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: One of the beautiful things about dividing this preposterous six-year-old conversation into separate pages is that it gives us an escape route when we talk ourselves into a corner. On the other hand, thereís nothing quite as frightening as starting a new page, because if we stumble early on, weíre obliged to dig our way out. That said, thereís something Iíve been wanting to ask you for a long time: What is the meaning of life?
John Berbrich: Well, according to the English band Procol Harum, ďLife is like a beanstalk, isnít it?Ē Thatís from the song ďIn Held Twas in I,Ē a real masterpiece of late 60ís rock. As for myself, I donít have an answer. What does Willipedia say?
William Michaelian: I donít know. It seems someone tore the pages from that section. But I had an amazing dream last night. I dreamt that I had been sentenced to death for an undisclosed minor offense, and that I was to be given a lethal injection at midnight. As the time approached, a crowd began to assemble in the auditorium, and when I peeked into the room I heard a reporter say, ďAnd there he is.Ē So I walked in and said, ďYes, here I am, that horrible evil-doer,Ē and I started dancing like Groucho Marx. The people laughed and clapped. I walked back into the corridor. To a woman from Spain, I said, ďDo you know what bothers me most about this? What bothers me is that I wonít be able to write about it.Ē And I started to sob. But the woman had no sympathy. She told me I was using death as an excuse.
John Berbrich: Wow. Letís unpack this one carefully. Why Spain, do you think?
William Michaelian: I can only guess. The strange thing is, I knew she was from Spain because of her glasses. She had Spanish glasses. And eyebrows, I think. But what are Spanish glasses. I donít know. Those details slipped away quickly.
John Berbrich: The whole dream sounds like something by Kafka. Thereís that undercurrent of guilt & lack of control of the situation. But then you sound almost flippant about the entire thing. Dreams are so weird. Totally commonplace occurrences can seem dreadful & ghastly, while really dangerous situations you can laugh off.
William Michaelian: True. I certainly wasnít worried about the death part. Only about not being able to write about it. The approach. The moment of it. Terrible to miss such an opportunity.
John Berbrich: Yeah, it doesnít come often.
William Michaelian: Hmm. Wouldnít it be interesting if death meant being chained to an old typewriter throughout all eternity, typing up news releases of no celestial importance whatsoever? And the desks are lined up, and youíre working knee to knee with someone who died long before typewriters were invented and the poor guy canít figure the thing out, or the noise of the keys drives him wild, and so you start typing his releases as well just to calm him down, and . . .
John Berbrich: Jeez, Willie, this sounds like a nightmare. Reminds me of the labors of that fellow Sisyphus. Itís useless & it just never ends, never ends, never ends. Youíd have to plan an escape, eventually. Or commit suicide. Can you commit suicide in the afterlife?
William Michaelian: Yes, according to Willipedia you can, but doing so merely sends you into another afterlife, where all the typewriter ribbons need changing.
John Berbrich: Yow. I was afraid it might send you back here. Reminds me of a book I read many years ago by Philip Jose Farmer called To Your Scattered Bodies Go. This guy dies & wakes up in the Afterlife. Everyone who ever lived on Earth, now lives along the banks of this absurdly long river. I mean, thatís like bazillions of people. Anyway, this one guy wants to know what happens if you die again, so he purposely drowns himself (it isnít easy) & awakes in another spot along the river. So he drowns himself again. And again. And again. He drowns himself over 800 times. Then some personage, a sort of guardian in the Afterlife, stops by to tell him that heís getting close to his limit & that the guardians arenít sure what will happen if he keeps drowning himself. So he stops. I canít remember what happens after that.
William Michaelian: Amazing. Do you recall how the dead spent their time along this river? Or how any of them reacted to the guyís suicide? Youíve got to admire his determination.
John Berbrich: Seems like people pretty much lived the way they do now. I really canít remember. They searched for & eventually lived w/ others who spoke the same language & came from similar cultures. If you journeyed far enough along the river things began to turn strange, like the weather got cold & you encountered like these big Vikings. I mean really big. And they had wars, a perennial human pastime. Mark Twain had a major role in this book too.
William Michaelian: Oh? I guess thatís fitting, river-wise. Weird. I just looked up Farmer. According to this Wikipedia article, he was born in 1918 and is still alive. And I see that To Your Scattered Bodies Go is part of a larger series called Riverworld. Quite a biography.
John Berbrich: Yeah. I believe the Riverworld series consists of four or five books. To Your Scattered Bodies Go was the first in the series, & the best. I donít believe I read them all. Farmer has written biographies of several fictional characters, including Tarzan & Doc Savage. The Doc Savage book was excellent. I used to read those paperbacks when I was a kid & they scared the heck out of me, Doc Savage did anyway. He was one of those heroes who knew everything & could get out of any situation. You familiar w/ him?
William Michaelian: Not really. Wasnít he an old pulp character?
John Berbrich: Yeah. According to Farmerís book, the first issue of Doc Savage hit the newsstands on February 15th, 1933. Farmer was 15, & remembers seeing the ďBronze man with the strange golden eyes, in his torn shirt, clutching a little black idol, shadowed by three Mayan warriors peering from behind an ancient Mayan pillar.Ē Sounds pretty exciting.
William Michaelian: Iíll say. I just found some more background on this page:
ďDoc Savage was created by Street and Smithís Henry W. Ralston, with help from editor John L. Nanovic, in order to capitalize on the surprise success of The Shadow magazine.
ďIt was Lester Dent, though, who crafted the character into the superman that he became.
ďDent, who wrote most of the adventures, described his hero ó Clark ĎDocí Savage Jr. ó as a cross between ĎSherlock Holmes with his deducting ability, Tarzan of the Apes with his towering physique and muscular ability, Craig Kennedy with his scientific knowledge, and Abraham Lincoln with his Christliness.í
ďThrough 181 novels, the fight against evil was on. From a headquarters on the 86th floor of a towering Manhattan skyscraper, Doc, his five pals ó Renny, Johnny, Long Tom, Ham and Monk ó and occasionally his cousin Pat battled criminals the world over (and under) 12 times a year, from 1933 until early 1947; then the teamís exploits dropped to every two months until the final three quarterly issues in 1949.Ē
John Berbrich: Farmer calls these 181 novels supersagas. He met w/ Dentís widow while preparing this book. She told him that her husband had written the Doc Savage books w/ 15-year-old boys in mind. Bantam Books began reprinting the series in 1964, which is probably when I started reading them. Dent wrote most of the books, but not all. I read only a few.
William Michaelian: Man, wouldnít it be great to have that collection. And then there is Vernon Dent, who appeared in dozens of the old Three Stooges shows. Remember him? Take a look.
John Berbrich: Yes, I remember Vernon Dent. The guy was perfect for that part, the straight man. I love the Three Stooges. Listen, while we were talking about Doc Savage, I meant to ask you if you had ever considered creating a pulp character like a detective or superhero & developing him (or her) in some sort of extended adventure series. Iíd love to do that. I guess youíd just have to start writing & see what happens. I mean, you canít project an entire series of books before you even write the first word, can you?
William Michaelian: Well, I do believe some people have that knack. I certainly donít. Balzac and Zola had big plans in that direction, wanting to leave no stone of French society unturned. But no, I never have really thought in terms of adventure, unless you count psychological adventure ó that which takes place between a characterís ears. I do believe in writing to see what happens, though. So really, for me, the writing is the adventure. How about you? Do you have a superhero in mind?
John Berbrich: I kind of do, sort of. In fact, Iím nearly finished w/ book number one, a chapbook length account of the adventures of Paul....I forget the last name. Anyway, Iíd rather not disclose the nature of his amazing abilities until the book is done. I think itís called ďSand City,Ē or something like that. As you can no doubt tell, I havenít looked at this project for awhile, having been called away by so many others. But I think itís nearly finished. Tell you what, Iíll make it a priority to complete the story sometime in 2009. If I can find it, that is....
William Michaelian: So your first priority is finding it. That will probably take until June. Then your second priority will be to refamiliarize yourself with the story and character. That will take until December. And then, finally, on New Yearís Eve 2009, youíll hammer out the rest of the story and... ďSand City,Ē baby!
