Beach Poets Society

Anne Sexton and e.e. cummings were eliminated in the preliminaries.

Anne Sexton and e.e. cummings were eliminated in the preliminaries.

“The Russians are not going gentle into that good night.” 
– Olympic broadcaster calling a Women’s Beach Volleyball game between Russia and Brazil

Welcome back to Rio and the semi-final match of Famous Poets’ Beach Volleyball. Coming up: the U.S. team of Robert Frost and Sylvia Plath versus T.S. Eliot and Dylan Thomas of Great Britain, what is sure to be an afternoon of all-around athleticism, artistry and alliteration.

We can see Frost and Plath warming up with some stretching and writing exercises, although Frost will likely have some mobility issues in all that tweed. Plath, meanwhile, rebuking the patriarchy while simultaneously helpless to embrace it, is wearing a bikini. And she’s not looking too happy.

For Great Britain, Dylan Thomas is regaling the crowd with customary jocularity. I don’t think that’s Gatorade in his water bottle, folks. And team captain Eliot is looking positively disillusioned with modern man’s lack of spirituality in the face of technology but also surprisingly buff.

The referee gives the signal to begin. But both teams appear to be just standing there, some kind of delay or confusion. Robert Frost is calmly approaching the referee. And now he’s asking, “Whose serve this is I do not know.” The referee indicates that it is Great Britain to start, and we begin!

There’s a strong serve by T.S. Eliot, who, as we know, trained with Team USA before switching sides. It’s met by Plath who pops it up despondently to Frost. Frost sets it. A beautiful kill shot by Plath! Straight at Dylan Thomas who is caught napping. Literally caught napping.

Eliot is now attempting to shake awake his partner, who is looking like a patient etherized upon a table, except in this case, sand.

Unperturbed by the prostrate poet, Plath serves. But it fails to clear the net! And now Plath, despairing, is also lying down. She’s muttering something to herself. I can just hear it: “I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart. I am. I am. I am.” A technique she learned while playing for the Cambridge Spike Mistresses, no doubt, but of little use here under these elite Olympic conditions.

Eliot has managed to get Thomas on his feet, telling him it’s Britain’s turn. Eliot’s saying, “Let us go then, you and I. And pound their pudding.”

Dylan Thomas is now looking around for Ezra Pound, shouting something about him owing him a pint. Eliot clarifies, turns Thomas toward the net. Thomas has the ball. Players are set, although Frost appears to be sketching something in the sand with his toes, two diverging roads, it would appear. Plath continues to weep silently.

It looks like Thomas is going to serve. But wait, no, he’s speaking. Let’s listen in:

Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I play volleyball
On these spindrift beaches
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the sponsorship deals.
Obviously.

And there’s a blistering serve from Thomas, taking U.S. by surprise, and Thomas too, it would seem. He’s down again.

How frail the human heart must be – a mirrored pool of thought, and yet Sylvia Plath comes up with a huge dig! Over to Frost, who relays it back to Plath. She sends it over. There’s a block by Eliot! A clear case of writer’s block!

2-1 Great Britain as Eliot prepares to serve. Wait. Is he…? Does T.S. Eliot dare to eat a peach? Mid-serve? He does! Astounding! I would think he should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas, but a peach! In these sandy conditions!

Now he’s finished the peach. A glance into the stands, where the women come and go speaking of discount stores in Rio. And there’s the serve.

Oh! It’s hit Robert Frost square in the face! Frost is down. The poet’s first outcry is a rueful laugh. There’s definitely blood. Plath has picked up the ball. And now she’s throwing it at her own face!

And that’s it. Amid boos from the crowd, the referee is calling the game. With the players still on the field, the crew is turning off the spotlights. A besotted Dylan Thomas is furious. Just listen to him rage, rage against the dying of the light! I haven’t seen anything like this since the Abstract-Expressionists’ Synchronized Diving Championships of 2002!

That’s it. It’s all over. T.S Eliot is the last off the field, hobbling away morosely. This is the way the match ends, not with a game but a limper.

