Monday, October 31, 2022

TV Quote of the Day (‘The Office,’ With a Problem Posed Often This Time of Year)

Stanley Hudson [played by Leslie David Baker]: “How many freakin' vampires am I supposed to care about these days?”—The Office, Season 7, Episode 6, “Costume Contest,” original air date Oct. 28, 2010, teleplay by Justin Spitzer, directed by Dean Holland

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Spiritual Quote of the Day (John Steinbeck, on How Lies Formed a Human Monster)

“I think the difference between a lie and a story is that a story utilizes the trappings and appearance of truth for the interest of the listener as well as of the teller. A story has in it neither gain nor loss. But a lie is a device for profit or escape….

“Cathy's lies were never innocent. Their purpose was to escape punishment, or work, or responsibility, and they were used for profit. Most liars are tripped up either because they forget what they have told or because the lie is suddenly faced with an incontrovertible truth. But Cathy did not forget her lies, and she developed the most effective method of lying. She stayed close enough to the truth so that one could never be sure. She knew two other methods also -- either to interlard her lies with truth or to tell a truth as though it were a lie. If one is accused of a lie and it turns out to be the truth, there is a backlog that will last a long time and protect a number of untruths.”—Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning American novelist John Steinbeck (1902-1968), East of Eden (1952)

Several months ago, I thought of using the above quote to mark the 70th anniversary of the publication of East of Eden. Though I didn’t have time to write at the length I wanted then, it may have turned out for the best. This meditation by John Steinbeck on a monster in beguiling human form is appropriate for the present moment—the weekend before Halloween, not to mention an evil hour in the life of the American republic.

Several years ago, when the American version of House of Cards was still in production, a close relative of mine asked about Robin Wright’s Lady Macbeth-type political wife, “How could a woman so beautiful be so evil?” 

Claire Underwood’s American psychological predecessor was Steinbeck’s Cathy Ames, who sheds lovers, homes—even past identities—as periodically as a serpent does its skin.

I use “serpent” advisedly, as East of Eden, as alluded to in the title, is an allegory. 

The two male characters with first names beginning with “A”—Adam and Aron Trask—are innocent or na├»ve, like Adam and son Abel in the Book of Genesis. The three males with first names starting with “C”—Cyrus, Charles and Caleb—are analogous to Cain—wild, resentful and despairing.

The letter “C” also suggests Cathy’s affinity with the second set of Trask males. But as the novels’ principal female, she also functions like Eve or Lilith, the she-demon of Near East mythology.

Since its publication, East of Eden has not been treated warmly by literary critics, who have complained that Steinbeck grafted this allegorical structure onto a historical saga about his maternal family, the Hamiltons; that the novel is long and ungainly; and that the author intruded commentary on the action, violating the injunction to today’s creative writing students to “show, not tell.”

But, though East of Eden may not be perfect, it is surely compelling, with its dramatic qualities recognized when it was turned into a film in 1955, a network TV mini-series in 1981, and (now in development) a Netflix limited series written by Zoe Kazan.

Hollywood’s divergent treatments of this sprawling epic partly set in Steinbeck’s own Salinas County resulted in different main characters. The movie’s director, Elia Kazan, narrowed the plot to the book’s last quarter, spotlighting James Dean in a prototype thereafter indelibly associated with him: a conflicted, tortured youth.

But in the early 1980s, the golden age of the mini-series, TV offered the opportunity for a more expansive treatment of the novel—6½ hours that concentrated on Adam and Cathy. Inevitably, viewers focus less on Adam, who fundamentally changes little, than on Cathy (played by Jane Seymour, pictured in the image accompanying this post).

Midway through the plot, Cathy abandons her life as wife and mother to become Kate, a prostitute and madam. Her sexuality is not itself sinful. It’s her use of it, combined with her propensity for deceit, that makes her fascinating and unpredictable.

As cunning as Eden’s serpent, Kate becomes additionally cynical as she learns how the hypocrisy of her clients in the sex trade leaves them utterly vulnerable to her insatiable drive for wealth.

While middle-aged Adam is scrupulous to a fault, refusing gains from son Caleb’s speculation on beans in a wartime economy, Kate says in business by keeping a stash of photos of brothel clients for blackmail.

Rereading East of Eden after over 40 years, I found inadequate Steinbeck’s explanation that monsters like Cathy/Kate are “variations from the accepted norm to a greater or a less degree.”

But the better word to describe this heinous type is “violations” rather than “variations.” While “variations” are something inherent that a person is born with and unable to change, “violations” are products of free will.

Cathy/Kate violates every norm of responsibility and selflessness. She shares with Cyrus, Charles and Caleb a willfulness that leads to destructive outbursts, but unlike them never resists this impulse.

