Dawn Reader

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

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 ...

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Sunday Sundries, 204

1. AOTW: Lots of candidates this week, but let's go with the health club, shall we? In the men's locker room, there are a few benches--all fairly short. Sharing--as in kindergarten--is essential. This week, when I came in to get dressed, some guys had left their gym bags on the bench nearest my locker, covering virtually its entire length. Okay. I undressed, put on my workout clothes (that reveal my incredible fitness!), did my workout (about an hour), came back: The bags were still there. Showered, came back. The bags were still there. I thought about a bonfire--or tossing them in the trash. Restrained myself. Decided, instead, I'd "honor" them here ...

2. Last night, Joyce and I drove over to Kent to see The Hate U Give, a moving and powerful film that is guaranteed to polarize--as if we aren't already! A policeman shoots an unarmed black teen after a traffic stop--and we see all the fallout. Virtually everyone here is scarred and hurt (and, thus, human)--from the cops to the residents of the community that suffered the loss of the young man, who, by the way, was not entirely "innocent": He dealt drugs. But in this place, he had few choices, I fear.

The story focuses on a young girl--Starr--who is attending a mostly white prep school and living something of a schizophrenic life: getting by at the school, getting by in the neighborhood. She is in the car when the shooting occurs (he was a lifelong friend), and then her life, which had been complicated before, becomes a series of Gordian knots.

It's difficult to watch for a number of reasons. My dad's brother Clark was a lifelong policeman (he was buried in full uniform + Sam Browne belt); Dad himself worked a bit as one, too, during the Depression. Some of my former students are cops--and, from what I can tell, excellent ones.

But what the film deals with is, in one sense, our predispositions: What do we expect from a cop? From a young black man late at night?

And what on earth are we going to do about it? Doing nothing leaves families devastated, communities angry and explosive, cops defensive and (I would guess?) even more worried about themselves out there in the streets. Not good. But we seem--as a country--to lack the determination to search for solutions. To try things. And this stance of ours leaves us even more bitterly divided--and makes it all the more certain that more such tragic incidents will continue to occur.

I had some complaints about the script--the ending seemed a bit over the top--but I was riveted by the story--by the performances--and grieved for everyone involved, especially for the family and friends of the young man.

And for us.

An important, provocative film.

Link to film trailer.

3. I finished two books this week:

     - One (via Kindle) is the antepenultimate (always wanted to use that word) novel in Ken Bruen's series about Irish P.I. Jack Taylor (there was a TV series, too--you can stream it). This was was called Green Hell, and it well deserves the title.

The narrative technique is a little different in this one. An American student in Galway (where all the stories are set) decides to write Jack's story (instead of the research he's supposed to be doing). This goes on for a while--until Bruen shifts us (I won't tell you why), and we're back to narrator Jack again, Jack who is, once again, falling apart in various ways--losing friends, etc. Murders to be solved. And, as usual, there's a shocker at the end--a Bruen trademark.

These are among the most unique thrillers I've ever read--in style, in subject matter. And I'm starting to feel sorry for myself already as I have now begun the penultimate in the series.

     - I also finished Kate Atkinson's third novel (I'm working my way through them in order), Emotionally Weird (2000). As I noted briefly on Facebook this week, I greatly admired this novel (unbelievably clever and unusual technique--a writer supremely gifted, handles the language as if it were No Big Deal), but I did not enjoy it as much as I had her earlier two. (See previous "Sundries.")

The story involves a young woman--Effie--and her mother, Nora (but is she the mother? ... hmmm....). They are on an otherwise-abandoned island off the coast of Scotland, where Mom proposes that they entertain each other by telling their stories.

Well ... here we go!

Effie tells about her time as a student in a university English Department (savage satire at times), experiences that become increasingly complex as her story goes on. (She has some essays due; she's not getting them done.) Nora (in a different font) interrupts occasionally and tells Effie to make something more clear--or complains about a detail. Also included: excerpts from a piece of fiction that Effie's been working on. Nora's story is even more tangled and evasive--but as we go along, we learn some truths about the family, about Effie's heritage, etc.

And, yes, there's some canine involvement (see cover image).

