Sunday, December 31, 2006
Sunnyside school was closed not too long ago and its facilities were taken over by:
Dave Smith Motors in Kellogg is the largest Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep dealer in the world for the third year running. Dave Smith Motors dominates Kellogg. Cars and trucks are everywhere. So, when I go back to my old school, here's what the playground that was for the first and second graders and for part of noon recess for third graders looks like:
The big kids' playground was a lot better. It had a large playground with room for touch football games and a batting cage from which we played a lot of baseball. My favorite day at Sunnyside school was in the fifth grade during a cold snap. The teachers wouldn't come out for playground duty. The temperature was below zero. The snow was less than a foot deep, deep enough to cushion us by shallow enough to run in it. It was dry snow. We played forbidden tackle football that noon hour. Our running and tackling kept us warm. We weren't sopping wet when we returned to class. I loved that day. Were we to try to play that football game today, here's what we'd face:
Dave Smith Motors calls attention to itself with the bright colored license plate insert I showed earlier and with Macy Day Parade styled helium balloons that all look pretty similar. Sunnyside Elementary was a place where I learned arithmetic, writing, to read good books, and where I had a generally very good academic experience. Now, hovering over the building that once housed my old school is this:At Sunnyside Elementary, we compensated for not having an outside basket for playing basketball by shooting through the space created under the fire escape by the brace on the right helping hold up the fire escape:
It was at this spot that David Rowley, a sixth grader, came to me and told me John F. Kennedy had been shot. I thought of that moment even more deeply today because Dave Smith Motors was flying its flags at half mast in remembrance of the passing of President Gerald Ford:
Saturday, December 30, 2006
2. Ed, Jake, Stu, and I put up a card table in Stu's boat, turned on a portable heater, put dvd's of the old tv show "The Wild, Wild West on Stu's laptop, and played six hours of poker.
3. I went to wordpress.com and set up a blog where I will daily post photos of Snug and not write a word. It will simply be a picture blog. I'll post the URL for this site as soon as I begin posting pictures on Jan. 1.
Across the street was the Russell house. They were a very large family. They had about six or seven kids, at least. Forty-five years ago, I thought this house was a mansion:We lived next door to our landlord's mom, Hedve Lenhart. She'd been married to a WWII vet name Papesh. He was killed in the war. Billy Papesh was their son. Our house was his. Billy lost an eye smashing live ammunition with a rock. He did it in our neighborhood. He has a glass eye.
Here is a picture of Bill Papesh today. He is president of WM Advisors, Inc. You can read more here:
As the Cold War got more tense in 1961 and 1962, fellow neighborhood boy Duane Gunderson and I used to speculate what would happen if the Russians bombed Kellogg. For some reason, we had decided that Mr. Dick Cripe was rich and his house was big and the Russians would target his house. Cripes lived across Portland from us and down the street about 500 feet. Here's the Cripe house:
Two doors down Mary Pavelich lived as a widow. Her husband, Nick, an immigrant from Yugoslavia, died of a stroke. He was the first stroke victim I'd ever seen. The stroke thickened his tongue and made his lower lip droop. I'd see him sitting in his wheelchair, sunning. After Nick died, Mary helped Mom sometimes by watching me or my sister Christy if she was short a babysitter. Like Bill Papesh, Dan rose to the top of the Spokane world of finances. He recently retired as the Chairman and CEO of BDO Seidman and sits on the boards of Catalytic Software, Washington Mutual Bank, and Wildseed Ltd. Here is the Pavelitch house:
Please come back for more pictures and my take on some other aspects of my life in Kellogg.
2. Finding out that a shoe Snug had chewed the end of the heel off of was actually a toy, not a shoe anyone wears. Beauty in relief.
3. Paul, my brother-in-law, finished Michael Lewis' book, "The Blind Side". He has been reading it non-stop since yesterday and was fully engrossed. I thought he'd love it. That's why I gave it to him for Christmas. I really do enjoy getting the gift of a book right!
Friday, December 29, 2006
Miss Lucille Parsons was our high school speech teacher, an older woman and not street-wise.
Jerry Hill (may he rest in peace), brought her a plant one day for her classroom. She was tickled.
It grew, well, like a weed.
It was a marijuana plant.
From outside the classroom, through a window he'd opened, Jerry harvested its buds.
Somehow, Miss Parsons found out what the deal was.
She was furious.
The plant left, but the story remains.
For starters, I love boxing matches and I love boxing movies.
My enjoyment of boxing began when Friday night fights were telecast and my dad would let me choose a boxer and we would have a bet. This carried over to special night fights and fights on the Wide World of Sports. I began to become familiar with names like Ray Patterson and Sonny Liston and with the king of the sport: Cassius Clay/Muhammed Ali.
In junior high and on into high school, one of the Spokane stations telecast boxing matches late Friday nights. I remember these as Boxing from the Forum and possibly Boxing from the Olympic. These fights featured obscure boxers hoping to climb the ladder of success and boxers who fought for years and never got anywhere and boxers who had been in some big fights but were in decline.
I remember coming home from dances and flipping on the fights and seeing such luminaries as Danny Lopez or Ray "Windmill" White or any number of white boxers with the nickname "Irish".
It became a joke between me and John Posnick and we began to think of everyone as Irish. We'd make up names like Alfredo Rodriquez and call out, "And in this corner, in the yellow trunks, from Los Angeles, California, weighing in at 131 pounds, welcome Irish Alfredo Rodriquez. Posnick's nicklname for me was Irish. We laughed and laughed. Irish Mike Quarry. Irish Steven O'Connor. Irish Raymond Pert or Raymond Irish Pert.
When "Rocky" came to Spokane in the late winter of 1976, I went to see it five times at the Garland Theater, bought the soundtrack album, and was blown away with disbelieving ecstasy when it won the Oscar for Best Picture.
My love for boxing on television translated easily into my love for boxing movies. I could watch Raging Bull or When We Were Kings every day of the week. In When We Were Kings, one of my favorite movie moments occurs, let alone boxing movie moments: Norman Mailer is being interviewed. He had ringside seats at the Ali/Foreman Rumble in the Jungle, the subject of When We Were Kings.
As you might know, Ali's strategy in that fight was to let Foreman pound on him for several rounds. Foreman slugged like a pile driver. Ali endured a barrage of punches to the body and to his arms as he covered his face, leaned against the ropes, and let Foreman pound on him.
At some point in that fight, with Foreman unloading on Ali with punches that would flatten a Lebanon cedar, Mailer can hear Ali taunting Foreman: "That all you got, George? That all you got?" No would could talk smack like Ali. And, of course, Ali picked the right moment in the eighth round and pushed Foreman away and with a flurry of punches knocked him out.
