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Archive for February, 2010

Blog Flurry

Might have been at Facebook or it might have been here that I recently lamented my new habit of coming home tired and depressed from Rock Circus and falling asleep in my chair after eating a hefty evening meal to crush my angst into a nap, awakening about 10 or 11 and watching Charlie Rose and/or what’s left of the Letterman show and often The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson and then piddling in the office until three or four in the bleeping MORNING. The syndrome happens just as frequently when I’m drinking only iced tea as when I’m sucking down the Burgundy, so I don’t think it’s a booze thing. Saturday the 27th I took a nap about 4 after working on things for an hour and a half after short Saturday hours at the Circus. The nap was what I needed to eliminate the “overtone” of fatigue in my mind’s ear, and it worked out fine.

When I returned to the office after decent dining, Cops and America’s Most Wanted and the Fox News at 9, I realized I had posted fewer times here at Honey & Quinine than I had in more than a year. Then using the access to drafts of posts that are maintained here, I decided to pump up the total before Monday. I was surprised how many drafts I had — mostly poems, a few essays — and how short some of my earlier posts had been. Now that I’m done pumping, I’m heading for bed about 2:30.

First, a glass of Burgundy and an ice cream bar and a half hour of reading in the livingroom easy chair. My reward for being a good boy yesterday.

G’night.

Live long . . . . . and proper.

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Americans are having a rough time with the language. It’s hard for some of us to speak and write with a natural style so that we’re easily understood, fun to read and respected without offending social or ethnic sub strata of our wonderful rainbow society. Why shouldn’t what we hear when we’re not in class work in our term papers, essays and employer-sponsored documents?

The printed word, from which all but casual conversation, comedy improvising and extemporaneous public speaking come, should be understood. Anything that works against understanding by the greatest number of intended readers works to the discredit of those who unknowingly perpetrate misunderstanding with their writing.

There is a fine point to this consideration. Many writers, including radio talk show hosts who script their vitriol, bathe in worlds of irony, mockery and deception. Irony, mockery and deception are more than just boar pee and bull droppings. They are the bread and butter of Beck, Limbaugh and others who talk endlessly about how the “liberal media” are the bane of our nation.This post doesn’t apply to them. Those who desire to communicate directly and to be understood necessarily follow the conventions of our time. And those conventions change over years.

There was a time in the early 20th century, when writing “I will walk to the park today.” would have reaped cat calls from university tenured professors. WHY?  Because convention of the age proscribed “to-day.” Spellings change. Today, “Constantinople” is spelled “Istanbul.” Okay so that’s a bad example. Consider “asthetic” which for decades was spelled “aesthetic.”

English teachers often teach from texts which are “yesterday’s convention” by the time the lessons are shared with bushy-tailed seventh graders. The rules therein reinforce outdated usages sometimes, but to a greater extent, they help keep most of us in the same ballpark with our writing, if not on the infield. That’s good for today’s generation and tomorrow’s; a foundation from which to build a better language.

There are greater concerns than spelling and punctuation. Some rules which stood the test of time for centuries. have changed to suit the culture of our “modern” times. at the ballgame had his reasons for being there.” without being accused of sexism. The personal pronouns “his” and “hers” are now VERBOTEN most of the time in modern syntax. In 1970 we could write “Each volunteer contributes his expertise.” Key correctness (of the bygone age, though we didn’t forsee it when it was drummed into our heads in second grade) was based on the singular “Each” being matched by an inclusive pronoun which “convention” dictated, was “his.” Not anymore, Montague. Today such a statement risks verbal thrashing from people who consider “HIStory” a sexist term. Today it’s better to pair singular subject with plural object adjective. Many songs in hymnals have been re-written to eliminate the consistency of singular to singular because a grammatical travesty preferable to an inclusive singular or plural. And shame trumps pity every time.

Pity, isn’t it?

Live long . . . . . . and proper.

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AN APOLOGY to regular readers: On the night of Feb 27/28 I discovered I had not published what follows. If you’re following my autobio, you’ll note this post begins right after I took a major “belt” from my namesake and definer (then and today) of Old Testament religion. The incongruity will be corrected if I find a publisher for my self-indulgent ramble. If I don’t . . . c’est la blog.

