Archive for June, 2007

A Perfect Country for Bananafish

Not to sound like a Mark Chapman-style nutter, but whether I am walking the streets of America, the aisles of Walmart, or the halls of corporations, I am constantly reminded of J.D. Salinger’s literary device: the Bananafish.

What is a Bananafish those who have not been forced to endure Salinger’s Nine Stories in a literature class may ask? 

 “Well, they swim into a hole where there’s a lot of bananas. They’re very ordinary-looking fish when they swim in. But once they get in, they behave like pigs. Why, I’ve known some bananafish to swim into a banana hole and eat as many as seventy-eight bananas…Naturally, after that they’re so fat they can’t get out of the hole again. Can’t fit through the door…They die.”

Sounds like your average American to me.  Each bananahole might have a different label, perhaps “alcohol,” “drugs,” “success,” or “attention,” but there is a banana and a corresponding bananahole for each of us.

So each of us is a bananafish in our own way.  Let’s just hope we realize it while we can still “fit through the door.”

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Johnny Got His Gun (and Roadside Bomb)

Sunday’s chilling AP Story is about one of the most severely injured soldiers from the Second Iraq War.  It describes Joseph Briseno Jr. who “was shot in the back of the head at point-blank range in a Baghdad marketplace.”  The article further describes Joseph as “three things you would not want to be: blind, head injury, and paralyzed from the neck down…”

The reality described in the article certainly was eerily similar to the 1939 novel and 1971 anti-war film Johnny Got His Gun (which I’ll admit I might have never seen if it had not been featured in the Metallica video One).

The theme and sentiment expressed in 1939, 1971, and today are the same: the artifacts of violence and war are almost unimaginably horrific.  Make sure what you are fighting for is worth it.  Or as hauntingly phrased in another war film Saving Private Ryan: “Earn this.”

Best Poems for the Dilettante and Philistine Masses

I like poetry.  Even though I cannot tell the difference between iambic pentameter and a centimeter or a Sonnet and Sonogram, I still think there is poetry that can be appreciated by even those of us who do not possess Literature degrees.

The fact that I ever read a line of poetry at all in High School English classes is certainly a argument in favor or diverse and well-rounded school curriculae because it is certainly not something I would have sought on my own.

My favorite poems are ones in which remembering a single line can make you recall the tone, texture, and richness of the entire poem.  Here are a few examples and some of my favorites along with their most memorable lines:

“When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.” – The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner, R. J. Randall

“And miles to go before I sleep.” –  Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening, Robert Frost

“nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands” – somewhere i have never travelled, e.e.cummings

“how do you like your blueeyed boy Mister Death” – Buffalo Bill’s defunct, e.e.cummings

“I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.”
– The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, T.S. Elliot

And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.
Richard Cory, Edwin Arlington Robinson 

And of course no list of memorable poems and poetry lines would be complete without…

“Hope is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickenson

…Which I can never remember without also remembering Woody Allens comedic retort in the book Getting Even: “How wrong Emily Dickinson was! Hope is not the ‘thing with feathers.’ The thing with feathers has turned out be my nephew. I must take him to a specialist in Zurich.”

Sharks’ Teeth and the Sands of Time

The highlight of any middle-aged, inland, family-man like myself’s year is the annual trip to the beach.  This year was particularly momentous in that the family was able to visit 3 coastal areas in one pass: the Chesapeake, the Outer Banks, and Topsail Island.

While at Topsail Island, my wife got down low in the sand and started noticing many sharks’ teeth.  For the next 20 minutes the entire family was on the hunt for sharks teeth and found 20-30 in as many minutes by simply getting down low ourselves and looking for them.

Sharks Tooth Hand

This struck me on several levels:

1. How many small, obvious things like this do we miss in our own lives every day?
2. What if we had a similar reminder of our own fleeting mortality – such as human teeth washing ashore by the millions – would we take a larger view of our own affairs? 

I then got up from my crouched position and looked at all of the newly built beach houses around me.  Now, I was on Topsail Island 6 months after Hurrican Fran (11/96) in the spring of 1997 and the place was a disaster area – completely covered in sand and not a beach house to be seen except where particularly industrious owners had uncovered a few partial remnants. 

Perhaps these new beach dwellers could look atre the fossils in my hand and be just a little mindful of the relentless onslaught of the sea and the sands of time – for at least 10 years anyway.