The Weekly Essay

It’s Another Story.

Beach Time.

April is National Poetry Month and the beginning of beach season, depending on where you are, so here’s a poem I wrote on a beach several years ago.

A “mermaid’s purse” is a black, leathery rectangle that’s the egg case of skates, stingrays, and certain kinds of sharks. They often wash up on the beach once their occupant swims away.

Mermaid’s Purse

I was also born out of the sea, out of rocky oyster shells and polyphemous waves,

Under gulls riding changes in the wind.

Tied To coral, to warped twigs in green light, cartilage congealed

Into a diamond-winged body, brown above and ghostwhite below, and a trailing tail.

Swimmers all of us.

What I couldn’t see from my point on land I connected

To things I recognized. It rained.

Water met water, a million drops disturbed


The surface.

But the fish only feel it when the waves grow heavy enough to drag

Them into the air. They feel it always. Even fused to their element

They breathe the threat


Above. Where

I walked gulls ran at the waves, caught quick bites, and picked at tidal remains. No sun

Breaks. Not since my birth has the sun come

Through to here, and the cold water runs wild and foul abandoned

To itself. I never noticed the currents above and below that shook me in

The tasteless pouch of comfort and unliving,

My dark home. The light broke, called me to follow, and my world split and was carried

Upward to the gull cries and foamy strings playing on the surface. I catch

It as it comes in


With the waves: a black leathery rectangle with wiry

Arms at its corners. It’s a mermaid’s purse, still thick with the smell of the sea.


On the sand

Nearby, half-sunk in foam and nearly invisible where it lies exposed,

Is a skate

Thrown onto the beach by an earlier wave, tail still

Touching the tide as it goes out.


I skim the bottom while threatening shadows of gulls pass over

My body blended with the background. Only touches of white where

My wings curl over reveal

Me, and the waves protect me for now. I prowl for the dead, scavenging for leftovers


Of storms, starvation,

And the hard black tides that strand and take back.

An offshore squall washed up blowfish, foam, and bubbled tresses of seaweed.


A strangled heron

Lies spread in flight on a pile of driftwood, cracked beak pointed toward

Sky-blue crabs clustered in a collective grave. A rust-skinned hook threatens nothing,

Though it lies close to a fish still and silver in the gray light. All around

Are fragments of sponge and coral. A string of bleached and broken shells has settled

Into a ridge to hold

The water as it comes in, puts its arms out to the things in its reach, and pulls


Them close. When

I broke from the blackness it was freedom, it was the beginning

Of the new tide.

The wind dies

Suddenly and the sun pushes through. From over the water, for a moment,


It becomes

The same sun under the water, rays reflected into sea urchin spines.

The farthest

Waves turn blue then, as they approach, they change to aquamarine,

Shedding skin

And mingling with white. They roll in. Smoky quartz

Carries the beat of sand against sand. They reach forward,

And water curls

Over land, over itself. Its edges end, then begin, in the moment when the foam reaches

The highest point and remains trembling in the wind.

Pool Rules.

All swimmers must shower before entering the pool.

All swimmers must be appropriately attired to use the pool and pool area.

All swimmers under the age of fourteen must first pass a swim test.

All swimmers under the age of five must be accompanied by an adult at all times.

Individuals with open cuts, sores, communicable diseases, or who are Kevin may not use the pool.

No glassware is allowed in the pool or pool area, including tumblers, highball glasses, shot glasses, vases, light bulbs, chandeliers, punch bowls, stemless wine glasses, windshields, Chihuly sculptures, champagne flutes, cake cloches, water coolers, butter dishes, marbles, condiment trays, pitchers, carafes, beakers, decanters, flasks, jars, urns, flagons, cruets, ewers, growlers, or amphorae.

No food or beverages are allowed in the pool.

No chewing gum in the pool area unless you brought enough for everyone.

No alcoholic beverages are allowed in the pool or pool area unless you brought enough for the lifeguard.

