Dawn Reader

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

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Opening Doors

Just when I feel the doors (of Life, that is) starting to close, people have started opening them for me--all sorts of people: little kids, other guys, women. All ages, really. Mom and Dad had taught me to hold doors open for others, but it had rarely happened to me. Until recently.

Not counting, of course, those times when someone just keeps it open for you after passing through before you.

Which leads me to a sad but educative memory. Dallas, Texas. 1950s. Mom, who'd begun her teaching career, took us to Dallas for a Y-Teen conference (she was head of the Y-Teens at Emerson Junior High School; Enid, Okla.; I've commented before about how Enid named its two junior highs for Emerson and Longfellow ... those were the days, eh?). And it was in Dallas that I met my first revolving door.

Rather, it met me. I didn't quite "get" how it worked, and my older brother was delighted when it delivered to a little puzzled Sooner boy a sharp knock on the head. (It's called One-Trial Learning--like when you touch a hot surface or play with an electrical outlet.) Now, I'm very graceful with revolving doors, though I've noticed they're much bigger these days--and slower. Almost leisurely. (Did too many little kids get knocks on the bean while Big Brother laughed?) There's even one at Seidman Cancer Center, where I have to go all too often. (At least I've had no door problems there!)

Anyway, I must look aged now (if not venerable) because people wait for me to approach, then hold the door for me.

This is nice and not nice.

Nice: It's thoughtful.

Not Nice: It's not thoughtful.

By the latter, I mean that the act--as intentionally kind as it is--is a very patent reminder of my age, if not my status. Sure, it's nice that you did it, but--dammit!--I can open my own damn door!

I never really thought about that during my own door-holding days (days, I should say, that have not ended). I just held/hold the doors, as per parental instructions. Most people thanked me. But a few, I now realize, must have been thinking Dammit! And I've noticed, too, that there are some younger women who don't appear to care for the--what?--sexism? paternalism? chauvinism? patronization?--of the act.

And now 'tis I thanking people. But a question occurred to me yesterday at the health club, where there are two doors at the entrance. Door 1: the main entry. Door 2 (about 10 feet ahead): another door for the weather--so that Ohio Winter doesn't roar in and take over.

So here's the question: If someone holds both doors for you, do they get two thank-yous? Or does one suffice for the two? I usually thank both times, though my volume on #2 is generally considerably less than it is on #1.

Oh, the questions I never believed I'd ever ask ...!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Paper Cut Prompts Memory

I gave myself a wee paper cut this morning while I was tearing off a page on one of my page-a-day calendars. I know: Every paper cut is in a way wee (you don't usually cut off your hand), but by wee this morning I mean: No blood appeared. Always a good sign, whatever your endeavor.

It was the second one I'd awarded myself this week. The previous one was amusing, annoying, painful. While reaching in my jeans pocket to grab my pack of gum, I sliced my finger on the edge of the thin cardboard packaging--qualifying, I guess, as a "cardboard cut" (more alliterative), though paper and cardboard are kin. Lots of blood on that one. Band-Aid. Foul language that I'm sure my mother could hear out in western Massachusetts--hear and condemn. (The only "curse" I ever heard her say--and rarely--was "Hell's bells.")

Anyway, the wee cut this morning for some reason reminded me of a 1964 movie, 36 Hours,** which I saw at the Hiram College Sunday night movies. I see on IMDB that it was released late in 1964, so I probably saw it later in 1965, my junior year at Hiram College.

I did not remember until I saw the poster that James Garner was in it, too.  (I'd thought the main role was Rod Taylor's; I was wrong--oh, foul traitorous memory!) Garner had been a favorite of mine in the old TV show Maverick (1957-62), and, later (of course!) in The Rockford Files, to which I remain addicted.

So anyway, although Taylor (who'd starred in Hitchcock's The Birds) has a very key role, the real star of this WW II film was Garner, who plays an American officer kidnapped and drugged by the Germans, who, using English-speaking Germans posing as American medical and military personnel (Taylor and others), try to convince him that he's been in a coma. The war is long over, they tell him, and he gradually believes it.

Garner (L), Taylor (R)
note how Nazis have "aged" Garner to make him think
that much time has passed
What the Germans really want is for Garner to spill the beans about the plans for the imminent Allied invasion--a goal they try to accomplish with genial conversation. And just as he's about to spill?

A paper cut comes into play. (I'll not spoil this anymore. (Link to trailer for the film.)

A final surprise: Looking over the list of credits on IMDB, I see that Roald Dahl worked on the screenplay. Odd.  I don't remember any chocolate factories or BFGs in the story?

**Available (DVD) on Netflix--just popped it to the top of my queue.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Off the Grid

I've been "off the grid" for about twenty-four hours. That phrase ("off the grid") sounds as if it belongs in an episode of 24 or some other spy/thriller show. For me, it's meant just silencing Facebook (it's been a little rowdy there lately--what with the campaigns and what-not), neglecting to do posts on my two blogs (this one and Daily Doggerel). Feeling sad/pessimistic about the State of the World--which, of course, is what Old Guys have done since there first were Old Guys.

Even more fun: All I did was lie around in bed and listen to the wind howl (and it was howling ferociously most of the day yesterday). Upstairs, in my bed, I always imagine that the wind, like the Big Bad Wolf, will blow our house down (after some huffing and puffing). So far, this hasn't happened, though there are always ominous creaks and groans--some from the house, some from me. There were times yesterday when I hoped the wind would succeed--while Joyce was out somewhere, of course.

