Dawn Reader

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

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Sunday Sundries, 53

1. AOTW: No individual managed to meet my high low standards for this weekly award. Oh, sure, there were the usual dazzlingly mad moves by people in traffic, but I'm beginning to realize (after driving a car for some 55 years) that these are not so much evidence of assholery as they are of humanity (American-style). Oh, I just remembered: I overheard a guy on Saturday (I won't tell you where)--an older guy (my age or more)--who was arguing that we spend too much on our local library and that we really don't need it anymore. I felt like approaching him, finding out how much he actually spends in local taxes for the library, and reimbursing him on the spot. (But I'm a wuss, so I didn't.) Come to think of it: He's the AOTW. No question.

2. I realized, looking at the title of this post (Sunday Sundries No. 53) that I let a year slip by without noting the anniversary. I began these Sundries a little over a year ago--well, 53 weeks, to be exact--and have greatly enjoyed having a place to dump the week's overflow of ideas. Dump, is kind of a harsh word (only a letter away from dumb), so maybe a synonym ... deposit? place? publish? There really are many nicer words that dump. 

Anyway, I work in desultory fashion on these Sunday posts all week long--making notes for things I want to mention, sometimes even writing a bit so that I don't have to do so much on Sunday.

3. A couple of books ...

  • This week I finished Jon Krakauer's latest, Missoula, about the spate of rape cases at the University of Montana (in Missoula, MT). I've always enjoyed Krakauer's books--especially the "outdoorsy" ones about climbing and, of course, a text that many teachers I know have used in class--Into the Wild (1996). The last one I read was Under the Banner of Heaven (2003), his history and assessment of the Mormons. It was not a book calculated to delight those who observe that faith, but I learned a lot about Mormon history--and politics. In Missoula, Krakauer focuses on a couple of key cases (won't give away the trial results) and on our system of jurisprudence--our adversarial system. Cover-ups and cowardice play major roles, as well. What Krakauer does not sufficiently address, I don't think, is the Clydesdale in the room: alcohol. In the major cases he discusses, both the young man and woman were drunk. Hmmmmm? Don't we need to do something about the Alcohol Culture among the young, a culture celebrated in countless films (e.g., 21 Jump Street, 22 Jump Street)? I'm not sure what we can do about it--but don't we need to try? Excessive alcohol consumption makes all of us stupid, uninhibited, careless, dangerous. It leads every year to thousands of deaths, countless indiscretions, regrettable, life-altering experiences of every variety ... but we do nothing?
  • I also finished the latest work (a novella) by Norwegian writer Jo Nesbø, Blood on Snow (a title whose meaning becomes apparent in the final scene). This is not one of his Det. Harry Hole novels (which I really like) but a "stand-alone"--a novella about (and narrated by) a hit man who finds he can't, well, execute one of his contracts. Consequences ensue. This is territory well-mined by America's Lawrence Block, who has a series of hit-man novels (Hit Man, Hit List, Hit Parade) about a killer named ... Keller), and others. But Nesbø can write (not that Block can't!), and the action is compelling and surprising--and there's a stunning conclusion.

4.  So ... this morning ... at the Open Door Coffee Co. ... using a device a little smaller than a pack of playing cards ... I caught up on some correspondence, ordered a new collection of short stories by Jerome Charyn, shared with more than 700 friends some interesting articles in today's New York Timeschecked to see if Library of America has any Wallace Stegner novels (they don't), transferred some money from one bank account to another ...  The world has changed just a little since I was a kid ...

5. Last night, Joyce and I went to see Ex Machina, a film I'd not really thought too much about seeing (I guess I thought it was going to be just another shoot-em-up/blow-em-up sci-fi film). But then ... somewhere (where?) ... I read a good notice about it, and we decided to go--though it was almost too late. Only one place near us was showing it at the early-evening slot (7:20): It's on the way out.

Both of us liked it a lot. It was somewhat cerebral (discussions of A.I., Jackson Pollock, Robert Oppenheimer, et al.), had me guessing (I was wrong just enough to please rather than annoy me), offered little actual violence (until near the very end), and was more of a psychological thriller, a series of mind games, a disquisition on the slippery nature of truth (who's telling it? who's lying?), the dimensions of madness, the nature of identity--and the definition of human. Definitely worth seeing. (Link to trailer for the film.)

Saturday, May 30, 2015

1300 for KIRKUS

A couple of minutes ago I filed book review #1300 for Kirkus Reviews (link to their website). I think I've written about my relationship with them before--but, hey, I'm old: I don't remember. (And I'm too lazy to look it up--where, I'm pretty sure, I'll find another version of what I'm about to write right now.)

Kirkus, published on the 1st and the 15th of each month, reviews scores of books each month--fiction, nonfiction, poetry, thrillers, children's books, etc. I do only nonfiction for them--and I enjoy that. I learn something from every title I get (the good, the bad, the ugly), though at my age remembering what I've read is ... an issue. The reviews follow a conventional format: brief introductory sentence, descriptive and analytical body (the longest part), a sharp closing/summary sentence at the end--about 310 words/review. The audience? Libraries, bookstores, collectors, assorted book freakies (like me).

Kirkus has a robust online presence now--and you can subscribe there and see what will be coming out in the next few months. Kirkus, you see, is a pre-publication review--several months in advance. Most other outlets (newspapers, magazines, other media) wait until the actual release date. So Kirkus offers the first good news/bad news for publishers and writers.

So ... how did I hook up with them?

When I retired from public school teaching in January 1997, I was casting about for some useful things to do. A local librarian--Ron Antonucci--was (at the time) editing a small publication called Ohio Writer (don't know its current status) and asked me if I'd like to review a book for them. Sure. And so I did--Terry Pluto's When All the World Was Browns Town--in the fall of 1997 (Ohio Writer is a quarterly).

I liked doing reviews, and I did a couple of more for OW, and then Ron, who was reviewing for Kirkus at the time, asked me if I'd be interested in doing that. Oh yes.

Ron contacted Kirkus, who contacted me, sent me a book, and my first review for them appeared in the March 1, 1999, issue. I've had at least one review in every ensuing issue. (We are not allowed to identify the books we've reviewed; reviewers' names are listed in the publication, but all the reviews are anonymous--a strategy designed to encourage candor.)

Soon, I was reviewing a lot for them, and I began the routine I follow to this day: Read (and take notes on) 100 pages of my Kirkus book, first thing in the morning. Soon, I was doing as many as ten books a month.

Then in 2001 I decided to return to teach for a year or so (turned out to be ten years) at nearby Western Reserve Academy. During the school year, I cut back to one book per week, And I set up another routine: divide the book into 100-page segments, time my reading so that I would read the last segment on Saturday morning, write/file the review on Saturday (while everything was fresh).

So ... if it was a 400-page book, for example, I would start it on Wednesday.

During the summers, I would return to reading seven days a week--which, as I said, could mean ten books or so/month.

When I retired from WRA in the spring of 2011, I went back to my every-day routine. And I mean every day. Christmas, my birthday, whatever. (I read my quota even when recovering from prostate cancer surgery in June 2005.) If I missed a day (rare), I would make it up the next day.

But then a couple of years ago I started a quarterly regimen of Lupron injections (to retard my prostate cancer), my energy sagged, and I began doing only one/week again for Kirkus.

