Sunday, September 27, 2009


"You have to live in the now, and you make your now."

-- Suzanne Farrell, as quoted in The Washington Post, October 5, 2008

A profound observation, really. And the quotation has two provocative and evocative elements: the part before the comma and the part after the comma.

It reminds me of someone I knew 20+ years ago in New Jersey. He was a member of a 12 Step program. He would say, "The now. N.O.W. There's no other way." It took me in my denseness a while to get it.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

'This Is Water'

Bookstores grant me a galvanic pleasure bordering on the manic, or the erotic, or both. I want to draw in the delight of delicious words: by digestion, in morsels or by the mouthful; by injection; by osmosis, by obsessive-compulsive-disorder savant memory; by paper or electronic note taking. I am the kid in the candy shop with eyes as big as donuts.

Tonight I borrowed from the shelves a collection of W.S. Merwin poetry, a collection of poetry by Amber Tamblyn (Bang Ditto), The Complete Works of Michel de Montaigne (Everyman Library edition), and This Is Water: Some Thoughts Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life, by the late David Foster Wallace.

I sat down in the cafe and read some of Amber Tamblyn's poems. Very witty. Telling. Scathing. Confessional. I truly enjoyed one poem about hating haiku (not necessarily what you think) (actually, I read that while standing by the shelf, just as I earlier pored over Dinesh D'Souza's What's So Great About Christianity?, an apologia, as we used to say in Latin) as well as Amber Tamlyn's "Hate, A Love Poem," if I remember its title correctly.

But finances and time being what they are, I read David Foster Wallace's "manifesto" in one sitting. Was I borrowing? Or stealing? Rest assured, I felt little guilt. After all, I first encountered reading in a bookstore at City Lights Books, in San Francisco, in 1974. (You lie, Pawlie, or else why would you be writing about such issues?)

This Is Water is adapted from a commencement address David Foster Wallace gave in 2005 to the graduating class at Kenyon College. He never gave another such address, the book-jacket flap says. Someone decided to publish it, handsomely, after his death in 2008.

I had browsed through the book once before; this time I felt an urgent need to read through it. Not sure why.

And I freely confess I was rather floored by its title, This Is Water. [Some versions of this still float around the 'Net, but I felt better about linking you to a site for purchase of the "authentic" version of this pamphlet.]

Was it serendipity or unconscious connection to pick up this book, following on the heels of my last post, on water?

I once met David Foster Wallace very briefly, which is a semi-humorous story in itself for another time.

He died last year, a suicide. I found out about his tragic death after returning from a friend's wedding, in Ithaca, on a day that also happened to be my son's birthday (which is how I remember the exact day).

Many of those who eulogized David Foster Wallace (who happened to have Ithaca connections), this year and last, in The New Yorker, and on a PRI radio feature, spoke achingly of his gentleness and wit and understanding of American culture.

All of those things come through in this little gem of an essay, made all the more haunting and sad by its references to suicide.

I will not dare (or be so rude) to summarize This Is Water. I already feel like a cheapskate in not having bought it. I do not want to cheapen its message, or its delivery. (Not to say I can't buy This Is Water at some point, for myself or someone else or shave my head and give copies to pedestrians on South Salina Street.)

I can, however, report that I am glad I read it tonight, sitting in that cafe. Yes, it made me rueful (hey, if one can be rueful, can one also be rueless?). But it also made me a bit wiser.

Wrong word.





Thursday, September 24, 2009

L'eau de lune

"I read the news today, oh boy . . . "

Actually, I didn't read the news; I heard it on NPR. (Who reads news anymore anyway? Sad.)

The news I refer to is that scientists studying stuff brought back decades ago from the Apollo missions have found molecules of water (water-bearing minerals, more accurately).

One scientist said, "This is not your grandmother's water." It's not oceans, or even puddles, or even liquid. Nor is it solid or gas. It is something else.

And surprising.


One scientist said she was so surprised she thought her instruments needed to be calibrated.

Water. We thought we knew you. We thought we understood intimately this building block of life. In our thirst for knowledge, we thought the word "water" in its infinite connotations and denotations quenched something. We were cocksure that, well (pun intended), water was at least wet, and close to solid in the frozen north, as solid as "meaning." But, alas, Water, we hardly knew you.

