Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Much Ado about NOTHING

Well, I'm losing it; this has been a loooong day. Who says working from home is such a pleasure?

Instructions for a Bad Day

(1.) If the sun screen you erect in a tortured garden radiates a whorl of shadows, teardrop audits are in order. If balls of despair explode, a glass beaker will measure the outflow. Each milliliter equals one (personal) catastrophe.

(2.) You must sit far away from anyone who produces irritation fields, as these may induce sobbing and/or violent reactions. The mind should not be allowed to wander, due to its high sensitivity.

(3.) Place your thoughts at a distance from present surroundings, except in the following places: on steep hills, in dark tunnels, underground, or near sources of well-meaning interference.
Damp cellars must be avoided.

(4.) You will not experience ideal results under conditions of excessive antagonism, disgust, psychic vibration or emotional impact.


Ambiguous Moment

Does it have to mean something? The truth is, neither I nor
the others can really believe this has arrived: the half-remembered
self, the glance of light on every acute aspect of this
long-forgotten memory. This is our untied knot: the pale,
dying brightness that dilutes the afternoon landscape into a
monochromatic, ambiguous photo. Neither the gray hills nor
the blue sky relieve it, neither the blue nor the gray.


Blowing in from the West

You say this way is loaded with dangers, and I notice
the word "loaded." However, while they are implicitly
deeper than the result, they cling like black stickers
pasted to the sky. Up to this point, the echo, down
the corridors, passages and domestic interiors, has
been both connected and freely moving, and I'm
surprised by the places that are far from everywhere,
which move automatically to the outside. Can't you see?
Tomorrow is the time. Don't try to start the car or stop the
wrinkling of the sky. Don't try to block the cataract of tears.

Photo of the Week


Happy Halloween! This was how my front porch looked before Hurricane Sandy decided to rip away my eyeballs. (Perhaps Sandy's "eye" felt mocked by our little display.) Anyway, they ended up down the street in odd places -- under cars, up in trees, and scattered along the sidewalk, where pigeons pecked at them and they scared little children.

Actually, I just made that up. My wyfe took down the eyes before the hurricane hit, as a precaution. "Don't let it hurt your eyes," I told her.

Click the pic to get a closer eyeful. Don't linger, though. It's not polite to stare.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Word of the Day: diluvial

Here's a little excerpt from my upcoming book -- if I ever get a free weekend to finish it up.

diluvial (adjective)

Pertaining to floods; brought about by a flood

"Moreover the Indian Ocean lies within the region of typhoons; and if, at the height of an inundation, a hurricane from the south-east swept up the Persian Gulf, driving its shallow waters upon the delta and damming back the outflow, perhaps for hundreds of miles up-stream, a diluvial catastrophe, fairly up to the mark of Hasisadra's, might easily result."
--Thomas Henry Huxley, "Hasisadra's Adventure"

Thank heavens I've never had to deal with the consequences of an actual flood. The toilet backing up is enough of a diluvial disaster for me. I live in the "Heights" of Jersey City -- essentially atop a cliff -- and it never really floods here, despite the occasional hurricane that blows through, like today's "frankenstorm". Meanwhile, the more upscale downtown section of the city is waterlogged. Time to bail, yuppies and hipsters.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Random Acts of Poetry

Apropos of something (Sandy, Sandy, Sandy....), I've decided to foist this bit of verse I wrote (several years ago) upon you. Things are different now.

Sandy Hook (August 2004)

The air is vacuumed clean,
and all misgivings drain

from an uneasy day.
At the end of the street,

past the wild grass's
endless deference to the wind,

waves are polishing
three primal rocks

with ceaseless caresses.
Time might as well stop.

The gigantic iris of the bay
gazes at the hot, absolute sky

with perfect attention,
a hypnotized witness.

Now my footprints disappear,
at the edge of the surf,

no more enduring than foam.
I bend and realize

the shell is broken.
Inhale, exhale.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Guilty with an Explanation

Excuses, excuses. The The Metaverse Excuse-O-Mat generates 3.6 million different ready-made excuses designed to fit almost any type of personal foul-up. The justifications and explanations come in six categories: distraction, medical, insulting, moral failure and self-loathing. Most of them seem to include an element of apology as well. Here's an example of a self-loathing plea for those with a literary bent:

I am completely pathetic. You've reminded me -- oh, it gnaws at me in every waking moment -- that I have behaved once more like the brute I am. It would be more than just for you to never speak to me again. Say the word, and I will write an epic poem in apology.

I kind of like this "distraction" excuse, which sounds like it could cover a multitude of sins:

I got so caught up in tracking down the sinister forces that control our lives that I could hardly think -- and then my bank statement got screwed up. I am so ditzy sometimes! Anyway, I hope the weather cooperates this week.



Click! (Clack)

Download this free (and scary) audio short story by Neil Gaiman as part of your Halloween revelry. When you do, my employer will donate $1 to the education charity, through October 31.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Way I Feel

Certain that people who insist on spelling it "Hallowe'en" (instead of Halloween) are either British, Wiccans, or unbearably pretentious, n'est-ce pas?

Shaggy because I need a haircut soon, or I'm going to have to go as the Scooby Do character for Halloween.

Slow when people keep passing me on the sidewalk in the morning as I'm trudging to the train station. (It might have something to do with the 10-pound retro laptop computer I have to lug on my back.)

Amused by this game of electronic hide and seek.

Impressed by the prose stylings of Michael Chabon is this book I'm reading, Telegraph Avenue: "Daylight was taking its sweet time fading into dusk, and the street at suppertime seemed to be holding its breath, torn into patches of deep shadow and sunshine, motionless but for the little white moths stitching their loopy crewelwork in the honeysuckle."

Mystified by why the barrel full of paper recycling I put out on the street last night wasn't picked up. The neighbor's was. Now I want to have a bonfire to get rid of it.

Retro because I'm reading page proofs for my book on actual paper.

Confused by having to wake up in the dark in the morning.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Word of the Day: gormless

Here's another excerpt from my much-anticipated (by me anyway) book, The Word I'm Thinking Of.

gormless (adjective)

Stupid, naïve, foolish, bone-headed

"'Come real, Jakob.' 'Get real is what you mean. Another gormless phrase.' 'Gormless?' Tom said. 'I dunno,' Jacob said irritably. 'Stupid, naff, silly."
--Aidan Chambers, Postcards from No Man's Land

I am very gormless sometimes, usually when I'm distracted. For example, I once drank some cleaning fluid that was kept in a water bottle that someone had put in the refrigerator because.... I don't remember why; I guess it had to be kept cool. Now, it might seem stupid in itself to put such stuff in a water bottle and keep it in the fridge. But the bottle was clearly labeled as cleaning fluid and the label said "DON'T DRINK". As usual, though, I was thinking about work or some errand I needed to run, or a cult TV show or film, or some song was playing in my head. I just reached in, pulled out the bottle and took a swig -- and spit it out, though I swallowed a little. Luckily it wasn't caustic, just terrible tasting. I didn't get sick, but I did make the further gormless mistake of telling someone what I had just done. I was called "absent-minded Michael" for about a week after that.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Photo of the Week


Last weekend, when I went to visit my crazy Aunt Helen at the Mayfield Psychiatric Hospital, I encountered an escaped mental patient in the parking lot. She was wearing a dress that appeared to be stitched together from latex gloves and a plastic bucket on her head as she slowly crawled toward me like some kind of human tarantula. As she drew closer, and as I pulled out my cell phone camera, I heard her singing inside her makeshift space helmet. The song was the Burt Bacharach classic "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" -- or something that sounded very much like it. It was hard to make out the lyrics, because her voice echoed so much inside the bucket. The whole thing gave me the creeps! When I reported her at the hospital's front desk, the receptionist said "not again" with an exasperated tone. I later saw some guys chasing the escapee around the parking lot with what looked like an enormous butterfly net.

Actually, I just made all that up. This is a photo I snapped at an art/performance event -- "Environment Investigation" -- by Shua Group, an avant-garde dance troop based in Jersey City. There were several female performers involved, all dressed similarly in latex-glove dresses. They did several things with buckets besides wearing them on their heads as they slowly moved in unison, picking up and dropping pieces of trash around a concrete skate-boarding pad on the edge of the city. The total effect was quite hypnotic. Click the pic (and another one from this event here) for a closer view and to be gob-smacked by the boundary-breaking cultural innovation of it all.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Twitter Litter

So... why aren't you following me on Twitter?

