...you can buy all kinds of things to write in or write on. You can buy journals, notebooks, memo pads, blank books, travel logs, diaries, pocket planners, and whatevers. You can buy them in all sizes with all sorts of covers. Paper covers, leather covers, embossed covers, denim covers, covers that are replicas of covers of actual books---Reform School Girls!---covers that snap shut, covers that lock, covers that you close with a ribbon and others that close with an elastic band. You can buy note paper, stationery, greeting cards, calligraphy paper, and post cards. All of it's handsome, all of it's useful, although all of it's overpriced, and if you didn't want to spring for any of it and you still wanted to write, you could makes notes on napkins in the cafe.
You know what you can't buy at Barnes and Noble, my Barnes and Noble anyway, the one where I was tonight in the mood to write?
First day of real fall weather and first Saturday we've been home in a while. Good day to do some chores. Decided to re-paint the front stoops. Have to scrape and sand them down first.
Here are the hands of a man at work.
Not my hands. The nine year old's.
Typical pose for him, taking over a job from the old man. What can you expect from a kid whose first complete sentence was, "Help you, Daddy?"
He's good at this stuff and he's been at it for a while. Some time I'll have to write about how he helped me re-floor our back deck when he was 6 and a half. Over-protective mothers be warned: the story involves a small child using power tools, including a drill and a circular saw.
Of course, a kid's still got to be a kid and I've been left alone to finish the job myself while he and his brother are off with their mom seeing Batman Begins again at the local discount movie theater.
Stopped in at the corner market this morning and made this mistake of buying a cup of their coffee. Reminded me on one of my favorite Rumpole moments. It's from the story "Rumpole and the Reform of Joby Johnson." Rumpole's visiting a potential witness at a halfway house the witness runs for juvenile deliquents. The witness, making Rumpole at home, says, "You're not allergic to a drink, I hope," and Rumpole replies:
"I thought you'd never ask."
Seb handed his cricket bat to a deliquent lad and went over to the bar, where another deliquent was serving his fellows. My hopes were dashed when my host uttered the dread words: "Tea, coffee, hot soup, Seven-Up or Froo-Jucella?"
"I thought you were offering me a drink." I'm afraid I showed my disappointment.
"So I was."
"Froo-Jucella migh seriously damage my health, as my alcohol level has sunk to a dangerous low. Now, if you have a glass of humble claret? Chateau Boys Brigade, if it's available."
"I'm afraid it isn't." He was still smiling and made no apology.
"Or you might send over to the station for a bottle of British Rail Rouge?"
"I'll get you a coffee. And let's find ourselves a table."
So, as you may imagine, I wasn't in the cheeriest of moods as I sat and looked round the gym. Fred the driver was now seated in the middle of a circle of deliquents, to whom he seemed to be giving some sort of pep-talk or seminar. All the youths in the room, I noticed, were wearing dark sweaters, jeans and trainers, so they looked as though they were in a kind of uniformed group. I was about to seek the company of a small cigar, and had the packet open when Seb came back with two plastic cups and told me that the lads had voted the place a Smoke-Free Zone.
I said goodbye to the small cigar. "What're you running here, a monastery?"
"Delightful wit!" Seb seemed to be out to flatter me. "That's what old Tom Mottram told me about you. No, I don't make the rules, the boys do. Self-discipline, that's the name of the game."
"I thought it was cricket." This was clearly not up to the standard of Rumpole repartee and Seb ignored it. "No alcohol," he told me. "No smoking. And, of course, if we catch one of their number dropping an 'E'..."
"Ecstasy. Anyone indulging in any sort of drug gets a hard time from the other fellows, a very hard time indeed."
"So you rely on these young men to police each other?" I looked round at the uniformed squad.
"Too right we do! Well, it's the only way. No good imposing rules on them from above; they wouldn't take a blind bit of notice. How's the coffee?"
"Is it coffee?" I had been genuinely puzzling over the brew. "I beg its pardon. I thought it was the soup."
That's how I felt about my coffee this morning. I thought it was the soup. I wasn't as polite to it, though, as Rumpole was.
The Mannions were exploring their roots today at an Irish Fest at a park the next county over. There was music, of course. A group singing the old songs and songs that weren't so old but sounded like they were. Being Irish, many of the songs had melancholy themes and tragic subjects and they would break your dear old mother's heart if she heard them. I am not sufficiently Irish to enjoy them the way a good son of the ould sod should and whenever I know I'm going to be someplace where I'll have to listen to tin whistles, bodrhans, and high-pitched quavering voices I start singing to myself my favorite old Irish ballad, which I learned from an episode of Cheers:
They broke into our Dublin home,
The dirty English dogs,
They took away my sister,
And they beat my dad with logs.
Limey scum, Limey scum!
I toss a bomb and still they come...
The blonde doesn't like it when I sing this. She says it's because I sing it 50 times before I give it up, but it's really her Irish chauvinism. She thinks the song is a travesty and an unfair travesty, at that.
Is it now?
Here are the actual lyrics to one of the songs we heard today. It's not a true old song. It's by a living musician, name of Tommy Makem, and it's called Four Green Fields.
"What did I have?" said the fine old woman "What did I have?" this proud old woman did say "I had four green fields, each one was a jewel But strangers came and tried to take them from me I had fine strong sons, they fought to save my jewels They fought and died, and that was my grief" said she
"Long time ago" said the fine old woman "Long time ago" this proud old woman did say "There was war and death, plundering and pillage My children starved by mountain valley and sea And their wailing cries, they shook the very heavens My four green fields ran red with their blood" said she
"What have I now?" said the fine old woman "What have I now?" this proud old woman did say "I have four green fields, one of them's in bondage In stranger's hands, that tried to take it from me But my sons have sons, as brave as were their fathers My fourth green field will bloom once again" said she
Leaves on some of the poplars and cottonwoods around here are beginning to turn.
Day lilies have stopped blooming. Goldenrod is out. New England Asters. Roadsides have been blue and white with chickory and Queen Anne's Lace for a while. Field guides tell me that chickory and Queen Anne's Lace start blooming in June, and even May, but that must depend on where you live. Around here they are late summer flowers. Maybe they're there sooner than I notice, but get lost to view in the competition from showier flowers.
Canada geese are moving around. Small squads noisily going nowhere as younger birds learn how the whole migration thing works. By now their feathers have grown back after their midsummer molt and they're feeling their oats.
After weeks of temperatures in the 80s and 90s, today's predicted high is 76 and tonight we're going down to 50. This pleasantness is supposed to continue through the weekend.
All these are signs to me that summer is over. It's three weeks until school starts and the heat could come back with a vengeance. Some of you are about to take your vacations and the best part of the summer is beginning for you. But after the second week of August I'm done with summer and any activity that was fun and exciting in June and July feels a bit desperate or sad or redundant and a matter of going through the motions. Even the kids seem aware that their vacation is winding down and they have a distracted, less than enthusiastic air as they go about the business of having fun. I'm more irritable and melancholy in August than I am in November or in March after a long winter. Summer's over but fall just won't come.
Most people will say that summer ends the day after Labor Day or on the first day of school. Fall arrives when the maples turn, if they live where there are maples, or when the apples are ready to be picked, if they live where there are apples. But summer ends well before the first orange leaves or bright red apples appear. There are lots of signs.
