Monday, October 5, 2015

Plus ca change

I'm reading a fine biography, finding a flock of quotes to share with you:
…huge vulgarity…shrieking unfitness ... for the office which he sets out to buy…absolutely without experience in office, impudently flaunting his wealth before the eyes of the people and saying “Make me President.”… 
…imbued with a belief in his own greatness, convinced that his unique powers of leadership could benefit the nation…thinking he could ride to the heights on headlines…
…many citizens...regard him as a rich man with sympathy for the masses…
…the adolescent’s capacity for seeing things in simplest terms – good or bad-- …
 …a little drunk with acclaim, with cheers…a vindication of his campaign of personal of the White House
…sincerely felt that the country needed him…
…a person...without a word or act in the public life of his country…could [he] by any possibility be elected  President of the United States?

we end with one last quote, from William Jennings Bryan, voicing his support for the Presidential nomination of William Randolph Hearst in 1904:
 ...the man who, though he has money, pleads the cause of the poor; the man who is best beloved, I can safely say, among laboring men, of all the candidates proposed...

And now here's Norm Lank, probably being told "YOU'RE FIRED!" in Trump Tower, June of 2002

Monday, September 28, 2015

Fall of the Sparrow

I came out here to the desk this morning -- well, let's be accurate, it was just past noon.  I mean to report on Old Age, so let's confess -- these days I mostly go back to bed after breakfast and watch tv movies right through to the end.  Then I wasn't sure what I was seeing through the window here so I went outside -- which sounds more impressive than it was -- I tottered outside with a cane.  And found this bird stuck in the peanut feeder

and definitely dead. 
If I had got dressed at a decent hour, I might have come out here in time to release it.  But that could have been even worse -- there was no way to free that bird from inside the feeder.  I had to tug hard to pull it through.  It would have been terrified to see me -- let's hope, at the end, it was only puzzled.  And I had to pull so hard it would certainly have died in my hand.
So the day started with a death.  Maybe a little death, but a big complete one for that bird.  It didn't know it was simply an expendable common house sparrow.  In itself it felt just as unique and all-important as an ivory-billed woodpecker would.  It was a whole world.  A few inches long, but containing the incredible spark of life.  Warm, operating smoothly, competent -- well anyway, up until the moment it was not all that competent.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Geese and Sassafrass

Earlier this month I tuned in on the re-runs of Ken Burns’ Civil War  just at the battle of Appomattox.  And sure enough, there he was, Ely Parker, the Seneca Indian who wrote out the terms of surrender for General Grant.  It took me back to the first time we ever heard about Ely Parker.
 In April 1965 I was out with a station-wagon full of kids, driving through the marshes west of here, looking at migrating Canada geese.  In those days geese all went South for the winter, and on the right day in spring, it was exciting to find huge returning flocks in the fields and ponds.  We’d start early, have a tailgate breakfast and follow the same country roads every year.
It looked like this one.
Then just for a different route home, I swung south on a road that led through the Tonawanda Indian Reservation.  And how could we not stop, at a weathered one-room log cabin, with a sign on the wooden porch.   I don’t remember what it said  – maybe that it was a trading post – at any rate, in we trooped.  I remember buying a cornhusk doll – “Don’t paint a face on it; it’s supposed to be blank” – and a fragrant clump of sassafras.  Dov says he still has a corn-husk mask, out there in Vancouver, and some sassafras with no frangrance left. 
The most fascinating part was the cabin itself, and the man who was there.  He had just returned, he told us, from Appomattox, where he played the role of his ancestor, Ely Parker, in a centennial re-enactment of The Surrender.  And he took us up the ladder to the cabin’s dusky loft, to show us an old trunk with "COL ELY PARKER" painted on it. 
Googling for a picture of the Colonel, I came across this:

The terms of the surrender were recorded in a document hand written by Grant's adjutant Ely S. Parker, a Native American of the Seneca tribe, and completed around 4 p.m., April 9.[18] Lee, upon discovering Parker to be a Seneca remarked "It is good to have one real American here." Parker replied, "Sir, we are all Americans."
Ely Parker fifth from right?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

