Snippets

In Lupin, the mystery drama currently on Netflix, one nefarious character said to another the notable cliché of financial crime dramas: “The money will be transferred to an offshore account in the Cayman Islands.” Are there onshore accounts in the Caymans?

I watched the delightful first season of Kim’s Convenience, also on Netflix. I learned that in spite of logic and experience, it is always delightful, summery weather in Toronto.

It seems years ago, but it was actually only a few seasons back, that conservative politicians and commentators were railing against “sanctuary cities.” These were localities that did not always obey federal requests to detain a person whom feds claimed was an undocumented migrant. In what was a common situation, a person driving to work was stopped by local police for a traffic offense. The detainee, call him Sean, would have his fingerprints sent off to the FBI. Someone at the FBI would conclude that Sean was not in the country legally and would send a request to the local police to detain him until the feds could get a legal detention warrant. The FBI detention request was just that—a request. It is not a legal order to keep someone behind bars. Sanctuary cities, acting within the law, did not honor such requests. Indeed, detention because of an FBI request beyond what was authorized by the local law might have proven illegal. Whether the locality’s policy was wise or not, it caused something akin to apoplexy among conservative politicians and commentators who claimed that the rule of law was ending and everyone in a sanctuary city was in mortal danger from a horde of undocumented aliens. Following the lead of at least eight other states, Missouri has recently enacted a law that threatens a penalty of $50,000 against any local policing agency that enforces certain federal gun laws and regulations. This is, of course, analogous to the policies of sanctuary cities, but don’t expect to hear a similar outcry about “sanctuary states” from conservative politicians and commentators.

Old saying: It’s not fair to have a battle of wits with an unarmed man.

If you are a non-conservative, shouldn’t you reconsider leftist politics and actions when you learn what has happened in Portland, Oregon?

I wonder how many people who have opinions about the 1619 Project have read at least a quarter of it.

In one of my first post-Covid trips onto the subway, I was greeted by a usual sight. A young man, speaking so that the entire car could hear him, said that he was staying out of trouble by selling M&M’s and other sugary snacks for a buck a pop. As the train approached the next station, he got ready to exit and move to another car. He then enjoined, “Don’t buy a Lotto ticket. Don’t go to the liquor store. My candy is guaranteed.” And I wondered what that guarantee was and how I would ever collect on it.

Two Miami men sat at the next table after a round of golf. After introductions, my companion asked them if they were concerned about the rising water levels in Florida. They said that Dade County was taking some steps to alleviate high water, but nothing as drastic as a sea wall. One of them continued, “I’m not really that concerned; I’ll be dead.” I wondered if I would adopt that attitude if I lived in Miami.

Let’s Talk About Secrecy, Too (concluded)

Leaks can cause harm, but we need to understand that so much secrecy actually damages the country. Secrecy leads to claims of conspiracy. If we have classified information about the Roswell incident, an almost inevitable result will be assertions about UFOs and aliens. If everything is not disclosed about the investigation into JFK’s death, conspiratorial claims about the assassination proliferate. You might think you are above that kind of thing, but what was your response when you found out that Jared Kushner, during the 2016 Presidential campaign, had a secret meeting with the Russians? Doesn’t at least part of you think something nefarious was going on?

And once information has been kept from the public, simply disclosing it does not cure the conspiracy problem. If the government claims that every bit of stuff about Roswell has been disclosed, many will not trust that pronouncement. If they hid something once, why should I trust that they are not hiding something now? Secrecy leads to a distrust of government, and the country is harmed when the government is not trusted. The recent disclosure by the government of information about unidentified aerial phenomena will be an interesting test. Will all those UFO and alien theorists disappear, pack up their hairspray, and disappear from the History Channel?

Government secrecy, in a subtle and insidious way, also tends to corrupt the holder of the secrets. The official with a secret feels powerful. The secret becomes a form of currency, a coin that can be held for ego purposes—I know more than you do—even if that information should be exchanged or that coin spent to enhance the prestige of the leaker or to gain an advantage in an internal government dispute.

