, where we can be with the ones who really care.”  He makes it sound like there’s almost no-one who really cares.  Because that’s true, actually.

But Don Henley’s most melodramatic, slightly over-the-top character drama takes place “In a New York Minute.”  The dramatic structure and despair of the piece are so intoxicating that they captivated no less a talent than Aaron Sorkin, who named one of the best early episodes of The West Wing for the song.  The episode was called “Somebody’s going to emergency, somebody’s going to jail.”  The atmosphere of the song alone painted the whole story with a grim, knowing honesty.

In a New York Minute is another story of lost love (“baby I’ve changed, please come back.” )  Again, the lonely protagonist  mourns what he let slip away. In what may be the best line Henley ever wrote, he observes “what the head makes cloudy, the heart makes very clear.”   I am not sure that I have ever heard a thing more true or more painful – or more hopeful – in a song.   Henley sees with his heart, which is how he knows so clearly, what is true.

He issues another warning too:  if you’ve found love, hang on tooth and nail.  Take a fool’s advice, he says.

Here is the fools’ advice, word for word.

 Harry got up
Dressed all in black
Went down to the station
And he never came back
They found his clothing
Scattered somewhere down the track
And he won’t be down on Wall Street
in the morning
He had a home
The love of a girl
But men get lost sometimes
As years unfurl
One day he crossed some line
And he was too much in this world
But I guess it doesn’t matter anymore
In a New York Minute
Everything can change
In a New York Minute
Things can get pretty strange
In a New York Minute
Everything can change
In a New York Minute
Lying here in the darkness
I hear the sirens wail
Somebody going to emergency
Somebody’s going to jail
If you find somebody to love in this world
You better hang on tooth and nail
The wolf is always at the door
In a New York Minute
Everything can change
In a New York Minute
Things can get a little strange
In a New York Minute
Everything can change
In a New York Minute
And in these days
When darkness falls early
And people rush home
To the ones they love
You better take a fool’s advice
And take care of your own
One day they’re here;
Next day they’re gone
I pulled my coat around my shoulders
And took a walk down through the park
The leaves were falling around me
The groaning city in the gathering dark
On some solitary rock
A desperate lover left his mark,
“Baby, I’ve changed. Please come back.”
What the head makes cloudy
The heart makes very clear
The days were so much brighter
In the time when she was here
But I know there’s somebody somewhere
Make these dark clouds disappear
Until that day, I have to believe
I believe, I believe
In a New York Minute
Everything can change
In a New York Minute
You can get out of the rain
In a New York Minute
Everything can change
In a New York Minute





Who wants to go camping?

In City Life on July 10, 2014 at 11:14

Ford LTD white

Around this time of year, when I was 19, three friends and I embarked on a “camping trip.” It was my first such adventure as an adult. I use the word loosely.

When I was a boy, my father would haul an unwilling family to southern climes – Pennsylvania or southern New York State, to camp. We had a trailer hitch on the car, a device that fascinated me and which felt very important somehow, onto which Dad would connect a tent trailer. I loved the tent trailer, simply because of its design – it was a box which, at the campground, unfolded like a Jiffy Pop on the stove. This sort of thing “folding up stuff” delights me; I’m not sure now if that was true before the trailer, or is true because of it.

Family camping consisted of funny-smelling Coleman stoves, bug spray that made my skin turn green and a considerable amount of wandering around in the woods, pretending to be something or someone. For my dad, I think it was pretending to be a camper. For my mother, it was pretending to be happy. For me, it was pretending to be a secret agent, or a hunter, or a soldier, or whatever.

My secret agent days were long behind me when my buddies and I decided to spend some free summer time at a provincial park in southern Ontario. The details of the weekend are largely lost to my memory not in the fog of time, but in a fog of alcohol.

We departed in the morning. It had to have been a long weekend because my buddies had summer jobs that occupied them weekdays (I had already quit school and was working shifts in the steel mill – I have no idea how I got a weekend off that summer, it must have been a scheduling mistake). Somebody had camping gear, certainly none came with me – who had money for that?

What I had money for was The Car. The LTD, or “Land Yacht” as I affectionately described it, got a good 7 miles per gallon and featured a very decent sound system. The interior was vast and luxurious, like a private box in an opera house (as I imagined one). You could readily stow the bodies of several cast members from The Godfather in the trunk, if so inclined, although on this trip it was stacked high with beer cases.

Beer has certain advantages as a drink: it is relatively mild on the taste buds. As a consequence of that, it is almost universally popular – just about anyone will have a beer: even a girl who normally doesn’t drink, can walk around with one for hours and look like she’s drinking. When cold, beer offers great refreshment during the heat; it is sold in small handheld units (bottles or cans) clustered into varying case sizes, so you can plan ahead to be spontaneous. Beer is comparatively cheap, too. And its final great advantage is that you can drink a lot of it over a long period of time and only slowly, build up the buzz that will later fell you.

As I said, it is hard to dredge up many memories of the excursion. I know we had tents. We had, I think, one of those little propane stoves that allow you to heat up frying pans and cook bacon outdoors – one of life’s highest order pleasures. There was junk food. Bathrooms were situated somewhere on site, requiring a hike that we simply did not take, most of the time when nature called. And we had the beer, which of course proved to be the great pre-occupier of our time at the campground.

