Thursday, May 31, 2007

Sensible Sharpshooter?

When my brother David first got out of infantry training from Camp Lejuene, he was one cocky son of a gun. Although he was four years younger than me, I knew right there and then that I could never take him again. Somehow his barrel chest had expanded to a point, where I now felt he was abominable.

I regretted ever having dripped spit in his face, while wrassling, or calling him copious derogatory nicknames. Even though he was easily capable of killing a man, with his bare hands in a matter of seconds, he was still a good sport. In fact he was a shining star, having graduated first in his class from most of the hardily measured physical parameters. Neighborhood kids quickly gathered to see David return home on that first day back, dressed to the hilt in full U.S. Marine regalia.

We shared some muscatel wine that evening to celebrate. That brand of ripple, which Fred Sanford espoused so much while David and I used to laugh, watching TV together in the living room as kids. As darkness set in, I started to pull off in my yellow Volkswagen bug –the one with Redman chewing tobacco stains singed into the side. Meanwhile, David prepared to showcase his newly honed marksmanship skills.

As I squealed wheels up Whitefield St. from the dead end, a shot rang out and burst through my driver side window. I slowly hit the brakes and did not move for a long ten seconds. David thought he had killed me. He sprinted over to check on me and found me laughing there amidst the swirling muscatel smells.

To me, David explained that he was trying to skim a shot off the top of my oval roof, to show off his stately marksmanship skills. To our father we configured a separate story, which with great effort we made purposely vague, explaining the shattered window.

Much later, it dawned on me that David may have been trying to show me something more, in fair return for my unmerciful wrassling holds from the days before boot camp, when I was tougher than him.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

"Open Sesame" peppered with Shazam

Jim Banholzer

In a rich Arabian adventure from The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, while working late one night the poor woodcutter Ala-baba “just so happens” to overhear forty thieves visiting their treasure trove, which is sealed in a cave by magic. He hears the words Open Sesame used to magically swing ajar the heavy stone door and after the bandits leave, uses it to access the shimmering jewels.

The concept of using magic words has frequently been utilized in enduring fables. Gandalf had difficulty remembering the words to open the door to the Mine’s of Moria and had to sit down to intensely explore his subconscious mind for a spell, until he finally recalled that it was “Mellon”, the elvish word denoted for friend that opens the door to well-being. I’m even told that Harry Potter used this trick once or thrice in similar fashion.

One evening as I was grumbling in my search for some magic words to help me stay awake on a midnight shift, I started thinking about how certain specific words can be used to open other useful doors. “Open Sesame” as metaphor –if you will. Not long ago, I had written a story, which spoke about my sadness of losing our beloved shack on Trail Creek in Ketchum to the whirlwind of a wrecking ball. Not only were my housemate, Laura and I losing our home, the circumstances were such that this would be the last day on this good earth for our beloved dog, Maddie. On this dark late October evening, we feared that along with the eradication of our adored home, we would also lose some of our precious memories of the place.

Laura had thrived in the cute cottage for eighteen years -essentially most of her adult life. We had hoped that the sugar maple tree in our front yard could at least be retained, so that when we traveled by, there would be one symbol for us to hold onto & identify with from Ketchum’s good old days.

The developer had announced to us that they would try to salvage the maple in the riparian area. Alas, due to space constraints of the tight working space needed for machinery for maneuver about, the tree suddenly disappeared like magic. I decided to express our forlornness in the form of an ode to the giant sugar maple. While concentrating on therapeutic writing, the phrase “Shedding Maple Syrup Tears” suddenly appeared on the paper. After a few minutes, I was fortunate enough to realize that this phrase would fit well as the title.

Shortly thereafter, I started wondering if I had heard the phrase somewhere and perhaps that I was plagiarizing again. Better go check “The Google”. I soon determined that nobody on record had used that specific phrase, but did find a nice poem by Allison Keane called Candy Life, in which she mentions “maple syrup tears”

I invested several weeks polishing up the shack's maple tale. It finally felt as though it was fine-tuned enough so that readers might enjoy it. When I came into work after the story was published, a well-respected colleague at the newspaper, Betty Bell went out of her way to approach me and said, “Jim, I really enjoyed that story you wrote.” As I look at it now, this compliment coming from a woman, who was writing columns well before I could even read, was probably the highlight of my writing career. I thought that if Betty Bell enjoyed this story, then that was good enough for me, and by that mark I am a success.

I felt that my labor of burning the midnight ethanol to get the words just right had on this occasion opened a door to Betty’s good heart –as she in turn reciprocated without fumbling on turning open the mostly hardscrabble lock attached to mine. This made me want to encourage others to focus on finding and using the proper magic words in timely manners to open wide the doors to their beloved ones hearts and souls. My hope is then that more people discover how much unlimited Shazam can be found deep inside the elvish word for “friend”.

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Notes from Wikipedia:

According to Assyrian legend, when the gods met to create the world, they drank wine made from sesame seeds. In early Hindu legends, tales are told in which sesame seeds represent a symbol of immortality. "Open sesame," the famous phrase from the Arabian Nights, reflects the distinguishing feature of the sesame seed pod, which bursts open when it reaches maturity.

Monday, May 07, 2007

This is a copy of the letter I sent out to various parties, when the first part of this cell phone proposal came around in 2004. (click to enlarge)

Immediately after writing this, I realized that I had forgotten that someone also lost their life around Pole Creek several years before, when a tree was felled on top of them. Sometimes I've expressed to friends that I think this valley has selective amnesia, when it comes to common sense safety protocols. Locking your doors for a few weeks after somebody you know get's burglarized and things like that.

For a long while, my mindset grew even stronger towards this orientation of safety via better phone service. After all, the tower is proposed in a proximity where backcountry sportspersons and avalanches often intersect. Then about two weeks ago, I was stung reading about how bees are not finding their way back to hives and that the likely culprit is our cell phone signals emanating on and near the same essential wavelengths, which bees use to navigate. Beekeepers are calling for an investigation. One of the best stories about this involves local woman Heidi Albrecht and was written by Dana Dugan:

An important point is made in Heidi's "Save the Honeybee" Campaign story, when Dana quotes Einstein, "If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left," he said. "No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man."
Equally important to those who confidently believe that they will survive a plague of monumental proportions like this -there won't be any more of that staple food we know as beer!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~There needs to be an investigation!

Supposedly, when naval vessels wrongly warshiped the earth with an overabundance of inter-fearing sonar, many whales lengthened their songs in order to adapt! Other channels reveal different takes on this . Some folks strongly believe that many whales mourn our good earth and are choosing to beach themselves on purpose.
Back to the latest buzz on the bees: Should we be hoping that the much needed bees can adapt to our interference waves as well as some of the whales have? Perhaps, there should be an investigation of some sort. With this most recent revelation of "Colony Collapse Disorder", it's difficult to determine what the best option is. Improved cell phone reception, or improved bee navigation. But, here's my two cents and I hope the infomation helps in some way.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Do well to avoid ice cream headaches

Three hayseeds sprouted tall in the Virginia hills in the simmering summer of ’76. Each of us had appetites such that we could polish off a full 64 ounces of ice cream in one sitting. Hardly able to contain our energies, we would jump home from the school’s basketball courts, and then try to leap to tap our heads on the 8-foot bedroom ceiling adorned with nerf-ball regalia. Occasionally one would misjudge the leap and end up getting knocked out on the floor. This way of getting high was almost as dangerous as other methods being used at the time. 

One warm evening, our trio thought we would play a little harmless prank on our neighbors the Wolfe’s. Their family had left in the van to celebrate our nation’s bicentennial. We snuck around to an easily jimmied rear window. Being the suitable size of the three, I became the natural volunteer to enter the house. I did not know where the light switch was, but saw in the shadows their icebox. Lickity-Split, I drew out three gallons of Red, White & Blue ice cream, and then a quicksilver spoon from the drawer. Suddenly Kirkland warbled screechingly that someone was coming as he hurriedly shook the window blind –pretending a noise in the dark. Shuddering, I slammed fast the freezer door and dashed out the back glass, with frozen confection sparkling aside. 

How hard we rapscallions howled at the Wolfe’s! We shared in the frosty delight, tossing basketballs to tap against the mercury vapor streetlamps lighting our merry way, while a silver moon scooped out stars against fireworks. 

Three days later the phone dinged us. We were summoned to meet in the Wolves den at six that evening for a pow-wow with Mr. Ray “Van” Wolfe. This was not his real name but that which we called him behind his back. Being not yet of age to drive, we would sit entranced, admiring his decked out van for hours –fancying how someday we would drive sporty vans like Ray’s.
Turns out a neighbor had seen us from the shadows. When slamming the freezer’s door in the fright, I had shoved it so hard that unbeknownst to us- it had rebounded open again! This had knocked frozen chickens out to the floor for their cat to swimmingly delight in, and then drag around a horrifying mess all weekend –technically enough foul spots sloshed over Ray’s prized Persian rugs to get us suspended from the team. 

Our grins quickly vaporized. We were soon served up a seven course chewing out about respect and how Mr. Wolfe had served his country. Then another general up and down cuss when Kirkland compulsively giggled in the meltingly hot chamber. For dessert, that evening there was no cherry on top, as Ray had us to call our parents. Kirkland went first, but with some slight of hand on receiver, had fake-dialed the rotary and was only pretending to be conducting a solid telephonic ice cream confessional to his mother. I, feeling much like under the spell of truth serum and had not considered any further tricks against the Wolves. My Mom somehow nimbly intercepted Kirkland’s Tele-tomfoolery to ensure the clear-cut story transported across the lines for all involved parties that sweltering July evening. 

Though part of the trio says that Ray was too hard on us, my take was that he was also a cool cat. Not only had Ray allowed us to daydream in his van, he empathized with our waywardness. Though calling authorities was heatedly discussed, he knew deep down that we would long recall our lengthy discourse. After eliciting genuine face to face apologies –including Kirkland’s and promises to pay for damage; we were let off the hook. It took numerous wheelbarrow loads of weighty Washington Post broadsheets delivered that summer to atone for this wrong, which stayed out of the news of record for three decades. 

As years leaped past, I realized that all of the involved parties ended up eventually driving vans -just as we envisioned. Even young Brian –now Officer Wolfe beamingly steers things right, from a paddy wagon sometimes filled with trios just like ours, but who have delved into compulsions even worse than shadowy ice
cream. Though all of us have tried to fancy up our vans, none have ever quite matched the integrity of Ray’s old dependable Dodge.

A few summers back, the third tall man visited Idaho. It was again 4th of July and the honored author Lawrence Ferlinghetti was highlighting the Hailey Cultural Center Ice Cream social during Ezra Pound week. I had hoped to engage Mr. Ferlinghetti in some conversation perhaps revealing to him some earnest poetry scribblings, whipping them out from magic reservoirs of secret pockets at just the right moments. Hailing from Washington D.C., our conversation might have sprung up about Mr. Pound’s time spent concentrating there, or even about Mr. Ferlinghetti’s ideas about how to get more poetry inserted into newspapers. I thought that these acts could have been augmented with help from my personable friend who is now involved in academia of the highest sorts –with his easy way of stimulating banter. Half a world ago he had even enthusiastically handed me his worn copy of Ferlinghetti’s Her, a baffling story about young men confusing Madonna’s of the flesh with those of a spiritual nature. 

However, it then resonated, that whenever we see each other, the sudden mention of ice cream still makes us feel unwell, and lower than snake’s bellies wedged under wagon wheel ruts, to even consider attending such a singularly illustrious event, so we went off fishing worms instead...
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Footnote: the author at the Ezra Pound house read this story aloud on June 22, 2006 as part of Ron Carlson’s writing class.
Related links:

Sweet Ginger eclipsed by Mary Anne

A three-minute tour of that longstanding question

Guided by “Skipper” Banholzer

Originally, I intended on floating my boat here, over the unshifting sands of my favorite Gilligan’s island gal. A woman in a heated tropical environment, from which man never has wanted to escape. A woman like Ginger Grant.

Steve always said I was nuts. But now people wouldn’t just suspect it –they would know I was crazy. Mary Anne Summers is the correct gal for modern summertime man -Mankind he meant. He said that she stands for everything good in this lagoon of life. Steve went as far as hacking into my computer and saving a sweet farm-gal photo of Mary Anne topped with cowgirl hat, onto my laptop.

First, I thought the photo silly, but while preparing to erase it, a sultry scent of something tropical seemingly emanating from the GPU caused me hesitation. After a few days of warming up to the photo, it sailed into my coco-nut island head -like one of Mary Anne’s coconut cream pies fortified with love - that there was no reason under the sun, any sensible man would ever want to delete that photo. Mary Anne with her eternal sunshiny smile. A down to earth gal from Kansas, who stops the earth on its axis from her beam. She’s enough to make generals and majors want to halt a thousand warships.

Actually, Steve said that she was from Nevada. Miss Nevada actually. How could I be so blind? Had I gambled badly by letting the seashells shimmer off Ginger’s glamour refract a blemish into my eye, causing me to overlook the girl next door?

“Moreover, Mary Anne is now an Idaho gal”, Steve supplemented, “and she runs a spud-tacular film school, under the name Dawn Wells, from her ranch in Driggs, along with an Idaho film festival. What do you think of that, Professor Longhair?”

Well, sink my minnows. No wonder why Driggs was rated the best town to live in America by Men’s Journal. (Ketchum was 16th in 2002) Driggs even has a drive in theatre. Cute little Mary Anne, now fully blossoming through a three decade tour, while directing humanity’s acting passions, to uncharted heights. I had been dumber than Gilligan on a bad day.

Survival class mentors in Gooding would do well to teach young men to spare themselves from the primitive snares such as the one I caught myself in over Ginger.

Two pamphlets I had ordered arrived at the bookstore the next day; “Pulitzer Prize Editorials” and “Inside Gilligan’s Island” by creator Sherwood Schwartz. The Pulitzer waited second, as I imagined Mary Anne occasionally winking at me, while I wildly consumed her pages. Sure enough, Steve was right, I was crazy. But now, more so passionately about Mary Anne, after getting to know the down to earth principles she represents in real life. Adam West’s Cat wimmin’s are swimmingly fine, but Mary Anne’s the purr-fect superhero, ultimately divine.

I needed to write her a letter of admiration. But how will she ever see it amongst the piles? Perhaps a colossal potato shaped valentine? Think about the Poor Postmaster in Driggs, with all those rigs backing up to mammoth collating tables to bundle together Mary Anne’s fan mail.

All of Idaho should all feel richer than Simplot, or even Thurston Howell, just knowing that Mary Anne is rescuing poor starving actors, who act as though they can’t collect enough spuds dropping to sideshow roads.

I reckon I’m still as star struck as ever about Ginger. It’s just that for me though, now Mary Anne has eclipsed Ginger’s limelight.

If there was a polling booth today and I had already voted for Ginger, I would risk arrest for mutiny, by fumbley stumbling in backwards like Gilligan used to do, and then trying to tell them that I was actually really leaving, to cast away a second vote for my new favorite castaway, Mary Anne.

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Next time around: Betty or Wilma?

Slug: Plague of cliches


Headline: Why to Avoid Cliches like the Plague

My advice for the Writers Conference

By Jim Banholzer

Something was new under the sun in this land of milk and honey when I tiptoed on eggs into work. Knowing the jig was up; the board of directors confronted me, “Jim we would like to know what’s new in your brave world of Banholzerian Hieroglyphics. Which begs the question; can you spare us more than a few nanoseconds of your attention span for some whys and wherefores?”

They led me through some flowery purple passages to where we circled up for a meeting. This would be no kid glove treatment. But, what the hey, no pain no gain. One kind-hearted central Idaho scrutinizer remarked at length, “Son, your imagination runs riot, but I’ve told you a million times that you’re prone to hyperbole. By the same token, some of your sentences are so very long that by the time reader’s get around to your end point, few remember what you were writing about in the first place and believe you me with the instant gratification expectations that today’s world has developed for digests, buzzwords and Internets, your style is going to come off sounding like a bunch of half baked ideas grasping at straws.”

“I catch your drift and don’t forget the memory hole”, I retorted, “prions pouring right down the drain”. Perhaps I should even out my long-winded lexicon with some good old hackneyed phrases. I think we see eye to eye that the man I’m replacing has some hard shoes to fill. Harder than Chinese Algebra -without an abacus. But let’s dream the impossible dream and say I’m able to keep the ball rolling between the lines for readers. What then? Need I develop an algorithmic formula that does the trick to blow them away?”

“Well”, one of my mentors suggested, “you’re not out of the woods yet. It’s more than wishful thinking to say that if you were to modify several cliches and hang them from a string together, you could come up with something original. Like pinning your hopes on duck soup. Many trite expressions are used because the author is lazy as a dog. Certainly not every word spilling out of your keyboard can be a spud-sparkly gem, but you should at least strive for some originality in this state.”

So, I’ll put my money where my mouth is, starting with one red cent. By and large it will become easy as pie to roll in the dough from that sweetened pot at this end of the rainbow. I’d bet my bottom dollar that if I’m to write commentary on subjects like “Sun Valley Was Not Built in One Day” then mixing bolt from the blue cliches with saucy language could become the technique to get ‘er done. We’ll run it up the liberty pole to see who salutes it.

The Bossman walked in and shouted, “Eureka! Young (middle-aged) James you’ve solved it again! It’s refreshing to see beyond the end of your nose that while you couldn’t beat conformity you didn’t join it. Otherwise it would have been back to the drawing board. You’d have been writing on the wall methods for putting toothpaste back in tubes and genies into bottles no place like home. Best to not have to open that can of worms.”

“Well, you do have to be a pretty early bird to snag a silkworm and pull the wool over my eyes with it.” Seeing it through, I knew that the sun always shines after a hardscrabble rain, even if it’s pitchforks. A real cat and dog gully washer always makes it fun to watch the sage grow.

I was happy as a clam that the board didn’t pop a vein while having a mad cow over my unconventional efforts. They didn’t consider this bunch of blather to be over the top! I wouldn’t want poor planning on my part to create an emergency on theirs and get swept under the rug. So while I’m burning midnight ethanol worth its weight in gold and shooting for the moon, I’ll apply these newfangled methods during crunch time, hoping my verbiage doesn’t get caught between a rock and a hard place. This straight from the mouth of the horse of a different colour, who laughed last at himself for trying to be too clever by halfsies.

Modified ending by Brad Nottingham:

Well, you have to be a pretty early raven to get the segmented earth dweller and pull the Polarfleece over my eyes with it. I knew that the sun always radiates after a significant episode of precip, even if it’s common farm implements. A period of raining tabbies and terriers always makes it interesting to watch the sage grow. I was happy as a hermit crab that the board didn’t pop a plasma conduit or have a spotted bovine over my toils towards originality and consider it a bunch of hooey.

I didn’t want lackadaisical planning on my part to create a 911 episode on theirs and get brushed under the Berber. So while I’m burning midnight dinosaur juice worth $49.23 a barrel and shooting for our planets natural satellite, I’ll apply this method over the next few weeks hoping my verbiage doesn’t get stuck between a chunk of granite and an impervious substrate. This, vectoring out from the equines oral cavity, which last laughed. (Well, brayed.)

Splendiferously ‘Splainin’ Sockdolagers

From a grandiloquent lexicographer perspective

“What’s all this flamdoodle about ‘Sockdolagers’”? Asked my new editor. “Are you trying to hornswaggle the entire community again? Our burgeoning readership could start a donnybrook, wearing out Wikipedia if you don’t march forth to swiftly explain this bafflegab.”

“March 4th? That’s the only day that literally means anything, anymore.” I interjected. “Unless you wait seven months to count on Oct. 4 (10-4). But they’re trying to phase that numerical phrase out too, to ‘roger that’”.

The editor took the chair replying, “Don’t ske-daddly-odge my question daddy-o, with your higgledy-piggledy and waspy rigmarole. The Journal has come a long way since collating without electricity on backs of 1881 spud wagons. ‘Banholzerian Hieroglyphics’ simply was not spontaneweous (spontaneous and new) enough to integrate with this newfangled logo font. If Sun Valley were a beach resort town, ‘medicinal porpoises’, with the undiluted lessons animals perpetually try splashing us with, would lend to soft clarion column calling.”

“You’re entirely right Pedro; I shouldn’t ishkabible about some surreptitious meaning hanging over sockdolagers like some darn sword of Damocles. After all, I’m not a carpetbagging rapscallion you know. In fact, I’ve worked on about every avenue off Main St. in this valley. Sometimes laboring on same streets under twice-different names. And 1881! Jumping Jehoshaphat, a new numerical miracle palindrome! One for reading anti-clockwise, while dervishly whirling like a peaceful warrior surrounding Sufi poetry. Not unlike the palindrome that asks from the sky-scraping perspective, ‘Do geese see god?’ Mark Twain banged out a bamboozling column for Saint Louie’s Dispatch back then. Pointing out gubmint boondoggles and whatnot. In this frontier-state, Ezra Pound was still an energetic gleam in his daddy’s eye. I remember now, isn’t 1881 the year when the Warm Springs sphairstrike (tennis) craze first came into court? I have a hot news tip that spans three centuries. Can you give me a landline on my cell phone, while I check it out?”

“Now, that too would be flabber-ghastingly impossible”, he rejoined.

Eventually I elucidated, “Would you believe that ‘socdolager’ was one of the last big-shot words Lincoln ever heard? Watching play-acting from a liberty balcony. Honest Abe. Sockdolager strikingly means ‘a conclusive knock-down punch or something outstanding. A blow so hard that nothing else can follow; a decisive, overwhelming finish, to which no reply is possible.’ When frontiersman Davy Crockett became a snollygoster (political office seeker), he used a whopping sockdolager to brighten Congress’s outlook over a stately issue. That before he perished in an awesome shock called The Alamo”.

Synchronisticly, I had the notion that readers would be interested in ‘serendipitous’ origins. Every Joe and Josephina, who serenely baptizes themselves in renewing rivers, thinks they will start out the year knowing what serendipity is and faithfully march around with heart-stone pocketfuls of it. Well, they are regularly right, even if the Mermaid of the Bigwood isn’t literally splashing sopping sacred sockdolagers in their faces from her beauty-filled fishtail.

The Wood River Valley is filled with more serendipity than you can shake a stick at. Constantly running into somebody you’ve been thinking about on a backcountry trail or over at Atkinson’s. Snowboarding down Bassett Gulch, feeling cordially in your core that the right person will drive by at that ideal time, to give you an energetic chatty ride to the base of Warm Springs. Or, being sucked in by a snowbank, then having some kindly prince stop to help, with whom you’ve been meaning to catch up with on stately scuttlebutt.

The Three Princes of Serendip is a rich Arabian story about three want-to-be- wise-guys from the exotic land of Serendip (now Sri Lanka). The princes are endowed with the gift of casual discovery. That is, they were constantly finding answers to mysteries that they had not even set out for in their search, ending up in better places than they expected. It’s more than coincidence that serene-dipped-pity surrounds everybody. Why, serendipity is a bigger and better virus in Idaho than is West Nile.

Marvelous errors and “accidental discoveries” should not be pish-poshed off so easily. Think about how many folks who have met under circumstances “entirely by luck” that ended in up in happy partnerships with each other –maybe even your own parents. Indeed, I’ve been lucky enough to capture a few sockdolagers from diverse avenues and providence willing, I’ll keep my good eye peeled for a few more, then dip them in and shake them up in punch bowls of philosophical wax –for awakening readers in a sun-ripened valley the perfect dimension for sockdolagers of daily serendipity.

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Reference links:

The sesquipedalian septuagenarian - The Boston Globe

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