R  A  L  P  H
  The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy
and the Humanities 

Early Fall, 2000

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Folio Editor
poo@cts.com


Strange Foods
An Epicurean Adventure
Around the World

Jerry Hopkins
(Periplus/Tuttle)
This is the list of contents for deer penis soup:
  • 4 oz. penis (deer, beef, etc.)
  • 1 cup rice wine
  • 10 - 12 cups water
  • Herbs and spices.
The herbs are to be bought at your local Chinese phramacy, depending on "the customer's needs."

And in case you were worried, at the end of an hour-and-a-half of boiling, you throw away the weenie and drink the broth.

There's also:

  • Fried crocodile with beef liver (or fried crocodile tongue with garlic and pepper).
  • Sea-horse and wolfberry soup.
  • Mealworm salad in cucumber cups (the pictures show them crawling out of the melon cups.)
  • Cricket and vegetable tempura.
  • Fried bamboo grubs.
  • Cricket stuffed baby tomatoes ("The size, shape, and crunchiness of crickets make them an ideal ingredient...garnish with thin slices of green chili.")
  • Fried silkworm chrysalids.
  • Dragonflies and ginger.
  • Grasshoppers? ("It's a good idea to remove the legs before eating, because they sometimes get stuck between your teeth") and
  • Snake soup..."one snake, one tablespoon of chili peppers, one tablespoon of dehydrated rice, fresh coriander, finally chopped onions, two tablespoons of fish sauce, and several cups of water...the snake is scorched over an open flame (or in a pan) to remove the scales."
I don't know. Is it any different than what they put in hotdogs (snout of pig, intestines, chicken combs, nose of a cow, and what they call "chicken lips.") We don't complain about eating shrimp, but they are not that much different than roaches. How about, as the author suggests, all those chemicals we get in our pre-packaged foods.

Still, it's one thing to read about these interesting if not disgusting dishes --- it's quite another to eat, or (almost as bad) look at them. The photographs are, so to speak, all-consuming. The author, who has also written books on Elvis Presley (who, presumably, we are not to eat), is on a fine line here. I mean, they do eat duck embryos, on the street, in the Philippines. But I am not so sure you are prepared --- I wasn't --- for the closeup of a young fellow on page 139, chowing down on one (they don't get cooked until they are aborted at mid-term) with bits of yellow you-don't-want-to-know all over his puss.

It all begins with rat-catchers of Irula, calf embryo in Thailand, and donkey meat dried sausages from Arles, and ends with live lobster sashimi --- can you hear them clicking in protest as you start in feeding on them? From the very first of almost 150 exquisitely-colored photographs you know that Hopkins wants your tum to complain. To assure enteritis, we get pix of scorpion and asparagus canapés, creamed slugs (Stop it!), ground lizards (I said stop it!) and (O no! Please!) "Placenta Paté" (I knew you weren't to be trusted .) We're spared the pix of this last, but the recipe, in case you were wondering, is

  • 1 placenta
  • 6 oz. red wine
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 shallots, chopped finely
  • paté pastry
  • Green onion
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 6 strips of bacon
  • 1 egg.
Thank the lord they included bacon and eggs. Although, when you think about it, what is bacon, anyway? As the gourmets at the Chicago Commodities Exchange would have it, it's frozen pork bellies. Eggs? They're fresh embryo of the common chicken.

Makes you kinda hungry, right?


--- Leslie Wilkins


When in the Course
Of Human Events

Arguing the Case for
Southern Secession

Charles Adams
(Roman & Littlefield)
Charles Adams doesn't like Abraham Lincoln. Not even a little bit. He suggests that American history has been rewritten to make him out to be a god --- but the fact of the matter is that Lincoln fomented the Civil War by sending supplies to Fort Sumter and thus forcing Jefferson Davis to attack. Several newspapers --- such as the Chicago Times, New York's Journal of Commerce, Freeman's News, and the Day-Book all questioned the need for war, so Lincoln had them shut down either by sending in the military or having the post office refuse mailing privileges.

In addition, he called up the militias of the various states without the express consent of Congress, and most doubtful of all, he suspended the right of habeas corpus --- throwing close to 10,000 people in jail without trial or bail. When, in the case of Ex Parte Merriman, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney tried to hold a hearing on the matter, not only was it blocked by Lincoln, but the President issued an order to have Taney arrested (several members of the Maryland legislature had been jailed earlier because of "their lack of zeal for war on the Confederancy.") Only the reluctance of a federal marshall, Ward Hill Lamon, to make the arrest saved the eighty-year-old Taney from prison.

It's an interesting take on American history. Adams goes through the various succesionist movements in world history, lists the federal property (before Ft. Sumter) taken over by the South, and concludes that the Civil War was not fought over slavery --- but over tax revenues. Since southern ports provided 80% of the tariffs to the national budget, their loss would have serious consequences to the operation of the federal government, so, he writes,

    As with all sucession wars throughout history, it was a fight for land and resources.

Further, Adams points out, not only had Lincoln himself come out in support of the fugitive slave laws, the "Emancipation Proclamation" was not signed until 1863 (Lincoln called it his "last card.")

Our only complaint with this version of American history is the style of the author. Rather than writing in a linear fashion, he tends to be circular, repeating the facts not only in the text, but in the captions as well. Some of his insights are startling, and worth considering, such as when he quotes Liddell Hart, to the effect that because of our Civil War, a "barbaric revolution" commenced:

    Modern nations have reverted to more primitive extremes --- akin to the practices of warfare between barbaric hoardes that were armed with sword and spear.

The cartoons and pictures, numbering some fifty-five, are wonderful.


--- A. R. Risley


Swarm
Jorie Graham
(Ecco/Harper Collins)
The American poet Jorie Graham, the critics tell us, can be compared to T. S. Eliot, Emily Dickinson, and E. E. Cummings. A reviewer in the Post-Dispatch said that Graham's style "is so personal that the poems seem to have no author at all..." The "Library Journal" stated that her style is "unapologetically solipsistic," one that is "almost quaintly Miltonic." And the august Richard Eder in the august New York Times said her's was a "remarkable voice." He compared her to Rilke, and said "Even as the brain struggles, the neck hairs lift."

Now I have to admit that when I read stuff like this, and then leaf through her poems, my neck hairs don't do much of anything, but the rest of me gets a little weird. I feel like I've just landed on earth from the planet Ixneabar, discovering a world filled with conspiracies of nonsense.

Agreed, on every page of this, her newest booklet, we find end-stopped lines. This makes it poetry, n'est-çe-pas? We also find a heap of five-dollar words, like "empyreal," "stasis," "spezzato," and "enjambment." And the volume is jam-packed with all your hoary classical references --- Agamemnon, Eurydice, Socrates, Lear and Ulysses.

Furthermore, there are words and phrases that some of us innocents can't make head nor tail of: "the swag of clay," "nerves wearing only moonlight/whelm sprawl," "The furrow of the hard now." There are lines like

looking through the end of afternoon into your glance

and

let no one see us here whitening in the century

and

the slow river of my spine.

Who can tell if it's poetry or merely oatmeal mush? I sure don't.

They gave her a Pulitzer in 1996, and compared her to T. S. Eliot. But when I read, in "East Coker,"

    The whole earth is our hospital
    Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
    Wherein, if we do well, we shall
    Die of the absolute paternal care
    That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.

...when I read that, I don't hear a sound, an echo, a trace of Jorie Graham.

Rilke? Well, the first of "The Duino Elegies" starts out,

    Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels'
    hierarchies? and even if one of them pressed me
    suddenly against his heart: I would be consumed
    in that overwhelming existence. For beauty is nothing
    but the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to endure,
    and we are so awed because it serenely disdains
    to annihilate us. Every angel is terrifying.

Graham? I don't hear her there, either, not a whisper. Instead, what we get from her is stuff like,

    We were somebody. A boat stills on a harbor and for a while no one
    appears
    not on deck, not on shore
    only a few birds glancing round,

    then --- before a single face appears --- something
                  announces itself
    like a piece of the whole blueness broken off and thrown down
    a roughness inserted,

    yes,
    the infinite variety of
    having once been...

What Eliot and Rilke have, flowing from their fingertips, is an art of poetry and a poetry of soul. "The whole earth as a hospital" is a daunting image. "Every angel is terrifying" is a wonderful twist of a holy image. But "a boat stills in a harbor and for a while no one appears" is not so much an image as a flat tire (Graham is so enamored of it she repeats it twice in her title poem --- so we have two flats.)

Maybe with her spacing, and lines like "thighs pushed to hold thighs back," we are supposed to compare her to Cummings, but when I read

    explain    acccident

    after gods

    is born

    (fall)
    (I'll catch)
    (you)

    I'm asking    for weight
    The Ready    flowers

and then compare it to Cummings' wry-funny-sad

      Buffalo Bill's
      defunct
           who used to
           ride a watersmooth-silver
                stallion
    and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsmustlikethat
                            Jesus

    he was a handsome man
               and what i want to know is
    how do you like your blueeyed boy
    Mister Death.

...there is, I must confess, no comparison, no comparison at all. Why? "A woman of clay is speaking to you now," Graham tells us. She got it.

They tell us that she teaches at Harvard. They don't say what. Let's hope it is something useful, like nuclear physics, molecular biology, or chiropody. Something hot like that. If it is English, or Creative Writing, god help the future teachers and writers of America.


--- Lolita Lark


Bob Marley and
The 3AM Blues
I wake up at three or so in the morning and my heart is going bang-bang-bang. It does that when I indulge myself --- when I have two margaritas instead of one.

In the old days, I could swill a pitcher of margaritas and then a half a bottle of brandy and dance all night on the table with a lampshade on my head and then come home and sleep like a top. No more.

One of the privileges of being a geezer is that they take away our pleasures one by one. Ten years ago they took away the food festivals: medieval dinners spent consuming whole beeves, lemon chicken swimming in lemon butter, three orders of banana creme cheesecake. After I topped 225 on the Richter scale, we --- my doctor and I --- decided I should be more selective about the things I put in my mouth.

Then they took away most of my drinking privileges. You're talking to a man who was famous for demolishing cases of Corona Beer, singlehandedly, and, afterwards, still talk. Now, a simple six-pack of beer keeps me awake most the night.

Finally, and not soon after, they decided to take away the pleasures of the flesh. You don't want to know the details. My doctor, who is getting to be quite friendly with me now, since I spend so much time with him, complaining about being a geezer, tells me it might be peripartum cardiomyopathy. Or maybe he said transgenital cardiomyopathy. Or perhaps transgenrational pheochromocytoma. In any event, I've pretty much stopped listening to him. I'm no longer interested.

Tonight, despite being on the straight and narrow (one thimbleful of mountain red, no Zabaglione or Crème Brulée, saying my prayers as I settle in) --- I wake up and my heart starts jackhammering and I know, with the certainty that comes to all of us at 3 AM, that my goose is cooked. "Thank god I didn't pay American Express this month," I think.

I open the door to look out at the world before I say adieu. It's dark, very dark. They've turned off the moon. Most of the stars are fading fast. There is a bird nearby, in the arroyo, singing, "It's real, it's real, it's real." Funny, I never heard that one before.

I turn over on my other side where, because of my tinnitus, I can't hear my heart. The bird grows quiet, or maybe it just up and dies in sympathy. A Very Stupid Song starts up in my inner juke-box --- the one where you don't have to put in any coins, the one where they play the same song over and over again, about fifteen million times, till you get to know it perfectly:

    Please don't worry
    'Bout a thing
    'Cause every little thing's
    Gonna be all right...

My Hit of the Week. Bob Marley. He's not worried. And, being charitable, he doesn't want me to worry, either.

I am not very interested in Bob Marley. If the truth be known, I can't stand Bob Marley. I would prefer anything other than Bob Marley. Give me Smashmouth, The Cramps, The Pet Shop Boys, The Goo-Goo Dolls. Give me Leprosy, Dengue Fever, The Blind Staggers. But spare me Bob Marley.

He wants me not to worry, but I do worry. I worry about global overheating, or whatever it's called. I worry about the Lakers, whoever they are. I worry about the sudden drop in the Dow. I worry about Monica Lewinsky's tummy.

I also worry about my workers, and their goddamn boombox, which started all this. Juan and Chiro and Leopoldo play that Bob Marley song ad nauseum. They think that Bob Marley is the bee's knees.

Tomorrow I will ask Chiro, ¿Cuántas veces hay que oír ese pinche canción? (How many more times am I going to have to listen to this miserable jerk?) I've asked him this before, several times, so I am pretty sure he will say, "¿Quieres que lo quito?" You want me to shut it off. He's very amiable. He also knows that payday comes very slowly when I am in a snit.

He will turn it off. But we've gone through this particular song-and-dance before. I know that an hour later, off in the distance, I'll be hearing some advice. From one B. Marley. He'll be telling me I don't have to worry 'bout a thing cause he knows, he just knows that every little thing's gonna be all right.


--- Carlos Amantea

[This article first appeared in salon.com]


A Fly for the
Prosecution

How Insect Evidence
Helps Solve Crimes

M. Lee Goff
(Harvard)
M. Lee Goff is a forensic entomologist. This means that he studies flies, maggots, beetles, bugs, worms, and other creepy-crawly creatures in order to find out the hour of death of humans murdered and dumped in a field, or by the side of the road, or down a gully.

The moment someone dies --- says Goff --- within ten minutes some of these bugs start to appear on the scene, creatures that you and I wouldn't want to be caught dead with --- gooshy things like screw-worms, histers, rove beetles, red legged ham beetles, cheese skippers (hold the cheddar!), black soldier flies, and my favorite, blowflies.

What happens is that when a body is dumped at the edge of, say, a pineapple field (Goff practices his trade where he lives, in Hawaii), these animalitos know instinctively that it's lunch time, where they can come for a porky feast --- chomping down on the flesh in one of the five stages of decay. So, if you're a blowfly, you turn up promptly in response to the aroma of fresh meat so you can have a few nibbles and then leave behind some of your children to finish off the job.

However, there ain't no such thing as a free lunch: soon enough, other flies and wasps put in an appearance, sometimes to munch on the munchers. According to Goff, within three weeks --- assuming the dining area is someplace where the weather is pleasant and the waiters aren't too obstreperous --- all that will be left is skin and bone.

All this eat-and-be-eaten isn't random. The creatures put in appearance in a certain order: those who like feasting on brain-stew will be different than those who are into thigh-jerky, for example. And they and their progeny leave specific traces, which, if you know your bugs and the ambient temperature --- will make it relatively simple to establish exactly when the body was let off. Which, in turn, is of major importance to detectives working on the case: it tells them who may have a viable alibi and who may be guilty.

Given the grim work, you'd suspect that this Goff would be a grim guy. Nonsense. This is one of the merriest books I have picked up in weeks:

    We had lunch together at the Willows Restaurant near the University of Hawaii at Manoa. By the end of the meal we had decided that if we could discuss maggots and decomposing bodies while eating curry over rice, we could probably work together.

Or, when he was at a conference at the FBI academy at Quantico, shortly after his presentation was over:

    Since it was late June, warm outside, and there was a parking lot with powerful lights, Wayne [a special agent and fellow-expert] and I began to behave like entomologists. We went out into the parking lot and started collecting the insects attracted to the lights. Only ten minutes later security guards appeared and asked what we were doing; after a lengthy discussion they decided we were harmless and let us continue. The next evening, we were joined by a couple of others, and by the third night we were a pack, combing the parking lot for dazed insects that had flown into the lights. Even the security guards began to get interested.

Goff hastens to assure us that, in the end, it is serious business:

    I am keenly aware that I may have to face someone whose life can be radically changed --- even ended --- by my testimony. I do not take this responsibility lightly...When someone's life is at stake, all the enthusiasm in the world is a poor substitute for accuracy.

Our author has some insightful if dry comments about law, and lawyers, and judges, and other expert entomologists. As he guides us through the somewhat complicated world of larvæ and beetle, spiracles and puparium, he makes us see the complex factors that he has to juggle in order to compute, within hours, the moment of death. Some times he bogs us down with "The most mature Phormia regina maggots on the body are molding from the first instar into the second instar. The ADH required are the total ADH required for the maggots to complete the egg state and all of the first instar. For laboratory rearings at 26.7º C, that time would be 34 hours..." But balance this against such insights as,

    Most people do not share my enthusiasm for maggots, and I have to present the subject very carefully to avoid repelling the jurors --- and others in the courtroom...At this point in the trial, the jury and I both get a break while the judge and attorneys argue over the repulsion factors of the various exhibits.

Then there are the descriptions of the pigs he uses for testing: since fifty-pound pigs seem to attract many of the same icky creatures that feed on human carcasses, Goff will often, a few days before giving a seminar, dump five dead pigs in various near-by areas to demonstrate to his students the arrival times of bluebottle maggots, hister beetles, et al. During his course at Quantico, when he visited the week-old ripe piggies just before class,

    I was amazed to see how well they had dressed for the occasion. Each pig had on a pair of glasses with a plastic nose, neckties were in place, and one was wearing a bib. Of course, no one in the class would admit having been anywhere near the pigs, but there were three female agents who seemed suspiciously enthusiastic about posing with the well-dressed pigs.

--- Pat Worley


My Friend is Struggling...
With Unplanned Pregnancy

Josh McDowell and
Ed Stewart

(Word)
Seventeen-year-old Stephanie Cooper finds herself in what we used to call "the family way." She tells her good friend Kate Holmes, who "shrieks in disbelief." They immediately call Jenny Shaw, a youth leader at their church, and Stephanie tells them that she knows that God is punishing her for her sin of having had congress with Brent: "My pregnancy is a result of my disobedience," she says. This is good, because the message is that pregnancy --- no matter what the source --- is not to be thought of as a joy, but, rather, punishment from a just but strict God.

At this point, the authors --- showing a novelistic style that even Joyce might find daring --- take a moment to directly address the reader, à la Hamlet, in what they call Time Out to Consider. In this, we learn that Stephanie is a computer. Her sadness, hopelessness, anger, and fear are not a result of her miserable and punishing pregnancy, nor her society, but come to her because "It is the way God wired you."

After this entr'acte, Jenny, Kate and Stephanie chit-chat about what to do with the baby. Being a single mother is one choice. Giving it up to adoption is another. Abortion is mentioned, but the authors tell us that if she goes that route, she will suffer:

    Many pregnant women who submit to abortion suffer mental and emotional torment for years when they realize what they have done to their babies. Abortion is the act of killing the person who will one day call you Mommy.

After and "another round of caring embraces," Stephanie, Kate, and Jenny take time out to eat. Jenny says, "Let's nuke this pizza and see how fast we can make it disappear!" This is called symbolic displacement, for as any Joycean would point out, Jenny is pretending to talk about a pizza-pie but is really referring to the unwanted embryo that they would all like to "nuke."

They go to meet with Stephanie's mother, Claire, to tell her what's happened. It's apparent that Mum is a no-nonsense sort, for she tells her daughter, "I am shocked and disappointed and hurt, but I forgive you." A discerning reader may suspect that, with her triple whammy shock/disappointment/hurt statement, Claire is not really forgiving her daughter but is, in effect, saying, "Since you've gotten us into a no-win situation, I'll forgive you. More or less. But don't think I'm going to forget." This is known as traditional Old Testament forgiveness.

§     §     §

Readers familiar with American literature will recall that the plot-line here is not unlike that of Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy. We have to admit, though, that if we had to choose between the two --- we'd pick My Friend is Struggling with... Unplanned Pregnancy.

First, McDowell and Steward have an enviable sense of economy. Outside of several commercials at penultimate part of the book for their other titles ("Connecting Youth in Crises...Experience the Connection"), they manage to get the whole miserable business of kindly Jenny, non-nonsense Claire, shrieking Kate, guilt-ridden Stephanie and that rat Brent over and done with in fifty pages.

On the other hand, Dreiser insists on making us look at all sides of a very human tragedy, rubbing our nose in it --- the doubts, the back-and-forth, the sheer hell of it. He drags us through seven-hundred pages of unmitigated woe. The result? We come to realize that a woman's agony comes not so much from the situation as from the values of a punitive society --- one that sees the pregnancy of an unmarried woman as a major evil. It's a pleasant relief that the shorter novel avoids such a lengthy plot line, all the while quickly eliminating one escape from Stephanie's misery with the unflinching statement: "Abortion is the act of killing the person who will one day call you Mommy."

And ultimately, although the two books favor a dry, somewhat stiff writing style, McDowell and Stewart offer us a definite change-of-pace when they pause to describe the details of abortion. They speak of a vacuum tube that "removes the baby in broken and torn pieces." They describe a D&C that "slices and scrapes the baby from the womb" Finally, they tell of the "saline injection:"

    This solution gradually and violently poisons the baby, then the mother goes into labor and delivers a tiny dead baby.

These dramatic entrepots bring this slight but potent novel to life, demonstrate that the authors are willing to offer to a would-be mother a full range of impossible choices to resolve the dilemma of an unwanted pregnancy.


--- Sarah Teale


Adventures with
Old Houses
Richard Hampton Jenrette
(Wyrick & Co.)
Jenrette has made a second career in discovering old homes and dolling them up. We aren't talking row houses in Georgetown or on Nob Hill --- we're talking Edgewater, a massive Doric pile in Barrytown, New York; or Ayr Mount, in Hillsborough, North Carolina; or the George F Baker House at 67 East 93rd Street in New York City --- which Jenrett has fixed up to a fare-thee-well with wallpaper gleaned from the Petits Appartements of Marie Antoinette at Versailles and Charles X bookcases.

Jenrette spices the photographs with chit-chat about how he bought this place for a cool two mil, and sold that one for five, letting you know that if you to plan to go in the restoration biz, you had better have some ready cash (and some hot friends: the introduction to the book was penned by The Prince of Wales.) No fake humility here.

We added up all the rooms Jenrette is presently carrying on inventory and it comes to more than 200 --- if you include the carriage houses, entrance halls, servants' quarters, æries, and stables. Since we have several friends from south of the border who can't even begin to afford a New York City $400/month rent-control apartment, and since we figure that Jenrette has all this extra space, and since he seems like a generous enough soul (if a bit overweening) --- we'd like to send along some of them to call on him there on 93rd Street, just to ask for a place for Pablo and María and the six or seven kids to lay their heads for a week or so. They'll gladly help him fill up those bright but empty rooms --- perhaps, some nights, jolly him a bit by singing musica norteña, downing pulque with him, cooking some of their favorite chiles rellenos, and --- in the process --- help get the family out of the seediness of the ghetto for a while, give them a chance to see how the other half lives. We figure it'd be a hell of a lot more fun for Jenrette than a week or so knocking around Edgewater with HRH The Prince of Wales.


--- R. P. Weise


{GREAT REVIEWS FROM THE PAST}

Suicide
Ruth Shonle Cavan
(The University of Chicago Press)
There are very few serious studies of suicide in English, and not many in German and French; practically all of them deal with the phenomenon statistically, and get no further than the observation that more people kill themselves in December than in July, or that men do it oftener than women.

Dr. Cavan makes a gallant attempt to go further. Her aim is to find out the fundamental and proximate causes of self-destruction, and to that end she begins with an interesting historical and ethnological survey, and then proceeds to a somewhat detailed examination of concrete cases. Her conclusion, put into plain words, takes on the appearance of a platitude: people destroy themselves because they find it impossible to go on living. But under that platitude there lies a great mass of sound and valuable observation, and its obviousness does not take anything from its scientific truth.

To all of us (barring, perhaps, archbishops and actors) the world is extremely harsh and unsatisfactory. We can all imagine having better times than we do have, and to most of us a new day spells only a new misery. Nevertheless, we manage to keep going, and even to enjoy the farce more or less. What we haven't got we hope for; what we can't have we do without. It is this resilience in the average man that saves him. He is naturally philosopher, as he is naturally a liar: no doubt the two things are really the same. But there is also a kind of man who lacks, congenitally, that saving bounce, or has had it shaken out of him by misfortunes passing the endurable. Confronted by intolerable horrors, he is company stumped. Let a rope be handy, and he will hang himself.

Fortunately for the gods who enjoy human misery, there are not many men so constituted. The great majority of us stick it out, hoping against hope, and sustained when even hope fails by curiosity. We must die in the end, but not just yet! Anon, anon! The morn may bring a check in the mail, or a better girl, or even the Presidency. It has happened in the past, and it may happen again. The doctors have been wrong before. But there is a kind of mind that believes them infallible, and hence sees no light ahead. It is a special type of mind, and if it is not downright pathological, then it is at least somewhat abnormal. Dr. Cavan shows, indeed, that most of the people who commit suicide do it for reasons that, to most of us, would seem trivial.

It is not the great calamities of life that take them off, but relatively small calamities. One man contemplates the bare bodkin because he is torn between his duty to his mother and his desire for his sweetheart --- a conflict that rages, at some time or other, in the breasts of four men out of five, and to no more damage than is inflicted by a severe Katzenjammer. Another kills himself because he yearns for the country, and is bound to the city by his wife and children. A woman slaughters her lover and herself because she fears that he is about to leave her, and that she'll never find another to match him. A young man leaps into the unknown at twenty-three because, having grown up under the impression that he is a genius, he has begun to have some doubt of it.

What dreadful silliness! What a stupendous lack of humor! I have known, in my time, and with intimacy, at least a dozen men who committed suicide, and I can't recall one who had a logically sound reason. They all threw up their hands in the face of difficulties that might have been cured by six quiet months in jail.

I think of a friend of my youth who made away with himself because he had been drunk at an inconvenient time, and with that he had disgraced himself. But what is there disgraceful about getting drunk whether the time be convenient or not. Shakespeare used to do it, and so did Socrates. So, indeed, did the late Warren Gamaliel Harding. The public and private opinion that that friend knew and respected was almost unanimously in favor of it. The only dissentient near to him was a man who also believed that cancer could be cured by going on a diet. Yet this capital fellow, otherwise merry and full of life, took himself off. There must have been some anterior collapse of the faculties. The so-called soul, I daresay, can snap as the femur or tibia can snap. Suicide is a disease of persons who have somehow blown up.

I do not argue thereby, of course, that life is pleasant, or generally worth living. It seems to me that it is not. If there are any really happy people in this world (that is, aside from archbishops or actors) I have yet to meet them, or even to hear of them. The trouble with Homo sapiens is that his imagination will not let him alone. He is always imagining situations more agreeable than those in which he finds himself. The latter, when he is lucky, may be bearable, but they surely are never satisfying.

Speaking for myself, I don't recall a single day in my life when I was contented with my lot, though as human destiny runs, it has been a not unfortunate one. Worse, I have got to a point. in my old age, that I can't imagine any concrete amelioration: experience has taught me that what I want today will only upset me if I get it tomorrow. But to give us hope is surely not the same as to embrace despair. The show remains engrossing, though it is no longer exhilarating. The horror of week after next will at least be a new one. It may be any one of ten dozen: I find myself vaguely eager to know which it is to be. Thus I advise against suicide. Life may not be exactly pleasant, but it is at least not dull. Heave yourself into Hell today, and you may miss, tomorrow or next day, another Scopes trial, or another War to End War, or perchance a rich and buxom widow with all her first husband's clothes. There are always more Hardings hatching. I advocate hanging on as long as possible.


--- H. L. Mencken (1929)


{CRYPTIC E-MAILS OF THE MONTH}

Subject: The Deluged Civilizations of Caucasus

Hello Ms Lark:
I am from Turkey and very much excited by Prof. Dr. R. A. Fessenden's work on The Deluged Civilizations of Caucasus and I am also a Circassian by birth and have a copy of some parts of the small book. I am intrested in a copy of the manuscipt of unpublished studies of Prof. Fessenden mentionded in the preamble of the book mentioned..or if possible to get hold of any one who can help me do somework related to this topic such as the Fessenden Fund etc.. thanks in advance.. yours truly..

--- Dr. S .AnaÁ
selahaddin@superonline.com

§     §     §

Subject: Fun 'n' Frolic in Albuquerque

Dear RALPH:
The City of Albuquerque provides bread and circuses to its citizens in the form of Saturday evening ethnic festivals. Last Saturday was Native American Night, and we sipped our beer and ogled the huge crowd sweating, jostling, listening to music.
We saw a woman so wonderful that I can't let it pass without writing about her. She was a Native American, black hair to her waist, cowboy hat, low cut shirt, tight metal concha belt, turquoise jewelry. But the best accessory, and the one I'm really writing you about, was a bullet-wound scar at the top of her thigh, juist below the hem of her shorts. Her hand naturally fell over this inch-deep hole, and every once in a while, she would idly insert her fingertip, sometimes in time with the music.

--- S. True
strue22@aol.com


Rescuing Jeffrey
Richard Galli
(Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill)
On July 4, 1998, Jeffrey Galli jumped into a friend's swimming pool and broke his spine. Within a day of his transfer to a hospital, the family learned that the prognosis was bad: that Jeffrey would never walk again, probably not be able to breathe on his own, possibly have no use of arms or hands. Rescuing Jeffreydescribes what happened between July 4 and July 14, and, mostly, what was going on in the mind of his father, Richard (who is both an attorney and a professional writer).

Many of the so-now-you-are-disabled books leave much to be desired --- for, unless you are a Callahan or a Hockenberry or a Gallagher, the event and the follow-up are so potent that it is damn near impossible to get all the feelings, and the drama (and the drama of feelings) down on the page. Rescuing Jeffrey is different. The writer is an experienced journalist. He saved his son's life, and he and his wife practically lived in the hospital for the next weeks. In addition, he did his homework.

In a lengthy meeting with the family, the doctors outline the process of rehabilitation. At the end, Galli says, "What about Option Two?" Option Two? Yes: "We have not yet talked about removing his life support." There is a pause, and then one doctor points out that he is alive, and even if there were no further improvement,

    Jeffrey could think and talk and --- [Dr.] Burnett used words that are apparently magical in the medical world --- "interact with his environment."

Galli's response: "Single-cell creatures in a petri dish can interact with their environment. Worms and cockroaches do, as do baseball players, doctors, young girls in love, and cancer cells."

For the next ten days, the possibility --- and the ethics --- of euthanasia is the central theme. The question is raised directly: is disconnecting life-support of a seventeen-year-old boy an act of mercy, or an act of murder?

    Poets might "rescue" people from life. Poets have the luxury of inventing the myths they write about. But when fathers shut off life support, they don't "rescue" their sons from life. They "kill" their sons....This is the last night, I thought, that my son may be alive. When I wake in the morning, I may kill him.

With Jeffrey's consent? No. Galli tells the doctors,

    If we have to do this...Jeffrey will not be told. We don't want a crowd of people filing in to say good-bye, terrifying him.

The ethics committee of the hospital asks Galli to come to another meeting and make his case. He does so articulately --- after all, he is trained as a trial lawyer. He describes, unflinchingly, the reality of quadriplegia:

    I have not told him about urine backing up into his kidneys; or about bowel programs; or about skin integrity, breakdown, and bedsores; or about opportunistic infections, which will come anytime and whose symptoms he won't even feel.

Then he points out the potential (and potent) subject of blame:

    For the rest of his life...Jeffrey will believe that he is the cause of his own paralysis. There is nothing anyone can say that will convince him otherwise. He will always believe that, and he will always be tormented by it.

Finally, he tells the group, "I am fifty-two years old. When Jeff is forty, I will be seventy-five years old. I don't know how long Toby [his wife] and I will be able to handle Jeff at home, even if we have help."

    The folks at the rehab hospital tell us it is pretty hard. At some point, Jeffrey is going to have to go somewhere else. There is no good place for him to go. By the time other kids in Jeff's generation are just hitting their peak, with careers and families and homes of their own, Jeff will long since have been delivered into the hands of strangers.

§     §     §

Galli has created a spectacular piece of writing, a cliff-hanging mystery --- one in which we know a murder may be going to happen, but as we get to know the characters better (the doctors, the rabbi, Jeffrey's mother, his sister, Jeffrey himself, and his father) we find ourselves strangely torn. Living as a quadriplegic can be a pisser, right? And yet, isn't life worth it? To kill the kid without his knowledge or permission? Much of the time, as involved as we are in his dilemma, we find ourselves wanting to tell the old man just to cool it, for God's sakes.

He keeps talking about the window of opportunity --- if the "unplugging" isn't done soon, it may never happen, because when Jeffrey is eighteen (which will occur in a few weeks) it will no longer be legal for his parents to make the fatal decision. If it's going to be done, it has to be done immediately.

And it's not just the Hamlet Question. It is, too, the knowledge that whatever transpires may be (at least by Galli's lights) wrong. For he sees it in terms of two "rescues." One came about at the side of the pool. The other may come, he believes, from the "unplugging:"

    We rescued him from death and then we rescued him from life. We will never be sure that either rescue was best for him.

If you save people from death, what are you saving them for. Is it possible that dying is the best option, one we could classify as another kind of "rescue."

As we wrestle the pros and cons of it, Galli begins to assume the stature of a heroic character, one right out of Shakespeare. The dilemma he has set for himself is a killer. And, all the while, we see a man who is very human. For instance, there's a poignant snapshot of him and his son: he's at the bedside, fingering the single tear that drops from Jeffrey's eye as he tells him, again, and again --- the boy keeps forgetting --- exactly how the accident happened.

At one point, Jeffrey wants to be shaved. So Galli decides to drive to a shopping center --- one he's been to a hundred times --- to buy an electric razor. He gets lost. He's in a daze. He spends an hour looking at the selection of razors. He --- a decisive person --- finds that he is driving himself to distraction with his new indecision. We are there with him, his confusion is our confusion. And it's not only about a razor. It's the repeated question of the quality of life, the quality of death. We become partners in his awful dilemma.

§     §     §

Perhaps one of the reasons he captures us is because he can be so brutally frank (and so brutally bitter) at the same time. The staff psychiatrist is assigned by the hospital "to help Jeff get through the ordeal. As a by-product, he ended up counseling us parents as well. And as an extra-special added bonus, I got to torture Dr. Fritz...We concentrated on why, precisely, I was so willing to kill my son."

Or,

    I read that Jeff's injury is called the hangman's break because it is exactly the kind of fracture that an executioner has in mind when he sets the knot just so on the condemned convict's neck. When the felon drops through the gallows floor, his neck bones snap around the C1-C2 level. The convict suffers a mean contusion up near the top of the spine, just about where Jeffrey suffered his, and the witnesses watch him die. The convict's father doesn't jump in and breathe for him, the EMT's don't ventilate him on the way to the hospital, and the surgeons don't set his neck into a halo vest. No.

It is this rank honesty that sets Rescuing Jeffrey apart from the disability literature that has been pouring from the presses over the last twenty years. We are allowed to see, without shields, the effect of a ghastly trauma on a seventeen-year-old, but, at the same time, we are immersed in the pain that comes to the family --- father, mother, and sister. (His younger sister asks at one point why she isn't being told the truth.)

It is common knowledge that the trauma to the spine is reflected by a deep trauma to one's emotions. But here we see another --- a close family member --- stretched so far that he, too, cracks. The break in his son's spine destroys a reasonable man's sense of logic. For a period of ten days, he comes to a state of near-lunacy, arguing murder. His son's agony brings on a larger lunacy: making an otherwise sensible man plot to kill the son he helped to bring (and bring back) into the world.


--- L. W. Milam


{PARADOXES OF THE MONTH}

The tiresome thing about getting older is that you hear and read the same things over again. Stuff you know already is given out as news. The young discover global capitalism, sexual freedom, social restraints, and the old discover that they are bored, opening newspapers to read articles they read thirty years ago, listening to revelations that were new to them decades past. And on and on.

So we turn on ourselves, like our parents' generation did and mutter about the banality of movies, TV programs, magazines. We begin to decide that these things aren't made for us, and instead of trying to find a way to engage with and exchange ideas outside our own generation, we start to write memoirs like retired generals from some long forgotten war, or decide that it's just as well we're old because the world had failed to understand what we have done for it and it is no longer good enough for us.

--- Jenni Diski
The London
Review of Books,

6 July 2000

§     §     §

Our divine may have considered it necessary to have his son nailed onto a couple of pieces of wood in order to make a statement for humanity...but for Pat Robertson to claim it was a sacrifice for him is degrading to those of us who pride ourselves on our Christianity as well as our humanity.

--- Eric A. W. Hassler, D. D.,
As quoted in
Jesus and the
21st Century

 

 

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