Water. Just a word, just a concept.

And how many other watery definitions will slosh down the drain of certainty as our world, our cosmos, rocks us with surprise?

How many other words turn out to be just like, um, water?

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
-- William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616), "Hamlet," Act 1 scene 5

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Continental Drift: A Giantific Obsession

So, when I said to my older brother Richard, "Who is your favorite team?" sometime around the winter of 1954-55, and he said, "The Giants," that was it. Little did I know it was fresh after the Catch and the World Series upset sweep of the Cleveland Indians. Little did I know of the nascent obsession this would engender. Little did I foresee the frustration, angst, passion, and excitement. Willie was the key. It wasn't hard to be galvanized by his free-lance style, the basket catch, the cap flying. The elan. The sheer boyish abandon. I put up Willie Mays stickers on my bureau, began a scrapbook. When playing neighborhood baseball, I chose to be number 24 and was taunted. "But he's a nigger," the other kids would say. It stung. (I was already teased for being skinny with buck teeth.) I outwardly brushed it off: "I don't care. So what." I ran from the outfield (a hillock in a housing project) with my shoulders haunched, as if it was slightly painful to run like a gazelle. My arm was good. My outfield Mays fantasy was just that, a fantasy, though Adolphus Hampton once turned to me, a few years later, when we were hitting them out, and paid me a high compliment: "Boy, you got an arm on you." I was in reality more like Charlie Brown, with the ball sailing over my head. I imitated Willie Mays's grip of the bat, the thumb overlapping, his dug-in stance, his almost-one-handed swing. They left after 1957. "Stay, Giants, stay." The clipping in my scrapbook. Was it 11,000 fans at the Polo Grounds against the Pirates? I fought back tears. 1958. They left but I stayed with them. Mostly because of Willie. But where else would I go? as one of the disciples said to Jesus. I ordered brochures from the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. I was a virtual San Franciscan when we didn't say "virtual" like that. Three hours' time difference. Frustration. Morning paper. No late scores. Fortunately, the Stamford (Ct.) Advocate was an afternoon paper. WINS 1010 New York carried re-creations of the games. Les Keiter. I listened either on a transistor or at the Bendix that had tubes that had to heat up. Kenny Viola and I would call each other. "Did you bring out the rosary beads?" McCovey. Cepeda. 1962. Cuban missile crisis. Trouble at Ole Miss. Giants in the World Series against the hated Yankees, my other brother's team, my father's team. Watching Sunday afternoon Series games in a sea of AL fans who were open about their disdain of the NL's racial composition. WS rain delays. This after an exhilarating playoff win against the dreaded Dodgers, my friend Michael's team. We all really did argue over Mantle, Mays, and Snider. 1962. Everyone talks about Willie McCovey's line drive to Bobby Richardson, but I remember a catch by Tom Tresh before that as the killer. They carried Ralph Terry off the field. I was speechless. I don't recall my brother Jack taunting me; gallant of him. Many games at Shea. Marichal. Mays hits a homer at my brother Bobby's first Major League game. He tells me years later that he remembers Masanori Murakami's debut. road trips. A game in 1971 in Cincinnati. A trip to Candlestick in 1974. Autographs. I once sent a check for five or six bucks to Giants owner Bob Lurie, to give a seat to a poor kid. I was ashamed of those shamefully small crowds. Under 1,000? Get someone in those stands! A laughably quixotic move. Can you believe they cashed the check? Bud Herseth stops a move to not-so-far Toronto. 1978. Press pass to Pittsburgh. A copy editor playing reporter with a Giants hat on! No wonder Vida Blue, recently returned McCovey, Altobelli, Terry Whitfield, Montefusco were engaging and warm. No pretense of objectivity from me. My son Ethan and I having a catch ("Field of Dreams" got that phrase right near the ending) in the back yard; he misses, glasses flying off, imprint of the stitching on his forehead, ending his athletic career then and there. 2002. All set to write an emotional tribute, long-lost World Series love letter. Publish it somewhere. Finally. Nope. No such luck. 2003. With such a great wire-to-wire year, high hopes. Dashed by Marlins. And then a pilgrimage to 24 Willie Mays Plaza this year. 2009. Something overcame me when I heard that sentimental Tony Bennett song in the late afternoon, the water in the bay sparkling, the crowd filing out, buoyant. The bridge stoic and iconic. Something part arrival, part Mecca, part frustration, part holy. All parts gratitude. A sense of place. Not a stranger among strangers 3,000 miles away. A communal camaraderie. My wife, Beth, and my daughters Adrianna and Evelyn say, "What's wrong?" as I catch up with them, my face red and contorted. "Nothing's wrong. I'm just...It's good. It's all good." Eugenio Velez gives Adrianna an autograph. When I get back, I buy that Tony Bennett song on iTunes. It is said that the author John Updike moved from New York to Boston just to see Ted Williams play. I'd move to San Francisco just to see Tim Lincecum play, whose jersey my daughter wears, free of the taunts I had heard back in the "Father Knows Best" "Ozzie and Harriet" "Amos 'n' Andy" Fifties. 2009. You never know. Still alive. And kickin'. I am there. My DNA floats somewhere along Third & King, or DeHaro Street or Sacramento or Clay or Montgomery or California. Still alive.

Friday, September 11, 2009

hygienic errata, et cetera

Call me Neologist-Come-Lately (not Ishmael), but I am just learning a term dating back to 2001 or earlier:

data hygiene

I learned of a former colleague, now apparently very successful in a mercantile pursuit, who declares that she is "passionate about data hygiene and consistency."

Although you will charge me with non-data-related snickering (NDRS), I myself declare my affection for the term data hygiene. (I'm too lazy to care whether it should be italics or quotes or neither.)

Data hygiene is a bright and shiny, if slightly self-important, neologism. Apparently data hygiene refers to updating names and addresses of databases used for direct-mail.

Why, of course!

I'm sure it has branched out metaphorically into other meanings, its tendrils of connotation creeping like a verbal vine. (Stop vining! It's like kvetching!) (Who'd be interested in data hygiene? Well, accountants, bankers, the CIA, political spinmeisters, and pornographers, who would more likely lean toward unhygienic, or dirty data [UODD].)

Like me, this former colleague is a former copy editor, so who better for scrubbing data?

You might say that editors are verbal hygienists. Or hygienic redactors. Logocentric hygienists. Syntactical parers.

Mark Murphy said, "I myself brush my megabytes three times a day."

This a good one for Wordie.

Words. We'd be almost speechless without them. Or at least at a loss for words.

Monday, September 07, 2009

The Fruits of Their Labors

May all workers enjoy respite from their labors on this Labor Day. (The link provides a good precise history of Labor Day. We might subtitle this as "An Ode to Matthew Maguire" or "An Ode to Peter McGuire.")

Of course, not all get respite from work today in Labor Day America. I am at this moment surrounded by nurses, nurse's assistants, doctors, housekeeping staff, doctors, food staff, nurse practitioners, and a host of others who work today. Many others can't manage a day off or aren't allowed one: clergy, journalists, editors, newsroom folks, chefs, wait staff, servers, food service providers, convenience store clerks, gas station attendants, pilots, flight attendants, baggage handlers, toll collectors, police, sheriff's deputies, EMS personnel, the military, state troopers, maintenance staff, repair staff, taxi drivers, retail associates, software trainers, customer service reps, dispatchers, farm workers, rehab staff, entertainers, athletes, carnies, lifeguards, public transit workers, air traffic controllers, grocery store employees, artists, bloggers, on-air media staff and their support, power-generation staff, and countless others. Forgive all omissions.

I am grateful for the fruits of their (our) labors.

We are grateful.

And we should be grateful for the labor union movement.

It is fashionable to bash unions these days, especially from the right and from management types. The suits. The owners. Those in comfort in comfortable exurban enclaves.

And unions get bashed a lot in the health-care reform debate; they're a whipping boy. Sure, excesses have occurred, hence some imbalance, some resentment.

Imbalance? Resentment? Without the labor union movement, imagine the workers' life of the good old days, the less "socialist" days, the days of unfettered capitalism. So let us give thanks for paid holidays, paid vacations, 40-hour work weeks, sick leave, personal leave, and, um, health benefits. I'm sure all these benefits and more were called "socialist" and other words by those in power at the time they were proposed. Now we ALL benefit from these things, even union bashers, even management. (Incidentally, "socialist" countries led the way on Labor Day itself [we got the idea from Canada, and Europe was ahead in its worker reforms].)

