Archives for February 2008

Is Bird’s Nest in good taste?

“I think ‘taste’ is a social concept and not an artistic one. I’m willing to show good taste, if I can, in somebody else’s living room, but our reading life is too short for a writer to be in any way polite. Since his words enter into another’s brain in silence and intimacy, he should be as honest and explicit as we are with ourselves.”

–John Updike, from an interview reprinted in Hugging the Shore

Bird’s Nest In Your Hair

Chapter Six

After their second night together at her apartment (about a twenty minute walk from his hutch under the overpass), it took a little while before the Divorcée could get a hold of Jeb again. When she finally saw him she gave him a cell phone, telling him that she got it free through business as long he kept under 1000 minutes every month. This was fine with Jeb, even though he’d been able to get along just fine without a phone up until then. He was accustomed to giving out the school number whenever it was required, which was rarely, and of course he spent most of his time with books. As for the Divorcée and her apartment, a routine soon developed. He definitely didn’t feel comfortable having her over to the shack; the differences between them were obvious enough to him, but that wasn’t the only reason. He wanted to maintain a privacy that was absolute. He was happy to share in hers, but he wanted to keep his own off limits. By the fourth or fifth time he’d spent the night at her place, he wondered if he shouldn’t feel a little weird about it. Was he becoming a kept man? He tried not to think about it.

Of course whatever he called himself he was still enjoying the benefits, as went the current expression. Besides the sex, he liked showering somewhere besides the locker room down at the athletic complex at school. After a couple of mornings in her bathroom he realized how he’d become conditioned by all his time in public places, those vast public showers at school included. She got up before him almost invariably, but was happy to leave him in the dark bedroom while she went off to work. This was fine with Jeb, who was used to reading into the small hours and was in the habit of getting up late. He tried not to let the progress of the affair affect his studies. If he woke up in the middle of the night (and he did, frequently) he would go to the bathroom and study in the bright light while sitting on the toilet. The Divorcée never seemed to notice.

Other than the shack (which wasn’t really his) and his backpack, the idea of any kind of personal belongings put a bit of a cramp on his style. To his way of thinking, this went hand in hand with his need for privacy. To own things was to be owned by them, so that about the only things he really belonged to him were the clothes he wore and a few books – most of these dictionaries in various languages, ancient and modern. Most of the others he checked out from the library. This attitude towards things grew out of another thought: sometimes he felt he was the secret of the world, ignored by the world, and hidden in plain sight. Hidden for the time being in his friend’s apartment. He’d guessed that the Divorcée must be making good money to afford it (it had a nice view of Elliot Bay), but then she told him her ex was footing the bill, even if he didn’t know it yet. He could afford it, she said. That could certainly put him in an odd position. What if he was forcibly involved in their messy court proceedings? The last thing he wanted was to get caught up in some kind of domestic dispute. But there he was.

She usually called in the late afternoon, and always left a message when he didn’t answer. Whatever she chose for dinner became a kind of unacknowledged code between them. “Come by after 7:00, we’re having Chinese take-out tonight. With a fortune cookie for desert.” Then she’d hang up abruptly. He’d show up half an hour after whatever time she’d named, somewhat in a state of disbelief at his own good fortune. Could it be so easy?

After a month she upped the ante a little by asking him away for a weekend. She had some business up in Vancouver she could take care of on a Saturday and asked Jeb to go along with her. “Got a passport?” she’d asked, and when he said yes (he was hoping to make that trip to Italy to study), the trip was on. She even let Jeb drive some of the way. She’d hoped it would do something for the poor kid’s nerves; she had picked up pretty quickly that he still seemed a little intimidated by their arrangement. It didn’t. Jeb had a passport, but not a driver’s license, and had some difficulty working the manual transmission. It was a clear, bright afternoon when they arrived, and spent an hour or two walking around Stanley Park, parallel, a foot or so apart by mutual understanding. More buddies than lovers (to use another popular expression), an arrangement that was fine by Jeb. As much as he looked forward to enjoying her body at night, it was also a relationship he preferred to keep somewhat distant. He already lived his life in such a way as to keep it almost entirely unobserved, and he certainly didn’t want to meet her at Queequeg’s.

