Dawn Reader

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Getting Ready for Turkey Day



It takes more time now--as does most everything else I must do these days, from getting dressed (and undressed) to walking across the street to the coffee shop to ... well, as I said, "most everything."

In the Days of Youth we pretty much did all of Thanksgiving prep in a single day--Turkey Day itself. No problem.

Of course, in the early years of our marriage, we frequently went elsewhere for the holiday--to Joyce's folks (in Akron), to mine (in Des Moines, Iowa). Nothing much to do but to show up, to find a good seat for the TV football game(s), to eat so much that a nap was an inevitable--and welcome--consequence.

Many of my wonderful boyhood Thanksgivings were with my maternal grandparents (Enid, Oklahoma) and, later, in Hiram, Ohio, with my parents' dear friends, Ed and Ruth Rosser and Paul and Rose Sharp (Hiram College colleagues). Oh, could those people cook! (And, oh, in youth could I eat; I still can, but the consequences are a bit more ... evident.)

One of my great Thanksgiving memories of all? The first year I was teaching at the middle school in Aurora, Ohio (1966-67), I could not get "home" (Des Moines) because we had only Thursday and Friday off from school, so I feared I would be alone. I could afford only hot dogs and Kraft Dinner. But Mrs. Rosser--out of the blue--called me from Hiram (only eleven miles away) and invited me to their house. I gratefully accepted. Then wept in gratitude ...

Our son and his family are going to join us on Thursday this year. And we have "outsourced" to them some of the items on the menu. Other things we have done in advance. I baked the cornbread a few days ago (for stuffing, for munching); I baked the sourdough dinner bread a couple of weeks ago (it's thawing right now); Joyce is doing the sweet potatoes today. The Day Of I will peel the potatoes to boil before son Steve smashes them for us; Joyce will prep the turkey & pop Tom in the oven. The cranberries she will do today or tomorrow.

So Thursday, for the most part, will be a day of assembly, of presentation rather than preparation.

Clean-up will be ... "fun."

Oh, for the Days of Youth! When the men would light their postprandial cigars and go for a walk while the women cleaned up everything.

That sort of thing no longer flies--and never should have.

Which reminds me ...

When we were first married (December 20, 1969), I behaved, at first, like Dad: After supper I figured I would go out to the living room and watch the news while Joyce, presumably, was cleaning up the kitchen.

This behavior did not last even a single day. I went to the living room; she followed me. I looked at her, asked her what she was doing, and she replied: "I like to watch the news, too. Then we can clean up."

That we resonated like a bell strong enough to thrill Quasimodo.

I looked at her. Realized I had landed upon a Brave New World.

For which, on Thursday, I will offer thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Back to Seidman Cancer Center, cont'd.

Seidman Cancer Center
Beachwood, OH
6:40 a.m.

Later this morning, Joyce and I will--once again--drive up to Seidman Cancer Center in Beachwood for my quarterly visit with my oncologist. My lab work this time has showed some more post-radiation improvement. As some of you know, a few months ago I underwent ten radiation sessions: They were zapping a site on my spine, a site that appeared to have become a home for a cluster (a big one) of prostate cancer cells that had metastasized--had moved from my prostate area into my bones.

When I began the treatments, my PSA (prostate specific antigen) had reached 20.13--alarming because I should have no PSA at all: A cancer surgeon removed the gland in June 2005. But, as I've written here before, prostate cancer cells also produce PSA. As the chart shows. Post-radiation measures have shown a substantial drop.

6 August 2018
20.13
12 September 2018
11.98
16 October 2018
3.36
9 November 2018
1.93

I was actually surprised when I saw the score: I know, you see, that radiation effects in my case are temporary (I'd undergone 30 treatments in January 2009; my PSA dropped, then began rising again.) So I was fully expecting a rise--or a "leveling off" for a while. 

So ... I'm pleased (naturally) but also aware that the good number is just that--a good number. Bad numbers will eventually follow, and other medications and/or procedures are waiting down the tracks for me.

My PSA tests are monthly now, so ... month-to-month living. And I will enjoy most of the upcoming month--until I start worrying about an imminent blood test.

I know my oncologist will be happy about the number, too--but cautious, as well. I'm not sure if he'll order more scans or whatnot. I'll let you know when I return from my session with him.

Oh, another delight today? I get my quarterly butt-shot of Trelstar, a drug that inhibits the growth of testosterone, a substance that prostate cancer cells adore. It's not a cure; it's a drug of delay. (Link to info on Trelstar.) And it has some noxious side-effects, which I've mentioned here before (moodiness, depression, sweats, diminishing energy, death of the libido, weight gain--all just glorious things for a man--or anyone else--to experience!)

More later ...


11:20 a.m.

Back from about as quick (and even perfunctory) a visit as I've ever had at Seidman. As I had anticipated, my oncologist was pleased with my test results and said it would probably be about six months before the PSA will start to climb the ladder again. No blood tests for more than two months, and I will not see him again until January 30 ... unless, of course ...

Let's not think like that!

Saw a nurse I know well: I'd taught her daughter (now an academic) in 8th grade years ago in Aurora, and in the waiting room, as we were passing through on the way home, we saw another student from the mid-1970s, a student who went on to become a colleague and has had a great career. He was with some family members; I didn't ask who was there for help ... doesn't matter, does it? As Dickens said, we're all on the same train, just in different cars.

Dare I say, "Small world"?

The shot was quick and fairly painless. Would you like to know which cheek?

I thought not ...

But now that image is in your head. Sleep tight.

So ... I'm going to enjoy a little plateau here, a place to pause and be grateful, a place to enjoy the scenery for a bit before the train begins, once again, to lurch forward, and I'm off to explore again the undiscovered country.





Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Salad Days



This morning, reading Kate Atkinson's brilliant novel Life after Life (2013), I came across an expression--"salad days"--that we can trace right back to the Bard: Antony and Cleopatra (1606-07)--

Cleopatra: My salad days,
When I was green in judgment ... (1.5).


