Thursday, February 28, 2013

Will the meeting of Hermits Anonymous please come to order?

Maybe I was born in the wrong century, or into the wrong culture, or on the wrong planet.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a Luddite particularly. I rather like modern conveniences. I applaud technological advances that can make life less difficult and communication easier. That’s not what I’m talking about at all. Indoor plumbing was a wonderful invention.

I’m talking about what I see and hear all around me. It screams at me from television, radio, movies, the pages of newspapers and magazines, and even (and perhaps most especially) from the Internet. It’s everywhere, and I’m tired of it.

I’m talking about the celebrity-obsessed, hero-worshiping, sports-drenched, movie-star-filled culture we have become.

The news isn’t the news any more; it's one part news and two parts entertainment. Fluff stories about the rich and famous fill the airwaves. Wretched excess is everywhere, even in the midst of the economic downturn. Who is dating whom, breaking up with whom, marrying whom, divorcing whom, that’s what people nowadays want to know. Who can wear least in public, say more four-letter words on television, flout convention in general, shock the most people, that’s what we spend our time and money on.

We have degenerated into a culture that celebrates not talent or accomplishment but notoriety.

Things that used to be said in whispers are now spoken proudly into microphones.

We may give lip service to morality but secretly we enjoy watching trash on television.

Not everyone is like this, however. For every person who can’t get enough of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo someone else is riveted to Downton Abbey. Maybe that was not a good example.

I do like freedom, though, especially freedom of speech, and maybe that’s the price of freedom.

I am not advocating the repression or annihilation of people whose interests or beliefs differ from mine. Diversity is good.

I just wish people would be diverse somewhere else besides in my face.

The rant is now ended.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What goes around, comes around

Yesterday afternoon I discovered my first-ever attack of what I think is shingles on the left half of my torso at the ripe old age of 71 and 11/12ths. At this point, the rash starts a little to the left of my navel and extends almost to my spine. So I’m calling to make an appointment with the doctor as soon as his office opens this morning (it’s now 7:30 a.m. here) to get the Acyclovir or whatever they’re treating shingles with nowadays and hoping fervently that the herpes zoster virus doesn’t lead to post- herpetic neuralgia (PHN) that is common in Caucasian people over 60 years of age. As you see, I’ve done my online research.

The strange thing is, I don’t remember ever having had chicken pox, although if I scrunch up my face and squint my eyes and raise my eyebrows and concentrate very, very hard and even look a little like Fu Manchu (photo below), I think I remember one single pock mark on my arm when I was a child.

In summary, what goes around, comes around.



Also, last Wednesday evening we had a little mishap with the car. Not an accident. Not a collision. A mishap. I ran over the curb, make that curbs, on the median while making a left turn at an intersection at night. Mrs. RWP and I were tossed about a bit, but we were not hurt. Fortunately (a) we were wearing our seat belts and (b) the old Camry did not flip over. So we are none the worse for wear, though we each now sport a few more gray hairs than before.

But between the Wednesday evening mishap with the car and the Monday afternoon discovery of shingles, this is shaping up to be The Week That Was in the rhymeswithplague household.

I’ll keep you posted.

[Update, Feb. 27, 2013: It was most definitely shingles. To make it go away, my friendly doctor has prescribed a three-times-a-day-for-the-next-ten-days blue pill that is big enough to choke a horse. The pharmaceutical community calls it Valtrex. The active ingredient is valacyclovir hydrogen chloride and you have to drink lots of water along with it. When we lived in Florida, hydrogen chloride mixed with water produced hydrochloric acid, which is also called muriatic acid, which was used to remove all the muck and gunk from patios around swimming pools. Wish me luck. Keep me in your prayers. Cross your fingers. Send something up the flagpole and see if anybody salutes it. All of the above. I want to be rid of this stuff. --RWP]

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

I will never understand Feedjit

I mean, when I look into its machinations it becomes curiouser and curiouser.

For example, just within the last 24 hours:

Someone in Taichung, T’ai-wan [sic] did a search on westminster abbey cross stitch and landed on this post.

Someone in Hollywood, Florida, did a search on evie chitty miss america and landed on this post.

Someone in Luxembourg did a search on emmy award statue and landed on this post.

