“Carpathian sheep men are dancing tonight. . . “

Dallas, 4 AM sleet

Dallas, 4 AM sleet



It’s one of those memories that makes one crazy. Did I dream it? Did it happen? Did it happen in a former life? Somewhere in the inner folds of my brain I can hear a women’s chorus singing what I think is a Christmas carol that ends (point of fact—the ending is all I hear) with an ascending melody on the words, “to the Christ of the snow.”

A few short years ago, when I was still thinking about church Christmas parties, I bought yet another collection of “all the Christmas songs everyone wants to sing and then some.” In the collection is the carol “Christ of the Snow,” a traditional Hungarian carol, or so the book says, arranged after a setting for three-part women’s chorus by Harvey Gaul. It makes perfect sense that at some point in my musical life I accompanied—or at least heard enough times to remember—such a setting.

The mystery is that my carol book gives the Hungarian (I presume) title of the carol, Posjtarolo Arvendezna. I can usually find an inkling of information about almost anything, but this phrase, whatever language it is, has only one mention I can find—the Harvey Gaul anthem from 1932. The Carpathian Mountains are a large range that cuts across Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, Slovakia, and Poland, so I think the phrase could be from one of several languages

I was humming “to the Christ of the Snow” at 4 this morning as I was up taking a picture of the snowy parking lot beneath my 4th-floor window (I shouldn’t need to mention by this point that I’m always up at 4 in the morning). Turned out pretty well, I think. And then I was pondering snowstorms I have known.

Snowstorms I have known.

There was the blizzard of ‘49 in Western Nebraska. I don’t exactly remember it (we lived in Wyoming then) except that the legend was recounted often by ’52

The Blizzard of '49

The Blizzard of ’49

when we moved there. I wished as a kid we’d have another Blizzard of ’49. Don’t get me wrong. We had some pretty fierce blizzards, but apparently none equaled ’49.

And then there were the regular snowstorms in Iowa City. Snow. Simply lots of snow. I don’t remember any particular storm while I was there, 1974-1977. But, then, I don’t remember much about Iowa. Straight vodka by the quart will do that to a person.

In the fall of ’77, I moved from Iowa to Methuen, MA, to be with him. You know, that one that I was not complete without. His house was pretty much in the country (Methuen is on the Massachusetts/New Hampshire border). Cross country skiing is big there.

On February 6, 1978 (a Monday), the Nor’easter that had been building up let loose on Massachusetts. It snowed for pretty much two days, and we were trapped in the house. Literally could not open the doors. That Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, and services at my church in Salem (25 miles away) were cancelled (we had Ash Sunday the following Sunday). He was from Stowe, VT, and this was simply an inconvenience for him. And off he went on a work trip as soon as he could get out of the house, leaving me stranded in the Massachusetts countryside. At that time, my only means of support (besides him) was a half-time church music job. I had almost no friends and certainly no family anywhere near. The only thing keeping me in that snow-bound place was him. You’d think I would have packed up by the end of the week and headed to my old stomping grounds in California. But I had even less sense then than I have now.

The Blizzard of '78

The Blizzard of ’78

Eventually I did get out of New England (after 17 years).  I came to Dallas because my partner (he was more than just a him) got a job here. The difference between my moves across the country was that this time I knew I how I was going to support myself before I moved. And I was also following my lifelong dream of studying creative writing. I didn’t move here just for him. In fact, I waited almost a year to follow him—waited until I had the possibility of a “life.”

But the day I left Massachusetts there was a foot of snow on the ground, and there was an ice storm on top of that. I drove all the way to Waterbury, CN (perhaps 150 miles) before I stopped for the night. I’d say I got out of Massachusetts just in the nick of time.

Now this morning it’s snowing/sleeting/icing in Dallas. We’re not having classes today, so I’m here at my desk writing. And as soon as I put the period here, I will start grading papers. The weather forecasters got this one right, and they say it’s not going to get above freezing for a couple more days. Well, that’s OK with me. I have food in the house and lots to do, and if I want to go anywhere—

—why would I want to go anywhere? The cats and I know when to sing, “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.” Well hang out here and watch a few people try to

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

get out of the parking lot and be glad neither SMU nor anyone else expects an old man like me to appear anywhere today.

I did manage to make a little video. If anyone knows for sure the origin of this tune, I’d love to hear from you.

