Roger W. Smith is a writer and independent scholar based in New York City. His experience includes freelance writing and editing, business writing, book reviewing, and the teaching of writing and literature as an adjunct professor at St. John’s University.
Mr. Smith's interests include personal essays and opinion pieces; American and world literature; culture, especially books and reading; classical music; current issues that involve social, moral, and philosophical views; and experiences of daily living from a ground level perspective.
Sites on WordPress hosted by Mr. Smith include: (1) rogersgleanings.com (a personal site comprised of essays on a wide range of topics) ; (2) rogers-rhetoric.com (covering principles and practices of writing); (3) roger-w-smiths-dreiser.site (devoted to the author Theodore Dreiser); and (4) pitirimsorokin.com (devoted to sociologist and social philosopher Pitirim A. Sorokin).
There is no clock to regulate duration of play. “With no clock, no regulation of seconds, minutes, and hours, baseball need not submit to the inexorability of temporal limitation,” notes English professor George Grella, singing the praises of the sport in The Massachusetts Review. A “team cannot stall, or run the ball into the line to kill the clock, or manipulate the clock in order to score. A tie game does not exist — all games must end in a victory and a defeat, and a tied game could conceivably go on forever. The game succeeds in creating a temporary timelessness perfectly appropriate to its richly cyclical nature.” …
The serene and meditative state baseball can induce in the spectator, and even in a participant (an outfielder, say); the enjoyment and pure delight in simply watching. It is a thinking man’s game because it can be observed and contemplated with great satisfaction, not only by spectators or viewers, but also — even — by players. (As former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Alex Grammas put it: “there’s a lot of dead time in baseball” — this permits contemplation.) Rather than working the mind up to a frenzy, as other sports such as football and basketball do, baseball relaxes the mind — can do so if one is so disposed.
This is what the new rules designed to speed up the game are taking away.
Sermon Occasioned by the Execution of a Man Found Guilty of Murder
Preached at Boston in New-England, March 11th 1685/6 (Together with the confession. Last Expressions. and Solemn Warning of that Murderer, to all Persons; especially to Young Men, to beware of those Sins which brought him to his Miserable End.)
My mother always loved to read and had great taste in literature.
She told me that she read avidly as a child. She was a voracious reader. She loved Little Women, a classic and a real girl’s book. She was very affected by the scene where the character Beth dies.
My other also loved Heidi.
My exposure to such literature was through my mother. She had such good taste and read to me a lot. She chose splendid books for us. It was such a pleasure to be read to (in bed) by her because she enjoyed it so much herself, and, of course, my Mom was so warm and nurturing anyway.
How did she find the time to read to me? (It was always to me alone.)
One of our first books was Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne. When The House at Pooh Corner, a sequel, came out, my mom was delighted and read that to me too. How I loved the nonsense rhymes of Pooh:
The more it snows (Tiddely pom)
The more it goes (Tiddely pom)
The more it goes (Tiddely pom)
And nobody knows (Tiddely pom)
How cold my toes (Tiddely pom)
How cold my toes (Tiddely pom)
Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie,
A fly can’t bird, but a bird can fly.
Ask me a riddle and I reply:
“Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie.”
Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie,
A fish can’t whistle and neither can I.
Ask me a riddle and I reply:
“Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie.”
Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie,
Why does a chicken, I don’t know why.
Ask me a riddle and I reply:
“Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie.”
the idiosyncrasies of characters like Piglet and Eyore, and funny touches like the character (Owl) who had a sign on his door, “knock if an answer is required, ring if an answer is not required.” My mother and I used to laugh out loud. I had such a warm and fuzzy feeling when she was reading to me.
We had several wonderful books compiled by the children’s book editor Olive Beaupré Miller. These included a multi volume set, My Book House, and the book Nursery Friends from France. I especially liked the latter book, which my mother took great pleasure in reading to us from. It had wonderful color illustrations. It was a compilation of songs, nursery rhymes, and fairy tales.
We had The Arabian Nights in a nice edition (which I still have). I particularly liked the story of Aladdin and his magic lamp.