This, in fact, was the rub. He enjoyed his time with the Divorcée well enough, and he certainly enjoyed the sex, but even when he was with her he felt his thoughts drifting back to Diana. He’d never seen her outside of Queequeg’s, but somehow she’d become an obsession that ran even deeper than sex. It wasn’t as if during his nights alone he never found himself thinking about the Divorcée and all the great workouts they were having together, but Diana simply had a deeper hold on his imagination. He just didn’t know what to do about it. That the Divorcée made everything so easy just complicated the other aspects of his life.

In Vancouver, while the Divorcée spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening attending to business (which really meant time shopping in the Gastown district), Jeb stayed in the hotel room, using her laptop to work on his poems and fiddle with a drawing and painting program he’d noticed her using earlier.

He copied the drawing and put it up with the rest of his poems on a blog so as to be able to access them from the computers at school, and now all he had to do was find someone who’d be willing to publish it as a chapbook. He’d found a number of smaller presses that, provided with enough funds, seemed to specialize in this. Of course the way things seemed to be going, blogs were the future anyway. Maybe poets would soon stop bothering with the chapbooks and go to electronic self publishing. But there’s something about holding a book in your hands; something about paper that still seems to constitute something more real. Should he put a picture on the cover? What order should he put the poems? Chronologically, or with some attention to all the different content? He really wanted something he could give to Diana, and that something was his very self in the form of a book.

A couple of weeks later the Divorcée asked him to go on another trip, this time to San Piedro Island, up in the San Juans. He fought with himself over it, considering the mixed emotions he’d felt on the Vancouver trip. He really was beginning to feel like a kept man. Given the age difference, which at first had been so exciting, he had to acknowledge he was becoming something of a boy toy, which brought into focus the simple tawdriness of the whole fling. As if to emphasize the point, she had played a Madonna CD all the way back from Vancouver. He got to drive the car, but she chose the music. Whatever it was he felt himself becoming, he wasn’t entirely happy about it. Which didn’t entirely stop him from thinking about their nights together when he slept alone in the construction shack, but it did leave him confused.

How much better it was to think about Diana! No sex, no hotels, no fast cars to foreign cities with Madonna playing on the stereo. He continued thinking about her during their weekend on San Piedro (yes, he’d buckled). From the time he’d first slept with the Divorcée he’d felt like he was leading a double life, and he wondered whether he’d be able to keep both of them hidden. At the library, at school and throughout the day Diana was never more than a few thoughts away. True, whenever he found himself thinking about sex he thought about Divorcée, but at any other point during the day – in the classroom, especially – he found himself daydreaming about Diana. Weirdly, at least for Jeb, these daydreams were in the main part happy, domestic scenes. It would mean a radical change in his personal philosophy, but Diana would be worth it. He a full professor at a college somewhere; she faithfully at his side. Taking care of the domestic arrangements while he attended to his studies. Who knew? Maybe even taking care of the kids.

It soon got to the point that he was thinking about Diana even while he was with the Divorcée – especially after sex. Then even during sex, which wasn’t pleasant. It wasn’t so much an issue of being torn between the two; it was really a question of reality. Sex in itself wasn’t an entirely new experience; but this kind of intense pleasure was. The Divorcée had been at it for a while, after all, and he’d noticed that the magazines scattered thoughout her apartment featured many articles about various sexual techniques that he could now recognize by name as well as in practice. He knew he was the only one in her life, and he was pretty sure she wasn’t daydreaming about a happy domestic scene with some other unknown partner. In the moment, it really was a kind of peak experience for him. ‘This can’t be happening, this is really happening’ was a thought that frequently went through his head.

