Archive for July, 2022

Stumbling toward a vision of reality

Perhaps my most lasting experience during my term at Stanford in 1961 was attending a lecture on DNA by Arthur Kornberg, a 1959 Nobel Prize winner. I’d heard vague stirrings of DNA while at Penn but paid it almost no attention: The wretchedness of my chem and bio courses in high school (endless balancing of chemical equations in the first, tortured Latin nomenclature in the latter) had so completely blasted my interest in the study of the structured world that I managed to graduate from Penn without taking a single course in science or math.

That wasn’t easy to do in those days of heaped requirements, but I was a clever lad: In my freshman year I enrolled in symbolic logic, simply because it wasn’t mathematical. I skipped the rest of physical science by sidling through lots of anthropology.

Along with his lecture at Stanford, Kornberg brought out a big physical mockup of the helical DNA structure. I was riveted. So this was what biology is really about! I’d never realized that scientists actually did that sort of thing.

Though it took me a couple years after my return to Philly to get around to it, that awakening led directly to a summer (1964?) when I enrolled in catch-up courses at Penn: one term of biochem, two of organic chem (I was a disaster in the lab) and two of calculus. I aced them all with ease.

The realization of all this chemical stuff happening inside me affected my comprehension of my body. I could feel the blood coursing in my veins, listen in on what my neurons were muttering. 

At someone’s behest (probably my own), I toured the Richards towers at Penn, an architectural triumph by architect Louis Kahn, dedicated to biological research. Kahn had created a superb clutch of buildings but had shown little sense of the needs of experimenters. Technicians had to plaster the windows with aluminum foil to keep out the ravening sun, and much of the lab work overflowed into the hallways. It had the kind of chaotic, dynamic ethic I love.

At that time, I was working for little more than minimum wage as a reshelver at the Penn book store, and I schlepped from one place to another in ragged clothes. Yet, despite my wobbly-at-best background, I applied personally to Dr. Robert E. Davies, who headed the molecular biology department, for entry into his program.

To my everlasting amazement, based solely on my interest, he accepted me. Even in today’s looser academic times, that just doesn’t happen. Back then, it was close to inconceivable.

After a week of agonizing, I told him I had decided to stay at the bookstore (which I later came to run). On the surface, that’s inexplicable. Here was my one chance in life to become a nameable success, and I dumped it like a bowl of succotash. 

Maybe I realized that my mercurial and dilettantish approach to existence would not have worked in the structured environment of academic science. I have drive, yes, but a faulty gear shift. On the road of life, I’ve taken many rattling, unbanked turns.

But my interest in science has never flagged since; in fact, it’s expanded over time: I especially want to find out how my mind works (or doesn’t) and why. 

Some of the questions and observations that have come up along the way:

• If I wander ten feet off the main path in our limited Sullivan County woods – with which I have a 20-year daily acquaintance – then swivel perhaps 45 degrees, I become completely disoriented. Other folks I’ve known could be thrown in a padlocked gunny sack and still tell you which way was north.

• My eyes are crossed, which leaves me with double vision and little depth perception. I can’t lay a clean line of spackle or wallboard joint compound because it requires the ability to visually identify a 1/8 inch-thick applied layer. (I’ve watched Polish plasterers lay perfect surfaces for hours.)

• Preparing dinner in the kitchen, I reach for a knife on the magnetic holder and ram my hand into the wall. 

• I drop things I think I have a firm grip on and blunder into doorways.

What the hell is this all about?

Granted, none of it makes much difference in the broader context of life. For crap’s sake – some people have both legs shorter than the other! But for me, such personal oddities have two far-reaching consequences:

First, they send me into towering rages.

Second, they quiz me as to what combinations of physical traits and neural misalignments link all these errors and deficiencies?

Let’s consider the rages: As my family know all too well, the slightest impediment to achieving what I want to accomplish brings on a profanity-laced explosion. There’s usually no latency between cause and effect – not a tenth of a second lapse between asinine error and response – so no time to “control” myself; some inoffensive obstacle gets in my way and a Krakatoa of anger balloons like a mental airbag.

Our family doctor once suggested I may have Tourette syndrome. Listening to my repertoire of Anglo-Saxonisms and personalized bellows for annihilation, I might think so too – except that I don’t have the recurring facial tics or other physicalities that saddle Touretters. 

My wallpaper-peeling rants are almost never directed at someone else – it’s a magma of self-hatred overlaid by a lava-flow directed at the inanimate world: the hammer that mashed my thumb, the screwdriver that removed my knuckle-flesh, the awl that did it all.

And most of this biliousness is sung, a venomous litany set to patriotic tunes and old pop ditties, as though Lewis Carroll had burst into parodic vituperation while tumbling down a cliff.

So it’s become important to me to develop a profile of where and how my brain goes astray, in hopes that it might be helpful, not just to me, but to humanity in general – OK, not often “humanity in general.”

(Years ago, a young communal housemate on Baring St., one of the brightest people I’ve known, at age 13 described her even more brilliant younger brother as “physically stupid.” Yes. That identification fired all sorts of slumbering neurons in my head and has stuck with me.)

Most analyses of brain function have sprung from case studies of aberrant conditions, and with good reason: They’re like keys to the basement when you’re looking for a leak in the plumbing. Once you’ve found the leak, you can perhaps repair it, but more important, you’ve discovered where the pipes are, how they snake through the walls, and where they branch off. By the time you’ve turned off the flashlight, you’ve gained at least an understanding of your local water flow. In my case, I accumulated basic texts on neurophysiology and neuroanatomy and peripheral material on how the melded brain/mind/nervous system might work.

And when all that exhausts me, I liven myself up with forays into particle physics. Oh, I’m lousy at math (I could do that calculus, but I had not the least idea what it was good for), but I pretty much understand the abstractions.

I especially love the idea of infinite regression – one that most physicists and cosmologists seem to reject, if they consider it at all. The concept (well, my concept) is that there isno smallest particle or essential subdivision of existence.

Since the ancient Greeks, reality’s fundamental units has continually shrunk. Matter was first described as composed of four basic elements – earth, air, fire and water. Then Democritus added that there might be small, basic constituent units – which he termed “atoms.”

By the 19th century, as microscopes expanded the examination of the minute, cells were discovered and the equivalent of molecules posited.

But it wasn’t until the 20th century that we could seriously burrow into the “invisible,” breaking molecules into atoms, dividing atoms into a nucleus circled by electrons, splitting the nucleus into protons and neutrons, splintering the protons and neutrons into quarks.

String theorists go further, saying that all forms of physical stuff – from quarks on up – are manifestations of tiny vibrating filaments, threads so itty-bitty they make quarks look like King Kong. Do these strings really exist? That’s a long way from proof so far, but ain’t it amazing to us lay folk that anyone would think they might be the stop-the-presses groundwork of all physical reality?

But if we do suppose they exist, why should they be the smallest? The string theorists make reasoned arguments that their version of minutia lies at the final limit – just as did the champions of atoms, nuclei and quarks. What, if anything, is next?

One thing the particle physicists know for sure is that most of reality is… emptiness. Molecules consist of atoms looping around each other at a questioning distance. Atoms, often simplistically pictured as mini solar systems, feature itsy blips of electrons circling a nucleus way down there in 99.999999% empty space. 

Protons… Solid? Nope – three quarks, consorting. 

Quarks… Solid? You bet! – unless they’re higher manifestations of vibrating strings, sub-Barbie necklaces without necks to encircle.

Calculus developed within mathematics to manipulate the concept of the “limit,” an end-point that any numerical (or other) sequence tends toward but never quite grasps – just as numbers themselves or straight lines approach the end of the line but can’t reach the final station. (“Where’s your damned perspective going, Mr. Leonardo?”)

To me, the idea of ever-smaller smallness suggests that there may be no essential unit of construction, that every decreasing level of smallitude that we reach can be further re-smallified – again, and again, and again. Until it’s gone.

Looked at that way, the limit of “something” becomes… “nothing.” Which, philosophically, reframes the question of why there is something (the universe) rather than nothing (the unpopulated void). 

Over a thousand years ago, the Buddhists of India and Tibet crystalized a central tenet that translates roughly to “form is emptiness; emptiness is form” – active reality is the Janus-face of passive nothingness. These days, cosmology suggests that “something” exists because “nothing” can’t remain nothing; certain elementary particles pop out of nowhere, take a quick look around, then schlep back into non-existence, waiting for the next time.

Something is nothing; nothing is something… at the limit of infinity, one and the same.

Ain’t that somethin?

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Truth, consciousness and cats

I have an over-scrupulous outlook on truth: It should be absolute – with everyone, everywhere, everytime, especially between those you care about or most trust. 

But it can’t be. We’re all liars when we need to be, whatever the need may be – uplifting or repulsive, noble or degrading.

And necessarily so.

Think about what you would need to say – when, how and to whom – to be entirely, soul-baringly, unflinchingly honest at all times, in all situations. And think about the repercussions.

Most times we don’t want the truth, even when we think we do. We hold a candle to temporarily ward off the darkness we can’t name, and we think honesty will provide the absolving light.

Truth can seldom be formulated, far less articulated. There is no “truth”; so, no “reality.”

That can sound pretty negative, but it’s also a release. If there is no truth – no fully definable reality – we’re free to scratch our heads and decide that what we’re seeing today is as good as yesterday, as good as the often specious reasoning of Aristotle, Aquinas, Kant, Jesus, Buddha or your own personal religiopholosophic boogeyman.

Philosophy and religion have not found truth. So what will anything that I, you or today’s muckers proclaim look like tomorrow?

Yet, we have to start somewhere.

(Don’t we?)

*   *

Speaking of philosophy (which, for the  most part, I try not to do), I find the idea of “moral philosophy” so much hogwash. Morality is a concept which differs for each individual human being. I don’t see how you can define, codify or justify “morality” on a cosmic scale, and anything less is mind games. It’s easy enough to say “the psychopath (or the ex-president) has no morality,” but likely their unhinged obsessions occupy pretty much the same realm as “morality” does for the religious or the righteous.

*   *

I have a continuing feeling of personal waste and failure. I once thought I had immense potential, but its realization has peeked around the corner and glared at me.

*   *

Much of this segment goes back to a note I sent out months (years?) back, so if it sounds annoyingly repetitious, just toss it.

The study of consciousness is getting major play these days, especially in the area of neurophysiology. For some (most) researchers, it’s tightly, even inextricably, tied to the idea of “self.” In part that’s because they can’t agree on the exact definition of either term. But here’s a real-life experience that I think feeds into the discussion. 

Back at Baring St. in Philly, lying in the cuddling warmth of our marvelous clawfoot bathtub, I fell asleep. Some time later, something awoke. It presumable occupied my mind, but it was not me. It was pre-being devoid of all knowledge. It did not realize that it existed. It not only did not know what it was, it did not know that it was. It was raw consciousness having a fearing sense of wonder, but without a wonderer. 

Slowly, forms – feet, water, the faucets at the front of the tub – became, but they meant nothing because this pre-entity had no concept of meaning. In time it became a something, with separateness. Then knowledge, background and memory slowly crept in. In more time it became me.

In all of the science and literature that I’ve read, I’ve found no description close to what that pre-I experienced. It remains the only experience in my life that I see as unique to myself. Everything else I’ve felt, thought about, conceived of, has reference. This has none.

How can such a thing – such a non-thing – erupt… erasing, for a moment, all recognition of existence?  In its simplest outline, it was consciousness without a sense of self – which I otherwise think of as an impossibility.

*   *

I don’t personally believe in telepathy or other forms of mind-share. And I wish I did. In the ’60s I spent many months studying the writings of J.B. Rhine in the U.S. and Samuel Soal in the U.K., also some of the Russians who had been doing various forms of experiments to identify ESP (U.S.) or psi (U.K.) possibilities. It’s now usually lumped together as parapsychology. 

I wanted it all to be so. But by the end, I became convinced that it has no serious underpinnings. Rhine and his decks of patterned cards with symbols that his subjects were supposed to envision without seeing them seemed more silly that enlightening. And years later I read that Soal had so manipulated his data (much of it based on a single subject, Shackleton) that it verged on – or passed into – fraud.

But… (some of us have bigger buts than others) there’s Tigger, the world’s most wonderful cat. I call to him when he’s off wandering; he seldom answers or immediately appears, yet five minutes later I turn and find him standing a couple paces behind me. Nothing exceptional in that, really, by itself.

Yet, other times I’ll be thinking, for no good reason, “I wonder what Tigger is up to?” Again, a couple minutes later, he’s standing where he wasn’t. It happens often enough to seem eerie.

So, at least thee possible explanations:

1) he picks up a query from my mind and responds; 2) I pick up a query from his – I think about him because he was already thinking about me; 3) I ignore or discount the more numerous negative instances when he does not respond or appear.

I want the explanation to be one of the first two; I strongly suspect it’s the third. And it’s hard to do a statistical analysis based on the fluctuating maybes of the human and cat minds.

