BANKS OF THE LITTLE MIAMI...A Journal Of The Arts
VOLUME SIX
          ...Late Autumn  2004
 

A Rushing Stream In The Rugged Appalachian Mountains


Email Bill Stockland 
billstockland@cox.net


WELCOME TO VOLUME SIX

 
This issue proudly presents  the work of  Canadian poet and visual artist Aurora Antonovic.  More information about this talented former co-editor and columnist (GT Times) can be found   HERE We originally toyed with the notion of publishing these five poems one per issue.  Conscience reminded us that being so self serving and slick is not what we're about.  Besides, an editor sits  before such incredible poems with much the same patience as a kid displays in a toy store.  We couldn't wait to show them off.  There is an excitement here...an excitement born from gentle passion.  Aurora Antonovic can convey emotions that sweetly caress the heart and poignantly challenge the mind.  There are no everyday things in her world just as there are no poorly chosen words, rhymes or rhythms in her poems.  Her poetry has appeared over three hundred times in recent months, in seven countries and five continents.  She also acts as the Canadian liaison for Muse Apprentice Guild.  Count us among a quickly growing number of fans. AURORA ANTONOVIC
 
 
Banks of the Little Miami has published Joy Middlestead's work before.   So have a number of other journals.   Folks, this woman is the real deal.  Her work adds instant credibility to any serious journal of the arts.  She's small town and big city.  This Canadian treasure can traverse emotion and imagery ranging in diversity from the rocky rugged  mountain peaks to the wind driven waves of prairie wheat in her home province of Alberta.    Something good comes from all that and we are the beneficiary.   Joy Middlestead maintains one of the classiest web sites on the Internet at  Joy Middlestead .  She modestly does not give prominence to her own poetry but it's there and it is exciting.  We are honored to present the sweet emotional journey of crimson crescents.
 

Pat Paulk began writing in 1968 while still in high school in his coastal Georgia community of Brunswick.  There is some debate as to whether he was inspired to join the creative writing club by the alluring seascape or the equally inspiring young women in the area.  No one doubts the talent he began displaying.  Marriage, work and children  provided the need for a long hiatus but Pat is back at his writing desk and we are the richer for it.  He has been published in a variety of excellent journals too numerous to list.  We were attracted to his intriguing imagery and his interesting style...he packs a lot of emotion in a small space and leaves the reader to deal with the ramifications of what he's weaving.   We're pleased to present his work.   PAT PAULK
 

Ron Van Kalker Is a modern day Renaissance man.  He is self taught at everything that attracts his interest.  A man in constant motion, he slowed down just long enough to earn a Psychology degree from a major Midwestern university.   He is  equally at home discussing philosophy, creating a complicated computer system or designing and building a motorcycle or vintage automobile.  It's his photography that currently captures our interest.  He, of course, schooled himself in the creative and technical aspects of the art form.  He had a good teacher.  In this volume we feature one of his compositions,   "Cathedral Glimpse."  Currently designing and building a home in the North Woods, Ron can be contacted through this journal.   Cathedral Glimpse

Sweet Home Flop County is published by popular demand following Volume Five's inclusion of the Red's Diner review.  Our hard working editor explores culture in the Deep South and succeeds in proving  "Southern Man Don't Need Him Around Anyhow."  Flop County

We've published photos by John Ward before.  We hope to do so again.  John is a great technician.  He understands his equipment and extends  its limits by employing the imagination and skill of the artist.   I have been fortunate to have been allowed to watch him in action as he captured scenes and images that are now forever etched in time.  John lives in the Midwest but is a Northern California expatriate who delights in capturing scenes of that world.  Brothers And Bird And Fog,  Realm Of Mist and North Pacific...Rugged are worth viewing over and over. JOHN WARD

We complete Volume Six with a short music review.  I'm not sure what it is about Canadian poets, singers and song writers that so enthralls the world.   There is a vibrancy here that defies description let alone definition.   One could easily build a case that in many ways Canadian artists are the soul and spirit of North America, if not the world.  I guess the best way to comprehend it is simply to experience it.  We were exhilarated to begin this issue with the words of Canadian artists Aurora Antonovic and Joy Middlestead.  It is only fitting to finish with a review of an  incredible creation from one of their talented countrymen, Ian Tyson.   All Those Things That Don't Change




Aurora Antonovic
Ontario, Canad

Things I Want To Save
 
 
The way you breathe tonight,

Lying peacefully beside me;

The way you hold me,

In the crook of your arm

So protectively,

As if I am a glass figurine

Of priceless worth,

Which could easily shatter

If not handled just so.

The way we sleep,

In some sort of nocturnal ballet,

Our bodies in fluid motion,

Always touching,

Always holding,

Ever reluctant

To let go.

The way your eyes plead,

When you tell me

That I am

The only one for you,

They speak as though

They are begging

Me to understand

That my love is





Vital

To your soul.

The way you brush my hair,

And then move it aside,

In one smooth column,

To kiss the back of my neck

And whisper your sweetness against it.

The way you breathe kisses into me

And murmur

My own words of poetry

Back to me

As though they were

The most cherished gift

A soul could want,

Accompanying them

With the gentlest of caresses.

If I could
 
I would put all of these moments

Into a big box

And draw them out

For the times

You aren't here

And press them against the side of my face

And next to my heart

While I breathe a soft sigh

And gently cry.


 
 
 
On The Importance of Hospitality 
 
 
I went to the home of rich people

Who invited me for dinner

They served nothing, they were on a diet

And had eaten a large, late lunch 
 
 
I went to the home of a woman with a

Mentally challenged son

Who threw himself into my arms

Kissed my neck

Buried his face in my hair

Shared his toys 
 
 
His mother said,  "I am so sorry he bothered you"

I said, "He gave me the loveliest welcome. May I

Come again?"


 
 
 
Enchantment 
  

Immersed in sweetest poetry,

Swathed in a rhythm so sublime,

Enraptured in its dearest verse,

I bathed myself in rhyme. 
 
 
Caught up in the melody,

Compelled to hum along,

Wrapped up in the heady tune

Of your poet's song. 
 
 
Romanced by the sway of sonnets,

The couplet's purest rise or two,

Swept up in metered mesmerism,

I lost myself in you.


 
 


It Is Finished
 
It is finished, streaks of grey

Zig zag on the blackened back,

In its darkness,

Heightened starkness,

Herringbone shows what I lack. 
 

It is finished, broken pieces,

What I hoped would ever last,

Ruins around me,

Grief abounds me,

Shattered in one fatal blast. 
 

It is finished, ever done with,

Never to be found again,

Quick consent

To firm repent,

Washed in my own muddied pain. 
 
 
It is finished, whiskered moments,

Seeping  in my dark regrets,

Broken, beaten,

Bitter-sweeten,

Sorrow-soaked tormented sweats. 
 
 
It is finished, snapping to me,

Moaning out my sharp distress,

Lamentations,

Terminations,

Vinyl blackened twisted mess. 
 
 
It is finished, gaunt and wasted,

Bony joints and aching limbed,

Emaciation,

Preoccupation,

Barren, blackest, bleakest whim. 
 
 
It is finished ˆ decayed --  dying,

I do what is deemed the best,

It is carried,

Wrapped, and buried,

But never laid to final rest.


 
 
 
Hot As A Candle 
 

An unplanned touch, a spark ignites!

And starts a flame that blazes bright,

Hot as a candle, searing strong,

Burns intensity's scalding song. 
 
 
But passion's moment hesitates,

And halts in indecision ˆ waits --

Faltering from the fanning glow,

The zealous, sparking, flame turns low 
 
 
A hint, a waver, of the light,

Then passion takes its leave by flight;

Thus borne upon the wings of doubt,

The candle flickers,  then goes out.



© Copyright Aurora Antonovic
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED







Joy Middlestead
Alberta, Canada

crimson crescents 
 
that hot summer on the farm time drifted
like dandelion fluff while i on the edge of escape
yearned for the city
 
lights red yellow green
roaring traffic street cars taxis sirens

the sun caressed whitefaced calves capering
in a field of yellow buffalo beans
curlytailed piglets

squealing brakes fiery pavement crowds of
people pushing heads down

the garden sprouted grew tall green
& fruitful i hated every photosynthetic
demon that sprung wildly between the

rows of clothing racks chic mannequins in
department store windows cash register bells

the tranquillity of big hay lake by moonlight
was a drag i'd sneak there to smoke
huddled in the dark on the damp

bank of montreal woolworths five & dime
greyhound bus depot paramount theatre

i could not imagine that when the noise &
rush had lost its charm i'd dream of that hot
summer on the farm when youth blazed with the sun
& moons were crimson crescents


© Copyright  Joy Middlestead
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED





Pat Paulk
Georgia, USA

Laughing Ghosts
 
 
 Weathered-gray,

 semi-petrified slats,

 frame the dark holes

 that once beamed

 with light and life. 
 
 
 The porch shattered

 with broken teeth

 and languid tongue,

 is void of speech,

 but not of sound. 
 
 
 Ghost's laughter

 echoing in the trees,

 shading the wrinkled hat

 sitting cocked to one side,

 once sat square

 and kept  the rain outside. 
 
 
 I clicked my heels

 down the hollow of your throat

 looking for evidence

 of the home you'd made.

 With everything torn and scattered,

 and holes set to trap,

 I decided to leave, and

 let the ghosts have you back. 
 


 
 
 
Daily Special 
 
 
 Your eyes tell no secrets,

 and your words are carefully picked,

 like spices in a concocted recipe,

 zesty ingredients to flavor for taste. 
 
 
 The language sounds familiar,

 but unrecognizable as intimate speech.

 I wonder if I'm a menu selection,

 a daily special, one day a week. 
 


 
 
 
Dead Horses In The Closet
 
 
 When our legs ran fast and strong

 we chased tie-dyed visions,

 slashed wizened old wisdom

 with virgin-fired blades. 
 
 

 Quixotic steeds

 jumped brick and mortar walls,

 and made merry on pillaged wine

 and fruit we did not own. 
 
 

 Closets in three story houses

 we've built with 9 to 5,

 store the carcasses of what once was,

 buried under the clutter, 
 
 of what now is. 
 


 
 
 
 
Quiet Afternoon
 
 
 Is water the blood of rocks

 as it pours from the fissures

 in earth's crusted skin? 
 
 
 Is infinitely small

 the same as infinitely big,

 as they both go on forever? 
 
 
 I ponder abstractions

 on a quiet afternoon,

 wondering if I'm the soul of tomorrow,

 or just lost between beginning and end?



© Copyright Pat Paulk
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED




Ron Van Kalker
Ohio, USA


Cathedral Glimpse
© Copyright Ron Van Kalker
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED





 
SWEET HOME FLOP COUNTY
A Midwestern Editor Explores Culture In The Deep South...Proving Once And For All: "Southern Man Don't Need Him Around Anyhow."
 
"...unless they're talkin' 'bout a liberal"

Here in Flop County, Constable Beauregard (Pronounced: Boo-regard) Johnson McDaniels is all that stands between international terrorism and the good citizens.  "Boo John," as the locals call him, uses the county helicopter for nighttime deer hunting with the infrared sniper scope provided by The Department Of Homeland Security.  "You let dem deer over populate and first thang you know they's blockin da road in a dang mergency," Boo John laughs as he pounds  laughing county commission Pete Pyle on the back during a social hour at the Flop County Masonic Lodge.

Flop County was named for legendary Civil War personality Major Audacious Flop whose name has become synonymous with operations resulting in less than successful conclusions.  The most famous landmark in the county is also the oldest continuously operated hotel in the state.  The Flop House has housed travelers since before the Civil War.  A franchising scheme designed to put a Flop House in every major city during the 80's was less than successful for reasons still perplexing to the local investors.

Bubba Bodine has the  talk show during morning drive on the local 1000 watt blowtorch.  Bubba also disguises his cigarette crafted voice and serves as the station traffic reporter and pretends to report from a helicopter.  Few 57 year old men can pull off being known as "Bubba" without looking foolish.  He is no exception.  His real name is Barry and he often refers to his military service as proof of his patriotism.  He sometimes claims to have been a Green Beret but his place of service, as well as his actual branch of service, varies within the whims of his frequent thick tongued hangovers.  Sometimes he claims the Army, other times it's the Navy—often he recalls being a Marine, and always  he remembers heroic service.  "I fought fer that Bill of Right an' I din get my butt (or sometimes leg, arm, hip, head or shoulder) shot up so someone can criticize my government or its leaders and I'll be damned if they'll do it on my program—unless they're talkin' 'bout a liberal."

This same radio station features a weekend show called "Obituary Radio" where people can report local deaths over the air.  There are long periods of real dead air when no callers call in their reports.  Speaking of dead air, the station engineer routinely misses the pick up of satellite feeds of syndicated shows—sometimes for as long as 15 or 20 minutes.   At other times he manages to broadcast a satellite news report or commentary at the same time as he broadcasts the regular program.  You get two shows for the price of one and it is so garbled that you get just what you're paying for.  Sunday features wall to wall religious broadcasting.  Sunday morning used to feature a one hour show where the son of the station owner did card tricks on the radio.  You could just imagine local people huddled around their radio in amazement as one trick after another was broadcast!  The program had to be moved to Saturday morning when the religious folk complained about card playing on Sunday.  It is a pretty decent lead in to Obituary Radio.

In many ways Flop County is a land  time forgot—or at least didn't bother to visit for very long.  Local  auto dealer Brad Eyore still runs commercials, complete with voice imitations,  poking fun at locally hated former president Bill Clinton.  The local junior college did a poll and found 41% of area citizens believed Clinton was still in office and seventy percent of those people believed Clinton was coming to "git their guns" any day now.
 

 
Major Audacious Flop attempts to have the 10 surviving members of the Flop County Regiment attack the 12,000 Union soldiers surrounding them.  Major Flop was shot in the buttocks seconds after he attempted to lead the charge.  His regiment immediately surrendered.  This Civil War era photo is mounted in the lobby of the Flop House.

 

"It's in there if you know where to look."

The college also discovered 87% of local residents favored the display of the Ten Commandments in all public places and government buildings as long as they were in their original form and language from the King James Version.  Pastor Jimmy Jacklag of the Mt. Of Blessing Baptist Church (larger than all local churches with the exception of The Flop Gathering Of God main congregation) sums up the feeling of his congregation this way: "The good Lahd wrote it down just like we got it and we got the guns to see it gits forced.  He's a good god but he can be jealous.  There ain't never been no abortion done in a clinic what got the Ten Commandments displayed in the lobby.  Do them gays what got married in Boston read the Ten Commandments at their wedding?  Of course not, not when it says right there that the homersexual is sin." When asked to explain where the Ten Commandments speak specifically about the "homersexual," Rev. Jacklag responded: "It's in there if you know where to look."

 

"Who dey think gonna beat dem Rebels?"

Football is king in Flop County.  On a typical Friday night thousands of fans can be seen heading toward Community Stadium, home of The Flop County High School Rebels.  Grown men greet each other with  loud, shrill rebel yells and point fingers in pistol mimicking motions while chanting:  "Who dey think gonna beat dem Rebels?"  Flop Schools have twenty one elementary schools and eight junior highs scattered around the large county but they maintain one huge high school in order to keep the football team in the top Class One-X of the enrollment based state athletic association classification system.  In a progressive move, the Flop School Board maintains a system of county wide units of the Senior High which are located in different neighborhoods designed to maintain a cultural "identity" for the various ethnic groups served by the system.  Of course promising athletes enjoy early release and a daily bus trip to the main training facility.  Flop won the state championship in 1961, '70 and again in '89.  Judging by the results of my interviews, there must have been somewhere in excess of 450 men who played in each championship game.  Half of them made a game saving play.  Football is of such value to the reputation of a family that parents have been known to demand schools retain their students in earlier grades so that they will be more physically mature to compete in high school. 
 
 

"Never become a Republican or marry a Yankee."

