Thursday, February 23, 2017

Watching the Congress of Vienna Sausage Get Made

When I was a kid, we lived in a neighborhood.

Well, I thought it was a neighborhood. That term has fallen out of favor with the nattering nabobs of negativity. They heap scorn on developments now. They reserve the word neighborhood for where they live. Their neighborhoods are defined by constantly shifting imaginary lines in a featureless desert of concrete spangled with chewing gum and crime. It was a lot simpler for us back in the day. If you weren't in the woods, you were in the neighborhood.

I had deer under my window from time to time, instead of a dumpster, morning, noon, and night, but the world has spoken. They aver that I was raised in a exurban hellscape, a cultureless wasteland, and I'd identify myself as a troglodyte to say otherwise.

Who would want to live in Smalltown Sprawltown USA? Well, a lot of people did. My parents sure did. They didn't know any better. They thought they lived in a neighborhood. They made the mistake of getting along with their neighbors, and they called it a neighborhood, and they thought that made it a neighborhood.

It seemed like the whole wide world to me, that little warren of splits and capes. In a way, it was. At first, there were only a couple dozen houses. After a while, they punched through the curb cuts and added several more neighborhoods, er, developments. It got so a kid couldn't play street hockey without having to drag the net to the curb every ten minutes to let a car pass.

It was a polyglot place, no matter what you've heard from people who live in concrete dovecotes and write for the Gnew Yourk Toimes. In our neighborhood, Irishmen lived right next door to Englishmen. One side skipped car bombing his neighbor, his counterpart  eschewed channeling the Earl of Essex. There was a French family right next door, too. I can picture their little doe-eyed girl named Suzanne, still, forever frozen in my mind's amber, immortal and fey and unchanging.Unlike on the continent, they required only a privet hedge instead of a foggy channel to keep from falling on each other with misericordes and getting busy.

There were Germans living next to Poles. The crabgrass invaded the neighbor's yard looking for lebensraum, but that was about it. There were Scots living next to people I thought were sorta German, but were really Swiss, I think. If they didn't care enough to explain to me what they were, why should I bother to figure it out?

The whole town was lousy with Italians. Italian is a funny word to an Italian. A lot of Eyetalians got unshod of the boot with firsthand memories of the Risorgimento. It wasn't smart to assume they were all the same. A Calabrian had no use for an Abrusseze; a Venetian had no use for a Neapolitan. No one had any use for Sicilians, and still don't.

A block away from me, a Lebanese dad pulled his Ford into his carport, waved to a French-Canadian family on one side, a Portuguese guy on the other, and a neighbor with a name out of Charles Dickens across the street. The Lebanese family had a girl that broke several thousand hearts, no doubt, besides mine, without uttering a sound. She had eyes like dishes of used motor oil, skin like two days at the beach, and a head of hair like a mink.

My school was topped off with Armenians, with a couple of Jewish kids thrown in. They seemed about as exotic as a pothole. Though we lived in New England, we had truck with real live rednecks, too. I remember Calvin, fresh from below the Waffle House-IHOP line, slouching in class and drawling like a goober. I'll say he sounded like a goober now. No one said he sounded like a goober back then, at least out loud, because Calvin was six-two in eighth grade, and he shaved.

There were black families. In high school, my ignant bogtrotter friend from across the street went out with an Ashanti princess from the newer development a mile away. She pulled her afro into a pony tail that formed a perfect sphere that followed her like a satellite, wore tube tops, and pretended to like his Bachmann-Turner Overdrive records. He pretended to like her Earth Wind and Fire records while actually liking her tube top. The only person to disapprove of the whole affair was her father. He was moderately well-to-do by our standards, because he ate in restaurants and had a brand new car. The one-toilet Irish kid was one step from feral. Dad looked the other way a little, and wondered if maybe his daughters would mind if they moved away. Like, to Venus.

When I got a little older, I slept on a Syrian lady's couch when I was stuck in a snowstorm. She was immensely old, forty at least, wore too much jewelry and makeup, smoked like film noir plot, and was missing a portion of one middle finger. I don't remember what the couch looked like.

Anyway, for a couple of decades I've watched a continent full of fools and knaves try to ram themselves into a political, social, and monetary union while they royally screwed the pooch nine ways from Sunday in the attempt. I suppose it would be unkind of me to point out that we managed it, all on our own, completely by accident, back before disco, simply because there was no corrupt, contemptible government trying to make us do it.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

I Was Born and Paid For With a Fiddle

It's useful to be reminded from time to time that the United States, and everything in it that's worth a fig, was built entirely by people who wouldn't be caught dead lining a bird cage with the New York Times.

[Update: Many thanks to longtime friend Mark M. from the Peach State for his very generous contribution to our PayPal tipjar. It is very much appreciated]

Monday, February 13, 2017

Bright Are the Stars That Shine. Dark Is the Sky

Love seems the swiftest, but it is the slowest of all growths. No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century. --Mark Twain

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas, Baby

The Heir, the Spare, and Mrs. King and I would like to wish all our friends on the Intertunnel a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Because I don't really know you, I'd be more than willing to testify that you're all the nicest people in the world. It's only fair. You don't really know us, but you've mistaken us for interesting people. I hope this makes us even. I am beset by doubts on that score. I have a hunch that the Sippican family is making out on the deal somehow. After all, I'm certain we're not interesting. You might be nice.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

We Should Have Three Christmases Today

The video's more fun, but the album has better sound:

[Update: Many thanks go out to longtime supporter Kathleen M. for her generous support of the Heir and the Spare. It is much appreciated]
[Further Update: Many thanks to Sam L for his generous support of the Heir and the Spare, and this blog. It is very much appreciated]
[Still More Updates: Many thanks go out to Larry G. for his generous support of the Heir and the Spare. It is very much appreciated]

Monday, December 12, 2016

Greatest Hits: Show No Enthusiasm; Don't Complain

[Editor's Note: Originally offered three years ago. We don't burn firewood any more. Using our firewood furnace with our neglected, unlined chimney was a form of Russian Roulette, but you do what you have to do sometimes to get by. We also got tired of freezing half to death every time I fell asleep for more than three hours at a stretch. We burn wood pellets now, and the Spare Heir follows in the Heir's footsteps by carrying the bags up the stairs]

Winter came like a postcard a long time ago. The snow drifted down in slow motion, the big, fat flakes parachuting in and accumulating gently on the frosted earth. There was a lot, all at once, and in the morning the birdhouse wore a pope's hat, and the birdbath was a cheesecake. The sun shone and the trees wore their coat of flakes like ermine.

