The Conversation Continues
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To return to my December 2002 Barbaric Yawp interview with John Berbrich, click here.
To read our original 2001 interview, click here.
William Michaelian: Okay. At the end of the last page, you convinced me to go back to the book store and get Emerson’s essay on Thoreau. I should have done it two days ago when I was there, buying Humboldt’s Gift. Anyway. Let me jot this down: Emerson’s essay; also re-read Walden and “Civil Disobedience.” And do it soon. I think we should also talk about the December 2006 issue of Barbaric Yawp. But there’s no rush. We have the time, we have the space. Any other thoughts on Thoreau? Or Emerson? Lincoln? Whitman? On being deep in the woods of Maine? On the ridiculous image of Whitman or Thoreau behind the wheel of a Packard?
John Berbrich: Okay. Thoreau is simply sui generis, one of a kind. Of Lincoln I know nothing more than typical schoolboy biography. Whitman was a gigantic poetic power released on Earth, striding through the cosmos. I love Emerson’s prose but can’t get into his poetry. He had a tremendous direct influence on three of my favorites: Thoreau, Whitman, & Nietzsche. For this last I shall be forever in his debt. And now — on to the Yawp!
William Michaelian: First off, a few general comments: I like the snowflake-postage stamp cover on the white background. It has just the right hint of color to make you feel cold and warm at the same time. The stamps remind me of letters, of correspondence, so the mood is set even before you pry back the cover.
John Berbrich: Thanks. The cover was my idea. Seasonal for December in a swirling snowstorm kinda way.
William Michaelian: It works. And then the first thing we come to is your introduction, “Old News,” and the imagined world at your feet, inspired by rain and what it does to the landscape:
“. . . The ancient riverbank slants & slopes. The bottom looks like scraped skin, reddish & rough, puckered with the sores of age, rugged with rocks & flotsam, ragged with detritus & forgotten jetsam. . . . Attenuated bones gather at the feet of stones. . . .” A great way to start the issue. Look closely; there’s always more than meets the eye.
John Berbrich: Sure. And it leads into the first poem.
William Michaelian: Yes — the post-sanity television nightmare, “Fox News,” by Amy Billone. I’ve read it five or six times. It’s like sitting in front of a TV late at night, and there’s something wrong with the vertical hold, and the voices don’t match the movement of the mouths, and you’re wondering if the problem is with the TV or in your head.
John Berbrich: And then at the end, the whole thing starts to fall apart — just as we all fear it might.
William Michaelian: And you want to wake up, but you can’t, because the talking heads are looking right at you, and addressing you, and then they’re coming out of the TV into the room, and then, just as you’re about to scream, you somehow manage to turn the page. . . .
John Berbrich: And you find a few more things to worry about!
William Michaelian: Such as an axe-wielding boogeyman. And it’s not if he comes after you, it’s when. And then there’s the story immediately following, “Minutiae’s Hooks.” I like that title. What do you think? Does the poor suffering hero really kill himself? Or has he already pulled the trigger? Maybe these thoughts are generated just after the fact, before the last brain waves die away. Gad, what a gruesome thought. And yet, somehow, it’s a cheerful little story. Or maybe humorous is a better word. I’m hungry, should have gotten the foot-long for lunch.
John Berbrich: The guy’s too trivial to kill himself. If anyone is going to do himself in, it’s the fellow consigned to cubicle hell in the next poem.
William Michaelian: You could be right. I like the poem, with its lines like “imagine / the magnificent children of angels / reduced to this, / fidgeting fingers clicking / specs of electricity / into tiny wires / and / microchips. . . .” But I think he’ll eventually make his escape — unless his office is reorganized and he’s moved to a room without a window. That could do him in. The line-breaks, though, are a bit distracting. To me, anyway. Even the use of all lower-case letters doesn’t seem quite right, whereas in Greg Schwartz’s “boogeyman” it looked and seemed quite natural.
John Berbrich: I hope the guy escapes. regarding the tyranny of lower case letters: it used to bother me, but i’ve seen so much of it that i hardly notice anymore. For awhile there ee cummings seemed to have a patent on that technique. You’re right, it imbues a poem w/ a certain feeling, an atmosphere, that isn’t always appropriate. Like rhyme — I receive so much decent serious poetry ruined by rhyme. Rhyme is perfect for a humorous poem, but to use it seriously one must really know what one is doing. A clunking rhyme destroys the sense of poetic trance.
William Michaelian: It’s ghastly. I myself have used all lower case letters in a few shorter poems. Each time, the poem seemed to decide for itself. As for line breaks, we’ve talked a little about that before. Obviously, ease of reading is a big part of it, and of course how a poem appears on the page is important. At least it is to me. I feel that there is a best presentation for every poem — a harmony of meaning, sound, and appearance. Each derives benefit from the other, each contributes to the whole.
John Berbrich: Ah, yes. Each is important. And this is not something that you can ignore. You must use caps or not, use rhyme or not. And you must use line breaks, unless you’re writing a run-on prose poem, & even that form is a decision. What about the next one, “Dreams of Palms”?
William Michaelian: That one does have some subtle rhyme. The words “wet” and “heat” in the first verse are echoed in the second verse by “sweat” and “leaves.” And then the word “skin” at the end of the second verse is echoed by “rain” at the end of the third verse. “Arm” in the fourth, “door” at the very end. This is one element that makes the poem work. The sense of urgency and panic also. Prickly skin, shallow pants, pulse rising — and the dripping from the palms, which, as can happen in dreams, soon become more than human. I like it.
John Berbrich: The mood is consistent throughout. And the slight indentation of two lines lends a sort of dramatic pause. I’ve already received mail regarding “Ghost Light,” all of it positive.
William Michaelian: The next story, you mean, by Kristi Petersen. I’m not surprised. Whereas earlier we experienced a post-sanity television nightmare, now we have a post-rapture nightmare. Not a story that would make its author popular in church. In fact, if this were written in olden times, she might have been burned at the stake. Her soul lamps are a great idea. Eternal light for only $19.95 — unless the lamp is broken and the soul escapes. A good story, with many possibilites. A whole novel could be done in this setting. Or a scary, thought-provoking movie.
John Berbrich: The story nearly knocked me over when I first read it. And it sort of leads us into a quasi-religious section of the issue.
