Just Do Our Job

When I tell friends that I’m not watching MSNBC or CNN these days, they assume I’m protecting my fragile hold on hope and faith in the future.  They aren’t entirely wrong, but my aversion to televised news goes deeper than that.

I felt so stupid on the after-morning when it was abundantly clear that my liberal convictions, beliefs I assumed were unassailable, grounded as they are in the tradition of rationality and compassion begun in the Enlightenment, were not shared by those in a majority of American states.  I had to reconsider the most basic principles.  Surely modernity had delivered scientific certainties and endorsed the celebration of a diversity of people.  Surely we had moved beyond racial politics.  Anti-Semitism?  Where did that come from?

And those polls.  And those commentators.

Apparently, thoughtful, articulate, experienced political pundits can be entirely hornswoggled by their own bias.  I don’t blame them for the outcome of the campaign, although I do wonder what the Republican primary might have looked like if the President-elect had not taken up so much air time.

I subscribe to the Washington Post and read their national and international news daily.   The district and surrounding counties have their own parochial interests, of course, but the Post seems to balance that with its responsibility as the paper of record in the capital and its interest in publishing a fairly wide range of commentary.  It happens that the Post’s editor, Marty Barron was the judicious voice of integrity at the Boston Globe, during the Searchlight team’s investigation of the widespread abuse of children by priests and the involvement of Cardinal Bernard Law in the reassignment of those priests to parishes unaware of the priests’ crimes.

Marty Barron is an unassuming guy, hardly a celebrity journalist, a tough character for Liv Schriever to play in the film version of the Spotlight team’s battle to get at the truth.

He’s not a character; he has character, as is revealed in the remarks he offered upon being awarded the Hitchens Prize in recognition of his long career as a journalist dedicated to the pursuit of the truth and the protection of free expression.  His remarks have been seen as a guide to responsible journalism in the Trump era, noting the degree to which candidate Trump excoriated reporters and the contempt with which some of his advisors feel for the mainstream press.

With customary humility, Barron described himself as an unlikely recipient of an award named in honor of investigative journalist and writer, Christopher Hitchens, but in recalling Hitchens’ reporting of the fatwah issues against Salmon Rushdie, the editor reaffirmed the importance of sticking to first principles and values.

Many journalists wonder with considerable weariness what it is going to be like for us during the next four—perhaps eight—years. Will we be incessantly harassed and vilified? Will the new administration seize on opportunities to try intimidating us? Will we face obstruction at every turn?

If so, what do we do?

The answer, I believe, is pretty simple. Just do our job. Do it as it’s supposed to be done.

Every day as I walk into our newsroom, I confront a wall that articulates a set of principles that were established in 1933 by a new owner for The Post, Eugene Meyer, whose family went on to publish The Post for 80 years.

The principles begin like this: “The first mission of a newspaper is to tell the truth as nearly as the truth may be ascertained.”

The public expects that of us.

If we fail to pursue the truth and to tell it unflinchingly—because we’re fearful that we’ll be unpopular, or because powerful interests (including the White House and the Congress) will assail us, or because we worry about financial repercussions to advertising or subscriptions—the public will not forgive us.

Nor, in my view, should they.

I’m collecting expressions of purpose that strike me as sustaining.  Marty Barron, an editor not given to hyperbole, put it simply.

“Just do our job.  Do it as it’s supposed to be done.”

Tell the truth.  Stand up for those who need help.  Offer kindness as often as we can.  It’s our job to stick to the important principles that were not endorsed.

Just do that job.  Do it the way it’s supposed to be done.

A full account of Barron’s remarks have been published in Vanity Fair, the magazine for which Christopher Hitchens reported.



Acts Of Kindness Aren’t Random

Acts Of Kindness Aren’t Random

A few months ago I wrote about Alison Guernsey, the teacher who went an extra mile for the students in her care.

“She had to see before she could hear.

Alison Guernsey is a teacher in a K-8 school in which numbers of kids simply stopped coming to school, some for considerable lengths of time.  Guernsey was saddened by the serial absences and the impact they had on her classroom and on the school.  Not surprisingly, she felt she had failed, or the system had failed, or the world had failed; she was overwhelmed by a problem she could not conceptualize.

She was puzzled.  Guernsey knew her students were happy at school; they had friendships that were disrupted by absence, and they missed significant special events.  Their absence did not make sense.  Finally, summoning her courage, Alison Guernsey went to her students’ homes to see if she could do anything to turn the situation around.  She persisted in asking the same questions and listening carefully, sticking with her visits long enough to build trust with her kids and their parents.

She found out that the children she taught often had no clean clothes.”

They have clean clothes now because Alison Guernsey found a way to bring a washer and dryer to her school.  Her efforts made an immediate difference in the lives of children and families and allowed other generous people to offer the same kindness to children in other schools across the country.  At the time, I was particularly moved by a teacher’s willingness to move past her own assumptions in asking parents to talk about their children and in listening thoughtfully to what parents had to say.

Listening is an act of kindness.

Last week, many news outlets presented the Thanksgiving feel-good story about  Jim Ford, a Repo Man with Illini Asset Recovery, who repossessed an elderly couple’s car, then paid off their debt, and returned the car to them free and clear.  He actually went father, paying for an oil change and a thorough detailing of the car.

Another act of kindness because Jim Ford saw the couple, Stan and Pat Kipping, and recognized their struggle in an instant.

“My grandparents are gone,” he said, “but, you know, I could see them in the Kippings.  I knew what was going on.  The cost of medications have doubled or tripled… I knew why they were behind.”

Truly seeing someone is an act of kindness, and the actions that follow are far from random.  Kindness follows connection, and connection arrives when we take the time or drop our guard enough to listen and to see.  Many voices remind us that there is no such thing as a small act of kindness, no wasted acts of kindness; each act of kindness speaks of connection, and  connection reminds us of what it is to be human and what it is to long for kindness.

Jim Ford and Alison Guernsey are ordinary folks who chose kindness; anyone can.

“My religion is simple.  My religion is kindness.”  His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama





And Now? Hold On To What Is Good …

And Now?  Hold On To What Is Good …

About seven months ago I set myself the goal of writing a thousand words a day, hoping that at least some of those thousands of words might be of interest or value to someone at some point.  Over that period of time, I have missed a day here and there, and I have occasionally finished a piece and decided to trash it on the spot.  Still, I’ve posted more than a hundred articles, most of which have at least amused me and each of which has taught me something about self-editing or composition.

Since the election, I have posted two, one of which was an attempt to cheer myself by celebrating the generosity of spirit shown by a football player who since his retirement from the game has devoted his life to training disabled veterans as elite athletes.