True campers feel disdain for the kind of soft, padded, convenient “camping” people do in Southern Ontario. The activity is perhaps unworthy even of the word camping. This is a fair judgment. Edward Abbey, the late American “agrarian anarchist” writer I revere, held similar views of how U.S. National Parks were tailored to parking, baby strollers and “industrial tourists.” Of these types of camper, Abbey wrote:

They work hard, these people. They roll up incredible mileages on their odometers, rack up state after state in two-week transcontinental motor marathons, knock off one national park after another, take millions of square yards of photographs, and endure patiently the most prolonged discomforts: the tedious traffic jams, the awful food of park cafeterias and roadside eateries, the nocturnal search for a place to sleep or camp, the dreary routine of One-Stop Service, the endless lines of creeping traffic, the smell of exhaust fumes, the ever-proliferating Rules & Regulations, the fees and the bills and the service charges, the boiling radiator and the flat tire and the vapor lock, the surly retorts of room clerks and traffic cops, the incessant jostling of the anxious crowds, the irritation and restlessness of their children, the worry of their wives, and the long drive home at night in a stream of racing cars against the lights of another stream racing in the opposite direction, passing now and then the obscure tangle, the shattered glass, the patrolman’s lurid blinker light, of one more wreck.

Abbey might have been following my father’s station wagon down the highway to Alleghany State Park. And years later, in my own young adulthood, I too was an industrial tourist pretending to camp. Which may be why my only one true, sharp memory of the weekend is a genuine “camping” memory: we had built a campfire. It was burning. It was a good and useful thing, to sit around it, watch the sparks fly, shove our hands into bags of potato chips or whatnot, and swig beer. The classic city kid camping activity.

But there was a problem: we didn’t have enough fire wood.I am unsure now, here in the next century, whether we were supposed to bring our own firewood (probably) and if so, where we might have found it (a store?) or for that matter, how we could possibly have transported it in a vehicle so heavily burdened with beer. In retrospect it is clear that the beer-to-other-supplies ratio of our packing was perilously skewed. I say “perilously” because if you have a large supply of one thing and little else, you may consume too much of what you have and then be, shall we say, limited in your capacity to find other things when you need them.

So it was for us in that provincial park, stuck in some spot that seemed to my city bones to be the middle of freaking nowhere but which was, most likely, really close to everywhere. But under a black summer night sky lit by stars and being heavily soaked in hops, I was transported back to boyhood in the woods: I was an explorer. I would go exploring for wood. “We need firewood” some genius or other must have said. “Let’s go find some”. Off we went.

Again, as I say the details are murky but for the clear memory of not finding any damned firewood anywhere, becoming conscious of the fact that our “camp” was somewhere out there in the dark behind us (someone else would have found our way back, I sure couldn’t) and thinking that our glorious beery commune with nature would be stunted if we didn’t find something that would burn. And so we did.

I am not a vandal and in fact, it is my sincere belief that but for this camping trip, I never once in my life committed an act that might be described as the theft or abuse of someone else’s property. That does not excuse my crime (provincial offense, actually, and we are several decades past the statute of limitations on this) but I feel compelled to defend my reputation. One might plead the defence of necessity – our fire was going out, after all – or perhaps temporary mental defect.

What we discovered, there in the desperate dark of night, was that there was wood in the provincial park: wood in the form of thick squared logs, jutting four feet out of the ground, marking each campground. Most likely some number had been painted on them to help arrivals locate their own little patch of heaven. We had wandered into unoccupied territory in the park and decided, wrongly I will admit, that the province’s woody resources should be put to better use than standing guard over empty camping spots.

One of the interesting aspects of crimes committed by groups, is tracing the mental element: whose mental element exactly was it that realized “hey, these things are made of wood” and when did he communicate it? I don’t know. I am reluctant to take credit for the idea, not to avoid blame but simply because it seems more inventive than I could possibly have been, in the condition that I was in.What I will take credit for, because my memory of it is good, is wrestling the damned post out of the ground. Not alone, of course – we were four strong lads after all. But I clearly remember wrapping my arms around the damned thing and shoving it backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, like a car in the snow, loosening the soil around the stump. Eventually it came free and we dragged our prize back in the dark, like a moose illegally gunned down, through the woods.It went on the fire.

Now, if you have ever built a fire, you may have opinions on just how useful an eight-inch square, five or six foot long wooden beam might be, plunked on top of a dying camp fire. If it burned at all, it would certainly have been a slow procedure of charring. The level of stupidity induced by the beer (I blame the beer) must have blinded us to this elementary defect in the plan. Another defect in the plan was that, if it didn’t burn, we would greet daylight with a big honking piece of evidence in our campfire, proving our crime (provincial offence).

I wish that I could tell you the denouement of this tale. But I can’t – sometime after the stolen beam went into the flames, my brain shut down. My next memory is of a grey, hazy and unwelcome morning – a mouth tasting like ash and a head splitting like an ax had dropped onto it (it is probably lucky that we did not have an ax, come to think of it). As for “the beam” it had either burned sufficiently to be unrecognizable or one of my compatriots had disposed of the body.

Not in my trunk, I hope.

P.S. I suppose that I owe the Province of Ontario the price of a wooden post, plus interest. I’m willing to pay but if the authorities give me immunity, I will gladly rat out the other three guys instead.


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