Necessity and economy are the principles I find most beautiful in nature. The river moves to the sea interacting with more slowly moving earthen obstacles to find the most economic path downhill -- never merely a straight line between two points. When this interaction between necessity and economy appears in art, then I recognize something valuable. This is why I admire the poetry of Richard Hugus and gladly add it to my page. Samia A. Halaby
If you wish to write to Richard, please
How To Let Someone Know
Among a group of friends there is a woman who asks me how to let someone know she doesn’t like them anymore. We are in a crowded party. She is sitting on my lap and has only to speak softly in my ear to be heard. My response is to philosophize about how people usually deal with this matter indirectly – not returning calls, not showing up, slowly phasing the unwanted friend out – and that it is very difficult, and often wrong, to simply announce that you don’t like someone anymore.
Then I realize that she has gotten me to tell her what she wanted to tell me. I had begun the answer speaking out loud, and involving our other friends, even though her question was put softly. As the realization came I lowered my voice to the point where I was only speaking to myself, as was appropriate.
A Majority Of Conformists
A handful of people have managed to avoid taking a potion for universal conformity. But among those who have taken it – the large majority –it turns out the potion has a limited effect. By firm questioning, people enforcing the conformity break down and are unable to stop non-conformists from doing what they want. A large problem remains for the world, however, as those who maintain the regime of conformity, if challenged weakly, are strengthened by their victory so that it becomes progressively harder to challenge them. A significant number of such people grows. They are defeatable only by the strongest. The world is thus left with an uncomfortable majority of conformists.
A Friend’s RoofHalf way through the roofing of a friend’s house, I discover that part of the decking is rotten, then that a rafter is rotten, then that 50% of all the framing of the roof is in a state of disintegration. It is past noon on a Saturday and too late to get new wood. It would be too late to do in a day in any case. The old roof has been stripped and there is no easy way to protect the house from the rain. My friend is in a lawn chair in his back yard, completely oblivious. His children are running inside and out, also oblivious. The entire house is about to fall in and it is somehow my responsibility now, just because I said I’d “fix a few shingles,” to save an entire family.
Everything came together at exactly the wrong time. The driver of a car enters the entrance ramp of a rural freeway. His window is rolled down all the way. Along comes a fox -- large bushy tail with white tip -- running on light feet, at full speed. Behind the fox is a dog. The dog is chasing the fox and is very close to catching him. There is absolutely no choice for the fox but to jump through the open window of the moving car. The driver of the car sees this instantly. He thinks how strange it will be to have a fox in the car beside him. How will the fox behave? Will he be attacked? Such a thing seems impossible. Yet there is no chance but that this very thing is about to happen.
People Wore Masks
In a future world people wore masks. The availability of masks and their everyday use expanded hugely, just as computers did in the 1990’s. Almost everyone wore a mask. Their perfection also increased greatly, so that the identity of people was hard to distinguish. It might take years for a friend to reveal him or herself to you. A handsome mask pulled back might reveal a wrinkled and dull face. A woman might be a man. A teenager might be someone in their 30’s, or vice-versa. The whole business of who people were was an unknown in most social relations. It was a shock to see the reality of someone you had known otherwise. Yet, for all the wearing of masks, people felt compelled to reveal themselves to you – as if a throwback to the old days when identity was one thing, before the evolution of flesh into plastic.
A Plane Taxiing
On first sight a large jet plane appeared to be taxiing through the woods, slowly making its way along the side of a hill. The well-dressed passengers looked out of their oval windows at the fields and dirt roads. The pilot sat alone in the front, but there was no job for him to perform because the plane was on rails and several box cars were moving in front of it, pulled by a locomotive, going very slowly through unknown parts of rural Georgia.
A Matter Of Course
Less than two months after a couple got married, the woman went off and rented an apartment for herself. There was no thought or discussion about it. Friends were aware that this amounted to a separation, but the couple didn't put it in those terms. It was as if the two were so poorly suited for each other that living separately was a matter of course, just as two strangers would naturally get their own rooms at a hotel.
The lake is still. Nothing awaits me.
A group of friends has hired a taxi. The driver decides that he will lie down backwards on the seat and drive by looking up through the rear view mirror. Among other things, he drives through a narrow toll booth opening in this way, at high speed. One of the passengers asks him to pull over and convinces his friends that they must get out. The taxi leaves them in a residential area from which they can walk the rest of the way. As they walk they see other cars in which drivers are lying down in their seats, navigating through the rear view mirror.
Communicating With The Dead
A man finds he is able to communicate with the dead by connecting with them through earphones. A voice comes through – slowly, a mysterious dead person tells his tale. But he tells it in a quite arbitrary fashion, as there is no need for him to be logical.
A Horse In Love
A female horse fell in love with a man. It came to a crisis at a drive-in movie theater where the horse suddenly presented her hind quarters to the man and stammered something about “having needs just like everybody else.” They were parked in the back row of the drive-in. The man was disgusted and could think of nothing except how to escape – to escape this awful situation and the horror this relationship had become. All along he had enjoyed being with the horse. He felt at peace with her, or it. But this always depended on the horse forgetting about romance, which was obviously out of the question. Now what was he supposed to do, as the screen flickered, in some field 20 miles outside of town? It was unbearable to be with her any longer. At the risk of hurting her feelings forever, he considered bolting from the car. Then he remembered all the times the horse had been nice to him – too nice, and this was the reason for it. If he left, he would never want to see her again. And what part had he played in encouraging her? It was too grotesque to even think about. This was a HORSE, not a lover. “Please God, get me out of this,” he said as he heard her whimpering. How could he get her back in the trailer and take her home? What was he thinking? How many other men had chosen to take a horse to the movies? Of course, now the other men were watching him, their arms around their dates. Was this why his friends had drifted away? What a fool. How could he not have seen it?
Back Seat Drivers
Whether it was to satisfy those customers who had demonstrated their abilities, or to teach them a lesson, American Motors came out one year with a “Back Seat Driver” Rambler. Back seat driving turned out to be not so easy when it was a reality. The heads of three, sometimes four passengers in the front seat made it hard to see the road. And of course the people in front who could see better couldn’t help but become “front seat drivers” – and with good reason – the driver in back was endangering their lives, and they would be the first to get injured should there be an accident.
As if out of vindictiveness, the manufacturers had left all the controls not vital to operating the car on the front dashboard. In fact, there was no back seat dashboard – just a steering wheel in open air, in the middle, and two pedals on the floor. This meant that the passengers got to control the radio and heat controls and everything else. While they weren’t worrying about accidents, the front seat passengers soaked up the astonishment of people on the street to whom it appeared the car had no driver at all. Since the driver was in the back seat, he or she wasn’t noticed at all.
But even for vanity it was decided not to continue the car model for another year. Things instead swung in the opposite direction as, in subsequent years, the Rambler came with an optional shade which could be pulled down by the driver to block the forward view of the back seat passengers entirely.
Eventually the whole thing was forgotten. A new generation now casually refers to “back seat drivers” without knowing that at one time in history this class of people had been thoroughly humiliated. <>h4>
Who They Were
Two women ran a symposium on sound and how one’s politics affect the way they hear, speak, and sing. One of the women presented the perspective and abilities of the repressed fascist, whose vocalization was clipped and tightly controlled. The other presented the vocalization of the free thinker who allowed her notes to bend and carry and would never sing the same song twice in the same way.
Both women were in love with a man in attendance at the symposium. When it was over they called the man on his cell phone from separate places in the building, questioning him about what he thought of the presentation. The right wing woman actually bothered him less, listening to his polite expressions of praise and then hanging up. The left wing woman wanted a response deeper than the polite one and tried to manipulate the man into it by talking about her love for him and his failure to show the same to her. He replied by hinting that there were people in the room and that he couldn’t talk. Although he naturally liked the left-wing woman and her singing better, his feeling now was to be rid of both of them for showing such insecurity about who they were. The event was a disaster.
Much Like God
What we know of as “interactive” today regarding computers will be taken into the arena of cinema in the future, such that people watching a movie will be able to direct things with a mouse-like device. The directing will only be of physical motion – quite enough when you have a street full of moving cars and you need to prevent them from hitting each other.
But then there are consequences to mistakes on the physical plane. When two lovers on their way to a rendezvous instead get into a car accident because of the operator’s jumpy hand, then the next scene may well be a hospital emergency room, and so on.
The true test of one’s mastery of this game will be the ability to have the movie end more or less as it was written. But then what is the writing of a movie script but the determination by one person of who will say and do what, where. Except that he or she has more time to arrange and think about things, the writer is no different than the moviegoer who must control a mechanical process happening in real time, much like God.
A poet was scheduled to speak at a reading with other poets. On his arrival in the parking area he noticed the side of his car was on the very edge of a sand embankment overlooking a large descent. He decided at the last minute to find a better parking place. This made him late for the beginning of the reading, but he assumed they could start without him.
There were three events in different rooms in the auditorium that night. He walked into one that appeared likely. To his satisfaction, there were hundreds of people in attendance. He sat down near the front, a little worried that the organizer hadn't come to greet him. Then he noticed that many of the people in the audience were wearing large hats with sparkles on them, and chin straps. Just as he realized he had walked into the wrong event – a competition of marching bands – he patted his jacket pocket to find his poems and discovered that he had either misplaced or completely forgotten his material. As he made his way out he considered the possibility of giving a speech on poetics instead. But this was a poetry reading. That would be a disaster. <>h4>
The Ignorant Visitor
A guest is visiting in the house of a friend. While the friend is out the toilet overflows three times in succession, the guest hoping each time that the next try would clear it. The fourth time the water doesn’t stop. Sections of the house eventually have three inches of water on the floor, not just from the overflowing but from a pipe that must have broken. There is no mop to clean it up and it doesn’t help to open the front door because it is on a high threshold and the water won’t go out. The guest reasons that the only drain is in the floor under the toilet, so he loosens the nuts that hold it down and takes the entire toilet off. This releases an even larger gush of dirty water. Apparently the overflow is coming through the drain in the floor from underneath the building so, of course, the water in the house will not go down the drain. The water is now lapping over the front door threshold so that at least it will not get higher. The guest’s efforts to sweep it out with a broom cause waves to develop and splash against artwork on the walls. Disastrously, in the attempt to lift an upholstered couch up onto some chairs, the guest knocks over a large aquarium, causing the light in the aquarium to short-circuit, the smashing of glass, and of course more spilled water. The tropical fish that were in the aquarium spread through the house. Some die of fright, or, as the guest hopes, simulate being dead by floating motionless “until the trouble is over.”
Neighbors have at this point lined up outside the house to watch. One of them, not reassured that “everything is okay,” and not understanding English anyway, has already called up the owner of the house. When the owner returns, he stops the flowing of water with the simple turn of a valve on the bathroom wall and stares at his friend with shock and disgust for not knowing of this valve. This is apparently something everyone in this part of the world knows about, even small children, but not his ignorant visitor. Because of this visitor, his house is now ruined.
A baseball player makes an outstanding catch just outside of the infield between second and third base. The catch involves running at top speed, making an impossible reach, and catching the ball in his bare right hand. Afterward he acknowledges the admiration of the other players and the crowd with humility, like a true athlete. But just a few minutes later this same player has a foul ball relayed to him from left field and he goes through an embarrassing display of clumsy tip-offs from the edge of his glove, chasing the ball further and further from his position until it finally rolls away from him. The effect is to erase the miracle of his earlier catch and to leave one aghast at the fickleness of beauty.
Several Installments Of A Long Movie
Several installments of a long movie were aired in a public theater. At each one a preview was shown in which a man is hurtling through the air in apparent exhilaration as a skydiver who is experiencing flight before pulling his ripcord. In the final showing of the series the movie ends with this person seen closer up and we now understand his exhilaration as insane recognition that his parachute will not open, the earth will get closer and closer, that that he will die hitting it. This retrospectively changes the whole sense of the movie.
One man in the audience plays the role of astute critic as people are filing out. He does this to attract the attention of a woman in the audience who he admires. She notices him when he is speaking, and so he continues. He has done this at each installment of the movie. On the final day we see him closer up and in the last scene we see that the confident, intelligent face is really a face of desperation to impress someone who never cared about him, who he would do anything to impress, just to have her attention, before pushing open the theater door and going off into the empty night. <>h4>
A Man Bought A House
A man bought a house on Cape Cod, but without making the usual arrangements. The worst point, and most embarrassing, was that he arrived with his family after a long drive from the Midwest only to find that the owners were still in the house and weren't told that it had been sold. Immediately, the man saw the mistake of not dealing with the owners directly, of not coming first to look at the house, of taking all their things and leaving Illinois without knowing where they were going. The house had not been "sold." The man had not bought it. On hearing the story of the man's dealings in Illinois, the owners could not believe their ears. They laughed at and derided the man. They became angry at the imposition. They made him repeat the story of his foolishness over and over - the story of the realtor with the plaid beret, the $18,000 downpayment, the papers that were to be "sent ahead" to his new house. When they sufficiently understood, they called neighbors over to hear the story again. Nevertheless, out of politeness, the owners cleared a place in the garage for the family to stay. The man's children, poorly clothed, slept in the owners' arms. The man's wife, always sensitive to public opinion, made it clear that her marriage to her husband was a mistake and that she thought him an utter fool.
My Lover's New Boyfriend
My lover's new boyfriend sent to me in jail a framed portrait of her. It is as if to torment me. But I treat it carefully and hang it up on the wall of my cell. One day I notice the paper in back has come loose. I slip my hand underneath and find a brand new pistol. The guards never saw it. It is to make it possible for me to escape. It is from my lover, who waits for me on the outside.
A Nuclear War
There had been a nuclear war. Almost everyone had drunk a dark-colored poison in order to die without pain. But the world was still beautiful and taking the poison seemed a mistake. One had to fight its effect of inducing sleep. Everywhere, people were doing things they always wanted to do. A little girl was driving a car on her lawn. A young man and woman began speaking freely with each other and vowed to be together. But the poison occupied everyone with sleep and numbness. It seemed worse than the war. The ocean and the sun gave no sign that anything would end.
A jet plane is flying low over a city just after takeoff. From it falls a huge sheet of metal, turning in the air and crashing down between some buildings in the distance. This must have been the cargo door, because there fall next a few cars which the plane was apparently transporting. The cars land on a street and sidewalk, smashing all to pieces. Next, perhaps, the plane itself will crash.
A man was unable to be with his wife and infant child because a whirlpool kept him at a different point in a large circle. Once, by diving under water, the man came up at the correct point and found that his small child was crying and needed comforting. But before he could reach his child a young man offered to help. The husband considered whether to interfere, but it seemed wrong to do so if he would so seldom be there. Yet, he did interfere, and the young man was jealous. Now his wife would have one less person to help her when he went inevitably away, and he realized what he had done was a mistake.
The Ship of the Insane
A group of people who are clinically insane conspired to form a shipping company - a form of self-employment which would keep them out of mental hospitals and away from the imprisonment of medication. They were able to form the company because they chose staff who were totally convincing impostors - convincing ship's captains, convincing engineers, convincing deck hands, and so on. Among them were several "bankers" who helped them with the necessary credit to acquire their first ship by chartering a combination freight and passenger liner.
It is not long before the ship is out at sea, foundering. The passengers sit at their dining tables in stony silence, not even interested in another ship that has come to rescue the ship of the insane. As the passengers have faultlessly taken on the attitudes and dress of early 20th century characters, showing no concern, it is not clear who is to be rescued and who is not. True, the ship has been drifting at sea because no one had the least idea how to run it. But perhaps what was abnormal was a ship that was not drifting at sea, a ship with engines running and a crew who were not actors. So placid were the crew that they slowly began to convince the rescuers that this was the case. They calmly discussed matters with their sane counterparts, point by point, in long discussions on deck, until everyone was in agreement. Two ships were now foundering at sea, ready to call for a third to rescue them. By this means, they reasoned, a large and profitable company would soon be formed.
An English professor taught a class in literature, but felt it was important to have students build bookcases first. Afterall, the books required for reading in the course needed to be put in a good place. It was important to build a library.
He and his students had access to a well-equipped carpentry shop on campus, but he himself was not a competent carpenter. Actually, he was not even a competent thinker, as he proceeded to take his class through the steps necessary for the fabrication of drawers, not bookcases. Okay, he said, drawers were necessary for the storage of writing materials involved in writing papers on the literature to be taught. They would hold paper and pens, computer disks, and so on.
But the drawer bottoms, which he pre-cut for the class on a Sunday in order to hurry up the process, were not square. They were parallelograms. It was therefore impossible, on Monday, to assemble the fronts and sides. Beside this, the drawers had to be put in a cabinet of some kind to be of any use. This meant a further detour from making the bookcases for the books to be read after the drawer problem was straightened out and the cabinets for the drawers were made . . . not to mention buying the books, reading them, and discussing them formally in class.
By the third week, the professor was anxious to get back on schedule and planned to drop drawer making for a day to take the class to the bookstore, both to buy books, and to examine their bookshelves. The class assembled in the carpentry shop where, in his hurry to start off on the field trip, the professor fatally stapled the upper half of his thumb to the side of a drawer as he demonstrated to the class the use of a pneumatic stapler with inch-and-a-quarter staples. This meant that instead of going to the bookstore the class went to the campus hospital. To get there, walking, one student held the drawer the professor's thumb was nailed to. Another carried his coat and briefcase. Another carried his glasses, which fell to the floor in the shock of the accident.
Always the teacher, even under these circumstances, the professor sat on his emergency room bed and, while waiting for the doctor, began a lecture on William Carlos Williams, poet and doctor. As if desperate to make medical tie-ins to English literature, and to show the relevance of everyday reality to this study, he also discussed the doctor in W. Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage.
At this point the class listened to him out of pity. He was only proving that there were no practical connections between literature and the rest of the world. And he was asking the nurses questions related to his lecture because, without his glasses, he couldn't see that they were not his students. With his hospital gown on, one could see his spiny back and polka-dot underwear. There was a tattoo on his upper arm which said "MOM." And his hand appeared to be permanently attached to a ridiculous diamond-shaped drawer which would never hold anything.