Tuesday, November 4, 2014


Recent “now” stats reveal
a few hourly search trends

No impediments, on the last day of your life. The streetcar doesn’t idle at its signal, on the last day of your life. The rain doesn’t slant hard enough to slush your sandals, on the last day of your life. Nowhere does the sidewalk produce a reflection, on the last day of your life. Nowhere do the numerals above doors duplicate the year of your birth, on the last day of your life. Engines howl behind clouds, on the last day of your life. Engines buzz all about you—wet, thirsty, hoarse, reluctant—on the last day of your life. No impediments, on the last day of your life. Lights at eye level, lights above, lights failing, on the last day of your life. People in threes, on the last day of your life. The beige heavy stones of old downtown buildings, on the last day of your life. To the south, not visible, the systolic beat of the river, on the last day of your life. The space between an impulse and a correction, on the last day of your life. The twinge of a tendon.

Thursday, October 16, 2014


Arriving Passengers
Woman with Banana 


Dan Gutstein

Running Time

1 minute, 25 seconds

Advance Praise:
“A ghostly breakfast, and yet, oddly sensuous!” --Groovie Movie
“Gutstein deftly, deftly gives us a meal in a peel!” --Film Flam
“The somber footfalls of the proletariat like never before!” --Cinema Minima
“As if Lady Liberty welcomed the early shift . . . with a banana.” --Slick Flick
“Gutstein offers us — fiber — in this latest effort.” --Documentary Daily

Vegetation Statement:
An herbaceous flowering berry was eaten during the course of this movie.

Thanks To:

Everyone I know.
My phone.

Friday, October 10, 2014


I’ve got so many athletic commitments—such as clubbing and jumbo slice—that I’ve accumulated numerous pieces of athletic underwear to the tune of closet-busting. You might imagine boxer-jocks dangling importantly from marquee hangers amid my notable suite of salmon-tint Casual Day home kits. So I upped the antechamber. For all my Under Armour, I bought an Under Armoire. Do you know about this? It has room for sporty sock, sporty pant, sporty tote, sporty sideways cap. (I store my sporty cap sideways, in any event, to get it broken in-for athletic commitments such as clubbing and jumbo slice.) I thought it would end there, and by “it” I mean the accumulation of athletic underwear, and by “there”, I mean my Under Armoire, but Nö, I begin to desire greater domination, the way Under Armour conquered the body, one garment at a time. I would like to own an Under Armoured Car and travel the Land Down Under Armour, not to mention purchase shares in the corporate merger that will certainly produce Under Armour & Hammer. I could see this getting way outta hand. If I max my credit cards, what then? Must I appear in Debtors Court? Will my wages get garnished? Will they hand me my money with a sprig of parsley? All because of my insatiable requirement to fill my drawers—with drawers!

For more see: King Lear Jet Li

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Imagine Peter Sellers as a dim-witted captain in Boeing There, a movie wherein his character, Chauncey Pilot, unintentionally predicts the course of the economy through the application of flight terminology. Chauncey Pilot doesn’t anticipate that his choice phrases—“taxiing for takeoff”—“climbing into the sky”—“cruising at 500 miles per hour”—will embolden markets overnight. At the same time, this unassuming simpleton receives invitations to chuck out the first pitch at the ALCS, appear with Sully Sullenberger in a PSA concerning the dangers of incomplete astrophysics homework, and select the crucial ping pong ball for the nine-figure lotto drawing. A door opens. Another door opens. Hillary Clinton welcomes Chauncey Pilot into her dwellings for a private chat about who she, the presumptive nominee, should choose to occupy the two-spot on the ticket. (If not him.) An heiress played by Shirley MacLaine later invites the chaste captain to bed but Chauncey declares his preference to catch up on Lifetime reruns instead, forcing the seductress to pleasure herself. MacLaine’s turbulent body nevertheless captures Chauncey Pilot’s attention, reminding him of a chaotic Attitude Indicator on an airplane struggling to level itself during a crisis. He thinks about crisis, about the dark side of his profession: not only the possibility for accidents, but lost luggage, lengthy layovers, and fees for seat selection. In every ascent, he thinks, there follows a descent, and for every acceleration, he thinks, there follows a slowdown, and beyond that, even, a period of idleness. We, the viewers, realize that our way of life rides the cosine waves of Chauncey Pilot’s thinking. If he should he say “accident”—“lost”—“idleness”—“fees” then the economy might darken in correspondence with these terms. Fortunately for us, it’s Peter Sellers acting through these tribulations, what with his slightness of grins. If only the menacing machinery of the real gullible world would admit such a king.

Monday, September 22, 2014


Yesterday, I accidentally googled Bo Derek. Oh, don’t give me that look, like you haven’t accidentally googled Bo Derek before, yeah right. I accidentally googled Bo Derek three times, which is unusual. In a typical day, I accidentally google Bo Derek five or six times. Hey: don’t ask me what’s going through my mind. What’s going through your mind? What’s going through my mind is how long I can hold out, tomorrow, before I accidentally google Bo Derek. I suppose I could try a diversion, like a Ouija board, but what bothers me about the Ouija board is the fact that it’s a double positive—Oui, in French, and Ja, in German. Besides, I end up accidentally spelling Bo Derek on the Ouija board, Oui, Ja, I do. I thought perhaps I could employ technology to my advantage, so I once selected the “Shaq Diesel” station on Pandora (I wanted to hear Fu Schnickens too, truth be told) but pretty soon I got Bo Diddley, and after that, Derek and the Dominos. So I ended up accidentally googling Bo Derek. I practice other accidental routines, too. Sometimes I accidentally watch the movie, 10. Sometimes I accidentally cruise the disambiguation features on the Internet, so much so, I achieve modest clarity. Sometimes I’m accidentally an okay kind of fella. 


You haven’t seen vulpine faces for months, yet you worry. You could try a diversion such as activities but what have activities ever gotten you? Besides, there could be vulpine faces at activities. Certainly vulpine faces have attended activities before—and prospered at them. Perhaps you could self-modify, via ritual purification. You could ask exploratory questions like, What do vulpine faces want, within the social contract? Perhaps they don’t want to startle, perhaps they seek to raise their kind in solitude. Vulpine faces might be up the hill, in hiding. They may not know the conflict has ended. They may be reduced to wearing dollar loincloths and bargain cheese cloths. On occasion, a goat goes missing. The villagers, of course, suspect vulpine faces for the goat abduction but what can they prove? It’s one thing to confront vulpine faces whereas it’s another thing altogether for the villagers to live out their years in the traditional ways: their herbs, their raincoats, their dialects, their tire gauges. Hopefully, vulpine faces will walk down the hill in their dingy diapers, hands raised, and surrender. There isn’t an unlimited supply of goats, after all. This is just an example, of course, and the villagers, in the example, haven’t seen vulpine faces “in aeons.” Coincidentally, the Handbook of Vulpine Faces hasn’t been checked out of the library since the oil crisis of the 1970s. Vulpine faces are major countenance types. What if they did appear? They might make bestial demands for cultural dumplings or Verizon service packages. They might invoke Kierkegaard. If vulpine faces did invoke Kierkegaard, would this invocation apply to themselves or to you? It almost certainly would apply to you, pilgrim, as how could vulpine faces express their own despair—unless it was a ruse? You haven’t seen vulpine faces for months so how would you tell them apart from corvine faces, or ursine faces, or tigrine faces? Maybe you’d expect a nightclub singer kind of look with a dress like solar panels. Maybe you’d expect a captain of industry look with political cravats. Maybe you’d expect an urban hipster look with severe onion funk. It’ll get so long between sightings of vulpine faces that future generations will have to be shown caricature artist sketches. Vulpine faces might get confused with curiosity, crackpot, messiah, management, and oblong faces. At least the public funding has been extended—for decades—for the Vulpine Faces Hotline, although anonymous tips must be recorded, in good faith, for a single outsourced employee who, in all probability, will never respond.