It got me thinking--not so much about Cleopatra and Atkinson but about my own salad days, the literal not the metaphorical ones.

I've never really liked salad. Greens. You know. (Joyce, on the other hand, must have some rabbit blood in her, for she could live on salad--eats it like ... well, like Peter Rabbit.)

I never order salad with my restaurant meals (some places--like Dontino's in North Akron--let me substitute applesauce, a boyhood favorite that has lingered into my dotage). I virtually never have it at home. It's enough to see the mound of greens on Joyce's plate at lunch, at supper. To hear her munching with leporine ferocity.

It's not that I hate lettuce--though eating it seems a bit like eating grass. But I do hate tomatoes (I can not eat one) and some of the other ill-named "goodies" you find on salads. I like shredded carrots. Croutons are ... possible. Can eat sliced beets--though, like Melville's Bartleby, "I would prefer not to."* Can't stand mushrooms, olives (black or green). (Link to "Bartleby, the Scrivener.")

Okay, when I'm trying to lose weight (as I have throughout my adult years), I'll order a salad with sliced chicken. No dressing. (I don't like dressing, either.) One dire diet cycle I made and ate at home a chicken salad every night. It was grim. But the pounds slowly disappeared--well, not disappeared. They went into hiding somewhere in our house and returned with a vengeance (and with some relatives) when I returned to, oh, Snickers bars, crunchy peanut butter, and popcorn at the movies.

So ... I know that salad could be/should be my friend. The health and weight benefits, etc.

But I just can't do it. Instead, I'll just enjoy the vicarious** thrill (!?!) of watching Joyce munch away.  While I'm eating a hunk of homemade sourdough bread. Peanut butter goes great with it!


*BTW 1: I have a T-shirt I bought at the museum shop at Arrowhead (Melville's former farm in Pittsfield, Mass., where he wrote that white-whale book); the shirt says "I would prefer not to." About once a week I wear it when I'm working out because it expresses so perfectly how I feel about working out.

**BTW 2: I learned the word vicarious from Joyce in the summer of 1969, when we met: She used it while answering a question in our Kent State grad class--"American Transcendentalism. Turned me on. (Yeah, I'm word-weird.)



Monday, November 12, 2018

Another birthday ...



My parents weren't really "into" birthday parties--so when Joyce asked me yesterday about the parties I'd had as a kid, I had to say there weren't any. Oh, the first eleven years of my life we lived near my maternal grandparents, so they were always involved--we would go to their place--or they to ours--and they would always give me a check, too: $1.08 on my 8th birthday, $1.09 on my ninth. That was a lot of money for me, back in 1952 and 1953 (the relevant years). Mostly I wanted a new cap gun.

And Mom would do a dinner for each son on his birthday--we got to pick the entree and the kind of cake. I was very imaginative then: hot dogs for the meal, yellow cake with chocolate icing for the dessert.

Everyone would sing "Happy Birthday," and at the end of the song, Dad would add--in his superb tenor voice (I kid you not)--"And many more of them ..." I now sing that line at all family birthdays, though without Dad's artistry, that's for sure.

Yesterday--Sunday--birthday number 74 for me--the day began in our normal Sunday fashion. I got up and prepared the sourdough bread dough, then cleaned up, and we headed out on our weekly "rounds": Panera for a light breakfast (bagel for both of us) and reading the New York Times, then to two grocery stores, Acme and Heinen's, for the week's goodies and necessaries.

Home. Put things away. Shaped and baked the bread. Took my weekly pic and posted it on FB, as is my wont.

yesterday's bread pic
Then, after lunch (about 1:00 p.m), I headed upstairs and crashed for two hours. (Oh, do I love a nap in these, uh, "later" years!)

Got a phone call from my two brothers right after I emerged from the arms of Morpheus--my nephew, Rick, was there, too--always fun to banter with him.

A little before 5:30 we headed down to 3 Palms, a pizzeria here in town, where we met our son (Steve), daughter-in-law (Melissa), and two stellar grandsons (Logan, 13; Carson, 9) and pigged on pizza and laughed ourselves silly. The place was jammed when we got there, but after only about five minutes of waiting, the Perfect Table opened up, and there we ... partied on.

grandson Carson checks out my pen at 3 Palms
Then it was back to our place for the few gifts (I asked for none, got a couple, was grateful). They sang "Happy Birthday," and Steve and his sons added "and many more of them."

Before we met them at 3 Palms, Joyce had given me her great present--a poem she'd written for me. She asked me to read it aloud, and I did pretty well for a Weepy Old Dude. Words are breath; breath is life and love. You know ...

More rollicking fun while they were here. I found myself reciting "The Cremation of Sam McGee" for a reason I can't recall right now. Carson was especially delighted by it--and who isn't?

"Then I made a hike, for I didn't like to hear him sizzle so ..."

Gotta love that line! In my last dozen years or so at Harmon Middle School in Aurora, we used to read The Call of the Wild--and related Klondike Gold Rush stuff, including "Cremation." Kids would memorize it, too. As I did ...

(Link to whole poem)

As I think about it now, poems about cremation seem a bit less amusing than they did thirty years ago. Sizzling, especially, seems a bit grim.

But we will not escape that Final Sizzle, will we? (Or that Final Whatever?)

Nice way to end a birthday blog, eh? Old Guys can be such Debbie Downers!


Sunday, November 11, 2018

Sunday Sundries, 206


1. HBsOTW: Plural this week--Human BeingS of the Week--all of the people who work at the Open Door Coffee Co. here in Hudson, Ohio; they are not only manifestly good at what they do (more than "good," really--primo!), but they treat me with such kindness and concern that when I think about it (which is often), I find myself staggering. The Oxford English Dictionary does not contain enough words to thank them--to tell them what they all mean to me.