I remember Ali's moment of victory against Foreman with crystal clarity. I was listening to the fight on the radio in the South Warren dormitory at Whitworth College. Several of us poured out of our dorm rooms into the hallway and were in a shared stupor of joy and disbelief.
It was widely believed that Foreman was invincible: Ali had done the unimaginable. He knocked out George Foreman. We are all giving each other five and whooping it up on South Warren's second floor.
I think I love boxing because of Shakespeare's tragedies and history plays. Those plays are about the human will in trying situations, whether in military battle or under the demands of political pressure.
In Shakespeare's pressure cooker, the will being tested, what today is called mental toughness, is magnified and we see what strengths the tragic characters possess and we see the fissures in their characters. We see what they've got, what they are made of when they face death.
Likewise, the boxer. Seeing a boxing match is as close as we come to watching two combatants go at each other with homicidal force. Potentially, any boxing match could end in death. So, like the Shakespeare hero whose character is exposed by his proximity to death, so the boxer.
And so "Rocky Balboa". But before I write more, let me just say that if you are a hard-boiled cynic who demands logical realism and naturalism in movies, then stay away from this movie. If you scoff in the face of nostalgia and if you are suspicious of movies that overtly pull you toward the softer emotions, don't see "Rocky Balboa".
But if you'd like to re-enter the world of "Rocky", the world that so enraptured me in the winter of 1977 that I went to Spokane's Garland Theater five times to see "Rocky" again and again and again and again, then this movie is for you. If you enjoy senseless acts of kindness, a father and son struggling to find each other, an old boxer in grief, a man with a fire in his belly he has to quench, a love for dogs he can't quench, and if you enjoy entering an implausible story in a rough and hard bit South Philadelphia world, then by all means come see "Rocky Balboa" and let yourself get caught up in this saga.
I never thought I'd go to this movie. I loved "Rocky III" so much, I thought I'd never go back to another Rocky movie. I so enjoyed the brash diction and the fierce tenacity of Mr. T playing Clubber Lang and the story of Rocky's boxing heart needing resurrection and the way that Apollo Creed and Adrian come to his rescue; I so enjoyed the way "Rocky III" parallelled the Rumble in the Jungle. Balboa seduced Clubber Lang, in their rematch, to punch himself out. And Rocky talked smack! "You ain't so bad!" "You ain't nothin!'". Rocky even does that Ali humiliation move where he lays his glove on his opponent's head at arm's length. It's a message. It says, "I can measure you. I can stand close to you without protection. I can take whatever you have. You can't get me." Rocky barks at Clubber, hands at his side, "Come on! Knock me out! The whole world's watching!" I didn't want to be disappointed by a Rocky movie inferior to number III. I never saw IV. I never V.
But, my sisters and brother-in-law wanted to see "Rocky Balboa" and I figured it had been since the summer of 1982 since I saw Rocky III at the Wilma theater with Scott and Jeff Stuart, and we ate Hot Tamales, that I could handle it if "Rocky Balboa" turned out to be bad.
"Rocky Balboa" is not set in the world we all live in. If you want it to be in the world you and I know, stay home. Walk out your door. Go shopping at Yoke's or IGA. There you can experience our world.
But, if you'd like to step into a world where hard work and kindness pay off in their own ways and a world where a sixty year old boxer can train again and get in the ring with a champ half his age and if you want to watch this sixty year old Rocky struggle with what he really has fire in his belly for, then you can enjoy this movie.
I enjoyed it from beginning to end. I surrendered myself from the outset to the Rocky world. I enjoyed how much South Philadelphia's Lucky Seven bar and the people who populated Rocky's neighborhood made me think of Kellogg in my younger years; I enjoyed how much the men in Kellogg longed for a Rocky and sometimes a Rocky-like figure came along. Rich Porter was a baskeball player in the late fifties who fit the bill. So was Tommy Brainard in the late sixties until he met his death by electrocution in a training room whirlpool. "Rocky Balboa" captures the yearnings that people without privilege have for one their own to go out into the world and kick some ass. Rocky did this in "Rocky" through "Rocky IV", with some trip ups along the way.
You can see how he fares in "Rocky Balboa".
Oh! Be sure to stay for the credits. The credits features a heartwarming series of video images that will transport you to the City of Brotherly Love and make you wish you could join the people portrayed and enter even more fully into Rockyworld.
Intellectually, psychologically, politically, morally, spiritually, Muhammad Ali was the most electrifying, compelling, principled athlete of our time, maybe of all time. Quick-thinking, a brilliant ring strategist, a charismatic man of peace and hope, Ali used his boxing success and his popularity to inspire people, bring political injustice to light, and, maybe above all, to entertain.
This documentary brilliantly portrays the complexities of Ali as well as the complexities of the United States and of Zaire. Ali becomes an emblem for African heritage, resistance to the Viet Nam war, oppression in the USA, and the struggle of African-Americans to forge an authentic identity. Thus, the breadth and depth of this movie. The boxing match is the film's climax, but oddly, not its focus, exactly.
The focus is much more on being African and African-American. Spike Lee weighs in. So does Don King. We hear stories of atrocities in Zaire. We hear James Brown, B. B. King, and also interviews with citizens of Zaire.
In all of this brilliant coverage, I thought George Foreman was portrayed sympathetically. It would have ruined this movie had Foreman been its stooge. He wasn't. Powerful, reserved, confident, dignified, Foreman loses to Ali because Ali took a huge, unpredictable risk; I think it was a measured risk on Ali's part, but Ali banked on being able to withstand body punches long enough to tire out Foreman and the movie shows us how Ali began working on this strategy very early in his training. Other ring strategy is discussed. Norman Mailer and George Plimpton add insightful analysis, especially of Ali's artistry.I enjoyed every moment of this film: the music, boxing clips, interviews, historical background, political exploration, religious dimensions, everything.
2. I nearly came out of my seat when "Rocky Balboa" champion boxer Mason Dixon espied Mike Tyson at ringside. I'd thought the movie was pretty fun up to that point, but then it turned into high stakes camp! I spontaneously and joyfully yelled out, at the sight of Tyson, a Dick Enberg-styled, "Oh my!".
3. On the spur of a moment today, I downloaded Brooks and Dunn singing "My Maria" and found a video of them singing it live. That song knocks me out. By the way, I also listened to the original B.W. Stevenson version. Top shelf!
Thursday, December 28, 2006
My 53rd birthday today has triggered a memory of my thirteenth birthday.
I invited a few of my friends over. I know Bones was there. I know Steve Jaynes was there. I"m pretty sure Sturt was.
The same thing happened each year on my birthday for several years. Because my birthday falls two days after Christmas, Mom and I would take stock of the Christmas gifts I had received and then see what I might like in addition.
On my thirteenth birthday, Mom did what she always did. She went up town to buy me a few things and, this year, left me and my friends alone to entertain ourselves until she returned.
