Althouse at the Art House

Ann Althouse visited the Milwaukee Art Museum and has pictures.

I saw that Masterpieces of American Art show in October and thought it was pretty good. I even took the headset for the multimedia presentation, although I only listened to one part of one snippet before deciding that the headphone presentation, with its musical interludes, sound effects, and deep-voiced narrator would have merely created the experience of a 3-d Discovery Channel presentation instead of augmenting the museum experience.

Also, they misspelled Masterpiece in the text in the player’s LCD display.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

We Didn’t Give

The Humane Society of the United States called the other day to drum up some extra cash in light of the tsunami in southeast Asia as part of the Relief Efforts for Animals Difficult after Catastrophic Tsunami campaign.

Compounding the human tragedy unfolding in South Asia after a massive tsunami swept across the Indian Ocean, animal victims are now beginning to emerge as well. While the impact of this natural disaster on animal populations is currently very difficult to assess, Humane Society International (HSI) and its partners in the region are working to support disaster relief efforts in the affected countries.

Undoubtedly, countless animals died and were washed out to sea by the initial tidal waves, while the bodies of thousands of others litter the beaches and fields of devastated areas, complicating the disaster relief process. The necessity of disposing of both human and animal remains to contain the spread of diseases like cholera and typhoid is still critical.

And while the relief efforts of animal welfare workers in Asia understandably remain focused on human victims of the disaster, many are preparing to spend the coming days and weeks fighting disease and helping as many victims as possible—both human and animal.

It’s not a joke. To some people whose livelihoods depend upon raising funds for animal welfare, I guess this represents a reasonable opportunity to show animal compassion.

In light of the unimaginable human suffering, though, I find it crass.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories


Monday: Lautenschlager aims to seek re-election

Wednesday: Psychologists meet with hunter shooting suspect:

In a rare courtroom appearance, Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager handled the limited prosecutorial duties, adding one charge to the eight previously filed against Vang. The new information adds a third count of attempted first-degree intentional homicide, alleging that Vang tried to kill Lauren Hesebeck on two different occasions during the rampage.

So Peggy Lotsalager’s showing that she’s tough on crime by showing up to personally oversee the high profile case of the Hmong hunter who shot and killed several other hunters. That should help people forget she likes to unethically drive state cars while intoxicated.

Extra kudos for the extra charge for trying to kill the same person twice. Why stop there? Why not one for each bullet? How about an attempted murder charge atop a murder charge if more than one bullet struck an individual. No, wait; how about a murder charge for every bullet that could have killed a victim?

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Rules Are Made To Be Litigated

94-year-old lottery winner doesn’t want to wait for her cash:

A Massachusetts woman says she wants her lottery winnings now — because she’s 94 and isn’t likely to live another 20 years.

Louise Outing won $5.6 million in September.

But it’s the policy of the Massachusetts lottery to pay out jackpots from its Megabucks game over 20 years. In this case, that would be about $200,000 a year.

Outing’s lawyer is asking a judge to force the lottery to pay her now in a lump sum, minus taxes.

Personal call for attorneys:

Dear sirs, the policy of the Missouri lottery is that it won’t pay out a lottery jackpot until you win it. However, given the astronomical odds, it will take me thousands of years playing the same number every week to win a jackpot. As I shall probably not live to see that day, please litigate on my behalf to force the Missouri lottery to force an immediate payout minus taxes. Thank you.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Short Fiction: “Little Grey Man”

I’m still cleaning out my inventory of old short stories; this one, too, dates from college, and it, too, is copyright 1992.

Little Grey Man

   Grey like a battleship. Grey like a piece of granite. Grey like an elephant’s tough hide, and usually in my case almost as wrinkled. That’s what my uniform looks like. Actually it’s a blue-grey, a blue grey like nothing else but a postal carrier’s uniform. So it was.

   I liked the job, carrying letters. I felt like the bearer of tidings from far away places, like an unstoppable force. Through rain, sleet, and snow I walked my route, delivering letters and stuff, mostly bills and junk mail, but sometimes letters and cards. Nothing could stop me. I was like that great battleship, ploughing through the waves, carrying the letters no matter what. Rain and snow slowed me down a little bit. Dogs sometimes, too, but I was behind the grey uniform and the little can of mace, so I was safe.