No spitting, nose blowing, or bodily fluids in the pool, and, hey, get out of here, Kevin.

No running in the pool area. If you can do it in the pool, hey, go for it.

No horseplay, including Equus, Ben Hur, or the Erik Satie ballet Parade.

In the event of severe weather the pool will be closed.

In the event of a fire calmly and quietly exit the area. Do not stand around and say, “Hey, how did a fire break out in the pool?”

If any object ball is jumped off the table, it is a foul and loss of turn, unless it is the 8-ball, which is a loss of game. Any jumped object balls are spotted in numerical order.

No person shall throw any item into the pool or pool area that could endanger the safety of any person. Items include weapons, chairs, other furniture, cans, Jarts, refrigerators, scissors, hazardous chemicals, angry housecats, housecats who are not angry but will be when they’ve been thrown into the pool, car tires, cars, suspension bridges, cider, very small rocks, churches, lead, ducks, black holes, needles, shoes, live electrical wires, half-eaten tuna fish sandwiches, bulldozers, and Kevin.

Except during specified times fishing with dynamite is not allowed.

A first aid kit is located somewhere around here.

Drowning is strictly prohibited.

Out Of School.

So the school year is coming to an end which, for the first time in decades, is of special significance to me because I’ve been auditing a class. It’s something I’ve thought about doing for a really long time—where I work allows me to audit one non-degree seeking class per semester, and while I wouldn’t say no to another degree, especially when it’s cold out, I’m really just interested in learning, and auditing a class is a great way to study a subject without any pressure, even though an audit is usually not an enjoyable experience, which is probably why the word “plaudit” doesn’t get more use, but that’s another story. I first became aware that auditing a class was an option when I was a senior in high school, too late for it to be of any use, although I did wonder why they wouldn’t let me audit algebra instead of making me take it a second time after I flunked it the first time around.

I was in college before I read Sylvia Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel The Bell Jar in which her protagonist, Esther Greenwood, in an event Plath probably lifted from her own life, is terrified she’ll flunk chemistry because science just isn’t her bag. So because she’s excelled in all her other classes she talks the administrators into letting her audit chemistry and sits in each class looking like she’s taking very serious notes when in fact she spends the whole time writing poems. And I thought, hey, I could do that—except for the excelling in every other class part.

Well, there is some pressure on me, even if it’s mostly self-inflicted. I’ve been trying to keep up with the assignments and the readings, and I’ve done fairly well, although not as well as I hoped going in. I thought with my age and experience I’d be smart and cool like Val Kilmer in Real Genius, but instead I’ve been more like Rodney Dangerfield in Back To School, only not as rich, not as funny, and just as old, so I can’t even joke about why I don’t get no respect—I just get docked points for grammar. And the end of the class means a final exam. Fortunately it’s an exam and not a quiz—I’ve never been a big fan of quizzes since high school algebra, and while being bad at math was part of the reason I flunked it the first time around I think some of the blame should also go to my teacher Mr. Blankley. It’s bad enough that it was the first class of the day and I came in barely awake. Mr. Blankley looked like a bloodhound with a bad toupee and barely had the energy to breathe. He’d sit at his desk and stare at the wall behind us. And he spoke in a low drawl and would say, ““Studentsss, today we will have a quizzzzz on chapterssss ssssixxxxx and ssssseven,” and I’d be sound asleep before he could get halfway through that sentence, which usually took him about twenty minutes.

Of course quizzes, tests, and even exams have always been trouble for me, even when there was no pressure. I remember my fourth-grade teacher telling my mother, “I’ve tried to get him into a more advanced class just doesn’t test well,” which explained why there were a few times I was pulled off the playground and taken into a room with a nice lady who asked me questions like, “Can you define ‘brave’?” and of course I could in any other setting but as soon as I realized I was being tested all I could do was break out in a cold sweat and tremble and say, “I SWEAR I HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THREE MILE ISLAND!” before jumping out the window.

And at the time I didn’t even know what I was being tested for.