Secret information presents another danger. Because access to the information is limited, it cannot be analyzed by all those who might have useful insights about it. Our country has had notable intelligence lapses. Our intelligence agencies, for example, were not aware of the imminent collapse of the Soviet Union or of the Iranian Revolution that overthrew the Shah. We cannot know–but it is possible–that the analyses would have been different if more of the classified information had been available to academics, businessmen, NGO representatives, and others who knew or had studied Russia and Iran. Senator Patrick Moynihan may have been right in his belief that the demise of the Soviet Union would have been forecast if the intelligence agencies had kept less information to themselves. Moynihan also maintained that the United States significantly overspent on military budgets because excessive secrecy allowed intelligence agencies to overestimate Soviet military strength.

There is a related danger. Policy makers who have already decided on a course of action can pick and choose classified information to disclose to support their predetermined path. With other information remaining secret that might undercut the chosen course, the proposed policy cannot be properly examined or challenged. In other words, Hello, Iraq War.

Another aspect of human nature also comes into play. We humans assume that information that is secret must be especially valuable. Why else would it be secret? Where secrecy predominates, what is not secret is too easily disregarded or dismissed.

And, of course, we can never really trust a leak. Not only does the leaker have some sort of motive for disclosing the particular information and for not disclosing something more, there is a natural inclination to make his own additions to the leaked material. Or at least this is a normal impulse if Seneca is right when he said, “Nobody will keep the thing he hears to himself, and nobody will repeat just what he hears and no more.” We hear about leaks with the complainer wanting us to assume that the disclosure has endangered the country. We should challenge that assumption. The dangers should not be accepted merely because someone in government asserts it. And even though making some government information public can be harmful, we should never lose sight of the fact that secrecy harms our nation. We should start from the position that a culture of secrecy is un-American.

Let’s Talk About Secrecy, Too (continued)

Leaks can cause harm, but we need to understand that so much secrecy actually damages the country. Secrecy leads to claims of conspiracy. If we have classified information about the Roswell incident, an almost inevitable result will be assertions about UFOs and aliens. If everything is not disclosed about the investigation into JFK’s death, conspiratorial claims about the assassination proliferate. You might think you are above that kind of thing, but what was your response when you found out that Jared Kushner, during the 2016 Presidential campaign, had a secret meeting with the Russians? Doesn’t at least part of you think something nefarious was going on?

And once information has been kept from the public, simply disclosing it does not cure the conspiracy problem. If the government claims that every bit of stuff about Roswell has been disclosed, many will not trust that pronouncement. If they hid something once, why should I trust that they are not hiding something now? Secrecy leads to a distrust of government, and the country is harmed when the government is not trusted. The recent disclosure by the government of information about unidentified aerial phenomena will be an interesting test. Will all those UFO and alien theorists disappear, pack up their hairspray, and disappear from the History Channel?

Government secrecy, in a subtle and insidious way, also tends to corrupt the holder of the secrets. The official with a secret feels powerful. The secret becomes a form of currency, a coin that can be held for ego purposes—I know more than you do—even if that information should be exchanged or that coin spent to enhance the prestige of the leaker or to gain an advantage in an internal government dispute.

Secret information presents another danger. Because access to the information is limited, it cannot be analyzed by all those who might have useful insights about it. Our country has had notable intelligence lapses. Our intelligence agencies, for example, were not aware of the imminent collapse of the Soviet Union or of the Iranian Revolution that overthrew the Shah. We cannot know–but it is possible–that the analyses would have been different if more of the classified information had been available to academics, businessmen, NGO representatives, and others who knew or had studied Russia and Iran. Senator Patrick Moynihan may have been right in his belief that the demise of the Soviet Union would have been forecast if the intelligence agencies had kept less information to themselves. Moynihan also maintained that the United States significantly overspent on military budgets because excessive secrecy allowed intelligence agencies to overestimate Soviet military strength.

There is a related danger. Policy makers who have already decided on a course of action can pick and choose classified information to disclose to support their predetermined path. With other information remaining secret that might undercut the chosen course, the proposed policy cannot be properly examined or challenged. In other words, Hello, Iraq War.

Another aspect of human nature also comes into play. We humans assume that information that is secret must be especially valuable. Why else would it be secret? Where secrecy predominates, what is not secret is too easily disregarded or dismissed.

