Dawn Reader

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

Saturday, September 30, 2017


11:00 a.m., Saturday

I've been in one of those moods lately. Baked.

Yeah, I know that "baked" has a somewhat unsavory slang meaning now (dating from 1975, says Merriam-Webster): slang:  under the influence of a drug and especially marijuana :  stoned

But that ain't what I'm talkin' about, Yo.

I mean, in the past week or so I've been in a kind of Baking Frenzy. I need to bake something. So just this week--since last Sunday--I've baked a full batch of bread (a round loaf, some rolls), two sets of scones (one for Joyce: ginger-walnut; one for me: maple-pecan).

And in a few minutes--as soon as I quit wasting my time sitting here typing--I'm going to go into the kitchen and prepare a batch of baguettes. We're having spaghetti tonight, you know, and so you gotta have fresh baguettes for that, right?

I started baking bread back in the late 1960s when we were first married, and I discovered (a) we had no money (teacher's salary), (b) baking bread was cheaper than buying it, (c) home-baked bread tasted, well, a lot better than store-bought, and (d) baking was ... fun.

But now it's more than fun; it's necessary.

And I'm not sure why.

Could it be as simple as this: Because as long as I can do it, I'm alive? (In every sense.)

Sounds good ... let's go with it.

(Pic shows last week's bread-baking.)

Friday, September 29, 2017

Pink Shoelaces

Yesterday, I did a brief Facebook post about how I'd just changed the shoelaces in my sneakers--and about how, because I hadn't performed such an operation in a long, long, long time, that I had to, uh, think a bit about what I was doing. For me,  the "autopilot" part of that mundane activity had malfunctioned. Mental entropy!

And then--curse our human minds!--into my head popped an old song--well, part of it did. A little work was necessary to resurrect the rest of it.

Here's the part that came back He wears tan shoes with pink shoelaces ....  Some of the rest trickled back during the night, but it was not until, oh, right now that I did a little Goggling and came up with the rest. (See below.)

Dodie Stevens was the singer (her birth name: Geraldine Ann Pasquale), born 1946. "Pink Shoe Laces" was released in February 1959--I was still just fourteen--in ninth grade. Taking Latin I and Algebra I and whatever. Playing JV basketball, varsity baseball, singing in the school musical production (The Mikado). Trying to avoid the Big Kids ... And, of course, there was the ... Love Stuff ...

Yes, that was the time when that annoying song came out, that song whose words (okay, some of them) invaded my brain yesterday and dug in for what appears to be a long, long stay. Oh, the song reached #3 on the charts for 1959--which says a few things about 1959, I guess.

Another fact that I somehow find a little ... disturbing? When she recorded that song, she was eleven years old. I'm not sure why I find that "disturbing," but I do. I'll have to think about that a bit more, I guess.

The song was written by Micki Grant, (1941-), an African American songwriter (3 Tony nominations) whose Wikipedia page, though brief, is impressive--though it neglects to mention Dodie Stevens and "Pink Shoelaces" (can't say that I blame her). So she wrote that song when she was a teen!

Dodie Stevens now has a website (link), advertising herself as "recording artist, songwriter, & vocal coach." And here's a YouTube video of her (some years later) singing the song. (Link.) And here's even a BETTER video of Stevens--from 1959.

And here are those awesome lyrics that ruined my rest last night:

Now I've got a guy and his name is Dooley
He's my guy and I love him truly
He's not good lookin', heaven knows
But I'm wild about his crazy clothes

He wears tan shoes with pink shoelaces
A polka dot vest and man, oh, man
Tan shoes with pink shoelaces
And a big Panama with a purple hat band

Ooh-ooh, ooh, ooh
Ooh-ooh, ooh, ooh

He takes me deep-sea fishing in a submarine
We got to drive-in movies in a limousine
He's got a whirly-birdy and a 12-foot yacht
Ah, but that's-a not all he's got

He's got tan shoes with pink shoelaces
A polka dot vest and man, oh, man
Tan shoes with pink shoelaces
And a big Panama with a purple hat band

Now Dooley had a feelin' we were goin' to war
So he went out and enlisted in a fightin' corps
But he landed in the brig for raisin' such a storm
When they tried to put 'em in a uniform

He wanted tan shoes with pink shoelaces
A polka dot vest and man, oh, man
He wanted tan shoes with pink shoelaces
And a big Panama with a purple hat band

Ooh-ooh, ooh, ooh
Ooh-ooh, ooh, ooh

Now one day Dooley started feelin' sick
And he decided that he better make his will out quick
He said
"Just before the angels come to carry me
I want it down in writin' how to bury me."

