Summer is for Herons

Summer is for herons, who sit on old stumps and dead trees casually flung out over the side of the river. The little white ones are charming exclamation points, their long thin necks speckle the shore; they prefer the reeds and inlets. The great blue herons are main events and I saw a pair this summer flying slow across the river. The lead bird had its neck scrunched up near its body and then with a magnificent flap extended its neck forward like a sword. The night heron is the one I look for. It likes to stand hunched over and very still on a branch that extends into shallow water. When I pass by in my boat it does not care. I slow down and peer. There is no tension. I saw one flying and expected the long neck maneuver but there was none. The night heron is more compact and world weary. It peers back.

Summer is waning and the water is heavy with green algae and weeds. My path up and down the river will shift soon with the patterns of school bus mornings and yellow foliage and fog. For now, the herons are knee-deep in mud, I’m afloat, and we’re keeping watch under a late-summer sky.

The German Voter-Fraud Scandal of the Century

Carl Gottlieb Peschel, Der Erlkönig, 1840. Public Domain.

Goethe’s haunting 1782 poem “Der Erlkönig” (“The Erl-King,” pronounced AIRL-koon-ik) uses deceptively melodious word choice and meter to emphasize its horror content: A supernatural king stalks a child in plain sight, but invisible to its oblivious father, who doesn’t believe his son until it’s too late.

Mein Vater, mein Vater, und hörest du nicht,

Was Erlenkönig mir leise verspricht? –

Sei ruhig, bleibe ruhig, mein Kind;

In dürren Blättern säuselt der Wind.

 

“My father, my father, and can you not hear

The promise the elf-king breathes in my ear?”

“Be calm, stay calm, my child, lie low:

In withered leaves the night-winds blow.”

(Edwin Zeydel translation, 1955)

Der Erlkönig is a cautionary tale with different morals depending on who you identify with. For the father, Goethe’s ballad (set to music by, among others, Franz Schubert) is an unsubtle reminder that evil lurks everywhere, and just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

For the son, Goethe conveniently reinforces what all German children rightly suspect: that their parents are totally okay with them either meeting a grisly death, or living in constant fear of one.

Of course, for the Erlkönig himself, the takeaway is pretty chipper: If you can’t get your way the first time, just be really fucking persistent.

Now far be it from me to suggest that Goethe’s spirit underlies the motivations of every German in the world—but also far be it from me to deny that I saw vestiges of the Erlkönig in the quest of one particularly aggrieved 42-year-old dude who seems to have more time on his hands than even your average Teutonic recipient of fifteen thousand paid vacation days per year. Meine Damen und Herren, I present to you the 25,000-Euro lawsuit of one Marko Steidel, who insists that he wuz robbed of his rightful royal title: not Erlkönig, but Apfelkönig (OPP-ful-koon-ik), or Apple King. Each year, you see, the German-Polish border town of Guben (pop. 20,000) holds an election for Apple Royalty.

Man Bad

It is not quite fair to say that Donald Trump lacks core beliefs, but to the extent that we can take apart these beliefs they amount to Give Donald Trump Your Money and Donald Trump Should Really Be on Television More. The only comprehensible throughline to his politics is that everything Trump says is something he’s said previously, with additional very’s and more-and-more’s appended over time; his worldview amounts to the sum of the dumb shit he saw on the cover of the New York Post in 1985, subjected to a few decades of rancid compounding interest and deteriorating mental aptitude. He watches a lot of cable news, but he struggles to follow even stories that have been custom built for people like him—old, uninformed, amorphously if deeply aggrieved.

If we’re going to have to read about the guy, the writing may as well be excellent.

Quadrant, "Infinition"


I am starting to sound like a broken record on this but I am astounded by exactly how slowly time is moving these days. I woke up this morning certain that it was at least Thursday and yet somehow it is not. I need to get one of those voice robot machines to wake me up each morning by saying, “Sorry, Al, it’s only [whatever the fuck horrible day it is which is not the day I actually believe it to be]” or, more appropriately, “You’re a fool to have hope.” In any event, happy Wednesday. Here’s music, enjoy.

New York City, August 21, 2017

★★★★★ The sun was shining through nothing more than a thin film of cloud. Sunlight strained the eyes; it warmed the ears; it raised sweat on the palms and made that sweat glisten. Just before the beginning of the appointed time, the cloud layer attenuated the light in a way that could be thought of as uncanny, if one were suggestible. A while later, when the crowded elevator let out onto the roof of the office building, a full cloud was covering the sun, but it passed on and through a pinhole in an index card it was possible to see the bite out of the disc. Up past the Flatiron, Madison Square was full, and people were accumulating on roofs all around, holding flashing objects to their eyes. A sooty dimness lay over the whole wide view of the city. More clouds closed over, then opened again. Now and then, as they came and went, it was possible to look at the flat white crescent of the sun through them, just as one might look at the entire round sun when the clouds were right, without danger. With sunglasses, that moment could be prolonged, though when the eyes were finally averted, a green crescent would float on them. The rooftop plantings were too sparse to be scattering abundant fishscale patterns in their shade, but careful inspection could turn up a few of them. Through borrowed cardboard protective glasses, the cutaway shape was precise and orange and it hung in a meaningless, featureless void as long as the glasses were up. Then there was the world again, about as dark as a real thunderstorm, no darker. The thick clouds departed and high peppery ones floated over the growing sun. People jammed the exit. After the majority was gone, there was still a huge chunk of the sun missing, and a few diehards with glasses were still staring at it.