“The Christ of the Snow”
Posjtarolo Arvendezna
(presumably) Hungarian traditional
After an arrangement by Harvey Gaul (1932)

Carpathian sheep men are dancing tonight,
Carpathian hill folk now follow the light.
They’re coming from highlands, they’re coming from low,
To the shrine in the village, to the Christ of the Snow,
To the Christ of the Snow.

Sing fathers and mothers, sing daughters and sons,
Sing shepherds and gentry, your glad orisons.
The Christ child is born now, the shrine is aglow,
Carol hill folk and town folk to the Christ of the Snow,
To the Christ of the Snow.

“Is it still politically correct to call Carmen a gypsy?”

Carmen. The Dallas Opera.

Carmen. The Dallas Opera.

The other day I was looking for an article describing the “other” in the 1956 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers for my students. The “other” is that group of people that we find strange, or fear, or hate—you know, Christians, illegal aliens, Jews, Muslims, Catholics, blacks, whites, Evangelicals. You name a group and some group thinks they are the “other” and hates them with a passion.

I came across an article I hoped would be interesting for the classes. It was of moderate interest for me because it’s about Bizet’s Carmen, which I saw yesterday at the Dallas Opera. The only interesting sentence in the article is the last.

. .. different terms for wandering strangers show just how hard it can be to find the right word for “the other” (1).

If you’re bored by opera, skip this paragraph:

The production was wildly grand—and authentic.  Clémentine Margaine was, as advertised, glorious of voice and expressive as an actor as Carmen, Bruno Ribeiro was a sexy and engulfed Don Jose, and—the best surprise—Mary Dunleavy was intensely effective—and glorious of voice—as Micaela (which role is usually played by a nebbish of a soprano).

So back to the “other” and “political correctness.”

I hope all you liberals out there refuse to use that phrase: it was thought up by the self-styled “conservative” ancestors of the Tea Baggers to put us liberals down because we don’t particularly like to use words that emphasize “otherness.”  You know, like “Don we now our fun apparel.” Yuk!

Is Carmen a gypsy or is she simply a wild woman who loves her men? Or is she a fascinatingly complex character who has elements of both, and a personality much more complicated than either. And who sings about her psychological makeup in the most glorious and popular melodies in all of opera—perhaps in all music that anyone (everyone) is familiar with. What straight man in his right mind could resist that melody (or gay man at his most “sensitive”)?

A One-Night Stand

A One-Night Stand

Perhaps she’s simply a “bohemian.”  Ruth Walker says, “In the 19th century, bohemian came to refer to those who live outside the conventions of ordinary society, typically as some sort of artist” (2).

My introduction to Carmen (both the opera and the woman) came from a set of 78rpm records of all of Carmen’s arias by Rise Stevens my gay uncle gave me when I was about 12 or 13 years old. He had purchased a modern LP recording of the entire opera and no longer needed Rise Stevens—one of the luckiest musical breaks of my life.

Soon after that I saw a production of La Boheme by a traveling company as part of the Community Concert Association season in Scottsbluff, NE. A couple of years later, the CCA brought a company that sang Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex in a concert version (pretty wild stuff for Scottsbluff, but I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to like it, so I did). I particularly liked the mask Oedipus donned with blood running out of his eyes.

Close up of my sofa (See Nov. 8 post). Thanks to my sister. Note the Ralph Luren pillow.

Close up of my sofa (See Nov. 8 post). Thanks to my sister. Note the upside-down Ralph Lauren pillow.

I was hooked. I have very few regrets in my life. I suppose it isn’t really a regret (an “I wonder what would have happened”) that I took organ lessons instead of sticking with the piano long enough to become proficient enough somehow to have a career in opera instead of church music—a conductor or a vocal coach or a rehearsal accompanist at the Met.

Oh well.

The question one needs to ask at this point really has nothing to do with Carmen. Or everything to do with Carmen.  “Is it still politically correct to call an old gay man who can’t get enough of Rise Stevens (or Mary Dunleavy) an ‘opera queen’?”

Don’t you dare.

[Apropos of nothing or everything: I don’t know why everything reminds of some poem these days. But here’s one to go with this posting. It’ll make your reading this far worthwhile whether my writing does or not.]

by Harvey Shapiro

Drunk and weeping. It’s another night
at the live-in opera, and I figure
it’s going to turn out badly for me.
The dead next door accept their salutations,
their salted notes, the drawn-out wailing.
It’s we the living who must run for cover,
meaning me. Mortality’s the ABC of it,
and after that comes lechery and lying.
And, oh, how to piece together a life
from this scandal and confusion, as if
the gods were inhabiting us or cohabiting
with us, just for the music’s sake.
(1) Walker, Ruth. “‘Carmen,’ gypsies, bohemians, and ‘others’.” Christian Science Monitor 30 Jan. 2013: N.PAG. (2) Ibid.

