Hooptie Do

In a few hours I depart with my son on a 1500 mile cross country, un-Interstate LeMons road rally driving the worst car we could possibly find.

It’s called the Retreat from Moscow, one of more than a dozen “hooptie” events happening this year in the United States and around the world.

What is a hooptie? Try this link: https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=hooptie

Or imagine a car so old, rusted-out and banged-up that you either have to be crazy, or in love, to drive it. The car may also be blatantly ludicrous: a stretch limo with slanted, Titannicky smokestacks thrusting from its cabin, a sportscar “reverse engineered” to drive upside down, or a jalopy so unbelievably ugly that it’s…really ugly.

Created by a California-based group of hooptie heads, (24hoursofLeMons.com) in the spirit of the famed LeMans endurance race, but with a sense of humor. The Retreat from Moscow salutes Napoleon’s humiliating trudge from Russia. Previous Retreats left from eastern American cities named Moscow (Moscow, Pennsylvania, a popular burg of departure, made a Best-Places-to-Live list: http://www.bestplaces.net/city/pennsylvania/moscow). This year’s flees from Cumberland, Maryland, though we’ve been promised that the first checkpoint will be in what remains of that state’s version of the Russian capital.

Checkpoints make this different from a road race. We must observe all local, state and federal speed limits. The goal is to complete tasks required at numerous checkpoints, which, my son assures me, are wonderfully stupid, such as having to stop in ten different Tennessee Waffle Houses and by a single waffle in each, in a single day!

From Maryland, we go south, driving 300 to 450 miles a day down back roads and scenic by-ways, among them US 129, a two-lane road in the North Carolina Smoky Mountains notorious for its switchbacks and hairpin turns. We overnight in Roanoke,  Asheville, and Chatanooga where I’ve booked us a room (and not a train car, though the train car was available) at the Historic Chatanooga Choo Choo Hotel.

The Rally ends Friday in Leeds, Alabama, where prizes will be awarded for Random Acts of Stupidity and Hooptiest Vehicle.

Our hooptie is an ancient Infiniti sedan, reputed to be one of the ugliest cars ever to come out of Japan. To qualify for LeMons hooptiness, we must spend no more than $500 on the car (my son has a receipt). The seats still heat, the radio works but the volume knob is frozen, the automatic transmission groans slips a little and one of the rear tires makes a bump-bump-bump sound that I’ll just have to get used to. The car is licensed and fully insured, but we’ll have points taken off because Japanese and German cars, no matter how visually hideous, have a reputation for reliability.

We’d get 100 added points if we showed up in a Russian Yugo!

What happens if we, or any of the competing vehicles, break down? You fix the car on the spot, which my son did on a previous Retreat. Failing that, you get a tow to a garage, or call Enterprise for a rental and asked to be picked up.

I haven’t asked my son if he suffered that on a previous Retreat. Our first stop is a Walmart, where I intend to purchase radiator fluid, extra flashlight batteries and duct tape.

A lot of duct tape.

 

 

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I Thank You Kindly

I saw a recording of a speech given by Dr. Martin Seligman, a University of Pennsylvania professor and founder of the positive psychology field of study. I want to share an idea he suggested.

If you haven’t heard by now (and it’s surprising how many people haven’t), positive psychology differs from much of what was studied in the 20th century in that, instead of examining and devising therapies for mental illness and psychopathology, positive psychology asks such questions as, “What really makes people happy?” “Why do people stay happy?” “What has to happen for people to feel good at about who they are, the work do, the place where they live and those who surround them?”

Among the many things that came out of studies led by Dr. Seligman is the importance of gratitude as a practice, a habit and an expression of value.

Many religions incorporate some kind of gratitude practice in prayers, ritual, and regular worship. The effect of sacred and secular gratitude practice might as well be the same: you look around and acknowledge that who you are, where you are and how you’re feeling right now have a lot to do people, places and things around you that you tend not to notice that often.

Do this often enough and the grumbles and grievances and, perhaps, inconveniences, if not downright disasters and unforeseen losses, are complicated by a certainty that, even in the worst conditions, things are not as bad as they seem.

