Archive for January, 2011

It’s a story I know I’ve told before, but for some reason I felt like tackling it as a poem. I was in college. desperate for a job, any job.  There was a cafe in Berkeley taking applications. Seemed straightforward enough…

job interview #1

chuck taylors
worn levi’s
white cotton oxford

nothing too new
nothing dirty

applicants daily
between one and two
see jan

“why?” says jan
“everyone here
seems happy.”
jan smirks

“we audition
the position”

rubber apron
spray and load
unload, stack, repeat

scalding dishes
heat-burnt fingers
sweat soaked shirt

kitchen staff
shake their heads

“sorry,” says jan
“here’s a coupon.
lunch on us.”

lessons learned:

true dishwashers
don’t audition

smirking isn’t


And as a matter of fact, i did have experience as a dishwasher for the student co-op I lived in, but there was something else going on, I later learned. They “auditioned” lots of applicants whenever they were short-staffed and needed people to give their dishwasher’s a lunch break. Taking advantage of children and young adults in the workplace, a Great American Tradition since the dawn of the Industrial Age!

It’s Poetry Friday again, all covered in whipped cream and other delights.  Elaine at Wild Rose Reader has the roundup this week.

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King Obvious

There once was a king with out a name who had three daughter: Nina, Pinta, and his youngest and most beloved, Santa Maria. This king didn’t have a name because it’s not his story.  Let’s call him King Lear.  Forget him.

Nearby was another king who did have a name, King Ironhead.  Clearly he named himself, though he could have called himself King Cherrypicker, King Hammerhead, King Codpiece or anything else befitting a king of such arrogance.  For this the people just called him King Obvious.

This King Obvious was the love-em-and-leave-em sort, and everyone knew it.  When there was even a rumor that King Obvious was on the prowl entire villages suddenly became ghost towns. King Lear knew this and expressly instructed his daughters never to let King Obvious within the castle walls.  This both infuriated King Obvious, and if the girls had kept him out of the castle the story would be over right here.

A war erupted, and King Lear left his daughters behind because this is the way men behave.  As a parting gift, perhaps as tokens to remember him by in case he died, he gave them each a dove, a ruby, and a rosemary bush (clearly King Obvious didn’t have a monopoly on symbolism) and warned them that if they couldn’t produce these gifts upon his return then he would know they lost their virginity. Of course, he assumed they still had their virginity to begin with, and if he didn’t return the whole virginity question would be moot.

Not trusting his daughters at all, King Lear locked them in the castle and rigged a basket in a rope from a high window in order for them to retrieve food.  And with a warning wag of his finger he was off for war.  So thoughtful of him.

King Obvious was not pleased. He probably instigated the war that King Lear went off to fight, because for some reason he felt no obligation to fight this particular battle.  No, he most likely created false pretenses for the war so he could find some way to deflower the daughters of King Lear.  But what to do about this problem of girls in the high tower?

Well, naturally, he disguised himself as a woman and crawled into the food basket.  And just to make sure the girls hauled him up he moaned and groaned.

“Oh, woe!  I am an old woman in a basket! I am dying of cold and hunger! Oh, dear girls, please help a horny old lady!”

“Did she say thorny?” said Nina?

“I think she said lonely,” said Pinta.

And since the older girls were as dumb as tree stumps they ran to Santa Maria to settle their argument.

“Listen,” said Santa Maria, “That’s probably a wolf dressed up as someone’s granny down there.  Just toss down some old bread crusts and ignore her.”

But because the older girls were a pair of dunderheaded tree weasels they decided to a good deed and haul up the old woman to show Santa Maria how wrong she was about the old woman.  Ah, but you probably guessed what happened next.  King Obvious jumped out of he basket, whipped of his disguise and shouted “Ha Hah!  Now I’ve got you, my pretties!”

Then he added.

“Here’s the deal.  Let’s play spin the bottle and the loser has to spend five minutes in the closet with me.”

“Five minutes?” snorted Santa Maria.  “I’ve heard it’s more like two minutes.”

“That’s it!  You lose, insolent brat!  Into the closet!”

“Can I have a few minutes to prepare myself?”

“Naturally.  It isn’t like I suspect you’re going to try to trick me or anything.”

With that, Santa Maria went to her room and moved all her furniture to the privy. Now what you have to understand about castles is that while they didn’t have plumbing they did have indoor toilets.  Mostly they were old wooden thrones with holes cut in their seats placed over a massive stone pit that emptied into the moat down below.  All Santa Maria did was arrange the privy room so it looked like her bedroom (albeit a bit small) with a run carefully placed over the privy hole.  Then she took off several layers of clothing and arranged herself on the bed before calling King Obvious in.

“Come join me, dear King,” Santa Maria said, patting the space on the bed next to her.

“Oh no,” said King Obvious.  “I know you’ve cut a hole in the mattress so that I fall through to the moat.  No, you come here and join me on the rug—”

And with that, King Obvious fell into the castle sewage with no way out but to swim out.

Furious, he summoned a sorcerer.  The idea was to torture Santa Maria by attacking her sisters.  His plan was to make Nina and Pinta pregnant and desire only things that belonged to King Obvious.

“You don’t need me for that,” said the sorcerer. “Those girls would believe anything you told them, and you can get them pregnant for yourself.”

Which he did, though how is beside the point right here.

Needless to say, soon the pregnant girls began having strange cravings.  The wanted apples and figs and other obvious symbols of Original Sin from Christianity, and it just so happened that King Obvious possessed just those fruits by the orchard.  But since the girls were still locked up in the castle, and he knew the only one who could shimmy up and down the rope from their high window was Santa Maria, he devised a clever torture device to get back at her.

Get this: It was a barrel lined with nails that once you climbed inside you could not climb out without severe injury.  The plan was to lure Santa Maria to come collect some fruit in place of her feeble-minded sisters and then punishing her for stealing his fruit by forcing her to go head-first into the barrel. Do you want to guess how much this didn’t work?

Using an old trick from a Punch and Judy show she once saw, Santa Maria convinced King Obvious to (are you ready?) show her how to do it.  So King Obvious, who was clearly a dolt, dove into the barrel and got himself stuck.  Oh, he howled and howled, and his servants were slow to help him out.  The official line was that he had instructed them to ignore any wailing because he wanted Santa Maria to suffer, but it’s probably closer to the truth that his servants were as fed up with him as everyone else and left him there for a bit.

Unhappy that King Obvious would go to such lengths to harm her, Santa Maria took it upon herself to rub it in.  She posed as a doctor and made herself available to help King Obvious and showed up with a giant ox skin soaked in vinegar.  The King, desperate to heal from his self-inflicted stupidity, overlooked that the doctor looked suspiciously like Santa Maria.  The “doctor” insisted that King Obvious be left alone and that after she administered her “medicine” the king’s servants were not to respond if the king cried out in pain.  The servants, sensing something dastardly was about to happen to their king, retreated to the cellar and proceeded to drink themselves into a stupor.

Santa Maria took the ox skin and sewed King Obvious into it like a giant cocoon with just his head sticking out.  “An hour or so of that will do you good,” she said.  Shortly after she left the vinegar from the hide began to soak into and sting the king’s wounds and he howled like a man possessed.  In the middle of the night, when one of the passed out servants awoke from his drunken stupor to hear the wailing of the king, he wrote it off as a pair of nearby bears mating and went back to sleep.
King Obvious eventually passed out from the pain and was delirious for a week afterward.

It just goes on and on like this, with King Obvious four more times trying to catch Santa Maria and always managing to be bested by her, sometimes in the most gruesome of exchanges.  If people took joy in the sadism of these accounts, of watching great leaders taking a tumble, than surely this must be something locked deep into our reptile brains.  At one point Nina and Pinta have their ill-begotten love children and Santa Maria devises a way secretly dump them on King Obvious, who promptly stuffs them into a corner where they’re forgotten.

Finally, King Lear returns and the first thing he wants to see are the gifts he left them.  Santa Maria goes first and produces her dove, her ruby, and her rosemary bush and the king is satisfied.  She quickly hands her gifts to Pinta who presents them as her own because, clearly, she’s no longer a virgin and her dove is gone and her rosemary bush has gone all… woody, or something.  Then Nina comes in and tries to pass off Santa Maria’s dove and ruby and bush off as her own and—

“Hold on a second,” says King Lear.  “I want to see all your birds and bushes at the same time.”

At which point the older sisters fall to their knees crying and confess and beg their father for forgiveness. Naturally, he’s pissed, and once he learns that King Obvious was responsible he charges next door to give him a good piece of his mind.

“Father!” King Obvious shouts as King Lear enters his chamber.

“Uh, what?”

“I was just trying it out, calling you dad.  Sounds nice.  I like the ring of it.”

“I don’t follow.”

“I want to marry Santa Maria!  That would make you my father!”

“Oh.  Well.  That’s just fine!”

Somehow the fact that he’d deflowered his other two daughters is as forgotten as the offspring they produced, and kings being what they were they set about planning the wedding.

“I have no intention of marrying that lout!” said Santa Maria.

But her father didn’t care, and so the wedding went ahead as scheduled.

Of course, Santa Maria had one final prank to pull on King Obvious.  On the night of her wedding she had a lambskin sewn to her shape and size and filled it with the entrails of all the beasts served at her nuptial meal. She carefully placed it in her bed and threw the covers over it so it looked like her, then climbed under the bed and waited.  King Obvious came in, doused the candles, and proceeded to get undressed. As he stood there fully naked he cleared his throat to catch his wife’s attention.

“Lay down your dagger and draw up your sword, oh husband.”

“What dagger?”

“That one I can see clearly in your hand.  Or is that… oh! I see!  It’s like when they call a bald man curly.  King Ironhead?  Henceforth, husband, I shall call you King Pollywog!”

“Draw up my sword, you say?”

King Obvious reached over and grabbed his broadsword and hacked away at the fake wife in his bed until it was a gory mess.  When he was done, when he realized that he’d killed the one person who could outsmart him, he was beside himself with grief.  He was so upset that he turned his sword upon himself and as he watched his life drain out before him Santa Maria crawled out from under the bed to watch.

“I will miss our sparring, King, but you will not be missed,” Santa Maria said.

While the rest of the kingdom slept, Santa Maria loaded up a carriage full of gold and disappeared, never to be heard from again.

And she lived happily ever after, but everyone else was left guessing.


c. 2011 david elzey


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#poetryfriday: in flu

I’m about 99% over the flu now.  I was in denial for a long time about having the flu this season because I really had the full-blown flu back in 2001 and that practically killed me. I had fever and hallucinations for days and i vowed I would never call an illness the flu unless is truly was as brain-boiling as that last time.  This year I apparently caught a strain that didn’t involve fever but left me feeling pretty cruddy at times.

Anyway, I was combing some computer files and I found something I wrote about five years ago with a title I didn’t recognize.  Turns out “What a Mess” is actually a poem I wrote about having the flu!  Clearly it needed some work (and a new title) but it seemed to have found me at the right moment all these years later, and so.

in flu

When your ears fall off in the middle of the night,
And they slip beneath the mattress
Where they’re hidden from your sight,
Can you hear the bedbugs chomping,
Or the dust bunnies clip-clomping?
When your ears fall off in the middle of the night.

When your nose drops off as you’re getting out of bed,
And goes running to the closet
Where it hides behind a sled,
Do you slip upon the trail
That it leaves just like a snail?
When your nose drops off as you’re getting out of bed.

When your tongue rolls out and flops down on the floor,
And it slithers like a python
As it ripples toward the door,
Do you round it up like cattle
In heroic epic battle?
When your tongue rolls out and flops down on the floor.

When your eyes pop out while you’re sitting there in class,
As they skitter off the table
Where they shatter just like glass,
Do you put them back together
With glue made from old shoe leather?
When your eyes pop out while you’re sitting there in class.

As your head caves in sometime shortly after noon,
When your brains ooze out your ear holes
And you catch them with a spoon
And your skull has turned to chowder
And your teeth have ground to powder
As your head deflates like an empty old balloon…

There’s no way you can deny it
So you must admit it’s true
That it’s not some crazy diet
You are dealing with the flu!

Poetry Friday, and all the poems you can eat! (it’s a Bugs Bunny reference, sort of.) Tara at A Teaching Life has the roundup today.  Head on over for more goodness!

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Sausage and Mouse were the best of friends and were inseparable. They were poor but happy and lived together in their tiny little flat.  Once a week they would set up two large vats of hot water by the fire, one to bathe in and one to cook their weekly supply of boiled cabbage.  One week Mouse would bathe and then go to church while Sausage stayed home and boiled the cabbage, the following week Sausage would bathe and go to church while Mouse stayed home and cooked.  It was an unusual arrangement, to be sure, but one born of time and familiarity and mutual adoration.

One week after Mouse had bathed and left for church Sausage accidentally dumped the weekly cabbage in the bath water.  Afraid that too much of the flavor had already transfered from the cabbage to the bath water Sausage decided to leave it there and hoped Mouse wouldn’t notice anything was wrong.  But Mouse did notice.

“This is the most delectable cabbage ever,” Mouse said.

“I accidentally cooked it in your dirty bath water,” Sausage said.

“It was a most fortunate accident!” Mouse said.  “We should repeat this accident every week!”

And so the next week when it was Sausage’s turn to bathe Mouse stood by with the cabbage.  As the surface of the bath water started to show oily pools Sausage decided it was time to get out.

“First let me taste the water to make sure there is enough flavor.”  Mouse tasted the bath water.  “It’s good, but perhaps just a little bit longer.”

So Sausage stayed in the bath water.  As the water continued to warm by the fire Sausage began to sweat and could feel its body tighten beneath the skin.  Mouse tasted the water again.

“Almost,” Mouse said.  “Perhaps if you dunked your head beneath the surface and counted to one hundred that would be enough time.”


“Trust me, Sausage, this will be the best tasting cabbage ever.”

And so Sausage went under the surface.  Before Mouse could reach even half way to one hundred Sausage floated to the surface.

“Poor Sausage,”  Mouse said.  “Well, nothing to be done about it now.”

Mouse removed Sausage and laid it out on the cutting board.  Then gently, lovingly, Mouse sliced Sausage into coins and slid them into the bath water with the cabbage.  That night Mouse lit a candle and toasted Sausage’s memory in feast.

“Although you are not alive, dear Sausage, you can at least participate fully in this wonderful meal you helped create.”

Afterward Mouse curled up in the corner next to the fire and slept long and hard. In the morning Mouse felt a little sad to not find Sausage nearby but the feeling didn’t linger.

There were other Sausages in the world to be had.


c. 2011 david elzey


Another of my weekly exercises in re-imagining and adapting tales collected by the Brothers Grimm.

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I was joking about this sort of with my writing buddy Vivian recently in the context of beefing up our critique group, but you know how brains can be.  Once you think or say something it’s out there, and once it’s out there it starts to take a life of its own.

What I said was “Let’s start a band!”  Because that’s sort of what pulling together a crit group together is like, right? A bunch of people with different backgrounds and approaches to playing their particular writing instruments coming together for a common goal. More or less.  We’re looking for a couple new members to help us rock our manuscripts into the best publishable books.

But metaphors aside, I started thinking about how in history there were these times when people would band together and create something so much larger than the sum of their parts. How do talented people find one another? It can’t simply be a question of right-place-right-time and it can’t only be that talented people will always be drawn to one another. And you can’t just want it, or somehow want it more than anyone else, because how many have tried and failed from trying too hard? Is it fate?

Those who know me, or have at least read the tab explaining the name of this blog, will understand my love of Vonnegut. Though it was not a new idea in this or any culture, his explanation of a karass as a group of people coming together for a common goal best explained this underlying sense I had that there was a band out there for me. I’ve had this sense, this feeling, since the 7th grade and you might have thought that the feeling would have faded in the last 35 years, but no.

Though it’s often expressed in terms of musicians and bands, what I’ve more been drawn to were communities that were a little more theatrical. The Monty Python troupe, the initial creators of The National Lampoon, the Comedia delle Arte. Humor, yes, but it wasn’t the theatrics.  There was some mysterious glue that not only would bring these people together but pushed them toward creating something… not just something that wasn’t there before but something different.

That keeps me up some nights, that different.  Everyone wants to create something different, something unique in their art or craft.  Beyond voice, beyond style, something that people can point to as a clear demarcation between before and after.

But what?

What in the world of storytelling can truly be created that’s both different and yet popular, different and familiar? What new school of style or format?  I can’t help but think that I’m carrying around a piece of something larger. There’s a point where the kid playing bass all by himself in the basement thinks maybe there are some kids in the neighborhood who don’t just want a band but want to change the world, even if they don’t really know that’s what they want or how it’s going to happen.

As much as I want that, the reality is that writing is so far from a band or a company or a troupe. It is a solitary endeavor, where even if you could pull together a band of authors all the real work would be taking place in the head or while staring at a computer screen. I suppose a closer analogy would be an art movement with a bunch of like-minded folks creating with similar influences, or from an organized manifesto…

No, I want a band.  A band of writers.  I want to rock and I want to change the world. I’ve got my instrument and I’m pretty sure its in tune. Who’s in, and where do we practice?

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#poetryfriday: the best

This was written after the last snow, not the most recent one that came while I was laid up with this flu thing and couldn’t go out and enjoy it.

the best

the best is when the rains come
a week after heavy snows
to wash away the dirty sludge
of shoveled walkways

archipelagoes of snow hugging sidewalk curbs
tide pools full of gum wrappers
lost gloves and bits of trash
emerging from the snowmelt like fossils
leaving behind the mysteries of how and when
they arrived at that particular layer
of winter’s fossil record

warmer air quickly dries
wet concrete walkways
until cool evening air
hardens the glistening snowcrests
into a candy shell that breaks
with a satisfying crack underfoot

the tension and the snap
the sudden yielding to pressure
like newfound forgiveness
or unconditional love

that sound
that’s the best

It’s Poetry Friday, the peanut butter cup of the Internet. Laura Salas has the roundup this week.

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From: delzey@gmail.com

To: TODAY@nbcuni.com

Subject: Snooki Bumps Kidlit


So some fellow members of the children’s literature community are all up in arms that apparently your fine show made a programming decision to run with a segment on Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi’s new book in favor of a segment on the recent Caldecott and Newbery Award winners.


Quite honestly, for the last couple of years, the only time I’ve ever watched the TODAY show was for this segment, and I always left with the same reminder to myself: Never watch that show again.  The segment always felt like a backhanded attempt to pander to the New York publishing industry and the parents in your audience who take your token bits of coverage on children’s literature as a sign of quality.

Which is a joke.

It’s clear your hosts never read the winner’s books either before or after the segment.  They have no idea what’s happening in children’s literature (or any literature for that matter) unless it’s been turned into a hit movie, written by a celebrity, or somehow became a hot topic of conversation at cocktail parties. Viewers have come to expect that the hosts just say what’s been prepared for them in advance.

In short, your hosts are probably as culturally illiterate as the average American, which is why the average American tunes in every weekday morning.

So while I’m sure you’re getting a flood of mail from people complaining about your decision I wanted to take this moment to applaud your decision to no longer pretend to care about quality books for children.  I wanted to commend you on losing sight of the opportunity you have to enlighten people across this nation of ours, and instead choose to freely admit that showcasing literature for children for five whole minutes out of your broadcast year is a complete waste of time.  You know that, in the long run, your decision and the feedback it generates won’t really affect your ad revenues or ratings.


And to the bored intern whose job it is to scroll through these emails, chin up! It’s not too late to get out and do something meaningful with your life. Just don’t write a children’s book about it.


David Elzey

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