29 October 2009

Letters of Note

Recently, I have been captivated by reading the new daily submissions on the blog Letters of Note.  The author of the blog posts copies of actual letters from important people, places, and events .. and some not so important.  Though not all are funny, they are all amusing in their own way.  I find it as captivating as a steaming pile of mashed potatoes and I really like mashed potatoes.  In fact, I may have some right now!

Peruse it.  Only a little time?  The most popular are listed on the right.

photo hotlinked from Letters of Note

22 October 2009

Board Games Bored Games

After all these years I’m finally ready to admit I was never able to play nearly enough board games as a child.  I was deeply warped by this omission.  I  spent many the long hour thumbing  through the Sears and JC Penney Christmas catalog (sometimes until June and July) trying to decide exactly which board game I wanted.  I so longed to play these games I imagined just how I would play it, who I would play it with, and how much fun we would have.   I know, I know, twisted, right?   Well, the truth is never pretty. Years later I would try to convince my friends that these board games were fun.  Ears, ears everywhere and all of them deaf, but I get ahead of myself.

Sure, there were the inevitable games of Monopoly but at 12 years of age I had the business acumen of a 5 year old.  By 15 I had barely progressed to age 7.  It was tortuous.  My only salvation came in losing myself in daydreams about my tiny Lone Ranger game piece.  Stuck forever in perpetual rear, Trigger pawing the air with his little tin hooves unto eternity.  I dreamed about the day when we could both break out and gallop across the vast board game plains of our dreams.  Then, as now, Monopoly (in all its varied iterations) is simply a humiliating exercise in working for others.  Egregiously taxed into submission we finally overextend ourselves financially resulting in disastrous ruin and poverty.  Do not pass Go, Do not collect $200.  Uplifting, isn’t it?

The game Risk was even more humiliating.  For those of us who had difficulty with the simple task of building vast hotel chain empires or forming complex energy trusts you can just imagine our angst at trying to plan a land war in Asia!  I know, I know, never start a land war in Asia, a classic blunder!* 

What I always wanted to play .. what tugged at my heart so badly .. were the word games.  Scrabble.  Yahtzee.  Upwords.  Scattergories.  Taboo.  Balderdash.  Oh Balderdash!  The only board game to ever successfully pair my two loves: The written word and creative writing.  For the unwashed, those two things are NOT the same.  Just try reading Dostoevsky and you will understand what I'm talking about.

For those who don’t know, the object of Balderdash is to either 1. Guess the correct definition of an obscure word from amongst the various player submitted definitions or 2. Make up a definition that is so stinking good someone guesses it.   Good heavens but I was GOOD.  But, as usual, my love was too slow, too obscure, to BORING (as if!) to be much of an enticement for others to play.    I was the British Humor at the table with Larry, Curly, Moe, and Donald Trump. And me without my toupe!  Why I aughta .... !

I must now interject an honest accounting of the brief period when my sister indulged me in more than her share of hours playing CLUE.  I will grant some small satisfaction gained from the battleship-like guess and check board game.  With its quirky characters and candlestick murders it did appeal to my imagination.    But, alas, it wasn’t enough to satisfy the longing deep in my heart.

The closest I came to attaining board game nirvana was sometime in college when some friends and I invented the mother of all board games: Beer Board.  Not being exceedingly literary in nature (the board required little alliteration, rhyming, or onomatopoeia) I still retain more than a small suspicion that the nirvana may have had a good deal to do with the beer part of the board.

As drinking games go, Beer Board had it all, and I'm not just bragging.  Loosely based on the game Shoots and Ladders, players would roll the dice, rapidly advancing through a plethora of drinking game options.  And it was all neatly wrapped up in one flashily painted plywood board game!  Imagine for a moment a fast paced ever-changing world where players might find themselves playing rounds of Thumper one roll, and then singing the Hee Haw song with three friends the next.  There were rounds of Mexicali, Rub butts with a friend, Roll-drink-and-dance, “I Never”, Indian Poker, and more!  All was to be had.   There was never a dull moment in our little Narnia-come-Natural Light world. 

Side B of the board, yes there was a rare side B, was somewhat less involved.  It was a spinner game.  Players would spin the tin spinner (the original cut from an authentic Keystone Light can and affixed with a push pin) and then all playing would follow the instructions.  Everyone with blue eyes drink.  All football players drink.  You get the idea.  Intoxicating, isn’t it?!

Sadly, Beer Board was never picked up by any of the major retailers.  Through applied research and practice we were able to finally make some small refinements to our product.  Taking a lead from Monopoly we created several theme versions such as “Old Mexico” (Cinco de Mayo edition) on a paper grocery sack cut open to lay flat in one giant beer board rectangle.   The squares were drawn on with Sharpie pen, which never ran even if wet. You could roll them up like a lost treasure map and if you lost one you weren’t out much.  Still there was no interest from Milton Bradley or Hasbro.  Even in this, our greatest triumph, there was no satisfaction.

The years have gone by and even now I confess I get a little bit nostalgic for the raucous games I saw in all the commercials during those cartoon mornings so long ago (admittedly somewhat less nostalgic for BB).  I sometimes press my nose against the window pane of memory and imagine what could have been if only life mirrored art. I still harbor a  hope that someday I will sit down with a group of people I love and we will all engage in a mighty merry word game.  It will be like a warm Thanksgiving celebration or victorious Super Bowl Party.  Is it really too much to ask?  Words live such a quiet life, it seems.  Perhaps someday I will find that mythical place, the place they show in the TV commercials where people roll the dice and then bounce on the sofa excitedly, clasped fists raised in air.  Where friends high five, and mothers and fathers look on shaking their head in a sort of loving gentle reproof at some antic.  I hope so.  And so does my wee tin friend, the Lone Ranger.  Liberated by laughter and a shared game of endless linguistic possibilities.

Ride long tonight through golden board game fields of our dreams my friend.  Be well.

Rare Side B Beer Board Pictured Above Right, Circ. 17 MAR 1994
(Note authentic Keystone Light tin spinner in center)
Faces have been obscured to protect the innocent.
I am not one of the innocent.

*Vizinni the Sicilian: "You fell victim to one of the classic blunders.  The most famous is: Never get involved in a land war in Asia.  Only slightly less well known is this: Never go against a Sicilian when dealth is on the line! Hahahahahaha" [Vizinni falls over dead] - The Princess Bride.  Little known fact: Vizzini's advice on not getting involved in a land war in Asia is derived from the principles stated by Field Marshal Bernard L Montgomery (Viscount Alamein) in a speech in the House of Lords on 30 May 1962: "Rule 1, on page 1 of the book of war is: Do not march on Moscow' ... Rule 2 is: 'Do not go fighting with your land armies in China.'"

21 October 2009

Carthagenian Literature

I admit, its a fake title that I simply made up.  To my knowledge there is no such category as Carthagenian Literature.  However, I have decided there have been too few good new titles in the Carthagenian Literature category and, therefore, I have completed a new poem as my modest contribution.  The poem is, as of yet, still titleless.

It's a story of brawn, of cold and heat, sometimes of hunger.  This is sort of a nod to the old Conan type warriors, the Hannibals and nameless marchers who marched and hacked and burned their way across the ages of history.  From a conquering army, of course.

I've been thinking a lot about Poe, so my verbal doodles have been somewhat dark including, "Sewing the devil's whirlwind is a fractured bloody art." and "The sorrow of a sparrow forms the fletch of Hades' arrow."  I mean who even knows if Hades had a bow .. but I digress.

I am Romans, Vikings, Vandals
Mongolians on the plain
My march is long
My heart is strong
The tongue I speak is strange

I wear sandals, armor, helmet
Carry carbine, mace and shield
I’ve bayonet
Or Spectre’s threat
Upon the battlefield

I march for king and sovereign
For fiefdom and for pharaoh
Reap what’s sewn
I crack your bones
And feast upon your marrow

For age and age before me
And age after I’m gone
You’ll speak of me
My victory
And recount what I've done

17 October 2009

My new satchel - A lovestory in leather

What is it about good leather that seduces us? We cant get enough of it. We love leather so much we even love bad leather. We love leather so much we even love pleather. Ok, well, that may be taking it a little far. Still, the fact remains that we love leather. We even covet the smell!

When I hear the word leather I can hear the creak of my old saddle. Leather makes me think of dark wood, classic libraries, trips via steamer and train, and the soft cover of old books. Leather is classic, organic, comforting. In a world gone mad for shiny and new, leather still holds court. It is still influential. Leather abides.

And then yesterday ... I saw it .. this. It was just laying there, on the floor in the antique dealers shop display. Propped up against a table leg as if it had been set down one afternoon and then, in that moment, forgotten. Never to be remembered again. Just laying there waiting to be useful. Loved. Its rich mahogany color called to me like a siren, corrupting my better judgment. I simply had to have it!

But I left it there, propped up on the floor of the shop display. Forgotten by all as it was before. Still without a home. Still for sale. I bit my lip and walked away. This was the way it had to be.

Only it wasn't forgotten. I remembered our brief, euphoric time together. How I had opened it and looked inside. The pockets were perfect for filling with books and letters and plans. I chittered and chattered all night about it. We were going to cycle across France and write the great American Novel. We would spy with it, date with it, and perhaps one day wander onto a movie set (quite by accident) where the director would see me with it and just have to have it in the shot. It would be my carry on, my carry about, my classic style. And all who saw me would know me by it. My nephews would fight over it after I was gone. It would be a collector's item because it had been in "that movie". I talked about it, wondered about it ... like it was the new girl at school - so interesting and pretty and nice.

This morning I woke up and the rain was dripping from the sky. The leaves were shiny and bright like waxed apples. My man asked me to go for a walk. Just him and me and our umbrella. It was a walk like the ones in the movies. The brilliant leaves fluttered to the ground. I twirled my umbrella and smiled at him sideways. We laughed. It was very wet and very cozy.

And then we were at the antique store. My man was picking up the satchel and handing to to me. I was holding it! My new best friend! My little Hemingway. And then we were all walking home together .. the three of us. I was giddy! When I got home I rubbed it down completely with Lexol. The lovely chestnut color of before grew deeper. The leather is so soft. I am like a new mother! See how its bright brass snaps twinkle and wink at me like a continental flirt! Such a smart satchel, a classic. Together we shall build empires!