Archive for September, 2002

Ten Autumn Tankas by Princess Shikishi (c. 1150-1201)

I sleep light toward morning: different on my sleeves, my old fan stirs autumn’s first wind.

As I watch, through leaves moves the evening moon, giving some hint of the autumnal sky.

Cicadas’ voices exhausted on the hillside, when, again, the sunset bell startles.

In my deserted garden, wrapped in sedge, in the depth of dew, a pine cricket’s voice.

At my gate, startled by the wind across rice fields: there beyond the mist, the first voices of geese?

The autumn night, quiet, dark; rain beats the window griefstricken until it turns white.

Dew, yes; as I part the field, bamboo grass field, the voices of insects shatter on my sleeves.

Under the blown and settled dead leaves, a cricket: here at least, autumn still flickers.

Autumn is late, and my thoughts are desolate. Do not add tears, moonlight in my sleeves.

Is it to tell the geese of the autumn wind? Fireflies rising close to the evening clouds.

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Disconcerting Things

It is highly disconcerting when the plumbing in one’s apartment, which is undoubtedly old and a bit peevish, makes ominous gurgling and clunking noises — when soapy water and bits of lettuce come bubbling up in one’s sink every time the neighbor washes his dishes, and one hears a thumping glug glug in the bathroom drain each time one flushes one’s toilet. Furthermore, it is heartstoppingly disconcerting to have to watch the toilet bowl swirl higher and higher . . . and higher . . . everytime one makes Number Two and wonder if it’s going to overflow — particularly when one is notorious for having poor coping skills when it comes to overflowing toilets — frequently going into full-blown emotional meltdown while plotting to break one’s lease and move into a different apartment in the middle of the night.

It is also decidedly disconcerting when one’s cat ensconces himself in an aerial perch, leans over, and then deliberately vomits on the floor from a height. Not only is the amplified resonance of splattering cat puke hitting the floor disconcerting, but one must also wonder, What is he thinking? He contemplates his handiwork as if he were terrifically pleased with himself and one can’t help but feel that maybe he’s just not right.

When one finds a fuzzy, jet-black spider with a pretty crimson triangle on its back in one’s kitchen it is entirely disconcerting because one can’t ever remember if Black Widow Spiders have red triangles on their bellies or their backs. One considers hopping onto the internet to check and see, but doesn’t necessarily want to lose track of said spider in the meantime and have a Black Widow Spider, ersatz or otherwise, meandering about unchecked in the house. As one is very fond of spiders, though, killing it is not a viable option, so one gingerly slides a piece of paper under it . . . at which point, it begins to jump about in a spry, unpredictable fashion . . . and one has to hustle it out the front door and into the garden foliage with a distinct sense of unease.

Forgetting to take one’s Wellbutrin for several days is bound to produce disconcerting results sooner or later.

A cat with a dingleberry appended to its bunghole, who then deduces that the best solution is to try and outrun the dingleberry, makes a disconcerting spectacle of itself.

When one’s ex happens to be in town and decides to drop by unannounced (How the fuck did she find out one’s new address?!?!), and then proceeds to (1) grill one relentlessly for a solid half-hour about the person one’s currently seeing; (2) describe everyone she’s been sleeping with that she wasn’t really attracted to (adding that she’s now realized all her recent relationship problems (we would presume this would also include nightmarish relationship with Yours Truly) are caused by the fact that she always ends up sleeping with people she’s not at all attracted to, but hey, she’s really working on trying not to do that anymore); (3) confess that she was actually in love with her ex the entire time one was involved with her; and then (4) suggest that maybe one would like to sleep with her while she’s town. So okay . . . she’s just rather awful and immature, and pretty much appallingly unbearable, but that’s not even the part that one finds particularly disconcerting at this point in time . . . it’s the fact that one was ever involved with her in the first place that is now, retrospectively — and disconcertingly — humiliating. Doh! one wants to yelp, smacking self in forehead with palm of hand, a la the V-8 commercial. What was I thinking?! one wants to yell into the cold night air.

It is disconcerting when the head of one’s favorite mounted Yellow Stag Beetle (Odontolabis Femoralis) falls off and has to be glued back on with Super Glue.

And finally, one finds it disconcerting to learn that when emotionally upset, octopi will cannibalize themselves . . . chewing off an entire leg or parts of a leg sometimes. Autophagy, it’s called. Perhaps they’re off their Wellbutrin too.

