Mea Culpa, If You Like

I’m sorry if I haven’t said “Sorry,”
since I’m usually good about guilt.
Of that capacity you could fill a lorry
with enough remorse a prison could be built.

I’ve taken all your reproaches to heart,
even though some of my sins are projection,
that might have been formed and thrown on your part.
I’m sure it’s your form of self-protection.

Now, let’s get back to the subject at hand,
my mea culpa for sins you think I did.
It’s my safekeeping you don’t understand,
and due to my dutiful ways I hid.

But here’s what you want, “I apologize.”
Let’s see how much real acceptance that buys.

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Leftovers Again?!

The late November snow,
its gesso spread confidently,
had designs on December,
to make it out past Black Friday
or even Cyber Monday.
But this year rains came
and picked it away
like my brothers would
a leftover turkey carcass.
The crows didn’t mind that at all,
noted pickers that they are,
and in fact reveled
in those muddy wounds upon
the momentarily forgotten grass.
The cars wear their patinas
of salty schmutz, a pasty
dry-rub instead of a brining,
as their drivers sit in jams
with tired eyes, like they’ve
shopped all night on that old
information superhighway.
But what’s that I see
upon my windshield fallen?
A white crystal unlike
its next and next and next,
each a unique hex and hex and hex.
And so it is, the snow’s returned,
nature like a cook with no plan.
The forecaster never saw it coming,
in fact this crap weather he spurned,
a turkey basted in climate change.
Oh, man!

Keep It Under Your Hat

I just placed my fingertips on the upper part of the back of my head and instead of the old lustrous black hair, which long ago turned steely, then silver, I felt that patch of soft skin again. I can pat it and it sounds like polite applause. 

There really was no escaping it, I guess. What started out as a postage stamp sized bit of “ground under repair” in golf parlance, is now the size of, oh, an old CD-ROM. Yeah, it’s now a sand trap. 

But that’s really the only calamity or four that can specifically affect men when they hit a certain age. I hit it long ago. For some, it’s a genetic thing. Dad and/or Grandpa was a chrome dome, so it often follows that you will be one, too. 

For others, it’s kismet, dumb luck. Their locks seem to hold on just fine, until one winter they pull off their wool hat and, fully charged by static cling, their hair stands up like a cane patch, something resembling the head of an old dolly. They’ll notice and pat it down, but then it looks flat and perforated like an old doily. 

It’s enough to give some men heartburn, but more than likely, any burn they’ll experience will be the red embarrassment that now extends up their cheeks to the visible areas beneath those fronds of once-was hirsute glory. 

I can attest that you’ll never see me with a hairpiece, though. I like to think I’m not vain enough.  Not after I recall all my so-equipped acquaintances and experiences I’ve noted with them. 

Also, you’ve really got to take care of them. A lot. They’re not something you just put on and forget about — like a replacement windshield wiper — until they start getting all schmutzy and unsightly. Heck, half the guys I knew with toupees looked like they’d found some roadkill and lifted it from the pavement with a spatula. Et voila, baldness conquered.  Um, no…

I remember going out with an old secretly (yeah, right) sports editor of mine, who got too deep into his cups and fell over the velvet rope at the laughingly defined “gentleman’s club” he dragged us to. While he’s draped over the rope, his hairpiece went flying and I was charged with picking it up and placing it back on his head, holding it there with my red scarf, like he had a head wound. We hustled him out of there and back to his apartment. 

I don’t wish to add insult to ego injury on the poor old guy, but upon getting to my own place, I felt like washing my hands with kerosene and drying them with a blowtorch.  

The next day, while we young reporters were frittering away at our usual humdrum, the sports guy sat at his desk typing away as usual, but on radio silence. As were we, never to mention it in his earshot again.

And what about, should my skin quotient exceed my hair quotient? What of hair replacement surgery? No thanks. I’m old and retired, so there’s not a lot of discretionary income, nor Medicare, that’ll pay for such frivolities. I’ll just own this badge of masculinity like Dad and Grandpa, a trophy that I made it this far. You know, stoically. 

Oh, this golf hat? I’ve never shown you my assortment of fitted ones? Oh yeah, I’ve got maybe fifteen. I’m kind of a collector since about ten years ago.

A little writer’s block exercise I needed today. It’s based on a word salad prompt containing all the following words: a red scarf, windshield wiper, chrome, doily, blowtorch, spatula, CD-ROM, postage stamp, frittering, static cling, radio silence, kismet, calamity, heartburn, and bandage. I think I hit them all. And I hope I made a nice diversion for you as I diverted myself from a deeper depression. Not writing is bad medicine for me.

Mything You Like No Other

For the past hour I just sat here
looking with warmth at your photo,
wondering if your voice is still strong
or more voce sotto.
Would your hair still be to your shoulders,
the consistency of satin
or, like mine, thin, patchy and
some other adjective from the Latin?
I discovered this picture of you
at the bottom a drawer
while I was looking for something else
and it opened a rusty-hinged door
to memories I try not to think
of all too often
while living through my days
with a heart you once did soften.
But that’s how it’s been,
since you were my obsession,
akin to Helen, but I was a weak-sauce Paris
and you were arrogant Menelaus’ possession.
And now, like her, you’re committed
to the dustbin of myth,
long-hidden within a pile of others
where apparently you were fifth.
Understand, this doesn’t mean
I didn’t love you any less,
only that there were four others
to whom I’ve already written poems, I confess.
So one day should you pass a hobbling
old guy who looks familiar in some way,
he probably won’t remember you
since I tossed you out with three others today.

Hey, don’t judge me too harshly. I’m just trying to get my old poetry gears to turn again. They’re currently covered with rust and moss after sitting here for months in a puddle of mud and tears. And, just so you know, this is a bit of poetic whimsy. Right? No, I don’t have something in my eye.

Laughingstock

T’is a cold-hearted addiction I have,
a laughable wild-goose chase
to trade this reclusive life of
the honey-tongued mimic, to attempt elbowing
my way into the company of the published.
But who am I kidding? I’m the uneducated go-between
of hot-blooded youth and cruel hearted
old age, without a hint about joining
the ranks of the bold-faced names,
the ones that are read trippingly
on the tongue there beneath the title,
perhaps earning their publishers’
money’s worth from what small advertising they
might grant them. But I a publisher will never
secure.

I am the noiseless one, eschewing
the foul-mouthed pageantry of the readings,
staying home and puking out more verse
on this new-fangled whirligig of a QWERTY
quill, stringing half-assed, well-behaved
ruminations dexterously down this alleged page
that really isn’t. How can I be disheartened
if I do not choose to champion myself out in the
infinite space, if I remain faint-hearted it is
but a foregone conclusion that the game is up?
I’m not some bloody Shakespeare, you know.

Poem #26 in my poem-a-day quest for NaPoWriMo 2015. This piece was in answer to a prompt to use a word coined by William Shakespeare as the basis of the poem. You know me, dear readers…in for a penny, in for a pound. There are at least 30 words or phrases reportedly coined by the Bard of Avon in this ponderous piece of ever-to-be-unpublished fappery–including the title. This would probably be a funnier bit of business if it wasn’t true. I haven’t submitted anything to a journal in almost a year. And you can’t win if you don’t play.

Smile When You Say That

dental-light2

My daughters are mighty Amazonion warriors in the war against tooth decay, plaque and gingivitis.  They brush and floss and all that stuff dentists and their latex-gloved henchwomen preach.

Me? I’m just a handful of steps above conscientious objector in this war.  Yeah, I brush my teeth every day, and I’m getting better about flossing more than only when I get a tough shred of steak or some celery strings caught between my teeth.  I don’t visit the dentist with the regularity of the rest of the family. I’m not lazy.  I’m not really fearful of pain or anything like that.  I just have this block about lying there and letting someone futz around one of the very few means of entry and egress my body has.

A lot of this stems from experiences I’ve had with dentists since I was a kid.  You know, traumatic instances that have laid psychological minefields between me and a smile like Julia Roberts’.

For instance, my first dentist was Dr. X.  He was a nice enough guy, I guess. But we’re talking about the dark ages of dentistry, before Americans learned that you could win fabulous prizes by suing the bejeezus out of imperfect health-care providers.  Back then, Mom would put me on a bus and tell the driver to let me off at such and such corner and I would just hop off and walk into the Doc’s little office on Allen Street in Albany.

If I remember correctly, it was a dark little place with magazines like Life and Look in the waiting room, sporting covers with Douglas MacArthur or Francisco Franco on them.  And, no I’m not so old that they were current.  Let’s just say General MacArthur had faded away a few years before I visited the Doc.  Occasionally Mrs. Doctor K. would be sitting behind a counter where she would handle appointments and bookkeeping.  You know, Mom and Pop dentistry.  About half of the time, though, you walked in, rang a bell and waited for The Man to come get you after he washed the gore from his hands.

Eventually, Dr. X. would usher you into his little museum of ancient torture implements.  Mind you, we’re talking the 1960s here.  First off, Doc did not use anesthesia of any type.  No Novocain, no gas, and, since you had to keep your mouth open, no bullet to bite on.

If I remember correctly, Dr. X. also didn’t believe in electricity much, either.  I have a vivid memory of having a tooth filled, in which Dr. X. used a drill that was powered by a foot pedal he pumped, like my Grandma had on her sewing machine.  Before I passed out, I know I smelled and saw smoke floating from my mouth.  Yep, smoke, like a signal for help when no one could hear my whining gurgle.  Every time I went to Dr. X, it was like the college of enamel cardinals had elected a new Pope.

Pained and disoriented, I would stagger outside to catch the bus home.  One time, I was so whacked out and blind from his keeping me smiling, that I caught the bus going in the wrong direction and sat panicked through a tour of parts of Albany I had never seen before without the security of Mom and Dad driving.

I successfully dodged full-fledged dental visits for quite some time after that.

Eventually, though, the price must be paid for allowing genetics and Crest to serve as one’s sole purveyors of oral health care.  It was then that I visited the offices of the dentist we’ll call Dr. Y on the recommendation of my Mom.

She said, “Oh, Dr. Y’s so nice, Joe.  He and your father were friends in grade school and high school.”   That sounded benign enough, so I made an appointment.

The weekend before my initial visit to Dr. Y, I was visiting the folks and mentioned to my Dad that I was going to see his old friend in a couple of days.  “Oh, Jesus,” he said.  “That guy!  He was such a weird kid, nuts about germs.  We would all go the Boulevard Cafeteria and sit in a booth and take turns spitting on his silverware.”  Uh, thanks, Dad, I thought.  I hope this guy is a professional and doesn’t carry a grudge.

That Tuesday, I walked across the big open porch that sat like an old lady’s lap on one of those great Victorian homes on upper Madison Avenue.  I checked in, noticed the yellowing dental hygiene cartoons on the bulletin board and waited for the call.  Lotsa yucks in dentistry when you’re the only one in the room who’s vertical, I guess.

“Joe?”  I looked up to see this beaming professional-looking guy standing in the doorway — glasses and brown hair, light blue scrub shirt like a real doctor.  “Hi,” he said, “I’m Dr. Y.  C’mon in and let’s take a look-see.”

Whew, I thought, as I lay back in his long cushy chair.  He seems like a nice guy.  Gentle timbre in his voice – I like that.  Pretty new equipment.  OK!  Very friendly demeanor.  This should be all right.

“Okay, Joe, lean back and open wide.  Let’s take a look,” Dr. Y said.  I remember he had these little magnifier lenses perched low on the bridge of his nose. I could see them as I gaped, wide-eyed at his face, thinking that Mom was right and Dad was kidding and exaggerating again.  Dr. Y’s eyes, even through those magnifiers, gave me a feeling of care from a true professional.

Just then he sighed and said, “You know, Joe, seeing you here, you remind me so much of your Dad when we were young.  You look so much like him.”  At which point, his kind eyebrows took on the form of a “V,” its acute angle pointed directly to the cavity-sprinkled target of his abuse for what would be the next nine months.  Damn that old man of mine.  How does that saying go?  Something about the “sins of the fathers?”

I now go to another dentist.  Between Dr. Y. and my new one, I was a patient of another.  He was a real good oral surgeon and did a great job saving a couple of my teeth and did some great crown work for a pair he couldn’t completely save. Let’s call him Dr. Z.

If he’s so good, why do I go to a new dentist?

Well, I used to like to take the very first appointment of the day and Dr. Z. and I would open the office together.  One morning, he was scheduled to do a couple of fillings, so he plopped me in the chair and fired up all the lights and equipment in his area, yawned and took a look at my x-ray.  “Hmm, okay,” he said.  Grabbing a long-needled syringe, he proceeded to fire about a pint-and-half of Novocaine into multiple sites around my right lower jaw.

He walked away to greet the staff as they wandered in. Meanwhile, my jaw went to sleep.  Dr. Z. came back, smiled, and said, “All numbed up?”  He was so sure that I would be, that he didn’t even look at me for an answer.  His back was turned to me as he held my X-ray up to the light.  Just then I saw him freeze, flip the X-ray over and hiss, “Oh, shit!”  There are  only a few professionals who you do not want to hear those two words from as they are applying their skills to your person.  I’m told one is a bikini waxer.  Another is a mortician. Another is your dentist.

The perennially tanned Dr. Z. whirled around, ashen-faced.  He poked my now-droopy right lower lip.  “Uh, Joe, I’m sorry,” he said.  “It looks like I’ve anesthetized the wrong side of your jaw.”

I’m sure I looked like a goggle-eyed corpse laying there—mouth open and oozing drool, no chatter emanating from my normally peppy orifice, paralyzed in mind and body.  I lay, unblinking, staring at this once-Olympian god of gum health, now reduced to imperfect mortal.

“What do you want to do?” he sheepishly asked.  “We could numb up the other side and take care of your cavities. Or you could make an appointment for another time, which I fully understand you wanting to do.  We could take care of you then.”

I think the Novocaine had seeped into my brain, because I know I wasn’t thinking clearly when I grinned like a pole-axed stroke victim and replied, “Thathps okay, Dox.  Lethps get thithps over withps.”  I sounded like I was talking with the remnants of a popped balloon between my lips.

Dr. Z. worked his usual magic after that, efficiently and expertly anesthetizing, drilling, and filling my left jaw and its imperfections.

Waddaya gonna to do? I thought.  It’ll all be over in a couple of minutes and you’ll be done for six months or more.  What’s the worst that could happen?

“Okay, Joe, we’re done.  Rinse and spit,” Dr. Z. said.  That’s when I got a preview of “the worst.”  I lifted the water cup to where I believed my lips were and poured it in my lap.  I tried again, squishing it through the corner of my mouth where there was a slight sense of pressure.  My attempt to rinse and spit left nothing dry within a five-foot radius of my mouth–in three dimensions.

“I am so sorry, Joe,” Dr. Z. kept saying.  “Please, don’t have anything hot to drink for the next few hours and don’t eat anything solid for that time, either.”  Embarrassed and professionally de-pantsed at my expense, Dr. Z. moved me over to his partner’s half of the practice that afternoon.

Of course, I left the dentist’s office and sped right to work, where I discovered that Dr. Z. might have miscalculated on the amount of painkiller he had given me.  By noon I was still drooling, doing my best to keep my lower lip from hitting the space bar on my keyboard, and having a very difficult time speaking clearly.  How difficult?  I made Sylvester the Cat sound like Lord Olivier, spraying saliva around the office like a defective fire sprinkler.

My chin began to itch a bit then and I felt that I was getting some feeling back, so I joined my friends at an office pizza party for which I had previously kicked in a few bucks.  “Heck,” I said, “I can feel my jaw now.  I’ll just be careful.”  So, I grabbed myself a big gooey wedge of cheesy goodness and bit off a chunk.  Chew, chew, chew.

“Jeez, this crust is chewier than I thought.  And it’s a little oily, too,”  I said to myself. I could actually feel the ooze on my chin, which I felt was progress.

Wiping a napkin across my chin, I noticed that the oil was red and I had been eating my lip for the previous thirty seconds or so.

I decided to forego lunch to suck on a cold compress the rest of that afternoon.

But my teeth were perfect!

Okay, pass the floss and stand back while I spit.