Sunday, January 29, 2012

Broken Arm

My daughter broke her arm when she fell off a horse. Broke it in two places.

It happened yesterday, as this is written, during her weekly riding lesson. She goes with a friend. The friend's parents drive them there and I pick them up afterward. Shortly before I was due to make the pickup I walked up and down the aisles of the grocery store. My cell phone rang. Go straight to the hospital. Dana fell off a horse.

A few months ago. Not the horse she fell from!
Somehow I reached the hospital before Dana. But when she arrived soon after, she was in tears – beyond tears, if there is such a thing; almost as cranked up emotionally as when her pet rat died six years ago.

"Don't," she snapped, in a quaking, shaking voice, as I tried soothing her. She held her arm gingerly, only a degree or so beneath outright hysteria. She had just sat down and had not yet been admitted to the hospital.

"Don't what?"

"Just don't."

An admitting pencil-pusher asked her a few questions about the accident while I filled out a form. Breathe, he commanded. Take deep, slow breaths. She obeyed. Before long her breathing stabilized, but she was still in a hell of a lot of pain.

The stable operator who brought her in had witnessed the fall. She was trotting, he said, when the horse abruptly sashayed to one side. Dana lost her balance and down she went. "It was a good, clean fall," he told me – whatever that means.

We spent a couple of hours in the hospital. A nurse administered a sedative intravenously and it eased a lot of pain. X-rays revealed two breaks: a radial head fracture, which is by the elbow, and a distal radius fracture, down by the wrist.

Dana left the hospital with her arm in a sling and her pocket stuffed with Vicodin. A cast can't go on until the swelling has subsided; probably a few more days. Recovery is an estimated four to six weeks. She is still in some discomfort, but bristles at the suggestion that maybe she shouldn't be riding horses.

"I'm not going to give up riding," she told me, as she sat on her bed in the ER. "No matter what. And if I have to go through this again, I will."

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Devil's Dictionary

The Devil’s Dictionary, by Ambrose Bierce, is a pseudo reference book, a series of satirical definitions first published about a hundred years ago.

Bierce, also known for the short story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," was a writer, editor, and journalist. The Devil's Dictionary first appeared as occasional items in the newspaper. In book form, it was originally called The Cynic's Word Book. Bierce is said to have preferred the title by which we know it today.

I've had a lot of pleasure over the years from The Devil's Dictionary. Many of its definitions are quite amusing; in some cases, rather profound.

I present, for your reading pleasure, an arbitrary selection of these definitions.

From The Devil's Dictionary...

Absurdity, n. A statement or belief manifestly inconsistent with one’s own opinion.

Adage, n. Boned wisdom for weak teeth.

Admiration, n. Our polite recognition of another’s resemblance to ourselves.

Conservative, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.

Destiny, n. A tyrant’s authority for crime and a fool’s excuse for failure.

Egotist, n. A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.

Future, n. That period of time in which our affairs prosper, our friends are true and our happiness is assured.

Koran, n. A book which the Modammedans foolishly believe to have been written by divine inspiration, but which Christians know to be a wicked imposture, contradictory to the Holy Scriptures.

Lawyer, n. One skilled in circumvention of the law.

Lickspittle, n. A useful functionary, not infrequently found editing a newspaper.

Money, n. A blessing that is of no advantage to us excepting when we part with it.

Plagiarism, n. A literary coincidence compounded of a discreditable priority and an honorable subsequence.

Please, v. To lay the foundation for a superstructure of imposition.

Politeness, n. The most acceptable hypocricy.

Politics, n.  A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.

Satan, n. One of the Creator’s lamentable mistakes.

Scriptures, n. The sacred books of our holy religion, as distinguished from the false and profane writings on which all other faiths are based.

Success, n. The one unpardonable sin against one’s fellows.

Truth, n. An ingenious compound of desirability and appearance.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Song Titles

Over the Thanksgiving holiday I saw Martin Scorcese's movie Hugo. I enjoyed it, and it sparked this post – but this is not a film review.

Midway through, Scorcese uses a piece of music called "Gnossiennes #1." It's by the French composer Erik Satie, one of his Three Gnossiennes. I know it well. You can find it on iTunes, but I have it on one of those old-fangled delivery systems called cassette tape. The music, written for solo piano, is slowly paced and captivating. (There is video at the bottom of this post.)

The music got me to reflecting on song titles. Many of Erik Satie's compositions bear utterly distinctive and – to me, at least – humorous titles. Examples include "Three Pieces in the Shape of a Pear," and "Three Barefoot Dances." This last appears to be an alternate name (due to translation, perhaps?) for what is probably Satie's best-known tune, "Gymnopedies #1," the first of Trois Gymnopodies. (If you don't recognize the title, you'd almost certainly recognize the music.) These, too, were originally written for piano, but became much better known after the orchestral versions arranged by Claude Debussey.

Another composer who gave his stuff distinctive titles was Frank Zappa. "Twenty Small Cigars" and "Peaches and Regalia" come to mind, along with one of my favorites, "Revised Music for Guitar and Low Budget Orchestra."

Charles Mingus, one of the great composers of the 20th century, also gave many of his pieces unique, sometimes whimsical titles. One such is "All The Things You Could Be Right Now if Sigmund Freud's Wife Was Your Mother." Others include "Slop," and "The Shoes of the Fisherman Are a Jive-Ass Pair of  Slippers." The humor had its serious side, too. Check out "If Charlie Parker were a Gunslinger, There'd Be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats."

But, back to Erik Satie.

Supposedly, "Gnossiennes" has no meaning: Satie made up that word to describe what he considered a new form of music. I don't know about that. I do know that he must have been a pretty weird guy: an early Satie biographer called him "one of the strangest personalities in the whole history of music."

I don't think his music is strange, though. Maybe it was strange in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Not so, a hundred years on.

I found a performance of "Gnossiennes #1," the music used in Hugo, on YouTube. I think the pianist here takes the tempo a little too slow, but that's just an opinion, and anyway it's still a good rendition.

Note: The quote about Erik Satie being "one of the strangest personalities in the whole history of music" is from the Author's Preface to Erik Satie, by Rollo H. Myers (Denis Dobson, Ltd., 1948).

Sunday, January 1, 2012


Have you broken your New Year's resolution yet? What's taking you so long?

Some people take their New Year's resolutions seriously. That can be a good thing: start the new year with a vow to improve yourself, or correct some detrimental behavior.

I don't do resolutions, myself.

Imagine some guy at a crowded party on New Year's Eve. It's a few minutes before midnight. He goes into the bathroom and lights a cigarette. Resolved: My last smoke forever.

He flips on the overhead fan so as not to tip off his non-smoking host. Then he crumples his pack of Winstons and lobs it deftly into a wastebasket.

Soon he's back in the living room with the other revelers. The clock strikes midnight, and on the wide screen TV, the big ball falls in Times Square. He yells Happy New Year! along with everyone else, grabs a woman he does not know, and presses his smoky lips against hers.

Fifteen minutes later he's back in the bathroom sifting through that wastebasket, in the throes of his first nicotine fit. There mighta been one last smoke in there, he thinks. But when he finds the package and uncrumples it, it is empty.

So he bums one from that woman he just kissed. The party's host admonishes them: if you must smoke, please step outside. They do. The woman has but one cigarette, for she too had thought of quitting, but at 11:45 changed her mind. She is willing to share it. It is a Winston, his brand. As they pass it back and forth, they fall in love.

Or something like that. It could be that a year later, they get married. Again it is New Year's Eve. This time, it doesn't even occur to them to quit smoking. After the wedding they fly off on their honeymoon – to Winston-Salem, or Marlboro Country, or some other ironic destination.

Or something like that. It could be that both are ticking time bombs, with monstrously carcinogenic tobacco sediments in their lungs already spawning cancer. But this isn't an anti-smoking rant, so I'll leave that stuff out.

No behavior will change because of a new calendar. Behaviors change because an individual wants to change. You want to quit smoking; you want to get off the couch and start working out. It doesn't matter whether it's December 31 or August 9. If you want to change some behavior to the better, there's no time like the present – if you'll pardon the cliche.