Sweet Mystery Of Life

By: Helmut Luchs

I have often wondered if my life on this planet is a coincidence, something that happened simply because three sailors got drunk one night, raped a tattoo artist (my grandmother), and then returned 20 years later, still drunk, to rape my mother. Or has my life been cut out for me with the precision of a finely wrought gem to fit into this scattered jigsaw puzzle we call the universe (from the Latin word for “outhouse”)?

If the latter is true, then who is it that cuts the patterns and pulls the strings? God? Or is it that farmer in Wisconsin I asked for directions not long ago? He had the strangest look on his face, very disturbed, and very revealing. I think he wanted to scream, “I’m not just a farmer! I also water-ski, play tennis and control your life!” Maybe that farmer was God, or maybe he was a psychotic egomaniac doing a bit of wishful thinking. For all I know, the poor old duff just had gas pains, but that was a pretty strange look, even for a farmer in Wisconsin.

I find myself constantly analyzing even the smallest mysteries in life to see if they might be part of a cosmic plan, or are mere coincidence. For instance, why did I just look at my watch? Was it only to see the time, or did God intend for me to do something important at this precise moment? The first is unlikely, since my watch stopped three years ago. In this case it would appear that God had a plan, something He wanted me to accomplish. Perhaps He simply wanted me to look at a watch that stopped three years ago. I never said it was a good plan. If that’s all He’s after, I wish He’d lay off, because it drives me nuts.

Other oddities in life reveal themselves as definite coincidence. The pyramids, for example. Everyone knows that those tasty little crocodile snacks known as Egyptians had neither the engineering capability nor the ambition to build anything larger than a doghouse for one of their beak-nosed queens. Besides that, it would’ve been one of the Seven Wonders of the World just to obtain a building permit for those crazy, lopsided things. I believe the pyramids are actually icebergs that ran aground, were filled by drifting sand and left as hollow as sugar cones when the ice melted away.

At other times I haven’t a clue whether a particular event is meant to be, or simply happens. A friend of mine came home late one night and heard loud moaning and hysterical, almost insane laughter coming from inside his apartment. The door was locked, but fearing for his wife’s safety, he began to throw himself against it wildly. Inside, the noise stopped, and he could hear his wife exclaim, “Uh-oh! It’s my husband!”

“Thank God!” he thought to himself. “At least she’s still conscious and aware of her surroundings. Maybe I’m not too late.” Just then the door flew open and he saw several dozen men on their hands and knees, groping for their trousers on the floor. His wife, always kind to strangers, was helping them, even though she wasn’t dressed to receive company.

Was it pure chance that the postman, the gas-meter reader, the janitor and the entire city’s fire department found themselves lost and without trousers in my friend’s apartment at that late hour of the night? Or was it some inescapable guiding force that led them there, some irresistible command they had to obey?

Either way, I want to find the guy who has my trousers. His are three sizes too small for me.


Meet The Poet

By: David Jaggard

…our appreciation for such a stirring reading, and for taking time from his busy schedule to meet with our creative writing students today. We have a few minutes left — does anyone have a question for our illustrious guest? Yes, there in the front row…

I wonder if you could tell us about the genesis of one of your earliest successes, “Woodchuck”?

Certainly — I had been reading Kerelman’s “Mammals of North America” and trying my hand at copying some of the engravings in watercolor, and there was this one plate that caught my eye of a woodchuck perched on a fallen log. There was something about the pose, the colors, the almost…world-weary look in the gentle creature’s eye. Then the ideas started coming…The “wood”-“would” ambiguity, the nouns turning into verbs and back again…And the paradox of this tiny mammal that spends its entire life surrounded by the very substance for which it is called but that cannot ever fulfill the promise of its own name. The woodchuck’s hypothetical exertions symbolize the inescapable, unrelenting labors of mankind — just how far can they go? I don’t think any other poet has ever addressed that theme head on.

Does anyone have another question about “Woodchuck”? In the back there, on the right…

So…How much?! (laughter)

Ha-ha! I get asked that all the time! Of course, there is a specific answer, but I prefer to leave it up to my readers to discover for themselves.

Next question…

I wonder if you could explain the humanist symbolism of “Ice Cream”?

That one was written during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. I was aghast at the desperate situation in the world and I started thinking: there’s so much distrust and misunderstanding among peoples, but what is it that unites us? What one thing does everyone want? You, me, everyone all around the world…What do we want so badly that we would abandon all decorum in a bid to get it? I wanted an image that would appeal to all ages and all cultures. From there, of course, a lot of research had to be done. I hesitated to use a milk derivative because most Asian cultures didn’t have them at the time, but I decided to take a chance and indeed since then yogurts and frozen dairy desserts have even been introduced in Myanmar, so it turns out my esthetic instincts were right.