A river runs through it (my life, that is)

Laramie Peak - from a shorter distance than my childhood vantage

Laramie Peak – from a shorter distance
than my childhood vantage

On a bookshelf in my apartment, next to the two histories of our family my dad wrote and published, are three books (1).

Yesterday I was nostalgic—no, feeling a tad sorry for myself because here at 68 when I should be seeing the world with my husband and joying in the company of my grandchildren, I am alone with three cats. My mild nostalgia/self-pity is not a big deal. But I saw the books and my mind wandered to Dad’s work when he was my age.

At that time my parents lived in Sacramento. He was semi-retired, doing interesting work as an interim pastor sent to various places to work with churches without pastors. One of those places was Spokane, WA. My then partner and I visited my parents, and the four of us made a trip to Glacier National Park. A delicious outing.

For some time before he died (until he could not physically or mentally maintain his concentration—he was, after all, 97), Dad was writing a memoir tracing his life’s journey along the Oregon Trail.

He was born in Kansas City, MO, and lived (after five years in Wyoming) in Kearney, Scottsbluff, and Omaha, NE, all on the Platte River—and the Oregon Trail. Eventually he moved to California, that home in Sacramento—the ultimate goal of many pioneers who traveled the Oregon Trail.

I am, as I said, in a nostalgic mood (or something related to that), so I will do a bit of river-remembrance of my own. And in the process, some Oregon Trail thinking which will be of interest to my siblings and about two other people.

My brother and I were born in Douglas, WY, on the North Platte River. Douglas is a small town nestled at the foot of Laramie Peak.

Later, we lived for two years in Kearney, NE, where my sister was born. The city is on the Platte River which is formed by the confluence of the North Platte and South Platte Rivers about 100 miles west of there. From Kearney, we moved to Scottsbluff, NE, which is (once again) on the North Platte River. “Nebraska,” by the way, is an Anglicized version of the name French explorers gave the river as a transliteration of the Omaha Indian name meaning “Flat Water.” Folks in Western Nebraska say the river is “a mile wide and an inch deep.”

A mile wide and an inch deep

A mile wide and an inch deep

Scotts Bluff, a siltstone outcropping (once under the water of the great inland sea) which has remained intact because limestone deposits harder than the sandstone kept the soil beneath them from eroding away, looms over the city Scottsbluff. From the top of the Bluff, Laramie Peak, 120 miles west, is visible on a clear day. That as I was growing up I could look west and see the (to a kid, faraway) place where I was born gave me a kind of comfort. Two promontories, both beside the Platte River.

We used to say ruts on the south side of the Bluff were made a hundred years before by wagons on the Oregon Trail. I doubt that, but I’ve never looked into it seriously.

We moved from Scottsbluff to Omaha, about 10 miles north of the confluence of the Platte and the Missouri (the city may have expanded that far south by now, for all I know).

The romance of the river ends there for me. I boarded a Greyhound bus in the fall of 1963 and headed to Redlands, CA, to go to college, and except for the following summer never lived in Nebraska or by the Platte River again. I was, however, in the state that was the destination of those pioneers on the Oregon Trail. I’ve lived all over the country since then, but I did complete the “westward ho!” as my father did.

Somewhere I have pictures of Laramie Peak faintly visible on the horizon from the top of Scotts Bluff. I took them before I had digital photography (the last in 2001). I, of course, can’t find such pictures on the Internet because people look east where the towns are when they are on top of the Bluff.

If you read my blog regularly (thank you) you know that you have to tolerate a great deal of sappy sentimentality and a lot of self-revelation no one should make in public. Yesterday I saw my psychiatrist whose job is to help my neurologist keep my meds in balance. [Note to myself: write someday about the “entitlement” that makes me eligible for this incredible care that I can’t afford. Hmmm. ACA anyone?]

At any rate, Dr. Bret. She always schedules me at the end of the day so we can talk for an hour instead of the 15 minutes my insurance (without co-pay) pays for. She understands all of my “issues” better than anyone else. Depression.

The chasm I cannot cross

The chasm I cannot cross

She said, “I think you have trouble finding people to be kind to you.” What? And then, “You know, you are fragile.” What? Ho, ho, ho! you’re saying to yourself if you know anything about me and co-dependency and addiction and all of those ways in which I’m screwed up.