Posted in Never Happened, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments

This old house painter

If you ever want to see how your body changes over time, just paint your house every eight years or so.

I started painting houses in my teens. I went on to work for two summers with College Pro, though it was after college and we weren’t very pro, trust me.

Those were fearless days of climbing and dangling, though at one point, hanging off the rungs of a ladder and stretching a dripping brush into empty air in attempt to reach some obscure bit of soffit or nesbit or shlebit or whatever technical name you call an architectural doodad that no one sees anyway, I remember thinking, “I’m not paid enough for this shlebit.”

Since becoming a homeowner 20 years ago, we have painted our house twice, though the first time took us three years. Those were busy times. Busy and incredibly lazy.

To be fair, that third year was the garage, which we probably could have completed in year two, but the reasoning went something like this: “Hooray! We finally finished the house! Job well done! Now we don’t have to paint again unti-… Oh…” It’s hard to paint when you’ve lost the will to live.

This time around, our goal is to get it all done before school starts. We are delusional, yes, but ever optimistic. We are also already behind.

This may have to do with the fact that I am nearly a decade older than when I painted last. I can still scamper up ladders, no problem, but every bend or stretch is accompanied by a loud “URRUGGH!”

I’m also slightly more cautious, knowing that if I fell, I would shatter into a thousand pieces. I use more protection as well, gloves and masks, especially after I scraped at some orange mould clinging to the underside of the frobisher (or whatever) and watched a million spores drift into the atmosphere and probably my lungs, so it was nice knowing you.

And the scraping tends to continue for hours afterwards, namely the scraping of my joints.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the stupid house is acting like a metaphor: the sagging, the cracking, the soft wood. The house has odd mould, I have odd moles.

“We should move,” Deb says from time to time. She’s probably right. But when I think of buying and selling, the negotiating, the paperwork, not to mention packing and unpacking, I’d rather paint a hundred garages.

Besides, could we really sell this place? Especially after the potential buyer noticed the supporting wooden beam in our basement that a series of cats have been clawing with clear intentions of bringing the damn house down, and given another 40 to 60 years, they will.

There are times when I despair of this old house of ours, just like I despair of this old body.

But then I get up on the roof.

I’m not talking about the top roof of the house. That place is steep and terrifying. I’ve been up there only once, when we needed some work done on our chimney, and the repairman wanted to show me the damage to the fladangle (or whatever; I wasn’t paying attention because death was imminent).

I mean the porch roof. I love getting up on our porch roofs, front and back. It’s not the same as being up on the ladder, where most of the time I’m facing the wall. On the roof, with the surface slanted just enough to throw you off-kilter, just 15 feet up, you’re free standing. You get a new perspective on the neighbourhood. It’s the same view as looking out your second-storey window, sure, but more panoramic, no interior spaces in your periphery. You’re eye-level with the branches. You’re outside. On a roof. You’re outside on a roof! Look at your lawn. Look at the way the driveway greets the street. Look at your neighbour getting dressed.

No, no, that never happened. But people do walk by and they don’t see you on your porch roof, because why would they look up there? They pass by while you stand there, arms akimbo, vigorous, strong, impervious to time, age and cats. King of the house.

It’s at those moments, up on a roof, when the years don’t seem to matter. I feel solid and safe up there, happy in my home and in a life that lets me do and enjoy these silly, small moments.

I can’t stay up there too long, though. It hurts my feet.

Is that a scraper in your hand or...

Is that a scraper in your hand or…

Posted in It Really Did Happen! | Tagged , , , , , | 38 Comments

Welcome to your personal day

Good morning! I hope you enjoyed that extra 10 minutes of sleep. And not the cruel joke “snooze button” extra sleep but the kind from which you awaken gently, dreaming of a multi-handed masseuse singing The Carpenters’ greatest hits, in a non-gooey, freshly re-evaluated way.  This is your personal day. Everyone’s getting one this year, and today is yours, all yours.

