Thursday, March 31, 2011

Opening Day

Opening day is a clean slate. It's green trying to push the droll winter the hell out of the way. It's grass-cutting season. It's little league practice until dinner time.

Opening day is a looking forward and in-the-moment day. Twenty-five years ago it would have been a day closer to swimming off the Oxford Ferry Dock time (generally late April, early May).

Though I'm more of a football fan than baseball, opening day of baseball season is one of my favorite sports days. Period. And though I'm more of an Orioles fan than a Nationals fan, I'm jazzed to be heading to the Nats' season opener this afternoon.

I can't recall how many Orioles' opening days I've been to. With a father who is a CPA, it hasn't been many. Which is why, in part, I'll feel like a kid when we take a crew from work and head across the street to Nationals Stadium. The other part of giddy will be the $8 beer in my hand and subsequent $8 smile on my face...

Baseball moments--both playing and spectating--are woven through my almost 39 years. Learning to play catch in the backyard with my dad; hitting a bottom of the last inning game-winning double over Jeff Wilson's head in right field so the Oxford Little League beat Cordova; being at Mike Mussina's first Oriole start at Memorial Stadium; being at the game when Eddie Murray, again an Oriole, hit his 500th home run; ...opening day for the Nationals 2011 season.

Opening day is renewal. It's change of seasons. It's backyard cookouts. It's Chuck Thompson and Brooks Robinson doing play-by-play. It's leaving work early with friends and co-workers and taking in America's game.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Letter to Campbell McGrath

Consequently, you will know how to piece them together into a vision of your own design. -James Wright, "A Letter to Franz Wright"

I am not in Italy. Nor have I ever been. I take you and James Wright at your descriptions of it, which I couldn't touch if I were standing there.

Like both of you, I am a father. But again, a difference: I have girls.

I, too, have smashed my crude hammer against a wall of jewels and tried to gather up the pieces. I have wanted to collect both wall and splintered hammer and set them at my daughters' feet when they are ready (if they should have any use for a shattered hammer).

I like that your sons are with you, creating and sharing your Italy. I love that their words are your words, a distinct difference from James Wright's letter to his son, then distant from him.

"The hopes and dreams of fathers for their sons" (or daughters) and the desire to pass along something worthwhile, maybe even beautiful, of my own hopes and dreams and life.

I read your letter to James Wright and then re-read his letter to his son Franz and the words and sentiments swirl into deep blue water and I can't decide whether to watch or jump in

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Beautiful Afro

She had a beautiful Afro. Transcendentally beautiful.

She was walking across the overpass over 201/295. She had on a gray jacket and headphones, which only added unspoken cool to sublime beauty. She made me think of Lauryn Hill, if she had been in the Digable Planets.

If I could have stopped and stared I would have, but you can't pull that shit on 295.

It was a moment. A glimpse of beauty when you don't expect it--randomly on a freeway in a rundown neighborhood, where all you're thinking about is getting to work.

The Rolling Stones "I Just Want to See His Face" was playing, off of Exile on Main Street. Her headphones may have been playing the same tune--she walked perfectly in time to it. I wonder if she was the song incarnate, conjured up just to show the way you move to a groove. Maybe it was her theme music.

If Mick Jagger had been riding shotgun, he'd have sung about this girl, or her Afro. Or he would have cat-called. I don't know Mick, so it's hard to say.

For me it wasn't a cat-call situation. I'm married. I've found cat-call sublime beauty that way.

For me it was a moment. A reminder that there is this capital "B" Beauty out there, at unexpected times, in unexpected places.

Pay attention.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I've never wanted to be a suit. You know the kind: a swath of sameness, dark gray, maybe pin-striped, cardboard cut-outs of dudes projected outwards from a suit.

They travel in packs, with similar haircuts and shoes and grooming habits. They have similar idioms and laughs. They may pull for different sports teams, but don't push much beyond that.

We've encountered them waiting for an elevator, all piling on at once.

"Suits," we both said, and nodded, and everything was implied and understood.

We waited for the next elevator.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Beer, Ice, Bait, Subs

Beer, ice, bait subs. That's what the sandwich board sign says in front of the McDaniel Store. Nothing more.

Beer is the first thing if you're going fishing. A back-up plan if nothing's biting. All that time, you've gotta have a back-up plan. Not a bite all day, nothing's working, at least you can catch a buzz. That's what they say.

Ice serves two purposes: beer and any prospective fish. Cold beer and cold fish. Two absolutes of angling. Plus it's hot. Ice on the neck or forehead or ice down the shorts at the right time can extend the trip.

Bait is a prerequisite. You better know what they're biting on. In fishing or dating. You won't catch shit without the right bait.

Subs. Sustenance. Solidity. Endurance. If you've got everything else working, but can't deliver on the meal, well, you're hungry.

Beer, ice, bait subs. That's what the sandwich board sign says in front of the McDaniel Store. Nothing more. Your four food groups. Your four absolute truths. Your keys to happines on the water.

