Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year and Happy Birthday Ruth

Ruth Ingeborg Alexander was born January 1, 1900. Every year on New Year's Eve I light a candle in her memory. I buy a yartzeit candle at the grocery store. It burns for many hours. It is customary to light this type of candle on the anniversary of a family member's death, but I am ever so thankful that Ruth was born to live on this planet, and I don't know much about nor care for religious traditions, and I never remember the exact date that she died. I prefer to light a candle for Ruth on the day of her birth.

Ruth came to take care of me and my four siblings when I was six weeks old. She was fifty. She told me she lied when my parents asked her if she had experience with children. She wanted that baby. That baby wanted her.

I wasn't with her when she had cancer and died. I didn't get to hold her hand, or rub her back, or stir ice cream until it was soft for her to eat. I just know that when I tried to call her to let her know I'd be coming to visit, her phone was no longer connected. Several days of calling government offices in Sweden led me to a women in a tax office who was willing to try to find her. And then the last time I called, the middle of the night for me, 9 AM in Sweden, "Miss Shapiro, I'm so sorry to have to tell you. Ruth Ingeborg Alexander, born January 1, 1900, is no longer alive.

I've lit a lot of candles for Ruth over the years, I estimate around 25. No reason to stop now. In fact, as I see it, every reason to continue.

Happy Birthday Ruth. Happy New Year to all.

The January Sun is Out

I said I'd post a reminder and I meant it. The January issue of The Sun is available on-line. If you subscribed to the magazine you'd already have your copy. I recommend it.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Museum of Bad Art or I don't know if it's good but I know what I like

With school out and lots of folks on vacation it's a great time to visit museums. If you're in D.C., there is an Annie Liebowitz exhibit at the Corcoran. The National Gallery, diverse and wonderful, until tomorrow has The Art of the American Snapshot, 1888–1978: From the Collection of Robert E. Jackson. Can't make it? You can go on-line and look through the catalog that they so graciously post. In New York, my first choice is the Whitney and of course, there's always MOMA.

My personal favorite, however, is MOBA, The Museum of Bad Art in Dedham, Massachusetts, motto "Art too bad to be ignored". According to the website "Since 1994, the Museum of Bad Art has been dedicated to bad art. It is only through the efforts of the worldwide Friends of MOBA that we have been able to carry out our mission: to bring the worst of art to the widest of audiences" The collection is on-line.

This is truly the best, bad, laugh-out-loud art you'll ever see.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

IMHO, New Year's Day richer in symbolism

Depart Cleveland, travel east to New York. In Washington Heights, traditions of Japan are alive on New Years. The New York Times follows Mariko Hashimoto as she and her friends prepare to celebrate the New Year in New York with foods rich in symbolism.

Got your New Year's Eve plans? or A day "rich" in symbolism?

This uniquely Cleveland New Year's Eve Party has become a tradition. Guests bring an "old or useless" appliance to toss off the balcony at midnight onto a useless vehicle.


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Avery needed to e-mail her mother

Avery called to tell me she wanted to e-mail her mother tonight, her mother who died a couple of months ago. I told her I understood. I thought she should go ahead and e-mail her anyhow. I wanted to call my mother to wish her Merry Christmas but she's dead too.

After Dianne died I used to call her phone to listen to her voice on the answering machine. It felt weird, engaging in a covert act, but I did it. I called her phone more than once. More than twice. When her son, my nephew, changed the message I felt relieved and lost.

I called my sister on Christmas. I'm thankful she's alive. I promised I'd e-mail her. I told her I loved her.

I needed to talk to my sister..." by Grace Paley
I needed to talk to my sister
talk to her on the telephone I mean
just as I used to every morning
in the evening too whenever the
grandchildren said a sentence that
clasped both our hearts

I called her phone rang four times
you can imagine my breath stopped then
there was a terrible telephonic noise
a voice said this number is no
longer in use how wonderful I
thought I can
call again they have not yet assigned
her number to another person despite
two years of absence due to death

"I needed to talk to my sister..." by Grace Paley, from Fidelity. © Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.

