Monday, July 31, 2006

Republican crows

The great naturalist and nature writer John Burroughs wandered these parts a century ago or so. He was born in 1837, died in 1921, his life overlapping those of my grandparents, which makes him in a way our contemporary. If we are lucky enough to have had older relatives, I mean people who were old when we were young, our memories---and our memories are the measure of our lives---extend back into their youths. There are teenagers who are, measured by their memories, a hundred years old.

I'm lucky in that my great-grandfather kept a notebook, so I have some memories that go back to 1903.

Most of Burroughs' writing describes sights and sounds, plants and animals and the seasonal activities of both, that I could see and hear everyday for myself if I had less lazy eyes and ears. But at least when I read his essays, I recognize things in glimpses.

Like Thoreau, Burroughs stuck close to home, preferring to explore his own small patch of ground thoroughly.

What a voyage is this we make without leaving for a night our own fireside! St Pierre well says that a sense of the power and mystery of nature shall spring up as fully in one's heart after he has made the circuit of his own field as after returning from a voyage around the world. I sit here amid the junipers of the Hudson, with purpose every year to go to Florida or to the West Indies or to the Pacific Coast, yet the seasons pass and I am still loitering, with a half-defined suspicion, perhaps, that if I remain quiet and keep a sharp lookout, these countries will come to me.

Burroughs, again like Thoreau, built a house for himself in the woods, but unlike Thoreau, Burroughs was a family man---though his marriage was unhappy---and a sociable one, and Slabsides is a proper house, meant to be fit for company. It still is. Visitors are welcome. Slabsides is a National Landmark and the 125 acres of land around it are a wildlife sanctuary---and it's only about a 40 minute drive from house, a fact I only just found out or I'd have visited it at least once by now.

All I know is what I read in the newspapers and what I know about Slabsides I know from reading Wayne Hall's column in yesterday's Sunday Record.

Hall included some quotes from Burroughs' writings and this one struck me particularly.

Hardy, happy outlaw, the crow, how I love him! Alert, social, Republican, always able to look out for himself….

You can guess what word I stuck on.




I can't find the quote in my copy of John Burroughs' America, so I can't read it in context. I don't know if it was a throwaway line, or if Burroughs was being serious.

Obviously, in his mind, Republican was a compliment, at least when applied to crows.

Burroughs was born and grew to manhood before there was a Republican party. In fact, in his youth, there were Democrats who thought of themselves as Republicans, the word being favored by Jeffersonians as a self-description and personal boast.

I don't know what Burroughs' politics were. He was friendly with Theodore Roosevelt, but he was friends with Walt Whitman, an arch-Democrat.

Probably, Burroughs was not being partisan, one way or the other, and was using Republican as a synonym for American. Republicans these days are inclined to think of Republican and American as conditionally linked: To be a good American you must first be a Republican.

But once upon a time the word meant a citizen living under a particular form of government, not an idealogogue loyal to his betters because of their willingness to share a little power with him and cut his taxes and start wars he can root for as if they were sporting events.

Republican could be used as a compliment for Democrats the way democratic can be used as a compliment for Republicans today.

Republican described a person in opposition to a European.

In those days Americans thought of Europe as a continent of kings and peasants, of wolves and sheep who let themselves be devoured by the wolves and were grateful for the privilege. Since it was largely Catholic, it was also the place where the priests and the Pope did people's thinking for them. It was a land of ancient authorities, superstition, and spirit-crushing traditionalism, of unchecked aristocratic power and craven obedience.

Americans, in contrast, were self-reliant, independent, energetic, scientific, skeptical; willing to flout tradtition when tradition got in the way of progress, and contemptuous of the privileges of wealth, rank, status, and ancient authorities.

Hence, the compliment in "outlaw" crows.

Americans defied. They stood up for themselves and they thought for themselves. They charted their own courses and they made sure they had a say in how their lives were run. They believed in equality and the essential dignity of all men and women. They did not let themselves be bossed around. They were Republican.

That's probably what Burroughs was celebrating when he called his crows Republicans.

But I suppose he could have been being partisan, as well.

In the 19th Century the Democratic Party was a strange two-headed monster. In the South it was the party of the old planter aristocracy, the slave-owning class.

But in the North it was the party of working men and artisans, skilled craftsmen and small business owners, who recognized early on that their best defense against the power and depredations of the monied elite was to join toghether in common cause. They formed trade associations---unions!---and they called upon the government, which they, having a curious notion that in a democratic republic the government was the people, that is they themselves, saw as their government with the job of protecting their rights and interests.

When riled they had a tendency to take to the streets and let the world know it.

Protest marches by the rabble always look to the ruling elites like riots. And unfortunately protest marches in the 19th Century had a habit of turning into riots.

Consequently, Republicans in Burroughs' day could and did tend to look at the Democratic Party as the party of slavers and mobs, of aristocrats and drones, and, because the Democrats were also the party of the immigrants, Irish and Italian in the main, Catholics, it was the party of the superstitious and the priest-ridden.

The Democrats then were, by Republican lights, Eurpopean, throwbacks, atavists.

Republicans were American, progressive, forward-looking, the future and the hope of the world.

The Democrats were also the party of the corrupt city bosses who bought votes and obedience by giving the ignorant and the incompetent (or the poor and needy and the willing to work, depending on your point of view) jobs they hadn't earned and couldn't handle (again, an opinion that depended on your point of view). So Republicans could congratulate themselves on their honesty as well as their self-reliance by comparison.

I don't know, though.

Burroughs was a clear-eyed man. By the time he was an old man the Republican Party had been taken over by the bosses---the political bosses like Mark Hanna, Karl Rove's hero, and the financial bosses, the factory owners and rising class of big business types---and by the Babbitts and the preachers. It was the party of the clubbable man, the joiner, the insecure, status-seeking, greedy little man.

Burroughs' admirer and ally in the nascent conservation movement, Teddy Roosevelt, thought of himself as the representative Republican. The election of 1912 cured him of that idea.

It's getting harder and harder to remember that the conservation movement was a Republican idea and cause and that thrift and forebearance in all their forms, in regard to the land, to money, to personal behavior, were Republican virtues.

These days there are still Republicans you can compliment as republicans.

But their party is now what their great-great-great-grandparents would have called Democratic, and not as a compliment. It's the party of rank and status and wealth, the party of ancient authorities, the party of the preachers and the priest-ridden.

It's the party of the corrupt political boss in the person of Karl Rove.

It's the anti-science party. The party of superstition.

The House vote on the minimum wage proves that it's the party more concerned with the privileges and feelings of the 18 richest families than with the plight of millions of the working poor, and in that way it's the party of obedience and obiescence to the aristocrats not the party of the independent and the self-reliant.

It's the party of corporate welfare.

The party of the bosses and those whose ambition is to please the bosses.

It's a party that has banished all its crows.

Partisan that he was, Walt Whitman was using the word Democratic in his essay Democratic Vistas
the way I think Burroughs was probably using Republican to describe his crows.

Last month, Time Magazine, as part of its ongoing mission to fawn over and flatter and appease Karl Rove, gave Rove space to pretend to be an admirer of Teddy Roosevelt while actually trying to put a shine on George Bush's reputation by turning Roosevelt into a proto-Bush Leaguer. Eric Pfeiffer explained the joke in the New Republic.

Link to TNR courtesy of Andrew Sullivan.

Update: After much enjoyable searching, reading, re-reading, and skimming, I finally found the crows quote in my copy of John Burroughs' America. I posted it here. You'll see that at least in this edition republican is spelled with a small r.

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Saturday, July 29, 2006

The female narcissist on top. Part 1.

Part 2 is immediately below.

Watched an episode of Sex and the City late last night, "The Real Me," from Season Four, and went to bed thinking I would be writing a great post in the morning making brilliant connections between my thoughts about the show and David Denby's review of The Devil Wears Prada in the July 10 and 17 issue of the New Yorker.

In "The Real Me" fashionista wannabe Carrie is asked to be a model in a charity fashion show. She's reluctant to do it, even a bit appalled by the idea. She is not a model, she keeps telling anyone who will listen, which is just about nobody, she's a writer. She has set up a dichotomy between the two roles, model and writer, which for her represents the difference between a make-believe world and a world of truth-telling.

The world of fashion is about creating an image, a superficial, pretend self for the world to adore. Carrie's world, the world in which she is a writer, is where she gives her readers the real her and they are free to like her or not like her as they please, but they must recognize her as her, and not simply admire her as a beautiful display rack for some other artist's creations.

