Eternal Wondering

billy-goat-gruff-troll

By Bob Litton

I deserted my once favorite café, where I used to sit and watch the Amtrak trains halt and some of their passengers disembark for a chance to stretch and gaze at the strange surroundings while the crew-change proceeded. (See my blog post of May 14, 2015 [initially published in September of 2013]). I ceased going there because three of my favorite waitresses had quit. It was an act of protest, on my part at least.

I started roosting at a café near the university, where the waitresses are most affectionate. I don’t know why they treat me so royally, since I have an unbreakable habit of constantly teasing them. I simply cannot stop. This new roost is not as decorative as the other one and is really quite noisy inside. The noise results from some regulars, the sound of whose loud conversations is magnified by cinder tile walls and rubber tile flooring. A TV tuned to a sports or a news channel, and a radio playing in the kitchen, contribute their own shares to the hubbub.

After several months of bearing up under that, I began last week to sit at one of three small tables on the porch outside. One drawback to the porch is that the railroad track is a little further away, to the south, and is largely blocked from view by some buildings and trees across the highway. I can still see part of one train car but no passengers. However, it is generally quieter on the porch, except on the weekends, when tourists and other types descend and sometimes overflow onto MY porch.

Recently, a couple about my age, whom I really like, parked in the area out front and approached. When they arrived at the porch, the woman smiled and asked, “Are you guarding the door?”

“Yes,” I replied. “I am charging a toll to enter. I am a troll charging a toll, but I’ll let you pass on in, gratis.”

After my acquaintances went inside, I pondered my potential as a troll—actually playing the part. Of course, for me to do so would require some heavy-duty facial makeup and deflation of my normally poetic vocabulary, for trolls are noted for their ugliness and stupidity; and I am noted for just the opposite: I might even have to change my name.

Then it struck me that, actually, I remembered very little about trolls, only vaguely recalling that they hung around bridges and accosted passersby. I wondered where they originated and in how many fairy tales they were characters.

When I got home, I checked them out on Wikipedia, where I discovered that the first known story of the troll was in “Three Billy Goats Gruff”: one of the stories collected by Norwegian folklorists Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe between 1841 and 1844. There have been successive variations on the story, but the classic tale has each of the first two goats, in turn, persuading the stupid but hungry troll to wait for the next goat, which will be larger and thus more filling than they; and the third goat is large and stout enough to butt the troll off the bridge and into the river. The troll survives, but he doesn’t bother anyone after that.

In my estimation, the most amusing of the variants cited by Wikipedia is that found in the children’s book Timakistan by Andri Snær Magnason, summarized as follows:

The variant features a kid, its mother, and her husband. When the mother goat tells the troll to eat her husband instead of her, “the troll lost his appetite. ‘What’s the world coming to?’ he cried. ‘The kid tells me to eat its mother, and she tells me to eat her husband! Crazy family!’ The troll goes home leaving the goats uneaten.

I suppose this version appeals to me because it resonates with the current state of society—both political and cultural. Children and, by extension, we adults are supposed to extract lessons for living from such a tale. So, what have we here? The first—and most obvious—moral we can note is: In order to drive away hucksters and muggers, act like you are crazy; better yet, become crazy!

But there is more to be said about the goats and the troll.

First of all, I never did get the intent of the adjective “gruff” as applied in this story. According to the dictionary, “gruff” has two meanings: (1) abrupt or taciturn in demeanor; and (2) of a voice, low and rough in pitch. I suppose one could turn aside an accosting character with such a tone, but it seems to me more likely that the smaller goats would have employed more pathetic, smarmy tones. The persona of a lobbyist would be most apropos.

But the more important element here is the wiliness of the smaller goats, who deflect the troll by sic’ing him onto the next goat. If the goats do not have such a plan, however, then all we can assume is that the first two are treacherous, for the troll might have been able to capture and eat the second goat, at least.

