Nov. 23, 2012

God's Letters

by Grace Schulman

When God thought up the world,
the alphabet letters
whistled in his crown,
where they were engraved
with a pen of fire,
each wanting to begin
the story of Creation.

S said, I am Soul.
I can Shine out
from within your creatures.
God replied, I know that,
but you are Sin, too.

L said, I am Love,
and I brush away malice.
God rejoined, Yes,
but you are Lie,
and falsehood is not
what I had in mind.

P said, I am Praise,
and where there's a celebration,
I Perform
in my Purple coat.
Yes, roared God,
but at the same time,
you are Pessimism—
the other side of Praise.
And so forth.

All the letters
had two sides or more.
None was pure.
There was a clamor
in paradise, words,
syllables, shouting
to be seen and heard
for the glory
of the new heavens and earth.

God fell silent,
How can song
rise from that commotion?

Rather than speculate,
God chose B,
who had intoned,
Bashfully, Boldly,
Blessed is his name.

And he made A
first in the Alphabet
for admitting, I am All—
a limitation
and a possibility.

"God's Letters" by Grace Schulman, from Days of Wonder. © Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1889 the jukebox made its debut at the Palais Royale Saloon in San Francisco. It was called a "nickel-in-the-slot player" and was built by the Pacific Phonograph Co. and installed by entrepreneur Louis Glass and his business associate William S. Arnold.

The jukebox consisted of an Edison Class M Electric Phonograph inside a free-standing oak cabinet to which were attached four stethoscope-like tubes. Each tube could be activated by depositing a coin so that four people could listen to a single recording at one time — the sound equivalent of the peep-show nickelodeon. Towels were supplied so that Palais Royale patrons could wipe off the listening tubes between uses. Despite competition from player pianos, this primitive jukebox was a big hit across the country. In its first six months of service, the nickel-in-the-slot earned more than $1,000.

It was on this day in 1903 that the opera singer Enrico Caruso made his American debut at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, appearing in "Rigoletto." Caruso made it there from a childhood in the slums of Naples. His auto-mechanic father had tried to get him to work in a factory, but he'd run away from home at 16 and supported himself singing at weddings and funerals. Caruso began his career as an opera singer in 1894, at an amateur opera house, but he slowly built up a reputation throughout Europe and around the world.

By 1903, there was a lot of anticipation for his American debut, and most critics agreed that he did a good job. But over the course of that first opera season, Caruso began to relax and he sang better and better with each performance. By the end of the season, audiences were going into hysterics. After one of his last performances of the season, the audience members began yelling, stamping, and screaming his name. One woman jumped up on stage as Caruso came out for a bow. She tore a button from his coat and immediately burst into tears.

Less than three months after his Metropolitan debut, Caruso made some recordings for the Victor Company, and his voice had a quality that shone through all the static in those early recordings, which helped transform the phonograph from a curiosity into a household item — and Caruso the first vocal recording star.

Caruso said his success could be attributed to six things: "A big chest, a big mouth, 90 percent memory, 10 percent intelligence, lots of hard work, and something in the heart."

It's the birthday of a man about whom many books have been written: William H. Bonney Jr., better known as Billy the Kid, born in New York City (1859). He was born in New York's East Side, migrated to Kansas with his parents, moved with his mother to Colorado after his father died, and finally ended up in New Mexico, where as a teenager he fell into a life outside the law. He had trouble finding a job, partly because he was so small and youthful looking. An acquaintance described him as "a short, slender young man with large front teeth, giving a chronic grin to his expression." So he turned to crime. He stole horses and rustled cattle, and eventually he got involved in a feud between two business factions looking to control the dry-goods business in Lincoln County, New Mexico. It became known as the Lincoln County War, and Billy the Kid fought to defend his boss, John Tunstall, who had hired him as a ranch hand. The feud escalated, with regular murders on both sides, and the Kid was arrested by an old acquaintance, Pat Garrett, now the Lincoln County sheriff. He stood trial for murder, was found guilty, and was sentenced to hang. On April 30, 1881, he broke out of jail, killing two deputies in the process. Sheriff Garrett hunted him down, and shot him dead in an ambush on July 14, 1881. Legend has it that Billy the Kid killed 27 men in his short career, which ended when he was only 21.

One man who knew Billy the Kid said: "He was a tough customer, ruthless with his enemies, but generous to his friends, the native rancheros. His good looks, charming personality, and fine dancing won him the admiration of the younger set, who considered him a gay caballero. But he was a desperado, a gunman, and a killer."

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




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