Writers are admired for what they make. Models are admired, primarily, for what other people can make of them.

But as things progress it becomes clear that Carrie's reluctance isn't all due to her artistic and spiritual integrity. There's also the false modesty of the secretly vain at work. Consciously, Carrie knows she does not look like a model. Secretly, she wishes she did. Below that, though, is the hope that she does and, a little more deeply buried but not totally repressed, is the happy, self-thrilling knowledge that she is beautiful and sexy and will look great out there on the runway.

In one of those aside moments when Carrie works on her column, she reveals that it is that knowledge she is resisting as a temptation. She writes about the myth of Narcissus, a myth of male self-love, but the episode is about the temptations of female narcissism. Carrie is afraid of falling in love with the image of herself as a model.

Which through the rest of the episode she then proceeds to do in fits and starts. Her fall from grace is nicely symbolized by her attraction to a photographer who is constantly taking her picture, keeping his camera between them so that instead of looking at him she is always looking into a kind of mirror, her own reflection held up for her to fall in love with.

That the photographer is more interested in taking pictures of the "real" Carrie and not the "model" Carrie adds to her confusion. Now her real self is being used against her. It's now another reflection for her to fall in love with instead of the true Carrie who can resist the allure of self-love.

Carrie succumbs at last to the point that when she is figuratively stripped of the beautiful blue cocktail dress she was supposed to wear and is sent out on stage essentially naked---she's wearing a flesh colored pair of panties with jewels on the crotch and a a long duster that has one button, right under the cleft of her pushed up breasts and pretty much covers nothing---she not only goes along, she throws herself into it with gusto.

She wants to be seen naked and applauded.

She struts out onto the runway and...

Falls flat on her face.

It's a symbolic moment that's played so lightly that they get away with it. At that point, Carrie is Narcissus falling into his pool and drowning in his own image.

Carrie the model drowns.

Carrie the writer climbs out of the pool and finishes the walk---the limp, she's lost a shoe---down the runway. She is wildly applauded, especially by her friends, but for her spunk and grace and sense of humor, which is to say, for being naked in another way, she is baring her soul. She is a hit for being herself, not an image.

The other characters are tempted by narcissim too. Well, Samantha long ago gave in to that temptation. This is the pre-Smith Jared Sam, the lone wolf Sam, whose favorite sexual partner was always herself; all the men, and the occasional woman, she took to bed were surrogate Samanthas, specially equipped sex toys she needed because the regular forms of masturbation don't allow her to get as hands on with herself as she would like. Plus, she's not sastisfied with an audience of one.

In "The Real Me" Samantha decides to have nude photos taken of herself. Not to show anybody, but to have for herself to look at and admire.

Meanwhile, Miranda, told by a guy at her gym that he finds her sexy, falls immediately into the pool of self-love. She sets out to be as sexy as she wants to be but in the process makes him feel like nothing more than a mirror, in a neat gender reversal of the Narcissus and Echo story, except that the male Echo refuses to pine away, he just walks out on her.

This being Sex and the City, which always had as one of its chief virtues a refusal to judge its characters by anything like conventional ideas of right and wrong, Samantha suffers no consequences for her narcissism while Miranda is humiliated as a punishment for hers, the reasons being that A. Life is just unfair that way and B. Miranda's real "sin" is that in falling in love with an image of herself as a sexy babe she is betraying her true self.

The fatal flaw for Miranda, and Carrie, is not self-love, which is actually presented as healthy and desirable---Samantha's self-confidence is heroic, in its way---it's their failure to be "the real me." Miranda is sexier in a sweaty old t-shirt than in a little black dress showing lots of leg and cleavage because in the t-shirt she was being the real her and in the dress she was acting the part of a babe.

(Cynthia Nixon, not being Miranda, is sexier in a little black dress showing lots of leg and cleavage than in a sweaty old t-shirt.)

Charlotte, by the way, is tempted by a mirror too, but at the key moment she falls off the bed and out of the camera's view, so we don't know if she fainted at the sight of her own revealed beauty or if her real modesty, as opposed to Carrie's earlier false modesty, came along and tackled her and saved her from drowning in the pool, or if it was just one of those clutzy moments we're all prone to when we need to be at our most dignified.

Freud has something to say about that, I think.

At any rate, the brilliant connections I was going to make between that episode and Denby's review of The Devil Wears Prada were based on a mistake. I thought the director of "The Real Me," who was one of the executive producers of the series, Michael Patrick King, also directed the movie.

But The Devil Wears Prada was directed by David Frankel, who also worked on episodes of Sex and the City.

Still, there is a connection. And I'll make it.

Denby writes:

Runway [the fashion magazine edited by Meryl Streep's imperious character Miranda] is the engine of desire—not the desire for sex, which the movie regards as relatively unimportant, but for power and for very beautiful things. The severity of the movie’s good taste is awesome...

When [Anne Hathaway's character, Streep's new assistant] Andy starts at Runway, she doesn’t care about any of this. Her indifference is an affront to the staff, and, early in the movie, [Streep delivers] a brilliant speech in which she explains the structural connection between a sample from a fashion house—a cerulean belt—that Andy laughs at and the frumpy sweater that Andy is wearing. It’s startling to hear the entire fashion world tied together as an economic unit—Adam Smith couldn’t have done better. Nigel (Stanley Tucci), Miranda’s second-in-command, completes Andy’s education. A superlative wit whose acid observations are infallibly correct, Nigel reaches into the magazine’s vast wardrobe room, where the samples are arrayed on racks, and dresses Andy in a Chanel jacket and boots and a Kristina Ti skirt. Narrowing his mouth and rolling his eyes, Tucci ventures into risky territory with this performance; his cackle and little dance when Nigel thinks that, at last, he has broken free of Miranda—whom he adores and loathes—is a classic moment. In scene after scene, Tucci brings out Hathaway’s confidence, both as actor and as character. Under Nigel’s guidance, and with the aid of Runway’s endless closet, Andy becomes a fashion princess. The rest of the movie asks whether she can assume this role without betraying herself.

The old Hollywood trick. Immerse the audience for two hours in a fairy tale world of beautiful people and lovely things and then assure us at the end that the characters, and the actors who play them, want nothing more than to leave the castle and go and live in the same little cottages at the far ends of the kingdom where we live.

Sex and the City never pulled that. It took the dreams and desires of its characters seriously and it expected us to understand why those dreams and desires were good and even admirable and worth realizing, if not for us, at least for the characters themselves.

Carrie’s love of the world of fashion, her desire for pretty clothes, and her wish to be part of the fashion scene are not satirized, criticized, or held in contempt by the writers. The denizens of the fashion world, the designers and models and hangers-on, are gently satirized, but as averagely fallible and silly human beings. What they do for a living is actually presented with a great deal of respect.

Carrie’s temptation is not from the pretty clothes or the glitzy fashion scene or the high-powered and highly creative, if nutty, fashion mavens. Her temptation is from within. She is her own temptress.

Sex and the City was passionately anti-Puritan. It celebrated joy in the form of material and bodily pleasures, of course, but it was also anti-Puritanical in the way he recognized that temptation and corruption were things we did to ourselves.

Puritans believe that the Devil works from the outside, which is why they are always attempting to stamp things out. They want to shut things down, censor them, close them, cover them up, in order to save us from temptation.

The devil wears Prada so Prada is evil.

But the anti-Puritan knows that the devil wears whatever we are wearing, including our own skin. The devil is inside. He, or she, isn’t standing at the tent flap beckoning to us and saying, “Come in, come in, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”

The devil is in our heads saying, “Go on. You know you want to. You know you deserve it.”

Denby says in his review that Anne Hathaway's character has to choose between the high life and her sense of honor and her decency, a phony and sentimental choice.

Carrie has to choose between her vanity and her ambition. It's not the thing she wants---the object of desire which the Puritan always sees as the source of corruption---that's bad. It's what she's doing to herself as she sets about to get it.

Which is why the show has no problem, and is not contradicting anything, when it sends Carrie off to work for Vogue a few episodes later.

She gets where she wants to go by being a writer.

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The female narcissist on top. Part 2.

Despite the apparent cheap Hollywood cop-out at the end, I think I'd like to see The Devil Wears Prada, if for no other reason than this moment David Denby describes in his review:

This movie delivers an inordinate amount of pleasure, and, in the end, even Miranda escapes our censure. At a reception at the Metropolitan Museum, Streep wears a stunning off-the-shoulder black gown (by Valentino) that exposes a good deal of her beautiful pale flesh. As she turns her head sideways and points her sexy nose, she evokes John Singer Sargent’s most famous subject, the scandalous Madame X. At that moment, Miranda may still be a bitch, but she represents a distinct improvement: the haut-bourgeois ladies of the eighteen-eighties whom Sargent painted have been succeeded by professional women who look great and also run things.