Fox Day #1: The Silver Fox On Roosevelt Island
Fox Day #3: Fox (Disambiguation)


When I jog across the Potomac River I often kid myself that I jog across the Rio Roosevelt, the name bestowed upon a Brasilian tributary (formerly Rio da Dúvida) in salute to an expedition that included ‘Teodoro’ himself. I always cross the Potomac to run the myriad trails on Roosevelt Island, a small refuge that features a cracking statue of the former president. The island also features woods, brush, watery inlets, marsh, and swamp, a collection of microhabitats that harbors numerous creatures, many of whom venture forth in early mornings or shivery days after the tourists have vacated the region. In my forays, I have espied dozens of birds, including herons, kingfishers, eagles, owls, and hawks, but many more critters—squiggly lizards, water snakes, turtles, frogs, and deer—have cast a variety of glances in my direction. One time, a common red fox vanished into the brush as I jogged near, its bushy tail a distinguishing marker. A few months ago, I witnessed the same phenomenon: a bushy tail vanishing into the brush, only this one presented as blue-black with a white tip. I don’t know very much about animals, so I mused on the possibility that I’d observed some sort of rare beast. Not a raccoon, I knew, not a possum, not a badger, not a meerkat, not a mongoose, but research points toward a silver fox—a variation, apparently, of the red fox, but with different pigment to the fur. I wish I could get to know these foxes a little bit better. They’ve got moves, for starters, they’ve got some foxy moves. Alas, both foxes disappeared with such swiftness of paw, such sureness of cunning, such luxuriance of pelt, such radiance of improvisation. In the end, my greatest animal encounter on Roosevelt Island took place in the midst of Tropical Storm Andrea, which rained enormous sheets onto the various microhabitats of the national park in June 2013. My shirt pasted to my chest, my jogging boots squishy-wet, my cap unable to shield the water from my eyes, I might have missed the ordinary turtle that had gotten stuck in the mud, an element that might’ve otherwise lubricated the amphibian’s path to the swollen inlet. I plucked the turtle out of the mud with a “bloop” kind of suction noise, and held it, for a moment, near my face. Would you believe me if I said that it tried to kiss me?

Fox Day #2: Vulpine Faces
Fox Day #3: Fox (Disambiguation)

Thursday, September 4, 2014


like a world without oppositional wattage like a world without the florescence of rage like a world without the geometry of dangerous hours like a world without the confetti of isolations like a world without a single amplified misapprehension like a world without dark maps of suspiration like a world without fear pinning like a world without purpose crossing purpose as when the purpose of haste crosses the purpose of defenselessness in the witch light of early condemnations like a world without the mask of the voice fracturing like a world without cycles unmodified in obstruction like a world without you perhaps and perhaps without me a world without hate like a world without / the inevitable.


Thursday, August 28, 2014


Two days ago, the former president of The George Washington University, Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, spoke about sexual assault during an episode of the Diane Rehm show that focused on “The Role of Fraternities and Sororities Today.” In the process, Trachtenberg demonstrated a fundamental lack of decency with respect to an issue of personal safety that affects women on college campuses across the country. His remarks included:

“Without making the victims responsible for what happens, one of the groups that have to be trained not to drink in excess are women. They need to be in a position to punch the guys in the nose if they misbehave. And so part of the problem is you have men who take advantage of women who drink too much and there are women who drink too much. And we need to educate our daughters and our children in that regard.” (Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, August 26, 2014)

Blood And Gutstein would like to make a few observations about this line of thinking.

(1) Trachtenberg eventually contradicts himself by, in fact, blaming the victims for what happens to them.

(2) He says “one of the groups”, in his example, but how many “groups” (in the context of sexual assault) does he think there are?

(3) By saying that women need to be “trained”, does he think they’re animals at obedience school?

(4) Does Trachtenberg believe that a simple “punch in the nose” will free a woman from an attacker who is, in all likelihood, much bigger than her?

(5) The former president refers to guys who “misbehave” as if rape were just a little bit of poor behavior.

(6) Trachtenberg further refers to “daughters and children”, again seeming to be confused about basic groupings of people.

(7) Trachtenberg apparently continues to teach at GWU, so perhaps the University should adopt these statements of his, and convert them to fliers that would appear on campus bulletin boards, in freshman orientation packets, and as part of required syllabus statements in every GWU course.

(8) The former president was the sitting president during one of the darkest days on the GWU campus, when this blogger’s friend and his girlfriend were murdered. A sexual assault was part of that crime. Trachtenberg should remember something like that, before he speaks on this matter ever again.

Owing to point #8, Blood And Gutstein takes a particular interest in this topic, and vows to stand against the kind of irresponsible, hurtful worldview espoused by a public figure like Stephen Joel Trachtenberg. As an educator, and as a former leader of educators, he seems particularly under-educated on the issue of sexual assault on campus. He leads Blood And Gutstein to think that, of the “groups” who require training, it may be people like Mr. Trachtenberg who require it the most.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


Hoots mon!

My friend Aerobespierre comes over to fix himself a cheese snack. “Ça va?” he says, carrying off the knockwurst, too. He’s French, he’s revolutionary, and he’s the most oxygenated person I know: his blood-gasses must be epic. I could shrug, I could make a hundred gestures, but I shrug, ça va. (Last week, he ate all my ethnic chowders, and the week before that, all my ethnic filets!) His wife might be pregnant, he’s saying, between mouthfuls, and if it’s a girl, they’re going to call the kid Anaerobespierre, after her father. But that’s not the big news, no, his interview with the new Hiberno-English mope-pop band, Sinn Féin Young Cannibals, has hit the press. The piece covers a wide swath of territory, but focuses on the band’s debut album, When Domestic Animals Answer Lonesome Train Whistles. The band claims that train whistles offer a maudlin commentary on the nocturnal intervals of middle distance. He shows me an excerpt: “Ça va?” he says; “What’re you like?” says the band; “Pardon?” he says; “Christ on a bike!” says the band. There is (1) Work and there is (2) Pain, we agree, if one requires a simplified system of categories, in order to deposit the experiences of our lives. A human being is to bonfire as Pain is to darkness, we agree, if one requires a visual on how Pain (darkness) grapples with the human being (bonfire) in a person’s daily exuberances; all else can be classified as Work. Aerobespierre toils to avoid any mention of the guillotine, or words that rhyme with guillotine. I’ve caught him more than once in a cold sweat on Rhymezone clicking around between histamine, kerosene, Philistine, and nicotine, and I think, as a Frenchman, he fears all four transpiring at once—an allergic, gasoline-wielding ruffian (“Regardez!”) just about to Zippo a cigarette.

Friday, August 8, 2014


The great Duffy Daugherty with two Spartans.

The legendary quipping (American) college football coach, Duffy Daugherty, declared that “A tie is like kissing your sister.” Daugherty, who led Michigan State University to some of its finest gridiron achievements, won an outright national championship in 1965 and a share of the national title in 1966. He head-coached 183 games at MSU, drawing five times. We understand that the pronoun “your” in Daugherty’s quote doesn’t refer to anyone’s specific sister—it’s not an insult—but rather, the “any brother” kissing the “any sister” as part of a tepid, passionless, formal greeting. You play your guts out, you muddy your uniform, you bleed, you curse, and you weather the cold rain only to hobble off with a tie; that’s “kissing your sister” according to Daugherty. The quote probably matters more than we think. Many sports, including college football, have done away with ties, and in some cases, break ties in ways that smack of the artificial. Is Daugherty right? Or can some draws matter? And who do you get to kiss if you win?

