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November 29, 2010

Neal in a Blind Rage

It was a hectic day at the office. Very hectic and trying indeed. Most of our 1,300 students were outside in the crowded hallway, and they all wanted to know something from us. They all had a question. We weren’t getting anything done.

Neal got fed up and wrote a hasty note about when the new exam date was (or something) and taped it on the outside of the door. He dusted off his hands as he came back in and said, “That ought to keep out the zombies!”

It didn’t. As Neal tried to get back into the towering piles of written exam papers we had to correct, several other students stuck their heads in the door, as they do, and timidly asked about whatever. Neal was about to blow a gasket.

It’s not like he’s never made a fool of himself before. He has a habit of accosting people on the street as long lost friends only to discover that they are total strangers. Then he makes it a thousand times worse by trying to explain. Neal also has a tendency to loudly use foul language when he thinks no one around can understand English, only to discover that a cruise ship has deposited hundreds of fellow Brits right next to him. Shocking.

Flatulence in a crowded lift … check. Standing by a huge mud puddle in the road when car races by … check. Neal looks in the upturned ketchup bottle to see why the ketchup is stuck … slap, plop, check. Glasses of wine knocked over onto people’s laps … a regular occurrence.

This time he was unusually peeved, perturbed and downright hysterical. Got up, as grandma would say, on the wrong side of the bed. It was pointless for me to suggest self-control. “The next person who interrupts me gets his arse chewed off,” Neal promised.

As if on cue, a nerdy looking boy with odd dark glasses pokes his head in the door and opens his mouth to say something. Before he could even talk Neal exploded:


You know the feeling when you hear your own stupidity echo off the walls? Neal let the poor boy have it so viciously that he scared himself. I watched, frankly amused, for the next development. I could see the boy’s white cane tip through the crack in the door near his feet.

“I, uh, can’t read it.”


And Neal just had to stick his whole foot completely into his mouth with one more rhetorical question:


The boy with the white cane entered, thinking it only courteous to answer. “Yes, I am blind. Could you please tell me when the exams will be?”

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: A neutron goes into a bar and asks the bartender, "How much for a beer?" The bartender replies, "For you, no charge."
Jeff: Two atoms meet. One says, "Are you all right?"
"No, I’ve lost an electron!"
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm positive!"
Mutt: Two antennas met on a roof, fell in love and got married. The ceremony wasn't much, but the reception was excellent.
Jeff: A jumper cable walks into a bar. The bartender says, "I'll serve you, but don't start anything."
Mutt: When she told me I was average, she was just being mean.
Jeff: The more things change, the more they stay insane.
Mutt: That’s deja moo.
Jeff: Right. The feeling that you've heard this bull before.

November 19, 2010

Avoiding the ‘F’ Word

Don’t call it Frisco.

Or San Fran, SF, The City, The Sco, Bagdad by the Bay, The City that Knows How, Fogtown or anything else but its name: Yerba Buena (good grass?) or the newer name: San Francisco.

Actually, Herb Caen, local gossip and hero, started the anti-Frisco movement in the early 50’s, I believe, so for over 100 years nobody had a problem with the nickname. Here’s an alternate explanation I like:

“Frisco” is, of course, a contraction of San Francisco, but there are other theories about its origin. Some have suggested it is an Americanization of el fresco, a term apparently used by Mexican immigrants coming to Fog City to escape the heat of the Sierra Nevada.
The late etymologist Peter Tamony traced the word all the way back to the Middle English frithsoken, meaning refuge or sanctuary. Shortened to "frisco," the term was apparently used by sailors to refer to any port where ships could be repaired.
So what is a San Franciscan? Immigrants and refugees, of course, like everywhere. But do those of us squeezed in a few blocks between the Pacific and the Bay really have a collective personality? Are the fruits and nuts native? Do those chilly summers cause frostbite patterns in the gray matter? I’m sure the fog, creeping in the ears, scrambles the synapses. Maybe a list would help answer all these questions (probably not but I’m, as you know, a compulsive list-maker).

Notable San Franciscans:
[born and raised]
Ansel Adams
Gracie Allen
Gertrude Atherton
Ralph Barbieri
Bill Bixby
Mel Blanc
Benjamin Bratt
Stephen Breyer
Pat & Jerry Brown
Darius Brubeck
Carol Channing
Donaldina Cameron
Paul Desmond
Bradford Dillman
Dom & Joe DiMaggio
Edward Dmytryk
Isadora Duncan
Clint Eastwood
Dian Fossey
Robert Frost
Jerry Garcia
Danny Glover
Rube Goldberg
Vince Guaraldi
Laird Hamilton
Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket)
William Randolph Hearst
James D. Houston
Shirley Jackson
Paul Kantner
Jack LaLanne
Bruce Lee
Jack London
Anita Loos
Greil Marcus
Jon Miller
Barry Nelson
Lloyd Nolan
Kevin Pollak
Stafford Repp
Pierre Salinger
Rob Schneider
Liev Schreiber
Alicia Silverstone
Gary Snyder
Kevin Starr
Lincoln Steffens
David Strathairn
Jeffery Tambor
Bob Weir
Stuart Whitman
Kate Wolf
Naomi Wolf
B.D. Wong
Natalie Wood

Other famous residents:
[came as adults]
Maya Angelou
Ambrose Bierce
Herb Caen
Joan Chen
Ina Coolbrith
Stanton Delaplane
Barbara Eden
Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Makoto Hagiwara
Chet Helms
Lee Meriwether
Harvey Milk
Emperor Norton
Nancy Pelosi
Levi Strauss
Cecil Williams
Robin Williams

As usual, the ‘so-what’ question has no answer. There’s the list, draw your own conclusion. Because I’m too lazy to come up with it or because there is no answer? Every city has a list and character. But I think the thing is that we know what we mean, who we are, it just can’t be put into words. San Francisco, after all, is not a huge city, about the size of Jacksonville FL, but it is the oldest city in the West and a cultural center since the Gold Rush. People came here to escape from prejudice and misery at home. Australian prisoners, Peruvians and the Mormons came early on, the Chinese too, the Beats, Hippies, Gays, Mixed-race couples, Sicilians, Ship-builders, Yuppies, Dot.commers, Radicals and Free-thinkers followed. As Carlos Santana said: More artists than con artists. Yes indeed. Oh, and add him to the list.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: My wife's gone to the West Indies.
Jeff: Jamaica?
Mutt: No, she went of her own accord.
Jeff: My wife's gone to St Petersburg.
Mutt: Is she Russian?
Jeff: No, she's taking her time.
Mutt: My wife's had an accident on a volcano.
Jeff: Krakatoa?
Mutt: No. She broke her leg.
Jeff: My wife's gone on a singing tour of South Korea.
Mutt: Seoul?
Jeff: No, R&B.
Mutt: Y’know, that reminds me. My wife went to a very bad concert in South East Asia.
Jeff: Singapore?
Mutt: Terrible. And the rest of the band was terrible too.
Jeff: Excuse me, Mutt, are you even married?
Mutt: No, you?
Jeff: I had a girlfriend once.
Mutt: Wanna marry me? In San Francisco. They’ll change that discriminatory law pretty soon.
Jeff: I’m tempted. But if we get married, people will think we’re, y’know, flits.
Mutt: It’s San Francisco, man, same-sex heterosexual marriage is the new wave, the future, the giddy-upcoming! Perfect double transgression. So post-post-modern.
Jeff: Count me in, baby. Just don’t let down your avant garde.

November 14, 2010

Never-ending Game

Mutt: Listen, you know we’ve both loved baseball all our lives.
Jeff: Yeah, so?
Mutt: How about if whoever dies first and goes to Heaven comes back to tell the other one whether baseball exists in Heaven or not?
Jeff: I’m game.
[Unfortunately Mutt died the next night.]
Mutt: Hey, Jeff, wake up!
Jeff: What? Mutt? But you're dead.
Mutt: I know. I came back to tell you about baseball in Heaven.
Jeff: Oh yeah.
Mutt: Well, good news and bad news. The good is that—YES, there is baseball in Heaven and it’s fantastic. More fun than you can even imagine.
Jeff: So what’s the bad news?
Mutt: You start pitching on Thursday.

That’s a joke, right? Baseball in Heaven, baseball as heaven, playing a never-ending game: 9 innings, ten, a hundred, a billion innings. Life and afterlife as an endless season. Isn’t it? (Many of the Giants are already playing Winter Ball to bide the time till spring training starts.) And when a runner gets home and scores and is happy (even without a smile, especially without a smile), if the inning doesn’t end, they get another at-bat to begin again. Infinite do-overs.

And that homer I just hit sailed over the fence, over the bleachers, over the parking lot, over those tall buildings where serious people work, over the mountains and valleys and oceans, never coming down. That ball circling the globe looked down on the green baseball diamonds like connect-the-dots across America and the world. A roadmap to paradise, follow the bouncing ball. Every cornfield hiding a playing field underneath. Every advertising executive “stepping up to the plate” to make a “pitch” for a “home-run” product. Every girl and boy dreaming of player heroes (that’s Buster Posey, Rookie of the Year, in the photo below) before drifting off to sleep. The foul lines continuing on to embrace the universe.

And the bad news? When I’m at the park I sometimes think: What if this was it? What if our whole lives were lived in here? Some sci-fi virus contaminated the city and we had to stay in the ballpark forever. Would that be so bad? Plenty of peanuts. Finally, something to believe in. Fantasy baseball becomes real baseball and vice versa. I’m stepping down there onto the field, turning the double play, getting the infield hit, beating out the throw, lolling out in right, stealing home, smacking the splash dinger. Or maybe I have the ultimate season ticket, where you sleep and eat and make love and enjoy the daily games at the park. No away games, everyone comes to us. Do we ever get old watching baseball? Turn off the clock.

Did you watch LOST? I’ll admit I did. So what did the finale mean? My interp: you go (to Heaven) with all the people you meet by chance on your island or in your stadium or along the twisted trail of your life. Even the ones you don’t like (which for me is many) are all waiting for you in the universal church with the ones you cared for. Or in numbered rows. Or on your plane. Those human contacts are all there is. It isn’t much, just everything.

Ever sit in an airport and watch the people flow by? The features blur. Clothes, hair, nose shapes, skin color, all different until they become all one. I could be in love with that person, but we’ve never met. That could be my dear son, if I had one. What if they were my father and mother instead of the ones I have? If that person was my friend for life? What? Would it all be the same? Are we interchangeable pieces? Plug-in people in one another’s lives? Is it really, 'love the one you're with'? In the stands? (Just so they're not Dodger fans.)

Walt Whitman played and watched the game at its beginnings. He wrote about it in Leaves of Grass, which includes:
I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

My tongue, every atom of my blood, form'd from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.
Identity, commonality, playfulness, history, family, health, life-death and summer grass—that’s baseball, folks. The poet’s sport. That’s the answer to every question. Try it.

The San Francisco Giants won their first World Series ever. In case you hadn’t heard. I’ve waited my whole life for this. Now I’m ready for Heaven. Hope there’s baseball there too. Otherwise, just send me straight to Hell.

So I posted here on the sidebar a link to my Baseball Poetry article. As my buddy Mike Krukow says (in fake Canadian): Check it ou-ut!

Happy trials, until next season, Martin

Jeff: Did we get promoted to opening act?
Mutt: I betcha it’s temporary.
Jeff: Pay increase?
Mutt: Dream on, boy.
Jeff: I got a question: If man evolved from monkeys and apes, why do we still have monkeys and apes?
Mutt: Um.
Jeff: If olive oil comes from olives, where does baby oil come from?
Mutt: I got one: Why didn't Noah swat those two mosquitoes?
Jeff: Why do they sterilize the needle for lethal injections?
Mutt: What do you call a male ladybird?
Jeff: When they first invented the clock, how did they know what time it was to set it to?
Mutt: How much deeper would oceans be if sponges didn't live there?
Jeff: Do you always answer a question with another question?
Mutt: Do I?

November 5, 2010

Neal Breaks A Leg

“Break a leg,” in English, means ‘Good Luck.’ Not where Neal is concerned.

There are lots of man-holes in Messina (winkwink-nudgenudge-saynomore), and many of the ones on the sidewalks are uncovered. Something happens and the cover disappears so you have a hole about two feet square open to the sky and a thousand miles deep. They are rarely repaired. They can be dangerous and must be avoided.

Neal was walking down the street one bright morning several years ago. Guess what happened. Was he watching carefully where he was going? Did he look down to see the open manhole in his path? You know the answer.

He stepped right in it and broke his right leg. It hurt like hell. Some passersby called an ambulance and helped him lie on the filthy sidewalk until it came. They put a newspaper under Neal’s head so as not to dirty a jacket or something soft. Neal’s head bounced on the cement a time or two as he writhed in pain. They yanked off his cowboy boots, causing a long scream. They brought Neal a glass of water. He wasn’t thirsty.