One evening he noticed a strange looking plant on one of her side tables: five long, green stems, each with a pair of weird, wing-shaped extensions on the end. He asked her what it was, and when she told him he had to laugh. He did, in fact, feel trapped in his own body, which itself had been trapped by the Divorcée’s body. Where would he be if he weren’t there? He’d be with Diana, he liked to think, talking about sports and poetry and even religion if she insisted on it. Diana was the one that he dreamt about in his sleep, once or twice anyway, but of course he had no control over that. This remained the only time he’d really been alone with her, but he was happier imagining that dream with Diana than recalling every night he’d spent with Divorcée. He briefly wondered whether he had some sort of Virgin/Whore thing going on (he’d read about it in regard to some of favorite poets, as well as the magazines in the apartment), but pushed this thought out of his mind. It seemed unfair and even cruel to the Divorcée, even if she wasn’t aware of his thoughts, which she probably was. However much he might have liked to think they were on entirely different brainwaves, she was certainly well attuned to his moods: knew when he was stressed about school, understood when he wanted to be left alone, and had probably long since guessed that he was less interested in her than the sex he could have with her.

Would Diana be so understanding? He had to remind himself that much of what he thought about Diana was pure fantasy; he liked to think she would care, but he could see how she might be more amused at his antics than anything else. And it wasn’t at all clear to him that she was interested in marriage, least of all with him. She seemed to take a kind of aloof interest in just about everybody, but there was definitely something a little different about her relationship with men. During his first few visits to Queequeg’s he thought that she was just being nice and funny and told jokes for the tips, but there had to be something more to it than that. She was determined to put everybody at ease and to make them happy if she could, but it also seemed more than simple kindness. She seemed genuinely interested in him and school and any of his other preoccupations (poetry and hockey, anyway), and he had to believe that this was true of other patrons as well. She was interested in other people as themselves, for themselves, and not what they might mean to her. It wasn’t a personality trait he’d ever noticed in anyone before, or at least never so consistently displayed.

After he turned down a trip to Mexico he wasn’t sure the Divorcée would ever call him again. He found himself hoping she wouldn’t call. He thought that it was only by separating himself completely from the pleasure offered by the Divorcée that could he freely pursue Diana, even if he wasn’t all that sure Diana herself would appreciate such a pursuit. What he could do, he hoped, was bestow his poetry upon her, and this is what inspired his thoughts about producing a chapbook.

As it turned out, the Divorcée wasn’t bothered at all. Later that same week they were back to spending three or four evenings a week together. It was hard to deny himself the comfort to be taken in at least one square meal for the day, not to mention a real bed. But he was beginning to feel the strain.

Happy Leap Day

Milosz on Dostoevsky

N.B.: Despite the disavowal below, Milosz himself wrote what I think must be included in any list of the best novels of the 20th century, The Issa Valley.

Interviewer: You have been uninterested in writing novels. You seem to have a quarrel with the genre. Why?

Milosz: It’s an impure form. I taught Dostoevsky at Berkeley for twenty years. A born novelist, he would sacrificed everythinbg; he knows no obligations of honor. He would put anything in a novel. Dostoevsky created a character in The Idiot, General Ivolgin, who is a liar and tells stories – how he lost his leg in a war, how he buried his leg, and then what he inscribed on the tombstone. the inscription is taken from the tomb of Dostoevsky’s mother. There you have a true novelist. I couldn’t do that.

I have just started reading Dostoevsky’s The Possessed, spurred on by Girard’s treatment of same in his first book, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, and my intention is to keep some notes here at Korrektiv as I do. That may or may not count as our Summer Reading Club selection, but I’d welcome any input anyone would care to give. This weekend I’ll start with some key passages from Girard’s commentary as a way of getting a leg up (thanks, General!), on which my reading will certainly be based.

Some lively discussion happening on Percy-L of late.

