ETHOS

ETHOS

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Seven

After the birth video in class, I dreamt of my child. In the dream I taught him how to say “birch tree” and he recognized the white birch by pointing and saying “white.” I was carrying him in my arms when the stars in the sky began to rain down on us like frayed firework sparks that tingled, they didn’t burn, yet I shielded him with my body.

Carrie had a dream about the baby that involved a locomotive with the number 7 painted on one of the boxcars. Apparently some people think the number seven represents perfection and the train is a conveyance of sorts, which speaks of the birth? I am not sure. Perhaps the arrival of his spirit? This speculation is kind of scary, but here’s what I know about the number 7 (after some research):

It is a natural, or lucky, prime number

It is also a safe prime

Biblically there were seven days of creation; God rested on and therefore sanctioned the seventh day as the Sabbath… (there’s a bunch of this religious stuff…)

Most mammals have seven bones in their neck

Seven is the number of external holes in the human head: two eyes, two nostrils, one mouth, two ears.

There are seven colors in the rainbow

Only seven heavenly bodies are visible to the naked eye

There are seven wonders of the ancient world

“7” is a really clutch Prince tune. All 7 and we'll watch them fall / They stand in the way of love / And we will smoke them all / With an intellect and a savoir-faire / No one in the whole universe / Will ever compare / I am yours now and you are mine / And together we'll love through / All space and time, so don't cry

Buddha walked seven steps at his birth

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Before the birth class tonight we were at Luigi’s and I was sinking into the booth when someone behind us said “Don’t sit there,” and because I was sinking I thought they might be in the know, so I turned to see it was my childhood friend and his parents. It was odd seeing them there like that because I had run into the father at the grocery the other day, and I really like the guy, but his big eyes always used to scare me as a kid...not big eyes, it’s just the white shows all around the colored part. The mother is wonderful and I basically lived at their house until we moved. I remember filling a yellow plastic wheelbarrow at his house and getting upset because someone put a worm in there. Someone played a Chicago song on the jukebox, a glittering beacon of expensive tunes and cheap sex in the corner, and I can’t remember which Chicago song, but it was high and dramatic and made everything sparkle with nostalgic significance. I noticed a tiny Goodyear blimp painted into the idyllic Luigi’s Mural. I saw we were eating with the same silverware my parents used to set out, and someone behind me said, “I’ve been coming here for fifty years and I always get the pizza.” A woman walked by with an American flag embroidered into her sweater. Two little kids ran shrieking to the juke and fed in dollar bills. They played one song, a really old Green Day tune and ran off. I noticed a young couple, teenagers, flirting in a booth across the room, the boy clean cut, the girl, had she been born twenty years ago might have been dressing like Debbie Gibson, smacked the boy over the head with her menu. Carrie got up to talk with a woman she teaches sixth grade with. I sat in the booth and cut my pizza with the familiar fork. A waitress punched in numbers on the juke, a cheese salad in one hand, and Journey came on— the one about hugging and squeezing and touching. The teenage boy tired of sitting across from his girl, slid into the booth beside her. The waitress told us the couple behind us had picked up our check, I tossed a few bills on the table for a tip and Carrie was going to the car, and as I squeezed past the people waiting in line for a seat, as Rod Stewart came on the jukebox singing “Forever Young,” I pushed out the front doors with a box of leftover pizza in one hand, feeling like maybe, just maybe, we weren’t all royally screwed.

Monday, March 24, 2008

One Jerk-Off to Another

"I think people who keep notebooks and jot down their thoughts are jerk-offs. I am only doing this because someone suggested I do it, so you see, I am not even an original jerk- off... I just let it roll. Like a hot turd down a hill."

-Charles Bukowski
The Captain is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Wood

This Morning:
I bought a candle that appears to be cleaved from wood. It has a length of twine wrapped around it, like a dock pillar. On bad mental days I will enjoy watching it burn. This makes me sound a bit crazy, but I do try and surround my desk with objects that exude good portents. Just in case. I am partial to objects hewn from wood, and a bit of burning wood is a wonderful portent.

Easter today. The Easter Bunny did not kick a hole in my house. Going to see the fam. All of them. I may be tired tonight. Glad to be on Spring Break.

Tonight:
I am not as tired as I thought I would be. The faux wood candle is burning. I was given two pieces of heirloom. One is a gold earring my great grandfather wore when he passed the equator on a boat bound for Brazil. He was leaving Austria Hungary because of the first world war, and headed to the forests of Brazil to work as a lumberjack. The earring is small and has the face of what looks like a west indie god carved into it. The god is wearing a black and white hat. I know the earring is gold, and a gold hoop was meant to hang from it because if someone dies at sea or abroad, a code of honor among these type of men was to use this gold to bury them. I don't know what material the white and black is. The second piece of heirloom is a .32 caliber, single action pistol my great grandfather reputedly used to shoot at a burglar when he finally settled in Cleveland. Apparently single action makes poor target pistol. He missed the burglar. This was shortly before the family moved to Barberton. I'm not sure these objects will exude good portents, but they're certainly interesting to me.