Time To Start Reading Again

I know none of us wants to admit it, but fall is coming fast and pretty soon it won’t be acceptable to act like the big dummy you’ve been all summer. I don’t like it either, but for whatever reason nobody seems to think it’s as charming when you’re an idiot after Labor Day. Maybe you should read something so you can sound smart? It probably also wouldn’t hurt to crank up the old brain up a little bit anyway. I mean, maybe you don’t need to. Maybe you spent your whole summer reading nuclear reactor technical manuals. But I bet you mostly used the intellect God gave you to make important contributions to the ongoing online conversation about the elf incest show. It’s okay. Here are a few books I have enjoyed recently that I think you might also appreciate. Order now and come October you’ll sound like a genius for long enough to fool whoever around you is also pretending to be smart too.

MDMD, "ᐚ"


I couldn’t believe it either, when they told me it was only Tuesday this morning. And yet here we are. Nothing happens at speed anymore. The days take forever. It goes on and on and on and just when you think the week is close to over you are reminded by people that no, it’s only just begun. If you are someone who is not exactly in love with life to start with, the idea that they’re going to drag it out even further just makes you more anxious about the time it takes you to get through it. And that time will apparently never end. I guess while we’re waiting we should listen to some music. Enjoy.

New York City to Maplewood, New Jersey, and Back, August 20, 2017

★★★★ The gamble on opening the window to the muggy night paid off with clean new air by morning. Light passed through the open top and windows of a yellow jeep in traffic. The breeze counterpunched the heat of the sun, holding its own even in disadvantageous open spaces. Only down in the subway were conditions irredeemable. Where the commuter train came up into New Jersey, the waterways through the heavy phragmites were solid glowing green with duckweed. Some triangular facet of a skyscraper on the West Side was catching the sun to call more attention to itself than it deserved. Insects buzzed and birds sang in the calm suburban streets. Grill smoke caught the rays of the lowering sun. An even, cloudless pink tint made its way slowly up from the horizon. From the returning train, the trees made a solid, wavy-topped wall, and then even that detail was lost in the darkness.

The Penny Paper Sex Scandal

In retrospect, assaulting his estranged wife’s alleged lover with a whip probably wasn’t the best way for star actor Edwin Forrest to enhance his image during his difficult and very public divorce. Magazine editor Nathaniel Parker Willis received a vicious thrashing when he had the bad fortune to encounter Edwin on Washington Parade Ground (now Washington Square Park) on June 16, 1850. Edwin threw Willis to the ground, placed his foot on his neck, and began beating him, yelling to bystanders, “Gentlemen, this is the seducer of my wife; do not interfere!” Ultimately, Edwin was in for a far worse pummeling at the hands of public opinion. His attack on Willis gave additional fuel to the newspaper editors who were busy turning this dispute into one of the United States’s first major celebrity scandals.

When Catherine Norton Sinclair married Edwin Forrest in 1837, he was arguably the most prominent actor in the American theatre. He embodied the spirit of the age of Andrew Jackson: his acting style was physically vigorous (to a fault, his critics said) and the characters he played were bold in spirit, evincing more emotional intensity than intellectual depth. In addition to the usual repertoire of Shakespearean characters, he also commissioned American authors to write plays with distinctly American roles for him, such as the title character in Metamora; or, the Last of the Wampanoags. Metamora was a Native American chief who functioned as the archetype of the doomed Native American—a noble savage fated to conveniently fade away before the rise of an Anglo nation. The play, which premiered around the same time as the events that would lead to the Trail of Tears, was a hit.

The support of the rapidly changing American media helped fuel Edwin’s rise. In the 1830s, “penny papers” began replacing cumbersome broadsheets, which had mainly concerned themselves with political and business news aimed at an elite readership. The new, cheaper, and more portable breed of papers served the growing ranks of literate, middle-class readers, publishing stories that emphasized sensation and salaciousness. The most notorious of them was the New York Herald, which vaulted to prominence with its breathless coverage of the sordid details of the murder of prostitute Helen Jewett, and whose editor, James Gordon Bennett, earned a reputation for ruthlessness and unscrupulousness. Edwin’s emergence as the nation’s first celebrity actor made him a sympathetic figure whom Bennett could promote to his readers – for the moment, at least.

Having achieved stardom in his homeland, Edwin set off to conquer Europe. While in London, he met and married Catherine, the intelligent and sophisticated teenage daughter of a family of performers. As Forrest’s biographer Richard Moody notes, their wedding banns were announced in the British papers in between the requisite black bands that solemnly acknowledged the recent death of King William IV, which a more superstitious couple might have taken for a bad omen.

In Retrospect, I Probably Should Not Have Voted for The Grand Wizard for President

When the Grand Wizard first announced his candidacy, I, like most people, thought it was a goof or perhaps an hilarious episode of “Impractical Jokers.” About a month later, though, I happened to catch him performing a minstrel show on “The 700 Club” and I was entranced. Could this be the vessel that delivered unto my income bracket sky-high tax cuts?

I began supporting the Grand Wizard in dozens of tweets, email forwards, and unprompted elevator conversations. As early as that first magical press conference, where he announced a plan to send all Muslims to the moon, I thought “This guy tells it like it is, and I like that.” Critics of my pro-Grand Wizard blog and the nonprofit journal I started, as well as my webseries, “The Wiz,” accused me of attempting to “look beneath the hood,” so to speak, “to understand the engine.” I hoped that was the case. I saw the decline in this country—how soft we’d become toward non-violent drug offenders, for instance—and I thought the Grand Wizard might bring about the real change neither establishment candidate could.

It is now clear that I maybe kinda whiffed it on this one.

I cannot stand by this disgraceful administration any longer, and I urge my fellow Americans to stop defending the Grand Wizard. Far from unifying us, he has actually turned out to be slightly more racist than the acceptable amount.