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Archives for June 2005

The King of the Lake

A loose corner of corrugated tin roofing squeaked and crinkled in the breeze. From his supine position on the front porch of the Rattlesnake Lake Resort, Merle opened one eye and spotted the source of the noise. He’d asked Johnny to nail down that corner back in April. Now, in late July and the resort going to weeds and dust, Merle was resigned to the general falling apart of the place and the fecklessness of his brother.

It was a hot day, and approaching noon, but the porch was in the shade of a grove of quaking aspens and the breeze off the lake felt cool as it washed over Merle’s face. He propped himself up on one elbow and looked up at the translucent, paper-like pouch of the nest a hummingbird had constructed directly on top of an opaque orange bulb, part of a string of Christmas lights left up from the previous winter – another job Johnny had neglected back in the spring. Merle watched the mother hummingbird flit from the nest and out of view around the corner of the office and back again a short while later.

It was a customarily slow day at the lake. No, it was even slower than was customary, even for a Wednesday. Johnny was off at a bass fishing tournament in Idaho, and Lesley, Johnny’s girlfriend, was visiting her mother in Seattle. Normally Arnold would have been by to chew the fat but even he was absent, laid up with food poisoning so bad they had to put him in the hospital in Spokane and hook him up to an I.V. One or two boats were on the lake – just locals though. No one had come by the office for a rental or to buy some maggots or just to shoot the breeze. Merle lay his head back down on the pillow and closed his eyes again. He thought about the other day when Arnold had offered to construct a bench for him so he wouldn’t have to lie around on the floor all the time.

“Merle,” Arnold had said, “I had a brainstorm last night and I drew up plans for a bench I’m going to build you so you don’t have to be looking at people’s shins anymore.”

“No, no. I appreciate the thought Arn, but I’m a floor guy. I’ve tried tables and benches and cots, but I like it down here just fine.”

Arnold was visibly disappointed, but he’d let it go with an “awright, if that’s the way you like it” and a shrug. In days past, Merle used to water-ski behind Arnold’s boat, and he was one of the hottest dudes on the lake, skimming the surface and cutting wide arcs like an Olympic ice skater. But now his MS had progressed to the point where he could barely walk and he spent most of his time on the floor of the resort, greeting customers and making change from knee level.

Maybe I should let the old fart build me the damn bench, Merle thought. Maybe I could get him to do it like a waterbed bench, then it’d be just like I was out floating on the lake all day long. Merle pictured himself floating out on the surface of the lake. How refreshing on a hot day. Then he pictured himself diving down, his useless legs no longer hindering him, deep down to the coolest depths and where he would become the King of the Lake.

A loud clunk and a succession of lesser clunks interrupted Merle’s reveries. He opened his eyes, rolled over on his side and stretched his neck to see past the column of the porch to the lake some forty yards away. A swallow whistled and swept under the awning of the porch above him. Down at the dock, a young woman in a straw cowboy hat had just crashed her canoe into the line-up of aluminum rentals rowboats.

“Fuckin’ A,” she said loud enough for Merle to hear.

Merle had never seen the girl before. Where the hell did she come from? Wait, that’s Arn’s old canoe – faded green fiberglass thing he’s had leaning against the back of his trailer for twenty years. The wheels turned in Merle’s head and he recalled Arnold mentioning that his wife Gladys’s sister was going to be visiting from Dallas. So this pretty young thing, Merle surmised – forming a lakeside syllogism out of the canoe, the cowboy hat and the foul mouth – must be the daughter of Gladys’s sister, e.g. Arnold’s niece. (Some weeks later, Merle would misuse this same abbreviation, “e.g.” and be corrected by this same cowboy-hatted college girl: “I think you mean ‘i.e.’ Merle honey.”)

The girl struggled clumsily with her paddle, maneuvering the canoe backwards away from the rental boats and sidling up to the dock. She paused a moment as if to regain her sense of Texas dignity before reaching out to grab hold of the dock. The canoe tipped perilously, but she recovered her balance, adjusted her cowboy hat, and stepped awkwardly but gracefully (like a cat pretending not to notice a moment of spastic unsteadiness) onto the dock. She was pretty. There was no doubt about that. But there was also something rough around the edges about her. Or was it wet behind the ears? Merle couldn’t quite put his finger on the exact quality of innocence he sensed in her, but whatever it was it had a calming effect on him. He felt at ease and in control as she approached. He felt like his place on the floor was no disadvantage with this girl and might even afford him a peculiar advantage. This was a sensation new to the floor-bound Merle, who had once been quite a ladies’ man but had despaired of finding a woman since he lost the use of his lower extremities.

The girl was barefoot and barelegged, tanned dark brown, wore gray athletic shorts that didn’t quite do justice to her nice round derrière, and a yellow tank top that accentuated her sinewy upper half, had glossy black hair that glinted in the breezy sunlight, was only slightly over five feet tall even counting the cowboy hat, and had to pee.

“Excuse me, sir, but do y’all have a bathroom I could use?”

Nice shins, Merle thought. He’d become a secret connoisseur of shins.

The Moral Universe

I’ve got to go yammer on about movies in a few days, movies 1960 to present. I’m thinking about discussing the notion that interesting modern movies often involve the discovery of the moral universe, where the olde-timey ones simply existed within that universe. Thoughts from all you smart folks out there?

Bookmark, Etc.

