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Monthly Archives: July 2018

This is my intent in writing panegyrics.
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Come in under the shadow of this red rock.

T.S. Eliot didn’t write that about Joshua Atkins, of course. But it reminds me of him. In my mind’s eye, Josh is a red man, red hair, red beard, a great red rock.

Josh is a large man, quiet, but with marvelously expressive sinuses. He snorts much, and as you spend time with him, you soon learn to distinguish between an amused snort and an aggravated snort. It’s a valuable indicator to his mood.

Josh is the single most sarcastic person I know. This is up against some serious competition, but Josh takes the title. Josh can roll his eyes in the dark. If Josh had given the Gettysburg Address, the war would have ended that day, because both sides would have felt too silly to go on. Even as I write this, I can hear in my mind’s ear the cadences of his sarcasm, his slipping from one particular mode of sarcasm to another as his rhetoric demands, forming an awe-inspiring mosaic of snarkiness. It’s a beautiful thing.

Josh is one of the few people with whom I have lived for any length of time. There were two occasions I shared a home with Josh: in college, my senior year, at the Writers’ House, and the summer of 1998, when Josh lived with my wife & I while getting established in Boston.

The year in the Writers House was my senior year and Josh’s junior, and it was the best year for either of us at Allegheny. The house was a warm place—not physically, let me tell you, but personally. The four of us enjoyed being together. It had the feel of a group home. The last day, after we had graduated, we returned to the house to find Josh gone. He hadn’t been able to bear the thought of saying goodbye, and had left a heartfelt note taped to the TV. I understood why he did that, because it was months before I could look at that note without crying.

The second time was right at the end of my stint in library school. On the night of my very last class, that night of glorious freedom, he was there to welcome me home. We watched France win the ’98 World Cup together. It was a marvelous summer, having him sleep on the couch, like we were back in college again.

By August, he’d found a job and a place of his own, but we still saw him frequently. For years he was in our gaming group. He was in my wedding party; I was in his.

Josh is a man of taste and astute critical eye. He has a deep love of comics books, able to peer through the great mounds of detritus produced by the industry and come up with those titles worth the reading. He is a devout hockey fan, once an expert to be consulted on minor-league Pittsburgh teams.

If I were ever in a real struggle, with enemies arrayed against me, I would want Josh by my side, and I know he would be. I can hear him even now: “We’ll get those assholes.” He would be sarcastic, smirking, unimpressed by any enemy. I can rely on the shelter of his red rock. Josh is ballast to right the world.

Stewey, Dewey, Hewey and Mooey, the Christmas elf marketing & design team, sat around the conference table, staring with equal suspicion at their cups of coffee and each other.

“All right, ‘fess up.  Who thought it would be funny to put a dead lemming in the Keurig machine?” said Dewey

The door slammed open. Santa entered the room.  “Ho, ho, ho.  Merry Christmas,” he said as he hooked up his laptop and fired up Powerpoint. The first slide flashed on the exposed ice-brick walls.  A red line was marked “Requests.”  It was in decline.  A blue line was marked “Complaints.” It was in steep ascent.
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At the Sunday School, the children had divided up into pairs to examine the brain of a dead person

(A dead person from the Bible? Despite the dream framing this as a Sunday School lesson, there was not anything really Sunday Schoolish about it)

After they were done, the teacher went around the room and asked each child with whom, from all of history, they would like to speak. And each child said a name in turn.

It was the last child’s turn. And they said “Myself.”

The teacher was confused. “No, no, why yourself? That doesn’t make any sense. You can talk to yourself anytime.”

The child replied: “If I could talk to myself, I could see my excuses and mistakes and delusions, from an objective point of view. Just for one hour, I would like to talk to myself as stranger. I could learn more from that than from anyone else.”

The dream moved on. It didn’t end there. This was only one segment. But it did stick out.

Quite a long time ago, I did my senior thesis on the era of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. In the thick of it, I would find myself making up little songs, such as this one, about the first of Japan’s unifiers Oda Nobunaga, to the tune of Phish’s “Golgi Apparatus.”

I look into the Sansom book
just to check my saga (saga!)
I look into Azuchi times,
I see Oda Nobunaga

But Oda, oh, woe to you
You can’t even rule Honshu
Oda, Oda, Oda, Oda, Odaaaaaaaaa

They call him daimyo-man
’cause he told them to
If you served the Oda clan,
you’d do it too

But Oda, oh, woe to you
You can’t even rule Honshu
Oda, Oda, Oda, Oda, Odaaaaaaaaa

I SAW YOU
With the shogun’s head in your lap
I SAW YOU
With the shoguns’s head in your lap!
I SAW YOU

Run through Japan,
Get to the can,
Couldn’t get it wrong,
So I’ll have to-

Look into the Sansom book
just to check my saga
I look into Azuchi times,
I see Oda Nobunaga

But Oda, oh, woe to you
You can’t even rule Honshu
Oda, Oda, Oda, Oda, Odaaaaaaaaa

 

 

(Written AD MMVIII, 232nd year of American Independence. George W. Bush, President of the Republic, and gasoline at four dollars the gallon.)

The night after Peak Oil, I met Nixon by the Union Station Metro stop. He was wearing a dust-tinged blue suit and trying to hail a cab.

“I’ve got to get down to the Mall,” he was mumbling when I found him. “I can calm the situation. I reach out to people. I reached out to those goddamned war protestors, but they were too bitter. I can’t stand bitter people. Where the hell is a goddamned taxi?”

“There aren’t any more taxis, Dick. There’s no more oil.”

“What? Those damned Saudis won’t cough up more oil? Goddammit, we’ll send in the Marines and take it from them!”

“Dick, the Saudis are dead. They sent us all their oil and they died.”

“Hmm. Well, let’s walk then.”

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