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The Illustrated Man

The Illustrated Man  by  Ray Bradbury

The Grand Master Editions  Bantam Books  1951   186 pages

I am very glad I did not take the time to read this in graduate school when I was researching tattoos. More than one person suggested this book because the “illustrated man” is heavily tattooed, yet the book has nothing to do with him. I don’t even know why Bradbury went to what little trouble he did to include him at the beginning of what is essentially a collection of short stories. A tattooed man wanders place to place in search of a job. He comes upon a young lad whom he befriends and explains that his tattoos tell the future. At night the tattoos move. The tattoos are a curse placed upon him by a witch. Each tattoo tells a story, and if one looks at him long enough, he or she will become one of the tattooed stories. Even though the boy is asked not to, he stares at the man’s tattoos all night as the tattooed man sleeps. Each tattoo shows us the story that we have before us. Each tale is pretty short, so this book would be a good “before going to sleep” book. Most of the stories have to do with spaceships and intergalactic travel. Each story also seems to hint at a moral of some kind. I will give you the name of each story, some best bits, and its synopsis.

  1. The Veldt This is one of my favorites since it puts the kids in charge of their own world. What they do with it is gruesome! The Hadleys have allowed technology to take over their life. It spoils their children and kills the parents.
  1. Kaleidoscope A philosophical piece regarding looking back at your life and wondering what it was all for. How did you use your time? Did you live or dream about living?
  1. The Other Foot People of color were shipped to Mars as Earth began a nuclear war. Twenty years later a white man came to visit and let them know that Earth was destroyed. The Martians had plans to subjugate the man like the way of life in America, but when they learn of the fate of the Earth, they feel the man has been punished enough.
  1. The Highway A theme of atomic war again and the thought of being so far removed that you don’t know or even understand the news.
  1. The Man Of searching, belief, skepticism, and faith. What would you think if Jesus actually returned? Would you dismiss it? Believe? Follow him? Laugh?
  1. The Long Rain On Venus there is only rain. It makes all visitors crazy.
  1. The Rocket Man I really liked the following passage that described the mindfulness a child needs from his/her parent:.

“‘Let’s hear it,’ he said at last.

And I knew that now we would talk, as we had always talked, for three hours straight. All afternoon we would murmur back and forth in the lazy sun about my school grades, how high I could jump, how fast I could swim.

Dad nodded each time I spoke and smiled and slapped my chest lightly in approval. We talked. We did not talk of rockets or space, but we talked of Mexico at noon, seeing the hundred butterflies sucked to our radiator, dying there, beating their blue and crimson winds, twitching, beautifully, and sad. We talked of such things instead of the things I wanted to talk about. And he listened to me. That was the thing he did, as if he was trying to fill himself up with all the sound he could hear. He listened to the wind and the falling ocean and my voice, always with a rapt attention, a concentration that almost excluded physical bodies themselves and kept only the sounds. He shut his eyes to listen. I would see him listening to the lawn mower as he cut the grass by hand instead of using the remote-control device, and I would see him smelling the cut grass as it sprayed up at him behind the mower in a green fount.”

What is it like to be an astronaut with a family? He is caught between two worlds. He loves his family and space equally. Eventually, the father/astronaut is killed in space. The wife began pretending he was dead long ago in preparation for this eventuality.

  1. The Fire Balloons This passage is good:

“‘I wonder–’ Father Peregrine mopped his face. ‘Do you think if we called Hello! They might answer?’

‘Father Peregine, won’t you ever be serious?’

‘Not until the good Lord is. Oh, don’t look so terribly shocked, please. The Lord is not serious. In fact, it is a little hard to know just what else He is except loving. And love has to do with humor, doesn’t it? For you cannot love someone unless you put up with him, can you? And you cannot put up with someone constantly unless you can laugh at him. Isn’t that true? And certainly we are ridiculous little animals wallowing in the fudge bowl, and God must love us all the more because we appeal to His humor.’

‘I never thought of God as humorous,’ said Father Stone.

‘The Creator of the platypus, the camel, the ostrich, and man? Oh, come now!’ Father Peregrine laughed.”

On the next page there is some more good stuff:

“And again, Independence Night, thought Father Peregrine, tremoring. He felt like a child back in those July Fourth evenings, the sky blowing apart, breaking into powdery stars and burning sound, the concussions jingling house windows like the ice on a thousand thin ponds. The aunts, uncles, cousins crying, ‘Ah!’ as to some celestial physician. The summer sky colors. And the Fire Balloons, lit by an indulgent grandfather, steadied in his massively tender hands. Oh, the memory of those lovely Fire Balloons, softly lighted, warmly billowed hits of tissue, like insect wings, lying like folded wasps in boxes and, last of all, after the day of riot and fury, at long last from their boxes, delicately unfolded, blue, red, white, patriotic–the Fire Balloons! He saw the dim faces of dear relatives long dead and mantled with moss as Grandfather lit the tiny candle and let the warm air breathe up to form the ballon plumply luminous in his hands, a shining vision which they held, reluctant to let it go; for, once released, it was yet another year gone from life, anther Fourth, another bit of beauty vanished. And then up, up, still up through the warm summer night constellations, the Fire Balloons had drifted, while red-white-and-blue eyes followed them, wordless, from family porches. Away into deep Illinois country, over night rivers and sleeping mansions the Fire Balloons dwindled, forever gone…”

Missionaries thought they were going to bring Christianity to the Martians, but they ended up learning from them.

  1. The Last Night of the World Everyone has the same dream about the world ending. It seems so logical that everyone just accepts it.
  1. The Exiles Best bit: “Mr. Poe’s face was weary; there were fire coals remaining, fading, in his eyes, and a sad wildness in the way he talked, and a uselessness of his hands and the way his hair fell lanky over his amazing white brow. He was like a satan of some lost dark cause, a general arrived from a derelict invasion. His silky, soft, black mustache was worn away by his musing lips. He was so small his brow seemed to float, vast and phosphorescent, by itself, in the dark room.”

The thought that authors cannot live beyond their works. When their books were censored and destroyed, the authors would disappear from the face of the Earth.

  1. No Particular Night or Morning Best bit: “‘Why should I hold onto things I can’t use?’ said Hitchcock, his eyes wide, still staring into space. ‘I’m practical. If Earth isn’t here for me to walk on, you want me to walk on a memory? That hurts. Memories, as my father once said, are porcupines. To hell with them! Stay away from them. They make you unhappy. They ruin your work. They make you cry.’”

A man goes crazy out in space. If something is not physically interacting with him he believes it doesn’t exist.

  1. The Fox and the Forest Time travelers try to escape their horrible war-torn world…but it’s not so easy to disappear into the past.
  1. The Visitor Sick people are exiled to Mars and find a man who can hypnotize them to see anything. Their possessive jealousy ends up killing him. No more escapism.
  1. The Concrete Mixer I made a note that I might like this one best. Martians visiting earth are not met with force but invited in. How slothful and unhealthy will they become? How fast will they become dumb like humans?
  1.  Marionettes, Inc. You can buy a look-alike so it can cover at home and work while you live your best life. But what happens when the clone wants you out of the way?
  1. The City A city once destroyed by men lays in wait for revenge. When men come they turn them into robots, load their rocket with disease and send them to Earth.
  1. Zero Hour Another version of kids wanting to kill their parents. An outside force recruits them because no one really pays attention to what they do.
  1. The Rocket How can a poor man afford space travel? Ask Mr. Bodoni.

Wonderland: Movie Review

Wonderland  2003  Rated R  1 hour 44 minutes  

Lion’s Gate Home Entertainment

Takes place in the summer of 1981. Laurel Canyon’s Wonderland Avenue was the scene of grisly murders. Porn star John Holmes was a prime suspect.

Actors:  Val Kilmer (John Holmes), Kate Bosworth (Dawn Schiller), Lisa Kudrow (Sharon Holmes), Josh Lucus (Ron Launias), Dylan McDermott (David Lind), Eric Bogosian (Eddie Nash), Carrie Fisher (Sally Hansen), Geneane Garofalo (Joy Miller). 

Directed by James Cox

For quite a while I have recognized that I have a harder time deciphering movies that employ multiple timelines that flashback, roll forward, land in real-time, roll forward, real-time, flashback…ey, yi, yi. Not only that, the story is told from two, at times three, points of view. Each point of view has a different take on what actually went down. Some people are lying and some people are telling the truth. Some characters are doing both. At movie time it is as if my mind goes into relaxation mode and multiple timelines make me work harder than I want. It’s irritating, but that’s just me. Give me a chronological tale anytime. So, when it comes to the 2003 movie Wonderland the cards were already stacked against it for my particular tastes. Four people were actually murdered in 1981 in Laurel Canyon. This makes me think of the Manson murders which are actually referenced when one of the detectives says the place was one of the most horrific crime scenes he’d witnessed in his entire career. That is where the comparison ends since there is no mastermind or brainwashing going on here; just out-of-control druggies who want a big score. I do like the setting of L. A. with its flash and desert landscapes but we don’t get much of that. Boisterous house parties? Check. Sleazy motels? Check. This is not the shiny side of Hollywood. This is the down-and-out, drug-addled, detective questioning type where you wish everyone would snap out of it.  It is somewhat interesting to learn about the real lives of porn stars, but almost instantly the character of John Holmes is someone you definitely do not want to know. Far from my favorite activity lies watching dumb characters consistently stay dumb and fumble their way through their lives.

While John Holmes (Val Kilmer twelve years after his spot-on portrayal of Jim Morrison in The Doors) was being “The King ” of porn, he obviously was not planning his future with a money manager or buying valuable land in California. Maybe he thought he could ride his massive train forever and not worry about the future. Come to think of it, this Holmes character shares many similarities with the characterization of Jim Morrison: always making self-defeating moves; being oppositional at every turn. Holmes is a cokehead and crack smoker and continues on this path for the entirety of the story. His wife has already left him and although they are still married, he treats his current lover, Dawn Schiller (the beautiful Kate Bosworth) in exactly the same manner. Although he is done making the porn that broke up his marriage, he has become an unhinged druggie and Dawn puts up with it. Holmes is such an out-of-control addict that he burns every drug dealer in town which forces his hand to become involved with Eric Bogosian’s character, Eddie Nash (aka “The Arab”). Just to be on the safe side, you probably don’t want to depend on The Arab for anything. Why would Holmes’s peers put him in charge of making a drug deal with The Arab? He’s totally unreliable and keeps stringing the group along as they beg for their next fix. At one point Holmes sends his girlfriend into The Arab’s house alone. Why? The motive is never established. There was once a short duration when Holmes and Dawn were broken up. You know what psycho addicts do? They call your parents every night when they can’t find you and say they love you and shit like that. In one of these timelines, but after the hit on The Arab’s house, Holmes visits Nash very casual like as if nothing is out of the ordinary. They take him hostage and threaten to track down his family. Holmes is just a stinking pile of idiot. Holmes lies to the detectives during questioning and lies to everyone else as well. During a flashback, we see that Holmes and his wife were actually in a good relationship until he had an epiphany one day that he could make money with his giant cock. He chose porn over his marriage and that is where it ended. After the murders, Holmes and Dawn escape to Florida where they live under assumed names. She eventually turns him in because god…he is such an asshole. There is no arc in character; he learns nothing. There are no redeemable character traits within Holmes. Although that makes him frustrating to watch, at least we didn’t have to live with him. John Holmes was never convicted; AIDS got him instead.

Another and perhaps stronger frustration with Wonderland is that the women in this movie are simply there for show. They play no part in the meat of the plot; it could have taken place without them. They have no agency and display no active thinking skills. When she is freaking out on the street surrounded by prostitutes, Sally Hansen (Carrie Fisher) picks up Dawn in an effort to take her home, clean her up and feed her but Dawn keeps calling for John. She wants John Holmes to come pick her up. This makes no sense; he’s not the one who saves her from the streets. Next, Holmes and Dawn are driving place to place for money and drugs. Dawn says she really has to pee but has been ordered to stay in the car. When she begs to pee Holmes hands her a Coke can so she can pee in it. And she does it! What the fuck is going on here? She’s a semi-drug-addicted semi-prostitute outside of a drug dealer’s house…pee anywhere! Holmes gets them a sleazy motel room but she doesn’t mind. Dawn begs him not to smoke crack, but he does anyway. Oh, well. She doesn’t want him to leave her alone in this crappy motel, but he does anyway. She ends up so bored that she smokes crack herself. I have to say that women who are in love with addicts will go to the ends of the earth for them, even if it doesn’t benefit them and it makes no sense. They will sometimes get addicted themselves and will make allowances for almost anything because they are in love. Dawn could have left at any time! She could have gone to a variety of places to get herself back on track but it doesn’t even cross her mind. At one point Dawn is asked (forced?) to go into The Arab’s lair to what? Case the place? Find the location of the safe? It is unclear why she went into Eddie Nash’s mansion (the biggest nightclub owner in L.A.) but the results are not good. She ends up being scrubbed in a hot bath while she stares off into space. This doesn’t make Dawn want to leave Holmes? Dawn, you don’t even really like drugs. Coke heads usually can’t get it up so why exactly are you torturing yourself? Dawn has somehow become friends with Holmes’s wife, Sharon (Lisa Kudrow). In a meeting with Sharon before questioning by the detectives, she tells Sharon that she did get away once. She went to Oregon and worked in health care. Then her parents began telling her that John was calling every night saying how much he loved her and to tell her good night. Dawn doesn’t get angry that Holmes is disturbing her parents. She doesn’t get livid that she still hasn’t completely gotten away from this loser. No! Oh, it is all so romantic how he just couldn’t forget her. She eventually takes his calls and boom! She’s back where she started. Dawn ends up lying to the cops and running away to Florida with Holmes as if they are going to get away with the botched everything. For whatever reason, six months later Dawn turns Holmes in and never sees him again. Just like many of us when we finally get over the “gotta have that bad guy/girl” phase, she grows up, moves back to the Pacific Northwest, starts a family, and writes a book. (I would much rather have met this Dawn Schiller.)

There is one bright spot in this entire wacky drugs and gun-toting world and that is the former (but still married) wife of John Holmes (Sharon) played by Lisa Kudrow. All of the characters have been so dumb and out of control that when Sharon comes on the scene with her no-nonsense attitude and sharp words you feel like shouting, “FINALLY!” She has enough emotional distance from John that she totally does not care that he has a girlfriend; in fact, she likes Dawn. She encourages Dawn to get out of this dysfunctional relationship. Pack all the bad things up in a box and leave it behind (like she did). Dawn admires Sharon and did attempt at one time to begin a better life, even working in the same field as Sharon. The best part is when Holmes comes to Sharon for help and is trying to convince her they can go into the witness protection program and run away. She says she doesn’t want to fucking run away with him. What the fuck are you talking about? “Are you going to fucking cry? Don’t cry, John.” Holmes’s trumped-up emotions have no effect on Sharon; she’s seen it a million times before. If Holmes were to call her parents every night she would fucking change their number. No wonder Kudrow took this role. She is the first woman who has any gumption and point of view in the entire movie. Since all we’ve been surrounded by are dimwits she shines bright like a biting diamond. She eventually pays Holmes off to permanently exit her life. She is never asked to testify against her husband but after his death reveals that she did see Holmes the morning of the murders. She maintains a relationship with Dawn Schiller.

All told, there are some fun moments like when crazy house party Ronnie takes an epic leap over a coffee table to land on Holmes’s chest. The fashion and music are fun and I really wish I’d been at that crowded house party although I would have been in the pool and not in the room with tweaking Ronnie drunkenly shooting antique guns.  There are some sped-up and split-screen transitions that look very cool. If you enjoy unhinged drug culture movies and don’t require chronological continuity, sex, gore, realistic goatees, or intellect, you may enjoy this flick. Three out of ten. Kudrow’s character earns all three stars.

Stream of consciousness synopsis with digging commentary:

John Holmes was the first porn star dubbed “The King”. “This is the story of what happened once the legend was over.”

Monday, June 29th, 1981 Hollywood Hills. Prostitute on street stands alone at 1p. She bites her fingernails while holding a Chihuahua. She cries and shakes while other prostitutes roam the street. VW bus pulls up. The girl, Dawn Schiller, (Kate Bosworth) is picked up by Sally Hansen (Carrie Fisher) but the girl wants her boyfriend, John Holmes (Val Kilmer) to come pick her up. Holmes: “Whatever it takes to get you back, baby. Whatever it takes.” He breaks out the coke as she starts to laugh. Mountains of snow. Snorting coke and having sex in the bathroom. 

Next, John makes Dawn wait in the car while he scores more drugs. She badly needs to pee so he hands her a Coke can. She doesn’t get out of the car to fucking pee? She pees in the Coke can? How dumb is this person? We’ve gotta turn what is in the briefcase into cash. John keeps hopping into rundown places to do skeezy things. Now in motel. He blocks the door. Smoking the coke although Dawn doesn’t want him to. He leaves. This is just what almost every female partner of an addicted man goes through. She doesn’t want him to do it, he does it anyway, then leaves her alone. 

Cool transition with split-screen and music. Now Dawn is smoking the coke in the motel room alone. A map shows John’s meanderings. Quick click views, split-screen. 

When he comes back it is daylight. He brings beer. He takes some unknown pills and drinks a beer for breakfast. John says he’s had an accident. Dawn hears on the news that four people have been found dead during the time John was missing. A detective says it is the most horrific crime scene he’s witnessed in his entire career, reminiscent of the Manson murders. 

Random guy in bar on the phone. Phone on other end of call is bloody and no one answers. Random guy has flashback of pointing a gun at a man. So far, all we know is that the random guy at the bar is calling his connected friend who says he’s going to take care of everything. The guy in the bar is having flashbacks of violent events. We have not been properly introduced to these two new characters. Eddie Nash (AKA “The Arab”) is played by Eric Bogosian. He steps off a plane. He’s the biggest nightclub owner in Hollywood. 

The bar guy is now at the crime scene wandering around. Blood everywhere. Detectives Nico and Cruise arrive. They’re just going to let a dude walk around a crime scene and break things and take things? What kind of cops are these? The bar guy’s name is Lind who ends up in the questioning room and he’s about to tell a story. Lind looks totally stupid. The costume department looked like they pressed on his goatee and his hair is so colored black it is fried. Right now he has on a do-rag with a sleeveless black t-shirt. He looks ridiculous. Why is his hair that black? Detective Nico (played by Ted Levine) is the actor who was the killer in Silence of the Lambs. If you spotted that in the first ten seconds you would be as good as my movie-watching partner. I don’t think many people can do that. Flashback to good times with drugs, girls, and money. Mr. Lind is trippin’ back to the good old days of house parties where all the chicks are hot and everyone is doing drugs. Bell bottoms, leather jackets, rock and roll, guns. In a house with a hundred and fifty people, Lind starts talking to his drunk friend, Ronnie, who is brandishing guns. “Hey man, you gonna sell those?” Ronnie says he’s been looking for a fence. Lind asks for a place to crash. There’s the couch. All of a sudden we see Lind making out with his girlfriend. What happened to the hundred and fifty people? Is this three days later when everyone is passed out or what? 

John Holmes is introduced to Dave Lind. Holmes has already established himself as the king of porn which the detectives know. This is of interest: male-on-male sexual intimidation. When gun-wielding Ronnie knows Holmes is at the party he publicly challenges Holmes to show everyone his penis. Holmes doesn’t want to show off his dick, but Ronnie shoots his pistol into the ceiling. “Show them!” Holmes does it. A girl looks to Ronnie, (not the owner of the penis) and asks, “Can I touch it?” So he doesn’t even own his dick? I like this little switcharoo even though it’s icky. Have a man sexually intimidate another male every once in a while. Why not? No wonder Holmes is a cokehead. 

Why did Holmes hang out at Wonderland? Because he had burned every other drug dealer in town. The detectives know Holmes as a scumbag, thief, bad news. Joy Miller (Geneane Garofalo) comes in and is tweaking on the couch. It is inexplicable why Garofalo even took this part. The guys need to go to The Arab because they can’t find drugs anywhere else. When Holmes doesn’t come back with drugs from The Arab, Ronnie makes a fucking epic leap over a coffee table and lands on Holmes’s chest. Ronnie gives Holmes a deal: the money or the guns in two days. “Now get the fuck out of here.” All these tweakers are around Holmes asking what is the deal with The Arab? When are we getting our shit? We just have to wait; he’s bringing it all in at once. The plot is becoming a little confusing because we are at the same time listening to Lind tell the cops this story, so it’s a nested tale. Lind is telling the cops and we are seeing the story in flashbacks. It is getting convoluted. 

Holmes draws a map to give his friends so they can break into The Arab’s place. They case the place. The more Holmes says a stash is hidden there, the more Ronnie wants to do it. Ronnie wants a big score so he can live in Maui. Earlier that day, Ronnie gave Holmes money to go to The Arab to get some shit. Bogosian as the Arab is surrounded by women, drugs, rock and roll. They wait for The Arab to go to sleep. They are loaded for bear. A gaggle of druggies break into The Arab’s house at 8a all coked up. The mayhem begins. Ronnie has The Arab by the hair. They want to find the safe. Lind discovers as the safe is opened that this is Eddie Nash…he did not know that. They take as much as possible and exit. Great ‘70s music with a smoggy L.A. in the background. Getting in the car with guns and other stolen goods. Pretty cool. Holmes was waiting back at the house. In this version of the story, Holmes was not involved in the hit. They are all excited when they return to the house with the loot. Everyone is kissing and hugging. Yea! A great Saturday morning. Seven kilos of cocaine, cash flying everywhere. Two, three, four hundred fifty thousand dollars. One ounce pure heroine. They are adding up the money. Five thousand quaaludes. Antique guns. Total take: one point two million. Everyone is clinking glasses. It was a good score and nobody got hurt. There is a strong Natural Born Killers feel to the scene where all the goods are being revealed. All the girls are excited. 

Here is where the rift begins between Holmes and the rest of the drug ring. Although Holmes sets it up and knows when the target is going to be out or asleep, the ring feels they are the ones who take all the risk and do all the hard work. They are the ones who go into the house with guns blazing. When they get back and Holmes wants his cut, they give him just a wee bit and Holmes doesn’t think that is good enough. Lind does some heroin as his reward while Holmes smokes crack. Do you want to see a guy take a shot of heroin in the tongue? Oh wait, no…that’s a pixie stick. It would have been cooler to take a shot in the tongue. Ronnie and Holmes argue until Ronnie throws a briefcase out the window, breaking it. Holmes leaves in a huff. Lind says when he saw the news on television he knew it had to be Holmes. The group becomes paranoid and begins to close ranks. Nobody gets into the house unless buzzed up. They have to keep a low profile. Holmes is the only one who knows about the Nash hit. He is the one who let Nash in and “got my butterfly killed.” When Holmes is all fucked up in bed with his girlfriend, she asks why four people are dead in a house that he’d talked about and taken her to before? Holmes is so fucked up he can’t really give a straight answer. Women are totally ineffectual in this film. 

LAPD breaks into the motel room and now Dawn is in for questioning. In a flashback, Dawn takes on an alias and goes into The Arab’s house and says, “What do you want me to do?” The Arab says to dance. The women in this film have no agency, no weapons, no thoughts, no free will, no vote. Holmes waits in the car freaking out because he’s sent his girl into no man’s land. The Arab says, “Touch me.” Despite this flashback, Dawn tells the cops she’s never met The Arab. Dawn and Holmes go to the motel. He is scrubbing her in a bathtub with bubbles. Drug addicts don’t usually have the wherewithal to stop at Walgreens for bubble bath.  Obviously, she didn’t just dance. She was violated in some way because she is being scrubbed with hot water and soap and she is staring as if disassociated.

July, 1981 Newspaper headlines. Lisa Kudrow  (Sharon Holmes) finally shows up. She’s reading the headlines in her house. Opens door to find Dawn and her dog. Kudrow is not happy to find Dawn has nowhere else to go. Sharon is mad at Dawn for still being with this loser creep. Dawn says she did get away when she went to Oregon. “I was a nurse, kind of like you.” I had a job, but he kept calling. Okay, here’s what psychos do. She is explaining to Sharon (her sister? The connection has not been established) that Holmes used to call every night. He used to call my mom every night and say, “Tell Dawn I love her. Tell Dawn goodnight.” He used to call every night. So eventually I took his calls. This is what weak women do when they date addicts. The advice Sharon gives her is put all the bad things in a box then you put them away and you get away. One of the detectives is going to take these two women to see Holmes. Why? One of my weak points in movie watching is getting easily confused with timelines. So, if we go forward in time, then backward in time, then we are current, followed by backward then forwards, I get confused. So I don’t know where in the timeline we are now. I know that some shit has gone down and these two women are with the detective. Maybe the detective is in real-time and they are going to see Holmes. Holmes and Sharon meet. Sharon says they have offered her a deal and she thinks she is going to take it. Is Sharon the first woman who has any sense in this movie? Holmes is trying to convince her that they can go into the witness protection program and run away. She says she doesn’t want to fucking run away with him. What the fuck are you talking about? “Are you going to fucking cry? Don’t cry, John.” OMG, they are married! No wonder Kudrow took this role. She is the first woman who has any gumption and point of view in the entire movie. Finally!

Old friend Bill comes in. Maybe an ex-cop? He comes to question Holmes in a separate room while other detectives listen in. Holmes says Lind is the liar, not him. OMG, I think Paris Hilton is on this yacht. This is where Eddie Nash introduces himself. “This is my boat!” This is Holmes’s first meeting with Nash. Flashback to Holmes trying to make a gun deal with Nash but Nash refusing. This is an alternate story of events where Holmes is with the group about to hit The Arab’s house. He is in the backseat and they create the map of the house. He doesn’t want to go in (contrary to the earlier related events). Holmes is giving an alternate story to what we’ve seen so far. The group wants Holmes to unlock the kitchen door and he does. In this alternate story, the group who comes back after the hit is trumpeting their success, answering the phone, telling everybody, using the drugs, living it up. Another Natural Born Killers knockoff scene of chaos where a girl punk band is blasting. The scene speeds and speeds.

Holmes calls Nash (after the hit?) and acts casual. Hey man, what’s going on? The Arab says come on up. Now when Holmes goes there they all know or suspect he was involved in the heist so they beat him up. The robbers do drugs all during the robbery and on the way out someone says, “John Holmes says hello.” The Arab is holding Holmes hostage and is looking up the addresses of his family members. “When they’re dead, I’m going to cut off your fourteen-inch cock and shove it down your throat until you are dead. You are going to do to those guys on Wonderland what they did to me.” 