That lack of remorse renders her utterly alien, Steinbeck observes, in the same way that, “To a man born without conscience, a soul-stricken man must seem ridiculous. To a criminal, honesty is foolish.”

In the postwar period, the United States struggled to understand the radical evil that gave birth to the totalitarian regimes of Nazi Germany and the Communist Soviet Union. But Americans’ aspirations for liberty didn’t eliminate their own vulnerability to cynics ready to exploit falsehood and bent on power.

After all, East of Eden arrived halfway through the reign of terror perpetrated by Joseph McCarthy, as careless about truth as he was about the damage he created through his access to the media and investigative responsibility in the U.S. Senate.

Steinbeck abominated McCarthy but did not find him alien to the Eden of American democracy, according to an article this past week in the British paper The Guardian

In an essay that originally appeared in 1954 in the French journal Le Figaro Litteraire (now published in English for the first time by Strand Magazine), the novelist wrote:

“We have always had a McCarthy. I could list names and movements going back to the beginning of our history. And always the end was the same … It changes its name every few years. It always uses the bait of improvement or safety.”

The exterior of Cathy Ames may have been beautiful, but her interior was as ugly as Joe McCarthy’s. The senator, Steinbeck warned in his French essay, represented “the taking of power by a self-interested group.”

Current events lead me to think that Cathy schemed enough but didn’t dream big enough. All she wanted was wealth accumulated and invested as a sex worker.

Nowadays, if applied on the campaign trail, her reckless disregard for truth, her mockery and infringement of every civilized norm, could have landed Steinbeck’s monster on Capitol Hill, a serpent in the temple of American democracy.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Photo of the Day: Fifth Avenue, Source of ‘Some Semblance of American Unity’

Among the many photos I have taken over the years, I searched unsuccessfully for something with the wide vistas that Kathryn Jean Lopez mentioned in the following contribution to a National Review collection of articles from Sept. 9, 2019 on “What We Love About America”:

“Freedom, in fact, is what I feel like I’m breathing in as I see the blue of the sky or the road that leads down to Washington Square Park. Anything seems possible on Fifth Avenue. And one miracle in particular: some semblance of American unity. At some places on Fifth, the Stars and Strikes seem to be everywhere. It’s as if America does, in fact, still mean something we can all agree on. I keep looking and I think about [Abraham Lincoln’s phrase] ‘the mystic chords of memory.’ Fifth Avenue inspires gratitude. I don’t want to look at my phone. I want to keep walking. American culture today can be overwhelming with noise and soil-crushing images. But here, even with the traffic, things seem quieter.”

Then I came across what you see here: a photo of a Tom Ford shop display at the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship store in Midtown Manhattan, which I took a few days before the Fourth of July six years ago.

In one way, it seems a bit crass to transform the Stars and Stripes—something people have carried and even died for—into such commercial fodder.

But at least, the instinct this window display appealed to was pride in America. These days, the most powerful instinct is fear.

Maybe, at this current perilous moment in American history—when the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been critically wounded in their home, when Capitol Hill lawmakers of both parties and Supreme Court justices are investigating, as never before, security arrangements for themselves and their families—it would do well for us all to catch our breath, and remember the “gratitude” and “semblance of American unity” that Ms. Lopez evoked.

In a tweet from last night about the assault on Paul Pelosi, Ms. Lopez also noted that “Sometimes it’s better to pray for fellow human beings and that by some miracle the temperature of hate and anger is turned down.”

Well, I suppose that’s a start. But more than a few of us are getting tired of hearing “thoughts and prayers” or their equivalent evoked for victims of violence.

More basically—and painfully—we need an examination of conscience, and a commitment to the “mystic chords of memory” and “firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right” that infused President Lincoln with the political courage to take on those accepting aggression to tear the Union asunder.

Quote of the Day (Michelle Goldberg, on Ambivalence About Cancel Culture)

“In my experience, most people, especially those who are middle-aged and older, have complicated and contradictory feelings about the rapid changes in values, manners and allowances that fall under the rubric of cancel culture. They’re glad to see challenges to elite impunity, and uncomfortable about what can seem like mob justice. The notion of separating the art from the artist has gone out of fashion, but a progressive version of old-fashioned morality clauses isn’t a satisfying replacement.”—Opinion columnist and TV commentator Michelle Goldberg, “Finally, a Great Movie About Cancel Culture,” The New York Times, Oct. 23, 2022

The photo accompanying this post, of Michelle Goldberg at the 2012 Brooklyn Book Festival panel, was taken on Sept. 23, 2012, by Joann Jovinelly (editrrix) from NYC.