I’m reminded here of Dorothy Day, the journalist and social activist who, when asked why she could remain so positive through a life of challenge, conflict and struggle, she merely replied, “Too much beauty.”

It can be hard to see the beauty when you’re seriously ill, you’ve recently lost a loved one, you’re fired from a job for no fault of your own,  you’ve made a mistake that has harmed someone or you’re just plain lonely on a Saturday night. Gratitude practice reminds you of that beauty not only exists but that it is possibly more varied and prevalent than you thought.

Seeing beauty, even in the worst circumstances, doesn’t hurt and can provide a moment of relief that can give us the strength to find our way to a health, healing and happiness.

Gratitude can become a habit through practice and daily affirmations. A positive psychology study in a nursing home revealed that residents lived longer, had better social lives, were better at coping with change and needed fewer doctor visits when they kept a diary, or used some other daily reminder of the things for which they were grateful.

G.K. Chesterton, a witty English writer best known for his Father Brown mystery series, linked gratitude to the identification and appreciation of the sense of wonder, which, he believed, was the essence of the religious experience.

For Chesterton, the sense of wonder was a great, big, continuous wow! The path to this wow wasn’t as easy as looking up at golden sunlight or fireworks in the sky because, as Chesterton often acknowledged, the English sky is mostly overcast, wet, gloomy and gray. He advised that we should accept gray skies and other kinds of limitation with humility and rediscover our childhood innocence in the warmth of a room, the glow of a candle, laughter and the joy of good food and friends.

Gratitude as an expression of value is not about what makes us special, unique or worthy of privilege and good fortune. It is the recognition of the importance of gifts, obvious and subtle, that sustain us, whether or not we have done anything to deserve them.

Which brings me to an exercise Dr. Seligman mentioned, the gratitude testimonial. Students were asked to think of a living person who made a significant, positive contribution to their lives. The nature of that contribution was open to broad interpretation. What mattered was that the students’ lives were made better because of what that person did.

Students then composed a speech about how this person changed their lives, thus compelling them to review that event and bring forward from the past a moment (or more) for which they were grateful.

That was only part of the assignment. After completing the speech, students found the address of that person’s residence, office or place of business, and (presumably when classes weren’t meeting), traveled there. Without making an appointment or warning that person in any way, showed up, asked politely to see that person and then, when that person was within earshot, read their speech to that person.

What did this accomplish?

First, students had to do a gratitude survey in which they usually came up with more than one person, thereby enriching their appreciation of the many people who had helped them, or had been a gift in some way. They had to prioritize their selections and choose one that was reasonably accessible.

Second, the act of putting a person’s contribution into words had the same effect as writing a journal or memoir. It brought a memory into the present and framed it in light of the student’s current understanding and education.

Third, the pilgrimage introduce an element of risk. We can imagine many ways in which gaining access may be problematic, and reciting the speech may lead to confusion, embarrassment, impatient foot-tapping from the person’s nearest and dearest, and that disquieting moment when this person admits to having no memory of you, and can’t recall ever doing what you’re grateful for.

Seligman said that the exercise ended up being beneficial for both the student and the person in ways that neither could predict.

And it made both rather happy, for a few minutes and more.

This said, I want to thank you for reading this. I believe that kind attention paid to another’s efforts furthers that effort in vital ways. This happened when I was a young writer and couldn’t wait to show my girlfriend what I had come up with that day.

Today, that girlfriend is my wife and I still show her what I’ve written. She is my muse, my inspiration and my best friend.

What if the reader and the writer never meet, or share a word across cyberspace?

For a moment, let’s be grateful for those whose words, however we found them, were exactly those we needed to read.

Thank you very much.

 

 

 

 

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Hard Soles

Put on my hard soles today

Don’t remember where I got them

Black leather shoes like the boss used to wear

When he put his feet up on the desk and fired people.

 

Put on my hard soles today

They’re in better shape than me.

I don’t walk easy in them

More like a plod.

 

Put on my hard soles today

Trudged through newly fallen snow

Not much traction in the heels

The cold came in too soon.

 

Took off my hard soles today

Put on the running shoes

Bounced around the block

Two inches off the ground.

 

 

 

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Reasons For Not Writing Poetry #6

Let me tell you straight

What we have here is a business

We provide poems for some of the world’s biggest corporations

The wealthiest people

You’d think celebrities could do it themselves.

But they don’t.

 

An hour ago we had a rush order

From the head of a car dealership

Who gave us the first two lines.

“There was a young cowboy in Texas

Who dreamed of owning a Lexus.”

Want to finish that?

 

We get a ton of job applications

Not all of them English majors with student loans

We hired a guy who does elegies in church yards

And another who watches woods fill up with snow

And a gal who doesn’t leave her house and never stops – at all.

Boy, can she produce.

 

If you hear America singing

Listen on your own time.

Our clients don’t like downbeat content

Mighty Casey never strikes out

Of that sort of Dramatic Poem that is tragedy–

Avoid.

 

We fired a computer that wrote sestinas

You’d think it would make changes

And show up for meetings every once in a while

Be more of a team player

And take a little criticism

But it didn’t.

 

We turned down this Yukon type

Who couldn’t have cremated Sam McGee

We don’t want anybody raging against the dying of the light.

We said no to this smug little playwright.

Who, when in disgrace in fortune and men’s eyes, thinks of…

Somebody. I forget.

 

We’re a business

That walks in beauty, day and night.

Sometimes for a breath we’ll tarry.

We’re still waiting on a sonnet

Something about love.

How long does it take to count the ways?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Just You Wait

The doctor will be with you soon,

Or so you’re told.

You find a chair in row of chairs

With perfect Feng Shui,

Backs against the wall

Not too close to anyone else,

Where you can narrow your gaze

At the door through which we all must pass

As long as we have insurance.

 

You ask yourself

If you’re the first person who

Noticed the carpet’s infinitely repeating gray pattern.

Definitely not M.C. Escher.

More like…Escheresque.

The pale, Mission green olive walls and blond wood chairs,

The wall-mounted flat-screen showed smiling people

Stop smiling as they were told they should not despair that

More than a hundred bats

Were living happily just behind the dry wall

Of the house they just bought.

 

You ask yourself

If the red-faced sniffler,

Or that guy in the camo jacket contemplating gastrointestinal urgency,

And that bleary-eyed parent who had probably stayed up half the night

With the child beside her,

Were members of a secret society

Who only pretended to be ill

So they could explore the

Many fascinating and unique waiting rooms

And behave like those who are humbled

By stained glass, stone columns, clerestory windows

And the bird that flies in and doesn’t quite know what to do with itself

As a medieval cathedral reveals itself

As the house of the God

Who doesn’t have to make things right

Because they already are.

 

Did you hear a heavily accented guide,

Begin a bouncy little spiel

About the waiting room’s unique place and function in history of

commercial architecture and interior design?

 

Did you observe the gently enclosing,

But not confining

Effect of the coffee-colored blinds on the window overlooking the parking lot?

Now, come,  marvel at how the warm earth tones

With the the vibrant, if slightly worn covers of magazines

And the crucial absence of clocks,

Combine to evoke an institutional calm,

Suggesting that sickness and discomfort

(and a home infested with bats!)

Were all momentary aberrations

As we make our gentle, loving progress

On God’s green earth?

 

No? Well, then take these few minutes

While you endure the agony

Of bats screeching under your skin,

To be thankful that you have insurance (and the co-pay!)

So you can walk through that door

And be a child again

In front of the grown-up

You’ve been waiting for.

 

 

 

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To Go

When you drive a car in my neighborhood

You don’t notice

What’s between you and everyone else

Until

 

You’re stopped behind a light for so unbelievably long

You wonder what will happen to the garbage rolling across the road.

And when will they mow the median strip?

Or arrest whoever shot holes in the stop sign?

 

You realize that you are surrounded by people who just shouldn’t be on the road.

Banged up cars, smelly trucks, farting motorbikes,

A cyclist in the shoulder so everybody has to veer away

And look at that guy strutting across the crosswalk, like one push of a button makes him royalty!

 

And when are they going to plow the gray snow and salt the sheets of ice

That’ll kill you if you don’t watch out?

You want to change lanes but that creep won’t let you in!

And when are they going to fill the potholes?

 

It’s been two weeks and that streetlamp is still dark.