The ambulance eventually came and picked the heavy Neal up off the sidewalk, picked up his cowboy boots, and carried the crying Neal to the hospital. Not the nearest hospital, which didn’t have the resources to deal with such a rare and complicated accident, but to another hospital much further away. The ride was painful with every bump in the road. In Messina there are many.

In the Emergency Room, Neal waited for several hours. Several hours is a long time to wait with a broken leg. He asked the people dressed like medical personnel (you can never tell who’s a doctor, a nurse or an orderly) if they could help him. Even though he spoke in Italian they acted like they didn’t understand. Finally, they gave him a pain-killer (aspirin) and explained that they had some life-or-death cases to take care of first. Well, nothing to say about that. You wouldn’t want someone to die because the doctors were busy putting your leg in a cast. Would you?

He saw some of them smoking outside, chatting or chewing on candy bars and flirting. Must have been their break; everyone’s entitled to a break. Then, right before Neal passed out, a doctor, Dr. Lempo, finally arrived to take a look. “How are you, American Boy?” Neal is British.

“Okay, here is a bit gonfia. What is gonfia in the English?”

“Swollen,” Neal answered, wondering why the great Doctor was examining the left leg. Probably he wanted to see the contusion and scrape that the sound leg had suffered in the fall. Dr. Lempo was feeling the bone with his thumbs on the ridge of Neal’s left leg—maybe he would then compare the swelling to the broken right leg—but gradually Neal became suspicious that Dr. Lempo had not understood which leg was really broken. As Neal started to say something, the doctor banged the broken right leg with his elbow.

Neal yelped in pain and tears ran down his cheeks. “Oh, don’t being the baby. This leg, this leg … I no think.” Wincing Neal was pointing to his right leg because he could not speak. The doctor said, “No, no, I no think …” and whacked his elbow into Neal’s broken right leg again. Neal screamed again; his right leg was twice its normal size.

Ma insomma, I can no do examination if you cry like baby.”

A nurse whispered something in the doctor’s ear. “Okay, American cry baby, we take the x-ray now.” And he shipped Neal off to radiology to get rid of him. Two more hours waiting during which the nurses had to cut his jeans off. Neal’s leg was purple, and it was dark outside when Neal’s x-rays were finally ready.

Dr. Lempo was still on duty. He made incomprehensible jokes while he applied the plaster cast to Neal’s right leg (directed by the nurse) and complained that those people in radiology always get things wrong.

Neal had to call his friend Gianantonio to bring him some jeans and crutches, and take him away from his 12-hour ordeal in the E.R. The jeans were too small (very few Italians wear Neal’s size), and they couldn’t find crutches until the sanitari opened Monday morning. Neal had to leave the hospital leaning on his friend in a backwards dressing gown, holding his cowboy boots and dimission papers. The staff cracked up watching.

Neal never got the hang of walking on crutches, of course. As he tried to use them the first time, one got caught behind the heel of the cast and he went tumbling to the ground again. None of us were surprised by that, in fact it was pretty hilarious. Neal was hurt, but nothing new was broken.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: A man—maybe Neal—woke up in a hospital after a serious accident. He shouted, "Doctor, doctor, I can't feel my legs!" The doctor replied, "I know you can't - I've cut off your arms!"
Jeff: Finally a funny one.
Mutt: You know how stress causes falling hair?
Jeff: Yep.
Mutt: When the going gets tough, the tufts get going.
Jeff: Okay, two fish swim into a concrete wall. One turns to the other and says "dam!"
Mutt: Well, I went to the butchers the other day, and I bet him $50 that he couldn't reach the meat off the top shelf. He said, “no, the steaks are too high.”
Jeff: A three-legged dog walks into a saloon in the Old West, he sidles up to the bar and announces: "I'm looking for the man who shot my paw."
Mutt: Two vultures get ready to board an airplane, each carrying two dead raccoons. The stewardess looks at them and says, "I'm sorry, gentlemen, only one carrion allowed per passenger."
Jeff: Why did the golfer bring two pair of pants to the game?
Mutt: I’m afraid to ask.
Jeff: In case he got a hole in one.
Mutt: And last but not least, here’s one about you.
Jeff: Really?
Mutt: Yeah, because outside the bathroom you’re American.
Jeff: Uh huh.
Mutt: But inside European.