Musical AIn’t

Boston Ballet’s Paulo Arrais and Kathleen Breen Combes. The Nutcracker!

“Okay, Alexa, play The Nutcracker Suite.”

Alexa has been really pulling out all the Christmas music options. I found this by accident. 

Alexa, my kitchen cylinder speaker, functions primarily as my DJ who takes requests. I say, “Alexa, play Erykah Badu.” And she does. (Yes, I know I said she and not it. JSYK, I’m very aware that it’s a machine, okay??!) Or I say, “Alexa, please play The Hamilton soundtrack,” and she plays it without missing her shot. 

So, how smart is this stupid cylinder? She has artists and albums down. So I tried, “Alexa, play Aretha Franklin radio,” and she did. And it was good. No. It was very good. 

I asked for Ella Fitzgerald radio, less good, but Duke Ellington radio? Most excellent. She played a great mix from the prompt Mumford and Sons radio. One of my favorites, “Alexa, play nineties music.” I got grunge and gangsta with some pop to fill the gaps. Eclectic and what I needed. 

So, after Thanksgiving–I wait until then out of a sense of decorum and because I don’t need two months of Christmas, but that’s another post–I took a chance and said, “Alexa, play Christmas music.” And I’ll be damned, but she did. 

Right out of the gate, it was Bing Crosby. She played the music I wanted. I was overwhelmed and impressed, like when the 20 questions orb got my answer right. It was magic. Beautiful and surprising magic. 

The next day, I requested Christmas music and I got “Country Christmas.” I like pretty much any kind of music. Except country. It’s not fair, I know, but I’ve tried. I get Johnny Cash, but not that guy who buys himself a whiskey and his horse a beer. But that’s not my point. 

The magic was gone. 

I thought the metal machine knew me. It didn’t. It couldn’t apply the right logic to its wrong behavior. Air was leaking out of my balloon. I coreected her, “Alexa, play classic Christmas music.”

Crap. She played classical Christmas music instead. And there were weird interloping versions of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah that missed my mark of specifically Christmas music. I wanted Winter Wonderland and Nat King Cole singing Adestes Fideles. This was quickly remedied by a slight syntax adjustment, asking for “Christmas classics.” Boom, Bing. But the shine was off the penny. Maybe she’ll learn. 

I’d asked my techno DJ to play The Nutcracker. She complied with the correctly ordered ballet in full. Another day, I thought the suite would make a great dinner soundtrack. And it did. For a while. 

“Wait. What’s that?”

“Whuh?” responded The Spouse. 

We both listened harder. It was definitely Tchaikovsky. It was a famous ballet. But this was the swan one, not the Christmas fantasy. 

Close, Alexa. You got that artificial down, but keep working the intelligence part. 

“Alexa, next song.” Sigh. 

Throwing in the Towel

Pink bath towel set.

It was a simple task. Maybe it wasn’t really that simple since there was already a task in the queue. She would call them “errands.” She had no idea what he would call them.

The goal was a simple wedding, and, as far as weddings go it was. The time frame between “will you marry me” through “I do” was a week shy of three months. They conned a priest into marrying them in a church and selected the #2 readings with full mass. Honestly the only criteria for the service was to avoid the “submit to thy husband” reading. Any of the other Old or New Testament love readings would be fine. A box checked.

There was a maid of honor and a best man, no additional maids or bearers. She told the maid to pick out a dress that would be appropriate to the best man’s tuxedo. And any color. Except white. There were many compliments to the bride over the maid’s sartorial selection.

She bought her own dress off the rack from the fancier department store. It was left over from prom. She had a choice among four or five white or near white frocks. She was very happy with the one she bought. And it was on sale, too.

The reception would be in his huge group house where there had been many large parties with multiple keg runs. He had a roommate who had access to wholesale booze, and they found a caterer that would bring food and a cake and wouldn’t charge for the champagne flutes even though they were only pouring and not supplying the bubbles.

Her sole requirement for the catering was that they show up. She didn’t care what the food tasted like as long as it was there before the guests. When the caterer mentioned a bakery he worked with, she enthusiastically said “Yes!” even before he could sell her on the the airy, buttery cake with raspberries spread between the layers. Her only request was that the bride and groom at the top of the cake was a man and a woman. Done and done!

The week of the wedding was pretty busy. There was family and friends coming from across the country–at least one, and perhaps as many as six, said that they had to witness him say, “I do.” There was a house that they closed on two days before the wedding. And there were two separate households to move into the freshly mortgaged cottage.