In 1996, college football instituted an overtime procedure, in which both teams get possession of the ball on the 25 yard line. If each team scores the same tally of points (or none at all) the procedure repeats, until one side prevails. In 2003, Arkansas defeated Kentucky by an inflated count of 71-63, after seven overtime periods. It’s a famous game that ultimately produced a winner, and Arkansas players, in the end, didn’t have to kiss their sisters. At least college football plays actual football to avoid a tie. Not so in the National Hockey League, where teams participate in a “shootout” to break a draw that has survived a five minute overtime. The shootout does not involve hockey, which I’d define as five-on-five, plus the two goalies. No, the shootout involves a player skating in, one-on-one—a situation that rarely transpires in the flow of most hockey games. (Although, even in those cases, many other players are skating, somewhere, on the ice.) In world football tournaments (but not league games) a draw that survives two added periods will be decided by dreaded penalties, which, like the hockey tie-breaker, doesn’t simulate the sport.  

I haven’t delved too deeply into Duffy Daugherty’s collected quotes, but I don’t automatically conclude that he advocated for sports to abolish ties altogether. If an underdog team travels to face a powerful foe but prevents the powerful foe from winning in their own park, hasn’t the underdog team gained a valuable result away from home? In a week’s time, my (world) football team, Swansea City, will travel to Manchester, to face storied Man U in front of 75,000 people, most of whom will expect to see the Red Devils stomp the Swans by three or four goals. If Swansea, however, escape with a draw, I think the players should kiss some very attractive women to whom they are not related. The EPL incentivizes winning by offering victors three points in the table; teams who draw receive one point apiece. Famously, the Notre Dame football team played Daugherty’s Spartans to a 10-10 tie, in East Lansing, in the final game of the 1966 season. The Fighting Irish, ranked #1 in the polls, preserved their position atop the rankings, but with the tie, Daugherty’s #2 Spartans ultimately won a share of the national title that year. A home draw counted.

A win, of course, in any sport, guarantees greater treasure than a draw, but as we’ve shown, a draw, under some circumstances, should be cherished. Perhaps we can modify Daugherty’s quote a little bit. We can allow that a poor tie—i.e., a powerful team drawing a weaker foe at home—is like kissing your sister. On the other hand, the reverse of that—an underdog team tying the big club on the road—might be like kissing your cousin. I mean, if it’s a third or fourth cousin, the kiss, perhaps, could lead somewhere. The OED defines “kissing cousins” as “relatives or friends with whom one is on close enough terms to greet with a kiss.” It doesn’t say what kind of kiss, and it provides no additional reflections on what might be appropriate after a sports team draw. I think we can all agree that a player on a losing club should go home and train harder for the next contest, but should receive no kisses, at all. Maybe that player should receive a somber handshake—that, or the fake nudge of the chin with the fist.

Sports Week #1 of 5: My Grandfather, Emil Ringel
Sports Week #2 of 5: The Landover Football Team

Thursday, August 7, 2014


Many years ago I participated in a basketball match during a spring break trip in Charlotte, N.C. I say “match” in jest. The game grew chippy in a hurry and many talented, towering people participated. I’m no basketball player, so I helped out by knocking people around, getting rid of the ball the moment I got it, et cetera. In this game may have played Michael Jordan’s brother. “Hah!” you say, but focus up: he looked like Michael Jordan, he leapt higher than all, and he shot the ball into the hoop, like, a lot. (Plus, locals said he was Michael Jordan’s brother.) His last shot circled the rim once or twice before dropping in—“toilet bowl!” someone shouted—for the W. The other team won. A guy on my team, whose name I remember as Ron, slumped down on a playground bench. He played D-1 ball for UNCC and it miffed me that we lost, with him on our team. “Ron,” I said, “I bet—I bet you can’t dance!” I couldn’t come up with another insult. This, however, irked Ron considerably, and people had to separate us. Later, a group went out to some club where a giant hose sprayed fog into an empty cavern. Blunt-force techno played from huge speakers. Ron had come with us. He tried to dance. He did some kind of arms akimbo, knees like a hoot. His teammates were there. I’m telling you, people were falling down laughing.

As a young man, I attended several sporting events at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, including Orioles games. I went with family or friends. We sat in the outfield a lot. In my best moment, I heckled the relief pitcher, Jesse Orosco, who visited Memorial Stadium with Cleveland, but I’ll get to that later. I’m remembering another game: the Orioles hosting the Red Sox. I was sitting in left field, pretty close to the front row. Lots of people in the stands were having a good time heckling Jim Rice, the Red Sox left fielder. So I joined in. I said stuff like, “You suck, Rice!” and “Rice, you suck!”, about fifty or sixty times. But I did not dump the beer on him when he went up for a fly ball on the warning track. In my recollection, he closed his eyes and the beer, like, splashed all over him. We’re not talking “craft ale” either, we’re talking warm National Bohemian or Tuborg Gold. He made the catch! Let’s say it was the third out in the seventh inning, but who knows? Rice lingered there, shaming us with a kindly look and shaking a small smile around on his face. Several ushers waddled over to our area between innings. They wanted to see beer cups. One by one, the fellows in our section demonstrated various levels of suds in their plastic cups, all except one. No, his cup was empty. And he, my friends, got the heave-ho.

The St. Bonaventure baseball team had come to D.C., to play a series against GW. I knew several guys on GW, and enjoyed attending their games, which they played at an RFK auxiliary field. In the same season, GW hosted the Russian national team inside RFK. GW had amassed a 20 run lead, but Big Fish, who’d pitched into the fifth, gave up a long dinger. As the Russian rounded the bases, all his teammates ran out of the dugout doing backflips and front flips. The officiating crew called the game. It ended 20-1. Maybe 250 people attended, including a local CBS reporter, Ken Mease. “Mease!” I shouted. He looked at me. “Isn’t this great?” I said, beaming a phony smile. He just shook his head, sadly. But I digress. Back to St. Bonnies. Their pitcher was warming up on the auxiliary field, for the home half of the first. All his teammates were yelling, “Let’s go, Spence!”, and so forth. So, I joined. “Spence!” I shouted. “They’ve got a relief pitcher warming up already!” He stopped his delivery and looked at the St. Bonaventure bullpen but nobody was there of course. Spence glared at me. The St. Bonaventure coach looked down, kicking a pebble. Ah, the power of suggestion. An inning later, there would be a relief pitcher warming up, and Spence, having allowed many runs, would be pulled from the game.

I liked to work out at my college’s athletic facility. It had a good weight room. I also played squash, if that’s the game with the little ball and racket. I could jog there and kid around with the hot girls who checked IDs at the front desk, and one time, I bench pressed a lot of weight. Many of the scholarship athletes couldn’t bench that much weight, and so, the story went around, and I enjoyed some small celebrity. Once, while playing squash, I noticed a player in the other squash theatre who appeared to resemble Mark Murphy, the former safety for the Washington Football Team. (Now the Landover Football Team.) He was a big tall guy with a little head, he had red hair, and people called him Mark Murphy. I’d add this: he looked like he could chew nails for breakfast. I just didn’t believe he was Mark Murphy. I mean, why would Mark Murphy (several years retired from football) be playing squash at my college’s gym? Also, he wore a suit and tie afterwards. Ridiculous. So, one day, hanging out at the front desk, I says, “Hey, Mark Murphy.” He says, “Yes.” I says, “You’re not Mark Murphy. Come on.” He says, “Then who am I?” I says, “Another Mark Murphy.” He didn’t answer that one. No, he fixed me with that look like he chewed nails for breakfast. He stood “stare down” close to me, but hey, I was the bench press champ.

Let me first say that I like Jesse Orosco. He won two World Series titles. He even had an RBI (as a relief pitcher) against the Red Sox in Game 7, in 1986. No pitcher has more career appearances than Jesse Orosco, seeing as Jesse Orosco could get out most every left handed hitter he faced, and he played until he was 46. So, he’s a great pitcher. I did some Internet investigation via the Baseball Almanac, and I believe I heckled Jesse Orosco at Memorial Stadium on June 28, 1990. Orosco was warming up in the bullpen, with Cleveland up, 7-2. I’m from Cleveland but I like the Orioles. I wanted to help my team get back into the game. We were sitting in the outfield, near the Cleveland bullpen, me and my friends. Man, I cursed that fellow up and down. I unleashed some foul curses from above. But Orosco kept warming. He waved his glove up to signal a fastball. He waved his glove down to signal curve ball. All the while I cursed him—but no reaction. A friend who played some college ball told me, to tell Orosco, that I’m gonna put a coat on his hanger. I looked at my friend crooked but he said, “Trust me”, and I did, I said, “Hey! Orosco! I’m gonna come down there and put a coat, on your hanger!” Orosco stopped pitching, and looked up, with a big chew in his cheek, and shouted a big F bomb in my direction. I had insinuated that his curveball hung so long—I could put a coat on it. Orosco entered the game and surrendered two runs, but Cleveland won. Meantime, ushers threw out the guys behind us.

