Sunday, May 28, 2006

Begging Off

Although I have a readership of exactly one, it is nothing if not a loyal and appreciative one. I therefore feel obligated to make a few excuses for the lack of activity here.
For one, I don't really believe in the internet. That is, I feel as though it could take up a lot of my writing time and energy that could be devoted to print. I want the online thing to be corellative to that. Also, I like to write when I like to, but don't feel as though I've come up with anything worth posting. I would like to make other people aware of what I do, and until I can manage something worth reading, it's all in limbo. And I do realize what a common phenomenon it is to see weblogs that start off with a few enthusiastic posts and then die on the vine.
But the real shameful, pitiful truth is that I got distracted by MySpace. I had things one weekend that I really needed to avoid, and ended up creating a MySpace account. I am abashed.
For what it's worth, what inspired me in that direction was My own brother's Space (Doctor Throb on MySpace (he's a bass player)) and that of his friend Matt, who have among the wittiest weblogs that I have ever read on that site, although I may be biased. Portlanders think of themselves as pretty cultural, but truth be told, most of the really hip Maine people I've met come from other parts of the state.
Anyway, I shall get mine act together at some point, or if I don't, something else will happen. Life pulls the rug out from under you eventually, whether you need it at the time or not.

Friday, April 28, 2006

The Good Dog

The Following is a reprint of a story I wrote for The Baysider, my community newspaper.

The plans for the new Grab'n'Go Supermarket complex were all set: 234,000 square feet of discount shopping, with a full acre of blacktop for parking, adjoined by a 35-unit condominium building. The development company had slowly gotten control of the properties in the area— mostly old apartment houses, and not the nice kind—and were all set to build the store and the new housing.

The day they razed the old buildings, dozens turned out to cheer as the backhoes and bulldozers did their work. Many felt it would be an improvement, bringing in jobs and a better class of housing. Others felt it was out of fit with the neighborhood, that it would increase dangerous traffic, and that the rich new residents would want to take over the area. It was a source of some debate.

The plans continued, but soon enough it was winter, and construction had to be put on hold, leaving an empty lot where the old buildings had stood. The arguments about the pending supermarket persisted.

One day, Ronald Hyort, a local resident who had taken no side in the debate, took his dog Bill out for a walk, and they ended up on the large empty space destined for rejuvenation. There, Bill did something that is considered socially unacceptable in polite circles. Although a law-abiding man, Ron did not pick up after the dog as he usually did and as city ordinance decreed. This happened a few more times and, one day, one of the property owners, Mr. Ptarmigan, happened to be there, surveying the area.

Hey!” he shouted, getting out of his green SUV. “Aren't you going to pick up after your dog?”

I imagine the dog's got as much right to an opinion as anyone,” replied Ron.

You can't leave that here,” said the company man, not understanding. “It's against the law, and I'm responsible for this property.”

Normally, I'd agree,” admitted the dog owner, “but it seems pretty clear that old Bill here is making a statement. Now, I ain’t got no opinion one way or the other about this here property of yours. It's a free country, and I figure you can do with it what you want. But a lotta folks roun' here figure it ain’t so good for the neighborhood, and I figure, maybe they got a point too. At any rate, it's obvious that Bill has decided which camp he's come down with, and I'm darned if I'm gonna censor him. It ain’t like he can write a letter to the editor or nothin', so he's expressing himself the only way he's got available to 'im.”

This speech perplexed the businessman, who had no ready comeback. Nevertheless, over the next few weeks, he saw it happen again and again, and it bothered him more and more. One day, he decided to take action and had a local police officer present during the time he knew Ron and Bill took their promenade. Soon enough, the message of protest was delivered, and Officer Welch ordered Ron to suppress his dog's freedom of expression.

Now hold on,” Ron told her. “You are sworn to uphold the laws of this land, and Bill here is just exercising his rights. This dog is a full-born purebred U.S. Citizen. I got him from a neighbor dog when he weren't more than four days old, and this is supposed to be a free country.”

Officer Welch was thrown by this and told Ptarmigan that there was a possibility that curbing the dog might be a violation of rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, and he would have to seek legal counsel before action could be taken.

