Anxiety Note:
Panne d’Eau
9 November 2018

¶ It’s unreasonable, I know, but I can’t seem to help it: every time the building announces a partial or complete water shutdown, I go into Chicken Little mode, overwhelmed by the fear that, once they turn the water off, they won’t be able to turn it back on. They’ll break something important in the course of maintenance, or the pipes will be discovered to be radioactive — something catastrophic. Usually, the shutdowns are partial, involving the hot water only, and most are scheduled to coincide with the working day. But the latest was a complete shutdown, beginning, ominously early, at nine in the evening, and running until six. This kind of thing ruins my whole day, and often the day before.

Oh, I prepare well enough. I make sure that drinking water and ice cubes are in topped-off supply, and I fill a ginormous watering can and a large mop bucket with tap water, in order to flush toilets, although that is rarely necessary. I set out a bowl of water in the sink for dipping my fingers in case they need a spot of cleaning. (A trick I learned from Babette’s Feast.) 

And the part of me that isn’t Chicken Little is pretty sure that the water is not going to be cut off at nine, that, in fact, it might still be flowing just past eleven, although at a low pressure. Service will certainly be restored (although with probably rather brown water) by six in the morning. To this worldly wisdom, accrued over decades of living in this building, Chicken Little replies, “There’s always a first time.”

So, last night, Kathleen came home somewhat early, and we ate Chinese, right out of the containers. I had already run the dishwasher, so I washed the chopsticks myself. Then I took my evening shower, and tried to relax.

Chicken Little’s warning turned out not to apply. The watering can and the mop bucket are still brimming, untouched. It’s worth bearing in mind, though, that a building repairman snipped Verizon’s master cable a few years ago, and Verizon refused to repair it, putting an end to genuine landline service to all 690 apartments. And let’s not forget the idiot who cut into a gas pipe. Chicken Little is not entirely unreasonable.

Political Note:
Fake News
8 November 2018

¶ Truly the best thing about having the midterm elections behind us — all right, almost as good as the House victory of the only remaining political party on the American scene — is the abeyance, however temporary, of headlines announcing poll results.

Polls are important to political operatives, who know how to compose them and how to decode the answers. For the rest of us, though, they are Fake News.

Book Note:
Philip the Disappointing
7 November 2018

¶ Among the books that I planned to give away, when I culled the history bookcase, were Richard Vaughan’s books about the four Dukes of Burgundy, Philip the Bold, John the Fearless, Philip the Good, and Charles the Rash. I had found them disappointing, with too much scholarship and not enough narrative drive. That was ten or more years ago. One recent evening, desperate for something to read (why is this happening so often?), I picked up Philip the Good from the giveaway pile, and read the chapter,”The Duke and His Court.” 

I soon realized that what disappointed me about Philip, anyway, was Philip himself, and not Vaughan’s history of his nearly fifty-year rule over the complicated assortment of Low Country territories (together with the Duchy and the County of Burgundy, the former part of France and the latter part of the Empire) that might have become a sovereign nation if Charles the Rash hadn’t deserved his sobriquet. Charles’s father, Philip, presided over the Golden Age of Netherlandish art, as well as the earliest period of music that I can listen to with real pleasure, and I have always tried to think of well of him for that reason. Unlike his skinflint cousins, Charles VII and Louis XI of France, Philip conducted an extravagant court. His entertainments were preposterously lavish, and it is not hard to find jawdropping accounts of his Feast of the Pheasant, a banquet held at Lille in February 1454.

But Philip clearly was, as Vaughan maintains, an inadequate statesman. He never grasped that France’s Nº 1 foreign policy was the extermination of the “Burgundian” régime. Richer than many kings, he and son were unable to garner a crown from the Holy Roman Emperor. How naïve of them to imagine that they ever would.

Well, I’ve been re-reading the book from the start, and it has made me itch to have my copy of Aline Taylor’s book about Philip’s wife, and Charles’s mother, Isabel of Portugal. I seem to have let it go. Vaughan writes, “It would be nice to know more about this interesting woman.” Isabel represented her husband at many conferences, and frequently oversaw the payment of troops. It is difficult to get a handle on her, because, well-bred woman that she was, she left little in the way of personal remarks. And her exercises of power irritated male commentators precisely because they were so competent. Philip’s third wife, she married him in 1430 — Jan van Eyck was sent on the marriage embassy to Lisbon to paint her picture for the Duke’s approval — and she bore him his only legitimate child (Charles; there were scads of bastards). Then she left him! In 1457, she retired to her own court, frequently attended by her son. We don’t know why, really; it’s unlikely that an explanation couched in the language of the Fifteenth Century would tell us what we want to know. But I suspect that she lost her respect for the duke.