John Berbrich: And then Iíll have to print it up & figure out some sort of groovy cover. So an extension may be necessary. Actually, I donít think thereís an awful lot remaining to write but I really canít remember. I need to make a New Yearís Resolution: I must develop the habit of finishing projects. I must, I must, I must. There. Resolution #1. Wait till I get to Resolution #9, #9, #9, #9.....( but I think thatís been done before......)
William Michaelian: Yes, but thereís nothing like a good sound collage to start the new year. And of course thatís something else we havenít tackled ó a sound collage. It could even be a pulp sound collage, using little snippets from old radio serials.
John Berbrich: Now that would be cool. Gunshots, women screaming, a husky menacing voice, squealing tires, & a whole chaotic blare of noir theme music. Lots of trumpets & drums. Perfect for that morning drive to work.
William Michaelian: It could begin with the sound of a í36 Chevy pulling away from a curb. Other sounds: footsteps on creaky wooden stairs, the girls laughing and chatting together in a brothel, and someoneís grandmother saying ďHoney, Honey,Ē over and over ó as a tribute to #9, #9, of course.
John Berbrich: I wonder what happens when we get to #10? And what happened to #8? Anyway ó I like the idea of the girls in the brothel. Because all that laughing & chatting will stop when one of them comes up missing. Then they all wonder about that stranger thatís been hanging around, leaning against a lamppost, staring at the building, watching the girls as they whisper and giggle on the steps. But he never comes in. He canít be a cop, cuz if he were heíd be in the upstairs room enjoying a special free treatment.
William Michaelian: Exactly. But the real challenge is to capture what you just said in sound ó through a series of sounds ó bedsprings, charming old clocks, toy whistles, tea kettles, shouts, the rustling of newspapers, someone clearing his throat, beer bottles being pried open, liver and onions being fried, a dogís toenails clicking as it crosses a wooden floor ó and in the background the reading of a sermon, or perhaps Eliotís Wasteland ó all combined somehow to suggest, to suggest the suggestion, to suggest the suggestion of a suggestion being suggested, that perhaps indeed something terrible and mournful and sad has befallen the girl, as one last giggle gives way to a cry of pain, followed by, ďYou should have listened to your Aunt Polly, dear,Ē before moving inexorably onward.
John Berbrich: I think we really need to start recording in a junkyard during a windstorm. The way the air whistles over the old rusting hulks, soughs & sighs in the nearby trees, sings its obscure songs in hollow crevices. Weíll start a roaring campfire, invite the resident hoboes over for brandy, then get to work.
William Michaelian: Great idea. And weíll call the place Studio A. Studio B, should the temperature dip below minus-thirty, will be an old boxcar. Or thatís where we can do our ďmixing.Ē Whatever that is.
John Berbrich: ďMixing,Ē my dear fellow, occurs when one attends a party & wishes to mingle among the guests, either to avoid talking to oneís wife, or simply to check out the female fauna present. Or perhaps you meant another sort of ďmixing.Ē Iím mixed up.
William Michaelian: Well, Iím certainly familiar with the type of mixing you mention. I donít think itís what I meant, but it sounds like it would be every bit as effective. Especially at those lower temperatures. Of course this reminds me of A Hard Dayís Night once again, when Paul referred to his grandfather as a ďking mixer.Ē
John Berbrich: Iíve often wondered exactly what Paul meant by that cryptic line. Iíve lost many hours of sleep over it. In any case, itís a great name for an arena-rock band. A little pompous, ostentatious, geared for the big show, where every movement is exaggerated. Still, their melodies do remain in oneís cranium long after the applause has died away.
William Michaelian: Very good idea. The stage can be a giant replica of a junkyard. Or the whole concert could take place in a landfill, with the audience sitting on sloping mounds of tin cans and mangled refrigerator doors, while gulls circle overhead.
John Berbrich: Weíll call it Crudstock. Itís beautiful, Willie, absolutely beautiful. We can sell T-shirts, draft beer in old tin cans, maybe have a demolition derby to warm up the crowd. This is your best idea yet.
William Michaelian: With a name like Crudstock, which I wholeheartedly embrace, we could make it a full-blown three-day event. And thereís no reason to stop at one performance. There are scenic landfills all over the country just perfect for something like this. What do you think ó could we publish a companion tour guide, showing pictures of these classic places? Everyone loves a good landfill. Itís part of our legacy. A calendar, maybe?
John Berbrich: A calendar, yes ó gaudy & glossy. And just in time for the holidays! And to accompany the tour guide, how about an illustrated cookbook devoted to the preparation of hearty delicacies discovered during dumpster-diving? Again, itís part of the national tradition, &, considering the present economic downturn, might be expected to make a real comeback. And we can serve samples at the landfill concerts! How can anything go wrong?
William Michaelian: It canít. I get chills just thinking about it ó and how the tin cans my father and I hauled to the dump way back in 1960 are still there. Itís enough to make a grown man weep. And the appliance section, the lonely refrigerators with their doors removed, watching us as we passed. This is every bit as good as the Three Tenors singing in some ancient Roman ruins. Better, really. I mean, that was staged. Contrived. This is ó what ... a health hazard?
John Berbrich: Aw címon, Willie ó no pain, no gain. Whatís life without risk? Soy & warm milk. Lo-fat vegetables. NA beer. So ó what bands do you have lined up?
William Michaelian: Only one so far. The group doesnít have a name yet, and the members donít play any instruments. But they know how to hold them ó went to school for it, in fact. They all have degrees. MFAs. MFBs. MFCs.
John Berbrich: Wait a minute ó Iíve heard of these guys. This isnít Blind Willie Michaelian, is it? The famous blues singer/guitarist. Oh, man, what a start to Crudstock.
William Michaelian: Do you have any idea what heís charging these days? There isnít that much beer in the world. Still, he hasnít said no. Then again, I havenít asked him. No, thereís nothing blind about this other group, other than their intellect. Say, maybe that could be their name: Blind Intellect. Unless itís already taken.
John Berbrich: Havenít heard of them. Blind Intellect, huh? Not bad. I think rather than schedule bands we should leave it open ó like an open-mike battle of the bands sort of thing. That way no one would charge & weíd get plenty of entrants cuz everyone would want to win. Make sense?
William Michaelian: Absolutely. Much better. All we have to do is publicize the thing. Which reminds me ó you probably heard awhile back that one of the greatest drummers of all time, Mitch Mitchell, died in a Portland hotel room. So I guess he wonít be able to make it.
John Berbrich: No, I hadnít heard that. Awful news. I loved Mitchís drumming on the early Hendrix albums. Always sounded like he was having a great time. Plus he was photogenic in a strange way. Always had this funny wry quarter-smile, like he had just smelled something really bad but it didnít bother him. The quarter-smile was from wondering whence the smell originated. Yeah, so he wonít be there.
William Michaelian: Wait ó he just confirmed. Said he heard about it at the Junk Poem Shop. Man, news travels fast. I like that picture of him where his hair is all frizzed up. Maybe thatís a look we should try for.
John Berbrich: Sure. And you could frizz up your beard, too. Talk about 80ís hair bands. Weíd be one scary rock band, let me tell you. You holding that guitar like you know what to do w/ it. Me gripping the microphone, the black cord slithering across the stage like a snake. And Mitch Mitchell to do all the real work on drums. We still need a bass player.
William Michaelian: Letís get Jack Bruce ó that is, if you donít mind working with a guy whoís still alive. I like that term, ďhair band.Ē But if I frizz up my beard, it might be less effective as a weathervane. We have to be practical too, you know.
John Berbrich: Címon, Willie, whatís more important ó music or monitoring the local windís velocity & direction? Alright then, you donít have to frizz the beard, okay? To tell the truth I was considering Jack Bruce as the bass player. No problem that heís still alive, although I certainly hope this doesnít jinx him in any way. How about Keith Richards on backup guitar, w/ you on lead?
William Michaelian: Sure. He might not even know heís there. We might also call in Jeff Beck. And I have an idea for the beard problem. Iíll frizz one side and leave the other side alone. Now all we need is a wall of Marshall amps turned up to ten, and a place to plug them in.