I do have trouble finding people to be with who are kind to me. I’ll write about that the day after I write about my “entitlement.”

But fragile? I’m the bull in the china closet most of the time (not to be confused with other closets). I do not have a delicate nature. And I do not have one of those fine, sensitive “artist’s” minds.

From the time I was six years old until I was fifteen, I was regularly in a place (not figuratively, literally) from which I could see, staring over a chasm of 120 miles, the place where I was born. The chasm was (is) the earth. I don’t have pretty language for this. But I have known my whole life that I’m caught in that space, that I can see the place from which I came. But I can’t get there from here.


________________ (1)

•             Franzwa, Greory M. The Oregon Trail Revisited, 4th Edition. Tucson, AZ: Patrice Press, 1988.
•             Haines, Aubrey L. Historic Sites along the Oregon Trail. Tucson, AZ: The Patrice Press, 1981. (Foreword by Russell E. Dickenson, Director, National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior.)
•             Mattes, Merrill J. The Great Platte River Road, Second Edition. Lincoln, NE: Nebraska State Historical Society Publications, 1979.

“We’ll have an old fashioned wedding”

"We'll have an old fashioned wedding"

“We’ll have an old fashioned wedding”


Somewhere in my apartment is a CD box set of Fred Astaire movies. Most are with Ginger Rogers, of course, but I’m pretty sure You Were Never Lovelier with Rita Hayworth is part of the set. I don’t remember which songs are in which of those movies—and I have no head for remembering lyrics wherever they are from. However, I remember “I’m old fashioned, I love the moonlight” from You Were Never Lovelier because the lead-in dialogue includes Fred saying to Rita, “I’m a plain, ordinary guy from Omaha, Nebraska.” He says “Nebraska” with an accent he didn’t learn in the first six years of his life (in Omaha). His odd pronunciation is beside the point, except it’s one reason I remember the song.

I think that set of CDs is here somewhere, but a couple of weeks ago I got the urge to watch You Were Never Lovelier and couldn’t find it. That was for the better because I hate watching movies on my old TV set –and I steadfastly refuse to watch movies on my laptop. The TV is enormous—a 29-incher—and old fashioned, not flat-screen or digital or plasma.  Its worst attribute is that it is not “shoebox” shape, and it cuts images off on both sides of the screen.

My late partner and I bought the TV about 15 years ago when old fashioned TVs were dirt cheap, and a flat-screen anywhere near that size would have cost too much not to seem obscenely self-indulgent.  Now the flat-screens are as cheap as the old fashioned ones were then. We intended to replace the monster when the prices of flat-screen came down. But he died 10 years ago, and I’ve never had any thought of spending that kind of money on myself.

For most of the time since he died, I have not cared. Shoebox shape didn’t matter for watching “Antiques Roadshow” or reruns of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” or “Criminal Minds.” And once in a while “Masterpiece Theater.”  Any show with a continuing story line that needed watching regularly was frankly impossible. For years I would not have remembered what night a show was on even if I had decided to keep up with it. I have basic dish network, provided as part of my rent, and can’t see spending money on TV. (Remember the old Tom Lehrer song with the line, “Now there’s a charge for what she used to give for free in my home town?”)

My urge to watch You Were Never Lovelier originated with my reading about New Jersey’s fight over same-sex marriage (two weeks ago Governor Christie was still planning to sue to keep them from happening). For some reason I had a vision of the governor standing in court singing, “We’ll have an old fashioned wedding” from Annie Get Your Gun. You know, “We’ll have an old fashioned wedding Blessed in the good old fashioned way.”  Old fashioned weddings are definitely two-sex affairs.

An ordinary boy from Omaha Nee-braska

An ordinary boy from Omaha Nee-braska

From “old fashioned wedding” to “I’m old fashioned, I love the moonlight” was a simple mental step and then to You Were Never Lovelier (I did have to look up the name of the movie even though I remembered the song).  I like Ella Fitzgerald’s singing “I’m old fashioned” better than Hayworth’s version. I don’t suppose Ella ever danced while she sang.

That I remember a song simply because in the dialogue leading to it someone says he’s from Omaha, Nee-braska, seems at this moment absurd.

I’m old fashioned.

That has nothing to do with loving the moonlight or wanting a wedding. I had an old fashioned wedding once—yes, in a church with bridesmaids and everything. I even have pictures, but they’d be harder find here than You Were Never Lovelier. I think there are fewer and fewer old fashioned weddings.