I guess there’s nothing for it but to buy the used but unread copy that someone’s selling through Amazon for five bucks. This is how I get rid of books!

Citizenship Note:
I’ll be Damned
6 November 2018

¶ We went to vote today. Kathleen came home from an early-morning doctor’s appointment and picked me up — a euphemism for making sure that I got up, got dressed, and went to vote. Here’s why it was an issue.

Six months or so ago, I received a letter from the Board of Elections. It all but accused me of trying to retain my voter’s registration despite having moved to Timbuktu. In fact, of course, I had moved, but only from one apartment to another in the same building, without, presumably, leaving my voting district, which I can never remember. 68 76? Is that it? Or 68 75. It makes no sense, and it never has, but I’ve lived here for nearly forty years. I responded to the Board’s letter in the appropriate manner, and hoped that that would be an end to it. 

Then I had to renew my driver’s license — which I decided not to do. That is, I transformed my driver’s license into an ID without driving priviliges. I haven’t driven in over fifteen years, and even then I felt unfit, what with my completely calcified backbone. In the process (a minor nightmare), I managed somehow to resubmit the old apartment number to the Board of Elections in an update. I begged the DMV people to do something about this, but they said that apartment numbers didn’t matter to them. So my official ID still lists me as living in the apartment that we left four years ago. 

I repeat: we have been living at the same street address for nearly forty years. 

How many hours of tossing and turning about just this single thing have I endured since May? Many many many. Should I call the Board of Elections to make sure that my status was in order? I didn’t have the energy for that kind of speculation. So I decided that I just wouldn’t vote. I would retire as a voter, just as I have retired from concert audiences and other former pleasures. I knew that my votes wouldn’t make a difference, except to the extent that I voted for the Working Party Family slate instead of for the Democrats, even though the candidates were all the same. I will do anything in my power, short of voting for Mitch McConnell and his Satanic ilk, to destroy the Democratic Party, which to my mind has outlived its usefulness and needs to die, like an obliging mama octopus, so that new life can grow in its place. Was this burning passion of mine sufficient to break through all my morning problems, of which getting out of bed is the least? No. But when I remarked to Kathleen that I was thinking of just not voting — or rather, of avoiding the humiliation of showing up to vote only to find that I couldn’t, because the Board of Elections had removed me from the rolls — I received dim but unmistakable seismic signals warning me that this course of inaction would be a mistake. I would feel ashamed in Kathleen’s eyes, and, over time, even more ashamed in my own.

So, by the time Kathleen came back from the doctor’s to pick me up, I was putting on my socks. Step two, after showering and donning fresh Jockeys. Pretty soon, I was dressed. I felt terrible, but I had taken an anti-diarrheal pill (essential for deviation from regular plumbing processes). We left the apartment.

Just outside the front door, Kathleen said, “You stay here while I hail a cab.” Talk about role reversal — but I was much too deeply relieved to protest. I forgot to mention that it was raining, somewhere between drizzling and pouring — annoying. The rain was annoying. Kathleen nabbed a taxi right away, and in minutes we were at the latest voting place, further up Second between 91st and 92nd. Where our votes for Hillary didn’t work.

We went to the table associated with our voting district. I went first, and, to my amazement, the volunteer found my entry and the place for me to sign before I’d even had a chance to scan the page in despair. There it was. My name, anyway. The signature wasn’t mine, was it? Kathleen didn’t think so. But my writing has deteriorated greatly in the past five years, and I was in pretty bad shape, apparently, last election round. Eventually, I made out the “K” of “Keefe” and even the initial “R” of “Robert.” In any case, I signed again and was handed my ballot. Wow! No problem!

Now the whammy came: Kathleen wasn’t in the book! 

I felt so hideously guilty that I wanted to vanish in a cloud of ash. All my pointless anxiety of the past six months had had the vile side effect of erasing Kathleen from the rolls. Notwithstanding my tedious agonizing, got to vote. Blameless Kathleen was disenfranchised. 

