December 2007

Monthly Archive

Karl’s Christmas Kitsch Farm

Posted by on 13 Dec 2007 | Tagged as: Humor

December 13, 2007           Copyright: Karl Meyer

                    Karl’s Christmas Kitsch Farm

Looking for an alternative, environmentally-friendly way to ring in the holidays?  Come to Karl’s Christmas Kitsch Farm in nearby Confield!  At Karl’s you can experience the excesses of the holidays without having to “buy” into them.  Come to Karl’s and hack down your own plastic spiral tree—it’s easy as one-two-three with our Karaoke chain saw.  Rev her up and “Timber!”, that PVC beauty is lifeless on the ground.  Enjoy the crisp air as it bumps along behind Santa’s golf cart.

Worried about the environment?  The Kitsch Farm can help!  All Karl’s trees can be rented on an annual basis.  Drive up to KCKF and pick a plastic tree at any season.  We’ll tag it; water it, and mulch it until you arrive for the Big Day!  When you’re done, simply ship it back in the Kitsch Mailer.  We return it to the stillness of our ancient PVC forest and its own pre-sunk stand.

Want to make a dent in climate change, but don’t know where to turn??  Let the Kitsch Farm help with holiday venting!  Follow Snowman Drive to our sea of blow-up, Frosty Snowmen.  Imported exclusively from China, each Frosty is carefully inflated to maximize Kitsch appeal.  Your venting options diverge here: you may simply unplug your Frosty, letting it ooze out its life like the Wicked Witch of the West; or rent a simulated Samuarri dagger and “take the snowman out” shouting expletives from Caesar’s time; finally, send Frosty packing with a blast from our holiday shotgun—available exclusively on our Plastic Reindeer Safari from Karl’s expert PVC Guides.

Lest you think there’s a Kitsch bias at Karl’s, you’d be mistaken.  How about Karl’s Plastic Menorah Darts?; Karl’s Kwanza Demolition Derby??; and, for “ye of little” or no faith: Karl’s Kitschy Gift Card–for consumerist venting any time of year.  Karl’s products are fully guaranteed.  Your spiral tree will fall in a perfect single helix; your Frosty will pop with the sound of fresh powder; and your “Kwanza Car by Karl” will plow into that bloated pile of gifts with unflinching speed.  We promise!  Remember: “Thinking Kitsch?  Think Karl’s!”

The Institute for Foul Language (IFFL)

Posted by on 13 Dec 2007 | Tagged as: Humor

This was written as a radio commentary                          December 11, 2007
© Karl Meyer

             The Institute for Foul Language (IFFL)

In today’s global economy businesses are often confronted by languages and accents impossible to follow.  But foreign deals need to close, pronto; stock needs shipping–yesterday.  Now there’s a way to get through to folks that don’t have a clue what you mean either.  Learn to communicate instantly–unequivocally, using skills and training from the Institute for Foul Language.

Need something relayed in Farsi, Mandarin, Sumatran?  Don’t memorize the whole darned language!  A few accented phrases from the IFFL playbook will get that bloody contract photocopied and faxed, TODAY!   There’s little time for decorum in today’s international marketplace. 

Let the Institute for Foul Language put the “pro” back in your profanity, the “cur” back in your cursing. Our foul language classes get the results that you want, in the time frame you need!

One, three, and eight week courses can have you heaping expletives on that shipping clerk in Timbuktu in no time.  You’ll curse like a Wall Street floor trader—sling slurs like one of the Sopranos.  We’re not bleeping kidding!

Maybe your trash-talk’s still pretty good and you just need some brushing up.  An IFFL Day-Spa Refresher is just the thing.  Spend a day in our hot tub, work-out rooms and massage center, learning tricks and filthy trade terms from our cell-phone phrase book.  Then, rejuvenated, head back into the business world with the confidence and foul-mouthed temerity that moves international business.

Remember, the Institute for Foul Language has the words and phrases that will move your product.  Why be polite, when you can be succinct, salacious, and successful?  Operators are standing by.  Courses begin this week in a town near you.  All certified IFFL courses come with a no-bull, money-back guarantee.  We bleep you not!  Phone today, toll-free: 1-888-GET FOUL.

