08 December 2009

Minutes of the meeting, Thanksgiving 2009

Time: ~0800, the morning after Thanksgiving 2009

Place: The kitchen, 79 Rittenhouse Rd, Sergeantsville NJ 08559

Members present (in order of appearance): Peter Spellman, BBly, Deborah Spitalnik, John Weingart, Claire Spellman, Deborah Griffin Bly, Molly Weingart.


Old Spellman family joke:

What are we this year — Polish or Russian?
O thank God, I *hate* those long Russian winters!
— Peter Spellman

Deadly Medicine, Series at the US Holocaust Museum in Washington — Deb Spitalnik

Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers: the story of a Muslim family of New Orleans in the wake of Katrina. — Pete

Review in NY Times.

Also see Josh Neufield's wonderful webcomic, A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, serialized in Smith magazine — BBly

"... this should appeal to their fans." — John Weingart, quoting the harshest criticism imposed by reviewers in the bluegrass magazines he reads.

Translation: Life's too short...

How is Your Brain Like a Zebra?, from a podcast Deborah Bly listened to last night as she was falling asleep.

Olivia Judson, every Wednesday in the Op-Ed section of the New York Times. — Pete

This week's post: An Evolve-by Date, on the importance of Darwin's On the Origin of Species.

Adam Gopnik, Angels & Ages — Claire Spellman

Review in Washington Post.

The Little Book (NOT Strunk & White!), about Vienna in 1890s, the height of civilization. — John

Review in January Magazine.

Bella Abzug's mock American Express ad. — John

We were talking about the existential questions young kids often ask their parents. Two of BBly's favorites, from his daughter Nelly:

Deb remembered one she asked her mother: What Do Black People Use for Band-Aids?

All agreed: Great idea for a book title.

Back in the day, Deb Spitalnik recalled, Bloomingdale's had a counter for Charles of the Ritz, where they would formulate face powder based on your skin tone, then mix it up out of big glass jars.

John recommends Stephen L. Carter's New England White, et. al., mysteries —

Review, excerpt, and reading at NPR.org


John's Picks for movies to rent from Netflix:

I didn't hear the beginning of John's story about a party he & Deb went to at a Harlem home on 144th St between Convent & Amsterdam, where the owner had set up a jazz club in the basement: the joint was packed, with a kitchen in one corner and a jazz trio in the other — and all the musicians were white.

Deb Bly regaled us with many a tale of her old boyfriend Sam's mother Mickey Hurwitt and Thaddeus McDowell. (Darling? perhaps you'd like to write them up?)

Claire recalled BBly's post-prandial Sermonette on The Five Real Things in Life:

  • sex
  • bearing & raising children
  • taking care of the sick & helpless
  • teaching
  • making beautiful things

Everything else is logistics.

Too many TLAs around here. — Pete.

John's favorite xmas tree ornament: Merry Christmas from the Savages

Last but not least, the poem BBly meant to read at dinner, but left at home on the dining room table:

The Landing Game (April 23, 1500)

As our longboats approached,
I can tell you now, each of us aboard
struggled with a thrill of terror.

We could see men coming donw to the beach
in twos and threes—naked, young,
their skin the reddish-brown

of mahogany, their heads tonsured,
like our monks—butt for the fringe
of straight, dark hair below the ears.

Watching us, they gathered on the sand,
so by the time we reached
the river mouth almost twenty of them

waited, bows and arrows in their hands.
And we, all along rowing slowly,
came unarmed—such pounding

in my chest—with caution
our only strategy, our only noise
the creak-and-splash we made.

But how to greet them? How to show them
courtesy? No one spoke.
It simply happened—one of us tossed his hat

into the gulf between our languages,
and the youth who caught it
threw his feathered headpiece to our boat,

so all of us let fly, until the air was full
of hats and feathers, full of laughter
at the useless trade.

Disembarking then, we waded
through the surf, breathing anew
like divers coming up for air.

And they advanced, putting down
their bows and arrows, encircled us to see
our strangeness—our clothes, our skin,

our bearded faces, especially those
of us with sea-tinted eyes. They wanted
to stroke our hair, like lovers.

Faces reading faces, hands gesturing, pointing
toward the land or toward our ships
anchored six leagues out, and all of us

so fully absorbed in mutual scrutiny how could we
have imagined—mingling that day
on the beach—the exchange we'd made?

— Jane O. Wayne, in River Styx 80, Fall 2009

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23 January 2009


My first and favorite experience in samizdat was The Pick-Pocket's Packet, published by the W.P.A.O.P.P. (Western Pennsylvania Association of Organized Pick-Pockets), Rich Kenny, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief.

It was eighth grade, that liminal year which in other municipalities would have been the last year of grammar school, but in those days, in our proto-burb just outside the orbit of metro Pittsburgh, the only school was Peters Twp. Jr.-Sr. High, still attached to McMurray Elementary ("grade school") where I first embarked on my journey towards Upper Education. [See photo.]

Over the summer, more than half of our male colleagues had vaulted into puberty, and now towered over us, deep-voiced and hairy, suddenly dazed by the presence of lumpy girls whom only months before they hadn't even been able to see.

It was a point of pride with shrimps like us (Rich & I were always in the front row in group shots) that we could travel faster in the halls between class periods than any upperclassperson, whose pockets sat at just about shoulder height on us as we zoomed in and out of clumps of flirtiing hulks, and boosting a wallet was pathetically easy.

But the idea was far more intoxicating than the actual experience, which inevitably involved having to give the dang thing back, with the social awkwardness and occasional contusion that resulted. So Rich, a boy of ingenuity and grit that I could only envy (in chorus once he socked a notorious bully in the jaw when the jerk blocked his way), started writing up our adventures, with the usual dilations, on pages of his yellow pencil tablet, which he ruled off into columns, drawing "wire photos" and ads around which he poured breathless accounts of our exploits, announcements of upcoming events, minutes of executive board meetings, and subtle satire of the school administration.

I wrote the gossip column, which I didn't do very well, and so didn't do very often, but I helped copy and distribute issues to the dwindling number of dweebs like us amongst our classmates. Eventually, I think, we were shut down by humorless teachers, who I now believe took the confiscated copies home and had a good yock with their families.

The next year we both crossed the Rubicon into adolescence, and somehow drifted apart. I saw Rich again over a decade ago at some anniversary of our graduating class, and though I recall that he hadn't changed much (except for the mustache), I don't remember anything we said, not even if The Pick-Pocket's Packet came up or not.

I can't say my writing career began there -- I had at least ten more years of goofing off to get out of my system -- but it was a great wonder to me to watch a "piece" take shape under Rich's hand, in #2 pencil on cheap yellow paper, and I think it was then I realized dimly that somehow everything I read had been written by someone in a manner not unlike this, whatever happened to it afterward in its journey towards print that landed it, however briefly, before my eyes.

And somewhere, sometime, I said to myself: I want to do that.

[Originally appeared in Ye Antient Blogge, 14March 2002.]

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