Dawn Reader

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

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A FRANKENSTEIN Surprise, Part 2

Yesterday, I wrote about this 1968 issue of LIFE magazine, an issue I learned about from a long-ago former student, John Mlinek. It has a major piece about the 150th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein--a novel and an author that have consumed many (happy) years of my life.

LIFE, by the way, was part of our household when I was growing up. It came every week. I loved to page through it--it was full of pictures and odd little stories. It was kind of the Internet, 1950s style. I remember, too, that my mom would clip things from it, then take the clippings to show her high school English students in Garrettsville, Ohio. I learned that from Mom--clipping things and showing them to my classes. And I'm still clipping-and-filing even though I, now retired, no longer have students to show them to. Can't tell you why I keep clippin'--I just must do it.

March 15, 1968. The lull before the storm. On April 4, Martin Luther King, Jr. would die on the balcony outside his room in the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. Shot to death. On June 5, Sen. Robert Francis Kennedy would die in Los Angeles after being shot the night of the California Democratic Primary (which he had just won).

That spring, 1968, still single (I had not yet met Joyce), I was finishing my second year of teaching at the Aurora Middle School (Aurora's new Harmon Middle School lay six years in the future). I heard the news about both murders on my radio in my little efficiency apartment on Chillicothe Road. This country was frightening in the spring of 1968. JFK, recall, had fallen to an assassin in November 1963. The Vietnam War was raging ... racial tensions were high ...

But let's look a moment at LIFE magazine that March. I discussed the Frankenstein feature yesterday, but paging through the issue, I was reminded of so much--of so much that has changed--or is no more. Or hasn't changed at all.

  • There are ads for this new luxury item--color TV!
  • There's an editorial: "Vietnam: Let's not have more of the same." It calls for "de-escalating our war with the North Vietnamese"  but says "we have not lost all chance of bringing it to an acceptable conclusion" (4).
  • You could buy a GE clothes dryer for $169.95.
  • There's an ad for a new Dionne Warwick album (Valley of the Dolls)--and for Kava instant coffee (I'd completely forgotten that brand)--and for Right Guard spray deodorant--and for an electric adding machine--and for Hostess Fruit Pies--and ...
But there are some troubling stories, too--reactions to the upcoming Mexico City Summer Olympics. Some black athletes, including Tommie Smith, were threatening to boycott. There is, says the piece, "bitterness among black athletes about the way things are in many colleges" (20). Smith, of course, did go to the Olympics--and raised a clenched fist when the National Anthem was played after he won the Gold for the 200-meter sprint. This was nearly a half-century ago (Smith was born in 1944, the same year as I).

And a full-page color ad for Campbell's Vegetable Beef soup ...

More tomorrow ... including that promised Bill Cosby story ...

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A FRANKENSTEIN Surprise (or two) (or three)

A couple of weeks ago, Joyce and I had supper with John and Kim Mlinek. John had been among the first 7th-grade students I worked with when I began my teaching career (fall 1966)--was in the first play I ever directed at the Aurora Middle School--went on to become an actor and director and teacher. His wife, Kim, works on the TV productions and telecasts of major sporting events (a superior techie!). And we always have a grand time when we see them.

Anyway, during our most recent visit, John mentioned that he'd seen at some kind of sale an old issue of LIFE magazine, an issue devoted to Frankenstein--the 150th anniversary of its publication. He said he'd intended to buy the issue for me on his way out ... then forgot. (Sure, John!)

I'd not heard of that issue before, so when I got home, I hopped on eBay, found a copy, bought it, and it arrived the other day.

Yesterday, I finally had some time to go through it, and ... well ... wow ...

There is a fairly long account inside of Mary Shelley's creation of the story in 1816--but take a close look at the cover above. She's identified only as "Mrs. Percy Bysshe Shelley." Her identity is consumed by her poet husband's. Ah, 1968!

The piece, written by Samuel Rosenberg, is accurate, detailed, and interesting (and psychoanalytical). It appears on seven different pages in the magazine--though not all of those pages are entirely devoted to the piece. I didn't really learn anything new (I mean, I spent more than a decade working on that novel and its contexts), but I was surprised by how a major "family" magazine would include such scholarship--and such detail--in one of its issues. (Them dayz is gone!)

I did a little Internetting about Rosenberg (1912-1996) and discovered he was born in Cleveland! (His father was a butcher--and a songwriter. Hmmmm.) Rosenberg wrote a couple of books. He was a big man ("over 300 pounds," says trusty Wikipedia). Here's a link to his obituary in the New York Times. I couldn't find an online photo right away, so, like a true scholar, I quit. (If you find one, send it my way!)

Oh, I just ordered (via ABE) one of his books: Confessions of a Trivialist (1972). Maybe an author photo on it?

Enough for today.

But that LIFE issue has some other real surprises inside ... and one involves Bill Cosby.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Internet Ambivalence

The Internet can be annoying. No question. Especially if you're on social media (as I, sort of, am). Daily, I see Facebook posts that, shall we say, do somewhat less than charm me. (And, of course, my posts--which, I confess, are numerous--surely do less than charm myriads of my "friends.") Every now and then, in fact, I shut the damn thing down and sulk for a few days before, missing it--missing it!--I log back on and resume my rough ride down the rapids.

Email is a different kind of annoyance. It used to be a principal way for people to communicate--I still remember the excitement when Joyce and I exchanged our first emails back in, oh, 1990 or so. It was ... magical.

Then other messaging systems emerged, rose, dominated (some fell away): IMs, texts, etc. Now, about 95%+ of the email I get is junk. Ads. Whatever. Every now and then an actual note from someone--about as rare (though not as thoroughly so) as a snail-mail letter.

So, yes, the Internet is chockablock with junk and jive and lies and loopiness and vanity and vacuousness and sex and sadism (so I hear) and banality and boorishness and (you get the message).


