Booty from Christmas Past

Cross-posted from Livejournal

Booty!

Shut up, you deviants. I mean Jack Sparrow-type booty. Arr…

In 2010, a chest o’treasure arrived in me mailbox from a pretty wench in a far-off land. A whole bundle of silly, fun things: most useful, all appreciated.

The tie was the most interesting of all. To look at, it’s just a nice Christmas-themed cravat (since I only have one other, this will be a fine addition next Yule season.) But on closer examination, there are bits and snatches of words running through the candy canes.

I could tell the writing extended through the candy canes onto the blue background, but it was impossible to see in normal light, especially with the reflection from the shiny silk. So I scanned it, hoping to bring out a bit of detail.

With a little contrast and gamma manipulation, I was able to get the words to come out a bit more (this is just a small section, and my working image was much larger):

What jumped out at me was “The Christmas Joy”, “around the year”, “spot”, and “frozen”. Doing a Google search on these words came up with one – and only one – hit, a poorly-scanned copy of Down Durley Lane and Other Ballads by Virginia Woodward Cloud, published in 1898(!), and illustrated by Reginald Bathurst Birch which included this poem, “Old Christmas”:

It’s a long way round the year, my dears,
A long way round the year.
I found the frost and flame, my dears,
I found the smile and tear!

The wind blew high on the pine-topp’d hill.
And cut me keen on the moor:
The heart of the stream was frozen still,
As I tapped at the miller’s door.

I tossed them holly in hall and cot,
And bade them right good cheer,
But stayed me not in any spot,
For I’d traveled around the year

To bring the Christmas joy, my dears,
To your eyes so bonnie and true;
And a mistletoe bough for you, my dears,
A mistletoe bough for you!

What a delightful, hidden, and serendipitous message!

Miraculous it was that these words were even clear in the transcription, because it was a raw optical-conversion, and much of the text came out as garbage. What’s more, Virginia Woodward Cloud is a rather obscure poet, not unlike Grace Noll Crowell, (whose works I had hunted for over a period of 40 years, only having success last year thanks to another deep internet search). So the odds of finding one of Cloud’s poems on a Christmas tie are pretty slim.

A bit more digging found a beautiful online, zoomable copy of the book – “Old Christmas” is on page 99.

And all this because I gave the wench a stale crust of bread…

The Old Wolf has spoken

Satire: It’s legal, Madam.

Some folks have really, really thin skins.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, text

I suspect Ms. Parker, whoever, she is, has never been inside Barnes and Noble… or any bookstore for that matter. Peruse the shelves of any respectable bookseller, and you’ll find works from every point along the political spectrum, from Holy, Holy God, Thank You For Appointing Trump Emperor of the World (I’m sure something similar exists) to Bob Woodward’s Fear, and anything inbetween. ¹

The Humor section will be chock-full of collections of political cartoons from such geniuses as Pat Oliphant, who pilloried everyone that deserved it regardless of political affiliation.

If Ms. Parker’s train of thought were carried to its very illogical end-of-line, every bookstore in the world should be boycotted for carrying an item that someone happened to find offensive.

It’s called “The First Amendment.” Satire and Parody are Constitutionally protected speech.

But in one thing, Ms. Parker is right. This book is very disrespectful; comparing 45 to a pig is most unfair to the pigs of the world.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


¹ Someone needs to write this book:

67 looks different now

One of my all-time favorite books has always been The Human Comedy by William Saroyan. It’s a lovely novel about good-hearted, hard-working people living in a terrible time of death, destruction, and fear – the days of World War II. It is also written in a simple, delicious style, reflective of a certain simple goodness that much of our society no longer seems to prize.

In the course of the story, Homer Macaulay, a 14-year-old boy whose father has died and whose brother Marcus is away at the war, takes a job at the local telegraph office. There he meets Mr. Spangler, the manager, and Willie Grogan, the old-time telegrapher.

The following excerpt from the novel has always moved me because of Saroyan’s writing, but now more than ever since as of today I am no longer sixty-seven years old, the same age as Willie.

Homer sings “Happy Birthday” to Mr. Grogan

Spangler asked suddenly, “You know where Chatterton’s Bakery is on Broadway? Here’s a quarter. Go get me two day-old pies — apple and cocoanut cream. Two for a quarter.”  

“Yes, sir,” Homer said. He caught the quarter Spangler tossed to him and ran out of the office. Spangler looked after him, moving along into idle, pleasant, nostalgic dreaming. When he came out of the dream, he turned to the telegraph operator and said, “What do you think of him?”  

“He’s a good boy,” Mr. Grogan said.  

“I think he is,” Spangler said. “Comes from a good, poor family on Santa Clara Avenue. No father. Brother in the Army. Mother works in the packing-houses in the summer. Sister goes to State College. He’s a couple of years underage, that’s all.”  

