Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Happy Birthday, Tom, Norm & Jim

We feel mildly guilty at borrowing items from Thames and Hudson's excellent "Book of Days for the Literary Year," but we couldn't pass up its list of notable events for January 31, including the first performance of Chekhov's "Three Sisters" in 1904 and the publication in 1948 of J.D. Salinger's "A Perfect day for Banana Fish."

This was also the birthday, in 1915, of Thomas Merton, author of "The Seven Storey Mountain," and in 1923 of Norman Mailer, who, fifty years later, threw a party for himself at Four Seasons in New York and invited 5,000 people. Five hundred showed up.

And January 31, 1905, was the birthdate of John O'Hara, the remarkably prolific writer of an endless stream of some of the century's best stories and novellas.

Why Jim? Because it seems to us that Jim Malloy, the reporter turned screenwriter in O'Hara's great "Hope of Heaven" is probably a mirror image of the author.

But what do we know?

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

State of the Onion

Good evening, fellow onion lovers, and welcome to the Green House.

It is an honor for me to deliver my first State of the Onion address.

There have been historic advances in horticulture over this first year of my term as Head Gardener, and I am pleased to report bumper crops of not only white and red onions, but also chives and shallots. And we have not ignored the minorities in our patch: witness the great growth of scallions.

We have also taken steps to preserve the sacred integrity of our turf. We have cracked down on unauthorized leeks, we are investing heavily to build up our supply of Raid, and we are about to build a giant fence along the border of our plot.

Finally, I must express my gratitude for the continued support of my beautiful wife, Vidalia.

Thank you, thank you. Please, seventeen standing ovations is enough.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Standing in Line--Forever

There are a number of persons behind whom it is unlucky to stand at a checkout counter. These include the lottery ticket fanatic who wants to argue about Quick-Piks with the clerk, the guy at the post office who has seventeen packages to mail, all different weights, to addresses from Azerbaijan to Kuala Lumpur, and the woman at the supermarket who insists she has the exact change, somewhere in her purse--"Just give me a minute"--and laboriously covers the counter with nickels and dimes.

Trickiest is the guy who comes up holding a single item, an eggplant or a bottle of chili sauce, and you say, "Only one thing? Please, go ahead." "Thanks," he smiles. Then when he's at the checkout, he asks for a pack of cigarettes that sends the clerk to the back room where the tobacco is hidden. When she returns, holding a package, he says, "No, not that one--the blue pack." Back she goes. When she appears again, he says, "I wanted kingsize." And so on, while the lineup behind him stretches from the frozen foods to the deli.

From now on, we're telephoning our orders. Or sending our designated shopper.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Pipe in the Haggis!

Here we are at Rabbie Burns Night, and it's time to get out our tartans, strap dirks to our calves, and prepare for the grand and rowdy celebration.

Some of us will recall Tommy Douglas reciting "A Man's a Man for A' That," and some will remember, with pleasure or alarm or both, Rufus Harley's recordings of bagpipe jazz, but most will be looking forward to heaps of haggis and goblets of athol brose.

Almost everyone is aware of the ingredients of haggis--a mix of sheep's innards and oats stuffed into the beast's stomach--but athol brose may still be a Scots mystery to some. It is a heady combination of whisky, oats, honey and cream. Quick, fill my cup!

Note: vegan and gluten-free versions of haggis may be available, along with non-alcoholic athol brose.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Trump's Disease

Faithful followers--please, I'm sure there are some--will have noticed an absence of posts over the past few weeks. This was caused by the proprietor falling prey to what our old pal Saddam would have called the mother of all colds.

But, as the brain clears, we have begun to think the malady was not the work of a vicious virus or belligerent bacteria or a malignant mistletoe embrace, but was brought on by an overload of US political news; in particular, too much Trump.

Our esteemed Editor #1 announced in December that for her, it was going to be a Trump-free Christmas. And, indeed, she sailed thru, safe from rib-cracking coughs and wall-shaking sneezes. This writer, however, was overcome by what medical journals now designate as Trumpitis, the initial onslaught compounded by over exposure to the pestilence of Pence, Ryan, McConnell, Kelly, Miller, Mulvaney, Sanders and Conway.

So we are now in our bubble, protected from the contagion of Trump tweets. Call us in 2020. Or, one hopes, even sooner.

Saturday, January 6, 2018


We have arrived at the feast of Epiphany, an observance older than Christmas, celebrated since the third century, to commemorate the visit of the Magi--the Wise Men, the Three Kings--to Bethlehem, where they saw the infant Jesus, and in him, perceived God.

The word "epiphany" is derived from the Greek word for "manifestation," and that word is included in most definitions: "a sudden manifestation of deity..a hidden message," "a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new way," and, in James Joyce's words, for he wrote often of epiphanies, "a sudden spiritual manifestation."

One of the most famous works associated with Epiphany is Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," written for a performance in the court of James I on January 6--which is both Epiphany and the twelfth night after Christmas. Often quoted is T.S. Eliot's "Journey of the Magi," beginning "A cold coming we had of it, Just the worst time of year.." ("The worst time of year"--a phrase from a 1620 sermon by Lancelot Andrewes.)

"Journey of the Magi" is also the title of a wonderful book--part adventure, often comic--by Paul William Roberts, an English, Toronto-based journalist who set out to travel the route of the Wise Men ("the men from the East") from Tehran to Bethelehem.

These are all writings we're drawn to in January, and another is "The Four Wise Men" by Michel Tournier, a work of stunning originality. One critic wrote, "There is a real touch of magic in this novel."

Finally, we remember a poem similar to Eliot's on the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem, but much more lighthearted. In it, the Wise Men stay with the Holy Family until Jesus is a toddler, and he and his little friends have fun riding the camels. Somehow, we have lost this poem, and can't remember the writer's name. If you do, please let us know. Reward: a bag of frankincense. Sorry, we're out of gold.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Damage Control at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Michael Wolff's book "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House," which sold out its first printing faster than a new Harry Potter, has the Trump damage control team working overtime. Let's listen in:

Spin Doctor: "In this book, you're quoted as saying the President has all the mental capability of a watermelon."

White House insider: "I didn't say that."

Spin Doctor: "Good. Did Wolff have his tape recorder running when you didn't say that/"

Insider: "Uh...I'm not sure."

Spin Doctor #2: "Look, they're claiming he doesn't read. Well, what if we show them his lifetime subscriptions to Penthouse and Hustler?"

Spin Doctor #3: "Hey, McDonald's is on the phone. They want to know if they can film a commercial of him in bed eating a bag of Big Mac cheeseburgers."

Spin Doctor #4: "Thank heavens. We deserve a break today."

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Most Challenging New Year's Resolution

Keeping my New Year's resolutions. (Can I at least make it to the end of the first week?)

Monday, January 1, 2018

Comforting Words for New Year's Eve Revelers

"Thoughts while recovering from a hangover: It's better to have a few mornings after than never to have a night before."      

--Jack Wasserman.