Monday, July 18, 2016

Fickle Finger of Fate

Why try to fight intended circumstance?
I'll bide my time instead.
And when it turns its head.
I'll give the finger of fate a good kick up the pants!
            Richard John Scarr

“Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In” gave a Flying Fickle Finger of Fate award for dubious achievements such as baseball teams forbidding players to have beards, mustaches or long hair.  The phrase emphasizes the unforeseeable nature of the universe that can result in sudden, senseless consequences.  That description fits Mel Jacoby, who survived harrowing experiences in China and the Philippines escaping from the Japanese only to die in a freak accident near Darwin, Australia in 1942.  A Kittyhawk P-40 plane careened into a C-47 that he had just descended from and its propeller came loose and fatally struck the 25 year-old wartime journalist.
 Mel Jacoby on Philippine island of Cebu

Whenever I have my annual appointment with Dr. Jeffrey Quackenbush to find out the results of my PSA blood test, I have my fingers crossed.  Again, I seem to have escaped the fickle finger of fate, as the reading came down from 1.6 in 2015 to 1.1, whatever that means.

Water marks on the front and back windows of my new Corolla wouldn’t wash off.  Toyota service manager Tom Klaubo blamed acid rain from the steel mills.  Using a powerful CLO chemical solution, the service department’s detailer made them look like new. While in the waiting room I found Ken Schoon’s “Dreams of Duneland” (2013) and read about Swedish fisherman John P. “Fish” Johnson, who in 1912 caught a sturgeon that was over nine feet tall and weighed more than 200 pounds.  At Porter Breach the Johnson family opened an inn and restaurant near the fish house.
At Wrigley Field former Cub pitcher Ryan Dempster dressed up like Harry Carey to sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and afterwards greeted fans in the stands.  The Texas Rangers had infielders named Rougned Odor (who stunk) and Prince Fielder (who made a throwing error).  The Cubs winning pitcher was Kyle Hendricks, who bears a resemblance to Hall of Famer Greg Maddux and is nicknamed the Professor.  I switched to Jeopardy in time for the final question: in alphabetical order the first and last groups in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  I correctly guessed ABBA and ZZ Top. 

Renata Adler’s literary masterpiece “Speedboat” (1976) consists of a series of episodes not unlike a diary whose pages have been scrambled.  Donald Barthelme called the novel “a brilliant series of glimpses into the special oddities of contemporary life – abrupt, painful, and altogether splendid.”   Here is an example:
  I found a quarter yesterday, in a puddle in Wilmington.  I have a history of finding coins – a penny on the sidewalk one spring morning on Park Avenue, a dime that afternoon; the next day on the bus, eleven cents exactly. It seemed a sign.

On a strict budget newly married in Honolulu, I’d often walk to and from the University of Hawaii with head done, looking for coins.  I still stoop for pennies. Recently I thought I spotted someone using a metal detector in search of coins, but he was spraying weed killer.  When IUN’s Tamarack Hall was still standing, I found a 20-dollar bill near a door where Art majors smoked.  I told the Art Department secretary to let me know if anyone reported losing any money.  Nobody did, so I was $20 richer.

This “Speedboat” scene reminded me of tour buses that drove through Haight-Ashbury during its hippie phase:
  At six one morning, Will went out in jeans and frayed sweater to buy a quart of milk.  A tourist bus went by.  The megaphone was directed at him.  “There’s one,” it said.  That was in the 1960s.  Ever since, he’s wondered, “There’s one of what?” 

A “Speedboat” vignette describes Lyda as an “exuberant” gardener who “would spend hours in her straw hat and gloves, bending over the soil.  When somebody walked past her in her work, she was always holding up a lettuce or a bunch of radishes with an air of resolute courage, as though she had shot them herself.”

Grandson Anthony’s graduation party in Wyoming, Michigan, was a rousing success and featured tacos and fabulous guacamole among the many treats.  Anthony’s baseball coach and many teammates were on hand, some with their parents, as well as family members.  Delia’s younger brother Michael is a Horseshoe Casino poker room manager.  A cousin is friends with Daniel Avitia, a charismatic student from 20 years ago who is now a state trooper.  Popular games included beer pong without the beer and cornhole, like horseshoes but with bean bags (strange name since the word also means butt hole and as a verb refers to anal sex).  I held my own but was bothered by an aching knee when I pushed off on my right foot.  My natural stroke left the bean bags, which were heavier than normal, about eight feet short.
In an epic British Open battle between Phil Michelson and Henrik Stenson I was rooting for “Lefty,” but once Stenson had the match clinched, I was happy that the Swede holed a final birdie attempt to finish the day with a 63 and a record 20 under par for the tournament.  Afterwards Michelson, who shot an impressive 65, 11 strokes better than third place finisher J.B. Holmes, said, “I threw as much at him as I could and he didn’t make any mistakes.  Just incredible play.  What a great champion he is.”
An Indiana Historical Society brochure included a photo of the Coffee Pot Filling Station located near Scottsburg, Indiana, as well as shots of a Hammond League of Women Voters voting booth and kids at McCormick’s Creek State Park in 1916, which opened in 1916.

In a New York Review of Books essay on troubled poet Delmore Schwartz, Jonathan Galassi appears this quote by rock legend Lou Reed, Schwartz’s student at Syracuse: “I wanted to write.  One line as good as yours.  My mountain.  My inspiration.”  Here are two of Delmore’s best lines: “The heavy bear who goes with me” and “The mind is a city like London, smoky and populous.”

Clara Bingham’s “Witness to the Revolution: Radicals, Resisters, Vets, Hippies, and the Year America Lost Its Mind and Found Its Soul” incorporates the oral testimony of one hundred activists.  It concentrates on the 13 months from August 1969, beginning with Woodstock, to September 1970, when Jimi Hendrix died and the Vietnam Veterans against the War marched from Morristown, New Jersey, to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.  Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow recalled first taking LSD listening to Ravi Shankar live at a Connecticut farmhouse and “wandering out into the snowy woods and looking at every snowflake individually for the miracle that it was.”

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