As for the troll, he might be stupid but only to a degree. Why should he go to all the trouble and possible injury in overpowering a smaller goat, which may not in fact satiate his hunger, when he could venture all on a late arrival that surely will come the closest to filling his belly? He just didn’t foresee how mean and tough a grown billy goat can be. Moreover, Magnason, in his version, has granted the troll some amount of morality.

Well, dear reader, I have to go now. I must dig up something else to wonder about. But, before I leave, what does the tale of “Three Billy Goats Gruff” say to you about life, about people?

Finis

Ruminations

By Bob Litton

“But why, then, do you write?”
“Well, my dear sir, to tell you in confidence, I have found no other means of getting rid of my thoughts.”
“And why do you wish to get rid of them?”
“Why I wish? Do I really wish! I must.”
“Enough!  Enough!”
— Excerpted from Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Gay Science, Book Second, §93, translated by Thomas Common (Nietzsche’s meaning of “gay” is “joyful”, not “homosexual”).

 ♦

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Solitaire

Wha’d I tell you? It’s been only a month and here I am again, typing out a blog post. And what have I been doing in the meantime? playing Solitaire, just like the indifferent lover in Karen Carpenter’s song. So, leaving off the blog did not equal leaving off the computer. I am gathering the notion that my only viable alternatives are chains or a lobotomy.

Actually, though, I did learn a few lessons through my time among the cards: that playing Solitaire-to-win requires perserverance, and that I am an impatient student; that although Solitaire is basically a game of chance—more so than Free Cell anyway—there often is some wiggle room for strategy; that it is extremely frustrating when a bunch of small-digit cards (2’s and 3’s) or the royalty cards dominate the bottom row when they are first spread (nothing more useless than a “2”, and yet two or three of them often appear face-up when the cards are laid out); that the prospect of losing is essential to enjoying the game; and that Solitaire is addictive, so much so that I ran back to my blog to escape it.

* * * * * *

Hail to thee, mockingbird and cicada 

Well, it’s summer now in my little hamlet. Most of the pecan, pear and oak trees survived a severe wind and rain storm here a couple of months ago; a few large limbs crashed, and even some old trees and a few young apple trees had to be put to sleep. But the vast majority of trees have leafed out fully. The daytime high temperatures range from the mid-eighties to the lower nineties so far; they will probably dance around the low one-hundreds before the summer is over.

A mockingbird croons occasionally—too seldom, as far as I am concerned. The mockingbird population in this part of the state is minimal compared to North Central Texas, where I come from. I love to hear the clear, varying notes of the mockingbird: it is the adopted mascot…of, say, my Solitaire team.

Perhaps I just never noticed the local cicadas before—though I find that hard to believe—but for the first time in thirteen years here I have been hearing their loud clicking, what we called the locust’s song during my childhood. You know, of course, that there is a big difference between the cicada and the locust, for the real “locust” is actually the grasshopper of biblical scourge fame. The cicada’s mating and alert calls are not “pretty” like the mockingbird’s, but they are amusing at least.

To us kids in Dallas, the cicada was one of the fun events of summer. They are funny to look at—though they can be scary under magnification—and they are easy to catch. We used to climb up a small tree and grab one off a limb, tote him to earth, tie a thread noose around him, and then toss him into the air, where he would swirl around to our great amusement, just like a tiny kite or a model plane. But, like I said, I had not heard one in decades until this summer; I had come to believe that the oil companies had exterminated them.

I had also come to believe that the oil companies drove the fireflies (a.k.a. “lightning bugs”) into extinction, for I haven’t seen any of those in decades either. However, a really dark night is required to see the alternating beams of a lightning bug, and, even in this remote place, we live in virtually endless light. Also, I am no longer a creature of the night, retiring about 9 o’clock each evening, provided the neighbors will allow it. And twilight lingers after nine.

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“Should” should be dropped from dictionaries  

You realize, don’t you, that with each year gained in age comes a complementary ability to spot flaws in individuals, in society…dang it!…in the world itself. Well, I haven’t escaped even that undesirable aspect of accumulating years. Sometimes, however, it is difficult to tell whether a particular flaw in our environment is new and truly awful enough to warrant castigating.