No Longer Terminating

That meditation on "terminator" as contrasted with "exterminator" brought a detailed explanation from a PhD friend who specializes in Latin -- but today's mail opens the subject again.
      One problem with writing a blog intended for and about old persons is that it appears not all that many old persons read blogs -- most viewers of this one, as far as I can tell, have not yet reached a respectable age.  So I was particularly pleased, today, to hear from someone who tells me she has moved to a senior living facility.  Says her day's highlight there is feeding the ducks, for which she has even bought genuine duck food.  The card itself shows a grebe -- close enough for government work, as we used to say.
I would have guessed I was hearing from someone of a decent age in any event, for she writes in real handwriting, what I still think of as penmanship -- never even heard that word "cursive"  until a few years ago.  Besides which, she sends a post card!  With stamps on it!   I haven't had one of those in years, except possibly -- memory vague as usual -- when Connie wrote from Newfoundland. 
      But what I started to share with you is her excellent comment on the professional who got rid of those yellowjackets --
Wouldn't an ex-terminator be one who no longer terminates?
                                            Think about it.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Terminator in Action

At great risk to life and limb, I took six pictures of the yellowjackets swarming in the front shrubs, and this is all I got for my efforts.  You'll have to take my word for it -- they were thick here but they were evidently camera-shy.  As proof I submit the note left by the mailman (I know, I know, but ours really is a man), who suggested I put back the winter mailbox.  That's the box I nail up by the garage rather than shoveling, when the front walk is blocked by snow.  But I digress.
Those bees were just trying to make a living like everyone else, but of course I did call the exterminator, whom you can see in action here.  Pretty impressive.  Nice guy, too, but  when I photographed him without the disguise I had the video button on, so I can't show you he's perfectly normal.
 I'm left with just one question -- why is this guy called an exterminator?  wouldn't "terminator" do the job?  Doesn't he look like a terminator?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

More Wildlife Adventures

As you can see, I just filled the peanut feeder outside my window. 
Sloppy, though, spilled some nut halves on the ground.  And before I'd even got back in to my desk chair --


Sunday, August 23, 2015

From today's journal

Sunday, August 23, 2015
Clearing out top bookshelves yesterday, ran into an old paperback of The Manchurian Candidate, and this morning after breakfast I stayed in bed reading it. What a fine writer!  Lately I can’t stand poor style – left two library books unfinished last week because the writers had tin ears, just too painful to read.  They were books with NYTimes reviews too, from reputable publishers. Richard Condon was one good writer, though-- having seen the movie on TV lately, fascinated to see how the book had been adapted.
Then instead of getting up for lunch I ate
back in bed while reading the paper.   Turned on TV again while finally getting dressed, and darned if they weren’t just starting the re-make of The Manchurian Candidate, so I got right back in bed and watched that one too.  It was confusing, so about 4 pm I finally got up and came out here to Wikipedia the remake and figure out what they’d done with the plot.  
There’s no point in getting dressed now, and come to think of it, this is another day when I haven’t spoken one word to anyone.  Mostly because I can’t think up meals or take him places, when Nathan is visiting I tell myself – and his mother – that  I’ll give him what one seldom has in life, some time with no one telling him when to go to bed or when to get up or when to eat or what to eat.  And then when I was there in bed with my Stauffers lunch, doing the Sunday cryptogram --high point of the week -- suddenly realized that’s what I have myself now.
Delightful day.


Monday, August 17, 2015

Excellent Advice

Sometimes this summer when I ask where an out-of-town visitor is off to, I get  "Same as I said this morning, I'm having lunch with my old friend ___." 
Frankly, I could do without the "as I already told you".  So I was pleased to find this poem, which suggests you respond "not impatiently, but with gentle calm."  And as this is supposed to be a blog about Old Ladies, I'm forwarding it to you.  We can assume it had even more resonance before being translated.  We knew the man was an artist, played piano, and authored a best-seller but did you know he was also a poet?  A real Renaissance man...

            The Mother

When your mother has grown older,
When her dear, faithful eyes
no longer see life as they once did,
When her feet, grown tired,
No longer want to carry her as she walks –

Then lend her your arm in support,
Escort her with happy pleasure.

The hour will come when, weeping, you
Must accompany her on her final walk.

And if she asks you something,
Then give her an answer.
And if she asks again, then speak!

 And if she asks yet again, respond to her,
Not impatiently, but with gentle calm.

And if she cannot understand you properly
Explain all to her happily.

The hour will come, the bitter hour,
When her mouth asks for nothing more.

               --Adolph Hitler, 1923

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Stop By and Drop Off

First I should explain about OASIS -- it's an organization offering mini-courses to seniors.  That's where I heard those fascinating lectures about cemetaries I told you about some time ago -- matter of fact I've taught there myself, six sessions on Jane Austen.  The place has a paid supervisor whose title escapes me, but it's run pretty much by volunteers.  (The hourly pay for instructors, largely retired teachers, turns out to be pretty good, though.)
I've never found anyone there who knows what OASIS means.  I assume it's an acronym --  Older Americans,  Older American Seniors or some such?  Nor do I know where the funding comes from; I suspect places like the county's Office for the Aging.
At any rate, it occupies half a dozen rooms in the basement of an Art Deco building that once housed Sears Roebuck.  There's a long walk in from the parking lot, always a challenge these days, then the length of the building, escalators and the like.  So far, though, I've managed it.
Last Spring I registered for a five-session course on The Golden Ratio and Fibonacci Numbers, but it was over-subscribed and my check was returned.
Then last week the new brochure arrived.  I see they're repeating the most delightful title  -- I think maybe I wrote you about this -- Shop Before You Drop, which involves pre-planning one's funeral.  The bit of illustration on the right there accompanies the listing for that cemetary tour -- they're offering it again.  Great speaker; I'd listen to him recite the phone book. 
And they'll have the Fibonacci again! -- I hastened to put my registration and $38 in the mail immediately.  And a few days later, the phone rang.  For once I had  no trouble understanding the caller.  One of the volunteers said they could not complete my paperwork because I'd neglected to include a stamped self-addressed return envelope.
"You could mail me one," she said, "but that course fills up fast, so maybe you should come by today and drop it off."

Friday, July 31, 2015

Whistle Memories

I’m re-reading Robert Massie’s excellent Nicholas and Alexandra before moving it to the please-take bookcase, and this morning found that I’d forgotten about the doomed Romanovs'  Family Whistle.  For that matter, I’d forgotten about our own.

I was never an excellent whistler like my father or little sister, but even I could pucker up enough when she disappeared in the wilds of  the vast two-story five-and-dime.  Our family’s signal was a two-tone third -- sol-miiii—a piercing yoo-hooo.  Sometimes, wandering around the store, I’d hear different whistles – some other family's attempt to gather wandering siblings.
So whatever happened to the Family Whistle?  Did your family have one? Would my grandchildren even know what it was?  Now, I suppose, they whip out cell phones to call each other.  Or – oops, I’m behind the times again – they just text:  MEET IN PARKING LOT 10 MINUTES, OK.  I wouldn’t know – can you text a question mark?
Now I’m left with a cheerful song running through my head -- “The Whistler and His Dog.”  It’s one of the first songs I remember hearing on the radio (we’re talking 1920s here) and it featured a fine whistled solo.  For the Victor red label recording from more than a hundred years ago  -- try
Wikipedia says the composer played in John Phillip Sousa’s band. 
This label is from a different recording, but His Master's Voice does bring back memories.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Grounds Crew

A friend suggested I call a local garden store for help with weeding the back yard -- it's overgrown near the bird feeders and I certainly can't do that bending down any more.  So a few minutes ago I was on the phone, and talk about prompt service -- while we were still talking, a crew arrived.

