Sunday, February 27, 2005

Church Organist

Between yesterday's glass-casting workshop and this morning, I finished Larry D. Thomas's latest collection of poetry. Earlier, I wrote that these Thomas poems had an acrid air, but the book's last section contains poems about his old West Texas family, and I found these more involving and humane. Here is the last of the series, "Church Organist."

Against a backdrop of sunset, the chollas
jut into the sky like clusters of old

rugged crosses. As she's done each rainless
evening since her retirement, she takes her place

on her porch rocker, pulls down her lower lip,
packs with a flat wooden spoon a dip

of snuff, and starts rocking. Notes of "Amazing
Grace," the last hymn she played before conceding

to the narrowing angles of arthritis,
swirl in her memories like dust

in a shaft of sunlight. She bends
her good ear to the wind,

Straining to hear, drawing every closer,
the names from the roll up yonder.

(p. 71, Where Skulls Speak Wind, Texas Review Press, Huntsville, TX, 2004.)

Friday, February 25, 2005

Lunch Mob

Jury duty is “eating my lunch” in terms of freelance work schedules. The revenge plan: trying out some of the new downtown Houston restaurants.

Several other jury members agreed that none of us get downtown frequently enough to have experienced the much-touted downtown eateries, so we’ve made an informal arrangement for exploration. We only get 1.5 hours, so we can’t get to far away from the Federal courthouse; but there are now a lot of options nearby. Three of us made the first attempt yesterday.

We walked over to Artista – two blocks from the court building, 800 Bagby St, Houston, TX 77002. Phone: (713) 278-4782.

It’s in the new Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. The Center’s gotten varied reviews, but the restaurant is quite nice for lunch. Artista is operated by Michael Cordua, locally famous for his Americas and Churrascos restaurants. It’s stylish white-table-cloth, a large, open dining room on the second floor that offers a terrific vista of the Theater District through big windows. From our table, we had a superb view from the west side of downtown. Because of the rainy day, the restaurant wasn’t crowded.

The setting, views, and décor are swell. Prior to the meal, we had Cordua’s signature fried plantain chips, with three sauces…this is definitely a nice touch. The lunch menu offers a number of options at a reasonable price, and we went with sandwiches: a tasty chicken salad on croissant for me, and hamburgers for my jury-mates. Good things: the sandwiches themselves, and the habanero pepper-based condiment to mix with our catsup for the French fries. (Habaneros are the hottest chili peppers, rating around 200,000 - 300,000
Scoville units.) The fries were tasty but seemed a bit overdone to me.

The service was not so good, especially for what was clearly a slow day. Our waiter was nice enough, but getting coffee and tea refills was a struggle. Reading the reviews on this morning confirms that table service is Artista’s weak point. Still, we had a good lunch for a reasonable price, in a setting that really separated us from our mind-dulling duty.

More reports as we fatten.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Public Outing

In a US District Court room, I was listening to the judge as he began the jury selection process. Because this was a criminal case, several FBI agents sat at the government’s table with the prosecutors. Having introduced the agents as such, the judge addressed his next question to the 60-odd members of the morning’s jury pool.

“Do any of you prospective jurors have a spouse, a relative, or even a close friend who is currently a police officer, or a member of any state or federal law enforcement agency?” A number of jury candidates raised their hands, and the judge called on them one at a time so that he, the prosecutors, and the defense attorneys could hear about their connections.

Coming to the middle of the second row, he pointed to the next hand-raiser, a woman. She rose, and began as requested with her pool number and name.

“I’m juror number 23, your Honor, and my name is Nora Escobedo.”

“Ms. Escobedo,” asked the judge, “Do you have a spouse, a relative, or even a close friend who is currently a police officer, or a member of any state or federal law enforcement agency?”

“Yes, your Honor,” stated Ms. Escobedo at the top of her voice. “My brother is an undercover officer with the Milwaukee Police Department.”

There were two seconds of silence in the court room. Then all three FBI agents burst out laughing, and the judge said, “Not any more, he isn’t.”

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Creative Displacement

This is probably as good a time as any to mention the American Creative Displacement Association – ACDA (or “AK-dah” phonetically). Although we members don’t identify ourselves very often, you probably know our work.

