When Donald Met Boris

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The White House recently revealed that President Trump had canceled a secret Camp David meeting with the Taliban, ostensibly because of a Kabul car-bomb that killed an American soldier.  Rumor suggested that vicious infighting among Trump’s security advisors might have been the real reason.

Not so.  It was an administrative snafu.  Camp David had just become part of the Trump hotel empire and new staff confusedly booked the Taliban and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson for the same weekend.

Trump decided to dump the Taliban.  The thing that bugs me about them, he told an aide, they never take their hats off inside.  Not a problem with Boris.  With that hair, he doesn’t need a hat.  Gotta find out about that hair.

Here are a few key excerpts of their discussions:

(At The Front Door)

Boris, Boris.  Welcome to Camp Donald.  It is indeed a …

I thought this was Camp David.

It is … well … it was.  You see, I own it now and I figured it needed a new name.  Donald, everybody knows, but who’s David?  Maybe from David and Goliath?  But then, “Camp Goliath” would have been better than “David.” Majestic and powerful and …

Stupid, defeated, and dead!

What?  You mean Goliath was the loser?  To a Jew?  Big guys are always the winners.  I mean, look at me, I’m …

The point is, Donald, it was named by one of your great Republican predecessors, Dwight Eisenhower, for his grandson, David.

With respect, Boris, could you at least let me finish one sente …

Of course!  I’m listening.

(At Lunch)

So, now that we’ve agreed to disband NATO, deep-six the European Union, and withdraw from the UN, there’s one thing I’ve been dying to know.  How do you get your hair like that?  No offense, Boris, but it looks like you just got out of bed.

Curiously, my hair looks just like yours when I get up.  I think my silk pillow smooths it out.  It takes my stylist nearly an hour to get the just-woke-up look.

Interesting, but, if I can ask, why so scruffy?

Well, a parliamentary democracy is like an eternal boxing match.  You fight to keep the opposition off-balance and then you fight to keep your own party members in line.  I just had to dismiss 21 members of my own party for voting against my Brexit policy.  Really!  What a collection of wankers!

Wankers?  

I think you call them jerk-offs.  But back to the important question — my hair. I’ve got to look like I’m ready for battle any time and — no offense — the bouffant style would make me look like a poof.

Poof?

Pansy.  Faggot.  Queer.

Jeeeeez.  I never thought about that.  My base doesn’t go for the pansy thing.  What if they thought I was … but naaah, they know I love to grab pus …

Indeed, who doesn’t!  Power has its perks!

You bet your tush!

Tush?

Ass!

Ah!  Speaking of asses, wait until you hear what the Queen said in …

(At Dinner)

Y’know, Boris, I’ve been thinking about what you said about tossing 21 of your fellow Conservatives out of the party.  Maybe I should do that!  I mean, we’re a parliamentary democracy, so you’d think I could …

But you aren’t.

How can you say that?  We’re the greatest democracy on the face of the earth!

Of course, you’re a democracy, but not a parliamentary democracy.

But we have a House.  We have a Senate.  When they vote, it’s always against me, but mostly they just sit around playing with their own … come to think of it, they’re a bunch of wankers too!

I think you’ve got it!

So, anyway, how’s all this going to affect Brexit?

Well, it’s going to be tough, but we’ll leave without a deal.  Those European Union busybodies, those bloody …

Bloody?  You mean you’re literally going to fight them?

No, no, bloody just means … well, in your terms it would be goddam.

What’ll you do about Northern Ireland and Scotland.  Won’t there be trouble?

We’ll sort them out, the twits!

Twits?

Idiots.

Boy, you are something else, Boris!  How ’bout a toast.  To the wankers and poofs and bloody twits and their fat asses, may they rot in Hell.

Indeed, Donald.  To the jerk-offs and pansies and goddam idiots and their fat tushes, and ditto to their eternal damnation.

(Together) BY GEORGE, WE’VE GOT IT!

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The Kids Are All Right

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A few years ago, on a beautiful fall day, I was out on my bike, pedaling up a blessedly gentle slope after a hill-climb that had nearly conquered me.

It was mid-afternoon, and, passing a local high-school, I watched at the red crossing light imagesas SUVs, new sedans, even a couple sports cars — most of them driven by students — came out of the school parking lot.

