A New Sonnet From Scarriet

There is a kind of kindness in my greed,
Since hungry love breeds virtuous hunger.
Joy joys not less to be in need.
Resistance will not make us any younger.

Love mounts to a moment and quick
Can spoil the restful, languid scene,
And sanity has said that love is sick
And fire burns sweet fertility’s green,

Yes, I’ve heard critique of love’s desire
Where many gather at work, church, school.
The hive, busy, harmonious, the wire
Warning of love’s enthusiastic fool.

If love has made me greedy and unkind,
It’s because kindness hid you, and you I need to find.


  1. July 30, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    Dear Tom, You ask, what if love should make a person greedy and unkind? I think I may have an answer to the question, namely, then was it really ever love at all? And I think I have a good example for you. Finding myself at loose ends in the late 1970s, I watched a soap opera called “Days of Our Lives.” One of the characters was an up-and-coming young engineer named Chris Kositchek. He was engaged to the boss’s daughter, Mary Anderson. Not long before the wedding was to take place, Mary called off the wedding and the engagement. I don’t remember her reasons, but they were serious, not frivolous, and she tried her best to explain them to Chris. But instead of accepting them like a gentleman — like the way Charles Ryder accepted Julia Flyte’s same decision — Chris quickly became abusive, using harsh language and heaping insults on Mary. Now, here’s the thing: Chris’s attraction to Mary was plainly purely physical. Half the time he didn’t even call her by her first name, but addressed her as “Beautiful Lady.” I said to myself, if this guy’s feelings for this woman could change so quickly from “love” to violent anger and resentment, how could he be said to have really ever loved her in the first place? Some Greek terms I’ve learned in recent years help me describe the situation this way. When love is only eros and not also philia and agape — real affection and willingness to sacrifice for one’s beloved — see how love flies out the door! (Please excuse me for borrowing those few lyrics from Cabaret.)

    Which brings me to my own question about unrequited love: what when lunacy makes you unlovable? Some prominent examples come to mind: Bertha Mason, the hebephrenic wife of Edward Rochester, Mary Todd Lincoln, widow of Abraham Lincoln, her sociability destroyed by melancholia; and, to take a male example, the late musical virtuoso, Oscar Levant — and not even considering him as marriage material but just as a lonely talented man. Millions of Americans were happy to “invite Oscar Levant into their living rooms” to hear him play the piano for them on television, but how many of these same millions of Americans would ever have wanted to socialize with such a quirky man?

    Philosophizing, sometimes using humor, may help to make it somewhat easier on the individual afflicted by serious mental illness. And now I use my own example. When medical or legal forms ask for the date of my wedding anniversary, sometimes I write, in the space provided, “the 12th of Never.” You see, I suffer from Asperger’s Disease, or Asperger’s Syndrome, which has dashed many a young person’s hopes of ever getting married.

    Asperger’s is a mild form of autism characterized by over-verbalization and weak social skills. We “Aspies” are chatterboxes. We are show-offs. One list of Asperger’s “symptoms” I found on the Internet actually states one of these “symptoms” as “they irritate everybody around them.” You can’t imagine such a thing? Then just imagine seeing Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” at holiday time and hearing some member of the audience seated not far away from you sob through the whole play, embarrassing himself, the people he came with, and the people all around him. “They could have been your children, Ebenezer,” is a line, spoken by the Spirit of Christmas Past, that never fails to draw a teary reaction.

    One way an Aspie irritates people is to bore them to death. Our interests are typically limited to one or two fields, and we just love to share our knowledge of them with anyone who will listen. Religion and literature (including TV and the movies!) have been the twin passions of my life, and of course sometimes the first of these two “passions,” religion, isn’t even polite to discuss in the first place.

    And then, of course, also, from such uncommon “pairings” of already esoteric interests like mine, come some “loose associations” that really raise people’s eyebrows. Think of the typical Aspie’s mind as a computer. Some items typed in the “search box” are bound to bring up some of the most tenuous “matches” ever found in cyber-space. I ask you, who but some Aspie like me, in an article I once wrote about the Diaries of Theodor Herzl, would ever think of describing Herzl’s obvious excitement in writing “The Jewish State,” his “blueprint,” in pamphlet form, for the modern state of Israel (1896), by likening it to the enthusiasm of Babar, King of the Elephants, as he designed and built his capital city of Celesteville, named for his wife, Celeste, the Queen of the Elephants? But that is what I wrote: “With all the zest of Babar planning Celesteville, Herzl would often envisage such details as the uniforms to be worn by the rulers, the architecture of the doge’s palace and the opera house, the blueprints of city parks and boulevards, and his own statue, which he hoped would be ‘more artistic’ than the one of Gambetta that stood in the Tuileries.”

    I think probably the most anyone could say about the “matchability” of “Babar,” by the French author Jean de Brunhoff (1931), with Herzl’s Zionist writings, is that they were analogues bearing testimony to the popularity of that day’s “utopianism.” But try using even that or any other explanation on my editor, Tina, when she came across the phrase as she edited my piece on Herzl’s diaries. “David,” she said, quoting my own line back to me, “‘With all the zest of Babar planning Celesteville’??? Now, where on earth did you get that from? What is it supposed to mean?”

    Another common Aspie irritation is our sheer tactlessness. To take myself as an example again, who but “the likes of me,” invited to represent my Miami newspaper, “The Jewish Floridian,” at actor Elliott Gould’s press conference held to tout his new movie, “Over the Brooklyn Bridge” (1984), would lead off the questioning with, “What did you think of Yentl ?” — and this, no less, after being wined and dined at great expense by Mr. Gould at an elegantly-appointed luncheon including such exotic delicacies as “she-crab soup”! And let the record state that Mr. Gould handled the off-base question like a perfect gentleman. He just said that he always wished his ex-wife Barbra well in her endeavors, including her recent production of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short story, “Yentl, the Yeshiva Boy,” in which she also starred in the title role.

    Yet, even though I am one of those old bachelors afflicted by Asperger’s, it is still true that I have “loved and been loved.” It was a gift in my life, and it richly deserves to be celebrated. So this is that story, in brief, of my romance with a high school sweetheart that I offer as a latter-day, middle-western version of “Abie’s Irish Rose.” I just hope the reader will forgive a little literary license, because the young lady in question was not of Irish but Swedish descent. She had a pretty, heart-shaped face like Claudette Colbert, a peaches and cream complexion, hazel eyes, and a lively wit. Her name was Rhonda. As the reader will see, my “Abie’s Irish Rose” story about Rhonda has mixed in with it a bit of “Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are,” Jimmy Durante’s signature line about a lost love of his early life.

    I saw Rhonda only once after high school. It was in 1999, at our 30-year high school reunion. I had avoided all the previous reunions, held every five or ten years, because I was afraid of the reception I would get from some of my former classmates. I even dreamed about it sometimes. In these dreams I would note the way certain people greeted me, whether they seemed happy to see me or were just as unhappy as ever that I, the class odd-ball, had deigned to darken their doorstep again. In 1989, after our class held its 20th reunion, I wrote Rhonda a letter confessing these fears and telling her a few other personal things. I said I would have come to the reunion in a minute if there were some way of seeing just the people, like her, that I wanted to, and being able to avoid all the others.

    I also asked Rhonda about the “mysterious note” she had written in my sophomore yearbook: “God bless a wonderful guy. Thanks for the Valentine candy!” I told her, “I know you’d never have made the first statement ironically, but I don’t remember giving you any candy!” Now, in a letter she wrote back to me, she answered, “My comments about the Valentine candy were quite true. You made a little, red, heart-shaped box, about two by three inches, and gave it to me as a little joke. I just thought it was nice that you took the trouble, as it was definitely hand-made. I’m surprised that you wouldn’t remember it. I, on the other hand, don’t remember a lot of other memories you mentioned. I envy your good memory!” (I wonder: could this possibly mean that Rhonda had forgotten her favorite pet-name for me, which was “Bateaux Bittner”? We first met in first year French class in ninth grade, where we sat next to each other at the right rear corner of the classroom. One day our teacher, Miss Golwitzer, was telling us about the passenger steamers on the Seine River called “Bateaux Mouches.” “Mouche” is the French word for “fly.” So Miss Golwitzer guessed people must board these boats for temporary relief on the water from flies and other insects. But no, said Miss Golwitzer. It turned out that the boats were just named for their inventor, Monsieur Mouche! “So if David had invented them,” she said, “they would be called ‘Bateaux Bittner’!” The name stuck in Rhonda’s lexicon, at least through the end of high school.)

    For years I imagined how it would feel when I saw Rhonda again someday, and I used to imagine that I would feel like Odysseus meeting Penelope after their 20-year separation during the Trojan War. (The “Trojan” War!) Another of my favorite fantasies about Rhonda combined the themes of “melting pot” and “lost loves.” I refer to the song, “Somewhere Out There,” originally written for the cartoon character Fievel Mousekewitz to sing in “An American Tail,” Stephen Spielberg’s 1986 hit movie. Whenever that song came on my car radio during Fievel Mousekewitz’s heyday, that was Rhonda who it helped to think was sleeping underneath the same big sky as me!

    Well, our reunion was very nice, short, but very sweet. Rhonda and I both arrived early at Rockford College on Saturday night. (A college hall had been “hired” for that evening’s “gala” event.) On Thursday night there had been an informal gathering at an airplane hangar owned by the family of one of my classmates, but Rhonda was not there. And on Friday night a “homecoming” football game had been planned, but football was not my thing now any more than it ever had been, so I went to services at my old Temple Beth El, where I had not set foot for 30 years, (Soon after graduation, my parents moved to Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.) Not one face at temple was familiar, but it still felt very good just to be back in the small but beautiful, almost 40-year-old building, so filled with memories. It’s true, you know. The walls can talk!

    Then came Saturday night! My first sight of Rhonda was actually from the back. But her hairdo and her figure still looked just the same. I said, “Rhonda?” She turned around and faced me, but without recognizing me at first. I said simply, “It’s David Bittner.” Then, breaking into a big smile, as she saw my features come into focus again for the first time in 30 years, she took about ten steps toward were I was standing and circled my waist with her arms, still smiling all the while. I don’t know exactly how long we stood there like that. But neither of us spoke a word. (Silence is golden! That’s true also!) Then Rhonda and I walked a bit together and now I did just ask her one question: was she remarried? (From our 1989 letter exchange, I knew her first marriage, despite producing two children, a boy and a girl, hadn’t worked out.) Rhonda indicated by nodding her head that she was remarried.

    And that was our reunion that proved the embers were still alive! I knew better than to “hover,” not only because Rhonda was remarried (she hadn’t even brought her new husband to the reunion, anyway), but because years before I had read The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, Giorgio Bassani’s autobiographical novel of Jewish life in Ferrara, Italy just before World War II. When Bassani’s hero — himself as a young man — tries to revivify an old romance, the young lady in question, Micol Finzi-Contini, finds it has simply been too long — even for “two such kindred spirits as she and Giorgio, whom others never thought of as normal” — to pick up where they left off. She tells him, “Let’s try not to ruin our beautiful childhood memories.”

    Six months or a year later, as I thought about the reunion, I realized that at the time I had completely failed to be struck by any thoughts whatsoever about Odysseus and Penelope! I think I actually felt a little disappointed in myself. The “romantic” in me had missed its cues. But good things come to those who wait!

    About five years ago, I consulted Mighty Men, an early 20th-century English book about ancient heroes, to confirm a little suspicion of mine. From some previous work I had done on the biblical Book of Esther, I knew that many scholars believed the story’s bumbling King Ahasueros and King Xerxes I of Persia were one and the same man. And sure enough, the account in Mighty Men, by Eleanor Farjeon, a minor but well-known Anglo-Jewish novelist of her day, did confirm what I thought. Xerxes I, the Persian king famously forced to watch helplessly from his portable throne on a promontory overlooking the Straits of Salamis in the Aegean Sea, while a small Greek fleet almost completely destroyed his huge flotilla, was none other than our favorite King Ahasueros! The year was 480 B.C., and by traditional reckoning, he had made Esther his queen about three years earlier. Now, here he was, being a dufus all over again!

    I also found the book contained two chapters all about Odysseus, including a description of his famous homecoming to his palace on the Ionian island of Ithaca. Odysseus arrived at the palace wearing rags, and Penelope did not recognize him at first. I had arrived at the Saturday night reunion gala looking all dishevelled because the airline had lost my luggage and didn’t deliver it to me until Saturday afternoon. By that time the contents were all wrinkled. So just as I had to identify myself to Rhonda because of my less than resplendent attire, Odyseus, for the same reason, had to announce himself to Penelope, saying, “My queen and my wife, I am Odysseus, your husband!” And then, to quote the very end of the story, as told by Eleanor Farjeon, “Now Penelope knew Odysseus in spite of his rags, and ran to him and embraced him.” The intelligent reader will see at once what I am building up to! I had actually done much better at the 1999 reunion than merely be reminded of the reunion of Odysseus and Penelope. Rhonda and I had practically reenacted it! Now I challenge anybody to tell me that I’m not a romantic!

    Now, that same intelligent reader may notice I haven’t said a word so far about “consummation” or any explicit sex. Well, that had all come in my late 20s and early 30s and makes for a story-and-a-half, too, that I have already told parts of in two journals. I remind myself of Neil Simon’s character, Eugene Jerome, in “Biloxi Blues” (1988), a movie about new army recruits at a basic training camp in Mississippi during World War II. Eugene has two wishes, to fall in love and to lose his virginity. He gets both his wishes, but the same way I did in my life — not with the same woman. This does not represent an ideal state of affairs. But at least if I were ever asked, as Annie Oakley is asked by Frank Butler in “Annie, Get Your Gun,” if she has “ever loved anybody,” my reply would not have to be like hers, at the time: “You mean somebody who loved me back? Then I ain’t.” Because I have!

    And with that love — and those beautiful childhood memories — to “keep me warm,” I was not in such a hurry to attend our class reunion in 2009. Rhonda only lives three hours away from me today, if we should ever decide to hold our own little reunion, and, as for many of my classmates, how many times can you thumb your nose at people? Besides, I got another rare, unexpected opportunity to do so, anyway, in 2009! For the 2009 class reunion booklet, we were all asked to share our “most memorable high school moment.” So I e-mailed back a good answer, which won a prominent place in the reunion booklet because my last name begins with the second letter of the alphabet. I must explain, first, that I was chosen to be the Jewish Baccalaureate speaker the night before graduation. I delivered a rather unconventional, slightly irreverent, three-page talk that I titled, “Humanism, Complement of Faith.” So my entry in the 2009 reunion booklet included the following as my most memorable high school moment: “looking up several times during my delivery of my Baccalaureate speech and seeing people’s jaws dropping like the audience watching “Springtime for Hitler” in The Producers.

    Though my English teacher liked my speech and while I actually got a number of other compliments on it, it was not greeted with thunderous applause, and the reporter sent by the daily newspaper to cover the event did not quote my speech, as he did those of the two Christian speakers, or even mention my name at all in his story. But during the recessional one of the fathers, a man I did not recognize, made his way up to me through the crowd and, grinning from ear to ear, enthusiastically shook my hand. Now, I know Rhonda talked about me at home. In later years I wondered, could this man have been Rhonda’s father, who, to paraphrase Barry Mann in “Who Put the Bomp,” finally wanted to meet the guy who’d “put the ram in the rama lama ding dong,” i.e., captured his “baby’s” (his daughter’s) heart? Or was he a rare Rockford liberal who just liked my speech? I leave it to the reader to ponder.

    • August 1, 2013 at 2:33 pm

      Dear Tom, Thanks for putting the segments together and for really “cleaning up” the whole piece. It means a lot to me. This article had been on my “to-do” list for a long time. Yours, David

      • August 12, 2013 at 2:26 am

        Dear Tom, It’s a little after 9 p.m., and I’ve just spent an hour making a list of typos and other errors in my recent submissions. Early tomorrow I will e-mail them to you. I haven’t included picayune things like wrong double and single quote marks. I don’t think things like that will be noticed so much. But these corrections I’m sending you are pretty important things that I think will make a difference, will make the things seem like “finished products.” Yours, David

    • January 14, 2014 at 12:57 am

      This is for the benefit of anybody on Scarriet who has cared to follow my “Romance with Rhonda.” That is her real first name; none other will do; but I won’t divulge a last name–that wouldn’t be either euphonious or “cricket.” I took the advice of some friends to send Rhonda my article about her, published July 30, 2013, on Scarriet. A week or so later I got a nice Christmas card from her thanking me for my “sweet note” and for “caring.”

      By the “sweet note” she meant this: …….

      Dear Rhonda,

      Merry Christmas! Did you hear the one about the 32-year-old reporter on his first job in Florida? One day, as he was leaving for work, he found his landlord and a neighbor standing over the crumpled form of his next-door neighbor. This man, in his late 70s, had collapsed on the cement plaza of the little apartment building. One whole side of his face appeared to be pressed against the pavement. This was the young reporter’s brilliant analysis of the situation: in all seriousness, not trying to be funny, he said, “Is he listening for hoofbeats?” (Fortunately the landlord and the other tenant were both hard of hearing and probably didn’t hear the young man’s off-base remark.)

      Now, in case that sounds like Don Adams as Maxwell Smart or Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau, of course it is not either of them, but myself that I have just told that story about. Now you know why I never made it into the field of major metropolitan daily journalism. And you may even wonder how I managed to last for 14 years in weekly community journalism. Even there you still have to make pretty much sense!

      But luck was with me, and I got to see the inside of the Palm Beach Jewish World for seven years full-time, and then the inside of the Jewish Journal in south Florida for another seven years full-time.

      The Social Security Administration didn’t seem to need much convincing when I applied for Disability—at age 49, I got it on the third try and without a lawyer. In the year 2001, back in my birthplace of Omaha, NE, I took the long-considered step of converting to Catholicism and threw all my energy into volunteer work in the Catholic church across the street. I’m happy to say that in 10 years there, I think I made many more friends than foes. I won the annual volunteer award, called “the Angel of Service,” for 2009-10.

      I’ve been doing a lot of autobiographical writing for a few years, including two articles in the Journal of Religion and Health, which gave me the chance I’d always wanted to tell my life story. I did this in both an article and a sequel article for a total of 25 pages. I just hit some of the highlights.

      I’ve also found a place for my work in “Scarriet,” a poetry and culture blog that is a spin off of “Harriet,” the blog of the American Poetry Foundation. The editor, who only gives the nom de plume of “Thomas Brady,” has seemed welcoming of my thoughts on various subjects. Of course one of literature’s major themes is love, and, Rhonda, as the old song goes, “It Had To Be You.” I had already written the enclosed five-page article about you and me in our high school days. Seeing that Tom, the editor, had chosen a new topic, “If Love Should Make Me Greedy and Unkind,” I submitted my thoughts on that, and then segued from that to the piece I wrote about you earlier. If you find anything I’ve said embarrassing, it wasn’t supposed to be, and I only used your first name, and the website has comparatively few regular visitors.

      All for now, Rhonda! Christmas is only a week away, and I hope you have a happy one.

      As ever. with love,


    • Diane Roberts Powell said,

      January 18, 2014 at 4:11 am

      Good God, I had actually wondered if you had Asperger’s. I mean, when you wrote that bit about the NAMBLA thing, I had to ASSUME that you were also a pedo. It was the only explanation I could come up with, besides you having Asperger’s and just being socially clueless. Just so you know, people will assume that you are a pedo if you talk about stuff like that. It was SO frustrating for me, because I could see that you were a very intelligent man, but didn’t seem to have any compunction about mentioning something like that. It must have been hard growing up with Asperger’s, and therefore, often missing important social cues.

      When you mentioned crying at movies irritating people, were you the one crying loudly? Aspie’s are stereotyped as having a rather flat affect.

      Elliot Gould is still handsome. And he was just gorgeous in the late 60s and early 70s. He also played in the movie you mentioned, The Producers.

      • thomasbrady said,

        January 18, 2014 at 9:05 pm


        For some, being “artistic” equals “socially clueless.” Even for some poets today, writing poetry that rhymes is “socially clueless,” a chiming, charming residue of the past, when “a poem” traditionally meant “love poem.” Poets are Aspies in the eyes of a sort of ruthless, insensitive type. I don’t think David is a pedo, and I understand that you are only warning a person who you think is “socially clueless;” I was a little surprised, but I thought it was a turn of political rhetoric and not what you took it to be. I hate labels, and they mostly do more harm than good; but I do respect and follow your moral stance.

        I just heard on the news that Putin said “Please think of the children” in reference to the controversy in Russia.

