Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Yankee Doodle Cigar Box

Mack Hall, HSG

The Yankee Doodle Cigar Box

Open the old cigar box,
Get me a Cuba stout
For things are running crossways,
And Maggie and I are out

- Kipling

The decay of civilization continues with the demise of the cigar box.

In the not-so-long-ago even the cheapest cigars (Roi-Tan – “The Cigar That Breathes”) were sold in wooden boxes secured with little brass nails.

Little boys didn’t smoke cigars (well…once or twice…) themselves, but a castoff cigar box was a childhood treasure, a source of almost-raw materials for building toy forts, airplanes, cars, ships, and army tanks.

A cigar box also served as a pirate’s treasure chest for hiding old pocketknives, marbles, Canadian pennies, firecrackers from last Christmas, brass washers, keys without locks, locks without keys, a Timex wristwatch that didn’t run anymore, stubs of pencils, bits of chalk, string, airplane glue, crayons, .22 shell casings, pliers, screwdrivers, dice, and a little plastic disc that, when tilted, made a tiny hunter in a boat lift his shotgun and bring down a duck.

Every child took a cigar box to school to hold crayons, those dinky, stamped-metal, blunt-nosed scissors, and that crumbly white paste which wouldn’t stick anything together. The labels remained, which would now be forbidden under state law as promoting the use of tobacco by children.

Some manufacturers sold empty no-name boxes as school supplies for a time, but these were quickly superseded by the now ubiquitous and iniquitous transparent plastic boxes which somehow seem un-American.

Wooden cigar boxes for cheap machine brands were first replaced by thick, heavy cardboard. These were sturdy enough for squirreling away little oddments in a drawer, but wholly inadequate for building another USS Texas, a bomber, or a railroad station for the three-rail O-gauge (the Marx vs Lionel vs American Flyer debate is deferred).

Sadly, grocery store cigars no longer come in real boxes at all; they are tucked into folding envelopes of thin cardboard, useless in every way. Straight shame.

After the Depression and World War II, the concept of “the richest nation on earth” was almost as much a fiction as it is now. National prosperity didn’t much come down to ex-G.I.’s, but they figured they were blessed in having jobs and food and no one shooting at them, and the promise of a better future. A J. C. Higgins on the gun rack instead of a garand, a pair of dress shoes instead of combat boots for going to church, and the luxury of a six-cent cigar after work or down at the American Legion - all spoke of small victories.

The names of those brands return from the past: Roi Tan, King Edward, Wm Penn, Dutch Masters, White Owl, Phillies, El Producto, Muriel, Swisher Sweets, John Ruskin, most of which have gone the way of the Missouri Pacific, Pan American, and Studebaker. The plain wooden boxes in which those cheap, machine-made, post-war cigars awaiting the touch of the match contained more than cigars, they were cultural artifacts.

Cardboard just won’t do.

Where now is the modern boy to hide his old pocketknives, marbles, Canadian pennies, firecrackers from last Christmas, brass washers, keys without locks, locks without keys, a Timex wristwatch that doesn’t run anymore, stubs of pencils, bits of chalk, string, airplane glue, crayons, .22 shell casings, pliers, screwdrivers, dice, and a little plastic disc that, when tilted, makes a tiny hunter in a boat lift his shotgun and bring down a duck?


The Twenty-One Egyptian Martyrs

Twenty-One Martyrs of Egypt

Baptized into the mystery of death
Simon again carrying the Cross of Christ
But now each Simon carrying his own
Marched to the beach under the whips of scorn
Crowned with humiliation, fear, and pain
Agony, the obscenity of death
Canonized on the Cyrenian shore
Lifted up into eternal Joy
Twenty-one martyrs teach us how to die
Baptized into the mystery of death

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Cambodia Comes to an End

Mack Hall, HSG


Cambodia Comes to an End


The Cambodian government recently arrested two American sisters for desecrating a religious and historical site by taking bare-bottom pictures of each other in Angkor Wat.  The two young women kept their shirts on, though – perhaps these were tees printed with “These ARE My Church Clothes®™” or maybe the obligatory portrait of pathological murderer and capitalist fashion ATM Che Guevara®™.


Someone might ask where their parents were, but, really, should twenty-somethings need mumsy and dadsy to tell them to keep their britches on in somebody else’s church?


The government is unsure about the proper punishment.  Given the reported poses, a few swings with a switch wouldn’t be amiss for the misses.


Many people the age of the moonbeam girls are working double shifts at minimum-wage jobs to maintain themselves, and can’t afford a holiday at all.  These two consumers, who enjoy enough disposable wealth to visit a UNESCO World Heritage Site, could think of little else to do at one of the world’s wonders except to act out the content of American television programming.


