The Soccer Bitch

There’s a lady – no, a woman, but hardly a lady – who has made a career out of selfish, xenophobic agitation. People read her columns and get upset, or worse, at her meanspirited insulting words. Her screeds get passed around in disgust and it all ends up giving her more readers and more publicity. She speaks with the certitude of the ignorant, and the vindictiveness of someone who might actually realize, deep down inside, that she is wrong about most of what she says.

I won’t pay her the compliment of a link or the use of her name, but if you don’t know who I’m talking about yet, maybe this will help:

This particular woman wrote a few weeks ago about Association Football, known worldwide by the latter of these words and in the States by an abbreviation of the first word – soccer. This woman threw every aspersion her fetid mind could generate at this game, this recreation that enlivens so many lives on this too-often-dreary planet. With the power and influence and reach she’s got, the best she could think to share with the reading public was something along the lines that Americans who watch soccer, and the World Cup in particular, are sapping our national jism and losing us the war on terror.

Well I watched my share of the Cup and enjoyed it too, and my boys are soccerers well and truly. I can absorb a few barbs my own self but there’s no way in hell I will sit by while a hateful bigot insults my kids, even through their sport of choice.

It benefits no one (but the antagonist of the essay we’re discussing) to answer a fool according to her folly, so I tried to channel my outrage in a more productive way. I tried to imagine – for she really offered no specifics – what she found so offensive about soccer, what about it was “unAmerican” any more than bike racing or boxing or whatever. And because I am a deeply clever person I was able to identify her most likely concerns, better than she herself did in her column. Naturally these concerns are all devoid of any rhetorical value, or even rational content, but my dander is up so I’ll break it down one piece at a time anyway, just so I can walk away from all this ugliness with a clear mind.

1. Soccer is a game without breaks. You get 45 minutes with the clock running, and then some, before you pause for a commercial. That attenuates corporate co-opting of the sport culture. In smaller words, businesses make less money during the games, and viewers watch games with fewer interruptions from businesses. Soccer has no Gatorade Gamebreaks or Aflac Updates. And maybe this woman thinks this is a bad thing, either because multinationals need more opportunities to rape our popular culture, or because this woman is incapable of 45 minutes of uninterrupted attentiveness. Either way it’s a weak plank.

2. Soccer players can have multiple allegiances. World Cup players all play on their own different club teams, as well as together on the national squads. This underscores the distinction between nation and corporation. For this woman, though, nation and corporation are conjoined. The USA is a brand, itself composed of trademarks owned by a few dozen corporate giants. If soccer casts that commonality into an unflatteringly lurid light, it must be antiAmerican. For the record, my view is pretty much exactly the opposite.

3. On the stage of world soccer, the whole world is represented. Europeans, Africans, Arabs, Asians, and New World nations of Latin heritage all contribute players of the highest caliber. But when it comes to our nation of nearly 400 million souls, most of our best sports talent is diverted elsewhere. Consequently, our home-grown soccer stars are often of a lesser magnitude when compared to those from nations that more assertively emphasize soccer development. We play with heart, but that’s not the only muscle of significance in this game. As far as this woman is concerned, it seems that any game at which Murkins are not by definition the world’s best, is not worth playing. She seems to prefer a smaller stage of pre-annointed national champions, competing among themselves for a star-spangled prize. But that’s certainly not how this nation became great, or even good or whatever it is today. Picking only the battles you’re sure to win, is too limiting a proposition for a big-thinking people like us. If America is to justify its opinion of itself as a world power, it should try its strength against the world – and when it occasionally loses, it should learn and return stronger, not cut and run in an isolationist fug.

