The Vault

The Ghost Is Real, The B&B Isn’t.

I have a handful of Halloween poems. Here’s one that was inspired by a program I watched one night about haunted hotels. An owner of a B&B claimed there was a ghost named Ed that she’d see walking up and down the halls and sometimes she’d say “Good night Ed!” and he’d turn and look at her. What do ghosts think of us?

Ghost Of The Watertown Bed & Breakfast

Touch sparks to wet bones. Watch them dance. That’s how this feels.

All night Ed walks up and down the hall. In recent years

He’s become an anomaly, an attraction, a circle of cold.

For hours he concentrates on the frozen candles that hold the night

Away. There’s a place he’s supposed to be, but both ends of the hall

Are blocked. Not even his feet sound the floor. The well-fed guests

Sleep in their rooms, except for one who, unaware of the presence

Outside the door, watches a star move across the sky.

Ed is in his shirtsleeves always now. It was evening when

He closed his book and came up here. He wasn’t going to bed

Just yet. It was a quiet evening in the spring. The house

Had guests in it then too. He’s forgotten which room was his,

And thinks that’s what’s wrong, but can’t remember. The rooms

All seem occupied now, and no one speaks to him in a way

That makes him think he knows them. The ones who come through

Drag trails of themselves along, and are so fast

They slip away when he tries to speak. Their voices too

Are murky, but sometimes when the air is thick and he moves

Through it less easily he can hear them. A woman screamed

One night that someone was in her room standing over

Her. It’s said now that Ed enters the rooms. He’s heard

This, and it baffles him. All the doors are locked

To him, and he never stands still, not until the sun

Rolls in through the East window and fills the hall

With blood and fire. What’s after that he can’t remember.

Here’s a crude video I made to go with the poem.

Under The Rainbow.

In recent years St. Patrick’s Day has become controversial because of a maligned and often caricatured minority. I’m referring, of course, to leprechauns. Reviled, mistreated, and still all too frequently portrayed as happy little figures sitting on toadstools smoking pipes even though increasingly they’re switching to e-cigarettes the leprechaun is still the object of prejudice and misconceptions. Many of us, in fact, have passed by or even worked alongside leprechauns, often without realizing it. In the interests of time I’ll just be addressing a few of the most common misconceptions here.

The first is the ancient belief that leprechauns are mischievous, even dangerous creatures. Stories of leprechauns luring travelers into bogs or inflicting injuries on those passing through wooded areas go back as far as the 8th century, but sociologists now agree that such behavior is not characteristic of leprechauns, and is, in fact, quite rare. While there may be some basis in truth for these stories it’s widely accepted that destructive behavior was the act of a minority among leprechauns who, feeling marginalized from the culture as a whole, acted out in anti-social ways. Unfortunately this misconception has been perpetuated and reinforced by stories that are still told to children, as well as in movies, such as the 1993 film Leprechaun, its many sequels including 2000’s Leprechaun in the Hood, and, of course, the 1980 Al Pacino movie Cruising.

There is also a less common misconception of leprechauns as helpful. There are stories of leprechauns discreetly doing farm work, including harvesting, milking cows, and repairing small machinery. Again there may be some basis for these stories, but not all leprechauns enjoy the outdoors or are suited for farm work. Many prefer to work in offices, or seek employment in fields such as shoemaking. This is, of course, not to say that all leprechauns are adept at working with footwear, but many did find this to be an accepted trade. It’s believed this originated from leprechauns making shoes for fairies who, being generally more accepted, would be asked by more common folk where they got such amazing stilettoes. Working as cobblers proved to be profitable even when leprechauns were subject to such fierce discrimination that they were kept out of most cities and towns and had to form their own exclusive villages, commonly known as leprechaulonies.

Stories of farmers rewarding helpful leprechauns with suits of clothes, only to find that the leprechauns considered this an insult and would disappear, may also have some basis in truth, mainly because you can’t expect a leprechaun to wear that coat with those pants, especially after Labor Day.

