First Sentences

“A brilliant flash broke the morning darkness on November 8, 2018, as strong winds pummeled a PG&E power line scaling the Sierra Nevada ninety miles north of Sacramento.” Katherine Blunt, California Burning: The Fall of Pacific Gas and Electric—and What It Means for America’s Power Grid.

“The Korowai Pass had been closed since the end of the summer, when a spate of shallow earthquakes triggered a landslide that buried a stretch of the highway in rubble, killing five, and sending a long-haul transport truck over a precipice where it skimmed a power line, ploughed a channel down the mountainside, and then exploded on a viaduct below.” Eleanor Catton, Birnam Wood.

“On April 3, AD 33—or perhaps three years before that—a quite dramatic event took place in the holy city of Jerusalem.” Mustafa Akyol, The Islamic Jesus: How the King of the Jews Became a Prophet of the Muslims.

“I stood in the sally port while the steel door rolled back with a clang and then I stepped through into the jail.” Michael Nava, The Little Death.

“Five years before a pair of bullets tore through his gut, Billy Joe Aplin reached over the silt-smeared water of the tidal flats with a boat hook to snare a small buoy bobbing near the grassy shoreline.” Kirk Wallace Johnson, The Fisherman and the Dragon: Fear, Greed, and a Fight for Justice on the Gulf Coast.

“Geneva Sweet ran an orange extension cord past Mayva Greenwood, Beloved Wife and Mother, May She Rest with Her Heavenly Father.” Attica Locke, Bluebird, Bluebird.

“The history of Cuba begins where history begins.” Ada Ferrer, Cuba: An American History.

“Maurice Oulette tried to kill himself once but succeeded only in blowing off the right side of his jawbone.” William Landay, Mission Flats.

“One of the biggest complaints about motherhood is the lack of training.” Erma Bombeck, Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession.

“The train had left Sacramento some distance behind, and was now bravely beginning the long climb that led to the high Sierras and the town of Truckee.” Earl Derr Biggers, Keeper of the Keys.

“On the pivotal day of his presidency, Woodrow Wilson tried to clear his mind by playing golf.” Adam Hochschild, American Midnight: The Great War, A Violent Peace, and Democracy’s Forgotten Crisis.

“Mr. Bowling sat at the piano until it grew darker and darker, not playing, but with Tchaikovsky’s Concerto in D Flat Minor opened before him at the First Movement, rubbing his hands nervously, and staring across the shadowy room to the window, to see if it was dark enough yet.” Donald Henderson, Mr. Bowling Buys a Newspaper.

“There is a scheme afoot.” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse with Jennifer Mueller, The Scheme: How the Right Wing Used Dark Money to Capture the Supreme Court.


Recently there was a ceremony for Paul Ryan, the ex-Speaker of the House of Representatives, as his portrait was unveiled in Congress. Ryan touted his leadership in passing what he labeled his “white whale”—the 2017 Republican tax cut. Kevin McCarthy spoke and said, incredibly, that he had only wished more people had listened to Ryan’s concern about the national debt. Of course, that debt soared when Ryan was Speaker and Republicans controlled not only both Houses of Congress but also the Presidency. Part of the reason was that tax cut. Ahab’s white whale took his leg. Ryan’s white whale, tax “reform” that helped the really rich become even richer, ate up revenue and regurgitated a bigger debt. But, even so, some will praise him because he mouthed concerns about the debt. Of course, his plan was to abolish social security as we know it and to defund or slash programs for those who are not even a little bit rich.

Ryan concluded with stirring words: “Only in America would it be possible for a kid from Janesville to go from an intern to the Speaker of the House.” And I wondered how many countries have a Janesville. And how many have a Speaker of the House.

His Only-in-America speech, however, does not apply to everyone. Ryan did not mention that his path was aided by being born into a prominent, wealthy Wisconsin family.

Am I the only one who sees a strong resemblance between Hunter Biden and Aaron Rodgers?

After an extensive scientific survey on my walk to the greenmarket, I have concluded that a couple holding hands in my diverse neighborhood most likely consists of two white women.

Conservatives proclaim that there are only two sexes. Shouldn’t they say that a married male and female is a bisexual couple?