For my research and writing, it's priceless.

Just today, for example, I was entering changes in the manuscript--the endless manuscript--of Frankenstein Sundae, which I'm trying to get ready to publish on Kindle Direct (this will not be soon), and I was railing aloud and flailing myself because when I had been writing, I had not always put down page references for things I quoted.

And just today ... some good examples of how the Internet rescued me from my own carelessness. I hadn't written down some page numbers for quotations from Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. No problem. The full text is online in a number of places, so I loaded one, searched on the words I used, found them, looked for the location (chapter, paragraph), checked my hard copy, found the same place, made the citation! Genius!

Then ... a more difficult one. Mary Shelley's father, William Godwin, wrote an unfinished autobiography, and from it all kinds of folks have quoted a little passage about his boyhood: All my amusements were sedentary; I had scarcely any pleasure but in reading; ....

Cool. I wanted to use it. But where the hell could I find it?

Godwin's biographers merely cited one another--the famous as quoted in ...

And then I remembered. Back in the day, I had plunked down the plastic for the 8-volume set Collected Novels and Memoirs of William Godwin (Pickering and Chatto, 1992), and volume 1 of that set is Memoirs, and in that volume is the unfinished and previously unpublished "Autobiography."

I used the Internet to check a published biography of Godwin, a biography that mentions the point in his life that he was writing about; I then checked the "Autobiography," scanned the paragraphs about that period ... and--voila!--there it was on page 31, that sentence, that luscious chunk of chocolate in the thick cookie!

So ... what can I say? I love you, Internet.

Except when I hate you.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sunday Sundries, 157

1. AOTW; I had pretty much realized I didn't have a winner this week ... until last night. We were on I-77, heading north toward home from Montrose, when the AOTW roared down the entrance ramp, ignored the fact that I, in the right lane, could not move over because I was being passed on my left, and forced his way in front of me, an accomplishment made possible only because I jammed on the brakes, crying "I have my AOTW!"

2. Over the past few days I watched--via Netflix DVD--the old Paul Newman film Harper, released in February 1966 while I was doing my student teaching (West Geauga HS, 11th grade English). I remember seeing the film (at Hiram College?), and by then I was a big Newman fan (still am). I can't remember why I ordered the film (dotage?), but I had a good time with it--and what a cast! Arthur Hill, Lauren Bacall, Julie Harris, Robert Wagner, Robert Webber ... It's based on the  PI novel by Ross Macdonald (whose works I've loved), The Moving Target (1949). (Link to film trailer.)

Some of it looks primitive now (scenes in moving cars that are not moving--just the filmed background is), and it's about a half-hour longer than it would be these days (lots of talk--which now bores us), but watching Paul Newman is a gift. Oddly, some of the plot involved illegal Mexican immigrants ... good thing that issue is settled, right? Fifty-one years after the film was released!

3. I finished two books this week.

     - The first was the 1938 novel by William Faulkner (I'm reading those books of his I somehow never read), The Unvanquished, a novel set  in Mississippi near the end of the Civil War--and somewhat afterward. I was struck, I guess, by how so many of the issues Faulkner wrote about nearly seventy years ago are still with us. Race, voting rights, gun violence in the streets, women's rights (a young woman dresses as a man so she can fight with the Confederates)--all of it roils through these pages narrated by a character from a family who inhabits a number of Faulkner novels and stories--the Sartoris family. (A Snopes appears, as well, and behaves like a Snopes.) And, oh, some little Faulkner touches: the members of a poor family read aloud to one another from a cookbook--vicarious pleasures--food they can't find or afford to buy. And my heart went pitter-patter when I came across an allusion to Davy Crockett!

     - The second was the first novel by Elizabeth Strout, whose complete novels I've decided to read (and now finished!). She won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Olive Kitteredge (2008), and I've really enjoyed reading my way through her fiction--a journey, by the way, that I'm doing more or less backwards: I read the most recent ones first, then moved back.

In Amy and Isabelle, 1998, her first novel, Strout employs a device which now dominates her fiction--and enlightens her readers: multiple points of view. She is not the first, of course, to do this (remember The Moonstone, As I Lay Dying, and numerous other forerunners), but she is among the most talented.

The story takes place in the fictional Shirley Falls, Maine (a place she uses in other works, as well) and involves a single mother, Isabelle (she's spread the fiction in town that she's a widow) and her teen daughter, Amy (who's a handful, to say the least). It's a novel about love, about learning what it is and isn't--and about how we resemble our parents in some very fundamental ways. Isabelle, who works as a secretary in the local mill, is obsessed (maybe too strong a word) with her boss, who's married.

Amy gets involved romantically with a new high school math teacher (she's so naive; he's so horny), and Strout shifts the point of view, chapter by chapter. Isabelle, Amy, Isabelle, Amy. A wonder to watch.

4. We're enjoying the cop series Shetland, which we've begun streaming. (Confession: We turn on the subtitles: otherwise, we miss some of what these folks are saying. As we get better with the dialect, we'll shut if off ... promise.) (Link to some video.)

5. And, finally, on Friday night we saw the new film mother! at the Kent Cinema. Written and directed by Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, Noah, etc.) Joyce and I don't agree on some of this--so this is all in the first person! It's a dark film about love (and what it isn't), about ambition, about the artist and creation and destruction and revision, about family (is murder always below the surface, ready to bubble up?), about public idolatry of the celebrity (we don't come out looking good at all in this film), about vanity and vacuousness. It's surreal throughout--sometimes resembling (and using the techniques of) a teen horror flick (hand-held camera, tight shots of woman walking into a dark room to see what that noise was, etc.) (Link to film trailer.) Fire smolders below all (and, at times, flares.)  People just don't listen. Violence of all sorts. All in an old fire-ravaged house that Lawrence is restoring so that her husband, a poet who can't think of what to write about, can write. The house has a ... history (duh).

