Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Gang Boss Arthur Pt 2

I awoke in the field hospital at Shangri-La.
All clean and warm and dry.
My foot throbbed and sort of oozed a bit.
But the pick was gone.
“Bless you,” I said
To the Company doctors,
Feeling very grateful.

They just smiled and took my pulse.

A few days later 
I learned it was Arthur
Who saved my foot,
Not the doctors.

Some of the men from my gang
Came to visit me in Auckland 
At the big hospital
Where I’d been transferred,
And they told me all about it.

“When the doctors at Shangri-La
Saw what a mess your foot was in,” 
Said my workmates,
“They was going to just
Cut the bleedin thing off.
But Arthur laid into them something fierce!  
That got ‘em shifting their bloody asses pronto 
To save you… 
And your bleedin foot!”

My workmates laughed heartily 
At the memory and added,
“They wasn’t ready for a bleedin 
Bastard like our Arthur!”

“Nobody ever is!” I said,
And the men laughed even more.

The men laughed because it was true.

Have you ever noticed how
The truly brave face life 
With laughter in their hearts?

Then, with a rare but temporary sense
Of respect, they added,
“That Arthur! He sure showed them!”

Oh! The contradictions of life!
Now they were proud 
Of the terrible gang boss 
They’d once feared.

Later Arthur visited me 
At the big hospital in Auckland, too.
“You’ll be okay, you little shit!” he snarled.
I was nervous about his visit until 
He laughed and said the Company 
Wanted their pick back.
As we talked I could see for the first time 
That Arthur was actually a human being,
And not just a ferocious gang boss 
Always shouting orders
And wanting things done.

So I asked him 
Why he was so tough 
On me in the beginning,
When I first joined his gang.

“The men had to see 
That I showed no favorites,” he replied.
“And I wanted you to learn,” he added,
“To stand upon your own two feet.”

Then he roared with laughter!

“Two feet!” he laughed.
“A-haw haw haw!”

“Huh?” I said, but then I got it and
I began laughing too.

“Shhhh,” hissed the nurse
Who came running.
“Quiet please! This is a hospital!”

“Oh, shit!” whispered Arthur sheepishly
When he’d caught his breath. 
“Sorry, Sister.”

“Humph!” she answered,
Staring us down like we were naughty children.

Like most healthy men, 
Arthur despised the hospital.
And I think he was a little
Intimidated by the nurse, too.
I know I was.
“Well, take ‘er easy, mate,” whispered Arthur,
Anxious to be gone.

“Wait a minute, Arthur,” I said.
“I’d like to thank you…”

“Forget it!” said Arthur.
Then to change the subject 
He cursed hospitals ferociously
For about ten minutes
Hardly stopping for breath,
Ending with something about the nursing staff, 
And what the whole bloody lot of them 
Could bleedin-well do 
With their blasted hospital!

Then he said goodbye and walked out, 
Followed by the nurse’s stern, 
Yet I thought somehow admiring, gaze.

He’s been dead a long time,
Arthur the gang boss.
Killed in an accident 
A few years later
When a Caterpillar D-9
Ran off its own tracks
And tumbled down an embankment.

Arthur was standing at the bottom
Of the embankment, 
Urinating against a bush.

They say he never knew what hit him.
But I wouldn’t know.
I’d already left by then
To begin my journey as an artist.

Sometimes I wonder where Arthur is now.
I hope he’s happy,
And not squashed too flat
By the bulldozer to enjoy the afterlife.

Because I owe him a lot.
A lot he wouldn’t want, probably.
And instead of sentimental horse shit 
Like saying you’re welcome,
He would probably suggest 
Most strongly that I shove it!

Way up where the sun don’t shine!

So from the year 2016,
Arthur, wherever you are, 
From the bottom of my heart
As I stand upon my own two feet,
I thank you!
I love you.

You big son-of-a-bitch.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Gang Boss Arthur

When I was a young lad in New Zealand,
I began my working life
At the bottom 
Of a road construction ditch.
I was a navvy.
Better known today as a manual laborer.
My job was to shovel the shit 
That had accumulated
Within the ditch.
To shovel it from the bottom
Of the ditch to the top. 

And sometimes for a change
From the top to the bottom.

I was in a work gang
Composed of a dozen or so men.
Our gang and many others
Were way up in the boondocks
North of Auckland,
Cutting scrub, clearing lines,
And of course as always digging ditches,
Getting things ready 
For the big earthmoving machines
Due to start in the summer.

We were miles from civilization,
So far beyond 
The back of beyond
That we lived in our own tent city, 
Which we called Shangri-La,
Complete with canteen, laundry, hospital, etc,
And even a barber shop on Sundays 
When we got a half day off.

Our gang boss was named Arthur.
He was the toughest 
Gang boss there was.
He was feared by all,
For he could be a violent man
When he felt he’d been disrespected,
Or when the men slacked off too much,
Or if he just happened to be feeling that way.
His language was fierce too.
The most ferocious in The Company,
Adding to his reputation 
As one tough son-of-a-bitch gang boss 
Who didn’t take any crap 
From anybody!

A reputation of which Arthur was very proud.

When I first began working 
In the ditches 
I was sixteen-years-old.
I hadn’t spent much time 
In the company of grown men yet,
So I was afraid of Arthur
With his fierce reputation and his swinging fists.
He detected this, 
And seeing the men saw it also,
He treated me with extra hostility,
As if to break my spirit
And bend me to his will.
“Watch out for Arthur.”
The men warned me.
“He’s a mean one.”

“What’s he got against me?” I wondered.

But nobody knew.

So I stayed out of Arthur’s way
As much as I could,
And shoveled the shit
As best as I was able.

A philosophy I still practice today.

Then one day, 
While shoveling shit 
From the bottom of a ditch
Way out in the middle of nowhere,
I was struck in the foot with a pickaxe.

The man in the ditch next to me
Slipped and lost control  
Just as he swung with all his might,
And into my foot his pickaxe went!

It bled terribly and hurt like hell!

The pick had stuck in my foot
And wouldn’t come out,
Much to the amusement of my workmates
Standing in the ditch with me,
Who didn’t immediately comprehend
The severity of the situation.
I didn’t either, 
And seeing the others were laughing
I laughed too and pointed at my foot, saying,
“Somebody take a picture!”
And other foolish nonsense
As my boot filled with blood.

Not Arthur, though.
He understood right away!
He jumped into the ditch,
Pushing the other workers aside,
And hoisted me out.
Then without attempting to remove the pick from my foot
He applied a tourniquet above my ankle
With the sweaty bandana from round his neck,
After ordering one of the men 
To fetch his goddamned truck and be quick about it
So he could get me to the hospital.

That’s when I passed out.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Prologue with Señoritas

I’ve always been a lucky son-of-a-bitch. 
Ask anybody. 
For instance, they paid me eight-and-a-half thousand dollars to write this prologue, and I haven’t even finished reading the manuscript I’m supposed to write the prologue for.
Wouldn’t you say that was lucky? 
Or at least admit that I’m a son-of-a-bitch?
My publisher finally tracked me down at El Gato in Madrid. “Where’s that prologue?” she demanded over the phone. “And keep it under five-hundred words this time.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I replied sarcastically, trying not to let her hear me laughing with glee.
“Who’s that with you?” asked my publisher, somewhat annoyed. She thought I should always be writing, not enjoying myself in some tapas bar with the señoritas.
I covered the mouthpiece with my hand. “Shhh, she can hear you,” I said to Glee and the others. “Stop that! Please girls! I’ll be with you in a minute. Order me another Mahou and some croquetas, will you?” 
“Is that your wife?” asked another, reaching for the phone. “Let me talk to her.”
“He’s married?” asked a third. “He sure doesn’t act like it.”
“Shhhh,” I hissed at them. “Quiet girls, please!” 
“There’s nobody here with me,” I lied into the mouthpiece. “I’m writing.”
With any luck, of which I have plenty, I’ll knock this prologue out by siesta time, I thought. Then maybe go uptown, get a bite to eat. I know a great little place just off the Calle de Alcala.
“I need it by Friday,” said my publisher. 
“What’s the hurry?” I asked. “It’s just an autobiography by a broken-down old animator, isn’t it? How interesting could that be?”
“The Company thinks it has great potential,” she answered.
“He named it Hold the Beetroot, for fuck’s sake,” I said. “What does that even mean?”
“Remember, Rusty. By Friday please.”
“We’ll see,” I said. “Bye.”
“Don’t you hang up on me!”
“Eureka!” I answered. “Inspiration has just struck! Gotta go.” 
“Inspiration my ass! Listen, you no-good, lazy …”
I hung up.
Turning to the girls, I said, “Sorry ladies, I’ve got to get to work. Why don’t you meet me at La Paloma tonight about ten o’clock. Okay?”
The girls picked up their things and left, calling me a few choice names in Spanish.
That was okay. Luckily, I don’t speak Spanish very well, so I couldn’t be too offended.
The beer and croquetas arrived.
I picked up the manuscript and began to read…

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

My Zen Is Like Mickey Mouse

My Zen Is Like Mickey Mouse

“In perpetuity and throughout the universe.”

I’ve always loved the poetry of that phrase.
How simply and elegantly it covers…

Very zen!

It is also, on a personal level,
Very evocative to me,
As it reminds me of the years
I worked for Walt Disney Feature Animation.

You see, that’s what my Disney contract actually said,
“In perpetuity and throughout the universe.”
Meaning the company owned 
The work I produced for them 
Throughout the cosmos and for all time.

Forever and ever and everywhere.

I suppose that’s in case
I try to collect royalties from  
Martians of the future who
Land on earth and demand
To see Beauty and the Beast!

But you know lawyers.
Especially Disney lawyers.
They’re very thorough.

“So what?” I said. “I’m an artist!” 
I wanted to make 
Cartoons for Walt Disney,
The biggest damn cartoon-maker there ever was!

So I signed on the dotted line.

Of course, I never met Mr Disney,
Who died in 1966.
I’m old but not that old.

I worked there from 1989 until 2004.
Fifteen years.
The second golden age 
Of hand-drawn animation, 
It’s been called.
Although I don’t think I can seriously
Take all the credit for that one.

Maybe I was a small part of it.
Who knows?
A big thing is often made 
Of smaller things, is it not?

While working for Disney
I drew everything from 
Roger Rabbit losing his lunch…
To the little bear cub Koda…
Who loses his mother.

“Just like Bambi!” I used to brag,
Remembering that famous scene
Of a father explaining why a mother, 
“… can’t be with you, anymore.”

I don’t know about you, 
But that scene from Bambi
Still makes me cry today.
I wonder.
Have I worked on a scene
That made you cry?
Or laugh?
Or squeeze a loved one’s hand 
In the dark with excitement?

At Disney, there’s a lot of tradition
Behind every animated movie.
Almost a century of progressive filmmaking.
Over sixty animated features.
Uncountable hours of labor by
Generations of talented employees.
Think of it…

Millions upon millions of drawings!

That’s a lot to live up to
And sometimes it weighs heavily
Upon those who make these movies today.
They try so hard!

It was here that I learned, btw,
The most important lesson an artist can learn…
To trust yourself.

I loved them all,
My pencil’s creations!
As you should love your children.
But I have three special favorites
From my days at Disney.
They are Khan the horse from Mulan,
Whom I love for his beauty and strength.
Stitch the experiment from Lilo and Stitch,
Whom I love for his appeal and sense of fun.
And Mickey Mouse, the little guy who started it all,
Whom I’ve loved since I was a child,
For his bravery and humanity.

Which is maybe a funny thing to say
About a mouse.
His humanity.
But that’s the magic 
Of Disney animation, isn’t it?

Between features sometime in the early 1990s 
I finally got to work with Mickey. 
I drew him dancing with a German supermodel 
While endorsing an orange-flavored soda pop. 
A commercial.
Made for the European market. 
Never shown in America.

But still I worked with Mickey Mouse!

Luckily, he was a good dancer,
Because I cannot dance worth a darn.
He was a good actor too,
Which made it easier.
Claudia Schiffer, the German supermodel 
He danced with in the commercial, 
Said he was a good kisser, as well.

Which doesn’t surprise me.
Mickey always brings his “A” game!

He was difficult to draw though.
At least he was for me.
You had to get him just right
Or he didn’t look like Mickey Mouse at all.

And you know what?
When I worked with him I discovered 
That he was even nicer in person 
Than he is in the movies!

The really big stars 
Are like that, they say.
Hard working… 
Considerate of others…

Which reminds me of my zen.
And the reason I began this poem.
May I compare my zen 
To that great actor, dancer and kisser,
Mickey Mouse?

My zen is hard working, 
Like Mickey is,
Because work is love… 
And without it nothing is achieved.
My zen is kind, 
Like Mickey is, 
Because it’s not how smart 
We are that matters… 
But how kind we can be. 
My zen has consideration for others, 
As Mickey does,
Because even a cartoon mouse knows…

Without consideration for others you are just an asshole. 

Finally, my zen helps me understand 
My place in the scheme of things.
That I should try to be happy
And not worry too much 
About living in a world 
I cannot control… 
But must not fear!

That life is short 
And ought to be funny.
Just like a Mickey Mouse cartoon.

Yes, my zen is very much
Like Mickey Mouse.
Even more so than I thought
When I began this poem.
Which doesn’t surprise me.
That’s one of the reasons
I like writing them…
Anything can happen
In my search to express my zen,
So that I might,
With love and respect, 
Set it before you.

And let’s not forget the poetry
Of such wonderful phrases as
“In perpetuity and throughout the universe.”

Which makes me laugh.
As my zen commands I should!

Thank you, Mickey.
You make me laugh too.
You always have.
I love you.

Take care.