What neither of us knew — and why should we have known — was that there is a procedure for these situations, involving an affidavit that the unlisted voter seals with his or her ballot. The packet is is carried to headquarters and dealt with. I’ll bet that Kathleen’s vote will count, but of course she’ll have to contact the Board of Elections — the very thing that I wouldn’t wouldn’t and wouldn’t do — in order to fix her status for 2020. I know it’s all my fault.

But I voted, and it feels good. Maybe not so much the voting, but rather the loving my wife.  

Rep Note:
Macaroni and Cheese
5 November 2018

¶ It has certainly been six months since the last time I made macaroni and cheese — I think it must be more like a year. I made it for dinner this evening and found out why.

The recipe that I use is celebrated everywhere, and I loved the results for years. I got it from John Thorne’s Simple Cooking, in which Thorne attributes it to Eartha Kitt, I think. From the start, I made a significant deviation: I didn’t put the finished dish in the oven. And now I’m thinking that, possibly, that’s an important, if not necessary, step in its cooking. I was afraid that the oven would dry the dish out, as most baked macaroni and cheese is. Of course, most macaroni and cheese is really Macaroni Mornay — macaroni in a béchamel to which cheddar or gruyère cheese has been added. The Kitt/Thorne recipe is rather a custard, the sauce thickened with egg rather than flour. How to put it? Less heavy but richer? It tastes great, but you can’t eat a lot of it. Nothing like the yield, even the yield of half the recipe, which is what I’ve always used. 

Maybe the oven would do something about this richness. It’s hard to think what. But I ought to give it a try. If I can find the Kitt/Thorne recipe. I’ve been making macaroni and cheese off the top of my head for twenty-five years.

My cousin, in his Columbia grad student days, used to say — dropping his voice to his low, dramatic voice of doom — “RJ, this is not macaroni and cheese.” He would eat every scrap. 

Music Note:
Beautiful Brahms
2 November 2018

¶ Now that I have the Liebeslieder scores, all I want to do is to listen to the music with the book in hand. Published by Peters, it’s a beautiful book — big, clearly printed, and so handsome that it’s almost musical itself. The rather heavy, old-fashioned type on the cover is offset by background of mint greens that couldn’t be nicer to look at. 

Although I know the music by heart, I know it as a flat panel of sound. Although I hear inner voices, I don’t always know where they’re coming from (or where they’re going), and I don’t recognize patterns as quickly with my ear as I do with my eye. (Which may be why audiobooks are not for me.) For example, take the first two lines of Nº 4 of the first set — the song I was craziest about when first heard this music, fifty years ago.

Wie des Abends schöne röte
Möcht ich, arme Dirne, glühn.

There is a pattern here that I didn’t grasp until had the score in front of me. There are five words of two syllables in these lines, and the first syllable of  each of these words is slurred over two notes, the second a tone below the first. The second syllables of the three words in the first line are also set to that second note — a perfect lilting waltz, (Abends and schöne are set to the same three notes, A’s followed by two G’s.) The two two-syllable words in the second line are treated in the same general way as to the first syllable, but the drops are half-tones. The third notes do not repeat the second, but link the words in a minor-mode melodic chain that not only continues the lilt but expresses the sadness of the “poor girl” who, as the third and fourth lines tell us, only wants to find a man to please. The variation on the pattern subtly but unmistakably marks the difference between the serenely setting sun and the unfulfilled damsel. I was aware of all this musically, but it was locked into my musical awareness; I couldn’t have spoken of it. But I saw it right away. 

That’s why I read scores.

Muddle Note:
Where’s the Package?
1 November 2018

¶ The score of Brahms’s Liebeslieder and Neue Liebeslieder Walzer arrived today, or at least it was put into my hands. There had been a muddle. When I read online that it had been delivered by the Post Office the previous Saturday, I made the wrong decision. I called the vendor, who obliged me by offering to send another copy. I ought to have gone to the package room to ask about it there. I never received a notification from them, which is why I didn’t ask. Their system of notifications works pretty well, and if you don’t get one, the people in the package room aren’t going to know anything about it. But there was a slip this time: they did know, but they forgot to tell me. The envelope turned up along with some other packages about which I’d been duly notified. Now I shall have to contact the vendor when the replacement arrives, to see what to do. 

The score may have been delivered by the Post Office, but it wouldn’t have fit in my mailbox.

