Fun for People with No Lives

Time to Pop the No-Doz

Let’s face it; you enjoy taking grammar tests because they make you feel socially superior to Deplorables who say, “Between you and I, I think Melania Trump’s nude photo shoots were choreographed by the Deep State.”

So here’s a chance to fill five minutes of your otherwise angst-fraught day in a beleaguered Late Empire democracy located on a dying planet having fun with rhetoric.

Uh-oh.  That sentence has a misplaced modifier.  Can you find it?

Damn right, the dying planet is incapable of having fun, even with something as absolutely entertaining as parsing sentences.

To begin the frivolity, let’s stick with misplaced modifiers. Here’s an easy question: which of the following sentences doesn’t contain a dangling modifier?

While reading a book, Reginald’s dog chewed the Chippendale.

While repairing the chipped Chippendale, Reginald’s dog urinated on the Persian rug.

While steam-cleaning the Persian rug, Reginald’s dog clawed a hole in the screen door.

While Zika-virus-bearing mosquitos flew through the hole in the screen, Reginald adjusted his dog’s flea collar.

Wow, that was fun, wasn’t it?  Let’s try something a little different.  Read carefully each group printed below, and decide which one of the four choices expresses the idea most correctly and efficiently. 

Having picked up a meth addict via Tinder at the rave, Edith invited the meth head up to her attic.

When Edith picked up a meth addict she met via Tinder at the rave, she invited him up to her attic.

Edith’s meth addict Tinder pick-up at the rave was invited up to Edith’s attic.

Edith invited her meth-addict Tinder pick-up from the rave up to her attic.

The section below contains a series of short choppy sentences, resulting in a monotonous style.  Using appropriate connectives and proper subordination, combine the sentences to show the relationship of the ideas that apparently belong together. You should be able to combine all the statements into a single sentence. 

  1. Thank you very much for being here.
  2. I just want to thank some of the people.
  3. Senator, congressman, you’ve worked hard on these things.
  4. You’ve worked so hard on the kidney.
  5. The kidney has a very special place in the heart.
  6. It’s an incredible thing.

Extra Credit:  Who is the author of the above speech?

Okay, let’s close out by increasing our word power by doing some synonyms.

  1. RACK: 1 – a pair of breasts; 2 – din; 3- Elmer Fudd’s pronunciation of the 35th president’s nickname; 4 – torture; 5 – wrack
  2. SURLY: 1 – the fat, bald Stooge; 2 – absolutely; 3 – bodyguard-ish;  4 – carriage; 5 – Mid-Eastern tent
  3. TABOO: 1 – drumbeat; 2- Oedipal; 3 – taint;  4 – OMG, that’s soooooo gross; 5  – culturally uncool to the max
  4. TEDIUM: 1 – churchlike; 2 – inert gas; 3 – the aura a Tupperware Party emanates;  4 – size between targe and tmall;  5 – Another word for Ted Talk
  5. WAYLAY: 1 – dating app; 2 – stray; 3 – hold up; 4 – hold down; 5 – potato chip manufacturer

Okay, boys and girls, the fun is kaput, time for a libation, followed by soporific reclining, if you catch my drift.

Bring in the Clowns

Probably no creative artist in history can match the universal adoration that Master Will Shakespeare enjoys (well, would enjoy if not dead for 403 years).  However, a recent biography claims that when his theatre company, the King’s Men, travelled to Whitehall to entertain James I, the actors actually served their royal patrons meals between performances.

Imagine the author of King Lear approaching some drooling Hapsburg-lipped hemophiliac with the greeting, “Hark, I’m William Shakespeare, and I shalt be thy server this evening.”

His much scrutinized signature?  An autograph unsought.

The fact is that Elizabethans and Jacobeans looked upon actors and playwrights the way we old folks do fire eaters and tattooed bearded ladies.  Amusing, perhaps, but not the sort we want visiting our homes.  Of course, nowadays, entertainers are the royalty: Sir Mick Jagger.  Sir Nick Faldo.  Sir Johnny Rotten (just wait).

