Jun. 1, 2011

Lunch Will Be Served

by Eleanor Lerman

Just when you think that you are
on the road to success and the
medications have calmed down
your wife, plus a big sale at
the foodstore means that you
can finally buy your cat a
decent meal—that's when
you get the news that it's time
to stare calamity in the face

And what a face: it comes
at you like a speeding pie
It has three eyes. It was created
by an overdose of nuclear
radiation. Its cunning knows
no bounds. Meaning, now
you are going to pay for something
you did in a past life, or didn't
do or should have thought
about doing. If you even rated
a past life. If not, then these are
just the normal ups and downs
Which do you think is worse?

Anyway. A procession of ghosts
will carry your pencil box
down to the office from which
you will never be allowed
to retire. Lunch will be served,
but all you can expect is
a bag of blood and transfat:
In other words, to rub it in,
even the cat will get a better deal

Meanwhile, the universe remains
an incomprehensible wheel of
grave attraction. Fish, swans,
and archers lie in each other's
starry embrace while dark particles
have been driving by your house
all day in their neutrino cars,
in a hurry to do a job that will
never be revealed to us. And in
some versions of this story,
the cat has magical powers
Oh my God, you say. I had no idea

Well, now you do. In fact,
in some versions of this story,
beings of faith and light
are in the kitchen, dancing
with your wife. Then your
friends arrive, still lugging
around their own dilemmas,
hoping you will feed them
from the common pot, like
in the old days. And as tired
as you are, you think you can

"Lunch Will Be Served" by Eleanor Lerman, from The Sensual World ReEmerges. © Sarabande Books, 2010. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is the birthday of Charles Kay Ogden (books by this author), born in Fleetwood, Lancashire, England, in 1889. An editor, translator, journalist, and linguist, Ogden occasionally used the pen name "Adelyne (for "add a line") More" in his articles. He was a bit eccentric, collecting clocks, shoes, music boxes, and masks. He went to Cambridge and founded the Cambridge Magazine in 1912, and he stayed on as the editor for its full 10-year life. The magazine published foreign press extracts during World War I and came under fire for maintaining a neutral stance about the war; some accused its editors of spreading "pacifist propaganda." He also formed the Heretics' Society while at Cambridge, and the Society hosted talks by people like G.K. Chesterton, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Virginia Woolf.

He wrote a monograph in 1923 called "The Meaning of Meaning," in which he explores the psychological and philosophical underpinnings of language. From 1925 until his death in 1957, he worked on what he called BASIC English — British, American, Scientific, International, Commercial — a simplified, English-based language of 850 core words designed for international uses. George Orwell was a fan of the enterprise at first, but then turned away from any attempt at universal languages, and modeled his "Newspeak" from Nineteen Eighty-Four after BASIC English. Ogden translated James Joyce's Finnegans Wake into BASIC English; Joyce's "Well, you know or don't you kennet or haven't I told you that every story has an end and that's the he and the she of it. Look, look, the dusk is growing. Fieluhr? Filou! What age is it? It saon is late" became "Well are you conscious, or haven't you knowledge, or haven't I said it, that every story has an ending and that's the he and the she of it. Look, look, the dark is coming ... Viel Uhr? Filou! What time is it? It's getting late." Joyce's aim was to expand the English language, and Ogden's was to simplify it, but the two men found each other's ideas fascinating.

Today is the birthday of Marilyn Monroe(1926), born Norma Jean Mortenson, in Los Angeles. Though her last name was listed as Mortenson on her birth certificate, her mother, Gladys, changed it to Baker, her own surname. Martin Mortenson, named as Norma Jean's father, was nowhere to be found, and Gladys later told Norma Jean that Mortenson was not her father. Gladys, a paranoid schizophrenic, was in and out of mental institutions, and Norma Jean was bounced from foster home to foster home, eventually ending up with her mother's friend Grace McKee. McKee married "Doc" Goddard when Marilyn was nine, and she was sent to an orphanage; two years later she returned to McKee's home, where Goddard tried repeatedly to sexually assault her. When McKee's husband was transferred for his job, they couldn't take Norma Jean, now 16, with them; to avoid being placed with another foster family, she married the boy next door, Jim Dougherty. She grew up feeling no one wanted her, writing later in her unfinished autobiography, "I knew I belonged to the public and to the world, not because I was talented or even beautiful but because I had never belonged to anything or anyone else."

