Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Sun & Snow

Yesterday afternoon, about 3:45, when I walked out of the health club (fully whupped, as usual), the sun was shining brightly--and it was snowing.

That seemed unfair.

But so what? I remember my mother telling me, over and over and over again (when I was an inattentive adolescent), that life isn't fair. It just is. At fifteen, I didn't find that particularly useful. And so I filed it away with all sorts of other parental sayings (paternal and maternal) that now, of course, I'd give the world to remember. It took me a long time to value what my parents were saying to me. For far too long I was ... a jerk.

I was also--via that cliche--a "late bloomer." I sort of dawdled my way through secondary school, caring about pretty much everything except classes. Sports, friends, girls, school plays--all of this was far more important to me than Latin and American history and indirect objects.

I wasn't a terrible student, mind you, just a lazy one. I did enough to "get by" throughout junior high and high school, and the habit lingered with me even into some college classes. Will you think less of me if I told you I got a D in Romantic poetry? (My junior year--I attended only sporadically, turned my term paper in a week late, etc.) I probably should have failed. But my professor's office was near my dad's at Hiram College, so maybe that earned me ... something?

But in college I also felt some things begin to return--my early boyhood fondness for reading, my enjoyment of writing, my desire to know things. By the time I graduated (1966), I was pretty much back on the highway, accelerating slowly, realizing I'd missed a lot--and that a lot of traffic had passed me ...

As most of you know, I became a teacher in the fall of 1966. Seventh graders. Aurora Middle School. Aurora, Ohio--only about eleven miles from Hiram, where I'd lived since 1956 when we moved there from Enid, Oklahoma. I thought it would be a temporary thing--something to do to feed and clothe and house me until I found something else to do.

I never really did. And I'm glad.

I ended up teaching in that middle school for nearly thirty years (loving it beyond description). But then one day I looked up, and it was over.

I probably could have stayed longer, but Ohio was going standardized-test-crazy, and I watched helplessly and hopelessly my final few years as tests changed everything. I've shared this little exchange before, I know, but here it is again--a reminder of what had happened:

DYER (waxing eloquent about Shakespeare or something)
STUDENT (raising hand--I call on him): Is this going to be on the proficiency test?
DYER: Definitely not.
STUDENT (puzzled): Then why are you talking about it?

And that was that. I retired in January 1997, the first moment I was eligible. I was 52 years old.  (In 2001 I returned to the classroom at nearby Western Reserve Academy and retired, again, in the spring of 2011 when my prostate cancer took a dark turn.)

Meanwhile--all those years from 1966 to 2011 (and beyond)--I was a voracious reader. I got graduate degrees. Published some books. Had a ball. The sun was always shining ... well, mostly.

But then, gradually, the snow arrived. Illness, deaths, losses of all sorts.

And so yesterday, exiting the health club, when I saw the sun, the snow, I felt something swelling in my eyes. And I hurried to the car where I could let it all out.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Snow Day!

Because I lived in the Southwest (Oklahoma, Texas) almost all of my first twelve years on earth, I had, as a boy, no idea what a "Snow Day" was. Our move to Hiram, Ohio, in the late summer of 1956 changed all that. And Hiram--which I'd already, and very quickly so, learned to love (the woods were lovely, dark and deep)--became to me a kind of heaven-on-earth when I experienced my first Snow Day.

Because Hiram was (is) such a rural community--with many "back roads"--the snow plows weren't always able to clear the roads all that promptly, so we began getting the calls: "No school today."

Is there a sweeter sound to a confused seventh grader? (Or, I would learn later, to an ill-prepared teacher?) I remember one fabulous week in the 1956-57 school year (I was in seventh grade) when we had the entire week off because of a blizzard. (Maybe it was 57-58? and maybe only four days?--I prefer thinking it was five.) My mother, who taught high school English in Garrettsville, three miles from Hiram, had to teach a couple of those days, and I remember her muttering some things about "standards"--whatever those were ... I think she was just jealous.

We did have snow now and then back in the Sooner State, but nothing like what I have experienced in northeastern Ohio. Oh, and I should add this: In the 1978-79 academic year, Joyce and I were teaching at Lake Forest College, up the North Shore from Chicago, where they had a mega-blizzard that winter. It seemed an omen--a message from Ohio: Get back here--our winters may be bad--but Chicago's are horrible! And so we did--after only a single year away, the only year we have not lived in Portage or Summit County in our entire forty-nine years of marriage.

Anyway, as a youngster I came to cherish Snow Days. Often--when the call came--I would think: Great! I can do that homework I neglected to do last night! (Usually, though, Lassitude prevailed, and I found myself returning to school, my homework still undone. My mediocre grades in junior high are ample proof.)