The Writer's Almanac has a way with poetry


Sometimes when I phoned
my mother back in Tulsa, she would
say, "Hold on a minute, Ron, let me
turn this thing down," the thing
her TV, and she would look
around for the remote and then fumble
with its little buttons as an irritation
mounted in me and an impatience
and I felt like blurting out "You watch TV
too much and it's too loud and why
don't you go outside" because I was
unable to face my dread of her aging
and my heart made cold toward her
by loving her though not wanting to give up
my life and live near her so she
could see me every day and not
just hear me, which is why she
turned the TV down and said,
"Okay, that's better," then sometimes
launched into a detailed account
of whatever awful show she was watching.

Poem: "Jeopardy" by Ron Padgett, from How to Be Perfect © Coffee House Press, 2007.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Poem or Merry South Park Christmas to All

Brothers Playing Catch on Christmas Day
by Gary Short

Only a little light remains.
The new football feels heavy
and our throws are awkward
like the conversation of brothers
who see each other occasionally.
After a few exchanges,
confidence grows,
the passing and catching
feels natural and good.
Gradually, we move farther apart,
out in the field,
the space between us
filling with darkness.

He leads me,
lofting perfect spirals
into the night. My eyes
find the clean white laces of the ball.
I let fly a deep pass
to his silhouette.
The return throw
cannot be seen,
yet the ball
falls into my hands, as if
we have established a code
that only brothers know.

From The Writer's Almanac

Or . . .

This clip, in which Mr. Garrison gives the kids a Christmas lesson, was amongst even more irreverent holiday videos at Woodies Guthrie's Guitar. Reminds me a bit of W.The original disappeared. This is a replacement. Sorry you don't get to see Mr. Garrison.

Maybe you gotta be a South Park fan. I dunno, cuz I am.

Merry Christmas

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas Eve on Mars

Take a look at the Red Planet tonight. According to Astronomy, Mars won't be this big and bright again until 2016.

I hope I get this for Christmas too

This is what I want for Christmas

Blogosphere-romping or No, there's nothing more important I should be doing with my time

Bill Thomas at Changing Aging recently mentioned Cab Drollery, a site that I love to visit - Blogging Eloquence.

From there I happened upon the blogs of one Woody (Tokin' Lib'rul/Rogue Scholar & O'erall Helluvafella!) and his blog Woodie Guthrie's Guitar - My kids are always showing me amusing clips from youtube and once in a while I happen upon one myself, but in Woodie, I feel like I've found my own personal youtube shopper. Check it out.

Among other things Woodie says,"While it is useful and good to imagine Utopias, it is VITAL to recognize Dystopias, that we might resist them should they threaten us."

He has two other blogs - Walled-in Pond and the well-armed lamb which begins with the following quote, for me, worth the price of admission - "Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote." --Benjamin Franklin

Sixties Irreverent Eloquence. Romp if you like.

I was being facetious when I said there's nothing more important that I should be doing with my time. But, when I really think about it, maybe there isn't.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Watermelon Love or Why I think Chris is a genius

Chris was talking about love and evolution (and religion and science, but never mind that) and she said, and I don’t quote her exactly, but here’s what I heard – The watermelon is the ultimate example of love and its role in survival of the species. Just look at the immensity of the flesh and protective skin that it develops to house, shelter and nurture its seeds.

Chris often speaks in metaphors. Discussing an affair that led to the end of a marriage, I said the woman involved was a catalyst. She said she was a can opener. A can opener!

I'm thinking of starting Metaphor-of-the-Day. I’ll have a conversation with Chris, make a note of whatever metaphor pops up, and send it on to avid subscribers -a cross between's daily word and Elder’s Meditation of the Day . This Native American meditation is sent by White Bison, an organization dedicated to helping Native Americans achieve wellbriety. Good stuff, and come to think of it, worthy of being noted somewhere less frivolous than with what follows.

Avery and I had a business idea several years ago and it appears that it's finally coming to fruition. Thing-of-the-Month Club. For a fee, we’ll mail an object to your designated recipient each month.

Let’s say it’s secret Santa time at the office and you pick the office mate who is practically a stranger. You’re at a loss for what to give them, but you have noticed that they keep a lovely selection of paper clips on their desk. We live to serve. For a nominal charge, each month we’ll mail them a new, different and exciting paper clip. Got a friend who’s into making rubber band balls? Every month they’ll receive a new rubber band. Don't know what to give that aunt who's always losing her pencil? You get the idea.

And for Valentine’s Day, for the ultimate expression of your love all the year ‘round, we’ll send a watermelon seed.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Sun or Read this Post First

The January issue of The Sun showed up in the mail yesterday. I've had the privilege of reading The Sun for many years and given subscriptions to it as gifts numerous times. If you only follow the link on one post on this blog, I highly recommend that this be it. The links on The Sun website are wonderful, leading to all kinds of compelling places. The articles, stories, essays, photos and poems in the magazine are always likely to engage. You can use the Readers Write section as a thought-provoking once-a-month writing assignment.

The January issue isn't posted yet on the web. I like the January issue. I'll post a reminder to go see it when it's available.

Quite a testimonial, huh?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

What I learned riding in the car with Julia after picking her up at the airport

1. The Tooth Fairy Museum is located in Deerfield, Illinois.

2. Some people think that calling rainbow sprinkles rainbow sprinkles and brown sprinkles jimmies had racist origins, referring to Jim Crow laws.

3. The conservative corollary to Wikipedia is Conservapedia, motto The Trustworthy Encyclopedia. Huh?

A Different Story of Stuff

An on-line publication of the Worldwatch Institute. As long as you're gonna buy stuff, may as well pick out the least offensive stuff to buy.

Yesterday as I was feeling like things were out of whack, I figured I'd best self-medicate with chocolate and coffee. Kristara got me a yummy mocha at Starbucks, made with soy milk, since she's decided we're vegans this week. Then I checked out the section in this guide on chocolate and coffee and, low and behold, I pass with flying colors on my chocolate purchases. As for going to Starbucks for that mocha . . .

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Why do Republicans hate puppies? on

I guess I'm feeling like stuff is really out of whack today.

A Meandering Rant or The Tips of My Icebergs

Those who know me have heard my mini rants, when I climb up on my soapbox and give speeches, tiny tirades. My kids know when to duck, turn up their I-Pods, roll their eyes, walk away. Chris calls me a zealot, a food Nazi, an ascetic. It’s easy to tune me out. You can stop reading. I’ll write on. When my children were little one didn’t dare mention the educational system to me. I’d go on about kids who were put in day care at age two in order to get in the right private school at age five so they could get into an exclusive high school so they could go to an elite college so they could . . . I don’t know what, be more accomplished, richer, happier than their parents? Interesting formula. Then I’d be asked about home schooling. What's magical about age five to hand my child over to the government, I'd say. What about socialization? they'd ask. Is institutionalization equated with socialization? I’d ask in return. Should an energetic six-year-old forced to sit still at a desk for hours on end be diagnosed as hyperactively disordered and put on medication? I‘d be off and running. Just the tip of the iceberg.

Have you read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan? He’s a thoughtful and amazing writer. As a result of this read, my rant about the algae bloom in the Gulf of Mexico the size of New Jersey due to the ever-increasing growth of corn and use of chemicals and pesticides that devastates want once was farmland in this country, is always on the tip of my tongue.

Before reading Michael Pollan, how would I have known that cows are not designed to be fed corn. In “Grass-Fed or Grain?” Marion Burrows refers to other-than-grass-feeding of cows as “conventional”. Conventional? How exactly do we define convention? If barbaric behavior becomes normalized, how long must it teeter on the edge of conventional before becoming acceptable?

I remember standing in the grocery store with Julia staring at the beef display weeping. Someone at home wanted us to get steaks. I asked the butcher if there was any non-antibiotic-laden, grass-fed, organic beef. “Not here, Ma’am.” Julia dialed home, “Sorry, no can do about those steaks. Ma’s crying.”

Of course, Julia knows the scene well. She was the one weeping on Thanksgiving Eve a few years back when I got hit with a bout of nostalgia and loss and wanted to recreate my childhood with a “traditional” Thanksgiving dinner. I dumped a turkey in the cart. Julia pushed her finger into the thick plastic that encased the turkey, watching pinkish blood ooze about. She cried. So much for the return to my youth. Her childhood tradition would prevail. Off to the Indian restaurant again for us.