William Michaelian: It does. I noticed what was happening right away, the first time through. Your ordering of the pieces works really well. “Wounds,” “second row pew,” and “Sedona Chapel” are three good poems. The first, with its bitter, disgusted tone, draws strength from the desperation and hostility at the end of “Ghost Light.” The second is somewhat calmer, although it begins with “the preacher’s spit” and ends with “a chainsaw.” But what happens in between is just the kind of thing people should contemplate while sitting in church. The third is sad. Whether you pray or not, whether you believe or not, pain and suffering continue. And then comes G.D. McFetridge’s “Redemption.” I’m pretty sure it’s my favorite story in the issue.
John Berbrich: I think that the ironic twist at the end, where the narrator goes to confession, elevates a good story to a higher level. It takes the fairly simple premise & complicates it a great deal, so the reader is left w/ something to ponder.
William Michaelian: I don’t know. I think there’s plenty to ponder without the twist, which to me seemed a little abrupt and short, especially since the narrator is so sure of himself and hasn’t been to confession for thirty years. But I can understand him feeling guilty after badgering his old pal and cornering him on his beliefs. The story reminds me of Mark Twain’s “Letters from the Earth.”
John Berbrich: Well, that’s what I mean. The ending gives us an insight into both the narrator & the many people that he represents. He’s feeling guilty about badgering his pal, as you say, but maybe he’s also a little unsure of everything that he himself has been saying. Twain’s “Letters” — I haven’t read them in years, but some were quite fierce as I recall. A man of genius was Twain.
William Michaelian: Beyond a doubt. And you’re right — how sure can anyone be? McFetridge’s narrator is quick to point out that his friend is really trying to convince himself that Jesus and the Bible are the answer. But while his arguments are more reasoned and intellectually sound, the narrator might be trying to convince himself of just the opposite. I suppose that’s why I like the next poem, “Jacks Jewish Deli.” It’s real. It’s here. It’s now.
John Berbrich: Oh yes. In perhaps a year you’ll have a memory of a deli & wonder if you were really there — or was it a poem you read? I like how Ed brings it all back to himself at the end: “and i love every / minute of it.” It’s one of the great things about living in a crowded city, being surrounded by dirty noisy life. It’s also one of the rotten things — the dirty noisy life. But Jacks is a place where you can enjoy & appreciate it. One thing cool about cities is the accessibility to events like a big poetry reading.
William Michaelian: Which is exactly what’s covered in George Held’s column, “MetroBeat.” It’s a great thing to have in the Yawp. It takes us out of the garret and into the street, to places like the Cornelia Street Café, and the KGB Bar on the Lower East Side. Very interesting. On the one hand, there’s the reader without the good sense to stop, arguing with the woman who shouts at him, “You’re finished!” and who tells him, “You’re the kind of person that makes people stay away from poetry readings.” On the other, you have a publisher saying she would just as soon see a five-year moratorium on the publishing of poetry books. Names, titles, atmoshpere, observations. Good feature.
John Berbrich: I expect to publish one of these columns from George every other issue. That’s exactly what I wanted — details and atmosphere. I prefer people to think of poetry as a living breathing activity — not, as you say, a pursuit of the garret.
William Michaelian: Although, garrets do have an important place in literature. In Crime and Punishment, for instance, Raskolnikov lived in a garret, which, according to Dostoevsky, “was more like a cupboard than a room.” Meanwhile, though, your point is strengthened by the two poems on the next page, which are nice little celebrations of nature.
John Berbrich: Ah yes, those beautiful little dances. They belong on the same page. And they lead the way to the special animal portion of the issue.
William Michaelian: Frogs, birds, bears, wolves, turtles. From innocence and delight to a wild intruder, to what sounds like cabin fever if not all-out madness, to an armored old soul that might be real or might be a statue. Not a bad section, all in all.
John Berbrich: According to the author, the bear story is real. All of which leads to a decidedly human piece, art for art’s sake. A story which I hope is not taken entirely from life.
William Michaelian: Me too. The first time I read “Mm,” I didn’t like it. The tone put me off. More than that, though, it just seemed sort of preposterous, that whole business about that many college students getting together and wanting to be part of a giant literary tatoo. I mean, I can imagine a bunch of them getting drunk and having the idea, but I can’t picture them following through with it. And why in the world can’t the tatoo artist remember the name of the work or its author, when it was part of such a strange situation? Especially after dropping the names of Shakespeare and Browning and being able to remember so many other details. Anyway. A few days later, I read the piece a second time, to give it and myself another chance. It does contain some interesting observations about art. But I’m still not inspired about what I had to go through to hear them. Either the story is too unlikely and contrived, or not quite unlikely and contrived enough. What do you think? Am I missing something?
John Berbrich: Well, the story is unlikely, I’ll grant you that. But it’s fiction, remember. I like the slick, knowing style in which the piece is written & the idea of sacrificing for art. It’s all quite a contrast to our next poem.
William Michaelian: That’s for sure. “The Contender” is about another kind of sacrifice: being pummeled in the ring in front of a crowd howling for your destruction, in the hope that you can survive to pay the rent. Good poem by Stephanie Wheeler. Such battles go on everywhere, every day.
John Berbrich: Good vivid writing. You can see the fight & hear it. The best part of course is the weeping of Acevedo — at first from pain, & then from the knowledge of defeat. Wheeler’s writing has developed to the point where it’s quite skilled & dependable.
William Michaelian: That’s the impression I have, based on the stuff of hers I’ve read. What do you think of “Chevy Pick-up”?
John Berbrich: I like the casual feel of it — & the idea of sharing so many adventures w/ one’s car. Those sound like two great fun-filled years. Of course, she’s remembering the good times & making the best of the bad. Great music, fireworks, wind in your hair — they experienced all of this as a pair. In a funny way, the poem reminds me of the Japanese poet Basho’s poem to his walking hat, so many places they’ve traveled to together.
William Michaelian: Oh? I’d like to read that poem. In fact, there are probably so many translations of it that I could read it for a week. Definitely, though, vehicle and travel memories are deeply ingrained in people. I have a great number myself. Some are even related to my father’s 1965 Chevy pickup. He got it to use on the farm, but we went everywhere in that thing: camping, fishing, visiting friends and relatives. Edgren’s poem will earn many a reflective nod.
John Berbrich: Great memories. Hooking up a sagging muffler system w/ a broomstick & wire. Nancy once replaced a broken fan belt w/ nylons — they worked for awhile! Interesting that the poem was written from the car’s viewpoint. I’ll try to track down Basho’s poem while you read those book reviews.
William Michaelian: Great. Your loving bride obviously has a keen sense of fashion, matching a belt with nylons. And I do like your BookBeat section. The reviews are short, but you get right to the heart of each book. Moon Pie Press sure sounds busy these days.