I am inclined to believe that one among many modern phenomena deserving of a good thrashing is our use of the word should and its synonyms: ought to and need to. Now, I admit that I use these terms frequently enough, especially when engaged in soliloquies about what I have failed to do, have overlooked, or am scheduling.

That is bad enough, but when I see the term used extensively and every day on the Internet programming sites, I get really annoyed by it all: “Ten foods you should not eat”, “Twenty places you should visit before you die”, “Why you need to explain to your children the reason they have no daddy but two mommies”, etc. Often, there is a whole page lined up with such article titles. It all brings to mind images of “Big Brother”.

Now, don’t chastise me! I know I have used in this post the very word I want everybody to expunge from their vocabularies. Just goes to show: I will never meet the qualifications for “Big Brother”, although there is still the opportunity open to me for the presidency of this great nation.

Finis

Au revoir, mes amis

You know what? It is darn near impossible to guesstimate how many people regularly visit my blog. (I like that word “visit”, by the way, because it does not absolutely imply reading…or reading all the way through, anyway.) So, I have no idea how many people this notice will affect: I assume at least a dozen, six of them my friends, and the remaining six being residents in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Germany, and France (from whence visitors’ flags most often appear when I post a new essay, poem, and other stuff). Over the past 2-1/4 years, 138 WordPress bloggers have signed up as “followers”, but I suspect that more than half of them have drifted away for any one or more of several good reasons. But it all boils down to this situation: I am addressing here the non-followers because, if I do not write some explanation, they might become curious—maybe even concerned—when they cannot view any new post after continual visits: I do not want them to waste their time.

Now, I know I have abandoned the blog at least twice in the past for brief periods, although on one of those occasions I at least covered my rear by saying I was taking a “sabbatical” for an indeterminate period. Let’s face it: I do not have much will power, and I confess I am addicted to blogging, in fact to the Internet itself, maybe even to this damn computer. However, all this sitting in front of a computer and typing is taking a toll on my body and my psyche: I need to get outside for exercise and sunshine. So, I am hoping I can be resolute this time.

I do intend to keep my blog operative for two reasons, the lesser reason first: (1) Once you shut down a WordPress blog, you cannot reopen it; and (2) some readers occasionally revisit certain older posts. A few of the most popular of the older posts are: “Secular Epiphanies” (a runaway favorite), “Favorite Bars” (rather long but vibrant), “Pocahontas’ Legacy: A Serendipitous Anecdote” (a surprising hit), “McGuffey’s Eclectic Reader vs. Dick and Jane” (everybody can relate to this one), “Surviving the Survivalists” (heavy stuff but brief at least) and the three posts about the young Dutch singer Amira Willighagen, starting with “A ‘Shout-out’ for Amira” (she, not my writing, was most of the draw for these posts). I would not want to deprive the world of those masterpieces.

I want my regular readers to be assured that I much appreciate them, and I really have enjoyed watching all those small national flags pop up on my blogsite (about 170 at last count). As I mentioned above, I do not know if I have the will power to leave off blogging for very long. I hope I can, for the sake of my physical and mental health.

Au revoir, mes amis,
     Le Flâneur

Le Flâneur (trans.: “Man-About-Town”)

Le Boulevardier

LE FLÂNEUR sitting at his favorite roost in the Bread & Breakfast Cafe and Bakery, Alpine, Texas. In this scene he is in his usual pose, holding a book and gazing out a plate glass window at an idling Amtrak train, which rests on a track 100 yards away. There is a definite parallel between him and the train: They sit to be seen. (Photo By Linsey Dugan)

©2013 By Bob Litton

NOTE TO READERS: Some of you might recognize this post which was initially published back in September of 2013, so I feel obliged to explain why I am publishing it again.

As you can see from the photo, I—as a type—am the core subject. You might understandably deduce from that clue that here is a case of egoism running rampant, the self begging for more attention. Well, such is not the case. While it is true that I focus on myself, it is the type—the “flâneur”—which is the true subject; I am just playing that role.

