Jul. 27, 1998

Crickets in the Dark

by Tom Hennen


Today's Reading: "Crickets in the Dark" by Tom Hennen from CRAWLING OUT THE WINDOW, published by Black Hat Press.

The KOREAN WAR ended on this day in 1953. The war lasted three years and a month, and cost nearly five million lives.

It's the birthday in Calcutta, India, 1940 of novelist BHARATI MUKHERJEE (boo-AH-tee MOO-ker-jee), author of novels The Holder of the World (1993), and Leave It to Me, which came out last year; and a collection of short stories called The Middleman, which won the 1988 National Book Critics Circle Award. After getting her schooling in India and England, she came to this country and attended the Writer's Workshop at the University of Iowa, and now teaches fiction at the University of California, Berkeley. She wrote, "Mine is a clear-eyed but definite love of America. I'm aware of the brutalities, the violences here, but in the long run my characters are survivors. There are people born to be Americans, by which I mean an intensity of spirit and a quality of desire."

It was on this day in 1921 that Frederick Banting and Charles Best, working in a University of Toronto lab, isolated the hormone INSULIN. The two men first used insulin on dogs and found it controlled diabetes, then they tried it on humans.

It's the birthday in 1908, on a North Carolina farm near Iona, of New Yorker writer JOSEPH MITCHELL. After college, Mitchell sent an article he'd written on tobacco to the New York Herald Tribune editors, who were so impressed by it that they invited him up to New York. He wrote for the paper until 1938, then went over to The New Yorker and began a nearly 30-year series of articles on the city's lowlifes and characters, drunks, con artists, and panhandlers, most of whom he met at a place called McSorley's Saloon, a tavern just off Manhattan's Cooper Square; people like Joseph Ferdinand Gould, whose specialty was spontaneously breaking into a sea gull imitation, something he got so good at he said he could translate Longfellow into sea gull. Mitchell described McSorley's as "a drowsy place, the bar stubbornly illuminated with a pair of gas lamps which flicker fitfully and throw shadows on the low, cobwebby ceiling each time someone opens the door; where the bartenders never make a needless move and the three clocks on the walls have not been in agreement for years."

It's the birthday in 1777, Glasgow, Scotland, of poet THOMAS CAMPBELL, who wrote popular sentimental and war ballads in the early 19th century. Readers loved his work, but just about everybody else disliked him: an Irish paper of the day described him as "small, thin, with a remarkably cunning and withered face, eyes cold and glassy like those of a dead haddock."

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