I've just listed a few of the ones that alert me. What are the signs you watch for? How are things different? How are people different? I'm especially interested in hearing how those of you who live where there are no maples or apples know summer is over and fall has arrived.
What do you see? What's different? What tells you it's time to stop being a grasshopper and go back to being an ant?
I know next to nothing about spiders. Wish I did. I would like to know what kind of spiders have been at work in our shrubbery. I would like to know if they are even spiders. Whatever they are they are artists.
Among the temptations of owning a digital camera, even a cheap and unreliable one like mine, is the temptation to literary laziness. No point describing what I have a picture of, is there? These spiders have laced and fogged the bushes with amazing webwork. Cobweb doesn't do their art and architecture justice. At first glace it looks like wisps and curls of fog have frozen in the leaves and between the branches. Step closer and you can see that the spiders have built in three dimensions. They've crafted baskets, tea cups and saucers, satellite dishes (with central antennae), vases, jars, parachutes right side up and upside down, birds' nests, model comets, model clouds, and elaborate whimsical parodies of, well, spider webs.
I took these pictures outside our house one fine summer morning and the temptation was to just post them with a note: Ain't these neat?
Well, ain't they?
But what are they?
Are there any professional or amateur naturalists out there who can tell me what made these webs and whether or not we should knock them down to save the shrubs?
Or the house?
What if they get ambitious?
Might be a thousand aspiring arachnid Cristos at work out there and some morning we'll look out and find they've wrapped the whole house.
Just got back from a trip down to the neighborhood convenience store.
There was a young couple there, twentysomethings, sitting in one of the booths, drinking sodas and talking cheerfully but aimlessly. Probably escaping the heat in their apartment, I thought. Hot, muggy night. Bet they don't have air conditioning.
Then I got to to reminiscing about what the blonde and I would do on summer nights like this when we were young apartment dwellers sweltering in our third floor walk-up. Slip down to the corner bar, I said to myself and thought nostalgically about Henry's Bar for a while.
Then I remembered.
We never did that.
I hated going to bars.
I actually love bars, the idea of them. I've always wanted to have a neighborhood bar to go to. A place where everybody knows my name, where they're always glad I came. Hey, that sounds like a song! Anyway, bars and warm feelings about them and I go way back because my grandmother used to take me to them when I was little. My grandmother was something of a character. But when I got older and could go to them on my own, I found I didn't enjoy myself.
It was all the cigarette smoke. I was allergic.
But I wonder. Now that smoking is banned in bars and restaurants here, maybe I can start hanging out in bars. Maybe I can become a regular at Duffy's.
Think it's too late for me to take up a career as a barfly?
Nah. I probably wouldn't be any good at it.
You know what I was picking up at the convenience store?
Last night was supposed to be family movie night. On the Siren’s recommendation, we were planning to watch The Court Jester starring Danny Kaye—“The pellet with the poison’s in the flagon with the dragon, but the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true.”—but at around four in the afternoon a big storm blew through, lightning struck close by, and our power went out.
After the storm passed I called Central Hudson’s "automated answering service" to report the outage to their robots, then went out to look for downed lines and to see if any of our neighbors’d lost power too. Turned out that only our block was affected. The rest of the village was still online. So I figured it was just a case of a blown transformer and the power company would get it fixed in no time.
Two hours later I began to wonder. So I called back and stayed on the line until the robots were done talking and a live human being picked up.
Here is a transcript of my conversation with the customer service rep and her supervisor. It’s not a word for word transcript. It’s more of an impressionistic rendering. I’m reporting the conversation as Iheardit, which I think gives you a more truthful picture of their attitudes than their actual words would.
Me: Hello. My name is Mannion. I live over here in Petticoat Junction. I’d like to report a power outage.
Customer service rep: What are you telling me for?
Rep (sighing heavily): Ok, where did you say you live?
Me: 123 Primrose Lane, Petticoat Junction.
(Rep taps something into her computer.)
Rep: Your power’s out.
Me: Yes, that’s why I called.
Rep: Don’t get snippy with me.
Me: I wasn’t.
Rep: I don’t have to take this from you.
Me: You don't have to take anything from me. I'm not being snippy. I'm being curious. I was wondering if you can answer a question.
Rep: Which is?
Me: Well, our power's out...
Rep: I think we've already established that.
Me: I know we did. I'm sorry. But what I was wondering...
Rep: Can you hurry it up? I'm due to go on break.
Me: All I wanted to know was when the power will be back on.
Rep: How the hell am I supposed to know that?
Me: The company doesn’t tell you?
Rep: Why should they?
Me: So you can answer this very predictable question from customers without power?
Rep: I’m sure somebody’s working on it.
Me: How sure?
Rep: Look, Mr Snippy, we had a storm tonight.
Me: Yes, I know. The lightning and thunder and torrential downpour clued me in.
Rep: That’s why your power’s out.
Me: I figured.
Rep: A lot of people are without power.
Me: I’m sorry to hear that. Do you know when any of them will get their power back?
Rep: Why do you persist in asking me these stupid questions?
Me (sighs): You mean you have no way of telling if there’s a repair crew on its way over here?
Rep: There are repair crews out all over our coverage area.
Me: But how about this part of your coverage area, the part I’m in? Is there a repair crew over here?
Rep: I don’t know. I don’t particularly care. I don’t even see why it’s any of your business where our repair crews are. Frankly, I’m this close to just hanging up on you.
Me: Is there anybody there who might be interested in answering my question?
Rep: I doubt it.
Me: Can I talk to a supervisor?
Rep: You can, I suppose. But he’ll just tell you to go take a flying leap.
Me: I’ll take my chances.
Rep: Fine. I’ll get him. Hold on. Jeez. Some people.
(Three minute wait.)
Supervisor: Hello, asshole.
Me: Excuse me?
Supervisor: I said, hello, asshole. I figure you must be an asshole because only assholes ever ask to talk to a supervisor.
Me: I’m not being an asshole. I’m just trying to get an answer to a simple question.
Supervisor: Right. Sure. Go ahead. Ask your "simple" question. But I’ll bet it’s not a "simple" question. I'll bet it's a stupid question and it’s just going to contribute to making my night a living hell, which it already is.
Me: I’m just trying to find out when you think my power’s going to be back on. It’s hot here. We have an electric stove. I’d rather not sit here all night sweating and starving if I don’t have to. If you tell me the power’s going to be out for a while my family and I are going to go out to a nice air conditioned restaurant.
Supervisor: Do you have a point? Or are you going to keep me on the line all night boring me to death with information about your stupid, spoiled family who can’t stand a little sweat or eat a sandwich?
Me: Can you just give me an estimate as to when we’ll have power?
Supervisor: If it will shut you up.
Me: It will, honest.
Supervisor: Where do you live?
Me: 123 Primrose Lane, Petticoat Junction.
Me: What did I say?
Supervisor: You live in the middle of goddamn nowehere!
Me: Not really, we’re only three miles from Hooterville.
Supervisor: We have power outages all over our coverage area!
Me: I know that.
Supervisor: We had a storm!
Me: I heard.
Supervisor: Do you know that the power often goes out during storms?
Me: Yes. Believe it or not, I’ve lived through other power outages. I understand that they happen. All I want to know is when this one will be over.
Supervisor: There are people who live in real towns who are without power tonight.