 If football is king, politics would not be far behind as a spectator sport in the white parts of Flop County.  The county is home to what locals call the Blue Tick Democrat.  Basically, a Blue Tick Democrat is a registered Democrat who votes a straight Republican ticket in national and state wide elections.  One might ask why they don't simply switch their registration.  The simple answer is tradition.  Youngsters still grow up being told about the evils of Abraham Lincoln and his Republican carpet bagging Northerners.  When questioned, several local people recounted promises they made to their death bed bound parents and/or grandparents to "never become a Republican  or marry a Yankee."  To make it in Flop politics one is best served to be a registered Democrat but be endorsed by the Republican party.  Of course individuals choosing to run for a national office or a state wide position will generally schedule a press conference where they will announce their switch to the Republican Party.  "I do this with a heavy heart but I am consoled by the thought that I haven't deserted the Democratic Party, it has deserted me,"  was the way a teary eyed Robert "Bobby" Snopshield explained his move on the night he announced his candidacy for the US Congress.  Known simply as "Snop" to his circle of God fearing buddies, Snopshield cited flag burning, abortion and gay marriage as an axis of evil (he called it an "axel" of evil) that would be the major target of his tenure in Congress.   Sweating heavily while holding court in the fellowship hall of Burning Bush Baptist Church, he spent almost five hard breathing  minutes recounting the evil mechanics of "men lying with men as with a woman."  When asked if he would concentrate on family values during the campaign he responded, "Yes sir,  they can take my gun when they pry my cold dead fingers off'n it."
 
 

"Yes ma'am."

Southern men have the infuriating habit of saying "Yes ma'am/yes sir" or "No ma'am/no sir" in situations where you know they don't mean to be respectful.  You get the idea they believe they can tell the biggest lie and get away with it with a polite "yes ma'am/no ma'am."  It drips of almost a politician's saccharine phoniness.  A workmen will come to your house and make a bid on some work.

"$2,950 seems a little high to paint my front door."

"Yes ma'am.  But that's about what it costs here, I've actually given you a low estimate."

"Will you send someone who'll do a good job?"

"Yes ma'am.  All my men studied door painting in college."

Even the street hoods are polite.

"Let go of my purse."

"Yes ma'am.  Let me just get your wallet and rings.  Thank you ma'am."

The "yes ma'am" also disguises the existence of almost a Third World work ethic.  Work often begins just before Noon in situations where workmen are to come to a private home.  The only liberal thing in Flop County is the lunch break which is often interrupted by the need to start packing up the tools for the day.  A one day completion estimate actually means at least three or four days.  If someone gives you an acceptable bid and says: "We'll get it started Monday" you can plan on Wednesday...unless the weather is (or looks) bad.

The answering machine is a godsend for Flop County "craftsmen."  Apparently the return call is optional here.  When shopping be aware that when a business advertises its hours as 9 to 6 this is taken seriously only by newly relocated shoppers.  The whole county seems to run on its own version of flex time.  "Starting at 9" means the employees begin pulling into the parking lot at 9 or reasonably thereafter.  Most Flop County businesses could out source to Bangladesh and not miss a beat.

One should also expect to wait for employees to answer a question until they have finished with their personal cell phone call.  A lot of the better employees will try to answer your question while punching in the number of their next call.  Apparently there is an etiquette in the larger stores that requires employees to gather in informal little klatches from which question bearing customers are excluded.
 
 

The Fine Art Of The Excuse

Flop Countians have developed the excuse for not showing up to work into an art form.  My two favorites were presented by a tree surgeon and a roofing contractor.  The tree guy promised he'd attend to our work the "first thing" on Sunday.  "Right after church," was how he put it.  "I may work on Sunday but I  always see that the Lord is honored,"  was how he further assured me he'd fulfill his promise.  Of course he didn't show up or call.  I called him the next day and he apparently made the mistake of  answering his cell phone instead of allowing it to go safely and conveniently to message.  His excuse for not showing up?  "I was finishing up a job on Sunday and was working alone when an enraged raccoon wouldn't allow me to climb out of the tree.  The dang thing  had me trapped for three hours."  I asked him if he was coming today to complete his work and he said: "Well, I broke my climbing shoe spike when I threw it at the raccoon and I'm waiting for a new one to be over nighted from the company that makes them.  We never heard from him again.

The roofing guy was also excellent.  The day after he failed to show up he finally returned my calls.  It seems he was just going to drop off some debris when he arrived to find the dump on fire.  He promised to find somewhere else to dump his load and be right over.  Of course he never showed.  He finally returned one of my calls the next day.  His excuse?  Priceless!  It seems he was heading for my house when he spotted the fire department finishing up dousing a fire at a house  along the highway.  He stopped to organize an effort to collect clothes and belongings for the people who'd lost things in the fire.   He never contacted us again.  I'm worried that possibly his truck caught on fire the next day.

Flop Countians apparently don't consider it a lie if  they  simply say something that is untrue but could have been true.  A large appliance repair company had a technician out to repair an appliance.  He would have to get a part "back at the shop" but would be there first thing in the morning.  He called in to make sure the part was available and his schedule was clear in the morning. He had a computer and small printer with which he presented me a receipt listing the next day and time for my appointment.  By now you know he didn't show up and when I eventually talked to him he denied making the appointment. His supervisor was better.  He told me that his man "may well have given you a date and time" but that doesn't mean he gave you an appointment!.

Religion seems important to many contractors and business owners.  Some are subtle—simply placing a "Jesus fish" on their business card, yellow pages ad or on the advertising signs on their truck.  Presumably, you are thus part of some semi secret band of believers when you enter into a contract with Brother Bubba.  For others it is a slightly harder sell.  Billboards, business cards and ads will proclaim in big letters that the owner is a Christian or my personal favorites: "Jesus is my partner" and "Salvation spoken here".   Many display a Bible on their cluttered dashboard.  Jesus apparently requires that his partners and followers not return phone calls or notify a client if they've found a  more lucrative job and won't be there to complete the work they've contracted with you.  Just the other day my mailbox yielded a directory.  The cover invited me to let my fingers do the walking through The Christian's Guide To Business In Flop County.


Major's Drive-In Funeral Home

Joe Ray Major is the most visible politician in Flop County.  Twice convicted of corruption and bribery, he has never had serious opposition in a political contest.  A fiery but folksy orator, Major reminds some of Boss Hogg.     Joe Ray currently holds a seat on the seven member county highway commission from his cell in the state penitentiary.  The job pays $50,000 a year and nicely augments Joe Ray's main business.  He owns Joe Ray's Drive-In Funeral Home Theatre and it features  the only drive in theater that by day doubles as a funeral home and chapel.  Visitors can simply pull up to a speaker stand and listen to the service before being able to drive past and view the deceased.  Somehow the highway commission  saw fit last year to pave the entire drive in as well as a private gravel road leading to it.   Thanks to a FEMA grant, Major has invested in some elaborate video equipment that allows him to show viewing of the deceased and real time  funerals on the big screen (for a nominal charge) after dark except on Fridays and Saturdays which are the big nights for movies on the big screen.
 
 

"If you can't drive like the Dopkins stay out of their lane."

The Dopkins Family are local legends.  They've been tearing up and down the county roads since the days of moonshiners and the revenuers who chased them in the mythic days before stock car racing became mainstream.  The Dopkins clan is known for their hot cars and disdain for speed limits. Young boys go into a shrill, breathless enthusiasm when they come of age bragging: "If you can't drive like the Dopkins stay out of their lane."  The passing lane on local highways is called the Dopkins Lane even by local adults.  There is a small dirt race track in the county and Hoss Dopkins and his boys have dominated the Saturday night races for years.  Rumor has it that Hoss Jr. is also now the king of local cock fighters.  Though illegal, it is said that these popular local sporting events draw even Sheriff McDaniels.  Junior was a legendary  driver until he lost the use of his legs and one arm in a wreck on the first lap of a race in which he was trying out for a position with a nationally recognized race team.  He now tours the county in an electric wheelchair.  Local kids have been heard saying: "Man have you seen Junior Dopkins, he's got to have the baddest wheelchair in the county!"  Two other Dopkins "kin" have made contributions to the legend by fatally wrapping their autos around trees while racing on local highways.  Everybody in Flop County seems to be a race fan.   Most everyone has a decal or bumper sticker that displays the race car number and name of their favorite driver.  Fights have been started among grown men over disrespecting someone's favorite driver.  School yard taunts of things like: "Your dad likes Rusty Wallace" or "Jeff Gordon kin whup Kurt Busch's butt" have led to many a young bloody nose.  There is a loosely organized local club called the Race Car Papas.  These men meet frequently during local racing events to drink beer with their buddies, avoid contact with their wives and children and swear their allegiance to the Republican Party—a more organized group that shares their prejudices and sense of family values.
 
 

"I don't care how you did it up north."

Shortly after moving here to Flop County I sought out a place to continue my practice of Yoga.  Back in the North I found it to  be a valuable source of relaxation.  I found classes advertised in the local Junior college adult recreation flyer and registered by mail for Intermediate Yoga.  I arrived and parked next to a red Ford sedan plastered with several bumper stickers.  Amid the usual flag decals and religious slogans I saw a sticker that read: "I don't care how you did it up north."  Omens are funny things.

I took a position in the back and spread my mat.  I began stretching as the gym filled.  The instructor introduced herself and gave us some information about her background.  She was a former Army sergeant and learned the basics of Yoga in various military rec centers.  I started to get a little nervous.  This is a military area with several armed forces establishments.  The military influence is everywhere, apparently even among Yoga aficionados.  She asked each of us for a name to check off on her list.  I gave my name and it dawned on me I was the only man in the class.

"We usually don't get men taking Yoga."  It was said in a way that indicated my manhood had been opened to debate.

"I'm sorry, back where I came from we always had a few men in the classes."  Wrong answer.

The instructor gave me a forced grin of sorts and drew several head nods and grunts from the others when she said: "Honey, you need to read my bumper sticker."  Things quickly deteriorated from there.

" I don't do that heathen Yoga here," she reassured the class in general and me in particular,  "Most of you were here for beginning Yoga so you know I don't abide any of that meditation stuff or that Hindu mumbo jumbo, this is American Yoga."
 
 

"Those preachers got free speech too."

Unfortunately, we had already closed on our house when we read about the free exercise of religion in Flop County.  Three young women made the mistake of taking out a small ad in the local paper.  They wanted to form a coven and advertised for kindred spirits to meet with them one morning at a picnic spot they had reserved in a local park.  They drew two new women for there meeting but the biggest surprise was the well organized gathering of Christian preachers and their followers.  As the five women tried to share their beliefs with one another the Christians, some armed with bullhorns, circled the group in an unbroken ring to shout them down and disrupt the meeting by walking among them to preach loudly in their faces.  The frightened women were followed to their cars by the shouting, bible waving mob.  As people pounded on the cars of the departing women, a reporter asked Deputy Sheriff Wayne Putzman why he didn't intervene and he replied: "Those preachers got free speech too."

I'm told there was once a woman's clinic in town that offered reproductive services including abortion.  It was picketed and blockaded daily.  Eventually a bomb blast closed the clinic.  The crime went unsolved.  At about the same time there was a small bookstore almost directly across the street that sold adult books, magazines and movies.  It attracted its own  conglomeration of shouting protesters.  It closed under threats shortly after the clinic bombing.  The two groups of protesters continue their protests, now yelling at each other across the street.
 
 
"Race, race, race.  It's  always race with you people."

Judge Dorothy Cuthbait is a stickler for law and order and hard work.  She earned her law degree through a correspondence course while working full time as a dispatcher for Sheriff McDaniels...a distant cousin.  (Many people in the ruling elite of Flop County appear to be related.  Actually, there is a suspicion that most long time residents are related. A sarcastic man might suggest the gene pool is more like a puddle.)  Judge Cuthbait was elected  county judge on largely a bumper sticker campaign proclaiming that she is "pro flag, pro family and proudly pro police."

In her most celebrated case to date she found a bewildered Charles Brown guilty on six counts of theft for passing six bad checks to local merchants.  She sentenced him to the maximum six years in prison and repeatedly asked the prosecutor if there was any evidence Mr. Brown could have been carrying a weapon while passing his bad paper. (State law allows added penalties for using a weapon in the commission of a crime.)  Mr. Brown was defended by public defender Raymond Johnson who argued unsuccessfully that his client was severely mentally retarded and could neither read nor write.

"Then how did he write the checks Mr. Johnson?"

 "He couldn't have written them your honor.  As a matter of fact he is the victim of identity theft.  I intend to show that he was not capable of opening the checking account from which..."

 "That's enough Mr. Johnson.  This is not Matlock."

"With all due respect your honor, I have witnesses who will testify that the man who opened the account was a young white man and as your honor can clearly see the defendant is an elderly black man."

"Race, race, race.  It's always race with you people.  You'll not play the race card in my court."

Mr. Brown spent over two months in prison before he was granted a new trial by a state appeals court.  After a change of venue he was fully exonerated at the second trial.  Among the evidence presented was the passing of four more checks from the account while Mr. Brown was incarcerated.  Word has it that judge Cuthbait is planning to add an attack on the judicial activism of appellate judges to the law and order plank of her re-election campaign platform.  That's a lot to fit on a bumper sticker.
 
 

"This Ain't No Beauty Shop."

A SIGN IN A FLOP COUNTY BARBER SHOP!

The mullet haircut is still the dominant coiffure for young men in Flop County.  A few trendy older men still sport the mullet of their girl chasing days but older men tend to gravitate to something akin to a military cut although the flattop still has its devotees.    One barbershop proudly sports a sign in the window: "This Ain't No Beauty Shop."  I'd say that was a safe bet.  Probably because of the military influence, you can sometimes go days without seeing a man in a beard.

Women tend to dress in conservative styles similar to the men.  Both sexes wear blue jeans a lot but the women seldom sport the back pocket "dip ring" so popular among the men.  There is nothing more charming than seeing a little boy in little boy jeans that display the tell tale "dip ring" of a boy who looks up to his father. 
 



Red's Diner

If you ever have occasion to make the long boring journey across the Southern Coast from Florida to Texas, be sure to stop at Red's Diner off Interstate Highway 10 at the Flop County Landfill Exit. You will find this establishment to have some of the finest dining available from  Florida across Southern Alabama,  Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. You'll also get a reminder of those wonderful days of traveling across America on Route 66.  That was but one of the things brought up as I visited Red's.

Decor is simple and vintage 50's. Red has chosen off-white formica topped tables with stainless steel legs to carry out his 50's motif. Wooden chairs surround some of the tables. Your eyes are quickly taken to the curled fly paper strips that flutter and flap gently in the loud humming breeze of a more than adequate window air conditioning unit.

The ambiance is further heightened by sounds emanating from a small portable radio. It is a bit of chance taking as this part of America is often called "radio hell" because of the almost unlistenable quality of the local stations. They had a radio tuned to some sort of apparent talk show that featured a guy who repeatedly called himself something that sounded like "Rush" or "Russ." The illogical prattle seemed to please a few of the patrons so I will conclude it was some sort of parody or local absurdist theater. I must admit that at first I thought it was a skit from A Prairie Home Companion or one of those syndicated comedy shows.

You'll want to study the hand lettered menus for daily specials. In my case it prevented a serious faux pas as I was prepared to ask the red haired man at the stove if he was the "Red" for whom the restaurant was named. I motioned another customer to go first as I debated my options. He said: "Hey Blue, gimmee a hambuggah en' fraaas." It was spoken in that wonderful Southern Patois that is so reminiscent of the 60's civil rights resistance where stalwarts such as Faubus, Thurmond, Conner and Wallace stood bravely against the little girls and boys who threatened civilization with their desire to attend good schools.

I realized right away Blue was no stranger to the rigors of board of health inspections. He removed his well chewed cigar stub while managing to drop very few ashes before wiping his hands on his apron. He unwrapped what looked like a prime cut of a semi frozen square patty of a meat like item. Blue's been here before—he deftly scraped an open spot on the griddle before depositing the entree. Fries can be a tricky item for a chef but he had little trouble shaking loose a full serving from a heavy brown bag he took from the freezer.  He quickly submerged his fry basket in the vat of roiling, sputtering fat while smoothly kicking an errant fry under the stove. Blue is obviously an animal lover.

I went with the Roast Beef and Potatoes Special and was not disappointed. The chef scraped himself another clean griddle spot and deposited a beautifully formed square frozen patty of the meat like item. I decided to check the menu for drink options while Blue reached for that familiar brown bag of potatoes to complete my order.

Red's has an interesting method of serving drinks. In a novel presentation that should become standard in the industry, patrons serve themselves from a chest style cooler containing a selection of colas and local favorites Mountain Dew and Dr. Pepper. I selected a Coke that was chilled to several degrees below room temperature and returned to the counter to be served my well cooked roast beef patty and crinkle cut potatoes. There was one long moment when Blue produced a ladle and grunted: "Groovy?" Surprised at hearing him say something so out of place but not wanting to create an incident, I responded: "It sure is." I'm now almost sure he may have been mumbling: "Gravy?" That explains the confused look on his face.

My particular meat serving was thoroughly cooked and produced little of the freezer burn aftertaste that made the potatoes so unique. It was probably the size of the meal (which was served with a firm slice of white bread and several green beans that had been gently sautéed well past al dente) that kept me from being able to finish everything on my plate. You can usually get yourself a filling meal for under five dollars unless you go with one of the pricier specials. Even at that my bill came to just under $7. I certainly was served quite a bit more than I wanted and dessert was out of the question despite seeing a tantalizing cherry pie that sported what appeared to be several more raisins than I had previously noticed. Interesting presentation!

Red's diner accepts cash and some local checks. It's open from 7 AM until Blue closes up in the late afternoon.  A sign advertises a breakfast special but the chef only stared at me when I inquired about what it included.  Your better chefs can sometimes be a bit eccentric. 
 

"What do you need that for?"

Cooking at home is also pretty much not adventuresome in the area.  No store stocks much in the way of Asian spices or foreign foods although a few vegetarian items are available.  The bigger grocery outlets do all right on staples like bread, milk and anything made from hog parts but out of the mainstream items like orzo, falafel or steel cut oats are squeezed out so that 173 brands and styles of grits can be offered.  I am reminded of the time I asked in a restaurant if there were any vegetarian entrees.  The waitress patiently explained: "You won't find much vegetarian stuff here.  This is a farming county you know."  It's a shame they don't have one of those factories where they make those plastic soy beans.  I once inquired of a grocery clerk in a large national chain in town: "Can you special order some cumin seed for me?"  Clearly irritated, she shot back: "What do you need that for?"  I didn't have the courage to tell her we were starting a cumin farm and needed seeds.  Who knows, she may have called Homeland Security or the sheriff.  The last thing  I need is a helicopter circling my house looking for my illicit cumin patch.
 
Law And Medicine In Flop County

The professions are quite visible in Flop County.  Although there are only about 240,000 residents in the entire county,  there are 112 pages of attorney ads in the local phone book.   Apparently a large part of the local economy consists of people suing and counter suing one another.   Most of the ads are placed by personal injury and product liability lawyers although there is a decent smattering of divorce lawyers among the hundreds of advertisements.  One can understand the plethora of personal injury cases just by observing local driving habits.  Turn signals are apparently optional in Flop County and most have mastered the tricky cell phone to the ear blind lane change the area is noted for.  I was confused by the radio ads of one local attorney.  He referred to himself as what sounded like "The Dewey Man" in his commercials.  He would also say: "Call the Dewey Man when you need him."  He would also comfort his listeners with the admonition that he'd be there to help in the event someone picked up a Dewey on the way home.  It remained a mystery and I was going to write it off as some local peculiarity when the attorney ran a full page ad in the local paper offering to defend those charged with a DUI offense!   The attorney specialized in handling Driving Under the Influence cases...what a dignified profession!  Next time you're facing 3 days in jail for picking up a 'Dewey' on the way home give him a call.

Local laws are made by a nine member county commission of overseers which is served by the typical staff of county lawyers, engineers, planning directors and such.  No one can remember the last time the commissioners turned down a zoning change for a development.  As a result, local traffic is a nightmare and septic fields are a constant source of complaint and disease.  When controversial discussions are brought to a vote it is not unusual for one or more commissioners to quietly get up and slip out of  the room without comment.  They can later claim that they did not vote for this or that disaster.  The law requires a quorum of 5 to be present and there have been a few heated confrontations as two or more lawmakers vied  for that last position through the door before a vote.

In some locations he is known as a judge executive and in others he is a county administrator, city manager or mayor.  In Flop County he is  Beston R. Levioux.  Known as "B.R." and also "Vo," he hires county employees, advises the the commission of overseers and runs day to day county business.  Though technically an employee under the control of the overseers, "Vo" returned from a stint as an Army motor pool sergeant to assume his position about 30 years ago.  He's a wheeler-dealer who also owns a used car lot in the county.  Presently, he forbids the sale of the local daily paper in any county office or property.  The ban has been in effect ever since the Flop Sentinel published a story about the last 21 sealed bid sales of used county property ranging from used police cars to houses confiscated for delinquent taxes.  B.R. selects the items to be sold and he and several overseers were the winning bidders on all 21 recent properties.  Mr. Levioux is quick to point out that all bids were sealed by his secretary and she has a reputation for integrity that is unmatched in county government.  And Vo should know about her reputation because she is also his daughter in law.