Then the rain came. It turned the pope's hat to a drunkard's fedora, and the cheesecake to a dog's breakfast. It came down mechanically, at an angle that could be measured anywhere along its route, as methodical as a secret policeman; the icicles on the eaves turned from a little fringe to dragon's teeth. The trees threw their coats on the ground with their shivering, and left craters like the moon in the slumping snow.

Then it did it all again. Snow fell on top of the icy film over the styrofoam snow, and brought Currier and Ives back to town. Then the ice came and put Currier and Ives in the stocks in the town square for the crime of being jolly out of turn, and pelted them with everything handy. The roads turned to suggestions. The pavement was just the bottom layer of an arctic lasagne of sand and ice and mud and snow and general corruption. My wife's car and my truck told me to shove it more than once when I turned their keys.

Then the thermometer began a truth or dare phase. It had been ten degrees below normal for months, but now it wanted to impress people. Pinch the unwary. Show you who's in charge around here. Twice it showed me twenty below and kept going, and days ticked off the calendar, one after another, without ever reaching the number one. The ladder to spring had been drawn up into the calendar's treehouse. We'd have to set a spell and wait for it.

There is no heat but what we can make. I shoveled the logs into the stove like a man in the belly of some great, dripping, iron ship, while icebergs passed by the portholes in first class. Nothing you could do could touch twenty below. You could set your house itself on fire and not raise the temperature in the living room ninety degrees. What chance do you and your disassembled birches and beeches have?  But one bails a leaky rowboat whether you have a bucket or a teaspoon.

My neighbor passed by and said he was angry at his thermometer today. I understood, because he felt the thermometer had betrayed him. It was still five below at nine o' clock this morning, and that was a shiv in the guts from a friend. He was promised by the man on the TeeVee, who combs his hair a lot, that it would be warmer today.

We were out of firewood. Well, not out, exactly; I'm a fool, but not that big of one. There were still three cords sleeping in the back yard where we stacked them in August to dry. But there was no more in the house. We'd put three cords in the basement, and all but a few junks were gone in a puff of woodsmoke already. It will rain again tomorrow, and be miserable to be outside, and handling firewood in the rain is a penance not to be inflicted on the innocent. The time to get more was today. 

My son came out with me. He shows no enthusiasm, but does not complain. It's the mark of an adult, I think. The sun looked like a cataract and hung low in the sky, skulking across the horizon for the few hours it deigns to shine in January, and looks ashamed of itself the whole time. You could look right at it, but why would you? You look at the ground right in front of you, and that's that. We shoveled the top layer of snow and ice to get halfway to the ground, and walked on the skin of ice over the first heaping of snow as we went. The ice was almost strong enough to hold my weight for every footfall, but every once in a while the heel of my boot would punch a hole in it, and my knee would hinge backwards and remind me that I hit a hurdle when I was in tenth grade and that I wrecked a car when I was nineteen. Winter is very solicitous here, and worries you might get the Alzheimer's, and tries to help you remember things. 

In the fall, we'd made and installed four, great big swinging barn doors leading out of our basement into the paved yard where the firewood slumbered. The firewood only had to travel twenty feet. The nature of those twenty feet was the issue. There was a buttress of ice eighteen inches thick holding the doors closed. The eave above had basted the snow that collected there with water, over and over, until it was as solid and unyielding as any revetment. We stood like Napoleons looking longingly at Moscow in the winter.

My son got an iron bar we keep for some reason. It's six feet long, as big around as a toddler's wrist, pointed at one end, with a sort-of chisel at the other. This tool is of absolutely no use, until it's essential, like a lawyer or a prostitute. I laid into that bulwark of ice like, like -- like it was the only thing between me and heat tomorrow morning. Ten minutes and the big door swung clear. We dumped the plywood that covers the woodpiles overboard, and then layed them on the iffy ice and snow layer cake on the ground. We rolled a handtruck back and forth over them, and assembled the clanking junks of wood into a wall four feet high and twenty-four feet long in the basement. People here call a piece of firewood a "junk," and firewood that's been dried properly rings with a ceramic tone when you handle them. The last of the wood outside came hard; frozen solid six inches below the level of our feet. The iron bar levered them out, and they joined their brethren. The last of them will no doubt go in the furnace still wearing their necklaces of ice, because it's not warm enough down there to melt it.

My son, who is no longer a child, really, never flagged, never complained once. We spoke almost not at all, because there wasn't much to say. The work would whisper done when there wasn't any more of it. I thought to myself that I would not have been able to do it without him to help me. I wondered -- I very dearly wished -- he might say the same thing about me.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

We Don't Notice Any Time Pass

That was four years ago. We have to turn on the radio if we want to hear the big one's voice now. And the little one is five-foot-ten.
Tonight I'll dream while I'm in bed
when silly thoughts go through my head
about the bugs and alphabet
and when I wake tomorrow I'll bet
that you and I will walk together again