After all this goes down, Holmes returns to his delinquent friends and says hello. Let me in. He does a couple lines and when he goes out he leaves the door ajar. Holmes lies for all the rest of the questioning session. No, I didn’t see them go in. No, I didn’t see them in the car outside. (From flashbacks we know he is lying.) Were you present during the murders? No, no, no. He doesn’t finger Nash and he doesn’t put himself at the scene. The detectives begin to piece together that Holmes set this whole thing up: a revenge murder that he wasn’t involved in. Sharon is willing to pay Holmes off to get him out of her life. She gets Dawn her dog back and gives Holmes money and is like, good riddance. Another flashback: Holmes drives to Sharon’s house in the middle of the night, his shirt red with blood. She discovers he has no wounds; it’s not his blood. Holmes confesses he killed (who?) so The Arab would not get her name…his black book. He insists he left before anything happened. We get backstory between Holmes and his wife and why they broke up. She loved him, but when he discovered that his dick could make him money he decided porn over her. That is where the whole thing broke up. In the flashback, Holmes goes to the house and is the one who, with a gun to his head, beats Ronnie’s wife. She ends up in the hospital.

End of movie script: “John Holmes and Dawn fled to Florida under assumed names. Holmes was arrested in Florida six months later and stood trial on four counts of murder. He never took the stand and was acquitted of all charges. He died of AIDS in 1988. David Lind served as lead witness in the state’s prosecution of John Holmes and Eddie Nash. Both trials ultimately ended in acquittals. Sharon Holmes was never asked to testify against her husband. After John’s death, she revealed that John had visited her the morning of the Wonderland murders. She maintains a close relationship with Dawn to this day. Susan Lenias survived significant injuries. She testified to remembering nothing more than shadows that night. Her whereabouts are unknown.” We see a car driving crazily into the desert. “Dawn Schiller escaped with John to Florida. She reported his whereabouts to authorities six months later and never saw him again. She has just finished a book about her experiences and lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and daughter. Eddie Nash was indicted in 2000. He pled guilty to federal racketeering. Charges including conspiracy to commit the Wonderland murders the night of July 1, 1981 and was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison. He currently resides in the greater Los Angeles area a free man.”  

A Hard Day’s Night: Movie Review

A Hard Day’s Night: Disc 1 Collector’s Series [rented disc from Netflix]

A review

1964  Directed by Richard Lester and often considered his best film

Comedy  Black and white  1 hour 32 minutes  Rated G

Starring: Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, George Harrison and Wilfrid Brambell 

    I don’t often choose a movie that is purely a showcase of talent, but that is the simple premise of A Hard Day’s Night. I quickly realized I wasn’t waiting on a plot to formulate; instead, I was merely asked to sit back and take in the mania and glory that was the Beatles. This movie came out before I was born so although I grew up with the Beatles, I did not go through the teen freakout of the 1960s that was Beatlemania. Viewing the movie today allows current pop culture explorers insight to the elements that made the band so beloved.

For current music lovers this movie is a great example of what “mania” really meant back in the day. The screaming girls often drowned out the songs they came to hear. One of the tropes of musical mania is a voracious mob of teen girls chasing their male idols in such a way that can amount to real pain! In the opening scene the band is running from a frenzied mob and Harrison bites the sidewalk in an obviously unplanned heap. The band duck, weave and hide in order to outwit their fans and end up escaping by train. We also see young teen girls losing their minds during the culminating “show” with close ups of their tears and hair pulling. They wave their scarves in a desperate plea for eye contact. This is a clear window through which modern music lovers can gaze at mania history and see how our mothers and grandmothers used to go insane. Although there is an innocence in that the girls are not up-ending bottles of Jack Daniel’s or passing joints around, there is a strong vibe of being totally unhinged and out of their minds. (The same thing happened to me when I saw Shaun Cassidy in the ‘70’s. I cried all the way home and didn’t know why. I know of what I speak.) Point is, these gals were rabid and would probably tear their idols limb from limb and scurry away with the pieces to place at religious altars to pop music to worship forevermore. A fellow viewer who was equally bowled over by the fanatical energy asked, “What do they hope to gain from this [chasing and pounding on escaping car windows]?” The only idea I could manage was, “A kiss?” More realistically (but totally unrealistically) the girls were most likely ardently wishing that their Beatle of choice would take one look at them, swoon, scurry her away to a gothic castle at which time he would get on bended knee to ask for her hand in marriage. Oh, she’s only thirteen? No worries; we’ll have a long engagement. That the members of the group were at least ten years their senior made no discernible difference to the fans. In a way it is creepy, yet it has been this way since time began. 

Another element the movie provides for young lusties is close up shots of their idols. When you are young and in love, you just can’t get enough of the images of your beloved. A Hard Day’s Night does not disappoint with director Richard Lester really getting the camera in close to revel in every drop of sweat and every tweak of the eyebrow. If young girls of the day could have only paused the movie they would have sat staring and crying while their parents and brothers left to eat dinner. The up close and personal approach is multiplied in one scene in which McCartney is singing and his cute little head is copied and repeated down the line as he sits next to multiple televisions. An added bonus comes at the end of the movie when a variety of headshots is displayed of each of the band members. Each band member sports a black turtleneck against a white backdrop and employs various expressions across multiple shots. The close up clarity and excellence of these photos may have caused a swoon or two while credits were rolling. I suppose movie theater staff had to call some parents for assistance at that point.

The peripatetic plot takes place over the course of two days while the band, one grandpa, and a couple managers travel to perform for a television audience. On the way we get to know each band member and as a bonus, they often spontaneously break into song. Getting to know them is pure pleasure. Although these guys were not trained actors, they have a natural feel and cadence to their dialogue and actions. I haven’t taken the time to look up and watch Beatles interviews from the past so I did not have a feel for each man’s personality. Each is comedic in his own way. The mood is light, fun and fast-paced. Wilfrid Brambell (he of gargantuan teeth and bespectacled shifty eyes) plays McCartney’s grandfather who, for unknown reasons, accompanies the group on their way to perform the TV appearance. One at first supposes he is there to play the straight man but we quickly learn he is cheeky and twisted in quite a different way than the others. One of the themes is that the band (and Grandpa) cannot be kept in hand; they are always running off like errant children with ADD. Supposed to be answering fan mail? No. They end up at a club dancing and drinking. Supposed to be prepping for the TV show? No. They have lost Ringo and are off to find him. The police, managers and television production crew play the exasperated “adults” who are continually aggravated by the group’s shenanigans.

The scene in which Grandpa is giving Ringo life advice is my favorite part of the movie and perhaps the only real conversation we can explore. They both end up at a diner where Ringo quietly sits reading a book. Grandpa, with his famous (and creepy) side eye, begins, “Would ya look at ‘em? Sitting there with his hooter scraping away at that book.” 

Ringo asks, “Well, what’s the matter with that?” 

Grandpa yanks the book from Ringo’s hands and asks, “Have ya no natural resources of your own? Have they even robbed you of that?”

“You can learn from books,” Ringo says, snatching the book back.

“You can, can ya? Bah. Sheeps’ heads. You could learn more by getting out there and living.”

“Like where?”

“Any old where! But not our little Richard…oh, no. When you’re not thumpin’ those pagan skins you’re tormenting your eyes with that rubbish.”

“Books are good.”

“Parading’s better.”

“Parading?”

“Ah! Parading the streets, trailing your coat, bowling along…LIVING!”

“Well, I am living.”

“You? Living? When was the last time you gave a girl a pink-edged daisy? When did you last embarrass a sheila with your cool appraising stare?”

“You’re a bit old for that sort of chat, aren’t ya?”

“Well at least I got a backlog of memories when all you got is that book!”

Ringo fights back. “Oh, stop picking on me. You’re as bad as the rest of ‘em.”

“Ah, so you are a man after all.”

“What’s that mean?”

Grandpa states, “Do you think I haven’t noticed? Do you think I wasn’t aware of the drift?” [This scene is enhanced by Grandpa moving about the diner in search of sugar while he doles out his advice.] “Oh, ya poor unfortunate scruff. They’ve driven ya into books with their cruel, unnatural treatment. Exploiting your good nature.”

“I don’t know.”

“Ah, sure, that lot’s never happy unless they’re jeering you. And where would they be without the steady support of your drumbeat? That’s what I’d like to know.”

Ringo agrees, “Yeah, that’s right.”

“And what’s it all come to in the end?”

Ringo beginning to turn, “Yeah. What’s in it for me?”

“A book.”

Ringo throws the book on the table. “Yeah. A bloomin’ book.”

“When you could be out there betraying a rich American widow or sipping palm wine in Tahiti before you’re too old like me.”

“Yeah, funny really, ‘cause I never thought but being middle aged and old takes up most of your time, doesn’t it?”

With a sad expression Grandpa says, “You’re only right.”

Ringo picks up his stuff and heads for the door. Grandpa asks, “Where you going?”

“I’m going parading before it’s too late.”

Out of ten stars I would give this a solid eight, especially if you are into pop music history, teenage mania and Merseyside/Liverpool-ish/”Scouse” dialect. Recommended.

Synopsis with light commentary and dialogue:

The movie opens with the band being chased through the streets until they escape by train. We discover their cute accents. We get our first evidence of magical realism letting us know that this story is in no way nonfiction. We see the guys leering inside a train window from outside the moving car; seconds later they reappear inside. We see a train passenger reading a Son of Mad magazine. Ringo says he plays the drums to make up for his short stature. They lock Grandpa in the luggage area, deal cards, then are suddenly playing a song with instruments that magically appear.

Next they arrive at a fancy hotel. Ringo asks if he snores. Paul says, “With a trombone like that it wouldn’t be natural if you didn’t.” Grandpa chides, “Paulie, don’t mock the afflicted. It may be a joke, but it’s his nose. He can’t help his great big hooter…and the poor little head tremblin’ under the weight of it.” The band manager commands them to stay in and answer pounds of fan mail, but the guys escape to a club while Grandpa finds a gambling hall. The manager has to round everyone up. Lennon ends up in a bubble bath with his hat on. When the water is let out John walks out of the bathroom perfectly dry. 

The band has a press conference where they are asked only dumb questions. A stage is being prepared but the guys perform a song before everything is ready. It miraculously sounds perfect. Instead of getting ready in the dressing room, the guys take the fire escape. These days they would use a drone, but there is a long shot from above that watches the guys run around an open green area. The manager laments that it is “a battle of nerves between John and me.” Everyone smokes cigarettes.

Next we see Harrison wander into a fashion office but says fashion is “grotty” and that trendsetters are “a drag.” Grandpa has a money making scheme by taking the band’s promotional photos, signing them, then selling them on the street. The band has no patience for wardrobe fittings or makeup. There is a great shot with Paul singing with multiple TV screens focused on his face. The Beatles knock a dance troupe off the stage to do another song. They have a one hour break. Lennon leaves with a girl. Now that Grandpa has filled Ringo’s head with “notions” they don’t know where to find him. Ringo is out on the town taking pictures. He buys thrift clothes for disguise and plays near the water. He talks with a boy who is skipping school then Ringo becomes a troublemaker at a pub and gets thrown out. The stage manager is freaking out: where is Ringo? He is found by the police and taken to the station. Grandpa is brought in too. (That’s what they get for parading.) The general consensus is that “all coppers are villains”, but then the cops offer their prisoners tea. Grandpa, with his wiley ways, escapes the cops and goes to tell the manager where to find Ringo. They make it just in time for the cure all: a cup of tea and then on to the show.

The Beatles perform three songs and break a sweat. We see long shots and close shots of the screaming female audience; not a boy in sight. With the fourth song Grandpa escapes his handcuffs and the theater. The band runs straight from the show to a waiting helicopter. The movie ends with headshots of each of the band members. They are all taken with a white background. Each band member sports a black turtleneck and employs various expressions. These are excellent photos.

The songs that we get to hear during the movie sound excellent and appear as follows:

“A Hard Day’s Night”

“I Should Have Known Better”

“I Wanna Be Your Man”

“Don’t Bother Me”

“All My Loving”

“If I Fell”

“Can’t Buy Me Love”

“And I Love Her”

“I’m Happy Just to Dance with You”

A Ringo instrumental called “This Boy”

An instrumental of “A Hard Day’s Night”

A reprise of “Can’t Buy Me Love”

A reprise of “I Should Have Known Better”

“She Loves You”

And the reprise/closing credits of “A Hard Day’s Night” 

Ethan Frome

 by  Edith Wharton

A Norton Critical Edition edited by Kristin O. Lauer and Cynthia Griffin Wolff

Ends with authoritative text backgrounds and contexts criticism

Ethan Frome

The narrator is curious about lonely and quiet Ethan Frome. He begins to learn a bit more when Frome begins giving the narrator rides to work.

1

We go back in time 24 years earlier

“The guests were preparing to leave, and the tide had already set toward the passage where coats and wraps were hung, when a young man with a sprightly foot and a shock of black hair shot into the middle of the floor and clapped his hands. The signal took instant effect. The musicians hurried to their instruments, the dancers–some already half-muffled for departure–fell into line down each side of the room, the older spectators slipped back to their chairs, and the lively young man, after diving about here and there in the throng, drew forth a girl who had already wound a cherry-coloured ‘fascinator’ about her had, and, leading her up to the end of the floor, whirled her down its length to the bounding tune of a Virginia reel.

“Frome’s heart was beating fast. He had been straining for a glimpse of the dark head under the cherry-coloured scarf and it vexed him that another eye should have been quicker than his. The leader of the reel, who looked as if he had Irish blood in his veins, danced well, and his partner caught his fire. As she passed down the line, her light figure swinging from hand to hand in circles of increasing swiftness, the scarf flew off her head and stood out behind her shoulders, and Frome, at each turn, caught sight of her laughing panting lips, the cloud of dark hair about her forehead, and the dark eyes which seemed the only fixed points in a maze of flying lines” (14).

“The face she lifted to her dancers was the same which, when she saw him, always looked like a window that has caught the sunset” (16).

Frome is beginning to care more for Mattie, his wife’s cousin, than for his wife.

II

I think Frome’s wife, Zeena, knows what is going on.

III

Zeena will be in town overnight to see a new doctor. Frome and Mattie will be alone.

IV

“There was in him a slumbering spark of sociability which the long Starkfield winters had not yet extinguished. By nature grave and inarticulate, he admired recklessness and gaiety in others and was warmed to the marrow by friendly human intercourse” (29).

“…the laughter sparkling through her lashes” (34).

A special dish is broken during dinner. When will Zeena learn of the broken dish and how it was being used over a flirtatious dinner?

V

Mattie and Ethan spend a quiet evening together, both too nervous to really do anything.

VI

All Ethan thinks about is Mattie though they’ve never touched or kissed. His wife has now returned. Ethan now has to secretly fix the dish they broke.

VII

Zeena finds the broken dish. Mattie confesses. 

VIII

Ethan is going to ask the Hales for an advance so he can run away but he changes his mind. He just couldn’t lie to them.

IX

“She clung to him without answering, and he laid his lips on her hair, which was soft yet springy, like certain mosses on warm slopes, and had the faint woody fragrance of fresh sawdust in the sun” (60). 

Zeena knows all…you can tell by the clues and the way she acts.

“…all their intercourse had been made up of just such inarticulate flashes, when they seemed to come suddenly upon happiness as if they had surprised a butterfly in the winter woods…” (63).

Mattie and Ethan stop by a shared memory space on the way taking her to the train. They share a sled ride down a long run and almost hit a tree. Mattie decides instead of parting that they should sled down the hill once again and that is when they hit the tree. They’d rather die together than part.

“…and her dark eyes had the bright witch-like stare that disease of the spine sometimes gives” (71).

Read this short novella to find out the juicy details! The story is only 72 pages long (in this version). Just an afternoon’s read. 

I didn’t read all of the background and context material (too boring), but I did find something of note in a piece by Carroll Smith-Rosenberg. Her essay is called “They Hysterical Woman: Sex Roles and Role Conflict in Nineteenth-Century America”

“Hysteria as a chronic, dramatic, and socially accepted sick role could thus provide some alleviation of conflict and tension, but the hysteric purchased her escape from the emotional and –frequently–from the sexual demands of her life only at the cost of pain, disability, and an intensification of woman’s traditional passivity and dependence.”

II

“The effect of hysteria upon the family and traditional sex-role differentiation was disruptive in the extreme. The hysterical woman virtually ceased to function within the family. No longer did she devote herself to the needs of others, acting as self-sacrificing wife, mother, or daughter: through her hysteria she could and in fact did force others to assume those functions. Household activities were reoriented to answer the hysterical woman’s important needs. Children were hushed, rooms darkened, entertaining suspended, a devoted nurse recruited. Fortunes might be spent on medical bills or for drugs and operations. Worry and concern bowed the husband’s shoulders; his home had suddenly become a hospital and he a nurse. Through her illness, the bedridden woman came to dominate her family to an extent that would have been considered inappropriate–indeed, shrewish–in a healthy woman. Taking to one’s bed, especially when suffering from dramatic and ever-visible symptoms, might also have functioned as a mode of passive aggression, especially in a milieu in which weakness was rewarded and in which women had since childhood been taught not to express overt aggression. Consciously or unconsciously, they had thus opted out of their traditional role.”

I do remember reading that back in the day when some husbands became increasingly unsatisfied with their wives, they would begin to make a case that the wife was hysteric or was losing her mind. In this way, they could have their wives committed against their will. They would leave their wives in asylums while they married new, younger wives. Can you imagine having to resort to hysterics in order to rest? We’ve come a long way, baby.

Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage

I read this book in the hopes of learning why more young people do not enter college. The relevant information is shared below. In brackets, I have placed brainstorming ideas on how to ease or combat a prohibitor to college entrance.

By K. Edin and M. Kefalas

Introduction

“…children of single parents are still at greater risk” (3) [therefore, we need to target single parents and their children].

“While the poor women we interviewed saw marriage as a luxury, something they aspired to but feared they might never achieve, they judged children to be a necessity, an absolutely essential part of a young woman’s life, the chief source of identity and meaning.”

“…a baby born into such conditions represents an opportunity to prove one’s worth” (6).

“…an expectant mother uses pregnancy to test the strength of her bond with her man and take a measure of his moral worth” (7).

“But this insistence on economic independence also reflects a much deeper fear: no matter how strong the relationship, somehow the marriage will go bad. Women who rely on a man’s earnings, these mothers warn, are setting themselves up to be left with nothing if the relationship ends.”

“…it means lifelong commitment.”

“…poor young mothers seldom view an out-of-wedlock birth as a mark of personal failure but instead see it as an act of valor” (9).

“…central tenet of good mothering can be summed up in two words–being there.”

“Millie’s experiences show why the standards for prospective fathers appear to be so low. The answer is tangled up in the young women’s initial high hopes regarding the men in their lives, and the supreme confidence they have in their ability to rise to the challenge of motherhood. The key to the mystery lies not only in what mothers believe they can do for their children but in what they hope their children will do for them.”

“In some profound sense, these young women believe, a baby has the power to solve everything” (10).

“…mothering role, how it can become virtually the only source of identity and meaning in a young woman’s life.”

“…they manage to credit virtually every bit of good in their lives to the fact they have children…”

“…poor urban neighborhoods that have seen the most dramatic increases in single motherhood” (11). 

“Forty-five percent had no high school diploma, but 15 percent had earned a GED. A surprising number, nearly a third of the total, had participated in some kind of post-high school educational activities such as college, nurses- or teachers-aid training, or cosmetology school.

“…almost half were neither working nor in school when we met them. Forty percent held low-end service-sector jobs at the time, working as telemarketers, childcare workers, teacher’s aides, nurse’s aids, factory workers, cashiers, fast-food workers, waitresses, and the like” (25).

One: “Before We Had a Baby…”

Early pregnancy causing parents to abandon education and move directly into low paying jobs. 

“Yet expressing the desire to have a baby together is far from a promise of life-long commitment.”

“…the bond that shared children create may be the most significant and enduring tie available.”

“…extraordinarily high social value the poor place on children” (31).

“While middle-class teens and twenty-somethings anticipate completing college and embarking on careers, their lower-class counterparts can only dream of such glories. Though some do aspire to these goals, the practical steps necessary to reach them are often a mystery.” [We need to take the mystery out of this process.]

“A childhood embedded in a social network rich with children–…creates the illusion of a near Dr. Spock-like competence in childrearing.”

“As talk of shared children is part of the romantic dialogue poor young couples engage in from the earliest days of courtship…”

“Some youth decide to begin trying to get pregnant so they can escape a troubled home life” (33).

“Children…Young women also hunger for the love and intimacy they can provide.”

“…pregnancy offers the promise of relational intimacy at a time few other emotional resources are available.

“Trust among residents of poor communities is astonishingly low–so low that most mothers we spoke with said they have no close friends, and many even distrust close kin. The social isolation that is the common experience of those who live in poverty is heightened for adolescents, whose relationships with parents are strained by the developmental need to forge an independent identity. The ‘relational poverty’ that ensues can create a compelling desire to give and receive lobe. Who better to do so with, some figure, than a child they can call their own” (34). [The need to build supportive communities to thwart emotional isolation.]

“…many young women come to see parenthood as the point at which they can really start living” (35).

“…nearly universal agreement that all children ought to have a sibling or two to play with” (36).

“The potent mix of social shame, self-doubt, and compelling desire leads to accidents waiting to happen” (39).

“These young women often reject the idea that children–or at least the first child–will damage their future prospects much” (40).

“So though their neighborhoods and schools offer plenty of examples of young mothers who had to leave school and face extraordinarily hard times, they still provide an ample supply of counterexamples–young unmarried women who have succeeded in doing well by their children, ensuring that they’re clean, clothed, housed, fed, and loved. Armed with these role models, they insist that it doesn’t take a college education, a good job, a big house, matching furniture–or a marriage license–to be a good mother” (41). [Could women in this situation provide mentor duties for various programs?]

“Children, whether planned or not, are nearly always viewed as a gift, not a liability–a source of both joy and fulfillment whenever they happen upon the scene. They bring a new sense of hope and a chance to start fresh.

“…the way in which a young woman reacts in the face of a pregnancy is viewed as a mark of her worth as a person. And as motherhood is the most important social role she believes she will play, a failure to respond positively to the challenge is a blot on her sense of self” (43).

“…most still view the termination of a pregnancy as a tragedy…Virtually no woman we spoke with believed it was acceptable to have an abortion merely to advance an educational trajectory.” [So it would be unwise to focus on reducing young pregnancies. We have to focus on what comes next.]

“In absolute terms, the poor have more abortions than the middle class, but that is because they also have more pregnancies” (44).

“In choosing to bring a pregnancy to term, a young woman can capitalize on an important and rare opportunity to demonstrate her capabilities to her kin and community. Her willingness and ability to react to an unplanned pregnancy by rising to the challenge of the most serious and consequential of all adult roles is clear evidence that she is no longer a ‘trifling’ teenager” (45).

[Could we capitalize upon this can-do attitude to include education and job training?]

“…poor young women grab eagerly at the surest source of accomplishment within their reach: becoming a mother” (46).

“…for these disadvantaged youth, a pregnancy offers young women who say their lives are ‘going nowhere fast’ a chance to grasp at a better future. Choosing to end a pregnancy is thus like abandoning hope” (47).

Two: “When I Got Pregnant…”

“A child is one of the few things a young man can say he has created and one of the few ways he can make an early mark on the world.

“Unmarried fathers who ‘step off’ of their responsibility to their children–as they often do–are still the subject of contempt in these communities” (60).

“…the mother’s own mother is often an integral part of the parenting team as well” (66). [Could recruit mother/daughter teams to school or family combos?]

“Thus, the tiny row homes of these crowded urban neighborhoods often house a revolving cast of characters that spans three, sometimes four, generations. In fact, nearly half of our mothers live in such households” (67). [So, would living independently even be a benefit?]

Three: How Does the Dream Die?

The goal remains to marry and attain a stable relationship. [Couples counseling? Individual training to set up expectations, boundaries, and communication skills? What if there were a system set up that when one man left, the single mother would be paired with another single mother as a resource? They begin to work as a team.]

“Lack of money is certainly a contributing cause…”

“Job insecurity is endemic…” (75).

“Over time, however, a chronically unemployed father proves too much for most mothers to bear.” 

“Money usually becomes an issue because he seems unwilling to keep at a job for any length of time, usually because of issues related to respect. Some of the jobs he can get don’t pay enough to give him the self-respect he feels he needs, and others require him to get along with unpleasant customers and coworkers, and to maintain a submissive attitude toward the boss” (76). 

“Young mothers regularly rail against young fathers who squander too much of their earnings on alcohol, marijuana, new stereo components, computer accessories, expensive footwear, or new clothing, while the needs of the family are, in their view, not adequately met” (78).

“These disagreements over the father’s work effort and spending habits cut right to the heart of the couple’s relationship because, for the new mother, his behavior with regard to money is an emblem of his dedication to the family. Financial responsibility is often the yardstick by which she measures his love for and commitment to her and the child. For young and impoverished mothers working to establish a stable environment for their children, the making and spending of money is much more than a matter of income and expenses, of budgets and balance sheets: it is a morality play. Few women expect their baby’s fathers to be the sole breadwinners, but they believe that good fathers should at least try to stay employed, work at a legitimate trade, and turn over most of their earnings to the family” (79-80).

[Need to work on male level of responsibility.]

“…mother usually points to far more serious offenses as the prime forces that pull their young families apart. It is the drug and alcohol abuse…criminal behavior…incarceration…repeated infidelity…patterns of intimate violence…drug dealing…” (81).

“Young mothers reject drug dealing for both symbolic and practical reasons. On a symbolic level, residents of even the poorest communities believe that a good father must earn his living by respectable means. While drug money may substitute for legitimate pay at times, mothers agree that it ought to be a stop-gap measure during financial crises, not a long-term career. Practically speaking, dealing drugs is simply not a family-friendly activity. For starters, most mothers believe that life in the trade will land their baby’s father in a cell or a casket–not the ideal scenario for the man they are relying on the ‘be there for them and the child” (82-3).

“Though middle-class mothers are only rarely investigated for child abuse or neglect, the poor are much more likely to be under the scrutiny of Child Protective Services, whose workers are sometimes derisively called ‘baby snatchers’ by mothers in the communities we studied. Second, mothers also know that dealers often become ‘their own best customer,’ and ‘druggies’ make poor parents as well as poor partners. Mickey told us, ‘The drugs he was selling he started doing, which was cocaine.’ Finally, even those raising children in the worst of urban neighborhoods want desperately to teach the right values. Thus, the only thing worse than a baby’s father who is trying to make a living on the corner is a son or daughter who ends up doing the same” (84).

“…a prison record is an ongoing handicap for a man struggling to be a responsible father and support his children” (86). [Do we need to build in support for the formerly incarcerated through job partners that accept and know how to work with these men?]

“…heavy drinking and an addiction to drugs…It is impossible to overemphasize the devastating impact of drugs and alcohol on the lives of the men in the eight communities we studied. Outside observers often find it impossible to ignore the public displays of these addictions, the men with bloodshot eyes drinking ‘forties’ on the stoops, the strung-out addicts huddled in doorways or weaving down the sidewalks. But the destruction these toxins wreak inside of the family is equally profound. Drugs and alcohol can quickly transform men who are valued partners and fathers into villains who threaten the well-being of the family” (87).

“The first evidence of an addiction to alcohol or drugs is often a startling change of personality, a dramatic reshuffling of priorities that results in draining precious economic and emotional resources from the family as the addiction ‘takes him over’” (88).

“Physical abuse can be just as corrosive of trust as repeated infidelity, and though it occurs across class lines, it occurs more often among the poor” (94).

“Domestic violence, the chief culprit in most stories of relational ruin, is more common among our Puerto Ricans and whites than among the African Americans. Part of the reason may be that African American mothers are less likely to cohabit with a male partner, and the lack of common residence could serve as a protective factor. Infidelity was an equal opportunity relationship wrecker. The third most common problem, criminal behavior, was a more prominent feature in the breakup stories of our African American mothers. Given the restricted legal labor market for unskilled black men, this is not surprising. Similarly, incarceration figured in the accounts of more African American mothers. …drugs are more likely to bring trouble with the law” (98).

“Women seem to welcome the social closure that a birth brings… Very often, though, the father seems to catch cabin fever.

“Fathers also get fewer rewards from their peers in their new status as a parent than mothers do.”

“The transition to parenthood means that the demands on young men dramatically increase just as the rewards of the relationship are radically reduced” (100).

“Many men respond to these pressures by returning to their street-corner associations in a relatively short period of time” (101).

Four: What Marriage Means

“Unlike women of earlier generations, poor women today almost universally reject the idea that marriage means financial reliance on a male breadwinner.” Maybe why more women are in college? “…they believe their own earnings and assets are what buys them power” (112).

“These women believe that getting married to a man and living off of his earnings practically ensures an imbalance of power they’ll find intolerable” (113).

“Poor young women who put motherhood before marriage do not generally do so because they reject the institution of marriage itself, but because good, decent, trustworthy men are in short supply. Though they hope for marriage and often hold it as a central goal, most are at least somewhat skeptical that it can be achieved” (130).

“They hold marriage to a high economic standard, one requiring as much from themselves as from the men they hope to marry. Even more important are the relationship standards they hold for marriage. Though many do find men who are seemingly decent, the mistrust generated by painful past experiences means that even the most hopeful mothers approach marriage with extreme caution. Marriage, which should be for life, requires all the thought and care in the world. In the meantime, they get on with the business of creating a family” (131). 

“Some have argued that the decline of marriage, which is most pronounced among the poor, can be traced to declining male wages. Indeed, men with a high school education or less have seen large losses in hourly wages over the last thirty years, and far fewer are able to find full-time, year-round employment. But it is clear from these stories that even if the employment and wage rates in these neighborhoods returned to their 1950s levels, in the heyday of Philadelphia’s economy, the marriage rate probably wouldn’t increase much. Though male wages for unskilled workers were higher in those days and jobs more plentiful, unskilled male laborers were not paid that well, and the nature of Philadelphia’s system of small craft production meant that even jobholders in the 1950s still faced a highly unstable job market.

“Most studies suggest that at best, declining male employment and earnings can only account for about 20 percent of the sharp downturn in marriage. Our stories suggest that many of the men who would have been considered marriageable in the 1950s would not be so today, for few 1950s marriages waited on the acquisition of a home mortgage, a car, some furniture, and two solid jobs. Even fewer 1950s brides insisted on monitoring their mates’ behavior over four, five, or six years’ time before they believed they could trust them enough to wed” (135).

“This does not mean that marriage has lost its significance, either for the culture as a whole or for the poor. The most fundamental truth these stories reveal is that the meaning of marriage has changed. It is no longer primarily about childbearing and childrearing. Now, marriage is primarily about adult fulfillment, it is something poor women do for themselves, and their dreams about marriage are a guilty pleasure compared to the hard tasks of raising a family. Though women living in disadvantaged social contexts often wish they could indulge in a marriage at the same time that they’re raising their children, it is simply not practical for most. If a marriage is to be lasting, it must have a strong economic foundation that both partners help to build, in which the woman maintains some level of economic independence. The couple relationship must also be strong enough to overcome the problems that so frequently lead to divorce, because marriage, which most still say is sacred, involves making promises–promises to be faithful and stay together for a lifetime. And as Deena Vallas puts it, most are not willing to make promises they are not sure they can keep.”

“…unless poor women can improve their own positions through education and work, they have no choice but to abandon the dream of marriage altogether or attempt to change the available men” (136).

Five: Labor of Love

“Spending time with their children is one of the most powerful tools women like Dominique feel they can use to shield their children from the dangers of their neighborhood’s streets.”  [Bring older kids to class?]

“Modeling a commitment to education…” (139).

“…The neighborhood is often the greatest impediment to their aspirations for their children” (149). [Providing on or near-campus housing for families during the length of their education. Home placement after graduation.]

[Both learning in the same classroom?] “These mothers often admit that their own difficult experiences with school make them tentative and anxious when dealing with teachers about their child’s academic progress. For a mother who still struggles with reading, her seventh-grader’s language arts homework may contain vocabulary words she has never heard. Likewise, a fifth-grade math curriculum may be beyond the capacity of a parent who struggled in school herself, leaving her ill-equipped to help with homework. Even many middle-class parents we know complain that they barely understand some aspects of their fifth or sixth grader’s math homework. Jasmine, thirty-eight, a Puerto Rican mother of two adult children and a four-year-old, who dropped out of school in the eleventh grade, worries in particular about math. ‘I’m lousy with math, and that’s the one thing I’m afraid of. I’m thinking, Am I going to be able to help him out with math?’ She says that when she was in school, ‘I didn’t have no one to [help me]. That’s why I struggled…I would just sit there [in math class] terrified.’”

“A central problem among the mothers we spoke with was how to reinforce the value of school to their children when they themselves had often not listened to their own parents in this regard. Mothers with histories of academic failure often find themselves in the awkward position of preaching the message ‘Do as I say and not as I do’ while they threaten, bribe, and cajole their children not to ‘mess up,’ urging them to ‘do better than Mommy.’ Paula, a Puerto Rican forty-year-old who did not manage to realize her dream of completing college, tries to encourage her fifteen-year-old to take a different path by pointing to the consequences of her own missteps and failures. ‘I want her to be more educated…I used to go to school [and] clown around a lot…check out the boys. And I never really paid attention to reading and all the spelling.’ At the same time that she tells these cautionary tales, she attempts to instill the high aspirations that she believes will motivate her child to do well. ‘You want a real good job making $40,000 to $50,000 per year. You want to be a doctor? You have to know how to read real good, spell real good and know your math real good.’ ‘Nowadays,’ she reasons, ‘if you want a job [even]…flipping burgers, you need a high school diploma” (153)! 

“A woman’s boy is meant to have children! Your breasts, your ovaries were given to you by God to bear children, not just to give a man sexual pleasure. It is selfish and wrong to be childless” (165)!

Six: How Motherhood Changed My Life

“…many unmarried teens bear children that are conceived only after they’ve already experienced academic difficulties or dropped out of school.”

“Poor youth are driven by a logic that is profoundly counterintuitive to their middle-class critics, who sometimes assume that poor women have children in a twisted competition with their peers to gain status, because they have an insufficient knowledge of–or access to–birth control, or so they can ‘milk’ the welfare system. Yet our mothers almost never refer to these motivations. Rather, it is the perceived low costs of early childbearing and the high value that poor women place on children–and motherhood–that motivate their seemingly inexplicable inability to avoid pregnancy.

“These poor young women are not unusually altruistic, though parenthood certainly requires self-sacrifice. What outsiders do not understand is that early childbearing does not actually have much effect on a low-skilled young woman’s future prospects in the labor market. In fact, her life chances are so limited already that a child or two makes little difference, as we document in the next chapter. What is even less understood, though, are the rewards that poor women garner from becoming mothers. These women rely on their children to bring validation, purpose, companionship, and order to their often chaotic lives–things they find hard to come by in other ways. The absolute centrality of children in the lives of low-income mothers is the reason that so many poor women place motherhood before marriage, even in the face of harsh economic and personal circumstances. For women like Millie, marriage is a longed-for luxury; children are a necessity” (172).

“…many mothers tell us they cannot name one person they would consider a friend, and the turmoil of adolescence often breeds a sense of alienation from daily as well.” [The need for peers and friends.] 174

Conclusion

Making Sense of Single Motherhood

“Providing more access to stable, living-wage employment for both men and women should therefore be a key policy objective” (219).

Moby Dick (or The Whale)

One may easily look at the novel Moby Dick (or The Whale) and think no way can I read that! That book is 568 pages! But what you don’t know is how funny and exciting it can be. The best thing is that the chapters are super short. I love when a novel has short chapters because you can choose to read for short spurts of time and still end with the chapter. This novel was written by Herman Melville in 1851. When you read Melville you somehow begin to believe that he is your long-time friend. Like Hugo’s Les Miserables, Melville can go off on a tangent. You will learn about whaling in the 1800s, but probably a bit more than you care to know. Still, since you have probably never been a whaler, it is interesting to learn about the process. 

On one of the front pages it reads: “The text of Moby-Dick in this volume is from The Northwestern-Newberry Edition of The Writings of Herman Melville, edited by Harrison Hayford, Herschel Parker, and G. Thomas Tanselle and published by Northwestern University Press and The Newberry Library, with the permission of the publishers It is an approved text of the Modern Language Association of America.” This is the Barnes and Noble edition from 1988. This volume comes with gorgeous artwork, yet too little of it! The illustrations were done by Mark Summers. There are also appendices: “Creating Moby-Dick” by Leon Howard, letter excerpts, reviews, “Rebirth” by Leon Howard, “The Chronology of Whales” (and whaling) by Ivan Sanderson, “Dictionary of Sea Terms” by Richard Dana, and “At Melville’s Tomb” reprinted from The Complete Poems and Selected Letters and Prose of Hart Crane.

I have included the names of each chapter because, as simple as they are, they amuse me somehow. Here are some of the best bits and broad chapter summaries. As per my rule, the last chapter remains a mystery until you read it for yourself.

Chapter One: Loomings

“What of it, if some old hunks of a sea-captain orders me to get a broom and sweep down the decks? What does that indignity amount to, weighed, I mean, in the scales of the New Testament? Do you think the archangel Gabriel thinks anything the less of me, because I promptly and respectfully obey that old hunks in that particular instance? Who aint a slave? Tell me that. Well, then, however the old sea captains may order me about–however they may thump and punch me about, I have the satisfaction of knowing that it is all right; that everybody else is one way or other served in much the same way–either in a physical or metaphysical point of view, that is; and so the universal thump is passed round, and all hands should rub each other’s shoulder-blades, and be content” (4).

“…this the invisible police officer of the Fates, who has the constant surveillance of me, and secretly dogs me, and influences me in some unaccountable way–he can better answer than any one else” (5).

Ishmael loves to get away from the stresses of life by going to sea as a sailor. He has to work a bit but he gets paid. He was also interested in going on a whaling expedition.

Chapter Two: The Carpet-Bag

“Yes, these eyes are windows, and this body of mine is the house. What a pity they didn’t stop up the chinks and the crannies though, and thrust in a little lint here and there. But it’s too late to make any improvements now. The universe is finished; the copestone is on, and the chips were carted off a million years ago.”

“What a fine frosty night; how Orion glitters; what northern lights! Let them talk of their oriental summer climes of everlasting conservatories; give me the privilege of making my own summer with my own coals” (9).

Ishmael wants to board a ship from Nantucket and nothing less will do. When he arrives one ship has already left. He finds lodging at The Spouter Inn.

Chapter Three: The Spouter-Inn

“Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian” (24).

There are no more beds so Ishmael agrees to share a bed with a harpooner who is out. Ishmael is in bed when he returns. The harpooner has been out selling shrunken human heads. Late at night Ishmael sees the man who turns out to be a dark, hairless cannibal performing odd rituals. Ishmael jumps out of bed to consult with the landlord. They are introduced and then spend a peaceful night sleeping side-by-side. 

Chapter Four: The Counterpane

Queequeg is asleep with his arm lovingly draped over Ishmael. When the cannibal awakes he performs his toilet and leaves.

Chapter Five: Breakfast

“However, a good laugh is a mighty good thing, and rather too scarce a good thing; the more’s the pity. So, if any one man, in his own proper person, afford stuff for a good joke to anybody, let him not be backward, but let him cheerfully allow himself to spend and be spent in that way. And the man that has anything bountifully laughable about him, be sure there is amore in that man than you perhaps think for” (29).

Ishmael is ready for some whaling stories from all these men over breakfast, but they all keep shyly quiet, eat, and wander into the public room.

Chapter Six: The Street

Description of the New England town, New Bedford, by day.

Chapter Seven: The Chapel

“But what then? Methinks we have hugely mistaken this matter of Life and Death. Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance. Methinks that in looking at things spiritual, we are too much like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that thick water the thinnest of air. Methinks my body is but the lees of my better being. In fact take my body who will, take it I say, it is not me” (36).

Ishmael runs across Queequeg at the church where people are praying for the ones killed out on whaling expeditions. This frightens Ishmael at first but then thrills him.

Chapter Eight: The Pulpit

The preacher arrives and climbs up into his pulpit by way of a boat ladder which he pulls in behind him afterward.

Chapter Nine: The Sermon

“In this world, shipmates, sin that pays its way can travel freely, and without a passport; whereas Virtue, if a pauper, is stopped at all frontiers” (43).

“…prodigy of ponderous misery drags him drawing down to sleep” (44).

The preacher tells the story of Jonah and how he asked God for forgiveness. After being returned to land by the whale he spoke of truth in the face of falseness.

Chapter Ten: A Bosom Friend

“And those same things that would have repelled most others, they were the very magnets that thus drew me. I’ll try a pagan friend, thought I, since Christian kindness has proved but hollow courtesy” (50).

“But what is worship?–to do the will of God--that is worship. And what is the will of God?–to do to my fellow man what I would have my fellow man to do to me–that is the will of God.”

“How it is I know not; but there is no place like a bed for confidential disclosures between friends. Man and wife, they say, there open the very bottom of their souls to each other; and some old couples often lie and chat over old times till nearly morning. Thus, then, in our hearts’ honeymoon lay I and Queequeg–a cosy, loving pair” (54).

Queer theory, anyone? Anyone?

Back at the inn Queequeg and Ishmael are the only two so they have a visitation and become friends.

Chapter 11: Nightgown

“We felt very nice and snug, the more so since it was so chilly out of doors; indeed out of bed-clothes too, seeing that there was no fire in the room. The more so, I say, because truly to enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself. If you flatter yourself that you are all over comfortable, and have been so a long time, then you cannot be said to be comfortable any more.”

“For this reason a sleeping apartment should never be furnished with a fire, which is one of the luxurious discomforts of the rich. For the height of this sort of deliciousness is to have nothing but the blanket between you and your snugness and the cold of the outer air. Then there you lie like the one warm spark in the heart of an arctic crystal” (53).

They nap and talk over and over again until by midnight they are wide awake again. Queequeg begins telling the story of his history.

Chapter Twelve: Biographical

Queequeg left his native land where his father is king so that he could see the oceans and other lands. He learns to be a harpooner but has not come to embrace the ways of Christianity. He trades a king’s scepter for a harpoon. They decide to sail out of Nantucket together.

Chapter Thirteen: Wheelbarrow

“We cannibals must help these Christians” (61).

They board ship. Queequeg gets in a short fight. The ship’s boom comes loose and knocks a man overboard–the man Queequeg was fighting with. Queequeg first secures the broom with a rope then saves the man who fell overboard. Now everyone approves of him.

Chapter Fourteen: Nantucket

Describes Nantucket

Chapter Fifteen: Chowder

They find the Try-Pot Inn that has been suggested and have excellent chowder. Before going to bed the landlady takes Queequeg’s harpoon from him saying it is too dangerous to allow.

Chapter Sixteen: The Ship

Bildad, Peleg and Ahab are introduced. Ishmael signs on with Bildad and Peleg, the owners of the ship and settles on his wages. Queequeg tells Ishmael that his god tells him whichever ship Ishmael chooses would be the fated ship. Ishmael kind of wonders about his decision because the two owners seem to fight a lot and he hasn’t yet met the ship’s captain: Ahab, a one-legged man who hasn’t been in the right spirit since a whale ate his leg.

Chapter Seventeen: The Ramadan

“…for I cherish the greatest respect towards everybody’s religious obligations, never mind how comical…”.

“…let him be, I say: and Heaven have mercy on us all–Presbyterians and Pagans alike–for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending” (81).

Queequeg has a day and night of fasting and meditation before the both of them board their ship, the Pequod.

Chapter Eighteen: His Mark

At first Bildad and Peleg don’t want a cannibal on board but Ishmael convinces them he is a member of the first congregation. They then want to see if Queequeg can really harpoon and he proves himself and is set up to make quite a bit of money. Now Bildad wants to convert the cannibal to Christianity.

Chapter Nineteen: The Prophet

“A soul’s a sort of a fifth wheel to a wagon” (91).

Queequeg and Ishmael disboard and are met by a man named Elijah who asks if they are sailing with that ship. He asks weird questions about if they know all about Captain Ahab and the prophecy. Elijah says he will not sail with the boat. Ishmael blows him off as being crazy.

Chapter Twenty: All Astir

The ship was being loaded with all provisions over the course of a few days but no one saw Captain Ahab. He is rumored to be getting better but Ishmael is trying to cover up his uncomfortable feelings about not having yet met the man.

Chapter 21: Going Aboard

On the way to board the ship Elijah appears again and asks if they have seen men go on board. They have. Elijah says, “See if you can find them.” They can’t. Later they meet up with another crew member who says Captain Ahab has boarded and they are finally ready to set sail.

Chapter Twenty-two: Merry Christmas

The ship gets underway with Bildad and Peleg the co-captains. They both seem a bit agitated but are trying to hide it. They say as soon as the boat sees a sunny day Captain Ahab will appear, so no one has seen him yet. Bildad and Peleg depart the boat in a dinghy.

Chapter Twenty-three: The Lee Shore

Reintroduction of Bulkington who stands at the helm. Even though he just came off a dangerous four year voyage, he is up again on a three year boat.

Chapter Twenty-four: The Advocate

Ishmael speaks of the history and dignity of whaling.

Chapter 25: Postscript

Chapter 26: Knights and Squires

Starbuck is the chief mate and has seen many battles.

Chapter 27: Knights and Squires [why are two chapters titled the same?]

Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask. Tashtego and Daggoo. Introduction of the harpooners. Ishmael explains that the leaders of the ship are usually American whereas everyone else comes from all parts of the world. How islanders usually make the best harpooners.

Chapter 28: Ahab

Captain Ahab finally appears on deck. He looks healthy. Ishmael is surprised to find a long scar stretching down his cheek to his shirt. They are heading for warmer climates.

Chapter 29: Enter Ahab; to him, Stubb

The warmly cool, clear, ringing, perfumed, overflowing, redundant days, were as crystal goblets of Persian sherbet, heaped up–flaked up, with rose-water snow. The starred and stately nights seemed haughty dames in jewelled velvets, nursing at home in lonely pride, the memory of their absent conquering Earls, the golden helmeted suns! For sleeping man, ‘twas hard to choose between such winsome days and such seducing nights. But all the witcheries of that unwaning weather did not merely lend new spells and potencies to the outward world. Inward they turned upon the soul, especially when the still mild hours of eve came on; then, memory shot her crystals as the clear ice most forms of noiseless twilights” (123).

Second steward, Stubb, had a run in with Captain Ahab and Ahab was rude first by calling Stubb names.

Chapter 30: The Pipe

Ahab hasn’t been sleeping but instead spends his time pacing the decks.

Chapter 31: Queen Mab

That night Stubb has a dream that it is not an insult to be kicked with Ahab’s ivory leg, but an honor. The next day Ahab says he sees whales about and if anyone spots a white one to scream loudly.

Chapter 32: Cetology

Cetology, or the science of whales. Ishmael goes into detail describing types of whales.

Chapter 33: The Specksynder

Speaking how the men are divided into groups onboard.

Chapter 34: The Cabin-Table

Description of the order and manner in which the crew takes dinner.

Chapter 35: The Mast-Head

“Perhaps they were; or perhaps there might have been shoals of them in the far horizon; but lulled into such an opium-like listlessness of vacant, unconscious reverie is this absent-minded youth by the blending cadence of waves with thoughts, that at last he loses his identity; takes the mystic ocean at his feet for the visible image of that deep, blue, bottomless soul, pervading mankind and nature; and every strange, half-seen, gliding, beautiful thing that eludes him; every dimly-discovered, uprising fin of some indiscernible form, seems to him the embodiment of those elusive thoughts that only people the soul by continually flitting through it. In this enchanted mood, thy spirit ebbs away to whence it came…(157).

What it is like to watch for whales from the crow’s nest.

Chapter 36: The Quarter-Deck

Ahab announces that they are looking for the great white whale that took his leg. Starbuck thinks it is foolish, but everyone else gets pumped.

Chapter 37: Sunset

Ahab’s thoughts while alone. He says it was prophesied that he would be dismembered and now he wants the prophecy to be him to dismember the one who crippled him.

Chapter 38: Dusk

Starbuck in despair and alone. He thinks it foolish to help Ahab seek revenge, but he also pities Ahab and wants to help him.

Chapter 39: First Night-Watch

Stubb knows that the reason for the journey is a queer one but decides he will go to it laughing.

Chapter 40: Midnight, Forecastle

“A row a’low, and a row aloft–Gods and men–both brawlers! Humph” (174)!

The men are all hanging around drinking, singing, sleeping or arguing. A storm comes up.

Chapter 41: Moby Dick

“…all truth is profound” (183). Ahab seems to have chosen the crew for his specific purpose. He had placed all his hatred and energy into this one whale. People knew stories and myths about the white whale like how he would be getting stabbed by boatmen then all of a sudden turn and destroy them.

Chapter 42: The Whiteness of the Whale

Ishmael explains the meaning of the color white and how when white is coupled with a vicious thing it makes people twice as afraid.

Chapter 43: Hark!

One mate with excellent ears hears a cough below deck and states the sound comes from a person they have yet to see above deck.

Chapter 44: The Chart

“While thus employed, the heavy pewter lamp suspended in chains over his head, continually rocked with the motion of the ship, and for ever threw shifting gleams and shadows of lines upon his wrinkled brow, till it almost seemed that while he himself was marking out lines and courses on the wrinkled charts, some invisible pencil was also tracing lines and courses upon the deeply marked chart of his forehead” (196).

Captain Ahab can’t even sleep without being woken up by nightmares of the whale. It will be a one in a million chance to find him.

Chapter 45: The Affidavit

There have been stories of whales being wounded once then captured years later. There have been incidents where sperm whales have sunk ships.

Chapter 46: Surmises

Knowing that head mate Starbuck didn’t care for the purpose of the voyage and that he could eventually cause the ranks to mutiny, Captain Ahab was careful to keep everything as normal as possible and do all the things normally done on a whaling expedition. 

Chapter 47: The Mat-Maker

“It was a cloudy, sultry afternoon; the seamen were lazily lounging about the decks, or vacantly gazing over into the lead-colored waters. Queequeg and I were mildly employed weaving what is called a sword-mat, for an additional lashing to our boat. So still and subdued and yet somehow preluding was all the scene, and such an incantation of reverie lurked in the air, that each silent sailor seemed resolved into his own invisible self.

“I was the attendant or page of Queequeg, while busy at the mat. As I kept passing and repassing the filling or woof of marline between the long yarns of thewarp, using my own hand for the shuttle, and as Queequeg, standing sideways, ever and anon slid his heavy oaken sword between the threads, and idly looking off upon the water, carelessly and unthinkingly drove home every yarn: I say so strange a dreaminess did there then reign all over the ship and all over the sea, only broken by the intermitting dull sound of the sword, that it seemed as if this were the Loom of Time, and I myself were a shuttle mechanically weaving and weaving away at the Fates. There lay the fixed threads of the warp subject to but one single, ever returning, unchanging vibration, and that vibration merely enough to admit of the crosswise interblending of other threads with its own. This warp seemed necessity; and here, thought I, with my own hand I ply my own shuttle and weave my own destiny into these unalterable threads. Meantime, Queequeg’s impulsive, indifferent sword, sometimes hitting the woof slantingly, or crookedly, or strongly, or weakly, as the case might be; and by this difference in the concluding blow producing a corresponding contrast in the final aspect of the completed fabric; this savage’s sword, thought I, which thus finally shapes and fashions both warp and woof; this easy, indifferent sword must be chance–aye, chance, free will, and necessity–no wise incompatible–all interweavingly working together. The straight warp of necessity, not to be swerved from its ultimate course–its every alternating vibration, indeed, only tending to that; free will still free to ply her shuttle between given threads; and chance, though restrained in its play within the right lines of necessity, and sideways in its motions modified by free will, though thus prescribed to by both, chance by turns rules either, and has the last featuring blow at events” (213-4).

The first sighting of a school of whales. Everyone is preparing for the hunt when Captain Ahab appears on deck with five unknown men.

Chapter 48: The First Lowering

“But little King-Post was small and short, and at the same time little King-Post was full of a large and tall ambition…” (220).

At the same time the men were hunting their first whales a storm came up and messed up the hunt. They lost the ship for the night, but returned safely to it by morning. 

Chapter 49: The Hyena

“There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own” (226).

Ishmael made out a will because he was confused. Starbuck was supposed to have the most knowledge yet he was the one who led Ishmael’s boat into a storm while hunting.

Chapter 50: Ahab’s Boat and Crew–Fedallah

It is hard enough for people with two legs to hunt whales, much less a person with one!

Chapter 51: The Spirit-Spout

Every few nights there is one spray from a whale in the distance as if leading them on. Ahab is getting more quiet and seems to sleep with his eyes open to the compass.

Chapter 52: The Albatross

They come upon another ship the crew of which acts very strange. They exchange no words when asked if they’d seen the white whale and the captain drops his trumpet into the sea. A large school of fish that had been following the Pequod now switch to following the other ship. Ahab took this as a sign.

Chapter 53: The Gam

When two ships pass they usually GAM, or have a visitation. So it was highly unusual for that ship to pass without a word.

Chapter 54: The Town-Ho’s Story

Ishmael repeats a story he heard of mutiny aboard a ship and how it ends with the spotting of Moby Dick. In pursuit, one man gets pitched overboard and is eaten by the whale!

Chapter 55: Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales

Discusses how whales have been described and portrayed across the years…usually inaccurately.

Chapter 56: Of the Less Erroneous Pictures of Whales, and the True Pictures of Whaling Scenes

Pictures of whales done accurately.

Chapter 57: Of Whales in Paint; in Teeth; in Wood; in Sheet-Iron; in Stone; in Mountains; in Stars

More historic chronicling of whales.

Chapter 58: Brit

Brit is a yellowish brine that whales feed off of and float upon the surface of the water while feeding.

Chapter 59: Squid

A large white form is spotted. Upon sailing out, they find it is a giant white squid which sperm whale usually feed on.

Chapter 60: The Line

Explains how the harpoons are connected to a rope line and how it all works within the boat.

Chapter 61: Stubb kills Whale

The first whale is killed by Stubb. No accidents.

Chapter 62: The Dart

Explains how the harpooner must yell and paddle at full speed, then harpoon the whale. Ishmael feels this is too exhausting and that others should yell and paddle while the harpooner should save his energy for shooting.

Chapter 63: The Crotch

The crotch is a short plank to rest two harpoons upon. Both harpoons are flung in case one doesn’t stick. This leaves one rope that can cut off the other or get entangled in things and cause accidents.

Chapter 64: Stubb’s Supper

Stubb cut off a slab of whale meat and had the old cook come from out of bed to cook it for him.

Chapter 65: The Whale as a Dish

The history of eating the whale.

Chapter 66: The Shark Massacre

When a whale is captured late at night it’s usually lashed to the ship until morning when it will be chopped and brought on board. In the Pacific, the sharks will come and start eating on the carcass so they have to kill some and try and keep them away.

Chapter 67: Cutting In

Describes hoisting the whale on board to begin stripping and cutting him.

Chapter 68: The Blanket

Speaking of the thickness of a whale’s skin and how he maintains his warm body temperature.

Chapter 69: The Funeral

After skinning the whale for his blubber he is dropped back off in the sea where the sharks and birds still pick on him.

Chapter 70: The Sphynx

The whale is beheaded. While the head was hanging to the side of the ship and everyone was down at lunch, Captain Ahab talked with the whale’s head asking it what secrets it withheld.

Chapter 71: The Jeroboam’s Story

The Pequod came upon another ship that had been taken under the influence of a crazy shipmate who thought himself a prophet. He warned to stay away from the white whale and when they came in contact with Moby Dick one man had died so they gave up.

Chapter 72: The Monkey-rope

As Queequeg dangled over the side working on the whale Ishmael held the other end of the rope keeping him from getting crushed between ship and whale or falling too deep into the water and being eaten by sharks. If one went down, so would the other.

Chapter 73: Stubb and Flask ill a Right Whale; and Then Have a Talk over Him

As Flask and Stubb went out to kill the right whale (to hang his head on the opposite side of the sperm whale’s head to even the ship) they began talking of Fedallah and how he seems devilish.

Chapter 74: The Sperm Whale’s Head–Contrasted View

Describes the head and jaws of the sperm whale.

Chapter 75: The Right Whale’s Head–Contrasted View

Description of the right whale’s head.

Chapter 76: The Battering-Ram

How the front of the head between the eyes is so hard as to be impregnable.

Chapter 77: The Great Heidelburgh Tun

The Heidelburgh Tun is where all the oil is stored.

Chapter 78: Cistern and Buckets

“Midwifery should be taught in the same course with fencing and boxing, riding and rowing” (344).

While Tashtego was removing the oil from the whale’s head he fell down in the hold and was almost drowned. If it hadn’t been for Queeque who saved him by cutting a slit and pulling him out.

Chapter 79: The Prairie

Speaking of the study of faces, both human and animal. How the sperm whale really doesn’t have a face.

Chapter 80: The Nut

Talking of how the brain is about twenty feet down into the head and the length and breadth of the backbone.

Chapter 81: The Pequod meets the Virgin

“But pity there was none. For all his old age, and his one arm, and his blind eyes, he must die the death and be murdered, in order to light the gay bridals and other merry-makings of men, and also to illuminate the solemn churches that preach unconditional inoffensiveness by all to all” (358).

Another ship was visiting to borrow oil when a school of whale was spotted. There was a chase. Stubb, Flask and Starbuck win the race, but upon killing the whale it began to heavily sink and they eventually had to cut it free.

Chapter 82: The Honor and Glory of Whaling

The royal history of famous whalemen.

Chapter 83: Jonah Historically Regarded

The story of Jonah and the arguments against it.

Chapter 84: Pitchpoling

Stubb is an expert pitchpoler. When a whale is too far ahead and hasn’t been stopped by a harpoon, a large lance is tossed way up in the air that comes straight down on the whale.

Chapter 85: The Fountain

“And how nobly it raises our conceit of the mighty, misty monster, to behold him solemnly sailing through a calm tropical sea; his vast, mild head overhung by a canopy of vapor, engendered by his incommunicable contemplations, and that vapor–as you will sometimes see it–glorified by a rainbow, as if Heaven itself had put its seal upon his thoughts. For, d’ye see, rainbows do not visit the clear air; they only irradiate vapor. And so, through all the thick mists of the dim doubts in my mind, divine intuitions now and then shoot, enkindling my fog with a heavenly ray. And for this I think God; for all have doubts; many deny; but doubts or denials, few along with them, have intuitions. Doubts of all things earthly, and intuitions of some things heavenly; this combination makes neither believer nor infidel, but makes a man who regards them both with equal eye” (374).

Examining the spout hole of the whale.

Chapter 86: The Tail

Explanation of the tale; how it looks and how it works.

Chapter 87: The Grand Armada

“…that oriental sea are enriched, it seems a significant provision of nature, that such treasures, by the very formation of the land, should at least bear the appearance, however ineffectual, of being guarded from the all-grasping western world” (380).

“Surely, he will stop for water. Nay. For a long time, now, the circus-running sun has raced within his fiery ring, and needs no sustenance but what’s in himself” (381).

A footnote: To gally, or gallow, is to frighten excessively,–to confound with fright. It is an old Saxon word. It occurs once in Shakspere:–

“The wrathful skies

Gallow the very wanderers of the dark,

And make them keep their caves.” 

Lear, Act III. sc. ii.

To common land usages, the word is now completely obsolete. When the polite landsman first hears it from the gaunt Nantucketer, he is apt to set it down as one of the whaleman’s self-derived savageries. Much the same is it with many other sinewy Saxonisms of this sort, which emigrated to the New-England rocks with the noble brawn of the old English emigrants in the time of the Commonwealth. Thus, some of the best and furthest-descended English words–the etymological Howards and Percys–are now democratised, nay, plebeianised–so to speak–in the New World. 384

“Best, therefore, withhold any amazement at the strangely gallied whales before us, for there is no folly of the beasts of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men” (385).

While going through the straights the Pequod was chasing a large shoal of whales but being chased from behind by a pirate ship. They got right in the middle of a huge circle of whales trying to hunt through the commotion.

Chapter 88: Schools and Schoolmasters

“The same secludedness and isolation to which the schoolmaster whale betakes himself in his advancing years, is true of all aged Sperm Whales. Almost universally, a lone whale–as a solitary Leviathan is called–proves an ancient one. Like venerable moss-bearded Daniel Boone, he will have no one near him but Nature herself; and her he takes to wife in the wilderness of waters, and the best of wives she is, though she keeps so many moody secrets” (394).

How the males and females travel according to their stage of life.

Chapter 89: Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish

“…the By-laws of the Chinese Society for the Suppression of Meddling with other People’s Business…” (396).

When a fish has been chased, harpooned, even caught, then lost, what are the rules on who recovers a loose fish?

Chapter 90: Heads or Tails

Even when a fish is caught, it is still the property of the king and queen.

Chapter 91: The Pequod meets the Rose-bud

Stubb cheats another ship out of a whale they had alongside to get the valuable ambergris found inside.

Chapter 92: Ambergris

Speaks of ambergris and the smell of whales

Chapter 93: The Castaway

A shiphand, Pip, was moved up to work in the harpoon boats. He was so scared that he jumped once, getting caught in the rope and they had to let the whale go. The second time he jumped, it was a while before he could be picked up. During that time he went mad. 

Chapter 94: A Squeeze of the Hand

“Squeeze! squeeze! squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me; and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers’ hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally; as much as to say,–Oh! My dear fellow beings, why should we longer cherish any social acerbities, or know the slightest ill-humor or envy! Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness” (417).

Speaking of the parts of the whale that can be used for profit.

Chapter 95: The Cassock

The cutting of the blubber.

Chapter 96: The Try-Works

“It has an unspeakable, wild, Hindoo odor about it, such as may lurk in the vicinity of funereal pyres. It smells like the left wing of the day of judgment; it is an argument for the pit” (422).

“To every pitch of the ship there was a pitch of the boiling oil, which seemed all eagerness to leap into their faces. Opposite the mouth of the works, on the further side of the wide wooden hearth, was the windlass. This served for a sea-sofa. Here lounged the watch, when not otherwise employed, looking into the red heat of the fire, till their eyes felt scorched in their heads. Their tawney features, now all begrimed with smoke and sweat, their matted beards, and the contrasting barbaric brilliancy of their teeth, all these were strangely revealed in the capricious emblazonings of the works. As they narrated to each other their unholy adventures, their tales of terror told in words of mirth; as their uncivilized laughter forked upwards out of them, like the flames from the furnace; as to and fro, in their front, the harpooneers wildly gesticulated with their huge pronged forks and dippers; as the wind howled on, and the sea leaped, and the ship groaned and dived, and yet steadfastly shot her red hell further and further into the blackness of the sea and the night, and scornfully champed the white bone in her mouth, and viciously spat round her on all sides; then the rushing Pequod, freighted with savages, and laden with fire, and burning a corpse, and plunging into that blackness of darkness, seemed the material counterpart of her monomaniac commander’s soul” (423).

“Look not too long in the face of the fire, O man! Never dream with thy hand on the helm! Turn not thy back to the compass; accept the first hint of the hitching tiller; believe not the artificial fire, when its redness makes all things look ghastly. To-morrow, in the natural sun, the skies will be bright; those who glared like devils in the forking flames, the morn will show in far other, at least gentler, relief; the glorious, golden, glad sun, the only true lamp–all others but liars” (424)!

“Give not thyself up, then, to fire, lest it invert thee, deaden thee; as for the time it did me. There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness. And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces” (425).

Speaking of the oven that cooks the blubber. Ishmael was hypnotized by the fire and caught hold of a feeling of death. He had to shake it off.

Chapter 97: The Lamp

The men can now replenish their lamps and live in light.

Chapter 98: Stowing Down and Clearing Up

“Oh! My friends, but this is man-killing! Yet this is life” (428).

How the ship becomes so filthy while cutting and boiling, then how spotless afterward. When it becomes clean, another whale is spotted and the cycle begins again. 

Chapter 99: The Doubloon

There is a valuable gold coin kept on display at the center of the ship that will go to whoever does in the white whale.

Chapter 100: Leg and Arm: The Pequod, of Nantucket, meets the Samuel Enderby, of London

Ahab visits a ship whose captain lost an arm chasing the white whale. Ahab gets the direction the whale was last seen to head.

Chapter 101: The Decanter

How the Dutch and English whalers like to eat and drink well on their voyages.

Chapter 102: A Bower in the Arsacides

Ishmael comes across a whale’s skeleton and claims to tattoo the measurements on his arm since he had nothing else to write on.

Chapter 103: Measurement of the Whale’s Skeleton

Measurements of the whale’s skeleton.

Chapter 104: The Fossil Whale

Historic look at the whale and their bones.

Chapter 105: Does the Whale’s Magnitude Diminish?–Will He Perish? 

How the whale has been hunted and his numbers have decreased over the years.

Chapter 106: Ahab’s Leg

Captain Ahab cracked his ivory leg and had the carpenter begin making him a new one.

Chapter 107: The Carpenter

Chapter 108: Ahab and the Carpenter

The carpenter constructing Ahab’s new leg.

Chapter 109: Ahab and Starbuck in the Cabin

The oil casks were leaking below. Starbuck told Ahab they had to re-seal them and at first Ahab said no; he can only think of Moby Dick. Re-thinking himself, Ahab then consents to re-sealing the casks.

Chapter 110: Queequeg in his Coffin

“Top-heavy was the ship as a dinnerless student with all Aristotle in his head” (475).

Queequeg became so sick that they had a coffin made for him. At the last minute, Queequeg remembered an important errand he had upon returning to port and therefore rallied back from death.

Chapter 111: The Pacific

The Pacific has been gained; the last part of their adventure. Ahab’s restlessness becomes heightened. 

Chapter 112: The Blacksmith

The blacksmith’s life.

Chapter 113: The Forge

Ahab has his own harpoon made.

Chapter 114: The Gilder

The sea is calm. Men fall to philosophizing.

Chapter 115: The Pequod meets the Bachelor

They pass a fully oil loaded ship heading joyously home. The men on the Pequod become melancholy looking after her.

Chapter 116: The Dying Whale

They catch four more whales.

Chapter 117: The Whale Watch

Chapter 118: The Quadrant

Ahab charts his location by the sun then asks the sun the location of Moby Dick. He gets angry at the sun and says he will look at it no more.

Chapter 119: The Candles

“Warmest climes but nurse the cruellest fangs…” (497).

During a typhoon the top of the masts catch fire. Starbuck cautions Ahab to head for home, but Ahab says no way. They are all bound to the white whale.

Chapter 120: The Deck towards the End of the First Night Watch

Ahab sinks deeper into insanity.

Chapter 121: Midnight–The Forecastle Bulwarks

The crew is soaked from wind and rain.

Chapter 122: Midnight Aloft–Thunder and Lightning

Chapter 123: The Musket

As Starbuck goes down to tell Ahab the ship is on course, he finds Ahab sleeping. Starbuck grabs a gun and stands there wanting to kill Ahab, save the crew, and head home. He eventually puts the gun down and returns topside. He asks Stubb to carry a message.

Chapter 124: The Needle

The lightning turned the compass backwards. Ahab made a new one. The top three crewmen are no longer behind the quest of Ahab.

Chapter 125: The Log and Line

“‘The greater idiot ever scolds the lesser,’ muttered Ahab, advancing. ‘Hands off from that holiness!’” (516)

Ahab made an unreasonable demand concerning a worn out rope. He and Pip get in a crazy conversation. (They have both lost their minds.)

Chapter 126: The Life-Buoy

None thought of it, but as they entered the sea of Moby Dick, one man fell overboard and never was seen again. The buoy they sent after him also sank. They are going to use Queequeg’s casket for a new buoy.

Chapter 127: The Deck

Ahab talking crazy.

Chapter 128: The Pequod meets the Rachel

The ship Rachel had seen Moby Dick the day before. Three boats were lowered for a shoal of whales ahead. One lowered behind for Moby Dick. All returned safely except for the boat pursuing the white whale. When the Rache’s captain asks Ahab to help search, Ahab refuses. He is behind schedule.

Chapter 129: The Cabin

Pip and Ahab are becoming friends because they have both gone crazy.

Chapter 130: The Hat

Ahab now never leaves the deck, ever searching. He puts Starbuck as head watch. A wild bird swoops down and flies away with the captain’s hat.

Chapter 131: The Pequod meets the Delight

Another ship that encountered the whale and lost a man.

Chapter 132: The Symphony

Starbuck tries to convince Ahab to go home. No. Fedallah has lowered himself over the side of the ship to search.

Chapter 133: The Chase–First Day

They find Moby Dick. Boats are lowered. The boat Ahab is in is attacked by the whale and smashed in two. Moby Dick circles them until he is run off by the ship. They search for him the rest of the evening.

Chapter 134: The Chase–Second Day

The second time they go out for Moby Dick the lines for the weapons become tangled and one man gets taken out to sea. The whale attacks when he is chased.

Chapter 135: The Chase–Third Day

Mapplethorpe

By Patricia Morrisroe

Random House  New York   1995    461 pages

I have always been a fan of photography and, in a marginal way, ever since college, Robert Mapplethorpe was on my radar. Somehow over the years his daring imagery made an impression and I was drawn to the macabre and fringes like the artist. I was interested to know more about him and a biography was just the thing. Yet, the more I read the less I liked the artist. I haven’t read many biographies, so I suppose I just presumed that, in the main, they highlighted the more lovable aspects of their subjects. This was a no-holes-barred type study that slowly but surely revealed a person I would never want to know. Mapplethorpe only cared about fame, period. Well, fame and fucking. Okay: fame, fucking and drugs…perhaps in that order. If those are the top three things you care about, imagine what you will do to get them. Mapplethorpe did them all. He used people in every way imaginable while being an asshole prick all the while. While reading the last half of the book I was audibly huffing and puffing every time he would make a dick move. Once, I was reading in bed while my husband was going through his pre-bed toilet and I said, “Man…this guy is just an asshole.” By the time my husband finished brushing his teeth I said, “He’s made five more dick moves since you’ve been in there.” It’s kind of a bummer when your gods are burned, but in this case he ended up burning himself. All his excess led to a slow death from AIDS. 

Prologue

“Mapplethorpe’s artistic credo had always been to ‘see things like they’ve never been seen before’” (4). “…the fascination of the abomination” (7).

Part One: Dark Secrets

“Robert Michael Mapplethorpe was born on November 4, 1946” (13).

“What Robert liked best, however, was the freak displays, where ‘ape girls,’ bearded women, tattooed men, snake charmers, and dwarves were hidden away in dark booths. His older sister, Nancy, was terrified of them, but Robert always wanted to peek inside and was frustrated by his grandmother’s efforts to keep him away. ‘There’s nothing worse than wanting to see something and having someone stop you,’ he said. The freaks became symbols to him of all things strange and forbidden, and while he would not pursue them as vigilantly as Diane Arbus did in her photographs, they would crop up in different guises in Mapplethorpe’s pictures. By identifying the Catholic Church and Coney Island as the two most vivid memories of his childhood, he was touching upon the essential drama of his photographs–the push-pull between the sacred and the profane that was to give his work what he called an ‘edge’” (18).

“Up until now, Robert’s vision of art had been limited to the iconography of the Catholic Church–the madonnas and Christ figures to whom he directed his prayers. His trips to the museums added another dimension, and he began drawing Cubist madonnas, inspired by Picasso. ‘These were not beautiful Botticelli-type madonnas,’ said Cassidy, ‘but grotesque creatures with split profiles. I guess they were religious in that they were madonnas, but there was something disturbing about the way he had broken up their faces’” (21).

“His lunch hours were spent at Times Square, where, after a hot dog at Nathan’s, he would got to Hubert’s Freak Museum to feast his eyes on such human curiosities as Sealo the Seal Boy, whose hands grew out of his shoulders; a hermaphrodite named Alberto Alberta; and Congo the Jungle Creep, a Haitian in a fright wig who performed voodoo rituals. Diane Arbus found many of her subjects at Hubert’s, but Robert lost interest in the freaks after he spotted a gay pornographic magazine in a store on Forty-second Street” (26).

“They led the overwrought pledges into another room, where they had devised a variety of different tests, many of which evoked the rituals of gay sadomasochistic sex. The Pershing Rifles were regarded as an elite military unit, and their stylish uniforms played into the fantasy of the master-slave scenario. In this case the ‘masters’ stripped the pledges naked, blinded them with sanitary napkins, and commanded them to perform close-order drill with their bayonets. Subsequently they bound the pledges’ penises with one end of a rope, then attached bricks to the other end and ordered them to hurl the brick across the room. Next the pledges were ordered to crawl into a bathroom on their hands and knees; they were told to eat excrement from a toilet bowl–it turned out to be mashed bananas and chunky peanut butter. Mapplethorpe later confided to Patti Smith that someone had also inserted the tip of a rifle into his rectum” (31).

“He preferred the art of self-presentation to self-analysis…”

[Margin note: Not “writing what he knows”] “Mapplethorpe was aware of Warhol’s growing reputation as a pop provocateur, and he had already targeted the elusive artist as ‘someone who knew what he was doing.’ Mapplethorpe’s attraction both to Warhol and to the Pershing Rifles was an early indication of how he would later take a ‘cool’ approach to his militaristic S&M imagery, but at Pratt he was still too intimidated by his own instincts to allow his creativity free rein” (32). 

[The monkey skull story]  “Scratch’s brief and bizarre history encapsulated many of the major themes of Mapplethorpe’s adult life–his preoccupation with images of death and violence; his fascination with the devil; his desire to transform the ugly, or freakish, into works of beauty. It also pointed to a darker side of his nature, which would later emerge in his sexual relationships with other men–a need to break all the rules and transgress taboos.”

“…his LSD flowers have more in common with Walt Disney’s Fantasia, but his benign, giddy view of nature was perhaps reflective of his belief that LSD had provided him with the ability to lose himself in a guilt-free sensory experience. And since he felt guilty about so many aspects of his life, drugs temporarily solved his moral dilemma.

“For the next twenty years Mapplethorpe would use drugs almost daily–marijuana, amphetamines, Quaaludes, acid, MDA, cocaine, and amyl nitrite; they became an integral part of his sexual experimentation, for they helped blur the distinction between pleasure and pain and allowed him to silence his internal censors. He found that drugs enhanced his creativity, too, and from that time on, he would never put pencil to paper–or later take a picture–without first getting stoned.

“Timothy Leary’s Psychedelic Reader became Mapplethorpe’s new bible, and instead of going to church he attended Leary’s “Celebrations” of the League for Spiritual Discovery (LSD) at the Village Theater on Second Avenue in Manhattan, which featured multimedia light shows and guest speakers such as LeRoi Jones and Allen Ginsberg.

“From living at home, to sharing an apartment with two army men and a studio with a monkey, Mapplethorpe settled into a brownstone on St. James Place, with was described by one occupant as a ‘psychedelic Animal House.’ The parquet floors were strewn with mattresses and drug paraphernalia, and hanging from the top of the mahogany staircase was an upside-down Christmas tree decorated with rubber chickens. ‘Everybody was doing so many drugs that the place had a real hallucinatory quality,’ said Claude Alverson, an interior-design major who lived on the top floor. The tenant devised a grotesque game called ‘Creative Kill,’ for which they were obliged to record on a kitchen clipboard the dates and ‘creative’ ways they exterminated the resident cockroaches. Visitors recalled seeing bugs impaled on safety pins and dangling from tiny nooses made of dental floss.

“Acid-inspired art was becoming so common at Pratt that teachers could often tell the exact moment a student had discovered drugs. Mapplethorpe’s drawings, for example, became more obsessive and detailed, and after taking LSD he would retreat to the brownstone’s garden, where he would spend five or six hours drawing a single leaf, or covering a piece of paper with his signature or thousands of colored dots. He shared a bedroom with Harry McCue, and although McCue refrained from taking drugs, he, too, was enthusiastic about the idea of being a psychedelic artist’. They searched for inspiration in the dreamlike eroticism of Hieronymus Bosch and Egon Schiele, and in photographs by the German surrealist Hans Bellmer, know for his unnerving images of dismembered dolls. They came to the conclusion that they would never be able to produce such graphically disturbing work unless they rid themselves of their traditional Catholic morality and embraced life at its most extreme.

“Mapplethorpe picked Andy Warhol to be his role model; the artist had created an antichurch within the Factory, his silver-walled studio on West Forty-seventh Street, where his followers–many of who, like Warhol, had been raised Catholic–were involved in exploitative sexual games that hinged on a need to confess their sins and seek absolution for them. Their outlandish and pathetic antics had recently been documented in Warhol’s Chelsea Girls, which Mapplethorpe had found ‘terrifying’ in the way its stars willingly descended into drug-induced paranoia and self-hatred. Clearly, Warhol was more Satan than saint, and after seeing the movie Mapplethorpe was further convinced that exploring the dark side would incite his imagination. He vowed that when he moved to Manhattan after graduation he would find Warhol, and perhaps befriend him.

“‘We wanted the power of Satan,’ McCue said, ‘so we tried to seek out people and situations through which we could get in touch with him.’ Some of their efforts were almost laughably juvenile, as in the time they bought a goat’s head from a butcher’s shop and, encircling it with candles, attempted to raise the devil himself. They targeted blacks and homosexuals as two groups with intimate ties to Satan, and they made a concerted effort to socialize with Bioletta and Rosita Cruz, whom Mapplethorpe was convinced knew voodoo witchcraft; they also visited Greenwich Village for the purpose of staring at homosexuals in order to bask in their malevolent aura.

“On one occasion McCue purchased a pirat’s shirt from a shop that catered to gay men, and although Mapplethorpe teased him about looking like a homosexual, he bought the same shirt the following week. It was all done in the spirit of ‘exploring the weird,’ as McCue described it, but given Mapplethorpe’s attraction to men, his motivations seem far more complicated. As with the Columbian Squires jacket and the Pershing Rifles uniform, he used clothing to forge an identity for himself, and with the pirate shirt he could play at being gay–for art’s sake.

“Mapplethorpe’s wardrobe at the time revealed a psychologically divided man; switching back and forth between a magician’s cape, a ‘homosexual’ shirt, and an ROTC uniform, he was still at war eith himself. That spring, the growing tension between Pratt’s art students and the engineers–’North Prattnam versus South Prattnam,’ as the school’s newspaper described them–would force Mapplethorpe to choose between the two uniforms.

“The engineering students largely comprised ROTC, and as the antiwar sentiment grew at Pratt, the army–and the engineers–were targeted as the enemy.” [margin note: turning point] “On April 15, 1967, fifty students from ‘Pratt Action for Peace’ joined 125,000 protesters in Central Park, and roused by the demonstration, they staged a sit-down four days later, to denounce the presence of a visiting army colonel on campus. Trapped inside the athletic hall along with the ROTC cadets, the colonel eventually escaped through the back entrance, leaving Robert and his regiment to face the 150 demonstrators who waved signs that read WAR IS HELL and USE YOUR BRAINS NOT YOUR GUNS. Mapplethorpe was booed and hissed by members of his own art department, and soon afterward he began soliciting advice from friends on how to fail his upcoming army physical. They suggested everything from puncturing an eardrum to mangling a leg, but Mapplethoorpe eventually opted to swallow a tab of acid before traveling to the army’s induction center on Whitehall Street. By the time he submitted to his physical, he appeared so psychotic the doctor deemed him unfit to serve.

“Escaping the army was Mapplethorpe’s last hurdle to freedom. No longer obligated to keep his hair clipped short, he let it grow past his collarbone. He had always toned down his outfits before he visited Floral Park, but he could not hide his hair; when his father saw it, he flew into a rage. Fathers across America were engaged in similar battles with their long-haired sons, but in this case Harry’s contempt was fueled by his growing suspicion that Robert was homosexual. Why else, Harry wondered, would his son have been rejected from the army? ‘You look like a girl,’ he shouted. ‘You make me sick.’

“In addition, Harry was infuriated by Robert’s latest revelation that he would not be graduating with the class of ‘67, for, having switched majors, he was now a semester behind. Harry had warned his son that he would pay for only four years of college, and true to his word, he refused to give Robert an extra penny. It was not a totally unreasonable position; Harry still had three children to educate on his modest salary. But Robert had failed to make any contingency plans, and he drifted through the rest of the semester in a druggy haze. Same Alexander, who had taught Robert typographic design several years earlier, recalled that Mapplethorpe stumbled into one of Alexander’s evening workshop classes and passed out on the floor. ‘He wasn’t even enrolled in the class,’ Alexander said, ‘but he stood there by the door, then he just fell.  I caught him and put him in a chair. He was totally blotto’” (42-6).