He and his best man were heading off to pick up the three tuxedos, one for the father of the bride, too. This is where the simple task came in. She realized that there were no decent finger towels for the bathroom.

“When you guys are out, can you pick up some hand towels for the bathroom? Pink, please. And if they don’t have pink, white would be fine.”

The time to the rehearsal began to close in like the trash compactor in Star Wars. There were amazing wedding elves moving furniture about, sweeping and mopping, and artfully hanging these ridiculous white paper bells and twists of gray and pink crepe paper, but the list of things to do was still daunting. She was becoming overwhelmed. He knew. She didn’t know, so much.

She needed to get her clothes and check into the hotel, then change, then to the church for rehearsal, then the dinner, then back to the hotel. She kept going over her list around and around like that stupid zipper ride at the fair. The one where you go up one side and down the other in these cars that swing around and upside down and the people riding throw up. The elves checked in and she distributed more tasks.

The soon-to-be groom and his best man came back with the tuxedos. He handed her dad’s suit to her so she could bring it to the hotel. He wasn’t going to the hotel.

She looked at him.

“Did you forget the towels?” Her voice went sharp and a half octave higher from the strain of being calm. She was approaching the peak of the zipper ride.

“We got them. We didn’t know where to go so we went to the drugstore. They didn’t have many towels but we found these.” His brother showed a shopping bag. He pulled out four towels. They were more like kitchen towels, which would be okay, but they were not pink. They were orange.

She did not handle the color substitution well. Her disappointment was of volume. It was such that the women who would be her sisters-in-law the next day flanked her, grabbed her by the elbows and led her out of the house to work through her zipper list. She wasn’t sure, but it seemed that everyone who remained in the house was relieved when the squad removed the ticking bomb.

Anyway, The Spouse brought up those orange towels today. “Well at least it’s not as bad as when I got those pink towels!” (Yes, he still clings to his improper claim that they were pink. I kept the evidence for about twelve years.)

Why bring it up? It’s been decades of errands and lists and stress and explosions and near misses since that day. I guess the towels are an expression of something the priest read at our supersized wedding:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

1 Corinthians* 13:4-8

So when he reminded me of his abject towel failure, I asked him why with a crooked grin then a chuckle and then a belly laugh. Because I know exactly why he said it.

* for those keeping track at home, that’s pronounced First Corinthians.

Failing On Line

A vintage picture of a well put together woman checking out here groceries. She has a great hat.

She was the worst ever at packing a grocery bag. She knew that eggs needed to go on the top, but would regularly misalign her tomatoes on unevenly shaped cans. Cans would shift, tomatoes would smash.

It goes back to that time–decades ago–at the cheaper grocery store. The one that didn’t take credit cards, that sold goods out of cardboard cases rather than from neatly stacked shelves, where you paid for bags and you packed your own.

Her stress began when she had to buy the bags. She didn’t know how many she needed. All she knew was she had a conveyor belt full of food. She guessed the number of bags she needed. She guessed wrong. How did her friends do this?

The baby was in the well of the shopping cart as she was trying to empty the full belt. He was a baby in that he wasn’t quite yet a kid, but he was mobile. She kept an eye on him while she shoved food in the paper bags as fast as she could. There were people behind her in her line. They would need her to be done. Soon. Very soon.

Ethel and Lucy desperately dealing with an accelerating chocolate candy assembly line.She felt like Lucy & Ethel wrapping chocolates as the conveyor belt moved faster and faster, and as they became increasing more desperate–hiding candy in their hats, secreting it away in their uniforms and eventually popping the evidence into their mouths. But this wasn’t a joke. Her consequences were real. And then there was the wail.

The baby had somehow wedged his big fat cheeks between the wires where the shopping cart seat meets the cart. The more he tried to extricate himself, the more he was stymied. And this held true for his mother, too. He was afraid. So was she.

She couldn’t collapse the seat into the cart without collapsing her son’s face. She had to figure out a way to wiggle his cheekbones attached to his big head from the grip of the cart. But the baby screamed as she was doing her work. She believed it was not just because it was uncomfortable, but also because it hurt.

So she’s holding up the entire busy line at the cheaper grocery store trying to liberate a being that she loved more than life itself. And she was not removing her groceries from the assembly line. The line that was moving, just behind her.

She wished to her soul that she had pliers to cut the cart to piles of metal shavings and take her sweet baby home. But she also had $160 of groceries on the line. And they weren’t bagged.

