Thursday, May 26, 2005


As numerous as the wee shiny flying things in Star Wars, and just as substantial, are my excuses for not having a written a lick to most of you in months.

This is sort of by way of reintroduction. Howdy. I’m Ben. My interests include working 55+ hours a week at the Little Rock Peabody Hotel, and spending at least ten delightful minutes every other day with my lovely and equally work-consumed girlfriend Brandy Ussery, who I’m thrilled to announce will be changing her last name one year from now. To M.D. At which point she’ll probably wake up and realize she could be doing a lot better than dating a valet, which is why I’m trying to figure out how to go about paying for an M.A. in Int’l Relations from American U.’s School of Int’l Service in D.C.

I also enjoy the rich, warm reassurances of this century’s Mark Twain, Minnesota’s own Garrison Keillor, whose Writer’s Almanac I thought I’d take the opportunity to plug for all of you on this lovely Thursday.

I see by my little daily Writer’s Almanac e-memo that it was on this day in 1521 that the Diet of Worms decided they’d had quite enough of a certain tonsured tormenter calling the Roman church "the most licentious den of thieves, the most shameless of brothels, the kingdom of sin” (among other, less flattering things), and declared Martin Luther no longer welcome at any of the Catholic dens or brothels. Also, his writings were to be banned.

Now, however fortunate he may have been that Germany had not yet adopted the not-necessarily-more-effective but certainly more theatrically impressive practice of burning books (at the time, burning people satisfied that purpose), Luther was understandably glum at the prospect of his original work having to share a shelf at the library with Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, and so shifted creative gears and commenced to translating a German version of the Bible that is still in use today. Eventually, of course, he got back around to writing original material (a creative trajectory that some of us in the age of Hollywood screenplay writers may be surprised to learn was entirely unremarkable), the impact of which continues to be felt across the entire length and breadth of Minnesota. Most notably, he introduced “bulwark” to the English lexicon, which had been getting on just fine without it, thank you very much.

Ah, I can just see ol’ Garrison Keillor now, at the dining room table of his St. Paul home, fingers poised over his laptop, trembling Tom DeLay-like at the prospect of serving up nourishing anecdotal nuggets, the storytelling equivalent of Kibble n’ Bits, about the lives of writers (some of whom were reduced to subsisting on Kibble n’ Bits themselves from time to time).

Or maybe he just records aloud what the emaciated NPR interns throw together fits of piteous coughing.
I dunno. Anyway, the finished product is a wonderful thing that any humanities major who has ever found herself eyeing the Kibble ought to appreciate.

Do write me, especially any of you in Minnesota to whom I might owe money or a long-borrowed book, or some such; next week may be your chance to collect, for it appears that I will be joining in numerous family shindigs up thataway around the first few days of June.


Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Ben Wandering

Monday, January 10, 2005

Digesting Congress

I've just finished what feels--after months of part-timing it--like a real heck of a workday: 7-11am at Barnes & Noble, followed by an 11:30-5:30 first-day shift at my new job with the "Legislative Digest," whose customers (mostly lobbyists) are counting on my keen powers of data entry. The job will be perhaps the most interesting and the most powerfully dull one that I've ever had. It requires me to get gussied up and, then perch up in the state senate gallery with a laptop (and some Jelly Bellies, if I can get away with it), making a blow by beurocratic blow record of what our public servants are up to.

So I'll be privy to the entire narrative sweep of the 86th Congressional Assembly, from its reconveening today, to the end of it all several months hence. You'd think, on the face of it, that I'd learn a lot from such a job, and I very well might, though so far I don't know that I'll pick up too much more than I did in high school civics; all the REAL fun takes place in committee meetings, which my laptop and I won't be invited to.

The real question now is, how do I make this pay beyond the job itself? Maybe the AP needs another in-house (in-Senate?) stringer.

