Thursday, May 29, 2008

It's a musical thing, language

Once I wrote a [super shitty] poem and posted on this blog and no one commented on it and I died a little bit inside. Then I convinced myself that really no one had understood it and felt much better. Also, crap, I forgot that I wrote a poem specially to introduce this post. Okay, it's okay, I can just use it at the end. So, in introduction, I would like to say: I'm always amazed at how much meaning can be packed into a simple-looking poem.


Run from Love

Someday, I’ll go to Mexico
And wear a poncho made of wool
With a picture of a village
At the running of the bull.

I’ll drink some cheap tequila
From a bottle on the street
And I’ll take a long siesta
With a sombrero and bare feet.

I’ll eat a bowl of beans
And tell senora that they’re bueno
Even though they taste like cardboard
And will make me gas-insaneo.

When a boy of twelve insults me
I can challenge him to duel me
And I’ll ram him through the heart
With my epee because I’m cruel me.

Yes someday I’ll go to Mexico
And I’ll meet a dark-haired girl
And I’ll hold her hand beneath the moon
And hurl on a cactus.


This poem is dedicated to my cousin Jake, who is the pickiest bastard in the known universe with his waiters. Also is cheap.

I was sitting in a bistro with my back against a bench
and deciphering was difficult calligraphy in french;
Dairy dishes, though delicious, my GI does not digest,
just like honey gives me hives and puts my bowels to the test.
So I sat there and I squinted and I asked the waiter twice
If the pasta came with cream sauce, could I get it over rice?
Might the scrambled eggs be poached instead, and would it be too much
if they bake the fries, leave off the chives, and toast the bread a touch?
With a coolness and a calmness that did credit to his kind,
he repolished all my silver and removed the bacon rind.
So it made me mildly wistful as I sprang with happy feet,
as I dropped six pence, and hopped the fence, and flew off down the street.


Hard Wood

With crazy torque and a short dress
She twirls on the dance floor,
With a stamp and snap, and a "Who's next?"
High heels on a hard floor
Now, her curly hair isn't bouncing any more;
The song changes, the dancing changes, the dancers.
After the ball is over, not yet the break of day,
she'll sit on a white bench by a tall hedge
with whispering love and a graying sky
And the glitter dies in her eyes at the edge
of unaccustomed weakness. In the meantime
she says, play trumpets, clash cymbals and spin
while the music plays dancer spin.


From time to time I find in fine
to find the time to write a rhyme.
Recalling now the pleasure I
derive from such an exercise,
I find it wise to thus surprise
your eyes with this. bye-bye. By I.


Hey, I got an idea. If anyone writes a poem-comment, then they get to choose a style and I'll write a mediocre poem about them in that style: haiku, sonnet, ballad, sestina, villanelle, you name it. Only no epics.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Ugly people are friendly and vice-versa (your ugly friends are still people)

There I was, slaving away at work, which has for some reason come to involve a lot of work lately - wtf is that about? All of a sudden instead of ten minutes of checking email and maybe twenty minutes of looking something work-related up on the internet, I now have hours worth of work to do EVERY DAY. I know, who could believe it? But there I was, make it 30 seconds ago now, when it suddenly hit me: I don't feel like working right now. It hit me with a delightfully comfortable impact, like landing on your head in a Moonbounce, when you think it's really going to hurt but then it's just air-filled and cushy, and you don't even realize until hours later that you may have sprained your vertebrae or your job standing or whatever.

Anyway, for now, I'm just going to enjoy the fact that the impact didn't break my neck and worry about the cosmetic complications of wearing a neck-brace tomorrow, when my boss slaps my face, handcuffs me to my desk and stands behind me all day watching me type and humming the Jaws theme.

Jeez, what is with me and stupid metaphors lately? It's like I've fallen into a giant bin of applesauce and I can't convince the pygmy African tribesman to throw me the extra set of snowshoes because he thinks I'm racist or something. (The applesauce is bad figures of speech, the snowshoes represent reason, and I think the tribesman is a box of buffalo wings.)

Did you know that most people are ugly? I think I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. Next time you're walking down the street, take a good look at the people around you: crooked teeth here, a pot belly there, neck flap yonder, lazy eye there, someone with different-colored skin here, a cripple there.

Odds are, if you're a person, you're ugly. So forget about next time you're walking down the street - the next time you're in front of a mirror, look a little closer. Do you have body image issues? because you probably should.

I noticed the fact on Sunday when I was out obscenely late down in Chicago. There I was, hanging out by the bathroom door of a late-night bar, watching my friends get hit on by random dudes. And you know what? They were all ugly. (Not my friends... well, they're kind of ugly.)

Some of these friendly guys were even cool, bought us all drinks, did shots with us, but then at the last moment, when one of them would do the awkward guy-on-guy ask-for-phone-number - because you know, this was fun and we should hang out and get drunk again some time - I'd just think, "no. You know, you're cool, but you're ugly." And I look down on ugly people.

There was even this chick who wanted to be on me, or maybe inside me, I don't know, she was doing all kinds of weird scrunchy winky faces that either meant "I'm digging you" or "I'm digging you a grave in my head right now" and she kept sucking the straw in her drink so hard she was puckering up and her eyes were bulging so she looked like a fish, and it was about that time that I thought, you know, maybe the priesthood wouldn't be so bad. Especially if I could only offer the Tridentine Mass (facing the altar) and hear lots of confessions (from behind the screen) so I didn't have to look all the ugly parishioners in the face.

And also, if I ever start a band, it's going to be called Neck Flap Yonder.

Friday, May 23, 2008

A story you have to read

Yeah, so it's a Christmas story, yeah so it's kind of long, yeah so this isn't even a post I wrote, but damn it, if I have to read this story and get eyes full of tears sitting at my desk and deal with the confused glances of co-workers, then you can nut up and read it too. It's only fair. So read it, read the whole thing if you can at all, and remember what it feels like to believe in something.

Reprinted in toto: Our Christmas letter

I just couldn’t bear to actually send this out because it’s so long-winded, but it’s a good story:

‘Twas the week before Christmas….and we had to decide what to give to Brian’s brother Pat, his wife Mary, and their 5 kids (they have 5, we have 5, we match!) In the Burch family, we “pick names” for Christmas, so we only had this one present to get. And this year, in an effort to “simplify” (i.e. make cheaper), we all decided the present had to be something homemade. So we got the brilliant idea to make an outdoor nativity scene out of wood. We’d seen one around the neighborhood, just a 2-dimensional, white silhouette made out of plywood. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, a bare outline of a stable, and oh yeah, two little sheep…no problem. What a great family project, we thought. Even the kids can help make it. It will truly be a thoughtful gift from our whole family to theirs, expressing the true meaning of Christmas. Perfect!

“Shall I order the pattern off the internet?” I asked Brian. “Nah”, he replied, “It’s so easy we can just draw it”. “Us?” I replied with a raised eyebrow, “with our artistic talent?” We both had a good laugh. “Ok, then, we’ll get John to help us draw it”. Well, it turned out that we walked down the block to a neighbor who had the nativity scene in his front yard and asked if we could trace his. Luckily, he had kept the pattern, so we borrowed it. With some carbon paper, a sheet of plywood, and a pencil, we soon had everything drawn and ready to cut out (in our living room). Bridget and Sara helped Brian with the tracing, Sam kept running over the plywood to make sure it stayed level, Therese and Hopi borrowed carbon paper and traced American Girls out of the catalog, and Martin poked his nose out of his book to offer occasional advice. Then Brian and the twins headed out to the garage to start the cutting. Despite frigid temperatures, Brian managed to hold the jigsaw steady and make all the cuts. It turned out beautifully. We were a little surprised at how nice it looked! A few slaps of white paint and it was ready to go.

Hmmmm…. how are we going to get it to Phoenix? This thought had occurred to us before, but we had glossed over it, sure that the thing wasn’t that big. It really is a modest size, which was one reason we had tackled the project in the first place. But once it was finished, we realized we didn’t have a box big enough. It was about 48″ x 48″ by 1/2″. “Don’t worry,” said Brian, “with enough cardboard and tape, I can make a box.” And sure enough, the resourceful man did it. So the package was ready to go. Plenty of time to get it to the post office for Christmas delivery. But I thought of something - our friends the Altosinos had asked us to take them to the airport for their flight to Phoenix the next day. Maybe they could just take the package with them on the plane. Sure, they said, we wouldn’t mind. So I checked on the internet for Southwest Airlines baggage restrictions. Uh-oh… if it’s over 60 inches (length plus width plus height) it counts as oversize baggage, and if it’s between 60 and 80 inches, it’ll cost $50. We had hoped not to have to spend that much, and besides it was even over 80 inches, so I checked out the US Postal Service website - their size allowance was larger, and since the package wasn’t very heavy, I was sure we could mail it for less than $50.

So on Tuesday, Dec. 18, the crazy day began. Last day of school for the kids - special fancy clothes for everyone, teacher gifts, casserole for the Christmas luncheon, frenzy of last day…. then a slight break before the afternoon rush - Therese had her Irish dance party, Martin had basketball, and we had a trip to the post office to make. So about 3:30, Sara loaded up all the kids for the short drive to the post office. Martin helped me lug the package, huge and unwieldy, inside, while strangers looked at us with incredulous smiles. When it was our turn, the lady at the counter rolled her eyes and shook her head. “I checked your website,” I said, “I think it’s small enough”. She brought her tape measure around and proceed to measure the length plus GIRTH (twice width plus twice height). Doh! It was 162″ and the post office won’t take anything over 130″. “Even at a cheaper/slower rate?” I asked. “Nope, not at all”, she said. Back to the car we went. At home, I looked up the UPS rules - they would definitely take it, I saw, and when I plugged in the numbers to their rate calculator, it didn’t look bad - maybe only $20-$30. Just in case, I called Southwest to talk to an actual person. “You’re sure there’s no way you can take it?” ” No way,” they assured me.

Fine, let’s go to UPS. Load up everybody, coats, boots, present for Irish dance teacher, grab bag present, drinks for party, let’s go. It’s dark by now, 5:15, rush hour. It takes so long to get to UPS that I know Therese is going to be late for her party. Oh well, I’ve got to get this package on it’s way or it’s not going to get there for Christmas! So this time Bridget helps me inside and the UPS guys greet us with “Whoa! Where you goin’ with that?” “Phoenix!” I say cheerfully, sure that this time, we’re almost done… they hand me a label to fill out, and then I pull out my credit card. “That’ll be $119.65″ the friendly guy tells me. “What?! Isn’t there any cheaper way?” No, they explain that the odd shape and size make it the equivalent of a 90 pound package. “I’m sorry,” I mumble, “I just can’t do that”. And Bridget and I stumble back to the car again. Now I’m holding back tears. I don’t know what to do. I hate to call Brian and give him the bad news. Maybe we should just give up, I think. Maybe we just can’t get this thing to Phoenix. It was stupid of us not to figure this out ahead of time. I don’t know how it’ll work unless we cut it up into a bunch of smaller pieces, which would just about ruin it. I’m so discouraged, but I say a little prayer, “Jesus, I trust in you”. Somehow, I know it will work out.

I drop Therese off and we head home, wolf down some chili, and then get back in the car to take Martin to basketball. I call Brian and explain. He’s on the train on his way home to pick up his car and head right to take the Altosinos to the airport. “Maybe you should just take it with you to the airport and TRY to get it on the plane with them,” I say. “There’s no way they’ll take it,” he replies, but after discussing our options, he decides it’s worth a try. I’m confident in Brian’s resourcefulness, and remind him to grease a palm if he has to. I keep thinking there must be a reason that we’re taking somebody to the airport to go to Phoenix on this day we’re trying to mail this ridiculous package there. I’m hoping somehow this is God’s Providence. So we drop off the package at his car, which is parked by the train station. Then on our way again, I say to the kids, “Ok, guys, we just have to PRAY, that somehow Daddy gets the package on the plane. Who’s the patron saint of shipping? Let’s say a memorare” So we do, and then I add, St. Joseph, pray for us. St. Rita (patron saint of hopeless causes), pray for us. St. Therese, pray for us.” “Why St. Therese?” asks Bridget. “I don’t know, she’s just a good saint. Help us get the package to Phoenix and send us some roses, St. Therese”

Skip ahead a few hours. After more back and forth, I’m picking up the last kid at the McCormacks’ house. When I mention the day I’ve had, they strongarm me into coming in for a drink. As I pour out the whole saga, they sympathize and Patrick reminds us that despite all the hectic frenzy of the season, we have so much to be thankful for. Then we get a call from Brian. He’s on his way home from the airport and says he’s going to stop and do a little shopping. Almost afraid to bring up a sore subject, I say, “you didn’t get the package sent, did you?” “First of all,” he replies, “WHO DID YOU PRAY TO?!” He tells me how he carefully planned out his approach with the Altosinos and brought the package up to the skycap’s stand. After giving their name and flight, the skycap gave Brian a weird look and he thought, great, this is not going to go well. “Altosino? Hank Altosino?” the skycap says. “Um, yeah?” Brian responds. It turns out the skycap grew up with Mr. Altosino right around Midway airport. “Sure we’ll get it on the plane for ya! I’ll walk it right down there!” We thought we’d be lucky to get away with the $50 fee, but they didn’t charge us anything!

We were so excited. I told the kids and they were so happy. What a wonderful lesson for them - to have their prayers answered so quickly and clearly! We were giddy with relief. “But we didn’t get any roses from St. Therese,” said Bridget. Martin replied that maybe Pat and Mary would send us a thank you note with roses on it. But who cares? We got the answer to our prayers! We got the present on it’s way without having to pay a million dollars! We went home and got the kids to bed, but before they were asleep, Brian came home. And what do you think he brought? You guessed it, ROSES. A lady in his office had given him something as he was leaving and he hadn’t even opened it up to look at it. But it turned out to be a tiny little church with snow all around it and a miniature nativity scene in front of it, surrounded by evergreens and three giant red roses. The kids all jumped out of bed and rushed downstairs to see this second affirmation that indeed, our prayers had been heard and answered. St. Therese is alive and well and so close to us.

We are so grateful for all our blessings this Christmas, especially our faith. Thank you God, and Blessed Mother. Thank you St. Joseph, St. Rita, and St. Therese! Thank you to all our good friends and family who love us and whom we love in return - thank you McCormacks and Altosinos! We wish all of you a joyous Christmas season and a blessed New Year. May your lives be filled with grace and may you recognize that the saints are all around us.

Brian, Sara, Martin, Bridget, Therese, Mary Hope, and Sam

That's it. Now go have a great effing weekend, and God bless you.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Mostly not bathroom humor

Like the desperate meth-addict ex-boyfriend, I've changed. I've changed, I swear. I can respect you now. I can refrain from indulging my impulses, feeding my addiction. I know that stuff is bad for our relationship, and even though it's torture to me, I can resist the temptation to do what I've done before, to do what I know I shouldn't.

Sometime yesterday, a homeless person took a shit next to/on our garage, right in the passageway from the yard to the alley. And for your sake, that's all I'll say about it. I've been having a feeling that the poop talk is getting old, and I understand. So if that's what you want, I can do that for you.

Last night, my brother and I went to the Avenue Alehouse to watch the Cubs game (don't even get me started on the Cubbies - Sweet Lord, they look good). After the baseball was finished (including the cutaway to Lester's no-hitter in Boston), and after the basketball, and after the owner had seen us to the door at closing time, we went home, I grabbed a sandwich and headed for bed.

But you can't just eat in bed without doing anything else, that would just look depressing, and if there's one thing I hate, it's to look depressing when I'm in bed.

Lately, since my laptop's charger has gone to hell, I have nothing left but books. And last night, the nearest book to my groping hand was A.A. Milne's The House at Pooh Corner. It was awesome.

It may just have been because I was drunk - in fact, I'm pretty sure it was mostly because I was drunk - but I loved it. Also, the sandwich was delicious. I smiled quietly as wide as I could for the entire chapter, even going back occasionally to reread a particularly delightful pericope. Something about the phrasing, the simple This-Makes-Sense-ness, reminded me what it was like to be a kid, only without the bed-wetting. Fine, maybe a little bed-wetting.

The other day, my brother and mom were lamenting over their memories of childhood - and not lamenting as in "ah, the good old days," but as in "didn't it suck to be a kid?"

I was horrified, wondering what could have bothered them so profoundly - the limited social circles? Mosquito bites? Getting shampoo in the eyes in the shower? Being told what to do? Homework? Peer pressure? No dating?

It turned out that no, there was no specific grievance. What scarred their memories was more the overwhelming, constant state of confusion: not knowing what to do next, being afraid to ask the teacher to use the bathroom, starting at a new school with no friends and picking a table at lunch in the cafeteria.

Maybe I was just a dull kid, but all this never really bothered me. I was not an emotionally high-strung little dude. I was aware that these situations existed, but it never got through to me that I should feel bad about it. During 7th grade (7th!), I would routinely follow other kids as they walked around the parking lot after school - about fifteen, twenty feet behind them, just walking after them as they talked and threw rocks. And it didn't even seem pathetic to me. I didn't mind at all.

I think if I saw that happen now, I would probably make fun of the kid and then start crying, but my 12-year-old self didn't give a rat's ass. My entire childhood was a series of events, adventures, and not paying attention. The only things that would give me emotional distress would be if my mom said I disappointed her (not that often), or if the Cubs lost (a hell of a lot, back in them days).

Nowadays, I have it much worse. I still have the bewildering feeling of having no idea what I'm supposed to be doing, except now I realize it, and now I'm supposed to know what I'm doing. All of a sudden, I have responsibility for my life, but no more clue than ever what that means. I still have awkward interactions, only now they bug the shit out of me, and I get nervous about making a good impression.

What the hell is this? Just because I'm an adult, everyone thinks I'm going to know what I'm doing? Are you kidding? Screw that! I'm still blundering around through life, taking a dump in the public pool, getting bee stings, playing games, taking showers once a week. Metaphorically, I think. I only take metaphorical showers, because I have sensitive skin.

What about you? Which was your childhood?

A. Happy: Ignorance is bliss.


B. Scary: Oh shit, I wet my pants at school, I hope no one notices the giant stain on my crotch and the urine dribbling down the leg of my desk.

Monday, May 19, 2008

A few things happened

Hi, how are you? Yeah, I’ve been gone for a few weeks. Where was I? Doesn’t really matter. I’m back now.

I forgot that my brother had the address of my blog, so when he asked why I wasn’t writing on it any more, it jarred me. Oh yeah, I have a blog. So I went to the computer, opened up this page, and started reading a few of the posts. And you know what? I liked them. I thought they were funny and well-written. And I wanted to read more.

So, duh, I knew I’d have to write them.

This morning I couldn’t find my keys. I can’t say I lost them, because for all I knew they were sitting in the pocket of my other jeans on my dresser. It wasn’t like I dropped them down a crevasse on a glacier, or left them at work, or they slipped out of a hole in my pocket and dropped out of my cuff just when I was walking across the catwalk above a giant pail of molten steel during my tour of the Wells Steel Mill (how do those giant pails not melt? What the hell are they made of?). Anyway, it wasn’t like that. I just didn’t know where they were, and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had them.

Losing my keys sucked especially for the following reasons:

1. It was a workday. So I’m pissed that I can’t find my keys, checking the same places over and over, tearing up my bedding, cursing in my head – all the while knowing that my reward, the light at the end of the tunnel, is that when I finally find the stupid things, I get to go to work. At my job. Which blows.

2. Let me couch the second reason in broader terms: people try to help you look. This is a wonderful gesture, and truly generous. It really is. But you just know other people never know where to look, can’t retrace your steps, and honestly have an icicle’s chance in hell of actually helping. Meanwhile, they sacrifice their breakfast time to wander the house, exacerbating your pain with the following three rejoinders:

a. “When did you have them last?” I have no idea, sometime between four days and one hour ago when I realized they were missing. In which time I’ve been in and out of four vehicles and twelve buildings. Really narrows it down.

b. “Did you check [insert place here]?” There are two possible answers to this question: “yes, obviously, I checked there first and three times since then,” or “no, there is no way in hell they could possibly be there.”

c. And my favorite: “Any luck?” Yes, that’s why my face is scrunched and scarlet, my knuckles are white and you could hear my teeth grinding when I was in the basement while you were waiting for the shower to warm up with the doors closed, the stereo blasting an all-cymbal orchestra and a tiger on your bed killing a wild boar with a jackhammer.

That was the worst hyperbole ever. I know. Shut up.

After twenty minutes or so, I was really at my wits end. My room looks like an absolute war-zone at this point. I was trying to pull out my own hair, but was too exhausted, so instead I just stumbled around in a hopeless delirium, checking and re-checking all the places I had already checked and re-checked. Then, on my fifth time checking the pockets of the jeans on my dresser, I found them. I still have no explanation for this, so don’t ask. The point is that I got to work just in time to be late for filling out my “Notice of Days Absent” and “Time Worked Request for Payroll” forms, sure to garner extra attention from the bosses when they notice that under “hours worked in the last two weeks,” I have scrawled “45.” Whatever.

So how about Big Brown?

Let’s change the subject, shall we? Yes we shall. Did you watch the Preakness? The Derby? Have you seen Big Brown? Let’s itemize this:

1. I know the fields haven’t been the strongest, and I know the margins of victory haven’t been huge, but he has won both races easily. First of all, he came from the outside both times (and in at least one other race), which means he actually ran marginally farther than the horses on the rail. And even so, he’s never really been tested. His jockey said he completely eased up the last furlong or so because the race wasn’t close, and said he was returning him to the stables with “a half-tank of gas left.”

2. Big Brown is named after UPS, as in “what can Brown do for you?” Is this weird? Did they pay for that? Do they get a share of his winnings? Or after his retirement from competitive racing, is he bound by contract to ferry packages cross-country a la Pony Express?

3. Did I tell you that I bet on Big Brown in the Derby? And that I bet on Eight Belles to place? And made 434% on my money? And then bet on him again in the Preakness and won? Cause I did.

4. Do you find it weird that I’m talking about horseracing? Because I sort of do.

So that’s enough for today. I guess after that little break, this post is the equivalent of make-up sex, and I apologize for leaving you just shy of the brink of satisfaction. It was good for me, though, and hey, at least now there’s not a post about poop at the top of the page. And I didn’t even make a poop joke about Big Brown! That doesn’t count.