Simile Makeovers LLC

”A Face-lift for your Low Functioning Similes”

Case Debriefing

Subject: “Like taking candy from a baby.”

I assembled our crack team of analysts as soon as the boss transmitted the new assignment. We can usually hammer out a simile makeover in one session as my people are some of the best in the field. 

Our team consists of Kaplan, a portly and opinionated cab driver; Peggy, who used to work in human resources at a large insurance firm until they downsized; Weber, a freelance cartoonist; and myself, the sole liaison to our secretive employer. 

We convened within the hour to our usual rendezvous at Starbucks and went to work. We use the free and open brainstorming method to get started. Almost immediately Peggy suggested that there was nothing wrong at all with the original simile. This evoked affirmative murmuring from around the table. “It’s a classic,” she continued, “what do they expect us to fix?”

“You know how it is, Peg,” I said . “If they knew what they wanted they’d just write it themselves.” We never knew who the client was or what they intended to do with our output.

“Might I suggest,” Kaplan said with a raised finger as he shoved half a pumpkin spice scone into his face. We waited patiently as he chewed and finally dispatched the pastry with an audible gulp. “Perhaps the client doesn’t like the fact that babies have all this candy. Sugar is not good for infants.” Or portly cab drivers for that matter. This was politely left unsaid.

Peggy nodded eagerly in agreement. “High fructose corn syrup is the devil. Candy is loaded with the stuff.”

Weber jumped in. “All the more reason to take the candy away. Perhaps they want something more high concept. The action is pretty straightforward. You have a baby with candy. You steal the candy. Conclusion? It was pretty easy.”

Peggy brightened noticeably. “It’s easy to steal from a baby because we are bigger than them and can outsmart them and overpower them, but is that the easiest thing you can think of? It would be easier to not steal from a baby.”

“As easy as doing nothing at all.” echoed Weber.

Kaplan let out a harrumph. “Too easy.”

“Yeah,” replied Weber, “there’s nothing left to call back the original. We fix similes, we don’t create new ones from whole cloth.”

“Why aren’t we into that market, anyway?” said Kaplan. “Nobody wants new similes? Seems like we could use some new ones.”

“We’ve been over this before,” I said. “Find us some clients and we’ll start knocking them out.” 

“I think Peggy’s on to something though,” said Weber. “Babies aren’t total pushovers. They can scream and they can grip the candy with those tiny hands. And they have filthy diapers and germs. I’m not sure I’d want candy that’s been anywhere near a baby. The client is right, this simile is weak.”

“Like taking candy from a dead baby,” Kaplan blurted. Peggy gave him the look. The one she’d given him many times before. 

“Okay, look,” he continued, “of the many types who like candy I have to say that babies are the most vulnerable to potential smash-and-grabs. Cry as they may and the diapers notwithstanding.”

“Like making babies and eating candy.” I offered.

“Noted,” said Weber, “though I’m not sure I like the shift in tone.” 

“Let’s break it down,” Kaplan said. “We have three points of departure. You have the candy, the baby, and the act. We can change any two by my estimate and still have call-back to the original.”

“The baby’s got to stay,” Peggy said.

“Second,” I said, raising my hand.

“Third,” added Weber.

“Fine,” said Kaplan. “Now, what can we do to this baby that’s totally easy? What can we do that just screams effortlessness. Come on people. Get a cappuccino if you need one. Find a gear and let’s get this thing done.”

It wasn’t often that Kaplan took command like that. Everyone sat up and took note. His pastry was gone and he seemed antsy. 

“Then again, you could take candy from the break room refrigerator,” I countered. “That’s completely easy.”

“Someone else’s candy?” asked Peggy.

“Of course.”

“Well, easy if you possess no trace of a conscience,” she said.

“Are you implying…”

“Who here has, or has had, a baby? Anyone?” Kaplan asked impatiently. 

Silence around the table. “Good grief we are the barren lot aren’t we?”

“I had an abortion once,” Peggy offered shyly.

“I payed for an abortion one time,” I added helpfully. 

Then Weber let fly his brilliant coup de grâce. “Why don’t we just give the candy to the baby.”

Kaplan sat up straight and pointed his stubby finger at Weber. “My god. It’s perfect. Completely removes the negative connotation while retaining full call-back.”

“Like giving candy to a baby,” repeated Peggy. “That is slick.” 

“Table that and let’s vote,” I said.