Ok, leaving aside the question of whether it is actually better that these days the wives of the robber barons get to be robber barons themselves---Sargent didn't make his living painting the nobly poor---another attraction of the movie appears to be that it allows Streep's character to be a villainess because of what she does to other people and not for what she does for a living.

She's a Prada-wearing devil of a boss because she's a devil, not because she's a boss.

This is a change from female movie bosses of the past whose mere presence in the boardroom was presented as proof of their monstrosity. Real women didn't want or wield power.

In The Devil Wears Prada a woman doesn't turn into a monster when she turns into a boss. Streep's character would be a monster with or without a corner office. But power allows her to be the best monster she can be.

Denby compares Streep's performance to that of two other great actresses playing high-powered corporate executive types in a pair of classic films.

Miranda is a calculating monster—she has excised any remaining trace of softness from her temperament—but she understands her role in fashion so acutely that you can’t make fun of her. In all, this has to be the most devastating boss-lady performance in the history of cinema. By comparison, Faye Dunaway’s hysterics in “Network” come off as amusing freak-outs, and Sigourney Weaver in “Working Girl” is a coarse, leather-lunged shouter.

Denby's attributing the differences to Streep's superiority as an actress. Since I haven't seen the movie, I can't disagree. But I suspect he's being unfair to Dunaway and Weaver, who were handicapped by their writers and the attitudes of the eras in which their respective films were made.

I don't remember Weaver's character in Working Girl as a leather-lunged shouter, but she was a monster of ambition, selfishness, self-aggrandizement, and narcissim, so much so that it wasn't simply a case that you understood immediately why Harrison Ford's character wanted to be shed of her; you couldn't understand what he saw in her to begin with.

Shakespeare's Sister would probably reply, "The white lingerie, stupid!"

There were no other female executives in Working Girl to compare her with, so the implication, which might have been accidental, was that Weaver's character was what the business world regarded as the ideal in female bosses. Apparently, only narcissistic harridans need apply. Which is a way of saying that no decent woman would want to be a boss.

And Melanie Griffiths' character doesn't want to be one. She's forced by the plot into pretending to be one, and she's good at it, better than Weaver's character, but in the end she goes cheerfully back to her original ambition, which was just a simple junior executive trainee. Her ambition was never power, or even money, not a lot of money anyway. It was self-improvement. She was a Cinderella who wanted to live in a nice apartment of her own, but didn't care if she ever saw the inside of a castle.

It's really a very old fashioned movie, even for the 1980s.

Network isn't old fashioned in its view of women and their ambitions; its downright misogynistic.

Well, it was written by Paddy Chayefsky, whose misogyny was just a variation on his general misanthropy. But Dunaway's character is a monster out of a sexually insecure male's nightmare. She is a monster because she wants to be a man, and she's willing to turn men into women, if that's what it takes for her to be a man. Her desire for masculinity is symbolized by her masculine ambitions---she wants to be a boss---and her masculine sexual inclinations---she likes to be on top.

I was barely past trading baseball cards when I saw Network for the first time and that scene, in which Dunaway throws William Holden over on his back, climbs on top of him, and comes almost immediately with a roar, and then rushes out of bed, was the first explicit sex scene I had ever seen.

And young as I was I recognized immediately that that scene was giving me very bad advice.

Not to slight the missionary position, but the best view is to be had from down below. Ever since junior high, when I first learned that there was more than one way to go about sex, I believed that if the point was to get a girl naked, then wouldn't you want to arrange things so you could see the girl naked?

By that logic, the missionary position doesn't even provide the second or third best views.

Done right, it provides the best eye to eye and lip to lip contact, and therefore is not to be neglected. But seeing her is a big part of the fun, or would be, as far as I was concerned back then, when my voice changed and my skin cleared up and I grew several inches and Peggy Hynes finally started to take me seriously.

It wasn't until I met Sally Gilhooley, though, long after my voice changed, my skin cleared up, I grew several inches, and having Peggy Hynes take me seriously had proven more trouble than it was worth, that my expectations about the view were proven to be right on.

If it's wrong for the woman to want to be on top, I reasoned, then it's wrong for the guy to care about seeing who he happens to be screwing at the moment.

So when I saw that scene in Network I knew it at once for what it was.

This is bullshit, I said to myself, probably the first time I used the word correctly. From there it was an easy logical step to concluding the whole movie was bullshit, an opinion I hold to this day.

Network is a pile of woman-hating, man-hating, America-hating bullshit. Contrived, phony, joyless, humorless, and basically all about how right Paddy Chayefsky was to despise everybody and everything except Paddy Chayefsky.

The idea that hell is other people is a Puritanical notion.

Network is a film made by and for Puritans.

The Hospital was worse.

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Friday, July 28, 2006

The '51 Dodgers probably felt pretty confident too

Haven't written much about the Mets this season, even though they're having their best year since 1988. Been afraid of jinxing them. Twelve games up on the Braves going into August looks like an insurmountable lead.

But back in 1951 the Giants were 13 and a half back of the Dodgers in mid-August and Bobby Thomson and Ralph Branca can tell you how much that mattered by October 3rd. Starting on August 12, the Giants won 16 in a row.

So I'm not predicting anything and I'm placing no bets.

But it's sure been fun so far. And this year's Mets have to be the most likeable Mets team ever.

I liked the '86 club, the whole crew, even Roger McDowell and Kevin Mitchell. But I can see how from another point of view---say that of an Astros fan or a Red Sox fan---Hernandez and Carter and Darryl and Doc and Ray Knight might have been hard to warm up to.

How could you not have liked Howard Johnson though?

Or Dykstra?

You had to love the pre-Phillies, pre-bulked up Nails. I liked Lenny when he was with the Phillies and bulked up too, but when he was with the Mets, watching him play center like he was in a war zone, you expected that any game now he was going to kill himself running through the wall or diving for a blooper to shallow right center so hard he'd have saved the club money on burying him.

I remember a game in mid-season when he had to come way in to catch a ball he had no business even getting close to---in fact, I think it's even in the rule book: Balls hit to that exact spot behind second base are to be considered automatic bloop singles; no player shall waste time or energy or risk injury trying to catch said balls nor shall any manager fine, chew out, bench, or otherwise punish a center fielder who observes such a ball on its way up and down and recognizes its uncatchability and stays back waiting to play it on the hop---but Lenny got to it on the run and, still running towards the infield, dug it out of his glove and fired it home, nailing the runner who was confidently coming in from third. It's a wonder Dykstra's arm didn't come off and fly with it to the plate.

"Just your routine double play," observed a laughing Tim McCarver.

I loved the '69 Mets, but I don't really remember them, except through a nostalgic haze. They were my first true baseball love and that was the first year I really followed a team from spring training through the World Series. Tom Seaver was, and still is, my baseball hero. After Willie Mays, of course.

And I suppose the '62 Amazin's were likeable, the way a nearsighted dog is likeable. You feel sorry for it and can't help admiring its grit as it keeps bumping into the same tree as it chases after the neighbor's cat again and again.

"Can't anybody here play this game?" Casey Stengel asked in dismay. But a couple of his players could, including Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn, who was wrapping up his career in New York, managing to keep some of his dignity while the clown show bumbled about the field all around him.

Mets had an infielder at the time, must have been Elio Chacon, who didn't speak English, or who forgot what English he knew during the excitement of a game. As I heard Ashburn tell it, it was routine when a ball was hit to shallow center and both Ashburn and Chacon were going after it for Chacon not to hear or understand Ashburn shouting "I got it! I got it!" and veer off. He'd crash right into Ashburn and the ball would go dribbling away.

So Ashburn decided he needed to learn how to say "I got it" in Spanish, which is "Yo lo tengo!"

Next game, ball's hit their way, Chacon goes out, Asburn comes in, Ashburn shouts, "You lo tengo! Yo lo tengo!"

Chacon pulls up to let Ashburn take it.

And the left fielder runs Ashburn down.

Nobody wonders if the guys on this year's team can play the game.

And they all seem like good guys too. Cliff Floyd's grumpy, but then some part of him is always broken or bruised so you have to excuse him and even like him in his grumpiness.