The reason I want to publish it again is that I feel this essay did not get the attention it deserves— only three “views” on the stats page in a year and a half. I discovered that fact last weekend, when the third viewer showed up on my stats page. I wondered why so few had bothered. And then it struck me that, since the title “Le Flâneur” is in French and is not a frequently used term, interest would possibly be diminished. So, what I decided to do was add an English translation to the title and republish.

Please give it a read, my friends, because I consider it one of the most humorous, entertaining and informative essays I have ever written—for this blog or anywhere else.
—BL

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One of my friends is always calling me names. They are not the good old-fashioned American names like “Son-of-a-Bitch” and…well, let’s leave it with that one. No, he calls me a “solipsist” and an “omphalopsychic”: the first word denotes someone who believes the only true and valuable knowledge is what we know of ourselves; the second word (which you won’t find in a modern dictionary) denotes a “navel-gazer” — someone who spends too much time in introspection. My friend intends neither term as flattery, but I accept them as such.

My friend also calls me a “boulevardier”, by which he does mean to flatter me. It is obviously a French term, and it denotes one, emblematically a male dandy, who “walks the boulevards”…or, in America, the central avenues and streets. A synonym for “boulevardier” is “flâneur”, which I prefer for the obvious reason that it doesn’t take as long to utter.

As for “solipsist” and “omphalopsychic”, I readily concede — as did Socrates and Michel de Montaigne — that the most trustworthy knowledge is what we know about ourselves, both in our outward behavior and, especially, in our inner selves. Everything in the external world is ephemeral and, even when it is directly in front of us, vague…ambiguous. Our inner selves, it is true, also change: our tastes, values, even memories. Nonetheless, they are more measurable and reliable than our social perceptions and our political conceptions. And, often, through introspection we arrive at surprisingly profound insights.

But I would rather talk today about my “flâneur” reputation. It’s not easy being a flâneur in my town…or in any other small town in the U.S. of A., I would imagine. You see, a flâneur’s primary characteristic is that of a stroller…a saunterer…an investigator of the streets. At least, that’s the way the Parisians view their flâneurs. In our American small towns, such ambling gents (or ladies) are more often looked upon as loafers…or worse.

As I mentioned, flâneurs, in the classic sense, are also “investigators”. I mean, just look at the implications of strolling: the habit of the mind, unlike the legs, is not to amble leisurely in the skull; it is, rather, to gauge, to judge. Thus, the flâneur might be observed turning his head after a young lady passes, to see if her rear appearance is as lovely as her front appearance. Or his turning might simply be to discover if she has turned her head as well: if so, a positive sign. But, ordinary, bustling Americans look upon such behavior as soliciting at best or as stalking at worst. Those people are usually married.

Another difficulty facing the American flâneur is the typical design of our towns. While many of them were originally established with town squares, where several inviting shops and cafes could be visited during a leisurely stroll around the central park and courthouse, with its ancient cannon prominently displayed, that Norman Rockwell scene has largely disappeared. The guilty engines of this transformation are, of course, the automobile and the strip mall. We have implanted in our brains the notion that the sole purpose of going into a shop is to buy a predetermined object, preferably during a clearance sale. And we go to eating places to gobble down a pre-cooked meal, again as cheaply as possible. That’s why the supermarkets and the convenience stores have replaced the neighborhood mom-and-pop groceries. That’s why we see more fast food chain franchises than colorful ethnic restaurants. We want to drive in and drive out, not stroll to a romantic café.