Me: I’m sure.
Supervisor: People who live in the same neighborhoods as all our executives and vice-presidents. And you’re calling me from fucking Petticoat Junction asking when your power’s going to be back on?
Me: Yes, I know. I’m sorry. It was silly of me to think you might want to help out a customer.
Supervisor: I’d help you, maybe, if you were a real customer.
Me: I’m not a real customer? You send us a real bill every month. We pay you in real money.
Supervisor: If you wanted to live someplace with reliable service coverage you shouldn’t have moved to the freaking boondocks.
Me: This isn’t the boondocks. We have roads and sewers and convenience stores and pizza places that deliver. There’s one up the block, in fact, and they have power!
Supervisor: Well, aren’t they lucky.
Me: As it happens, we were going to order a pizza from them tonight. Tonight was supposed to be our family movie night. We were going to order a pizza and watch The Court Jester starring Danny Kaye.
Supervisor: There you go, boring me yammering about your stupid family again.
Me: All I want to know is if we can still plan on doing that. It’s only six o’clock. If the power’s going to be back by eight or even nine we can still have our family movie night.
Me: Can’t you just tell me? Is there a repair crew on the way over?
Supervisor: We have repair crews. That’s what they do. Repair stuff. So probably they’re out right now, doing their job, repairing stuff.
Me: My stuff?
Supervisor: You are really one selfish, self-centered total waste of a human being, aren’t you? There are lots of other people without power. Don’t you care about any of them?
Me: I do. I do care. When will they get their power back, before or after me?
Supervisor: Go to hell.
Me: Same to you fella.
Me: I’m sorry. I’m a little testy. It’s hot. The air conditioning isn’t working. We don’t have power here.
Supervisor: The power is out in a lot of places, moron. I already explained that to you, didn’t I?
Me: So you can’t tell me when it’ll be back on.
Supervisor: When what will be back on?
Me: The power!
Supervisor: We have crews working on it now.
Me: I know that!
Supervisor: If you know it, why are you bothering me with your stupid questions? Don’t you have a life?
Me: I have a life. I want to know when I can get on with it. When will my power be back on?
Supervisor: How the hell do I know?
Me: Isn't that part of your job to know?
Supervisor: Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. What my job is is none of your goddamn business.
Me: I don't care about your job. All I care about it is when my power's going to be back on.
Supervisor: There you go again, thinking only of yourself.
Me: I'm not thinking only of myself. I'm thinking of my neighbors too. They don't have power either. Do you know when they might have power again?
Supervisor: I'm sure they'll get it back eventually.
Me: How many hours in an eventually?
Supervisor: Some. Many. One. None. Who knows? The power will be back on when it's back on.
Me: Can’t you just give me a rough estimate?
Supervisor: You want an estimate?
Supervisor: A rough estimate?
Me: Ball park.
Supervisor: Ball park?
Me: If you don’t mind.
Supervisor: Fine. (Taps on his keyboard.) Sometime tonight.
Me: That’s not ball park. That’s the entire neighborhood around the ballpark plus three extra blocks on either side.
Supervisor: Best I can do.
Me: Best you can do or best you feel like doing?
Me: Fuck you too.
Supervisor: Are we done here?
Me: Sounds like it to me.
Supervisor: Fine. I’m glad we could be of service. Thank you for choosing Central Hudson for all your power needs.
Me: I didn’t choose you. You’re the local monopoly. My only other choice was building my own windmill and dynamo in the back yard.
Supervisor: Good night, sir. Thanks again for calling.
Me: Good night.
Supervisor: Aren’t you going to thank me for helping you?
Me: You didn’t help me.
Supervisor: I knew you were an asshole when I took the call. I should have gone on break.
Me: I’m sure you’ll do that now.
Supervisor: Damn right I will.
Supervisor: Thank you.
Supervisor: A pleasure talking to you.
Me: Wish I could say the same.
Me: I doubt that.
Supervisor: Will you hang up already? I’ve got other customers I’ve got to go be unhelpful to.
Supervisor: Geez. Some people.
We went out to dinner. The power came on at midnight. We'll have family movie night tonight. This afternoon I'm going to work building that windmill and dynamo in the backyard.
Today was moving up day at the elementary school. The sixth graders were officially declared seventh graders. Now it's on to Junior High!
The Mannions were in the audience, including old Mom and old Pop Mannion who drove down this morning to see their grandson graduate out of childhood into adolescence.
This is a bigger achievement than you imagine. It is a scarier step than it ought to be. This is a braver boy than you would think just looking at him.
It was a great day. To celebrate, his grandparents took him out to lunch at his favorite restuarant, which is not a McDonald's, a Burger King, a Pizza Hut, or a Taco Bell. It's a real grown up place. Then he took some of the money he's been saving up and bought for himself some new Yu Gi Oh! cards, a big pack, a Structure Deck called Tales from the Deep. He had some ice cream, too. A great day for a kid who's earned it.
Tonight, about half an hour ago at Hollywood Video. A gang of five or six guys in their late teens, early twenties, roaming through the aisles, talking loudly back and forth over the tops of the shelves, making the pretty young manager and the teenage clerk behind the counter nervous.
The guys aren't really punks, but they're acting like punks to amuse each other.
First fake punk (interrupting a conversation he's been having on his cell to call out to his buds): So what are we doing tonight, guys? Watching movies?
Second punk: Watching movies!
Third punk: And getting drunk!
First punk: Getting drunk?
Second, fourth, and fifth punk toghether: Getting drunk?
Third punk (his decision's final): Getting drunk. There's a bottle of vodka with my name on it!
First punk (going back to his phone conversation): You heard? Yeah. Well, you know how it is. You fall in with the wrong crowd. Let me rephrase that. You fall in with the right crowd and you take that first sip?
One of these days I'm going to have to buy a good digital camera. (Tip jar!Tip jar!) Pictures from our trip to Boston are back from Snapfish. I won't be posting them all here, so relax. You won't be asked to sit through any Mannion family vacation slide shows. But I'm going to put together an online album you can visit if you want. Meanwhile, here are a couple of pictures I wish I'd been able to include in my posts from Boston last week. Since I'm chaperoning the 9 year old's class trip to the American Museum of Natural History today and won't be able to blog at all, I'm going into re-runs. New readers and some of my regulars may have missed the posts first time around. So if you're gluttons for punishment, you can follow the links above the pictures to vist Beantown virtually with us again.
Scene: A street corner near the elementary school in a small town in upstate New York. Morning. The bell has just rung. A tall, rumpled, grumpy-looking father with circles under his eyes (Me) makes his way down the hill from the school toward the corner, after walking his boys to school. He greets the crossing guard, a stocky, white haired grandfatherly type.
Me: How are you today?
Crossing Guard: Oh, can't complain.
Me: Wow. That makes you different from 99 per cent of the population.
Crossing Guard (grinning): Hey, I figure, if you can get yourself out of bed in the morning and take in some nourishment without someone else holding the spoon, you're doing all right.
Although...the boys' Uncle Merlin made us all some cool Stargate t-shirts. He runs his own embroidery business and sewed out olive drab shirts with the top arc of the stargate, chevrons engaged, over the breast pocket.
We had a great time. Thanks again to all who donated to the Mannion Family Escape Fund.