Friday, October 28, 2022

Quote of the Day (Shirley Jackson, on a Daughter Becoming a Teen)

“Last year I sent my daughter, an agreeable child who liked to play baseball and thought boys were silly, off to camp. I got back – and it only took two months – a creature who slept with curlers in her hair, bought perfume from the five-and-ten, and addressed me as nothing but ‘Mother, honestly!’

“By now she also calls me ‘Honestly, Mother!’ and ‘Mother, really’ and sometimes just plain ‘Mother.’ She worries constantly about her figure—usually with one hand in the refrigerator. She thinks any beardless adolescent who sings through his nose is ‘cute.’ She has perceived that in addition to being slightly behind the times in my dress and manner, I am hopelessly dated in my grasp of teenagers–especially of what ‘everyone else’ is allowed to do. This, incidentally, is a phrase I can't even write without feeling a little chill down my back. My daughter says it without difficulty. I tell her, ‘I don’t care what everyone else does…’ and ‘No daughter of mine is going to…’ and ‘When I was your age, I had…’ Neither of us listens to the other. She no longer thinks boys are silly.”—American horror and humor writer Shirley Jackson (1916-1965), “Motherly, Honestly!”, originally printed in Good Housekeeping, reprinted in Let Me Tell You: New Stories, Essays, and Other Writings, edited by Laurence Hyman and Sarah Hyman DeWitt (2015)

It can be hard to believe that the author of such disturbing fiction as “The Lottery,” The Haunting of Hill House, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle could deliver slices of wry like the above passage to the same primary audience—American housewives and mothers—as Erma Bombeck would later do.

But these humorous essays on her family—whose tone could also be modulated to ironic short fiction like “Charles”—helped pay the bills for Shirley Jackson, as she raised the four children of herself and her husband, the literary critic Stanley Edgar Hyman.

And they can still be appreciated by readers—even those who, in October, might be more tempted to seek out the macabre novels and short stories that make Jackson a crucial link between Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King.

For a brief description of the life and career of Jackson, see my blog post from six years ago, on the centennial of her birth.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Quote of the Day (Ian McEwan, on the West’s Post-Cold War Descent)

“By what logic or motivation or helpless surrender did we all, hour by hour, transport ourselves within a generation from the thrill of optimism at Berlin’s falling Wall to the storming of the American Capitol?”— English novelist Ian McEwan, Lessons: A Novel (2022)

(Accompanying this post is a photo of Ian McEwan taken during the 2011 Paris book festival on Mar. 20, 2011, by Thesupermat.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Quote of the Day (Jason Gay, on Tom Brady’s Ill-Fated Comeback From Retirement)

“[Future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Tom] Brady’s title hopes in Tampa Bay are evaporating, and his personal life has become tabloid fodder. He’s gotten flak for taking off Wednesdays—I thought we were all cool with remote work now?—and for attending the wedding of Patriots owner Robert Kraft the Friday before the Bucs lost to Pittsburgh. Brady was caught on camera during that game going nuclear on his underperforming offensive line, looking like a cranky guy who couldn’t believe his 5:15 p.m. restaurant reservation wasn’t ready at 5:15 p.m.”—Sports columnist Jason Gay, “Glum Days for the Geezer Greats,” The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 25, 2022

The photo accompanying this post—of Tom Brady being sacked by Daron Payne of the Washington Football Team during a game against the Buccaneers—was taken Jan. 9, 2021, by All-Pro Reels of Washington, DC. 

With a little less than half the season played now, Brady, with 10 sacks, is on track to at least match and maybe exceed his totals for 2020 and 2021 (21 and 22, respectively).

At age 45, with seven Super Bowl victories and who knows how much money earned, what does he have to prove at this point? Does he think he’s going to recover faster from these hits than he did before?

Five years ago, Gisele Bundchen blurted out what her husband had not previously admitted: that he’d had multiple concussions. Even then, she was extremely worried about his future health.

I never expected to write that a supermodel could be the one with brains in a family, but that is clearly the case here. Hope that Brady still has his senses intact when the season is over, but don’t bet on it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Quote of the Day (George Plimpton, on One of His Many Embarrassing Moments Pitching to All-Stars)

“In baseball parlance they speak of a pitch ‘getting away’ from the pitcher. As I came through the delivery of my curve, I failed to snap my wrist sufficiently and my hook got away from me in majestic style—sailing far over both [batter Frank] Robinson and [catcher Elston] Howard's heads to the wire screen behind home plate. If it had hit a foot or so higher, the ball would have caught the netting of the foul screen and run up it to the press boxes. It was such an extraordinarily wild pitch that I felt I had to make some comment; what I'd done was too undignified to pass unnoticed, and so once again I hurried off the mound calling out, ‘Sorry! Sorry!’ Howard and Robinson gazed out at me, both startled, I think, perhaps even awed by the strange trajectory of my pitch, which was wild enough to suggest that I had suddenly decided to throw the ball to someone in the stands. The embarrassment was intense.”— American “participatory journalist,” literary editor, actor and occasional amateur sportsman George Plimpton (1927-2003), Out of My League: The Classic Account of an Amateur's Ordeal in Professional Baseball (1961)

Even if a sweep occurs during the upcoming World Series, the Fall Classic is scheduled to end in the first week of November. Over 60 years ago, when players were not as wealthy as today’s millionaires, they might engage in barnstorming tours abroad—or play closer to home in an exhibition game.