Sports Week #1 of 5: My grandfather, Emil Ringel
Sports Week #2 of 5: The Landover Football Team
Sports Week #3 of 5: Wilfried & The Swans
Sports Week #5 of 5: Draws

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


Wilfried Bony aka ‘Daddy Cool’

I support a small club, Swansea City, in the English Premier League, arguably the most competitive professional sports league in the world. The Swans will face Manchester United in the first fixture of the 2014-15 season, a daunting first opponent for many reasons. Aside from their storied past—20 top tier titles; the most in English football history—United finished a lackluster seventh in the table last year, having sacked their manager late in the campaign.  The Red Devils, therefore, will have something to prove, as they open the season at Old Trafford in front of more than 75,000 people. By contrast, the Swans will return from Manchester to play their first home fixture in front of 20,750 people at the Liberty Stadium in South Wales, but the differences between a big club, such as United, and a small club, such as Swansea, extend well beyond stadium seating capacity. A larger club, by virtue of its payroll and the profiles of its players, can expect to challenge for the league title, as well as entry into lucrative European club competitions, such as Champions League. The allure of winning titles and competing with other powerful European clubs often proves, to the star players and coaches on successful smaller teams, too difficult to resist. Smaller clubs enjoy little peacefulness from season to season, as their best performers receive offers from suitors across the continent.

Last year, the Swans themselves competed in Europa League, a demanding European club competition that unfolds in parallel with the domestic league calendar. Swansea traveled throughout the season to Sweden, Romania, Spain, Switzerland, Russia, and Italy, in addition to enduring physical matches in the Prem. The Italian giants, Napoli, who entered into Europa League after failing to advance in the more prestigious Champions League competition, eliminated the Swans, 3-1, in Naples, after the two sides played to a 0-0 draw in Wales. Swansea had bulked up for the Europa League mission, by adding players at most positions, but in the end, the schedule wearied and battered the club, and they found themselves drifting downward in the league table. At one juncture in the second half of the campaign, Swansea sat just two points above the drop. Had their fortunes continued to sour, they could have faced relegation to Football League Championship, the immediate under-tier to the Premier League, into which three clubs tumble every year, and from which, three teams climb every year. Just as Manchester United parted with manager David Moyes, the Swans board of directors, reeling from the club’s tepid performance, sacked their manager, the legendary former Danish star, Michael Laudrup, replacing him with favorite son Garry Monk, a 35 year-old defender still on the active roster.

Monk, a long-time Swansea captain with no managerial experience, led the club to a respectable record of 5 wins, 3 draws, and 6 losses after Laudrup’s departure, with a plus-6 goal difference over that stretch. (Laudrup had amassed a record of 6 wins, 6 draws, and 12 losses, with a minus-6 goal difference.) Swansea’s triumph at Sunderland on the final day of the season earned the club a 12th place finish in the table, but it didn’t quite erase the club’s yearlong struggles. Many players, including the previous year’s ace, Michu, faced layoffs with injuries. The club owned the ball during many of its matches, employing its trademark passing schemes, but the possession, at times, rang hollow, with the club unable to create opportunities. In addition, the Swans often conceded a maddening early goal. They produced fewer clean sheets (shutouts) than in previous seasons and only took two points from big clubs: an early draw with Liverpool, and a crucial draw at Arsenal, where Swansea stalwart Leon Britton carried the ball into the defense, forcing a late own goal to earn the point. Captain Ashley Williams anchored the team with 34 league starts, the most on the club. Williams, a defender, had played on the back line with Garry Monk, before Monk became the club’s manager. Nobody will forget Ash hugging Garry on the sidelines after the club took a 1-0 lead in the second Welsh derby versus Cardiff, Monk’s first game as gaffer.

Wayne Routledge scored that goal, before tallies by Nathan Dyer and Wilfried Bony gave the Swans a comfortable 3-0 triumph over their arch-rivals. Wilfried, the undeniable man of the year for Swansea, scored 16 league goals—with his feet; in the air; from the spot—for Swansea, none finer than a blistering inside-out strike versus Manchester City at the Liberty Stadium, as part of a 2-3 home loss. The Côte d’Ivoire international, who arrived at Swansea last year from Vitesse of the Dutch Eredivisie, would finish tied for sixth in the Premier League scoring race. It was, however, another player to join Swansea last year, Jonjo Shelvey, who would produce the club’s greatest highlight, a wonder goal blasted from 45 yards away, that broke a 1-1 home tie versus Aston Villa. Shelvey, who joined the club from Liverpool, also scored crackers against his former club at Anfield and against Newcastle at the Liberty Stadium. His distribution from midfield led to several assists and frequently opened up the field for his teammates. Other players, such as defenders Angel Rangel and Chico Flores, rewarded the club with valuable minutes, although supporters sometimes bristled at Chico’s histrionics. Still, Swansea scrabbled toward the end of the season, garnering points in the table, avoiding a relegation battle, and offering the kind of likability and intense promise that inspires the club’s ardent supporters.

Ash Williams embraces Garry Monk after
Swansea take a 1-0 lead against Cardiff.

I could write about Ben Davies’ and Michel Vorm’s departures to a wealthy London club, Tottenham, or the likelihood that Dutch World Cup star, Jonathan de Guzman, won’t return to Swansea, or how the club, once dubbed “Swansealona”, has rebuilt without its star, Michu, and many of its other Spanish players who emulated the Barcelona style of play. I could explain my fears that some big club, either in the Prem or perhaps the Bundesliga, will prize Wilfried from the Swans, depriving us hooligans of seeing him partner with Bafetimbi Gomis, a promising recent addition from French Ligue 1 side, Lyon. In the end, small club supporters don’t expect their sides to actually win the Premier League title, but instead, hope the team will achieve the highest possible finish outside the big clubs, or, in some miraculous way, maybe sixth or seventh, should one of the big clubs stumble. According to the Guardian, Swansea City spent £49 million on player wages in 2012-13, a scant 27 percent of what Man U spent, £181 million, in the same campaign. There is a very tangible underdog purity in seeing your scrappy club step onto the pitch against a heavily funded, heavily favored big club, with a growing possibility—now three years in the Premiership and counting—that Swansea City will compete for the win, the three points, every time they battle a colossus. I wish them well at United and for the new campaign. Up The Swans!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


I blogged about Daniel Snyder and his (American) football team last November, hoping to add some small voice to the impressive collection of voices already calling upon the embattled owner to discontinue the franchise’s nickname and logo. Since then, Snyder has experienced considerable additional pressure to recast the team’s image—including the “Proud to Be” television advertisement sponsored by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation—but he seems even more determined to retain a brand that slurs Native Americans. The National Football League has not demonstrated obvious interest in addressing the matter, despite the example set by the National Basketball Association in the wake of Donald Sterling’s comments that offended African Americans.

The NBA of course levied a staggering $2.5 million fine against Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers franchise, and banned him from the league for life. (He may lose ownership of the team, as well.) Sterling’s words, recorded by a female associate, drew wide condemnation from many quarters, including the team’s corporate sponsors, prominent athletes across the country, and President Obama. I see little difference between Sterling’s hurtful comments and the symbols of Snyder’s franchise, except that the nickname and logo of Snyder’s team appear every day—and are mentioned every day—online, in news broadcasts, and in print, all across the country. Should we, as Americans, punish one example of prejudice but leave another example alone?

