Friday, June 17, 2011

All the fun of travel without ever leaving the airport

What follows is a slighted redacted version of my sister’s blow-by-blow description of her latest adventure traveling.
Background: She takes the bus down from Portland, and the parents go to Logan by cab. They rendezvous there at United Airlines, in order to fly to Chicago to watch their estimable & venerable godson/grandson graduate from Business school where he has learned how to find Free Food wherever it may be. It is time to go through Security, which in the 21st century has replaced cholera as a traveler’s best friend. We shall now switch to my sister’s voice:
• We get in line; there is only ONE line.
• Mom goes through first. She has a faux knee, which requires a pat-down after the scan. She goes ahead and has certain parts of her body patted down 'with the back of a hand". Dad and I are right behind her.
• I remove Dad’s shoes, which are double-knotted. Tightly double-knotted.
• I remove Dad’s belt. His pants start to descend. I will try to ignore this warning sign.
• I remove Dad’s jacket.
• I remove both wallets, one from each back pocket. He always carries two wallets – can anyone tell me why?
• He is called to go through the full body scanner. But he cannot do this because he physically cannot raise his arms above his head, and it is required to do this in order to be seen in one’s naked glory by the snickering TSA staff inside the Wizard’s black box.
• He steps out of the scanner and is sent through the metal detector machine. It beeps.
• I walk through the detector in order to re-check his pockets, and I unclip the volume control for his hearing aid.
• Have I mentioned that Dad is completely unsteady on his feet because they took away his cane, and he is walking in socks and has no feeling in his feet because of neuropathy? Well, he is.
• He goes through the detector again. It beeps again.
• I go through again and discover that his house keys are deep inside yet another pocket, and his watch is still on. I remove them.
• He goes through the detector again. It beeps. People behind us in line are getting agitated. Have I mentioned that there is only ONE line?
• I dig even deeper into his pockets and find a bag with extra hearing aid batteries and a used handkerchief. Have I mentioned how much I enjoy rooting around in my father’s business in the middle of Logan airport? No? That is because I was not enjoying this one bit.
• Dad goes through again. He doesn’t beep.
• Now I get scolded for going through the x-ray and must go back out the detector so I can go through the body scanner. The woman in charge of the scanner yells at me because I have my boarding pass in my pocket. I remove it, put the by-now radioactive boarding pass between my teeth, raise my hands above my head, and get scanned. I hope someone out there is enjoying this.
• I am sent on my way, and I put Dad’s shoes back on, double knotting the laces. I put his belt back on, his jacket back on, and put all his items back in their appointed pockets.
• At the gate we find Mom awaiting us.She could use a nap.
• The flight is delayed due to thunderstorms. We have excellent molded plastic seats at the gate, allowing us to watch the sky darken and the planes taxi.
• Six and a half hours later we are told we can board. We are on the gangplank. The pilot emerges from the plane and announces that there is no way he is flying in ‘that weather’ and besides, he is ‘timed out.’ We return to the gate.
• Thirty minutes later the flight is officially canceled.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Swarm étude

