The London Eleven

post box

I have in mind repaying de Tocqueville, but as we don’t leave for Paris until tomorrow, I thought I would practice on his neighbor first.

London is a quaint little town of roughly 12 Billion people, that Billion, with a “B”. I know, the travel guides pitch it as much smaller, but I personally counted them all. Its not as hard as it seems, they were all on the sidewalk with me today.

Because in London, all 12 Billion walk on the sidewalks all at the same time, and flow like lava intot he streets where double decker buses, with tops for reasonable locals and topless for us silly Chinese, Japanese, Americans and French. There are no Italians here. It took me a little while to figure that one out. I finally realized if you were in Italy, it would be very hard to understand why you would come to England.

While no one in the city actually seems to be happy, they are all painfully polite. Even the 12 million or so men sitting on the wrong side of the front seat of the tiny little black taxis that cost 20 pounds to go anywhere. The funny thing is, 20 is not too high a price to pay. I would not drive in London for less than a million, pounds, not dollars! There are a few million Frenchmen, a dozen or two Arab girls and about a million American tourists. The Frenchmen here remind of the guys from New Jersey here. Not sayin’nuttin’ ‘bout Jersey nor France, only, the ones here, coppish?

We American tourist are here to try the patience of the locals, and by and large, they pass, admirably so. If you are cut in line, you can be sure the accent is French or that normal sound of an American voice.

There is one exception to the grand great well oiled ancient machine that is London. Okay, compared to south Florida, everywhere is ancient, but even for old places, London is well, at least middle aged (pun intended), and yet, smooth as silk, like a polite Rome, no horns, no bumps, the police wear funny hats and rarely shoot unarmed people, rarely shoot armed. In fact, in England, possibly the safest place to be is in police custody, strange, I know.

That exception is also one of the least cute parts of a truly cute institution. In America, We have the United State Postal System, and if you do not have time to go to the Post Office, you drop your letter in the Mailbox. In England, you have the little red trucks, I kid you not, red mini vans. Of, and by the way, if you are of the mind to think that the Mini, the Fiat 500 (I love them) and even Smart cars are really toy cars. You will be surprised to see there is a land rover that fits half way between the 500 and the smart car, and tiny Vauxhall (England’s GM label, only I think after the bankruptcy, somebody over here bought them out) Estates, or station wagons.

But I digress the little red trucks are labeled Royal Mail and they collect mail from Post Boxes.  Post boxes are the cute little bottle opener looking contraptions at the top of this page. Of course the really funny thing is they all, in America and England, end up at the Post Office! Ah, the Post Office, there as our local boy would have said, lies the rub. All my life I have heard people trash talk the US Postal System. These people are idiots. Probably these are people who have not been in a post office in years, if ever. They are the kind of people who say, “First, lets kill all the lawyers!” until they have a car wreck or someone feeds them poison and calls it medicine, then they are ringing my friend Bill Bone or some such fellow and begging for representation, on commission, no less. The USPS is the greatest service known to man, short of indoor plumbing, that is. Cheap, quick, reliable, and cost not a dime to the US Taxpayer. I wonder who pays for the Royal Mail? The Queen? I doubt it.

Maybe Londoners are so uniformly not happy (not angry or sad, mind you, just not giddy, silly, happy), they realize their tax money is going to subsidize my postcards back to the states which will, in turn, encourage more people to come to England. People like me, who will try every bit of their politeness. That would explain it.

At any rate, there are exactly 12 people in the whole of London who did not get the memo. And oddly enough, they all work at the Eastcheap Post Office. First of all, you walk in off the street, and in America, there would only be one place that reminds you of this hell, maybe two, the DMV or the Metro PCS “service center” There are self help machines, like I would have a clue, there is a take a ticket kiosk, there are poor souls of the damned sitting the several rings of hell, clutching a tiny scrap of paper and saying the rosary to be called upon. As I waded through the gnashing of teeth and avoided those already being eaten by worms, I found someone I assumed worked for the Royal Mail. One can never be sure at the Post Office, because the workers there live in such wretchedness none will bear to be identified by wearing a uniform. (I would suggest a cute little red jumper (American) with a Gold Crown and ER embossed on it, no matter, no uniform, no sense of wht the heck one was to do there. So I, being the rude American, plodded through the groaning masses and asked the lady, “How do I post a postcard to the states?”

She looked at me and said, in her best Jersey girl, “take a number…” I looked around, and she added “or you could do it yourself…”

I looked at her doubtfully. “Even postcards to the US?”

“Sure.”

Feeling a bit like my hero Arlo Guthrie a generation and a continent away, I wondered over to the Group W bench, oh, I mean the self check machines. One fellow, in a dress shirt, had been studiously ignoring me, and I settled in next to him and realized he was training a young lady on something or another. I started, but after about one click, I realized I wasn’t going to buy any stamps. I clicked on help. Nothing happened, I clicked thru again to be told HELP IS ON THE WAY.

