Mar. 13, 2001

Boys at the Edge

by Leonard Nathan

TUESDAY, 13 March 2001
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Poem: "Boys At The Edge," by Leonard Nathan, from The Potato Eaters (Orchises).

Boys at the edge
lean far over it and dare
each other to jump.

One drops a stone instead
and waits for it to strike bottom.
Time passes. Years it seems.

Years it is —
husband, father, grandfather
dozing by the fire,

listening at the edge.

It's the birthday of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, born in Tilden, Nebraska (1911). He's the author of science fiction books, western stories, and also of the book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health (1950), which served as the Bible for what Hubbard called the Church of Scientology. Hubbard trained 'auditors' who conducted one-on-one counseling sessions, using machines that looked like lie detectors.

It's the birthday of journalist Janet Flanner, born in Indianapolis (1892). In 1921 she deserted her husband and went to Europe with her lover, Solita Solano. Four years later she began her 'Letter from Paris' feature for The New Yorker Magazine, which she wrote until 1975. She signed her pieces 'Genet.' About World War II, she said:

"The war, which destroyed so much of everything, was also constructive, in a way. It established clearly the cold and finally unhypocritical fact that the most important thing on earth to men today is money."

On this day in 1891, Henrik Ibsen's play Ghosts opened in London. The play—which incorporates venereal disease, incest and euthanasia as plot elements—was strong stuff for 1891, and the critical reaction was almost universally negative.

It's the birthday of star outfielder (William) 'Wee Willie' Keeler, born in Brooklyn (1872)—who, at 5 feet 4 inches, was among the smallest men ever to play major league baseball. He used a 30-inch bat that weighed 29 ounces, but he was one of the best hitters in the history of the game. His motto was, "Keep your eye on the ball and hit 'em where they ain't."

It's the birthday of astronomer Percival Lowell, born in Boston (1855). In his late thirties he went out to Flagstaff, Arizona, to found the Lowell Observatory—mainly so he could study Mars with a 24-inch refracting telescope. He believed that the canals across the face of Mars proved that the planet was inhabited by rational beings.

It's the birthday of clergyman and scientist Joseph Priestly, born in Fieldhead, Yorkshire (1733). His friend Benjamin Franklin encouraged him to write The History of Electricity (1767). But he's best remembered for his discovery of oxygen (1775), which he called "dephlogisticated air." He also discovered nitrogen, ammonia, and sulfur dioxide. He was in favor of the French Revolution, which got him into trouble in England; and he was a leading Unitarian, which drew the fire of Anglicans. A mob destroyed his home and laboratory, whereupon he fled with his wife to the United States, where he lived the rest of his life.

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