Got in late last night. Have to spend today doing the usual mopping up after a vacation that always makes it feel as though taking the vacation wasn't worth the hassle it causes. But then the pictures will start coming back from the developers, the hassles will fade from the memory, and we'll get to enjoy the trip all over again in talking about it.
Besides the several museums devoted to the subject---we visited the Salem Witch Museum, which is more a work of theater than a regular museum. I'll explain in another post.---there are shops all over town that deal in the occult, hocus pocus, spiritualism, fortune telling, and a New Age-ish potpouri of phony Celtic, Egyptian, Druid, and Native American trinkets, charms, and books. Looked to me as we were walking around town yesterday that there are more of these stores than there are bars and funeral parlors in certain Irish neighborhoods in Boston.
More of them than decent lunch counters too, although we found a good one, Derby Fish and Lobster, which serves excellent chowder.
Some of these shops are in business to sell souvenirs to tourists. But some deal seriously in magic for believers. It was hard to tell looking in their windows which was which. Or which was witch. We were told at the Witch Museum that Salem has a significant population of practicing Wiccans and we were asked to be tolerant and open-minded should we meet up with any during our stay in town. By which I assumed was meant, Please refrain from giggling. But probably the museum guide wasn't talking to me. There are fundamentalist Christians even in the bluest state and plenty come from other states on vacation. They don't like our politics but they love our beaches and seafood.
Salem has an official witch. Laurie Cabot. Back when he was governor, Michael Dukakis proclaimed her the official witch as a way of honoring her for her community service work. The Wiccans are so proud:
While this certainly was a compliment to Laurie Cabot, it was and is today a symbol of hope for all Witches who do good works on behalf of their community and nation. Equally as important, it serves as a testament that Witches have a place in America today and are recognized as practicing a legitimate and honorable religion which shows a path of dedication for the good of all. This was the first time in history that a high standing politician openly recognized a Witch for their good works.
Cabot is also a shrewd businesswoman. Besides being a dot com and running her shop in Salem, she's franchising. She's also diversified. She owns a lingerie shop in Melrose.
I didn't go inside the official witch's store. I didn't go into any of these shops. Not trusting myself to practice tolerance with a straight face, I tried to steer us clear of them. But the 11 year old is fascinated by Celtic and Egyptian mythology and something along these lines caught his eye from the window of Nu Aeon. He asked to go inside to poke around. The 9 year old was brought up short by a whiff of incense as he stepped through the doorway and decided he liked the smell of sea air better, so he and I waited outside while his brother and mother went browsing.
I liked Nu Aeon's signs---the ones on the building, not the signs and portents sort. Big sign above the window promised "Excellence and Authenticity in Witchcraft and Magickal Supplies."
Stand up sign on the sidewalk said, "Real Magick. Real Witchcraft. Spells and Potions that Keep on Giving."
You have to like witches with a sense of humor.
Up the street at The Oracle Chamber they're more serious about what they do, which is mainly fortune telling.
We put off our visit to Salem until today and went out to Lexington and Concord yesterday instead. Full of history and a good lunch, we wound up at the Concord Bookshop.
In most bookstores, outside of the big cities, when you browse the Local Authors shelf, you think, Who are these people and how much did they pay to get their "books" published?
At the Concord Bookshop the names of the local authors are vaguely familiar.
Hawthorne, Alcott, Emerson, Thoreau...
There was a time when you couldn't throw a brick in Concord without hitting someone carrying a fresh letter of acceptance from the Atlantic Monthly in their pocket.
The Transcendentalists would like the way the owner of the book store has arranged his wares. In the Classics section you find only the Classics---Homer, Virgil, Hesiod, Plato. If it wasn't translated from Greek or Latin, you have to look for it in the regular Fiction section, no matter how many college syllabi it appears on.
I grabbed a copy of Walden---I had a wide assortment of editions to pick from; I chose the new one from Princeton---and a book of excerpts from Emerson's journals, found a chair, and sat down to read.
I read the first chapter of Walden and got a kick out of this passage
I have travelled a good deal
in Concord; and everywhere, in shops, and offices, and fields, the
inhabitants have appeared to me to be doing penance in a thousand
remarkable ways. What I have heard of Bramins sitting exposed to
four fires and looking in the face of the sun; or hanging suspended,
with their heads downward, over flames; or looking at the heavens over
their shoulders "until it becomes impossible for them to resume
their natural position, while from the twist of the neck nothing but
liquids can pass into the stomach"; or dwelling, chained for life,
at the foot of a tree; or measuring with their bodies, like
caterpillars, the breadth of vast empires; or standing on one leg on
the tops of pillars- even these forms of conscious penance are
hardly more incredible and astonishing than the scenes which I daily
witness. The twelve labors of Hercules were trifling in comparison
with those which my neighbors have undertaken; for they were only
twelve, and had an end; but I could never see that these men slew or
captured any monster or finished any labor. They have no friend Iolaus
to burn with a hot iron the root of the hydra's head, but as soon as
one head is crushed, two spring up.
I laughed, because many of the buildings that lined the main streets of Concord in Thoreau's day are still standing, still in use, still housing shops and little businesses that I had just walked by and peeked in the windows of, and they'd all looked like quite cheerful places to me, full of smiling rather than penitential faces. Life was harder in the 19th Century, but sometimes, when the subject was other human beings, and not plants, animals, and the weather, Thoreau saw a little too much of what he expected to see and not enough of what was really there. Or as his friend Emerson put it, perhaps thinking of Thoreau, who sometimes got on his nerves, Thoreau made a difficult friend:
People only see what they are prepared to see.
There are entries in his journal where, writing about a visit from Henry, Emerson sounds as though he wishes that he'd pulled the drapes and hid behind the furniture, pretending not to be home, when he saw Thoreau coming up the walk.
The collection of excerpts from the journals is one I've read through many times before. It's my favorite. Emphatically Emerson edited by Ralph Crocitto.
Sitting there in the bookstore, I found at least 20 quotes I want to copy down, memorize, put to work. I had a notebook with me but didn't use it, because I was pretty certain I already had most of the quotes that struck me saved in my own journals. Sure enough.
The maker of a sentence, like the other artist, launches out into the infinite and builds a road into Chaos and old night, and is followed by those who hear him with something of wild, creative delight.
The sum of life ought to be valuable when the fractions and particles are so sweet.
Who can blame men for seeking excitement? They are polar, and would
you have them sleep in dull eternity of equilibrium? Religion, love,
ambition, money, war, brandy—some fierce antagonism must break the
round of perfect circulation or no spark, no joy, no event can be.
Are you not scared by seeing the Gypsies are more attractive to us than the Apostles? For though we love goodness and not stealing, yet also we love freedom and not preaching.
The god of the cannibals will be a cannibal, of the crusaders
a crusader, and of the merchants a merchant.
Fools and clowns and sots make the fringes of every one’s tapestry of life, and give a certain reality to the picture. What could we do in Concord without Bigelow’s and Wesson’s bar-rooms and their dependencies? What without such fixtures as Uncle Sol, and old Moore who sleeps in Doctor Hurd’s barn, and the red charity house over the brook? Tragedy and comedy always go hand in hand.
God had infinite time to give us; but how did He give it? In one immense tract of a lazy millennium? No, but He cut it up into neat succession of new mornings, and with each, therefore, a new idea, new inventions, and new applications.
Every poem must be made up of lines that are poems.
If I should write an honest diary, what should I say? Alas, that life has halfness, shallowness. I have almost completed thirty-nine years, and I have not yet adjusted my relation to my fellows on the planet, or to my own work. Always too young or too old, I do not justify myself; how can I satisfy others?
The sannup and the squaw do not get drunk at the same time. They take turns in keeping sober, and husband and wife should never be low-spirited at the same time, but each should be able to cheer the other.
Emerson is my bible. I can open up his essays and journals at any page
and find a passage that matches my mood, addresses my concerns, makes
the point I am struggling to make on my own.
Still sulking about being stuck with this handyman’s nightmare of a house, Lance?
When I bought my farm, I did not know what a bargain I had in the bluebirds, bobolinks, and thrushes; as little did I know what sublime mornings and sunsets I was buying.
Need to be flogged into doing some work?
Like the New England soil, my talent is good only whilst I work it. If I cease to task myself, I have no thoughts.
Worrying about the 11 year old heading off to junior high and the nightmare of his initiation into the adolescent social scene?
When I was thirteen years old, my Uncle Samuel Ripley one day asked me, “How is it, Ralph, that all the boys dislike you and quarrel with you, whilst the grown people are fond of you?” Now am I thirty-six and the fact is reversed—the old people suspect and dislike me, and young love me.
Feeling a little full of myself?
Every man I meet is in some way my superior.
Feeling a little too much the other way at the end of the day, crushed by an insight into my own worthlessness, and unable to fall asleep as I count and recount today's mistakes and failures, a nightly occupation for me?
Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you
could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you
can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a
spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.
Not at all comforted by that quote and close to deciding to chuck it all and light out for the territories?
No change of circumstances can repair a defect of character.
Emerson would have made a wonderful blogger. So would have Thoreau. Their journals read very much like blogs. Thoreau would probably have been a Libertarian blogger. Emerson a Liberal:
All conservatives are such from personal defects.
They have been effeminated by position or nature, born halt and blind,
through luxury of their parents, and can only, like invalids, act on
Men are conservatives when they are least vigorous, or when they are most luxurious. They are conservatives after dinner.
Conservatism makes no poetry, breathes no prayer, has no
invention; it is all memory.
But he was not an un-self-critical Liberal:
Reform has no gratitude, no prudence, no husbandry.
So it's no surprise that Emerson has a lot of good advice for bloggers.
Trying to make sense of the rage of the dittoheads on the Right and some on the Left, as well?
Henry Thoreau made, last night, the fine remark that, as long as a man stands in his own way, everything seems to be in his way, governments, society, and even the sun and moon and stars, as astrology may testify.
Thinking of posting something pithy about Bush and the Blair memo?
America should affirm and establish that in no instance should the guns go in advance of the perfect right.
DeLay, Rove, Frist?
These rabble in Washington are really better than the sniveling opposition. They have a sort of genius of a bold and manly cast, though Satanic. They see, against the unanimous expression of the people, how much a little well-directed effrontery can achieve, how much crime the people will bear, and they proceed from step to step...
Disgusted by what you read in the newspapers, watch on CNN, hear on the radio, overhear in lines at the supermarket and at the water cooler at work?
To what base uses we put this ineffable intellect! To reading all day murders and railroad accidents, to choosing patterns for waistcoats and scarfs.
Thinking maybe you're quoting too much from Emerson?
I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.
Of course the editor of Emphatically Emerson chose the journal selections based on his judgment of their universal applicability. And I have been reading and thinking about Emerson for such a long time now that he’s hardwired into all my thoughts, into my outlook, probably into my very habits of thinking and seeing. When I was teaching I made a conscious effort to become a Transcendentalist. I went looking for Emerson everywhere and made sure I caught him, brought him home, and pinned him like a butterfly on every other page of my notebooks. So reading Emerson is just looking into the mirror and using it to arrange my thoughts the way I use the mirror to shave and comb my hair, to see what I know intimately is already there but can’t groom without aid. And, as for all that, would it have mattered if I’d never read a word of his or Thoreau’s all day?
It's no use telling me there are good cats and bad cats. At the core they are all the same. Sooner or later out pops the cloven hoof.
I hate cats.
You want to know why I hate cats?
I'm allergic to them.
Not their fault, you say? No sense blaming them for my body chemistry, you say?
I hate cats because I am allergic to them and they know I'm allergic to them.
And they all want to be my friend, because of it.
They see me come in the door, size me up immediately, throw each other a nod and a wink, and go to work. As soon as I sit down anywhere within a dozen yards of a cat, I wind up with a lapful of purring feline.
I hate cats.
This is a problem right now. We're here in Boston. Had a lovely drive up, thanks for asking. We're staying with the boys' Uncle Merlin, and he has two cats.
They're not his. They're interlopers. Merlin's a dog man. Actually, he's a dog's man. He's owned by an English bull terrier named Aloysius. The cats belong to his parents, who have parked them here while they are traveling.
Merlin's 80 year old parents are in Iran. Last week they were in Uzbekistan. Now there are a couple whose blog you'd like to be reading right now, I'll bet. They have more on their minds than cats at the moment, I'm sure. Cats probably haven't entered their thoughts in weeks. Maybe when they get to Istanbul on Tuesday they'll remember they have cats...and a son who hasn't heard from them since they entered Uzbekistan.
Istanbul, you ask? What, they're skipping Bagdad and Kabul?
Anyway, the cats who are torturing me at the moment belong to them.
Before we came I reminded Merlin about my hatred for cats and its cause. Not to worry, he said. These cats don't like anybody. People scare them. They're a couple of scardy cats. They won't come within a mile of you and your cat-sensitive nose and eyes, he said.
He doesn't know cats, doesn't comprehend their bottomless capacity for evil.
The cats haven't left my side since we arrived. One is at my feet now. I don't know where the other one is. Lying in ambush somewhere, I expect.
I hate cats.
And we'll be here for three more days.
Anyway, the Tylenol Allergy medicine has worked well enough that I've stopped sneezing and my eyes aren't swollen quite so tightly shut. I am looking at the screen through a pair of watery slits. And tomorrow we will be out of the house most of the day. Salem in the afternoon, Star Wars Episode III Revenge of the Sith in the evening.
But the cats will be here when we get back. Waiting. Ready to pounce.
You think the Sith are evil. The Sith take lessons from cats.
Scott gives the show a rave. He thought the movie was one of the best films of the 1990s. But, he says, this production is even better.
You may think that you don't really need to see the play if you've seen the movie, but you do; if you have the opportunity and like, or think you might like, Mamet at his best you have to see it. The rhythm of the dialogue is a very deep pleasure indeed when performed this well, and seeing a live performance is an irreplaceable experience. The greatest potential concern would be comparing this cast to the one assembled for the film, and yet despite the less-famous names it's a wash at worst. To my eye and ear, only Jonathan Pryce's Lingk and Kevin Spacey's Williamson are clearly preferable to their counterparts in this production (played respectively by Tom Lopat and Frederick Weller--the latter's sometimes forced readings and excessive early telegraphing of Williamson's buried toughness and canniness are the only significant flaws in the performance I saw.) If anything, Alan Alda's Levine, Gordon Clapp's Moss, and (especially) Jeffrey Tambor's Aaronson are better than the estimable performances of [Jack] Lemmon, [Ed] Harris, and [Alan] Arkin. And, most surprisingly, Liev Schreiber's Roma holds its own. Pacino's Roma is about as good as acting gets, but Schreiber's is also superb, and is arguably truer to Mamet's conception of the character.