Three more times and I tried to make the machine pay out something, and that got some attention from the one nice person, ok, there are only 11 people in the whole of London who are not painfully helpful. She was completely unable to accomplish helping me but three stamps, so she, with great deference asked the man who could not be bothered with a customer if it was actually possible for me to buy stamps. Yes it was, he assured her. So she tried again. Then she went back to him. This process was repeated for about 3-4 more times. And finally we came t the end of the whole thing, and there on the other side was the fact that in all of London, the Post Office was the only establishment that could not read my debit card.

I dug out a five pound note, and with 5 minutes, I had 3 stamps and a 2 pound coin. And the guy who had been so much less than helpful told I could drop the cards in the post box around the corner. Whew. Me and the 12 billion polite people were back out on the street, and 4 minutes later I arrived at our flat. Cards posted, and my view of London slightly rearranged. I had met the eleven.

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Poetry BR 549, Poetry to Kick a Bumper By

If you don’t know who Junior Samples is, google him. About 50 years ago, I started writing poetry. Mostly because that when I both discovered there was such a thing and when I learned to write.

BR 549

At some point, maybe high school, I began to dream about being a Great Poet. I think it was a line in a Dylan song about an Italian poet from the 15th century, or maybe it was Shakespeare. I didn’t share my poems, except one, The Long Coated Stranger. It was trite as it sounds, but it kinda labeled me as a poet in high school. Then in college, where I wrote poems and drew pictures in lieu of taking notes, a buddy of mine asked me to write a poem for his to give to his girlfriend. You guessed it, she wanted to date me. We did have a couple of dates, but it think I was too weird. She went back to the preppy friend, even if he couldn’t write a poem.

Then, in 1995 I began to read at a local Poetry open-mic night at the Lyric Theater in Stuart, FL with the Night Herons. Over the years, thanks to encouragement I received from the more knowledgeable members there, I published over a dozen chapbooks. I submitted a few places and was published a few times. In the last couple of years I have won the monthly Goodreads poetry contest, twice!!

Along the way, a poet friend of mine from the other side of the world, Mark Heyne, turned me onto Coursera, the free on line college course system. I eventually signed up for a wonderful Modern Poetry course at University of Pennsylvania. Yes, Penn, as in Ivy League. But that is the beauty of Coursera and other MOOCs, (massive open online course), they are free, and anybody can sign up and take them.

The professor, Al Filreis, knows a lot about poetry, but he knows even more about teaching! Thanks to him and his course, I have a better understanding of the craft, I thought I knew. I am a bit like a bricklayer, who has troweled mortar for over 50 years. I have gotten reasonably good at expressing myself in my voice. The problem, is, as my lack of any formal education shows, I did not understand how to appreciate any kind of poetry. I loved Maya and Billy, and even kinda enjoyed the Billy from the 16th century, but not Stein, or Dickinson or so many others.

kwh

As my eyes were opened, I mentioned to Al, that I would love to come by for a cup of coffee at Kelly Writers House. KWH is where all the great poetry lectures, and more often table discussions are recorded. Al suggested I come for a day, or more. Someday I just might. But, in the past half century, I have come to realize my place in the poetry world. I hold up my little sign and say, “for a good deal on used cars call Honest Samples at BR 549!”

I am that man. I will never be a Billy, Collins or Shakespeare, or even Faulkner, but maybe someday I can sit in front of a mic at KWH and be a Junior….

 

Why ALL TV Shows Go to Maine

Long time ago, I lived in a world with no TV, there were only backyards, and ditches and woods and books, lots of books, and those books were filled with lots of backyards, and ditches and woods, and rivers and lakes and pirates and princesses and castles and “off with their heads” and stuff. Then one day, still long ago, but while I was away at college, my parents bought a TV. I knew about TVs, one of my grandmothers had one. Twice a year I would wake up and watch the Gospel Jubilee while getting ready for church at the little country church in Soso, Mississippi. My brother and I and assorted cousins would sleep on mats on the living room floor, so there was the TV right there to turn on. The Gospel Jubilee was an easy choice, because there were two channels on the antennae in rural Mississippi and the other channel was boring news stuff. Also, my neighbors had a TV so sometimes we would watch cartoons.

But the truth is, TV was always a bit like the onions and papers and sausage at the fair. You like them, but you only eat them once or twice a year. They were not a part of your life. The TV was the same. I knew about it. I even enjoyed it a bit. But my life was full of backyards and trees and ditches and woods and a limestone creek called County Hole, and books. And you already know what the books were full of.

