Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Liss Gap, a poem.

Liss Gap
By
James Robert Smith

My first long
backpacking trip,
at fifteen years of age,
I labor up
from Dick’s Creek Gap.
Up.
Up from the highway,
deep
into woods
climbing
the slopes of a 4,000
foot peak.
We slab along
the sides, climbing.
My pack weighs 65
pounds, I 180.
I sweat,
my heart beats,
hard,
sweat pours down,
into my eyes,
my hair wet, my back
drenched,
my legs tired.
We walk,
we four,
high school pals,
on a seven-day
trek.
At the top, we pause,
briefly,
in deep hardwoods,
silence,
then push on.
Tired, gasping for
breath, hoping for
relief, I wonder
why I’m here,
in woods,
on high ridges,
sweating, gasping,
wondering.
And then,
we come to Liss Gap.
Level, between
peaks. Forests, as
far as one can
see.
Deep.
Green. Dark.
The ground is hidden
by ferns that hug
the forest floor
and carpet it in hues
of lighter green.
Above it all,
a stand of
tall, vertical, proud,
pale poplars.
Acres of them.
On and on.
Straight, like some
natural exercise in
Geometry.
I shed my pack.
I sit
among the ferns,
soft leaves a
cushion,
and I admire
the poplars, the ferns,
the greens,
the sunlight and shadows,
on and on.
I breathe,
I smile,
I know why I’m here,
in Liss Gap.









Monday, October 30, 2006

Evil Biscuit

Evil Biscuit
By
James Robert Smith


While my wife
is in surgery
yet again,
I take
the elevator up to
the Mezzanine where
the fast food sells
and
I order a large
iced tea
and a chicken biscuit
for $3.34
and the girl at
the register
says, “Your change is
666.”
Was the biscuit
evil?
Or was it
the tea?
Or both?






Thursday, October 26, 2006

Online novel.

I've decided to publish an online novel. Entitled Coda, it's something I'm working on as I labor to finish another novel which is close to completion.

My intent is to publish a new chapter or segment each week until it's done.

If you want to take a look, you can see it here, at JamesRobertSmith.net.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Look at him.

Look at Him
By
James Robert Smith


Look at that bastard
sitting there
in the waiting room
with those two volumes
of modern
poetry
reading like he’s some kind of
stuck-up snob.
Look at him!
He’s got a hardbound notebook!
One of those hoity-toity
composition books!
Look at him.
He opens it up on his fat damned lap
and writes in it.
Probably thinks he’s writing
some great, bloody poem.
What an asshole.

Wait a minute!
That’s me!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Man-Hater's wet dream destroys the forests.

Man-Hater’s wet dream destroys our Eastern forests.
By
James Robert Smith

Go see them while you can.

In several sections of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are stands of hemlock trees that were never cut when lumber companies were hacking their ways through our vast tracts of forest. These trees, while not on the order of California’s redwoods, are nonetheless impressive. To stand amidst them and look up at those evergreen branches, their trunks rising great all around, the ground carpeted in the redred rust of needles shed and coppering on the forest floor... Well, you have to go see it, I guess, to understand the experience. Words are not sufficient.

But if you want to see them, you’d better hurry.

A few decades ago, someone bringing Asian hemlocks to the area around Washington DC introduced a pest called the Hemlock wooly adelgid. A bug. Native to the Old World, this pernicious little whore is of a species that has no males. Like arthropod versions of the Tribble, they’re all female and all born with the ability to eat like a black hole and lay jillions of eggs that hatch into versions of their bitch mommas. America’s hemlocks have no resistance to them, and there is no native beetle to prey on the tiny cunts. So they have had their way with the hemlock forests of America’s east coast. The Park Service is doing what it can to stem the infestations, but it looks as if the hemlock is going to become as extinct as the American chestnut.

So. If you want to see these amazing stands of trees, then you’ll have to visit the Smokies within the next few years. After that, the trunks will still be standing, but they’ll be dead. I’ve asked folk who know where the most impressive stands are located in the park and I’ve been making an effort to see them over the past few years. Biologists are predicting the complete elimination of both the Eastern hemlock and the Carolina hemlock from our forests. If you’ve never seen a hemlock tree, you might not know how beautiful they are. They’re my favorite tree when I’m hiking and backpacking. Instantly recognizable. Always green, branches sheltering, growing very tall. I’ve seen hemlocks over 150 feet tall.

All around us, the Earth is telling us how sick it is. All around us. Our atmosphere is in turmoil, but those who control us claim otherwise. Our forests are sickening, but those who hold domain over them want to cut them down. Our wildlife is vanishing, but those who can help will not allow us to protect that life. The land itself is poisoned, but those who pull the strings won’t let us cleanse that land.

Do yourselves a favor and visit the hemlock forests of the Great Smoky Mountains and the Southeast before the only thing remaining of them are dead, drying husks that once were trees.

Yours,

Bob.


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Monday, October 23, 2006

James Dickey Wasn't Writing Metaphor: Gilmer County & Ellijay, Snookie Fodder

Dickey Wasn't Speaking In Metaphor
By
James Robert Smith

In what now seems to me to be a very long time ago in a place very, very far away, I lived with monsters.

My father, fleeing an arrest warrant in Macon, Georgia where he'd been convicted of selling Playboy Magazine and then breaking conditions of his subsequent release by selling another such magazine, took himself and what remained of his family to the mountains of northern Georgia. He had bought a one hundred and twenty acre tract of barely accessible land in a backwater county named Gilmer. There are one hundred and sixty-nine counties in the great state of Georgia. Gilmer may very well be one of the strangest.

My father's acreage was bounded on all but one side by land owned by the gigantic Rome-Kraft Paper Company. I recall that they had accidentally planted part of a grove of pines on our side of the property line. This amused me until I realized that at some time they must have "accidentally" crossed the line to cut the hardwoods that had formerly been there; you could see some mighty oak stumps that had once formed the basis for some impressive trees. Oh, well.
Our human neighbors were few and far between. Perhaps the term "mountaineer" would best describe these folk. Human seems not to be the correct word. Denizens, perhaps, seems much more appropriate. At any rate, we basically had no neighbors. Most of the inhabitants of those mountains had fled for the lowlands-- where there were jobs--during the decades leading up to the Great Depression, so there were less people living there in the 1970s than there had been at the turn of the century. Our nearest neighbor was more than two miles from our front door. Our driveway was a shade over a mile long.