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On Roller Derby Queens

When I was seven, my overwhelming ambition in life was to become a Roller Derby Queen. It was 1973, I’d just seen The Kansas City Bomber (starring Raquel Welch) on T.V., and at that moment my future destiny suddenly became stunningly apparent. This, despite the fact that I’d already racked up a pretty hefty eyeglass prescription and was clearly a cut-and-dried personification of the nerdy bookworm type, really didn’t seem to pose a conceptual dilemma for me in terms of incongruities, I don’t think. At least not at the time. Roller Derby Fever had bit me bad and I wanted to be a trash-talking, body-slamming, cat-fighting, bad-ass Roller Derby Mama. I wanted to experience bruised and bloody victories and bone-crushing defeats in seedy, sleazy roller derby arenas, and be locked in ongoing grudge matches with vicious arch-nemeses who had names like Honey Sanchez, Patti “Moo Moo” Cavin, or “Horrible Hog-Hank” Hopkins. After considerable lobbying, I managed to extricate a pair of roller skates from my parents for Christmas that year (although they were the “strap-on” kind that were belted on over one’s tennis shoes, and in this sense, highly unsatisfactory), and began my self-imposed training sessions in the basement, skating round and round — practicing my killer elbow jabs and body-slamming techniques along the way to vanquish my imaginary competitors. So . . . okay . . . in the end I became a poet, and an English professor, of all things, and not a Roller Derby Queen, but still, nonetheless . . . in my heart of hearts, lurks the indefatigable pulse of a Kansas City Bomber.

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Wishful Raccoons and Trampolines

It’s pitiful when one has to hole up in the office all Sunday afternoon, attending to niggling bits of administrivia, when one would much rather have spent the afternoon being a SlackerDyke — sitting on the front porch swilling Rolling Rock (an ideal swill beer, really . . . one can pound down a goodly amount without becoming too inebriated), listening compulsively to Patti Smith’s “Horses,” squinting into the lazy, thick incense-like curls of sweet, spicy smoke curlicuing up from a Djarum Clove cigarette, eating cinnamon ice cream, and watching the leaves come skittering down from the trees one by one (spin and twirl), then splash the sidewalk with decisive brittle splats. (Well, perhaps Rolling Rock AND cinnamon ice cream both at the same time is rather ill-conceived, but then again, fuck it, since I’m reconstructing the afternoon I wish I’d had, I should be able to consume any combination of food and libation I choose, no matter how potentially revolting.) It’s quieter on the street than on weekdays . . . a few bike-riders, dog-walkers, the neighbor’s ill-tempered cat who clearly wishes to usurp my porch. (But not the skinny, eccentric bearded man who parks on my block Monday-Friday and returns to his car over the lunch hour, approaching at a dead run in dress shoes and a dress shirt. He then, inexplicably, eats his lunch in the driver’s seat of his car, and takes a little nap afterwards before heading back to his office — once again, at a dead run). Catty corner from me, neighbor kids jump up and down, up and down, on their trampoline. One thinks it might be nice to have a trampoline so one could jump up and down, up and down, all afternoon too. One wonders if, as B. suggested, raccoons come and jump on trampolines, in the moonlight, at night. One thinks (even though perhaps this is just the Rolling Rock one wishes one had swilled talking) that this would be a delightful way to spend a night . . . jumping up and down, up and down, in the moonlight, the wind in one’s hair, leaves spilling down in a yellow clatter, on the trampoline . . . with raccoons.

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On Fussy Cats and the Vagaries of Household Staffing

Cats with white socks on their paws can sometimes be very fussy. Perhaps it is all of that vainglorious, obsessive grooming that’s required to keep those paws so pristinely, April-Fresh-Downey white. Although it is quite charming when one sock on the hind leg goes up much higher than the others — as if this otherwise extremely fussy cat had absentmindedly put on three anklets and one knee sock on the back, or perhaps was having a bit of a Laundry Debacle and had inadvertently run out of anklets. (One should probably not anthropomorphize one’s own Laundry Dysfunctions (see below) onto one’s cat, however.) A Fussy Cat must maintain an ongoing list of various household functions which meet with his disapproval and over which he can can regularly express his disdain, thus continually reaffirming his own, superior standards over the rather slipshod, Philistine operations of the Household Staff. Some of the more egregiously barbaric practices on this list include:

(1) Household Staff’s insistence on operating an ear-splitting, dubious-looking device referred to as “the vacuum cleaner,” which dangerously sucks up portions of the universe, including one’s fur(!), into a Star-Trekian worm-hole of sorts;

(2) Household Staff’s insistence on operating a similarly ear-splitting, albeit smaller, dubious-looking device referred to as “the blow dryer,” which conversely blows out obnoxious gusts of hot air(!);

(Note: A fussy cat believes that all this hot air is not only indicative of Household Staff’s verbal style, but is also quite oxymoronic — why not, he rationalizes, simply do away with sucking in air AND blowing out air, as they undoubtedly cancel each other out? Surely, household operations would be more more peaceful and refined?)