At a fairly early age, I read the classic Black Beauty (originally published in 1877) by Anna Sewell. This book made a very strong impression me. Not long ago, as an adult, I purchased it as an audiobook and “read” it again. It is very well written. The story is told in the first person by the horse, Black Beauty, who is the narrator. The novel recounts the story of Black Beauty’s life as it is experienced under a succession of different owners, or “masters.” Some of the owners are cruel.
All I recall from reading the book as a child, the impression the book made on me then was that Black Beauty’s life was one of unremitting misery: an unending progression from one cruel master to another, with the course of the horse’s life leading to an inevitable decline. This characterization is true of a lot of the plot, but not all of it, as it turns out. When I first read the book, though I was greatly impressed by it, it seemed to me unbearably sad and gloomy. That it undeniably is, in places, in the sections where the horse is overworked and mistreated. But why did this impression predominate with me? I think because that view of Black Beauty’s life jibed with my view of own life as a sad one in which I was often mistreated. The scenes in the book of this nature were the ones that stuck in my mind.
Much to my surprise, I discovered, when I listened to the audiobook later, as an adult, that the novel actually ends happily, with Black Beauty in good circumstances, and that in other sections of the book, Black Beauty does have good masters (in contrast to many sections of the book in which the horse is cruelly mistreated).
I started visiting the Cambridge Public Library children’s room when I was very young. My mother and father were very liberal about giving us independence and let me walk there myself after a certain age. It was sort of a long walk. I loved being able to find and take out my own books.
At the library at around this time (fifth grade), I borrowed a science fiction book the title of which I do not remember. The story was about people who were involved in time travel. There were two main parts to the book. In the first, the main character or characters traveled back in time to the Stone Age. They encountered two hostile groups, the Cro-Magnons and the Neandertals. The time traveler(s) were befriended by the wise Cro-Magnons, who helped them to escape perils. In the second part of the book, the time traveler(s) went forward in time, in a rocket ship, overcoming things like aging with the aid of Einsteinian physics. I was totally engrossed in this young adult novel.
I also read a Tarzan book — I think it was in the sixth grade. It involved a tribe of African warrior women who took men (or threatened to) as prisoners in their fortress.
There was a popular, respected series of history books for young readers, the Landmark Books. In the sixth grade, I read the one on Benjamin Franklin and loved it. Around that time, the animated Disney film Ben and Me, which I liked, was popular.
Toby Tyler; or, Ten Weeks with a Circus, is a wonderful novel by James Otis. I read it when I was around 11 or 12. Toby runs away to join the circus. At the end of the book, his pet monkey, Mr. Stubbs, dies. It was such an incredibly sad scene. How it moved me!
When I was about eleven, I started reading young adult sports fiction, mostly about baseball, though I do remember reading one about sandlot football players. The books would frequently have a moral. For example, I read one which concludes with the protagonist, in a key game, admitting to the umpire, who had called him safe, that he was really out. The protagonist gains in moral stature.
Around this time, I read a series of baseball books for young adults by Duane Decker, the Blue Sox series, about a fictional professional baseball team.
I also read the Black Stallion books by Walter Farley and enjoyed them very much.
Some additional items from my childhood and young adult reading.
“Little Black Sambo.” This is story which we took delight in that my Mom would read to us. The Story of Little Black Sambo is a children’s book written and illustrated by Helen Bannerman, and first published by Grant Richards [who, by the way, was an editor for Theodore Dreiser] in October 1899 as one in a series of small-format books called The Dumpy Books for Children. The story was a children’s favorite for more than half a century though criticism began as early as 1932. The word sambo was deemed a racial slur in some countries and the illustrations considered reminiscent of “darky iconography.” Both text and illustrations have undergone considerable revision since. (Wikipedia)
The Story of Little Black Sambo is a simple, illustrated children’s story about a young Indian boy who outsmarts four tigers that threaten to eat him. After Sambo saves himself by giving each tiger an article of his gaudy outfit, the tigers argue among themselves over which of them is the grandest. Eventually, the tigers chase each other around a tree so fast that they simply blur into butter, which Sambo takes home and uses on 169 pancakes that his mother, Black Mumbo, makes for him. (from a plot summary on another website)
I recall there was something about pancakes. My mother liked pancakes. She often made them for us.