It took many bulldozers many repeat visits and dump trucks many trips to level and gravel our driveway. I have no idea how much my father spent on that road, but it must have been a pile.
The first five or six loads of gravel were sucked up by the thick, clinging red clay as if they had been illusions. It was only in the second year we were there that the gravel stopped being devoured by the road. One would have supposed that the Earth there had enough rock in it.

Our property was studded with former home sites and the low walls of rock picked out of former fields by ignorant dirt farmers long ago. The houses were all gone, save for vague foundations amid the pines and red oaks. The walls that marked the boundaries of former fields were quite evident and indicative of the struggle between the poor bastards who had lived there and the damned land that didn't want to give up a decent living. Well, they were almost all gone, by then. The denizens, that is.

When my parents fled Macon on the wrong end of that arrest warrant issued by that motherfucker Mayor Ronnie Thompson, they had about $60,000 in the bank. Enough to scrape out that road into the wilderness and build us a three bedroom house way, way down in the farthest reaches of our land: a place my father called Bear Scare Valley (another story for another time).

I recall that my father thought that he would enjoy this land and the people who lived there. He had read much of the friendliness and the generosity of the mountain people. Many stories.

They were all lies.

Now, all these years later, I am convinced of something. After I left Gilmer County and the land and the people there became bad memories and tenacious nightmares, I read a book called DELIVERANCE, written by a man named James Dickey. It's funny, for while I was living in Gilmer County a movie was released based on Mr. Dickey's book. I'm convinced that the fictional town in his novel was Ellijay, in our very own Gilmer County. I'm convinced that his "Cahullowassee River" was actually the Coosawattee River, which was being dammed to create the Carters Reservoir. The seven hundred foot deep gorge we used to stand and look down upon is now a vast lake. A pity.

When I finally read that book and later viewed that movie, I was chilled with the familiarity of it all. He nailed that place and those folk, for I lived among them and can vouch as sordid fact the things he spelled out in those works. Thinking of it, I shudder. I recall the barely human things who lived in those isolated hills, their dialect a remnant of people long dead elsewhere in this country, their flesh warped and twisted like their minds by vicious inbreeding to the point of the closest of incestuous relationships, their minds little more than urges to survive, their brains merely lust generators.

My earliest exposure to these folk were rides on the school bus, which picked me up roughly at 6 am and deposited me many miles away at the high school some two and one half hours later. I repeated that ride each afternoon. I was only fifteen years old, a kid. I didn't know any better than to sit and take it. There were books to read, and I often conversed with the kids who rode with me. It only took me a week or so to decipher their dialect. "The Fire" was the Fair. When those kids kept asking me if I was going to "the fire", images of vast bonfires surrounded by pale, jabbering faces kept appearing in my mind. Oh, I finally surmised. The Fair. I didn't go.

Eventually, I made acquaintances with some of these kids. I can't call them friends, for I shared no true common interests with them, nor secrets. But people do what people can to exist in a normal way. One day, on the bus, I agreed with my younger brother and two of the local boys to go camping at a certain place along a small river called Talking Rock Creek, a tributary feeding into the Coosawattee River. We were going to descend the steep gorge down to the edge of the creek and sleep at the foot of a precipice called Cedar Cliffs by the locals.

Cedar Cliffs was an impressive formation. It loomed a good two hundred feet above the torrent of Talking Rock Creek. Pale and gray, it was a jagged, cave-pocked wall that stood horribly high, overlooking the whitewater that thrashed at its feet. Below it, just above the level of the creek, was a great overhang that afforded shelter from the rain; it was an ideal camping spot. We went.
My father took us in his pickup truck to gather the other two boys. My younger brother and I rode up front with him. When the two acquaintances from the bus tumbled into the back of the truck, my father emerged to help them load their quilts and pillows and other supplies. One stayed in back with their stuff, the other followed on a dirt bike. From a dark porch hanging onto a shack of a house, someone who may have been a parent watched us ride off with their son. As we bounced along the rutted logging road that led to the lip of the gorge behind Cedar Cliffs, my father looked back at our rider and then at me and he said, "You're going to learn about cleanliness on this trip." I saw that he was eyeing their quilts. Later, helping move stuff down the slopes beside the cliffs, I touched one of those quilts. I scrubbed my hands in the churning waters of Talking Rock Creek.

By mid-afternoon we four boys had our camp set up to our satisfaction. My father was long gone and there was only us: Myself, brother, D-- W-- K-- and R-- C--.

D-- W-- was a picture of inbreeding. His head was misshapen in a way that was hard to describe. One could only say that there was something not quite right about his skull. His skin was pale almost to the point that there didn't seem to be any pigment there. His hair, what there was of it in a thin thatch over that skull, was a dirty blond going to dark brown at the crown. His teeth, what there were of them, bucked out from his thick lips. Mostly they were yellow, but some of them were green. A lot of his teeth were gone, and a few of those that remained seemed to be hanging on out of spite of my eyes.

R-- C-- was short and solidly built. He was only about six inches over five feet tall, if that. His hair was thick, so thick that it formed a kind of cap on his ugly head. I could imagine rain shedding off of that brown stuff effectively. I'd heard that his parents dearly loved him, and unlike K--, his teeth were all in his head and his hair was regularly washed so that it did not mat on his scalp as D-- W--'s did. But his quilts were equally as filthy.

We spent the day exploring the cliff. We climbed up to the top and looked down at the caves which could be reached by way of a thin ledge but which I was afraid to venture upon. I'd heard that feral goats lived there, and sure enough I could see mounds of goat droppings outside of one of the caves. I also recall chasing lizards--green anoles fading to brown and back as we ran them down and into cover. They all got away. The fish were not so lucky, and we cooked them over a fire we built in our campsite beneath the overhang under Cedar Cliffs.

Darkness came.

We made pallets under the cliff. We talked well into the night, although I have absolutely no recollection of what was said. No recollection at all. We built up our fire and gathered wood and looked out into the darkness. The creek roared and splashed and we could hear nothing else but the creek. Talking Rock Creek spoke and blathered and never stopped. At last, though, we faltered and I fell into a deep and tired sleep. My younger brother to my back, I dreamed.

I awoke.