The Washington Wizards NBA franchise discontinued the Bullets name more than fifteen years ago. Not only has the team has survived the switch, but it has relocated itself (from Maryland) to downtown D.C., where it has contributed to the renewal of the Penn Quarter. Snyder’s franchise, however, plays in Maryland, and as such, both parts of the team name should be scrapped. In the meantime, I call upon leaders everywhere to join a growing group of institutions and individuals in addressing Snyder’s team as the Washington Football Team, or better yet, the Landover Football Team, to reflect geographical accuracy. Joe Gibbs, after all, coached Washington toward three super bowl wins at RFK Stadium, in D.C. proper, but Snyder’s team has largely sputtered at Landover’s FedEx Field.

Critics will point to a handful of recent polls that show broad support for the name, even among Native Americans, despite the fact that the National Congress of American Indians and several tribes support the change. I can’t imagine a scenario in which the NAACP, for example, would disparage the remarks made by Donald Sterling, but polls would show broad support for the Clippers owner among African Americans. Even if a significant majority of Americans truly do approve of the Landover Football Team’s nickname, it’s obvious that a significant number of people take offense from it; hence the recent Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation ad that ran during the NBA finals. Surely Daniel Snyder—net worth $1.2 billion—could afford to rebrand the Landover Football Team, and turn a profit, to boot. Perhaps the goodwill inherent in such a move would lead to a few wins on the gridiron.

Monday, August 4, 2014


Around the time my father’s father, Max Gutstein, brought beer back to New York, my maternal grandfather, Emil Ringel, clipped around Brooklyn, looking for work. He had wended his way through Ellis Island a scant three days earlier, with little money in his pocket, after crossing the Atlantic in the steerage deck of a steamship. My grandmother, Anne, a maternity ward nurse, had mailed a bit of money for him to join her, in early 1930s America. They had met in Austria, as part of an arranged marriage between two families originally from small Polish villages. Grandpa, as I would always call him, spoke little English at the time. He had apprenticed in Vienna as a commercial artist, but following his emigration, needed to find low-wage factory work or the like, to start his life anew in this melting pot of a city. He wore his only good suit, hoping to make an impression. His walk led him to a field where a team of football players practiced.

The ball, as he told the story, rolled away from the players onto his shoe. He couldn’t understand the goalkeeper, who beckoned for the ball’s return, but when Grandpa took a few steps back, the goalkeeper established himself in the goalmouth, and waved, challenging my grandfather to beat him with a shot. Emil, in suit and tie and coat and hat, ran to the ball, and with the strike of his life, bent it around the goalkeeper, who dove into mud. A fellow on the far sideline, who’d watched the ball swerve into the netting of the goal, jogged across the impoverished field toward my grandfather, a whistle around his neck. The team gathered, too. One of the players spoke a little Polish or a little Yiddish, and the fellow, able to make himself understood, described the situation. He, both coach and foreman, offered Emil a factory job, and a position on the factory’s football team.

We would term this arrangement “semi-professional”, as my grandfather earned a stipend to play on the company team, the Brooklyn Red Sparks, which competed against other company teams around New York. I don’t know the factory’s name, or what the factory produced, or how many years my grandfather toiled there. I know that he dribbled the ball fast, attacking from the center or the wing. I know that he scored, a lot. Grandpa stood no more than five foot seven, and weighed no more than a hundred forty, but when I met him—me, a toddler; he, in his sixties—his sinewy muscular arms astonished me. During World War II, he assembled aircraft, and afterwards, began a small commercial art business, but his football adventure bestowed him with a classic American beginning. “Is a great country”, he would say, with a thick accent. “You kick a ball: you get a job!”

The blogger and his grandfather. Also pictured: the
only ball, a sand ball, my grandpa could not juggle!

My grandfather could juggle most anything round. He juggled a football, of course, but also a nerf ball, whiffle ball, and tennis ball. I once—briefly—owned a hacky sack, and he juggled it, too, quite a few times: foot, knee, and forehead. Through my mother, Ruth, he passed down his physique to me, but I’ve largely underutilized it, except for a few moments, perhaps. Once, I attended a youth camp sponsored by the old NASL club, the Washington Diplomats, where I had kick-arounds with several Dips players, including the legendary Johan Cruyff, who said kind words to me about how I played. Cruyff, in that moment, didn’t exactly speak to me, but to the poor kid, Emil Ringel, who grew up in Poland, playing the sport with a football fashioned from rags. My grandfather could smile at you, and you’d want to put your arm around his shoulder, and have someone snap a photograph of you, standing beside a man who smiled in such a fundamentally kind way.

Sports Week #2 of 5: The Landover Football Team
Sports Week #3 of 5: Wilfried & The Swans
Sports Week #4 of 5: Who I Heckled As a Young Man
Sports Week #5 of 5: Draws

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


It’s all Ice-T. He rejects fajitas in favor of phojitas. The corporate attorneys tap their tablets. “I want Nice-Tea, on the drinks menu”, he says, “in France.” When the attorneys don’t get it, their faces begging for the brutality of an explanation, he emphasizes “Niece-Tea. In France.” He makes two-handed typing motions to the attorneys, who oblige. Someone chants, “Clobber you with a sizzlin’ skillet / phojita in a fizzlin’ minute ”, but the room’s so packed, it’s not clear who rapped. The space glows with blue cigarette vapor and stuffed polished ashtrays and shiny sharkskin zoot suits. Ice-T questions the “G” in T.G.I. Fridays. He thinks it should be “O.G.” as in “Thank Original Gangster It’s Fridays.” He asks them to double-check the grammar—“Y’all went to Yale or whatever”—while the attorneys type. It’s all Ice-T. “But if we do keep God”, he emphasizes, “gotta be deity neutral gotta be mono-deity neutral.” He adds, “Dieu as you please, civil play”, while one of his homies slaps him a low five. The room quiets but for the ever-present tapping of tablets. “Y’all better not be doing Facebook”, cautions the rapper. They get back to the menu. “I want Ice-T-Bone steak”, says the rapper. “I want Ice-TV Dinner and Ice-TIAA Cref for all the employees and Ice-TT Shaker on the speakers overhead: there, and there.” He spreads out his arms in benediction. It’s all Ice-T. He’s regulating. The attorneys haven’t been so humbled. They all wear the same laissez faire eyeglasses and the same Titanic haircuts and the same chokers around their necks. Someone raps “Gonna diss your stereo / It’s gonna be Blaupunkt” but it’s not clear who’s speaking, with so many entourages huddling at every distance. Ice-T turns to his counsel. “Yo, I want outta Law & Order”, he goes. “See about that Miami Vice-T idea.” Suddenly, the rapper Pitbull appears, on the right hand of the Fridays CEO. “Oh hell no”, says Ice-T, who stands. Everyone stands, except the attorneys, whose offshore helter shelter faces once again require the brutality of an explanation. “Now, Tracy”, says the Fridays CEO, but Ice-T bristles at the mention of his given name. “Who we got here?” he says. “Pitfall? Red Bull? Bull bleep winkle?” It’s like the weigh-in of a prizefight, with Ice-T and Pitbull standing so close, each man can see his face in the other man’s irises. “No Dice-T”, says Pitbull. “It’s fajita, not phojita.” Ice-T thinks this over, not blinking. “One condition”, he goes. “Theme park. Out back. Ice-Tee time for my golfers. Ice-Tee ball for the little ones. Ice-Tee shirt concession.” Pitbull winces. The attorneys offer cigars to their colleagues. Everyone claps. It’s all Ice-T. He’s regulating. Out comes Ice-Téa Leoni, dressed in a very revealing waitress kit, offering a slushy for everyone. The cameras flash in Ice-T’s face. He could have anything. His own political party. The Ice-Tea Party. But he’s affable, as is. Yes, affable will do. Yes, it will. It will suffice-T.

Thursday, July 24, 2014


The great Luna Stout.

Last week, I traveled with my pal English III to Milwaukee, where we caught the friendly between Mexican side C.D. Guadalajara and our club, Swansea City A.F.C., who compete in the English Premier League. The lively and sometimes chippy match at Miller Park, home of the Brewers, showcased two teams still developing in pre-season training. Swansea dominated the first half but didn’t score until the second half; Chivas dominated the second half and converted a late, controversial penalty to earn a draw. More than 31,000 people attended the fixture, the majority of them erupting when Chivas equalized in the 90th minute. Nathan Dyer, a Swansea hero, netted the first goal ever scored in Miller Park, a stately venue well worthy of such a fabulous international football contest.

The Miller Brewing Company, of course, paid for the rights to name the Brewers baseball stadium. Miller, a long-time Milwaukee macro-brewing operation, produces a variety of beers, mediocre or worse, such as Miller Lite, MGD, and Milwaukee’s Best. (To be fair, I don’t mind High Life, if one must drink an American adjunct lager.) Neon Miller signs glimmer all over town. Fortunately, the craft beer scene in Milwaukee does not disappoint. During our two-day voyage, English III and I drank beer at three brewpubs and one craft pub that featured an extensive beer list. At each stop, we received great service. The staff and managers conversed with us; we received either 16 or 20 ounce pours; we rarely paid more than $5 for a beer. These local practices impressed.

No consumers have enjoyed the craft beer revolution more than English III and I, and yet, we feel as if the pours, pricing structure, and other elements, of late, have begun to erode some of the fundamental properties of drinking beer in many American cities. We therefore cobbled together this Bill of Rights. We hope you agree with its principles.

Five Basic Rights

The Pour should be 16 ounces, the size of an American pint, but nobody would fret over a 20 ounce pour, the size of an “imperial” pint. The cap, or foam, should not count as part of this total, but ought to accompany the beer. In Milwaukee, we received 20 ounce pours of Polish Night Milk Stout and Sheepshead Oatmeal Stout at Milwaukee Ale House.

The Glass should contain 16 ounces below the foam. To aid in these matters, the glass ought to contain a line that would signal the bartender. At Water Street Brewery, we were served IPA and Black IPA in mugs which contained 16 ounces of beer below the line, an inch of foam above the line, and a handle which kept our hands from warming the beer.

Full pours of IPA and Black IPA at Water Street Brewery. 

The Price should not exceed $5 for most pours of sessionable beer. In addition, pubs should offer happy hour specials that would make good beer more accessible to us working folks. The vast majority of our Milwaukee beers cost us $5 a pop, including Silver Creek’s Big Honkin’ Stout, an impressive 7.6% beer served at the Rumpus Room bar.

The Beer ought to be good, of course. Each craft beer pub should be lucky enough to employ a beer director like the Rumpus Room’s Jamie Shiparski, who explained how he assembles a world class beer list. In addition to the Big Honkin’ Stout, we also drank the Central Waters Mudpuppy Porter, Deschutes Black Butte Porter, Great Lakes / Cigar City Wandering Pelican Schwarzbier, and Atwater Decadent Dark Chocolate Ale. (Indeed.) 

The Menu should offer a wide array of types and/or styles of beer. For instance, a patron of Hinterland Brewery Restaurant on Erie Street, in Milwaukee, can order the Cherry Wheat, White IPA, English Pub Draught, Pale Ale, Saison, IPA, Nitro IPA, Maple Bock, and the belle of the ball, the Luna Stout, a beer brewed with locally roasted coffee.

Disillusioned in the DMV

I drink beer in many D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area pubs, where these requirements often go unmet. Baltimore does boast, in all fairness, better attention to the Bill of Rights than does Washington, but not in an overwhelming way. According to the Brewer’s Association, 114 craft breweries operate, collectively, in Delaware, Maryland, D.C., and Virginia, producing 526,742 barrels of beer annually. If we count Pennsylvania, then we add 108 craft breweries with an annual yield of 1,788,556 barrels. Many local, easy-shipping options, therefore, present themselves. A six-pack of craft beer rarely exceeds $12, or $2 per beer, at a beer store, but at a pub, a 12 ounce pour frequently devours a $10 bill, and smaller pours—in the dreaded “snifters”—often cost more. Craft beer, right now, trends toward an elite experience for the privileged among us; I call upon breweries and pub owners alike to adopt this Bill of Rights and return beer to the people!

Monday, July 21, 2014


“Downfall Blues” contains the curious word “Yockadot”

Many years ago, I added “Downfall Blues”, by Tom Archia, to Disc 5 of my home-made jump blues compilation. The song, which features rare singing by the jazz saxophonist, fit well on beloved Disc 5, the novelty volume in a compilation that has, by now, stretched to 11 discs. Amid the sophisticated early statements from Archia’s tenor, amid the roughened lyrics about the musician’s weakness for whiskey, I became interested in a word, “yockadot”, that the man shouts twice before replacing the horn in his mouth and offering the listener his gracious swerve. The song subsides in a sweet, if haunting fashion.

Disc 5 contains early jump songs, such as those by Duke Henderson and Sammy Price. It presents jumps about certain characters like Deacon Jones and Butcher Pete. Some pieces serve as “answer songs”, such as the Lucky Millinder Orchestra’s “Who Said Shorty Wasn’t Coming Back?”, which answers Bull Moose Jackson’s piece, “Shorty’s Got To Go.” The disc veers into salty lyrics, food songs, New Orleans marching collision jumps, and plenty of drinking fare. Jimmy Liggins sings, in his song, “Drunk”: “Go home at night with a swimmin’ in my head / Reach for the pillow miss the whole durn bed.”

I discovered “Downfall Blues” when I bought a used copy of The Chronological Tom Archia 1947-1948, #5006 in the Classics Blues & Rhythm CD series (2001). While hunting for additional information on the saxophonist, I arrived at The Tom Archia Discography, a thorough online review of Archia’s life and output, written by Robert L.  Campbell and two other researchers. I wrote an email to Campbell, a Professor of Psychology at Clemson, about the word “Yockadot.” Kind enough to write back, he suggested that “Yockadot” may have been Archia’s “personal nonsense hipster word.”

Born in Texas, in 1919, Tom Archia played tenor saxophone in a high school orchestra that included Illinois Jacquet. He joined Milt Larkin’s band in 1940, and in 1942, the band landed a breakthrough nine-month residency at Chicago’s Rhumboogie Club. Archia would lead, play alongside, and/or record with the likes of Roy Eldridge, Charlie Parker, Wynonie Harris, Gene Ammons, and Dinah Washington, throughout his career. In the Classics liner notes, Dave Penny writes that Archia was “known among his contemporaries as ‘The Devil’ because he could play the hell out of his tenor.”

Tom Archia

A few years back, I hosted a group of friends at my apartment for a whiskey toast. We’d been following the Welsh football club, Swansea City, during their freshman campaign in the English Premier League, and after the club’s impressive finish, we aimed to celebrate their success with Penderyn, the single malt Welsh whiskey. My friend Doug Lang, a Swansea native and lifelong supporter of the football club, said, “iechyd da”, after we hoisted our glasses, the Welsh drinking toast pronounced, roughly, “yockee-dah.” We all knew the Archia song by then; Doug suggested a possible link to the drinking toast.

I cannot find any obvious link between Tom Archia and anything Welsh, although from the sound of “Downfall Blues”, he may have known a few toasts. If Archia indeed kept “yockadot” as his personal nonsense hipster word, perhaps he converted “iechyd da” via the jive phrasings of musicians in his scene, the muscular wailing of his tenor saxophone, or the beauty and “nonsense” associations that may occur to many of us when fooling with language. Either way, “iechyd da” often leads to Penderyn, and “yockadot” always leads to “Texas Tom” Archia’s fine tenor jump, a unique and necessary moment.

Sources of Information:

The Tom Archia Discography, written by Robert L. Campbell, Leonard J. Bukowski, and Armin Büttner

Wikipedia entry on Tom Archia

The Chronological Tom Archia 1947-1948
, #5006 in the Classics Blues & Rhythm CD series (2001). Liner notes written by Dave Penny

Band information for “Downfall Blues”: Tom Archia (tenor sax, vocals), Bill Searcy (piano), Leo Blevins (guitar), Lowell Pointer (bass), Robert ‘Hendu’ Henderson (drums). Recorded in Chicago, in October 1947, on Aristocrat #605.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


 . . . down at the pub!

You don’t ride the bus, singular, but many buses, plural, that is, pluribus. So did many celebrities before fame bestowed upon them elaborate ways of achieving arrival. Out of many stars, you’ve got one, for example, like Sheila E Pluribus Unum, although if the former Prince drummer rode highways today, it’d be more like Sheila E Megabus Unum. On the other hand, a guy like Kenny G never rode the bus, and his cheez-whiz career suffered when he collaborated with a Watergate criminal, to form Kenny G Gordon Liddy. The befuddled saxophonist attempted a string of subsequent collaborations, Kenny G-20 and Kenny Gmail, which failed to scale the heights of the man’s “Smoothe Jazz Genius” (sic). Not all collaborative works fail, however. Take the diet foods effort by a famous singer/actress—J-Lo Cal—and the diet foods effort by a famous ballplayer/ironman—Lo Cal Ripken—and their resulting collaboration, J-Lo Cal Ripken. Or if the late great rapper, Eazy E, had ever been beamed over to another planet, he’d have probably said, at some point, “Eazy E.T. phone home”, while making an imaginary headset from his pinkie, knuckles, and thumb. You can’t keep growing, in other Gen-X words, but you submerge, instead. If Uncle Sam wants you down at the pub, then you register for the draught. Don’t mistake florescent for day, don’t mistake epiphany for day, day can be inattentive, after all, don’t mistake after all for Adderall. I, myself, seek the challenge of a mass-gathering event. The kind where people stagger around with dark clouds over their heads. Yeah, it’ll be a real Tough Mutter.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


Max Gutstein, fourth from left, holding beer bottle atop stacked cases of beer.

My grandfather, Max Gutstein, along with his partners, became the first Manhattan pub owners to reintroduce beer after prohibition ended in December, 1933. A photographer for the New York World-Telegram and Sun captured the garrulous scene outside the Tri-R Restaurant on 33rd Street between Fifth Avenue and Broadway, but steps from the Empire State Building. The next day, the newspaper ran the photo beneath a headline, “Beer Back On Broadway.” Tri-R, the pub’s name, apparently asked New Yorkers to try the restaurant, which featured three owners, “Tri”, who also comprised the “R” for “our.” While a copy of the newspaper has not survived, my grandfather maintained a copy of the photograph, which he handed down to my dad, Marty

My grandfather emigrated to the United States in 1914, riding in the steerage deck of a steamship toward the end of July, including the very day, July 28th, when World War I broke out in Europe. He arrived at Ellis Island known as Max Sternberg, retaining, until then, his mother’s maiden name, as authorities in Galicia did not recognize marriages between Jews. Once established in the States, he changed his last name to his father’s name. Like many poor immigrants, Max relied upon family members who had preceded him, including sisters, as well as a benevolent association comprised of villagers from his hometown, Halych. He worked in restaurants, so he could have access to food; eventually he enlisted partners to open the Tri-R, which was, by my father’s account, an everyday bar and grill.

 A casual inspection of the photograph reveals the origins of the beer that Max and his partners had obtained for the occasion. According to West Side Rag, the Lion Brewery of New York City operated for nearly 100 years on New York’s Upper West Side, occupying a large chunk of land and containing, at times, “a park, hotel, brewery, maltings, ice-houses, stables, workshops, and private residences.” The Wikipedia entry for the brewery describes its chief output as “lagered beer”, popular among German immigrants. Both sources speculate on developments that hurt the brewery’s business—the anti-saloon movement as well as prohibition. Lion Brewery closed around 1941, with the steel in its buildings eventually recycled for the (World War II) war effort.

I never knew my grandfather, Max, who passed away before I was born, but I regard this photograph as one of the most important family heirlooms, a monument to convivial community celebration. It pleases me quite a bit to see all the patrons and passers-by mugging for the camera or smiling out of some small joy. And my grandfather there, proud and safe, in the middle.

Thursday, July 3, 2014


At fifteen, I drove with a friend, and his dad, to visit the dad’s sister for vacation in a working-class town on a large island. A day after we arrived at Auntie’s little rambler, we boarded a trawler for a fishing adventure. The captain, a friend of Auntie and a serious fisherman, boated us out to sea, where we couldn’t spot any land. He’d also taken along several other serious captains. We fished with long, sturdy poles that we baited with hunks of squid. We motored away from gaggles of shrieking seabirds. The fishermen sought ‘weakfish’—they aimed to compete for who caught the first, the most, the biggest. Everyone, even My Friend and The Dad started hauling weakfish onboard. All the captains resembled Ernest Hemingway, sporting big grizzly beards, stained with salt, over many seasons working the briny. I, myself, had only caught a tiny, suspicious red fish, which drew derisive cheers. “Hey,” I said, “it’s the reddest fish, and the smallest fish, and the least fish.” But then I registered a mighty tug, and, thinking I’d landed a muscle-bound weakfish, began reeling in the winner. Only, I hadn’t landed the winner. I’d landed the homeliest fish, with its horror movie teeth, skin like mud, and prehistoric cave markings. The hook had exited through one of the beast’s eyes. In fact, the eye was no longer attached to the fish, but that didn’t register, didn’t meter. The swimmer wanted more squid, maybe. He didn’t seem to mind our world, the world of a bright, airy, less humid sea. He breathed. The captains, collectively, could not place the creature. Tossing it into a watery bin, they vowed to identify it, on land, against a field guide. In the meantime, they noted, I’d caught the ugliest dang fish anyone had ever seen.

We returned in late afternoon, and Auntie asked Me and My Friend if we’d take her over to McDonald’s. She’d lost her husband to illness a year before, and struggled with the weight of his absence, but at the same time wore a big-brimmed hat and garrulous clothing. She repaired to the kitchen to prepare a drink for the ride. While we waited for her, I studied her husband’s Emmy award, which sat on the mantelpiece above the fireplace. I’d never seen an Emmy before. I kind of kicked myself, internally, for that thought. (“Who ever sees an Emmy before?” I asked myself.) The husband must’ve edited, or lighted, or scored. Auntie then appeared in the living room clutching a huge drink—a Cosmopolitan perhaps—in a large plastic glass. We helped her into the motorboat. The McDonald’s offered a boat-thru window. My friend operated the tiller, if that’s what you call the steering handle on the motor, while I navigated the waterway and other boating traffic. “I’m pretty looped!” Auntie declared, more than once. She had gulped most of her Cosmo. At one point, inexplicably, she stood upright in the boat, while it hummed toward McDonald’s (by then in sight) at a respectable clip. “Oooh!” she said, as she cartwheeled overboard, nearly capsizing the craft. She drifted underwater, her hat fastened to her chin on a strap. The day quietened. Very many seconds elapsed. I said, “Is she gone?” to My Friend. He was too tense to shrug. He kind of raised one shoulder, like a tic, when she reappeared, holding up the glass as if it still contained a Cosmo. “That first step is a real doozie!” she flubbered, as we tugged her into the motorboat. After we got home, My Friend and I threw rocks at some dudes down at the beach.  