First Grade
. . . . My teacher, Mrs. Mary Pitzer, was a member of Mom’s bridge club. First lessons in learning out to print were easy. Spelling — correctly –took some effort. Friends made in first grade included Steve Grummon who lived less than a block north from my home on Whittier. We walked to and from school together often. Other friends were John Forneris, who lived northeast, up by Sears on First at South Grand, David Redding, who lived on Lowell, close to Ash, Danny Spears, who lived on Pasfield across the street from “Miss Nuttywoman’s” house, Jeff Halden on Spring, south of Cornell, Allan Sherman who lived near Jeff, Kenny Hendricks who lived way over on Fourth Street south of Ash and Tommy Robb, address unknown. Three or four of us would walk around the building before school and during recess and when approaching a target kid, we would shout “YANKEE or CONFEDERATE?!” If the reply was “YANKEE” we said nothing and kept walking. If he said “CONFEDERATE!” we shaped our right hands like pistols and made pistol shot sounds as we blew the “rebels” to smithereens. There was never any contact or fighting. It was fun, and we were kings of the asphalt and cinders.
. . . . Dad had found his way to Roberts Bros. a men’s clothing store on the north side of the square on Washington. Later he would tell me he had lost his lease on the clothing store (The Man Store) or maybe it was his photo processing business. We never talked about it in detail, and I never wished we had until after he died, December 12, 1994. Dad’s business partner at The Man Store was a gentleman named Shirley White who had invited him to move to Springfield with Mom and Dot, and set up the shop. Mr. White went to work at Metzger Drug Store near Memorial Hospital and later became owner. Dad owned the photography business on Adams during which time he extensively photographed the recreated New Salem built as a Franklin Roosevelt employment project in the 30s, and he photographed Capital Airport as it was being built after World War II. He also opened the first color film processing lab in Springfield. I know this because I saw many pictures of both he had kept over the years; subsequently thrown away. For three or four years, he visited my classes at Lawrence and photographed the groups of us lined up in front of a black board and some years lined up in tiers on the east entrance steps.  When the photography business went south, he joined Roberts Bros. For years after he joined Roberts, he had lots of photo equipment in our basement, set up a dark room there and tried to get me interested in learning how to process black & white pictures.  He was an excellent instructor, but I was not a good student. The darkness, the eerie glow of the red and black lab lights, the smelly chemicals, the utter precision combined with the feeling we were not on planet earth in the dark room, didn’t appeal to me. He was an excellent photographer, and the one thing that stayed with me was the desire to take the best pictures I could take though it would be years before I’d have my own camera.
. . . . . .HOME! In first and second grades, after coming in the door, it was an easy hour of television or playing in the back yard after a fast peanut butter & jelly sandwich. Mom was always waiting for us if she hadn’t picked us up, and sometimes we walked home in light rain. We weren’t subjugated into walking; it was fun. The house was always warm and full of food scents. About 5:00 brother Bill and I would pile into the back seat of the car with Mom driving and we’d go downtown to pick up Dad waiting to see our car pull up in front of Roberts Bros. Mom would slide to the right and Dad would drive. Often we gave rides home to his associates. Charles Paris from England had an amphitheater elegant East London Cockney accent that could probably be heard through a 10-food lead wall when he whispered. It was sound syrup to the ears, and he had the manners of David Niven. I encountered him in 2003 when getting a tire repaired at Brahler on Laurel. We greeted each other like lost brothers, and his accent was as rich and musical as when I had seen him last when I was about six years old. Another great fellow was Frank Stead who lived on Pasfield south of Outer Park, minutes from our home. He later had a long career in the Springfield City Clerk’s office; Great guy! John Hayes, younger brother Paul Hayes (dated Dot in high school) who is today a very successful abstract painter in Springfield.
. . . . . We always had the most beautifully maintained front and back yards in the neighborhood. I never knew an April through September when Mom wasn’t working long hours in the yards with her gardening and trimming.

coming next time . . . Second Grade

Live long . . . . . and proper.