   I like the neighborhood I carry in. It’s a nice almost suburban neighborhood up in 53225, townhouses and duplexes with a couple regular houses. A nice quiet corner of the city, but I guess no corner of the city is all that quiet all the time.

   The winter parka was warm on me as I walked along. I think it was November, one of the first cold days of the year. The sun had shined a little, but the clouds were rolling in. The winter parka was a bluer grey than the summer shirt, but it was warmer and thicker. I was carrying my bag over my right shoulder and I liked the tug. Sometimes I loaded it extra heavy, because I figured that I was keeping in shape walking all the time, I might as well get big shoulders, but my shoulders never did get that big, and it would have only been the right shoulder anyway, so it was just as good.

   I was whistling something stupid like I normally do when it’s the beginning of winter and just getting cold enough to make my cheeks red and just cold enough for the parka. I got to my favorite corner of the neighborhood, up on 100th Street, right behind the park, Little Menomonie, I mean. It’s a nice neighborhood. There’s apartment buildings, but they’re good enough people.

   I was walking along, whistling something stupid, something by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, I think. I was counting the mail and sorting it by house, counting it to see who got the most mail and what they got. It’s not like I was keeping tabs or anything, I was just looking mostly at the covers of the magazines that I came across. Tom Filbin, one of the people on my route, always got the best magazines. He got Discover and Smithsonian all the time, and Smithsonian always has the neatest covers. I like Us and People sometimes, when they have really pretty movie stars on them, but Cyrus Stevens came later in the route, and it was too late in the month to be getting a magazine anyway.

   I was walking along, counting and sorting mail, and thinking about the houses coming up. The walk down the street was on the side with all the apartments, the evens, and the walk back was on the side with the townhouses, the odd side. I had already finished the apartments, and I crossed the street down by where it dead-ends. It doesn’t actually dead-end, but the street ends and another comes in by the corner, so it’s not like a dead end at all.

   I was thinking about the houses coming up, which I sometimes do, but generally I only think about the people I know. Some people on a mail route like to meet me at the door, like they lived waiting for me. It was my letters and stuff, I know, but sometimes they were friendly and said hi to me and stuff, and we’d talk for a second about the weather, usually as I was walking up their sidewalk or onto their porch. Sometimes I’d get to know them a little better and I’d stop to talk to them for a minute or two when I get ahead of my schedule. One lady on 107th gave me a Christmas card last year, her face crinkling up when she smiled. She invited me in for coffee one day, like I sometimes hear they do in the rural areas, and it was an old house and an old woman, so she probably did the same thing twenty years ago when this area was still fields and a little river. I thanked her, but I was late, so I told her some other time maybe, and I kept going.

   I was thinking about one house that was coming up, mainly because there was a pretty lady that lived there, and I liked to talk to the young ladies as much as anyone else. Maybe more. Bikorsky once told me about a pretty lady meeting him at a door on his route in a thin flannel nightgown. I don’t believe a word of anything Bikorsky tells me, besides, I just like to see them smile and say hi. This particularly lady was not home, but I generally only see her on Saturdays anyway. It was a Wednesday, I think, and I was silly to think she’d meet me at the door anyway.

   I walked on, still whistling “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”, probably because the second to last house on the block had a vine growing up the side of it. I don’t think it was a grapevine, but in the summer it made the house look distinguished and old. Like something that would be growing on Harvard or Yale or something. Vines just made me think of Harvard and Yale.

   I dropped the mail in the boxes on the third to last house, no magazines or packages, so they fit right in nicely and I could be on my way like a grey ghost, unseen and spreading the first Christmas cheer. Like the ghost of Christmas Present. I could see the browning leaves on the side of the next house, and I was whistling “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”.

   I was sorting through the mail, whistling, and I counted out three envelopes and a big bulk rate card for the left side and only the bulk rate card for the right. I walked up the driveway, carefully. I’m always careful and I don’t walk across the lawns like some carriers do, they sometimes save time by cutting across the grass so they can get to their trucks and have a cigarette or warm up. I don’t smoke, like I said I’m trying to stay in shape, and the extra walking was good for my heart.

