Rest in peace: Sol Saks and Madelyn Pugh


Sol Saks and Madelyn Pugh passed away last week.



You don’t know them?



Sol wrote the pilot of “Bewitched.” His name was in the credits every week. He died at the age of 100.



Madelyn was a writer for “I Love Lucy.” Her name was in the credits every week too. She died at 90.



I felt a tug at my heart when I saw these notices, both last Thursday evening, in the Times.  I associated both of them with my childhood, and with pleasure, and television, and entertainment.



I remember hearing of Jack Benny’s death when I was in my teens. I went outside and walked, feeling very odd and solemn. This is what happens, I thought. How strange. People die.



But it’s always old people, right? Old people die. Strangers die. Not your friends or family. Certainly not you. You’ll never die.



Will you?



Some years ago, at one of the Williams family reunions, I met my cousin Joyce’s husband Mel, a very trim handsome guy – a minister! – cheerful and smiling, like an athlete on the front of a Wheaties box.



He was dead within a year, of cancer. Horrible.



We are none of us exempt. We have the falling sickness, as Rilke said; we are all falling, like leaves in autumn.



But, for some reason, it hurts me most of all when comedians, and comedy writers, die.



None of it’s fair. But this seems least fair of all.



We can’t afford to lose them.



‘Bye, Madelyn. ‘Bye, Sol.



Royal Wedding blog: Alternate-universe edition


I got your Royal Wedding right here.


And by the way: where do you go to find people who look like the Archbishop of Canterbury and Princess Anne?





Six degrees of Victor Garber


There used to be a TV show called “Connections.” The host would demonstrate that Newton’s laws of motion led to the invention of the lava lamp, or the microwave oven, or the Post-It note, through elaborate Kevin-Bacon-type relationships through time and space.

I call it “serendipity,” which is (I think) nicer.

The other night I was watching “Godspell,” which I had never seen before. A trifle goofy, and I liked Judas more than I liked Jesus, but that was okay. Then a bell rang in my head about the cast listings. Jesus was played by Victor Garber.

Victor Garber??

You know him from a hundred things. Maybe as one of the ship’s designers in “Titanic.” Maybe as Jennifer Garner’s father in “Alias.” Myself, I immediately think of his “Will and Grace” appearance as a classically-trained actor whose best-known role is a cartoon devil advertising cereal on TV. “It’s sinfully delicious!”

So now I’m watching “Godspell” and browsing the Net on my laptop, catching up on Victor’s career. He’s very nice-looking, of course. I discover that he officiated at the wedding of Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck, which is pretty adorable.

Then I see a picture of him at the Affleck/Garner wedding with his partner, Rainer Andreesen, who just happens to be an artist, with an estimable website showing off his work. And he uses Victor as a model sometimes, and wouldn’t you do the same, if you had such a handsome man around the house?

I ended my search with a smile on my face. I started with a Jesus in 1973 clown makeup, and I end up with a mature, successful, happy-looking gay couple in 2011.

Now that’s what I call “serendipity.”

Cupcake Armageddon


The other night, I was switching around on the treadmill TV at the health club (carefully, because I don’t want to lose my grip and go flying backward out the window), and I ran into the Food Network. Normally I avoid the Food Network. It is mostly people like Paula Deen and Sandra Lee and Alton Brown and Padma Lakshmi, with industrial blenders and fifty pounds of butter and ovens the size of walk-in closets.



But I came upon a show called “Cupcake Wars.”



Holy Mother of God.



Four very nice women, working under a time limit, were frantically designing brilliant delicious clever inventive cupcakes to please a panel of “judges.” I came in while they were trying to combine three flavors in one cupcake.



And, according to the judges, they all failed!



All right, I need to pause at this point. Do you honestly see how silly this whole food-combat thing has become? People are being made to cry because their cupcakes aren’t as good as someone else’s cupcakes. “Iron Chef” was at least funny, with the whole “Kitchen Stadium” thing, and the war cry “A la cuisine!”, and the secret ingredient being something stupid like salt cod or sweet potatoes or shiitake mushrooms.



“Cupcake Wars” has a judge named Florian Bellanger, who runs a macaroon company (!), and who is completely humorless. He is Simon Cowell times ten. He never cracks a smile. He speaks with a nasty humorless Eurotrash accent. He says things like (please read these aloud with your most atrocious French/Belgian accent):


  • “We asked for three flavors. You gave me one. I do not like this. I say this is a no.”

  • “I wanted something delicate. You give me a chocolate cupcake.”

  • “This red velvet . . . it is like sucking food coloring out of the bottle.”



The contestants are baking cupcakes. You hear me? Cupcakes.



Actually, I think I might bake cupcakes this week. Maybe banana-walnut-kiwi cupcakes, with infused lemon curd and a vanilla buttercream frosting decorated with daisies and butterflies.



Or maybe I’ll just dump a box of cake mix in a bowl with some oil and eggs.



Either way, if we can peel the papers off their little bottoms and eat them, they will be a triumph.




Forgetting how to read


I read incessantly. As a child I had to have the cereal box in front of me on the breakfast table, just to have some reading material nearby.



Now, however, through some combination of age and medication and alcohol consumption, my concentration has faltered, and I can’t read the way I used to.



Take the newspaper, for example. My eyes skitter up and down the page, glancing at the headlines, looking for proper nouns and keywords. But even when I find an article I want to read in detail, I sort of panic and keep skittering.



I still read a lot, of course. For some reason, non-fiction – the duller the better – has become very appealing to me. I am not kidding you when I say I recently read – page by page and word by word! – a grammar/lexicon of the Chinook Trading Jargon. I always keep a book near my living-room chair, for quiet moments; right now it’s an eighteen-pound college biology textbook, which I open at random to read about mitosis and eukaryotes and dicotyledons. It’s very calming.



But novels are almost beyond me nowadays.



I find I just don’t care about them anymore. Every story has been told, don’t you think? Every family situation has been dissected, every antihero has met his destiny, every Don Quixote has come home at last. I used to go to the bookstore and look at the endless racks of paperback and hardback novels, and I felt daunted, because I thought I had to read them all. I don’t feel that way nowadays.



I even cheat. Apollonia, my work friend, gave me her cherished copy of “Water for Elephants,” so that I could talk intelligently with her about it. I found it flat and uninteresting, and got my dear friend to tell me all about it, and now I can fake my way through a conversation with her about it.



This saddens me a bit. (Also, I hope Apollonia doesn’t read this.)



So, as a penance and a lesson to myself in diligence – and maybe to get my reading proficiency back – I have set myself an assignment: I am currently reading “Democracy: An American Novel” by Henry Adams. I am reading it on my Nook, a few pages at a time. No, a few sentences at a time. I do not allow myself to skitter. And, for a change, I am actually trying to think about what I’m reading.



I am enjoying it.



So maybe I am not beyond hope after all.






I have been with my current employer for almost twenty-four years. I have a “Time To Retirement” clock on my office wall, with the dial set to the year 2040. I will be eighty-three years old that year (well, eighty-two on New Year’s Day 2040, but let’s not split hairs).


When I started there, most of my coworkers were older than me. This has changed. A few years ago, I hired someone who was around twenty years old; I realized later that she was born while I was sitting behind that very same desk, or one just like it.


Dearie me!



Partner, like me, is no longer a spring chicken. We both think longingly of retirement. We look forward avidly to weekends and holidays and vacations, as foretastes of what life will be like when we don’t have to work anymore, if that day ever arrives.


So how do we spend our weekends?


  • We sleep in.

  • We refill our prescriptions.

  • We refill our pill-minders (those cunning little plastic things that tell you when to take your pills, and how many).

  • We argue about whether or not to see a movie.

  • We see a movie.

  • We shop for groceries (yogurt, rotisserie chicken, and sundries).

  • We have a meal on the town sometimes.

  • Once in a while we visit Partner’s sister and brother-in-law up in Massachusetts.

  • Once in a very great while we go completely insane and go to Boston, or Manhattan, or Cape Cod.


The weekends are over far too soon.


And then it’s Monday all over again, and we have to plod back to the office.


If you ask me, the year 2040 can’t come soon enough.




Easter blog: Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony


For Easter: the last few minutes of the final movement of Gustav Mahler’s Second (“Resurrection”) Symphony.  I don’t know this conductor, or this orchestra, or these soloists, but they’re really pretty good.



I don’t listen to Mahler much anymore; honestly, he hurts my heart too much. But when I listened to this, it was like hearing it for the first time.