Gothic crow

“‘When I work, and in my art, I hold hands with God,’ he once scribbled in Smith’s notebook. She sparked his interest in the occult, and he often accompanied her to Samuel Weiser’s bookstore on Astor Place to buy manuals on witchcraft and astrology. She read the books while he studied the pictures, and he began to fashion an aesthetic that combined Catholic and occult symbols. His favorite motif was the pentagram, a five-pointed ‘magical’ star that would reappear again and again in his sculptures and photographs” (53).

“‘Nineteen sixty-eight had the vibrations of an earthquake about it,’ reported Time magazine. ‘America shuddered. History cracked open: bats came flapping out, dark surprises’” (56).

“‘Robert and Patti had gotten into a fight,’ Michels explained, and ‘Robert had hung the wolf.’ The next time Michels visited Smith, she sat in a corner muttering an incantation, and as her voice grew louder and the words more jumbled, a strange black cat pounced on the windowsill and entered the room. ‘It was like a death cat from Hell,’ Michels said. ‘I totally freaked.’ Michels made a swift retreat from Smith, and their relationship ended on that bizarre note.

Part Two: Patron Saints

“Mapplethorpe’s exposure to the Dionysian atmosphere of Max’s had made him even more determined to use gay pornography in his art, and he began searching through Times Squarre bookstores for old copies of gay magazines in order to understand the conventions of homosexual erotica. In the late forties, muscle and fitness publications such as Grecian Guild Pictorial and Physique Pictorial had begun to include photographs and drawings aimed at a growing gay readership, and the models, posed in bathing suits and loincloths, personified the idealized man. George Quaintance, an American illustrator and painter, contributed to Physique Pictorial, and before his death in 1957 he produced a series of pictures os naked cowboys and sailors who projected the all-American athleticism of Johnny Weissmuller. It was the Finnish-born artist Tom of Finland, however, who pointed to a new homoeroticism that was more overtly sexual. Aroused by this memories of German soldiers during World War II, he created drawings of men in black leather jackets, motorcycle caps, and knee-high leather boots that centered on the ‘butch’ male. It was an image that would become more and more visible as the growing gay rights movement helped erase the prevailing ‘camp’ behvioral style, by which some men adopted feminine mannerisms. Instead, gay activist advanced the notion that a man could be both gay and virile, which served to focus attention on the previously hidden S&M subculture, where men in leather bars enacted complicated master-slave scenarios that tested one’s masculinity” (72-3).

“Throughout the summer Smith had been giving impromptu poetry readings at the Chelsea, and using her raspy voice to accentuate the rhythm of the words, she was unconsciously edging her way toward a career in music. Certainly she could not have failed to notice the sudden prominence of rock and roll at Max’s Kansas City, where the Velvet Underground performed five nights a week, thereby paving the way for the emergence of a local New York band scene. Encouraged by the success of the Velvet Underground, Mickey Ruskin opened a cabaret on the second floor and helped launch the careers of Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen. Eventually the musicians began to outnumber the artists, as Max’s evolved from an art scene to a music scene” (90-1).

Colta  [what a cool name]

Part Three: Sex and Magic

“At the beginning, though, punk didn’t have such an extreme connotation; in fact, when Patti Smith and her band played an eight-week engagement at CBGB in the spring of 1975, the term ‘punk rock’ wasn’t even being used to define the emerging sound. ‘I think all the groups had one similarity in that we wanted to elevate the idea of rock while still trying to keep it simple,’ Smith said. ‘It was a real reaction against disco music and the glitter-rock thing. Our lyrics were much more sophisticated, and we weren’t into artifice at all. The whole punk phenomenon in England was much more reactionary and more ‘high style.’ We didn’t comb our hair not because we were making a political statement, but because we just didn’t comb our hair.’ Smith has often been credited with initiating the trend for ripped or shredded clothing, as she mutilated her T-shirts because she often felt ‘claustrophobic’ in them. Other performers embellished the ‘ripped’ style by piecing their clothing together again with safety pins, and later borrowing the accessories of the S&M subculture, to which punk owed a debt in its outlaw mentality and fascination with extremes. Such was the connection between music and sex that malcolm McLaren even owned a shop in London called SEX, which sold leather and bondage gear to both hardcore enthusiasts and artists alike. The shop was co-owned by fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, who summed up the prevailing ethos: ‘We’re totally committed to what we’re doing and our message is simple. We want you to live out your wildest fantasies to the hilt’” (154-5).

“Years later, when Rolling Stone composed a list of “The 100 Greatest Album Covers of All Time,” Horses ranked twenty-sixth. The stark black-and-white imagery provided a dramatic contrast to the psychedelic palette of most seventies rock albums, and Smith’s swaggering unisex pose radically altered the prevailing feminine stereotype of ‘girl singers.’ ‘I saw Horses in a record store in Australia,’ said art critic Paul Taylor, who died of AIDS in 1992, ‘and immediately fell in love with the picture. I didn’t know anything about Patti Smith or about punk, but I bought the album on the strength of the photograph. It was elegant and totally modern, and I remember looking at the photo credit and wondering, ‘Who is Robert Mapplethorp?’”

“But Studio 54 was more for socializing…[whereas] Mineshaft, [was] a hardcore ‘leather environment’” (189). “‘The scene at the Mineshaft was not about conversation.’”

“Nick…menacing demeanor of a pit bull, and his swarthy face, with its dark brows and black eyes, was made even more ominous by the flaming skull tattoo on his forehead” (190-1).

“Do it for Satan” (192).

“Arthur Fellig, better known as Weegee, who, during the thirties and forties, documented the seamy underside of New York’s nightlife” (204).

“Mapplethorpe was loath to be labeled a ‘gay artist,’ yet his rise to prominence paralleled the acceptance and assimilation of a gay aesthetic into the cultural mainstream. Frank Rich, in a 1987 essay for Esquire entitled ‘The Gay Decades,’ delineated nine episodes in ‘the homosexualization of America.’ These included Mart Crowley’s Boys in the Band; the rise of Bette Midler and her campy bathhouse sensibility; rock music’s ‘merchandizing of androgyny’; the American Psychiatric Association’s 1973 resolution that homosexuality should no longer be classified as a psychiatric disorder; and Studio 54’s institutionalization of gay chic. The gay rights and women’s movements helped liberate the male nude; women could now look at photographs of naked men in magazines such as Playgirl, thereby blurring the lines between ‘the sex that looks,’ as art scholar Margaret Walters defined the traditional male voyeuristic pose, and ‘the sex that is looked at.’ George Stambolian, who taught a course in the male nude at Wellesley College, explained: ‘For years the male nude was repressed, and when one spoke about ‘the nude,’ one usually meant the female nude. But in the late seventies, all that began to change. The Marcuse Pfeiffer Gallery did a major survey on the male nude that included works by both male and female photographers, and that inspired a lot of debate about the sexist notions we held about male nudes versus female ones–mean having to project a powerful image, women passive and powerless.’”

“In contrast, Mapplethorpe was working at a time when many gay photographers were using their pictures to express both their public and private selves. Both Arthur Tress and Duane Michals analyzed their homosexuality through dreamlike images that borrowed from surrealism and Jungian psychology; Robert Giard took pictures of nude models in ordinary domestic settings, such as in the bathtub or reading the newspaper; Jimmy DeSana photographed S&M scenes in a crude, confrontational way that was the exact opposite of Robert’s cool classicism; and Peter Jujar expressed his melancholy vision of the world through moody pictures of friends and lovers” (216).

“…framing had always been an integral part of his art” (218).

“STill, she might not have removed herself so quickly from the ‘vicious game’ had she not become involved with a man who roused her fantasies of unconditional love like no other boyfriend before him. Fred (Sonic) Smith had been the rhythm guitarist for the MC5, the Detroit-based group managed by White Panther leader John Sinclair. The ‘Five,’ as they were known, were expected to take his convoluted message of rock, dope, and armed self-defense to the airwaves. Sinclair had established a commune in Ann Arbor–’Trans-Love Energies’–where the band lived in an eighteen-room house with a group of women who, according to Rolling Stone, provided the ‘domestic energies’ by cooking, cleaning, and sewing their clothing. ‘It was an astonishing thing,’ said Danny Fields, who had once promoted the MC5, ‘because here was this band preaching liberation of all aspects of humanity, of the races, of the sexes, of everything. Then the men would come back from a concert, and they’d sit at a table chomping on spareribs, and the women would be in the kitchen scurrying around. The women didn’t eat with the men, except for John Sinclair’s wife, who had gone to school and was tough. But the others were these little pansy types in flowered hippie dresses just cooking and serving their men. I don’t know if Fred was married then, but they all had ‘women.’ You couldn’t tell one from the other. They were like nonpeople’” (221).

Part Four: Blacks and Whites

[margin note: racism]

“Photographic images of the black male nude, however, were relatively rare. Of the 134 images in Constance Sullivan’s Nude: Photographs 1850-1980, the black male is not represented at all. Given the taboo against male nudity in general, white heterosexuals were not inclined to celebrate the erotic properties of the black male body. And since blacks rarely had the financial resources to become art photographers, it was left to gay white men to present their vision of the black male nude” (237).

“It was a dramatic reversal from the days of Max’s Kansas City, where famous artists had traded their work for a bar tab. But Max’s had been replaced as an artists’ hangout by the elegant Mr. Chow’s on the Upper East Side, and the art stars of the eighties were not reclusive intellectuals, but people such as Keith Haring, who would later open a shop that sold T-shirts, shoelaces, and wallpaper that featured his trademark doodle designs” (285).

“…a Warhol silkscreen portrait of Mapplethorpe himself”  (297).

Part Five: the Perfect Moment

“…and certainly one of the most macabre images was the photograph he took of a human skull. It was, for him, the purest sculptural image of all; neither hair nor flesh spoiled its clean lines, and everything, literally , was stripped to the bone.

“He had been drawn to skull imagery from the time he first turned his pet monkey, Scratch, into a musical instrument, but never before had he used the death’s head symbol to make such a powerful statement about the terrifying process of bodily decay. He returned to the same theme in a more personal way with Self Portrait, 1988, one of his finest photographs, and certainly the most intimate. At first he had only intended to take a picture of one of his walking canes, which had a carved skull at the top, but while Ed Maxey and Brian English were busy setting up the shot, he suddenly disappeared into the bedroom and emerged, five minutes later, in a black turtleneck. He knew that by dressing in black the body could be made to appear almost invisible–he had used the same technique to great effect in his portraits of Doris Saatchi and Roy Cohn. Intuitively, Ed understood what Robert was trying to do, and as he photographed his brother, he focused the camera on the hand holding the skull cane, leaving Robert’s blurred face to drift into the darkness” (335).

Epilogue

Chronology of the “Perfect Moment” Controversy

“The AFA targeted a New York artist named Andres Serrano, whose Piss Christ, an image of a crucifix submerged in a yellow liquid, had been exhibited several months earlier at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem. (Serrano described Piss Christ as a protest against the commercialization of sacred imagery.)

[I had always mistakenly associated Piss Christ with Mapplethorpe]

Woolgathering/Just Kids

Woolgathering By Patti Smith

A New Directions Book  1992

The Woolgatherers

“And the image of the woolgatherers in that sleepy field drew me to sleep as well. And I wandered among them, through thistle and thorn, with no task more exceptional than to rescue a fleeting thought, as a tuft of wool, from the comb of the wind” (12).

Just Kids

By Patti Smith

HarperCollinsPublishers  2010  New York

I read this book in tandem with Patricia Morrisroe’s biography of Robert Mapplethorpe. I was interested to see if any of the stories collided. They were obviously different works with Patti writing from first person and Mapplethorpe being a biography. Patti focuses her work, Just Kids, on the friendship between Mapplethorpe and herself, mythologizing along the way about both of their personas. I often felt like Patti was working to appear stranger and more quirky than perhaps was actually her true self. Morrisroe’s Mapplethorpe biography did not focus on the friendship, for its target is Robert himself. Whereas the Mapplethorpe biography (to be summarized in a separate piece) does not shy away from the decadent details of sexual exploration pre-and-inside the AIDS epidemic, Smith engages in very little discussion of Mapplethorpe’s twisted sexual proclivities. It feels as if she wanted his focus to remain on her as muse rather than face the harsh reality that she was simply another stepping-stone to Mapplethorpe’s promotion of his outsized ego. 

Monday’s Children

“On one such day, limping back to the home front beneath the anvil of the su, I was accosted by my mother.

“‘Patricia,’ my mother scolded, ‘put a shirt one!’

“‘It’s too hot,’ I moaned. ‘No one else has one on.’

“‘Hot or not, it’s time you started wearing a shirt. You’re about to become a young lady.’ I protested vehemently and announced that I was never going to become anything but myself, that I was of the clan of Peter Pan and we did not grow up” (10).

“I’m certain, as we filed down the great staircase, that I appeared the same as ever, a moping twelve-year-old, all arms and legs. But secretly I knew I had been transformed, moved by the revelation that human beings create art, that to be an artist was to see what others could not” (11).

Of Mapplethorpe she writes: “The light fell upon the pages of his coloring book, across his child’s hands. Coloring excited him, not the act of filling in space, but choosing colors that no one else would select. In the green of the hills he saw red. Purple snow, green skin, silver sun. He liked the effect it had on others, that it distrurbed his siblings. He discovered he had a talent for sketching. He was a natural draftsman and secretly he twisted and abstracted his images, feeling his growing powers. He was an artist, and he knew it. It was not a childish notion. He merely acknowledged what was his” (13).

“No one expected me. Everything awaited me” (25).

“We piled the best leaves on the bread and happily ate.

“‘A real prison breakfast,’ I said.

“‘Yeah, but we are free.’

“And that summed it up” (28).

“When it got really rough, I would go back to Pratt, occasionally bumping into someone I knew who would let me shower and sleep a night. Or else I would sleep in the hall near a familiar door. That wasn’t much fun, but I had my mantra, ‘I’m free, I’m free.’ Although after several days, my other mantra, ‘I’m hungry, I’m hungry,’ seemed to be in the forefront. I wasn’t worried, though. I just needed a break and I wasn’t going to give up. I dragged my plaid suitcase from stoop to stoop, trying not to wear out my unwelcome.

“It was the summer Coltrane died. The summer of ‘Crystal Ship.’ Flower children raised their empty arms and China exploded the H-bomb. Jimi Hendrix set his guitar in flames in Monterey. AM radio played ‘Ode to Billie Joe.’ There were riots in Newark, Milwaukee, and Detroit. It was the summer of Elvira Madigan, the summer of love. And in this shifting, inhospitable atmosphere, a chance encounter changed the course of my life” (31).  She meets Robert Mapplethorpe.

Just Kids

“But Robert, wishing to shed his Catholic yoke, delved into another side of the spirit, reigned over by the Angel of Light. The image of Lucifer, the fallen angel, came to eclipse the saints he used in his collages and varnished onto boxes. On one small wooden box, he applied the face of Christ; inside, a Mother and Child with a tiny white rose; and in the inner lid, I was surprised to find the face of the Devil, with his extended tongue.

“I would return home to find Robert in brown monk’s cloth, a Jesuit robe he had found in a thrift store, poring over pamphlets on alchemy and magic. He asked me to bring him books slanted toward the occult. At first he didn’t read these books so much as utilize their pentagrams and satanic images, deconstructing and refiguring them. He was not evil, though as darker elements infused his work, he became more silent.

“He grew interested in creating visual spells, which might serve to call up Satan, like one would a genie. He imagined if he could make a pact that accessed Satan’s purest self, the self of the light, he would recognize a kindred soul, and that Satan would grant him fame and fortune. He did not have to ask for greatness, for the ability to be an artist, because he believed he already had that” (62-3).

“Robert was cutting out sideshow freaks from an oversized paperback on Tod Browning. Hermaphrodites, pinheads, and Siamese twins were scattered everywhere. It threw me, for I couldn’t see a connection between these images and Robert’s recent preoccupation with magic and religion” (67).

“It was in that spirit that we would go to Coney Island to visit the sideshows. We had looked for Hubert’s on Forty-second Street, which had featured Snake Princess Wago and a flea circus, but it had closed in 1965. We did find a small museum that had body parts and human embryos in specimen jars, and Robert got fixated on the idea to use something of that sort in an assemblage. He asked around where he might find something of that sort, and a friend told him about the ruins of the old City Hospital on Welfare (later Roosevelt) Island.”

“We went from room to room and saw shelves of medical specimens in their glass jars. Many were broken, vandalized by visiting rodents. Robert combed each room until he found what he was looking for, an embryo swimming in formaldehyde within a womb of glass.

“We all had to agree that Robert would most likely make great use of it. He clutched the precious find on the journey home. Even in his silence, I could feel his excitement and anticipation, imagining how he could make it work as art” (68).

“In early June, Valerie Solanas shot Andy Warhol” (69).

“In response I made a collage drawing for him called My Hustler, where I used one of his letters as a component. Even as he reassured me that I had nothing to worry about, he seemed to be moving deeper into the sexual underworld that he was portraying in his art. He seemed to be attracted to S&M imagery–’I’m not sure what that all means–just know it’s good’–and described to me works titled Tight Fucking Pants, and drawings in which he lacerated S&M characters with a matte knife. ‘I have a hook coming out of where his prick should be, where I’m gonna hang that chain with dice and skulls from it.’ He spoke of using bloody bandages and starred patches of gauze.

“He wasn’t merely jerking off. He was filtering this world through his own aesthetic, criticizing a movie called Male Magazine as ‘nothing more than an exploitation film using an all male cast.’ When he visited the Tool Box, and S&M bar, he felt it was ‘just a bunch of big chains and shit on the wall, nothing really exciting,’ and wished he could design a place like that.

“As the weeks went on, I worried that he wasn’t doing well. It wasn’t like him to complain about his physical condition. ‘My mouth is sick,’ he wrote, ‘my gums are white and achy.’ He sometimes didn’t have enough money to eat.

“His P.S. was still filled with Robert bravado. ‘I’ve been accused of dressing like a hustler, having the mind of a hustler and the body of one” (84). [Well…if it looks, sounds and walks like a duck…]

Hotel Chelsea

“I’m in Mike Hammer mode, puffing on Kools reading cheap detective novels sitting in the lobby waiting for William Burroughs. He comes in dressed to the nines in a dark gabardine overcoat, gray suit, and tie. I sit for a few hours at my post scribbling poems. He comes stumbling out of the El Quixote a bit drunk and disheveled. I straighten his tie and hail him a cab. It’s our unspoken routine.

“In between I clock the action. Eyeing the traffic circulating the lobby hung with bad art. Big invasive stuff unloaded on Stanley Bard in exchange for rent. The hotel is an energetic, desperate haven for scores of gifted hustling children from every rung of the ladder. Guitar bums and stoned-out beauties in Victorian dresses. Junkie poets, playwrights, broke-down filmmakers, and French actors. Everybody passing through here is somebody, if nobody in the outside world.

“The elevator is slowgoing. I get off at the seventh floor to see if Harry Smith is around. I place my hand on the doorknob, sensing nothing but silence. The yellow walls have an institutional feel like a middle school prison. I use the stairs and return to our room. I take a piss in the hall bathroom we share with unknown inmates. I unlock our door. No sign of Robert save a note on the mirror. Went to big 42nd street. Love you. Blue. I see he straightened his stuff. Men’s magazines neatly piled. The chicken wire rolled and tied and the spray cans lined in a row under the sink.

“I fire up the hot plate. Get some water from the tap. You got to let it run for a while as it comes out brown. It’s just minerals and rust, so Harry says. My stuff is in the bottom drawer. Tarot cards, silk ribbons, a jar of Nescafe, and my own cup–a childhood relic with the likeness of Uncle Wiggly, rabbit gentleman. I drag my Remington from under the bed, adjust the ribbon, and insert a fresh sheet of foolscap. There’s a lot to report” (91).

Stanley Bard is the hotel manager. They have Room 1017 for 55 dollars a week to live at the Chelsea Hotel.

“Twenty-third Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues still had a postwar feel” (96).

The Manson murders occur.

“A week or two later I waltzed into the El Quixote looking for Harry and Peggy. It was a bar-restaurant adjacent to the hotel, connected to the lobby by its own door, which made it feel like our bar, as it had been for decades. Dylan Thomas, Terry Southern, Eugene O’Neill, and Thomas Wolfe were among those who had raised one too many a glass there.

“I was wearing a long rayon navy dress with white polka dots and a straw hat, my East of Eden outfit. At the table to my left, Janis Joplin was holding court with her band. To my far right were Grace Slick and the Jefferson Airplane, along with members of Country Joe and the Fish. At the last table facing the door was Jimi Hendrix, his head lowered, eating with his hat on, across from a blonde. There were musicians everywhere, sitting before tables laid with mounds of shrimp with green sauce, paella, pitchers of sangria, and bottles of tequila” (105).

“The Chelsea was like a doll’s house in the Twilight Zone, with a hundred rooms, each a small universe. I wandered the halls seeking its spirits, dead or alive. My adventures were mildly mischievous, tapping open a door slightly ajar and getting a glimpse of Virgil Thomson’s grand piano, or loitering before the nameplate of Arthur C. Clarke, hoping he might suddenly emerge. Occasionally I would bump into Gert Schiff, the German scholar, armed with volumes on Picasso, or Viva in Eau Sauvage. Everyone had something to offer and nobody appeared to have much money. Even the successful seemed to have just enough to live like extravagant bums. 

“I loved this place, its shabby elegance, and the history it held so possessively. There were rumors of Oscar Wilde’s trunks languishing in the hull of the oft-flooded basement. Here Dylan Thomas, submerged in poetry and alcohol, spent his last hours. Thomas Wolfe plowed through hundreds of pages of manuscript that formed You Can’t Go Home Again. Bob Dylan composed ‘Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’ on our floor, and a speeding Edie Sedgwick was said to have set her room on fire while gluing on her thick false eyelashes by candlelight.

“So many had written, conversed, and convulsed in these Victorian dollhouse rooms. So many skirts had swished these worn marble stairs. So many transient souls had espoused, made a mark, and succumbed here. I sniffed out their spirits as I silently scurried from floor to floor, longing for discourse with a gone procession of smoking caterpillars” (112-3).

“This mission led us to the city’s Bermuda Triangle: Brownie’s, Max’s Kansas City, and the Factory had moved from its original location on Forty-seventh Street to 33 Union Square. Brownie’s was a health food restaurant around the corner where the Warhol people ate lunch, and Max’s where they spent their nights.”

“Max’s Kansas City was on Eighteenth Street and Park Avenue South. It was supposedly a restaurant, though few of us actually had the money to eat there. The owner, Mickey Ruskin, was notoriously artist-friendly, even offering a free cocktail-hour buffet for those with the price of a drink. It was said that this buffet, which included Buffalo wings, kept a lot of struggling artists and drag queens alive. I never frequented it as I was working and Robert, who didn’t drink, was too proud to go.

“There was a big black-and-white awning flanked by a bigger sign announcing that you were about to enter Max’s Kansas City. It was casual and sparse, adorned with large abstract pieces of art given to Mickey by artists who ran up supernatural bar tabs. Everything, save the white walls, was red: booths, tablecloths, napkins. Even their signature chickpeas were served in little red bowls. The big draw was surf and turf: steak and lobster. The back room, bathed in red light, was Robert’s objective, and the definitive target was the legendary round table that still harbored the rose-colored aura of the absent silver king.

“On our first visit we only made it as far as the front section. We sat in a booth and split a salad and ate the inedible chickpeas. Robert and Sandy ordered Cokes. I had a coffee.The place was fairly dead. Sandy had experienced Max’s at the time when it was the social hub of the subterranean universe, when Andy Warhol passively reigned over the round table with his charismatic ermine queen, Edie Sedgwick. The ladies-in-waiting were beautiful, and the circulating knights were the likes of Ondine, Donald Lyons, Rauschenberg, Dali, Billy Name, Lichtenstein, Gerard Malanga, and John Chamberlain. In recent memory the round table had seated such royalty as Bob Dylan, Bob Neuwirth, Nico, Tim Buckley, Janis Joplin, Viva, and the Velvet underground. It was as darkly glamorous as one could wish for. But running through the primary artery, the thing that ultimately accelerated their world and then took them down, was speed. Amphetamine magnified their paranoia, robbed some of their innate powers, drained their confidence, and ravaged their beauty” (116-7).

“We drew on everything from Butterfield 8 to the French New Wave. She shot the stills from our imagined movies. Although I didn’t smoke, I would pocket a few of Robert’s Kools to achieve a certain look. For our Blaise Cendrars shots we needed thick smoke, for our Jeanne Moreau a black slip and a cigarette.

“When I showed him Judy’s prints, Robert was amused by my personas. ‘Patti, you don’t smoke,’ he’d say, tickling me. ‘Are you stealing my cigarettes?’ I thought he would be annoyed, since cigarettes were expensive, but the next time I went to Judy’s, he surprised me with the last couple from his battered pack.

“‘I know I’m a fake smoker,’ I would say, ‘but I’m not hurting anybody and besides I gotta enhance my image.’ It was all for Jeanne Moreau” (125).

“I looked around at everyone bathed in the blood light of the back room. Dan Flavin had conceived his installation in response to the mounting death toll of the war in Vietnam. No one in the back room was slated to die in Vietnam, though few would survive the cruel plagues of a generation” (127).

Gregory made lists of books for me to read, told me the best dictionary to own, encouraged and challenged me. Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs were all my teachers, each one passing through the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel, my new university” (138).

“‘I don’t want to sing. I just want to write songs for him. I want to be a poet, not a singer’” (142).

“Memento mori. It means ‘Remember we are mortal’” (155).

I call my granddaughter LouLou, so this next passage stood out to me: “I liked Loulou, a charismatic redhead who was the celebrated muse of Yves Saint Laurent, the daughter of a Schiaparelli model and a French count. She wore a heavy African bracelet, and when she unclasped it, there was a red string tied around her tiny wrist, placed there, she said, by Brian Jones” (156).

“Michael Pollard was usually by her side. They were like adoring twins, both with the same speech patterns, punctuating each sentence with man. I sat on the floor as Kris Kristofferson sang her ‘Me and Bobby McGee,’ Janis joining in the chorus. I was there for these moments, but so young and preoccupied with my own thoughts that I hardly recognized them as moments” (159).

“It was an infamous address, having housed the Film Guild Cinema in the twenties, and a raucous country-western club hosted by Rudy Vallee in the thirties. The great abstract expressionist artist and teacher Hans Hoffman had a small school on the third floor through the forties and fifties, preaching to the likes of Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, and Willem de Kooning. In the sixties it housed the Generation Club, where Jimi Hendrix used to hang out, and when it closed he took over the space and built a state-of-the-art studio in the bowels of 52 Eighth Street” (168).

