August 2011


The Dog Days of Nostalgia Reprised

August invariably brings out the nostalgia in us for summers long past. Particularly, as our birthday is tucked in at the tail end of this dog day month of the season. We did a piece on this very thing last year (AUGUST, 2010 MUSE-LETTER) in which we recalled those bittersweet Wordsworth lines.

Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower

Yet here we are once again, ignoring this sentiment, as we try to do that very thing: bring back the hour of splendour...


… I'll never forget that 4th of July in 1906 when we had gathered for a group photo. It was following a lobster dinner in the early evening prior to going out to look at the fireworks display, that the Daughters of the American Revolution had organized. Such pictures were the mark of a well-to-do family back then. Not many folks owned a camera. Dad, an avid amateur photographer (and I can still smell the chemicals from his darkroom till this day), sure was proud of his. And he insisted that we "take just one," despite protestations by some, like yours truly, who had a date that night with a girl as sweet as sugar pie. Elsie Rand.

A young man who took to sporting a Sherlock Holmes pipe that summer—it seemed like the cat's pajamas at the time—my three siblings Dick, Tommy and Mildred didn't let up on me about it. "What's up Sherlock?" But being the oldest in the group, I took it in stride. Besides, I would be returning to Yale that fall and had made the football team. Put that in your pipe and smoke it! And if you look at that photo below, yup, there it is clenched between my teeth.


My brother Dick, seated on my right, was madly in love with this girl Muriel. But as it turned out that night, she rather abruptly left him at the bridge by the pond just at the outskirts of town. It was over some small disagreement of sorts. Who knows. What to name their first child? And as a result, and to drown out his sorrow, he went out and got rip roaring drunk.


Dad would sure give him a piece of his mind the next afternoon, regarding the dangers of such irresponsible behavior in a young man. Especially one who was always walking around quoting Swinburne and Wilde. (Mr. McComber, a grumpy next door neighbor, actually once called Dick an anarchist! Can you imagine?). Poor Dick. To have to listen to still one more of dad's wise, but invariably, long drawn out lectures. And with a hangover no less. God took dad from us, suddenly, that winter. Mom never really did get over that.


Ah, Fourth of July baseball! It truly was the national game then and I remember that on that day, Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown of the Cubs beat Lefty Leifield in a pitcher's duel 1-0 at Exposition Park. Though I was a New York Highlander fan, old "Three Finger" was one of my favorites. I was amazed by the story of how he had turned his handicap of having only three full fingers on his pitching hand, into an advantage. "Best darn curveball you ever did see." And dad always taught us that there was nothing a man couldn't do if he set his mind to it. And he reminded me of that, when against all my expectations, I had been accepted at Yale.


Following that photo session—and I can see it as if it were still yesterday— Elsie and I shared an ice cream soda at Sam's Fountain ("Let's go over to SF") alongside the Nightingale Inn. He'd always open up his store on the evenings of the Fourth despite it being a holiday, and it was much appreciated as people would begin to gather early on in those warm nights for the best view of the proceedings to follow. Anyhow, I sure was sweet on her. And that night turned out to be special for reasons of which propriety forbids me to speak. But it seemed that after my senior year, things were never quite the same between us. And then her family moved away to somewhere north of Boston, and after maybe exchanging a letter or two… I wonder whatever became of Elsie. Blue eyes…freckles…goldenrod hair.





And then just last month on the Fourth, we went over to the catch the Macy's fireworks display over the Hudson River, where among the many shots we took with our iPhone, these two seemed to capture the essence of the experience.


8:31 PM
9:28 PM


July 4, 2011: Over the Hudson River as viewed from 65th St. and 12th Avenue


Dad would have been so proud.


At least that fictional dad of Ah, Wilderness!, the Eugene O'Neill play in which we appeared in the role of Art Miller in a summer stock production at Bradford, Vermont 1973. In itself, a magical summer as we choose to recall. And we offer apologies to the O'Neill estate for the liberties we have taken in altering the script in our retelling. For is that not the stuff of which nostalgia is made? The rewriting of life's narrative? The crossing of that river that lies between fact and fiction?





So Pretty Your Face Through The Looking Glass




Sticking a big toe into the twenty-first century—
I click and there we are face to face.
Did they not speak of this at the '64 World's Fair?
A phone call in which we can see to whom we speak?


But what ever became of the flying car?
What ever became of what was to be and never was?
What becomes of what could never be—yet is?
What becomes of a life when love no longer lives?


So pretty your face through the looking glass,
You have come as if from another dimension.
Beauty so unassuming and a buoyancy of spirit
On this night when the roses in the vase have been dying.


The old dog seems unfazed by this high tech intercourse.
He is visible over your shoulder and owning the couch.
His indifference to me coming from an unconditional love
That he has known and senses I have not.

Sticking a big toe into the twenty-first century —
But what ever became of the flying car?
So pretty your face through the looking glass.
The old dog seems unfazed by this high tech intercourse.


I click and there we are face to face.
What ever became of what was to be and never was?
You have come as if from another dimension.
He is visible over your shoulder and owning the couch.


Did they not speak of this at the '64 World's Fair?
What becomes of what could never be—yet is?
Beauty so unassuming and a buoyancy of spirit—
His indifference to me coming from an unconditional love.


A phone call in which we can see to whom we speak?
What becomes of a life when love no longer lives?
On this night when the roses in the vase have been dying?
That he has known and senses I have not?


                                -Ron Vazzano







A Bronx Tale: Jeter's Wondrously Impossible Day



If you are not a baseball fan, please stay with us and do not scroll down to the next piece.


Because this is not so much about baseball, as it is about math: the statistical improbability of a sequence of events having any chance of happening…yet happening all the same.


If you are not a math fan, please stay with us and do not scroll down to the next piece.


Because as much as anything, this is also about fate and the stars aligning on a certain day. That day in this case being, Saturday July 9, 2011 at Yankee Stadium. And those who were present, such as we, will one day be telling this tale to their grandchildren—or anyone else who will listen—while proclaiming as if with some sense of accomplishment, "And I was there!"


Derek Jeter has been a star in the pantheon of the greatest who have ever played for the New York Yankees, the most storied sports franchise in the history of the world. Yet the great Yankee names, those even a ballet fan would recognize, Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra, never got to the rarified air of 3,000 career hits as Jeter did on that day. And though this feat had been accomplished 27 times previously in baseball history, the manner in which he did it was unprecedented. And even beyond that, it was virtually impossible to have happened in the first place, much less ever to be repeated exactly in this same way.


Going into that Saturday, he had had 2,998 hits. At game's end, he had gotten five hits in five at bats to put his total at 3,003, or three beyond the coveted mark. Only once before in his 17 year career did he ever have a perfect 5-5 day.


His 3,000th hit was a home run. Also improbable as he is not a power hitter, and had hit just two up until that point, some 80 games into the season. And then he also had the game winning hit in the bottom of the 8th inning, to give the Yankees a 5-4 victory. We have calculated the probability of all of this happening precisely as it did, to be in the neighborhood of one chance in six million. (Equations furnished upon request).


We were not planning to go to the game that day, and came by a ticket (free of charge to boot), only an hour and a half before the start of the game. We won't bore you with the improbability of how all that in itself came to be, but we do get to about four games a year at the Stadium. Meaning that there was say, a one in twenty chance that we'd be there on this day, by hook or crook. Therefore: the odds on Jeter doing exactly what he did and that we would be there to witness it with our son, is now about one chance in 120,000,000! In other words, no chance. And yet there we were, seventeen rows behind home plate taking it all in.




There may be other analogies that might resonate with non-fans in other areas of performance vis-à-vis an audience, but we can't fathom what those might be. That on any given day, you might get to witness something so wondrously impossible that not only have you never seen it before, but never will again? There are few things of which that can be said. And in addition to the sheer beauty of the sport, we find such a prospect irresistible and compelling. It is something that has kept us coming back now for almost sixty years and counting.







Quote of the Month



But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.

—William Shakespeare, Henry V, Act 4; Scene 3







Virginia Woolf Above the Bar?



As we gazed up from a cool chardonnay on a hot summer night at a stunning portrait of a woman above the bar, done up in a decor that seems to suggest Paris in the 20's—or perhaps we have seen Woody Allen's new and great movie, Midnight In Paris, a few too many times (three as of this writing)?— we wondered if this was Virginia Woolf. The 20's were after all, her heyday. Though she lived in London, not Paris.





Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? was a wonderful Edward Albee play of course, and then later on, an equally wonderful movie starring Liz and Dick. And we answer the question posed by that title with a definitive "No one." Because we doubt if many walking around out there now, especially those with some electronic device plugged into their ears, have ever heard of her. And for many of those who have, she remains somewhat of an enigmatic literary figure, as her works lean more on emotional and psychologic depth of characters than on plot. Her use of stream-of-consciousness for her characters leads to further ambiguity. But afraid? Ambivalent maybe.


But no, that is not Virginia Woolf above this bar lined with fine spirits, as the barkeep, who keeps pet ferrets in his apartment, informs us. It turns out to be a painting of the owner's mother for this eponymous establishment—Josephina. Aside from the "do" one can see how such a mistake might be made.





Before Virginia Woolf put rocks in her pocket and walked into the River Ouse, to quote Wikipedia:

"During the interwar period, Woolf was a significant figure in London literary society…Her most famous works include the novels Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927) and Orlando (1928) and the book-length essay A Room of One's Own (1929) with its famous dictum, 'A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.' "

But as she stated in the suicide note she left behind in 1941 at age 59, to her husband Leonard, "Dearest, I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times." And the terrible times to which she refers, and why the rocks in the pockets, she continues: "I don't think two people could have been happier 'til this terrible disease came." That disease was depression.


While we won't call it a common variety depression, the type of which seems so pervasive in our society, one wonders if modern day "meds" might have been able to save her. For in her day of course, there was no...


Amitriptyline (Elavil®), Amoxapine (Asendin®) Bupropion (Aplenzin™, Budeprion XL®, Budeprion™ SR, Buproban®, Wellbutrin SR®, Wellbutrin XL®, Wellbutrin®, Zyban®) Citalopram (Celexa®) Clomipramine (Anafranil®) Desipramine (Norpramin®) Desvenlafaxine (Pristiq™) Doxepin (Sinequan®, Silenor®)Duloxetine (Cymbalta®) Escitalopram (Lexapro®) Fluoxetine (Prozac®, Sarafem®, Selfemra™) Fluvoxamine (Luvox®, Luvox® CR) Imipramine hydrochloride (Tofranil®) Imipramine pamoate (Tofranil PM®) Isocarboxazid (Marplan®) Maprotiline (Ludiomil®) Mirtazapine (Remeron®) Nefazodone (Serzone®) Nortriptyline (Pamelor®) Paroxetine (Paxil®, Paxil CR®, Pexeva®) Phenelzine (Nardil®) Protriptyline (Vivactil®) Selegiline (Emsam®) Sertraline (Zoloft®) Tranylcypromine (Parnate®) Trazodone (Desyrel®) or trazodone ER (Oleptro™) Trimipramine (Surmontil®) Venlafaxine (Effexor®, Effexor XR®) Vilazodone (Viibryd™).


If these were around back then, Virginia Woolf might have died of natural causes by the time she had gotten around to trying out all of them. Which seems to be the strategy of prescribers, as they take their patients through extended periods of trial and error to see what works. And now there has been a controversy to the effect, that nothing works. And that antidepressants offer nothing more than a "placebo effect" in the minds of those taking them. But as always …we digress.


Considering that Ms. Woolf''s inner-conscious style of writing can often contribute to a sense of obscurity, some of her better known works have been made into major movies. Most notably To The Light House (starring Rosemary Harris, 1983), A Room of One's Own (PBS Masterpiece, starring Eileen Atkins, 1991), Orlando (starring Tilda Swinton, 1992) and Mrs. Dalloway (starring Vanessa Redgrave, 1997).


But it was Michael Cunningham's critically acclaimed and commercially successful novel, "The Hours"—which won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and was then turned into an equally successful 2002 movie— that finally exposed Virginia Woolf to a broader audience. It garnered a Best Actress Oscar for Nicole Kidman in that role, though so much was made of the artificial proboscis that so transformed Ms. Kidman's face. It made her virtually unrecognizable from the glamour publicity photos of her we are used to seeing. But "Enough with the nose" we wanted to shout, to no one in particular.





We had the opportunity to meet Michael Cunningham at a Golden Globes Awards party that year and discuss his book and his fascination with Virginia Woolf. A charming man, he seemed to revel in the discussion, as we had also referred to The New York Times piece they had done on him that very Sunday.


When we mentioned that we had read the book but had not seen the movie, he replied: "You are probably the only one in this room who could say that." Which we took for the ironic compliment it was intended to be, as this was after all a movie awards gig. And at about that point, Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart came by and interrupted our discussion, wherein Michael graciously introduced us to these rude interlopers. As a sidebar, Harrison Ford struck us as not too bright when he proceeded to open his mouth; Calista Flockhart not too heavy as she kept hers shut. (Yes, names are dropping here like flies. We plead guilty, and throw away the key).


In a midsummer night's dream when least expected, Virginia Woolf, now gone for over seventy years, makes an appearance through the portal of a portrait above a bar. And as she does, we cannot help but take off in a stream-of-consciousness and free association of our own, as we contemplate this shadowy figure. Not the least of which is a quote that appears on the home page of our website, and which now seems particularly apropos:


...any turn in the wheel of sensation has the power to crystallize and transfix the moment upon which its gloom or radiance rests...


                                                                             -Virginia Woolf, To The Lighthouse






104° in Central Park



There will be no horse and carriage today
there are laws on the books about just how much
even a beast of burden can bear. Besides
all the lovers have gone out of town.


The horses meanwhile get a respite from the heat
and a respite from rides through romantic notions.
For want of such notions kingdoms have been lost.
Today in this way


the horses are kings and we are the horses.
Blinders about our eyes as we trudge on
in a deep sweat searching,
for where else to go until this subsides


                                                               —Ron Vazzano







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