Sunday, February 15, 2004


The Fairwater Lions Club Valentine Brunch is one of the rituals of this little community. Some years ago, after we'd attended the brunch (as we did again this morning), I made a journal entry about the experience. What I wrote then could pass almost word for word for our experience today:

We went to the Lions' Club Valentine's brunch, Mary and I did, and Mary's mother. We thought we were being so wise trying to get in just as the doors opened at 10:30 a.m. And we were only a few minutes later than that. Well, there were already forty or fifty cars parked around the Civic Center, a mob of people already eating, another mob in line to be served. We entered through the backdoor as required, into the back room of the lower level. If you didn't have your ticket yet, you could buy one here - "at the door" was a dollar more than "in advance." In one corner, a woman was slicing desserts to serve them. In another, drinks were being prepared behind a make-shift bar: Bloody Mary's seemed the order of the day. A sign on the wall: "Old Tables - Residents May Borrow." Twenty people, or twenty-five, were seated at the tables there in the backroom, cupping their drinks and talking and cupping their drinks, waiting for the line to shrink. The murmur of talk rose and fell, rose and fell. We got into the line right away.

Oh it was an Iowa picnic! Pea salad and macaroni salads and potato salad and apple salad and marshmallow salad. Scalloped potatoes - "Sir, would you care for some scalloped potatoes," says the owner of the lumber yard. Pancakes and french toast. Vegetables. Fried chicken, sausages, slices of ham. Orange juice and milk and coffee. Our plates full, we passed over the dessert table for the moment.

We found a place at a table. Tables set together ran the length of the room; lines of them parallel to each other, one and then another. And more. Chairs tightly spaced: "Elbow room! cried Daniel Boone." None of the tables was entirely full; and, in the great eternal cosmic dance of things, as people were done being served, carrying their heavy plates with two hands, other people were finished, leaving their table, making space for the new arrivals. The murmur of talk in the room rose and fell, rose and fell. Pass the syrup, please. Do you want some dessert? Which of the Stellmachers is that? Isn't this an interesting apple salad - carameled apple salad, sweet and nutty.

As if we might still be hungry, as if we needed them, we got desserts. I offer Mary a taste: "The sour cream frosting really makes that," she says of the rich chocolate bar.

Then we gather up our own trays and plates and silverware, in the great eternal cosmic dance, and leave them in their proper places. Like an Iowa picnic, you must clear up after yourself, leave the park in the same condition you found it. We are out the door, then, into the sunshine. We will not have to eat again for a very long time.



On January 31st I was at Woodland Pattern Book Center in Milwaukee, for the 10th Annual Marathon Benefit Reading. The event is a fund-raiser for an exceptional non-profit book store. Poets are invited to find benefactors to sponsor their five minute poetry reading and are expected to bring in at least $25, more if possible. I gave the standing-room-only audience five minutes from my newest book, The Big Book of Ben Zen, and I got back in return laughter at the appropriate times, and "Aha's" when they were supposed to. My wife and I saw about three hours of the readings, which continued for twelve hours total.

I'm told the benefit brought in a record amount this year, over $11,000. The average contribution for each of the 104 poets who read at the event was $55. I was able to turn in $354.91, however, thanks to the goodness of the people I strong-armed for contributions. I'd like to thank them publicly for their generous donations to a good cause:

Philip & Oma Montag, Hampton, IA
Justin Isherwood, Plover, WI
Bob & Mary Lane, Oshkosh, WI
Elaine Cavanaugh, Hartland, WI
Chris Halla, Appleton, WI
Fuller McBride, Fond du Lac, WI
Mike Abel, Weatherby, MO
Hansa & John Pistotnik, Westfield, WI
Bob & Kathy Schuster, Madison, WI
Philip Whitford, Columbus, OH
Phil Hey, Sioux City, IA
Mark Olson/Juniper Press, St. Paul, MN
Mike & Marjorie Gowdy, Ames, IA
Diane Wachdorf, Eldorado, WI
Chris Dart-Fashun, Fond du Lac, WI
Kathryn Whitford, Fairwater, WI
Mary Montag, Fairwater, WI
David Brostrum, Waukesha, WI

These are all people who make the world a better place to live!

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