The riches of poetry

Got an email this morning asking me if I would be willing to let someone republish one of my poems:

Hi Constantine, This past baseball season, I’ve been running a Cubs literary series at a Mexican restaurant down the street from Wrigley Field. It’s called, “Lovable Losers Literary Revue.” ( I’m now putting together an anthology that arises out of the reading series. We’ve had a lot of great guests–Sun-Times columnist Dave Hoekstra, American Skin author Don De Grazia, mystery authors D.C. Brod and Robert Goldsborough, iconic pop band The Cleaning Ladys, WGN Radio’s Rick Kogan, WXRT’s Lin Brehmer, best-selling biographer Jonathan Eig (Jackie Robinson and Lou Gehrig books), humorist James Finn Garner (Politically Correct Bedtime Stories, etc.), Stuart Shea (with Garner, a founder of, and many others. They’re all contributing to the anthology. We’re looking for one or two more excellent additions before deadline and Tom Goldstein alerted me to your Cubs poem that was published in Elysian Field. I was hoping you’d grant us permission to use it in the anthology. It’s a tiny press publishing the anthology (State Street Publishing), and there’s no budget to pay contributors; instead, the press will make a donation in all the authors names to a Cubs’ charity, something that involves giving tickets to underprivileged kids.

I have made no money on my poetry and nearly none on my fiction, yet the joy it gives me is so great that I don’t really care. I was amazed when it first got published, the idea that someone read it and liked it enough to remember it makes that payment exponentially greater.

BTW, Don — any kid who follows the Cubs qualifies as underprivileged.

I must admit that I am having mixed feeling about this year’s Cubs as a result of writing 2008 (On The Impending Centennial Of The Cubs’ Futility) in 2006. I wrote it full of the confidence learned from a life of following the Cubs that they would not win. Now this year they have the best team in baseball and a brilliant manager. It is still concievable that the Cubs will not win it all. The Brewers are incredibly dangerous in a short series and the Angels are nearly as good as the Cubs. But to think that it is the beginning of September and Cubbies are odds on favorites to go to the Series. Part of my entirely self-centered heart thinks that this is yet another way in which the Cubs will thwart my dreams. I know there is a ways to go yet. I remember the collapse of ’69 all too well.

But … but …

And while my other beloveds, the Red Sox, are also good this year, I do not see them getting to the 2nd round of the playoffs. Although a Sox-Cubs series would probably have the highest baseball ratings ever.

Anyone wishing to read more of my poetry can find it at the bottom of the page marked My Writing: Samples.

A final Cub memory:

I moved to New England when I was 9 and so suffered a dual allegiance to the Cubs and the Red Sox. The last time I was at Wrigley (which is a better park than Fenway) was 1988. The Cubs vs. The Mets. The Cub starter was former Sox closer Calvin Schiraldi. In the 9th inning with the Mets up 5-3, Al Nipper (another survivor of the ’86 Red Sox) was brought on to relieve Schiraldi. I got up and headed for the exit. Someone asked me how I could leave. I shook my head and said, “I know how this one turns out.”

As I got in the car I heard Nipper giving up a 3 run homer.


Self-serving attempt at ballot box stuffing

OK, I’ll admit that I like getting pointless awards and such as much if not more than the next person. The voting for blogger’s choice awards is open and I’m up in the humor, business & marketing categories.

My site was nominated for Best Business Blog! My site was nominated for Best Humor Blog! My site was nominated for Best Marketing Blog!

The truth is I will win none of them and shouldn’t given the categories. (I got an honorable mention in marketing when the blog started out as part of CMO magazine). If there was an award for best humor business & marketing blog, I still wouldn’t win but I’d have a shot. That said, I will now beg for your vote in one or all three of the categories above. Click on one of the pictures and it will take you to the site and yeah you have to register to vote so it’s a pain and I’m sorry. And yeah, I know these awards are even less meaningful than a people’s choice award.

