Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Monday, October 5, 2020


 Openers:  On the eve of their big adventure, Fred and Martha Robinson were fairly typical residents of Westchester County, New York.  They lived in the village of Old Newton and were as convinced as their neighbors that they were no danger of becoming "suburban," whatever that deadly epithet conveyed to them.  The knowledge that they, among all people living just outside New York, were able to retain a cosmopolitan and unritualistic approach to life, filled them with contentment.  Barring such acts of God as earthquakes, breakdowns of the alarm clock, fire, and an occasional hangover, the Robinsons arose each morning at eight twenty-five.  They had breakfast at eight-fifty, Mrs. Robinson backed the car out of the garage at nine-eleven, frequently scaping the right rear fender, an event which she attributed to her husband's inexpert parking, and Mr. Robinson  took the nine-seventeen into town.  He liked the nine-seventeen, which stopped at both Mount Vernon and Columbus Avenue, because Old Newton's other commuters, almost to a man, preferred the nine twenty-eight, which stopped only at Mount Vernon.  Mr. Robinson prided himself on meeting the day with a thorough digest of the news rather than an unproductive conversation with a sleepy acquaintance.  Shortly after nine-fifteen, then, he bought a Herald Tribune, and, after boarding the train and selecting a seat (on the west side, out of the sun), he folded the paper lengthwise and began a lackluster perusal of the headlines.  The truth is, Mr. robinson was not actually interested in the news.  He was only thirty years old, and the ponderous and inexplicable business of state seemed to him trivial as compared to the situation in, say, the National League.  Nevertheless, he dutifully scanned the significant columns, taking a somewhat cursory note of the bickerings between nations, the turbulent politics at home, the number of strikes, the new arrivals at the zoo, the reunion of the two sisters who had believed each other dead for forty-seven years, the retirement, after fifty-two years, of the oldest ticket seller (in point of service) in the employ of the New Haven Railroad, and the gloomy prediction of several columnists that conditions could not continue much longer as they were.  When he read of these things, Mr. Robinson considered, as had each of his ancestors back to Adam (for his was one of the old families), how lucky he was to be living in such stirring times.

-- Robert Lewis Taylor, Adrift in a Boneyard (1947)

"Stirring times," indeed.  More to the point, end times; for soon, while traveling in their car, Fred and Martha Robinson (to see a play), with their maid, Nora McCluny, and Nora's twelve-year-old protocriminous son, Osgood Whortle McCluny (both to see a movie of Osgood's choice, Frankenstein's Uncle), that a fierce storm arose, and, when the rain abated, everyone else on earth was dead.  How and why it happened is a mystery, as is how and why those four remained the last living persons on Earth.  Luckily, and just as mysteriously, perhaps, animals were affected by the calamity that had befallen humans, allowing the remaining foursome access to chickens, goats, and draft animals.

Their need for safe shelter from the more dangerous animals was answered by Muhlenberg's Folly, a large, fenced-in estate owned by a (now suddenly deceased) eccentric millionaire, providing ample room for the four humans, vegetable gardens, and livestock.  Fred Robinson's approach to the apocalypse was an unemotive, cosmopolitan one, and his laissez-faire attitude adds to the comic approach to the novel.  Contrariwise, Martha Robinson remained a rather ineffectual person, and Nora McCluny was gloriously unaware of the magnitude of the situation, kept harping on her cousin in Ogden, Utah, to who she owed a letter -- it had been three years since she had written and Nora really should write her soon.  And young Osgood kept planning various ways to torture and/or murder Fred.

And what would complete a post-apocalyptic tribe of four?  Why not a stray tiger to join this rather odd "family?"

This amazingly strange and genuinely funny satire was the first novel of Robert Lewis Taylor (1912-1998), who went on to win the 1959 Pulitzer Prize for his novel A Journey to Matecumbe.  Other noted works by the author were The Travels of Jamie McPheeters and the biography W. C. Fields:  His Follies and Fortunes.

I picked this book up about the same time as I did a recent Forgotten Book, Fee. Fei, Fo, Fum by John Aylesworth.  Both were published in paperback by Avon in 1963, both were sly (albeit different) satires, and both had strikingly similar cover art.  Once I had finished last week's book, I naturally moved on to this one, which (in my own warped way) I considered its "twin."  Both novels were extraordinarily good (and bitingly savage) satires, but the edge, I believe, goes to Taylor. 

Schadenfreude:  Like so many others, I experienced a pleasant sense of schadenfreude on hearing that Trump tested positive for Covid-19.  I feel I have retained some sense of humanity, however, because I sincerely do want not to see him (or anyone else) harmed.  (Possible exceptions:  certain mealy-mouthed Republican enablers senators who put party and power over country.)  Anyway, I pity Trump.  The guy, despicable as he is, can't help himself; he was wired that way.  His not-so-hidden Daddy issues, his mythomania, his narcissism, his xenophobia, his gynophobia, his infantilism, his aversion to reality, his lack of moral character -- all point to a deeply troubled but easily understood man.  Understanding all of this can only lead to pity.