Later--a teacher--I became more ambivalent about them. Early in my career (which commenced in the fall of 1966 at the Aurora Middle School) I was thrilled to have days off--a chance to catch up. I was then in my mature early twenties, and (most of the time) I actually did catch up on grading and preparation--after, that is, I got out of bed, sometimes even before noon.

Later in my career, though, I didn't like Snow Days. I had carefully planned my courses, and unplanned days off annoyed me. I had to make ... adjustments. And adjustments were not easy for the Older Me. Days off also complicated things like play rehearsals. (I directed more than thirty shows at the middle school.) Anyway, when classes resumed, I had to feign delight at the day(s) off so that my students wouldn't think--even more than they already did--that I was a dork.

After I retired from public school, and after a few years of reading and writing and traveling and penury, I began teaching again (part-time) at nearby Western Reserve Academy (I could walk or bike to class--and usually did).  Principally a boarding school, WRA never had Snow Days. I found that refreshing--even charming--until, of course, I had to struggle through a foot of snow in below-zero weather. Then the charm quickly froze.

And now--fully retired--I sit in the coffee shop and watch the school buses roll by (or not--depending on the snow). I sip hot coffee and miss having a surprise day off--though, being retired, I know that every day is really a day off. Every day's a Snow Day. Which kind of diminishes the charm ...

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Sunday Sundries, 214

1. HBOTW [Human Being of the Week]: Today, a neighbor with a snowblower worked his way up and down our street, both sides, doing the sidewalks and driveways of all of his neighbors after our major snowfall last night. Time for a Nobel Prize, I think!

2. We're glad to hear that True Detective is back for another season--we'll start streaming on HBO as soon as we finish a couple of other series we're working on. Link to trailer.

3. I finished just one book this week--Case Histories (2004)--the first in Kate Atkinson's ongoing detective series featuring Jackson Brodie, a series that has now reached four novels--with another scheduled for 2019. I first read all of Atkinson's "literary" novels first, thinking that these Brodie novels would be lighter fare, saving them for later.

I was wrong. Case Histories is brilliantly conceived and executed--no different in "literary" values than, oh, Life After Life, Atkinson's superior novel that I think is one of the best I have ever read.

So much of Atkinson's style is evident here: multiple (overlapping) stories; leaps back and forth in time; puzzled, damaged people; Surprise (yes, with a capital letter!). The principal cases are these: the disappearance of a little girl spending the night in a tent in the back yard with her sister (30 years previously); the murder of a young woman at work one day; a frustrated mother--and another murder.

Atkinson weaves these stories together--takes us back and forth in time with electrifying skill and subtlety--leads us to conclusions that both surprise and shock.

Brodie himself is a terrific character: He resembles some of the greats in the genre (Philip Marlowe, etc.) but is unique in so many other ways.

Can't wait to read the remaining volumes!

4. We had fun on Friday evening--dinner at Dontino's (an Italian restaurant in North Akron, a restaurant Joyce has gone to since her girlhood) with our son, daughter-in-law, and two grandsons (13 and 9). Time, uncooperative, flew, and before we knew it, we were heading home--but with our heads aflutter with memories and ever-deepening affections for all of them. Pic shows Joyce with her grandsons amid the ruins of supper!

5. My dental implant area is healing well--saw the surgeon this week, and he was pleased. I'll see him again in about six weeks for the Next Step. I'm now chewing (gingerly, gingerly) on both sides once again.

6. I am whupped from all the car-cleaning and shoveling this morning. We did manage to get out to the grocery store (our Sunday task) but found very few shoppers there. And I mixed the week's batch of multigrain sourdough bread--pic on Facebook to follow! Now, I'm half-dazed as I type, yearning for the nap that will follow when the bread is out of the oven!

7. Last Word: A word I liked this week from one of my various online word-of-the-day providers:

     - from the Oxford English Dictionary

ranivorous, adj.: Of an animal, esp. a bird: that feeds on frogs. Also humorously of a French person.
Origin: A borrowing from Latin, combined with an English element. Etymons: Latin ranivorus, -ous suffix.
Etymology: <  scientific Latin ranivorus (1800 as a specific name; <  classical Latin rāna frog (see ranid n.) + -vorus: see -vorous comb. form) + -ous suffix.
1821  J. Latham Gen. Hist. Birds  I. 181 Ranivorous Falcon.
1878 Fraser's Mag.  18 504 Frenchmen..were not the ranivorous and capering creatures they supposed.
1940  L. E. C. Hughes  & C. F. Tweney Chambers's Techn. Dict.  702/1 Ranivorous (Zool.), feeding on frogs.
1996 Re: M813  in alt.religion.scientology(Usenet newsgroup) 20 Mar. Our ranivorous Continental chums.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Mass Suicide of Small Kitchen Appliances

They must have formed some kind of sick pact, our small kitchen appliances. In recent months the following have decided they've had enough: toaster, Crock Pot, toaster oven. And so out has come the plastic once again.

