Friday, February 27, 2015

Back in the Saddle

As my sojourn at writers camp in Ireland comes to an end I find my thoughts turning back to the book trade.

In particular, a recent article in the Boston Globe about the planned sale of a collection of rare books that had been bequeathed to a local institution, Gordon College, with the proviso that the collection remain intact and stay at the college. Now the college, in a fundraising effort, has decided to send the books to auction at Doyle Gallery in New York, and they've run into a storm of protest from the family of the donor and certain faculty members who were never consulted about the sale.

This resonates with me because we're dealing with a similar situation at the Gloucester Writers Center.

Over the past 30 years author and scholar Ralph Maud 
formed a collection of over 3500 books that duplicated the library of post modernist poet Charles Olson.
At his death Maud bequeathed the collection to the Gloucester Writers Center, which is fitting, since Olson resided in Gloucester and made the city and its history the subject of much of his poetry.

However, before the transfer can be made, Maud's estate wants a guarantee that the Olson library will be kept together and will remain in the care of the Gloucester Writers Center forever.

The GWC has gone to great lengths to assure the Maud estate that they'll do everything they can to protect and preserve Maud's collection. But they point out, rightly, that no institution can guarantee that any gift will be maintained by that institution in perpetuity. Just look at the scandal at the Barnes Foundation in Philly, or the mess caused by the proposed liquidation of the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis. Politics change. Agendas shift.

Now Gordon College has gone and got themselves into trouble for the second time in recent months. Their first PR gaffe was asking for an exemption to federal hiring practices because they are a Christian institution and don't want to hire gays. You can imagine how well that one went over!

Now this mess about their rare books.

Along with Bibles - which, of course, the newsboobs jump on , since "bible" is a form of book most people recognize - this collection also contains a wealth of early voyages and travels – some of which I was hoping to be on the verge, in the best of all possible verges, of perhaps getting the chance to be allowed to purchase.

Ultimately, however, the geniuses at Gordon decided they'd do better taking their books to public auction rather than sneaking them out the back door to rats like me. And look at the trouble they've gotten themselves into now.

The only exec who's made more bad decisions than Gordon prez D. Michael Lindsay
(what kind of guy has "D." for a first name, anyway?) is Roger Goodell, that overpaid idiot who runs the NFL. 

There's a lesson here somewhere...

Next week – Back in the Saddle! The Washington Book Fair.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Fred Rosselot

While in Ireland and out of the book world, I've been posting chapters from a story I'm working on. (See entries below.) The story is set in the town of Talman, a fictional iteration of Nyack, NY, one of the stops on my book route for decades. One of my favorite guys in Nyack is Fred Rosselot,

a lovely guy with a sharp mind and a sharper eye for books - with which he filled his house.

This past weekend, Fred was severely injured in a fire which destroyed his house and his entire stock.
For details go to https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/6wjd6

Presumably the ABAA Benevolent Fund will be helping out as well. 

According to colleague Lorne Bair, "I've already forwarded Mr. Rosselot's devastating news to the Trustees, who will no doubt act appropriately."

"Of course, there are many on this list who don't donate to the Benevolent Fund, but who might feel moved to donate to Mr. Rosselot directly. Where that's the case, it sounds like under the circumstances he can use every penny that comes his way."

"I'll just take this opportunity to point out to all here how clearly this story illustrates the fact that many members of our fraternity/sorority lead a tenuous existence, one step away from disaster. The Benevolent Fund was established in understanding of, and as a partial antidote to, this reality. Give accordingly."

"Nuff said.

Good luck, Fred!