All that said, allow me to list my campaign promises in an attempt to win you over:

  • I will or will not (depending on your preference) take a stand on a controversial subject
  • I won’t increase taxes.
  • I won’t raise your cholesterol.
  • I won’t wage a negative campaign — despite using won’t a lot.
  • I will not coddle terrorists.
  • I will not infringe on your civil liberties.
  • I will support your right to bear arms as long you are not an idiot.
  • I will provide universal health care for my dog and office manager Roxxy.
  • I will eat my vegetables.
  • I will offer you a cup of coffee (or tea).
  • I will say thank you and I will say excuse me after I burp.
  • I will say no to drugs — except a few like FlowMax that you really wish I wouldn’t mention.
  • I will put down the toilet seat.
  • I will think a lot about cleaning up my office.
  • I will not start any wars.
  • I will go to Disney World (although not any time real soon).
  • I will brush and floss regularly.
  • I will take time to smell the roses even though they aren’t my favorite flower.
  • I will cackle with glee when the Yankees any team from New York loses. (Heather — is this better?)
  • I will listen to both country and western musics.
  • I will try to have the longest categories list of any blog anywhere.
  • I will not run GM into the ground.
  • I will cry havoc and loose the penguins of irony.

Massachusetts safe from the threat of pet rental

The  Massachusetts House of Representatives has passed a bill that would protect all of us voters from a looming danger — PET RENTAL!

The bill, filed by Representative Paul K. Frost, Republican of Auburn, outlaws pet-rental companies because of what he called “public health, public safety, consumer concerns, and ethical issues.”

“I’m very pleased we were able to get it passed today and engrossed in the House,” Frost said. “It’s a kind of business model that fosters disposable pets.”

Earlier this month, Boston city councilors voted to ban the Flex Petz pet-rental company from opening a Boston branch because of similar concerns, said Frost.

Flex Petz, founded by Marlena Cervantes in 2007, currently operates in New York, Los Angeles, and London. It has been recently criticized by many animal activist organizations.

This is probably the greatest piece of legislation since it tried to ban Marshmallow Fluff two years ago. I know I feel better knowing that this important issue has been dealt with. I can only hope that the Senate and the governor understand the urgency of the threat poised by a company THAT DOESN’T EVEN OPERATE IN THE STATE. I hope the US government and the UN will also act as this is a international issue. Two months ago
we reported on the disturbing trend of Dog rental companies taking off in Tokyo! (Please ignore any comments I made about wanting to start a franchise here as a way to get more dogs in to my life. I misspoke or quoted myself out of context or something.)

I turned to an expert source for more informed opinion on this issue, my Office Manager (right). She said, and this is a verbatim quote, “Snort snuffle snort snort snuffle.”

Remember: When renting pets is outlawed only outlaws will rent pets!

Doe! A deer! In Brighton center!

The office manager and I were out for our morning constitutional when we encountered this latest addition to Brighton’s multi-cultural stew. Hmmm, perhaps stew is an insensitive word in this case. In case you don’t know Boston, Brighton is urban. Sure we have a few trees but … deer? I guess rents really are going down. You ain’t seen funny until you’ve seen a pug chase a deer. Roxxy didn’t realize that the worst case scenario was actually catching it.

More about the new hire

I am pleased to announce the successful end to Roxxy’s first week on the job here at CollateralDamage Corp. She is getting very high marks from her supervisor for eradicating a threat to workplace morale from an infestation of plush toy frogs, er frog. Also we commend Roxxy on her modesty. It was only while doing a routine background check that we discovered Roxxy comes from a long line of nobility. She is in fact pedigreed, a fact which has amused her employers — mutts one and all — no end. But we wish to give honor where honor is due and from now on she will go by her proper title, Office Manager Grand Duchess Roxxy. Please change your address books accordingly.

US prisons spark new diet fad

According to the BBC: “An overweight prisoner in the United States is suing the authorities for not feeding him enough after he lost about seven stone (45kg) in jail.Apparently on the other side of the looking glass stones and KGs are a type of weight. Who knew?

What will really make this diet take off: The prison says it gives prisoners at least 3000 calories a day in food! I predict Leavenworth will soon replace South Beach as the name in weight loss!

Sadly the truth is much more prosaic. Yes our plaintiff, Broderick Lloyd Laswell (awaiting trial for murder) did lose 99 pounds in a mere eight months while eating a reasonable amount of food. That is probably because for Mr. Laswell 3000 calories a day was a marked decrease in what he usually consumed. When he arrived at the jail Mr. L weighed 187kg. To those of you who, like me, this number means nothing, try this: that’s 411.4 pounds.

In his complaint Laswell writes that,

“On several occasions I have started to do some exercising and my vision went blurry and I felt like I was going to pass out … About an hour after each meal my stomach starts to hurt and growl. I feel hungry again. … The only reason we lost weight in here is because we are literally being starved to death.”