Holding up a candle

Posted by on 09 Dec 2007 | Tagged as: Politics

Karl Meyer                                                                                December 9, 2007

                  Holding up a candle

I am at a meeting of excited townspeople, and a certain magical realism seems to be at work.  The evening’s focus is the building of a sustainable downtown.  It’s a sharing of ideas. I’m feeling like I want to hold up a candle, but that would be a mistake.  Though it might seem otherwise, what’s mostly heard here is an affirmation of the belief there will be continuing plenty into the future.  And the crowd continues to warm to that idea of plenty.  Slowly the sentiment builds into a celebration of much-ness.  But maybe it just an awkward human jab at a universe that perhaps seems filled with dark–an indoor howl at a fluorescent moon.

I am new to this town, though I’ve known it for years.  I wanted to see what neighbors might have to say about living in harmony with a warming planet and each other.  And those neighbors showed up–close to a hundred.  Most are what are called progressives here.  In general they appear to be either business owners or nascent entrepreneurs.  Tonight’s sustainable topic is fostering vital downtowns.

The downtown here is a little ragged, but making progress.  A seemingly endless theme has been the political tug of war over when, if, and how, a big box retailer should be brought into town.  Since, overall, it’s not a particularly wealthy community, big WalMart-ideas get good traction among the less well-to-do, who are not represented here–and the better-healed chamber types and construction interests.

But the people at this meeting believe in a smaller version of things.  They want to see shops and businesses in the downtown spaces—and they want to be running them, or retailing products through them.  But something is missing.  The conversation in this town of eighteen thousand always swings back to perceived customer bases that are either tourists or people on the other side of the globe hankering to purchase distant products over the world-wide web.

Some presenters do speak briefly and well about sustainability and community.  But that message has been heard before, and no one is here to step on anyone’s toes.  Several have done their best to incorporate products and ingredients from local manufacturers and growers.  One is a local food coop/grocery store.  Another is a pub-restaurant that has reduced its footprint to just one bag of trash per night.  Another briefly mentions reestablishing a vanished infrastructure of regional dairy, meat, and manufacturing plants.  But the majority have businesses and dreams fixed on a big-box pipeline—overseas imports arriving at astonishingly cheap rates that promise their particular sustainable/local enterprise comfortable profits into the future.

This crowd, and many of its panel members, are a cheering squad for big time marketing by small players.  Though a few are about cooperatives, most pattern themselves as the enlightened individuals of the entrepreneur frontier.  A glow of dollars flashes across faces when profit is mentioned.  They want to profit from ideas.  And, in return for such things, we’d each like to believe that the earth should offer us sustenance.  And a whole lot of comfort beyond that.  But unacknowledged in the back of this thinking is an invisible pool of cheap labor, the foundation of this dream of cheap goods and money.

Of the actual people here that produce something sustainable there could be a dozen.  At least three people are from farms, and several more sell and install soft energy products.  But there are no union people here, and no one looks poor.  This is not the face of diversity.  Most here have probably had a least one restaurant meal in the past week.  Ultimately they give a college cheer when someone explains a gimmick to bring a nearby run of tourists up the hill and into town from the interstate.  Everyone smiles at the idea of money from elsewhere, marching onto Main Street.  Those consumers will surely purchase meals and jewelry and imported treasures and electronics.  Or, they can be sold financial services, insurance, web-sites, second homes, advertising, or art.

But almost nowhere is the bedrock question about the fuel behind this windfall of consumers addressed.  They will be expected to sweep in daily and then leave—as regular as the tides.  There is no mention of gasoline—sustainability; a warming planet.  Though someone mentions bicycles, no one is talking trolleys, passenger rail, or even tour busses.  There is up-front recognition that this group’s sustainable idea of itself could never be supported by a community of a mere 18,000 souls.  These market ideas require a much larger pie.  They are meant to serve armies arriving in individual vehicles—convoys from New York City, 170 miles away.  And there’s the rub.

What’s mostly missing in this view toward a sustainable and vital downtown is the idea of sustainability.  Though many of these folks don’t like taxes, neither are they prepared to admit the obvious—that we’ve taxed the planet to the point of no longer sustaining us.  We believe our ideas–and a few well-placed investments, are enough afford us a comfortable living.  We feel entitled to be comfortably fed and warmed by the planet simply for figuring out how to get money from people from afar.

Honest sustainability talk might acknowledge that systems need to change—that we need to change.  Our notions can no longer be fueled by exhaust spewing cars from afar–arriving with hungry tourists wishing to purchase products from distant lands with dollars leveraged on over-heated, carbon-fueled, production fires in Asia.  Honest talk would recognize the hum of devastating wars that fuel this idea of plenty.  That too is unsustainable.

One woman makes a point that begins to address the underlying issue in a simple thought.  She’s one of the farm-connected people.  She states that what ultimately is going to impose itself as the limiting factor–above any and all ideas here, is the carrying capacity of earth’s systems–the actual limits of the planet we each inhabit for just a few short years.  But her nugget of common sense is mostly-missed by this crowd.

And, as a newcomer, I do not hold up my candle this night.  It is best.  It’s not something I’m good at.  I’m more likely to bonk people over the head and say—what are you possibly thinking?  No one would see that clumsy light.  But I’m grateful for my friend Tom, who holds his candle light up into the face of the night’s roaring fire.  It is humble; it addresses the present.  And what he has to say perhaps reaches a few who care to see beyond its small flame.

Tom’s in his eighties, but you wouldn’t know it.  And he’s been sick for a while, but you wouldn’t know that either.  I see him stand—way up front, and be recognized as the night’s last speaker from the audience.  His message is brief.  He speaks honestly of sustainability, but perhaps what’s most important is encapsulated in his last words: “I hope as we go forward, that we’ll all take the time to take care of each other.”



On making assumptions…

Posted by on 06 Dec 2007 | Tagged as: Nature

Karl Meyer                                            December 6, 2007
Greenfield, MA

                             On making assumptions…

Never assume anything–particularly wrens.  I made that mistake recently and a wren got the jump on me.  It was a good lesson.  The weather was brooding and dreary.  The afternoon world was wrapped in dulling late-fall rain.  Then a wren barged in–spring-boarding off the window casement three feet from me.  Its scratchy wildness scuttled any thoughts of surrender to dreariness.  A world with wrens is magic.  I’ll never again assume to the contrary.

It’s not that I ever discount wrens.  In southern New England we’re never completely without them.  A few hardy winter wrens–secretive denizens of evergreen shadows, don’t retreat south from our winter chill.  And Carolina wrens, a species that jumped north to our latitude in the mid-1900s on global warming’s edge, are now widely dispersed through varied scrubby habitats.  They hold their turf in winter to the point where significant die-offs occur some years due to intense cold.  The other wren varieties we enjoy from this plucky, gravy-boat-shaped family—the house, sedge, and marsh wrens, all retreat south at winter’s approach.

But here–out of the bleak afternoon universe on the cusp of winter, comes the wren.  It’s a lightning bolt visit.  Quickness is the livelihood of wrens.  Just a flash: a head with a curving bill, a bright eye with arching white eyebrow, and the briefest flicker of a stubbed brown tail.  Then it bolts from view.  Wren!—unmistakably wren.  Quick, stubby, plucky, and warm brown—a Carolina wren!

You may not know this bird from sight, but likely somewhere you’ve heard–spring, summer, or fall, in the last decade.  In the size-to-volume range this wisp of feathers pumps out song like it has a bullhorn.  It’s a boldly sweet, “tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea,” pause, “tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea,” pause—“tea-kettle tea.”   And then again, over and over—until it’s through with that variation, and moves onto something quite similar but varying by a quarter note, and runs through that repertoire.  And then another barely perceptible change, and then another run of wren song.  It’s what wren’s do.

More Carolina wrens are making it through more Eastern state winters–further north and at higher elevations, as our climate warms.  That’s good news for the wrens, while we’ll have to do the math on what it means for humans.  In summer here you’ll now you hear “tea-kettle-tea” high in hilltowns, where it was never heard before.  So, even at winter’s approach it’s incumbent on all of us to prepare ourselves for wrens.  You just never know.

The actual prep work isn’t much really.  It amounts to un-cultivating the certain understanding that life can appear boring at times—routines can collect in a dulling sameness, leaving us vulnerable to the element of surprise.  And then, WHAM!—that wren hits your window.  To those not mentally prepared, this might assault our slowed senses as annoyance—there’s a leaf, a branch, a twig, some sparrow blundering onto the deck.  It is not.  It is magic come to visit—so be not fooled.