One year dad got a "Gay Nineties" decorated liquor decanter and shot glasses. There was a kind of tree thing and the decanter when down the middle and along the sides were holders for the shot glasses. The decanter had a spout and an air pressure thing at the top. Push the top and out came the booze.
Dad kept his Tom and Jerry booze mix in this decanter. Making Tom and Jerry's just meant putting the mug under the decanter, pushing the top, and having easy booze to add with the hot water and batter.
Some one of us seventh graders decided to try this booze. Let's say Bones when first. One of us decided orange juice would make a good chaser. So, each of us poured out a shot of rum/whiskey/brandy into a shot glass, chugged it, and followed it with orange juice.
It wan't the first time I'd tasted booze, but it was the most I had drunk. I remember liking that stinging warm sensation of the booze hitting my tongue and firing down my throat.
It would make a really funny story if I could say we all drank so much of this booze and orange juice that we were puking by the time Mom got back.
But that's now what happened. We drank in moderation. We went back to playing Bingo or whatever we did while Mom was gone. She returned with a couple of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass albums for me, and we ate cake and ice cream and went bowling.
And we didn't get caught.
I know a good story should have rising action to a climax and end with a denoument. This story hit its climax when we drank the booze, but, sorry, sometimes truth is more boring than fiction.
Nothing funny happened. But, when it comes to drinking, we did get started young.
2. Several friends from high school and some spouses came to a party at my sister Carol's for my birthday party and potluck. Good Lord we've mellowed out. We sat in a semi-circle in the living room, plates of food on our laps, telling stories and not trying to shout over each other. Very little alcohol. So when/where was the tipping point? When did we tip from self-centered, manic, excessive drinking wild Kelloggians to Kelloggians with respect for each other and as happy with a bottle of water as a bottle of Olympia beer? (Dad used to always tell me that a lot of people think drinking is fun, but, he said, "It's hard work." I certainly felt more relaxed and rested after last night's party than I used to when these things were a alcohol-a-thon....[but I do miss those free drinking, red-faced days]).
3. Jake told one of my favorite stories at the party: he and Goose asked Goose's dad to use his car to go fishing. He said yes, be back by dark. Goose and Jake went to the 10,000 Silver Dollar bar in western Montana and got drunk and then drove to Wallace and a relative snuck them into bars for beers. They got drunker. It got dark. They hadn't returned. They knew Red, Goose's dad was going to be really pissed that they were late. Then one of them had a bright idea. They decided to go to Pottsville to the fish hatchery. They crawled along the ground to a fish tank, not wanting to disturb the motion sensor lights. They pulled twelve hatchery fish out of the pond, returned to their campsite, partied with Red until about 3 a.m. and told bullshit tall tales about why they were so late, including saying they caught the fish in a spot a long way away, Horshoe Creek or Horshoe Bend (something like that). Impressed by the fish Goose and Jake brought in, Red headed out the next day for the Horseshoe where Goose and Jake said they had caught the fish, and Red came up dry. I don't know if he ever realized that Goose and Jake had bullshit him.....or if he put two and two together when the Kellogg Evening News reported there'd been poachers at the hatchery and figured this two and two equalled Goose and Jake.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
And I did not buy no rose.
But I wrote this song instead and I call it,
Today's my 53rd birthday and my favorite birthday song is Michael Franks' "Popsicle Toes".
I'd like to post a video of Franks singing this song, for my birthday, but I haven't found one.
You would make what will be a very happy birthday even happier if you found this video somewhere and send me the goods so I can post it.
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
2. I saw Mike Bencich at the hospital today for the first time in over thirty years. Until my 1973 Zinc Plant accident, which put me out of commission, Mike and I were slow pitch softball teammates on the team sponsored by Dick and Floyd's.
3. Going to the mall then to ShopKo then to the hospital and then to the casino with Jake and Ed.
Ed, Jake, and I graduated from Kellogg High School together in 1972. Jake is a Shoshone County Deputy Sheriff. Ed hauls logs. We went to Coeur d'Alene today to the Silver Lake Mall.
Ed and Jake went to Hickory Farms while I went to Verizon's store. After we reunited, Ed and Jake told me the following conversation occurred with one of the Hickory Farms salesgirls.
Ed had picked out a Hickory Farms variety pack. He was writing out a check to pay when Jake flashed his sheriff badge and said, gesturing at Ed, "We see a lot of this guy. Long history of bad checks."
Ed retorted, "Don't mind him. He got that badge off the Internet."
Salesgirl, "You know each other, don't you?"
Jake, "Well, yeah, he's in county jail about every weekend."
Ed, "Oh, now, son. Don't you think that's enough?Take my hand. Let's go get Ronnie a lollipop."
Ed takes Jake (Ron) by the hand and leads him away from Hickory Farms.
The salesgirl can't stop laughing.
Jake, "Yeah, I went to see Dad yesterday and the ornery son of a bitch flipped me the bird."
Brief pause. "All I did was tell Mike Bencich that I don't know why Dad didn't find the tumor sooner on his own. He's always has his head up his ass. You'd think he would have seen it."
Jake's bedside manner will pull Jack through, if nothing else.
Jack claims that everytime he sees his friend, he gets out a tape measurer and measures Jack for his casket.
"Fuck off you morbid son of a bitch," Jack tells him.
Not every one outside the Silver Valley gets it. It seems coarse and inappropriate, these jokes and comments.
It's the sort of outlook on life I long for when I'm not here and relish when I return.
Here's a jolly snowman:
The snowman might be so happy because he shares a yard with Snoopy:At the nursing home, this globe sits under the gazebo to brighten up residents' spirits:
This angel sits outside the front door of the nursing home, offering hope and brightness:
Homer Simpson plays Santa two houses down from Mom:
Also two doors down is this snow globe:
For whatever reason, some figures don't make the cut and are cast aside, neglected:
2. As a Christmas gift, Christy made a basket of family, friends, town, and state memorabilia for me to help trigger remembrances in my writing. I'll be posting pictures of items in this basket and pictures that were in it over the next week or so.
3. Mom told the story of her family's car getting stuck in the mud after a Christmas Eve program at the country school and not getting home until near dawn and Mom was surprised Santa hadn't come because it was almost dawn. Her mother told her Santa could only come if/when children went to sleep. Mom went to bed. When she awoke, Santa had arrived and her gifts were under the Christmas tree.
Monday, December 25, 2006
My favorite Christmases occurred near the end of my growing up in Kellogg. They were the first three Christmas Days of my undergraduate years.
I loved the reunions with my high school classmates who had either gone to other colleges or stayed in Kellogg and the way we would all find each other, most often at the Kopper Keg or another bar, at high school basketball games or holiday parties or just at one anothers' houses.
Nothing, nothing, nothing has been more fun at Christmas time than when I'd walk into the Kopper Keg with Steve Jaynes or Ed Bailey or Roger Pearson or Terry Turner and from around about four tables pushed together and the buddy bar a chorus of Merry Christmases rose and we started a round of handshakes, drug brother fellowship shakes, or giving each other skin and bought each other pitchers of beer and told stories and found out what was going on in each others' lives.
The great thing, too, was that often our gal friends would have a table somewhere, too, and we'd hug and they'd be smelling nice and we guys would try for about a minute and a half to be all gentleman-like, but soon we were all Kellogg kids and having a great time together.
We were so unattached back then. We had jobs so we had some money. Few of us were married. We still had the robust feelings of invincibility that came with being just out of high school and we could feel ourselves maturing and many of us were starting to see a world beyond Kellogg.
But here, in Kellogg, was where we knew how to act with others who knew how to act with us. We had terms of speech and ways of giving each other a bad time and shared stories and ways of being social together and inclinations toward excess that didn't always play well outside of Kellogg, but we knew how to be with each other and I'm sure that I never talked louder, laughed harder, or drank beer with more raw energy than when seeing my friends at Christmastime during my college years.
Maybe this Wednesday night I'll experience something close to what happened thirty-five years ago. Carol is hosting a party for my 53rd birthday. High school classmate Sue Dahlberg is calling old friends in the Silver Valley and in Kootenai and Spokane County to come to the party so we can see each other and have a potluck. Kenton Bird might come up from Moscow.
If we drink, it'll be in moderation. That'll be different.
We'll have a potluck. I doubt I'll spill a plate of spaghetti on anyone's lap the way I did on Dave Hollands at a drunken progressive dinner on New Year's Eve when I was nineteen.
We'll gab. We won't all try to be the center of attention. We won't be hoarse after the party from yelling over loud music and each other to be heard. We'll have new health problems instead of new lovers to tell each other about.
The tone will be different.
But it will be a time of reunion with many of the same friends I partied hard with in 1972-75 at Christmas time and I look forward to our older and maybe wiser ways of sharing our affection and spreading holiday cheer.
When I return home to Kellogg for Christmas, these lights trigger my memories and these lights give me the sense of cheer and community I long for where I live now, Eugene, OR.
I know that to most of you, it might seem I'm being sarcastic because this decoration has such a Charlie Brown look about it; it's not elaborate; it's not memorable; it's sort of scrawny. But it's what says to me that my hometown is in the Christmas spirit and wants to do its part to represent the light of life coming into a dark world.
Someday, maybe soon, I'm sure a movement will gain momentum in Kellogg to replace these old decorative lights. So be it. I'll miss them, but my heart will still leap if the City of Kellogg replaces these lights.
But, should the City of Kellogg decide to replace these old lights with no lights and decide not to decorate the town, however modestly, my heart will sink.
That's a change I would not welcome.
2. At the Christian Life Center the very young children who were sheep in the Christmas pageant wore cotton ball wigs. One child pulled balls off his head and tossed them wherever he was facing. Can't say I blame him.
3. Paul, my brother-in-law, took his three (very well-behaved, lovely) young daughters skiing this afternoon leaving me and my sister Carol alone in the house and it was blissfully, peacefully, restfully quiet before everyone congregated for Christmas Eve goose dinner, German-themed.
Sunday, December 24, 2006
Yesterday I got married eighteen years ago to Beanie.
Today I got married nine years ago to the Deke.
The Deke and I drove from Eugene to Spokane on the ninth anniversary of me having married Beanie. We stayed with friends.
On our wedding day, we drove from Spokane to Coeur d'Alene and arrived at the Hitching Post Lakeside Chapel about 90 minutes ahead of our appointment.
The minister said he could take us early. He sent us across the street to buy our marriage license.
We asked him how much it cost.
We emptied our pockets outside and were about twenty-five cents short. The courthouse didn't take a check or plastic. We scraped around the floorboard of my Chevy S-10 pickup, lifted up the floor mats to see if we could scrounge up the quarter we needed. We found enough pennies and a nickel to bring us to within a dime.
I regret what happened next. Two elderly women were strolling by the Hitching Post. I figured between them they had a dime. I didn't think they'd mind if I asked them if they could spare a dime so we could get married.
But I didn't ask them.
The Deke and I went to an ATM and got the cash we needed, secured a license, marched back to the chapel, and to the sounds of organ music on a cassette player we, with no one else present, without fuss, joined in holy matrimony.
Beanie and I had been divorced for two years, separated for almost four.
The Deke and I drove to Kellogg for our honeymoon. We got to Mom's house earlier than planned.
The figure of Mom was framed by the picture window.
She had rollers in her hair and was vacuuming the living room.
Our honeymoon was under way.
It's a metaphysical puzzle.
If a marriage fails in one's youth and the Roman Catholic Church annuls it, did it ever happen?
My sister Christy created the cookies pictured above in memory of Dad's enjoyment of a Christmas smash. My father called a shot of booze or any kind of mixed drink a smash. He loved people to come by the house for a Christmas smash. Christy's cookies are called Christy's Christmas Smash cookies.
She invented these cookies after reading my blog post entitled Christmas Smash. My post inspired Christy to go against the grain of her usual "by the book" approach to baking and create a sweet delight of her own. A few years ago Christy had made Cognac Sugarplums (and they danced in my head). They were similar to bourbon balls. Christy's Christmas Smash cookies would be a variation upon the Cognac Sugarplum.
She describes the making of the Smash cookies this way:
I found a few other truffle type recipes and tonight mixed
together what I thought sounded the best and made
Christy's Christmas Smash. I didn't have cognac so in
honor of Dad I mixed a little brandy, a little whiskey
(left by you Bill a few years ago), and dark rum.
Fortunately, I only had good stuff... no Carstairs.
The recipe is a nice mixture of espresso, dark cocoa,
booze, nuts, and sweet stuff. You put them away and
let them do whatever they do in a tin.
I think what they do in a tin is breed liquor inflected sweetness. It is as if the sugar and booze and orange and espresso comingle and are fruitful and mulitply into a family of complex and nearly unbearable rich flavors.
More impressive is that Christy has managed to create a confection of family history in her Christmas Smash cookies.
They are a tribute cookie. They pay tribute to Grandma Woolum who made fudge from a recipe off a marshmellow creme jar that combined Hershey's bars with sugar with marshmellow creme and were so sweet that after I ate a piece I would see purple and green rhinos dressed in tie dye dancing ballet to "Break on Through (to the Other Side)".
They pay tribute to the box of booze Dad bought every Christmas season in anticipation of Christmas visitors he could mix a Christmas smash for. Had we hosted a Betty Ford relapse party, we could never have served all the booze Dad bought. Mom snapped at Dad about all that booze. But, Dad had a plan. If booze was still around after Christmas, he could have a few January smashes and on Wednesday night from 9-10 the Black Velvet would magnify his respect for the Statler Brothers' bass Harold Reid and give him the courage to mush mouth sing along with Merle Haggard's "Okie from Muskogee".