I don't know what "triggered" my latest Descent into the Gloom. I can always blame some of it on Lupron, the cancer-retarding drug I've been on for about two and a half years. One of the side effects is ... gloom. Part of it is just hearing time's winged chariot hurrying near (that great line I just stole from Andrew Marvell's marvelous "To His Coy Mistress"--link to the poem if you've forgotten it). Marvell (1621-1678) startled me when I first read him--was it at Hiram High School? I just couldn't believe that an important writer--one in an anthology!--would write about ... you know? ... sex? I thought those guys/women wrote only about birds and fields and stuff I (a) didn't understand, (b) didn't care about.

I was wrong. Very wrong, as I was to discover in my subsequent reading. Oh, some of those writer types were naughty! (And, thus, I became an English major and teacher.)

I've been trying to talk/work myself out of this funk today. I didn't get up early, as I usually do. In fact, I didn't wake at all until I heard Joyce returning from her early-morning workout at the health club.

But I dragged myself out of bed, cleaned up (a major step!), decided to bake some maple-pecan scones (with Ohio maple syrup)--I'm nearly out, and I eat one every morning for breakfast. I sat down to work at the computer and realized--only about twenty-four hours after my grid-getting-off that I missed being there, a little.

And so I'm going to post this in a minute. Then re-activate my Facebook account so I can share this. (The Facebook Gods, I'm sure, are smiling, elbowing one another, saying: I told you so! He's a wimp!)

And so I am ...

Monday, March 28, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 221

Lord Byron's marriage with Annabella fractures ...

And now Annabella (Lady Byron) was alone with her infant daughter, Ada. It was not long before she met Caroline Lamb (Byron’s earlier lover, the author of Glenarvon), who told Annabella about “other crimes” Byron had committed—sexual crimes (as defined in early nineteenth-century England), including the possibility of homosexuality along with incest.[1]
By mid-April, 1816, Bryon had signed a separation agreement with Annabella. Soon, Claire Clarimont would enter the picture (and his bed chamber), and he would be off to Switzerland and Frankenstein and Greece and the Grim Reaper.
Deeply depressed, Annabella turned to philanthropy (among other pursuits), founded the first infant school in England, and threw herself into the education of her daughter, a child who turned out to be a prodigiously talented mathematician. Today, many credit her for pioneering the work that has led to our own digital age.
The rest of Julia Marcus’ very fine book—Lady Byron and Her Daughters—deals with the post-Byron years, years which, though interesting, don’t directly apply to the story of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the story I’m supposed to be pursuing here. Annabella became friends with Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Henry James pops in the story somewhat after her death on May 16, 1860. Marcus has done a wonderful job of restoring Lady Byron’s story (assiduously wiping away the smudges left by other biographers).
But one more thing before we go: Lord Byron’s memoirs. And what a sad tale those are …

[1] Ibid., 100.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Sunday Sundries, 95

1. AOTW: The young woman who dared to take my seat at the coffee shop this week! Doesn't she know how territorial I am? How dangerous? (Actually, I just sat in the corner and pouted and whimpered like a little puppy whose bigger sibling took the last Milk-Bone.)

2. If you've been reading these "Sundries" recently, you know that I've been (slowly) working my way through the novels (and some nonfiction) of John A. Williams (1925-2015), a writer whom I'd never heard of until I saw his obituary last summer in the New York Times (link to obit). I just finished his sixth novel, Captain Blackman (1972),  and have another half-dozen to go.

I've greatly admired all of the books I've read so far--but this one is not so strong as the others. The idea is terrific: Williams creates a character--Abraham Blackman--a black soldier who appears in every major conflict we've had--from the Revolution on (Williams had served in the US Navy in WW II). Through Blackman's eyes and experiences we see how black military personnel have been treated over the centuries (not well, as you might imagine), and some of the scenes are powerful. The Blackman in Vietnam, for example, is severely wounded while rescuing some other combatants, and Williams weaves his story throughout the novel. But too often the characters stop to make a speech about everything that's going on--instead of trusting the intelligence of the reader to recognize what's happening.

I can tell that Williams did a tremendous amount of research for this book--especially about black military personnel. But it reads at times more like a tract than a novel. Too bad--a great idea.

His next novel--Mothersill and the Foxes (1975)--is on the way!

Williams in his office at Rutgers, Univ.,
where he taught, 1979-94
link to more about Rutgers & Williams
3. Joyce and I watched (via Netflix DVD) a 2007 Nova documentary about the "intelligent design" lawsuit in Dover, Penn., about a decade ago (Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial). Lots of interviews with the principals, some reenactments of courtroom scenes (no cameras allowed in the Federal courtroom), and much to think about re: religion in the classroom. I was impressed with the strength and solidarity of the high school science teachers in Dover.

4. We also finished streaming the latest season of Midsomer Murders, a very average Brit detective show (it's been on since 1997!) that we just can't stop watching. No explaining it. (Weakness of character? Theirs and ours?)

5. Some last words (from the various online word-of-the-day sites to which I subscribe);
  • pneumatology, n.The science, doctrine, or theory of spirits or spiritual beings. (OED)
  • affinal   \a-FAHYN-l, uh-FAHYN-l, AF-ahyn-l\  adj. related by or concerning marriage (dictionary.com)
  •  sophrosyne  \suh-FROS-uh-nee\   noun    moderation; discretion; prudence.
  • kryptonite, n.  In the fictional world of the comic book hero Superman: a substance that renders Superman weak and powerless. Hence in figurative or allusive use: something that can weaken or damage a particular person or thing; an Achilles heel.
    Forms: also with capital initial.
    Kryptonite first appeared in the radio show The Adventures of Superman in the mid 1940s, and did not appear in the comic book Superman until 1949.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Rise of Sourdough, 2

my starter's home (on the right) & some offspring (left)

Continued from a couple of days ago ...

My first loaf was as flat and heavy as a piece of sidewalk. I ate it all. Raved about it. (No one else in the house was likewise ... charmed.)

But I tried again--and again--and again. And was soon able to make edible loaves that my wife and son would eat not entirely out of politeness. And thirty years flew by ...

When I taught Jack London and The Call of the Wild and the Klondike Gold Rush to my 8th graders in the late 1980s and on into the 90s, I used to bake for each of them a little sourdough biscuit (old-time recipe), a "treat" that most of them would consume willingly, if not gratefully. I would flatten the dough and cut out the biscuits with a shot glass!

Over the years, as I've written before, I also added to my starter some various sorts of flour that meant something to me. I stirred in some from Lanterman's Mill in Youngstown (my great-grandfather was a Lanterman and lived nearby), some from Garrett's Mill in Garrettsville, Ohio (where my mother taught, where my younger brother attended high school), and some others I acquired on our various trips around the country.

And I gradually expanded the sorts of things I baked--from pizza to hamburger rolls to waffles to pancakes to muffins (some are rising right now as I type this) to biscuits. I never was too interested in getting too exotic. I'm baking our family's bread for the week--not competing in a King Arthur Flour contest. So my stuff is pretty basic. Usually, I bake just a traditional loaf and a round loaf for the week, storing the unused ones in the freezer. Our grandson Logan loves the round loaves, so I usually give him one when they come by--or when we go down to visit. He likes, I hear, to sneak down in the kitchen late at night and pull off a chunk--"mousing," they call it in his house.

And here's how it goes in a typical week--

  • "Feed" the starter on Saturday night (adding 3 cups of flour, 2 cups of warm water in a large bowl; cover and let rest overnight).
  • Return two cups of the starter to its crockery home and return it to the refrigerator .
  • Bake with what remains. I use local honey (from a farm in Mantua, Ohio, a farm owned by a family I knew in high school), sea salt (probably pretentious; oh well), vegetarian butter (gotta worry about cholesterol, I fear), a little skim milk (ditto). This is for the "routine" bread I bake each week. Sometimes I use a mixture of flours, too--wheat, white, oat for the "routine" stuff. For one bread, though, I use about 15 different grains. It's a pain--but, oh, the taste! These days, I do that one only about once a month or so. Takes too much out of me.
  • The rising and baking take a few hours--but near the end? When it's in the oven? Angels swoop down to see what's smelling so heavenly. 
    • Okay, that's a bit too self-flattering. What really happens: I will comment (or Joyce will): Smells great, doesn't it? And the answer is self-evident.

the usual look of my usual loaves

Friday, March 25, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 220

But what about Lady Byron, who, after less than a year of marriage to this most mercurial of poets, discovered that she could just take no more? Markus begins her chapter about the end with this: Reader, prepare for a train wreck.[1]
Byron was definitely attracted to Annabella—but then there was his half-sister, Augusta Leigh. These two did not have a good history of staying away from each other, and when they were together, well, stuff happened. Annabella—“no fool,” as Markus puts it[2]—threatened to break off with Byron. Who promptly fainted.
But the engagement proceeded, and the wedding took place on January 2, 1815, and Byron took no slow route to the consummation: It occurred on his couch as soon as they arrived at his place after the ceremony.
Although she loved Byron, Annabella had a hard time adjusting to his mercurial personality—his “terribly black moods,”[3] his blasphemy, his excessive drinking, and eventually (of course) his wandering eye. Which was not the only organ that was wandering.
Still, they were together enough that she became pregnant, and her child, Ada, arrived on December 10, 1815. And just a month later—on January 14, 1816—Annabella left him. And that was pretty much the end of their association. As I mentioned earlier, he soon left England altogether, and he did not return until 1824, at which time he was in his coffin.

[1] Lady Byron, 31.
[2] Ibid., 40.
[3] Ibid., 48.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Rise of Sourdough

my starter in its refrigerated home
and one of its offspring to the left
Yesterday (Wed.) there was a feature about sourdough in the New York Times--a feature that, today, is listed as the #1 shared story from the Times' website. (Link to that story.) It's a fairly conventional, basic piece about what sourdough is, how you can acquire some (naturally or with some $$), how to store and use it, etc. The piece notes the increasing popularity of the substance with home bakers.

And from my own Facebook experiences recently, this seems true. I've had several inquiries about my own use of it--I post an annoying picture every Sunday (usually my baking day) of whatever I've made that day, usually just a couple of loaves for the week (and to share with my son and his family).

I've written here about my sourdough previously, and I will do so again: This coming August my starter will reach its thirtieth birthday. Hard for me to imagine.

Back in 1986 I was teaching The Call of the Wild to my 8th graders, and I was becoming fanatical about all things related to that book--including, of course, the Klondike Gold Rush (1896-99), the historical event that serves as the setting for Jack London's 1903 novella. I was reading all of London's other work (he wrote 50 books in 15 years!).

My interest had recently deepened even more because I'd learned that my own great-grandfather had gone on that Rush--had kept a diary (which I now have). So in the summer of 1986 I decided our son, Steve (who'd just turned 14), and I would go to Alaska and retrace my great-grandfather's journey into the Canadian Yukon. (That previous year I'd taught Steve in 8th grade.)

We flew to Seattle, to Juneau, then by prop plane (piloted by a young man who seemed about Steve's age) to Skagway, Alaska, where my great-grandfather had commenced his journey over the mountains, a Gold Rush town that is one of the settings in The Call of the Wild. We rented a car and drove the 439 miles (thank you, Google Maps) to Dawson City (overnight in Whitehorse). We saw not only "Dyer" sites along the way, of course, but many of the places London names in The Call of the Wild.