   I was walking up the driveway, thinking about the house a bit I suppose. I hadn’t seen any of the occupants very much, not with a Christmas card, a cup of coffee, or a flannel nightgown. I had seen the lady on the right once, a young lady about twenty-five. She didn’t smile and only seemed to open the door when I was there by accident. She wasn’t very pretty, but she didn’t smile, and I like to see the young ladies smile. I said hi and handed her her mail, and she said thank you, and I smiled and turned around and continued with my route. That had been in the summer, and I was wearing my lighter summer shirt, crisp and clean like the air.

   I was walking up to the mailboxes, kind of looking at the ivy leaves and thinking they should be cut in the winter or something, but if they were, they’d have to grow back all in the spring. I filled the left side first, because the driveway is on the left and the walk comes up from the driveway, and I never cross the lawn.

   I was crossing the porch and looking at the ivy and thinking it should be trimmed. It kind of blended with the brick, though, so it didn’t look all that bad, but up close I could see the dead leaves better, and I wondered if it would look better if they were all pulled off, the dead leaves I mean. They surrounded the front window and made it look like Yale in the summer.

   I was putting the mail in the mailbox, the one card, and looking at the ivy around the window. The curtains were half open, pink curtains, like the last part of a sunrise. Yale doesn’t have pink curtains, I don’t think, but the right side of this townhouse wasn’t Yale, and I wasn’t whistling any more. I had gotten to the part of the song I forgot, so I stopped whistling entirely. The air was stilling chilling my cheeks, but I wasn’t whistling.

   I was closing the mailbox, looking at the window, and thinking about Yale and pink curtains when he hit her.

   They had been in the living room, mostly hidden behind the pink curtains and the vine-covered brick wall when I came up, and now he was yelling at her, but I really didn’t hear it until I saw him hit her.

   It was a slap, not a punch or anything, but it knocked her down.

   I could hear him yelling at her still, or more, like a maniac. She didn’t try to get up, but he bent over and grabbed her by the shoulders and picked her up. He wasn’t that much bigger than she was, but big enough, probably not as big as he thought he was. He started shaking her, and her head bounced back and forth, her brown hair bouncing over her blue covered shoulders, over his white knuckles. He shouted something right in her crying face and threw her back onto the couch, behind the curtain.

   I could have knocked on the door and demanded to know what was going on. I had my mace, what could he have done to me with a faceful of mace?

   I could have knocked on the door and acted like I had a package for them. I did have a little box in my bag for someone around the corner. I could have asked for him to sign for it but then acted like I realized the box wasn’t for him. He might have gotten mad at me then and yelled at me and forgotten about her or something.

   I could have gone back to my truck and radioed for the dispatch to call the police and maybe kept an eye on them to make sure he didn’t really hurt her until the police came. Or something.

   I closed the mailbox softly so that they wouldn’t hear, and I turned around and continued with my route like a battle-scarred battleship limping through a storm and toward drydock. Like a grey fog rolling through the neighborhood, unimposing and unnoticed. Like an old man in a parka too big for him.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

You Want Imagination?

San Francisco lawyer and trainer of international prosecutors and other internationalist muckety-mucks Robert S. Rivkin asks:

So — where is the imagination in our national leadership?

Unfortunately, Rivkin’s “imagination” only extends to more taxation on Americans for two years (come on, permanently–taxes don’t go away that easily, or we’d be done wiring rural areas for phone by now) to rebuild southeast Asia:

For example, the president could propose a flat $50 surtax applicable to every American tax return with an adjusted gross income of between $25,000 and $40,000; a flat $75 surtax on every tax return with an adjusted gross income between $40,000 and $80,000; $100 for incomes over $80,000, and so on. This small assessment for two years would produce many billions of dollars, which could be placed into a fund which would support infrastructure repair and development over a period of at least 10 years in the stricken countries.

Hey, you want imagination? How about this proposal: Now, some tribes in devestated areas are probably not that far–maybe a generation or two–from head hunting and cannibalism. How about we send a couple of San Fransisco attorneys to tide them over? We’ve got a surplus here in America, and it’s awful stingy of us to let them simply grow old and die when they could sustain a family for a month.

(Thanks to Jeff Jarvis for starting my morning off right–with indignation and head shaking.)