My mood darkened at the thought of spoiled kids, who would be better off — both for themselves and the planet — walking or running or cycling to and from school, as I had in my youth, uphill in both directions, often in a blizzard.

But my mood improved once I was past the school, into the neighboring state park, with Pied-Billed Grebes on the pond, Western Kingbirds in the tall grass, fearless Prairie Dogs, barking by the side of the path, and, just beyond them, a vale with a small creek and willow trees.

l pedaled up out of the vale, over the next hill, and coasted down to a small, green-roofed gazebo standing, anomalously, in the middle of a field.  In front of it was a sign: World Youth Summit Site, 1993.

The sign reminded me that, in the last few weeks of my first residence in Colorado, Pope John Paul II had attracted to the park tens of thousands of kids to celebrate being young and hopeful and (presumably most of them) Catholic.

Under the gazebo roof, plaques explained that this bit of prairie had been carefully protected from crowd damage and had emerged from the experience even healthier than before.  Whatever the reason — holy water? prayer? a Papal miracle? all of the above? — the boast was justified.

As I stood there, imbibing the beauty and sanctity of the spot, two runners — both girls — came down the hill path, then straight through the prairie grass up to the gazebo, kissed one of the pillars, turned, and, as they ran off back up the path, shouted Wish us luck in the race.

At first, I thought they were calling to me, but concluded they were probably asking the spirit of the late Pope to bless them.  After all, that was surely what kissing the post was about, next best to kissing his ring.

After they had vanished over the crest of the hill, I headed back on the same path, and met scores of other kids, running down the hill, toward the gazebo, also presumably to give the pillar a kiss, though I didn’t check.

All their hardy exercising and good spirits raised mine, though I did give a thought to the possible health effects of too many lips on the same pillar, and hoped that their coach at least carried a bottle of disinfectant.

Once again, I passed the devil-may-care Prairie Dogs, and saw other birds — Killdeers skreeing, a Kingfisher on a limb over the pond, and a Kestrel surveying the grasshopper population.

Beyond the school, by now emptied, I passed sports fields where football players were beginning to trudge back to the locker room, girls were practicing softball, and, further on, little boys were kicking little footballs through little goal posts.

I was contented, left only with the minor puzzle of what the Kissing-Pillar signified.

About a year later, when I was interviewing college applicants, I got the answer.  Myimages-4 interviewee was a young woman, from that very high school, and a long-distance runner.  I asked her if she knew anything about the curious practice of gazebo-pillar-kissing.

Oh yes, she said, we always do it.  It’s at the half-way mark of our training run, and it means ‘Thank God.  We’re headed home.’

Buying Greenland

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(President Trump places a long-distance call to the Office of the Prime Minister of Denmark)

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Hello, hello, is this Marty Fredricks?

Mette Frederiksen, and who is this?

It’s Donald Trump.

Ah, yes, Donald, how nice to hear from you.  To what do I owe the pleasure of this auspicious occasion?

Pardon?

What’s up?

Oh yeah, right, well, to keep it simple from this end, Marty …

Mette

Yep, sorry, these Scandinavian names are confusing … and shouldn’t your last name end in something like “… dottir” since you’re a daughter and not a “… son”?

Well, technically, I’m a “… sen” but that gender distinction is no longer relevant, and we should 

Women’s lib, eh?

You could say we’re way ahead of you, but, no matter, what is the reason for your call?

Yes, of course, to get right to the point, for which I’m exceptionally famous:  I want to buy Greenland!

You WHAT!?

Want to buy Greenland.

Uhhhh … what in the world for?  A hotel?  A golf course?  Both?

Hmmm … that’s an interesting idea … but, no, it’s not really for me, it’s for the incredibly wonderful people of the United States.

So, you really mean, “We, America, would like to buy Greenland.”

Hey, you’re sharp.  You got it in one.

Of course I’m sharp.  I got elected without any help from Russia.

No need to be nasty.

Anyway, why would America like to buy Greenland?

Well, y’know, with that polar ice-thing melting, the whole strategic situation up there in the … in the …

Arctic …

I thought it was “Artic,” like in “Article” …

No, it’s Arctic, as in Noah’s Ark.

Oh, yeah, as a matter of fact, you could say the situation’s pretty much the same as the Ark, with water rising and all that stuff.

So, your objective in buying Greenland is to save its animals?

