Oct. 28, 2005

The Pitch

by Catherine Wing

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Poem: "The Pitch" by Catherine Wing, from Enter Invisible. © Sarabande Books, Louisville, Kentucky. Reprinted with permission.

The Pitch

It's the story of a math genius posing as an imbecile or the one
where Porky is saved form the slaughterhouse by a woman
who wears no underpants. It's the story of a rapacious weed
that takes over the earth, of One-Breasted Wanda falling in
love with Jungle Jack. Ed Anger writes the story up. It's the
story of a rash. And the story of a rash of deaths caused by a
sea hag. It's the story of a woman who could not open her
mouth and a woman who could not close her mouth. Maybe
they meet. Maybe they don't. Maybe they are the perfect
couple. It is the story of a man possessed by his tattoo. It's an
exclusive. It's a curse or a commandment; it's a commandment
on cursing which says for God's sake thou shalt not laze about
on your chaise lounge. It's a true story. It is the story of a man
who talked his way out of credit-card debt. It is the story of
the sunrise on July 10, 2003. It is the story of a traveling
shadow. It is an old-man-walling-down-the-road story. It has a
sculpted base to rest upon which can be yours if you act now.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1886 that the Statue of Liberty was officially unveiled and opened to the public. A group of French intellectuals came up with the idea for the statue one night while talking about how much they admired the example of democracy and freedom in the United States, especially since the U.S. had recently abolished slavery. One of the men suggested that France should build a monument to liberty and give it to the U.S. as a symbol of their shared love of freedom.

Both French and Americans helped raise funds for the statue through lotteries and art exhibitions and boxing matches. The statue was assembled in France, then broken down into parts and shipped to the U.S. in 214 crates. Workers put it back together in New York.

The day of the dedication was cold and rainy, but huge crowds came out for the celebration anyway. The hotels were full throughout New York City, and many of the tourists who arrived for the occasion were French. The sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi was alone in the statue's crown, waiting for the signal to drop the veil. A boy down below was supposed to wave a white handkerchief at the end of the big speech. The boy accidentally waved his handkerchief before the speech was over and Bartholdi let the curtain drop, revealing the huge copper lady. A salvo of gunshots rang out from all the ships in the harbor. The speaker, who had been boring everybody, just sat down.

It was on this day in 1919 that Congress overrode President Woodrow Wilson's veto and passed the Volstead Act, which provided for enforcement of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, prohibiting the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors in the United States. Ours isn't the only nation to attempt a ban. Various forms of alcohol prohibition have been attempted since ancient times by the Aztecs, ancient China, feudal Japan, the Polynesian Islands, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Russia, Canada, and India.

The movement to ban alcohol in this country began as a religious movement, and it was also a movement dominated by women. At the time, it was still difficult for women to make a living on their own, and many women had seen their lives ruined when their husbands squandered the family income on booze. It was the liquor industry that put up such a long fight against women getting the right to vote, because they were terrified that women voters would usher in restrictions on the sale of alcohol.

It's commonly believed that Prohibition was a huge failure; that no one stopped drinking and the law's only effect was to give a boost to organized crime. That was true in big cities, but in rural America, prohibition was quite effective. Both cirrhosis death rates and admissions to state mental hospitals for alcoholism fell by more than fifty percent. Arrests for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct also went way down. And while organized crime may have gotten a boost, homicide rates were the same during the 1920s as they were in the previous two decades.

It's the birthday of British satirist Evelyn Waugh, born in London (1903). He's the author of Decline and Fall (1928) and A Handful of Dust (1934) and many other novels.

It's the birthday of poet John Hollander, born in New York City (1929). He's known for the quirky themes he chooses for his poetry collections. His collection Types of Shape (1969) is a series of poems that are arranged on the page so that the words form pictures of things, like a key, a cup, or a swan reflected in water. His book Reflections on Espionage: The Question of Cupcake (1976) is a long poem about a master spy who transmits coded messages to other secret agents.

His collection Picture Window came out in 2004.

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