Sunday, February 22, 2015

Chapter IV

Jerry is making a Manhattan on the rocks for Mister Windle. He pours the frothing liquid from the shaker into the glass where it settles to amber with hints of yellow, scarlet, and blue from the reflection of the Christmas lights strung above the bar. No cherry. Mister Windle is a Brit and has an accent, but he's turned out to be a good guy despite the way he sounds - which, afterall, isn't his fault - genuinely interested in Americans and things American. He’d introduced himself three years ago as, “Windle, John Windle” and Jerry, just to see what he was made of, began calling him “Mister Windle.” After a few sincere urgings to just call him John, Mister Windle tumbled to the fact that he was being put on, and soon was as comfortable in the name as he was in his camel hair overcoat. Began calling the bartender “Mister Jerry” much to Jerry’s satisfaction. Good guys were few and far between.
It’s February and the year-round Christmas lights outside the River House reflect on the ice chunks heaped in the little cove under the western sweep of the Tappan Zee Bridge, giving the scene a muted carnival glow. Manhattan, in its insane hurry to get somewhere, has roared over the bridge and missed this quiet place, the town of Talman, noted once for its shoe factories, long since abandoned. Jerry is telling Mister Windle, “No, they can’t just run all the time, even though, as you say, that’s what they seem to do best, because then the other team, the defense, would stack everyone closer to the line of scrimmage, discouraging the run.”
Hence the forward pass.”
Jerry pours someone a draft. “Exactly. Loosen them up. Plus which, think about at the end of a game when you’re behind and you need to score but you’re running out of time. The passing play gets you bigger gains. And, if the pass is incomplete, the clock stops.”
However, the incomplete pass results in a loss of the down, correct?”
There’s hope for you yet, Mister Windle.”
It is the consensus of the regulars that Jerry is a solid citizen with a good thing going. He’s got a long standing gig as an adjunct English professor at Thomas Aquinas College on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons, and he manages the bar at the River House Tuesday through Saturday nights. But what he really is, is an information manager. He gets his news from both sides of the tracks and deploys it judiciously. Somebody’s fucking somebody’s wife, and the husband is a creep, Jerry doesn’t have a thing to say. But if the guy's OK and wife is a slut, an ingrate or a nut job, well...
Jerry’s credibility derives from the fact that his own wife, Denise, proved to be a slut, an ingrate, and something of a nut job herself. Jerry had just returned to Talman from the Korean War, trying to finish his masters on the GI Bill and put his life back together. He and Denise met at this very River House, and they got pregnant and married, in that order. A few years after that, Denise freaked, walked out on Jerry and the baby without a word. Turned out later she’d joined Sri Chinmoy in Manhattan where, it was rumored, she’d found spiritual peace through meditation and weightlifting. She’d always been a profound physical specimen, so the weightlifting was understandable. But Jerry refused all gestures of reconciliation no matter how much meditation had “improved her as a person.” He dated women after Denise, but never married again. Fool him once.
Somehow, he’d managed not to drown in the soupy mess of heartbreak, single parenting, and undiagnosed post traumatic stress. The longer he survived the more resilient he became, but tenderer, too. That squinched up face, all mustache and nose and scarred chin, those big, sad eyes. Tough as nails and soft as a grape. Finished his masters and got his kid into private school. A standup guy. At least in the opinion of the Solons who line the bar at the River House.
The sleigh bells on the big oak door give their muted jingle, and in comes Jerry’s half brother Skippy. Uncle Skippy, babysitter-in-chief. Skippy, with the thick dark hair, shining eyes, and square chin. Skippy of the many girlfriends. Skippy the insouciant prankster. Skippy the punk. Skippy the smalltime crook. Skippy the junky, with a tall, nervous companion in tow, and a smile for everyone at the bar. Buddy Buddy, a wet brain at one of the tables in the front of the room, gets excited.
Hey, buddy buddy!”
Skippy delivers a mock punch to the man’s shoulder. “How’s things, Buddy Buddy?”
Buddy Buddy gobbles the attention. “Hey, buddy buddy,” he says. “Hey…”
Skippy and his friend unzip their jackets, find seats at the bar, receive and return nods from Jerry and Mister Windle, to whom Skippy introduces the gaunt stranger as, “my man, Al.” He orders two Rheingolds, lays a bill on the bar, and continues with Mister Windle’s football education, citing the mediocre seasons put up by Allie Sherman and his New York Giants as the reason for the otherwise inexplicable “Goodbye, Allie!” chant. Jerry walks over to receive the bill and sees Benjamin Franklin staring up at him. Gives Skippy the fish eye.
For last month’s tab,” Skippy says. “And next month’s.”
Jerry returns to the register and puts it with the others beneath the coin tray. He wonders, not for the first time, if it is actually possible to be a joyous junky. A harmless or, no, a Robin Hood junky. Stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. The poor strung out creeps his kid brother runs with. Like this new friend Al. Some sap who blew into town looking for a connection and landed in Skippy's generous embrace. Sooner or later he'll be at the end of his dough and then it will be “Good bye, Al!”