It was very dark. I was looking up at the roof of the overhang, uncounted tons of solid stone somehow supported as if my some Frank Lloyd Wrightian magic. The fire was almost out. Not quite, but almost. There was only the pitch-blackness of a moonless, overcast, starless night amidst the dark and piney woods. But for that faint, barely revealing luster of the fire's fading afterglow. It was almost as if the fire was loaning my immediate surroundings some kind of infrared gift of sight.

Had I heard a sound? No. No sound but the rushing water. Had I seen something? There was nothing but us. Nothing had moved. No one had risen. No one was mov..
In the dim orangey glow of the fire I could see something move. I peered across at the quilt-covered form of R-- C-- and DW K--. They were a clothed lump in the blackness; a mass, one might say. A single mass in the night. In the dark. Far and far and away down in the gorge at the foot of Cedar Cliffs beside the babbling scream of Talking Rock Creek.

It took a long time for me to comprehend. I was an innocent and naive fifteen-year-old.

The quilt rose. It fell.

It rose. Fell.

There was no sound. No sound, I tell you. No one spoke. No one grunted or squealed or even seemed to breathe.

There, far away from my home, from my mother and father, I was watching R-- C-- fuck DW K-- in the ass. As I realized this I felt the lump of fish in my stomach freeze like a tray of solid ice. And I recall that I slowly reached back to make certain that my little brother was still with me, still at my back.

Seconds passed. I realized that I was staring and so squinted my eyes so that no one could see anything reflected in them should they turn my way. A long time seemed to flow slowly by, unlike the water in Talking Rock Creek, which bubbled and roared on and on and on. The quilt rose. And it fell. I waited for it to stop, but it didn't. I thought of R-- C-- there, locked over DW's boney frame, and I wondered if he had a knife, if he were aware that I was awake, if he were human. I waited for that slow, almost bellows-like movement to end. I stopped watching.
Somehow, I made myself become drowsy. I felt that, somehow, if I let them know I was awake, that I was seeing what was happening, then something bad would happen. I wasn't physically afraid of the two: I felt I could fight them easily. I was taller and heavier and stronger than both of them. But they could even have brought a gun, I thought. And so, strangely, I not only became drowsy, I slept.

Morning came. I got up. DW and R-- were still asleep. My father was picking us up early there at the top of the gorge, and I was happy for that. Oh, man, was I happy for that. Quickly, my little brother and I gathered our stuff and began to take it up the steep trail to the top of the cliffs. "Ain't you'ns a-goin' to fish no more," DW called to us.
When my father came, my brother and I jumped a bit too eagerly into the truck. My father asked us if we had fun and we made small talk. "We caught some fish," I told him. "We cooked them over the fire."

The next day I was out at the edge of the woods that pressed in all around our little house down there in Bear Scare Valley at the end of that mile-long driveway with the nearest neighbor two miles away and the nearest paved road three miles away and the nearest phone five miles distant. My brother saw me out there and joined me as I sat in the brown and brittle forest floor.

"Did you see anything last night," he asked.

"What," I said.

"Did you see or hear anything last night?"

"No," I said. "What are you talking about?"

"Fuck yes, you did, too. You know damned well what I'm talking about."

"I don't know what you're talking about," I told him and retreated to the house.

In time, we all retreated completely from our mountain home. We abandoned it and sold it when my parents died. The locals savaged the place after we left. We had no way to secure it from the mindless creatures who inhabit those hills, and there was nothing to do but sell it away. By the time we left, my father held no more illusions concerning the “people” who exist in those green and stunted mountains in the north of Georgia. Dickey knows them. There are some who say that there is something of value in them. I hear that Don West, the working class poet that was spawned by this same Gilmer County professes some worthiness to these mountain folk. But, not I.

When I think of them, I think of their black and distrustful eyes shining dark and flinty out at you. I think of their filth and their rotted teeth and the dark, tilted hovels in which they spawned their offspring: children of their own, out of their own children. And I think of Talking Rock Creek blathering like a party of madmen. And I think of that quilt rising, like a great beast drawing breath; and falling, like a monster huffing. Rising and falling. Like that. Not stopping.
And I think of my own prudent silence. I made myself sleep. I kept my mouth shut, that night on Talking Rock Creek.

And, by God, Dickey wasn’t speaking in metaphor.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

When Messiahs Come

When Messiahs ComeBy
James R. Smith


When messiahs first
realize they are
special,
do they,
for instance,
as certain gays
taking those initial
tentative steps out of
the closet,
gather, perhaps,
a dozen pals,
and say to them, (shyly),
“So. Like, would you…
follow me?”

Friday, October 20, 2006

Ark

Ark
By
James Robert Smith


Species, going two by two
into Extinction’s black ark.
Trees
on LeConte
drinking poison rain.
The tall, once green trunks bleaching
white, bone white
dead
dry
in air, once cool
once good
now dangerous, biting, killing,
white death
blowing on and on.

I walk in sun,
dangerous,
that once fed us all
and now burns
in some new
sub-cellular
way.
I walk in sun
where shade was once,
protecting the earth,
providing cover,
making a canopy
that now is gone,
branches gone
needles gone
deep balsam fragrance gone.

Where are the little
red squirrels who once
chattered?
Who once gathered food?
Who once lived?
Where are they?
Gone to that black ark,
or on their ways,
some few stragglers hanging back
to say goodbye.

I walk up the mountain,
maybe walking like the red squirrels
up the ramp of that black ark?
Does anyone else see
it?
Don’t they know? Don’t they see
the trees,
my trees,
the forests of my youth
once tall and strong
climax rain forest clothing
the slopes like a black cloak
healthy and dark
the fragrance I can still recall
but barely,
barely as even the trees tilt
toward that ramp
that leads ever upward to
that black ark.

Everything is going.
Beautiful cats,
lynx, tiger, lion
once proud and numbering the
plains are fading fast.
The elephants, largest
that yet remain of the old
Pleistocene masses that
Man recalls, that Man destroyed
that Man will put away in that black ark
closing up the door as they go
two by two
to that final journey into
Oblivion
hastened by a poisonous mouth that has no
parallel in Greed
in Ignorance.

I stand on the peaks
and feel the poison clouds
enveloping me, invisibly
burning with a touch so feather soft
that it’s the perfect poison.
How can such a thing be deadly?
And I turn and look,
the trees,
our trees,
the forest of my youth,
once tall and strong and black
with green so green it was once
dark like shadows, dark like the pupils in
the eyes of patient tigers
lying in wait.

