Friday, December 30, 2016

Flash Blog

  I've missed out on a whole genre of literature called flash fiction. As a former English major, this is embarrassing. According to an interview with David Galef the author of "Brevity (A Flash Fiction Handbook)," these 500-1,000 word stories have been around since 1986 and got a big boost with the internet. This genre of fiction goes back even further with Hemingway's "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." Then there's Aesop and the Bible. In the interview Galef says flash fiction should be visceral, a punch in the gut. He writes about people in trouble or wounded or about to be wounded.
  The interview was conducted by the website Electric Lit. There's stuff on the site about Flash literature, but if you become a member for $5 per month you can read new flash lit every month and submit four of your own works per year. I think they pay a little. While I mull this offer over I'm working on my 2017 submissions. I'm leaning toward the micro side of flash fiction.

"A footprint the size of a tractor tire slowly filled with water. His dog thought they'd be fine if they could get back to LA.
He knew better."

"She had the drop on him, no doubt about it. Perhaps he could distract her with a walk by the lagoon while the eggs cooked."

"He groaned deep within. He had just learned that people had been picking up gold in the streets for years. Literally.
"'Don't worry,' she smiled. 'I know where there's more.'"

"The little devil asked the boss to open the window.
'Why?' was the answer. 'A little smoke never hurt anyone.'"

Monday, December 26, 2016

Kiss Your Cousins

  Geneticists say we're all related. That guy eating roast marmot in Mongolia is at least my and your 50th cousin. "Hey Guyuk! How ya doin'?" It would be a friendlier world if we kept in mind that everyone we meet is a cousin. We tend to be extra nice to cousins, though I do have a cousin, Crazy Louie, who disappeared 30 years ago. No one in the family wants or expects him to show up again, though if he reads this blog he may call home.
  I have a trip to Chicago coming up and plan to meet my cousin Michael Jordan at his downtown steakhouse. I imagine the maître de will ask me if I have a reservation. I'll just ask him to let Michael know his cousin Joe is here. I intend to start wearing one of those "Hi, My Name Is..." tags to save embarrassment. Michael meets lots of new cousins everyday. I don't expect him to remember us all.
"Hey, Joe. how ya doin'," Michael will say. After some getting to know you chat, Michael will ask if I want to meet some of his teammates. Great guy that he is, Mike has offered jobs to any of his teammates who have fallen on hard times which is surprisingly quite a few. "I thought you guys got a great pension," I say. "We do," Mike says, "but it can be turned into ready cash which can disappear pretty quick." The only other Bull besides Mike I can think of is Dennis Rodman. "Is Cousin Dennis available?" Mike hangs his head. "Unfortunately, Dennis made use of the new live video feature on Facebook. Why don't you check back in a few months. Call first."
Mike said they were featuring a Chicago style New York Strip Steak today. "Do you want the 32 or the 48 oz. dinner?"
  I should have asked him for a souvenir before he went back to the kitchen. I'm sure he won't mind if I take a fork. What else are cousins for?


Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Twittings of @jmcdonnell123

  When I first started reading newspapers, my favorite section (after the funnies and sports) was the Editorial Points at the bottom left side of the editorial page of the old Boston globe. Every morning there'd be a neat little collection of ten or twelve zingers. I don't know if one genius was responsible for them all or if everyone lent a hand. It amazed me that they would appear there day after day. I don't know when they disappeared, but they're gone now. I remember only one of them, not for it's brilliance, but because it shocked me. It appeared the day after JFK's assassination. It said, "Our only consolation is that there are at least 50 people capable of running the country today." It probably said "50 men," but I'm going to update it. I  wish one of those people was taking over next month. What shocked me was that it was not foreordained by the Lord that LBJ was necessarily the best person for the job.
  Ennaways, this post is about gnarly thought bombs. Succinctness. Aphorisms, maxims, proverbs, Just Enough Information. When you cut the good ones they bleed. I'm a sucker for books like "Greatest Aphorisms Ever." They are always short books. You can read them through in an hour. They're full of things like, "Some lies are so cunningly told, only a fool would not believe them." That's a French one  I believe.
   I never thought I'd be an aphorist myself, but I am. When my excellent friend Mr. Steve Reynolds and I started The Raven twenty years ago (he and Jackie now do 99% of the work) it came out monthly. There was endless white space to fill. That's when my proverbial self surfaced. These things always arise from the fog of thought. They're as unpresentable at first as a newborn child. It took weeks to work up my first one: "Three views of knowledge: LaoTzu- 'He who knows does not speak.' Montaigne- 'What can I know?' Sergeant Shultz- 'I know nothing!'"  Because it feels so good to produce an original thought, I didn't care what anyone else thought. It was my baby and I loved it.
  After that first one, they started gushing out. One of the old time local papers, The Badger Rustler  used to have a section called Squibs From the Township. A squib is a tiny firecracker so I adopted that heading for my squibs in The Raven. I am proudest of the one that my mother said she liked: "Rhetoric is the Greek word for b.s." That has the virtue of brevity and does not require footnotes like the above crack.
  But sadly, as the Raven became more elaborate, production slowed and without a deadline, the squibs dried up. The one bright spot for me from the recent election is that it reignited my aphoristic fire. The upcoming head of the free world uses and abuses Twitter. I have a Twitter account. I would start plugging away as a counterweight to the looming nightmare.
  Yes I've had a Twitter account since 2009. I don't understand how Twitter works. I could get one of those Dummies books but they tend to confuse me even more. Between 2009 and the election I had 13 mostly fumbling tweets. I'm up to 90 now. I used to have five followers (all as moribound as myself) now I have 14, two of whom actually read my tweets. I can tell because they "like" some of them. I'm at the same stage I was at in my early Facebook days. I had a handful of friends but my page was dead. By posting occasionally, I got more friends and now the page is so busy I have Teresa curate it for me.
  Maybe the same thing will happen with Twitter. I tweet almost daily, but it's lonely. How do I get to the point that I no longer have time to look at it anymore? Baby pics helped my FB page take off, but I don't think that will work on Twitter.
Here are some of my best.

Political ones first:

My sin was taking him for a grotesque clown. My penance is to be determined.
I scorned his reality show, but I'll be a rapt watcher of the real show.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Let Toby Do It

  There's a character named Uncle Toby in the novel Tristram Shandy who every morning for forty years vows he will oil the squeaky door latch sometime that day, but he never does. I like this novel because it's pretty much one big digression and I love digressions, tangents, TMI, etc. I also like Uncle Toby because he proves there are worse procrastinators than myself in the world.
  Putting things off till tomorrow is definitely a problem that can cause missed flights and other heartaches. The best explanation for procrastination I've found is that we're more like a parliament squabbling over policy than a king issuing edicts. I find this comforting because I can blame the Tories for dragging us to perdition.
  There's a latch in my own life that needs attention. It doesn't squeak, rather it jams. It's the latch on our wood stove, the wonderful Jøtul model 118. My only complaint about this stove is that the bolt that holds the door latch gradually backs out. Eventually the latch gets so loose it slips off the lip that it sits on when the door is open and ends up hanging vertically from the bolt. Not a major problem except that when you lift the latch up, the bolt screws into the door and you can't get the latch past the lip. The bolt is too hot to back off with your fingers and now the fire starts to rage as you rush for a screwdriver to back out the bolt so you can latch the door. Then you screw the bolt back in to it's original position and you're good for a week or so.
 The obvious solution is to screw a nut onto the bolt inside the door and clinch it in place so it can't back out. I should just go get the nut, but some back bencher in my parliament always finds a reason something can't be done. "You're going to have to bring the bolt to the hardware store to get the correct size nut," he said. "This is a very special bolt, probably made in a little factory up a Norwegian fjord. There's a good chance you'll lose the bolt and it could be six months before you can get a replacement. Meanwhile, no fires." Another member chimed in: "There does not appear to be enough clearance between the bolt and the inner lip of the door for you to get a nut on the bolt. Why not try Loctite?"  Hmmmm. Loctite is a threadlocking adhesive mechanics use in high vibration areas to prevent nuts and bolts from coming loose. You can supposedly still get the nut off if you need to. Heat will burn off the Loctite so there are three grades: Don't Waste Your Money, Should Be About Right, and This Baby's Never Coming Off. I should have gone with the last one and been done with it, but I'm always second-guessing myself. What if I don't get the bolt adjusted just right, or suppose I need to remove the bolt for some unlikely reason; so I got Loctite number two. And it worked like a charm for about two weeks. I tried a heavier application and got 16 days.
  I could be like Uncle Toby and live with it, but I was determined to one-up him even if he is just a character in a book. Getting the nut was an adventure in itself but I won't bore you with details. A socket wrench would have been best to tighten the nut but I perceived there was not enough room for a socket so I used pliers. This worked about as well as Loctite, maybe a bit worse. By a narrow vote parliament ordered me to go get the socket wrench. There was enough room after all. I got that nut really tight: Three weeks and counting.