Friday, March 21, 2008

So I watched SICKO tonight. Watching more film has been a resolution of mine. I thought he was taking it a bit far when he loaded all those sick people into a boat and sailed to Guantanamo Bay for treatment, but they end up finding care in Cuba. That woman's inhaler cost 120 in American and something like five cents in Cuba. Health care in this country bites, that's for sure, and I guess I never realized how fear of being uninsured can really paralyze people. I was writing a story that kind of critiques the failing economy by showing life through one guy's experience, and I wanted to watch SICKO not necessarily for information, but for inspiration. There's a great short with Dennis Kucinich advocating HR 676. He's the guy who tried to Impeach Cheney. I'm proud he's an Ohioan.
'What can I do?' - SiCKO

...This is Thursday, April 10th and the story I mentioned I was working on above is on hold because writing about the economy is a horrible idea. There's a story inside the story I was trying to write, but I'm not sure what it is yet.

Birthday

Does this guy look 29? He was asleep by 9:30, so apparently there's some mistake. He's actually 39, the age his students think he is. See the gray hair?
Oh, well. He got a pair of trousers. He is satisfied.

John got a rejection from McSweney's. They said his stuff was well-written, but made them smile instead of laugh. He wasn't trying to be funny. Perhaps he is not smart enough to know when he is being funny. He was glad they thought it well-written.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Graded the essays…I know I’m a slacker. They weren’t bad. I got to use Muppet stickers. They’re better than the stickers with farm animals on them. My favorites were the vegetable stickers, though. Well, I guess the ferret sticker is pretty clutch. And the toad. Clutch is a word not many kids today know, by the way.

Birthing class tonight. I really hope they don’t show a video.

I feel lately as if I’m in a state of inertia. What I should probably do is start exercising. The only problem with weightlifting is it triples my testosterone. You do the math.

It’s 3:38, someone is pushing a vacuum across the carpet, and I missed a puppet play today. One of the autistic kids put one on but I had to teach. Damn it. What a gyp, you know?

One of my fiction students won the Wayne College short story contest. I wish I could take some bit of credit for it, but it was purely her talent. I guess I made her show it to people by assigning a workshop.

Time to go.

Monday, March 17, 2008

So I watched The Departed tonight, and cleaned out a bunch of old papers from my files— my files being cubbyholes in the attic. I pulled out all kinds of student teaching papers—eighth grade- a propaganda unit, a green matchbox car I took from one of them, a bunch of stories I copied for them. I taught “The Lottery” and at the beginning of the period they pulled a slip of paper from a black box I spray- painted in my driveway. The black paint stained the stone. I had to recount the slips for each class. The kid who pulled the slip with the big black dot was like, “What do get??”

“Oh, just wait,” I said. “You’ll see.”

I taught them a story called “I Always Do What Teddy Says” – really cool science fiction stuff from a collection Science Fact Fiction. I taught them stories from a collection called Kissing Tennessee. Stories all happening around this eighth grade dance. I cut out invitations to the dance (on purple paper) with fancy scissors and laid them on their desks. There’s a story about a kid who is questioning his sexuality, and I was told not to teach it. I taught the one with a girl who had been raped and was reading the inscriptions on the bathroom stall instead.

My first lesson in the classroom was designed to get them thinking about what they watch on television. I Xeroxed copies of the TV Guide and had them highlight stuff they wouldn’t watch, even if they were paid. One girl said, “I don’t watch television.”

You get an A+ hon.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

I sent something new to McSweeney's. They said the last thing was "too fictiony," whatever that means. The new thing is written in the second person- it's 400 words and more like a prose poem. Maybe they will like it. Who knows. If I knew what they were buying I'd try and sell it, I guess.

I bought two sport coats today. $9. They were out of nifty trousers that fit, though there was a pair of camel hair slacks on clearance that I NEARLY made work. Turns out they weren't slack at all.

I drove. I walked the dog. I looked at books but could not talk myself into any of them. I read a story from a collection called My Mistress' Sparrow is Dead. I liked the story, but didn't like the price of the book. I paged through some Byron. I thought about buying Bukowski's book of poems dedicated to John Fante. I thought about buying the Hesse novel about a Swede who finds meaning by caring for an invalid. I almost bought a fork that extends like a radio antenna. Have not graded student essays. Need to work on my own stuff. Too busy putting it off, like now.

