Archive for January, 2007

Rewriting the Cold War

January 31, 2007


We saw it at the neighbor’s house next door
when black and white TV had just come out.
As I recall, it ran on channel 4—
the famous Nixon/Khrushchev Kitchen Bout.

Now Khrushchev, he knew how to entertain.
And Nixon? He was kinda funny, too
(Remember when the Rooskie went insane
And smacked the conference table with his shoe?)

Surrounded by appliances and lights,
The guy in the fedora was a bear.
But Nixon took it to the satellites
And left Nikita sucking Frigidaire.

Now, that was when consumers understood.
Yeah, that was when the Weltanschauung was good.


Keep the Doctor Away

January 29, 2007


I sparred a bit with Bill Nye the Science Guy on whether scientists are doing for our diet any good. I told him I’d be coming back with a friend .

Interesting Feedback

January 29, 2007


Earlier this month, I wrote about Joachim Probst, a strange and wonderful painter. I described him as legitimately mad. The following showed up in the comments this weekend from Isabella McFarlin

Yes, Probst was mad. He and my parents, Irving Fiske (playwright) and Barbara Hall Fiske (painter and cartoonist) were close friends– they tried to help him and believed him a genius. He seems to have had some kind of fixation on my mother, and would burst into our farmhouse in Vermont from time to time during the 1950s, threatening my brother and me, and once (allegedly) trying to throw a cat into a fire. He also threatened, and this I remember, to burn down our barn. My parents and he had probably a more complex relationship than I can ever know, but it was no fun to fear his sudden appearances in my childhood.
Whether he was a good painter or not, I really cannot say. My mother is a far better one and unfortunately, she is at present little known!

Probst is also fairly obscure. Isabella no doubt found my post on a Google search, where it comes up near the top. Thanks for sharing this with us, Isabella. I do think he was a great painter, and I am interested in knowing more about him. I would especially like to see his work some time.

Photo-Ops on Ice

January 28, 2007



Lydia photo by Daddy
Daddy photo by Lydia

Bird Talk (for Ramses)

January 28, 2007


Preposterous, the very thought that birds
are able to converse with Tom and Dick
and Harry, read our minds and somehow stick
With arguments and flirt with the absurd.
The dinosaurs, their predecessors, came
Across as dull. Did birds plug in somehow?
Outsmart the age of ice in Curacao?
Did they get smart before we made them tame?

Perhaps the owners over time prevailed
Through bird-love, stroking parti-colored tails
And yak-a-yak-a-yaking through the day.
The first were pirates, I suppose, whose ships
Enabled the Diaspora, who tipped
Them off to all those wild things they say.

Photo of Ramses by Birdie Jaworski

Ain’t That America

January 24, 2007


John Mellencamp has gotten into some hot water and prominent ink recently over his decision to give up the song “Our Country” from his new album for a Chevrolet truck commercial. Some call him a sell out. His answer is that he is a songwriter and musician from way back, competing from Indiana in the post-indie rock world of mass music. He’s trying to be heard and keep his career alive. He also got involved with the ads themselves, insisting they run true to what he envisions as John Mellencamp music videos. Insisting they step up to the hard social issues in America. This, arguably, got him into the truck-selling business with images of war and hurricane. On top of that, he may have peaked early–the ads have been running constantly for weeks prior to the album release. Maybe he’s overexposed. I, in any case, will cut the guy slack because he’s a good painter.

What about you? John Mellencamp. Sell out, shrewd late career move, miscalculation–what do you think?

The I Have A Dream Speech

January 22, 2007


Lydia’s friend Laura came for a play date this afternoon. The girls, seven-year-olds, asked to go on the computer, and, as usual, asked for help getting onto a website.

“Daddy, can you Google the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech for us?”

Uh…sure thing. They watched Martin Luther King, Jr. deliver his famous speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial. They watched the whole thing and asked me to print out a PDF. Then they got off the computer and went downstairs to play in the basement.

I like their teacher.

This evening I read the speech. It is one of the two most important in American history, according to Griel Marcus, the other being Lincoln’s second inaugural. I would agree. It manages to tell America’s history and lay out its destiny in the form of a great and unavoidable challenge. The goal, a dream. It decodes the genome of our experience, in a sense. And just as the Human Genome Project launched us on a long road to curing intractable disease with a new set of tools, King’s speech essentially showed us what we have to work with and pointed the direction to equality in America.

Lydia commented that King kept saying, “100 years later.” I explained he was referring to the time between the Emancipation Proclamation and King’s speech. I started thinking that an additional 43 years has passed. That enormous gains have been made, though much is essentially unchanged. That nearly 146 years after the Civil War, the struggle for racial equality is still our defining challenge.

And I thought about how Lydia and Laura couldn’t take their eyes off the I Have A Dream speech.

The Interactive Colon

January 22, 2007

Union Station, Washington, DC



No, it wasn’t sponsored by McDonald’s, though it should have been. Just another ironic juxtaposition of commerce, public service, and transportation. The interactive colon, right there between McDonald’s and the bar at Union Station. Mothers chatted outside of it as their children ran through it. The whole thing seemed a bit ironic.

This year–not until November, mind you–I turn 50, which, as we all know, is about the time in life when we must take on new medical regimes. The colonoscopy is one of them. I had my first, because of various gastro problems, when I was 26, at which time a small polyp was located, removed, and deemed benign. Since then I have had regular procedures with no recurrence of polyps. This experience prompted me to have prostate examinations on a regular basis starting when I was in my mid 40s.

Men, we are told, are a lot less likely than women to work necessary examinations into their yearly healthcare regimes as they get older. And men pay a price with colon and prostate cancer. I hope this exhibit at the train station, which shows you the possible progress of the type of polyp I had if it is not removed, prompts men and women passing through to take advantage of simple, painless, quick and really important procedures.


January 19, 2007


I spell forgotten dreams to synchronize
The lake-like mechanism of my heart–
I coax the apple spider, empathize
With heavy limbs and dreams that fall apart.

Arrange the objects, set a palette keyed
To honor God, essential motion, light
And entropy, forgotten dreams that bleed
Into the second apple on the right.

I lift my voice beside the lake to pray
And quote the balanced cycle of the sun,
With leaden limbs in morning wind I sway
Impulsive, mimicking the dream undone.

For my entire stake in life, it seems,
Is somehow to communicate my dreams.

Great Caesar’s Ghost!

January 18, 2007


I looked at my watch, I looked at my wrist,
I punched myself in the face with my fist!

Bob Dylan

I don’t indulge in too much Hollywood cliché reporter business. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink whiskey from a bottle in my desk drawer. Okay, do I wear the occasional fedora… And sometimes I talk a little switchyard, if you know what I mean.

It’s nothing too intense, mind you, but definitely not for publication. Think of it as Jimmy Olsen doing a PG-13 Perry White. I generally do it when I get off the phone with a particularly uncooperative flack or an obfuscating CEO. It’s alright, though. Really. I know how to do it. The trick, you see, is to always wait until two beats after the receiver hits the cradle before making with the Paulie Walnuts invective.

So. This morning, I’m on the phone with an uncooperative flack. I called him regarding a press release about his company closing some factories in the U.S. and expanding operations in Europe. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary, but I’m paid to ask questions. Which gets me this, and I quote:

“Listen. The press release is very detailed. You shouldn’t read anything into it.”

Well, I just can’t help myself. By mid afternoon, I’ve read quite a lot into it, and I give him a call to check facts and figures and discuss things other people say about his company. A courtesy call at very least. I get his voicemail several times, and I keep leaving messages. Finally, at about 5:00 p.m., he answers the phone. I get this:

“Oh…Hi Rick. Hey, I’m in an interview with my boss right now. Can I call you back in two minutes?”

“Yes, I’ll be here,” I say. “I do need to check some facts and figures tonight.”

He’s all assurances.

When he hasn’t called an hour later, I decide to try him again. I get his voicemail.

Now, you can imagine that I’m feeling a bit jerked around at this point. I’m thinking he’s at Happy Hour, if such a thing exists in the city where he works (oh, yes, I’m cranky). And, thanks to him, I’m nowhere near my hour-long drive home.

Well, here’s how it went:

Voicemail: Hi, this is X. I’m not in right now, but your call is important ,…etc..

Me: …Hi, X. It’s Rick. I will be around for another few minutes, if you could get back to me tonight, that would be great. Thanks a lot. Goodbye.

I drop the receiver into its cradle. And 1 and 2 and…

Me: %$@$&^%$#^& $%#@

…And 4 and 5 and…

My speakerphone (robot voice): If you would like to continue recording, please press one.

Yes, friends. When I hung up, I accidentally hit the speakerphone button, turning my workspace into an open mic. So, my voice message is likely to include the Paulie Walnuts bit!

Well. He shouldn’t read too much into that.