I awoke early the next morning. Everyone else, except The Dad, still slept, but The Dad had gotten bitten by a mosquito on his lower lip. He sat in the kitchen, with a fat novelty lip, going, “Bluh, bluh, bluh”, about indiscernible topics, so I went outside for a stroll. I thought I might let air out of a bunch of tires. In fact, I kept a tire gauge handy in my back pocket, so, if caught, I could reasonably claim that I’d been checking pressures, up and down the block, as any Good Citizen would do. “Yes sir”, I’d said before, to more than one befuddled car owner, “30 psi, looking great!” I’d gone halfway down the street, steadily effecting a “pssssss” sound, lowering each car an inch or two closer to the ground, when I came into earshot of familiar voices—two of the captains from the fishing adventure, sitting on a front porch. “Hey!” I shouted, raising my hand in halloo. When they squinted their eyes, lacking recognition, I added, “What kind of fish was that, from yesterday, the really ugly one?” The leader of the voyage raised his hand, which clutched a bottle of bourbon, and pointed in the direction of a tool shed. “Got it over near the propane!” he shouted. “Gonna hit it with a stick!” I found the fish, indeed, in a laundry basket beside a propane tank. It seemed dead, but when I put my tire gauge in its mouth, to pry its teeth apart, it clenched down tight with an awful metallic crunch. “Hey”, I hollered, “it’s still alive!” but the captain came at me—or the fish—with a baseball bat. “Gonna hit it with a stick!” he said. I grabbed the laundry basket, and ran the fish, who still bit the tire gauge, toward the water. The captain chased me in an awkward amble, waving the bat overhead, but I beat him to the edge of the tide and threw the fish into its native element. It sort of half-swum and half-sunk as the captain arrived, doubled-over, winded. I’d like to think that the ugly fish swam for some time with the gauge in its mouth, biting it upward, like Franklin Roosevelt smoking one of his elegant cigarettes. 

Too silly? Perhaps you ought to read Essay On Essay On Wood.


I never leaf through a copy of The New Yorker hoping to find a great poem. The poetry therein often reads like a series of chapters from an outdated manual that profiles the lives of ordinary garden rocks. The poem, “Essay On Wood”, from the June 9 & 16 double issue, troubled me enough to formulate a critical response. I once met the poet, James Richardson, many years ago, when he served as one of the judges at the first annual Ruth Lilly Collegiate Poetry Fellowship—a lucrative competition I had improbably qualified for, as a finalist. While I don’t remember him very well, he seemed like an all right guy. According to Wikipedia, Richardson teaches at Princeton, but let’s not hold that against him. Wikipedia credits him with several book publications and several prestigious awards; I’m hardly seeking to impeach the man or his accomplishments in this post, but rather investigate the poem’s language.

“Essay On Wood” appears on page 52. Richardson has structured the 18-line poem in three, six-line, free-verse stanzas. The first stanza reads as follows:

At dawn when rowboats drum on the dock
and every door in the breathing house bumps softly
as if someone were leaving quietly, I wonder
if something in us is made of wood,
maybe not quite the heart, knocking softly,
or maybe not made of it, but made for its call.

Okay? Here goes, first stanza, line-by-line.

Line 1. How many poems, by now, still begin with words like dusk or “dawn”? As if the poem can’t ‘actualize’ until the first little bits of color inhabit this privileged setting. I say ‘privileged’ because I don’t vacation on idyllic shores with many rowboats at my disposal. For the boats to ‘drum’ against the dock, I suppose there might be 15 of them. If they’re the speaker’s watercraft, then how many boats does one person require? Perhaps this is one of the Romney docks. But of course, boats can’t really ‘drum’ against a dock. Do they beat a rhythm? Are they M’boom loud? Max Roach loud? Are there but two rowboats, to effect drumsticks? If so, perhaps the poet could write “two rowboats.” True, these skiffs aren’t yachts, and they might be tied to a warped communal dock upon which many poor bastards trudge—but the poem doesn’t nearly confirm this theory.

Line 2. I like the phrase “breathing house” because it suggests open-window spring or summer imagery. But I do question just how many doors can simultaneously [bump] softly. To “bump” is to nudge softly, so I doubt that Richardson really needs the word “softly” anyhow; he can just chip that one away. Here, we have, what, about 15 doors bumping softly at once in a house that’s inhaling like a set of lungs? To say “every door” suggests many doors, and again, I conjure a large plot of land with a dock, many dugouts, and a domicile with more rooms than you can shake a skeleton key at.

Line 3. This narrator reminds me of a modern-day CPA with flexible accounting standards … when he’s in the city. He appears to count things—the number of boats, the number of doors—without precision. Nobody’s leaving in any event, since the narrator only establishes that quantity as part of an unlikely comparison. This poem sure ain’t Creeley in the 60s. In Creeley’s poem, “Goodbye”, one person pleads with another anguished person to turn from a painful situation, the rationale being that “the pain is / not unpainful.” But here, among docks and boats and summer houses, we have the vagueness of “someone” who never exits (or enters) the poem and a milquetoast narrator in whom we can’t invest much emotional or philosophical currency. If someone were leaving “quietly”, by the way, then would she or he make any sound at all?

Line 4. The “wonder” is so significant that it’s planted out there on the right margin as we slug into the next line—but what a whopper! Our narrator fancies that “something in us is made of wood.” (Does he mean something in a guy, that’s made of wood, every morning?) No, but—really? If you believe in Mono Deity, then you probably believe that “something in us” is made of 5 Hour Energy, seeing as Mono Deity sprinkled the earth with people and critters rather hastily. If you believe in science, then you probably believe that there’s something in us made of earth and Africa. And you know what else? So is wood. Wood is made of earth and Africa. The poem, in this line, repeats a dead sound from the line before: “someone” in line 3 and “something” in this one. These “some” words avoid a tangible count and default to typical abstractions that further dull the possibility for investment by the reader.

Line 5. Ah, the “heart”, that over-spent word that keeps appearing, like a Canadian quarter, at the coin return of the Grape Nehi vending machine. The heart doesn’t drum like rowboats, according to Richardson’s narrator. The heart doesn’t bump like every door. No, the heart “[knocks] softly”, but why does it knock? Does it want in from the cold? Does it bear a message for a slumbering person? In Philip Levine’s poem, “You Can Have It”, two brothers “are only one man / sharing a heart that always labors” at the ice plant, where the narrator’s brother “had fed / the chute its silvery blocks” and the narrator “stacked cases of orange soda for the children / of Kentucky, one gray boxcar at a time.” They shared a “laboring heart” in that they tangibly shared strenuous manual labor in the postwar boom city of Detroit, but in Richardson’s poem, I am led to “the heart”, as if one heart represents all our billions of hearts. The repetition of “softly” but three lines apart seems a bit careless. Also, I question whether a heart can actually “[knock] softly.” Knocking reminds me of a loud, thirsty engine that must be slaked with motor oil.

Line 6. “Someone” isn’t really leaving in this poem, and what may be wooden in us isn’t quite the heart, and furthermore, something in us might not be made of wood after all—but instead, “made for its call.” I had to keep reading through the difficult convolutions of this stanza to ensure I properly situated the pronoun reference, among other entities. In the end, the narrator “wonders / if something in us is made … / … for [wood’s] call.” Is wood on the telephone? Or is it like the call of the wild? That is, wood howls out there in the gorge, and I, reminded of my feral impulses, gallop toward wood’s call. I suppose the wooden boats call, and the wooden dock calls, and the wooden doors call, okay, okay, Big Concept, I get it, I get it, okay.

Adrienne Rich (1929-2012)

The narrator of Richardson’s poem drifts onward in a similar fashion, opining, if you will, on wood. The narrator in Adrienne Rich’s poem, “Song”, on the other hand, establishes loneliness as a “rowboat ice-fast on the shore / in the last red light of the year / that knows what it is, that knows it’s neither / ice nor mud nor winter light / but wood, with a gift for burning.” See? Rowboat and wood, but better. The humble and heroic father in Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays” rekindles the heating element, the stove, in the family’s ramshackle house, presumably by adding coal or wood to the “banked fires.” The strength of the father’s devotion to his son causes the cold to splinter and break—the sounds, perhaps, of wood popping and sizzling. Many years later, after the father has died, the narrator expresses his own regretful isolation in a famous repetition, “What did I know, what did I know / of love’s austere and lonely offices?” Where are lines like those, in The New Yorker? I ask you.

Too serious? Perhaps you ought to read a Summer Fish Story.