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2 Books, 2 Authors, 2 Plum Trees

May 26, 2017 Leave a comment

Two books that I consider to be among the best are: A Confederacy of Dunces and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Two more books that follow the life of Lisbeth Salander followed the latter. A Confederacy of Dunces stands alone. There will be no more books by Stieg Larsson, who wrote the Salander books, nor from John Kennedy Toole, who wrote the Dunces book.
Both books met with immediate acclaim when they were published posthumously. They are, in fact, fabulous stories brilliantly told. Anyone who enjoys reading strong, earthy, beautifully written books must read these four – the three by Larsson and one by Toole.
Films were made of the Larsson trilogy, I’ve not heard of a worthy one for Toole’s book. The American versions of the Salander story, to me, are not worth the time of day. The Swedish versions, with subtitles, are brilliant. The casting, the acting, the script, every scrap of them is great.
Ignatius Jacques Reilly is the morbidly obese and endlessly pompous star of A Confederacy of Dunces. He is unique in literature, and is purely wonderful. The lead character in the Larsson books and films is Lisbeth Slander, the most fascinating and exciting hero you’ll ever read.
You might well wonder where the plum trees come into this story. I used to own a hobby farm in the mountains where I kept horses and sometimes pigs and cows. There’s an ancient apple orchard behind the house. It’s very picturesque, with the old, gnarled trunks and untrimmed limbs.
At far corners of the orchard, diagonal from each other were two, old, sterile plum trees. For years, while the apple trees were bursting with huge, antique apples, the plum trees appeared to be little more than four inch wide sticks in the ground.
Suddenly, one spring, the plum trees came to life. To super life, I want to say. Both trees burst forth with volumes of perfect, beautiful, Damson plums. Bushels of them. Sweet, firm Damson plums from trees that we thought were long dead. They produced a vast amount of wonderful nourishment, and then they died dead. Forever.
Similarly, both Stieg Larsson and John Kennedy Toole burst forth with brilliant books. They created stories and characters unparalleled in modern literature. They nourished readers’ minds with intrigue and excitement. Then they died.
Stieg Larsson died suddenly, of a heart attack at fifty. John Kennedy Toole took his own life at forty-four. I like to think that, like the plum trees, the effort to produce such a fine result was more than life could sustain. They gave their all, the plum trees and the authors. We have their books, and they are as much a blessing as were the plums.

Toole (top) – Larsson (bottom)

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We Were Observers

May 25, 2017 Leave a comment

At any stage of life, my generation was interested in its surroundings. We hadn’t the distraction of television, Internet, or computers in our pockets. We read posters on light poles, and we watched people walk their dogs. We sat on park benches with friends, talking, sharing observations. A dog chased a squirrel. A bird pecked at the grass. We saw things first hand.

I see people on the street now, oblivious to all but the screens in their hands. I see friends at a café table, each looking down at their phones. We used to talk, and joke, and ridicule whoever was not with us. It was real life.

I love my computer, and the world on my WI-fi, but I never carry a phone. When I’m in the world of cyberspace, that’s where I am. When I’m out for a walk, that’s where I am. I see the trees, I hear the wind and the birds, and the distant trucks.

I hope the next generation of young people is bored with the cyber life. I hope they set aside the ever expanding technology and take refuge in reality. They’ll need both.

Too Damn Lucky

May 23, 2017 1 comment

The birth of a new person creates a considerable disturbance in the lives of the parent(s) and other people. Some newborns have the misfortune to be born into a dysfunctional family, or an impoverished family, or to a drug-addicted hooker. Those people come into society already in a deep hole, out of which they must climb. They must, to rise within their environment until they can escape it. It’s a forbidding quest.

Some people, myself for instance, are born into poor families that intend to not stay poor. We lived above a corner ‘smoke shop’, my parents, my grandparents, my uncle and me. I was surrounded with love and protection, and had no idea I was poor. I was comfortable and well fed.

My father was smart and ambitious, and by the time I was four, we lived in a lovely little house, outside of downtown. It had a front lawn, a back yard, a concrete driveway and a cute garage. My mother had roses growing up the sides of the garage, and a blossoming cherry tree in the middle of the yard.

My father had been partners with his brother in a small, downtown lunch counter. After a year or so, The Second World War came along. My father took a job in a scrap yard. After he learned the ropes, he bought a classy suit and a pickup truck. Mornings, he would put on the suit, look great, and go out to manufacturers to buy their scrap metal. At midday, he returned home, ate lunch, put on work coveralls, and returned with the pickup truck to fetch the metals he’d bought. He then sold the load at a profit, to an established scrap yard. Soon he had a scrap yard of his own, with cranes and trucks and railway sidings. Stuff was happening.

Then came a large home, cars for my father (Buick), my mother (Pontiac), and me (Corvette). Also, a lakefront cottage, and several boats. We had rowboats, speedboats, sailboats, and my father’s large cruiser. I don’t know how dad did it, but I was certainly a beneficiary.

After a while, he sold his scrap business and started a lumber business. He was a restless man, always seeking new, unlikely challenges. After the lumber business, he became founding president of a new department store chain. I didn’t benefit so much from that plateau, because I was grown up, out of the house, and getting my own life going.