Monday, December 13, 2004

One Girl, One Boy, One Heckuva Week

The stars at 4:30 am are big and bright deep in the armpit of Little Rock. I'm just back from dropping off one Ms. Ussery (whose car is experiencing technical difficulties sufficient--at least in her estimation--to warrant the good pleasure of her company in MY car) at UAMS, where she spends her very early mornings these days poncing about in scrubs, waking the sick and the dying to do unspeakable things to them with metal utensils chilled overnight in the hospital freezer.

Acting as her chauffer, chef, study nazi and occasional pillow is my primary occupation this week, as she goes into grand mal panic mode in anticipation of her GREAT BIG SCARY surgery final. The sidewalk won't end there, though, for either of us, so in the cracks I'm managing to work 35 hours at The Nation's Premiere Book Monopoly, apply at the Demazette for advertorial writing, audition here and there for some voice acting/broadcasting work, and await assignment from Kaplan test prep corp., whose classrooms I candidated recently to fill. Plus hunt for an apartment so I can stop being a couch refugee. Oh yes, and tomorrow's my twenty-fifth birthday. Ye gads--how soon hath time, etc.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004


Under the shadow of the Christmas tree
A spider carefully unwrapped itself
As a small child, December twenty-first
Might make a small, illicit inquiry
Through tape and paper of his pending bounty
Then, stifling his joy or his displeasure
Repair the breach and steal away, the spider
In luminescence, splayed, seemed to consider
Its happiness a moment, then retrieved
Again its compass-pointed legs and sauntered
Along the baseboard, where its fancied likeness
To cunning children died, for there I killed it
Rising to do so from a borrowed couch
Less citizen than fellow refugee
In the apartment but for that my hostess
Would rather die herself than lodge a spider.
Do not think my ungentleness to strangers
(At Christmas yet!) springs from antipathy;
Housing in Little Rock (in any season)
Is, for the jobless, worth the warring over
And charity a bourgeois luxury
Unfit for the unlanded such as me

Friday, November 12, 2004

Ode to

Heaven help me! Mercy Lord!
The jobs my res'me can't afford
Could fill a page (in fact, eighteen!)
Positions as I've never seen
And won't, I deem, unless B.A.s
In English become all the rage.

Could there be hope for such as I?
Let's see to what I might apply--

Store manager at Bed n' Bath:
Come, stanch the customary wrath
Of customers for whom shampoo
Applied thrice daily wouldn't do
Those things that it had promis'ed--
"I rubbed it well about my head
But see! There yet remain such flakes
My shoulders bow beneath the cakes
I cannot stand, nor shall I stand it!
O'er my money hand, bath bandit!"

Claims for Farmers Groupies Inc.:
A better job than you might think
Explore how devious you are
(While smiling; don't forget PR!)
Adjust, report, and calculate
And dither while they supplicate.
Unwrapping tales of human woe
And binding them in red tape bows
Is good for us and fun for you!
(And do not, Dives, while you chew
Ponder the Lazari who sweep
For crumbs around our fatted feet;
You'll find bread stolen to be sweet)

Invest! Insure! Or from your home
Make millions o'er the telephone!
Apply online; apply yourself--
Come be a corporate Santa's elf!
Recruit! Retail! Come represent
Us to the world! (And don't resent
It if you cannot pay the rent
At first, but try and try again
To he who strives the world's a friend!)
Experience and motivation
Fit you for this invitation!
Bootstrap puller-uppers wanted!
Bootlicks too! For all the vaunted
Liberty of self employ
Our golden stables you'll enjoy.
Get dental, health, 401K
Plush pensions and--what's that you say?
You haven't got an MBA?
Well . . . Taco Bell's just down the way.

Eve's curse, to pine for that which pains
Is Adam's, too--hence I complain
"Call these careers? They're fit for swine!
And (sniffle) where oh where is mine?"