Jerzy hates it when I read the ingredients on stuff she eats -“Don’t say a word. No comments. I don’t want to hear it.” For a while she’d say, “High fructose corn syrup. Oh the horror!”, then defiantly gulp with gusto. I'm convinced that Kristara brings CoolWhip into the house just to gall me. While watching the movie Super Size Me, Jerzy craved McDonald’s snacks. Something tells me my technique of persuasion is somewhat lacking.

And now my problem is pigs. When Jerzy was little and wanted a hot dog I'd be sure to point out that it was made of dead pigs, adding the notion of snouts and tails. But my concern was nitrites, not the abuse that the pigs suffered when alive. I didn't give much thought to the plight of pigs until reading an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times, March 14, 2007 Pig Out, by Nicolette Hahn Niman, about the horrendous, extraordinarily barbaric ways in which pigs are raised in large “farms” in this country, packed in "like cattle", standing in their own excrement. The "other white meat" indeed.

Grrrrr. Mini tirades. The tips of my icebergs.

And speaking of icebergs, how much longer will they exist?

Physics is Fun and Free

If you're like me and The New York Times is your homepage, and if, like I do, you check out the most popular articles first, then you've already seen this one about Walter H. G. Lewin, internet Physics star. (When the The New Yorker shows up each week, do you read the cartoons and any article by David Sedaris right away, kind of like eating dessert first, lest you run out of time for the rest of the meal? Me too.)

I was never much of a Physics student. Although it might have been entertaining to contemplate the cockroach traveling on the edge of a record at 33 1/3 RPMs, calculating its rotational velocity was another matter altogether.

Apparently Professor Lewin makes Physics fascinating, understandable, engaging, beautiful. MIT makes it available to all of us for free online, along with bunches of other courses at OpenCourseWare . Sheer unadulterated enjoyment of learning.

And at the risk of being called ageist, I'd like to point out that Dr. Lewin is 71.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Family Business

Speaking of fathers, I am reminded of the book Julia gave me a couple of years ago - part of Mitch Epstein's film and photographic project, Family Business. In the aftermath of a devastating fire that would cause the demise of his father's business and economic security, Epstein returned to his childhood town, Holyoke, Massachusetts with his journal and cameras and an apparent desire/need to document and understand.

I marvel at Julia's ability to find this book for me. I am in awe of Mitch Eptein's ability to produce it.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Snow on the Duplex Planet or Remembering Fathers

David Greenberger remembers in a lovely piece called "Snow".

I am reminded of the work of poet Sharon Olds. Her book, The Father, is an extraordinary, intimate yet familiar look into her experience of her father's death. It's odd that I would call it familiar since the death of my own father was so drastically unlike her long, introspective detailing of his gradual decline from illness to death and afterward.

His Stillness
by Sharon Olds

The doctor said to my father, “You asked me
to tell you when nothing more could be done.
That’s what I’m telling you now.” My father
sat quite still, as he always did,
especially not moving his eyes. I had thought
he would rave if he understood he would die,
wave his arms and cry out. He sat up,
thin, and clean, in his clean gown,
like a holy man. The doctor said,
“There are things we can do which might give you time,
but we cannot cure you.” My father said,
“Thank you.” And he sat, motionless, alone,
with the dignity of a foreign leader.
I sat beside him. This was my father.
He had known he was mortal. I had feared they would have to
tie him down. I had not remembered
he had always held still and kept quiet to bear things,
the liquor a way to keep still. I had not
known him. My father had dignity. At the
end of his life his life began
to wake in me.

Here's how my father's death goes:

He's alive and well, in New York playing in a bridge tournament at the Gotham Hotel. My mother and I are in Howard Johnson's in Princeton getting ice cream. We use the pay phone to call him. Turns out he's dead. I'm nineteen. On our way home my mother hands me a pill to take and I do. I do? What was I thinking? It's Librium, apparently her chosen way of experiencing the world. So not only is my father dead but I can't even feel it. Weird.

