Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Boy Ain't Broken

As a father of a teenage boy and, in times past, a teenage girl, I am well and used to having a house that, from time to time, is composed of kids. Wall to wall kids. Kids piled on the couches, on the chairs, pressing against the walls, filling the kitchen. Daytime, nighttime.

Often there will be teens sleeping over. Nearly always my son will ask and rarely have we had any reason to say no. One teen, three teens. If they fit they can stay. Once in a while, though, someone will sleep over we weren’t prepared for. Alek will come in late with a friend too tired to drive, or not feeling well and, as we get out of bed in the morning, as I amble into the living room to stretch or Lee grumps into the kitchen to make coffee, we’ll be surprised by a kid on the couch. Sometimes both couches are full-up with teens supine.

If we see them, we’ll go back and put clothes on. Sometimes they see us first. Our house, right?

One of Alek’s best friends is Tyler. Tyler is great. He can hang around our house anytime he likes as long as he likes. Two years ago, Alek had two friends name Tyler. The way Alek and his other friends differentiated one from the other was to call this Tyler, the Tyler who is still around, the Tyler Alek travels with and skates with, Gay Tyler. The description was not inaccurate and was suggested by Gay Tyler. When the other Tyler disappeared, for good reason, Alek tells me, Gay Tyler became Tyler.

For some reason Tyler likes me. I have no idea why. He did before I met him. Alek tells me my reputation, spread word of mouth student to student, made it from middle school to high school and a bit beyond. He introduced a sixteen-year-old Tyler to me like this:

Tyler: Hi, Mr. Tritt. (I had to break him of the Mr. Tritt habit. He calls me Adam now.)

Alek: Dad, this is Tyler. He wants to date you.

Me: And who doesn’t?

Across from our bedroom, Lee has an office that doubles as a guestroom. Some nights, when Lee feels restless, she’ll leave our room for fear of waking me, go in there, open the bed, turn on the TV and go to sleep. Sometimes she sees it coming, unable to quiet her mind, and will open the couch to a bed before we go to sleep. I tell her not to worry about waking me, but she does.

Last night was one of those nights. It was an exhausting day starting with a ludicrously early start. Our son was out for dinner and a local band and Lee and I were in bed by ten. Not normal for us at all but it seemed a good idea.

Sometime during the night, Lee woke and could not get back to sleep. The next minute, to the best of my three-in-the-morning extrapolation and recollection, looks like this.

Lee gets out of bed. She walks across the hall, knows the couch has been laid out, pulls up the blankets, lies down, covers herself. Moves toward the center of the bed.

That’s the extrapolation. Here is the recollection.

I hear a scream. I wake. Wonder. Hear another. Was it Lee? Was that two screams from different voices? Jump out of bed. It’s coming from Lee’s office. It sounds like two voices, definitely. Lee is standing there, I flip the light on at the door, she is in front of me. In front of her, sitting up in the bed, against the wall, panting, is Tyler.

Apparently, Tyler was too tired to drive home and, not wanting to bother us by being in the living room in the morning, thought sleeping in the guest room would be the polite, proper thing to do. Good thinking. Right he was.

But we had no idea. Lee crawled into bed and, when she moved over, rolled onto Tyler.

Did I mention we do not sleep with clothes on? I’m almost certain I did. If your picture of the event did not include that, let’s replay it.

A naked Lee crawls into bed and rolls over onto (remember his original name) “Gay” Tyler. She then jumps out of bed, and stand there. I run in and stand there. Have it now.

Lee’s just looking at him. Someone has to say something. Might as well me be.

“Tyler? So,… did she… fix you?”

I don’t think so.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

My Poetry Dollars (not) at Work or How Elizabeth Alexander Destroyed Poetry in the United States

Where were my poetry tax dollars on inauguration day? I want to know what we’re paying a poet laureate for if we are not going to use him or her on important state occasions such as, but certainly not limited to, presidential inaugurations. If the job of Poet Laureate is “to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry” then it is also his or her job to not allow actions which will decrease the appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry. Therefore, I must suggest it would have been an appropriate action by the poet laureate to have offered Ms. Alexander a stiffly spiked drink before her reading of the inaugural poem, just enough to send her sleeping silently while the poetic moment passed, so we may all have been spared the experience of everything poetry is at its worst and what people who do not like poetry are sure it always is: dreadful, banal, trite, pedestrian, boring and bad. And, in keeping with our expectations, Ms. Alexander read it badly as well. Ms. Ryan, where were you? Why did this happen on your watch? Why did you not protect poetry?

As I listened to her read the inaugural poem, "Praise Song for the Day: A Poem for Barack Obama's Presidential Inauguration," (32 pages), the camera cut away to show the masses leaving in what appeared to be an exodus from tragedy. Within ten minutes this arrived in my email:

God, what an audible THUD to a great speech by Obama when that poet came out and started reading her poem "Deer in the Headlights" from her collection "I Am A Robot: Emotions are for Ethnic People."
I was asked if I were moved by the poem. I answered, “Yes, indeed I was. I moved to the kitchen.”

The poet laureate is paid $35, 000 a year for his or her services. When I was paid less than that as a teacher, I was busy all the time. When the school needed English taught, which was, strangely, every school day, I was there doing my job. Where was Kay Ryan?