So--as I said--so much to admire here, but I just did not "get into it" as much as I had with her previous books. I'll soon start novel #4! I am learning so much from her ... And I continue to wonder how on earth I had not read her before!

And it's not often you read a novel featuring a character killed by some falling volumes of the OED!

4. Last Word--a word I liked this week from one of my various online word-of-the-day providers ...

     - from dictionary.com

cyonaut [krahy-uh-nawt] noun
1. a person whose dead body has been preserved by the technique of cryonics.
QUOTES: ... cryonics ... has now been around for 60 years, since the death of retired psychology professor James H. Bedford. Alcor, the company that still has his body in a frozen chamber, calls him the first “cryonaut.”
-- Kat Eschner, "The First Cryonic Preservation Took Place Fifty Years Ago Today," Smithsonian, January 12, 2017

ORIGIN: The rare noun cryonaut derives clearly and simply from the Greek nouns krýos “icy cold” and naútēs “sailor.” Krýos comes from the Proto-Indo-European root kreus-, krus- “to freeze, form a crust,” from which Greek also derives krýstallos “ice” (English crystal). Krus- is also the source of Latin crusta “a hard covering, scab, crust.” Naútēs is a derivative of the noun naûs “ship,” from the same Proto-Indo-European source as Latin nāvis “ship,” nauta “sailor,” and nāvigāre “travel by ship.” Cryonaut entered English in the 20th century.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Every Now & Then, Some Decent News

Regular visitors to this site know that, now and then, I post news about my fourteen-year "encounter" with prostate cancer, a cancer that has now metastasized into my bones. Here's a bit more ...

A quick recap:

  • December 2004: detection of an issue in my prostate; biopsy; positive result
  • June 2005: prostatectomy (removal of the gland) at Cleveland Clinic
  • January 2009: the cancer having returned, I underwent 30 daily radiation treatments down at the Clinic; after a brief respite, the cancer returned
  • In the ensuing years I switched to University Hospitals (much closer--a branch of their Seidman Cancer Center is only about 25 minutes away)
  • About four years ago--quarterly Lupron treatments commenced (injections of a drug that suppresses testosterone, the "food" of prostate cancer)
  • January 2018: six sessions of immunotherapy: some T-cells removed, sent to Atlanta for anti-cancer boosting, reinfused into me.
  • September 2018: because my cancer had once again become active (in my spine, of all the damn places), I underwent 10 more radiation treatments at UH.
Which seem to be working, for the nonce. Below is part of the PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) chart I have been keeping. As you can see, I'm being tested every month now. I should, of course, have no PSA (my prostate is gone), and a measurable PSA indicates, instead, the presence of prostate cancer.

Anyway, the elevated August number was the one that prompted my oncologist to start me on a course of radiation treatments of three vertebrae in my spine. As you can see, the September number was showing an initial (positive) effect, and my most recent PSA test (last week) showed a substantial drop.

Joyce and I were relieved to see that number: small is good! But I'm also a realist: I know that the effects of the radiation are temporary. I am--to be blunt--incurable. The cancer will regroup, will find another place to set up headquarters, and we will soon be back at it once again.

But I will enjoy this coming month--until the date nears for the next test, early in November, and I will once again begin to wonder: Will this be the time the number will start to rise? Or will I have another month to pretend all is well?

6 August 2018
12 September 2018
16 October 2018

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Getting Older, Getting Wussier

There are many  things about getting older that I don't like--you can guess what they are. Most, of course, have been no real surprise to me--other than the fact that they happened to me (I guess, like many others, I considered myself immune from the lashings of the cat-'o-nine-tails called Life). Slowing down. Recalling details (I used to be good at Trivial Pursuit!). Weird stuff popping up and out on my skin--something I'd not really experienced since adolescence.

But one change that has surprised me is my increasing inability to deal with stress--not in "real life" (oh, have I learned to deal with that!) but on the screen. TV and films. (This is the "wussier" part of the title of this post.)