“But today, with Carus, she’d seen something else. He was nearly as tall and as elegant as Ovid, and she knew the two had roamed the streets together, been gallants at the same parties, rivaled each other in poetry, exchanged sharp criticisms. She had watched Carus striding back and forth across the floor, in and out of the shadows. His sculpted face, his arrogant hands. She’d watched him shrug off something Ovid said, saw him laugh dryly, run a hand through his hair. Yet – though he posed and threw back his head in laughter; though his ambition burned ulcerous right through his cool surface; though, when Ovid looked away, Carus fixed him with a look of hungering envy – all the time, as he recited, dust was falling silently upon him. Soft gray dust, sifting from the sky. It settled upon his cropped dark hair, upon his lashes and the bone of his nose, upon his confident, purple-mantled shoulders. It settled upon his leather boots and clung to his arms and his long, shapely hands; it buried his knees and his thighs, and fixed him there, rising slowly up to his chest. As she stood in the garden, she saw him disappear. Not a word Carus wrote would be remembered.”
– from Jane Alison’s The Love Artist

Here’s the not-quite a propos thing, since Ovid’s tragedy is lost and his comedy has survived. Tragedy, to me, is more memorable. But comedy is more valuable. Does it become more dated more quickly; is it more tied up with the ever-changing times? I would say so. But if it is more fleeting, that just makes it more precious.

An Early Summer Morning’s Resolution

You thought you were reading a blog. Little did you know you were joining a support group.

Seriously, I’m laying this out in an attempt to increase accountability, even if it’s only to myself for having made it public. I have let too much slide, neglected too many things, failed in diligence toward too many things, wasted too much time (and I believe in wasting time). I’ve got too much to do to continue like this.

So. Resolved. Every morning, prayers from Magnificat, readings from Divine Intimacy. (Yes, my prayer life is among those things that have slid.) Then, on regular workdays, if the spirit moves me, blog. Every day, add one site link and one blog link. Every day, at least an hour on the new project. And every evening, time spent on backed up side stuff – correspondence, reading, other writing…

Let’s see how it goes.

Fatherhood as Salvific

Fatherhood is a ‘saving’ reality to the degree that a man fulfills his role as ‘savior’ of the mutable world of daily life, the one who redeems the humdrum and exalts the lowly. Because he is not related to his children with emotional or physiological ties of the same intensity as a mother’s, the father is in an extremely ambivalent position: either he can shirk his responsibilities as ruler and teacher of his children, or he can all the better live up to them precisely due to his distance from the hearth. His position is one of danger and promise. One might say that the very qualities which render a man fit to be a good ruler and teacher – his natural distance from much of what constitutes the bearing and rearing of children, his ability to look upon his own offspring as basically ‘other’ than himself (more present to him through their mother) – these and other male conditions open up the possibility of failure, even of treachery. “For reasons which I do not think have been fully elucidated, fatherhood nearly always presents the character of a more or less hazardous conquest, which is achieved step by step over difficult country full of ambushes” (Gabriel Marcel, “The Creative Vow as Essence of Fatherhood,” Homo Viator: Introduction to a Metaphysic of Hope, Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1951, p. 110). Fatherhood thus presents, in a twofold way, the paradox spoken by Christ: “He who would gain his life must lose it for my sake.” To bring life, that is, purposefulness and inner joy, to his family, a man must learn to lose himself. This is another way of saying that responsibility and suffering are inseparable in the living out of any love that deserves the name. “It behooves the man to place himself at life’s disposal and not to dispose of life for his own purposes” (Ibid. p. 114).

In losing himself for the sake of his wife and children, he wins back, over time and not without steady struggle, a self purified of egotism and false liberty. In this way, the Divine principle of creation, God’s love, is engrafted onto the family, or even better, becomes its lifeblood.

Peter A. Kwasnieswski
Fatherhood and the Being of the Home

Sopranos Season Five

Episode six saw the return of Father Phil, just in time to tell Carmella that her affair was sinful. He’s like Bridey in Brideshead Revisited – doctrine without heart. But Father Phil doesn’t even get the doctrine right, not all the way. “This man fulfills certain desires…” he begins. “But didn’t God give me the desire?” answers Carmella. If that doesn’t take you into the mystery of suffering, and that only after an affirmation of humanity’s bottomless need to love and be loved, then I think you’ve missed the boat, pastorally and otherwise.

So this is me, standing by the water cooler, what, about two years after everyone else has had this conversation?

Howdy

I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ve heard tell from them as knows that I’m supposed to be in this week’s National Catholic Register. If that piece brought you here, welcome! For EWTN, it was the shoes; for the Reigster, it’s the hat – an old favorite. Vanity of vanities..

Finished it.

The treehouse. Anchored one end of an old door to the tree, suspended the other from metal cables attached to a screw eye. Mounted four old metal table legs at the corners for posts and ran chicken wire for a guard rail. Staped the base of the rail to the platform. Primed and painted to hold off the rain – First and Second Sons helped there. Cut and mounted climbing blocks up the trunk, leading up to a gap between two branches – a natural protection against accidentally falling out of the entranceway. This is big for me precisely because it’s the sort of thing I’m not good at – “Dad, do you think maybe you could take lessons to be just a little better at being a carpenter?” – and it’s something First Son has been asking for for years. Happy Father’s Day.

Catholic Author Du Jour

Danielle Bean, author of My Cup of Tea: Musings of a Catholic Mom (check the reviews page of her site), homeschooling mother of seven, and member of the remarkable Augros family. (I knew three of them – Michael, Dave, and Suzanne, at TAC.) Plus, she blogs.

Friday Mailbag

Dear Komrades,

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skam@moskow.kgb.cccp

INSTRUKTIONS

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