You're missing out on my epigrammatic bird calls, such as:

Overheard at the 4th Street Art & Music Festival today: "Why aren't there more shootings at Target?"


Overheard at the train station today: "But he can't be ass dialing you from a land line!"


Someone sent me a compliment about my writing: "i like it plrease righted more!" Alas, it didn't make my day.


Dream: I was walking all over the city at night trying to remember where I parked the car. But it was in the garage. Meaning?


I am not making this up: There is a novel called "Apocalypse Cow" about an epidemic of zombie animals.


The original name for August was Sextillus. Imagine all the bad jokes we'd have to endure if the Romans had kept that name.


Bizarre day, and here's the topper: I'm now "friends" with a dog named Apricot Schnood Raphael.


Google Calendar wants to know: Would I like to compile a guest list for my next dental check-up? I think not.


About 95 degrees today. (33 C) "Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines..." (William Shakespeare)


Best book title I saw today: "The Mormonization of America".


"Empty the K-cup dispenser." I hear and obey.


I changed my windshield wiper blades today. [insert applause track here]


I frown upon the recent phenomenon I've observed in public restrooms of men who talk on the phone while peeing.


Follow me here. You know you want to.

You also want to read this blog on your Kindle.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Random Sequence

[random phrases (from here) worked into a story]

Pianissimo Famine

"I'm a little tired of this macrobiotic library of comestibles," Nat said cautiously as he poured Serena a glass of Gewurztraminer wine. He was famished after a week of seemingly nothing but her kitchen repertoire of quinoa and lentils. "Can't we have some real food?"

"Real food? Stop nagging. We can take a break from our pianissimo famine, if that's how you think of it. It was only an experiment," said Serena. He could see she was disappointed in him.

"I have an unexplored urge for a seaboard repast," suggested Nat -- though what he really craved was a Big Mac infused with cheese. "With a contemporaneous herring," he added.

"And maybe some portentous sauce to go with it?" Serena said, sarcastically.

"Yes! And a vinaigrette opportunity."

"Fish and a salad..." Serena mused. "You do realize that both can be prepared and consumed without straying from our macrobiotic meal plan?"

"Whatever. Just please include some dessert, honey," said Nat.

"Honey for dessert? I just happen to have a delicious jar of unimaginable local honey," Serena said. "But we'll have to think of something to spread it on."

"Toast?" Nat suggested.

"To us!" Serena said, smiling superciliously as she raised her glass.

Nat realized it was going to be a long and ravenous evening.

[Not to be continued]

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Word of the Day: cromulent

Here's a little excerpt from a book I wrote by accident....

cromulent (adjective)

Authentic, valid, fine or excellent

"Whatever your French villa preference this cromulent resort in Dalat has you covered."

This word, which was coined by the writers (or a writer) of The Simpsons, seems to be seeping into the common language, and is already included in some online dictionaries. I'm not sure why we need it, but I like the sound of it. And one of the great things about the English language is that we have so many ways of saying the same thing.

By the way, what's your French villa preference?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Much Ado about NOTHING

key hole

The key has been found!

For months, I've been looking all over the house for my car key. It's a bulky little thing, with an electronic gizmo inside that locks and unlocks car doors like magic. Since I don't drive every day, I don't have it in my pocket most of the time. I used to keep it on top of my dresser, which is inside my closet, and one day it just seemed to vanish. I almost tore my closet apart looking for it, thinking that it had fallen down among the old Converses and dust bunnies. No luck. When I did need to drive, I had to use my wyfe's key, while wondering if I had somehow dropped mine in the street and would never see it again.

The other day, my wyfe was retrieving some blankets from an ottoman that doubles as a storage unit. Inside, under some blankets, she found the key. Neither of us knows how it got in there.

I'm beginning to wonder if my house is haunted.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Link Mania: Neutron-Emission Loofa?

Hey, we're 12 years into the 21st century, George Jetson. So why hasn't anyone invented a....

neutron uni-radiation transformer shield
infini-particle compound
Kirlian flux energy bomb
space particle focus beam
full-spectrum force-field generator
space dust reflector magnet
anti-matter emission antiperspirant
atomic hyper-transporter network
reverse-polarity prismator
neutron nega-reflector gun
Kirlian transmitter
Kirlian alloy negator
Gaussian aero-pulse dental floss
incini-force sphere
mu-particle flux spectralyzer
incini-ray armor
reverse microwave flash freezer
electro-wave sonic bidet
dark matter spectralyzer probe
electron flux emitter bomb
neutron-emission loofa
full-spectrum cryo-vestor emitter array
polarity cryo-converter
microwave neutralizer suit
ultrasonic back scratcher

Need more?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Photo of the Week

letter S

Here we see the iconic sign for the Church of Satan in Tannisville, New Jersey. The "church" is famous for its spectacular Halloween parties, at which revelers engage in wild orgies involving goats, chocolate, and Astroglide.

Actually, I just made that up. This is part of the marquee of the old Stanley Theater, in the Journal Square area of Jersey City. These days, it's used as the local Assembly Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses. That's kind of sad -- I'd much rather see it used as an entertainment complex, like the nearby Landmark Loews Jersey Theater, which hosts everything from classic films to rock concerts. But at least the Witnesses have restored the Stanley to its former elegance and are keeping it well-maintained. Click my pic for a close-up view and prepare to be stirred and staggered.


Meditation on the Letter S

Shhhh! Sometimes swans seek serenity, sailing slowly seaword so silently. See? Subtle sorcery still smothers slugging sentiments. Sadly, sundown sinks solar safaris, sending suckers southward. Sin surrounds sex, so simpletons say. Sick! Such santimoniuous seasons seem senseless, sequestered sans syrup. Since September, seven Samurai shiver simultaneously, shaking swords supurbly. Snakes sound silly, swishing sangria; some swill Singapore Slings! Symbolic smooching? Simulated sympathy? Sucks!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Word of the Day: perspicacious

The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book, The Word I'm Thinking Of: A Devilish Dictionary of Difficult Words, which will be out later this fall from Zabriskie Street Press. Yes, my own demented dictionary.

perspicacious (adjective)

Having keen understanding, mental perception or discernment.

"This world where she had lived for eleven years was magical, too, in so many ways, if a person was perspicacious enough to notice the numerous wonders of it. Perspicacious was her new favorite word. It meant 'having keen insight,' an almost uncanny ability to see through -- and to comprehend -- what is dark and obscure. Unfortunately, there was a terrible shortage of perspicacity these days but veritable oceans of dark and obscure."
--Dean Koontz, What the Night Knows

Sometimes I think I'm really good at seeing through people -- at perspicacity -- but then I find out they have as many layers as an onion, and I've only penetrated the top layer. You find out the quiet guy is writing horror scripts in his spare time. The corporate executive is teaching guitar lessons on the side. And the checkout lady of a certain age at the supermarket wows everybody with a jaw-dropping dance routine on American Idol. (All true.) It's a good thing I like people who are full of surprises. Otherwise, I would spend a lot of time being... disconcerted.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Search Party

Here are some recent search queries that brought seekers to this temple of scribomania. I'm popular with the surrealists lately....

agent cooper woods

If I had a forest, I would name it after him, Twin Peaks fan that I am. All I have, though, is a gnarled apple tree and a miniature Japanese maple in my backyard. No Douglas firs (*sigh*). (This is New Jersey.)

twin artists with schizophrenia cracked egg painting

Intriguing image. It reminds me of an old, stupid joke: What do you get if you cross a painter with a boxer? Muhammad Dali.

animated spin wheel wrestle match

Hmm. I picture two sumos on a lazy susan.

laxative forced

I'm trying to imagine why you're googling for this. You must be extremely angry at someone or planning a college fraternity initiation.

what are q tips for

You use them to probe your... orifices.

20 guage wire ball



Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Fish Food for Thought

philosofish 38 small

Agree? More clip-art philosophy by me (and Bob Marley). You can catch the BIG fish here. And more Philosofish here.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Head Rattle


I said recently on a public forum (the Book of Faces) that I see "little spinning circles" when I close my eyes. I was referring to the digital spinners one sees when a certain program in Windows is having one of its frequent, maddening pauses -- it seems to take a little siesta every so often -- but some people assumed I was referencing the current political situation. I thought that was hilarious, but the more I think about it, the more apt it seems. Up, down, and around and around. I wish it was over.


Halloween came a little early this year at my house. (Though not as early as Xmas at the drugstore.) My spouse has apparently caught the spirit. Our front porch is festooned with incandescent eye balls, and inside we have skulls, bats, a stuffed faux rat, variations on the jack-o'-lantern theme, and some plastic blood spatters on the windows. I hope nobody thinks there was a mass murder in here.


I saw it. I liked it. The Master, big-budget art film, is a movie with "Best Picture" potential, and Joaquin Phoenix is a superb actor, maybe the "Best Actor". Maybe P.T. Anderson is the "Best Director". I don't know. Hollywood prefers a happy ending, and this is not a feel-good movie. Cults give me the creeps, much more than stuffed rats. I used to know some people involved in a cult-like organization. The human capacity to simultaneously believe something while knowing deep down that it's all crap is truly frightening -- and not necessarily confined to the members of a cult.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Word of the Day

The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book, The Word I'm Thinking Of: A Devilish Dictionary of Difficult Words, which will be out later this fall from Zabriskie Street Press.

zarf (noun)

A holder for a hot coffee cup

"The coffee, as thick as chocalate and sweetened with honey, reminded her of home and the odor of boiling sugarcane.... With a flourish, she removed her thumb, and balanced the zarf on the tip of her index finger...."
--Barbara Chase-Riboud, Valide

Those little cardboard thingamabobs they put around your coffee cup at Starbucks are technically called "zarfs", although they'll try to tell you they're called cup sleeves (boring!). Whenever I forget my ceramic coffee mug at work, I have to use a paper cup, and they're too damn hot to hold -- life is tough. There are no zarfs there, so I make my own, putting one (hot) paper cup inside another (cool) one. Resourceful! It does make it a bit harder to sip, though. Like I said, life is tough.

(Wasn't there some cartoon alien named Zarf?)

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Photo of the Week


You probably think my name really is "Gates". Ha! Actually, my last name is Crankshawtapper. I chose "Gates" as a pseudonym in honor of this lovely wrought-iron portcullis outside my ancestral home, the Crankshawtapper compound deep in the picturesque Adirondacks of Upstate New York.

Actually, I just made that up. My name is Gates*, thanks to a forebear back in medieval England who was a keeper. This gate exists in one of the tonier areas of Jersey City Heights, a couple of blocks from my more downscale abode. Click the pic for a closer view -- and to be transported to a more genteel time when intruders were barred with a bouquet of metallic flowers.

*No relation to Bill (or too distantly related for it to do me any good). I usually tell people that he is my cousin, though, if they ask.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Random Acts of Poetry


Slippery Season

There is no place for draining.
A solid sky, water licking

dark under sidewalks,
translucent silks of rain,

like sheer drapes convulsing,
but every window shut.

The distant smokestacks
dissolve like an ancestor's

faded reminiscence. Shapes
drift away, vacating dreams.

But from the stony bottom
a face rises, a garnish of seaweed

like a headdress,
more slime from the sluice gate.

What's that the rain hisses?
Ssssh. A slippery season.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Random Sequence

[random phrases (from here) worked into a story]

The Gladiatorial Solicitor

After the contretemps with a seemingly moribund stranger at the cocktail lounge, when Malcolm lost his temper over yet another stupid lawyer joke, he had to admit it: He was a pugilistic failure, complete with a blackened eye. Consequently, he signed up at the downtown gym with one request for the personal trainer: "Teach me to fight!" When he told his friend Bob about this new obsession, he was greeted with an unappreciative gasp. "What are you, the gladiatorial solicitor?" Bob asked. "indubitably," said Malcolm as he proceeded to shadow box with the ficus plant in the corner. He looks like the swirliest wombat, Bob thought. "Buy a gun, Mal," he advised. "Just don't buy any bullets."

[not to be continued]

Monday, October 01, 2012

The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Way I Feel

Surprised. I took a relative with me to the Landmark Loews Jersey Theater last weekend to see two movies: Alfred Hitchcock's psychological thriller about a female kleptomaniac Marnie and the first James Bond film, the somewhat comic-bookish Dr. No. I expected him to dislike the former and favor the latter. Just the opposite. (I like both, for different reasons.) Maybe I shouldn't make assumptions.

Queasy. Transferring an old family video from VHS to DVD recently was not a foray into sweet nostalgia. Some of the people, including my father, are no longer with us. And watching myself from decades ago made me worried for, uh, him, knowing what was coming, both good and BAD.

Damned with faint praise. Don't bother.