now the graveyards?




[T]he crowd approached; they were bawling and hissing round a dingy hearse and dingy mourning coach, in which mourning coach there was only one mourner, dressed in the dingy trappings that were considered essential to the dignity of the position. The position appeared by no means to please him, however, with an increasing rabble surrounding the coach, deriding him, making grimaces at him, and incessantly groaning and calling out: “Yah! Spies! Tst! Yaha! Spies!” with many compliments too numerous and forcible to repeat.

…. “What is it, brother? What’s it about?”

“_I_ don’t know,” said the man. “Spies! Yaha! Tst! Spies!”

He asked another man. “Who is it?”

“_I_ don’t know,” returned the man, clapping his hands to his mouth nevertheless, and vociferating in a surprising heat and with the greatest ardour, “Spies! Yaha! Tst, tst! Spi–ies!”

… “Was he a spy?” asked Mr. Cruncher.

“Old Bailey spy,” returned his informant. “Yaha! Tst! Yah! Old Bailey Spi–i–ies!”

“Why, to be sure!” exclaimed Jerry, recalling the Trial at which he had assisted. “I’ve seen him. Dead, is he?”

“Dead as mutton,” returned the other, “and can’t be too dead. Have ’em out, there! Spies! Pull ’em out, there! Spies!”

The idea was so acceptable in the prevalent absence of any idea, that the crowd caught it up with eagerness, and loudly repeating the suggestion to have ’em out, and to pull ’em out, mobbed the two vehicles so closely that they came to a stop. On the crowd’s opening the coach doors, the one mourner scuffled out by himself and was in their hands for a moment; but he was so alert, and made such good use of his time, that in another moment he was scouring away up a bye-street, after shedding his cloak, hat, long hatband, white pocket-handkerchief, and other symbolical tears.

These, the people tore to pieces and scattered far and wide with great enjoyment, while the tradesmen hurriedly shut up their shops; for a crowd in those times stopped at nothing, and was a monster much dreaded.

They had already got the length of opening the hearse to take the coffin out, when some brighter genius proposed instead, its being escorted to its destination amidst general rejoicing. Practical suggestions being much needed, this suggestion, too, was received with acclamation, and the coach was immediately filled with eight inside and a dozen out, while as many people got on the roof of the hearse as could by any exercise of ingenuity stick upon it. Among the first of these volunteers was Jerry Cruncher himself, who modestly concealed his spiky head from the observation of Tellson’s, in the further corner of the mourning coach.

The officiating undertakers made some protest against these changes in the ceremonies; but, the river being alarmingly near, and several voices remarking on the efficacy of cold immersion in bringing refractory members of the profession to reason, the protest was faint and brief. … Thus, with beer-drinking, pipe-smoking, song-roaring, and infinite caricaturing of woe, the disorderly procession went its way, recruiting at every step, and all the shops shutting up before it. Its destination was the old church of Saint Pancras, far off in the fields. It got there in course of time; insisted on pouring into the burial-ground; finally, accomplished the interment of the deceased Roger Cly in its own way, and highly to its own satisfaction.


— Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities; Book the Second–The Golden Thread; Chapter XIV, The Honest Tradesman







There was an article in The New York Times this morning that caught my eye:

“Battle Over Confederate Monuments Moves to “the Cemeteries.” by Julie Bosman, The New York Times, September 21, 2017



The following are some excerpts from the article.

One by one, Confederate monuments are coming down from their perches in front of courthouses, in public squares, along city boulevards.

Now opponents to the memorials are looking through cemetery gates for more.

Local officials and residents, outraged by the violence in Charlottesville, Va., last month and determined to clear their cities of markers that glorify the Confederacy, are pushing for the removal of Confederate monuments that have adorned the graves of soldiers for decades.

In the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, a six-foot granite monument with a bronze plaque dating to 1925 was covered with a tarp and whisked away in the middle of the night after activists called for its removal and spray-painted the word “No” on its back.