Why a wren you might ask—why here, why now??  Well because insects and spiders crawl around your porch steps and window casements—all are winter gifts to a Carolina wren.  And then, even in urban neighborhoods, there are likely a few choice berry and seed producing shrubs that can supplement a wren’s insect diet through a winter.  With enough scrubby shelter and available water, this half-ounce feather ball just might make it to spring, and a new round of tea-kettling in your neighborhood.

If that happens they’ll be two Carolina wrens looking to nest.  They stay together year-round and mate for life.  The males do the bulk of the tuneful singing, but they both work on the domed nest that’s wound like a beehive and is made from bark, grass, leaves, hair, and even plastic.  There will be an entrance at the side, and 3 – 7 eggs will be placed at its center.  It’ll make for a very melodious summer.

Meanwhile, if you’re out in the wilder, dense evergreen woods, you might listen for the intense little spit-stutter-scold of the tiny winter wren.   These guys are tiny, grayish-brown, secretive and amazingly quick.  They are usually not far from water and dense cover—which includes brush piles.  Don’t let them get the jump on you!

Curiously, the winter wren is the only wren species that we share with Europe, Asia, and Africa.  Same bird.  In Ireland there’s the medieval tradition of the Wren Boys.  On St. Stephen’s Day, December 26, groups of young boys go around and get the jump on a winter wren—known simply as “the wren.”  They kill the poor creature, tying it to a stick.  They then go around dressed-up, singing songs and begging money for the dead bird on a stick.  When there’s enough money for a party they give that wren a solemn burial, then drink themselves silly.  So, even if you’re a wren: never assume anything.

The snow writer

Posted by on 03 Dec 2007 | Tagged as: Personal Essays

December 3, 2007

© Karl Meyer

The snow writer

The night felt restive, I think that’s the word.  The snow had ended by noon.  But it had already been dark for an hour.  I walked home in the half bright, half smoky-dark of an urban/suburban landscape.  This was, I remember thinking, something like the neighborhood I grew up in—working class; little in the way of glamour.  But this evening, shadowy, had an odd sort of edge to it.

I’m not sure what it was—maybe the walk through the city end of town and the shadowy park where the young kids were all lighting cigarettes and pretending not to notice the cold.  Or the little dive bar where two grown patrons were just stepping onto the snowy walk to light up themselves.  I split their conversation in two as I squeezed by.  There was the meter maid of course, off duty.  She was standing in front of the over-priced “outlet” store, which has been there forever and has standard functional clothes.  None of them has ever been discounted down to what would remotely resemble outlet prices.

For whatever reason—window shopping?, the meter maid was standing in the snow, stepping back to gaze into those jackets, gloves, wool sox and boots.  Was she looking for something?  Did she work there, moonlight doing displays?  Was there a husband inside—the owner?  I just can’t say.  I’ve somehow developed this really remote crush on her, though she doesn’t know me from Adam.  We’ve had a pleasant word or two–in passing daylight, even before I moved to this town two months back.

So, not meaning much but friendly on the glow of a half-dark urban street I feel compelled to speak—to make a joke as I pass, sheltered under my hood and carrying a canvas bag with a coffee mug, appointment book, empty lunch container; reading glasses.  She has to move a bit away from the window to accommodate this passerby.  “You know,” I say, “if you stand there too long you could get a ticket.”  I watch her face, she smiles, and I’m sure I haven’t made a mistake—about who she is, or the joke.

I look back as I pass.  “Oh, I’ll keep an eye,” she says, joking back.  Hooded, but no longer shadowy, I keep walking but add, “It’s just that you should be warned.”  Somehow this cheers me.  I’m now heading down what’s basically social service alley in this county seat town.  There’s a lone porn store just a few doors further down, and then a young couple standing outside yet another bar, which I think is new, or newly reopened.  No glamour to it.  The young woman looks hesitant and they both seem to agree that another place, Taylor’s, would be a better choice.

I walk on, soon I’m passing my therapist’s building—a house really.  Curiously, there’s a light on in the top little garret office she uses, though her hours are irregular.  Surprised, I had just thought of her this morning.  I hadn’t been there in months and my visits are infrequent.  I’m kind-of a drop in, not a particularly lucrative client.  But I’d brought cash the last time, twenty bucks for a fifteen dollar co-pay.  She didn’t have change and seemed annoyed at me.  Pay me next time.