Your personal day begins with a cup of coffee all ready for you, the perfect temperature, just the right amount of cream. You prefer hazelnut-flavoured cream? Go ahead, because today no one in your house is going to complain that that stuff smells like perfumed diesel. It’s your day! Ruin your coffee any way you like.

Driving to work, you have a lane to yourself, and all the lights are green, and only your favourite songs are on the radio. When they go to commercial, you can change the channel and find that for once all the other stations aren’t on commercial break at the same time but are instead playing more of your favourite songs. People in the surrounding cars give you thumbs-up signs as you air-drum “Rock You Like a Hurricane.” Rock on!

Your hair looks perfect today, by the way.

Did you forget to bring your dog to work? You did? Look in the back seat. No, you didn’t! There she is! Your dog can come to work today because it’s your personal day! Everyone loves your dog, even the people who don’t like dogs. Even the people who don’t like people!

Look: someone’s brought muffins to work! The good kind, without raisins. Basically cake. And today, only for you, they have no calories. “I can eat anything I want and I never gain weight,” you crow, and none of your co-workers wish you get a terrible, fattening disease.

It’s your personal day!

Your work is fulfilling in a deeply spiritual way today, so much so that, halfway through the morning, your co-workers offer to do it for you, which you agree to because you are a giver who gives and feels good about giving. Give yourself a hug!

Now you are free to spend the rest of the morning playing whatever mobile app is currently trendy, and in no way do you feel you are squandering precious hours of your finite existence on frivolous pursuits. You decide that a good rhyme for “frivolous” is “plivelris,” and because on your personal day you get to revive long-abandoned dreams of being an avant-garde poet, it is!

And so, sitting in an extremely comfortable chair that actually increases longevity despite your sedentary lifestyle, you post this haiku on Facebook:

Cherry tree blossoms
Or desert dunes swept by wind
Which Windows desktop?

It goes viral! Everyone goes viral on their personal day, and today is your day. All your exes read the poem and get in touch with you, expressing their regret for letting you go. Their loss! And they are all still beautiful, which makes you feel satisfied about your good taste, but there is also a sadness behind their eyes that is also very satisfying.

It’s your personal day!

All the politicians align themselves with your core beliefs today. “I’ve made mistakes, yuuuge mistakes, really the best mistakes,” they say. “To be honest, I’m just going to quit right now and start singing. One, two, three, four! ‘Here I am… Rock you like a hurricane…!’”

You get the afternoon off. For the parade, of course! There’s Sigourney Weaver serving as the grand marshal, looking spry. She waves you onto the float, which is a giant but flattering bust of you! Taking Sigourney’s hand, you and your dog settle into the seat of honour on your giant head, with Sigourney at your right. To your left is the ghost of Otis Redding! “I’ve been riding you too long to stop now,” he croons, and you laugh and laugh, and the parade rolls through the packed streets, and everyone cheers and claps and shouts your name over and over. “Woof!” barks your dog.

Finally, the parade comes to a halt before your house, where you dismount your giant head. You wave goodbye to the adoring throng and Sigourney and Otis. You enter your house to find your favourite meal prepared by your loving spouse whose tender embrace foretells sweet, sweet loving anon. It has been the best possible personal day, you think, as you head to bed.

Don’t forget tomorrow’s garbage day.

Posted in Reading? Ugh! | Tagged , , , , , | 40 Comments

A Kind Voice? Me?

This evening, between 7 and 8 p.m. EST, I’ll be talking A Hole in the Ground and writing and who knows what else at A Kind Voice on Books. The mission of A Kind Voice is “to make our world a kinder, more connected place, one conversation at a time,” which I can’t really argue against. “One club sandwich at a time” might be my only suggestion for improvement, but why quibble?

When host Erin Rae asked me to participate, my first question, naturally, was “Why me?” She replied, “My show centers on books and reading, and since I get to select who comes on, I like to offer a platform to people who are starting out, or who don’t have an established fan base, in an effort to help get their voices heard. In my experience new and/or unknown authors have interesting things to say, they just aren’t talking to quite as many people as a blockbuster novelist.”