And, of course, we can never really trust a leak. Not only does the leaker have some sort of motive for disclosing the particular information and for not disclosing something more, there is a natural inclination to make his own additions to the leaked material. Or at least this is a normal impulse if Seneca is right when he said, “Nobody will keep the thing he hears to himself, and nobody will repeat just what he hears and no more.” We hear about leaks with the complainer wanting us to assume that the disclosure has endangered the country. We should challenge that assumption. The dangers should not be accepted merely because someone in government asserts it. And even though making some government information public can be harmful, we should never lose sight of the fact that secrecy harms our nation. We should start from the position that a culture of secrecy is un-American.

(concluded June 18)

Let’s Talk About Secrecy, Too

Investigations are underway to determine how the Big Loser’s administration secretly accessed communication records of journalists and Congress members, their aides, and families. Well and good. We should know whether the Has Been Guy’s actions were targeting those he saw as political opponents and whether he was assaulting First Amendment freedoms. But we also ought to be considering the important topic of governmental secrecy in general.

The Big Loser was concerned about “leaks,” a broad term that—when invoked—seems to imply that the disclosure of the leaked information is an existential threat to the Republic. Instead, we should start any such discussion with the question of why the information was secret in the first place. For a proper democracy with accountability, the default position should be governmental openness. There should only be secrets if there are strong justifications for them. Instead of railing against leaks, we should first consider how, if at all, the now-public information was justified as being deemed secret and what harm has come from the information’s exposure to the cleansing power of sunlight.

The disclosure of confidential matters that harm national security should be prevented, but how often has that happened? Should we really put into one basket a leak about clashes among White House advisors, a leak of our president’s conversation with his counterpart from Mexico, and a leak about troop movements during wartime? If you follow the news, in your lifetime you have heard about leaked information thousands, probably many thousands of times. Think back. How many of them have truly harmed the United States? Quick, name ten. How about five?

Many politicians have an instinctual desire to keep hidden from the public all sorts of information even when it does not contain national security secrets. We should realize that a disclosure that embarrasses a government official is not the same as a disclosure that harms national security.  We should be skeptical of why such non-classified information is secret.

We should look into the elaborate classification industry that keeps information hidden from us. The first reaction by many to the disclosure of classified information is that it is shameful, criminal, harmful, and unpatriotic, but we, especially those who proclaim to be conservative, should have another response to the classification industry. A generation ago, a commission studying government secrecy gave a perspective, which while true, is seldom considered. The commission stated, “Secrecy is a form of government regulation. Americans are familiar with the tendency to overregulate in other areas. What is different with secrecy is that the public cannot know the extent or the content of the regulation.”

If we saw every government secret as a regulation, if we saw the classification industry as a giant government bureaucracy, we might question secrecy more. Is it really possible that so much must be classified? According to an annual report from the Information Security Oversight Office of the National Archives and Records Administration a few years back, over 55 million items were classified—mandated to be kept confidential–in whole or in part in one year alone. If you believe that the federal government overregulates in other areas, surely you should think it also does so in the secrecy business.

Commissions studying our classification regime have time and again found rampant overclassification, with some of the studies concluding that 50% to 90% of what is classified could safely be released. And here is a striking fact about overclassification: while we hear concerns about the disclosure of classified information, students of the classification industry have reported that they know of no instance when a government official has been disciplined for classifying information that should not have been.

Our most famous leak may have been of the Pentagon Papers. The government went into hyper-crisis mode. It tried to upend the First Amendment and suppress the Papers’ publication. It brought criminal charges against those who brought them into the public light. It, in essence, said that if ever a leak harmed national security and put the country into danger, this was it. After all we were then fighting the Vietnam War. Later, however, President Nixon’s Solicitor General confessed that the Papers were an example of “massive overclassification.”  The Papers were analyses of documents that had been written years before the Papers’ publication and posed “no trace of a threat to the national security.”

I am hardly the first person to note what we all know: that secrets have a way of getting out; that keeping secrets has never been easy; that secrets are like organisms that find a way to get free. Centuries ago Dr. Samuel Johnson said what still remains true: “Secrets are so seldom kept, that it may be with some reason doubted whether a secret has not some volatility by which it escapes, imperceptibly, at the smallest vent, or some power of fermentation, by which it expands itself, so as to burst the heart that will not give it way.”

Because so much is labeled secret and because human nature apparently abhors secrecy, it is not surprising that classified information finds a way to escape. Add to that that about 4.5 million people have access to classified information, it is hardly surprising that there are leaks of classified information. Indeed, it is surprising that there are not more. Moreover, since so much of the information is needlessly labeled secret, it should not be surprising that even leaks of classified information will often not harm national security.

We do, however, pay a lot for this bureaucratic secrecy system. The Information Security Oversight Office estimates that the federal government spent over $16 billion on our classification system. But wait. There’s more. The ISOO estimates that private industry spent an additional $1.27 billion because many defense contractors and other industries are part of the wide-ranging secrecy business. (Why isn’t this regulatory, expensive bureaucracy a target of conservatives?)

(continued June 16)

First Sentences

“In a broad valley, at the foot of a sloping hillside, beside a clear bubbling stream, Tom was building a house.” Ken Follett, Pillars of the Earth.

“Sir or Lady (as I shall call him) sits on the promontory in our village, deep in movie love.” Hilton Als, White Girls.

“It was in the summer of 1998 that my neighbor Coleman Silk—who, before retiring two years earlier, had been a classics professor at nearby Athena College for some twenty-odd years as well as serving for sixteen more years as the dean of the faculty—confided to me that, at the age of seventy-one, he was having an affair with a thirty-four-year-old cleaning woman who worked down at the college.” Philip Roth, The Human Stain.

“The crowd began to cluster at the corner of Hoffman and Bolton, near the entrance to the Armory, in the late afternoon—a quiet, orderly crowd, more women than men.” Jeff Shesol, Supreme Power: Franklin Roosevelt vs. the Supreme Court.

“The open door was only yards away, and beyond it lay the outside world, eerily unaffected by anything happening inside the abandoned snooker hall.” Ian Rankin, Doors Open.

“The scientists of the Simulmatics Corporation spent the summer of 1961 on a beach on Long Island beneath a geodesic dome that looked as if it had landed there, amid the dunes, a spaceship gone to ground.” Jill Lepore, If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future.

“He—for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it—was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor that swung from the rafters.” Virginia Woolf, Orlando.

“The way into the underland is through the riven trunk of an old ash tree.” Robert Macfarlane, Underworld: A Deep Time Journey

You now have one choice.” Scarlett Thomas, The End of Mr. Y.

“Subrata Roy was reclining on a sofa in a pink shirt, orange pocket square, and plaid blazer, his outfit contrasting sharply with the spare, all-white living room.” Julie Satow, The Plaza: The Secret Life of America’s Most Famous Hotel.

“The discourse which follows may appear to the reader as mere fancy or as a dream, penned on waking, in those fevered moments when one is still mesmerized by those conjuring tricks that are produced in the mind once the eyes are closed.” Thomas E. Lumas, The End of Mr. Y.

“Laura Glass was thirteen years old and entering the eighth grade at Jefferson Middle School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when she looked over her father’s shoulder to see what he was working on.” Michael Lewis, The Premonition: A Pandemic Story.

Snippets

She had served the NBP and me at a local restaurant for a year, but then she disappeared. We had assumed that she had moved on, but another server told us that she and the restaurant owner were living together. A week ago, the NBP and I went to the restaurant for the first time in over a year, and we learned that the owner and the server had become engaged. “I gave her a ring last month,” he said. I asked when the wedding would be. He confused me by indicating that the two were not going to have a wedding, but eventually I realized that “wedding” to him meant the reception. Instead, they were planning a City Hall marriage. When she had waited on us, she was studying for a graduate degree in international relations. The owner told us that after an unpaid internship for a year, she now had a job at the United Nations and was thrilled. “She even thinks the UN pens are marvelous,” he said. The owner is stocky and dark. He was born in Jordan. The former server is tall, willowy, and blonde. When years ago we had asked where she was from, she replied, “From Siberia. Near Kazakhstan. The best part.” The Siberian and the Jordanian falling in love at a neighborhood Mideast restaurant in Brooklyn is perhaps something that could happen in many places, but to me this is a New York story.

“Love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking together in the same direction.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

The friend confidently reported that if the HBG (Has Been Guy) were convicted of the crimes for which he is being investigated, he could not become president again. I asked why he thought that, and replied, “A convicted felon can’t be president.” I told him—in the nicest way possible–that he was wrong. The Constitution does not forbid a felon from the presidency. Instead, it has three restrictions: the president must be a “natural born citizen”; the president must be at least thirty-five years old; and the president must have been a resident of the United States for fourteen years. The friend, convinced that I was blowing smoke, pulled out his phone and said, “I am going to look that up.” I said, “Go to Article II of the Constitution.” (The qualifications provision is Art. II, Sec. 1[5].) He could not get a signal and that ended the discussion, but I still wondered how he got this piece of “information.” I considered that he must have thought that because convicted felons could not vote, they could not be president. I had said that the BL (Big Loser) might not be able to vote if he were a convicted felon, but he could be president. He said that I was wrong; felons could now vote in Florida. (In all but two states, felons are disenfranchised, but the length of disenfranchisement varies. As I understand Florida law, felons can now vote once they have completed all the terms of their sentences. If the BL is in jail or on probation or parole, as I understand Florida law, he could not vote.) Apparently, the friend’s belief that a felon was ineligible to be president was not a mere extension of the fact of the disenfranchisement of felons, but I did not find out the source of his “knowledge.” I did learn, yet again, however, that misinformation is not the monopoly of the right.

In the fair and balanced department: I wrote recently that reading A Farewell to Arms in my maturity, I found it unreadable—vapid, jejeune, and simply bad. However, I recently reread Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. It is a good book. Perhaps a very good book.

Was it War?

          Hamas fired missiles into Israel killing a few people. Israel dropped bombs in Gaza killing many more people. Was this a war?

          That question came to mind because of a brief discussion I had had months earlier. I don’t remember the book under consideration in the history book group, but it, as many things do, prompted condemnations of Trump. In my personal efforts to be fair and balanced, I said, “Say what you will about him, Trump did not start any wars unlike his immediate predecessors.” After a few moments, one of the participants indicated I was wrong and said, “Obama did not start a war.” I wanted to say in Clintonesque fashion, “That depends on what your definition of ‘war’ is,” but I let the comment slide because our main topic was something else, and I did not have my relevant research in front of me.

          When it became widely reported that our military efforts in Afghanistan had become our longest war, I started wondering how much of my lifetime the United States has been in a war. As I do for most of my research these days, I turned to the internet and found sites, not all entirely consistent with each other, listing our wars. One of them I found on iPad’s version of Wikipedia entitled “List of wars involving the United States,” which starts with our Revolution and continues to the present. What’s your estimate of the total number? I thought of our Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, Vietnam, Iraq twice, and Afghanistan. Then I thought further and remembered the Mexican War, but then I began to wonder what was the definition of war. We fought Indians frequently. When, if ever, were these actions war? I knew that we had troops in the Philippines for a long time. War? I knew that several, maybe many times, we had troops in Caribbean islands. War? And then there were our actions to overthrow or destabilize various governments—Guatemala, Iran, Nicaragua, and probably many others. Were these wars?

          I did not number my personal list of American wars, but I doubt it would have reached the total the Wikipedia article gave: “Currently, there are 93 wars on this list, 4 of which are ongoing.” About half of them were wars with Native Americans that I know little about other than the general knowledge that there were “American Indian Wars.” In the 1870s, for example, American soldiers were killing different groups of Native Americans—Cheyenne, Arapaho, Comanche, Kiowa, Modoc, Lakota, Dakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, Nez Perce, Palouse, Bannock, Shoshone, Paiute, Apache, Ute—in many parts of America in a dozen different military campaigns.

          I knew that we had sent troops into neighboring lands, but I had not known how often or how long they stayed. The United States troops went into Cuba in 1912 and into Veracruz, Mexico, in 1914. We occupied Nicaragua from 1912 to 1933, Haiti from 1915 to 1934, and the Dominican Republic from 1916 to 1924. And we sent troops again to such places after World II as well as to Grenada and Panama. The list went on and on.

          As to our most recent past, the compilation said the U.S. was involved in a war starting under the Obama administration: “American Intervention in Libya (2015-2020).” If you are like me, even though you have lived through it, you may not remember us being at war in Libya. Perhaps our actions did not strike you as a war because we did not send ground troops into the country, and we did not occupy it. But we did have over two hundred airstrikes and drone strikes on Libyan targets in the course of several years. Perhaps many of us don’t see it as a war because of the military tactics employed. Infantry make it a war not airplanes alone. Imagine, however, our northern neighbor strafing and bombing Rochester, New York, a hundred times and firing rockets from drones into Chicago dozens of times. Wouldn’t we think that Canada had gone to war against us, or might we say these were only warlike actions?

          Or do people in my circles, such as the history book group participant, not register the military actions as war because Obama was president? Would they have been perceived differently if W or Trump had then been the commander-in-chief?  My guess is that the killing of American citizens by drone strikes in foreign lands would have drawn much more debate in non-conservative realms if a Republican had authorized them instead of Obama.

          When I look at the list of American involvements in war, whether I agree with all the classifications or not, I am reminded that while we cherish an image of being a peaceful nation, military bloodshed is firmly embedded throughout our history, including under Obama.

Wonder from the Octopus

I just watched the Academy Award–winning documentary My Octopus Teacher. It is a remarkable film and story. Like many documentaries, I wondered how many hours of filming were required to make this beautiful piece as well as who did some of the filming. I often want a documentary about the documentary I have just watched, but this time, at least, I will never know.

I saw the film on Netflix. Even in a non-Covid year it’s unlikely that I would have seen it in a movie theater. I seldom watch a feature-length documentary anywhere other than on my own TV. On the other hand, this past year I missed seeing the various Oscar-nominated shorts that in past years I would have seen at a local movie palace. The animated, live-action, and documentary shorts get packaged together and are shown in “art” houses in the weeks before the Academy Awards ceremony. Not this year, of course, so I did not see any of the nominees in these categories, but perhaps that’s just as well. These short films, even the animated ones, are often touching, and routinely sad, unless they are about war, and then they are both sad and horrifying. This past year, in particular, I have tried to avoid books, movies, and TV that were likely to make me feel even worse about the world than I already did.

My Octopus Teacher, happily, is a movie that produces wonder. The octopus that is the focus of the film even had, bringing to mind Richard Starkey’s lyric, “A little hideaway/ beneath the waves/ resting its head/ on the seabed.”

This wonderous documentary about inner space made me think not only about the Beatles but also about outer space and our obsession with it. We look up at the night sky, and like all who have preceded us, we naturally wonder about what we see. Humans apparently have always speculated about the moon and the stars, the sun and the planets. We want to explore what is out there. We want lunar and Mars missions. Humanity has spent untold riches and risked fire and death in such endeavors. And we don’t stop. The Swedes are now building a spaceport in the Arctic, and many countries have been sending up rockets and satellites. We even have private ventures, although the commercial possibilities of space other than as a weird tourist attraction seem limited—at least to me. (Am I alone in being able to live happily without another scent of Elon Musk?) Space fascinates; we long to reach for the stars.

We don’t have similar clichéd, inspirational injunctions about the seas. We did have Jacques Cousteau who tried, like My Octopus Teacher, to tell us that we have a lot to learn about this water-covered planet. Sometimes it seems that our only concerns about the oceans are whether we can grab all the fish out of it, build wind farms above it, or find oil beneath it.

In showing how much we can learn about the octopus, the film reveals how much we are in the dark about the oceanic depths, a place of beauty and wonder as well as commercial enterprise. We have manned orbiting space stations and fantasize about colonizing the moon and Mars. Why don’t we have something comparable for under the water?

Two Things

I have been reading Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer. This book gives advice similar to all the books I have read on usage: “Go light on exclamation points. . . . Some writers recommend that you should use no more than a dozen exclamation points per book; others insist that you should use no more than a dozen exclamation points in a lifetime.” Dreyer continues: “We won’t discuss the use of ?! or !? because you’d never do that.” And double exclamation points should be left for comic books.

Even so, readers of this blog (I assume all read carefully and have excellent standards) may have noticed the high rate of exclamation points and even an occasional use of those double punctuation marks. Almost all have been inserted by my editor—the spouse—who does have high English and copyediting standards but believes that if a punctuation method exists, it should be employed. (The exception may be the en dash. She claimed to know its proper use, but not necessarily how to create one in Word on a PC.) When I get back my draft from the editor and she has again inserted an exclamation mark, I almost always leave it in. It is my concession to our version of marital bliss. But that dozen-in-a-lifetime mark was passed long ago.

Our Brooklyn house has a backyard. This is not apparent from the street where all that is visible is a block-long stretch of rowhouses. The width of the lots varies slightly, from eighteen to twenty-five feet, but the lots are routinely one-hundred feet deep while the houses are usually about fifty feet in length. Thus, as in our case, a backyard of fifty by twenty-five feet.

Our yard may not be big, but I feel that I have spent an inordinate amount of time through the years working on it. A patio of bluestone was reconfigured, causing sore muscles. A stand of lilacs was divided and replanted, causing sore muscles. After many unsuccessful efforts to grow various things (we don’t get much sun and we don’t have bottomland soil), English ivy was planted and divided by a stone walkway lined by rocks imported from Pennsylvania, all causing sore muscles. Hedges lining the boundaries were planted, some by me, causing sore muscles and some by a nursery, causing a sore checkbook. The yard may not be Instagram material, but it is satisfactory.

It is not a high-maintenance place, but it still requires some tending. The ivy has to be cut back several times a year, causing sore muscles. Leaves from neighboring trees have the gall to fall into our yard and occasionally have to be dealt with. And the hedges periodically should be trimmed. Now, however, that I spend most of the summer in Pennsylvania, that maintenance is a real pain since I have fewer days to force myself to do it.

Last fall I realized that the aforementioned hedges were out of control. The original thought was to have them grow as high as the stockade fence behind them, part of which was installed by me, causing sore muscles, and part installed by a company, causing a sore checkbook. The hedges, which I had not dealt with for quite a while, were higher than the fence, straggly, and not what you’d call level. They had grown horizontally impeding the useful patio space. I decided a serious cutting was necessary, and it would give me a chance to use a seldom-used power tool, a battery-powered hedge clipper that replaced the manual ones I had used for decades, which had caused especially sore forearm muscles.

I charged up the clippers and hauled them and, because the hedges were so high, a step ladder out to the yard. I decided that now that I was undertaking this long-delayed project, I was going to be ruthless in hopes that I could ignore the bushes again for quite some time. I cut them way back. This did yield a lot of green boughs for Christmas, but the hedges now showed more brown, chopped-off branches than green ones. They did not look good. Ok, they looked as if I had killed them. I had undertaken severe pruning in the past, and the hedges had always come back. I was (reasonably) sure that would be the case again. However, looking out the back windows during the winter, it was not a pleasant sight, and the spouse and the NBP (nonbinary progeny) did not have my (reasonable) confidence in their health.

On the first days of spring, I went out to the hedges for a closer inspection. A lot of them looked–how shall I put it–dead, but a few weeks later, with a close, almost microscopic, inspection I could see the tiniest green needles on hacked-off branches. They are going to be fine, I said to myself with (reasonable) assurance, and that is how they still looked when I shifted my locale to Buck Hill Falls for the summer season. Only the true believer—I was the only one and my faith was not strong–could see that the hedges would again be a sight of Brooklyn beauty.

Although I spend most of the summer now in Pennsylvania, I return to New York every week or two to have dinner with the NBP. After we exchanged communications to find a convenient time to go to Black Iris, our usual neighborhood restaurant where we have not been since the pandemic began, I got an additional message. I told the spouse that although only ten words long, it contained three pieces of good news for her.

The first piece of good news for both her and me: The NBP wrote that “I just did the yard.” My now always-sore muscles eased a bit and gratefulness spilled out of my heart to the NBP for relieving me of a backyard maintenance day.

The second piece of good news: The NBP followed the introduction with three dots and then “you didn’t murder the bushes.” Marv Albert–like, I muttered a yes.

And the third piece of good news for the spouse: The NBP concluded the text with an exclamation mark.

Glory Days (concluded)

Reading old clippings from the Sheboygan [Wisconsin] Press, I found a remarkable listing of cultural events. For example, the visual arts were going to be the topic at the Sheboygan Branch of the American Association of University Women. Their guest was one Gerhard C.F. Miller, who painted in watercolor and sketcher’s pen “realistically but also imaginatively and creatively.” His talk “Painting to Travel and Traveling to Paint” would describe how he and his wife, the former Ruth Morton, “a nationally-known interior decorator,” who lived three miles north of Sturgeon Bay, traveled widely and painted, drawing inspiration from “the weathered houses, the gnarled cedars and the rocky landscapes of the Door County Peninsula as well as in the moonlit silhouette of a Biblical village, in the fortified Crusaders’ Harbor of Malta and in the jungles of South America.”

The Junior Woman’s Club announced a full slate of programs and activities for the coming season. Mrs. Jacob Fessler would speak and “show scenes” from her trip to the Far East, and a month later Wayne Jung would illustrate his talk with his decoupage creations. In April of the new year, Mrs. Emil C.A. Muss would exhibit and talk about her doll collection. I was especially intrigued by Mrs. Marion C. Fox, coming all the way from Milwaukee for a presentation entitled “History in Hats.”

However, the cultural event I most missed attending was the presentation at the Kewaskum’s Women’s Club by Manitowoc’s Mrs. Conrad Daellenbach, who gave humorous readings in Norwegian dialect including “one entitled ‘The Telephone.’’’ The accomplished Daellenbach—she was past president of the Manitowoc Women’s Club and the present secretary of the Civic Music Association—“has given readings and his written special monologues for church groups and social and fraternal organizations, featuring the brighter side of life. Many women’s clubs have booked her and these included Rhinelander, Marinette, Oconto, Sturgeon Bay and Manitowoc.” I’ll bet Garrison Keillor knew of her.

If I had read this paper when it first was published, I probably glanced at the ads, but now my eye is drawn to them, both for the products and for the prices. One hardware store offered an O-Cedar sponge mop for $2.44 and a two by six feet carpet runner for $1.98. In the new technology department, a 6 transistor radio using “2 penlight cells,” weighing 10 ounces, and promising to play up to 100 hours cost $12.88.

Ads in September anticipated winter, and fur trims were stylish. One store offered a fur boa “in quality mink only” and said that it was “fashion’s most flexible, most fascinating, most fabulous accessory.” It had clips and ties that allowed many uses. “Loop it, twist it, twirl it into the glamorous Neckline Décolletage shown above, [I am a little surprised this was not censored but perhaps many unsophisticated readers like me would not have known what décolletage was. On the other hand, in the accompanying drawing, it was hard to tell that the woman had breasts under the fur], a Shoulder Scarf, a Draped Hat, a Neckline Ascot, plus the many ways you will discover.” The price: $69.

Another company offered a coat that the spouse still considers attractive, perhaps because it is similar to one she once owned. Even though the offered garment may not have been the most practical outerwear for a Wisconsin winter, it was the “epitome of elegance. Slim clutch coat on Eininger’s famed Grandura, bracelet length sleeves; in walnut or topaz with huge bolster collar of rare Fromm natural pedigreed Golden Amber Fox. Also available in Fromm’s natural Ciel Fox on white Grandura.” It carried a price tag that few Sheboyganites could have afforded for what had to be a special-occasion wrap: $169.98. (Over $1,700 in today’s dollars.)

When asked about Sheboygan, I have often given the clichéd answer: It is a good place be from. Looking at these clippings returned me a little to that time and place, which was a good environment for me to grow up in. I do sometimes wonder what my life would have been if I had stayed in that place of glory days. I know that the prices have changed, but I don’t know how much of the rest of it has endured. My visits once I left have been brief, and the last was more than a decade ago. I am curious about that small town, but that curiosity is not strong enough to consider a permanent return. Somethings should stay in the memory or, in my case, in a file tucked in the back of a desk drawer.