4. Soccer is a team sport, even more than our primary national pastimes. There are superstars in soccer but their moments of brilliance are fleeting – the game is played with passes, retrenchments, coordinated attacks, feints, and a group dynamic that verges on being organic. This is also true for some mainstream Murkin sports, but for this woman, USA is apparently inextricably tied up with NFL and MLB, and that’s not the way those teams operate. Those are teams of individuals who each occupy specific positions and play clearly-defined parts. These parts all fit together in a concatenation of individual efforts. We think of great sluggers, great receivers, great pitchers and quarterbacks… but not the team structure, the great outfielders or centers who make their achievements possible. Their contribution is too often washed out in the glorious radiance of the big stars. Soccer players, on the other hand, cover more ground over more minutes of continuous play than any of our big pro ballers, so they must rely on their teammates more. In soccer more than in many sports, individuals score but teams win. And I guess that’s not egocentric enough for some folk.

5. Soccer is often low-scoring, which offends the Murkin addiction to excess. Then, in case of a tie, you either resort to a shootout – which even devotees of the sport richly detest – or you walk away with a draw. Neither of these is satisfying to the Murkin ethic of forcing things until you get a winner and a loser, till you can distinguish the righteous from the fallen. God picks winners and a tie defeats his supernal purpose. That’s what I think this woman thinks. Now, some people know that this is ridiculous. They know that a soccer pitch is about the size of an NFL field, but you run it like a basketball court. Soccer players work their asses off and don’t get down-time. If after 90 (or 120) minutes of play they still haven’t been able to thrash out a winner, maybe it’s appropriate to call the teams evenly matched. If that’s not good enough, a tiebreaker is the only way to end the madness. Maybe in a tournament with different stages, a team can advance to the next round on points even if it loses a game. Things must be brought to a close when the contest cannot resolve itself on its own standard terms. The clock is part of the game. You don’t necessarily become a loser if you don’t beat the other team. What’s wrong with that?

6. In soccer, bigger isn’t always better. Top players can be short, and that diminutive size can be a real advantage in ball-handling and evading defenders. But this woman is used to giant athletes, to the point that anytime one is the normal size of a normal human it makes her confused. However, even big soccer players are not bulky and endomorphic. They need to be agile and to sustain a high level of exertion for a long period of time. They must be able to leap high and to take to the turf; they must not be so large as to make accidental contact with opposing players. A player who may be called the world’s best today, stands five foot six inches tall. Superstars on the pitch can be norm-core on the street. This might confuse my antagonist. She seems to be one who prefers her superheroes supersized, so she can tell at a glance who’s good and who’s bad. Because America has the biggest economy in the world and that makes it the best in the world (putting aside that we’re far from first in any number of other rankings). For those whose minds are too simple to navigate the nuances of variable sizes and variable skill levels, the “size matters” philosophy is comforting. Personally, I’d like to think I’ve moved beyond that.

7. Soccer players are not above taking it to the turf – sometimes for reasons more theatrical than otherwise. They will flop around like they’re getting an EKG if someone steps on their shoelace. It’s pretty ridiculous, especially when you can hit replay and zoom and see just how groundless their posturing on the ground sometimes is. Granted, some of those dudes actually break their backs or crack open their heads while playing, and real injuries are a real concern. But there’s too much play-acting and whining for my taste sometimes. Instead of just playing the game, they pervert the game by playing about other things like who ran into whom. It’s petty and childish and detracts from the true skills on display with the rest of the players. And actually, this is probably the best reason why this woman probably should enjoy soccer more than the average American – she’s so good at feigned outrage and falsified injuries, she could bite her own shoulder and blame you for it. So that’s a reason I don’t want her watching soccer, I guess – she’d only learn more about how to do what I find most irritating about her.

And with that, I will stop doing something that I find irritating about myself – complaining. I’m better than that. I am now that I’ve got this off my chest, anyway.

The Gift that Keeps On Giving

The chill called for it, and my fingers gladly found it on the shelf above my closet – its thickened nap waiting to kill that chill in an embrace of matted cotton that I’ve come to treat as a second skin these many years. Mossy green with ribbed cuffs and collar, it’s so much more than a sweatshirt. It’s the babcia sweatshirt. (It’s polish for “grannie.” Say “bobshee.” I do.) It is a state of mind in cotton-poly blend. It is family woven into fabric. But mostly, it’s the babcia sweatshirt.

This is not a sweatshirt that babcia herself actually gave to me. That would have been obvious, and out of character. My recollection is that Pat and I both got babcia sweaters that year, and maybe also Frankie and Dut. Most of these sweaters were, though unflattering, not without some basic color wheel harmony. Mine was just a train wreck. I think it was maroon and red with a shawl collar, something that managed to be both musty and garish at once.

It was a big thing for us to be around for Christmas that year and I was mindful of the honor of getting a gift directly from babcia herself. Pity was, I just didn’t care for it. It didn’t suit me. Wasn’t my thing. Then again, I was the out-of-town boyfriend, the Jew at Christmas. I felt rather self-conscious even thinking about returning it. I shouldn’t have worried. Once Kel saw it on me, she nearly begged me to trade it in.

The store whence came this post-Huxtable monstrosity stood on the city square of her small rustbelt city, a place that seemed to cater exclusively to Polish grandmothers. However, since that’s where babcia went shopping, I had no choice but to do my exchanging there as well. I had to find something to trade for my ugly sweater. I took it as a challenge.

That’s how I found the green sweatshirt. It was a mens’ product, in my size, said nothing about Jesus or hunting – in fact, said nothing at all, was not unsuitably colored, and had functional utility for my wardrobe. The store had offered up its one approximately appropriate exchange product. I brought it home looking for ways to feel excited about my spoils, but it wasn’t long before I realized that excitement wasn’t what this sweatshirt was all about.

Though the fabric got sort of matted after a few dozen washings, it became a regular if not frequent part of my rotation. As years trickled past, I started noticing other clothes of similar vintage were wearing out and getting thrown away, but the babcia sweatshirt just got a little – a little – shorter. It settled in at an unflattering lichen-y color, became exclusively at-home loungewear. In that role it has served admirably, and for long duration.

The sweatshirt persisted, through stains and dryer mishaps, weight gain and weight loss, always comfortable enough and plenty warm, slowly fading but never actually faded. The collar remains substantially unfrayed and unstretched. Kel has made no secret she’s seen enough of it, but I don’t replace things till they wear entirely out, and the babcia sweatshirt must be made out of kryptonite. I have to say it’s been about 25 years now, no fooling, and it shows no signs of giving up.

That puts me in mind of the green trench coat. By way of contrast, sadly.

I got the trencher when I first arrived in Philly for college. I wanted something warm, convenient, low-key, and cheap. The venerable I Goldberg’s surplus emporium set me right up. They were selling army surplus double-breasted wool trench coats with zip-out liners. The pockets had slits to let a hand pass through to a front pants pocket. Plus, it only cost $25. When I wore it I appeared a couple-three inches taller, up to 60 lbs heavier, and commanded the respect of West Philly street urchins.

I loved that coat but it was superfluous once I moved back to L.A., so I put it reluctantly away. The years revolved and I moved to Frisco, where I found myself occasionally out in a foggy windy chill, recalling that I actually owned outerwear appropriate to the weather. Maybe it might not be so fresh-looking anymore, but it was warm and convenient and my boon companion through so many years of outrageous living.

I retrieved it from a storage crate and found it again to be all that and more, and by ‘more’ I mean that it was also now a wool garment that had been bought as surplus 20 years prior, worn hard and typically put away none too carefully. I wore it again for a few new months, just long enough for my dormant love for this awesome garment to re-ignite in my bosom. Then I noticed that the cuffs were starting to fray. Soon, the hems were fraying too, and then all the edges and buttonholes and the belt. When the belt loops started separating I knew we had crossed the line. The awesome $25 army trench coat was now officially a shmata.