2. Last night, Joyce and I drove over to the Kent Cinemas to see The Girl in the Spider's Web, the latest adventure about Lisbeth Salander and Mikel Blomkvist, characters created by the late Stieg Larsson (1954-2004) in his trilogy of adventures (beginning with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, 2005) about the unlikely pair--a supreme computer hacker (with some "issues") and an investigative journalist (with some issues). In Sweden.

Notice the dates: He had written the first three novels before he died; all were published after he died. He never got to enjoy a second of the celebrity (wealth!) that he had earned.

Anyway, we weren't all that sure about going because the New York Times had given it a very mediocre review (link to review).

But--though our motive for going had sent "popcorn" above "see a good film" in our list--we both liked it--a lot. I recognized none of the cast members (save Stephen Merchant)--but that can be (and was) a good thing. Sure, the film and the characters are not precisely like the earlier ones (Larsson did not write this story), and, sure, it had a little bit of 007 about it, and, sure, the role of the journalist was somewhat diminished, but it was beautifully photographed (Sweden and Germany were the principal filming locations), and I was surprised now and then--something I really like in films.

So ... not much like the earlier ones--still, for us, enough to send "popcorn" down to motive #2 for seeing it.

Oh--the story's about a computer program that gives access to the entire world's nuclear arsenal ...

Link to film trailer.


3. I know I did not post last Sunday (shame, shame ... the question is: F or Inc?), but I have read a couple of books during the brief hiatus ...

     - The first was a recent one by Nathaniel Philbrick--Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution, 2016--part of his great series about the Revolution. I read several Philbrick titles the past few weeks because he was scheduled to speak at the Hudson Library and Historical Society on Nov. 7, and I wanted to be as current as I could be (he's hard to keep up with!). Anyway, we did see him at the Library--got to meet him (got him to sign a bunch of books!).


The book is kind of a dual portrait (as the subtitle announces): Washington and Arnold--the former a great American hero, the latter a great American hero--and then traitor when he very nearly managed to help the British acquire West Point.


Of special interest to me: Philbrick deals a lot with Major John André (a British spy in the West Point affair), captured and hanged by the Americans. He lives on, André does, in a few mentions in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."

I visited the André sites in and around Tappan, New York, some years ago (when I was teaching "Sleepy Hollow")--so ... a few pix ...




Enjoyed the book a lot--as I have enjoyed all of Philbrick's books over the years.

     - The second I finished was about an actual criminal case involving Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator, of course, of the world's most famous detective, S. Holmes. Conan Doyle for the Defense: The True Story of a Sensational British Murder, a Quest for Justice, and the World's Most Famous Detective Writer, 2018, by Margalit Fox.


It involves an actual Glasgow murder in 1908, about the quick conviction of an innocent man (corrupt cops, I fear), and Doyle's long effort to get the guy (Oscar Slater) released from prison, an act he eventually accomplished (with some help from others) in November 1927 (!!!).

A great research effort by Fox, and a gripping story that astonishes in its many twists and turns, not unlike a story about, well, you know!


4. Watching--via Netflix--the BBC miniseries The Bodyguard, which is so tense at times that I have to switch to something more ... immature. Going to take me a year to watch the half-dozen episodes! Link to trailer.


5. Last Word--A word I liked recently from one of my online word-of-the-day providers ...

     - from wordsmith.org--I had no IDEA this word is as old as it is--13th century!

huckster (HUHK-stuhr)
MEANING: noun: One who sells things of questionable value in an aggressive or dishonest manner.
verb tr.: To sell something of questionable value aggressively or dishonestly.
verb intr.: To haggle.
ETYMOLOGY: From Middle Dutch word hokester (peddler), from hoeken (to peddle). Earliest documented use: 1200s.
USAGE: “Mostly they’re just plain, old-fashioned carnival hucksters, picking the pockets of gullible people they play for rubes.”

Jeff Hester; ‘Miracle’ Work; Astronomy (Milwaukee, Wisconsin); Nov 2018.


Saturday, November 10, 2018

Some Moments--Some Scenes--Stick with You



It's true, isn't it? Moments from movies and TV shows that never leave you? For me--Davy Crockett swinging his rifle in the Alamo at the end of his life. The final freeze-frame of Butch and Sundance. The bullet-riddled car in Bonnie & Clyde. The leap to hyperspace in the first Star Wars. A variety of moments from (the first) Blade Runner.

And this is a more recent one ...

On August 18, Joyce and I went to see Spike Lee's newest one--The BlacKkKlansman--based on a true story of a black Colorado Springs police officer (in the 1970s) impersonating a KKK member (over the phone, of course--Adam Driver, another cop, did the in-person stuff).



In the process of his investigation, he gets involved with a young woman (to whom he cannot reveal his identity), and there is just a wonderful scene at a party, where, it's very apparent, they are falling in love.

They dance together--and my memory is that the scene and the soundtrack include the entire song "Too Late to Turn Back Now" (1972) by the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose. (Link to the song.) It's just a great scene--young people dancing all around the room, hope and love so thick in the air it seems to flow right out of the screen and into the hearts of the audience.

My heart, anyway.



And now whenever I hear that song, I find myself whirling back to that movie--and then to 1972, only a few years after our marriage (1969)--1972, the year our son was born, the year Joyce and I were finishing our graduate coursework, the year I was figuring out that, yes, I really did want to be a teacher for the rest of my working life. I loved it all.

I still do. And that song brings tears to my eyes now, every single time ...

