Sunday, August 28, 2011


it's 1:30 p.m., on the day the great hurricane [now, poor dear, demoted to a tropical storm] hits boston. it's a fascinating window show, so far at least.  as of now, there's been only a brief loss of electricity, sometime in the night, which i know only from the flashing of my answering machine.  i've been a bit concerned for the trees outside my windows [and thus for the windows themselves], but so far all i can see is one scrawny broken branch. otherwise, the trees are having a grand time.  every once in a while they sit and rest for a moment, and then a loud, sharp wind takes over and they go at it again, dancing like bacchantes.  the wind roars; the branches slap across the brick walls; my plastic blinds dance, primly and reluctantly, with them.

any moment it may turn less fun.  i like drama, not inconvenience, and the electricity could go for real. meanwhile, i huddle here, reading, blogging, enjoying it all. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

On Rachel's Blog

there are many reasons i love rachel maddow.  her political views are insightful, sharp, and uncompromising, for one thing--okay, the main thing.  but her particular sense of humor is also infused with an unflappable love of life:  she can be cynical and ironic, but it's always clear that she wants the planet to survive because she finds it so much fun.

on yesterday's blog, she posted a piece by one of the people who works on her show, tricia mckinney. i had never heard of mckinney before, but this tells me i would love her.

mckinney had been out walking, and she saw on a milkweed leaf a small monarch caterpillar. [i assume she knows her caterpillars well enough to identify their types, so i'm already impressed as hell]. on the walk back, she saw that the creature had been joined by another one, also a monarch caterpillar.  she took them both home and is keeping them in shoebox, safe from the elements, for the few days it will take them to turn into butterflies.

but she has not found the right names for her short-term pets, and, finding disturbing, she posted a request for suggestions.   there were well over 100 responses when i discovered the post, ranging from laurel and hardy to thelma and louise and, from a shakespearean, the loveliest:  viola and ceasario. another, picking up on the fact that they are being morphed during a hurricane, suggested windy and stormy.

can you imagine any other politico turning her blog over to a colleague for a caterpillar-naming crisis? [and can you understand why some wistful fan suggested keith and rachel for the names?]

my own contribution was woodhull and clalflin, which i have been imagining for years in case i ever again have 2 cats.  which i won't--because of my travels and my asthma, i won't be owning cats again, or any other pets. but i still love the idea.

actually, i once had a pair of pets similar to mckinney's, though much less regal.  years ago, i walked into my bathroom to see 2 moths comfortably settled on my plastic shower curtain. i shook the curtain, and they fluttered a tiny protest but refused to move. i took my shower, which discombobulated them not a bit. and after a few days it was clear that this was their home, in which i was to be tolerated but not welcomed.   so i named them.

this was in my semi-separatist youth, and i called them butch and roland.  it was important that they be male since my cat liebnitz liked nibbling on bugs, and i would be less  upset about it if he ate male moths.  but he didn't, and they stayed around all summer.  i got in the habit of greeting them whenever i came into the bathroom,  and though they never responded, i think they came to like me.

when the weather changed, they vanished.  i missed them. then the next year, they were back.  or so i argued, when my friends insisted otherwise.  these were moths, not homing pigeons, they said contemptuously. and besides, moths have a  short lifespan.  butch and roland were in moth heaven,  eternally munching on celestial wool, they said. moreover, these 2 didn't even look like butch and roland.

that was true; they didn't.  but so what?  people change over time; why shouldn't moths? so butch had been overeating and gaining weight and roland had dyed his wings.  they were entitled.

every year, if i recall rightly, butch and roland came back to my shower curtain, always sporting a new look.  when eventually i moved, they stayed behind, and i haven't seen them since.  but mckinney's tale of her monarch caterpillars brought them back to my mind.  i hope she finds the right name for her pets; i hope she sees them transform, and that they fly back to visit her from time to time.  she is, after all, being a very faithful friend to them.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fairy Tale