Just when you think you have your day organized and that you are well situated to accomplish all your allotted tasks, something happens. Sometimes it’s a volcano that fills the airspace with resplendent ash or a tornado that sends you scurrying to the dank cellar. Another time it’s a surprise communication from a man you knew forty years ago, and with whom you behaved badly. Regrettably. Yesterday it was a swarm.
The call came as I was reading and making notes about the fractious friendship between Henry James and H.G. Wells. I kept seeing the two men as “the unsexed and the oversexed”, though that is not how the literary rivalry was discussed in the critical context. Esther in Tarrytown said that the bees were swarming, this very minute, and gathering on the crabapple right next to their stone terrace. CSB was not answering his phone. I told her that I could keep trying his phone and that one of us would get there momentarily. I found him, and we did.
The bees were indeed collecting on the crabapple. Often a swarm will alight on a branch and then hang down in a teardrop shape; when this happens all we have to do is snip off the branch and shake the bees into the awaiting hive box. But these bees were wrapped around the tree trunk, so there was no snipping to be done. How could we encourage them to relocate to the hive box we placed atop a white sheet at the base of the tree? We had not brought our bee brush with us, but luckily I was able to borrow a basting brush from Esther. Kneeling beneath the tree I gently brushed the bees downward, and they came. Initially I wasn’t wearing my bee veil, but then I got stung right between the eyes. (This was unfortunate since I generally assert to anyone who will listen that when bees swarm they are not at all defensive and so you will never get stung. The bees that stung me missed that directive.) So I put on my bee veil and the netting kept getting snagged on the crabapple branches, making it harder to see than it is anyway when wearing a veil. And glasses.
The afternoon was waning, and certain tasks could not be ignored, not even for a swarm. So Imogene slipped back inside through the French doors and started practicing her oboe, an elegiac piece, and the bees streamed down towards the hive box, creating a shimmering and undulating new kind of bark. Some bees stood outside the box, upraised their tails and fanned outward the queen’s delicious pheromones, to lure in any stray sister. Would a clarinet have pleased them just as well? A fiddle?

Re Issues constitutional

The bad news is that CSB’s truck (performing valiantly as ever, delivering a chicken coop to Brooklyn) received not one but two tickets while parked overnight on the street.
The good news is that it is now possible to protest parking tickets on-line, thus obviating the lengthy trip into the city, the probable acquisition of yet another ticket, and the even lengthier wait in Traffic Court. I write as one not unacquainted with Traffic Court.
In case this happens to you, I thought you might like to see what I wrote, on CSB’s behalf, to the NYC Department of Finance, Parking and Vehicles Section, regarding our two (2) parking violations, which are not really parking violations but citations for an expired inspection sticker. But still, they carry a hefty fine.
I would like to have this violation dismissed because:
1. While my son-in-law was borrowing my truck, he parked it on the street and it was ticketed for an expired inspection sticker TWICE IN THE SPACE OF 32 MINUTES. This seems excessive. Also excessively punitive. Since there is no possible way the truck could have gotten inspected in 32 minutes, this perpetration of double jeopardy seems to be the linchpin of a transparent and craven policy by the Brooklyn police to target exurban vehicles to raise revenue for their city. I feel confident that there are several articles in the United States Constitution prohibiting this sort of targeted taxation without representation.
2. The truck was satisfactorily inspected immediately upon return to Hastings on Hudson, our bucolic home. I can supply a copy of this inspection, if you would like.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Shared birthdays, deathdays

It must be poetic justice* that the birthday of my friend Becky Rice (she of Christian Scientist* upbringing who often chastises me for over-frequent references to the saints) falls on the feast of two early Christian martyrs, young virgins both, who suffered particularly gruesome martyrdoms. The ways in which Becky does not resemble Saints Felicula and Aquilina are so numerous as to make one suspicious.
Saint Aquilina was born in the 3rd century in Byblos, the oldest continuously–inhabited city in the world. (Unless you are speaking with a Damascene, who will knife you if you deny his city’s pre-eminence.) Becky was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, which was inhabited by the Mohicans from about the 16th century until 1738 when a wealthy Bostonian acquired all the land for a subdivision. When President Teddy Roosevelt visited Byblos he suffered intestinally; when he visited Pittsfield his barouche collided with a trolley car. At the age of 12, Aquilina was arrested by Diocletian’s minions and threatened with torture if she did not deny her faith. Naturally she did not deny her faith - if she had we would not be reading her story – and so was subsequently beaten, had her ears pierced with red-hot needles, and then tossed into the water. Aside from voluntarily piercing her earlobes, Becky’s story in no way follows Aquilina’s. When she was rescued and completely healed by a nearby angel, Aquilina foolishly returned to her tormentors to make a point; this time she was decapitated and stayed dead. Though when her head was separated from her neck, milk rather than blood streamed forth. Not only has Becky never been decapitated, defenestrated or even garroted, if that were to happen, she would surely bleed blue blood.

