The Afterlife of Henry James

Most of Henry James’ afterlife happens elsewhere, in rooms with patterned carpets where ghosts with cavernous eyes hover over dusty tables, aware, even in death, of the chains securing them to their narrow destinies. Most of his afterlife boils free in a blur of flickering pages sent tumbling from some magic mountain; some river snaking through crooked letters, crooked letters; old stories scrimshawed into the lace of brokenhearted brides aflame and brittle. He’s there, too, our Henry, the brother forever younger, reaching for bold William, for the madness of his art again and again and again. Most of his afterlife happens elsewhere, as do the afterlives of more common minds, where a morning (and perhaps mourning) fog billows by his woolen wing-backed chair, curling over his worn, sturdy shoes, stiff cuffs, and suspenders that sustain a weighty dignity. Most of his afterlife is spent lurking near the edges, in the swirl of creamed tea, or shadowing the bust of our great bard, where he is unmoved by the madding and shrieking crowds, but hardly distant, nor obscure. But in odd bright moments that unfold like the final phrases of a catacombic sentence, Henry James’ afterlife does not happen elsewhere; it happens here, in our dining rooms and breakfast nooks, upturning tables and scattering golden flatware across the marble tiles, fork tines ever upward, a minefield of petite rakes; spoons teeter on their gleaming bowls as we lean forward to find our distorted features awash in brackish tides, and James, nervous, muttering apologies as he sweeps away shards of shattered stemware.

The Real Truth About President Obama

There are those that think our President is not an American citizen–that he somehow tricked a whole mess of people into believing he was born in Hawaii so that he could ruin the country with his radical socialism. These “birthers,” as they are called, have sought the release of President Obama’s birth certificate for a long time and now that it’s been released, they’re crying foul. Normally, I try to stay clear of such political hullaballoos on my blog, but, like the old blind lady said in movie based on that book, “You gots to make a stand.”

Hey, look, I have nothing against the “birthers.” I suspect they’re nice folk. But they’re way off, naive even. They have this little string that they’re pulling, trying to unravel a sweater that doesn’t even exist. They look under one rock, then another, but they aren’t getting any closer to the real truth. Up till now, I’ve not told anyone of my findings. It’s just too scary. But now, it’s go time. Plus, I just drank a double quad-expresso and I have some time to kill before the Benadryl kicks in.

You thought not having/forging a birth certificate was big news? Pfffftttt. That’s nothing. I’m officially announcing tonight the formation of the “Projector” movement, which is seeking to demand that our “President” prove to the citizens of our country that he is not in any way a digitized form or projected hologram. I’ve had people on the ground (literally, on the ground, often “re-grouping” or “resting” after a heavy “lunch”) and you won’t believe what they’ve found. It turns out that there’s really no proof, none whatsoever, that “President” Obama is actually human at all.

Fact: I’ve never touched Obama. How do I know he isn’t a hologram? That right there should proof enough for anyone. Not enough for you? Fine. On we go.

Fact: Holograms exist. George Lucas used them extensively in his epic Star Wars films and most of Alan Alda’s scenes in M.A.S.H. were projected via “phax” machines, an early squash based digital projector, precursor to the more popular “walkman” projector made famous by Robert Redford in Electric Cowboy. In fact, Alan Alda rarely left his home in Venice Beach during M.A.S.H.‘s heyday.).

Fact: Nobody you know has ever touched Obama. Sure, there are the “urban myths” we all hear. My cousin’s best friend’s uncle shook Obama’s hand at a rally in Pittsfield. Sure, he did. And Mr. Mumboto, esteemed colleague from Nigeria desperately needs your help to get his funds into the United States. Trace the myth, people. You’ll see that Obama has never come in contact with any human skin, anywhere. Is that the American way? If I was running for President tomorrow, wouldn’t I have to touch people? “Have to?” Forget “have to.”  I’d demand it. My slogan would be: Touch me now, Vote for me on Election Day.

Fact: In twelve states, including Michele Bachmann’s own Minnesota, there are now Resolutions before State Electoral Boards that would require Presidential candidates to dedicate sixteen campaign hours per week to “kissing” or “touching” booths to ensure that enough people physically touch the man destined to be their King President.

Fact: In no less than twenty speeches that Obama has given, he has mysteriously flickered and become translucent before large groups of people. White House staffers have routinely blamed the lighting technicians of different venues, claiming that the “hippie” spotlight operators were having fun messing with the “man.” Has anyone ever spoken to one of these longhair theater technicians? One must question their very existence.

Fact: Despite what that other group (the “R’Obamas”) claims, there is no way that President Obama is a robot socialist sent from the future to weaken our country. First of all, time travel is ridiculously expensive and arduous, even for a robot. Second, we’ve found no proof that a robot could travel through time in any of the known time machine apparatti–and if a robot socialist is impossible, the very idea of a future-human-socialist-time-traveler is simply ludicrous. First, do you have any idea how much time you’d spend simply traveling back and forth to the future to talk with your socialist leaders in their grey and imposing offices? Like half your life! After a while, you’d be all like, “Hey, man what year is this? Am I duping you now or am I reporting to my superiors?” And you know what you’d be doing the other half of your life? Well you’d either be puking in your oval office toliet or you’d be on the floor trying to deal with the effects of H.G.Wells-Lag: heavy bones, viscous lungs, and fluttering liver. So if you see Jerry Mandrake over at the R’Obama headquarters, you can tell him that Clark Knowles and the Projectors totally dissed his stupid conspiracy theory and that we didn’t want to meet in his rec-room anyway, no matter how cool his new snow-cone machine is.

Fact: There are eyewittness reports of Obama mysterious appearing in small scale from the video-ports of a number of small robots, including but not limited to: soda machines, Zunes, BSG Toasters, and random boxes of Pop-tarts.

Fact: The American people deserve better than a visual figment that can produce a birth certificate and bio/neuro/digi or chemically reproduce with the always classy first lady to sire two lovely daughters (note to self: check on safety of First Family. Do they know into what nefarious schemes they’ve been duped? My guess, no.). They deserve a real man who can reach out and touch. A husband, father, friend…lover.

Fact: Even if he can reach out and touch, why hasn’t he done so yet? And if he does tomorrow? Why then? What’s going on over there? Is anyone watching the henhouse? How come the Lamestream media isn’t looking into the virtual fraud that is turning our country into a socialist paradise nightmare? Is there no one left to protect our freedoms?

Fact: Yes, there is. Join the Projectors today. Contributions can be made via PayPal. All donations are(not) tax deductable.

Be ready, America. The lid is about ready to be flipped.

Old Barn Foundation

I’ve been digging for treasure around the foundations of the old barn. The barn is long gone. Here are two shots of the fieldstone foundation. In some places, you can see the stones have collapsed. Today, I started rebuilding the wall. I doubt I can get it back to its original shape, but a little here, a little there can give us a sense of its history. These aren’t small stones. Many would have required teams of horses to move. In some places, I’ll have a lot of dirt to remove to reveal buried stones. Such fun. My own private archaeological dig.

Metal, Rust

What went on during the years our property was an active farm?
People tell us it was a horse farm.
I present as evidence:
a possible knee joint from a large animal
a heavy bolt
an angle iron
a strangely shaped, heavy piece of iron
a rusted horse toy
an inscrutable looking tool
and a small, very rusted awl perhaps used in leatherwork.

Only the shadow knows…

(click on the photos to see them full size)

3six5 writing for April 19th

This is my post for the3six5, a very cool project. You can also find the post here:

The people who built our farmhouse weren’t contractors. They had no permits, just muscle. The exterior boards were cut with a pit saw. First they dug a pit and placed a log over the opening. One worker went into the pit, one stayed above. Together they pulled a heavy saw through a log to make an inch thick, twenty-two inch wide board, repeating the process until the frame was sheathed. This was their home. There were no dumps, no garbage trucks. They burned trash in pits. The barn is long gone, but today, along the foundation near the back fence, I scoop into the earth, searching for ash. Where there’s ash, there’s treasure.

I begin digging where dozens of bricks—part of an old cistern or burn-pit—rise to the surface. I uncover only more bricks, layer after layer, unyielding to my pickax. I try a new spot and dig down a foot, two. Black dirt, clay, sand. No ash. Elsewhere, I strike metal: rusty clasps, horseshoes, hasps, hinges, bent eye-bolts, a bicycle crank, two paint cans, two hulking, corroded fuses, a passel of nails, lengths of chain, and a leg from a wood stove. No bottles. In my archaeological quest, I was at first a careless and unsubtle detective, often breaking bottles. Now I’m more careful. I dig for another hour, inching along the fence, breathing heavy, swinging up and over until the dirt is no longer brown and red, but white and grey. I spy mounds of glass and broken crockery, reach into the dirt and sweep away the flotsam and gently free the old ketchup bottle with its cap still affixed, a rust colored liquid sloshing inside. Soon, others appear: squat patent medicine and flavored syrup bottles from Grand Union Tea Company and Foss. Finally, I free a whiskey bottle. Air bubbles pepper the glass along its single seam.

I’m exhausted. When we first moved, my daughter asked if anyone had died in our house. Probably, I said. That’s what people did. Of course, people were born here, too. Probably some of them lived nearly their whole lives within walking distance. I’m digging, in part, to find out who they were.

Our House, in the Middle of Our Street

I love how these two pictures of our house show how many different houses our house has been. It began life as a one room farmhouse with a loft for sleeping. Or perhaps it began life as a barn, and the loft was for hay. In either event, the house grew, incorporated other buildings, gained rooms, lost rooms. The people that build the house were not contractors. They had no permits. They built what they needed. We think the house took this final shape in 1895. We found newspapers from that year used as insulation in the newest part of the house–the addition with the flat roof and sloped roofs. The “pit” in the backyard was once the barn. No one remembers the barn, even people who’ve lived in our neighborhood their whole lives. That means it was probably gone by 1930. Considering some of the things we’ve found in the yard and in the house, we know that the barn would’ve been quite old by that point. Where the red garage stands now was another barn. That one came down in 1985. It was smaller than the big barn. One or both of these barns were most likely attached to the house. Note how the fieldstone foundation runs quite close to the house. Though we’ve owned it since 2005, we continue to learn about (and change to suit our needs) our little slice of history. Click on the photos to see them in larger format.

Bottles found buried in old burn pits…

I found these last year. Something about finding whole bottles is very satisfying. When I was digging for these, I should have been working on the house. But it’s so fun. Like a history lesson and jazzercise all in one. Unfortunately, the shovel is not a gentle search tool. Neither is the pickaxe. I’ve gotten better as I’ve searched more, but early on, I broke a few pretty sweet bottles. Luckily, there are plenty more.

Bottles in Drawers

Bottles found on our property, in old burn-pits. Currently stored in the drawers of a cabinet from an old pharmacy. A never ending chest of treasures, our yard. Still, we’ve not really found anything worth much, but it’s fun to see what the people were like and what products they used. Plus, it’s just fun to dig holes in the yard and pull things out, like many fragile rabbits from a hat.