Frog Catcher

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Free Thought Rant

Nearly every discussion of social, economic or political issues is boring. Most people give speeches, they don’t listen and reflect. Humans are tribal, they form emotional attachments to an ideological clan that comports with their life experience. About 80% of the opinions expressed on TV and radio are regurgitations of implanted scripts.

The only people who can be counted on to think critically are trial lawyers, as they are trained to dissect both sides of any argument. You’ll also find a healthy dose of truth-weighing from the best journalists.

A couple of recent news snippets reminded me of the narrow mindedness of our brothers and sisters:

A FOX Blocker is a device that you can attach to your TV set to filter-out the Fox News channel. This gesture is analogous to an old-fashioned book burning. I am embarrassed for people who are threatened by disagreeable ideas and proud of it.

It’s difficult to resist a bit of smugness when contemplating the phenomena of Walmart Camping . I don’t know about you, but when I read of people who choose to spend their leisure time frolicking in soulless asphault parking lots, I’m tempted to do a little superiority dance. But a far more profoundly stupid class of people has arisen: Walmart Camping Protesters. Ad Hoc committees in Madison and a handful of other cities have formed to fight the scourge of free-loading retirees in RVs. <Sigh>. These lifestyle troopers are a shining example of cultural bigotry, intolerance.

Enough negativity! All is not lost, I have found two great champions of free thought to inspire me. Camille Paglia and Christopher Hitchens are endlessly entertaining, independent-minded commentators. They are my heroes.

Camille Paglia is a college professor and proto-feminist. She’s always been ahead of her time, or at least outside the zeitgeist. She was writing articles about the lack of female participation in NASA back in the early 1960’s. In the 1970’s, when being enlightened meant bemoaning the sexualization of women, Paglia was celebrating female sexuality, advocating health and legal protections for women in the sex industry. In the 1980’s she made enemies attacking the doctrinaire nature of Women’s Studies departments.
Paglia's recent books are guides to literature and the arts. Although she's obviously plenty brainy, her writing is not cerebral, it's accessible, earthy, heart felt. Her tastes and opinions are all over the map, she is consistent only in being fascinating and independent.

If you have a high speed internet connection, you owe it to yourself to hear her first hand:
In Depth
Bringing it all back home
More On Poetry
Paglia will be at Borders West in Madison on April 27.

Christopher Hitchens is a trip. He is the wittiest man on earth, Jon Stewart included. I assume he still considers himself a socialist, but like Paglia, he really isn’t welcome anywhere. When he sets his teeth into somebody, be it Mother Teresa or Henry Kisinger, he hangs on with the tenacity of a pit bull. He’s persona non grata of late among the left for his support of the war in Iraq.

Listen to this brief interview for essence of Hitchens.

I guess Hitchens didn't much care for Passion of the Christ:
" An associate of Mel Gibson's had once told me, in lacerating detail, that an evening with Mel was one long fiesta of boring but graphic jokes about anal sex. I've since had that confirmed by other sources. And, long before he emerged as the spear-carrier for the sort of Catholicism once preached by Gen. Franco and the persecutors of Dreyfus, Mel Gibson attained a brief notoriety for his loud and crude attacks on gays. Now he's become the proud producer of a movie that relies for its effect almost entirely on sadomasochistic male narcissism. The culture of blackshirt and brownshirt pseudomasculinity, as has often been pointed out, depended on some keen shared interests. Among them were massively repressed homoerotic fantasies, a camp interest in military uniforms, an obsession with flogging and a hatred of silky and effeminate Jews. Well, I mean to say, have you seen Mel's movie? ...
Gibson is a coward, a bully, a bigmouth, and a queer-basher. Yes, we have been here before. The word is fascism, in case you are wondering, and we don't have to sit through that movie again."

More Hitchens on
Terry Schiavo
Pope Paul
Ronald Reagan

Friday, April 08, 2005

Bachelor Pad, Part II

Well, now that the bathroom passes city code, the next step is to sprinkle a plant or two about the apartment. Plants balance my world, they’re light, sensitive, tranquil – all qualities that I lack. And perhaps they’ll even generate some oxygen to counteract the radon gas seeping out of these subterranean walls.

I double dare you to find an attractive plant that thrives in low-light conditions. On the internet you’ll be seduced by dozens of beautiful, exotic creatures that are said to tolerate an absence of direct light. But when you confront an honest, battle-tested greenhouse hand, she will concede that these plants look like hell after six low-light months. Once all the teasers are stripped away, you’re left with three options: skunk cabbage, moss, or something called a Chinese Evergreen.

