Archive for December, 2011

Yesterday at work at my employer’s granite showroom, for the four pre-teen daughters of a visiting couple, I shared,  on the new violin finish Ibanez guitar I bought for Christmas this year, a song I created about 48 years ago. The song was improvised on the second guitar I ever owned, in the living room at 2016 S. Whittier Ave. in Springfield, Illinois. It was my childhood home. My sister Dorothy Shymansky, her husband Robert, first son Robert and second son Steven, my mom, dad and brother Bill were gathered after a storybook supper, and I was the star of the show. I could play six chords on the guitar.  I was 16 years old.

We had sung some Christmas carols, and I had played “Puff the Magic Dragon” at least once — they loved the song — and then Bobby asked me to make up a song.  (I had done this kind of thing before. It was predictable fun.)
“Okay, smart guy,” I said, laughing and pointing my guitar at him from my seat on the edge of a blue velvet high-back chair. “I’ll make up the song after you make up the title!”

Bobby’s eyes — all of the Shymanskys’ eyes including their sister Julie who had not yet joined the world and my sister who had adopted the name — sparkled when they smiled in a way that made a leprechaun’s glittering eyes seem as dull as a dead carp in the sand at the lake. He took a breath and blurted “See-op, Bee-op, Shabalang!”

The melody and words came as easily as “White Christmas.”. . . .
See-op, bee-op,  shabalang.
Fra-fra! . . . fra-fra!
See-op, bee-op,  shabalang
Fra-fra! . . . fra-fra!
(repeated and then into the refrain. . .)
See-op, bee-op,  shabalang it’s very strange you see.
See-op, bee-op,  shabalang is what my mother calls me ” —
and the two boys HOWLED with laughter
and I repeated the first verse twice more, and that was the end of the song.

They asked me to play it two or three more times in the course of the evening, and they loved it. So did I. Every time I visited the Shymanskys out in Wheeling, West Virginia or they returned to Springfield in later years while the kids were growing up, my guitar was always close, and they asked me to sing See-op Bee-op Shabalang.

December 28, 2011  a young family visited my employer where I’ve had my new guitar since the 27th. I had played some carols and children’s songs, and then I introduced the song I had played in my parents’ living room when I was sixteen years old. The kids loved it, and so did the smiling parents who had stopped chatting with owner George when I started that song. See-op is older than their parents. I will never forget yesterday’s magic.

And I cannot not forget Steve Shymansky, a bright, generous kid who loved his brother Bobby (who died of Muscular Dystrophy before he turned 20) and Julie and mom and dad in a storybook-perfect way. Every year, he or Laurel his beautiful wife, send me a picture of their kids, usually without proud parents in the picture. I’ve not said a word to a Shymansky in 16 years but I remember the joys of knowing them. My sister Dorothy wants nothing to do with me for reasons she made clear long ago in a hell-fire monologue over the phone line to Wheeling. I don’t know if Julie or my sister are even alive . . . . but I hope they are. . . . and I wish them well. 

Some day, perhaps, the four vivacious young ladies who came to a natural stone showroom on Springfield’s northeast side will remember a man with a guitar who played a funny song inspired by a boy named Shymansky, and they will smile.

Bitterness is not my way. Give me See-op Bee-op Shabalang any day!  🙂

Live long . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . and proper.


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Season of Love
by Job Conger

It’s the time of the season,
people go into hock
buying presents for others
and enduring the schlock —
the retail overselling —
as we push and we shove.
It’s a shame we forget that
it’s a season of love.

From a brother to sister,
from a mom to a dad,
like a breath to revive us
in a time that’s gone bad.
Let’s remember the reason
for the way that it’s done,
as our God up in heaven
gave us his only son.

Though the shiny, wrapped present
isn’t myrrh or fine gold,
we rejoice in the reason
that the scriptures have told
why we give unto others
as He gave from above.
I will follow the wise men
in a season of love.

(refrain, if singing)
Though Emmanuel’s coming
seems removed from today,
we rejoice in remembering
for He showed us the way.

It’s the way to forgiveness
in the gifts that we bring,
and a heaven’s assurance
in the songs that we sing
all to say that “I love you”
like our father above,
and I follow the Father
in a season of love.

written December 12, 1993

Gordon Lightfoot sings many poems put to music, and I call poems many songs I write when I print or speak and do not sing them with my guitar. For a long time I was looking for a song to rationalize this business of giving. All the music I knew celebrated the day with no connecting to modern giving OR talked about presents without talking about the big birthday. This song makes the connection. I’ve sung it in some churches (not enough) and at many parties (not enough).  More than my simple affirmation of my faith, I believe in the melody and consider my writing it a blessed gift from a higher power. I hope you liked it.