Uncle Wiggily was a series of children’s books by Howard R. Garris. My mom introduced us to them. I loved them. Uncle Wiggily is an elderly, avuncular rabbit who wears spectacles, and there are a lot of other animal characters. The books are lighthearted and fun. The color illustrations were superb.
Make Way for Ducklings is a children’s picture book written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey. It was my mother (you guessed it) who introduced us to the book. The story is about a duck family led by a mother duck that walks around Boston. They wind up at the Boston Common and ride on the swan boats. The plot is simple and charming; the black and white illustrations are superb (very realistic but simple and just right for children). The book won the 1942 Caldecott Medal for McCloskey’s illustrations.
The book was excellent in every respect, but what made it particularly enjoyable was that it was set in Boston and ends with the ducklings on the Boston Common. I used to love to go to the Boston Common and loved the swan boats.
Babar the Elephant by Jean de Brunhoff. My mother purchased Babar and read it to me numerous times. I was absolutely charmed by it. The color illustrations were wonderful. My Mom loved Babar too, naturally.
Dr. Seuss. These books were a kind of late discovery in my elementary school years. My mother introduced me to them, I believe. The ones I liked were The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins and Scrambled Eggs Super! Many of his most famous classics hadn’t come out yet.
A final comment about reading. It goes without saying how pleasurable and profitable it can be. How you can do it anytime, anywhere at little expense. (I think that books at current prices are still a great bargain.) How great it is to curl up with a book and how it is something you can always resort to when you are lonely or can’t sleep.
I think that to love reading, you have to begin by doing it because of intrinsic interest in the topic and because you are anticipating pleasure, not because you regard it as a duty. You should read whatever you like to; it could be books about sports, entertainment figures, lowbrow fiction, whatever you really and truly want to read.
Whenever (and this comment pertains mainly to classics) you are restricted to encountering good books only as school assignments, when that’s the only place where you encounter them, the game is lost. If you think that classic books are those that you are required to analyze and write essay exam questions on, and nothing more, you will probably not enjoy them in later life. My counsel to all readers, especially young ones, is read whatever you want to read, as much as you can. Seek a level where you have a genuine interest and read at that level. An interest in the best books will often follow.
I am very appreciative that my parents established a sound foundation for enjoyment of reading. They communicated it naturally, like one might convey to one’s offspring an enthusiasm for sports. Reading was seldom a chore for me, and only then, infrequently, from assignments in school. Good literature was something I came to appreciate naturally, while at the same time feeling I could read whatever I liked. I was able to develop my own interests this way, like reading baseball books, for example. I developed highbrow tastes gradually, without being aware that I was doing so.
Since we all know that Samuel Johnson was a Tory, and since we all know what a Tory is, we at once know a great deal about Johnson. We know, for instance (to quote a highly regarded modern literary history), that he was “blindly conservative”; that when he “could not stem the rising tide of democracy,” he “turned shuddering from such corruptions to fly … to the impartial protective authority of the throne.” Given that Johnson was a Tory, we can immediately deduce the essential facts not only about his political opinions, but about his critical principles, which must have been authoritarian, his religion, which must have been “High,” his morality, which must have been prescriptive, and many other things. It is very useful to know all this a priori, for it saves us the trouble of having to read what Johnson actually wrote on these matters.
The foregoing is perhaps not too exaggerated a parody of the reasoning behind much Johnsonian commentary in the past. Recently, it is true, some parts of the amazing structure of myth that the nineteenth century (chiefly) erected around the figure of Johnson have begun to show signs of crumbling. It is growing harder for even the laziest undergraduate to continue to believe what the older histories of literature tell him, that Johnson was a pompous dogmatist in morality, an incompetent blunderer in criticism, and a maker of mechanical and pedantic verse. This change has come about because modern critics (including such formidable and diverse ones as Eliot, Leavis, and Edmund Wilson) have actually read Johnson and discovered the reality to be very different from the legend. But the old version of Johnson’s political position still persists; and since it constitutes (I believe) the framework of the whole structure, fragments of the rest of the myth cling tenaciously to it and continue to give trouble.
In fact, the myth of Johnson the blind and frightened political reactionary can easily be shown to be as unsubstantial as the myths of Johnson the dogmatic critic and Johnson the academic versemaker. Even a casual reading of Johnson’s writings reveals much that simply cannot be reconciled with the theory of his bigoted and unbending Toryism. According to that theory, for example, we are supposed to believe that Johnson wrote his pamphlets of the 1770’s—The False Alarm, Taxation No Tyranny, and the rest—as a partisan Tory in support of the repressive Tory government of George III. Holders of this doctrine must be surprised to find Johnson saying, in the next-to-last paragraph of The False Alarm, “Every honest man must lament” that the question under discussion in the pamphlet “has been regarded with frigid neutrality by the tories.” Again, one of our firmest assumptions is that Johnson and the Tories were the implacable enemies of the Whig Sir Robert Walpole. It is therefore strange to find, in a division of the House of Commons in 1741 on a motion calling for the dismissal of Walpole, the Tory members deliberately rescuing Walpole from defeat, and Johnson, in a note appended to his report of the debate, vigorously defending their action. Of Lord North, generally regarded as the chief instrument of George Ill’s “Tory” policies, Johnson said that he was “a fellow with a mind as narrow as a vinegar cruet,” and when North’s ministry left office, Johnson’s epitaph was “Such a bunch of imbecility never disgraced a country.” It is taken for granted that Johnson’s Toryism must have included a fervent devotion to monarchy. Yet when one collates the various references to monarchs in his writings, one gets the impression that his opinion of the institution was, to say the least, unenthusiastic. “Kings,” says Johnson, after commenting that Frederick the Great was fortunate in encountering a variety of “forms of life” during his youth, “without this help … see the world in a mist, which magnifies everything near them, and bounds their view to a narrow compass …. I have always thought that what Cromwell had more than our lawful kings, he owed to the private condition in which he first entered the world.” “Liberty,” said Johnson, “is, to the lowest rank of every nation, little more than the choice of working or starving” 6-the perfect anticipation of a favorite Socialist slogan of the 1930’s.
Thanks in old age—thanks ere I go,
For health, the midday sun, the impalpable air—for life, mere
For precious ever-lingering memories, (of you my mother dear
—you, father—you, brothers, sisters, friends,)
For all my days—not those of peace alone—the days of war the
For gentle words, caresses, gifts from foreign lands,
For shelter, wine and meat—for sweet appreciation,
(You distant, dim unknown—or young or old—countless, unspecified, readers belov’d,
We never met, and ne’er shall meet—and yet our souls embrace,
long, close and long;)
For beings, groups, love, deeds, words, books—for colors, forms,
For all the brave strong men—devoted, hardy men—who’ve forward sprung in freedom’s help, all years, all lands,
For braver, stronger, more devoted men—(a special laurel ere I
go, to life’s war’s chosen ones,
The cannoneers of song and thought—the great artillerists—the
foremost leaders, captains of the soul:)
As soldier from an ended war return’d—As traveler out of
myriads, to the long procession retrospective,
Thanks—joyful thanks!—a soldier’s, traveler’s thanks.
Her words struck me. It may seem obvious. But my friend, their sister, puts it so well. I can hear Walt Whitman saying the same thing.
We mourn the dead. We were blessed to have had them. (I think of my parents, and so many others.)
Yes, existence in the here and now matters. But just as our life, everyone’s, our existence, is a miracle — people on earth — so was the existence of those no longer living: that they did live; and, in the case of our loved ones and friends, were part of our existence.
James Redpath (1833–1891) was the author of The Public Life of Capt. John Brown, a correspondent for the New York Tribune during the war, the originator of the “Lyceum” lectures, and editor of the North America Review, beginning in 1886. He met Walt Whitman in Boston in 1860 and remained an enthusiastic admirer.
One of the most beloved and tender hearted of the visitors at the hospitals in Washington, is Walt. Whitman, author of Leaves of Grass. However his “barbaric yawp” may sound over other roofs, it sends sweet music into the sick wards of the Capital. A gentleman who accompanied him on several of his visits, relates that his coming was greeted by the soldiers unvarying pleasure, and that he soothed the homesick boys so often seen there, with a tenderness that no woman could excel. His friends say that he cured one or two young soldiers who were dying of homesickness, by his sympathy and loving-kindness. Dying of homesickness is no figure of speech, but a reality of weekly occurrence in our army. To such invalids the religious tract, or the mechanical consolations of theology, give no relief; not musty manna from the church wilderness, but living waters of sympathy from the warm heart of man who loves them is what they need to save them. And this they get from the rough singer of Brooklyn. Walt. like other poets, is not excessively rich, and therefore may not stay in Washington much longer; but as long as he can afford to remain he means to keep at his self-elected and unpaid post, doing good to the sick and wounded. What a pity that when so many thousands of dollars are spent to but little purpose for this work that a hundred or two could not be devoted to retain this efficient volunteer.
Richard J. Hinton (1830–1901) was born in London and came to the US in 1851. He trained as a printer, and, like James Redpath, went to Kansas and joined John Brown’s militant group of abolitionists.
Hinton was the author of Hand-book to Kansas Territory and the Rocky Mountains’ Gold Region (1859). Later he wrote Rebel Invasion of Missouri and Kansas (1865) and John Brown and His Men (1894). Apparently, Hinton had suggested that Thayer & Eldridge print Leaves of Grass.
Hinton served in the Union Army from 1861 to 1865, and saw Whitman while lying wounded in a hospital, a scene which he described in the Cincinnati Commercial on August 26, 1871:
When this old heathen [Walt Whitman] came and gave me a pipe and tobacco, it was “about the most joyous moment of my life …. There were plenty of [other visitors] I assure you. The little bay at the head of my cot was full of tracts and testaments, and every Sunday there were half a dozen old roosters who would come into my ward and preach and pray and sing to us, while we were swearing to ourselves all the time, and wishing the blamed fools would go away. Walt Whitman’s funny stories, and his pipes and tobacco were worth more than all the preachers and tracts in Christendom. A wounded soldier don’t like to be reminded of his God more than twenty times a day. Walt Whitman didn’t bring any tracts or Bibles; he didn’t ask if you loved the Lord, and didn’t seem to care whether you did or not.
— H.J. R. [Richard Hinton], “A Reminiscence,” Cincinnati Commercial, August 26, 1871.
YEAR of meteors! brooding year!
I would bind in words retrospective, some of your deeds
I would sing your contest for the 19th Presidentiad;
I would sing how an old man, tall, with white hair,
mounted the scaffold in Virginia;
(I was at hand—silent I stood, with teeth shut close—I
I stood very near you, old man, when cool and indifferent, but trembling with age and your unheal’d
wounds, you mounted the scaffold;)
I would sing in my copious song your census returns of
The tables of population and products—I would sing of
your ships and their cargoes,
The proud black ships of Manhattan, arriving, some
fill’d with immigrants, some from the isthmus
with cargoes of gold;
Songs thereof would I sing—to all that hitherward
comes would I welcome give;
And you would I sing, fair stripling! welcome to you
from me, sweet boy of England!
Remember you surging Manhattan’s crowds, as you
passed with your cortege of nobles?
There in the crowds stood I, and singled you out with
I know not why, but I loved you…(and so go forth
Far over sea speed like an arrow, carrying my love all
And find in his palace the youth I love, and drop these
lines at his feet;)
—Nor forget I to sing of the wonder, the ship as she
swam up my bay,
Well-shaped and stately the Great Eastern swam up my
bay, she was 600 feet long,
Her moving swiftly, surrounded by myriads of small
craft, I forget not to sing;
Nor the comet that came unannounced, out of the north,
flaring in heaven,
Nor the strange huge meteor procession, dazzling and
clear, shooting over our heads,
(A moment, a moment long, it sail’d its balls of unearth-
ly light over our heads,
Then departed, dropt in the night, and was gone;)
—Of such, and fitful as they, I sing—with gleams from
them would I gleam and patch these chants;
Your chants, O year all mottled with evil and good!
year of forebodings! year of the youth I love!
Year of comets and meteors transient and strange!—lo!
even here, one equally transient and strange!
As I flit through you hastily, soon to fall and be gone,
what is this book,
What am I myself but one of your meteors?
Herman Melville, “The Portent”
Hanging from the beam,
Slowly swaying (such the law),
Gaunt the shadow on your green,
The cut is on the crown
(Lo, John Brown),
And the stabs shall heal no more.
Hidden in the cap
Is the anguish none can draw;
So your future veils its face,
But the streaming beard is shown
(Weird John Brown),
The meteor of the war.
There are in our existence spots of time,
That with distinct pre-eminence retain
A renovating virtue, whence, depressed
By false opinion and contentious thought,
Or aught of heavier or more deadly weight,
In trivial occupations, and the round
Of ordinary intercourse, our minds
Are nourished and invisibly repaired;
A virtue, by which pleasure is enhanced,
That penetrates, enables us to mount,
When high, more high, and lifts us up when fallen.
This efficacious spirit chiefly lurks
Among those passages of life that give
Profoundest knowledge to what point, and how,
The mind is lord and master—outward sense
The obedient servant of her will. Such moments
Are scattered everywhere, taking their date
From our first childhood.
— William Wordsworth, The Prelude; Book Twelfth: Imagination and Taste, How Repaired and Restored
Music distills, packages, and holds emotion. — Roger W. Smith
I am at freshman football practice. It is a beautiful New England Indian summer. The practices are long and exhausting.
I am probably too small to have gone out for football. We do leg lifts and other exercises on a hot, sweaty day. Drills against a blocking dummy. The freshman squad coach with a green cap, Mr. Strumski, is a heavy set guy.
Another kid, Gary W, says to me, “You think you’re a football player? What did you go out for football for?”
It’s my senior year. English class is first period. I pass the principal’s office on the way to class. I hear someone say to the principal, Mr. Alvino. “How are things going today, Mr. Alvino?” He answers, “I have all sorts of headaches. ______ of my teachers called in sick.”
I am always rushing not to be late for school. Our stately old house on Chapman Street, a prime address in the town, was built in the previous century. We have only a bathtub. I take a bath, gulp down my mother’s breakfast, and race to school through woods, a path leading to the football field, past which is the school–the best way to get there. My hair and clothes are always still wet.
I am at the Oak Crest Inn on Cape Cod. Summer 1964. My first job ever (other than paperboy). My title is Night Clerk. $35 a week plus room and board. I have to make rounds every hour with a watchclock on my shoulder and – in my capacity as night clerk — admit the occasional last minute guest. I have a weighty tome to read; there is usually not that much to do.
At eight a.m., my eleven hours shift is finished. I go to the dining room for breakfast. Leo, a crusty old guy, is the cook. He is always making dirty jokes with the waitresses. They are mostly college students. They have pert, saucy comebacks for him. They regard Leo (justly) as a dirty old man, but don’t mind him. One of the waitresses likes to do things like stick her finger in whipped cream and take a taste of it before delivering a strawberry shortcake to a table. All the waitresses are smart and witty. Leo is a short order cook. I am thankful for his breakfasts: greasy eggs with hash browns. His coffee is terrible.
Then I go up to a garret, a tiny space in the rooftop of the Oak Crest Inn, and crawl into bed, having placed LPs on the portable stereo my parents gave me as a high school graduation present. It is always classical: Beethoven piano sonatas, Schumann’s piano concerto, and Brahms’s Symphony No. 1. The music soothes me.
I can’t sleep that long. Wake up in midafternoon –- if not earlier — and head to the beach.
One evening, before my shift, among a gathering in the common room, Mrs. Allingham, a teacher and guest for the whole summer (making her permanent; the hotel is open only during summers) — she is given red carpet treatment, but is never demanding — asks me, could I please get her a cup of coffee.
I panic, There is a full coffee urn at hand, but what is one supposed to put in a coffee cup, how prepare it? I buttonhole another guest and ask them to please help me. Just put some milk and sugar in the cup, they tell me. It’s a relief to me to know.
It is a Monday morning, my first day of work at Columbia University. In the spring of 1973.
In those days, I always had difficulty being on time. I get there precisely at 9 a.m. The door to the Office of Admissions and Counseling, on the fourth floor of Lewisohn Hall, is locked. It is about 9:15 before anyone shows up. Someone arrives and unlocks the door. They seem completely unconcerned. My boss, the Assistant Dean, shows up a few minutes later. He says, something like “good, you’re here,” points out my desk, and goes into his office. He basically ignores me. I am left wondering, what am I supposed to be doing?
Susan S, the receptionist, is very good looking and voluptuous. She is always cheerful and friendly. Sunny disposition. The idiosyncrasies of the others in the office amuse her, but she doesn’t take anything too seriously.
Susan is married to a lawyer who is friendly and unassuming like her. She is pregnant. She invitees me and others to feel her stomach and her child (it turns out to be a girl) moving. Didi, the Financial Aid Officer’s secretary, often brings her daughter to work.
Margaretha, an academic advisor, looks like a Scandinavian movie star. She speaks with a heavy accent (she is Swedish), and Gerry, another advisor who never seems to be busy, can do a very good imitation of her.
The so called professional staff with any sort of title always affect importance.
Nobody dresses that well. Well, most don’t. My boss, the dean, does not look like a businessman, but he is always neat. Dean ______ is always having meltdowns as the result of constant demands from students. and superiors. He calls in sick only rarely, telling me he is “on my bed of pain”; he has a penchant for cliches. On lunch hours, he often goes for a swim in the Teachers College pool. I call it “hydrotherapy,” which amuses him. He lives in the Village, on West 16th Street (he commutes every day uptown on the No. 1 train) and loves the ballet.
It is 1978. I get off the Number 1 train at Times Square and almost sprint the few blocks crosstown to Madison Avenue and 40th Street 270 Madison Avenue to be exact.
I have been hired as a promotion copywriter by a scientific and technical publishing firm. We have to sign in on a timesheet in Eridania’s office. She somehow knows the head of the firm and has a good job as office manager.
Eridania is Puerto Rican. She has handsome features and a charming accent. She is nice and diligent but never seems to have that much to do. Eddie, as she is known, has her own office. So does Mary Ann L., who has connections through her father or husband that make her a pooh-bah. She lives near Sutton Place; her husband is a doctor. She only shows up when she feels like it. The firm is supposed to be publishing scientific and medical books, but she has started up a line of books on ballet. She affects to be arty. She can be hard to take.
There are six or seven desks in the room, which is on an upper floor which the firm occupies.
Inez is from Jamaica. She is Eddie’s secretary. She is very good natured and friendly and is always seeing the humor in things. Gail is someone or other’s secretary. She is loud mouthed — outspoken — says whatever come to mind. She has a sharp wit.
The firm has this supposedly great policy of giving us a half day on Fridays. Actually workdays begin at 8:30, somehow making it the case that we have a couple or more hours coming to us at the end of the week, so the workday ends at 1:30 on Friday. Some of us go to Central Park to play ball. We have joined a softball league. It was Ted’s idea. Ted sells advertising in our medical journals. He works in the same room. He is very handsome and is a good athlete. He just graduated from college. He is young, earnest, and diffident.
Ted’s father is a staff writer for Time magazine. Sometimes he comes to watch our games. We elect Ted team captain and manager.
Around 12 noon, Gail announces that she will get lunch for everyone at a deli on the avenue. She loves fulfilling this duty; takes everyone’s order. Comes back with a cardboard box filled with everything from pizza slices to club sandwiches.
l always order a grilled cheese. The food is never good.
The building has horrible ventilation, is a so called “sick building.” I get a terrible cold. Of course, one can’t open the windows.
People still smoked in those days, I have quit recently, but I occasionally bum a filter cigarette from my immediate superior, Gerry. This always annoys him. He doesn’t hide it, but he proffers a cigarette.
It is memories like these that reconstitute the past for me, bring it back as if it were today or yesterday. Bring the past back exactly as it was; and everything I was experiencing and felt then.