***

Song Lyrics:


Too Late to Turn Back Now
Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose

My mama told me, she said, "Son, please beware"
"There's this thing called love and it's everywhere"
She told me, "It can break your heart and leave you in misery"
And since I met this little woman,
I feel it's happening to me, and I'm tellin' you
It's too late to turn back now
I believe, I believe, I believe I'm fallin' in love
It's too late to turn back now
I believe, I believe, I believe I'm falling in love
I found myself phoning her at least ten times a day
It's so unusual for me to carry on this way
I tell you ...
I can't sleep at night
Wanting to hold her tight
I've tried so hard to convince myself
That this feeling just can't be right, and I'm tellin' you
It's too late to turn back now
I believe, I believe, I believe I'm fallin' in love
It's too late to turn back now
I believe, I believe, I believe I'm falling in love
It's too late to turn back now
I believe, I believe, I believe I'm falling in love
It's too late, Baby....
Whoa-oh
I wouldn't mind it if I knew she really loved me too
But I hate to think that I'm in love alone and there's nothing that I can do
Whoa
It's too late to turn back now
I believe, I believe, I believe I'm fallin' in love
It's too late to turn back now
I believe, I believe, I believe I'm falling in love
It's too late to turn back now
I believe, I believe, I believe I'm falling in love
It's too late

Songwriters: Eddie Cornileus
Too Late to Turn Back Now lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Biking on ... but only in my mind ...



As I posted here not all that long ago (October 13--link to that post), I've realized in recent months that it's time to dismount from my bicycle for the final time. I've got balance issues now (curse them all!), and it's just not safe to be rolling around as if I were still 12 years old.

It was a hard choice. I've loved being on a bicycle since I first managed to "stay up" back in Amarillo, Texas, 1952-ish. I got the bike you see pictured above in 1995, a Schwinn, and have ridden it ever since, mostly just around town, though during the years I was teaching at Western Reserve Academy (2001-11), I rode it up to school (a few blocks away) every decent day--fall, spring.

When the snow flew, I would take it to the basement where it would wait impatiently for late March, when I would haul it back up the stairs, jam it into the car, and take it over to Eddy's in Stow, where I'd bought that Schwinn, and where I've had it serviced each spring since 1995.

Once I decided it was time to give it up, I offered it to our son and his family first--but they're all "biked up" for the nonce, so yesterday I put a note on Facebook: first come, first serve.

The first to reply was from Bill Cook, a student from Aurora Middle School in the late 1960s, very early in my career. I'm grateful that Bill doesn't remember all that well the 24-year-old me, trying to be a good teacher, failing just about every day ... okay, every period.

Bill--who loves fishing and hunting (and thus reminds me of my dad and uncles)--came by yesterday afternoon, the first time I'm seen him since, oh, maybe 1969? We had a good talk; I showed him a few things about the bike; he loaded it up ... and off he went. I'm sure he didn't see my tears as he was backing out.

I was gloomy the rest of the day as I struggled to accept yet another reminder that I Ain't What I Was. Or, more accurate, I Ain't What I Want to Be.

But so it goes in Mortality World.

Anyway, I'm glad Bill has it--glad for a personal connection--happy to think of him wheeling around on that thing that had brought me so much pleasure since 1995.

Let's end with this: I had one bad wreck on it. I was riding up to WRA one morning (in 2006 or so) to teach and, fortunately, was only inching along, when the front wheel caught in a crack in the road, and the next thing I knew I was on the ground.

There was no slow-motion-Gee-I'm-falling moment. I was riding. Then I was on the ground.

I was wearing a helmet, fortunately, so when my head smacked into the concrete, nothing cracked but the helmet. Some scuffs on my elbows and knees.

And a new appreciation--as if I needed one!--of how fragile, how evanescent all of this is. We're riding along ... until we're not.

So ... ride on, Bill, forever and ever and ever.

And I will be riding that bike, too--in my memory, in my dreams--the wind in my face, the future an endless road unspooling ahead of me ...

yesterday with Bill Cook

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Travelin' Man ... Not So Much Anymore ...



Later today, I'll be going down to the Post Office to begin the process of renewing my passport. I'm not sure why. It's pretty certain I'll not be traveling outside the country from now on. Unlike Ulysses in Tennyson's eponymous poem, although I would love to keep traveling--"to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield" (as the older Ulysses puts it), I'm just not capable of sailing with him these days. (Link to entire poem.)

It wasn't always so, of course. I managed to go to Europe several times--once, in the spring of 1999, chasing Mary Shelley's ghost all over Europe (England-Wales-France-Switzerland-Germany-Italy). And for nearly twenty consecutive years, Joyce and I drove up to Stratford, Ontario, for an August week of play-going at the Stratford Theater Festival. This year ... we couldn't do it. Had to cancel our reservations, and few things I've done in my life have been more painful than that.

We'd loved that Stratford week. We had a nice hotel right downtown. We'd arrive on Monday evening. Park the car. And not drive again (unless we wanted to) until we headed home late Sunday afternoon after having seen eleven plays in six days (several, always, by the Bard). Otherwise, we walked everywhere. The Festival has four venues, all within walking distance from our hotel--and so we did. Such delightful exhaustion at the end of all ...

Until very recently, Joyce and I would take long car trips around the country--to visit family or (often often!) to check out literary sites: the homes (and graves) of American authors, settings for their stories and novels, etc. These trips with her were among the greatest joys of my life.

I never used to worry about travel; if I wanted to go somewhere and do something, I did. One of my favorites? Going to southeastern Alaska in August 1993, hiking over the Chilkoot Trail into the Canadian Yukon--the very trail that figures prominently in The Call of the Wild.

But ...

"Things fall apart," as Yeats reminded us. And among those "things" are, unfortunately, people. As regular visitors to this site know, I have been in a struggle with metastatic prostate cancer since my first diagnosis late in 2004, and as the treatments have become ever more demanding, the meds more diminishing and enervating, I just don't have the energy to do even a sliver of the things I used to do--and want to do.

And, oh, those things I still want to do! That I still dream of doing! A road trip to see all the places I lived in the Southwest when I was a boy ... flying to visit places I've never been--and want to be (Scotland, where my mother spent a year of her girlhood; Hawaii--the only state I have not seen; the Far East; Central and South America; the ...).

