Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Haunting Poetry in History

There are countless moments in history that stop you short of getting through the rest of your day, making you really think about your place in the world in relation to great and terrible political figures, events in various histories, and those small moments that sometimes show that those you would believe to be above you in the annals of government really don't possess anything more special than simply being alive and living through the same emotions and day-to-day decisions that we do, though ours tend to be far less momentous, yet no less important.

What I'm driving at is from Going Home to Glory: A Memoir of Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961-1969 by David Eisenhower with Julie Nixon Eisenhower. Eisenhower chronicles growing up as the grandson of Dwight D. Eisenhower, and all that entailed for his family, including John, his father, who served him for decades, including his eight years in the White House.

It's a fascinating story, full of those details that show that presidents, even with all that burden, are indeed human. And there's one particular sobering moment in that vein, toward the end of the book, in which news of Eisenhower's forthcoming death has gone through Washington and triggered many preparations, including a eulogy being written for Nixon to deliver at the memorial service in the Capitol Rotunda, and Lyndon Johnson at work as well:

"At the LBJ Ranch in Austin, Texas, a melancholy Lyndon Johnson drafted a statement beginning: "A giant of our age is gone." Four days later, he would stalk Eisenhower's funeral in Abilene like a ghost, barely noticed by many, eyes glistening in sorrow at the passing of a good friend."

During his presidency, Johnson consulted Eisenhower regularly, and also gave standing orders that a helicopter be provided for him to and from his farm in Gettsyburg, Pennsylvania, that he be permitted use of Walter Reed Army Hospital, and also Camp David.

That is indeed sad poetry, and it's also a testament to David Eisenhower's skilled writing that he can convey that and make one stop reading for a few moments to really think about that, between the Johnson that existed in the White House early on and the Johnson that endured such personal carnage as he oversaw a devastating war, such turmoil that extended to that point in his post-presidential life.

That's not meant to diminish the importance of those who fought and died in the Vietnam War, but as my focus for at least three books is the presidents, that's what I emphasize here.

As to my research, this book included, I don't skim the pages looking for keywords that crucial to the books I plan to write. I read each and every book because I love this subject. What better opportunity to go deep into all of this history?

Silky Muted Crunchiness

Obviously, if you douse Cheerios in a liquid, they get soggy. (Sidenote: I would follow a parenting blog called "Whiskey and Cheerios." Someone work on that, please.)

But my frustration in the morning has been that after I pour milk on my Cheerios, I only get a chance at the top layer being crunchy. Further down, the floating Cheerios have no chance. They're soggy by the time I get there. It could be that because my milk of choice is Alta Dena Fat Free Skim Milk, there might be something missing from that which milk with more fat might have. I don't know, and I don't have that much time to waste online this afternoon.

I will never give up milk and I will never give up cheese. Those in moderation, always. But lately, as part of eating a lot healthier, I've gotten into soy products. Don't gag. Have you tried Trader Joe's Edamame Hummus? It tastes like chicken salad without the chicken. Whenever we go to Trader Joe's, I always rush for the refrigerated hummus case for that and their Chunky Olive Hummus, which includes green and black olives. That taste is genetic, since my Mom loves black olives.

My foray into soy has included the Silk products, but in drink box form. Plain, chocolate, and most of the time without the straw that's provided because it's like sucking bubbles, so I use a regular straw so I can get it all in one shot.

I never thought to get Silk in the cardboard containers, since the boxes have always been enough for me. But Mom got the Silk PureAlmond with dark chocolate, and that was really good. So at Wal-Mart last Sunday (not the big one with the food center that we went to that night, but to the smaller one during the day), I decided to get the original Silk.

My body's still getting used to it, as evidenced by the gas that says, "Ok, we've no idea what this is, but at least it's not all that shit he used to eat all the time," but I love it. Yesterday, my first day with it, I opened it and the first cup was very plain. Later that day, it tasted a little nuttier. This stuff seems to develop over time, at least before when it's supposed to expire! I love that! I don't drink wine, so this is the only instance in which I can sense the taste of something changing, becoming more pronounced.

This morning, I decided to pour Silk in my Cheerios instead of the Alta Dena milk. And it was exactly what I wanted. The top layer still had the most crunchiness, but the layer below didn't give up so quickly. It couldn't possibly be as crunchy, but there was still a small crunch there. With the regular milk, I'd just eat the Cheerios and be done, not thinking anything further about it. But now, I take pleasure in there still being a crunch. It's quiet, but it's still there, and I love it.

The bigger Wal-Mart in this valley was selling three-packs of the Very Vanilla flavor when we were there on Sunday night. $1.07, with a red color over the price, indicating that they were not going to carry it after that stock had run out. I bought two three-packs, and I like it. I have it in the afternoon as a snack, sometimes with a granola bar, sometimes not. But my success with the original flavor, and with this flavor makes me want to try the others.

For the sake of my Cheerios, the original flavor will be the standard by which all other Silks have to abide.

That Was Too Close

I woke up at 8:03 in disbelief. 24 minutes ago. It was remarkable for me, because it's difficult to get back to sleep while Dad and Meridith are getting ready for work.

Generally, I need complete silence to sleep, and I got that after they had left, so I sank into what was indeed another world, for about 45 more minutes. Thankfully, it was only temporary, because I don't want that world. Ever.

I'm not sure what the circumstances of the dream were, what I had been doing up until that point, where I had been. Maybe I had been asleep in my room, maybe I had just come home from somewhere. That detail isn't important.

I remember there being dishes in the sink from dinner, and it was my night to do them, so I thanked Meridith for putting it all into the sink, and I told Mom that I would handle it.

I went into my room, and also into total shock. My nightstand was cleared of nearly everything I had on it; my books were neatly stacked around the room, some stacked in the boxes I use as bookshelves, spine side out, but there was one huge distinction: There were far less books.

The only stack that represented what I had had before in humongous stacks was next to my bed, and looked like it was on the verge of teetering like Jenga blocks. It wasn't that I thought I wouldn't be able to find anything that I was shocked, it was that I wasn't given a choice of what I wanted to keep.

Mom and Meridith were still sitting on the couch in the living room, watching TV, after I had taken in that horrific scene, and I rushed right by them into the master bedroom (which has a door leading into the garage) and shook Dad awake, demanding answers. He said, "You don't need that many books." I fairly shouted, "I bought some of those books for research!" And it's true. I have. Right now, there's a three-volume biography of Nixon by Stephen Ambrose in one stack, and another Nixon biography by Conrad Black under my widescreen TV, as well as a book about the creation of the Frost/Nixon interviews, all purchases inspired by my visit to the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, but now for research as well.

After that scene, I rushed outside to the recycling bins, hoping they hadn't been picked up so I could recover what I knew I needed. Too late. The truck had already been there.

I walked down the street, dazed, looking in other bins, hoping that Dad had also put books in those bins and that the guy operating the recycling truck hadn't been too careful. As I did, a few teenagers put some soda cans in one of the bins and brushed right by me as I rolled one of those empty bins back to the curb. A bin as empty as I was at that moment.

I know I have a lot of books, and that my room is small enough to make those books look big. But you never, never, never tell a bibliophile that he or she has too many books. We know why we have those books. We know that we have a lot. But that is our life, or at least part of our life. We want as many of those pages as possible in a day. I know absolutely that that's the reason I'm here, living this particular life (As for past lives, I don't know, but I've always been mildly curious after watching that scene in Defending Your Life where Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep are at the Past Lives Pavilion), and that I will not give up books or reading for anything.

I also know that I won't keep all the books I have in my room. I have one inviolable rule for my collection, which remains separate from all those stacks of books: I have to have an overwhelming desire for a book to have it in my collection. If I check out a book more than 3 times from the library, I buy a copy for my collection. That happened with a few of my Bukowski books, as well as This Book Will Save Your Life by A.M. Homes. There are the rare exceptions, such as The Library by Sarah Stewart, an illustrated children's book about a devoted reader whose house is so thoroughly stocked with books that it creates some problems, yet she doesn't see them as problems until the end, finds a solution that benefits her community, and then goes on reading for the rest of her life.

I know the stacks of books in that book, because they're mine. This was one title that I chose for Meridith to read to Tigger and Kitty, since she reads to them every morning, and after we had gotten back from the library last Saturday, I took the stack of books I had chosen for them and read all of them, since they interested me in some way, too.

As soon as I finished The Library, I went to abebooks.com, typed in the necessary information (title and author) and bookmarked that page, and looked it up on Amazon and bookmarked that, too, with the intent of buying it, which I did late last week. The Library will be part of my collection because it is me completely.

I probably have a few hundred books in my room. But my collection totals about 40 books. 40 that I will keep. 40 that will move with me when we eventually move. As to the other books, I'm not going to become a bookseller after I'm done with them. I don't intend to become part of the AbeBooks community. Those books probably will end up going to Goodwill if I don't need them in my collection.

Every book in my room is there for a reason. It may end up not being an immediate reason, but it is an eventual reason. I know in that nightmare, Dad was looking to keep the house more organized, but it reminds me that I remain very much annoyed by the manufactured disdain toward education in this country. Being educated and being able to tell a "v" from an "n" is not elitist. This is who I am. Call me whatever you want, but in all my years of reading, I know that I could probably come up with a better insult than you can manage.

Yeah, that last bit is completely incongruous with the rest of my words, but I had to get that out somewhere, and I didn't want to spend an entire entry with it.