When we moved down here one of the things we looked forward to was that, being only an hour or so from New York City, we'd get into Manhattan a few times a year. Hasn't happened for me yet. The blonde's been twice. Once to chaperon the sixth grade's field trip to the Cloisters and once to see Spamalot. You may ask how is that she got to see Spamalot without her loving husband?
Priced the tickets to a Broadway musical lately?
A friend was going and we flipped a coin to see which of us would get to go with him.
She'll find a way to tag along, I just know she will.
We were planning to see Denzel Washington in Julius Caesar but we were scared off by the lukewarm reviews. If Broadway ticket prices were like London's West End's, not much more than the price of movie tickets, a lot more people would risk going to see shows the critics were iffy about. But we aren't going to spend a month's mortgage payment to see a play we've already seen done superbly and with one of the same actors playing the same role and doing with it what he did with it when we saw him. Did you follow that?
According to the posters, Denzel Washington is the star of “Julius Caesar,” which opened Sunday at the Belasco Theatre. The fine young ladies in the balcony signified agreement by squealing when he made his entrance in a sharp-looking business suit, this being a modern-dress version of Shakespeare’s classic tale of dirty work in ancient Rome. Don’t let appearances fool you, though: The real star of this mostly horrible show is Colm Feore, who is high-strung and lustrously precise as Cassius. Next to him, Mr. Washington comes off like a well-meaning amateur, standing stiff as a weathervane and gabbling his way through Brutus’ lines.
Terry blames Washington, but it's all Feore's doing, I'm sure. When we saw him do Cassius, Brutus was played by Brian Bedford, a far more accomplished Shakespearean actor than Washington, and Bedford, who we saw another time work magic as Salieri in Amadeus, spent most of Julius Caesar rocked back on his heels, staring in helpless wonder at the show Feore was putting on.
I swear he was as lost in the enjoyment of watching Feore work as we were and there were moments after Feore finished off a speech when Bedford took a beat before beginning his line, as if to say, "Oh, is it my turn again?"
Feore turned Julius Caesar into the Tragedy of Cassius and it was wonderful!
Denzel must be having a similar problem. It is awful hard to concentrate on your part when the actor playing opposite you is on fire. Sometimes you just can't resist the temptation to sit back and watch him go to town.
From 1986 to 1995 the blonde and I made an annual trip up to Stratford. We were usually joined by Nancy Nall and her husband Alan. And during those years Colm Feore was the company's main leading man. We saw him play Iago, Petruchio, Richard III, Hamlet, the Pirate King in Pirates of Penzance, Cyrano, Benedick, Angelo, Iachimo, Mercutio, Athos in The Three Musketeers, and Cassius, and he was never less than brilliant---except as Benedick, but that production of Much Ado was totally misconceived.
It should be noted that in those days he could make young women in the audience squeal and squirm in their seats as well as Denzel.
At least, the two young women on either side of me used to squirm and squeal.
That's Nance and the Blonde in front of the main theater at Stratford in 1995. The gleams in their eyes are her Kate and our 9 year old.
For some reason, in 1990, when we saw Julius Caesar, Alan didn't go with us. It was just the three of us. I'd like to tell you about a menage a trois, but the two of them barely noticed me.
They only had eyes for Colm Feore.
So, imagine their delight when, after the show, as we walking down the wide lawn from the theater to our car we met up with Feore hurrying away from the stage door.
Our paths intersected and without having to chase him down we walked right up to him, natural and casual as can be. He said hello. I said hello. Then I started to tell him how much we had enjoyed the show, how much we had admired his work over the years, how we were looking forward to...
At this point I looked off to my left, wondering why I, who usually could barely get a word in edgewise when I was in the company of Nance and the blonde, was doing all the talking here and I discovered there was no we at the moment.
We weren't there.
We had faded deep into the background.
We two hardbitten newspaperwomen were standing twenty feet away from our idol, giggling and blushing like we were a couple of freshmen girls who'd just met the captain of the high school football team and he'd remembered our names!
Up at school this morning, as the boys were locking up their scooters, another little kid pedaled up to the bike rack and began chatting with us. He wasn't one of my guys' friends. They didn't know him. He looked to be in the fourth grade, while they're in third and sixth. But he was in an excited mood and needed to talk to somebody about the source of his excitement.
He was early to school today, he told us. Usually he arrives at the time when the bread truck pulls up to the cafeteria to deliver the hamburger rolls. But he woke up with the birds, he said, because he just couldn't wait to begin the day. He was in a hurry for tonight to come. Because...well, you can guess why.
His parents were taking him to Revenge of the Sith.
"It's going to be the greatest one," he said. "It's going to be like all of Episode I and Episode II all put together. I've been waiting for this one since, like, well it feels like my whole life. I just know I'll love it. I just hope that I'm not too excited to relax and enjoy it!"
It's their movie.
My boys sympathized with him completely. They told him how they are waiting to see it in Boston this weekend. He said he didn't think he'd be able to wait that long. They admitted they were getting impatient. All three agreed that Episode III was going to be their favorite.
It's their movie.
Last night, the blonde, feeling herself growing a little excited at the prospect of seeing the movie, tried to rally us all for a showing of the original Star Wars. "Let's all watch the first one!" she said.
She put in the DVD. The trumpets blared. The crawl began. And the 11 year old, snug on the couch beside her, piped up in dismay, "Hey, you said we were going to watch the first one!"
"We are," the blonde said reassuringly, thinking he'd missed something.
"No, we aren't. This is Episode IV!"
The blonde was baffled. "Right. That's the first one."
"No," said the 11 year old. "Episode I is the first one, mom."
He's right, of course. Now it is. And he didn't mean that it was just the first one he saw. He meant that Star Wars is not just that popcorn movie we all saw when we were young. Star Wars is all the movies, they make up one long story, and Episode I is the first chapter. There are no prequels. There is just the story.
They are their movies.
You remember the last scene in Peter Pan? When Peter comes back to the Darling house and finds that in what he thinks is the short time he's been gone Wendy has grown up? He wants to take her back to Neverland with him, but she tells him she can't go play at being his mother, she's a real mother now.
Peter is only momentarily disappointed. He cheers up as soon as he meets Wendy's daughter. He takes her to Neverland, leaving Wendy staring sadly after them out the window, remembering. Remembering
George Lucas has returned to take Wendy's daughter, and your kids, and my sons, and that little boy at the bike rack, and all the children with him back to Neverland.
How do you get to that galaxy that's a long time ago and far away?
Second star to the right, and straight on till morning.
Limb had to come down, but the tree itself is fine. Don't know what caused the branch to split like that. Happened overnight one day a couple weeks ago. We didn't have any big storms. Maybe it cracked over the winter and the split was working its way out from the inside for months.
I'd have taken it down myself, if I owned an extension ladder and a chain saw. Normally I jump at any excuse to buy a new tool. I need a taller ladder and I will buy one soon. Somebody in town is selling one for 40 bucks. Saw it for sale on a flyer at the general store. Forty-eight footer.
Who besides a fire department needs a 48 foot extenstion ladder?