“I was excited to go. I put on my straw hat and walked downtown, but when I got there, I couldn’t bring myself to go in. By chance, Jimi Hendrix came up the stairs and found me sitting there like some hick wallflower and ginned. He had to catch a plane to London to do the Isle of Wight Festival. When I told him I was too chicken to go in, he laughed solely and said that contrary to what people might think, he was shy, and parties made him nervous. He spent a little time with me on the stairs and told me his vision of what he wanted to do with the studio. He dreamed of amassing musicians from all over the world in Woodstock and they would sit in a field in a circle and play and play. It didn’t matter what key or tempo or what melody, they would keep on playing through their discordance until they found a common language. Eventually they would record this abstract universal language of music in his new studio.

“‘The language of peace. You dig?’ I did.

“I can’t remember if I actually went into the studio, but Jimi never accomplished his dream. In September I went with my sister and Annie to Paris. Sandy Daley had an airline connection and helped us get cheap tickets. Paris had already changed ina year, as had I. It seemed as if the whole of the world was slowly being stripped of innocence. Or maybe I was seeing a little too clearly.

“As we walked down the boulevard Montparnasse I saw a headline that filled me with sorrow: Jimi Hendrix est mort. 27 ans. I knew what the words meant” (169).

“But the next night we would meet in Johnny’s room to console one another again. I wrote but two words in my diary: Janis Joplin. For she had died of an overdose in room 105 of the Landmark Hotel in Los Angeles, twenty-seven years old” (170).

Holy Modal Rounders

“It was like being at an Arabian hoedown with a band of psychedelic hillbillies. I fixed on the drummer, who seemed as if he was on the lam and had slid behind the drums while the cops looked elsewhere. Toward the end of their set he sang a song called ‘Blind Rage,’ and as he slammed the drums, I thought, This guy truly embodies the heart and soul of rock and roll. He had beauty, energy, animal magnetism” (171). That man turned out to be Sam Shepard “the biggest playwright off-Broadway. He had a play at Lincoln Center. He won five Obies!”

“I was also writing more pieces for rock magazines–Crawdaddy, Circus, Rolling Stone. This was a time when the vocation of a music journalist could be an elevated pursuit. Paul Williams, Nick Tosches, Richard Meltzer, and Sandy Pearlman were some of the writers I held in esteem. I modeled myself after Baudelaire, who wrote some of the great idiosyncratic critiques of nineteenth-century art and literature” (178).

“I wanted to infuse the written word with the immediacy and frontal attack of rock and roll” (180).

…”but then I remembered Lenny Kaye had said he played electric guitar. I went to see him.”

“With a nod to Brecht, I decided to open the reading singing ‘Mack the Knife.’ Lenny played along” (181).

“We finished with ‘Ballad of a Bad Boy’ accompanied by Lenny’s strong rhythmic chords and electric feedback. It was the first time an electric guitar had been played in St. Mark’s Church, provoking cheers and jeers. As this was hallowed ground for poetry, some objected, but Gregory was jubilant.”


“I was bombarded with offers stemming from my poetry reading. Creem magazine agreed to publish a suite of my poems; there were proposed readings in London and Philadelphia; a chapbook of poems for Middle Earth Books; and a possible record contract with Steve Paul’s Blue Sky Records. At first this was flattering, and then seemed embarrassing. It was a more extreme reaction than had greeted my haircut” (182).

“I thought of something I learned from reading Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas by Mari Sandoz. Crazy Horse believes that he will be victorious in battle, but if he stops to take spoils from the battlefield, he will be defeated. He tattoos lightning bolts on the ears of his horses so the sight of them will remind him of this as he rides. I tried to apply this lesson to the things at hand, careful not to take spoils that were not rightfully mine” (183).

“When we got to the part where we had to improvise an argument in a poetic language, I got cold feet. ‘I can’t do this,’ I said. ‘I don’t know what to say.’

“‘Say anything,’ he said. ‘You can’t make a mistake when you improvise.’

“‘What if I mess it up> What if I screw up the rhythm?’

“‘You can’t,’ he said. ‘It’s like drumming. If you miss a beat, you create another.’

“In this simple exchange, Sam taught me the secret of improvisation, one that I have accessed my whole life” (185).

“An important new presence entered Robert’s life. David had introduced Robert to the curator of photography at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. John McKendry was married to Maxime de la Falaise, a leading figure in New York’s high society. John and Maxime provided Robert with an entrance into a world that was as glamorous as he could have wished for. Maxime was an accomplished cook and hosted elaborate dinner parties where she served obscure dishes taken from her knowledge of centuries of English cooking. For every sophisticated course presented, there was equally well-spiced repartee served up by her guests. Those typically seated at her table: Bianca Jagger, Marisa and Berry Berenson, Tony Perkins, George Plimpton, Henry Geldzahler, Diane and Prince Egon von Furstenberg” (189).

“Being allowed to lift the tissues from these photographs, actually touch them and get a sense of the paper and the hand of the artist, made an enormous impact on Robert. He studied them intently–the paper, the process, the composition, and the intensity of the blacks. ‘It’s really all about light,’ he said” (190).

“I never anticipated Robert’s complete surrender to its powers. I had encouraged him to take photographs to integrate into his collages and installation, hoping to see him assume the mantle of Duchamp. But Robert had shifted his focus. The photograph was not a means to an end, but the object itself. Hovering over all of this was Warhol, who seemed to both excite and paralyze him.

“Robert was determined to do something Andy had not yet done. He had defaced Catholic images of the Madonna and Christ; he had introduced physical freaks and S&M imagery into his collages. But where Andy had seen himself as a passive observer, Robert would eventually insert himself into the action. He would participate in and document that which he had previously only been able to approximate through magazine imagery.

“He began to branch out, photographing those he met through his complex social life, the infamous and the famous, from Marianne Faithfull to a young tattooed hustler. But he always returned to his muse. I no longer felt that I was the right model for him, but he would wave my objections away. He saw in me more than I could see in myself. Whenever he peeled the image from the Polaroid negative, he would say, ‘With you I can’t miss’” (192).

Separate Ways Together

“It seemed like Allen was always on the road with Blue Oyster Cult…”(213).

Todd Rundgren and Bebe Buell  [We now know what this coupling produced]

Holding Hands With God

Madame Bovary

Madame Bovary

by Gustave Flaubert

A Norton Critical Edition Trans. Paul De Man New York  1965

I can tell I read this book long ago because my reading note style has changed significantly since then. There were no end-of-chapter summaries which I incorporate now. The best bits were marked in highlighter which I find fades over the years. I caught up with plot twists by writing in pencil in very small lettering in the margins. Now I write in pen as long as the ink doesn’t seep through to the other side. I didn’t even write my name inside the front cover which I do now along with the season and year in which I completed the read. I wasn’t sure there would be enough material to share, but some of these lines are wonderful. I know I read this during the time before I’d read the intro or preface thinking it unnecessary and boring; it is not. I also did not read any of the critical reflections on the work afterward. If I were doing a serious college paper on Madame Bovary I would read all the critical works provided in the back of the book. Madame Bovary was first printed in 1857 and was originally written in French. At the time it was seen as scandalous and in need of censors.

“He grew thin, his figure became taller, his face took a saddened look that made it almost interesting” (7).

“For him the universe did not extend beyond the silky circumference of her petticoat” (24).

“This nature, positive in the midst of its enthusiasms, that had loved the church for the sake of the flowers, and music for the words of the songs, and literature for the passions it excites, rebelled against the mysteries of faith as it had rebelled against discipline, as something alien to her constitution” (28).

“Perhaps she would have liked to confide all these things to some one. But how tell an undefinable uneasiness, changing as the clouds, unstable as the winds? Words failed her and, by the same token, the opportunity, the courage” (29).

About the baby: “Thus she did not amuse herself with those preparations that stimulate the tenderness of mothers, and so her affection was perhaps impaired from the start” (63).

Because he is not the jealous type, Charles thinks nothing of Leon spending time with Emma. “Wasn’t the husband also a part of her after all” (71)?

Emma is praising Charles to Leon…out of nervousness? Charles is late and is due any minute. This irritates Leon.

Charles becomes the representation of her unfulfilled dreams: “What exasperated her was that Charles did not seem to be aware of her torment. His conviction that he was making her happy looked to her a stupid insult, and his self-assurance of this point sheer ingratitude. For whom, then, was she being virtuous? Was it not for him, the obstacle to all happiness, the cause of all misery, and, as it were, the sharp clasp of that complex strap that buckled her in all sides” (77)?

Emma meets Monsieur Rodolphe Boulanger who wants her, but only for an affair: “‘I think he is very stupid. She must be tired of him, no doubt. He has dirty nails, and hasn’t shaven for three days. While he is trotting after his patients, she sits there mending socks. How bored she gets! How she’d want to be in the city and go dancing every night! Poor little woman! She is gaping after love like a carp on the kitchen table after water. Three gallant words and she’d adore me, I’m sure of it. She’d be tender, charming. Yes; but how get rid of her afterwards’ (93)? He plans his strategy to use her.

By page 117, Emma and Rodolphe do the nasty.

The first thing Rodolphe does to slow things down: “‘What is wrong?’ she said. ‘Are you ill? Tell me!’

“He ended up declaring earnestly that her visits were too dangerous and that she was compromising herself” (118). 

There is regret and more regret.

When Charles was at his lowest Emma rejected him. She hates his existence. 

Uh-oh! Now the shop man knows Emma is having an affair! Emma begins to change and become more bold.

The shop man now knows she is planning to run away. The closer they get to their escape, the more Rodolphe understands this will be a mistake.

Although he was a womanizer, Emma regrets not being a man.

Another regret: “All her attempts at critical detachment were swept away by the poetic power of the acting, and, drawn to the man by the illusion of the part, she tried to imagine his life–extraordinary, magnificent, notorious, the life that could have been hers if fate had willed it. If only they had met! He would have loved her, they would have travelled together through all the kingdoms of Europe from capital to capital, sharing in his success and in his hardships, picking up the flowers thrown to him, mending his clothes” (163).

They see Leon at the opera. She is so easily swayed by the moment that it is pathetic!

Charles is absolutely oblivious to the motives of other men.

Charles puts even his grief for his own father’s death behind him for Emma.

Emma wants power of attorney in order to manage Charles’s inheritance.

Emma stays out all night…BRAZEN!

“One must not touch one’s idols, a little of the gilt always comes off on one’s fingers” (205).

“Besides, nothing was worth the trouble of seeking it; everything was a lie. Every smile concealed a yawn of boredom, every joy a curse, every pleasure its own disgust, and the sweetest kisses left upon your lips only the unattainable desire for a greater delight” (206).

Since Leon does not show with the money, Emma, at the last minute, thinks of Rodolphe.

You will have to read the novel to find how it ends!

The Norton Edition includes:

Earlier Versions of Madame Bovary 

“Structures of Imagery in Madame Bovary” by D. L. Demorest

“On Rereading Madame Bovary” by Albert Beguin

Biographical Sources:

“The Real Source of Madame Bovary” by Rene Dumesnil

“Flaubert and Madame Bovary: Outline of a New Method” by Jean-Paul Sartre

“Letters about Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert

Essays in Criticism:

Contemporary Reactions:

By Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve

By Charles Baudelaire

Stylistic Studies:

“Style and Morality in Madame Bovary” by Henry James

“The Craft of Fiction in Madame Bovary” by Percy Lubbock

“Flaubert’s Language” by W. Von Wartburg

Thematic Studies:

“On the ‘Inner Environment’ in the Work of Flaubert” by Charles Du Bos

Madame Bovary” by Albert Thibaudet

“The Realism of Flaubert” by Erich Auerback

“The Circle and the Center: Reality and Madame Bovary” by Georges Poulet

Madame Bovary: the Cathedral and the Hospital” by Harry Levin

“Love and Memory in Madame Bovary” by Jean Pierre Richard

Madame Bovary: Flaubert’s Anti-Novel” by Jean Rousset

Selected Bibliography

Pictures From an Institution

A Comedy

By Randall Jarrell

This book has been on my shelf for years. The paper cover is pretty battered and the colors are drab and boring. From the title and the cover, I assumed Jarrell had taken notes on various patients in a mental institution, perhaps in the 1950s or ‘60s. None of those things could be further from the hilarity that is this story. If I would have known it was about professors at a small girls college I would have read it a decade ago! The writing style is so lyrical and poetic that I had to look up Randall Jarrell. It all came to make sense when I found out he was a real-life poet! As you know, I like to share “the best bits” by transcribing the most beautiful, touching, joyous or heartbreaking lines, but the language in this book is so off-the-charts that I would have had to mark every line. I had to stop. If you are a professor, a lover of poetry, comedy or spot-on scathing character sketches, you must read this book!

Meridian Fiction  New York  1960

Randall Jarrell was born on May 6, 1914, in Nashville, Tennessee. He was educated at Vanderbilt University and has distinguished himself as poet, critic, novelist, and teacher. He has taught at various colleges, including Princeton, and has been poetry consultant to the Library of Congress. Jarrell has published five volumes of poetry; a book of criticism, and edited an anthology of short stories.

  1. The President Mrs., and Derik Robbins

It is Constance Morgan’s last day as assistant to the secretary. 

“…her features, as far as one could distinguish them, were undistinguished” (5).

Gertrude had been teaching at the college. Constance listens to Gertrude and President Robbins as they say goodbye.

“Gertrude and the President’s Friendship at First Sight had lasted only until they took a second look at each other. After this look Gertrude no longer felt as if she had just taken a drink, but felt as if she had a long time ago taken a great many: that look awoke both of them from their amicable slumbers.

“What a pity it was that that party had ever been given! –the party that brought with it their first terrible quarrel, a quarrel that ended their friendship after eleven days. Without the party, they both felt bitterly, it might have lasted for weeks. One could not help blaming Gertrude a little more than one blamed the President; the President, like most people, behaved in a different way after he had a great deal to drink, but Gertrude, knowing no other, behaved as she always behaved. But the drinks at the party, the almost unavoidable intimacies at the party, what they had said and what Mrs. Robbins had said and what people had said they all of them had said at the party–these, the memory of these, made Gertrude and the President look narrowly at each other, and their eyes widened at what they saw. George looked at the dragon and thought, Why, that woman’s a dragon; and the dragon looked at George and thought, That’s no man, that’s an institution” (7).

A very fun description of the novelist, Gertrude Johnson, who is leaving.

Who could explain President Robbin’s marriage?

“People did not like Mrs. Robbins, Mrs. Robbins did not like people; and neither was sorry.”

“Often, when you have met a true Englishwoman–the false ones are sometimes delightful–you feel that God himself could go no further, that way. Mrs. Robbins existed to show what he could do if he tried” (11).

“To hear her was to be beginning to despair” (13).

Mrs. Robbins’s horrid personality. Later in the book I began to realize that most of the text is description of character. Not much actually happens; therefore, chapter summaries became less and less frequent.

President Robbins has illusions about himself. There is the thought that only some people are very important. Derek is the president’s son and he is kind of odd.

President Benton is a slick orator, good at raising funds, and different than us.

“Not to have given him what he asked, they felt, would have been to mine the bridge that bears the train that carries the supply of this year’s Norman Rockwell Boy Scout Calendars. They felt this; it seems far-fetched to me” (27).

Did Gertrude go on to write lies about President Robbins in her next novel?

  1. The Whittakers and Gertrude

Couples attend a party at Gertrude’s house.

“People say that conversation is a lost art: how often I have wished it were” (41)!

“Gertrude didn’t want conversation, she wanted an audience” at the dinner party.

“…she was so thin you could have recognized her skeleton. Sometimes it seemed to you that she was not a person, not a thing, but an idea, and a mistaken one at that. A badly mistaken one: she always said not the wrong but the wrongest, the most wrongest thing–language won’t express it” (44).

“When well-dressed woman met Flo they looked at her as though they couldn’t believe it. She looked as if she had waked up and found herself dressed–as if her clothes had come together by chance and involved her, an innocent onlooker, in the accident. If a dress had made her look better than she really did, she would have felt guilty; but she had never had such a dress” (45).

“In the classroom, where Dr. Whittaker was almost as much at home as in his study, this would not have happened; there each sentence lived its appointed term, died mourned by its people, and was succeeded by a legitimate heir” (50).

There are hilarious descriptions of Flo and others and a dinner party at which no one ate. Gertrude disparages the South from which she still keeps an accent. How Gertrude feels about the music teacher. We meet Gertrude’s devoted husband, Sidney.

  1. Miss Batterson and Benton

Miss Batterson was an earlier creative writing teacher.

The teaching philosophy and life at Benton.

“Benton was, all in all, a surprisingly contented place. The people who weren’t contented got jobs elsewhere–as did, usually, any very exceptional people–and the others stayed. They didn’t need to be exceptional: they were at Benton. One felt that they felt that all they had to do was say, “I’m at Benton,’ and their hearer would say, raising his hand: ‘Enough!’” (105).

We learn why Benton is the subject of Gertrude’s novel. Miss Batterson got a better job but soon died. There is a funeral.

How the Rosenbaums live; very European. The narrator recalls a story told by Miss Batterson about her father.

  1. Constance and The Rosenbaums

Gertrude looks at life as fodder for her novels.

Dr. Rosenbaum’s wife and Constance’s friendship with the Rosenbaums.

“Old faces are forbidding or beautiful for what is expressed in them; in a face that is young enough almost everything but the youth is hidden, so that it is beautiful both for what is there and what cannot yet be there. Constance’s face was a question mark that you looked at and did not want to find an answer for” (146).

Constance and her music. Colleagues talking about home with the Rosenbaums. Irene singing. Constance is upset about the portrayal of the Rosenbaums in Gertrude’s story. The Rosenbaums’ personalities are described.

“…it is better to entertain an idea than to take it home to live with you for the rest of your life” (173).

How Americans are different from Europeans. Irene and her personality.

  1. Gertrude and Sidney

Gertrude was filled with anger she couldn’t understand. The narrator is dropping some work from a student at Gertrude’s. Gertrude takes care of her sick husband.

“But now that she saw she could not possibly get along without Sidney, her trust was shaken. When Sidney found out that she was in his power–if he found out, her heart substituted hastily–what would he do? How could you trust anyone with such power” (206)?

“…if Sidney had come home from work some evening and had said to her, ‘I’m not interested in you any more, Gertrude,’ she would have thought this a disastrous but perfectly reasonable, perfectly predictable thing for him to say–he would simply have come to his senses” (207).

“…she was like a magic sword that is content only as it comes shining from the scabbard” (209).

Gertrude can do without all others, except Sidney.

  1. Art Night

Gertrude is drunk as they head to Art Night.

“Mr. Daudier had a queer look on his face, as if he were a box of mixed nuts, but mostly peanuts…” (242).

  1. They All Go

If you are a teacher and/or love lines that run like crazy poetry, please read this book!

On Reading


[Author’s note: There are all types of reading material and all reading time is well-spent. This information is specifically focused on books and how to study books. Thoughts on reading are never final; I may be adding to and editing this piece until I die.]

Do not undertake the acquisition of a book lightly. In fact, do not even pick up or buy a book that you do not sincerely intend to read. Books not only take up physical space but mental space. Now you are expected to do something with that thing you bought; that money you spent. When you buy or acquire a book, you are making a promise. Think of the book as a living being. You are now committed, at least until the last page of the book, to that being. In the acquisition of a book you are saying, “I may place you on the shelf, but you are there for a good reason. I will see you. Although you must wait your turn, you will have your time to shine. You will be lovingly handled, read, contemplated, marked, discussed, explored. What is inside of you will end up inside of me. I will not make you wait for nothing. You mean something to me.” If you are not going to read the book, why have it around? Ego boosting? One who has a well-curated bookshelf but does not read is only a fake.

Do not short-shrift the reading of the book. The reading of the book is the enactment of the commitment you have made to the book. Don’t attempt to read deeply in noisy or distracting places. Everyone knows you are not absorbing that Shakespearean play in the middle of a Starbucks. You are not contemplating moral philosophy while also watching television. Turn off your music. Turn off the tv. Go to a quiet place. Set yourself up for success by having something to sip within arm’s length. Have a pen or pencil nearby. Chew gum. I prefer the use of a bookmark rather than torturing the book with dog ears; that’s disrespectful. (Remember when I said to treat your book like a living being?) Bookmarks can be any flat material (even that Starbucks napkin), so don’t say you don’t have one. Proper bookmarks that have flat-edged stiffness are good to use for underlining so your annotations look less palsied. Choose active brain time to read as well. Sure, you can read at bedtime, but once you have determined you are falling asleep, you are no longer absorbing the material. Magazines are better suited for this purpose. If you only use reading in order to sleep, then you are not sincerely reading; you are using the text for an off-brand purpose. What you need is chamomile tea, not zombie-like meanderings through books.

Once you begin a book, commit to finishing the book. Don’t punk out. You can view the book as a challenge: You won’t best me! I have endurance! If the book evokes your fighting spirit, all the better. Don’t allow even the longest of books to intimidate you. YOU intimidate the book! If you are not on a timeline, who cares how long it takes you to complete the book? A page a day is for babies, but even three or six pages a day will eventually lead you to complete that book. Of course, it is best when the book absorbs your mind and you cannot put it down. In this case, you have found your genre and/or author. Find more books of like-kind because now you know this is your jam. The converse may be true. You may be reading a sci-fi paperback and early on you think this crap is really not for me. What are you going to do…give up? No! Finish that book if only to come to learn what you don’t like. It is difficult to argue against something you’ve never tried. When I find myself committed to a book I am not enjoying, I shift into viewing reading as a practice. I am practicing reading. I am practicing mindfulness. I am practicing patience. I am practicing reading aloud. I am expanding my vocabulary and knowledge. I am exploring what I don’t like. It sounds counter-intuitive, but we can’t constantly surround ourselves with only the things we like. We also learn from fully engaging in the things we don’t like. We are learning all the same.

Reading is The Great Escape. Don’t want to twiddle your thumbs in that waiting room? Take a book. Standing in line at the DMV? Take a book. Being told to take a nap but you are wide awake? (I’m thinking of my granddaughter here.) Take a book. Called for jury duty? Take a book. In jail again? (What did you do this time?) Demand your reading material! Reading is a tool to make certain periods of time that would normally be torture, fly by with the greatest of ease. We can’t all travel the world, but most of us can get to a library. We can’t all afford luxurious lives, but we can read about those who can. We can’t all be heroes, but we can find them in books. I know about so many things I’ve never experienced in real life because I’ve read about these things in books. In books, we can travel to far-away places and learn of ancient customs. We can envision people on the other side of the earth or aliens from outer space. We can explore imaginary worlds or knock around the thoughts of a crazy person. Being able to escape our current moment to experience the world through the eyes of others allows us a greater capacity for empathy. Perhaps there is a connection between an ancient sherpa’s quest for home and your own longings for your childhood abode. We can escape by reading more profound thoughts than we could ever think on our own. We can find words that represent images in just such a way to make us burst out laughing or crying. We can come across a set of ideas so achingly beautiful that we tattoo it on our arm…and it came about through words on a page!

Don’t judge yourself regarding the type of reading you prefer. Who cares? Like trashy romance novels? At least you are reading! Into manga or graphic novels? Historical war novels or biographies? Plays or sports writing? Children’s literature or Native American narratives? The topic is up to you; the exercise is the reading. When it comes to reading, there is literally something for everyone. Here is where your local library comes in handy. Walk right up to the closest librarian, plant your feet like Superman and say with all dignity, “I’m into dancing robots who farm but also use technology to learn about humans. Have anything like that?” They’ll come up with something, and it’s free! If some jerk comes along and says, “Ech…why are you reading that?” You could possibly deflect punching them in the nose by asking, “What are you reading?” If they don’t have an answer, you just won. If they do, then maybe you can discuss reading again in the future. You will just as often find people who say, “Oh wow! I love that book!” Instant friend. Books can bind people.

Some people are book borrowers (like those library visitors) while others are book keepers, like me. Both are excellent and most people are probably a combination of the two. People who frequent libraries perhaps seek a wide variety of reading material without having to give up money or space for the luxury of reading. They are discouraged from marking or dog-earring the books; they are merely a temporary keeper of the kingdom. They can start something, dislike the proposed journey and return the book the next day; no harm done. Book keepers are involved in a deeper commitment. They are willing to invest money and concede space to inanimate objects that simultaneously capture their hearts. They mark books. They highlight, underline, circle and write in the margins. They revisit the book and stick nameplates inside the front covers. I write short summaries at the end of each chapter. Lately, I’ve taken to writing not only my name inside the front cover but the season and year in which I read the book. I can picture my son or grandchildren one day inheriting the book and seeing what their grandma (or great-grandma!) marked in a book decades before. If I have enjoyed the book more than normal I make a note to myself to read it again in the future. Conversely, I may get to the end of a book and be so happy it is done! I don’t place a nameplate in those books; I give them away or take them to the Goodwill.

There are many different reading levels. You will hear of a child in third grade who “reads on a ninth grade level.” That means they are able to comprehend material above the normal reading comprehension for their age group. Try to diversify your levels of reading. Some stuff you read might be kind of dumb or just for fun. Some stuff you read is right at your level and you don’t have to spend a lot of time worrying about unfamiliar concepts or words. Every once in a while, try to tackle a reading project that is a bit beyond your normal comfort level. You are pressed to do this in school, but don’t drop the habit just because you’ve graduated. Pressing your reading into territory just beyond your total comprehension stretches and exercises the mind. There may be so many words in a row that you don’t completely understand, but are you comprehending the broad overview? Are you able to understand the overall idea? You may not want to spend time looking up every word you don’t know while in the midst of this exercise because it would prove too time consuming (unless looking up the meaning of unfamiliar words is your new super cool hobby). In this case, read slowly and in smaller chunks. Write notes in the margin when you clearly understand an idea. Spend time simply sounding out the words and reading upper-level sentences out loud. It does feel strange to be exploring a world of words and ideas that seem abstract, but if we practice reading beyond our level every once in a while we become less stressed by the practice. There is no shame in saying, “I don’t understand half of what she is saying, but I’m trying.” 

On that note, don’t forget that you can always bring in outside reinforcements if you are not understanding what you are reading, or if you simply want to know more. If there is a concept that is not quite clear, you can always Google it! If you have completed a short story and now you are wondering how a certain theme works within it, you could use Google Scholar and type in something like “the role of domestic violence in the works of Zora Neale Hurston” and see what comes up. You could also use the search word “critique(s)” which will lead you to critics who have analyzed and written about the work. For example, in a Google, library or Google Scholar search box one could type: critiques on “the mother” by Gwendolyn Brooks. You may then be bombarded with different points of view pointing out different ideas of that one work. Filter through and see what you are looking for. The text is not simply the text; there are usually texts (or some sort of outside reference) about that text that expand upon and attempt to explain the original work.