The mayor of West Palm Beach, Fla., ordered a Confederate memorial taken out of a city-operated cemetery in August. In Columbus, Ohio, vandals recently decapitated a statue of a Confederate soldier in a cemetery, leaving city officials scrambling to respond.

Days after the protests in Charlottesville, Paul Soglin, the mayor of Madison, directed that a plaque honoring the Confederacy inside Forest Hill Cemetery, a city-owned property near the University of Wisconsin campus, be removed. ….

The calls to remove the monument in Madison, and other monuments like it, have given rise to questions of the place of Confederate memorials and cemeteries in daily life: Is a monument in a cemetery really on public display? Though most people rarely enter cemeteries, are their contents — statues, monuments and plaques — subject to scrutiny by people in the community? While a Confederate statue in a busy town square honors the dead, does a monument in a tranquil, little-trafficked cemetery have the same effect? … [How many angels can fit on the head of a pin?]

The monument targeted for removal, boxy and carved from a smooth gray granite, is engraved with the names of dozens of soldiers, mostly men who were imprisoned and died at nearby Camp Randall during the Civil War. It stands prominently in front of the men’s graves, their names chiseled on their headstones in simple block letters — C. A. Hollingsworth, H. Faulks and L. Galloway among them — alongside their regimens and home states, frequently Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi. (Those who favor removing the monument say they have no intention of altering the gravestones.)

Three separate city council committees intend to study the memorial, which was installed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy around 1931 and also honors a local woman who regularly tended the graves, and make recommendations on what to do with it — whether to alter the structure, remove it entirely or append more information to it to give visitors greater context.





I wrote the following in email to my wife this morning, commenting upon the Times article.


What’s next?

There is a word (or words) for what’s going on:

collective insanity;

mass hysteria.

To get a feeling for this type of mass hysteria, one should read Dickens’s “A Tale of Two Cities.” Think it’s likely to be read by the self appointed “minders” of public monuments?

I doubt it.

You don’t desecrate grave memorials and plaques.

We thought the Taliban idol smashers were bad. But, then, the comparison would be lost on the PC zealots.

I thought the defacing of gravestones by hooligans and sometimes by hate mongers (e.g., desecration of Jewish cemeteries by anti-Semites) was supposed to be a crime. There have been several articles about this in the Times, for example, reporting on recent vandalism at Jewish Cemeteries in Missouri and Philadelphia.

How about letting the dead and departed — all the dead and departed — rest in peace?



— Roger W. Smith

   September 2017







“The four arrested youths — a 15-year-old, two 16-year-olds and a 17-year-old — were charged on Wednesday with juvenile delinquency. If charged as adults, they could have faced charges of desecration of venerated objects, conspiracy to commit desecration and criminal mischief.” — “4 Youths Arrested in Vandalism at Jewish Cemetery in New Jersey.’ The New York Times, January 11, 2008



The punishment is supposed to fit the crime. But, when the “crime” is destroying Confederate symbols in the burial plot of someone’s ancestors, a crime is no longer a crime, it seems. — Roger W. Smith

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Fifth Avenue, Wednesday afternoon (where are the cars?)




IMG_3143 (2)

Fifth Avenue, NYC; 1:40 p.m.; Wednesday, September 20, 2017



I took the above photo yesterday (September 20, 2017) on Fifth Avenue at 1:40 p.m. The photo was taken on a Wednesday afternoon on the avenue near 45th Street. In other words, in the heart of the Manhattan on a business day.

It can be plainly seen that there is little traffic. Certainly, no traffic jam.

And yet, social engineers — revered by Manhattan based yuppies who hate cars — want to implement a so called “congestion pricing” plan (already in effect in London), under which automobiles entering central sections of Manhattan on weekdays would be charged a fee.

Wouldn’t you know it, the New York Times editorial board is all for the plan. (See “A Solution to New York City’s Gridlock,” editorial, September 19, 2017.)

