This is to let you know that I’ve decided to suspend publication of this blog effective tomorrow morning, Tuesday November 26.

The treatment of my illness has reached a very intense phase, and I just don’t have the energy or creativity to keep the blog up. Sometimes when I’m away I use prewritten stuff, but I thought I’d spare you my thoughts on couscous and Turner Classic Movies and the New York Times for a few weeks.

I will try to post occasional brief updates, just so you know that I’m still here.

Estimated return: Xmas 2013.

Here’s to a happy holiday season for everyone, including maybe poor little me.


Seward’s Folly Bookstore

sewards folly

Back in the 1970s / 1980s, there was a little bookstore on the corner of Transit Street and Brook Street in Providence, called “Seward’s Folly.” It was run by an older couple, Schuyler Seward and his wife Peterkin.



It was a small musty wonderland of a bookstore, and the Sewards were always very kind to me. I went there whenever I could. I wanted a book by Will Cuppy the 1940s humorist, and they managed to find it for me, and after that they knew me as “Cuppy,” because who in the 1980s remembered Will Cuppy?



Schuyler had a beard and mustache as I do now, and was very wry and very smart, and one online source claims that he was a speechwriter for the Truman Administration. Peterkin was small and walked with difficulty, but had a wonderful smile. They had two dogs when I knew them: a huge poodle and a huge bulldog – both elderly and tired – who had to be taken upstairs (where the Sewards lived) and showered with cool water from time to time in the summertime, so that they wouldn’t overheat.



The Sewards were lovable people, and very memorable.



I wonder how many people remember them now?



And who will remember me when I’m gone?



This is the very last bit of Thornton Wilder’s “The Bridge of San Luis Rey”:



“But soon we shall die . . . and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.” 



Do you get that? We don’t last forever, but we will leave something behind.



The Sewards left me a wonderful legacy – a memory of two intelligent kind friendly people. I hope, when my time comes, that I will leave behind some tiny fraction of the kindly legacy the Sewards bequeathed me.



(Postscript: while researching this blog, I discovered that Peterkin died only a few months  ago – on July 30, 2013 – not far away, in Rumford, Rhode Island. Schuyler evidently predeceased her, though I couldn’t find his obituary. They are survived by their daughter Abbi.)



For Sunday: the Steve Miller Band sings “The Joker”

steve miller joker

My friend Cathleen and I talked about this song the other day. Then I listened to it again, and man, it’s too much. I need to admit also that Cathleen remembered the lyrics more accurately than I did.



But we were so young in those days!



“I’m a joker, I’m a smoker, I’m a midnight toker . . . “




Vermont versus New Hampshire

vermont vs nh

New England is made up of six smallish states: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.

The territory is small, but the terrain varies greatly, and the weather varies from state to state: Vermont and New Hampshire and Maine get snow in October and November sometimes.

There are other subtle differences too.  I swear, when Partner and I drive over the border from Rhode Island into Connecticut, I can see a difference: Connecticut is more rural, and woodsier, and wetter. What happened? Did Rhode Island farmers do something that Connecticut farmers didn’t do? Or is it just my colorful imagination?

Maine is different from the rest of the New England states too. Portland aspires to be a hipster / cosmopolitan destination, but the state itself is – as Parter said recently – “Tennessee North.” It’s visibly poor and rural. No wonder it elects Republican senators to Congress.

And then there are Vermont and New Hampshire.

Vermont feels liberal and free. I love it there. I love the breeziness of Burlington, and the wind off Lake Champlain. I loved the time we spent in Bennington. I loved Rutland.

New Hampshire? Meh. It’s dull and conservative.

When you drive north into Vermont, it feels as if you’ve entered a different country. (It was a different country, for a couple of years there.) When you pass from Massachusetts to New Hampshire, it feels like – hmm – like you’re still in Massachusetts. You really haven’t gone anywhere.

Vermont is different. Vermont is independent. It’s strange, and funny, and determined to be so.

New Hampshire is dull and New Englandish. It’s got all the things you expect it to have.

Vermont is independent and hippyish. It wants to be different. It has all the things that New Hampshire has – mountains and lakes and forests – but they’re more interesting, somehow.

Kids: if you have a choice between New Hampshire and Vermont, visit Vermont. Eat some ice cream. Have some cheese.

And tell the Vermonters that I sent you.

I resemble a fictional character

i resemble a fictional character i resemble a fictional character

Partner and I ride the Providence trolley to work in the morning. He takes the trolley all the way to his office; I get off before him, on Wickenden Street, and walk about 15 minutes to my office.

But we’re almost always together on the trolley. The drivers and the other passengers know us as a duo, and are always confused when they see us once in a while by ourselves, one without the other.

A while back, Partner was riding by himself one morning when another passenger leaned forward and asked in a whisper where I was. “He’s at the doctor,” Partner said.