Say them aloud. Commit them to memory. And if you forget, stop in McDaniel.

McDaniel isn't the only town, or store, that knows the gospel of the one-stop fishing shop. Photo by Brian Brown, from the website Vanishing South Georgia. Some awesome photos and a stellar idea.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Richard Cory x2

The chick in the photo may have just read Richard Cory.  The mustached gent on the right would be Edwin Arlington Robinson, the cat that wrote the poem. You know Richard Cory, right? We read it in Mr. Thurber's 9th grade English class at Easton High School. Have a look:

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good-morning," and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich—yes, richer than a king—
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

Richard Cory was the first poem I can recall completely pulling the rug out from under me. Everything is going along well and good until the last line. And then you sit there. And then you look at the author the way the lady in the photo is. "Dude! What?"

Then Richard Cory, the poem in a book, went quiet for a while. Backburner. Until a few years later, driving by 7-11 on Route 50 in Easton, sitting shotgun in my friend Colin's silver Honda Accord hatchback, when this song came on the stereo:

I remember listening, having the song ring the "hey, I know that" button in my brain, and then thinking, "holy sh#%! That's from Thurber's class! We read that poem!"

A couple years ago I brought Richard Cory up at the Museum where I worked and had an ensuing Facebook debate over who remembered it, who had read it in school. And post-debate, neither Colin or I could find the Boot Boys song version anywhere--of course we couldn't remember who it was that sang it anyway. I was convinced it was The Vandals.

In any event, Colin's diligence paid off by finding it on YouTube. It brings me back to the poem in 9th grade and the ensuing discussion on both what took place and the way the poet set us up only to pull the rug out from under us. And it takes me back to hearing that song in the car and realizing that something I learned in 9th grade actually informed me, gave me a context to understand what was going on in the song.

Edwin Arlington Robinson won a couple of Pulitzer Prizes. He never met The Boot Boys. But I bet he would have dug their tune.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Fair weather

Sometimes weekends roll by like a Saturday afternoon walk along woods and fields. Especially fair weather weekends. Seems like I can start smiling Friday evening and have to washcloth scrub off my perma-grin on Sunday night.

Living on the Eastern Shore, the right way, is inextricably linked to its geography--being dialed into or connected to it. Spending time on the water, at parks, in the woods.

We've been fortunate to have and find family and friends who feel the same and find ample opportunities, reasons, excuses to carpe the outdoor diem.

Sometimes spontaneity makes the moment. Sometimes planning and looking forward to a shindig of a spring camping trip on the Pocomoke River.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Doug DeCinces had an indestructible mustache

It was probably my most prized possession from childhood. The 1980 Topps Eddie Murray card (from the 1979 season). It was the first year I really dialed in on collecting baseball cards. Being my favorite player, he wound up being the most elusive.

Billy, the kid that lived two doors down from my grandparents in Towson, was the first person I knew that had the card. No matter how I reasoned with him, he wouldn't take a two-for-one trade for Mark Belanger and Rich Dauer, the Orioles shortstop and second baseman. He really didn't understand how much more I wanted the Murray card than he did.

I remember sitting down in McCrory's Five and Dime on Washington Street in Easton, in the baseball card section, pouring over the clear three-packs of cards, looking to see which packs had the most visible Orioles. Mike Flanagan, Lee May, Doug DeCinces. It felt like by having their baseball cards and going to games or watching on TV, you somehow knew the players. DeCinces had an indestructible mustache in his earlier Orioles days. It was Magnum P.I. cool. I remember when he shaved it off.

Josh Wilker gets all this and then some. His book Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale Told Through Baseball Cards took me instantly back to McCrorys; back to organizing baseball cards; to going to games at Memorial Stadium; to watching on TV as Rickey Henderson break Lou Brock's single season stolen base record of 118 stolen bases in 1982, and then looking for his card that proved that fact the next year. I wasn't an Oakland A's fan, but for some reason watching that game on TV stands out in my head.

Wilker's book is as much about life-existence-childhood and throwing himself headlong into baseball cards as a normalizing force. I give Cardboard Gods and its reconnecting me to that place and time, part of the credit for getting me so amped for the upcoming baseball season. Wilker, along with Buck Showalter and the Orioles front office, and 105.7FM "The Fan" and driving by Nationals Stadium every day, as we've mentioned before.

That and it seems as if the O's are bringing back facial hair to some degree. And this bearded guy says, "Play ball!" And wipe your chin off, for crissakes...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Response to Sunday

It's the same shelf at Newscenter, full of random books at the end of the aisle. The first time it was Merwin's The Shadow of Sirius. It didn't belong there and I've never seen another copy in the store since.

This time the shelf coughed up Jules Renard's Nature Stories.

It's Sunday evening. Rain swirls outside, but it is quiet in here, which amplifies the dervish out the windows. Three girls are sleeping. I've got my second evening coffee and am dwelling somewhere between the couch and Renard's animated countryside.