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Book Review: Three Survived by Robert Silverberg (1969)

All right, so this book is really a young adult science fiction book and not an adult science fiction book. But, in my defense, I bought it from the local library for a quarter, and the library conmingles its adult and youth fiction on the sale tables. Also, many of the novels of the era were shorter, so the thin spine nor story line didn’t give much hint, and I didn’t spend that much time perusing the text in the library before making the acquisition, which represents all the excuses you’ll need to understand why I owned this young adult book.

I read it because the only way to get an acquisition off of my to-read shelves is to read it.

The book runs about 100 pages and tells the story of three diverse characters who are the only survivors of a spaceship accident: Rand, an engineer; Dombrey, a low level jetmonkey crewman; and Leswick, a Metaphysical Synthesist. Although Rand thinks he’ll lead the group of deadweight survivors, he learns that it takes more than logic to meet the challenges of the jungles and the natives of a hostile world.

Read it as a parable of how people should respect the talents of those who have a different skill set. For example, Rand could represent developers, Leswick the sales and marketing types who have to deal with people for a living, and Dombrey the techinical writers and the testers that everyone thinks are dumb and superfluous, but who know which fruits to eat and which vines are really snakes, and the developers had just best get off of their little primadonna “We run the world” schtick and realize that it takes dumb jetmonkeys and liberal arts majors to make a successful software company.

Or maybe I’m reading the morale of the story wrong.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Book Review: Blood on the Arch by Robert J. Randisi (2000)

Well, in Randisi’s defense, he had just moved to St. Louis when he wrote this book and, given his prodigious output, he probably didn’t have a lot of time to research the area or how the police departments interoperate, but….

The book begins with murder on the grounds of the Arch or, as it’s formally known, the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. The intrepid St. Louis City police detective Joe Keough investigates the crime on his day off and then shuts the facility down indefinitely. I’m not so clear on the jurisdictional issues here, but I would expect the federal authorities to investigate a murder in a national park, which is what the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial represents. But in Keough’s world, this closure occurs without a squawk by federal employees. Underneath the Arch lies the Museum of Westward Expansion, capitalized in this book as a proper noun as the Arch Museum. So in the first few chapters, I got the sense that Randisi was unfamiliar with his setting.

So I spent much of my reader processing power looking for inaccuracies. They come aplenty. Twice, the main charater refers to St. John’s hospital as The Palace on Ballas, once asserting that everyone in St. Louis calls it that. I’ve never heard it called that before in my twenty years of residency in the St. Louis area (including five in the northwest corner of St. Louis County near St. John’s). The cop refers to the new prison in Clayton, but it’s a jail, not a prison, and a cop would probably know the difference. A city cop, even Detective Joe Keough, would not make an arrest downtown and book the suspect in Clayton as the city and the county are completely separate (the city of St. Louis is not even in St. Louis County because of some short-sighted short-term tax money greed in the late 1800s). Also, someone familiar with the layout of St. Louis, which I would expect from a cop, would not take Highway 44 to Highway 270 to travel from downtown to St. John’s–but a new resident to the city who lived in a southern or southwestern suburb might. Not Joe Keough, who lives right off of Highway 40 in the fashionable Central West End; I wager Randisi lived off of 44 and knew it as the main corridor to the suburbs from downtown because how he traveled. Let’s also overlook the claim that mayor of St. Louis is the most powerful man in the city. That bias probably carries right over from Randisi’s time in New York.

So as much as I hate to, I have to knock a fellow St. Louis author. I have to hope that when I add local flourishes to my novels that they won’t end up like this. Aside from the grimace-inducing local mistakes, the book is a servicable police detective story. It’s not up among the MacDonalds or Chandlers or Parkers, but it’s not low among the Liningtons. I paid almost five dollars for this book in a 80% off bookstore, where I also got my Roger L. Simons (also, one of whom Randisi is not).

I hope and fully expect the others in the series will be more technically accurate, so I haven’t written Randisi completely off, but I have no intentions of seeking him out new or used.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

By Any Other Name

The Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center, a
brand new struggling venue for arts no one wants to see on the UMSL campus presents Over the Rainbow:

Honoring the 100th anniversary of composer Harold Arlen’s birth, this multi-media musical concert delves into Arlen’s life with behind-the-scenes clips from “The Wizard of Oz,” home movies and photos. Broadway stars Tom Wopat and Faith Prince join forces for an entertaining walk down memory lane.

