“Oh, I Just Don’t Know Where To Begin”

For those of you who don’t recognize the quote that serves as the title of this post, it’s the opening line of Elvis Costello’s song “Accidents Will Happen,” the first song on his third album, Armed Forces.  I bought the disk on vinyl back in Belgium from a guy who actually let you play any album you wanted to buy in his shop before making your decision.  It was the four hundred and thirty fifth record I’d listened to and thought, “Yeah, this sounds pretty good.”  He gave me the nickname Goldilocks from them on, though I’m not sure why.

The joke was on me, however, as I couldn’t figure out how to insert the disk into my Walkman, so I used it as a cover to protect the spokes of the front wheel on my bicycle from the rain, not that that worked too well either.

Shortly before I left the country after living there for one year, the guy interviewed me for some right-wing newspaper he claimed to moonlight for (not that I knew it was a right-wing paper until one of the teachers at the art school I was attending as an exchange student mentioned it to me; but the teacher said the interview was surprisingly fair and balanced).  I can’t remember what he asked me or what I answered.  Please keep in mind this was nearly thirty-three years ago, a whole lifetime of Christ away.

By the way, did you know that Elvis Costello’s agent originally wanted the singer, whose real name is or was Declan McManus, to change his name to Presley Abbott?  Luckily, the young New Wave prodigy had a better idea up his guitar-playing sleeve.

Speaking of talented blokes who play the guitar, you might want to check out–or else buy, depending on whether the library you’re in carries the item–Rolling Stone magazine’s recent tribute to Canadian supersinger Neil Young, who’s just released his thirty-fifth album–at least it’s already available on YouTube, if not in stores.  I’ll have to buy a plane ticket to Belgium so I can go listen to it at that guy’s shop again if I can find the bloody place.

I refer to it as a bloody place not in a figurative sense, but because there was a grisly murder there when the owner finally snapped and beheaded a persnickety American customer who kept insisting on playing every album in the store from start to finish without ever buying anything, with the exception of one Elvis Costello album, along with the Police’s Ghost In The Machine.  

“Take that, Goldilocks!” said the man as he deftly wielded the black vinyl disk and lopped off the customer’s head, neatly cleaving his neck in twain without leaving a mark.

(Sting, by the way, who used to be the lead singer of the Police, even though he’d prefer that his fans bought his solo albums now instead of all that old “rubbish,” despite the quality of the band’s material far surpassing his solo work, was born Gordon Sumner, although his agent originally wanted to dub him Bite.)

Which reminds me, the mosquitos are still up to their same old tricks, biting my wrists in my sleep.  I wish they were hairier (my wrists, not the mosquitos), like Robin Williams’ or Jon Stewart’s, to defend them against these insatiable winged menaces.  (How do they stay so thin?  What’s their secret?)  Recently I met a man from Singapore who told me he once nearly died from a dengue fever-enhanced mosquito bite.  I wonder if the mosquitos have any idea how dangerous their sophomoric antics are.  Maybe if they did, they’d finally stop.  If only Doctor Dolittle were here, he’d know what to do. . .

I have a before and after picture of my friend Russ, who scarfs down vast Achillean shields of pasta for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, along with snack time.  As you can probably guess, he has a few problems with girth control.  When his wife wants to hug him, all she has to do is stand spread-eagled Michael Brown post-police shootingwise, or like Jesus on the cross (Yesterday I first saw the photo of Brown on the pavement with the paint outlining his murdered body and found it one of the most chilling images I’d seen in a long time; it was cynically predictable that the cop who shot him would get off.  Good luck enjoying your life if you’re a black man living in the United States.  The police might make it tough for you, to say the least.  Author James Cone has written a book called The Cross And The Lynching Tree, which equates Jesus’ sacrifice with the unearned murders of far too many black people living in the United States.  You’ve probably heard that there are also now more African American men in prison in that country than were enslaved before the Civil War.)

Anyway, I showed Russ’s wife a picture of her husband from back when he was in high school and skinny as a mosquito and asked her, “Can you believe how thin he used to be?”

“That’s preposterous!” she said.

I’m not sure if she realized that her reply contained a pun, but nature works in strange ways.

Incidentally, when I was a kid I used to misinterpret the lyrics of a lot of the songs I heard on the radio.  For example, Billy Preston had a song called “Will It Go Round In Circles?”  But I thought he was saying “Willie Go Round In Circles.”  Had I grown up in Britain instead of the U.S., I would have snickered at such a witticism.  A willie-go-round could be another name for a circle jerk, or else an obsolete ride at some now-forbidden Roman carnival.

Finally, I apologize for not writing anything in so long.  I have no excuse apart from having been horribly depressed and paralyzed by a seemingly endless midlife crisis.  (Elmer Fudd, flustered about being unable to better help his wife manage their newborn triplets, who were despite their gender the spitting image of their dad, exclaimed, “I’m having a midwife kwysis!”)

Now that I’m half a century old, fat, balding, marginally employed, and trapped in a dull, childless marriage that seems to just keep going round in circles like the rodential thoughts jogging along the gerbil wheel inside my head, I feel more inconsequential than ever.

And even though I may have been to the mountaintop not far from where I live in an effort to shake off the jelly investing my resentful skeleton, I sometimes succumb to the urge to buy an ice cream cone when I get to the top, which totally defeats the purpose and makes my misanthropic responses to all the annoyingly young and happy couples infesting the perpetually populated tourist attraction all the more pathetic, not to mention unreasonable, ineffective, and irrelevant.

But hey, at least I’m not Bill Cosby.



Because it isn’t good enough

Because I don’t know what to say

Because I can no longer bluff

I will not write a word today.

I’m leaving the computer off

and won’t even pick up a pen

so I can return to the trough

and sink my face in swill again.

Words can become a writer’s blocks.

We play with them until we can’t

remember what to do with them

or how to build what we destroy.

We get bogged down with adjectives

that label how we’re supposed to feel

instead of focusing on verbs

and nouns describing what is real.

Watch out for adverbs!  They will drag

your actions right down to the ground.

They’ll make you scribble swimmingly

until in them you start to drown.

Beware of grammar’s stubborn rules

that lock you up in logic’s maze

or spelling laws of letters’ spools–

they’ll vex you till you’re nearly crazed.

You wonder what the effort’s for

when each step’s closer to the grave;

you won’t get up for the encore–

pick up your pen, don’t be a slave,

’cause freedom comes from what you do;

it’s not something you think about.

Make words get up and work for you;

then you can play without a doubt.