Look, up there, where the trees are, she says to the invisible child in the trolley.  It’s the Magic Forest; the elves live there in spring and summer.
Where do they live in the winter?  asks  the child, refusing to be wide-eyed.
       But she is ready for the child’s skepticism.  They fly away, on the reddest of the autumn leaves.  They fly to another summer someplace, and they come back in the spring, with the new leaves.
Well, then how do they get back up? asks the child.  It’s an awfully high mountain.
They climb the vines over there, pointing to thick ivy covering the windows of a high white office building.  It’s called the Elf's Ladder.  Do you know that in Holland they call vined leaves ‘climb-ups’?
I thought they had tulips in Holland, the child argues.
             Of course they do! All kinds of tulips, blue as the sea, yellow as gold, and a purple deeper than night. The elves live in the tulips till it’s time to go back to the mountain. But they also have climb-ups. Everywhere has climb-ups, some on houses, some on trees. They need them, you see, for the elves.
She knows she does not need to tell the child all this.  But who else can she explain the elves to?  The adults won’t listen,  and they won’t care.
She knows how to talk to the adults.  You say things about the weather, or the customers, or the soldiers in all those horrible wars. You say who you voted for, or where you go on vacations.  You say prices are too high or dresses too short, or how the music was better when you were young, and how all the kids now have laptops and i-pods and so many fancy gadgets you don’t know the names of most of them. You say you will sleep late on Saturday morning and then get up to mow the lawn.
            But she can talk of elves to the child.  She tells of unseen dreams, of flowers that pretend to be weeds so they can go wherever they want.  She tells of the velvet leaves that grew in her tiny garden when she was a girl, and of the funny scurrying insects that lived beneath the rocks there. And of how once a cricket sang just for her.
            The child nods.  But it is time to leave the lady. The trolley door opens and the child skips off, toward the white house with the climb-ups. 
            A man gets on and sits beside her. “Damned hot out there,” he says.
            “They say it will rain on Monday,” she replies.  And watches out the window, to see the invisible child, who is climbing up the Elf’s Ladder, where the whole world waits for her.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Little Earthquake

little, indeed. i didn't even notice it. there i was, enthusiastically explaining the McCarthy hearings and their importance in television history, and my normally attentive students started looking alarmed. well, okay, when i get going i have a fairly dramatic style, and maybe they were just responding to my narrative. but somehow those pained and anxious looks seemed a bit too immediate to be empathy for the nutty senator's victims. then one of the students sprang up and said, 'i think we should get out of here!'

'it's all right,' i said soothingly. 'if it's that upsetting, i won't show the film clips...'

'professor,' the young man said in a tone at once desperate and polite. 'haven't you noticed that the room is shaking?'

I hadn't. i have a large capacity for ignoring the obvious. when he pointed the the top of the wall, where the frame for the movie screen was cheerily bouncing around, i said, 'i think we should get out of here,' which was fairly useless at this point since they were already out the door.

ever the firm leader, i followed them. then i began looking for someone in authority, who could tell us what was going on. 'the building was shaking,' one administrator-type informed me when i asked.

a few students equipped with ipods or whatever those things are that give you the news and time and naked pictures of politicians called out, 'it's an earthquake.' a spattering of idiot voices, my own included, called back, 'in boston?'

'well, this is the university of massachusetts, in boston,' one grownup-type snapped. 'and it's happening here. so yes, it appears to be happening in boston.'

so we  all just hung around waiting for the earthquake emergency to subside so we could go back to work. i was nervous; this was the last class before finals, and i really wanted to finish the material. my students were huddling together, and one of them approached me. 'we were thinking that since we're here anyway, maybe we could go on with the class for awhile--i mean, if you would 't mind.' mind? i wanted to hug him. students usually love excuses to leave early, and an earthquake is a pretty good excuse. so we sat on the grass together and i went on with my lecture, sans video, which was unfortunate, and sans my notes, which was ghastly. classnotes for me are like Linus's blanket; if i'm not clutching them, i can't teach.

well, actually, it turns out, i can. we finished McCarthy and half of the watergate hearings, and then the officials told us they were closing the school and classes were canceled. my students asked if we could continue with the outdoor class. only one had a problem about that. 'could we move further away? she asked apologetically, ' so if the building falls it doesn't fall on us?'

it was hard to argue with her logic, so off we went, to a part of the campus where fewer buildings hovered.  one of the students was excited. 'i always heard about teachers having outdoor classes, but i've never been in one! it's like the '60s!" he grinned. as a veteran of many such classes, i felt renewed self confidence, and went on. by now we had moved on to the media and the civil rights movement, and i suddenly found myself possessed by the ghost of fannie-lou hamer, standing defiantly at the Democratic convention in the Mississippi Freedom Party's purloined seats and proudly singing the politicized version of the old spiritual 'go tell it on the mountain.' i couldn't believe i was singing in class--and sober! my voice lacks loveliness. it also lacks the capacity to carry a tune. but there i was, standing up, raising my eyes to the heavens, singing "...let my people go.' my students were smiling. they stayed till i had finished all i had to say, and seemed responsive to my suggestions that they make up some of the missing visuals by checking u tube.we left earlier than usual, but all of us feeling impressed with ourselves--and quite rightly. they've been good, attentive students all term, but i didn't expect this. they certainly knew i wasn't going to test them on stuff we hadn't covered, and yet they had been the ones to suggest we stay and do the class, and only one of them left when the announcement about the school closing came.

if i could automatically give them all A's, i would. since i can't, i'll do the next best thing---extra credit for above and beyond work.

really, it was quite a pleasant little earthquake....