What, no mention that he is best known to most of America as Luke Duke (that’s from the The Dukes of Hazzard, you damn kids) ?

I guess the trustees of Blanche M. Touhill are keeping their target audience separate from the taxpayers who funded the underused, underattended facility.

Kudos, too, for adding their own service charge to tickets. Classy.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

How Do You Make a Small Fortune in Charitable Donations?

Start with a large fortune, of course.

The New York Post details a number of charities in New York who lost money on fund raising campaigns last year.

Tips to charities who want to raise money from the Noggle household:

  • Send us a couple of mailings a year so we have the envelopes, but cut out the bi-monthly, glossy campaigns. Our five dollars barely covers the costs of your printing and postage.
  • Don’t bother selling our name to other charities and charity-facilitating for-profit corporations because we don’t respond to charities we don’t know, no matter how importantly the National Sisters of Animal Defense and Welfare fund takes itself, or how pretty we find its unsolicited and beautiful-but-no-salable-for-a-quarter-at-our-garage-sale calendar.
  • For the most part, if you’ve got National, American, United States, International, Global, or Galactic in your organization name, save your bulk rate postage. We give precedence to local charities that don’t need to support national administrative costs so executives can attend meetings, lunches, and conferences on our five dollars. We give to the local Habitat for Humanity, not the conglomerated federated American effort, which needs to pay its salaries and costs before trickling down donations to local organizations. Sounds remarkably consistent with my position on the Federal Government spending, ainna?

Thank you, that is all.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Another Cutler Martyr

According to the Riverfront Times, a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter was fired for blogging:

Following publication of an Unreal item in last week’s Riverfront Times, newsroom management at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch seized the computer hard drive of staff writer Daniel P. Finney and suspended him from reporting duties.

The Unreal piece, “Local Blog o’ the Week,” highlighted an online diary written under the pseudonym Roland H. Thompson. Though Finney did not identify himself by name in the blog, titled “Rage, Anguish and Other Bad Craziness in St. Louis,” he chronicled minute details of his life, including lengthy passages about his job as a Post-Dispatch features writer.

Of course, what’s a story about a blogger losing a job without an obligatory genuflection to the apparent patron saint and prostitute plucky promiscuous-and-enterpreneurial Washington insider, Jessica Cutler:

Firing employees for their private blogs is nothing new. U.S. Senate mail clerk Jessica Cutler made national headlines earlier this year when she lost her job after detailing her sexual escapades with Senate staffers.

Although the content might have been pithy, I doubt Finney’s blog detailed receiving anal sex for six hundred dollars per.

Man, if this blog ever leads to my dismissal or loss of business, I shall keep it quiet just so no one mentions my name and Jessica Cutler’s in the same article.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Associated Press: On the Other Side

More perfidy by the Associated Press:

After nearly costing Green Bay a crucial game with one of his familiar mistakes, Brett Favre rallied the Packers to victory – and the NFC North title – with one of his famous comebacks.

Crikey, the man is sporting and spots Minnesota a touchdown, and this is how an Associated Press writer characterizes it? Peh on you, you purplo journalist. Here in St. Louis, the Packer flag flew on Christmas, and the red bulb in the green-and-red set for the porch lights has already been replaced with the gold. Until February, we hope.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Short Fiction: “Not Between Friends”

Good day.

I’m recycling more college material here. Heck if I know what made me write this story, but I did. It’s entitled “Not Between Friends”, and it, too, is copyright 1992 Brian J. Noggle.

    Shelly and I had been friends for two and a half years, which was only two and a half years, but a lot of our lives to that point. We’re still friends, as far as I know, but subtle doubts and darknesses have crept into what our friendship was.

    Shelly is a lesbian, which was the third thing I knew about her. The first thing I knew was that she was drop dead beautiful, at least to me at that time. Blonde hair clipped short, almost scalped. Long slender arms reached for mailbox 2B, and long trim legs carried up the stairs to apartment 2B, one floor above mine. The second thing I knew about her was her apartment number, and my first conclusion was that I would have to stop by sometime soon.

    I did stop by the next morning, to borrow some sugar. I was new in the apartment building, so I thought it would be a good excuse to go around introducing myself, and I figured that asking to borrow a cup of sugar would be trite enough so that she would see through it and know I had an ulterior motive. So I rapped on her door at eight-oh-nine on that September morning.