But one of my favorites is Jose Valentin. It's always fun to see a formerly good player make a comeback after everybody else had decided his career's over. Michael Geffner had an excellent story on Valentin in the Times Herald Record Monday. Begins:

For more than a month at the beginning of the season, Jose Valentin felt so buried near the bottom of the Mets' roster that he considered the most extreme scenario almost daily: walking unannounced into Willie Randolph's office and letting it all out. Telling his manager, eyeball-to-eyeball, man-to-man, that he simply can't take it anymore.

That he can't perform being used so little and feeling during each rare at-bat like he has to do so much. And that he's not ready to drift off into career obscurity yet, as nothing more than a late-inning pinch-hitter.

"The frustration got really bad for awhile," Valentin admitted while sitting by his locker, his head dipped slightly and his moustache a flat line. "I was calling everybody. My father. My agent. My friends. I needed to tell people close to me, so I wouldn't do something crazy.

"I was so unhappy. It hurt so much to put on the uniform every day and not do anything. But, because we were winning, I made sure not to show it to my teammates.

"The thing is, I thought I had signed up to be a regular backup here, not a pinch-hitter getting one at-bat every now and then. I never did that before. And if that was going to be my role, I didn't want to be here."

He paused before adding: "Every day, I was getting angrier and angrier. At myself, the situation, everything."

Read the story. It's a profile of patience, perseverence, and self-control. And there's a happy ending.

I'm telling you. You gotta like these guys.

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Kathy's life and my story

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

The excerpt below from my story "Her Life" is the last one I'm going to post. I'll explain why in a minute.

If you'd like to read all the excerpts in sequence---close to sequence; there's a scene missing---here's a table of contents:

Kathy and her sister share their thoughts on love.

Kathy tells Robby the truth---most of it, at any rate.

Kathy's ex-husband is out of jail and feeling thirsty.

Kathy looks for Robby...or Rob...or the D-Man...whoever.

This should have been her happy ending.

Thanks very much to all of you who left comments or wrote in about the story. I appreciate your help and encouragement. And I'm sorry I have to cut things off two scenes short of the ending. But here's the deal.

I posted the first excerpt, This should have been her happy ending, with no plans to post any more. It was meant as introduction to my Cape blogging and that was all. Vanity got the better of me, though, so I kept going. The problem is, I'm afraid that if I post the whole thing online I won't ever be able to sell it to a magazine. Not that there's a chance of that in the immediate future, but it's always been the goal.

I'd like to just offer to email everybody who wants one a copy then, but there's an important part of me that rebels at the idea of giving away my fiction for free.

Blogging is different. You start up a webpage you are volunteering to do the work for free. Donations are always gratefully accepted and I'd like to sell more ads, but I don't expect either. (Thanks again, though, to all who have chipped in in the past!) But it's different with my fiction. It's not your concern, but writing stories is what I set out to do when I set out to be a writer. It's worked out that my non-fiction and journalism, and now my blogging, are what I've spent most of my time at a keyboard doing, but that's because I offended a teacher back in college who turned out to be a witch and put a curse on me, a story I'll save for a rainy day.

Telling tales, though, is my real love. So it's a point of pride with me that I treat it differently from my regular blogging.

I've thought about this carefully, and I've come up with a plan.

The plan is this: If you'd like to read the rest of the story, you can have it for a donation of $2 to the tip jar in the upper right corner of the page.

Hold on! There's more.

Since I'm springing this on you and I've already posted most of the story, I will send you all of Her Life plus another story.

There's still more. For a donation of $10 I will send you both stories and a story a month for the next 10 months.

And I'll tell you something. I'm pretty good at this. Her Life is my favorite story, but it isn't my best.

At any rate, here's how it will work. If you pay through Amazon, make sure you click on the button to let me know who you are and give me your email address. PayPal automatically does that. Also include a note telling me what file format you'd like the story sent in, WordPerfect, Word, or RTF. I'm working on creating PDF files of both stories too, but that won't be ready until the weekend. If you're willing to wait, let me know.

If you'd prefer to pay by check or money order, please make them payable to E. Reilly, and send them to Lance Mannion, PO Box 263, New Paltz, NY 12561.

I will also be glad to send hard copies by snail mail, autographed even, although I can't imagine anyone really wanting one. My autograph, that is. Make sure you include your address and add $1.50 for postage.

Of course, if you'd like to donate and don't want the stories, leave a note saying no thanks at PayPal and leave your donation anonymous at Amazon.

I'm sorry for not being sorry about doing this. But as Wodehouse says, " Poets, as a class, are business men. Shakespeare describes the poet's eye as rolling in a fine frenzy from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven, and giving to airy nothing a local habitation and a name, but in practice you will find that one corner of that eye is generally glued on the royalty returns."

Thanks again for your support and patience and, whether or not you donate, thanks very much for reading my blog.

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Monday, July 17, 2006

How hard it is to run this place

I have three favorite places to go for coffee down here, each one my favorite at different times of day and under different circumstances. One's for morning, one's for after dinner, and one's for whenever I happen to be passing by it and get a whiff of what's brewing inside.

Last year the owner of my morning place sold out. The new owner never seems to be enjoying her work. She's a thin, blond woman with curling hair and features made plain by worry and resignation. She looks as if she's forcing herself to grit her teeth and bear it without complaint, as if all the headaches and worries of running a business are part of a penance she's serving.

This morning, guy ahead of me tells the counter girl that one of the carafes is empty, one is mislabelled---it's supposed to be the house blend but it's raspberry creme---and a third splashed into his cup something that the label says is Columbian but smells suspiciously of hazelnut, meaning it's wearing the wrong name tag too. The counter girl is flustered and apologetic, but the owner doesn't speak up, although she's standing right there, making a breakfast sandwich on a butcher's block. She doesn't apologize, doesn't give immediate orders to the girls to fix the problem, and doesn't make a move to fix things herself. Her jaw tightens and her expression is full of frustration, exasperation, and...martyrdom.

She says something, pretty much to herself, about someone being a funny, little Scandanavian something or other, referring, I guess, to whichever employee out back who made the coffee this morning, not angry as much as reminding herself that she'll never hire any more exchange students with suspect English language skills.

Then, without lifting her head, she shifts her eyes from the cutting board to give the complaining customer a hard look.

He was trying to be polite and helpful, actually. But her look is a blaming look, as if the face of his deciding to come in for coffee this morning upset the time-space continuum and caused the little Scandanavian so and so to make those mistakes half an hour before he walked through the door. It seems to me that she thinks he should understand, without having to be told, and as if it was his concern, how hard it is for her to run this place and not made it any harder for her by causing trouble by pointing out mistakes.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Morning scene: Generations

Early Saturday morning, biked down to the landing on an inlet called the Oyster Pond River and walked along the shore, looking out across metallic blue water at the sunlit backside of Stage Harbor Neck and the old, blind lighthouse there, white as an oil painting against the sky. Beach grass on the neck green as bottle glass in some spots, yellow as wheat in others.

High tide, no beach, just a soggy path along the water's edge. Short cliffs off to my left grown over with bayberry, bearberry, beach plum, and beach heather, and lines of Cape Cod roses like red banners hung vertically from the clifftop. Go to take a picture of the some beached rowboats with the roses in the background and scare angrily chirping barn swallows up out of the blossoms.

Little shorebirds working the blackened seaweed along the path ahead of me. Probably sandpipers, but maybe sanderlings. The sun's behind them, they're mostly in silhouette and they won't let me get close enough to get a good look at them, even through my binoculars.

Dory chugs in and out between the boats anchored in the river, paralleling the shore. Older man at the wheel in the open cockpit, sixty if a day, but trim and fit, wearing shorts and a Hawaiian shirt both faded from long wear, and a red baseball cap, even more faded, bill backwards. Steers with one hand on the wheel, his other hand shading his eyes as he scans the shore on this side, watching me as if thinking I might be someone he knows, someone he is expecting to meet along here.

Plover skims the drowned grass at the waterline.

Group of five people arrive at the end of the lane down to the beach where my bike lies in the sand. Hard to say if they're together or if their arriving at the same time is just coincidental. I'm too far up to hear them say anything. But I can't see any interaction as they split into three separate groups---no signs of goodbyes being said or plans to meet up later being made.

Two tall college guys in ballcaps and carrying fishing rods and tackle boxes walk away upriver.

A man around my age in shorts, life vest, and stone colored Australian bush hat, the ties tight under his chin, sets down a black and yellow kayak and sets to work preparing it for a trip out into the river.