October 2018

Reading Note:
Even the Trains
31 October 2018

Finally, finally, I have come to the end of RJB Bosworth’s Mussolini’s Italy: Life Under the Fascist Dictatorship 1915-1945. If it hadn’t been so well-written, I’d have hated it. There was too much information for a first-time reader, too many new names, even for someone who had just read Jasper Ridley’s brisk but by no means summary biography of Il Duce himself. The subtitle ought to have been Life Around the Fascist Dictator, for the topic under discussion almost always concerned jockeying for favor. And a great deal of dispersed information could have been boiled down a bit and collected in a single chapter, “No, He Didn’t Make the Trains Run on Time. Even.” 

It’s a disaster story in slow motion. Mussolini, a man of the people whose father was a blacksmith (and an insurrectionist; he named his son after Juarez), did well in school and became, by all accounts, a first-class newspaperman. There you go. He certainly knew how to talk — his speeches, far from run-on rants, were usually concise, at least until the last, desperate years. But politics? Nobody in Italy really understood politics, at least the kind of politics that you can discuss with your mother. Italy itself was too new, unified only in theory. As usual in a nineteenth-century polity that didn’t speak English, Italian leaders made a complete hash of liberalism, and were hardly more democratic than their Fascist successors. Nor did anyone grasp the rudiments of relations between modern government and modern industry. (I’m sometimes afraid that, in this country, they have been forgotten.)

For me, the killer tragic fact was that, on the eve of the War, the Italians were producing about 1600 planes per year, substantially fewer than the United States produced in a week. Such radical inadequacy in matériel across the board rendered Italy totally unfit for any European war.

In short, the temptation to feel sorry for Mussolini and his gang is at times very strong, especially when comparisons are made to their Axis pals to the north. But if, to be bad, you have to be Hitler or Himmler, then we’re all in a lot of trouble. The Fascists were thugs, or, to be nicer, they were confused and displaced veterans of Italy’s shambolic campaign in the First World War, who knew how to have fun with a gun. They used the Party to feather their nests, and of course became semi-respectable in the process, careful to ensure that their sons didn’t take after them. They grew pathetically middle-aged, but although they gave up shooting in the streets, they never really grew up.

Indeed, it’s a picture of jowly squadristi, on their way to some PNF festa in Rome, that opens Iris Origo’s A Chill in the Air, which together with her War in Val d’Orcia sparked my desire to know more, much more, about Italy between the wars. I’m glancing through these incredibly apt diaries a second time. Nothing puts me on the ground faster, or at least creates the illusion of doing so. My next biography is going to be about her. 

Connection Note:
Calling It In
30 October 2018

¶ As a favor to Kathleen, I went down to Duane Reade to fetch a clutch of refills for her. While I was there, I switched her phone number, so that now she’ll receive texts on her smartphone. She has been connecting with Duane Reade via the landline, which not only isn’t a landline anymore but doesn’t do texting. Also, I had to call in all her refill requests.

Kathleen has a beautiful, clear, and low-pitched voice, but she has trouble making herself understood to the drugstore’s robots, especially when reading in long prescription numbers. Part of the problem, if you ask me, is that she sounds somewhat fearful and annoyed, as who wouldn’t, in the face of constant rejection (“I’m sorry, I didn’t get that.”). Several months ago, I offered to take over, and things have been going smoothly. I would put on my peppy, radio-trained, “You have just won a prize!” voice, and the lady robot at the other end always understood me. But even though I had silly fun overdoing the confidence of my inputs, Kathleen minded having to ask me.

So we’ll see how the texting goes.

Dinner Note:
Pork Roast
29 October 2018

It has never happened before. On two successive weekends, two law-school classmates showed up in town. Unfortunately, they missed one another — they were both housemates of Kathleen’s.

Once again, we gathered for dinner with Fossil Darling and Ray Soleil. This weekend’s guest has long nursed a crush, against crushing odds, on Fossil, and she wanted to have a look at Ray, whom she had never met, to see what he, despite the obvious, had that she didn’t. Also in the party was our friend’s daughter, who is hoping to get into one of the city’s eminent universities at some point during the next six weeks.