    “Hi, can I borrow a cup of sugar?” I asked when she opened the door, dressed in an oversized shirt and bunny slippers.

    “A cup of sugar?” she asked. She was three quarters of the way made up. Her eyes were highlighted expertly, and I felt like I might wilt under their inquisitive gaze.

    “Yeah, I know it sounds corny, but I just moved in downstairs, and when I stocked my apartment, I remembered the coffee, but I forgot the sugar. I just moved in downstairs. 1B. My name is Andrew Saroll, but people still call me Andy.”

    “Nobody downstairs had any?” she asked, cocking her head to the side. Well, so much for the cover story.

    “There was nobody downstairs I really wanted to introduce myself to,” I said.

    “And you wanted to introduce yourself to me?” she asked.


    “Why?” Point blank. No way to dodge a point blank question.

    “I saw you getting your mail, and I said to myself, now there is the kind of woman you can settle down with in a small rural home and raise prize-winning samoyeds with. Or at least ask to a dinner in the most expensive restaurant I can afford. How about it? You free tonight, or tomorrow, or any time in October?”

    She looked amused. Not a good sign. “I’d love a free dinner, but I’d hate to wreck your samoyed dreams. I wouldn’t be interested in settling down with you.”

    “Oh,” I said.

    “It’s nothing with you,” she said with a strange smile. “I’m a lesbian.” Another point-blank.

    “Oh,” I said, “What a relief.”

    “Most guys say ‘waste’.”

    “Well, I am trying to project a mature viewpoint here. True beauty is never wasted.”

    “So you’re a mature flatterer. I can handle that. So when is this free meal?”

    I set it up for the following evening, and I did treat her to the most expensive restaurant I could afford, which happened to be one of those sit-down fast-food joints where the soup of the day is made several weeks in advance.

    I did manage to get her name, Shelly Stevens, and her profession, telemarketer. She was just out of college, which put her one up on me, and she was very frank, which put her a second up on me. We got to be pretty good friends, which is an understatement, because she was the only friend I had in the building, and one of the few I had in the city I chose to make my collegiate home.

    I met her before my sophomore year, back when I was young and cocky. It’s now the middle of the summer before my senior year, and I guess I’m still young, and maybe a little cockier now than I had been. During the two years before I left for my internship here in New York, like I said, we got to be pretty close.

    It was Shelly who took me out to the bars when I turned twenty-one. We hit a few of the neighborhood bars, which were pretty jumping. We both managed to find our apartments, but if we hadn’t cooperated on finding our building, I don’t think either of us would have made it.

    Some people might ask me how I became that good of friends with a lesbian, as if it were something strange or unholy, which I suppose it is to a lot of people. When you go back and try to find the reason you become friends with anybody, you can’t really trace it to a specific. I guess it was because we met, and we clicked. She told me that I was too long-term up front, that when I introduced myself to women with dreams of forever that I intimidated them. And such stuff.

    There was no one better to go bar-hopping with. After my twenty-first birthday, I started hitting all the bars, in some hope of finding Miss Right or perfecting my game of 301. We would sit on our stools, backs to the bar, checking out the women. It was awkward at first to go in with a woman and look at others, but one time I watched some brunette out of the corner of my eye, and after she passed, I turned back toward Shelly a bit self-consciously. She nodded and said the brunette was pretty good, and I quickly got over my self-consciousness, after four or five such incidents.

    She must have been glad to have me along, too. Being with a guy kept the other guys off of her, mostly. There were a few times I had to tell guys, mostly bigger than me, to screw, and every time except one they did. The one time he didn’t, well, it was painful for both of us, and he didn’t get Shelly anyway. She told me later that I shouldn’t have, but I told her I had to. I couldn’t have her be the more macho of the two of us. She laughed deeply.

    She was my best friend for those two years, and I spent a lot of time crashed on her couch listening to her alternative bent of music and to her complaining of rude people she talked with at work. I’m probably idealizing those times now, and it wasn’t all that often that I did see her, only a couple of times a week, which for best friends is a bit low I would guess. I don’t know if she even considered me her best friend.