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Castaway Consolation
by Job Conger

I want to tell you that my mind’s in a mess.
I’ve nearly quit my search for true happiness.
Gone is the dream I thought was mine without a hitch.
Now I’ve become a freaking son of a  bit  ch.
A bitter heart is nothing new in this world.
A pig is only pork.
It’s true I’m gloomy.
Life’s gettin’ to me,
But it’s better than being a dork.

These are the time a man has got to hang tough.
Being a proper kind of guy’s not enough.
Things would be fine if I could channel my grief.
I think it’s time for me to turn a new leaf.
We live and love and lose. It’s all so routine.
My road’s come to a fork.
Which way to go now?
I do not know now,
But it’s better than being a dork.

(Refrain)
Something makes me want to point my finger
At a criminal someone who,
Who might have stolen my love that seems to linger
Late at night when I’m feeling blue.
The simple fact is that regret still penetrates me
Like a wound where she’s pouring salt.
It’s what I’ve earned —
sweet fluff returned —
so I know that it’s not all her fault.

I played the game and lost. I still have my pride.
The healing first will have to come from inside.
A new tomorrow soon will beckon my gaze,
The sun will burn away the new-moring haze,
And I will chase the dream that’s calling to me
Like Mindy to a Mork.
I’ll keep on pitching —
‘s more fun than switching —
and it’s better than being a dork.

written June 3, 1988
==================================
Poems and songs are the autobiography of my heart. Show me a song and I’ll tell you about the woman I was dating when I wrote it. But I won’t tell you about Lois, who I met at church, whose parents we visited in Hobart, Indiana ,who moved into the vacant half of a duplex I was renting on Glenwood, and who moved out three months after that but not without inspiring three poem/songs.  I’ve forgotten her last name.

Live long  . . . . . . . and proper.

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Biting Back

Biting Back
by Job Conger

When I was four years old . . .
I spelled the word “cat” with a “c a t”
and it all made perfect sense to me.

When I was six years old . . .
I leearned that a sentence ends with a dot
called a period. I never gave it a second thought.

When I was ten years old . . . .
I learned about lyrical poems fine
and the whimsical fun of repeating a line
and whimsical fun of repeating a line.

When I was sixteen years old . . . .
I learned about iambic pentameters
and the pros and cons of creative parameters.

So the years piled on and now. . . .
you’re telling me a sentence doesn’t need
a period that a comma doesn’t matter and mutating traditional criteria
for upper case usage is not a capital offense?
that form sans finite border should not make the reader wince?
that it’s better to be rambling like a daft but happy geezer who has
lost the discipline that’s part of truth?

Yes, I’m older, and I still love
exploring new forms of poetry and more,
but I also cross my “T’s” amd dot my “I’s.”
and I capitalize the proper names and leave the others
in the lower case where they belong,
and I harbor no appreciation
for the out-of-wedlock artist
who says I’m only splitting hairs and yes,
I’ve heard the news: there is no “out-of-wedlock” anymore
and there is no “in-wedlock.” There are no degrees of wedlock.
It’s okay now to screw the language, and
loving it isn’t important; not even relevant.
“Ravish it. Abuse it. Anesthesiayze the soul with it,” they say.

Now I know why the caged mathematician sings.

written November 15, 1994
================================
I was getting in close with Poets & Writers Literary Forum of Springfield, Illinois, attending regular readings at Barnes & Noble when they welcomed poets who knew how to behave. And for some years, we behaved ourselves. Then the anarchists who didn’t know apple juice from monkey urine (what some may suggest is a subjective interpretation)  put an end to it. The poem here is slightly changed from what I recited late that year at Barnes & Noble, but the sentiment has remained.

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Blizzards
by Job Conger

Dawn in winter takes too long
as the kinetic energy from gravity-drawn snow
distracts my storm-tossed mind’s meandering
to near-lucidity.

At four a.m. I gaze south into my backyard
that’s bathed in what the security light next door reflects as fog,
but in reality is nothing more than water frozen hard
descending home to terra firma.

On St. Louis radio, received
as though reassurance from a distant star,
they talk about the rapidly growing layer of flakes as though
they’re updating a modern apocalypse in progress.

As the descending spectral points of light
remind me me I have my eyes open,
I am anxious for the new day and the stroke of seven’s
rhapsody of past-behind and promise-arrived.

There are no promises
in the consuming dreariness of five a.m.;
only the gravity-drawn return of second thoughts and the quest
for solutions from the ghost of the beneficent Creator.

Six a.m. drifts into the time zone
as energies suggested in the dancing, descending fog
precipitate a burst of hope to break the jam of frozen antipathies
and to build ice castles of resolution for better-quenched tomorrows.

Come the new day
the coat of counterfeit pretense
that shone so brightly in the blaze of summer
will hang in solitude, and I shall don reality.

But as for now, I am
mostly tired from the weight of
countless fallen flakes and flukes of hate and wait for
better skies that I may never see.

Dawn comes late in winter,
but it comes on time at 7:02 a.m.
Now the neutral hues of snow merge
with the stoic, unfeeling, gray of sky.

And now, wrapped in the imposing solitude of
great expectations made pointless in winter weariness,
I lay me down
to sleep.

written 2:20 pm, Sunday, January 19, 1997
========================
An earlier version of this poem was published in my second book of my poems, Wit’s End, my only book which has a deeper title than any point made between the covers. I consider successful poems the end — the goal, the raison detre — of wit when wit is engaged during the creation of poems. I believe “wit” produces originality, even though “originality” is often attributed to a perspective or phrase with has existed for centuries, written by someone else, who didn’t leave a name, whom you didn’t know existed when you wrote the same thing or part of the same thing yourself. And that’s okay. I don’t write for the ages; I write for the time. I cobbled this poem together on after sitting awake all night watching the snow from my office in the back of the house as described, after deciding I wanted to stay awake through dawn, watching the snow and listening to KMOX radio. During the time that transpired in the poem and before, I also read some. A lot of the time, I just gazed out the window and occasionally wrote notes, observations, things I supposed would be important to a poem I knew I would try to write about the experience. After sleeping about five hours, I rose from bed, poured some coffee and cobbled.

I’ve decided I’ll never reprint Wit’s End because I’m a better poet now than I was then, and some will necessarily have to never see a page again. This one will, I think, as revised, a snapshot souvenir from of a long night bathed in the glow of a computer monitor while watching the snow come down in Springfield, Illinois.

Live long . . . . . and proper.

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Mr. Cline, Math is a Posterior Pain and Flying Models