The motion passed 4-0 in favor. Like I said, my people are the best. It was almost as easy as, well, never mind. I formatted the report and placed it in the hollow tree trunk in the park at midnight per my standing instructions. We were positive the client would be thrilled. We’d taken a stumbling half-functional simile(1) and transformed it into an almost certainly improved simile.

Notes:

1. The wanton use of similes in literature is a cautionary flag.

This was written in 2014. I think I may have submitted it to McSweeney’s at one point.

Beached

Agile jeep-man plunged into the water and parked on a sandbar in the pre-dawn.

I set out early Saturday morning to camp on the beach at Bolivar Peninsula’s west end. I have converted the RAV4 into a micro-camper and wanted to give the new fixings another test run. I spent the morning in Galveston and took the ferry to Bolivar around noon.

The jeep photo was not desaturated or converted to B&W and the sky above that cloud bank was a bright grayish peach.

Sunrise on the gulf just East of the entrance to the Houston ship channel.

Black-bellied Plover
Snowy Plover
Western Sandpiper or Semi-palmated Sandpiper, I am never sure with these.

The tip of the peninsula is cordoned off for the bird sanctuary, east of this the beach is lined with camping rigs of various sorts and sizes. Ten dollar parking pass gets you a year of beach camping here, so it’s a fairly popular spot for RVs. Lots of birdlife with many wintering species staying here for the season without the burden of a ten dollar pass.

A vast winter sky holds no position in particular, but binds all within it to an inter-connectivity which teaches all things how to be.

Found this birder at the ship channel on the Galveston side before taking the ferry to Bolivar. Those are (mostly) Black Skimmers on the sandbar, wintering here by the hundreds every season.

One of the legendary Bolivar Mosquitoes. I photographed this one on the window glass after having had its fill of my bodily fluids and wishing then to escape. You’re welcome. A steady gulf breeze tends to keep them inland but that dies down at night and they will find you if you’re up and about early like I always am.

I intend to do some traveling next year, so expect more travelogue type stuff here. I will write another poem when one occurs to me and not before.

Happy Holidays

If there’s one thing Indiana Jones can’t stand it’s nazi sympathizing archeologists who leave their Christmas shopping to the last minute. I think we should all buy each other worthless trinkets (from a vendor in the street—no big box stores!) then bury them in the sand for a thousand years: voila! Priceless relics for everyone!

But seriously, may the blessings of all the wisdom traditions of gods and humans bring the enduring conditions for peace and calm abiding within the mind-streams of all the sentient beings, past, present and future. Svaha. Om.

Paul Gauguin with this, my favorite rendering of the Crèche.
Because it looks Christmasy, a still from Terrence Malick’s “Days of Heaven
Sorry, peace has been identified as a form of Socialism. [ D E N I E D ]
In space, no on can hear the store’s PA playing Little Drummer Boy.
Why must the birth of the Messiah be attended by so much utter nonsense?
Happy birthday, Jesus!

Peace out, my friends.

Red-tailed Hawk

Caught this red-tail picking at the body of some little critter just off the busy path at the Eastern Glades, Memorial Park, Houston, TX.

Chipping Sparrow in a small flock at Houston Arboretum, early the same day.

Snowy Egret at Brays Bayou, Houston.

Buffalo Bayou offers some nice wooded walkways right in the heart of the metropolitan bustle.

The Back Nine

Adrift in the wilds for how many seasons—I no longer kept a count. The days don’t belong to calendars any more, the clock is an angle of light, the seasons become ciphers in broad strokes. Hadn’t seen another human face in scores.

I keep off the game trails lest I become game myself, but I keep tabs, know where they lie. The bears tend to leave me be, but you never know. I sling my hammock up in the canopy and it’s a real charge to hear them down there in the dark. Wondering how interested they’re becoming in me. I trap for meat, saving the rifle bullets for the attack that has never come. Bear, or wolf, or man, it seemed inevitable.

One day late morning, a whiff of campfire smoke. I plot a course of avoidance and three days later, again. I switch from avoidance to pursuit—I’ll go down in a fight if that’s the way it is. Damned if I’ll be prey. I pick up the pace, less stealth, weapon at the ready. Here’s some sign then, human tracks brushed over with pine needle, clumsy, done in haste. Ground cover is sparse here, stick pines scattered like tossed coins, reaching straight up, their lacy foliage lapping up the sunbeams high above. Then I see him.

