Jake is the kind of friend who will get you involved in a bar fight. He loves to play pool, and he has a temper. I’m not sure who looks at him with more of a side-eye—other pool players, or the bar owners/bouncers. Get him drunk enough (and you need only give him the opportunity and he will do so) and soon he will be banging his pool cue on the side of the table, annoying his opponent and angering management.
He may disappear in the middle of a night out to pursue some mysterious errand. You may later get a call from the ER from him, or possibly a call from the local hooscow. His body amply illustrates Jake’s love of good beer, his belly contained in a soccer jersey, most likely of German origin.
Jake is a gambler who loves the ponies. He is excitable. He’s also the most loyal friend you will ever have. Jake has your back, no matter what. He will eagerly jump in front of a belligerent stranger to protect you, perhaps in part for the “joy” of busting some heads. This kind of loyalty makes you intensely loyal to him. Jake is a great friend who can get you in great trouble. Calm, extremely rational friends are crucial for a person. But if you don’t have a Jake among your friends, your life is lacking.
All this to explain how I came to be at Belmont Park for the running of the Belmont Stakes one year a good while ago with my friend Jake. Jake and I had the handicapper’s routine of perusing the Daily Racing Form, walking to the paddock to see how the horses looked that day, hurrying back to our seats to finalize our bets, heading to the betting window at the last possible minute to adjust bets according to the latest odds, then hustling to the outside to watch the race.
On this occasion, we were both having a pretty good day at the track. It wasn’t quite a surf-n-turf day, the kind of day that ends with us blowing most of our winnings in a Manhattan restaurant eating steak and lobster, but we were up. I can’t be sure, but I think a Triple Crown was on the line on this Belmont Stakes day. Regardless, our excitement level was high, and the Maker’s Mark was flowing.
The stands were packed, and we had the choice of grabbing a terrible seat or lingering in the aisle to watch the race near the fence. We fought to a good spot by the finish line. The horses were in the starting gate and it was now post time.
Suddenly, a crowd of people shoved in front of us. There were some guys in suits, and there were a few guys in serious suits, and with wires running to one ear. They were surrounding a balding, grinning man with greying hair. It was George Pataki, the then-governor of New York. His entourage was not moving quickly as he shook hands and chatted with constituents. The bell rang, and they were off!… and Jake was not happy. The entourage was parked right in front of us. He started yapping.
“Hey get the fuck out of the way!” he bellowed. Some of the entourage turned to look at Jake. “Get the fuck out of the way!” he yelled louder. The serious men in serious suits swiveled and locked in on Jake. Two moved toward him, somewhat astutely recognizing trouble when they see it. I told Jake it was Pataki. He responded at the top of his voice, “I don’t give a fuck who he is, I’m trying to watch the goddamn race!”
This got Pataki’s attention, he turned around and looked at Jake with a laugh and a nod, and urged his entourage to move along. Pataki knew an honest-to-God New Yorker when he saw one, and he appreciated it.
And that’s how Jake taught me that George Pataki loved New Yorkers. Ω
My neighbor’s dog is not named Dewey. I can’t remember what his name really is, and that doesn’t matter, because the dog should be named Dewey, or at least, Llewellyn. Those are fine names for dogs. Maybe I know a Dewey or a Llewellyn in the canine world already? I don’t think so, but I’d have to ask my wife to be sure because she is more on top of things. If we all work together, we can do this. If we all do our part. I’m not suggesting anything too crazy. Just, maybe, sometime when you are in a city park, yell, “Dewey! Here, Dewey! Deewwwweeeeyyyy!” The mere suggestion of naming a dog Dewey might inspire a passerby. Or, if you happen to be there when puppies are being born, you could just wait for your opening and casually suggest, “How about Dewey for a name? Or Llewellyn? Llewellyn is a fine name for a dog!” If we all do our part, someone, somewhere, will name a dog Dewey, and there will be world peace and everyone will be happy.
Through plague and
the lax drag on,
the proud puff chests.
some have heated seats.
They cut back on their meat
and wean their hunger with milk
made from beans.
Wise counsel suggests
that crocus break soil
despite the cold wind.
Jut your chins. Jut your chins!
The day is yours.
In sooty rooms
the educated brood,
the papers pile,
the poems mold.
Wake ears hear the goings on,
the treble static of patrons with thin pride
buying bottles tableside
down the street from a shut library.
Wise counsel suggests
that the prudent cut their wine
with tap water and contaminants
easing the disease
so it can feed in peace.
grass blades grow erect
songbirds grow bolder,
grey snow gives way
to new life.
Precious now, as we make last arrangements for the changes.
My last two paintings have been higher key than my usual paintings. The colors are brighter and a bit more saturated. I think I know why. I wore sunglasses during the block-in stage for both of them.
It was an experiment prompted by two forces. One, I had noticed that the cheap sunglasses I had bought at the Jackalope Gas station made colors look more intense. I wondered what would happen if I painted while wearing them. Two, about a month ago I was painting in Maine and I set up facing the sun, because the crazy glare on the ocean was so cool looking. I painted right into the sun, and yeah, it gave me a headache. I’m lucky it didn’t snowblind me. I posted about this on Facebook, and within hours, I received an email from my optometrist insisting that I promise to never do that again.
He’s not your typical optometrist. Macular degeneration runs in my family, so my eyes most likely are especially susceptible to damaging UV rays. So he had good reason to rattle my cage. But the email also made sense because he and I do not have a typical patient-doctor relationship.
On my first visit to his practice, I asked him a few questions about his job. That’s typical; I’m curious how other occupations are. Anyway, he was doing that doctor thing they do at the beginning of an appointment—getting things out, turning things on, reading papers, making notes. I asked him if his floor was bamboo. He said no. Then he asked me why I asked. I told him that I had noticed long lines running down the wood, so I thought maybe it was bamboo. He smirked, sat back, and said the floor looked that way because it was installed incorrectly. He had contacted Home Depot and paid for a consultant to come to the office, examine the rooms and halls, and recommend flooring. He purchased the recommended flooring, and continued on to hire the installation team at Home Depot. The installers arrived, looked at the flooring that had arrived at the jobsite, and told my eye doctor that this flooring was absolutely the wrong thing for the office, and they were going to have to remove the previous flooring to put this kind down, and it was going to cost and take time.
It took even more time when they found asbestos under that old flooring.
Meanwhile, he was audited by one of the insurance companies. Who knew this was a thing? The insurance company didn’t believe something about one of his claims and opened up the investigation to include all claims filed by my dear optometrist. That insurance company was my insurance company. I can’t remember the name. That’s not my fault. The name of the insurance company is so incredibly generic, it does not deserve any capitalization. One shouldn’t capitalize generic terms. I’m not joking—the name of the company is something like Vision Care.
So vision care or whatever audited my poor poor optometrist and he almost just shut down the whole practice. Or commit suicide. I think and I hope he was joking about that last part.
Anyway, so that was my first visit. About 20 minutes of discussion regarding optometric office management, and 20 minutes of determining how out of focus my eyeballs are.
The second visit ended in confrontation.
We were talking about macular degeneration, and discussing the efficacy of some of the OTC drugs/supplements that are designed to address it. (He agreed with my choice.) He reiterated that I should always protect my eyes outdoors. I asked if I could wear a hat instead of wearing sunglasses, and he said sure. I told him I wondered because of bounce light. After all, isn’t snowblindess caused by bounce light? He refused to acknowledge the existence of bounce light. He became indignant. I dropped it.
The last time I went, we discussed contact lenses. My prescription wasn’t a problem, but the shape of the contacts—well, of one of the contacts—was unusual, possibly a special order. Doc explained that most eyeballs are similar. One unit of measurement is the axis of the eyeball. He told me I have crazy axes. I said what. He said that they are shaped weirdly, almost nubile. Nubile eyeballs.
I was sort of at a loss for words at that point, and the appointment was wrapping up. I told him that I thought maybe Crazy Axes would be a good prison name for me. He was startled, stumbled backward slightly. He asked if I planned on going to prison. I responded that I had no desire or plan to go to prison, but I feel better about the whole thing now that I have a prison name, should I need it.
Doc was perturbed. That was the last time I saw him, but after that I did get the email. Which prompted the sunglasses today. Which explains the high key of my paintings. Ω
A long layover in Dallas gave me time to write this longish short story, which has elements of pulp fiction in it. I have long loved Dashiell Hammett, and his influence is clear here. The link to a PDF is below.