“I’m a couple overage,” Mr. Grogan said. “Well get along.”  

Spangler got up from his desk. “If you want me,” he said, “I’ll be at Corbett’s. Share the pies between you—” He stopped and stared, dumbfounded, as Homer came running into the office with two wrapped-up pies.  

“What’s your name again?” Spangler almost shouted at the boy.  

“Homer Macauley,” Homer said.  

The manager of the telegraph office put his arm around the new messenger. “All right, Homer Macauley,” he said. “You’re the boy this office needs on the night-shift. You’re probably the fastest-moving thing in the San Joaquin valley. You’re going to be a great man some day, too— if you live. So see that you live.” He turned and left the office while Homer tried to understand the meaning of what the man had said.  

“All right, boy,” Mr. Grogan said, “the pies.”  

Homer put the pies on the desk beside Mr. Grogan, who continued to talk. “Homer Macauley,” he said, “my name is William Grogan. I am called Willie, however, although I am sixty-seven years old. I am an old-time telegrapher, one of the last in the world. I am also night wire-chief of this office. I am also a man who has memories of many wondrous worlds gone by. I am also hungry. Let us feast together on these pies— the apple and the cocoanut cream. From now on, you and I are friends.”  

“Yes, sir,” Homer said.  

The old telegraph operator broke one of the pies into four parts, and they began to eat cocoanut cream.  

“I shall, on occasion,” Mr. Grogan said, “ask you to run an errand for me, to join me in song, or to sit and talk to me. In the event of drunkenness, I shall expect of you a depth of understanding one may not expect from men past twelve. How old are you?’

“Fourteen,” Homer said, “but I guess I’ve got a pretty good understanding.”  

“Very well,” Mr. Grogan said. “I’ll take your word for it. Every night in this office I shall count on you to see that I shall be able to perform my duties. A splash of cold water in the face if I do not respond when shaken— this is to be followed by a cup of hot black coffee from Corbett’s.”  

“Yes, sir,” Homer said.  

“On the street, however,” Mr. Grogan continued, “the procedure is quite another thing. If you behold me wrapped in the embrace of alcohol, greet me as you pass, but make no reference to my happiness. I am a sensitive man and prefer not to be the object of public solicitude.”  

“Cold water and coffee in the office,” Homer said. “Greeting in the street. Yes, sir.”  

Mr. Grogan went on, his mouth full of cocoanut cream. “Do you feel this world is going to be a better place after the War?”  

Homer thought a moment and then said, “Yes, sir.”  

“Do you like cocoanut cream?” Mr. Grogan said.  

“Yes, sir,” Homer said.  

The telegraph box rattled. Mr. Grogan answered the call and took his place at the typewriter, but went on talking. “I, too, am fond of cocoanut cream,” he said. “Also music, especially singing. I believe I overheard you say that once upon a time you sang at Sunday School. Please be good enough to sing one of the Sunday School songs while I type this message from Washington, D. C.”  

Homer sang Rock of Ages while Mr. Grogan typed the telegram. It was addressed to Mrs. Rosa Sandoval, 1129 G Street, Ithaca, California, and in the telegram the War Department informed Mrs. Sandoval that her son, Juan Domingo Sandoval, had been killed in action.  

Mr. Grogan handed the message to Homer. He then took a long drink from the bottle he kept in the drawer beside his chair. Homer folded the tele- gram, put it in an envelope, sealed the envelope, put the envelope in his cap and left the office. When the messenger was gone, the old telegraph operator lifted his voice, singing Rock of Ages. For once upon a time he too had been as young as any man.

Saroyan, William, The Human Comedy, Harcourt, Brace and Company (1943)

Willie is 67, and has lived a hard life. Alcoholism takes its toll. I don’t feel as old as Willie, but I haven’t lived through two world wars or known the privations of the Depression. But the number stuck in my mind, and brought back these recollections.

Age is a funny thing. It’s relative. When I first read The Human Comedy as a young man (one of the few books that has ever made me weep like a grade-schooler), sixty-seven seemed far, far away and ancient. Now that I’ve passed that mark, aside from the wear and tear that comes with an aging body I don’t feel as old as Willie – somehow I’m still around 24 inside. Or sometimes 15. Or sometimes five.

I remember that even as a child, I was amused by Gelett Burgess’ poem “Consideration” found in Goops and How To Be them:

When you’re old, and get to be
Thirty-four or forty-three,
Don’t you hope that you will see
Children all respect you?

Will they, without being told,
Wait on you, when you are old,
Or be heedless, selfish, cold?
hope they’ll not neglect you!

