1999 Notebook: Interval XX

1 July 1999
Good Spirits
When I went to a party tonight, the first thing the host asked me was whether it was true that I loved spirits.

What kind of a question is that? To answer it, I'd need to discuss my spiritual beliefs. I don't know how to explain such beliefs to myself, let alone to a stranger.

"Well, if you do like spirits," said the host, "there's a bottle of Bunnahabhain over there that I think you'll quite enjoy."

"Thank you," I replied, "I hear you have a great bar." (I thoughtfully failed to add, "That's why I'm here.")

I later asked Jeremy what loving spirits had to do with loving Bunnahabhain.

"Bunnahabhain is a spirit," explained Jeremy, who was clearly perplexed by the question.

"Bunnahabhain is not a spirit," I protested. "I know that Bunnahabhain is Scottish for bunny haven; it's got nothing to do with spirits."

"Ah," said Jeremy, "we seem to have a semantic problem here. In this country, whiskey, gin, vodka, et cetera, are all called spirits."

Spirits! What a great use of the English language! It turns out that I do have some simply-stated spiritual beliefs after all.

2 July 1999
Leaving Wil-Ma
I'm afraid Wil-Ma and I are going to go our separate ways.

We got along well for a few weeks, but then ... (Why do all descriptions of relationships always start out with some variation of the preceding sentence?) The problems started when it came to discussing offspring: Wil-Ma wanted kids; I didn't. Since Wil-Ma was under the skin of my left foot, her eggs would probably be carried in my blood to my lungs and gastrointestinal tract. I tried to explain that kids are generally a pain in the ass, and with us that would literally be the case.

It was pointless, of course, to argue with Wil-Ma; breeding's in her blood. Or at least it is if worms have blood.

I asked my doctor how to get Wil-Ma out of my foot so I could send her back to Cambodia. The doctor replied to my question with another question.

"You said Wil-Ma's from Poi Pet?" Dr. Graham asked. "Well, it's almost certain, then, that she's a Buddhist. Probably the best thing you could do would be to send Wil-Ma to her next life. After all, being a worm must be about the bottom of the spiritual ladder. The only direction she has to go is up."

I was shocked by his remark. What about the "do no harm" clause in the Hippocratic oath? I couldn't believe he was suggesting terminating the relationship by terminating Wil-Ma.

"This is no time to be selfish," counseled Dr. Graham. "Don't think about your guilt or your beliefs; think of what moving onto the next life would mean to Wil-Ma. You'll be doing her a favor, you really will."

I reluctantly agreed that Dr. Graham was right. Even though I've long supported a woman's right to choose when it came to unwanted pregnancies, it took even more than the usual amount of convoluted sophistry to convince myself to take the doctor's advice. Still, it seems strange to champion "a man's right to choose."

Dr. Graham gave me a small jar that contained a ten-percent solution of Thiabendazole in a yellow paraffin base. The pink paste smelled like pastry icing. The doctor told to coat the skin above Wil-Ma's tracks in my foot with it.

So long, Wil-Ma; it was fun while it lasted.

3 July 1999
On the Eve of the End of the World
I've never seen it this dark at noon before. The sky is almost black. The only way I can tell how hard it's raining is by the sound of water pounding on the roof, and by the increasingly frequent flashes of lightning that illuminate the deluge.

"Such weather!" Leslie exclaims.

"Nostradamus predicted that the world will end tomorrow," I inform him. (I'm not exactly sure if that's true, but it's close enough for conversational purposes.)

"Then I suppose it's a good thing that I mowed the lawn yesterday," Leslie replies.

4 July 1999
I finally finished Calvin Tomkins' biography of Marcel Duchamp. I thought it was great. I now know much more and much less about Duchamp than I did before reading Tomkins' book; I can't think of a higher compliment to pay a Duchampion. Well done, Calvin!

Tomkins even found a kind thing to say about one of the most ridiculous (in the negative sense) people in the art world. "Like many of the leading authorities on Duchamp, Arturo Schwarz has very little sense of humor, and this sometimes makes his writings extremely funny."

My favorite passage of the book, though, has nothing to do with Duchamp. (Or does it?) In 1947, Harry S. Truman opined, "So-called modern art is merely the vaporings of half-baked, lazy people."

That's the end of my book report; I must get back to my vaporings.

5 July 1999
Victim of Fashion
When Renée told me she'd had a bad day at school, I naturally asked her why.

"Bleedin' Joan of Arc, that's why," she replied.

"What about her?" I asked.

"We had to name a major figure of the enlightenment, and I picked Joan of Arc," she explained. "The bleedin' teacher said I was wrong."

I suggested we have a look in the encyclopedia. I was surprised to find Joan of Arc, age nineteen, was burned at the stake for--why hadn't someone told me this before?--cross-dressing!