Someone in South Shields, South Tyneside in the U.K. did a search on Newt Ascending Astaire’s Face and landed on this post.

Now that is just sad.

What gives, anyway? In The King and I, Yul Brynner sang a song called “Is...A Puzzlement!” and I share his confusion.

But, lo and behold, sometimes everything comes up roses (3:15).

For example, someone in Bayonne, New Jersey, did a search on the lord’s prayer in albanian and actually landed on the Lord’s Prayer in Tosk (Albanian).

And someone in Moscow, Russia, did a search on бенедикт XVI играет на рояле (Russian for benedict XVI plays the piano) and landed here. which though not exactly about Benedict XVI playing the piano does include a photograph of Benedict XVI playing the piano.

And someone in Ashburn, Virginia, did a search on welcome sweet springtime we greet thee in song and landed on “Welcome, sweet Springtime, we greet thee in song!”

So it appears that sometimes Feedjit seems to work as expected and sometimes it simply doesn’t. Sometimes it makes sense and sometimes it just seems to close its eyes and choose targets at random from everything out there in the wild blue cyber-yonder.

Just like real live human beings do.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Truth is stranger than fiction (Valentine’s Day edition)

A few years ago our neighborhood formed a “Sizzlin’ Seniors” group. The most sizzlin’ thing we ever did was have a group trip to a Chinese restaurant, but we formed several new friendships over the months and occasional meetings that followed.

Two of our new friends were Andy and Eda. When we met them, Andy was 87 and his wife, Eda, was 92, although they both looked 20 years younger. Andy had been in the import/export business in Manhattan. Eda hailed from New Jersey. Andy was Spanish. Eda was Italian. They had been married for over sixty years. They had moved into our neighborhood to live with their daughter Andrea and her husband.

Last September, Andy died at the age of 90. We attended his memorial service at St. Michael the Archangel Roman Catholic church in Woodstock. A few days ago, Andrea called and invited us to come help celebrate Eda’s 95th birthday.

At one point in the afternoon, while Eda sat in the living room talking with some old friends, Andrea sat with some of us at the kitchen table and told us an amazing story.

She said she had had a dream the previous weekend in which her Daddy came and talked with her. “Get some flowers and some chocolate candy and give them to Mama for Valentine’s Day,” he said. “Get tulips, because she doesn’t like the fragrance of roses. And buy pink ones, because she doesn’t care for red flowers."

Andrea remembered the dream the next morning. The first thing she saw when she signed on to her home page on the computer was a vase of pink tulips and a box of chocolates. This is not the part where truth is stranger than fiction. You expect to see advertisements for flowers and candy when it is a few days before Valentine's Day. It was just a coincidence that this ad showed tulips instead of roses. But still, what a coincidence! She ordered the flowers and candy and arranged for them to be delivered to her home on Valentine’s Day.

On Thursday morning, her doorbell rang and there was the delivery guy with her order. She carried them to the room where Eda was sitting. When Eda saw Andrea she said, “Oh, those are for me! Daddy sent me flowers and chocolates for Valentine’s Day, didn’t he?”

“Well, sort of,” was all that Andrea could manage to reply.

Now comes the part where truth is stranger than fiction.

Eda looked up with a smile on her face and said, “He told me he would.”

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, especially on Ash Wednesday

Vision in purple #1:


Vision in purple #2:


Vision in purple #3:


Some see one or more of these, and perhaps all three, as ridiculous. Some see one or more of these, and perhaps all three, as sublime.

Each person must decide for himself or herself.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The epitome of cool

...back in the 1960s was to have Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto together on the same stage at the same time.

Here they are in 1964 performing “The Girl From Ipanema.”

I am a very big fan of Getz’s saxophone virtuosity but not a fan of Gilberto’s voice at all.

Because even coolness has limits.

For example:

1. Today is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. (Cool)
2. Tonight, President Obama gives his annual State of the Union address. (Not cool)

1. The deluges we’ve been having here in Georgia lately will make the flowers grow. (Cool)
2. The deluges we’ve been having here in Georgia lately have made my back yard extremely soggy. (Not cool)

1. Someone -- probably either Louis XV (1710-1774) or Madame de Pompadour (1721-1764) -- once said, “Après moi, le déluge.” (Cool)
2. Between my soggy back yard and tonight’s State of the Union address, it (the deluge) is here. (Not cool)

But the coolest thing of all is that in preparing this post I found this site, which will tell you more about “Après moi, le déluge” and its classical antecedents than you could ever want to know.

