Jul. 25, 2002

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Poem: "Ties," by Michael Chitwood from The Weave Room (The University of Chicago Press).


Uncles worked pocket knives
to rake the grease of work
from beneath their nails,
but yours, in the Sunday mirror
and quick at my throat,
were always clean.

Over, under, down through.
"The print or stripe should match the blue."

Sundays only
Granddad wore one.
Saturdays only
you did not.

Over, under, down through.
"You can judge a man by the shine on his shoes."

Granddad's hung
on the back of the bedroom door,
knotted all week.
Before services,
he'd cinch it and grin,
proud his boy felt this pinch
every working day.

My back against your chest,
you talked me into the knot,
over, under, down through.
Then you'd snug it
just short of choking
and call me "Mr. Chitwood,"
the name you dressed in
every morning to leave the house.

On this day in 1914, before leaving Barcelona for America, 11-year-old Anais Nin made her first diary entry: "I am sorry to think we are leaving a country that has been like a mother and a lucky charm to me."

It's the birthday of saxophonist Johnny Hodges, born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1906. He took up the soprano sax when he was 14, and later specialized on the alto. Hodges joined Duke Ellington's orchestra in 1928, and was a soloist and mainstay of the ensemble until his death in 1970. Among his best-known solos are those on "Warm Valley" and "Passion Flower." His nickname 'Rabbit' came from his love of lettuce-and-tomato sandwiches. As he grew older, Hodges used fewer and fewer notes in his solos, preferring to stay closer to the melody.

It's the birthday of novelist and playwright Elias Canetti, born in Ruse, Bulgaria, in 1905. When he was 6, his family moved to Manchester, England, where his father died. The next year they moved to Vienna, then to Zurich and Frankfurt. He grew up speaking German, English, French, and Bulgarian, but wrote in German. He became fascinated by crowds after he saw street riots in Frankfurt in the 1920s, and wrote a novel to describe the madness he'd witnessed-Die Blendung (1936-The Tower of Babel). He wrote two plays about the rise of fascism, The Wedding and Comedy of Vanity-before fleeing to Paris, and then London, ahead of the Nazis. He then wrote a book-length essay about fascism, Masse und Macht (1960-Crowds and Power), and later, four volumes of memoirs. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1981. He died in Zurich in 1994, at the age of 89, and was buried next to James Joyce.

It's the birthday of plain-spoken philosopher Eric Hoffer, born in New York City in 1902. He worked as a longshoreman in San Francisco for most of his life, even after he was famous. His books include The True Believer, The Passionate State of Mind, and Reflections on the Human Condition. He said, "Ah, don't talk to me about Freud. Freud lived in a tight little circle in Vienna, and inside that tight little circle was another tight little circle and inside that tight little circle was still another tight little circle. What applies to that poor man, Freud, does not necessarily apply to me."

It's the birthday of drama impresario David Belasco, born in San Francisco in 1853. He moved to New York City and produced 374 plays between about 1884 and 1926.

It's the birthday of painter Thomas Eakins, born in Philadelphia in 1844.

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