Still, I manage to retain some of the attributes of the historical flâneur. I am a man in the crowd but not of the crowd. I maintain my ironical indifference as much as I can. I have my favorite roost in one of our local cafes, where I can gauge the dress, demeanor, and physiognomy of those entering the place, to determine if they are tourists or merely more of the conventional denizens who talk of nothing but motorcycles, football and guns; or, not to ignore the opposite gender, the latest buzz on their iPads, whose daughter is the latest to get pregnant, or how they plan to get their husband to buy a certain color of carpet for the bedroom. Then there is that corner table where the local politicians and their followers gather to castigate their opponents. I used to join the politicos and hangers-on at mid-morning until I finally came to the conclusion that they knew less about themselves than the ladies with their iPads and carpet colors. These clannish discussions usually concentrate at particular tables, as a matter of fact, but I don’t see anything extraordinary in that. It’s a subliminally developed habit that began in grade school, where the children early on developed their cliques and gathered at the same spots on the playground during after-lunch recess.

I have much more fun at a couple of the high-end restaurants: one pretends to an Italian atmosphere, the other to a “cowboy cuisine”. What a curious conflation: “cowboy cuisine”!!! At the latter, I usually settle for the soup of the day, as long as it is not too spicy.  Oh, but the waitresses there are mostly pretty and all jolly and all diligent. It is fun to watch and listen to them describe any day’s special delicacies in detail; how they do ripple the terms off their lips! And they are always ultra-kind to me because, I suppose, I am old, walk with a cane, and therefore am not dangerous. I’m just a funny old flirt in their eyes, which is fine with me.

The Italian place is much less trafficked; thus employing only a third of the waitresses one will find at the cowboy cuisine restaurant. There I go for a decent meal of tuna salad over romaine lettuce, or a small pizza.

There is also a nice Chinese restaurant way down the road at the edge of town, way too far for walking; but I drive there occasionally for beef or pork chop suey.

The bars I have already written about (See “Favorite Bars”, published January 31, 2013). I used to be a bar or pub hopper in Dallas and later even here, but the atmosphere of such places has changed radically, and not to my liking. The “music” is too loud and repetitious, the decor is hideously funky and cluttered with TV sets turned on to sports events, and the bar tenders (many of whom are working below their educational levels) are often possessed of sour attitudes.

But, best of all is to sit at my favorite roost in the café and watch passengers disembark off an Amtrak train a hundred yards across the highway and a large parking lot. The passengers stretch and yawn and gaze about to study what burg they are stalled in now and whether to risk venturing across the road to “catch a bite to eat”.

And here I sit, waiting for them.

Le Flaneur, by Paul Gavami, 1842

Finis

Mother

By Bob Litton

I thought I would write another memoir about Mother—one concentrated more on the positive things about her as a person and her struggles. However, I just now re-read my May 11, 2014, post about her and saw that, while I had indeed written perhaps too much about the emotional distance that developed between us, I had also related some of the good moments we shared. No need to repeat those.

I will mention one part of our history together that I neglected in that earlier post.

I attended a small, privately-run kindergarten with thirteen other children. One day I was surprised on being informed by our teacher that a cab was waiting outside for me. I had never ridden in a cab before, much less alone. The cab driver took me downtown where Mother was waiting at her workplace, a dress factory called Lorch’s; she was a silk-finisher there. (Mother made all my shirts while I was in elementary school.) Lorch’s was a couple of blocks from the original Sanger Brothers department store, where, each Christmas season, the delightful mechanical elves hammered away at toys in the display window.

Mother’s workday had concluded by the time I arrived. We walked from there to a hole-in-the-wall book-and-magazine store a short distance away, one of my favorite places of all time. After I had selected a couple of used comic books and Mother had picked out a book for herself to read, we continued on to a nearby cafeteria for supper. Then we went to a movie theater on “theater row”.

After we got out of the movie house, it was getting dark. We boarded a street car headed for our neighborhood, and that’s when the biggest treat of the day happened: I could view all the colorful marquee, business, and street lights; and, closer to home, smell the aroma of bread baking at the Mrs. Baird’s factory. After that experience I had a hard time going to sleep without a streetcar ride downtown to see the lights. I think I made a nuisance of myself because of that addiction.

I regret that every time I write about Mother—as in the anecdote above—her image and character seem too pale, as though she had the supporting role in a play, not the central role; but I guess that is inevitable since I am writing essentially about my own memory.