This time, we had dinner here, and not at a restaurant. I knew from the start that I was going to serve a big bowl of spaghetti; in the event, I sauced it with my ragù bolognese (which I’ve copied from Giuliano Hazan’s pasta book). I was thinking of grilled chicken with a salad for secondi, but when I was at Fairway I spotted a nice-looked boned and rolled loin of pork. It occurred to me that I could treat this as I do ham, lining the roasting pan with fresh pineapple rings. I would marinate the meat in a blend of ingredients that would probably include maple syrup. Indeed, I found just the right recipe in Classic Home Cooking. Since I had already done my shopping and had no intention of going out again, I substituted a cup of wine for a cup of pineapple juice. It was all pretty simple. Kathleen and our friend vetoed the salad when they saw that I had fresh corn kernels to sauté. Kathleen bought some pastries at Maison Keyser. 

It was pretty simple, but I was on my feet all afternoon. Then I sat down with everyone for an hour, even though I knew that it would be terrifically hard to get back up and into the kitchen. Nevertheless, it all came out well. I made a loaf of garlic toast, using a baguette from Keyser; I really must study the subject of garlic toast, because mine never comes out right, and I conclude that I need of some real recipes.

The pineapple juice would probably have made for a nicer jus than the wine. 

Our friend confessed that she is living vicariously through her pretty daughter’s love life, which isn’t active enough for Mom. I told her (Mom) that, for a goy, she was doing a very good sitcom Jewish mother. I sympathized with her daughter at every turn. That’s what old friends are for; just ask Fossil Darling.

Gotham Note:
Storm Warning
26 October 2018

¶ Why, I wondered, was Fairway so crowded on a late Friday afternoon? The girl at checkout suggested that people were “paranoid” about the storm — the Nor’easter promised for tomorrow. Such silliness! When does a Nor’easter really affect Manhattan? A lot of wind, maybe, and some drizzly rain (never a downpour). Does no one recall the story of the three pigs? The buildings here begin with bricks and get more formidable from there.

This one was forecast for snow. Does Trump write this stuff?

What it is, of course, is that people worry about supplies, and whether workers, who don’t live here, will be able to get to work. Not altogether unreasonable. And I suppose that a lot of people simply decided to do their weekend shopping a day early. The real problem is that there is only one food market in this neighborhood (Whole Foods doesn’t count). There used to be two, neither of which is doing business is anymore. And a third before that. 

Anyway, it was chaos at Fairway. Midway through the checkout line, I realized that, because I was concentrating on a dinner party tomorrow night, I had forgotten to buy sugar. What with all the lemonade for Kathleen’s Arnold Palmers, we go through plenty. I figured I had enough in the sugar bowls for another batch of simple syrup. But I’ll have to go back on Monday, and buy some more lemons as well. 

Souvenir Note:
Kondo No-No
25 October 2018

¶ There are still a few items on the dining table still haven’t found a place since I removed them from the linen closet. Two that I did manage to clear off were plastic containers of the kind that I hate, because with their snap lids &c they take up much more room than their contents merit.

One of these containers is the size of a shoebox. Inside was a smaller box, with no lid, containing a collection of shoe-polishing equipment. We don’t polish our shoes anymore. But you never know. So I took out the smaller box and returned it to the linen closet, where it didn’t take up much room.

The other container, somewhere between the size of a pencil case and a shoebox, contained fragments that any sane person would throw away. A piece or two of inlay from a folding screen that Ray Soleil took years to talk me out of having restored. (He carted it off to charity.) A couple of green glass leaves and rose glass petals that fell off an extravagant piece of decorola that my mother picked up somewhere, an Italian bouquet of something, about a cubic foot in size — Kathleen put up with it for years before we agreed that it was unsalvageably duty — and a pair of miniature Japanese clogs that belong to a geisha bunny doll that sits among pillows on a sofa in the living room.

I found a nice place for all of these bits, a lidded wicker basket for which my grandson makes a beeline whenever he visits, because it contains a whirly flashing light thing that I can’t even describe.

Reading Note:
Territorial Rights
24 October 2018

The latest book that I’ve re-read is Muriel Spark’s Territorial Rights, which I bought and read for the first time when it came out, in 1979. I bought it because (a) I hadn’t read any Muriel Spark yet, and thought I ought to, (b) the dust jacket featured a haunting watercolor by John Alcorn, and (3) I was looking for something like Daphne DuMaurier’s Don’t Look Now, or, rather, like Nicholas Roeg’s film adaptation of that novella. In this last, I was disappointed, because Territorial Rights, while mysterious in its way, isn’t at all spooky. And I was still too dense to discern Spark’s understated connections. But, because of the watercolor, I didn’t get rid of it. 