Jerry watching Skippy, he of the restless intelligence, chatting up Mister Windle, trying to work out what, exactly, the limey's deal is. Over the past few years Windle has so integrated himself into the ambiance of this place that he seems as much a part of it as Jerry, for whom he’s become number one straight man. Which, now that Jerry thinks of it, is something of an accomplishment - in an unobtrusive Windle way.
Skippy, who had never thought of this before, thinks of it now and finds it intriguing, because there's something about the guy that doesn't add up. Windle’s shoes, for example, must’ve cost more than Jerry’s entire wardrobe. And he’s a lawyer for the Talman Housing Authority? Skippy the mouser.
Errand boy, actually,” Mister Windle corrects him. “They call me a consultant, but I specialize in running errands.” He pronounces it, “spessialize.”
You’re, like, a Housing Authority authority?”
Hardly. I picked that part of it up on the fly. To be honest, it’s the way I sound. And the way I dress, I suppose.” He peers down the length of his woven silk repp bar tie, striped in charcoal and pink (with matching pink display hankie that somehow looks manly and suave against the pinstriped jacket), then up at Skippy, with an apologetic smile. “These are my work clothes.”
I don’t get it.”
I sound to American ears like a man who knows what he's talking about. And I look like a man who's done well knowing what he knows. When in fact...”
Skippy smiles encouragement. “I know that hustle.”
Yes, young Skipper, I believe you do. So when the Talman bosses need another dole, they send me to Albany with the proposal.”
For what?”
We're talking about Urban Renewal, Skippy. Our 'blighted Negro ghetto.' The eighty acres of desperately substandard housing and crumbling infrastructure we fondly think of as 'downtown.' In five years you won't recognize it. Federal grant money dripping down from Kennedy and HUD to Rockefeller and his cronies to hungry entities like the Talman Housing Authority."
So you're a lobbyist.” Skippy hasn't read anything other than the sports page in years, but this talk of Albany and cronies makes his ears perk up.
No, a go-between.”
Skippy nods, thinking, You're a fucking bag man, Mister Windle.
He smells money of a sort that does not have the nervous, sour stink of breaking and entering or small time drug deals. Windle's “hungry entity” has already taken over several blocks of Skippy's old stomping grounds, in preparation, it is rumored, for office towers. Whatever the fuck office towers are, there have to be millions of dollars involved, with some presumed amount of collateral leakage. And it sounds like there will be a lot more to come. Leakage. What else would explain the clothes, the fancy car? And isn’t it interesting that Mister Windle never talks about his past except in the most general terms, other than to say that he was “in finance” in Hong Kong and then Manhattan, and that it “got complicated”?
It's all theoretical to Skippy. As removed from the daily round of his activities as bird watching. But it is exactly that daily round, populated by pigeons like Al, that is beginning to pale. Skippy wants to get off the streets. And he's thinking maybe...
He buys Mister Windle another Manhattan, then turns his attention to Al. They drink more, sidle off to play shuffleboard. Mister Windle watches the late news, then departs, two Manhattans under his belt. It’s a weeknight and by 10:30 the River House is deserted. Al disappears. Down to the Chelsea drug store, Jerry imagines, to get his prescription filled.
He begins cleaning up. Last load of glasses and a final wipe down. Skippy, headed for the door, stops, as if his stopping were an afterthought, and says to Jerry, “So what’s really up with Mister Windle? What’s his deal?”
What do you mean?”
C’mon, Jerry. Finance in Hong Kong? What the fuck is that supposed to mean? You ever ask him?”
Jerry puts the towel down and moves to his brother's end of the bar. Skippy is in his face once again, looking for trouble, or excitement, or simply diversion, and Jerry responds with an older brother's moral authority. This is a game they’ve played all their lives. Jerry measures off a yard of jokey warning, with a promise of worse to come if necessary. And Skippy knows that old Jerr, with the scrunched up soulful puss, is capable of delivering it. Jerry is bedrock, sincere. He will inadvertently provide a useful read on Mister Windle.
Skipper, if you’re even thinking what I think you’re thinking, don’t. Don’t fuck with Mister Windle, and don’t get any ideas about working him in any way, shape, or form. I don’t know fuck-all about his clothes or his car or his money or Hong Kong any more than he tells me. He’s a decent guy, is all, and I don’t care to know what he doesn’t care to say. But I’ll tell you this: I’ve got a feeling about him that he might be a tougher customer than he seems to be. That he might see you coming before you even think of whatever it is you’d better not be thinking of, and that he might give you cause to regret it. Very efficiently and very abruptly.”
Skippy grins his irrepressible charmer grin. “Bond,” he says in a phony English accent. “James Bond.”



Monday, February 16, 2015

Not Coming to a Theater Near You Anytime Soon

 
II
Kelly shambles out of his living quarters as if he’d been hibernating there. He’s dressed, but might have slept in his clothes. Needs a shave. Jarkey, who also needs a shave, is sitting at one of the two desks in the front office, pecking the typewriter, scowling at the article he’s writing about Radio Row, the Lower West Side neighborhood recently obliterated to clear the way for the new World Trade Center. He’s wondering if anyone cares. The whole place was a rathole anyway.
Kelly sits at the other desk, rummages through the top drawer, finds a packet of Brioschi, takes it to the water cooler beside the filing cabinet, dumps the powder into a greasy glass and fills the glass, watching the bubble travel up the tall transparent jug from the spout to the top, where it pops with a blurp. He tosses off the Brioschi in a single gulp, pours another glass, watches another bubble, returns to his desk with the full glass. From a side drawer he removes a bottle of Tang, dumps some orange powder into the water glass, stirs with a pencil, drinks. Then he walks back to the filing cabinet, on top of which sits a hotplate with a recently perked pot of coffee. He pours a cup of coffee, returns to his desk, removes a quart of Wilson’s “That’s All” blended whiskey from the Tang drawer, pours the whiskey into the coffee, straightens his tie, and leans back in his chair with a satisfied half smile. Breakfast.
Jarkey has been trying not to pay attention, but finds irresistible the vacant, catlike manner with which Kelly moves through the universe. For the thousandth time he wonders whether Kelly is an idiot sustained by luck and stubbornness, or a genius attuned to forces unperceived by mortals. For the thousandth time he rejects those limiting axes. The man is, as they say, “something else.”
Just now, for example, he has somehow read Jarkey’s mind. Or, no. More like he picked a crumpled piece of paper from Jarkey’s mental wastebasket, unfolded it, and read it. Radio Row is a rathole.
Kelly puts his cup on the desk and says, “Did you know there are 100 million rats born in this city every year?”
How do you know that?”
Larry told me. You know? Over in sanitation.”
Well, Larry should know, if anyone does.”
Larry says there’s a new kind of rat,” Kelly continued. “A super rat. It’s immune to rat poison.”
You’re kidding.”
No, really. Larry says they’ve found them up in the Bronx. Rat poison is an anti-coagulant, see? The rats bleed out internally. But these new rats are resistant to anti-coagulants on account of high concentrations of certain vitamins in their bloodstreams.”
Jarkey stares at Kelly. Genius or moron? He realizes Kelly has just given him the lead for a new story. A more interesting story than the demolition of an area that should have been cleaned up decades ago.
He is a reporter by trade, but ever since the Herald Tribune went down he’s been freelancing and, for complex reasons, serving as Kelly’s assistant-in-training in detectivization – or whatever contorted expression might characterize whatever it is Kelly actually does, which has something to do with people and their problems, and not getting killed, and getting paid. Some years before, Jarkey, wounded by his career stumble and a marriage that went bad on account of it, found refuge with Kelly and almost immediately began resenting him for it. Then the resentment faded into something more like bemusement. Kelly, that colossal idiot, kept getting paid for being a detective, and kept not getting killed, and Jarkey got into the rhythm of it, enjoying the way his job as a sub-detective meshed with his career as a has-been journalist.
He finishes his coffee, grabs his coat from the rack near the door. “I’m gonna get a shave.”
Get me one, too,” Kelly mumbles, studying the writing on the back of the Tang jar.
Then I'm going to go see Larry.”
Larry?”
But Jarkey is gone.