Mission accomplished.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

On the Eighth Day Before Christmas

  When you go to a town like Roseau, MN pop. 2627, you run in to lots of people you've met over the 40 years you've lived here. About a week after Thanksgiving these acquaintances start wishing you a Merry Christmas, however they usually phrase it, "If I don't see you, Merry Christmas."
  I wondered at exactly what point they would simply say "Merry Christmas." Well today, December 18th, an acquaintance stopped at our café table to exchange pleasantries. His family had already headed for the car. He held up his key and said, "They'll wait for me," and then he wished us a simple Merry Christmas. So there you go. Eight days before Christmas is close enough for people not to worry about whether they'll see you again. And for the most part, they wouldn't miss you if they didn't. Ever. Though they might come to your see their many acquaintances.

The present, my friend, the present.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Barracks Life, 1970-1

  I've been getting GIFs from friends lately. GIFs are those little two second videos that keep repeating endlessly. Yesterday I got a sparkly wreath. Today it was a set of hands pouring stars into another set of hands which pass the stars to a third set, or is it just to the first set again?
  Ennaways that GIF reminded me of an incident from my Navy days involving a lava lamp and five shipmates. I was never on a ship during my four year hitch, but I still consider my fellow tars as shipmates. One of my fellow shellbacks received a lava lamp from his mother to add a bit of charm to his barren barracks cubicle.  There were two double bunk beds in each cubicle, but there were enough cubicles so that only two swabbies had to share a cubicle. Almost everyone slept on the bottom berth and hung a sheet from the upper to provide a bit of privacy, though a sheet did not protect you from the idiotic dj blaring from your neighbor's wireless at six a.m.
  Back to the lava lamp. Most lava lamps had a lightbulb in them. Jim's device however sat on a heating element and once it got warmed up, you could remove it from its base and if you were foolish, you would allow your fellow sea dogs to pass the cylinder from hand to hand as they stood in a circle. These lamps contained colored oils and it was hypnotic how the colors mixed and unmixed as we passed the tube around and around until we got very very sleepy and  someone let the cylinder fall from his hands. One of the bluejackets was of Hispanic origin and he said either ¡Ai Caramba! or ¡Ai Chihuahua! I can't remember which. It was a slimy mess either way. Amazing how the magic can rush out of a thing so quickly. Jim was kind of a crazy guy and eventfully received a discharge for mental health reasons. I hope the loss of his lava lamp had nothing to do with his breakdown, for Jim was a fine circumnavigator.

Thursday, December 15, 2016


(Click on image, please)

  I've been looking at this painting, "Fog Warning" by Winslow Homer, for sixty years. My father bought it (just a print, not the original) at the Woolworths  in Roslindale, Mass. and hung it in the front hall. My mother didn't like it there so it went to my room in the attic. I can understand my mother's attitude. She didn't love boats or the sea and this is kind of a scary image. The lone fisherman has had a successful day and is ready to go home, but his home seems to be sailing away from him. Also a huge fog bank is moving in. The guy looks to be in trouble.
  I asked my father about this and he said everything would probably be fine. The fisherman was in one of several dories that had been dropped off earlier to set a trawl of hooks (see keg).  They were after cod, haddock, or in this case, "just for the halibut." as my father could not resist saying. The schooner off in the distance was making a circle, picking up dories as she went. Yes that fog bank is worrisome but chances are good the fisherman will be picked up so he can spend the next few hours gutting and icing down the catch.
  I took the painting with me to college, but not into the Navy. That would have been overkill. After the service I lived for a year with my parents. The painting was on the wall of my bedroom. I left it hanging  there when I got married, but eventually got permission to move it to Minnesota. It sat in storage till we built the Shêdeau where it now hangs in the workroom/art gallery/storage area. I should touch up the frame but I doubt I will.
  While thinking about this blog, I looked up "Fog Warning" on the Internet. There's a three minute YouTube video in which a man and woman analyze the work. They paint the fisherman as a goner. In the comments section people argue about whether he's rowing vainly after the schooner or if the boat is coming back to pick him up. "He should row to land," someone says. I wanted to stick my oar in and say "land is 90 miles away," but what's the use? At least no one suggested he call an Uber. Even the Museum of Fine Arts which owns the painting says on it's website that he's trying to row to the schooner. Am I going to believe some museum flunky who's never seen his life pass before his eyes or am I going to go with my father? There's a no-brainer for you.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Luther Was Here

  Luther was like a guy walking across a dam who notices a bunch of other guys digging away at the bottom of the dam. He yells at them to quit but they keep digging, even throwing things at him. The dam breaks, people are killed, and Luther himself is washed up into a little backwater where he spends the rest of his life railing against dam busters. But it's too late. In fact Luther sees things are better with the dam gone and rails against those who try to rebuild the dam.
  My analogy is as leaky as an old dam, but it was inspired by our visit to the Luther exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. In 1517 Luther got upset with the selling of indulgences.  He wrote up 95 theses or debating points and nailed them, so the story goes, to a church door. He just wanted to have a discussion, but all hell broke loose, lots of people got killed in wars and the world got changed.
  So all the places in Germany that have Luther artifacts planned to put them in storage while they spiffed up their venues before the hordes arrived next year. Minneapolis has Lutheran hordes of its own and got the idea to borrow the artifacts for a show this winter.
  Teresa and I got tickets from our good friend Carole Wilson. She's a high-echelon member. They let a new group of visitors in every 15 minutes to keep the flow moving. Even so, the place was packed. A clump of people listening to a guide would be blocking one passageway while the other route was full of Slow Moving Lutherans, many with walkers. It would take all day to examine everything in the exhibit. I focused on the more outstanding items.
  Luther's pulpit is there. He preached his last sermon there in which he told the congregation he didn't feel so well, then went home and died. He was only sixty-two.

Luther said praying to saints was useless, but he allowed the painting of the Blessed Virgin to remain on his pulpit. He had a healthy respect for women.

  There were several items from Luther's home. His kitchen table was full of deep gouges. Luther had said that the relics of saints were worthless, but until his table was moved to a museum in the early twentieth century, pilgrims felt it couldn't hurt to have a souvenir splinter from the great man's furniture.  Peter the Great toured Luther's home in the 1700's. People used chalk for graffiti in those days and Peter wrote his name in Russian on the door. Everyone else's name but his has been erased. In fact people traced over his name making it extra fat.

  My favorite item was a curved chunk of metal: one of the handles from Luther's coffin. It seems that back in the late 1800's a couple of the caretakers in the church where Luther was buried were sitting around drinking beer and talking about the old days. During one the wars after Luther's death the Catholic army was approaching. People thought if the Catholics ever took the town they'd dig Luther up and desecrate his grave. The rumor was that his body had been moved to a secret place. The caretakers decided to dig Luther up and check. Sure enough there he was. Dawn was breaking as they got everything back the way it was when, "Gott in Himmel, Hansie, ve forgot to put back one of der handles!"
  The exhibit had many antique bibles and all kinds of moth eaten vestments, but give me an artifact from an old Two Stooges show any day.