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The company I work for, SSP America, manages restaurants at airports. They hired me as a host/cashier in November 2015. I was looking for work that would keep me on my feet all day, and thus reduce my risk of cardiac disease. They were having a cattle call at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, and they were looking for dependable, trainable, honest human beings who would agree to work for the pay they offered.

Five years later I have said hello and goodbye to thousands of people I have never met, and the comfort that comes with experience has made me less of an introvert and more of an empath. Sizing people up in terms of what they hope to get out of the restaurant experience we offer is a learned skill, and I am learning.

And one thing I’ve learned is that there is one innocent joke I can tell that is so simple and so harmless and so stupid that if told with just a half-dash of slyness will give most people a boost. I learned it in the summer of 1965, yet none of the hundreds I’ve told it to had ever heard it.

Did you hear the one about the three holes in the ground?

No?

Well, well, well.

On Facebook I have just finished the third of five takes of a series called “ah, humanness.” This two-word humdinger of a phrase showed up in a comment by my poet friend Susan Vespoli a few days ago. It has been stuck in my head ever since. Some of that is due to Eugene G. O’Neill, an American playwright of the 20th Century.

In Drama class in high school we were required to portray roles from classic plays of our choosing. At home were books of decades past bequeathed to my mother by our unrelated-by-blood Aunt Peg, and there were several plays by Eugene O’Neill among them. So in class I became both Driscoll and Yank for Yank’s death scene in Bound East for Cardiff, and I got a rave review from Miss Ornstein (later Mrs. Frye) for my Eben Cabot in Desire Under the Elms. But one of O’Neill’s Dramatis Personae that would have fit me like my skin was Richard, pretentious and melodramatic schoolboy son of newspaper publisher Nat Miller, in perhaps the only well-known comedy penned by O’Neill, a charming slice of Americana called…Ah, Wilderness!

The title is derived, of course, from the famous Quatrain XII by Hakim Omar Khayyám, as translated by Edward FitzGerald, poet and contemporary of William Makepeace Thackeray and Alfred, Lord Tennyson. It goes something like this:

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Loaf of Bread, a Jug of Wine, and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness–
Ah, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

I say “something like this” because there were at least five editions of FitzGerald’s translation, and he fiddled with the translations between editions, and the one above seems to be the popular version. But you will find that the Jug is a Flask sometimes, and sometimes it precedes the Loaf of Bread. There’s also the fact that FitzGerald, partly to cleave to the Quatrain form with its rhyme scheme aaba, did a free translation, wandering from a direct translation for the sake of liveliness and pith. Here for comparison is a more literal translation done by Edward Heron-Allen, an English scholar who was born only two years before Edward FitzGerald died:

I desire a little ruby wine and a book of verses,
Just enough to keep me alive, and half a loaf is needful;
And then, that I and thou should sit in a desolate place
Is better than the kingdom of a sultan.

I’m going with FitzGerald, who for my money gives Khayyám more Zing, and yet retains his core content. Of course, it’s a stretch to turn a “desolate place” into a “wilderness.”

Ah, Wilderness. Ah, Desolate Place.

Ah, Humanness. Just a little free-translative twist…

The Poetry that springs from whence we’ve wended,
The Warp, the Woof, the Fabric rent and mended,
The words with friends, the text exchange, a phrase–
Ah, Humanness, this Poet I’ve befriended!

So I have resolved to write a Rubáiyát of my own. FitzGerald’s later editions contained more than 100, but fewer than 200, quatrains, a selection from the more than 1200 attributed to Khayyám. I will do at least 200. It may take a few days, but my confidence that I can do it at all is based on the send-up I did long ago on Algernon Swinburne’s “Garden of Proserpine” and its 112 lines; my “The Compost of Alginate Windburn” had 136 lines, among them these:

We are not sure of value
And zest is not demure
When winning a new pal, you
Must sell and grin and lure;
And lust, grown vaguely cryptic
Ensorcels us in diptych
Then stings our face with styptic
Once shaven shearly sure.

Swinburne’s form, with its penultimate-lines triplet, is more complex by far than Khayyám’s quatrains. I knocked off the “Ah, Humanness” quatrain in less than 10 minutes. I figure a 30-hour workweek will be sufficient for my Rubáiyát, but we’ll see.

As the title of this post indicates, I’ll be assuming the ridiculous nom de plume of Ghary Khayyáhowyadūn [Gary. Hi ya, how ya doin.] for this endeavor. If I stumble into something better than slapstick-whither-thou-goest for this thing–and I earnestly HOPE to, believe me–so much the better. Stay tuned, Friends!