There's some sex (mostly implied) and some back-lit shots of Jennifer Lawrence (who is very good in this) in diaphanous sleepwear. And there are some fine actors here--not just Lawrence but co-star Javier Bardem (we saw, not long ago, No Country for Old Men, the Coen Bros' brutal film with Bardem as a psycho killer), Ed Harris, and Michelle Pfeiffer (looking ominous all the way).

All said, I thought the film was about a half-hour too long--and a bit too--what?--obvious? I mean, I got it pretty early on, and so I felt the whole thing just went on too long.

Also--confession: I'm not much of a fan of horror films, so the horror-film ambiance here just annoyed rather than entertained me. (This, of course, is my fault, not the film's: It is what it is; I am what I am.)

6. Final Word--A word I liked this week from one of my online word-of-the-day providers.

     - for you fidget-spinner lovers, from the Oxford English Dictionary

zizz, n.
Etymology: Imitative.
 1.  a. The noise made by the rapid motion of a wheel; also as adv. Also extended to other whizzing or buzzing noises (see quots.).

1824   Scott Redgauntlet II. xi. 258   I carried a cutler's wheel for several weeks..there I went bizz—bizz—whizz—zizz, at every auld wife's door.
1904   G. A. B. Dewar Glamour of Earth vi. 131   The zizz of the cricket, or the shrill of the bat.
1908   H. Belloc Mr. Clutterbuck's Election xiii   They shot round the base of the hills,..had a splendid zizz along the Hog's Back, and then turned sharp round.
1955   D. Barton Glorious Life xxv. 232   The sustained, high-pitched zizz of a party was audible.
1965   Listener 17 June 900/3   The zizz of a trishaw's wheels passing on the road.
1976   Drive May–June 53/2   Gear lever zizz is irritating.

 b. Gaiety, liveliness, ‘sparkle’. colloq.

1942   L. V. Berrey & M. Van den Bark Amer. Thes. Slang §240/2   Animation; spirit; vim;..zing, zip,..zizz.
1970   Gourmet Jan. 18/2   No party got into full swing until Tallulah arrived to put her particular type of zizz into it.
1983   Times 22 Feb. 12/6   The Queensgate centre lacks, perhaps, finesse and a touch of zizz.

 2. Also ziz. A short sleep, a nap. Cf. Z n. 4b. slang.

1941   Tee Emm Aug. 17   He could not have caught our Pilot Officer Prune at three o'clock one afternoon having a zizz full-length on a mess settee.
1960   ‘N. Shute’ Trustee from Toolroom v. 105   ‘Captain's having a ziz now,’ said the navigator. ‘Supper's at eleven o'clock, Greenwich. He's getting up for that.’
1970   P. Dickinson tr. Aristophanes Wasps in Plays I. 169   Just what I aim to forget by having A quiet ziz.
1979   M. Tabor Baker's Daughter i. 31   Philip's having a zizz. He can't stay awake.

1985   Guardian 24 Jan. 1/3   They would not film any lord who had drifted off in the warmth of the lights for a refreshing zizz.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Memory and Entropy

Robert Browning
I just checked my journal. On October 5, 2012 (yes, nearly five years ago), I (more or less) finished memorizing Robert Browning's poem "My Last Duchess."* Here's what I wrote in my journal that day:

... out to West Market, via Szalay’s; stopped at Summit Mall [Panera], where I read more Mankell and worked on polishing “My Last Duchess,” which I recited (more or less correctly!) for Joyce ...*

Regular visitors to this site know that I memorize poems--for fun (and desperation?). I was in a phase, back in 2012, of memorizing some that had some personal significance for me. And this one, I can recall with a surprising clarity, I can actually hear as I read the words. That's because I first read it (and heard it!) in English 101, Hiram College, summer 1962. I was taking that course because my parents wanted me to get kind of a "head start" on college, which I would commence full-time in the fall.

They were worried about me, I know--as well they should have been. I'd not exactly knocked myself out (academically) at Hiram High School. I just went through the motions. Graduated with a 3.0. Tenth in my class--which sounds impressive until you realize I graduated from a tiny high school that doesn't even exist anymore. I had very few (any?) intellectual interests and figured, in my late adolescent daffiness, that college was mere preparation for the Cleveland Indians and Boston Celtics, whose rosters I would soon adorn.


Anyway, my professor in English 101 that summer was Dr. Charles F. McKinley (1913-2004), who became a favorite--and, later, a friend who lived only a couple of miles from our house here in Hudson.  And in our literature anthology (Interpreting Literature, which I still have) that poem appears on pp. 339-40. 

And I can still remember, sitting in Hinsdale Hall (RIP), hot (no AC), listening to Dr. McKinley, in his rich, resonant, slightly nasal voice, reading aloud that remarkable poem first published in 1842.  I could hear the voice of that vicious Duke talking with superior calm about murdering his young wife because she smiled too much--at others. Lord, what a dark poem!

Dr McKinley
So ... I didn't learn the poem in the immediate aftermath of Dr. McKinley's death (it was eight damn years later), but I did think of him as I was doing so, did hear his voice as I was doing so, did wish I could recite it to him as I once had recited that Shakespeare sonnet (#73: "That time of year thou mayst in me behold') when he asked me to do so. He loved that one--not one, by the way, that appears in Interpreting Literature, though I have memorized the five that do, several of which we read/listened to in his class.

Well, I learned "My Last Duchess" in the early fall of 2012, and since then I have recited it (more or less silently) four times a week during my drive to the health club. (Routine!) Never much of a problem.

Until last week.

When, suddenly, I froze. Could not remember words. First it was this segment that went:

     -  ... for never read
        Strangers like you that [?????] countenance ....

And then this ...