Finally we come to the most common and persistent belief about leprechauns: that they are hoarders of massive quantities of gold which they keep in pots at the end of rainbows. This belief has been so pervasive that attempts have been made to lure leprechauns with artificial rainbows by everyone from Sir Isaac Newton to the manager of the band Pink Floyd. As a belief it was understandable at a time when people regarded meteorological phenomena as magical, unlike now when it’s understood that rainbows are caused by the refraction of sunlight through water droplets suspended in centaur farts. Because rainbows rarely have ends that reach the ground it’s still not understood how exactly leprechauns could have kept their alleged pots of gold at the ends of rainbows, in spite of several theories advanced by folklorists and experiments attempting to hang pots of gold from rainbows using balloons. A frequently repeated tale is that a leprechaun, when caught, may be forced to give up the location of his pot of gold, but only if the person who caught him keeps his eyes fixed on the leprechaun. In stories of this type the leprechaun often escapes capture by telling the person who caught him that there’s a fierce beast or the Chrysler building just over his shoulder. Folklorists believe that there is some truth in this, but only to the extent that leprechauns seem to have invented the “made you look” joke. Also it’s now known that leprechauns are not inherently wealthy. While there are some who have enjoyed success—the heir to the Lucky Charms fortune, for instance, or Mickey Rooney—leprechauns are no more likely to be wealthy than the general population.That concludes the lecture for today. In preparation for next week read pages 126-153, when we will be discussing genetic mutation and its potential for altering reality. Our lab work will involve real four-leaf clovers, but I’d better not catch any of you wishing for a better grade.

What It Was Was Football: 2020 edition.

Source: Wondermark

Yes, it’s that time again, and may the team with the most points as determined by the rules at the end of the arbitrarily set period of time be declared the title holder!

Defending Team:

Safety-Tyrann Mathieu

Safety-Daniel Sorensen

Cornerback- Alex Brown

Cornerback-Bashaud Breeland

Outside Linebacker-Darron Lee

Outside Linebacker- Dorian O’Daniel

Middle Linebacker- Reggie Ragland

End-Blake Bell

End-Travis Kelce

Tackle-Jackson Barton

Tackle-Cameron Erving

Wide Receiver- Mecole Hardman

Wide Receiver-Tyreek Hill

Tackle- Eric Fisher

Tackle-Stefen Wisniewski

Guard- Andrew Wylie

Guard- Laurent Duvernay-Tardif

Center- Austin Reiter

Tight End- Blake Bell

Quarterback-Chad Henne

Fullback- Anthony Sherman

Running Back-LeSean McCoy

Receiving Team:

Safety-Festin

Safety-King Meshugah

Cornerback-Garet Jax

Cornerback-Dejah Thoris

Outside Linebacker-Thorin Oakenshield

Outside Linebacker-Yog Sothoth

Middle Linebacker-Sandman

End-Ningauble Of The Seven Eyes

End-Genly Ai

Tackle-Sir Gawain

Tackle-Mongo

Wide Receiver-Namor Of Atlantis

Wide Receiver-Balon Greyjoy

Tackle-Hellboy

Tackle-Xena, Warrior Princess

Guard-Anita Blake

Guard-The Red Queen

Center-Lessa/Ramoth

Tight End-Lord Voldemort

Quarterback- Schmendrick The Magician

 Fullback-Eeyore

Halfback-Rudy Ruettiger

All those who recognized the reference to Andy Griffith earn an automatic five bonus points.

It’s Bowl Time.

Once again it’s Superbowl Sunday. As always I hope the best team wins but this year my money is definitely on my fantasy football league even if the regular team sounds a little familiar.