One thing the Times editorial writers lack is common sense, or any kind of feeling for life as it is actually experienced by the average person. If they would just look around them (see my photo), they would see that the “problem” they are wringing their hands about is NOT a problem. Public transit is remarkably efficient, despite problems which regularly occur. Traffic moves well, for the most part, especially when taking into account the concentration of economic, entertainment, and recreational activities and the population density in Manhattan. Pedestrian traffic flows beautifully — another thing the Times bemoans (the state of pedestrian traffic, that is), stating, incredibly, that the case is just the opposite, when everyone who walks knows that this is not true.

I myself like (love) to walk in the City. But, I have nothing against automobiles. There is plenty of room for cars, buses, and pedestrians, thank you!

As one Times reader noted (letter to the editor, May 31, 2016), congestion pricing “is a good way to hasten the transformation of southern Manhattan into an island for only the gilded rich, a process already occurring.”


— Roger W. Smith

  September 21, 2017




See also:

“A Plan to Destroy Fifth Avenue”

posted here at


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how to write descriptive prose




“Six boys came running over the hill half an hour early that afternoon, running hard, their heads down, their forearms working, their breath whistling.”


— John Steinbeck, The Red Pony


One can just imagine how the boys were running: “heads down, … forearms working, … breath whistling.” Have your ever seen it? That’s just how boys in a hurry to get somewhere, exerting themselves, do run.






“The turkeys, roosting in the tree out of coyotes’ reach, clicked drowsily. The fields glowed with a gray frost-like light and in the dew the tracks of rabbits and of field mice stood out sharply.”


— John Steinbeck, The Red Pony

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“Memories of the past make us who we are today.”



A reader of my blog post from yesterday about my college roommate


“you really do know …”


wrote, in response to the post: “Memories of the past make us who we are today.”

While the point of her comment may seem obvious, I found it to be right on target in terms of understanding what underlies such posts.





I have discussed the importance of memory — my and, by extension, others’ memories — in an earlier post of mine


The focus was on memories one has of ancestors and intimate acquaintances from one’s past.

This reader’s comment concerns the importance of memory as on ongoing thing in our lived experience — including memories of still living persons and incidents in one’s daily life, from the distant past to recent experiences — in making us who we are.

I am blessed with a good memory, which is no doubt something in my brain chemistry (to put it crudely), but I think also that memory derives from one’s emotional makeup. In my case, it seems that I recall every significant person in my life, and most of the people I have known only in passing, or as coworkers or fellow students, with far more than a hazy set of recollections. Many particulars have stayed in my mind, including all sorts of little details that bring the person to life when remembering them. Similarly, I seem to remember practically every conversation I have ever had. No doubt, that is an exaggeration. But, I do recall many conversations from long ago in minute detail, word for word, figuratively speaking.

It has occurred to me that this may have to do with my attitude. I don’t take people for granted. I pay minute attention to what they say. I don’t WANT to forget. Ergo, I remember!

A similar thing is the case with the life experiences I have had, beginning at a very early age. They always had a strong impact upon me. I was rarely indifferent.





It seems that I may have, if I may be permitted to compliment myself, a “novelistic eye.” That I think like a writer to whom little details that might be overlooked are important, portentous, full of implications. It is said that Tolstoy could remember practically everything from his childhood (as can be seen in his first novel, Childhood). So, that the ability to remember may not indicate that one is a genius, but — I would be inclined to say — indicates something about how one experiences things, what is important to that person. This might be seen by considering the converse, so to speak, when one does not recall things. I myself, for example, would be hard pressed to tell you how someone I met the other day was dressed, or what make and model of car someone drove. This sort of thing doesn’t interest me.