Well, he was literally eating himself to death before…

Maybe the headline should read “Weight, Weight, Don’t Tell Me…”

If I can just get off of this LA freeway…

… Without getting killed or caught/I’d be down that road in a cloud of smoke/For some land that I ain’t bought

— Guy Clark, LA Freeway

Oceanside, California is an interesting little town. It’s next to Camp Pendleton, the huge Marine Corps base, and because of this it has a long and glorious history as a military R&R town with bars, tatoo parlors and motels that would rent rooms by the hour. Apparently the town fathers (and/or mothers) didn’t really think that this was a sustainable economic model and have been scrubbing at Oceanside in an effort to make it less interesting and therefore more tourist friendly. Fortunately they have only slightly succeeded.

A honky tonk feel still lingers around the downtown. It has a number of bars I wouldn’t enter in the evening unless I had a very short haircut and the ability to really mean it when I shouted SEMPER FI! Likewise all the shops that sell military surplus goods. In addition, the town is also a big draw among surfers and is home to a surfing museum that is only slightly larger than the postcards it sells. Because of this residue of seediness, the town remains wonderfully free of the chain stores and mallification that has engulfed the rest of the state.

Searching for breakfast one morning, I and the rest of the Collateral Damage clan headed south on 101 in Oceanside and came across Bessie’s diner, my one encounter with the sublime during nine days in the Golden State.

Bessie’s hasn’t been redecorated since it opened in what I guess would be the mid-’50s. Since then the decor has changed more by accretion than design and consists mostly of a number of trophies for playing pool, a poster of John Wayne and a large black-and-white picture of Rigo, who is either owner or co-owner. In the picture he is dashing in the 1940s movie star way with a pencil thin mustache and a dashing look. Today he still speaks with a hispanic accent and his looks have made the transition from the star to the character actor. The pencil mustache remains, augmented by the creases of age, some gray mixed in his hair and a slight paunch.

He had such an air about him that I asked if he was ever in the movies to which he said no and laughed, then went in back to tell his wife who may or may not have been the original Bessie but who found the comment as funny as he did. In addition to a magnificent plate of huevos rancheros and superb coffee, Bessie’s also featured a wonderful selection of locals wandering in and out: Surfers — both caucasian with long-hair and African-American with dreadlocks, Hispanic workers only speaking in Spanish, and what looked to be a retired Marine or two. Everyone spoke to each other with the familiarity of regulars if not outright friends. It feels like the only place I was in during the entire vacation that didn’t sell t-shirts and coffee mugs emblazoned with its logo. It felt authentic and not calculated. A blessed relief from the pre-packaged feeling endemic to the region. That morning will now stay in my head as the cherished moment of the vacation, a memory I can pull out that relaxes me and makes me happy. Which means Bessie’s now has a slot in my mind next to the rear-courtyard of the Louvre at dusk, staring straight up the center of the Eiffel Tower, a long wonderful walk through the pottery district of Kyoto and looking down from the hills into the center of Duluth.

A few other notes from Southern California:

  • Had the ultimate Cali experience … waiting in the drive through line at Starbucks in a big SUV. Wee hah.
  • I was only at Disneyland for one day (unlike Mrs. CD and CD jr.) which was more than enough for me. Loved seeing three teen boys in black t-shirts for Nirvana and AC-DC and trying to look cool. It is impossible to both be cool and at Disney. Give it up kids.
  • By contrast I was also in the Disney neighborhood for the Goth Day @ Disney weekend and the Goths were overwhelmingly friendly and not overly concerned about being cool. Maybe it’s easier to not worry about being hip when you look like a cadaver. (Image courtesy of the most righteous Skellramics.)
  • If you ever get a chance visit the Old Town Rootbeer Company in Temecula (they have stores elsewhere but this is the one to go to) where they stock every kind of root beer known to humanity and take friendliness to a whole new level, giving away LOTS of free samples and showering a certain younger member of the CD family with free candy and t-shirts. And they make a killer brew themselves.
  • I will never ever complain about traffic in Boston again.

Just a song before I go…

On vacation next week so few posts. But here’s something to tide you over:

Waylon Smithers must need cash: Why else would he be selling his collection of 4,000 Barbies … I mean Malibu Stacies?