Johnny Rotton sporting slimming vertical stripes

On the other hand, poets remain as impoverished as ever.  For example, when appointed, Poet Laureate Billy Collins taught at two different universities to make his mortgage. As my man, Willie B, whined so exquisitely in “Adam’s Curse”:

[. . . ] A line will take us hours maybe;

Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,

Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.

Better go down upon your marrow-bones

And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones

Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;

For to articulate sweet sounds together

Is to work harder than all these, and yet

Be thought an idler by the noisy set

Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen

The martyrs call the world.

[muffled sob]

Well, if you happen to be reading this post on lifted wifi in a drafty garret as you warm your hands over a burning pile of rejection slips, here’s a suggestion in how to augment your income.  Start touting yourself as a body language expert.

It’s as easy as lying.

Just apply the analytical process you use in interpreting poems to the dress, postures, and mannerisms of celebrities.  For example, courtesy of Us magazine, here’s body language expert Patti Wood on winsome Academy Award winner Sandra Bullock.

She is gripping the coffee cup very high up [. . .] That’s what you do when you really want to grab a hold of something and show your power.  She’s really making it obvious and playing toward the camera to show that empty [i.e., ringless] finger.


Bullock also is wearing a black North Face jacket, black ball cap and scarf around her neck.

She’s chosen a heavily padded jacket and has it zipped up very high,” observes Wood. “The choice of her scarf, which is tied over heart, means that she is hiding her heart window and throat window, which is the communication window.”

As you might know (and congratulations if you don’t), Sandra Bullock’s story book marriage (as in Creepy Comics story book) to dashing motorcycle mechanic/television personality/daredevil Jesse James ended when she discovered hubby James had been trysting with “tattoo model and stripper Michelle ‘Bombshell’ McGee” [Wikipedia].  James’ previous, not-so-winsome wife, adult film star/producer Janine Lindemulder, had battled James the year before for custody of their daughter Sunny.  James, whose cocky sneer might outnumber Shakespeare’s pate in a Google image search face-off, has conceded having “made bad decisions” (i.e., committing adultery over an 11-month period with someone who goes by “Bombshell”) but blamed his transgressions on his abusive father, who once when 7-year-old Jesse tripped over a wire, “laughed at [him] and called [him] a dummy” New York Daily News.

No wonder Sandra has shrouded her heart window, opened the trench coat of her naked ring finger, and covered her communication window in tinfoil.

* * *

Poets, I guarantee you that Body Language Guru Patti got paid more for her analysis of Sandra’s ensemble than you did the last time you got published.  What was it? Two complimentary copies of the flimsy issue that featured your open wound of a love poem?

I bet we can do just as well as Patti Wood.  All we need is a degree from an on-line university, and we’re in business.  Let’s give it a shot.  Here’s a photo of disgraced Ponzi Master Al Parish in his glory days before the hook of law-and-order yanked him off the stage of the Charleston Chamber of Commerce production of No New Taxes. He’s in his eleventh years of a twenty-four year sentence at Butner Federal Correctional Complex in Raleigh.  Bernie Madoff is also an inmate there.


Al Parish, aka Economan

Piece of (purchased cheese) cake:

Falstaffian in appetite, Professor/Post Courier columnist/ official Chamber of Commerce economist Parish wraps himself in regal purple to accentuate his ties to the powers-that-be.  Even though his 300-plus pounds of sidewalk dominating heft might catch the eye of the blind man selling pencils on the corner, grey and black swirling patterns on purple demand even more attention, screaming I’m comfortable in my 24-square yards of skin, parachute-sized fabrics, jumbo-sized Cadillac.  Note how jauntily he cocks the angle of his right jowl across the 12-lane highway of his lapel – lapels that steeply climb his belly, that Great Divide of his torso and legs.  He’s at once a king and sycophant, a mogul and court jester

 And yet – and yet – the ensemble displays Rorschach-like signals of chaos ahead, his left shoulder bearing a hurricane-like swirl, his tie twisted like a cyclone, both boldly streaked in ominous black . . . 

Like, I said, it’s as easy as lying.

Ode on a Tattooed Torso

Last Sunday, after returning a rented golf cart, Caroline and I walked over to Planet Follywood for breakfast and then over to the Tides for a rum-infused tropical treat (her) and a hoppy yeast-born malt-based brew (I-and-I).  As we sat in a slice of shade in the corner of the plaza of the outdoor bar, a shirtless, bearded fellow walked past.  He had a picture of a spine tattooed over his own spine, flanked by a pair of wings tattooed on his shoulder blades.  “Wow, dig that,” I whispered.

We continued our conversation as the man and two of his companions – also shirtless and heavily tattooed – took a seat at a table about ten meters away, the wings-spined fellow facing us.

“What’s that tattooed on his chest?”  Caroline asked.  “Jesus?”

“Looks more like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins,” I said.

We talked about trying to take a surreptitious snapshot but decided against it.  It was then that the title came to me: “Ode on a Tattooed Torso.”

When we passed them in leaving, Caroline asked him whose face was tattooed on his stomach.

As we entered the cool of the bar proper, Caroline asked me if I had heard what he had said.

“Yeah, Jesus.”

“No, he said ‘Zombie Jesus’.”

That stopped me in my tracks.  “I got to get a picture.”

“Do you think he’ll be annoyed?”

“I’ll ask politely. If he says no, he says no.”

“Okay, I’ll wait here.  It will be less awkward without me there.”

So I retraced my steps and introduced myself, handed him my Hoodoo website card, explained that I wrote a blog and would love to take a picture and write about his tattoos.  “Of course,” he said, standing up beaming.  “That’s not the response I was expecting to get,” he said.  “I was afraid you might be offended.”

I wished I had asked him if many people were offended, but I didn’t, nor how he came to acquire such an animus for Jesus.  Fanatical parents?  Anger at the horrors of the world?  He seemed the opposite of angry, just another hedonist spending the Sabbath in self-indulgence.

So we went home and studied the photograph, which prompted several ideas.  First, this tattoo was testament to our First Amendment rights, which allow us to say or display ideas that are anathema to the majority.  As George Orwell put it in “Freedom of the Press,” [a]t any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was ‘not done’ to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing.”

Second, it occurred to me how tolerant we US citizens are for the most part.  If our tattooed man lived in Saudi Arabia and went out in the public square sporting a tattoo of Zombie Muhammad, he’d be a corpse faster than you could say, “All praise be unto him.”

I decided to write the poem “Ode on a Tattooed Torso” modeled on Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” employing the so-called ten-line Keatsian Ode Stanza.  Although I intended the poem to be comic, a sort of parody, it became something a bit different: praise for a brave lost soul who uses his body as a canvas to display his obviously heartfelt but unpopular beliefs.

If you decide to read it, I highly recommend hitting the audio and to read it along with my voice.



Ode on a Tattooed Torso

With apologies to John Keats

In the juvescence of the year

Came Christ the tiger [. . .]

The tiger springs in the new year.  Us he devours . . .

TS Eliot, “Gerontion”


Thou rotund torso beneath that russet beard,

Thou iconoclastic mockery,

Sacrilege silently, rudely, crudely shared

Like profane Pompey crockery

Uncovered from a brothel.  Zombie Jesus

Thorn-Crowned, blood dripping from brow

Come not to save but to devour us,

The antithesis of the sacred cow.

Its human canvas confronting us

With an objective correlative. Wow!


Shouted obscenities spit gall,

But those unheard are often ignored.

Though Bosch-like, the tattooed Last Supper doesn’t call

Attention to itself above the Zombie Lord.

Faintly rendered, half-hidden, a thatch of chest hair

Obscuring bird-beaked apostles,

Like Leonardo’s originals leaning here and there.

We barely notice them, if at all.

And who would have the courage to stare,

To lean in, to take it all in, though enthralled?


O badass iconoclast! Fearless commentator!

I wonder what images adorn your balls.

Onan perhaps spilling his seed? The traitor

Judas hanging from a tree?  The walls

Of Jericho richly graffitied?

Thou russet-bearded wonder, profane wretch,

You walking act of art, when old age bleeds

Away that ink, may this verse your protest protect,

Your icon-injected flesh preserve, your rude screed

Freeze in time, though an inchoate protest.


Screaming’ Jay Hawkins


Neither in His Own, Nor in His Neighbor’s Eyes

Let me also wear

Such deliberate disguises

Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves

In a field

Behaving as the wind behaves . . .