        To be childlike is also to be “socially clueless.”

        Once you introduce sex into a conversation, sniggering tends to drown out everything else. But a sociologist can talk about sex endlessly with a straight face. Sex as science: this makes us uncomfortable, and so Romance intervenes.

        Is my poem “socially clueless?”

        Is individualistic rebellion “socially clueless?”

        Fascinating subject: socially clueless.

        Socially clueless makes me think of deep unease, ruining a person’s confidence. But the clueless are not aware, so there’s no unease.

        But there’s truth beyond the social. There’s the rub. For some, however, there’s no truth beyond the social. Human life is about fitting in—or not quite fitting in, in a hipsterish sort of way. End of story.


        • Diane Roberts Powell said,

          January 19, 2014 at 4:38 am

          Tom, I wasn’t trying to be insensitive to David. The number one trait of Asperger’s is the individual’s lack of social cues. I imagine this trait has caused David quite a lot of pain over the years. I did graduate work in psychology, and I did have a suspicion that David had Asperger’s. I am just totally relieved that he made those comments because of his Asperger’s, and not because he is a pedo.

          Yes, I am sensitive and socially clueless at times. But Asperger’s goes much deeper than that, and it causes huge problems with interpersonal relationships.

          • thomasbrady said,

            January 19, 2014 at 6:51 pm

            There’s an aspie test on-line. I suppose it is like ADD; everyone has a bit of it? Are there famous people who have it? Comedians, perhaps? It’s not discussed much in the media.

            • Diane Roberts Powell said,

              January 19, 2014 at 9:07 pm

              I doubt there are any Aspie comedians. No, it’s not like ADD, in that “everyone has a bit of it.” That’s like telling a Vietnam Vet, with PTSD, “Yes, I sometimes get a little jumpy too,” when he freaks out every time Apocalypse Now plays on television. I have heard that Einstein and Newton may have had it. The main character, in the film Napoleon Dynamite, was supposed to have Asperger’s.

      • March 11, 2015 at 1:10 am

        Dear Diane, I forgot to answer your question above. Yes, I meant I was the one crying. This always happens to me when the Omaha Community Playhouse puts on its annual production of “A Christmas Carol.” I have learned simply not to go to the Playhouse any more, when I can just see “A Christmas Carol” on VHS-tape or DVD at home and avoid embarrassment that way. A movie has to be pretty powerful to move me to tears, though—“Terms of Endearment,” “Steel Magnolias,” and “Beaches” are examples of movies that have affected me that way—but then I have noticed on such occasions that there don’t seem to be many dry eyes in the house.

        I don’t think I have ever written about the following experience I had in the early 1980’s, but if anybody believes the old myth that men “aren’t sensitive,” and “don’t care,” there’s the example of my Great-Uncle Sam and -Aunt Bertha to disprove that. I went over their house one day to ask them some questions about family history. My aunt and uncle had only one child, my mother’s first cousin, Shirley (who happens now to be sick with the same things I have—neuropathy and irregularity). Anyway, at one point during the conversation, when my aunt had her back turned for a moment, Uncle Sam said, “We would have had another child, but Bertha lost it.” He was speaking of a miscarriage, of course. At hearing this, my aunt spun around and said, “Why, Sam, I didn’t think you remembered that!”

        So see how my aunt and uncle illustrate my point. Let me just add that over Christmas I finally met the teen-age grandson of
        of a couple I know, who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s. The boy, named Tim, was very bright (as his grandparents had already told me), but I never met a more poised adolescent! So I think flat affect must be one common trait of Asperger’s that isn’t always present. All for now! David Bittner

        • David Bittner said,

          February 23, 2018 at 1:55 am

          Diane, I was just going through some old posts, when I came across my admission that I sometimes cry during sad movies–and plays, including Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.” I just thought you might be interested to know that I gave it another whack this past holiday season at the Omaha Community Playhouse and made it dry-eyed through the whole production. I didn’t even have to try to hold any tears back. I just reacted to all of the play’s sad situations, taking everything in like a normal movie and theater-goer. Yours, David B.

          • noochinator said,

            February 23, 2018 at 1:06 pm

            Congrats, David — I regard that as progress!

            • February 23, 2018 at 5:08 pm

              Psssst, does he know that post is four years old?

              • noochinator said,

                February 23, 2018 at 10:35 pm

                That’s not too unusual for Scarriet, where the comments section often serves as a de facto space for guest columns.

              • David Bittner said,

                February 24, 2018 at 6:26 am

                Admittedly, I live in my own little world. Yes, I knew it was an old post. But I think my various writings might have the same value, taken together, as a book like The Snake Pit, by Mary Jane Ward, or The Eden Express, by Mark Vonnegut. Both, of course, are well-known personal accounts of mental illness. And Mary Jane Ward started off as a small-time journalist, probably about my speed.

                I’ve said almost everything I’ve wanted to about my life, and I cannot thank Scarriet enough for the opportunity it has given me.

                If I can still find the strength necessary for one last project, it would be to comment on the religious and political stances of Henry Gilbert, an early 20th century English author of children’s books. In retelling the Robin Hood stories in 1912 (Lippincott), he cast Robin Hood as a “medieval Socialist,” in the words of one reviewer, and as a friend of the Jewish minority during their persecution by King John. (Do you realize that since John’s reign, no other English king has been given the name, “John,” because that’s just how much he remains in disrepute in Britain? So I was told on my first trip to England by some students.)

                At any rate, I would like to know whether Gilbert was being principled or merely mercenary when he undertook the project to liberalize Robin Hood. He retold many other children’s books, including ones about conquistadores, Greek and Roman heroes, Dick Wittington, King Arthur and the knights of the Roundtable, Pirates, Buccaneers etc. His free-lance services were in wide demand. I think the answer may lie in two novels he wrote. One is called something like Hearts in Revolt and the other I don’t recall at all just now. But I think I can get one or both through interlibrary loan. Rest assured—Scarriet may not have heard the last of me, yet! Good night! D.B.

                • noochinator said,

                  February 24, 2018 at 2:10 pm

                  David, not to keep beating the same drum, but perhaps you could favor us with a list of your favorite off-the-beaten-path works of literary art — these could be novels, books of poetry, non-fiction, etc. Or if you’re reticent to post your faves here, maybe you could e-mail the list to me. I know literature has played an important part in your life, and I’m very interested in what wonderful-but-little-known works you’ve encountered. I’m still immensely enjoying the novel Genius by Patrick Dennis that you mentioned!

                  • David Bittner said,

                    February 24, 2018 at 4:56 pm

                    I’ll try to get to that this afternoon, Nooch. Have I already told you that I have ten favorite books, all novels, all lined up like a row of toy soldiers on a book shelf in my little one-room apartment here at the senior home? If I haven’t already described some of them, then I will now. Talk to you again soon. D.B.

                    • noochinator said,

                      February 26, 2018 at 9:16 am

                      Great, I’d love to know the titles of your ten current fave novels! In my all-time top ten is Max Jamison by Wilfrid Sheed, a 1970 effort about a nearly burned-out New York critic. Sheed really gets into the central character’s head!

                • February 24, 2018 at 5:49 pm

                  Understood. I’ve noticed now that the old posts are popular around here. Nothing wrong with that. Carry on, my wayward son.

  2. thomasbrady said,

    August 1, 2013 at 5:56 pm


    What’s your Myers Briggs score? I’m guessing you’re an ENFJ or perhaps an INFP?

    You seem to rely a lot on books/movies as a guide to living your life. I myself wouldn’t trust books/movies to guide my life, but that’s just me. Of course it’s good to know books and movies I guess.

    I personally don’t have any problem with “Babar planning Celesteville.”

    Your moral response to my poem is interesting: is one allowed to love a woman for her beauty (noting that other attributes exist, but the beauty is kind of the flagship?) I don’t know. Is ‘beauty’ inherently ‘shallow?’ Or is the whole issue perhaps more counter-intuitive?

    Thank you for your essay. I enjoyed it.


    • noochinator said,

      August 1, 2013 at 9:59 pm

      I’m definitely an I and definitely a J,
      But the two middle letters could go either way—
      iNtuition or Sensing? Feeling or Thinking?
      Who doesn’t do all four? The test below is linking:


      The “Big Five personality traits”
      Seem much better suited to determining fates:

      1. Openness to experience – (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious). Appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, curiosity, and variety of experience. Openness reflects the degree of intellectual curiosity, creativity and a preference for novelty and variety a person has. It is also described as the extent to which a person is imaginative or independent, and depicts a personal preference for a variety of activities over a strict routine. Some disagreement remains about how to interpret the openness factor, which is sometimes called “intellect” rather than openness to experience.

      2. Conscientiousness – (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless). A tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully, and aim for achievement; planned rather than spontaneous behavior; organized, and dependable.

      3. Extraversion – (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved). Energy, positive emotions, surgency, assertiveness, sociability and the tendency to seek stimulation in the company of others, and talkativeness.

      4. Agreeableness – (friendly/compassionate vs. cold/unkind). A tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others. It is also a measure of ones’ trusting and helpful nature, and whether a person is generally well tempered or not.

      5. Neuroticism – (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident). The tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily, such as anger, anxiety, depression, or vulnerability. Neuroticism also refers to the degree of emotional stability and impulse control, and is sometimes referred by its low pole – “emotional stability”.

    • August 8, 2013 at 7:41 pm

      Dear Tom,

      My reliance on books and movies (and let’s not forget TV!) was one issue I brought up, among other poetic and literary matters, in my 60th birthday speech two years ago. Actually I did not finish writing my speech in time for my party, so ended up sending out copies of the speech with my thirty-some thank-you notes instead. I stated my policy on gifts as follows: “Gifts are not necessary; however modest but thoughtful ones will be accepted.” I got the idea to phrase it that way from an old, circa 1950 advertising brochure for “Mary Hill Park,” a nice subdivision in Fond du Lac, Wis. where my parents built a home in 1969, just after my high school graduation. It carried the slogan: “Mary Hill Park is not a rich man’s paradise. We welcome the building of modest but attractive homes.” So, you see, in my writing I actually do integrate information from lots of unlikely sources in my environment! And now here’s my speech!

      “Grow old along with me; the best is yet to be; the last of life, for which the first was made.” The poet Robert Browning wrote these words to describe the supposed joys of old age. “Yeah, sure,” they used to make my think. They might make a slick, superficial sense, or, to put it another way, illustrate a kind of wishful thinking. But how, I asked myself, could I or anybody else, who had witnessed the decline of many elderly relatives, take these words seriously? An old folks’ parody of the song, “My Favorite Things,” from “The Sound of Music,” of uncertain authorship, goes like this: “Maalox and nose drops and needles for knitting. Walkers and handrails and new dental fittings. Bundles of magazines tied up in strings, These are a few of my favorite things.” “Now, that’s more like it,” I said sadly to myself upon first reading those verses on the Internet.

      But surfing the Internet recently, I came across a key-note address, given in 1999, at the 40th class reunion of a major American university. As I read this address, I was reminded that when the Bible says man does not live by bread alone, that includes the fact that “aging gracefully” is more than just a matter of maintaining health and cosmetic appearances. The “good life,” at any stage of life, said this keynote speaker, really means life lived morally, not life lived for physical pleasure and well-being.

      But morality, as the great Greek philosophers all taught, said the speaker, is in the long-run a more dependable source of happiness than physical pleasure and well-being are, anyway. A “good conscience” counts most of all. And now the key-note speaker wound up with the point that is so relevant to me, tonight, as, with the help of all of you, my family and friends, I celebrate my 60th birthday. He says it is the stretch of 10 or 20 years that hopefully still lies before most 60-year-olds, that may be their last chance to “get it right.”

      I have a reason for not identifying the key-note speaker I have been quoting. He is a shy man and dislikes publicity. I confine myself to these oblique references to him because years ago, when I was in touch with him, he asked me to keep some comments he made to me to myself. He told me he was writing to me as a “good man,” and not because I was a journalist. I can at least tell you though, after reading some things about him and his own book about the writers and philosophers who shaped him, that he is a good man himself who surely means what he says about this “last part of life” being such a great opportunity to “do some serious thinking.” Those are his exact words — “to do some serious thinking” — and I think they tell me that I must be on the right track as I now enter the “home stretch” of my life.

      Most of you here know I had the honor of being Kevin Sieczkowski’s confirmation sponsor in 2009. As I have told his parents, Paul and Susan, one reason I was happy to do it was the unexpected chance to “get serious” about something I should have much earlier in life. Those were my exact words — “get serious”! When I was 16 years old and about to be confirmed myself in the original Abrahamic faith, we eleven confirmands at Temple Beth El in Rockford, Illinois were all invited to write something original for our confirmation service. I think only two of us did. My contribution was a snappy little poem featuring famous atheist Madalyn Murray in “dialogue” with six other prominent personalities of the day. The rhymes may have been clever, but the thing was a bit lacking in substance. I’ve always regretted it.

      I was even sorrier a few years ago when I found a book containing the “Complete Works of Phillis Wheatley.” Phillis Wheatley was a well-known poet of colonial America. She was brought to Boston at the age of 8 among other human cargo of the slave ship, “Phillis,” and “bought” by John and Susanna Wheatley, a philanthropic Boston couple who proceeded to raise and educate Phillis as their own daughter. It became all the rage in Boston society to have “Mrs. Wheatley’s Phillis” read her poetry at social gatherings. Her work was published, too, in the colonial press and in book form in America and England. Phillis’s fame even spread to France, where the philosopher Voltaire was one of her great admirers.

      At any rate, among Phillis Wheatley’s “Complete Works,” I now discovered one poem titled “Atheism,” and another titled “An Address to an Atheist.” I exulted to myself, “Oh! I guess maybe this means I’ve been “in” with this atheism thing all along.” But then I read these two poems, written in Phillis Wheatley’s typical style of strictly-metered and -rhymed heroic couplets. They also clearly reminded one that Phillis Wheatley was like Sherman’s famous canine “mentor,” Mr. Peabody of “Rocky and Bulwinkle” fame. Like Mr. Peabody, Phillis “never kidded.” And now I heard an inner voice uncannily echoing some famous words uttered right here in our own fair city of Omaha in the 1988 vice-presidential debate between Senators Dan Quayle and Lloyd Bentsen. This inner voice said, “David, atheism-shmatheism! You are no Phillis Wheatley!” But, no matter. Here, anyway, had still come a chance to make up for a youthful indiscretion.

      As Kevin’s confirmation sponsor, my duties included quite a bit of “journaling,” and I found myself setting some very serious thoughts down on paper — things I’d pondered for years but never actually articulated before. I worded them as simply — and typed them as carefully — as I could for Kevin’s sake. [Kevin has Down’s Syndrome, but is “high-functioning.”] Susan said Kevin seemed to enjoy just reading these letters silently to himself, and some things in them she and Paul explained to him later. And I felt sure that “Abraham, our Father in Faith,” as Eucharistic Prayer I encouraged me still to think of him, must approve of this whole project I had undertaken from his vantage point “up yonder.”

      Remembering that same teen-age time of life, I still recall with chagrin the time in high school when Anita Zammuto’s mother crouched in the aisle of the auditorium to take Anita’s picture as she acted in some school play. Unfortunately, Mrs. Zammuto lost her balance and fell over backwards, and there was a ripple of laughter, the same as there would be at seeing somebody slip on a banana peel. Now, that surely Mrs. Zammuto, like any other normal person, would have had a sense of humor for. But she misinterpreted the laughter as fun being made of her daughter’s acting. Somebody really ought to have explained the situation to Mrs. Zammuto, and I don’t know if anyone ever did. I thought of writing her a short note, myself, but, the road to hell being paved with good intentions, I never did. From time to time in my life, I have still thought about this little incident and wondered if I would ever have the chance to redeem myself. Would you believe that chance arrived just about a month ago at St. Bernard’s Church? One day we had a substitute priest, Fr. Jim O’Kane, as our celebrant for morning mass.

      In his homily he happened to quote some Gospel verses about the limits of books (i.e., reading them but then failing to practice their advice). What Fr. O’Kane could not have known was that just the previous Sunday morning, Fr. Melchior [our then pastor] had blessed our new parish library, which had been in the making for half a year. I myself served on the small committee that created the library out of the former church baptistry. The irony of hearing this slightly negative comment about books at just this time caused me to give a short but audible laugh. It was a laugh just as undeserved and potentially confusing as mine at Mrs. Sammuto some 40 years earlier had been. I know Fr. O’Kane heard it, too, because I could tell his very next remark was an attempt to “cover” for whatever mistake he had just made — and of course he hadn’t made any mistake at all. This time, though, at least, I was not too lazy to relay a message to Fr. O’Kane, by e-mail, through our liturgy director, explaining the situation lest he should think it was his fault that anyone — that is, me — had been laughing in the wrong place during his sermon.

      “A time to laugh, a time to mourn,” is a similar statement found in the Book of Ecclesiastes, and I can think of at least one occasion, also not long ago, when I had the opportunity to learn this important difference and then practice it. in confession with our young associate pastor one day, I told him something which set him off laughing so much he could hardly stop. The previous day, two old friends named Bobbie and Bebe had been seated together at mass. [Bebe has since passed away.] I joked, a little too loudly, I’m afraid, as mass was about to begin, that if only we had Yogi Bear’s side-kick worshipping with us, too, we would have had “Bobbie, Bebe, and Boo-boo.” Now, in the reconciliation room, I was confessing to too much levity during church the previous day, but my confession worked backwards. Our poor young pastor found it pretty funny, too!

      But I got another chance! It was several years in coming, but one Sunday morning, with just the nare memory of that other day in the reconciliation room in mind, I caught myself just as I was about to commit a deed of real inconsideration. Another young man now served in our church’s number-2 spot. He was just about to offer a prayer for a newly bereaved family. He said, very solemnly, “And now let us pray for the Adams family.”

      Well, it may be believed that I, this child of the 50s and 60s, whom Hollywood had arguably over-endowed with TV shows and movies as a frame of reference for life, suddenly found myself seized by an almost irresistible impulse, as I sat right there in my usual spot in the second pew on the right, to snap my fingers like Gomez and Morticia Addams! But, no! I said to myself. Setting a priest off laughing as we talked privately in the reconciliation room was bad enough, but convulsing a priest as tried to lead mass for one or two hundred parishioners went beyond the pale of acceptable behavior. I would and did stifle myself.

      One last story.. Something else which has caused me some chagrin is a poem I had published in Omaha in 2003 in a magazine of creative writing called “Fine-Lines.” It was a slightly satirical poem about a distant cousin of mine. It was called, “Estelle, A Mock Pastoral Elegy.” Estelle died more than 20 years ago, so that was not the problem, but it somehow slipped my mind that her daughter and sister are still very much alive. If they have seen it, it can’t have made them happy. So now I announce my intention to write another poem, an entirely nice poem, in honor of another woman, whose kindness made a big difference in my life. I am going to call this poem, “The New Pandora.” In form, it will be a friendly parody of “The New Colossus,” the poem by Emma Lazarus inside the Statue of Liberty. And it will be all about “hope,” this friend’s gift to me, to be compared to the mythological Pandora’s gift of hope to the world.

      Since I took the new name of “Sebastian” when I was baptized, and since one of my favorite movies is “Suddenly Last Summer,” I may subtitle the work, which I expect to get to this summer, as “Sebastian’s Summer Poem.” Some phrases in “The New Colossus” such as “twin cities” (referring to New York City and Brooklyn, as yet unconsolidated in 1889) and “Mother of Exiles” should be very easy to work into “The New Pandora.” Omaha, Nebraska and Council Bluffs, Iowa, across the Missouri River from each other, are often called “twin cities,” and “Mother of Exiles” is a good description of my friend’s role as “nurturer-healer.”

      “All things work together for the good,” and without this friend’s kind concern, I doubt the final 10 or 20 years of my life would be even tolerable let alone possibly quite productive. Now it looks as if my remaining years may form a meaningful “bookend” to my life after all, and I’m so glad that all of you could be here to help me usher them in. I just wish I had been able to ask the whole congregation.