John Berbrich: Iíve got a really long extension cord. Nuthin can stop Blind Intellect now.
William Michaelian: Great news! And we can post sentries at one-mile intervals. In search of the lost cord.
John Berbrich: It could be the cord that the Moody Blues have been searching for, all these long years. Better give them a phone call, tell íem the good news.
William Michaelian: Yes, imagine an entire lifeís work based on a lousy misspelling. Who knows, they might not take it so well.
John Berbrich: True. I think youíd better call then. Youíre better at this sort of thing than I am. Tactful & all that.
William Michaelian: Oh, yeah. Iím Mr. Tact. ďBoys, I know youíre washed up and your careerís been a waste, but thereís hope. It isnít chord. Itís cord. Happy New Year.Ē
John Berbrich: See, thatís what I mean. I wouldnít have thought of the New Yearís angle. Resolutions & all that. Itís a new beginning for the band. Willie, youíre a genius.
William Michaelian: I donít know. I sound kind of like Howard Cosell with a heart. Just where have you been keeping this mystical cord when itís not in use? Seems like itís big enough to smother the whole town of Russell.
John Berbrich: Now hold on a minute there, pardner. Russellís a purty darn big town. They ainít no cord nor chord can smother it.
William Michaelian: Well, okay. So it would take two cords. Anyway, you must have the thing in one heckuva tight coil. Which reminds me of that marvelously poetic term, ďmortal coil.Ē
John Berbrich: Wow. Sounds like something wound-up so tight that it could spring at any moment. Like a coiled snake. Wait a minute, I thought the term was ďmortal toil.Ē
William Michaelian: In fact, that was Shakespeareís original intention, but it was changed by the printer, who was also in the mortal coil business, so named for the new-fangled bed springs he was trying to sell.
John Berbrich: That Willipedia is an amazing innovation. Before the bed was invented people slept on mortal soil. So the mortal coil was indeed another timely innovation.
William Michaelian: Okay, letís get it out of the way: foil, broil, boil, moil, oil ...
John Berbrich: You forgot goil. Iím sure Iíve heard Popeye say that.
William Michaelian: Aye, that you have. Do you know, I was actually approached by Wikipedia the other day. They want to asborb Willipedia and keep me on as an adviser, and to go around giving lectures and that sort of thing. I said no, of course.
John Berbrich: Why did you say no?
William Michaelian: Well, I thought they would see it as sort of a bargaining move. Instead they just said, ďOkay.Ē
John Berbrich: Do you mean they said ďokayĒ in that they agreed to your refusal to accept their offer, or do you mean they said ďokayĒ w/ the intention to use you & Willipedia whether you agree to it or not?
William Michaelian: Thatís exactly what Iíve instructed the Willipedia lawyers to find out, if they ever sober up. Not that they do better work when theyíre sober, but at least then I can understand what they say. So, you think I should do it, eh? Let this whole beautiful work of art just slip through my hands, in exchange for a few paltry million?
John Berbrich: Well....I think that a better idea would be for you to take over Wikipedia, sort of absorb it into Willipedia. What do you say?
William Michaelian: It would be easy enough to do. All Iíd have to do is read every Wikipedia entry; my ďmindĒ would do the rest ó the discarding, the shuffling, the recycling, the assigning of new and appropriate meaning, and of course the randomizing, which is really, when you get down to it, the heart of Willipedia. As Iíve always said, ďNo fact within reason.Ē
John Berbrich: Thatís so beautiful, Willie, really. Just pondering that phrase is like entering a secret portal that leads to all the answers of the universe. And you donít even have to know the questions.
William Michaelian: Exactly. Questions really are so limiting. I would much rather begin with the answers, and then discover the questions from there.
John Berbrich: Kind of like the opposite of that TV show Jeopardy! ďPlease state that in the form of an answer.Ē That would be interesting though. You start w/ an answer & then try to discover all the possible questions that would lead to it. I have a feeling that this would be an extremely long, though interesting, process. Class, the answer is 147. You have exactly 10 minutes to devise all possible questions that would lead to an answer of 147. Go. And you in the back ó Michaelian ó settle down.
William Michaelian: Right ó thereís nothing more disrupting than a kid who thinks he knows all the questions. I suspect this way of thinking seems difficult because weíve been so long in the habit of question, then answer, horse, then cart, and so on. Cause and effect. Of course some would argue that an answer doesnít exist, or at least that it isnít needed, until a question has been posed. But it could just as easily be argued that questions arise directly from answers, that thereís no need of a particular question until youíre confronted with the answer.
John Berbrich: But everything is an answer, w/ each answer limited only by the question. Should we start a new philosophical movement? Maybe compose a Manifesto? I seem to recall that we began a Manifesto several pages back, but I donít think we got very far. Are we answering questions or questioning answers? How about statements that are both questions & answers simultaneously? Like you ask, ďWhat are you doing that for, you moron?Ē & I answer, ďWell, who wants to know, bacon face?Ē My response is both a question & an answer.
William Michaelian: The Bacon Face Defense has its place, of course. Iíd be a fool to deny that. And youíre right that everything is an answer. And since it is, it follows naturally that everything is also a question. And a question is a question even if it isnít asked, just as an answer is an answer even if it isnít recognized as such. And as for our Manifesto, I thought we decided a year or two ago that this entire Conversation is our Manifesto. If we had one, we could ask the Secretary to read back that portion of the Document.
John Berbrich: But we donít, & I suppose that thatís another answer. Right. So our Manifesto is both a questioning of the universe & an answer to the universe. As you suggest, many of these questions & answers go unstated, yet they are implied by the subtle & inferred by the perceptive. This sort of philosophy, the Bacon Face Defense aside, morphs a dull & brutish existence into a rich & infinitely complex experience. Every moment becomes a revelation.
William Michaelian: And not only a revelation to someone, us, everyone, but a revelation in and of itself. The universe is a question. The universe is an answer. Hmm ... maybe the universe is also a Manifesto.
John Berbrich: Ye gods, Willie ó youíve hit it right on. And here it was, all the time, directly under our noses, so to speak. The answer/question to everything. Stephen Hawking, you may now retire.
William Michaelian: Wonít he be relieved. Or do we still have to wonder if the universe is the right question. Because if it isnít, it might not be the right answer. As Manifesto, it sure must be written on one gigantic bar napkin.
John Berbrich: Surely, thereís got to be something about all this in Willipedia. I mean, it canít have completely slipped by everyone until this moment, can it?
William Michaelian: Oh, itís there. But in keeping with the nature of the Universe, the details are scattered throughout the other myriad entries. Itís a bit like reading Finnegans Wake. Well, maybe not that simple.
John Berbrich: Speaking of which, Iím still about 1/2 way through that book. I just canít get into it for very long. Iím a failure.
William Michaelian: Nonsense. I recommend starting over. Only this time, hold the book right side up. Same thing with the universe.
John Berbrich: I am not starting over, thank you for the suggestion. And I didnít think the universe had an up or down. Maybe thatís what wrong w/ it.
William Michaelian: That is an intriguing idea, that the universe is inherently faulty. A guy goes out shopping for universes, chooses one from a very nice, large selection and brings it home, only to find out its springs are bad and that in cold weather it makes a strange sort of howling sound. And it has a voracious appetite.
John Berbrich: And heís thrown away the receipt. Sounds not unlike our universe. Especially the cold weather part.
William Michaelian: Yep. And if we take it a logical step further, we have disposable universes. Your choice of colors. Complement your hairstyle.
John Berbrich: Yeah. And the catalogues are great, w/ all those swell glossy photos. Shipping can be a real problem though.
William Michaelian: Right. Not every firm invests in Big Bang boxes, which conveniently explode on arrival. Some try to get away with standard cardboard and dry ice. Void where prohibited.
John Berbrich: And heavily taxed in New York. UPS ó Universe Postal Service? And consider the disposal of unwanted or defective universes ó where would you dump them? Can they be recycled? You mentioned Big Bangs, but how about Collapsing Universes? You could wind up w/ some very unhappy customers.