Getting back to my reader’s pithy insight (“Memories of the past make us who we are today.”), I think this is very true. All those people from my past whom I have written about on this blog, particular experiences I have recounted, incidents from various periods of my life which might seem trivial but which for me are pregnant with meaning, form, in aggregate, a sort of compost of which the present day me has been shaped. To paraphrase a cliché, we are what we remember.





One last thought. It is salutary to record such memories, and present them in as much detail and with as much novelistic skill as one can manage, because, when we are no longer living, they may be precious to our descendants. Why else would mementos, letters, diaries, and so forth of deceased persons, including great figures from literature and history, be so valued, as indeed they are?



— Roger W. Smith

  September 20, 2017

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“you really do know …”



I was miserable and lonely during my freshman orientation at Brandeis University. Recently, I read a newspaper article indicating that many college students, much more than would be expected, experience acute loneliness when they begin college.

I had been assigned to a dormitory with mostly upperclassmen. The dormitory was broken up into suites, considered innovative for its time, with six or seven rooms sharing a common area. My suitemates knew my new roommate to be: _______ . They kept saying, “Where’s ______? He hasn’t shown up yet?”

The mysterious _______ hadn’t appeared.

Exhausted from a week of orientation activities, and depressed, I crawled into bed at 9 p.m. on Sunday night, at the end of orientation week, and went to sleep.

Within a half hour or so, I was awakened by someone entering my room. It was _______, my new roommate, moving in with all his stuff. (He had a lot.) I got up immediately, flustered and embarrassed. He apologized profusely, and kept apologizing, for waking me up.

I kept apologizing myself, in turn, telling him he hadn’t bothered me at all, that I rarely went to bed that early, but had happened to this time, and that it was nice to meet him.

I was sure he thought that I was a real square and loser for going to bed so early; hence my embarrassment.





My roommate was African American. No one had said anything to me about my new roommate’s race, but it was a matter of indifference to me and I barely noticed it. I was pro black and pro civil rights. I had had limited experience with African Americans, but what limited experience I had had had been very positive. Most of it was with African Americans, lay advisors and fellow youth group members, in my church youth group.





A few weeks before the start of the academic year, my freshman year, I received a questionnaire from the college housing office in the mail. The questionnaire concerned one’s choice of a roommate. Did I have a preference as to religion (my roommate’s)? Dining preferences (kosher or non-kosher)? Recreational interests? And so on.

It took me two minutes to fill out the form, as it were. I left all the lines blank and wrote on it, “I have no preference as to roommate.”

My reasoning, which is very consistent with the beliefs and practices I have always adhered to, was that one cannot, and should not, chose friends and associates based upon external criteria such as religion, national origin, political views, etc. How can one tell if one is going to like a person or click with them based on such ridiculous criteria, is what I thought. One should be open, in principle, to anyone, until such time as they prove to be not compatible with you, as far as you are concerned.





Let me tell you about _______.

He was highly intelligent, brilliant. I half realized this, but did not fully appreciate it at the time.

He could be witty. He had a sense of the ironic.

He was soft spoken and very polite, which seemed to reflect (as I am certain was the case) that he was well raised. At the same time, paradoxically, he could be a bit cocky, thinking, not without justification, that he was cool. He was kind of dapper and suave, but by no means a gladhandler or a phony. We never talked about the opposite sex, but he had a way with the ladies.

He had grown up in Roxbury, Boston’s black ghetto. I have learned this and other things about his early years by Googling him, but at the time we attended college, we did not discuss our families or upbringing. In fact, we didn’t really have deep or serious discussions. He treated me with respect and, I realize, eventually, came to admire some things about me (including my intelligence and studiousness), but he wasn’t interested in getting to know me. I never asked him much about himself, which was unusual for me in relating to other people. This seemed to not be the case because we did not have this type of discussion. He sort of put up with me as a roommate, but it was clear he wasn’t thrilled with being stuck with a freshman for a roommate. It wasn’t in the cards for us to become close friends.

