Aug. 19, 2002

Sunday Night

by Richard Jones

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Poem: "Sunday Night," by Richard Jones from The Blessing (Copper Canyon Press).

Sunday Night

After they leave the restaurant,
the little girl's father
drives her home, says good-night

at the door to her mother's apartment.
Already it's late, past bedtime.
In her room, her nightgown

is laid out on the satin bedspread,
but tonight, once she's had her bath,
her mother lets her stay up for awhile.

She plays with her dolls. Every night
she puts Mommy and Daddy in bed
together, watching over them and praying

to make sure nothing bad happens.
Then she tucks Baby into a crib
smaller than her very small hand.

It's the birthday of writer and television and film producer Gene (Eugene Wesley) Roddenberry, born in El Paso, Texas (1921). After attending junior college in Los Angeles, Rodenberry flew B-17 bombers in WWII, where he became a much-decorated pilot. That led him to a job as a pilot for Pan American Airways. He then switched gears and became a sergeant on the Los Angeles police force, and was asked to write speeches for the chief of police. He took his writing skills to television, writing for Dragnet, Highway Patrol, Dr. Kildare, and eventually becoming head writer for the western series Have Gun, Will Travel. In the early '60s, Rodenberry realized that there were no well-done science-fiction series on television, so he created what was to become one of the most popular shows of all time-Star Trek. He used the series as a way to explore topics networks usually shunned. He tried to sell the series to producers in 1964, but it wasn't until September 8, 1966, that the first episode of Star Trek debuted on NBC. It didn't get very good ratings, was shuffled around to several different time slots, and was almost cancelled any number of times. But the program's ardent followers, who came to be known as "Trekkies," kept the series alive until 1969.

It's the birthday of short-story writer and novelist James Gould Cozzens, born in Chicago (1903). As a freshman at Harvard, Cozzens completed his first novel, Confusion (1924), then left school and went to Cuba, where he tutored the children of the owners of a sugar plantation. This experience provided the background for two of his novels, Cock Pit (1928), and The Son of Perdition (1929). During the 1930s, he published a great many short stories and essays, along with the novels The Last Adam (1933) and Men and Brethren (1936). They were all variations on the same theme: upper-middle-class professional men are faced with moral dilemmas that require compromising their ideals. During WWII, Cozzens served in the Army Air Corps, and the diaries he kept provided material for Guard of Honor (1948), the story of a young general faced with a case of racial discrimination. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1949. Cozzens' most popular novel was By Love Possessed (1957), which sold more than six million copies.

It's the birthday of writer and humorist Ogden Nash, born in Rye, New York (1902). He often wrote verses that mangled strict laws of rhyme and meter; for instance, he once rhymed "petunia" with "Pennsylvunia." Nash attended Harvard for one year, then left to earn a living as a teacher. That turned out to be a traumatic experience, so he went to work selling bonds on Wall Street. However, in two years, he said, he sold one bond-to his godmother. He then moved to advertising, where one day he doodled a verse and sent it off to The New Yorker. It was published, and other verses soon followed. One year later he published his first collection, Hard Line (1931). He gave up advertising and began a 40-year career in which he produced 20 volumes of verse, the lyrics for two musicals-One Touch of Venus (1943) and Two's Company (1952)-and wrote several children's books. All this because he decided early on that he would "rather be a great bad poet than a bad good poet."

          God in his wisdom made the fly
          and then forgot to tell us why.

          Oh what a tangled web do parents weave
          When they think that their children are naïve.

It's the birthday of fashion designer Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, born in Issoire, France (1883). In the early 1900s, she opened a tiny hat boutique in Paris. She soon moved her shop to 31 Rue Cambon, where the House of Chanel still stands today. She sold hats, then added sweaters, then a full line of clothing. Within five years, she was a force to be reckoned with in the world of fashion. She liberated women from the corsets and stiff fabrics they had been wearing. One reason for that was that she couldn't afford the fashionable clothes of the period-so she rejected them, and designed clothes that used ordinary fabrics and were comfortable to wear. She introduced elements of men's styling into women's clothes, and based many designs on clothes the "working class" was already wearing. Then, in 1923, she created the product that would be the financial basis of her empire-Chanel No. 5, a perfume.

It's the birthday of children's writer E(dith) Nesbit, born in London (1858). Although Nesbit wanted to be considered a serious poet, she is best known for her books of magic and fantasy. She was one of the first writers of books for children who sought only to entertain without teaching them a lesson. She said, "When I was a child I used to pray fervently, tearfully, that when I should be grown up I might never forget what I thought, felt, and suffered" as a child.

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