Happy Labor Day to all.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Pthe Pawline Pneumonia Pchronicles

So around 3 a.m. today one white-haired Emergency Department (ED) doctor, Dr. Seely, placidly pronounces the words "a touch of pneumonia" as the raison d'etre for my being admitted to Crouse Hospital, and minutes later the similarly white-coiffed, Brooklyn-born Dr. Kaplan sounds a shade more doubtful, using words like "infiltrate," as a noun, to describe stuff in my lungs, stuff which induced gagging, air-inhibiting, breath-obstructing coughing, which were the reasons for the trip to the ED way back at 10:15 p.m. Friday. Breathing is such a simple and effortless and shall we say natural thing -- when it works. Struggle with it for just a few moments and its currency rises faster than the price of gold during financial tumult (cf. my choking incident earlier this year). Not being able to breathe because of coughing, stamping one's feet, chasing, chasing for the unfound way to stop the spasm of repetitive coughing evokes fear and panic for the participant and those around him. To the point when it was my young daughter, crying, who insisted on some real action here, folks, c'mon! Insisted. Rightly so.

I surrendered.

Hearing the doctor's (or doctors' if you figure in the broader analysis of both snow-cropped docs) diagnosis was actually a relief. (Why a "touch" of pneumonia and not a splash or dash or stain or Everglades swamp, huh?) Even more so, being ordered to stay in the hospital provided more relief, despite the fears of structural and procedural errors and the abundance of even newer germs to be found in the place. Relief because there are worse things than hearing "pneumonia" as your problem. I shall not list those. Granted, the Big P is serious stuff, and in yesteryear, before antibiotics (the triumph of science, Ethan!) were common, pneumonia claimed many, especially the young and the old. So, I respect it and do not belittle its power. Just ask Jim Henson. But, the diagnosis could be worse, far worse. Call it the Lung Is Half-Full Theory. HAHAHAHAHA! I experienced relief also because quite honestly I was loath [corrected, thanks to Mark Murphy, from the earlier wrong word, the verb "loathe"] to return home, frankly afraid to face the specter of another violent coughing jag. Wife and young daughter and I were not going to settle for some fake palliative. So this is the right place to be.

I must report I was a little cheesed off (thank you, Beatles -- John? Paul? -- on VH1 airing of Beatles Anthology for that expression reminder) by the triage nurse in ED who had earlier remarked glibly, "You're not going to die" as I was gasping for air in front of her unable to answer her administrative questions, sounding like a drowning sailor in Leonard Cohen's plaintive ballad "Suzanne." On the one hand, I can accept that her words were meant to pacify my panic, but it came off as dismissive. Excuse me, Ms. ED RN. You are not the Big Cosmic Cheese and do not have permission to make such breezy declarations about the breezy wheeze trapped inside my chest. Melodrama may not be called for on my part, but I do happen to have a pretty good sense about my body. Shucks, Ms. ED RN, be not so cavalier as I gasp in front of you like the common New Yorker magazine cartoon of the guy crawling in the desert looking for water but who sees a mirage. In this case, I was crawling for air and it was not a mirage. So there.

That was then. This is now. Respiratory therapy treatments have helped, as well as IV antibiotics (more to come at 4 a.m. and 6 a.m., ugh), as well as the care of nurses Allison, Cori, Amy, Carolyn, Allison, Amal, Maryann, Priscilla, Pauline, and Oksana (hope no one has been omitted), and Dr. Masood, as well as the calls by caring friends and family, and the heart-warming visits by Beth, Adrianna, Ethan, Jenny, Evelyn in absentia, Warren, Win, and Timmy [sorry I missed you] (hope no one has been omitted).

I expect to go home Monday.

This from the Online Etymology Dictionary:

1603, from Mod.L., from Gk. pneumonia "inflammation of the lungs," from pneumon (gen. pneumonos) "lung," altered from pleumon "lung," lit. "floater," from PIE *pleu- "to flow, to swim" (see pulmonary). Alteration in Gk. perhaps by influence of pnein "to breathe."