A'wearin tan shoes with pink shoelaces
A polka dot vest and man, oh, man
Give me tan shoes with pink shoelaces
And a big Panama with a purple hat band

Ooh-ooh, ooh, ooh
Ooh-ooh, ooh, ooh
Ooh-ooh, ooh, ooh

And a big Panama with a purple hat band!!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Ed Sullivan and Back When ...

This morning, I shared on Facebook a post from Writer's Almanac, a post that commemorated the birthday of the late TV personality Ed Sullivan (1901-74), an "old man," who, I see, died at the age I will reach in November this year. Not so old, I guess? (Link to that Writer's Almanac post.)

My mother didn't much like watching TV. And for pretty good reasons, as I remember it now. For one thing, TV in my boyhood (late 40s-mid-1950s) was pretty dreadful stuff. For the most part there were the three broadcast networks (CBS, ABC, NBC), and not every community had access to all three. (In fact, when we were living in Amarillo, TX, 1952-53. we had no TV service. Our set sat (!) in the corner, neglected and sorely missed by the three Dyer boys--and their father.)

So Mom would watch the news and maybe, now and then, just to be sociable, some program that the rest of us were watching.

It was not a problem, by the way, on school nights. No TV for us kids. A rule I passed along to our son, years later. Can't say that he was delighted by it.

Dad loved TV, right from the get-go. He especially liked Westerns, and I can still remember when Gunsmoke's opening segment would appear (Marshal Matt Dillon in a shoot-out on the street; you view him from the back), and Dad would say, every single time, "There's the most famous fanny in television."

That would change. Other fannies became more famous.

Dad also loved sports--and for the rest of his days (especially toward the end) he would watch multiple games every week, much to the dismay of my mother, who tried to quilt or read alongside him--to be sociable--but when she realized Dad was sort of, uh, fixated on the screen, she abandoned her efforts. I still remember Dad in his final hospital rooms before he died in November 1999 in Pittsfield, MA, watching baseball games on TV ...

But Back in the Day, all five of us usually gathered on Sunday evenings to watch The Ed Sullivan Show--CBS, 1948-71. It ran from 8-9 pm beginning in 1949. I would turn five that fall.

It was a variety show--and there were all sorts of things going on--circus performers, comedians, athletes, musicians, odd variety acts, song-and-dance routines.

And then, of course, The Beatles, February 9, 1964. (Link to YouTube video of it.) I was in college by then (sophomore year), but on Sunday nights I often went home (just down the hill from my dorm at Hiram College) to watch Ed Sullivan (and do some wash--and get some food--and annoy the hell out of my parents, who had just about given up on me--as well they should have).

My parents never did like rock-n-roll, so The Beatles brought them no evident pleasure. I, on the other hand ...

Ed Sullivan was kind of a stiff, dour dude. I can't imagine he would ever manage to do what he did--host an enormously popular TV show--in these days of bright teeth and naughtiness--in these days when being stiff and dour will bring you little but ill reports from your supervisor at work.

But, as the Writer's Almanac post mentions, he was popular throughout America. Millions were watching every week. And, on Monday, 'round the water cooler (or whatever), lots of chatter about what we'd seen and heard the night before. It was still a day when TV was a unifier, and that function, of course, is long, long gone. Probably forever.

One more thing: I mentioned in my Facebook post that, years later, a grandfather, I got to see--on December 12, 2013--my older grandson, Logan, portray Ed Sullivan in his 3rd-grade play at school--a piece about the history of rock-and-roll. Logan had never heard of  Ed Sullivan, of course, and our son (his father), born in 1972, arrived after the end of the Sullivan series. His mother is a bit younger than that. So ... YouTube to the rescue!

And--truth be told--Logan nailed it. Took me right back. Wish my mom and dad could have been there. They would have wept with pride. So I did it for them ...

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Waiting Room

On Monday morning, Joyce and I sat in the waiting room at the Seidman Cancer Center up near Chagrin Falls. I was due for some blood tests + my monthly injection of Xgeva, a drug that helps with bone strength (some other anti-cancer meds I'm on can weaken the bones). (Regular visitors to this blog know that I've been battling metastatic prostate cancer since late in 2004. It's moving into my bones ....)