     - ... Sir, 'twas not
        Her husband's [?????] only ,called that spot 
        Of joy into the Duchess' cheek ....

A quick online check gave me the missing words (pictured, presence), and, so far, they have stayed. Though some others--perhaps emboldened by their truant siblings, will soon flee as well? Oh, the horror ... !

But this is just another instance, isn't it, of something our friend Yeats wrote about? "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; / ..."


Meanwhile, I'm still stuffing poems into my head--verse junkie am I. I am now at 212 and counting--and hoping that entropy does not assert itself again.

But, of course, it will. It's what it does.

*Text of "My Last Duchess":

My Last Duchess
Robert Browning

 That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will ‘t please you sit and look at her? I said
‘Frà Pandolf’ by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ‘t was not
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek: perhaps
Frà Pandolf chanced to say, ‘Her mantle laps
Over my lady’s wrist too much,' or ‘Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat:' such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, ‘t was all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace—all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech, 
Or blush, at least. She thanked men,—good! but thanked
Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech—(which I have not)—to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, ‘Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark’—and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
—E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will ‘t please you rise? We’ll meet
The company below then. I repeat,
The Count your master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

**PS--We're probably going to Szalay's and West Market after supper tonight!

Friday, September 15, 2017

And in Our Heads ...!?!?!

I woke up early this morning thinking about cartoons. About those images we're all familiar with of cartoon characters whose heads are filled with--or are surrounded by--punctuation marks, marks intended to let us know that a character is confused or adamant or whatever. Like the emoji at the top of this page.

And I started thinking about times when my head has been filled with questions--or exclamations--or periods--or dashes (I seem to use a lot of those--don't I?).

In my lifetime I've been watching some punctuation marks disappear or evolve--if slowly so. I often now see restrooms with Mens and Womens above the door. (Buh-bye, apostrophes.) Starbucks doesn't have an apostrophe. And in the age of texting, emojis often replace the marks we once would have used.

I've also noticed (to counter my own argument) the proliferation of some marks--like the exclamation point. It's no longer sufficient to say No way! We have to write No way!!!!! Or maybe even add some other marks: No way!?##*4;r50293u4r5

Random punctuation used to mean profanity. Shut your *##$ing mouth! Now ... we use the profanity instead--much more efficient.

The ellipsis (...) is also more ubiquitous these days (I've used a few here ... haven't I?), though it often has grown, eschewing its old-fashioned three-period formulation and expanding to multiple periods. And when I saw her there ..... with HIM! ..... well, I just wanted to ...........

So it goes in Punctuation World.

But I really wasn't thinking too much about all of this in the early pre-dawn today. Instead, I was thinking how we seem to be living in an era where people have very few question marks in their heads. We are all so sure about things. Too few of us see any ambiguity in things--or complexity.  Right. Wrong.  That's it.

Check out the commentators on the news stations. When was the last time you ever heard anyone say, "Well, you know, Phil, that's a very complex issue--a lot of ways to look at it"?

No. Commentators are positive--and that stuff rubs off: Too many of us these days are positive--and often about things that are extraordinarily complex and nuanced. All the question marks that danced around our heads as children are gone, replaced by exclamation points and emphatic periods.

My wish for myself in all of this? That I will forever be surrounded by question marks, that I will continue wondering and learning and changing. (My young grandsons are my models here!) And--dare I say it?--improving.

No question marks in your head? You're intellectually dead. No, not dead, just frozen in a glacier like one of those prehistoric men and women who sometimes reappear these days in the melting ice. I'm positive about it.

Thursday, September 14, 2017


We're all vulnerable now, aren't we?

You've probably read about/seen some TV about the enormous hack of financial information at Equifax (of which most of us had never heard ... till now). Some 143,000,000 Americans

I'm assuming I'm one of them. (I've read that the process of checking if you are is a bit ... iffy right now.) Better to assume than ignore.

I just checked on a .gov site and saw how I can file for a 90-day fraud alert (vendors, etc. will check for certainty for the ID of anyone attempting to use one of my accounts).

I just filled out a bit of a form on Equifax's site, clicked "submit"--and quickly got an error message.

I'm guessing it's because 142,999,999 other people have been filing temporary fraud alerts. And the system is a bit ... overwhelmed.

It's stunning, isn't it? There are people out there--lots of them, all over the world--who are dedicated to stealing your information and money--or to conning you out of it. (My poor mother, a half-dozen years ago or so, fell for the equivalent of a Nigerian-prince Internet scam and lost thousands before my brothers and I caught onto it).

I happened to be in my mom's apartment when the guy called to ask for more money. I took the phone, told him never to call this number again. I sounded really threatening.

Slammed down the phone.

He called back a half-hour later. So much for my ... dire ... warning, for my minatory manner.

Our Internet world--so alluring, so seductive, so helpful in so many ways--is in fact a tangled jungle, beautiful to look at (and consider) but full of predacious creatures bent on destroying us.

And those predacious creatures walk on two legs. Have language. Have mothers. (Have somehow misplaced their hearts.) Can smile and laugh. All the way to bank.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Thanks a Lot!

Yesterday, I was thanking Joyce for something (there's always something!), and, for a reason I can't define, I leapt back to German I (Hiram High School, 1959-60) and said, "Danke schön."

At which time that old song--"Danke Schön"--popped into my head, where it has reigned ever since. (Perhaps this post will expel it?!?)

For those of you who don't know/remember/recognize the song, here's a link to YouTube so you can see/hear it. I had totally forgotten who had sung it--and was surprised to see that it was the young Wayne Newton, who in 1963 (the year of release) was a mere 21 years old. (He's still alive; do the math.) It reached #13 on the charts that year, but it seems as if it was on the damn radio all the time.