That helped for a day or so, and then, thoughts and emotions entirely jumbled, I wrote and discarded four inauthentic attempts at “business-as-usual”,  swallowed twice, and posted, “No One Ever Told Me That Grief Felt So Like Fear,”  in the hope that I might find my way back to something like balance and purpose.

I don’t like to think of myself as depressed; on the other hand, I certainly have not been elevated. I haven’t been able to stick with much of anything for any stretch of time; I haven’t read a book, haven’t managed to get through an entire magazine article.  I haven’t watched a television program, haven’t been able to bring myself to watch the news, haven’t even watched sports with anything like real attention.  I have been going through the motions, simulating life:  I walk the dogs, turn on tv, turn off tv, rake leaves, feed the dogs, rake leaves, walk the dogs, but part of my mind is holding itself apart, trying to mute fears and losses I can’t completely absorb.

Yesterday, lacking any direction of my own, I accompanied a friend to the Celtic Evensong offered at the small Episcopalian church in Ashland.  I respect the work that this church does in the community and in the world, but I’m not a communicant in any church.  I do believe that we are more than meat on the hoof, but the mystery is far beyond me, and I don’t choose to believe that the universe operates to the benefit of a single body of faith.

I could be wrong.

In any case, I sat distracted and uneasy in that lovely and calm space surrounded by good-hearted people.  The play of candlelight on the exposed beams in the church was delightful as was the music played and sung, but I was too much with myself and too far from the authentic generosity of spirit all about me to attach myself to the moment.

It was a church, after all, so inevitably the time came to offer prayer.  I know the liturgy well, having once been head of an Episcopal school, and expected the familiar declarations of faith, but this modified service spoke to issues very much on my mind.

Here’s how the service ended:

“Go out in the world in peace, have courage, hold on to what is good, return no one evil for evil, strengthen the faint-hearted, support the weak, help the suffering, honor everyone…”

“Hold on to what is good.”  Without my permission, the phrase nudged me out of self-pity.  Holding on to what is good is not merely holding on, not merely surviving.  Holding on to what is good takes courage, and strength, and faith in principles that seem to have been rejected; it is an action and it demands committment.  Holding on to what is good is daunting and perhaps dangerous, but we have always struggled to find community and compassion; we have always found it difficult to honor everyone, to help the suffering, support the weak.  It would be easier for me to discount others and return evil with evil, but that would be letting go of what is good in favor of what feels good.

The more difficult job for me is in remembering that none of what I treasure came without cost; for the most part, other people paid for the principles that matter to me.  The future is not what I expected or asked for, but it seems to be upon us, and I have the choice to watch it spin by or step up as I can.  Holding on to what is good makes sense to me and provides purposeful focus for the work I can do as a writer.

What do I do with the rest of my life?

I think I’ll celebrate our better selves a thousand words at a time and remind myself that we have a lot to hold on to.





“No One Ever Told Me That Grief Felt So Like Fear” – C.S. Lewis

“No One Ever Told Me That Grief Felt So Like Fear” – C.S. Lewis

This piece was written in the aftermath of the election and set aside as I hoped to cultivate a more balanced and less emotionally laden view of the nation and its future.  I publish it now because I am even more aware of the privileged cocoon within which I lived for most of my life.  My political preferences have not changed, but I have a greater understanding of how my notions of good government are attached to the particular experiences I have encountered.

So, November, 2016:

I can’t tell whether I’m caught by grief or bound by fear; it probably doesn’t make much difference, particularly because I am beset by other equally powerful and confusing emotions as well.

At the top of the undigested emotional inventory is a profound sense of loss.  The sun continues to come up, football games are still broadcast five nights a week, the stock market has not imploded, but I feel a stranger in this land.  The world has changed in a moment; up is down, right is wrong, all bets are off.

I don’t belong.

The pundits can dissect and analyze election results state by state, group by group, but in the end, I simply feel foolish; I’m a sucker, a bozo who spent the last fifty years happily knitting blankets for the deck chairs on the Titanic.  I enjoyed an adult lifetime reading the Atlantic and the New Yorker, listening to NPR, watching PBS and assuming that modernity, good sense, good will, and the march of progress would inevitably pull the nation to increasingly inclusive and compassionate citizenship.

Seriously.  What was I thinking?

I have been obliquely grateful for the opportunities life has presented me, occasionally considering myself relatively privileged.  As I consider myself now, however, I take stock with sharper focus.  I always expected that I would go to college, that my kids would go to college, that I’d own a house, and then a better house.  I found a rewarding career and thought most folks could too.  My kids would be safe, find good jobs, and take up meaningful lives.  I counted on savings and pension to support me and my wife in retirement and expected that access to quality health care would always be near at hand.

I assumed the many of the great battles had been fought although some remained to be won, that while much work remained to be done,  prejudice of all sorts would give way to understanding.  I spoke to no one who did not celebrate diversity; we all saw the danger of Climate Change and assumed we’d convince the world to work with us to check it.

The families I know accepted whatever identity their children were born to assume and loved them without condition.  Globalization had its perils, to be sure, but working globally to address global issues seemed infinitely more productive than looking across a great divide at nations struggling to survive.  I knew people of denominational and sectarian faith, but they too believed that an enlightened planet demanded spiritual comfort rather than dogma.

Yes, I knew that partisan squabbling had paralyzed government; I blamed that on obstructionists in the other party, clinging to the hope that dissension in their ranks would cause them to crumble as my political banners flew high.

And that was the world I lived in.

I feel both grief and fear as acts of hatred follow the election; we are an uglier nation than we were only a year ago.  I am a dark-skinned person with a Spanish name; even in my privileged world, I was on guard to some degree, wondering when the trapdoor would open and my ethnicity would determine the ways in which I was seen.  My children look less Hispanic, but they carry my name.  I live in a blue state, but Klansmen have become bold, even in my small town.  When I pull into a gas station outside of the liberal cities, I worry.

I was obtuse when the Trump campaign caught fire, completely minimizing the conviction held by so many that their country had been taken from them.  It never occurred to me that what I saw as progress others saw as loss.  I’m ashamed of my hubris and saddened by my powerlessness to help bridge the divide.

In better times, I was fond of quoting Edward Everett Hale, an Unitarian minister and author who said, ” “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”  I find comfort in that quotation and will work to find what it is that I can do.

I also admire Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., the jurist, not the autocrat, who said, “Beware how you take away hope from another human being.”  I do feel myself implicated in having taken hope away from other human beings, and believe my work may be in trying to restore hope where and when I can.  It was also Holmes, the Supreme Court Justice, who wrote, “If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought, not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.”