All my life, I’ve been too damned lucky.

The Easier Life of Good Looking People

May 19, 2017 Leave a comment

If you’ve been looking at the coverage of the presidential madness in the USA, you might have noticed that almost all the reporters are good looking. I noticed that all the men wear dark suits and white shirts with tasteful ties. The women, on the other hand, wear simple, tasteful, form-fitting dresses in warm, basic colours. The forms of the women to which the dresses cling are slender and shapely.

It’s doubtful that there were no plain women applying for jobs of that kind. Obviously, the employers chose applicants with equal qualifications and better physical appearance. Are they really wrong? It’s a visual medium, so the picture should be as attractive and inviting as possible.

When we watch small, local television stations, we often see attractive, young people working their way up toward network jobs. Sometimes, there is an older person that  did not make the grade, or preferred the easier life in the smaller market. Perhaps people that are less good looking make careers in radio or journalism. Perhaps they had made it into a major market when young, and then cut back when older and not as good looking.

Jacketman

I admit that I was a good looking person when I was young, and I know how comparatively  easy was my life. I remember when times of dances, parties, and proms came along, several friends would be concerned about getting dates. Most of the boys liked to go ‘steady’ with one girl. It saved them from the trauma associated with social interaction in the teen community.

When I made calls in large offices, the receptionists always seemed happy to see me. They enjoyed telling me about the current situation in the office. That meant I could go into my meeting, knowing who was having a good day, who had a fight with a staff member, who liked donuts and who liked croissants. It all helps to put clients in the right mood for your pitch of whatever you’re pitching.

Women regularly use their physical attractiveness to get things. The butcher offers a better cut for the regular price. The grocer puts an extra pomegranate into the basket. The boss lets her have a long weekend. Maybe someday, she’d marry the boss.

Maybe the good looking young man in the parking lot will enjoy a relationship with a lady who is a lawyer, or a judge, or a doctor. In any case, if you are good looking, there are still some problems, but life is easier.

How Much Life is Enough?

May 15, 2017 Leave a comment

Editor’s note: Amitai Etzioni is a sociologist and professor of international relations at George Washington University and the author of several books, including “Security First” and “New Common Ground.” He was a senior adviser to the Carter administration and has taught at Columbia and Harvard universities and the University of California, Berkeley.

(CNN) — No one has come out yet and explicitly suggested that old folks like me (I am about to turn 83) should be treated the way the Eskimos, as folklore has it, used to treat theirs: put on an ice floe and left to float away into the sunset. We are, however, coming dangerously close.

A recent study by Dr. Alvin C. Kwok and his colleagues finds that surgery is common in the last year, month and week of life. Eighty-year-olds had a 35% chance of going under the knife in the last year of their lives; nearly one out of five Medicare recipients had surgery in their last month and one in 10 in their last week.

Nobody doubts that some of these surgeries were necessary. But major medical and ethical figures argue that they reflect our reluctance to accept death or let go, the surgeons’ activist interventionist orientation and the way the incentives are aligned.

As the surgeon Atul Gawande put it in The New Yorker: “Our medical system is excellent at trying to stave off death with eight-thousand-dollar-a-month chemotherapy, three-thousand-dollar-a-day intensive care, five-thousand-dollar-an-hour surgery. But, ultimately, death comes, and no one is good at knowing when to stop.”

It remained for Daniel Callahan, an influential bioethicist and co-founder of the prestigious Hastings Center, a nonpartisan bioethics research institute in New York, to take the next step. In a May article in The New Republic, Callahan (with co-author Sherwin B. Nuland) argues for a cease-fire in America’s “war against death,” calling on us to surrender gracefully; Americans thus “may die earlier than [is now common], but they will die better deaths.”

Focusing on care for the elderly, Callahan and Nuland warn that our present attitudes “doom most of us to an old age that will end badly: with our declining bodies falling apart as they always have but devilishly — and expensively — stretching out the suffering and decay.” They hence call on us to abandon the “traditional open-ended model” (which assumes medical advances will continue unabated) in favor of more realistic priorities, namely reducing early death and improving the quality of life for everyone. They further advocate age-based prioritization, giving the highest to children and “the lowest to those over 80.”

The journalist Beth Baker summed up this position: “After people have lived a reasonably full life of, say, 70 to 80 years, they should be offered high quality long-term care, home care, rehabilitation and income support, but not extraordinary and expensive medical procedures.”

Baker’s interview with Callahan reveals one reason this line of argument should be watched with great concern: Once we set an age after which we shall provide mainly palliative care, economic pressures may well push us to ratchet down the age. If 80 was a good number a few years ago, given the huge deficit and the pressure to cut Medicare expenditures, there seems no obvious reason not to lower the cut-off age to, say, 70. And nations that have weaker economies, the logic would follow, should cut off interventionist care at an even younger age. Say, 50 for Guatemala?

Above all, age is the wrong criterion. The capacity to recover and return to a meaningful life is the proper criterion.