Mr. Ptarmigan petitioned the city, while Ron insisted he would not abridge his pet's freedom of symbolic speech. The story made the front page of the local paper, and soon other dogs began to come around to Bill's opinion. Before long, the empty lot was filled with political missives from a veritable canine coalition, and Mr. Ptarmigan was aware that people were referring to the Grab'n'Go by another name, substituting a word that sounds similar to “grab” for the original, and this vexed him in the extreme. The publicity did not solve the debate—opinion was equally divided, just more widespread.

The plans for construction were rushed through, but even when the market was built the following summer, dogs continued to register their objections in the parking lot.

The case eventually went to court, and the judge decreed that as the dogs had no other recourse to protest, they could continue in the manner to which they had become accustomed.

The condos were built but did not fill up a quickly as hoped, as people continued to use the ribald euphemism for the complex.

Most people in the area availed themselves of the convenience of the market, even those who had been vehemently opposed. It did provide jobs, indeed: a whole team was needed just to clean the parking lot.

That fall, Bill was hit and killed by a car, a large green SUV that sped away before anyone could even get the license number. It was felt this warranted concerns of increased high traffic, and new zoning laws were put into effect to reduce speed limits.

Ron was grief-stricken, but, after a suitable period, got another dog, a terrier mix, whom he named Bill Jr. As it happened, Bill Jr.'s political convictions on urban development were almost exactly the same as his namesake's. Ron continued to be neutral on the subject, showing he could not have influenced Bill Jr.'s motives.

A plaque was erected on the site of Bill Sr.'s accident with his image engraved in brass, and the legend as follows: He refused to surrender his convictions, and he paved the way so that all who followed him would be free.



Thursday, April 27, 2006

April is the cruelest month,said T.S. Eliot... and his birthday wasn't even in it

Yesterday, I turned thirty-four. I took the day off from work, but beyond that, didn't have much of anything in the way of plans. My mother said I should treat myself, buy a steak or something. I went out to a restaurant even though I wasn't that hungry, and paid $13.50 for a meal I didn't really want. It was crowded and I had to take a table near the back, where the waitresses had a hard time remembering where I was. I think the one who was responsible for my table actually foisted me off on a co-worker.
In the last year, I started going to bars, so I thought that this year, my birthday might not be the lonely, fairly solitary experience it usually is. Of course, nobody knew about it, unless I told them. I didn't know you could get free drinks on the anniversary of your birth until it was mentioned to me, so I ended up drinking two drinks that I didn't really need, and paying for the rest. People I told it was that special day would say "Happy Birthday," and then be at a bit of a loss for words.
All this hardly constitutes a major tragedy, I realize that. There's just something about people not recognizing your birthday that highlights the lonliness of it, because you know that other people have fun on theirs. I pride myself on not caring much what other people do, which only makes it stick in my craw all the more. I have a sticky craw.
A week or so previous, in the same bar I spent the balance of my evening in, I took a seat in the corner where the plush chairs and couches are, and was politely informed by the waitress that all the seats there were reserved for a birthday party. I have a good friend who often gets lonely, I remember birthday parties of hers where there were dozens of people in attendance, and how she, an introvert, went about positively glowing. I remember how a girl I had a big crush on, a few years back, e-mailed all those of us who knew her to inform us of a surprise birthday party for her live-in boyfriend on his thirtieth. Yesterday, I ended up lying on a decorative slab of rock outside the bar at closing time.
My saving grace came as I was walking home, where I stopped to weep in self-pity over a parking lot gate. A small fellow approached me and said, "Are you sad? I'm sad too." He offered me a hit from an unusually tall, narrow flask, which I took. None of his friends understood him, he said, because he wasn't that into girls, and they weren't that interested in amphibians and insects. He was also interested in rocks, had recently had a chance to get some obsidian, but it fell through. I tried to console him that it was unlikely the world would run out of volcanoes anytime soon. We talked for a few minutes, then I said I must get home. We parted pleasantly, I think.
The universe provides evidence, just when you need it, that there are no happy endings, only solace. If anyone reads this, it's likely that many won't understand it, even if they think they do. You are among the people who can't really comprehend true aloneness, Lord knows many the people I meet in bars, some of them concerned about the plight of mankind and all that, don't have a clue. People like this always roll their eyes or offer advice when I complain about my lack of a life. Those of you who do understand, well, let's face it, we don't really want to hang out with each other, do we? We want to sit at the cool table where all the beautiful women are.