A stick himself, wrapped in rags and a cut-down blue sleeping bag, a bulging lumpy kit slung over one shoulder, holding a golf club like to swing at a baseball pitch. Crazy hat looked like a nun’s habit. I leveled the Winchester at a sapling three degrees right of his heart. Yo, keeper. What say we ease into this.

Wilders know how to settle a sudden tension. Those that jump to guns are mostly dead by now, the rest of us develop a keen appreciation for alliances. Thing is, I had not had an interaction in so long I was livid with doubts. You forget how real it is when your nerves are lit for battle and your wisdom is calling for calm.

He lowered the club and I eased off the trigger. You tracking me? I ask straight up.

I am not sir. Headed east and south.

That rabbit fresh?

Yessir. Fresh this morn.

The kill swung from his kit, limp ears at the level of his thighs. He had clubbed it coming out of its hole, which impressed me mightily. My traps lately were always sprung or untouched and I had a hankering for meat. I had a bag of fresh mushroom and some radish and we were soon working up some vittles.

Trust is not a thing appears fully formed and time would tell. Camp divided, each to our side with a fire in the center. My Winchester leaned against a trunk behind me, his club in the dirt beside him. A damn golf club. Then it occurred to me.

Don’t tell me, you’re the ‘Lost Linksman.’ Our eyes met with fresh caution and curiosity.

Silly story had been making the rounds of the back country forever. Some country club dandy, not right in the head, tees off and slices into a wooded rough, gets lost. Keeps playing his lie and slices further into the wild. Terrible golfer, and with mental problems too, they say. Obsessed with it, before long he’s lost his ball and his way back. He retreats into survival mode, nothing but a wedge and a whiskey flask to fend off the elements. Years on, the sightings become more outlandish and legend-like, a kind of Bigfoot. Crazy man come at’ya roaring like a beast and swinging. They say his canines had grown into small tusks.

No man, he said. A smile crept onto his filthy, hairy face. That bob was nuts I tell you. This is his club right here.

You took it from him.

I kill’t him is what I did. Come at me like a bull hog and I bashed his skull with a cypress knee. The smile receded. His eyes cast downward at the pictures in his memory. It was right believable in the telling.

Talk is a dressing for the wound of life and liars practice a pointed kind of treachery. We ate charred hare and spoke of other things. Better days. All the troubles. We wonder where trouble comes from. The stars do seem to turn on a point within us, so when we see ourselves as the center of all things it feels inarguable. But it just ain’t so. I aimed to part with him the morrow, I being proven trustworthy of my own self and him not so.

We slept on the ground and come morning the camp perimeter was crisscrossed with possum tracks and he was gone. My Winchester was gone. In its place, a golf club, once wielded by the Lost Linksman himself. I mean, if you’re buying what he’d been selling.

Out here, the law is not practiced in court, it’s the ply of reason, catch as catch can. No hearsay, I am my own witness. At bottom it’s no less civil for the lack of wigs, robes and procedure. I picked the wedge up and swung it a few times. I’d never touched one before. I knew he’d try and cover his tracks. Knew too, he weren’t much good at it.

Photo: Village Creek State Park, Texas. ©2020

Fungi Amongi

Merlin Sheldrake talks about the amazing world of fungi. Warning: your basic ideas of what life is and how it all works may experience dizziness. He is a biologist with a PhD and a mesmerizing speaker.

Impermanence

A rotten orange and this magic wand
some bones to hold
the lump erect

A starter pistol barks for the ready wheels
all thrust and penetration
not circumspect

A fire burns until it's out
without much worry
I suspect


Impermanence (Tib. metakpa)

The magic wand is the appearance of a fixed reality in the orange before it rots. Bones give structure to thoughtless agency. Onward, into the fog. Impermanence is demonstrable, what use is its contemplation? Born into bodies, we had to invent the wheel. This is not the problem. We are like plankton feeding ourselves to the whale of endless craving. We are fire, burning through everything we desire, and suffering pain and loss is the inevitable smoke of this burning.

“In horror of death, I took to the mountains – again and again I meditated on the uncertainty of the hour of death, capturing the fortress of the deathless unending nature of mind. Now all fear of death is over and done.”

—Milarepa

2020: My Year in Birds

Bird photographs from this year. (27 photos). I wanted to do a 2020 retrospective about something besides all the things that nobody ever wants to think about ever again, ever. And I think you know what I’m talking about.

On January 1st each year I reset my Year List and start counting bird sightings all over again. I went out that day and made a life-bird with this Couch’s Kingbird, seen at Corps Woods in Galveston. The photo here is from March, but I logged this bird repeatedly for over 3 months at this location. All photos Nikon Coolpix P900, in the Houston/Galveston area, Texas, US. Order is generally but not strictly chronological.

Couch’s Kingbird, Corps Woods, Galveston.
White-eyed Vireo, East End residential neighborhood, Galveston.
Savannah Sparrow, Seawall Blvd., Galveston.
Cattle Egret, Lafitte’s Cove, Galveston.
Carolina Wren, Lafitte’s Cove, Galveston.
Roseate Spoonbill and Neotropic Cormorant, 8 Mile Road, Galveston.
Red-shouldered Hawk, Kempner Park, Galveston
Osprey, Bolivar Lighthouse, Bolivar Peninsula.
Eastern Meadowlark, Apffel Park, Galveston
Snowy Egrets, 8 Mile Road, Galveston
White-tailed Kite, Settegast Rd. Galveston.
American Wigeon, Lafitte’s Cove, Galveston.
Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Lafitte’s Cove, Galveston.
Eastern Kingbird, Artist Boat, Galveston.
Green-winged Teal, Lafitte’s Cove, Galveston.
Indigo Bunting, Corps Woods, Galveston.
Reddish Egret, East Beach, Galveston.
Spotted Sandpiper, White Oak Bayou, Houston.
Red-vented Bulbul, The Heights, Houston.
Great Blue Heron, Brays Bayou, Houston.
Brown Thrasher, Houston Arboretum
Wood Duck, Bray’s Bayou, Houston
American Goldfinch, Buffalo Bayou, Houston

Four Walls, a Sharpie, and Thou

"Casting about for a trace of something honest,
something true we hesitate to reject anything,
accustomed as we are to blessings in disguise."
Your best day, or your worst, winding up a poorly rendered smudge on a busy wall.

I spend half my time erecting, and half scaling, the walls of my own skull. I am the scheming busybody who thinks he likes to think. Well, who doesn’t. The walls in here are covered with layers of rubbish. Decades of bumper-sticker wisdom, political slogans, crude drawings of primitive men searching for mates or battling predators or drug addiction, and poorly conceived positions argued passionately. Impulsive declarations by the vandals of my own spastic grabs and blames. Much of it is painted over, or scrubbed away, the hard lessons learned thus lost to the tar pits of a faulty memory. How long have I been wandering in circles? How can four connected walls seem such a maze?

Acceptance of all these rogue mentalities is something akin to Manhattan art brokers giving nod to spray-can vandals. Casting about for a trace of something honest, something true, we hesitate to reject anything, accustomed as we are to blessings in disguise. There’s something to be gained by this kind of analysis, we suppose. But when it comes to actual reality, analysis falls mute. It is here that we get like we give, where the mathematics of division meets the impossibility of zero. Something real, experiential. Of course, I had slept through it.


It had been a long, convoluted dream, though one detour in particular had been enthralling. The longest, tenderest embrace I’d ever experienced in or out of dreams, with a newly beloved appearing as a stand-in for the entire encyclopedia of love. As if deposited into my arms by the loftiest ideal, she plunged us both down that well of affection where so many have gone to gladly drown.

A long, long embrace that had bridged the gap from dream-time to now. It’s a shaky ground, this memory received as if by telegraph from a dream, fading already, like the dilapidated shack that is the destiny of all homesteads. I kick off the sheets and stare at the ceiling. The qualities of dream-time are doing costume changes for the memories, slipping into something more comfortable, though less familiar.

However will I accept the peace, should it ever come? I’ve too many engagements. I’m too habituated to distraction. Everything seems to promise closure, but all movements ever do is incite motion.


Image by Bernhard Renner from Pixabay

My Little Pine Workbench

After many drawings and design revisions, and much sawing and clamping and gluing, my little table project has finally come together. Construction is all dowel pin and glue except for the drawer, which is screwed together and installed with drawer glides. It’s full of wart, blemish with a couple slightly off joins, but is quit heavy and solid. Most cuts were made by hand. I was aiming for a boxy, utilitarian look, but with some grace to the lines and proportions. Neo-shaker? I had to taper those 2×4 legs, that was just too boxy.

If you’re in the Houston, TX area, this one’s for sale.