It’s not that I’m completely hopeless. The fact is I really excel in situations where there’s no pressure, no one’s watching me, nothing depends on the outcome, and I’m not being asked to do anything.

So I’m going to take the final exam, if only to prove to myself that I have learned something, and also because I really have enjoyed going back to school, even to take just one class, so maybe if I fail the test badly enough I’ll be able to take it again.


Never Give Academia An Even Break.

Just for fun here’s my latest paper for the Jewish Humor class I’m taking. It should come as no surprise that I lean more strongly in favor of Mel Brooks, but I do think Eddie Cantor was a very funny guy who just made some awful choices.

Western Transformations
by Christopher Waldrop
The appeal of the American West is as a place of both freedom and opportunity for all people regardless of background, of wide-open spaces where hostile conditions mean survival depends on strength and wit, and where an individual can be, willingly or unwillingly, transformed. This makes it a place of special appeal to people seeking to escape persecution or simply looking for better lives. In Jews Of The American West Moses Rischin writes,

For Jews, the loose-jointed cosmopolitan socirty of the West offered not only economic opportunity but social acceptance and political place markedly in advance of other regions of the country. (Rischin, 28)

The West was also a place where an individual could remake him or herself. As Andrea Most says in Making Americans: Jews And The Broadway Musical,

Like the streets of New York City, the mythical nineteenth-century American West promised anonymity and freedom from conventional social hierarchies. The newcomer in a Wild West town was like an immigrant: he started fresh. No one knew who he was or where he came from, and so his chances of success depended on how well he inhabited the role he chose. (Most, 42)

Perhaps this is why the films Whoopee and Blazing Saddles, produced forty-four years apart, both deal with race and with transformation, albeit in very different ways.

