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All contents herein (except the illustrations, which are in the public domain) are Copyright © 1995-2011 Evan Morris. Reproduction without written permission is prohibited, with the exception that teachers in public schools may duplicate and distribute the material here for classroom use.

Any typos found are yours to keep.

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Semper Ubi Sub Ubi

 

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September 2013

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi

readme:

So there’s this spider who lives by the light over the door to our house that we use most of the time. (There are three doors to our house, which is not surprising, given that there are six — count ‘em — doors into the kitchen.) Anyway, this is one very ambitious spider. Every evening she spins an elaborate, perfect web to catch bugs coming to the light. In contrast to the resident spiders in previous summers, who were satisfied with compact webs in the corner of the doorframe, this one spins webs that cover the top two-thirds of the door, so to enter or exit after dark requires crouching down to nearly knee-level, which is even less fun than it sounds.

Every morning the remnants of the web hang in tatters, torn by the larger insects (moths, mostly) who are caught but then break free, and I knock the whole thing down with a broom. The spider at that point is elsewhere, probably asleep in the doorframe. Then, as evening falls, she’s suddenly there again, sitting in the center of a  perfect new web. The door itself is mostly one large glass panel in a wooden frame, so if there’s nothing on TV I can wander over there and wave to her.

Like any red-blooded American boy, I actually dislike and fear spiders, but living in the country has made me very reluctant to kill anything. There are millions of assorted creepy-crawly things living within ten yards of this house, and there’s a good chance they all know each other. Besides, she’s just a little spider with one little spider-life.

Onward. I’m still in the process of reading Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, which is not surprising since it’s 760 pages long and I read maybe 15 pages a night. Then I think about it, and often re-read bits. Occasionally I have dreams based on parts of the book. It’s an exceedingly odd book, often somewhat hard to follow because Pynchon shifts narrative viewpoints, frequently without notice. But I’ve found that the best approach is to just keep going, because things usually become clear (or clearer) down the line. Pynchon is a remarkable writer, and between the jokes and digressions are passages of truly amazing beauty. Reading him is a bit like listening to Bach; every so often you finish a section and find yourself wondering How in the world does he do that? The story of Franz Pökler (an engineer on the project developing the V-2 rocket) and his daughter, who is allowed to visit once a year and may actually be someone other than his daughter, perhaps a different child every year, is both deeply disturbing and hauntingly sad. Much of Pynchon’s work, not just this book, has a subtext of elegiac sadness to it.

Anyway, having read a few of his later books, I definitely prefer GR, as it’s known among the Pynchonitarians, of whom there are useful thousands online maintaining wikis, timelines and very handy glossaries. (One of my favorites is a guide called “Some Things that ‘Happen’ (More or Less) in Gravity’s Rainbow.” That says it all right there. You can never be absolutely sure.) I keep reading people saying they gave up on GR halfway through, but I think I’m the sort who finishes it and then reads it again.

By the way, not only does my little b&w Nook let me make the print bigger, but it completely removes the intimidation factor from huge books.

Continue reading this post » » »

July 2013

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi

readme:

Special note: The Word Detective Online has always been free and always will be free. But we depend on reader subscriptions and contributions to survive. Unfortunately, the dismal state of the economy has caused a precipitous decline in the number of readers who are able to contribute or subscribe, and the Word Detective needs your help now. We are running out of peanut butter and cat food, and that is not meant metaphorically. Just ask Inky.

inky0109

Inky

If you have enjoyed the Word Detective Online over the past eighteen (!) years, please subscribe for $15 per year (roughly four cents per day), or simply contribute what you can. And now, on to our slightly late latest issue:

Wow. July, eh? Well, the good news is that we finally got the 50-foot tree off our front lawn, where it landed after the second derecho last year. We had several people agree to tackle the job, but they either wanted $500 we didn’t have or simply never showed up. Our neighbor Bob eventually conned one of his friends into sawing it up and we dragged the pieces into our north field with Bob’s tractor.

Meanwhile, another tree simply keeled over for no good reason and is currently resting atop the fence around our dooryard. We actually had to chop off a few branches to get in the door. If I could use my little chainsaw it would be completely gone, but I’m not allowed to because I can’t hold a coffee cup in my left hand.

And so it goes. Just living in this house is a full-time job. The other night our lights went out, which is not unusual. But the way they went out was rather alarming; they popped on and off rapidly six or seven times before everything went dark. They came back on about 4 am, and we went downstairs to turn off all the things that had been on when the power went off. We were about to go back to bed when we smelled something funny, and an investigation revealed that the cellar was full of acrid smoke. Bad sign.

So the fire department comes in full force, stomping through the house looking for the fire while we scrambled to round up the cats. It took them (the fire people, not the cats) about an hour to figure out what had happened. Apparently the water softener had been recharging when the power went out, and when it came back on the poor thing had gone into a sort of fit, cycling the well pump switch on and off until it arced, caught fire and melted into a choking purple cloud of dollar signs. Two days and $200 later, we had water again. Yay.

Then a week later the water heater, apparently feeling left out of the fun, up and died. $274 and change for that. Meanwhile, our little tractor broke down and took weeks (and ~$300) to fix, giving the grass a chance to grow to be two feet high. I’m gonna worry about that when it stops raining. Maybe. It’s always something. I realized today that the car is sixteen years old. Old enough to drive itself, right?

Incidentally, if you’ve ever wondered what I do with the moolah from your contributions and subscriptions to this site, what I’ve just described would have been much worse without your generosity. So thanks to all, and, as for the rest of youse, please consider subscribing.

I keep dreaming that I’m back in NYC, living on my beloved Upper West Side. Unfortunately, in this dream I seem to be living in my car. So here I am in rural Ohio, and in my dreams I’m trying to remember how Alternate Side Parking works.

Onward. A few months ago, for no particular reason, I decided to read Thomas Pynchon’s latest novel, a sort of hippie-noir mystery called Inherent Vice, which is now apparently being made into a movie. I’m not an expert on Pynchon, but it’s the only one of his novels I can even remotely imagine being made into a film, and  it’s still a stretch. I really wish they wouldn’t try, but I also wish Steven Spielberg weren’t working on an “update” of The Grapes of Wrath. Anyway, I also read The Crying of Lot 49 many years ago, and had started reading his much longer Vineland when it came out in 1990 but lost the thread for some reason. So I went back to it and am glad I did. Here’s an energetic review by Salman Rushdie.

Having apparently contracted Pynchon Fever, I’m currently a few hundred pages into the mammoth Gravity’s Rainbow, which is quite a different kettle of fish, and definitely one of the strangest books I’ve ever read. It won the National Book Award in 1974, and was also chosen by the  jury for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction that year, but the Pulitzer Board blocked the award. According to the New York Times, “… Other members of the 14-member board, which makes recommendations on the 18 Pulitzer Prize categories … had described the Pynchon novel during their private debate as ‘unreadable,’ ‘turgid,’ ‘overwritten,’ and in parts ‘obscene.’ One member editor said he had tried hard but had only gotten a third of the way through the 760-page book.” There must be something wrong with me, because I find it addictive.

Continue reading this post » » »

May 2013

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi

readme:

All right, already. I know it’s May (just barely), and we sort of slid past April. There are two reasons, which I will explain. Briefly.

Number one is that my ability to walk seems to be fading fast. At the moment I can only sort of shuffle along unsteadily, and on a scale of 1 to 10, I’m about two clicks away from calling the Scooter Store. I’m kidding, of course. I’ll crawl across the floor before I do that. Anyway, that plus the really quite annoying now-constant pain in my legs has been very demoralizing and a major distraction.

I was also knocked a bit off course by the death of Annette Funicello, on whom I had a huge crush as a little kid, of the same sort of ms (primary progressive) that I have. She was, of course, in far worse shape than I am ever likely to get, but still, I was knocked a bit sideways. Here is a well-made (by CTV in Canada) three-part program on her struggles with ms. I admire her husband’s determination to help her, but I’m more than a little leery of the surgical procedures she underwent. The CCSVI procedure in particular is widely regarded by most ms experts as expensive and dangerous quackery.

Anyway, I used to walk faster than anyone I knew. When we lived in NYC, I walked like a typical New Yorker, zipping in and out of crowds on the sidewalk, stepping off the curb if necessary without a second thought. I’d mentally fume at the tourists in their Hard Rock t-shirts lumbering down Lexington Avenue six abreast at lunchtime (“Is that the Chrysler Building? The guide says that’s the Chrysler Building.”). I never actually said anything rude to such people, but one day a guy next to me addressed the herd blocking our way with a very loud “You people walk like you’re dead!” and a dozen New Yorkers in the vicinity started laughing and clapping.

So I really miss walking. And New York. The 4th floor walkup, not so much. But now I can walk on our road as slowly as I want and as wobbly as I am and only worry about being taken for a straggler by the coyotes. I saw one last week wearing what looked like a tattered Hard Rock t-shirt. Karma: It’s the Law.

Reason number two for the delay is that our dear little dog Pokey died last week of lymphoma, after going downhill for several months. Taking care of her in her last month was taxing but I’ll always be glad we did. She couldn’t manage the back steps any longer, so I had to carry her out and back in, and while she was nowhere as big as Brownie, our beloved dog who died last fall, Pokey was still about 30 lbs., which made every excursion an adventure in precarious balance. We kept her eating by cooking all sorts of people-food for her (she was partial to scrambled eggs and noodles), but eventually she could no longer stand much of the time and had difficulty swallowing food. So we fed her with a spoon and washed her with washcloths. She was still in there. She was still our little Pokey.

When Pokey wandered in 15 years ago (she followed Kathy home from a walk in the woods down by the old Ohio-Erie canal nearby), she had been neglected, abused, and apparently finally dumped in the frigid January woods. She looked like a dog built by a demented committee, maybe a cross between a corgi and a small pig, covered in a Harpo Marx wig of yellow curls topped off with an absurd feather-boa tail. We think she had recently given birth to puppies (the probable motive for her abandonment), who most likely had ended up in the icy canal.

Pokey in her chair, 2002

I had to keep Pokey in my office until she learned to tolerate cats, and I used to sit on the futon she slept on and tell her bedtime stories about a lucky little dog who’d never have to worry again. It must have worked, because once she felt at home, Pokey was the most relentlessly happy dog I’ve ever known — she’d literally jump up and down at the sight of the same old boring canned dog food in her bowl. Sadly, she had never learned to play as a puppy, so while Brownie chased Frisbees with manic energy, Pokey just wandered around the yard looking for things to eat in the tall grass. Indoors, she spent a typical evening wandering around the kitchen licking the floor and stealing … things …  from the cats’ litter box. Letting Pokey lick your face, or even your hand, was a very bad idea. A walk with Pokey meant stopping literally every few yards for her bathroom breaks; I used to joke that she was actually a purebred Shih Tzalot. Children and cats loved Pokey, though she seemed strangely oblivious to the cats and would walk right over them if they happened to be between her and food.

Pokey & Brownie; Pokey had already eaten her antlers.

She was a sweet, sweet little doggie who followed me from room to room and up and down stairs a dozen times a day. She was  happiest when I would sit on the top step of the stairs with my arm around her and sing her silly songs about Pokey-Dokey the Flying Dog, whereupon Brownie would race up the stairs and demand that we make room for her. By the time Brownie died, Pokey had survived heartworm, the loss of most of her teeth, partial blindness and near-total deafness. We were lucky to have her for so long — we never knew her exact age, and she may have been as old as 17 or 18 — and now, with both Brownie and Pokey gone, the house seems intolerably quiet. Every morning for fifteen years I’ve gone downstairs, put on water for coffee, and headed for the leashes hanging by the back door. I still start for the door before I remember.

So, anyway, that was my month. Tune in next time when I’ll tell you something interesting about Thomas Pynchon’s novel Vineland (seriously). In the meantime, please consider subscribing or just contributing. We have always been dependent on the kindness of youse guys.

And now, on with the show….