Anyway, on the way back, resting in Skagway (at the old Golden North Hotel--a place we loved), we did some walking and sight-seeing and shopping (I bought some stuff to show my classes). And it was then that I found some packets of sourdough starter and a little booklet about how to use it. On a whim I bought the stuff (a few bucks?). During the Gold Rush the veterans up there were called "sourdoughs" (rookies were "cheechakos"), and sourdough is permanently linked to that event.

Not long after we got back home (Hudson, Ohio), I decided to try the stuff. I'd already been doing most of our bread-baking for nearly twenty years (I'd begun in our early-marriage penury), and I was ready for something new. So I took out the packet, followed the directions (mixing it with flour and warm water, covering it in a bowl), and felt like Victor Frankenstein when I came down the next morning and found it bubbling merrily away.

It's alive! It's alive!


Wednesday, March 23, 2016


Not possible.

But this is post #1500 on Dawn Reader, a blog I started back on January 6, 2012, with a title I stole from Dickens (the title of the first chapter of David Copperfield): "I Am Born." (Link to that first post.)

It's been my custom to write a little about each centennial mark I reach, and I have to confess that this large number today kind of rattles my cage. How could I possibly have had 1500 things to say? Well, apparently I did, and here we are.

I'm proud of a few things. I've missed very few days (mostly due to illness or travel). I've developed a weekly feature I like ("Sunday Sundries"). I've been able to serialize some texts I'm working on (currently, a very very very rough draft of a memoir about my ten-year obsession with Mary Shelley and her circle). I've been able to tell some stories that I hope will one day help my grandsons understand what their grandfather's life was like. (When they were very little, they called me "Silly Papa," a name that morphed into "SP," and is showing signs of another change--a more conventional one-- now that they are 11 and (nearly) 7.) I've clarified my own thinking about a number of things.

I've also made some mistakes. Hurt some feelings (unintentionally). Wrote about some things I don't know much about (always a danger). I've probably made some predictions that turned out to be as accurate as the 10-day weather forecast. So it goes in the land of Fallible Humanity.

Usually, I've used these centennial occasions to check my numbers--to see how many "hits" I've earned (?) since the last time. But I realize that I don't really care--and so this time I'm not even going to look. It doesn't matter to me. What matters is that I'm doing this, keeping a record of sorts, and if a few or a score or hundreds of people are checking it out now and then, well, that's fine, but it doesn't alter a thing for me. Although I am grateful for those who read--and let me know (from Facebook or Twitter or elsewhere)--I'm (obviously) not too concerned about a large audience. Such things are evanescent anyway, unless you're a very very rare human being. (Like Mr. Prufrock, "I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be ....")

So I'll continue writing about books I've read, places I've gone, memories I have, odd things I've noticed, daily experiences, teaching (I don't seem to write too much about this anymore), politics (rarely: It does no good), family, friends, health (my cursed cancer will remain an enemy--in my body, on the page); I'll continue serializing things I'm working on.

Until I can't.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Shower Power

no--ours does not look like this one (wish it did)
Last night--at midnight--two of our antique clocks--a cuckoo that had once belonged to my great-grandfather, a mantle clock that we bought at an old-clock shop in Lake Forest, Illinois, in 1978--simultaneously counted the hour. This never happens. The clocks are old, imprecise, and their cuckoos/bongs hardly ever align at all--and certainly not in perfect synchrony. But last night they did.

The clocks do not waken me anymore. They are part of the heartbeat of the house, as unnoticeable as the rhythm of my own interior clock. But I was awake because I'd just visited the Little Room Where Old Men Go at Night. And I was smiling about something that had happened earlier in the evening ...

After supper, we'd driven over to Aurora (about 20 min east), where we went to the McD's drive-thru and got a couple of Diet Cokes. We like the country drive over there on Old Mill Road, the return on Aurora-Hudson Rd., the road that goes right by Harmon Middle School, where I spent so many wonderful years teaching 8th graders.

Anyway, last night, on the way home, about halfway from Harmon to the Western Reserve Racquet Club, I started telling Joyce about an odd experience I'd had lately. (Now we've reached the part about the shower.) I told her that a couple of weeks ago, about to leave the shower, something had felt ... well, wrong about the process.

Regular readers here know that I'm a Creature of Habit--pretty much do the same things at the same time every day. But I am not suffering from OCD. No way! (This morning, btw, a former student, now a teacher herself, saw me in the coffee shop and told me I was late ... my "issue" is well known.)

So back to the shower: When I finish, I take the squeegee that Joyce insists I use and scrape the glass walls of our stall. Then I open the door, reach out, and grab the towel I've draped over the edge of the adjacent bathtub. I dry as much as I can inside the shower stall, then step outside to finish.

Okay. Here's the problem: A couple of weeks ago I noticed that something was wrong about how I was stepping out of the shower. It didn't feel ... correct.

Now, we've had this stall since 1997 when we moved into our current place. And I've been stepping out of it the same way for, well, nearly twenty years. But a couple of weeks ago I could not remember: Do I step out with the left or right foot first? Whichever way I did it just seemed flat wrong.

I tried a different way each day. Nope. Wrong.

Then, a couple of days, ago, I remembered! The problem was that for some reason I'd begun holding onto the door handle when stepping out. I didn't used to do that. (And why I started doing so is one of Life's Mysteries.)

The right way to do it: Push the door gently open, step out with the left foot, reach for the towel (left hand), step back inside, keep the door slightly open so the steam doesn't accumulate again, dry off.