III
Kelly pursues his analysis of the percentage of daily requirements of various vitamins and minerals afforded by a single serving of Tang, until he discovers what has been bothering him about those authoritative numbers on the back of the label. He weighs 225. But lots of kids drink Tang, and they might only weigh a half or a third of that. So if Tang provides 45% of the vitamin A a person needs every day to stay healthy, are they talking about him or some twelve year old who weighs half as much as he does? Because if it's 45% for him, it could be 90% or even 135% of what a kid needs. He recalls from his conversation with Larry that it was primarily an excess of vitamin A that made the rats immune to anti-coagulants. Maybe they chewed their way into a Tang factory. Or maybe a mutant strain of teenagers will come forth, immune to rat poison.
By this time he is headed down the ravine of glass and steel that is 53rd Street. He passes humans on the sidewalk mirrored in glass fronts of buildings reflecting buildings reflecting building’s reflections. He senses, does not think about, the irregularities behind the gleam, the jags that cause the sparkles. Fissures glossed over by architectural fantasies of rectilinear perfection. The smallest imaginable cracks running to nodes gathering in dark wells. Infinitesimal displacements. A guy on the second floor flirting with his new secretary receives the slightest nudge, a butterfly wing in the Amazon, and his hand is on her shoulder. Then drinks, and the next thing you know he’s cheating on his wife, lying about all the work he has to do at the office instead of sitting at home with his kids watching The Beverly Hillbillies. Or not. Maybe not ever for that guy. But maybe the cleaning lady and the open desk drawer. The bookkeeper behind in his car payments. An infinity of uncommitted crimes seeking human vectors, crimes on the cusp, human crimes. Are there any other kind? Kelly takes a breath and his breath takes the world in. To be criminal is to be human. Lets it out slowly. Or is it the other way round?
After a few blocks the sky opens up and buildings come to ground, friendlier brick and brownstone, just part of the street’s mess. Of which there is plenty this morning. Windrows of uncollected garbage up and down as far as Kelly can see. He picks his way through the barrier of trash cans and garbage bags on Ninth Avenue and descends half a flight of stairs for a shave at Walter’s. The pleasure of warm lather. The ping of the blade mowing each whisker. Deadly steel so close to blood, Walter thoughtlessly observing the boundary, yammering away, steam radiator knocking in time.
Outside, a chilly breeze off the river makes his raw cheeks tingle. He proceeds to a deli on the west side of Tenth Avenue in which, at a dirty table, Rory huddles inside a trench coat big enough for two of him. Rory needs a shave.
Kelly sits down. “There’s a good barber over on Ninth. An old man. Old fashioned prices. The only problem is you’ve got to listen to him. Commie this and Kike that. You know what I mean?”
