Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving From Sippican Cottage And His Spare Heir

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Minor Swing, Swinging Minors -- Whatever You Need, We've Got It

Adrien Moignard

Unorganized Hancock

[Update: Many thanks to Jon B. in Colleyrahdee for his generous hit on the PayPal Tip Jar. It is much appreciated]
[Up-Update: The nicest person in the world, Kathleen M. from Connecticut, is a constant supporter of our children's efforts. Many thanks!]

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Top Ten Recent Headlines From The Rumford Meteor

Do you read the Rumford Meteor? There's no information highway in Maine yet, or the Meteor would certainly qualify as a sketchy rest area on it. For now, it's more like a vital cog in the cog railway of Maine information.

Maine doesn't have the infrastructure for an information highway yet. I don't even know what infrastructure is, truth be told. I'm pretty sure those are infrared lamps hanging over the stainless steel structure they erect between the greasy kitchen and the corral where they keep the greasy teenagers in ill-fitting uniforms at the McDonalds. Maybe it has something to do with that. I have found that the stalwart clerks in paper hats aren't really fonts of information, and are unable to make change, so I'm not sure the correlation holds water. It's something to ponder while you scald your wedding vegetables with their coffee, though. 

At any rate, Jeezum Crow, you can't develop a feeling for the flavor of life in Maine without referring to the Meteor, probably because it's winter ten months out of twelve, and all frozen things taste pretty much the same. You need the Meteor to Mainesplain it to you. Here are my Top Ten recent headlines from The Rumford Meteor:
  1. Livermore Falls Teacher Feels He’s Achieved The Perfect Blend Of Chaotic Visual Distractions And Incomprehensible Seating Arrangements (link)
  2. Center For Maine Contemporary Art Worried That Their New Gallery Might Not Be Ugly Enough (link)
  3. Local Theremin Player Has Reasonable Backstage Demands (link)
  4. Fourth-Generation Trombonist Stood Out Early On The Playground, Because He Couldn’t Swing And Got Stuck On The Slide (link)
  5. Town Planner Didn’t See Calls For His Resignation Coming, Which Explains A Lot (link)
  6. Selectman Can Totally Tell Man With Arms Crossed Ain’t Buying It (link)
  7. York Marijuana Activists Promise To Deliver Petition To Town Clerk Or The First Convenient Store On The Way That Sells Funyuns (link)
  8. Explorers Discover Primitive And Superstitious Tribespeople Who Believe That Dousing Themselves With Water Will Cure Diseases (link)
  9. South Portland Votes To Ban Tar Sands Oil Unless It’s Distributed For Free In Clean Syringes (link)
  10. Jenny McCarthy Reportedly Worried That Ebola Might Give Her Kids More Autism (link)
So remember people, if you want news straight from the seat of Oxford County, read the Rumford Meteor.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Half The People Are Exactly Wrong About The Right Things

The other are exactly right about the wrong things.

And the people in houses
who went to the university,
where they were put in boxes,
And they all came out the same.
There's doctors and lawyers
And business executives,
They're all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same.

And they all play on the golf-course,
And drink their Martini dry,
And they all have pretty children,
And the children go to school.
And the children go to summer camp
And then to the university,
They all get put in boxes
And they all come out the same.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Dirty Dozen Best First Lines In Literature

I Just Read Death of a Salesman, and Boy, Are My Lips Tired

I'm sorry to be the one to break this to you, but you like bad books.

It's not your fault. You're pummeled with bad books in school like some vicious textual version of dodgeball. You're required to read bad books. You couldn't help noticing that bad books are given trophies and medals and their authors sleep on velvet-ticked mattresses stuffed with the souls of good writers and banknotes. You just went with the flow. I hereby absolve you of guilt.

Absolution comes with fine print, you know: Go and sin no more. So knock it off. Stop trying to make Harry Potter happen in adult company. Stop reading books by girls that kill themselves as a career move. And in the name of all that is right and holy, stop publishing lists of the Greatest First Lines in Fiction. And stop starting sentences with and.

In the Beginning, All Books Were Great

First of all, let's go over the greatest first line in any book, ever:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
The Bible

Now, if you got your English degree at UNLV unironically, you're dying to put a comma in there, aren't you? You know more about dependent clauses than Santa's pediatrician, but your instincts are all bad. You know rules, but not enough of them to make you of any use, coming or going, writing or reading. Stop publishing lists.

Of course, The Bible is cheating. If you wear a fedora and call fat girls M'Lady, like to visit bookstores to put the Bible in the fiction section while you're on the way to the Hobbit section, you should give lists of great books a pass.

Good Books, Not the Good Book

We're talking fiction here, more or less. Litchah. Good books, not the Good Book. Great writers often try to concoct an opening sentence that insists upon itself. Since authors are usually running a tab at a distillery, not just a pub like you do, they desperately need you to pick up the book, open to page one, and then reach for your wallet immediately. So we're going to judge how they did, right now.

The Twelve Greatest First Lines I Ever Read:

Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo...
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man -- James Joyce

By gad, you're always putting Ulysses in your lists. Ulysses is like a postcard from home for a drunken Druid drudge like me, but you should admit you have no idea what's going on in it, and learn to love his book about wetting the bed, instead.