I need them all, those small devices.

I have a piece of toast for lunch every single day--with some preserves I buy each summer at Szalay's Farm and Market down in the nearby Cuyahoga Valley National Park--I alternate: strawberry, blackberry, apricot. The bread is from a multigrain sourdough loaf I've made, and I try to use prudence (my mom's name!) when I slice it so that the slice is sufficiently thick but still able to fit in the toaster slot. I like it a bit dark--not burned, mind you. Just darkish. Like a wannabe Darth Vader who can't quite find the shade of black he wants, settles for one of the fifty shades of ... you know.

We've had a Crock Pot since early in our marriage back in late 1969. This will be the third one. The first--I think we broke the crockery by doing something stupid ... can't remember exactly what it was, but I'm pretty sure it involved Impatient Me. We used to use it for lots of things; now, however, we've sort of dwindled to two principal functions: chicken soup (from stock we've made--with some contributions from a bird, of course) and hot cereal (in the winter we alternate weeks: steel-cut oats and cornmeal mush; we're having the latter tonight).

The second Crock Pot just flat died a week ago. Decided it would stick on the "Warm" setting and eschew the "Low" and "High." Not good. We'd had that particular Crock a long time--decades--so although it was sad to see it go, I was not all that surprised. Just annoyed when it ruined a batch of mush (and that is hard to do!).

I've used a bit of literary license re: the toaster oven. It actually died last fall, but I needed three examples here, you know? (All cool things come in threes--Larry, Curly, and Moe; Tinker to Evers to Chance; etc.) We use it for all kinds of things--from toasting bagels to broiling turkey burgers to reheating pizza, etc. This new one is great. One of the problems with the previous one (as well as with the previous Crock Pot): the electronic display had dimmed so much over the years that I needed to use the flashlight function on my iPhone to read what it said!

So ... there we are. Newly equipped and waiting for the next fatality in the kitchen.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

"We're on an austerity plan ...."

When I was a kid (in need of 6 cents for a Popsicle), my dad used to say this. Of course, I had no idea what austerity meant--though I had a pretty good idea: No Popsicle.*

We didn't have a lot of money in our family. My mom--early on--was a stay-at-home mom: three sons to deal with. We lived on Dad's salary as a professor at Enid, Oklahoma's Phillips University (RIP); he supplemented it with filling in on Sundays as a preacher here and there; he supplemented it a little more with what he earned in the Air Force Reserves (he was a chaplain at Enid's Vance AFB).

When I was in later elementary school, Mom went to work--teaching junior high school English at Enid's Emerson Junior High School. (Enid's other jhs was Longfellow!) But public school teachers then made very little. When I started teaching in the fall of 1966 in the Aurora Middle School (Aurora, Ohio), my salary was $5100--so you can imagine what it had been a dozen years earlier in Oklahoma.

Anyway, every now and then Dad would announce that we were on an "austerity plan"--and we knew there were no extra $$ available for anything. Just the essentials. Food. Gasoline. Utilities. Etc. That was about it until (how?) we crawled out of the Austerity Pit and could enjoy a Popsicle.

Let me hasten to say this: I never felt "deprived" or "poor" or whatever. We always had food. We lived in good housing. I didn't wear rags to school. But there just was never really a lot of extra cash lying around. My parents were very prudent (my mother's name was Prudence!), very careful about money, and it served them well later on when they went into a stages-of-care facility for their final years. They had the money for it.

When I became a teacher (as I mentioned), I had to practice the austere routines I'd learned as a kid. We got paid on the 1st and the 15th; my take-home was $168.42. I had to pay rent, food, car payment, utilities, etc. My sad checking account--by the end of the pay period--usually held only cents. When I married Joyce in December 1969, I had begun my fourth year of teaching. I had not a single penny in savings. Her wee stipend at Kent State (she was a grad assistant) brought in a few hundred a month, and I felt we'd found the rainbow jackpot.

Then our son was born (July 1972), and money began to flow out more quickly than it was coming in. Fortunately, we had no credit cards at the time (except for gasoline and Amex, which, then required full payment at the end of each month). We learned to be ... austere. To get by. I learned some of the habits of my parents without even realizing that I'd done so.