No.  What’s a few polar bears?  Actually, what I’m worried about is the Russians, and maybe even the Chinese, taking advantage of new sea routes opening up, up there, and maybe using Greenland as a base of operations, and threatening us.

By “us,” I presume you’re including all of your NATO allies, and other like-minded countries.  

Ummm … that’s an interesting point … I … uhhh …

So, what you’re saying is that you haven’t given any thought to your NATO allies, including Denmark, and that you don’t trust us, whose soldiers have fought and died alongside yours, to help defend Greenland on our mutual behalf?

But you don’t really spend very much on NATO …

Have you recently checked the percentage of our GDP spent on NATO compared to yours?

Well, our economy is growing so amazingly fast that our percentage, naturally, goes down temporarily, though …

… Though the recession you’re facing will solve that?  Good luck!  But, never mind. More important, are you telling me that, after years of poo-pooing climate change, you actually believe it’s a reality?

Well, you know, a businessman’s gotta protect his interests against all possibilities …

But you’re not a businessman now.  You’re the President … the President of the United States!

Yeah, but it isn’t forever

(God bless America!)

… and I gotta think about my investments.

So, it really is about golf courses and hotels on Greenland once all the ice has melted and submerged Mar a Lago and your other resorts.

Look, Marty, just between you and I …

Damn it, it’s Mette, and, by the way, it’s “you and me!”

(Christ, she really is nasty!)  Anyway, METTE, between you and me, if you sell it to us, you’ll always have a penthouse suite and a place to play golf.  But, I gotta get goin’ to the G-7 meeting.  I think it’s in France.  Oh, and I don’t think I’ll be able to fit in that visit to Denmark.  But do think it over.  Bye …

(And this is the leader of the Free World!?)

A Talk on the Moon

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The recent 50th anniversary re-examination of Apollo 11’s July 1969 moon-landing has made that extraordinary event more compelling than ever.

The centerpiece, Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the Moon and his history-making statement — That’s One Small Step for Man; One Giant Leap for Mankind — comes alive again, a simple, emotional response to survival against the odds, and the chance to walk where no one had ever walked.

But the story behind his statement is more complex than most realize, as newly-available sources reveal:

images-3In late 1968, NASA formed a working group, including Armstrong and fellow astronaut, Buzz Aldrin, to formulate the statement.  In their first meeting, Armstrong suggested a patriotic song.  Can you sing?” they asked, and Armstrong answered by launching into the National Anthem.  But, when he screeched that wicked high note, the problem was obvious.  Since Aldrin was still in the running to be first on the Moon, they asked him to give it a try, but he too murdered it.

Armstrong asked if they could lower the key, but he (Aldrin too) could only growl the lowest note.

Armstrong, who actually had a pretty good voice, then suggested Purdue’s (his alma-mater’s) fight song and, again, launched into a version, but, at the second stanza — Hail, hail to old Purdue! Our friendship may she never lack (to rhyme with Gold and Black of the first stanza) — they stopped him.  If it was to be anything, it should not be so parochial, nor so tone-deaf.

At this point, Aldrin, who did not have a good voice and hated to sing, objected that Armstrong was being given an unfair advantage.  The team agreed, and they turned to the spoken word.

Since this was a group of technical specialists, their strength did not lie in the realm of oratory or poetry.  But they were acquainted with some of the famous utterances of history.  Armstrong, a military history buff, suggested an English version of Caesar’s “Veni, Vidi, Vici.”  The team agreed that the “I came” and “I saw” part was at least accurate, but the “I conquered” conclusion might persuade some that he (whether Armstrong or Aldrin) had battled actual Moon-Men, which could create panic at home.

Aldrin, a West Point grad, suggested the I Shall Return statement of fellow West Pointer, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, but the team was uncomfortable with so controversial a figure, though they admitted that the phrase could comfort a public, worried that the astronauts might never make it back home.

The team looked at other famous statements for inspiration, at least as starting points, but nothing resonated —  We have nothing to fear but fear itself” made into “We have nothing to hope but hope itself” sounded, perversely, hopeless, and “Four score and seven years ago” made into “109 hours ago,” at least as an opening line, made the mission seem insignificant by comparison.

The team even looked at famous American poets for possible inspiration, but found Robert Frost and Walt Whitman unacceptable (too flinty and too homosexual, respectively).  They considered Emily Dickinson until a member read her Because I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me poem and that was the end of that.