It’s right up my alley.

And speaking of allez, I have to go now. I shall either be listening to more of Stan Getz’s saxophone playing or delving further into my new favorite website.

Perhaps I will do both.

They’re really cool.

Monday, February 11, 2013

If a monologue can’t be dramatic, why bother?

In my last post I included a few lines from “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot, who wrote the poem in a form known as dramatic monologue. Another poem of Eliot’s, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, is also a dramatic monologue.

And so is “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning, about whom Elizabeth Barrett counted the ways.

Wouldn’t you just know it, I decided to try my hand at a dramatic monologue too.

Yes, I did. Way back in 1977. Here’s the result:


Premonition
by Robert H. Brague


A book has fallen from the highest shelf!
Or so it seems -- I see one missing there.
Did this sprawled on the floor remove itself
Of its own strength and set sail through the air
Like Icarus of old, in some great plan
To overcome the chains that kept it bound
To earth? Ridiculous! And yet, no man
Has touched this room in months. Last week I found
This bust of Mozart turned a diff’rent way
From where it faced when Charlotte was alive.
Can I be going mad? And now, today,
This volume took an unexpected dive
From where it sat so long gathering dust.
Coincidence! Coincidence, I say!
I do not hold with poltergeists. You must
Surely refute, as I do, men today
(And educated ones at that) who hold
Such superstitious views as these. And yet,
She did love hearing Mozart. Feel how cold
This room’s become! No, do not stoop. I’ll get
The fallen book and put it back. Look here,
It fell (how strange!) in such a way, as though
To point up yonder stair. The chandelier
Was one she always liked. Come, let us go.
I do not wish to stay in such a place
As this. And yet, I linger on because
In this room I recall my Charlotte’s face
Most clearly, and especially the claws
That marked her throat. They came and shot the beast,
You know. It stood across her in the door
Where you are standing now. A gruesome feast
It made of her -- an arm, a breast. The floor
Was filled with blood, and her not quite yet dead.
We watched her bleed to death from where we stood
In fear upon the stair. Let’s go to bed
Now. Put milk out for the kitten? Good.


So tell me, now that my poem has seen the light of day, how did
I do? Is it right up there with Eliot and Browning?

Naaah.

But it is in iambic pentameter and the rhyme scheme is abab cdcd efef and so forth, almost ad infinitum.

That has to count for something.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Hope

At the beginning of his poem “The Waste Land” Thomas Stearns Eliot, after wowing us with an opening volley of Latin and Greek, wrote the following:

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the archduke’s,
My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

I beg to differ with Mr. Thomas Stearns Eliot.

April is not the cruellest month.

February is.

[Editor’s note. Readers in the southern hemisphere may wish to substitute August for February. Also, before we proceed further, here is a translation of line 12: “I’m no Russian, derived from Lithuania, truly German.” --RWP]

In February one has usually had quite enough of winter, yet it feels as though winter will go on forever.

In February one forgets what spring, summer, and fall even felt like.

In February one hears weather forecasts such as the one I heard earlier today, “Two feet of snow are expected in the area from New York to Boston and beyond.”

Mr. Thomas Stearns Eliot was a strange duck, or at least he had some very strange relatives. Why his cousin, the archduke, would take him out on a sled down a mountain in the middle of summer (that is clearly what the poem implies) and tell him, “Marie, Marie, hold on tight” is beyond me.

And Mr. Thomas Stearns Eliot is just plain wrong about winter keeping us warm.

In February one cannot wear enough clothing to get warm.

I know. I’ve tried.

It may be true that April breeds lilacs out of the dead land, but February, if one is very fortunate, will breed jonquils like the ones I saw today growing in a patch by the side of the road.

Those jonquils, my dear readers, are why I called this post “Hope.”

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Homophonic transformations, Part Two

Some of you may remember my post of June 25, 2012, “Owe Joey! Ode Ill Height!”, in which we played around with words after the manner of Howard L. Chace’s book, Anguish Languish. Some of you may be trying desperately to wipe the memory of it from your brain.