Even Walker Percy gave it due reverence when he wrote that one can “eat crawfish and drink Dixie beer and feel as good as it is possible to feel in this awfully interesting century.”


That I didn’t buy that old New Yorker in The Dawn Treader bookstore in Ann Arbor, the one with the J.D. Salinger short story. That I didn’t buy that old Esquire in La Mesa Used Books, the one with the Walker Percy essay on Bourbon. That I didn’t buy the Orson Welles poster with this image:

Second Son’s First Potato

The winter gardens are flourishing…

Søren Says

As soon as subjectivity is taken away, and passion from subjectivity, and infinite interest from passion, there is no decision whatsoever. All decision, all essential decision, is rooted in subjectivity.
~ Concluding Unscientific Postscript


After cramming at least a dozen lifetimes into his allotted four score and two, William F. Buckley has passed away. I went looking for a great quotation to mark the occassion, and they weren’t hard to find. There are lots, of course, but I think this story best exhibits all the grace, urbanity and sheer adventure of a life lived to its fullest:

When in 1951 I was inducted into the CIA as a deep cover agent, the procedures for disguising my affiliation and my work were unsmilingly comprehensive. It was three months before I was formally permitted to inform my wife what the real reason was for going to Mexico City to live. If, a year later, I had been apprehended, dosed with sodium pentothal, and forced to give out the names of everyone I knew in the CIA, I could have come up with exactly one name, that of my immediate boss (E. Howard Hunt, as it happened). In the passage of time one can indulge in idle talk on spook life. In 1980 I found myself seated next to the former president of Mexico at a ski-area restaurant. What, he asked amiably, had I done when I lived in Mexico? “I tried to undermine your regime, Mr. President.” He thought this amusing, and that is all that it was, under the aspect of the heavens.

Indeed. And to you, Mr. Buckley, no longer under that aspect, many, many thanks.

Mark Steyn on the Clintons, fading away

“The Clintons turned the Democratic party into a star vehicle and designated everyone else as extras. But their star quality was strictly comparative. They had industrial-strength audacity and a lot of luck: Bill jumped into the 1992 race when A-listers like Mario Cuomo were too cowed by expert advice that Bush Snr. was unbeatable. Clinton gambled, won the nomination and beat a weak opponent in a three-way race, with Ross Perot siphoning votes from the right. He got even luckier four years later. So did Hillary when she embarked on something patently absurd — a First Lady running for a Senate seat in a state she’s never lived in — only to find Rudy Giuliani going into instant public meltdown. The SAS, Britain’s special forces, have a motto: Who dares wins. The Clintons dared, and they won — even as almost everyone else in their party lost: senators, congressmen, governors, state legislators. Even when they ran into a spot of intern trouble, sheer nerve saw them through. Almost anyone else would have slunk off in shame, but the Clintons understood that the checks and balances don’t add up to much if you’re determined not to go.

With hindsight, the oral sex was a master stroke. Bill Clinton likes to tell anyone who’ll listen that he governed as an “Eisenhower Republican,” which is kind of true — NAFTA, welfare reform, etc. If you have to have a Democrat in the Oval Office, he was as good as it gets for Republicans — if you don’t mind the fact that he’s a draft-dodging non-inhaling sex fiend. Republicans did mind, of course, which is why Dems rallied round out of boomer culture-war solidarity. But, if he hadn’t been dropping his pants and appealing to so many of their social pathologies, his party wouldn’t have been half so enthusiastic for another chorus of “I Like Ike.””

The Spiritual Life

Mom, upon seeing me recoil in horror at a (doctor-recommended) fish oil pill roughly the size of a .50 caliber bullet:

“Oh, taking that will be a splendid Lenten suffering. And then, after Lent…you can continue the suffering.”

And there you have it.


That was the tagline for this piece from last summer’s NYT. How could I resist? It’s been sitting on my desktop ever since. Let’s blow the dust off, shall we?

Sex, With Consequences

AT least since Ovid, sex has been the theme music in much of Western literature, played at variable volume in all its many keys: sex as fate, as fun, as tedium and emotional torture, as stand-in for religious devotion and, until not that many decades ago, as the fastest way in fiction to lose honor, home and head.

[As stand-in for religious devotion? I need to read more.]

Lately, though, it seems that a slight virginal breeze has been blowing through the worlds of publishing, theater and Hollywood.

[“Virginal” and “less promiscuous” are not quite the same. But I take the point.]

Ian McEwan’s new novel, “On Chesil Beach,” a best seller in Britain that will be published here this week, spins the coital clock back to 1962, dissecting in almost clinical detail the wedding night of Edward Mayhew and Florence Ponting, two English virgins who not only have no idea what they’re doing but cannot even pillow-talk about it, living “in a time when a conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible,” as the first sentence says.

[No, I didn’t read it. And I’m happy to grant the possibility of an English couple who find themselves unable to communicate with one another about sexual difficulties. But the notion of a young man who makes it all the way to the wedding bed with no idea what he’s doing is a strange one. Boys of a certain age talk about this – fervently. I find it hard to believe that boys of a certain age have not always talked about this.]

In the fall, Tom Perrotta, the author of “Little Children,” which was made into the popular movie last year, will publish “The Abstinence Teacher,” a novel with almost as much heavy breathing as his previous one, but whose plot turns on a suburb’s battles over the chastity of its youth, with conservative Christianity as the backdrop.

[I really do need to read more. I thought Little Children was a smart, smart movie. If Today in Porn had a Hall of Fame, it would have to be in there for its treatment of Kate Winslet’s husband and the way porn worms its way into his life until finally, he winds up caught in his home office, masturbating in front of his computer while wearing a pair of porn-star panties on his face. A brutal scene, but an honest one. Porn works hard to look sexy, but often, all the sexiness is for the sake of a guy in a chair with his pants around his ankles. Which is not sexy.]

Add to this “Spring Awakening,” the dark, unlikely Broadway musical hit about sexual ignorance and repression in late-19th-century Germany, nominated recently for 11 Tony awards, and it means there’s a lot of imaginary non-sex happening. Or at least a lot of waiting and wondering, longing and thinking, before sex happens on more consequential, even fateful, terms than has been the case in fiction or theater for quite a while.

[This is genuinely fascinating, thinks me. Though I’m not sure why McEwan and “Spring Awakening” have to dig into the past for consequential sex – I imagine there’s plenty of consequential sex going on these days, even among people who don’t want to regard it as consequential. But then, to tell that story might come off as moralizing…but then, Perrotta seemed to manage it…]

Many reviewers of Mr. McEwan’s book have noted that to put sex back in its old perch among literature’s most momentous plot elements (alongside truth, money, family, honor and God) the author set his story in 1962. Of course this is the year just before the one that the poet Philip Larkin established sarcastically (but with some reason) in his often-quoted “Annus Mirabilis” as the all-important dividing line:

Sexual intercourse began 
In nineteen sixty-three
 (Which was rather late for me) 
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
 And the Beatles’ first LP.

In Edward and Florence’s world, Mr. McEwan writes: “The Pill was a rumor in the newspapers, a ridiculous promise, another of those tall tales about America.” They move awkwardly and painfully toward consummation in an “era — it would end later in that famous decade — when to be young was a social encumbrance,” one “for which marriage was the beginning of a cure.”

[Wow. I’m not about to argue – I wasn’t there. But I’m always fascinated by the question of how things got to that point, given the decadence of Waugh’s England in novels like Vile Bodies. Heck, even Brideshead was shot through with a weary sophistication about sex.]

There is something quintessentially British in their troubles. (It’s almost laughable, for example, to imagine a French couple in their place, even in 1962.) And of course, sex with consequences didn’t go away with the pill, in life or in novels, even those peopled with sexual-revolution partisans like the ones created by John Cheever, John Updike and Joan Didion. Then came AIDS, which united sex and death in a more real way than the Victorians ever did, providing the playwright Tony Kushner and others with a powerful metaphor.

[Indeed. Cheever and Updike were, to my mind, moral (which is not to say moralistic) writers. They chronicled the mores of the age with clear eyes. They told the truth about the human condition. And so sex had consequences.]

But there is a sense that these recent artistic creations are partly a response, maybe partly unconscious, to the current state of sex in our society, where it can often feel like just another form of the cheap entertainment and distraction that now pushes in from all sides. That impression is fed by proliferating cable channels and the Internet, where the leak of the latest celebrity sex video already seems like a weary ritual, not more much momentous than the latest short-lived reality series.

[Well, hello there. The banality of pleasure? Still, points off for going to “the latest celebrity sex video,” which muddies the waters of this conversation by bringing in questions of the state of celebrity worship in our society. When talking about sex, current society, and the Internet, isn’t the failure to mention porn a case of ignoring the flesh-pink elephant in the room?]

In “The Abstinence Teacher,” Mr. Perrotta pokes a lot of fun at the cadre of Christian hardliners who go after an honest-talking high school sex-ed teacher, Ruth Ramsey. But behind the humor, you can sense the writer’s sympathy with their desire to create more meaning in human relations, even if he disagrees with their methods and ends. And in the person of the abstinence teacher, one JoAnn Marlow — who describes herself as 28, a competitive ballroom dancer who likes Coldplay and riding on her boyfriend’s Harley — he creates a character whose gray constantly peeks out from behind the black-and-white. She has probably had a breast job. But she is a virgin, who tells a student assembly that when she finally has sex, “mark my words, people — it’s going to be soooo good, oh my God, better than you can even imagine.”

[Right. This kind of attitude deserves every bit of satire it gets, and I have little doubt that Perrotta knows whereof he speaks when he depicts it. Marlow’s fantasy is just that – a deluded, even damaging exaggeration, a set-up for a tremendous fall. The truth, I would argue, is more modest: that the very best sex involves delight in the other, and is expressive of a personal union that precedes and lends meaning to the physical joining of bodies. And yes, I know that even that more modest claim is open to satire as it veers dangerously close to the ponderous and overwrought. But it’s not quite as silly as “soooo good.”]

The same yearning to drag sex back into the foreground in a more meaningful way — if only as a great storytelling device, particularly for its comedic value — is also at work in the movies of Judd Apatow, the creator of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and the new “Knocked Up,” about post-pregnancy reality. The movies’ sexual-references-per-line-of-screenplay ratio easily matches that of the “American Pie” series, but the intentions are worlds apart. As the Times film critic A. O. Scott noted of “Knocked Up,” in a rare observation for any comedy: “The film’s ethical sincerity is rarely in doubt.”

[I’d say that ethical sincerity is an underpinning of a great deal of great comedy, but that’s another argument. In the meantime, I think “if only as a great storytelling device” is depressing. Stories aren’t just stories.]

The sociologist Alan Wolfe, who has conducted hundreds of interviews over the last two decades for books about the country’s beliefs and politics, said he saw a reflection in such works of the way people seem to struggle now for a greater sense of societal structure. “They do want to go back to a more conventional sexuality, morality, whatever,” said Mr. Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College. “But they do not want to go back to an era of repression. So a kind of muddled, middle position is where it seems to me that most Americans are these days.”

[“Conventional sexuality, morality, whatever” – hilarious. Sad: that “conventional sexuality” has a natural association with “repression” in Wolfe’s mind, such that to embrace one without the other is to end up in a “muddled, middle position.” Of course, he may well be right. It is the job of the fan of conventional sexuality to propose a middle position which is not muddled.]

Mr. McEwan’s novel, set back in that earlier era, uses the period and its stifling mores not for humorous purposes but for ironic ones, it seems, showing us from the vantage point of the present a kind of loss of innocence impossible in fiction set in the here and now — while at the same time reminding us what that “innocence” really meant.

