Oct. 6, 2011

Spilled Milk

by Willa Schneberg

I can still hear the clink
of the milk bottles he brought home
10:00 in the morning after he made
his deliveries for Bordens.
Thirty-five years, they never
gave him off a Jewish holiday.
The goy he asked to do his shift
on Yom Kippur refused and
the next day he dropped dead.
They called it a Jewish curse.
Then they stepped all over each other
to work for him.

What could I do after his stroke?
I put him in a nursing home.
He knows me, but can't talk anymore.
Fifty years we lived together
he would never weep in front of me.
Now all the time his eyes are tearing,
but there is no more Morris to cry.

Lovemaking wasn't so easy between us
in the early years. We both felt guilty.
We thought we weren't supposed to enjoy
it and I was always worried
about becoming pregnant.
Later on we worried the children would hear.
But after they grew up and moved out
and I couldn't bear anymore
we began to have fun.
It wasn't always before going to sleep either.
Sometimes during breakfast
he would say, Let's go
and roll his eyes up to the bedroom.
Luba, he would say, I'll help you
take out the hairpins

"Spilled Milk" by Willa Schneberg, from In the Margins of the World. © Plain View Press, 2001. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is German-American Day. On this date in 1683, English Quaker William Penn brought the first group of German settlers to America. He was granted the territory — a parcel of land nearly as large as England itself — as payment for a debt that the crown owed to his father. The king dubbed the land "Pennsylvania," meaning "Penn's Woods," in honor of the senior Penn. Penn the son called Pennsylvania his "Holy Experiment," and he set about to find a group of righteous men to form a new society founded on Quaker ideals of nonviolence, freedom of religious worship, and equality for all. "Freedom of religion" and "equality" were conditional terms, however. While other religious traditions were tolerated in Pennsylvania, participation in government was restricted to Protestants; Catholics, Jews, and Muslims could not vote or hold office. And Penn's promises of equality didn't really extend to everyone: women couldn't vote, and Penn himself was a slave-owner.

He advertised his new colony in the Free Society of Traders, writing, "The air is sweet and clear, the heavens serene, like the south parts of France, rarely overcast." He found one group of suitably righteous men, 13 in all, in the lower Rhine Valley. They lived in the town of Krefeld, and most of them were Quakers or Mennonites. He brought them, with their families, to America aboard the Concord. They were the first German immigrants to the Colonies, and they founded the settlement of Germantown. Germantown became the birthplace of the anti-slavery movement in America five years later, when several town leaders sent a two-page condemnation of slavery to the governing body of the Quaker church.

German-American Day was first celebrated in the 19th century, but fell out of favor due to anti-German sentiment during World War I. President Reagan reinstated it in 1983 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the arrival of the settlers in Philadelphia.

On this date in 1927, the release of The Jazz Singer marked the beginning of the end for silent movies. The feature-length film starred Al Jolson and was adapted from a short story called "The Day of Atonement," by Samson Raphaelson, which was made into a Broadway play in 1925. It's the story of a young Jewish man who defies the traditions of his father, a cantor, and becomes an entertainer. The movie premiered at Warner Brothers' flagship theater in New York City, and the release date was chosen because it was the day before Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, which features prominently in the plot.

It wasn't the first movie with sound: Filmmakers had been experimenting with musical accompaniment and sound effects for a few years already. The Jazz Singer, however, was the first to include talking along with the musical numbers. The first synchronized dialogue in a motion picture occurs about 17 minutes in, when Al Jolson says, "Wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain't heard nothin' yet."

In the early days, synchronized sound in movies involved separate records, which had to be played at precisely the right moment in their corresponding film reels. It was easy to get it wrong, and the conversion to sound was famously lampooned in the Gene Kelly movie Singing in the Rain (1952). Growing pains aside, The Jazz Singer was a solid hit for Warner Bros. The studio released the first all-talking film, Lights of New York (1928), the following summer, sounding the death knell for the age of silent movies.

On this date in 1945, Greek tavern-owner William "Billy Goat" Sianis was ejected from Chicago's Wrigley Field for attempting to bring a goat to the World Series. The details of the story vary, but the tavern's version goes something like this: The Cubs were up two games to one over the Detroit Tigers, and they were about to play Game Four. Sianis, whose tavern was across the street from Wrigley Field, hoped to bring his team luck, so he bought two tickets: one for him, and one for his pet goat, Murphy. The ushers wouldn't let him bring the animal inside, ticket or no. Sianis appealed his case all the way up to the team's owner, P.K. Wrigley, who said the man was welcome but the goat was not, because "the goat stinks." According to the legend, Billy then cursed the team, saying, "The Cubs will never win a World Series so long as the goat is not allowed in Wrigley Field." The Cubs went on to lose the next three games of the World Series to the Tigers, and Billy promptly sent Wrigley a telegram that read, "Who stinks now?" In spite of multiple attempts to placate the ghosts of Billy and Murphy in recent years, the Cubs haven't won — or even appeared in — the Fall Classic since.

Today is the birthday of spy novelist Joseph Finder (1958) (books by this author). He was born in Chicago, but spent his childhood living in a variety of locations all over the world. His first language was Farsi, which he learned as a small boy in Kabul, Afghanistan. His family eventually settled outside Albany, New York, and Finder went to Yale, where he majored in Russian studies and graduated summa cum laude. The CIA recruited him after he completed graduate school at Harvard. After a while, he decided he preferred writing to espionage, and his first book, Red Carpet — a nonfiction exposé of ties between the Kremlin and many powerful American businessmen — was published in 1983. His first novel, The Moscow Club, followed in 1991, and he's since gained a reputation for writing spy thrillers set in the corporate world. He is a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers and the Council on Foreign Relations, and writes on the subject of espionage and international affairs. He lives in Boston with his wife, daughter, and dog, Mia, whom he describes as a dropout from Seeing Eye-dog school.

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