She attended to her baby as the passersby were looking at her like she was the most ignorant and the most neglectful and the worst mother in the city, and in the state, and in the country, and in the world, and, possibly, in the entire universe. Nobody stopped to see if they could help. Many threw their noses into the air as they looked down on her obvious incompetence.

She wasn’t sure how she extracted her love from the jaws of the shopping cart. But she held him close as his sobs subsided. Still there was no help.



Except for the checker. The one who was having her line held up by the madness. She stopped scanning packages and grabbed some brown paper bags. She expertly took the food on the belt and smartly packed the bags. Because that was what needed to be done. And her line was stalled. But she felt for the woman. She did the packing because she was helping. And god knew the woman with the baby needed help.

So that’s why the woman would never successfully pack a grocery bag. She just couldn’t do it. She seized up and stalled. Even when she had less than a bag full. Even when there was no hurry. Even if the store was empty. She was absolutely no good. No good at all.

Don’t expect her to pack. Her baby is a man now. But she won’t ever put her groceries in her bag. Not happening. She’s not certified on this equipment. And it hurts.

From the Ashes

A covert view of my work area. It's not pretty.

It happened. It hadn’t yet, so I, like Bill Clinton during the raging bull market of the nineties, thought that cycles of boom and bust were nevermore. Simple hubris. I am a fool. The rules of the world do apply to me.

The thoughts that became words that fed my keyboard that populated the screen that had formed Thinkings with little effort became thoughts that rushed then halted in disconnected sentences and fragments of sentences.

I look at the three shapeless sets of paragraphs and partial graphs in my notebook, and three stubs that I typed into this platform, and that total gimmick that I posted to fulfill my promise of publishing. Every. Stinking. Day. Even as that “achievement” was a technicality dressed up as cleverness. (The Big Guy said it wasn’t even clever. He’s right.)

I rejected a haiku. I’ve posted haiku in desperation before. So please know that the reject was of a truly unacceptable combination of syllables. An affront to 5-7-5. Even as a cheat it wasn’t publishable.

I may not have rejected it, or at least worked harder to make it acceptable, except that nothing was working. Publishing that sad haiku amid a rash of other weak Thinkings? The good can’t compensate for the bad if there is no good. You can’t average up. My craft, in its current disheveled state, might be devolving to a bad Tumblr of “funny” gifs where you substitute gifs with cheap writing tricks. After riding high, my writing wave was on a downward trajectory. The boom met the bust.

I had been planning a self-congratulatory post tomorrow, on the occasion of what was to be my one-hundredth post this year. As if, somehow reaching a fake milestone was the goal. And, in order to make that happen, given that I failed and did not write yesterday [this is not entirely true since I committed 213 words to screen among two limp threads–but I again digress in my digression], I would need to create TWO posts today. And back date one so I don’t miss a day. And I could crow about my achievement.

As if you care at all about that, Loyal Reader. As if you have a calendar in front of you placing X’s on the days that I publish. As if you are even reading this now!?!

I confronted myself with this chicanery. I realized that calling it chicanery was another parlor trick to avoid identifying bullshit backdating as what it is. Dishonest. Oww. That hurts. Yet, I believe that if I am writing, if I am exploring this form, that I need to be honest.

So, I failed in publishing. Every. Stinking. Day. I’m okay with that. I lost track of the point of this exercise. I’m not trying to sweat through every step of a marathon to prove that I can do it. Because, really, who the hell cares? See above.

What I am trying to do is to take those thoughts in my head that have been begging me to flesh them out–seriously, they beg me. I’m trying to punch them and knead them until they achieve coherence and can be expressed and delivered. The point is to spend some of my time creating and not just consuming. The point is to practice so that I can create better.

To  build my practice, I sometimes have to force myself to grasp at vapors of ideas and try to make something. Ideas that were not begging to come out and are just vehicles for the work. And sometimes, I won’t succeed in achieving coherence. But that makes me better. Unless I cheat.

My 100th-day reflection arrives a day early and a post short. It’s not the self-congratulations that I envisioned on day 83 when I spied Day 100 in my sights. Instead it’s a tale that recognizes a wretched fail just two days before that marker. Except that that marker is meaningless and that fail therefore is, too. [Thank you 4th grade math and the Transitive Property of Equality.]

As I reflect, I’m thinking that if I’m going to lie, it better be for a really really good reason. I’m thinking I should never ever lie to myself. I’m thinking that I don’t need to get bollixed up in bollocks. I’m thinking that if I’m always winning, then I’m not trying hard enough. I’m thinking–and remembering–that I’m setting my agenda.

I’m thinking about you, Loyal Reader, too. Thanks for playing along.