The fawn, I'm afraid, didn't know the difference -- yum yum hosta!
This house is ten minutes from Downtown -- imagine if I lived out in the country!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Half-Inch Mystery

Yes, the catbird is still un-skulking.  Here's the birdbath this morning.  
But what I want help with is this exquisite creature, which landed on the windshield as I backed into the driveway.  It was so lovely I got out and went back in for the camera -- which turned out to be inadequate.  Zooming just made the lens aim for the garage in the background.  This is the best I could do. The color, at least, is just right.
You're looking at less than an inch: 
half an inch for the body, another half an inch for those antennae.  When the lovely creature started moving up the windshield, it fluttered what turned out to be two sets of those transparent checkered wings.
I have no idea how to Google for its name -- I'd like to know, for instance, whether anyone ever wrote a poem about this creature.  Any help will be much appreciated.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Apologies All Around

When I started a few years ago, I assumed there should be a post every day, then dropped back to every other day, then realized I don't have brilliant ideas even three times a week.  But for those of you who worry -- I'm just fine.  No idea why the hiatus this month.
As for what's going on -- I'll append a picture I just took and apologize for that also.  It's taken with a really old digital camera, not a lot of pixels, through a picture window, the zoom set as far as possible, my hands not all that steady --  and the bird is tiny.  But it's delightful to watch that goldfinch ignoring the full bird bath, hanging upside down at the end of the pipe to catch the next fresh drop that develops. 
 Hope you're having as nice a day as the bird and I are.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Big Worry

You'll never guess the big worry on this teenager's mind, but first I'll tell you about her situation when she wrote the chunk of old foolscap I just came across.  (We can ignore the "Private" -- I don't think it counts after three-quarters of a century.)
She's lying supine, flat on her back, with a board under her hospital mattress, allowed to roll over just once a day when the nurses change the sheets and give her a bath and massage.  Hasn't sat up for six months.  No radios allowed on the wards, not even with earphones.  She's more than 50 miles away from family and friends.  No phones of course.
   After months in a dim cubicle with curtains on either side  (fluorescents not yet in use) she's been moved to the far end of the 10-bed ward, so now she has the window on one side. Three feet away, behind the curtain on her left, an elderly nun is dying; black-robed sisters watch all night by candlelight, slow-moving shadows on the high ceiling. 
   She is more than halfway through a year-long sentence, aimed at heading off the hunchback developing on a adolescent spine. She writes in pencil. She doesn't own a fountain pen -- they're expensive -- and it'll be years anyone markets the (also originally expensive) ballpoint that will write upside down.   She writes on a legal pad, holding it overhead.  She starts with an attempt at whimsy, which will not, decades later, turn out to be her best style:
(I hope)
The Great American Novel.
  This is going to be the Great American Novel.  I don't think fourteen is too young to write it.  I was going to wait until I was at least twenty-one, but, as I have very little writing talent, I suppose I'd best begin now.  Then when I'm at least twenty-one I can write the Greater American Novel, and when I reach middle or even old age...(Let's skip some here.)
   My penmanship is terrible.  When I was in eighth grade Miss Forbes kept me after school because of it.  I wish Mr. Greenberg had kept me after.  I had a crush on him.  He was my first crush.  He offered to coach me in Latin during the summer.  I wish Mother had let him.    
   If I had to write "had let" in French I'd have a terrible time.  I wonder what tense it is? (75 years on she remembers her dread of  Miss Forbes and her dread of French verb blanks, but she doesn't remember Mr. Greenberg.)
   If I ever write a book, I think that's what I'll call it. "A Book".  I hope no body thinks of that title before I use it.  (Decades later, her best-selling title will be "Modern Real Estate Practice in New York.")
   I guess I'll let the novel go untill I can use my typewriter.  I'm flat on my back now, you know.  I expect to be in here 'till June.  I hope hope hope my face clears up by June.  My Sunday-school class is having a dance then, my first Formal.  My Formal is red and white in tiny checks on a thin material over a white skirt.  It has white lace with ribbons in it down the front and round the top.  You wouldn't think I could wear red, with my hair, but it looks beautiful and it has a full skirt.   (The exciting "full-length"  gown is a hand-me-down from rich cousin Betty, who likes red.) The dress will look fine but what if my complexion doesn't clear???
   This whatever-it-is is full of I's.  Well, why not?  I'm writing about myself for my own enjoyment.  I'm really enjoying it.  But I'd better be honest.  I keep thinking of some one else's reading it.
   This buzzer to call the nurses flashes on a little light above my bed. I can send an SOS -- three dots, three dashes, three dots.  If it didn't bother the nurses I'd learn to send the whole Morse code with it. (The nurses wear white dresses, white stockings and starched white caps that show what schools they attended, with 
black velvet ribbons indicating their status.)  
   Mr. Emmanuel asked me to write for the Sunday-school paper.  I wrote a fair article called "Parents Should Know."  I think he thinks it's going to be a regular feature.  Well, maybe it will.  (Forty years later she writes a weekly column that will appear in more than seventy-five newspapers -- that's before newspapers start to die out.)
   If I ever write a story and a murder enters into the life of one of the main characters, I'll just tell enough about it to show how it influenced him and even if you're dying to know who killed the old man, I won't even figure it out myself.
   I had a nice trip down to the X-ray room today.  Saw an Xmas tree in one room, and had a nice conversation with the elevator girl.  The X-ray man has an awfully nice-looking young man there -- and all he did was read "Thrilling Detectives" magazine -- the young man, I mean.
   When my writing gets unreadable, it's time to stop.