By the fifth meeting, the group understood that they themselves had to create the statement.  Each member was asked to come up with one, but this, too, did not satisfy: Hello, Earth, this is Apollo 11, speaking to you from the Moon, with … (too first-talking-picture-ish) … We stand, gazing with awe at God’s creation, humbled and … (too Billy-Graham-ish) … Here on the cusp of history, we pause to … (too-Presidential-State-of-the-Union-Address-ish) … In the name of the USA, we hereby claim this land for …(too-Manifest-Destiny-and-possible-incitement-to-World-War-3-ish).

It was agreed that Armstrong, who by now was first-moon-walker-designate, should come up with something that was genuinely his.  What he produced was exactly what we heard on that fateful day.  The team liked it — modest, optimistic, genuinely personal but also universal.  They suggested only one minor change, that “one small step for man” should be “one small step for a man” since “man” and the subsequent “mankind” meant the same, and the reference to all humans might be muddied.  Armstrong took note.

The team decided that, to be on the safe side, Armstrong should record the statement, which could be broadcast virtually simultaneously with his first step on the Moon if transmission problems should arise.  He made the recording, forgetting to add the “a” before “man.”  But time was very tight and they let it ride.

When Armstrong climbed down the ladder, set foot on the Moon, and realized he wasn’timages-7 going to sink beneath the surface, he was so flabbergasted that he forgot his script and actually said, “Jesus Christ, this is the biggest, most wonderful goddam sandbox in the universe!” and began bouncing joyfully around, as we back on earth witnessed.  Mission Control blocked his transmission and, instead, broadcast the recording that has become scripture.  It left out the “a” but, with the astronauts safe, who cared?!

Haikus for Our Golden Years

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WE IMAGINE THE FUTURE

“I’m gonna play for
The Bruins or the Rangers.”
“First, let’s learn to skate.”

“I’m thinking about
Becoming a novelist.”
“It … does … take … talent.”

BUT THINGS HAPPEN

“Would the following
Please turn in your equipment:
(Yes, that includes YOU).”

“Just read your essay.
Boring!  I gave it a C,
Which is generous!”

AND WE CHANGE

“It looks like an M,
Or … maybe … a … W?
How ’bout a hint, Doc!”

“Yea, the Lord giveth …”
Amen! Fat is unhealthy!”
“I said LORD, not LARD!”

Six pills at seven.
Or is it seven at six?
Math!  Never my strength.

(OR MAYBE WE DON’T)

Sorting old pictures.
Boy, was I super-cute then.
Still am, come to think!

AND THINGS CHANGE

What are these wrap songs?
About gifts or coats or scarves?
I‘m completely lost.

I went last year to
Another class reunion.
My word!  They’re so old!

How kids talk today!
Mercy sakes, where did they learn
Such fucking language?

STILL, WE WARILY ADJUST

A steep flight of stairs.
My climb-up conditioner
(Or fall-down downfall)

“Ned, this is Mary.”
Well, actually, I’m Marge”
“Right … Ted, this is Meg.”

Crosswords keep me sharp.
Three across: “Swiss mountain chain.”
Aha! It’s “Alpo!”

Exercise is good.
I’ll try a half-marathon.
Four blocks and back … right?

July 4, 2019: The President Addresses the Nation

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Hello, America, Hello!  The First Lady and I wish each and every one of you a Happy Independence Day on this truly historic Fourth of July!  Today, we come together as one nation with this very special Salute to … (what is that noise? where’s it coming fr …? the tanks? some asshole’s started up

0fa37cfe9bd6dcd030be45fec1477e37the Abrams tanks?)

Well, as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted … What?  What?  You can’t hear me?  I’ll talk louder.  So, as I was saying, we come together as one nation with this very special Salute to America.  We celebrate our history, our people, and the heroes who proudly defend our flab … our flag … the men and women of the United States Military.

We are pleased to have with us Vice President Mike Pence and his wonderful wife … (what the hell are they doing now? another tank? what? all right, all right, so it’s

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a Bradley fighting vehicle, what’s the effing difference? nobody can hear me with all that racket; tell those idiots to stop it; they’re just for show, goddammit)

… Karen, or something like that, and all our other distinguished jests … guests.  

