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Man in the hat


A Chekov character in a David Mamet play.

All I had to offer anyone was my own confusion.

(no subject)
Man in the hat
how do you know when someone here dies... if this is your only connection to them? The pitfall of the intimacy of net relationships is that they tend to live and die here, and there is no means of knowing, if this is the only place the relationship exists.

The terrible truth in this is that the net gives us the illusion of intimacy where it does not actually exist. Or maybe a kind of intimacy.

Years ago I had an AOL chat buddy named Michelle. She suffered... no. She was living with CF. She'd had a surgery and recovered. She had a marriage and a divorce and recovered. She would type, I would read, she would type back, I would sympathize, support, she was going in for surgery again. She asked me to come, she asked me to visit, she asked me to meet her after. I was broke, and making ends try to acknowledge each other's existence. I was considering it when I stopped hearing from her.

I emailed for... years. The account was open. Until it wasn't.

I googled her. Nothing.

I googled her a few years later. Nothing.

I googled her again a few years later...found a reference on Twitter.

A fellow dancer had done a tribute to her. Did I mention she was a dancer? Yeah... me and dancers. What do you do when the music stops? The music eventually has to stop... and for her, it stopped on the operating table.

I know this because I reached out. I know this because I asked this stranger about Michelle. She told me she seemed so strong. That she was so determined going in... that her body just gave out.

So here we are, all biding our time until the end of the song. Knowing the music is gonna stop. Maybe the lone DJ out there is going to go off shift or end his broadcast day. Or maybe the station will just go off the air... yes, I know I'm mixing metaphors. But we're talking about me now. I'm not a dancer. I was a DJ. I'm not anymore... at least not for work. Occasionally still on the radio when I can pull my fading poetic powers together, but this is about death and loss and disappearance, not me...

SO here we are. We're just waiting, wondering, hoping for those words on the screen to appear again letting us know that we're maybe a little less alone than we fear we are, sitting here behind our screens waiting to hear from that lone voice.

Come back, welfy. There are people here who miss you... people you couldn't pick out of a lineup or know on the street, but who worry nonetheless.

Heroes in Crisis - DC Comics
Man in the hat

Man in the hat
People don't want to hear your story, they want to tell you theirs. Any question that they might ask is an opening for them to spill. So... listen. Don't count on getting a shot at talking, and you'll be a lot happier in the long run. I guess...

Just don't expect them to care about what your story is, or your background, or what you might have to offer. You might not be happy, but at least you won't be surprised.

My Dad (originally delivered Saturday, March 30, 2019
Man in the hat
I want to thank you all for being here today to celebrate the greatest man that I have ever known. Some of you may know me as a poet, and one thing that you eventually learn as a poet is just how inadequate words are to express truth of someone, to capture their essence. And so it is that I am woefully under qualified to tell you about the man we have come to honor here today. Many of you knew John Berry the Western Auto Dealer, John Berry the Chiropractor, John Berry the teacher, the elder, I knew him as all of these, but most importantly, I knew him as Dad.
He was the man for whom I held the flashlight for, handed tools to, and in our earliest job together, the man whose stomach I sat on as he worked under the dashboard of his Plymouth. It perhaps bears mentioning I was around two years old at the time.
My Dad was a giant of a man. At 6’1” he towered over my childhood, looming large in my life as a teacher, role model, and friend. As an adult he seemed to grow exponentially, keeping pace with me. No matter how big I got, my Dad never seemed any smaller. A man of sterling character, unshakeable moral conviction, and strength, his faith in God was his bulwark, his armor, and his guiding light.
In bible scholarship, his preparations for teaching rivaled my own preparations for the college classroom. When preparing a lesson he would not just study a text, he would learn its historical background, the various prevailing opinions about it, and its essence gleaned from multiple translations.
A few years back, I invited Mom and Dad to the Da Vinci exhibit at the Huntsville Space and Rocket Center, knowing that it would be an exhibit that Dad would appreciate. You see, like Da Vinci and many of the renaissance men of the past, Dad was a thinker, craftsman, and artist. The desk I sat at while composing this all too brief tribute was one that he designed. The lamp that rests on my bedside table at home is one he constructed from a repurposed parking meter, which still functions! I learned that the hard way one night when I placed a quarter into the coin slot and listened to it tick down to expiration until roughly two o’clock in the morning. As a child, the toy guns I played cowboys and Indians with were drawn to scale on wood and hand crafted by my father, and I still cherish them to this day.
Any time something was broken in the house, it was Dad who fixed it. In fact, “Fix” is too narrow a term. Improved is the more accurate description. If he couldn’t fix it, he could build a better one. Think of Dad as a Tim Allen from “Home Improvement,” the difference being that when Dad gave something “More power!” it worked, and caused no one bodily injury. Washing machines, automobiles, misbehaving, or damaged toys, all were put right by Dad’s skillful hands.
I still vividly recall one night when I was about 8 years old coming into the kitchen after taking my bath and finding Dad with the microwave disassembled on the counter. The technology was still relatively new at the time and there were some mysteries still unknown to users such as: what can we cook and what should we avoid cooking in a microwave.
Curious, I asked him, “What are you doing?”
Dad, in true Dad fashion, said “Oh, I thought I’d take the microwave apart and see what it’s made of ; turns out it’s made of egg shells.”
“Oh, OK,” I said.
He chuckled and said, “No, I’m kidding. It turns out that eggs explode when you try to boil them in a microwave.”
Who knew?
I’m proud to say, though, that Dad not only extricated all the eggshells from the machine, but also reassembled it, and it worked flawlessly for the next thirty years or so.
But Dad wasn’t just skilled at machine work. He understood the delicate nature of human behavior and the judicious distribution of discipline. While I could expect swift and certain punishment for such crimes as direct disobedience and hitting my little sister, his lessons were sometimes far subtler, like the master craftsman shaping the form of a delicate human being.
I recall Mom presenting me to Dad with a “Look at this” one night after a football game. I’d spent rolling down the red dirt hill with the other kids, and emerged with only my eyes visible for the dust. Dad’s reply to me was “Did you have fun?”
But the most poignant memory took place one warm Sunday afternoon. Every week the family would gather at my Maw Maw’s house for lunch after church. On this particular Sunday, my friend Todd whose grandparents lived across the road from Maw Maw came over to invite me to play. The two of us took off across the road in a frenzied dash, thinking only of the fun to come. We made it to his grandmother’s house in record time, and quickly began our games. Soon after, Dad came to retrieve me. I thought that his arrival was rather quick, but I had very little concept of time back then, and he was Dad, so I obediently bid my friend goodbye and headed back to the house.
Crossing the yard, Dad said to me, “I know someone who’s a good tree climber.”
“Who?” I inquired curiously.
“You,” he said. This was news to me, but I figured, he’s Dad. He knows these things, so he must be right.
We bypassed my Grandparent’s front door and headed for my Paw Paw’s pasture where a massive pine tree stood, its low hanging boughs inviting to any who dared try them. Dad boosted me up and I began climbing my first tree.

After a moment he asked, “How do you like it up there?”
“It’s great!” I said gleefully.
Dad smiled, then he said, “You know, cars can’t see you when you’re crossing the street.”
“They can’t?” I asked innocently.
“No,” he said. “They can’t. That’s why you have to watch for them. Will you do that?”
“O.K., Dad,” I said.
“Good, come on down.”
I was well into adulthood before I fully understood what had happened that day. What I did not know was how my father’s watchful eye followed the progress of Todd and I as we darted across the road and into the path of an oncoming car; a car we took no notice of. Nor could I have understood the terror that must have spiked within him, the fear and helplessness in those moments thinking about what might happen.
Any reasonable parent would have been justified in storming across the street and tanning the hide of their careless youngster for such a reckless act. But the true genius of my father was in his moderation. Dad had another strategy. He chose the gentler path, swallowing his fear and realizing that sometimes reason gets left behind in the joyful exuberance of childhood, and that some lessons are better taught with a gentle hand than thundering one.
I would be reminded of this gentle means of shaping men many years later when I graduated from college and took a part time job at Winn Dixie while pursuing my career in Television. On one of my weekly calls home, I recounted the story of how at work that night there had been a homeless man wandering through the aisles and grazing on the merchandise. This was something I found novel and completely alien to my small town upbringing. Dad listened quietly and then rejoined with what I confusedly presumed to be a non-sequitur.
“Is there a Hardee’s near there?” he asked.
“Sir?” I replied.
“Is there a Hardee’s near your store,” he repeated.
“Well, there’s a Subway.”
“The next time that happens, buy him a sandwich,” he said. “I’ll reimburse you. Just buy him a sandwich.”
I’m a bit embarrassed to say that I was flummoxed, at first not realizing what he was trying to teach me, but I agreed that I would. It wasn’t until I had hung up the phone, that I realized that Dad was telling me to live Matthew 25:35 “For I was hungry and you fed me.”
There are many of these stories, some humorous, some serious, some poignant, and in the days to come they will no doubt echo in the deafening silence that descended Thursday night when a voice mail from my neighbor urged me to call home as quickly as possible. Deafening silence. That is what we poets call an oxymoron. It is a construction of words in which the component parts contradict each other, or perhaps more poetically, a lie that expresses the truth. Deafening silence; that is what comes about when a giant falls. It is everywhere and all around me filling the spaces that my father occupied, and I know it intimately because I am here with it. WE are here with it…
But there is another sound, as well. We are too far away to hear it and we are not attuned to its frequency, but it is there nonetheless. It is the sound of rejoicing in heaven because one of God’s servants has come home.

HOW AM I???????
Man in the hat

it's a quarter to midnight on Valentine's Day, and I'm having a SINGALONG WITH NEIL DIAMOND!!!! HOW DO YOU THINK I AM????????????? leave me alone and turn up the "I Am, I said!" 

My Worst Enemies are in My Head
Man in the hat

The terrible truth about being insecure is that the enemies that trouble you the most are in your head. They constantly paint the worst case scenarios and turn your greatest allies into your enemies. For as long as I can remember, I've been looking for the other shoe to drop, waiting for the truth to come out that "we never really liked you." 99 % of the time, this turns out to be complete and total BS, as revealed when I get together with the folks who the voices claim are my mortal foes.

Fortunately, most of the time I can keep these voices internal, locked up in my head rather than walking about in the sunlight where they can harm others and me by proxy. Angela shared the same insecurities, with equal intensity, I think it's what drew us together. She didn't have the good fortune to have them locked inside... which is perhaps what drove us apart. Although, to be fair, I was less willing to put up with in my 40s what I'd been a glutton for in my 20s. 

I offered her my friendship once again; to try to salvage what we'd had for 17 years prior... she took a hard pass, even though she acknowledged her part of the blame for the failure of our relationship. So it goes. 

So... action item: Work on killing or at least silencing those nefarious little bastards who reside in my head. If I can teach a workshop full of writers how to do it, surely I can teach myself. Physician, heal thyself! Professor, teach thyself! 

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A Good Day in Montgomery...
Man in the hat
So I went to Montgomery to the Southern Studies Conference and did the business. It's always better to present to an audience that is interested in what you're telling them. A group of people who are in to what you are in to. It was great.

I told them about Everette Maddox, the late, great New Orleans poet who was born in Montgomery and schooled in Alabama, before turning his back on it for the Big Easy. There were maybe six people there, but they were a good six, and they enjoyed my presentation.

Everette, I hope I did right by you. I sure tried. Maybe I sold you a couple of more books in the mix. I think that would make you smile, wherever you are now. Maybe the earth under the patio at the Maple Leaf is warmer tonight. Maybe the Mississippi River is too.

I'd say rest in peace, but you're not gone. You haven't gone anywhere. Your words are echoing in my head and filling my heart as they have since the first time Stacey introduced you to me.

Be well, my friend.

In Memory of the Late Great Joe Frank
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All American Rejects
Man in the hat
Saw these guys on a special on Direct TV's Audition Channel in the Hotel the other night.  They're the greatest band I didn't realize I loved. I'd been listening to them for ... ever. And I knew the name, but I didn't realize how much they had influenced the last two decades of my life. They were incredible. Hard to believe that the album this song came from is now 17 years old... I was 32!! ugh... I feel old.