I hung it on a tree in the park and that was the end of the awesome green trenchcoat. It joined the ranks of other discarded classics like my grandfather’s college sweater, and the rainbow seersucker pants. I would now have to get used to experiencing the trench coat as part of my past. And by now, I think I mostly have done.

I recall all that as I pull down the babcia sweatshirt from the high shelf. I feel compelled to check it for frays and failures, but all I see is a somewhat leathery old sweatshirt, still a pale green, still ribbed with whole ribs and neither shrunken at the wrist nor indecent at the navel. It is long past being suitable for use in public, so I don’t much care that it’s not much to look at. All it needs to be is warm and cozy and convenient, and those things it continues to manage very well.

Babcia lasted 92 strong years; we still think of her very often. She may not have bought me that sweatshirt directly but in her heart she approved of bargain hunting and value and things that work effectively forever. She’d have approved of this sweatshirt. So even though sometimes Kel tries to persuade me to cycle it out of the rotation, I can’t bring myself to do it. I can hear babcia’s voice in my ear: “It’s fine. It keeps you warm. Why get rid of it?”

Why indeed, babcia. Maybe it’s a rhetorical question but I’m certainly not about to argue with you. I’ll just keep wearing that sweatshirt till you tell me otherwise. And, if I haven’t mentioned it lately, thanks again for the lovely gift.

Inside the Park Home Run

This one is in honor of international sports, and takes us back to the late ’70s when I was a lad of some 14 or 15 summers. I’d already been to England twice, where I’d met the family that had befriended my parents when they had first washed up on Blighty’s shores on a trip they’d completed before I was born. That family, like ours, had a son and a daughter. The son was Graham and he was wicked cool. When I had gotten to know him on a trip to the UK when I was 13 and he was 15 or so, he’d introduced me to Frank Zappa’s music, took me on a thrilling adventure under a bridge, implied a personal familiarity with certain fermented beverages, and generally impressed the hell out of me. So it was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that I learned that he and his equally dashing friend intended to take my family up on our standing offer of hospitality. They’d be staying with us on holiday.

We put lots of ideas together to keep them entertained, but they were both such witty, good-humored fellows that it was easy to enjoy showing them around. Olvera Street was a big hit, as was Knott’s Berry Farm. But the thing that really seemed to impress them, was a visit to Chavez Ravine.

The ravine’s contentious history is a footnote today, and the families who once called it home have long since stopped doing so. Today it’s home only to the Dodgers. To be a kid in LA in the ’70s, meant being a Dodgers fan. We had that golden infield, a fistful of league pennants, and of course that sweet mid-cent field – the only modern baseball field with design integrity and a real sense of place. I’d see no fewer than half a dozen games each season. Dodger dogs were my favorite meal and Vin Sculley narrated my dreams. I may not have been personally athletic, but my boys in blue handled that for me just fine.

It was obvious we should take the Brits to a ball game. They approached the event as usual, dry and wry. After all, they’d seen plenty of American Baseball at the cinema, as they put it, so they reckoned they knew what they were in for. Plus, they were both mad Cricket fans, so they knew something of the hurling and whacking arts. Cricketeers threw a really hard ball, they repeatedly emphasized for me, and those cricket bats are much bigger than baseball bats. They were coming along for the spectacle, and to humor their hosts, but it was my sense that they didn’t expect to be shown anything much more than Cricket dumbed down for Yanks.

The drive in and the walk up to and through the gates was like every other trip to every other big tourist trap we dragged them to, just another parking lot (though this one had quite the view) and another palm promenade with steel turnstiles. Inside the turnstiles, the visiting Brits were amused by the depth of fan intensity on display and by the festive atmosphere in the walkways behind the scenes, with the tchochki hawkers and program floggers. Still at a cultural remove, they smirked through the milling crowds as we herded them to the gate through to our seats and their first real view of big league baseball.

