AN IMPORTANT NOTE FOR THE FRIENDS OF RALPH


The ague that has shaken the Dow Jones Industrial Average has also shaken our plum tree. We've come to the point where we can no longer afford to pay our most important employee.

Sharon Worth has been with us for twenty years. She takes care of all the things that our editors could never possibly do in a thousand years. She writes the checks, tends to our spelling, handles the mailing of the FOLIO, brings in the egg-rolls for lunch, picks up the incoming books from the post-office, and makes sure we file IRS and state tax forms. She also, on occasion, darns our socks.

We are very reluctant to part with her because it will mean that RALPH will lose much of its order, not to say its stability. Therefore, we are asking our readers to help us:

  • Consider making a regular pledge to our foundation, The Reginald A. Fessenden Fund (see form on the next page of the FOLIO).
  • If our fund-raise efforts fail, and if you can help Ms. Worth find an appropriate job, please call us at (619) 280 - 3488. We can guarantee that you won't regret it.
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--- L. W. Milam
Secretary-Treasurer

§     §     §

The FOLIO is published by The Reginald A Fessenden Educational Fund, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. All contributions are tax-deductible by determination of the IRS and the State of California. You may call (619) 280-3488 for a copy of our determination letter.


RALPH
Box 16719
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Dear RALPH:

I have read of your problems and I am troubled. I understand you need funds to keep the kindly Ms. Worth on the payroll. I would like to pledge something so that you and your organization will not fall apart and so I can continue to receive mailings of The FOLIO and, as always, find you on the internet.

I understand as a reward you will send me a free copy of A Cricket in the Telephone (At Sunset) --- poems from the late Fessenden Review --- and any other books in the MHO & MHO catalogue that I might want.

Please sign me up for a pledge of $_______/ month.

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

Volume Eighteen

Spring, 2003


The Folio

The Folio is the print version of
RALPH: The Review of Arts, Literature,
Philosophy, and the Humanities

www.ralphmag.org

    It comes out every few months, and contains what we believe to be some of our best on-line reviews and articles.
    It is sent to regular subscribers, and --- on a one-time basis --- to any stray visitors who request a free copy.
    Reviews may be reprinted by anyone, for any purpose whatsoever --- outside of the obviously scabrous ones --- but should include information that readers can find us on the web at the address given above.

--- A. W. Allworthy
Folio Editor
poo@cts.com


Media Violence and its
Effect on Aggression

Assessing the Scientific Evidence
Jonathan L. Freedman
(University of Toronto)
I have been warned to be careful with my heart. At age 70, with a long history of high blood pressure and agina, I am susceptible to massive coronary attack, cardiovascular thrombosis, and arrhythmia.

So I am cautious. I sleep eight hours a night, recently gave up smoking, and try not to get overly excited over the foolishness of the world.

But then comes this book on media violence by one J. Freedman and I am forced into extremis despite my doctor's strictures. I read a page and then have to lie down until my pulse quiets down. If I am to attempt a whole chapter before supper, I warn my wife to be prepared to call 911. I absolutely ban the book from my reading room on weekends because of the possibility of massive hemorrhage.

God knows what background this Freedman has --- the book doesn't tell us --- but there is no indication of mental problems either in his style of writing or in his choice of words. He seems to be literate and well-spoken --- and the only mental instability an outsider could detect from this writing would be the result of his strange and wonderful conclusions.

He claims, for instance, that drawn from the 200 or so scientific studies made over the past four decades, there is "little or no evidence that television induces violence" in any form whatsoever, except for a slight (a slight!) increase "in violent behavior in those under the age of ten."

§     §     §

Listen Freedman. I am in the "playroom" --- we call it a playroom, although it is really the television room --- where our 30" monster resides. I am with my seven-year-old grandson Robin and my four-year-old granddaughter Melody. We are watching a ho-hum detective chase movie and suddenly one of the Mafia types goes ballistic and throws the good guy on the ground and has his honchos break his arms. Both of them. In slow motion. Complete with crunches and screams.

I vow never to allow my beloved grandchildren to watch television ever again, but you know how long those resolutions last, so I content myself with believing that I will be very very careful, turn the damn thing off at any hint of rapine or murder.

Switch to another week. I am drowsing off, the lady of the house (in the movie) is taking a shower, some nutcase is seen creeping in the window and for some reason --- the plot is not very well-constructed --- he pulls out a portable 3/4" drill and, before I have a chance to react, he pushes the whirling bit right through the shower curtain and penetrates deeply--- with a drill! --- into the mid- and lower back of the innocent lady. Complete with shrieks and blood and hunks of flesh. It takes me a week to coax the kids into taking showers after that one.

Next scene, a half-a-year later. I am drifting off, they are glued to the set, and when I awake to gunshots, we see two gangly teenagers in the school-room, gunning down a dozen or so screaming kids, the English teacher and, for good measure, the janitor. Blood all over the desks, the blackboards, the ceiling.

§     §     §

They say that in poorer families, children watch television some ten to thirteen hours a day. There isn't someone like me around to try to shoo them away from the blood-soaked shows, especially late at night. Perhaps the old man is in jail; perhaps Mom is working twelve hours a day (complete with commute) for $6 an hour at KFC or MacDonalds --- take home pay around $4.50.

Maybe they are latchkey kids, or maybe the grandmother what with her rheumatism just can't get over there every day to watch out for them. The TV is their baby-sitter. There's no one when they get home from school but that big gray eye in their crowded living room. The TV showing them things that we might hope they would never have to see.

It is said that in their lifetimes, before they reach the age of eighteen, the average American child will have watched over ten thousand acts of violence, murders and beatings --- utilizing knives, shotguns, pistols, rifles, bombs, cars, jack-hammers, chain-saws, ball-peen hammers, and every other diabolical machine they can come up with to inflict injury on the innocent.

Tell me, Freedman, about the effect of this stuff on minds of the two- or three- or five-year olds --- watching this gross cruelty at a time when their young brains are so open, so vulnerable; when, indeed, psychologists tell us --- your book says you are a psychologist --- their minds can scarcely comprehend the difference between the real and the imagined. A quarter of our youth, the flower of our nation, up close (the young always like to watch TV up close), immersed in visions of the most appalling cruelty that one human can visit on another, hour after hour, day after day, depicted with all the art that the Hollywood types can so realistically create.

And you want to tell me, Freedman, that this has absolutely no effect on our children, and how they relate to their parents, and how they relate to their society, and most of all, how they will live their lives. What planet have you come from, Freedman?

The kids, the kids all around you, are learning from the very first moments of their waking lives that violence works. When they reach what we used to call "the age of reason," and if there is no other way to respond to the agony of living, they can always cast back to the lessons they learned back then when they were but a few years old, when they had a chance, daily, to peer at the world through blood-covered lenses, utilizing one of the greatest teaching machines of all time --- where they learned again and again and again that there is always a solution for the pain of living in the world; that is, get hold of something, anything --- a hammer, an AK-47, a switch-blade, a pair of knuck-chucks, a brick --- and bingo! you have an acceptable way to take care of frustration, anger, hate, fear.

§     §     §

Freedman, we are told, is Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto. Are we talking about the same University of Toronto --- the one up there over the border somewhere?

Or maybe there is another University of Toronto, in Upper Volta, perhaps, in a small town also called Toronto, not more than thirty kms. from Ouagadougou, with its own precious, small, and underfunded "University of Toronto." Where our good professor lives and teaches and comes up with such otherworldly statements as "I hope that neither organizations nor individuals will ever again say that the evidence for a causal effect of media violence is overwhelming or that the case is closed. Perhaps the people will even begin to accept the clear fact that the evidence does not support the notion that exposure to media violence causes aggression or desensitization to aggression."

--- P. F. W. Watters


Nativity Poems
Joseph Brodsky
(Farrar Straus)
Anyone picking this one up looking for simpering lyrics of the Nativity season is going to get a nasty shock. Brodsky writes about Christmas with a special blend of bitter vengeance and regret. He writes as one appalled by the state of Russian art in 1965:

    I arrive at Christmas without a kopeck.
    The publisher's dragging on with my epic.
    The Moscow calendar's going Islamic.
              I'm not going anywhere...

Brodsky, on one hand, can be a merry writer, able to do comic reversals out of the best of Lord Byron, where the poem (and the reader) are off on one track (in this case money turning into flowers) and suddenly the author intrudes, crying for air:

    Freshly minted wads of cash are
    rustling like the tops of acacias,
    I'm foundering in hallucinations ----
    somebody give me oxygen!

Like Byron, too, he can turn a Christmas cliché on its head, immediately pull in an obscure reference to Hobbes, and then give a sweetly ironic twist on an indelicate medical procedure:

    Comfort, then, and for us all.
    (This you find in Hobbes, et al.)
    I count a hundred, sitting still.
            A purge is not a nice procedure.

He can start off with an image worthy of Wordsworth and suddenly turn the sword, tossing in a line-break to emphasize a pure ethical dilemma:

    Each soul, lapped in a flowing veil,
    will link in a continual spiral,
    live by ethyl-ethics. Speech will
    float away from Word...

But, most of all, it's the elements of Philip Larkin that delight: Larkin, with his blear images, seedy rooms, dead-end people, trash and detritus, the bleakness of the day-to-day:

         ...from this general nirvana
    laws will flutter down in visions,
    addicts will be fixing ribbons
    on themselves. Instead of icons,
              old syringes in a corner...

Or this very Larkinesque snapshot of the TV-infested lobby of a Moscow pension:

    Down in the lobby three elderly women, bored,
    take up, with their knitting, the Passion of Our Lord
              as the universe and the tiny realm
    of the pension Academia, side by side,
    with TV blaring, sail into Christmastide,
             a lookout desk clerk at the helm.

Here we get the three wise men in eerie echo, the whole of divine coming encompassed by three bored ladies tending to their knitting, in a hotel lobby which (with the noisy television going) turns into a vessel sailing into the "Christmastide", the desk clerk at the ship's lookout.

Or take this potent commentary on the Soviet state, his day-to-day world:

    Equality, pal, throws brotherhood off.
    Better make sense of that. A slave
    breeds nothing but another slave,
              and no less after a revolution.

In the end, Brodsky defies comparisons. He rises above his inspirations to come out as a pure original. Those of us who still care for poetry hold him in the highest regard because of his ability to mix divinity and discouragement, hope and despair, the sarcastic aside blended with a heart-felt Christian passion.

Only Brodsky could fabricate a verse in which he turns himself into the neo-Christ ("on an ass"), and at the same time, mocks his own arrogance as he touches on woes and wife and child and death, bringing in the divine to end in a tough echo of that very sappy "Dover Beach:"

    And I, a writer who has seen the world,
    who has crossed the equator on an ass
    look out the window at the hills asleep
    and think about the identity of our woes:
    the Emperor won't see him, I won't be
    seen by my son and Cynthia ... And we,

    we here shall perish. Arrogance will not raise
    our bitter fate to the level of proof
    that we are made in the Creator's image
    The grave will render all alike.
    So, if only in our lifetime, let us be various!...

In all, there are seventeen poems presented here alongside the Russian originals. Translators include Seamus Heaney, Derek Walcott, and Richard Wilbur --- but the ones we found most affecting were Glyn Maxwell, Daniel Weissbort, George L Kline, Anthony Hecht and Alan Myers with the author.

--- A. W. Allworthy



[LETTER]
Hello,

I am a 21yo M offering a $50,000 reward to help me take my life back.

If you are a Time Traveler who has the Dimensional Warp Generator #52 4350a wrist watch, the XK memo replica or similar technology I need your help.

I must return my mind to my former self so that I can take back my life which has been destroyed by the evil aliens. They have done Terrible, Terrible things to me starting with nanaprobe tracers, mind-transducers that she slipped into my food, and now I am fighting and dying of CJD.

I have known two others who were messed with by these same evil beings, returned to there former self, foiled their schemes and successfully taken there life's back.

If you can help please email me at ncolt@aol.com


Pied Piper:
The Many Lives of Noah Greenberg
James Gollin
(Pendragon Press)
In 1928, Max Schachtman and a number of other comrades were expelled from the US Communist Party for heresy: they had been guilty of reading articles by Leon Trotsky, and of raising questions about the increasingly arbitrary rule of General Secretary Stalin.

The group came to be called "Trotskyists" but some --- Schachtman especially --- went much further than Trotsky in applying Marxist analysis to the USSR itself, and in asserting that socialism was incompatible with police state practices. Schachtman became an influential figure in democratic socialist circles, such as they were in the USA. He was also famous for demolishing CP spokesmen in debates, an exercise that became easier, through the 30s and 40s, as the Communist line became more and more palpably absurd, as well as self-contradictory.

Schachtman's associates and disciples included such writers as Dwight MacDonald, Irving Howe, James T. Farrell, Harvey Swados, and Michael Harrington. They also included a young New York activist, who was a self-taught musician, named Noah Greenberg.

Noah proselytized for Schachtman's socialist organization while working as a machinist and, during the war, as a merchant seaman. He continued to work in the merchant marine after the war, reaching the exalted rank of third refrigerator engineer on a banana boat, and took part in National Maritime Union politics.

But all the while, his private passion was music. When not shipping out, he did odd musical jobs as a copyist, as an occasional piano teacher, and, most importantly, as a choral conductor. At various times Noah conducted choral groups of Locals 22, 91, and 135 of the ILGWU, thus combining unionism with music. He also conducted amateur groups, and, in the late 40s-early 50s he developed an intense interest in early music. Somehow, out of this melange of semi-professional work, Noah organized a little group to sing and play Renaissance music. After casting around a bit for a name, they hit on one with a nice ring to it: "The New York Pro Musica".

The NYPM was blessed with terrific musicians and in Noah it had a combination conductor, musicologist, manager, and promoter of great musicianship and superhuman energy. Their local concerts (originally at the 92nd St. YMHA) went from strength to strength; their production of the medieval Play of Daniel at the Cloisters became a New York institution; and within a few years their concert tours and recordings catalyzed a phenomenal revival of early music. By the mid-sixties there seemed to be, as one of the NYPM members put it, little Pro Musicas on every campus in the US. The group toured in Europe as well, where their influence added to an early music revival that was already under way.

James Gollin tells this exhilarating story well enough, although the book could have used better editing. It is good at recreating the excitement of the NYPM's early days, and at explaining the sheer effort that went into making it a success. The group's musical quality was necessary but not sufficient for that success, which depended critically on Noah's formidable abilities to organize, promote, network, schmooz, and raise money. In the end, he paid for his frantic schedule with a fatal heart attack at age forty-six. Nothing costs nothing.

The conjunction of Left politics, the shop floor, banana boats, and the Early Music revival tickles one's sensibility; they have, I think, deeper connections than the author himself realizes. Schachtman's group, which by the 50s had become the Independent Socialist League, was both independent-minded and intellectually rigorous, rather in the spirit of Karl Marx himself in the previous century. When class analysis made plain that a new exploiting class was expropriating the fruits of labour in the USSR, well ... this had to be faced. Unlike the morass of propaganda and sentimentalism in which the conventional, pro-Stalinist Left wallowed, the Schachtmanites believed in telling it like it is. Likewise, authenticity was Greenberg's lodestone in performing old music: he aimed to play it like it was.

By the way, a Marxist analysis of the Soviet Union is still invaluable for explaining what happened there, and in the societies which have replaced it. As for the Greenbergism --- well, this year just try to count the number of concerts that were performed, CDs that were released, or amateur groups that met to play music from Medieval to Renaissance to early Baroque. And while you are at it, pass me down my krummhorn.

I have loved the sound of those Renaissance wind instruments (or "buzzies" in early music jargon) since I first heard them in NYPM recordings. A few years ago, I finally took up one of them myself --- actually a rauschpfeife, which is a straight krummhorn. To hear me play it is to know why the instrument went extinct.

The story carries a bittersweet implication about what Left politics in the US came to in the end. Maybe Mike Harrington's book The Other America had a small effect on the domestic programs espoused by the Democratic Party in the early 60s. Otherwise, the Schachtmanites all together had about as much influence on the politics of this planet as they did on the orbit of Ganymede. I remember who Max Schachtman was, and now you do, but that is about it.

In the introduction to "Pied Piper," Gollin quotes Jesse Simon, a veteran of the old days as follows:

    I knew dozens of the people who were around in those days --- politicals, labor people, intellectuals. We were all going to make the world a better place. But the only one who really left the world a better place than he found it was Noah, with his music.

--- Dr. Phage


[GREAT POEMS OF THE PAST]
Love & The Flowers
Darling there is a worm in your flower
Among other things
And the sight of his gray face
Brings to mind the night

On a slow trolley
Beating down the tracks to Madrid
I saw a young man of wit and determination
Eating a wild red carnation.

Love and the flowers
And such a past is not too easy to forget;
Sometimes I think it gets too soon too late ---
And sometimes I think of the terrible dark space
Lying between stars and petals.

There is a worm in your flower darling
And your mind like mine
Is growing tattered
And the flakes of night come drifting down
And I do love your old bones too dearly.

Love and the flowers
And age drawing on like a shawl.
It seems to me the days are coming shorter
And the sun takes such a crooked path
Down to the crooked sea.

--- Jeremy D. Colon



American Standard
John Blair
(Pittsburgh)
I grew up in Florida and John Blair writes short stories about people in Florida. But Blair's Florida sure ain't the Florida I remember. Perhaps it has something to do with what we lit teachers used to call point-of-view.

The Florida I remember was bright sunshine and sudden wonderful lightning-and-thunder storms, weekends at Pablo Beach swimming in the womb-warm waters of the South Atlantic. We'd leave the house open whenever we went somewhere, and when we'd come home, all the dishes and furniture and radios and kitchen utensils would still be there. It was a sunny time, in a gentle land, filled with ease and sub-tropical beauty.

The Florida of John Blair is filled with creatures out of the swamps which, in most cases, are not your crocodiles, rats, coral snakes or water-moccasins but people. When the weather turns up, it is either hot, sultry, uncomfortable or filled with storms to blow you away. The kids are a mess.

There are drug dealers on motorcycles getting in bloody wrecks. If you go swimming in the old swimming hole, there is "the glare of cold eyes" all around you. There are screwed-up women either dancing joylessly, naked, or murdering their boyfriends. There are hysterectomies, drunks fighting each other, and runaway juveniles.

For a change of pace, we get suicidal pastor's wives, condoms sprinkled all over the landscape, and this church scene in which everything is not so copacetic:

    he pitched forward and threw up onto the seat of the pew in front of him, what was left of a half of a case of Miller High Life tearing loose like something vital. His chest cramped and he couldn't get his breath, and then he vomited again, into the aisle.

§     §     §

Maybe it all has to do with, as we used to say in the south, the way you were "raised up." After all, I was there in the 40s and 50s with a family that was only mildly dysfunctional, in a town where the drunks did their barfing down on Duval Street rather than in the Presbyterian church and the kids weren't sticking needles in their arms, listening to rap music talking about rip-offs and "hohs" and "fuggin'." Hell, I don't know: maybe television and the American Capitalist System and natural born greed has finally done its job, turning Florida into just another one of Dante's Circles.

Or maybe Blair is a guy with the required peckish view of humanity that you need to get published these days. In my salad days, those who wrote about the south --- William Faulkner, Erskine Caldwell, Eudora Welty, Richard Wright, Truman Capote, James Agee --- offered up to the reader the most deprived, hopeless cases, battered by poverty, injustice, racism --- rednecks or crackers or blacks in the most desperate conditions of sweaty poverty. But in the writings there was always a small flower of nobility given to even the most piteous of them --- an edge of hope that could turn a Snopes into a character of wonder.

Not so in American Standard. All hope is blotted out with blood, lunatic suicides, and old people full of the "yellow smell of their age."

God knows why people would ever want to read this trash, and god knows why a respectable university press sees the need to spawn this morbid view of the universe of men. The motto of the first story is , Be careful, watch for alligators, stay away from men like me. The last: God knows what's in your heart. "American Standard" is the trade name you see on toilets. Figures.

--- Lolita Lark



[PARADOX OF THE MONTH]

The Rainmaker
There was a great drought where the missionary Richard Wilhelm lived in China. There had not been a drop of rain and the situation became catastrophic. The Catholics made processions, the Protestants made prayers, and the Chinese burned joss sticks and shot off guns to frighten away the demons of the drought, but with no result. Finally the Chinese said: We will fetch the rain maker. And from another province, a dried up old man appeared. The only thing he asked for was a quiet little house somewhere, and there he locked himself in for three days. On the fourth day clouds gathered and there was a great snowstorm at the time of the year when no snow was expected, an unusual amount, and the town was so full of rumors about the wonderful rain maker that Wilhelm went to ask the man how he did it.

In true European fashion he said: "They call you the rain maker, will you tell me how you made the snow?" And the little Chinaman said: "I did not make the snow, I am not responsible." "But what have you done these three days?" "Oh, I can explain that. I come from another country where things are in order. Here they are out of order, they are not as they should be by the ordnance of heaven. Therefore the whole country is not in Tao, and I am also not in the natural order of things because I am in a disordered country. So I had to wait three days until I was back in Tao, and then naturally the rain came."

--- From The Nature Writings of C. G. Jung
©2002, North Atlantic Books


The Rejection Slip Blues
When I sent out the package to literary agents, I put this at the top of the first page:
A note to those
given the unenviable job of
plowing through
The Daily Slush Pile

In the letter, I laid out the story of my book, A Geezer in Paradise. I said that it "tells of my days and nights in the very lowest reaches of Mexico as a dyed-in-the-wool Geeze." I gave them a run-down of its history, its appearance as gossamer bits and pieces in The Sun, RALPH, and salon. I included a selection of the high points of reviews I had cadged for other works over the years, and included four sample chapters of Geezer.

    I enclose a SASE so you can tell me if you are interested in it [I concluded]. Since I am almost seventy years old, please hurry.

I culled literary agents' names from the bible of the industry, The Literary Market Place. There are over 500 agents in the United States, but I restricted myself to those who said they charged "No reading fee." The 362 who fit this category got my letter, addressed to "The Slush Pile" --- that fecund region, the mythic dark corner in agents' and publishers' offices inhabited by hundreds perhaps hundreds of thousands of unsolicited manuscripts dumped atop ever-growing heaps of other unsolicited manuscripts, filling the desk-tops, spilling over onto the floor, cascading past the doors, stacked up thirty or forty deep in the hallways so that people can barely pass to get to their jobs. So much naked hope these manuscripts represent --- waiting patiently to be read by the newest, youngest, least experienced, and probably most bored of the editorial staff.

§     §     §

My friend Margot knew Philip K. Dick, the sci-fi writer, author of "The Minority Report," "Blade Runner," "Total Recall." She tells me that in a corner of the room above his desk he had glued the many rejection slips he had gotten over the years. She said they covered the better part of two entire walls. He had them right there where he worked, so that he could look up at them, know the chances, remain humble.

After sending off 362 copies of my package, and after two months, I have gotten back, so far, 207 written or printed rejections, 21 e-mail rejections, a few kind regrets, and a very few invitations to send the entire manuscript.

The rejection slips fall into four general classes: the scrawl, the cold no, the warm no --- and the (yay!) "please send more."

The Scrawl is always slashed across the top right-hand corner of the original letter of inquiry. It's usually "No," or "Sorry," or "No thank you," or "Not for us." The Vines Agency uses a 4-point rubber stamp advising me that my manuscript did not meet their needs at this time. Another scrawl snarled, "Not for me & yr mass mailing, FYI, is not an asset." The signature was illegible, so I had no way of responding with a Hate Missive.

Printed letters of rejection range from a brief cold "No" to the two-page warm, friendly, I-would-if-I-could-but-I-simply-can't. The prize for the most picayune of the former goes to Marcia Amsterdam, with a note the size of a calling card, telling me that Geezer "doesn't meet our present needs." Ruth Nathan comes in second with a hand-written, Xeroxed quarter-page "So sorry --- no new clients at this time." Harold Matson gets a third for the same message but first prize for the concluding adverbial twist: "Thanks for thinking of us, nevertheless." Robert Madsen's response, 1 in. by 6 in., also had syntactical difficulties:

    We've reviewed your submission, however, regrettably, it's not deemed appropriate that this agency represent it.

Angela Rinaldi's rejection slip was bordered in funereal black and was the most artful. Peter Rubie wanted to be sure that I would not "take this rejection as a comment on your writing ability because it is not intended to be one;" then he went on to suggest that my writing induced a certain lassitude:

    Alas, I can only properly represent material that excites me or interests me, and unfortunately your material didn't do that.

Trafalgar Books told me they only handled equestrian writing, and Jeanne Fredricks said that she was "not taking fiction." Thanks, Jeanne. Cherry Weiner opined that she had a "very full list" but invited me to meet her at a conference even though she stated, in proper cautionary fashion, "Listening to me lecture is not enough." She attached some syntactical convolutions of her own:

    I really need to have time on a one-on-one with you to have actually asked for your manuscript.

Blanche C. Gregory, despite my sending along a postage-paid return envelope, informed me that she was not the right agent for me, and, moreover, she had "disposed of the material you sent us" without so much as a by-your-leave.

The Balkin Agency had a four-part rejection checklist, which seemed to me to include the entire written repertoire:

    Sorry we don't handle fiction, poetry, drama, children's books, computer books, software, or articles.

Just to cover their bases, or their asses, they also included a check space that said, again from the literary ennui department, "Sorry, this just doesn't turn any of us on."

Jane Jordan Browne of Chicago sent along a check list as well, including one that quite turned my head around even though it was not addressed to me: "There is too much competition for your book." I could use a little of that. J. J. John Hawkins & Associates send us a form letter, I swear, a printed form letter that said that they would "personally like to thank you for sending in your query," and that

    it is obvious much time and dedication has been spent in preparing your proposal and manuscript.

Furthermore,

    It is indeed a worthy creative endeavor and one that will get a lot of attention.

But not from them.

§     §     §

In her form letter, Charlotte Gusay in Los Angeles got a bit peevish, advising me that "We have received your UNSOLICITED package/material here in our office." She then turned quite bossy, told me that I should submit, "a one-page query letter with a self-addressed stamped envelope." It ended with a paragraph, also in bold, headed, "Read and Heed" with specific instructions on the proper submission form.

Some came back hiding behind the quantitative rejection stance --- too many unsolicited manuscripts, not enough time. New England Publishing Associates faces a veritable mountain of manuscripts, "1200+ a year." The Henry Morrison Agency was even more mountainous: they get "40 - 60 queries a week," 2,000 - 3,000 a year.

In the self-serving department, Robert H. Lieberman found my writing to be "witty and funny" but was, unfortunately, "busy promoting my own novel The Last Boy." He sent along several promotional plugs in case I wanted to snap up a copy.

Susan Herner very much appreciated my thinking of her but said that my letter had arrived "at a rather chaotic time in my life as I am moving both home and office to Connecticut."

    Since I've been in my home for twenty four years and in my office for close to fifteen, I hope you can empathize with the amount of sorting and packing I must do.

I do, I do, being a bit of a mover myself --- and I was thinking that getting out of wretched Scarsdale and taking up with Connecticut was possibly a step up the career ladder, although I was unhappy that she was too flush with papers and packing to take a gander at my submission.

Richard Curtis sent a brief "I'm sorry," and then turned around and invited me to purchase his How to be Your Own Literary Agent for only $16.95. "The Author Development Agency," on the other hand, mailed me a ready-to-be-signed printed agreement. They would read all 227 pages of my manuscript for $300.

B. K. Nelson, another pay-as-you-pray that had managed to slip through my bullshit-protection filter said I should send the whole kaboodle with "a non-refundable evaluation fee of $375" to "determine if my manuscript is saleable." If it was "not finished," they would do an even more exhaustive study at $5 a page.

The same company was also kind enough to send me their "Speaker Directory" which included Don Crutchfield, "Hollywood Private Investigator," Candace Watkins, available to speak on "Transexuality," Arlene A. Eve "Cht." doing "Past Life Regression," Holly Lefevre --- Holly Lefevre! --- on Fashion, Chef Armand Vanderstigchel, an expert on "Chicken Wings Recipes," and, finally, Robert W. Bly. I almost sent off for Bly for I have a deep affection for his male bonding scheme but, alas, it turned out to be some other Bly --- one who would "Jump Start Your Consulting Career" to help me "Earn $100,000+ a Year."

§     §     §

And then there were --- sunt lacrimæ rerum --- the hand-written or typed, thoughtful, and mostly appreciative letters of regret. With the cold rejections, we can sneer, "Their loss!" or "Who would want to work with Charlotte Gusay anyway?" But the appreciative ones: perhaps they smart so because success comes and perches on our shoulders for a moment ... and then up and flies away.

It's the poignant knowledge that we've found a soul-mate, someone who had the wit to read and react ... and then return all this hard work with sincere regret. So it takes you up for a moment, and then, a second later, dumps you on the floor.

Along with the agents, I had sent out copies of the manuscript to a few likely publishers. Poorly Xeroxed "we-don't-read-out-of-the-blue-submissions" dribbled back from the likes of Random House, Farrar Straus Giroux, and Little, Brown. But the slush-pile lady at Viking-Penguin allowed as how the writings were "charming" and the University of Washington Press said, with their letter of regret, that they were "wonderful vignettes:"

    Believe me, it was a delightful interlude from the turgid prose we are required to review.

Agent Ruth Cohen said, "I like what you say, I like what you write, I wish I could help." Mary Brown of New York sent a long letter, summarizing each of the chapters I had mailed, including "Happy Bird Day" which

    celebrates the arresting quality of children and appreciates friends who, even though they work for you, love you nonetheless, and extols life because it is so fine and short and yet indestructible. I enjoyed reading them all...but I cannot represent you at this time.

Candice Fuhrman said "Your humor is much appreciated," and Henning Gutmann said, "There is a certain kind of ass-kicking and death-defying humor in your writing...[but] I don't see how I could sell it to a commercial publisher."

Of them all, the ones that most turned my head (and broke my heart) came from Jody Rein in Colorado, and The Robbins Office.

    We loved your stories here at Jody Rein Books, Inc., and we loved your cover letter. I wish I could be your agent, but I can't. Your stories are original, fresh, and damn hard to publish and sell. I'm usually very adamant about the fact that a good agent can be a good agent anywhere in the country --- in eight years as an agent this is the first time I've ever said this: I think you need someone in New York. I think you need an agent who is having lunch with editors every day, and over lunch can mention you and your work and pitch your stories personally in a manner that I can't on the phone or in e-mail. You need just the right match in an editor, and I think that match is going to be made in a face-to-face meeting or an unscheduled conversation.

She then went on to suggest five agents, and concluded

    I'm sure you will find a good agent and enthusiastic publisher with little trouble, and I wish you all the best.

Great letter ... but no cigars: no nibbles whatsoever from any of the five.

The last, from Summer Ostlund at The Robbins Office --- a real, full-time, well-known, well-respected agency in New York City --- asked for the full manuscript. Then, after six nail-biting weeks (my nails, not theirs), "I was particularly impressed with the work's honesty --- you've captured the lives of a simple, hard-working people with humor and poignancy."

    That said, I am going to disappoint both of us by saying we are not the right representatives for his work.

Oh, woe. I'm getting out of this stupid writing business forever. You hear me? --- I'm getting out now! I will not put up with this rejection nonsense any longer. Work and write and sweat and slave and pull these words out of the hot beast of fire and then send them out and from 364 mailed out there are a couple a hundred or so who even bother to write back and say "Sorry," and then there are a few who say, "We're very sorry," and then there are these soul-grinding eat-em-up-spit-em-out excruciating "You-are-a-great-writer-but-sorry" near misses. This is something up with which I will no longer put. You hear?

Except ... those three agents out there, still holding onto the manuscript, no word so far. And the two University Presses. And that dratted miserable disgusting humiliating irresponsible egregiously wretched gut-wrenching heart-robbing Jesus-bitten hope. Which drives us ever onward in this ridiculous foolishness, so that every time we open the mailbox, or every time the telephone rings...


[The following item appeared in the NB. section of the TLS for 27 September 2002]
Following the story of Clive Birch and the literary agent who amuses himself by laughing his way through the slush pile (see NB. September 13), we have received many plaintive letters from fellow sufferers. A writer with an extensive collection of rejection slips is Carlos Amantea, of California. Author of a number of published books, he has yet to find an agent willing to represent his latest, A Geezer in Paradise. The excuses Mr Amantea has received are varied.

One agent, regretting that she had "a very full list," invited him to a conference to listen to her speak, but cautioned: "Listening to me lecture is not enough." She added a riddle for Mr Amantea to ponder: "I really need to have time on a one-on-one with you to have actually asked for your manuscript."

Another agent suffered from a similar syntactical deficiency: "We've reviewed your submission, however, regrettably, it's not deemed appropriate that this agency represent it."

J. J. Hawkins & Associates sent a form letter saying they would "personally like to thank you for sending in you query. It is indeed a worthy creative endeavour and one that will get a lot of attention." Not from J. J. Hawkins, though.

At least these responses were made on a literary basis. Susan Herner replied that Mr Amantea's book had arrived at an inconvenient time, "as I am moving both home and office to Connecticut. I hope you can empathize with the amount of sorting and packing I must do." Robert H. Liberman couldn't take on A Geezer in Paradise because he was "busy promoting my own novel The Last Boy." Considerate to the last, he told Mr Amantea where to buy a copy.


The Chrysler Building
Creating a New Icon Day by Day
David Stravitz
(Princeton Architectural)
If you need to weep, then consider the destruction of New York City's Penn Station, which commenced 28 October 1963. The ruination had its beginnings ten years before, and early on, was not protested by any of the daily newspapers. Indeed, the plans of the developer William Zeckendorf to build something called "The Palace of Progress" received high praise from the New York Times and the Herald-Tribune.

The railroad itself referred to the majestic old building as "a white elephant," and the New York Daily News praised the demolition as the price of progress. "The fact is that no busy location in Manhattan can indefinitely support a two-story building, however reminiscent of ancient Rome," the editors wrote, demonstrating their usual acute sense of aesthetics: "The new structure may not be a beauty, but at least it will be convenient."

The full story of this disaster can be found Hilary Ballon's recent book New York's Pennsylvania Stations (W. W. Norton). If you like I have many memories of running to catch a train down those wonderful corridors, you must be careful when you pick up the book: your tears will wrinkle the beautifully laid-out pages. Don't even look at the photographs of the final pillage. The economic lords win again, and all the rest of us get is a good cry.

§     §     §

The message of New York's Pennsylvania Stations is that the people in that particular city must loathe their surroundings --- most especially the old and the glorious buildings. And if you think things have changed for the better, just look at the new plans for the WTC. The original edifices were nothing to write home about, and the proposed replacements are more of the same ilk: bomb-inviting towers, pedestrian-destroying layout, maximum profit --- use the land to the hilt, to hell with humanity.

One of the miracles is that somehow those who own the city have not yet decided to murder that sweet monument to the Moderne, the Chrysler Building. It went into bankruptcy a quarter century ago, but the Trump and Zeckendorf and David Bevan types (Bevan was the corporate director responsible for ordering the trashing of Penn Station) must have been too busy with other massacres, obviously didn't have time to do it in.

David Stravitz is a photography nut, and when he was buying up some antique camera parts in an old camera shop in Manhattan, he asked the owner about the boxes in the corner, and the owner said that they were just some old photos that he was going to sell as salvage for their silver content. Stravitz looked at them, found them to be the working photographs of the construction of the Chrysler Building, from 1929 - 1930, and bought them on the spot.

It was the practice in those days for the engineers and architects to make photographs of the building-in-progress, to prove what had gone into the building. Stravitz has selected over a hundred of these, and they will delight the heart of us old Manhattan lovers.

It's all here --- from hole in the ground to the final spire atop the seventy-seventh story, complete with vistas in four directions of the Manhattan that we had come to love so many years ago: the trolleys, the Third and Second Avenue elevateds, the old cars, the ladies in their funny hats and coats.

Then there are the men in their fedoras overlooking the construction site, the interior shots of polished black marble walls, the aluminum-leaf ceiling, the thirty elevator cabs with wood inlay --- along with Edward Trumball's ridiculous mural, in the 30's love-industrial style, entitled "Energy and Man's Application of it to the Solution of His Problems" --- all problems thereby being made soluble with enough energy.

And then too, the great steel-clad eagles hanging out over the sixty-first story level, along with the weird triangular windows of the Observatory, the stainless steel ("Enduro-KA-2 Steel") arching so neatly up to the peak which lay "1046 feet, 4-3/4 inches above Lexington Avenue." Finally, there was the "Cloud Club" (Cloud Club!) on floors 66 - 68 for all the business types of New York City.

Princeton Architectural Press has elected to leave all comments until the end of the book: so you have well-rendered 9x12 photographs --- along with some double spreads --- and then at the very end referent photographs and text. The volume is a gorgeous piece of art of and by itself.

Some of the shots of the tower clean and new and white and pure make one long, ah so, for that innocent time when the decorative arts could involve a whole unified structure, where straight lines were softened by curve and decoration so that building were not footsteps of the brutes stamped down on a cityscape, but rather a touch of divinity littered down so gently by the gods so they could convey the relative immortality of earthly structures and its holy interweaving into the soul of mankind. Got that?


[ANOTHER LETTER]
Dear Lolita Clark,

Westward Ha! is my favorite book and I enjoyed reading your perceptive review of this neglected masterpiece. I was so impressed that I immediately decided to take out a subscription to your journal.

But is seems that all the "links" on your web-page have expired. When I entered Ralph Magazine into a search engine I was directed to an Australian "Girlie" journal. Not exactly what I expected.

Could you send me subscription information for your journal (not the Australian one...)?

--- Sincerely,
Jonathan Brodie
Jbrodie1750@aol.com


Dear Jonathan:

Yikes. You are right. Even our best friends didn't tell us.

A peek at the other RALPH shows that, instead of vigorous poetry, they are into vigorous body parts:

    Amy Erbacher - we're glad to have her back (plus all those other gorgeous body parts) in RALPH!

There are also big (and vague) Darwinian "victories" for the beer fridge set:

    Tell us about your biggest victory for the male species and win a home theatre system ... perfect for watching movies within easy reach of the beer fridge.

Finally, for those of us who have a hankering to be in pictures:

    Think you have what it takes to be a RALPH babe?

    You could be the next Imogen Bailey, Erin Normoyle or Nikki Visser!

    OK then! For details, click here!

§     §     §

This other RALPH, we've discovered, is run by some outfit called ninemsn, "Australia's number-one website, capturing the largest online audience in Australia."

And guess who runs it? Mama mia!

    Formed in 1997, ninemsn is a 50:50 joint venture between the Microsoft Corporation and PBL's online investment arm, ecorp.

What to do? We've been humble-pie literary RALPH since we started in 1994, eons in internet time. The new passion-pit RALPH turns out to be a step-child of the colossus to the north, and has been around only for micro-seconds.

Some of our readers may feel that they are dragging down our good name but, for better or worse, that already happened, decades ago --- long before they (or we) came on the scene.

According to Richard A. Spears' Dictionary of American Slang,

    ralph and rolf --- intransitive --- to empty one's stomach; to vomit (Teens and collegiate. See also cry ruth.) She went home and ralphed for an hour. I think I am going to rolf.

§     §     §

What to do? We recall that old saw --- we don't care what you say about us, just be sure you spell our name right. But what do you do when a beer-in-the-cooler girls-in-bikinis magazine snitches your monicker. Cry ruth?

We could go directly the editor, emphasize that we were here first. Perhaps they would then stick us in a subsection they feature:

    What's up in RALPH? Check out this month, next month and our sick site links at In The Mag.

If we were listed in one of their "sick sites," it would certainly doll up our monthly hit list --- what, in the trade, are called "site visitors." RALPH le hot claims 200,000 a day. RALPH père is lucky if it can pull in 6,000. With their help, however, perhaps we can go to the stars. In the arms of Imogen Bailey, Erin Normoyle or Nikki Visser. Or even that chanteuse, Lolita Clark.

By-the-bye --- there are no expired links to our magazine. In the interests of purity, we have always used the sobriquet RALPH: The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy, and the Humanities. Not RALPH (or ROLF) Magazine.


--- Sexcerely yours,
Lolita Lark,Editor

Our review of Westward Ha!appears at
http://www.ralphmag.org/perelman-revN.html


The Hamilton-Medewar
Treatment of Mortality
A lot of what we are turns out to come down to us from our parents. No surprise, really. Without our parents, we wouldn't be here to wonder about it.

The Hamilton-Medewar treatment of mortality works like this. First, bear in mind that everything in our genomes was passed down in this way ever since the first cell, and has developed its particular combination of traits due to selection. Selection just means differential success in passing on genetic information to the next generation. Our particular genes (and therefore we ourselves) are the outcome of that selection over many, many, many generations.

Now, since selection means nothing more than differential reproduction, it simply doesn't work at all on traits expressed after the age of reproduction has past. So, there has never been selection against forms of the genes which code for products that just wear out after reproduction is over. And there is no selection for products that last any longer. We could be built of longer-lasting parts, but that would not pay off in the game of selection.

In fact, longer-lasting parts would probably be costly (in terms of energy) to fabricate and that would diminish the energy available for reproduction, so there is probably selection against building organisms out of unnecessarily durable parts. [This interpretation is charmingly called the "disposable soma" theory.] Consequently, of course our parts all wear out after reproductive age. And they all do, at various rates, as you and I notice.

AHA, you say, there is a logical circularity in this argument. Why is there the decline in reproductive ability with age? Doesn't this phenomenon itself smuggle in the concept of ageing? But natural selection explains this too. You see, in the wild scarcely any animal lives much beyond the years of peak reproductive activity. Most animals die of starvation, predation, or infectious disease in what we would call youth or early middle age. In nature, death scarcely ever occurs because of old age. So, there has never been selection to maintain the machinery of reproduction, much less the machinery of survival and good health, beyond the earlier ages at which virtually all animals die anyhow.

Hence, the very existence of survival into old age is an artifact of civilization. It has been enjoyed by ourselves (and our pets and zoo animals) for only that last few seconds of evolutionary time --- far too little time to affect the structure of our genes.

So there it is: old age itself is an artifact of civilization, like literature, antibiotics, Heathrow Airport, the World Wide Web, and patio furniture. Darwin wrote of natural selection that "there is grandeur in this view of life." Speaking now that I am an artifact myself, like my lawn chair, it comes to me that there is a sense of humour, of sorts, in this view of life as well.

The evolutionary view of mortality has clear medical implications, but they are none too cheery. Since our somatic machinery is all built of shoddy parts, like a Ford Taurus, all our parts start wearing out at about the same time. Fixing this one part or that other part will not save us from mortality.

The way the organism as a whole ages is hard-wired, so to speak, into the way all the parts interact with one another, the organism's entire physiology. The total physiology of some animals does permit longer function than others, but this is no help to us, because we are constructed the way we are. In other words, the only way to live as long as a carp is to be a carp.

--- Dr. Phage
The review that inspired this article can be found at http://www.ralphmag.org/BN/briefs.html


Shy Bladder Syndrome
Your Step-by-Step Guide
To Overcoming Paruresis

Steven Soifer, et al
(New Harbinger)
You're having the time of your life at the office party but it's time to take a pee and you go into the bathroom and shut the door and you can hear all those people in the other room laughing and singing and because they are so near --- even though the door is shut --- for the life of you you can't, well, pass water. You have paruresis, also known as SBS [Shy Bladder Syndrome] or, for the poetic paruresistics, BBS [Bashful Bladder Syndrome].

So what to do? Well, we live in 21st Century America, so you

  • Make contact with the International Paruresis Association, and
  • Go to www.shybladder.org so you can find a support group.

And how will your support group support you? You'll be given a "pee buddy," a former, or, if you will, a reformed shy bladder person. He or she will arrange "pee dates" with you. This is not my always vivid imagination creating this --- it's right here in the book.

And so when it is time to go a-voiding, your buddy will be there, but, well, not right there, at least not at first --- he or she will be in the other room or down the hall or outside, but far enough away --- proximity is the problem --- for you to successfully do what has to be done.

If all goes well, the next time your buddy will be a little closer --- perhaps just down the hall. The next time, he or she will advance even further, perhaps be outside the very bathroom door. And then: you'll find you can be relieved while you are in the same room with your buddy, and, by transference, sooner or later, you'll be able to take on the bathroom on the main floor of Grand Central Station.

Sounds straightforward --- but for people with SBS, these steps are vital. For not being able to take a piss when others can hear you, or are close by, as you can imagine, is a royal pain (it's also embarrassing, and potentially a danger to one's health).

§     §     §

This slim volume, Shy Bladder Syndrome, is over-the-top in fascinating information: where does SBS come from? Usually some trauma associated with childhood. How do the workshops work? Lots of telling of stories of friendships lost, of trying and trying and not succeeding, of being so ashamed that one was unwilling to leave the house.

There are also testimonials,

    I think the workshop was so successful because it emphasized graduated exposure therapy.

Or,

    I was totally unprepared for the overwhelming, genuine caring and concern that literally poured from the gathering.

And then there are some genuinely surprising facts:

  • According to an IKEA survey, the primary reason people work at home "is to avoid having to use a communal bathroom;"
  • Different strokes for different folks, even historically: Herodotus tells us that in Egypt, "women stand erect to make water, the men stoop;"
  • "Europeans, in general, detest U. S. public restroom designs [where] the standard design for stalls are sides and a door that start one foot above the floor and extend only five and a half feet in total height;"
  • In England, it was found that "fully 96% of women don't sit on the toilet seat;"
  • One of the most worrisome problems for a SBS person is the Department of Transportation requirements for mandatory drug testing. This, for them, is the worst nightmare possible (it has to be done before an "authorized" representative of the testing company.) The IPA has suggested that alternative procedures would be allowed, such as "blood, hair, saliva, patch, or catheterization."

--- Joe Finney

 


Leumel
When I looked up "Leumel Desirée" in the internet, Google asked me impertinently "Do you mean L-e-m-u-e-l?" Of course not. She was named for her Uncle Lemuel but, as she told me, she wasn't a he so they just turned her name around. Thus Lovely Leumel.

She claimed that she fell in love not with me but with the back of my head because in the tiny Warm Springs chapel they put the basses in front and the sopranos and tenors behind. She also may have been moved by my enthusiastic rendering of "Come to the Church in the Wild Wood, Come to the Church in the Vale."

She was lovely and I suspect that our love was lovely too, the two of us coming out of those dark little hospitals that were 1950s American-style rehabilitation. Today these places would be the stuff of journalistic scandal: wards crammed with dozens of kids ranging in age from six to twenty, facilities lacking in anything that might be called privacy, medical care of the most primitive --- including shock machines that were meant to revive comatose muscles but that only served to add to the general misery of our bodies.

But that was in the past and Leumel and I had graduated to the sun-lit halls built by Franklin Delano Roosevelt at Warm Springs, a place of hope and no little laughter, a complex of grand architecture, spacious double rooms, and cheerful windows open to the North Georgia sun. Outside, there were fountains shaded by oak and loblolly pines and sculpted gardens and in the massive courtyard between Roosevelt and Founders Hall carefully tended lawns with signs that exhorted, "Set an Example / Do Not Trample." Despite the fact that for most of us, our trampling days were over.

There was Leumel and me, along with Paul and Roxanne and Hugh and Janet and John Longstaff and Fred and Jerri and Mike Watters --- all of us there in the gentle hill country of Georgia where we would flower, the hundred or so of us who had come together after this astonishing upheaval in our lives, now freed from the past and, for awhile, from the future.

We ate together and went to physical therapy in the warm springs together and later went to "standing" and "walking" classes together. Twice a week we went to see movies in the old wooden movie house with Rock Hudson and Doris Day and Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn living out their happy days in a world that was simple and normal and impossibly sweet.

There were other places for us to go in the evening. Lu and I often found ourselves in the recreation room of Founders Hall, empty except for the two of us and the old LP record changer playing Jackie Gleason's "My Funny Valentine" over and over again

Your face is laughable
unphotographable

the three of us alone in that dark room where she and I supped endlessly on each others' lips.

And sometimes in the night she and I would slip out to hide behind the tall lugustrum near Builder's Hall, she in her wheelchair and me in my wheelchair reaching out to each other not with the clinical hands of nurses or doctors or therapists or orderlies but the gentle hands of our nascent love.

§     §     §

Sometimes I go onto the internet to look around and see what has happened to those I knew so many years ago. I recently found out that my grade school buddy George Tobias is now a retired architect and my old high-school drinking pal Bart Richardson (who taught me how to down "7-&-7" --- Seagram's Seven Crown with Seven-Up) is bedridden, a stroke --- learning the lessons that Lu and I learned so long ago.

I found Bruce Chadwick's personal home page with picture (he's still quite thin and aesthetic-looking). He has just retired from teaching English at a small college in the northeast and I recalled that his love for Keats and Dylan Thomas and Edna St. Vincent Millay overcame my own natural disinterest in poets and poetry. One summer the two of us composed Shakespearean sonnets at a time when most of our peers were trying to imitate not the Bard but Frank Sinatra or Elvis Presley.

And Leumel. When it came time to look her up after these fifty years, I wondered if she would want me to make contact with her again. Would she encourage a telephone call? Would she invite me to come visit and meet her family? Would she want to talk about that time so long ago when we were such innocents, such innocents in love?

So I type in her name, and,

Funeral services for Mrs. Jerry (Leumel Dante) Desirée, 70, will be at 10 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 6, in First United Methodist Church. The Rev. Sue Pugh will officiate.

Mrs. Desirée died at 4 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2002, in her residence.

She attended Meriwether State University until 1951. She was a cheerleader, a 1950 homecoming court maid and Miss Meriwether 1951.

She was married to George Desirée for forty-five years, was secretary of the United Methodist Women and a former leader of the church junior choir.

"Sue Pugh will officiate." Leumel would have had a fine time with that one --- the sheer joy of the words. I can see her now, dark eyes so merry, her wonderful wicked wit making merry about the good Methodist minister they called "Sue Pugh."

And the junior choir! I found myself hoping that in there had once been a young lady, not unlike her earlier self, sitting behind a gawky young man, not unlike myself --- the two of them feeling, possibly for the first time, an unwinding of hearts as their voices were raised in holy song.

§     §     §

These obituaries miss so much, don't they? This one tells us about Mr. Desirée and Meriwether College and the choir but it doesn't say a word about the time when Leumel found out something new about her body: that instead of moving about so easily as it had since the beginning of her days on earth (running, climbing hills, riding horses, dancing) that she would now learn to move about on wheels, pull herself in and out of cars, pull herself into bed (slide over from chair to the bed, then pull your legs up onto the bed with your hands then let yourself down, and, during the night, wake up every hour or so to grab the edge of the mattress and pull to turn yourself over).

That singular change of her life, that upheaval from fifty years ago --- physical, psychological --- was not mentioned in the words they wrote about her. Nor was the fact that she and I and others like us were required to learn quickly to live in a new, alien, sometimes hostile world (no ADA in the 1950s or 1960s or 1970s; no curb-cuts, no ramps; no accessible movies or restaurants or stores).

And, of course, the article did not report on the times when my Leumel, fresh from hospital and rehabilitation and my arms, often found her days troubled by an overwhelming, implacable melancholy.

In 1950 she was named cheerleader. In 1951 she was named Miss Meriwether. In 1952 she learned an astonishingly different, often curious new way of life. And in 2002, this love of mine from half-a-century ago was laid in the grave.

§     §     §

After leaving Georgia in mid-1953 we were reunited briefly in her grandfather's house in the Louisiana Cajun Country. At night the icy winds beat down out of the plains, bending the sycamores that grew at the north edge of the property, and the two of us lay huddled together in the single bed in the front room, parents at the back, no eyebrows raised for the two of us were cripples, the two of us (how do they say it?) the two of us were hopeless cripples, hopelessly in love in that dark time.

And as we lay together we created a child, a child that would, perhaps, have her eyes and heart and love; a child that would, perhaps, have my mouth and soul ... and one, we'd hope, that would have none of my newfound fear.

For Leumel spoke about our future and marriage and what it was going to be like to spend the rest of our days together. And I said nothing but thought of the two of us in our wheelchairs together for the rest of our lives together.

The seeds of a new life were growing inside of her and at the same time a dark flower was starting to bloom inside of me, one that whispered that if I married a woman in a wheelchair the world would see the two of us in our wheelchairs, would see us with the double eye of pity, would think that she and I could only have each other because no one else would have us, no matter how beautiful and alive we were.

After I left that house with its gables and dewberry bushes, I found myself afraid but said nothing until the warm springtime when the sycamores returned to life and the child of us disappeared, as Leumel wrote, "in oceans of blood."

I wrote to tell her goodbye and the letter she sent me shortly afterwards was not one of please or why or how-could-you? It was a letter that only Leumel could send because she was a kind and a generous person, never clinging, never demanding, never cruel:

    Dear Lonzo,

    Perhaps 'tis better.

    Leumel

    P. S.

    'Bye.

                          --- L. W. Milam


[LETTER]
Ms Helen Lothrom Klaviter
Business and Projects Manager
Poetry Magazine
60 West Walton Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610

Dear Ms. Klaviter:

I understand that Poetry magazine has just been awarded $100,000,000 to better American poetry.

We here at RALPH are delighted at your windfall, and wish you the best of luck as you disperse this largess in a fashion that will not force the poetasters of America into acts of terrorism. We would like to help.

In our ninety issues over the last eight years, we have published almost 500 new and distinctive poems --- plus dozens of reviews of books of poetry coming out of New York, and the university and small presses. However, over the past two years, our offices have become disheveled, our staff sullen, and our hopes are turning wan and troubled.

Our poetry editor has informed us that to work at RALPH may be a tonic to his heart but that it is toxic to his personal life. He cannot continue to support wife, three noisy children, and two noisy mortgage payments on $500 a week.

We've been told that the drop in funding for our non-profit foundation is due to an acute sickness in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

As you may know, the DJIA has been moving south over many months. Our benefactors who are dependent on its perambulations have apparently gone south, too. Since they don't return our telephone calls anymore, we must presume that they have forgotten that the business of recasting American letters requires a bit of cash flow.

Therefore, we would like to apply to you for a one-time grant of .0001% of that which Ruth Lilly of Eli Lilly Co. donated to your organization.

We promise to be astute and parsimonious with your monies. We will continue to use our woodburning 19th Century computers and the telephones that you actually have to dial. We will not squander your assets on fancy offices with fancy paintings and fancy expresso machines. And the only saunas we'll be offering our staff will be the same old un-air-conditioned offices at Broadway and Third, around the corner from Pacers Theatre ("Just a Kiss Away").

As we have in the past, we promise to continue to answer all submissions by hand, even to those people who send us verse that indicates that they can't tell the difference between an iamb and a hexamb. For it is our understanding that many years ago Ms. Lilly sent Poetry Magazine a poem that you rejected. We would like to be in a similar position of honor so we can look forward to a similar grant from an aggrieved contributor in the distant future.

Too, we will continue to publish poetry that we think of as enlightened and rewarding, and serve as a voice of reason in our book reviews --- despite tart letters from poets and publishers accusing us of being curmudgeons, misanthropes, poetic imbeciles, fools, or worse.

--- Yours in high hopes,
Lolita Lark
Editor, RALPH