What’s In YOUR Toilet?

In his incisive biography of Spencer Tracy, author Bill Davidson tells of a problem which arose during planning stages of a Tracy film based on a short story titled BAD DAY AT HONDO. He quotes Millard Kaufman, who was writing the screenplay, as follows:

Our picture still was called Bad Day at Hondo, when, to everyone’s surprise, there came the release of a John Wayne movie called HONDO. So our title went out the window.

Davidson continues, “Such coincidental flaps can cause weeks of delays at a studio, while everyone tries to think of a new title. In this case, Kaufman was out in Arizona looking for locations for another picture, when [he] stopped for gas at one of the bleakest places [that] was not even a ‘wide place in the road’, just a gas station and a post office. Kaufman looked at the sign on the post office. The name was Black Rock, Arizona. Kaufman rushed to the phone and called the studio. ‘I’ve got the title for the Tracy picture,’ he said. “We’ll call it “Bad Day at Black Rock.”

You may be wondering what the foregoing has to do with the title of this post….and the answer is diddly-squat (or just squat, for short). So what’s the deal? Simply to serve as a pun-gent example of a title’s potential to entice you in to a creative work, whether it be film, story, poem or poop. Did the serendipitous (and delay-saving) spotting of the Black Rock post office sign lead to a perfect fit for the title of the movie? Perhaps this scene will tell you all you need to know to answer that question (Tracy plays a one-armed WW II officer, just returned from the service, who goes to a middle-of-nowhere desert town to present a posthumous medal to the father of one of his soldiers):

But suppose, after chewing it over endlessly, you still can’t come up with a killer title for your opus delicti? Friends, just swallow the bitter pill that there are times indiscretion is the better part of valor, and settle for a title such as this post’s. And what if even doo-doo doesn’t do the trick? There’s still the when-all-else-fails last resort I used when I titled this poem….

UNTITLED

This poem’s title is Untitled —
Not because it is untitled,
But because I am entitled
To entitle it Untitled.

If I’d not titled it Untitled,
It would truly be untitled….
Which would make me unentitled
To entitle it Untitled.

So it is vital, if untitled,
Not to title it Untitled,
And to leave that title idled,
As a title is entitled.

NOTE: This is the Random poem leftover from my previous post

 

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THIS POST IS FOR THE BARDS

Larry was writing rhyme at the age of six; by 1910 [age 15], he’d been christened “Shakespeare” by friends. [He had] a passion for Shakespeare, a delight in wordplay, and a fondness for anachronistic juxtaposition. Not for nothing was Hart known as “Shakespeare.” –Dominick Symonds, author of WE’LL HAVE MANHATTAN (subtitled THE EARLY WORK OF RODGERS & HART)

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My previous post featured the words and music of Richard Rodgers and Larry Hart, which — along with the above — conveniently serve as segue into Shakespearean speculation:

BARD’S TUNE

What would William
have done with jazz?
Would he take jazz
where no one has?

Would jazz-you-like-
it, he accost?
Would he find jazz
love’s labor lost?

Would he have played
jazz instrument
measure for meas-
ure, or hell bent?

Or would he have,
a jazz voice, been —
the ‘King of Sing’
of noted men?

No! Peerless bard,
writer of wrongs —
if you dug jazz….
you’d write the songs.

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BARDSTOWN

is an itty-bitty city in my neighboring state of Kentucky, voted “Most Beautiful Small Town in America” and noted for its annual KENTUCKY BOURBON FESTIVAL, MUSEUM OF WHISKEY, and MY OLD KENTUCKY HOME STATE PARK, site of the farm which inspired Stephen Foster to write “My Old Kentucky Home” (the state song of Kentucky).

http://www.visitbardstown.com/

I find the story of Stephen Foster most interesting, starting with the date of his birth: July 4, 1826 — the same day that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died hours apart. Foster was a dreamer whose love of music trumped more profitable ways of earning a living. Though he composed almost 200 songs (many of them popular in his own time), his last years were marked by poverty, a craving for liquor, and suffering from what may have been tuberculosis, dying 153 years and one week ago today (Jan. 13, 1864).

Foster can truly be considered the original bard of American music, as this 1946 quote by the late American composer and music critic, Deems Taylor, suggests:

What quality have they [Foster’s songs] that gives them such tremendous staying power? After all, other men in his day wrote songs that were as popular as his, possibly more so. What was his secret? It was, I think, that he helped fill a gap that had always existed in our musical culture. Our ancestors, coming here from all quarters of the globe, brought with them the folk songs of their native lands, but they were not peculiarly ours. It is ironic that the only race that developed a folksong literature in this country is the race that was brought here against its will, and was and has been the most brutally exploited of all — the Negro. The Negro spirituals and Stephen Foster’s songs are the nearest to completely indigenous folksongs that we have. Nor is it a coincidence that most of the best of his songs are in Negro dialect and sing the woes of the Negro. 

But I will close, in keeping with the theme of recent posts, with one of Foster’s love songs:

 

SET IN STONE

I think, therefore I am. –René Descartes

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You will (hopefully) recall that my last post, STONE COLD DEAD, featured some of my favorite epitaphs published 4 years ago on SWI (a blog due to bite the dust in November). Ah, but the best laid plans….  The SWI editor announced on 9/1 that he would now need to pull the plug first thing on Sept. 6; thus today becomes SWI’s last full day on this earth.

This sudden passing prompts me to salvage another of my previously published posts from that body of work: a poem which poses a question I believe naturally arises out of STONE COLD DEAD. Unlike that post, it ain’t funny, but perhaps the poem’s saving grace is that what it lacks in humor, it makes up in brevity. It’s the least I can do on Labor Day.

LUCKY STIFFS

Are the faithful
dead better positioned
to be saved
than those who
lived with doubt?
Even a God
can’t help being
what He thinks.

 

 

WINTERDREAM

Suppose a homeless man found
what survived of a tattered old jacket,
abandoned, like himself, to the elements
….and, in that tattered garment,
crumpled inside a pocket, a winning
lottery ticket could transform his life.

But, first he must find it, and then,
having found it, not toss it aside to be
blown wherever discarded debris blows.
Let us further suppose
the deadline to claim its prize
came at midnight of that very day.

Late that night, in winter’s turn,
he dreamed a new-day dream
that he could live his life over again,
knowing as much in his youth as
he knew now, so that all the choices
and hidden chances of wasted
turning points lay exhumed ahead.

But the thought made him cringe; regret
was a fire that gave pain without heat.
He awoke in cold sweat to the taste
of snow on the cracks of his lips
and pulled tight around his neck
the collar of yesterday’s fortune.
What luck to have found
a buffer against fate.

 

 

 

30 NOVEMBER — TO THE SWIFT

As 3o days hath the month of November,
Today marks the end of a month to remember.
Swift doth the day pass into December,
Ere the twain shall meet….in a glowing ember.

The above is my Lilliputian ode to two literary giants who were born on this day: Jonathan Swift  in 1667, Mark Twain in 1835. This post celebrates the former, the latter having been extolled in a post one year ago today (THE UNIVERSAL MARK TWAIN).

Jonathan Swift’s pièce de résistance, of course, was GULLIVER’S TRAVELS, a book I gobbled up when about 12 years old (in an abridged version for children), and still own. However, at that age I didn’t fully appreciate that it was much more than a grand adventure tale — it’s also a masterpiece of parody and social/political satire, as exemplified by the enmity between the empires of Lilliput and Blefuscu over which end of an egg should be broken first before being eaten — a conflict which put Gulliver in the middle between the Big Endians and the Small Endians. Well, I suppose that makes just as much sense as real people fighting over whose god is the Big Enchilada.

Let us turn now to three quotations from the unabridged GULLIVER’S TRAVELS:

Here commences a new dominion acquired with a title by divine right. Ships are sent with the first opportunity; the natives driven out or destroyed; their princes tortured to discover their gold; a free license give to all acts of inhumanity and lust, the earth reeking with the blood of its inhabitants: and this execrable crew of butchers, employed in so pious an expedition, is a modern colony, sent to convert an idolatrous and barbarous people.

The tiny Lilliputians surmise that Gulliver’s watch may be his god, because it is that which, he admits, he seldom does anything without consulting.

It is a maxim among these lawyers, that whatever hath been done before may legally be done again: and therefore they take special care to record all the decisions formerly made against common justice and the general reason of mankind. These, under the name of precedents, they produce as authorities, to justify the most iniquitous opinions; and the judges never fail of decreeing accordingly.

I close with three more Swift quotes, the last of which I intend to inscribe on a club to beat anyone who would disparage my stunning cunning punning:

When the world has once begun to use us ill, it afterwards continues the same treatment with less scruple or ceremony, as men do to a whore.

Words are the clothing of our thoughts.

Punning is a talent which no man affects to despise except he that is without it.

 

–30–

 

TEN

Ten: The cardinal number equal to 9 plus 1. –Webster’s New College Dictionary

Well, I must say Webster’s definition of ten seems simple enough. Obviously, if you have nine cardinals and add one, you should end up with ten cardinals….unless you left the cage door open when you went to get one more, in which case, an empty birdcage plus one cardinal equal one cardinal plus an empty birdcage, which is what you deserve, because you’re not supposed to cage wild birds. It’s a cardinal sin.

Of course, everyone is susceptible to cardinal sin except Catholic cardinals, who rose from their flock to become cardinals by attending the College of Cardinals….after having been grounded for years in Catholic tenets and the Ten Commandments, which you may be surprised to learn were originally Fifteen Commandments — before this happened:

Why all this bird seed about the number ten, you ask….you are asking, aren’t you? Again, the answer is simple: this is the tenth day of the tenth month of November, which used to be the eleventh month until I — yes, I dropped one. Hey, if Moses can drop five commandments, what’s the big deal if one of the Muses drops one lousy month? Mistermuse says good riddance — who needs a month like February anyway?

All of which leads us to the day’s feature presentation, dedicated to all you lovebirds out there:

TEN, DEAR, IS THE NIGHT

Sexual ‘traction is
a driving force —
it leads
down the road
to intercourse….

better, of course,
if intimate when
our love
lines seem like
a perfect ten.

 

 

NOW

Go in our woods and witness the varying fortunes of the trees. How many are diseased or dying at the top or decaying at the root. How many have been mutilated by the fall of other trees. In fact, the fortunes of individual trees are much like those of men and women. –John Burroughs, naturalist, ACCEPTING THE UNIVERSE

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We see roots
surge through dirt
in time-lapse photography
seed to distance
in mere moments

but trees understand
this above all
as a long
journey of attachment
living with the

vagaries of fate
knowing that where
they are now
is one with
where now began…..