Oct. 13, 2001

Memory Man

by Gavin Ewart

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Poem: "Memory Man," by Gavin Ewart from Selected Poems: 1933-1988 (New Directions).

Memory Man

I'm sitting drinking Guinness
in memory of you,
on the wall is written Finis
and although the love was true—
if I were more romantic I would say sublime—
it was not a love that lasted until closing time.

The glasses are being polished
as they shout 'Last orders, please!'
and illusions are demolished
with the same fantastic ease
as the ease with which Joe closes his democratic bar—
if I think of you now, it's 'you were' and not 'you are'.

Each man that loves a woman
must be prepared for this
for a sexual love is human
and betrayal by a kiss
is a commonplace and not just in the holy Book
and it all begins when your eyes take that first long look.

You must have the boldness
to overcome the moods,
the sulking and the coldness,
your love must feed on foods
which wouldn't keep alive a common tabby cat;
no one can have this without an awful lot of that.

So it's sadly time to drink up
and let them stack the chairs—
he's a wise man who can think up
a remedy that bears
much resemblance to an answer (Venus is a jerk?);
for that holiday is over—from now on it's back to work.

It's the birthday of singer and songwriter Paul Simon, born in Newark, New Jersey (1941). He grew up in Queens, New York, and attended Forest Hills High School where he met fellow musician Art Garfunkel. In 1957, the duo, performing under the name "Tom and Jerry," had their first big hit: Hey Schoolgirl. It sold 100,000 copies and got them an appearance on American Bandstand. For the first of many times, the two then went their separate ways—Simon to law school and Garfunkel to study architecture. In 1964, the pair briefly reunited and recorded an acoustic album called Wednesday Morning, 3 a.m., which did not do very well. They split up once again. However, one year later, without the duo's knowledge, Columbia Records added a folk-rock background to their song Sounds of Silence, and it became a No. 1 hit.

It's the birthday of comedian Lenny Bruce, born in Mineola, New York (1925), whose real name was Leonard Alfred Schneider, and who became one of the most controversial entertainers of the 1950s and '60s. He first appeared as a nightclub performer in Baltimore and in Brooklyn, New York. He gained national attention from a spot on the "Arthur Godfrey Show." But his humor sparked controversy wherever he performed. His act was largely improvised, and he included such taboo subjects as religion, sex, and politics. In 1961, Bruce was imprisoned on obscenity charges, and in 1963 he was refused permission to enter Britain, was banned from performing in Australia, and was arrested and found guilty of illegal possession of drugs. In 1964, Bruce was once again arrested after a performance in a New York nightclub. Nevertheless, two criminal court judges found that Bruce's performances were "patently offensive to the average person in the community, as judged by present-day standards." Nightclub owners, afraid of trouble with the law, stopped hiring him, and his career collapsed.

It's the birthday of novelist and screenwriter Ernest Kellogg Gann, born in Lincoln, Nebraska (1910). Gann served in the Army Air Force, Air Transport Command, from 1942 to 1946, and received the Distinguished Flying Award. When he began writing fiction, in 1944, he wrote about flying. Five of his novels about flying were made into films, including Island in the Sky (1944), Fiddler's Green (1950, filmed as The Raging Tide in 1951), Soldier of Fortune (1954), and Twilight for the Gods (1958).

It's the birthday of jazz pianist Art(hur) Tatum, born in Toledo, Ohio (1910).

It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer Conrad Richter, born in Pine Grove, Pennsylvania (1890). The Sea of Grass (1937) was his first novel. It was followed by a trilogy called The Awakening Land, which consisted of The Trees (1940), The Fields (1946), and The Town (1950). The last volume won the Pulitzer Prize in 1951. One of Richter's best-known works is 1953's The Light in the Forest.

In 1843 on this day, the Jewish organization B'nai B'rith was founded in New York when 12 German-Jewish immigrants met on the Lower East Side to help others like themselves. They pooled their ideas and their funds and founded what would become one of the most enduring service organizations in the United States. The name B'nai B'rith means "Children of the Covenant."

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