    Then this letter came, the first one I have gotten from her since I started my internship. It came yesterday, two weeks before I leave to return to school. She didn’t put a return address on it, but I recognized her handwriting on the envelope when I got it out of the mailbox, and it was the first thing I opened when I got back to my cubicle of an apartment. It was the only thing I opened, I should add. I don’t get much mail.

    “Dear Andy,” her blue ink said on the lavender stationery, “How are you? I am great! I did it! I am pregnant!” Which was good news, but not a surprise to me. I knew she had it in mind, which is probably why I hadn’t gotten a letter from her during my internship.

    It was a rare warm day in March, and we were sitting on the front porch of our apartment building, watching the people go by on the street, like we had done many times before. Tika, Shelly’s companion and roommate for the last few months, was visiting her mother in Green Bay, and it was just Shelly and I, like in the old days. We were talking about the city, and the future. I had only a year left in college, and Shelly had only a few years left in her twenties. I was scared, but she wasn’t. Just wistful. I had paused after wondering what I would do with an English major and a Spanish minor and was taking time to watch a little red Fiero with a redhead slither down the street.

    “I want to have kids,” she said, looking up into the tree in the yard.

    “You always liked challenges,” I said.

    “I’m serious,” she said slowly.

    “Okay,” I said, switching gears. “You and Tika going to bring it up? Or just you?”

    “Tika and I,” she said. “We haven’t talked much about it. I just mentioned it might be nice, and she agreed.”

    “It’s a lot of responsibility.”

    “What, do you think I’m not up to it? Or do you think I’m not capable because of my sexuality?”

    “Whoa,” I said. “It’s Andrew Saroll you’re talking to. You can keep the indignity practice for someone who thinks it’s wrong. It’s just a lot of responsibility, a kid, that’s all I said.”

    “Sorry,” she said. “It is.”

    “If you’re ready for it, go for it.” We sat in silence for a few minutes.

    “Would you be the father?” she asked, strength back in her voice. Beating around the bush didn’t suit her.

    “You want me to ….?” I asked. My first and second instinctive responses popped quickly. They were, I am ashamed to admit, an unveiled instinctive “All right! Yowza!” and then a quick “With Shelly?” sort of distaste because she was a friend or a lesbian, and then my first cognitive response was a sort of regret for both of them.

    She looked a bit repulsed herself, but covered it quickly with her scientific disinterest. “No, I just wondered if you’d donate the semen for artificial insemination. I figured I’d rather have a kid something like you than like a total stranger. Keep it among friends, you know.”

    I was quiet for a long time. Shelly waited for a response for some time before she got up from the railing around the porch. “Think about it a while,” she said before heading in.

    I did think about it for a while. For about nine hours that night, until I was finally able to tumble into a dark and dreamless sleep. I thought about how much it probably meant to her to have me do this. She asked a friend, and she must have thought about it a lot. It wasn’t her norm to take so long to throw out an off-the-cuff question. She wanted me to be the father of her child.

    I thought about being a father at twenty-two, and not really being a father at twenty-two. I wouldn’t have a hand in raising my child, and it might not even know I was its father. It would have Tika and Shelly, two mommies. I’d never thought much about gay marriage and gay couples raising children before then, so I didn’t have any handy rhetoric to fall back on. Not that it would have helped in a personal situation.

    I’d hate to say no to Shelly. She’d think I didn’t trust her with my spawn or something, which was not entirely true, but I knew I couldn’t explain it away. As much as I didn’t want to do it to Shelly, I didn’t want to do it to the kid, either.

    It’s traditional, I know, not wanting to banish a kid to life without a father. A real father. One that lives with them and is used by the mother as a real threat. Particularly if the kid was a boy, he’d need a role model, and as much as I like Shelly and tolerate Tika, neither one of them would teach him how to defend himself against the big fourth grader who would call his mothers dykes. And the fifth grader, and the sixth grader, and so on. I thought of my own childhood without a father, and I couldn’t be a party to putting a kid through the same hell. It wouldn’t even be that simple of a hell for the kid. My kid.

    So, in the depths of the night, I decided that my mature and open new-consciousness was just a sham, and that I would not help my best friend with one of her greatest dreams. I worried about the consequence for a while before I drifted to sleep.

    I don’t know if I consciously avoided her or not, but she seemed to guess my answer before it was spoken. She came down to my apartment three nights later. “Have you thought about it, Andy?” she asked, even though the expression on my face must have screamed that I had.