(3) Household Staff’s obtuse inability to realize that if one can see even the faintest glimmer of the bottom of the cat food dish, the remainder of the food in the bowl has obviously been rendered SUSPECT(!) and therefore inedible;

(4) Household Staff’s wrong-headed insistence on unceremoniously dumping fussy cats off the laptop keyboard when it is clearly designed as a low-grade warming device for cats to snooze upon;

(5) Household Staff’s selfish refusal to share ice cream, even when a fussy cat has placed an insistent paw upon the hand holding the spoon and attempted to divert the course of the spoon away from Household Staff’s mouth and toward his own tongue, therefore clearly indicating a desire to partake of said ice cream;

(6) Household Staff’s selfish habit of eating all of the ice cream (as if Household Staff needs to be eating any more ice cream anyways) and then rudely offering a fussy cat only the last few licks left in the bowl which, really, is pretty much the ice cream equivalent of Beer Backwash;

(7) Household Staff’s refusal to prepare Green Peppers cooked Al Dente as a regular menu item, even though Household Staff knows that this is a major food staple crucial to the emotional health and well being of fussy cats; and finally

(8) Household Staff’s revolting practice of actually having the temerity to sneeze in the presence of a fussy cat and, furthermore, allowing other cats in the house to sneeze in his presence.

A fussy cat must have a scathing Sound of Disapproval to make when the above infractions occur so that the appropriate register of Distaste, Disdain, and Disgruntlement can be subsequently conveyed. This Sound of Disapproval works most efffectively when it is rendered as a kind of a Disgruntled Grunt in simultaneous combination with a Chastising Chatter, with a concluding top-end note of Plaintive Squeak. It should also be noted that a fussy cat considers it terribly rude that Household Staff laughs out loud when the Sound of Disapproval has been made over someone sneezing (perhaps the gravest infraction of all), but then the fussy cat belatedly realizes, while casting about in an aggravated manner for the culprit, that the source of the sneezing was himself!

P.S. This blog entry is dedicated to J. and E., whose Household Staffing Duties are much more rigorous than mine.

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Annoying Things

A gargantuan pimple on the side of one’s face. So gargantuan one becomes concerned that perhaps it is a cancerous growth. So gargantuan it brings to mind the movie, The Believers, with Martin Sheen, at one point in which the female lead becomes the victim of a black-magic curse and develops a pimple on the side of her face — which then grows into a boil-like protuberance that begins to throb and pulse — until finally black poisonous spiders chew their way through and come pouring out en masse. So gargantuan it evokes the school nurse in South Park, who has a fetus growing out from the side of her head. So gargantuan one feels mortified about having to teach the next day — one’s students will surely be unable to concentrate on the lecture when there is such a frighteningly combustible atrocity on the side of one’s face that could surely blow at any moment and possibly put someone’s eye out.

Paper clips should be metal trombone paper clips and at least 2″ in length. Plastic-coated colored paper clips are quite nice, although the best ones of all are the multi-colored maypole-striped ones that remind one of Fruit Stripe Gum. These are delightful! Small metal trombone paper clips are as annoying as the sound of fingernails being dragged along a chalkboard. They perpetually become tangled up in one another, making the papers stick together, or they become tangled up and fall off altogether. They always slice up and scratch the pages. There is something very pokey and nerve-grinding about these clips that fills one with an irrational sense of rage. (Plastic-coated small paper clips are significantly more tolerable, although their size is still nonetheless pokey and annoying.) Triangular plastic clips never work at all. They are always breaking or falling off, and they are equally annoying and abhorrent.

A lover who expects one to spend the night with her being romantic and making her feel better because one is flying out of town for a mere few days on an important professional trip, even when one is exhausted and stressed out and has a million things to do, is exceedingly needy and annoying. It is then infuriatingly annoying when this same lover goes out of her way to deliberately pick a fight, any fight, when one, through supreme effort, has actually managed to set aside the time to indulge in the sought-after romantic evening. Such a lover is sure to get the boot in no time, and when she stamps her foot and begins screaming on one’s sidewalk that she doesn’t understand why she’s getting the boot, and one notices that the neighbors are beginning to peer out of their windows, this is unspeakably annoying as well.