John Berbrich: Yes. Their output of high-quality chapbooks has been amazing. However....I recently learned that Nancy Henry is stepping down from her position as co-editor, leaving Alice Persons alone at the top. I don’t know how this will affect Moon Pie, but I don’t think it will help. Publishing is a lot of work. And then last week, I received three new Moon Pie chapbooks.
William Michaelian: Wow. Do you have any idea how many chapbooks and writers they’ve published so far? I forget when they got started. Seems like they haven’t been at it a real long time.
John Berbrich: Well, I think Moon Pie’s been going for only two years. Maybe three. And they must have 20 chapbooks by now. Of course they don’t have to worry about a magazine as they only publish chapbooks. A Best of Moon Pie Press collection was expected soon, but I don’t know if it’ll happen. I’m constantly amazed at the talent up there in Maine.
William Michaelian: It must be the spuds. I remember reading in Travels With Charley that Steinbeck camped out with some Canadian migrants there during the potato harvest. Being around a bunch of lumpy spuds just naturally brings out the best in people. Anyway. I wish both Nancy and Alice well. Nothing stays the same very long in the small press world. Then again, there’s the Yawp — why, you guys are practically dinosaurs now.
John Berbrich: Our first issue came out in June of 1997. I’m starting to feel positively old. The December 2006 Yawp was #37. We’ve published 36 chapbooks & 14 issues of the now defunct Synergyst. Plus a special magazine one-time issue of local authors called Suitable for Burning. That’s 88 publications. No wonder I’m tired.
William Michaelian: You have every right to be. But the results have been well worth it. And while the Synergyst is no more, poetry is still well represented in the Yawp. Meanwhile, I notice that George Held’s chap, W is for War, and Michael Kriesel’s chap, Feeding My Heart to the Wind, were both published in Somerville, Massachusetts, but by different presses.
John Berbrich: I noticed that too. There’s no connection that I’m aware of. And one more thing — I believe that Somerville is where our old friend EE Cummings grew up. I’ve been there — it’s just north of Boston
William Michaelian: I see. And I have a nephew living in Amherst. And speaking of Kriesel’s poems, I enjoyed the two short ones of his that come just after BookBeat. C.E. Dinkins sounds like quite a character.
John Berbrich: Kriesel always seems to get things just right. He revises his poems for hours & hours, cutting & polishing, until every word is essential. I predict that one day he’ll be poet laureate of Wisconsin.
William Michaelian: He emerges from his room, covered with word dust. It clings to his lashes, and to the hair on his arms. “It’s a healthy poem,” he says proudly to those waiting outside. “Four lines, twenty-one syllables.
John Berbrich: Could be twins, or even triplets. Actually Kriesel is working on a new form he’s devised, writing a poem of three columns & perhaps four or five lines of words, that can be read either down or across. Does my explanation make sense?
William Michaelian: Yes — more than the form itself. Then again, it might be a great idea. Have you seen a finished one?
John Berbrich: Yes, I have. Of course each poem begins & ends in the same way, no matter how you read it. It’s interesting to read, & I imagine would be difficult to write. Another strange form was invented by some guy Kriesel knows from Wisconsin. It is called an abcdarium or something similar. Each poem consists of 26 lines of 10 syllables each. The trick is, the first letter of line one starts w/ A, the second line starts w/ B, et cetera. Or you can start off w/ Z in the first line & work it the other way. I’ve written a couple. I find them challenging & fun. No rhyme or meter necessary, just the 10 syllables per line. In fact we’re publishing one of Kriesel’s abcdariums in the March Yawp.
William Michaelian: Are you? I’ll look forward to it. It’s interesting. I’ve seen poems in Armenian written in line-by-line progression beginning with letters of the Armenian alphabet. And there are some ancient church songs that begin each verse that way. I can even think of one where each line within a given verse begins with the same letter of the alphabet.
John Berbrich: Interesting to see how form affects content.
William Michaelian: Definitely. I do have a story in which each paragraph begins with a consecutive letter of the alphabet. Not only that, each paragraph contains eight lines. But, like the story itself, this wasn’t planned. Both ideas came to me while I was writing the first paragraph. The piece is called “After the Rain Came.” It’s part of No Time to Cut My Hair and runs 3,284 words.
John Berbrich: I haven’t played alphabetic games like that. Sometimes I’d write a longer story, & my writing from every Sunday - Saturday would comprise a complete chapter, w/ asterisks further dividing each day’s work into mini-chapters. It’s fun to watch a work unfold before you.
William Michaelian: That it is. I love all aspects of writing: the effort, the challenge, the surprise, the result. Each day, I’m eager to get back at it. Not once have I dreaded the work ahead of me.
John Berbrich: I remember John Steinbeck once talking about this. He said that the most daunting thing in the world is to sit down to begin a novel & seeing 500 empty sheets of paper in front of you, knowing that you have to fill them all. But you just start w/ the first page & then go on to the second. Eventually, page by page, you finish, & then look ahead to the next novel.
William Michaelian: Exactly. One thing I know from personal experience: work creates its own possibilities, its own ideas. You can think about things for years and end up with nothing to show for it. As for Steinbeck’s ream of paper, I can see a poet making the same remark about a single sheet. Daunting, perhaps. But exciting more than anything else. Novel or poem, it’s like setting sail.
John Berbrich: It’s the best attitude for writing — & for living. Passion & excitement. Delight & expectation. Play. Serious play. Like Jim Morrison said: “Let everything....”
William Michaelian: And you can be sure it will — but not how, or when. . . . Wait — Steinbeck and Morrison having a beer. Now there’s a picture.
John Berbrich: Coulda happened. They both lived in California. But I think they frequented different social circles. Anyway, I want to tell you something amazing that I saw yesterday morning. I was out back shoveling snow in our driveway, which sort of curls around behind the house. I stopped for a moment to catch my breath & looked out at the river. The Grasse River at this point is mostly frozen over, but a few swift channels of dark open water race along between the white arms of ice. I saw something moving down river in the current, something fairly big & dark. It was complicated looking, like a dining room chair w/ extra arms & legs. Then it reached up & grabbed onto the ice shelf, hauling itself up out of the river. It was a deer! The deer stood there motionless for a few moments dripping cold water, then ambled off towards the trees along the roadside. It was quite a sight. I can only imagine how cold that poor thing was.
William Michaelian: Wow. I wonder how long it had been in the water. I guess it must have slipped and fallen in somewhere. Isn’t it strange? Had you gone out a few minutes earlier or later, you would have missed the whole thing. How deep is the snow there now? We had a little here a few weeks ago, but it has long since melted. Yesterday it was fifty-eight degrees.
