Brilliant Songs #10: Tom Waits’s “Take It With Me”

Tom Waits

Last week, a plumber digging a trench by which we will be running electricity and water to a backyard shed-glorifed-into-a-library was backing his truck up the incline of our driveway, the back weighed down by the trailing ditch witch behind him and rather severely scraping the gravel, producing a sound that reminded no one of, say, Judy Collins. Nor, indeed, of any singer in the known universe this side of…Tom Waits.

Upon reflection, I could almost see Waits in the driver’s seat, his slightly askew pork pie hat protruding from the window, backing that baby up while low-growling in accompaniment, relishing the fingernail-dirtying work awaiting him on a cloudy fall morning. Not for him the refined beauty of a choir voice, the easy swing of Sinatra, the pretty balladry of Paul Simon.

Waits never flirted with pretty, the ditch witch and its excavated mud far more his metier than is a glorious floral arrang...

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The Fires and Kindness This Time

We live on the edge of catastrophe. This is always the case, always has been. Born vulnerable and utterly helpless, we become, in the best of circumstances, less vulnerable only by degrees if we are fortunate enough to avoid early death.

Accident, illness and natural disaster perch on our shoulder, the uninvited intruder who never leaves but is mostly ignored through all our days.

This ignorance, this denial, is fundamental and necessary to our growth and flourishing as we move through life. Cowering in fear or wearing a permanent furrow on our brow is of no use whatsoever to our survival or our flourishing as conscious creatures with nearly limitless capacity for joy and fraternity.

We get up every morning expecting to see the night, with the next morning mostly the same.

Most of the time for a long time, we are lucky to be right. And sometimes, our luck runs out.

Worry, concern, even perfectly justified ...

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Fire, Rage and Hope 

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same…
                                                —Rudyard Kipling 

We live in a time when meaningful commentary about the affairs of the day faces the challenge of being overrun by ever more head-shaking events—and by the 24-hour news cycle that barely has time to chronicle those events before a new one crashes in commanding our attention.

It’s like one of those diabolical amusement park rides that no sooner dumps you out from a screeching, white knuckle series of turns than it drops you and your stomach down a precipitous descent far speedier than gravity would seem to allow.

And then the speed and lurch build up much too quickly again and you find yourself praying for the end of the r...

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The Essential Impeachment Question

Is it permissible for a sitting president of the United States to bring pressure to bear on a foreign leader to investigate a political rival of the president for the sole purpose of casting that rival in a negative light?

That is the essential question members of the House of Representatives and Senate must answer for themselves as they confront the impeachment investigation now fully underway in the House. Those who have weighed in thus far on this point include a number of Republican legislators, including South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham (“If you bring articles of impeachment based on this phone call, I think you’re nuts”) and Iowa’s Joni Ernst (“I’ve looked at the transcript; I don’t see anything there”).

Note: Trump and his defenders never claimed that enlisting a foreign power to intervene in our elections was permissible—only that his campaign had nothing to do with it...

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Song of My Stuff

We come into the world naked and possessionless, then are scooped up within moments to be swaddled in warm comforting materials, diaper in place, our toes wrapped in plastic name tags, a little beanie on our vulnerable heads—all of these our first possessions, serving as the forerunners of hundreds of thousands more if we are fortunate enough to eventually join the ranks of the aged.

Human beings: Homo-accumulitis.

In my youth, I owned an MG Midget, a sporty wisp hardly bigger than the plastic cars parents push their toddlers in as they circle the block in that charming, devoted way they do.

I jammed most everything I owned into that Midget in the several moves I made while it was in my possession during my four-year early career as a special education teacher.

Two weeks ago, some 40 years later, I employed one of those giant pods (biggest size available at 8’ X 8’ X 16’) to move my life from the wes...

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