Nevertheless, we were parted for some time. I recaptured the book about ten years later, in a barn in Texas, where it had been sheltered since the breakup of my father’s household in Houston. I clutched it and carried it off to New York, where it sat undisturbed on various shelves for nearly a quarter of a century, until I pulled it down the other day. 

I much enjoyed reading it again. Territorial Rights is a very dry, very mordant ensemble comedy from a mistress of dry mordant comedies. The humor is almost entirely fixed in the language.

Amazon offers a couple of editions of the novel, but none with the Alcorn dust jacket.

Gaga Note:
At the Dentist
23 October 2018

¶ When I go the dentist for a cleaning, it is usually late on a Tuesday afternoon. A while ago, I discovered that the technician did not care to watch TV news any more than I did. She was happy to turn it off. She says that she gets her full diet of news on the one day of the week on which she works, and by four o’clock, she’s had it. I went at three today, and instead of the news there was Ellen, with the sound off. I was asked if I’d prefer to have it turned off, but I said no — as long as it wasn’t making any noise, I might find it a bearable distraction. Which I sort of did. My, though, what depravity! As I took my seat, two guys, one black and one white, were gyrating in the aisles like strip-club dancers. The women in the audience (which was composed mostly but not entirely of women) responded with corresponding enthusiasm. The thought crossed my mind is that this is how ladies like their porn. Everyone remains clothed, the ratio of women to men is fifty or sixty to one, and the ecstatic shrieking is anonymously choral. The guys probably don’t mind it, either: it’s all display, and they don’t have to pay attention to anybody else.  

Later in the show, Ellen — Ellen DeGeneres, whom I know only as a celebrity, never having seen her in anything — had a guest, by the surname of Pompeo, who dispensed with the talk-show format and, pivoting in her chair, sold her shtick directly to the audience. Very brash. As for Ellen herself, she was usually covering her face, or at least her smile, in a pretense of mortification.

My only question is why it took Trump so long. His audience has obviously been groomed for years.

Gotham Note:
A Visit
22 October 2018

My favorite thing is have friends from out of town come to visit and have lunch with me at the pub. This weekend, one of my law school pals flew up from South Carolina to see Marnie at the Met. We got together with her on Saturday night at Fossil Darling’s — he’s a pal of hers now, too — and we had dinner at Shun Lee, which is always a treat, but wasn’t quite what it might be, because Ray Soleil had stuffed me with his scrumptious hors d’oeuvres. 

After lunch, my friend came back to the apartment for a pot of tea. She was one of the two readers of the first draft of the writing project, and although she liked it, she agreed that my ideas for a complete overhaul were not bad. She said, “It was great fun to read, but there were all these threads that I would have liked to read more about.” “Not if I’d actually written about them, you wouldn’t.” What I learned from the first draft was that I don’t have the skill to write at length about things that interest me. Or let’s say, rather, that I’ve never bothered to develop it. How well I remember the protests of another law school pal, who protested that she was going to take my other site off her reading list altogether if there was one more entry about Hannah Arendt.

So, now I’m trying to figure out how to write about liberalism without appearing to deliver a treatise. It’s really hard!

Lackluster Note:
Out of Ertia
19 October 2018

¶ It would be nice to have something interesting to say about food, but Kathleen and I have both been too tired to digest anything more complicated than a sandwich or pasta or the usual stuff from the Chinese restaurant. Oh, and cheeseburgers. My latest little craze is spreading Russian dressing on mine’s bun. You’d be surprised by how nicely it brings back the delights of Burger King, closed now since last spring, its storefront still vacant. (Meanwhile, the Wahlburger branch around the corner has been padlocked for a few months, too. I don’t think that it was open for a year altogether.) 

Looking for something new, I noticed an outfit called Mochaburger across the street from the 83rd Street subway entrance. It took me a while to figure out that it’s a kosher burger joint. You can have “lamb bacon” if you like. Have you ever heard of lamb bacon? Although the awning promises delivery and announces a phone number, there’s nothing about this on the Web site. I withdrew.

The grilled cheese and (bacon) bacon sandwiches at Gracie’s Corner, across the street (it used to be at the other end of the block, on the First Avenue corner) are pretty good — if you are sitting at a booth and planning to eat them there. They do not travel well. By the time they get here, they resemble building materials, and taste little better. It’s as though traveling across the street in the fresh air somehow intensifies their greasiness. Nevertheless, for lack of alternatives, I resort somewhat desperately…

And yet the refrigerator is full, of something. So is the freezer.

The onset of dementia certainly makes for an exciting explanation, but I know that it’s just top-quality sloth.

Staying-Home Note:
Heyday
18 October 2018

¶ I don’t know how she does it. Kathleen got up at 4:15 on Monday morning to catch an early flight to Dallas. This morning, she did the same thing to come home.

She was glad that I wasn’t with her, she said, because both flights were bumpy. The flight out was conventionally turbulent, but the flight back — “It was more like going downstairs.” I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I didn’t ask.

It used to be that turbulence was the only discomfort of travel. Now every step of the way is fraught, beginning with worries about the intestinal fortitude (not a metaphor) that’s required to drive all the way to JFK.

I’m not given to romanticizing the past, but I should have been much, much happier in the heyday of railroads.

Genetic Note:
Not So Simple
17 October 2018

¶ At dinner a weekend or so ago, a friend persuaded me to give 23andme a try. She thought it would be interesting to find out how Irish I am.

Needless to say, I couldn’t care less about that — except that I’d be thrilled to discover that I’m a hundred percent Nederlands, which I rather doubt. Sometimes just plain Danish would do. Anything to be Continental. But Irish is the most likely story. According to one of the few shreds of paper that I have from the Foundling Hospital, my birth mother claimed that her father was a US Navy captain, posted mostly in Central America — which led to her incarceration in some Catholic girls’ boarding school in “the South.” (What a thought, really! It makes me work hard to imagine the other three grandparents!) She also claimed that my birth father told her (in a tender moment?) that he was a divorcé from San Francisco who had already sired three children. When I consider how strongly my daughter (in every way possible for someone of the opposite sex) and my grandson (in his wits and height) resemble or at least remind me of me, it’s very hard to work backward and imagine all these people. It comes, I think, from being the product of typical Boomer irresponsibility — committed, though, by an earlier generation. What did Boomers look like before there were Boomers?

So I signed up. I signed up for the cheaper version. I won’t learn anything about likely diseases, which is just as well given the ones I’ve already got. This ought, I think, to have spared me a lengthy and rather tiresome questionnaire about my medical history. Nobody warned me about this. I had to try to remember when I was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, along with nearly a million other tediosities. The questionnaire is surely geared to younger, healthier clients, who can breeze right through it. 

I admitted to having smoked a hundred cigarettes in my lifetime. (I didn’t have to say that that was well under my weekly habit for twenty years.) They didn’t ask me how long it has been since my last drag, but I can tell you: 35 years. 

Then came the spitting. There must be something I don’t know. It took at least fifteen spits to reach the “Fill to Here” level — grueling work. If I had done it in the morning, and coughed up a blob of phlegm, it might have been easier. But there were no instructions or guidelines about any of this, and I felt, throughout, that I was botching the whole thing. 

The final conundrum was how to mail the packet back to the lab. The Post Office has gotten rather shirty about depositing packages in the mailbox, so I went to the local branch, where I was told that I could have I could have dropped it in the mailbox right outside the coffee shop across the street, but, as long as I was there, I would be given a receipt. So now I just wait. 

I omit the glitchy details of setting up a password for my 23andme account.

When the results tell me that I’m as Irish as a leprechaun, I won’t be unhappy. I used to be somewhat ashamed of my alleged lineage, but now I know that the Irish write the best English, or at least set the standard. Just my luck that so few people actually speak English anymore. 

Reading Note:
Real
16 October 2018

¶ Farewell to Matthew Josephson, the final chapter of whose Robber Barons I found immensely exciting, even though I’d read about the events recounted therein at least twice before. Josephson doesn’t admire any of the plutocrats he writes about, certainly not JP Morgan, who imposed law and order on the chaos of development that followed the Civil War, but at the cost of healthy competition, exposing the economy to the follies that led to the Crash. Nevertheless the reader will probably root for Morgan during the final battle for control of the Northern Pacific Railroad.

I’ve already written about Josephson’s sparkling prose. All I want to do here is to add another example. Josephson is writing about the speech that Charles Schwab gave at a large dinner party in December 1900. (It precipitated the organization of US Steel.) 

A born actor, an emotional and imaginative after-dinner speaker, using a plain, hearty, workaday charm with real disingenuousness, Schwab played his part to perfection. (424)