That principle is very much as risk in these troubled days, but it is just that task that I feel compelled to take on, even as grief and fear threaten to reduce me further, to a shadow person, merely hiding in a world that changed.


Hey! Somebody Pass The Glyptodon And The Stuffing!

Hey!  Somebody Pass The Glyptodon And The Stuffing!

My doctor, whose sense of humor is on the dark side, ordered the next in a series of plumbing expeditions, each of which descended more invasively into regions of my being that I hoped would never need scrutiny.  “Hope you don’t mind drinking an irradiated milkshake,” she chortled, handing me the necessary paperwork.  “Bottoms up!”

Yeah.  That kind of humor.

I would not have subjected myself to any of the well-meaning incursions had I not been doubled over in agony on a regular basis, unable to walk a city block with my daughter on a recent trip to Portland.  So, gamely slugging down the mocha chalk, I flattened myself on a cold examining table once again only to find that paddles, tubes, and prods could not reveal anything that might explain my distress and discomfort.  Fortunately, that same doctor is not above lobbing an arch comment my way from time to time and was entirely at ease in suggesting that my systems might be protesting the added work necessary to operate a body that had packed on the pounds since retiring  a year earlier.

“So, you think I should lose ten or fifteen pounds?”  I asked with some regret.

Blank stare.  No hesitation.  “How about thirty?”

I don’t diet well, not that anyone does.  My mother had the same inclination that I have demonstrated – losing, gaining,losing, gaining.  She was, and I have been, a weight elevator, rarely finding the ground floor.  I thought a thirty pound loss was unlikely, but, no doubt about it, my body was screaming for some help.

This will seem a digression, but bear with me.  As a teacher, I advised students to find the passage that seemed the most troublesome or confusing; when reading Shakespeare, I often referred to those moments in which it seemed the character was saying, ” Blah, blah, blah, blah, verily, blah.”  What they found was that in unpacking the blah bits, they found the key to the entire play.  It was hard work, but it paid off.

My point?  I needed to look at the most troubling aspect of limiting intake, and for me, the hardest part of any restriction of diet is in managing appropriate portions of pasta, rice, bread, buns, cookies, cake, pie, pretzels, chips, and fries.  I can walk right by a tub of Rocky Road, but the sight of a fresh baguette, crust crisp, soft flesh within, sitting next to a slab of salted butter reduces me to insensible burbling.  I may not be alone in that regard, but I appear to be not only powerless over carbs but powerless over thinking about carbs.  In admitting that, however, I started to think that my issue might be a sort of addictive attachment to foods that seemed comforting but which had betrayed me, pound by pound.

I don’t like betrayal, and I was feeling nothing like comfort, so I faced the reality that portion management was not going to work for me.  I had drop my favorite carbs completely.  Go cold turkey.  With regard to carbs, nada. nill, nothing, zilch.

Because the low-carb diets wouldn’t work for me, and since I had ditched white carbs, I grabbed all the fruit and vegetables I could carry, ignoring concern about sugar or calories, threw in bags of nuts, and began eating huge meals, often featuring eggs and chicken breasts.  I don’t eat mammals and am allergic to fish and seafood, so chicken and turkey hit my plate once or twice a day.  I’d read something about good fats, took a chance, and cooked a butter-rich chicken dish with green vegetables equally generously buttered.  As a snack, and I snack a lot, I toss some tomatoes in a pan, drench them with shredded mozzarella, and have a tasty crust-free pizza crisped to perfection.

I started this routine in May, allowed myself a few moments of wicked deportment with the aforementioned baguette or a wedge of pie, but pretty much stuck to a diet I have come to enjoy very much.  By the end of October, I had lost more than thirty pounds, gained energy, and felt fabulous.

A friend asked about my weight loss and nodded as I described what I do.  “Ah,” she said,”the Paleo Diet.”  I had not heard the term but guessed that she meant my days were essentially filled with hunting and gathering, probably approaching the sort of dining routine that might have fed a Paleolithic hominid.

Here’s the thing about this hominid living the Paleo lifestyle – I stick out in almost any dining circumstance.  It’s not that I fill my trough with curious comestibles; I put fruit on salad, but that’s about as racy as my diet gets.  No, the stuff itself is ordinary, but my grazing is steady, purposeful, and relentless.  I heap a plate with various sorts of lettuce, cucumber slices, chopped carrots, sliced chicken, green peas, chunks of apple, peanuts, almonds, turkey bacon, orange sections, and walnuts.  By “heap”, I mean pile.  My companions finish a thick sandwich, polish off the chips, down a cupcake, and I’m still chomping.  Take almost all of those ingredients, drop the lettuce, add spinach and four eggs, and I’m digging in to my first omelette.  Forget the lettuce and  eggs, add broccoli, spinach, beans, and baked chicken, and I’m good for dinner.

Happy as a kitten with a ball of string.

In the past, holidays and accompanying seasonal delicacies essentially took me out at the knees.  I was pretty good until Halloween, got through the actual dishing out of treats, but ran into the day-after-Halloween candy sales (irresistible!),  Thanksgiving pies (C’mon!  Thanksgiving!  Pumpkin pie!), a steady stream of baked goods and chocolate treats fresh from Santa’s workshop (HoHo!), and on to New Year’s Day, when the accounting was done, the spreadsheet documented spreading, and my self-regard was so damaged that I sought comfort with the only sure cure for my devastated sense of well-being – a baguette, crust crisp, soft in the middle, sitting on a plate with a pat of salted butter.

Elevator door opens.  Going up?

So, with very little struggle and remarkable results, I just do what great-great-great Paleolithic grandpa did, eat what’s good for me, and set aside a few extra hours for mealtime.

I did find that my Palaeolithic forefathers ate so ravenously that entire species disappeared, including the Glyptodon, which looks like he’d be a mighty tasty fella on a bed of lettuce.  So, you just might want to keep an eye on chickens in this part of Oregon.

Happy holiday greeting to one and all.  Please pass the turkey.



Had A Bad Week? Read This.

Had A Bad Week? Read This.

David Vobora was a heck of a quarterback, running back, and linebacker for Churchill High School in Eugene, Oregon.  Pretty good basketball player too.   Vobora was an even more effective linebacker for the University of Idaho Vandals, leading the team in tackles and winning first team All WAC honors as a senior.  A legitimate NFL prospect, David Vobora entered the draft in 2008 and sat on pins and needles as round by round, two hundred and fifty-one names were called before his.