While I agree this is a terribly petty salary to pay a poet (though much more than most poets make as most are paid nothing at all) Ms. Ryan is, nevertheless, a public employee paid with my tax dollars and, on that special occasion I expected the Poet Laureate of the United States to offer her well-crafted professional artistic services. I paid for it. I want it. My tax dollars at work.

But I do not blame Ms. Ryan. I do not know if Mr. Obama chose Elizabeth Alexander or if the chair of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, Senator Dianne Feinstein, chose her or if having Alexander read was the result of someone calling in a marker, but surely, someone must take up the gauntlet of repairing the damage she has done to poetry. Someone must pay.

Kay, I’m sorry, but your job just got harder.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Sledge-O-Matic

I once entered a contest for Gallagher tickets. It was a lark, really. Just for fun. I didn’t put much thought into it. Really, I didn’t care if I won or not. I just wanted to see things get clobbered with a huge sledge hammer.

The contest was for the best smashable item and this would be tested, by some fellow from a local radio station, in the parking lot of a local music store (corner of 34th street and Archer Road in Gainesville, Florida), with a sledge-o-matic.

I had to work that day because it was a day, you see, that fell between Sunday and Saturday. And I would barely get there in time, across town, to wait in line to have my property hit with a twelve-pound block of wood on a stick. I was hopeful it was the sledge-o-matic with the hole in the center so I could see the contents of my still not-chosen choice squeezed skyward through the center of the block.

I needed to stop at the grocery store. I had nothing at home to smash. Our food budget was small. Smaller than small. We went to the farmer’s market on weekends and spent twenty-five bucks on vegetables and some fruit. We then spent about five on rice and beans at Wards. In between we’d pick pears (I knew some sandpear trees no one else seemed to know about) and forage for lambsquarters, rapini and mushrooms. But this was special. This was recreation. So I headed to Food Lion by way of home as, late in the day, my sweetie decided to come along.

As I raced into the house to put my stuff down and usher her into the car, she grabbed a small item off a shelf. I hadn’t the chance to see what it was as it dropped into her cavernous shoulderbag. I didn’t ask as my mind moved back immediately to the pressing time.

At Food Lion. What to buy? A banana. Not bad. Someone must have thought of that. Grab it anyway. A bar of chocolate. No, not a good one. Cheap stuff. Grab it. Wine is messy. And red. Grab it. Glass? No. A box. A box of wine. Yes. A box of wine and I’ll need some suntan lotion. Smelly stuff. Cheap and smelly. Do we have a basket in the car? I think we do. Excellent. Twelve dollars and change? Honey, have two dollars? Cool. Let’s go. Car trunk. Junky basket. Everything in. Five blocks down the street. Where is the crowd?

It was quarter to five. It ended at five. We were it. Us, a manager/handler/media person, a fellow from a local radio station and a basket of cheap crap. One of them looked like he’d been in an all-night food fight.

“Where are the people?”

“It was over at four-thirty.”

“Over? Crap! Listen, I just got off work. Please don’t let someone win just because he is unemployed and I’m not.”

He smiled. “Good point. What do you have there?”

“A redneck picnic on the beach.”

“Holy crap.” He looked, surprised, at the selection. “Do people come that redneck?”

“As a social worker, I can confirm, yes, they do.”

“Let’s take them out of the basket though. Is that a box of wine? Not a giant juice box?”

“Box-O-Wine for sledge-o-matic. And a banana, crappy chocolate and cheap suntan lotion.”

He put them on the pavement, box of wine first, on its broad side, the chocolate on the box of wine, the banana on the bar of chocolate. Lotion next to it on the box.

He made a constipated face. Raised the block-topped pole, dropped it with enthusiasm and I had definitely not stepped back far enough. I was covered with a mash of colour nondescript, fouled winey-rotten-grapy-banana cocoa-butter alcohol-breath and any car speeding by would have caught a whiff big enough have sworn it had been spewed back in an alcoholic spasm after a night of binge drinking and munchies. The chocolate chunks were a bonus.

He shook his head. “Holy shit. I wouldn’t have thought it’d smell that bad.” He was covered afresh with tropical drunken upchuck..

“Man, that was awesome. But it wasn’t the best we had so far. Close. The smelliest. Maybe the most creative but not the best smash.”

My wife walked up. Opened her purse. Took out a small crystal clock. Solid crystal with a clock movement. She put it down in the epicenter of the tropical miasma.

“What’s that?”

“That,” I told him, “is a clock given to me by my mother-in-law.”

“What am I supposed to do with that?” I can’t hit that with this.” He pointed down to the clock with one hand and held his sledge aloft with the other.

“Why not?”

“But why?”

“Did I mention it came from my mother-in-law? This is the woman who offered to pay for our wedding if I stayed home. Did I mention her pet name for me is artificial meat?”

He stared at me. “There will be glass everywhere. Everywhere. I just can’t.” He paused. “Here.”

He reached into a pocket and pulled out four tickets. Two weeks thence at the U of F Theatre for the Performing Arts. Four tickets.

I have no idea where that clock is. Garage sale maybe. Long gone.