This failure to respect others and one’s self is not limited to Yanks.  Only a week before the bad American moons arising three French tourists chose to give the temple more exposure to the, uh, culture of La Belle France than was necessary.  The Cambodian government gave them suspended sentences and sent them home, which demonstrates that Cambodia is more civilized than France.


The week before that some other tourists, said only to be “Asian,” also thought that a thousand-year-old religious site was a clothing-optional experience.


At some point Cambodia might become so exasperated at those visitors who act like British footie fans that the punishments might involve more than a scolding and a ride to the airport in a police car.  And this might be happening now - as of this writing, the two young American women are still in a Cambodian holding facility.  No privacy, no air-conditioning, no MePhone, no television, no menu choices, and maybe only a damp, crowded concrete floor instead of a bunk.  That must fun.


Although the young women’s lack of a proper upbringing is probably George Bush’s fault, the reality is that no matter how shabby the parenting or lack of parenting, a young adult can begin to think for herself (the pronoun here is gender-neutal).  She can choose not to be fifty shades of victim.  She can choose not to be a cliché, a parasite, or a passive receiver of destructive sub-cultural indoctrination. She can choose to respect others by first respecting herself. 


Helping visitors grow up is not the responsibility of the government of Cambodia, who are busy enough recovering from a generation of Communist horror.


In the end (as it were), Cambodian tourists don’t visit churches in the USA in order to drop trou for a selfie in front of the baptismal font.



Brittle Sunlight

Lawrence Hall



Brittle Sunlight


Most say a sunbeam’s glare is beautiful

The February sun slanting upon

Poor optimistic flowers opening out

To celebrate the trickster’s transient warmth

Haze grey is gentler, drifts of morning mists

Through which ascending light speaks promises

Of happiness along life’s pearling dreams

When no sun marks or assigns us dutiful hours

To those who see whole worlds in shoaling leaves

Cold February fogs whisper happiness

National Public Radio Considers the New Cardinals

Lawrence Hall


National Public Radio Considers the New Cardinals


authentic marginalized periphery

environment climate change key issues

chained to the tradition smacks you in the face

geographical diversity voices

of the global church geographic choice

revolutionary crop developing world

spiritual Alzheimer’s ideological conclusions

mandarins at the Vatican the left

upper echelons hot button dialogue

diverse comments for this thread are now closed

A Flickering Light Among the Winter Trees

Lawrence Hall


Shhhhh - Did You See That?


A flickering light among the winter trees,

A bell that’s barely heard within the wind

Like rumors of poor wandering souls who mourn

Departed glories through a moonless night

While guarded in forgotten rites by soft

Mysterious footfalls heard in the dark

By frightened men who scuttle quickly back

To where the feeble streetlamps flail against fear,

Saying nothing to their pals in the pub about

A flickering light among the winter trees

Texas' Proposed Open-Carry Law

Lawrence Hall



Texas’ Proposed Open-Carry Law


All teachers trample the Constitution

All teachers promote contempt for the Flag

All teachers should be in an institution

All teachers are weird (and that one’s a fag)

All teachers despise the military

All teachers should be slowly microwaved

All teachers hate meat; they’re vegetary

All teachers hate Jesus; they can’t be Saved

All teachers are evil; the children are harmed:

And thus, they say, all teachers should be armed

Upon Learning that the Southern Poverty Law Center Maintains an Enemies List

Lawrence Hall



Upon Learning that the Southern Poverty Law Center

Maintains an Enemies List


Does anyone maintain a list of friends?

The construction flagman who smiles and waves

The neighbor’s boy who visits for a game of chess

The Friday morning coffee commandos

The waitress who flirts with all her old men

          The helpful sackboy at the grocery store

          The man who repairs your air-conditioner

          The nurse-practitioner who makes you all better

Does anyone maintain a list of friends?

The President Asks Congress to Approve More Corpses

Lawrence Hall


The President Asks Congress to Approve More Corpses


military force resolution robust

authorization national security

interests into harm’s way absolutely

necessary deployment enduring

offensive combat role limits authoritative

document timetable revisit the issue

discussion constitutional authority

AUMD  ISIL  ISIS, stability

integrity necessary and appropriate

associated persons or forces boots


Lawrence Hall




“I consecrate you to a great novitiate in the world.”


-Father Zosima to Alyosha in The Brothers Karamazov


The monastery gate opens easily

If it really needs opening at all

The road outside often leads somewhere else

But then it just as often leads back again

The distance measured by a crucifix

Where a weary traveler can pray awhile

Or maybe Harry Bailey’s hamburger joint

A cup of coffee and a cigarette

Offered by a pilgrim in the neon night

The monastery gate opens easily

The Student Commons

Lawrence Hall


The Student Commons


In the student commons between classes

Fluorescent lights over the Coke machine

Cartoons and soaps on the television screen

Grim thirty-somethings hunched in plastic chairs

Staring like Eloi at the Morlock box

Where Tom chases Jerry past Vanna White

And then across the bed where Brook and Ridge

Wrestle in geographic ecstasy

On the muddy banks of the sports channel

In the student commons between classes

One Shade of Going Viral

Lawrence Hall


One Shade of Going Viral


A cloud of virus-sodden tissues builds

Billow on billow, like a summer storm

Weathering up for the afternoon rain,

Or like a trash-can snowman sneeze by sneeze.

A cold is like a favorite childhood toy

Discovered in a shoebox tucked away

Or a Robin Hood book of summer dreams

Three days’ escape from responsibilities

And pulling at a tissue once again

A cloud of irresponsible indolence builds

Does This Machine Kill Fascists?

Does This Machine Kill Fascists?


Does this machine kill Fascists?  Probably not

Unless it bores them to a yawning death

Through soporific clichés crudely imposed

Upon a few poor, battered chords that twang

Like the barbed wire of an Arctic gulag

Where happy comrades

Shiver in the snow

Wither in the wind

Starve on slops

Burn with typhus

Rot in the tundra

As they build the future upon mass graves

While the anti-Fascist cashes his checks

Lawrence Hall

Monday, February 2, 2015

Cuddly Carnivores

Lawrence Hall



Cuddly Carnivores


Why do we humans cuddle carnivores

Give names to yapping little quadrupeds

Who growl at socks and shoes and closet doors

And rumple all the covers on all the beds?

What possible use is a dachshund pup

Who chews whatever her tiny teeth reach

And what doesn’t digest comes right back up -

Little dogs are impossible to teach!

But in my arms my Astrid softly snores:

That’s why we cuddle baby carnivores

For Rod McKuen

Lawrence Hall



For Rod McKuen


The gentle singer of my youth has died

The poet of empty Sunday afternoons

And solitary strolls through Balboa Park

Among lovers and Frisbee-chasing dogs

Of laughing with shipmates while cleaning rifles

Because we knew more than the armorer

About dreaming away from learning war

About pretty girls laughing in the sun

A chansonnier in sweater, sneaks, and jeans:

The gentle singer of my youth has died

Politicians and Potties

Mack Hall, HSG


Deflating the Float Ball


The thought of political functionaries escorting citizens to the potty is creepy / stalky, but maybe not unexpected.  After all, for years the national government, unable to cobble together a budget, has nonetheless regulated the capacity of the toilet tanks to which on some occasions they herd citizens.


Late in January the Democrats of the House of Representatives held what the news calls a retreat at a hotel in Philadelphia.  Part of the security was provided by the D.C. Capitol Police, exercising their strong extra-territorial arm of D.C. law in the state of Pennsylvania. 


Whatever the occasion or purpose of the retreat (and why do they call it that?), the House Democrats suffered the punishment of having to listen to a speech by Vice-President Joe Biden.  Ouch.


Reporters present reported (because reporting is what reporters do) that if they bugged out of the speech (and who wouldn’t!) to visit the euphemism they were escorted by an official Democratic Party staffer.


Maybe the EPA sent them so that the reporters wouldn’t be…you know…beneath illegal 150-watt incandescent light bulbs. 


Hey, who wouldn’t want to be the up-and-coming political functionary who is deputed to watch the watchers wee-wee?  This is why young Americans study political science in our great universities.


How is service on the potty patrol scored on the staffers’ annual written evaluation?


And what do the staffers say over coffee or a brew after their shift?


“Say, Biff, rough day?”


“Watching a CNN crone in the john.  ‘Rough day’ – ya think?”


“Don’t feel like Steve Kroft, okay?  I and my 4.0 GPA from Columbia fetched toilet paper for some Fox newsies who wanted to know if it were free-range.”




What is unclear is why some of the Honorable Members of the House determined that reporters can’t go…you know…without minders.  Is the Fourth
Estate notorious for wrapping the House chambers?  Do they need reminding to wash their hands and check their zippers and buttons?


The reader wonders how Edward R. Murrow, Douglas Edwards, Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, and Ernie Pyle would have responded to twenty-something functionaries supervising their occasional necessary visits.


If someone suggests that some aspects of our government seem to be in the toilet, well, maybe that’s not a metaphor.