Saint Felicula’s foster-sister was Saint Petronilla, who does not resemble Becky’s sister in any way: Petronilla was locked in a tower by St Peter after he cured her of palsy & then she died on a hunger strike. She could not ski.
Though Becky has had some odd husbands and boyfriends, none can aspire to the unseemliness of Count Flaccus who, when rejected by Felicula, sent her to a dungeon to suffer seven days without food or drink. Becky sometimes misses breakfast, but it is safe to say she would find seven days a real challenge. After her sojourn in the dungeon, Flaccus had Felicula sent to the Vestal Virgins for re-education. They were unsuccessful. Following that, Felicula was suffocated in one of Rome’s city sewers. Though I have tried valiantly, I have not managed to convince Becky to join me on a search for the legendary albino alligators of the NYC sewers. The albino alligators have more in common with today’s 2 saints, than does Becky, in that they are apocryphal. See Snopes/Urban Legends.

Just how much have I stretched the limits of your credibility (also known as gullibility, see Appendix 45.8) by writing this? What do these saints have in common with the birthday lady? Only history will tell.

* Like Christian Science which - and I was not the first to say this – is neither Christian nor Science, poetic justice is rarely poetry and hardly just.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Seeking connections where there arguably are none

I am trying with little success to figure out what moral or advice Rep. Anthony Weiner (he of such profoundly bad taste in the matter of How to Pursue a Relationship with a person of the Opposite Sex while married to another person of the Opposite Sex) might glean from the story of St Wulphy (or Vulflagius), a happily married man with three daughters who lived in the dark ages before designer underwear and the social media.
Wulphy (d. 643) was such a good man that when the priest in Abbeville died, the local inhabitants asked Wulphy to take over as pastor. He agreed to do this and even agreed to cease marital relations, as they are so quaintly called. But his happy marriage soon trumped his pastoral inklings, and he resumed the above-mentioned marital relations. But then he felt guilty, so stopped again and went on a Pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
St Wulphy’s relics remain enshrined in picturesque Montreuil-sur-Mer, so perhaps the caddish Weiner might visit them when he pays his respects to the plague victims of 1596 and visits the museum featuring Madame Mary Wooster’s personal collection of Limoges bidets.

H.G.Wells update:
Tales of Wonder is quite good. The Invisible Man is a bit too hysterical for me. I am also enjoying the completely biased biography of H.G. by Anthony West, his son by Rebecca West. I have an Excel file to keep track of all his affairs, amours and trysts. I have no idea when he found time to write.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Why H.G.Wells, or What is Missing

So the venerable and august Literature Club’s theme for 2011-2012 will be “Literature as a Lens of History”. Initially I wasn’t at all clear what was meant by this topic (having missed a key meeting, apparently) but I quickly overcame that difficulty. It means whatever one wants it to mean. That is the beauty of many of our Literature Club themes.
When the theme was “20th Century Masterworks”, the programs ranged from Kingsley Amis to Gertrude Stein to the 13 volumes of Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage. In our year of “Seeds of Self,” we heard papers on such disparate characters as Sylvia Plath, Mabel Dodge and Kim Philby. It is true I might have had a hard time making a case for Balzac when the theme was “Voices of Islam”, but I did manage a paper that discussed Virgil and Nick Flynn when the topic was “Science and Literature.”

So what literature shall cast its lens on what history?
I am considering, H.G. Wells, and my family history.