Only a few see. And they have
no power to
make things right. No power
to stop the poison
to close up the ark
to tear down that ramp
where the creations of
Creation are shoved
two by two
into the white, dead, sterile place
from whence there is no return.

I stand on that mountaintop
and I see the ramp!
I’m standing on it!
My son is standing on it! My family is standing on it!
You are standing on it!
Pushing all before you!
I’m doing it along with you. I’m nudging small
bodies, green things, large things,
needed things, unknown fellows we will never
now know for they will
be gone before we meet them.

And we’ll follow.
Going with our brothers,
Our sisters,
Our fellow creations
As one of two
by two
Into that white, dead place
in that great
black
ark.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

I used to know a Nazi.

I used to know a Nazi. Now, I mean the real deal. His name was Michael S--- and he was a German national who had been raised in Asia as an infant and then the USA. So he spoke flawless American-accented English. I was into several conversations with him before I knew he was a German and not an American.

Mike’s (he wanted me to call him Mike) family had been Nazi Party types, big time (as Dick Cheney would say). When the war was winding down, and the American troops were coming (they were lucky enough to have lived in what would be the American zone), his grandparents had to assemble family members and scramble to knock down the brick fa├žade on their rather large house because they’d redesigned it to include colored bricks forming an enormous swastika on one side of the ancestral home. They knew that the American troops would use it for target practice if they didn’t act quickly and get rid of it. They succeeded and the only thing the troops saw was a house with a pile of bricks on one side of it.

Mike thought that the Nazis were okay. They went “a little too far”, he would say. (I never told him that my mom was half-Jewish and this fact would have made me oven-fodder during the Reich.) Mike would bring in large maps that his uncles had given him, military maps that were handed out to soldiers before various campaigns. My favorite was “The Push to Norway”, which was given to all soldiers at the start of some Nordic campaign (which, I assume, ended with the installation of Mr. Quisling). I would look at Mike’s face as he gazed longingly at these maps. His favorite document, which I never saw, was his mother’s birth certificate, which was emblazoned with a “beautiful” Nazi swastika.

Mike would talk about his Uncle Otto who had fought in both World Wars, only to see his nation lose each time. “Talk about a bitter man,” Mike would tell me. You don’t say.

At any rate, the point of all of this is something Mike said to me that pissed me off at the time, but which fills me with dread now, and not for the reason most might think.

During one of our conversations that had degenerated into an argument, Mike told me, “Germany is going to get the eastern territories back”. I didn’t say anything to this, but merely gawked. “Next time, we’re going to get it right.” I gawked some more before reacting, angrily.

Now, I don’t for one second believe that Germany is going to try to retake any “eastern territories”. I don’t. Germans won’t go down that road again. (At least that’s what I believe.) What chills me now is the part about “getting it right”.

Doesn’t it stand to reason that some maniacs with lots of military, political, and economic power might try to take over the world, as many have tried (something only rarely, and anciently, having worked)? Doesn’t it stand to reason that there might arise some persons or group who would, at last, “get it right”?

America is currently in a totalitarian state that is doing just that. This time, these guys, this team, is going to “get it right”. They will allow limited so-called free speech (if, like The Clash said, you’re not actually dumb enough to use that right). No overt racist propaganda. There will be scapegoat-ing, yes, but no mention of vast concentration camps and extermination depots. They may scapegoat, and they may exterminate, but it will be done without overt racist propaganda.

Has it begun? Yep. Will they succeed? I don’t know. But I do know they think, with all of their dark, filthy hearts and poisoned, devious, scheming minds, that they have, at last, gotten it right.

Thanks for the tip, Mr. S---. Oh, and by the way, I’m glad your Uncle Otto died a bitter man.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Kittens.

"Kittens"By
James Robert Smith

When I first became a letter carrier, I never knew where I'd be delivering mail. That's the curse and the blessing of being a new Part Time Flexible employee of the USPS. The Part Time label is misleading. There's no "part time" about it. I’d do fifty plus hours a week. But the flexible: ah, there was the rub. Until I walked through the door in the morning and went to the desk of my supervisor, I didn't know precisely where I’d deliver the mail. It might’ve been to a neighborhood where the houses all cost over half a million bucks apiece and the streets are fifty feet wide and lined with hundred-year-old oaks. Or it could’ve been a public housing war zone with not a tree in sight and stray dogs roaming about looking for a mailman to bite, and crackheads trying to figure out a way to fool me into thinking they live in a unit where I'm about to deliver a welfare check they can steal. I never knew.

One day I had the best of both worlds. I delivered to a war zone, and I dropped mail among the jillionaires.

In the low income area I tromped about in the sun, the temperature as usual was well into the nineties and approaching one hundred. Sweat poured off of my head and into my eyes and soaked my clothes from shoulder to ankle. But I didn't mind. I only had to think of merely one of the minimum wage jobs I’d had before the Postal Service rescued me and I was resuscitated. So I moved along, went from house to house and watched for mean doggies in this strange place.
Along one of the streets I happened upon a yard in which a rather large Rotweiler strained against chain and collar to get at my flesh. I gave the big doggie perhaps a wider berth than was necessary. And there came a young voice from behind me. "Hey," it said. I turned my head as I continued to pound the steaming pavement and noticed a group of kids following me. About seven or eight kids, one of them a white boy who glided silently along with the others on his bike.

"Hey," I returned.

"Are you scared of that dog?" The speaker was the kid in front, bigger than the rest of them and I figured he was their leader.

"Heck, yes, I'm scared of that dog."

There was a moment of silence from the kid. None of the others said anything. I got the distinct impression that they'd never heard a grown man admit that he was afraid of something. Finally, he spoke up as I approached my next stop.

"I'm scared of him, too," the kid said.

"I'm scared of all dogs," I told them. "They can all bite."

The kid considered that for a second as I put the mail in the box on the front porch of the house and turned toward the next one. "You're scared of all dogs," he asked.

"Yep." I moved efficiently along and the kids followed me, silently.

"Are you scared of cats?"

I smiled. "Nope. Cats don't weigh one hundred pounds and bite your ass," I told him. He laughed.

"Well, goodbye," the kid said. And he and his partners peeled quietly away and vanished down a side street. I walked on.

At the next house in this "bad" neighborhood, as I walked up to the front porch, I noticed that the stairs and the porch itself were covered in kittens. Yes, kittens. Little, furry, delightful kittens. They all turned my way and mewed oh so faintly and made me want to take them home with me. As I stooped to pat a particularly friendly little tabby on its tiny head, the front door opened and out came a young black man.

He smiled at me, said "hi" and I returned the greeting and handed him his mail. He was dressed in a uniform and obviously works for a big landscaping company here in town. I asked him about the kittens. "What are you going to do with all of these kittens," I said. "Are you giving them away," I added before he can answer.

"Yeah," he told me. "You're welcome to one. Me and my wife are buying a house. Moving to a much better neighborhood," he added. "She feeds these cats and they take up here and start having kittens, and I don't want them at the new house so we're giving them all away."

"Wow. Did one cat have all these kittens? They all look the same age." I indicated the dozen or so baby cats lying about.

"No. Two cats." He pointed to a calico. "That one had all the colorful ones." And he showed me a yellow cat lying under a chair. "And she had all the dark ones. About a day apart."

"Well, I can't take one right now. I just started the day and a kitten would die in my jeep on a day like this. But can I come back some time and get one?"

"Yeah. Sure. Just come by after work and you can have one. We're moving soon. To a nice neighborhood," he reminded me.

I waved at him and said goodbye, left. As he drove off I mentally kicked my own ass for not introducing myself.

And this dumb little poem comes to me.

Kittens here and kittens there.
Kittens, kittens everywhere.
Kittens on the porch
and kittens on the lawn.
Kitten siblings and kittens' mom.
Now I don't know if this is bad,
but there was no sign of kittens' dad.


We all have our ways of staying sane. So, there. There was my day. Another typical day in the life of this mailman.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Next signing event.


My next author appearance will be Sunday, November 12 at the Charlotte Comic Con run by Dave Hinson (of Dave's Comics) and Rick Fortenberry. If you can't wait that long for a copy of the novel, you can try a local Barnes & Noble or Borders Books, or buy a copy online at Amazon.com or at Shocklines.om or Barnes & Noble Online or any of a number of other online sellers. Heck. Even Wal-Mart has it in stock!

A big thanks to all of the readers who are fueling the sales of The Flock!

Harry Potter and the Wage Slaves.

“HARRY POTTER AND THE WAGE SLAVES”
By
James Robert Smith

Well, it was a first for the Postal Service, as far as I knew. Granted, I’ve been with them less than ten years, but a standup talk concerning the legalities of delivering a newly released children’s book had to be unique.

There we were, called away from our cases where we’d all been busy getting the mail ready for delivery. These talks are almost a daily occurrence, yes, but they generally involve safety issues or changes in protocol. This time, however, the talk was about HARRY POTTER.

And the “something or other”.

The USPS had an exclusive contract to deliver some unknown hundreds of thousands of copies of this book. They were to be delivered on Saturday. The station manager reinforced this fact a number of times. “Saturday only,” he repeated. If we were to find any copy of the book in our parcel bins before said Saturday, we were to turn them in to our supervisor where they would then be locked in the manager’s office until the proper date.

Anyone caught delivering a HARRY POTTER (“and the something or other”) before the aforementioned Saturday would be fired.

That’s fired. Not spoken to. Not written up. Not disciplined.

Fired.

I returned to my case after the talk, sweating the possibility that one of the hideous novels might be in my parcel bin early and that I’d deliver it by accident to some horrid kid who would rat me out. It could happen, I supposed. How would I know if I had one? Aren’t they delivered in plain brown wrappers, I thought? I asked my shop steward about that.

“No,” he told me. “They have HARRY POTTER written on the package.”

“You’ve seen them?” I asked.

“No. But I’ve been told.”

Great. Something else to worry over. I began to think of them as something more like THE NECRONOMICON than a children’s book. Maybe one would worm its way into my mailbag and wreak havoc. When, an hour later, I was ready to hit the streets, I pawed through every package very carefully. Maybe my skin would crawl when I touched one. There were a number of brown boxes in there from Amazon and B&N. None of them had ‘HARRY POTTER’ printed on them. Cool. I was safe.

But the USPS is notorious for blaming employees for events far beyond the control of those employees. I’d been dressed down for not delivering mail that arrived in the office long after I’d left for the street. As if I could do anything about it. Cold sweats again, so I pushed it out of my mind.

Saturday, the books arrived. I had a dozen of the little bastards. HARRY POTTER & THE SOMETHING-OR-OTHER. My shop steward was right: it was printed on the outside of the packages. I got the mail ready and hit the streets. I placed the novels in mailboxes, put them on porches, leaned them against doorjambs and rang the bells.

I handed one over to a mom who happened to be waiting at the door. She called to her daughter. “Your Harry Potter book is here,” she yelled. A blond-headed ten-year-old appeared from within the air-conditioned depths of the house. “Oh my God,” the little girl yelled. “It’s here!”

Indeed.

My job was safe for another day. But, last week, word in the office was that more than one letter carrier had been fired for delivering that damned book a day early. Anecdotal material, unverified by either management or union, but there it was.

All I cared was that I was home free. Harry Potter be damned.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Some Day.

Some Day
By
James Robert Smith

I feel that the day
may arrive when
I will see distant peaks and
not wish to climb them.

I may one day see a
pretty girl and
just see a
person.

A day could arrive
when the wind blows
through trees, rushing through
leaves and the forest will not
call my name.

A sun could rise over
sparkling waters and I
will not wish to
plunge in.

A morning may dawn
and I will awaken
and my legs will ache
too much to take me
down paths
through woods
in valleys
on trails
atop ridges
that overlook
the world.

I hope that morning,
that sun,
that day
if it comes
will be far and far and far
away.





Offline.

I've been offline for some days. My wife and I went camping at Hurricane Campground in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area in Virginia. Considered one of the finest National Forest campgrounds, it deserves its ranking. I'll add a new blog after I organize from the drive home.




Thursday, October 05, 2006

Human Nature: I Must not be Incuded.

