Jun. 16, 2002

Upholstered Chairs

by Matt Cook

SUNDAY, 16 JUNE 2002
(RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Upholstered Chairs," by Matt Cook from In the Small of My Backyard (Manic D Press).

Upholstered Chairs

My father had these two huge dogs
That looked more like upholstered chairs than dogs.
This was back when I was living in the basement
Of my father's Georgian Colonial mansion-

I had all these psychological problems-
But it gave me a certain tattered respectability
To walk my father's dogs for money.
He had these two huge dogs
That looked more like upholstered chairs than dogs.

Dad would come home from work,
And a scene like this might play out:

He would pay me the dog-walking money,
Then I would try to gamble it against him on this pool table we had.
I wanted to make more money, so that I could buy drinks at a bar.

But Dad was a better pool player, so he would end up winning-
He would just win all his money back.

But then he would feel sorry for me,
He would end up giving me all the money back anyway-
Then he would ask me if I needed a ride to the bars.

Today is Father's Day. Father's Day was the idea of Mrs. John B. Dodd, of Spokane, Washington, who wanted to honor her father, a Civil War veteran named Charles Smart. When his wife died in childbirth, Smart was left to raise six children as a single parent on his small farm in eastern Washington state. The first Father's Day was celebrated in 1910, in Spokane, and the day became a national holiday by Presidential proclamation in 1966.

Today is Bloomsday. The entire action of James Joyce's masterpiece, the novel Ulysses, takes place in Dublin on this day in 1904. It was on that same date, June 16, 1904, that Joyce had his first date with Nora Barnacle, the Dublin chambermaid who would later become his wife. In Dublin, Bloomsday is celebrated with readings from Ulysses and visits to places mentioned in the novel. Joyce said: "I want to give a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city one day suddenly disappeared from the earth it could be reconstructed out of my book."

It's the birthday of novelist and short story writer Joyce Carol Oates, born in Lockport, New York (1938). She published her first collection of short stories, By the North Gate, in 1963; her first novel, With Shuddering Fall, followed a year later. She went on to win a National Book Award for her 1970 novel, Them. Her latest novels are Middle Age: A Romance (2001) and the young adult novel Big Mouth and Ugly Girl (2002).

It's the birthday of influential publisher Katherine Graham, born Katherine Meyer, in New York City (1917). Her father, Eugene Meyer, was a publisher who bought the Washington Post at a bankruptcy sale in 1933. At the time, it had the lowest circulation of Washington's five newspapers. Katherine Meyer's first newspaper job was on the San Francisco News, where she worked for a year after college. In the following year, 1939, she joined the editorial staff of the Washington Post. In 1940, she married Philip Graham, who eventually succeeded his father-in-law as the publisher of the Washington Post. Together, the Grahams created the Washington Post Company, which also purchased the weekly newsmagazine Newsweek in 1961. When her husband committed suicide in 1963, Katherine Graham became the president of the Washington Post Company. As publisher of the Post from 1969 to 1979, she earned enormous respect for her paper's reporting of the Watergate scandal, and made the Post one of the leading newspapers in the country. Her autobiography, Personal History (1998), won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography. She died last July at the age of eighty-four. She said: "The only thing I think any of us want, is to last as long as we're any good. And then not."

It's the birthday of American statistician John Wilder Tukey, born in New Bedford, Massachusetts (1915). For twenty years, from 1960 to 1980, he designed election polls for NBC News. But his best-known contributions are to the jargon of computing. It was Tukey who, in 1958, coined the term "software;" he used it as a name for the programs run by electronic calculators. In 1970, he coined the term "bit," which was his abbreviation for "binary digit."

It's the birthday of one of the leading geneticists of the twentieth century, Barbara McClintock, born in Hartford, Connecticut (1902). She spent her career working with corn, exploring the ways in which chromosomes break and recombine to transmit inherited characteristics, such as the pigmentation of corn kernels. For many years, she worked alone in her Cold Spring Harbor laboratory, twelve hours a day, six days a week, without even a telephone to connect her to the outside world. She said: "I've just been so interested in what I was doing that I never thought of stopping, and I just hated sleeping. I can't imagine having a better life." She won the Nobel Prize in 1983.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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