The marriage to Dougherty ended four years later, after she changed her name and started appearing in movies; she later married Joe DiMaggio, and that marriage lasted only nine months. In 1956, she married playwright Arthur Miller, who wrote of her, "She was a whirling light to me then, all paradox and enticing mystery, street-tough one moment, then lifted by a lyrical and poetic sensitivity that few retain past early adolescence." They first met in 1951, when he was still married to Mary Slattery, and he encouraged her to come to New York and study stage acting. He was the first person to take seriously her desire to improve as an actress, and he sent her a reading list; she began taking college classes in literature and art. They renewed their acquaintance, and began an affair, when she moved to New York to study with Lee and Paula Strasberg in 1955.

Their marriage was often filled with strife. Marilyn, who desperately wanted children, had several miscarriages, and she grew more and more erratic, and more dependent on painkillers and sedatives. They separated after filming her last movie, The Misfits, in 1960. Miller had written the screenplay for Monroe, to aid her quest to become a serious actress and, he later admitted, to try to heal their fractured relationship, but it had the opposite effect: She collapsed completely, and the marriage was over. He soon married photographer Inge Morath, whom he'd met on the set of The Misfits, and she began seeing Joe DiMaggio again. She died in August 1962, after an overdose of Nembutal.

Her personal secretary reported that Monroe ended her last interview with a plea: "What I really want to say: That what the world really needs is a real feeling of kinship. Everybody: stars, laborers, Negroes, Jews, Arabs. We are all brothers. Please don't make me a joke. End the interview with what I believe." She pleaded in vain; her words did not appear in the article.

It's the birthday of Australian author Colleen McCullough (1937) (books by this author), born in Wellington, New South Wales. She has bachelor's and master's degrees in neurophysiology, and she founded the neurophysiology unit at the North Shore Hospital in Sydney in 1958. At first she wrote for her own amusement, but began writing for publication in the early 1970s. Her first novel, Tim (1974), was well received, but her second, The Thorn Birds (1977) — the epic saga of the forbidden love between a priest and a young woman — was wildly popular. She's also written a meticulously researched series about the decline of the Roman Empire, The Masters of Rome.

She suffers from trigeminal neuralgia, sometimes called the "suicide disease" because it causes excruciating, shock-like pain to all parts of the face. She had brain surgery in 2010, a treatment of last resort; though she hemorrhaged badly afterward and was hospitalized for a month, the surgery was a success and she was able to complete her 22nd novel, Naked Cruelty, which was released last fall.

On this day in 1974, Henry Jay Heimlich published his "Heimlich Maneuver" in the Journal of Emergency Medicine. The article was called "Pop Goes the Café Coronary." Less than three weeks later, the maneuver was used successfully in a restaurant in Bellevue, Washington. As of 2006, the American Red Cross recommends the "five and five" approach: five sharp blows to the back, followed by five abdominal thrusts if the back blows are not effective.

Heimlich's son Peter has dedicated a website to exposing what he calls his father's "50-year history of fraud." He writes: "At age 48, I came to realize that my father was a danger to others and to himself. Since then I've done what I could to bring the facts to public attention in order to expose the 'poison ideas' circulated by my father and his cronies, a motley crew of hacks, quacks, and narco doctors." Among other things, he accuses his father of stealing the "Heimlich maneuver" from a colleague, faking his medical credentials, and deliberately infecting people with malaria to cure them of AIDS, cancer, and Lyme disease.

On this day in 1980, at five o'clock p.m. Eastern time, CNN — the Cable News Network — began broadcasting. Founder Ted Turner gave a brief introduction, and its first broadcast was anchored by husband-and-wife team David Walker and Lois Hart. It was America's first 24-hour all-news television channel, and traditional news outlets scoffed at it, calling it the Chicken Noodle Network because of its limited financial resources. But CNN's motto "Go live, stay with it, and make it important" served the network well, especially when the space shuttle Challenger exploded on launch in 1986; they were the only news organization to provide live coverage of the launch and subsequent disaster. They also provided in-depth coverage of the Persian Gulf War in 1991, broadcasting from inside Iraq, and were the first network to break news of the attacks of 9/11.

"The CNN Effect" is a phenomenon much studied by political scientists and media analysts; it refers to the influence such in-depth, early, and rapid news dissemination has on government policy.

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