To all readers of this blog, I extend best wishes for a warm, reverent and rewarding Christmas. If you don’t believe in Christmas, I wish you a pleasant Sunday just the same.

Live long . . . . . . . . and proper.

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I can’t remember the last time I walked from my bedroom to my kitchen for a first cup of coffee without turning on a few lights. For the past two weeks I’ve been driving out to the AeroKnow Museum, sometimes at 4:40, sometimes 6:40, all in darkness. Frequently recently, I’ve had dinner after arriving home by 7:30 or so, fallen asleep in my living room chair with dishes and utensils on a side table, awakened about 2:30 or 3 to a silent TV that shut down automatically. Then I’ve turned on the living room radio tuned to 970 AM and listened to Red Eye talk radio and the best conversations since Larry King was on radio and nowhere else. Often I’ve listened in the darkness until the LED clock indicated it was time to change my shorts and drive out to the airport before going to work at 8:45. Things were different last night.

For one thing, I slept in my bed for the second night in a row, a real first for me since October. Earlier in the day, while at “employer,”  I arranged with a repairman to work on upstairs resident’s heater. It was going to cost a chunk of dough — and I don’t mean Pillsbury, boy. It meant less Christmas for moi, but it also meant something more important than that: it meant the esteemed upstairs resident and her kids would be happy. I alerted “employer” that I would be late arriving Wednesday because I had to be home for the repairman. No problem. My grand plan yesterday was to arrive at the museum at 5 a, to leave to be back at the house at 9:15 in case the repairman arrived a little early, and then go from home to “employer.”

At about 3 a, I awakened in bed with some persistent, unpleasant “heartburn” that is probably acid reflux in the throat, something I never experience when semi-supine in the living room chair. I discovered that drinking a glass and a half of iced tea did not help at all.  I resisted returning to the kitchen for a TUMS or two or three. I don’t want to risk getting into the habit of taking these things because it’s more important for my GI tract (gastro-intestinal equipment) to take care of itself. So I lay in bed, changing postures to spread the acid reflux action around the affected area while listening to Red Eye radio on AM 970 WMAY.  During these gyrations, I decided to save myself the tedium of getting myself out to the airport at 5. I was going to try to squeeze in some more sleep before arising about 9 to meet the repair guy. After  two hours of this, I realized the “heartburn” was over, and when the radio turned itself off the third time, I didn’t punch the bedside clock radio button to resume the low-volume banter of the Jim Bohannon Show that follows the Red Eye. Soon after I was asleep.

When I next opened my eyes at 7:40 I could see something I had not seen in God’s own light for a few months: my bedroom. And instead of imitating a barnacle until 9:00, I arose and cleaned up the house a damn site more thoroughly than I had since summer.

I washed more than two or three dishes for the first time in more than a month. I cleared the clutter from my living room end tables. I put several videos back into boxes and returned them to the shelves behind the TV. And I did a lot more.  Didn’t vacuum because good people might still be sleeping upstairs.

Something else happened. I had surrendered to the notion that I was not going to have my furnace  repaired until the new year because I HAD to spend as much time at “employer” as possible, regardless of where the mental Tom Thumb, who writes the checks would get around to paying me.  Repair man was very nice; came to my basement, spent three minutes close to my furnace and explained I needed a new igniter. WHEW! I knew they weren’t way expensive; a friend (at the time) two years ago had replaced one.  The man went after one, came back and installed it, and my pilot light lit for the first time since last March.  First thing I did after he departed, to finish the task with upstairs resident’s heat , was to turn off my heat and set the thermostat to rock bottom temperature where it will stay until I return home from a poetry event this evening in beautiful downtown Springfield. I will leave the thermostat as it is, most likely until Christmas day. I will not be cold on the blessed birthday.

My routine is not changing because of a working furnace. I’ll be at AeroKnow Museum by 5:05 Thursday through Saturday. I will do some shopping Saturday, mostly for clothes, and I’ll bring home a new guitar, I had pretty much paid for before yesterday.  There will be no bottle of Wild Turkey on my table on the 25th, but there will be a warm home and I will have dark socks again; maybe a new dress shirt or two. On balance, I think the trouble upstairs was a blessing. 

Live long . . . . . and proper.

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A.D. Carspm. patriot

An artists’ coop  — make that co-op — rented by a group of visual artists, serves many artists. Those that chip in and help with the rent, the visuals, use it as a studio. There are paints finished paintings, easels, works in progress everywhere and words of the prophets written on the gallery walls.  Every fourth Thursday but in December is Spoken Word Night. The venue also welcomes aspiring writers to a weekly study group. The name of the co-op, located on the northwest corner of Pasfield at South Grand in Springfield, Illinois, USA is The Pharmacy. On Thursday, December 15, Springfield poet A.D. Carson came to The Pharmacy to share his poems, his music and excerpts from his first novel, COLD.