As I've written here before, there are few places more humbling than a cancer center. People of all ages, all races, in all stages of illness, fear, despair.

The chairs in the waiting room are arranged in rows, facing the TV set (don't get me started!) and the Keurig--two of our most necessary contemporary companions, I guess.

Anyway, I was sitting on an aisle, and I felt (before I saw) a wheelchair roll up near me and stop at the row right in front of me. Its occupant was an older woman--older than I. A woman not well. She had rolled up beside a woman she did not know (this became quickly apparent) and started asking her questions about the center, about procedures there. Someone new, I was thinking.

The other woman--about my age?--answered her questions quietly, then asked the older woman how she was doing. And she started to weep. "I'm so afraid," she said.

The woman in front of me reached out and squeezed her arm, mumbling soft words of comfort. Stroking her forearm.

And I was thinking: These women know nothing about each other--and everything. And then a political thought: And how would they act if one were a Trump supporter, one a resister?

Exactly the same, I thought. Exactly the same.

Cancer--I can tell you--reduces us physically, but it also seems to restore some of the humanity in us, the humanity that, especially these days, we seem to have misplaced.

My Facebook feed these past few months--and especially these past few days--has been electric with hostility. Virtually all of my Facebook friends are former students--from the mid-1960s to the spring of 2011 (when I retired for the second time!). And they are as divided as the rest of the country seems to be. Anger and resentment enflame their words.

What some of these friends don't know (or don't care?) is that they're blasting me. Since the first time I could vote (mid-1960s), I have voted for Democrats. I am moderately liberal (if that makes any sense). I believe in minority rights, in unions, in women's rights, in freedom of speech (even when it offends me). I believe we should not impose our religious beliefs on others.

And just about every day I read posts about how horrible I am--well, not me specifically but people who share my positions. About how I'm a curse on America, about how I should leave the country if I don't like it, about how--if I believe what I do--I'm not even a "real" American.

What is all this vitriol? (And, yes, I know: It flows from both sides.) Why do we hate those who disagree with us? Why do we lump then in a group that we then label as something less than? Condemn them?

I don't "get into it" on Facebook. It's pointless. I don't think I've ever read a stream that concluded with this: You know, you're right! I'm going to change my thinking.

No, the exchanges tend to get more and more hostile--and "friends" become enemies. (Maybe that should be a new category on Facebook?)

Changing our minds is hard--and most of us want no part of it. We'd rather cling fiercely to what we already believe, consult sources we already agree with, ignore (or brand as "fake") any evidence that contradicts our positions. And this is so easy to do in our cyber-age, our age of slanted news networks and publications. It's hard and uncomfortable to think critically, to be skeptical.

I know it's Pollyannaish* to think that we can, you know, just all get along. But why can't we? I love my family members who don't agree with me ... I socialize with the "enemy" in the coffee shop. And those former students I loved when they were twelve and thirteen? I still do. Can't help it--too much affectionate history, I guess. And so I think we need to remember that each of us has a face, a human one.**

And so I wonder: Have we forgotten?--do we even know?--that we're all in that waiting room? That tears are in our eyes? That we are afraid? In despair? And that we so much need one another? And when we feel the illness winning, will we really care about who did what on a football field? Or will we reach for the closest human hand?

*from Merriam-Webster: Pollyanna, heroine of the novel Pollyanna (1913) by Eleanor Porter
** Obviously, we make exceptions for extremists, don't we? Nazis? Anarchists? Fierce haters of every stripe? And this, of course, makes all of this so much more complicated.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Sunday Sundries, 158

1. AOTW: Okay, this happened to me twice on Saturday (two different times, two differrent drivers, who, this week, will share the honors). I was sitting in the middle of an intersection, waiting to turn left. The light went to amber, started moving toward red, and the oncoming car (two different times!) gunned it through the intersection as the light turned red--even though I was right there, obviously turning--and forced me to decide: "Do I turn? Or sit here in the middle of the intersection?" Duh. I turned. Got some honks as my reward.

2. Friday night we went over to Kent and saw The Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the sequel to a film which I really enjoyed--The Kingsman; The Secret Service (2014), which had one of the most surprising, grimmest, and funniest head-popping conclusions I've ever seen. This one was not as much fun--but was still a popcorn-munching pleasure for both of us. Some surprise appearances (Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum, and Julianne Moore, who played the genial though savage mega-villain). She has two vicious robo-dogs named Benny and Jet, so you know that Elton John is going to be involved (he was). Enjoyed Colin Firth and Taron Egerton (Eggsy) a lot, too.