Mr. Cline was my math teacher in 9th grade.  He was a good guy, probably 27 years old at the time, with a great conversational delivery of complex material.  Though his teaching was superlative, the subject was my Achilles heel: binary numbers to the second and third powers and beyond began easy, but I was lost five minutes into the first semester.  As much as I enjoyed being in front of an audience singing the first tenor part of “The New Ashmolean Marching Society and Student Conservatory Band” in Mr. Nika’s Barbershop Octet, walking to the green board and working math problems in front of 30 students in Mr. Cline’s math class terrified me, in part because I hardly ever got anything right. Beyond simple arithmatic, I was transformed from “reasonably happy, confident boy” into a quivering, stunned gob of human-like protoplasm.
. . . . . . . . Mr. Cline’s math inquisition (some called it “math class:) was the only room I ever encountered in school with no clock on the wall. He had removed it, and in its place had placed a sign visible from anywhere in the room that said: “Time will pass. Will YOU?” It drove me nuts!
. . . . . . . . .  Another factor compounding my woes in math class: If I had sat behind her in an English class, I wul probaly bee righting and spaling leick this instead of attaining reasonable proficiency with the written word.  Her name was Judy Blount, equivalent of today’s Molly Ringwald, but with jet-black hair and eyes that could penetrate a six-foot-thick wall of lead.  She had a habit of reaching around and “borrowing” my pencil as it rested in the pencil groove at the top of my desk.  She’d just reach around, take it, and put it back in a minute or so. No wonder I can remember hardly a thing Mr. Cline said. Judy and I got along most of the time. She was mastering the math as I’m sure she conquered every challenge encountered in what I’m sure was/is (I hope) an exemplary life.  I went over to her house to study before a math test once. Not only was there never any hanky with us; there was never any panky either. She was solid gold.
. . . . . Harrilyn Hart was another matter, a matter who mattered. I can’t name any class we took together outside of Choir. We shard some grins and laughs at a party in Franklin’s auditorium. We were part of a gang that played a game similar to “spin the bottle,” only without physical contact where I was OBVIOUS in trying to score with her, mostly because to this day I can’t remember another friend in the audutorium at the time, though I’m sure there were many. We dated, once, with help from my “Chauffeur Father” at the wheel of our 1959 Buick Electra. Today, I cannot drive by the long-since-vacated house at the southeast corner of Seventh at Govorner without thinking of her. We shared nothing more than perspiring hands, but she was incredible. Her smile will be a part of me, in memory, forever.
. . . . .Jim Richardson, Mike Evoy, Phil Arndt, Clint (forgot his last name) and I began to hang with each other as flying model airplkane enthusiasts in 9th grade. While Jim and Mike built and flew several u-control (also called control line) models I dablbled at them, building a few but never flying them. We’d meet at a baseball diamond behind Franklin. I would often hold and release them when Mike or Jim would signal me from their position at the other end of 50 or 60 foot flexible wire “lines” by which they controled the models up and down in a 100 or 120 foot diameter circle. Though I built some — Carl Goldberg ” Li’l Jumpin Bean,” and “Combat Kittens,” Top Flite “Whipsaw,” Veco “Papoose” I did not complete a successful flight of any. I just didn’t have the reaction time required. I ran around with the group for four years including time in high school. I found my success in free flight tow-line gliders which I built and successfully flew. I was the only one in the group to touch free flight models.
. . . . . I had purchased several built flying models from Jim Sullivan from Jim Sullivan who lived at the south end of Spring Street which dead-ended on the north border of Blackhawk School grounds.  Some of the models were ready to fly, but I didn’t fly them. I was more afraid of having a finger cut and cut off  by a propeller blade as I’d try to start a model airplane engine than I was in successfully flying any, though I loved building them and watching others fly them. I continued with taking pictures with the box camera I’d been given at the end of 6th grade, and I took many pictures of the models and my friends.
. . . . . . . I also designed color schemes for others’ model planes. Jim Richardson flew several with color schemes I had designed and painted on his models.  Besides flying at the Franklin ball diamond, we flew literally across the street from his front yard on Cardinal Drive. There was an open field between his (parents’) house and Richardson Manufacturing Company whose front of the plant faced Old Jacksonville Road to the south.  We also flew a few times at Washington Park in an area that had baseball diamonds before the botanical gardens were built and the diamonds disappeared. Gary Baldwin, whose family lived near the entrance to Cardinal Drive was also a u-control modeler and all around great fellow before his parents moved to Washington state if I remember correctly. It was a good bunch.
. . . . . .  Ninth grade had ended gloriously at the school assembly I described in part 15 of Jingleman’s Confession, but it was not quite through with me. Parents and I decided I would attend summer school at Franklin to learn the math, to catch up with it. My understanding of the subject was extreeeeeeemely sub-par, and high school math was sure to be a major challenge if I didn’t come out of 9th grade math in better shape. This was obvious and resolved a month before I graduated Franklin.
. . . . . .During my final weeks of the school year there, I learned that a Mr. Daniel Spreckilemeyer, the choir teacher from Springfield High, would be coming around to audition students for his top Acappella Choir. When he arrived at Franklin after sschool one day in May, I got into line.  Auditions required each student to stand at the piano in the choir room with him. When it was my turn, I approached the piano, we talked about what I had sung at Franklin, he accompanied me for a few bars of songs I had sung that year, and then he gave me some music I had never seen and asked me to sight read the first tenor part. It was that final request that really threw me because I had not tried to sight read music since second or third grade piano lessons. All I had accomplished musically, since, I had accomplished with my ear and tolerable — if not Caruso-esque —  voice. At the end of the sight-reading debacle that lasted maybe five long minutes, I was sure I was out of contention for a place with the top choir.
. . . . . . .I still don’t know how I did it,. . . but only four kids from Franklin would be chosen to sing as  sophomore members of his choir, and I was one of them. I was absolutely floored and delighted when I got the word — I believe during one of the last choir classes with Mr. Nika.
. . . . . .  As related in the part 15, I was one of only two 9th graders to receive “choir achievement recognition” at the year’s end school assembly that followed the success with the choir audition. It was the highest satisfaction I’d enjoy academically for the next 12 years.
. . . . . . . . Occasionally, adversaries have remarked about how conceited and full of myself I can be, and they’ve wondered when it started. I believe the genesis of my conceit began the day I was accepted as a future sophomore into Springfield High School’s Acappella Choir. Music was always the strongest natural talent I had. Writing took effort but God gave me the perfect pitch, the rythm and ear for harmonies. The gift has been a curse as often as it has been a blessing. The world will never understand how grateful I was — and surprised to have been accepted into the top choir at SHS. The same thing happened years later when I auditioned and was accepted by Professor Fisher into MacMurray College’s top choir. At least it confirmed my success from Franklin was grounded in reality.
. . . . . . .From the moment mathematics refresher summer school began at Franklin, I wanted out. We were in the same room where I had gone near nuts earlier, I knew I wouldn’t last the run of the course, and I decided to skip the whole thing. It was the act of a desperate kid. I had skipped no classes during alll of my school life up to that point. It was a watershed moment I’d regret for the rest of my life.
. . . . . .For the next two months, I departed home at about 8:30, heading south down Whittier on my bike, but instead of turning right onto Outer Park, I turned left. I followed the street east to First Street, turned left (north) to Ash, right (east) onto Ash to Iles Park at the northeast corner of Sixth and hid in the park so I could not be recognized from 6th.   There I would swing, or sit at a picknic table with my school things and commune with nature for two and a half hours.  It did not rain even one morning during this escapade. Every day I would see dad turn north onto Sixth from Ash as he drove to work at Roberts Bros. men’s clothing store  in the two-tone 1956 Oldsmobile he had purchased as a second car so Mom could drive to work earlier in the morning in the silver-gray  Electra. Sometimes I’d return home early, and brother Bill was always gone, out playing with his friends. When parents asked me about report cards, I explained there were no report cards in summer school. They never double-checked, and later I wished they had.
. . . . . In mid-August, Bill, Mom, Dad and I were strolling down the main street of the Illinois State Fair enjoying a sunny, storybook-perfect afternoon when we almost walked into my friend Bob Smith who had been in my math refresher class. Bob greeted me like a long-lost brother, saying, “Hey Job, we’ve missed you at summer school!   We sure hope you’ve been doing okay!”
. . . . . . . Dad overheard the friendly greeting, called an immediate end to our visit at the fair, and marched us all back to our car. It all happened so fast, I can’t remember a word I said or even the drive home. It must have been stone cold silence up to the moment we pulled into our driveway at 2016 South Whittier.  Dad told me to get upstairs to my room in a hurry and he’d be right there.
. . . . . .The lesson he taught me with his wrath and his belt made a lasting impression. I had been punished before with “The Belt” — he’d simply remove what he was wearing around his trousers at the time — but this time I knew I was in for something special. . . . The sound of him coming up the stairs, of the opening door to my room, his pulling the sheet off me and starting in with the belt after telling me to lie on my stomach on the mattress . . . . this remains  with me today after the name of the cheerleader I later dated at Springfield Junior College has been forgotten (Anita something). I had never hidden under covers before and thus I had never had them ripped off. Despite being clothed in Bermuda shorts and a sport shirt, I cried so loutdly that Nancy Gibson, who lived across the street, later told me she and her dad had heard me from their back yard. My bedroom front window had been open to let cool air come in through the screen
. . . . . . I had known Dad’s belt before, but never like I knew it that August afternoon. Never again would I know his belt or his hand. But his wrath was a frequent seasoning  in my cornucopia of life that continued  off and on until his demise December 12, 1994.

Coming next : Springfield High Sophomore 1962/63

Live long . . . . . and proper.

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