I was a freshman in college that year (1962-63) and was taking German 101 (got an A, if you want to know). My teacher was John Bohi, who, to my delight (and later regret), taught the course in English. I had started German, as I said, back at Hiram High with Mr. Brunelle; then he retired, and I took German II from Mrs. Grace Hurd (who, like Mr. Brunelle, conducted the course in English). I was happy about all that English-stuff until later, when I realized I couldn't really speak the language very well--or carry on a conversation of much consequence.

In the 1982-83 school year I taught German I and II at Aurora High School (and was also enrolled in a "refresher" course at Akron U). I was incompetent. And terrified (I had a couple of terrific students, and, as I've written elsewhere, I feared Parents' Night when I was sure someone from the Old Country was going to start reeling off German and expecting a reply somewhat more complicated than "Ja" or "Ich auch."

I visited Germany a couple of times. In 1999 I was there for a few days visiting some sites related to Mary Shelley and Frankenstein. (I was able to order, sans translation, a wonderful sundae at the restaurant that now stands among the ruins of Castle Frankenstein!).

I'd been there a few years earlier, too, doing some Anne Frank research; I visited the site of Bergen-Belsen, where she died in 1945, not long before the liberation of the camp. There, I saw a film about the camp, and I wanted to buy a copy to show my students. I approached the information area, and, in my most amazing German, said, "Kann man diesen Film kaufen?" ("Can you buy this film?") (I'm pretty sure I didn't say any of it right--or construct the question correctly.)

The attendant looked at me as if I were, you know, something to worry about. And then said--in flawless English: "No, this film is not for sale."

I found this to be the case throughout Germany (and the Netherlands, by the way): People spoke great English.

And in the early 1990s when, amid my Jack London obsession, I was hiking the Chilkoot Trail between Dyea, Alaska, and Lake Bennett (in the Yukon), I joined up after the first day with a young German man, Joachim Altvater (he insisted on "Joe"), who'd recently completed his military commitment. I tried some German on him. He said--in flawless English: "Let's stick to English."

Good idea.

I did feel superior a little farther down the trail, though, when he couldn't think of the English word for magnify. And I supplied it. Very quickly.

And here are the lyrics to "Danke Schön"--and Bert Kaempfert wrote the lyrics!

Danke Schoen
Wayne Newton

Danke schoen, darling, danke schoen
Thank you for all the joy and pain
Picture shows, second balcony was the place we'd meet
Second seat, go Dutch treat, you were sweet

Danke schoen, darling, danke schoen
Save those lies, darling don't explain
I recall Central Park in fall
How you tore you dress, what a mess, my heart says danke schoen

Danke schoen, darling, danke schoen
Thank you for walks down Lover's Lane
I can see hearts carved on a tree
Letters intertwined for all time
Yours and mine, that was fine

Danke schoen, darling, danke schoen
Thank you for seeing me again
Though we go on our separate ways
Still the memory stays for always

My heart says danke schoen
Danke schoen, my darling, danke schoen
I said thank you for, hmm, seeing me again
Though we go our separate ways
Still the memory stays for always

My heart says danke schoen
Danke schoen, auf wiedersehen
Danke schoen.

Songwriters: Bert Kaempfert / Kurt Schwabach / Milt Gabler

Danke Schoen lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A Lawrence Block Memory

Yesterday, on Facebook, I posted a little thing about writer Lawrence Block, a post prompted by the recent appearance on my book-nerd calendar of some information about his novel Eight Million Ways to Die (see above, see below). I mentioned in the post that I'd seen Block at a signing in Cleveland, had gotten him to sign a bunch of books.

Later in the day a former student "liked" that post (no comment from him), but seeing his name enlarged my memory. I had taken him and a small group of 8th grade students to see Block that evening! But when?

I was not keeping a regular journal before 1997, but I remembered just a little while ago today that I had kept track of school activities I'd done--a little annual report I submitted to my building principal. And I am going to look right now to see if I can find it ...


Found it! (After a five-minutes' search.)

And I discover I was right. That student was among the youngsters I took. (I think.)

The trip was on June 24, 1995 (was school even in session?)--and the event was at the Barnes & Noble store up near Cleveland. I took three kids (I see on my sheet): No names, though. (Grrrrr.)

I see that earlier that month (June 1995) Block had published the latest in his series about Bernie Rhodenbarr--The Burglar Who Thought He Was Bogart. So ... It was not one of his Matt Scudder novels (books I really loved, by the way).

And I remember something now that makes me blush. In the Q&A after his reading and presentation, I asked with great pomp how he felt about the making of the film Bank Shot (1974) based on his book. (I must have seen the film recently on TV.)

He looked at me as if I were ... challenged.

"Bank Shot," he said, "was based on the book by Donald Westlake."

Oops. Heh, heh.

My students looked at me, watched me diminish before their sight. (Wow, Dr. Dyer does not know everything!)

That night, I had brought with me a pile of Block books, but before the signing, he announced that he would sign only three (or was it five?) by any one person. Jerk.

So ... I distributed the books among my three students, who did the Dirty Work for me. And now I, though somewhat diminished (feeling like a Blockhead), have a pile of signed Blocks.

I have to say that even before I embarrassed myself that day, I was not all that crazy about his presentation. He seemed ... dismissive of questions, annoyed that he had to be there, impatient. Who knows?

But an interesting coda to all of this: Joyce and I started selling our library (well, much of it) on ABE.com a couple of years ago. All the Block books, signed and otherwise are for sale.

And over the past two years we've been in business, we've not sold a single one of his.

I can't say whether I'm pleased or annoyed by that.

PS: Haven't sold any of our Donald Westlakes, either!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Busy Day, Busy Day ...

When I was a kid, there was a Jell-O commercial on TV, a cartoon about a frazzled stay-at-home Mom who, while the jingle went "Busy day, busy day, busy, busy busy day," prepared Jell-O for her family to reduce the frazzle a little.