Free Word Games

Spend time on Free Rice like I do? Esoteric words thrill you? My mother loved words. will send a new word to you everyday. They're typically not very haughty and I've yet to have one of them appear on Free Rice (talk about esoteric words!) but how nice to have a word appear, just a word, in my e-mail each day. Dr. Goodword will send you a word each day also. I don't have any experience with the good doctor but it looks like he/she may have a bit of a sense of humor.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Friday, December 14, 2007

Holiday Giving

I stopped by Changing Aging and found this gift-giving suggestion. I was reminded of another like-minded group, Heifer. And here I'd been planning on giving everyone on my list the ever-popular, indispensable Sonic Blade.

You choose.

Helen Levitt is My Hero

New York, circa 1940, © Helen Levitt. Courtesy Laurence Miller Gallery and/or powerHouse Books

You can view her work here and here and lots of other places. You can see a listing of her books on Amazon. Crosstown is a beautiful book. As "stuff" goes it's a pretty wonderful possession.

Here's what Wiki has to say about her:

Helen Levitt (born 31 August 1913) is an American documentary photographer.

Levitt grew up in Brooklyn, New York. Dropping out of school, she taught herself photography while working for a commercial photographer. While teaching some classes in art to children in 1937, Levitt became intrigued with the transitory chalk drawings that were part of the New York children's street culture of the time. She purchased a Leica camera and began to photograph these works as well as the children who made them. The resulting photographs appeared, to great acclaim, in 1987 as In The Street: chalk drawings and messages, New York City 1938–1948. Named as one of the "100 best photo-books", first-editions are now highly collectable.

She studied with Walker Evans 1938 and 1939. In 1943 Edward Steichen at the Museum of Modern Art curated her first solo exhibition, after which she began to find press work as a documentary photographer. In the late 1940s she briefly became a film director, working with James Agee, with whom she shot the short art film In the Street. In 1959 and 1960, she received two Guggenheim Foundation grants to take colour photographs on the streets of New York but much of this work was stolen in a burglary. The remaining photos, and others taken in the following years, can be seen in the book Slide Show: The Color Photographs of Helen Levitt (May 2005). Her first major book was A Way of Seeing (1965). In 1976 she was a Photography Fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts.

She has remained active as a photographer for nearly 70 years and still lives in New York City. New York's "visual poet laureate" is notoriously private and publicity shy.
(Helen Levitt, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Helen Levitt is my hero.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Story of Stuff

You can go to The Story of Stuff to watch the whole thing.

Sheesh. Whaddya gonna do?

Just the thing for multi-generational households. One pill fits all.

Dr. Duarte,s" MasterMind
w/Bacopa, for ADD/ADHD, Learning Disabilities, Memory Loss. May increase mental clarity, longevity and memory while decreasing senility and aging. Reg. $29.95 NOW 3ea. FOR 59.90!!!


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Reminiscing About What Will Be or “The man who lost his past” has also lost his future.

Robert Burton writes in Salon about the film "Unknown White Male", a documentary about a New York stockbroker who loses his memory. Burton points out that although the condition of the subject is medically implausible, the film nonetheless offers an important lesson -
Imagining future actions requires past knowledge. Burton cites an April 2007 article in the journal Neuropsychologia. Harvard psychologist and memory expert Daniel Schacter and his research team suggest that the primary role of memory might not be for reminiscence but rather to facilitate thinking about the future. . . . They state that "there is no adaptive advantage conferred by simply remembering, if such recollection does not provide one with information to evaluate future outcomes." In order to perceive of a future one must be able to conjure up a past. The reverse is also true - if one can imagine a future, there must be a past in there somewhere.

Maybe Revenge Actually is Sweet

"Revenge of the Right Brain"

For those of us who fight with our rightbrainedness. Relax. Our time may be here.

If only we were entering the age of the "night" person instead of "morning" people . . .

Use it. Don't Lose It.

Jane Brody looks at old brains today in the New York Times - a new take on good old "use it or lose it". Sweet.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Joy of Writing

The Joy of Writing

Why does this written doe bound through these written woods?
For a drink of written water from a spring
whose surface will xerox her soft muzzle?
Why does she lift her head; does she hear something?
Perched on four slim legs borrowed from the truth,
she pricks up her ears beneath my fingertips.
Silence - this word also rustles across the page
and parts the boughs
that have sprouted from the word "woods."

Lying in wait, set to pounce on the blank page,
are letters up to no good,
clutches of clauses so subordinate
they'll never let her get away.

