...In-between sets from poet Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow

March 30, 2013

Mr. Rickles

I spent Friday night watching a legend. I can’t precisely say he “performed,” because he’s 86 years old, and performance is a peculiarly elusive ability at that age. A legendary comedian, he is one of the very last of a generation-honored group of entertainers, which is primarily why I wanted to see him in person.

To my ear, he said two hilarious things over the course of an hour. The first was, after he’d simply entered onstage to a roaring standing ovation and said a few “let me orient myself” comments into the mic, and after he received raucous laughter and applause just for being himself, he turned to his orchestra conductor, pianist and right-hand man, and into the microphone, he said “Are we done yet?” Absolutely priceless. I must’ve laughed a full minute.

The second time, much later in the show, he was telling one of his many “back in the day” stories. This one was about Frank Sinatra. It wasn’t part of a joke or even a punchline. It was just his set-up for his reminiscence. He said, “Through the door walk Frank and his friends, who are, uh, scientists…” and from an audience of 1,300, guess who was laughing so hard the musicians were looking at her? Yep. 

We stood in ovation to that man at least five times. The rest of his onstage performance was unusually tender and meandering. There was a fantastic 13-piece orchestra, who clearly adored him. There was the singing of heartfelt, smaltzy songs hearkening to memories and patriotism. I paid great attention to his presence. I wondered why he would put himself through that series of paces. He had difficulty walking across the stage and handling the mic cord. Of course I know there’s the money, but I wondered if there was something else. Some other reason why a person, particularly at that juncture in life, doesn’t simply cease doing the thing they know best how to do.

I’m thinking about if it’s useful to be puzzled by all this. Diminishment is a worthy consideration. Amplification is a worthy consideration.

March 8, 2013

Here Comes the Judge

Nothing like a real-life Maricopa County Superior Court Judge smiling and holding up a copy of my book.

This judge happens to be exemplary, righteous and wise. The Honorable Bruce R. Cohen. 

He is the inspiration behind the poetic matter for two poems in THE DAY JUDGE SPENCER LEARNED THE POWER OF METAPHOR: "The Persimmon Can See You," and "Why the Judge's Chambers Can Can-Can."

"Why the Judge's Chambers..." is available to read here. Just scroll down a little bit; this is my book's page on my publisher's website. 

And he does look dashing in black.

Very special. 

March 4, 2013

AWP Writers’ Conference -- NASCAR Race -- Ten Comments -- You Make the Call

1.  Do not wear chocolate-brown suede boots.  Although they’re gorgeous, they won’t look that way after you’ve trudged a half-mile through a dirt parking-lot to get from, and get back to, your automobile, OR spending a whole day whirling like a dervish darting from book booth to book booth, searching for that elusive golden book-calf. At the car race, you ask yourself, why is the dirt so wet in places? At the conference, why do the eyes of the people get glassier and glassier?

2.  At a NASCAR race, you can see a woman, out in public, in the dirt parking lot, relieving herself in full view, save for her open vehicle door. You will never for the rest of your life forget that image; additionally, you remain bewildered as to how much liquid one woman can literally contain. At an AWP Conference, you can see MFA students euphemistically emptying their bowels upon seeing the famous poet/writer of their dreams at the lectern or sitting at the panel table, or perched upon the hotel barstool. You cannot remember even one of their faces.

3.  You now know why the dirt is wet in the parking lot at a NASCAR race. You still cannot remember a single MFA face.

4.  Everything smells like mustard and wet socks for the first hour of every day. Car race: French’s. Conference: Gulden’s. Socks: not cashmere at either venue.
5.  Essentially, same amount of people.  Car race: 100,000. Conference: 11,000. Big difference: writers move faster, but with unfulfilling efficiency; race audiences, much larger width-wise, but the utilization of any deficits works to their advantage.

6.  A poet or writer would most likely submit later to scientific testing upon their own anatomy by a mad doctor to have an audience of 100,000 listening raptly to him/her read poetry from his/her latest volume. A car race enthusiast drives 95 miles an hour on the freeway just to get to the race on time, and that person is extremely happy not to be noticed by anybody.

7.  You can lose someone in a crowd at NASCAR and you will not locate them again – ever. You can lose someone, intentionally, in a crowd at the AWP conference – but there they are in the elevator, or two rows up at a panel talk. Moreover, they will turn around to look at you.

8.  Liquor. Everybody in the pool.

9.  You will not hear the Blues playing anywhere at a NASCAR race. You will be able to run for your life to at least one Blues club somewhere, within two blocks of your hotel. Memorize that path.
10.  The NASCAR drivers are protected by a high fence and then plenty of pit security. After the race, they are in their giant mobile homes and on the road before you’ve even gotten out of the metal stands. If there weren’t a law against it, you could literally butt foreheads with one famous writer/poet after another until you’ve knocked your own self out. Or gotten so hungry that by then all you want is a nice quiet meal. And a physician.

Bonus material:

T-shirts at a NASCAR race cost $26.00 and other paraphernalia goes up from there in price. T-shirts at an AWP conference cost $26.00 on the first day but by Saturday they’re practically throwing the stuff away. At NASCAR, hope to like anybody besides Number 48, if you’re interested in buying anything. Unless you have two hours to wait in line. Which people do, and God bless ‘em, happily. At an AWP conference, go ahead and like anybody of any number.

Race Pit Row. Phoenix West-Side Hills. Unusually overcast sky.
See you next year in Seattle, AWP!       
NASCAR, that was plenty. And thanks!