I used to love tense, exciting stories on the screen. In many ways they were my favorite genre. The only exception? Horror films. Never have really been a fan, despite my long, long, long, long fascination with all things Frankenstein. I haven't ever seen a Friday the 13th. Or chainsaw massacring. Or Halloween. Or anything on any Elm Street. (Oddly, in Oklahoma, back in the 1950s, we lived for a few years on Elm Avenue.)

Anyway, I now have a bit of ... trouble ... dealing with stress and tension on the screen. Best example? The shows that Joyce and I stream, the shows that end our day. We don't watch much TV. Some Daily Show or John Oliver with supper. Nothing in the evening. Not until about an hour before Lights Out. (And don't ask me when that is: The answer will depress you.) (Okay, 8:30.)

Right now we are streaming episodes of The Doctor Blake Mysteries and Unforgotten (thanks, Chris, for the suggestion: a great series that has had serious cardiac consequences for me). Doctor Blake is a little more mellow, so I can "take" more of it in the evening.

But Unforgotten? Awfully tense. Awfully, awfully, awfully tense at times. Sometimes I hit Pause after about five or ten minutes, switch over to some Netflix comedy special. Mike Birbiglia works for me. A calm, amusing storyteller. Or John Mulaney. Good ways to "cool off." To simmer down before the lights go out and the nightmares gather on Elm Street.

There have been other shows that have had this effect on me--Line of Duty comes to mind. A show about cops investigating other, corrupt cops in England. I nearly wore out the Pause button on that one.

BTW: I couldn't remember the title of Line of Duty just now, so I asked Google: "Cops investigate other cops in England?" And Line of Duty was number one! The Old Man's still got it! (He can still remember what Google is for!)

And speaking of horror and stress? How about the vicious political battles right now? Can't hit Pause fast or often enough.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Driving Scores

our new, unsmashed Prius
Because of our accident a couple of weeks ago, we had to buy a new car, and so, once again, we bought a Prius--our third (2007, 2012, 2018--and, no, I don't drink lattes or wear tasseled loafers). This one is so high-tech it's a little scary. Beeps when we drift out of a lane, get too close to something (even a drive-thru window).

And--worst of all--we get a score when we arrive wherever we're going. A grade. X/100. At first it was kind of amusing; now--occasionally--Joyce and I find ourselves in kind of a competition. "I got an 83," she'll say; I'll lie, say I got an 84 earlier in the day. Actually, I've ranged from 73-90.

The machine praises and prods us: "Good setting for heater." "Accelerate more moderately." That sort of thing.

We've had the car for a couple of weeks, and I for the life of me can't accurately predict what the score will be when we I pull into our driveway and turn off the car. I feel as if I've pretty much driven as always (I don't speed--four mpg over the posted limit; I try to avoid dumb, impatient moves, etc.), but the Prius doesn't agree with me, not always. It's like having a teacher whose grading standards vary, assignment to assignment. Student to student. Frustrating.

The mileage, by the way, is amazing. When we drive back and forth to Aurora (to Starbucks or McD's), a distance of, oh, 18 miles round trip (says Google Maps), we often get up to 70 mpg. I'll take it.

Here's what I'd find more useful: a scoring system that would permit me to advertise on the side of our car, in real time--in large, bright, legible letters--how other drivers are doing. Score and commentary.

On our Aurora trip last evening, for example, I would have loved to have been able to post things like this:

  • Why didn't you signal?
  • Why didn't you come to a full stop?
  • Why are you tailgating?
  • Can't you read the posted speed limit?
  • Why didn't you signal?
  • Why didn't you signal?
  • Why are you texting?
  • Why didn't you signal?
  • You know it wasn't your turn at the four-way stop?
  • Why didn't you signal?
And I'd prefer the old A-F grading system. And for last night? Lots of below-average scores. Perhaps, for some of those folks, it's time for detention? A note to Mom? A meeting with the counselor?

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Necessary Bakery

today's maple-pecan scones, just out of the oven
When I began typing this post, I could already smell the maple-pecan scones I'd mixed and popped into the oven about fifteen minutes ago. Ohio maple syrup. A cup of pecan halves. Organic flours (oat, wheat, white). Etc.