It was in one such example of the latter—a post-Series game at Yankee Stadium of all-stars fronted by Mickey Mantle (for the American League) and Willie Mays (for the National League)—that George Plimpton latched onto one of the great sports journalism stints. While the team with the most total bases would split $1,000 (chump-change now, but not in those pre-free-agent days), Plimpton would pitch a first “unofficial” inning to baseball’s luminaries.

As a tween, I watched Plimpton! Shoot-Out at Rio Lobo, a TV one-hour documentary demonstrating his brand of “participatory journalism”—in this case, playing a gunman in the 1970 John Wayne western Rio Lobo.

The Duke’s repeated on-air insult of the amateur actor—“Pimpleton”—was still probably nowhere near as mortifying as what the author-editor encountered when he took the mound at The House That Ruth Built. Out of such acute embarrassment came Out of My League, as hilarious as it was insightful.

Out of a simple set of rules for his inning—no umpire, no walks—Plimpton’s agony was constructed. Amazingly, he retired two batters before the others learned to wait him out and find a pitch they could whack.

As he watched his pitches fly in every direction past catcher Elston Howard (“flung with abandon and propelled by a violent mixture of panic and pent-up anxiety let loose”) when they weren’t sent screaming into the outfield by hitters, the 31-year-old Plimpton undoubtedly felt this was more audacious and foolish than editing The Paris Review.

After what he endured at the hands of the NL All-Stars, Plimpton didn’t have the strength to continue against their AL counterparts. At his typewriter, however, he was more philosophical: “I suffered a steady stream of humiliations … what happened to me is bound to happen when an amateur is thrown into the company of professional athletes. It is inevitable.”

That didn't stop Plimpton from trying his hand at other wild stunts as he pursued "participating journalism": playing quarterback for the Detroit Lions and goalie for the Boston Bruins, boxing against light-heavyweight champion Archie Moore, performing with the New York Philharmonic, and photographing Playboy models.  

Even while chuckling at Plimpton’s mound misadventures, though, I couldn’t help but think that he had conveyed something that the fan in the stands or at home can barely appreciate: how hard it is to make a baseball do your bidding.

In certain weather conditions, even seasoned professionals find it difficult just to get an adequate grip on the ball. In a Sports Illustrated interview last year, Mets slugger Pete Alonso was even willing to give pitchers a pass on sticky substances for that reason: “I don't want 99 mph slipping out of someone's hand because they didn't have enough feel for it."

Pitchers who experience a loss of control may suffer the loss of their roster spot, their career—or, in its way, a Plimpton-style humiliation on the pitcher’s rubber, this time listening to thousands of booing fans.

Since last year, for instance, Aroldis Chapman has gone from closer for the Bronx Bombers to bullpen odd-man out to being left off the postseason roster—largely because, for whatever reason, he could not pitch a baseball with his onetime feared velocity, nor compensate with pinpoint location.

In the late 1990s, I got to see Plimpton at a lecture and book-signing event for his oral biography of Truman Capote, at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. I was glad to see that he was as wry in his remarks about the literary life as he was 3½ decades before about facing baseball’s greatest hitters.

(The photo of George Plimpton accompanying this post was taken on Dec. 12, 1977 by Bernard Gotfryd.)

Monday, October 24, 2022

TV Quote of the Day (‘The Addams Family,’ As Morticia Muses About Family Pets and Home Decor)

[An insurance salesman at the house discusses how to compensate the family for a loss.]

Gomez Addams [played by John Astin]: “We don't want money. What we want is another bear.”

Morticia Frump Addams [played by Carolyn Jones]: “What else could possibly go with our decor?”

Joe Digby [played by Eddie Quillan]: “The bear may be a little hard to come by. How about a lion?”

Morticia: “We already have one.”

Digby: “Stuffed?”