Each drop of ink contains a fair supply
of hunters, equipped with squinting eyes behind their sights,
prepared to swarm the sloping pen at any moment,
surround the doe, and slowly aim their guns.

They forget that what's here isn't life.
Other laws, black on white, obtain.
The twinkling of an eye will take as long as I say,
and will, if I wish, divide into tiny eternities,
full of bullets stopped in mid-flight.
Not a thing will ever happen unless I say so.
Without my blessing, not a leaf will fall,
not a blade of grass will bend beneath that little hoof's full stop.

Is there then a world
where I rule absolutely on fate?
A time I bind with chains of signs?
An existence become endless at my bidding?

The joy of writing.
The power of preserving.
Revenge of a mortal hand.

By Wislawa Szymborska
From "No End of Fun", 1967
Translated by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh

Today's Assignment: Read a Poem or Do Something Else

I think it's a good idea to read a poem today. Here's one by Billy Collins called

"Introduction To Poetry".

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Here is another one by Billy Collins. Billy Collins was the poet laureate a while ago. He established a program called 180 designed to bring poetry reading to high school students - one poem for each of the 180 days of school. I love these poems. I can understand them. Maybe I have the mentality of a high school student. Duh. In any case, here’s one from the 180 collection called "My Life" by Joe Wenderoth. This poem by Frank O'hara is one of my favorites. Wallace Stevens often uses big words but this poem doesn't go over my head. I have lots more that I like.

Don't read these if you don't like them although they are short, not too much commitment, not like reading a short story or an article in the "New York Times Magazine". Read some other poems that you do like. Or do something else that you find compelling. Maybe read one tomorrow.

Today's Lesson

Today's assignment: Write one "I Remember" poem.

It's so easy even a child can do it. See. (Remember the Castro Convertible commercials that demonstrated the wonder of their sofa-beds with the slogan: It's so easy even a child can do it? I'm surpised they didn't say it's so easy even a woman can do it. Maybe they did.)

Joe Brainard wrote lots of poems. You can read about his and him or you can just forget about that and write.

Julia writes "I Remember" poetry. She writes lots of poetry because she has to. She's in college and takes poetry classes. I didn't know she was writing a book of "I Remember" poems for her end-of-semester assignment. She didn't know I was exploring remembering, starting with "I Remember Melancholy" on my new blog. We did these things on the same day. We're 3,000 miles apart.

I miss Julia. I remember when she was a baby and when she wasn't a baby anymore. I remember walking together, miles and miles of walking over the years. I remember the night we walked from 49th and 10th Avenue past Lincoln Center to 89th Street so I could show her my old apartment, then down to the village to Bleeker to get cupcakes at Magnolia. We watched people in the chess stores playing chess at midnight. Magnolia was closed by the time we got there. We got cupcakes the next day.

I remember when we went to Oakland and decided Mills was not the school for her and when we went back the next year and realized Mills is definitely the school for her. So now she lives in California and is dumping her other majors, both of them, to study creative writing and she blames it on me. I pass the blame on to my mother and my mother's parents. I blame my writing of "I Remember" poetry on her. I tell her there are worse things.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Today's History Lesson

It was on this day in 1941 that Japanese bombers attacked Pearl Harbor. That morning soldiers at Pearl Harbor were learning how to use their new radar technology, and they detected a large number of planes heading toward them. They telephoned an officer to ask him what to do. The officer said they must be American B-17s on their way to the base, and he told the soldiers not to worry about it.

The Japanese bombers began their attack at 7:48 a.m., with two waves of 360 planes, beginning with slow torpedo bombers and then dive-bombers. Many of the soldiers there that day woke up to the sound of alarms and explosions. Most of the damage occurred in the first 30 minutes. The U.S.S. Oklahoma capsized, and the California, Nevada, and West Virginia sank in shallow water. The U.S.S. Arizona was completely destroyed, killing more than 1,500 soldiers aboard. When nurses arrived for morning duty they found hundreds of injured men all over the base. The nurses ran around, administering morphine, and to prevent overdoses, they wrote the letter M on each treated man's forehead.

There were ultimately 2,390 Americans killed at Pearl Harbor and 1,178 wounded. FDR used the event as the grounds for entering World War II.

This little morsel is plucked directly from The Writer's Almanac, a newletter that shows up in my e-mail. It's neat.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

One Way of Looking at a Mourning Dove or I've read Wallace Stevens and You're No Wallace Stevens

So, here we were walking the dog. It was 1 AM. It had snowed during the day and the trees and bushes were beautifully white, the road icy, the air cold and moist and lovely. In suburban Northern Virginia this is a big deal. We were all sick with our coughs, hacking and spewing as we went, the four of us - Me in boots and long coat and hat and one pink mitten (I held up my hand in evidence. Jerzy, look, it’s so sad that I lost one of the mittens you made me buy. That was a year ago Ma, eyes rolling. I know, but it’s still sad.). Kristara in her pajamas wrapped up in “blanks”, her childhood sleeping bag. She’s 21 now but blanks has loyally stayed by her side through some pretty rough times over the years. Jerzy in a t-shirt and very cool hoodie, not even close to warm enough for this weather. She refuses to wear a coat in the winter just like when she was six, but at almost 16, I suspect it’s for different reasons. Duckie, our dog, as always, was Just Duckie.

All of a sudden a strange commotion - A bird, a Mourning Dove, was at our feet, desperately trying to fly, it’s wet and frozen wings useless, flapping and hopping, making pitiful progress. After several fits and starts, Jerzy captured it. Off came her hoodie (Now she’s down to a thin, short-sleeved t-shirt.) and Dove was wrapped up inside. It’s no surprise that Jerzy would grab the bird. She’s always finding creatures on the side of the road, baby birds prematurely fallen from nests, squirrels that have suffered some unknown misfortune. One day she took a mouse that my cat Mishra was about to eat away from him and nursed it back to life. She has her own account, a veritable rap sheet, at the local animal shelter for bringing in all matter of near-death animals.

So the bird sat still in Jerzy’s arms wrapped up in her hoodie, its one visible little eye blinking every so often. A half hour later she unwrapped her hoodie and gently checked its wings for damage. It sat on her finger. Just sat there. I have a Mourning Dove sitting on my finger! Of course you have a Mourning Dove sitting on your finger in the freezing cold at 1:30 AM. You’re Jerzy. Then it flew away.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A Death Noticed

According to the article in the New York Times today, "Neighbors Reflect on a Death No One Noticed", by Andy Newman . . .

“For the last years of her life, Christina Copeman kept to herself.”

Her neighbors wondered and worried about her. When they saw her on the street they tried to engage her in conversation. She was not interested. They watched the mail pile up outside her door. When she was finally found inside her row house, dressed in winter coat and beret, she’d been dead for a year or more. She would have been seventy.

I never knew Christina Copemen. But I’ll remember her.

Elementary School

I remember the smell of a freshly mimeographed quiz, slightly damp with pale purple text.
We had air raid drills. The siren was connected to the firehouse right next to school. It was loud and seemed to go on forever. We hid under our desks.
Our bus driver told us, “Keep your feets off them seats.”
Once we had to draw a map of the eastern part of the United States, using a different color crayon for each state. I didn’t like doing it.
Paul T. wore a suit to school one day. He wet his pants.
I remember Mrs. Pearce and Miss Scholl and Mrs. Bjornberg and Mr. Murphy.
Mr. Murphy and his wife got a divorce and she married my uncle.
Miss K. taught Kindergarten. She lived with her sister Miss Alice. They moved to the island from the city. I wonder if they were really sisters. Once the doctor came to see Miss K. in school and they went into the bathroom together for privacy.
The year before I entered Kindergarten I went to the nursery school that Miss Alice had in their home. She made me string my beads in a predictable pattern rather than in the random array that I preferred. I cried until my mother came to get me. I refused to ever go back.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


I remember the smell of suntan lotion; the clattering of dishes emanating from neighbors’ open windows in the evening after a long day in the sun and the sand and the ocean.
I remember the crunch and flavor of a vanilla soft ice cream cone dipped in melted chocolate.
I remember watching the cars on Labor Day, lined up bumper-to-bumper on the only road, crawling their way off the island.
I remember the sound of the soles of my shoes echoing in the silence of the empty street in the fall after the tourists returned to their homes in the city.
I remember melancholy.