Or perhaps gays and lesbian weddings are bringing old fashioned back. I don’t know. I’ve been to only one, and it wasn’t very old fashioned.

But there’s a whole lot of me that, were I to marry, would want an old fashioned wedding. It wouldn’t matter that I’d be marrying a man. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to get or be married. But old fashioned sounds good to me.

I’m not going to make a list of the old fashioned things I’d like to see, but can you imagine John Boehner inviting President Obama to come to his Congressional district and help him plant a tree?

The fact is I never saw Astaire and Hayworth or Rogers movies until I was older than 50, except for the odd late-night TV showing here and there. I had never really paid attention to them. I first took Ella Fitzgerald seriously when a fellow graduate student was writing his dissertation on her in the 70s. Even then I didn’t pay close attention to her music until 1990 (I was 45) when Red, Hot and Blue, an album of Cole Porter songs by various performers, was released to raise money for AIDS research. That led to my buying one of Ella’s Cole Porter albums.

Cole Porter never sounded so wonderful

Cole Porter never sounded so wonderful

I have to remind myself of the convoluted details of my discovery of music (and much else) that I love. One’s understanding of “culture” doesn’t simply happen. It takes effort. I never thought, “Now I’m going to set out to understand something I didn’t understand before.” Or did I? A great part of my being old-fashioned is not simply longing for the way things used to be. More importantly, it’s longing to understand some of what has made me who I am. Before it’s too late.

And that’s not Katy Perry or The Hunger Games.

“. . . some right to be here and that there is value in it . . .”


I'll sell you this tree.

I’ll sell you this tree.

Ron Padgett is my brother’s age. Three years older than I. He writes poetry. His poetry is mostly of the kind that, when I read it, I say to myself (or out loud), I wish I’d said that. I stumbled upon this one early this morning trying to find a poem (a boring poem compared with Padgett’s) of which I could remember one paltry phrase. Yes, this popped up in a Google search—I did not have it in mind. I own two of Padgett’s collections and have read them, but, as anyone can tell you, I don’t remember such things as poems. (I don’t remember my purpose in going to the Kroger up the street was to buy paper towels when I pass the cheese counter and get sidetracked. “Sidetrack” was the name of a gay bar in Cedar Rapids, IA, when I was in graduate school at the University of Iowa thirty miles away. It was a relatively tacky bar in an old warehouse neighborhood built, yes, beside the railroad tracks.)

There is a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Cedar Rapids. I thought there were a couple, but I can’t find them in a Google search. I’ve seen this one because a professor at the University with whom I had something of a fling was into architecture and took all of his boys to see the Grant House. He was a singer and I was young and thin and recently divorced at that time. For one week I thought the singing professor (the professor of singing) was Him, but it turned out not to be so. He probably didn’t like the fact that I was so appallingly “out” and a drunk.

Oh, yes. I was writing about Ron Padgett. His poetry is the kind that almost anyone can relate to except people who think poetry has to have a regular rhythm and a certain rhyme pattern. I first discovered him when I started to read his memoir of Joe Brainard, his childhood friend who was also, I think, a poet—or a painter. Or some such. They were both part of the “New York School,” I think, but I’m not sure about that since I’m not a literary scholar and don’t know how to categorize poets. At any rate, they grew up together, and when Brainerd died of AIDS, Padgett memorialized him a biography. It’s one of those books I bought and started to read but couldn’t get into enough to finish. It actually wasn’t that long ago, or I wouldn’t remember it so clearly. I have about a thousand books like that. Perhaps if I had finished reading more of them, I would be a literary scholar. Who knows?

Joe Brainard loved pansies

Joe Brainard loved pansies

The Memoir of Joe Brainard is apparently one of those books I got rid of in my “great book give-away” last year.

At any rate, when I discovered the Memoir of Joe Brainard, I looked Padgett’s poetry up and bought a volume or two. The one I see on my shelf at the moment is How Long. I think there are some of his poems in the Norton Anthology of Post-Modern American Poetry, which is, of course, at my office helping me to pretend to look like a literary scholar. I guess my pretense has finally caught up with me because, as I may have mentioned in this blog before, SMU is putting me out to pasture at the end of this academic year. Oh well.