There may be a chicken and egg debate about the relationship between the local medical profession and the abundance of lawyers.  There are two hospitals in the county.  Flop Central  has as its unofficial specialty the post operative infection.  The chief of surgery is Liam Petri and he doubles as the assistant county coroner.  There is an oft repeated story that is probably mostly urban legend about Dr. Petri.  As the story goes, he occasionally confuses his two roles and has had to be gently nudged back from autopsy to surgery mode.  There are repeated guffaws exchanged among hospital employees when new patients find their surgeon introduced to them as the county coroner.  The other hospital is called Flop County East.  Locals lovingly refer to it as Hotel Sepsis.  A few years back the hospital made one of those priceless typographical errors in their newspaper ad.  Prospective patients were advised that they would know they had arrived at Flop County East Hospital when they encountered the warm staph the moment they entered the lobby.  Unfortunately, the ad was run for almost two years before the error was detected.

 
SWEET HOME FLOP COUNTY
© Copyright 2007 Garrison Merrell

This is a work of fiction. Any connection or similarity
between  characters and events in this selection and real
characters and events is purely coincidental




John Ward
Indiana, USA

North Pacific...Rugged
© Copyright John Ward






"ALL THOSE THINGS THAT DON'T CHANGE COME WHAT MAY" 
        A Review Of Ian Tyson's "I Outgrew The Wagon"

Many still think of Ian and Sylvia or Great Speckled Bird when they hear the name Ian Tyson.  That's fine.  Had either Ian Tyson or Sylvia Tyson stopped performing when their singing collaboration ended they would still be superstars in the music world.  Fortunately for us they both continued performing and creating.  Sylvia Fricker (one of my oldest Vanguard records introduced her as Sylvia "Flicker") became Sylvia Tyson and in the 60's she and Ian wowed the Folk, Folk Rock and Country Rock worlds with such gems as Four Strong Winds, Someday Soon and You Were On My Mind.  Today she continues to reward her fans as part of Quartette.  The days of of a hapless editor confusing her name ended long ago.

Ian took his own advice.  "Think I'll go out to Alberta."  For many Canadians (and Americans), Four Strong Winds is an anthem.  I've heard it performed live by singers ranging from Neil Young to an un-named singer singing it between Bluegrass and Gospel numbers at a church picnic in the mountains of Appalachia.  In many ways it is the Amazing Grace of a generation.

There is so much more to Ian Tyson than that particular classic song.  He includes it in his album, I Outgrew The Wagon (Vanguard CD).  None of us tire of hearing it but the songs he has given us in this album would stand by themselves quite nicely.  These are cowboy songs.  These are songs of an endangered time and place performed by a man who has lived the life they depict.  There's poignancy here to be sure.  There is also the carefree voice of the cowboy heading to town when the drive or round-up is over.  Thanks to Ian Tyson those days and emotions will forever be part of the fabric of North American culture.

You'll have to experience the music to really understand what the album is all about but there are some lyrics here that will stay with you.  "Cowboys don't cry...Ah maybe just a little bit."  (Ian's words from Cowboys Don't Cry, a song about loving a woman who is gone and a son who isn't.)   "The man in the mirror won't leave the devil alone."  (This is a song  by Randy Fournier called Arms Of Corey Jo.  Ian expresses the torment of a man torn between his lover and his quest for fame.)   "I stare out every evening at the distant Northern star.  It leads us ever Northward and tells us that we are lost below the Yellowstone in a land unknown to me." (From The Banks Of The Musselshell.  Ian describes the age old cowboy theme of a young man who is willing to risk the ire of an evil man to be in the arms of a beautiful woman in a faraway place.)  This is all pure "cowboy music."  These are old themes that are brought to modern light.  Ian includes Four Strong winds here for a reason.  I'll leave it to you to find those classic lyrics and then study the lyrics of this album.  You'll find everything here fits well within the theme of Four Strong Winds.  Ian Tyson's career continues like a college professor who makes an opening declaration about what he has found to be true.  He then proceeds to use the rest of his sessions to carefully explain it all and illustrate it in the most meaningful ways.  When he's done everything fits and we are left with the bittersweet realization about what life is all about.  His opening point is proven.  He leaves us unsure and uncomfortable yet somehow happy.  All of the good themes about life's meaning and the human condition have probably been said.  What remains for the artist (and the philosopher) are the venues where these themes are played out for eternity.  Yes, in many ways it's all about "ALL THOSE THINGS THAT DON'T CHANGE COME WHAT MAY."



© Copyright  Bay Front Press
Florida, USA











Editor's closing comments. Difficult Times

Claim Of Compassion
A  Computer Sketch
 © Copyright Bill Stockland
 
 
DIFFICULT TIMES
These are difficult times to have a conscience.  I suspect they are difficult times for everyone across the globe.  For those outside the United States who have asked what is happening in America I would like to offer my opinion.  Email  me and I would be glad to open a dialogue with you.

All is not bleak.  Muhammed, Buddha and Jesus all lived in difficult times.  They managed to stay true to their messages of peace and love.  Their true followers and all of those other people who practice good will simply because it is the right way to  live, will also have their day to lead.  The seminal American rock band, The Grateful Dead, used to sing:  "One way or another this darkness got to give."   Besides, the real battles are internal ones.  If I get better and you get better the world gets better.  It is the hope of this international journal that we may continue to be a place where people of good will may come together to explore the life of the mind and spirit.  That is our contribution to the healing process. Your comments and your submissions of intellectual work in any form are always welcomed.  I wish you peace.
 

We are interested in poetry, photography, short stories, reviews, essays, sketches...any and
 all forms of expression.  Contact us with your ideas.   Bill Stockland at: billstockland@cox.net
We feature creative work from all over the world.
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