A.D. Carson, novelist

The audience arrived at 7:00 pm, “Springfield-style” which translates to 7:15 ish? 7:20? So what’s yer prablim dud? Before they began coming in, a well-done program had been placed on every chair. The publication  included a short biography of Carson and notes about his book excerpts, raps and poems he intended to perform. Once the featured guest made it to the microphone the fireworks began.

A.D. Carson, rap sta

 Bookending the show at start and finish were an Intro —  “Rap Star” — and an Outro (Carson’s word) — “My Hustle”  —  excerpts of prose from COLD read live over a music and sometimes, voice track on a CD or Blue Ray (I would not know a Blue Ray from a Charles ray.)

The titles of Carson’s oratories would mean nothing to most Honey & Quinine readers as the titles of songs I have written would mean nothing to those who’ve not heard them. And as someone almost said, “You can’t judge a poem by its title.” or if you’re from corn country, “You can’t judge a poem by it’s title.”

There is no mistaking The Pharmacy for Carnegie Hall.  But there is no denying that for A.D. Carson, The Pharmacy may be remembered, some day, as a step in that direction. And while conceding that many “performers” develop individual personnae — personnas if you don’t do Latin — there was no trace of such contrivancing before or during his time behind the microphone. As he set up his sound system he talked amiably with all who approached him. Before and during the patter, the reading and reciting — and I’m sure some folks will say I’m doing the man no favors by sharing this opinion  — he seemed the quintessence of Will Smith on the Letterman show. There is no hint of sullen resentment, the bravado of ultra-kewl and distancing from any living human being, present that evening. There were some who seemed to be marginally living, and one or two who seemed to be marginally human in their ways of being, but they all came to the event. And this happy circumstance “speaks” to the man’s wide-spectrum appeal.

It was a complex production for a one-man delivery. Some items were read to a recorded musical background, most if not all his own two CD recordings of his own writing to music track and spoken word. He sang and spoke as a living second speaker in harmony, frequently, with what came from the recordings. Carson demonstrated an artist comfortable with intricate timing and production. He didn’t miss a cue. He talked about “rap tracks:”  recorded music and percussion serving as a foundation for what’s delivered live on stage. A major rap artist had offered to record a rap track for him for $300 and he declined because he would rather make his own.  The variety kept things interesting as he read from his novel, shared a poem . . . this, that and whatever and never overloading the preamble. Evident on the side where the audience couldn’t read the screen was a device that kept him on program, was used to cue the next number, and may have shown the texts of some poems he was reciting “almost” from memory. It was a nifty idea. He also read from paper, but was never chained to the pages. Eye contact with the audience was consistent throughout. Otherwise, poetry might as well be read to your living room mirror.

The only down side was the question and answer period that followed directly on the heels of his performance. By the time I exited “with all deliberate speed” for home at the end of the complete package, I could not remember if there had been an intermission between performance and QandA. I don’t believe there was. If there had been, and if I had understood the likely . . . . . . . d-u-r-a-t-i-o-n . . . . . . . . . . . . of what was to follow, I would have thanked Carson for a terrific performance and departed cheerfully. Much of the second half was tech talk generated by aspirants in trail. There wasn’t a “dumb” question or answer in the onslaught of them. A surly,  but young,  dude who might have played a role in the dancing chorus of “West Side Story” as one of the Jets challenged Carson to a “rap off” or a “rap duel,” something like that. The gentleman in front fielded the question reacted as Fred Astaire might have, brushing powder off his shoulder after a slow dance with Ava Gardner. He explained The Pharmacy was not the place to discuss duelling rapsters; maybe later on the street corner. Smoooooth. It seemed obvious Carson was in familiar territory.

But the session wasn’t happy time for me.  There was no escape because unlike the high school students who had exited during the performance during the introduction of the next book excerpt or poem, there was no time for breathing before the next question. There was not previously arranged end time, either. The longer it went, the more disappointed with that part of the evening. I was trapped in the front row! And by the time it all came to a lurching conclusion, I hated the world.

The Visual Arts Gallery at University of Illinois Springfield brings featured artists to curious audiences BEFORE the official receptions begin, usually a half an hour before the gallery doors open. Artists talk about their art and then answer questions, and anyone with a question unanswered can talk to the artist during what follows. Launching the QandA after a n intermission where folks could socialize with Carson and then stay for the rest if they wanted to stay would have made a big difference in how I carried my attitude during the short walk back to my home down the block and around the corner.  In the future, I will exit soon after the last item in the performance is completed, even if there are crackers and wine promised after the QandA.

I am still very happy to have attended A.D. Carson’s performance. I learned a lot about the man, his life on the journey to that night at The Pharmacy, and I guarantee all readers of Honey & Quinine — HandQ, if you prefer — you will be glad you shared what he shares, the next time you attend an event that promises more.

Live long . . . . . . . and proper.



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Keeping My Cool

Some poetry bloggers have recently subscribed and probably learned by now that I don’t post poetry every day or every time here at H&Q. When I post a poem, the subject will alway begin with “new poem” followed by the title. Most of the poems I share will have been created recently, but since no one who doesn’t know me has purchased one of my three books of poems, my bet is that even any in those 306 pages published will be new to most of you.

When I decided in November not to turn on my furnace I didn’t imagine it would still be off December 15. There have been nights I wish I had turned it on when I breezed in from a 10 to 12 hour day at the AeroKnow Museum and employer when I wanted to flip the switch, but what the hell? In less than three hours, most nights, after a dinner matching my circumstance, and quaffing almost lustily of what most folks would call a sedative, but I call a deadative. . . . . . . I’m sleeping in my chair under a sleeping bag unzipped and turned upside down,  covering most of me, with my feet on an ottoman (no connection to any empire here), and usually my fluffy bathrobe over my head with talk radio buzzing away like white noise on a TV but slightly more interesting. The bathrobe is porous and allows air to filter through while keeping that part of me comfortably warm. Ten years ago I bought long underwear intended for wearing when hunting outdoors, and I have not worn it since about 2001, but I suppose I will starting early in 2012. I laundered it a few weeks ago to be sure I didn’t forget to wash it way back when.

Socially, this has been the best Christmas season in years.  While at least one friend counted the number of parties she’s been to on a Facebook blab, I’m simply counting this season a significant net gain regarding how people seem to regard me and how I regard the rest of the world. . . and leaving it at that. I am humbled and well blessed this year; am nowhere near the angry malcontent I was in 2010. No sir no ma’am. This year I am a resigned malcontent.

For the first time in my life, I had to quit a story I had promised to write for the local business monthly. It would have taken too many hours from my daily employer to produce. In the past, I’ve simply taken a few days off, for cherished, major story assignments but the numbers don’t often work. For the major front page feature I produced for the December Springfield Business Journal, a story I thoroughly enjoyed writing and photographing, my paycheck from the publisher was $7 (and pocket change) more than I lost in pay for time away from my daily employer. When withholding from daily employer is factored in, I lost money. 

WHY? Because it is important for me to honestly claim to be a writer . . .  not an intern writer, not an aspiring writer; a writer. Four years ago, soon after I re-joined the good grace of the business publication owner, whose father was the publication owner during the years I had contributed to it years earlier — owned by the father who turned it over to his son who has done a fine job operating it — I made a jocular pitch in happy talk at a summer party to be listed as a “senior correspondent” on the publication roster and after my by lines.  We laughed about it. And in the time since, I haven’t pushed it, believing that if I just hung in there, proved dependable and competent, the recognition would come. I still hope that it will come, but I am “humble and resigned” not to push things; not to share a hint of dis-satisfaction.

WHY? Because when I wrote for the gentleman’s father, I was a senior correspondent. So, you may asque . . . what the hell am I unhappy about?  I was a senior correspondent for the paper. Nothing can take that away from me.  All I need now is to find a person (it will have to be a person) who will hire me to work for him or her as a writer/photographer/communicator among communicating peers, a member of a team. My teachers all said I “plays  well with others.” To make the most of my mile high humility, I need to absent myself from the current cess pool of circumstance that rewards “the patience of Job” with a paycheck every two weeks . . . . or three weeks . . . . or month, and frequently with the admonition “Don’t cash this until next Wednesday or I tell you you can.”

This month I am not a writer/photographer because I can’t afford to lose the dollars I must lose in time gone from daily employer to be one.

In the meantime, I’m keeping my cool. And I have an additional blessing — totally unexpected — to count among my many this year.  I’m not even being billed monthly for the natural gas to keep the furnace pilot light burning. I discovered this last Thursday when I had HAD it with being cold. I went to the basement, tried to start the furnace on my way out of the house for a nearby poetry event, and could not start the furnace!

Lucky me.

Live long . . . . . . . . and proper.