John Berbrich: Ah, 58. Today the temperature climbed to one degree. That was the high. Snow, maybe 6-8 inches, depending where you stand. The snow belt just south of us got hammered w/ two feet of snow over the weekend. We’re a bit north of the usual storm route. They get the snow but we get the cold.
William Michaelian: Brrr. We get temperatures like that here, but it’s not typical. This winter, we’ve had quite a few lows in the teens, and a lot in the twenties. Back in 1989, I think it was, we had a good arctic blast about this time of year, where we had about a foot of snow on the ground that stayed for a couple of weeks, and lows between zero and five degrees. We still took good walks every day. I remember the atmosphere literally howling.
John Berbrich: I know what you mean about the howling. The coldest I’ve ever seen up here was about 12 years ago. It went down to 43 below zero one night, rose to 14 below zero the next day (that was the high!), dropped to 35 below the next night & rose to a minus 10 the next day. We also took walks, long ones, but when it’s 40 below you just can’t stay out long. Your skin can freeze. These are temperatures, not wind chills. We get wind chills of -60.
William Michaelian: It’s serious business. After all, you don’t want to end up like the guy in Jack London’s story, “To Build A Fire.” How hot does it get there in the summer? Is it humid? On average, when is the last freeze in spring and the first freeze in autumn?
John Berbrich: Usually our final frost comes in the last week of May or the first week of June. The first frost has been late the last few years, at the end of September. Normally it hits right after Labor Day but I’ve seen frost in August. Summers are fairly humid as we’re surrounded by water here, but not nearly as bad as Long Island. Lots of bats, so few mosquitoes. Temperature seldom rises above the low 90’s, generally hovering between 75-80. Seen snow from September to May.
William Michaelian: So, then, your growing season is even shorter than ours. Frosts here generally end in late April, and begin toward the end of October. We hit 100 degrees a time or two most summers. We average fifteen or twenty days in the nineties. The heat really doesn’t get going, usually, until mid-July. But nights are almost always pleasantly cool. Now. I want to thank you for suggesting Emerson’s essay on Thoreau. I found it in an old Modern Library collection of Emerson’s writings this afternoon when I was downtown. Just put it down. It paints quite a picture of a truly exceptional human being. I loved some of Thoreau’s lines from unpublished manuscripts that Emerson included near the end. For instance: “I put on some hemlock boughs, and the rich salt crackling of their leaves was like mustard to the ear, the crackling of uncountable regiments. Dead trees love the fire.” Beautiful.
John Berbrich: Gives me shivers to read it again, the words are so beautiful. I love Thoreau’s books. He writes in such an unhurried fashion, taking time to note all the details of the world around him. One gets the feeling that he loves those details, out of which the whole is made.
William Michaelian: Without a doubt. It was as Emerson said: “Every fact lay in glory in his mind.” He knew every inch of ground in their locale, every blossom, every scent, every creature, every sound. I didn’t know that Thoreau had lived for a time with Emerson, or that Walden was on Emerson’s property.
John Berbrich: Oh yeah. There’s a rather funny story I read about those two. Thoreau had gone to jail for one night, I think it was, because he refused to pay the poll tax, cuz he wouldn’t support a government that permitted slavery. Someone came & paid the tax for him, & he rather reluctantly left the jail. Anyway, Emerson didn’t think much of Henry’s escapade & asked him why he was in jail. Henry replied “Why weren’t you?” A perfect rejoinder.
William Michaelian: I’ll say. No wonder he made a lot of people feel ill at ease, including Emerson, who did mention Thoreau’s habit of initially contradicting almost everything everyone said.
John Berbrich: Quite an individual. You know, we really should conclude our conversational trip through the Yawp, as Agnes Hitchens Dunbar pulls up to your town, Salem, Oregon, in the late autumn, way back when.
William Michaelian: Hey, you’re right. Especially with our recent talk of the weather. It seems the old gal in this poem is exaggerating a bit when she referrs to her first winter as being “nothing but long arrows of sleet.” Hearing that, locals will scratch their heads. Other than one or two cold snaps, winters are generally mild here. Then again, her pig-headed dumbbell of a husband did die on the trail, leaving her and the kids to go on alone. So I’d say she's entitled to remember her first winter that way. Life with her new husband, though, Mr. Dunbar, seems to have been agreeable.
John Berbrich: Indeed. And don’t forget, Agnes is talking about 19th century winters, much harsher than ours. Cooperman sent four or five poems all related to this Westward Ho! theme, all of them excellent. It was difficult to choose one from among them.
William Michaelian: Well, in that case you can’t go wrong. In this one, he sounds like he must have been sifting through some old letters. Nicely done. And, now that you mention it, I do recall seeing an old wintertime photo of the Willamette River taken in Salem, when the river was frozen solid and there were cars parked on the ice. What about the next poem, “Door, Opening”? I like it. Matthew Ulland gives us a lot in those fourteen lines.
John Berbrich: I see the dead fellow as a spin-off descendent of those Oregon pioneers, only he stayed in the Midwest somewhere, working the land. If you’ve ever met a full time farmer like that, & I know that you have, they seem to belong to a different race of beings. In this poem he’s seen from a child’s perspective. No nonsense. You’re right, a lot is packed into those lines. The religious angle, the box, the door — what comes next?
William Michaelian: According to Ulland, “a scarred, smaller world.” And we are left wondering as we look down into the old man’s grave. And around us, the land, the sky, unfolding without end.
John Berbrich: Barren, empty. Which brings us to “The Skull,” one of the creepiest stories we’ve ever published. The author told me that it even creeped him out.
William Michaelian: That’s good. It should creep him out. What can I say? The story is sick, morbid, disgusting, and probably the result of too much television and caffeine. I like the short incomplete sentences. And the notion of being saved by insanity: “When you need it most insanity will always come. They keep you sane so you will never know the joy of total freedom. The freedom of insanity.” And just who are they? It seems there is no simple answer.
John Berbrich: I think that everyone has his own answer. I’m guessing that to the poor, they are the rich; to the rich they are the poor. But we know this — the democrats blame the republicans, the republicans blame the democrats, the old blame the young, the young blame the old, blah-blah-blah. They are always the ones obstructing what you want, keeping the world from realizing some abstract ideal that you have of it. They are sons of motherless goats, whoever they are. I chose that story because it was so darn effective. For some reason I kept trying to guard my throat as I was reading it.
William Michaelian: It does have that sense of immediacy, doesn’t it. But there’s one other they I was thinking of: they being voices inside the guy’s head. In his case, a real possibility.
