Sorting

sorting


When you’re recuperating from an illness, you find yourself with time on your hands. If you’re like me, you begin to clean and organize things. Photos and receipts and greeting cards pile up over the months and years, and it’s nice to go through them once in a while.

 

 

Receipts and greeting cards are easy to throw away, but photos are a little more difficult. I find that I’ve taken too many overexposed photos of Beautiful Scenery over the years, and it’s easy to toss most of them in the trash. When there are people in the photos, however, I hesitate, as if they exert some magical hold on me. Might some hypothetical future descendant muse over these photos, wondering at how distant and mysterious we were?

 

 

Well, hm. First of all: what descendants? Apart from a few mangy stuffed animals, I have no kids. I keep in touch with a few members of the next generation of my family, but none of them seems impassioned about family history.

 

 

Also, the sad truth is that objects like photos are not generally magical. I pull out old theater stubs and concert programs, examine them with regret, and toss them in the trash. They may have been magical for a little when then they were new, but time has taken their magic away. Photos are a little different, but even they lose their immediacy after a few decades.

 

 

How do you react when you see a photo of a distant ancestor? Curiosity, maybe; regret that you will never get to know them; sadness that things pass and people die. I think always of those family-reunion photos in which the kids are lying on the floor up front, clowning for the camera, and the older generations stand ranked behind them, with the oldest of all scrunched against the wall in back. I realized some years ago that (without ever quite realizing it) I had suddenly become one of those pale oldsters in the back of the photo – some forgotten great-uncle, what’s-his-name, the one who moved to Rhode Island and lived with another man and had no kids.

 

 

Forgotten.

 

 

Well, hm.

 

 

Get to work sorting and labeling those photos, kids!

 

 

Maybe someone will remember you after you’re gone.


 

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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.)

 


 

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.


 

The Old Man of the Mountain

OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAINS


In 2000, the US Mint issued the New Hampshire quarter. The image on the back shows the Old Man of the Mountain: a cliff hanging off Cannon Mountain that looked like a bearded man’s profile:

 

new hampshire quarter

 

Well, on May 3, 2003, the Old Man of the Mountain collapsed.

 

 

What now? Naturally a state committee was formed to decide.

 

 

Did they decide to reassemble it? No. (Wise decision.)

 

 

Did they decide to commemorate it? Yes, of course. They’ve put up viewscopes that show what it looks like now (not much), and what it used to look like. (Excellent decision.)

 

 

But the stupid thing persists. New Hampshire uses it on its highway signs; if you’re on a state road, you see something like this:

 

 

new hampshire highway sign

 

 

And it’s still on all those quarters, which will be in circulation until Doomsday.

 

 

There’s a lesson here somewhere.

 

 

Washington is “the evergreen state.” Probably there will be evergreens growing there – some of them, somewhere – even if there’s a catastrophic event. Rhode Island is “the ocean state,” and the ocean ain’t going anywhere.

 

 

Here’s an old song (sung by Frank Sinatra) which should have been heeded by the state leaders of New Hampshire:

 

 

In time the Rockies may crumble,

Gibraltar may tumble,

They’re only made of clay . . . .

 


 

 

 

Lump in my throat

throat


I have a lump in my throat.

It started in June or so. I thought it might be a cold, or a cold sore, or something like tonsillitis (I still have my tonsils).

Almost two months later, I still have a lump in my throat.

The other day, I gave in and went to my doctor. He wasn’t available, so I saw a nurse-practitioner instead. She was terrific, and tested me for everything under the sun.

Final (preliminary) diagnosis: it’s not bacterial. It’s just a lump.

Is it viral? Is it – um – cancerous? I don’t know yet. I will see a specialist soon. (I’m still tremendously relieved that it wasn’t something stupid and infectious like streptococcus.)

Maybe it’s the family inheritance: cancer.

Or just a cold sore in the wrong place.

Here’s a story:

Back in 1978, I traveled to the (then) Soviet Union with a tour group. We started in (then) Leningrad, and then split into two groups: my group went to the Caucasus and Central Asia, and the other group went to Siberia. We were to meet in Moscow about two weeks later.