Just looked on YouTube. Found the commercial (link to it), and I learned a few things: the rhythm was a little different, the tempo was slower than I recall, Mom's on a treadmill, and the commercial (from 1956) was for Jell-O instant pudding--not for, you know, Jell-O. And the, uh, production values of commercials have improved--a tad--since 1956. (I found the photo at the top of this page after I watched the YouTube video.)

Anyway, I was thinking about that old commercial today because Joyce and I have been busier than usual the past week or so.

There was that trip to Chambersburg, PA, last week--and to see family in western Mass. And the long drives there and back.

And when we got home, some old friends wanted to meet up. On Thursday night we went to Chagrin Falls to have dinner with Kim and John Mlinek. John was among the first seventh graders I worked with when I began teaching at the old Aurora Middle School in the fall of 1966. He was in the first play I directed there (spring 1967)--and some others--and returned thirty years later to do a cameo in the final play I did at Harmon Middle School in the spring of 1996. Theater became a big part of his life--high school, college (he played Hamlet in Kent State's production), Macbeth in a Shakespeare-in-the-park in Columbus, OH), and beyond. He's directed countless shows and recently won an acting award for the lead role in The Lion in Winter in Cincinnati.

His wife, Kim, works in video production--working NFL and NHL and MLB games (and many others); she was in Cleveland to do the "away feed" for the Tribe v. Baltimore. A talented couple.

John has been great about staying in touch with us over the years (decades!). And we love the times we get to see them. Hard to believe that that kid I knew at age 12 is now in his early 60s!

And then on Friday morning Joyce and I had coffee with another old friend, this one from my high school and college days. Jim Vincent lived (and lives) in Garrettsville, Ohio, where we was a student of my mom's at James A. Garfield HS. He went to Hiram College (where he was a year ahead of me), and we have stayed in touch over the decades for all kinds of reasons.

Back in the day, we played basketball against each other, and I played, as well, against his brother Harry--a terrific athlete. (Yes, better than I.) One grand summer Harry and I were on the same baseball team, and I can still see him, sprinting around the bases at a speed I could only imagine ...

Jim taught most of his career at Robert Morris in Pittsburgh (though he kept--and keeps--his family home in G'ville) and now globetrots. Turkey, Cyprus, Ireland (his Love). He'll be heading back to Cyprus soon to teach in the fall ... Fortunate students, his.

He is wildly funny and inventive, and seeing him is always a jolt of electricity in our lives.

Oh, and last night (Sunday) our son, daughter-in-law, and two amazing grandsons met us for pizza at the local Zeppe's. Then to Cold Stone, the nearby ice cream shop. Then back here. I had a ball.

All of this, of course, has worn me out. I spend most of my days in Dull Routine, dreading the hour (about 2 o'clock) when I must head out to the health club. (The clock starts accelerating around noon.)

And so ... the visits, the trips ... a demand on My Old Self.

But a demand as precious as sunlight, as oxygen itself. For love, you know, is sunlight, is oxygen.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Sunday Sundries, 156

1. AOTW: The Impatient Dude who tailgated me through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park last night (I was doing 39 in a 35; he wanted ... more). Right on top of me. Lights flashing. When I finally turned off to go to Szalay's Market, he accelerated like someone in a Fast and Furious movie (he was both), letting me know what a Wuss I am, letting me know he was fully qualified for the AOTW award. And so he was ...

2. It's been a couple of weeks since I've posted one of these "Sundries." We've been on the road ... seeing some things ... visiting family ... back home now.

3. Here's a suggestion for all you drivers who like fast-food drive-thrus. You're on the highway, going to turn right into the fast-food place; ahead of you, you see a car that got there before you, waiting to turn left from the highway. Let 'em go first. The other day, we were in the left-turn situation, and two righties cruised right on in and got in the drive-thru line, where they ordered enough food to feed all the warriors at Waterloo.

4. I finished several books since last I posted here ...

     - The first was John Irving's A Son of the Circus (1994), one of my read-a-bit-in-bed-each-night novels. I think I started this book on a earlier occasion but couldn't finish it. And I took a Good Long While finishing it this time too (from March 7 - August 29!). Not only does it have many pages (633), but the pages are big (the font isn't), and the story just didn't really grab me most of the time. I have long been a HUGE Irving fan, beginning with The World According to Garp. I've read everything. Except this one. And now I have. But I didn't really like it all that much. Takes place (mostly) in India; a cop; a movie-maker; a doctor; some twins; a murder; a circus ... couldn't really get caught up in it. But hacked my way through the undergrowth nonetheless.

     The Epilogue takes place in Toronto (where a principal character has gone). And then ... here's this on p. 601-02: "It greatly upset him to read about the Heritage Front--those neo-Nazi louts, that white supremacist scum. Since there were antihate laws in Canada, Dr. Daruwalla wondered why groups like the Heritage Front were allowed to foment so much racist hatred."

Rings vaguely relevant, eh?

     - I also finished an early novel by Elizabeth Strout, whose work I'm really enjoying. I'd not read anything by her until she won a Pulitzer Prize (Olive Kitteredge, 2009). So I started in on them ... got hooked. The one I finished last week was Abide with Me, her second novel. Like some of her others, this one takes place in a small town in Maine. It involves a minister, Tyler Caskey, who has a couple of daughters (one is a handful), and is a recent widower. We see him working with his sometimes-troublesome congregation, his troubled little girl, his housekeeper, the small-town choreography.

Strout is an absolute adept with multiple points-of-view, shifting here and there, letting us know what a variety of people think, feel, say. Loved the book. Have started her earlier one, Amy and Isabelle, which I'll post about next week.