So, I would.  But there had been no next time.  And that was summer.  July.  Here it was with snow on the ground.  I thought, momentarily of going up the stairs and knocking on the door—only after a second remembering that she wouldn’t be in there alone.  But that is your image of therapy–that person is there for you only.  I discarded the idea. 

I’m not suffering from anything more than the usual pre-holiday malaise about global warming, family, and consumerism though at this point, so I don’t know when I’ll be seeing her next.  There’s not an address listed in the phone book to send a check to, but I guess I could just slip it under the door someday.  But I’ve seen her for enough seasons now that I wouldn’t want to not wish her a happy holiday in person.  That’s therapy for you—you ultimately confirm that you’re not much nuttier than the folks out there trying to help.  And of course partly for that, you like them.

I walk on, down to my landlord’s office—directly across from the AA meeting site, which is directly across from the Salvation Army offices.  There is a small knot, maybe fifteen people, just starting to gather, having a smoke before the doors open.  Cigarettes seem to be a theme of this walk.  When I’m abreast of the struggling drinkers I cut left down the driveway opposite and walk up to a half-office, half-Laundromat, with a door slot on the left.  I unzip my jacket, reach into a breast pocket, then drop the rent check down the chute.

Back on the street the meeting crowd is still picking up stragglers, smokers.  I walk on, past a plow with bright, bright flashers cutting through the snowy, dull night.  Cars and pick-ups whoosh by, in hurried, violent bursts.  There are street lights, but any and all people out appear merely as shadows.  Crepuscular, I think—I’ve become somewhat crepuscular, in my new life in a half- city.  I like walking at sundown, later even—in the twilight, in the time just before people are sitting down for dinner.  There’s something animal about it I find, comforting too.

And there’s always someone out.  I walked last evening.  Had stayed in all day—then decided it really was unhealthy to not go out for a bit of exercise.  So I walked and it turned into a 40 minute journey.  It was cold.  At one point I was walking where the sidewalk was not far from the porch stoops of a run of houses.  I’m nestled in my hood—my own thoughts.  Just as I’m about to pass this driveway, dark, with just a bit of early snowflakes gathered, I realize there is a person standing, quite tall, about a car length up the driveway.  Actually, he’s towering some–and in a statue-like pose out of the corner of my eye.

Once I realize that he’s been staring at me, I have to say something.  I give him a basic, though not unfriendly, “How’s it going?”  His cigarette has just finished glowing from a deep drag.  “How are you?” he replies.  It’s just an exchange, a curious male peace offering in the dark.  Still, walking on, I can’t help but comment on his odd stance—he’s quite possibly standing and smoking atop a doghouse.  “I thought you were a statue,” I say.  He hesitates, surprised, “I feel like a statue,” he says, with a smoker’s shiver.

And then there’s this night.  As I turn the corner that will bring me up to the end of my street, I see a woman—thinnish, wispy, standing near the edge of the snowy lawn of a former school.  It’s now the school department offices.  I’m thinking she must be smoking too—maybe another of the restless social service clientèle not absent from many corners within three blocks of here.  But in a minute I realize this is different.

This slender being–this sprite, suddenly moves—comes alive.  She veritably prances across the last five feet of snow; then nimbly steps to the sidewalk.  Her path will bring her near me, but the timing will be off.  I don’t want to be intimidating in the dark, but I’m curious, fascinated, that she’s been writing something.  I want to simply ask, “What’s it say?”  But, as we don’t quite intersect, I’ll have to leave it.  We both walk on.  Then, I think: I just want to know.  I slow my stride, letting another stroller—also a woman, walk on a bit, so it doesn’t look like I’m turning back to follow her.  Once it’s comfortable I re-cross the street and back-track.

As I near the corner the street lamp clearly shows that she was writing, and that it’s simple, just three characters: “I heart, U.”  I can’t help but smile.  Perhaps it is best not to have asked that stranger what she’d written.   Though, with her deer-like lightness, maybe she could have pulled it off unselfconsciously.  As I walk back along the edge of that lawn I see what might be other writing, though my angle is poor to view it exactly.  I’d have to hover like a helicopter.  Still, what I think I see is not writing at all.  Its swirls of quiet footprints making wide, graceful fairy wings in the dark across the season’s first snow.