I think I heard their jaws hit the cement underfoot as the vastness of the park yawned before them. Dodger Stadium seats 56,000 people, stacked five sections tall in a dramatic curve that hugs three corners of the diamond. In the waning dusk, the artificially lit and watered grass stood in vibrant contrast to the pink sfumato obscuring the hilly horizon.

And on the field below us, the men warmed up. Some tossed the ball, some pitched, some took batting practice. It was ordinary normal warm-up stuff.

The Englanders had never seen the like. One uttered, “this isn’t like Cricket so much.” The other, as I recall, said something about balls being thrown and hit so hard being dangerous. As pitchers honed their aim at 70 or 90 mph, and batters whipped with their shoulders to send hardballs into the outfield, and as fielders reacted before balls were hit and caught balls that gave every impression of being uncatchable, the visitors were uncharacteristically quiet.

When they did break back into conversation, it was peppered with questions about the speed of the pitchs, the distances between points on the field, the incidence of injury. Once the game started, they cheered lustily if somewhat indiscriminately, and though I can’t recall the opponent or the outcome I am pretty sure that both our visitors came home with us that night with tiny baseballs orbiting their heads. They borrowed gloves and a ball the next day and tried a toss-around; it didn’t take long for them to get the basic hang of it, though they learned even quicker that it’s both a science and an art to throw and catch a baseball well.

Once they got back to Oxford I think they wound up ordering some gear from Sears, which at the time was about as meta-national as folk got. Regardless whether it ever saw much use, that purchase itself was enough to satisfy me that, for all the cool things those cool dudes had shared with me over the years, we’d returned a little bit of the favor.

Getting Carded: How to Win $45

All school year long I rode the public bus with J and Z to their school. They boys each have a Clipper Card – as have I – that serves as a reloadable bus pass. When funds run low, I can refill them at a chain drugstore or any of hundreds of kiosks around town. Or, as I’ve recently learned, you can just have your kid lose one, and somehow it comes back full of money.

Having the cards has been a real boon. It’s much easier than digging around for change every morning, they’ve motivated the boys to get to the bus stop on time, and it’s taught them responsibility: they must not lose the card while they’re using it, and must return it to me for safekeeping as soon as we get off transit. They’re on lanyards so we can keep an eye on them and can’t lose them very easily. The system worked beautifully for months. Then we went off-script and experienced system failure. That should have been a bad thing but sometimes things don’t work out the way they should.

Not long ago the boys and I had a day off together. We ran errands and wound up a dozen or so blocks from home with a box of leftover ham-and-cheese crepes, a bag of prescription medications, and a floormop. None of us were prepared for a rainstorm but the sky suddenly occluded with cumuli and we found ourselves in a serious downpour. I bought an emergency umbrella for the boys and trotted beside them in my cotton shorts and a light hydrophilic jacket. Thankfully it wasn’t cold, but we were all crazy wet by the time we reached the bus stop.

On the brief ride home we just tried to keep from dripping excessively on our fellow travelers, and when we left the bus we hightailed it through the deluge to the arid safety of our abode just a block away. The boys were so soaked by the time we got there that they stripped their clothes off on the landing rather than bringing those sopping things indoors. It was there, in the pants on the landing, that I later found J’s Clipper Card. Z’s, however, never did turn up.

That was on me. I should have asked for the cards right when we got off the bus but with the bundles and brolly I plumb forgot. By predictable coincidence, this was also the day that Z finally managed to lose his Clipper Card. On the bus or along the dash home, he had somehow dropped it. This we had to accept, after a week exhaustively searching the house. The card was gone, along with the few dollars in fare Z had left on it. I set aside some weekend time to call the central bus pass scrutinizer and plead for dispensation.

The scrutinizer turned out to be a very nice lady who listened to my story sympathetically, looked up Z’s card, confirmed it was a child’s card (so fares are deducted at the discounted kids’ rate) and told me about some recent activity on the account: it hadn’t been used since Z had lost it but the day before my call someone had put $50 on the card.

I confirmed it hadn’t been me – it must have been whomever had found it. That person had decided not to turn in a bus pass he (or she) found on a lanyard, with initials on it in sharpie, and a colorful streetcar graphic on its protective luggage tag holder. Obviously a child’s pass. Free for the taking, and not turned in. A sad example of humanity, I mused.

True, agreed the gracious scrutinizer, but not the end of the story. Given that the child who actually owned the card was reporting it as lost, as of today, she had no choice but to cancel the existing card and issue a replacement, transferring the existing balance to the new card.

After a processing fee of $5, we’d turned a neat $45 profit. And some schmuck who, rather than turning in a lost clipper card, preferred to retain it for his or her own personal use, will find that she or he is $50 poorer come the first time that bus pass gets tapped and comes up “cancelled.” It may not be instant karma, but it’s basically skillet ready.

Add to this that the replacement card Z got has a cool limited edition new Bay Bridge logo, and how I’ve found a really nice embroidered Alcatraz luggage tag and a high-quality lanyard to keep his new bus pass save, this appears to be one of those rare experiences when things went wrong and then worked out significantly better than they started. Take heart from my shocking experience. Next time, it could be you!

Peanut Noodles Grow Up

Here’s a situation some of you parental units out there might recognize: you want something for supper that entices your palate, but the munchkins want spaghetti and red sauce. Hell, my kids eat all kinds of exotic crap but sometimes they want spaghetti and red sauce and god help us if we fail them. Well it’s not quite as bad as that, but the kids are fully capable of fixating on marinara spaghetti when I want interesting food. When that happens, if there’s any strategy designed to give everybody what they want, it is worth a shot.

In that spirit, here is my shot – my zesty shot. This shot isn’t just delicious, it’s no-cook easy. If you can make spaghetti, you can knock this out while the water boils. Mostly, anyway. Probably. Hey man, you signed a waiver.*

* Following this footnote implies irrebuttable presumption of having signed the damn waiver.

As to which: Spaghetti! I suggest water salty enough for you to taste the salt, so taste it before it gets too hot. Pull cooked pasta from the boilpot once a strand feels done when you eat it, and don’t bother with any other unsanitary tests. Cool it under the tap if you need to before you taste-test. I find it easier to pull a test strand with a fork. Oil the pasta once it gets out of the boilpot unless you sauce it immediately, or it’ll enlumpify into a congealed monstrosity. See, so EZY!

And for the red sauce, let your kids pick it. Sometimes mine want housemade veal shank reduction with heirloom base and shallots, and sometimes they want that one with Mario on the label. Whatever. It’s for them. And sometimes that Mario knows his shit.

But that’s just for the kids. Grown-ups can enjoy Philadelphia Peanut Noodles, so-called because I first tasted it there, my wife got the recipe there, and all we ever call it at home is “peanut sauce” which hardly distinguishes it from everybody else’s run of the mill. Which this is, in my opinion, definitely not.

Just salt and cover a pot of water and set it to boil, and while it’s heating up, put some red sauce on the next burner to heat up. That’s for the unadventurous. For you, combine the following in a bowl to make:

Philadelphia Peanut noodles

3 T crunchy peanut butter
2 T soy sauce
2 T peanut oil
1 T red wine vinegar
2 t hot chili oil (find it, accept no substitutes, it makes the dish)
2 t sugar
1/2 t salt
2 cloves garlic, pressed (or minced or whatEVER)
2 T scallions, chopped – I like it pretty fine but that can be tiresome
plus a MERE DASH of cinnamon

Mix it all up and then toss it with spaghetti, perhaps with the addition of peanut noodle meats or veggies – cauliflower, satay chicken, DO I HAVE TO DRAW YOU A FREAKING MAP I did not think so and thanks for keeping up. If people have hearty appetites, double the recipe.

Let the kids try your food, if they have any stomach for spice. Maybe they abandon their pot of Mario goo on the stovetop. No, it might happen. Someday. Till then, you know, more for you!

Pledge Break

Every day I take the boys to school and stand in the yard with them for the pledge of allegiance. It’s a weird tradition but I’m not offended by it. I view it as a political declaration and I do believe that our system of governance, properly implemented, is the one best designed to support individual and social excellence. Yes, that’s a big qualifier, but the point is, I stand behind this country, in theory at least. If the school intends to engage in indoctrination along those lines I am not inclined to actively obstruct that agenda. My role is rather to provide context to that ritual so my boys can assign it its proper place.

In this regard I’ve long been troubled by the superfluous grafting of theology into this political statement. My relationship with the divine is no business of Joe McCarthy’s or anyone else’s. Judge my words and actions, not my faith or lack thereof. This is the absolute cornerstone of our social structure and I refuse to erode it by bringing god into my daily affirmation of political orientation.

I didn’t want to not say the pledge, I didn’t want to say ‘under god,’, and I didn’t want to do anything to draw attention and make a big deal about any of this. I wanted my boys to hear me, but no one else needed to. And the solution I devised to this conundrum is so elegant that just this once I think I’ll let you hear it too:

It’s simple, really: Instead of “U.G., indivisible,” I just say “indivisible” and then stand silent while everyone else, all of them as one, repeat it. No one notices I didn’t say U.G., no one cares about indivisibility but me, and as for that, I get stroked by the communal repetition of that word. And if you don’t, well, get your own damn pledge. Really. It’s surprisingly gratifying.

The Conservatory of Nurse Slough

The tracks run through farmlands subject to flooding, and then the wetlands. The wetlands are vast, mile on mile of scrub and wildflowers, a flat moorland stripped with rivulets of delta brack. The land is federally protected but even lacking that it’s not capable of development – too spongy for building, too salty for planting. Perfect for train tracks, from which I watch the mustard blur and the egrets exploding from their roosts.

This is a realm of subtle beauty, but the terrain is unforgiving. It’s as much marsh as dry land, and even the dry bits are rutted and thick with rough brush. There are no hills to distract the eye, or for concealment. You see everything. Especially from the train.

This particular afternoon I rode that train westward, homeward, workweary, thinking of my own city and my supper waiting for me there. I gazed north, away from the delta and into the warren of tiny islets huddled together, riven by slim watercourses that cut among them like tendons in muscles.

Trains pass things fast. When the track takes you through open country it’s easy to forget this, with nothing but clumps of sedge and rushes and the occasional, unexpected finger of murky water flashing past to remind you how quick you’re going. It’s just the odd occasional phone pole that brings to sustained awareness your ongoing speed. Of course, this line runs old-school diesels, heavy on their iron rails, nothing much compared to some, but even so the train was rolling pretty quick when we went past the shacks.

There’d been no human handiwork worth looking at for many miles, and miles more would pass before I’d see another. But as the train rolled through the marsh a spit of land appeared at trackside; a clutch of houses clustered here, unpainted, drooping into mudflats that would flood up with the coming tide. Surrounding each was a robust display of salvaged crap: kayaks and bicycles and kiddytoys and clotheswashers and shopping carts and baby carriages and every kind of thing with wheels and that’s just what I saw before I saw the sign.

The sign hung on a run-down hovel, raw plywood weathered salty grey. The lettering was spraypaint white, crude and juvenile with fuzzy outlines: “Banjo Lessons.”

And then it was gone. Or I was.

 

Li’l Help?

I’m over my head.  I’m gonna try to gussy this dinky site up a little but there are like 2000 old posts I need to transfer over here.  It’s all uploaded, but I’m going to need help to pull off the actual conversion and population processes.  Don’t let me down, internet.  If you’re a wordpress whiz, do me a solid and drop me a line.  I could really use a hand.