Dawn Reader

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

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Learning That You Can't

My eyeballs still betray me now and then. Even though I had lens-replacement surgery a few months ago (and my sight, when it works, is far better than it had been pre-surgery), if I ask too much of my eyes (several hours of steady reading say), they protest, they revolt, they go on strike: The page gets fuzzy; sometimes I see double. If I stop, lie down, close my eyes for a bit, they will recover, empowering me to do too much again so that they, once again, will protest, revolt, strike.

I was thinking about this today--about the times in your life when you discover that you just can't do want you want to do--or, even worse, dream to do.

Life, in a way, is discovering what you can't do--as well as what you can. And learning to be satisfied with (and even grateful for) the latter.

I learned in kindergarten that I couldn't draw worth a damn. (Kids around me were much better.) Oh well.

I learned, a bit later, I would never be the musician that my older brother was.

In middle school I learned I wasn't going to be the student that my older brother was. Oh well. Might as well quit trying, right? (And so I did for a few years.)

When my voice changed, I knew I would never be able to sing like my father, who had a wonderful tenor voice.

In high school I learned I was never going to be able to run as fast as I wanted to. Even my dad--an "old" man (almost 40!)--was faster than I.

In college I learned I was not going to be a professional baseball player, a professional basketball player, a professional tennis player. (And that eliminated all the sports I loved!)

When my younger brother started beating me (easily) in golf, I figured that sport, well, sucked. Why bother?

So ... by the time I started my first job--teaching 7th grade English (Language Arts) at the Aurora Middle School, Aurora, Ohio--I had quite a list of things I knew I would never be able to do. So I started figuring out what I could do--and do well enough to satisfy me.

I learned I could teach a little, could write a little, could direct school plays a little.

I met a wonderful woman and have spent the last 49 years learning how to love her. (Guys can be so slow, so dumb!)

And so my teaching career sailed on--and I loved it. I stole ideas from colleagues I admired (and, fortunately, there were a lot of them!); I read magazines and books and went to grad school and earned advanced degrees. I realized that learning stuff was, for me, among the most exciting things on earth.

I loved to travel--always had--and my interests in literary figures took me all over the U.S.--and lots of Europe.

I got older.

Illness noticed me one day, saw an opening, moved in. Impossible to evict.

And soon I was, once again, learning to accept the things that I could no longer do. Like read for hours on end. Like ride a bicycle. Like hop in a car and drive to Oregon. Like stay up late. Like go for a run (I used to jog 4-6 miles/day).

And so I grasp eagerly and greedily and thankfully those things I still can do. Laugh with Joyce. Bake bread. Write a book review once/week. Ride an exercise bike (oh, do I hate it!). Get my sorry behind over to the Open Door Coffee Company every morning--and most afternoons--to read and write and talk with a friend. Play with my grandsons (sort of). Write silly poems and sully Facebook with them.

Don't get me wrong: I am grateful for what that previous paragraph records. But, oh, do I miss sliding into second (safe!), hitting a key free throw, acing a tennis opponent, cooling down after a six-mile run, staying up late, reading for hours on end, coasting down a hill on my bike--something that has thrilled me since I was eight years old.

Between 2001-2011 I taught English (part-time) at Western Reserve Academy here in Hudson. It lies up the hill about three blocks from our house. In good weather I rode my bike. And when I came home during the day, flying down that hill on my bike, certain that I would be able to do this forever, well, I felt those twin joys of freedom of movement and self-delusion.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Buster Scruggs Coincidence

I've learned over the years that my memorization of poems annoys more than it impresses. As I think I've mentioned here before, because of this realization I tend to recite them only for Joyce--and our grandsons, who sometimes like to hear "Casey at the Bat" or "Jabberwocky." They and I recite "The Night Before Christmas" during our Christmas dinner.

Most other people, however, start looking at their watches or phones--or evince a compelling need to be ... elsewhere.

My "compelling need" (well, one of them) is to memorize poems. I don't know why. I just like to do it. As of today, I've nearly reached 225 of them--some very short ("Red Wheelbarrow"), some very long ("Renascence"), some famous ("The Road Not Taken"), some not ("Penelope's Lament"). Etc.

Anyway, as I noted here the other day, Joyce and I have been streaming, via Netflix, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the latest from the Coen Bros. A Western. The film is actually six stories (the titular one is first), and, as of last night, we have seen three of the six. We've laughed and wept and felt stunned. (We do love the Coen Bros!)