Again, I can’t argue, and I’m happy to ramble for an hour about writing and one of my favourite subjects: me.

Oh wait, there’s you too. You’re invited to call in and have a chat or ask about how many socks I own. (I’ll save you the trouble: 13 1/2.) The show will also be archived if you would like to relive the pain.

Listen in here: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/akindvoice/2016/08/03/a-kind-voice-on-books-interview-with-ross-murray

Posted in It Really Did Happen!, Writing | Tagged , , | 15 Comments

Summer self-lovin’, happened so fast…

imageI’ll never forget that summer romance when I was 16. Neither can the girl involved, I suspect, except in her case it’s probably “Aaaagh! Why can’t I forget that summer ‘romance’ when I was 16!”

I remember everything being so intense and wonderful: that first shy meeting, the hot-and-heavy hand-holding, finally getting to second base, which in 1982 meant acknowledging that your affection had reached the next level, or “base.” [Editor’s note: This is not what “second base” meant in 1982.]

I’m too old and too married now for summer romances. Still, I miss the thrill. That’s why I’ve decided this year I’m going to have a summer fling with myself.

I can picture it now: I go out to my back yard to sit in my favourite lawn chair only to discover I’m already in it. “Oh, I’m sorry,” sitting me says. “Is this seat mine?” “No, please,” I tell myself, “sit. I insist.”

Overwhelmed by my kindness and suave beardiness, I begin to chat with myself, and instantly I feel a connection. I have so much in common. I like long walks on the beach, and I like long walks on the beach! It’s amazing, the chemistry, like I’m the same person!

“Maybe I’ll see me later,” I say.

“If I pass a mirror I will,” I reply coyly. Good looking and funny? I think I love me!

Later, I “accidentally” run into myself at the pharmacy. Except it’s completely embarrassing because I catch myself picking up hemorrhoid cream. “It’s for my eyes!” I explain, to which I reply, “Then I think I’m using it wrong.” I laugh, and I explain that, no, it’s good for reducing eye wrinkles, and I smile, neither I nor me realizing that a man worrying about eye wrinkles is kind of swishy.

The encounter leads to coffee, coffee to an evening stroll. As the sun begins to set, I tentatively reach out and take my hand. And I walk, hand in hand, talking to myself like I’ve been talking to myself all my life.

But then I go and say something stupid, like “So. How do I feel about Justin Trudeau?” And immediately I can see myself go awkward and inarticulate as I mutter about positivity and Canadian values but my eyes betray a deep wariness. I’m quiet after that, and when I reach my door, I try to give myself a goodnight kiss on the cheek, but I miss.

Later that evening, I get an email from myself apologizing for my behaviour. “It wasn’t me,” I write, “it was me.” Then I confess that I do have feelings for me and would like to spend some time getting to know me better.

After that, I’m inseparable. I spend every minute I can with me. When I’m apart from me, I’m just not myself.

Is there physical attraction? Yes, of course there is, but it’s more than that, almost spiritual. And the amazing thing is, I’m not even repulsed by my clusters of nipple hair.

I take it slow because I don’t want to scare myself off. “I’ve been hurt before,” I say. “I would never hurt me,” I reply.

Things progress. One beautiful, unforgettable night, I get to third base. [Editor’s note: I’m not sure what he means this time and I don’t want to know.]

Of course, it’s not all bliss and endless ice cream. At one point, I get angry with myself for giving up on “Breaking Bad” halfway through season two. And I have my first real argument about being so self-centred. “Why does everything always have to be about me!” I shout at myself. I agree, which only makes things worse.

The thing is, I both know it will have to come to end. This is just a summer fling. Once September rolls around, I have to go back to my own life, and I to mine.