Offense

Andrew Whitworth LT Festin
Rodger Saffold LG Jareth The Goblin King
John Sullivan C Dejah Thoris
Austin Blythe RG Tom Servo
Rob Havenstein RT Yog Sothoth
Robert Woods WR Sandman
Cooper Cupp WR Ningauble Of The Seven Eyes
Brandin Cooks WR Namor Of Atlantis
Tyler Higbee TE Conan The Barbarian
Jared Goff QB Sir Gawain
Todd Gurley RB Hellboy
Brandin Cooks WR Namor Of Atlantis

Defense

Michael Brockers DE Balon Greyjoy
Ndamukong Suh NT Mongo
Aaron Donald DT Xena, Warrior Princess
Matt Longacre WILL Dorothy Gale
Samson Ebukam OLB The Red Queen
Cory Littleton ILB Lessa/Ramoth
Mark Barron ILB Daenerys Targaryen
Marcus Peters LCB Cerebus the Aardvark
Sam Shields RCB Eeyore
John Johnson III SS Rudy Ruettiger
Lamarcus Joyner FS Gimli

Live And Let Live: 2018.

Chanukah begins at sundown today. One of my annual traditions is that every year at the start of it I take a few minutes to remember a squirrel and the lesson it taught me about life. This is a revised version of an earlier post because each year the lesson always seems slightly different.

Gassing the woodchucks didn’t turn out right.

The knockout bomb from the Feed and Grain Exchange

was featured as merciful, quick at the bone

and the case we had against them was airtight,

both exits shoehorned shut with puddingstone,

but they had a sub-sub-basement out of range.

-Maxine Kumin, Woodchucks

I have a contract with the squirrels. They may not consider it legally binding but it should be understood by both of us that they’re supposed to stay out of my attic and not come in to make nests in the insulation and chew the rafters and wiring. Since I can’t retaliate by moving into their nests in the trees I reserve the right to set traps in the attic. A few years ago I woke up to squirrels or mice or used car salesmen or some other kind of vermin scrabbling around in the ceiling over my head. I set traps in the attic and whatever it was avoided the traps and went away. I like to think it or they saw the traps and said, “Holy mackerel, let’s move to some place safer like a nuclear reactor!” This is the way it should work. In December, though, a few dumb squirrels moved in and were holding cocktail parties well past midnight. I announced the terms of our agreement very loudly as I set out traps smeared with peanut butter. I didn’t really want to set the traps, primarily because that meant going up in the attic, which meant climbing that rickety wooden ladder. The ladder has two warnings on it. One, in huge print, says, “Failure to use ladder correctly could result in damage to the ladder!” As far as I can tell “failure to use ladder correctly” means dousing it with gasoline and setting it on fire. The other warning, in fine print, says, “Oh yeah, you might also hurt yourself, so please take off those stupid slippers and put on some real shoes.” But the real problem is I don’t like heights, or, to be more specific, landing at the bottom of them. I get the shakes when I stand on a chair. Once in the attic I’m fine because I’m on solid ground again, or at least solid plywood over that insulation that looks like cotton candy but tastes much better. It’s the climbing part that gets to me, especially since I have to use at least one hand to carry the traps. I use the spring bar traps, the kind that are sold under the slogan, “Build a better mouse trap and the world will beat a path to your door,” except I use the larger ones. The slogan for the large ones is: “These will cut your fingers off.” I could pride myself on being able to set these traps and position them with the steady hands of a neurosurgeon or bomb defuser, but there’s nothing good about any part of the job.