But it’s important to remember that life expectancy has changed radically over the last century and a half.

  • Today, in 2019, the average human can expect to live to age 79.
  • in 1943 when The Human Comedy was published, the average US life expectancy for a male was 62.4, so Willie was well past the mark.
  • In 1900, when The Goops was written, the number was considerably lower: 46.3
  • And in 1853 when Herman Melville wrote “Bartleby the Scrivener,” lower still – around 38, so the narrator can be forgiven for calling himself “a rather elderly man,” ” somewhere not far from sixty.”

Much of the rising life expectancy can be attributed to advances in medical science, the eradication of many infectious diseases, and the judicious application of vaccines against diseases such as polio, smallpox, and the many childhood diseases that carried so many people away.

Public Service Announcement: Vaccines are generally safe and prevent far more suffering than they cause.

I’m to the point now where I can no longer count on the fingers of both hands the number of family members, friends and associates who have graduated from mortality at an age younger than I am today. We never know when our number will be called; like everyone else I will board the bus (“Heart and Souls” reference) when it comes for me, and while I hope for significantly more time here on earth I will be grateful for what I’ve been given. By the standards of days gone by, I’ve already beaten the odds by a mile.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The Dangers of Reading

The following is a translation of an extract from the Library and National Archives of Quebec (BAnQ). Visit the site for the full article with images (in French).

On February 20, 1902, coroner Charles Alphonse Dubé met with several witnesses at Notre-Dame-du-Rosaire in the Pontiac district. He wanted  to determine the cause of the death of Mrs. Evelina d’Aragon, found dead in bed. After investigation, he concluded that the latter committed suicide by taking a dose of strychnine “in a moment of insanity.”

In his statement  to the jury, Dr. Dubé, who was well acquainted with Madame d’Aragon, declared that she left to her husband, Alfred-Saint-Louis, a note which read: “Dear Alfred, now free. Your taste for the bottle, your first companion, will satisfy you. Evelina.  Although these words suggest that Mrs. d’Aragon, who was pregnant at the time, committed suicide because of her husband’s alcoholic addictions, Dr. Dubé believed that the reason is quite different.

In order to demonstrate that Ms. d’Aragon was not in full possession of her mental faculties at the time of her death, he stated that she suffered from exalted and romantic ideas that she had certainly acquired by reading many novels.  Dr. Dubé affirmed that:  “There is nothing in the world to distort judgment, and to exalt the imagination like the reading of these novels, where everything tends to excite intelligence and lead to a false interpretation of ordinary things of life.

So watch yourselves out there, those penny dreadfuls will rot your brain. {heavy sarcasm}

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Merged Books

Cross-posted from LiveJournal

While searching for something else in my LiveJournal archive, I ran across this little gem which was sent to me by a translator colleague in 1999. It’s out on the net, but you have to know just what you’re looking for to find it.

Merge matic books from the Washington Post Invitational: Readers were asked to combine the works of two authors and provide a suitable blurb. Back to the books.

The overall winner is also the Rookie of the Week:

Second Runner Up: “Machiavelli’s The Little Prince” Antoine de Saint Exupery’s classic children’s tale as presented by Machiavelli. The whimsy of human nature is embodied in many delightful and intriguing characters, all of whom are executed. (Erik Anderson, Tempe, Ariz.)

First Runner Up:

“Green Eggs and Hamlet”
Would you kill him in his bed?
Thrust a dagger through his head?
I would not, could not, kill the King.
I could not do that evil thing.
I would not wed this girl, you see.
Now get her to a nunnery. (Robin Parry, Arlington)

And the Winner of the Dancing Critter: “Fahrenheit 451 of the Vanities” An ’80s yuppie is denied books. He does not object, or even notice. (Mike Long, Burke)

Honorable Mentions:

“2001: A Space Iliad” The Hal 9000 computer wages an insane 10 year war against the Greeks after falling victim to the Y2K bug. (Joseph Romm, Washington)

“Curious Georgefather” The monkey finally sticks his nose where it don’t belong. (Chuck Smith, Woodbridge)

“The Hunchback Also Rises” Hideously deformed fellow is cloistered in bell tower by despicable clergymen. And that’s the good news … (John Verba, Washington)

“The Maltese Faulkner” Is the black bird a tortured symbol of Sam’s struggles with race and family? Does it signify his decay of soul along with the soul of the Old South? Is it merely a crow, mocking his attempts to understand? Or is it worth a cool mil? (Thad Humphries, Warrenton)

“The Silence of the Hams” In this endearing update of the
Seuss classic, young Sam I Am presses unconventional foodstuffs on his friend, Hannibal, who turns the tables. (Mark Eckenwiler, Washington)