Could you give us a demonstration?

Oh, all right…(murmurs of anticipation)

(Ahem!) AAAARRRRRRGGGGGGHHHH!!!!!! (thunderous applause)

Thank you! (applause) Thank you!! Another question?

You mention the research you do for your poems — for “Rejection” did you research the flavors of the different kinds of worms? (sporadic laughter, groans)

In that case I didn’t have to. I knew how the worms taste. You know how the worms taste. Everyone does — I was just trying to reveal a universal constant about the human condition. Let me explain it this way: the evocation of the inedible being consumed takes the poem farther away from reality in order to get closer to the truth — like the “blue violets” from my Surrealist period. (Scattered applause.) Thank you. Yes, you over there…

Why did you fracture the rhyme scheme in “Thunderstorm”?

Good question. The answer is really quite simple: I just thought that after “pouring” and “snoring” it would be too…”boring” (laughter) to stick strictly to the predicated rhyme scheme. In fact, the last line in my first draft was “And he woke up lying flat on the flooring.” You see? It loses something that way. I’ll tell you another story about that poem: The “old man” was modeled on Carl Sandburg, one of my biggest early influences. I had the pleasure of meeting him at Yaddo in 1963. He had just flown in from Chicago and was assigned the cabin next to mine. I showed him a few of my poems, including “Woodchuck”. He got really excited about it and read it over and over. He thought I should change the title and make it a groundhog, or maybe a guinea pig, and then he got the idea that the animal should be “slaughtered”, possibly by a hunter or trapper. He also suggested that I tone down the imagery in “Thunderstorm” and make the weather just sort of misty or hazy. I was about to explain that I had already explored that nuance of the theme in “Rain, Rain”, but just then the cook’s pet kitten came sauntering through the open door of my cabin. As soon as Sandburg saw it he got this thoughtful, distracted look on his face, jumped up and ran out yelling, “On second thought, forget everything I just told you!” So I guess you could say the influence was “somewhat mutual”…(laughter, applause) There’s time for just one more question. Yes, you in the pink sweater…

What can you tell us about your lawsuit against the Sandburg estate over “Star Light”?

Oh gosh, my lawyer told me not to talk about that too much. Also, my doctor told me not to even think about it because it makes my blood pressure rise. (laughter) Let me just say that I showed Carl Sandburg my early sketches of “Star Light” at Yaddo in ’63 and he liked the poem so much he made his own copy of the working draft. Then when he died in 1967, one of his nephews happened to find it among his papers. Of course he recognized it right away, and figured he could palm it off as an undiscovered Sandburg by accusing me of copying it from him. But Carl’s copy was incomplete and the nephew made the mistake of tacking on that ridiculous “satellite” ending, which anyone would recognize as bogus. But he wouldn’t back down, so I had to file suit. It goes to court next month. Wish me luck! (scattered applause)

I’m sorry, but it’s time to go. It’s been a pleasure to be here today! (applause) It’s always nice to see young people who are interested in…poetry, of all things! (applause, cheering) My new “slim volume” will be available in November — I’ll send a free copy to anyone who can “spell that without any V’s!” (uproarious laughter, whistling, stomping, rhythmic applause)


Time Travel For Fun And Profit

By: Benjamin C. Thornton

Is a trip back in time in your future? Here are some helpful tips for today’s savvy inter-temporal travellers:

* Dress appropriately. Layered clothing can help keep you comfortable through sudden changes in weather, like ice ages. Also, if you’re going way back, bring some decent sunglasses for The Big Bang.

* Watch out for a caveman named Zog. His father discovered the magic of fire. Zog discovered the magic of gouging people’s eyes out with a sharp rock.

* Bring local currency. Confederate money, bison pelts, wampum, Spanish pieces-of-eight, or POGs can usually be obtained at your local antique store.

* Buy stock in IBM, Berkshire Hathaway, and maybe Ford. Don’t buy stock in AOL, New Coke, or Glass Tiger merchandise manufacturers.

* Invent the internal-combustion engine, the Post-It note, or the Internet. Or, if not so technically inclined, the ruler.

* If you happen to be in Pompeii in the summer of 79 A.D., get the hell out. And don’t go to Herculaneum, either, unless you want to end up as that fossilized corpse inexplicably wearing a Timex Ironman.

* An ancient-Latin phrase book can be very helpful for asking questions like, “When is the next boat out of Pompeii?”

* Study astronomical tables so that if captured by vicious natives in a distant land you might be able to predict an eclipse, thereby convincing them that you have extinguished the Sun and the gods would be very angry if you were killed. (Note: only works if captured on day of eclipse.)