William Michaelian: Thatís where the fine print comes in. The finer the better. Leave it to a modern consumer to be unhappy with his very own universe.
John Berbrich: Well, youíre paying good money, you expect a good product. I can relate to that. This is getting complicated. Weíll need green-power universes, vegetarian universes, even socialist universes. We could sponsor a contest ó whoever designs & actually builds the coolest universe wins something. Like maybe a free lifetime subscription to Barbaric Yawp.
William Michaelian: With a prize like that, everyone will want to enter. I wonder ó how will we determine if someoneís entry is really a universe? What are the requirements?
John Berbrich: Hmmmm. Good question. First of all, a universe has to be self-contained & must obey its own scientific laws.
William Michaelian: Well, that sounds simple enough. Although I can imagine a rogue universe, wild as hell at the end of the week, going out and getting drunk and breaking its own laws.
John Berbrich: Sounds like the Mardi Gras of universes. Itíll be the sort of place that will attract visitors. The trick will be to get there somehow. If you bring together a positive & a negative universe, well, pardner, there could be trouble.
William Michaelian: Yeah, that age-old Matter versus Anti Matter problem. Mardi Gras, eh? ďIím giving up universes for Lent.Ē
John Berbrich: Stick w/ galaxies, son. Now thatís a stellar assemblage that a man can understand. A universe is too big for common folk. Scramble your brains, it will.
William Michaelian: Which reminds me ó we didnít discuss the size of these universes. I mean, for instance, can a universe be the size of an orange? The October Yawp is good, by the way. Itís still smouldering on my old laser printer. Man, these things are hard to put out.
John Berbrich: Some hot material. Glad you like it. Weíre working on the January issue, trying to catch up. It ainít easy, dealing w/ life & all. And frozen pipes.
William Michaelian: Oh, no. Donít tell me your universe has frozen pipes. Did they break?
John Berbrich: No. A hair-dryer, expertly placed, is a marvelous invention. The liquid universe is running free, until next time, of course. Few things do more damage to a universe than bursting pipes. Throws off the whole ecosystem.
William Michaelian: That it does. If you wanted to write a great horror story, you could set it an enormous black mansion with pipes running everywhere, bursting at the slightest provocation. Better yet, a Phantom of the Opera kind of place, only in this case it would be the Plumber of the Opera.
John Berbrich: I can see you in the lead role, sweating pipe-joints & wielding a nasty plunger. Itís a great idea. Can you sing?
William Michaelian: Of course. I can clear an auditorium in two minutes. That reminds me ó I donít think I ever told you, but for my birthday card a few years back, our son took the Aqualung portrait and put my head in there. Itís on our refrigerator. Thatís how I envision the role.
John Berbrich: Wow. That is a stroke of brilliance. One of the great albums too. Although the guy on the cover doesnít look much like a plumber. Maybe a plumber fallen on hard times. So youíre writing this opera, then? And playing the lead role? You are one ambitious guy, Willie.
William Michaelian: Not ambitious. Crippled by ideas. But this is a good way to characterize the universe, or at least a universe. It would pack them in at Sunday school.
John Berbrich: I suppose weíd need a Wednesday school, too. And another for Friday, et cetera, just to keep things fair. Wouldnít want to attract any of those equality lawsuits.
William Michaelian: Youíre right. Letís not offend anyone. Letís drain the life right out of this thing. And weíll get a corporate sponsor: Insurance Agent of the Opera.
John Berbrich: Sounds too exclusive. How about Insurance Agent of the Hip-Hop Opera? Introduces an element of inclusion, donít you agree?
William Michaelian: Inclusion and revulsion. I like it. How about Night of the Living Dead Opera Singers? I realize it moves away from the original frozen pipe premise, but just imagine them coming after you dressed for their roles, singing at you through chimneys and keyholes, and trying to do you in with stage props.
John Berbrich: This keeps getting better. Although I sure like the sound of Hip-Hop Opera, the concept of dressed-up zombies gamboling on a stage bellowing Verdi beats it all to heck. This must be where the plumber comes in.
William Michaelian: The plumber, who resides in the bowels of the opera house, is now offstage taking hideous delight in the performance. For it is he who has produced the whole affair, done the heavy lifting in the graveyard, interviewed the zombie-wannabes, fed their egos and promised them great publicity, all the while pitting certain key players against each other to fuel the murder and death scenes. He is, of course, versed in each and every role, for long ago, he studied in Italy and wrote his thesis on the plumbing of La Scala. It is even said that he can train toilets to flush in tenor or baritone.
John Berbrich: I hear heís working now w/ urinals in bus stations, although that does seem to be a rather sexist enterprise. But this Living Dead Opera promises to be the macabre extravaganza that the world has been waiting for. So youíre going to play Wet Willie the Plumber. Do I get to play maybe Johnnie Zombie?
William Michaelian: Yes, and itís a key role, because throughout the action you will be at center stage, acting as DJ for the whole affair.
John Berbrich: Thatís no problem. Iím already working on the soundtrack. Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, maybe some middle-period Britney. Thatís some scary stuff.
William Michaelian: Yikes. Well, as long as we stage the thing before tomato season we should be all right. You might throw a little early Zappa in there. And something from Blue ÷yster Cultís first album. But what do I know? Youíre the DJ ó and an old pro at that.
John Berbrich: Right. I knew Blue Oyster Cult before they were Blue Oyster Cult. Back then on Long Island they were Soft White Underbelly. ďSheís as Beautiful as a Foot,Ē is a song I remember. Man, I hadnít thought of that one in years.
William Michaelian: Definitely not a band meant for the mainstream. Even a nod in that direction undermined their mystique. So, I take it you traveled with them for a time, acted as road manager and got them their first gigs. Man, Iím looking forward to that autobiography of yours. Look out, Bob Dylan.
John Berbrich: Donít worry, Willie, Iíll mention you. Of course by then youíll be world-famous, too. How about if we wrote our autobiographies together, how would that work? In fact, you could write mine & Iíll write yours. And we could consult each other if we get stuck.
William Michaelian: Sounds like an idea for a play. Two crusty old writers sitting side by side at center stage, writing each otherís autobiographies. Old typewriters. Bottles of scotch. ďDonít forget Paris,Ē one grumbles to the other, and this leads to one of many conversational digressions that constitute the story. In fact, Donít Forget Paris could be the name of the play.
John Berbrich: Again, Willie, I must point out the obvious & say that you are a genius. I can picture the stage vividly. The guys I see have their sleeves rolled up & are wearing suspenders. Thereís smoke from cigarettes or cigars floating in the air, & a dead plant in the corner. Now & then you hear a typewriter ching! More talking than typing. Between them stands a stained spittoon.
William Michaelian: Kind of an upbeat version of Krappís Last Tape. The characters are gregarious, irascible, and competitive. They laugh at each otherís typing habits, and purposely write things that arenít true, ďto give you at least some credibility.Ē
John Berbrich: Ah, itís beautiful. I too thought of Beckett. But exactly ó itís upbeat in an unexpected way. It all seems to be worth it, the struggle, the years of goofing off, the liquor, the dames ó because through it all the men never stopped writing & they never quit being pals. Weíll get jail stories, drunken revelries, & startling revelations. ďSo that was you that night in Montmartre!Ē
William Michaelian: Exactly. And I just thought of something else. A lot of the dialogue can be ad-libbed. The play can be different every night ó fresh, full of surprises. Iím telling you, these characters will go down in history.
John Berbrich: I agree. It all sounds great, but I forget how it relates to The Night of the Living Dead Hip-Hop Opera.
William Michaelian: Or your frozen pipes, for that matter. Or disposable universes. Or manifestos. The bottom line, I guess, is that it can all be found in the Willipedia.
John Berbrich: And Willipedia is growing all the time. So there are vast regions yet to be explored, amazing secrets to be revealed, & flagons of foamy dark beer to be quaffed. Speaking of manifestoes, I just read something only a few days ago about some kind of manifesto group. Iíll spend the rest of the day looking for it & share at a later date.