She was originally sentenced to death for heresy and wearing "masculine" clothing, but the sentence was reduced to life in prison after she said that the "God told me to kill the English" bit was a big mistake. In jail, though, she went back to wearing male clothing, which was just too much for the authorities, and everyone knows how the story ends: warmly.

"I think I see the problem, Renée," I said. "Here we have your 'Jeanne d'Arc (1412-31),' and here we have your basic Age of Enlightenment, 'a term used to describe the trends in thought and letters in Europe and the American colonies during the eighteenth century prior to the French Revolution.' I hate to say it, but it looks like your teacher was right; you were at least three centuries off."

"Look at it my way," Renée insisted. "Everyone's heard of Joan of Arc, haven't they?"

"I suppose so," I answered hesitantly. I smelled a trap.

"Well, anyone everyone's heard of is obviously a major figure," Renée reasoned. "And the huge fire needed to burn someone at the stake would have to cause a lot of enlightenment, wouldn't it?"

"I see your point, but the problem is that the enlightenment in question lasted for maybe an afternoon; I don't think you can really call it an age."

Renée knew she'd lost the argument, so I tried to encourage her.

"Look on the bright side," I advised. "You may have got an answer wrong on a test, but at least your healthy mistrust of your teacher ..."

"That's bleedin' teacher," she corrected.

"Alright, you trust your bleedin' teacher less than ever. Keep up the good work!"

6 July 1999
Whiskey and Whisky Must Be True
One week ago I made an informal and unscientific survey of three and a half years of writing. I tallied that I'd written about whisky twenty-one times, whereas I'd mentioned whiskey in twenty different entries.

I've been asked what the difference is between whisky and whiskey is, a simple question for which I have a simple, predictable answer.

I'm not exactly sure.

For years, I've observed that the fifth letter of the alphabet puts in two appearances in a fifth of "American whiskey," but it doesn't show up even once in "Scotch whisky." Although I know very little about language, it does seem that a number of American English words lost a character on the long voyage to the new world, i.e., colour and color. Thus it seems strange that the word "whisky" would have put on weight at the same time the other words were losing a vowel. Still, a thousand bottles of whiskey and whisky must be true.

Despite all I've learned to date, I remain uncertain whether there are exceptions to what appears to be a rule. And so it is that I'm off to the liquor store in my lifelong quest to accumulate more empirical evidence.

7 July 1999
Calamari Surprise
I had dinner at a new Greek restaurant, Phidia's Taverna. I ordered the "Calamari Surprise"; that was a big mistake. The calamari wasn't seasoned properly; it tasted of the forest. The calamari also had an unusual texture; it went from rubbery to mealy in only two or three chews. Still, it wasn't bad; nothing that finds my stomach via the Retsina River is.

When the waiter brought the bill, I asked him why the dish was called "Calamari Surprise."

"The surprise," he explained, "is that there's no squid in the recipe."

"What did the chef use instead of squid?" I asked.

"I'm afraid I can't tell you," the waiter explained, "or it wouldn't be a surprise, would it?"

8 July 1999
A Great Review
I just received a note from someone I don't know. She wrote:

    Dear David Glenn Rinehart,

    A friend suggested that I have a look at your work, which I did. I think it's fair to say you've put the "con" back into "conceptual art," and are well on the way to putting the "faux" back into "photography."

    That is some sort of achievement.


    Suzie Maxwell

Oh Suzie! What a great review! I'm putting that on the dust jacket of my book, if I ever have a book, and if that book has a dust jacket.

9 July 1999
Drinking Lots of Ale, at the Li-berr-eee!
I'm in the Lienfordshire Library Annex, watching an amazing spectacle. A group of library patrons are singing at the top of their lungs like the chorus of an unknown Gilbert and Sullivan operetta:

    With a ha-ha-ha,
    and a hee-hee-hee,
    we're drinking lots of ale,
    at the li-berr-eee!

It's true: the Lienfordshire Library Annex is actually a bar adjoining the library itself. The library is soundproofed, so the din of the boisterous singing is confined to the annex. Drinking patrons are allowed to bring their drinks into any part of the library except the rare books room.

What a great idea!

Most drinkers are quaffing a lovely ale called "Licentious Librarian." The half-liter glasses have "Lienfordshire Library" rendered in gold type--Goudy, I believe--on the side, just above the phrase, "A thirst for knowledge must be quenched."

I've been in a quillion libraries that offer weak coffee and tea, but I prefer the atmosphere in the Lienfordshire Library. My only problem is that I'm having trouble ordering my fourth drink; it's difficult to enunciate all the syllables in "Licentious Librarian."

And a hee-hee-hee!

gratuitous image
10 July 1999
Evangelist (snaportrait)
I suppose this barely qualifies as a portrait, but it's close enough to fill my self-imposed quota.

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©1999 David Glenn Rinehart