Basic plot? Moore now controls all illegal drugs in the world. She's infected them all--wants drugs to be legalized or she will let everyone die. And the U. S. President (Bruce Greenwood)? Go see it!

Link to trailer for the film.

3. I finished just one book this week--the new one by Jesmyn Ward, Sing, Unburied, Sing,  which just earned a nomination for a National Book Award (which she won in 2011 for Salvage the Bones).

This novel has a most fitting title, for the "unburied" (ghosts) are prominent in this one--are very real to some of the characters. There are some similarities to Faulkner's As I Lay Dying: the narrators shift with the chapters, the grandmother is dying in the other room. And there's more about this rural black family.

Parchman State Penitentiary in Mississippi is a crucial setting--actually and in the psyches of the characters. They are taking a trip (also like As I Lay Dying) to the prison; a relative is being released. And so we flash back and forth in time--hear different sides and portions of the same story--listen in on conversations with ghosts--gradually learn some secrets. There's an interracial couple (black, white) involved, and so we get some penetrating harshness and cruelty here and there that remind us that, as a species, we have a long way to go.

I liked the novel a lot--admired Ward's handling of dialogue, of the psychological interiors of these rural folks, of the immense power of the past to accompany us--to haunt us.

But my favorite book this year (one of m all-time favorites, actually), Paul Auster's 4 3 2 1, was not nominated for the NBA.

4. We continue to enjoy streaming (Netflix) the episodes of Shetland--and we continue to use the subtitle feature!

5. We've also been streaming (Netflix) the new stand-up set by Jerry Seinfeld. He's very funny--but in this performance seems to me a bit over-rehearsed. A bit slick. It lacks some spontaneity--and he keeps things on the surface pretty much too. Not a lot (so far) from the heart. Maybe it's just me.

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

     - otic (O-tik, OT-ik)
adjective: Relating to the ear.
ETYMOLOGY: From Greek ous (ear). Ultimately from the Indo-European root ous- (ear), which also gave us ear, aural, auscultation, scout, and otorhinolaryngology. Earliest documented use: 1657.
“Looks like it might be suffering from ear mites as well. Nothing that a bit of otic medication won’t cure.”
H.Y. Hanna; Summer Beach Vets (Book 3); Wisheart Press; 2014.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

A Whiney Who Bores People So

When I was a kid, we had a record called Manners Can Be Fun (wrong: not fun--but kids will go for about anything, right?). Here's a link to one available on eBay right now for $15. The info says it's from 1948. That's about right. I was four. And in need of some manners. (I have a CD of it somewhere, by the way.)

The record was based--now I remember!--on a book by Munro Leaf. It's possible I've written a bit about this before, but I'm too lazy to look. So here we go ... besides, the book/record? Not the issue here.

Anyway, one of the songs involved a line He's a whiney who bores people 

And today--I'm going to whine (though surely not bore!).

I've not posted here the past couple of days not out of lassitude or bitterness or illness or a lack of ideas to write about; no, I've failed to write because, instead, for two days I've been fussing with (and at!) my Quicken program.

Quicken. Home finances. I've been using the program faithfully since the early 1990s when it was in its MS-DOS incarnation. I've bought the updates, pretty much every year, have had very few complaints.

Until two days ago.

A couple of days ago, the program informed me it had an update for me (yay!) so, sure, I clicked on it. And it rolled merrily along--until it froze. Just freaking froze. I could do nothing on the computer. I waited ... waited ... waited ...


So ... I rebooted, and when I did, Quicken was no longer there--not in the recent version I'd been using.

So I got on the website, downloaded (what I thought was) the latest version ... but it looked ... different. And, worse, I could no longer download transaction information from the bank.

Then ... two days of hassle commenced. Checking online forums, online chats, phone calls (when I saw there was a 58-minute wait time, I ponied up (my pony is named Plastic--nickname "Visa") for the "prime" or whatever they call it--a mere $50 a year--so that I would get prompt service whenever I call). I did.

And I found out I'd inadvertently downloaded an earlier version of the program--one that no longer worked with downloading from banks (I didn't ask Then why is the damn thing still on your site!?!?)

Many hours later ... it's all working again ... though it still doesn't look the way I like it: I'll have to do more fussing with the display.

Meanwhile, I've been whining to Joyce--whom I've been, well, boring so with all of this.

I should have listened to the record more closely, you know?

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