Monday, August 22, 2011

Why I Love the World

rush hour at the park street subway. in the midst of the crowd ejecting itself from the overstuffed green line was a muslim woman, maybe 40, her hair modestly enveloped by a black hijab. emblazoned across her t-shirt, also black, was a bright white streak, loudly proclaiming two words: Victoria's Secret.

Friday, August 19, 2011

When the Fat Lady Sang

this is, i think, a prose poem, or else a very stylized internal dialogue prose piece, or something. it's odd, and i don't know if i like it. but all day yesterday for some weird reason i was humming old mamas and papas songs, and on the train home this wanted to be written and wouldn't let me alone. so here it is, semi-polished.....also, the italicized bits are also meant to be in a different color, so they are clearly simultaneously part of the piece and separated from it. they're lines from songs; i think most of you will recognize the doors one, and the others are from the mamas and the papas songs. so without further ado: actually there is some further ado. i have retyped several times but the computer refuses to allow me to stop italicizing half way thru. so read anything that isn't a song line in plain type, like the rest of the paragraphs. i don't mind giving in to my unconscious, but i'm damned if i'm letting a computer try to do it for me....

It was a long time ago, and everyone was pretty. Even joplin, frenzied voice, mask-of-pain face, was pretty, and though i didn’t like her singing I wanted to go up on stage and soothe her till the pain went away but of course it never did, and she died. and there was morrison, tired fire out of control, exiled finally to pere Lachaise where even now there are always flowers on his grave.

When the music’s over turn out the lights….

For me the prettiest were three of the odd foursome, part rock, part a cappella, all melodic. The two papas, square-faced lennon-looking denny and softer, maybe more harrison- faced john, and mama michelle, leggy and face like a christmastree angel. the fourth member was fat mama cass, sore-thumb standout, chin wobbling when she grooved, and not even pretty-face fat but everyone agreed, what a voice, fullthroated alto the core of every song. Michelle married john and slept with denny so although their voices blended perfectly their lives got out of synch. then bad mama m. was expelled for a while i guess for being a nasty tramp but they needed her and back she came

I saw her again last night and you know that I shouldn’t

Weird trio and odd-woman-out, no one fucks the fat girl, you know how that goes, then pretty mama and hubby papa raise his daughter, a drugfucked ugly duckling sitcommed into third-tier fame.

and no one's getting fat except mama cass

good drugs, good sex, the fat lady slept alone the fat lady sang alone then choked in her bed, the papas grew old and died. pretty mama stayed around and she's still pretty though she hasn't sung for a while.

monday morning monday morning couldn't guarantee that monday evening you would still be here with me

where does the music go when it dies? no one knows but the fat lady stopped singing long ago so i guess it really did go away, and anyway we're all memories now

Saturday, August 6, 2011

on the label of a chunk of camembert

there is a little list of  yummy ways to enjoy your camembert.  the 4th suggestion, accompanied by a sketch of a lightbulb, reads thusly:

"Did you know?
Remove your Camembert from the refrigerator and allow it to warm up at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes.  The flavor and aroma will fully emerge and your Brie will  be even creamier!"

i wonder if my camembert will be creamier when i warm up my brie......

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Busker

Summer classes are great; getting to and from them is horrible.  green line to red line to shuttle--often an hour and a half. summer classes that get out at rush hour on days when there's a baseball game at fenway park are pure misery, even when i take the green line in the wrong direction so i can get a seat before the mobs at park street get in. that trick sometimes works, sometimes not. and the government center station is mobbed in any case. i get home drained and bitchy.

so today i got to govt center, loathing my fellow humans, and especially the ones on their way to fenway park [you can always tell them; they wear red sox hats or red sox t shirts or both, and they have little children wearing little red sox hats or little red sox shirts and sometimes even little red sox shoes.  and then.....

i think she was a teenager.  she was thin, elegant, and simply an amazing violinist. i didn't know the piece she was playing, and didn't have to.  even some of the sox fiends were listening to her.

i let 3 trains go by, and just listened and watched. her whole body moved with her music; she might have been a ballet dancer.  and to her, we weren't even there.  a few people put dollar bills in her violin case; she didn't look at any of us.  she was her violin, she was the music.

when she finished, i applauded. then she looked at me, smiled shyly.  i got onto the next crowded train; i think i smiled at someone with a red sox t shirt.  in a world with such musicians, even baseball fans  on the green line are bearable.