Photo by Brooke Estis Bleyl

Monday, April 27, 2015

Frankenstein Sundae, 120

Aboard a train ... rolling toward Wales and the house where Percy Bysshe Shelley and Harriet Shelley lived for a bit in 1813 ...  Photos I took from the train.

While I was riding west in the train toward Wales and Tremadoc, I was writing furiously in my journal. As I just read it over, I see in it a freshness of observation that I’ll lose if I just summarize and rewrite. So here it is—just as I wrote it in May 1999 (okay, I changed a few things—embarrassment being my most fastidious editor):

Between Crewe & Chester, the terrain is still suited to dairy/sheep/agriculture, rather more flat, even, than earlier today.  (I think I’m going to have only a couple of hours here—must move fast, catch buses, etc.)  And now, only a few minutes later, the hills begin—a ruined castle off to the left on the crest of a hill.  I’m impressed w/ this old train: it’s loud, but it’s flying—and a smoother ride (as is apparent from my handwriting) than the “luxury” portion of this trip.             1:15  I’ve been in Wales a bit—hills in the distance—but I’ve been reading the Times & wrestling with its crossword puzzle (got about 2/3 of it, maybe more).  Just left Fhyl and are now curving toward the coast of the Irish Sea.  In fact, it is just off to the right now, but a levee is so high that I can’t see it yet …  Ah, there it is, blue & beautiful—liquid sky.  Colwyn Bay—a gorgeous seaside community.      1:45  Slowly rolling through Welsh hills along bright blue lakes, hedged pastures, people on holiday walking & picnicking.  These mountains we are approaching are—again—Appalachian/Alleghenian in character, although here at North Llanrwst, there are pastures up to the top of some of the hills; yet others are wooded solidly.  1:59  Llanrwst.  Some of these little stops are like stops on a bus line. Sheep in the valleys, with new lambs chasing about. The noise of the train send the little ones scurrying; the old ones don’t even look up.  …  Joining the hardwoods on the hills now are evergreens, some scattered about, others in groves, but all presenting a solid green front.  Four more stops—we’re at Botws-y-coed at 2:00.  Some stone fences separating fields here and there; some have broken down, reminding me, of course, of  “Mending Wall.”  Climbing … Climbing … (We could be in the Penn. mts. on I-80 right now.)  This is a gorgeous rail line, winding through these mountains, many of which are showing granite faces now.  At times we run beside rapid streams where rocks break the water into white and blue.  Just watched a border collie herding sheep.  (Taking a few train shots—just in case.)  At 2:20—2 more stops.

2:55  On train to Porthmadog—I may not make it back to London tonight—in which case this will be expensive, for my rail pass expires at midnight, & I’ll have to buy tickets all the way back.  What I’ll do—I hope—at Porthmadog is hire a taxi to run me to places & then to get me back here by 17:29.)
This area is shale: the mountainsides are covered with it, as if a roofer just dumped enormous loads on the summits, and then watched with glee as it just slid down the slopes. Very near here we saw the ruins of a very lovely Roman stone bridge—only part of the arch support remains. (My luck: On this holiday no buses are running!)
(We leave at 15:05, and it’s a little over an hour—maybe 16:15—that would give me less than an hour to run around and pay a taxi to drive me back here—but that’s what I’ve got to do—or lose lots of money.)
Rugged, Wild West sort of look—far too rough a ride to write, so I write quickly at stops.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sunday Sundries, 48

1. AOTW. It's been a bad week--rather, a good week, I guess: I have not encountered a single human being whose behavior would merit the low honor of an AOTW award. Oh, sure, there were the customary crazies in traffic, in line at the grocery, showering at the health club--but nothing especially demeritorious (probably not a word, but I like it). (Oh, but it is a word, says the OED, dating back to 1593, when a Certain Someone was a young playwright in London.) In fact, if I may return to the subject, this week I probably qualify for the award as much as the next person. After all, if we're honest, we all no doubt deserve fetid prizes now and again. (Joyce could probably give it to me every week.)

2. Friday night, we saw True Story, the based-on-actual-events film starring James Franco (as an accused murderer of his family--wife, two little girls) and Jonah Hill as the actual disgraced New York Times journalist Michael Finkel, who, after losing his job for conflating characters in a magazine story, was swept up in the murder case. Franco was about as good as I've ever seen him, but I just never bought Hill as a driven journalist: He looked too--what?--comfortable? We both liked the film--lots of talking (yes, Old Guys like lots of talking in films)--a film which raised questions about journalism and ethics and morality. And our own conceptions of who we are. (Link to trailer for the film.) The Sunday Times had a piece that dealt with the film (and others) (link to Times piece).

3. On Friday morning, I drove over to Hiram (where I attended school, Grades 7 - college; 1956-1966) to visit/have coffee with former Hiram College classmate Dorothy Munson Steele, who graduated a year after me. She is now a trustee of the college and was on campus because Hiram inaugurated its first woman president last week--Dr. Lori Varlotta (link to newspaper story about her). Anyway, Dorothy and her husband, Claude, were great friends at Hiram--and long afterwards. He was one of the ushers at our wedding. And when I was doing all my Jack London research out in the Bay Area in the early and mid-1990s, they welcomed me into their Stanford home (both were on the faculty). Claude is currently the provost at the University of California, Berkeley. Great talk with Dorothy--and (as many of you have surely found) with true friends, the conversation never ends; it just goes on Pause.

5. Didn't finish any books I can tell you about this week. (For Kirkus Reviews we're supposed to remain anonymous--the Kirkus reviews are unsigned, though our names are listed in the publication. I read/review at least one book a week for them.) I'm also working on a review (Plain Dealer) of a fat new bio of Saul Bellow (vol. 1 only is to be published soon), and to prepare I've been reading the author's other fat biography--this one of Kingsley Amis, whose Lucky Jim I remember reading/enjoying in grad school. About to finish Sue Grafton's latest--and Richard Price's, too. Will write more about them when I'm done.

4. A strange word-of-the-day from the OED this week. Dates back to 1599 and is "rare" now, says the OED. I would say so!

honorificabilitudinity, n.


5. As I type, I can hear a mourning dove right outside. A sound I've always loved--and used to be able to imitate (when I was yet a boy soprano).

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Ya Got Trouble, My Friends ...

Good song from The Music Man ... remember it? (Here's a link to the song from the movie.) It all had to do with a pool hall opening up in River City--and with a huckster's desire to create a little fear about the corruption of youth ... so he could sell band instruments for a boys' band ...  You know the story.

I have a different one. Yesterday I bought and downloaded a program that was supposed to protect me--to speed up the performance of my laptop.

A laptop that is now at Pat's Computer Rescue.

Because this morning, you see (right here in River City!), I had trouble--and that starts with t--and that rhymes with p--and that stands for pissed off.

My laptop would not finish its boot sequence. I called the software outfit. They said to wait for several hours. I said ... I won't repeat it: This is a Family Blog (sort of).

Instead, I whisked it over to Pat's, where it's now under examination (which will no doubt cost me about 100 bucks).

And I am using our "backup" laptop (an older one) and am raging at my stupidity.

Joyce, thankfully, is gone for most of the day and does not have to deal with her Psycho Husband right now.

Maybe all of this will be funny by the time she gets home ... ?

Friday, April 24, 2015

Envelope Shock

This envelope arrived in the mail the other day, and my brothers could tell you immediately why it shocked me.

Oh, I realized pretty soon that it wasn't what it initially appeared to be--a letter from my mother. The stamp is not the sort she uses ... used. And the return address on the back flap is clearly from a mass-mailer (I've not opened it as I type these words).

But what is eerie to me--and no doubt to my brothers? The handwriting looks impossibly like my mother's. And although she is alive (she's 95), she has not written to me in several years, and when she did write then, her penmanship was no longer as neat as what you see on this envelope.

But it was just like this writing.

Mom rarely wrote cursive. Even her signature on her personal checks was "printed," as we used to say (do we still say that?).

It's not that she didn't know how, of course. She was an English teacher for much of her early career; then, when she finished her Ph.D., she became a teacher of teachers. So she preferred printing--that was all.

As she got older, her penmanship, like just about everything else, began to collapse. (Isn't aging wonderful?) I've tried several times right now to scan one of her letters, but the scanner is refusing to cooperate. Somehow, I think Mom has something to do with that.

She really is among the most remarkable of women. Of human beings. And so I have no doubt whatsoever that she could reach out from 550 miles away (she lives in Lenox, Mass.) and shut down my scanner--as if to say, That letter was to you, Danny--not to the whole world.

Yes, Mom. I know.

I just opened the red envelope, by the way. It's an offer from a Kia dealer in nearby Streetsboro to trade in our car. They'll give us a great deal--really.

Meanwhile, I've entertained the conspiracy-theory that mass marketers have somehow gotten hold of a database of our loved ones' handwriting to affect us emotionally as we open their offers.

But no one would create a database like that, right ...?

I know one person who most assuredly would not have put up with that ...

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Barnaby 1, Barnaby 2, Barnaby 3 (Part 1)

Barnaby 1 and DS Jones
For some reason that seems impossible to identify, Joyce and I have spent some years (that's right--years) watching the British TV crime series Midsomer Murders. The show, which commenced in 1997, is still going (I won't say "strong") though some of the principal cast members have changed recently.

During its initial 80-some episodes, the main character, DCI (Detective Chief Inspector) Tom Barnaby, was played by John Nettles, who last played the character in 2011. He's been replaced by his fictional cousin, John Barnaby (played by Neil Dudgeon). Sidekick for both (so far) has been DS (Detective Sergeant) Ben Jones (Jason Hughes), a bit of a dim bulb with a good heart (can bulbs have hearts? I think so).

The show involves grisly murders in a rural English county--the fictional Midsomer. Lots of killings out there in the meadows. Usually, there's some kind of community festival going on, too.

When the series featured Tom Barnaby (the older), it was generally humorless and predictable (opening shots of feet moving in the dark toward someone who wasn't going to last very long). DS Jones didn't really get a chance to do much but drive off somewhere to check something out.

But the newer Barnaby (John) is in shows that are more amusing--and Jones has gotten to do a lot more, including disrobe in an episode that requires him to go undercover (nearly in more ways than one) in a New Age cult. We see his butt--quite a surprise.

Barnaby 2 and DS Jones
Anyway, I think Joyce and I have used the show for a soporific all these years (streaming episodes on Netflix once we hit the bed). She usually drifts off before much has really happened, wakes up when she hears the final music, begins quizzing me about what happened--right at the time that I want to go to sleep. Ah, marriage!

We recently watched an episode that concluded with the departure of another veteran character--Dr. Bullard (Barry Jackson), a wizened crime-scene coroner. He said he was going to retire, and the next episode featured a (hot) younger blonde, Dr. Kate Wilding (played by Tamzin Malleson). I thought there might be some Jones-Wilding wilding going on, but so far nothing more has developed. (Last night we watched Episode 5 in Season 14; the show has begun Season 18!)

As I just looked on IMDB for some information, I see that later seasons do not have DS Jones. Sigh. Change is just so ... wrenching.

Anyway, that takes care of Barnaby 1 and Barnaby 2 (see title of this post).

But last night, watching Barnaby 2 wrap up a case, I was reminded of another Barnaby, one who for years was a TV personality in Cleveland. We'll get to him next time ...

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Frankenstein Sundae, 118

That day—Monday, May 3, 1999—presented a bit of bad luck that turned into good luck. I see in my journal that my train was late arriving in the town of Crewe, where I was going to catch another train that would take me west into Wales. I learned at the station that I would have to wait an hour for the next one.

Arrow points to town of Crewe
So (says my journal) I wandered around for a bit in Crewe (in the English midlands—population about 65,000), sightseeing and looking for a photo shop where I could get some 35mm slide film. These—the days before I tried PowerPoint—I was still using my Carousel slide projector for the public presentations I did. So I was disappointed when the only place I found that even sold film had print film only. I knew (then) that this would mean I would have to take the prints to KSK Color Lab in Solon, Ohio (not far from our home) to pay to have them converted into slides. Money I didn’t want to spend.
Anyway, here’s what I recorded in my journal that day after I finally got aboard my train:
Rats: My train was late into Crewe, & I have had to wait here an hour for the next connection. I took a little walk out into this small city (in my search for slide film), but most places were closed, and the one pharmacy where I did stop had only print film. Crewe seems very working class—brick row houses left & right as I looked down side streets. One strange shop for this town: a violin-repair place, quite sizable (and closed), w/ many instruments hanging in the display windows. A great old bulky brick hotel, too, just across the street from the station, w/ pub attached: the kind of place I wish I’d find on my other excursions when I am spending the night.
Well, later, learning more about Crewe, I realized the folly of my inferences—inferences drawn from a short walk around the part of the town near the rail station. There are art galleries, museums, a branch of an English university, the Lyceum Theatre … I could go on and on. But you get the idea: The doofus who detrained there for a bit drew some na├»ve conclusions about what he was looking at. I became, for the nonce, the stereotypical Ugly American.
Anyway, I bought the film, and when I got to Tremadoc (Wales) later in the day, I fired away with it, using up the entire roll very quickly. And promptly forgot all about it.
Till this morning.
I knew (this morning) that I was going to get back to the story of my visit to the small Welsh town where Bysshe Shelley was nearly assassinated in 1813. (I have just escaped an atrocious assassination, he wrote to his publisher-friend Thomas Hookham on February 27. Oh send the 20£ if you have it, he added—you will perhaps hear of me no more.[1]
This morning I thought I was going to have to use Google Images to post on my blog to show readers what I saw that May day sixteen years ago: I’d forgotten that I’d shot print film that day and had no memory of converting slides into digital images (which I’ve done for quite a few of the pictures I took on that 1999 journey).
But this morning—I know: I am very slow at getting to the point!—I wondered if I had in my Shelley files a folder on Tremadoc. I looked. I did. And inside that folder … the package of Kodak prints I’d taken that day.
Need I say that I was pleased? And would soon be employing our scanner?

prints I found this morning!

[1] Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley, I: 355.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

As I was stumbling around this morning,

Hiram School, 1961
... a "gift" from my recent new "friend," Vertigo, I thought about Hiram High School.

The school was probably near my consciousness (it's always near my conscience!) since I'd written a little bit about it in yesterday's post. Hiram High School is no more. The last class to graduate was the Class of 1964 (two years after mine); the next fall the Hiram students went to Crestwood Schools in nearby Mantua (pronounced MAN-uh-way for those of you not from the region). And they still do. The building was razed. Nothing but grass now where glory once grew.

There was some debate in Hiram when the school had to close--Should the students go to Garrettsville (3 mi away) or Mantua (5)? The township vote was for Mantua, but a few kids (like my younger brother) went to Garrettsville anyway, paying tuition to do so.

Anyway, stumbling today, I was thinking about Hiram because during my time in the Hiram Schools--from seventh grade through graduation (1956-62)--I was interested most of all in sports. Practices and games trumped everything else, schoolwork included (maybe even especially schoolwork). Well ... almost. One time my mother made me perform in a group piano recital, a command performance that meant I would miss a basketball practice. (Those in the recital audience, I am confident, would have preferred I'd been practicing foul shots.)

But--I thought of myself as an athlete first; everything else was second.

And in Hiram--a tiny, tiny school--I got to play on the teams I wanted (basketball, baseball--we had no football team), and because I got to play, I improved ... sort of. I was always more eager than talented, a lesson I learned (but ignored in high school) in college when I went out for the freshman basketball team (I was confident: I'd been All-County my senior year...2nd team) and discovered that there were lots of guys who were better than I. Lots better. I sat for most of the games, moving farther and farther down the bench until I blended with the crowd. I quit before the season was over.

Anyway, since early boyhood--since I could stand and walk, actually--I took my physical grace, such as it was, for granted. (Ah, youth!) Okay, so I wasn't going to be a great athlete, but I was good enough, say, to fool Joyce. Our first date in July 1969 was on the tennis court (I'd been a varsity player at Hiram College--but only because our team was kind of, uh, challenged), and I looked pretty good to her (tennis-wise--let's not get ahead of ourselves).

Throughout my ensuing life, I continued to take physical capacity and agility for granted. When I was nearly 50, I went alone to Alaska, hiked over the Chilkoot Pass into the Yukon Territory--all because I was curious about Jack London and The Call of the Wild. It didn't occur to me that I might not be up to it. (I very nearly wasn't, by the way--and my left knee has never been the same.)

Anyway, Age and Vertigo, that dynamic duo, have humbled me--not that I needed all that much humbling anymore.

But about Hiram High School. Here's what I wanted to say. Because it was small, lots of kids got to do lots of things they never would have been able to in a larger system. In my own case--here's a list of the activities I participated in in high school:

  • band
  • choir
  • baseball
  • basketball
  • drama productions
  • Future Teachers of America (I had no clue)
  • school newspaper
  • student government
There were others; I'm too lazy to stand up and go over and look in my yearbooks. (And, you know, I might fall on the way across the room.)

Later--when I became a teacher myself (a 45-year occupation)--I realized that because I'd been involved in all those things back at Hiram High, I was better able to understand my students, no matter what school activity(ies) they were pursuing. Also--I became advisor to any number of student activities in my career, activities I knew about principally because of those Hiram High years.

So, thank you, Hiram High School ... for everything.

And ... Go, Huskies!