I bought one such pine of the orient. It’s sitting near me now, undistinguished, dutifully photosynthesizing whatever light sneaks around the window air conditioner. It’s alive, alrighty, but the living room is hardly gripped by jungle fever, nothing’s happening here. I’m not going to live like this, I’m ordering one of those plastic-imitation-silk-imitation-plant plants, a big fake palm tree!

It’s tempting to compare my feelings to the liberating swell a woman surely experiences when she finally convinces herself to go for a boob job. But that’s an over-reach, this is a more modest consumer moment. A closer analogy might be to a satisfying purchase made by my eccentric neighbor, Bruce.

Bruce looks and speaks very much like a late period Cary Grant. He is independently wealthy, a great pincher of pennies, and an accomplished scholar of classical literature, linguistics and history. Picture him as a wittier, crabbier version of Seinfeld’s Kramer. Or maybe he is a less witty, less crabby edition of Magnun PI’s Higgins. At any rate, Bruce occupies a two-bedroom garden level apartment identical to my own, except his furnishings are exclusively from Goodwill and St.Vincent DePaul. The only trace of his Boston Beacon Hill roots is seen in the giant zebra skin hanging on his living room wall, a souvenir of an aunt’s visit to the dark continent.

At the end of one afternoon conversation at Casa Bruce, he announced a shopping trip to purchase a large, white, porcelain dog. I thought to myself that such a piece was just odd enough to fit-in with the existing décor, yet a double figure expenditure for a decoration was impossibly uncharacteristic.

“What the hell do you want a porcelain dog for?”, I demanded incredulously.

Bruce responded dryly, “Companionship.”

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Never Again

I will paint no more forever.

My base of operation is a 2-bedroom, garden level apartment. OK, I live in a damn basement, but the place is pleasant enough, and it has served me well for 12 years. My pad would even be presentable to persons of refinement if it weren’t for the disgusting bathroom. Sensing an opportunity, I embarked on a journey of discovery to home improvement stores last weekend and launched a frontal assault on the bathroom embarrassment.

Striking hard with industrial strength acid, a portable grinder and the advice of several hardware sales clerks, the project moved along satisfactorily, if somewhat violently, until I got to the finishing touches. It’s been years since I’ve done any significant painting, as my building offers the services of a professional painter. Charlie is a charming, effusive Vietnam Vet, the sweetest aging hippy left on the planet. About the only negative remark I can make about Charlie is that he is a savage painter.

You might wonder how a career painter could leave blobs of paint on windows and floors, paint-over rust and mold without treatment, leave kitchen cupboards painted shut. Charlie is a specialist. He specializes in lightning fast work, yielding quick makeovers for undemanding, transient serfs. His tight-fisted masters at the property management company would have him offer no more.

Charlie’s history of shoddy work emboldened me to paint the bathroom myself. The grueling labor of removing the underlying uglies would be self-service in any event, and my own carefree style could hardly do more harm than the old pro's. Masking tape? I don’t need no stinking masking tape!

I can’t go on, it would be too mundane to fully chronicle my misadventures. It's grim enough to conclude abruptly with a few bad memories: Painting around fixtures is tedious and tiring. A large, weary man grows ever more oafish, could even tip-over a paint can. Twice. Ruined sandals. Brown rustoleum speckled on and near the toilet looking like you-know-what. Hellish oil paint fumes. The True Value guy insists on two coats plus primer for metal surfaces, a full day of drying between applications. That's three days of fumes. Skin rubbed raw with paint thinner. Paint thinner – ran out in midst of the worst of the messes.

Painting does not suit my nature. Free spirits like Charlie and me can’t be constrained by straight lines and rigidly defined edges. There is no beginning, no end. We were born to spread color everywhere.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Good Friday Surprise

I've been working forever on a short story, based on stranger than fiction situation in My Town.

I thought I was getting somewhere, then I heard some readings from newly buried novelist Saul Bellow. God almighty, real writers have such rhythm.
Anyway, writing fiction is so much harder than being a wise guy. I’m a piker, but that’s to be expected. I'll put the story here soon. Or later.