    • August 10, 2013 at 10:30 pm

      If you’re still with me, I’ll try to answer your above questions, So, first of all, I looked up the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and this is what I came up with for myself: (I must say it reminds me of an old song: “A,” you’re adorable, “B,” You’re so beautiful, “C,” You’re a cutie in my arms.) In my honest opinion of myself, I think I am “E,” because I am extroverted, interested in other people, and like to be liked. I am “N,” because I think I’m intuitive, which should be no surprise because I am certainly very “right-brained,” witness my ancient SAT scores; Verbal, 701, and Math, 537. This way of perceiving the world may be too much of a good thing, and not possible to help. I once overheard someone ask a very good friend of mine, a church member who got to know me very well over ten years, if it was true that I was mentally ill. My friend, named Roberta, said, “Oh, my yes. When a man is so smart in some ways but so dumb in others, what other possible explanation could there be?” Then I guess I’m “F,” for feeling. I belong to that new psychiatric category, which is thought to include 15-20 percent of the U.S. population, namely, “Highly Sensitive People,” or “HSP.”

      It takes us longer to get over life’s normal upsets than it takes other people. But wait! There is a positive side to this coin! I worked in an office once where one of my co-workers told me it amused her sometimes to see now little it seemed to take to make me happy. She told me this after hearing me get off the phone with “Spec’s,” a music shop in West Palm Beach which had just informed me that a tape I ordered had come in. Finally, “P,” for perception. I know that sometimes I make outlandish misinterpretations of things. My favorite, classic example…My first year working in Florida, I lived in a little row of five or six apartments. I had just come out of my apartment, on my way to work, when I saw my elderly neighbor collapsed on the patio, with one whole side of his face flat against the pavement. The landlord and another tenant had just discovered the man lying there, too.This was my brilliant analysis of the situation, said in all seriousness, not trying to be funny: “Is he listening for hoofbeats?”

      • August 11, 2013 at 12:12 am

        My neighbor was taken to the hospital, and returned some time later. I doubt he lived very much longer, though. I only lived in that apartment for one year, and made no enduring friendships with anyone there.

        Another favorite story: I went to Europe after my sophomore year of college with an outfit called “Eurojob.” They found you some kind of menial work for half the summer, and you traveled on your own for the other half. A place was found for me on an English archaeological dig in the outskirts of a town called Ludgershall, which was in Wiltshire, near the city of Andover. Mike, my site supervisor, and I did not hit it off at first, although things did vastly improve over the month I spent there. We parted on friendly terms. But on my second or third day, Mike asked, “Has anyone seen Andrew’s big yellow trowel?” Looking around the spot where I was standing, I said, “Well, here’s a big yellow trowel, but it says, ‘Property of Her Royal Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.'” Mike said, “Chuck it over here, dumb-dumb.” Then in France that summer, I made a dumb gaffe, too. In the town of Digne, in the foothills of the Alps, I decided to stop for the night. I was doing this trip on a shoestring. It was the era of “Europe on 5$ a day,” a popular guide book for the budget tourist. I found a nice open-air restaurant and came up with a “brainstorm” — I could economize by ordering only the entree for dinner. So for dinner that night I had only boeuf bourgignon. It was delicious, and without the usual additional courses, dinner only cost me 10 franccs, or 2$. I felt so smug. Little did I realize that all I had done was “discover” a la carte dining — and me with seven years of French under my belt! Some day I would like to go back to Digne and savor it for its important setting in “Les Miserables.” It was the Bishop of Digne who sacrificed his precious candlesticks to save Jean Valjean’s neck. Of course that turned Jean Valjean’s whole life around. That would have been the proper thought to have on a visit to Digne.

        So much for Myers-Briggs! Now, Tom, I wonder if you’re familiar with a much older method of personality-typing called the Allport-Vernon Study of Values (1931) that I learned about in Psychology 101. It says most people’s lives are governed by different combinations of six values — theoretical, economic, aesthetic, social, political, and religious. You know that religion plays a big part in my life, and art (aesthetics), and social (I like people, though I couldn’t say, with Will Rogers, that “I never met a man I didn’t like”). Then, economically. I am not ambitious. I am satisfied to have enough to meet my simple needs. Then “theoretical?” Well, I am open to others’ theories and opinions. I think I’d give even an alchemist a shot at making his pitch. I had a teacher in college (and incidentally, far from a favorite one) who said you could have an impeccable argument based on a false premise. So I would politely hear out an alchemist or an astrologer, or a “Flat Earth” Society proponent.

        • August 11, 2013 at 1:29 am

          That takes me to the Strong Test of Vocational Interests. I only tested high in two job categories — librarian and journalist. Now, it is true that I like to use libraries, but for my own research. I would never be happy doing some other scholar’s legwork. And then of course I did become a journalist! I did not miss my calling.

          To leave that whole subject, now, and go on to another. actually I think I agree with you that it’s all right for physical beauty to be, as you say, “the flagship” of a woman’s attraction, just as long as she’s also strong in other suits like character and personality and is not too far off from being your intellectual equal. You wouldn’t want your wife or your girlfriend to be too much smarter or dumber than you if only for the sake of getting each other’s jokes. And while it may be true that beauty is only skin-deep, I’ve realized for a long time that all that is, is probably just sour grapes. If my life had unfolded in such a way as to include marriage, my life’s companion would have had to a woman whose very looks I liked. Come to think of it, C.S. Lewis is supposed to have written an essay on how it was possible for a man to make love to an unattractive woman. I don’t think I’ve read it, though. I think I tried to find it once, but couldn’t. Lewis’s book, “Surprised by Joy,” may be where it is, though, because, of course, the real Joy Davidman didn’t look anything like Debra Winger. Another thought,…Phoebe Nichols may have won all our hearts as Cordelia Flyte, a role she did not have to be beautiful for, but as Clive’s wife in “Maurice,” I didn’t think she made his newly-found heterosexuality very believable.

          Yes, I am “bookish.” I realize that in my journalism I argue a lot by analogy, and books as well as real-life experiences, can be a great source of analogies. Just to give you one example, my good friend Susan once asked me what it was like to grow up in a Jewish home. I thought of this simple way of explaining it to her. I said, “You know Joyce’s book, ‘The Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man’? Well, then, imagine not that bad, but half that bad, and that’s what it’s like.” I meant, of course, things like half the guilt, half the religious school homework, and half the competition of time for other teen-age activities. I think my little shorthand—this reference to a well-known novel—was very effective in conveying my message.

          And that’s all I have to say until Scarriet comes up with some new, interesting topic. Good night!

  3. August 9, 2013 at 12:49 am

    Tom, I know there are some typos in this. I’ll send corrections tomorrow. the two poems are short (yes, I did write my “summer poem”), so I’ll send them both, too, tomorrow. They may add to people’s understanding of the speech. Now I’m going to bed. Good night! Yours, David

    • August 9, 2013 at 8:31 pm

      “Mrs. Murray’s Round Robin”
      by David Bittner
      (used to introduce theme of 1967
      confirmation service, “Is God Dead?”
      The service ended with all the confirmands
      proclaiming, “God is Alive!”)

      “God is dead!” screams Madalyn Murray,
      Her voice raised high in zealous fury.
      “The kindly old man with the snowy white beard
      Has left his throne and disappeared.”

      “Madalyn,” says Harry Emerson Fosdick,
      “Your remarks about God are very caustic.
      Of course the God on the throne has been long out-dated,
      But we still must explain how the earth was created.”

      “What’s this?” demands Robert Welch, “You say God is dead?”
      “Mrs. Murray, you must be a red!
      Only a commie would sing that song.
      You, Mrs. Murray, are a Viet Cong!”

      • August 9, 2013 at 8:52 pm

        Bishop Pike parleys next…”Mrs. Murray,
        Your conception of God is a little blurry.
        All God is, is love and order,
        Not something that crosses an irrational border.”

        Says Emily Post, “Dear, in speaking of burial,
        ‘dead’ or ‘died’ sounds too funereal.
        It is better etiquette to say
        Instead that God has ‘passed away.'”

        “In Nazi camps I lived through hell.
        Yet I know God’s alive,” says Elie Wiesel.
        “I have a war with him, and I shall not lose.
        I challenge his letting die six million Jews.”

        “You leave me in a profound stupor,
        Saying God is dead,” says Martin Buber.
        “God is alive; He’s here and now.
        He waits for you, for your I-Thou.”

        “God is dead! screams Madalyn Murray,
        Her voice raised high in zealous fury.
        “God is dead! God is dead! God is dead!”

        • August 9, 2013 at 9:34 pm

          Sebastian’s Summer Poem — 2011

          “The New Pandora”


          “Homage a Suzanne”

          by David Bittner

          Not like the “Pandora Spocks” of devious intent,
          Designed to trick a ’60’s child,
          Here in our “community of saints”
          Stands one a “cut above” the rest.
          Her eyes flash, like Windy’s,
          At the sound of lies, to quote familiar vintage lyrics,
          And her name, “The Mother of Exiles.”
          She embodies the “antique-modern” Pandora.
          Like the Pandora of Greek myth,
          She is a symbol and bestower of hope,
          And like Pandora Radio, her “pipes” get a high approval
          To me, this son of Minsk and Pinsk, who am
          sensitive to “twin cities” lore,
          The “New Pandora” restores a touch of class
          To our fair cities of Omaha and Council Bluffs,
          Where the “Twin Cities Artificial Limb Company”
          Once stood, a monument to tastelessness,
          On Broadway Street, offending this little pitcher’s
          big ears!
          Yes, the ‘New Pandora’ is “A-OK,” as I,
          this alumnus of Florida Atlantic University,
          built in 1964, during the space craze, ought to know.
          You see, in a contest held to name the new college,
          the entry “A-OK-U” almost won,
          making me, I figure, perhaps a
          “bit of A-OK,” myself, as Pandora-Suzanne
          has tried to make me see!
          God bless her and her husband, Paul, and son, Kevin, too, of course!

          • August 10, 2013 at 3:15 pm

            I feel I must try to explain this poem a litttle, or no one will have any idea of what’s going on in it. Quite simply, ever the zealous new convert [to Catholicism], I joined the Sunday choir of my church. As time went by over nearly two years, I realized more and more that I had bitten off more than I could chew, musically. Yet, I failed to squarely face the fact and continued to muddle on. The choir itself, meanwhile, “squarely faced the fact.” They dismissed me, and not in an honest, direct, and appropriate manner, as per the ideal of assertive behavior. They dropped hints and hid my song books. Being treated this way almost caused me to have a nervous breakdown. I think I would have had a nervous breakdown had it not been for the kindness of “Pandora-Suzanne,” one of the choir members. I think she already liked me, but now she began to go out of her way for me, involving me with her own family (holiday celebrations and the like) to try to make up for the bullies in the choir.

            • August 10, 2013 at 3:32 pm

              I finally forgave most of the choir members. I think they were “entertaining angels unawares.” That’s a phrase found both in Genesis and The Letter to the Hebrews that is used in ‘Brideshead Revisited’ to mean misjudging a good person as bad. It makes me feel like the Frog Prince or Mrs. McThing—both good characters who were initially misjudged. I can live with that!

              • August 10, 2013 at 4:26 pm

                Now, if it’s of interest to anyone, I can explain a few references in the poem.

                First of all, “Pandora Spocks.” Many viewers of the ’60s situation comedy “Bewitched” assumed that Elizabeth Montgomery played Samantha Stevens’ mischievous Cousin Serena with the help of a dark wig and trick photography. Others who stayed tuned till the bitter end and read the credits noticed the name “Pandora Spocks” next to the name Serena. It continues to be debated whether Serena was played by Elizabeth Montgomery or this “real other” actress, Pandora Spocks. TV’s “deviousness” is being contrasted with “the New Pandora’s” qualities of goodness.

                The term “community of saints” was used by Lionel Trillng in his book, “The Liberal Imagination” (1950), to describe Huck Finn’s “gang,” including Jim, the Duke, and the King, as they foraged the banks of the Mississippi and became involved in some serious hassles there. I use the term to suggest the membership of St. Bernard’s Church in Omaha.

                The term, “Mother of Exiles,” borrowed from “The New Colossus,” is used to describe “Pandora-Suzanne”‘s loyalty to friends who may have felt the scorch of rejection.

                “Antique-modern” is a term used to describe the revival of something, e.g., “democracy,” that may not now be in its original form.

                Minsk and Pinsk are two cities in the part of Russia that my mother’s family emigrated from a little more than 100 years ago. In my early teens, I developed a self-hatred of my eastern-European origins. My mother told me I shouldn’t feel that way because, she said, “Russia has given the world many great men.” Nevertheless I asked my great-aunt Dora if there was any western European heritage in the family. She said, accidentally using some unconscious humor that put me in my place, “Well, we lived in Minsk, but we had relatives in Pinsk.” So there was my “western European heritage”—Pinsk! I hadn’t thought about this in years, but recently I thought of looking up the exact locations of Minsk and Pinsk, and found that neither is far from St. Petersburg. I am sorry that I did not know this in ninth grade, when our world history textbook said that Russia thought of St. Petersburg as its “window on the West.” I’ll bet that would have made the “American Council for Judaism” in me feel better.

                Besides, I had recently written a character sketch of Wilcox, the Flyte family’s butler, in “Evelyn Waugh Studies.” It was an admiring portrait of Wilcox, with the exception that, as Nanny Hawkins said, Wilcox (and she, under Wilcox’s influence) had been “entertaining angels unawares” when it came to their sizing up of Rex Mottram. Wilcox thought Rex was a real low-life as a politician, when all along Rex had actually been doing his best in England’s war against the Third Reich. Now, if I had been willing to overlook this fault in a fictional character, then didn’t I have to forgive the same fault in real people? Of course I did!

                • January 14, 2014 at 2:48 am

                  As long as I’m on a roll tonight, I may as well finally “unveil” my infamous high school Baccalaureate speech, entitled, “Humanism, Complement of Faith.” Our directions had been to address some aspect of “faith.” So, ta-dah…..

                  Nothing can provide man with more hope than faith in God. Especially as the twentieth century appears only to be growing worse instead of better, the idea of a force of ultimate perfection in which we can trust naturally appeals to us.
                  It is not enough, however, to simply have this faith. Once we have acquired it, we must learn to apply it responsibly and effectively. We must learn to utilize faith as a source of courage and inspiration to guide us in our actions, and be careful not to let it erroneously become an excuse for inaction. If we make the mistake of regarding our faith as the only vehicle we have at our disposal for helping to bring about a better world, depending on God to make the world better for us, our relationship to God will be that of parasites. We must realize that just as God helps those who help themselves, so, by extension, will God aid mankind if mankind tries to come to its own rescue.
                  Our mandate is to let God know through our deeds that we are genuinely concerned about the world; for if we are able to convince him of our sincerity, He will be more inclined to fulfill the hope we put in Him. Man must take the moral initiative to improve the world, and it is in this first sense that humanism–man seeking actively to improve the lot of humanity–must be the complement of our faith.
                  In addition to complementing faith in this sense of insuring faith’s effectiveness, humanism can also complement faith in the sense of enriching it in its absolute aspect.
                  For all that we of the twentieth century may profess a faith in God, I can’t help questioning how deep a faith it really is when I think of the proclamation that we of the twentieth century seem to be so fond of making: that, at no previous time in history has man ever had it within his power to destroy the Earth. Is it really with fear and distaste that we make this proclamation, or is it rather with a self-awe, a grotesque pride in attaining what was previously only in God’s power? Do we really bemoan being the first generation in history to possess such technological know-how, or do we have in ourselves—perhaps subconsciously–the same swagger in reaching the level of God through technology that characterized the people of Babel when they tried to use their technology to erect a tower to heaven and become gods themselves?
                  I think we are building a tower of Babel today, and I think therefore that our faith in God isn’t all we claim it to be. I see humanism as a way toward revitalizing our faith. The diligent practice of humanism will divorce us from our ill-conceived strivings to become God by showing us our responsibility as that of striving to become better people. Humanism will therefore put us in perspective to God so that we will be in the position to place real faith in Him.
                  As illustrations of how humanism complements faith in these two aspects, let us consider the examples of efforts to rid society of poverty, war, and injustice.
                  If we practice the humanistic principles of compassion and altruism, we can help relieve the anguish of the poor and raise them from their situation. As the Bible tells us, “Thou shalt surely open thy hand to the poor and needy brother in the land.” Of course our own consciences should be able to arrive independently at a paraphrase of this thought, but the fact that God has given us this commandment indicates that He expects more from us than just a faith that the situation is going to magically reverse itself.
                  War is another ill of society that we must realize hope alone will never be able to erradicate. If we are really anxious for the time when nation shall no longer lift up sword against nation, and want to see in our lifetime real evidence of at least its imminence, we must complement our faith that it will arrive with humanism especially in this case as it contrasts to the animalism of war — that is, learning how to settle our differences by pursuing alternatives to the physical combat which animals possess as the only means to assert themselves.
                  We may also prove ourselves to God by doing what we can to rid society of prejudice. Rather than simply having faith that in the end God’s love will embrace everyone, and criticizing attempts to do something about prejudice as misguided efforts to “legislate love,” we must take aqction to conquer prejudice. We may take inspiration from God’s commandment to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Not only is this commandment a go-ahead from God, but it is clearly a deliberate attempt by God himself to legislate love.
                  By actively concerning ourselves with these and other problems of the world, we will bring ourselves back to our rightful position of human beings, down from our tower of Babel. At the same time, when we do what we can to make life better, more satisfying for humans and humanity, we will feel the spark of God in our conscience ignite. We will gain from this feeling a hint of how God Himself must rejoice to see us in the active pursuit of humanism, and we will grow confident that He will see fit to honor the faith we put in Him snd help us in our efforts.

                  • thomasbrady said,

                    January 14, 2014 at 1:07 pm


                    A fine speech. There is much to be said for a calm, rational, peace-loving, altruistic, humanistic faith in God. God wants us to be good and therefore we must be good. You take “God helps those who helps themselves” and turn it into “Gods helps the world that helps itself.” You strike a compromise between faith and common sense, between the faithful and the secular. No talk of miracles and mystery here. If one must take a position in religion I guess this is the one to take!

                    • Andrew said,

                      December 29, 2015 at 7:43 pm

                      Hey Tom –
                      “God helps those who help themselves” is an oft-mentioned saying misconstrued as being biblical. I challenge you to show me where it appears in Scripture.

                      “Secular Rationality” has no place in the faith that manifests itself through miracles and mystery. If you want to be a Secular Humanist, great — go for it.
                      But do not confuse such worldly hubris with saving faith in Jesus Christ.

              • thomasbrady said,

                July 13, 2015 at 3:05 am

                So I guess this is how fiction makes the world a better place and is not a “lie,” even though it is not necessarily true. Thank you, David.

                • July 19, 2015 at 7:17 am

                  Tom, I think that may be a very good way of putting it. Because even though so many of the Bible heroes have little historical basis, they still exert a great influence over people today as archetypes. It is “fiction” that can guide us to good conduct, so we don’t want to call it “lying,” a word with such a strong pejorative connotation. You know, both the Bible and Greek and Norse mythology are included in the non-fiction section of libraries that still use the Dewey Decimal System. David Bittner.

  4. thomasbrady said,

    August 9, 2013 at 6:44 am


    I wish you would quote the Greek philosophers on the importance of a clear conscience and how it is more important than pleasure and health. I thought the Greeks were much more into pleasure and health. Not that I dare dispute with one like yourself, who is fond of the anecdote, the affectionate tale, and the homily; I’m sure I miss the point by even raising this at all. I wrestle with notions of morality and God (both in science and religion) quite a bit and try not to be cynical or pessimistic. Plato made desire a great part of love and isn’t forgiveness the most important Christian tenet? Is there anyone with a clear conscience? Perhaps I sound like a sinner, I don’t know. I was not raised with organized religion’s social net surrounding me, though I seem to meet a lot of lapsed Catholics who resent that net mightily. You seem comfortable with religion in a manner that is affirming in a courteous, affectionate, slightly arch sort of way. Sometimes I think courage is a mundane affair, and I am too excitable for it. I try to eat well and stay calm. You belong to the middle, not the extremes. Your temperament seems to be of peace, not war. I suppose this is true of most of us, though sometimes I think in large or small ways people are always fighting, and this is our lot.


    • August 10, 2013 at 5:17 pm

      I lost my copy of the key-note speaker’s book in my move here to “New Cassel Retirement Center” in January, so I can’t directly quote you these philosophers, but I can at least tell you who a few of them are. The keynote address prominently mentions Aristotle. And now I can quote Aristotle a little indirectly. “Happiness,” he [Aristotle] said, “is made up of a lot of different thngs: having good habits, both moral and intellectual, and enjoying the things you and all human beings really need, like a good family and good friends and a good city to live in, like good health and a decent education, like a modest but sufficient competence, like the time to experience good art and do some serious thinking. And one more thing: good fortune.” Now I think all of that is certainly reasonable. At least it is a far cry from Gertrude Stein’s self-stated dream of “the good life” –being a bull with nothing to do all day but eat grass and have sex.” Epicurus and Epictetus are two other ancient philosophers who I believe are commonly misinterpreted as advocates of hedonism. Another good book I used to own is Mary McCarthy’s novel, “Birds of America,” about “Peter Levi,” an American college student taking a semester or a year abroad. I recall that Peter gives an eloquent defense of the ancient Greek philosophers. He says their idea of the good life is life lived morally, not in the pursuit of gross sensual gratification, as erroneously believed by many.

  5. August 9, 2013 at 9:41 pm

    Dear Tom, I’ll reply to those issues you raise tomorrow, when I’m “fresher.”

  6. January 19, 2014 at 10:07 pm

    Tom, on the subject of religion and being good, Edna Ferber had this charming comment to make in her 1939 autobiography, “A Peculiar Treasure.” I think it bespeaks the common-sense approach to religion that many people, perhaps including you and me, would endorse. She writes: “…I have attended religious services in churches of every denomination–Methodist, Episcopalian, Catholic, Baptist, Unitarian, Christian Science, Presbyterian, Greek Orthodox, Lutheran, Quaker; on board ocean liners, in a penitentiary, under a tent, in the catacombs, on a mountain top. People at worship are adults who want to be children again, who want to be good again; their faces are, for the moment, washed and clear like the faces of children (p. 75).”
    More to come…

    • January 20, 2014 at 12:48 am

      Edna Ferber’s name may be unfamiliar to many people today, 46 years after her death in 1968. She wrote novels which told stories of love and romance set against the backdrop of some particular American region. There was “Show Boat” about the South (and the evil of miscegenation laws)”; “Ice Palace” about Alaska, including the pros and cons of statehood, and racism practiced against the Eskimos; “Giant” about Texas; “Cimarron,” about the opening up of the Oklahoma territory; “American Beauty” about the Polish minority in rural Connecticut; “Saratoga Trunk,” about Creoles in New Orleans; and “So Big,” the story of a single woman, Selina De Jong, bringing up her son, Dirk, among the Dutch immigrant dairy-farmers in the Chicago region. For “So Big”, Edna Ferber won the 1925 Pulitzer Prize.
      I wish I had thought of using Edna Ferber’s reference to “globe-destroying missiles” (from “A Kind of of Magic,”
      her second volume of autobiography, published in 1963) in my Baccalaureate speech–to support my point about contemporary, neo-Babel “swagger.”
      All for now. Good night!

  7. Dave said,

    August 25, 2014 at 3:22 am

    My Dad was the Rabbi at Temple Beth-El from 1950 to 1960.
    Also I spent much of my summer at the Jewish Community Center.

    • March 4, 2015 at 11:09 pm

      Then was your father by any chance the Rabbi Applebaum whose name I often heard invoked at temple? I seem to recall a girl in my Sunday School class saying Rabbi Applebaum had a rather charming way of teaching the Hebrew alphabet. I think she said that one of his little tricks was to put little apples in the place of “alephs.” I once heard this girl’s mother refer to Rabbi Applebaum as “a good soul.” It’s a funny coincidence, Dave, that you, too, should be bringing back memories of Temple Beth El and Rockford at just this time, when, with the help of some computer-literate friends, I am about to post my entire eighth grade history project, an illustrated life of the American slave Dred Scott, on Scarriet. It consists of 18 posterboards, on which I drew with magic markers and crayons. I had each one of the 18 wrapped in protective plastic in the mid-1980’s, thinking that someday I might have the opportunity to share them. Did you go to Lincoln Junior High, Dave, where you might have had some of the same teachers I had? There were a Mr. and Mrs. Gerretson (Merlin and Genevieve), who taught science, and social studies, respectively; Mr. Gritzbaugh (Stanley), an English teacher; Miss Wheeler (Shirley), my world history teacher in ninth grade; and Miss Golwitzer (Geneva), who I had for first-year French. I remember them all as well as if I had been in their classrooms yesterday! Be on the lookout, if you can, tomorrow, March 5, 2015, for my story about Dred Scott, and please forgive the heavy use of Ebonics! I didn’t know any better at the time. Yours, David Bittner

      • March 7, 2015 at 1:33 am

        Dear Tom, I’ll bet you thought I fell off the edge of the earth! Actually since December I’ve been catching up on my correspondence–Christmas-New Year’s, then Valentine’s Day, then my birthday on Feb. 28. (I was born a year and a day short of Leap Year Day, so I have had the normal number of birthdays, but only 16 anniversaries of my bar mitzvah. The ceremony was scheduled to take place on the closest Saturday to my birthday, which fell on a Friday in 1964….so…a Leap Year Day bar mitzvah.
        Anyway, I have also spent a lot of time and energy “rethinking” an article I wrote in the 2007 “Nassau Review” about a poem by Vachel Lindsay, titled “The Eyes of Queen Esther and How They Conquered King Ahasuerus.” I thought I might have made a couple serious errors in my article, but after finding out about a Lindsay authority in Springfield, Illinois. and e-mailing him back and forth once or twice about my concerns, he told me I actually had the right ideas. So…no need to revise.
        Finally, Tom, in regard to the above response I made to “Dave,”
        a fellow Rockfordian,…. I did want to upload some pictures–18 illustrations of an eighth grade history project on the Dred Scott Case–that our Pastoral Care Director here at New Cassel made photos of for me. But afterwards, when I told him that I wanted to put them on Scarriet, he said it didn’t seem to be the kind of blog you could load pictures onto. I was told the same thing by two librarians I consulted after that, one at the public library and one at the JCC. Can this be true? I know there are occasional graphics on Scarriet. Does Scarriet incur any monetary cost for using such graphics? If so, I withdraw the whole idea of using my Dred Scott pictures.
        Yours truly, David

        • March 7, 2015 at 1:44 am

          P.S. Let me make one thing perfectly clear, as Pres. Nixon used to say, the “Nassau Review” was the annual literary journal of Nassau Community College on Long Island, New York. It had nothing to do with Princeton University’s literary journal that has a similar name.

  8. Andrew said,

    March 7, 2015 at 2:05 am

    Thanks for the title of the poem about Esther. Never read it.
    I only know “The Congo” which is a fantastic poem. What does Tom B. think of Vachel Lindsey?

  9. thomasbrady said,

    March 7, 2015 at 1:53 pm

    I like this thread. David Bittner, you are writerly, nostalgic, historical, philosophical in a languid, thoughtful sort of way. Delightful. By comparison, our culture has become so crass and quick. I must confess, I don’t know what to think of your project. Scarriet can receive pictures. I have no expertise, myself; I knock about in trial-and-error mode.

    Andrew, Vachel Lindsey has admirable energy, but he’s not to my taste.


    • March 8, 2015 at 10:48 pm

      Tom, as to what to make of my Dred Scott project, I think it could be thought of as an example of “reappropriating the stereotype.” I’m sure all you Scarieteers must know of that concept, when a black person, for instance, will wholeheartedly embrace an Aunt Jemima doll for the sake of the nugget of truth at its core: the nurturing quality of the black matriarch, or when a Jewish collector will acquire Nazi concentration camp money picturing Moses for the sake of showing Jewish religious devotion even under the worst circumstances.
      What I can do now, though, maybe later on tonight, is keystroke Lindsay’s poem…to go along with the title!

      • March 9, 2015 at 3:33 pm

        “The Eyes of Queen Esther And How They Conquered King Ahasuerus, Written for the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Philadelphia, and read at their meeting, December 8, 1917. “Esther, second chapter tenth verse and twentieth verse: ‘Esther had not shewed her people nor her kindred.'”

        He harried lions up the peaks.
        In blood and moss and snow they died.
        He wore a cloak of lions’ manes
        To satisfy his curious pride.
        Men saw it trimmed with emerald bands
        Flash on the crested battle-tide.

        Where Baghdad stands, he hunted kings,
        Burnt them alive, his soul to cool.
        Yet in his veins god Ormadz wrought
        To make a just man of a fool.
        He spoke the rigid truth, and rode,
        And drew the bow, by Persian rule.


        Ahasuerus in his prime
        Was gracious and voluptuous.
        He saw a pale face turn to him,
        A gleam of Heaven’s righteousness:
        A girl with hair of David’s gold
        And Rachel’s face of loveliness:

        He dropped his sword, he bowed his head.
        She led his steps to courtesy.
        He took for her his white north star:
        A wedding of true majesty.
        Oh, what a war for gentleness
        Was in her bridal fantasy!

        Why did he fall by candlelight
        And press his bull-heart to her feet?
        He found them as the mountain-snow
        Where lions died. Her hands were sweet
        As ice upon a blood-burnt mouth
        As mead to reapers in the wheat.

        The little nation in her soul
        Bloomed in her girl’s prophetic face.
        She named it not, and yet he felt
        One challenge: her eternal race.
        This was the mystery of her step,
        Her trembling body’s sacred grace.

        He stood, a priest, a Nazarite,
        A rabbi reading by a tomb,
        The hardy raider saw and feared
        Her white knees in the palace gloom,
        Her pouting breasts and locks well-combed
        Within the humming, reeling room.

        The rest of the poem to follow this afternoon….David Bittner

        • March 9, 2015 at 6:59 pm

          Her name was Meditation there:
          Fair opposite of Bullock’s brawn.
          I sing her eyes that conquered him:
          The fern before the grazing faun
          Bends down with dew, a thing of naught,
          Only the forest’s floor and lawn.

          He gave her Shushan from the walls.
          She saw it not, and turned not back.
          Her eyes kept hunting through his soul
          As one may seek through battle black
          For one dear banner held on high,
          For one bright bugle in the rack.

          The scorn that loves the sexless stars:
          Traditions passionless and bright:
          The ten commands (to him unknown),
          The pillar of the fire by night:–
          Flashed from her alabaster crown
          The while they kissed by candlelight.

          The rarest psalms of David came
          From her dropped veil (odd dreams to him),
          It prophesied, he knew not how,
          Against his armies endless grim.
          He saw his Shushan in the dust–
          Far in the ages growing dim.

          Then came a glance of steely blue,
          Flash of her body’s silver sword.
          Her eyes of law and temple prayer
          Broke him who spoiled the temple hoard.
          The thief who fouled all little lands
          Went mad before her, and adored.

          The girl was Eve in Paradise,
          Yet Judith, till her war was won.
          All of the future tyrants fell
          In this one king, ere night was done,
          And Israel, captive then as now,
          Ruled with tomorrow’s rising sun.

          And in the logic of the skies
          He who keeps Israel in His hand,
          The God whose hope for joy on earth
          The Gentile yet shall understand,
          Through powers like Esther’s steadfast eyes
          Shall free each little tribe and land.

          Contemporary Verse Vachel Lindsay

  10. Andrew said,

    March 10, 2015 at 1:54 am

    Thank you for sharing this marvelous poem.

  11. May 20, 2015 at 2:03 am

    Author’s note: The following essay is a revised version of an article about Vachel Lindsay’s poem, “The Eyes of Queen Esther and How They Conquered King Ahasuerus,” that originally appeared in 2007 in the Nassau Review, the annual literary journal of Nassau Community College in Garden City, New York.

    Vachel Lindsay Enters Into “Gan Eden”—
    The Poet’s Homage to Queen Esther

    by David Bittner

    Almost 100 years ago, inspired by the fledgling Zionist movement, and the great lengths taken by banker-philanthropist Jacob Schiff to help “starving co-religionists in Russia,” (as Eastern European Jewry was called by German-American Jewry at the time), Vachel Lindsay composed a beautiful poem entitled, “The Eyes of Queen Esther and How they Conquered King Ahasuerus.”

    Lindsay wrote the poem in 1917, as he said, to “celebrate the idealism of the Jewish people,” (qtd. in Stork 48) and delivered it before a December meeting of the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Philadelphia at the Society’s invitation. It was common at the time for such societies to commission writing by prominent authors. But the Society left the actual choice of topics up to Lindsay. It just wanted a good poem about something, in much the same way that President Eisenhower’s famous farewell address concerning the “dangers of the military-industrial complex” originated from his request to his speech-writers to “give him something significant to say.”

    Lindsay enjoyed great popularity in his day because of the euphonious, almost musical quality of his verse (based on free-wheeling but pleasing rhyme and meter) and was sought after all over the United States to give frequent readings of his work. He saw himself in the tradition of ode-writers “from Pindar to Dryden” in selecting dramatic, frequently topical, subjects for his poems, and using his imagination to embellish them (Stork 840). Other poems of this type included, “In Memory of My Friend, Joyce Kilmer, Poet and Soldier,” on the death in World War I of the famous “Trees” author; “Galahad, Knight Who Perished,” a tribute to crusaders against the white slave trade; “In Which Roosevelt is Compared to Saul,” on the death of Theodore Roosevelt; “To Jane Addams at The Hague,” on the sinking of the Lusitania; “The Voice of the Earthquake,” about the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906; and “Bryan, Bryan, Bryan,” about the 1896 presidential bid of William Jennings Bryan, based on Lindsay’s recollections as an admiring 16-year-old of hearing Bryan make a campaign speech.

    A man of deep religious faith, with roots in The Disciples of Christ, and very conversant with the Holy Scriptures, Lindsay frequently turned to religious themes for his inspiration, as he did in other poems like, “The Sun Says His Prayers,” “General Booth Enters Into Heaven,” “How Samson Bore Away the Gates of Gaza,” and “The Hope of the Resurrection,” and, “We Meet at the Judgment and I Fear It Not,” two poems about Easter. Today, 84 years after his death, Lindsay is remembered as a poet of the “Chicago School” of mid-western writers that also included such greats as Edgar Lee Masters and Carl Sandburg. His work is studied as part of the English curricula of high schools and colleges across the land. There is a national Vachel Lindsay Association and a Vachel Lindsay website on the Internet. Lindsay’s life-long home in Springfield, Illinois has been restored as a state historic site. Lindsay is popularly known, in the “land of Lincoln,” as the city’s second most famous citizen.

    Lindsay retitled his poem about Queen Esther, “A Rhyme For All Zionists,” two years after he wrote it. He also makes a reference in the poem to “the challenge of Esther’s eternal race” (Braithwaite 50). But despite the mildly pejorative sound of such phrases, Lindsay’s intent in using them was almost certainly not anti-Semitic. In a letter to Louis Untermeyer, a close associate and a noted poet and critic himself, and a very visible Jew, Lindsay says Esther’s “gentility” and “high breeding” and her religion are all “synonymous with” and “inseparable from” race and the promise that God made to Abraham of Jewish immortality (qtd. in Chenetier (156)). These may sound like rather parochial, patronizing things to twenty-first century ears, but for their time, they were actually quite enlightened. Untermeyer suggested in his autobiography, “From Another World,” published in 1949, that Lindsay’s retitling of the poem as “A Rhyme For All Zionists” was simply a typical Lindsay hyperbole, a pretentious attempt to “make his verses bear a greater significance than they warranted” and “suddenly plunge into deeper waters” (Untermeyer 145).

    (As an aside, there is this example of a “coy” headline from my own repertorial bag of tricks: I once wrote an article about a synagogue in south Florida that had the biggest Jewish library for miles around. The woman who started the library in the 1950’s told me she had modified the famous Dewey Decimal System to suit the purposes of a Jewish library. Judaism preceded Christianity in the 200’s, the section on religion, for instance, and biographies and autobiographies of famous Jews filled the 220 and 221 sections. Now, I happened to know that Melvil Dewey, the great book classifier, had also helped found the anti-Semitic Lake Placid Club. So, as my headline for this story about the synagogue library, which mostly described the library’s holdings (about 7,000 items), I wrote the simple label head, “Revenge on Dewey.” The editor told me that our publisher, my “big boss,” got the joke: a headline that parodied the paranoia of olden times’ ethnic journalism.)

    Lindsay was a tireless reviser who frequently sought the advice of his friends and associates. In his autobiography, Untermeyer recalled being asked by his “friend Vachel” to suggest changes and emendations for “The Eyes of Queen Esther.” Untermeyer said he could not recall exactly what suggestions he had made, but he said they must have been “radical,” because the poem as it appears in “Collected Poems” is scarcely the verses as Lindsay gave them to him (144). In a letter to Untermeyer, not published until 1977, Lindsay corroborates this. He says he has accepted every one of Untermeyer’s criticisms, “cut the poem by half,” and “thrown out the cumbersome argument” (Letters 156). What this probably entailed was editing out another of the poem’s whole original themes, which Lindsay described to Untermeyer as “the conquest of commercialism by culture” (qtd. in Untermeyer 144). In its final, published version, the poem contains no such allusions.

    The poem makes incisive statements about both Queen Esther and King Ahasuerus, who was probably identical with Persian King Xerxes I, grandson of Persian King Cyrus, the conqueror of Babylon. Many scholars believe the two kings were one and the same man.

    In the second verse of the poem, Lindsay says, “In his veins God Ormadz sought to make a just man of a fool” (149). (Ormadz was a Zoroastrian name for God [Noss 143]). Lindsay knew, from his reading of the Midrash, the ancient body of Jewish legendry, that God rebuked Ahasuerus for boasting ownership of the golden vessels and other treasures pillaged from the Temple in Jerusalem three generations earlier by King Nebuchadnezzar (Ginsberg 3-5). Just as God admonished Nebuchadnezzar for boasting that he had built Babylon single-handedly, without the help of God or man, so He took Ahasuerus down a notch for bragging about “spoiling the Temple hoard,” as Lindsay put it (51). In fact, the Temple treasures were all His possessions and Ahasuerus was only their steward. That Ahasuerus escaped Nebuchadnezzar’s severe punishment—being turned into a beast of the field for seven years with hair like eagles’ feathers and nails like birds’ claws, until he learned humility (Dan. 4:30)—may be thanks to his sensitivities in other matters. He at least spared his Jewish subjects the painful sight of the golden vessels and other Temple treasures by holding his audiences with them in separate palace chambers and served some kosher food items at palace affairs for their benefit (Ginsberg 3-5). These considerations may have earned him God’s forbearance.

    Esther became Queen of Persia by winning a beauty and charm contest held to replace the out-of-favor Queen Vashti. Lindsay believed that, as the King’s new favorite, Esther held a peculiar, almost seductive power over Ahasuerus (Chenetier 156). He says this power radiated in her “glance of steely blue,” and “flashed” from her “eyes of law and Temple prayer” the “while they kissed by candlelight” (50-51). He adds, “The little nation in her soul bloomed in her girl’s prophetic face” (50). Esther, as described by Lindsay, is thus very true to the picture of her given in the biblical Book of Esther, viz., that of a Jewish maiden, schooled in the traditions of her faith, who uses her ingenuity to save her people from the decree of Haman, the evil prime minister of Persia, that the Jews of the realm be annihilated. The way Lindsay puts it is that “the ten commands flashed from Esther’s alabaster crown” and “prophesied against Ahasuerus’s endless armies grim” (50). This is very consistent with the biblical story of Esther because once Ahasuerus had absent-mindedly endorsed Haman’s dastardly plan, he could not go back on his royal word but could only seek to rectify the situation by giving the Jews the arms they needed to defend themselves with against his “endless armies grim.” The Bible says that because the Jews defended themselves so well, many Persians converted to Judaism (Esther 8:17). (To his credit, Lindsay does not use the New Testament term, “for fear of the Jews,” to describe the motivation for this mass conversion of Persians.)

    Lindsay originally included a number of references to the Jewish holiday of Purim, which commemorates the events related in the Book of Esther, in his poem. He deleted these references at Untermeyer’s behest (as he, Lindsay, indicated [qtd. in Untermeyer 144]). This probably explains why the poem makes no mention of Haman or Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, who helped her foil Haman’s plot. Perhaps such references would have been effective to include, or perhaps then the poem would have become as complicated as the byzantine Book of Esther itself, so full of twists and turns. Just the way it is, the poem does succeed, as Lindsay said he intended it to, as a representation of “rude force tamed by quiet beauty” (qtd. in Untermeyer 144).

    In the second to last verse of his poem, Lindsay compares the situation of the Jews in ancient times with that of the modern era. At the time, during the late teens, Britain was poised to wrest control of Palestine from Turkey–which it won at last in the form of a mandate from the League of Nations in 1920. European spheres of influence had been operative in the Holy Land for quite some time preceding World War I. Lindsay says, “Israel, captive then as now, ruled with tomorrow’s rising sun” (51). During the several centuries B.C. and A.D. that Israel was under a benign Persian domination, Jewish life was so relatively trouble-free that it inspired the writing of little literature, besides the happily-ending Book of Esther. It was obviously as true then as it is today that no news is good news.