Fuck you, Kelly. I’m sitting here half an hour and you’re getting a shave?” Rory is first generation and has inherited a mild Irish lilt. Bad teeth, too.
You okay, Rory?” Kelly is looking harder at the sagging, sallow man. Caries and TB.
I just can’t get warm, is all. This fucking weather.”
Kelly was born in a car on the way to Roosevelt Hospital, and he still has relatives in Hell’s Kitchen. Rory is his mother’s sister’s stepson. Kelly has that by rote, but finds the actual relationship confusing. He does, however, remember pushing Rory down the porch stairs at a Christmas party when they were six. He suspects Rory’s request for an interview has something to do with the ancient family suck. And he knows that, if left to his own devices, Rory will roll out ten minutes of Irish bullshit before he gets to the point. Life is too short. “So, what do you want?”
Rory blanches at this breach of conduct. “Nothing to do with any of us, thank God. It’s this guy Robert that I work for. Someone’s putting the screws to him.”
What do you mean?”
What the fuck do you think I mean? He’s getting hassled.”
The neighborhood teems with punks and two bit crooks – legbreakers and bag men for the Westies. To the best of Kelly’s knowledge Rory is not one of them. If this is a plea for help, it’s probably legit. “So, this Robert. Is he in trouble? Owe money?”
No. His trouble is that he’s making money, not owing it. Somebody’s shaking him down.”
How is he making his money?”
Cookies.”
Cookies?”
Rory fishes a stiff lump of Kleenex out of the trenchcoat, wipes it on the clear, glistening patch beneath his nose. “Robert is quite a fellah. He sells a line of pre-packaged organic baked goods. It's his girlfriend got him into it, but that's another story. Her name is Rachel so they're called Rachel's Rations. Maybe you've seen them. They're all the rage in the East Village.”
No, I don't think I have.”
You got Rachel’s Date Bars, Rachel’s Bran Muffins. It’s cute. Give your man a wink and out come the special cookies.”
Cookies.”
Marijuana cookies. Chocolate chip, peanut better, and oatmeal.”
Kelly lets it sit until an image arrives. A skinny, long-haired boy and a girl with armpit hair getting stoned, then getting the munchies, then eating those cookies and getting more stoned, hungrier, more cookies. He smiles. “I like it.”
Yeah. Well, it’s a good gig. They’ve got a little bakery set up over in Talman.”
And someone’s putting the bite on him?”
Not exactly like you think. A guy comes in and says he’s assessing the property for removal by eminent domain. A shakedown if ever there was one, because Robert has already bribed the health and building inspectors. So he tells the guy to fuck off. And the guy says, fine. If that’s the way you want to do it. But you’ll be a lot better off if you go along with us. Then last week Robert gets a phone call from somebody else about the same thing. Wants to know if Robert’s thought it over.”
Anything bad happen yet?”
Not yet, but you can see what’s coming. So Robert asked me if I knew anybody who might help. I thought of you and he told me to go ahead and talk to you.”
Talk to me? What am I supposed to do?”
I don’t know,” Rory sniffles. “You’re the fucking detective.”