Thursday, March 10, 2005


Been sifting through the blogs. What a cacophony of everything and nothing, like walking down a crowded city street and hearing everyone's thoughts. I’m afraid people’s inner lives are simply not all that interesting. I've seen the bloggers and the damage done, a little Jean Teasdale in everyone.

(Not you, Ciccy, I don't mind reading about each and every one of your orgasms and spasms. Because I know you and love you. You got courage and poems that inspire, come on baby light my spare tire. )

As for me, I will strive to avoid first person writing. And before I put finger to keyboard, I’ll ask myself the hard question, “What would Jesus do?” JC didn’t tell the throngs about his special feelings for John the Baptist, or detail his trip to Galilee, or complain about his unreliable disciples. Hell no! He worked the multitudes with stories. Stories about lost sheep, hidden treasure, wicked people. And he wasn't afraid to work blue - check out the Parable of the Ten Virgins.

Post-stroke Ben Vereen gamely shuffling through “Razzle Dazzle” shall be my inspiration. (See on Fosse DVD.)

Give ‘em the old razzle dazzle
Razzle dazzle ‘em
Give ‘em an act with lots of flash in it
And the reaction will be passionate
Give ‘em the old hocus pocus
Bead and feather ‘em
How can they see with sequins in their eyes?
Though you are stiffer than a girder
They let you get away with murder
Just razzle dazzle ‘em
And you’ve made romance

Buh bye, keep dancing!

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

had to start somewhere

Your correspondent’s early childhood was spent wandering the woods of Eastern Pennsylvania, daydreaming and stalking small animals. Snakes, toads, salamanders, frogs and especially turtles were my daily obsession. Keeping such critters as pets held no appeal, the thrill was in the hunt, the reward lay in holding a wild creature and discovering its secrets.

Nature books in the public library supplemented all this field work, and one particular photograph changed my world view: A skinny, grinning, grown man in hip waders was shown gripping a giant bullfrog. Although he was formally identified as a “biologist”, I figured he worked as a Frog Catcher, and I was delighted to finally envision a future for myself in the adult world.

I value the time I spent alone in the woods as a kid, maybe the lack of structure and the endless mysteries of nature nurtured my curiosity. And certainly the loneliness made me appreciative of friends.

My childhood triumph came a couple years later when, with the grudging help of my younger brother Dave, we constructed a swimming hole in a small creek. The basics were already in place, we built a dam of shale rocks to deepen the water in a naturally occurring pool. Lord help us, we climbed high into an adjacent tree and flung our naked bodies into that snake-infested pleasure pool. I have no explanation for the dearth of casualties. We kept a stock of fishing line and hooks on hand for a little amusement between dips, taking casual notice of the muskrats, painter turtles and water snakes that would reappear after the trauma of our high altitude plunges.

This Huck Finn existence was not entirely without opportunity for social development, as a handful of country kids came to skinny-dip at our rustic resort. Little dicks were sucked at that swimming hole - as I recall, they sort of tasted like chicken – when Mike Moran demonstrated techniques passed-down from his teenage brothers. God Bless the Collins sisters, whose pubescent bodies and generous spirits surely rescued me from a homosexual life.

The Collins girls brought more than pussy to the party, they also had a pet monkey. I don’t want to over-romanticize that little spider monkey, it was hardly the cute, playful sort seen at zoos. This monkey might more accurately be characterized as an angry grey squirrel. Whether that monkey bit you didn’t depend on the relationship you formed with him, it was strictly a question of opportunity. You didn’t bond with the monkey, it bonded to you, sometimes breaking the skin. Despite the monkey’s disagreeable personality, I fantasized that he was a companion of sorts. He sometimes followed me on my long walks to the swimming hole, swinging up above in the trees, looking and sounding very much like a squirrel. One day that monkey disappeared, and rumor suggested that alcoholic, mean Old Man Collins killed the little guy. Certainly a credible theory, those two were too similar to coexist, and a useful reminder that Mr. Collins must never become aware of my activities with his daughters.

Epilogue: The last I heard, Maureen Collins got pregnant in high school and married an older man. Old Man Collins died, much to the relief of his neighbors and possibly to the family he terrorized. I lost touch with Mike Moran as soon as I was old enough to be creeped-out by his situation. My brother Dave became a wealthy captain of industry, obviously what I interpreted as laziness was just an early hint of his work-smart predilection. I continue to work-dumb, am barely any more focused in my efforts than I was as a woods-wandering nature boy.