Neurotic of the Day IV: Alice James

There are neurotics such and you and me and the guy in the back seat of the bus who keeps blowing his nose. And then there are the Great Neurotics. From all walks of life they come, these Great Neurotics, from history and fiction and the entertainment arts they emerge, marching together, out of step, absorbed in their own thoughts, and in the way the breeze plays through their hair.

Here is today’s entry in this dubious gallery:

Alice James

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The sister of Henry and William, and talented in her own right, Alice James remained an invalid for much of her life, although there did not seem to be much physically wrong with her. “Oh, woe, woe is me!” she wrote at one point. “I have not only stopped thinning but I am taking unto myself gross fat. All hopes of peace and rest are vanishing – nothing but the dreary snail-like climb up a little way, so as to be able to run down again! And then those doctors tell you that you will die or recover! But you don’t recover. I have been at these alternations since I was nineteen, and I am neither dead nor recovered.”

Neurotic of the Day III: Alexander Graham Bell

There are neurotics such and you and me and the guy in the back seat of the bus who keeps blowing his nose. And then there are the Great Neurotics. From all walks of life they come, these Great Neurotics, from history and fiction and the entertainment arts they emerge, marching together, out of step, absorbed in their own thoughts, and in the way the breeze plays through their hair.

Here is today’s entry in this dubious gallery:

Alexander Graham Bell

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“I often feel like hiding myself away in a corner out of sight. Whenever I try to say something I stop all conversation.” Not a bad reason for inventing the telephone. Bell, who regularly retired at 4 a.m. and had to be routed out of bed at noon, was known to hide in the attic in order to avoid going to parties. More curiously, he greatly feared having moonlight fall upon him as he slept. On nights of the full moon he walked through the house pulling curtains and placing screens to protect the rest of his family from the hideous light.

Neurotic of the Day II: Anthony Trollope

There are neurotics such and you and me and the guy in the back seat of the bus who keeps blowing his nose. And then there are the Great Neurotics. From all walks of life they come, these Great Neurotics, from history and fiction and the entertainment arts they emerge, marching together, out of step, absorbed in their own thoughts, and in the way the breeze plays through their hair.

Here is today’s entry in this dubious gallery:

Anthony Trollope

Anthony Trollope

The English writer (“Chronicles of Barsetshire”) constantly fretted about his word production. “According to the circumstances of the time . . . I have allotted myself so many pages a week,” he once wrote. “The average number has been about 40. It has been placed as low as 20, and has risen to 112. And as a page is an ambiguous term, my page has been made to contain 250 words; and as words, if not watched, will have a tendency to straggle, I have had every word counted as I went.” Trollope worked with a pocket watch placed before him on his desk; he strove to write 250 words every 15 minutes.

Neurotic of the Day I: John Adams

 

There are neurotics such and you and me and the guy in the back seat of the bus who keeps blowing his nose. And then there are the Great Neurotics. From all walks of life they come, these Great Neurotics, from history and fiction and the entertainment arts they emerge, marching together, out of step, absorbed in their own thoughts, and in the way the breeze plays through their hair.

Here is today’s entry in this dubious gallery:

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John Adams  “I have had poverty to struggle with; envy, jealousy and malice of enemies to encounter, no friends, or but few, to assist me; so that I have groped in dark obscurity.” That was Adams at age 30, not sounding very much like presidential timber and sounding much more like a potential assassin. A neurotic, if able, snob from a New England family steeped in self-abnegation.

Honor for “Carrie Welton”

I am very happy to note that my novel “Carrie Welton” has been named a semifinalist for the international M.M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction. There are ten novels on this list, each sharing “a common standard of excellence.” Those honored will be pared down to three this spring, with the winner announced in June. The England-based award is named after a widely admired writer of historical fiction. I don’t know how many books were submitted, but England loves, loves its historical fiction, so I’m guessing a lot. It’s a very unexpected honor for a first novel, and it really makes me want to get moving on the next one.