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Used Books of the Future that Never Made it to the Future

Spent the weekend on Sherkin Island, where our Irish friends Kathy and Mike have some family property
 that they're developing into an event center.  

It's beautiful here, in the rugged but calm way that typifies so much of the Irish coast. Lovely scenery, good friends, and plenty of excellent food, drink, laughter, and talk. It's easy to think of this place as its own kind of paradise. But this morning, as I was looking out over the water back toward the town of Skibbereen,
I remembered the proposal I wrote in 2004 for a non-fiction book about Ireland that presented quite a different picture of this same part of the country. The book never got published, so in commercial terms the project was a failure. But it provided an unforgettable experience of the country and its past. Here's a bit of what I had in mind back then, taken from the eyewitness account of an actual historical character.

At noon on December 14, 1846 Nicholas Cummins boarded the coach that ran from Cork City to Skibbereen, a town about fifty miles to the southwest. Cummins, one of a prosperous Cork family of merchants and bankers, was bound to a small village in the area on behalf of a group of a well-placed private citizens who intended to aid victims of the Irish Famine... 

The coach from Cork arrived in Skibbereen at 2 pm the following day. Cummins reached the village of South Reen late in the afternoon, with the low December sun already behind the hills. When he entered the darkening village he was met by an eerie silence. Instead of cows, pigs, chickens and children - all would’ve had equal access to the one room huts that surrounded him - Cummins saw no one. The streets were empty.
Thinking the place had been abandoned, he entered the nearest dwelling, a windowless hovel perhaps ten feet by twelve, illuminated only by light from the doorway, which he had to stoop to get through. As his eyes became accustomed to the dimness he saw six famished corpses huddled on some filthy straw, covered only by a ragged horse blanket. Moving closer to inspect the bodies, Cummins discovered, by a low moaning sound from one of them, that the family was still alive. “They were in fever; four children and a woman, and what had once been a man.” They bore the jaundice of relapsing fever, or the terrible dark splotches of typhus, or the bloody filth of dysentery, and certainly the stink of vomit, shit, gangrene and death.
Cummins’ arrival - perhaps his involuntary yelp of revulsion - had by this time attracted a crowd. Like extras in a scene from his own waking nightmare the villagers turned out to greet the Lord of the Manor, sporting their collapsed cheeks, distended jaws, and vacant eyes, clawing for bread with their sticks of arms. Their hair was coming out in clumps. Scurvy was claiming their teeth. The limbs and torsos of some, children most noticeably, were swollen to grotesque proportions by famine edema. “I was surrounded by at least two hundred such phantoms… by far the greater number were delirious either from Famine or from fever. Their demonic yells are still ringing in my ears.”
Reeling from the encounter, Cummins was suddenly yanked around by a tug at his scarf and “grasped by a woman, with an infant just born in her arms, and the remains of a filthy sack across her loins – the sole covering of herself and babe.”
The village of Meenes, where dogs devoured the unburied dead. This village no longer exists. It was obliterated by the Famine. –Illustrated London News, 1847

The mean temperature that month was an unusually chilly 35 degrees. Those spared the fever might expect to freeze to death if they didn’t starve first. The infant stood no chance of survival, a fact that could not have been lost on Cummins, who’d left a four-year-old son at home. “A mother, herself in fever, was seen the same day to drag out the corps of her child, a girl about 12 perfectly naked, and leave it half covered up with stones. In another house… the dispensary doctor found seven wretches dying, unable to move, under the same cloak. One had been many hours dead, but the others were unable to remove either themselves or the corpse.” Then, as if sickened by the recollection of what he’d seen, he broke off. “To what purpose should I multiply such cases, if these be not sufficient.”
…By the autumn of 1847 the potato blight had temporarily subsided. [British Assistant Treasury Secretary] Trevelyan declared the Famine at an end. He even wrote a book announcing this fact and trumpeting his putative success in dealing with the “Irish Crisis.” In this text the word “death” appears only once, despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of people had already died. And, despite Trevelyan’s pronouncement, hundreds of thousands more were still to die, as the blight returned in 1848 and 1849, and its murderous effects lingered on into the 1850s. 

The total government expenditure on Famine relief was about £8 million. A few years later Britain would spend £70 million on the Crimean War.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Super Bowl Sunday

Super Bowl didn't start until 11:30 pm in Ireland, so there was plenty of time for an afternoon walk up Mt. Clara in County Cork.
 

The game itself was surreal.


Al and Chris frequently interrupted by Irish presenters with little feel for the game, and, strangely, no Super Bowl commercials! Instead we got the usual round of cheesy Irish ads for Lucozade, phone sex (the dial-in number ended 69-69-69) and Budweiser, which these people think is a fancy imported beer. A nation of savages!

Guess that's why I love it here.

The contest was one of the best in years. The weird circus catch over rookie Butler in the final seconds causing post-traumatic flashbacks of the end of the first Brady-era loss to the Giants, only to be replaced seconds later by the amazing sight of that same rookie, Butler, coming back with a game winning interception of a bone headed play. 

Thanks, Seattle, 

Thanks, Ireland.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Chapter I. Dicky's Dream

He'd been having a dream; one of those turgid, anxious dreams you might get from eating too much before going to bed. In the dream he'd been sitting in a car with his family watching an exciting basketball game. Then he realized it was 5:50, leaving him only a little more than an hour to get to his hotel uptown and then get back down to meet his friends. He said his goodbyes and began to leave, then remembered he'd forgotten his suitcase, which was not much bigger than a big briefcase. It had a zippered pouch in front and he shoved his documents in and zippered it up and went onto the Avenue, probably a dream representation of Broadway, to hail a cab. Then he was uptown, in the 60s, and he couldn't remember the name of the hotel. The driver could not help with the name of the hotel, but he waited in the cab while Dicky went across an alley toward Lexington Avenue. But it was getting dark and, somehow, the alley did not lead to Lex, and when Dicky went back, the cab was gone with his twenty dollar bill. Then he was in a large, rather fancy restaurant named O'Reilly's, built underground, like at Grand Central, and when he came back out to the street it was raining, hard, and he realized he'd left his suitcase in the cab and that, for some reason, he was no longer wearing a shirt. Then instead of some avenue on the east side the sign on the corner said Park, and it was still raining, but not as hard, and it wasn't dark anymore, and it wasn't a dream.
Or if it was, Dicky was stuck in it, because here he manifestly, undeniably, was. Dripping, but not shivering. He wondered if he should call his father and dismissed the thought, not wanting him to have to drive all the way uptown. But what should he do now? He walked past a fire station and in the glass of the big garage doors he saw his reflection and realized he was not a young man, as he'd thought he was in his dream, but an old, skinny disheveled wreck of a man with short gray hair and a gray stubble and sucked in cheeks from lack of molars, and no shirt. He wasn't going to call his father because his father had been dead for decades. And he wasn't in Manhattan; this was some smaller town, with a skyline of two story buildings.
He fought the panic that was rising in him. There was an explanation for this; he could still think; his mind was clear. He was certain he could reason it out. But where in God's name?... He thought about where he'd come from. A town. He could almost see it, almost remember its name, but this information was fuzzy, faded, as if it had been part of the dream, too. All he needed to get control of this situation was one piece of something that wasn't floating around. He could build from there. But there was nothing to latch onto. The fear came back in another wave, a battalion of scorpions in his gut. He couldn't just stand there. That would be a bad thing to do.
Dicky walked around the corner of the brick building, opened the side door, noticing it was no warmer in the fire barn than it had been outside – summer, that was a good thing – and went up three steps to a landing. Directly ahead of him was a door to the fire barn. He could hear the voices of firemen in there. The stairs continued up on his left, and to his right was a small glassed in office with a switchboard and three telephones. A pudgy fireman with a flat top looked up from his magazine at Dicky, standing uncertainly in the doorway.
“Sorry to bother you,” Dicky said. “I know this sounds strange, but I must've had some kind of stroke or something. I don't know where I am and I can't remember how I got here.”
The fireman rose and clapped him genially on the shoulder. “Dicky! Another bad night, eh?”
Upon hearing his name, and receiving the knowledge that he was known, Dicky let down the guard he'd been maintaining so fiercely against the fear. The situation got dreamlike again after that. They put him in the Chief's car and took him to the police station. On the way, Dicky realized he was having some kind of attack of nerves, and that what he needed was a drink, just to calm him down. This thought was what he'd been seeking – something to attach to, something to build on. It became an obsession. In the police station he told them, “I just need a drink, is all. Just something to settle me down.” He said it over and over.
They sat him in a chair in a detective's cubicle and gave him a glass of water and a pill. Someone boiled water on a hotplate and made him an instant hot chocolate. It was warm, and sweet, and good. They all knew him, the cops, and they were as friendly as the firemen had been. The drink spread its warmth through him, and the pill began its work. He dozed off in his chair.
When he woke he said to Sergeant Langley, “Man, that was a bad one.”
“You okay now?”
“Yeah, I'm fine. I guess I should just go home.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
“You guys want a coffee or anything?”
“Jesus, Dicky. It's 3:00 a.m.”
“Oh.”