I eat a homemade scone nearly every morning--and have done so for a few years now. It's become, well, necessary--not for any pecuniary reason, not even for reasons of health (although I use Egg Beaters and vegetable "butter," etc.). It's psychologically necessary now.

I am not a professional baker. I've learned what I know by trial-and-error; I still make errors; I'm still learning. Occasionally I still dazzle myself when I discover something I should have known years ago.

Example: Just a couple of weeks ago I realized that if I left my bread dough going with the dough hook in the mixer a bit longer that I had been, adding more and more flour, that soon it would achieve such a robust consistency that I wouldn't really need to add more flour when I was kneading it afterward. (I knead the bread dough 100 times after I remove it from the mixer.)

As my Facebook friends know, I bake sourdough bread every Sunday morning using starter I bought in Skagway, Alaska, back in August 1986 when my son, Steve (14 at the time), and I flew there to explore sites related to The Call of the Wild (which I'd begun teaching my 8th graders, Steve among them) and to check out sites mentioned in the diary of my great-grandfather Addison Clark Dyer, who had gone on the Klondike Gold Rush, the Rush that figures prominently in Wild.

That starter is still alive in our refrigerator, waiting coolly to be fed and used every week. I often give bread to my son and his family (who live only about a half-hour away), and sometimes I have so many loaves in the fridge (and freezer) that I bake something else instead--muffins, waffles, pancakes. (I just gave a bunch of frozen waffles to Steve; they didn't last long, I heard.)

Now and then I also bake baguettes--not sourdough, just the plain old flour, water, salt, yeast. We like to have them when we have spaghetti, perhaps Joyce's favorite meal. (This I learned early, early in our marriage.)

As I said above, all of this baking, for me, is therapeutic. As I'm doing it, I feel myself becoming ... ageless. I began baking yeast bread in 1970, the first months of our marriage (shifted to sourdough in 1986), and have been doing it ever since.

So when I start a baking project now--getting the ingredients ready, mixing, shaping, etc.--I feel the years slip away. It is 1970 again, and I have just married the most wonderful human being, and we both are healthy and hopeful, and later, perhaps for supper, we will break bread once again. And Time will not begin to accelerate until the morning, and he will do so until I stop him once again by donning my apron, grabbing a sack of flour, some sea salt, ...

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Sunday Sundries, 203

1. AOTW: Well, our "winner" a week ago has to be the guy who ran through a four-way stop, hit us broadside, destroyed our car, banged me up a bit (Joyce, fortunately, was on the other side of the car). So ... his AOTWness was so egregious that I'm going to give him the award two weeks later, for, you see, I still have the bruises (physical and psychological) that accompany such an episode.

2. Last weekend Joyce and I went to the Kent Plaza Theater(s) to see A Star Is Born, a film we both enjoyed a lot more than we thought we would. (We were mostly interested in a "night out" + popcorn.)
I was really impressed with Lady Gaga--as an actor & a singer. She, to me, was absolutely believable in the role--the only exception: when Bradley Cooper called her out onto the stage for the first time, and she just soared off into song (no warm-up?). And I've always liked B. Cooper--all the way back to Wedding Crashers, which is the first time (I think) I saw him. Here--as you know--he starred, directed, wrote, et al.

The title of the film, of course, tells you all you need to know (also: the earlier versions of the film), so Surprise was not really a character in the film. But I have to say: I got swept up in it ... wept a few times ... soggy Old Man!

Link to film trailer.

3. I finished three books since last I posted a Sundries, so I'll say a little about them here, in reverse order of how I finished them.

     - I'd read (the Times?) about The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London (2018) by Christopher Skaife.

Skaife is a genial, unpretentious narrator and mixes in info about ravens and corvids in general with the seven birds now under his care at the Tower. He also gives us a bit of us own life (he'd been in the military more than twenty years), but mostly it's the story of the birds. We learn how the Tower acquired them, how they behave, what his bird-caring philosophy is (let them be ravens!); he also tells numerous stories about their lives--and their deaths.

And, yes, he mentions Edgar Poe, but notes he has not taught any of the Tower birds to say "Nevermore."

He has made himself an unofficial authority on the birds--reading everything (fiction and non-), talking with ornithologists, etc.

It was a book fun to read--easy to navigate--rewarding in lots of ways.

     - I don't know how on earth I got through nearly 74 years of life without reading Kate Atkinson, a writer, of whom (as I've noted here before) I'd never heard until reading a bit about her in the Times a couple of months ago. I'm reading her novels now in the order that she wrote them, and I have to say that her second one, Human Croquet (1997), absolutely blew me away--style, language, etc. She has it all.

Narrated mostly by Isobel, a young woman with a fabulous imagination (she finds herself time-traveling, imagining other worlds that seem gloriously real to her (and to us)), the story gradually explains the title. (In case you don't "get it," she has an illustration of the game at the end.) People collide in life--and sometimes they miss their hoops ...

Shakespeare pops up now and then--specifically and allusively. (There's an actual local production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.)  "The play's the thing," she says--as Hamlet once said (76)--and sentences like this pop up throughout. Allusions like this, as well, to Yeats and Tolstoy and numerous others.

There is a family murder (or is there?) and all kinds of collisions and conundrums and contradictions and revelations.

As I said, I was dazzled--and have already begun her next book, Emotionally Weird (2000). I've read about 50 pp and am, once again, besotted.

     - A couple of weeks ago I finished Stephen Markley's dark 2018 novel, Ohio, about a small rust-belt town and some former high-school classmates who, each without the knowledge of any of the others, is arriving back in town--for various reasons. We learn the histories of these folks, and not too much is good: drugs, alcohol, imploded dreams and hopes, sex, betrayal, death ... you name it. (He devotes an entire section to each of the characters.)

The lives of our principals intersect in various ways--sometimes in surprising ones--and by the end everything has become so dark that you're hoping for a ray of sunlight with some Disney characters dancing merrily around, singing about how wonderful life can be. But, of course, instead there's a storm ...

As a former teacher, by the way, I see the dire (!) results of the failures of public education--our failure to sufficiently invest in it, our allowing so many to graduate with so little hope of discovering, a dozen years later, that it was all worth it--that it has led to something besides despair, even a precipice.

4. Final Word--a word I liked recently from one of my various online word-of-the-day providers:

     = from Oxford English Dictionary

perduellion, n.  high treason. \ˌpərd(y)üˈelyən\
Forms:  15 perduellioun,   16– perduellion.
Origin: A borrowing from Latin. Etymons: Latin perduelliōn-, perduelliō.
Etymology: <  classical Latin perduelliōn-, perduelliō treason <  perduellis perduell n. + - -ion suffix1. Compare Italian perduellione (a1556).
 Roman Law and Sc. Law. Now hist.
1533  J. Bellenden tr. Livy Hist. Rome(1901) I. 60 This law of perduellioun was of maist horribil cryme.
1667  in  W. G. Scott-Moncrieff Rec. Proc. Justiciary Court Edinb.(1905) I. 193 Secundum jus commune which knows no other treason but perduellion and lese-majestie such as rising in feir of weir against the King.
1693 Apol. Clergy Scotl.  61 On the 13th of October 1582, the Assembly of the Church at Edenburg, did by an Act approve of that perduellion [sc. the Capture of the King].
1704  D. Lindsay Tryal & Condemnation David Lindsay  7 All Crimes of Perduellion, Rebellion, Treason, concealing of Treason, [etc.].
1774  S. Hallifax Anal. Rom. Law(1795) 130 The punishment of Perduellion was 1. Ultimum Supplicium, or Natural Death of the Criminal.
1818  Scott Heart of Mid-Lothian  xi, in Tales of my Landlord  2nd Ser. I. 309 I am of opinion..that this rising..to take away the life of a reprieved man, will prove little better than perduellion.
1897  A. Drucker tr. R. von Ihering Evol. of Aryan  ii. 53 In the oldest execution upon record, in the Perduellion suit of Horatius, the execution contemplated was by flogging.

1990  D. M. Walker Legal Hist. of Scotl.  II. 531 Mackenzie..distinguished perduellion, or high treason, or a rising in arms against the King.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Yet Another Day I Never Wanted to See ...

April 2018
Today, Joyce and I put the storm doors on the four outside doors that require them. Removed the screens. Installed the glass. Grim. Let's employ a cliche, shall we? "It just seems like yesterday that we were ...."  You know.

I never like this day, the storm-door day. The older I get, the more I wonder about things I never wondered about before--like will I fall down while I'm walking to the coffee shop? (It's happened.) How much longer will I be able to get upstairs? (So far, so good.) Will I be here when it's time to put the screens back on?

An even worse realization this summer: I shouldn't be riding my bike anymore.

Last spring, I took it to Eddy's over in Stow (as is my annual wont) to be "freshened up" for the riding season (well, my riding season). It took a bit this time. It's a 1995 Schwinn (I bought it at Eddy's back then), and it needed all kinds of stuff this time--from brakes to tires to ... more money than I wanted to spend. But I did.

But I've ridden it only about a half-dozen times this year. Down to Starbucks a few times (about a 1/2 mile), to the barber shop (ditto). I haven't ridden more for a variety of reasons, but the main one? I don't feel safe.

My balance has been an issue the past few years, and although it has affected me principally while I'm walking, just this year I've noticed that it's made me ... unreliable ... on the bike. A danger--to myself, to others.

So ... time to stop.

This is enormously sad for me. I first "stayed up" on a bike when I was in second grade, 1952-53, Amarillo, Texas. What a thrill! (Till I realized I didn't know how to stop and get off. A bit of a crash on the lawn--and a Texas Panhandle lawn does not provide the softest of landings.)

I went through a period in early adulthood when I didn't even have a bike, but, later on, I started riding again (Joyce did, too), helmet and all. When we lived in Aurora (1990-97), I used to ride it (on non-school days) up to Mickey D's in the morning for some coffee. I'd sit and read.

When we moved back to Hudson (fall of 1997), I began riding all over the place. I routinely rode each afternoon down to Starbucks (to sit and sip and read), but when Open Door Coffee Company arrived downtown, I found that I'd really rather be there, and there's no point riding over there. It's only about a quarter mile away, and much of it is downtown sidewalk--not 'posed to ride there (though some doofuses do).

When I was teaching up at Western Reserve Academy (2001-2011), I would ride up and back--sometimes several times a day--in "biking weather." (See pic below.) It's, oh, maybe 3/4 of a mile, total, there and back--and some of it is hilly. I liked that, climbing and descending. Zooming down the hill after classes ... pretty excitin'!

But all of that is over, I fear.

Yesterday, our son and his family were over for a bit. I offered my bike to them; they're thinking about it. Grandson Logan (13) said he didn't want to take my bike from me ... ensuing were my quiet tears that I don't think he saw.

If, ultimately, they can't use the thing, I'll put a note on Facebook, see if anyone wants it.

I would find that comforting, you know? Picturing some happy soul rolling along on that Schwinn, thinking, like me, that it could never end.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Anniversary ...

Mom's father is on her right; her mother (Alma), at the far left in the photo; her brother, Ronald, next to my dad

Mom and Dad were married seventy-nine years ago tomorrow—October 12, 1939. Charles Edward Dyer (he was 26) to Prudence Estelle Osborn (she was 20).

I’ve mentioned here before the odd coincidence that their marriage in 1939 was followed by mine to Joyce in 1969 and by our son’s (Steve’s) to Melissa in 1999. That means that one (or both) of their sons (now 9 and 13) must marry in 2029. I hope I’m around to witness that double marriage.

Mom and Dad had three sons: Richard Morgan Dyer (December 29, 1941); Daniel Osborn [my mother’s maiden name] Dyer (November 11, 1944); Edward Davis [Dad’s mother’s maiden name] Dyer (September 17, 1948).

Our folks were married in Enid, Oklahoma, a service performed at University Place Christian Church by Mom’s father, Dr. G. Edwin Osborn, a Disciples of Christ minister and professor of religion at Enid’s Phillips University.  (Founded in 1907, the university closed in 1998. Both of my parents attended it; Dad taught there until 1956 when he took a new position at Hiram College.).

Our parents were wonderful human beings. Dad, born on a farm near Milton-Freewater, Oregon, one of nearly a dozen children, was a superior high school athlete (football, track--a sprint champion). He could hit a baseball a country mile. He worked his way through college during the Depression, married Mom, enlisted in the Army as World War II commenced, served as a chaplain in both the Pacific and European Theaters, earned a Bronze Star for courage under fire, transferred to the Air Force, stayed in the Air Force Reserves, retiring as a Lt. Colonel. He taught at Hiram College from 1956-66, then moved with Mom to Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, where his good friend, former Hiram College president Paul Sharp, had recently assumed the reins.

Mom bore the brunt of the child-rearing (though Dad was a great and supportive presence), and we were three very different and challenging boys. (Nuff said!) Eventually, she got a teaching certificate, earned her master’s and doctorate (the latter at the Univ. of Pittsburgh), and, after a ten-year career teaching English at James A. Garfield High School in Garrettsville, Ohio, joined Dad on the faculty at Drake in 1966. They retired in the late 1970s and built a home on the coast in Cannon Beach, Oregon,  a place they loved, a place they stayed until Dad’s health began to fail. They built a more elder-friendly place in nearby Seaside, Oregon, but they did not stay long.

They soon moved to Pittsfield, Mass., not far from a summer/weekend/holiday place (an old farmhouse) my two brothers had bought in Becket, Mass., up in the Berkshires. (Both brothers lived--and still live--in the Boston area.)

Both Dad and Mom experienced very slow and painful declines. Cane, walker, wheelchair, bed …such a sad cycle to witness. Dad died at age 86 in November 1999; Mom lived until March 2018. She was 98 when she died.

One of the most striking things I remember about Dad—how thoroughly he supported Mom’s decisions to continue her education, to pursue her Ph.D., to become the superior scholar and educator he’d always known she could be.

No marriage is a gooshy Disney film, and—especially later—they had some rough periods. But they were both marvelous models for me—though, I confess, it took me a few years (okay, decades) to realize it. Their work ethic, their belief in the immense value of the life of the mind, their devotion to each other, to their families, to their children (and grandchildren—and great-grandchildren)—these are lessons I learned by watching them. By loving them.

And now--every day--I think of them--miss them--deeply, profoundly miss them.  And October 12 will forever after be a rough day for me. It is the first year of my life that I have had no parent to call, to congratulate.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Sundays with the Paper

Throughout my boyhood the Sunday paper was a Big Deal--in more ways than one. For one thing, the Sunday edition was always the heaviest paper of the week--chockablock with advertisements, feature stories, COMICS, coupons to clip, a magazine or two ... Even in Enid, Oklahoma (where I lived till I was nearly twelve), the paper was ... substantial.

When we moved to Hiram, Ohio, in the fall of 1956, we were met by the Sunday Cleveland Plain Dealer, which (for wee me) took two hands to carry inside. Dad got the sports pages first (it seemed he spent forever with them); older brother, Richard, took the Entertainment/Arts section; little brother (Dave) and I battled for the comics ... Mom got the front pages--or what were called the "women's" sections.

By clean-up time (after church, after dinner--which was usually pot roast, carrots, potatoes), it seemed that pieces of the paper were all over the living room. No one I knew had ever heard of recycling, so it all went in the trash. (Joyce, on the other hand, always had parakeets, so pieces of her Sunday paper--the Akron Beacon-Journal--lined the bottom of the cage.)

The years went by; I got bigger and stronger (not a lot, mind you), and soon it took just a single hand to carry in the Sunday paper. But it was still very substantial--thick and fun. And when I became a teacher, Sunday afternoons were generally dreary (paper-grading, lesson-planning), so spending hours with the Sunday paper was a temptation I fought fiercely to resist.

Later on, I would write book reviews for the Plain Dealer--about one Sunday a month--a gig I never would have predicted for myself when I was in school and was certain I had a limitless future in professional baseball and/or basketball.

Even more surprising (and pleasing): Our son, Steve, wrote for the Beacon-Journal for a decade.

And then ... the Internet ... and the slow shrinking of the Sunday paper. We still take three papers on Sunday--the New York Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Akron Beacon-Journal. But--combined--they don't quite equal the heft of the Plain Dealer alone in its glory days.

I would guess that reading the Sunday paper is no longer much of a family activity. In the coffee shop during the week I see very few people reading any newspaper--well, at least a "hard copy" of one. Most, of course, are online now. I read the Times every morning on my Kindle, the Plain Dealer and the Beacon-Journal on my iPad later in the day. And if I see something interesting, I will clip it from the actual paper and file it at home.


Habit. You never know ... right?

Today, for example, the Times had a review of a new film about Oscar Wilde ("mushy and meandering," sniffed the reviewer). But I had to clip it, right? Save it for that day when ... ? When ...?

Link to Times review.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Looks Can Fool You

I just uploaded this to Amazon/Kindle. (Should be available soon.) Below, I've posted the introductory material ...

Looks Can Fool You

And Other Doggerel and Wolferel

(July 17–September 26, 2018)


Daniel Dyer

Copyright © 2018 by Daniel Dyer

To Andy Kmetz (May 20, 1931–July 19, 2018)
Great colleague, dear friend …

Table of Contents


Hetero- (other than usual; other; different. Late Latin from Greek, from hetero ...)

It’s a prefix we employ in so many situations, don’t we? Heterosexual leaps to mind, does it not? But there are many other words, too, some more or less familiar—heterodox (as opposed to orthodox), among them. Many/Most of the rest of the words are science-related—heterospory (the production of microspores and megastores), heterothallic (having two or more morphological similar haploid phases or types of which individuals from the same type are mutually sterile but individuals from different types are cross-fertile—yeah, I don’t get it, either), and on and on and on.
A heteronym is a word that is spelled the same as another word—but pronounced differently and bearing a different meaning. I wind the clock while the wind howls outside. That sort of thing.
I discovered there are scores of these words,[i] and I’ve had a lot of fun putting them into verse, playing around with them.
I say verse because I need a less substantial word than poetry, an art form to which I don’t dare aspire: I know better. I love poetry; I love to memorize poetry. And sealed in my brain right now (at least temporarily!) are more than 220 poems—from the sublime (Shakespeare sonnets) to, well, “Casey at the Bat,” one I learned for our two baseball-loving grandsons. (And, okay, for myself: I’ve loved that Casey-striking-out story since my own baseball-loving boyhood.)
So—relax!—I do know the difference between poetry and what you will find in these pages.
Proof? Almost all of these lines come from my blog Daily Doggerel, which you can find with a wee bit of Googling. Just note: I did not call the blog Daily Poems or Daily Masterpieces of Literary Art.
I’ve divided this current collection into three sections: “Heteronyms” (the bulk of the publication), “Desultory Doggerel” (silly lines I composed to make my Facebook friends groan in despair), and “Wolferel” (a word I proudly coined a couple of years ago, a word I apply to lines that are somewhat more … substantial … than mere doggerel but which still no doubt fail the entrance exam to Poetry University).

I want to conclude here by adding a little about the dear friend to whom I’ve dedicated this volume. Andy Kmetz and I taught for a couple of decades together at the middle school in Aurora, Ohio. He taught art; I, English. Beginning in 1968 we worked together on nearly thirty play productions (a couple of them at the high school—Grease and Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor). Andy did our sets, the choreography (oh, could he dance!), and (for the most part) kept me sane throughout.
Andy was a superb teacher—talented, dedicated, inspiring. I should know. He taught me so much—on- and offstage. He retired about a decade before I did, but we remained close friends. Later, Joyce and I visited him about every week in his assisted-living unit nearby. We were with him at the nursing home the evening before he died. He had remained remarkably lucid throughout his final ordeal. A blessing and a curse.
Andy would have laughed at some of these lines, frowned at others, suggested some substantial cuts and/or revisions elsewhere. He didn’t ever really hold back, not the Andy I knew and loved. And so, dear friend, this one’s for you.

            —Daniel Dyer, 9 October 2018

[i] And thanks to this website for the useful list: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~cellis/heteronym.html