As the last player drafted in that season, Vobora joined the company of other last-drafted players, known in their season as “Mr. Irrelevant”  There is considerable hoopla following the draft; Mr. Irrelevent is flown to California to receive the “Lowsman” Trophy, an awkward salute to the Heisman Trophy awarded college football’s best player. The Heisman pose is famous, displaying an artful athlete evading a tackle.  The “Lowsman” features a player fumbling the ball.

All in good fun, right?

Some Mr. Irrelevants have gone on to play with success in the NFL, and Vobora, who started as linebacker for the St. Louis Rams, is one of them.  His career lasted four years, after which, it might have been assumed, he would sink into obscurity.

And he almost did.

The commonly held conviction in the NFL is that players play, and players play with pain.  Vobora played with excruciating pain after a shoulder injury, an injury which would finally end his career, and, as other players have done, he became dependent on pain medication during his last year as a professional athlete.  A stint in a rehab facility and serious reevaluation of his life led Vobora to move to Dallas, where he opened an ambitious training facility, Performance Vault, Inc. in Dallas, specializing in training elite athletes and active duty Special Forces.  A career in the NFL, however short, and the establishment of a thriving business serving athletes might be enough for many of us.

Not for David Vobora.

Here’s where David’s story meets that of Retired US Army Staff Sergent, Travis Mills, one of only five quadruple amputees to survive their  tour of duty.  Miles was on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan when an improvised explosive device (IED) took both his legs and his arms.  Today, Miles is an author and inspirational speaker, traveling widely with his message, “Never Give Up.  Never Quit”.  Today, Wills describes himself as “recalibrated”, able to achieve at a high level with prosthetic arms, hands, and legs.

Impressed by Mills’ resilience and energy, Vorora introduced himself to the veteran and asked, “When was the last time you worked out?”  It was not a question Travis Mills expected; he tried to be tactful, reminding Vorbora that he had no arms or legs.

And David Vorbora replied, “So?”

Mills was the first to begin a training regimen usually taken on by elite athletes;  Vorbora established the not-for-profit Adaptive Training Foundation in order to be able to provide training for other veterans at no cost.  In beginning their work together, Vobora asked Mills to describe the fears he felt in taking on rigorous athletic training.  “Falling,” Mills replied.  “No arms and legs – Gravity wins.”  Together they found ways to adapt, starting with core strength, but also developing balance and confidence.  From the start, it was clear that while the physical aspects of adaptive training were important, an important benefit was in treating those who worked with him as athletes not simply disabled vets.

Vobora had faced his own crisis, questioning his identity if no longer a football player.  These veterans had suffered life-altering injury; what remained for them if no longer soldiers?  Many who approached Vobora had struggled with depression; some had considered suicide.

In a nine week training program called REDEFINE, amputees, veterans injured in combat, work through their fears and physical limitations to become adaptive athletes with a strong sense of identity and purpose.  David Vobora drew on his own experience to design a program intended to, “Restore, Recalibrate, and Redeploy,”.  A recalibrated Mills is one of the vets who has been restored and now is deployed in a career which brings hope to audiences across the nation.

It’s pretty clear in seeing David Vobora work with his athletes that he has been restored as well.

“So I train them here and I train them like pro athletes. What’s the difference if the guy has a leg or not? If a linebacker comes in with a knee scoped, we would create training around that knee as it heals. So what is the difference?  And they come alive through that.”

He speaks of his loss of football as necessary to his understanding of those who have lost their identity; he sees courage, grit, and strength on a daily basis and considers himself lucky to have found his calling.

“What I’m doing now has a purpose. I know who David is without football. And he’s a guy who gets to help train our first double-amputee to summit Antarctica (Vinson Massif).”

David Vobora’s Foundation, Adaptive Training, maintains a website at  http://adaptivetrainingfoundation.org. Pictures and videos do much more to communicate the work Vobora does than any article.  If the thought of a double amputee taking on Mount Vinson isn’t enough to put your challenges into perspective, take a look at Limbitless, The Super Bowl Commercial You Didn’t See.

Quotations used in this article appeared in the Nov.15, 2016 edition of The Player’s Tribune, an article entitled, “The Breakthrough”



Down The Rabbit Hole

Down The Rabbit Hole

Lewis Carroll had Alice tumble into Wonderland via a rabbit hole, tossing her into a madcap, fantastical, occasionally disturbing journey in the company of  anthropomorphized mice, playing cards, flamingos, dodos, shrubbery, and the rabbit.  She wakes, shakes off the imminent beheading per the queen’s fiat, and presumably lives reasonably untraumatized until her further adventures are begun by walking through a looking-glass.

The contemporary rabbit hole opens as we click our way to a site, find an associated next site, and the next, and the next, and so on. In the same fashion that Netflix, Hulu, DVRs, and a growing company of aggregators allow binge-viewing, once we begin hopping from site-to-site, hours, days, weeks are lost somewhere between L.L. Bean and the 1964 World’s Fair (Corona Ash Dump converted into Flushing Meadows Corona Park – you could look it up).

Brief sidebar on binge viewing:  My wife and I found ourselves compelled to watch Jack Bauer waterboard dangerous characters for weeks at a time, essentially watching all 24 episodes of 24 in something like thirty hours.  Slightly abashed, we confessed our obsession to a friend who had the next two seasons at hand and could feed our addiction.  His experience with the series was more dramatic than ours in that he had been so caught up in hour 14 that he failed to notice that his car had been stolen from the driveway adjoining the room in which he sat.

In the spirit of adventure, taking courage from Alice and countless others who have dropped into the hole, I plan to pick a site at random and see where it takes me, allowing myself only thirty minutes of rabbit time.

How about Orson Welles?  Why not?  Welles is certainly worth a few minutes of idle perusing.

Hmmm.  the site offers a side-trip to Crime and Scandal,  pretty much have to follow that one.  Lots to choose from here, but I’m dropping into 8 Would-be Presidential Assassins and find that Richard Lawrence, an unhinged Englishman who believed himself cheated of his right to take the British throne attacked Andrew Jackson in the Capitol Building.  His gun misfired twice, allowing Jackson time to beat Lawrence to the ground with his cane.

There has been some talk of Jackson recently as the current campaign has some similarities with Jackson’s populist following and the election of an outsider to the White House.  I trust Wikipedia (and support it as well) so here we go.

Andrew Jackson

Ok, what’s up with Jackson?  Ouch!  Turns out that in 1824, he ran for office against John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay, received a plurality of popular and electoral votes but failed to get a majority, which deadlock sent the election to the House of Representatives who chose Adams, demonstrating what Jackson called a “corrupt bargain” between Adams and Clay.  Jackson determined not be robbed again, as a result of which his followers founded what was to become the Democratic Party, drove hard in 1828 and helped Jackson win in a landslide.