William Michaelian: In Willipedia, youíll also find and entry called Manifest Toes, all about clumps of toes that occur naturally in the wild. The Manifesto Generator is also interesting. I think we talked about it before. A contraption first suggested in the drawings of Da Vinci.
John Berbrich: A clever chap, to be sure, that Da Vinci. You know, Iím not so sure that all those pipes were frozen. I mean, the temp rose to an amazing 45 degrees yesterday, & still no water movement. My wife suggested that I try a snake. Thinking that this was an old-time country plumbing remedy, I went to the local pet store, where I was kindly directed to the hardware store. Anyway, using the snake got the water level in the sink down a few inches. We then poured in a whole container of Liquid Plumber, which we had been assured would clean out that drain in 30 minutes. Here we are, 24 hours later, w/ the sink still plugged, two dead snakes on the floor, & the temperature has dropped to 30 w/ a fierce snowstorm blowing. What does Willipedia say now?
William Michaelian: It says you have now entered the Twilight Zone. Undoubtedly, your plumbing is clogged with old poorly recycled manuscripts. And the house plumbing could have the same problem. It sounds like a simple case of Editorís Disease. It might seem contradictory, but the best approach is not to clear the clog, but continue adding to it until your pipes explode. Try using my latest submissions.
John Berbrich: As I recall, that was an electronic submission. I doubt thatíll help anything.
William Michaelian: Ah. Youíre right. I forgot. Itís not worth the paper it isnít printed on.
John Berbrich: Precisely. Itís sort of like the economy, or something. Inflated dollars, backed by nothing. Speaking of nothing, Nancy unclogged the drain today while I was off at work.
William Michaelian: How typical. After letting you make a complete fool of yourself, it turns out she knew how to do it all along. And without any dead snakes. Inflated dollars, backed by nothing. You know, that describes the papers I used to write in high school. Glad to know I still havenít lost my touch.
John Berbrich: You figured out how to fool those teachers, eh? You should have been a politician, lad. Itís not too late, you know. People are always willing to fall for a little empty swollen rhetoric.
William Michaelian: ďLiterary Gasbag Runs for Senate Seat.Ē ďEmpty Eloquence Seizes Hearts, Minds.Ē Speaking of windstorms, Iíve been enjoying your SLAP readings on YouTube.
John Berbrich: Oh, that last one was so much fun. We had a good crowd, about 30 people. And it was a good venue, the Asian Imports shop in Potsdam ó an atmosphere of incense, oriental silks, wax Buddhas. A few of those students had never read before in public & I think that they all did a commendable job.
William Michaelian: They did, and so did you and Nancy. I could hardly tell your pipes were frozen. But that was a good idea, keeping the camera off your shoes. I know your pants were probably wet up to your knees. Whoís doing the filming? You and Nancy?
John Berbrich: Nancyís the camera-person. In fact, you may have noticed a little mix-up when it came her turn to read & I was left manning the camera. There was a question about the proper color of the light. She wanted red & I wanted green, or something. Fortunately the crisis was averted due to my fast thinking. I quickly realized that I shouldnít touch anything.
William Michaelian: The old quit while youíre behind approach. I did catch a little something at that point. I thought you were trying to heckle her, knowing full well she was going to top your performance. In any case, the group is certainly developing nicely. I remember a few years ago, when the whole idea of getting North Country poets together was just a wicked gleam in your eye.
John Berbrich: Thatís right. We formed SLAP back in April of 2007, almost two years now. And it had been fermenting in my brain for quite a while before that. Things seem to be picking up momentum now. When you start something, anything, you never know where it will end up.
William Michaelian: Absolutely. You know, I think the big turning point was when you took my advice and put notices on every power pole in the county and on the sides of old barns, and when you hired that crop duster to write an invitation using malathion dust.
John Berbrich: That was a good idea, certainly worth all the fines I had to pay for ďdefacing private & public property.Ē That really was the first big SLAP event, w/ all the new members parading half-naked (I canít recall the symbolic significance of that) in front of the jail, holding placards, demanding my release. The radio & TV coverage were great publicity. Thanks.
William Michaelian: Youíre welcome. Iíll never forget when you emerged from that cell, triumphant, wild-eyed, looking like John the Baptist. Your hair had grown a foot in just a few days. Your beard had grown an arm.
John Berbrich: It was that jail food, I tell ya. Rough stuff ó a dog could chew for a year on those eggs & never pierce that plastico-rubber hide. And all I wanted was some haiku washed down w/ free verse. Then the judge said something about serving my head on a platter & you show up w/ that legal-aid lawyer wearing the miniskirt & spiked green hair. Really, I wish we had gotten the whole debacle on film.
William Michaelian: Of course, she wasnít really a lawyer. That was just a joke. But it fooled the judge. I think he fell for that spiked green mini-hair. And those eggs are in a museum now. How quickly they institutionalize everything! Now tourists pay real money to spend the night in your cell, and to watch the annual reenactment of the SLAP riot that led to your release.
John Berbrich: So itís not all bad, youíre right. What was I thinking? I wonder why I let little things like that get me down. Some sort of character flaw, no doubt. Anyway, itís true though ó you never really know where things will lead. Most people stumble their way through life, without a plan or GPS. Which might be the best way to go. Because after you make that plan, youíre going to learn a few things thatíll sort of compel you to change that plan. So whatís the real difference between just mucking along without a plan & mucking along constantly changing your plans? Pretty much adds up to the same thing, eh?
William Michaelian: Pretty much. But there are people who stick to their plans and who always seem to be in control. Somehow, that kind of focus suits their personality. Usually they arenít the most exciting people in the world. The idea of enjoying spontaneous, random happenings as they pop up is foreign, maybe even frightening, to them.
John Berbrich: Somehow it doesnít sound like much of an adventure, putting all the pegs in all the right slots & then sticking w/ that. Ah, well, to each his own, as someone always sez. Have you read much by John Updike? He passed on just a couple of weeks ago. Had been a major American author for 50 years.
William Michaelian: Updike ... Updike ... nope. Nothing about him in Willipedia. I guess he didnít really exist. ... Oops. Upside down again. As a matter of fact, Iíve read little of his work, because every time I tried, it just sort of left me flat. I never even picked up one of his novels, although Iíve read about them. Am I missing the boat?
John Berbrich: Well, the latest New Yorker included several memory pieces about Updike written by writers that knew him. Those were interesting. Better was a longer article consisting of excerpts from Updikeís stories, poems, & essays. Some of them are beautiful. And last Saturday Howie & the Wolfman played Updike reading one of his poems, ďAn Oddly Lovely Day.Ē It is an oddly lovely poem. I presume you werenít listening.
William Michaelian: You presume correctly, sir. And I feel terrible about it. Even our grandson said, ďBill, for heavenís sake, why donít you go and listen to your friend on the radio. I can play by myself for awhile. Itís about time I filled my pants anyway.Ē I thought it was an oddly lovely remark. Okay, now. Set me straight. Iím willing to give Mr. Updike another chance if you think itís something I should do. Any recommendations?
John Berbrich: Well, to tell the truth, Iíve only read one short story by him, years ago, & I canít even remember what it was called. But I can still recall it, a little, if that means anything. This young guy is working check-outs at a grocery store. These three high school girls come in & catch his eye, particularly one of them. Eventually the girls leave; the guy quits his job, just walks out & takes off. I donít remember any real point, but the rest of the story is quite clear. Simple daily stuff, accurately rendered.
William Michaelian: Boy, some help you are. And I was ready to march off to the library. Well, I suppose I still could, but now the thrill is gone. Oddly enough, what you described is pretty much what I remember about him. Meticulous prose, stacked like dry kindling waiting for a match. Still, he did mountains of work, and Iím sure there was something to it.
John Berbrich: Well, now that I think of it, I have read some of his non-fiction. He wrote book reviews for the New Yorker. They were accessible, deep, & thoroughly enjoyable, devoid of academic fog. He seemed to see w/ very clear eyes. A bit dry, though, as you suggest.
William Michaelian: Which reminds me ó Iíve never heard of writing thatís described as moist. Thereís dry prose, but not moist prose, or wet prose. Humid, though, that seems more possible. Sticky. Clammy.