Finally, the day comes when I have to say goodbye. There are tears in my eyes, and I cry a little too. I promise to write to myself, Skype with myself once a week, without fail. “Every time I offer someone a piece of ID,” I say, “I’ll think of me.”

I stay in touch with me for a while, but soon I move on. Life gets busy. Before long, I understand that what I had with me was special, magical, something I’ll never forget. But a little part of me knows that if I had spent more time together, I would eventually get sick of myself.

Posted in It Could Happen... | Tagged , , , , , | 44 Comments

You schmooze, you lose

“Hello, welcome to SchmoozeTech, this is Randy, how may I help you?”

“Uh, yeah, hi. I think my schmoozing account has been frozen. Can you check it out for me?”

“Sure, sir, no problem. Let’s just call up your account information… Hmmm, I see. Well, Mr. Murray, it looks like your licence to schmooze has been suspended.”

“What? How? I’ve really been making an effort lately. I’ve been chit-chatting at parties instead of hanging out by the veggies and dip. I’ve been making eye contact. Last week, I was at a press event and I was greeting reporters and shaking hands…”

“Let’s see. Was that last Wednesday, sir?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, it says here you went up to a reporter and said, “Bonjour, Jean-François. It’s been a long time,” but you said it in French so it came out sounding like, “Bonjour, Jean-François. It’s been long johns.”

“My French isn’t that great but at least I was trying.”

“That’s fine, but it wasn’t Jean-François at all, was it?”

“No…”

“It was a newspaper columnist who you recognized from his photo in the paper.”

“It was an honest mistake.”

“You’ve never actually met this person, have you?”

“He looked so familiar!”

“And then you fled to the hors d’oeuvres.”

“It was embarrassing!”

“Mr. Murray, I’m looking at your account history and I’m seeing multiple instances of awkward and inappropriate schmoozing.”

“It’s not my fault. Small talk is so hard!”

“The anecdote about the baked beans and airport security?”

“It was a good story.”

“At a funeral reception?”

“I was just trying to lighten the mood.”

“It says here there was food in your teeth the whole time.”

“Hey, someone should have told me about that.”

“In June 2010, you recited an entire Monty Python sketch to co-workers at an office birthday celebration.”

“Everybody loves Monty Python!”

“And you got it wrong.”

“I did?”

“On August 14, you called someone you had only recently met by their nickname, even though you had not yet been deemed nickname-worthy.”

“How on earth are you supposed to know when that is?”

“You got the nickname wrong too.”

“Seriously?”

“A muffed high-five on August 29, over-imbibing at a church function on September 6, an unfortunate trouser stain on September 15. Plus, your file has multiple accounts of you wandering up to groups of people and just standing there on the fringes waiting to join the conversation and then simply drifting off again, adding nothing to the proceedings but your own unsettling ghost-like presence.”

“In my defence, I consider myself a very good listener.”

“An ‘observer of the human condition,’ you’ve described yourself here in your file.”

“That’s right.”

“At SchmoozeTech, we call that a ‘loser.'”

“Honestly!”

“Tell me about your chronic inability to master the double-cheek kiss.”

“Look, I’ve been studying that. Most of the time people go to the right cheek first. I thought I had it figured out. But sometimes they go to the left. How are you supposed to know?”

“How many broken noses, sir?”

“[Sigh…] seven…”

“Bottom line, sir, is that your inept socializing skills have drained your schmoozing account.”

“But what can I do? I’ve got a big social schedule coming up: weddings, receptions, court depositions…”

“Well, I can issue you a temporary schmoozing licence, conditional on your improving your schmoozing skills.”

“How do I do that?”

“You can start by watching more sports. And keep up on celebrity gossip. For example, Katy Perry.”

“You mean Steve Perry, lead singer of Journey?”

“No.”

“Joe Perry, guitarist for Aerosmith?”

“No.”

“Mathew Perry from ‘Friends’? Refrigerator Perry?”

“No.”

“Halle Berry?”

“Sure, why not. Anyway, you’re all set, Mr. Murray. I’ve activated your temporary account. Good luck.”