I went out to lunch with my parents on Friday. They ordered fish because they are Catholic, and I ordered steak because I am in denial. My dad got to talking about other Catholics who think war is a good idea. He gets pretty riled up talking about it. Those people have never had to figure out what they believe, I said. They've been told their whole lives what's a good idea and what isn't. I forked a cube of steak into my mouth, and the fish looked pretty good too.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

A Swell Shower

I should be eating. Such is the power of vanity. I’m starved, but I have to write in this thing instead. Here’s another starving egoist quacking into the void.

Baby shower today. Not for us, for some friends. I’m going but not contributing anything— it might be more meaningful if I could twist balloons into animals or something, but I’m simply contributing my maleness. Maybe that’s enough. It’s certainly enough to make a baby, why wouldn’t it be enough to celebrate one?

I’m generally distrustful of men who go to baby showers unless they’re going to hand out cigars. I don’t have any cigars to hand out. This is poor planning on my part. I fully plan to hand out cigars when my son is born. Not bubblegum cigars. Real cigars, and I’m going to be offended by anyone who doesn’t take one. I’m going to box ship a cigar to friends who live out of state. So Dez, be looking for that. And I want proof you smoked it in good humor. A picture, or something.

It will be like a scene from a 1950s movie. The men will have parted their hair with black combs. We will be dressed in collared shirts and trousers. We’ll use the word “swell” a lot. There will be a dog. A golden retriever named “King.” Someone will throw a stick for King to chase and we’ll laugh with our cigars pointing into the air. The smell of smoke and musk aftershave will hang like a pall above our heads. Any women brave enough to enter our circle will be handed a cigar and a bottle of aftershave.

Seriously though, I’m looking forward to the shower, and I’m going to list reasons, and I’m not going to lie— I look forward to this shower because *baritone radio announcer voice* 1) I am hungry and there will be food 2) there will be many women present 3) I will be the only man, and I will be wearing trousers and musk aftershave. *clever xylophone jingle*

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Movie Popcorn

So I’m rewriting a bunch of old stories. I should be writing new stuff and save the rewrites for summer, but I can’t for some reason. I think I’m worried about my thesis, and I see how poorly worded some of these old stories are and it’s kind of embarrassing. They need some care.

I’m helping a student who reads on a fourth grade level. I think he’s going to get better because he wants to. You can’t teach that.

Going to give an essay today. I shouldn’t because I don’t really want to grade them, but that’s the life.

Juniors are doing some criticism of the short story. They’re turning out okay actually. We’re using The Oxford Book of American Short Stories. There are some good stories in there. I like “The Girl with a Pimply Face,” by William Carlos Williams. I like when short story anthologies include poets. Say Yeats, for instance. “The Secret Rose” is stunning, but I’ve never seen it anthologized. I don’t really think Joyce Carol Oates is a great short story writer. She’s written some really creepy stuff, which is hard to do. She chose “A Late Encounter with the Enemy,” to be the Flannery O’Connor story. I guess I like that one. I don’t know. It’s creepy. I guess I like “Good Country People,” or “The Life You Save May Be Your Own.” Sometimes I don’t see what’s the big deal with “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and then I read it again and I’m like, Oh yeah. That’s what the big deal is about. Heavy in kernel.

There’s a story in the anthology I’ve never read. It’s called “Rain in the Heart” by Peter Taylor, and it’s really good. There’s a Cheever story I’d never read called “The Death of Justina” that is really funny.

None of these highbrow(ish) anthologies ever have anything by popular writers. I think Stephen King has written a few really good short stories. I want to read his Best American Short Stories Anthology. See what he picked. “Everything you Love will be Carried Away” is one of his good ones. “1408” too (the movie kind of stinks). I’m a fan of “The Death of Jack Hamilton.” I dearly love his collection Night Shift. A lot of them are like great movie popcorn— heavy in salt and butter, light in kernel.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Man Hands

So there’s this scene in Blood Meridian in which a man paws through raw coals to find one with which to light his pipe. I feel like such a pansy when I read passages like this. My hands were a bit calloused after I finished painting my house, and it was good. No, it would read something like this: His hands had grown rough with the work, and the roughness was good, and he admired his work and saw that the work was good. When I was in high school I burned my hand pretty badly on a bunsun during lab. It was before a track meet and I remember thinking how distracting running with a burned hand would be. It was my chemistry teacher’s last year before retirement, and he was a bachelor with a lot of cats, and he stood at the back of the room, his foot wedging open the door to the trailer, and he smoked. He stopped smoking long enough to come see what all the fuss was about at our station. When I told him I burned my hand he grabbed the bunsun and held it for a long time. You think that’s hot? he said. I’ve since been very sensitive to the fact that my hands are soft, and I realize the fact that I’m touchy about it makes it even worse.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Blood Monkeys

So I'm reading Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian and Susan Minot's Monkeys. The books are really different, and though horrible things are happening in just about every paragraph of Blood Meridian, I don't want to read Monkeys anymore because I don't want the mother to die. I'm really hoping someone cuts off her head with a bowie knife...but I'll bet that's not the case. I'll bet something normal happens, like she gets sick, or has a car accident, both of which are much more horrifying than if she were to have her head lopped off.