And so, today, I will drive down to the Post Office, submit my documents for a passport renewal, thereby making it possible, if never really probable, to drive or wing off to a wider world, my love beside me, holding my hand.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Drippy Days--and Ray Bradbury



Those of you who live around here (northeastern Ohio) know that it has been One Drippy Fall. Our sump pump is about to file a grievance with its labor union, and as dark clouds fill our skies almost every day, I find my mood in a descending elevator--a rapidly descending elevator. (Have the cables broken?)

Ah, but yesterday! Sunday! It was a gorgeous day. The sun was out, dawn to dark (which, of course, came an hour earlier: EST replacing EDT ... grrr), and I could feel psychological moods all over the region lifting--even soaring.

And then, of course, it was gone. Gloomy day today.

But yesterday, talking with Joyce, I thought of that 1954 Ray Bradbury story I used to teach now and then--"All Summer in a Day." (Link to the story--scroll down a little.)

The story takes place on planet Venus--in an elementary school that very much resembles one of ours--as well it should. It's a school for the children of the "rocket men and women who had come to a raining world to set up civilization and live out their lives" (Stories of Ray Bradbury, 532).

For seven years it rains every day; then the sun emerges for a brief visit of a single hour before retreating behind the dripping clouds for another seven years.

Our focus is on Margot, a little girl in the school. She's a quiet child, bright and imaginative. And so the other kids don't like her.

But Margot's "biggest crime"? (534). She'd been on Venus only five years; she remembered the sun from her years in ... Ohio! (Shows you how old the story is!)

This annoys the other kids so profoundly that, at recess, they lock her in a closet.

And then the sun emerges ... they all run outside ... surges of joy and wonder. For an hour (with the teacher's permission) they run around and play.

The rain returns. And back inside they go.

Then one girl remembers Margot in the closet.

"They walked over to the closet door slowly and stood by it.
Behind that closet door was only silence.
They unlocked the door ..." (536).

There's more--don't want to spoil the ending for you!

It's a story about human cruelty, isn't it--writ small? We begin early, we humans. Some of us grow up--and change. Others perfect the art of tormenting others, spend their lives practicing it--spend their lives closing doors on others, locking those doors so that other people will never see the sun. Or feel its warmth.


Saturday, November 3, 2018

About Those Snickers Bars ...


They were a nickel when I was a kid--not the little ones (they didn't even exist). No, the full-sized ones. (Though I will confess the full-sized ones today are bigger than they were in early 1950s' Oklahoma.)

I liked Milky Way better--at first. It took me a bit of a while to grow fond of peanuts, though once I did, I grew more than "fond"; I became an addict.

I had a good role model for that. Till very near the end of his life, Dad would sit and watch football on TV, maintaining all the while a firm grip on a jar of dry-roasted peanuts. He would eat only a couple at a time--prudent, you know!--but by the end of the game, they were usually all gone. And though I loved my dad, he did not share his peanuts very graciously.

I evolved in the same way from smooth to crunchy peanut butter. I ate the latter pretty much every day during my school years--as a student, as a public-school teacher. At the old Saywell's Drug Store (and soda fountain) here in Hudson (RIP), I used to get a bagel with crunchy every morning.

And Snickers have remained an ... issue.

The last few years I've been trying to keep my weight ... decent. (I'm on a med that makes it very hard to do so.) So ... I have eschewed (rather than chewed) Snickers bars, and I rarely now do what I often used to do: take with me to bed a jar of Skippy Super Chunk and a table knife. (Guess what happens?)

I haven't had a Snickers bar in a long time. Years?

And then came Halloween. Our son and his family came over--and with them: enough candy to feed the 5000. I resisted for a good long while.

Then thought I'd, you know, just have one of the little Snickers guys.

First bite of a Snickers (for me) = a sip of beer for an alcoholic. I quickly snarfed three more. Then sent our older grandson, Logan (13), back out into the street to get some more. He returned with a full-size. I was so thrilled I changed my will.

Later, after they left for home and we went up to bed, I saw that Logan had left two more bars on the bed for me. I asked Joyce if she wanted one, didn't wait to hear her answer, and inhaled them both, barely leaving time to remove the wrappers.

Next day--I felt that dire (!) combination of self-disgust and immense post-pleasure high.

And last night? A jar of Skippy followed me up the stairs to bed.

Today I'm going to ... reform. Find (or Found) a Peanut Butter/Snickers-o-holics Anonymous. Get some help. Before I morph into the Pillsbury Doughboy--the peanut-butter/Snickers version.

P.S.--Today, on Facebook I posted this pathetic piece of doggerel:


On Halloween …

I stared with love into the stars—
Then ate a pile of Snickers bars.

I wondered if that glow was Mars—
Then ate a pile of Snickers bars.

I do not drink—don’t go to bars—
But I’ll eat piles of Snickers bars.

I often get annoyed with cars—
But never with my Snickers bars.

I never shot too many pars—
But I can binge on Snickers bars.

Well, Halloween’s just once a year—
A good thing, really—for it’s clear
That it’s not safe to put me near

Those Snickers bars.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Oh, Deer ...

Oct 31, 2018
Just before lunch yesterday, looking out a kitchen window, I saw we had a visitor in the back yard. A doe. (See pic above.) I snapped that pic, put in on Facebook, thought: That's a first.

Oh, I'd seen evidence of deer on our property before (e.g., all our day lily blossoms missing overnight one year!). And I'd seen deer around the streets of Hudson--though not all that often. But this was the first one I'd seen actually in our yard.

I yelped upstairs to Joyce so that she could see the doe before Bambi's mom moved on to greener pastures.

But the doe stayed all afternoon, never really moving from "her" spot in the corner. (And, of course, I have no idea when she originally arrived.) Sometimes she would browse; sometimes she would lie down and appear to be asleep ... or dead? we wondered.

When I got home from the health club around 4, she was still there. And we began to worry: It was trick-or-treat night in our neighborhood (6-8 p.m.), and I was concerned that once it grew dark, she, sensing all the activity (and weird-looking creatures!), would perhaps panic and run out, maybe colliding with some kids. (No, dear kids, that was not a big person in a costume!)

So I called 911.

I explained the situation to the dispatcher, and she said, "Just shoo it away. We don't deal with these kinds of things."

Oh.

Joyce and I looked at each other. Headed out into the back yard.

The doe, lying down, regarded us with calm (we thought). I clapped my hands, moved closer. And with no warning whatsoever, she leapt to her feet and sprinted out of our back yard. I caught a glimpse of her racing across our street (no cars coming ... whew ... for she did not stop and look both ways before crossing!).

And where she went thereafter? Who knows?

We felt, I think, a mixture of relief and sorrow. It was kind of nice, having her as a guest for a while. But it couldn't be permanent, you know? And we were glad no little ghosts and Star Wars characters got blindsided by a deer.

I did learn a new appreciation for something, though--for that old saying ran like a deer. That thing moved, my friends, reaching Olympic speed almost immediately. Both graceful and panicky at the same time.

Sort of the way you and I move through life ...

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Old Man & the Gun--The original story ...



When we saw The Old Man & the Gun the other night, I noticed that the screenplay had come from a piece in the New Yorker. I decided I would download the piece (a subscriber's privilege!) and read it. And this morning I did.

It originally ran (under the same title) on January 27, 2003, and was written by staff writer David Grann. He spent many hours interviewing the "old man"--Forrest Tucker--in a Fort Worth, TX, prison--and as I was reading the piece, I had one of those "duh!" moments when I realized that the title was a take on The Old Man & the Sea. (Duh! Duh! Duh!)

There were quite a few differences between the film and the "truth"--another "duh!" moment! For example, the whole Sissy Spacek aspect of the story (a woman he meets while escaping a robbery, a woman he gets involved with) did not happen at all--though some aspects of their relationship are evident in other relationships he had.

He also--for a term--had one accomplice, not the two we see in the film. He also had more weapons available than the film showed us--though he never used them, just let the tellers and bank officials know that he had them.

We learn a lot more of his biography in the article--all is kind of mysterious in the movie. And we learn, as well, that he'd hoped for a career as a musician (sax and clarinet). Didn't work out.

The multiple prison and jail escapes referenced in the film are also based on fact--including the dazzler from San Quentin that I will not say more about lest you still plan to see the film.

One of his pursuers (played by Casey Affleck--very well--in the film) was, indeed, Sgt. John Hunt, whose looks Affleck mirrored: "a drooping mustache and a slight paunch," says the New Yorker).

We learn, too, that Tucker wrote his own story and tried to peddle it in Hollywood (to Clint Eastwood!), but all came to nought (till now), so he returned to bank robbery.

Tucker also had a son and a daughter (by different women), both of whom Grann spoke to. And some interesting comments they had about a father they'd never known.

One of the cool moments in the film--when he presents a list of his escapes to Sissy Spacek--has a basis in reality, too: He showed the list to Grann instead, and the final number in the list (a bit larger number than in the film) has the same characteristic--which I'll not reveal, in deference to those of you who've not yet seen the film.

A long article--some twenty pages printed out--but worth every second I spent with it.


Monday, October 29, 2018

Sunday Sundries, 205


1. HBOTW [Human Being of the Week]: Yes, a new category--getting a little weary of all the AH-ery in the world (your world, mine, the Big World). So, every now and then, I'm going to honor here a Human Being--someone who did something ... human ... during the week. And here's the first: A few weeks ago our car was totaled at a four-way stop when a driver approaching from our left ignored the stop sign entirely and plowed through the intersection, hitting us so hard that his car shoved ours clear across the intersection and up over the curb. Yesterday, I was leaving the house after lunch to walk over to the coffee shop (visit #2 of the day!), and a car pulled up near our house. A guy got out--the guy who'd hit us. He'd come by to apologize (again--he'd done so at the site) and to make sure we were both okay. He said he was completely ashamed of himself, of his inattention, etc. I thanked him for his kindness, and as I continued my walk over to the coffee shop, I thought of a new award category!

2. Last night, Joyce and I drove over to Kent to see the latest Robert Redford film, The Old Man & the Gun, based on a true story (published in the New Yorker--I'm going to download and read it!) about a genial guy who has spent his life (when he's not in prison) robbing banks. His victims actually kind of like him--he's so polite, so happy. Danny Glover and Tom Waits are his accomplices; Casey Affleck is a cop pursuing him (reluctantly so, later on); Sissy Spacek is a woman he meets while fleeing the cops--gets involved with her.



It was old-fashioned filmmaking (which I love): lots of interesting dialogue, close-ups of our aging heroes, lots of irony and humor. Wonderful acting all the way through.

Near the end is a great montage of moments showing his sixteen previous escapes from prison ... so clever.

Link to film trailer.

3. I finished three books this week.

     - One, via Kindle, is the most recent in Craig Johnson's great series about Walt Longmire, a present-day sheriff in Wyoming (some of the stories were adapted for a TV series, which you can stream, but that series bears a weak resemblance to the books).


The latest one--The Depth of Winter (released just a month ago)--picks up where the previous one (The Western Star) left off. At the end of that one, a Very Bad Guy kidnapped Longmire's daughter, Cady (an attorney), took her to Mexico, and this new novel shows Longmire in pursuit. Lots of action; some very bad things happen. But ... since the novel is told in the 1st person, we're pretty sure that Longmire is going to survive!

So now I have to grieve until another one appears ... I've read them all!

     - Since writer Nathaniel Philbrick is coming to speak at the Hudson Library and Historical Society on November 7, I've been reading a few of his recent books that I'd not gotten around to (I've read most of his work).

  • I read his new book first (the one, presumably, he's going to be talking about in Hudson): In the Hurricane's Eye: The Genius of George Washington & the Victory at Yorktown. The title and subtitle pretty much tell you what the story's all about--how the revolutionaries won the war--with enormous help from the French navy. It's pretty simple: no French navy = no victory in the Revolutionary War.
    • One of the things that struck me here: how much of the fate of the war was due to the shifting winds and tides. And how much of the victory was possible because each side didn't really know what the other was doing--or even where they were--until they saw them. Washington, for example, had moved many miles toward Yorktown before the English were even aware of it.
    • Also--for you Hiram College grads from the 1960s: Philbrick credits Hiram grad James Kirby Martin--an eminent Revolutionary historian now--both in his acknowledgements and in the bibliography. Jim is a long-ago "brother" in a local Hiram College fraternity--and current Facebook friend.
  • The second was a very brief volume (I read it in two sittings): Why Read Moby-Dick? (2011). This is a very good general introduction to Melville's great work: Philbrick talks about the plot and development of the novel, about Melville's complicated friendship with Nathaniel Hawthorne (15 years older that Melville), and about the enduring relevance of the book (which he calls America's "greatest").
    • Speaking of Ahab, Philbrick writes about "how susceptible we ordinary people are to the seductive power of a great and demented man" (37) Hmmm ...
    • I loved the final sentence, too: "This redemptive mixture of skepticism and hope, this gentle stoicism in the face of a short, ridiculous, and irrational life, is why I read Moby-Dick" (127).


4. A sad week for streaming: We finished all the available episodes of The Doctor Blake Mysteries and Unforgotten. Grief until more are ready for us to consume. We've started (via Netflix) a new series--Bodyguard. Watching, oh, about 20 min last night. TENSE ... well-done.


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

     - from wordsmith.org (notice the Tolkien connection)

eucatastrophe (yoo-kuh-TAS-truh-fee)
MEANING: noun: A happy ending, especially one in which, instead of an impending disaster, a sudden turn leads to a favorable resolution of the story.
ETYMOLOGY:Coined by J.R.R. Tolkien in a letter in 1944, from Greek eu- (good) + catastrophe, from kata- (down) + strophe (turning). Earliest documented use 1944.
USAGE: “The contrived eucatastrophe of Dennis’s play seemingly resonated with and satisfied the audiences.”

Alison Forsyth; Greek Tragedy and the British Theatre, 1660-1914; Theatre Journal (Baltimore, Maryland); Oct 2007.




Saturday, October 27, 2018

Feeling Less Than ... Able?



My dad--who died on Nov. 30, 1999--did not keep up with the technology of his age. Although my mom had owned and used an early Apple computer (and would later use more advanced computers + a cell phone), Dad's technological savvy pretty much ended with the TV remote, a great gift to him since he, in his later years, was barely mobile.

Dad never used an ATM, never even pumped his own gas.

My late friend and teaching colleague of fifty years Andy Kmetz had the similar attitudes of a techie Luddite. He could use a cassette tape player/recorder; that was about it. In his later years, I tried to get him to buy a smart phone, to get on Facebook, where he could have hooked up with the thousands of former students who loved him, but he was impossible to convince. (He even used some coarse language!)

I have tried to keep up as the years have flowed along. Computers. Smart phones. Digital projectors. Video streaming. Facebook. Etc.

But last night Joyce and I went out to a phone store, where I got a new smart phone, a device that has, over the past hours since I've owned it, proved itself smarter than I. Just a few minutes ago, for example, I finally got back on Google and Gmail (and Blogspot!) after hours of frustrating password changes, verification codes, warnings that I might not be who I say I am, etc. I was about ready to hurl the thing through the window in my study.

But then ... things got worse ... Reaching into my backpack for my Kindle (needed to change the Google/Gmail password), I caught my hand on something, and before I'd really noticed, blood was flowing from the back of my hand and onto the thigh of my jeans. I soon looked like Charles Manson after you-know-what.

And so I did what all "mature" men do: I wept.

Made me think of that great Shel Silverstein poem "The Little Boy and the Old Man": I put in boldface the relevant couplet.

Said the little boy, 'Sometimes I drop my spoon.'
Said the old man, 'I do that too.'
The little boy whispered, 'I wet my pants.'
'I do that too,' laughed the little old man.
Said the little boy, 'I often cry.'
The old man nodded, 'So do I.'
'But worst of all,' said the boy, 'it seems
Grown-ups don't pay attention to me.'
And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
'I know what you mean,' said the little old man.

So ... as of right now ... I'm on Google/Gmail--every device except my iPad, which I'm afraid to fuss with because, well, it might not work, and that means I would have to go through all the re-setting again--and it would also mean, of course, that I'd have to, you know, cry.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Back to Victoria Frankenstein?



It was more than four years ago when I published--via Kindle Direct--the second of a projected three-volume YA narrative called The Papers of Victoria Frankenstein.

Victoria, whom we meet as an 8th grader in the early and mid-1990s, is a direct descendant of the Frankenstein family (yes, that Frankenstein), a fact she discovers in the first book.

She has a talent for science (surprise!), and she finds herself caught up in some dark adventures. I ended the second volume at Niagara Falls, where ... ain't tellin' you.

Victoria tells her own story--but her "papers" are edited and arranged by her 8th grade English teacher, Mr. Bob Walton, to whom she has entrusted her tale. (And you know how trustworthy 8th grade English teachers are!)

After I finished that second volume (subtitled: Her Homework Ate My Dog), I put myself on Pause with the story and decided I wanted to complete my memoir Frankenstein Sundae, a volume about my long pursuit of Mary Shelley and her works.

I thought I could do that work quickly. I couldn't. I had to go back and re-read things; I had to read many volumes that had come out about Mary and her circle since I'd published (via Kindle Direct) my YA bio of Mary--The Mother of the Monster (2012).

So ... some years passed, and it wasn't until just recently (August) that I finally uploaded Frankenstein Sundae to Kindle Direct. I wasn't crazy about the condition it was in, but I didn't have any more energy to devote to it. I figured something was better than nothing--a calculation that's not always--to be generous--accurate.