They pay tribute to the long family tradition of cookie variety, evenings devoted to baking everything from sesame butter cookies to walnut toffee bars to pack into little bags or boxes and deliver to neighbors and other friends as a way of spreading generosity and good cheer. The anchor of this tradition is my mother, and both my sisters have out-Mary-ed our mother in divining new kinds of cookies and other treats and sweets. The Christy Christmas Smash cookie is the new epitome of invention and variety.
Lastly, Christy's Christmas Smash cookies pay tribute to sitting in Mom's living room and telling stories. Once these free for alls get started, not even God knows what biways and detours and dead ends our stories might take as we try to figure out who married whom and who went on which trip on what Christmas to Orofino. It's all about trying to find out the truth. These stories are often triggered by cookies. Christy's Christmas Smash cookies are a new story, beginning with Cognac Sugarplums and continuing with Kelloggbloggin and fueled by Dad's love of Christmas smashes and detoured by recalling the details of the drive we took to Metaline Falls where I bought the whiskey that I left at Christy's that went into the recipe that became the cookie Christy calls Christmas Smashes.
2. Real weather. Light snow, slightly heavier snow, heavy snow, melting snow, slushy snow, hard packed snow, snow slush mix roads, wet roads, low sky, slate light, wind, and now 25 degree freezing fog.
3. Christy, Mom, and I tried to figure out if the time Dad got pulled over by a state cop with Mom and Jerry Turnbow and infant sister Carol in the front seat, and Dad and Jerry hiding their beers under Carol's baby blanket, and Christy and I in the back seat, was the same day in 1964 as next door neighbor Frankie Rinaldi's funeral and how old Frankie was when he died and how one time in the summer of 1964 when Dad got the idea that Vodka would be a better summer drink than beer, Frankie filled a tall tumbler with Vodka and drank it straight down and how Frankie brought us homemade vino and goat's cheese and loved to hold Carol when he got off work while Mom fixed dinner and he watched James Garner in Maverick and I wondered who was playing that day at Joe Albi stadium the day Dad got pulled over and he'd just been to Frankie Rinaldi's funeral.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
Driving here today: The sky was slate or foggy. Low. No glare. A shaft of light broke through and illuminated a dinghy on the Columbia River. The roads were wet, dirty, safe. The lumpy hills in Washington across the Columbia River were not purple, but lime green, covered with young vegetation. As the mountains flattened into the rolling hills of the Palouse, lightly covered by snow, layered by fog, my heart began to race. I love the lay of this land. I left Eugene at 6 a.m. I arrived at 4:30 p.m. I'm ready to sleep. The blog world is quiet. It's almost a silent night at Huckleberries and 2Blowhards. Learning the Argenitine Tango might be done until 2007. Student of Life has been quiet. So has her husband, Rapid Eye Reality. No email today. I'm hoping to write more after some restorative sleep. More about Kellogg.
And being here.
2. Christmas lights are everywhere in Kellogg. Santa is coming to town.
3. I'm staying at my sister Carol's house. Her family has a family tree, decorated, and my three nieces each have a tree. I feel like I've come out of the darkness into the light.
Friday, December 22, 2006
I'm wound up because it's the night before driving to Kellogg.
I'm excited to see my mother and sisters and to see my friends.
I'm excited for my birthday party next Wednesday night. My sister, Carol, is hosting it and is working on getting friends of mine from the KHS class of '72 to come.
I'm excited to play poker with friends. I'm excited to go to Worley and play some slots and bemoan my bad luck with my other bad luck friends. We'll enjoy each other's company. It's a great drive from Kellogg to Worley. We can cover a lot of bullshit between the two towns and back again.
I'm excited to go to church and be around the Kellogg-Wallace Episcopalian parishioners and worship with them.
I look forward to the drive.
I look forward, maybe the most of all, to write my first series of Kellogg Bloggin posts in Kellogg itself.
I hope I can sleep tonight.
2. Finding out three phone calls and ninety minutes later that the snafu which seemed to be costing us about fifteen hundred dollars can be straightened out with an amended return.
3. Listening to The Alan Parsons Project concept album "Eve" and remembering how, twenty-five years ago, its angry songs about women gave me a source of feelings outside of myself to work out my own disillusionment and bitterness about the divorce from my first wife I was going through.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
When this poem was published, the editor asked if I wanted the period after "Lit." I said I did. The title is short for World Literature, a course that often includes Flaubert's Madame Bovary. Only later did I realize that she wondered if I meant "lit", a form of the word "light".
Yes. It's both.
A future post will feature my reading of the poem. I'm having some troubles getting my podcast over here. You can leave here and go to the podcast, though.
Nick drove Tiffany and Brittany
To their mom’s house
After the school harvest pageant
Ran an hour over
And Cyndy wanted to talk about why they were late
And child support
And whose turn it was to pay for
Tif’s croup pills - -
And then Cyndy went on and on
About Nick going to junior college
About how bad the battery was
And how she’d drove to Home Depot
To use a coupon to buy those cute Kermit the Frog
And why had he let the Triple A coverage go
And if it weren’t for this nice guy in the parking lot
She’d still be there
Trying to get that goddamn motor to turn over
And she started to start in on why he took the girls to Taco Bell again
When Nick tried to explain
That he’d just cleaned the corrosion off the battery contacts
But that he’d told her when they were married
And hadn’t she said that she was gonna pay the Triple A
Because he covered the last dentist bill for Britt
And he’d talk with her later because he had to get to the cedar shake mill
For graveyard shift.
Yanks cap pulled low,
Waiting for the bus
Chewing Skoal Classic,
reading Madame Bovary.
2. Othello director Sparky gave me a little stuffed lion for Christmas to commemorate playing Lion as Snug the Joiner in our 2005 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream which she also directed.
3. I watched Tara and Ben play their Emelia and Iago handkerchief scene today and, with six weeks to go until the play hits the boards, they are off book and exploring all kinds of sexual tension and gamesmanship between the two characters. It was sublime watching them play today. I tingled.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
2. I bought dog food and cat food today and the woman working the counter showed genuine interest in my upcoming travels to Kellogg. I took a risk. I wished her Merry Christmas. She wished me the same. My leapt with joy at the exchange.
3. Reviewing writing my fall English Composition students finished fills me with satisfaction as I read their improved eloquence and deeper intelligence.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
On the whole, as I daily observe and help educate college students at Lane Community College, I am deeply impressed with their determination, kindness, courtesy, intelligence, curiosity, and desire to be good.
I also, in my lesser moments, envy their stuff. I can't imagine what it would have been like as a NIC freshman in 1972 to have a device smaller than a baseball card that I could use to listen to Glen Miller and Tommy Dorsey as well as Three Dog Night and Cream. My students carry the history of recorded music with them, not just the music of 2006.
But, they don't have nicknames*.
In 1972, when I strolled into a party or a bar filled with friends, someone would mark my arrival by calling out my father's name: "Hey,Pert!" If George White was present, he called me "Cotton". Some called me "Irish". I'd sit down with Stu(aka Sturt, Mulligan, or Ned), Byrdman(aka Blowtop), Lew(aka Bartalome), Louie(aka Dunbar), Chick (aka Pierce or Dodger), Jake, Bones, Snotz, Bach, Squirrely, Buck, Buff, Goose, Hog, Dogfoot, Abby (aka Brooks), Eddie, Kenny, Lars, Stinky, Magilla, Sparky and we might tell stories about Sweats, Fancy Art, Jeremiah Bean, Carmen, Dersky, Catfish, Trout, Poz, Sman, Ollie, Reuben, Chat (the Cat) and others.
Some of these nicknames were mean. Some were highly complimentary.
I still do it today, but more in private, calling people I know outside the home by nicknames with The Deke.
But, all in all, the nickname calling I knew thirty, forty years ago has dissipated (except in the world of hip-hop). I grew up knowing professional athletes by nicknames like the M&M Boys, the Say Hey Kid, the Splendid Splinter, Stan the Man, Hondo, Whitey, Yogi, Pee Wee, Dizzy, Yaz, the Human Highlight Film, Dr. J, Magic, Larry Legend, The Toe, Johnny U, Frenchie, and so on.
I don't know. The young people I work with are so respectful of each other's names. The only student in my classes I knew had a nickname was Tiffany, who former friends called Stiffy. I think of nicknames for my students all the time, but keep them to myself.
If they call each other anything, it's dawg. It gives them a hip-hop feeling. 'Sup dawg?
I'm not like my junior high band teacher, Wayne "Tank" Benson, who had a nickname for every kid in the band. I was "Beautiful". My fellow baritone horn player, Wayne Denlinger, was "Desdemona". Don Windisch was "Alfalfa". My little sister Carol was "Pooh".
If anyone reading this was in junior high band with Wayne Benson and you know other nicknames, please click comments and write them.
I'll be leaving for Kellogg on Thursday. Lars, Stu, Jake, Rooster and I are going to try to get a poker game together and play on Stu's boat, if the heater works.
Rooster, Jake, and I will go to the Casino for a day some time.
I'll see Tank out at Johnny's Bar for coffee in the mornings. Hog Hill will be there, too.
But, today, I'll send student papers out in the mail. I'll look at each of their names and wonder what their nicknames might have been thirty-five years ago in Kellogg, Idaho.
Wucky? Fanner? Vinnie? Linnie? Li'l Sweats? T.A.T Mongoose? Greebs? Rifer? Doc? Nifty? Goggles? Roscoe? Boafer?
Nope. Those are all taken. They live in the Silver Valley -- along with the scores of nicknames I can't remember.
P. S. I think I might have overstated my case about lack of 2006 nicknames. The students I act with come up with nicknames for each other. Matt calls Scott "Hoop" and I call Scott "Trump" and Scott calls me "Snugman". Nicknames are alive in LCC theater. One other place nicknames are THRIVING, is on blogs and in chat rooms. I write under a nickname in this very blog! The fellows over at 2Blowhards use nicknames. I read the comments of all kinds of nicknmamed writers at Huckleberries Online. So, what am I thinking of! Nicknames abound, just not in my classroom or when I am around the current generation of youth in the cafeteria or in the classroom.
*etyomology of the word "nickname": [Middle English neke name, from a neke name, alteration of an eke name : eke, addition (from Old English ēaca; see aug- in Indo-European roots) + name, name; see name.]
Monday, December 18, 2006
2. Standing in line for about twenty minutes or so at the Post Office and watching customer after customer wait patiently and be served in a friendly and patient manner. Eric, the clerk I went to, wore fatigue on his face, but wished me a good day with sincerity and warmth.
3. Kenton Bird, my lifelong friend from Kellogg, has discovered my blog and reminded me of a time he and James, his quiet brother, came to our house for a Christmas smash and Dad referred to the reserved James as Kenton's "mouthy brother". My guess is that at some point in the evening, Dad also told him, after he hadn't spoken for about twenty minutes, "Hey! James! Shut up!" That was his way.
Many of us, however, are resisting specialization and are undaunted by not being professional in much that we do. In my whole life, at age fifty-three, I've never seen so much admirable amateurism in daily life. Much of it is right here on the Internet, but not all of it.
Using myself as an example, I revel in all the things I do that I am far from accomplished at, that no one would pay me to do, that I have no real training in, but that I enjoy immensely.
I'm an amateur actor. I'm an amateur photographer. I'm an amateur when I use Windows Movie Maker. I'm an amateur song mixer on CD's. I'm an amateur historian. I write memoir passages on this blog as an amateur. I am an amateur student of the working class and how work is experienced and how workers express themselves in writing and art. I'm an amateur movie buff and verbal film critic.
If you are reading this blog right now, you are reading the thoughts of an amateur writer. In the world of professional writing, I would have no business writing about what I'm writing about right now. I'm no sociologist.
One of my favorite blogs, Huckleberries Online, is like many blogs of its ilk in that it gives amateur journalists and commentators a place to write scoops, observations, raise questions, keep pressure on public and private entities, and write with a freedom often denied the professionals. The amateur doesn't have a professional reputation to uphold. The amateur can swing and miss, but can hit some pretty towering home runs sometimes, too.
I can hardly wait to get some writing together and go to lulu.com or a similar print on demand service and publish a book or two. Why put myself through the time consuming meat grinder of the book publishing profession? Do I need their cred? No. Am I looking to make money off my writing? No. Am I looking to groom and maintain a reputation in the world of publishing? No.
I'd like to publish some of my writing and give it to friends and family and if I sell a book or two, fine.
I want to approach it as an amateur.
I hope the glories of amateurism will flourish again. I enjoy knowing that so many people are taking writing, music, acting, journalism, sports reporting, and other avocations seriously, putting their work out for others to enjoy, but are not hamstrung by the idea that it's only worth doing if you get money for it or if it's nothing short of superb.
Amateurs don't have to be superb. Often there's not time to be superb. There is, however, time to enjoy doing a handful of things enjoyably, not letting the perfectionist demands of professionalism and specialization get in the way, or ruin what we love to do.
Together, we are restoring the luster to the word amateur that it has lost. If you tell me my efforts at writing and photography and acting seem like the work of an amateur, I'll smile and say, "Thank you. You can tell?"
2. Buying the Deke a new digital camera and anticipating the enjoyment she'll have taking pictures of our dogs as well as the children she works with teaching music. I'm also hoping she'll express her wonderful and often caustic wit through her new camera.
3. Tonight, because she was working on her own, I appreciated how Ruth Ames is doing a first-rate job assisting in the direction of Othello. She is clear in her directions, helps keep Sparky aware of production details and what time it is, does her best to chase down tardy and absent actors, and helps free up Sparky to give her best attention to helping actors and to her exercising her rich imagination.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
2. Molly leaves for Miami tomorrow so the Deke, Molly, Patrick and I exchanged Christmas gifts and Molly cried when she opened a stocking cap the Deke knit for her.
3. Former Wallace-Kellogg American Legion baseball teammate, Starr Kelso, commented favorably on my slide show. I looked up his picture at his blog site and thought about him and his pal Hugh Marconi and his home runs, and our difficult season in the summer of 1970, which I wrote about here and here.
Saturday, December 16, 2006
At Lane Community College, we perform Shakespeare on and in front of a Globe theater facade.
Here's how actors climb to the upper level:
I'll look over my stairway pictures some more and decide if I want to do a two or three minute short presentation of them.
2. I succeeded in uploading my slide show "Lane Community College at Night" onto youtube.com.
It merges my first themed effort with a digital camera, my first effort with Windows Movie Maker, and my first upload to YouTube. I feel like a kid again! Lulu.com, here I come!
3. I walked into my darkened office where I keep XM Radio's Channel 70 (Real Jazz) on nearly all the time, and my Springer Spaniel, Snug, was lying on my bed, as if in a trance, as if he were in a Bee-Bop, Beatnik groove. I half expected him to recite the opening of "On the Road".
Friday, December 15, 2006
I teach at Lane Community College. This is my meditation upon having fall quarter come to an end. The entire piece was photographed on LCC's campus, here in Eugene, Oregon.
I decided to use some pictures not perfectly focused. They seemed to work with the overall tone of this piece.
I hope you enjoy it.
2. I successfully uploaded on to youtube.com my slide show "Lane Community College at Night". I'll post on this blog as soon as I can.
3. I realized that drinking Diet Pepsi while eating popcorn is like having a caramel, citrus, and cinammon popcorn ball without the trying corn syrup bonding agent that makes popcorn balls difficult for me to eat.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
2. For reasons I do not quite understand, I love to lie in bed and write. I did so much of the afternoon today. Blogging and emails. Snug lay on the bed with me. (For the record, I'm seated at my desk as I write this!)
3. While lying on my back, I made wonderful discoveries in the world of e-books and and other digital content and book publishing on demand (HT: Michael Blowhard).
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
I can't figure out how Christmas Day used to seem to last so long. How did we get up, open gifts, eat Hungarian coffee cake, clean up the gift wrap, send me and Dad out to dispose of the wrapping paper, stop at Dick and Floyd's for coffee, and still have time for a stream of visitors to drop in and have some Christmas cheer.
No, not Christmas cheer in our home. Dad called a drink a smash. He offered friends a Christmas smash.
I think what my memory has done is take all the visitors we had over the years and remembered them as happening year after year.
But, every Christmas the first morning visitor was the same. Just as we were getting all settled down from gifts and coffee and coffee cake, the aluminum storm door would rattle with a ten o'clock knock and one of my favorite voices would laugh, and while shaking Dad's hand, say, "God Damn It, Pert. Merry Christmas you fat old son of a bitch. Jesus Christ you look like shit. Guess Santa didn't bring you any good looks again this year!"
Dad: "Jesus Christ, come in and shut your God Damned trap and sit your ass down. What do ya wanna drink, you asshole?"
I loved Christmas morning in Kellogg. The spirit of God Damn you Merry Gentlemen was heart warming.
It was Mike Turner and his wife June. Mike was the Silver Valley Bogey Bread man and one of the friendliest guys and best bullshitters in the county. Dad and Mike were on the same bowling team and Mike's wife June kept score and was a wicked bowler herself. June's claim to local, and national, fame was being the mother of Denny Crum, the Hall of Fame Louisville Cardinal head basketball coach, a fact she rarely mentioned.
Mike and June loved to pay Christmas visits and we must have been early on their route.
Mike was a Lucky Lager man and after he wished Dad Merry Christmas he always said, "I'd like a goddamned beer, Pert. You got anything 'cept that shittin' Heidelberg."
Dad: "You'll drink what I give ya, you old bastard. Here." He handed Mike a Heidelberg and turned to June and said, "Now that I've got your miserable son of a bitch of a husband taken care of, what would you like my dear? How 'bout a Tom and Jerry?"
He knew she wanted one and he proudly went to the kitchen to fix one, Mike nipping at his heels.
And so the day was under way. Jerry Turnbow's family came by. Margaret and Woody Gallaher. The Robinsons. Donnie and Rosie Rinaldi. It was a fairly steady stream. Later in the afternoon when we figured we could go, we went up to Ed and Carol Whitley's for a Christmas smash.
Looking back, I'm heartened by the informality of it all. From behind the bar at the Sunshine Inn, Dad must have told friends to come visit, but most who came didn't need an invitation. Among people Mom and Dad knew, you just went out and visited people on Christmas.
At some point that tradition of visiting others peetered out. Kids got older. Families stayed closer to home. The Bunker Hill closed. People moved. Others just got older, lost the urge to get out on Christmas morning. Dad quit working at the Sunshine Inn. A social change occurred.
This Christmas, I doubt we'll have many, if any, visitors. Dad is dead. My sisters and I talk about resurrecting the Tom and Jerry batter. I suppose we should half the recipe. Mike Turner is dead. So is Woody Gallaher. The Turnbows don't live in Kellogg. Neither do the Robinsons. Jack, the Robinson's father and two of the kids, are dead. Maybe my friend Ed will drop by before he goes to Worley to play slots.
But we don't drink anymore.
And what's Christmas without a smash?
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
2. Another role I play in Othello is a reveller from Cyprus.He's drunk. I don't drink anymore. I was amazed at how acting drunk came to me as easily as reading the morning paper.
3. A hangman's noose was lying off-stage and I think a picture of it might play a satirical role in my developing slide show narrative.
When Bonnie and Clyde first start their crime spree, they have the whole country before them. They travel from state to state, town to town robbing banks and enjoying the mobility of being young Americans with the mobility of the automobile.
But, as time progresses and their crimes increase, they begin to come under the scrutiny of the FBI. They appear on Most Wanted posters. They have to become more furtive. There are fewer and fewer places they can go. We watch their world contract. Gradually, their whole world is the automobile that once was their vehicle to freedom. Slowly, it becomes their prison.
By the end of the movie, their world is very small. They are figuratively suffocated by their crimes and at the end of the movie, it is this confined space of the car where they meet their death, shot up by the FBI.
Othello, too, is a man of the whole world when the play begins. In his testimony to the duke and senators upon being accused of winning over Desdemona by witchcraft, he describes how he has been from the top to the bottom of the world and seen all kinds of strange sights.
As the play progresses, Othello becomes affiliated with the wide expanse of the sea, and his is the military lord of the sea, as the Turks are defeated and Othello arrives at Cyprus.
At Cyprus, Iago begins to work his diabolical schemes upon Othello, and in his jealousy, Othello's world begins to shrink, to fold in upon him. Iago isolates him more and more from others, blocking his access to anyone who might set him straight. Othello is obsessed. His obsession increases his claustrophobia.
Soon his world is the citadel. Soon, his whole world is his bedroom chamber. No longer the master warrior of the high seas and foreign lands, by Act V, Othello's world is confined to the room where he and Desdemona sleep. The action being confined to this small space is a physical portrayal of a psychological and spiritual truth: deeds and emotions that rob one of life rather than affirm life, have as part of their consequence the sensation of the world closing in.
Shakespeare seemed to understand this as he slowly but surely shrinks Othello's physical world, even as his mind and spirit close in on him. Likewise, the world closes in on Bonnie and Clyde and they turn on each other and on those close to them. In both plays, with the freedom of expanse gone, the madness of confinement imposes itself upon these characters, and they are destroyed.
Sometimes the people I work with when putting on a Shakespeare play don't seem to know when I'm serious or when I'm being a wise guy.
Cast and crew might also be getting tired of me.
You see, I've done the same thing in three straight Shakespeare productions. I keep saying about single obscure lines or minor characters or apparently disposable scenes: "the whole play is in that line" or "character" or "scene".
Here's one example. In "Othello", the senators of Venice are trying to figure out what the Turkish navy is up to. The Venetians want to stop any Turkish designs on regime change or empire building. The character Othello is who the Venetians will enlist to lead troops against the Turks.
In an early war room discussion, the duke and the senators receive conflicting messages about the Turks. Regarding a feint of the Turkish fleet, as they appear to be attacking Rhodes, the senator I play remarks about this feint: "'Tis a pageant to keep us in false gaze."
I was laughed at last night when I said the whole play is in this line.
But, it is.
Iago is a maker of false appearances. He is a maker of small "pageants" to deceive Othello to believe that Desdemona is unfaithful to him. He, like the Turks, attacks Othello aggressively. He works these pageants "to keep" Othello "in false gaze".
As long as Othello is in "false gaze", Iago owns him. As long as he persuades Othello to see what isn't there and to believe what didn't happen, he can steer Othello in any direction he wants.
In other words, Shakespeare is so obsessed with the idea that the senses are unreliable, that we almost never know what's actual, that he portrays this truth at every level of life in the world of "Othello": in government, war, revelling (or drunkenness), father/daughter, friendship, desire, love, and marriage. The Turks want to keep Venice in false gaze. The tipsy Cassio is in false gaze. Desdemona has kept her father in false gaze. Iago encourages Roderigo to maintain a false gaze in his desire for Desdemona. Othello maintains a false gaze upon Iago. Iago creates pageants that feed Othello's false gaze upon Desdemona.
It's more than a theme. This incongruity between "pageant" and "false gaze" and what's actually true is the foundation of destruction in this world. The Turks' feint fails because the Venetians see through it. It's the only time in the play a pageant is actually seen as false.
Pageant keeps the others in false gaze. False gaze spells ruin. Especially for Othello. Again and again and again in his plays, Shakespeare portrays that actuality has power and to live out of accord with what is actual spells ruin.
Does Shakespeare see all of us as prone to false gaze? Does he see us all as prone to the power of pageant?
So, that little line of mine as an anonymous Senator is fairly important. The whole play is in that line.
So is the drama of being human.
2. Reading essays by my poetry students and finding out that many of them came to enjoy poetry after having had lousy experiences with poetry in the past.
3. Having coffee with Michael, Margaret, and Jeff and ricocheting from one topic to another and making wise acre remarks about everything from Shakespeare purism to Ian and Sylvia. You had to be there.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
2. When it comes to Shakespeare, I love it when I get to play older, sort of stupid, blustery, self-righteous men. I loved being Polonius. I loved playing Snug, the Joiner...who was very kind and adorable, but a bit slow upstairs. I loved playing Antonio, who was older and self-righteous and very committed in his love for Hero, and really went off on Don Pedro and Claudio. Fun. Fun. Fun. Tonight at Othello rehearsal I got to read the role of Brabantio. What a feast of bluster, impotence, bigotry, and malice. It was really fun. I love Tyler, but if he has to miss another rehearsal along the way, I'll enjoy filling in for him!
3. The retired Bishop of Idaho, John Thornton, put his arm on my shoulder and told me he not only enjoyed my reading from the Book of Baruch in church today, but that my reading made him believe what the scripture said. How gratifying.
- The woods and every fragrant tree
- have shaded Israel at God's command.
They transport me back to May in the back yard of my family home in Kellogg. May is when the lilacs bloom. Their fragrance sweetens the air. This was no small task in Kellogg when I was a boy. Often, the emissions from the Lead Smelter and Zinc Plant fouled the air. Often, the odor of rotten eggs prevailed. But, the lilacs' fragrance was stronger than the emissions. When the sun was out and the breeze was just right, the lilacs perfumed the whole back yard.
Later, when I lived in Spokane, lilacs perfumed the city.
This power of fragrance to suffuse a place is a common metaphor in the mystical tradition. The mystic equates the sweetness filling the air and the way it seems to wrap around us like a thick comforter with the presence of the Divine. It is the idea that we live in God or in the Holy Spirit or in the Divine. It is why we bring Easter lilies into our home to celebrate the Resurrection. The fragrance of new life fills our homes.
The ancient Persian poet Rumi loves this image. So does Walt Whitman. So do the Japanese haiku poets. Whether the fragrance is cherry blossom or lilacs or lilies, or whether it is the perfume of a sweet wine or of the back of a lover's neck, we can find a sensory means of understanding the sweet presence of the Divine by imagining it in terms of these fragrances.
In the poem from Baruch, then, the woods, like God, not only bring shade and comfort and relief to Israel, they also bring fragrance, like the incense of cedar, to Israel, reminding Israel that they live in the sweet presence of God.
The church has approximated this mystical reality in liturgical worship with incense. When incense is burned and its smoke permeates the sanctuary, cloaking worshipers in fragrance, it is as if the sweet unity of the Holy Spirit has taken physical form, and we are reminded of the way we are never absent from the Holy Spirit's healing and illuminating ways.
In earlier days, the incense also sweetened the air in churches where worshipper's body odor was strong and where the stench of sewage and other human enterprises fouled the air. The symbolism is clear. Even in the presence of that in life which is corrupt, the fragrance of the Divine is at work, reminding us that we are always in the company of the Holy. It is the sweetness, the perfume, the fragrance of pure love.