When I was in high school, I was a poet. That is, I wrote poetry. I entered one poem in a contest (probably the National Council of Teachers of English). It was called “Swinging Sam’s Sexy Sister,” and it was a direct result, I think, of my having read Ginsberg’s Howl or some other work of some other “beat” poet. The poem came back from the contest without a mark on it except some silly judge had scrawled across the top, “Plagiarized from e.e. cummings?”  Of whom I had never heard. So Mr. Simpson loaned me a collection of cummings’ poetry, and I immediately fell in love with “anyone lived in a pretty how town.” I used to be able to recite it from memory, not because I “understood” it (which I still don’t) but because I think it sounds yummy, scrumptious, lovely, beautiful. cummings is my brother’s favorite poet, which is why I mentioned my brother at the beginning of this writing. And if you believe that, I have pecan tree up on Preston Avenue at the entrance to University Park that I’ll sell you for less than a million dollars.

So now, if you’re still reading, you know perhaps why like Ron Padgett’s poem so much. Because I love the way it sounds, and because I do have “the sense that [I] have some right to be here and that there is value in it” even though I have definitely lost my god(s). My cats aren’t quite as humanoid as Padgett’s dog, but they do get to play with me –on their own terms. The poem:

Lost and Found
by Ron Padgett

Man has lost his gods.
If he loses his dignity,
it’s all over.

I said that.

What did I mean?
First, that the belief
in divinity has almost

By dignity
I meant mutual
self-respect, the sense
that we have some right
to be here and that
there is value in it.
(Values are where
the gods went
when they died.)

My dog Susie doesn’t seem
to have any values, but she does
have Pat and me, gods
she gets to play with and bark at.

About this poem:
“In the pile of miscellaneous papers always on my desk I found a scrap that contained the words in this poem’s epigraph, and I vaguely remembered having scribbled them down. That triggered the poem’s beginning: ‘I said that.’ I liked the unusual idea of quoting oneself in an epigraph. By the way, the corny play on god/dog was unintentional.” ––Ron Padgett

e.e. cummings explained here

e.e. cummings explained here

How to spot a Communist – er-uh, Terrorist

McCarthy and his lawyer: strange bedfellows?

McCarthy and his lawyer:
strange bedfellows?




My father listened to Edward R. Murrow on the radio (we didn’t have a TV yet) almost every day in the late ‘50s. I know he did because I did, too—mainly in the car. He was on at the time Dad and I were driving home from the church in the late afternoons, he from work, I from practicing the organ.

He did not like Edward R. Murrow, thought he was a pointy-headed liberal or some such (which I did not understand at the time), but Dad would tell me Murrow was an important American and deserved our attention. Talk about mixed messages from a parent!

Because we did not have a TV, we were spared watching the Joseph McCarthy House Un-American Activities hearings. I really had no idea that the Communists were such a huge threat to our way of life, to the very foundations of American government and society.  My parents talked about President Eisenhower, and about the Cold War, and about Pat Nixon’s cloth coat, about the death of Senator Robert A. Taft, and about –about many things. But I do not remember any discussion of Joseph McCarthy. (I remember being confused about the names “MacArthur”—the general, who was a favorite of my Republican parents—and “McCarthy.”)

Many years later my dad told me he never knew what to make of the “Red Scare,” whether or not it was real. But he loathed Senator McCarthy.

(Note: some of what I have presented below as facts may be, in some details, incorrect. I have only my junior high school memory to rely on. I know for certain, however, that the general outline of the story is true.)

In 1959 Dad was the president of the Scottsbluff, Nebraska, chapter of the National Council of Churches. The organization brought Dr. Edwin T. Dahlberg, president of the National Council of Churches to Scottsbluff to speak at a series of meetings (held, I think, at the First Presbyterian Church because it was the largest in town).

A bit later, in a bid to get rid of my father as pastor, a group of members of our church (the First Baptist) accused my father of being a “fellow traveler” because it was well-known that the National Council of Churches was a Communist Front Organization. My father, who admired Dr. Dahlberg as I think he admired few other people in his lifetime, deserved firing because he had been responsible for this Communist coming to town.

The President of the  Communist front organization?

The President of the
Communist front

Sidebar: Don’t you love the way church politics “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) and live out the admonition of Jesus himself that, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

The church members who wanted to fire my father (he was entirely too liberal for Scottsbluff—he actually said evolution was a possible scientific theory and that, in any case, it didn’t matter because how God created the heavens and the earth was one of those mysteries we were perhaps not supposed to unravel) wrote to Robert Kennedy, who was then chief counsel of Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field and who had been counsel to McCarthy’s Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations from 1953 to 1957 (a bit of Kennedy family trivia not many people like to remember). They were certain that Kennedy would answer their letter with proof that the National Council of Churches was a Communist Front organization.

