Sep. 19, 2006


by George Bilgere

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Poem: "Aria" by George Bilgere from Haywire. © Utah State University Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


Jussi Bjoerling, that soaring tenor,
    Was pulled down from the air.
My father pulled off to the shoulder

    And closed his eyes. Nessun Dorma,
It might have been,
                          or Cielo e Mar.

Hotter than Hades in the car
    But I knew enough by then
To shut up. Even my sisters
    For once stopped their idiot fidgeting.

Somewhere that summer, Bjoerling
    Was dying of booze.
My father had lost a lung. No more
    Singing forever.

                          Through the bridal veil
Of a cigarette, my mother
    Stared hard down the highway,
Waiting for it to be over.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the journalist and editor Roger Angell, (books by this author) born in New York City (1920). He's been a fiction editor at The New Yorker Magazine since 1956. It was six years later, in 1962 that William Shawn, the editor of The New Yorker, suggested that Angell try writing about baseball. Shawn wasn't a baseball fan himself, but he knew that Angell loved the sport. He also knew that Angell could write, and he thought the two might make a good combination.

Angell went on to become one of the greatest baseball writers in history. His baseball books include The Summer Game (1972), Late Innings (1982), and Game Time (2003). His most recent book is the memoir Let Me Finish, which came out this year.

Roger Angell said, "[Baseball is] perfect for a writer, so full of specifics. I love the way a ballplayer knocks the dirt out of his spikes. The ritual that is sport is strongest in baseball."

It was on this day in 1991 that a 5,300-year-old man was found frozen in a glacier in the Alps, between Austria and Italy. He became known as the "Iceman." Why his discovery was so important for anthropologists was the fact that he died while he was out walking on an ordinary day, wearing ordinary clothing, and carrying his customary tools and weapons. His discovery gave scientists a unique opportunity to learn about early European civilization.

The man was between 25 and 35 years old, and about 5 feet 2 inches tall. His hair was about 3 1/2 inches long, which is evidence that humans were getting hair cuts much earlier in history than scientists had imagined. He also had several tattoos: parallel lines on his lower spine, a cross behind his left knee, and stripes on his right ankle. Before the discovery of the Iceman, scientists had believed that tattoos originated 2,500 years later. The Iceman was wearing an unlined fur robe, whipstitched in a mosaic pattern that suggests Neolithic Age people were great tailors. He also wore a woven grass cape, and his size-6 shoes were stuffed with grass for warmth.

He carried a copper axe and a fur quiver for his arrows—the only quiver from the Neolithic period that has ever been found. His arrows had sharp flint points and feathers affixed at an angle that would cause the arrows to spin, which showed that people at the time understood basic principles of ballistics. He carried a number of other tools in a primitive rucksack with a wooden frame, and in a leather pouch that functioned like a fanny pack. Among these tools were a ball of fibrous cord, a dagger, and a deer's antler, probably used to skin animals.

It was nearly 10 years before a forensics expert noticed in an X-ray that the Iceman had an arrowhead lodged in his back. Scientists now believe that he was murdered.

It's the birthday of William Golding, (books by this author) born in Cornwall, England (1911). Golding became a schoolteacher in 1939, but his career was interrupted by World War II, and he joined the Navy. He became a lieutenant in charge of a torpedo ship that sank the German battleship Bismarck, and he fought at the invasion of Normandy.

Golding was shocked by the violence and cruelty of war. Shortly after he came home, he wrote his first novel, Lord of the Flies (1954), about a group of boys who become stranded on a desert island and struggle for survival. One of the boys tries to establish a democracy, but a bunch of boys break off from the main group and it turns into violent anarchy.

On this day in 1995, The New York Times and The Washington Post published the Unabomber's Manifesto. The Unabomber had offered to stop mailing bombs if the manifesto would be published in the newspaper, Time, or Newsweek. The publication of the manifesto sparked a heated debate over ethics in journalism. But a man named David Kaczynski happened to read the manifesto, and he was horrified to recognize it as the work of his brother, Ted. David contacted authorities and turned his brother, Ted Kaczynski, in to the FBI. Kaczynski is now serving four consecutive life sentences in Colorado for murdering three and injuring dozens of others.

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