When are they going to stop raising the the tolls

Or finish the construction the tolls are supposed to pay for.

Stop slowing down like you’ve never seen a smashed car!

 

Where are the cops? That jerk in front doesn’t know how to drive.

Ever hear of turn signal?

Turn your high beams off and

Put the damned cell phone down!

 

I’m sure there are places where no one is in front of you, moving too slow

And no one is in back, flashing headlights and bearing down on you for going too slow.

Places with mountains, lakes and trees, and perfect weather

And city blocks with restaurants and shops and gleaming streets where

 

You can pretend you’re in a car commercial

Confident, smiling and admired from afar

For being the only person in universe

Absolutely certain that nothing ever ends.

 

 

 

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The Hero

They say you should never meet your heroes.

But you’ve met a few

None were what they were cracked up to be.

Some had merely cracked.

 

Not like a statue.

More like an egg.

You didn’t want what was inside

To seep out.

 

Because you didn’t know the right way to mop it up

And put it back in

And search for in that drawer marked Emergency Hero Repair

For the glue that would make the crack disappear.

 

But you tried with one.

You had seen him in his glory

Quiet, dignified, drinking beer:

A published author who wasn’t worried about who was paying.

 

Then you found him broken and

Angry at those who shunned him

Who couldn’t understand why

Partial paralysis and brain-damage had prevented him from being a hero.

 

He swore he would recover someday, and

He sensed that everything around you had lost its meaning.

He invited you to visit him. He promised beautiful sunsets.

He said he’d put you back together.

 

The sun sets were beautiful but his maid had quit months ago. The kitchen sink held a leaning tower of dishes and his referigator reeked from spoiled food.

You cleaned his house, mowed his lawn, cooked the food, fetched the mail and marveled how he had learned to drive a car with one hand.

You weren’t speaking properly, he said. He hated your writing.

He told you that you knew nothing about old cars, model airplanes, Swedish furniture, German beer, history, Puccini’s operas, Sibelius’ symphonies, science fiction stories and Raymond Chandler novels.

 

Could this be why,

You asked yourself as you watched the sun set,

His wife and children

Left him?

 

Then, before you had to leave, you saw his car slide down into a lake

You went in, freed him from the car, pulled his head above the water, put his one functional arm around your neck, dragged him to the water’s edge and carried him out.

He said you saved his life, then he yelled at you for not being as astonished as he was,

That you had done something right.

 

A few weeks later

He said he’d dedicate a book to you.

He was writing again.

You thought you found the glue.

 

You wrote letters.

He told you the sunsets were even more beautiful and

That book was at the publisher

And would come out, soon.

 

So you bought a hardcover edition

Opened it.

Saw it was dedicated to someone else.

Closed it.

 

After a while you read it.

It wasn’t his best.

You decided not to meet any more heroes

Until you became one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reasons for Not Writing Poetry #5

Someday a klaxon will sound in the swanky Disney Marvel Studios offices.

Those talented film-school graduates whose movies have made a pile of money

Will panic because

They’ve run out of villains!!!!

 

That big bucket stuffed with the stuff that

Makes nice, normal, reasonably good looking people

Put on a costume and make a big mess–

Is empty!!!!

 

And yet, when all seems dark for the Extended Universe

A plucky unpaid intern rounds up a bunch of quirky, trash-talking, highly talented film school graduates whose eccentric skill sets have yet to bring them a steady job.

They hatch a complicated plan that will require them to wear costumes, impersonate celebrities, fool security guards, steal fancy cars and get into high speed chases with the police, and other diversions

So they can break into the Writers Guild’s secret vault!!!!

 

That’s the storehouse of scripts that nobody–not even the latest internet streaming service– wants to film,

And pitches that nobody wants to turn into an original TV series,

And compromising, unquestionably career-shattering video and photographs of this producer and that director, which may explain why some of those scripts that nobody wants to film–are filmed!!!!

There, way in the back, shoved up against a wall, spilling out from a garbage can, are too many

 

Stepped-on thumb drives

Crumbling Post-It notes that were flushed down a toilet,

Restaurant napkins marked up with confusing plot details and the name of an A-list actor who might green-light the project

And furiously crumpled balls of paper!!!!

 

Inside one of those paper balls is a short, coffee-stained character sketch

About a humble person who

When not working in a coffee shop/Wal-Mart/cupcake shop (bookstore has been crossed out)

Writes poems!!!!

 

One day, you, the part-time poet, passes another coffee shop/low-price department store/cupcake shop (bookstore is again crossed out)

And you see a GREAT PERSON inside

You tenatively, respectfully approach and ask,

“Would you read my poems?”

 

Greatness pauses.

Greatness turns toward you.

Greatness glances down at what you hold in your trembling hand.

Greatness says, “Sure. Love to.”

 

And, for the first time in your life, you understand perfectly what a sartori is,

that feeling of effortless joy that comes from occupying a perfect moment, your body rising, your feet leaving the ground.

Until Greatness adds, “When I’m dead!!!!”

Your feet return to the floor.

 

Greatness explains: “While you’re scratching out your poem, I’m

Eating lobster

Driving a fast car with nobody in front of me

Making the play

 

Accepting an award

Taking a bow

Singing to a sold-out stadium

Making love on the beach

 

Guest starring in my own movie,

Making a half a billion dollars,

Telling a joke that gets a laugh,

Changing the world and then changing it back again.”

 

Greatness winks. “That Pierian Spring that you’re supposed to drink deep from?”

Your nod and remembering the interminably long “Essay on Criticism” by the famous 17th century English satirist, translator and poet Alexander Pope, who was sickly and deformed and never married and wrote that fabulous couplet, “a little learning is a dang’rous thing;/Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.”

“It’s a crock. What you want from life, you have to conquer.”

Your mouth shuts itself.

 

You walk for a while

Quickly

Without direction or intention

Until you find a costume shop.

 

The money you saved all these years appears in your hand. A caustic bile rises in your thoat. The putrid logic of violence-for-violence’s sake begins to make sense.

“I want to be Alexander…”

Your eyes move from pen that is in the clerk’s pocket, to the long, brutal sword on the wall.

“…The Great!!!!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reasons for Not Writing Poetry #4

Most people don’t know (and you’re not going to tell them)

That, if you had enough coffee

And a few cool locales where you could sit and be your marvelous, wonderful, imaginative, expressive self–

You could fill the world with so many poems that

Snarky people would make comments about quality and quantity.

They’d say you’re that you’re poem-luting the planet!

Poeming at the mouth!

While you wrap yourself in your creator’s cloak

And pretend to be oblivious

Of the self-righteous swagger of those 20th century American culture heroes

Those hard-drinking guys who led the pack,

Who went on safaris, drove Cadillacs into Las Vegas swimming pools, won awards, married badly and died ironically.

They didn’t care what their art was doing to the world.

They didn’t ask for whom the bells tolled.

They ate it up, spit it out

And kept going until they couldn’t go anymore.

Which is what people want from cars, farm animals, apple trees, beaches, and every mousetrap that’s better than the last,

But not from poems.

 

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Reasons for Not Writing Poetry #3

You can write a poem and feel so good about it

That you’ll do something else for money

Practice medicine (Williams), work in a bank (Elliot), act (Shakespeare), work in a post office (Bukowski), open your own bookshop and get yourself arrested for publishing someone else’s poem (Ferlinghetti)

Or teach, teach, teach and teach some more.

Sell your soul a little

Or a lot.

 

And while you’re at it, annoy those you live with,

make a beast of yourself, as Samuel Johnson said, so you can get rid “of the pain of being a man”

or a woman

or anything else that writing seems to justify and relieve.

You can bring suffering to those who are drawn to you, who put up with you, who will read your poems when, what they really want you to know is

life is mostly okay as it is, you’re okay as you are.

You want to tell them about a poem that meant everything, that had all the answers, that said what was in your heart so perfectly

Or seemed to, at the time.

You want to tell them that a poem can save a life!

 

So tell them. Let them know that you’re not writing poetry.

You’re saving your life.

Saving pieces of yourself, like coins in a piggy bank

Pictures in an album

Things you find, collect and preserve,

Not because they’ll be valuable some day

But because they make it easier for you to be okay as you are.

And be a little bit more than a beast

Most of the time.

 

 

 

 

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