A Surrealist Epic Post-Thanksgiving Poem

Since we first started hosting Thanksgiving dinner in, I believe, 2012, I have been responsible for the epic cleanup. As with all good rituals, it started as a one-off: I put Nell and the girls to bed and said good night to the last of our guests to leave with the understanding I would finish cleaning the living/dining room and kitchen.

This meant two things.

One, pulling out my portable CD player and earbuds and four older CD mixes. Forget whistling while you work: there was full on singing and dancing. Cavorting, even.

Two, it was not enough simply to run the dishwasher, make things passably tidy and leave the rest until morning. No, I had to restore the living/dining to its pre-meal state, which included moving furniture to its normal location; wash, dry and put away every single pot, dish and piece of flatware; store every leftover; and clean (within reason—I could not run a dust buster or vacuum cleaner) the two rooms, including taking out the garbage and recycling.

If memory serves, that first cleanup took about three-and-a-half hours, with dazzling results; if there is such a thing as kinetic zen, this is it.

And a ritual was born.

In preparation for Thanksgiving 2019, I curated a playlist of 55 tracks totaling 3 hours and 50 minutes on my classic flywheel iPod. I usually make the playlist a bit too long, finding myself wandering around listening to the last few tracks, but this year I actually had to restart the mix, playing the first two tracks again while I took out the garbage and recycling.

Darn, what a shame.

To honor this mix, of which I am quite proud, I decided to create a surrealist epic poem consisting of representative (read: the ones I most enjoy singing) lyrics from each track in sequence. As three tracks are instrumentals, two serve as overtures to the two parts of the poem, and one introduces the dramatic conclusion.[1]

It is no secret I have eclectic taste in music, though given my recent obsession with Stranger Things (after enjoying David Harbour as the guest host on Saturday Night Live on October 12, 2019, Nell and I watched all 25 episodes in seven weeks), there is a heavy emphasis on the generic classifications of “New Wave” (11 tracks), “Post-Punk” (4) and “Synthpop” (3); seven other tracks could easily be classified under this rubric as well, for a total of 25. Moreover, 30 tracks were released between 1980 and 1989; the show is set in 1983-85 (11 tracks). That said, eight tracks from the 1970s fall into a broad Soul/R&B/Funk/Disco category, six other tracks from that decade fall into a broad folk rock/singer-songwriter/soft rock category. Finally, four of the seven tracks released between 1990 and 2016 fall into a grunge/Alternative Rock category, two are from movie/television soundtracks and, last but far from least, is the joyous Americana of “Square Glass in the Wall” by the Four Legged Faithful.

Given the inherent spirit of randomness masquerading as creativity, I illustrate this epic poem with our eldest daughter’s unnamed creation from November 28, 2014, the day AFTER Thanksgiving that year.

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Part 1

Overture: Theme from Stranger Things by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein

 

Well lately

You look around

You’re wondering what you’re doing

Yeah lately

You look around

You’re wondering what you’re seeing

What you’re doing.

 

I know you

Were expecting a one-night stand

When I refused

I knew you wouldn’t understand

I told you twice

I was only trying to be nice

Only trying to be nice

Ooh, I didn’t mean to turn you on.

 

So grab your friends, get the train comin’ through

Climb on board, where you leave’s up to you

Leave your worries behind

‘Cause rain, shine, don’t mind

We’re ridin’ on the groove line tonight.

 

Ohh, if I had my wits about me now

About me now

I would tear across the waterway somehow

Oh somehow

The body has never turned its back on me this way

Dare I say

Something was wrong.

 

The wild dogs cry out in the night

As they grow restless, longing for some solitary company

I know that I must do what’s right

As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti

I seek to cure what’s deep inside, frightened of this thing that I’ve become.

 

Every day, every night

In that all old familiar light

You hang up when I call you at home

And I try to get through

Ant I try to talk to you

But there’s something stopping me from getting through.

 

Nothing lasts forever

Of that I’m sure

Now you’ve made an offer

I’ll take some more

Young loving may be

Oh so mean

Will I still survive

The same old scene?

 

We must play our lives like soldiers in the field

The life is short

I’m running faster all the time

Strength and beauty destined to decay

So cut the rose in full bloom

‘Til the fearless come and the act is done

A love like blood

A love like blood.

 

And I was here to please

I’m even on my knees

Makin’ love to whoever I please

I gotta do it my way

Or no way at all.

 

Come doused in mud, soaked in bleach

As I want you to be

As a trend, as a friend

As an old

Memoria, memoria

Memoria, memoria

And I swear that I don’t have a gun

No I don’t have a gun.

 

The body’s weak, the shadow’s strong

Walk through the fire

Through the dust and ashes

While the building crashes

Walk through the flame

Lion show no sign of fear.

 

I find myself on canvas

I find myself on stage

Can you see me?

Are you near me?

And I long to know you’re real

And I long for you to be a part of me

I long to know you’re real

And I long for you to be a part of me.

 

I might like you better if we slept together

But there’s something in your eyes

That says maybe

That’s never

Never say never.

 

This old town’s changed so much

Don’t feel that I belong

Too many protest singers, not enough protest songs

And now you’ve come along, yes, you’ve come along

And I never met a girl like you before.

 

Politician’s promises

Have made all of us doubting Thomas’

And as we all adjust our confidence

Still in you I trust

In you I trust

In you I must

I trust you more each day

You seem to mean exactly what you say

Friend and lover, lovely friend.

 

Like the fool I am and I’ll always be

I’ve got a dream, I’ve got a dream

They can change their minds but they can’t change me

I’ve got a dream, I’ve got a dream

Oh, I know I could share it if you want me to

If you’re goin’ my way, I’ll go with you.

 

Get around town, get around town

Where the people look good, where the music is loud

Get around town, no need to stand proud

Add your voice to the sound of the crowd.

 

Where are you going now, my love

Where will you be tomorrow?

Will you bring me happiness?

Will you bring me sorrow?

Oh, the questions of a thousand dreams

What you do with what you see

Lover, can you talk to me?

 

But no matter where the days have left you

Every day ends at the street café

The street café

And no matter where the road may take you

Every time it brings you back to the street café

Yeah the street café.

 

Get on up, on the floor

‘Cause were gonna boogie oogie oogie

‘Till you just can’t boogie no more

Ah boogie, boogie no more

You can’t boogie no more

Ah boogie, boogie no more

Listen to the music.

 

Don’t talk to me about love

(yesterdays shatter, tomorrows don’t matter)

Don’t talk to me about love

(yesterdays shatter, tomorrows don’t matter)

Don’t talk to me about love

(yesterdays shatter, tomorrows don’t matter).

 

Shadows from the buildings creep along the parking cars

While the women spank their babies and the old men just drink all day in bars

And the people that “never see it” always end up as the ones who’ve seen it all

And the liquor store is crowded, while an empty phone booth rings another call

And the hills that used to all seem green now look an ugly brown

And no one ever found any movie stars on the stormy side of town.

 

All the love gone bad turned my world to black

Tattooed all I see, all that I am, all I’ll be yeah

Oh oh ooh

I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life

I know you’ll be a star in somebody else’s sky, but why

Why, why can’t it be, oh can’t it be mine?

 

Rough boys

Don’t walk away

I wanna buy you leather

Make noise

Try and talk me away

We can’t be seen together

Tough kids

What can I do?

I’m so pale and weedy.

 

I have waited a lifetime

Spent my time so foolishly

But now that I found you

Together we’ll make history

And I know that it must be the woman in you

That brings out the man in me

I know I can’t help myself

You’re all my eyes can see.

 

Dream on white boy, white boy

Dream on black girl, black girl

And wake up to a brand new day

To find your dreams have washed away.

 

Now the thing that I call livin’ is just bein’ satisfied

With knowin’ I got no one left to blame

Carefree highway, got ta see you my old flame

Carefree highway, you seen better days

The mornin’ after blues from my head down to my shoes

Carefree highway, let me slip away

Slip away on you.

 

So you’re left standing in the corner

You keep your face turned to the wall

A fading dream

A fading memory

A shooting star that had to fall

Mama Mama I keep having nightmares

Mama Mama Mama am I ill?

Mama Mama Mama hold me tighter

Mama Mama do you love me still?

 

Is there something you should tell me?

Is this the time of bliss?

Should I live without you?

I dare not contemplate.

 

Part 2

Overture: Theme from The Shadow by Jerry Goldsmith

 

This is not a horse race where winners beat the time

This is not a funeral with mourners in a line

This is not a sitcom where everything’s alright

This is not a prison with terror through the night

Go… don’t you go

Won’t you stay with me one more day?

 

You don’t pull on Superman’s cape

You don’t spit into the wind

You don’t pull the mask

From that old Lone Ranger

And you don’t mess around with Jim.

 

You function like a dummy with a new ventriloquist

Do you say nothing yourself?

Hanging like a thriller on the final twist

You know you’re getting stuck on the shelf

Come up to me with your “What did you say?”

And I’ll tell you straight in the eye, “Hey!”

D.I.Y.

 

There’ve been times in my life

I’ve been wonderin’ why

Still, somehow I believed we’d always survive

Now, I’m not so sure

You’re waiting here, one good reason to try

But, what more can I say?

What’s left to provide?

 

New cities by the sea

Skyscrapers are winking

Some hills are never seen

The universe expanding

We’re gazing out to sea

Blue dolphins are singing

Minds swim in ecstasy

Clear planet, ever free

Topaz.

 

Feel sunshine sparkle pink and blue

Playgrounds will laugh

If you try to ask

“Is it cool?”

If you arrive and don’t see me

I’m going to be with my baby

I am free, flying in her arms

Over the sea.

 

Ooh, I’m in love, I’m in love

I’m in love, I’m in love

I’m in love

Ooh, I feel love, I feel love

I feel love, I feel love

I feel love.

 

And we would go on as though nothing was wrong

And hide from these days we remained all alone

Staying in the same place, just staying out the time

Touching from a distance

Further all the time.

 

And in the morning when he’s gone

Please don’t sing that sad sad song

I don’t want to hear it

Forget about him

Let him go

It won’t hurt what he don’t know.

 

Dance with the boogie get high

‘Cause boogie nights are always the best in town

Got to keep on dancing

Keep on dancing

Got to keep on dancing

Keep on dancing.

 

Hey Jimmy

They’re calling you back

They want you to come back

And take out the garbage

They want to talk to you

About something

They found in your drawer

Under a Hustler magazine.

 

And just when I think

Everything is in its place

The universe is secure

The whole thing explodes in my face

It’s just another-

It’s just another day…

It’s just another day.

 

I can live without love

If I wanted to in this lonely room

But I don’t want to so I leave it up to you

To wash away my gloom.

 

I tried but could not bring

The best of everything

Too breathless then to wonder

I died a thousand times

Found guilty of no crime

Now everything is thunder.

 

This life I’m living’s getting so hard to feel

Ooh Ooh, I’m missing you

The days are empty and the nights are unreal

Ooh Ooh, I’m missing you.

 

You said you want to reach the sky

So get up

The feeling’s right

And the music’s tight

On the disco nights

Just say you will

Just do what you feel

I’m for real.

 

It’s gotta be a strange twist of fate

Telling me that Heaven can wait

Telling me to get it right this time

Life doesn’t mean a thing

Without the love you bring

Love is what we’ve found

The second time around.

 

In the middle, in the middle, in the middle of a dream

I lost my shirt

I pawned my rings

I’ve done all the dumb things.

 

Oh, all alone, in my bed at night

I grab my pillow and squeeze it tight

I think of you

And I dream of you, all of the time

What am I gonna do?

I want your love.

 

Here’s that rhythm again

Here’s my shoulder blade

Here’s the sound I made

Here’s the picture I saved

Here I am.

 

Ain’t nobody

Loves me better

Makes me happy

Makes me feel this way

Ain’t nobody

Loves me better than you.

 

Shopping Center crazy

I need some fast relief

The boss says, “Boy, you’re lazy”

But I’m just bored beyond belief.

 

[Musical interlude: Theme from The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension by Neil Norman]

 

What’s a poor boy to do when he’s fallen in love with you?

Help me make it through the night.

Everything’s gonna’ be alright.

Yeah…

You take me to the top.

Perhaps, just as Jews on Passover spread the reading of the Haggadah across multiple family members and guests, you could use these stanzas to defuse your next fractious gathering. Simply have each person present read a stanza, cycling through everyone until the final one. I expect the utter nonsense of the successive passages will serve as a much- needed distraction.

And, of course, here is the actual playlist:

Stranger Things Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein 2016
Lately INXS 1990
I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On Robert Palmer 1985
The Groove Line Heatwave 1978
Square Glass In The Wall The Four Legged Faithful 2012
Africa Toto 1982
Nowhere Girl B-Movie 1982
Same Old Scene Roxy Music 1980
Love Like Blood Killing Joke 1985
Turn Me Loose Loverboy 1980
Come as You Are Nirvana 1991
Walk Through the Fire Peter Gabriel 1984
Between Something and Nothing The Ocean Blue 1989
Never Say Never Romeo Void 1982
A Girl Like You Edwyn Collins 1994
In You I Trust Rupert Holmes 1979
I Got a Name Jim Croce 1973
The Sound of the Crowd The Human League 1981
Carry On Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young 1970
Street Cafe Icehouse 1982
Boogie Oogie Oogie A Taste of Honey 1978
Don’t Talk To Me About Love Altered Images 1983
Stormy Side of Town Stan Ridgway 1986
Black Pearl Jam 1992
Rough Boys Pete Townshend 1980
Feels Like the First Time Foreigner 1977
Original Sin INXS 1984
Carefree Highway Gordon Lightfoot 1974
Nightmares A Flock of Seagulls 1983
Beyond Doubt Gene Loves Jezebel 1986
The Shadow Jerry Goldsmith 1994
Stay Oingo Boingo 1985
You Don’t Mess Around With Jim Jim Croce 1972
D.I.Y. Peter Gabriel 1978
This Is It Kenny Loggins 1979
Topaz The B-52’s 1989
Strawberry Letter 23 The Brothers Johnson 1977
I Feel Love Donna Summer 1977
Transmission Joy Division 1979
When It’s Over Loverboy 1981
Boogie Nights Heatwave 1976
Jimmy Jimmy Ric Ocasek 1982
Just Another Day Oingo Boingo 1985
Love Or Let Me Be Lonely The Friends of Distinction 1970
Let Me Go Heaven 17 1982
Missing You Dan Fogelberg 1982
Disco Nights (Rock Freak) GQ 1979
Twist of Fate Olivia Newton-John 1983
Dumb Things Paul Kelly and the Messengers 1987
I Want Your Love Chic 1978
Stay Hungry Talking Heads 1978
Ain’t Nobody Rufus & Chaka Khan 1983
Rage In the Cage J. Geils Band, The 1981
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Neil Norman 1984
Take Me to the Top Loverboy 1981

You are welcome.

Until next time…

[1] I am deeply indebted to LyricFind for help in deciphering many of these lyrics.

Choosing the funny and the absurd…

There are very few persons, places or things I outright despise.

One of those rare things is St. Valentine’s Day (despite my fascination with what happened that day in Chicago, IL in 1929). I generally believe that cynicism is toxic—but I am irredeemably cynical about this “Hallmark holiday.”

My objection to the holiday was originally rooted in being mystified what purpose it serves:

  • Anyone currently in a romantic relationship should not require a specific day of the year to demonstrate her/his affection for her/his partner. I still leave my wife Nell a scrawled “good morning, I love you” note every night before I go to sleep (though now it also encompasses our daughters and our golden retriever Ruby), even after 11+ years of marriage.
  • It does not apply to anyone NOT in a romantic relationship—and it may even cruelly exacerbate such a person’s loneliness.

Two things later occurred on February 14 which cemented my disdain for this holiday:

  1. A college girlfriend broke up with me as we rode the commuter rail back to New Haven, CT from New York City (before falling asleep with her head in my lap).
  2. In 2007, Nell (then my girlfriend) had a D&C to end a partial molar pregnancy; the pregnancy had not been planned, despite my having spent four years working as a researcher in family planning. In an additional, more bittersweet bit of irony, going through this traumatic experience together (there were months of weekly blood tests to confirm the absence of the molar tissue) actually spurred us to make our relationship permanent; we married that October.

Now, to be fair, I was so entertained by the events of St. Valentine’s Day 2001 (despite—or maybe because of—having recently ended two relationships[1]) that after my friends left my Philadelphia apartment in the wee hours of the following morning, I sat down at my computer to write everything I remembered about that day, intending to turn it into a short story.

I still have an inchoate, marked-up draft of “Valentine’s Day” in my filing cabinet.

Nonetheless, rather than dwell on the negative, I will instead share a handful of funny photographs, newspaper clippings and stories.

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This is the sign outside of our pediatrician’s office. Could the street address be any more perfect?

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This is an actual street corner in Wayne, PA. And it is only about a 10-minute drive west rom where Old Gulph Road crosses South Gulph Road to become Upper Gulph Road (making it the intersection of Gulph, Gulph, Gulph and Gulph).

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After Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian nationals and three firms, including the Internet Research Agency—home to a group of Russian “Internet trolls,” I began telling Nell (mostly in jest) that I wanted my own “Russian troll farm.”

Well…look what showed up in our dining room Christmas morning, 2018! (Thank you, Nell!)

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Who are you calling corny?

Daddy corn 10-12-2008

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As I research and write my book, tentatively entitled Interrogating Memory: Film Noir and My Search for Identity, I have spent hours reading through old newspapers. A joyous by-product of this activity is happening upon truly bizarre or funny articles/advertisements.

This appeared on page 14 of the March 27, 1910 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Maybe all the hours our daughters spend on the iPad or playing video games are not so bad after all…

Bonfire of the absurdities

What always gets me is the mental image of “the excited children danced about the blaze.”

I literally wrote “This just made my day…” when I clipped this advertisement (so cleverly disguised as an actual article its authors helpfully wrote “Advt” at its end) from page seven of the September 30, 1913 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Best Laxative for Bowels

If only our local CVS would start selling Cascarets so I can avoid the Coated Tongue I so often experience after imbibing Purgative Waters to stop being bilious!

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On December 20, 2014. six days after I successfully defended my doctoral thesis in epidemiology at the Boston University School of Public Health, I took our two daughters—then aged six and almost-five—for a drive, what we used to call “an adventure.” Meandering west, we wound up in the town of Hudson (birthplace of former Massachusetts governor Paul Cellucci).

What transpired there led me to write the following Facebook post (edited for clarity).

Call me Doctor Idiot. Earlier today, the girls and I went for a drive. Giving Nell a break, while seeking adventure. Wound up in Hudson, about 26 miles west of Boston. Parked in front of the Public Library at 4:45. [We see that it] closes at 5:00. Plan: use the bathroom [We did exactly that—used the restroom in the library, explored it, then left shortly before it closed at 5 pm], then maybe walk around [Hudson] a bit, eat something. Fine. We leave, and start to walk. Now [our younger daughter] needs a bathroom. Library [now closed]. We run down the hill past the closed diner, the dark gas station…to the McDonalds. While I wait for the girls, I instinctively look at my iPhone. Umm, where is my phone? Seriously, where is my phone?? Let’s see, I had it in the bathroom at the libra-…no, no, you have GOT to be kidding me. Girls finish [using the bathroom at McDonalds], we run back up the hill to the library. Completely dark. Locked. No answer to the frantic banging and knocking. Not open again until Monday. This is NOT good. Remembered the Hudson police officer parked across from McDonalds. So…back down the hill we run. Officer just about to pull out of the lot. STOP, I wave! Explain the situation. Very nice, but he gives me that look…are you serious? They’ve only just closed, I stammer. He hesitates, then reaches for his radio. Pauses. Finally relays my problem to the station. Now, we wait and see, he says. What do I do now? Do you have a car? Yes, parked in front of the library. Swing down here and park in the lot. So…back up the hill one more time. Pile in the car and drive down to the lot. I position my Honda next to his cruiser. No word yet, he signals to me. [While we waited, our older daughter], from the back seat [says]: Daddy, if you dropped it and someone picked it up, they can’t use it ’cause it has a password, so they might just throw it in the trash and it’ll get crushed. Aaarggh, I scream in my head. After 10, maybe 15 minutes, Officer Jesse…S-something starts to pull out of the lot, motions me to follow. I do. He drives to the library, pulls a U-ey, and parks in front. I park across the street and get out. leaving the girls safely buckled in the car. I see no library employees. Instead, three members of the Hudson Fire Department are standing there. Looking quite amused. One of them jangles a key ring. Don’t know if we can get in the front door–but definitely the side door, he says. None of the keys open the front door, so we all troop around [to] the right-hand side of the building. Seconds later, two firemen and I are standing in a foyer. The door in front of us has a number lock, but there is an unlocked door to our right. Leads to the Children’s section, downstairs. Firemen #1 walks into the dark room just ahead of me, holding a flashlight. Which bathroom? I point across the way. We walk inside, and he turns on the light. I don’t see my TARDIS-encased phone at first, and I start to panic. But then I see it, right where I had set it down. At that moment, the building alarm goes off. The Hudson Public Library has a VERY loud alarm. We head back outside, closing the doors. In the alley, I shake every hand I can, thanking them profusely, if a bit incoherently. How can I repay you guys, I ask. Oh, forget about it (for some bored firefighters, this was *fun*). You can make a donation to the library (check—[I sent them $50 that night]). Then I ran back up the alley, across the street to my patient girls. Gave them a big thumbs up. Sat down in the front seat, started the car…and got the hell out of Hudson!

We have not returned to Hudson since then.

Until next time…

[1] One would actually resume not long after—only to become the most tumultuous relationship of my life, before  ending for good in 2004.