Thus, if a person is young but has a terminal disease, say, advanced pancreatic cancer, and physicians determine that he has but a few months, maybe weeks, to live (a determination doctors often make), he may be spared aggressive interventions and be provided with mainly palliative care. In contrast, an 80-year-old with, say, pneumonia — who can return to his family and friends to be loved and give love, contribute to the community through his volunteering and enjoy his retirement he earned with decades of work — should be given all the treatments needed to return him to his life (which in my case includes a full-time job and some work on the side).

We should learn to accept death more readily; we should stop aggressive interventions when there is little hope; we should provide dying people with palliative care to make their passing less painful and less traumatic. Such a case may not just be that of an elderly person succumbing to a terminal illness — it can be that of a preemie born too early to survive, a youngster following a car wreck, a worker following a tragic accident. We should learn from the Eskimos — they long ago stopped abandoning their elderly just because they got “too” old.

07. THE LAND OF MILT AND HONEY

May 9, 2017 Leave a comment

Chapter 7

A courier delivered the invitation. Milton Korn took it from the old woman at the door, signed her pad, and opened the envelope. Honey Freed had enjoyed some creativity with her idea to invite Milton for dinner. The date was the following Friday evening. The invitation was made of a photograph of one of Milton’s best-known paintings. The text read, “The artist will appear in person, for a discussion of his future plans.”

Milton took a taxi to Honey’s apartment. The building was high on the side of a hill, with a view of the busy city, spread to the horizon. Her apartment was a small penthouse, with direct access to a small garden on top of the building that she cared for. A houseboy answered the door. He was perhaps 5’2” tall, a bit plump, and shockingly, an albino. It was not possible to discern his age, because his hair was white as was his skin, and his eyes were almost transparent, with a hint of pink.

He showed Milton through to the garden, where Honey was waiting, looking out over the city. Brightly lit bridges spanned the river, beyond which a multitude of buildings lined a complex network of streets.

“Honey,” said the albino. Honey turned and smiled broadly when she saw Milton. Milton was surprised when the man addressed her by name. A servant wouldn’t do that.

“Welcome to my nest,” said Honey. She strode to greet Milton. “This is my friend, Mitch. He’s my assistant.” Milton shook hands with Mitch, who went inside. Honey led Milton to a garden table that was set for two. They sat across from each other.

“I didn’t see much of your place, but it seems very comfortable,” said Milton.

“I’ll show you around after dinner,” she said. “What do you like to drink?”

“Coffee, thanks,” said Milton.

“Coffee, before a meal?” said Honey. “No aperitif?”

“No thanks. I don’t drink.”

“An artist who doesn’t drink,” said Honey. “That’s rare. Do you at least smoke grass?”

“Yes, I do. Do you?” said Milton.

“Would you like cappuccino?” said Honey. Milton agreed to have cappuccino. Honey pushed a button on the edge of the table, and said, “Two cappuccino, please, Mitch.” She released the button, and Mitch’s voice came back.

“I’m on it,” he said, cheerfully.

“You have a very nice life here, Honey. Why do you want to leave?” said Milton.

“I’m just ‘making do’ here, Milt,” said Honey. “Do you mind if I call you Milt?”

“No, it doesn’t matter,” said Milton. “Why leave here, when life is so nice?”

“We each have just one life, Milt. I want to live mine in my ideal way. Don’t you?”

“Alright, I’m with you, Hon. Do you mind if I call you Hon?” said Milton.

“Actually, yes, I do mind.”

“Okay, Honey. Call me Milt, I’ll call you Honey,” said Milton. “Now, let’s get down to business. Let’s see the paperwork on that wonderful piece of country.”

Honey went across the room, while Milton noticed her very attractive shape in the tight jeans she always wore. He was intimidated by the thought of being alone, in the country, with this beautiful, bright woman, living under the same roof with him. Time will tell.

Honey returned with a file folder full of papers, and an ashtray with two joints and a lighter in it.

 

(continued soon in 08.)     encourage authors – If you like this, please ‘LIKE’ it.

The (Drudge) Lady of the House

May 1, 2017 Leave a comment

We all knew that Claire’s home would be perfect, as always. I confided in Lois that it was difficult to understand her horrible personal taste in clothing, considering the flawless design and colour pallet. Her home is the epitome of aesthetic perfection, yet her wardrobe seems to be made of dishtowels and drapes.

“I suppose it takes all kinds,” Lois said

“Some kinds of aesthetic decisions should be stopped,” I said.

“How could one do that?” Lois said. I paused a moment.

“I’m going to confront her with it,” I said. “I’m going to ask her why her home is so perfect, yet her fashion sense is lacking.”

About ten days later, after I had confronted Claire about her aesthetically perfect home and less attractive garments, I phoned Lois.

“What did she say?” Lois said.

“She dropped her clothes off, right there in the kitchen,” I said. “Then she said, ‘What do you see?”

“What did you see!” Lois screamed into the phone.

“I see a stunning body, a gorgeous face without a speck of makeup, flowing black hair and legs that are long, and beautifully shaped, as is all of her. That’s what I told her. She said that she used to dress in fashion, with good aesthetic designs and fabrics. Men would not take her seriously, nor would they leave her alone. She shows herself to men that she chooses, and the rest of the time, she lives her life unmolested.”