Even if you think you don’t like classical music, give this eight minutes of your time. It is amazing.



“You will rise again, my heart.”


I hope it’s true.  It would be lovely.



Happy Easter, y’all.











Partner and I went to Ikea recently. What? You’ve never gone to Ikea? Children, go and see it. It’s a little slice of Swedish heaven.



It’s a huge blue-and-yellow castle about the size of the Death Star. It’s full of furniture (do-it-yourself, but cute and fun), appliances, throws, curtains, lighting, housewares. It’s a maze, but there are directional signs. Also there are occasional staff members in yellow shirts to help you. (I was wearing a bright yellow sweatshirt when we were there, and people kept looking at me strangely. Finally one of the staff murmured to me: “Everyone thinks you’re one of us.”)



Then there’s the restaurant. It’s a slightly more formal version of the old-fashioned drugstore lunch counter / soda fountain. It’s cheap and surprisingly good. It also includes a children’s area, with child-sized tables and chairs. Three or four kids were in there, sitting very quietly, eating and apparently watching something on a video screen. I don’t think I’ve seen such well-behaved – and happy – kids in a public place for a long time. (One of my friends said thoughtfully later, when I described this to her: “Maybe they were Ikea children.”)


Back to shopping. Housewares. (I bought a huge beautiful wok for five dollars. I’ve always wanted a wok.) A lamp for Partner’s mother. A couple of pillows for Partner, who is very particular. A bud vase for me, because I need a few blossoms near me from time to time.


Then, after checkout, there’s a cafe and a small grocery store, so that you can buy packaged versions of the food you had for lunch.



I would live there if they’d let me.


God bless the Swedes!




Good Friday blog: The Crucifixion


For Good Friday: a very old Irish poem by an unknown author, as set to music by Samuel Barber in his “Hermit Songs.”



The remarkable thing here is that Christ suffers more in thinking about his mother’s grief than over his own crucifixion!




At the cry of the first bird

They began to crucify Thee, o Swan.

Never shall lament cease because of that!

It was like the parting of day from night.

O sore was the suffering borne by the body of Mary’s Son.

But sorer still to Him was the grief

That for His sake

Came upon His mother.




Sugar is not your friend


There was an article in the Times recently about sugar being a toxin. (I’ll link to it here, but the Times now has its Gottverdammt “paywall” in place, so you may or may not be able to access the link. Sorry.)



Yes, you heard me. Sugar is a toxin.



The article actually explained this, in terms that a semi-educated blockhead like me could understand.



In short: not all carbohydrates are metabolized in the same way.



Your body wants glucose for energy. It gets a lot of glucose from metabolizing starch from food like potatoes, and grains, and other plant foods. Starches are basically long chains of glucose molecules. Yum! your body says, and takes the starch apart into its constituent glucose molecules. It has lots of ways of doing this; even saliva does it, a little. Since (up to very recently in human history) most of our glucose intake was in the form of starch, our bodies have evolved very neatly to perform this task.



Sugars are a little different. Sucrose – table sugar – is a double molecule: one molecule of glucose, one of a different sugar called fructose, linked together. Glucose is an all-purpose molecule, and can be metabolized pretty much anywhere in your body. Fructose can only be processed in one place: the liver.



And here our troubles begin.



Sucrose is half fructose, as I said. And I’m sure you’ve heard of “high fructose corn syrup” (HFCS), which is cheap to make, and is actually sweeter than regular sugar. Well, now let’s say you have a nice Snickers bar. Right away you’re flooding your system with a burst of glucose, which sends your poor pancreas into conniptions, so it sends out a lot of insulin to help regulate the glucose metabolism process. And then, of course, there’s all that fructose heading for your liver for processing.



If this goes on too much, it leads to a condition called “fatty liver.”



Also – delightful! – with so much insulin washing around in your system all the time, your body’s cells can become what’s called “insulin-resistant.” Your pancreas pours out insulin all the time, but it’s not accomplishing what it’s supposed to do.



Related conditions: obesity, obviously. “Metabolic syndrome,” a risk factor in heart disease and diabetes. And, more recently, a very distinct link to some kinds of cancer.






Solution: eat less sweet stuff. Mostly plants, as Michael Pollan says.



No problem, baby. I love sweet potatoes and black beans.



You can just call me Mister Health.




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