     - Finally, I've been reading the William Faulkner novels I've never managed to get around to. (Shame on me--and thanks, Library of America, for collecting them all!) Last week it was his 1935 work, Pylon, which deals with one of Faulkner's loves: aviation. (He had earned a pilot's license in 1933, owned a plane for a bit, participated in air shows.) And air shows are the key in this novel about a group of itinerant fliers and aerial performers--and a local journalist. Things don't go well the few days we are with them--crashes, deaths. And the enormous, painful irony is this: His novel appeared in March 1935; in November that same year his beloved brother Dean died in a crash of William Faulkner's plane. (He'd also learned to fly.)

5. This week we finished the latest available (Netflix) season of the Welsh cop drama Hinterland, which (as seems to be a popular thing these days) involves a dark, depressed detective who has many Personal Issues as well as grisly crimes to deal with. This recent series dealt (among other things) with an old child-abuse case in a children's home ... were the police incriminated?

6. Final Word--a word I liked this week from one of my various online word-of-the-day providers:

     - from the Oxford English Dictionary--a word that fits more and more these days ...

unlustiness, n.
Origin: Formed within English, by derivation. Etymons: unlusty adj., -ness suffix.
Etymology: < unlusty adj. + -ness suffix, after lustiness n.

1. Lack of enthusiasm or willingness; laziness; disinclination.

?a1425   tr. Catherine of Siena Orcherd of Syon (Harl.) (1966) 400 (MED)   The þridde chapitil is..of þe inperfeccioun of hem þat ben slowȝ or vnlusty in religioun..& of þe remedy how þei schulen come out of þat vnlustynes.
c1450   Bk. Gostlye Grace (1979) 441 (MED)   We maye behalde þe slewth ande vnlustynes of owre herte aȝenste God.
1506   tr. Thordynary of Crysten Men (new ed.) iv. xxx. sig. JJiv   By vnlustynes in dyffaylynge wtout desyre to do well.
1583   A. Golding tr. J. Calvin Serm. on Deuteronomie x. 54   Wee see what vnlustinesse is in vs when God commaundith vs any thing.
1613   W. Webster Plaine Mans Pilgrimage iv. 111   They which feele their coldnesse & vnlustinesse, doe craue the spirit of feruentnesse & earnestnesse.
(Hide quotations)

2. Lack of health, strength, or energy; listlessness; physical weakness or debility.

1486   Bk. St. Albans sig. b viv   A medecyne that an hawke shall not lie in mew for vnlustynese.
1547   A. Borde Breuiary of Helthe xlix. 15   [Gaping] doth come of unlustines or els for lake of slepe.
1596   P. Barrough Method of Phisick (ed. 3) viii. 470   When..the wearinesse or the vnlustinesse of the sinewes is to bee asswaged.
1620   T. Venner Via Recta Introd. 4   Vnlustinesse of the limmes.

1677   G. Miege New Dict. French & Eng. ii. sig. Hhh2v/3   Unlustiness, debilité, foiblesse.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

It's Mom's 98th Birthday ...

Mom's hs yearbook pic.
Thomas Jefferson HS
Richmond, VA, 1936
Today is my mother's 98th birthday. She was born in 1919. Woodrow Wilson was President. World War I had just ended (her uncle Bill was a soldier).  She married my father on October 12, 1939. She bore three sons: Richard (1941), Daniel (1944), Davis (1948). I was born while Dad was in Europe with the U. S. Army (World War II).

I have posted here on her birthday for the past few years, and I don't really want to repeat myself, so here's a link to a post from a couple of years ago. Things have changed a lot for her--and us--the past few years.

Two years ago--hell, last year--she was still in her assisted living place in Lenox, Mass. They loved her there, did all they could to keep her. But Age wins, of course (and entropy), and a couple of months ago she was simply unable to do anything for herself--and so she had to go to the nursing wing of the facility, the place where she'd made my brothers and me promise we would never send her.

But my younger brother, Dave (who lives a couple of hours away and is her principal caretaker), told me that she does not seem upset by the move. Has not complained to him a single time.

And when Joyce and I were there last week, Mom seemed perfectly at peace with her new situation. I'm not sure it's because she's arrived at some understanding; it's due, I think, to her increasing unawareness of what's going on.

Her move has been frustrating for me in one way: While she was in assisted living, I was able to call her several times a week. Not long conversations--she cannot generate much these days. But for five minutes or so, a few times a week, I got to hear her voice. A voice I've known for nearly 73 years now.

But now ... the phone is different. She can't really reach it from her bed. When I was in her room with her this week, I called from my cell; her phone rang; she didn't react at all. So ... unless one of my brothers is there and calls me, I cannot count on hearing her voice. It's a horrible feeling.

She is in a wheelchair now, but the aides at her facility are great about getting her out and about. We found her playing Scrabble one day in a social room down the hall. (Her mother was an ace at that game!)

A great thrill for me last week: She knew who I was. And Joyce. Because of health issues I haven't been able in the last couple of years to hop in the car and drive 550 miles (each way) to see her. And although I still write snail-mail to her twice a week, there's no real connection for me except in my imagination, for she cannot answer those letters. Not anymore. But Joyce and I had a touching conversation with her late in the afternoon before we left. She remembered things. Smiled. Laughed. Touched us as we touched her.

Mom was on email until, oh, a half-dozen years ago or so, but she can no longer do that, either. So my relationship with my mother has gradually evanesced to the point at which it's now mostly on the page--or in my imagination and memory. It's a comfort, sure, to have those memories ... but ... not being able to hear that voice ... that voice that spoke loving words to me before I even knew what a word was ... or love ...

Thursday, September 7, 2017

We're Home ... 3

Chambersburg, PA
Aug 30, 2017
photo by Joyce Dyer

Last time I mentioned this statue of the South-facing Union soldier in the center of Chambersburg, PA, which the Confederates burned in 1864. I stole a photo from Google to illustrate the moment, but Joyce reminded me that she'd taken an iPhone photo as we were driving by (I, circumspect driver that I always am, was focused on the road!). Good shot.

