Literate snippets about growing up and yawping old scribed by Elk Bellows
In naming the email newsletter at my place of work at the start of 1994, I was named associate editor, the theory being that “more work is the best reward for a job well done.” I had suggested that the newsletter be named the Norman E-Mailer, and was asked to explain my reasoning:
INVOCATION TO NORMAN E-MAILER
Slumped in my black hide chair, it creaks with my weight
E-mail, how does it move me?
A post office at my desk
My own electronic Blue Highway
Who else was so charged with energy?
Walt Whitman sang the body electric
But Mailer wrote The Executioner’s Song
I put myself in Gary Gilmour’s straps
And let the information course through my veins.
My chair is charged, I’m melting
Norman E-Mailer turned me into a middle-aged cyborg.
As the grounds manager and landscape architect at an urban campus, most of my concerns revolved around the plants and pavements that were the responsibility of my crew. These issues come to light as the newsletter widens its circulation from staff to students. I move through poetry and prose to make my points. In addition, I revel in dictating the details of vacations to make people jealous. My final exit finds me marveling at my unusual spate of male pattern baldness on my facial pate….
SENSIBLE SHOES SOLILOQUY
Frank Zappa said that brown shoes don’t make it.
That still may hold true,
Albeit Rockport wearers will no doubt dispute the fact.
What warrants consideration during this week of snow
Is the style of the sole,
Not the color of the upper.
You’ve seen the people dressed to the nines
Shuffling through the snow to their cozy offices and classrooms
Where they hope to make
Contact with their dream dates
Men sporting tasseled loafers and women in high heels
Sliding forward and upward on leather bottoms.
Think twice about your footwear in snow.
Vibram and waffle soles make sense
Sorrels make sense
Rubber galoshes make sense
Some running shoes make sense
Have some common sense
Take a cue from Dean Wolf
He keeps up those Western stylings
By wearing pointed rubbers
over his fancy cowboy boots.
He’s got the look
And he can still walk the walk
Even in a blizzard.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
As I sling my trusty Subaru steed south to Santa Fe
I let my eyes do a mantra
Watching the trees and center line go by
Explaining to my wife’s folks
That Monument is a geographical Mason-Dixon line in Colorado
(What’s he talking about they think; he’s not a doctor but he’s fine.)
And my eyes scale La Veta
And seek a vision.
The snow stops before San Luis
And we do the stations of the cross.
My eyes dwell on the rough cast of Christ
And the ascension straight from assassination.
Boy Howdy I’m glad I ate a burger in Walsenburg
Still got a ways to go
But we’re in New Mexico
So my eyes can see clearly
The light makes for visions.
We tour the Taos Plaza but save the town for later
Cross the mountain into Santa Fe and suffer a blizzard
The condo pueblos nestled in the hills of pinion
Covered with snow look mythical and historical
Like the red cliffs of Puye
And the white hills of Las Hadas
My eyes are cracking from strain
The driving’s made for visible pain.
The rest of the trip is for tourists only
We eat at Zia and Cloud Cliff and the Cowgirl Hall of Fame
Nobody seems to work in Santa Fe unless they sculpt
We compare the stations in every church
And visit the oldest this and the oldest that
And seek refuge every night at the El Rey
Where I can watch TV
And ignore everyone’s advice.
So the road trip ends without a whimper
Close, after we almost bought
Three hide and antler chairs in Taos
Our last meal is at Don’s Café in Pueblo
Where they serve S.O.B. sandwiches
We ask, “Sausage on a Bun,” that’s Don’s
The drive ends at dusk
And the next day my eyes see blue
Back to work and the visions on my monitor.
This ace poet reporter has observed the following fashion trends flooding our mainstream campus so precariously lodged between the Moonstone and Cherry Crick, in this day of prophesized disasters:
Guys blending the whomp rap look of saggin’ pants and grunge flannel shirts, pointed by a bald pate except for a dreadlock tail, and requisite Rockies or Steelers or Sox cap, with leather sneaks or Converse.
Or the Groovalistic shine of industrial shirts and Dickies pants, with black navy-style shoes or boots, and a beanie, aka stocking cap with logo.
And shorts no matter the temperature.
