Aug. 26, 2014

Tramps and Bowlers

by Clive James

In the park in front of my place, every night
A bunch of tramps sleep on the wooden porch
Of the bowling green club-house. They shed no light.
No policeman ever wakes them with a torch,

Because no-one reports their nightly stay.
People like me who take an early walk
Just after dawn will see them start the day
By packing up. They barely even talk,

Loading their duffel bags. They leave no trace,
Thus proving some who sleep rough aren't so dumb.
Tramps blow their secret if they trash the place:
This lot make sure that, when the bowlers come,

There's not a beer-can to pollute the scene.
And so, by day, neat paragons of thrift
And duty bow down to the very green
Which forms, by night, for scruffs who merely drift,

Their front lawn. If the bowlers only knew,
For sure they'd put in for a higher fence.
They'd have a point, but it would spoil the view
More than the tramps will, if they have the sense

To keep on cleaning up before they go,
Protecting indolence with industry:
A touch of what the bowlers value so.
Which way of life is better? Don't ask me—

I chose both, so I'd be the last to know.

"Tramps and Bowlers" by Clive James, from Opal Sunset: Selected Poems 1958-2008. © W.W. Norton and Company, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of British novelist and playwright Christopher Isherwood (books by this author), born in Cheshire (1904). He immigrated to the United States along with his friend W.H. Auden in 1939, and became an American citizen in 1946. He settled in Santa Monica, where he worked as a teacher and wrote for Hollywood films.

Isherwood's friend and fellow writer Aldous Huxley introduced him to a swami in Hollywood, and Isherwood became a follower of Hinduism. He started meditating and became a vegetarian. He said, "I'm tired of strumming on that old harp, the Ego, darling Me."

He lived in Southern California until his death in 1986.

He's best known for the novels he wrote about life in Berlin, just before the rise of the Nazi party, including Mr Norris Changes Trains (1935), Sally Bowles (1937), and Goodbye to Berlin (1939).

Isherwood wrote: "I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair."

It's the birthday of novelist and playwright Zona Gale (books by this author), born in Portage, Wisconsin (1874). She was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama. Her books and plays include Friendship Village (1908), Miss Lulu Bett (1920), and Evening Clothes (1932).

She said, "I don't know a better preparation for life than a love of poetry and a good digestion."

It's the birthday of Albert Sabin, the developer of the oral polio vaccine. He was born in Bialystok, Poland (1906), to Jewish parents; his last name was Saperstein. He and his family immigrated to the United States in 1921; he changed his name to Sabin when he became a naturalized citizen in 1930. He began his research on poliomyelitis while he was still a medical student at New York University. Later, at the University of Cincinnati, he proved that the poliovirus entered the body not through the respiratory tract, as was commonly believed, but through the digestive tract. This breakthrough started him on a new line of thought: if a weakened form of the poliomyelitis virus was given orally, it might be more effective than its dead counterpart, which was given via injection. The Sabin oral polio vaccine was approved for use in the United States in 1960, and soon became the vaccine of choice around the world.

It's the birthday of French poet and critic Guillaume Apollinaire (books by this author), born in Rome (1880). He said, "I love men, not for what unites them, but for what divides them, and I want to know most of all what gnaws at their hearts."

It was on this day in 1748 that the first Lutheran church body in America, the Pennsylvania Ministerium, was founded in Philadelphia. There had been Lutheran congregations in America for more than 100 years. When New Sweden in the Delaware Valley was conquered by the Dutch in 1655, the Swedish governor made it a condition of surrender that the settlers were allowed a Lutheran pastor, since Lutheranism was outlawed in the rest of New Amsterdam, where only the Dutch Reform Church was legal. A Finnish pastor named Lars Lock continued to serve the Lutherans, although a Dutch Reform minister complained: "This Lutheran preacher is a man of impious and scandalous habits, a wild, drunken, unmannerly clown, more inclined to look into the wine can than into the Bible."

The largest concentration of Lutherans were Germans in Pennsylvania, who moved there partly because of William Penn's guarantee of religious freedom. There weren't enough pastors to serve them, and German pastors were hesitant to leave for the American wilderness. In 1742, a university in Germany sent over 24 pastors, including a 31-year-old bachelor named Henry Melchior Muhlenberg. Muhlenberg decided that the Lutherans needed centralized leadership, so he organized a meeting, and on this day in 1748 six pastors and delegates from 10 congregations met in Philadelphia. They called themselves the Pennsylvania Ministerium. Muhlenberg gave the opening address, and he said: "A twisted cord of many threads will not easily break. There must be unity among us." At the meeting, delegates reported on the condition of their schools and churches, and the competency of their pastors and services. Elders from each congregation testified, and the meeting notes read: "They have no objections to our agenda, except that the public service lasts too long, especially in the cold winter. [...] The preachers promise to strive after brevity."

Synods sprang up throughout America, and in 1820 a group of synods, including the Pennsylvania Ministerium, joined forces to form the Evangelical Lutheran General Synod of the United States.

And it's the birthday of journalist and activist Barbara Ehrenreich (books by this author), born in Butte, Montana (1941). She grew up in a blue-collar mining family. She said: "There were two rules in our family. One was you never cross a union picket line and the other was you never vote Republican. And this was the spirit of the whole community." She went to college, studied cellular immunology in graduate school, and went to work in the field of public health. She never planned to become a writer, but as she became more involved with the women's health movement, she began writing occasional pamphlets and articles. She said, "I started writing things because I felt they ought to be written." Her big break was a cover story she wrote for Ms., debunking the myth that the feminist movement had increased rates of heart disease in women because more women worked outside the home.

Ehrenreich became famous for her books about class, politics, and social welfare. She is an outspoken socialist and atheist, and has written books about the emptiness of the American dream and the downfalls of America's obsession with positive thinking. Her most famous book is Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (2001).

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