Trump's recent diagnosis brings the spotlight back to where he does not want it -- to his response to the pandemic.  Not only he, as the ego leader of the Free World, been brought down, perhaps temporarily, by the disease he tried so hard to minimize, but so has many of his inner circle of cronies and advisors.  Time will tell whether others of his immediate family will also test positive.  Trump's approval rating had already slipped following the first presidential debate; what this latest fiasco will do for the upcoming election is anybody's guess  And, with at least three key Republican senators now testing positive, the expected rubber stamp approval of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court will most likely be delayed for a couple of weeks.

The country has already been fed misleading, contradictory, and/or incorrect information about the president's condition as the administration tries to put a positive light on Trump's condition.  The president may well bounce back from this with few lasting conditions.  I sincerely hope so, in part because I truly do not wish the man ill and, in part, because the thought of a President Pence frightens me to the roots.

Mr. T summed up my overriding feelings pretty well when he said, "I pity the fool."

Bridging the Gap:  Since Hurricane Sally wiped out part of the Three Mile Bridge over the Pensacola Bay that joins my town with the City of Pensacola, taking with it several cranes, twenty-two barges, and a chunk of the newly-built bridge, traffic has been a mess here.  The nearest route to Pensacola is now over the Garcon Point Bridge (a road whose tolls -- $5 each way -- have been thankfully suspended t least until October 26), adding some forty miles to what had been a straight shoot to the city.  Also adding major stop and go delays, as well as stop and stop delays.  And with the beginning of October, drivers in the Florida Panhandle have lost their minds.  Saturday, a head-on collision stopped traffic on the the bridge for an hour and a half.  The next nearest route to my house takes us an additional thirty miles out of our way and a major traffic accident on that road took the life of an eleven-year-old boy the same day, as well as severely injuring his eight-year-old brother.  And on the major (and only) highway through our town, a driver hit and killed a large bear, about a mile from our home.  And I don't know what happened a block from out place on Friday night, but a Medivac helicopter had to fly somebody out.  I have seen more erratic drivers on the road in the past few days than I have over the past three months.

And the Three Mile Bridge Two-Point-Eight Mile Bridge will not be repaired for at lest six months.  Sheesh!

Nez Perce:  When the New York Times editorialized that, "On our part the war was in its origin and motive nothing short of a gigantic blunder and a crime," the description could fit any number of wars waged by any number of countries.  This time, however, the war was the Nez Perce War, fought against a small group of tribal bands and ending one hundred forty-three years ago.

The conflict began in June 1877, when 250 warriors of the Nez Perce tribe (with some members of the Palouse tribe), along with 500 women and children, refused to give up their ancestral lands in the Northwestern United States and be moved to a reservation in Idaho.  They were called "non-treaty Indians," despite the fact that an 1855 treaty gave them some 7.5 million acres of land that they had lived on for generations.  Seeking help from the Crow, who refused them, the Nez Perce traveled north on a nearly twelve hundred mile trek to seek haven with Sitting Bull's Lakota who were now in Canada, being chased and harried by an army contingent of 1500.  Minor skirmishes followed the Nez Perce on their journey until a final five-day conflict on the shores of Snake Creek in Montana, about forty miles from the Canadian border.  In all, over 100 Indians were killed and a near equal amount of soldiers.  Some 200 Indians managed to flee to Canada and 418 Nez Perce surrendered, including Chief Joseph, who then famously declared, "I will fight no more forever."  (Well, perhaps not.  The statement may have been worded by Lt. Charles Erskine Scott, who claimed to have taken down chief Joseph's words as he spoke them.)

The Nez Perce's fighting strategy during their forced retreat against overwhelming odds earned them the respect of much of the American public and Chief Joseph later became known for his humanitarianism and as a peace maker.  Chief Joseph remained a strong advocate against the injustice of the American government and died to see his wishes unfulfilled.  Chief Joseph was inducted into he Hall of Great Westerners of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in 1973.

Happy Birthday, Chester A. Arthur:  Chester Alan Arthur was a political hack of the New York Republican machine known as the Stalwarts.  Selected to run as vice-president by James A. Garfield merely to balance the ticket, Arthur was propelled to the presidency by the death of Garfield from an assassin's bullet in September 20, 1881; Garfield had only served eight months of his term.  There were low expectations for his presidency, but Arthur surprised many by his actions.  He enforced the Civil Service Reform Act and rebuilt america's Navy.  He vetoed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which would have banned Chinese from entering America for twenty years, only to later sign a revised act which limited the time to ten years.  Arthur's efforts for civil rights for blacks were thwarted by the politics of the time, but he was able to begin to put a stranglehold on the Mormon practice of polygamy.  Arthur's efforts with Native Americans were also stymied; his one achievement (if it can be called that) was to open Indian lands in the Dakotas to settlers; Grover Cleveland, the next president, revoked Arthur's policy.  Ill health, coupled with a lack of desire, led to a half-hearted attempt to secure the nomination for a full presidential term.  Instead, the Republicans nominated James Blaine.  A year and a half after leaving office, Chester Alan Arthur died from a cerebral hemorrhage.  He was 57.

Arthur's legacy was mainly positive, in part because there was no "adventurous project" during his presidency.  Elihu Root said that Arthur was "wise in statesmanship and firm and effective in administration," while being isolated in office and generally unloved by his party.  Now, long after his administration, Arthur is perhaps unjustly forgotten.  His presidency was noted for being free of corruption.  According to a biographer, his personal standards of remaining a man of his word, of striving to avoid scandal and graft, and of maintaining a personal dignity while retaining an affable nature "distinguished him sharply from the stereotypical politician."

Florida Man:  

  • A Bradenton Florida Man was arrested after he tried to contain a write-in ballot for his wife who had died two years ago.  Larry Wiggins told police that he was just trying "to test the system."  Despite what the president has been alleging, the system works very and is designed to catch such fraud.
  • In Marion County, Florida Man Robert Hoskins, 39, was arrested for breaking into his neighbor's home.  When police came to arrest Hoskins, he was wearing only underwear and holding a Bible.  Hoskins to officers the God had told him to break into the home.  Hoskins then threw the Bible at the officers.  A whole new slant on Bible thumping.
  • Orange County Florida Man Marco Mazetta posted a dashcam video of himself shooting at another driver on YouTube.  Mazetta later stated, "I know this video doesn't capture my smartest moments but I hope any idiot criminal with a gun thinks twice before loading, brandishing , and aiming their firearm at someone over a traffic infraction."  One would think that any idiot criminal with a video of him shooting at another driver would think twice before posting that video.
  • Florida Man and Waste of Protoplasm Representative Matt Gaetz (R) voted against a bill on the peaceful transfer of power.  And Florida Man Rep. Ross Spano (R) was stopped at a Tampa airport security checkpoint with a loaded gun.  Spano's explanation was basically, "Oops."  and Florida Man Governor Ron DeSantis (R) says that school reopening opponents are "the flat earthers of today."  Maybe there's something in the Florida water.
  • 37-year-old Florida Man and fittingly named Adam Savage of Seminole County was arrested and charged with the murder of his mother.  A report of an unspecified emergency brought police to the scene where they found Savage covered with blood.  Figuring police would not suspect a thing, Savage tried to dissuade officers from entering his mother's bedroom.
  • Florida Woman Brittany Mohammedi displayed her athletic skills when she jumped over an American Airlines ticket counter during a meltdown when she was not allowed to board  flight to California.  Right-thinking non-Florida Women are correctly wondering, where's she going to go?  Does she actually think they'll allow her on the plane?  Or that the plane will take off if she gets on it?

Good News:
  • Scientists create "super-enzyme" that eats plastic bottles six times faster that previous ones
  • Quarantined kids honor veteran who spent years mentoring them at school
  • A proposed new emoji that helps show forgiveness gets most votes in crowdsourcing
  • Fisherman has decades-long friendship with a blind seal who follows him every day
  • Dad cycles 200 miles from Scotland to England for charity -- while riding his eight-year-old daughter's pink bike
  • Terminally ill man wanted to paint his house his wife's favorite color but was afraid he would not live long enough to do it, so his neighbors and co-workers swarmed in to help him
  • Teen employee of McDonalds pays for families meal when the Mom forget to bring her wallet -- then she raises $32,000 for him
  • Calf gets to take her first steps, thanks to a specially designed wheelchair made for her

Something to Remember:  "Time you enjoy wasting is  not wasted time." -- Marthe Troly-Curtin

Today's Poem:
The Castle of Dromore

The October winds lament
Around the castle of Dramore,
Yet peace is in its lofty halls,
My lovely treasure store.
Though autumn leaves may droop and die
A bud of spring are you.
Sing hush-a-bye loo, la loo, lo lan,
Sing hush-a-bye loo, la lo.
Bring no ill winds to hinder us,
My helpless babe and me,
Dread spirit of Blackwater banks,
Clan Owen's wild banshee.
And Holy Mary pitying us
In heav'n for grace doth sue.
Sing hush-bye loo, la loo, lo lan,
Sing hush-a-bye loo, la lo.
Take time to thrive, my rose of hope,
In the garden of Dromore.
Take heed, young eaglet, till your wings
Are feathered, fit to soar.
A little rest and then the world
Is full of work to do.
Sing hush-a-by loo, la loo, lo lan,
Sing hush-a-bye loo, la lo.

-- Traditional Irish Song

1 comment: