Jan. 1, 2012

The Clock

by Dennis O'Driscoll

With only one story to tell, the clock strikes
a monotonous note, irrespective of how
musical the bell, how gilded the chimes
its timely conclusions report through.
Time literally on hands, it informs you
to your face exactly where you stand
in relation to your aspirations, stacks up
the odds against your long-term prospects,
leaves your hopes and expectations checked.
Keeping track of time to the last second, it gives
the lie to all small talk about your reputedly
youthful looks, sees through the subterfuge
of dyed hair, exposes the stark truth beneath
the massaged evidence of smooth skin.

"The Clock" by Dennis O'Driscoll, from Reality Check. © Copper Canyon Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is New Year's Day. If you are suffering from a hangover today, you aren't alone. The chief culprit is dehydration caused by the diuretic effect of ethanol, which can lead to shrinkage of brain tissue, and that causes headache. Alcohol irritates the lining of the stomach, causing queasiness. Other symptoms are caused by the toxic by-products of the liver's detoxification process. For something so common, hangover is poorly understood by the medical community, and quack remedies abound.

Hangover remedies probably evolved hand in hand with alcohol consumption. Pliny the Elder counseled Romans to eat fried canaries or raw owl's eggs. Ancient Assyrians tried to assuage their anguish by consuming a concoction of ground bird beaks and myrrh. Medieval Europeans consumed raw eels with bitter almonds. The Chinese drank green tea, which seems benign enough, but their neighbors the Mongolians ate pickled sheep's eyes. The Japanese ate pickled plums. Then there's the Prairie Oyster, introduced at the 1878 Paris World Expo: it's a raw egg (with the yolk intact), mixed with Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper. Puerto Ricans took a preventative tack: they rubbed sliced lemons in their armpits before drinking; In India, they drank coconut water, and there's some merit to that, because coconut water is rich in electrolytes and it helps with the dehydration.

Then there's the "hair of the dog" approach. In the 19th century, an Italian named Bernardino Branca developed a potion called Fernet: rhubarb, aloe, peppermint oil, and opiates. As a bonus, Fernet also cured cholera, or so Branca claimed. It's still available today, minus the opiates. Some people swear by the Bloody Mary: tomato juice mixed with vodka and a variety of spices; Hemingway's variant was tomato juice and beer.

A literature review in the British Medical Journal concludes that there is no reliable way to treat or prevent hangover after over-imbibing. The Algonquin Round Table writer Robert Benchley came to a similar conclusion: "A real hangover is nothing to try out family remedies on. The only cure for a real hangover is death."

Today is the birthday of English author E. M. (Edward Morgan) Forster (1879) (books by this author), born in London. His father died when Forster was a baby, and his mother and his paternal aunts raised him. His mother's family was impulsive and irresponsible, and his father's family believed in evangelism and strict moral responsibility, so he grew up in the middle of a clash of ideals. He inherited a great deal of money when he was a boy, so when he graduated from Cambridge, he had the freedom to devote his life to writing.

In 1901, he began a novel that he called Lucy. It was about a young woman, Lucy Honeychurch, who travels to Italy with her nervous and spinsterish older cousin. It eventually became his third published novel, A Room With a View (1908). He had his first big literary success with Howards End (1910), a novel about the class system in England as revealed through three families: the Wilcoxes, who are upper-middle-class capitalists; the Schlegels, who are left-wing intellectuals; and the Basts, who are struggling to rise above working class.

After publishing four books in five years, Forster didn't produce another novel until A Passage to India (1924), 14 years later. It's set during the British colonial period in India, and reveals the undercurrent of tension and prejudice between the two cultures. In a contemporary review, The Guardian said of the book, "To speak of its 'fairness' would convey the wrong impression, because that suggests a conscious virtue. This is the involuntary fairness of the man who sees."

In spite of the great success of A Passage to India, Forster didn't publish another novel in his lifetime. His novel Maurice (1971), a homosexual love story, wasn't published until after Forster died in 1970.

It's the birthday of J. D. (Jerome David) Salinger (books by this author), born in New York City (1919). He published his first story, "The Young Folks," in 1940, in a literary magazine called Story. It was all the encouragement he needed to keep writing. After a series of rejections, his stories were accepted by magazines like Saturday Evening Post and Esquire. He wrote one called "Slight Rebellion Off Madison," and The New Yorker accepted it, but after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December, the magazine decided Salinger's story was too light-hearted for a readership stunned by war. Salinger was drafted, and took part in the invasion of Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge, and the liberation of Dachau, but the war was hard on him and he ended up in a military hospital in 1945, suffering from shell shock.

When he returned to the United States in 1946, The New Yorker finally published "Slight Rebellion Off Madison," and Salinger incorporated some of the story's elements — including the alienated teenage protagonist, Holden Caulfield — into his first and only novel. The Catcher in the Rye (1951). The New Yorker rejected everything he sent them from 1944 to 1946, including 15 poems, but they were so impressed with his short story "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" (1948) that they drew up a contract giving them the right of first refusal to all of his stories from then on. "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" was the first of several stories featuring the Glass family.

The Catcher in the Rye was an instant success: within two months of publication, it was reprinted eight times. But it also quickly became notorious; parents objected to the casual mentions of prostitutes and Caulfield's proclivity for swearing. It's the second-most taught book in American high schools, but it's also the most censored book in the country. All the publicity and controversy drove Salinger further and further from the public eye, and he moved from New York to Cornish, New Hampshire in 1953. Though he continued to write for his own pleasure — and told a neighbor he had 15 completed novels in his house — he published his last story in The New Yorker in 1965.

The Catcher in the Rye opens:
"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth."

On this date in 1939, William Hewlett and David Packard formed a business partnership in a garage in Palo Alto, California, with start-up capital in the amount of $538. They called it Hewlett-Packard. Dave and his new bride Lucile were living in a first-floor apartment, and Bill Hewlett was living in a shed out back. The shed had indoor plumbing, but between the facilities and the cot, there wasn't room for much else. Hewlett's closet consisted of a few nails he'd pounded into the walls to hang his clothes on. By day, Hewlett and Packard were research assistants at Stanford University; by night, they worked in the garage developing the company's first product, an audio oscillator. Their first customer was Walt Disney, who bought eight of the oscillators to fine-tune the sound systems in theaters that would be showing the movie Fantasia (1940). The "HP Garage," as it's now known, was officially named the Birthplace of Silicon Valley in 1989.

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