A cat who seeks out important paper work, with a sick sixth sense, and manages to leave a butt print on said paper work, is an annoying cat. (I mean, how does one even begin to account for that? Gee, sorry, about that odd-looking smudge . . . my cat left a butt print on your [dissertation signature page] [grant application form] [curriculum vitae] [fill in the blank].)

People who call over and over again, letting the phone ring and ring and ring . . . but are nonetheless apparently genetically incapable of leaving a voice mail . . . are hugely annoying.

One has taken it upon herself to go to the laundromat and do her laundry. The wash cycles are finished, and even though one despises doing laundry, one is starting to feel a little bit less uptight . . . maybe even a bit self-actualized and all that shit . . . but then discovers that one of the washers is out of order and now a full load of clothes is soaking in a washer full of tepid, dirty soapy water. One must now re-wash that entire load, which is now a complete wash cycle behind all the other loads, thus committing oneself to a minimum of at least an extra half-hour of laundry torture. This is very annoying.

Having agreed to lead a reading group for honors students (My Year of Meats, by Ruth Ozeki — a marvelous book!), one must go through fourteen boxes of books temporarily stored in one’s closet (due to the fact that the office in one’s new apartment has yet to be remodeled) to locate the book in question. One quickly goes through the all of the boxes, thinking, It just figures that the book would be in the very last box!, but doesn’t manage to locate the book. So one goes through the boxes again, thinking that perhaps the book was inadvertently missed somehow on the first go-round. Still no book. The closet is becoming increasingly hot and stuffy, and one goes through every single one of the boxes yet again — this time painstakingly disemboweling each box in its entirety to carefully scrutinize each and every book. Still no book. One simply can’t imagine where it could be. Suddenly, one has a mortifying epiphany. The book had been loaned out to one’s ex-lover (see above), who then took it upon herself to lend it out to one of her friends . . . and the book has never been returned. Most annoying!

And finally, it should be noted, that with such a tiresome litany of petty annoyances, one is perhaps, when all is said and done, quite annoying to oneself.

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Monarch Roost

There is a feeling of relief when the humid torpor of summer breaks like a large egg being cracked open and the sunny gold yolk of fall weather ripples out like cold, sweet honey. The breeze is delicious, raising the tiny hairs on one’s forearms — causing refreshing, shivery goosebumps, and making one feel alive again. The rocking-chair squeak of cricket song becomes more urgent throughout the course of the day, and the rattling wheeze of cicadas throb in great waves of sound all evening long. The grasshoppers come and spring about on the porch, ricocheting back and forth like super balls, powered by the elastic, rubbery-muscled thighs of their massive, black-ribboned legs. One finally begins to sleep easier at night, freed from the stifling claustrophobia of the heat and the relentless gurgling rumble of the window air conditioners, and it’s nice to have the cats wedge themselves into the triangles of one’s body — under armpit, curled between stomach and thigh, behind the back of the knees — like furry, snoring hot-water bottles. The Monarchs have been surfing the lazy currents of wind like bright orange hang-gliders, and occasionally come to rest in the front-yard tree, where they can sometimes be mistaken, when their wings are folded, for orange-yellow leaves (the first few just now starting to turn). There is supposed to be a tree on Willow Street, and C. says that it might be this very same tree, where the monarchs roost before they migrate, and if they are startled, will rise in an epiphanic and brilliant conflagration of orange fluttering. I have my heart set on its being this tree. I can think of nothing that I’d like better.

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On Domestic Tasks

Cooking is only fun when it’s purely recreational. It is sometimes pleasurable to play at making exotic, frivolous dishes such as Coq au Vin, Roast Duckling, Tiramisu, or Trifle. The obligatory day-to-day preparation of foodstuffs, however, is really quite tedious. One finds oneself obsessively fixating on a particular food such as frozen winter squash, or steamed artichokes, or Praline Pecan ice cream and simply eating it day after day (after day) in order to simplify the whole feeding process, until one becomes sick to death of it, and must figure out another solution to the Food Problem. Such as eating a giant waffle for dinner at 10:30 p.m. and being rather unsure if one is Pleased With Self or Hugely Disgusted With Self.

Washing dishes can be highly satisfying. It doesn’t take too long, doesn’t involve vile or toxic-smelling cleaning products — in fact, there is something quite pleasing about the scent of green apple dish detergent — and one can simply daydream, or listen to the Indigo Girls, while washing. There is a sense of accomplishment when all the dishes are stacked up in the dishrack, the counters have been wiped clean, and the kitchen seems tangibly improved and brought to order.

