The January/February 2013 issue of Lake Country Journal, a beautiful magazine published up in Brainerd, Minnesota, includes one of my many new winter poems, “Holding the Ladder.” It’s not available for reading online and the mag’s regional, so here’s the poem, slightly revised. Because I never know when to leave well enough alone.
Holding the Ladder
My crazy coot neighbor has climbed up on his roof again
wearing an old pair of hockey skates
to kick loose ice dams.
He’s swearing and stomping around
like a plaid madman. I’m as quiet as the snow.
My wife ordered me outside an hour ago,
saying, “For Christ’s sake,
drag him down — or at least break his fall.”
That wasn’t all, but I’d heard enough.
I’m a simple, small-town Indiana boy born and bred. But I still lit out for brighter horizons as soon as humanly possible, which meant after college, because the state paid for that shit. I moved over to Ohio for grad school. Then back to Indiana for a couple of months, while I looked for a job after school. Then I spent a few years in Chicago, which I later learned was in Illinois. From there I headed down to Missouri. And now I live in Minnesota, which feels like home half the time. That’s not bad after a dozen years, right? It doesn’t matter. Sometimes nothing looks familiar for miles in any direction and I remember that when I was a kid, Indiana’s state motto was “Wander Indiana.” Which I thought meant that Hoosiers were free to travel wherever they wished within state lines, but we weren’t allowed to leave.
I’ve not posted lately because Hurley, aka “the hound,” has been struggling with gut and ass issues that appear, at long last, to be on the mend.
I’ve also been busy planning and putting together music for next year’s “You Are Hear” podcast for mnartists.org.
But suppose you’re among the single digits of people who can’t wait until 2012 to hear from me.
Well, consider yourself notified that Saturday, November 19th, I’ll be among the “celebrity” judges of The Incredible Drinkin’ Spelling Bee at the 331 Club.
Words. Booze. Me being funny into a microphone, saying things I’d regret later if maybe I remembered them.
What’s not to love? Hurley wants to know.
If you made it out to Ferrari McSpeedy’s “Once Upon a Time in the Suburbs” at the 2011 Minnesota Fringe, thank you. If you happened to review the show on the Fringe site or on your blog or for a more official print or digital media outlet, thanks again. If you were one of the reviewers who suggested that I speak an unfamiliar form of English out of your ear’s range, believe me when I reply here, in typed words that I hope your eyes can read, I got the message.
I heard you loud and clear.
I used to review books and music for money, so I understand the impulse to protect innocent consumers from bad art for money and/or a lack of self-esteem.
What I think of the Pioneer Press and/or its theater criticism isn’t the point.
The point is this: I learned a ton performing in a big, goofy female western in Ayn Rand’s idea of a theater. Last time I got to perform with such talented folks in such an impressive venue was back in 2007, when I did vaudeville with Ned Beatty. Of course that Ned Beatty. No shit.
And, no, we’re not related. We established that chatting backstage, as soon as we were introduced.
But he’d be a cool grandpa. Too bad he wasn’t available for Fringe.
Back in 2007, not long after Kurt Vonnegut died, Playboy and Vanity Fair entertainment journo extraordinaire Eric Spitznagel wrangled a bunch of writers known (and not) on the web to pay tribute. Vonnegut’s Asterisk was titled after one of Vonnegut’s most famous drawings: his asshole, in Breakfast of Champions.
I’m currently rereading Breakfast for the seventh or eighth time, so I’ve been thinking about my meager contribution, which was also something of a tribute to Bill Gates. “I’ve always suspected that my asshole represents the best that civilized society can aspire to,” I wrote four years ago. “But drawing even a simple dove proved too difficult for my sad abilities, which is why I ended up tossing my crayons and importing a dingbat symbol via Microsoft Word instead.”
I included a caption with my asshole to ensure that it wouldn’t be mistaken for religious iconography or a pigeon. And I did it all in blue because I believed then,
as I believe now, that my asshole should match my eyes. Metaphorically, at least.
Listening to the audio book selections Gordon Lish recorded to coincide with the publication of his Collected Fictions has reminded me of my own distant relationship with the man, which lasted half as long as his semi-legendary literary journal, The Quarterly.
Starting in college, I submitted stories and poems for years, before finally wearing Lish down with a prose poem/flash fiction something about Houdini. Then, a year or two after “my” Q issue hit newsstands, he visited Chicago, where I lived then, for a talk that was mostly about his dying/dead wife.
I’d brought along one of my two prized copies of Q issue 26, hoping for an inspirational inscription from the editor who’d honed the prose of my favorite writers.
Lish took a fat black marker out of one of the many pockets in his tan coveralls, a fat black marker like the kind reprobates snort for fun. Then he destroyed the cover and inside title pages of my Q, swiping a saturating, illegible scrawl that may not even be words.
I still can’t tell.
I was one of five contest winners lucky enough to open for Louie Anderson, only to annoy 5,000 or so New Years Eve revelers because I got distracted by a loud-ish farter in the expensive seats down front. I’ve killed at the Hollywood Improv, as part of an industry showcase where no industry folks showed up. (Fortunately, the video crew did.) And I’ve baffled Minnesota Fringe Festival audiences with a mix of jokes, poems and stories, leaving at least one woman worried that I might be autistic. If her review is to be believed. Maybe she was just looking for an original way to say “deadpan.” Or “ugh.”
I bring up these tidbits of my comedy history because I often have to remind myself I know what I’m doing. Because it doesn’t look like it sometimes, I realize. I have eyes and ears, too.
But honesty in the moment, being present in the experience we’re sharing, outweighs my sense of responsibility to entertain like some kind of wind-up primate outfitted with cymbals, a too-small hat and an obnoxious cackle. I don’t know how or when my priorities changed, but change they did. I wanted more than just laughs. I also wanted a human connection with the people watching in the dark, which resulted in a looser performance style. Almost as if I’m making it up as I go along, except there are still punchlines.
Improvisation, some people call it. But, believe me, it’s not that, whatever it is I do up there.