My mother said to me, when I told her about my new roommate, “You must invite _______ to dinner.” This never happened, meaning I never got around to inviting him. Somehow, I felt intuitively that _______ wouldn’t be thrilled to be invited by me (which was not an indication of disdain or dislike per se).

_______ used to say to me, “how do you feel about rooming with a spook?” Spook was a new word for me. I think he saw me as a typical white middle class suburban kid. In a way, he was stereotyping me.





I have learned things about _______ that I never knew. He wrote an autobiographical sketch of himself that was posted on line.

He grew up in Roxbury, as noted above, in the 1950’s; it wasn’t a nice neighborhood then. He was one of six children. His father was a mail carrier.

His intelligence was noticed early and he was admitted to Roxbury Latin School, Boston’s best high school. I found out only recently that a major influence on him, a teacher who provided great encouragement and steered _____ to college, probably Brandeis, was Sid Rosenthal, chairman of the English Department at Roxbury Latin.

What a fact! I didn’t know.

Sid Rosenthal, an outstanding teacher who was Jewish, lived in Newton, Massachusetts. My father, in those days, would spend a couple of days every week on the road, making “house calls” to respectable suburban communities as a piano teacher. He taught Sid’s children piano for many years, and my father and Sid became friendly.

And, Mr. Rosenthal, through in service summer courses for teachers, became acquainted with Robert Tighe, my and my two brothers’ English teacher at Canton High School in Canton, Massachusetts. Mr. Tighe was also a department chairman and outstanding teacher. The cliché “it’s a small world” seems to fit here.

As I have said, my roommate _______ and I never knew of or discussed these connections. I think it would have ameliorated our relationship.





I learned more about _______ by Googling him.

He got an 800 on his mathematics achievement test (administered by the College Board). He never bragged about this or told me.

He went on to have a distinguished academic career as a professor of computer science.

When I knew him, he did not seem to have much aptitude for languages (in contrast, as I viewed it, to myself). He hid his lamp under a bushel, as they say. In later years, I have learned, he has frequently traveled to China and learned Chinese, no mean feat.

With his high achievement test score, he would have seemed to be a very desirable applicant. He said in a blog post that he chose Brandeis because of the reputation of its mathematics department and also because it was regarded as being liberal. He made it clear that he was speaking, not only of the type of liberal mindedness that bespeaks openness and tolerance in the abstract, in general, but also, specifically, about a liberal stance on race.





_______, as I remember him, as seems to be true of many of the people we meet on life’s journey, was quite a character.

He had a squeaky, high pitched voice. He kept late hours. He was often absent from our room and would hang out with other students in a lounge on the ground floor. He would disappear, saying to me when exiting our dorm room: “Gotta grind.” To grind was a commonly used expression for studying that I first learned from him.

He hung out with math majors. They would study together and share class notes and assignments, as well as textbooks, late into the night. His math major friends were all white guys, which was not surprising. There were hardly any black students at Brandeis then. I also had the impression, feeing, that _____ was thrilled at just being in college. It had happened to him, the first member of his family to attend college, and it was to him a sort of miracle that he was there, and a thrill to be engaged in intellectual activity. He never said this. I just intuited it.





One way in which I clearly seemed to be superior, intellectually, to _______ was in the areas of culture, in depth and breadth of knowledge of the humanities. During the year I roomed with him, he took Music 101, music appreciation. He seemed to have had no prior acquaintance with classical music (which was true of most Brandeis students), unlike me. While preparing for a final exam, he kept playing Mozart’s symphony no. 35 (Hafner) over and over again on a portable record player. I would play it repeatedly when he wasn’t — it was new piece to me that I liked. He was bemused. He didn’t mind it, but I think he was thinking, why is he so interested in the piece? He doesn’t have to take the final.

_______ was taking first year German. Because it was a language math majors were told it would be advantageous to take. I wanted to write a letter of reply to Joe

mentioned in my post at

a guy from Germany whom I had met during high school at a religious youth group conference, and asked _______ if he could translate my letter for me.

_______ was at first amused and incredulous when I asked him — it was a simple letter. I think he was also flattered, surprised to be asked. He duly translated the letter into German for me.





As noted above, our suite in the dorm had a common area. Joe, the janitor (not to be confused with Joe, the guy from Germany), would take breaks there and talk with us students. On one occasion, we were talking about something of a historical nature concerning World War II. It was of a time representing Joe’s generation.

Joe made a factual statement or claim that I knew was wrong. I said something to him politely such as, “I don’t think that’s correct, Joe. I think it was _______.”

When we got back to our room, _______ admonished me sternly. “Don’t you realize that he’s not educated? You hurt his feelings.” _______ must have had his own working class, non-college educated parents in mind.

I said nothing. _______’s remarks, while well intended, were uncalled for. He didn’t realize that I was capable of considering such things, but that I felt that, by respectfully disagreeing with Joe, I was actually showing respect for him as an interlocutor, not demeaning him. I think that _______ viewed me as the pointy headed type without a clue as to human relations.

He never appreciated, for the most part, my own personal depth. Never took my measure. We did not room together after the first year. I would see him from time to time in the library where he had a part time on the circulation desk. He would ask me, “What’s up, Roger? You gonna make the dean’s list this semester?”





There were some exceptions.

Once, during the end of my freshman year, I made a witty, ironical remark to _______, sizing up a particular situation, something I am capable of. _______ said, without hesitation, something I have never forgotten: “Roger, you really do know what’s going on, but you act like you don’t.”

It’s one of the truest things about me someone else has ever said.



— Roger W. Smith

  September 2017

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Sunday morning; “The Red Pony”



Good morning, Scott.

It’s 7:22 a.m.

I’m following the foot philosophy and am going to Manhattan to take the ferry again. I’m not sure why.

I saw “Ex Libris,” the Frederick Wiseman film about the New York Public Library, last night … it’s over three hours long.

I was tired, which may have been a factor, but I wasn’t that thrilled with the film; and, I was very disappointed with Wiseman’s “lecture” Thursday evening.

Nevertheless, I am glad I saw the film.

Today, I am going at 11 a.m. to see another film at the Film Forum: “The Red Pony,” a late 1940’s film, with a score by Aaron Copland, based on the Steinbeck novella. We read it in junior HS.

I had one good teacher in junior high: Miss Hanlon, our eighth grade English teacher. She seemed to think well of me and of my appreciation of reading.

Once we were reading “The Red Pony” and I made what seems in retrospect to have been a perceptive comment about the boy, Jody’s, father. I said that he was a certain kind of stern father who had trouble showing affection for his son. I was thinking of my relationship with my own father. Miss Hanlon appreciated these comments.



Posted in Alan W. Smith (Roger W. Smith's father), general interest, my favorite films | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

“a way to avoid death”



I saw the documentary film Ex Libris, directed by Frederick Wiseman, today. The film, which is about the New York Public Library, has just been released.

In one particular scene, a discussion group at the library’s main branch on Fifth Avenue is engaged in a lively exchange of views about a book (naturally): Love in the Time of Cholera (Spanish: El amor en los tiempos del cólera) by Gabriel García Márquez. (I recognized the librarian conducting the discussion. The library is like a second home to me, and this librarian has assisted me with queries and more mundane matters related to using the library for research.)

As is noted in a Wikipedia entry, “The novel examines romantic love in myriad forms. … García Márquez’s main notion is that lovesickness is literally an illness, a disease comparable to cholera.”

This idea was batted around in the discussion group seen in the film. The compulsive pursuit of love in old age by one of the main characters was brought up. Several participants in the discussion said that they were in their seventies.

A young man spoke up and posed a rhetorical question, followed by his own answer.

“What is love?” he asked. “It’s a way to avoid death. For as long as you can.”



— Roger W. Smith

  September 16, 2017

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