Every day, ACDA members are conducting little displacements. Hiding a co-worker’s coffee cup is harmless entertainment; an escalation would be moving the co-worker’s entire office just before he returns from vacation. (This is an evergreen crowd-pleaser, especially if you can get it all on video.) Moving your wife’s reading glasses from place to place around the house can provide hours of self-enjoyment.

You probably know the work of one of our American Masters, Allen Funt, who died after a long career in ‘99. The Candid Camera episode in which he closed New Jersey is still considered one of the great creative displacements of the modern era.

These are “human-scale” displacements, some more imaginative than others. Hilariously, the French displaced a real man, Merhan Nasseri, into Paris Charles De Gaulle airport and kept him there for 15 years.

Grand-scale displacements are generally conducted by governments – or non-governmental organizations. The Arab nations collectively displaced an entire people, the “Palestinians,” in 1948. The Israelis have never, ever considered this to be a joke. American Democrats feel like the past two Presidential elections have been displaced and they’re none too pleased either. (Although George Bush’s chief of staff thinks it’s right up there with the temporary closure of New Jersey.)

And the ACDA’s original governing body, the International Association of Creative Displacement, was co-opted by the UN in 1957, after the Suez Crisis. It now operates as the World Displacement Organization (WDO in English, or L’Organisation Mondiale de les Déplacements, OMD, in French), and specializes in displacing Iraqi oil money into its bureaucrats’ Swiss bank accounts.

There is an international group operating as a sort of clearing house, but I can’t give you its Web site. For several years, it was displacing itself in a section of the Swedish Army’s Web site [], but is no longer there. And I can’t supply you with any contact information…I’ve displaced it. Sorry.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

No Messing

I’m a former “Airedale” – that’s US Naval Air for you unwashed. But I couldn’t resist the news that the Navy’s latest SSN will be joining the fleet this summer. The second nuclear attack submarine in the new Virginia class is named for the state of Texas.

USS Texas (SSN 775) is the fourth warship to bear our state’s name, and is completing at Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co. in Virginia. Its keel was laid 12 July, 2002. First Lady Laura Bush, the submarine’s sponsor, christened Texas during a ceremony at Northup Grumman Newport News Shipyard in Newport News, on 31 July, 2004.

The CO’s Commander John J. Litherland. The Chief of Boat is Master Chief Petty Officer Mark K. Brooks.

The official seal shows a three-quarter starboard view of Texas, with the shape of the state on its hull. Inside the state outline is the symbol of the atom. The submarine illustration is backed by the traditional badge of the Texas Rangers. The four white stars represent the four American warships to bear the name of the great state of Texas. The battle-torn Lone Star Flag flying behind the boat recalls the heroes of the Alamo. []

DON’T MESS WITH TEXAS is the motto - our well-known state slogan and a warning for those who want to keep USS Texas from carrying out her missions.

Go get ‘em, Texas.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Plot Summary

MOVIE: "On Despond Slough"

STARRING: Evalyn Baron, Peter Yonka, Rachel Baron, Paul Daniels, Stephen Coles, cast of dozens. Baron and Yonka won Best Actress and Best Actor Oscars for their roles.

PLOT: The loons are back again on Despond Slough and so are Evalyn (Evalyn Baron), a relocated actress, and Peter (Peter Yonka), who have had an Upper West Side apartment there since before their marriage. This winter, their niece Rachel (Rachel Baron) - whom they haven't seen for years - feels she must be there for morning coffee. She and her boyfriend are just back from Arizona to pick up their financial situation. When she returns Evalyn is moody and her husband has taken to writing music. Evalyn is, deep down, a very sensitive, shy person who seems to try to hide these traits with crankiness and bluster. Rachel wants to be her aunt's friend but doesn't know how to approach her. Will aunt and niece be able to communicate at last?

USER RATING: 7.3/10 (4,477 votes)

(Adapted from and – honest.)

Thursday, February 17, 2005

In Twos

A group of Dallas, Texas 3rd, 4th and 5th graders, accompanied by two female teachers, went on a field trip to the local racetrack to learn about thoroughbred horses and the supporting industry, but mostly to see the horses.

When it was time to take the children to the restroom it was decided that the girls would go with one teacher and the boys would go with the other. The teacher assigned to the boys was waiting outside the men's room when one of the boys came out and told her that none of them could reach the urinal. Having no choice, she went inside, helped the boys with their pants, and began hoisting the little boys up one by one and holding onto their "wee wees" to direct the flow away from their clothes.

As she lifted one, she couldn't help but notice that he was exceptionally well-endowed as she held it and aimed it. Trying hard to not stare at it, the teacher said, "You must be in the 5th grade."

“No, ma'am,” he replied. "I'm the jockey riding Silver Arrow in the seventh!"

(Thanks to Georgia Akers - for Evalyn who needs another laugh.)

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Good Cold

After a long day at the office, the woman sat back in her seat on the train and waited for it to pull out of the station. A middle-aged man settled into the seat next to her. All of a sudden the man sneezed explosively, before proceeding to unzip his trousers and wipe his penis with his handkerchief.

Horrified, the woman edged away and buried her head in her book. Then he sneezed again. Once more he unzipped himself and wiped his penis. Now very uncomfortable, the woman glared at him in disgust…but he did it again: sneezed, unzipped his trousers, wiped his penis.

The woman could not contain her herself any longer. "What on earth are you doing?!" she cried. The man looked embarrassed. "Well you see," he replied, "I have this terrible cold at the moment...every time I sneeze I have an orgasm."

"Oh dear!" exclaimed the woman, "that must be terrible...what are you taking for it?" "Pepper," he replied.

(for Ev, from

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Egyptian Burial

I was talking about death and funerals with a friend. He asked me if I had everything planned. The answer is yes: several options had presented themselves. In the end (or after it, to be precise), Barbara can make the choice.

Cremation is a given. No reason for me to clutter up good ground, even if it is in a cemetery. The US Navy covers the cost either way, since I’m a veteran. But cremation is the right way to go as far as I’m concerned. The options are in the disposal process.

Option 1. Barbara collects the ashes in the traditional urn – perhaps a bit larger than most because of my stature. She then keeps the urn on her reading table and uses it in place of an ashtray. That way, friends stopping by and casually peeking into the urn can say, “Looks like Richard’s putting on a little weight.”

Option 2. Barbara places the urn in the front seat of my ’99 Cadillac DeVille – the one with the 32V Northstar engine and vinyl top. She then takes the car to an automotive salvage yard and has it crushed into one of those meter-square blocks of scrap-metal. Bringing it home, she places a nice piece of tempered ¼” plate glass on top and – voila! – it’s a coffee table...a stunning memento of her late husband and his love of coffee as the same time.

Option 3. After selecting a nice cemetery (yes, I know – just ignore the second paragraph above), Barbara has a very large pit excavated, one with a sloping ramp. Again, she tenderly places my ashes in the driver’s seat of the Cadillac. The Caddy is pushed gently into the pit where it comes to rest below grade level. The entire vehicle, with my ashes inside, is then covered over and the turf replaced. Perhaps a tasteful headstone is placed atop the grave mound.

This is the one for me. The Caddy’s gas tank would be filled with premium unleaded. One of my travel mugs could be inserted in the cup holder. A substantial selection of books can be placed in the trunk. My Wagner opera CDs are loaded into the player.

Then, everyone can comment. “He took it all with him.”

Monday, February 14, 2005

Found Objects

The sun shines bright on my old Quincannon home, and gives the lie to yesterday's post. With the sunshine comes discovery: the poems I had hidden so carefully. What once was lost and now is's one, for today.

Astronomers Find A New Planet
Eight Thousand Light-Years from Earth

Thirty times farther away in space than any known planet,
Way outside our neighborhood,
Not around the block, the other side of the city,
The other side of the world, the other side of the Sun.

We can’t drop by. But if we could, we’d say Hello.
We’re the Browns from down the street.
You know? The other spiral arm?
We thought we’d never find the place.

We’ll talk about the weather. Boy, it cloudy.
Liquid metal cloudy, raining iron.
And living in a sauna or a double-boiler,
Shirts and dresses stick right to you.

With your twenty-nine-hour year, bet you miss the change of seasons.
The visit went so fast. Look at the time.
The trip out here took forever.
The kids will sleep on the way back.

Copyright © 2004 Richard Laurence Baron

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Raining Cats

Overall, Houston has ten months of summer and two of poor tanning: January and February. Proving to be true - it’s raining, raining, raining here. The whole month has been one cloud-bursting day after another.

Since it is raining, the cats have disappeared. It’s a different sort of disappearance than when grand-daughter Maddy comes to visit. Thanks to their sensitive on-board EW sensors, the cats detect her arrival…a sort of hyper-footprint that appears in their “space.” The cats then engage their cloaking devices, far better than a Klingon bird-of-prey. They are effectively hidden from her view for the duration of her stay.

No, on rainy days I believe the cats (particularly the older one, Balaclava) visit the “cativerse.” (Note: this concept is copyrighted by Richard Laurence Baron, 2003.) The cativerse is either an alternate space-time continuum, or a portal to a different, feline world. They report to the Queen of Cats – or her equivalent of the Foreign Office – about the humans under their control.

Those would be Barbara and me. Since nothing especially noticeable or injurious has occurred as a result of these reports, we accept the status quo while maintaining generally cordial relations with our guests, Balaclava and Fredericksburg. I presume that as long as we continue to provide housing, food, water, and entertainment, every creature in the household will be reasonably content.

I accept that the balance of trade is fair: there is no better early afternoon napping aid than Balaclava curled up on my lap. This is obviously another item in the cats’ considerable arsenal: EW suite, cloaking device, sleep generator, trans-universe travel system.

I hope the cats will continue to honor this ongoing state of relations. I shudder to think what havoc an invasion fleet from the cativerse might wreak on an unsuspecting Earth – a true catastrophe.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Poetry Lost

It's mislaid somewhere. I had a file of it electronically - I thought. Now the scribbling is elsewhere. I have been reading Larry D. Thomas's latest collection, Where Skulls Speak Wind. He's a West Texas poet, in one sense he's a "cowboy poet," but his poems are beyond that a bit.

Still, there's a sense of the arid west, of El Paso and Fort Davis and New Mexico, that comes through clearly. It's not comfortable. Here's one, called "Guadalupe Pass."

Wind, in January
at Guadalupe Pass
in far West Texas,
reaches speeds

one hundred ten
miles per hour;

like a pack
of wolves;
as if with pliers,

thorns from the flesh
of cacti;
turns noon sky
the color of dried blood;

and pits the paint
of old pickups,
pregnant as it is
with New Mexico.

A lot of the book is in that vein. I wanted to see what there was in my poetry that comes close to his. I can't recall there's anything like. I've been bitten too hard by Billy Collins. I'll send out a search party...if Shackleton can be found, surely my few poems won't stay lost forever. (I know, don't call me "Shirley.")

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Rooster Me

According to the Chinese and the Vietnamese, I am a Rooster. It's the Lunar New Year and for me, fresh starts are big - given my "new model life." This Wednesday is the start of the Year of the Rooster.

Based on my birth year, my roosterness makes me shrewd but honest, articulate, meticulous, hardworking. The downsides: grandiosity, temper, combativeness, and relentlessness. I'd pretend to be uncertain the positives are true (although I know they are), but Rosemary Gong's Good Luck Life has my negative attributes down cold.

I have received specific times and directions. Between 1 and 3 AM, 5 and 7 AM, and 11 AM and 1 PM on Wednesday, I should travel northeast to find "the god of happiness," or southeast if I want to discover "the god of prosperity." Rollicking life or filthy choice.

I maximize my opportunities by wearing red - no challenge for me. The real key this time of year is optimism. Since my glass is always at least half-full, I'll accentuate the positive and get the Year of the Rooster off to a sunny start. That'll be me heading southeast on Wednesday. Chuc mung nam moi to you all.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Opening Bell

"Home again, home again, jiggetty-jig." So you (Evalyn and Peter) have returned to NYC, and have asked for a response. I selected respond on your blogsite, and this is what I got. I wonder what will happen.

So here I am on Saturday AM, on my fourth coffee, listening to Edith Piaf sing "Mon amant de la coloniale." I'll respond to your blog first, then go back to working on Web site copy for an automation company in Minnesota.

I'm thrilled that you enjoyed the UK - London and Edinburgh. Mildly jealous, since Barbara and I haven't been overseas in about 15 months. But able to accept your pleasure at going safely; immersing yourselves in London; traveling to Scotland; returning to the 'Smoke;' watching plays good and bad; and coming home (where the pups are).

Did you see the Robert Frank exhibition when you visiting the Tate Modern? It's supposed to be outstanding. If all you had a chance to view was Turbine Hall, what did you think of the Bruce Naumann works? I think I'd have to see this one to absorb needs the space a computer terminal cannot contribute.

I'm going to post this now and see what occurs. Ta for now...your brother at Batty Thomas, Tailor Paul.