Reading for School/Study

Once you have signed up for a literature course (in high school or college) see if you can acquire the syllabus or reading list right then. Ask the teacher or school which books you will need and find a way to get them. If you are reading older material, don’t forget you can find many works in full on the internet or through your school’s library or online resources. Project Gutenberg (gutenberg.org) has tens of thousands of works-in-full whose copyright has expired. Beginning the reading list and taking notes before the semester begins is a life-saver. We are unable to predict a future in which we may acquire a new job or experience a bump in the road that will throw off our reading schedule. Reading early safeguards against unforeseen misadventures.

Once you have received the syllabus, (a rules and to-do list for the semester) create a reading calendar. The best syllabi will have the reading pages listed for each entry. This will let you know how many pages are required per week/project. If the page numbers are not listed, go inside the book and, using the table of contents, jot down how many pages are involved in each reading. Only you know how much reading time you have per day or on particular days. Break down the number of pages into a per-day goal. If all the readings for the week add up to one hundred pages, you will have to read 14.2 pages per day over the course of seven days. In school, there is no getting around this. If you skip a day of reading, guess what? Instead of fourteen pages tomorrow, you will have to read 29. Now you are under pressure and you are not going to absorb the material as well as if you’d stuck to the reading plan. At the end of each week check to see if you have met your reading schedule. If not, you have to set your alarm earlier or stay up later in order to get the reading done. Mark the readings off in your calendar as they are completed; this will boost feelings of success and accomplishment.

Accept the challenge that while taking a literature course you must do the readings. This is not a sit-in-class-and-I’ll-probably-pick-it-up scenario. Your professor may focus on one work and not the others for the week. They may focus on answering questions rather than deeply exploring the text. They may discuss historical events or the backgrounds of authors rather than the text. In all of these scenarios, you have not gained a deeper understanding of the readings themselves just by being in class. Do not take a reading class unless you sincerely commit to the process of reading deeply.

When reading for school you are always reading for a purpose. If you are not given reading guides or questions to answer along the way, then you are reading in the wilderness out there on your own to decide what is and is not important to note within the text. Whatever situation you are reading for in school, always incorporate your reading tools. You should never just plop down with only the material. You must have a pen or pencil and notebook paper or computer to take notes. With the amount of reading you have to do for school, you are not going to remember everything. As you read, mark what you have critically determined to be the most important elements on the page. Train yourself to think of a page, section, or chapter like this: If a person asked you “What was _ about?” what would you tell them? Would your notes (without the book) sufficiently answer their question? Imagine even more pressure: you are in the classroom and the professor asks you, “So, what takes place on page 375?” Would you be able to answer the question from what you underlined or highlighted on page 375? What would your notes from page 375 reveal? In this particular situation there is a handy trick: as you are writing or typing notes from the reading material, note the number of the page you are on along the left-hand margin of your notes. For each new page of material, update the page number. This trick helps in many ways. Page numbers within your notes help you save time when you are searching for something specific, and the professor can never trip you up in class with the above question. When the professor asks about the plot twist in chapter five, you have noted “Chapter Five” at the top of a page along with the page number. Your notes reveal the unusual twist that happened in this section. Boom! You raise your hand.
You are taking separate notes in addition to your in-text annotations for three reasons: 1) it keeps you on-task while reading. Constantly going back and forth from the page to writing/typing notes keeps your thoughts engaged and your body alert; 2) knowledge of the material goes deeper into your brain if you not only read the material but also put the ideas into your own words by writing or typing reading notes; 3) you will study these notes for quizzes and exams. Once you have read the material and notated the most important information into your own words and notes, you have a way to go over and over the material for whatever may be thrown at you in the future. Many professors allow/encourage open-note quizzes or exams. How smart would you look without your book having taken excellent notes you can now use to pass the test? Score!

When you are reading elevated college material, you may come across various unfamiliar textual practices. Anthologies are collections of writings that are merely pieces of larger texts. For example, instead of the entire novel of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in the anthology you may get chapter one, chapter seven, and bits of chapters thirteen and twenty. The point with anthologies is to give you a broad overview of the best works in a certain genre or area of writing. To read the entire work, you’d have to buy or borrow it separately. Ideally, while reading anthologies you will come across an author or work that resonates with you leading you to go out and seek the entire work to read later on your own. For school purposes, you are merely learning more about the characteristics of certain types of writing performed during a certain time in history (sometimes associated with a particular country or geographical area). Because the works do not appear in full, you will see the word “From”, often in italics, which indicates that what you are about to read is not the entire work but selected pieces. You may also come across a series of asterisks running across a page. This signifies that at this particular juncture, the editors removed material from the original work and we are jumping ahead; something is missing. In addition, you will often find little numbers (in order) scattered throughout a work. These mini-numbers indicate footnotes which can usually be found at the bottom of the same page. Footnotes provide a reader additional information shared by the editors of the anthology or the author of the piece. The information may not flow in the body of the text or the information gives a definition, background, or historical information not needed in the body of the text. I prefer to stop at each footnote to read it right then. Afterwards, I go back and apply that new information to the sentence and context. Others view footnotes at the beginning or end of reading the page.

While reading for school pay special attention to the full names of authors, the full titles of the pieces, the year they were published, and from what country or area. For each new text, write the name of the author in large script at the top. Include their birth and death date. Before their works begin, there is often a biographical section that tells us about the author. Begin taking notes here. Where were they born? Did they suffer through unusual hardships? Did they have early success? Were they rich, poor, educated, or not? Was there anything unusual about their families like mental illness or extreme poverty? What writing characteristics did they come to be known for? What are two or three titles of their most famous works? What I search for is any biographical information that may have influenced their writing. What in their background can give us insight to their work?

Once you get to the text itself, note the full title of the piece. It may be long, but thems the breaks. (Yes, I meant to write that.) Pay special attention to lead sentences (the first indented sentence of each paragraph) that announce the topic of the paragraph. You don’t always have to notate them, but each new paragraph should move the story or material forward. Also, pay special attention to the last sentence of the paragraph. Pause at the conclusion of each paragraph. Do you understand what is going on? If not, go back and read it again. If you still do not understand the material, jot down a question (or place a sticky note) next to that page number in your notes. At the end of the paragraph, ask yourself if there is anything important to note. Sometimes a paragraph can result in a one-word note like, “war” and the next paragraph might be “famine” and the next, “farming.” If the author is simply describing an area during a certain time, you will still have noted the broad ideas discussed on that particular page. Not all paragraphs warrant a note.
Look for themes that seem to run throughout the piece. Themes can be many things, but a few examples are man vs. nature, the search for immortality, the downfalls of hubris, gender roles, naming and identity, rituals, social mores, the family, ritual, the domestic sphere, etc. Is there a unifying idea that each part seems to reflect? What is it and how does each part reflect that theme? Is there a recurring symbol such as decay or death? Why do you think this symbol continues to appear? Does something happen more than once like dreams or missed opportunities? Does society place rules and restrictions upon the people? What role does gender play in the story? Is religion playing a role?

Depending on your reading experience, you will encounter words you don’t know. Depending on why you are reading, it may be best to pause, click over to dictionary.com, plug in the word, and note the definition. This technique is needed if you are analyzing or writing about a specific idea or if you are required to know certain vocabulary. Pausing to look up words does not mean you are dumb; it means you are becoming smarter. If, time and again, you simply skip over words you don’t know then you will continue not to know them. How is this learning? An expansion of vocabulary is a byproduct of active reading. Note the definition in the margin of the text or in your notes. You could also set up a vocabulary page that you revisit from time to time just to learn new words. Many words have more than one meaning. You will have to study the context of the word to understand how it is being used. Use clues from the rest of the sentence to choose the best definition. The meanings of words also shift over time and can be used in different ways in different countries.
Slowly sound out unfamiliar words; don’t simply skip them. I like attempting unusual names out loud just to see how close I can get to actually saying it. I may be incorrect, but I’m trying (and no one else is around, so who cares). I became slightly irritated one semester in class while observing students who mumbled their way through the name Dostoyevsky. Not only did it hurt my feelings for one of my favorite authors, but they didn’t take the time to look at the name more closely. The name Dostoyevsky may look intimidating at first glance, but sound it out: Dos-toy-ev-sky. You can say all of those syllables and the name is spelled like it sounds. It is only difficult if you skip over or mumble through it because you didn’t take the time to try.

From time to time, read out loud. It doesn’t matter how slow your progress. Sometimes reading slowly is better if it means you are taking in more of the information. Reading quickly doesn’t make you smarter; comprehending what you read makes you smarter. You may be surprised how difficult it is to smoothly read text out loud. While your mouth is verbalizing the current words, your brain is listening to the information while simultaneously your eyes are scanning ahead for the next bit of information. I often see students attempt to skip ahead of the wording in order to read faster; that is not reading what is on the page. You are “reading” what you imagine is on the page. Take the time to complete each word and try to incorporate inflection and emotion. The more you practice reading out loud the smoother you will become. Sometimes hearing the words out loud helps you make sense of a piece. Sometimes you want to share a particular thought or image with someone else. Sometimes you just want to hear your own beautiful voice. Sometimes you want a challenge. You can’t read all material out loud all day; it tires the voice. You may switch between reading out loud for one page and reading in silence the next just to keep yourself in active reading mode.

As you take notes you are also asking questions of the text. Active reading is like a conversation between the text and the reader. Your mind is doing multiple things at once. You are performing all the tasks mentioned above, yet in addition, you are using the back of your mind (I call it the back burner) to roll around ideas such as: This has happened to me! Can this be true? The same storyline happened in my favorite show this year! I like this writer’s tone or style. I wonder if the author combined events to give us a representation of reality at that time. This female character is taking on the role normally given to men. There is a leap in logic here that I don’t think holds up. This part is ridiculous. This reflects in direct parallel to what is happening today. These behaviors seem to indicate mental illness. Ect. Some of those “back burner” ideas and sparks could later lead to an essay or class discussion. You are reading what is on the page, but you are also connecting what is there to other things in reality.

Along with these critical questions, sometimes you just have flat-out questions. I don’t understand what is going on, or how did the author get from here to there? Not understanding while reading will cause discomfort. That is okay. When we are in a state of not knowing, we feel unmoored, somehow intellectually (and slightly emotionally) out of control. Becoming a reader means accepting a level of discomfort that varies with the material. Sometimes we see the big picture but may get lost in the finer details. Sometimes a piece is just beyond our grasp…above our heads. This is why you have a professor. Write down your questions. Go to office hours. Use email. Google it! Good professors and teaching assistants love to answer questions of students who have read the material, taken notes, and really tried to understand. They see you putting in the effort so they are willing to explain further. Don’t be upset if they tell you that you are concentrating on the wrong stuff. Ask to be re-directed so you don’t waste further time. You can’t get your questions answered if you don’t ask the questions! I remember in one of my grad classes I came upon a piece of philosophy that, for the life of me, I couldn’t understand. It was difficult to even take notes because the ideas were so muddled in my brain. When it came to writing a response paper that week I asked the professor if, instead of writing the regular short response, I could draw what I thought was happening in the form of a diagram or map. He loved the idea and accepted the work. What I found most interesting was that the diagram formed a circle! The point is that I was engaging with the text and trying (albeit in an alternate form) to make sense of it.

Another way of attempting to comprehend the material is pretending that you will have to teach the material. (Sometimes professors actually assign this project.) Pretending that you have to teach the material really shines a bright light on close reading, note taking and comprehension. If you have thirty minutes to teach a short story, would you first give the class a handout? What would be printed there? How much time would you spend on the plot versus various themes or ideas within the text? What issues would lead to relevant class discussion? If you were to give a quiz or test, what questions would you include and how would you answer them? If you were to generate a reading guide what would it include? The teacher’s point of view is a simple yet effective brain trick to hyper-focus your attention.

The Literature of Slavery and Freedom: 1746 – 1865

Study Notes The Norton Anthology of African American Literature Third Edition Volume 1 pgs. 75-87

THE RELIGIOUS AND POLITICAL MISSION OF AFRICAN AMERICAN LITERATURE

Impulse of African American literature is resistance to human tyranny. Sustaining spirit, human dignity.

Impetus for writing:

  1. They would articulate the spiritual and political ideals of America to inspire and justify the struggle of blacks for their birthright as American citizens.
  2. Demand fidelity to those same ideals from whites whose moral complacency and racial prejudices had blinded them to the obligations of their own heritage. The first AA writers in the US appealed to the traditional Christian gospel of the universal brotherhood of humanity as a way of initiating a discussion with whites that did not directly confront their prejudices and anxieties. Social significance.
  3. The least advantages of black Americans had feelings to voice and stories to tell to the public at large.
  4. Mastery of language, the essential sign of a civilized mind, to the European, implicitly qualified, a black writer, and by analogy, those whom he or she represented, for self-mastery and a place of respect within white civilization.
  5. Challenged the dominant culture’s attempt to segregate the religious from the political, the spirit from the flesh, insofar as racial affairs were concerned.
  6. To dignify black experience with spiritual significance and divinely ordained importance.
  7. The abolition of slavery and the promotion of the black man and woman to a status in the civil and cultural order equal to that of whites.

Exhorted their white readers like preachers, imploring a backsliding congregation to live up to the standards of their reputed religion and their professed political principles.

Explored through various forms of irony the chasm between white America’s words and its deeds, between its propaganda about freedom and its widespread practice of slavery.

Early: pointing out the inconsistencies between the Declaration of Independence and the simultaneous promotion of chattel slavery. Later: the right of AA to armed resistance to slavery was proclaimed.

SLAVERY IN THE AMERICAS

Slavery as perpetrated by the European colonizers of Africa and the Americas brought man’s inhumanity to man to a level of technological efficiency unimagined by previous generations. This era in the history of international slave trading is generally dated from 1501-1867. An estimated 12.5 million captives were conveyed from Africa to Europe and the Americas. To maximize profits from the production and export of precious metals, sugar, rice, rum, tobacco, cotton, coffee, and indigo in the Americas. Africans were viewed as strong. By 1820 African slaves constituted roughly 80% of all immigrants to the Americas since 1500. Only about 8% of the Transatlantic slave trade disembarked in North America. Sugar plantations.

The first people of African descent who came to North America were explorers. The first Africans in British North America were brought to work as laborers; indentured servants. By 1700 however, the expanding plantation economy of Virginia demanded a workforce that was cheaper than free labor and more easily controlled and replenished. By establishing the institution of chattel slavery, in which a black person became not just a temporary servant, but the lifetime property of his or her master, the tobacco, cotton, and rice planters of British North America, ensured their rise to economic and political preeminence over the southern half of what would become the US. Slaves were divested of his or her culture. The system of chattel slavery was designed to prevent Africans and their descendants from building a new identity except in accordance with the dictates of their oppressors. Instead of an individual, slavery devised what Patterson calls “A social non-person”, a being, that, by legal definition, could have no family, no personal honor, no community, no past, and no future. Absolute dependence on and identification with the master’s will. They could not even possess themselves.

SLAVERY AND AMERICAN RACISM

Insistence that enslavement was the natural and proper condition for particular races of people. Visual differences equaled internal differences. A sizeable school of racists writers in the first half of the 19th century in the US followed Jefferson in arguing that the AAs physical and cultural differences amounted to an intellectual, spiritual, and moral otherness that only slavery could manage and turn to some productive account.

RESISTANCE TO SLAVERY AND RACISM

Framers of the US constitution wrote into law several measures that protected slavery. “⅗ compromise”: counted as ⅗ of a person for the purpose of apportioning representation for a given district in the congress. Slaves could not vote, the ⅗ compromise did nothing but augment the size and power of the Southern block in the US House of Representatives. Antislavery advocates issued a call for the gradual abolition of slavery in the new republic.

Newspapers, public schools, churches, mutual aid, fraternal and debating societies were all used to share abolitionist ideas.

British textile industry, farming, and cotton in the 1790’s, wedded the South more and more tightly to slavery. The slave population in the South grew rapidly, from 700,000 in 1790 to 2,000,000 in 1830.

Nat Turner crystalized the impending crisis. Executed 60 whites. The Confessions of Nat Turner the leader of the most successful slave revolt in US history was hanged on November 11, 1831. The Virginia state legislature made slavery more repressive. Suspicions were heightened. The compromise of 1850 instituted the Fugitive Slave Law and balanced the power maintained between the North and the South. Compromise only intensified the feeling in each section that the opposition was gaining an unfair share of power.

RADICAL ABOLITIONISM AND THE FUGITIVE SLAVE NARRATIVE

A new generation of reformers in the North proclaimed their absolute and uncompromising opposition to slavery. Led by the crusading white journalist William Lloyd Garrison, these abolitionists demanded the immediate end of slavery throughout the U.S. Garrison’s American Anti-Slavery Society mobilized on all fronts. New departure in African American lit: the fugitive slave narrative which dominated the literary landscape. A black message inside a white envelope (often with white people writing the introduction). Slavery in the South to freedom in the North. Antebellum slave narrator portrayed slavery as a condition of extreme physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual deprivation, a kind of hell on earth. It followed a familiar structure. Reaching the free states but by renaming oneself and dedicating one’s future to antislavery activism. Slave narratives qualified as America’s only indigenous literary form. In 1845 the slave narrative reached its epitome with the publication of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself. Immensely successful. The subtitle Written by Himself on a slave narrative bore increasing significance as an indicator of a narrator’s political and literary self-reliance. Trickster motifs, biblical allusion, and picaresque perspective. Mid-century slave narrative took on an unprecedented urgency and candor. Moral and social complexities of the American caste and class system in the North as well as the South. Jacobs’s autobiography shows how sexual exploitation made slavery especially oppressive for black women. Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman: new models of female self-expression and heroism.

THE FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN LITERARY RENAISSANCE

1850s and early 1860s: the first renaissance in A. A. letters. Spur intellectual independence and expansion of literary horizons in both form and theme. Models of black manhood. Travel books, mixing fact and fiction, sentimental image of the “tragic mulatta”, testing the limits of gender conventions in fiction, plays, serialized novels, slave revolutionaries, women’s fiction, socioeconomic realities of life for a black working-class woman in the North.

FOLK TRADITIONS

Genius of the spirituals rested in their double meaning, their blending of the spiritual and the political. Only in the next world would they find justice.
Animal tales: commonsense understanding of human psychology and every-day justice in this world. How the world came to be as it is, exploits of trickster figures, Brer Rabbit, who used their wits to overcome stronger animal antagonists. Power of mind over matter.

THE CIVIL WAR AND EMANCIPATION

In 1860 the first avowedly antislavery candidate for president, Abraham Lincoln of the Republican Party, was elected in one of the bitterest campaigns ever waged in the U.S. In 1862 Lincoln finally permitted free blacks in liberated portions of Louisiana and South Carolina to form regiments. By the war’s end, more than 186,000 blacks had served in the artillery, cavalry, engineers, and infantry as well as in the U.S. Navy. More than 38,000 A.A. gave their lives for the Union cause. When Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in the summer of 1862, which declared all slaves in the rebellious states to be free as of January 1, 1863, blacks in the North felt that, at long last, their country had committed itself to an ideal worth dying for. When the army of the Southern slaveocracy surrendered at Appomatox, Virginia, on April 9, 1865, A. A. pressed for the enactment of laws ensuring a new era of freedom and opportunity for every black American. On Dec. 6, 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished “slavery and involuntary servitude” throughout the country, was ratified by the newly united states of America.

This is Where I Leave You

by

Jonathan Tropper

New York Times bestseller A Plume Book 2010 339 pages

This novel had me hooked and in stitches from page one. How rare is that? The novel opens by describing the personality of the narrator’s family and how they deal with life. I could immediately relate to the crass, harsh, hilarious and real way the Foxman family does family. The patriarch has died which becomes a framing device for the story. While Dad was sick he requested the family come together and sit Shiva for seven whole days. For years they have actively avoided bonding family time and none of the four grown children are looking forward to all this togetherness. Each sibling has a lot going on including spouses and assorted lovers. We get to peek inside each life, but we are always in the head of Judd, the narrator, whose life is completely upside down. Even though the situations are not obviously funny, Tropper gives Judd such a twisted sense of humor that somehow you laugh even when you are not supposed to. On the other hand, Tropper can be very nostalgic and heart-felt when discussing family, sometimes even waxing poetic. The story is told in the present tense and is counted by the time on the clock so that, in effect, you are also sitting Shiva with the Foxmans. This novel is full of belly-laughs that will make you want to read out loud to your friends. What follows are my favorite bits (I like to call “the best bits”) and chapter summaries.

1 “If we sound like a couple of callous assholes, it’s because that’s how we were raised” (2).

“Dad didn’t believe in God, but he was a life-long member of the Church of Shit or Get Off the Can” (3).

[Story being told by Judd who has an older sister (Wendy), older brother (Paul) and younger brother, Phillip. Their dad has finally died after a long battle with stomach cancer. They will gather for the funeral. Judd has been having a tough time even aside from his father’s death.]

2 “…trying to look like someone trying not to look bored” (10).

“You get married to have an ally against your family, and now I’m heading into the trenches alone” (11).

[Judd and Jen are divorcing. They had met in college. Jen is sleeping with Judd’s boss and is pregnant. Judd and Jen were pregnant once. Still birth. You can tell Judd still loves her and is very hurt.]

3 “Because the thing of it is, no matter how much you enjoy sex, there’s something jolting and strangely disturbing about witnessing the sex of others. Nature has taken great pains to lay out the fundamentals of copulation so that it’s impossible to get a particularly good view of the sex you’re having. Because when you get right down to it, sex is a messy, gritty, often grotesque business to behold: the hairs; the abraded, dimpled flesh; the wide-open orifices; the exposed, glistening organs. And the violence of the coupling itself, primitive and elemental, reminding us that we’re all just dumb animals clinging to our spot on the food chain, eating, sleeping, and fucking as much as possible before something bigger comes along and devours us” (16-17).

[Margin note: No romanticizing here! Thank you for telling it like it is.]

“Naked men shouldn’t run” (24).

[Judd goes into gross, horrible and hilarious detail about the day he caught his wife and boss together in HIS bed. Now he lives in a cheap basement room and is somehow still spiraling downward.]

4 “…even as his ridiculous raincoat makes him stand out like a bloodstain against a sky the color of a dead tooth” (33).

[Father’s funeral.]

5 [After the funeral the extended family gather around the dinner table. Chaos ensues.]

6 [Judd recalling the first time he met Jen.]

7 “And as the room starts to fill with the first somber-faced neighbors coming to pay their respects, it becomes clear to me that the reason for filling the shiva house with visitors is most likely to prevent the mourners from tearing each other limb from limb” (63).

[In high school Judd and Alice lost their virginity to each other. Alice later married Paul and the brothers have had a rocky relationship ever since.]

8 [Judd escapes shiva for a short drive to pick Horry up from the store and take him home. Judd learns an old flame also works at the store. His interest is peaked.]

9 [First day of shiva finally ends. Judd listens to voicemails from pregnant Jen who wants to hurry along divorce proceedings.]

10 “There is nothing more pathetically optimistic than the morning erection. I am depressed, unemployed, unloved, basement-dwelling, and bereaved, but there it is, every morning like clockwork, rising up to greet the day, poking out of my fly cocksure and conspicuously useless. And every morning, I face the same choice: masturbate or urinate. It’s the one time of the day where I feel like I have options” (84).

[Judd’s relationship with his mother.]

11 [All the kids are giving Mom a “Dad” story but Judd can’t recall a time he had his dad’s undivided attention.]

12 [Mr. Applebaum is already scoping out the widow.]

13 [Judd is lonely and every woman in society has his attention.]

14 [Judd re-lives quitting his job when Wade was his manager.]

15 [Tracy is now competing with old school chums of Phillip’s. Judd puts in a good word for Horry’s independence.]

16 [Judd sees Penny who he had a thing with in college. They made a pact to marry by age 40 if they were both still single. Horry cannot live alone even though he desires independence.]

17 [Horry brought back a memory of a dog attack that Judd and Paul experienced as kids. Now Judd is dreaming about it.]

18 [Paul and Phillip finally go to blows and Jen appears out of nowhere. Will Phillip join the family business? Will Paul let him?]

19 [Judd sums up what sex is like after you’ve been married for years.]

20 “‘Please,’ she says. ‘Tell me what you’re thinking.’

“It’s an absurd request. Our minds, unedited by guilt or shame, are selfish and unkind, and the majority of our thoughts, at any given time, are not for public consumption, because they would either be hurtful or else just make us look like the selfish and unkind bastards we are. We don’t share our thoughts, we share carefully sanitized, watered-down versions of them, Hollywood adaptations of those thoughts dumbed down for the PG-13 crowd” (137).

[Jen comes to tell Judd that she is carrying HIS baby!]

21 [Judd recalling when he and Jen learned they had lost their first (and only) child. It led to the demise of their marriage.]

22 [Mom gives her input on her kids’ relationships then Paul decks Phillip to return the favor from the day before. Phillip drops the bomb about Jen being pregnant.]

23 [Judd visits Penny and they have a short skate holding hands. Phillip is cheating on Tracy. Dad’s death is starting to sink in.]

25 [Horry still has a thing for Wendy. Does she still think of him too?]

26 [Paul and his wife are trying to conceive and everyone knows it.]

27 [After a make out session with Penny in the pool, Judd calls Jen. Wade answers and doesn’t appreciate this late night call.]

28 [The crazy party in high school where Alice and Judd were going to make out but instead Judd gets kicked in the balls. Paul comes back to revenge his little brother, but Paul ends up being attacked by a guard dog owned by Judd’s attacker. The two brothers’ relationship has never been the same.]

29 “You can sit up here, feeling above it all while knowing you’re not, coming to the lonely conclusion that the only thing you can ever really know about anyone is that you don’t know anything about them at all” (188).

[Judd is accidentally electrocuted which brings forward a dad memory. He mourns with his mother.]

30 [The brothers sneak off during church service to smoke dad’s last joint. They accidentally set off the fire alarm.]

31 “Back when I lived with Jen, I had some friends. In the aftermath of our separation, Allan and Mike had met me for drinks and we’d all raised our glasses in agreement that Jen was a cheating bitch and I was the good guy here. I didn’t know it at the time, but that night was actually my good-bye party. Jen would retain custody of our friends and I’d be wordlessly discarded. A few weeks later, as I circled the multiplex parking lot, I saw Allan and Mike with their wives, leaving the theater along with Jen and Wade, all walking in standard formation, talking and laughing in the cinematic afterglow, like it had always been just so. I tried to tell myself it was simply a chance encounter, but it was clear from their body language that they were all together, and probably not for the first time. It’s a sad moment when you come to understand how truly replaceable you are. Friendship in the suburbs is wife-driven, and my friends were essentially those husbands of Jen’s friends that I could most tolerate. Now that I’d been sidelined, Wade had stepped in for me like an understudy, a small note was inserted into the program, and the show went on without missing a beat” (214-215).

[Jen wants to talk but Judd is having none of it. He makes mischief in his old house when no one is there. He is practically raped by his sister-in-law Alice who has been trying for 2 years to get pregnant with Paul. Later, Judd goes on a date with Penny and for the second time says nothing about Jen being pregnant.]