John Berbrich: Oh, those theys. Well, the voices are either some kind of spirits giving commands or at least very strong suggestions, or they are voices his own mind is cooking up, which is totally psycho. Either way, it’s a messed up situation. Which sorta leads us into Spitzer’s poem.
William Michaelian: Ah, yes — gentle Spitzer and his world of flowers and butterflies. “His slimy purple gums were quivering with bludgery.” Yep. That’s Sasquatch, all right. What’s with this guy? People drive everywhere all night, they come and they go, nothing happens, but not Spitzer. Alone on a highway, Spitzer runs into Bigfoot. Bigfoot gets mad, Spitzer gets even.
John Berbrich: Some people are just blessed, I guess. Spitzer does feel a little bad about the whole encounter, & he consoles himself at the end by saying that Bigfoot was no worse than a lotta humans & therefore deserves it. Ah, well....one less Bigfoot.
William Michaelian: Yeah. Plenty more where he came from. Okay. What next. “Where?” by Anthony Lovekamp.
John Berbrich: The perfect answer to an assignment given by a teacher to a high school English class. Mr. D. got his 20 lines.
William Michaelian: I confess to a similar attitude regarding certain assigments — well, whole classes, really, and a number of teachers, of course. For that matter, school in general. But usually I didn’t go through the stymied-by-the-blank-page routine. I never had trouble filling up the requisite space, and entertaining myself in the process. It kept me from flunking out, anyway.
John Berbrich: Were any of these early literary productions published in school newspapers or magazines? I’ll bet your teachers would be proud of you if they could see you now.
William Michaelian: It’s more likely that they’d be appalled. No, unfortunately, none of these masterworks were preserved. Although several years ago, I did run across an old paper of mine from high school. Totally ridiculous. About a paragraph’s worth of content, stretched over three or four pages of handwritten bluster and blather.
John Berbrich: BS-ing the teacher is an art only the finest students can master. I was pretty good at it. All you need is one idea, just one, & then you stretch & embellish & restate & dance around that one idea for as long as you can. You’ll never get an A, but it’s usually good for a C+. At least you won’t flunk.
William Michaelian: Right. Especially when you back up your work with good-natured entertaining behavior that lightens the teacher’s load and makes his or her day worth living. Okay. Now on to “The Dummy.” You know, you have a lot of poems in this issue. With the handful of stories and your two “Beat” departments, it’s really a good mix.
John Berbrich: Thanks. “The Dummy” is one of my favorites. The scene is vividly sketched & the action quite funny. It’s really relatively innocuous, yet makes several points w/ ease. Not quite as easy as it looks.
William Michaelian: Definitely one of the lighter moments in this issue, if not the lightest. It’s not one of my favorites, but not because of its humor or lightness, both of which I appreciate. And you’re right, it’s plenty vivid. I like the first verse best — a scene in contemporary society, well observed, freshly spoken. After that, it becomes a tad predictable, at least to me, and not quite as fresh language-wise. I hope this doesn’t mean I’m off the editorial board.
John Berbrich: Of course not. However, you are still on your probationary period & your attitude will be taken into account. You probably won’t like the next poem either.
William Michaelian: Poem? I thought it was a story. . . . Oh. That’s why the lines are short and uneven. Wow. I guess there’s more to this editorial stuff than I thought. But why do you think I won’t like it?
John Berbrich: I was afraid you’d ask me that. No reason. I was trying to stir up trouble. Anyway, I guess it’s a poetic story, or perhaps a narrative told in free verse. It does capture some strange childhood fears rather well, & mentions real problems, like bullies.
William Michaelian: It does. And for that reason, it’s easy to identify with, kind of like the Chevy pick-up poem several pages back. The opening declaration, “Three thousand miles away, on the west coast, / It was the Summer of Love,” really gets your attention. Right off, you expect something big, maybe even profound. It rings halfway down the page. But what follows is not Love; instead, it’s about learning how to survive, and about growing up and gaining a measure of self-respect.
John Berbrich: Hey, you’re getting pretty good at this. The next piece, by Francine Witte, is also about growing up — more precisely, it’s about dealing w/ the aftermath of growing.
William Michaelian: An interesting name for adulthood — the aftermath. Unfortunately, for a lot of people, that’s an accurate description. But not for Francine Witte. The child within her still thrives. Although it’s framed as a miniature story, “My Childhood” is really more of a poem than some of the other poems in this issue. “You needed to remember. . . . Your father’s callused fingers, his dirty half moon nails.” I like it. It’s a good memory piece, and it shows how memory often seems to have a mind of its own. Bits and pieces appear when and where you least expect them, unlocked by sounds, smells, and who knows what else.
John Berbrich: That’s true. You never know when your own inner child is going to peer out. This is getting positively Freudian. I’m glad you like Francine’s piece — it sure looks like we’ll be publishing a chapbook of her short fictions sometime this spring. And I agree w/ you — her prose is very poetic, w/ all the connections & images.
William Michaelian: Such was the case with her piece in the last issue, “Cynthia Waits by the Phone.” I’m glad to hear you’re thinking about a chapbook. Not strictly prose, not strictly poetry. So, then. We arrive at the last piece in this issue, the delightful two-page poem, “Sparrow Consciousness,” by Cindy Glovinsky. The ideal ending, for both the poem and the magazine: a busy multi-perched bird feeder that has just been vacated, rendered as “the body after the soul has fled — / feeder still gently rocking.” It’s as if she was describing the Yawp itself. And earlier on, “the intricate choreography of sparrows, / fluttering acrobats in severe / brown tights making patterns to / a Bach fugue . . .” Yep. A mighty nice thing to find in one’s mailbox.
John Berbrich: I’m glad you like that one. We too thought that it was the perfect way to end the issue, a great image to leave in the mind. Now it’s done. So sad. But the new issue should be out inna couple of weeks. We’ve got a great cover already.
William Michaelian: Yeah? Don’t tell me. It’s simulated fish-wrap. . . . Hey, that’s not a bad idea. Think of it: the name Barbaric Yawp and the volume and number could be printed over a background of old faded newsprint, with a few thought-provoking headlines visible here and there. It would take time to assemble, but it could be a real work of art — a surreal collage.
John Berbrich: Certainly a challenge to any aspiring cover artist types out there. Know any?
William Michaelian: Yes. We have weekly meetings. There’s me, myself, and I. We each take turns running down the other two. I’ll bring up the collage idea at our next meeting and see if anyone’s interested. It would help a lot, though, if at least one of us knew how to use something other than a #2 pencil.
John Berbrich: You’ve got to keep up w/ the times, Willie. We’re using #7 pencils now, & let me tell you it’s a whole nuther world.
William Michaelian: Wow. Those must be really hard. How do you sharpen them? With an axe?
John Berbrich: Oh, I meant it has a #7 eraser. It’ll make nearly anything vanish. Reminds me of an old joke from the Watergate era. They were hiring secretaries based on how many words they could erase per minute.
William Michaelian: I like that one. By the way, I’m on Page 402 of Humboldt’s Gift. Only eighty-five pages to go. It’s a good book, full of philosophy, psychology, and humor. I’m sure you’ll like it. And when I was in the book store awhile back getting the book with Emerson’s essay on Thoreau, I also picked up a neat little pamphlet that contains a short story by Dylan Thomas called “The Outing.” It’s a delightful little piece, with writing like this:
I was staying at the time with my uncle and his wife. Although she was my aunt, I never thought of her as anything but the wife of my uncle, partly because he was so big and trumpeting and red-hairy and used to fill every inch of the hot little house like an old buffalo squeezed into an airing cupboard, and partly because she was so small and silk and quick and made no noise at all as she whisked about on padded paws, dusting the china dogs, feeding the buffalo, setting the mousetraps that never caught her; and once she sleaked out of the room, to squeak in a nook or nibble in the hayloft, you forgot she had ever been there.
There were a couple of companions to this volume that I might pick up next time I’m there: A Child’s Christmas in Wales and Holiday Memory. A pleasant, inexpensive treat. I found them in the poetry section.
John Berbrich: “...Sleaked out of the room, to squeak in a nook or nibble in the hayloft....” I love it. I have two short story collections by Dylan Thomas, Adventures in the Skin Trade, which I haven’t read yet, & A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog, which I read years ago. The latter was excellent, filled w/ more of that delightfully energetic prose-poetry, like your sleaking excerpt. In a used book store, you never know when you’ll come across a treasure.
William Michaelian: And we have three good ones — two downtown, and one across the river in West Salem. There are other small places scattered around that deal mostly in paperbacks. And there’s the little Friends of the Library store at the library. I’ve found a lot of books there. The sections are tiny, but there’s a lot of turnover, so there’s almost always something new.
John Berbrich: Do you have trouble parting w/ the books you’ve read? I have a real problem — I can’t get rid of them any more. I’m always building new bookcases. I’m getting pretty good at it.
William Michaelian: That’s a skill I should acquire. I could fill a new bookcase right now. I never get rid of books. When I bring them home, that’s it, they’re here to stay. What kind of wood do you use? Do you varnish it or leave it unfinished?
John Berbrich: I always use pine. I’d prefer to leave the wood plain, natural, virgin, but Nancy usually stains it some dark non-glossy color & it looks good. These shelves generally stand seven feet tall, & range between three & four feet wide. I have ten of them now, all filled, plus plenty of smaller ones. And we have normal, store-bought bookshelves too. They’re all filled.
William Michaelian: Wow. Sounds like you have a full-blown library. I’ll bet you draw inspiration just from the sight of those walls of books. I know I never get tired of looking at mine. And now for the Bellow update: I finished the novel yesterday. On Page 456, he uses the word farrago.
John Berbrich: Please don’t tell me it was in connection w/ a dentist.
William Michaelian: No, this was actually a legitimate usage of the word. Here’s the exact quote: “You mean someone made something of such a farrago?” And here’s the dialogue that immediately precedes it: “Eats human flesh! Exposed by the Russians as a cannibal! Goes back to his Sicilian village! An ice-cream vendor! All the kids in town love him.” I suppose you’ll want to read the book now.
John Berbrich: It does sound like the evil Dr. Farrago is involved somehow. But no, I’ve a stack of reading waiting for me. Oh, when I mentioned the bookcases I built, all filled & inspirational, I wasn’t counting the ones out in the barn to catch the overflow. There are several huge ones out there, full of course. I’m going to have to start building them up on the third floor. That’s our proposed guest room. Where you & Dollface will stay. I’ll be sure to line the shelves w/ some good books. And there’s a skylight.
William Michaelian: Ah, yes. The Skylight Suite. We’re looking forward to it. But shelves or not, it seems books in the barn might suffer due to changes in atmospheric conditions. Have you considered building a giant walk-in humidor?
John Berbrich: Ah, to hold your cigars when you come to visit, of course. Certainly, we’ll see that all is in order. Nothing but the best for our new cover artist.
William Michaelian: Uh-oh. You let the cat out of the bag. Now the pressure’s on. But I predict one cover is all it’ll take: you’ll get a raft of letters demanding I get the boot.
John Berbrich: We do have to consider the wishes of our readers. Business first, of course. However, seeing as how you’re just starting out, exceptions can be made. Right now I’m working my way through Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, the March 2007 issue. Nancy & I just signed up for a year. I love science fiction & have been away from it for too long. I like Asimov’s. It has stories, essays, interviews, cool ads, even poetry.
William Michaelian: Good move. I’ve heard of the magazine many times, but I’ve never actually read one. What kind of poetry turns up there?
John Berbrich: It pretty much sounds like regular small press free verse, only w/ science fiction & fantasy themes. Here’s a sample by Greg Beatty:
When I was young,
my grandfather built ships
in bottles. A disappointment
at first; when dad said
Grandpa was building boats
I imagined him with a gun,
firing hot rivets into iron.
Still, the bottles offer
their own pleasure, and
the ships were a surprise:
space, not sail. Some
the great galactic ladies
of fiction: The Enterprise,
of course, Lying Bastard,
Rama, and a minute Skylark.
Some were not fictional per
se, but instead hypothetical:
Grandpa’s version of a light
sail, gossamer belly cast from
reworked Frisbees, anomalous
bean stalks built of popsicle sticks.
When I was young,
the ships were the wonder.
Now that I’m not,
it’s the bottles.
There’s something wondrous
about a hyperspace shunt
inside a two liter Dr. Pepper,
a ramjet inside a Classic Coke.
I used to wonder at the ships.
Now I wonder at the nature
of the bottles that contain them.
Are they simply material,
glass and plastic bent from
original consumer purposes to
hold visionary beasts?
Or are they symbolic, serving
to mark the confines of
gravity, society, and perhaps
the fabric of spacetime:
with everything and
William Michaelian: Hey, that’s not bad. I like the last verse, especially. Of course I have no idea what an improvised Klein is. But since he mentions “the fabric of spacetime” I assume it’s a pair of pants.
John Berbrich: Yeah, Kleins is a clothing store in New York. I’m thinking of sending for guidelines — I want to mail some of my soft-SF stories in for consideration. I don’t do hard-SF. Asimov’s publishes both kinds. The other big SF journal, Analog, publishes only the latter.
William Michaelian: I must confess, I know little about this. What are the differences between soft and hard science fiction?
John Berbrich: Hard SF has a greater concentration on the technical aspects of physics, like maybe how a time machine works, or a faster-than-light hyper-drive. The technology must be intrinsic to the story. In soft-SF, the emphasis is more sociological or character-based. Of course these are broad definitions, but I think they hold together pretty well.
William Michaelian: It makes sense. Have you done a lot of writing in that vein?
John Berbrich: Some short stories, no poetry. I don’t intentionally set out to write a “science fiction” story, but occasionally my ideas run that way. I’ve had at least one published, a story called “Happy-O.” That was a good piece. Takes place in a future world where it is against the law to be unhappy. You must take your happy pills daily, & the kids are taught in school to report parents who exhibit less than happy behavior. This is enforced by robot police. The lawns & houses are perfect. The story is not perhaps totally original, but is short & pretty tight, w/ a good dramatic scene at the end. Anyway, I have some others I’d like to submit for possible publication. And Asimov’s pays!
William Michaelian: Really? What a novel concept. But you’d better be careful — it could be a trap. Just as you open their envelope to sniff the check, the floor gives way beneath you and you end up falling through space to the sound of the far-off laughter of your accountant. I like the premise of “Happy-O.” Plenty of room for tension. The poor hero must be in quite a bind.
John Berbrich: Well, yes. He’s rebelling, but the wife doesn’t like it. Of course the little daughter comes home from school — & there’s trouble.
William Michaelian: I can imagine. Is there anything sadder than a brainwashed child?
John Berbrich: Only a whole nation full of them. I’ll let you know how it all works out w/ Asimov’s. Almost finished w/ the Yawp. One final proof-read & that’s it. And wait until you see the covers!
William Michaelian: Did they turn out okay? I’m really sorry I won’t be able to attend the official reception and presentation at the Library of Congress, or go on the reading tour, or participate in the panel discussions. It’s my hair, you know. I can’t do a thing with it.
John Berbrich: Oh, Willie, that’s your same old excuse. You can do something about your hair, you know. I’ve fixed mine somewhat, turned out the birds & the squirrels. Kinda lonely & quiet now, but I don’t get as many strange looks in town anymore.
William Michaelian: Well, you have to take the good with the bad, I guess. This reminds me of Uncle Leo’s predicament. You remember Uncle Leo, don’t you — the guy with the enormous mustache that served as a home for a family of hummingbirds?
John Berbrich: Yeah I do. But why don’t you tell it again for the benefit of our thousands of readers.
William Michaelian: Okay. Snore. On second thought, I think I just did. Except that his loneliness and quiet were achieved without getting a trim. The family grew, then flew, leaving him alone and heartbroken. Sniff. You know, I think I’ll go to that reception after all.
John Berbrich: Sorry, it’s all been cancelled since they found out you weren’t attending. Thanks, Willie. Ah, well, it’s like you say, you gotta take the good w/ the bad. Saw an acoustic show at the cafe tonight. Lots of good sounds. Picked up a used poetry book by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Here’s a poem:
Recipe for Happiness in Khabarovsk or Anyplace
One grand boulevard with trees
with one grand cafe in sun
with strong black coffee in very small cups
One not necessarily very beautiful
man or woman who loves you
One fine day
William Michaelian: Nice. Our youngest son has some Ferlinghetti lying around here somewhere. I’ve read a few entries at random, and some others at book stores, but I like this one better. Ah, for that strong black coffee, served in tiny cups, thick and with a layer of foam on top — brpoor, the foam is called in Armenian. Someday, I’ll make you some and we can take turns reading each other’s fortune.
John Berbrich: It’s a deal. That’s exactly what I need, a fortune. I have a recording of Ferlinghetti reading his poem “Underwear.” It’s a good poem, funny as well, & we play it sometimes on Howie & the Wolfman. The poet’s staunch Brooklyn accent adds charm to the words.
William Michaelian: Ferlinghetti is from Brooklyn? I had no idea. Other than his involvement with the City Lights book store in San Francisco, I know little about him.
John Berbrich: Maybe it was Yonkers. Definitely metro New York, anyway. Really messed-up childhood as I recall. Went to San Francisco in the 50’s & started City Lights. As far as I know, Ferlinghetti is still around, but he’s closing in on 90.
William Michaelian: That’s the perfect response to a messed-up childhood — start a book store in San Francisco, publish Howl, hook up with Kerouac, etc. He’ll be remembered a long time, no doubt, just for his associations alone. I really should look into his writing, though. Just what I needed — another excuse to go to the book store.
John Berbrich: I feel the same way. And you know, it’s inspiring to think that some day, after a really tough week, some young people will want to visit that crazy Antique & Junk Poem Shop. “You never know what you’ll find in there,” sez Julie. “Quit pulling on my arm,” sez Tom. But he gives in. The young lovers cruise over to that bizarre building, really a series of buildings now, located in that funny spot on the edge of town. “Even the sun looks different here,” sez Julie; “I love this place.” Tom nods. “It is pretty cool,” he admits.
William Michaelian: Wow. This is kind of spooky — I too was thinking of the Antique and Junk Poem Shop. I was wondering what would happen to City Lights after Ferlinghetti . . . well, but perhaps he won’t. Anyway, I like the idea of a book store being the center of so much activity — a meeting place for literary minds, a publishing house, a harbor — a volcano. But our shop moves far beyond that. Heck, we don’t even have a location yet, but the place already exists.
John Berbrich: It really does. I’d love to hear what some of our other Forum readers think of it. Say, here’s an excerpt from an autobiographical poem by Ferlinghetti I thought you’d like. The poem is rather lengthy & is entitled “True Confessional.”
I was a wind-up toy
someone had dropped wound-up
into a world already
The world had been going on
a long time already
but it made no difference
It was new it was like new
i made it new
i saw it shining
and it shone in the sun
and it spun in the sun
and the skein it spun
was pure light
My life was made of it
William Michaelian: I like it. It’s a poem in itself. How long is the whole piece? Is it all structured like this, or does he change gears along the way?