My father announced his resignation contingent upon the answer from Robert Kennedy. If the Chief Counsel affirmed the NCC to be a Communist organization, Dad’s resignation would take effect.

The letter came back from Kennedy saying the NCC had never been found (by McCarthy or anyone else) to be a Communist Front organization, and that those rumors were entirely groundless. Believe me, McCarthy, who was as vociferous in promoting the Roman Catholic Church as in denouncing Communists, would have unearthed any connection the Protestant organization had.

We lived in Scottsbluff another year or so until Dad found another position.

Now we have CAIR for unthinking Americans to believe to be un-American.

And the anti-terrorism industry finding a terrorist behind every locked door and every website in America. I’m not saying terrorism isn’t a threat. Any sane person knew the USSR was a threat to the US in the ‘50s. [Note: click the arrow “read the article”]

But Joseph McCarthy, I’m sure nearly everyone in the country will now agree, was more of a threat to our way of life than “Communists” ever were.

We have given ourselves over to the “terrorism industry” unthinkingly and with a willingness to suspend our Constitutional rights that makes the country’s hoodwinking by Joseph McCarthy look like an afternoon outing in the park for the children.

Brandon Mayfield: How to spot a terrorist

Brandon Mayfield:
How to spot a terrorist

Politicians are the terrorism industry’s lead players. Unwilling to be seen as soft on terrorism, they engage in a process of outbidding, which has the effect of enhancing fears. In addition, the industry includes risk entrepreneurs, pork-barrelers, and bureaucrats, as well as most of the media. They all have an incentive to exaggerate the risk terrorism presents and to find extreme and alarmist possibilities much more appealing than discussions of broader context, much less of statistical reality.
——Mueller, John. “Fear Not: Notes From A Naysayer.” Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientists 63.2 (2007): 30-37.

You may be, if you pay attention to such things as blog headings, wondering how this is a humorous look at the process of getting old. It’s not. It’s a resigned, sorrowful, agonized lament on the observation that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Do you have a designer disease?

My designer drug of choice.

My designer drug of choice.




Researching on the Internet is ubiquitous. When I was a kid a million years ago, researchers were people who lived in places the rest of us thought were quaint if not boring, and we felt sorry for eggheads. Those of us who loved The Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature didn’t confide our little secret to many people. Now, however. . .

I’ve heard the phrase “designer disease” over the years and I’ve been thinking and writing about DD’s the last couple of days [if you ask me why, I won’t tell you]. My first step in writing was naturally to Google “designer disease” –not to go to a scholarly database because that would spoil the fun.

The first promising website I found was The Doctor Within. Promising.

Designer jeans, designer shirts, designer handbag s . . .  Take an ordinary item, put a name on it, a couple million in marketing and promotion, and voilà – its value is raised . . . How? By skillfully creating an illusion of worth in the malleable, fickle, public “consciousness” . . . Everyone gets mildly depressed from time to time. . . A new disease. . . [and we] have the most advanced marketing machine in human history already in place. We can create a disease out of almost nothing. . . It will be A Designer Disease (1).

As I instruct my students to do, I searched for Dr. O’Shea’s credentials. He has none available on the Internet except he’s a Dallas Chiropractor who rails against standard medicine (vaccinations and ADD) and (probably) makes a lot of money selling his designer ideas to gullible fundamentalist Christian home-schoolers.

But I do like his description of designer diseases. I have one of those. It is not, in itself, a laughing matter. However, any bizarre or macabre subject can be treated with humor—even if the reader doesn’t “get it.” Two of my four classes studying Robert Louis Stevenson’s story “The Body Snatcher” “get” the humor of an academic article about the history of grave robbing for medical school anatomization of corpses. The primary example of the article is Ruth Sprague who was snatched from her grave in London in 1846.

Her body stolen by fiendish men,
Her bones anatomized,
Her soul, we trust, has risen to God,
Where few physicians rise

Academic articles are not intended to put a twinkle in your eye. But Nuland’s is. And, while my writing is decidedly not academic, can you see my tongue thrust resolutely against my cheek?

Sometime between 1956 and 1958. I’m standing on my bed screaming. It’s 9 PM and I’m supposed to be asleep, but my folks are having a

Millwood, the designer hospital of choice?

Millwood, the designer hospital of choice?

church meeting upstairs and keeping me awake. My heart is pounding, and I cannot for the life of me figure out why I’m standing on my bed screaming.

