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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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10. THE LAND OF MILT AND HONEY

May 25, 2017 Leave a comment

Chapter 10

The awkward kiss ended abruptly. Both Milton Korn and Honey Freed realized what they were doing, at the same moment.

“Sorry,” said Honey. “I guess the smoke…”

“I know. It’s my fault,” said Milt. “Can we just forget it happened?”

“We can be more careful in the future,” said Honey.

“Of course,” said Milt. “Let’s take a break to clear our lungs, and our heads.”

“Good idea,” said Honey. She rose to go to the kitchen. “I’ll make fresh coffee, okay?”

“Perfect,” said Milt. “I’m gonna get some air on the terrace, okay?”

“I’ll bring the coffee out,” she said. Honey had solid ideas about her dream farm, because she’d been thinking about it, analysing it, and planning it for years. Milt, on the other hand, had run into the plan abruptly, and needed to catch up.

Milton Korn sat at the small table on Honey Freed’s terrace and gazed blindly at the array of buildings across the city. His mind was not there. His mind was sorting through the characteristics of his life, and how dramatically they had changed. He wondered why he had been so firmly redirected by his happenstance meeting with Honey Freed.

His mind did not dwell on the farm. Rather, he reviewed his brief acquaintanceship with Honey. Such unlikely commitments were not typical of Milt’s behaviour. Milt took his time with things, as he took his time with his paintings. The thought flashed in his mind for a millisecond that she might pose for him. He noticed her walk as she brought a tray with coffee and bagels. She swayed gracefully on long legs that brought her to the table, and Milt imagined that she’d be quite beautiful when nude.

Honey worried that the unexpected kiss might have changed the characteristics of the  partnership. They had never discussed the stimulation that might come from sharing close quarters in a remote location. They each thought about sex. Milt felt it would intrude into his life too much. Honey thought sex with Milt might be nice. Might be.

My Friends Don’t Like Me

May 25, 2017 Leave a comment

We’re all old now, between 75 and 80. I just found out that when we were kids, my friends didn’t like me. I’m assuming this, because I haven’t seen any of them in about 55 years, and contacts through Facebook have my old friends rejecting me. One guy said, “Yeah, I’ve thought of you over the years, too,” and blocked me from contact.

I met Danny on the street one day, in front of the office of another old friend that was his lawyer. Danny acted as if he had ants in his pants, and feared he’d catch Ebola from me if he didn’t get away quickly. The lawyer is the only one that seemed to respect my role in our old group. I’d like to meet with him and check on what was my persona when we were pals. I can’t find him. It seems he was disbarred and cocaine addicted.

All of us dated girls from the same pool off girlfriends, and belonged to the same high-school fraternity. I don’t remember being slighted at all, but I was aware that I was different from the other guys, in several ways. For one thing, I liked to be by myself a lot, and would show up suddenly out of the darkness. It caused some mystery about me, that I liked, although that’s not why I did it.

My friends were interested in sports. They followed professional teams, and played baseball, football, hockey, and basketball when facilities were available. I did not participate in either following the professional teams, or playing personally. I might be drawing, painting, sculpting, or working on my car. My cars were part of my mystique, I know. I think I also read more than they did, although I’m the only one that did not go to college.

I can remember an occasion when friends were at a sweet sixteen party for one of the girls. We were all between 16 and 18 at the time. I arrived late, as usual. The party was in a covered, open  air dance place on a sandy beach. The waves rolled onto the shore barely 30 meters away from the dance floor. It was gorgeous at night, like a pool of radiant young people enjoying life.

I pulled up out of the darkness, into the flood of light on the sand. The car was a glistening, black Jaguar XK140 roadster. Of course there was a distraction among the party people, and I can imagine that a lot of the boys, my friends, were put off by it. Of course, now I know they were right, but at 18, I was as dense as is any teenager.

I was oblivious to the difference at the time, but my family must have been wealthier. I really saw our bunch as all equal, but apparently my father’s successes made me a figure of irritation. I wish I’d known then, and I wish I didn’t know now.

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.

09. THE LAND OF MILT AND HONEY

May 17, 2017 Leave a comment

Chapter 9

Milton Korn listened while he ate the meal that Mitch, the albino friend/butler prepared and served. It was a good meal of roast beef, roasted potatoes, and bean sprouts. Across the table, Honey Freed talked slowly, with enthusiasm, about her plans and possibilities for the farm property.

While she spoke, Milt half-listened while he watched her face. It was a beautiful face, oval, tanned, and framed by a tumble of blond hair, streaked with darker shades. Her eyes were a deep, dark blue under neatly arched brows. While she spoke, excited by the visions in her head, her face was fully animated. Milt thought she behaved as if she didn’t know she was gorgeous. Of course she had to know, because people, mostly men, had been telling her she was beautiful since she was a little girl.

Watching the woman’s expressive face, Milt decided that she might be the most interesting woman he’d ever met. They knew nothing much about each other, and he knew that was a setup for problems. He decided it was time to talk about something other than the property and its potential.

“I’m 28 years old,” said Milt. It startled Honey, who was pouring out her heartfelt ideas for the farm, including animals.

“Wha… oh, uh?” said Honey.

“I think we have to know each other, before we go into details of the partnership,” said Milt.

“Oh. Well, what do you want to know?” said Honey.

Milton Korn began to tell his own story. His wealthy family in the legal, medical marijuana industry. His uphill battle to just be an artist, win or lose. Finally, his talent and concepts developed to the point where he can earn a very good living by doing the one thing he really wants to do – paint pictures.

Honey Freed unfolded her own story. Her grandfather developed a magical medical treatment that made him tremendously wealthy. He had only meant to do good for society, and surprised himself by succeeding in the rather high goal he’d set for himself. There was no reason for Honey to seek a career, but she did so because she wanted to be a producer/director. She began by studying broadcasting at Seneca, then acquired a job as a weather girl at a local station. She knew it was her looks that got her the job, and she used her brain and energy to rise to the position of producer/director. Her next goal, after acquiring the farm, was to put together a feature film deal, from script to Hollywood premier.

While they talked, they moved to the living room. They sat together, jotting notes about details agreed upon, and sharing a plump joint. The discussion began to get a bit silly as the drug took its effect. They giggled together about things that were not funny, while they passed the joint back and forth between them.

“I will have a couple of horses,” said Honey, “and some goats, some Scottish Highland Longhorn cattle, many dogs…”

“Hang on,” said Milt, drowsily. “I tol’ you I don’ want to aminals… animals.” He laughed.

Honey turned to face Milton. She put her hand on his thigh, and slid it up until it touched his scrotum in his jeans crotch. She leaned in and kissed him with a wide open mouth. Milton’s inhibitions had also been removed by the smoke. He cupped her breast and responded to the kiss. Honey felt the stiffness in his pants, and moved her hand over it.

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I have given much thought…

May 16, 2017 Leave a comment

I met a girl at a dance, many years ago. We were in our teens, out of town at a beach resort during summer holidays. We danced, and back in the city, we dated. Some of my buddies met her with me, and some of them also dated her. Neither I nor any of my buddies continued a relationship with her. Over the decades since, I think of her from time to time, and wonder why we all moved on from this truly gorgeous young woman.

When I say gorgeous, I mean more beautiful than Julia Roberts or Liz Taylor in her prime. She was more beautiful than any of today’s splendid beauties. Her body perfectly proportioned, her hair magnificent, and the assembled features of her face could not be made more perfect. She had a nice speaking voice and good diction. Her parents were successful and wealthy. She dressed perfectly. They lived in a magnificent stone home, shaded by giant oak trees. So why did all us guys move on? I couldn’t understand it, even within myself.

Sixty years later, she seeks and finds me on facebook. Over the weeks that followed, we talked through facebook every few days. During that time, she gradually told me about her life. She has a daughter, a son, and a granddaughter. She was generally uninterested in my background, which frankly is quite unique.

As the tales spun out, it was easy to tell they were true, although somehow atypical. I never asked at what age she married, but she was disgusted by her ex-husband, who was 10 years older than her. He was wealthy like her father, and was a business associate of her father’s. I found this very odd, for the most beautiful woman I have ever personally known. I had heard that she had become an artist, and I asked her about it.

She was very proud that she had graduated from the Art College, which I also found strange. How tough can it be to graduate at an art college if you have even at modicum of talent? She showed pictures of some of her work. Suffice to say it was worthless crap. No creativity at all, just badly done replicas of others’ works.

Eventually she told me she had a 9-year affair with a man much younger than she was. He was a large black man, with whom she travelled Europe and attended various resorts. He loved her, she said, and she loved him and misses him. She paid the way for everything, of course, because she’s very rich. I suppose the inheritance from her dad and the payment from her ex-husband must come to a tidy sum. The lover left her to marry another woman. Still, she claims they love each other. No intelligence.

She’s still very beautiful, even in her seventies. Her body is bad though, she said because of thyroid cancer. She is never seen without stunning makeup. Tinted glasses hide imperfections around her eyes. She wears baggy, black garments to apparently camouflage her bulk. Always, there is Hermes scarf around her neck. Those $800 silk scarves that Hermes puts out every season. Wealthy wackos like this woman must have the latest one, of course. A couple of times a year, she flies to Los Vegas to visit her daughter and granddaughter.

Suddenly, I had an epiphany. I put together what I think was the truth behind her story. I believe that she was very, very stupid. Just that simply put. Not at all intelligent. That might explain the heroic attitude about having graduated Art College. Maybe it took her 11 years to do it.

I recall that her father was concerned that she was going out with me. I didn’t see why he should be concerned – I’m from the same social enclave, same religion, my family is known and respected in the community. I can actually remember only one date back in the city. There must have been a couple more, and I was wondering why I was uninterested in this very beautiful girl, who very much wanted me. Recalling that date, when I picked her up in my Corvette, I think her father knew that she was intellectually challenged. That’s why he was concerned. She might not have had a date before, I don’t know.

The younger man that she loved and that loved her, until he married someone else, was not a man who loved her. He was a young black guy that had the smarts to enjoy almost a decade with a gorgeous, wealthy young divorcee. He was a gigolo.

I believe her father made a deal with his business associate. He was a man a decade older than his daughter was, and he should marry the gorgeous girl, and look after her. The man was apparently a mean bastard, and made her rich to get out. She’s never had a proper job in her life. Everyone works for a living at some point, but not this girl.

So she lives alone, in a luxurious penthouse, and I expect she has a servant. She has two German cars, and lots of money in place of a brain. It really is a poor little rich girl.

The most exciting organ in a woman’s body is her brain… usually.

 

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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.