“Jane Eyre Jordan”: Plucky English orphan girl survives hardships to lead the Chicago Bulls to the NBA championship. (Dave Pickering, Bowie)

“Nicholas and Alexandra Nickleby” Having narrowly escaped a Bolshevik firing squad, the former czar and czarina join a troupe of actors only to find that playing the Palace isn’t as grand as living in it. (Sandra Hull, Arlington)

“Catch 22 in the Rye” Holden learns that if you’re insane, you’ll probably flunk out of prep school, but if you’re flunking out of prep school, you’re probably not insane. (Brendan Beary, Great Mills)

“Tarzan of the Grapes” The beleaguered Okies of the dust bowl are saved by a strong and brave savage who swings from grapevine to grapevine. (Joseph Romm, Washington)

“Where’s Walden?” Alas, the challenge of locating Henry David Thoreau in each richly detailed drawing loses its appeal when it quickly becomes clear that he is always in the woods. (Sandra Hull, Arlington)

“Looking for Mr. Godot” A young woman waits for Mr. Right to enter her life. She has a looong wait. (Jonathan Paul, Garrett Park)

“Rikki Kon Tiki Tavi” Thor Heyerdahl recounts his attempt to prove Rudyard Kipling’s theory that the mongoose first came to India on a raft from Polynesia. (David Laughton, Washington)

The Old Wolf has reminisced.

Funny, Funny Mother

It’s Christmas, and if you haven’t ever seen this you deserve to. We all deserve to. I first heard this read at an office Christmas party; the reader, one of the loveliest people I have known, read this with an absolute deadpan delivery – and they almost had to carry me out on a stretcher.

I have no idea who the original author is, despite exhaustive searching. If anyone knows, please leave a comment and I’ll add the appropriate credit.

Funny, Funny Mother

See Mother, see Mother laugh. Mother is happy.
Mother is happy about Christmas.
Mother has many plans. Mother has many plans for Christmas.
Mother is organized. Mother smiles all the time.
Funny, funny Mother.

See Mother. See Mother smile. Mother is happy.
The shopping is all done. See the children watch TV.
Watch, children, watch.
See the children change their minds.
See them ask Santa for different toys.
Look, look. Mother is not smiling.
Funny, funny Mother.

See Mother. See Mother sew.
Mother will make dresses.
Mother will make robes.
Mother will make shirts.
See Mother put in the zipper wrong.
See Mother sew the dress on the wrong side.
See Mother cut the skirt too short.
See Mother put the material away until January.
Look. Look. See Mother take a tranquilizer.
Funny, funny Mother.

See Mother. See Mother buy raisins and nuts.
See Mother buy candied pineapple and powdered sugar.
See Mother buy flour, and dates, and pecans, and brown sugar,
bananas, and spices, and vanilla.
Look. Look. Mother is mixing everything together.
See the children press out cookies.
See the flour on their elbows.
See the cookies burn.
See the cake fall.
See the children pull the taffy. See Mother pull her hair.
See Mother clean the kitchen with the garden hose.
Funny, funny Mother.

See Mother. See Mother wrap presents.
See Mother look for the end of the Scotch tape roll.
See Mother bite her fingernails.
See Mother go. See Mother go to the store 12 times in one hour.
Go, Mother, go. See Mother run faster. Run, Mother, run.
See Mother trim the tree. See Mother have a party.
See Mother make popcorn. See Mother wash the walls.
See Mother scrub the rug. See Mother tear up the organized plan.
See Mother forget the gift for Uncle Harold.
See Mother get hives. Go, Mother, go. See the far-away look in Mother’s eyes.
Mother is disoriented.
Funny, funny Mother.

It is finally Christmas morning. See the happy family.
See Father smile. Father is happy. Smile, Father, smile.
Father loves fruit cake. Father loves Christmas pudding.
Father loves all his new neckties.
Look. Look. See the happy children. See the children’s toys.
Santa was very good to the children.
The children will remember this Christmas.
See Mother. Mother is slumped in a chair. Mother is crying uncontrollably.
Mother does not look well. Mother has dark ugly circles under
her bloodshot eyes.
Everyone helps Mother to her bed.
See Mother sleep quietly under heavy sedation.
See Mother smile.
Funny, funny Mother.

Merry Christmas!

Christmas1

The Old Wolf has spoken.


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Love Came

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Love came,
and became like blood in my body.
It rushed through my veins and
encircled my heart.
Everywhere I looked,
I saw one thing.
Love’s name written
on my limbs,
on my left palm,
on my forehead,
on the back of my neck,
on my right big toe…
Oh, my friend,
all that you see of me
is just a shell,
and the rest belongs to love.

-Shahram Shiva

Published in Hush Don’t Say Anything to God: Passionate Poems of Rumi, Jain Publishing