Perhaps 1962. My (secret) heartthrob Steve isn’t picking me up for school. It’s snowing and Mom is driving us because our collective parents don’t trust Steve. No time alone with Steve and no smoking. I’m in front of the bathroom mirror shaving, and in a rage I cannot understand, I purposefully cut my ear lobe with my razor and bleed all over. But they make me go to school.

May, 1964. I have to go home for the summer and leave the graduate student I’m in love with behind at the university. I have packaging tape for the boxes to send home. In the middle of the night I tape shut all the doors of the music school. Pretty funny, huh? In case you think that’s just a college-boy prank, you can ponder why I was crying uncontrollably the whole time.

This isn’t funny, is it? I’ll stop with the stories.

One more.

November, 2008. I want to kill myself. I can’t stand the depression any more. I call my therapist (I didn’t really want to die), and I end up in Millwood Mental Hospital for two weeks. That WAS funny. All of the doors had signs over them, “Warning! Elopement Danger!” They didn’t mean a couple of us were going to run off and get married.

We watched hour after hour of “Cash Cab” on TV. And “Jeopardy.”  I can hardly stand the sight of Alex Trebek even now. But I’d elope with Ben Bailey any day.

Some things are pretty hard to make silly.

Patients with Bipolar II disorders have typically experienced one or more major depressive episodes with at least one hypomanic episode. . . a period of at least 4 days with an abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood (3).

A designer disease. (See a few statements below about DD’s I’ve found in my “research.”) 

The older I get the more complicated things seem. Or, conversely, perhaps I see more clearly every day.  A diagnosis of Bipolar II Disorder would explain a lot. The “episodes” I’ve described above are a few I’ve pulled out of my memory hat. They continue (ask my friends about my broken cane in the cathedral at Rauma, Finland, this summer).

Dr. Bennett, a designer doctor of choice?

Dr. Bennett, a designer doctor of choice?

I know Bipolar II was the designer disorder of the decade in 2008, but I trust the doctors who cared for me at Millwood. I saw an internist and a psychiatrist every day for two weeks. I think they had a pretty good picture of my “disorder(s).”

I don’t give a hoot what the diagnosis is. I know that I’m sometimes not a very nice guy, and that I have anger issues and depression. So does everyone else. Some of us just have a stronger dose of them. So as I plunge through this senescence stuff, I just want you to know that most of the time when I’m raging or crying it has nothing to do with you.

Most of the time.
(1) O’Shea, Dr. Tim. “ADD: A Designer Disease.” The Doctor Within. MMXIII. Web. 27 Sep. 2013.
(2) Quoted in: Nuland, Sherman. “The Uncertain Art.” American Scholar , 70.2 (July 2001), 125.
(3) A standard description, this from:  Mynatt, Sarah, Patricia Cunningham, and J. Sloan Manning. “Identify Bipolar Spectrum Disorders.” Nurse Practitioner 27.6 (2002): 15.

Baer, Katie. “Still Puzzling After All These Years. (Cover Story).” Harvard Health Letter 18.11 (1993): 1.
Although CFS [Chronic Fatigue Syndrome] has yet to earn its own heading in medical textbooks, it is now recognized as an established syndrome (a specific collection of associated symptoms and signs). In the mid-1980s CFS was often dismissed as “yuppie flu,” the designer disease of the decade.

Driedger, Sharon Doyle. “Overcoming Depression. (Cover Story).” Maclean’s 114.46 (2001): 34.My family doctor prescribed Prozac to help me ride out the slump. It made me feel weird, spacey. Besides, I don’t like being lumped in with the pill-popping crowd who can’t cope without a designer drug. So I stopped. Really, I should be able to get over it myself. I tell my kids: “You can do anything you put your mind to.” Why couldn’t I think my way out of depression?

Miller, Toby, and Marie Claire Leger. “A Very Childish Moral Panic: Ritalin.” Journal Of Medical Humanities 24.1/2 (2003): 9-33.
We find new ways to explain the panic, if not to adjudicate on it, and conclude that Ritalin is, as per the wider designer drug phenomenon, the latest path to the United States upward-mobility fantasy of transcendence, a combination of the pleasure and self-development sides of United States popular culture.

Rosellini, Lynn. “Sexual Desire. (Cover Story).” U.S. News & World Report 113.1 (1992): 60.
And while no one can properly distinguish why some people channel childhood anxieties into food or booze while others fasten on sex, it may be that what eating disorders were to the ’80s, desire disorders will be in the ’90s: the designer disease of the decade, the newest symptom of American loneliness and alienation.