* The Powerball numbers for June 2, 1993 were 5-16-21-24-29-36-42. Keep that under your hat.

* Be sure to check out the natural beauty of North America back before the arrival of the white man: virgin forests, unpolluted lakes and rivers, and, echoing across the plains, the thunder of stampeding unicorns.

* If you see Jesus hanging from a cross, leave him there. He needs to die to save humanity from its sins. If you see Jesus walking around, tackle him and strangle him with your bare hands.

* Many a friendly wager can be won by predicting the end of Twilight Zone episodes, like the one where the girl is recovering from plastic surgery and when they remove the bandages she’s beautiful, but all the doctors and nurses think she’s ugly because they have pig snouts. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, see.

* If you happen to find yourself in the Shangri-la Buffet in Las Vegas on the night of May 15, 1987, DO NOT try the clams. Instead, just hang around outside and hail a cab. Ask some showgirls “When is the next boat out of Pompeii?” while you’re waiting, just for laughs.

* Visit Washington, D.C., on April 14, 1865, to catch a performance of Tom Taylor’s Our American Cousin, featuring the delightfully foppish Lord Dundreary. Also, you can witness the assassination of Abraham Lincoln — but don’t interfere! Otherwise, Andrew Johnson would never have been president. Think of the alternate-reality nightmare that would have been.

* IMPORTANT! Don’t kill your grandparents.


How Am I Driving?

By: Kurt Luchs

Thank you for calling the Chrome Donkey Truck Co. driver hotline! We really want to know how our drivers are doing, so please share your experience with us by following these directions and answering a few simple questions.

To report a good experience with a Chrome Donkey Truck Co. driver, press 1.

To report a bad experience with a Chrome Donkey Truck Co. driver, press 2.

If your bad experience involved only a verbal altercation or misunderstanding, however disturbing, press 1.

If there was a physical accident of some kind, press 2.

Was it a minor accident? If so, press 1.

If it was a major accident, press 2.

If the accident was so major that you are now in a full body cast and unable to move your hand, ask the attending physician or nurse to press 3 for you.

If the accident was way beyond major and caused third-degree burns over most of your body and face, making speech impossible, try to establish a “one blink for yes, two blinks for no” communication code with your caregivers, and then convey that they should press 4 for you.

If your eyelids are fused together or no longer there, see if you can wiggle your ears (of course we’re using “see” in the figurative sense here). If so, try to establish a “one wiggle for yes, two wiggles for no” communication code with your caregivers. Once they have stopped chuckling, convey that they should press 5 for you, and have them do all the button pressing from here on out.

Which of the following came flying through your windshield during the accident? Press the pound key for each item that applies.

* Hubcap.

* Tire iron.

* Tire (fully inflated).

* Tire (exploded).

* Chrome Donkey Truck Co. driver (fully clothed).

* Chrome Donkey Truck Co. driver (partially clothed, partially on fire).

* Chrome Donkey Truck Co. driver (naked and charred).

* Cow (mad).

* Cow (not mad, exactly, but feelings very hurt).

* Other livestock in varying states of emotional distress.

* Barrel of oil.

* Barrel of industrial cyanide (top intact).

* Barrel of industrial cyanide (top breached).

* Crate of dynamite (no blasting caps).

* Crate of dynamite (with blasting caps).

* Large chunks of weapons-grade plutonium.

* Sidewinder missile.

Now press 1 if the driver apologized.

Press 2 if the driver did not apologize, but had a look on his face as if he might be about to.

Press 3 if you can’t be sure whether the driver apologized because, as far as you remember, there was no driver.

Press 4 if you can’t be sure whether the driver apologized because, as far as you remember, the driver was a wide-eyed orangutan wearing pilot’s goggles.

Press 5 if you are a member of the Orangutan Workers Union and are calling to demand safer working conditions for orangutans in general.

Press 6 if you are Chuckles The Orange and are looking for your “one banana, two banana” severance package from this morning’s horrific 12-vehicle collision.

If you feel the accident was your fault, press 7.

Just kidding! If a Chrome Donkey Truck Co. driver was to blame, press 8.

Next, do you want to take your case to court? If so, press 1.

If you’re willing to settle out of court, press 2.

Now press the number with which your desired settlement amount begins.

Finally, press 0 for every decimal place in your desired settlement amount, or until you see a smile on your attorney’s face.

And thank you again for calling the driver hotline at the Chrome Donkey Truck Co., where — when we’re not driving over you in a jackknifed, out-of-control 18-wheeler — we’re proud to be driving you nuts.