I have a small, unpleasant interloper living underground in my front yard.  He is a vole, not to be mistaken for a mole.  Voles are very protective of their identity, and react violently when called moles.
This particular vole has dug eight holes in my front yard, the first few in a circle, but now they seem to be heading in a generally southeasterly direction.  I’m not particularly careful about my lawn; if it turns green, or at least greenish yellow sometime during the summer, I’m happy.  But somehow small mounds of vole-removed dirt gripes my cookies.
Like any modern homo sapien sapiens with a laptop, I googled** to find out about voles, and more importantly how to get rid of them.  Trapping won’t work, mostly because they are underground and digging holes to catch them seems counter productive, since the reason I want to catch them is so they won’t dig holes.  Shooting won’t work.  I have never shot a gun in my live, don’t plan to start now, and I have a nightmare vision of me stalking around like Elmer Fudd with a shotgun saying, “I’m gonna catch that wascawwy vole”.
So, I’m left with two options to address my vole problem.  I can kill them with some kind of poison, or I can starve them, in the hopes that they will move on to my neighbor’s lawn.  I prefer the second option for a couple of reasons.  First, I don’t particularly like my neighbor.  He is a car buff, in two meanings of the word ‘buff’.  He likes to buy and fix up old cars, including sanding and buffing them to a high polish.  The sanding, or I should say the shriek of sanding and polishing, usually happens just about dinner time, except on Sunday when it goes on all afternoon.
Second, I don’t want to kill any small furry animals.  I don’t want my voles to end up on the side of a vole milk carton, and I don’t want my mug shot hanging up at the local vole post office.  It would bring such shame.
So the plan, if it can be called that, is to live with the little bugger until I can build up the root system of my lawn to a point where it is too healthy to appeal to his kind.  At which point, he will call the local vole moving company, or perhaps have some of his stronger vole buddies come over, and help him move. This may take a while, and in the meantime, I have to make the best of things.  So, I’ve given him a name.  I thought first of Vlad the Impaler Vole, but that was too many syllables.  I went through Vandyke Vole and Gore Vidal Vole, and Vanessa the Voluptuous Vole, and finally settled on Vernon Vole.  ‘Vernon’ has such a domestic, middle class, pipe smoking, easy chair feel to it.
So, I’ll tamp down his little holes, weed and feed and water with a purpose, and wait.
**Check your dictionary, ‘googled’ is officially a verb.

NCAA Basketball Tournament: Here We Go

Here’s some things we’ll see during the NCAA Basketball tournament:

Middle aged experts at curved desks, nodding agreement as another speaks, and struggling to say something new or interesting.

Brackets.  Brackets everywhere.  Rectangles connected to other rectangles with horizontal lines, all converging in the center.

Very tall, very young men listening intently to much shorter, much older men who may actually be yelling at them.

Unique, and in my humble opinion, often unattractive experiments with facial hair.

“Official” stuff.  There is an official ladder of the NCAA tournament, an official drink, official bank, official scissors to cut down the net, official washing machines to clean the uniforms of the official NCAA teams, official wood for the bench, official carriage bolts for the wood for the bench.  Oh, and official multi-national corporation of the NCAA, official hamburgers, chicken, condiments, napkins, antacids and cholesterol medicine.  That’s just for the first round.  It all changes by the time of the Sweet Sixteen.  In fact, sixteen is the official even number of the NCAA Tournament.  Ninety-three is the official odd number of the NCAA tournament.

We’ll also see:

Three point shots, airballs, point guards that can fly (almost), screaming coaches, overtime, double overtime, triple overtime, buzzer beaters, tears, cheerleaders, chest thumping, mascots, microphones, Dick Vitale holding his own hand, interviews and and and…. all the rest.

It’s gonna be great.

Phog Allen-- Founder of the NCAA Basketball Tournament

Phog Allen, founder of the NCAA Tournament


I just had a short story accepted for publication in a small online literary magazine, and it generates a curious mix of pride and anxiety.  Pride, obviously, because it is a ‘feather in my cap’, ‘a run on my score board’, ‘a line in my resume’, ‘a notch on my belt’.  (I just hate clichés, don’t you?)  Anxiety because I don’t want to get into the world of publishing… query letters, submissions, publishing rights, yadayadadinfinitum, yadayadadnauseum.  And I also wonder if I could have held out for something a bit more prestigious.  MarcoPoloArtsMag.com is not exactly the New Yorker, but it does have some really good stories in it, and hey, you gotta start somewhere.

It won’t actually be published for a few months, and I’ll certainly let the immediate universe know exactly when and where.

Coincidentally, the piece pays exactly the cost of purchasing a Zeppelin in Sparta during the Peloponnesian War.  Nothing.

So, I won’t have to obsess on how to spend the money.  That’s a good thing.


March is a swinging door month.  From the winter side, I can see wispy, shadowy glimpses of the future; an empty beach, grass not quite green, a distant picnic in fading light.  From the spring side I see the jagged memories of the past; a frozen river, boots caked with snow near the front door, a leafless tree bent in the wind.

As March goes on, the door swings back and forth.  Beach.  Frozen river.  Grass.  Boots.  Picnic.  Leafless tree.  March becomes the sum of these images streaked in sunlight, and washed in shadow.

March is:

A mudslide dragging shards of winter into the sun.

An old man limping down a narrow road, with half closed eyes, toward the warmth of his cottage.

Edvard Munch on the bridge, approaching spring and screaming at the memory of winter.  Or, in dread of spring.

Driving through a long tunnel with small children, frightened of the dark, in the back seat.  “We’ll be there soon,” you tell them, but they don’t believe you, and with every minute the fear mounts that the tunnel has no end.

Falling asleep in a parking lot, with the engine off and the radio on.

March is a promise that even cynics must believe.

March does have some perquisites that define and nurture the promise;

Spring Training.  Not exactly baseball, but a facsimile dressed up with the same sights, sounds and equipment. Men who are old enough to know that this is a game for boys, throw, catch run and hit for the joy of it.  Baseball fans put on their rose-colored glasses and convince themselves that it is still a game, and that their team can compete with the Yankee deep pockets. Scores mean nothing.  Statistics mean nothing.  The sun, the grass, the ball, the bat, the glove mean everything.  It is over too soon.

St. Patrick’s Day, when Americans, descended from a nation of unhappy, oppressed immigrants, romanticize their heritage.  Yet somehow no one recognizes the absurdity of this.  Ireland isn’t poor, it’s rustic.  Irish people don’t live in apartments, but in cottages.  It doesn’t rain in Ireland, it ‘mists’.  Ireland has never been a victim of its own squabbles and petty prejudices, but always and completely the victim of England.  Every smiling leprechaun slides down his rainbow into a pot of gold.  I know all of this is true, because Hallmark Cards say so.  Why would they lie?

March Madness.  Perhaps the least distorted, least commercialized, purest athletic event in American life.  Distorted, of course.  Commercialized, certainly, but less so than the others.  There are no seven-figure salaries.  Well, okay, for the head coach maybe, but that’s it.  There are no drug scandals or gambling scandals or point shaving scandals.  Okay, maybe among the starting five, but that’s it.  There are no performance enhancing drug scandals.  Okay, maybe among the cheerleaders, but that’s it.  There are no sex scandals.  Okay, maybe between a couple of the mascots, but THAT IS IT!  And personally, the menage a trois between the Purdue BoilerMaker, Bucky the Beaver and one of the Army mules was between three consenting adults, and should not be sniggered about.  Despite the moderate level hype, the game is the crucial element, not the stars, not the halftime show, not the celebrities in the stands.  It’s the game.   Can we dribble, pass, shoot, rebound and defend better than you can dribble, pass, shoot, rebound and defend?  That simple and that complicated. Win seven games and you are the champion. In many respects, the NCAA basketball tournament is the high water mark of civilization on earth.

Vernal Equinox.  The first day of spring.  Vernal refers to spring, and equinox means equal night. It comes from a Sanskrit word, “vruxinoznal”, which means, loosely translated, ‘a day when it is sure to snow’.  People generally celebrate by wearing galoshes and dropping extra marshmallows into their hot chocolate.

Resetting The Clocks.  People debate whether the correct phrase is ‘spring ahead, fall back’, or ‘spring back, fall ahead’, or ‘please honey rip the springs out of that damned alarm clock so I can fall back into bed.‘

March is no one’s favorite month, even though it is named after the Roman God of War.  It just takes too long, and has only one holiday where people are expected to get falling down drunk.  And, all the pieces of March seem small and fragmented.  It’s a collage that lasts for thirty-one days, and when we look at it, we just hope that it re-arranges itself into something recognizable in time for April.

The Best

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is the best sporting event of the year, every year.

The tournament was begun in the late 30’s, with eight teams, the brainchild of a coach named Phog Allen.  (This is the only recorded instance of someone named Phog having a brainchild.) TV started broadcasting in the late 60’s, and interest skyrocketed during the Magic Johnson/Larry Bird championship game of 1979.  A few years later the tournament stretched to a configuration of sixty-four teams, and this year to 68 teams.  It is a historical curiosity that, as we proto-geeks were learning to count to 64 in base 2, the sports world was learning to count backwards from 64 in base 2. This coincidence does not prove that god talks to Bill Gates, although it is true that they frequently exchange emails.

The present construction, after the ‘play-in’ games, sixty-four teams divided into 4 regions, means that there are a lot of winners.  For some teams, reaching the Final Four  is a dream come true, and also a financial boon, as some of the TV and attendance revenue is shared with the school. This arrangement seems to satisfy both the sports fans and the commercial interests, which is why it will probably change soon.  There is talk of moving to a 96 or even a 128 team format.  Some object to this on the grounds that it dilutes the tournament, and some on the grounds that the math is too hard.

I’m sure there are good reasons to think about expanding the tournament, (gee, I wonder if there’s money involved?) but I like it the way it is.  What’s not to like?

The Math; If you take sixty-four teams, multiply that by, um, thirty-two games, and then multiply that by sixteen, and then that by eight, and then that by four, and then two, and then one, you get over one hundred possibilities.  Then, take the square root of that number, and add half the number of times Dick Vitale says ‘awesome’ minus pi, and the answer is ……… North Carolina.  Or sometimes Duke.  Except in February, which has twenty-eight.

Brackets: Everybody gets to fill one out, and everybody’s is different.  Fans pour over statistics and RPI, and research strength of schedule and make decisions based on conference wins and non-conference losses, Ouija boards, dreams, tarot cards, seances, and automatic writing.  The brackets are filled out with more care than a tax return, each team place neatly on a line, each pair of line forms a step to the next line, until the final line….. the champion.

Finishes: A three pointer at the buzzer, a foul shot to go up by four points, a mad scramble for loose ball.  Most games seem to come down to the final two minutes.

A refreshing limit to the hype.  No smoke machines, no country music video to start the show, no mega-titanic-rockstar half time show.  Just good basketball.  What’s not to like?

Sixty four teams, then thirty-two, then (Sweet) sixteen, then (Elite) eight, then (Final) four, followed by a championship game that is consistently competitive, compelling and close. Outside of Dickie V’s hyperactive commentary and his inane commercials for whatever it is he’s flogging, it is hard to think of something negative about this event.

Dickie V:  That’s awesome, baby!

John Wooden:  That’s really a stupid phrase, Mr. Vitale.  And why do you repeat it so often?

Bob Knight: If I could find an empty chair, I’d throw it at you, Dickie.  By the way, is Dickie a name or a description?

Mother Theresa:  You’re the one person on the planet I could never warm up to, Mr. Vitale.

Thor:  I’ve got a lightning bolt with your name on it, Dickie.  I only speak ancient Norse, and even I know that “Awesome”  went out in the Seventies.

Dickie V:  Thor!  Is that really you?  You’re awesome, baby!

(A loud CRACK!  Dickie disappears in a puff of smoke, and everyone goes back to the game with a smile).

 Now that would be a fantastic finish.