Together, we are part of one of the greatest stories ever told: the story of America.  It is the epic tale of a great nation whose people have risked everything for what they row is knight … know is right … and … (Jesus H. Christ, what is THAT noise? 

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a B-2 Stealth Bomber? what the hell do they mean Stealth? I never heard anything so fucking loud and, anyway, who the hell told it to come now? fucking idiots! now I can’t even hear myself!)

BEAR WITH ME.  I’LL SHY TO TROUT … TRY TO SHOUT.  AS I WAS SAYING, IT’S A GREAT, GREAT STORY, A CHRONICLE OF BRAVE CITIZENS WHO NEVER GIVE UP ON THE DREAM OF A BETTER FUTURE.  AND IT IS THE SAGA OF, I THINK IT WAS ABOUT TWELVE OR THIRTEEN SEPARATE COLONIES THAT … (Holy Fucking Mother of God!  What the bloody hell is THAT? Oh, yeah, I see it, it’s

imagesAir Force One! Christ on a crutch; I told them the end of the speech, the end of the speech, not the Goddam beginning!)

I’LL SHOUT LOUDER.  ANYWAY, ON THIS DAY, A SHITLOAD OF TIME AGO, OUR FOUNDING FATHERS PLEDGED THEIR LIVES, THEIR FORTUNES, THEIR SCARED …THEIR SACRED … HONOR TO DECLARE … OH FUCK, FUCK, DOUBLE FUCK, I’LL BE DIPPED IN SHIT, IT’S THE

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GOD-DAMNED BLUE-FUCKING ANGELS … (WHAT? WHAT? LANGUAGE? OH, DON’T SHIT A BRICK; NO ONE CAN HEAR OVER ALL THIS NOISE; I’VE HAD IT; LET ‘EM READ THE REST OF IT IN THE PAPERS, IF THEY CAN READ, THE IDIOTS; I NEED A DRINK AND I NEED IT PRONTO!)

The Year of Magical Thinking

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A banquet usually comes after the hard work is done — the wedding, finally, after three years of shilly-shallying; the bar mitzvah, after hours of study and no stickball; the treaty, after twenty-four walkouts and twenty-five resets.

And the dessert always comes after the banquet’s main course.

With its 50 billion dollar economic development plan for the Palestinians, but silence on a political plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, America insults the Palestinians with the world’s biggest, most calorie-bloated, hot-fudge sundae.

The Palestinians, who know a thing or two about healthy Mediterranean eating, are not biting.

What good would all that money do for us, they ask, without the political status to assure its lasting benefit?  If you’re filled with ice cream, you may be good for 25 yards, but you’re dead for the marathon.

The Palestinians are not stupid.  They know when they’re being condescended to by a U.S. government that has no stomach for, and apparently no understanding of, the hard work necessary to reach a genuine, mutually-agreed, internationally-supported, durable peace.

Trump tossed away American credibility as a neutral arbiter with his blatant intervention in the Israeli election campaign on Netanyahu’s behalf, first with the move of our embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, signaling that Palestinian claims to a share of the Holy City mean nothing, and then with official recognition of Israeli sovereignty over what is still juridically Syrian territory in the Golan Heights, as if American interventionism made international law.

(Netanyahu won’t show it in public, of course, but rumor suggests he still has the image of Trump’s lips on his ass, in hot-fudge.)

It’s fair to ask why one should be upset about this.  After all, America is being consistent with our fundamental moral obligation to support the protection and well-being of a people — the Jews — who have suffered the worst tragedies imaginable.

And, we should not relax our support for Israel simply because, at least for the time being, it now shares a bed with former Sunni Arab enemies, all facing a common foe in Shiite Iran.

But the Palestinian story is not without its tragedies.  And, if our commitment is to justice, they too deserve our support.

Besides being morally defensible, a balanced policy toward Israel and the Palestinians is a matter of practical importance.  The Middle East will be turbulent for decades to come.  If the Israeli-Palestinian issue (which, after all, has been a primary cause of war and discord for more than half a century) can be resolved with justice, at least we will have one fewer conflict to worry about.

At this point, since the Trump administration’s Israel-Palestine policy is still-born (and driven more by its perceived U.S. electoral advantage than its purported benefits to the adversaries themselves), probably the best we can hope for is regime change — here, at home, with ballots, not bullets.

Do the hard work now.  Let the banquet — with a hot-fudge sundae after — be the reward.

A League of Their Own

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UnknownIn a recent four-game baseball series, the Colorado Rockies and the San Diego Padres jointly produced a record 92 runs, with 17 home runs.  

The fans were delirious.  Of course!  Who doesn’t love a carnival, with endless cotton candy and a ferris wheel and a roller coaster whirling you up and down and around and around, and hopefully only a little vertigo and nausea.   

And who doesn’t love inflation, the carnival’s political cousin, with the same wild ride and slightly wobbly ending.

If Major League Baseball were a country, it would be Venezuela, and the officials and owners would be President Maduro — myopic, clueless, stubborn.

There are things in baseball that need fixing (the time-wasting shuffle of relief pitchers; the waiting for hqs to review footage of the play at first base), but the major villain is The Home Run.

Baseball has been, and can be, a beautiful sport, but the Home Run Era starves it of its most strategically challenging and exciting moments — the bunt, the steal, the suicide squeeze, the hit-and-run and, most important, the base hit that invites the players to demonstrate these other skills.

But, realistically, why would any sensible manager rely on these stratagems when the bludgeon of a home run is available? 

Even if we wanted to cure the home run plague, there are substantial obstacles, beyond fan sentiment.  Expanding the outfield would require impossibly massive stadium renovation.  And there are the players who hit home runs because they are bigger and stronger and more skilled than ever.  They shouldn’t be arbitrarily penalized for doing what the fans love.

The only practical pressure-point is economic — provide fans with entertainment that’s better than what they’re getting, an alternative whose skill requirements, including batting skill, are as rigorous as in the major leagues, but whose physical differences limit out-and-out power, specifically the power to hit 17 (boring) home runs in 4 games.

We should support women’s professional baseball.  It can’t start at the major league equivalent, but we’re already well along, with skilled, competitive women hardball and softball players (the latter could make the transition to hardball easily, as did the players in the 1940’s All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, memorialized in the movie, A League of Their Own).

If we need examples, they’re right in front of us:

As the Home Run Derby was taking place, the American women’s World Cup soccer team was starting its run.  The first match was no test, but the second, against Chile, was better-balanced and demonstrated that, when teams are close in skill and style, the fact that the women may not run quite as fast as the men, nor kick quite as hard, is irrelevant.  Given a high-enough level of mastery, it’s the comparative skill level of the two teams that makes the game exciting.

Women’s hockey is another example.  The best men and women hockey players are exceptionally skilled.  But the flow of the men’s game is regularly impeded by physical intimidation that ties players up on the boards, slows them or knocks them down, sometimes injures them, and, not coincidentally, prompts fights that are the game’s greatest stain.

Women hockey players are not exactly pansies, but the difference in size and brute strength produces a game that flows better, is less encumbered by skirmishes, and actually ends up being speedier, more graceful, and more interesting than the men’s game.     

Yeah but, you might object, where are these women going to play?  Nobody’s going to build new stadiums for them.

During the season, every professional baseball stadium, major and minor, is vacant as often as it is filled (every home game for one team is an away game for the other).  That’s a lot of real estateUnknown-1 standing idle, begging its owner to be used profitably.

So, let the wild rumpus begin.  May the better (not necessarily bigger or stronger) side win.

A Civil War Diary

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In the early 1980’s, my father tracked down the Civil War diary of Edward F. Hopkins, his maternal grandfather.  The diary had left the family, time and circumstance unknown, and was owned by a Civil War buff.  The owner kindly produced a written transcript, which Dad typed up, photocopied, bound in multiple copies, and distributed to family members and a local historical society.

(Department of Irrelevant Digressions:  The binding my father used was his own, patented, invention.  Since it was developed on company time, he got no direct financial benefit, which, when you also account for his just missing a patent on what came to be called microfiche, explains why I am sitting in a well-worn chair, in the back-bedroom of my modest house in Colorado, typing this, rather than reclining on a chaise longue, by the pool of my immodest villa in Cannes, dictating it to my secretary.)

The diary begins on August 6, 1862 with Edward finishing a carpentry job in Pompey, NY, and noting the U.S. Government’s plans to draft 300,000 men.  It ends on December 31, 1864 with him, recently invalided out of the army, back in Pompey, listing fellow 149th New York Volunteers killed or wounded in that year.

The diary is methodical and, with a few exceptions, unemotionally factual.  We learn that, in his nearly-twenty-five-months of service, he …

Helped recruit scores of friends and acquaintances for the 149th NY Vols …

Entered as a Second Lieutenant and left as a First Lieutenant …

Traveled many hundreds of miles by rail — from Central New York to DC; from DC to Tennessee to northern Alabama; and from Tennessee back home …

Marched uncounted hundreds of miles from encampment to encampment to battle to encampment to battle …

Wrote scores of letters home and received nearly as many in return …

Reported regularly on the weather, which, unsurprisingly, was mild and pleasant at times, rainy and utterly foul at times, and bitterly cold and snowy at times …

Took part in major battles at Chancellorsville (Va) and Lookout Mountain (Tenn), matter-of-factly recording their brutality, but little of their emotional impact on him … 

Had his picture taken regularly (ambrotype) when things were quiet and he could get to a nearby town …

Built, or helped build, or supervised the building of, scores of huts, storage rooms, shelters, bunkers (he was, after all, a master carpenter) …

Kept careful accounts of money borrowed, lent, and earned, and kept track, by letter, of properties owned back home …  

Seldom complained (in his diary at least) about the food, periodically had to buy his own food, and kept careful accounts of those expenditures …

Was frequently ill (diarrhea), but incapacitated only three times — (1) when he was granted leave to go home (he reports he was to face a disciplinary hearing for overstaying his leave, but we never hear about this again); (2) when he was hospitalized (dysentery) outside Gettysburg and consequently missed the war’s most famous battle; (3) near Chattanooga when, sleeping outside, he was injured by a tree-limb felled by compatriots who were collecting logs to build a shelter.

This injury hospitalized him for six weeks.  After his first request for leave was denied (prompting an unusual outburst — I think it is an outrage, am entitled to one if anyone is), leave was granted, he headed home by train, itemizing the cost of the last leg (Cleveland-Syracuse — $8.10), and was officially invalided out.

A Few Final Thoughts: Participants in wars often describe the experience as long days of routine (trying not to die of boredom) punctuated by hours of sheer terror (trying not to die, period).  The diary conveys something of this, but within a limited emotional range.

It is possible that, if not for diarrhea, dysentery, and an errant tree-limb abbreviating my great-grandfather’s participation in active combat, my father might not have been around to put the diary project together, nor my beloved cousin who added genealogical data to its publication, nor even, come to think of it, I.

Now that’s something to ponder!

The Joy of Words

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Some decades ago, when I was teaching, I rode the twenty-miles-or-so to college with Ted, a fellow-teacher and dear friend and one of the wittiest people I’ve ever known.  Ted was a scientist, but his real passion was words.  He especially loved teaching science fiction and his students especially loved his teaching.

On the long drive to and from school, we often played word games, a lot of them made up on the spot.  One day, as we once again passed the old bucket factory, Ted said it had closed.  I asked what happened.  Bottom fell out.

We mined that particular vein for a while (Consolidated Brassiere — Went bust; Allied Tape — Couldn’t make it stick) and eventually moved on to poster blurbs for movies, some real (The Great Escape — “Avant-Garde!”), some not (High Steel — “Riveting!”).

As far as I can remember, we didn’t get into books, but I can imagine the one-word evaluations we might have come up with.  So, in memory of Ted and in honor of words and their infinite delights (all the books, by the way, are real) …

Confessions of a Funeral Director: Cryptic

shoppingLives of the Great Composers: Noteworthy

In the Sewers of Lvov: Distinctive

A Walk in the Woods: Pedestrian

The Zipper Club — A Memoir: Fascinating

The Hand: Gripping

Strong Man: The Story of Charles Atlas: Uplifting

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Boisterous

On The Road: Movingshopping-1

And Then You Die of Dysentery: Gut-Wrenching 

Paradise Lost: Careless

Understanding Asthma: Breathtaking

Keep Calm and Crossword On: Puzzling

To the Lighthouse: Salty

 and so on.

There are also vast possibilities beyond the limitations of just one word …

Of Mice and Men: … gnawed at me ceaselessly

UnknownThe Wind in the Willows: … blew me away

The Tin Drum: … snared me at once

The Jungle: … difficult to get through

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant: … hard to swallow

… in case you assumed that great books inspire only lofty ideas.