The Shutting Down of Opening Day

It was 56 Aprils ago, April 10, 1961, to be exact, that I was in the crowd at Washington’s Griffith Stadium for the Opening Day of the new baseball season. As I recall, it was a cool but not unpleasant afternoon. I had been allowed to miss a day of fifth grade at Holy Redeemer School in Kensington, MD, in order to join 26,724 others to see the Senators play the White Sox. Along with me in the crowd was the President of the United States, who was there to throw out the traditional first pitch and give the new season a proper launch.

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Opening Day 1961 – JFK fires it into the scrum as LBJ professes amazement.

The Senators were not going to scare anyone that spring and summer. They were a brand-new expansion team, the old Senators having moved to Minnesota to become the Twins. The expansion Senators, hastily put together via a draft of cast-offs from other teams, were a motley collection of baseball cards – Coot Veal, Billy Klaus, Willie Tasby, Chuck Cottier, Harry Bright, Dutch Dotterer – now dusted off and once again inserted into a lineup. Spoiler alert: They’d end the campaign in September with a 61-100 record, 47.5 games behind the slugging Maris/Mantle Yankees and tied with the Kansas City Athletics for the worst record in baseball.

But on Opening Day the Nats were 0-0, just like everyone else. Further, the game was the only one on the Major League card that day – Opening Day at that time being a D.C. exclusive – so if the Senators won, they’d be 1-0 and proudly astride all  of baseball for a full 24 hours. At least that was the way one 11-year-old looked at things.

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Jungle Jim Rivera gave the President a dressing down.

Such racing thoughts were tempered by the Opening Day ceremonies, however. President John F. Kennedy was preparing to toss out the first ball from his bunting-festooned box located to the home plate side of the Senators dugout. Kennedy had taken office only three months earlier. His presidency was still in its honeymoon phase, and his first 100 days were being marked by energy and excitement and what he liked to term “vigor.” As viewed from across the diamond, he appeared to be enjoying his new role in the national pastime. Wearing a blue pinstripe suit, white shirt and maroon tie, he was now also holding a baseball. Surrounding him were his vice president, Lyndon Johnson, and many cabinet members, as well as the Washington and Chicago managers. In front of him on the field were all the players from both teams in tight formation. At the appointed moment, Kennedy reared back and threw the ball into the scrum. There was a scramble for a moment and then Manuel Joseph “Jungle Jim” Rivera emerged with the ball and then, as dictated by tradition, he brought it over to the president for his signature. It was later reported (although I don’t trust this to be an exact quote) that Rivera took a look at the signed ball and said to JFK, “What’s this garbage? Don’t they teach you to write any better than this at Harvard? Give me a signature somebody can read!” Supposedly, Kennedy, enjoying the moment, complied by carefully printing his name underneath his signature.

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Wm. Howard Taft was the first to throw out the ceremonial pitch.

Kennedy may have been a newly minted president, but the tradition of the country’s chief executive throwing out the first ball went back half a century to 1910, when William Howard Taft first performed the task. As we wait to see how President Trump handles the tradition, it’s instructive to see how faithfully almost all the presidents since Taft have risen to the occasion. Wilson threw out the opening pitch three times, while Harding, Coolidge and Hoover never missed an opportunity. Franklin Roosevelt did it eight times, Truman and Eisenhower seven each (Truman both right- and left-handed; Ike the first to wear a baseball glove). After Kennedy, Johnson did it three times, Nixon a couple, Ford once and Reagan three times. George H.W. Bush was the first president to throw from the mound (using his old first baseman’s mitt), while Clinton, G.W. Bush and Obama all gave it a go. The only president not to do it was Jimmy Carter, which seems odd because he was famous for playing in softball games down in his home town of Plains, Georgia.

What did change over the years was that Washington’s role as the host city for Opening Day disappeared. This happened after the Senators skipped town following the 1971 season and moved to Texas to become the Rangers. Without a team in Washington, the official opening day moved elsewhere, first to Cincinnati and then to wherever television dictated. Because of that, Richard Nixon threw out the first non-Washington opening pitch in Anaheim in 1973, and his successors did so in Texas, Baltimore and Chicago. By the time Washington had a team again in 2005, this time known as the Nationals, George W. Bush threw out the pitch, but it was no longer Opening Day for baseball – that tradition having been jettisoned, maybe never to come back.

I’d like to suggest that if MLB wants to assert its primacy among all sports, it should consider returning its Opening Day to Washington, and exclusively so. There’s a strong franchise in place there now, and a President who once played at least high school baseball. Maybe it’s something to work on for 2018. In the meantime, the game’s collective wisdom put the opening contest of the 2017 season – Yankees vs. Rays – beneath a dome in Florida, perhaps the least evocative, most depressing venue in all of baseball. The 11-year old version of myself and I look at each other across the passing years and just slowly shake our heads.

Very Bad Papa

Way back in 1984, I learned about a contest devoted to writing “really bad Hemingway.” If you won, you got a trip for two to Florence, Italy, and dinner at Harry’s Bar & American Grill, which is located in that city. The word count was very limited, and you had to mention Harry’s. Typically, I wrote an entry for it but then never sent it in. I held onto it all these years, perhaps knowing that one day in the dim future I would have my very own blog and publish whatever I damn well pleased. He was my entry:

At first there were the radishes, then there were all the others. But for a long time there were the radishes. You could sit by the edge of the garden in the spring when the work had not gone well and you could feel the hunger there with you and the loneliness that came with a wasted day. And because it was only May you had only radishes to eat, and so you stored up your hunger for the others that would come later.

You took some radishes and put salt on them and ate them and wondered when the good days would come. There had been good days before, you thought. You could see them clearly now because of the hunger. There had been the days in Vorarlberg when you learned how to whistle and the snowy nights there when you first read the foreign books with the long, funny words you had to look up. And later there was the fighting over bingo in the Poconos when men cried out but the food was plain and hot and served by shy girls who smiled at you when the fighting was bad. And there were the free haircuts near the big river when you were a boy. And Harry’s. There always was Harry’s.

But now you had just the salty radishes and the wine Mickey Rooney gave you before he left for Spain, and told you to drink only if you needed it.

“Here,” Mickey Rooney said of the wine.

“How will I know when I need it?”

“There will be no difficulty.”

“Thank you, carabao.”

“It goes well with things that are red.”

“Adios, carabao.”

The wine was clear and good and it filled up the place that was lonely, but the radishes sent only a post card to the place that was hungry. Still, it did not feel so bad, sitting with the sun streaming over your shoulder. Then the girls from the high school next door came out and played on the field, and you watched through the fence and things went better. You watched the bright faces and you decided the next day would be a good day for earthworms. Soon you would sell enough live bait so you could leave the town and later you would remember that it had been a good town for earthworms.

But now there was nothing to do but dig again into the garden with your hands and hope to fill your coffee can and pray you didn’t get caught by the one who owned the garden. And you tried to stay sound and good until the next rain, when the worms would crawl right out off the ground and wriggle into dollar signs in the bottom of the can.

Reckless: My Q&A with Carrie Welton

Not so long ago (actually a really, really long time ago – in 1874, to be exact), I got a chance to sit down for a chat with the main character and driving force of my novel “Carrie Welton.” As you will see, she was observing her 32nd birthday but was in no mood for celebration. Even at that young age, she was looking back upon her life with some fond memories and a few regrets. Her thoughts regarding her domineering father, her greatest happiness, how her mother readied her for guests as a young girl, her love of mountain climbing and her stallion Knight may surprise, alarm or delight you. But please read it for yourself by going to the full interview here.

I would like to thank historyimagined.wordpress.com for the opportunity to interview my main character. You can find many similar character explorations there.

And as always, you can find “Carrie Welton” to purchase here at amazon.com.

Housefly Management

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Hunters like to use the word “management” to describe the act of killing animals, and so might we as we set about clearing our indoor ecosystem of unwanted pests. Most indoor creatures tend to overbreed if given half a chance, but, luckily for us, most are also rather slow and easy to “manage.” Such is not the case with the housefly, however. The fly is a formidable enemy, more in the manner of a sniper or a guerrilla than a selfless foot soldier (the ant) or a foe easily trapped by its own greed (the mouse). The fly is fast and devious, and it travels light.

So how to manage this trickster? Purchase a Venus flytrap? This may provide a few moments of ghoulish fascination, but it fights flies about as effectively as wearing light-colored clothing fights dandruff. Get mad and stomp through the house brandishing a flyswatter or baseball bat? This can be mightily satisfying from time to time, but it’s really no way for a human being to act. Open the front door and hope the fly goes outside? I think not.

No, the only path to successful housefly management is to do the following.

  1. As you are sitting in a chair, contentedly reading, the fly will land on the page, usually on the very word you are trying to read. This is a fly that has been cheerfully buzzing around the house for several days now. You have noticed it and been vaguely irritated by its presence, but before now you were never in a position to do anything about it. Now you are.
  2. Empty your brain of everything but the thought that your are going to get this fly.
  3. Shift your position slightly so that your striking hand is freed and the book or magazine lies firmly yet comfortably against your thigh. During this shift, the fly will quickly sail off on a tour of the room, but in a few moments it will come back to the exact same spot on the page.
  4. Pretend to continue reading, perhaps even arching an eyebrow or murmuring as if in reaction to a point made by the author—but actually you are not reading. You are staring at the fly.
  5. Assess the situation. You are now a menace to the fly. The fly knows it. You know it. Fortunately, your brain is quite a bit larger than the fly’s (in most cases), so its concentration will falter before yours does. While waiting for this lapse to occur, observe the fly in detail and build up hatred toward it. Was there ever a more revolting, disease-ridden, worthless, insolent pest? Dwell of these adjectives and others you may think of yourself.
  6. As the fly’s concentration lags, it will take two or three quick steps across the page. At this point, very slowly raise your striking hand, with the palm  as flat and hard as you can make it. Make sure that the shadow case by your hand does not overtake the fly and startle it, and also be sure that your nonstriking hand retains a firm grip on the book or magazine.
  7. As your hand rises, the fly again will tense up, but it will not flee unless your hand gets too close. Twelve inches has been proven by scientists to be about the right distance.
  8. Hold your position until the fly again forgets you are there. If the phone rings, ignore it. If your legs are falling asleep, bear with it. If your raised arm feels like it’s falling off, be brave. The fly is all.
  9. As soon as the fly makes a move—it will either take a tentative step or begin rubbing its filthy little front legs together—turn your head away as if attracted by something across the room. The fly will look up, too, to see what’s so interesting. As it does, bring your open hand down on it with everything you’ve got.
  10. Rest until you’ve regained your composure. As soon as you have, slowly lift your hand and peer beneath it. If you’ve missed, take a deep breath and try to resume your reading (it will be hard). If you’ve scored a hit, go wash your hands and then throw away the book or magazine, as no subsequent reader will care to wander into the scene of the crime.
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Scientists are studying the amazing similarities between a housefly’s flight patterns around the interior of a house and the routes of America’s major airlines.

Kudos for “Carrie”!

 

It is so gratifying to see the good reviews come in for “Carrie Welton.” There are 23 reviews now at amazon.com with an average rating of 4.9 stars out of 5. You can see them here.

Most recently comes a coveted “Editor’s Choice” designation from the Historical Novel Society. The last paragraph of that reviews reads:

“Let me assure you that this is not a poor-little-rich-girl sob story, but a textured, penetrating portrayal of real persons and actual events. Charles Monagan writes a terrific tale in Carrie Welton, one of the smoothest reads I’ve seen in a long time. Mr. Monagan’s career as an award-winning writer and editor spans decades, but this is his first novel. I hope it won’t be his last. Highly recommended.”

You can find the entire review here.

I have a vagrant dream that “Carrie” will somehow be discovered by a larger audience and that the HBO TV series version of her life will be played by Saoirse Ronan in an unforgettable performance.

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Important Question: Can Saoirse Ronan ride a horse?

For for anything like that to happen, lightning must somehow strike. And I don’t mean me getting electrocuted on the golf course.