    No wonder that many historians have chosen to use the expression, “Babylonian Captivity”––originally coined to mean the Jews’ easy captivity in Babylonia, then Persia––to describe the Papacy’s comfortable situation in Avignon in the fourteenth century, when it began its sponsorship of the arts, under the sympathetic French crown (Hoyt 554-462).

    Lindsay was clearly suggesting that Israel’s modern-day “captivity,” or domination, by the British, was likewise a positive development for the world Jewish community. Time has proven him right. Not only did the League of Nations’ decision to give England the Mandate for Palestine later prevent the Holocaust from spreading to the very Land of Israel, but to this day Israel’s legal system is based partly on English law (and partly on Jewish and Ottoman law), and the language and literature of England are very popular subjects for study in Israeli schools and universities. In the novel Exodus, by Leon Uris, British Brigadier Bruce Sutherland, who is a Jew by virtue of his birth to his late, beloved Jewish mother, says, “I sometimes think that it is almost as much a curse being born an Englishman as it is being born a Jew” (Uris 33). Thus Sutherland bears witness to the closeness between the Jewish and English peoples, as he says both are standard-setters for the world and suffer for it. The reader may even find himself wondering, “What next? A joke about an Englishman who dies and goes to heaven and asks God to please choose somebody else next time?”

    Finally, Lindsay may also have had in mind the fact that Jacob Schiff had almost single-handedly bankrolled the Japanese in the Russo-Japanese War to the tune of several hundred million dollars because he was so angry at the Russians for persecuting the Jews. As a result, Israel (the Jewish people) “ruled with the rising sun,” the venerated symbol of Imperial Japan.

    “The Eyes of Queen Esther and How They Conquered King Ahasuerus” had a rather wide publication after it was unveiled in Philadelphia. It was first published in the magazine, “Contemporary Verse,” in April, 1918, as an apostrophe to its publisher, Lindsay’s friend, Charles Wharton Stork, who hosted Lindsay during his stay in Philadelphia for the reading of his poem to the Phi Beta Kappa Society (Chenetier 158). Within the year it appeared in “The Anthology of Magazine Verse for 1918 and Year Book of American Poetry,” edited by William Stanley Braithwaite. Braithwaite was a prolific editor and publisher and a literary lion of early-to-mid-twentieth century America. He called the poem “one of the year’s best works in a magazine” (Camp 874).

    Two years later Lindsay requested and was granted permission to use his own poem in “The Golden Whales of California,” a collection of his own poetry (Cooter). Lindsay’s “Collected Poems,” published in revised form at about the same time, also included “The Eyes of Queen Esther.” The magazine, “Current Opinion,” and “The Maccabean,” a Jewish journal, also printed it. Unfortunately, “Current Opinion” prefaced the poem with a coy comment that fought Lindsay’s major purpose in writing it: “We like the verses, although we think we would like them better without the last stanza” (no p,). The last stanza can only be understood as thanking God for His benevolence to His Chosen People, so apparently, “Current Opinion,” although it liked Lindsay’s cadences, did not like seeing anything good happen to the Jews, as anti-Zionism has sometimes been defined.

    But “The Bookman” and “Contemporary Verse” raved unequivocally about the poem. William Lyon Phelps of “The Bookman” urged collectors to snap up copies of “Contemporary Verse” because it led off with Lindsay’s “remarkable poem” and might therefore have “high bibliographical value” (96). “Contemporary Verse” teased the poem in its March, 1918 issue by saying, “Those who have seen or heard it unite in thinking it the most richly beautiful of all Mr. Lindsay’s poems (no p.). It is regrettable that neither “The Bookman” nor “Contemporary Verse” saw fit to add any analysis or explication to their applause for “The Eyes of Queen Esther,” but then both the “Philadelphia Inquirer” and the “Philadelphia Public Ledger, right on the turf of the poetry reading, failed to give the event any coverage whatsoever, as helpful staffers of the Philadelphia Free Library have determined from a search of their archives.

    Meanwhile, from England at just this time, came some unexpected news which must have come as a boost to Lindsay as he prepared to deliver his poem to the Philadelphia phi bêtes. On Nov. 2, 1917, not quite five weeks before the scheduled poetry reading on Dec. 8, Lord Arthur Balfour, the British Foreign Minister, issued his famous declaration that, “His Majesty’s government views with favor the establishment of a national home in Palestine for the Jewish people.” The Balfour Declaration, as it came to be known, ultimately accomplished very little for Jewish independence, since—as it went on to state—Britain would take this step only if it could do so “without prejudicing the rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine,” i.e., the Arabs. But the declaration still created quite a stir among the public, to say nothing of engendering great euphoria in the Zionist camp before the import of the fine print sank in, and must have served as a ready-made “news peg” for Lindsay’s poetry reading.

    “Gan Eden” is the Hebrew term from which the English “Garden of Eden” is derived. In Judaism “Gan Eden” (or the “Garden of Eden”) is the name for heaven or paradise. Heaven was a common image in Lindsay’s poetry, so perhaps we (to use the royal or editorial “we”) have not gone too far in titling this exercise on Vachel Lindsay’s treatment of Judaism’s great heroine, Queen Esther, as we have.

    Thanks are due to the staff of the Omaha Public Library, who cheerfully processed the author’s numerous interlibrary loan requests, and also to staffers at the Philadelphia Free Library, the University of Virginia, Syracuse University, and the Vachel Lindsay Home State Historic Site in Springfield, Illinois.

    And that is the end of my revised essay about Vachel Lindsay’s poem, “The Eyes of Queen Esther and How They Conquered King Ahasuerus.”

    Works Cited
    Camp, Dennis. The Poetry of Vachel Lindsay. Peoria, Ill., Spoon River Poetry Press, 1986.
    Cooter, Diane. Syracuse University Special Collections Research Center librarian. Letter to the author. April 27, 2006.
    Ginsberg, Louis. Legends of the Jews. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1909.
    Hoyt, Robert S. Europe in the Middle Ages. New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World, 1966.
    Lindsay, Vachel. “The Eyes of Queen Esther and How They Conquered King Ahasuerus.” The Anthology of Magazine Verse for 1918 and Year Book of American Poetry, Ed., William Stanley Braithwaite. Boston: Small, Maynard, 1918.
    Letters of Vachel Lindsay. Ed. Marc Chenetier, New York: Burt Franklin, 1979.
    Noss, John B. Man’s Religions. New York: Macmillan, 1974.
    Phelps, William Lyon, “The Bookman.” June 1918, 396.
    Philadelphia Free Library. Letter to author: May 16, 2006.
    Stork, Charles Wharton. Contemporary Verse. March, July, 1918. No p.
    Untermeyer, Louis. From Another World: New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1939.
    Uris, Leon. Exodus. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co.: 1958.
    “Voices of Living Poets,” Current Opinion,1918.

  12. thomasbrady said,

    May 20, 2015 at 9:13 pm

    David, thank you. Fascinating essay. Nicely done. Vachel Lindsay has a certain muscle-bound quality to his verse which will keep him alive, despite the changing fashion today. Sensuality and heroism seem gone from poetry and here’s a powerful example in “The Eyes of Queen Esther.” Your wide-ranging, historical essay is easy to digest, yet it pushes the poet’s effort towards immortality. Bravo.

    • May 21, 2015 at 3:50 am

      Thank you, Tom. I’m very glad you like it. You know, my overriding purpose in writing this piece, which I may not quite have stated, was simply to make the public aware of this beautiful poem. Publishing this essay on Scarriet will obviously help achieve that end!

      • July 17, 2015 at 12:06 am

        Putting the “O” Back in God
        By David Bittner

        In 1884, an Englishman named Julian Sharman begged the public’s indulgence in publishing “A Cursory History of Swearing” (pun not to be missed). Sharman said he realized there were many to whom his topic “would seem little worthy of attention” and who “would find his little treatise was written in almost an unknown tongue.”

        I sympathize with the long-forgotten Mr. Sharman and his devotion to esoterica. I have seen my own career as a writer evolve in a D’Israeliesque direction. Isaac D’Israeli was an independently wealthy dilettante who spent more than 40 years, between 1791 and 1834, churning out six volumes of Curiosities of Literature, as he called his collections of literary anecdotes and miscellanea. If Isaac’s son, Benjamin, had not become Prime Minister of England (omitting the apostrophe in his name somewhere along the way), D’Israeli’s work would probably be even less well remembered today than it is. Since I have never become rich or begotten a president or prime minister, I will have to be satisfied with leaving behind me a legacy of curiosities which will not even have the distinction of being gathered between the same covers.

        I come back to swearing, begging my readers’ indulgence just as Sharman did. About 30 years ago, shortly after joining the staff of the (now defunct) weekly “Palm Beach Jewish World” newspaper, I became intrigued by the Jewish World’s practice of hyphenating God’s name as “G-d.” I prepared to write an article about the subject. I supposed the practice had something to do with the Third Commandment, which forbids taking God’s name in vain, but found this not to be quite so. Actually, according to some learned rabbis in south Florida, the hyphenation custom was in deference to a Talmudic law forbidding the erasure or other destruction of God’s name.

        According to this law, if the name has been hyphenated, it does not fully exist and no precautions need be taken to preserve it, as by putting it in a “genizah,” a repository for old prayer books and other used ritual items. And actually, the law applies only to God’s name in Hebrew and not to vernacular renditions of it, such as “Gott,” “Dieu,” “Bog” (Slavic), and the word “God,” itself, so that hyphenating the English word “God” represents an over-strict application of the law. French Jews commonly overdo it by writing, “D.”

        William Marder, one of the rabbis I interviewed, told me he would not be surprised if hyphenating God’s name in Anglo-Jewish journalism (or in the writing habits of many Anglophone Jews) also derived from some venerated, old English custom. He thought it might be High Church Anglican practice. I believe Rabbi Marder was closer to the truth than he may have realized. Several years later in graduate school, I found the word “God” abbreviated in similar fashion in Jane Austen and Israel Zangwill, a minor Jewish novelist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

        A few years after that, reading “Great Expectations,” by Charles Dickens, I found it a third time. When casual oaths were included in characters’ speeches in Great Expectations, Austen’s Mansfield Park, and Zangwill’s Children of the Ghetto, the word “God” was rendered as “G—” viz.: “By G—, it’s death” (Magwitch in Great Expectations); “By G—, you are just in time” (Fanny Price’s father in Mansfield Park); and “You won’t get anything cheaper in (Petticoat) Lane, by G—, you won’t” (Uncle Abe in Children of the Ghetto). In researching the present exercise, I struck gold—or should I say “g-ld”! In Tristram Shandy, by Laurence Sterne, I found the word, God, rendered as “G-d,” just as Rabbi Marder imagined: “—It is thought to be no bad oath—and by itself passes very well—G-d damn you.”

        Dickens, Austen, and Sterne could be supposed to have no knowledge of the Talmud or “genizoth,” so Rabbi Marder must have been right: they must have had their own reasons for hyphenating God’s name. Though a Jew, Zangwill, too, was likely following this quaint British literary custom rather than Jewish tradition. Zangwill was well-acquainted with the Jewish law but throughout his life he was noted for flouting it. (At any rate, the “G-double dash” gives him away.

        Though Sharman is the only scholar I could find whose corner of interest intersected with my own (as I will shortly explain), the Oxford English Dictionary was encyclopedic enough to provide a little clue on the matter. Its entry on “God” says: “From a desire to avoid actual use of the sacred name come various distorted or minced pronunciations of the word…and altered and abbreviated forms are also known.” This would support the theory that hyphenation derives from some church custom, and for a reason very much like that given by the Third Commandment.

        What Sharman does, however, is psych out the hyphenation custom. Almost as if in uncanny anticipation of theories of the subconscious shortly to become fashionable, he says:

        “It is not improbable that a great deal of the aversion that is associated with the practice of swearing is due to the custom of those novelists who are in the habit of screening their oaths behind the most transparent of disguises.

        “To denote an expletive by the initial letter followed with a dash is really to attract undue attention to that which the writer acknowledges himself ashamed of printing. The contrivance serves no useful purpose, and, if we are not mistaken, the more robust of modern novelists have eschewed it altogether.”

        It is fairly obvious from the context of Sharman’s discussion that, although he gives no examples of hyphenating expletives, he is dealing with reticence about religious oaths and not obscenities (i.e., “G—” and “d—,”—not initial-lettered Anglo Saxonisms).

        That he was not arguing for the unexpurgated publication of Fanny Hill, or Gammer Gurton’s Needle, but was humorously targeting blasphemy is clear from his discussion in the same chapter of the French phrase, “by the sacred frock of Habakkuk,” associations of the word “bloody” with the Crucifixion, and Ernulfus’s decree of excommunication in Tristram Shandy.

        I would not want to squeeze undue significance from the author’s discussion—heaven forbid that I should “squeeze the Sharman”—but perhaps it is just possible that Dickens, Austen, Zangwill, and Sterne were making subconscious statements about their religious perspectives by hyphenating the word “God.” They may have thus been overcompensating for ambivalence about religion. None of them indeed is known for their piety.

        The very fact that a young woman like Jane Austen could write novels at such an early age brands her as a religious liberal, and I can think of nothing in her novels of a religious bent. There is certainly nothing in the character of Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice that bespeaks Christian ideals. The message of A Christmas Carol is actually quite secular; for all of Marley’s chain-rattling, Scrooge seems less afraid of going to hell than of how he will be remembered on earth. Dickens authority Dennis Walder says, “In Orthodox Christian terms, there is much that is missing (or at best negatively expressed) in Dickens’s work. The role of priests and church is minimal, and certain kinds of chapel-going and sermonizing are represented as ludicrous and reprehensible.” Sterne’s writing of Tristram Shandy marked a time in his life when he lost his taste for church life. His “History of a Good Warm Watch Coat,” a satire on the church, was being banned at the same time by church authorities. And as previously indicated, Zangwill’s stance as a writer and as a Jew was secular, not religious.

        Is it just an accident that unlike some truly religious writers like Charlotte Bronte and Ann Radcliffe, who were known flamboyantly to spell out the word “God” in all capital letters, Austen, Dickens, Zangwill and Sterne may have hyphenated the word out of some conflictedness about religion? It is a theory that fits what few facts I have been able to glean about my little area of interest.

        As a postscript to our journalistic quandary in Palm Beach, we finally modified our policy and stopped hyphenating “God.” Thank heavens, because our old policy frankly caused us stylistic headaches. A story headlined “Help for the Godless” had been a case in point. Now, the first syllable of the word, “godless,” does not refer to Jehovah, but to pagan gods like Jupiter, Thor, and Ba’al. Yet the word had to be capitalized since it was part of a headline. If it looked so much like the “right kind” of “God,” we wondered, should we treat it as such and hyphenate it?

        Or perhaps the solution lay in breaking our capitalization rule and spelling out the word with a small “g.” Then it would look like a Roman-Norse-Canaanite type of god and would be clearly eligible for the “o.” But then some people might criticize us for “inconsistency.” We were at our wit’s end and even considered consulting a Ouija board. Finally we went with our headline rule and spelled out the word, which admittedly still mixed the rules. However, our relief may be imagined shortly thereafter, when we firmly decided simply to “put the ‘o’ back in God” and thus avoid future problems. It was what my Great-aunt Bertha Schiff would have called “murdering the alternative.”


        P.S. That’s no relation to the great banker-philanthropist Jacob Schiff—but I’ll bet that’s just whom my Great-grandfather, Moshe Chesinsky, an immigrant from Warsaw, Poland, had in mind when he changed his name to Morris Schiff! Jacob Schiff died in 1920, and that was just about the same time my family arrived at Ellis Island. I’m sure Aunt Bertha would say, with me, “Don’t I wish!” D.B.

  13. noochinator said,

    July 18, 2015 at 9:26 am

    David, do you ever read Edward Dahlberg? I call his later style “Athens, meet Jerusalem” because of his copious use of Biblical and Greek references….


    • July 18, 2015 at 3:57 pm

      Dear Nooch, I must confess to my ignorance about Dahlberg and all those other writers in his circle. But I liked Updike’s novel, “The Centaur,” very much, because of all of Updike’s classical allusions in it, so yes, I think I’d like to give Dahlberg’s work a try.
      By the way, do you know that there is a bit of Greek mythology in modern-day Israel? In Jaffa harbor, there are some big black rocks peeking up over the waves, and it is said that here was set the story of the Andromeda Rock, from which the hero Perseus rescued Andromeda, who had been chained there by Cepheus. I would have to go and ask our tour guide an ignorant question like “Which rock was the one.” She said, “You may pick any one you like.”
      A little more after lunch, Nooch. D.B.

      • noochinator said,

        July 19, 2015 at 7:21 am

        David: Dahlberg’s Because I Was Flesh is a good place to start — I call it Because My Mother Was Flesh, because the central character of the book is Dahlberg’s mom Lizzie, and he makes her into one of the great literary characters…

        • July 19, 2015 at 1:54 pm

          Well, then, I will look forward to reading “Because I Was Flesh.” I’m sure I can get it through interlibrary loan. Thanks for the tip. David

          • July 22, 2015 at 2:24 am

            Dear Tom and Nooch, Thank you very much for putting all the segments of my essay together (eliminating all the “David Says’s”, that is) and correcting some other little mistakes in punctuation I didn’t even tell you about at first.
            Just now, in going through some replies and comments on Scarriet, I saw that someone (maybe it was one of you two?) said he “really likes poems about God.” Why shouldn’t I oblige by reproducing a short article on the subject that I did for the December 30, 2000 issue of “Jewish Currents”?

            How Odd!

            By David Bittner

            I know of a snappy little quatrain entitled simply, “How Odd,” which has variously been attributed to Hillaire Belloc and Ogden Nash (both anti-Semitic wags of their day), but was actually written by a distinguished British journalist named William Norman Ewer (1885-1977). The eloquent little verse goes as follows: “How odd / Of God / To choose / The Jews.” My father always told me the verse was not really anti-Semitic and actually not uncomplimentary since it at least acknowledged Jewish chosenness.

            I recently decided to research the matter and was able to cull from various resources such information as seemed to confirm my father’s view. First, I discovered the versifier’s identity in a book of quotations what slightly misidentified him as “E.N.” Ewer. This got me nowhere, except to a source that gave his name with the correct initials, “W.N.” Ewer. This in turn led me to other sources that gave his full name and included some interesting biographical data about the man.

            These data suggest the picture of a man with whose views anti-Semitism would seem quite incongruous. Ewer was a leftist—sometimes calling himself a Communist and sometimes calling himself a Socialist—and a pacifist. An expert on foreign affairs, he spent most of his career writing for a liberal newspaper, “The Daily Herald.”

            Known among his peers by the affectionate nickname of “Trilby,” Ewer once said he was too busy to write books but did compose some light verse, including “How Odd,” which one of his associates called the shortest quatrain in the English language.

            Ewer’s publisher, a man named George Lansbury, wrote in his memoirs that during a search once for an editor, he sought a man who, “for the benefit of any anti-Catholic, anti-Jew (sic), or any anti-Bolshevist readers, I may say was an Englishman.” This enlightened pronouncement recalls a classic statement by a black character in Kingsblood Royal, Sinclair Lewis’s famous 1947 novel about civil rights, regarding his preference for the words “Negro” or “colored” over various pejorative terms for black people: “We expect it to take a few more decades before we’re simply called ‘Americans’ or ‘human beings.'” Lansbury also said he learned Republicanism from Benjamin Disraeli, among others, and recalled an occasion when he had been stirred by the remarks of Israel Zangwill during a “Daily Herald” forum.

            “The Dictionary of National Biography” gives the circumstances of the composition of “How Odd.” During the 1920’s, a guest at Ewer’s London club asked Benno Moiseiwitsch, a Jewish musician who was a member of the club, if there was any anti-Semitism in the club. Moiseiwitsch answered, “Only among the Jewish members.” Overhearing the little exchange, Ewer quipped, “How Odd / Of God / To Choose / The Jews.”

            Ewer lived to the ripe old age of 91, dying in 1977. Lansbury recalled him as “one of the best informed men on foreign affairs in Britain, and said he had the constitution of a horse and the capacity for going without food or rest of a camel or other animal noted for endurance.” Ewer also achieved fame for a poem about pacifism entitled “Five Souls,” which ends, “I gave my life for freedom—this I know; / For those who bade me fight had told me so.”

  14. December 22, 2015 at 9:55 am

    Dear Tom, It’s past midnight, and I just reread everything in the post you named, “If Love Should Make Me Greedy and Unkind.” Honestly, Tom, I think I’m my own worst critic. I’m not a sloppy writer. Some people call me a perfectionist. What happened, all of a sudden, to the polite bantering we carried on since July, 2013? Did you just get up on the wrong side of bed that morning and decide to really light into me the way you did? Is that your idea of having what Forster called a “round” or unpredictable character? With Bob Tunicci being the “good cop” who is still polite to make up for the “bad cop,” that is, in this case, you?
    I could go on and on, pointing out what I consider to be some ambitious and successful projects I did in graduate school, such as reading Anne Radcliffe’s three-volume novel, “The Mysteries of Rudolpho,” twice after getting the idea to compare and contrast it with Jane Austen’s “Northanger Abbey.” “Do you think there’s a paper in it?” said my professor after I told him I had finished reading “The Mysteries of Udolpho” the first time. Not only was there a paper in it, but the paper got an “A,” which told me the professor himself had probably not thought of these comparisons and contrasts before. And his written comment on the paper was, “This is a very good essay, correctly and pleasantly written.” (Then he pointed out two minor flaws.)
    In closing,Tom, a friend of mine and former head of the University of Nebraska-Omaha Main Library, said, after reading my article in “The Journal of Religion and Health,” about my disappointments as a new Catholic in the old church she and I both attended: “If people had treated me this way, and I were writing about it, I wouldn’t have been this nice.” I don’t know if Nooch gave you this comment to see. I didn’t find it posted anywhere. But I wrote to Bob: “As for ‘Brady’s bombshell,’ I feel myself identifying with Lady Marchmain’s feeling of betrayal by her son Sebastian’s friend, Charles Ryder, from whom she is able to drag an admission that he, Charles, gave Sebastian money to “quietly soak with” at the bar of a nearby hotel over Christmas. She says, “I don’t understand, then. I simply don’t understand. I don’t see how you could be so nice in so many ways and then do something so wantonly cruel, so callously wicked.” All for now, Tom. Good night. Yours, David Bittner

    • noochinator said,

      December 22, 2015 at 12:04 pm

      Yes, I suppose I am the “good cop” of Scarriet — the ombudsman, or Tom’s bud, man.

      Speaking of interesting topics for papers, I just wrote one for school in which I argued that Goneril, King Lear’s eldest daughter, was actually more of a “feminine ideal” than Cordelia. One of my inspirations was the BBC-TV version of ‘Lear’, directed by Jonathan Miller, in which Goneril was played sympathetically by actress Gillian Burge. The teacher said the paper was entertaining, which I consider the highest possible accolade.

      I took down some of the previous comments you left b/c they contained editing corrections — I thought you would not want those left up.

      If you’d like the Bambi essay put in Scarriet’s comments, feel free to send it to me at my e-mail address, and I’ll put it in complete as one comment, so you won’t have to break it into bits.

      Don’t let Tom worry you, he’s under a lot of stress lately. Can I get you a cup of coffee or a soda before he comes back into the room?

  15. December 22, 2015 at 5:15 pm

    Well, then, Nooch, I agree with your teacher: if you could present the villainess, Goneril, as a sympathetic character, you must really be able to take a sow’s ear and make a silk purse out of it. And I could easily see such a thing as being entertaining. I think you might even say that’s just what Debra Winger, as one of the “Legal Eagles,” did with her “sow’s ear” of an indefensible case–at least made it funny if she couldn’t make it workable–and maybe it even does as a good explanation of Percival Goodman’s cynical rendition of the Shemah prayer on the wall of Temple Emanuel in Davenport! No doubt the Shemah [ “Hear, O, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One”] rang a little hollow in the year 1951.
    But I think I was forgetting that one of Tom’s major purposes in running Scarriet was to present his own work (mostly on various facets of love) and get people’s feedback on it. I think I might like to wait until after the holidays to send you the piece on Bambi. There’s no time constraint, is there? Merry Christmas! Yours, David

  16. thomasbrady said,

    December 23, 2015 at 2:56 pm

    Merry Christmas, David.

    I do recall that in the summer of 2013 I was hospitalized with Lyme disease. I apologize for any lapses on part. I assure you they were not intentional.

    I’m at the mall at the moment, waiting to have my IPad looked at. It has a minor technical issue. Sitting with a Starbucks coffee and using their WiFi watching humanity pass by. So many old people. Life is very short. A small window of youth and then poof. Yea, the mall. It puts things in perspective. The grim faces of ordinary people at the mall.

    God bless us all.

    • December 23, 2015 at 7:30 pm

      Dear Tom,

      I frequently quote that line of Tiny Tim’s, too–or a variant of it.

      I always thought of Lyme Disease as something that only happened to other people.

      Tom, of course you’re forgiven for outbursts brought on by real illness. I wish the “well” population had shown me such consideration when I was much younger. They sure didn’t in college. I still have a lingering case of PTSD from it..

      My aunt Shirley Bittner, the “Hummel heiress” whom I wrote about in my recent piece, used to say, “Life is So short.” (I think she was thinking mostly of her brother-in-law, her sister’s husband, who wouldn’t deign for many years to even meet my uncle, his new Jewish brother-in-law.)

      As for that “small window of youth and then poof,” I think we writers are luckier than lots of other people. So what if all men are mortal, and that includes us! We have our work to survive us, and speak for us still, long after we are gone. Yours, David B.

    • noochinator said,

      December 23, 2015 at 9:20 pm

      The Pennycandystore Beyond the El

      by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

      The Pennycandystore beyond the El
      is where I first
      fell in love
      with unreality
      Jellybeans glowed in the semi-gloom
      of that september afternoon
      A cat upon the counter moved among
      the licorice sticks
      and tootsie rolls
      and Oh Boy Gum

      Outside the leaves were falling as they died

      A wind had blown away the sun

      A girl ran in
      Her hair was rainy
      Her breasts were breathless in the little room

      Outside the leaves were falling
      and they cried
      Too soon! too soon!

      “The Pennycandystore Beyond the El” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti from A Coney Island of the Mind. © New Directions Publishing, 1958

      • maryangeladouglas said,

        December 24, 2015 at 1:20 am


        this is how melting started in the annals
        of the world the unsmiling instructor

        but this is not the beginning she thought
        inside her head where no one could hear
        her yet

        the child quite small at her desk
        on wide ruled paper began to write
        not what the teacher said but

        the history of melting, in colours
        of the flowers that appeared
        in dream spectrums the snow itself

        a spectrum of violets of orchids
        of camellia alphabets no longer cryptic

        and how it feels not to freeze anymore
        to be free of mathematics falsely applied
        to face those that lied to you with

        a flower crowned head
        and to be regally happy
        no longer standing in corners

        punished for enchantment,
        for buttering bread on the wrong side and-
        when you come down to it:

        for withstanding even from a young age

        the soul plucked out by the roots
        for today’s lesson on botany.

        mary angela douglas 21 may 2015

  17. maryangeladouglas said,

    December 23, 2015 at 5:29 pm


    how astonishing, you suddenly feel
    the limitless field of the winter skies;
    coolness; the feeling of infinity, recognized,

    the glaze of light. the quietness
    gilding everything in view.
    the plain bird sings the best

    at least in the fairy tale you
    love most,
    remaining free.

    the raspberry light remembered
    comforts me and deepens
    in the inner skies

    that always defied description.
    the heart is a mirror
    where the

    snow clouds fly
    and White Gold God
    and the Holy Ghost

    are glistening, glittering
    in this my minor
    Christmas music-

    may the Beautiful abide.
    the alibis of angels…
    missing their cue

    at the Church pageants
    by candlelight, rue.
    and the holly berried.

    the snowy endowments
    showing up anyway, the verities,
    wherever you are.

    the watercolour softening
    of the Star
    above the parchment ground

    where the wind blows
    naming old names.

    Who is listening
    for the sound, the heralding
    about to change it all

    you think it is someone else
    but it’s you, that’s singing…

    mary angela douglas 23 december 2015

  18. December 23, 2015 at 8:04 pm

    This message is for Dave Applebaum if he is still following Scarriet. There are some references to Rockford in my most recent article, and I think you would enjoy them. Just go to comment 14 under the heading, “David Bittner said, December 22, 2015at 9:55, a.m.” And click on it! (Oh, yes, begin the search by entering, “David Bittner, Scarriet,” in the search box. Scroll down a little until you see the heading, “If Love Should Make Me Greedy and Unkind,” and click on that! I hope that works!) Yours, David Bittner

  19. maryangeladouglas said,

    December 23, 2015 at 8:06 pm


    I see Hawthorne’s scar in the winter sky:
    the cloud gashed light
    and we will gather this harvest in

    my soul and I yet, if God wills.
    the scar will blend into a Night
    that cannot vary and where

    the summer birds unwarily take flight
    too late descending toward the flowery clime.
    these portents driven in the sound,

    along the strange and rocky coves
    of what has been, pale wreckage! floating
    off the Main; Heart-bound, not Land! and

    scavengers will come who’ll never understand
    a century too late and remonstrate
    and strive so each with each

    to claim a dread treasure.

    but we know it does not avail
    who wait upon the stare of old ghosts;
    that where the stars set, chill

    refractions lash unceasingly
    the haunted prayerless mind-
    and pilgrim blanched,

    the sun oh cannot
    cannot find us
    where we ignore

    Divine glory-
    and take the mantle on ourselves.

    mary angela douglas 12 december 2015

    • December 25, 2015 at 5:05 am

      Dear Tom, Dear Nooch, Dear Mary,

      The more I think about it, the more I have to agree with you that Tom should not have to spend his time looking up some of my obscure references when he’s got to focus on getting the next issue of Scarriet out on time—and since, as you point out, most of these references don’t even have anything to do with Tom or any other poet’s work, anyway. Do you remember my reference to the novelist Edna Ferber (1887-1968)? Early in her career Ferber struck some success with her several volumes of “The Emma McChesney Stories,” all about a traveling saleswoman trying to bring up her son as a single parent. But the novelty of the angle—a woman “drummer”—wore off somewhere between the second and third volumes—and it hit Ferber full in the face when some critic said of the third volume, newly out, “Apparently Edna Ferber is trying to keep Emma McChesney alive with injections of black ink.”

      So, don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. I’m sure I can muster up as much resilience as Edna Ferber. Good luck with your journal. Yours, David Bittner

      • noochinator said,

        December 25, 2015 at 1:41 pm

        I’d love to see a piece on Ferber’s Emma McChesney stories. Is there one in the Bittner Archive at the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm?

        • December 26, 2015 at 8:03 pm

          Nooch, I have Edna Ferber’s two autobiographies in my “Bittner Archive,” and I have just found the several pages in the first, “A Peculiar Treasure” (1939), which deal with the Emma McChesney Stories. I am going to mail them to you in care of Tom at his Salem street address.Sure, I’d be happy to do a piece on them. I’ve just now recalled, sitting here in the computer Lab, that Edna Ferber once met President Thedore Roosevelt , and he complimented Ferber on the Emma McChesney Stories with his customary “Bully!”

          • December 26, 2015 at 8:31 pm

            By the way, I see that on a first reference to “The Mysteries of Udolpho,” in my Dec. 22nd e-mail message to Tom, I cited the title as “The Mysteries of Rudolpho!” The influence of the season, I’m sure, which also shows in an old joke you may or may not know…It seems there was this American couple touring Russia in the days before the Iron Curtain Fell. They had a tour guide named Rudolph. One day Rudolph said, “I think it will rain tomorrow..” The American husband began to dispute the guide’s weather prediction, and his wife admonished him, saying, “Rudolph the Red knows rain, deer.”

            • December 26, 2015 at 8:34 pm

              That last word should be “dear,” of course! Oh, I’m slipping!

              • maryangeladouglas said,

                December 27, 2015 at 3:29 am

                Rudolpho will go down in history anyhow.

                A PRAYER IN WINTER

                I have been partial to Your mother of pearl skies
                I will miss them then
                the day I go

                the way the winds blow suddenly
                never letting you know
                they were coming

                the half blown rose
                the way all flowers surprise
                when they bud

                and you thought, oh you thought
                but it’s still winter, isn’t it?
                not believing your eyes.

                the same way, one day,
                I hope that earth
                will waken from her sad disguise,

                all conflicts passed;
                and unseen woundings.

                then it will be Spring forever, won’t it?
                asked the child
                wrinkling her mother’s dress.

                and she said, Yes…

                mary angela douglas 26 december 2015

          • noochinator said,

            December 27, 2015 at 12:31 pm

            The Emma McChesney stories are way overdue for a revival, but I hate to see you writing a piece for Scarriet without receiving payment. Unfortunately Scarriet is fundless in Gaza: our applications to the Poetry Foundation continue to go unanswered, and our Paypal button has been neglected by the well-endowed….

  20. December 29, 2015 at 6:58 pm

    Nooch: Don’t worry about me not getting paid for my articles. I know that’s the way it works at most of the little magazines, and actually, for my purposes, I prefer it that way. Since about the year 2,000, I’ve been living half on a small grandparents’ trust fund, and half on SSDI, and I don’t want anybody to be able to point a finger at me and say, “welfare scrounger!” I think all the volunteer work and writing I’ve done for about 16 years has to be worth $8000 a year! I’ll get on the Emma McChesney project as soon as I can. Yours, David

  21. thomasbrady said,

    December 30, 2015 at 6:31 pm

    Andrew, I stand corrected. “God helps those who helps themselves” is not in scripture. I didn’t say it was, but my reply above to David did imply so.

    I was watching a video of Richard Dawkins and I imagine he gives you fits. He asks for scientific “evidence” and “mystery and miracles” will never satisfy one like him. I’m somewhere in the middle—happily perplexed by the whole question of science vs. religion.

  22. Anonymous said,

    October 6, 2017 at 7:51 pm

    I Owe It All to Brideshead
    2001: A “Spacey” Odyssey

    By David Bittner

    As I have considered the various influences which led me, a Jew by birth and upbringing (and even now still a Jew by heritage), to join the Catholic Church in 2001, at the tender age of 50, it has been easy for me to pinpoint the fateful moment of my young life that made the big difference. It occurred one day during the first semester of my junior year at the University of Wisconsin. I was in the sub-street-level bowels of University Memorial Library looking for a good book to read as a reward for doing my dreary political science and zoology homework. All of a sudden, as I glanced up, my attention became riveted by a book title consisting of two magical words, Brideshead Revisited. I checked out the medium-sized novel by Evelyn Waugh and took a few days to read it.

    The first thing I found out was that the author of Brideshead Revisited was a man, not a woman, as I had supposed Evelyn Waugh to be when I read The Loved One in my mid-teens. Now, a little maturity had come with a little age, and I found myself charmed by the aristocratic glamour of Brideshead Revisited, as seen so well especially in the book’s many scenes of Catholic ritual. These scenes—including praying the rosary, making confession, taking communion, making the sign of the cross, and receiving the last sacrament—fairly drip with dramaturgy. I would say that Mr. Samgrass, with his fondness for the “picturesque” trappings of Catholicism, such as the black lace mantillas worn by Catholic women at worship, very well typifies the “cardiac Catholic” (whom we might consider a cousin to the “cafeteria Catholic”). I would include myself in either group.

    Science and Inconsistency do not disturb the “cardiac Catholic” any more than they disturb the “cardiac Jew” who oohs and ahs as he watches Charlton Heston lead the Israelites through the parted waters of the Red Sea in The Ten Commandments. I think both groups use their imagination, content, as Sebastian Flyte says he is, to “believe things because they’re lovely.” As it was similarly said about the wavering French philosopher Voltaire, by the English poet William Cowper (1731-1800), “The Scripture was his jest-book, whence he drew / Bon mots to gall the Christian and the Jew. An infidel in health, but what when sick? / Oh—then a text would touch him at the quick (Ringo 102).” Staying in a rhyming mode, I could describe this “on and off” kind of religiosity another way, using two words that Brideshead groupies should find very familiar. What the socially aspiring Rex Mottram admiringly calls “posh,” [the theatricality of European Catholicism], Charles Ryder calls, along with modern art, “bosh.” (Somerset Maugham called it “tosh!”—leaving me just to say, “Gosh!”)

    It would be outside the scope of this brief exercise to explain how I tried to make the sacraments understandable to myself—that is, before just accepting them as metaphors and mysteries. But I will give you one example. Having been reminded once years ago, after I’d just lost a job, that “not all firings are equal,” I told myself now that maybe not all cannibalism was equal. The hard-core Donner Pass sort of cannibalism and that practiced in the disgusting denouement of the 1991 feature film, Fried Green Tomatoes, in which the bad guys are surreptitiously boiled in a kettle at a small town bar-be-que, is a far cry from the Eucharist. Blood and body parts were just common symbols and images in biblical times, and we of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have simply inherited them. Besides, many might bridle at this, but I do not think Jesus offered man his body and blood literally, anyway. I think maybe this is where the “laundering” operation known as transubstantiation comes in.

    I now dare to introduce another voice into the discussion, that of an elderly retired priest of my acquaintance. Right on the pulpit at morning mass about a year ago, I heard him raise the very same question I have raised with quite a few other Catholic authorities, but have never received an answer to. In fact, I was beginning to think that maybe I was the only person in the world who had ever noticed the discrepancy in question. To wit: Why does the Bible take the trouble to give both Mary and Joseph long lineages from King David, when all Jesus needs to be the Messiah when he grows up is Davidic descent from his mother, Mary, and when the Davidic descent of his “earthly” or foster father, Joseph, doesn’t count for anything under the same Jewish law of matrilineal descent. This old priest’s exasperated answer to the question was: “Go figure.” Fr. V., as I’ll call him, is a very courtly old guy whose accent reminds me of Lawrence Welk’s.

    I believe my own exposure as a schoolboy to TV specials like Give Us Barabbas, and Green Pastures, and movies like A Man Called Peter and Going My Way, and all the Christmas carols I learned in public school, prepared me, when I read Brideshead Revisited, to be impacted by all the sacramental scenes. Who could fail to be touched by Lord Marchmain’s deathbed reaffirmation of faith, expressed by wordlessly crossing himself, after living the last 25 years of his life as a “scoffer”(336). Sir Laurence Olivier played the scene beautifully. Originally offered the part of either Lord Marchmain or Mr. Ryder Senior, Olivier chose Lord Marchmain because he could never resist a good deathbed scene. I never get tired of reading Charles Ryder’s description of this dying gesture of Lord Marchmain: “His hand moved slowly down his breast, then to his shoulder, and Lord Marchmain made the sign of the cross.” From across the Atlantic Ocean, you could hear the proverbial pin drop.

    Today, as I analyze the impact of those two “magical words,” Brideshead Revisited, I also see their appeal to my interest in a certain theme of popular culture, viz., the wistful yearning of many people to “go home again,” to return to the scenes of their childhood and youth. Of course Thomas Wolfe, in his novel, You Can’t Go Home Again, argued that any such return was hardly possible. After living for a while in Germany and getting to know the German people, Wolfe’s hero, George Webber, does return to his hometown of “Libya Hill,” probably somewhere in the southern part of The United Shades of America. [Why not use this new and clever pun on the name of our diverse country?] But George’s welcome home by his neighbors and cronies is not very warm. They have not taken very well to some negative journalism George wrote about Libya Hill before he left for Europe. Not even the rise of Nazism has been bad enough to make Libya Hill look good.

    I, for one, can readily identify with this theme of Brideshead Revisited. I have frequent dreams of going back to live in the house I was raised in from age 3 to 10. In these dreams I sometimes tell myself, “Now, this time it’s not just a dream. It’s for real!” And of course it never is. So when I saw that word, “Revisited,” in Waugh’s title, I suspected that this book would concern someone’s nostalgic return to the scene of his youth, and I hoped it would be a successful return. And of course that’s just what it was! Charles Ryder gets the unexpected chance, when his regiment happens to make camp in the vicinity of Brideshead Castle, to prowl around the house and grounds and relive 20-year-old memories of the summer of 1923, when his good friend, Sebastian Flyte, treated him to a brief, belated spell of something poor Charles had never known—a happy childhood, including a two-week holiday in Venice. Charles has a reunion with two old family retainers, Nanny Hawkins and Effie, the housemaid, and is flooded by warm memories of all his other old friends, Lord and Lady Marchmain and Sebastian and Julia, and Cordelia and Bridey, and the whole “Brideshead Set.” Charles’s good mood is infectious. As Charles and Hooper drive away in their jeep, Hooper tells Charles, “You’re looking unusually cheerful today.”

    Now, I believe it may be fairly hopeless, as Wolfe suggests it is, to actually resume living in a beloved old home later in life. But I think Brideshead Revisited proves this can be done on a minor scale. Another example of the satisfaction that “one last look” can bring is provided by the 1985 feature film, The Trip to Bountiful, starring Geraldine Page. Page plays “Carrie Watts,” an elderly Houston, Texas woman who gives the slip to her custodial son and daughter-in-law and takes a long Greyhound bus trip to “Bountiful,” her tiny, old Texas hometown on the Gulf of Mexico. Carrie finds that since her last visit to Bountiful 20 years earlier, Bountiful has become even more of a ghost town than ever. It is full of uninhabited, run-down, old frame houses, most with white paint peeling off. But now, in an hour’s time or less, she has seen what she came to see, and she is satisfied. She is ready to return to Houston with her son and daughter-in-law, who have just caught up with her. Carrie has gone home again!

    In my 35-year career as a journalist, I once interviewed a nationally-known TV personality (who shall remain nameless, of course). She told me, sadly, during the course of our interview, that her plans to move into her parents’ old home in Hollywood, where she had been raised, fell through because of unfavorable conditions in the real estate market at the time. I think that’s a really heartbreaking example of not being able to go home again, so I will close with a story that starts sadly, but gets much better.

    Picking grapes in some vineyards in Alsace, in my early 20s, I met an elderly Jewish couple, M. and Mme. Pierre Lehman, in the village of Itterswiller, Bas-Rhin. Here the young married couple, M. and Mme. Edmond Kobloth, who owned the far-flung vineyards, lived in a three-story, half-timbered house and had their business office; and here the Lehmans owned and operated a little grocery store. My French is not fluent, so I’m not sure what the Lehmans tried to tell me once. It was either that they were related to the Depression-era governor of New York, Herbert Lehman, or that they just knew of him. They also told me about the Holocaust period in Alsace, and how they survived. M. Lehman fought in the French army before the Fall of France in 1940. The Germans took him prisoner and placed him in one of their P.O.W. camps. Now, as Cordelia Flyte says to Charles Ryder about Sebastian’s German companion, Kurt, and Greece’s humanizing influence on Kurt: “You know how Germans sometimes seem to discover a sense of decency when they get to a classical country (306).” Well, somewhat fulfilling these same expectations of them, the Germans usually respected the Geneva convention when it came to the way they treated captured Jewish Allied soldiers. Generally the Wehrmacht—the regular standing German army, not the dreaded S.S.—spared the lives of these Jewish soldiers from America, Canada, France, England, etc. M. Lehman said that Jewish P.O.W.s were, however, kept separate from non-Jewish French P.O.W.’s, and that their labor in the rock quarries was twice as hard. Mme. Lehman survived by going into hiding in southern France. I asked the couple why they returned to Itterswiller after the war, instead of joining the flow of most surviving Alsatian Jews to Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace. Mme. Lehman just laughed and said, “Because we wouldn’t have known how to live anywhere else!” Then she added, I think as an apostrophe to some kind neighbors who looked after the Lehmans’ local interests during their exile: “Et nous habitons dans la meme maison qu-avant la guerre, dans la meme maison!”—“and we live in the same house as before the war , the same house!” Could the matter be any clearer? The Lehmans had gone home again!

    The author, Mr. Bittner, has asked to add the following:

    I regret that in my discussion of Charles Ryder’s successful return to Brideshead, I failed to include the return of Lord Marchmain, himself! True, Lord Marchmain’s first purpose in returning to his old home was to have a safe place to wait out the war, but practicality is mixed with sentimentality, in Lord Marchmain’s case, too. Had he stayed behind in London, without his three fervently Catholic children, and the pervasive aura of his late wife, Lady Marchmain, to inspire him, he would never have made such a “beautiful death.”

    The second mistake I made was in not fully explaining the difference between cannibalism and the Eucharist. As I said in my article, we all have known of people who say they “hunger” or “thirst” for God. These are fairly common figures of speech. From such spiritual hunger or thirst, I think it’s only a short leap to eating the Precious Body and drinking the Precious Blood. I think we do these things today because we just follow “hunger” and “thirst” for God to their logical extremes.

    Finally, European missionaries in Central Africa in the 18th,19th and 20th centuries knew what they were doing when they refused the meat of monkeys that was offered to them by their native African hosts. Eating the meat of monkeys just came too close to cannibalism for them, yet the Eucharist they distributed to the natives and took themselves was permissible. Now, if these educated missionaries saw the difference between real meat that made a man a cannibal and a wafer that was symbolic of the body of Jesus, that ought to prove that such line-drawing is a civilized pursuit of a high culture.

    • noochinator said,

      October 6, 2017 at 11:12 pm

      David, you’re back! I couldn’t be more pleased!

  23. David Bittner said,

    October 8, 2017 at 12:59 am

    Thank you, Nooch. It feels very good to be back. Hi to Tom, of course. Tell him I do intend to use Scarriet as less of a “free-for-all” from now on. It was very important to me to get this article written and published. I’ll bet I must have worked on it for a few months. Yours, David

    • noochinator said,

      October 8, 2017 at 10:50 am

      Thank you for a lovely piece that will stay with me—I’m yet another who often thinks about moving back to my childhood home. Begging forgiveness for my greediness, is there any chance of a piece on Edna Ferber’s Emma McChesney stories?

  24. David Bittner said,

    October 11, 2017 at 2:35 pm

    Later on today, Nooch, I’ll e-mail you an informal list of footnotes that I would say may be really necessary for readers. It shouldn’t amount to more than several. I’m just too old and tired to go back through the whole essay and insert footnotes in every little place where they may technically be called for but may also drive me nuts to put them in.

    I promise to consider writing a piece on the Emma McChesney stories. I just read about them on the Internet and apparently some people find them still a hoot—a good century after they were written! Yours, David

    • noochinator said,

      October 11, 2017 at 3:08 pm

      Sure thing, I’ll do my best to put the footnotes in, and if they’re not done to your liking, just let me know!

  25. David Bittner said,

    October 12, 2017 at 1:21 am

    Nooch, I’m afraid tonight’s “deadline” that I set for writing my “several footnotes” was over-optimistic. But I’ll get them done as soon as I can. David

    • David Bittner said,

      October 14, 2017 at 7:13 am

      Nooch: Here goes. It’s Friday night at 11:15, and I have the computer lab all to myself.

      So, first of all, I never realized that most, if not all, Scarrieteers never use footnotes! So it’s up to you. I’d already put in at least half of the internal footnotes/page references, so I’ll give you the rest now in case you want to break with tradition and use them all. Otherwise you can just delete them all.

      So, here the rest are.

      Second paragraph, the word “picturesque” is taken from p. 23 of the old Little, Brown, And Company edition of Brideshead Revisited.

      Third paragraph, The quote about Voltaire by William Cowper, the English poet, is taken from p. 102 of “Nobody Said It Better,”
      Miriam Ringo’s dictionary of quotes about famous people by other famous people. (Rand McNally 1980)

      Also in third paragraph, the rhyming sequence of posh-bosh-tosh-gosh was a lucky thing to have fall into my lap. But I’m afraid the sequence of four “-osh” words might be ruined by inserting a page reference for each of first three rhyming words. By the way, the Maugham quote about religion/Scripture just being “tosh,” is taken from, or near, the conclusion of Maugham: A Biography by Ted Morgan. Would you have a way of getting the page reference?

      Also in third graf: the whole phrase spoken by Sebastian, on p. 96, is “to believe things because they’re lovely ideas.” The first time I left off the word, “ideas.”

      Page 2, first full graf—Can we italicize “United Shades of America”? And then, Nooch, do you think an explanation of the phrase—in just a few words—would be a good idea? I can’t think of one!

      Also on p. 2. I think the correct expression is “the regular standing German army.” I used the word “ordinary,” mistakenly.

      • David Bittner said,

        October 14, 2017 at 2:06 pm

        It’s Saturday morning, Oct. 14, and I still have one sentence to add to the end of the 2nd graf, for the sake of a better transition. Will do this later on when the computer lab is clear again. D.B.

      • noochinator said,

        October 15, 2017 at 9:56 am

        OK, I will work on it within the next few days. As far as “United Shades” goes, maybe like in “throwing shade”?

        • David Bittner said,

          October 16, 2017 at 7:45 am

          I’m glad to see you’re still with me, Nooch.. I’ll try to make these correx short and sweet.

          No. 1. In graf 3, I gave the wrong name of the English poet who quipped about Voltaire. He was not “Thomas Cowpers,” but William Cowper. His dates of birth and death are correct.

          No. 2. At end of third graf, the page reference for “posh,” is 176. For “bosh,” meaning modern art, page reference is 152. For “bosh,” meaning religion, page reference is 290.

          Second graf should end like this: (whom we might consider a cousin to the “cafeteria Catholic,” or to the “happy hypocrite,” the sort of Catholic represented by the English–Catholic author Graham Greene. In his novel, Travels With My Aunt, Greene has his formidable character, “Mr. Visconti,” declare, “Skepticism is inbred in the Catholic.” Yes, this wise old church of ours is truly universal!

          • David Bittner said,

            October 16, 2017 at 7:54 am

            P.S.I thought Shades of America might mean variation of skin color among our 300,000,000.ctizens. “Good neighbors come in all colors.”

            • David Bittner said,

              October 17, 2017 at 4:47 am

              Nooch! I just got a brainstorm! Why not just leave all the quotes and e-mail messages just the way they are, beginning with your October 6, 2017 message welcoming me back to Scarriet. I think our followers would find these back-and-forth questions-and-answers and comments very revealing of the editing process and how editors have to be just as creative and careful as authors.
              Besides, I’m sure you must have plenty to do around the office without having to delicately and intricately insert footnotes/interior references into texts like mine above. Yours, D.B.

              • noochinator said,

                October 17, 2017 at 7:57 pm

                Sounds good to me, thank you!

            • noochinator said,

              February 23, 2018 at 10:50 pm

              Here’s a link to Dick Grover singing “Good Neighbors Come in All Colors”:


      • noochinator said,

        February 23, 2018 at 10:45 pm

        David, Wikipedia tells me that Ted Morgan is still alive (born 1932!).


  26. David Bittner said,

    December 4, 2017 at 6:09 pm

    Dear Nooch,and Tom, Did you find my latest rewrite? Just ignore it then, please. A rule of thumb in journalism is that articles usually are improved by rewriting, but that there comes a time when you have to say enough is enough! I think the way it is here, with the October 6, 2017 draft, headlined, “I Owe It All to Brideshead. Or: 2001: A ‘Spacey’ Odyssey’,’ followed by the conversation between Nooch and myself, is just that: enough! D.B.

    • noochinator said,

      December 4, 2017 at 11:01 pm

      Great, I’m a big fan of laissez-faire! As Duchamp is reputed to have said when his La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même (The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even) was cracked in transport, “Now it is perfect.”

      • David Bittner said,

        December 16, 2017 at 12:27 am

        Nooch: Could you just add this simple statement to the end of the second paragraph that ends in the phrase, “a cousin to the cafeteria Catholic).” That simple statement, which is only 7 words long, is as follows:….

        I would include myself in either group.

  27. David Bittner said,

    December 16, 2017 at 12:31 am

    By the way, what would you think of this as a sardonic statement for a future article about religion. I believe that religion is one of man’s sublimest creations.

  28. December 16, 2017 at 2:02 am

    “All religion, my friend, is evolved out of fraud, fear, greed, imagination and poetry.”

    – Edgar Allan Poe

  29. David Bittner said,

    December 16, 2017 at 7:55 pm

    Nooch: Thanks for making the change for me. It was just the little transitional device that was needed there. And since you and Gary both liked my first sardonic statement about religion, here’s another one you may enjoy. “I think the theological implications of atheism are staggering.” Might be spoken by any atheist. And I think Tom would go for it, but maybe not Andrew? Is he conservative?

    • noochinator said,

      December 17, 2017 at 11:07 am

      Far be it from me to label Drew,
      Though “takes no prisoners” feels to be true!

  30. December 17, 2017 at 4:52 pm


    How reconcile this paradox,
    this Creator who loves creation,
    with the brutality and blood
    that makes it turn,
    the endless flow of life,
    forms granted their existence
    by the eating of each other,
    the bewildered, starving young
    still awaiting their dead mother?

    How resolve this lack of compassion,
    this cruelly designed summation,
    by the One who loves us all,
    those lost to fire and fang and flood
    or blown from nests in storms?

    We will reason, for we are human,
    and create our fine religion
    which our reason then deforms.

    Copyright 2008 – HARDWOOD: 77 Poems, Gary B. Fitzgerald

    • noochinator said,

      December 18, 2017 at 2:00 pm

      Although I’m not Domina Holy Ghost, I’ve played Her in dreams, and I approve this message.

    • thomasbrady said,

      December 18, 2017 at 10:25 pm

      To reconcile a paradox, add a third.
      If the interaction of two seems absurd,
      God who loves Creation, and Creation, bad—
      If God is God, why is everything sad?
      Obviously something else is there:
      God, Creation, and…what? Think. Dare.

      • December 18, 2017 at 11:21 pm

        I would refer you to the Epicurean Dilemma.

      • noochinator said,

        December 19, 2017 at 1:10 am

        The decision, the choice, not to cause ruination,
        Despite death delivering, to all, devastation.

  31. David Bittner said,

    June 18, 2018 at 11:00 am

    Will the Right John Osborne Please Stand Up!

    By David Bittner

    I was surfing the Web recently when I thought of looking up Wikipedia’s entry on Brideshead Revisited. Now, I know some people make fun of me for having an “obsession” with Brideshead Revisited. It is, I admit, my “fave” among novels. But couldn’t we say the “Book People” in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 have a devotion on the same order? And we don’t call that an obsession. I have often thought that if I were cast as one of the Book People in Fahrenheit 451, I would be pleased to represent Waugh’s magnum opus, Brideshead Revisited. And I consider myself lucky that out of so many possible choices, Brideshead Revisited, this favorite novel of mine since college, was selected for such meticulous treatment by television, utterly faithful to the novel. (I also applaud BBC’s 1983 production of Jane Eyre, starring Zelah Clarke as Jane and Timothy Dalton as Mr. Rochester, for its faithfulness to Charlotte Brontë.) And maybe, now that I think of it, I have found even more of a kindred spirit than ever in my political hero, Leon Blum (1872-1950), the French premier who was also a noted litterateur. In 1899, in a review of Jane Austen’s novel, Mansfield Park, Blum wrote, ”There are few books in the world that I should be as pleased to have written myself.” Now there was a man admitting to some literary favoritism!

    At any rate, what should I discover in Wikipedia’s 10-page entry on Brideshead Revisiteddivided into a dozen subtopics—but a slightly ludicrous situation. One of the subtopics, entitled, “Charles and Sebastian’s Relationship,” mentioned the spirited exchange of views that Prof. John W. Osborne of Rutgers University, and I, David Bittner, then a graduate student at Florida Atlantic University, held in the “Evelyn Waugh Newsletter and Studies” (EWS) between 1987 and 1990. When I clicked on my own name, given along with Osborne’s name as those of the two debating scholars, this brought up nothing on my computer screen. I was not surprised. I spent most of my 35-year career in journalism in the Jewish field. This never resulted in much name recognition. (Now, David Bittner, the 40-year-old Swiss biologist and expert on the behavior of bears, and David Bittner, the recently deceased chairman of the Florida Republican Party, both did win some note on the Web. And I couldn’t help wondering if this David Bittner, the politician, was just some spam dreamt up by Internet mischief makers. There were three areas or points on which this other David Bittner and I just too uncannily skewed or differed. I lived and worked in West Palm Beach, Florida for 16 years (from 1984-2000), writing a lot about politics; I am a life-long Democrat; and I am 5′ 5″ (no snickers, please), to his listed height of 6′ 5″!) (Even if he was real and so tall, I’ll bet I’m better-looking! In high school the girls said I was cute !)

    By contrast, when I clicked on the name “John Osborne,”which was highlighted in blue, unlike my name, which was left plain—this brought up an abundance of “name recognition!” Now, on my computer screen, there appeared a list of 16 “John Osbornes,” followed by the word, “disambiguation.” These men, all with the same given name and surname, some with a middle name or initial or a title— included Englishmen, Americans, Canadians, and Australians, men who flourished in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, men who came from various walks of life. They included journalists, playwrights, novelists, politicians, a radio broadcaster, a soccer star, an American sailor of the late 1800’s who was among the first recipients of the Medal of Honor, and the victim of one of the last duckings for witchcraft in England. This list made me think of the helter-skelter card-game, “52 pick-up,” where you can’t go wrong by just going “splat” with your whole deck, and of a gimmick that I have seen used before on the Miss America Beauty Pageant. The emcee begins, as if he is some kind of clairvoyant, by promising the television audience a glimpse of the young lady who will be crowned the new Miss America at evening’s end. Then the audience is shown a montage of pictures of each contestant, one superimposed on the next. It looks like a human pinwheel. For a moment you get to “see” the winning contestant two hours before she is selected and crowned. This use of trick photography and double entendre to “warm up” the audience is all part of the fun.

    (Gimmicks like this can also be used in the service of much more serious matters. Take, for instance, the late Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s sly way of helping a young friend who was groaning under the burden of his problems. Peale promised to take the young man to a place where people had no problems. So the boy—expecting what? Heaven? the Garden of Eden? Oz? Never-Never Land?—allowed Peale to guide him through Forest Lawn Cemetery. And here, amid the mausoleums, with a sweeping gesture of his arm, Peale told his young friend, “You see all these people here? None of them have any problems.”)

    But now, to get back to the matter at hand…the “disambiguation” of 16 John Osbornes is not as simple as it may seem. First, a deceptively simple process of elimination may be made. How long would it take most people to figure out the eminent suitability of choosing world-class British playwright, John James Osborne (1929-1994), to head the list of 16 “John Osbornes?” This list, after all, was not arranged in any discernable order, such as chronological or (of course) alphabetical. John James Osborne heads the list simply because he is the most prominent man on it. He had been one of the well-known “angry young men” of post-war Britain who sought to abolish the country’s class system, including the monarchy, and to bring socialism to Britain. He was the author of the famous Look Back in Anger (1957), a so-called “realist” play about the personal lives of working-class Englishmen, that would make the allegedly “escapist” drama of George Bernard Shaw, Gilbert and Sullivan, James M. Barrie and Oscar Wilde, seem tame. Look Back in Anger, along with the novel, Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis, and the novel, Room at the Top, by John Braine, are considered to be the three key literary works which most influenced social and political thought in the Britain of their day.

    But this prominently listed John James Osborne is not the man we want. In fact, given his leftist politics, his view of “Brideshead” probably would have dove-tailed quite well with Hooper’s simply-stated view, viz., “It doesn’t seem to make any sense—one family in a place this size? What’s the use of it?” (Maybe John James Osborne would have tossed in a couple of 50-cent words like “decadent” and “disgusting.’) Also, from the fact that Sir Laurence Olivier (who, of course, became Lord Marchmain of the airwaves) was “dismissive” of Look Back in Anger as “unpatriotic” and “bad theater,” it is probably a pretty safe bet that John James Osborne was “dismissive” of Brideshead Revisited as “imperialist” and “maudlin.”

    As previously indicated, Rutgers University history Prof. John W. Osborne (now Prof. Emeritus)—who is also remembered for debating the question of Charles Ryder’s conversion with the late Waugh authority, U.S.C. English Prof. Donald Greene in “EWS”—was the man I debated in the “Evelyn Waugh Newsletter” 30 years ago. What ought to cinch the correctness of this I.D. for the sake of any who remain unconvinced is Note #7 at the end of Wikipedia’s article about Brideshead Revisited. This Note #7 cites Prof. David Leon Higdon’s article that blasted John W. Osborne and me for our alleged “homophobia.” I think Osborne would probably accept that word as a good description of his stance on the “gay” issue, but my comments and jokes were just intended to be tongue-in-cheek, and not far-removed from the humor found in movies like “The Birdcage” and some of Rock Hudson’s work. Actually, I find a lot of gay men and women rather dashing figures—often good-looking, well-dressed, and cultivated. But that’s all slightly besides the point, which is that Higdon’s article correctly identified “Osborne” as “John W. Osborne,” getting the crucial middle initial right.

    And, believe it or not, there was yet a third “John Osborne,” no. 10 on our list of 16, who also could easily have led readers down the primrose path. He was American, not British, but let’s call him “The Third Man,” anyway. This third “John Osborne”—John F. Osborne (1907-1981)—was an editor for Time-Life and The New Republic. He wrote an essay about Evelyn Waugh, published in the December 1966 issue of The Atlantic. The essay was entitled, “Evelyn Waugh Faces Life and Vice Versa” and made much of the fact that Waugh, before he died earlier that year, had not approved the article for publication. Asked politely for his guidance, Waugh would not even give his permission! (Dr. Paul Doyle, founder of the “Evelyn Waugh Newsletter,” told me several times over the 20 years I knew him, that when he founded the Newsletter, Waugh was still living, and he considered sending Waugh a friendly note about it. But Dr. Doyle finally decided not to, fearing that all he would get back from Waugh, if anything, would be a characteristic vituperative reply.) Now, it is very tempting and reasonable to expect that a critic who writes about a major figure in politics or the arts should return to his subject, many years later, in a specialty publication devoted to the life and work of that figure. But, as far as I have been able to tell, John F. Osborne never contributed to the “Evelyn Waugh Newsletter” during the 16 years when the Newsletter’s existence snd his own life overlapped. So, my simple point is that John W., John J., and John F., et al., are not easily told apart, even when supposedly “disambiguated.” So as for Wikipedia’s attempt to “untangle” all the 16 John Osbornes, confident that this would narrow the field down to the John Osborne “of interest,” I think you would have to say this “attempt” had about as much efficiency as the aforementioned emcee’s sneak preview of the new Miss America had “teeth.”

    But I have been advised that the process of editing and making corrections in Wikipedia is very complicated. I readily believed this after having to walk on egg-shells, myself, to get two long autobiographical essays published in a certain medical journal, six months apart, in 2010. I think maybe we just ought to feel flattered, and leave it at that, that a major 20th century literary figure like John James Osborne should have been believable as a follower of America’s own little Waugh newsletter! I suppose I feel much the same way about Prof. Higdon singling me out in ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature, for my thoughts—which he didn’t like—about Sebastian Flyte and Charles Ryder’s relationship. Higdon said, in this article, entitled, “Gay Sebastian and Cheerful Charles: Homoeroticism in Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited,” “Bittner’s essays will never be among the ‘essential’ articles on Waugh.” Yet, Higdon continued, my essays had some value as a “representative skirmish in a much larger and more important sexual war being fought as entrenched heterosexuality strives to maintain its hegemony over important twentieth century works” (Higdon 78-79).

    I can’t guess how Higdon’s criticism may have made John W. Osborne feel, but if Prof. Higdon was trying to get my goat, he missed by a mile. I just felt flattered that my middlebrow, pseudo-intellectual drivel should be mentioned in the same breath as the “essential” articles on Waugh! And I think that probably now would be as good a time as any to bow before another of Higdon’s major criticisms of me, namely, that I had not placed proper emphasis on the Operation of Divine Grace, so important to Brideshead Revisited, in my two essays. I agree. God moves in history, and I had failed to see the forest for the trees. So, on this score, I have to say, “Touché.” Besides, it so happens that at this time of my life, as I “push” 70, I see such great synchronicity in my life—as if it were a regular Chinese nest of boxes.


    • June 18, 2018 at 4:29 pm

      Don’t forget John “Ozzie” Osbourne. Dude bit off the head of a chicken on stage.
      You may be thinking, “wasn’t it a bat?” Nay, you’re thinking of Vincent Damon Furnier, aka Alice Cooper. “Billion Dollar Baby” tour, c.1973. Coop took 7 rabies shots in the stomach to pull off that stunt.

  32. September 17, 2019 at 9:13 pm


  33. noochinator said,

    September 21, 2019 at 10:15 am

    Bittner!!!! Test a success!

  34. September 29, 2019 at 1:29 am

    Bob, would you like to post my mom’s bio on Scarriet? Let me know, and I can ask “our Gal Friday,” Kiley Smolczyk, to scan it, or I can always key-stroke it myself. Yours, David

    • noochinator said,

      September 29, 2019 at 4:08 pm

      Hi David— Thomas Brady makes all the editorial decisions, I’m just kind of an admin gofer. If you e-mail me about it, I’ll forward it to Brady. Glad to you see you back commenting at the ‘riet!

  35. September 30, 2019 at 2:19 am

    Tom and Bob, I’m writing to ask Bob, to ask Tom, on my behalf, if it’s okay for me to post a eulogy/obituary of my mother on Scarriet. She died August 22, 2018, and at that time I was only able to write a “mini-eulogy” to circulate among friends and family.
    I just happened to find out that it was William Cowper, the eighteenth-century English poet whose name I gave incorrectly as “Thomas Cowpers” in my recent articles for Scarriet and Evelyn Waugh Studies, concerning my last thoughts on “Brideshead Revisited, who was mostly responsible for the spread of that catch-phrase, “God helps those who help themselves.” Seems that he borrowed it from Benjamin Franklin and turned it into, “God works in mysterious ways.” (And who knows if Benjamin Franklin got it from somewhere?

    • noochinator said,

      September 30, 2019 at 2:29 pm

      Dear David, I’m sorry about your mom’s passing. You could certainly post the obituary at Scarriet in the comments section of any post.

      • September 30, 2019 at 6:42 pm

        Thanks for the green light! I’ll get to the eulogy after packing up some papers to send to Florida Atlantic University or Brandeis University Archives. David

        • noochinator said,

          October 1, 2019 at 10:12 am

          Great, I’m looking forward to reading it. I have on my refrigerator the list of ten novels you recommended.

  36. noochinator said,

    October 1, 2019 at 11:42 pm

    I’d like Tom to do a column on Greta Thunberg—or should I say Veruca Salt:

  37. noochinator said,

    November 6, 2019 at 10:44 am

    Phyllis Marta Bittner — 1926-2018
    by David Bittner

    Author’s Note: It has been a little more than a year since my mother died. At that time I wrote a “mini-eulogy” of her to circulate among family and friends. Now I have written a comprehensive eulogy-obituary of Mom to post on Scarriet. I have the editor’s permission to write this tribute.

    “Well,” says Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katherine Hepburn) in The Lion in Winter, “what family doesn’t have its ups and downs?” My 12th grade English teacher called that short speech of Eleanor’s the “bad line” of the movie. As unimaginative and as glaring an understatement as the line may have been, though, it was certainly descriptive of our little family, too, an ocean and seven centuries away.

    Yet, though my parents fought frequently, I know they still always loved each other—even thriving on argument, as Dad once explained to me, like the “Bickersons” of radio soap opera fame.

    I remember once when Mom chastised Dad for going out on a cold, snowy day to buy the Sunday New York Times just to impress company that would be coming over in the afternoon. Later, when I questioned Mom about this, she said, “Oh, did you think I really meant that? Your father would have gone out for the Times anyway.”

    My parents’ style of bantering reminds me of the popular 1946 novel, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, by Eric Hodgins. In the 1948 movie version, starring Cary Grant and Myrna Loy as Mr. and Mrs. James Blandings, Loy dismisses Grant’s silly suspicions that she, Loy, seems too chummy with an old college flame (Melvyn Douglas) who has now become just a family friend. “In college I was in love with a different man every week,” Loy tells Grant, thus quashing any idea her husband, Jim, may have that what just looked like “love” 20 years ago could be love now. In 2002, I, the author, was worried that some surgery I was scheduled to have soon might interfere with my plans to participate in the upcoming Centenary Conference of the Evelyn Waugh Society, to be held at Oxford University. In her breezy way, my mother said, “So, send him a birthday card.”

    Dad knew Mom by sight before Mom even knew that Dad existed. And I think you might even say it was love at first sight for Dad. In 1947, three years home from the war, Dad was attending a Nebraska football game in Lincoln. During halftime he saw “a beautiful girl” run across the empty football field. About a year later in Omaha, Dad was driving his little sister, Lillian, to school at Central High. Suddenly, as he was about to drive through the intersection of 30th and Cuming Streets, his eyes became riveted by the sight of—what else?—“a beautiful girl” standing at a corner bus stop. He said to his sister, “Will you look at that gorgeous girl standing over there?” My future aunt looked and said, “Why, that’s my friend, Phyllis Freed! We teach Sunday school together at the JCC. I’ve been meaning to introduce the two of you.” So Dad stopped the car and the introductions were made. Dad told Mom he was sure she was the girl he saw run across the football field in Lincoln. She told him, “Well, I was a tassal then [some sorority honor] and I was in charge of the concession stand at the football games.” (With typical self-deprecation, when Mom in later years would tell people the story of how she met her husband, she would add when she came to the part about running the concession stand, “And I don’t think I did such a hot job.” My father would come to call this an example of Mom’s being “her own worst critic.” Mom would admit that she was a “perfectionist.”

    Max and Phyllis started dating and got engaged on Yom Kippur Day, 1949, as they walked home together from synagogue. On Dec. 11, the pact was solemnized according to the Laws of Moses and the state of Nebraska by Rabbi Sidney Mossman, in a candlelit ceremony in the House and Garden Room of the Blackstone Hotel (whose “Golden Spur” coffee shop became famous as the birthplace of the Reuben sandwich). Now they were officially man and wife and would remain so, through thick and through thin, until Dad died in 2002, at age 83. They had been married for 52 years. Mom was a widow for 16 years. Though not a religious woman, she told me once that she sometimes imagined Dad “looking down” on her from “up yonder” to make sure she was doing all right by herself. Shades of Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae in Carousel !

    I think maybe a slight aura of illegality dogged my parents’ marriage, though. Such, at least, apparently, was the view of the cantor who officiated along with Rabbi Mossman at their wedding. [A cantor usually leads the singing parts of any Jewish service and solos on other parts which are sung.] Over the vocal objection of this “screwy” cantor [Mom’s word for him] non-kosher champagne was used to toast the bride and groom. Non-kosher “spirits,” as defined by the good cantor, were any alcoholic beverages when served by Gentile waiters. Apparently, Rabbi Mossman, himself, was more liberal about the kosher plates ordered for a few of the strict wedding guests, like my grandparents. The kashrut of these dishes was not compromised by the fact that they were served by the same waiters! And wouldn’t you just know it—this cantor had a “fun” name as befit his “fun” character. His last name, which I found in the wedding guest book, was “Kanter.” This gave him the Humbert Humbert-ish distinction of being known as “Cantor Kanter”!

    Mom described her own taste in just about everything, including names, as old-fashioned and “understated.” Some cousins of ours named two of their daughters “Devon,” and “Samantha,” and Mom considered these names to be of as much phony inspiration as “Cristal” Carrington (actress Linda Evans’s character’s name on the ’80s TV dramatic series, Dynasty. ) But sometimes Mom’s taste erred, as when she boasted of her own, dignified Hebrew name, “Zipporah,” and had to be reminded by Dad and me that Zipporah, the wife of Moses, was not a Hebrew at all, but a Midianite! Mom thought that “all three” of my names—David, Jonathan, and Bittner—were nice names, and I agree. Not only are they nice, sonorously and in meaning, but they do not automatically “announce” my ethnicity over the phone and in some other situations. Thanks, Mom! I had a cousin, named “Tovah Esther,” who joked that her parents must have been drunk when they named her!

    Clothing and household furnishings were not supposed to be fancy, but “just nice,” Mom said, not “flamboyant.” Though her face and figure made her look “fit to kill,” Mom thought it was becomingly modest to affect the “ingénue” role in many social settings. It was only when this ingénue act was sometimes mistaken for shallowness of intellect that Mom might quietly remind someone that on the second semester algebra final at Central High, she got the highest grade in the class—100%, and that in geometry class the following year, she was the only girl to earn a seat in the “A” row.

    Math and science were what Mom called “real things.” Most liberal arts courses she considered balderdash. She joked about the way she fudged on a big exam in Western Civ in college. She got an “A,” and she said her answers to all the questions had each been a different way of saying, “because they had good roads.” In a poli-sci course she took, she laughed every time she came to a line in the textbook that said, “In the British Parliament every member picks his own seat.” I always thought that what she found so funny was the idea of including such a trivial statement in a textbook. But that wasn’t it at all, as I found out once when I began to tell the story to a house guest. Mom shot me a look that meant, “Change the subject.” After our company left, I asked Mom what made that necessary. It was only then that she told me the earthy, slang meaning of the phrase, “picks his own seat.” It was “scratches his ass.”

    On the other hand, politics was one soft science that Mom could really sink her teeth into. And here she showed not only much interest, but real independence of thought. The liberal views she held on most issues of the day were not ones she heard expressed around the dinner table in my grandparents’ home or in my great-uncles’ and -aunts’ homes. I personally thought of Mom as “The Original Miss [later, ‘Ms.’] Civil Rights.” And I am sure this attitude on Mom’s part toward America’s oppressed black minority influenced my own keen interests in minorities and women. I don’t think Mom could have been happier to see President Barack Obama serve his two terms in office. That goes ditto for me.

    I was very close to my Grandmother, Elizabeth Freed, whom I called “Baubie,” a term derived from the Russian word, “Baboshke,” meaning “Grandma,” or a woman’s scarf or turban. I did not learn until I was in Kindergarten that Baubie was actually my mother’s stepmother. I remember the talk Mom had with me about it as she drove me home from Baubie and Papa’s house one Saturday. I often spent Saturday afternoons with Baubie. She would make lunch for me and then take me shopping for trinkets at Hestead’s Dime Store. Back home she would play a board game like “Candyland” with me or card games like “war” and “go fish.” (She played canasta with her lady friends and taught me how to play gin rummy and solitaire when I was older.)

    At any rate, now, as Mom drove me home from Baubie and Papa’s, she said, “David, you have another grandmother.” At first I was excited to think that in addition to Baubie and my grandmother, Pearl Bittner, I apparently had yet another of these wonderful middle-aged women to love and spoil me. Mom just added, “No. Baubie is not my mother.” She made no reference at all to her divorced mother’s “dementia praecox,” known today as schizophrenia. I really think that in my child’s mind, I had not yet made the connection that grandparents were even supposed to be parents’ parents. But now in the flicker of an instant, I did connect the dots and I asked Mom, “Does that mean Baubie isn’t really my grandmother?” Mom thought very hard for a few moments, with the important relationship between her son and her stepmother hanging in the balance, and then told me slowly and deliberately, “No, it doesn’t mean that. Baubie was married to your grandfather before you were born, so that means she’s really your grandmother.” (Baubie and Papa were married in 1942, nine years before I came along.) It was a smart thing to tell a child, and the simple little explanation satisfied me into adulthood.

    Now, a few words about Baubie in her own right. She was a simple woman, her cognitive powers diminished by Turner’s Disease, which also made her barren. But she got passing grades in school, including Latin class in high school. She had a pleasant speaking voice, and she made nice conversation. For 20 years she was a crackerjack saleswoman of fine linens at Kilpatrick’s, an upscale department store in downtown Omaha. She seemed to have an old saying to cover almost any situation. Right now, I can just hear her telling me things like, “All’s fair in love and war,” “A fool and his money are soon parted,” “Beauty is only skin-deep,” “Finders keepers, losers weepers,” and, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” I would say that Baubie had a certain “native wisdom.”

    I have thought of several anecdotes about Mom which further testify to her generosity, good humor, and independent thinking. Besides politics, she showed spunk in other ways. Mom was very close to her Aunt Dora and Uncle Max Arbitman, who helped raise her. Aunt Dora, or “Auntie,” as I always called her, was my grandfather Sam Freed’s sister. My Grandfather Freed and Uncle Max, brothers-in-law, owned and operated the Spaulding Grocery together. Uncle Max, a native of Odessa, in the Ukraine, had a gruff manner and was very smart. He inspired as much fear as love in my mother’s heart. Mom confided to me once that one of the great, unanswered questions of her life was whether her uncle really loved her. (He and my aunt had two daughters and a son of their own. The son died young in his early 20’s.) Now, if that doesn’t sound just like Dorothy Parker, asking her good friend, Lillian Hellman, near the end of her life, “Did Ernest [Hemingway] really like me?

    Uncle Max loved foods from the Old Country. Paramount among these was herring, which he liked to eat right out of the tin in the salty brine. One day, meaning well, Mom decided to surprise Uncle Max by serving him his favorite snack on a nice plate with a sprig of parsley. Uncle Max was furious. He fumed at my mother, didn’t she know he just liked his herring the old-fashioned way, in the tin, with no funny stuff? Near tears, my mother said, “You don’t like it? Do it your own way.” And with that she flung the plate of herring down on the floor, right in front of Uncle Max. Mom always believed that after this, Uncle Max gained new respect for her. (And I’m sure Uncle Max always loved his niece, Phyllis!)

    We lived in Rockford, Illinois, when I was a teenager. Our next door neighbors were a nice couple from Chicago named Leo and Gertrude Cohen. I know the Cohens felt out of their element in Rockford, where Mr. Cohen had been transferred to manage a small department store—something on the order of RITE AID Pharmacies. Mrs. Cohen used to joke that Rockford was “the home of the living dead”! The Cohens had a son, Larry, who was my age, and a daughter, Linda, a couple years older. When Linda graduated from high school, my mother had a little graduation party for her. She baked for the occasion. I still remember Mrs. Cohen’s expression of gratitude to Mom. “Oh, Phyllis, I can’t tell you how much this means to me, You’re the only people in Rockford who’ve gone out of their way for us.”

    In Rockford Mom would have liked to buy or even build a house. But my father had no intention of putting down such roots in a town he planned to leave as soon as he could. The problem was his boss’s personality. The man was a raving tyrant. Meanwhile, Dad was actually so secure in his brokerage ability and in his knowledge of the mid-western scrap iron and metal market, that he could afford to tell his boss to his face, “When David graduates from Guilford [High School], I graduate from Behr’s [Iron and Metal].” Whew, now! That sure was a circuitous way of leading up to a point I wanted to make about Mom. She made the best of our modest two-story townhouse apartment by greeting callers with, “Welcome to my New York brownstone.”

    Now, just one more story about Mom… The night before my high school graduation, I was to be the Jewish speaker at Baccalaureate Exercises. I had won the honor by winning an unpopularity contest. From a field of only two applicants—besides me, there was a very intelligent, very intellectual girl from my 1967 confirmation class—I was chosen over this “rival” because she had even more strikes against her socially, than I had against me.

    The school gymnasium would be filled with more than 600 graduating seniors and their friends and family. My grandparents and Aunt Dora had come all the way by train from Omaha for the occasion. I told my mother I hadn’t been so terrified since my bar mitzvah five years earlier. She said that she would give me half of one of her valium tablets an hour before we left for school. My delivery that evening actually went quite well, except that my voice cracked twice on the word, “swagger,” before I got it right. (Dad told me afterwards that I had “recovered beautifully.”) But now here’s the main point: In those days, half a century ago, the use of tranquilizers carried a stigma. This was the first I ever knew of my mother using a tranquilizer. To help me succeed on the podium, Mom had to relinquish some of her privacy on a very personal matter.

    Mom had a song and so did Dad. They used to joke that Dad’s signature song ought to be “The Blues in the Night,” for two reasons: he was a male chauvinist and it was the only song that he could carry the tune to. (Actually Dad had such a tin ear that he couldn’t carry the tune to any song, including “The Blues in the Night.”) I think Mom’s song revealed her openness to cultural diversity. When she was 9, her Uncle Harry took her on a tour of an Omaha radio station. The disc jockey asked the young visitor to make a request. Out of all the popular songs of the day, what do you suppose Mom requested but, “My Wild Irish Rose.” I have always thought of that as “Mom’s song.”

    But then what mightn’t one expect from a woman of such versatility as my mother— being seen, variously, at different times of her life, teaching herself how to use the wood-burning stove in a crude vacation cabin on Lake Kenora, Ontario; teaching English as a second language to Mexican migrants in Madison, Wisconsin in the early ’70’s; processing (including fairly pricing) the rare Designer items, like Versace dresses, that popped up in the Hadassah Bargain Box and other thrift shops; growing gardens-full of zucchini for baking “bread”; becoming certified in gerontology at The University of Nebraska Omaha in her late 50s; putting up dill pickles; pounding away on the keys of a Braille typewriter to produce reading material for the blind of Omaha; going cross-country skiing and practicing yoga for her health; and using an eye-dropper to feed a special “formula” to the six puppies of our sweet but recalcitrant little primiparous pet pug dog, “Pug-z”!

  38. Anonymous said,

    November 10, 2019 at 10:32 pm

    Perfect job again, Bob. Thanks. now it’s all set to e-mail to friends and family around the country. David

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