John Berbrich: Hmmm. Iím afraid I have to agree w/ you on this one, Willie. I do recall someoneís writing being called florid. And, this is a little off the point, but somewhere Ezra Pound refers to Kipling & Hemingway as ďroughnecks.Ē Iím going to have to use ďhumidĒ in a review, soon, just so we can say itís been done.
William Michaelian: And when you do, just watch how quickly other writers pick up on it. People will be using the term left and right ó at least as often as the name Rudyard. Imagine a book being so humid you have to wring it out every chapter or so.
John Berbrich: You need to hang the pages out on the line. I like the image of that ó leaves of grass flapping in the sunshine.
William Michaelian: ďI am humid, I contain multitudes.Ē
John Berbrich: Very good. Or, ďI sound my humid yawp over the roofs of the world.Ē
William Michaelian: Right! Or, ďO Captain! My Captain! Our humid trip is done ...Ē
John Berbrich: That one works pretty well. Shakespeare could have used a line such as ďOut, humid spot,Ē which really emphasizes the atmosphere of horror & dampness, donít you think?
William Michaelian: That, or his poetic frustration with a wet dog. ďThe Humid Sonnets of Wm. Shakespeare.Ē
John Berbrich: Ah, the complete collection of dog poems. Iíve seen the Yale edition. It contains a rather dry introduction to some of the bardís more humid work.
William Michaelian: And letís not forget, there are the dog stories of James Herriot, not to mention his well known books, All Creatures Humid and Small, and Every Humid Thing. Or, maybe we should forget.
John Berbrich: I never read those books, although my father loved them. They seemed like nice enough works, but I always had other items that interested me. Hey, thanks for tuning in to the radio show on Saturday. That Howie & the Wolfman are corkers.
William Michaelian: Yep. You guys are characters. I really enjoy the show, but Iím usually bottled up with other activities at that time. As it is, I missed the poetry segment. And speaking of Herriot, I just read that today is the anniversary of his death. He died in 1995. His real name was James Alfred Wight. My mother also loved his books, and I havenít read them either.
John Berbrich: I probably never will. Though I like dogs just fine. You missed a couple of Jim Morrison poems, preceded by an excerpt of an interview Jim did. Iíll play it again sometime.
William Michaelian: Yeah? I donít think Iíve ever heard a Morrison interview. What year was it?
John Berbrich: The interview was conducted by Ben Fong-Torres in February 1971, just five months before Morrisonís death. Morrison talks pretty slowly; I get the idea that he carefully considers the question before he responds. I also have excerpts from an interview by Salli Stevenson conducted in October 1970 for Circus Magazine. That one is a bit more fun than the other.
William Michaelian: Ah, yes. I see it here. Some pretty good responses. Hereís one short exchange:
SALLI: Whether youíre a hero or an idol, in retrospect, what do you think of yourself as a human being in relation to yourself and to other people?
JIM: I think of myself as...a...as an intelligent...sensitive human being with the soul of a clown...which always forces me to blow it at the...a...most important moments.
John Berbrich: I agree, that is a pretty good response. I think itís true, too, as far as Morrison is concerned. I wonder where he would be now, if he hadnít died at 27.
William Michaelian: Who knows. Maybe dead at twenty-eight or twenty-nine. But apparently twenty-seven was the going thing back then. Morrison is buried in Paris, isnít he?
John Berbrich: Yeah, in the Poetsí Corner at Cimetiere du Pere-Lachaise, a cemetery which includes Oscar Wilde, Balzac, Bizet, & Chopin among the residents. I hear that he gets a lot of visitors.
William Michaelian: Iíve heard that too. Esteemed company. Do you know how he ended up there, instead of in LA, for instance?
John Berbrich: From what Iíve read, heíd been living in Paris for a few months w/ his long-time on-&-off girlfriend Pamela Courson. I donít know what he was doing there. I know that his main ambition was to do films ó presumably writing, directing, & producing them. Starring in them too, most likely.
William Michaelian: Wow, think about it ó he could have played the lead in a wild American blues-hippie version of Doctor Zhivago.
John Berbrich: He could have, yes. Perhaps he was totally burned-out & would have produced nothing but swill. Actually, that wouldnít be a bad subject for a novel. Morrison fakes his own death & assumes a new identity ó he is now free to pursue any dream he wants, without being hounded by press, pens & cameras, fans ó without having to fulfill someoneís ideal of the Lizard King. Heíd still be out there, just turned 65, on Medicare, if he lived in the USA.
William Michaelian: Hmmm. Sounds like plastic surgery would be involved. You know, some people just arenít cut out for assuming a new identity. A guy like Morrison, something would always give him a way.
John Berbrich: Eventually, yes. Say, totally by accident Iíve stumbled across this poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, ďSeveral Surrealist Litanies for a Film on the Cemetery of Pere Lachaise.Ē Cosmic, eh? The poem is fairly long, over three pages. Here are my favorite lines so far:
Do the dead know
which way theyíre falling
in glove compartments of the moon
William Michaelian: Thatís Ferlinghetti, all right. I like it. And the title. Where did you find this mini-map to the universe?
John Berbrich: I was re-reading one of his collections, ďopen eye, open heart,Ē published in 1973 by New Directions. Itís 148 pages & contains a lot of poems written in the 60ís. Ferlinghetti comes across as a pacifist-radical. And he flings his imagination all over.
William Michaelian: He must have been on something. We both know how childish it is to fling your imagination around.
John Berbrich: Well yeah, but itís fun. And not only that, if you fling it properly, people think youíre deep or wise or something. Sage-like. And if youíre really flinging from the heart (or soul), amazing dredge-work can appear, unbidden by the conscious mind.
William Michaelian: Hey, I like that combination ó proper flinging. And dredge-work. It makes me think of a wildly creative sewer project, with bulldozers and backhoes and men in hard hats, truckloads of concrete sections of pipe, and theyíre trenching their way along, and all of a sudden they reach a spot where a cloud of butterflies comes out of the ground.
John Berbrich: So thatís where butterflies come from. Iíve often wondered. Hey, hereís another bit from Ferlinghetti, from a poem entitled ďToc Toc: A Couple ObservedĒ:
Toc toc the shadows in the gardens of Pere Lachaise
draw over Apollinaireís tombeau
Toc toc the flowers of the garden are faded
loose leaves & aeroplanes blow away
Toc toc another stroke of the feather
another line in a face
a woman withdraws a man goes off
with his shadow
withdrawn into himself
they both turn
too late! too late!
William Michaelian: Wow. Thatís fantastic. Great music and wordplay. And it sounds like a demented fairy tale. I can picture children in a ring, their hands joined as they slowly circle around and stomp their feet at each Toc toc ó although Iím almost afraid to imagine whatís inside the circle. And that word tombeau ó according to this page in Wikipedia, ďIn instrumental music, tombeau signifies a musical Ďtombstoneí (French le tombeau = tomb). The musical genre of tombeau is generally connected with music for the lute of the 17th and 18th centuries.Ē And then on this page, we have Le Tombeau de Couperin ó a ďa suite for solo piano by Maurice Ravel, composed between 1914 and 1917, in six movements. Each movement is dedicated to the memory of friends of the composer who had died fighting in World War I. Ravel himself was an ambulance driver in the war and was wounded while serving.Ē Classic.
John Berbrich: Yeah, thatís great, but what does Willipedia have to say about it?
William Michaelian: Well, it might seem unrelated, but actually it isnít: it says I was stopped by a policeman today when my son and I were on our way downtown to have two of his wisdom teeth pulled. So, naturally, being a good citizen, I pulled the policemanís teeth. In exchange, he didnít give me a ticket for changing lanes without using my turn signal. He said, ďIs there any lawful reason you were changing lanes without using your signal?Ē And I said, ďNo, weíre on our way to the dentist and I was just preoccupied.Ē And so he issued a warning, and I told him to pack it with gauze and use lots of ice on his jaw. And he said, ďWell, Iíll be darned if that doesnít remind me of a suite for solo piano about some friends of mine who were decomposed during the Great War. Le Petite Tombeau. Itís also the name of a candy bar.Ē
John Berbrich: Wow. Nothing cool like that ever happens around here. So this must have been a rather elderly cop, eh? To have friends in the first world war, I mean. Or perhaps this happened to you decades ago & youíre just getting around to telling me. Even so, letís say the cop pulled you over in 1975. Thatís like roughly 60 years after the war, heíd still have to be at least 75 or so. And you pulled out some of the guyís teeth? Really, nothing like that happens around here.
William Michaelian: Youíve asked some good questions. The thing you have to remember about Willipedia is that it contains dynamic content ó content thatís generated on the fly, as needed. Thatís where it beats Wikipedia or a standard encyclopedia all to heck. Those are fine if you know what youíre looking for. Now, as far as the policeman, thereís no telling when or where or even if this all happened. Except to say, I was there, and it seems like it was only yesterday, and the policeman was a tall guy with a ruddy complexion, had acne as a kid, one drooping eyelid, and pronounced my name as Mr. McLaughlin. And then he sped away over the rugged terrain in a cloud of dust, his siren blaring. We lost sight of him after the explosion.
John Berbrich: I havenít had that much fun since we unplugged the sewer next door. Which sort of reminds me about your dredging comments just a few explosions ago. The last time I got pulled over by a cop was about six months ago ó for nothing, really. I was just hurtling down this hill at night ó in my car, of course. Honestly, he told me that my license plate light wasnít working, & suggested I get it fixed. My impression was that he realized that he was behaving like a jerk. He sort of slunk off afterwards. A license plate light wasnít working. Thatís Fascism.
William Michaelian: Or is it boredom. I donít know. Itís pathetic either way. And the exact same thing happened to my son a year or so ago. A license plate light. The cop even printed out a warning. Meanwhile, what about older cars that donít have license plate lights? Do they have to be retrofitted? Anyway, I take it you didnít pull any of the guyís teeth.
John Berbrich: No, I wasnít headed for the dentist. I just let him off w/ a verbal warning, as he already looked ashamed of himself. Sheepish young cop. I should have checked his license plate light.
William Michaelian: It would have been within your rights. Or you could have gripped him by the lapels and recited ďDo not go gentle into that good night.Ē After all, a young cop needs a certain amount of encouragment and advice.
John Berbrich: They get plenty of that in cop school ó advice from drunken Welshmen, I mean. And do cops out in Oregon still wear lapels?
William Michaelian: Actually, thatís all they wear. Makes for some chilly nights, but thatís all the local economy can support these days.
John Berbrich: Sad. But Iíll bet the lady cops look sharp.
William Michaelian: Well, letís just say the field of law enforcement is not for the shy type. By the way, I just noticed that youíve opened a Web Store.
John Berbrich: Oh, thatís right. Donít think weíve sold anything yet. Be the first to buy from the official BoneWorld Web Store. You will win a free autograph from me.
William Michaelian: Okay, Iíll hold you to that. I just ordered Neal Zirnís Manhattan Cream. Shall I go out and start waiting by the mailbox?
John Berbrich: If you like. The sled-dogs should make it in a couple of weeks. Snowing again, you understand. Okay, thanks. I think youíll like Nealís book. Iíll even have him inscribe the copy to you at no extra charge.
William Michaelian: Hey, thatís great. Heíll probably say, ďSign a book for him?Ē So ó will you be making all of your chapbooks available through the store?
John Berbrich: Most of them. Including yours. Thanks again for the order. We hope to jazz up the website soon but keep finding other, more pressing, items to attend to.
William Michaelian: No doubt. In the meantime, though, this is a great addition. Especially considering the size your catalogue is getting to be. At this rate, you could have a Chap of the Month Club. Or at least do it quarterly.
John Berbrich: Not so fast. Weíre trying to limit our new chapbooks to two per year. But that has been turning into four of five. Itís hard to turn down good work.
William Michaelian: Hmm. Sounds like what you need is a beautifully printed rejection form that tells writers that despite how wonderful their work is, you wonít be publishing it. I know ó you could make it a genuine Certificate of Refusal of Excellence.
John Berbrich: Thatís a rather seductive idea, but really the small press is not about ďforms.Ē Itís all about the personal touch, rejection letters scribbled in crayon on the insides of cereal boxes, that sort of thing. But we need that Certificate of Refusal of Excellence somewhere. Maybe on t-shirts, which we could sell for big bucks in our BoneWorld Webstore.
William Michaelian: I did notice there are no t-shirts. And no coffee cups. Or BoneWorld stationery. I would love to have BoneWorld stationery ó even little BoneWorld stickers to put on the backs of envelopes. Which brings up another question: about what percentage of your submissions and related correspondence is electronic these days? Are you encouraging that now, or do you prefer the paper approach?
John Berbrich: We do not accept electronic submissions. We do, however, conduct a certain amount of correspondence via cyberspace. For now, at least, we prefer manuscripts in paper. And we've got ideas for some cool bookmarks too. And maybe BoneWorld beer-kits.
William Michaelian: I have one of your bookmarks from several years ago. I love it. I love bookmarks in general. And beer-kits. Little tiny ones, with teensy barrels and bottles and mugs, and thimble-sized roaring trucks to haul the beer from room to room in the house, ladders and lanterns for the trips up and down the cellar steps. Now that BoneWorld is online, though, you must receive the occasional international query.
John Berbrich: Through the mail, yeah; but online, no. That would be okay w/ me. I mean, anything dubbed BoneWorld should be global, right? Otherwise itís just BonePlace, or BoneTown, or BoneState. Or BoneNation, now I like that one.
William Michaelian: Another great subject for a t-shirt. Or you could take a more homespun approach: BoneVille USA. On the other hand BoneState would be a good name for a college basketball team. ďThe Battling Berbriches.Ē Hmm. Thatís odd. This is the first time Iíve tried to pluralize your last name.
John Berbrich: Iíve seen it before. It works about as well as that popular Reality TV sit-com, The Marvelous Michaelians. What a hoot that show is.
William Michaelian: Wait ó do you mean the one with that with that grumpy, preposterous father?
John Berbrich: Yeah, & heís also the grandfather. The one w/ that gorgeous wife. Thatís the fellow.
William Michaelian: Yep. I know the show. You have to wonder what that brave, charming woman ever saw in him. Although thereís no sign of it now, my guess is that once upon a time he was one heck of a good looking guy. I wonder what made him go to seed like that.
John Berbrich: Perhaps thereís a clue in one of his blues songs. He pretends to be a one-eyed Delta man. Although Iím not sure heís really pretending. On TV itís hard to tell, even if it is a reality show.
William Michaelian: Well, the show is definitely not scripted. Nobody could write stuff like that. The Delta references, I donít know. He does squint a lot. Hey, maybe this would be a good time to reproduce the short list of made up names of blues singers I added to my Useless Information page several years ago. Ha! Imagine calling one of the pages useless! Anyway, here it is:
ďChicken in the FridgeĒ Leonard (likes cold chicken)
ďBig OscarĒ Lemon (stands five feet tall, once played harmonica in a movie)
ďBad BonesĒ Malone (uses crutches but doesnít need íem)
George ďPeach TreeĒ Hawkins (legs like a ladder, hands big as pickiní pails)
ďMelody HarmonyĒ (even prettier when she sings on key)
ďHoboĒ Honeywell (not as poor as he sounds)
ďMudslideĒ Wilson (been at the bottom, now heís back again)
Willie ďDough BoyĒ McDonald (as wide as he is tall)
ďStone Cold SoberĒ (no wonder heís got the blues)
ďFlypaperĒ Watson (women stick to him like glue)
John Berbrich: Thatís truly lovely. You need to sling together a mono cassette tape of these guys & gals in their prime, recorded in joints from Chicago to Mississippi. Does Willipedia have a lot more fascinating useless information?
William Michaelian: Useless, yes, and therein lies its value. I did make a lot of recordings out of my trunk back in those days ó shade trees, street corners, barbershops, bars, race tracks, railway stations, alleys, funeral parlors. Not everyone liked having an old cadillac in those places, but once the music started, it didnít seem to matter. Unfortunately, I lost them all in a card game. Always figured I could make more. Then the car died. Then Mudslide, then Peach Tree. Bad Bones is in a nursing home, doesnít even know what a guitar is. Thinks itís a cheese slicer. Tragic.