The Return Of The Single Greatest Headline Writing Opportunity of the 21st Century:

All of the following are still available

  • Black Jack gambles it can ban Loving
  • Black Jack not a Loving town
  • Loving goes bust on Black Jack ban
  • Loving pair can’t make full house in Black Jack
  • Black Jack house rules: pair must split

Mr. Loving and his paramour have decided to sue the town of Black Jack, Missouri, claiming rules prohibiting the unmarried couple and their children from living together are unconstitutional.

Don’t Forget To Admit When You’re Wrong: Consumerist sets the story straight about the masked men and the 25K sauce packets. The upshot: No masks. Teens not grownups. Eleven 40-gallon trashbags, not six. Packets not taken on purpose. “One individual simply ate ‘A LOT’ of Taco Bell and stockpiled the extra packets from his meals in the back of his car for three years.” Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

And it’s not like I never post from the road. I remain proud of my coverage of Hurricane Katrina. Never let it be said that merely being on another continent is an impediment…

(from the original Collateral Damage @ CMO.)

Sep 01, 2005
Notes From The Road

Here I sit on the Blvd. St. Germain, in the shadow of some minor church that looks to have been already old when St. Joan was a schoolgirl. From a radio somewhere Curtis Mayfield is singing “Superfly” – bless the French, they may like J. Lewis, but they like the good stuff as well. I have just finished a fine omelette with tomatoes, onions and gruyere at a brassiere that is wonderfully indistinguishable from a dozen others. In front of me a grand parade of great Gallic noses ranging from large to magnificent pass by. The cliche is that the eye is the window to the soul but it is the nose that tells you if the soul is interesting enough to bother peeping into. If the French are looking down their noses at the rest of us, who can blame them? They are just enjoying the view.

I have no idea where the French got the reputation as being rude to travellers. I find them wonderful. And that is not just because I am from Boston, a city that really can not cast the first stone when it comes to being rude to others. The only trouble I have ever had was on my last trip here when I ran into a very rude person at the Tourism office. That was more than made up for this time by the man at the tourist office who helped us find a toy store that sold tanks and made Collateral Damage Jr. very happy. <BTW, French keyboards are laid out differently and don’t have apostrophes, so I am not totally to blame for my poor spelling this time.>

Looting in New Orleans? Isn’t that redundant?  Given the corruption of that city’s government in general and the police department in particular I cant help but think the citizens view this as though they are finally getting their cut.

What is truly appalling in the wake of Katrina is how badly the relief and rescue efforts have been bungled. It’s not like they didn’t know this was coming. Officials have been expecting and planning for this disaster practically since the French <AH HA!> settled the damn city. Even so all the government agencies appear too have been caught flat footed: This should deservedly cost a lot of politicians and bureaucrats their jobs

Sept. 02, 2005
More notes from the road

I am writing this from an internet cafe across from the Lycee Charlemagne – given the age of the students I would say roughly high school. It is oddly relieving to note that French teenagers look every bit as stupid with a cigarette as American teens do. I have just stumbled across a wonderful English bookstore on rue Saint Paul called The Red Wheelbarrow (after the poem by William Carlos Williams). I had a fine converstation with the owner, whose name I didn’t get (bad jounalist bad! No croissant for you!). She, who has my dream job, is from New York and went to school in Boston. I am (now) from Boston and went to school in New York. Those fine coincidences make the day.

We talked about how difficult it is to be in the midst of current events – both the aftermath of Katrina in the States and the two horrible fires that have killed so many families here in Paris – and at the same time remembering to cherish our blessings and good fortune.

It is a strange thing being so far away from the states when a disaster hits. It’s not as though being in Boston would put me closer in any real sense to Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, but still I have the feeling I should be home – plugged into my communication network and therefore being responsible, not frittering my time away on something as frivolous as vacation. Call it vacationer’s guilt.

In watching the president on CNN and the BBC, I am struck by how much this disaster needs and doesn’t have a Giuliani. If not a hero, then at least grown up who is willing to say honestly how bad things are and what they do or don’t know. That gave Rudy a credibility so we trusted him when he said things will get better. Never mind getting the Ex-Presidents involved in this, maybe the current president should see what Mr. G is up to.

Watching the coverage of all this on those two TV networks, their reports are so at odds with what the people at FEMA and elsewhere in the government are saying that I am forced to conclude that either the press has grossly overplayed how bad things are or that the government is more concerned with spin than facts – sadly, either is a real possibility.

What is certain, and what we are just beginning to hear about, is that the defense of “no one could have predicted this” is absurd. The threats to New Orleans have been documented thoroughly. If you doubt this go back and look at coverage at the start of every hurricane season. The “what will happen if New Orleans gets it” story is written and re-written every year.

There is a huge difference between how the Beeb and CNN are covering Katrina. Both because the Brits seem to feel that there is still other news going on in the world as well – the deaths by stampede in Iraq, the anniversary of the massacre at the school in Beslan in Russia, typhoons hitting both Taiwan and mainland China – and because the BBC people are much more comfortable asking people, officials and people on the street, difficult questions. At CNN, they appear much more concerned with being liked, with letting the viewers know that CNN feels the same things the viewers do. It is the difference between an having an avocation and building a brand. CNN has put a heavy emphasis on heartwarming and funny stories of survival. Last night’s interview with the two ex-prez was one soft ball question after another. The only thing more appaling was what I saw of Diane Sawyer’s interview with the current president. I assume the president is upset by the devestation, so stop asking him about that. Facts, please.

Two predictions:

1. If, in fact, the word refugees is accurate and sticks around, there will be hell to pay from the American public. Refugees happen in other countries, not the US.
2. Louisiana, being Louisiana, there is a story of corruption and malfesance at the heart of this disaster that will boggle the mind.


Jury Duty, II

It really is fun. Part of what’s fun is that it’s a fascinating exercise in storytelling. You watch a lawyer build his/her case and reveal things knowing full well that you are only getting a small part of the story and that even when both sides have finished you will only have an approximation of what happened, one that’s constrained by what’s can be admitted under the rules of evidence. It’s also fun because I have power to decide an issue that will have no impact on me whatsoever. So far I am impressed by the professionalism of everyone involved: the other jurors, the judge and the lawyers. Watching a court case really is good clean fun.

The hardest part for me is restraining my reportorial instincts. There are clearly a lot of interesting stories abutting the main one we’re hearing and I would love to track them down and get more information. Also I would love to research the background all on my own, but I don’t get to. Unlike being a reporter where you get to decide what the story is or isn’t, being a juror means having the story or stories told to you. While I’m trained to be an observer, I am also trained to be a fact ferret and this time the ferret has to stay home.

More penguins of irony

Some actual headlines:

  • Scientists Plan to Rebuild Neanderthal Genome. What, Ann Coulter wouldn’t donate some of hers? (For those on the right substitute John Kerry or Ted Kennedy but I don’t think it works nearly as well from a comedy standpoint.)
  • Bush acknowledges racism still exists Is beginning to think better of this whole “gravity” idea, too. Bush spoke at the NAACP convention for the first time in his presidency. Apparently he believes his civil rights platform of screwing everyone is working.

And jury duty … more fun than I thought.

Doodles from the scrapbook of my mind

  • One of the behind the scenes features of the blog is a list of what search phrases people are using that lead them to Collateral Damage. Among these are four great band names:
  1. the beer needs me
  2. potato gun danger
  3. weasel words
  4. atkins will kill you
  • Media Orchard writes the truth: Verbal Clues That a Reporter Doesn’t Like You (although I would lose the word verbal as all these clues are written, not spoken.)
  • Man busted for using coffee shop’s free wireless signal? Alexander Eric Smith of Battle Ground, WA, was charged with theft of services — for taking something that’s free? The manager of the Brewed Awakenings coffee shop said that for at least three months Smith would come and sit in the business’s parking lot for hours at a time, using the store’s wireless service for free.

Sheriff’s deputies told the man to go away at one point but apparently he returned. “It’s a repetitive occurrence, and it’s borderline creepy,” the coffee shop manager said. “If he doesn’t buy anything, it’s not right for him to come and use (the service).” After an investigation, police discovered that Smith was a level one sex offender.

And there really is no legal charge for being borderline creepy, something that your humble correspondent is very grateful for.

Why pay a professional when you can hire an amateur?

Press release of the day, a new web-based business, has recently arrived on the cyber-scene. WriterElf offers standard copywriting and concepting services. What’s different here is that the writer states, unequivocally, that she will be learning as she goes. Kristi Mitchell calls herself an ‘instinctive’ writer and goes on to explain that much of the written material seen these days is ‘cookie-cutter-ish’ in nature, because so many in the writing business have been trained in the same way.

One of the ways that we have been trained is to look in the dictionary to see if a word exists. Like concepting, for example. Or maybe WriterElf is also offering herself as a surrogate mother.