Professional housepainters, maybe, but if you're working that high up and not using a scaffold you're crazier than I was when I used to paint houses back in college. I never worked on a house over two stories tall, but it wasn't unusual for me to be 25 feet up in the air and standing with only one foot on the rung in order to reach a spot over there it wasn't worth the trouble of climbing back down the ladder and moving it to reach when I could just stretch a little.
Keep in my mind as you visualize this that while I had just the one foot on the ladder I had no hands on it either, I'd have the brush in one and the bucket of paint in the other.
Sometimes I did this trick with a sander instead of a bucket and brush.
I was 19.
I'm not 19 anymore.
I don't need a 48 foot ladder.
I'll pick up a 24 footer at Lowe's.
But there's no way I'll let a chain saw in the house.
I couldn't get one in past the blonde anyway, even if they didn't scare me.
Guy from the tree service came by. Hundred bucks to drop the limb and cart it away. Two fifty if we had him do some other tree work that needs doing. Dead ornamental that needs to be uprooted so we can plant something else in its place. An ugly tree-like growth clinging to the side of the garage that needs to be removed just to make the world a more beautiful place.
Then there's that very strange tree in the front yard that the former owners told us cost them 4000 dollars and needs reshaping. Supposed to look like an umbrella. I tried to do it myself last summer. Looked like an umbrella all right, an umbrella that had been blown inside out in a storm, forced back into shape but with half its ribs broken, and abandoned on the subway as a lost cause.
"Yes, faitful reader?"
"About the tip jar over there in the top right hand corner of your page?"
"What about it?"
"That work all right?"
"Easy to use?"
"Very easy. Safe and secure too. Why do you ask?"
"Oh, no reason."
Actually, it could cost more. I have to have another tree service in for an estimate. I'm not hiring that guy for any more jobs. He didn't inspire confidence. When he showed up in his truck he was yakking on his cell. He climbed out of the truck and kept yakking. He came up the walk, still yakking. I met him halfway and shook hands and introduced myself and he said, putting his hand over his cell as if it was a regular phone with a mouthpiece, "I got to take this. Long distance," and went right back to yakking.
I told him I'd wait till he was done. He didn't hear me. Yakking.
But he paused long enough to ask me to show him what I wanted done. So I led him to the back yard.
The ability to multi-task is highly over-rated. He talked to me, yakked into the phone, talked to me, yakked, the whole time he was there. The important long-distance call might have been business but if it was they were talking about how the guy he was talking to's divorce was impacting on their business together. The tree guy's end of the conversation consisted of him saying, "Yeah, that's tough," and "I hear ya," and "I know where you're coming from," and then offering examples of messy divorces among his friends and family.
A real grown up homeowner, as opposed to me, would have said, "Look, tree guy, if you can't give me your full attention, you don't really want my business, so hasta la vista, ok?"
But this guy owned the business and I kept thinking, Nobody running his own business can be this stupid this long, he's just waiting for a good moment where he can politely say shut up to the important customer on the other end of the line. The moment never arrived. The cell stayed glued to his ear the whole time he was there. He was still yakking when he climbed into his truck and drove off.
I should have called another tree service.
Guy said his climber'd there that afternoon to drop the limb.
Week later, still no sign of him.
Maybe if I rented the chain saw, I thought.
One morning I looked out the window and saw three strange men in the backyard staring up at the tree.
Big truck with a chipper parked on the street.
When I walked out there to see if what I thought was about to happen was going to happen, the guys smiled and waved as if they had no doubt I'd been expecting them.
"You're here to drop the branch?" I asked.
"Make the check out to cash," they said.
Spring seems to have come to stay in our neck of the woods, which means it's mending time.
I like to say that, "spring mending time." Makes me feel like I own a farm. Makes me feel as if all the niggling little chores and minor repairs I have to get to over the next month or so add up to real work.
This month's to do list:
Replace some trim on the shed doors. Re-hang the garden gate. Finish painting the fence. Last summer I painted most of it, but I didn't get to two sections on the neighbor's side. Sand and repaint the floors of both front stoops.
Spread new mulch around all the shrubbery. Lots of shrubbery came with this house. Former owners claim that they put $17,000 worth of landscaping into the property. They said this like I was supposed to be grateful.
All I saw when they gave me the tour was a lot of extra work.
Personally, I consider a lawn an extravagance.
And mowing one a weekly act of penance.
There are guys who like mowing their lawns.
We have a much larger lawn here than we did in Syracuse, and the grass actually grows. Back there I was happy if there were more weeds than bare patches of dirt. Here, I can putt on what grows out there, I keep it cut to the right height. It's an emerald carpet! So in addition to having to mow more square footage, I have to mow more often, because this is grass you can actually watch grow and really see some action. I could sell tickets, it grows that fast, like watching time-lapse photography.
Added to this, it looks so darn nice! I want it to stay that way. So I worry. I don't want a lawn I have to worry about, but I've got one, and I do it. Worry.
I've been out spreading Turf Builder. I'm morally opposed to Turf Builder, but there I am, pushing another fool machine around my yard, giving my neighbors a good laugh.
We're going to put up window boxes, have the house power washed. The blonde has big plans for the flower gardens. I'm going to paint the 11 year old's bedroom.
I'll paint the 9 year old's bedroom too if he finally decides on a color. Last year he wanted to paint it all gray, with clouds and rain drops, to remind himself how sad he was about leaving Syracuse and how he missed his room at our old house.
He's decided now that he can live without the raindrops.
He wants a mural. All of his favorite places back in Syracuse. Like one of those comic maps of cities with cartoon buildings all crammed together and the businesses that have paid for the advertising enlarged so that Joe's Automatic Transmissions is taller than most of the downtown office buildings.
I'm thinking...blue. Blue's a nice color for a bedroom.
There are a couple of screens need replacing. The outdoor faucet drips. Thanks to that 17 thousand dollars worth of landscaping we have two fountains I ought to pump out, clean, scrub, refill, and dose with all kinds of chemicals I should be arrested for even considering letting loose in the environment.
Fence posts could be reset. The wooden swingset and the deck could probably stand some water proofing. I'd like to install new porch lights. There's a short in one causes bulbs to explode after a week.
That's a real job. Probably require ten or twelve trips to the hardware store. It's not a real repair job unless you become best friends with the clerks at the hardware store while you're attempting it.
Have to get the pool ready for summer soon. I never had any ambition to own a pool. I would never have gone out and aquired one on my own. I had a friend who owned a pool. After several years of owning this pool he came to me and said, "Lance, whatever you do, never, ever own a pool." He said this the way one of Napoleon's soldiers might have said, "Whatever you do, don't invade Russia in the winter."
But the pool came with the house. It's an above ground pool, probably 20 feet in diameter. Kids love it. So I'm not complaining, too much. But we need to buy a new filter and pump, a new cover, and I should lay new outdoor carpeting around the deck...
My dad, Pop Mannion, has never worried about age. Or never let on that he's worried. He's always said, whenever another birthday has rolled around, "What does the fact that the earth takes 365 days to revolve around the sun have to do with me?"
The earth's travels through space may not matter to him, but every April 27 they matter to Mom Mannion, their 6 kids and matching daughters and sons-in-law, and their 14 grandchildren.
It gives us another chance to cheer loudly and long for Pop!