32 [Judd dreams a sweet dream of his father who heals him.]

33 [Wendy and Judd talk about life. Why did Linda (Mom’s lifelong friend) stay the night?]

34 [Old high school friends come to visit during shiva. Their lives have all turned out pretty mediocre.]

35 [Visiting high school friends prompt an impromptu batting round in the side yard where Paul hurts his ravaged shoulder and Boner gets hit in the face with a ball. Have mother and Linda been lovers for years?]

36 [Judd lets all the older women know he DOES NOT want to be set up with their daughters.]

37 “She is waiting in front of her building when we pull up, looking edible in a T-shirt, short shorts, and tennis shoes. She could be nineteen. She could be my girlfriend. We could be going out to the amusement park, where we’d kiss on the lines, hold hands on the rides, and share cotton candy. I’d win her one of those giant stuffed animals and we’d carry it around the park with us like a badge of honor. Afterward it would take up permanent residence on her pink bedspread, where she’s lie across ti while we spoke for hours on the phone” (252).

“A kid with a name tag and a digital camera asks us to pose for a picture with the cheesy plaster palace behind us. There are countless pictures of my family at various ages in just this spot. If we pulled them out of all the messy albums in the living room bookcases, you could probably track the steady growth of our family, like annual pencil marks on the wall to show how tall you’ve grown. Dad isn’t in any of the Wonderland pictures, because he was always the one taking them, with this old Yashica he’d bought when he first got married, because why the hell would he pay for a picture he could take better himself? As a matter of fact, you’d have to turn a lot of pages to find Dad in any of our albums. The inadvertent result of being the default photographer is that he was relegated to the role of a bit player in the actual recorded history of our family. There are entire years of our lives where he doesn’t appear at all” (253).

“Sometimes, contentment is a matter of will. You have to look at what you have right in front of you, at what it could be, and stop measuring it against what you’ve lost. I know this to be wise and true, just as I know that pretty much no one can do it” (255).

[The last date with Penny.]

38 [Judd is having a moment with Jen at the hospital listening to their baby’s heartbeat when Wade arrives. He ends up arguing with both Judd and Phillip who ends up decking him. A bit of vandalism meets Wade’s car before the brothers exit the parking lot.]

39 [All the brothers are feeling quite beat up by their wives. They need a night off.]

40 “He sinks his teeth into every word, and they come out chewed” (276).

[The brothers go out but it was not the bonding experience they had imagined.]

41 “Down in the basement, I wash some of Boner’s foam spray off the mirror to better study my reflection. My bottom lip is split and swollen, my eyes bleary, my cheeks pale and puffy. I look like a corpse pulled from the river a week after the suicide. It’s time for a gut check. I mean that literally. I pull off my shirt, which is caked with just enough blood and vomit to represent a much wilder night than the one I’ve had, and step back to study my torso. The overall effect does not match the image I cling to in my head. My belly is not yet what you’d call a gut, but you can see where the inevitable expansion will happen. I have no real chest to speak of; you’d miss it altogether if it weren’t for the two hairless nipples pressed on like decals. Broader shoulders would create the illusion of fitness, but I am sorely lacking in that department as well. The overall impression is lean but soft, and getting softer. This is the package, ladies. Come and get it.

“I lie down on the floor to do some sit-ups and promptly fall asleep” (285-5).

[Drunk Judd gets a punch and an apology from Wade who is leaving Jen. He just can’t do the step-father thing.]

42 [Another dream of Dad who is cradling Judd’s future baby.]

43 “The whites of his eyes are vaguely pink, like something ran in the wash” (295).

[Tracy knows it’s the end of the line with Phillip. Horry lays girls who don’t truly know him. Alice apologizes for raping Judd. Lina leaves after a heated argument.]

44 [Mom comes out of the closet.]

45 [The kids discuss their mom being bisexual.]

46 [Shiva is over. Judd drives home to a long talk with Jen. He is ready to work on forgiveness.]

47 [Mom and Linda get to tell their story. Mom was the one bringing them all together…not dad’s dying wish.]

48 [All the kids prepare to return to the lives.]

49 [Judd goes to apologize and say good-bye to Penny.]

50 [I never summarize the last chapter. That is a prompt to go read the book yourself!]

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession

By

Allison Hoover Bartlett

Riverhead Books  New York  2009

262 pages excluding notes

I like the way Bartlett sets up the story. She speaks directly to her audience and first describes what made her interested in tracking a rare books thief. It sounds almost like she is setting up a master’s thesis; she first states her driving curiosity and why which sets us on a journey together. The language is straightforward yet sometimes repetitive. She narrows in on a notorious rare book thief named John Gilkey whom she interviews multiple times. She gets to know him and tries to figure out his motivations. I did not feel the need to summarize every chapter, but there were some quotes and reflections on the love of books themselves which I really enjoyed. What follows are the quotes and reflections Bartlett used that captured my attention. If you are a book fanatic, you will enjoy this read. Numbers at the beginning of an entry indicate the chapter followed by the chapter title. My own reflections I will place in brackets.

[Dude! You are not going to believe this!]:

From Anathema in a medieval manuscript from the Monastery of San Pedro in Barcelona:

For him that stealeth, or borroweth and returneth not, this book from its owner…let him be struck with palsy, & all his members belated…Let bookworms gnaw his entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not, & when at last he goeth to his final punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him forever.

[So badass]

From A. S. W. Rosenback, twentieth-century book dealer:

I have known men to hazard their fortunes, go long journeys halfway about the world, forget friendships, even lie, cheat, and steal, all for the gain of a book.

[The book begins with a story of a borrowed book: the Krautterbuch. Referring to the book, Bartlett writes]:

My favorite remedy, though, is for low spirits. “Often we are missing the right kind of happiness, and if we don’t have any wine yet, we will be very content when we do get wine” (4).

[Prologue summary:

Introduction of the Krautterbuch, a book from the 1600s which was supposedly stolen from a library. The author speaks in first person and explains how this book set her on a journey.]

1  Like a Moth to a Flame

[This passage brought a tear to my eye because it so accurately describes the magic of becoming attached to a book.]

Walking by a booth with an impressive selection of dust jacket art, I heard a dealer say to a passerby, “don’t judge a book by its content!” I had read enough about book collectors before the fair to get the joke: Many collectors don’t actually read their books. At first, I was surprised, but having given it some thought, it’s not so shocking. After all, much of the fondness avid readers, and certainly collectors, have for their books is related to the books’ physical bodies. As much as they are vessels for stories (and poetry, reference information, etc.), books are historical artifacts and repositories for memories–we like to recall who gave books to us, where we were when we read them, how old we were, and so on.

For me, the most important book-as-object from my childhood is Charlotte’s Web, the first book I mail-ordered after joining a book club. I still remember my thrill at seeing the mailman show up with it at our front door on a sunny Saturday morning. It has a crisp paper jacket, unlike the plastic-covered library books I was used to, and the way the pages parted, I could tell I was the first to open it. For several days I lived in Wilbur’s world, and the only thing as sad as Charlotte’s death, maybe even sadder, was that I had come to the end of the book. I valued that half-dream state of being lost in a book so much that I limited the number of pages I let myself read each day in order to put off the inevitable end, my banishment from that world. I still do this. It doesn’t make sense, though, because the pleasure of that world does not really end for good. You can always start over on page one–and you can remember. Whenever I have spotted my old Charlotte’s Web (on my son’s shelf, then my daughter’s), I have recalled how it came to me. It’s a personal record of one chapter of my life, just as other chapters have other books I associate with them. The pattern continues; my daughter returned from camp last summer with her copy of Motherless Brooklyn in a state approaching ruin. She told me she’s dropped it into a creek, but couldn’t bear to leave it behind, even after she’d finished it. This book’s body is inextricably linked to her experience of reading it. I hope that she continues to hold on to it, because as long as she does, its wavy, expanded pages will remind her of the hot day she read it with her feet in the water–and of the fourteen-year-old she was at the time. A book is much more than a delivery vehicle for its contents, and from my perspective, this fair was a concentrated celebration of that fact.

[The author is most interested in the type of book thief that steals for the love of books. Gilkey is notorious. He says he will tell his story from prison.]

2  Half-truths

[The author’s first interview with Gilkey.]

3  Richie Rich

[Gilkey sees his book collection as a representation of himself. He wants to appear rich and cultured. He wants people to be impressed.]

4  A Gold Mine

5  Spider-Man

6  Happy New Year

7  Trilogy of Kens

In 1644, John Milton wrote: “For books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul whose progeny they are; nay they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them.”

8  Treasure Island

9  Brick Row

10  Not Giving Up

11  This Call May Be Recorded or Monitored

Of having taken their lives, he said, “Every man must die, sooner or later, but good books must be conserved.”

12  What More Could I Ask?

13  And Look: More Books!

14  The Devil’s Walk

Afterword

From Warning written by medieval German scribe:

This book belongs to none but me

For there’s my name inside to see.

To steal this book, if you should try,

It’s by the throat that you’ll hang high.

And ravens then will gather ‘bout

To find your eyes and pull them out.

And when you’re screaming

“Oh, Oh, Oh!”

Remember, you deserved this woe.

[Man, these medieval book lovers were not playing.]

Ordinary People

by Judith Guest Ballantine Books New York 1976

This is a classic and an easy read with short chapters. The writing is not flowery or dreamy although when someone is experiencing disordered thinking the writing reflects what that might look like with few punctuation marks and fragments of sentences. The story deals with difficult family issues. The story and emotions are realistic. There are no easy answers if there are any answers at all. We learn that parental love can come in many forms, but it can also not be shown at all. Accidents happen, emotions and behaviors become twisted, people lose their shit and those around them don’t know what to do with that lost shit. Trigger warning issues of accidental death, suicide and mental institutions.

What follows is a plot summary excluding the epilogue; that’s for you to get to. The numbers indicate the chapter.

1 We meet young Conrad Jarrett fresh out of the mental facility and having trouble starting his day.

2 Calvin Jarrett is the father. Being abandoned as a child makes it even more difficult for him to parent a teen with mental illness. (The chapters alternate between these two characters’ points of view. The novel is written, interestingly, in the present tense.)

3 We learn about Conrad’s school life. All his friends are seniors but due to his illness he is still a junior. He has trouble feeling normal although he is trying to get back to his old routine.

4 Calvin doesn’t think it wise to go on their annual Christmas vacation. He doesn’t want any trouble. We learn that another son, Jordan, (older brother to Conrad) is now deceased.

5 Conrad sees a crazy local psychiatrist who appears inept. Conrad says his older brother died in a boating accident.

6 Calvin, the dad, seems every bit as lost as his mentally ill son. He has no idea who he is or what he wants.

7 Conrad attempts an afternoon date with Karen, a girl from the mental facility. She doesn’t feel mentally safe and leaves quickly.

8 Calvin drinks quite a bit. The neighbors are curious about Conrad’s situation. Beth (Conrad’s mother/Calvin’s wife) doesn’t want to discuss the topic at parties (or generally in public). Calvin misses hearing both sons in the house. We learn Conrad has slit his wrists.

9 Conrad is actually getting something out of seeing this wacky psychiatrist, Dr. Berger.

10 Conrad quits the swim team; he doesn’t like those people. They are too mean and he is too sensitive; too raw.

11 Calvin thinking about his law partner’s life and marriage.

12 Conrad successfully visits with a cute girl. He recalls a ski trip with his brother.

13 Beth finds out Conrad quit the swim team from an outside source. He quit a month ago and his parents didn’t know. There is a big family freak out. Conrad feels his mother hates him.

14 Dr. Berger’s genius is slowly being revealed.

15 Instead of talking about their grief, Calvin and Beth simply fight.

16 Conrad gets his looks complimented. He is starting to gain positive momentum. His psychiatrist is very helpful.

17 Calvin is now the one seeking Dr. Berger’s help.

18 Bumbling through exams and asking out girls.

19 Calvin’s business partner is worried about him.

20 Conrad’s date goes well. They set up another for the following weekend.

21 Calvin evaluates his fears and how he is most motivated to be safe.

22 Conrad gets in a fist fight with an asshole in the school parking lot.

23 Conrad tells his dad about the fight. Mom doesn’t even notice Conrad is waiting up for Dad.

24 Conrad’s new girlfriend is experiencing family drama. His own parents are out of town and he has to stay with his grandparents. His grandmother is a ball buster. (You can see where his mom gets it.)

25 Calvin and Beth on vacation at her brother’s place in Texas.

26 Karen is a girl Conrad was in treatment with. She has killed herself. This sends Conrad into a tailspin thinking about his brother dying on the lake and about electric shock therapy in treatment. He calls his psychiatrist and is driving to see him.

27 Conrad has a bad night but he makes it through.

28 Calvin and Beth can’t get through a vacation without fighting. Beth feels her son cut his wrists to show HER how much he hates her.

29 Everyone seems relieved to be home again.

30 Conrad has a girlfriend and they can discuss important things.

31 Calvin and Conrad discuss Beth and her leaving them. There are no clear answers and they’ll just have to be okay with that.

Epilogue

Nightbreed: Movie Review

Aaron Boone (protagonist) played by Craig Sheffer

Psychiatrist Doctor Decker (antagonist) played by David Cronenberg

Lori (single name girlfriend of Boone) played by Anne Bobby

Directed by Clive Barker based on his novel Cabal

Rated R    1 hour 41 minutes    1990

Music by Danny Elfman

Review:

Nightbreed is a monster flick written and directed by Clive Barker who is mostly known for his novels (since the 1980s) and his breakout movie, Hellraiser. Before even viewing this movie ask yourself: 1) do I want to know more about the history of American horror movies and 2) do I like a cheesy aesthetic that can only look way out of date? If both of your answers are yes then proceed with a pinch of salt. It is difficult to determine the budget for this movie because at once there is top-notch music, explosions and an extreme variety of monsters. On the other hand, (besides David Cronenberg in an acting role) there are only lesser-knowns running this show although the acting is decent. In many ways, Barker (who wrote and directed) turns expected combinations on their heads. For example, the male is the one imperiled, the female is the hero and the monsters are the victims. Woven within the story (based on Barker’s 1985 novel Cabal) are various themes. Here is what I found. 

    One of the themes of Nightbreed is misplaced trust in authority. In a way, this movie is based upon the premise that we should always seek a medical second opinion. If our protagonist, Aaron Boone, (Craig Sheffer) had refused his psychiatrist’s assessment that he must be repressing memories of murderous rampages he would have at least appeared to have a mind of his own. Then Boone is given some unknown pills by the evil Doctor Decker (David Cronenberg) who just happens to have them in his desk drawer. Boone immediately downs one of the pills without even asking what they are! This is one of the illogical drawbacks of the story. Doctor Decker then begins working with the police in an effort to frame Boone for a spate of recent murders. Why do the police believe in and consistently work with the doctor? This is another unexplained misstep within the story. In effect, we have authority (the police) trusting authority (the doctor) and they never question each other. Is that the normal tacit agreement between white men in suits and uniforms? In Nightbreed, one should always question authority because they are hiding sins much greater than those with less power. The ones with power in this story are serial killers and violent instigators. A mob forms towards the end of the movie made up of stereotypical rednecks and hicks who each bring a truckload of arsenal to the monster fight. The police and fathers in the mob would ideally be peaceful citizens enjoying their homes and families. Too much faith is placed in these authority figures to do the right thing. 

    These men of power must destroy that which they don’t understand. To “other” is to set oneself apart from those who differ from the self; moreso in a hierarchical format where the norm is believed to be better than the unique. The evil Doctor Decker wants to destroy all; for everyone has become sick in his worldview. Instead of helping those with mental disorders, he comes to view them as irredeemable cretins and decides they need to be wiped from the face of the earth. Ironically, Doctor Decker becomes more sick than his patients and takes up a side gig as a serial killer. In addition, there is a very dynamic and gruesome scene reminiscent of the Christian Crusades–the ultimate act of othering. This short sequence shows us how the monsters (the others) were killed, beheaded, crucified and burned due to the fact that they did not look like the majority. They were driven underground and eventually rebuilt their own society away from the judging eyes of the “naturals” living in the sunlight. The monsters progress to build their own culture. They seem to live in peace within their underground gated and guarded community. It is only when the protagonist draws attention to the group that the transgressions against their way of life begin to repeat history. The monsters are living underground where no one (except the few who are “called”) knows about them. Why take the time and effort to destroy a community hitherto unknown? It is the deliberate seeking out and killing of the other that Barker highlights placing the monsters squarely in the category of underdog for whom we cheer. The theme of good vs. evil within this story is a turnabout: the monsters are good (although a bit blood-thirsty and strange) and the evil ones are the men in power who destroy those around them for no reason other than a vulgar display of power.

We cannot forget that the driving force of the story-telling thread woven throughout is the love between Aaron Boone and his faithful girlfriend, Lori (Anne Bobby). In a welcomed flipping of gender roles, it is Boone who is in trouble and Lori who sets out to save him. While Boone believes mad doctors, swallows unknown pills and feels he is being called to hell through his dreams, Lori is the sane and stable force that figures out various ways to locate and save Boone from himself. She finds Midian, the underground lair of monsters that seem to be calling Boone in his nightmares. She passes her first test by picking up what looks like a skinned cat to return to mystery woman, Rachel (Catherine Chevalier). This thing is super gross, but Lori is brave enough to perform this request in order to gain access to the underworld. Lori does get an assist from Boone when Narcisse (Hugh Ross) gets overly amorous, but she plays an important role in being our eyes when we flashback to see how the monsters were driven underground. Lori is also our guide through the underground highrises of the monster world which is one of the highlights of the movie. She doesn’t scream, tremble, cry or fall down while running away. Lori is determined to find Boone and that is what she does. Lori also owns her sexuality and can be a little kinky. While making out with Boone before leaving his jail cell she says she is not afraid of him. As they begin to make out, she pulls away to look at his face which is turning into a beast. She doesn’t care; she digs it! Let the girl get her freak on! Lori survives the entire story and gives Boone the strength to carry on and rebuild Midian. Note that the monsters hailing Boone as their new leader is a third misstep in the logic of the story. Yes, perhaps Baphomet was calling to him in his dreams, but if Boone had stayed well away from Midian their home and culture would still be intact.

If using a scale from one through ten with ten being the best, I would have to break that in half to say that any grade under five would be a waste of time. Any movie over five I would recommend with either more or less drawbacks. I would rate Nightbreed a six. The music is top-notch and the acting is not too bad. Narcisse’s cutting of his own scalp and the flashback to the Crusades-like scene are worth a viewing. Horror movie fans, especially of flicks from the  ‘80s and ‘90s, along with long-time Clive Barker fans, will be interested if only for the vast and spectacular city of monsters to be paused and played again to wallow in all their gory glory. Don’t worry too much about logic; just have fun.  

Detailed synopsis with light commentary: 

Aaron Boone (known by his last name) has nightmares of hell. His psychiatrist, Doctor Decker, is calling him…always a bad sign. Elsewhere, a masked man is stabbing a family of three. The mask is super creepy and creates a feeling of dread. It pulls over the head with button eyes and an off-center slit for the mouth. It seems to be made of a pliable, extremely grungy light canvas. During Boone’s first meeting in a long while with his doctor, the psych brings up Boone’s nightmares. Weren’t those dreams of a hellscape called Midian? (Midian is a true spot on the map mentioned in both the Hebrew bible and the Quron. In the Hebrew bible, Midian is related to the Israelites.) The doc asks what sins Boone was seeking forgiveness for; possibly murder? Six families have been slain in ten months. For some reason, Boone puts up no resistance to the idea that he may, without his own knowledge, be a serial killer and asks what he should do. Doc pushes unknown pills on the young man and he immediately takes one. (This movie seems to be based on the premise that one should always seek a second opinion.) Boone ends up in the hospital after a hallucination. Upon waking, he hears a fellow patient desperately calling to be taken away to Midian “where the monsters go. It takes away the pain.” When Boone approaches, he asks directions to Midian (since he’d been dreaming of this place). The crazy guy’s name is Narcisse. He thinks Boone is his savior there to take him to Midian so Narcisse must show he is worthy of entry. Narcisse has rings with shark-fin-like talons. He puts them on and at 14:01 into the movie we get our first gore…and it’s pretty good for 1990! Unexpected and extremely gross. Narcisse begins cutting around his own face which makes one think he is going to pull it off, but eventually he ends up scalping himself. For the rest of the movie we see his bloody skinless head. Narcisse is meant to be our comic relief as he continues to appear throughout the movie, but he’s never very funny. Humor is not Clive Barker’s strong suit. When Boone sees Doctor Decker who deliberately gave him hallucinogens, he runs. Decker begins building a murder case against Boone. Our protagonist then takes the basic directions Narcisse gave and finds a cemetery known as Midian. The headstones suggest it is a safe place for satanists and their deceased.  Boone has trouble getting into the underground lair of Midian. He wants to commune in hell with other serial killers. When he is confronted by the monster watchmen they test him and find Boone innocent which leads dreadlock monster (who looks to be played by a professional wrestler) to take a bite out of him: “Meat for the beast.” (There is also a moon-faced monster played by Nicholas Vince. Although his costume looks dumb in this film, he played the stuff of nightmares three years earlier in Hellraiser when he was the Chatterer Cenobite.) When the cops show up to apprehend Boone the evil doctor says the young man has a gun so Boone is shot multiple times. (Why does this doctor keep showing up with police? Why are they allowing him to tag along and share all their information?) The bite Boone incurs is imbued with magical powers allowing him to escape the coroner’s table. “In Midian I live forever.” Doctor Decker sees his plans begin to unravel. Lori is Boone’s girlfriend. At most, I heard her name twice in the movie while the name Boone is said about a million times. Lori is on the trail of Boone. She meets Narcisse who becomes her guide. Boone passes a monster test and is accepted into the underworld of Midian. Lori asks a beautiful mysterious woman, Rachel, (played by Catherine Chevalier) to take her to Boone, but “what’s below remains below.” Lori must enter the subterranean world. She only makes it to the bottom of the stairs; innocence is not allowed. When Lori returns to her friend who’s been waiting in the car she finds her dead and bleeding tied to a tree. She sees the canvas masked killer and runs back to Midian. (Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place.) It is around this point that the audience knows Doctor Decker is the serial killer and is trying his best to deflect attention. Boone’s new powers allow him to sense that Lori is in danger. He fights monsters to get above ground. Boone confronts Doctor Decker who stabs Boone, but the dead can’t die. When Decker runs, Boone inhales a cloud of wispy magic in order to shape shift into a monster. (The cloud-like magic air is very cheesy.) Boone shifts back to hot guy to protect his girl and the monsters are getting upset that he has brought attention to their happy, quiet gated community. While Decker continues killing, Lori wakes up underground in a coffin with Rachel and her daughter, Babette. Rachel explains that the nightbreed are weirdos, shape shifters, who had been driven underground by those who did not understand their differences. The nightbreed do not feel they are any less than those who persecuted them; instead, they feel they are the things of dreams and to be envied.  When Babette takes Lori’s hand she is able to see the past and how the nightbreed were forced underground. The scene is definitely intended to evoke the Christian Crusades (from 1095-1291). The “weirdos” (the other) were slaughtered, crucified, and beheaded. Great job on the wicked scenes of genocide. Dark, blustery, red, filled with torturous imagery. There is a central figure of the nightbreed called Baphomet. Lori asks the entity for Boone’s location. There is a great visual juxtaposition when we see Doctor Decker in his ugly mask while wearing his business suit; perfect combo. Decker explains to an extraneous character that he got sick of treating sick people who went on to have sick children and the sickness would leak from one generation into the next. If he is so disgusted with treating the mentally ill, why does he turn into a serial killer? Does he want to become the king of the mentally ill? Decker becomes “death, plain and simple.” Lori travels through the underworld on her quest to reunite with Boone. This is an excellent part of the movie where we travel past window after window of monsters just hanging out at home. They are all different; the sheer variety is extremely impressive. Where did they get this budget? The cops are still listening to Decker. Why? Lori and Boone finally reunite. Although Boone feels he can’t leave, Lori convinces him they are meant to be together. They escape to a motel to rest and re-group. Boone can smell blood and sees that Decker has increased the body count in the room next door. When Boone smells blood he shape shifts (very vampire-esque) and has to have a lick. One hit of magic breath and he is back in human form. The cops find Boone at the scene, call him a “freak and a cannibal”, and beat him up before shoving him into a cell. Meanwhile, a posse of small town folk and all the police within a ten-mile radius are at Midian kicking monster ass. One can see a clear message when one of the monsters named Ohnaka (played by Simon Bamford who was the Butterball Cenobite in Hellraisers I and II) reaches out to touch the shoe of a black cop as Ohnaka is being beaten. He makes eye contact with the cop as if to ask, Don’t you feel my pain? The cop moves his foot back and the monster is killed. This cops sees the monsters burst and turn to dust in the sunlight. While the town is distracted with monster killing, Narcisse releases Boone from jail. Lori runs to his arms saying she is not afraid of him. They begin kissing and he turns to beast. She sees his monster face, but continues to make out. She’s digging it! The mob vengeance being pummeled on the monsters is reminiscent of Frankenstein’s monster and the ending of Night of the Living Dead. The townspeople use all their explosives to blow up Midian. Boone becomes a leader: “If we want to survive, we can’t hide. Brother and sisters, it is time to fight.” One female monster named Shuna Sassi (Christine McCorkindale) uses her exposed breasts to entice a couple of distracted cops; so easy. Then she showers them with giant porcupine quills that sprout from her skin. Pretty cool. It is all-out war; even Baphomet seems to want to give up, yet “we are the tribes of the moon.” In this monsters vs. “naturals” war the sympathy is squarely placed in the court of the monsters. They are the ones persecuted by the normie white men who don’t understand their kind. Deep within the heart of Midian a cell door is opened and a gaggle of super beasts is released. Clive Barker throws in little fun things like a female monster who bends to get some blood on her fingers then wipes a little on her bare breast before taking it to her mouth. Doctor Decker and Boone meet in the underworld. When Decker stabs, Boone turns to monster. Boone removes Decker’s mask and pushes him off a ledge. Baphomet is then reanimated and speaks. Boone begs him to rebuild and save the monsters. “You are Cabal!” (According to Merriam-Webster, a cabal is “the contrived schemes of a group of persons secretly united in a plot [as to overturn a government].” One could also “unite in or form a cabal.” In Clive Barker’s novel Cabal [1985] Baphomet baptizes the protagonist: “He was no longer Boone. He was Cabal. An alliance of many.” Another title associated with Cabal in the novel is he “Who Unmade Midian.”) Boone, Lori and a core group of monsters make it out of the burning underworld. Boone becomes a legend. Why? His coming there leads to their destruction! Decker remains in hell, but he has his acolytes as well. When one evil worshiper imbues Decker’s flayed gut with secret sparkling sauce, he is reanimated. A surprise ending to set up the next battle between good and evil: Aaron Boone the shape shifter vs. Doctor Decker the serial killer!