Well, I’m in the mood to do it again.

I hope you are too.

Bee curse duress top disk postal bee crated inn Anguish Languish.

Vaunt two zinger thong why Louie weight?

Eye know! Less zing “Venue Whisker Porno Store”!

Alter gather know, less zing:

Venue whisker porno store,
Mates know deference ooh hue ore,
Venue Vishnu Pawnee’s tar
Oz streamer stew...

Lacquer bowl tout off dub loo,
Pates tips inning seize youth rue,
Venue whisker pawn as tar
Yard ream scum drew.

Well, that’s enough of that. Just in case you couldn’t make it out, here is Walt Disney’s original, in context (5:39).

As I said back on June 25th, dish cub bathers tar tub sum pink pig.

Orkin oddly white furrier calm mints.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Nightingales sang in Leicester Square


Once a Plantagenet, always a Plantagenet, that’s what I say.

Actually, I’ve never said that before in my life.

Until now.

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of King Richard III, last of the Plantagenet kings, under a parking lot in Leicester, England.

They proved it with the mitochondrial DNA of Michael Ibsen, a Canadian carpenter living in London who just happens to be the 17th great-grandnephew of Richard’s older sister.

What goes around, comes around.

That’s what I say.

Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York.

I say that too.

Only Shakespeare said it first.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Very punny

When I worked for a living, one of my bosses was a man named Horace Stone. When he neared retirement, I hoped he would convert to Catholicism and enter the priesthood. That way, he would have been a Horace of a different collar.

There’s nothing like a really good pun.

And that was nothing like a really good pun.

There was once an Indian chief named Shortcake. When he died, his wife refused to turn his body over to the local mortuary, saying, “No need for mortician. Squaw bury Shortcake.”

In Africa, the chief of a village lived in a hut made entirely of grass. Even the ceilings were made of grass. One day the people of his village presented him with a special chief’s throne they had made. He was very proud of it but afraid that an enemy might come along and steal it, so he asked the people to hoist his throne up in the air with a rope so that it could be kept in his attic. In the middle of the night, however, it fell through the bedroom ceiling and killed him as he slept. The moral of this story is clear: People who live in grass houses shouldn’t stow thrones.

Here’s one for the mathematicians. Another Indian chief (not Shortcake) had three wives. He gave one of them a buffalo hide, one of them a cowhide, and one of them a hippopotamus hide. Soon the first wife bore him twin sons. Later, the second wife also bore him twin sons. A few months after that, the chief’s third wife gave birth to four healthy boys -- quadruplets! It is obvious that the sons of the squaw of the hippopotamus are equal to the sons of the squaws of the other two hides.

Some people say a pun is the lowest form of wit. As you have probably guessed, I disagree.

But a bun is definitely the lowest form of wheat.

I got a million of ’em.

Friday, February 1, 2013

How’s that again?

My son was playing saxophone in a band onstage behind a girl singer at a Christian concert when she urged the college-aged audience to “get up out of your chairs and give Jesus a standing ovulation.”

My 94-year-old friend Rosemary, who always celebrated her birthday for the entire month of February, died last week and just missed being 95. Her most memorable statement in my opinion occurred last year when she asked our mutual friend Sharon to take her to the mall, saying, “I want to get a manicure and a pedophile.”

A third, truly humorous malapropism would have fit nicely into the post at this point, but I cannot vouch personally for a third, truly humorous malapropism. Here’s one, however, that is true but not nearly as humorous. I was present one Sunday evening in 1967 when Blanche D. of Poughkeepsie, New York, who has probably been dead now for years and years, upon hearing of a church trip that was being planned, asked, “What will it curtail?”

What, indeed?

You cannot make this stuff up.

Perhaps you prefer non sequiturs to malapropisms.

We aim to please and, being us, we shall do it in the form of the following poem, which we did not write but which we have known for years and years:

Thirty days hath September,
April, June, and no wonder,
All the rest eat peanut butter,
Except Grandma, and she smokes a pipe.

I close by wishing my readers a happy February, no matter how many days it has, who eats peanut butter, or what Grandma smokes. Somewhere, Rosemary is celebrating.