When I was reading The Sun Also Rises and Mrs. Dalloway at the same time, it was really weird, like choose your own adventure. So, what would happen if the kids in Monkeys ended up on the trail? The book would be called Blood Monkeys. There's only one little kid besides The Kid in Blood Meridian, and he's only there for two paragraphs before he dies, so it would probably be a really short book.

Watching old seasons of the Muppets doesn't help this whole Blurred Lines of Unreality thing.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Gonzo the Great


So I was thinking a lot of things driving today and I'll spare you most of them, but I thought one thing maybe worth mentioning. Number one thing worth mentioning: Hunter S. Thompson is still alive. I saw him a few weeks ago in Kent driving a red Fiero. I was thinking today what has he been up to since they shot whatever they did out of that ridiculous cannon; and I was thinking about Gonzo- the Muppet, not the new Gonzo with the perfect nose, but the old Gonzo with the really screwed up nose. The tatterdemalion Gonzo. I like that one much better. Anyway, I was thinking a lot of silly thoughts about Hunter S. Thompson; mainly how since he faked his suicide he's been much happier. I thought the loss of his two middle fingers would also make him happy. It's silly, yes, and would cause his next book to be missing a lot of letters, but I thought maybe he'd be happy that way. Carrying the Gonzo torch would begin to wear on anyone after a while. Is that what happened to the old tatterdemalion Gonzo? He got tired of being who everyone expected him to be. I suppose I'm guilty in this regard, because I like him a lot better when he used to eat tires to the Fight of the Bumblebee and when he was sad after no one in the audience liked it. Maybe I'm all wrong on this, because Gonzo decides to do his thing regardless of how it is received in later seasons. Maybe that's the trick of evolving as an artist- not caring. I think Hunter S. Thompson is still alive and he's no longer practicing Gonzo journalism; I'll bet he's seeing the country in that Fiero. It probably gets good enough gas mileage. Still writing, of course. Travel writing. I'll bet he's doing his best to give dirty motels rave reviews.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Up on the Rowlf

So I was up on my roof shoveling snow and I couldn't stop thinking about Rowlf the Dog. Thinking about Rowlf the Dog was preferable to thinking of myself rolling off the edge. I wondered if the guys who work him really know how to play the piano. I'll bet they do. Then I started picturing him shoveling the snow with me. He was wearing a striped hat and a scarf and big boots. This kind of fantasy made the work much easier. I think from now on whenever I'm doing something I don't want to do I'm going to picture a Muppet doing it too. Kermit picking up after the dog on his walk, Gonzo lecturing, Fozzie painting the side of the garage, the Swedish Chef paying the bills... the list could go on & on...

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Bar Stool

The other night at the bar an old guy came out from the bathroom and sat down next to me. “Did I take your seat?” I asked.

“It’s right here,” he said, stood and lifted the stool he had been sitting on.

He was by himself and kept muttering. Finally, when he asked for his bill, he insisted it come in a red leather bill fold. Well, all they had were black plastic, which he didn’t want. The bartender had to chase down a waitress to ask for a red leather bill fold. She only had black.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Noisy Ghost

Poltergeist is German for “noisy ghost.” I learned this last night during parent teacher conferences from a student who is reading about them. I mentioned a friend of mine who developed schizophrenia at twenty. Who knows what’s real? If someone sees something and hears it, I said, does that make it real even if no one else sees or hears it? Now that I’m writing this down I feel pressure to write something smarter than I said last night, something about Berkeley, the ineluctable modality of the visible. Maybe Blake and that whole doors of perception thing. Nah. It seems the Germans were adding dimensions to a mysterious psychic experience, but keeping it simple at the same time with a simple concept- noisy ghost.

I’ve seen a lot of people die said the student’s mother, a nurse. Some people are ready for it and their bodies relax. They give up. But sometimes tears stream down their face. Those people aren’t ready, she said.

Makes you wonder what happens to those spirits who aren’t ready, I said. Do they stick around? What about suicides? Are they ready?

I watched a man in the grocery story carry on a conversation with a bag of cat food, she said.

I wondered what the cat food had to say.

We talked a little bit about Hawthorne. The student was reading “The Minister’s Black Veil” and was picking up on Hawthorne’s criticism of Hooper, his kind of attitude toward spirituality, and the church. I said most of his stories indirectly offer some sort of moral judgment of the “and his dying hour was gloom” variety. We talked about Nine Stories a little bit because I plan on teaching it to my American Lit Juniors. She knew the story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.” His senses were scarred from the war, I said. Who knows what scars our psyche?

I lost my box a long time ago she said. Set it out at the curb. Recycling.

I enjoyed talking with them so much.