The plot of Whoopee, starring Eddie Cantor and based on a stage play produced by Florenz Ziegfeld, is fairly straightforward. The film opens with a large musical number, and it was, in fact, the big screen debut of choreographer Busby Berkeley. The number announces and celebrates the wedding day of Sheriff Bob Wells and the rancher’s daughter Sally Morgan.
However Sally loves Wanenis, but can’t marry him because Wanenis is part Native American. As he explains to the hypochondriac farmhand Henry Williams, played by Cantor, “my great-grandfather married a white girl”, but has also become assimilated into white culture. He says, “Why, I’ve gone to your schools,” which causes Henry to exclaim, “An Indian in a Hebrew school!”
Unwilling to marry the sheriff Sally asks Henry to take her away secretly under the pretense that Bob doesn’t want to cowboys to get “too boisterous” and that they plan to marry in another location when she really plans to escape. She leaves a note for her father that she’s eloped with Henry. A chase ensues with Bob swearing to hang Henry. Henry’s nurse, Miss Custer, who is in love with him, also plans to kill him for his betrayal. When the car Henry and Sally are traveling in runs out of gas on a narrow mountain pass Henry suddenly demonstrates remarkable resourcefulness, if not courage, as he uses a gun Sally has given him to make a wealthy family give them some gasoline. Now pursued by both the sheriff and his men and the wealthy family (whose name is later revealed to be Underwood, giving Cantor a chance to make a joke about typewriters), Henry and Sally stop at a ranchhouse where Henry is hired as a cook, in spite of not knowing how to cook. When the owner asks him to make waffles Henry pours ketchup, Epsom salts, and flour into a bowl, singing “makin’ waffles” to the tune of “Makin’ Whoopee”, which he’d performed earlier. Miss Custer, dressed as a cowboy with a fake moustache, confronts Henry. She’s closely followed by Mr. Underwood who doesn’t recognize Henry and the two exchange surgery stories. When Sheriff Bob and his men arrive Henry hides in a stove which explodes, putting him in blackface. Sally calls this disguise “perfect”, and Henry fools Sheriff Bob and the others into thinking he’s someone else by singing and dancing. It’s difficult to bear the strain on credibility here, even for a musical.
When Henry’s blackface is wiped away and his true identity is revealed he and Sally escape again, only to be kidnapped by Native Americans who take them to their camp where Sally is reunited with Wanenis and they profess their love for each other. Henry, meanwhile, becomes part of the tribe, calling himself “Chief Izzy Horowitz”. The treatment of Native Americans is as problematic as the blackface, as they all speak in broken English and grunts, and insist that Henry smoke a pipe. There is also an elaborate musical number of Native Americans parading and dancing.
The arrival of Miss Custer again puts Henry’s life in danger, as does the arrival of Sheriff Bob and his men. At this point the chief of the tribe reveals that Wanenis was the child of white settlers. Wanenis is allowed to marry Sally, Henry, with some trepidation, agrees to marry Miss Custer, and everyone rides off on horseback, with the flivver Henry and Sally drove left to its own fate.
Unlike Whoopee which uses racism as a plot element without criticizing it Blazing Saddles, directed by Mel Brooks and with a screenplay with contributions by Richard Pryor, has a plot largely driven by racism as well as criticizing it. In conversation with Mike Sacks, Brooks attributes this to reading Gogol, saying that the Russian writer’s influence prompted him to write “about subjects such as racism for blacks, racism for Mexicans, the indignity suffered by Asian railroad workers.” (Sacks, 442). In the film’s opening an Asian railroad worker collapses in the heat and is docked half a day’s pay “for sleepin’ on the job”. The white overseers frequently use racial slurs and try to get the African American workers to sing. After Bart, played by Cleavon Little, and another worker barely escape drowning in quicksand Bart assaults the overseer Taggart and is sentenced to be hanged. He’s saved when the governor’s assistant Hedley Lamarr sees an opportunity. The railroad will have to be redirected through the town of Rock Ridge, and by appointing Bart the sheriff he can easily drive out the people and seize the land. Bart is threatened by the townspeople on arrival but tricks them into letting him go by holding a gun to his own head. Although Bart was clearly liked and respected by his fellow railroad workers, leading them in a performance of Cole Porter’s “I Get A Kick Out Of You”, this is the first time we see his resourcefulness, in much the same way that Henry in Whoopee only demonstrates wit under pressure when he robs the Underwoods.
Bart befriends Jim, an alcoholic gunslinger known as “The Waco Kid”, and shares the story of how his family came west in a wagon train. Because of their race his family was forced to stay far behind the main group, and the settlers are surrounded by “the entire Apache nation” and circle their wagons Bart and his family drive their own wagon in a circle. They then meet the Apache leader, played by Mel Brooks. Unlike the Native Americans in Whoopee Brooks speaks in Yiddish. When another starts to attack the family Brooks says, Zeit nisht meshugge (“Don’t act crazy” and tells Bart’s family to go abee gezint (“As long as we’re healthy”). While it’s not clear why he releases Bart’s family he does turn to another and ask in Yiddish, “Have you ever seen such a thing?” before adding in English, “They darker than us!” However these Native Americans are not a joke or the “noble savage”, and by having them speak Yiddish Brooks ties the long Jewish history of exile to the much more recent Native American history of forced displacement and exile.
When Lamarr threatens the town by sending the brute Mongo, who punches a horse (a nod to Sid Caesar who once did the same) and crushes saloon patrons behind a piano (music’s charms don’t always soothe the savage breast) Bart subdues him with an exploding candygram and wins over both the townspeople and Mongo. Lamarr’s attempt to undermine Bart by having the “Teutonic titwillow” Lili Von Shtupp seduce him also backfires. His other plans having failed Lamarr plans an all-out attack on Rock Ridge with every Western villain he can find, including Methodists.
There is no blackface in Blazing Saddles, since Bart’s intelligence and charm do the work of mocking racism, but when Bart and Jim sneak into Lamarr’s camp in Klan robes it’s one of Bart’s hands that gives him away. Jim tries to save the situation by calling him “Rhett”, but Bart unmasked, says, “And now for my next impression…Jesse Owens!” He then convinces the townspeople and the railroad workers to join together in racial harmony to build a duplicate Rock Ridge which they use as a trap to capture Lamarr’s gang.
The big fight scene seems at first like a parody of other westerns, with a shot of Bart and Jim accidentally punching each other in the chaos, but it quickly spills out into the Paramount lot and into another film studio where Dom DeLuise is directing a Busby Berkeley-style musical, albeit with all-male dancers in tuxedoes. This recalls an early scene in Whoopee where several of the men are dressed in tuxedoes for Sally’s wedding. The fight continues into the Paramount commissary and then into the street. Bart chases Lamarr and shoots him in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater where Blazing Saddles is playing. Bart and Jim then go in to watch the end of the film. Shooting the bad guy isn’t enough; there must be an epilogue in which Bart, back in Rock Ridge, tells the townspeople he’s leaving to fight injustice. The townspeople respond with a unanimous “BULLSHIT!” It’s funny, but also a stern reminder that racism cannot be solved by a single person. Bart and Jim then ride out to where a Cadillac waits to drive them off into the sunset. While Bart himself is not transformed, but rather, like Henry Williams, a character who draws on skills he always possessed, the people of Rock Ridge are left kinder and more tolerant, and the former railroad workers are given land on which to build homes. There is uncertainty and ambiguity in this ending, but, ultimately, I find the conclusion of Blazing Saddles much more satisfying than the fairy tale ending of Whoopee. Perhaps this is an unfair comparison, though, as the experience of watching any film must ultimately leave the viewer transformed.

Works Cited
Rischin, Moses and Livingston, John, Jews of the American West, Detroit : Wayne State University Press, 1991
Most, Andrea. Making Americans: Jews and the Broadway Musical, Harvard University Press, 2004
Sacks, Mike, Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today’s Top Comedy Writers, New York, Penguin Books, 2014
Whoopee, 1930 film directed by Thornton Freeland
Blazing Saddles, 1974 film directed by Mel Brooks

Unchained Malady.

How do you know if it’s a cold or an allergy? Here’s a helpful guide to distinguishing the two.

  1. Symptoms include sneezing, coughing, or a sore throat.
  2. Symptoms include fever.
  3. Symptoms include itchy, watery eyes.
  4. Symptoms include general achiness.
  5. A skin rash is present.
  6. Caused by a viral infection.
  7. Caused by the immune system reacting to something usually harmless.
  8. Symptoms last several weeks.
  9. May be treated with an antihistamine.
  10. Only requires medical attention in extreme cases.
  11. Was the star of an ‘80’s sitcom.
  12. Speaks fluent Portuguese.
  13. Prefers West Coast hip-hop.
  14. Never leaves a tip.
  15. Always falls for spam email.
  16. Doesn’t make threats, only promises—oh, and a good pork roll.
  17. Doesn’t know the way to San Jose.
  18. Arrested several times for jaywalking.
  19. Can’t read cursive.
  20. Presents as blisters on the hands and feet after exposure to cold and humidity.

Going To Extremes.

Since Spring has sprung Venus flytraps have started popping up in garden stores and big box stores and grocery stores and convenience stores and pet stores. They’re everywhere in stores which is ironic because in the wild the Venus flytrap is endangered. This is because it’s adapted to a very specialized habitat—humid, sunny, highly acidic swamps—and its habitat is rapidly disappearing under encroaching development. That’s the downside for any organism that’s adapted for a very specific environment: it’s hard to adapt to change when it comes, and it always does. And it’s why I’m always irked whenever I watch a nature documentary and the narrator gets breathy and swoons over plants and animals that survive in “hostile” or “extreme” environments. Some organisms are even labeled “extremophiles” because adapted to live in places like active volcanoes or under Antarctica, and, sure, to us that seems badass, but think about things from their perspective. To the starfish that’s used to crawling along the bottom of the Mariana Trench, seven miles under the sea, the beach seems like an extreme environment.

