Apr. 12, 2003

Odd Couple

by Nancy Frederiksen

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Poem: "Odd Couple," by Nancy Frederiksen from Coming up for Air (Paper Jack Creek Press).

Odd Couple

At the kitchen table, Father debated
whether or not to teach me cribbage.
The board with its drilled and empty
holes lay between us, a challenge.
Mother said, "Go ahead, why not?"

I caught on to the counting, the score, the game,
then beat him two out of three.
He packed up the cards, clacked them
on the table and said "that's it…"
The games were over.

The whiskered face of
Walter Matthau
unveiled itself beneath
the mask of Father.

The games were just beginning.

Literary Notes:

It was on this day in 1983 that Harold Washington was elected Chicago's first black mayor. He ran on a platform of equal treatment for all residents and neighborhoods of the city, and he vowed to dismantle the political machine that had run Chicago politics for decades. After his victory he said, "We have destroyed the dinosaur."

It's the birthday of novelist Scott Turow, born in Chicago, Illinois (1949). He went to Harvard Law School, got a job with the United States District Attorney's office, and returned to Chicago to prosecute the infamous "Operation Greylord" case: a widespread crackdown and sting operation that nabbed corrupt judges and others in the Illinois legal system. Turow successfully prosecuted, among others, a state attorney general and a circuit-court judge. On his train rides to and from work, he began working on a novel in a spiral bound notebook. His wife finally made him take time off to finish it. The novel was called Presumed Innocent (1987). Narrated by a prosecutor who becomes the primary suspect of a murder, it begins, "This is how I always start: 'I am the prosecutor. I represent the state. I am here to present to you the evidence of a crime. Together you will weigh this evidence. You will deliberate upon it. You will decide if it proves the defendant's guilt. This man - ' and here I point. You must always point… And so I point. I extend my hand across the courtroom. I hold one finger straight. I seek the defendant's eye. I say: 'This man has been accused.'" The novel spent more than forty-three weeks on the bestseller lists, went through sixteen hard cover printings, and sold four million paperback copies. Turow was overwhelmed. Though he has continued to write books, he has also continued to practice law.

It's the birthday of statesman Henry Clay born in a section of Hanover County, Virginia known as "the Slashes," (1777). He was elected to the U.S. Senate when he was twenty-six years old, and he earned the title, "the great compromiser." He became the leader of the new Whig party and campaigned hard for the Missouri Compromise, which allowed Missouri to become a slave state but prohibited slavery in the remainder of the territory north of the southern boundary of Missouri. He wanted to be president for much of his political life but was defeated three times. He later said, "I would rather be right than be President."

It's the birthday of TV host and comedian David Letterman, born in Indianapolis, Indiana (1947). He worked for four years as a television announcer for the ABC affiliate in Indianapolis, and then got a job as the replacement weatherman. He said later, "You can only announce the weather, the highs and the lows, so many times before you go insane. In my case, it took two weeks…I'd draw peculiar objects on the cloud maps, and invent disasters in fictitious cities. I made up my own measurements for hail, and said hailstones the size of canned hams were falling."

It was on this day in 1633 that Galileo was put on trial for publishing evidence that the sun and not the earth is the center of the solar system. He'd been writing about the issue for years, and he wrote in Italian rather than Latin so that more people could understand it.

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




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