In her poem “Woodchucks” Maxine Kumin goes from killing the woodchucks with poison gas to picking them off with a gun. It ends with her saying there’s one woodchuck who eludes her, and she concludes, “If only they’d all consented to die unseen/gassed underground the quiet Nazi way.” It’s not a perfect metaphor, although if it were it wouldn’t be a metaphor. The only perfect metaphor that I know of in English literature is, “a rose is a rose is a rose”. There was no justification for the Nazi concentration camps. The woodchucks, on the other hand, threatened Kumin’s food supply, or at least her rhubarb and brussels sprouts. Interspecies violence is, like it or not, part of nature, and often fundamental to survival. The squirrels don’t know this, of course, any more than Kumin’s woodchucks who saw her garden as an open buffet. When I set traps for the squirrels it wasn’t because of an irrational and unnecessary prejudice against them. It was because they could chew through an electric cord and burn the house down, which would mean we’d all be out of a place to live. And I hoped the squirrels would see the traps and leave. Unfortunately it didn’t work that way. I took several squirrels, their necks broken, to the garbage. Then one night I found a squirrel wounded but still alive in one of the traps, struggling to get away, but badly injured. Its body was twisted and there was a gash down its back where the hard metal rod had cut. I knew I couldn’t let the squirrel go. Even if it survived its injury, even if it avoided being run over by a car, even if it escaped neighborhood dogs, stray cats, coyotes, foxes, owls, hawks, werewolves, and pangolins, even if it wasn’t attacked by other squirrels, it would just get back into the house. And if it didn’t it was still in excruciating pain. I’d caused it to suffer and I had a responsibility to end that suffering. I knew all this, but I wasn’t looking forward to what I had to do either. I put the trap with the squirrel still in it into a white plastic garbage bag and took it out to the driveway. I got a shovel out of the basement. The squirrel struggled a little in the bag, which I appreciated because it told me exactly where to hit. I wanted to make this as quick and merciful as possible for both of us. I nearly lost my nerve at the last minute. My wife had suggested I use a hatchet, but I didn’t want to do that because I’d actually have to look at the squirrel.

A history teacher once told me that Mary Queen of Scots, as she approached the chopping block, turned to her executioner and said, “Be mercifully quick.” Her request apparently made him lose his nerve; it took him three tries to finish the job.

After the clang of the shovel faded, I heard someone a few houses away in their backyard practicing “Jingle Bells” on a flute. For some reason this song always makes me think of people and woodland animals sharing the sleigh ride together, a sort of Eden with snow and blinking lights. The sun had just set, and in the stillness I realized that in some houses and places of worship the first candle of the menorah had either been lit or was about to be lit. I’m not Jewish. I’m not even religious in any traditional sense, but I know Hanukkah is a holiday that celebrates hope and perseverance. It’s about a miracle of light and life–one day’s worth of oil burning for eight–coming to people who have just been through darkness and death. It’s a celebration by people who survived an all-out attempt to wipe them off the face of the Earth. I also understand that over a thousand years ago two rabbis, Shammai and Hillel, had competing ideas about how Hanukkah should be celebrated. Rabbi Shammai said all candles should be lit on the first night and then one extinguished on each night as a literal representation of the diminishing oil. Rabbi Hillel said that one candle should be lit each night so on the final night all eight candles would blaze with glory. Instead of increasing darkness there would be growing light and hope. Hillel’s tradition is the one that’s survived. None of this has anything to do with the squirrels, but it all came to me anyway. There’s a strange beauty in Shammai’s literalness, and I assume the growing darkness would end with a grand blaze to celebrate the triumph of the Maccabees and the re-dedication of the temple. Still on this night I was glad for Hillel’s tradition; glad that lights were being lit against the dark. I didn’t feel compelled to think about all these things as I emptied the trap at the edge of the circle of light from the patio. It seemed like the universe was conspiring to make me feel bad about what I’d done, but I accepted the responsibility. I deserved it. I can rationalize until I’m blue in the face. I can say that even though one-fourth of all mammal species are presently in danger of extinction squirrels aren’t one of them. I can say that at least I’m not actually harming another person, and that through history people have done terrible things to other people with less justification than I have for killing the squirrels in the attic. Nothing I can say changes the fact that, hokey as it sounds, I don’t want to be directly responsible for the deaths of squirrels. The Netsiliks, like other so-called primitive peoples, had specific rituals for killing seals, polar bears, and other animals they depended on for food. The Netsiliks said the rituals release the spirit of the animals back to the wild so they could return in earthly form. It’s a way of acknowledging their dependence on other species. I don’t think the disappearance of squirrels would tip the balance and lead to the extinction of homo sapiens, but being too casual about extermination threatens us all. As long as the traps were killing them I could shirk responsibility. I was just a caretaker; the traps were doing the work. When the trap failed, I had to face my own role in squirrelicide.

I realized I’d have to take the ladder outside, quit my whining about my fear of heights, find where the squirrels were getting in, and seal it up. And ultimately the problem wouldn’t be fixed until we put on a new roof. It was up to me to keep them out, because ultimately that was the only way to prevent more deaths. I’m pretty sure that, somewhere in the contract, it says that I’m responsible for this because I’m the one with a memory, a conscience, and, for that matter, a big warm attic full of nesting material. It must be in the fine print.

And now, since Chanukah is a celebration, here’s something that I hope will bring some light to the darkness.

Thanksgiving 2018.

It’s Thanksgiving Day in the United States so I’m reposting this from last year with some changes. It could become a tradition.

It has been celebrated as a federal holiday every year since 1863, when, during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens,” to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November.

Wikipedia

November 25th, 1864

It was even worse than last year. I know every time my family gets together we fall into certain patterns, but that never makes it easier. This time it was even worse because just getting to my parents’ house was such a pain. I thought I’d carriagepool with my younger brother and his wife, but they went up early so that fell through. Then I thought I’d beat the traffic by setting out at dawn, which was such a great idea everybody else in Richmond had it at the same time and the horses were nose to tail, stop and trot, for miles. Finally I got there a little after ten in the morning and my older sister came out already holding a glass of blackberry wine and when she hugged me I could tell it wasn’t her first one. She asked me how things were going and then didn’t wait for an answer and ran back into the house to tell everyone I was there.

I should have known I’d be walking into an argument in the foyer, the way my family is. It’s just what it was about that threw me. My kid brother had this crazy idea for a new way to cook a turkey, leaving the feathers still on and roasting it in the coals of a fire. Well, it sounded pretty stupid to me, and I wasn’t surprised to learn that the neighbors tried the same thing last year and burned down their stable. But I didn’t want to side with my father either. So I said it had been a long trip and I needed to visit the outhouse and slipped out. Well, there was a line at the outhouse: two of my nieces, three cousins, all four of my brothers, and my sister was already in there getting rid of some of that blackberry wine. So I went back inside to see what was going on.

In the parlor my mother was putting together some kind of monstrosity with dead leaves and dried berries that she said she was going to put in the middle of the table.

“Where’s the food going to go?” I asked.

“Well, we’ll move it before we eat.”

I was going to ask why she’d bother to put it in the middle of the table if she was just going to move it again but decided against having that discussion, so instead I sat down and leafed through a broadsheet that was handy.

“The other men are organizing a game,” she said. “It’s some new sport called foot-ball. You should go and join them.”

Well, she knows I’ve never been athletic, but when I protested she got put out with me and said, “It’s your Uncle Wilkes’s idea. You know you’ve always been his favorite. You really should go and do it just to please him.”

FINE.

Well, when I came back in my sister just cackled and toasted me with another glass of blackberry wine. All my mother could say was “Don’t get any blood on the carpet,” and my older brother kept telling me to stop being a sissy and just put some salve on it. Then Aunt Gerda said pinch the back of my neck and tilt my head forward and Uncle Wilkes said no, put pressure between the eyes and lean back, and then my cousins got into it so there had to be a family brawl about that. A day later and I’m still bleeding. So much for the salve. Then Uncle Aloysius had to start in Daniel about supporting the Whigs and Elizabeth about Suffragettes, just trying to start an argument. Fortunately they didn’t rise to the bait.

Then I tried to head off another argument about who’d have to chaperone the kids’ table by volunteering, but my father cut that off.

“No, no, I want John seated here on my left. After I sent him to that fancy and very expensive school so he could waste his time studying the dramatic arts and oratory he should be well-equipped to deliver the traditional Booth family prayer of thanks.”

Traditional since last year, he means. Then my kid brother kicked me in the shins which I know was his way of saying “Don’t start anything”. I kicked him twice as hard in the shins which was my way of saying, “I wasn’t going to,” and then kicked him again to say, “Hurts, don’t it?”

All this might have been a little more bearable if my sister had let me have some of the blackberry wine.

I swear I’m going to get that Lincoln for making us do this.

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