John Berbrich: Nah, it’s all like this, one long stanza, three pages. I love the beginning:
I was conceived in the summer of Nineteen Eighteen
(or was it Thirty Eight)
when some kind of war was going on
but it didn’t stop two people
from making love in Ossining that year
I like to think on a riverbank in sun
on a picnic by the Hudson
as in a painting of the Hudson River School
or up at Bear Mountain maybe
after taking the old Hudson River Line
paddlewheel excursion steamer
(I may have added the paddlewheel —
the Hudson my Mississippi)
And on the way back she
already carried me
inside of her
I lawrence ferlinghetti
William Michaelian: I can see why. Leave it to a poet to imagine a world based on what seems to be a simple, single, ordinary fact — and to remind us once again that it is really extraordinary, even miraculous.
John Berbrich: Life is a miracle. Lots of poets have been saying that very thing for many hundreds of years. All you have to do is to look around. It’s pretty obvious. It’s that Zen thing. Pay attention. Feel your breath, in & out, in & out. Pay attention. You are alive.
William Michaelian: Sorry — too busy. The Library of Congress called. The Yawp reception is back on. Ferlinghetti will be there, and Auden, and Pound, and Eliot — Kerouac too, Basho, Vachel Lindsay, Byron, Keats, Brautigan, Burns — after which we will all adjourn to the Antique & Junk Poem Shop.
John Berbrich: Excellent! And that special batch of beer is almost ready — Waste Land Ale! I can just about taste it now. So dark & rich it’s almost scary. And then we can all read our junk poems.
William Michaelian: Around a bonfire in the parlor. Best of all, Waste Land Ale is also good on pancakes. I do like a brew that sticks to your ribs. Makes it worthwhile to get up in the morning.
John Berbrich: Spoken like a true poet. We’ll be climbing in the trees, singing like birds, greeting the riotous morning!
William Michaelian: Yep. It’s potent stuff, all right. Say, I’m thinking of adding a new page to the website. As you know, I write occasionally about some of my favorite books and authors. But it occurred to me today that I could also be writing about the books I bring home for one reason or another but don’t necessarily finish. There’s no end to the interesting things I’ve discovered, or the places they lead. For example, the other day I was at Borders, and in their bargain pile I found a book about Virginia Woolf called The Mrs. Dalloway Reader. And a nice little book of letters by the Impressionist painter Edouard Manet. And another book about Benjamin Franklin going to France. And that’s only three.
John Berbrich: So you’re saying you plan to write about books that you’re not going to read?
William Michaelian: Ha! Yes. But only in a manner of speaking. I’m going to write about the parts of them that I do read, even if it’s only the copyright page or the table of contents. In some cases, I’ll write about the binding, layout, or typeface, which are also legitimate reasons for buying a book. And then later, when I pick them up again and read around in them some more, I can go back and add notes on that particular title. I suppose this all sounds crazy.
John Berbrich: Nothing wrong w/ crazy. I have kept a reading journal for years. Often in my summation I mention where I got the book (new, used, a gift) & its appearance, whether it’s a first edition, & other minutiae. Although I have the feeling that you’ll be getting into this project a little more deeply.
William Michaelian: I do tend to go overboard with most things. But as this is destined for public consumption, I have to keep the poor reader in mind. In your journal, do you write only about the books you’ve finished? Or does everything you bring home merit at least a few lines?
John Berbrich: Actually I have two journals, one a book journal & the other a reading journal. In the former, when I complete a book, I write in my thoughts, the publisher, page-count, anything I can think of at the time, a grand summary. In the reading journal, I update my reading every day or two — can be anything, the book I’m working on or something I’ve seen in a magazine. Plus there is actually a third journal strictly of quotes, where I write in say a few great lines from a Ferlinghetti poem or anything else I come across. It’s a good thing I don’t go overboard like you.
William Michaelian: Definitely. I don’t know how you do it, but somehow you manage to control yourself. Do you refer to these journals very often?
John Berbrich: Not really. I print them out like little chapbooks, 30-50 pages each. I make a cover for each one & a table of contents. These are all published under the banner of Universe Press, a tiny division of BoneWorld Publishing. I have these other things called Rambles, where I type like a maniac for a page or two. There are about 100 of those, all printed neatly into 30- or 35-page volumes. Then every year I keep a journal, like a personal/family adventure chronicle — these usually run 100-120 pages annually. No wonder I’m tired.
William Michaelian: Well, such activities do take their toll. But not as great a toll as would be taken if you didn’t do them. Sanity, I believe it’s called. A frightening, debilitating condition.
John Berbrich: Sanity. I sometimes think it’s overrated, although it must be preferable to absolute insanity. Of course, it matters a great deal who’s doing the diagnosis. Reminds me of those oft-quoted words by Emily Dickinson:
Much madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.
’Tis the majority
In this, as all, prevails.
Assent, and you are sane;
Demur,—you’re straightway dangerous,
And handled with a chain.
William Michaelian: One of her best. A great poem. And so true. It seems that people who are absolutely sure of their sanity are often the most dangerous.
John Berbrich: Yeah. Self-righteous bullies. Listen to this — at the radio station yesterday I was scrolling through news stories & came across this. NYC has made the saying of the “n-word” illegal. For both blacks & whites. The degree of the crime was not specified. This seems unconstitutional. I’m really pissed-off at this & hope it was a mistake. The blip said that the City wanted to be a model for other cities. Oh, it’s horrible. I miss the old wicked New York, although this sort of squeaky clean language control is really the essence of self-righteous wickedness. I can’t believe that they can pull something like this off.
William Michaelian: Here’s how they’ll make it work. First, all adults will be deputized. Second, they will be issued a ticket book. Third, whenever an infraction occurs, a deputy will step up and issue a ticket to the evil lawbreaker. Next, we’ll say the ticket is for a hundred dollars. The deputy gets twenty percent, the city gets the rest. So everybody makes a profit. Once this program is in place, it will be easy to add other crimes to the list.
John Berbrich: When you put it that way, it does make sound economic sense. People will feel useful & important turning each other in, & the city will get rich w/ all the fines. It’s a win-win situation. Thanks for pointing this out to me.
William Michaelian: Think nothing of it. But there is a downside. This law will attract a huge number of people wanting to live in such a model city — millions would be my guess. This will put a strain on the infrastructure. I worry about the sewer system, garbage pickup, things like that.
John Berbrich: So the whole metro Utopia could come tumbling down. Man, it’s hard to know what to do. I mean, wha’s more important — garbage & sewage or a word that offends some people? I mean, what’s the proper course of action here? What would the evil Dr. Farrago do? What should the average Joe & Jane Citizen do?
William Michaelian: I don’t know. But obviously there’s a good story in it. And it might take a mad genius like Farrago to restore the city’s proper wicked balance. Meanwhile, life moves on.