Scrubbing the toilet is misery. One suddenly becomes cognizant of germs and bacteria seething and teeming about in unpleasant ways (whereas one had lived in a state of blissful denial before) and therefore ends up with a paranoid, unclean feeling. Toilet-bowl-cleaning products always smell so nose-hair-scaldingly toxic that one is surely convinced that brain cells are being killed off in the service of a sparkly bowl, and of course the bathroom door must remain shut throughout the duration — increasing the likelihood of brain damage — so the cats don’t poison themselves by inadvertently drinking out of the toilet bowl, as they are so wont to do.

One never really craves vacuuming — because it always feels like a bit of an ordeal — so one ends up procrastinating until dust, debris, and furballs become manifestly visible. However, there is always a highly gratifying Cosmo Makeover feeling after vacuuming — a marked sense of substantive difference between Before and After — so that, in the end, even though one might have felt grumpy about having to vacuum, one can inevitably feel pleased with oneself afterwards.

Taking out the trash can be a pain in the ass, particularly in inclement weather, or if one has unfortunately purchased substandardly reliable garbage bags, yet it is always nonetheless deeply satisfying — it’s so symbolically cleansing and psychologically resonant, how could it not be?

One always feels virtuous after watering the plants — particularly if they have started to look a bit despondently wilted and pinched about the edges of their leaves — because several hours after watering, they start to perk up and appear miraculously more fleshier, hale, and robust. It is unspeakably annoying, however, when water comes dripping or cascading out of the bottom of the hanging basket planters, even when one thought one had been very careful to only water just the right amount.

Dusting is a fucking bore.

Mopping is really too dull to contemplate — and, after all, one finds that it is frequently difficult to ascertain what is dirt, and what is just worn-out linoleum, — thus rendering it a rather pointlessly frustrating endeavor.

Laundry is perhaps the most odious of all domestic chores, particularly when one has to schlep all of one’s laundry over to the laundromat. The act of laundry itself is not all that terrible — folding the clean-smelling clothes, towels, and sheets while they are still warm from the dryer is, for example, not altogether unpleasant. It’s the schepping of the laundry, however, that one finds hopelessly onerous — not to mention all of that grotesque flinging about of one’s underwear in public. Really, it is just too despicable for words!

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Words That Are Pleasing To Say Out Loud

bricolagen. (1) the process of making or assembling something from various materials at hand (2) something so made

persimmonn. (1) any of a genus (Diospyros) of trees of the ebony family with white, cup-shaped flowers, hard wood, and yellow or orange-red, plumlike fruit (2) the fruit, sour and astringent when green, but sweet and edible when thoroughly ripe

absinthen. (1) wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) or its essence (2) (a) a green, bitter, toxic liqueur made with wormwood oil and anise: now illegal in most countries (b) a similar drink, as anis or pastis, made with a wormwood sbustitute — absinthism n. a diseased condition caused by drinking too much absinthe

crepuscularadj. (1) of or like twilight; dim (2) active at twilight or just before sunrise (crepuscular insects)

tumescencen. to swell up, inceptive of tumere, to swell: see TUMOR (1) a swelling; distention (2) a swollen or distended part — tumescent adj.

susurrusn. a whispering, murmuring, or rustling sound

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Let Me Put My Nose Up Your Nose

It is very disruptive when a Certain Cat wakes one up in the middle of the night by poking one in the face with her exceedingly pokey claws, or by simply kneading on one’s face outright while trying to chew on one’s ear, all the while purring in a very self-satisfied way. Or sometimes this same cat drinks out of the aquarium with big, noisy, slurpy gulps — as if one never bothered to put out fresh Brita-filtered water for her every day in the water dish — so that she must resort to drinking water flavored with capers of fish poop because she is so thirsty, after which she then comes and stomps all over one’s pillow with her suspiciously damp paws. Or sometimes she stands over one’s head, peering at one in a slightly intent but cross-eyed way, and then sniffs one’s eyelids, then one’s mouth, with tickling whiskers that make one want to sneeze, and finally decides to enthusiastically shove her cold, damp snout up one’s nostril. I mean, what is that? I love you so much I’ve absolutely got to stick my nose up your nose?? But sometimes she tucks herself up in a soft ball under one’s chin, with a paw resting in the palm of one’s hand, or she gently pushes her forehead up against one’s forehead and purrs. And how could that not make one happy?

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