Monthly Archives: September 2015

Happy hour

Dreamed last night that I was given an assignment, evidently at school, to write something about happy hour. Maybe the assignment was conveyed to me by a classmate and I lost something in translation, because I had to ask, in class, whether everyone had to write about the same scene or situation. I think the answer was yes, and so I was redirected toward a more neutral scene, perhaps having nothing to do with happy hour.

Mom and Fred
Mom, Mary Zeck, and her younger brother Fred Curtis, back in the happy day and happy hour.

But this idea, and phrase, has deep meaning for me (is cathected, in psychoanalytical language, the way “our song” may be cathected for a happy couple, or a once happy couple, who upon hearing the song wax rhapsodic or nostalgic about everything it means to them. In my family, happy hour was the time from four to six, or five to six, in which we sat down together, as adults, Mom and Dad and the kids, sharing a few drinks and telling family stories.

“Happy hour” is also a reminder that our time on earth is short and our time to be happy as fleeting as the hours. Life is our happy hour, the only hour we have to be happy, and if we miss out on it then we miss life.

Perhaps, I’m thinking, this assignment to write about happy hour is from the ego itself. If I, in my brief life, as brief as yours, am to fulfill the mystery of why I’m here, I must write about happy hour. About my family, that is, and my place in it. About the pleasure of sharing drinks and stories (see entry above about the kinds of stories we told). About the fragility of these times together.

Happy hour. The briefest of hours. The most pleasurable too. It will not last, unless you grasp and form it in memory, or recollection. Unless you write it down, where others too may share its magical and transient charms. This happy hour begs to be a drama, that is, a play. No matter that I’ve written poetry and fiction but not drama. The genre is of no moment, and all moments. And don’t I have plenty of play left in me still?

The burden of a name

In Atlanta recently visiting my wife’s family and a nephew and niece of my own, I encountered a waitress named Tristan at a sandwich shop.

Tristan! I exclaimed. How did you, young lady, get a name like Tristan?

Well, she explained — a chubby, blond early-twenty-something — my mom saw Brad Pitt in a movie and his character was named Tristan.

Pitt as Tristan
Brad Pitt, as Tristan Ludlow, in Legends of the Fall (1994).

Certainly, Pitt starred in 1994 in Legends of the Fall, where his character sports the name Tristan Ludlow. He is one of three brothers who grow up, in early-20th-century Montana under a father who detests the government and its wars. The youngest brother brings home his fiancee, and the others fall in love with her. One not very helpful user review, at the Internet Movie Database suggests that Tristan is “A guy who does the frickle frack with the lady they kiss and stuff.”

Apart from the grammatical and analytical deficits of this demotic characterization, the movie does involve themes of loyalty and betrayal, which are what the first famous Tristan had to contend with. In Arthurian legend, the knight Tristan is the nephew of King Mark of Cornwell, charged with bringing home to his uncle as bride-to-be the beautiful Iseult from Ireland. In transport, however, a magic potion makes Tristan and Iseult fall in love. Their scandalous affair sets up tragedy, as surely in the Arthurian original as in the Wagnerian opera based on it, or the Brad Pitt movie, for that matter.

If you believe, as I do, that a name carries with it certain suggestions, even burdens, then naming a girl Tristan is a heavy load for the girl to carry. Should she grow up to act more like a man than a woman, whatever that means? Be dashing, passionate, and adulterous? Be in thrall to a Hollywood role or pop-culture expectations?

Of course, it’s our parents who name us, and they may have in mind, in naming, ideas or ideals or feelings that will not be our own. (If they don’t merely admire the sound and shape of the name, its heft, its euphony.)

In any case, my name, Gregory, is from the Greek, meaning a watchful person or guardian. The name James comes from Hebrew Yaakov, or Jacob, meaning “at the heel,” since in Genesis Jacob is born immediately after his twin brother Esau, with his hand holding Esau’s heel. My wife’s name, Jennifer, comes from the Gaelic, and it means the fair one: the fair one that, again in Arthurian legend,  betrays King Arthur when she takes Lancelot as a lover.

Not to make too much of names or naming, but don’t we wear names as we would wear a coat or mantle? Don’t they cover us, like suggestion, and speak to us as if propelling to a certain end? We needn’t take them literally, of course, if we take them, consciously, at all, but when Jennifer and I named our son Gabriel, or man of God, from the Hebrew, didn’t we wish to usher him along a path of glory? Certainly, not a path of shame. Certainly, not a path trod by Hollywood stars.

(For quick ideas about the meaning of names, see baby-naming sources like

We’re all crazy

crazy-girlTold a friend at the gym yesterday one of the crazy family tales I’ve recounted here (doesn’t matter which one), and he just shook his head, laughing, and said we’re all of us crazy.

Used to be, in the old days, I reflected, we sent the really crazy family members to the far corners of the compound. They could rattle all day in their chains, and still be fed and occasionally humored and talked to.

Nowadays, my friend was suggesting, everybody is crazy, and they’re all loose in the asylum. They’re not confined to the far reaches, either. You can run into them just about any hour of the day, and they’ll be in your face and roaring in your ear.

In Eureka Springs, this last weekend, at our hotel, a man took from the trunk of his black Mercedes an AR-15 and fondled it, caressed it as a lover would his beloved (my son Gabe told me this story). Glad I wasn’t there. I would’ve opened my big, anti-NRA mouth and got in trouble. Let boys be boys, hey, and fondle their automatic weapons.

In Fayetteville, we just had a human rights ordinance pass, designed to protect LGBT rights, and the losing side, religious nuts and allies, sued the city. Not only poor losers, but unwilling and unable to accept the rising secular tide of fairness for all. It’s all about them, of course, and that millennia-old book of perversions and persecutions called the bible.

Also in Northwest Arkansas, a young man  charged with murdering a jogger said he thought that shooting him, as he ran along a path, would make him (the shooter) feel better. Evidently, it did not.

Of course, it’s not just the crazy family members that we love to tell stories about, and keep in their place, if we can, in the far corners of the compound or the mind. It’s every other living, stretching, talking, gawking, fame-seeking human being on the planet.

Don’t tell me the next time someone shoots up the neighborhood that he was always so kind and helpful, always so quiet. Of course he was, the crazy fucker, he was hiding it all so that when he broke out, fearfully and violently, into the open, his insanity would be all the more spectacular and effective.

We live with insanity daily, and some of it is our own.




Stanky Legg

Stanky Legg
Thanks (I guess) to the GS Boyz for their rousing performance of “Stanky Legg.”

No, they didn’t perform that one when I was in Catholic school. They didn’t twerk to that one back in the day. This morning, at the start of the day, I attended a school convocation at Happy Hollow Elementary School, where my granddaughter Ruby is enrolled in second grade. We thought she’d be dancing for this gig; she might have thought so and so communicated to Gabe and Heidi, her parents. But, no, she sat in the middle of a sea of kids on the floor of the cafeteria, gyring a bit, while up on stage a select group of maybe six or eight skinny kids twitched and jerked to Stanky Legg.

By god, I feel cheated by the good priests and nuns back in Catholic school (St Peter’s, then St Dick’s: no comment). They taught us the Latin hymns, by god. We could do a mean rendition of Tantum Ergo Sacramentum, but we didn’t shake our asses to that one. And how about the Kyrie and Gloria of the mass? The mass was all Latin, in those faraway days, and attendance was all decorum.

I guess they think these days that shaking your stanky leg will loosen you up, blast away your inhibitions, and ready you for the school day.

Maybe it did make the kids more attentive to the propaganda that followed: the Pledge of Allegiance, the class pledge, the pep talk about recycling. And for the work of the classroom. I can’t vouch, directly, for the effect. Just know that shaking one’s leg (legg), stanky (skanky) or otherwise, makes some sense.

A friend who teaches at the University of Arkansas told me yesterday he’s doing some tag-team teaching this year in a class where the kids get to click a remote device to answer or maybe ask questions. This makes sense. They have something in their hands, palpable, pushable, with which to participate, instead of merely sitting on their asses and thinking idle thoughts (hmmm, what’s for lunch, yo where can I get me some pussy).

In the same way, I once had tremendous luck, teaching, when I threw around a small rubber ball to anyone with his or her hand up. Boy, did I get participation that day.

Whatever the dubious merits of “Stanky Legg” in itself (it’s way passé by now, boyz, don’t you know, trashed soon after it appeared in 2009, I see online, by many connoisseurs of the sewers of pop music), shaking your leg, or your bottom, or your finger, before class, or work, may have tremendous salubrious effects. You gotta remember, brothers, sisters, you are creatures of flesh and blood and spirit and intellect, and how to separate and appropriate them? You can’t do it, any more than you can separate Humpty Dumpty’s parts, post-fall. You certainly can’t do it by setting people down and nailing ’em to their desks.



Centenarian stories

On 5 September 2015 my mother would have been 100 years old had she been living. Unfortunately for her sake, and ours, she died about 24 years ago at the age of 76 . We have dearly missed Mother, genius as she was of the happy hour, when we would gather, parents and children, and tell happy stories of the old days. In our telling, that is, the days were happy, or the telling was happy, even while telling of struggles and dissension. The tales that Mom loved especially were about her struggles with Grandpa, her husband’s father. Old Grandpa Tony was what my dad called “old school,” meaning that he had very fixed ideas about behavior proper to men and women among other things. And my mother’s behavior did not fit in with Grandpa’s idea of what a woman should be like and what she should act like. My mother’s smoking, especially, enraged Grandpa. He would fume, not with cigarette smoke but with his Yosemite Sam temper, about Mother’s smoking. He would mutter, only half under his breath, so that everyone could hear, including Mother, unflattering things about “that woman and her smoking!”

With such stories we would regale each other, reinforcing types  and stereotypes of the dramatis personae of our family. Yes , in our telling, Grandpa was either an old-school tyrant or villain, on the one hand, or a clown, on the other, whose behavior was so rustic and so boorish that all you could do was laugh at it, especially these many years later.

The clown stories included episodes of Grandfather’s cheapness. He was so cheap, or tight, that he saved everything, for reuse, from newspapers to old bottles to plastic bags. He and Grandma Gertie, children of the old school and the depression, were fervent early recyclers not for the sake of the environment but their pocketbook.

The most comical story, could be, was told by my brother-in-law Russell Murphy. When Russ and my sister Barbara were first married and had several small children and lived in the suburb of Richfield , Grandpa called them excitedly one night saying, “Hurry! Hurry! You must get here before they come!” Before who come? Russ wondered. But he and Barbara and all the kids piled in the car and trundled up to northeast Minneapolis, a half hour or so away, the Polish part of Minneapolis where Grandpa lived. As soon as they pulled up to the curb, Grandpa ran out calling excitedly, “Hurry! Hurry! They’re coming!” And when Russ asked, “Who are coming?,” Grandpa merely repeated, “Hurry! Hurry!” and took them through the frontyard and then the backyard to the alley, where the noise of the garbage truck was approaching. “Hurry! Hurry!” Grandpa repeated.

What they were hurrying for, It turns out, Is the loads of windfall apples under the trees on both sides of the alley. “Hurry!” Grandpa panted. “Or they’ll be gone!” For he knew a good deal when he saw it, son of the depression, grandson of desperation, and his zeitgeist was not in accord with that that of the booming ’50s and ’60s. When Russ and Barb got home with their apples, they discovered a dubious windfall — most of the fruit at least half rotten, much of it needing to be thrown away. For all their labor, both coming and going, gathering and preparing, they ended up with a measly few bottles of apple sauce or preserves.

The old immigrant America, quaking in its impecunious boots, desperate for a few free chances, vs. the booming native sons and daughters, with their spendthrift and profligate ways. C’est la vie, non? Here today, gone tomorrow. And no one was starving.

We would tell these stories, as I say, and laugh uproariously. The distance between them and us! The distance of time, place, and point of view! The hilarity of their rustic desperation!

Of course, the day would come, and has, when our heirs would laugh their tails off telling tales, tall and short, about our eccentricities and peccadilloes. How frightened we were and shrunken! How afraid of every shadow that blew!  Now that they knew what was what, and what was not, they could settle back to their drinks, their food, chewing the fat of this generous land and worrying no storytelling bones.

Time, time, time

Went to the doctor’s the other morning for the first time in a year and a half. Medicare allows an annual “wellness” exam, a run-through of the basic physiological systems, and I was scheduled for 8 am. As usual, though I had a very early appointment, I had to wait. It helped to have my Kindle with me, so I could read and so while away the time. (Mostly I read the Washington Post, all sorts of timely articles about the concerns of the day or, more accurately, the horrors of the day — the murders, the wars, the political nastiness.) But as the wait increased, 20 minutes, 30, 40, and so on, I got increasingly impatient. By 60 minutes, I was ready to bolt. In fact, I’d gotten up and was near the door when I heard my name called.

I was still simmering and told the assistant, who was taking vital signs, of my discontent. “We’re doing the best we can,” he kept saying. Your best, I thought, is not nearly good enough. I sat there, the steam rising, as it does from the head of Yosemite Sam in the cartoons, and slowly simmered down.

A nurse came, then, to draw blood and, at last, the doctor. We talked a bit, and he looked at my mouth, ears, and chest, then went out to get instruments to drain fluid from a swollen bursa. When he returned and started the procedure, first giving an anesthetic, then putting a syringe into the elbow and draining a good amount of yellow fluid, I asked if he didn’t wear a watch. (He was wearing none.)

Why do you ask? he said. Because I’m late?

Just curious, I responded.

I used to wear one, the doctor replied, but it simply got in the way. I do so many things with my hands all day that I stopped wearing the watch. I simply work all day till the work is done.

What a marvelous formula: he simply works till the work is done! Time dissolves for him, not because he’s “in a zone,” necessarily, seeing and hitting everything in sight, like a baseball hitter may be, but because in serving his patients he does everything he can, all day, till what he can do is done.

Dr B is a good doctor, voted top family physician in Fayetteville, in fact, in a recent poll. He’s kindly, humorous, concerned, and thorough — just terribly late at times. Times that may matter to some of us a hell of a lot more than they matter to him. For to the good doctor, time is not an important matter but an artificial construct that may steam his impatient patients … but streams over him like so many sparkles in the sun.

Little Debbie

Yesterday voted early, in the affirmative, for a human rights ordinance in Fayetteville giving LGBT people the same rights against discrimination, in jobs and public places, that the rest of us are said to enjoy.

The forces in the negative have spread fears about transgender people besieging women and girls in public restrooms.

These fearmongers, I fear, are reacting largely on the basis of their own hysteria about sexuality — its depth, its power, its variety. They are on the straight and narrow, affirmatively straight and narrow, and will not venture off the road on which they’ve trod and been instructed. (They’ve read the manual on straight relations, and are glad to be straight, rigid, erect on a matter of such all-consuming and unthinking importance.)

civil rights ordinance
Alderwoman Adella Gray introduces a proposed civil rights ordinance on the steps of the Fayetteville Town Center.

So it was strange, my eyesight was strained, my belief systems strained, too, challenged, you might say, when after last night’s bike ride with the Meetup group, we repaired to JJ’s, a sports bar on the west side of town, where the hamburgers are thick and the young waitresses too, thick and delicious, and I visited the men’s restroom not to rest but you know what. And what to my wondering eyes should appear, as if produced by magic or hysteria, but a man named Little Debbie!

I swear, his shirt said Little Debbie on the pocket, and I thought it a strange and surpassing wondrous thing that a man would go about with a name like that emblazoned on his shirt pocket and puffed up proudly. Now he didn’t try anything, understand, or get fresh with me, and I assume it was a he because he sure looked that way despite the name.

It was the aura of uncertainty that unnerved me. In the climate of uncertainty about sexuality, in this voting season, which is the same climate of uncertainty we enjoy year round, that man with a woman’s name spooked me.

Who knows what he might have been doing in the can? Just peeing and washing his hands? Are you sure? Do you know for sure?

Who knows anything about this knotted question, this sex thing? Whether we’re 14, or 34, or 64, who knows? Even in this greatest of all countries that ever existed, by jingo, where Little Debbie is free to come and go as he pleases, where Lil Wayne and Miley Cyrus twerk and jerk out what the rest of us are not allowed, where God is in his heaven and all’s right with the USA, where Donald Trump denounces immigrant rapists and killers, I have to confess that after all these years, said to be in the upper 60s, by the gods, I know next to nothing about sexuality. And thus would like to invoke, here and now, the same freedoms that we’re voting on for LGBT folks.

Don’t tread on me, you see, and my sexuality.


Last ball game of the year

Arvest Ballpark
Arvest Ballpark, the Naturals’ home field, in Springdale, Arkansas.

Last night went to my third Northwest Arkansas Naturals’ ball game of the year, for the second time with friend Russell. His wife and mine both abhor baseball, or are bored to death with it, and like to see us go out and not get into too much mischief. (Hanging on the street corner, for example, with switchblades or guns.)

Another lovely evening, though awfully still. Until about the fifth inning there was hardly a breath of air. The flags hung limply on their center field poles, though the fans’ hopes quickened in the bottom of the first when the Naturals scored two runs to take the lead 2-1.

The final score was 7-4, Naturals, the highlight being a sixth-inning two-run homer by our catcher that hit the foul pole in left field. The home plate umpire ruled the ball foul at first, but was overridden or dissuaded by the other two umps … and the Naturals’ manager, who came charging out of the dugout at the call.

Russell and I didn’t keep score. (How many do these days?) Our eyes loped along, from our excellent perch behind home plate, taking in the slow and then quick spectacle. Our mouths took in beer as an antidote to the stillness of the air and the sometime slowness of the game.

In fact, though R’s wife Diane had fed us before the game, at their usual happy hour in the driveway (wine, beer, and in this case a gigantic pie, with sausage and spinach — a quiche on steroids), we snacked too during the game. R ordered nachos, and I thieved a bag of peanuts from under the seat of the fans just in front of us. (Well, hey, the bag was just lying there even before the game. When I saw four fans file back into their seats, I dropped the bag under the seats again; but no one touched it for five innings, so I grabbed it again and R and I gobbled a goodly number of goobers, scattering the shells around us.)

I had to leave two innings before the end to pick up another friend at the airport. But I entrusted Russ with the victory, and like a good reliever this fine guy and admirable baseball fan came through.

Three games attended this year, as I say, and three glorious victories!

Ho hum. What to do during the off season? How now can we reclaim the fluid rhythms, quick and slow, of life the pastoral?