That’s the connection I was looking for, but the sidenote is that apparently in the heat of the campaign, an Adams supporter accused Jackson’s wife, Rachel, of having committed bigamy in marrying Jackson.  Although the charge was true, Jackson blamed Rachel’s death of a heart attack on the slur cast upon his wife’s honor.  Rachel died two weeks before Jackson took office.  So, of course, I wanted to know more about bigamy.

A quick look at the site reveals that for the most part, bigamy and polygamy are illegal.  No surprise there, except that in Egypt, the situation is more complex.  Apparently in Egypt, polygamy is fine if the first wife agrees to the situation.  Obviously, then, time to go to Egypt, but outside of the limited purview of Wikipedia.

Egypt is the largest Arab country, and despite the many enticements of an Egyptian rabbit hole, I want to check my understanding of what exactly is meant by the term Arab.

If you have landed in beingarab.com, you know know that Arabians are not defined by ethnicity but by being people who live in the Arabic world.  This is the sort of circular definition that annoys me, but, recognizing my own shortcomings as a person, I stick with the site until it identifies Arab cuisine as Lebanese cuisine, schwarma as the most famous Arab snack and baklawa as the favorite sweet.

Where to now?  The pull of schwarma is obvious, but the hummus laden nod to Lebanon and the similarity of baklawah and baklava pulled me in two directions.

I chose baklawa, landed on baklava, and immediately to a site describing Lebanese food.  Huzzah!  Two-for-one.  And yet … the blogger’s rhapsody about baklawa takes a curiously personal turn almost from the start.

“The role baklawa plays in the repertoire of the Lebanese home cook is formidable. Most every Lebanese woman of my parents’ generation makes her baklawa for special occasions, especially Christmas. We swoon over baklawa to such a degree that it’s like our little pet, our little coosa. We call it our baklawi (bit-LAY-wee), just like you might call me Maureenie, or my sister Pegsie, or your mother Mommy.”

Huh?  Our little pet?  Our little coosa?

Coosa is a sweet summer squash, and calling a child or pet “coosa” is comparable to calling the same “pumpkin”, so there’s that.

And, down the rabbit hole I go, not in search of other herbaceous vines but looking for pet names given children.  Using absolutely no discrimination, I tag the first site on the list.

Here we go again.

Beginning with pumpkin butter, the list includes, bunny, honey bunny, then veers to quinoa, cheese weasel, and cookie ears and countless others of dubious origin.

My 30 minutes are up, my curiosity reasonably completely extinguished (I lost it somewhere near Baby Cakes), and the rabbit hole now ready for sealing.  Time to power down, and yet… my own batch of names affectionately tossed around is crowding out my plans to take another crack at the novel stalled somewhere in the fifth chapter.

It doesn’t take much to remind me of my three kids, each of which deserves a far better tag than that I came up with in their formative years.  A few of the worst pop up immediately; I shrivel, I baste myself with shame, I cringe.  Toot Snoot?   Puffle?  Tiger Toes?  Really?

The pain is too great.  I think I need to search for “affirmations” just to get back to reasonable self-acceptance.







No Weezing The Juice – Guilty Pleasures

No Weezing The Juice – Guilty Pleasures

The great films, the universally admired and critically acclaimed films, rest safely in a pantheon of cinematic nobility.  Lines from these films are deathless and frequently quoted.  In some cases, the import or impact of the entire film can be evoked in a single line, in some cases, a single word.  Recognition is immediate, obvious.

“There’s no place like home.”

“I’m the king of the world.”

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”


All well and good, pass out the Oscars, cue Robert Osborn.

My pleasures, however, are often of the guiltier sort, not simply the less critically esteemed but the more commonly reviled.  These are gems that have not found an audience and wide distribution, that have faded from memory, that were too narrow in their appeal, or too broad in their humor.  These are films that dragged out the C List actors for the primary roles and filled the rest of the cast from a cattle call at Riker’s Island.

It was Daniel Webster who said of Dartmouth, “It is, Sir, a small college.  And yet, there are those who love it.”  Why Dartmouth needed defending in terms of its size, I cannot guess, but the analog might be, “They are, Sirs and Madams, films of small reputation.  And yet, there are those who love them.”

The title of this piece is taken from one of those unadmired films, Encino Man (Where the Stone Age Meets the Rock Age),  a triumph of inspired casting, pairing a long-frozen recently unearthed caveman, Brendan Frazier, with two unpopular high school students, Pauly Shore and Sean Astin.  Despite having been pulled from frozen ground, Frazier is inherently much coooler (as it were) than Astin and Shore, and so the kids on the fringe hitch their star to Frazier’s wagon, and merriment ensues.

This might be a fairly conventional and forgettable teen pic were it not for Shore’s distinctive California super-slacker vocabulary and intonation.  No written transcript can do justice to Shore’s performance, but in an attempt to bring it to the ear, the title phrase is elicited when Shore puts his mouth on the nozzle of the Frosty Freeze machine, stealing (“weezing” in Shore speak) the confection as the proprietor of the convenience store, familiar with Shore”isms” yells, “No weezing … the juh -woose”.  Shore’s signature term of affection is also presented with a beat in the middle and rising inflection on the last syllable.  “Bud …Dee”

Shore speaks most expressively in defending his constant presence at Astin’s family dinner table:

“If you’re edged ’cause I’m weazin all your grindage, just chill. ‘Cause if I had the whole brady bunch thing happenin’ at my pad, I’d go grind over there, so dont tax my gig so hard-core cruster.”  

Does it help to know that “grindage” is food?  Perhaps not.  This is not easy to untangle, especially for a cruster.

This from 1988’s Tape Heads, starring John Cusack (oiled hair and pencil thin moustache) and Tim Robbins (totally geeked out) as aspiring (terrible) video directors who kidnap a Menudo concert in order to give a showcase to their favorite musicians, The Swanky Mode, played by Sam Moore (of Sam and Dave) and Junior Walker. Mary Crosby plays a music journalist promoting the Video Aces.

Cusack:  You look ravishing and I’d like to chew on your thighs.

Crosby:  I thought we had a professional relationship.

Cusack: So I’ll pay.

Tape Heads gives me a great deal of pleasure, and I refuse to feel any guilt at all, since this is certainly the best unappreciated and relentlessly amusing backstage parody of video/music fame.  The cameos alone should be enough to pull this film from the depths of obscurity.  Consider this list:

King Cotton as Roscoe, King of the Chicken and Waffle empire, Soul Train’s Don Cornelius, Doug E. Fresh, Ted Nugent, Connie Stevens, Jello Biafra, ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic, Doug McClure, Jesica Walter, Bobcat Goldthwait, and Courtney Love as an uncredited floozie spreading peanut butter on a naked presidential candidate.

The meta videos are astounding and all the more fun in that Michael Nesmith, former Monkee, one of the pioneers of the music video industry, produced this film and had a large part in framing the two outstanding videos ostensibly produced by Cusack and Robbins’ Video Aces.  The first of these, a cover of Devo’s “Baby Doll” covered by a Swedish group called Cube Squared, is a paint spattered folly.  The other, an accidental filming of a group about to be killed by a rogue spy satellite, The Blender Children, propels the Aces into notoriety.

OK, there are some pleasures about which I do feel a twinge of guilt, maybe more than a twinge.  So, from the closely guarded list of films I probably should not have seen more than twice, 1999’s Mystery Men.

I will try to present the absurd plot of Mystery Men, but appreciation of the film comes in welcoming a team of “super” heroes whose skills are … lame.

The original team consists of Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller), The Shoveler (William H. Macy), and The Blue Rajah (Hank Azaria).  A somewhat successful hero, Mr. Amazing (Greg Kinnear) enlists the group to face arch-villain Casanova Frankenstein (Geofrey Rush) who with the help of Tony P (Eddie Izard) and the Disco Boys unleashes the “Psycho-fraculator”, causing the team to recruit new members, The Spleen (Paul Reubens), Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell), and The Bowler (Jeanine Garofalo) assisted by The Sphinx (Wes Studi) and Doc Heller (Tom Waits).

Among the aspirants who don’t make the team are Pencil-Head, Son of Pencil-Head, Squeegee Man, and Dane Cook as The Waffler (brandishes a waffle iron).  Cee Lo Green has a bit part as a mobster.

This spoof of super hero movies was probably ahead of its time, or at least, its intentions misunderstood, as a goofy salute to the over-the-top Batman productions that hit the screen at the time.  It’s a clever film and great fun especially as Mr. Furious and The Bowler engage in running conversation about the odd emphasis William Shatner gives any statement .  Hank Azaria’s British accent is impressive, and the film’s dialogue is pretty sharp throughout with a distinctly mock-heroic affect as in these pronouncements:

The Shoveler: We’ve got a blind date with destiny … and it looks like she ordered the lobster.

Mr. Furious:  Well, here I thought I was with a couple of real superheroes, but really, it’s Lazy Boy and The  Recliner.

The Shoveler:  We struck down evil with the mighty sword of teamwork and the hammer of not bickering.

Tossing a bone to the unsuccesful petitioner, The Waffler:

Waffler:  I… am the Waffler. With my griddle of justice, I BASH the enemy in the head, or I burn them like so! I also have some truth syrup, which is low in fat.

Finally, please picture Tom Waits as Doc Heller delivering this description of the psychofrakulator:

It’s a psychofrakulator. It creates a cloud of radically-fluctuating free-deviant chaotrons which penetrate the synaptic relays. It’s concatenated with a synchronous transport switch that creates a virtual tributary. It’s focused onto a biobolic reflector and what happens is that hallucinations become reality and the brain is literally fried from within.

… which, I’m pretty sure, is what actually happened to Tom Waits.

Look, I can’t defend this next next one, and I’m not even going to hint at the plot.

Dude, Where’s My Car?

Ashton Kutcher is Jesse.  Seann William Scott is Chester.  After a night of brain-numbing excess they discover that Jesse has a tattoo on his back , “Dude!”; Chester has a tattoo, “Sweet!”.  Each cannot see his own tattoo; they must ask the other to read it to them.

And so, from Dude, Where’s My Car:


Dude! You got a tattoo!

So do you, dude! Dude, what does my tattoo say?

“Sweet!” What about mine?

“Dude!” What does mine say?

“Sweet!” What about mine?

“Dude!” What does mine say?

“Sweet!” What about mine?

“Dude!” What does mine say?

“Sweet!” What about mine?

“Dude!” But what does mine say?

“Sweet!” What about mine?

“Dude!” What does mine say?

“S – wee – t!” What about mine?

…and so on.

When The Words Just Get In The Way

When The Words Just Get In The Way

David Foster Wallace used the term “snoot” to describe the sorts of people who torture themselves and others by relentlessly calling attention to infelicities of language.  I suspect Wallace  was simultaneously expressing the folly in swimming upstream against the tide of commonly accepted (mis)usage while admitting that no true snoot can nod, smile, and walk away from a conversation in which a person is described as nauseous rather than nauseated, disinterested rather than uninterested, as one who has honed in on rather than homed in on.

In the same fashion that a person raised with great wealth can ask for sympathy due to a life held captive in a golden cage, the snoot can point to the injury done him day-after-day by speakers determined to play fast and loose with language.  Snoots are reviled for doing what they seem incapable of not doing.

No sympathy?

I don’t snoot friends or civilians because I have made more than my share of mistakes and have been mortified when corrected.  Pride certainly went before the fall in my case, and dangerous snootery may have been nipped in the bud fairly early on.

As an early example, just when I thought my active vocabulary was more than adequate, a word, lugubrious, came at me sideways, marginally out of context, a word that I sensed had authority and agency, but a word just beyond my grasp.

I probably should have looked it up.  But no.

I must have been about thirteen when I ran into lugubrious, one of the hundreds of words I never bothered to look up, counting on my keen ability to read contextually, and so spent the next decade misusing the word on a fairly consistent basis.  That is to say, I didn’t continuously use the word, but I was consistent in using it incorrectly.

Listen to the stretch and pull of the word said with any sort of emphasis.  Luh- GOOO- brious.  Sounds sort of oily, no?  So that’s where I went.  Every person described as lugubrious I took to be oily.   Dickens, for example, wrote works that are rife with lugubrious characters who are more than a little oily, and I frequently found the word attached to undertakers or morticians, who seemed an oily lot to me.  It was only when I read a reference to a lugubrious love song that I was brought up short.  I suppose there are conditions in which one might refer to love as oily, but even I sensed I must have been flying through language by the seat of my pants once again.  It was but the work of minutes with a good dictionary  to realize my mistake and to find that if I wanted to tag someone as terminally oily, ripe with greasy moralizing smugness, the words I needed were unctuous or oleaginous.  If I was after fawning, boot-licking, smarmy sycophants, I’d have to find some middle ground between servile and obsequious.

So, lugubrious.   Not oily.

Lugubrious is a very useful descriptor for exaggerated, heavy, gloomy, melancholy that draws attention to itself.  I would have been better prepared for life if anyone had the wit to suggest that Eeyore, A.A. Milne’s passive-aggressive, terminally depressive donkey, is a lugubrious self-pitying sinkhole, sucking joy and oxygen from the Hundred Acre Wood, not that I retain strong feelings about his mopey string of laments predictably something along the lines of,  “Pay no attention to me.  I’ll just eat thistles and sit here by myself “.

Sorry.  Lost focus for a moment.

Today, at an advanced age, I am delighted to find that words new to me still pop up, often in otherwise entirely accessible accounts.  An article on the furor surrounding the current election, particularly the seamier scandals, made use of the word, louche, a term I’d found earlier in this example from an article entitled, “Gloria Vanderbilt Gets Kinky”, found at The Daily Beast in June, 2009:

“Eventually, this short, louche novel that began with warmth and zest and cheekiness, wanders around aimlessly in magenta caftans.”

Personification is one thing; a novel, even a cheeky novel, wandering around in purple caftans is a different order of figurative language.

I’d seen the word used to describe seedy neighborhoods or sordid confessionals and intuited that louche probably had something to do with things being seedy or sordid, and once again, my keen contextual reading served me well.  Louche is generally defined as disreputable or indecent.  OK, useful enough, but, with only a few moments of reflection, it occurred to me that we have a mother lode of words within easy reach that travel near indecent or disreputable.  Sordid and seedy, to begin with.

To return to the unsavory (that works!) neighborhood, an obvious choice of descriptor might be squalid, reminding fans of J.D. Salinger of Esme, the indelible character who in asking a writer to send her a story declares, “I prefer stories about squalor.” Squalid hovels are wretched, shabby, generally insalubrious.  Applied to persons rather than places, squalid shoots us to sleazy, tawdry, cheap, foul, degenerate, ignominious, base, seamy … surely a more than adequate supply of adjectives to meet the needs of almost any conversation.

So, why louche?  Who really needs it?

I would have chucked it quickly had I not done what I had so rarely done, actually gone to the Oxford Dictionary and tracked down the origin of the word.  It’s French, as anyone might have guessed, but derived from the Latin, luscus, having impaired vision.  When the French got hold of it, they used louche to mean-cross-eyed or squinting, and some of us may remember when folks squinted at unseemly behavior or looked cross-eyed at those things that were considered offensive.

La and Voila.

There is an outside chance that I’ll use the word lugubrious sometime in the next decade (May the fates given me ten more years to spout snootily!), but I can’t see myself getting all louche on novels or even on Vanderbilts.  Still, it’s good to know it’s there in case I find myself in a dimly lit nightclub, sitting in a banquette with deeply cracked upholstery, avoiding contact with walls covered in crumbling faded maroon velvet, feet sticking to the yellowed tile floor, hoping to catch sight of the sagging remains of a once vibrant chanteues, a discarded mobster’s moll.

How louche would that be!



The Last Lesson

The Last Lesson

I must have been in seventh grade, working my way through the literature book given to us at the start of the year, when I encountered the story, “The Last Lesson” by Alphonse Daudet.  My ability to focus and follow direction was as poor then as it is now, and I often tuned out of whatever lesson of the day my teacher had in mind to read story after story, with no regard for the curricular plan the teacher might have had in mind; “The Last Lesson” was never assigned.

I’ve placed the entire story at the bottom of this post should a reader care to check my memory.

The author brings to mind the day on which his school in the province of Alsace was no longer to be a French province, but one belonging to Germany.  The author’s teacher explains that this class is the last to be taught in French; from this point on, all instruction will be in German.  What struck me then, as now, was the recognition that loss of one’s language would mean the loss of the identity, personhood, established in the discarded language.  I completely failed to understand the political, cultural, and social dislocation the author and his family would inevitably face; I remember only feeling worried that the student in the story might not be able to learn the new language quickly enough to remain safe.

I was relieved that we didn’t discuss the story in class; I can’t imagine what my seventh grade self would have had to say about any part of it.  I read it at least four times, for reasons I can’t really explain.  It’s a serious story and sad; I think I was moved by the sense of loss and regret in the story, emotions I rarely allowed myself.

I’ve never talked about the story to anyone until today.

I am frequently surprised by which of the books and stories I have encountered in the course of a lifetime have stuck with any kind of permanence.  The books I taught are all there, for the most part, some have more immediacy than others.  The Odyssey comes to mind frequently as does Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; I taught Siddhartha for years (the novel, not the pilgrim), and found a way to pull Love Medicine into my elective courses, no matter the ostensible subject of the course.

Each of these, and many others,are available somewhere in my negotiations with the world, and each of them has taught me something valuable about being human.  I read widely throughout my schooling, generally preferring to wallow in other worlds than to face our own.  I loved all sorts of novels but generally did not give much attention to short stories, or poetry for that matter.  I suspect that I knew on some level that language in stories and poems was more compressed and took more unpacking than my undisciplined mind was able to manage.  Poetry and short stories were work; I preferred a magic carpet.

Oddly, “The Last Lesson” appears more vividly than I might have imagined, and, I think, for reasons I could not give voice to as a child.  The student in the story will lose his language, and with that loss will lose all that the had known and all that had been.

As assiduously as I have tried to believe that I live safely in a country in which there are people who look darker than or different from others, or who hold convictions that a majority do not hold, the idea that there might come a “last lesson” has been with me for a lifetime.  One day, I  feared, the mask would slip, the trap-door would open, the gates would clang shut.

Consider the hashtag #YesAllWomen.  With forceful simplicity it presents a reality that women live, an absolute reality.  No argument.

I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but my fears take me to YesAllBrownPeople, to YesAllPeopleOfColor, to YesAllJews, to YesAllLGBTPeople, to YesAllDisabledPeople, to YesAllWhoDisagree.

Since I have no control over much that happens around me, all I can do today is to hope that we aren’t facing a last lesson, that there is enough good will to bring us back from the brink.


Alphonse Daudet

I WAS very late for school that morning, and I was terribly afraid of being scolded, especially as Monsieur Hamel had told us that he should examine us on participles, and I did not know the first thing about them. For a moment I thought of staying away from school and wandering about the fields. It was such a warm, lovely day. I could hear the blackbirds whistling on the edge of the wood, and in the Rippert field, behind the sawmill, the Prussians going through their drill. All that was much more tempting to me than the rules concerning participles; but I had the strength to resist, and I ran as fast as I could to school.
As I passed the mayor’s office, I saw that there were people gathered about the little board on which notices were posted. For two years all our bad news had come from that board—battles lost, conscriptions, orders from headquarters; and I thought without stopping:

“What can it be now?”

Then, as I ran across the square, Wachter the blacksmith, who stood there with his apprentice, reading the placard, called out to me:

“Don’t hurry so, my boy; you’ll get to your school soon enough!”

I thought that he was making fun of me, and I ran into Monsieur Hamel’s little yard all out of breath.

Usually, at the beginning of school, there was a great uproar which could be heard in the street, desks opening and closing, lessons repeated aloud in unison, with our ears stuffed in order to learn quicker, and the teacher’s stout ruler beating on the desk:

“A little more quiet!”

I counted on all this noise to reach my bench unnoticed; but as it happened, that day everything was quiet, like a Sunday morning. Through the open window I saw my comrades already in their places, and Monsieur Hamel walking back and forth with the terrible iron ruler under his arm. I had no open the door and enter, in the midst of that perfect silence. You can imagine whether I blushed and whether I was afraid!

But no! Monsieur Hamel looked at me with no sign of anger and said very gently:

“Go at once to your seat, my little Frantz; we were going to begin without you.”

I stepped over the bench and sat down at once at my desk. Not until then, when I had partly recovered from my fright, did I notice that our teacher had on his handsome blue coat, his plaited ruff, and the black silk embroidered breeches, which he wore only on days of inspection or of distribution of prizes. Moreover, there was something extraordinary, something solemn about the whole class. But what surprised me most was to see at the back of the room, on the benches which were usually empty, some people from the village sitting, as silent as we were: old Hauser with his three-cornered hat, the ex-mayor, the ex-postman, and others besides. They all seemed depressed; and Hauser had brought an old spelling-book with gnawed edges, which he held wide-open on his knee, with his great spectacles askew.

While I was wondering at all this, Monsieur Hamel had mounted his platform, and in the same gentle and serious voice with which he had welcomed me, he said to us:

“My children, this is the last time that I shall teach you. Orders have come from Berlin to teach nothing but German in the schools of Alsace and Lorraine. The new teacher arrives to-morrow. This is the last class in French, so I beg you to be very attentive.”

Those few words overwhelmed me. Ah! the villains! that was what they had posted at the mayor’s office.

My last class in French!

And I barely knew how to write! So I should never learn! I must stop short where I was! How angry I was with myself because of the time I had wasted, the lessons I had missed, running about after nests, or sliding on the Saar! My books, which only a moment before I thought so tiresome, so heavy to carry—my grammar, my sacred history—seemed to me now like old friends, from whom I should be terribly grieved to part. And it was the same about Monsieur Hamel. The thought that he was going away, that I should never see him again, made me forget the punishments, the blows with the ruler.

Poor man! It was in honour of that last lesson that he had put on his fine Sunday clothes; and I understood now why those old fellows from the village were sitting at the end of the room. It seemed to mean that they regretted not having come oftener to the school. It was also a way of thanking our teacher for his forty years of faithful service, and of paying their respects to the fatherland which was vanishing.

I was at that point in my reflections, when I heard my name called. It was my turn to recite. What would I not have given to be able to say from beginning to end that famous rule about participles, in a loud, distinct voice, without a slip! But I got mixed up at the first words, and I stood there swaying against my bench, with a full heart, afraid to raise my head. I heard Monsieur Hamel speaking to me:

“I will not scold you, my little Frantz; you must be punished enough; that is the way it goes; every day we say to ourselves: ‘Pshaw! I have time enough. I will learn to-morrow.’ And then you see what happens. Ah! it has been the great misfortune of our Alsace always to postpone its lessons until to-morrow. Now those people are entitled to say to us: ‘What! you claim to be French, and you can neither speak nor write your language!’ In all this, my poor Frantz, you are not the guiltiest one. We all have our fair share of reproaches to address to ourselves.

“Your parents have not been careful enough to see that you were educated. They preferred to send you to work in the fields or in the factories, in order to have a few more sous. And have I nothing to reproach myself for? Have I not often made you water my garden instead of studying? And when I wanted to go fishing for trout, have I ever hesitated to dismiss you?”

Then, passing from one thing to another, Monsieur Hamel began to talk to us about the French language, saying that it was the most beautiful language in the world, the most clear, the most substantial; that we must always retain it among ourselves, and never forget it, because when a people falls into servitude, “so long as it clings to its language, it is as if it held the key to its prison.” 1 Then he took the grammer and read us our lesson. I was amazed to see how readily I understood. Everything that he said seemed so easy to me, so easy. I believed, too, that I had never listened so closely, and that he, for his part, had never been so patient with his explanations. One would have said that, before going away, the poor man desired to give us all his knowledge, to force it all into our heads at a single blow.

When the lesson was at an end, we passed to writing. For that day Monsieur Hamel had prepared some entirely new examples, on which was written in a fine, round hand: “France, Alsace, France, Alsace.” They were like little flags, waving all about the class, hanging from the rods of our desks. You should have seen how hard we all worked and how silent it was! Nothing could be heard save the grinding of the pens over the paper. At one time some cock-chafers flew in; but no one paid any attention to them, not even the little fellows who were struggling with their straight lines, with a will and conscientious application, as if even the lines were French. On the roof of the schoolhouse, pigeons cooed in low tones, and I said to myself as I listened to them:

“I wonder if they are going to compel them to sing in German too!”

From time to time, when I raised my eyes from my paper. I saw Monsieur Hamel sitting motionless in his chair and staring at the objects about him as if he wished to carry away in his glance the whole of his little schoolhouse. Think of it! For forty years he had been there in the same place, with his yard in front of him and his class just as it was! But the benches and desks were polished and rubbed by use; the walnuts in the yard had grown, and the hop-vine which he himself had planted now festooned the windows even to the roof. What a heart-rending thing it must have been for that poor man to leave all those things, and to hear his sister walking back and forth in the room overhead, packing their trunks! For they were to go away the next day—to leave the province forever.

However, he had the courage to keep the class to the end. After the writing, we had the lesson in history; then the little ones sang all together the ba, be, bi, bo, bu. Yonder, at the back of the room, old Hauser had put on his spectacles, and, holding his spelling-book in both hands, he spelled out the letters with them. I could see that he too was applying himself. His voice shook with emotion, and it was so funny to hear him, that we all longed to laugh and to cry. Ah! I shall remember that last class.

Suddenly the church clock struck twelve, then the Angelus rang. At the same moment, the bugles of the Prussians returning from drill blared under our windows. Monsieur Hamel rose, pale as death, from his chair. Never had he seemed to me so tall.

“My friends,” he said, “my friends, I—I—”

But something suffocated him. He could not finish the sentence.

Thereupon he turned to the blackboard, took a piece of chalk, and, bearing on with all his might, he wrote in the largest letters he could:


Then he stood there, with his head resting against the wall, and without speaking, he motioned to us with his hand:

“That is all; go.”