Anyway, I mentioned in that post a couple of days ago that the Confederates actually attacked from the west (ha, ha), but more than one friend commented that Art Is Not Always a Xerox of Life and that the South-facing is surely more for aesthetic, symbolic value than for historical accuracy.

Okay. I am chastened ...

As I wrote the other day, we toured the John Brown House in Chambersburg, found (after some doing) the historical marker near the spot where, in 1859, John Brown met with Frederick Douglass and tried (and failed) to convince Douglass to join him in the Harpers Ferry raid.

After all of this, we drove a bit north of town on I-81 and spent the night in a motel before heading out early the next morning to Lee, Mass., near my brothers and mom, some 400 miles to the northeast.

I-81 is a lovely, sometimes mountainous Interstate route, and we've been on it many times (usually a bit farther north), but when I was in my John O'Hara Mania a few years ago, I was on it several times because his hometown of Pottsville, PA, lies just east of I-81 about 100 miles northeast of Chambersburg. And I confess I felt a little palpitation when we drove by an exit that mentioned Pottsville. (But not enough to exit and visit ...)

Once we got to the place where I-81 crosses I-80, we were on Familiar Ground. Since my brothers and parents moved to Mass. decades ago, we have invariably driven to see them on the same way from our home in Hudson, OH: I-80 to I-81 to I-84 to Taconic Parkway to I-90 to Lee, MA, the exit we must take. In later years (in bladder-challenging years) we have opted at times for I-87 over the Taconic (more rest areas), but we always like to go the Taconic on the way home--for several reasons. It's beautiful. There are no trucks. And it has one exit, Bulls Head Road, that has some enormous significance for Joyce, who had relatives who lived in Standfordville, NY (to which Bulls Head leads). She often spent summers there as a little girl, and when we became engaged in the summer of 1969, she said one trip we just had to make was to Stanfordville so I could meet Kathy and Gene.

Gene was a country lawyer; Kathy was a wedding whiz who'd once flourished  in business in NYC (and was a friend of Eleanor Roosevelt). Both of them read like manics and smoked like Maniacs. I loved them both immediately. (And they must have offered some sort of approval for me because the wedding plans continued!)

Both Kathy and Gene are gone now, but we have sometimes stopped at the exit, driven into Stanfordville, stared at their old house, visited the cemetery ... remembered ...

We decided to do so this time on our way up to Lee. We just aren't sure how many times--if ever--we'll be doing this drive (health, health, health), so ... another look.

We couldn't find the house for the longest time. The current owners have changed the entrance, have surrounded it with a cedar fence. Nothing much looks the same.

But we found it. Drove a bit up into the driveway so Joyce could hop out and take a quick picture.

Then we stopped in "downtown" Stanfordville (which makes Hiram, Ohio, look downright metropolitan), and Joyce went into the little general store, a place she's known since girlhood. (It's now called Elvin's Market.) The owners are new--but they knew the previous owners (who'd run the place for a half-century) and had stories to tell Joyce. Who absorbed them thoroughly. (As is her wont.)

In the car, she told me that the folks who now own Kathy and Gene's old home are converting it to a B &B. Guess where we'll be staying if we get back up this way?

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

We're Home ... 2

The Breezewood exit on the Pennsylvania Turnpike has some significance for me. For many years it was a scheduled stop on the 8th Grade Washington Trip sponsored by Harmon Middle School (Aurora, Ohio), where I taught for ... a LONG time. Our buses pulled off at Breezewood, cruised up to the McDonald's parking lot, disgorged the hordes of 8th graders, who promptly consumed mounds of fast food, visited the restrooms, returned to the buses in somewhat different shape. And off to D. C. we went.

I retired from Harmon in January 1997, but ever since then, on our way to D. C. (or, lately, Staunton, VA, to see a production at the American Shakespeare Center), Joyce and I have always stopped at the Breezewood McD's, had a Diet Coke (or worse), and I'd regale her with stories of Years Past when the building was aswarm with 8th graders excited to be Away From Home and on their way to see the Nation's Capital (and to wreak havoc on a motel room).

But to get to that McDonald's, you have to turn left off the I-76 exit ramp and head down into the little town, but we were going another direction this time, so we turned right on US 30 and headed on east toward Chambersburg, PA, where, as I wrote yesterday, we visited some sites related to Abolitionists John Brown and Frederick Douglass, sites important in Joyce's research on Brown.

US 30 (the Lincoln Highway) twists and turns on its eastward leg. My dad, driving us through the Rockies (and/or other mountains), would call these turns crickety-crocks, aping, I'm sure, what one of us little boys had called them. And there are lots of crickety-crocks on US 30--many occasions to slow and marvel.

There is also some ... alarm. In several places are ramps for "runaway trucks"--gravel-"paved" routes heading up slopes designed to accommodate runaway rigs. Here are two concerns:

  • All of the ramps we saw had the tracks of wheels in them. Meaning; A runaway truck had visited recently--not a comforting thought.
  • Can a runaway really wait until it arrives at one of the ramps? If one is not convenient, must it, oh, roar off a cliff? Or up the backside of the first black Prius it comes to? (Hint: We drive a black Prius.)
Anyway, after the crickety-crocks and the runaway-ramps, we arrived safely in Chambersburg--a mere ten minutes before our scheduled 3 o'clock tour of the John Brown House. Joyce and I joined another couple (both retired); he, we learned, had been an Australian political journalist whose beat was D.C. They loved the nearby mountains. Stayed in them when he retired. And they now travel around looking at historical sites.

As we were walking down to the city square, he pointed out to me the statue of the Union solider, standing, facing the South (the Confederates had burned virtually all of the town, late July 1864). Our Australian companion told us the only problem with the south-facing solider? The Confederates came from the west.

(Not my pic, but you can see the soldier at the far left.)