[Oh, hush. “Innocence” is not a polite code word for debilitating embarrassment and repression. Don’t believe me? Sit down and watch a farm porn video with your ten year old son. You will witness his loss of innocence, and it will be something much different than the loss of repression. Or send your virginal 13 year old daughter out on a date with the Senior Lothario. Debilitating embarrassment and repression are real. So is innocence. The one is not the other.]

“There’s always an attraction, I think more for the English novelist than the American, in the opportunities offered by repression: what can’t be said, what won’t be said, what characters can’t even say to themselves,” he said in a recent podcast with The Times Book Review.


It’s certainly not attractive to everyone, especially those who remember well enough what the era felt like. Jane Smiley’s most recent novel, “Ten Days in the Hills,” is also about sex — a whole lot of it, generally the casual kind, described as graphically as Mr. McEwan’s non-sex is described. She said she felt a different impulse as a novelist in today’s society. She wanted to create a group of contemporary characters for whom sex was not meaningless but also not meaningful in an exaggerated, fetishistic way — just another of the ways humans communicate, trying to say those things that can’t be said.

[Right. We don’t want to make sex meaningful in an exaggerated, fetishistic way. But if a whole lot of the sex is of the casual kind, doesn’t that work against the idea of the sex having much meaning at all? Put another way, isn’t casual sex by definition drained of meaning, at least meaning beyond, “I find you attractive, you find me attractive, let’s take delight and comfort in one another’s bodies”?]

“All the things they do in the book are examples of relating to each other in a more or less loving way,” said Ms. Smiley, 59, born a year after Mr. McEwan. “All of the interactions are equalized.”

“By the time the book was published I’d actually sort of forgotten that there was a lot of sex in it,” she said, laughing. She said she planned to read Mr. McEwan’s book, but added that his was a journey she wanted to take only in fiction: “I wouldn’t go back to 1962 for a hundred million dollars.”

[Fair enough. But would you want to be a teenager today?]

Feed Me.

Awesome and Early FOG Another Coward sends word that there is now some sort of feed line for Godsbody. I have no idea what this means, but maybe some of you do. So, without further ado, here it is.


So my uncle is rather an accomplished genealogist, and according to him, “Lickona” is a fairly recently invented name. (I’m pretty sure our little clan of Lickonas is the only one in the world.) It all started with Nicholas Lickona, born sometime around 1820 in Alsace. He came to America (at which time, presumably, his original name got mangled into the present “Lickona”), married Jane McCormick, and set about starting a family. He died in 1889 at the age of 68 – in Sing-Sing, the maximum security prison that happened to be located in the town in which he settled: Ossining, NY. Now I’m curious.

Epigraph for Alphonse

Despair thy charm,
And let the angel whom thou still hast served
Tell thee, Macduff was from his mother’s womb
Untimely ripp’d.

– Macduff, from Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 8

Random Bob Dylan

Random Bob is sometimes the best Bob. I have about 300 Dylan songs on my wife’s iPod, which I set to play randomly while taking a penitential lenten treadmill run this evening. The ten songs that came up formed quite a kick-ass playlist — lent or no lent — which I duly scribbled down following the run:

1. When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky (from Empire Burlesque, 1985)

2. Baby, Stop Crying (from Street Legal, 1978)

3. Masters of War (from Freewheelin’, 1963)

4. Beyond the Horizon (from Modern Times, 2007)

5. It Ain’t Me, Babe (from Another Side of Bob Dylan, 1964)

6. Just Like a Woman (from Blonde on Blonde 1966)

7. I’ll Keep It With Mine (from Biograph, 1985; recorded 1965)

8. Tangled Up in Blue (from Blood on the Tracks, 1975)

9. It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry (from Highway 61 Revisited, 1965)

10. Visions of Johanna (from Blonde on Blonde, 1966)