The past few days I've been doing it correctly again, and I feel so much better.

As I was telling this story on Aurora-Hudson Rd. last night to Joyce, who was totally unaware of this particular neurosis of mine, she kept saying Good God! Good God! And seemed to be deciding whether to laugh or scream.

Which, basically, is what a marriage is all about, eh?

Monday, March 21, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 219

The relationship between Lady Caroline Lamb and Lord Byron did not end well. The fracture would taunt and haunt her for the rest of her life—and she just could not let go of him. In the summer of 1814 she tried a surprise visit (could she get him back?), but he was out. So she took one of his books and wrote on the first page: Remember me!
When Byron returned, he was annoyed and wrote in reply a nasty couple of quatrains:
Remember thee! remember thee!
Till Lethe quench life’s burning stream
Remorse and shame shall cling to thee,
And haunt thee like a feverish dream!

Remember thee! Aye, doubt it not.
Thy husband too shall think of thee:
By neither shalt thou be forgot,
Thou false to him, thou fiend to me! 
Nasty Bryon—calling her a fiend who had betrayed her husband … hmmmm, with whom did she betray him, LB?
One of the great Byron scholars, Leslie Marchand (male), wrote a little about this in his three-volume biography—and notice his tendentious language in these selected sentences:
Caroline might have been mad at times, but she was no fool.
… in June she grew wild again and began to invade Byron’s chambers at all hours.
He felt hounded, beset by a demon who would never leave him.[1]
Mad, wild, beset by a demon—these words are hardly disinterested, and although I admire (and am deeply grateful for Marchand’s masterful scholarship), I see an old, old story here: the philandering man, the ill-used, then rejected woman who has little she can do about her situation but rage, rage against the dying of the light.

In Lady Byron and Her Daughters, Markus is able to separate her feelings for Byron as a poet (she admires his work) from her disdain for him (at times) as a human being. As I’ve discussed earlier (in my descriptions of the doings of Bysshe Shelley), the nineteenth century—like just about every other century—was not a good time to be a woman, and the women whose lives were crushed by thoughtless men (whose cruelties were sanctioned by systems of class and gender) had little they could do. So kudos to Caroline Lamb for writing Glenarvon.
But what about Lady Byron, who, after less than a year of marriage to this most mercurial of poets, discovered that she could just take no more? Markus begins her chapter about the end with this: Reader, prepare for a train wreck.[2] 

Lady Caroline Lamb

[1] Byron: A Biography, 3 vols. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1957), 1: 458.
[2] Lady Byron, 31.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Sunday Sundries, 94

1. GSOTW (Good Samaritan of the Week): I was stuck near a busy intersection, could not get out into traffic; a woman stopped, waved me out in front of her. GSOTW!

2. Friday night we saw The Hateful Eight, Quentin Tarantino's most recent (and 8th) film. It's been out for a few months--gone from most theaters--and we were regretting that we'd not seen it (we've seen all the others). So I was surprised to see that the theaters in nearby Solon were offering a 6:30 showing. So off we went, joining only two other people in that particular auditorium.

If you know anything about Tarantino, you know that Buckets of Blood will tip all over you at some point--but with his work, for some reason, it doesn't really bother me: I just enjoy the journey to the Buckets so much, I guess. There were allusions to his earlier films throughout (much of Reservoir Dogs, his first, takes place in a closed room; ditto here), and I was glad that we'd seen a recent stage production of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None--because there are numerous similarities (everyone gets offed; poison, hanging, shooting in both). I don't think I've ever seen a film in which every character dies. And I mean everyone. Everyone--major, minor--whom you see alive you will eventually see dead. (Am I sick? It made me laugh.) (trailer for film)
One thing I've always liked about Tarantino: He brings back to the screen some folks you haven't seen in a long time. Here, it's Bruce Dern, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kurt Russell, Michael Madsen, and others. Oh, and there's Walter Coggings from Justified. Nice to see him again.

Mostly talk in this film ... until, of course, the Buckets tip.

3. This week I finished Joyce Carol Oates' most recent novel, The Man Without a Shadow (2016). I loved it. But I've loved pretty much all her work since I first read her back when her National Book Award-winner them was published in 1969. I've had the opportunity to review several of her books over the years for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and I wish I could have done this one. It's the story of a young scientist, a woman, who (beginning in 1969) begins working on a research project involving a man with amnesia--a man they call "E. H." We watch her work with him throughout the years--all the way to his death and the pinnacle of her career (she becomes a very celebrated, revered researcher).
But ... Oates is Oates ... so there are ... problems. Although he can remember well up to the day of his injury (he's 37--and, in his own mind--always is), he can remember only about 70 seconds of what's been happening in his present. As a result, of course, he meets Margot (the scientist) anew, every day.

She is a lonely woman--and has a rich interior life. And Oates very soon is dealing with the issue of whose mind is, well, normal?  A relationship of a different nature ensues between them.

As always, I was so impressed with Oates' ability to inhabit the minds of so many different kinds of people. Her skill at weaving a story (it's principally Margot's point of view--but we get his from time to time, also).

Flawed human beings. Dark secrets. Skillful and surprising writing. Joyce Carol Oates.