                                            TS Eliot, “The Hollow Men”

It’s been my fate for the last twenty years or so to explore Heart of Darkness each spring with sixteen-year-olds.  The novella provides a rich cache – not of ivory – but of literary artistry, historical relevance, and profound prophecy.  I also find Marlow’s rebellious disdain for the soullessness of the people he encounters during his journey good role-modeling. By the end of his odyssey, Marlow has, as he puts it, “some difficulty in restraining [himself] from laughing in their faces so full of stupid importance.”  He resents the sight of his fellow citizens “hurrying through the streets to filch a little money from each other, to devour their infamous cookery, to gulp their unwholesome beer, to dream their insignificant and silly dreams.”  Marlow’s experience in the jungle has shredded the veil of illusion, or to move a bit westwardly metaphorically, he has stumbled out of Plato’s cave and can now see beyond the flickering shadows projected on the walls of his former existence.

Jeffrey Bren
Self-portrait watching television

The pressure of conformity weighs down adolescents like sodden woolen coats, whether it be the pressure to join a gang, the Fellowship of Christian athletes, or the circle around the bong.  Our narrator Marlow is a loner, the father of Nick Adams and Sam Spade (not to mention Philip Marlowe), an individual who remains true to his non-conformist core convictions.  As Marlow is telling his story to his colleagues on the deck of the Nellie, he’s also speaking directly to those adolescents – mocking hollowness and extolling independence and courage.  Given the barrage of images that assault young people each day through their various media –  images of air-brushed celebrities as insubstantial as Plato’s shadows, images of smiling actors succeeding at DeVry University, images of Vaseline-enhanced Big Macs beaming down from billboards – Marlow’s example of delving beneath the surface is more relevant than ever.


(To leaven the proceedings for a moment.  What do you think Marlow would think of this cover?)

Romance, Terror, and Exotic Adventure (rendered in 3.5-page sentences!)


TS Eliot in “The Hollow Men” quotes Heart of Darkness in the epigraph and employs Conrad’s symbol of the scarecrow to embody people without true convictions, people who go with the flow, behaving as the wind behaves, people who will say whatever it takes to get what they want – and then again, unsay it, with a mere shake of the Etch-a-Sketch.  The hollow men, the stuffed men.

Shape without form, shade without colour,

Paralysed force, gesture without motion . . .

In contemporary American politics, I can’t think of a better embodiment of those hollow men Marlow describes than Lindsay Graham.  If we’re going to draw analogies from “real life'” to Conrad’s novel, Trump comes off like Kurtz (albeit without his learning, Kurtz’s appreciation of and facility in creating art).  Kurtz sees himself as the center of the universe, as a god, a god worshipped by the natives as Trump is by his ardent xenophobic MAGAs.

Graham, on the other hand, obviously “behaves as the wind behaves.”

That was then, this is now.

“I am like the happiest dude in America right now,” a beaming Graham said on “Fox & Friends.” “We have got a president and a national security team that I’ve been dreaming of for eight years.” (19 April 2019).

Here’s Marlow on lying:

You know I hate, detest, and can’t bear a lie, not because I am straighter than the rest of us, but simply because it appalls me. There is a taint of death, a flavour of mortality in lies–which is exactly what I hate and detest in the world–what I want to forget. It makes me miserable and sick, like biting something rotten would do. Temperament, I suppose.

But, like I said, Trump is more like Kurtz or Guy Fawkes from Eliot’s epigraph, “lost/ Violent souls.” Graham lies for the sake of power; I doubt if megalomaniacal Trump even realizes he’s lying.

I guess it’s possible that Trump will be caught one of these days doing something that upsets the populace and that Graham will do some reverse flip flops, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

I guess it makes more sense to take Yeats’ advice:

Now all the truth is out,
Be secret and take defeat
From any brazen throat,
For how can you compete,
Being honor bred, with one
Who were it proved he lies
Were neither shamed in his own
Nor in his neighbors’ eyes;
Bred to a harder thing
Than Triumph, turn away
And like a laughing string
Whereon mad fingers play
Amid a place of stone,
Be secret and exult,
Because of all things known
That is most difficult.