Heterosexuality is defined as attraction to the “opposite” sex. Are male and female really opposite to each other? Help me list all the ways men and women are alike and are different. Which list is longer?

On your “different” list did you say that men can walk by a shoe store without stopping to examine what is in the window?

New York City is planning to charge drivers for entering parts of Manhattan. A headline said, “Congestion Pricing May Give Break to Poor Drivers.” And I wondered why good drivers should have to pay more.

Walking the sidewalk cluttered with strollers and dogs in front of the greenmarket vendors, I heard a young couple behind me. She: “Maybe we could get a dog that you could take care of.” Long pause. He: “I was sort of thinking about that.” Another long pause. He: “But I thought we should be simplifying.” She: “When would a dog be simplifying?” I stopped to buy ramps, and the pair walked on.

The spouse, the NBP, and I were discussing the plight of our neighbors, a married couple. He has dementia, and she, after much anguish, placed him in a memory care facility. Things were fine for a while, but he became violent, had to be restrained, moved to a hospital, and sedated. This has been taking a heavy toll on his wife. I said that if such dementia ever happened to me, they should find a way to kill me. I said that I knew that this would be hard but that is what they should do. The NBP’s face was blank. The spouse looked thoughtful and then said, “That might not be so hard.”

It Happened One Night at the Biergarten

Tony later challenged preconceptions that I did not know I had, but I first paid attention to him when he said that he was going to be fifty-nine in a couple of weeks. I found out that his birthday was the same as the spouse’s and a few days after mine. Susan, the woman with him, then talked about astrological signs as if she were a believer.

I learned that she was a designer of burlesque costumes. She showed me pictures that featured beautiful masks but also some remarkable clothing. I said that she should design for professional wrestling, and she said that she would love to: “You know how much they pay for their clothes!” She has had a shop for five years in DUMBO, a trendy and expensive part of Brooklyn, so she must be having some sort of success.

Her twenty-one-year-old son was in college at Oswego, which I knew was part of the State University of New York system, but I did not know where that college was. She was geographically challenged and said something about it being north and west of Syracuse and on a large lake the name of which she did not know. Another patron of the bar said that Oswego was on Lake Ontario, which, I concede, is a large lake. I said that it must be cold up there, and Susan went on for several minutes about the time she visited her son at college in winter. She told me that he had started out majoring in zoology, wanting to be a veterinarian, but was now majoring in business with a minor in zoology.

I asked the soon-to-have-a-birthday-guy what he did. “Relaxing” was the reply. He continued that after twenty-five years, he had just retired from being a subway conductor. He told me that he had roots in Alabama near Mississippi where his father met his mother who was originally from Belize. He said that his daughter had completed college at a downtown Brooklyn institution, but she was still finding herself. She was taking more classes, but he did not say in what.

Tony told the owner that the bartender of several months, Cem (pronounced Gem), was a keeper. I concurred and said that I was surprised when a few weeks ago the thirty-eight-year-old Cem said how much he liked the movie The Best Years of our Lives. I was surprised again when the retired conductor immediately said that Fredric March was a great actor. He continued by saying that he was a big fan of old movies and the stars of yesteryear. We were soon discussing Barbara Stanwyck, Loretta Young, Lucille Ball, Gary Cooper, Spencer Tracy, Glenn Ford, Richard Widmark, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, and many more. Eventually I asked Tony and Susan if it bothered them when they were young and watching old movies, that the films had few Black actors. Both immediately said “Yes.” Tony said there were Black films in the old days and mentioned Ethel Waters and Cabin in the Sky, but said that, of course, although he has a soft spot for Hattie McDaniel, there were almost no Black actors in films intended for the broadest audience. The discussion then naturally turned to the importance and talents of Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte. 

When Tony learned my name, he asked if it was short for Randolph, and I said it was. Then I told him my name was inspired by an old movie star. My mother had told me that she was convinced I was going to be a girl and had not picked a boy’s name. I lay in my bassinet cooing and gurgling (I am sure that I never cried) unnamed for days when my mother spotted a magazine article or ad featuring Randolph Scott. Liking his first name, she gave it to me. (There is no mention of my father in this story.) While Tony knew who Scott was, Susan did not, and in the modern way, pulled up a picture of him on her phone. Damn, he was good looking. I went on to tell them that there were rumors starting in the 1930s that Cary Grant and Randolph Scott who lived together were lovers. Susan seemed shocked by that possibility.

Just before leaving, I asked Tony for his absolute favorite movie from the distant past. He said he could not remember the title (we had both bemoaned the aging phenomenon of having facts on the tips of tongues that won’t emerge), but he said it starred Claudette Colbert as a runaway heiress and Clark Gable as a reporter. I said It Happened One Night, and Tony replied, “That’s it.” And again, Tony surprised me. I would never have guessed when I met this retired conductor that he would have heard of this movie, one of my favorites, too, an all-time great in this critic’s opinion, and one I have watched many times never failing to find it marvelous.

I had no conception when I came into the biergarten that I would talk to a designer of burlesque costumes or that I would meet a retired subway conductor who shared a birthday with the spouse or that I would talk with him about the 1934 movie that was the first, and still one of the few, to win the Academy Awards for best picture, actress, actor, director, and writing. (I have to make it a point if I meet Tony again to discuss the famous hitchhiking scene in It Happened One Night.) And various preconceptions about who might be an aficionado of old movies with Katherine Hepburn or Ann Sothern, Joel McCrea or Jimmy Stewart were definitely challenged. Perhaps this was just a reminder of what I should have already known: people are not always easy to typecast and movies have power in all sorts of ways over all sorts of people.


I have been watching too much sports, but I have noticed something important. Whoever scores last in baseball, football, basketball, lacrosse, hockey, or soccer game does not necessarily win. But invariably in tennis whoever gets the last point is victorious. So, to be a good tennis player, just win the last point.

If the United States is to become more like Florida, expect more breathing difficulties. A recent report documents that air quality improved across much of the country from 2015 through 2021. It, however, got worse during this period in Florida.

The pope said that women could participate in a meeting of bishops that will help the pontiff determine the future of the church. Only twenty-one centuries for this tiny step. God does move in mysterious ways. The pope, however, according to the news article, “remains adamant in his opposition to ordaining women as priests and cautious about making women deacons.”

Parental rights. That is the cry to keep the mention of gender or same-sex relationships out of schools. Parents, it is said, should decide how their children should be introduced to such issues. States are also loosening child labor laws under the banner of parental rights. Parents, not the state, should determine whether a fourteen-year-old can work at night in a meatpacking plant. However, states have been banning transgender medical treatment even if the parents would consent to it. I might think it is matter of parental rights to educate children on religion, but Texas is moving to post a version of the Ten Commandments in all classrooms. Parental rights don’t always seem to matter.

Kansas has banned transgender girls from competing in high school athletics. A news report said that there are three transgender people competing in girls high school sports in that state among the over 41,000 girls involved in such sports. I guess every more pressing problem in Kansas has already been addressed and resolved.

New York City still fascinates because it still often mystifies me. We old guys had lunch at a small hot dog place. We decided to move on to another place after downing our food to let others have our places. To our surprise, in that neighborhood we had trouble finding a suitable coffee house. After wandering a few blocks, I peered into a coffee and tea place and saw three or four unoccupied tables. The server, a young woman, said it was all right if we hung out for a while but notified us that their credit card machine was not working.  No problem, I replied.  The four of us came in, and I announced that I was buying.  The server, the only visible employee, seemed inexperienced, and it took a long time to produce a large espresso, a latte, a macchiato, and a bubble tea. I then saw a sign that said that no bills larger than a twenty were permitted. I only had a few singles and a $50 bill. I told her that because I was paying for everybody, it should be all right for her to take my fifty. She was hesitant but consented. I then bought $7 worth of herbal tea to make the change for the fifty even less. The total bill was $31.25. She calculated the bill by noting on a pad the price of every ordered item and brought out a calculator to get the tally. I dug out two dimes and a nickel and the single, which I placed down with the fifty expecting a twenty back. I sat down, and she brought over my change, which turned out to be two fives, nine singles, and four quarters. I wondered what kind of place this was. It did not accept credit cards but did not have a twenty in the till. I looked around and did not see a cash register. She started making the coffee drinks and said that they were out of milk. Was almond-vanilla milk okay, or perhaps half and half? Again, I thought about what kind of coffee-tea place does not have milk. We were there for ninety minutes. During that time only one other customer came in and quickly left. Twenty minutes later an older Asian lady walked in and said something to the server. I could hear the server say, “She left a while ago.”  The Asian woman turned and left without replying. This could not really be a coffee-tea place, I thought, but if it were a front for something else, I could not figure out what it was.

Cooking with Home Schoolers (concluded)

Even though the market tour and cooking class we recently had in Yucatan were disappointing, that day still did significantly expand my experiences. I have learned that on a trip, interchanges with fellow travelers can expand my horizons. It is natural, at least for me, to have at least a few minutes’ conversation with the Australians, Canadians, Americans, Dutch, French, and Bulgarians I meet at historic sites or restaurants. And when traveling in a group, there are many and longer interchanges with fellow travelers in the breakfast rooms or on a bus or van. While traveling I have met an Italian professor specializing in Italian-American literature who introduced me to a novelist I later read; a heart transplant surgeon whose sense of humor coincided with mine; a retired fire captain who had a repertoire of Moth-quality stories; his friend who gushed as he showed me the pictures of the classic fire engines he had restored; a woman whose son was a number-crunching baseball analyst; a small town newspaperman with interesting insights on America; and many more.

Something similar happened on this trip, not because we were traveling in a group, but because of our accommodations. We stayed in a small condo complex that had apartments and freestanding villas. We walked through an unlocked metal gate to a courtyard with a swimming pool. Villas were on the sides and apartments facing the Caribbean at the far end. We were in a two-bedroom apartment on the second floor with a view of the water from a sunken living room and an adjacent deck. The view was beautiful, although the removal of one palm tree in front of the deck would have made the view even better. The place had comfortable beds, chairs, and sofas. The kitchen was well equipped but had inadequate lighting. The showers, however, emitted a puny stream. Water pressure, we learned, was a problem in all of Yucatan, but ours was especially bad. The water comes from aquifers laden with showerhead-clogging limestone. After a few days of dancing under the drops from the showers in an almost futile attempt to rinse off soap, the spouse got the showerheads replaced. The shower was not what I would call luxurious, but it was better than before. The split AC system was efficient although we seldom ran it except in the bedroom at night. All in all, the place had the feel of Old Florida, which I found attractive.

The complex had a social center, the pool, where conversations were struck up in and out of the water. The spouse had found the place on an English-language website. Not surprisingly, it was a North American enclave. The owners and renters at the condo complex we met were from the United States or Canada. The most interesting person was a surgeon from Milwaukee. He was originally from Indiana but he spent many boyhood summers in Wisconsin, and we swapped stories about old and new Wisconsin. And later, he helped convince me that I needed to go to an emergency room, a visit that may have saved my life. (But that is another story.)

Alma’s cooking class was also a place for a social interchange. The other family we shopped, cooked, and ate with were from Topeka, Kansas. I asked why the two girls were not in school. I was told that they were. Danica and Delaney were home schooled, and the mother said that the trip was part of their education. The girls had completed reading projects on Yucatan and the Mayans before coming to the peninsula, and the trip was another step in their schooling.

The family took many trips. All were preceded by assigned readings. The family had a goal of visiting all fifty states before the girls completed their home schooling.

The mother volunteered that her daughters had been attending a “Christian school,” which had gone into remote learning at the beginning of the pandemic. That had not worked well for the girls. They quickly completed their assignments and got bored. The parents wanted the girls to be challenged more and decided that they could do that through home schooling. The parents were members of a home schooling association, and both of them were involved in the educational instruction.

The father, a financial planner, was the bread winner. His wife proudly told us that he managed a $50 million portfolio. Many of his clients were widows who had not taken part in their family finances. Desmond said that few had even bought a car and were relieved that he would participate in such a transaction. He said his clients always seemed to want to buy a Honda, and he had helped purchase more CR-Vs than he could remember. This pleased the NBP who loves Hondas.

Although the car purchases may have been in Topeka, he said that he could work from almost anywhere with an internet connection. Thus, the family could travel extensively.

I went to the cooking class to learn about food, but instead what I really learned, yet again, was to check my prejudices. I had not given it much thought, but I am sure that I had assumed that there was something off about home schoolers. I probably thought I would meet with evangelism at least for home schooling; diatribes about the loss of “values” in the schools; coerced into praying before a meal; and ill-informed political and health comments. There was none of that. Yes, the family and its members were a bit precious and self-involved. (They asked almost nothing about the three of us, even though each of us in our own way, I assure you, is fascinating. But this did not separate them out from many, many other American families.) Mostly, the four of them just seemed nice and loving.

Perhaps that is why I did not tell them what I had once heard. At one of the times when there was a scandal because a teacher was having an affair with her high school student, a man said that he thought this was not a big deal because such sex had not been harmful to him when he was a boy. He paused, looked reflective, and continued, “But, then again, I was home schooled.”

And I forgot to ask them what food they would get when they got back home to Topeka. I wonder if any would have responded, “Bierocks.”

Cooking with Home Schoolers

I try to experience local foods when traveling. Calvin Trillin wrote that, when in a new town, he would not ask for the best restaurant but instead ask a long-time resident what that person would want to eat upon returning to home after being away for a year or two. In other words, what was the local comfort food. And thus, as a result, you might have an ice cream potato in Coeur d’Alene, a breaded pork tenderloin sandwich in Kokomo, or chicken riggies in Utica.

I don’t know how to do this in a country where I don’t speak the language. Instead, I have found myself in markets pointing at possible palatable foodstuffs and indicating with gestures how much I want. This is always an adventure and sometimes a successful one.

Only recently have I done what I should have done decades ago—book a food tour at the beginning of the trip. That is what the spouse, the NBP, and I had done in Merida, Yucatan’s capital city, in pre-Covid days. In addition, there had been three others on the tour—a pair of medical doctors from the Netherlands finishing their training and–in the small world department–another Dutch doctor who had just finished up her training. She had not met the other two until that day. Apparently, Holland, while not that large, is not so small that everyone knows each other—not even the doctors. However, we all learned that there is a special connection between Yucatan and Holland. The Yucatecans love Edam cheese and use hollowed out balls of it for one of their signature dishes. According to Jose, the food tour guide, Yucatan recently sent representatives to the Netherlands to discuss Edam cheese.

Our food tour took us through the narrow, crowded passageways of the major food market of Merida where fruits and vegetables, honey and vanilla, spices and chiles are sold. (Another nearby market sold meat.) Food stalls were abundant, and Meridians crowded around them for lunch and snacks. Jose would stop and procure the specialties of an establishment generally not more than a few feet wide. We tried things we otherwise would not have and learned the difference between panuchos and salbutes, that turkey and venison are staples, what sopa de lima is, and that mole is not used. Instead, a black bean paste, sold in huge blocks in the market, is the base of many dishes. We went outside the market and had a terrific ceviche in a tiny restaurant followed by creatively flavored and delicious ice cream. This tour, coming at the beginning of the Yucatan sojourn, stood us in good stead for the rest of our stay as it encouraged us to eat items that we otherwise would not have understood on menus. As a result of the tour, we continued to eat panuchos at many places (they are similar to but different from salbutes—both are fried platforms for other foods, but panuchos have a black bean paste injected into them while hot).

From my standpoint that food tour had been satisfying, so going to a different part of the Yucatan peninsula, I looked for a similar but different local experience. I booked a rather expensive combination market excursion and cooking class in the home of a Yucatecan host.

First, we had to find that home, which was a forty-minute drive from where we were staying. One of the three of us was confident, incredibly confident, that she knew how to get to the location. We got lost. We eventually pulled up to a hotel to ask for directions but thought that it wiser to hire a cab to lead us to our destination. We were fifteen minutes late but found our host and a family across the street waiting in what until recently had been an industrial area in Playa del Carmen. After we apologized profusely, we walked a block. The host pulled aside a solid gate fronting the sidewalk, and we entered a courtyard surrounded by three or four buildings, each the home of one or more families. Through an open door in one of the buildings, and we were in the host’s kitchen and dining room, where we chatted for a few moments.

Alma, the host, talked a bit about the history and growth of the fast-growing city. After she explained what we would be preparing, we went to a market a few blocks away. I was disappointed. I was looking for a central, city market like ones I have visited in Florence, Barcelona, Istanbul, Budapest, and Merida where there are dozens and dozens of vendors selling all sorts of things I do not recognize. I wanted to see pyramids of unknown fruits and stretches of exotic vegetables with food stalls hawking unfamiliar prepared food. This, however, was only a neighborhood market equivalent to the ones where I buy fruits and vegetables several times a week in Brooklyn. We did learn a little about some new-to-me foods, but not much. After Alma bought a few things, others jaunted but I trudged (it was getting hot) back to her kitchen.

We then began to assist Alma and her aunt (or perhaps it was her sister) in the preparation of what would be our lunch. Guacamole was first. Alma had two rigid rules for this dish. First, use a mortar and pestle, never a blender. She maintained that blending altered the taste of the guac ingredients. (She did use a blender to make a marinade for chicken.) Second, no lime. This was to the chagrin of the two girls, ten and eight, who with their parents were our cooking companions. The girls loved limes and sucked any they could get their hands on. Perhaps those two were disappointed, but the guacamole was delicious.

We made our own tortillas. Alma’s twist: she colored part of the masa with beet juice producing a red tortilla or mixed with the non-colored dough for a binary effect. I, however, could discern no taste difference in the beet infused tortillas with the nonbinary ones. (In any event, I prefer wheat tortillas to corn ones.) Two presses were used to form the tortillas, a metal devicemuch like ones I have seen elsewhere and a larger, wood one, which I guess harkened back to older days. The product from each seemed to be identical.

We soon sat down to lunch eating guacamole and tortillas stuffed with the meat flavored with the marinade Alma had made. It was pleasant but also disappointing. I had not had the culinary discoveries I had been hoping for. The market was not what I had envisioned. I own a mortar and pestle, and although I seldom do, I know how to use it. I had not made a tortilla before, but I already knew the basics. The food was tasty, but nothing made me say, Oh, wow. Alma emailed us the recipes we had cooked as well as other ones. Even though I am a regular recipe-reader, I have not even looked at what she sent.

(concluded May 4)


The NRA recently had its convention. It is held only once a year. Mass shootings occur, however, more than once a week. And other gun crimes and gun suicides occur multiple times each day.

Guns were not allowed in the NRA convention hall when Trump addressed the assemblage. I did not hear any protests that this restriction violated Second Amendment rights.

Some people see gun possession as a God-given right, and a greater percentage of white evangelicals own guns than other demographic groups.

Sometimes people ask what type(s) of firearm(s) Jesus will possess when He comes back to save us. However, I don’t see how he will pass a background check; He was convicted of a felony.

I was taught it was demeaning and wrong to refer to a person as “it.” If so, I am confused how to refer to some people. The Supreme Court has told me that corporations are people with free speech and religious rights. What is the proper pronoun when I am referring to a corporation? Interestingly, the Supreme Court in the Citizens United decision referred to the corporation as an “it.” (I have previously written about pronouns in my post “People the Barricades! We Need a Pronoun Revolution,” June 28 and July 1, 2019.)

A physicist has posited that dark matter was not created in the initial Big Bang, but in another Big Bang a few weeks later. I am sure that there could be lots of questions about this hypothesis, but I wonder how time such as “weeks” was measured during the universe’s infancy.

Shouldn’t Dan Feyer be more well known, which means shouldn’t I have heard of him before this week? Recently he won the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament championship for the ninth time.

At a car rental place in Cancun, a clerk mistook me for a famous “announcer.” I had no idea who she had in mind, but I did not disabuse of her mistake. Perhaps, I thought, it will get me better service. That was my mistake.

If we are to make the rest of America like Florida, we will increase the nation’s infant mortality. Florida ranks in the bottom half of the states when it comes to baby deaths.

Watching a beer ad, I wondered, Why, if you have a good tasting beer, would you put a lime in it?

Phantom of the Opera, Broadway’s longest-running show, recently closed. I live in New York City and go to the theater frequently, but I never saw Phantom. I never saw Cats either. I have not seen Wicked. I have not seen Hamilton on the stage. However, I have seen Topdog/Underdog and Shucked.

New York has forty-one venues classified as Broadway theaters. Only six of them were built after 1927 although many of them have been refurbished over the last century. The peak of Broadway was from 1923-29 with more than two hundred new shows opening every year during that span. Forty-one new shows opened on Broadway from May 2022 through April 2023.

First Sentences

“Cooking starts with your hands, the most important and basic of all implements.” James Beard’s Theory and Practice of Good Cooking.

“Back in 1961, when women wore shirtwaist dresses and joined garden clubs and drove legions of children around in seatbeltless cars without giving it a second thought; back before anyone knew there’d even be a sixties movement, much less one that its participants would spend the next sixty years chronicling; back when the big wars were over and the secret wars had just begun and people were starting to think fresh and believe everything was possible, the thirty-year-old Madeline Zott rose before dawn every morning and felt certain of just one thing: her life was over.” Bonnie Garmus, Lessons in Chemistry.

“The man called the ‘Emperor of New York’ was also known as Shields Green.” Imani Perry, South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation.

“In October there were yellow trees.” Claire Keegan, Small Things Like These.

“My earliest memory of Leon dates back to the 1960s, when he was living in Paris with his wife, Rita, my grandmother.” Philippe Sands, East West Street.

“Bill Rankin sat motionless before his typewriter, grimly seeking a lead for the interview he was about to write.” Earl Derr Biggers, Behind That Curtain.

“I have been told by many people that I have an unusual way of looking at the world.” Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions.

“The telltale sign that you are at the wedding of a rich person is the napkins.” Xochitl Gonzalez, Olga Dies Dreaming.

“As his chauffeur nosed the sleek black Rolls Royce through the dawn streets of Paris, Wilfred ‘Biffy’ Dunderdale had little inkling that his actions over the coming months would have such immense historic significance, or that he would end up serving as a role model for the world’s most famous (fictional) secret agent, ‘007’ – James Bond.” Damien Lewis, Agent Josephine: American Beauty, French Hero, British Spy.

“On a bright, unseasonably warm afternoon in early December, Brandon Trescott walked out of the spa at the Chatham Bars Inn on Cape Cod and got into a taxi.” Dennis Lehane, Moonlight Mile.

“On March 15, 1889, hurricane winds struck Samoa’s Apia Harbor in the South Pacific, catching two anchored American warships by surprise.” Mark Clague, O Say Can You Hear? A Cultural Biography of The Star-Spangled Banner.

“There is a glorious part of England known as the Donheads.” Jane Gardam, The Man in the Wooden Hat.

“Night had fallen in the rugged oil-boom city of Tulsa, Oklahoma, when the squad of detectives appeared on a downtown street.” Adam Hochschild, American Midnight: The Great War, A Violent Peace, and Democracy’s Forgotten Crisis.

“Certainties for architecture students are few.” Matthew Frederick, 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School.


“I wouldn’t mind paying taxes, if I knew they were going to a friendly country.” Dick Gregory.

President Biden is a disappointment. He has visited scenes of natural disasters and not once flicked out rolls of paper towels.

How old do you have to be to understand why I was taught to squeeze the toothpaste tube only from the bottom?

I am wondering when Florida or some other state will ban reruns of “Star Trek.” Tony Horwitz in Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War (1998) reports that some white supremacists protested the show because to them, Mr. Spock—half human, half-Vulcan—was a coded promoter of miscegenation.

A story in a Jimmy Carter biography that I hope is true: Carter had said that he followed what his parents taught him, and he would never tell a lie. A reporter interviewed Jimmy’s mother and asked whether it was true that the Carters told no lies. Miss Lillian replied, “Maybe a little white one.” Asked for an example, Miss Lillian continued, “Remember how when you walked in here, I told you how sweet and pretty you were?”

Some people have tact and others tell the truth.

We had made it to the open sky after ascending the steep, slippery, worn, damp stairs. We were wet from the plunge in the cave’s pool, a cenote. At the picnic table next to us, two women were also toweling off. One then began putting on suntan lotion. I said that if she were planning to go into another cenote a few hundred meters away, that was mistake since she would just have to wash it off. To keep the waters in cenotes uncontaminated, swimmers must shower off lotions, perfumes, deodorants, and the like before going into the water. Even though you might think of Yucatan as a warm place, the cenote showers are colder than any mixed drinks I had there. I learned that the women were from the Netherlands. I asked to see their thumbs. They looked puzzled. I said that I heard that the Dutch all had large thumbs to plug holes in the dikes. This is a witticism I invariably drop when meeting someone from Holland because it invariably amuses me and no one else. One was a nurse and the other a social worker. They worked together in a drug addiction clinic for 18–24-year-olds. Even in the civilized Netherlands addiction destroys lives. It was sad that they said that fentanyl was becoming an increasing problem.

A boss a while back was being interviewed on television. He said that, of course, no one actually made the median salary. Yet another reason, I thought, to get out of the job I was in.

An elderly woman at the pharmacy was deciding which of her drugs she should take home because she could not afford them all. I felt very sadly American as the scene unfolded.

A few years back an observer said, “Our forefathers objected to taxation without representation. Now we would be glad to get taxation without misrepresentation.”

Boston Marathon: Terror Times Two

The Boston Marathon has noted what happened a decade ago. On April 15, 2013, two pressure cooker bombs exploded near the finish line of the race. Three people were killed and about 260 injured. Three days later, authorities publicly identified two brothers as suspects. Shortly thereafter the brothers killed a college policeman and wounded several other officers, one of whom died from his wounds a year later. One of the brothers was killed as the police tried to apprehend them, while the other was captured, put on trial two years later, convicted, and sentenced to death.

The bombing, the capture, the trial, and sentencing all were big news stories.  After all, this was terrorism striking at an iconic American event on Patriot’s Day, which memorializes another iconic event, the day often regarded as the opening of the fight for American independence. And it was Islamic terrorism.

Books have been written and movies made about these events. This is as it should be. Lives were lost, limbs amputated, and nightmares endured. These are stories worth telling and remembering.

A few days after that Boston Marathon bombing another, almost unknown, tragedy occurred at the West Fertilizer Company storage facility in West, Texas. Emergency service personnel were responding to a fire there when a horrific explosion occurred.  Fifteen died with up to 200 injured.  A fifty-unit apartment building was destroyed along with as many as 80 houses with many more damaged. A crater 92 feet wide and 12 feet deep was created.

Two American tragedies occurring almost at the same time. We know a lot about one, but few know or remember the other where there was a greater loss of life and the destruction of the equivalent of a small town. There are reasons for the different memories.  A bombing at the Boston Marathon makes us all feel vulnerable. We might not be spectators at that event, but we might attend other sports contests. We might sense that such a tragedy might happen outside a church or a concert or a rally. It might happen at a mall or a commuter terminal. It could easily happen at some place where we have been. On the other hand, few of us relate in the same way to an ammonium nitrate storage facility, or even to deaths at a work site, even though workplace deaths average nearly 5,000 a year in this country—much higher, of course, than deaths by terrorism in this country.

And, of course, Boston’s was Islamic terrorism, and that strikes chords that an industrial explosion does not.

There have been responses to the Boston bombing. Security has increased for events that bear any similarity to the Boston Marathon. I know of no cost estimates for the increased manpower and searches and barricades, but it must be immense. On the other hand, response to the West tragedy seems minimal. This is especially striking because an investigative report a year later stated that the explosive material was not safely stored, and that federal, state, and local regulations regarding such substances were inadequate. The explosion was labeled “preventable.” In contrast, was the Boston Marathon bombing “preventable”?

If Islamic terrorism had leveled a small American village resulting in fifteen deaths, there would be an outraged and rapid response, but we don’t seem to bother ourselves if it is merely an explosion in a corporate facility. But then a twist. Several years after the Texas tragedy, law enforcement said that arson was the cause of the fire that led to the explosion. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives posted a reward for information leading to the arrest of those who set the fire, but so far the offer only dangles.  Perhaps if the ATF had labeled the event as terrorism, there would be action.