Yesterday, for some reason, the phrase austerity plan popped back into my head; I checked it out on the web and learned that it has been employed for a long, long time--and all over the world. It's controversial, too. Cutting government spending affects lots of people--and not usually in a good way. My parents had experienced a number of instances of it.

But--now--I'm glad I learned the word at such an early age. Learned the idea. No Popsicles has transformed, later on, into No unnecessary expenses--or, rather--Rare unnecessary expenses.

And so we've reached our Twilight Years (no--no sign of Edward Cullen and Bella yet) and are able to live just comfortably--and happily--on our retirement incomes. We are not Popsicle Rich, but we have each other, our families, our memories, our daily experiences with each other. And I can't think of a better, more affluent way to live.

*austerity = a way that is plainly simple or unadorned; giving little or no scope for pleasure or indulgence

Monday, January 14, 2019


I know: The name of this blog is DawnReader, a name I chose seven years ago when I began, a name that's appropriate, for I begin my days (well, most of them) at the Open Door Coffee Co. here in Hudson, around 6:45 a.m., where I spend a couple of hours reading--often reading a book I'll review on Friday for Kirkus Reviews.

But I read later in the day, too. Late morning. Afternoon. And at night--in bed. I suddenly recall those famous lines from Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock":

For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons ....

In my case, it's coffee cups and pages turned ...

I think I've been a NightReader most of my life. Oh, there was a period in my life (junior high/high school) when I didn't do much reading--anywhere (except study hall). Hey, I was preparing for my careers with the Cleveland Indians (catcher) and Boston Celtics (point guard)!

But at home we owned only a single TV set--in the living room with Dad as the Commander-in-Chief--and so there was not much else to do, alone in my room, than read. And so I did ... nothing too impressive, mind you. Biographies of cowboys and mountain men. Books about sports heroes. An occasional Hardy Boys. You know ...?

When I began teaching in the fall of 1966, I was overwhelmed with work, some of which I actually did. But I always reserved an hour for myself, just before Lights Out, to read. I still remember one of the first books I read that way, the fall of 1966: Catherine Drinker Bowen's Miracle at Philadelphia (1966), a brand new book about the writing of the U. S. Constitution. I was teaching English and American history to 7th graders that year, and I knew I needed some more "learnin'." (Actually, I needed a lot more of it!)

I just went on a search for my copy of the book--couldn't find it (which could mean all sorts of things). But mine looked just like the pic.

I maintained this habit throughout all of my teaching career--reading at night after my homework was over. And I've continued it since I've retired (twice).

I read from multiple books each night--ten or so pages from each. Right now, here's what's on my nightstand (and on my Kindle):
  • Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, 2018 (he's coming to speak at the Hudson Library on Jan. 23; it's a long book--hope I finish ...)
  • John McPhee's latest collection of essays, The Patch (2018)--I've loved his work for a long, long time
  • Haruki Murakami's Killing Commendatore, 2017, a novel that's in a way a tribute to The Great Gatsby
  • Wilkie Collins' The Law and the Lady, 1875, a novel about a young bride who discovers her husband has been accused of murdering his first wife (I'm slowly reading my way through all of Collins' novels--such an amazing talent)
  • and on Kindle ...
    • Ken Bruen's 2017 Jack Taylor novel The Ghosts of Galway; I got interested in the Taylor novels after streaming the TV series based on his dark adventures
    • Michael Connelly's new one, Dark Sacred Night, that features both Harry Bosch and Renee Ballard (the point of view shifts throughout: Bosch gets some chapters, then Ballard--all 3rd person, just differing points of view) 
So (I just counted) I'm reading from six books each night--though (confession) not every night--just most of them. Sometimes I'm too tired, and I'll do just the Kindle books, but most nights I stick to the plan.

My eyes tire quickly these days, and I can no longer read for hours on end, so when the words begin to blur, it's time to stream some British detective/mystery shows ... and we're thrilled that Vera is back for Season 9! And then ... z-z-z-z-z-z-z

And up the next day to assume my DawnReader costume and head for the coffee shop!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Sunday Sundries, 213

1. HBOTW [Human Beings of the Week]: This is somewhat overdue--more than somewhat overdue. A bit of background required: Back in the spring of 1999, I spent about a month in Europe running around, chasing Mary Shelley--places she lived and loved, places of grief (e.g., where her husband, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, drowned), her grave. One disappointing stop: Oxford, where young Bysshe had briefly been a student before they booted him for publishing a pamphlet about atheism. At Oxford's University College (where he'd been a student) there is now a famous sculpture of Bysshe after his drowning (I know--but it's beautiful). Anyway, when I got to Oxford in 1999, I discovered to my horror that the exhibit was closed for maintenance and repair. They would not let me in to see it, even though I'd come across the ocean to do so. Years passed. And then a former colleague from Western Reserve Academy--Susan McKenzie--was headed to Oxford to visit her daughter, who's studying there. I see Susan's husband, John, all the time in the coffee shop (well, not all the time!), and when he told me of their journey, I asked a favor. (Gee, wonder what it was?)

And they did, indeed, go to University College, see the sculpture, take some pics for me (see below). And I am eternally grateful to these most kind human beings!

2. In the coffee shop not long ago, former WRA student Alexxa Gotthardt  told me about a writer I'd not heard of--Rachel Cusk. I wrote her name down, ordered one of her books (Outline, 2014, the first volume of a trilogy), read it with admiration--and with some alarm: Why have I not heard of this person? Turns out, she's won prizes, had her books named to the best-of-the-year lists by some notable publications (New Yorker, etc.). What's my excuse?


Well, I have learned this over the years: The older I get, the less I know; the more I learn, the more I discover there is to learn. I will go to my grave grieving for all I never got around to reading and learning about.

The novel is narrated by a writer. She's on an airplane to Greece, where she will be teaching a writing course. Sitting next to her, an older Greek man who befriends her (okay, he makes moves on her later on), and they begin spending time together after their arrival.

As the story moves along, we learn things about her past, about his (which is far more ... complicated), and I was stunned at her naivete: going out on his boat with him, etc.

We get some glimpses of her class--the sorts of tasks she assigns her fledgling writers. But, mostly I was so taken with the novelty of her approach--a running commentary on what's going on during her days, a commitment to trying to understand her own motives.

I've got vol. 2 on my pile--but I've first got to finish a Kate Atkinson novel!

3. We went last week to see Clint Eastwood's film The Mule, a story of an older man (Clint) who loses his day lily farm (you heard me), then stumbles into being a drug "mule" for some pretty rough guys--and making so much money doing so that he begins contributing to various local causes. It's based on a true story that originally appeared in the New York Times.

It was much better than I feared it would be (popcorn was a primary motive for going! and I've been seeing Clint since Rawhide days on TV: 1959-65).

There was a scene at a mob party in Mexico that I thought was excessively ... prurient, I guess. Young women in thongs shaking their butts in close-ups. Really, Clint? You thought that was necessary?

And I was troubled a little by some of the convenience of the plot twists--and by the failure of the script to deal with the effects of his trafficking. Who was buying these drugs? What was it doing to their lives? Their families? Their communities? Not worth a mention? An allusion?

That said, I still mostly liked it, especially the times that clueless Clint learned something about the worlds he was living in--the drug world, the human world. (Link to film trailer.)

Good supporting cast--Bradley Cooper, Dianne Wiest, Michael Peña, Laurence Fisburne, etc.

3. Still streaming bit of shows each night as our days wind down: Wire in the Blood, The Inspector Lynley Mysteries, and we started one called WPC 56, about a British woman copper in the 1950s; 1st episode is kind of clichéd and predictable, but we'll give it some more chances.

4. Last Word: A word I liked this week from one of my various online word-of-the-day providers.

     - from the Oxford English Dictionary--sounds like a great name for a comic-book villain!

† cannibal stinkwood, n.
Origin: Apparently from a proper name, combined with an English lexical item. Etymons: proper name Camdeboo, stinkwood n.
Etymology:Apparently <  Camdeboo (Afrikaans Kamdeboo), the name of a region and a national park in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, with folk-etymological alteration after cannibal n. + stinkwood n.
 S. Afr. Obsolete.
  A timber tree of southern Africa which gives a strong odour when felled, either the white stinkwood, Celtis africana (family Cannabaceae), or (perhaps by confusion) the black stinkwood, Ocotea bullata (family Lauraceae).
1859  R. J. Mann Colony of Natal  viii. 156 There is a variety of this wood, known under the name of the ‘Cannibal Stink-wood’.
1877  M. A. Barker Year's Housek. S. Afr.  325 What rhyme or reason, what sense or satire can there be in such a name as ‘Cannibal Stink-wood’?—applied..to a graceful, handsome tree whose bark gives out an aromatic..perfume.

1913  C. Pettman Africanderisms  107 Cannibal stinkwood, Celtis Kraussiana. The first part of this name appears to be a corruption of Camdeboo..; it is applied to a variety of stinkwood, the wood of which is woolly, porous, and useless to the cabinet-maker.