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One of the rewards of most any blog, including Honey & Quinine, is touching people I would never meet, even if I could fly across oceans . . . even if I could ride in an airplane that would fly across oceans.  I subscribe to several WordPress poets’ blogs, and several poets, including two in Australia, subscribe to mine. One is Dennis N. O’Brien. Readers of any blog can respond with a comment about a post, and some respond regularly to poems I post with a “Like” and even comments and e-mail. Dennis responded recently to one of mine, and when I read a subsequent poem — “Poetic Persecution” –he posted I decided to share it — with full credit and bows in the direction of Australia — at Fourth Thursday Spoken Word Night at a visual artists’ cooperative studio and sometimes community arts sharing venue called The Pharmacy. For years, the building was known as Watt Bros. Pharmacy, one of five owned and operated for decades by real Watt brothers, all registered pharmacists.

Job Conger, USA reads Dennis N. O'Brien, Australia

I began my time behind the microphone by reading Dennis’ poem, and there were chortles a plenty from the audience, many of whom regularly commit the crime of rhyme.  He included in his WordPress post a counterpoint about the horrid legions who write un-rhymed poems as well, but I didn’t share that part aloud.

I know that at least one of my poems as been read aloud to an innocent and unsuspecting audience in Arizona — maybe it was New Mexico. It’s nice to know that we are larger than we seem in our own part of the stage close to home.

I encourage readers of this post to search for Dennis O’Brien’s poetry at WordPress. Ditto for Authored Angioplasty, a young woman assigns only numbers instead of titles. She seldom — maybe never — if ever rhymes, but I read every one. Not every poem read proves eye-brow or insight-raising and that’s okay. Even Ferlinghetti didn’t hit them out of the ball park every time. But I’m often glad I take time to read poets confident enough in their craft to share them.

And I don’t always subscribe to blogs whose creators “Like” my rambling. My guarantee to those I like is that I will read them. I never criticize what I read, and sometimes I don’t comment about what I enjoy. I don’t want my perspective, made suspect by the near-total disconnect from acadeeeeemia, to unhappily influence the writing of a poet in Australia, or England or Chicago and to precipitate the loss of glory from my words that did more harm than good.

Suffice to say that sharing poems from afar is a good thing. I enjoy it, and I wager you will too!

Live long . . . . . . and proper.

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My friend Joe Coffey recently explained he and his fine fam sometimes delay turning on their furnace at home until December with a little help from frequent laundry ops, cooking dinner in the kitchen for the family and sometimes a little fire in the flaming place and flaming in the fireplace. With only myself to account for, with laundry engaged in the basement once every two weeks or so and most cooking in this house accomplished by pressing a few buttons in the microwave in the counter corner, I have been inspired by Joe and other good people to continue my adventure sans engaged furnace.
No quitting at the stroke of 12 (th month-wise). The more evenings under layers, the more it becomes routine. The adventure continues.

Even so, I am cutting back on my reading because I will not wear my gloves in the house, and besides, it would be hard to turn the pages. So it’s either videos or PBS on the “tube.” Since I took all my aviation videos out to AeroKnow Museum at the airport (fully equipped with WARM), I’m down to regular war videos — The Longest Day, Patton, which I’ve already watched again since getting a TV from my friend Warren Stiska — and things like Amadeus and Altered States and Ghost, which I don’t care to watch in my current state of (troubled) mind, and comedies including Caddy Shack and Blazing Saddles which I’ve viewed in the last few weeks. Watching the latter two more than once a month is not an option. With the way Gerry Groebel is mixing fund rasing 1.5 hour programming erratically into what used to be a dependable schedule, watched and savored almost nightly, I’m g’wine to have to look for some more videos to occupy my time until April because these days, if they’re not holding a dinner plate and a fork, as I watch a video or silent PBS (volume set to MUTE most of the time as I eat) my hands are between my trousered thighs or under my sweat-shirted and leather-jacketed arm pits to maintain circulation in the fingers.

Things are better than they feel. When I arose from my chair this morning at 5:40 to head out to the museum, there was no hint of frozen water pipes in the kitchen where I brushed my teeth. I guess I’m warmer than I appreciate. At any rate, I am determined to continue this adventure.

I was especially adventurous Thursday night, just black enough of (troubled) mind to watch my video of Fargo, an incredibly classy flick, one of the last I first saw in a theater.  (You must have seen this movie to understand the punch line heading your way in the penultimate line in this post.) I can’t say too many good things about it. Nuances appear like sheep and Volkswagen shapes in summer cumulus clouds, always something I didn’t catch before. It’s familiarity that breeds conTENT; not to be CONfused with CONtent. After it ended, I reaped an unexpected dividend.

I didn’t feel quite so cold.

Live long . . . . . . and proper.

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