Now the girls are continuing the red hair tool and dye, earrings galore, wingtips and suits with sweaters hanging low below the coats, dresses over tights with lingerie worn over jeans soon to come. Vests are statements. And everyone’s sporting the Jansport with leather bottom slung over one shoulder.
(ah, I hear Tony Bennett singing, “When in Rome….”)
The language of business, especially that connected to computers, leaves me gasping for the oxygen of creative, even proper, usage. You’ve heard all those words that once had meaning, the ones currently in vogue for making a business point: impacts, facilitates, justify, clarification, friendly, accommodations, expedite, and so forth ad nauseum. There was a time when accommodations meant the small town motor court, not a ramp to provide access into a public building.
Following are words and phrases lifted from the computer, with my naïve comments on their usage (it’s too late to stop the invasion of new “-age” suffixes, in usage, signage, gallonage).
Active Handles: Are these handles that reach out and touch?
Your login name: I now include this alongside my family name and confirmation name.
Protocol bound: I for one have never been bound by protocol; don’t let your computer tie you down, mate.
Quatro pro: The 4 million dollar Bronco bonus baby?
Welcome/Unauthorized use is prohibited: These thoughts are separated by milliseconds.
Non-interactive logins: Walt Whitman could use this list.
Timeout period expired: This is the amount of time a person has to type their name and password; I thought you were supposed to do nothing during a timeout.
Network manager installed/removed successfully: within seconds we witness a computer trial ala Kafka.
Return/Enter: These are synonymous.
Esc(ape)/Cancel: These are synonymous?
Initializing user interface: how an employee gains respect from her computer.
Mode indicators: technical jargon for mood rings.
Status indicators: monitors in designer colors sporting cravats.
Upper memory starting address: Mine is a cup of coffee.
Ethernet: Either James or Maxwell Smart battled this band of thugs.
And for starters, try putting in….
ABSENCE MAKES THE MUSE
As the associate editor of the Norman E-Mailer, it had been my assignment to check the editor’s spelling, fill in for Rosemary at important lunch dates she wasn’t able to attend, unfold for her the vagaries of landscape art from installation to interpretation, and otherwise fill space in the newsletter on those slow days when other writers are having block parties. Now I must beg a leave of absence, to pursue the muse, follow the world beat of a different drummer, drive a taxi in Eastern Europe, hike the cinque terra, climb the Glastonbury tor. My assignment is unwritten, my correspondence may well be telepathic, I need a nom de plume. (I don’t expect to be recognized.) Prague will be my prize, as I ride my Toro mower into the sunrise, detailing the growth of grass in all cultures. I’ll be in touch…
PAEAN TO A PORK CHOP
So how was it, where’d ya go
Was the weather good, bet it was expensive
Any pickpockets, bad experiences
Do you have friends over there
See any plays in London
You rented a car, the drivers are crazy
Did you buy anything, were the places you stayed clean
You missed the O.J. chase
You weren’t tied to a schedule, well that’s good
I didn’t get a postcard, I sent you one from Washington
Take any pictures, see lots of cathedrals
Have any good meals, have any good meals
What were your favorite meals?
It was wonderful, we went everywhere
London and Bath, Glastonbury was cool,
The new age capital of the old world, and
Stourhead, the first of the classic English estate gardens
Of course Italy, the cinque terra and Florence,
Venice, Milan and Como and a diversion to Austria
Perfect weather and it was worth it
Saw a purse lifted in Florence and gave chase
Got lost scouting the Boboli gardens on a steamy day
We don’t have any friends
The only theater we saw were the buskers in Soho and
Finally my wife saw the purpose of my swift driving at home
She rather enjoyed jockeying with the Continent’s cabbies
Some of the places were cleaner than our own bedroom
We saw his mug shot on a Newsweek
Barely had an itinerary, much less a schedule
I sent my mother and Norman cards
We saw St. Catherine’s head in Sienna’s cathedral
Climbed amidst the gargoyles on the roof of Milan’s duomo
Ate basil ice cream in Monterosso, delicious pesto in Vernazza
A lovely breakfast of stewed tomatoes, sausage and eggs in Bath
Sauerkraut fried with bacon and brats like butter in Innsbruck
But the Meal That Made It All Worthwhile was
That Porkchop in Hallstatt, grilled and swimming in butter
Lakeside with a beer, the cemetery cave of bones behind us beckoning
Eat on, eat far, eat wide, take your stomach’s side and
Let your cares subside, to eat a porkchop in Hallstatt is to die.
ODETTE (UNDER PROTEST) TO THE TIVOLI
hot days hot nights
summer long blight
when the rain comes
it doesn’t stick
hard pan hard pan heard all about it
helicopter blew our seed away
water ran over the curb the bookstore way
the transformer gets wet
ash urn tumbles down the steps
hard pan hard pan heard all about it
saw ads for Denver beer when I was thirteen
never thought I’d be working in a brewery
move this set up that
get this grass to grow
hard pan hard pan heard all about it
just when I thought I had it down
the union crew moves across town
so we pick up the slack and orders
Tivoli… I lov it
hard pan hard pan hear all about it
Growing a beard, I find that part of it refuses to sprout. It causes me consternation and arouses the curiosity of those I meet. I schedule a physical exam to confront my doctor with this hair-rowing development. The following verse details the curse.
The trees are turning brown
the grass is turning yellow
my beard is looking grey
and unusual male pattern baldness will have its day.
Someone twists an ankle
playing on the fields of rubble
the controversy gives me mange
and unusual male pattern baldness will have its day.
Soon students will be falling
on the slickrock streets of snow
after 8 years people have my number and name
and unusual male pattern baldness makes its play.
I no loner sing a song of sixpence
nor do I cry for Argentina
I secretly study the hole in my chin agaping
at the unusual male pattern baldness holding sway.
Farewell My Campus….
Here’s another post when that meant a mailing by Elk from the early ’80s, a follow up to “A Modest Proposal”:
“Barnes Dance and Bikes”
Hey Westword, it’s Elk Bellows writing back, commenting on the state of bike affairs and traffic. Last time I contacted your paper, it was a write-in, right-on contest to take care of pollution in Denver town, back in ’78. I suggested that the bridges crossing the Platte and Cherry Creek be bombed, with only the Speer and Washington Street entries into town saved – I always liked the Marlboro billboard that greeted people across the Speer viaduct, and I figured that people living in Wash Park had more sense than to drive to work. I was wronged: the Speer is gone, the new parkway leads to a major jam as Auraria Parkway joins it – rather than over it – and the streets into the city from the southeast are more jammed than ever. We didn’t have to bomb the bridges; we have gridlock instead. But what I wanna say is all about bikes, and Bill the columnist for the daily paper, who has said plenty of stupid things through the years.
Bill Butthead, which a bike shop owner I know affectionately calls him, said Denver should eliminate the Barnes dance, crosswalking at intersections, because it takes too much time, considering the drivers waiting to get their way. Let the walkers have their stroll, that’s their reward. I was in a meeting with a consultant hired by Denver to come up with a new Bike Plan, and this fellow said that 75% of the money for the plan would be used to educate bicyclists about the rules of the road. It’s about time that we financed instead the education of drivers to recognize the difficulties of biking in the city. Bill recently complained about bicyclists coming out of nowhere, without lights at night. That’s their problem, and most see that a collision with a car is a major mistake. Counties south of Denver have complained about bicyclists taking over the roads, and would have them outlawed from riding those roads. Where are the rights-of-way secured for bicyclists?
EXCUSE ME: there are sidewalks for pedestrians, that bicyclists use, and ramps are a great boon for riders. There are streets where bicyclists contend with cars. We are supposed to ride the back roads to get around: not Speer, not Broadway, not Federal, not the major roadways, but the suggested routes for bikes. When a major construction project interferes with the flow of car traffic, detours are set. Detours on the Cherry Creek path for bicyclists are next to non-existent. The Cherry Creek bike path is an adjunct to controlling the creek – no rights to ride are involved. Bicyclists have no authority; the miles of designated bike paths pale in comparison to the number of sidewalks for pedestrians and streets for cars.
Drivers should not consider people who bike to work the enemy. Other drivers are the people in their way. A bicyclist against a car is no match. Where is the master plan for bikeways around the city; where are the streets scaled down for auto traffic and neighborhood parking that guarantee a thoroughfare for bicyclists?
I saw a poster for bikes to gather at the Capitol on Friday afternoons, at 6 PM I think, to ride en masse around the city. A splendid idea, but years ago I thought that bicyclists could gather en masse on commuter mornings, down West 33rd from the north, 16th from the east, Clarkson from the south, and slow the traffic enough to cause congestion and ferment, and foment a revolution in commuting by bike, and give bicyclists their room to move. Those are my ideas and plans. Hear me experts.
I’m Elk Bellows, and I wear great looking suits riding to work on my bike.
“A Modest Proposal”
February 16, 1978
The smog is out. “People with respiratory problems are being urged to remain inside.” Don’t walk, don’t shop, just rot by yer TV. Three alerts and a fourth miss in a week. Pollution has put the screws to Denver, and concerned parties now raise a call to arms: there are editorials and letters to the editor, radio interviews with environmental and health experts, and close coverage of panels enlisted with politicos, spouting their own brand of pollution. Anti-smoking may be the liberal rage across the nation, but banning cars from city streets must become the #1 priority in Denver. Cigarette smoking may stuff up your house, but it’s nothing like a Colorado Boulevard morning, with a weather inversion, and you happen to be on a bike. (I hold my breath if I have to wait for a green.)
So let me tell you something, smog is about to rise all the way to Evergreen, no one’s safe, and I gotta live with it for the moment. I say not for long. My proposal is this: to block the heavily traveled roads into the urban city. Traffic will be diverted onto side streets, where congestion will be so great, the drivers will be forced to return home, either out of frustration, or on the run from residents who are bound to complain once every avenue has become a virtual one-way.
Remember the civil disobedience everyone committed in college. Think back to Vietnam. To get the job done, I suggest that instead of bodily blocking roads, we dynamite particular junctions late one Sunday night, Monday 3 AM, when a person can expect the least amount of traffic. No doubt statistics exist to recommend a proper explosion time. There remains a good chance of injury, but more lives will be saved of lung disease and heart attack, once the air has had a good chance to clean up. These are the specifics spots I suggest be destroyed:
(1) the termination of the Boulder turnpike, upon its entry into I-25;
(2) Federal Boulevard and I-70, in order to prevent greater flow into the city from the northwest;
(3) Colorado and I-70, to prevent traffic from exiting to Colorado Boulevard South;
(4) just south of the junction of I-70 and I-25, to preserve this mousetrap with cars intact, as a kind of Ant Farm memorial;
(5-10) at the north and west ends of the viaducts which extend from 23 Street the length of the Valley Highway to West 6 Avenue (to stop traffic from crossing the railroad yards at West 38 Avenue, Pecos and 33rd, 16 Street, Speer Boulevard, Colfax and 6 Avenue – as a matter of fact, traffic into town from Speer and Sixth might sooner be obstructed at Federal Boulevard, in order to alleviate some congestion; perhaps buses could be guaranteed a right of passage, along alternate routes like West 8 Avenue, the 23 Street overpass, and 15 Street);
(11) the interchange of I-25, Alameda, and Santa Fe, to block incoming traffic from the southwest;
(12,13) the intersections of Broadway and University with the Highway, to force people to find other roads into the city; e.g.,
(14-17) the bridges over Cherry Creek at Grant, Logan, Corona and Downing (the South Pearl crowd can use the Washington/Emerson corridor;
(18,19) the intersections of East 8 Avenue and 13 Avenue with York Street, not Josephine, as I want to secure the inside track at all these bomb sites;
(20) and finally, the conjunction of the outside world with Denver, at the junction of the East 32 Avenue Parkway and Colorado, which hopefully will persuade the Stapleton airport traffic to turn back, go home, to New York, Jersey, Chicago, Ohio, Texas, etcetera, etc.
As you can see, it’s quite a job I have planned. These highrise parking lots downtown make excellent targets as well, but I’m tired of talk. Oh sure, the government might lean on people to hire more passengers per auto, or establish quotas for the number of cars allowed to enter the city each day, but such proposals are necessarily involved in litigation among neighborhood caucuses. The political process can be drudgery.
I don’t propose this bombing act for posterity’s sake. Once I’m drummed out of town, the burden of guilt will fall to my family and friends. The thought aches me, but I want to return one day to find a 16 Street Mall, not constructed by merchants who want people to drive and park, but a street empty of cars. Why, I can almost see the sunny days on the horizon. You must understand, I want relief from smog alerts. I want it now.