Then, as I said, my parents got a TV, in lieu of their religion, I suppose. And I learned to watch Dallas and Family and Mash, and even tried SNL, but in spite of Belushi, it was more miss than hit. My dad loved watching football. I played football, in the backyard and on the school varsity team. I bowl and fish, too, but I really don’t care to watch other people do any of the above. I had to watch Hogan’s Heroes and The Rockford Files and Mayberry RFD, Dragnet, 1 Adam-12, The A-Team, Magnum P.I., Chips and The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. I tried Happy Days, in fact I think I watched a few seasons. Same with Laverne and Shirley, I couldn’t take I love Lucy, but I loved the old cartoons.

Eventually I married a woman who loved nature shows, and that was okay. Later I had a girl friend who liked the different TV versions of Star Track, I liked them. Then I remarried and my wife liked the X Files, and I watched that. Then it ended. We loved West Wing. That ended. I used to like Cops, but she hated that, so I stopped watching. (Actually, I have never learned how to turn the TV on since the knobs on the front and the “Clicker” went away.) We watched the Marlins most of one of their championship seasons, but eventually we decided they could win without us giving up two or three hours every night to watch. They did fine without us, so we haven’t watched since.

I drifted back into not watching TV. She watched TV, I played on my laptop, wrote poetry or essays or short stories. But a couple of years ago I started looking over the top of my laptop at Scandal, House of Cards, News Room, True Detective, Downton Abbey, and Suits.

When I was younger TV shows were on 26 weeks, and then they would run reruns or made for TV movies or introduce pilots or something for the other 26, then your show came on with a new season. Somewhere, somebody, and I am not sure who, (they ought to be shot) decided a season was 13 episodes, or 8 or 3 (Sherlock Homes), So you get into a show, and a week later it is the season finale and you wait a year and it runs about as long as the Thornbirds and its gone again.

As my wife is the keeper of the TV, and thus the TV shows, and as she watches House Wives and all manner of unacceptable TV, like fashion and cooking and survivor and stuff, I turn to her for the status of my shows, you know, the “TV worth watching” stuff. Invariably she tells me the shows are in Hiatus.

For a while I accepted this, but as shows would go away for so long they began to seem like old school chums who I almost remembered from 5th grade but wasn’t sure if I had the right name with the right face and who got paddled for what and did I get a whipping for it, too, I began to become suspicious. Where is Hiatus? Why do the shows ALL go there? What do they do in Hiatus. I checked. I couldn’t find Hiatus on a map. There is a Hiatus Rd in Broward County Florida, but I KNOW nobody goes there if they can avoid it. The traffic is atrocious. The only place worse is Ives Dairy Rd, and nobody ever said anybody ever went to Ives Dairy!!!

I suggested that maybe Hiatus was a secret compound in Maine. A Kennebunkport, a Hyannis port. Okay the Kennedys were in Martha’s Vineyard, but from here it all looks like Maine. I asked my dear wife, as I became more and more exasperated with this whole mess of TV and the missing shows. Tell me where it is, and why do they go there? She said Hiatus was a thing, not a place. I asked how a thing could not be in a place. She said it was a State of Bean. I am pretty sure I misunderstood. I told I knew all 50 states and was pretty sure there was no state called Bean, though there was a famous book a few years ago called the Beans of Maine. She seemed caught out and finally conceded that Hiatus was right near Hiatus Port in Maine and yes, they went there to get away and relax. I realize she may have just decided to tell me what I wanted to hear. If that was the case, she failed miserably, because what I wanted to hear was that all the shows had come back and all was forgiven.

I pointed out that I needed to rest and relax, but I didn’t get to take off 30 weeks a year. She said the TV stars were all rich and could afford to do it.

So I immediately leapt to a solution. I would write a TV show, set in the deep dark woods, starring a big bad wolf and wicked witch and three little pigs and a princess, and they would all work for minimum wage and not get ANY days off. She suggested weekends off, but as I pointed out, then what we watch on weekends. She also said there already was a show like this, called Once (except, of course, it was in Hiatus, what isn’t?), so I added Lucy, the Dog.

lucy

So starting next week, there will be a daily broadcast of a new show called Once a Pun a Time, in a Place Called Hiatus Port. The show will feature heart warming moments and terrifying sequences of the very ordinary lives of BB Wolf, W. Witch, Pig One, Pig Two, Pig Three (no relation), T Princess, and starring Lucy, the Dog, as herself. This show will be on 52 weeks per year, as most of the rest of us never get a day off anymore so why should they? And they can NEVER go to Hiatus to relax, because they are already there and they work full time!

Let me know what you think. Also, I am open for storyline suggestions, as I am gonna have to write a crap load of this stuff. Oh and I need help finding folks who will work 7 days a week for 8 buck an hour.