The piece we watched last night was called "Meal Ticket," and it involves an itinerant showman who stops at little communities, converts the back of his wagon into kind of a stage, waits for an audience to assemble, then draws the curtain, and we see ... a young man in a chair. He has no arms or legs. The audiences gasp. Then he launches into Shelley's "Ozymandias" (we hear the whole sonnet); we see snippets of the other pieces in his repertoire in our first viewing of him--and in a montage of subsequent appearance. (He recites, from memory, very, very well, by the way!)

Now here's the thing: Besides "Ozymandias" he delivers five other pieces:

  • The story of Cain and Abel
  • Shakespeare's sonnet "When to the sessions of sweet silent thought"
  • Shakespeare's sonnet "When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes"
  • The Gettysburg Address
  • Prospero's speech from The Tempest, "Our revels now are ended ...."
Save the Bible story, I have memorized all the others--and, in fact, recite "When in disgrace" to Joyce every year on our anniversary.

So ... Joyce and I are lying in bed last night, watching these sequences, and I am mumbling along with each of the literary passages. (Joyce, to her credit, displayed--feigned?--pleasure at my mumblings.)

And the damnedest thing happened: I started to annoy myself

So I stopped. And just listened to the young man ...  I could sense Relief lying next to me.

I will not tell you how this segment of the film ends, but if you do see it, I am guessing that you, like us, will be profoundly moved.

It might even convince you that, you know, memorizing is not all that bad a thing?

Monday, November 26, 2018

Nicholas Roeg, R.I.P.

Roeg with David Bowie on set of
The Man Who Fell to Earth, 1976
photo in Times today
Filmmaker Nicholas Roeg died the day after Thanksgiving. He was 90. (Link to New York Times obit.) When his early films came out, Joyce and I went to see them--and we were never quite the same afterward. They were all so ... different. And so were we, thanks to Roeg.

You can read about his films in the obit, but I want to write a little today about just one of them, Walkabout (1971), a film that could have ended or altered my teaching career.

In the mid-1970s I was teaching 7th graders at Harmon Middle School in Aurora, Ohio. English--which we called "Language Arts" at the time. I had settled on an idea for a literature unit--Coming of Age (seemed fitting for 12-year-olds). We read stories, talked about coming-of-age rituals here and there, we wrote about the process in our world. And I decided--in my 30-something wisdom--to show Nicholas Roeg's film Walkabout, a story about an Aborigine boy in Australia who encounters two youngsters abandoned in the Outback by their father, who came there to commit suicide. (Link to film trailer; the entire film is also on YouTube.)

The boy is on a "walkabout"--a coming-of-age ritual which requires that he survive on his own--no human encounters.

But the two city kids are clearly doomed without help. So ... he will lead them back to "civilization."

I had read a lot about the film--it had even been featured (if I remember) in one of the student publications I subscribed to (published by Scholastic). I read the novel on which the film was based (by James Vance Marshall, 1959). My note inside the book reminds me I read it in October 1974, so that must have been the school year when this all happened.
my copy
But I did not preview the film. Why bother? It was featured in a Scholastic publication! The book suggested no ... worries.

And--let's be defensive here--this was in the pre-video era; I had to rent and screen a 16mm print. I did not have a 16mm projector at home--and there was no way I was going to lug one of the school's home, no way I was going to stay at school late one day and watch all 100 minutes of it.

And so ... the die was cast.

And die I nearly did when I showed the film to my first group of students.

I had arranged to show it up on the stage, curtain closed (nice and dark that way--and the noise of the soundtrack would not disturb the nearby classes. Harmon was an "open" school at the time--i.e., noisy as hell, few walls, etc.).

I should add that I had a student teacher that term--a nice young man from Kent State.

Okay, the movie is whirling along. And then ... a scene at a kind of Edenic pond. Isolated. Lots of foliage. They decide they'll all go for a swim.


Full frontal nudity. Male and female. Adam and Eve before the Snake.

The purest silence that ever existed reigned on the stage during that scene. I didn't know what to do. I decided that I would just let the scene progress and pretend I had intended this--a demonstration of how mature I believed my students to be.

Afterward, in the remaining minutes where I'd paused the film (it would take 3 days to show it all--with time for some class business and some Q&A before and after each installment), the talk was subdued, and there was not a single word mentioned about the nudity.

I was positive that when the kids went home and told Mom and Dad they'd seen ... body parts ... in a film that Mr. Dyer had shown them, my phone would be ringing--as would the phones of the principal, the superintendent, all of the members of the School Board, the governor, the President, the United Nations, ...

I gave my principal a heads up. He looked at me the way I deserved to be looked at.

That night ... not a single phone call. Nada. Not to me or anyone else. I could not imagine why. All I could do was be grateful.

In the next two installments (which I did preview) there was nothing ... untoward. And, I should add, that on that first day, in subsequent class periods, I turned off the bulb during the Eden-pool-party scene. This was not popular: All of those kids had heard they were going to get to see something pretty raw in English class that day.

Some weeks later, my student teacher's tenure was over, and as we were talking about what he'd learned, etc., he said the one thing he would never forget was that he should always preview the films he was going to show.

I kind of acted as if that had been the entire point of my ... (mis)behavior.

So, Nicholas Roeg (1928-2018) ... a wonderful filmmaker and, for me, a very significant teacher. R.I.P.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Sunday Sundries, 207

1. AOTW: This one's a bit complicated, but I'm going to wade in nonetheless, for this driver was the essence of AOTWness. (See drawing below.)

Last Sunday, we were heading to the Hudson Panera (as is our wont), and we cut up through Milford Drive (on the right) on a little driveway that leads from Milford to the parking lots (near top of the page). There is a stop sign where you see the red car (us!) and the AOTW car (right behind us). I had stopped there to let Joyce out so she could head straight to Panera while I parked over nearer the Acme (we'd do our grocery shopping after breakfast). The incredibly impatient AOTW, apparently profoundly upset that she would have to wait, oh, about 15 seconds before she could proceed, pulled out and roared by me on my left, then cutting right, directly in front of me, heading to the bank (not visible--top of the page). Had I not been paying superb attention (a result of our wreck a couple of months ago), she would have hit the car--or Joyce. I almost followed her to the bank to ask her WTF, then remembered that, these days, you have to assume that everyone is packing and standing his/her ground. So I drove off into the parking lot, thinking less of myself ...

2. We've seen a couple of films lately.

     - Last week it was Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. We went with my younger brother, who'd arrived for a surprise visit, and with our son and his family. Kind of fun to watch with the kids (9 & 13)--and a special thrill to learn (later on) that our friend Chris Cozens had worked on the music for it. Unfortunately, I was sprinting for the men's room when the credits were running, and I didn't get to see his name roll by ...

We hadn't seen the first one, so there was a bit of what was that? going on. But we did pretty well, following it. Oh, and I also could not think of Johnny Depp's name the Whole Damn Time! (Link to film trailer.)

     - Yesterday evening, Joyce and I (alone this time) drove over to Kent to see Widows, the new film by Steve McQueen (who made 12 Years a Slave). It's a "caper film"--but far darker than most of the ones that feature, oh, George Clooney and Brad Pitt. The widows of some thieves--all killed in a gig gone bad--decide to carry out the robbery their husbands had planned next. But, oh, do things get complicated!

Set in Chicago, the film shows a city corrupt to its core. (This is not a film from which you emerge feeling good about our species.) Everyone lies, is on the hustle, is seeking power, money, prestige. Grim. (Grindelwald would fit right in.)

A few plot flaws and improbabilities (which, to be kind, I will not share)--but I loved the "look" of the film--and was surprised--once in a major way ... (Link to film trailer.)

3. I've finished a couple of books in the past couple of weeks ...

     - The first, which I picked away at in bed, is David Quammen's latest, The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life (2018). Quammen--a celebrated science writer--is here telling the story of evolution--how the whole metaphor of the "tree of life" is a bit ... simplistic. For--as discoveries made in my lifetime have revealed--genetic material has not been a stay-at-home substance; no, it has, since the very beginning, migrated here and there, and our own bodies are packed with material that came from ... outside.

Naturally (!), I didn't understand everything in the book, but I was dazzled by Quammen's summaries of what's gone on in the field. Here's a few sentences that show you what I mean:

The concept of "species" is commonly supposed to be secure. It isn't secure. It's especially insecure in the realm of bacteria and archaea, but it's even a bit blurry when scientists try to distinguish one species of plant or one species of animal from another. The boundaries blur. (251)

     - As some visitors to this site know, I've been reading my way through the novels of Kate Atkinson, and a week or so ago I finished her Life After Life (2013), a book that--to coin a phrase--blew me away.

The title tells all. Ursula is our principal character, and throughout this 529-page masterpiece Ursula lives,well, life after life. She dies (the first time--at birth!), then the story rewinds, and she starts over--only, eventually, to die again--and, along the way, experience some grim things (a rape among them). Each time she comes back she does not "remember" her previous life, but she has ... feelings, instincts that are sharper.

The main part of the story takes place during WWII in England, and there are some moments gripping and grotesque; in one life, she is helping go through the rubble from the Nazi blitz, finding, well, you can imagine.

A couple of years ago I raved here about Paul Auster's most recent novel (4 3 2 1),  2017, a story that tells four versions of the life of its main character. I had no idea at the time that Atkinson had antedated him by four years--and written a story far more complex. (I just checked the Times review of Auster's book and realized the reviewer alludes to Atkinson, right from the beginning--the first sentence ... so why didn't I notice then? Link to review.)

Because ... Kate Atkinson was a writer I'd not heard of; now I've read four of her novels--and am awaiting the next in the mail.

Auster's book is still a wonder, but Atkinson's is a WONDER.

4. We've started streaming the new Coen Bros' film on Netflix--The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. A howl. A sanguinary howl--but a howl nonetheless. One of the stories is based on Jack London's "All Gold Canyon"--though we haven't gotten that far yet. (Link to the original story--included in Moon-Face & Other Stories, 1906.)  (Link to film trailer.)

5. Final word--a word I've liked recently from one of my online word-of-the-day providers ...

     - from wordsmith.org

bamboozle (bam-BOO-zuhl)
verb tr.:
1. To deceive.
2. To confuse.
ETYMOLOGY: Of unknown origin. Earliest documented use: 1703. [The OED adds that it is probably “of cant origin.]
USAGE: “Vietnam began the game with a short passing game using one-touch tactics to bamboozle the Cameroonians and negate their physical size advantage.”

Vu Duc; Olympic Finland Win BV Cup; The Saigon Times (Vietnam); Nov 20, 2006.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

A Thanksgiving Surprise

Early yesterday afternoon--Wednesday--I was enjoying my second stint at the Open Door Coffee Company here in Hudson (reading, etc.), and as I was about to leave for home (and then for the Dreaded Health Club), Nigel, one of the great baristas there, came over to tell me that he'd just gotten a phone call from someone who knows me. This person had something for me, Nigel said, some "papers" of some kind. Whoever it was had told Nigel not to let me leave; he was on the way over.

I had no clue what was going on. Who is the person? What is he bringing?

In just a few minutes, in came David, a young man (a college teacher) whom I know for a couple of reasons: Our paths have crossed in coffee shops, for one--but, mainly, because he lived for some years in a house here in Hudson where we had lived from 1980-90. (He did not buy it from us but from one of the owners who followed.)

Not long ago, he and his family sold that house and bought another one here in the village--one where another family we'd known had lived for quite a while. In the process of some remodeling, David had found a document-sized postal envelope that had fallen out of sight when the family had moved out.

The envelope was from Joyce. And it was dated October 2, 1990.

Let's flash back a moment. By then, Joyce and I had moved to Aurora, to a great old house on East Pioneer Trail. Our son, Steve, had left for college. Freshman year. I was back teaching at Harmon Middle School (8th graders); Joyce, who had been teaching for a decade at Western Reserve Academy, had received a Teacher-Scholar Award from the National Endowment for the Humanities--a sabbatical year to work on her latest interest (great literary works by women). Her mother was suffering from Alzheimer's--so severely that we had moved her to Anna Maria, a care facility in Aurora (another reason for our move there).


David handed me the envelope, said a few kind things, and left.

I opened it.

Inside were a number of documents relating to the death of Joyce's father, Thomas Coyne, on August 13, 1990. Among them was the program for the service, held in the WRA Chapel, 11 a.m., August 16, 1990. As I paged through it, I saw that my older brother read Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night." I saw that our son--and his great friend from Harmon, and WRA, Andy Paul--and Trudy Appling, the daughter of Steve's beloved WRA choral director, Bill Appling (who played the piano for the piece)--and another WRA friend and classmate, Christina Quagliata--performed "Brother James's Air."

And I saw that I delivered the eulogy.

Of course, I remembered doing so--but I couldn't have told you much about it. But inside that envelope was a copy of my remarks. I read through them in Open Door, tears in my eyes, and could not imagine how I managed to get through the thing that August day.

Maybe I didn't.

Anyway, I headed home and handed Joyce the envelope--and she got to experience the same storm surge of emotion and memory that I had.

Neither of us could remember why Joyce had mailed these materials to our friends ... had they requested them? ... had they been present and wanted copies? I'm not sure we'll ever find out.

But what a Thanksgiving gift.

I'm positive we have copies of all these things--somewhere. But to have them arrive on Thanksgiving Eve is simply too wonderful even to imagine.

Thomas Coyne, Joyce's father, is always present in our lives--we talk about him all the time. But yesterday, he stepped into the room, and, seeing him, we realized once again the pure wonder of that great man, a man who loved his family fiercely. And that love--as my eulogy reminded us--endured until his final breath.

And this ... our older grandson is named Logan Thomas Dyer.

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
12 September 2018
16 October 2018
9 November 2018

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....
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
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.