The last two members of the group are an elderly couple, past seventy, both of them, he round-shouldered and bent a bit, wearing a sun hat with a wide, floppy brim, she more wiry, taller, but with a bit of a stoop too, hatless, her white hair, toussled, unbrushed this morning, looking stiff in the breeze. She's wearing thin wrap around shades. Together they wade out to a skiff anchored fairly close in to shore and load it with tubs and buckets and a pair of clame rakes. She holds the boat by the gunwale to steady it as he climbs in. He unties the line to the buoy and grabs an oar to pole the boat backwards, bringing it close in, practically beaches it so she can get in. As she does, she pushes off with her leg. She sits on the bench in the stern. He takes the oars.

He rows them straight out into the river, aiming at the neck and the clam beds over there. The blond oars flash gold in the sun after each pull.

Night scene: "Watch your little feet, lady."

Late last night as I was on my way home after taking the picture of the Squire for the post below:

Fender bender at the street corner up ahead. Nothing serious. A pair of bewildered and sheepish looking drivers stand beside their cars, looking at the kissed bumpers, wondering what to do. A tall, barrel-chested cop in a reflector vest hurries up through the crowd behind me, moving people aside with his hands. Big hands, and a light touch on a shoulder makes an impression.

I manage to get out of his way without his having to make an impression on me, but ahead there's a group of thirtysomethings, two men, three women, walking four abreast, with one of the men trailing slightly behind, blocking the cop's way.

The cop strides up and, seeing a gap between two of the women, angles his way between them, saying to one of the women by way of an excuse me, "Watch your little feet, lady."

The woman, a short brunette in an oversized sweatshirt that looks very new, takes offense at his tone and his choice of words.

"What did he say?" she asks her friends. "Watch your little feet, lady? Is that what he said? Watch your little feet, lady?" She's incensed. "Watch my little feet!" She raises her voice and calls after him, but not really loud enough for him to hear, "You watch your little feet!"

Friday, July 14, 2006

"Would you prefer blogging or non-blogging?"

he plan for last night was to go to the drive-in to see Pirates of the Caribbean 2. That's what I thought the plan was, anyway. But Mother and Father Blonde are down here on a visit and, offering to watch the guys, inisted that the blonde and I go out for an evening alone together.

The blonde liked this idea. She says it's something married couples are supposed to do once in a while. She says we used to do it regularly ourselves.

"We did?" I asked.

"At least twice a month."

"Did I enjoy it?"

The question annoyed her for some reason.

"Yes, you enjoyed it!"

"As much as I'd enjoy Pirates of the Caribbean?"

Almost wound up spending an evening alone alone with a blanket on a chair on the front porch.

Fortunately, the brand-new teenager is a romantic and he stepped in to smooth things over and push us out the door before I could make things worse.

So off we went, poking around town, with no particular destination, thinking we might get something to eat.

We tried here first, because it's relatively new and we'd never been there before. But while it seemed like a good place to sit and watch the Red Sox game, sitting and watching the Red Sox wasn't the blonde's idea of a hot time on the town.

We moved on to here, where the overwhelmed hostess, half-crying and half-laughing, told us that they'd been hopping all night, no let up and none in sight, she was going out of her mind and we were out of our minds if we thought we were getting in without having booked a table for tonight yesterday.

So we moved on again, and if the Red Nun was too casual, and the Impudent Oyster too popular, then Christian's was just right.

We were given a table upstairs in an alcove with a window overlooking the street. It was as romantic a setting as the teenager could have wished for his parents. And at one point I looked across the candlelit table, stared deep into the blonde's big blue eyes, and I was overcome. I couldn't help myself. I was carried away by the moment.

"Blonde," I said softly and meaningfully, "Those Republicans sure are crazy, aren't they?"

And I was off.

Blabbed on nonstop for half an hour, covering all the usual topics, essentially blogging without a keyboard. Couldn't help myself. It was embarrassing. I don't like it when I do this. I started this blog in the hope that having a daily rant on the internet would take away my desire to rant in real life.

Hasn't worked that way.

Eventually it was time to go and I had to shut up. But as we left our table and emerged from the alcove a woman at the table just around the corner from ours stopped me.

"Was that you talking about what the Democrats should do?" she asked.

I was mortified.

I had tried to keep my voice down and had counted on the piano drowning me out, but she was sitting too close to escape. I began to apologize, saying I hoped I hadn't ruined her meal raving on and on like that.

"Nonsense," she said, "I was agreeing with everything you said. Right on!"

She really said right on.

I still felt like a fool. I said so. "People don't want some loudmouth bloviating all through their dinner," I said. "I should keep my yap shut."

"Oh don't worry," she said, "After all, this is a Blue State, isn't it?"

"The bluest," I said.

She begged to differ on that one.

"I'm from California," she said.

"That's pretty blue," I said. "But there're no Orange Counties in Massachusetts."

I had her there. "That's true. Orange County is pretty bad."

I agreed and was about to say something about Schwartzenegger and maybe ask her how she thought it was that the three bluest states, California, Massachusetts, and New York, all had Republican governors. But suddenly she gave a sharp cry of pain and began rubbing her shin and glaring across the table at her male dinner companion, who was trying to look innocent, and my collar got suddenly very tight around my neck as the blonde grabbed it from behind and began dragging me out of there.

Learned my lesson there. From now on I confine my blogging to the keyboard.

On the way out the blonde had to powder her nose so I was left alone downstairs with my thoughts. I would have sunk deep into a gloom of remorse and self-recrimination but the TV happened to be on.

The A's and the Sox were tied at three in the bottom of the seventh with Jason Varitek coming to the plate.

I'm just no good on these romantic nights out.

I didn't monopolize the conversation completely during dinner. The blonde told me about the book she's reading, A Death in Belmont by Sebastian Junger. She says it's very good, compelling, and creepy. She got carried away too and she offered to do something she has never offered to do before---write something for Lance Mannion. She asked me if I'd like her to write a review to post.

I said I sure would! But she began to back-pedal immediately. Your readers don't care what I have to say about a book, she demured.

Ok, readers, let her know she's all wet on that one.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Tricksters in the night

Late last night, Uncle Merlin and I the only ones awake, each of us focused on our respective computers, when a screaming outside the front windows startles us out of our virtual realities.

Animal screaming.

My first thought was that an owl had got a rabbit. But it kept screaming. And it moved around the house.

It sounded to me now like a hawk. A loud hawk. A loud, very big hawk. A hawk that would make an eagle insecure about its size. Unless it was an eagle. I've never seen an eagle around here. I can't remember seeing a hawk either. There are hawks all over the Cape, but not in this neighborhood. I saw an osprey this morning. Took a fish out of the Mill Pond. But I don't believe any of them, ospreys, eagles, or hawks, ever work nights.

A screech owl, maybe?

A screech owl with a megaphone.

I went outside to look, as if it wasn't night, as if it wasn't pitch dark.

Uncle Merlin didn't come with me. He had an important auction to monitor on ebay.

The screaming continued. Sharp, raspy, single note screams with pauses of three and four beats between them. I followed the sound out into the backyard and "watched" as whatever it was seemed to rise up into the top of tall old black locust behind the house next door. I tracked whatever it was with my eyes, as if if I stared intently enough I would develop super night vision and the thing would suddenly become visible to me.

Suddenly it was at ground level again and swinging around the neighbor's house to the street again. I chased after it, chased it down the street, chased it halfway up somebody's driveway, where I suddenly realized that it wasn't in the air anymore, that it probably never had been. Sound plays tricks in the dark.

Whatever it was had stopped moving, and I stopped too. We remained that way, "staring" at each other.

The screams had been dying for a little while now. Softer, they sounded to me more emotional, irritable, angry but not at me, at someone particular, but there was also a note of loneliness, as if whoever was irritating it was also breaking its heart.

I swear that's what I heard at the time, because in a moment you'll be accusing me of 20/20 hindhearing.

The screaming stopped but it, the screamer, was not silent. It was making a quiet noise in its throat, like the moaning of a sad dog.

There was enough ambient light from the house at the end of the driveway and I thought I could now see a gray-white shape sitting in the far corner of the yard.

Sitting up, like a dog on its haunches.

The front door of the house opened and a tall, white haired man stepped out onto the front stoop.

"Who's that?" he demanded in a far from welcoming voice.

"Hi," I said, "I'm from the up street. I heard a weird noise and I'm trying to find out what it is."

"It's a bird," he said. He didn't say it in a helpful way.

"That's what I thought when I heard it the first time. But I never heard a bird that loud."

"Bird," he said again.

I got the hint.

"Well," I said, "Goodnight."

He didn't say goodnight back.

The ghostly shape at the corner of the yard had disappeared.

I wandered off.

Uncle Merlin was waiting for me on the front porch as I walked back up to the house.

"I think it was a coyote," I said.

There have been coyotes on Cape Cod since 1985.

"I know it was," he said. "She was looking for her pup."

"How do you know that?"

"I saw the pup scurry across the backyard after you went out. It was headed your way."

That explains the screams then, she was calling for him. Unless what was screaming was what the coyote had between her jaws.

"Then I think I'm glad I didn't catch up with her," I said.

"She probably wouldn't have liked it if you'd come between her and her pup."

"Probably not." I thought about what might have happened. "They're not all that big," I said. They're not. The first time I ever saw one in the daylight I thought I was looking at a very large fox for a second. "And they don't really want to have anything to do with us. Wouldn't have been like coming between a mother bear and her cub."

Coyotes keep their distance from people. They aren't timid, just respectful. They have been known to follow people out walking. Trail them down the street. One can be behind you and you wouldn't know it. They're probably hoping you're a litter bug. Coyotes will eat pretty much anything. Taxidermist opened one up once, it had been killed by a car, and found a Burger King hamburger box in its belly.

"Not an experiment you'd want to try," Uncle Merlin said.

"No, it isn't," I said. "Would have liked to see them though. I've only seen two others."

The first time I saw one was on the beach late at night. If you run into a coyote in the dark on a beach when you are not expecting to meet one, when you don't even know yet that there are coyotes on Cape Cod and would never guess that an animal you've always thought of as prefering deserts where they can sit on rocks and howl at the moon at night and chase roadrunners by daylight, you do not think, Oh, a dog. You think, oh damn, a coyote. Coyotes slink with a guilty, thieving, shifty look that identifies them as distinctively as a sign around their neck.

"I see them all the time," Uncle Merlin said. "One comes around wanting to play with Al."

Al is Uncle Merlin's dog.

Coyotes avoid people, but they try to mix with dogs. They really do come around looking to play.

With dogs they're own size or bigger.

Little dogs annoy them.

Or make them hungry.


Some little dogs and cats have chased after coyotes and disappeared. The dogs' and cats' owners have watched them rush of into the woods after a coyote and that's been the last they ever saw of their pets.

Hasn't happened all that often, but it's given coyotes a bad reputation.

I'm not saying it's undeserved. But coyotes have helped the populations of ground-nesting birds. Coyotes will eat most anything, like I said, except, apparently eggs and birds. Animals that eat eggs and birds---skunks, raccoons, possums, and cats---avoid places where they might run into coyotes.

Uncle Merlin's dog is not little. He still doesn't let Al loose when there are coyotes in the neighborhood.

"But you let me loose," I said.

"I was involved," he said.

"On ebay," I said.

"I'm the top bidder."

"Good for you."

"You probably weren't in any danger."

"Nah," I said. "I was fine."

"Sure you were."

"Wish I could have seen it though."

"They'll be back," he said.


Uncle Merlin went back inside and shut down his computer and said goodnight.

I stayed up for a while, listening.

What we're here for

Usually, I cringe whenever a grieving relative or friend of somone who has died too young while risking their necks in the pursuit of fun, fame, fortune, or plain old curiosity is quoted in the newspaper or on TV saying, "At least my dead beloved went doing something my beloved one loved to do."

But in this case I understand.

If there is a God, I believe this is the job he gave us to do. He built a universe full of mysteries to figure out, hid himself deep within in it, and left us just one instruction, "Come find me."

That's my way of saying I think we're here to figure out how it all works.

And if that's the case, then people like David Bright are doing God's work.

BOSTON -- David Bright, a leading researcher into underwater exploration and shipwrecks, has died after diving to the site of the Andrea Doria off Nantucket, where he was working in preparation for the wreck's 50th anniversary. He was 49.

Bright, of Flemington, N.J., resurfaced from a dive late Saturday with decompression sickness and went into cardiac arrest, according to the Coast Guard. He was pronounced dead at Cape Cod Hospital a short time later.

Bright was a historian and an experienced technical diver who had explored the Titanic, Andrea Doria and other shipwrecks many times -- 120 times for the Andrea Doria.

The Andrea Doria was headed from Genoa, Italy, to New York when it collided with the Swedish ship Stockholm on July 25, 1956, killing about 50 people. The Italian luxury liner lies at the bottom of the Atlantic in 200 feet of water.

Bright had an extensive collection of artifacts and established the Andrea Doria Museum Project, which lends artifacts to museums. He was the founder of the Andrea Doria Survivor Reunions Committee.

"His passion has been growing for a little over 30 years, all kinds of shipwrecks and getting to know them," Elaine Bright, his wife of 23 years, said Monday.

"It's very traumatizing to his entire family but we know that he's happy. It's a very sad thing, but water, scuba diving was what he wanted to do," she said.

Update: Commenter Susan Paxton gave me the heads up to Bright's blog, Shipwrecks.

St George, the Dragon, and the Princess Ingratitudia

An outtake from a post in progress:

Would I rather have Saddam back in power?

No, I would rather that now that's he been gone for three years we'd finally get around to making Iraq better off without him.

Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and Donald Rumsfeld took us to war for a mix of reasons that boiled down amount to little more than that they saw the opportunity they'd been looking for since they decided to install themselves as America's ruling triumverate with George Bush as their puppet and front man. They saw their chance to increase America's power to protect its interests in the Mideast---oil and Israel---and increase the power of the Republican power at home.

They manipulated George Bush into leading the charge the way they have always manipulated him, going back to his father's days as Reagan's VP---Here's you shot, George. You finally get to be a bigger man than your dad.

The neo-cons in the administration were motivated by the same cowardice masquerading as zeal that motivated them through the Cold War when they desired above all to be rid forever and ever not just of enemies but of the idea we might have enemies. They saw a chance to do in Iraq what they never could do to the Rooskies---annihlate an enemy.

Other supporters of the war mostly saw a chance to eliminate Saddam Hussein.

The war was never about weapons of mass destruction, except that they'd provide evidence of what they already knew, Saddam Hussein was a bad man.

It was never about bringing democracy to Iraq, except that just the idea that democracy needed to be imposed from outside by force meant that it was being kept out by force and that was more evidence Saddam was evil and needed to go.

It was never about 9/11 and any Iraqi ties to al Qaeda, because the first two "proofs" of Saddam's evil also proved he was capable of anything, including masterminding and bankrolling 9/11, and if he hadn't, well, then, sooner or later he'd do something just as bad if not worse, because he's evil, see reasons one and two.

Nothing has shown they were wrong about that.

They don't feel lied to about WMD, or nation building, or ties to 9/11, because none of those things were ever the reason.

They were descriptions---metaphors for Saddam's black and rotten soul.

They convinced themselves that because Saddam was so clearly evil and that, even more clearly, the United States was so good and pure of heart and mind, that our being Saddam's enemy was all the proof any Iraqi needed of our beneficence, magnaminity, compassion, and disinterested desire to help, that just the idea that we had rescued them from Saddam's clutches should have been enough to make the Iraqis forever grateful.

They can't believe that the Iraqis would want anything more, like reliable electric power, like they had before, and functioning schools and hospitals, like they had before, and no fear that when they went out into the street to pick up a loaf of bread that they would get blown up or worse, which they were blessedly free of before.

A maiden held captive by a dragon doesn't want to be rescued by another dragon, even if the second dragon doesn't plan to eat her like the other dragon, just take her home to his cave.

And she can be forgiven for not feeling especially grateful to a knight who comes along to slay the dragon, if when he's done the knight rides off, leaving her chained naked to a rock, shouting over his shoulder as he gallops away, "Would you rather have the dragon back?"

Embedded links above from Susie and Wolcott.

And read Digby on how the knight, riding off into the sunset, has been trampling people in his path and still can't figure out why the princess and her subjects are grateful.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Political theatre

The Cape is represented in Congress by a Democrat, William Delahunt.

The Drum Major Institute has given Delahunt a score of 100 and a grade of A when it comes to protecting the interests of the middle class with his vote.

One of the good guys, then.

Delahunt's probable Republican challenger this fall is a former CIA agent. I say probable just because the guy hasn't officially announced he's running yet. He could change his mind. Wouldn't leave him unopposed if he did. Guy named Peter White's already running against him as an independent.

White is a local activist, a progressive, and, these days, an actor.

He has a flair for the dramatic, onstage and off, writes the Cape Cod Times' political reporter, Kevin Dennehy:

Take, for instance, the day last spring when he slapped a pair of white gloves spattered with fake blood in front of U.S. Rep. William Delahunt in protest of the Iraq war before storming out of the hall.

Or when he joined a group of ''grannies'' - wig and all - in protest outside a Hyannis recruiting station.

But can he act?

Well, judge for yourself when White, now an independent candidate challenging Delahunt, appears on stage July 29 at Cape Cod Community College for a presentation of Sinclair Lewis' ''It Can't Happen Here.''

The performance, which will double as a fundraiser for White, will be followed by a discussion.

For White, who says he would push for President Bush's impeachment if elected, Lewis' 1935 satire makes sense.

It's the story of a self-described populist whose presidency foreshadows German fascism.

Or, as White puts it, ''a fascist president elected from Texas ... starts a war in order to promote corporate interests and enact restrictions on constitutional rights.''

In case you're not clear where he stands.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

A surf full of seals and small boys

The sun was shining when we arrived this evening but the sky was grayed by a smoky haze that might have been a thin fog that couldn't get up the heart to coalesce and descend. But some time after dark, when we weren't looking, the air cleared and now the near full-moon is brilliant against a velvet blue sky.

Just back from a quick walk through town. At the time I set out, closing on eleven, there's nothing open but a bar, the drug store, and an ice cream shop, Daisy's, where I stopped in for coffee, naturally. They serve pretty good coffee at Daisy's. But the kid behind the counter had just emptied the pots and the carafes. He was sorry about it and offered to fix me an espresso. I told him this was fate's way of telling me I didn't need any more coffee, I'd had enough for today.

Fate wanted me to have ice cream.

Chocolate ice cream.

You can't fight fate.

We arrived in Chatham at about 5. As soon as we'd unpacked the car the 10 year old and I, at his suggestion, walked down to the Mill Pond to check to see if it was where we'd left it at the end of our vacation last year.

A breeze had kicked up and the usually mirror-smooth water of the pond was choppy and here and there chalk-marked with whitecaps, as if reminding itself and us that though it looks almost encircled by land it's still connected to the harbor and through that to the ocean and is in fact part of the Atlantic itself. We stood on the floating dock, moving up and down on the swells as if on one of the many sailboats and and fishermen's dories and small pleasure craft swinging around their buoys. There were some shrieks in the air over our had, harsh and irritable, but still more musical than a seagull's cries. Terns. Common enough down on the ocean beach but I can't remember ever seeing one, let alone three, up here.

Before long, all of us, the two of us plus the blonde and the brand-new teenager and Uncle Merlin were down on the ocean beach where the sand was deliciously cool on our feet. Every year Lighthouse Beach reshapes itself and this year it has added a seaward curve, erasing a point and sinking a sandbar that had been forming parallel to the beach, theatening to cut off the channel. The water was too cold for adults but just fine for seals and boys. We counted three seals and two young Mannions up to their necks in the waves. The seals stayed aways out from the boys, but one of them watched them with I thought a longing look, almost like a dog behind a fence who sees children playing in the next yard.

The tide was on its way in. We'd walked out pretty far and when it came time to head back we discovered that where we were, what we thought was a new head of land, was actually sea floor, at least for several hours a day when the tide was high. The water was flooding in behind us, threatening to cut us off if we dawdled. Two separate, hurrying flocks of cormorants flew low over our heads, their long, crooked necks stretched forward as if they were harnassed to themselves and pulling their stumpy bodies through the air by their beaks. Cormorants wings are impressive when they are perched on rocks or buoys and hanging them out to dry at full length---cormorants aren't waterproof like ducks and other water fowl---but in flight they seem set ridiculously far back on their trunks, adding to the effect of strained necks as they fly.

The boys picked up several live moon snails, each with its fat, fleshy foot extended. Another common sight, like the terns over the mill pond, I don't remember ever seeing where I was seeing it. We've picked up the broken shells of moon snails all over the place in the past, but I can't recall ever finding any live ones on Lighthouse Beach before. Maybe the changes in the beach have changed the habitat just enough that the moon snails have moved in. Three or four years ago there were no seals along here either. Last couple of vacations they have been as common and numerous as deer. One year we counted twenty-eight of them together, rolling in the surf off the now gone point.

Down on the beach the breeze was stiff and relentless. It's been blowing on and off up here all night. Right now it's whistling up against the back of the house. There are two paried windows just off to my left. One, the farthest from me, is open and the white half-curtains have been dancing nonstop. From time to time there'll be a gust that lifts the curtains and holds them out at forty-five degree angle from the sill. Where I'm sitting, I don't feel the breeze on me, but it's making the room cool enough that I'm thinking of heading upstairs for a sweatshirt.

I'm reluctant to go look because what I'm afraid I'll find up there instead is a warm and inviting bed. I hate to go to bed when I'm down here. I'm always the last to call it a night and I'll be the first up to begin the day. I'm pretty much sleep-deprived for the whole vacation.

No one ever feels sorry for me.

So, we're here. We'll be here for two weeks. Just like last year I'll be mixing up reports from the seashore with regular blogging, so please keep checking in. And if you'd like a post card just email me your snail mail address and I'll get one out, although you won't be able to read it. My handwriting looks nice enough, if you don't try to read it as words.

Fate was right about the chocolate ice cream but wrong about the coffee. I wonder how far I'd have to walk to find someplace open and serving.

Worth finding out.

First, I'd better go upstairs for that sweatshirt.

I'm sure I can ignore the warm and inviting bed...

Saturday, July 08, 2006

This should have been her happy ending

Beyond the docks the beach curved out to a point and a dozen brightly painted sailboats were drawn up on the sand. Out in the water several larger boats sat at anchor, their colors lost in the glare of the late afternoon sun. Kathy took off her clogs and walked along the hard sand at the water’s edge. Past the sailboats the beach was empty except for a pair of teenage girls sharing a blanket and the last warm rays of the day. They lay on their bellies with their bikini tops unfastened, talking quietly, nose to nose. Kathy stopped and surveyed both the way she had come and the direction she was headed. The beach continued on its swing west half a mile to the point, the point was topped with a shadowy and gray-hollowed dune, and beyond that she couldn’t see. If the boy on the dock had steered her right, Robby had to be somewhere out beyond the point.

And if he had steered her wrong?

She decided to turn back. Then she changed her mind.

The water ran slack. With luck it would be shallow. Kathy gathered up the cuffs of her shorts in her fist and, holding her clogs out at her side, set off on the quickest path to the point, wading out across the harbor.

She arrived at the foot of the dune with the seat of her pants soaked and her teeth beginning to chatter. The setting sun had started up a breeze that flattened the dune grass. She found a path up to the top.

Below lay a marsh and a salt pond, both deep in the shadows of the surrounding dunes. Halfway around the pond stood a dock. On the dock sat—

Well, it had to be him this time.

He was sitting with his back against a piling, shirtless, his legs stretched out in front of him. He wasn’t drawing, only bouncing his pencil up and down on the open sketch pad on his lap, metronomically, as if setting the tempo for his thoughts. He stared out into the pond at a clammer’s dory, a twenty-foot double-ender with a narrow, red cockpit like a coffin stood on end. Two men worked off the boat, one at the bow, one at the stern, pumping their long clam rakes in a matching rhythm. When she crept closer Kathy saw that Robby’s pen beat in time with the men’s rakes.

“Hello, D-Man.” Barefoot, she’d been able to sneak up on him. He was not startled. He looked up, shielding his eyes from the sun directly behind her, and smiled as if he had been expecting her.

“Hello, K-Girl.”

Kathy sank to her knees, took his face in her hands, kissed him. He reached up under her hair and brought her down onto his lap. “Hey!” She reached under her and pulled out the sketch pad. The top page was marked with a half-moon imprint of her wet rear end.

“Oh I ruined your drawing.”

“I ruined it. It’s ok. It wasn’t going anywhere anyway. How’d you get so wet?”

“I saw you.”

He blushed. Kathy kissed him again. Then she held up the pad and looked at his sketch.

“These are those guys.”


“It’s good.”

“Not really.”

“I like the way you drew this one leaning on his rake. It doesn’t look like he’s taking a break though. He’s watching something, isn’t he?”

“A boat. Boat I was on. I saw them. They were working out by the inlet when we sailed by. I was crewing for a guy wanted to take his new trophy wife for a sail. We went by and I happened to look over. These guys are eyeing us. Eyeing me, because I was at the helm and they thought that meant I was the skipper, it was my boat, or more likely my rich daddy’s. They were a ways off, but I could still see the smiles on their faces, and it dawned on me. They thought I was funny. They also hated me. Got me thinking.” He turned over the page. It was a sketch of a woman in a bikini, lying back, propped up on her elbows, while a man, fatter, older, grouchy, poured her a drink from a pitcher. This was more of a cartoon and Robby wasn’t happy with it. He grimaced and flipped back to the drawing of the two men raking clams.

“See the pipe in this guy’s mouth? Look out there.” He jerked his chin at the men. “Neither of those guys is smoking a pipe.”

“So why did you give him one?”

“Good question. I did it because Monet did it. And Monet did it because Hiroshige did it.”

“That’s the one you want to take me to the museum to see? Hiro—“

“Hiroshige. That’s him. He did a painting, Ferryboats on the Tenyru River, Monet was inspired by it when he did one called The Beach at Sainte-Adresse. Guys and boats, both pictures. In Hiroshige’s the guys are ferrymen. In Monet’s they’re fishermen. They kind of complement each other, which is why the pipe. I thought I might try to paint something that had elements from both of them. Mine was going to be of the two clammers watching the sailboat.”

Kathy was quiet, trying to imagine the finished painting. Robby took her silence as a criticism. He wasn’t hurt. He agreed with what he thought she thought.

“Yeah, well, probably I couldn’t pull it off. Too much going on. That’s a bad temptation for me. I want to put everything I know into every painting I do. See, I was thinking it was going to be allusive, but also satirical, which neither of theirs is. It’s an ironic moment. The juxtaposition of the rich tourists spoiling themselves and these two guys breaking their backs digging clams for a living. I want to suggest how the tourists are oblivious to the way they’re both dependent on the locals and exploiting them and at the same time, how they look at them with a kind of fondness because they see the locals as part of the scenery, which is why they love the Cape, why they come here. Meanwhile, the clammers are watching them back, seeing the tourists as part of a show too, only they’re doing it with more self-awareness. But I’m afraid I’m overdoing it with the irony. It’s there. It needs to be there, but that’s only one theme, and I think it needs to be a secondary one at that. I want to show how both groups are part of the scenery. How they fit Cape physically. They’re all as much a part of the landscape as the dunes, and the sea gulls, and the ocean! There’s a kind of harmony. It’s an arrangement. An aesthetic one and not the business one they think they have. An ordering.”

“You mean by God?”

“I guess.”

“God puts us in our place?”

“Well, eventually.”

“I’m a waitress and you’re going to law school because God ordered it?”

“No. No! Not at all. I’m not talking about the fates of individuals. I just. We have a place. It’s wherever we are. We’re here. This is our place. We go somewhere else, that’s our new place. The order isn’t disrupted because we move around. It sorts itself out around us. The beach out there, every year the ocean picks up three feet of it, carries it out to sea, and drops it down a little farther west. Every day it’s a brand new beach. And today’s is just as perfect as yesterday’s, as far as nature is concerned, or God. The structure is perfect, but it’s fluid, always re-perfecting itself. It’s our problem that we get attached to the structure as it exists in a given moment. We think, This is the way it’s supposed to be, the way it always will be. What I’m trying to show. Is. In a larger context, all of us are part of this picture that’s drawn, not by God necessarily, but maybe. Maybe by God. By nature, anyway, by the way the universe puts itself together. We’re not the center of the picture. Not the focus. We can’t help seeing ourselves that way. We see life as a series of self-portraits and not as a succession of landscapes. The clammers look at the tourists, the tourists look at the clammers, and both are thinking that the picture is about them, and that everything in it is fixed, that this is the way it is. But it’s the landscape, which includes them, that’s really the point, really the subject.”

“That’s an awful lot for one painting.”

“Too much. But what the hell. I’m learning, right? It’s an experiment.”

Kathy held onto the sketch pad, studying it, thinking over what he’d said. Her thoughts skipped ahead from this one proposed painting to all the paintings he proposed to do in the future. “I saw your roommate before I came out here.”


“He says for you to call your father.”

“Oh oh.”

“He says he’s been calling every fifteen minutes.”

“He’s after me to send in my room deposit.”

“School starts when?”

“Middle of September.”

“You don’t have much time.”

“Six weeks,” he said, as if correcting her.

“Doesn’t feel like much time to me.”

“I should call my dad.”

“You probably should.”

Robby reached for his sketch pad. He studied his picture, his pencil poised, but he did not start drawing again. The clammers had finished for the day. The dory was making its way across the pond at a steady crawl. Close in, the pilot swung around so that the boat came up broadside to the end of the dock. Kathy climbed off Robby’s lap to let him up. He reached his hand out to the clammer standing in the dory’s bow. The man hopped up on the dock and while Robby knelt and held the boat still by the gunwale, the other clammer left the cockpit and handed up seven bushels of quahogs to his partner. This second clammer was a thick-shouldered man with long brown hair and a bushy beard. His partner was smaller and more wiry. The bearded man grunted hello and that was the limit of his conversation. His partner was friendlier.

“Pretty good haul,” Robby observed.

“Average,” the partner said with a grin. He wore designer horn-rims and those, along with his razor cut hair, made Kathy think, Stockbroker, banker, even though he was barefoot and wearing a pair of paint-spattered gym shorts and a grimy tanktop black on the belly where he’d been wiping his hands off all day. “Two, three-hundred pounds. But. Dollar thirty a pound? And it’s all cash, know what I’m saying? Don’t have to share a penny with Uncle Sam. Beats working for a living.”

“Done?” said the bearded clammer in the boat.

“Take her away.”

The bearded clammer went back to the coffin-like cockpit and re-started the engine. He steered the boat back out into the pond, where he tied it to a buoy, exchanging it for a skiff that had been anchored there. While he rowed back, Robby helped the other man carry quahogs off the dock and up a path through the wax myrtles, beach plum, and a stand of quaking aspen to a pick-up truck parked at the end of a sand and gravel road. He came back just as the bearded clammer climbed up onto the dock. Robby offered to help with the last two bushels, but the clammer grunted, “Thanks anyway,” through his beard and, stacking the metal baskets, took them up the path himself.

Robby said, “Guy with the glasses claims he knows forty-eight ways to mess up a quahog.”

“Really,” Kathy said smiling, not at what he said but at how much she was liking him for having helped the clammers.

“Yep. Crepes, sauces, chowders. People come to his place to eat, he takes two containers out of the freezer and starts cooking. Feeds his many friends and relations quahogs all winter long.”

“Must get a little boring.”

“Beats working for a living,” Robby said with a sly grin.

“It’s a lot harder life than he’s letting on.”

“I suppose.”

Kathy faced out toward the pond and watched the clammers’ dory swinging slowly around its buoy. “I’m thinking of asking my sister to move out. At the end of the summer. I don’t want her living there when my daughter comes home.”

He didn’t say anything. She continued, “I’ll have to find a new roommate. Someone who likes kids.” Kathy watched his reaction out of the corner of her eye. “Know anybody?”

“I might.”

Kathy gave him an accusing stare. “Really?”


For some reason she started to laugh. “No, you don’t.”

He laughed too. “Yes, I do.”

She slapped him on the chest with the palms of her hands. “You don’t.” He laughed harder. She slapped him harder. “You don’t!” She pushed him. “You. Don’t.”

“Yes. I. Do.”

“No! You! Don’t!” And she ran him backwards off the dock. He came up sputtering but still laughing.

“How’s the water?”

“It’s fine. Come on in.”

“Don’t tempt me.”

He fumbled around under the water, his head disappearing up to the crown several times, and resurfaced, lifting his dripping shorts high above him. He threw them at her. She ducked. They hit the dock with a splat. Kathy looked up just in time to see his briefs flying at her. And past her. They sailed over the dock and landed in the water.

“Ha ha, smart guy!”

“Come in.”

She looked at him, hands on her hips. “Come in,” he said again. She took off her glasses and set them inside her shoe.

“Come in!”

Glancing around to make sure they were truly alone, she stripped off her shorts and her panties, pulled her top over head, waited, letting him get a good look at her, and then she ran, straight off the dock, leaping, pulling her legs up, launching herself at him in a high arching cannonball.

---from Her Life, a short story by Lance Mannion, who is on his way to Cape Cod. Blogging will continue from there.