Happy Birthday, Dad!
Love, Lance, the blonde, the 11 year old, and the 9 year old!
For a sampling of the long and storied history Pop Mannion and I have shared see:
Week before last the 11 year old requested a cowboy movie. I let him pick it out. He chose The Undefeated, starring John Wayne and Rock Hudson. He's stiving to model himself after the Duke. Not politically or even in personality. In gracefulness.
You heard me, pilgrim. The Duke was graceful. You got a problem with that? I didn't think so.
Like Wayne, the 11 year old is a big guy. Big for his age anyway, and he comes across as bigger and taller than he is. And he has a big voice. When it changes over the next couple of years he'll be a barritone capable of singing bass without a strain. As it is, when he gets excited he can make the window panes rattle. And of course his arms and legs go every which way and he doesn't know his own strength. I told him, essentially, that with great power comes great responsibility, and he has to start learning to control himself. Be like John Wayne, I recommended. The Duke never yelled, he never swung his arms about. He knew he could hurt people and scare them without wanting to or trying so he was careful.
He was graceful.
Consciously. Like a dancer.
When he was directing The Alamo, he was trying to get Richard Widmark to move through a scene in a certain way. Widmark, playing Jim Bowie, who was dying of TB during the battle, was focused on looking sick, constricting his movements, trying to suggest pain and exhaustion, and taking too long to cross from one side of the set to the other. Wayne was disgusted. "Goddammit!" he said, "Be graceful! Like me!"
So John Wayne is the 11 year old's hero and, although I was hoping he'd go with The Far Country starring Jimmy Stewart or Cowboy with Jack Lemmon and Glenn Ford, just for some variety, because every western we've watched over the last year has starred the Duke, he chose The Undefeated.
Surprisingly, it was one I'd never seen and I thought I had seen all of Wayne's later Westerns when I was 11---one of our local TV stations had a John Wayne movie night every Saturday night that summer. I was worried that because The Undefeated had been left off the schedule way back then it wasn't any good. Considering they showed Rio Lobo and The Train Robbers, I guessed it would have had to have been pretty poor not to have made the cut.
But it wasn't half bad. A little slow, Roman Gabriel as Wayne's adopted Indian son showed why he didn't have a movie career after he retired from football, even though he looked like Superman, and I'm pretty sure whole and key scenes must have been left on the cutting room floor---Lee Meriweather played Hudson's wife and she had maybe four lines. Here's a movie with Lee Meriweather and Rock Hudson in their primes playing husband and wife and not only do they never kiss, they don't even talk to each other. At the end she puts her hand tentatively on his shoulder and he relaxes and puts his arm around her waist as they walk off. Looks as though an important subplot got lost there.
Still, it was all right, and Rock Hudson did a surprisingly good job. One of Wayne's great gifts as an actor was his ability to step back and play the second male lead, letting his co-star command the movie, or at least their scenes together. Think of Wayne and Dean Martin in Rio Bravo, Jimmy Stewart and Wayne in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Henry Fonda and Wayne in Fort Apache, and Wayne and Robert Montgomery in They Were Expendable, one of the few John Wayne-John Ford collaborations James Wolcott likes.
Hudson is the protagonist of The Undefeated, playing a Confederate officer who can't accept or live with the South's defeat. He packs up his family, gathers up a band of his loyal troops, including Jan-Michael Vincent, playing a young stud who will not get the girl, he loses her to Roman Gabriel, the most incredible thing in the movie, and they all set out for Mexico so that Hudson's character can recreate his former life as a Southern aristocrat far away from Yankee influence and under the protection of the Emperor Maximillian. In other words, Hudson's character, while not a bad guy, is dangerously wrong-headed and stubborn.
Wayne plays an ex-Union officer Hudson's band bumps into along the trail and it's Wayne's job to sit back and be calm while Hudson fumes and emotes and gradually, under Wayne's benign guidance, has it dawn on him that he is not a Southerner, and certainly not a Mexican, or even an aristocrat, he's an American and he belongs back in the United States.
At the end of the movie, the blonde and I agreed that Hudson had done a fine job of carrying the movie. He was a good actor, within his limits, and in The Undefeated he ventures pretty close to the border of thos limits, which makes his performance that much more interesting. (Most surprising bit of movie trivia of the day: I'm not sure how far beyond those limits he'd have had to go if he'd been able to play Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird as he'd been slated to.) This shouldn't surpise us, I said to the blonde. We saw him do this before and when even said the exact same things about him afterwards.
When? the blonde said, searching her memory for a time when she ever saw Rock Hudson outside the company of Doris Day or Susan St James.
Yes, you did, I said. The summer before I went to Iowa. We saw it in Harvard Square. (There used to be a great old movie theater in the Square that ran a different double feature of movie classics every day for a buck, before the city of Cambridge let the Square be turned into a shopping mall.)
The blonde didn't remember.
But then I remembered. I didn't see it with her. I saw it with a different blonde.
Oh yeah, I said, smiling fondly at the memory, that was the summer I was dating---and I named a friend of ours from that year.
That was the summer I dated M, I said.
You did not!
M wouldn't have done that, the blonde said confidently. She has no problem believing I'd have run around on her, apparently. She just can't believe any other woman would want to run around with me.
What is it with you wives? You seem to think that you are the only female in the world who would put up with the man you married. What does that say about your self-esteem and judgment? Why do you want to portray yourself as having been such fools?
I did date M that summer, I insisted. If by dating you mean going out to dinner now and then and seeing movies together and occasionally hitting a bar. I reminded the blonde that there was a month or so there when she was working nights and M and I were working days and the blonde and I saw each other for about an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. It was like being married. M didn't have a boyfriend and for all intents and purposes I was single too, so we spent a lot of time together.
That's not dating, the blonde said.
I guess not, I admitted. Then I pretended not to believe the blonde wasn't jealous anyway. Don't worry, I assured her, I never would have done anything with M. She was cute and nice and fun, I said, but she was very tightly-wound and full of demons.
No guy in his right mind would have gone near her, I said. Too dangerous. She was ringed with emotional land mines.
The blonde agreed.
One wrong step and ka-boom, I said.
Exactly, the blonde said.
She'd have exploded before I got to first base, I said.
Right, the blonde said. So you didn't date her.
No, I said, sighing, I didn't.
Ha, the blonde said, and she went to bed.
Self-preservation isn't the same as being faithful, I guess, and earns a guy no rewards.
The 9 year old is home sick today. He has a bad sore throat and a cold with a mild fever. When we were at the doctor's this morning both the nurse and the doctor scolded me when I told them that we'd given him children's aspirin.
No aspirin! they admonished me. Ibuprofen only.
But it's children's aspirin. It says so on the bottle. It's chewable. It's orange flavored. It's for kids.
No aspirin. Not now. Not ever. Never. Motrin! Or Advil. Tylenol, in a pinch. But no aspirin!
When did that rule change?
As it happens, we usually have Motrin on hand. But we ran out and hadn't restocked. We didn't think one dose of children's aspirin would be a bad thing to give a child who has a headache and a sore throat.
We're failures as parents.
How are we supposed to keep up on this anyway?
Oh well. At least he doesn't have strep. That's no comfort to him. He still feels rotten.
But the thing he feels rottenest about is that while he's sick and feeling rotten he can't be outside, riding his brand new scooter.