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A homage to (mostly) lost restaurants

The best part of car traveling for me is stopping at out-of-the-way restaurants. I like to eat most anything, most anywhere, and the more grease the better (though I’m fond of tofu too). 

But I actively dislike most fancy restaurants, maybe because they’re filled with fancy people I’d love to run over on a dark road where their BMW has broken down and their cell phone won’t work and that guy with the leather mask has started up his chainsaw …

The best for atmosphere are the tidy hometown counters where everybody knows who they are and what they’re doing, and top-of-the-grill American cooking is treated with the respect it deserves. The day my MacArthur genius grant rolls in, I’m going to buy me a halfass pickup and spend the rest of my allotted time dining at every last lunch counter in America.

The Tomte restaurant in Lindsborg, Kansas, didn’t quite qualify as offbeat. We found it in a book called Road Food that served as our unofficial guide on several summer trips. Lindsborg (which Linda remembers from her Kansas youth and is pronounced “Leensborg”) is a Swedish-themed town with “Välkommen” flags flapping off every signpost. But the Tomte (named after a Scandinavian elfish being) was a\the stamping ground for the home crowd – quiet, clean, walls tight with pictures of 2 or 3 generations of patrons.

Are you an oatmeal fiend? Me either. But when we ordered oatmeal at the Tomte we received a bowl with a side pitcher of cream. And cinnamon. When we ordered hash browns, they came as paper-thin, hand-grated potato slashes that descended directly from spud heaven. The Lindsborg website today indicates that the Tomte is no more. Disappointing – though thank god it didn’t live long enough to slump into a lesser incarnation.

Speaking of the best in breakfast potatoes, for home fries I nominate the Opera House in Dixfield, Maine. Originally an actual opera house built around 1905 by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (which I’ve always found a rather, well, odd name), it’s no longer a restaurant, but continues as a community rental space. Anyway, for the home fries, the spuds were boiled, diced and fried to fork tenderness without falling apart, along with paprika and I don’t know what else.

Reubens used to be a discovered treat, but nearly everybody serves them these days. A reuben is a sandwich of corned beef on rye with sauerkraut and (it better have) Russian dressing. I can’t recall when or why we stopped at Nick’s in North Adams, NY, off I-81. Likely we were on our way to visit Chris Hessert in Ontario. Nick’s reuben came open-faced, the rye grilled both sides and everything … perfect. No reflection on Sullivan County reubens – especially at the Barn, the Jolly Trolley or D&D’s – but some things just cannot be bettered. No sign of Nick’s continued existence.

Our first day on the road to our Bass Lake, Michigan, vacation one summer in the late ’80s or early ’90s, we struck it doubly rich: a good roadside lunch and a supper of major distinction. (As a nod to the latter – the Wrangler Restaurant – I should title this part of the recitation “Apologies to Ohio,” to make up for all the nasty things I’ve said about that flat, uninteresting, almost numbing state – whoops.)

First, we had lunch at Gail & Tina’s Place in Burnham, PA, off Route 322, one of the state’s most glorious roads, switching between majestic mountain superhighway to get-lost-at-the-wrong-turn-from-Main-Street squiggles in a hopscotch, crazy-quilt pattern. (I’ve read that a lot of the fun part has now been ironed flat.)

We picked G & T’s for our usual three reasons: It wasn’t a fast-food hole, the parking strip was crowded with aging pickups – and gut reaction. A low-slung shack painted federal blue, it made a statement without caring too much. Inside, the tables and benches were put together from standard two-by-sixes, selectively scorched, then polyurethaned to a glassy sheen.

My large, excellent burger was a bit overcooked for my unAmerican tastes – when I bite, I like to hear the bull bellow. Linda’s hot roast beef and gravy with fries was tops. And Caitlin, thank god, ordered only half a hoagie. The whole thing could have relieved famine in Somalia. There wasn’t any single thing special about Gail & Tina’s, but all the aspects together – atmosphere, food, service, prices – reclined in sublime balance.

Later that day, we took Exit 14 (Rte. 5) from the Ohio Turnpike. A large motel, crouching behind the curve of the exit, looked abandoned in the middle of an acre of grass. Asked about where to get supper, the clerk suggested “the Wrangler, up by the Marathon gas station.” I zipped past the Marathon without seeing anything, but Linda spotted a movable-letter sign set way back from the road – “Home Cooking Restaurant Open 7 Days.” Nothing about any Wrangler.

We found an unadorned cube tacked onto the left rear corner of the station, made of those cinderblocks with hunks jutting out to provide “texture.” Inside, it was fiercely ugly, the ceiling 12 feet high and lost in shadows, the end wall grasping five small wooden shelves, some with uninteresting bits of pseudo-antiques, others empty.

I liked it immediately. There’s ugliness and ugliness: There’s the unforgivable corporate non-personality of a CVS or Toys R Us – bland hideousness ballooned into terminal insult. There’s also the  forgivable (if creepy) ugliness of places without a smidgen of aesthetic taste that accrue useless objects that hem them in as they grow old.

Finally – and rarely – there’s the coordinated ugliness of a place where the occupiers have refused to prettify a bad architectural deal, allowing the personality of its inhabitants to provide character and warmth. Character and warmth suffused the Wrangler. Greetings, cross-talk and well-wishing slithered from table to table in an anaconda of joyousness.

We sat at the counter, facing the grill. The gods of road food must have inspired our choice. Little things seemed so idiosyncratic that I thought we had wormholed sideways. My Lipton’s teabag was lifted from a form of dispenser I’d never seen before and can’t describe, and my tea was served with both a cup of hot water and one of those little metal pots holding scalding water for a second cup. Gallon pitchers of some dark liquid – coffee? syrup? – stood near one end of the counter, covered with shrink wrap.

And my god, the prices: $4.39 for two pork chops, green beans, home fries and a roll. How could anyone, even 35 years ago, make a profit on that? The chops were thin but grilled not five seconds over or under. (The beans were reduced to Midwestern moosh, as always. Ah well.) For dessert, Linda got a bodacious slice of supreme chocolate cream pie. But everything paled before the home fries: the largest quantity and the second-best I’ve ever eaten (next to the Dixfield Opera House).

The Wrangler’s cook, an overweight woman in shorts, kept to an almost metronomic personal rhythm. She plopped the home fries – pre-boiled and smashed into such tiny pieces I mistook them at first for onions – onto the grill and poured a dollop of oil directly into them. Then she stirred and turned them with the surety and concentration of a Zen master. She didn’t just slap the chops and grilled sandwiches like bad children, she levered them up and placed them precisely where they ought to be. I spent the whole meal smiling at her quiet, confident intensity.

Finally (for this episode of the Gustatory Roundup), there’s the Antler Bar in Pentwater, Michigan – the only place in that lovely little tourist town with food worth eating. I’d gotten the wet burrito in the past. This time, eating with our friends Nan and Will, we ordered chicken and steak fajitas. Caitlin got the nachos with cheese (hold the jalapeños).

If you like your Mexican mouth-singeing hot, you might be disappointed. But the balance of spicing was perfect, the proportions gigantic (Cait doggy-bagged her nachos and lived on them for the next two days), the prices around $6 for most platters. And the pool table: In my first round of 8-ball in ten years, if Cait hadn’t scratched the 8, she would have had me.

Best yet, as of today, July 10, 2022, the Antler still lives. Go there – now!

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Preparation Mania

Freelancing for the Penn Gazette (Penn’s alumni mag), in 1980 was my first paying writing job of any significance – almost 20 years after graduating from Penn in supposed journalism. I had tired of carpentry, of mashing various parts of my body with various tools while earning next to nothing. So why not earn next to nothing doing something I was actually good at?

One of my early Gazette assignments – I still wonder at being asked to do this, after only a couple articles turned in – was to interview Noam Chomsky at MIT, a Penn grad.

Chomsky was the world’s foremost linguist and an increasing presence in leftist polemics. The assignment scared the living shit out of me. I’d seldom spoken to anyone even marginally famous, much less interviewed one. So to prepare, I sat down and read every single one of Chomsky’s major works, on both linguistics and social commentary. I was even able to understand a fair amount of it.

Tony, the Gazette‘s editor – whom I knew well from his being editor of the Daily Pennsylvanian the year I graduated Penn – handed me a handheld tape recorder to take to Cambridge. I’d never before interviewed anyone by tape recorder – never even used a cassette recorder. What if it crapped out or I hit the wrong button? Jesus sideways Christ, you don’t want to misquote the world’s leading linguist.

Chomsky’s office hung out in an old engineering building, because MIT didn’t have a linguistics department back then. A low, massive wooden structure, it sported five parallel wings – the schematic of a hand. I liked Chomsky a lot – quiet, concerned and friendly. It was a good interview. I studiously transcribed the interview without noticeable screwup.

The following morning, back home on Baring St., I suffered the worst pain I’ve ever known – in retrospect, probably my first kidney stone. It didn’t seem a great omen – though I was proud of my daughters, getting ready for school, calmly stepping over my howling form as I rolled in agony on the bathroom floor: My histrionics would not undermine their quiet solidity.

Those were the days of cut-and-paste editing on a typewriter. I’d hammer out a rough draft, scissor it into paragraphs, then staple the bits in a new order on other sheets of paper, with new transitions penciled in. Retype and repeat until something approaching coherence appeared.

Later, when the article came out, Chomsky typed a two-sentence response. The second sentence read, “I was very pleased with the way he handled the material and found it in general an excellent piece of work.” No single comment has ever meant more to me.

That year the Gazette received the Sibley Award as the best alumni mag in the country. The following year I joined the staff in the new position of Assistant Editor, with my own spacious office overlooking the central block of the campus. 

Marshall, the Associate Editor, was officed next door. We became good friends. I’d heat tea water in my Poly Hot Pot (yes, it was actually called that!) and rap on the wall when the water was ready. Our chats were the high point of my day.

Priscilla, the thin, trepidatious secretary, had sexy heels. (If you find that incomprehensible, I later met a woman with sexy wrists.)

Editor Tony lived for the Gazette. The smallest factual or stylistic error registered as a smudge on his person. I got along with him fine, but he was known to verbally eviscerate some of the writers, especially women. His one ironclad, undeviating rule of journalistic integrity was to refuse to show an article to its subject in advance for approval. One professor in the ed school unreservedly insisted on seeing a draft I’d written; Tony dumped the article.

My obsession with Knowing All before writing an article would lead me into grotesque preparatory gymnastics. Jorge Luis Borges, the Argentine giant of skewed short stories, then in his 80s, was visiting Camden, NJ, for some reason (no one voluntarily enters Camden without reason; it likely had to do with Walt Whitman’s residence there a century earlier). I was told to attend his visit and do a few paragraphs for the intro column. To prepare, I read virtually his entire fiction output in advance.

Did that help my one-column story? Damned if I know.

Possibly more bizarre was my warmup for a feature article on a dental school prof who was also a Proust enthusiast (say what?). I’d never read Proust, but I quickly devoured Swann’s Way, the first volume of Remembrance of Things Past. In the article I described Hammond using a long Proustian riff. What a lot of fun! (I still haven’t gone back to Proust.)

Even more fun was the Grace Kelly gala at Penn’s Annenberg Center (Linda at t hat time ran the Center’s box office). The Gazette sprang for tux rental, but none of the plastic shoes that come with would fit my Hobbit feet – and I owned no black shoes. Scuffling around our closet, I unearthed a slightly tight pair of suede loafers someone had given me.

One coat of flat black paint and two coats of polyurethane and voila! – I’d have dared you to tell them from their plastic cousins.

That gala was a gas. Plates of sliced fillet mignon slathered on tables all over the lobby, enough other edibles to feed Outer Mongolia, endless alcohol (including Boodles gin – 90 proof! – almost impossible to get in Pennsylvania). The wide stairs lined with upright Mylar mirrors: I bumped into someone walking up and apologized; turned out to be myself.

Jimmy Stewart and others delivered homilies about Kelly. Bob Hope read from huge illuminated cue cards set up in the side aisle (including parenthetical admonitions such as “cough”). He never had to see his “routine” in advance, confirming my longstanding belief that he was the biggest jackass ever to perform on stage. 

Kelly, a lovely presence, reminisced about Monaco and the “scary” drive leading to her mountaintop home. She died the following year when her car plunged off that drive.

I left the Gazette after a year and a half (during my second year, it again received the Sibley Award). Why? Weirdly enough, I think it had much to do with my private office.

Earlier, managing the UPenn book store, I had overseen a rambunctious gaggle of part-timers. Later, doing maintenance at Miquon, my kids delightful private school, I interacted daily with the kids and teachers in a rolling educational hootenanny. At the Gazette, except for the tea-klatches with Marshall and occasional forays to check out Priscilla’s heels, I felt crushingly isolated.

So I left to join the Welcomat weekly as Arts Editor. Along with the News Editor and a shifting band of interns (including Marshall’s 13-year-old wunderkind daughter Kate), I dealt with a non-stop parade of entertaining freelancers.

I stayed at the Welco for 12 years – my personal record.

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