Dawn Reader

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

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Surrounded by Ghosts

We live in a house inhabited by ghosts. Not the terrifying, sanguinary kind you see in slasher movies, not the friendly Casper type, not even the kind that's visible. Well, they kind of are visible, actually.

I'm talking about the objects we have that once belonged to relatives, many of whom are now gone. In our bedroom, we sleep in a double bed that once belonged to my Osborn grandparents. The two dressers in the room are part of the same set. There's not really anything too special about the pieces--other than my knowing that when I lie down each night, I'm resting in a bed I've known my entire life. There's something comforting about that, knowing what is holding me through the night.

Earlier this week I posted this image on Facebook--one of two identical old bookcases that once had belonged to those same Osborn grandparents. Over the years the shelves had separated, and they had sustained numerous bangs and bumps. For my birthday this year, Joyce took them to a furniture-restoration place and now--months later--they're back in the house, refinished, the poplar wood now more visible because of the more revealing stain the craftsman used. Again--I cannot remember a time in my life when I did not know these cases.

At the top of our stairs is a desk that belonged to my Grandmother Osborn. I can see her sitting there, writing letters, writing checks. For years, I used it for those identical occupations, but now, because of computers (and Quicken) it's more of a storage item.


You might be wondering at this point: Why does he have so many things from his Osborn grandparents?

When my grandmother died in May 1978 (my grandfather had died a decade earlier), she was living in Columbia, Missouri, where she and Grandpa had retired in a place that was then called the Lenoir Memorial Home. (It has subsequently changed ownership--and names.) It was a stages-of-care place for members of the Disciples of Christ, my grandparents' denomination (he had taught in a seminary, was an ordained minister, published articles and books). They had their own little brick cottage at Lenoir, and neither of them ever had to live in the nursing facility--a blessing.

Anyway, my parents were not too interested in my grandparents' furniture. They were nearing retirement themselves and so left the division of things to my brothers and me. My older brother, Richard, and I drove a U-Haul out to Columbia and amiably settled on who-would-get-what, stopped in Kent to deliver the things we would keep (see above), then on to Cambridge, Mass., with things for the other two brothers.


High on the wall at the bottom of the stairs is the cuckoo clock that belonged to my great-grandfather Lanterman (my Osborn grandmother was his daughter). I've written about it before--but it hung for years in my boyhood home; my parents gave it to me in 1978--the same trip when we went out to Missouri for my grandparents' things. It's hung on our wall ever since. Our young grandsons (6, 10) love it--and we love the thought that it will one day be with one (both?) of them.

In the front room--among the dearest of our family possessions. My grandmother Osborn's rocking chair. The finish has worn away on the arms, and I am moved by the thought--every time I look at it--that it was her arms that wore down that finish. In the picture--notice in the background the old spinning wheel. My parents acquired it and refinished it when they were first married (Oct, 12, 1939); it stood in their house throughout my boyhood. Now it's in ours. One day it will be in our son's. And then ...

Near those items is a little rocker that once belonged to Joyce's father, Thomas Coyne, when he was a little boy. Joyce used it as a little girl; our grandsons have loved sitting in it. But its history is Joyce's tale to tell--so I will ...

... stop right here.

Our house is full of such family things--not just furniture, but china, books, pictures on the wall, and on and on.

And for me ... each one possesses the spirit--the ghost--of the person who once possessed it. When I sit, or lie down, or walk by--or even think about it--I hear a whisper from that loved one gone. And there is no more lovely sound in this sublunary life than the voice of such a ghost.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Frankenstein Sundae, 121

In a restaurant in Porthmadog, Wales ... writing in my journal about the day I've just spent, May 3, 1999 ...

7:15 p.m.  An amazing day. I was slow to realize that I would not get back to London tonight—not w/out the most superficial and perfunctory visit here to Porthmadog—& Tremadog.  And since today is one of the truly most gloriously beautiful days of my entire trip, I knew that it would be beyond stupid to get crazy about returning.  So—after taking a few shots of the Embankment (called “The Cob” here), I went in search of a little hotel, found one called Owens Hotel (£27 for a room w/ shower!) & have a nice room overlooking the street.

What I don’t have are toiletries [I thought this would be just a day trip], so I scampered around & rounded up the basics: toothbrush, toothpaste, comb.  Found some slide film, too, and a nice taxi driver named Stephen Dukes (he owns the little local company).  He took me to Tremadog, about a mile away, and drove me up the hill to Tan-yr-allt, which has few vantage points now it is so overgrown, but I popped out & snapped a couple of backlit shots (sigh), then back down to Tremadog, where he dropped me off, after letting me know that “Lawrence of Arabia’s” birth house is just down the road—& so it is.

The light was very good (& has probably sunburned the shit out of me!), so I got a lot of the little village, the stone church, then back to the Cob where I tried to shoot Tan-yr-allt, which I could see, but even w/ the 300mm lens, I don’t think I got much of value.  Sadly, the tide was out, so it doesn’t look so dramatic, but I will try in the a.m.  Out roaming for a place to eat, I found this little steak house, a “real” Welsh restaurant patronized mostly by locals (except for me)—called Yr Winwydden (the grapevine) Bistro.  On the way, I saw the same cab co. & the same driver.  He’s going to pick me up at 9 at my hotel [tomorrow a.m.], drive me the same route, & then drop me at the British Rail stop in Porthmadog, where I’ll pay out the wazoo for a ticket back to Euston Station.  I also picked up a tourist book & some postcards, which I’ll mail tomorrow a.m. from Tremadog.

The train I rode was a tourist train that took 1 ½ hrs. to traverse 13 miles thru the mountains.  I was really too nervous about getting back [to London] to enjoy the ride.  Oh well. What I didn’t expect is that the train would cross the Cob to Porthmadog, & I hung out the window like, well, like a tourist when I realized what was happening and fired off a couple of shots. I must have looked pretty funny at first: I just could not decide whether to stay or try to get back. And so I was starting & stopping, going & coming, my little heart racing, my head spinning w/ indecision (and worry: would I find a room?). It seemed, too, that the Cob was the intersection of the universe: There was an endless stream of cars across the narrow 2-lane road: weekenders heading back to wherever.

The town is basically a tourist town (think: “Cannon Beach” [Ore.]), but one of the businesses, right on the main drag is a tattoo & body-piercing parlor. Spilling out onto the sidewalk were some/many of the less savory patrons of the establishment, a beery, dissipated crew whom, unfortunately, I had to pass 3-4 times, each time pretending I didn’t notice the spilled beer (the vomit?) and the bizarre clientele sprawled in the sun like so many wacked-out sea lions. (I think I’m getting the out-of-towner treatment here: The locals are waited on & served much more briskly.)

I am really happy—so far—that I decided to swallow the few $$ this will cost me; I mean, when would I ever get back here again?  I would’ve regretted it, just as I regret, in Italy, not taking one more train ride that day to San Giuliano/Baths of Pisa.  Now, I can see this place when I write about it down the line.  (Note: Must call Hotel Phoenix when I get back.)  This is a leisurely meal, that’s for sure (it’s 8 & I’ve not seen the entrée.) 8:10  No sooner spoken …  In J’s honor, I ordered the lemon-chicken stir-fry (a dish she makes well) and was so hungry that I ate it all, even the green & yellow peppers, the cucumber slices, the little yellow-things fashioned to resemble ears of corn—all of it, save the parsley.

8:35  I’ve been waiting for check for more than 20 minutes—& this place is hardly busy.  I don’t know what my hurry is—I guess I’m just U. S.-impatient. 8:45  I finally just got up & headed out. That got the server’s attention ….

Will post photographs tomorrow ...

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Must We Fight All Those Battles AGAIN?

On Sunday last, John Oliver devoted a major portion of his show (Last Week Tonight--HBO) to abuses in the clothing industry--most egregiously: child labor overseas. He noted how happy we are to pay a few dollars less for things--and how we just refuse to think about the reason(s): grotesquely underpaid workers in undeveloped nations, horribly unsafe working conditions, child labor. (Link to that segment of the show.)

And it made me think--and sadly so--that we have surrendered so many of the advances in human decency and basic fairness that we had won through battles--sometimes bloody ones--from decades, even centuries past. We don't seem too interested anymore in reading the history of labor, of civil rights, of women's rights ...

I don't have the space (or the energy or the equanimity) to deal with all of them. But just look around. Union jobs and membership have declined sharply. Child labor. Civil rights (as I write, there are violent disturbances in Baltimore--relationships between the police and residents in African American communities are volatile, to say the least). Women's rights (legislators can't seem to leave women alone). Public schools--good ones--for everyone, not just in communities with a sturdy tax base. And on and on and on.

So ... let's just take a couple. Unions and wages. As I've written here before, many of the adults in my wife's family worked for the rubber companies in Akron. Because of the United Rubber Workers, these families were able to live in nice homes in good neighborhoods, enjoy a vacation now and then, send their kids to college. Joyce went to Wittenberg Univ. with a Firestone scholarship.

And in my own life--the teachers' union greatly improved my standard of living over my career. When I began teaching 7th graders in Aurora in the fall of 1966, my gross pay was $5100. No health or other insurances. But with the efforts of the union--local, state, national--my pay rose steadily--as did my benefits. I got sabbatical leaves to work on my Ph.D., to write books. The school system helped me with grad school tuition. I now receive a decent pension.

And so I ask: Would any of this have happened without union negotiating (and, yes, striking)? Would the rubber companies--out of the goodness of their hearts--have paid workers so well? Provided them medical and retirement benefits? And other perks? Would school systems--out of basic human decency--have given teachers health insurance?

Now, of course, unions are fractured and fragmented. Imploding. Companies gleefully send manufacturing jobs abroad where they can pay and treat workers in ways that are unthinkable here. And I wonder: Why is this not a form of treason?

And so many jobs remaining here? Minimum wage (or lower). Few (if any) benefits. Here are a couple of links to some troubling information about the minimum wage, about union membership. (Link to minimum wage graph.  Link to union membership.)

We don't do much about it. Because child labor is no longer visible, no longer somewhere down the block, but out of sight--in another country--and (could it be?) performed by brown rather than white children, we no longer seem to care. We're just happy about the $4.98 we saved on the new jeans. Or the great deal we got on our new smart phone.

It's vicious now. Because our workers are paid so poorly, they can afford only those items manufactured by other workers who are paid even worse--and who work and live in conditions no one here would tolerate.

Before I quit here--just another thought (one I've written about before, as well): We have got to try to quit judging others by what the most depraved members of their group are doing. Corrupt union officials? Murdering cops? Cheating teachers? Abusive priests? Dishonest recipients of food stamps? Criminal bankers? Lazy workers? Sleazy lawyers? And on and on?

Of course these folks exist. And our media love dragging them out onstage, as if to say, Look what these people are like? But these people are mostly not like that--the vast majority are not. We need to deal with individuals, not categories. I don't like being shoved into a category--most people don't.

In some ways, we're now back a hundred years ago--or more. And the next generations must once again fight the battles their ancestors believed they had won.

Anyway, I thank John Oliver for slamming such issues down on our coffee tables every Sunday night and asking, Now ... what are you going to do about this?

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 naïve 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!

Monday, April 20, 2015

"It's Not Personal ..."

My mother used to tell me--when I was a lad and upset that the rain was going to ruin my plans for an outdoor summer day--that the weather isn't personal. That's just one of her teachings that I never really absorbed beyond skin level.

Or, better, brain level. I knew--logically, intellectually--that it wasn't personal, but still ... It was hurting me personally, you see?

On spring afternoons at Hiram High School (RIP), I remember sitting in the upstairs study hall, its long row of windows facing the west, and watching the dark clouds rolling in, realizing that they were going to arrive just in time to cancel a baseball practice or game. I muttered bad words in the Hiram study hall on such days--never loud enough, of course, to be audible to anyone but my conscience. Why, it got me so upset that I couldn't even concentrate on my homework.

Not that I was trying to, mind you. At that time in my life, homework was a synonym for later. (I know: different part of speech; deal with it. And remember, I didn't always do my English homework then--so parts of speech? Whatever.) After all, it had that home part to it, you know? And if I didn't get it done at home, well, there was always study hall. (Can you see why I didn't do all that well in high school? It was the freakin' weather's fault!)

The weather has continued to affect--no, annoy--me throughout my life. Here's one example. In my final decade teaching at Harmon Middle School I used to write and direct what we called The 8th Grade Farewell-to-Harmon Show. (Of course, I could not have done those shows without colleagues Andy Kmetz and Gary Brookhart--but that's another story for another time.)

Anyway, we performed the shows twice, Friday and Saturday night, on the weekend of the final full week of school.

Here's the weather problem: Harmon School supposedly had air-conditioning, but it tended to work best when it wasn't hot outside. I always kept a large fan in my classroom, knowing (wily veteran that I was) that the A-C would conk out in hot weather and that without a fan, I (scion of one of the Great Perspirers in Human History, my father) would be soaking wet by the middle of first period. Not good. (This Sweat Gene I share with my brothers and my son.)

(By the way, I always kept that fan pointed at me, a practice that some of my students found a bit ... selfish. They were right.)

Anyway, I would hope, hope, hope that the weather would cooperate on 8th Grade Show weekend because the Commons (venue for our shows--the cafeteria, really) could get downright Infernal when the A-C was down. Even Satan would have left at intermission.

Some years we lucked out; some years we didn't. And during those latter years, of course, I took it personally--very personally.

Now, in my Twilight Years (no, there's no female Edward Cullen in my tale) I like to ride my bike around town on little errands (coffee, haircut, and the like), and whenever the weather is threatening--AS IT IS TODAY!!--I know I can't ride. (Rain-Biking is not my thing.)

And so I take it personally--even though I can hear the soft voice of my mother saying, Danny, the weather isn't personal.

Oh, yeah? Then why is it about to rain--today--just when I want to go get coffee on my bike?!?! Answer me that, Mom!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sunday Sundries, 47

1. AOTW--It's time to be gender-neutral. (All my previous AOTW's have been men.) In a coffee shop the other day was a woman not three feet away from me (at another table), a woman who was Skyping/Face-Timing full voice (I'm sure everyone in the place could hear every word the AOTW said) for about forty-five minutes. It was a business call, one that featured about every rebarbative cliche in the field of enterprise and self-help. Here are a few I scribbled down (in my rage): Are you tracking what I'm saying? ... I see a clear path forward. ... We need more contextual input. ... operating model ... collegially ... we need to get to a place where ... we need to own it ... I'm just road-mapping here ....

By the end, I was ready to give her a road map--to you-know-where.

2. In a recent blog I had a little note on the expression kit and caboodle; here's what the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins says:

Kit, meaning a collection of anything, comes from the kit bag of a soldier, in which he had to carry all his belongings. The earliest record of its use is in England in 1785. Combined with boodle, it came to mean a collection of people. There's a difference of opinion as to where boodle originated, some authorities attributing it to buddle (which in turn was probably Old English bottel), meaning "bunch or bundle." Others think it came from the Dutch boedel, meaning "property." In this sense it has long been used by New England longshoremen. How did it become caboodle? Caboodle is said to be a corruption of kit and boodle. All of which certainly makes the whole kid and caboodle an all-inclusive phrase.

3. Last night (Saturday) we saw the film Child 44, based on the novel of the same name by Tom Robb Smith, 2008, a novel I read at the time and really enjoyed. It takes place in the USSR during Stalin's kind administration (!!!) and features a series of child murders--though no one in authority will admit that murder is even possible in such a political paradise. Then appears a cop who's developing a conscience. Good book. Good film. With Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Noomi Rapace, and Joel Kinnaman. With a screenplay by the great Richard Price (so you know the dialogue will be good!). Produced by Ridley Scott. Directed by Daniel Espinoza (Safe House). Here's a link to the trailer for the film. Some brutal scenes.

We saw it, by the way, at the Chagrin Cinema (one of the two places where we could find it within decent driving distance), a place we patronized often when we lived in Aurora (before the Aurora Cinemark arrived). Fun to be back there again. Good popcorn!

4. This week I finished re-reading Saul Bellow's 1964 novel, Herzog, which I'd read back in the mid-1960s but remembered very little about--except for the narrator's (Moses Herzog's) near-madness, his passion for writing letters to the quick and the dead. I enjoyed it this time through (though when Bellow riffs on famous philosophers, I tend to lose interest--probably shouldn't, but I do) and was moved by his struggle to regain some sort of stability in his fractured life--his failed marriages, his new relationship, his academic career (he'd written a landmark book, then stalled on its sequel).

5. Finally, is was the word-of-the-day from the OED on April 13, a word I'd never seen but am now glad I have!

subrident, adj.

Etymology: <  classical Latin subr?dent-, subr?d?ns, present participle of subr?d?re to smile (see subride v.).
 Chiefly literary. Now rare.

  Characterized by or accompanied by a smile or smiles; wearing a smile; smiling.

1826 Sporting Mag. Dec. 132/1 A knowing and subrident look.
1884 Critic 22 Nov. 243/2 The Duke of Wellington..listens, mildly subrident, while the Peace Recruiting Sergeant..plies his profession.
1897 Athenæum 6 Mar. 305/2 With some subrident joy.
1914  W. J. Locke Fortunate Youth vi. 80 Your sense of humour, that delicate percipience of proportion, that subrident check on impulse.
1980  P. Howard Words fail Me vi. 44 The lion was presumably depicted heraldically subrident.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

No Tempest over THE TEMPEST

The Tempest is one of my favorite--if not the favorite--of all of Shakespeare's three dozen (or so) plays. We saw it again last night (Friday) at the Hanna Theater in downtown Cleveland, the home of the Great Lakes Theater, a production company that has had a variety of names over the years, including the Great Lakes Shakespeare Company. (Link to information about the Cleveland production.) Joyce and I have had season tickets for years--and when I was teaching 8th graders at Harmon School in Aurora, I took students down there regularly for matinees (at the Ohio Theater in those days). We saw Romeo and Juliet there--and A Midsummer Night's Dream--and others.

In my old blue edition of The Yale Shakespeare (each play has its own little volume) I see that I first read the play in July 1988. I was forty-four years old. A bit late in the game, wouldn't you say?

But I had just recently begun teaching the Bard to middle-schoolers (The Taming of the Shrew) and was spending the summer reading all the plays for the first time. As I look through it now, I see that I had underlined some of its most famous lines--

  • my library was dukedom enough.
  • Good wombs have borne bad sons.
  • what's past is prologue
  • Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows!
  • we are such stuff as dreams are made on
  • But this rough magic I here abjure 
  • O brave new world
Last night I enjoyed hearing around me the reactions of audience members who either never knew (or had forgotten) that The Tempest was the source of these. Oh, that clever Bard!

The file I keep on the play is not entirely comprehensive, I fear. But in that file I discover now that I've seen the play at least a half-dozen times; the earliest program I have is from a production at Kent State University on February 28, 1992. I don't really remember anything about it (my daily journal-keeping did not commence until 1997). I think I remember an outdoor production at Stan Hywet some years ago, too. But I don't seem to have kept the program.

Well, what about last night? It was a good production--especially imaginative staging. Up center they had a large box with reflective surfaces (including doors that swung open), a device they used for a number of purposes--all of which worked well, I thought. 

They also stayed loyal to the script (with only a few 21st-century nudges that I noticed). It was an entirely male cast--except for young Miranda--a cast that included some of the best veterans in the company, a situation that made it difficult for Miranda to compete for attention at times. I'm glad they didn't play Prospero as an old, old man (as is often the case--though Helen Mirren played the part in a film a few years ago--here's a link to the trailer for that 2010 production directed by Julie Taymor). We have to believe that he's the father of a nubile daughter, right?

The Tempest is a play that features some of Shakespeare's "usual" (he thought love at first sight was hilarious--from first play to last)--and has, again, an instance of forgiveness that is stunning. Again--this occurs throughout his work--Much Ado about Nothing, As You Like It, The Winter's Tale. Oh, did Shakespeare know the astonishing dimensions of the human heart.

Prospero and Miranda
Great Lakes Theater

Friday, April 17, 2015

Our Fridge Magnets

I was a little sad when a refrigerator we bought a few years ago had a front door that would not permit us to affix our magnets. What kind of manufacturer would consent to such a cruelty? I wondered. I was only moderately appeased when I discovered that the side of the appliance would accept our magnets. So we formed a line of them, top to bottom, and felt much better about the world and fridge manufacturers.

As you might well expect, our magnets are pretty much ... nerdy. We acquired most of them on our literary journeys--gift shops at the homes of notable writers, the Stratford Theater Festival, and the like. In the picture below you can see a typical assortment.

On top (left) is young Hawthorne; beside him is Mr. Shakespeare (according to one theory). Below is Frankenstein's creature (as pictured on a 1997 U.S. postage stamp), alongside him ("it"?) is the "official" magnet of the 2004 Stratford season. Below the creature--Wonder Woman (forget where we got that one?!?), a life-long favorite of our grandson Carson (6). Whenever he comes over, he invariably removes that one and carries it around with him. No further comment.

Next to Wonder Woman is a magnet featuring the 1964 U.S. postage stamp that bore a likeness of Shakespeare; when that one appeared, I was a Hiram College student--a student, by the way, who avoided the college's Shakespeare class. (To be blunt: I was chicken. Shakespeare had narcotized me in high school. Things have changed, to say the least.)

Below Wonder Woman and Wonder Writer is Sunnyside, the home of Washington Irving near Tarrytown, NY; the Hudson River runs alongside--as do the rail tracks that initially annoyed Irving (disturbing his bucolic tranquility), but he changed his mind when he realized how swiftly he could get into NYC, some thirty miles south.

At your leisure, you can click on/enlarge the other photographs just to see who has earned a place on our fridge. An impressive array of folks and places. And every time I look at them (often while I'm removing from the fridge something I have no business removing--and consuming), I remember so many lovely times with Joyce as we roamed the literary world, discovering.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Selling Our Books

It's not quite like selling our grandchildren, but the emotional toll of selling our library is a stiff one.

We've been collecting for a long time--for most of our forty-five+-year marriage, as a matter of fact. We attended book-signings, haunted antiquarian bookshops and fairs, surfed the Internet relentlessly. Our house, in later years, looked like a reader's version of a cat-person's dwelling. Books piled everywhere. (Only the multiple meows were missing.) As you've probably noticed in your own lives, our clutter becomes invisible to us after a while. But I will confess that I once actually tripped over a pile of books and nearly got a closer look at Dante's Inferno.

But as my health and energy have declined, we've realized that it's time to bid farewell to our codex family. We formed DJ DOODLEBUG BOOKS, LLC this year, sorted our titles, deciding which we would list for sale immediately (and which we cannot bear to part with yet), bought a lot of new shelving to accommodate things, designed a business card (see above!)--and much more.

I will say immediately that Joyce is doing the lioness' share of the work. She has listed everything on Advanced Book Exchange (here's a link to our site on that Exchange), has learned the language needed to describe a collectible book, has been encasing each sale item in a protective cover, etc. I have pretty much just lain in the shade like an old male lion who knows that things are now in better hands.

We are not selling everything. We have given some away--have donated some to the local library. We are saving some--at least at this point--for our son and his family. We've even tossed a few that had become so damaged by Time and his foul allies that they were not really any good at all--even for reading copies.

We toyed with the idea of contacting one of the Big Book Dealers (like Powell's in Portland, Ore.) and disposing of the whole kit and caboodle* at once--but decided that would be financially foolish (at least for the nonce). We could end up doing that, later on. But for now, we'd like to list them online, to have other collectors find them, get excited, pull out the plastic ...

But the whole enterprise is painful. When you stop acquiring and commence disposing, well, it's a recognition of mortality, isn't it? Of imminent mortality. I can't kid myself. I'm 70. I have cancer that is only on Pause.

And so ... we're selling our dearest possessions, the books we have read and loved for decades. Of course it's not as egregious as losing loved ones, but still ...

*Where did this expression come from? My Dictionary of American Slang informs me that kit is just what you think it is--a set or collection of things--and boodle is an entire lot; it also originally meant counterfeit or bribe money. Oddly, the ca- prefix for caboodle perhaps came from an original blending of kit and boodle. All goes back to the late 19th century.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Harmon Middle School--Continues to Rule!

This is a piece I started some months back and never finished ... today I finished it.

Last week we heard that Harmon Middle School (Aurora, Ohio) was ranked the 9th best middle school in the country.

I was not at all surprised--though I was thrilled, of course. I taught at that middle school in Aurora from 1966-1978, 1982-1997, and I always believed it was one of the best schools in the country--elementary, middle, high, university. (I'm not kidding.) So it's wonderful to see it receiving such wonderful notices in recent months (last fall it was also named a National Blue Ribbon School--here's a link to that ranking). Such awards are fairly new--a feature of the public's new wish to have rankings for schools, rankings, unfortunately, that sometimes rely heavily on standardized test results. Aurora generally scores well on such things, a combination of involved parents, good kids, excellent teachers and administrators, a safe environment, and an upper-middle-class community that values such things.

Followers of this site know that I'm not a fan of standardized tests (they ruin the curriculum in my view--or at least can trivialize it), but if they're going to be a factor in Harmon's winning awards, then I'm going to smile and feel happy for Harmon. Whatever it takes. Go, Jaguars!

Middle school teaching isn't the easiest thing to do. Many people recognize that. When I would tell people I was meeting for the first time that I taught in a middle school, they would sometimes shake their heads--in sorrow? sympathy? maybe even admiration? Some would even say things like, How do you do that? Those kids are crazy, aren't they?

Perhaps. Fortunately, I began my career in a place with some wonderful teachers. Eileen Kutinsky, Willetta Thomas, Jim Wright--I freely stole from them and others as I flailed in the whirlpool of my early years.

The kids were great, too. The first group of seventh graders I taught in the fall of 1966 are turning sixty this year (as I've written before), and some of them are now Facebook friends with children and grandchildren of their own.

They gave me the benefit of the doubt, those first classes. They sensed, I think, that I liked them, that I was doing the best I could (which initially wasn't all that impressive, I'll confess), that I was trying to make our time together useful--even enjoyable. I threw myself into school activities--newspaper, drama, sports, student council, creative writing--and got to know many of them well. And some strange combination of their early-adolescent insanity and my determination to be one of the teachers they respected (mixed with some heavy doses of daily terror--Can I do this? Am I going to survive this week?) resulted in a fairly long middle school career for me.

I once published an article in the Middle School Journal--May 1980 (see image below)--called "You Gotta Be Crazy to Teach"; it was piece that celebrated some of my crazier (i.e, most effective) colleagues--Andy Kmetz, Eileen Kutinsky, Bob Luckay, Tim DeFrange, Jerry Brodsky, Ted Clawson, and others.

I ended the piece with this: All other things being equal, however, when I interview teachers or teacher candidates, I now look at the eyes for that curious off-centered glow. I listen for the bizarre. Like certain primitive peoples, I have come to value the "crazies" among us; I know that they have some kind of special way with kids that is denied to most of their colleagues. And I know our schools need them desperately (24).

Harmon School always had a solid number of such folks; I'm guessing that they still do.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Here's the Problem ...

Here's the problem with a daily blog--a problem exacerbated by my, uh, septuagenarian status: I can't always remember what I've already written about.

This morning, for example, I was once again noticing--as I sat in the Open Door Coffee Co. next to windows overlooking Clinton Street--the many Hudson school buses that turn up and down the street on their daily runs. (Clinton is a direct route to the bus garage/parking lot.)

And I thought, I'll write about school buses today. I worked it out quickly in my head--how I'd never ridden a bus as a student (always walked), except for field trips, athletic events, etc.; how I rode many buses as a teacher (oh, the things I wish I could forget!); how I felt when our son climbed aboard the bus for his first day of kingergarten (fall, 1977); how ...

But by the time I got home, a worry was gnawing like a beaver at the dying tree of my memory. I did a little Google search ("dawnreader school bus") and discovered that I'd written a post about the buses back on September 21, 2013 (link to that post). At the time I was sitting every day in the very spot where I now sit each morning--only it was Hattie's Cafe then, not Open Door. I was noticing school buses, thinking about my checkered history with them ...

I could add a little bit today, I guess: There's one bus whose driver and assistant are eager wavers at me many mornings. While they're heading up Clinton Street, if they hit the red light at Main Street, they are sitting directly next to me--only feet away to my left, though a sidewalk and a window separate us. Sometimes the driver will honk, the two women will wave amiably. I'll wave back.

One day not long ago, I heard the familiar honk. I looked up from my book and saw that the attendant was holding a hand-made sign--the kind you see folks holding on Facebook. It said: Have a nice day! The three of us laughed--though no sounds reached them or me. (Do we exaggerate our laughs when we know that the other will not hear us?) Another day they had a different sign, but I can't remember what it said (recall the septuagenarian thing I mentioned earlier?). But it generated more silent laughter.

There have been no additional signs, but just today they honked and waved, and I waved back, wishing, kind of, that I had a horn that they could hear.

When they drove off, I returned to my reading, feeling a big more relaxed because I knew I now had a topic for my blog post today.

Only I didn't.

But then, of course, I did.

bus turning down Clinton St. this morning;
the car sits where my bus-driver wavers
do their waving

Monday, April 13, 2015

Frankenstein Sundae, 117

Heading to Wales--to see the scene of the Shelley shootout ...

I loved Wales—even though I could not help but make a mess of pronouncing the names of towns and places that were, to me, unpronounceable. Several times I asked locals how to do it and was rewarded with sounds I could not duplicate. I’ve learned that international (and even national) travel creates in me something very like humility. And admiration.
In the Netherlands, for example (on an earlier trip relating to my Anne Frank obsession), I was astonished when virtually everyone I met—from all walks of life—spoke solid English. I found the same to be true in Germany. In those two countries I never had a problem with trains or cabs or hotels or restaurants or directions on the street—well, not a language problem (sometimes my intelligence failed me—as my parents always knew it would!).
But in Italy and France? Two other, sadder stories …
It was Monday, May 3, 1999. I woke up in my London hotel (The Phoenix—appropriate) shuddering from an odd dream. For some reason I was jogging—naked—down Derthick Hill (a large hill just west of Hiram, Ohio, where I’d spent my youth); a man I knew from a local coffee shop came out on one of the lawns lining the road and waved at me. I woke up before the embarrassments continued. (The interrogations by the Hiram Police. Sir, why are you naked? Sir, where do you think you’re going?)
I took my Sweet Old Time heading to Euston Station, where I barely caught my train to Wales—I had hardly sat down when the wheels began to roll. I enjoyed the southwestern English countryside—rolling, flowering farmland that reminded me in many ways of the Midwest terrain I knew so well. But this was unspoiled—uncluttered by strip malls and fast-food places and other emblems of American ruin. Just farmland. Compact small towns.
In later years, Joyce and I would spend a week every summer in Stratford, Ontario, seeing plays at the Stratford Festival. During our free time we liked to drive around the countryside of Perth County (and adjacent ones—Oxford, Middlesex, Huron, and others), for that region, too, reminds me of an uncluttered American Midwest. It’s a way to visit the past without leaving the present.
On the train—my journal reminds me—I was re-memorizing Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Shadow,” a poem I first heard from my grandmother Osborn; Enid, Oklahoma; late 1940s. One of my earliest memories is of her, sitting in her rocker, reciting that poem to me.
I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see. …*
I had memorized it back in the early 1980s when I’d taught a group of sixth graders at Harmon Middle School in Aurora, Ohio; I’d asked them to memorize it, as well. But I’d sort of let it slip away after that one year. And now I wanted it back. Our son was going to marry in August 1999—just three months in the future—and when their children arrived, I wanted to be able to recite it to them.
And I did. When I first held grandson Logan Thomas Dyer on the day of his birth (February 15, 2005) in the delivery room of Akron General Hospital, I whispered “The Shadow” to him.
And my grandmother’s rocker now sits in our front room.

*Link to Stevenson's entire poem. YouTube has a handful of recitations of it, as well.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Sunday Sundries, 46

1. AOTW: I am at Starbucks on Tuesday afternoon. A couch is open, so I sling my backpack on it so I won't have to hold it while I'm in line; also, of course, the backpack "reserves" the couch. In an adjacent easy chair sits the AOTW.  "My" couch has in front of it a little table--a coffee table (!)--for couch-sitters to use. Otherwise, there's no place to rest a coffee cup. There is also an identical little table next to the AOTW'S chair, and I see that his coffee cup is on it; he's working on his laptop, which he holds in his ... lap (duh). When I return from the counter with my coffee, I see he has slid "my" table over by him and is using it as a footrest. I stare, stare, stare. He doesn't look up. I go off to find a chair no one is using and employ it for a coffee table until the AOTW eventually leaves.

2. This week I finished Saul Bellow's 1959 novel, Henderson the Rain King, which I read as part of my preparation for a review I'm going to write of a new Bellow biography. I liked the novel a lot more than I thought I was going to--even though, of course, it's more than a bit un-PC these days. Bellow had never been to Africa at the time he wrote the book, but that didn't dissuade him. It's the story of Henderson, a (white) man with an unsettled marriage who goes to Africa with a friend to explore a bit. He ends up destroying one village's water supply (he was trying to help them; didn't work out), and then lands in another village where he earns the title "Rain King" by some complications I'll not get into. The King befriends him and takes him below his "palace" to see a wild lion he keeps there. He gets Henderson to enter the room with him, to "interface" with the lion; soon, they are going there every day--though Henderson remains terrified. Then, the King's life goes south, and ...

Near the end, Henderson says, "Whatever gains I ever made were always due to love and nothing else" (Lib of Amer ed., 412). Works for me ...

3. This week I also finished The Last Days of George Armstrong Custer by Thom Hatch (2015). Hatch is a Custer authority, and I reviewed his previous book ( Glorious War, 2013), a history of Custer's achievements (considerable achievements, by the way) in the Civil War. This latest work is full of Hatch's unbelievable research (he seems to know all about the man--and the Last Stand), but it's somewhat tarnished by Hatch's self-regard ("This book is the next best thing to having been there," he says (2), a claim that's a little odd because unless you were a Cheyenne or a Sioux, it wasn't really all that good a place to have been) and by his resolute advocacy for Custer, who Hatch believes has been slandered by history, a slander that occurred because of a military ass-covering in the aftermath of the battle. Hatch heaps praise on Custer--"just following orders" being a refrain to explain some of the Boy General's more egregious campaigns.

Still, I've been a Custer-freak (or freakette, compared with Hatch) since boyhood when my parents bought me Quentin Reynolds' Custer's Last Stand, a 1951 YA biography of Autie (his family nickname) that I read, oh, a score of times--at least (I still have my copy). I've been to the battlefield a couple of times, have visited his hometown (New Rumley, Ohio) several times, his later home (Monroe, Mich.), and other sites. Custer's a complex character who has no 21st-century friend more devoted than Thom Hatch.

4. Old Man Moment #1: On Wednesday, I was walking along Main Street in Hudson. I was carrying (carelessly, apparently) an unopened umbrella. Without my noticing, the hooked handle hooked a sidewalk sign, and I suddenly found myself no longer moving forward but being jerked back.

5. Two times this week I came across the word lollygag. The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang says its origin is unknown--but it means to dally, dawdle; the volume dates the expression to 1869. The OED also says its origin is unknown (and offers no speculation)--but the OED found an earlier reference--a quotation in the Aug., 1862 issue of Harper's Magazine.

6. I recently posted about my worries this year about vertigo (a new "friend" of mine) and riding my bicycle. Well, last evening, I rode around and around the parking lot of the funeral home next door and experienced no vertigo whatsoever. Ride on!

7. Old Man Moment #2: Today I cleaned (and hooked up a new propane tank to) our outdoor grill. I decided to check the automatic ignition. Nothing. Damn, I thought, I'm going to have to light it manually this year, I guess. (It's fairly old: we bought it in the early 1990s.) Then I remembered something: I hadn't turned the gas valve to ON. Duh. Did it. Worked fine.

So it goes ...

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Mom Jeans

1959--Rugby, ND

My mother had a thing about bluejeans. She didn't like them. Still doesn't.

I was reminded of this recently when I came across the photo you see at the top of the page. It was the summer of 1959, and my two brothers and I were headed with our parents out to Oregon, where we would visit my dad's very large family. Left to right: Dave (10), Dan (14), Richard (17). My older brother had just graduated from Hiram (Ohio) High School (valedictorian, a distinction he would later share with Dave, but not with me), and I think you can tell from the look on his face that he wasn't exactly delighted about posing for the photograph.

Dave is wearing his red Hiram little league baseball cap (actually, it was the Hot Stove League, but let's not cavil); dangling around his neck is an old Brownie camera. He's also wearing a shirt my grandmother Osborn made with material she'd acquired in England when she and my grandfather were there for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1952, seven years earlier. All three of us had them; we called them our "coronation shirts." Well, either Dave hadn't grown much in seven years, or he's wearing one that had once belonged to one of his older brothers.

I--in the middle--appear to have had a very recent haircut, a very close haircut. Fashionable. Back then. I also don't seem too concerned about having my shirt tucked in. Snazzy wristwatch.

But what this picture really reminded me of is that not one of us is wearing bluejeans. Here we are--on a cross-country road trip--hours every day in the car--visiting national parks and such--and not one of us is wearing bluejeans.

Three guesses why not.

1. Mom  2. Mom  3. Mom.

Back when we were littler, living in Oklahoma, we wore jeans around--though mine seemed always to have the knees ripped out. (In early elementary school, wearing an over-tight pair, I bent over too quickly, ripped out the rear seam, and got to go home for the rest of the day. My delight at being home trumped my embarrassment of, briefly (get it?), having publicly visible underpants.)

I never saw Mom and Dad wear jeans--except when we were camping, or Dad was going fishing or something--or doing yard work--though he often wore his old army khakis for those enterprises. Mom--when she was doing work around the house--would wear what were called "pedal-pushers," a design so popular that they made the cover of LIFE magazine the year I was born. Mom's were tighter than what you see in the photograph (fashion had moved on--can you believe it?), and I think I remember that she had two pair: one pink, the other pale blue. They were not denim.

I don't know what turned Mom against jeans. I think it might have been a class thing, though. She was beginning to perceive herself (and the rest of us) more and more as members of the Intelligentsia, and bluejeans (in those days) communicated something much different.

Her animus deepened and calcified as the years went on. Back in the mid 1980s--I was forty, for Pete's sake!--out in the Northwest again for a family reunion, Joyce, son Steve, and I were staying in same Walla Walla, WA, motel with my folks (not in the same room!). We were about to head out for a get-together at my uncle John's, but when Mom saw me--in bluejeans!--she said, You're not going to wear those, are you?

I mumbled something about it's being a picnic ... but her silent Arctic glare sent me back into our room, where I raged, raged, against the dying of the jeans and changed into some chinos. I was pissed. And, later, annoyed when I saw that all my cousins, uncles, aunts were ... in jeans.

Later, now living in a stages-of-care place in Lenox, Mass., Mom tells us not to wear jeans (or shorts) in the facility because they won't allow it in the dining room. Hah! Brother Dave and I have defied her wishes (ain't we brave? and thoughtful?) and often wear either/or when we visit. No employee has ever questioned us--denied us sustenance.

A further defiance: I wear jeans or shorts almost every day of the year. I am wearing jeans as I type these words.  What a rebel!

Friday, April 10, 2015

My Boomerang Won't Come Back

I have a former student--and current Facebook friend--who likes to post amusing sayings every day. The one he posted this morning brought back a high school memory:

I couldn't quite remember how to throw a boomerang, but eventually it came back to me.

I had that problem once--big-time.

For some reason my family had gone to New York City ... was it to meet my older brother, who was returning from a college year abroad in France? If so, I was in college at the time, and the story I'm about to tell is even more egregious, for it reveals a ... uh ... lack of judgment that's fairly severe.

Anyway, in NYC we visited the UN building, where, in the gift shop, I bought a boomerang that looked a bit like the one in the photo at the head of this confession. My younger brother, Dave, also got one. I remember going with Dave up to the old football field at Hiram High School (RIP) and throwing them around until we (sort of) got them to the point at which they would wheel in air and whirl back toward us. I was never dumb enough to try to catch it, though--perhaps it never really came close enough to do so?

One fine day I was hanging out with Paul Dreisbach, a year younger, whose father, Dale, was a chemistry professor at Hiram College (my dad chaired Hiram's Division of Education); Paul's mom, Ruthana Dreisbach (I never called her anything but "Mrs. Dreisbach," by the way, even when, later on, she became a colleague in the Aurora Schools), had been my choir director for four years at Hiram High and had directed me in three musicals/operettas: The Mikado (I was Pish-Tush), Masquerade in Vienna (based on Die Fledermaus; I was Dr. Falke), and Trial by Jury (I was the judge). Paul was also in those shows and later starred in Hiram High's production of H.M.S. Pinafore).

Anyway, we were hanging out on the mean streets of Hiram. I had my boomerang. We were near his house. His house had a large picture window.

Do I need to tell more?

Toward his house I whipped the boomerang. It didn't come back. (Here's a link to YouTube, to "My Boomerang Won't Come Back," a 1961 hit by Charlie Drake, a song I now realize, listening for the first time since the 1960s, is grotesquely un-PC.)

Anyway, my boomerang, decidedly not coming back, made an uninvited entry into the Dreisbachs' house--via the picture window. The sound alone was impressive.

Had Paul not been with me, I probably would have run--not realizing at the time, of course, that the boomerang itself, lying on their living room floor, would have been the noose around my neck: There were only two such devices in all of Hiram, I'm sure.

So Paul and I walked over to his house and confessed (well, I did; Paul had done nothing wrong). And Mrs. Dreisbach was incredibly calm (maybe in a state of shock?) and did not at all make me feel worse about what I'd just done.

I had to go home then, confess again. And Dad and the Dreisbachs worked out the details of the repair.

Years later, when Mrs. Dreisbach retired from the Aurora Schools, I spoke at her retirement dinner. I told the boomerang story. Lots of people laughed. I was too afraid to look at her to see if she were sharing in the mirth. I hope she was ...