At an age when most young Scotsmen were lifting skirts, plowing furrows and spreading seed, Mungo Park was displaying his bare buttocks to al-haj' Ali Ibn Fatoudi, Emir of Ludamar.
Water Music -- T. Coraghessan Boyle

It's T.C. Boyle's first book, I think, and the only one really worth reading. It's the greatest picaresque novel since Fielding lost interest. They put that sentence, in big letters, on the cover of the edition I have. That publisher knows his arse from his elbow.

Imagine that you have to break someone's arm.
The Gun Seller -- Hugh Laurie 

Yes, it's that Hugh Laurie. His book is a blast. It's better than any potboiler you could name. The Day of the Maltese Bourne Majestyk Sanction sorta thing. If you know him solely from an American television show, you should be reading Highlights magazine, not this essay. If you know him from Jeeves and Wooster...

Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French.
Pelham Grenville Wodehouse -- The Luck of the Bodkins

This one is like cheating. You can open up anything by PG and paste the first line into your WYSIWYG if you're on deadline and your employer needs their literary listicle by close of business. The Greatest comic writer that ever lived, but one...

This last summer, when I was on my way back to Vienna from the Appetite-Cure in the mountains, I fell over a cliff in the twilight, and broke some arms and legs and one thing or another, and by good luck was found by some peasants who had lost an ass, and they carried me to the nearest habitation, which was one of those large, low, thatch-roofed farm-houses, with apartments in the garret for the family, and a cunning little porch under the deep gable decorated with boxes of bright colored flowers and cats; on the ground floor a large and light sitting-room, separated from the milch-cattle apartment by a partition; and in the front yard rose stately and fine the wealth and pride of the house, the manure-pile.
Christian Science -- Mark Twain

I read this aloud to my eleven-year-old at dinner a month ago. He asks me to read it again every night. The second sentence in the book is just as funny, but you knew that, because you looked it up immediately, didn't you?

Once upon a time...
Grimm's Fairy Tales -- Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Every writer knows he's a piker compared to those two guys. They got more mileage out of those four words than Seinfeld re-runs.

Call me Ishmael.
Moby Dick --Herman Melville 

Whoops, Melville pared it down to three words. It's useful to remember that old Herm died penniless, and no one gave a shiny shite about his book until he was room temperature. Now he's on lists.

Marley was dead: to begin with.
A Christmas Carol -- Charles Dickens
Everyone wants to put A Tale of Two Cities on these lists, but admit it, it sounds like Chuck is foaming at the mouth halfway through that Cities sentence, and he got a deal at the Typesetter Depot on semicolons and was still trying to use them up. His one great sentence is right there. It's got a colon in it! That's brass.

He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.
The Old Man and the Sea -- Ernest Hemingway

I understand Hemingway more than I like him, but no matter. He won a Nobel Prize for that sentence, and if you ask me, no one has any idea what he was driving at in that book. I do.

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy -- Douglas Adams

I tossed this in here to satisfy people who think George RR Martin needs to be knighted while being given a handy by Sylvia Plath. Douglas Adams invented very good bad writing in the seventies, and he needs his due.

Now is the winter of our discontent Made glorious summer by this sun of York; And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Richard III -- William Shakespeare

Now imagine Olivier delivering that line. Shakey Bill's Richard the Third makes Hannibal Lecter look like Mr. Green Jeans, and that sentence nails his colors to his bent mast right off.

I told that boy, I told him.
The Devil's in the Cows -- Sippican Cottage

Yeah, I went there. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

If You Make Things You Are My Brother: Curtis Buchanan Makes A Windsor Chair

I have no idea why every video of anyone making things on the Intertunnel  is accompanied by bluegrassy contradance sorta music. In my experience, it's Death Metal or the F*cking Eagles, man.

Curtis Buchanan Chairmakers

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veterans Day Is For Dorothy

They load them on the plane roughly, it seems to me. But that is the end of it. They are rough men with tender hearts steeled against their task. Leave them to us, now.

The men with wounds that won't show later, except at the beach or to a lover, look sheepishly around them. Can you be ashamed to have all your parts? They look it. Their bandages are still pink, and they want to get up. Lie still. You've done nothing wrong.

I know many things about the inside of a man. I was trained to pull men whole from their mothers, like some Greek deity on a vase. They showed us the pictures in school of the parts meshing seamlessly, like a damp watch made by Einstein himself. When the doctors let us trail them around the hospital, finally, we saw the faces in the trim white beds whose watch ran a little fast, or slow, or made a bit of a whirring sound. What prepares you for the watch smashed, or plunged into the sea, or its hands pulled off? Nothing. The surgeons are in a hurry, always. I handed them the tools as they edit the men. They cannot write. It's as if they are trying to see just what a man can lose, and still be a human man.

There are the bottles and pills and blankets to be attended to. Then I sit next to the worst of them, mummies still alive, lost to sight and sound. There is nothing to do but put my hand on their arm. It is the hand of every mother and wife and daughter and girlfriend and nurse and stranger I wield. Of every human woman that ever walked and talked. I know their face is just a smear on the back of the bandages, and it's a long way to Okinawa. Let them feel our hand one more time.