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Monday
May042015

A Group of Professors - An Oil Selection

"A Group of Professors"
Oil on Canvas - Newcasle University - Date Unknown
Unknown artist

It is true, in a sense, to say that the mob has always been led by more educated men. It is much more true, in every sense, to say that it has always been misled by educated men. It is easy enough to say the cultured man should be the crowd’s guide, philosopher and friend. Unfortunately, he has nearly always been a misguiding guide, a false friend, and a very shallow philosopher. And the actual catastrophes we have suffered, including those we are now suffering, have not in historical fact been due to the prosaic practical people who are supposed to know nothing, but almost invariably to the highly theoretical people who knew that they knew everything. The world may learn by its mistakes; but they are mostly the mistakes of the learned.

--G.K. Chesterton, "The Common Man"

For more items of this nature please visit our Oil section here but not here. 

Thursday
Apr232015

The Home Run

I'm fumbling around with a new form of writing that requires I no longer use the first person, my apologies for talking of myself in the third. It's unwarranted and disgraceful.

Log

The buoy was a home run. A young man named Broom grabbed a stumpy stick, and, throwing a stone in the air swung and missed. Then Broom tossed the stone higher, waited patiently as he lined himself up, swung, made contact and gazed with glee as the stone soared, and sunk, and splashed, and sunk some more, several yards in front of the buoy. Another man, Jason, commented and chattered about, while side-swinging his arm and releasing a smooth stone out to the raging waters. The wind whipped waves that day out at Tuttle Creek, and the skipping-stone hit the waves from the side and surfed along from one to the other. Broom tried, but failed. His skipping-stone faced the waves head-on, and upon impact flew high in the air, landed upon another wave, which sent it high before it submerged.

Broom and Jason continued down the shoreline, feeling the wind against their faces, as the sinking spring sun sang its song. Spring in Manhattan, Kansas is a delight—a mixture of warmth and cold, dry and wet. Just northwest of town, across the Tuttle Creek Dam on Kansas highway thirteen, a small parking spot leads to a path that follows the western coast of the reservoir. The main path wraps around, about halfway up, a high hill, overlooking shoreline nearly fifty feet below with the top of the hill another hundred feet above. The path is lined with trees to the left, all blooming in their unique way during the spring. When the sun sets from that spot, a man can catch it between two trees that overhang the cliff, and at the right moment, he will see three suns, two of which play in the whipping waves of the water. Then, the path curves downward to the right and opens to a large, barren field, full of dead bushes. A small cove is tucked into this area, and many a man takes his dog to that cove, tossing tennis balls and sticks while watching the canine fetch in the water. Though the path continues around the large hill, away from the cove, Broom and Jason wisely left it for the wild.

The peacefulness of this area is enchanting. A few cars can be heard passing over the dam, but they cannot be seen down in the cove. On their way back, Broom found a tennis ball in the water, hitting the shore with the waves. Picking it up, he tossed it in the air and swung with his club, missing.

“Aye! Sa-wing batta, batta, batta, sa-wing!” cried Jason, sitting on a log and drawing in pebbles with a stick.

“Strike one,” said Broom, readjusting his stance.

He tossed again, too high and too far. No swing.

“Ball one!” he cried. Jason continued his heckling from the cheap seats.

“One and one, two outs. Bases empty. Gordon is up,” said Broom.

A good toss, and good stance. The swing came too early!

“You call thatta swing!” came heckles from Jason.

“Ah. The one-two, coming up!”

Another bad toss and the count was tied. Then, a good toss, a fine stance, followed by patiently waiting, and then, pure contact amidst cries of disparagement from Jason. The ball flew high and far. It soared at least fifty yards and then, plop! It landed nicely amongst the waves. As it flew against the sun, a small yellow ball chasing another, Broom stood and watched with ego blooming in his bosom. He stood leaning on the club like a cane, fully ready to talk smack back to Jason.

“A triple,” he said. “Gordon’s on third.”

“You can’t do it twice, the way you swing!” heckled Jason. Broom joined Jason on the log as the two men stared out into the sunset and waves, watching the tennis ball slowly make its way back to shore. Broom also took a stick and began drawing in the ground while Jason dug a big hole. Then, he began carving his initials, and Broom noted that he could make a decent signature with a J and an R. Jason showed how, and after sometime pointed to the distant shore where the tennis ball was nearing.

“I got it!” he said, dashing off like a gallant gazelle being chased by a lion. He grabbed the tennis ball and brought it back to Broom, taking his seat back on the log.

“Perez is up! Bumgarner on the mound!” Broom shouted, squeezing water out of the ball.

Up went the tennis ball, a terrible toss. 1 and 0 the count, and Broom was feeling good of his chances to smack another good ball. So tossing again, he waited patiently, but not enough, swinging too early and missing the ball entirely.

A reign of boos and disparaging remarks proceeded from the log.

“I go this,” said Broom. He adjusted his Royals cap, made another remark about the game situation, noted the crowd, and tossed.

It was a nice toss, giving Broom plenty of time to regain his stance and line up. He waited a second longer this time, knowing that he often swung too early when he missed. He judged better this time. He struck the ball with good contact, yet his timing was still slightly off, for the ball careened into the water but clearly out of play. Ire sprung in Broom’s breast, cursing himself for lack of patience and focus. A remark was heard from the log about hitting the ball forward not sideways, and picking up the club with both hands, Broom smote the ground with furious rage, yelling angrily about foul balls and being down in the count. He paced and took some practice swings to let off steam, and resolved to hit the ball properly once it got back to shore.

Jason meanwhile, took the on the persona of a broadcaster, yet continued to heckle backhandedly.

When the ball returned, Broom knew he was on the ropes, down 1-2 in the count. He gathered himself, and after throwing a bad ball (some wondered if on purpose), proceeded into the next pitch tied in the count two and two. Then the game-defining swing came. A perfect toss, maybe too perfect for Broom, for the time was hard to judge. Yet he managed to focus this time, waiting, waiting, waiting, as the ball appeared to drop ever-so-slowly into the strike zone. Poised, he planted his left foot firmly into the rocks, turned his body in mechanical preparation for a swing and released the club from its hold. The bright yellow ball met an enraged club that could not have been swung with harder velocity and near-perfect precision. But one thing was off. One split-second changed the entire outcome of the evening. Contact was made, but too early, and the ball soared forward a fair deal, yet too high, far too high for a base hit. As his imagination took over, Broom saw Pablo Sandoval jump out of the water and wait patiently for the ball to fall into his glove, and nightmarish memories crashed through Broom’s conscience and tormented him, while a color commentator could be heard saying something about poor hitting and a pop up.

A pop up! Broom stormed around, flung the club at a fire-pit, threw his cap on the ground, kicked rocks, and cursed fate.

Another bystander watched from the cliffs.

The game was over, but Broom knew his psyche must be restored. He picked up his club again and was resolved to hit one more, nice ball. The bystander came down from the cliffs to the opposite shore, apparently watching the madness. This time, however, Broom would not disappoint himself or his fans. After a few strikes and balls, Broom gained control of one perfect pitch. The ball soared farther than it ever had, and he wondered if the dying waves would be able to bring it back. Watching that ball sore, with the club his in left hand, resting on his shoulder, Broom imagined all the bitter memories soared with it, and it pleased him to think they would not come back to haunt him.

The two men left for the evening, enjoying the hope which sprung from a new season.

Broom Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written at Thee Ole Midshipman,
Manhattan, Kansas,
April 18, 2015

Painting: "Bare Log in a Field"
By William Darling McKay,
Oil on board, n.d.

Saturday
Apr182015

The Thinker's Cigar

THE THINKER’S CIGAR

The strike of the match,
its sandpapered skid, the laying
onto a bed of flame, that first rotation,
like a skewer and spit—a return
to the beginnings of subsistence.
Here—nothing to devour

but the flesh of the draw,
the meat in the embers
sliced off by the lips, the meal of it
nourishing beyond a bodily strength.
I won’t lift stone while I smoke,
or fire brick from sand and clay;
I won’t pour concrete,
set columns or beams—

this is the mind’s feeding.

Tilted on a velvet-backed chair
I roll up the wrapper’s sleeve,
the leeched arm of ash a dusty white
ready to fall, spent,
like collapsed rubble,
the remains of something once built.

Bryn Homuth
Recalling an evening smoke
April 18, 2015

Image:
Sir Winston Churchill
Oil on Canvas - 1942
Arthur Pan 

Friday
Apr032015

The Sleepless Tavern

This post was written in a fit of sleeplessness, and the idea was erroneously stolen from Bryn Homuth, whose poem "Nightcap" inspired the setting. For his more poetic version of this story, click here. (This story has not been proofread, but was transcribed in a hurry. Forgive me.)

The tavern was dingy and unkept—as if many travelers had been there before, though it appeared rather empty this evening, or I should say, this early morning. The ceiling was low and long and consisted of wooden beams for rafters on which hung old, black chandeliers with four candles each shining dimly. There was a long bench to one side of the tavern and several tables strewn throughout in a way that looked as if many of the attendants had come in fits and left in a hurry. I took a quick glance around the room to see if my companion had arrived, but seeing as how I hadn’t actually met the man, I gathered my sight was an ill tool for such discoveries. In any case, I figured the host may know of something, and shuffling between and around a row of abandoned tables, I took a seat at the bar.

“What will it be tonight, Broom?”

“Excuse me?” I asked in wonder. “You know me?”

“Of course. Yer a reg’lar; but no worries, chap, lads ‘oo venture in muh tavern rare remember their stay.”

“Is that so? And just how many times have I been here?”

“Ye? Why I’d say ye come in ‘ere at least once a month, but ye know, some months I see ye more than others. Yer one of my favorites, Broom. Often ye come in ‘ere yellin’ and cursin’ up a storm, as mad as ‘ell. It’s as if the devil took ye by the collar in time and forced ye into it. It’s a jolly show fer the rest of us; though I don’t mind these tame nights either, for I find ye a pleasant chap fer conversation. Ye can see we don’t get too many conversat’lists in muh tavern.” 

This caused me to take another scan of the room. At least two individuals had entered since I came in, though I couldn’t for the life of me remember hearing any enter. I saw one man with disheveled hair and wire rim glasses on the bench reading. He looked like a professor type, and though I couldn’t make out what he was reading, I saw that he did not seem to be reading the book for content. But rather, he seemed to be reading it in order to affect a mood in himself, as if he was reading each word and each sentence, waiting for something to happen. And when he kept reading new sentences, which turned into paragraphs and caused him to turn pages, the look of defeat and despair grew on his face with each new leaf.

“‘Ee will be ‘ere awhile,” the bar tender said, pointing to the man. “‘Ee’s tryin’ too ‘ard.” 

Another man lay prostrate on one of the tables, muttering some inaudible things as if to a god. I looked intently at the man but could not make out what he was saying, and the whole time, I gathered that he was not entirely conscious of being at the tavern.

“How did that man arrive, sir?” I asked the host.

“‘Im? ‘Ee remind me of ye!”

“Excuse me! I do not —”

“Why ye wuz just doing that very thin’ before ye shuffled on over ‘ere. I wuz ‘opin’ we’d git to see one uv yer tantrums agin, but I guess yer all out of energy for such thin’s eh?”

“Sir, I don’t know who you think you are, but I’ve had about enough. I don’t throw silly tantrums or mumble things on a table. Now, I was supposed to meet a man here this evening, and if you see him, I’ll be right over there,” and pointing to a dark corner, I took my drink and headed to it.

It was not until I nearly sat down that I saw the figure in a hood, smoking a pipe and holding a small book with a pen. He was sitting in the corner I wished to occupy, and seeing him, I started back in a moment and quickly apologized.

“Excuse me, sir! I’m so terribly sorry. I did not see you there. I will go sit somewhere else. So terribly sorry,” and I turned to leave.

“No need, sir, no need,” the man said politely. “I’ve given up.”

“I’m sorry?” I asked.

“Giv N. Up is my name. I’m a regular. I recognize you, but then, I recognize most folks who come in here. See, I’ve resigned myself to this tavern every night. I was once like you. Young. Hopeful. I was also told that I was supposed to meet someone here. Never happened. Consciously, at least. No, I find it best to make this place a nice little home of sorts, to come willingly and only to leave kicking and screaming — much like many enter.”

I now scanned the tavern once again. The man reading the book was still present, but the prostrate grumbler had left. I noticed two other men, looking over papers and books scattered on a table and then three others, playing cards at another table. 

Another gentlemen entered crying, hands folded and looking up. He fell on his knees and beat his breast with eyes down. His tears hit the floor like sprinkling raindrops, not quite enough to wipe up the accumulated layer of dust along the floor. He finished, crossed himself, and took a seat at the bar, looking fresher but still preoccupied.

“More regulars,” Giv said, “though not as frequent as me. Say, what is your name?”

“Snow. Broom Snow. I’m supposed to meet a man here but—”

“As am I” Giv said, pricking up his eyebrows in amusement. “As is the man reading the book and the others playing cards and those two looking over the papers. Even the man crying at the bar is supposed to meet someone. We were all told that someone was supposed to meet us here, but no one knows who or why. They only know that you cannot leave until you meet him, and the more you think or talk about him, the less likely it is you will meet him. The trick is to not think about meeting him, as you observe these men doing. Go ahead, try to not think about it.”

I tried, but of course, it was in vain. Though I wasn’t entirely sure I could trust this man, his words made me afraid that I might never get out of the tavern.

“You’ll leave; don’t worry,” he said, reading my thoughts. “Everyone always leaves, even me. See one of our card players is out.”

I looked and, indeed, the card player was gone, and the other two seemed to be packing up their game and getting ready to leave. The man seemed to know quite a bit about the tavern and the man I was supposed to meet, and seeing as how I was no closer to answers, I asked him about the man.

“Like I said, the more you talk about him here, the less likely you will meet him. The game is distraction or avoidance. But really, I should be honest. The man is very busy. He is in charge of every soul on the planet—not at the same time, though, mind you. But each night he visits everyone, though most people are unaware they’ve actually ever met him. I hear with the increase in pills, he is nearly out of work, which means he likes our attention. We were sent here because we thought about him too much, and he has promised to meet us once we stop thinking about him. I should say, it is a paradox of sorts. You cannot know you have met until well after the fact. The actual face-to-face meeting has rarely, if ever, happened. But the best thing to do is to keep sipping that beer of yours and distracting yourself with something other than your meeting.”

I pondered a bit and decided I would take the man’s advice. Shuffling back over to the bar, I sat within hearing distance of the other man seated there. He was still crying and clutching a necklace, though now he was looking up. I could scarcely make out that he was repenting of something he had done, and deciding it was not my place, I turned my attention to the bottles of beer on the wall. My vision began to grow hazy, but I started counting the bottles, slowly, one by one, mouthing the numbers faintly so to line up with my breathing. Even as I now reflect, I cannot remember why I decided to do such a thing, or how many bottles I eventually counted. I do remember, at one point during my counting, hearing faint footsteps getting closer with each step. I then remembered my meeting, and the footsteps stopped. Cursing myself, I resumed my counting, this time, blocking out the noise of the footsteps. Nevertheless, they grew closer and louder with each number, mimicking my heavy breathing which seemed to nearly line up with the sobs coming from the repentant man to my left. I felt so close, as if any moment, I would meet that man who promised to see me. That ended it. Nearly unable to open my eyes, I couldn’t help but turn to the man with the pipe in the corner. “Say,” I began, “Do you happen to know the name of the man I’m supposed to meet?”

Silence. The man in the corner was gone.

Dejected. I turned back around to count the bottles again. The trance I had just entered began sooner this time. I could nearly feel my lungs match those footsteps and the sobbing seemed so real; they seemed, strangely, to be filling my own lungs. I was nearing the last bottle, and my head was growing heavy. Then the final one. I raised my eyes to start the counting over, but only to see a pale-faced man in a black, three-piece suit across the bar. 

He grabbed my collar and said, “The Name’s Sleep.”

All went black, and I couldn’t help but think that I’d be back.

Broom Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written during an early morning thunderstorm,
Manhattan, KS
April 3, 2015

Painting:"A Tavern Scene"
By Dutch School,
Oil on panel, n.d. 

Thursday
Mar192015

The Old Military Road

(c) Jersey Heritage; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Three trees surrounded our fort, and their roots shot out at the base as if they had multiple legs, but they were good for sitting on. My legs itched from carrying stone through brush up from the bank, from where Jason was throwing. I took off my Royals hat and loaded up on small stone, then with my right hand grabbed a large stone and lit out through the brush. Our fort was at the top of a hill, just off the trail. The eastern slope was steep, too steep to trek without climbing, but the northern and western slopes were less steep. I trekked up to the fort and placed the stones in a line, creating a low wall, then I went back for more stone, and after three trips, Jason joined.

“We should use branches of wood,” he said in between puffs.

“Agreed,” I said, thankful he was not throwing any more stone.

“We can create a wall there,” he said, pointing to the opposite end of the fort from the stones. “I will go to the Trading Post,” and he bounded down the hill in search of wood.

Jason stuck a branch in mud and placed it so its small limbs stuck out from the fort. The upright branch stuck out in between two of the trees in the fort. A man could wedge another branch horizontal from the leg of the near tree to one of the limbs of the upright branch. I placed three branches this way then another opposite to the other tree, and progress was slowly made. Jason heaved a log up the hill and placed it beneath my three branches.

“They used to make cabins this way,” said I, in wonder.

“We just need lots of mud,” he said.

We sat on the legs of the trees, and examined our work. A beginning. A base of one wall was begun, and this wall was meant “to keep the enemy out.” Jason, next to one of the trees, hoisted another branch, smooth and straight to the top, it was about ten feet long. Its end was mangled, and four or five little limbs jutted out in all directions, much like Gandalf’s staff. After it was wedged in mud and upright, Jason grabbed our jackets, stripped from the heat, and hooked them to the branch.

“All we need is a flag,” he said.

*****

The Old Military Road in Manhattan is tucked away behind the Southwind Shopping complex to the west of town. It lay just north of Manhattan’s first disc golf course and assumes part of the eighty-acre Warner Park. Uncompleted, the trail traces a path once used by the American cavalry in traveling from the Fort Leavenworth and Fort Riley military bases.

There are at least three entrances to the trail, but the main way is easy enough to find. A large, stone pillar explains the trail’s purpose shortly after you arrive, and about one hundred yards in, you must decide whether to climb up a flight of wooden stairs or take a more wooded path to your right.

I have taken both, and I say, if a man has any sense, he will probably end up on both paths at one point or another. They cover the same area of land, more or less. The trail with the steps leads close to the disc-golf course, and on a cool, spring day, a man can here multiple men hooting and hollering over their throws. This trail, in fact, comes out a ways on the fifth hole of the course, though a man would have to be a poor thrower indeed to hit you. No matter, for the trail weaves back into the forest, leading up to what I believe is an old oak tree with scraggly, though large, branches jutting out all over the place.

I cannot tell what happens if one continue on this trail, for I have never finished it myself. At one point in our exploration, Jason and I fled the main path, as any man would, for we saw a ledge covered in moss and it looked interesting. Most trees and slopes were covered in moss, and the entire forest was a mixture of dead limbs, leaves, and live moss. Birds fluttered about, but without binoculars I could not get a fair glance at their glory. Eventually, when one leaves the main trail in this forest, he is rewarded by one of many, lesser-known trails, and we spotted one.

Following one of these trails, we came to dry creek beds and cliffs towering ten to fifteen feet high. They do not appear dangerous by any stretch, but a fall would make a man think otherwise. One of these cliffs towers roughly forty feet in height, and I explained that “if I were ten,” I would climb it. This cliff was near an old pine, bent over from old age and other catastrophes. It bent over in a half-mooned shape near the trail and at the base of a cliff, and after seeing it, Jason called it “The Trading Post.” 

***** 

While we were on one of these lesser-known trails, Jason and I eventually ambled out of the woods into a small tall-grass prairie. This trail now seemed like a main trail (it is hard to know sometimes), and we quickly left it for another, small enough to be made by a deer. However, it led into a thicker forest of pines and evergreens, and we quickly knew it was made by man. For to our left was a campground made of small stones stacked upon each other and a fire pit made in similar fashion. The pit had dead leaves and twigs in it, almost as if the men were shortly to return. We stared in amazement at the scene, for over a hundred stones were used in its creation.

“And this,” said Jason. Walking over to a smooth stump by the fire pit, Jason sat on it and marveled. “It’s a perfect stump for sitting.”

Two other ply boards were placed across stone, and though they were not perfect for sitting, they did the job. We sat for some minutes both wondering and weary. Eventually, I too sat on the stump, and indeed, it was glorious. If any man reading this post finds the place, he must have a sit on this stump, for a man can nearly lean back while he cooks his dinner. It is proof not of man’s desire for convenience but for God’s grace toward men. I say, the stump was made for one thing, sitting.

In our wonder at this fort, we realized that we had been one-upped.

“We must make a spot like this,” we concluded. But where? It must be out of the way and hidden, somewhere not likely traveled.

And back we trekked to the fort of The Old Military Road.

Broom Snow,* theficklefarce.com
Written at his sister's house,
While watching the nephew squirm during quiet time,
Austin, TX

Painting: "Fort Henry"
By British (English) School,
Oil on board, 1850

*For information on the sad end of Mr. Samuel Snow, click here.