Jan. 30, 2003

In the Lobby of the Hotel del Mayo

by Raymond Carver

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Poem: "In the Lobby of the Hotel del Mayo," by Raymond Carver from Ultramarine (Random House).

In the Lobby of the Hotel del Mayo

The girl in the lobby reading a leather-bound book.
The man in the lobby using a broom.
the boy in the lobby watering plants.
The desk clerk looking at his nails.
The woman in the lobby writing a letter.
The old man in the lobby sleeping in his chair.
The fan in the lobby revolving slowly overhead.
Another hot Sunday afternoon.

Suddenly, the girl lays her finger between the pages of her book.
The man leans on his broom and looks.
The boy stops in his tracks.
The desk clerk raises his eyes and stares.
The woman quits and wakes up.
What is it?

Someone is running up from the harbor.
Someone who has the sun behind him.
Someone who is bare-chested.
Waving his arms.

It's clear something terrible has happened.
The man is running straight for the hotel.
His lips are working themselves into a scream.

Everyone in the lobby will recall their terror.
Everyone will remember this moment for the rest of their lives.

On January 30, 1815, President James Madison approved an act of Congress appropriating $23,950 to purchase Thomas Jefferson's library of 6,487 volumes. In 1814, after capturing Washington, D.C., the British burned the U.S. Capitol, destroying the Library of Congress and its 3000-volume collection.

It is the birthday of poet and novelist Richard Gary Brautigan, born in Tacoma, Washington (1935). Called by some "the last of the beats," he became a cult figure in 1960s literature. Growing up, hunger was a constant threat. At the age of 20, he was arrested for throwing a rock through a window inside a police station. He explained that he wanted to go to jail so that he could eat. Instead, he was sent to Oregon State Hospital, where he was diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, and received electroshock therapy treatments. Upon his release, he moved south to San Francisco, where he became involved with the Beat Movement. He was wholly part of the scene there, reading poetry at psychedelic rock concerts and helping to produce underground newspapers with activist groups like the Diggers. He had a great hippie look, with long blond hair and granny glasses. His back was oddly bent due to a severe case of scoliosis. In the summer of 1961, he camped with his wife and young daughter in Idaho's Stanley Basin. He spent his days hiking, and wrote Trout Fishing in America (1967), his best-known work, on a portable typewriter while sitting alongside the many trout streams. He committed suicide in 1984. This was two years after the publication of his last novel, So The Wind Won't Blow It Away. He was famous for his whimsical, surrealist style. He wrote: "The sun was like a huge 50-cent piece that someone had poured kerosene on and then had lit with a match, and said, 'Here, hold this while I go get a newspaper,'and put the coin in my hand, but never came back."

It is the birthday of historian and author Barbara Tuchman, born in New York, New York (1912). She wrote The Guns of August (1962) a study of the events that led to the outbreak of World War I. She said, "War is the unfolding of miscalculations."

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