Human Nature:
I Must Not Be Included

By
James Robert Smith

I went out to eat dinner at a seafood restaurant with Carole, her mom, her dead brother’s daughter, and her Aunt H-- and Uncle S--. As usual at these gatherings of my in-laws I just sat there and listened—I don’t generally have anything to add to conversations about people of whom I know nothing. But Carole’s Aunt H-- began telling a brief story about another Aunt: P--. Now, P-- I do know. She’s about as horrid a person as I’ve ever met. Pure snob, bossy, and completely without tact: a classic example of the self-centered jackass. I loathe her.

Apparently, another relative had died (don’t ask me who, but she was rich), and P-- had hoped to inherit some money from this relative, but didn’t. So, still trying to butt her way into the death situation, she sat down and wrote an obituary, which she wanted to be placed in the local paper. But she wasn’t in a position of authority for this, and so had to hand it off to the woman, a cousin, who had been named in the dead relative’s will as the sole beneficiary of a couple of million dollars. When the obituary did appear in the paper, it was obvious to P-- that the one she had labored over had been cast aside and a new one written. This angered her. (And quite amused me.)

Since I assumed, from the catty quality of the story being related by H--, that H-- didn’t care for P-- any more than I do, I smiled, and blurted:

“Aunt P--: She puts the bitch in obituary!”

This went over like a fever blister. No one laughed, or smiled, or said anything. Carole revealed to me a bit later, after we left, that H-- and P-- are as tight as Jennifer Lopez’s jeans. Which doesn’t, however, preclude her from telling catty tales of P--.

Oh, well. I thought it was funny.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

"Screwdriver Throat", a script.

In earlier days, I wrote comic scripts from time to time. It was good work, if you could find it. Eventually, I couldn't quite get my foot in the door and went back to short stories and novels.

In my quest to expand the range of what I was selling to the comics industry, I wrote some true-story type things and some humor scripts. This one, "Screwdriver Throat" is both: based on an actual event related to me by an ambulance driver who worked that job in the 1960s.

I don't submit comic scripts anymore, so this is likely the only place I'll ever publish this. Take a look.




Screwdriver Throat
By
James Robert Smith


Page One

Panel One: Outside shot of an ambulance, circa 1959. An old Corvair.

Panel Two: Cab shot of the two occupants. POV from front looking in? We need to see their faces. There's Jimmy, wearing sideburns, black hair brylcremed back, trying to look like Elvis but too creepy to achieve anything approaching the right feel. (Looks kind of like a redneck Frankenstein monster). He's riding. The driver is Eddie, light-haired, taller, leaner, cleaner cut, normal looking guy.

Panel Three: Closeup of the dashboard. There's a police band radio in there. Eddie's hand can be seen adjusting the volume.
Radio: Attention! Suicide attempt at 118 Cranberry Lane. Male, 17 years of age. Proceed.

Panel Four: Close-up of Jimmy, smiling. We can see that he has at least two teeth missing.
Jimmy: Yee-HA, champ! Somethin' to do!

Page Two

Panel One: Outside shot of the ambulance, lights flashing. Speed marks.

Panel Two: Inside the cab with Eddie and Jimmy. Eddie doesn't look as happy.
Eddie: Shit. I hate suicide attempts. I feel like we're wasting our time. You know?
Jimmy: Whatchoo mean? Suicide or accident or medical emergency, it's all the same to me.

Panel Three: Eddie is driving with one hand and gesticulating with the other, pointing with some force at Jimmy who's flinching back, against his door.
Eddie: Bullshit! These dumbasses try to kill themselves and we have to run off and see to them, when we could be helping some poor kid who's been hit by a car or someone who's got hurt at work. But instead, we're out here running after some loser who can't take it anymore.

Panel Four: Jimmy has his hands up, as if to shield himself from Eddie's pointing finger.
Jimmy: Whatever you say, Buddy.
Eddie: And stop calling me "Buddy". I ain't your buddy!

Page Three

Panel One: Outside shot again of the ambulance. They're really tearing down the street. They're obviously in a notsogood neighborhood. (Everything circa late 50s.)

Panel Two: Jimmy has a map out, looking at it. Eddie seems to be glancing at Jimmy.
Eddie: Where the hell is it, Jimmy?
Jimmy: Shit. I should have known.
Eddie: Oh, no. Don't tell me. Don't say it.

Panel Three: Close-up on Jimmy's face. He appears to be uttering these words with some amount of insane glee.
Jimmy: Branford's Trailer Park! Yee-HA!

Panel Four: Side shot from driver's side, looking toward Jimmy. Eddie actually has loosened the steering wheel and has his face buried in his hands. Jimmy is staring at Eddie, eyes-a-popping.
Eddie: Shit! I hate that place! It's nothing but trouble! Last time we were there I got cut!
Jimmy: Grab the wheel! Jesus, Eddie!

Page Four

Panel One: Shot of the ambulance veering off the street and into a late 1950s era trailer park. A bad trailer park. Maybe the worst trailer park you can imagine.

Panel Two: Eddie is hunched over the steering wheel, peering ahead, squinting. They're at a kind of shitty dirt road intersection with trailers all crammed in together.
Eddie: What does that one say? Is that one Cranberry Lane? Jesus. Why do they give them these nice sounding names? They ought to call them Shit Road, or Crime Avenue or Fuckstick Way. Not Cranberry Lane! Bastards!

Panel Three: A ground level shot of an ambulance tire splashing into a pothole. We can see the trailer park's roads are all dirt.

Panel Four: Cab shot. Jimmy is pointing.
Jimmy: There it is! Cranberry Lane! I've been here! I thought it sounded familiar.
Eddie: You've been here? Why the hell would you come here?
Jimmy: Me and Mary almost moved in here. But I didn't like the trailer that was for rent. There was shit smeared on the bedroom wall.
Eddie: Give me a break!

Page Six

Panel One: The ambulance is pulling up in front a trailer that has a big crowd standing around it. Trailer trash, circa 1959. A lot of them look like Jimmy. Lots of little kids around, with bikes, fingers up their nostrils, etc.

Panel Two: Jimmy and Eddie are out of the ambulance, Eddie with his little emergency first aid kit. Eddie is addressing a fat woman standing there, baby in one arm, foot in a puddle.
Jimmy: Lady, do you know who needs our help? Who needs aid?

Panel Three: The fat lady is pointing toward a male figure who seems to be staggering out of the crowd around him. We can see his denimed legs and bare feet, but his face is obscured by fat lady's pointing hand.

Panel Four: Half body shot of the guy. We see him from waist up. I guess we can also see some people in the background. The guy's head is tilted back and there's a HUGE, heavy duty screwdriver sticking handle up, out of his mouth, which is held wide open to accommodate the screwdriver handle jutting out.
Caption: That's him. Dickey Wayne Crump!

Page Seven

Panel One: Eddie is standing there looking at the guy who, though his head is tilted at this crazy angle, is giving Eddie a really nasty stare.
Eddie: Can you sit down, sir? Can you sit down so I can help you?
Dickey Wayne: Uck oo! Uck oo! Uck e-ee-un!

Panel Two: Eddie is being shoved back by the guy.
Dickey Wayne: UCK OO, AN! UCK OO, AH ED!

Panel Three: Eddie is sitting on his ass in the mud. The guy standing over him.
Dickey Wayne: Uck oo.

Panel Four: Jimmy and Dickey Wayne in this panel. Jimmy has approached screwdriver-throat, his hands up in supplication, smiling his gap-toothed smile, his Elvis sideburns showing. Screwdriver-throat is looking at Jimmy, but no glaring at him.
Jimmy: Shit, man. That screwdriver looks like it hurts. Why don't you let us get that damn thang out your throat, man. Then you can tell us what's goin' on around here. How about it?

Page Eight

Panel One: We see Jimmy and Eddie sitting down on the front step of the trailer, the guy in between them.
Jimmy: We're going to get that thing out of your throat, now. Okay?
Guy: O Ay.
Eddie: You hold the back of his head, and I'll get that thing out of him. Hold tight, now. One. Two.

Panel Two: We see the guy's head. We can see Jimmy's hands holding the guy's skull. Eddie has a good grip and is pulling back. The screwdriver is already halfway out in this shot. Kind of sloppy, I would assume. (Some blood around the guy's mouth, etc.)
Eddie: Three!
Sound effect: Skuk! (or some similarly attractive noise)

Panel Three: Eddie is putting the screwdriver in a plastic bag, while the guy and Jimmy are still sitting there on the step.
Eddie: We're going to take you downtown to the hospital, man. What's your name? Dickey Wayne Crump, right?
Dickey Wayne: Fuck you, man. I ain't going anywhere.
Eddie: Well, you're going with us, like I said.

Panel Four: The guy has stood, hands like claws, an insane expression on his face, eyes wide as platters. Eddie is jumping back, Jimmy is half standing.
Guy: I'm gonna kill myself! I hate my fucking brother! I'm gonna kill myself if I can't kill him! You hear me! I hate my brother! I hate him! I'm gonna kill myself if I can't kill him!

Page Nine

Panel One: Long shot. Eddie is actually running back toward the ambulance. Jimmy seems to be standing coolly by while Dickey Wayne waves his arms wildly and looks like a crazy man.

Panel Two: Half shot of Dickey Wayne and Jimmy. Jimmy is smiling, his eyes actually half shut, as if almost bored.
Jimmy: Shit, man. I hate my brother, too.
Dickey Wayne: Huh?!

Panel Three: Jimmy has his arm around Dickey Wayne's shoulder, and Dickey Wayne is looking at Jimmy with some trust, blood trickling out of his mouth.
Jimmy: Yeah, I hate my stinking brother. He's a complete asshole. I'd like to kill him. He messes up my whole life. Now, how about goin' with us down to the hospital. So the doctor can take a look at your throat.
Dickey Wayne: Yeah! I know what you mean! That sounds just like my brother!
But I ain't goin' to no hospital until I can kill my brother.
Jimmy: Well...what if I help you kill your brother?

Panel Four: Jimmy and Dickey Wayne are climbing into the back of the ambulance, the doors of which Eddie is holding open for them.
Jimmy: I've thought about killing my brother many a time. I'd be happy to help you kill your brother.
Dickey Wayne: Really? You'd really help me kill that bastard? I'd really appreciate it, man. What's your name?
Jimmy: Alan.
Dickey Wayne: Man, Alan. You're my friend! Yeah, I'll go with you to the hospital. We can talk about killing my damn brother on the way. Okay?

Page Ten

Panel One: The ambulance is pulling up to the hospital. Emergency entrance.

Panel Two: We see the two ambulance drivers and Dickey Wayne. Back shot as they walk down a corridor. Some nurses, doctors in the background.
Dickey Wayne: You think it would be easier to kill him with a rope? I don't think that would be easy, at all. I think we ought to use a gun. I wish I had a shotgun. My dad had a shotgun, but he took it with him when he lit out on us. I was only twelve when he done that. Left us, I mean.
Jimmy: Nah. Gun makes too much noise. Rope's much better. Make a trap that can choke him when he comes up the stairs.
Dickey Wayne: The stairs?

Panel Three: Dickey Wayne is lying in a hospital bed. The nurse is wrapping tape around his wrists, taping them to the metal rails around the bed.
Dickey Wayne: What about stabbing him? I was gonna stab him with that screwdriver.
Jimmy: I don't think they're gonna give that back to you, man.

Panel Four: Jimmy seems to be eyeing Dickey Wayne's wrists, which a nurse is still taping to the bedrail.

Panel Five: Inset. Very close-up shot of Dickey Wayne's wrist with the tape around it.

Page Eleven

Panel One: Jimmy is addressing the nurse, who has finished taping Dickey Wayne's wrists and is looking at a chart in her hands. Dickey Wayne seems to be zoned out. Eddie is standing there, too.
Jimmy: (whispering) Ma'am. I don't think that tape is goin' to hold that boy down. He's right agitated.

Panel Two: The nurse, a pretty but snooty bitch, is giving Jimmy a withering glare.
Nurse: That tape has held men much larger than this young boy. I think you should keep your comments to yourself unless you know what you're talking about.

Panel Three: Close-up of Jimmy's face. He's fuming! He's really pissed. Eddie is standing behind him, kind of sneering at Jimmy.
Eddie: Yeah, man. She knows what she's doing. Mind your own business. Sometimes I can't figure whey they put me with a dumbass like you.

Panel Four: The nurse and Eddie are leaving the room. Jimmy still looks pissed.

Page Twelve

Panel One: Jimmy is standing at the foot of Dickey Wayne's bed. Dickey Wayne's eyes are shut.
Jimmy: Dickey Wayne?
Dickey Wayne: Hunh? Whu? Whut izzit?

Panel Two: Dickey Wayne's eyes are half opened, and he's looking at Jimmy.
Jimmy: Dickey Wayne. You couldn't kill your brother, even if you tried.

Panel Three: Close-up shot of Dickey Wayne's face. Eyes wide. Mouth a frozen grin, all teeth showing. Spit flying.
Dickey Wayne: AAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRGHHHHHHH!!!!!

Panel Four: Dickey Wayne is shooting up out of the bed, the tape like so much air. Jimmy is scooting out the door.

Panel Five: Jimmy is running down the hallway, Dickey Wayne in pursuit, orderlies and the nurse chasing Dickey Wayne.
Nurse: Catch him! Oh, catch him!
Jimmy: It's held bigger men eh? Hoo hoo!
Dickey Wayne: I'll kill you!

THE END

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Etiquette

Etiquette
By
James Robert Smith


According to Robert Graves, that nastiest of curses (you know, the one that begins with “f”) is derived from the Celtic word fachen, which means, literally, to seize.

I had been holding down the route of another carrier who was out on maternity leave. She was going to be gone for a couple of months, so I was getting spoiled doing her route. It was a nice one in a safe, secure neighborhood with lots of trees and wide lawns. A pleasure to walk.

One particular elderly couple had taken to talking to me every day. Eventually, they began to expect me to take a seat on their porch if the weather was really hot and humid and they’d offer me a glass of tea or a soft drink so I could cool off for a few minutes and talk with them. They liked square dancing and, it ended up, had met my in-laws who were also into that.

I enjoyed the brief respites from the labor of lugging the mail across that section of the route. On the occasions when they weren’t at home, they would leave me a canned soft drink in the mailbox and it would always be frosty since it would be in one of those can insulators. I’d take the drink and the packet of crackers that would also be left for me. It was all rather pleasant.

The only drawback to this section of the route was a particularly nasty Dalmatian that lived across the street from the old couple. I’d have to pass the dog each day and it would roar and bear its fangs at me and I always thought blessed be the fence-builders, for my ass is safe. But I knew that if that dog ever got out, I’d be in big trouble. Some dogs, you just know are going to tear you apart if they get the chance. This was one of those.

A day came; you get into a groove after a while and it’s all very comfortable doing a route. You cross this street, you walk through this yard, you detour around this flowerbed, and you walk up this set of steps. The day was nice, not too hot, and partly cloudy, I was happy and oblivious and across the street from the old couple’s house. I walked past the fence where the Dalmatian usually waited to snarl, growl, and slobber at me. But he wasn’t there and I figured he was in the house.

I was wrong.

The dog came roaring at me as I approached the front steps. He was out in the yard and I didn’t see him until he was bearing down on me full speed. The dog’s owner was standing about twenty feet away, watching, talking on a cell phone. I froze. The owner continued to stand and talk. The dog ran toward me and all I could see were teeth.

Just about the only thing you can do in a situation like this is to get your mailbag between your flesh and the dog’s jaws. At the last possible instant, I was able to do this. I dropped the mail I was carrying and put my satchel as a barrier between my flesh and the dog’s muzzle. The dog bit the mailbag instead of me, tore at it, and actually tugged me from side to side (and I’m not a small man).

I looked up. The owner was still talking on the phone, casually, as if nothing was going on.

The dog let go of the bag and lunged at my legs. And once more I got the bag down low enough so that he got a mouthful of canvas instead of my calves. I screamed for some help from the dog’s owner who continued to chat on the cell phone. There was another lunge, and the Dalmatian got canvas again, tearing at it.

Finally, the dog’s owner put the phone in his pocket and walked over, very casually, as if this were no big deal. He grabbed the dog by the collar and pulled him away, the hound slobbering and snapping and growling all the while until he was shoved into the house.

The dog’s owner stood at the front door and looked at me, saying nothing. I looked at him.

And at the top of my lungs I burned his ears with my rage. I stood there, surrounded by the mail I’d had to drop to defend myself while he talked on his cell phone. Larry Flynt wouldn’t print what I yelled. The dog owner said nothing and retreated into the house while I picked up the scattered letters and magazines.

Shaken, my head aching, the blood pounding in my ears, I continued my route. It was some time before my heart stopped hammering in my chest. Back at my postal vehicle, I just sat and collected my wits. This happens a lot, but I never get used to it. All you can do is try to put it out of your mind.

The next day, the dog was behind the fence again. No one else was there. I delivered that mail and crossed the street to the old couple’s house. The woman opened the door a crack as I was placing the mail in the box.

“Hello,” she said to me from behind the door. I could just see her in the space she had opened.

“Hi,” I said. “How are you today?”

She ignored the greeting. “Was that you yesterday yelling across the street?”

“Oh. Yes, ma’am. The guy over there let his dog out on me and wouldn’t get it off of me.”

She closed the door without another word.

I never saw either of them again, and that was the end of the soft drinks and packs of crackers waiting for me in their mailbox.

Seize the day.

Monday, October 02, 2006

When I Worked at That Warehouse.

When I Worked At That Warehouse.
By
James Robert Smith


We were on the
labor crew.
on the loading dock.
Six of us.
All of us either small and wiry
or big and stocky.
50/50 split.
We’d get in before first light
and struggle with huge
boxes
with desks
filing cabinets
heavy stuff.
We’d do this for
eight hours
reeking of sweat and blood.
Then we’d clock out
together
and go squinting
into the bright daylight.
I wanted us all to raise
our arms into the air
and sing
and dance
and skip
like big faggots to our
cars.
But we never did.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

By Jove!

By Jove
By
James Robert Smith


My father
and my uncle Ersley
were arguing about the
existence of
God
in 1965 in
my uncle’s
sweltering beach house.

There they were,
the two of them
at the dining room table
as I sat
on a couch
dozing,
eight years
old.

My father,
in 1965 already
an aging
30s-era
communist.

My uncle,
a former Grand
Dragon
of the
KKK.

Brothers, yes.
Despite all, they still
loved
one another.

The argument,
(no yelling),
was winding down.

“If you’re about to die,
you might say ‘Oh my God’,”
my uncle argued.
“This shows that there
is someone
up there.”

“Yeah, and you might say,
‘Goddamn’,”
my father said.

Sitting on the couch,
dozing,
I smiled to myself
in the shadows.

My father won that
argument,
By Jove.