Dec. 28, 2005

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Poems: "Poems No. 1, 56 and 80" by Philip Schultz from Living in the Past. © Harcourt, Inc. Reprinted with permission.


The Ukrainians hate the Romanians while the Poles hate the Germans
but especially the Italians who hate the blacks who haven't even
moved into the neighborhood yet, while Grandma hates mostly
the Russians who are Cossacks who piss on everyone's tomatoes
and wag their tongues at everyone's wives. She even hates her Lithuanian
blue eyes and turnip Russian nose and fat Polish tongue; sometimes
she forgets what she hates most and ends up hating everything about herself.
This is Rochester, N.Y., in the fifties, when all the Displaced Persons
move in and suddenly even the elms look defeated. Grandma believes
they came here so we all could suffer, that soon we'll all dress
like undertakers and march around whispering to the dead.


Why? This is everyone's favorite question. No one ever says:
Because our bags are always packed and we hear footsteps
on the stairs. Because the dark feels unwashed and incomplete
and Maimonides said, "When the Messiah comes war will end,
God's blessings will be on all men." Because we have a God
who never dies and never comes and it's three in the morning
and I'm walking a crying baby around, singing lullabies Grandma
sang to me. Because I expect nothing and what I expect defines me.
Because the world exists without us but without us it is nothing.
Because all my life I've been afraid of the next page. Because
nothing is explained and my old bedroom shadows are thriving
and the floor tilts west toward Lake Ontario where all the snow
comes from. Because it's getting late and I'm in bed, waiting
for Mother to come kiss me good night, like she promised.


The Old Stone Cemetary isn't right on Ridge Road,
where I remember, but a side street near Lake Ontario.
It'd be better to bury everyone together but this is
a Jewish cemetery so everyone's scattered. Mother
is next to Father but Grandma is three strangers apart
from her husband, who probably planned it this way.
No one can find Uncle's grave, Mother's revenge, a flat
stone planted somewhere north of her, in uncut grass.
A few Schultzes but a shtetl-full of Bernsteins, Kreigers ...
it doesn't matter, no one ever called anyone by their name.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1895 that Auguste and Louis Lumiere opened the first movie theater at the Grand Café in Paris. Other inventors, including Thomas Edison, were working on various moving picture devices at the time. But most of those other devices could only be viewed by one person at a time. The Lumieres were the first to project moving pictures on a screen, so that they could be viewed by a large audience.

The first film they showed to a paying audience was called Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory. It was a short, single shot with an immobile camera and it showed a concierge opening the factory gates from which dozens of workers walked and bicycled into the street. It ended with the concierge closing the gates again.

It wasn't a movie in the modern sense. It had no characters, no storyline. It was just an animated photograph. The Lumiere brothers went on to make more than 2,000 films like this, each one less than a minute long depicting various scenes of human activity with titles like The Arrival of a Train, Boat Leaving the Harbor, and Baby's First Steps. They didn't call these "movies" or "films," they called them "views."

It took other filmmakers to turn movies into a medium for storytelling. The Lumieres were primarily documentary filmmakers. But in their film Demolition of a Wall they added a reverse loop to the film so that after the wall falls to the ground it miraculously picks itself back up. It was the first special effect ever uses in the history of motion pictures.

The Lumieres' movie house was a big success. Within a few months of its opening, more than 2,000 people lined up every night to buy tickets. But the Lumieres themselves thought that movies would be a passing fad. They told their cinematographers not to expect work for more than six months. Auguste went on to become a medical scientist and Louis went back to working on still photographs.

It's the birthday of comic book writer Stan Lee, born Stanley Martin Lieber in New York City (1922). He created The Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, the X-Men, Thor, Daredevil, and Dr. Strange. But his most successful character of all was The Amazing Spiderman, an awkward teenager named Peter Parker who develops superpowers after being bitten by a radioactive spider. He was the first superhero to be filled with self-doubt, the first superhero to struggle with whether he wanted to be a superhero. Stan Lee's boss hated the idea but the first issue featuring Spiderman sold every copy that was printed and Spiderman went on to become one of the most popular superheroes ever invented.

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