As you have no doubt inferred, health and personal issues have complicated all. Within the last year, my mother died, one of my greatest friends and colleagues (Andy Kmetz) died, a couple of my fine former students died. Since January 2018, I've undergone (for my metastatic prostate cancer) immunotherapy and my second round of radiation treatments. I suffer--all day, every day--from a mild vertigo. And I'm on some related meds that sap my energy, that increase my vulnerability to depression. Not the best of working conditions.

So ... Victoria has had to wait. But--lately--I've heard her calling. Time to finish my story, isn't it? she asks.

I suppose it is.

I have a bunch of notes I compiled a few years ago about this final volume, but I'm going to have to quickly re-read the first two to remind myself what-in-the-hell went on in them. And it will take some time to get back Victoria's "voice."

But I'm going to give it a whirl. And--as I did with the previous volumes--I will serialize the first draft of vol. 3 on this site, 2-3 days/week.

It will probably be a few weeks from now when I start, but I'm beginning to look forward to it. I'll keep you ... posted!




Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Still Taking Notes ... Why?



Early in my adulthood (yes, I've had one--despite some contrary evidence) I would underline sentences and passages in the books I was reading, a habit from college days when I read the assigned books (well, let's be honest: most of them ... let's be more honest: some of them).

But I soon realized that my markings were actually diminishing the value of the books--I mean, it's not as if F. Scott Fitzgerald were underlining Hemingway's latest, right?

So I began taking notes on notebook paper, a practice I continue to this day.

For years, it made sense. I was teaching English, and I often referred to those notes for things I was doing in class. Obviously, I can't remember everything I've read (but, oh, do I wish I could!). In fact, I find it somewhat embarrassing now when people ask me if I've been reading anything good. Sure, I have ... but give me a few hours to remember what they are ... Quick recall is an early casualty in the War Against Increasing Age.

Now, I don't take notes on every book I read. There are quite I few I read merely for entertainment. Thrillers, mysteries, etc. And there are others I annotate (in light pencil) in the front of the book--I just did this with the latest Nathaniel Philbrick title, In the Hurricane's Eye (2018), a book about the American victory at Yorktown, the battle that essentially ended the Revolutionary War. (I will post more about this book in Sunday Sundries.) Joyce will erase those notes when/if she puts the title up for sale.


But for many books--mostly literary fiction and biography and literary criticism and history--I take pages and pages and pages of notes, pages that I then file in our ever billowing and multiplying file cabinets out on the glassed-in porch at the back of the house.

I also review a book/week for Kirkus Reviews (I'm closing in on 1500 reviews for them; I began in March 1999), and those notes are in file boxes stacked in the basement--a dry basement, now that we have spent ... a lot ... having it waterproofed.

And each time I start a new book, a new first page of notes, I ask myself--in a voice that has become increasingly loud and insistent (in my head, not in the air)--Why are you doing this?

I'm not going to go back into the classroom. I've not been invited to do a talk/speech in a couple of years--and am not likely to be asked again (what could an Old Guy possibly have to say that's relevant?). And, yes, I do refer occasionally to those files--checking because of something I'm writing--but I'd say that, oh, 95% of the files I've never opened--except to stick in some more notes on the same subject.

So the question remains: Why am I doing this?

And the only answer I have--feeble as it seems--is this: Because I need to.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Some Monday Maunderings



1. A mild confession: I have once again--for, oh, the thirty-seventh time?--begun screening the entire run (100+ episodes) of The Rockford Files, a favorite TV show from ... long ago (1974-80). I watched them over and over when they were on broadcast TV, watched them over and over again on VHS, watched them over and over again when I could stream them all on Netflix (no longer available--they're on Hulu, though), watched them over and over again on the set of DVD's I now have.



Joyce has (almost) limitless patience, but in the past few years I've watched them only while waiting in bed for her to arrive from her study--fifteen, maybe twenty, minutes a night. She likes the show, too, but I can tell that my ... obsession ... with it is a bit ... worrisome? She fears/knows I am veering near addiction?

Link to some video.


2. Weird dream: Last night I had a dream that was both realistic--very--and impossible, as well. I was looking in the sky and saw a seagull in flight; I then saw a smaller seagull land on its back and remove from that larger gull's head-feathers a large insect (looked like a cricket!) and fling it into the air.

I was telling someone (who was it?) about this remarkable sight when I looked overhead again and saw a yellow truck in the air, a truck being pulled along by an airplane. A bird was sitting on the roof of the truck, and another, smaller bird of a different species (I didn't recognize either one, by the way) landed on the head of the larger and removed another insect (though I couldn't tell what it was).

Just to show you how weird the whole thing was: In the dream, I thought the bird behavior was odder and more remarkable than the fact that an airplane was towing a yellow truck!

I will restrain myself re: the interpretation of dreams.

No, I won't. Dream birds help one another ... we should, too!


3. I've been a peanut-butter freak my entire life. (I even have an entire post about it from some years ago. (Link to that post from March 17, 2013.) I ate it every day in my schoolboy lunches; I carried a peanut-butter sandwich to school with me every day when I was teaching; I had a bagel swabbed with crunchy peanut butter every morning for breakfast at the old Saywell's Drug here in Hudson; in recent years I have frequently embarrassed myself by sitting in front of the TV, table knife and a jar of Jif (Extra Crunchy), the knife making frequent trips into the jar and equally frequent trips into my mouth.

I've been resisting it lately, though. Lots of calories, I know, and one of the meds I'm on makes it very difficult to lose weight. And, of course, one tablespoon of peanut butter = nearly 100 calories (about a mile of running).

Thirty-five knife-visits to the jar = an entire pound of addition to my midriff.

So ... the jar of Midriff Jif, for the nonce, lives, untouched, in a kitchen cabinet.

Until, of course, the next FIT hits me, and I begin rummaging in the dinnerware drawer for a sturdy knife ...