Morticia [eyeing the animal as it enters the living room]: “Well, he is after he's had his dinner.”—The Addams Family, Season 2, Episode 28, “The Addams Policy,” original air date Mar. 25, 1966, teleplay by Harry Winkler and Hannibal Coons, directed by Sidney Lanfield

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Photo of the Day: Misty

The photo accompanying this post is one of the few you’ll see from my somewhat distant past: the 1980s, as it happens. It shows not merely a constant presence but a constant source of joy for our family: our Sheltie, named Misty.

“A beautiful dog,” a friend observed when he saw this photo. Yes—and, much like others of her breed, playful, gentle, affectionate, and loyal, too.

In front of Misty is a tennis ball that she loved to chase, catch and toss in the air for my father. In another sense, though, the photo catches her in an uncharacteristic moment: at rest, rather than scampering around in the backyard or in a nearby park, as she enjoyed.

As happy as she was greeting all members of our family, she was devoted to none more than my father, who, especially after he retired, gloried in taking her everywhere he walked. 

He and my mom were especially heartbroken, then, when, after 15 years—with the last several marked by deteriorating health—Misty had to be put to sleep. No dog could ever replace her, they felt—and, in fact, they never had another.

“All Dogs Go to Heaven,” went the title of a 1996 animated film. If any canine belongs up at the pearly gates, it’s surely Misty. Twenty-five years after leaving us, I hope she’s still spreading happiness.

Quote of the Day (W.H. Auden, on Evil and Imagination)

“Evil…has every advantage but one—it is inferior in imagination. Good can imagine the possibility of becoming evil…but Evil, defiantly chosen, can no longer imagine anything but itself.” —English poet-critic W.H. Auden (1907-1973), “At the End of the Quest, Victory” (review of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Return of the King), The New York Times, Jan. 22, 1956

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Quote of the Day (Adlai Stevenson, on ‘The Size of a Man’)

“You can tell the size of a man by the size of the thing that makes him mad.”—Illinois Governor, Democratic Presidential nominee, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson II (1900-1965), “Faith in Liberalism” (Address to the State Committee of the Liberal Party in New York City), Aug. 28, 1952

Friday, October 21, 2022

Quote of the Day (Finley Peter Dunne, on How Irish-Americans Took to American Football Over a Century Ago)

"I seen th' Dorgan la-ad comin' up th' sthreet yesterdah in his futball clothes,--a pair iv
matthresses on his legs, a pillow behind, a mask over his nose, an' a bushel measure iv hair on his head. He was followed by thee men with bottles, Dr. Ryan, an' th' Dorgan fam'ly. I jined thim. They was a big crowd on th' peerary,--a bigger crowd than ye cud get to go f'r to see a prize fight. Both sides had their frinds that give th' colledge cries. Says wan crowd: 'Take an ax, an ax, an ax to thim. Hooroo, hooroo, hellabaloo. Christyan Bro-others!' an' th' other says, 'Hit thim, saw thim, gnaw thim, chaw thim, Saint Alo-ysius!' Well, afther awhile they got down to wur-ruk. 'Sivin, eighteen, two, four,' says a la-ad. I've seen people go mad over figures durin' th' free silver campaign, but I niver see figures make a man want f'r to go out an' kill his fellow-men befure.”—Irish-American journalist and humorist Finley Peter Dunne (1867-1936), “Mr. Dooley on the Game of Football,” in Mr. Dooley in Peace and in War (2001)

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Quote of the Day (Steve Jobs, on Why ‘Creativity is Just Connecting Things’)

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while." — American inventor, designer and entrepreneur Steve Jobs (1955-2011), quoted in Dylan Love, “Steve Jobs' 13 Most Inspiring Quotes,” Business Insider, April 13, 2014

(The photo accompanying this post, of Steve Jobs showing off the iPhone 4 at the 2010 Worldwide Developers Conference, was taken on June 8, 2010 by Matthew Yohe.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Quote of the Day (Irving Howe, on American Culture’s ‘Indifference to the Past’)

“American culture is notorious for its indifference to the past. It suffers from the provincialism of the contemporary, veering wildly from fashion to fashion, each touted by the media and then quickly dismissed. But the past is the substance out of which the present has been formed, and to let it slip away from us is to acquiesce in the thinness that characterizes so much of our culture. Serious education must assume, in part, an adversarial stance toward the very society that sustains it—a democratic society makes the wager that it’s worth supporting a culture of criticism. But if that criticism loses touch with the heritage of the past, it becomes weightless, a mere compendium of momentary complaints.”—American editor and social and literary critic Irving Howe (1920-1993),The Value of the Canon,” The New Republic, Feb. 18, 1991

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Quote of the Day (Coventry Patmore, on Why ‘The World’s Course Will Not Fail’)

“For want of me the world’s course will not fail:
When all its work is done, the lie shall rot;   
The truth is great, and shall prevail,   
When none cares whether it prevail or not.” — English poet and literary critic Coventry Patmore (1823–1896), “Magna Est Veritas,” in The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse, edited by Arthur Quiller-Couch (1922)

Monday, October 17, 2022

Movie Quote of the Day (‘The Great McGinty,’ on Politics Without Graft)

Skeeters [played by William Demarest, pictured right with Brian Donlevy]: “If it wasn't for graft, you'd get a very low type of people in politics. Men without ambition. Jellyfish.”