“Thanks. Hey, by the way, don’t you think Halle Berry would be awesome at second base for the Red Sox, especially since she reminds me of my first girlfriend… well, not my actual girlfriend, since she didn’t realize she was my girlfriend at the time but I kept sending her letters anyway, but don’t you think?”

“Hmmm… awkward….”

*

This is a piece I wrote in 2010 and is still one of my favourites. The incident involving the misidentified newspaper columnist is, sadly, true. As is the trouble with kiss-kiss cheeks. And, well embarrassingly far too much of this, actually.

Posted in It Could Happen... | Tagged , , , , , | 38 Comments

Closing speech of the Rossican National Convention

Thank you, everyone, thank you. Thank you for that kind ovation, not to mention the spontaneous singing of the national anthem. That it was the national anthem of Uruguay was a bit of a surprise, but stirring nonetheless.

This evening, I stand before you deeply proud and humbled  – prumbled, as it were. After four days of speeches, policy-making, daiquiris and the occasional threat of physical harm, you have strongly and in some cases unwittingly thrown your support behind me to serve as your designated Ross for the next four years.

When I began this journey, as I tied my metaphorical running shoes of ambition and donned my T-shirt of possibility and pulled on my Spandex of success – only to realize I had to take off my running shoes of ambition first, then put on my Spandex of success and then my running shoes of ambition – I understood that there was a risk that I would fall short of my destination. That perhaps I no longer had the stamina to complete the journey. That people would laugh at my legs of whiteness.

And indeed it has not been an easy journey. There have been those who have said I no longer have what it takes. That I’m no longer relevant. That I have several overdue library books.

Yes, I have had my critics. But my critics have also had me. What does that mean exactly? And is it important? It might be. Do I deny it? Wouldn’t you not also not deny it? That’s the question I put to you. That and does anyone know where to get a good dhal soup around here?

But if these last four days have taught me anything, it’s to always have breath mints. They have also taught me that dreams are like a grocery cart: just because it has one wobbly wheel doesn’t mean you can’t sneak it out of the store and use it as a decorative plant holder.

Today, tonight, maybe Tuesday, you and I and the people and even some notaries and pharmacists, all of us are one step closer to achieving that dream. For it is a dream that reminds us that greatness is in our grasp and that no one should have to pay that much for ordinary cheddar.

As your designated Ross, I promise that I will fulfill my promise to be promising. At least that’s the premise. I will do so with words and with decisions that will be both spoken and made, with results that will have ramifications, both long-ranging and short-term, in due haste, forthwith and so on.

There will be some difficult times ahead. We have already seen here on the convention floor the acrimony that has infiltrated our ranks. On Day 2, we weathered a barrage of protests from those demanding a significant reduction in the use of the letter Y. But did we shut them out? No. We listened to them. We heard what the had to sa.

On Day 3, violence erupted on the floor between two chimpanzees wearing cowboy outfits. We still don’t know how that happened. How on earth did those monkeys find cowboy outfits that fit? But, boy, that was funny to watch wasn’t it? Chimps…

Aren’t these daiquiris delicious?

No, it has not always been smooth sailing. There have even been times when we have asked ourselves, “Do we really need a Ross at all? Surely, we could make due with a non-Ross or a half-Ross, a knock-off Ross, a Steve.”

But then I ask you: who would make the garlic chilli oil?

Four more years! Of deliciousness!

Four more years! Of deliciousness!

As we wind down these final minutes of our convention, and before they sweep up the confetti and glitter and stolen hotel bath towels, let me leave you with these parting words:

From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and that you never put electric eels in your pocket. They showed me values and morals in their daily life and inappropriate burlesque comic books in their nightly life.

We need to pass those lessons on to future generations, because we want our children to know that the only limit to their achievements is the strength of their dreams, their willingness to work for them and a stringent control of body odour.

Thank you, good night, and remember: you go Uruguay and I’ll go mine.

Posted in Never Happened | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 51 Comments