...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!