    “I can’t, Shelly,” I said simply.

    “Why?” she asked with a voice more level than I deserved.

    “I just can’t” I said. There was no way to tell her without hurting her feelings. There was no way I was going to avoid hurting her feelings, but I hoped this way somehow hurt her less.

    “And you’re not going to tell me why?” she asked.

    I shook my head.

    “Okay,” she said, and we made some small talk for a while, and then she left. It wasn’t like old times, it was something different. Like someone flipped a switch, and the biggest thing that got me was that it was me.

    Our friendship faltered after that. I told my land lady I wouldn’t be returning to her building. I left for New York City and the glamour of a magazine internship, but I left her my address out of a courtesy, I guess. I did not expect her to write, and there her letter sits, on the table next to my bed. My room is neat, because in two weeks I will head back to the city, to a different apartment, and to new friendships. I wonder if all will be forgiven, and I wonder if she knew who the father is. And I wonder why it matters so much to me.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Sophistication, Thy Antonym is Noggle

On Wednesday, Richard Roeper identified the worst holiday songs and assigns the worst ribbon to “Jingle Bells” by the Singing Dogs, which leads me to confess: I have this song on a cassette single.

As Roeper mentioned it, I put it in the old cassette deck and clicked the play button. And sang along.

Granted, I am just a suburban schmuck and not a big-city sophisticate (pronounced as Frenchly as possible), but even I have limits. For example, I don’t care for the Singing Dogs’ rendition of “Oh, Susanna” which is the flip side of the tape.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Book Review: What If? 2 edited by Robert Cowley (2001)

I have always been a big fan of what would become known as counterfactual history; why, to this day, I have a large collection of Marvel What If comic books, wherein Uatu the Watcher examines alternate realities in which pivotal events in the Marvel Universe turned out differently than they did in the actual comic books. This volume, a sequel to a book I haven’t read, does the same with actual historical events, where historians and other people who write about history imagine what would have happened if history had gone another direction than it did.

Essays within the book include musings on what would have happened had Socrates died in battle (written by the blogpular Victor Davis Hanson, whose name isn’t even on the cover), what if Antony had won, what if Pontius Pilate had spared Jesus Christ, what if France had defeated Haiti, what if Lincoln hadn’t issued the Emancipation Proclamation, what if the Chinese had discovered the New World, and a number of what ifs revolving around World Wars I and II.

To sum up, in most of the essays not dealing with Socrates or World Wars I and II, the sum result is that the United States wouldn’t exist as we know it. Either it would be the eastern part of the Chinese empire, or part if a Caribbean/French empire, or anything but the oppressive regime it is. The book was written before September 11, 2001, and before chimphitler got re-elected, so I am sure that some of these writers have other what ifs in mind to cry into their lattes.

To illustrate how some of the speculation slightly skews anti-American, take the example of the essay “The Chinese Discovery of the New World, 15th Century”, wherein Theodore F. Cook, Jr., muses on the possibilities of expansion during the Ming Dynasty. The story centers around eunuch admiral Zheng He, who led several large armadas to Africa, India, and throughout the southwest Pacific, overcoming many youthful difficulties, including:

Selected for his alertness and courage by the general himself and marked a “candidate of exceptional qualities,” after enduring the excruciating agony of castration by knife (which traditionally removed both penis and testicles), the boy was assigned to the retinue of one of the emperor’s sons, the Prince of Yu (Zhu Di’s ititled during his father’s reign), [sic] at the capital of Nanjing.

So the Chinese were painfully emasculating a portion of their population, but on the other hand:

Might not the worst horrors of the Atlantic slave trade been aborted by a halt to Portuguese expansion along the African coast at this early date?

This author happily trades forced castration for stopping the Portuguese slave trade. To many academics, undoubtedly, it’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

I found many such idealogical digs and inflammatory throwaway lines to note, but once the book got back to warfare, where apparently the serious historians play, it turned more coldly analytical.

Still, it’s a good read and worth your time as each essay explains what happened and how it might have changed, which serves to remind and reinforce one of historical knowledge one might have, or need. Counterfactual history, as the introduction notes, reminds us of the narrative of history instead of the dry dates and campaigns of history. Plus, it makes me feel like Uatu.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories