Jul. 5, 2011

Have a ____ Day

by Lou Lipsitz

Have a nice day. Have a memorable day.
Have (however unlikely) a life-changing day.
Have a day of soaking rain and lightning.
Have a confused day thinking about fate.

Have a day of wholes.
Have a day of poorly marked,
unrecognizable wholes you
cannot fathom.
Have a ferocious day, a bleak
unbearable day. Have a
riotously unproductive day;
a grim jaw-clenched, Clint Eastwood vengeful
law enforcement day.
Have a day of raging, hair-yanking
jealousy and meanness. Have a day
of almost grasping
how whole you are; a finely tuned,
empty day.

Have a nice day of walking and circling;
a day of stalking and hunting,
of planting strange seeds and wandering in the woods.
Have a day of endearing nonsense,
of hopelessly combing your hair,
a day of yielding, of swallowing
hard, breathing more deeply,
a day of fondness for beetles
and macabre spectacles, or irreverence
about anything you want, of just
sitting and wondering.
Have a day of wondering if it's
going to help, or if it just doesn't matter;
a day of dark winds
and torrents flowing though the valley,
of diving into cool water
and gasping for breath,
a day of sudden hunger for communion.

Have a day where the crusts you each
were given are lost and you stumble
with your fellows
searching endlessly together.

"Have a ____ Day" by Lou Lipsitz, from If This World Falls Apart. © Lynx House Press, 2011. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is the birthday of Jean Cocteau (books by this author), born in Maisons-Laffitte, a resort town outside Paris, in 1889. His family was well off, and they appreciated culture; they encouraged Cocteau in all his artistic aspirations, which were numerous. He wrote poems, essays, novels, plays, screenplays, and libretti for opera and ballet. He was a painter, an illustrator, a filmmaker, an actor, and a producer. He considered himself, first and foremost, a poet. "Take a commonplace, clean it and polish it, light it so that it produces the same effect of youth and freshness and originality and spontaneity as it did originally, and you have done a poet's job. The rest is literature," he wrote in A Call to Order (1926).

He grew up in Paris and his earliest memories involved the theater — both the popular and serious varieties. He published his first book of poetry, Aladdin's Lamp, at 19. He was an ambulance driver for the Red Cross during World War I, and after the war, he met the teenage poet and novelist Raymond Radiguet. He took Radiguet on as his protégé, and they became very close friends, possibly even lovers; Radiguet's death of typhoid fever at age 20 may have contributed to Cocteau's addiction to opium. Some of Cocteau's best work was produced during this period, including his novel Les Enfants Terribles [The Incorrigible Children] (1929), which he wrote in three weeks.

In 1936, he went on a journey to duplicate the path of Phileas Fogg in Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days. On an ocean liner sailing across the Pacific, he met Charlie Chaplin. According to Cocteau, they became fast friends and had difficulty in saying goodbye to one another at the journey's end. According to Chaplin, however, they said everything they could possibly say to one another in one sitting, and spent the rest of the voyage trying to avoid each other. Cocteau published the story of his trip around the world, My First Voyage, in 1937.

Cocteau died of a heart attack in 1963, at age 74, within hours of learning of the death of his close friend Edith Piaf. His epitaph reads, "I stay among you." "Listen carefully to first criticisms made of your work," he advised writers and artists. "Note just what it is about your work that critics don't like — then cultivate it. That's the only part of your work that's individual and worth keeping."

It's the birthday of actor, author, and journalist John Gilmore (1935) (books by this author). He was born in Los Angeles and raised in Hollywood. His mom was an aspiring actress, and his dad was a cop; they divorced when he was six months old. He was raised by his grandmother, and they were devoted to each other. She died when he was 14, and he wrote: "I'd often dream of her coming back to life, suddenly sitting straight up in the coffin. Or on the way to the grave she'd jolt from the casket and start rolling down the grassy slope, long strips of her unwinding like the wrappings around a mummy, exposing bunches of wires and tubes like the inside an old radio."

As a child, he had bit parts in some movies and radio programs, and continued acting into his young adulthood. He wasn't happy with bit parts anymore; he wanted to be Montgomery Clift. When he was 17, he met James Dean in Times Square, and they became friends; Dean would call him "Rimbaud" or "the hillbilly poet." He also became friends with Marilyn Monroe, Eartha Kitt, and Jack Kerouac. In between acting gigs and dishwashing jobs, he wrote a novel about a beatnik in San Francisco. He began writing more and more, and becoming less and less satisfied by acting. He found his niche in true-crime writing; cops liked and trusted him, and murderers seemed to want him to tell their side of the story. He wrote about the Manson family (The Garbage People, 1971), L.A.'s unsolved Black Dahlia murder (Severed, 1994), and serial killer Charles Schmid (Cold Blooded, 1996). He also wrote memoirs of his friendships with James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. He lives in the Hollywood Hills, and his latest book is Road Without End: On the Run with Bonnie and Clyde. It's due out this year.

On this date in 1937, Hormel Foods first introduced SPAM to America. It's pre-cooked pork and ham in a can, with a little potato starch, salt, and sugar. Sodium nitrate is added to keep it pink; without it, pork tends to turn gray. It also has a gelatinous coating of aspic, which forms when the meat cools.

It was originally called "Hormel Spiced Ham," but that proved less than compelling to consumers, so the company held a contest to rename the affordable meat product. The winner, Kenneth Daigneau, received a hundred bucks. There's no consensus on what the name actually stands for; a common theory is that it's a portmanteau of "spiced meat and ham." In Britain, where it was a popular wartime food, they called it "Specially Processed American Meat" or "Supply Pressed American Meat." A host of tongue-in-cheek acronyms have also arisen, like "Something Posing As Meat," "Special Product of Austin, Minnesota," and "Spare Parts Animal Meat." Whatever it stands for, Hormel specifies that it should be written in all caps. During the last few years, Hormel has been promoting the product more heavily, reminding recession-stricken shoppers that it's an economical and convenient source of protein.

And then of course there's the famous Monty Python sketch where the restaurant patron is informed that the menu consists of "SPAM, egg, SPAM, SPAM, bacon, and SPAM ..." and so on, complete with Vikings chanting "SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM" in the background. It's relentless, even after the woman protests that she doesn't like SPAM, and that's how the unsolicited and unwanted bulk e-mail advertising that clogs all our inboxes got its name.

On this date in 1946, the bikini was introduced in Paris. That summer, designer Jacques Heim came up with a revealing two-piece outfit, which he called the Atom: "the world's smallest bathing suit." But credit goes to his competitor, French mechanical engineer-turned-swimsuit designer Louis Réard, who unveiled his design on July 5. He predicted that the skimpy swimwear would cause a cultural explosion to rival the recent nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll, and that's where he got the name that stuck. Réard couldn't find a model who was willing to wear such a revealing outfit, so he had to hire an exotic dancer from the Casino de Paris. He got 50,000 fan letters, and famously stated in his ads that a swimsuit wasn't really a bikini unless you could pass it through a wedding ring.

The brief two-piece swimsuit dates back much further than this name, however. Roman mosaics and paintings depict women swimming in outfits that resemble the modern bikini, and historians have found evidence that a form of our modern bikini may have been popular in ancient Minoan civilizations about 3,600 years ago.

In 1954, Elvis Presley recorded his first single, "That's All Right (Mama)," on this date. Elvis was in the studio at Sun Records, and Sam Phillips wasn't too impressed with what he'd done so far: lackluster renditions of "Harbor Lights" and "I Love You Because." He called for a break, and Elvis started jamming with the band, knocking out an up-tempo rendition of blues singer Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup's 1946 single. Phillips stuck his head out of the control room to ask what they were doing. Guitarist Scotty Moore said, "We don't know," and Phillips ordered, "Well, back up, try to find a place to start, and do it again." It was released on July 19, and was a regional hit. It didn't get big nationally, but it kicked off Elvis's career, and a new form of popular music: rock and roll.

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




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