That’s all I want to add as text to last year’s essay, but I will include some photos of Mother that I did not publish before. Interested readers can find the other two writings about Mother by clicking on the titles at the bottom of this blog post page.

Maurine (right) and Dorothy Tanberg in citrus orchard, Combes, TX, in 1928

Maurine Emily Tanberg (r.) at age 18 and her sister Dorothy Irene Tanberg at age 16 standing in front of a fruit tree (orange or grapefruit) in 1928. Their father, Carl Anton Tanberg, started his citrus farm in 1913, in the Rio Grande Valley. One of Mother’s brothers, Carl Lee Tanberg, continued it as such for a few decades and then transformed it into a grass farm.

Maurine Emily Tanberg as a teen on her horse Ned in the Rio Grande Valley

Maurine on the family horse Ned. Her father, in his brief memoir, “Family Gems”, wrote that Maurine was  the only one in the family who could stay in the saddle whenever temperamental Ned took off on one of his unexpected runs. Maurine and her brother Norman were excellent equestrians, their father wrote. The progeny numbered four boys and four girls, all of whom survived far into adulthood.

Maurine Emily Tanberg-Litton-Smithart about a year before she died in Dallas

Maurine Emily Tanberg-Litton-Smithart a year before she died in Dallas, Texas, at age 84. She had suffered a mild stroke a couple of months earlier. Oddly enough, during the year after her stroke she appeared to be in the best health she had seen in decades; her cheeks were rosier and her outlook more cheerful. She liked this photo better than any other because absent is what she called her “hangdog look” that marred many of her earlier photos. (She had sometimes used a razor blade to slice her face out of photos in which she appeared with others.) Actually, all the Tanbergs had prominent indentations between their cheeks and their lips; but Mother had an absurdly poor self-image. While, yes, a plain woman, she was not nearly as ill-featured as she imagined herself to be.

Rest in peace, Mama!!!

Is Our Playground Too Safe?

School Playground

Source: Bing.com/images Centennial Parklands in Sydney Australia – 1980 http://blog.centennialparklands.com.au/

© 2015 By Bob Litton (except for quotations and photo above). All Rights Reserved. Yesterday, while driving past the only elementary school in this small town where I live, I glanced over at the fenced-in playground where children, in scattered groups, were talking, tugging each other, maybe bullying, and playing on and in a large plastic “gym”. I continued on home, wondering whatever happened to the swings, the seesaws, the slides and the merry-go-rounds that had dotted the school ground in Dallas where I and my classmates had played. Of course I knew the answer: later in the 20th century they had been judged to be too risky, even dangerous.

A statistical report published by the Center for Disease Control, last updated in March 2012, began with the following:

Overview
Each year in the United States, emergency departments treat more than 200,000 children ages 14 and younger for playground-related injuries (Tinsworth 2001).

Occurrence and Consequences
About 45% of playground-related injuries are severe–fractures, internal injuries, concussions, dislocations, and amputations (Tinsworth 2001). About 75% of nonfatal injuries related to playground equipment occur on public playgrounds (Tinsworth 2001). Most occur at schools and daycare centers (Phelan 2001). Between 1990 and 2000, 147 children ages 14 and younger died from playground-related injuries. Of them, 82 (56%) died from strangulation and 31 (20%) died from falls to the playground surface. Most of these deaths (70%) occurred on home playgrounds (Tinsworth 2001).

Cost
In 1995, playground-related injuries among children ages 14 and younger cost an estimated $1.2 billion (Office of Technology Assessment 1995).

Wow! It’s hard to argue against those numbers. Nevertheless, I intend to do so.

This morning I heard on the National Public Radio program “Wait, Wait…Don’t tell me” the brief mention of a study by Cardiff University in Wales which reported that injuries from playground fights among children have dropped precipitously. The reason: children were spending most of their time inside watching TV and playing video games. Now, to me, that is just as much if not more dangerous than a kid getting his butt scorched on a hot slide or her arm broken from falling out of a swing.

While searching the Web for the Cardiff U. report, I came upon an article written by Sarah Boesveld for New Zealand’s National Post.  Ms. Boesveld’s report is about how Swanson School’s Principal Bruce McLachlan decided the era of “political correctness” was harming children’s development:

It had been mere months since the gregarious principal threw out the rulebook on the playground of concrete and mud, dotted with tall trees and hidden corners; just weeks since he had stopped reprimanding students who whipped around on their scooters or wielded sticks in play sword fights. He knew children might get hurt, and that was exactly the point — perhaps if they were freed from the “cotton-wool” in which their 21st century parents had them swaddled, his students may develop some resilience, use their imaginations, solve problems on their own.

You can view the full article at: http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/03/21/when-one-new-zealand-school-tossed-its-playground-rules-and-let-students-risk-injury-the-results-surprised/ The results astonished even the principal. Not only did parents not attack him; they commended him for reintroducing risk into their children’s lives. Also, the children revealed their own untutored creativity by building their own playground—including a seesaw—out of wooden blocks, a long pipe and other construction debris. Moreover, when they returned from the playground they were more rested, cheerful and eager to learn.

Now, I do not think that revolutionary pedagogical mode is likely to be copied in the ludicrously litigious U.S.  Damn near sure it won’t! But I feel that it should be. Sheesh!!! The modern playground is too boring to even look at, much less play in. I fondly remember the school playground of my own childhood and those at the parks as well. We had swings and seesaws and slides and merry-go-rounds. (Actually, I don’t miss the merry-go-rounds; they made me dizzy and I wondered what other children saw in them).

Also missing today are the non-playground games we used to enjoy. We boys would compete with marbles and with yard sticks imagined as swords; we would build forts out of discarded Christmas trees, and club houses out of old doors; with our BB guns we would venture into the woods on gameless hunting trips. The girls would play jacks and chalk-mark the sidewalks for their games of hopscotch, or dress in their mothers’ high heels and necklaces for fashion shows. On summer evenings we would all capture fireflies in mason jars with punctured lids. That is a lifestyle too precious to abandon.

The Swing

BY ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
Rivers and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside—

Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown—
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!

I still admire that poem.

Not many years ago I lamented not having even one child of my own. Now I sadly note my good fortune in being childless.

Finis

NOTE TO NON-BLOGGING READERS: WordPress has its program set up where only WP bloggers can register “likes” and “comments” on this page. However, if you are a non-blogger, I would be glad to hear any helpful criticisms you might wish to share and, therefore, have left my email address in the “About” page (see button above the title of this post). Please, no “snarky” comments, or I will have to delete it. Thank you for reading.

—BL

On Being Seduced By Classical Music

© 2015 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

NOTE TO READERS: This week, KBAQ-FM, a station located on the campus of Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ, is relating memories of first experiences with classical music sent in by their listeners during previous weeks. The station’s DJ’s (folks with the most pleasant voices) are sharing a reader’s anecdote each hour on the hour as well as the reader’s request for the DJ to play their favorite classical piece.

I emailed KBAQ the history of my seduction into classical music, but I did not request that they play any particular work. Since KBAQ expressly asked that viewers write about an individual or event that first made them aware of—and appreciative of—classical music, I doubt that they mentioned my email, which mentions several periods in my life in which I gradually came to prefer the genre. But I really do not know, since I do not listen to KBAQ all day long. Nonetheless, I thought my little biographical essay (edited slightly for the different venue) might make a suitable blog post…at least for those of my regular visitors who also enjoy classical music.

And that is what I hope you will do now: Enjoy!!!

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I am a child of the 1940s, and my only experience of classical music during those early years was a rather ignorant appreciation of the themes to radio dramas: “The Lone Ranger” (Rossini’s William Tell Overture), “The Shadow” (Saint-Saens’ Omphale’s Spinning Wheel), “The Green Hornet” (Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee), and “The FBI in Peace and War” (Prokofiev’s A Love for Three Oranges). I enjoyed all of those themes, although I hadn’t the faintest idea what their titles were or even that they were of a genre called “classical”.

During my high school years, I would often listen to a Dallas, Texas, station whose call letters were KIXL, which played classical records. KIXL is now a religious-program station, I hear; and the only source for classical music radio in Dallas is WRR-FM, a City-owned station on the State Fair grounds. More regularly, I admit, I listened to KLIF, a Top 40’s music station then but now talk radio.

In 1958-59, while I was in the air force and studying Chinese at Yale, one of my room-mates was a budding neo-NAZI, although I did not recognize him as such at the time. He was all hung up in Thomas Mann, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Richard Wagner. Despite our collisions of thought, we had a strange mental or spiritual connection—something like what Bertrand Russell claimed he felt during his first strolling conversation with Joseph Conrad:

At our very first meeting, we talked with continually increasing intimacy. We seemed to sink through layer after layer of what was superficial, till gradually both reached the central fire. It was an experience unlike any other… I have known. We looked into each other’s eyes, half appalled and half intoxicated to find ourselves together in such a region. The emotion was as intense as passionate love, and at the same time all-embracing. I came away bewildered, and hardly able to find my way among ordinary affairs.

Well, maybe not that intense, but something similar. Years later, a Congregationalist minister with whom I had had a conference, described the same type of reaction to our conversation the following Sunday during his sermon, although, thankfully, he did not mention my name. Oddly enough, although I had appreciated the talk, I had not detected the same feeling in myself.

My air force comrade and I had dubbed our mutual sympathy “bwo chang” (“wave length” in Mandarin Chinese). After our training, the friend was assigned to a base at one end of Okinawa and I to another, so we did not see each other often; we did, however, attend a viewing of a biopic about Franz Liszt in a theater at his unit’s base. Then, after we were both out of the service, I went up to his home town of Seattle, Washington, for a change of scene and to discover what the “bwo chang” really was, since neither of us was really gay. However, I couldn’t find permanent employment after two months and the “bwo chang” seemed to have dissipated, so I returned to Dallas.

Yet I still retained fond memories of that intellectual/spiritual connection—warped though it might have been—and read much of Mann, waded through some of Nietzsche, and listened to one of the first stereo recordings of Wagner’s Das Rheingold, conducted by Georg Solti. I loved it!!! I could not force myself to sit through the windy singing of the rest of the Ring music-dramas. However, I did enjoy for years thereafter Wagner’s more popular overtures and preludes—Tannhäuser, Die Meistersinger, and Parsifal.

Now my classical music interests have expanded, leaving much of Wagner behind. I love almost all the works of the Russian composers, especially Sergei Rachmaninoff. But I still enjoy Frenchmen Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel; and the Spaniard Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez has first chair, right now, in my favorite musical list.

I have written several blog posts about music—three about the little Dutch girl who won Holland’s Got Talent trophy in 2013, and one just recently that was an email dialogue between me and a local friend’s uncle who is a retired music professor residing in Louisiana. One other post concerns what some art-minded psychologist has christened “synesthesia”. Below, I have provided the URLs to those posts for any of you who have not already viewed them. Enjoy!!!

https://boblitton.wordpress.com/2015/04/11/a-musical-dialogue/
https://boblitton.wordpress.com/2014/06/08/a-shout-out-for-amira/
https://boblitton.wordpress.com/2014/11/12/celebrating-anniversary-of-amiras-hgt-win/
https://boblitton.wordpress.com/2014/12/28/amiras-anniversary/
https://boblitton.wordpress.com/2015/03/04/on-seeing-music/

Finis 

NOTE TO NON-BLOGGING READERS: WordPress has its program set up where only WP bloggers can register “likes” and “comments” on this page. However, if you are a non-blogger, I would be glad to hear any helpful criticisms you might wish to share and, therefore, have left my email address in the “About” page (see button above the title of this post). Please, no “snarky” comments, or I will have to delete it.
Thank you for reading.
BL

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