Catherine McGinty [played by Muriel Angelus]: “Especially since you can't rob the people anyway.”

Skeeters: “Sure.” [Doing a double-take.] “How was that?”

Catherine: “What you rob, you spend, and what you spend goes back to the people. So, where's the robbery? I read that in one of my father's books.”

Skeeters: “That book should be in every home.”— The Great McGinty (1940), screenplay by Preston Sturges, directed by Preston Sturges

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Spiritual Quote of the Day (St. Paul’s Epistle to Timothy, on What to Seek)

“Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.”—1 Timothy 6:11. (New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition)

(The 1612 image accompanying this post, Apostle St. Paul, was painted by El Greco, and hangs in Museo del Greco, Toledo, Spain.)

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Photo of the Day: Downtown Tree in Autumn, Englewood NJ

A late dear friend of mine who had moved to Florida said once that one reason why she missed the Northeast was the chance to see all four seasons, especially fall. After the sometimes brutal heat of the summer this year, autumn, though not yet in its mature beauty, arrived a bit earlier than I expected, but I’m just fine with that.

Though it’s best to see the changing colors in the countryside, it can surprise you even in a suburban downtown, as it did with me on Dean Street this morning in my hometown of Englewood, NJ. It was still early in the morning when I took this photo, just before shoppers would come out in droves.

Quote of the Day (Dave Davies, on the Rocky Genesis of a Kinks Classic)

“I never thought that song [“Dedicated Follower of Fashion”] would lead anywhere when he [brother Ray Davies] brought it along – it sounded overly frivolous to me, and we went through hell trying to finish a take. Ray couldn't find a way of realising the sound he had in his head, nor communicating what he wanted to the rest of us. We tried different combinations of guitars, and even a version with barrelhouse piano. But none of this satisfied Ray, and eventually we stumbled towards a solution through trial and error. The folksy mood of those earlier attempts did not necessarily make for a clean fit with Ray's sardonic lyric and it was decided that the guitars needed to be clanky and mechanistic, like George Formby's cheeky ukulele sound, then – bingo! It worked.”—Kinks lead guitarist Dave Davies, Living on a Thin Line: The Autobiography (2022)

Friday, October 14, 2022

Movie Quote of the Day (‘Love at First Bite,’ With Dracula’s Big Come-On Uncharacteristically Rebuffed)

(Count Dracula, having been seized by love at first sight for flaky blond supermodel Cindy Sondheim—whom he believes is the current reincarnation of Mina Harker—sits down at her table to make his best case.)

Count Dracula [played by George Hamilton]: “I love you, and can give you eternal life.”

Cindy Sondheim [played by Susan Saint James]: “Shit! I knew it! An insurance salesman. I’ve already got Prudential.”

Dracula [haughtily]: “I am Count Dracula. I don’t sell life insurance!”

Cindy: “Well, don’t get so hostile! You walk over here and start to tell me you love me. How can you possibly love me? You don’t even know me. Maybe the only thing you know is that I don’t want to get married.”— Love at First Bite (1979), screenplay by Robert Kaufman, directed by Stan Dragoti

Dragoti knew about blond supermodels all too well: he was married, in the Seventies, to perhaps the biggest one of the time: Cheryl Tiegs.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Quote of the Day (Lionel Trilling, on ‘Moral Realism’)

“[M]oral realism [is] …the perception of the dangers of the moral life itself. Perhaps at no other time has the enterprise of moral realism ever been so much needed, for at no other time have so many people committed themselves to moral righteousness. We have the books that point out the bad conditions, that praise us for taking progressive attitudes. We have no books that raise questions in our minds not only about conditions but about ourselves, that lead us to refine our motives and ask what might lie behind our good impulses.”— American literary critic, short story writer, essayist, and Columbia University professor Lionel Trilling (1905-1975), “Manners, Morals, and The Novel,” in The Liberal Imagination (1950)

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Quote of the Day (Mike Lupica, on the Increasingly Tangled Tale of Herschel Walker)

“One more thing about [onetime Heisman Trophy winner and current Senate candidate] Herschel [Walker]? I’m really starting to worry about just the sheer logistics of what next Father’s Day are going to be like for this guy. The more you read, the more you think he hooked up with everybody except Stormy Daniels.”—Columnist Mike Lupica, “Shooting From the Lip,” New York Daily News, Oct. 9, 2022

Stormy Daniels? Please! Don’t go giving the guy any more ideas!

(The photo accompanying this post, showing Herschel Walker at the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship Playoff Fan Central, was taken Jan. 6, 2018, by Thomson200.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Quote of the Day (Irwin Shaw, on ‘The Reward of the Storyteller’)

“There is the reward of the storyteller, sitting cross-legged in the bazaar, filling the need of humanity in the humdrum course of the ordinary day for magic and distant wonders, for disguised moralizing that will set everyday transactions into larger perspectives, for the compression of great matters into digestible portions, for the shaping of mysteries into sharply edged and comprehensible symbols. Then there is the private and exquisite reward of escaping from the laws of consistency. Today you are sad and you tell a sad story. Tomorrow you are happy and your tale is a joyful one.” —American fiction writer and playwright Irwin Shaw (1913-1984), Short Stories: Five Decades (1978)

Monday, October 10, 2022

Quote of the Day (Mark Shields, on Avoiding Losing Candidates)

“People come up with very creative excuses why they can’t be with you when you’re losing. Like ‘my nephew is graduating from driving school,’ and ‘I’d love to be with you but we had a family appointment at the taxidermist.’”— TV political commentator and former Democratic campaign strategist and Mark Shields (1937-2022), quoted in Clyde Haberman, “Mark Shields, Political Analyst Known for His Sharp Wit, Is Dead at 85,” The New York Times, June 19, 2022

(The accompanying photo of Mark Shields was taken May 19, 2010, by DC_Rebecca from Washington, DC.)

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Simone Weil, on Needing to ‘Empty Ourselves of Our False Divinity’)

“We live in a world of unreality and dreams. To give up our imaginary position as the center, to renounce it, not only intellectually but in the imaginative part of our soul, that means to awaken to what is real and eternal, to see the true light and hear the true silence...To empty ourselves of our false divinity, to deny ourselves, to give up being the center of the world in imagination, to discern that all points in the world are equally centers and that the true center is outside the world, this is to consent to the rule of mechanical necessity in matter and of free choice at the center of each soul. Such consent is love. The face of this love, which is turned toward thinking persons, is the love of our neighbor; the face turned toward matter is love of the order of the world, or love of the beauty of the world which is the same thing.”— French essayist and philosopher Simone Weil (1909-1943), Waiting for God (1950)

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Movie Quote of the Day (‘Batman,’ on Madness and Tempting Fate)

“Tell me something, my friend. You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?”—The Joker (played by Jack Nicholson) to Bruce Wayne/Batman (played by Michael Keaton), in Batman (1989), directed by Tim Burton, story by Sam Haam, screenplay by Sam Haam and Warren Skaaren, based on characters created by Bob Kane

Friday, October 7, 2022

TV Quote of the Day (‘The Office,’ As Dwight Cries Foul Over Favors)

Dwight Schrute [played by Rainn Wilson] [to camera crew]: “Can't a guy just buy some bagels for his friends, so they'll owe him a favor which he can use to get someone fired who stole a co-manager position from him anymore? Jeez, when did everyone get so cynical?”—The Office, Season 6, Episode 9, “Double Date,” air date Nov. 5, 2009, teleplay by Charlie Grandy, directed by Seth Gordon

Thursday, October 6, 2022

Quote of the Day (Alfred Lord Tennyson, on Words and His Grief)

“I sometimes find it half a sin,
To put to words the grief I feel,
For words like nature, half reveal,
and half conceal the soul within.
“But, for the unquiet heart and brain,
   A use in measured language lies;
   The sad mechanic exercise,
Like dull narcotics, numbing pain.”— British poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892), “In Memoriam” (1850)
Alfred Lord Tennyson died 130 years ago today. As part of his duties as poet laureate, he wrote verses made for public occasions, such as “Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington” and “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” Even his Idylls of the King, his poetic retelling of the Arthurian legend, may be regarded as a warning to his countrymen on the responsibilities and dangers posed by their growing empire.
Since my college days I have been fond of the latter, and even more so of “Ulysses,” a poem of resolution, commitment and courage, even in the face of the unknown—uncharted parts of the world, or the human spirit’s response to aging and mortality.
But over the last couple of years—since the start of the pandemic, actually—I have felt a greater connection to a poem in a more private vein: “In Memoriam,” his profoundly moving elegy for his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, who died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage in Vienna in 1833, aged 22.

Most famous for its closing verses"'Tis better to have loved and lost/Than never to have loved at all"the poem is a far more profound symbolic and philosophical consideration of sorrow over a lost friend. The shy Tennyson ended up with a profound sense of gratitude for how Hallam drew him out of his shell when they were college classmates at Cambridge.
The pain of the loss was so profound—and, I suspect, Tennyson’s frustration at not finding the adequate words to describe his grief was so deep—that the poet did not publish this meditation for another 17 years after his friend’s death.
What led me to reconsider this poem that I first encountered 40 years ago? My own experience.
I was lucky enough not to lose someone close to me in my youth the way that Tennyson did. But age brings a reckoning to anyone lucky enough to live well into middle age.
The loss of my parents was hard, but I could console myself with the thought that they had been graced with very long lives. It was a far different matter when, starting in December 2020, I lost five good friends of roughly my age within the space of 13 months.
I couldn’t understand why all these people had died decades younger than their parents had been at their time of their passing. I couldn’t understand why I would no longer be able to talk to these people I’d shared so much with. I couldn’t understand why such good people could be gone for good.
Like Tennyson, I have found words unequal to the tasks I’ve assigned them—to console the relatives of these friends, or to summarize, as much for others as for myself, what we have collectively lost.
Yet, like the poet, I find that words do have their value in a time of sorrow, though not just “Like dull narcotics, numbing pain.”
Words bring a semblance of sense and control to minds that, because of the limits of human understanding, still struggle with the wounds and shocks of mortality.
In trying to understand what a single death meant to me, words have become a daily means of reevaluation and rededication to all that I will hold beyond price for the rest of my own days. In using words to explain why I valued these friends, I found a way to formulate what I valued.
As much as any poet I can think of, Tennyson explored the physical, psychological, and spiritual dimensions of coming to grief. When I think of what each of my deceased friends represented, I keep coming back to the infinite value of a single life in the eye of a higher power—or, as Tennyson put it:
“Oh yet we trust that somehow good
Will be the final goal of ill,
To pangs of nature, sins of will,
Defects of doubt, and taints of blood;
“That nothing walks with aimless feet;
That not one life shall be destroy'd,
Or cast as rubbish to the void,
When God hath made the pile complete;
“That not a worm is cloven in vain;
That not a moth with vain desire
Is shrivell'd in a fruitless fire,
Or but subserves another's gain.”

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Quote of the Day (Henry David Thoreau, on a ‘Tolerable Planet’)

"What is the use of a house if you haven't got a tolerable planet to put it on? — If you cannot tolerate the planet that it is on?"— American essayist, naturalist and poet Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) in a letter to Harrison Blake, May 20, 1860, in Familiar Letters, edited by F. B. Sanborn (1865)

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Quote of the Day (David Halberstam, on the Suburban World of the Cleavers and Nelsons)

“In this world the moms never worked. These were most decidedly one-income homes….These families were living the new social contract as created by Bill Levitt and other suburban developers like him and were surrounded by new neighbors who were just like them….In the Cleaver family of Leave It to Beaver, the family always seemed to eat together and the pies were homemade. June Cleaver, it was noted, prepared two hot meals a day. The Cleavers were not that different from the Nelsons, who had preceded them into the television suburbia: No one knew in which state or suburb they lived, and no one knew what Ward Cleaver, like Ozzie Nelson, did for a living, except that it was respectable and that it demanded a shirt, tie, and suit….As Beaver Cleaver (a rascal, with a predilection for trouble), once told June Cleaver (who was almost always well turned out in sweater and skirts), ‘You know, Mom, when we’re in a mess, you kind of make things seem not so messy.’ ‘Well,’ answered June, ‘isn’t that sort of what mothers are for?’”— American journalist and historian David Halberstam (1934-2007), The Fifties (1993)

Sixty-five years ago today, the official first episode of Leave It to Beaver premiered, with two crucial casting changes from its pilot in the spring: Hugh Beaumont took over as Ward Cleaver and Tony Dow as Wally, the older son of Ward and June. 

As David Halberstam’s analysis in the above passage shows, it was too much to expect much in the way of reality from Leave It to Beaver, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, or the other two major family sitcoms of the late Fifties and early Sixties, Father Knows Best and The Donna Reed Show. These series offered escapism, a flight from sordid reality, the same way that the suburban viewers they primarily appealed to had sought it in fleeing from the ills of the city in the postwar world.

Nowadays, those black-and-white images are bathed in nostalgia, even set in amber in a world where parents were not only “respectable,” unquestioned paragons, but adults never quarreled for long or broke up for good--or where adults as a group never aged, let alone died.

More than a few baby boomers, watching Leave It to Beaver in either its original run or (like me) in reruns, felt reality intrude on our memories when we heard the news several weeks ago of Tony Dow’s death. A talented, gray-haired, 77-year-old artist passing on? Nah. He’ll always be the cheerful, good-natured older brother who always looks out for you.