4. Some final words: Interesting words from my various online word-of-the-day providers.

  • Amaranthine  \am-uh-RAN-thin, -thahyn\  adjective (dictionary.com)
    1. unfading; everlasting: a woman of amaranthine loveliness.
    2. of or like the amaranth.
  • handraulic, adj. Pronunciation: Brit. /hanˈdrɒlɪk/,  U.S. /hænˈdrɔlɪk/, /hænˈdrɑlɪk/ (OED)
    Etymology:Formed within English, by compounding. Etymons: hand n., hydraulic adj. <  hand n. + -raulic (in hydraulic adj.).
     Chiefly Brit.
      Of motive power: provided by the hands or by human energy; (of a system, device, etc.) operated by hand as opposed to automatically or by machine.
  • macrosmatic, adj. Pronunciation: Brit. /ˌmakrɒzˈmatɪk/,  U.S. /ˈˌmækrɑzˈmædɪk/  (OED)
    Etymology:Formed within English, by compounding. Etymons: macro- comb. form, osmatic adj. <  macro- comb. form + osmatic adj. (see quot. 1890). Compare microsmatic adj.
      Having a well-developed olfactory apparatus or sense of smell. Also fig.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Wayward Wind

It was very windy in northeastern Ohio earlier this week. Our cedar fence creaked; decorative items hung on our outside walls blew off; our old house groaned--and we hoped that he/she would hold on, just a few more years ...

We were driving home early on Thursday evening (St. Patrick's Day)--the wind reminding us that if it wanted to, it could sweep our car off to Oz--when an old song sneaked up out of my memory and demanded prominence. It was "The Wayward Wind." I sang a few bars for Joyce, who said she did not remember it. I could not remember who had sung it (I thought it was Anita Bryant; I was wrong), so Joyce dug out her portable memory (iPhone), googled the song, found the singer: Gogi Grant. (See pic.)

Joyce also found a YouTube clip of a much older Gogi singing "The Wayward Wind" to a very grey audience. (Link to clip.)

YouTube also offers a recording of her doing the song in 1956, the year of its original release. (Link to 1956 clip.) While Joyce ran the recording on her phone, I sang along. But Joyce said she still did not remember it. She'd been too young, I guess.

"The Wayward Wind" held the #1 spot for a bit--and ended 1956 as the 5th best-selling record (45 rpm!). The other performers in the Top Ten that year?  Elvis occupied three spots, the others by Nelson Riddle, The Platters, Lex Baxter, Kay Starr, Dean Martin, Doris Day. A different era, eh?

I see that the single was released in April 1956, the end of my sixth grade year at Adams School in Enid, Oklahoma. I was already listening to the radio then (portables had become available!) and was learning to like Elvis (despite my parents' disapprobation), Bill Haley & the Comets, and others. What I did not yet know was that my Oklahoma days were coming to an end: Dad had accepted a job at Hiram College in Hiram, Ohio, and we would move in August, ending my Oklahoma idyll.

But "The Wayward Wind" went with me. It became a standard at the soc hops and dances at the Hiram School--and I'm guessing (though I can't positively remember) that I danced to it when I had my first date in the fall of 7th grade--a Hiram School dance (each class sponsored one--can't remember which did the one in the fall).

Back in the car last week ... things got weird when Joyce looked at some Google findings about Gogi Grant. Her real name was Myrtle Audrey Arinsberg--not a name to attract an agent or a recording studio--but was "Gogi" better? I learned that "Grant " came from her agent, "Gogi" (rhymes with Yogi) from RCA. There you go. Marketing.

But the strangest news Joyce found? Gogi Grant had just died. At age 91. On March 10, just a week before the northeastern Ohio wind blew her song back into my life on the way home from an errand. (Link to obituary.) I hadn't thought about her in a half-century. And now I can't stop ...

Friday, March 18, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 218

The biographer, Julia Markus, teaches English at Hofstra, and, based on this book alone, she is very well qualified to teach the subject! Although she is an advocate for the women in her book—justifiably so, in my view (see above)—she writes neither with bitterness nor disdain but with a patent admiration for Annabella and for her daughters, especially Ada (about whom, more later). She also writes with grace and with an eloquent ease that will invite rather than repel readers. Yes, her book rests on a foundation of scholarship—sturdy scholarship—but it is an attractive, artful edifice that rises above and even, at times, makes you forget what lies below.
She begins in London, 1812, where the nineteen-year-old Anne Isabella Milbanke (she used the name Annabella) has gone to stay for the nonce. (At this time, Byron was 24.) She was born, well off, in 1792 (making her five years older than Mary Shelley), was a “prodigy in math and languages,”[1] and so beautiful that she had a stable-full of suitors, all of whom she pretty much sent packing.
One of her cousins was Lady Caroline Lamb (1784–1828), who had her own torrid affair with Byron, an affair whose volcanic heat (and later arctic coolness) she recorded in her novel about their relationship, Glenarvon (1816)—the very year of the “Frankenstein summer.”[2] It’s a tale chockablock with such sentences as this one: … suddenly she started as if shuddering on the very edge of perdition, in the dark labyrinth of sin—on the fathomless chasm which opened before her feet.[3] I’d have to say that Glenarvon could stand on the shelf with Fifty Shades of Gray and their ilk—differing only in that Caroline Lamb’s century (and class) prohibited the sort of gleeful naughty detail available to E. L. James, et al.
I began reading Glenarvon in April 1999, when I was on my “Mary Adventure” in Europe. My train reading. And hotel reading. Here’s something I wrote on April 17:
I just hit p. 100 in Glenarvon, a novel I’m enjoying more and more as I proceed. No wonder LB was attracted to Caroline Lamb: She was intelligent, witty, talented, fearless—all qualities doomed, finally, to repel a man in the 19th century (and the 20th & 21st, one suspects).  I laughed aloud a few times at the witty prattle of these people w/ too much money and far too much leisure—no wonder there are revolutions in the world! Glenarvon (LB) himself has yet to make his appearance, and I’m getting eager to meet him through CL’s eyes. 

[1] Ibid., 7.
[2] (London: Everyman, 1995).
[3] Ibid., 155.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Yes, another volume of doggerel is on the way

Today or tomorrow I'll be uploading to Kindle Direct yet another volume of doggerel (Fearsome Mania), most of it posted previously on my blog Daily Doggerel (and/or on Facebook). I'll let you know when it's available for purchase ($2.99--the lowest Amazon allows for such things).

Here's the Foreword to the volume ...


And now … yet another volume of doggerel, almost all of which has appeared on my blog, Daily Doggerel (http://dailydoggerels.blogspot.com/), and/or on Facebook, where I have many friends who find it quite easy to pretend that they’ve read these pieces. A great thing about Facebook—the slick ease with which you can lie by liking.
I had a couple of themes for Fearsome Mania: (1) poems about the words we have for all our many mania (e.g., bibliomania—a madness for books), (2) poems about the words we have for all the fears we have (e.g., bibliophobia—a fear of books!). Actually, I don’t have a poem for bibliophobia, a grievous oversight that I will one day have to correct.
Might as well be right now:
His fear of books is so complete
That when he saw one, he would Tweet:
“This book is making me perspire—
It’s time to toss it in the fire!”

(By the way, his Tweet is considerably below Twitter’s 140-character maximum. And we’ll not comment on his thoughtless notion of tossing the book in a fire when he’s already perspiring.)
You will be grateful to learn that I wrote far fewer poems for -mania and -phobia words than there are -mania and -phobia words. Based on the vast number of them, we can only conclude that we are one wacko, scared species. We can also conclude that we seem to insist on having a word for everything—an insistence, in this case, that I found very pleasant, for I didn’t have to scratch around for ideas for doggerel. I found some depressingly long lists on the Internet.
Appended to these two major sections of Fearsome Mania is a section I’m calling “Wolferel.” Doggerel, as you know, is so-called “light verse” (i.e., most of it sucks—but it can be amusing); wolferel (a word I am now offering for sale to the Oxford English Dictionary and others) is doggerel with pretensions. They are related critters, wolves and dogs, and wolferel is related to doggerel—just a little more serious, maybe even deadly. Wolferel attempts to enter the Kingdom of Poetry but doesn’t quite make it. (It howls just outside the gates.) Just as a dog can look like a wolf (but isn’t), a wolf can look like a Warg (but isn’t).[1]
Anyway, I enjoyed writing these pieces. I usually do them right after lunch over in the local coffee shop, the Open Door Coffee Co. (Hudson, Ohio), which is where I slouch in an easy chair (unless some Evil One has stolen my place), boot up my iPad, consult my list of words, and see what bounds into the room—a dog, a wolf, a skunk. I tried to eliminate most of the skunks from this collection, but who knows? Some of them can look quite canine, especially when you want them to.
            — Daniel Dyer, March 15, 2016

[1] For those of you unacquainted with Wargs, they are giant (evil) wolves created by J. R. R. Tolkien. Here’s a link to more. http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Wargs

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 217

I’m going to take a wee break here to do a little section on Lord Byron’s wife, Annabella (my wife’s mother was Annabelle), a section based (virtually entirely) on a new book I recently read, Lady Byron and Her Daughters, by Julia Markus.[1]
Although I ended my intensive (obsessive? maniacal?) research on Mary Shelley and Frankenstein a number of years ago, I’ve still tried to read the most prominent works that have appeared, works that deal with her—or with others in her circle. There’s no way to read it all: Scholars who dig into the lives of Mary, Bysshe, Lord Byron, Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, and the others in her circle are relentless in their pursuits, and all I can do is stand nearby in wonder at all their excavations.
But I did want to read this book, mostly because I know very little about Lady Byron—just that their marriage (January 1, 1815) was brief, that Lord Byron’s life was so overpoweringly interesting (in ways negative and positive) that some of his biographers have neglected Lady Byron somewhat—some even portraying her in unflattering, even black light. What appealed to me as well—it was just about a year and a half after their wedding (their marriage over) that Byron, in the summer of 1816, rented the Villa Diodati overlooking Lake Geneva, the villa where Frankenstein would be born. He had already impregnated Mary’s step-sister, Claire Clairmont  (as I’ve written about earlier).
I began reading Lady Byron on January 19, 2016, finished it on March 12. I’m not really a slow reader (eight weeks to read a 321-page book!); I was just reading numerous other things simultaneously—and trying to figure out how I would work Lady Byron’s story (or pieces of it) into my narrative about Mary. I still haven’t figured that out. But I’m going to write about the book a bit in the next few posts and, later, will prune and replant what I am certain will be a bush far too leafy.

[1] (New York: W. W. Norton, 2015).

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

And Then There Were None

In my "Sundry Sundries" this past weekend I neglected to mention/discuss the Great Lakes Theater Festival's production of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, which Joyce and I saw on Friday night at the GLTF's venue, the Hanna Theater in Playhouse Square.

We've been GLTF subscribers for quite a while--and I used to take Harmon Middle School kids down there (later in my career) to see productions--Shakespeare and others. The productions are generally solid (a few exceptions, some of which I've blogged about), professional. This was was no exception. It had a very strong cast--mostly GLTF veterans, about half of whom have been with the company for more than a decade. No weak links. Nothing even close. Gorgeous set. A large room, lots of windows upstage with a view of the sea (with sounds of sea birds as the lights came up.)

The play is--duh!--a murder mystery, but the mystery is not so much about who is committing the murders but about how he/she does it. (No spoiler alerts--I will not reveal anything.)

My problem was this: I didn't care who got killed--or who the perp was. All the principals are fairly unsavory, and the one who comes closest to being the "moral center" is the murderer himself/herself.

The story: A group of ten people--each unknown to the others--gathers in a pretty snazzy house on an otherwise uninhabited island, all at the invitation of a person no one seems to know very well. And then, yet another guest arrives: Death. One by one they all begin to fall (in one imaginative way after another), and one by one a collection of toy soldiers on the mantle diminishes with each murder. We begin with ten of them; with each death, one somehow disappears. (I was watching and could not see how this was happening.)

The toys accompany a sing-song, nursery-rhymey (dark) poem--see below:

Ten little soldier boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were Nine.

Nine little soldier boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were Eight.

Eight little soldier boys travelling in Devon;
One said he’d stay there and then there were Seven.

Seven little soldier boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself in halves and then there were Six.

Six little soldier boys playing with a hive;
A bumble bee stung one and then there were Five.

Five little soldier boys going in for law;
One got into chancery and then there were Four.

Four little soldier boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were Three.

Three little soldier boys walking in the Zoo;
A big bear hugged one and then there were Two.

Two little soldier boys sitting in the sun;
One got frizzled up and then there was One.

One little soldier boy left all alone;
He went and hanged himself

And then there were None.

—Frank Green, 1869

The murders all fit in some way with the rhyme.

This is, of course, all pre-cellphone. There is no "regular" telephone on the island, and the weather cooperates with the plot--the daily supply boat cannot sail, cannot arrive and bring help.

In England, Christie (1890-1976) originally published the novel in 1939 as Ten Little Niggers (that's right--just five years before I was born--amazing). In America, the title was changed to Ten Little Indians. It sold millions of copies and is, in fact, one of the greatest bestsellers of all time. And then the conversion to the latest title (And Then There Were None). There have been a few films. (Link to IMDB) And as I write this, there is another adaptation running on Lifetime ( Link to trailer) I'll probably stream it one of these days. It's gotten great reviews.

We enjoyed the GLTF production--admired it--even though, as I said, all the characters are deeply flawed. More so than the rest of us. 'Nuf said ...

Monday, March 14, 2016

Return to Seidman Cancer Center

Seidman Cancer Center
Beachwood, Ohio 

I'm sitting where I love to sit in the morning—at the Open Door Coffee Co. here in Hudson. It's very foggy at the moment—with an added hour of darkness courtesy of EDT—and from my perch I can see the Village Green. Our house is just on the other side of it. Joyce is off at the health club. Her morning ritual. It's almost 8 o'clock right now. In about an hour I'll head home.

And then it will be time to drive up to Seidman Cancer Center in Beachwood. Time again for my quarterly visit with my oncologist. Time again for my quarterly injection of Lupron, the drug that has, until recently, kept my recurrent prostate cancer on Pause.

As followers of this blog know, I had surgery to remove the cancerous gland in June 2005, but some cancer cells escaped the surgeon, and the disease began to show signs of a return sufficiently worrisome that I underwent a month of radiation treatments early in 2009. Things calmed down a bit. Then the cancer came back, made a move into my bones (a favorite place for prostate cancer when it metastasizes), and in July 2014 I “enjoyed” my first Lupron injection.

Lupron's side effects are unpleasant: depression, periods of intense body heat, death of the libido, lack of energy. The upside? I'm alive and able to do many of the things I've always loved to do--though in a somewhat diminished way.

Anyway, for two years Lupron kept my PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) at the “undetectable” level—though I knew (and my oncologist continually reminded me) that Lupron is not a cure; it’s a temporary roadblock. The cancer will reappear.

And it has. On September 23, it was no longer undetectable. It was .01 (the lowest measurable level). My oncologist then decided that I should get PSA tests (blood draws) every six weeks. And my PSA has continued to rise: .18, .25, .56, and last week’s .80. Soon, I'll be on another drug in addition to Lupron. Again—no cure. A delay.

I also had some bone scans recently, and I'll be learning about the results a little later this morning.


Not the most pleasant of days today. I learned from my oncologist that I'm going to need monthly PSA tests now--to keep close tabs on its progress (such a horrible word for cancer). And--soon--I'll be on an additional drug: bicalutamide, a medication which does much of what Lupron has done (I will stay on Lupron, as well, as long as I live). The side effects are the same--with the addition of the possibility of breast enlargement, of seeing "halos" at night. I joked with my oncologist that I'm going to become an Aura Guy. (Link to more info about bicalutamide.)

The other, more worrisome, finding: my bone scans show that one of my ribs (the same one that the cancer had visited before) is once again "lighting up" on the scan--and there's a new spot, as well: at the base of my spine. If these spots become painful, he said (they're not right now), radiation will be an option.

So, we left Seidman today in a mood a bit darker than the one we'd had earlier in the day. A little pain from the Lupron injection; a little depression about the persistence of this damn disease. A more certain realization that this enemy is persistent--and deadly.

As I've written before, I remain fortunate in many ways. I am not "sick"--not anything like some of the folks I see--folks of all ages--in the Seidman waiting room. I weep to think of some of them. I can still read and write and laugh and exercise (critical on Lupron, which works hard to pack weight on me). I do not look forward to exercise anymore: It's difficult. I have to stop more often. It exhausts me to do things I could zip through just a few years ago. I have to force myself to go out there, and I don't always succeed: Sometimes, Mr. Nap convinces me that some time with him would be a lot more fun (it always is!).

Best of all, of course, I'm not alone. And this is one of the reasons I always wept near the end of The Scarlet Letter when I was teaching it. Arthur Dimmesdale is wailing about his situation. Hester has told him he should just leave. Get out of Boston. But he cries out about being alone. And she responds with the words that every true lover has always said: Thou shalt not go alone.