John Berbrich: Woooo ó those were the days, huh. You should write a book about your experiences in those far-off times. All those great characters, just doing what they loved. And you, racing around from dive to dump w/ your microphone, recording it all. Not for money. Not for fame. What was your motivation, Willie?
William Michaelian: Money and fame. But not only that. I also did it for free beer.
John Berbrich: A prime consideration. Youíd do íbout anything for free beer.
William Michaelian: Yep. Without it, the brain goes dusty right quick, right quick. You know. Youíve been there. Not a good feeling. Like olí Mudslide used to say, ďThere ainít no sunshine, without no suds a-goiní down.Ē
John Berbrich: Old Mudslide knew the truth of it. Some things you canít hardly put into words, let alone music. Some things go better w/ some foam & a little froth. Well, thatís only part of it ó some things donít go at all without foam & froth. And thatís the truth of it.
William Michaelian: Amen, brother. Say, are you familiar with ďDinkís SongĒ? Bob Dylan sang it, and lately our youngest sonís been playing it around the house. It goes like this:
If I had wings like Noahís dove
Iíd fly the river to the one I love
Fare thee well, my honey, fare thee well.
I had a man, who was long and tall,
Moved his body like a cannon ball.
Fare thee well, my honey, fare thee well.
ímember one evening, it was drizzling rain
And in my heart I felt an aching pain.
Fare thee well, my honey, fare thee well.
Once I wore my apron low,
Been a-keepí you away from my door.
Fare thee well, my honey, fare thee well.
Now my apron is up to my chin,
You pass my door but you never come in.
Fare thee well, my honey, fare thee well.
Muddy river runs muddy íní wild,
You canít care the bloody for my unborn child.
Fare thee well, my honey, fare thee well.
Number nine train ainí done no harm,
Number nine train take my poor baby home.
Fare thee well, my honey, fare thee well.
Fastest man I ever saw
Skid Missouri on the way to Arkansas.
Fare thee well, my honey, fare thee well.
John Berbrich: Iím not sure. The words ring tiny far-off bells, but no, Iím not familiar w/ it.
William Michaelian: Iím almost done putting together a notebook entry about it. My son starting playing it two or three years ago, then forgot about it until recently when I brought it up. Thatís when he told me it was called ďDinkís Song.Ē Before that, for obvious reasons, I thought it was called ďFare Thee Well.Ē You can hear Dylan doing it here.
John Berbrich: Thanks, Willie, I enjoyed that. The song has a couple of Dylan characteristics: One, itís repetitive, which is the folkie aspect; 2) The focus & intensity. I swear the guy could sing a cookbook & it would turn out great if he believed in the recipes.
William Michaelian: No doubt. Acoustic Dessert and Electric Marmalade. Say, speaking of the Village, I received my copy of Neal Zirnís Manhattan Cream a couple of days ago. Wonderful book.
John Berbrich: Glad you like it. Brings one back to the good old days, doesnít it?
William Michaelian: Many of those scenes do seem eerily familiar. In fact ó to celebrate, I just posted a short review in Recently Banned Literature. And I did finish my little notebook entry on ďDinkís Song.Ē Youíll find it there if you scroll down a tiny bit.
John Berbrich: Thanks for the nice write-up on Nealís chap. You are quite right to add the wit & warmth. Neal is a very capable conversationalist. He knows a lot about many unusual topics, which weíve explored together many nights in local cafes & coffee shops. Heís a swell guy, & he can crack your back for you too.
William Michaelian: None of this surprises me. Itís all there in the writing. Well, maybe not the bone-popping part, but certainly everything else. This is one of those books that makes you want to go right out and meet the author. A fine addition to the MuscleHead collection.
John Berbrich: Iíll be sure to relay your thoughts. And did my autograph arrive intact?
William Michaelian: It sure did. And having it on a prescription pad lends it a suitably hallucinatory effect. And be sure to thank Neal for signing the book itself. And tell him I love the cover art, both front and back.
John Berbrich: Heís won some awards locally for his art. Pretty interesting fellow, all around. I love to listen to his stories about growing up in the Bronx.
William Michaelian: Uh-oh. I can see it now: Bronx Cream. On the other hand, that sounds like the name of a shoe preservative.
John Berbrich: I donít know ó sounds kind of gritty to me. More like a rough-grade sandpaper. I donít think thatís any way to preserve your footwear. Iíd rather go barefoot.
William Michaelian: It might be safer. In some climates, Bronx Cream has been known to actually attract and absorb things from the air, pollen, smog particulates, dandelion fluff, even small children. While these generally strengthen the shoe, it can make walking a bit awkward. Or awking a bit walkward.
John Berbrich: Willie, your condition is acting up again, that thing where you start mixing up your letters & they come out almost like really clever puns. Have you been taking your pills?
William Michaelian: Lot nately. Hollface did them. Finks itís thunny.
John Berbrich: Hey, this sounds serious. Hope itís cot nontagious.
William Michaelian: I thonít dink so. But it bight me. At least itís pot nainful. Also, it gomes and coes. There one minute and gone the next.
John Berbrich: Wow. An epidemic like that could really change society. Someone could take ďbight meĒ all wrong. Glad youíve recovered.
William Michaelian: Te moo. Anyway, I spent awhile yesterday trying to figure out how I could create a hyperlinked book index for my website. It would be relatively easy to set up a title index, or even an index of first lines, which I think would be revealing and entertaining, but a general index, with entries for people, places, publications, and key subjects, of which their are thousands ó well, a guy just doesnít know what to do.
John Berbrich: A noble though gigantic project. You could have your elves help you out.
William Michaelian: I could, but those rascals would probably slip in links to porn sites. Dollface had a suggestion. She said why not just index our Conversation? So I glanced at a few pages. There are hundreds of items on each page that should be recorded. Inspiring and frightening at the same time.
John Berbrich: Indeed. So sheís volunteering?
William Michaelian: Nope. She has too much sense for that. Not too much sense to marry me in the first place, but too much sense to comb through hundreds of thousands of words uttered in delirium. Iím afraid itís up to me. I could also set it up as a blog, adding and linking items one at a time, and file them under the appropriate letter of the alphabet, and then let the blog automatically alphabetize the entries. Man, what a project. Neal Zirn, Bob Dylan, ďDinkís Song,Ē Manhattan Cream, Bad Bones Malone, Willipedia, Maurice Ravel, ďToc Toc: A Couple Observed,Ē tombeau ó and thatís just a tiny fraction of whatís on this page.
John Berbrich: One question. Why are you doing this?
William Michaelian: Well, there are two answers. My answer and the answer. My answer is that an index would be useful for all of the usual reasons indexes are useful, plus it would be interesting and entertaining in its own right. The answer is that Iím an obsessive nut and a glutton for punishment.
John Berbrich: Well, then ó it must be done. An Index it is! You must spare no trouble, no expense, in pursuit of these high goals. You must devote your life, your every waking moment, to make this noble dream a reality. Itís simple, really. You merely need to start at the beginning. The road is mapped out. Provisions are at hand. Are you man enough to complete this vast undertaking? I think thatís the main question.
William Michaelian: Wait a minute. Do I detect a hint of sarcasm?
John Berbrich: What? You question my sincerity, knave? I challenge thee to a duel! Take that! And that!
William Michaelian: Careful! Thatís my index finger!
John Berbrich: Oh, címon ó youíve got two of them. Wait ... Did you say your index finger? Thatís what got us into this mess in the first place. This whole scene is turning cosmic or comic, I canít figure out which.
William Michaelian: Doesnít matter. The words are pretty much interchangeable. Hmm ... ďcosmic or comicĒ could almost be included in the General Index. Really, I think Iím going to need your help on this.
John Berbrich: Argggh! Okay, Iíll make the coffee & brew the beer. Anything for a pal. Howís that for a commitment?
William Michaelian: Coffee for the morning shift, beer for the night shift. I like it. It shows youíre as serious about this as I am. It also shows