I know what I am owed by Earth
That, though less than I deem I'm worth
Less still is owed than I've been giv'n.
(Thus having spake, I trow I'm shriv'n
Of notions of ungratefullness)
Where was I? Mid-complaint? Ah yes--
What choice awaits the failed auteur?
Which suicide is prettier:
A wife and forty hours a week
Or the revolver, quick and neat.
Thus spake (well, more or less) Camus
Myself, I think it isn't true
Do not mistake the true intent
Of this my tiresome testament
For all that miles of joyless jobs
Await us graduated slobs
Still, old Quoholeth had it right
Man could do worse than spend his might
In toil by day and rest by night.
Beneath the sun is nothing new
A collar, whether white or blue
Remains a collar, teth'ring shure
Each rower to his 'pointed oar.
Each pursues his golden fleece--
Why's mine soaked in french-fry grease?

Monday, November 08, 2004

Oh Birthday Boy

My own recollections of 1981 are vague. Strolling through the misty neumonic archives of that year, I find a black lab named Solomon (whose affection for me would decrease over the next few years in proportion with my increasing facility for directing food to my mouth rather than more accessible surrounding regions), a red tricycle, and drowsy rides in the cushioned rear window of Grampa's tractor.

The Iran-Contra affair, then just beginning to break, meant nothing to me at the time, nor had I any occasion to see Raiders of the Lost Ark until 1988 (inaugurating what has been so far a lifelong fascination with foreign objects of primitive idolatry, and a nervousness around fireplace pokers). It didn't bother me in the least, this freshly proposed notion that only an invisible and increasingly thinning layer called "ozone" kept my pink two-year-old skin from looking like hickory-smoked jerky.

Funny, the things that happen whether or not you happen to be looking up from your sandbox to see them. Not that noticing matters always matters; every moment of the present may contain excitements that will mean something only once they have rushed to join the past, which is the crucible in which all the present moments to come are forged.
So it was for me on November 8th, 1981, when mysteriously, in the middle of all the carpet-level discoveries that (to the best of my memory) made up my bold young world, I acquired a little brother. They called him Joey, wrapped him in Gramma-knit blankets, and lay him in my outgrown cradle.

I don't know when I first realized that this would change everything. Six years later I would be wiser, erupting in furious tears at the news of Andy's impending intrusion into our family--not again!! I knew that this betokened more change, more compromises, more noise. I hadn't yet learned that ruptures in stability tend to become new stabilities, and should be greeted with equanimity (at worst) or (in the case of such ruptures as new life) laughter.
Neither Joey nor Andy were ever improved upon, and I have no way of knowing what sort of initial reception the three of us would have given another sibling. I suspect I would have done a bit better, that I'd have managed to set a good example to the younger sibs of immediate hospitality and happiness once the first few chapters of what is now a mammoth catalog of fraternal memories were assembled.

Flip, flip flip.
Heh heh.

1986. Joey and I have had enough of sitting still on an impossibly long car trip, and we're feet to feet in the backseat, whooping and flailing away at each other's viscera with bare heels. In the dark, we don't know or care about split lips and puffy eyes. Mom, unaware that this isn't a tag-team match, performs an impressive twisting double scissor-lock maneuver and persuades us to reconsider careers in pro wrestling, at least for tonight.


1987. Joey stands atop the backyard slide, thin and blond and fierce and armed, like me, with a plastic fishing pole connected via jump rope to his backpack. "No, you run!" he storms. "You're the ghost and I'm the buster!"

Flip flip.

1989. Joey, whose larger bedroom is home to Gramma and Grampa during their visits, stands in front of his closet door, arms crossed defiantly, chin resolutely angled. No Mom can't go in his closet--the contents of his underwear drawer needed to be emptied and relocated there because of course Gramma and Grampa will go snooping and if they saw his whitey-tighties he'd be unutterably humiliated so there!!

And on it went, and on it goes.

Oh, for the grace to see the present--and even the terrifying night of future--with the same clarity we see the past. For I have seen the past, and it was good. Not a bad year at all, 1981.

Happy 23rd birthday, Joey.
I love you.