Now I often start my research with a look at what the Encyclopedia Britannica (15th edition) has to say, because a) It is a good place to begin, b) they list sources, c) the articles are well written, and d) I feel relatively confident that the articles are unprejudiced and unbiased, which is not always the case with Wikipedia (though I am also a fan of Wiki) because in Wiki, devotées or disciples can write entries about their favorite person, book or battlefield. How do I know this? Because my devoted son wrote the Wiki entry for yours truly.
So I went over to the encyclopedia shelf to find the final volume (V to Z), and ..... it was not there.
The row of tomes ended with Volume 18, Taylor to Utah. I have searched high and low, in all the places where an encyclopedia might find itself (attic, wine cellar, under the bed, laundry basket, next to the observation hive) and others spots less likely, and I have not found it.
CSB has been enlisted to the cause, he too has sought the errant volume, in places too vertiginous for me, and also in vain.
We are flummoxed and bamboozled. We are at a loss and at sea. How can a single volume of the encyclopedia be missing? And no, I would not have loaned it to someone. I am not that sort of person.
It’s not just the salient facts about Herbert George Wells that are missing. That is bad enough, but the true state of affairs is far worse. We are also missing the Vatican, venereal diseases, verdigris and volcanoes. We are lost without wages, Wales, wallpaper, Walloon literature, Whig, wig and writ. Where are Xanthippe and x-rays? We are desolate without yachting, yak, yeomanry and Yiddish. But worst of all, we have nowhere to turn for Zacatecas, Zend-Avesta and Zero.
If you have seen this final volume of the Britannica, Vacuum to Zygote, please tell me where it is. There will be a reward: I will share with you everything I learn about H.G. Wells.

Why H.G.?
Wells is best known for his science fiction,and I don’t even like science fiction. I have tried to like it, or at least read it, because I am closely related to some benighted souls who really like sci-fi; but I have never succeeded. So why am I doing this?

Because my paternal grandmother (mentioned most recently in this blog in the tale of the mystery picture that turned out to be the Summer Institute for Social Progress) was passionate about H.G. Wells. At the time of her death she owned no less than 36 of his books, all showing the wear of multiple readings and bearing her tiny marginalia.
From the early 1930’s, when she and my grandfather separated (exact date unknown or untold), until the early 1960’s when she made the Vendôme Hotel on Commonwealth Ave in Boston her permanent residence, my grandmother traveled: she crossed the continent by trains, she crossed the ocean by ships and she crossed back, again and again. I know this because in the parental basement I found the ships’ manifests, from the S.S. President Coolidge, the S.S. Bremen, the S.S. Lapland, the S.S. Empress of Britain, the R.M.S. Caronia, the T.S.S. Nieuw Amsterdam, the Triple-Screw Pennland and so and on; I found a stack of menus from the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad (“Scenic Line of the World”); and I found her Intourist’s Pocket Guide to the Soviet Union and her 1933 receipt from the Hotel Astoria in Leningrad. I don’t know what she did when she got to Leningrad or Göteborg or Helsinki or Naples; all I know is that she read H.G. Wells repeatedly, as well as Theosophical tracts and Numerology books and books by Krishnamurti and Tagore, Rudolph Steiner and Oliver Schreiner.
So I will be tackling H.G. Wells, with trepidation. Aside from the unfortunate science fiction, many of his books have titles that make me nervous, titles that more than hint of a message, or even worse, a moral. Titles such as Will Socialism Destroy the Home? or God the Invisible King or Socialism and the Scientific Motive or Crux Ansata – An Indictment of the Roman Catholic Church or The Outlook for Homo Sapiens or A Year of Prophesying. You get the picture.
Having written the above, I have started with a very short book (98 pages) with the benign title of The Croquet Player. And I was encouraged to find the following sentence: “There were one or two sets of niceish people with whom a little light conversation was possible without entanglement.” And also delighted to read that the vicar, a key character in the story, presides over the church of Cross in Slackness.
Then I went to Crux Ansata, which, I am sorry to report, is the kind of diatribe that makes me want to actually defend the papacy and sale of indulgences.
I think my next effort will be First and Last Things.

It seems I am missing more than the final volume of the 15th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica.