He Never Saw His Mother Again

I realized yet again that my education is deficient. I am not well versed in classic children’s literature. I was surprised when, many years after seeing the movie, I learned that Walt Disney had not created the character Pinocchio for the 1940 eponymous film, but instead that the marionette had been the inspiration of the Italian Carlo Collodi (the pen name of Carlo Lorenzini) who wrote The Adventures of Pinocchio in the 1880s. I did know that the movie The Wizard of Oz was based on a book by L. Frank Baum, but I was surprised to learn decades after first seeing the movie that there was not just one Oz book, but a series of more than a dozen.

Perhaps having realized about such gaps in my learning I should not have been surprised to find out about another similar one. The other day I was reading Laura by Vera Caspary, first serialized in Collier’s in 1942 and published in book form the next year. (I was familiar with Laura from the outstanding film made of it in 1944 directed by Otto Preminger and starring Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, and Clifton Webb, but I was surprised to learn that before the movie was made, the book had been adapted into a play that ran in London and New York.) Early in the book, the wonderfully named Waldo Lydecker describes first meeting Laura Hunt at his apartment door and says she seemed as though “Bambi—or Bambi’s doe—had escaped from the forest and galloped up the eighteen flights to this apartment.” I did not think a note was needed for this reference (I read Laura in a collection entitled Women Crime Writers: Suspense Novels of the 1940s and the editor, Sarah Weinman, explains some allusions in the books that might escape the modern reader), but there was one that told me that Bambi was the “deer fawn who is the protagonist of Felix Salten’s novel, published in 1928. Walt Disney’s animated feature was released in August 1942.” And I found myself surprised that the movie Bambi was based on a novel. I had not known that.

That novel was Bambi: A Life in the Woods, or that was its title in the English version first published in the United States in 1928. The author was the Austrian Felix Salten, and the book was published in Austria as Bambi: Eine Lebensgeschicthe aus Dem Walde in 1923 after having been serialized in a Viennese magazine. Salten was after an adult audience, and in the U.S., Bambi was a Book-of-the-Month selection selling more than a half-million copies by the time Disney made the movie. It was praised in a forward by John Galsworthy, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature a few years later. Galsworthy said it “is a delicious book . . . not only for children but for those who are no longer so fortunate. . . . Felix Salten is a poet. He feels nature deeply. . . . Clear and illuminating, and in places very moving, it is a little masterpiece.”

(Not surprisingly, while the movie follows the basic plot of the book, Disney wanted the film to be lighter than the often dark original, and Thumper the Rabbit and Flower the Skunk were added to the animation. Thus, Thumper’s most famous, ungrammatical, oft repeated, and widely parodied line—“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”—is not in the book. I don’t know who, if any, of the seven listed for the movie’s story direction, story adaptation, and story development should get credit for Thumper’s frequently-ignored wisdom. On the other hand, the movie Laura is quite faithful in almost every detail to the novel Laura.)

Not only was I surprised that there was a Bambi novel before there was a Bambi movie, I was surprised by a few things about the book’s author. Bambi: A Life in the Woods, sometimes seen as one of the earliest environmental novels, has been widely regarded, for good reasons, as a strong statement against hunting. Paradoxically, Felix Salten was an avid hunter. Second, even though Salten wrote the book as adult fiction, it almost immediately became beloved by children. It seems ironic then that today it is generally accepted that he was also the author of the book published in 1906 under a pseudonym, titled in English Josephine Mutzenbacher or The Story of a Viennese Whore, as Told by Herself. This book has been in print in both English and German since its first publication and has sold over three million copies. The “memoir” can be considered part of the canon of erotic literature and graphically portrays, largely without a plot, many, many sexual acts of all sorts, although I am glad to report no deer participate in the flagitious activities. (I asked my young Austrian friend whether she knew that Bambi was Austrian. She was not familiar with the book. When I said that author Salten was also thought to be the author of an erotic book “Josephine Something-or-Other,” she immediately said “Josephine Mutzenbacher.” And again, I thought that I should find more reasons to hang out with her.)

(Concluded November 15.)

Lonely Veterans’ Day

On the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving, although we may not get our history always right, we do seem to give at least a nod to the events that gave rise to the holiday. Presidents Day, however, does present some confusion. Are we honoring all Presidents, and why would we honor Buchanan? Or is it only Washington? Or is it Washington and Lincoln? At least by the car and mattress ads “celebrating” Presidents Day, it seems to be both George and Abe, whose images are flashed about. In fact, who is being officially honored depends on where you are. The federal holiday is officially George Washington’s Birthday. It was once celebrated on February 22 although Washington was born on February 11, 1731, but that was under the Julian calendar that the British then used, which was eleven days behind the Gregorian calendar. In 1752, the British Empire adopted the Gregorian calendar, and February 11 magically became February 22, and 1752 apparently had eleven fewer days than other years. In 1879, Congress proclaimed Washington’s Birthday as a federal holiday in Washington, D.C., and extended it to all federal offices six years later with February 22 as the commemoration date.

I had a distinctly personal interest in this holiday. I knew that my mother and Washington had birthdays on February 22 and February 24, but I had trouble remembering which was which. When that month came, I would look at a calendar to find the legend “Washington’s Birthday,” and only then would I be sure on which day to give the mother a card—we weren’t big on gifts. I had problems starting in 1971 when Congress passed the Uniform Federal Holidays Act, which stated that Washington’s Birthday would be celebrated on the third Monday of February. The holiday now falls anywhere from February 15 through February 21, but never on February 22. Go figure. I am not sure how the mother would have reacted to all of this.

The federal holiday honors only George Washington. No federal holiday honors the other presidents, and certainly not Lincoln’s Birthday, which is February 12. Do you really think that the South was going to allow a national celebration of Abraham Lincoln? The states, however, do not have a uniform commemoration. Some have a generic President’s Day; some have a Washington’s Birthday; some have a combined Washington/Lincoln Day; and some have separate holidays for Presidents Day/Washington’s Birthday and for Lincoln’s Birthday. (And thus the holiday can be Presidents Day, President’s Day, or Presidents’ Day in different part of the country.) I have been grateful that New York falls into the category with two commemorations. When I worked as a public defender, it meant that the courts were closed on both Presidents Day and Lincoln’s Birthday, giving me two holidays in a short period. And I am still thankful that New York City’s alternate-side-of-the-street-parking restrictions are suspended on both days.

Whoever is being officially honored, we do seem to know and give at least a little nod on Presidents Day to the Father of our Country and perhaps also to the president who saved the Union.

          Do most of us even retain even that much of the real meaning of Memorial Day? The federal holiday, once called Decoration Day and celebrated on May 30 but now on the last Monday of May, is for remembering and honoring those who died while in the military. There may be a few official speeches somewhere along those lines and there are some of our older generations who maintain a tradition of visiting the graves of loved ones, but this somber holiday now seems primarily celebrated as the unofficial beginning of summer and, for smaller fry, the end or near-end of the school year. It is not a time for the solemn reflection about the sacrifices of others but about the joys of the beach and the freedom from homework.

The name of the federal holiday Veterans’ Day does force us at least to momentarily think about the purpose of the day—to honor those who served in the military (Memorial Day commemorates those who died in the military), but originally its purpose was different. It was Armistice Day, and the armistice was the one that ended World War I that occurred at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. The following year, President Wilson issued a message in celebration of Armistice Day, and in 1938 it became a federal holiday: “a day,” according to Congress, “to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day.’ ” After World War II, a movement began to expand the commemoration to include all veterans, and in 1954, November 11 became Veterans’ Day.

Its scope has been expanded, but Veterans’ Day does not generate the hoopla of the Fourth of July, the family rituals of Thanksgiving, or the excitement of the impending summer of Memorial Day. As a kid, it seemed to be a minor holiday primarily because our schools did not close. Instead, at a few minutes before eleven on the eleventh day of the eleventh month our studies were interrupted. We all stood, and over the school’s public address system, a student, sometimes recognizably, played taps on what was usually a trumpet. We then sat down and picked up again with our social studies class.

Even as an adult, Veterans’ Day seldom has had the impact on me that it should. That was driven home one year. I had gone to the New York Public Library to continue some research in newspapers from the Revolutionary War era. The library’s hours varied, but this project had been going on for months, and I knew all the times that the library was open. I walked up the many steps between Patience and Fortitude, the stone lions guarding the entrance, but the door was locked. Mystified, I walked over to the sign with the library’s times. It should have been open. I tried the door again. It was still locked, and I noticed that there was not the usual bustle of patrons and tourists in and out of the building. Only then I thought about. It was November 11. It was a holiday, and the library was closed.

I had planned to spend the day at the microfilm machines, but now I did not know what to do with myself. Then I heard the faint sound of a band, and I finally noticed that there was no traffic on Fifth Avenue. I realized that the Veterans’ Day parade was going to pass in front of the New York Public Library. I had seen many other parades in New York, including ones for St. Patrick’s Day, Puerto Rico Day, Halloween, and Thanksgiving, but I had never seen one for Veterans’ Day in New York City. I waited and watched. It made me a bit sad. Some flags, a couple of bands, and a few people, mostly men, in old uniforms were marching or being driven in open cars. The really depressing part was that unlike the crowds and exuberance and the shouts and the vendors of the other parades, almost no one was watching the procession. Everything seemed lonely and forgotten.

First Sentences

“By August 1, all of New York was talking about the disaster.” Edward P. Kohn, Hot Time in the Old Town: The Great Heat Wave of 1896 and the Making of Theodore Roosevelt.

“The morning burned so August-hot, the marsh’s moist breath hung the oaks and pines with fog.” Delia Owens, Where the Crawdads Sing.

 “Under a sliver of moon, on an island off the coast of China, a twenty-six-year-old army captain slipped away from his post and headed for the water’s edge.” Evan Osnos, The Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China.

“Twenty miles from here, twenty miles north, the funeral mass was starting.” Rebecca Makkai, The Great Believers.

“He would cross and re-cross the East River thousands of times, including the day before his last on earth.” Stacy Horn, Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad & Criminal in 19th-Century New York.

“The day Somebody McSomebody put a gun to my breast and called me a cat and threatened to shoot me was the same day the milkman died.” Anna Burns, Milkman.

“Sally Horner walked into the Woolworth’s on Broadway and Federal in Camden, New Jersey, to steal a five-cent notebook.” Sarah Weinman, The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel that Scandalized the World.

“I might have been ten, eleven years old—I cannot say for certain—when my first master died.” Esi Edugyan, Washington Black.

“Jean McConville was thirty-eight when she disappeared, and she had spent nearly half her life either pregnant or recovering from childbirth.” Patrick Radden Keefe, Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland.

“When a high-powered rifle hits living flesh it makes a distinctive—pow-WHOP sound that is unmistakable even at a tremendous distance.” C.J. Box, Open Season.

“Deep in Honduras, in a region called La Mosquitia, lie some of the last unexplored places on earth.” Douglas Preston, Lost City of the Monkey God.

“The first time Caesar approached Cora about running north, she said no.” Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad.


          The sign painted on the side of the Vietnamese restaurant: “As for me, give me a bowl of pho and I am happy. Anthony Bordain.” And I wondered what he ate on that final day.

          When my young friend turned around, I could not help but notice the shiner under his left eye. Some guys tried to rob him as he got out of his car. A scuffle ensued, with my friend adamantly maintaining that he got in some good blows, but clearly, he also took one. The would-be robbers ran off when a shopkeeper came out of his store, and my friend lost nothing. I commiserated with him and told him about various incidents involving me, the spouse, and the nonbinary progeny. I asked him if his girlfriend had been with him. “No,” he said, but he saw her the next day. He said that she had been very sympathetic. He hesitated for a moment. A slight grin appeared—his first smile of the evening. Then he said, “Sympathetic sex is very good.”

          I read Habakkuk today. I found some beautiful poetry. I should read that Bible book more.

          All those TV sports shows in addition to just interviewing college athletes about the game ought also to ask the athletes about their favorite professors and then produce clips of those teachers in the classrooms and interacting with the athletes outside of classes. (Or does that not happen?)

          How did a woman in a hoop skirt get into, much less use, an outhouse? The spouse’s answer, “She didn’t.”

I am Donald J. Trump.

Although I shunned the draft,

Patriotism I thump.

It is my great craft

To tweet out “treason”

For those who have good reason

To question what I have done.

It gives me no pause

To label as traitor

Those who don’t cater

To my evident flaws.

I may not have served

(My feet were so spurred!)

But to my critics, I would take out a gun.

          “The girl who can’t dance says the band can’t play.” Yiddish Proverb.

          “This is America, where you are allowed to speak the truth as long as nothing changes.” Alexander Chee, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel.

For Preexisting Conditions, Spouse Means Wife

The Democratic candidates for president all have healthcare. All would have protections for pre-existing conditions. One of Trump’s major 2016 promises was to repeal Obamacare and replace it with something better although neither he, nor the Republicans, ever put forward a healthcare plan. Trump, however, has said that “we will always protect patients with pre-existing conditions.” Even so, he is currently asking the courts to strike down the Affordable Care Act, including its protections for pre-existing conditions, although we are still awaiting his healthcare proposal. (I am not holding my breath waiting for it. That would be bad for my health.)

I have had personal concerns about insurance coverage for a preexisting condition. (Funny word, “preexisting.” It seems to mean existence before existence. That doesn’t seem possible. When it comes to insurance, it really means an already-existing condition, but for some reason we use what should be the nonsensical “preexisting.”) I had a bad shoulder. I would have said that I had a dislocation problem, but that was not accurate. The bone did not come completely out of joint. I could pull the arm back into place with my free arm. I might have called it a partial dislocation, but the doctor who replaced my shoulder joint recently defined it as a subluxation.

The original subluxation had happened when playing football in college (that is how I usually explain it, leaving out the fact that it was intramural football), with the next one about six months later. When the bone partially slipped out of joint, it hurt like hell with residual pain for days afterward.  Over time, those disconcerting events happened with increasing frequency. Five years after the initial injury, it was time to get the joint repaired.

I did not have health insurance of my own. I was finishing what I hoped was my last year of schooling, and back then the only health insurance I was aware of was tied to employment. I had already accepted a job to start the following September. I would have health insurance through this employer, but I undertook the fun job of reading the policy and found the preexisting-conditions clause. The plan would not cover any health condition that existed when I first became insured.  Instead, the preexisting condition would only qualify for coverage two years down the road, assuming I was still in the same job. Waiting that long to have the shoulder surgery would not have been the end of the world. It was not as if I had cancer or imminent liver failure or was going blind. But it meant a couple more years of painful, partial dislocations and the awkward lifestyle changes that I had adopted to minimize them—not lifting my arm above my head, sleeping in ways so that rolling over would not cause the subluxation, and so on. It also meant living with a constant level of pain that could be tolerated but still was not exactly fun.

The spouse, however, had a job, and she had a health insurance benefit. I read that policy, too. It said that spouses of the insured were covered, and since she had been working for a while, the preexisting limitation did not preclude my shoulder surgery. I went to a famous shoulder surgeon who was ready to do my repair, but both he and the hospital wanted a notice from the insurance company that my treatment would be covered. We went to the benefits administrator at the spouse’s work, who, to our surprise, said that the company’s insurance would not cover me for anything. “How can that be!?!” I exclaimed. I showed her the clause in the many-paged policy mandating coverage for “spouses” of the insured. The wife was the insured, we all agreed, and she and I were married, so I was the “spouse.” Ergo, I was covered. “No,” the administrator patiently explained, “‘spouse’ meant ‘wife.’” That is what it had always meant, the bureaucrat stated. We learned that female spouses were considered beneficiaries under the plan because, apparently in those distant days, no husband of a female employee had ever sought to be covered under this provision of the policy before. The women utilizing the plan were either single, or if married, had husbands who had their own insurance or were too proud to seek spousal coverage.

I was flabbergasted, but not so much so that I could not pronounce the word “sue.” There are advantages to being a lawyer, even though back then I had little idea how to bring a suit. But the threat produced a further consideration by the wife’s employer and insurance carrier. With much grumbling, they decided that they would cover my shoulder surgery.

The wife left that job a little while later. After I had the surgery.

Marathon Bingeing

          On the morning of November 3, I will wander down the block and watch the strange sight of thousands and thousands of people running by on a carless street. It will be the New York City marathon, and the intersection where I will stand is mile eight of the more than twenty-six-mile course.

          Watching people run by whom I do not know should be boring, but for the forty-five minutes I will spend it is not. The sidewalk will be jammed with neighbors, guests, and visitors. Music with a strong beat will be playing. The first competitors we will see are the disabled participants in racing wheelchairs who start separately from those who are ambulatory. They are wildly cheered and encouraged by the crowd. Then an empty street with anticipation building for the first runners. A phalanx of motorcycles and trucks carrying cameras roars up Lafayette Avenue, and we become alert because we know that right behind these vehicles are the elite marathoners, one of whom hope will win the race. Many will be from African countries, and they will largely be in an Indian file at the center of the road. Then a small group of runners appears a hundred yards back. They are awfully good runners but are not going to win. Each year I wonder how these people feel—better than 99.99% of all those who run—but who will never come in first or even third or fifth. Does their ability make them feel good or are they just frustrated?

          Now we are on the lookout for the first women runners, also the elite. As a cheer went up for the first men, another erupts when the first woman is spotted.

          Soon the runners no longer appear as individuals. They stream as groups, but for a while longer almost all are still clustered within five feet of the street’s centerline. This changes every moment as more and more runners are in sight. Soon they cover the pavement from curb to curb. We can’t even glimpse he opposite side of the street, and it will remain out of sight for an hour or more as thousands and thousands of running people go by. This river of runners may be made up of many individuals but together it forms a new flood flowing east anticipating the turn north. It will then leave Ft. Greene and enter Williamsburg.

          I find myself noticing the colors that bounce by. This is not a uniformed sport, and the running clothes comes in many hues, often indicating the nationality of the wearers: Rumania and New Zealand, Japan and Nigeria, and almost every country in between. Some carry messages—“World Peace,” “Fight Climate Change,” “Marry Me Becky,” “My Kids Are the Greatest.” Some run in costume—every so often I spy a bunny rabbit or a Santa Claus. At one time there were a lot of Obamas. How many, if any, Trumps will there be? A few simultaneously juggle as they run. I have seen a guy running backwards. For years, a man in a tuxedo ran carrying at shoulder height a dining room tray with a glass on it as though he were going to serve champagne at the finish line.

          I watch the gait of the runners. Some have a high knee lift while the feet of others only clear the ground by a few inches. Often the different styles are side by side so it seems as if each is equally efficient. Some are awkward as a new-born colt; some are as graceful as a gazelle.

          Many of the runners seem to be in their thirties, I but find myself looking for the outliers. I am somehow when I see those who are sixty or seventy, and I spot many.

          Even though the run is not even a third over where I watch, some of the runners will look as if they are straining, and I wonder if they will make it. Some look as if they are merely coasting and do not care about their time. Others seem as if they are pushing themselves, chasing a PB—a personal best.

          As the crowd of runners increases and seen more and more blur by, I feel something akin to a vertigo. It’s time to go home. I will turn on the TV because even though runners are still going by my viewing spot, eighteen marathon miles away the elite runners will be approaching the finish line. I can hear through my windows cheering for those at the end of my block commingled with cheers on TV from Central Park, and I will be struck as I am every year that soon there will be a winner while many still have two-thirds of the race to go.

          And through all of this, I always feel a bit of pride that I, more than once, ran this marathon, and I wonder if I am happy or sad that my body no longer will allow it.

          But to all those run on Sunday, I wish you good luck, or I suppose more appropriately, God speed.


          After I came out of Pedro Almodóvar’s latest movie, Pain and Glory, I thought about the term “adult film.” It is used for movies with graphic depictions of sex even though teens and pre-teens and not particularly mature adults are interested in the subject matter. On the other hand, there are many films where the young and immature do not have the experience, knowledge, or empathy to be drawn into the movie. They are just bored if they go. These are films for adults, which, of course, is quite different from adult films.

          I wonder how many adults knew who Stormy Daniels was before her connection with Donald Trump hit the news. Yet she was identified frequently as an “adult movie star.”

          The first Almodóvar film I saw was Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. How many of you thought that the title was redundant? Hold up your hand if you think that question is offensive? How many of you have nail polish on that hand?

Overheard at a Feminist Conference

Sisters, this may sound ominous,

But we all have a touch of the mom in us.

                   Richard Moore

          As I passed two young men on the sidewalk, I heard one demand, “Well, who then brought the urine?” If there was a reply, I was out of earshot.

       I ran into the postal carrier in front of my house. I said that I would take the mail up the stoop and save her some steps. She thanked me, and I asked her how many steps she did during her work. She tapped her watch and said, “According to this, about 16,000.” (Just in case you ever wondered.) I asked her how many flights of steps.  (It is twelve steps up from the sidewalk to my mail slot. Sometimes my Fitbit registers this as a flight of stairs but sometimes, aggravatingly, not.) She said her device did not have flights of stairs.

          I read the handout that I was handed, and parts of it gave me concern about the performance I was about to see. The bio of the playwright said, “He’s been honored to receive commissions and developmental support from institutions like [emphasis added] The Kennedy Center/New Voices New Visions, The Eugene O’Neill Conference, The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, and Berkeley Rep’s Ground Floor Residency.” I assumed that the playwright had written this. He probably meant that he got support from the listed institutions, but he wrote that he got aid from institutions that were akin to the ones mentioned. My concerns about the production further increased because the artistic director for the theater company wrote, “It is a pleasure to produce a playwright who creates well-defined and complexed [emphasis added] characters.” Is there such a word as “complexed”? Does it mean something different from “complex”? These are people whose careers involve good writing. But in spite of my concerns, the play was quite good.

Chasing Waterfalls (concluded)

While conversations among guests in a hotel or motel are usually sparse and fleeting, bed and breakfast guests often chat with each other. Perhaps we all want to feel we are in one of those novels from a hundred or more years ago where the characters are in a boarding house, as in Balzac’s Pere Goriot, or in an Italian pensione, as in Forster’s A Room with a View. With the shorter stays in a B and B, the deep character-revealing conversations of the novels are not the norm.  Primarily the conversations are started with: “What did you do today?” “What have you planned for tomorrow?” “Where are you from?” “What do (or did) you do?” “Where are you going?”

The first morning I was in the Idlwilde bed and breakfast, I was reading on the porch in the chilly air. Another man appeared, and I learned that he was from a small town in western Wisconsin. I grew up in eastern Wisconsin, and he quickly reminded me of some of my relatives as he told me in exacting detail the route he had driven from his home to Watkins Glen, emphasizing at length how he had successfully skirted Chicago. I don’t remember how he shifted the topic, but soon I heard him telling me that his wife did not really like wine, but she had sampled wine in Door County, Wisconsin, that appealed to her. It was made from cherries, and yesterday the good wife was pleased to find a winery that had sweet wines. The Finger Lakes region has many wineries and has been primarily known for its Rieslings, many of which are far from dry. The Wisconsin woman, however, did not like Rieslings. I was assured that they were not sweet enough, but she was happy when she found, as her husband put it, a wine like soda and was even happier when another place offered her a wine slushie. I made a note not to join that couple for dinner.

On Saturday morning, both a prospective bride and prospective groom were breakfasting. I thought this a tradition-breaker until I learned they were not marrying each other. Two marriage parties were at the bed and breakfast. We exchanged only a few words with the bride-to-be, but the soon-to-be husband came over to talk with us. He had hours to go before his ceremony, and he was already hyper and told us about the family car business he was in, the merits of Toyotas, how he was marrying a childhood sweetheart, how they had drifted apart when they went to separate colleges, how they got back together, and like that. He scrolled on his phone until he could show us a picture of the wedding location. To the delight of the spouse and me, he was going to be married in front of a waterfall.

The spouse and I most enjoyed talking with a couple from England. He was retired from the UK’s Foreign Office. They had been posted to various places in the Mideast and to Calcutta. He was, however, a little vague about what work he did in these locations, making me think, “Hmmmm.” He had gone to school in Washington, D.C., when his father, also in the Foreign Office, had been posted to Washington, but this was her first trip to the United States. The trip had been timed so that they could go to the U.S. Open tennis tournament. She was especially happy to sit in Arthur Ashe Stadium. As a schoolgirl, she had seen Ashe play at Wimbledon and found him “elegant.” He remained a favorite.

They had been four nights in New York and then four more to Boston. From there they went to Stowe, Vermont, an apparent must-see for Brits visiting the states. They had driven from Vermont to Watkins Glen, and as with other Europeans I have met, they were surprised how big the country is. After the Finger Lakes, they were heading to Niagara Falls, and we discussed what we had liked there. After that, they were going to Toronto and then home. They were lively, charming, knowledgeable—you never know from a few brief conversations, but they seemed like people I would like to be friends with. It was only slightly disconcerting that the spouse found him to be among the most handsome men she had ever met, something the spouse remarked upon repeatedly.

While our stay at the Idlwilde was interesting, our point for being in Watkins Glen was to chase waterfalls, in this case the waterfalls of Watkins Glen State Park. A deep gorge ascends over a mile-and-a-half up a thousand feet and it boasts nineteen waterfalls. We did not have to do much chasing to find the waterfalls. It was a gorgeous walk—a spectacular end to our chase.

After hiking the gorge, we headed to Hammondsport, a nearby town where we found the Glen Curtiss Museum. As a young man, Glen Curtiss was a bicycle builder and racer. Soon he became a motorcycle builder and racer. And then he became an airplane builder and flyer. The museum contains artifacts and reproductions from all aspects of his career including his earliest plane and his seven-foot-long motorcycle upon which he set a speed record of 136 miles per hour in 1907, a motorcycle record that stood until 1930.

He is largely unknown now, but he was especially important in the early stages of aviation. The Wright Brothers may have been first, but Curtiss was next, and his many innovations were essential for the early growth of the flying industry.

The Wright Brothers were very aware of Curtiss. The secretive brothers had obtained patents for airplanes, and in the opinion of many, excessively broad patents. One of the patents was for the methods of controlling a plane in flight. The Wrights depended on wing warping, the twisting of the wing, to help steer a craft. Curtiss improved on that by putting ailerons, the forerunner of what now exists, on the wings. Orville and Wilber yelled, “Patent infringement!” This fight went on for a decade and was only resolved when the patriotism and necessities of World War I demanded a resolution of the conflict. Animosity, however, lingered on for years.

A dinner in a popular local restaurant, breakfast the next morning, and our trip of chasing waterfalls concluded. We returned to our own summer community and our own waterfalls. Buck Hill Falls has several beautiful ones, but that is a story for another day.

Chasing Waterfalls (continued from October 21)

The trip chasing waterfalls moved from Mt. Morris, New York, the jumping off place for the falls of Letchworth State Park, to Watkins Glen, a short drive away. But the day was drizzly, and we detoured to the Corning Glass Museum in, surprise, surprise, Corning, New York. This is a world class institution that in addition to the museum offers classes in glassblowing throughout the year. But the museum itself is worth the trip. The mainstay of the permanent collection is a historical exhibit of glass making over the last five thousand years, but the display of what modern artists do with glass is mind blowing. (A little bit of a pun.)

Museum goers could watch an artist at work. We watched a glass blowing exhibition. I have seen such a demonstration before, but this narration was different. The English narrator’s words were translated into Mandarin by a Chinese woman. I don’t know if that happens every time, but on our visit a large number of Chinese people were visiting the Corning Museum, too. The demonstration captivated me. It continues to amaze me what people can do with a lump of glass.

After lunch at the museum and a perhaps too-extended stay in the gift shop, we took the short drive to Watkins Glen, which sits on the western shore and very near the southern tip of Seneca Lake, the largest of New York’s Finger Lakes. Watkins Glen is situated her because of the nearby geological wonders, but I would have founded the town on the eastern shore. As one who grew up on the western side of Lake Michigan, I know there are advantages to being on the eastern side of a lake. I watched a full moon rise over Lake Michigan many times, and it was always a magnificent spectacle, but if you are on the eastern side of the lake, you can watch a sunset every clear night, and I still marvel at a beautiful sunset. I know that I would lose those monthly moonrises, but I would take the trade.

Even though I would have preferred the eastern shore of Lake Seneca, the setting of Watkins Glen is still spectacular. Steep hills climb from the shore allowing for magnificent views of the lake, and our stay was enhanced by at a place that once was the house of Watkins Glen, or at least the house of the person who was once the man of Watkins Glen.

We stayed at the “Idlwilde Inn,” a bed and breakfast up six vertiginous blocks from the lake. (More than once the spouse and I wondered what the roads were like in winter. It was scary enough going up and down the hills in September.) As with other B and Bs where we have stayed, the owners had had previous careers. Marcus had been a TV writer on the west coast, and Elin had worked her way up to become president of a well-known corporation. Both were originally east coast people—he from New Jersey and she from the Finger Lake’s region. Her parents were still in the area, and Elin and Marcus had moved back to be near them.

Marcus introduced us to Idlwilde. In giving us a small tour of the inn, he had pointed out a bound set of pages lying on an end table and said it was a master’s thesis about the house, joking that it was mandatory reading. One night, after others were afoot out of the house or abed, I was alone in that parlor and skimmed the writing.

Towards the end of the twentieth century, after the house had been vacant for a decade, new owners sought to restore the house and its gardens to their glory days. A candidate for a master’s degree in landscape architecture set out to find out about the past plantings. She worked hard, but she could find nothing in the house that indicated anything about the gardens. She searched local newspapers for descriptions of the gardens. Nothing. She sought pictures but found only a standard photograph of a wedding held at the house that revealed almost nothing about the gardens. She sought out but could not find neighbors and notables who might have been in the gardens. She did find one or two people who had lived in the house as children, but the men were in their eighties, had not lived in the house for upwards of a half century, and had not paid much attention to the gardens when they lived there. All in all, she simply struck out.

But I admired her. She could not produce pages of garden designs or descriptions or planting schedules or pruning regimes. She had clearly spent a lot of time but had nothing that would advance her to her degree. So she shifted course and a produced a history of Watkins Glen and the house. I learned about Watkins Glen’s emergence as a summer resort, and the hotels that came and went in the nineteenth century. That history I could get in many places. I was more interested in what she wrote about the house and its most famous owner.

The Idlwilde Inn, the bed and breakfast where we stayed, was built in the late nineteenth century and bought by one Warren Clute in 1911 when he was forty-seven. Clute was then the leading citizen of Watkins Glen. He was the president of the largest employer in the area, the Watkins Salt Company, which he had founded when he was only twenty-five. Who knew that western New York state was a major source of salt? At his death in 1938, the company was labeled “the largest independent salt producer in the United States.” The grad student who wrote about the house and gardens said that the Depression had not affected the salt business as much as other enterprises. Refrigeration had not made inroads into many parts of America, and salt remained needed for the preservation of food. Hence, the demand remained high.

Clute also became president of the area’s leading financial institution, the Watkins Glen National Bank. He was active in civic affairs and among other posts was president of the Board of Education. He sponsored the Watkins Salt band and Watkins Salt baseball club. He was a Mason and a member of many service organizations, and a delegate to the 1936 Republican National Convention. He was the kind of guy that when he died at his home in Miami Beach after several years of failing health, the schools and other institutions of Watkins Glen closed for his funeral. He was the kind of guy that a street and a park bear his name.

Clute’s home was admired in his day. The author of a 1918 publication cataloging the salt business in America said that “his residence high on the western shore of the lake, overlooking the village and the valley, is the finest situated in the neighborhood.”


          The subway poster for a CBS show said, “Some Mysteries Can’t Be Explained.” Well, duh. If it’s explained, then it ain’t no mystery.

          The host who invites someone known to be vegetarian or vegan to dinner is expected to accommodate the guest’s eating preferences (and to know all the differences among vegetarians and vegans.) Is the vegetarian or vegan dinner host expected to accommodate an omnivore guest by serving pork, lamb, beef, or goat?

          I was sooo surprised to learn that not everyone thinks that the very, very best place—the greatest place; the perfect place to make a perfect call—to be in America in June is Miami at an old golf resort.

          Sometimes I want to know what happened to characters after the story ends. Recently I learned that Goldilocks went on to become a genealogist. Then she was interested in forebears.

          Trump reassures:

Some may trust in God,

The Kurds must trust Assad.

I put our ally

Square in the bull’s eye

But please don’t wave them bye-bye.

I wrote that Turk a letter.

It has made things so much better,

And I am not upset

From the deaths I beget.

You should never forget

That I have just one plan,

Oh, how I love that man!

I am just rootin’

For Vladimir Putin.

          “Humans are inhuman, whether it’s by direct action or by acceptance of a horrible action as normal.” Charles Frazier, Varina.