In Moscow, one of my fellow travelers who’d gone to Siberia – a lively and funny woman – told me this: “A flea bit me on the eyelid while I was sleeping, and my eye swelled terribly. They took me to the hospital in Novosibirsk, and very evidently they had no idea what to do with me; I spent days in the hospital listening to doctors and nurses talking about me in Russian, and I had no idea what they were saying. Finally they brought in a translator, and I told him that a flea had bitten me, and he told the doctors, and they were very relieved. And the translator laughed, and told me: ‘They were very relieved. They were convinced they were going to have to amputate your eyelid.’”

Remember: even when you have a lump, it could always be worse. The doctors might amputate your eyelid.


Appreciation: Jody McCrea

jody mccrea


Disney is making a Beach Party movie, along the lines of their “High School Musical” movies. To wit: two modern teenagers get thrown back to the early 1960s, into a beach-party setting, and everything goes wrong.

Personally I’m glad they’re reviving the beach-party franchise. The 1960s beach movies were superb, in their way: Frankie and Annette, and Harvey Lembeck, and the Himalayan Suspension Technique, and from time to time people like Luciana Paluzzi and Dwayne Hickman and Don Rickles.

But I mourn the loss of the original beach kids. I mourned Annette Funicello’s passing a few months ago in this blog. And now, very late, I’ve discovered that another member of the Beach Party cadre left us some years ago: Jody McCrea.

Jody was the son of handsome / beefy actor Joel McCrea and actress Frances Dee. He was a nice-looking man who very much took after his father. Take a look at these photos of the two of them:

 

joel mccrea comparison jody mccrea comparison

In the Beach Party movies, he played a character named “Deadhead,” and sometimes “Bonehead.” He was the designated dummy. He was big and adorable and stupid. In one of the beach party movies, he finds a mermaid (naturally, none of his friends believes him), and they fall in love!

He was a bodybuilder, as you can probably tell from the above pics. He was well over six feet tall, as was his father. (Jody seldom took his shirt off. Partner said: “Well, naturally he didn’t take off his shirt. He would have make Frankie Avalon look pathetic.”)

He made a few more movies after the beach fad died, but mostly left show business after the 1960s. He became a rancher in New Mexico, where he died of a heart attack in 2009.

I didn’t know of his death until the other day, when Apollonia and I began researching him.

I was so sorry.

Annette’s dead, and Bonehead too.

They were the spirit of youth to us, back in the mid-1960s. Knowing that they’re dead is very depressing for us older folks.

It means that we might die too.

Unless we can figure out a way out of it.


Vintage drinking glasses

mad men glasses jpg


The TV series “Mad Men” has absorbed Partner and me for about a year now. We’re all caught up through Season Six. Each season covers a year of the 1960s (more or less), so we’re up to the end of 1968. We’ve seen the assassination of two Kennedys, the murder of Martin Luther King, the Love Generation, et cetera.

The show’s writing is excellent, as is the acting (by people like Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss and John Slattery and Robert Morse).

But, as with a lot of series set in the past, it’s possible to watch this show for the clothes and the sets and the accessories.

Bugles, for example. When I saw a minor character eating Bugles, I remembered when Bugles were new (in the mid-1960s), and I was amused and charmed, and astonished at the writers’ acumen at knowing that the product was introduced (with great fanfare) in the mid-1960s.

Also: in “Mad Men,” everyone drinks all the time. We see the drinking accessories: really darling glasses, clear glass with silver rims.

My parents had glasses just like them, with a big “W” monogram on them, in silver, naturally. I loved those glasses.

They recently showed up on a cutesy website: replicas of the “silver-rimmed Mad Men drinking glasses,” $25 for two (not including shipping).

Aha, I thinks, and went to eBay, and found two cute authentic Dorothy Thorpe roly-poly drinking glasses for $18 (including shipping).

They arrived the other day. They are perfect. They make me happy when I look at them, and they make a nice tinkling sound when I put ice cubes in them.

And they remind me of my childhood.

So, for your drink: will you have brown or clear?


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