She got out in time for The Formal -- that's Daddy (he was short) -- don't remember who her date was.  The fur bunny jacket was Betty's also. 
Betty's dead now.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Weeping Willow

 Some of you will remember the tree that started falling on the office window two years ago.  When they took it down,  I had them leave the main trunk as a stump, about roof-high, for the convenience of birds who come to the feeders.


It looked wonderful one year later, last June, on the left there -- full of vitality, bravely compensating for the amputation.  But on the right, here's what it looked like yesterday, even after all that rain.  I guess it intends to give up. 
That healthy green fluff  bunched behind its left side is a volunteer sapling of some other species -- looks as if it did quite well over the year.
One door closes, another opens. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Who D'Ya Like?

Before this goes much further, here's the guy I'd love to see get the nomination, during a difference of opinion with Norm in New York City some years ago--
and not to worry, here they are after they Made Up.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Little Woman's Fur Coat

I didn't stay in bed watching movies this morning.  I stayed in bed solving a double-crostic. 
 As you may be able to see, this one was number 82, in a book that reprints 182 double-crostics from the Sunday New York Times.  When the answer to a clue is Spiro Agnew, you know these are old puzzles.  Period pieces. 
I didn't have much trouble with the first four clues --Rough out, Intertwine, Network, Gandhi (which I misspelled) so I knew the author's first name was RING.  Cinch after that -- the next words down obviously started with LARDNE and R.  My age and that of the puzzle matched nicely.  I suspect there are lots of literate young people who never heard of Ring Lardner.  And then the remaining clues started with the excerpt's title:  WORLD SERIOUS.
You may not be able to read the quotation:
Ring Lardner specialized in giving his protagonists nifty grammar, but that last "THEY" strikes me as  a bit excessive.
None of which is what I started out to tell you.  What I noticed is "the little woman."  When's the last time you heard it?  the last time anyone said it?  are there literate young people who wouldn't know what it means?
And if it comes to that, what's become of fur coats?  When I was young, fur coats were everywhere, and all of us could interpret the wearer's status:  the inexpensive bunny shrug; the fox stole complete with head, tail and sometimes legs; the college man's raccoon -- that last pretty much gone after World War Two.  
We recognized immediately the young woman's sheared beaver, the matron's Persian lamb, the factory worker's stiff  "mouton." 
  I doubt if we knew much about nutria, but when mink appeared, people nearby would nudge each other and gape.  Stylish models wore trench coats lined with it.  In Montreal my mother-in-law's women friends (none of whom knew how to drive, btw) had one fur for waiting at bus stops and a fancier one for evenings. 
I found hundreds of illustrations for fur coats, but when I tried for The Little Woman, nothing came up but book covers and movie posters for Little Women. 
You can't beat that 1933 b&w version, the one that had Katharine Hepburn as Jo and -- of course -- Edna Mae Oliver as Aunt March.