R A L P H
The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and the Humanities
Special 100th Issue
"By the time I met him to do his admission history and physical, the pins and needles had reached his fingers, and he was having difficulty standing. He covered his anxiety with an engaging and sophisticated patter. "Guillain-Barré," he mused, "such a delicious mouthful, don't you think? Rather like a fine Bordeaux. 'Garçon, another bottle of Chateau Guillain-Barré '62, s'il vous plaît.'"
A Wonderful Story
Charles Wing Krafft
"Dear Mr. Toscanini, I listen to your broadcasts every Sunday night on the radio. I am an old man and I live alone with only my flock of sheep and my violin in a cabin high above Thompson Falls. It's been a long winter. The batteries to my radio are dying and my violin is out of tune. I wonder if you would be kind enough to strike the note of A next week so that when I won't be able to hear you any longer, I can play my violin until the Spring thaw when I can get to town again."
Swallowing the Rototiller
It was a different country then. Really. JFK was president and it wasn't yet morning in America. It was more like the evening before --- about cocktail hour. It wasn't quite the Sixties, though it wasn't the Fifties either. Nobody had any idea what was coming, least of all us. We were clueless. It was wonderful.
The Great But Unknown Pier-Luigi Zucchini
His "Pastrami Sonatæ," a series of seventeen thousand Cantatas for each feast day, were published between 1647 and the morning after. Many of these works have been lost, by sheer good fortune, but the fragments that remain mark Zucchini as a consummate master of the picayune. Scored for large forces (double choir, fat soloists, and military band obbligato) each work lasts no more than eleven seconds but seems much longer. The "Sonatæ" received several public performances, as a result of which Zucchini was deported.
Sam Goody Then and Now
I remember the New York Sam Goody record store at which I worked 25 years ago because it remains for me a symbol of a world that is gone. I'm surprised that I am still nostalgic for that peculiar moment in my life. Full of ridiculous quarrels and long, inexplicable feuds, "world" seems a pretentious description for the milieu over which Sam Goody presided (and in which I functioned) for a while.
You're about to look at me, and say, as everyone does, "We're all dying." True --- but my death sentence is very close to me right now; is sitting in my shoulder, as I write this. I have emphysema, and I find it harder and harder to breathe. I tire. The activities I loved so much --- playing my little bamboo flutes, gardening, dancing --- are getting harder and harder to do. You'll look at me, and say, as everyone does, "But you look so well!"
True. And you and most people are fooled. There's a special name for people like me; they call us "Pink Puffers."
Sex and Violence
And the Federal Communications Commission
L. W. Milam
I appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee in hearing in connection with license terms for broadcasters. Among my suggestions was one which would address the issue of sex and violence without the government having to venture into the delicate area of censorship.
In brief, I suggested that the FCC create a fee schedule which would be applied to each program that involved mayhem or explicit sexual content. I called it a "Sex and Violence Fee."
Each broadcast licensee would be required to keep a log of all programs in which contained, in all or in part, sexual innuendo, lewd and lascivious acts or descriptions, violence, and/or drug use. The FCC would create a fee schedule appropriate to such broadcasts.
Lie, Lie, Lie
For one year, I sat at a great polished sea of a desk and wrote one sentence, over and over and over again. I had published my first book, Polite Society, and this next sentence had to be perfect. Sometimes I wrote it one way, sometimes another, and often I read it to people and was hurt when they didn't clap. While this was going on, my mother read every Oprah pick, looking for pointers.
Then we headed out west, and I lost the sentence, or sold it, or gave it to the Salvation Army.
Letter from Uppland
I have before me the week's menu of specials at the Sven Duva Restaurant, near my location at the BMC. For an experienced world-traveller like myself, with a smattering of several foreign languages and a sharp eye for English cognates, these exotic Swedish dishes hold no terrors. For example, Tonsfisksallad med Sardeller och Oliver is obviously tunafish salad with sardines and olives, unless reference is being made to someone named Oliver. Spansk Bondomelett is obviously Spanish omelette with Bondo. And Pelotas en Salsa Roja is without a doubt baseballs in red sauce, although I am at a loss to explain what it is doing on a Swedish menu.
On my tenth birthday, my dad gave me two Pekin ducks. Since they looked exactly alike, I called them Kate and Duplicate. My sisters said no. "Their names are Pete and Repeat," they said. I was outvoted three to one.
We bonded easily --- not my sisters and me, but me and the ducks. They would follow me around the yard: me, then Pete, then Repeat, in single file.
The Owl and the Bluejays
He told me that the Bluejay was the only bird that will help another bird of a species different than its own.
I asked the Indian how they did this.
He said that the Bluejays will always surround a hungry bird, even an Eagle, and feed it.
My father was a doctor, a pediatrician. He was the kind we all long for today. Me, too. When I was little, I was aware of loving him. On Sunday morning, I would climb into his bed and curl up next to him. He had a sweet smell, and an interesting little tab of skin on his belly. I used to stare at it, and the words of a nursery rhyme ran through my head:
Old Mister Kelly
Had a pimple on his belly.
His wife cut it off,
And they ate it like jelly.
L. W. Milam
She claimed that she fell in love not with me but with the back of my head because in the tiny Warm Springs chapel they put the basses in front and the sopranos and tenors behind. She also may have been moved by my enthusiastic rendering of "Come to the Church in the Wild Wood, Come to the Church in the Vale."
On the lower floors, where the view through this wobbly glass offered something less than a lordly condescension over the squalor, the rich American and Japanese guests (who never showed up) would've been able to look directly into standard Chinese lives. They would have seen the natives hauling drinking water and sewage to and from a central pit, and slaughtering little black dogs for a month of soups. But these lower windows were discreetly covered on the inside with a kind of plasticky pre-fab tapestry depicting hybrid Buddhist/pop goddesses dancing flat-chested among pastel mountain streams.
Every time I think of cal, I think of warm, soft yum tortillas -- but I also think of whitewash, and Tom Sawyer, and that great song from World War I, sung by the "limeys" immersed in the gook of the front-line trenches. Can you hear them now, lying in their filthy, rat-infested dugouts, black with mud and ooze, poised for yet another battle of Ypres, singing loud and clear:
"Whiter than the whitewash on the wall,
Whiter than the whitewash on the wall,
Wash me in your water
That you wash your dirty daughter
And I shall be whiter than the whitewash on the wall."