Fortunately for the Venus flytrap it’s very easy to grow and will thrive in cultivation as long as its specific needs are met which is why most of the ones for sale are also endangered. Most people who buy one don’t have the patience to do all the care and feeding, or at least the care since the feeding is the coolest part of owning a Venus flytrap and pretty much the only reason most people buy one. And a few people who buy one will make the effort to make their Venus flytrap thrive, which may be part of the plant’s plan.

I remember reading about the Venus flytrap in an issue of National Geographic when I was a kid, and I was fascinated. A plant that would lure in insects and then trap and digest them seemed like something out of science fiction. Maybe they didn’t pull up their roots and walk around but they do move. Some time after that my parents gave me one that they found at a garden store. It eventually died because I didn’t know how to take care of it, but that fascination stayed with me and as an adult I’d get another one. And then I branched out to growing all kinds of carnivorous plants. I filled pots with peat and sphagnum and trays with distilled water and my wife helped me put up shelves with lights because our house mostly gets what plant growers call “indirect semi-shade”. The ideal place to grow such specialized plants is a greenhouse or, well, the wild, but I did the best I could to recreate their bright, humid environment. I ordered plants from strange and distant places like Oakland, California. The Venus flytrap may be the coolest one because it’s the only one that you can really see trapping its prey, but I liked growing sundews too. It was pretty fun watching their mucus-covered tentacles snag a mosquito and slowly wrap around it, suffocating it and eventually digesting it. That’ll teach you to suck my blood, I’d think, although I really didn’t care whether the mosquito had bitten me or even planned to. I liked growing pitcher plants too—both the North American varieties that grow their pitchers straight up in rosettes and the Asian nepenthes that send out vines and grow pitchers at the ends of their leaves. Although all pitcher plants do is just sit there and let insects fall in and slowly drown they’re interesting to look at. And once I’d made that commitment I started adding others. I grew butterworts which don’t eat much but their flat sticky leaves are used to make cheese in Scandinavia, so I don’t know why they’re not called “cheeseworts”, and put up pretty flowers so I could plausibly pass as a bona fide horticulturist and not a garden-variety psychopath taking pleasure in miniature dramas of life and death, mostly death.

For a while I even tried my hand at orchids, following a family tradition: my grandfather grew orchids in a greenhouse he built himself, and anything else he wanted to grow, including a pineapple plant from a pineapple he brought back from a trip to Hawaii, although he probably could have grown one from canned pineapple since he had a green thumb, a green hand, and a green arm pretty much up to his elbow, but that’s another story.

Eventually my plant collection would suffer a triple attack of aphids, whitefly, and neglect—my ambitions outstripped my patience with the difficulty of growing unusual greenery and everything I had died, but there are some growers who will devote their lives to the careful cultivation of rare and endangered plants like the Venus flytrap, and who will even succeed, which brings me back to the idea that the plants themselves have a plan. Imagine a species that, sensing its impending extinction, cultivates a somewhat symbiotic relationship with a more successful species. Is it really miraculous that we see the Venus flytrap as such a cool plant, or is that just one of the ways it’s adapted to survive an increasingly hostile environment?


Questions I Asked My Grade School Teachers That Made Them Regret Telling The Class “There Are No Stupid Questions”

How much skim milk do you have to add to half and half to make it a quarter and a quarter?

How many liters are in a kilogram?

Is there such a thing as a cake chart?

How do you pronounce a semicolon?

Which of the four food groups is Jell-O in?

Did the first person to say “originality is overrated” recognize the irony?

How much does the Tooth Fairy give for dentures?

Will a trip to Helsinki finish your vacation?

How do I get my grandfather to give my nose back?

Isn’t AC/DC’s music always current?

If there’s just one is it THE moeba?

Why does the sign on the restroom door say “Teachers’ Lounge”?

Don’t Steal This Book!

Source: imgur

“An Ohio library says a 1968 copy of Life magazine with the Beatles on the cover has been returned by a borrower who apologized for stealing it as a ‘kid’ and sent $100 to cover late fees.”
-Associated Press

It never occurred to me to steal anything from the library. Maybe this came from an early experience with the library in the school I went to from kindergarten through sixth grade. We were only allowed to check out one book at a time on special weekly visits and we were expected to return each book the next week. And each week she’d read out all our names and what we’d checked out the week before, which didn’t make any sense to me because I didn’t care what anybody else checked out. In second grade I checked out a book about dinosaurs and I’m pretty sure I returned it the next week but the school librarian was just as sure I hadn’t. And she read my name and the name of the book every week for six or seven weeks so I became a class joke, at least during library visits, and really only to my so-called friend Troy who, I’d later realize, felt that if he could deflect attention onto someone else no one would make fun of him for being the only kid in the class whose parents were divorced. I didn’t realize this then because the school library was very small and its entire psychology section was a copy of Freud’s Totem & Taboo that someone had left there by mistake.
I finally found the book. A kid in a different class had pulled it off the shelf and the school librarian’s system was so rudimentary she didn’t cross-reference records so it never occurred to her that it was checked out to two of us at the same time. When I pointed this out she said, “Well, next time you need to return your book directly to me rather than putting it back yourself,” which I hadn’t done. This taught me a valuable lesson: some librarians are jerks. And I wouldn’t make another mistake until sixth grade when I accidentally gave the school’s copy of The Hoboken Chicken Emergency by Daniel Pinkwater to the public library and a very nice librarian mailed it to my school with a note that said, “It would appear this belongs to you,” because not all librarians are jerks.
I liked the public library better anyway because it was bigger and there were books that could only be reached by climbing up ladders, although for a long time the only thing I checked out was Octopus Lives In The Ocean by William Stephens, which was a very detailed book about the life cycle of the octopus. I read it so many times I had it memorized and once gave my grandfather a lengthy description of the ins and outs of octopus sex and he was silently impressed, but that’s another story.
I still love libraries. I like owning books too, and I own a lot of books, mostly ones I reread, or at least plan to read again, or just keep for reference purposes even though I believe sometime in the future there will be a vast computer network that will give everyone connected to it access to vast swaths of information. Lately I keep hearing about the Japanese concept of tsundoku, the idea of buying books but never reading them, although I think every book is purchased with the idea that it will be read. Some books we just never get to, but they’re there just in case. Once, in the library where I work, a guy showed me a book of obscure mathematics and he said, “Who reads this stuff?” Not me, but someone, I hope. Why put something into a book if it’s never meant to be read? And it’s why I’m very conscious of always returning library books. I’ve had epic overdues and once, by mistake, I had a book checked out for years and built up an epic fine but I still returned it and some librarians understand that to err is human and they’ll forgive a fine.
And that brings me to the anonymous person who returned the stolen 1968 copy of Life magazine in the throes of Beatlemania. The library probably had more than one copy, but if it didn’t that meant no one else could read it. Maybe the library bound its 1968 run of Life magazine with that one issue missing so it was still unavailable, and maybe later on they got rid of their bound volumes and replaced them with microfiche, which probably contained that issue of Life with the Beatles on the cover, but if you’ve ever tried to look up anything in microfiche you know it’s unreadable anyway.
Still the person returned it in the end and even paid the late fees, and I just hope the librarian who checked it in isn’t one of the ones who’s a jerk.


Remedies To Remember.

Starve a fever, feed a cold.

Ice on a sprain, heat on a strain.

Peroxide on a cut, petroleum jelly on a burn.

Pressure for a bruise, rest for a cramp.

Cooling for sunburn, warming for chilblains.

Sleep for a migraine, exercise for a hangover.

Cayenne oil for soreness, alfalfa juice for swelling.

Breathe deeply with a charley horse, hold your breath with hiccups.

Chicken soup for the flu, broth for the catarrh.

Moisture for itching, wicking for sweating.

Honey for a sore throat, preparations of sulfur for the croup.

Suction for snakebite, ointment for scabies.

Tilt back with a nosebleed, recline with vertigo.

Aspirin for warts, retinoid for carbuncles.

Garlic for gangrene, citrus rind for halitosis.

Warm milk for night terrors, pectin for nervous philtrum.

Poultices for dislocated lobe, molasses for irritable toenail.

Bacon grease for fiddler’s elbow, brandy for well digger’s ass.

Quicklime for a shallow grave, formic acid for badger infestation.

Sticks and stones, rubber and glue.

Bungle in the jungle, that’s all right with me.


No Day.

There’s a running joke in places that only occasionally get snow that local meteorologists will sometimes forecast an impending blizzard when stores are overstocked on bread, eggs, milk, and toilet paper, because the mere mention of the word “snow” will send hordes to the groceries to stock up on these necessities. This is, of course, because the only way to get through the forty-eight hours, at most, that the roads will be impassable is with French toast served on a soft bed of two-ply.
I was reminded of this recently when we had a few bouts of relatively warm rainy days followed by dry, sunny, extremely cold days and lots of people commented that it was lucky the rain and cold hadn’t coincided because if they had we’d have had snow. And that reminded me of a time back when I was in eighth grade and over at a friend’s house one Sunday night. It started to snow, and snow heavily. We both got really excited because this snow seemed certain to cancel school so we’d have at least a three day weekend, even though having Monday off is the worst way to have a three-day weekend because all it really does is push the misery of starting the week into Tuesday, so you can’t really enjoy Sunday or the Monday off. The ideal three-day weekend starts on Friday, although now that I think about it the worst kind of three-day weekend really would be to have Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday off, but that’s another story. My friend lived at the bottom of a hill and he and I watched cars slide and skid up and down the road, probably either going to or returning from the nearest grocery and loaded up with the essentials. When it was time to go I trudged home through Lapland, and I stayed up late because the snow was falling hot and heavy, or rather freezing and heavy, and there was no way there’d be school in the morning.
There was school in the morning.
I had to get up at the usual time. There was still snow on the grass and piled into drifts under trees but the streets were warm enough to be completely clear. I was somehow half-conscious and furious at the same time as I worked through a breakfast of French toast on damp toilet paper. I’m not sure why I was so upset. Whatever homework I’d gotten over the weekend was done, there were no tests, and eighth grade wasn’t the best year of my school career but it wasn’t the worst either. I just felt I’d been promised something only to have it yanked away from me, but on the bright side, I thought, it couldn’t get any worse.
It got worse.
I was in math class, around 9:30 in the morning, when it started snowing again. It wasn’t just snowing, either. This was a freak blizzard. Whorls and swirls of snow in clumps the size of my fist thumped the windows, taunting me. Under normal conditions I could walk home from school but even if we could get the doors open in the face of the avalanche there’d be no walking home in this. So I got ready to walk home. I didn’t care that I’d likely be found like Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining, my frozen body somewhere in the woods halfway between school and home. My grandfather would tell stories of having to walk uphill both ways in the snow to school, and if he’d done it I figured so could I, and in fact there was a large hill between my house and the school that rose up sharply on one side and then descended just as sharply on the other, so going uphill both ways didn’t seem that ridiculous. And yet the school day dragged on as usual while the storm outside raged. There were no preparations for departure, no buses lining up to take those unlucky enough to live beyond walking distance. We weren’t, as had happened in previous years when rising snow shortened the school day, huddled into a single room to keep warm and watch TV and, if it came to it, resort to cannibalism like the Donner Party.
In fact by noon the snow came to an end. The clouds parted and the sun came out, and when it was time to go home, at the usual time, I slogged trough mud, not snow. How had they known? What miracle allowed the meteorologists to see that this would not last? The only thing I can figure is the grocery stores were running low on bread, milk, eggs, and toilet paper.

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