So ... today was another milepost on this reviewing journey. Next time, I'll tell some "reviewer's stories." Without, of course, compromising my Secret Identity--the only thing I share with Clark Kent.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Frankenstein Sundae, 128

As I said earlier, I had a consuming interest in Harrow School, founded in 1572, about thirty-five years before some wide-eyed folks landed at Jamestown. In 1572, Shakespeare was only eight years old. His collection of plays—the First Folio—would not appear until 1623. So … for a long, long, long time Harrow School has stood in London’s northwest, about fourteen miles from St. Paul’s and the Thames.
The school had figured in Mary’s story—directly and indirectly—in a variety of ways. The
Harrow School, 1999
earliest direct connection (and a later one, as well) came from Lord Byron, who attended the school from 1801–1805, though his attendance was far from regular. Family spats, affairs of the heart, sulking and sorrows—these and other events and emotions had him swooping in and out of the school like a weather front. But he eventually made his way to Cambridge.
Much later, of course, came his illegitimate daughter Alba—then, at Byron’s insistence, given the name Allegra—born
January 12, 1817, the breathing consequence of his affair with Mary’s step-sister, Claire Clairmont. Little Allegra, 5, died in an Italian convent in Bagnacavallo on April 19, 1822.
Byron arranged for the child to be buried back in England at St. Mary’s, Harrow-on-the-Hill (as it’s now called), but the rector at the time—aware of Byron’s libertine reputation—refused to place a marker on her grave, and so things stood until 1980 when the Byron Society placed a marker for Allegra near the southern entrance to the church. I wanted to see it.
But there are a couple of other Harrow connections in Mary’s story. Late in September 1832, Mary enrolled in Harrow her only surviving child, Percy Florence Shelley, only about six weeks shy of his thirteenth birthday. At first he was a boarder, but then—to economize—Mary moved to Harrow in May 1833 so that her son could live at home. But in the spring of 1836, she removed him from the school and moved with him to 14 North Bank (see above), where she employed a private tutor for him.
Anthony Trollope
Coincidentally, during Percy’s tenure there, a very unhappy Anthony Trollope, a few years older, was attending the school, where he endured, because of his family’s genial poverty and low social status, some grim school bullying. Later, he would become a prolific, popular, and important novelist—an occupation his mother would enjoy before him. (And I would spend some tenyears reading all of Anthony’s forty-seven novels, an endeavor I commenced in 1997, two years before I finally visited Harrow School.)

There are no anecdotes about Percy and Anthony at Harrow, but their mothers—writers both—knew each other because of their common connection with social reformer Frances “Fanny” Wright, whose remarkable story I’ve alluded to earlier—and will explore more thoroughly later.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

"I'm thinking about being a teacher ..."

A former student--from fairly recent years--stopped by the other day. He's thinking about becoming a teacher (American history, perhaps) and wanted to talk about it.

He's got some choices to make, of course. If he wants to teach in a public school, he's got to get certified to do so--and that means more undergraduate courses or, perhaps a better fit for him, an MAT (Master of Arts in Teaching).

If he's not interested in public school, well, most prep schools don't care about teacher certification and will gladly hire young people who are willing and able to do a variety of things--not just teach. (Schools all have so many "slots" they need to fill.) I think prep schools would find this young man appealing for a variety of reasons--he attended one, he's a little older (he'll be 25 by the time he graduates, and schools like maturity that's inexpensive!: they'll be paying an "older" man a beginner's salary), he's had some international experience. And, of course (as they'll quickly discover), he's bright, committed--all the virtues one hopes to find in an educator.

I didn't listen to my parents very much when I was in college, but the one piece of advice I did follow was to get my Ohio teaching certificate--just in case my grad school plans didn't work out. Which, of course, they didn't. I was admitted to the American Studies program at the University of Kansas, but they offered me no money (I didn't really deserve any at that point), and my parents had made it very clear: The money stops with college graduation. My mom actually said (was she kidding?), "It's possible we'll invite you for dinner after commencement--but don't count on it."

So ... only months after I graduated from Hiram College in 1966 (in the interim, my parents did feed and house me--whew!), I started teaching at the Aurora Middle School for, you know, just a year or two. Turned out to be about thirty. To my great surprise, I discovered I loved it. Loved it. And I soon went back to grad school--nights, summers--and earned my Ph.D. in 1977. Afterwards, I often told my students (who were curious about this "Dr. Dyer" stuff) that I was the useless kind of doctor. And that they understood.

The other day, I told my former student that getting teaching jobs in 1966 was easy: There was a shortage just about everywhere. (If your breath steamed a mirror, you were in.) I applied for three, steamed three mirrors, and got three offers. Aurora's was the first, so I took it. I think it's got to be getting easier now, too: The Baby Boomers (like me) are all retiring.

I spoke with him a bit more about the Dark Side of teaching in public schools these days--the Testing Mania that's vitiating the curriculum and having all sorts of other deleterious effects on schools, on kids, on teachers. (I've said before: My fourth-grade grandson has already taken more standardized tests than I did, K-12.) Proficiency testing was in its infancy here in Ohio when I retired, and I cannot really imagine what it's like now to teach while shouldering the vast weight of the results of paper-and-pencil tests. Asked to bear such a burden, Atlas would do far more than shrug.

But public school teaching has some advantages: salaries, benefits, early retirements (all won through union struggles--most prep schools are not unionized). I was able to retire at age 52 (and did so) and have been collecting "gov'munt handouts" since January 1997. This has enabled me--while still somewhat healthy--to travel, do a lot of writing, and even to return to teaching (at Western Reserve Academy--just two blocks from my house) for ten additional (and wonderful) years. It's also financed the medical care that became critical late in 2004 when I received my prostate cancer diagnosis. I am still receiving treatments, and without that insurance, we would now be bankrupt.

Prep school salaries are generally lower--benefits too. But there are advantages--at least in my case: smaller classes, fewer classes, kids who (usually) want to be there.

Given the current test-or-die climate in public schools, I'm pretty sure that if I were in my early twenties right now, I would not pursue that career. I'm not sure what I would do, though. Journalism is not the attractive profession it once was (newspapers are dying--and those that remain alive are shriveling). Perhaps some writing program somewhere ... but then what?

But I want talented young people (like my former student) to go into the profession. Bright, committed young teachers can bring hope into our classrooms. And inspiration. They can show our kids that learning is exciting; that curiosity not only doesn't kill cats, but it animates humans; that turning the page of a book is among the most wondrous experiences in life ... What will be there? And what will it mean for me?

I'm not sure what my former student is going to do. But I know he's excited, that he has the necessary hunger. Here's hoping he'll find the food that will always delight but never fully satiate.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Frankenstein Sundae, 127

May 5, 1999--Still running around London on my last full day, trying to find all the Shelley-sites I can.

Of course, it’s hopelessly hopeful to imagine that historical sites from Mary Shelley’s day remain as they were—or remain at all. I once suggested to scholar Betty Bennett that it would be a good idea for “someone” (i.e., not I!) to compile a list of all the places Mary lived—with a note about the place’s current status. Betty thought it was a good idea, but I have no idea if anyone’s pursued it.
So much has occurred since 1851 when Mary died. Railroads, highways, subways, World War II, urban renewal, and, of course, the sort of contemporary casual carelessness with which present wanderers of this planet sometimes (often?) treat those who have gone before.
By way of a small, small illustration: I attended tiny Hiram High School in tiny Hiram, Ohio (1959–1962); the high school, built between 1913–1914, closed in 1964, consolidating with the nearby community of Mantua (pronounced MAN-uh-way by the locals). The elementary grades remained for some more years, but the old high school portion of the building was razed in the early 1980s, and the rest of it went in 2010 after being unoccupied for a while. Today, there is only an empty lawn on the site. No sign. No indication that anything had ever stood there.
Memories fade fast. At my wife’s retirement celebration at Hiram College in May, 2012, I spoke with a young member of the history faculty and discovered she had no idea that Hiram had once had a public school system, K–12, had once had a high school only blocks from where we were chatting.
So as I scurried around London my final day, I was not finding a lot—nor was I expecting to find a lot—that remained. I just wanted to go there, to stand there. Here’s what I found.
• The Marble Arch at Tyburn—still standing. Still echoing (in my mind, anyway) with the terrified cries of those who were executed on that spot for some six hundred years.
• Bread Street—nothing. The church, of course, is gone (as I said), and if Mary were to stand where I stood to take the pictures I took, she would recognize absolutely nothing. Urban renewal. Modern buildings. She could just as well be standing near the site of Hiram High School.
• 14 North Bank Street—I took various subway lines to find the street, but what I found was nothing that suggested Mary and her son had ever been there. I realized, standing there, that I could have been just about anywhere in the Western urban world. From the soil that Mary knew have risen apartments and offices, thick stacks of red bricks and glass that look like buildings everywhere—factories, offices, schools.

St. Mildred's, Bread Street
PBS and MWS married there
Destroyed in WW II by the Luftwaffe

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Now, what is THIS ...?

This morning, I awoke to discover a fresh corporal surprise: My right index finger was so sore in the joint that I could not bend it--or even begin to bend it--without risking a scream. (Very unmanly.) This made my morning routines a bit ... different. (Just try it: curl up the index finger on your dominant hand and try doing without that nifty digit a few things that you normally do ... not that easy, is it?)

As the morning has worn along, it's become a bit more limber--though I still must pick up my mug of coffee with that naughty middle finger ("Tall Man," in the children's jingle) doing most of the heavy lifting.

Joyce suggested the soreness is due to my playing catch yesterday with my son and grandson down at their place (where we had a great Memorial Day picnic). I'm skeptical. I threw a lot of baseballs in my day and never had this particular soreness.

There's the slight possibility, too, that it's a sympathetic pain. Our grandson Carson (6) got his finger caught in a closing door yesterday and, being six, could freely and enthusiastically emit the screams that I suppressed this morning. (As I sit here, typing, my right index finger protesting, I envy the very young that option.)

Darker: a worsening of the slight arthritis I've had, exacerbated, perhaps, by typing much of the day and clicking Like on Facebook.

It was early in high school when I began noticing corporal changes that somehow occurred overnight.  Many of those changes were facial and thus obvious to everyone. Like images on billboards. One dark morning my freshman year--a school day, of course--I awoke to discover I'd somehow acquired a horrible pimple on the left side of my nose. Vesuvian, actually.

That morning, I walked up the hill from our house to Hiram High School with my older brother, a senior, who looked at me and remarked: "You have a horrible pimple on the left side of your nose." The truth, I was reminded that day, is rarely pleasant to hear.

I tried to keep my right profile most prominent throughout the day, but that was a joke: The eyes of everyone found that horrible pimple on the left side of my nose, drawn to it like a Red Light Special at the local P-Mart. Only my "friends" said anything (nothing comforting, of course), but everyone looked. Even the teachers, who were quite good at controlling gag reflexes.

Little did I know what subsequent delights lay ahead of me. Gray hair. Nose hair! Gray nose hair! Worsening eyesight (I got glasses in my mid-30s). Facial spots that required the freezing spray wielded by a dermatologist. Facial spot that required a surgeon (skin cancer). Facial spots that we colloquially call "age spots." Knee pain that doesn't go away. A right eye that wouldn't close, announcing the arrival of Bell's palsy (some surgery ensued; I'm still not 100% after that--and never will be). Wattles. (If you don't know what these are, look it up--or wait: Your turn will come. It's quite a day when you realize you now share features with a turkey.)

Oh, the delights of aging.

I'm hoping this sore finger will soon chill. I kind of need the little guy, and if he's just aching for attention, well, he's gotten it. I hope an entire blog post devoted to him will mollify the surly fellow.

I just reached for my mug. Ouch!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Sentimental Journey

After I did my DawnReading this morning at the Open Door Coffee Co. here in Hudson--and as the Memorial Day Parade traffic was surging through the streets and neighborhood--I asked Joyce if she'd like to drive over to Hiram.

Oh yes. She had not been over to the college to pick up her mail in ... well, a while (she's semi-retired, did not teach the spring term).

So off we went, taking all the back roads we could (Mennonite, Diagonal), picked up her mail, then decided to drive over to Garrettsville (three miles away) to get a (Diet) Coke for the way home. But first, we drove down Hiram's north hill, where I showed her the house where my old schoolmate Eddie Troyer had lived (I wrote about him earlier this week when I got news that he'd died)--and the strip of land alongside our old house (nearby), the field that Eddie had plowed and harrowed and seeded so that we could have more lawn. It still is lawn, and running along its northern border, west to east, are some mighty pine trees--towering impossibly high above the yard--trees that were once our wee Christmas trees back in the late 1950s and early 1960s (our family moved away in 1966).

After Garrettsville, we decided to return to Hudson via Pioneer Trail--along its entire length: Hiram to Aurora. We did so for several reasons, and one of the principal ones is that a beloved former Hiram professor of mine--Dr. Charles F. McKinley--routinely drove that way from his home in Hudson. He loved the lingering rural character of the route (as do we), and he was a good friend to me--and to Joyce when she joined the Hiram faculty in 1990.

But there were other reasons, as well. Because I grew up in Hiram (well, chronologically), attended the local school (grades 7-12), the college (1962-66); because my father taught at the college (1956-66); because my mother taught at James A. Garfield HS in Garrettsville (1956-66); because my older brother graduated from Hiram College, as well (1963); because my younger brother attended the Hiram Schools until the high school closed and consolidated in 1964; because my younger brother then attended and graduated from Garfield, where my mom was teaching; because of all of this, Hiram Village and Hiram Township and Garrettsville and environs have great emotional significance for me.

As we joined Pioneer Trail where it terminates on Rt. 82 south of Hiram a bit), we soon began passing things that had ... meaning. Asbury Road--home of Camp Asbury (I used to bike down there--and, later--visited the Aurora Middle School sixth-graders, our son among them one year, who were spending their week at camp); living near the corner of Asbury and Pioneer Trail was Mrs. Esther Nichols, who taught me 7th grade geography and 9th grade algebra--and who later became a beloved colleague in Aurora (where I always called her "Mrs. Nichols"--never "Esther," which was and is unthinkable).

Then there was Monroe's Orchard and Farm Market (it's had other names), where we bought (and still occasionally buy) fruit and cider and maple syrup.

As we drove on west, Joyce told me about some former Hiram College colleagues who had lived in various places.

Near Ohio 44 (near Mantua) is the Green Family Funeral Home, where, sad to say, I've been on more occasions than I want to think about.

Soon, we were in Aurora, and all sorts of other memories. I taught in that district for nearly thirty years (all of them at the middle school level--1966-1978; 1982-1997), so we passed the homes of former students, the site where an AHS girl died in a car crash in the mid-1990s. I remembered, too, that when we lived in Aurora (1990-97), I used to jog east on Pioneer Trail--until some naughty dogs out that way convinced me I should find another, canine-free route (I did).

We passed our former home--60 E. Pioneer--a place we sold in 1997 to a former student and her husband. It still looks great.

At the stoplight at the corner of Pioneer and Rt. 43/306, we could see the house that held the apartment where I was living in the summer of 1969 when I met Joyce. We married, and I moved to Kent.

As we drove the final mile of Pioneer Trail, we passed Aurora High School (in a much-altered building that had not opened when I arrived to teach seventh grade English in the fall of 1966; for six weeks, we shared the "old" high school, split sessions: high school in the mornings, middle school in the afternoons) and a baseball field where I played some games when I was in the Hot Stove League for Hiram back in the late 1950s.

Pioneer ends on Ohio 82--the same road where it commences--and we found ourselves driving west on 82, the road I drove every day the first year I taught in Aurora. I was living, both alone and lonely, in an apartment in Twinsburg (now gone), five miles west of Aurora.

And then we were home. The parade had just ended. We saw children on decorated bicycles rolling home--the excitement over. The flashing lights of emergency vehicles that had been a part of things. People carrying lawn chairs and memories down Church Street. Where we live.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Spur of the Moment

my cowboy spur
I still have an authentic old cowboy spur that my older brother gave me years ago when I was fully in the thrall of the tale of Billy the Kid, a thrall whose commands I've chronicled here before, but I'll just say that they involved everything from writing and producing and directing a middle school play (a musical!) about him, collecting like a fanatic, reading everything, visiting the scenes of his key shootouts in New Mexico, his grave site. I even gave an hour-long talk about him at Western Reserve Academy back in, oh, 1980 or 81.

I've since cooled off.

my hero Lash LaRue
But that Kid-mania was connected directly to my Oklahoma boyhood passion for cowboys. I read little biographies about Wild Bill Hickock and Buffalo Bill; I watched all those TV shows--and there were many of them in the 1950s (Wild Bill Hickock; Gunsmoke; Have Gun, Will Travel; The Range Rider; The Cisco Kid; Bonanza; and on and on). I watched all those B-Westerns on TV, too--with Whip Wilson and Lash LaRue and the Three Mesquiteers and Johnny Mack Brown and Hoot Gibson. I even watched those singers, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, though I was never too crazy about them. (Why sing when you can ride and shoot?) I dressed up like a cowboy, ran around the neighborhood with a cap gun, dreamed of riding the range, loved our family trips from Oklahoma to Oregon because they traversed terrain I'd seen on the TV shows--and in my imagination.

Thus ... the spur from my brother.

This is kind of a long way to get to something that happened yesterday. Joyce asked me if I knew the source of the phrase the spur of the moment. I didn't. I looked it up. Now I do.

The OED traces the word spur (meaning the device you see above) back to the eighth century. By the Middle Ages, it had acquired what the OED calls a "generalized sense." Sir Walter Scott, it seems (in Kenilworth, 1821), even used it to mean one who wears spurs.

My Shakespeare concordance reveals that the Bard used spur many times--both literally and figuratively--in the sonnets, the plays (from the famous--Romeo and Juliet--to the less so--Timon of Athens).

The OED traces the spur of the moment back to 1801, and its use is obvious, isn't it? Something in the immediate present (the moment) is urging us to (spurring us) to do something.

As my wife, Joyce, pointed out to me yesterday, when most of us now speak the phrase, we tend to emphasize it like this: "I decided to go on the spur of the moment." And we tend to use it as a synonym for impulsively.

But--given its original meaning--maybe we should be saying "I decided to go on the spur of the moment"--indicating that something about that particular moment urged us to act.

Ain't gonna happen.

Language and usage do not always (or even often?) conform to sense or obey its dictates. With language, we're more, you know, kind of spur-of-the-moment critters.

Sunday Sundries, 52

1. AOTW--Actually, this should be plural. On Ohio 91, just north of Terex Rd., the two northbound right lanes diminish into one. In the right lane is a sign that says: Right lane ends. But--guess what? Many drivers who are in that lane, heading north, assume that they have the right-of-way and, instead of yielding to those on the left, roar ahead and force their way in, a move sometimes accompanied by digital sign language. But, hey, it's YOUR lane that's ending, not mine; you AsOTW must yield and merge!

2. A correction to the piece I posted earlier this week about former Hiram Schools classmate Eddie Troyer, who recently passed away. (Link to that original post.) I wrote that he had once--in a pick-up touch football game in our neighborhood--worn track shoes, which he used to spike my younger brother's calf. But said younger brother (Dave) reminded me on the phone the other day that it was I whom Eddie spiked--and that his spikes had not only sliced into my calf but had also ruined a new pair of jeans. And Dave was right (as usual--at least in my mother's mind). 'Twas I!

3. This week I finished Romantic Outlaws, a dual biography by Charlotte Gordon about Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (later, Shelley). She alternated chapters--following each Mary to the end of her life (1797 and 1851, respectively). Her research was thorough, though for some reason she left out an interesting series of exchanges in the mid-1820s between Mary Shelley and reformer Frances "Fanny" Wright, who tried to convince the daughter of MW to go with her to America, to Tennessee (near Memphis), where FW was starting a community of freed slaves, a place she called Nashoba. (Her plan: buy slaves, train them for a trade, free them.) Wright and Shelley met and corresponded, but Mary, who had a young son and a domineering father-in-law (who controlled the purse strings) simply could not follow Wright to Nashoba.

But Gordon's book is a fine one--especially for those beginning their Wollstonecraft-Shelley adventures. One of the things I like (and it was something I liked about the recent Death and the Maidens by Janet Todd--a book about MW's daughter Fanny, who committed suicide) is that Gordon, like Todd, is very hard on the men in these women's lives. Much of the men's harshness, of course, was due to the gender relations of the times, but as both authors point out, the men (Godwin, Shelley, and others) considered their own lives far more important than the women's--and the consequences were dire for the women.

4. This week, I also finished the latest collection of short stories by Steven Millhauser, who has been one of my favorites since Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of  An American Writer, 1943-1954 by Jeffrey Cartwright (1972), a fantastic novel narrated by a young boy (JC) about the recent death of his friend. But--oh, does this novel take you places you didn't expect to go! As do the stories of Millhauser (who's on the faculty of Skidmore). These current stories--like so many of his others--show the mystery that underlies even the most ordinary aspects of our lives.

I sent a link to one of the stories ("Home Run") to my baseball-loving grandson Logan. It's in the voice of a play-by-play announcer telling about a towering home run that both wins a game and goes places you cannot imagine.

But all the stories are great, including an odd updating of the Rapunzel tale. Another story--"Mermaid Fever"--we used for a prompt in the "Junior Writing Exam" at Western Reserve Academy in the spring of 2010. I hated the JWE (don't get me started!), but having Millhauser involved somewhat dulcified me.

5. Well, we had a cracked and leaking sewer pipe descending from our upstairs (bathroom, laundry room) where it plunged below the basement floor to its connection. The repair--which took two guys about three hours (and a jack hammer!)--cost a sweet $1300. I told Joyce I wouldn't have minded teaching for that rate throughout my career.

6. I've noticed--as I'm sure you have--the new way to write emphatic sentences--breaking them up into individual words and putting periods after each word. (I. Am. So. Upset.) I have only one thing to say about this trend: Stop. This. Now. I. Hate. It.

7. Finally, last night Joyce and I saw Brad Bird's new film, Tomorrowland. Let me confess; I didn't know (and Joyce didn't, either) that it was targeted at youngsters, but once we saw the previews (cartoons, kids' films), then we knew. But we'd already paid for the tickets, were already elbow-deep into the popcorn. So ...

I liked a lot of it, actually (what's not to like about George Clooney?), but what bothered me: Futuristic films almost always focus on the technology--displaying a kind of Jetsons idea of what a really cool future would be. Lots of electronic devices and modes of transportation and architecture and clothing. But there was no hint that we are any different--and this, of course, means: We. Are. Still. In. Trouble. Until we learn to become more compassionate, more empathetic, more tolerant--well, we're going to keep on destroying one another in ever more horrific ways--no matter what amazing device we currently use to access Facebook.

I loved the young girl who played "Athena" in the film--Raffey Cassidy. Wonderfully expressive eyes and face. An actor already.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Frankenstein Sundae, 126

I had hoped—when I’d set out on my Shelley Adventure—that I would be able to go everywhere the Shelleys had gone. But I soon discovered this was impossible for any number of reasons—many of them financial. I just didn’t have the wherewithal to go to Ireland after I left Wales in early May 1999. I’d wanted to. I’d wanted to follow Bysshe and Harriet over there—then follow them back to London where Bysshe would meet young Mary Godwin. But money was running out; so was time. When I returned to Ohio on May 6, I’d been gone nearly a month, and a month is just about the longest Joyce and I have ever been separated since we were married late in 1969. I had to settle for what I could do. And afford.
When I reached London after my time in Wales, it was late in the afternoon of May 4. That night, in my hotel, I refreshed my list of places to see on the following day, which would be my final full day in Europe. I checked my master list I’d made before leaving home; I wrote down the subway (Tube) lines and stops I’d have to use. And I sighed with regret. There was just no way.
As I look now at my journal for that day, I see that my list had dwindled to the following:
24 Chester Square—Mary’s final home, the place where she died on February 1, 1851.
Marble Arch–Tyburn—The site of the public hangings in London (still occurring in Mary’s day).
Bread Street—Mary and Bysshe Shelley were married at St. Mildred’s Bread Street on December 30, 1816. The church is long gone—destroyed by the Luftwaffe in World War II.
14 North Bank Street—In 1836, Mary and her son (Percy Florence Shelley) were living here after she removed him from Harrow School.
Harrow School—See above. Of primary interest to me, though, was seeing the memorial marker for poor Allegra Byron, the illegitimate daughter of Lord Byron (who’d attended the school) and Mary’s stepsister, Claire Clairmont; Allegra had died in Italy on April 19, 1822; she was only five. (Another Harrow student—and there at the time that PFS was there: future novelist Anthony Trollope.)
2 Nelson Square—One of the places that Bysshe, Mary, and Claire lived after their elopement trip in 1814.
The Lyceum and Theatre Royal Haymarket. On July 28, 1823, at the Lyceum—built originally in 1771 and rebuilt a couple of other times because of fire—Mary, along with her father, saw Presumption; or, The Fate of Frankenstein, the first play based on her novel. While I was in London, I went to the Lyceum to see a production of Oklahoma!—a show that has much personal resonance for me (born in the Sooner State, you know!). Hanging over my desk right now is a poster from that production—and I still have the program from that day.

I just had a shock: I looked at the program for the first time since 1999, and I see that the actor playing Curly (the male lead) was … Hugh Jackman! This was, of course, in the days before Wolverine and all his other star-making roles. Here are some of the snide comments I wrote in my journal that evening:

… hardly any of these people can talk—just because you’re from Okla. doesn’t mean there are no consonants in your alphabet! Good Lord, I’m an American—a Sooner!—and I can hardly understand what so many of these people are saying! To my immediate left is a poor man (a victim of a stroke?) who maintains a low, off-key hum the entire time, when he isn’t bringing up phlegm from every remote area of his body, or when he isn’t sleeping & slumping over my leg. This does help this experience for me, I feel nothing as I hear this music. Auntie Eller is especially bad—I can barely understand a word she says—the same for most/many of the others.  A few can dance well, a few can sing, but whoever coached the dialogue in this show had more than he/she could handle.

I see on IMDB that Jackman appeared in a TV movie of the production in 1999. I am going to have to see that!
Playing right now at the Lyceum, by the way: The Lion King.
At the Theatre Royal Haymarket on August 10, 1824, Mary had a “date” with Washington Irving (more about this later!).
Royal Doulton—I had some gifts to buy, and I was looking for character jugs based on the wives of Henry VIII.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Oh, what a wonderful teacher ...

I posted a little thingy on Facebook yesterday about the 88th birthday of Prof. Abe C. Ravitz, the teacher who had the greatest effect on me at Hiram College--well, and in just about every other setting, too. As I said in that post, I took seven courses with him between 1962-1966, and I didn't always get A's, as these items from my transcript verify:

  • English 216 (American Lit II)--Winter Quarter, 1962-63: B
  • Eng-Hist 377 (American Thought II)--Fall Quarter 1964: A
  • Eng-Hist 378 (American Thought III)--Winter Quarter, 1964-65: A
  • Eng 215 (American Lit I)--Winter Quarter, 1964-65: B
  • Eng 306 (Imag Forms of Prose II--Creative Writing)--Summer 1965: B
  • Eng-His 376 (Amer Thought I)--Fall Quarter 1965: A
  • Eng 216H (Amer Life in Lit II)--Spring Quarter, 1966: A
I should mention one other thing: Dr. Ravitz reviewed books for the Cleveland Plain Dealer while he was at Hiram (I think, maybe, after he left, too, for a while?). And I never imagined (or could have imagined) back in the mid-1960s that I would one day review for that paper, as well. Of course, he was one of the principal reasons that I became qualified to do so.

On the 21st of March, 2000, Dr. Ravitz returned to Hiram College to deliver a series of talks, a visit that Joyce had arranged as part of the Regional Writers program she'd initiated there. And I got to introduce him. Here's the text from that day ...

Introduction for Abe Ravitz
21 March 2000
Hiram College Convocation

I was privileged while a student at Hiram College (1962-1966) to have some of its greatest teachers, at least two of whom I see here this morning. From Prof. Charles McKinley I took freshman English and two other courses called Masterpieces of World Literature. I never could coax an “A” from him, but I never really deserved one, either, so I bore him no grudge and today count him among my finest friends.
The other professor to whom I refer, of course, is our speaker this morning, Prof. Abe C. Ravitz.
Let me tell you a story . . .
It was along in the winter term of 1965. I was enrolled in the third part of a three-part course called American Thought, a course cross-listed in English and history. The teacher was Dr. Abe Ravitz, and he scared me to death.
There were three reasons for this undergraduate terror of mine. For one, he had been, like Prof. McKinley, one of my older brother Richard’s favorite teachers at Hiram College. Richard, three years older than I, had graduated in 1963, and during my dissolute years at Hiram High School I had heard him regularly wax enthusiastic about Dr. Ravitz—“Dr. Ravitz” this, and “Dr. Ravitz” that. I had also heard brother Richard typing papers for Dr. Ravitz, late into the night, sometimes early in the morning (sometimes only hours before they were due), the old upright Underwood uttering an annoying pneumatic sound that easily penetrated—no, shook—the walls between his bedroom and mine down at 11917 Garfield Rd., the house now owed by the Fratuses. Anyway, Richard had always been an outstanding student—valedictorian of his mighty Hiram High School class of 1959 (he was #1 in a class of a dozen or so; I used to impress my students by telling them I graduated 10th in my class!), so I knew I had a tough if not impossible act to follow with Dr. Ravitz.
Another reason he scared me in the winter of 1965: Having already taken two previous courses with him, I had learned he was not easy, not at all. I’d had a “B” in the first part of the two-part American Lit survey and somehow struggled to an “A” in American Thought II, writing a long, earnest, and superficial paper on Frank Norris that I still have. So I was scared in the winter of 1965 because I knew I’d have to work hard—something I wasn’t all that fond of 35 years ago.
But on this particular day I’m telling you about, there was a more immediate reason for my anxiety: There was a mid-term in Dr. Ravitz’s class. 10:20 a.m. I had read the books for the test, had studied in my customary desultory way, and was as ready as I ever was for anything academic in 1965. But first, I had to go to work at my campus job, deep sink at breakfast, Miller Dining Hall, a deeply unsatisfying position that required me to get up far too early in the morning, to struggle the vast distance from Whitcomb to Miller, to scrub bacon grease and eggy goo from utensils that did not readily surrender their crusty treasures. On this particular morning that I’m remembering, the day of the mid-term, I did in fact make it to my job, then returned to my room about 8:30, thinking I’d lie down for a few minutes and rest a little before my 10:20 exam.
At 10:25, I woke up when my roommate, Chuck Rodgers, back from his 9:10, bounded into the room with his usual infuriating early-morning cheer. “Hey,” he chirped, “don’t you have a test—?” but he delivered the rest of it to my back as I sprinted for Hinsdale, not even bothering to don a coat to combat the bitter February wind. My face creased with sleep, my heart racing with alarm, I cruised into the room about 10:27 (I was fast in those days), walked over to the desk where sat Dr. Ravitz, wearing that black turtleneck, drumming his fingers and staring out the window. He turned slowly, regarding me with those eyes—oh, those eyes I felt always could see straight into me, could read in my mind the sordid little story of my ignorance. It was the familiar fairy tale—but in reverse: He was the emperor, and he knew that none of us wore any intellectual clothing! I mumbled an abject apology, and—relief!—received a test paper. I slid into a desk, folded my Blue Book to the first page, and read the first essay question (always essay questions in Dr. Ravitz’s class): Discuss The Great Gatsby as a frontier drama of time.
What the hell? Now, don’t get me wrong: I understood each individual word in that question: Discuss . . . frontier . . . drama . . . time . . .and so on; it was the mystifying combination of those words that made me wonder if I were actually still asleep, back in my room, deep in a guilty nightmare. Unfortunately, I wasn’t. And do you know what? I still don’t know what that question means, but I answered it, at length, certifying, I guess, that I possessed in some measure an English major’s skill to fashion answers that are long, grammatically correct, and vastly speculative (if not wholly ignorant).

I cannot express adequately what Dr. Ravitz meant to me—and, really, to an entire generation of English majors—here at Hiram College. Some of them are here this morning. I took seven courses with him, every thing he taught, I think, including, in the summer of 1965, one memorable creative writing class that met in his Hinsdale office. There were only two students, we both smoked nonstop (can you imagine that today? he must have inhaled a cubic mile of second-hand smoke every morning), and during those sultry summer school weeks—in the days when air-conditioning was just an implausible rumor at Hiram College—I learned things about writing that I still think about every time I sit down at the keyboard. (Here’s one: “Don’t give your characters problems; given them demons.”) Just yesterday I exhumed from my files a little class exercise we did on stream-of-consciousness. Here’s the comment atop this paper: “Your aim is admirable. [“This paper sucks,” in other words.] Rather than the stream, however, your protagonist is observing everything and thinking not too much. [Just like the person who wrote it.]” As I re-read that awful paper, I am grateful for his generous comments—and for the “B,” which should have been much, much lower.
 Dr. Ravitz also instilled in me a habit I still have—reading an author’s complete works.  When we studied a writer, he invariably told us about all his or her other books, as well—and just yesterday, over at Crestwood High School, I smiled with nostalgic pleasure as I listened to him telling the seniors, who thought they would be hearing only about The Grapes of Wrath, about Steinbeck’s minor works. So thus—today, as I stand here—I find myself about one-fourth of the way through the forty-seven (or so) novels of Anthony Trollope. My mistake was to read the first one; Dr. Ravitz taught me that I now have a moral obligation to read all the rest.

On a more personal level, Dr. Ravitz never for a single second made me feel I was merely Richard Dyer’s younger brother—some pale copy, some barely literate homuncular version who shared with him only a surname and, perhaps, some stray genetic fragments.  Instead, Dr. Ravitz praised me for my few strengths and devoted himself to improving my myriad weaknesses, to educating me. I still remember scurrying after class over to the library to look up apotheosis and verisimilitude and lycanthropy and scores of other words that he employed with the sure and certain knowledge that we didn’t know them—but ought to. I remember writing in my notebook: The American novel deals with the transcendental journey from innocence to experience, and then for thirty years gravely telling my students the same thing, as if I’d invented the notion.
I most recently saw Dr. Ravitz in Pasadena a few years ago. I was in the area doing research for a Jack London book, and I called him. We quickly made arrangements to have dinner. And a wonderful one it was, too. Afterwards, we strolled along the streets, saw a bookstore, and entered it. “What do you think of this?” he asked, holding up a title I can’t remember right now. But what I do remember is my accelerating heart rate as I met those wise eyes. It was 1965 all over again—he was the emperor, and I the callow, intellectually naked 19-year-old, caught in my own little frontier drama of time—and, truth be told, I couldn’t have been happier.
Men and women of the Hiram community, it is with inexpressible pride and gratitude that I introduce to you one of the most influential professors in the history of Hiram College; emeritus professor of English at California State University, Dominguez Hills; scholar and author of works about figures as diverse as Clarence Darrow and Rex Beach and Fannie Hurst and—soon—Vachel Lindsay; a teacher whose devotion to scholarship infected so many of us; a man whose personal lexicon does not include the word retirement; a man who grabbed me and scores of others by the shoulders and shook our minds alive—Dr. Abe C. Ravitz.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Frankenstein Sundae, 125

From Tan-yr-Allt to Mary Godwin

Bysshe and Harriet Shelley fled Wales—and their hillside home, Tan-yr-allt, in Tremadoc—in late February 1813. They crossed the Irish Sea to Ireland, where they spent nearly a month on various projects. As I’ve already reported, Bysshe wrote a frantic note to his English publisher, Thomas Hookham, on February 27: I have just escaped an atrocious assassination. … you will perhaps hear of me no more.[1]
A week later, from aboard the Bangor Ferry (from Bangor, Wales, to Dublin, Ireland—about 100 miles) Bysshe wrote to Hookham again (thanking him for some £20 the publisher had advanced him), saying he needed a little breathing time to recover from the excitements—terror, really—of his recent wrestling match with Death.[2]

In March, from Dublin, Bysshe sent his latest poem to Hookham—Queen Mab. But his other correspondence during this period involves pleas for money. His angry father, Sir Timothy Shelley, had cut him off, and he was exploring every source he could think of (except labor, of course—one did not do that sort of thing) to acquire the funds he and Harriet required to live in the way he wanted to live.
By the first of April, he had borrowed enough to pay for their passage back to England, to London, and by April 5, they were living at 23 Chapel Street, not far from Buckingham Palace, not far from the Serpentine, a body of water in Hyde Park, just to their northwest, a body of water that would one day—a day not too far in the future—provide one of the coldest chapters in Bysshe Shelley’s life.

Meanwhile, where was Mary Godwin? In January 1813, she was briefly back in London from Scotland, where she’d been living with the Baxter family (her escape from her horrible relationship with her stepmother, Mary Jane Godwin), in company with her new friend Christy Baxter. They went with Godwin to see the premiere of Coleridge’s play Remorse at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane (still standing—I've seen plays there), which had just recently been rebuilt after a devastating fire in 1809. She and Christy were back in Dundee in June, the same month that Harriet Shelley would give birth to a daughter, Eliza Ianthe. It was nearly a year later—in late March 1814—that Mary returned to live at home in London. And not long after that, all the world would change. Her world. Bysshe’s world. Harriet’s world. Little Ianthe’s world. Godwin’s world. Our world.

[1] The Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley, I: 355.
[2] Ibid., 359.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Sad News about an Old Hiram High Classmate

1961 Yearbook, Hiram High School
I got word via mass email yesterday that a former Hiram Schools schoolmate had died--Edward C. Troyer. We called him Eddie. And I was afraid of him.

Eddie was a year older than I, and when we moved to Hiram near the beginning of the 1956-57 school year, I was going to start seventh grade. For homeroom, the entire seventh and eighth grades shared a large room on the main floor--Mrs. Rood's classroom; seventh graders sat in the front, eighth graders in the back.

And that's where I first noticed Eddie Troyer. He sat right behind me, and I knew, having seen him around, that he was much bigger than I. Tougher looking. I was a small lad in seventh grade. See photo below of our seventh grade basketball team. I'm the guy with the snazzy red kneepads, second from the left in the front row. (To my right, by the way, on the end, is Lester Detweiler, an Amish kid whom I fervently envied: He got to quit school at the end of the 8th grade! He was also a fine little player--much better than I. And current FB friend Ralph Green is also in the front row, third from the right).

Eddie was taller, leaner, broad-shouldered, and, as I would discover a bit later, an excellent basketball player--perhaps the best in the school. My freshman year I still remember watching the most exciting basketball game I've ever seen--and I mean ever: Our Hiram Huskies varsity beat nearby Garrettsville in triple overtime (sudden death), and Eddie, a sophomore, made some key shots and foul shots down the stretch that made possible that impossible win.

But Eddie was a rebel. He wore his jeans low, his collar up, his hair greased (rebel uniform in our day). And he would quit the team later on (or was he kicked off? he did like his cigarettes and some proscribed liquid substances--and I think I remember a confrontation with the coach?). As I look in his class yearbook his senior year, I don't see his picture anywhere--no individual picture, no group. Did he not graduate? I don't remember. I can't find a single picture of him anywhere.

But I do remember some Eddie Troyer stories, listed below in no particular order:
  • The eighth graders had to write a term paper for English. Eddie's, I remember, was something about metal alloys. He showed it to me in home room, just before he was going to turn it in. And I saw on the cover he'd made: Turn Paper.
  • After a year or so living up on the Hiram College campus (on Dodge Court, for you Hiram fans), we moved down Hiram's north hill to 11917 Garfield Rd., the house where Prof. David Fratus (ret.) still lives--they bought the place from us when we moved in 1966. Eddie lived nearby, just up the hill a little bit on the other side of the street, and so we somehow (how?) achieved a sort of peace, Eddie and I--even a kind of friendship, one that my father was not very pleased about. I started greasing my hair a bit, talking tough to much smaller kids.
  • On the north side of our house was a field that Dad wanted to convert to lawn. I knew that Eddie's family had a tractor, so I recommended him to Dad, who hired Eddie to plow and disc and seed the field. It took Eddie awhile to get around to doing it, but he did, and if you drive by that house now, you can see ... lawn! A nice one. We should call it the Edward C. Troyer Memorial Lawn.
  • We liked to play pick-up touch football games on the nearby lawn of the Hiram College President. (The Troyers lived just across the street.) We weren't trespassing: Trevor Sharp, the President's son, was one of the players. Eddie played sometimes--but we were all afraid of him, so he ran for touchdowns with impunity. One day he showed up for a game wearing track shoes--with spikes. My little brother (five years younger than Eddie) broke away on a play and was sprinting (well, insofar as little Davi could sprint) for the goal line when Eddie caught up with him. He slowed Davi by spiking him in the calf. That ended the game and commenced a trip to Dr. Sprogis.
  • One summer day, up at the Hiram College tennis courts (which, then, were behind what was then the library; it's now, among other things, the computer center), I was witness to a bloody encounter between Eddie and a classmate of mine (whom I will not name but will call Thor). I had been playing tennis with one of them (can't remember? I played both), when the other showed up, and the fireworks began. Words were exchanged. Threats. Then Thor took one of Eddie's tennis balls and smacked it up on the library roof. Oh, now it was on!
    • And quickly over. Thor smacked Eddie a few times in the face. Blood. Thor got Eddie in a headlock.
      • Eddie: You've got blood on your shirt.
      • Thor: It ain't mine.
    • Then--a moment of terror ..
      • Thor: I'm going to ram your ****ing head into that net post.
      • Eddie ... [I don't remember what he said--but whatever it was, Thor released him and headed off in search of Loki, I guess.]
    • The entire time I was sitting in the bleachers, a lone fan at what I thought would be a championship bout--but ended up being a championship rout. I was terrified the entire time. Because, you see, I was friends with Thor, as well. Eddie came back to the bleachers and told me he was going to get a pipe and kill Thor.
      • Didn't happen.
      • Thor, by the way, is in the basketball picture above. Ain't tellin' you which one he is, though.
  • I don't remember Eddie's involvement in any school activity other than basketball. It's possible, but he was sort of simultaneously in and out of the school. He seemed to have a life (lives?) elsewhere. I wish I knew more.
I don't remember, either, when Eddie and I drifted apart. Probably when I started getting involved in so many school activities--plays, music, sports, etc. I never saw him after high school; he never attended any of the Hiram Schools reunions--at least none when I was there.

But I do remember this: Eddie Troyer had a heart. During those months I was hanging out with him in junior high, I learned that he was far softer than his public image. He was kind to me--for no discernible reason. And my fear gradually evaporated and transformed into something very like admiration. He could drive a tractor. He could make foul shots at the most critical times. He knew about metal alloys (I'd never even heard of them at the time). He wasn't afraid of authorities. He did what he wanted.

Not all those things worked out for him at the time, but when I got the news yesterday about Eddie, I was sad. And that sadness lingers today.

Monday, May 18, 2015


I'm just back from a coronation.


Yes, I'm back from almost two hours at the dentist's office where I got one of my upper molars crowned--an upper molar I'd somehow cracked recently (I'm sure it was not the popcorn at the movies, right? No, it was something some Evil Thing performed on me while I slept), and when I was in for my "routine" exam not long ago, I got the coronation news.

My dentist actually said to her assistant (as if I were not even in the room): "Look! It's the last of his six-year molars without a crown!'

I failed to feel the same excitement. All I know is: I'll be making my dentist's next yacht payment for her.

I just found this tidbit on a pediatric dental site on the Web: The first permanent molars, or 6 year molars, come in around the age of 6 and they erupt behind all of the primary teeth. That's a daunting word, erupt!

So ... that means I've had these particular teeth since about 1950. Truman was President.We were living in Enid, Oklahoma. My dad was back from World War II, teaching at Phillips University (RIP) there in Enid. My mom had three little boys (9-6-2) and was dreaming of a professional career (she would have one). I was in first grade. Adams Elementary School. And for the life of me I cannot recall the name of my teacher--the only teacher I've had whose name I can not remember. A puzzle--because I liked her. (See, I'm not totally gone: I can recall my teacher's gender!)

So now I'm home from the dentist. I have only the foundations of those teeth that erupted (!) back in 1950 (or so) in Oklahoma's Garfield County. And I'm trying to avoid seeing all of this as too ... metaphorical. You know? Loss as we age? That sort of thing ...

There was one moment of amusement as I was leaving. I was at the counter, setting up my subsequent appointment when I will get the True Crown (only a temporary so far). One of the two receptionists was going through the routine for billing and payment.

The other one--a veteran--interrupted. "Oh," she said, "no need for this. He knows the drill."

I told them that was not a kind thing to mention in a dentist's office. Knowing the drill! Oh, do I!?!!?!?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sunday Sundries, 51

1. AOTW. Good news: No one qualified this week. In fact (as usual), I came very close to winning the award myself on a couple of occasions. I guess I'll just have to try harder?

2. I use Quicken Billpay for a lot of regular payments, and this week I got to send off to Toyota the final payment on our 2010 Corolla, a car that has served us very, very well. Sixty payments. Whew!

3. This week I finished the penultimate novel by Tobias Smollett (1721-1771),  The Life and Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves (serialized, 1760-61), a novel with some obvious connections to Don Quixote but with some very funny and some very moving moments. (He takes the entire book to win his Lady Love--no surprise there, really: This is the sort of thing that occurs usually in the first chapter.) And some biting moments of social satire. Near the end, he takes on the whole idea of mental institutions (where Launcelot finds himself briefly held against his will):

Finding himself agitated with impatience and indignation, he returned to his apartment, and the door being locked upon him, began to review, not without horror, the particulars of his fate. “How little reason,” said he to himself, “have we to boast of the blessings enjoyed by the British subject, if he holds them on such a precarious tenure; if a man of rank and property may be thus kidnapped even in the midst of the capital; if he may be seized by ruffians, insulted, robbed, and conveyed to such a prison as this, from which there seems to be no possibility of escape! Should I be indulged with pen, ink, and paper, and appeal to my relations, or to the magistrates of my country, my letters would be intercepted by those who superintend my confinement. Should I try to alarm the neighbourhood, my cries would be neglected as those of some unhappy lunatic under necessary correction. Should I employ the force which Heaven has lent me, I might imbrue my hands in blood, and after all find it impossible to escape through a number of successive doors, locks, bolts, and sentinels. Should I endeavour to tamper with the servant, he might discover my design, and then I should be abridged of the little comfort I enjoy. People may inveigh against the Bastile in France, and the Inquisition in Portugal; but I would ask, if either of these be in reality so dangerous or dreadful as a private madhouse in England, under the direction of a ruffian?” (from Chapter 23)

Smollett would love to write only one more novel--The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, published in 1771, the year of his death. I've started reading it ...

4. Yesterday (Saturday), I had the pleasure of seeing and listening to a former student at Harmon Middle School, Cori McCarthy, now a noted YA author who has been on tour promoting her latest, the exciting Breaking Sky, which is now in the process of being transformed into a movie--or so we all hope. (Sony is working on the production.)

I wrote recently here about Cori's novel Breaking Sky (link to that post), and I noted that Cori was in 8th grade the year I retited from Harmon Middle School (1997), and I didn't know the 8th graders very well that year for a couple of reasons--for one, I retired in January; for another, I had a student teacher in the fall.

And I especially didn't know Cori very well because for 8th grade English she had not me but a wonderful young teacher, Karl Norton, who had recently come to the school to continue his teaching career. Cori is grateful to him (as she should be), crediting him for helping awaken her interest in literature, especially through the poetry of Walt Whitman.

I did know Cori's family. Her older brother Evan had been one of my finest students, and we are still in touch via Facebook.

Anyway, there was a nice Saturday afternoon crowd at the Aurora Memorial Library yesterday (50? more?), including many of Cori's friends from school days--as well as neighbors (and a teacher or two).

She spoke without notes about her decision to become a writer--about things that had gone well and not gone well in her career--about the difficulties you face with agents, editors, publishers, publicity--about her "writing process." She writes the first draft of a novel very quickly, she says (about a month), then spends months rewriting and revising and, especially, looking for the novel's heart.

Most affectingly, she talked candidly about how she invests herself in her characters--even identifying individuals in her books who are in fundamental ways like her. She talked about how injecting her pain into characters on the page has helped her--and, she hopes, her readers, as well.

There were quite a few local students there in the crowd, and they were riveted by her.

Afterwards, we chatted briefly as she signed her two books for me, and I told her, as I was leaving, that I wished I'd retired a year later than I did. We teachers hate missing special young people.

5. Jocye and I tried to watch the Hitchcock film of Dial "M" for Murder not long ago (link to trailer for the 1954 film). We had recently seen the stage production up in Cleveland and wanted to see how Hitchcock adapted it for the screen (he shot it in 3-D, his only film using that technology). The screenplay, by the way, was by Frederick Knott, who'd written the stage play. But we didn't last long with the DVD. It was so similar to the play that we got kind of ... bored (surprising for a Hitchcock film) and turned it off after the near-murder about 1/3 of the way through. Enjoyed seeing Robert Cummings, though. When I was a kid, I loved his TV show--The Bob Cummings Show--back in the 1950s. He played a daffy photographer--who was a bit of a ladies' man.

6. Finally ... last night we both enjoyed the DVD of Hey Boo: Harper Lee & To Kill a Mockingbird,  a 2010 documentary (available from Netflix) that was shot, of course, before news of the "new" Lee novel exploded in the media last year. The film was almost entirely positive. It explained the background of the writing, Lee's later retreat from the spotlight, her friendship (later fractured) with Truman Capote. The filmmakers interviewed on camera a number of notable contemporary writers (James McBride, Lee Smith, Rick Bragg, Richard Russo, and others), all of whom spoke with great admiration for the book--and for its transformative effect on them as young readers. Seldom was heard a discouraging word.

Lee gave her last interview in 1964, and it was eerie to hear her voice. Even more eerie? The time-shredded voice of her 99-year-old older sister (who appears several times), who, at the time of the film, was still a local lawyer, still in practice.