The evening caps a day that started with a 10-mile mudfest of a trail run, where Shaun and I scared up a half-dozen deer darting ahead of us across Little Florida Trail at Tuckahoe State Park.

As I ran until and through my legs hurting from climbing; as I ran short of breath and ski-sliding down muddy hills, I was at times part of the trail, at times my lungs, heart and breath, at times thinking about Renard and what he would see in the woods, on the trail, through the rain. Both what he would see and how he would say it.

It's something of a three-part process: observation, interpretation, expression. Being mindful and receptive to what is there, having it resonate and work through, and reordering it into a personal/universal form of expression.

For people, the possibilities of self-expression are staggering. For a bullfrog, less so. This morning they drank in the rain, the creek, the footsteps of runners passing by and sang it out in one bellowing, continuous note. To our ears, the bullfrog has one note, one word, one song in response to the world.

Tonight, the house is still quiet. In the kitchen, the oven is pre-heated and I've got a mind for baking flounder. This morning's run started with talk of the backwards notes of the mandolin, and with a looking forward to spring and summer fishing. My response tonight, it seems is preparing flounder and cueing up Blues for Allah.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Rimbaud vs. Ripken

We were five miles into a trail run, zagging along the Creekside Cliff Trail, when AK threw Rimbaud out as his favorite poet.

The context was my Mike Tomlin letter and achieving success or acclaim (too?) early in life. Is it too soon? Do people extinguish themselves without toil as kindling? Without pacing themselves?

Hendrix. James Dean. Kurt Cobain. It's frequently creatives--artists, musicians. Rimbaud stopped writing at age 19. And yet is thought of as one of the most revolutionary writers, and major influence on subsequent writers over the last couple hundred years.

Security once gained, heart and beauty are set aside...

Rimbaud may have been on to something there. The poet Franz Wright has railed against the notion that poets and writers must today be teachers, academics to earn a living and earn respect. Wright argues that what this creates is sameness. He pictures William Blake and Rimbaud--two outright game-changers--in their tenured professorships and what a sham, a nightmare that would have been. Their struggle, what they went through, their place in life, informed their work, which was different than anything that had come before them. Teaching freshman English was not for them.

In our trail running seminar on creativity and success, AK and I agreed that being a slow starter, a late bloomer was perhaps the way to be. To have perspective and pacing alongside whatever success you encounter. Merwin is my example; my model for someone who is at the top of their game later in life. Don't burnout and do nothing.

Call it the Ripken example. If you live near Baltimore, you know Cal's sustainment phenomenon. Just keep going.

This week I rode to Philadelphia with two Coast Guard admirals, tagging along to write a couple stories. They never stopped working--pouring over notes, discussing strategy, what's next. It was inspiring.

They are of the age where you talk about retiring from the military, yet they are moving and doing more now than early in their careers, prior to earning the stars on their shoulders.

For some, once you've made it, attained the security that you set out to get, you stop. Welcome complacency and laurel resting.

I like the Merwins, the admirals, the Ripkens, the distance runners, who keep going. Who want to see what is around the next corner. Who realize the slog, when turned on its side, is a dance. That you can't achieve a moment like this, without playing 2,129 games in a row ahead of it...

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

"Long distance runner, what you standing there for?"

Heavy metal is not the soundtrack to long distance running. It might power you around a track or get you amped and angry before a game, but for a long, grueling run, my mind/soul needs something more expansive. Something that can charge or carry me through the valleys.

Not to knock heavy metal music. Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Ozzy, were formative musical influences for me, ultimately dropping me on the door step of the hardcore and punk, from Bad Brains, the Clash, 7Seconds, Sick of it All, that would be the soundtrack of my skateboarding teens. And I still dig and listen to all of them.

It started in sixth grade, trading cassette tapes back and forth with my friend Nate. Priest and Maiden and Motley Crue, Quiet Riot and even Deep Purple. Nate put a Grateful Dead tape in my hand, the artwork looking a bit like the Maiden covers, and proceeded to sing Casey Jones like it was an Alice Cooper song. I took it home to give a listen. It didn't fit with the screaming and power chords I was after, but wasn't bad.

I don't think you can dig old jazz and blues and not be pulled in with what the Dead, Phish and the jam bands have done with the improvisational, free-form vibe. Saying that, the unencumbered "space" of some of the live jam bands has always been a turn-off for me. The best of all of it keys a balance between structure and improv.

When I want to go out and plug in to the iPod for a long run, the Dead, moe., Strangefolk, Umphrey's McGee have given me that mojo of making my mind and body want to dance, want to float, making the soul smile and heavy legs lighter. That can be more valuable on some days. It can be what laces your shoes up.

Long distance runner, what you standing there for? Get up, get off, get out of the door.

Fire on the Mountain has a prominent spot on a number of running playlists. Towards that expansive state of mind where the runner, and the run, and the road or trail are all the same. And it carries over into the rest of the day, where Robin and I are driving with the girls and dogs to Tuckahoe State Park and both singing along together to New Speedway Boogie, with the road winding under the wheels...