“I just wondered,” she said. “You know, I’ve been reading this book – ‘Joyland,’ by Stephen King – and it’s just amazing how much he looks like one of the characters.”

So Partner comes home and repeats this story to me, and I’m glowing with excitement. I’m someone’s idea of a literary character! Here, let me think: a nice kindly older man, with a sweet expression!

I sent for a copy of “Joyland,” and read it with some interest.

Well, kids, let me disabuse you first of all: this book is not Stephen King’s best work. It’s a murder mystery, with a supernatural overlay (of course). There’s a murder, and an obvious suspect. Naturally the murderer is not the obvious suspect.

But I didn’t care so much about the plot. I only wanted to find the character Trolley Passenger thinks I resemble.

I certainly don’t remind her of the narrator; he’s twenty-one years old, six feet four, and never really described physically. Nor am I his friend Tom, who’s the same age and described as “stocky.” Reader, I am not stocky.

Here are the only two physical descriptions that might fit:

Description One: “Out in front stood a tightly-muscled guy in faded jeans, balding suede boots splotched with grease, and a strap-style tee shirt. He wore a derby hat tilted on his coal-black hair. A filterless cigarette was parked behind one ear. He looked like a cartoon carnival barker from an old-time newspaper strip.”

Description Two: “He was tall and amazingly thin, dressed in a black suit that made him look more like an undertaker than a man who owned an amusement park. His face was long, pale, covered with bumps and moles. Shaving must have been a torture for him, but he had a clean one. Ebony hair that had surely come out of a bottle was swept back from his deeply lined brow.”

I’m assuming (because I’m thin, and wear a trilby)  that I remind her of Description One. How flattering! Especially since (spoiler alert!) I turn out to be the killer!

Unless she thinks I look like Description Two. In which case, to hell with her.

But I’m flattered.

(But really? Coal-black hair? Tightly-muscled? She needs to get a life.)

Costa Concordia

costa concordia

Apollonia, that sweet elfin little thing, was complaining about some situation in her life the other day. “You know what it’s like?” she said. “The Costa Concordia.”

“The cruise ship?”

“Yeah. Think about it. You’re sailing along, enjoying yourself. People are waving at you from shore, so you bring the ship in a little closer to say hello. It’s a nice sunny day, and everyone’s happy. Ciao! Ciao! And then –“ She clapped her hands. “Boom! On the rocks. And the ship tips over on its side. All hands lost.”

We both brooded on this for a while. “Well, it’s not as if they couldn’t have done something about it,” I said. “The captain knew he was too close to shore. He was tempting fate.”

“That just makes it worse. You know you’re tempting fate, but for a long time nothing bad happens. You convince yourself that nothing bad can happen, or it would have happened already, right?”

I hate to admit it, but Apollonia has stumbled on something profound here.

We bumble through life like the idiot captain of the Costa Concordia, steering our ship without a care in the world, as if nothing terrible could ever happen to us. Ciao! Ciao! And then BOOM!

Look at this stupid cancer. It’s probably been growing inside me for a year or more; I only just noticed the problem in May or June, as a sore throat that didn’t get better. I thought nothing of it. I steered right toward the rocks without seeing them.

Not to be a fatalist, kids, but life is full of nasty surprises. Be watchful, be wary.

And don’t sail too close to shore if you can help it.

Sub specie aeternitatis

sub specie

Being ill (to paraphrase Samuel Johnson) concentrates the mind wonderfully. You find yourself thinking about all kinds of things very differently.



Priorities, for example. What’s important? Is my job important? Earning a salary, yes of course it’s important to me, I need food and lodging and all kinds of incidentals. But am I making a difference in the world, or bettering the human race, by working at my job? Hmm. Probably not.



How about the things I do every day? The little tasks I undertake in my job (which can be very petty). The back-and-forth at home: clean this, put that away, arrange this. Important? No. But I do them anyway.



I am reluctant to waste time, but now I have time on my hands, and it makes me thoughtful about all kinds of things. History is suddenly very appealing to me. So is children’s literature, which seems to me to be more immediate and more important than sober grown-up literature (except for poetry).  And suddenly I’m listening to music again, and it’s very satisfying.



Maybe just thinking is important. Maybe just writing this stupid blog is important. Maybe talking to people is important.  Maybe love is important.



I have lived in Providence for over thirty-five years, and I love every dreary block and corner of it. But I looked up at the skyline the other day, and thought: it’s just a city. There have been hundreds of thousands of cities in the history of the world; most of them have tumbled into dust and are forgotten now. This one will be forgotten too, someday.



Sub specie aeternitatis means “under the aspect of eternity.” It indicates looking at something from outside of time, without regard to the present moment or its little difficulties.



As Partner and I are fond of quoting to one another in moments of acceptance: “In a hundred years, all new people.”



And in a thousand years, probably mostly new cities and mostly new national borders and probably also some pretty wild new seacoasts.



In ten thousand years, all new countries, and possibly people with gills and flippers.



Makes you a little vertiginous, doesn’t it?



Here’s one of my favorite quotes about the advance of time in a single person’s life, from the end of the last book of Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past”:



This is a very long quote, but a very good one. Please bear with me.



There came over me a feeling of profound fatigue at the realization that all this long stretch of time not only had been uninterruptedly lived, thought, secreted by me, that it was my life, my very self, but also that I must, every minute of my life, keep it closely by me, that it upheld me, that I was perched on its dizzying summit, that I could not move without carrying it about with me.


I now understood why it was that the Duc de Guermantes, whom, as I looked at him sitting in a chair, I marveled to find him shewing his age so little, although he had so many more years than I beneath him, as soon as he rose and tried to stand erect, had tottered on trembling limbs  . . . and had wavered as he made his way across the difficult summit of his eighty-three years, as if men were perched on giant stilts, sometimes taller than church spires, constantly growing and finally rendering their progress so difficult and perilous that they suddenly fall. I was alarmed that mine were already so tall beneath my feet; it did not seem as if I should have the strength to carry much longer attached to me that past which already extended so far down and which I was bearing so painfully within me! . . . .




We are all on stilts, which grow higher and higher, “sometimes taller than church spires. “



We might fall suddenly.



But the view is spectacular.


Tremor and confusion

tremor and confusion

My right hand has been shaking a lot lately. I took some of my student employees out for lunch recently – at a very nice restaurant! – and halfway through the appetizer, the fork flew right out of my right hand. “It’s fine,” I told them. “”See? If we get thrown out of here, it’ll be my fault, not yours.”

I made light of it for their sake, but it keeps happening. It happened twice last week: things just flew out of my right hand.

Naturally, my thoughts take the gloomiest possible courses. Now that I actually have something serious, I think of the most horrible things. . Multiple sclerosis? It usually happens to younger people. Parkinson’s disease? Oh yes: I’m in the age group, and I drool, and I tremble. (One of the other symptoms of Parkinson’s is “confusion,” which sounds very funny, but which is very sobering to me, because I’m far more confused now than I used to be.) Essential tremor? Maybe. It does happen when I’m stressed or tired. But sometimes it happens whenever it wants to happen.

I have a regular non-cancer-related doctor’s appointment in December. I’m sure he’s tired of hearing me whine about all of the things I think I might have, but this he’s gonna hear about.

When I was in the Peace Corps, I had a friend who had MS. She went into tremors occasionally, but she was funny about it. “I’m demyelinating!” she’d yell, and sit and tremble for a while.

Long story short: she got better. Her MS (thank god) got better, as sometimes happens.

What do I have? Possibly nothing.

But probably I need to be tested.

At my advanced age, you never know.

The heresy test

heresy test

Once upon a time, when the Internet was young – approximately 1996 – I had a funny little website which drew no traffic at all. (Almost like today!) It was mostly a nice way for me to practice writing HTML. I posted jokes, and had a family-history section.

I also had a nice heresy test.

It was very simple: five questions, multiple-choice. You were expected to answer from the dogmatically established Roman Catholic point of view. Otherwise, the test threw you out. You were a heretic and bound to burn in hell unless you renounced your heretical beliefs.

Here’s a sample question:



The Blessed Virgin Mary was the mother of Jesus. Jesus was, of course, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, which means he was God. If you follow this line of thinking, you will probably realize that this makes Mary (a human being) the mother of God (who is eternal).



How can a mother be younger than her own son?



A: Oh, to hell with logic. Mary is the Mother of God. Period. End of story.


B: Mary was the mother of the human part of Jesus. She’s not the mother of God; that wouldn’t be logical.


C: Mary is the mother of Jesus in some sense of the word, but not in every sense of the word. We shouldn’t try to define these things too precisely.

The correct answer is A. This was established (with some strife) at two Church councils: the “robber’s council” of Ephesus in 449, which claimed B to be correct, and the Council of Chalcedon in 451 (only two years later!) which reversed Ephesus and laid the Church’s path to the present day.

Did you get the question right?

I didn’t think so.

Burn in hell, heretic.

For Sunday: “O Fortuna,” from Karl Orff’s “Carmina Burana”

o fortuna

If you have a reasonable knowledge of serious music, or movie music, this will make you laugh (and even if you’ve seen this video before; it makes me laugh every time I see it).

The lyrics are in medieval Latin. But people have been puzzling over them ever since Karl Orff set them to music sixty years ago.

Well, now you know what they’re really saying.

Gopher tuna!

Bring more tuna!

Statue of big dog with fleas!

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